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Top Ten Albums of 2011

You know what December means, besides reading schmaltzy Christmas books?  It’s Top Ten time!  Without further ado…

Yuck

10.  Yuck – Yuck
It’s 1993 again, you guys, except no homework!
Favorite songs: “Georgia,” “The Wall,” “Sunday”

Bobby Long

9. A Winter Tale – Bobby Long
Whatever – I’m not ashamed.
Favorite songs: “In the Frost,” “Two Years Old,” “Being a Mockingbird”

Bright Eyes

8. The People’s Key – Bright Eyes
Conor Oberst goes mainstream (with the my favorite crazy ramblings – paaaahmagranate).
Favorite Songs: “Jejune Stars,” “Shell Games,” “Triple Spiral”

Explosions in the Sky

7.  Take Care, Take Care, Take Care – Explosions in the Sky
I think this may be my favorite work of theirs so far; it feels the most warm to me.
Favorite songs: “Trembling Hands,” “Postcard from 1952,” “Last Known Surroundings”

Bon Iver

6.  Bon Iver – Bon Iver
I can even forgive the song that sounds like bad* Phil Collins, because the rest is so good.
Favorite songs: “Holocene,” “Towers,” “Calgary”

The Decemberists

5.  The King is Dead – The Decemberists
The Decemberists are back on form, and thank God.  Best ballad-writing of the year!
Favorite Songs: “January Hymn,” “Calamity Song,” “June Hymn”

Mates of State

4.  Mountaintops – Mates of State
Because everyone needs a little glee in their lives, and I’m not talking about the TV show.  Best singalong of the year!
Favorite songs: “Maracas,” “Palomino,” “Change,” “Desire”

Fleet Foxes

3.  Helplessness Blues – Fleet Foxes
I want to curl up in front of a fire with Robin Pecknold’s voice.  Best harmonies of the year!
Favorite songs: “Helplessness Blues,” “Battery Kinzie,” “Grown Ocean,” “Montezuma,” “Lorelai”

Gruff Rhys

2.  Hotel Shampoo – Gruff Rhys
Gruff’s most sophisticated solo album yet, and its inclusion here is hardly surprising.  Best lounge rock of the year!
Favorite Songs: “Vitamin K,” “Honey All Over,” “Christopher Columbus,” “At the Heart of Love,” “Follow the Sunflower Trail (Theme Tune for a National Strike) [bonus track]”

The Vaccines

1.  What Did You Expect from the Vaccines – The Vaccines
Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes!  Album of the year!
Favorite songs:  Pretty much all of them, but especially “Post Break-Up Sex,” “Wetsuit,” “If You Wanna,” “A Lack of Understanding,” “All in White”

And here is a bit more:

Best songs from albums on the cusp:
“Weekend” from Dye it Blonde by Smith Westerns
“Heart in your Heartbreak” from Belong by The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
“Dig a Little Deeper” from Gimme Some by Peter Bjorn & John

Biggest disappointments:
Burst Apart – The Antlers
Kaputt – Destroyer

Embarrassingly Small List of Concerts I Attended (or, as my husband puts it, Wow, We Were Lame This Year)
(this may be the strangest list ever)
The Antlers
Bobby Long
Usher
Journey
Lil Wayne
Morrissey

Please feel free to share your top tens or favorites from this year in the comments.  I’d love to see what you thought of this year’s music!

*Not all Phil Collins is bad… you do know this, right?  Don’t make me break out “Take Me Home” on you.

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Pop music smackdown

While we are quite serious indie rock nerds, my husband Victor and I also enjoy popular music, the kind that “kids these days” are listening to.  Please note that many indie rock fans may enjoy popular music in private, but not all will admit to it freely.  And I’m not talking about Kanye West (it’s totally okay for hip white people to like him publicly), but I’m talking about full-on pop music.

For example, last night we were driving home from Oktoberfest indulging in one of our favorite pastimes: debating whether one song is better than another.  This time, it was Justin Beiber’s “Baby” versus Jesse McCartney’s “Leavin'” – songs by two tween/teen-favored artists that your average PBR-swilling hipster would never admit to liking.  I was firmly on the side of “Leavin'” (after all, it was my #1 single of 2008, and McCartney doesn’t make me want to punch him in the face like Beiber does), while Victor was firmly supporting “Baby.”

We agreed that they were both great songs.

During the conversation, Victor told me that “Baby” was written by The-Dream, who is pretty much the master hitmaker these days (in addition to being sex intelligent).  I wasn’t aware that the “Umbrella”-penning The-Dream was working with baby-faced Beiber.  But in retrospect, it’s not really that surprising, because “Baby” is really catchy.

Upon further investigation (e.g. Wikipedia-surfing), I discovered:

  • “Baby” was actually co-written by Justin Beiber, The-Dream, and Tricky Stewart*
  • “Leavin'” was co-written by – you guessed it – The-Dream and Tricky Stewart!!!

Well, it’s no wonder that we would need to have a pop music smackdown between these two songs!  I do find it interesting that Jesse McCartney didn’t have a hand in writing “Leavin’,” as he is a Grammy-nominated songwriter (dude, he co-wrote “Bleeding Love” – I totally loved that song).

Anyway, in the spirit of Sunday being a big sports-rivalry day, or something to that effect… here are the two songs in question (in case you haven’t heard them a billion times):

“Leavin'” – Jesse McCartney

“Baby” – Justin Beiber (try to keep from punching his face through your computer monitor)

What do you think?  Do you think baby-faced Beiber wins, or does not-aging-that-gracefully McCartney take the prize?  And while we’re at it, what songs are you enjoying in Top 40 Land?  Here’s a link to the Billboard Hot 100 if you need a guide.

Wow.  Just looking at that list makes me feel old.

*Full disclosure here: while I am familiar with The-Dream… I’m not sure who Tricky Stewart is.  But I just glanced at his Wikipedia page, and he looks like a nice guy who has made a huge pile of cash producing hit songs.

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side job

I did a little guest DJ gig over at my friend Kristen’s blog for her weekly Music Monday post. You can find it here.

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Top Ten Albums of 2009

Another year, another list.  Ladies and gentlemen, here it is:
10. Still Night, Still Light – Au Revoire Simone
Au Revoir Simone
A great album of dreamy pop music.
Favorite songs: “Anywhere You Looked,” “Another Likely Story”
9.  It’s Blitz – Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Yeah Yeah Yeas
This YYYs album grabbed me like none of their others did, which is almost of the theme of this year’s top ten.  I know most people love them for the uptempo, dancey stuff, but I love the atmospheric slow songs the best.
Favorite songs: “Hysteric,” “Runaway,” “Zero”
8.  Middle Cyclone – Neko Case
Neko Case
So “This Tornado Loves You” would be enough to get this album on the list, but I’m glad there are so many other songs on here that I love.
Favorite songs: “This Tornado Loves You,” “Prison Girls,” “Vengeance is Sleeping”
7.  Years of Refusal – Morrissey
Morrissey
It’s no surprise that Morrissey shows up on this list, because he’s just been so good lately.  Middle age definitely suits him.
“It’s Not Your Birthday Anymore,” “Black Cloud,” “I’m OK by Myself”
6 .  Dark Days/Light Years – Super Furry Animals
Super Furry Animals
SFA returned to form this year, even though there were still a couple of clunkers on this album (and yet another awful album cover).  They outdid themselves on the happy-sounding songs this time.  Favorite songs: “Inaugural Trams,” “Where Do You Wanna Go,” “Lliwar Llachar,” “Helium Hearts”
5.  Fantasies – Metric
Metric
For me, this is the best Metric album to date.  I often have a hard time relating to their songs, but I didn’t have any trouble with this one at all.  On the contrary, it didn’t leave my car’s CD player for weeks.
Favorite songs: “Satellite Mind,” “Help, I’m Alive,” “Collect Call”
4.  My Maudlin Career – Camera Obscura
Camera Obscura

The more albums they release, the more I like Camera Obscura.  I think they’re really hitting their stride with this fantastic album, all wrapped up in happiness, sadness, melancholy… all of my favorite feelings.

Favorite songs: “James,” “My Maudlin Career,” “French Navy,” “Honey in the Sun”
3.  The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
Oh man, what a fun album.  Makes you want to not be thirty-two years old, that’s for sure.  It easily captures the essence and self-importance of youth.
Favorite songs: “Young Adult Friction,” “A Teenager in Love,” “This Love is Fucking Right,” “Contender”
2.  Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix – Phoenix
Phoenix
This is probably one of the most perfect pop albums ever made.  Nearly every song could be a single, and if there was any justice in this world, these songs would be blowing up the radio.
Favorite songs: “Countdown,” “Girlfriend,” “Lisztomania,” “Fences,” “Rome”
1.  Hospice – The Antlers
The Antlers
Who would have thought a concept album about terminal illness would be my number one album this year?  In fact, for half a year I thought nothing could knock Phoenix from my number one slot.  But this sad, strange little album, with its cancer, hospitals, death, and utter heartbreak slipped in almost effortlessly to the top of the list.  Clearly one of the most beautiful albums of the decade.
Favorite songs: “Two,” “Atrophy,” “Sylvia,” “Wake,” “Bear,” “Shiva”
On the cusp:
Get Guilty – AC Newman
God Help the Girl – God Help the Girl
Further Complications – Jarvis Cocker
Radio Singles:
1.  “Bad Romance” – Lady Gaga (this also wins best video, hands down)
2.  “You Belong With Me” – Taylor Swift
3.  “Paparazzi” – Lady Gaga
Plus these great songs:
“Wrong” – Depeche Mode (and probably the #2 video, too!)
“Fire Burning” – Sean Kingston
“Down” – Jay Sean
“Knock You Down” – Keri Hilson
“Already Gone” – Kelly Clarkson
Best trend:
Bands I love or have loved in the past putting out good albums again.  For example:
– U2 No Line on the Horizon (sucks way less than their previous two efforts)
– Super Furry Animals Dark Days/Light Years
– Depeche Mode sounds of the universe

And there you have it. What was your top music of 2009? Leave it in the comments. If you give me a link to your list, I’ll add it to this post. Thanks for playing!

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This page needed a lot of help!

This page needed a lot of help!

I’m knee-deep in what I’m calling the third draft of my young adult novel (which is tentatively titled the sea between us).  I’m planning to finish this draft by mid-to-late October and send it out to a few select friends for feedback.

My previous attempts at editing were always done on the computer, but I found that I was ignoring some parts of the book and only focusing on favorite passages.  So I printed out the entire thing and I’m taking it one page at a time, writing all of my changes in pen, and then going back and updating in Word.  I’ve had to add a lot, because one of my main (constructive) criticisms during the editing process has been “elaborate here!”  Anyway, I’m just over halfway done with this process, and it’s starting to go faster because the second half of the book is a bit stronger than the first.  The second half has also been more heavily edited.

A couple of months ago, I decided I needed a better, more permanent place to write, so I commandeered the old IKEA couch in the sunroom as a writing station.  I moved a small bookshelf to one side of the couch, and I keep my paper copy of the second draft in it, along with all of my handouts from the creative writing class I’m taking.  I’ve also got a copy of The Elements of Style there, because you should never be more than three feet away from one of those, in my humble opinion.

On top of the bookshelf are three funky orange statues of Ganesha that I got in India.  I just thought they looked nice there, but I recently did a little wikipedia-ing and discovered Ganesha is considered to be the Lord of letters and learning. So I guess that’s a happy coincidence.  I also have a coaster on top of the bookshelf, because I almost always write with a hot beverage (it’s usually a cup of Barry’s tea, but sometimes it’s chai, or hot chocolate, or something stronger).  Since it’s getting colder, I’ve recently added a cinnamon candle, my go-to fall and winter scent.

I am almost always joined on the writing couch by my dog Murphy.  He likes to sit right next to me, preferably resting his head on my ankle if possible.  I usually have the computer in my lap; if not, he tries to sit there instead.  It is really hard to write with a 14-pound licking machine sitting on you.  Because he is my writing buddy, I included him in the book by naming the main male character Eoghan Murphy.

Music definitely helps me focus, so I like to write with headphones on.  Sometimes, I just put on last.fm and play my library, my recommendations, or a specific artist’s station.  Sometimes I use iTunes on the laptop, which has everything we’ve purchased in the last year or so (the rest of our music collection is still on our sick, hibernating desktop computer).  Occasionally I’ll use my iPod, but that hasn’t been updated in over a year (see above reference to sick, hibernating desktop).

I actually made a mix CD for a friend that was taken directly from the book (his review here, which also includes a short synopsis and excerpts from the un-edited, very rough first draft of the novel).  If I were to make an extensive playlist inspired by the sea between us, these artists would definitely be included:

Antlers, The Arcade Fire, Band of Horses, Belle and Sebastian, Bright Eyes, Camera Obscura, Coldplay, David Bowie, Destroyer, The Divine Comedy, Grand Archives, Great Lake Swimmers, Hefner, Jens Lekman, Sondre Lerche, The Lucksmiths, Mates of State, Morrissey,  My Chemical Romance, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Phoenix, Ra Ra Riot,  REM, The Shins, The Smiths,  Super Furry Animals,  Tindersticks, Trembling Blue Stars, The Twilight Sad, We Were Promised Jetpacks… and many more.

As you can see, it leans heavily toward indie rock with some good ol’ fashioned teenage angst thrown in there.  Not only is this my favorite sort of music, but it also figures heavily in the story.  Many of these artists or their songs are actually mentioned by my narrator Emma and her friends, and I got inspiration for the songs Emma’s band writes from these bands (I’m no songwriter).

It’s been fun writing a book that includes so much of my passion for music.  It will be a challenge when I stop writing about these characters and start something new and different.  I don’t really want to pigeonhole myself as the girl who always includes a ton of music references in her books, but it’s gonna be hard to leave them out.

If any of you out there are writers or are involved in some other creative thing, I’d like to hear about your process.  Where do you write/create/whatever?  What inspires you?  How do you keep from procrastinating?

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Me, I’m just anxious.

This week, my Intro to Creative Writing class is talking poetry.  Specifically, we’re discussing content… stuff like imagery, figurative language, diction, persona, etc.  We are assigned several poems to read that illustrate the different topics, and then we each get to choose one of several writing exercises.  Yesterday, I was reading through the poems assigned, trying to decide which writing exercise I wanted to complete.  Three of the poems were by Ranier Maria Rilke.  One of the writing exercises involved writing a poem about the objects belonging to a dead person.

You may know where I’m going with this.

Remember Rainer Maria?  Yeah, they were “intellectual” and were named after the poet.  I saw them a couple times at Clunk Music Hall (RIP) in Fayetteville, Arkansas, back in the late 1990s/early 2000s.  I thought that Caithlin De Marrais was pretty badass (she sang and played the bass, and she always rocked out), and I really loved some of their songs.

Anyway, they had a song called “The Contents of Lincoln’s Pockets” that was inspired by seeing a display of, well, the contents of President Lincoln’s pockets on the night that he was shot.  So between the Ranier Maria Rilke poems I was reading and the dead person’s stuff writing exercise, I could not get this song out of my head!  I tried and failed to find a good video for it on YouTube.  I did some Googling and refamiliarized myself with a band I haven’t really thought about in several years.  I even talked myself out of doing the dead person’s stuff exercise because I didn’t want to accidentally plagiarize.

But I still couldn’t get the song out of my head.

So, being the total dork that I am, I emailed a copy of the lyrics and a link to the song to all of my classmates.  I, um, haven’t received any replies.

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