ↁ's Notebook

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Q1 Albums

We’re nearly a third of the way through the year. There’s already been some great music. Since my year-end focus is always on singles, I thought I would use this opportunity to share some of my favorite albums of the first four months of the year. I’ll try to repeat this again in the fall.

Lost In The Dream - The War On Drugs
Ahh the breakup album. I do love them, when done well. And this ranks right up with the best, although it takes a different tack than others I’ve loved.

As with all WoD music, there is the sense of travel and escape. After six weeks of listening to it, and digesting the combination of despair in the lyrics and almost celebratory tone to the music of the best songs, I think I finally have a handle on what the escape is from. It’s about coming to the realization that it is time to move on from everything that comes after the end of a relationship. Let the person go, and all the pain and memories associated with them. Open your eyes, look around, and open the next chapter. As another great breakup album stated, “Take your life, give it a shake…”

A quick note about the band. I’m kind of fascinated in how and why I enjoy this band so much. I loved their 2012 album Slave Ambient. I find this to be an even better piece of work. Which is odd, since they can draw a straight line back to classic Springsteen (which I do like), Petty (which I can take in small doses), and Dylan (which I’ve never liked). There is a strong jam band influence (something I hate), but thanks to the structure of their songs, they don’t come across as a jam band. And there are heavy notes of late 70s/early 80s AOR music, which flies directly in the face of the indie/alt rock I’ve been listening to for the last 20-plus years. It doesn’t make sense for me to like this band. Yet I do, tremendously.

Transgender Dysphoria Blues - Against Me!
The meaning of rock and roll has been debated since its earliest days. In general, though, I believe that at its core, rock is the music of rebellion. Often rock music has been used as the soundtrack to dramatic political or social upheavals. But often when we speak of rebellion, we are talking about the simple act of a younger generation carving out a position in society that undercuts the social mores of the previous generations.

By that definition, Transgender Dysphoria Blues is about as rock and roll as you can get.

It tells the story of lead singer Laura Jane Grace’s ongoing transformation/reassignment from a man to a woman. Even in our era of wider acceptance of gay people, some kick ass rock music that tells the story of a transsexual person moving from one gender to another is pretty revolutionary. Not everyone will be comfortable with it. But for those who listen with an open mind, it is an amazing journey.

Burn Your Fire For No Witness - Angel Olsen
There is a whole swath of women in the indie rock world who have big, powerful voices who are immediately labelled as “Patsy Cline-esque”. Neko Case is likely the most famous. Bethany Cosentino is right there with her. Olsen is the latest entry into that group, and at her best, she can hang with anyone else in the neo-Patsy world.

This is a moody, uncomfortable album. It reminds me of a middle point between Case and The Cowboy Junkies, as Olsen often lets her songs simmer but never quite boil over.

The Double EP: A Sea Of Split Peas - Courtney Barnett
Technically this is not a 2014 release. Some of the songs were first released, in Barnett’s native Australia, in 2012. Then this package was released digitally in the States last fall, when I first fell in love with it. But it finally got a physical release in the US earlier this month, and has been riding a wave of airplay on SiriusXMU and positive press.

Barnett’s music is really like no one else’s. At first listen, it’s revamped early 90s indie rock for stoners. I love this description of her vocal style from this week’s Grantland feature on her:

Courtney Barnett sings songs like curlicues. They start straight before bending up and around, messily and unmanageable, loose swirls gathering up around the edges of a page, spindling beyond the margins. They’re full of non sequiturs or contorted aphorisms, and they lope along with all the eagerness of grazing cattle.

But after a couple listens, you begin to realize that her lyrics are really quite brilliant, and her mellow style makes them even more so. She’s in no hurry to share her genius and only offers it to those who put in the time to mine it.

Too Much Blue

Trees are budding out, lawns are greening up, mowers are being pulled out, allergies are popping up, and I’ve already got the first sunburn of the year.

Spring, at long last, has truly sprung.1

Which brings the annual wardrobe reevaluation, pitching aside shirts that have survived a couple of summers and are worse for the wear, or that I’m just no longer fond of, and going through the fun process of replacing them.

When I look at the side of my closet where I hang my short-sleeved shirts, I realize something: I have too much blue. I’d say two-thirds of my shirts are some shade of blue. Then a significant chunk of that final third is some shade of gray.

I’m in a fashion rut, I suppose.

Part of that is explainable by a simple truth: just about every sports team I follow features blue as one of its primary colors.

KU: blue. Royals: blue. Colts: blue. I don’t have a Pacers shirt currently, but odds are if I did, it would be blue rather than gold. If I buy a shirt for the World Cup, it would either be for the US or Italy. Blue and blue, although an American shirt obviously gives me plenty of chances to get away from blue.

I try to mix things up, but I can’t help myself. Maybe it stems from wearing too many white t-shirts with graphics on them in high school and college, but I just don’t dig on white shirts that much. And, try as I might to get an alternate color shirt for one of my teams, I can’t help myself and always seem to walk away with another blue one.

When we were in Kansas City earlier this month, for example, I told myself all I would buy on my trip to the Rally House was a new Royals hat. Naturally I walked out with a new Royals hat and a blue KU shirt. I tried to find a red or white or even gray shirt that worked, but the ones that kept jumping out at me were blue.

Good grief.

So I spent hours over the weekend shopping for summer shirts that A) have nothing to do with sports and B) are not blue or dark gray. It was hard. Because each time I was drawn to the same old shades.

In the end I ordered a couple cool shirts, one red and the other green. Neither repping a team. It’s a start, I guess.

  1. It did dip into the 30s last night/this morning. But that’s a blip, not a trend. 

When Logic Gets Cast Aside

Most of us have thought, at some point, that we could sway someone with different political views to our side if we just presented them with cold, hard facts showing that our view was correct.

Turns out even when the numbers support your argument, you are unlikely to change the opinion of someone from the other side.

Presented with this problem a funny thing happened: how good subjects were at math stopped predicting how well they did on the test. Now it was ideology that drove the answers. Liberals were extremely good at solving the problem when doing so proved that gun-control legislation reduced crime. But when presented with the version of the problem that suggested gun control had failed, their math skills stopped mattering. They tended to get the problem wrong no matter how good they were at math. Conservatives exhibited the same pattern — just in reverse.

Being better at math didn’t just fail to help partisans converge on the right answer. It actually drove them further apart.

How Politics Makes Us Stupid

This is a really interesting article, and I recommend reading it even if you don’t give a damn about politics. For those who are into politics, it is even more illuminating. It goes to show how so many folks in Washington, elected or otherwise, can go to the “They’re just making the numbers up” argument and get so many people to believe them. As always, math is hard. And when it challenges our core beliefs it’s easier to believe the fuzzy math than it is to accept the real numbers and adjust our world view.

I found this tidbit about Congress interesting as well.

In the mid-20th century, the two major political parties were ideologically diverse. Democrats in the South were often more conservative than Republicans in the North. The strange jumble in political coalitions made disagreement easier. The other party wasn’t so threatening because it included lots of people you agreed with. Today, however, the parties have sorted by ideology, and now neither the House nor the Senate has any Democrats who are more conservative than any Republicans, or vice versa. This sorting has made the tribal pull of the two parties much more powerful because the other party now exists as a clear enemy.

Friday Vid

“Singing In My Sleep” - Semisonic
Sadly none of the girls I ever sent mixtapes to ever reacted like this woman did. Then again, if they had, I wouldn’t be where I am today: blogging from my couch on a Friday morning. Life is full of trade offs…

Disney Notes

Cait, Lia, and I were at Target yesterday wasting time during Meghan’s kickball practice. The girls were looking through the toy aisles and came to a large, empty section that should have held all the toys related to Frozen. There were a couple Baby Anna dolls, but the rest of the area was barren. Cait asked why it was so empty and I said I guessed the Frozen toys were still really popular.

Little did I know. A couple hours later I read this article and learned that there is, in fact, a huge shortage of Frozen toys, and a rather brisk secondary market has developed to fill the demand.

If you’re a parent, you know that each time a new Disney/Pixar film comes out the toy departments are flooded with tie-in merchandise, Radio Disney begins spinning songs from the movie in high rotation, and you can’t escape commercials from the movie in advance of its theatrical or DVD release. They have this down to a science.

That makes it surprising that Disney didn’t realize that Frozen would turn into such a phenomenon. We can’t spend more than 30 minutes in the car without hearing “Let It Go,” whether it is Idina Menzel’s original version or Demi Lovato’s radio version.1 Lia will watch the movie three times a week. Even my nephew watched it every day when he was visiting. There’s some kind of special kid crack in this one. Hell, I even like it. Normally I use Disney Princess movie time as an excuse to nap. I’ll actually watch Frozen for a bit before drifting off.

One other quick Disney related note. We heard Katy Perry’s latest single “Birthday” this morning. Usually Radio Disney has kid-friendly versions of mainstream songs that remove inappropriate language and reduce the overt innuendo. So the chorus kind of surprised me:

Boy, when you’re with me
I’ll give you a taste
Make it like your birthday everyday
I know you like it sweet
So you can have your cake
Give you something good to celebrate

OK, a little risqué but not anything grade schoolers will understand.

Then there’s this section:

Pop your confetti
Pop your Pérignon
So hot and heavy
’Til dawn

Ummmm. Maybe I’m a dirty old man but I think Katy may be talking about something else popping.

So let me get you in your birthday suit
It’s time to bring out the big balloons

Wow. When Meghan and Cait pick up on the birthday suit line, they’re going to laugh. I’m guessing some boys in Meg’s class won’t have any trouble assigning meaning to the big balloons line. They’ve seen Katy.

It doesn’t take a lot of imagination to turn even the most innocent of love songs into far more suggestive ditties. This one seems just a little advanced for the kid and tween-centric Radio Disney. We’ll see if I get any questions about what Perry is singing about. The girls don’t usually put much thought into lyrics, but at some point it’s bound to happen.

  1. I don’t think you can discount the impact of the songs in the movie’s success. Before and immediately after the movie’s release, Disney pushed the radio-friendly Lovato version hard, including little interviews with the singer talking about how she was so proud and honored to be singing the song for a Disney princess film. About a month later, they dumped Menzel’s version on the radio. Talk about a 1-2 punch. Menzel’s rendition is, arguably, the best song ever from a Disney film. Throw in a version by a pop star the kids are crazy for, and there was no resisting it. I find myself walking around humming it to myself. Six months after the movie came out. And I’m not sick of it. Yikes.