Last day of the year, so a few moments to reflect are in order.
2015 was a strange year. Many good things. A few not-so-good things. Some frustrations mixed in as well.
The year got off to a bad start for me. As many of you know, a close relative was going through some serious health issues this time last year. In fact, on New Year’s Day we had a series of phone calls that were a pretty terrible way to kick off the year. On January 1, 2015, it seemed like the next few months, or perhaps only weeks, would be very difficult. I spent the next weekend in a hospital in Missouri, hoping for the best but prepared for the worst. Amazingly, things did turn better. I’m convinced this relative has nine lives, and while they are not exactly the picture of good health today, they are still with us.
Being a procrastinator of the first order, I allowed that to keep me from using early 2015 to figure out what to do with the hours in the day when the girls are in school. Once that cloud had lifted, spring break was right around the corner. Then the end of the school year. And so on. So as I sit here on December 31, the picture is no clearer about what I can and should do to fill that time each day. I’m hoping to be a little more motivated in the coming weeks and find something to occupy myself.
On to the good things. That spring break trip to Florida was fantastic. Well, other than the drive.
The girls had fun playing volleyball, soccer, softball, kickball, swimming, and running cross country.
Another summer of great memories at the LVS, which dodged an epic series of storms in early July.
There were lots of bike rides and walks through nature parks.
The whole family read tons of books.
Each girl grew just a little older, which is truly a bittersweet process. This Christmas season especially I missed the raw happiness that comes with having a bunch of little ones. It’s not that they didn’t enjoy the season. But their collective mood was definitely changed from years past.
S. continued to be successful in her job. I played a very small part in it, but the paper I work for was named best in Indiana this year, after winning best sports section a year ago.
And as much as I hate to admit it, the Royals winning the World Series was likely the highlight of my year. I mean, all the kid stuff came first. Obviously. But any time I think back to those four weeks in October, I get giddy like I’m 11 again. I loved getting Christmas cards from friends in KC where the family was posed in Royals shirts, or at a game, or the World Series parade. It’s silly that sports mean so much to me, I know. But in a year that was stagnant personally, a bunch of guys who wear the jersey of my hometown team winning the World Series was about the greatest fun I had over the past year.
A few of my close friends have had more trying years than I. To them I say, despite the pain, loss, and despair, we made it through. The simple act of hanging a new calendar tomorrow doesn’t change any of that. But 2016 is an opportunity to make new beginnings, create new relationships, and have amazing new experiences. Embrace the new year.
I think this is going to end up being two pieces. I had planned on writing about the Star Wars phenomena as a whole as an intro to my thoughts on The Force Awakens. But I really should have posted that first, as it seems like it could turn into a pretty long post. So, for now, just my reaction to seeing my first new Star Wars movie in a theater since 1983.
I tried damn hard to avoid spoilers over the past week. Each time I came across a review online, I closed the tab. When I came across a thread on Twitter, I scrolled past. If I walked into a discussion, I kept moving. Thus when I sat down last night to finally watch The Force Awakens I was viewing without much idea of what was going to happen. I knew that reviews had generally been positive, which gave me some relief. But that was it.
This seems a good moment to point out there are spoilers below. If you’ve not seen the movie but plan to, you might want to skip reading further.
When that first crash of cymbals and blast of trumpets hit and the familiar logo flashed on the screen, I got chills. I’ve dogged the franchise plenty over the past 15 years, but as a child of the 70s and 80s, I admit I was sucked I immediately by the standard first shot.
Speaking of immediate, two things were clear to me right away: JJ Abrams was doing a fine job of mashing up the vibe from episodes IV-VI with modern aesthetics. Every step of the way, the sets and terrains honored those of the classic trilogy, especially those of A New Hope. At the same time, everything felt fresh. Dialogue matched the quicker, caffeinated style we’re used to today. Battle scenes were amped up by better computer assisted graphics and more fit actors. It felt like an action flick made in the ’10s.
Most importantly, Abrams seemed to be working with the impression his job was to not just knock the dust off the franchise so Disney can ride it through the next 10–20 years, but also to shed most of the damage done in episodes I-III. The constant callbacks to A New Hope in particular set fans at ease and allowed him to build the base upon which the next generation of movies will spring from.
Which leads me to my only major complaint about the movie: it was too much like A New Hope. I was handling the similarities just fine until the new variant on the Death Star appeared.
It was bad enough that Lucas went back to the Death Star well in Return of the Jedi. But after 32 years, as the franchise gets a reboot, we have to go back to the bad guys building a planet-killing space station? I know, The Weapon was huge compared to the original Death Stars, and it was carved into an actual planet rather than being built as a free-standing structure. Still, I was annoyed by that whole element of the movie, along with the X-Wing sequence to blow it up.
Beyond that notable frustration, I loved just about everything else. Having avoided spoilers, I was surprised at how big a part of the story Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Leia were. I assumed all the classic characters would make a brief appearance and then fade away. The movie is as much about closing the door on Han as it is about opening it on Rey and Finn, though. Not going to lie, I got a little emotional when Han and Chewy walked onto the Millennium Falcon again. And Han’s final scene…well nine-year-old me, who loved Han more than any character in the originals, would have had a hard time with that one.
Harrison Ford was fantastic. That was classic Solo, with just a touch of age and wisdom and humility throw in. Carrie Fisher didn’t have as much screen time, but her updated General Leia was exactly how you would have wanted Leia to age.
The stars were the new additions, though. Daisy Ridley as Rey and John Boyega as Finn were both wonderful. Ridley is a complete badass. When I give L. the green light to watch the movie, she’s going to flip for Rey. And Boyega was just perfect as Finn. I liked the use of two unknown actors in these roles, too. And screw anyone complaining about Abrams cowing to the PC police by casting a woman and a black man as the cornerstones of the new trilogy.
Adam Driver was very good filling Kylo Ren with anger, doubt, and impatience over his personal history and his inability to fully control the Force. I enjoyed his petulant moments. He wants to be Darth Vader, but he’s clearly not mature or powerful enough. Yet.
We didn’t see a ton of Oscar Isaac, but Poe Dameron seems like Han Solo version 2 for the next couple episodes.
Despite being over two hours long, the movie felt brisk. There were tons of laugh lines, the dialogue seemed much better than Lucas’ infamously wretched efforts, and there weren’t too many setup scenes that slowed things down. In fact, there were a couple moments that seemed to pass too quickly as Abrams rushed to move the film along. Han, famously dismissive of women, seems awfully eager to accept Rey as an apprentice. And Kylo Ren’s brief capitulation to his father seemed to come with minimal reluctance, even if it was just a ruse. Minor quibbles, those.
From a visual perspective, it was stunning. The CGI battles were generally very well done. They were, at times, hard to follow because there was just so much on the screen. I really liked the little details, especially on Jakku, like the remnants of some battle between the Empire and Rebellion long ago: an Imperial walker here, an X-Wing fighter there, a crashed Star Destroyer dominating the landscape.
As for the ending, it was awfully abrupt. But I guess you had to offer up at least a glimpse of Luke Skywalker. Some have noted how The Empire Strikes Back had a cliffhanger ending. True, but it also had a sense of closure, as Luke and Leia stared off into the distance as Chewy and Lando flew away to search for Han. None of this dramatic stare-down between Luke and Rey. So it was a little weird. But it also makes me really want episode VIII to get here quick. Abrams for the win, I guess!
To wrap things up, I really liked The Force Awakens. It accomplished what I wanted from the film: make Star Wars fun and interesting again. Small issues aside, I thought it was really good. I’m debating whether L. is old enough to see it so I can take her and go see it again.While Abrams is stepping back to executive produce and letting Rian Johnson take over directing and main writing duties for the next two movies, Abrams righted the ship. Filming begins on the next film next month. May 2017 can’t get here soon enough.
I think there are three or four scenes that might be a little intense for her. But I’m going to ask around, as I know some of her classmates have seen it, and get input from their parents. I did cave and finally ordered episodes IV-VI last night, so I’ll start her off with those later this week. We’ll see if the other two girls are interested at all. ↩
Christmas week always has odd effects on time and space. On one hand, it roars by, packed with activities and stress. It seems like you blink and you’ve gone from December 19 to the 26th in a flash. On the other, when I think back to picking folks up at the airport just over a week ago, it seems like a month ago with everything we’ve done in-between.
So much to catch up on. This will not be chronological, so my apologies for the jumps.
First, the important stuff. Our girls had good Christmases. M., who infamously struggled with her list, got a fuzzy, folding, papa san-style chair that she loves, a Snap Circuits electronic kit, and a Minecraft stop motion movie kit. She was wanting some Minecraft Legos, so she keeps calling the movie kit a Lego set, even though it is not. C. got an iPod Nano (engraved with her name on the back), a “Bag of Science” set, and one of those fake talking birds (Chirpakeet? I really should know the name of her gifts, right?). And L. got a drum set, a Cling Creator, and a remote control helicopter. All seemed happy with their hauls and have spent most of their time since Christmas morning playing with them. They also got Barnes and Noble gift cards that they cashed in yesterday.
Before Christmas, their cousins from Denver were staying with us. The five of them had a great time. There was almost no downtime every day. Which was a bit of a surprise because the weather kept them inside ever day. They went to see the new Chipmunks movie as well.
There was a wrinkle to our Christmas Eve plans. Normally we hit an early evening Mass as a family then gather for dinner. A stomach bug had hit a few people, though, and we decided Mass might be a little tricky. So we skipped church and just had the family gathering. Everyone survived, no new people got sick, and it was a fun night.
Each year I kind of blank out how busy Christmas Eve and Christmas Day are when you’re hosting events. Then, about the 22nd, I remember how insane those 36 hours are going to be. We cooked and cleaned pretty much all day on the 24th. More cooking once the presents were opened on the 25th. So, with nothing to do on Saturday, both S. and I slept well past 10:00. I can’t recall the last time I slept that late without being sick. And I’ve slept past 9:00 the past two mornings. This dreary weather doesn’t make you,want to get out of bed any sooner than you have to.
Unrelated to Christmas but still fun, we bought L. her first pair of basketball shoes yesterday. She won’t practice for another week, but yesterday just after the Colts game ended seemed like the perfect time to go shopping. We dug through boxes at Dick’s, found a pair that fit in roughly the colors of the high school that is running her league, and she was set. She wore them all last night and already had them on when I got up this morning. I think she’s ready to get started!
There are haircuts on the agenda for the two younger girls today. And I’m going to see The Force Awakens this afternoon.
Still a full week of break left, so plenty more time to do fun stuff in the hours the girls are normally at school.
C. got nailed overnight on the 23rd–24th. So much for thinking we were done with the “throwing pukey sheets in the washing machine at 2:00 am” part of our lives. ↩
Just a few days into the Christmas break and already the stories are piling up.
We ended the calendar school year Friday with L. playing one of the lead roles in the first grade living nativity program. She was one of the cows that were annoyed by all the animals and people who were crowding into their stable in Bethlehem. She did a fine job, not missing any lines and getting laughs when she was supposed to.
From school we were off to the library, where the girls were allowed to pick out as many books as they could carry. L. and C. dumped their book bags in the back of the family truckster and filled them to the point of bursting. M. just walked out with a big stack in her arms. I told them between books, movies, holiday shows on the DVR, games and toys, and visiting cousins, they would have plenty to keep them occupied and no excuses to say “I’m bored.” I have yet to hear that phrase, but they’ve come close a few times.
Over the weekend we made two airport trips. Saturday we picked up my brother-in-law and his family, which meant we got to meet the newest cousin, baby L., who is seven months old. She was very smiley and happy to see everyone, which was nice since one piece of their luggage didn’t make it and we had to hang out longer than planned.
Then we went back Sunday night to pick up a sister-in-law and her kids who are making a quick pre-Christmas visit.
In between those trips we knocked out all the cookie baking and got them packaged up for delivery around the neighborhood.
Monday night was our annual family bowling night, which was fun as always.
Tonight the girls and cousins and some aunts are going to see the new Chipmunks movie. A couple of the adult relatives and I are going to see The Force Awakens next week.
The only negative came a week ago. As the kids were heading to bed on Monday, M. informed us that she no longer wanted anything on her Christmas list. She had decided the stuff she originally listed was too young for her. Which I had mentioned might be a problem a month ago, but she didn’t have time to hear me then. At first we were annoyed, as much at ourselves for always buying the gifts early as at her. We had in fact just wrapped and tagged everything earlier that day.
But after we put her to bed and S. and I talked about it, we realized M. was firmly in that awkward, pre-teen phase. Little kid toys still hold some appeal, but when you start talking to your friends at school about what you’re asking for, you realize maybe you should be interested in different things. Only you’re not sure what.
Since she told us she was scrapping her list, we’ve found a few blank lists lying around. But she’s never told us exactly what she wants. Which is a little sad. Every kid should have a lengthy list full of ridiculous requests. Her sisters both filled up a whole page with their lists.
We made a few executive decisions, placed some orders, and – knock on wood – the final replacement gift should be here later today. We think she’ll enjoy being surprised, but you kind of never know.
As always, this month is racing by. It’s hard to believe we’re just a couple days away from all the mysteries being revealed, our Christmas Day gluttony, and the Christmas music station going back to soft rock and old American Top 40s.
“Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)” – Darlene Love
With no more Late Night/Late Show with David Letterman, that means no more Ms. Love making her annual appearance to belt out the greatest Christmas song ever. So here’s a look back at her first appearance on his show in 1986, complete with a Spuds McKenzie commercial and a quick sit-down with Dave after, and then her final appearance last year. Funny how relatively spare the first version was compared to the huge spectacle it became over the years.
I won’t say this was the toughest time I’ve ever had putting a list together. While some years the songs kind of sort themselves, there have been plenty of Decembers when I’m still trying to figure out what to include and in what order right up until I made my list public. But, as I wrote last week, this has been a tough musical year for me to crack.
It’s been such an odd year that I’m throwing out a rule that I’ve generally held to hard-and-fast: songs must be from the current calendar year. In the past, if I didn’t discover a cool song or album until the calendar year after its initial release – especially if it was a late-year release – I would not include it in the next year’s Favorites list.
Because, you know, rules I guess.
I’m throwing that out not once, but twice this year. It’s a brave new world, friends!
Also, this is not a true countdown. The songs listed below are generally in order of preference, but other than my Song of the Year, no numbers are attached to any of them. Forgive me, Casey.
One more note before we get to the list:
SOME OF THESE VIDEOS CONTAIN NUDITY AND/OR STRONG SEXUAL CONTENT
Watch with caution if at work, kids are around, or you’re using your in-laws’ wifi.
“The Ground Walks, With Time In A Box” – Modest Mouse
Another charming yet goofy song in MM’s long career of them. I hear a strong “Rock The Casbah” influence to the music.
“Gimme All Your Love” – Alabama Shakes
Brittany Howard is a force of nature. While the hype for their 2012 debut album was so over-the-top that it had many doubting this year’s Sound & Color upon it’s release, her epic howl quickly won many of those critics over.
“Deeper Than Love” – Colleen Green
The most honest and depressing song of the year. Shortly after the cold, sterile bass and drum loop begins, Green throws this opening line at us:
Someday I hope for a lover to kill me
It’s the closest I can hope to get to anybody.
Green confesses every one of her hangups that prevent her from having a successful relationship on this track. It’s brutal and troubling, but because it is so sincere, it is also amazing.
“Let It Happen” – Tame Impala
Tame Impala is one of those bands that I often like the idea of more than their actual music. I admire their willingness to experiment and go in odd directions. But I often find listening to their entire albums a chore.
I love this track, though, as its epic sprawl delivers on all the band’s promise.
“Autodidact” – Swervedriver
One of the best, and most underrated, bands of the early 90s came back in 2015 after 17 years without releasing an album. While it didn’t hit the heights they reached back in 1993, I Wasn’t Born To Lose You was thoroughly enjoyable. This is its finest track.
“Lisa Sawyer” – Leon Bridges
It takes guts to turn the clock back to 1963 and craft your sound and image around a time that not only predates today’s young music buyers, but most of their parents as well. Bridges’ debut album was one of the finest of this year, and this ode to his mother was its fabulous centerpiece.
“Sagres” – The Tallest Man On Earth
Lush and warm and wonderful. Yet another amazing artist from Sweden.
“Web” – Thee Oh Sees
This is some hot goddamned rock and roll right here.
“To Die In L.A.” – Lower Dens
“Gates Of Dawn” – Heartless Bastards
The first of two sets of songs that I have a hard time separating. In this case, it is because their lead singers have some similar qualities. And both bands harken back to my youth. Lower Dens sound like a mid–80s, fringe Top 40 hit from a synthy, art rock band while Heartless Bastards mine the bluesy side of that era’s Heartland Rock.
“Pretty Pimpin” – Kurt Vile
I was a bit disappointed by Vile’s album b’lieve i’m goin down… But this track is a fantastic take on the “I’m not sure who I am anymore” song, done in a distinctively Vile style.
“Laced” – DMA’s
Derivative of many bands in many ways. But it’s still a delightful little song.
“Tiny Prayers” – Restorations
(October 2014 release) A song I can relate to in so many ways, as I feel a bit stuck between the most recent chapter of my life and figuring out how to begin the next. I often feel like I’m wasting time without accomplishing anything. While I don’t measure time in how many coffee cups are scattered around the house, that image certainly resonates with me.
“Continental Shelf” – Viet Cong
Not sure if this is goth, industrial, post-punk, or some brand new sub-genre I don’t know the name for. I do know it’s the hardest rocking song of the past year that stayed in heavy rotation on my music devices.
“Dreams” – Beck
One of the biggest songs of last summer, this struck the perfect mood for the season when it came on and you were sitting near a lake, pool, or just in your backyard. And this may be the best unofficial, user-created video ever, featuring shots from the 1979 TV movie Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders.
“Out Of The Woods” – Ryan Adams covering Taylor Swift
I don’t often include covers in my year-end list, especially one that is as gimmicky as Adams’ covering Swift. But, as you know, I loved his version of 1989 and while several of his songs could have made the list, I loved this one the most. The original is a huge, glossy, Roxette-esque scorcher. Here Adams turns it into a somber, beautiful, tear-jerker.
“Queen Of Peace” – Florence + The Machine
Florence Welch is an absolute treasure.
“Leave A Trace” – CHVRCHES
No sophomore slump for these Scots. And proof that even a “guitar-rock” lover like me sometimes gets swept up in songs that are big and shiny. And, yes, I love that Lauren Mayberry has become a feminist icon with her fierce, passionate, public proclamations that women should not be objectified, dismissed, or held to different standards than men because of their sexuality.
“False Hope” – Laura Marling
Filling the “brooding, female, singer-songwriter” slot that Emma Ruth Rundle and Angel Olsen filled last year. This song smokes.
“Kansas City” – The New Basement Tapes
So many reasons for me not to like this song. 1) I’ve never been a Bob Dylan fan. 2) The whole idea of taking a bunch of “lost” Dylan lyrics and turning them into an album performed by an all-star cast 40 years later seems like a huge gimmick to me. 3) I’m not terribly fond of Mumford and Sons, and Marcus Mumford takes the lead vocals on this track. 4) While Johnny Depp hangs out with a bunch of musicians I like, his appearances always strike me as opportunistic. Sliding in for the absent Elvis Costello on this track was yet another reason to doubt it.
Thing is, I love this song, and it’s not just because of the title. I love it because it’s a great freaking song. And it was part of what was a pretty great year for my hometown.
In fact, I really like the entire album, although I did not listen to it front-to-back until just a few weeks ago, nearly a year after its release. Yep, this is the second song that was released late in 2014 that I’ve slid into this year’s list. Although in this case, at least it didn’t hit high rotation on the radio until deep into spring, so it’s kind of a ’15 track.
“Pray For Rain” – Pure Bathing Culture
Just a beautiful, bouncy, and thoroughly infectious song.
“Fool For Love” – Lord Huron
“All This Wandering Around” – Ivan & Alyosha
Two more songs that feel joined to me. I first heard them around the same time. They had a similar sound and feel. They remained in my high rotation for several months. Both were great for cranking up and listening with the windows down on a summer day. Lord Huron touches up against that neo-Heartland Rock vibe I’ve dug so much in recent years. And I&A have a blissful, AM radio feeling.
“Depreston” – Courtney Barnett
Barnett made a name for herself through songs full of wry, often hilarious, observations about everyday life. Sometimes her humor was a bit difficult to find, layered beneath her laconic, Aussie delivery and slacked-out, surfy guitars. But digging for it always brought a tremendous payoff.
This song, though, was a break from that formula. There are the same wonderful observations about the mundane that other writers may miss. But rather than humorous, here they are tender and touching.
There’s the wonderful opening section, where Barnett agrees (reluctantly you can’t help but believe) to leave the hip, young part of town for the suburbs and domestic bliss with her partner. As she guides us through her tour of a potential home, her attention drifts from its architectural features to the artifacts of its previous occupant. Containers filled with coffee, tea, and flour. Photos of a man serving in Vietnam. Curiosity of how much the woman who lived there last first bought it for. Already filled with mixed feelings about her new life, Barnett seems overwhelmed by the life she has stepped into.
And the closer – a simple, repeated rejoinder from the real estate agent eager to defeat her reservations and close the deal – is the perfect coda.
If you’ve got a
Spare half a million
You could knock it down
And start rebuildin’
The D’s Notebook 2015 Song of the Year
“California Nights” – Best Coast
Listen, I love Best Coast. The album from which this comes, and which it is the title track for, was probably my most listened-to album of the year. But there’s always been a depth missing in Bethany Cosentino’s lyrics that keeps her songs from being timeless rather than momentary loves. And, frankly, comparing this to my Song of the Year from recent years, it just doesn’t measure up.
All that said…this was Best Coast’s finest album yet. And this was the song Cosentino was born to sing. It is bigger, more dramatic, and just better than anything she’s written and sung before. The hazy guitars and rolling bass evoke the earliest days of The Verve. Cosentino absolutely soars through her lines. And Bobb Bruno’s solo is the perfect punctuation. It’s a song easy to get lost in, and once it’s complete, you want to go back and listen again. In a year that seemed subpar to my ears, that’s enough to make it my favorite.
One huge example: Okkervil River’s “Down Down The Deep River.” It’s one of my five or six favorite songs of the past few years. But as it was released late in 2013, and I didn’t begin listening to it until 2014, it missed the ’13 list. And then I held it out of last year’s list because, technically, it was a year-old. Remember, I’m the same guy who didn’t turn on one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history because my turning the TV off had clearly caused the turn around. If I ever go to a therapist, I think I know where we’ll start our discussions… ↩
Last week of school before the holiday break. I could sense some anticipation as I drove the girls to St. P’s this morning. There are a series of parties and other holiday activities scattered through their weeks, and then they all get extra early dismissal on Friday. The first graders do an annual Living Nativity program that day, and then they, and their siblings, can leave school early. So we’ll leave right around 11:00. All the spelling and math tests that usually fall at the end of the week are clustered around Wednesday this week. So it’s going to be a pretty easy academic ride for them.
But overall the girls seem pretty chilled out about Christmas compared to recent years. Perhaps that is just them getting older. And/Or having the riddle of where gifts come from solved. Or maybe it’s just the weather. Other than that surprise snowstorm the Saturday before Thanksgiving, and a few cool days at the beginning of the month, it’s often felt more like April than December. We’ve had heavy clouds hanging over us that look like they could dump snow at any moment, but the temperature has been well into the 60s for most of the last week. I’m all for snow around Christmas, but admit I’m fine with an unseasonably warm end to the year. And mild winter for that matter. The last three have sucked.
The girls have also been more interested in TV shows that are not primarily aimed at kids this year. If there’s a holiday bake-off type show on, they are glued to the TV. They also are enjoying the Christmas lights competition shows. I think they’ve been watching all the traditional shows I’ve recorded, but they often do that on their own.
“Hey, anyone want to watch Rudolph?” I’ll ask.
“We already watched it,” will be the reply.
L’s mood may be altered a bit because she got an early Christmas present last week. After seeing C’s list, which included an iPhone, an iPad, and an iPod, L. added an iPod as item #11 to her list. She lucked out as one of her aunts brought a box of old electronics over for me to dig through and see what could be given to Good Will or put into a yard sale and then what should just be pitched. There was an old 30 GB iPod in the box. I charged it up, let it play for a few hours to confirm it worked, and then passed it along to L. The case is cracked a little, but it plays just fine.
At first she wasn’t sure what to do with it. She probably hand’t seen an iPod of that generation in years, if at all. But once I showed her how to operate it, she began taking it everywhere. She struggles a bit to keep earbuds in her little ears, though. So I found her some over-the-ear headphones in the Target dollar bin. As soon as she gets home from school, she changes her clothes, throws on her headphones, and walks around listening to her tunes. She even falls asleep with them on. The look fits her hip-hop personality quite well, even if she’s mostly listening to Kids Bop and Christmas music.
The last school day of the calendar year is always an early dismissal at 1:00. ↩
Finally, I have Fargo on the DVR and will dive into it once the holiday TV season ends. I’m thrilled that Ted Danson is involved. The AV Club recently cornered him for their Random Roles feature. These are usually good, bud Danson’s is great.
The Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby Christmas Special, 1957
Ol’ blue eyes.
The Chairman of the Board.
Frank Sinatra was born 100 years ago tomorrow. I know a few of my friends will be gathering in the suburbs of Kansas City to celebrate the occasion. I will be here in Indy, listening to some of Frank’s best Christmas songs, drinking something stiffer than your average Christmas beer.
I’ve been struggling with my Music Favorites lists this year. Where I normally love sifting through everything I’ve purchased, streamed, and downloaded over the past year to put together my favorite songs and albums lists, this year it’s been a bit of a chore.
My first inclination is to say that is because this has not been a particularly good year for music. At least for the types of music I listen to. And, to a certain extent, that is true. In the sweet spot of all the genres I favor, I don’t think there have been that many fantastic albums in 2015. But as I scan the various Best Of lists that are beginning to hit the web, I see plenty of albums that I listened to once or twice but failed to connect with. I think I found a partial explanation for that last week.
As I was skimming through my Best Of lists from years past, I was reminded at how freaking good 2014 was. I’m not sure I realized it at the time, but last year was one of my all-time favorite years for music. It featured one of my 20 favorite albums ever (Lost In The Dream by The War On Drugs, an album I still listen to frequently), one of the boldest statements in rock music in ages (Against Me!’s Transgender Dysphoria Blues), along with a dozen or so other albums I could put on right now and love, front-to-back. There were albums that did not crack my Top 5 last year that, if released this year, would have been a clear #1 album for 2015. Weird.
I wondered if perhaps I was out-of-touch with the zeitgeist in the end of the music pool I swim in. On both the music blogs I check daily and the SiriusXM alternative/indie rock stations that I listen to, guitar-heavy music seems to have fallen out of favor, replaced by artists who rely more on synthesizers, sequencers, and laptops, or have healthy electronic/dance elements to their sound. Not that I dislike those flavors. A couple of songs that fit into those sub-genres are on my Favorite Songs list this year. But I still prefer the guitar-based groups.
And as most of the albums I loved last year charted well on all the big Best Of lists, it’s not like I’m that out-of-touch. So perhaps it’s just an odd blip in history where there was a glut of albums that I loved in one calendar year then very few in the next. Which could bode well for 2016.
Other things that made this year a challenge, musically:
* My June hard drive crash that wiped out 7–8 years of playlists, metadata, and a few hundred songs.
* Switching to Apple Music from Rdio, which caused some shifts in how I listen, especially to new releases.
* Several music blogs I follow either shutting down, or changing away from offering MP3 downloads of new tracks to streaming them through Soundcloud.
* Me aging? For years I’ve taken pride in still keeping up with new music. However, it seems like many of my favorite bands of recent years harken back to the sound of the mid–80s. Am I finally closing my ears to what the kids are listening to and are my preferences calcifying around the era I came of age? I hope not, so I’m just going to ignore this option.
As I’ve thought this through and read new Best Of lists each day, I’m realizing that perhaps this year wasn’t as bad as I originally believed. It sure wasn’t 2014, but through a variety of factors, I just was not able to appreciate it as much as I could have. In fact, I’ve found a couple albums and songs in the past week that I skipped over when they were released that I’m now enjoying quite a bit.
I’m putting the finishing touches on my lists. My Favorite Songs list will have a slightly different format this year, and I’ll likely post it in just one or two parts early next week.
A couple critics, on their year-end lists, have noted they’ve heard this sentiment from others. So perhaps I’m not alone. ↩