Friday, November 16, 2012

Last Will and Testament*

This semester I am taking a Trusts & Estates drafting lab. My assignment for this week was to draft my own will.

Sometimes high school bible teachers have their kids write their own eulogy or something to make them reflect on how they want to live their life and be remembered. Writing your own will stirs a slightly different bucket of emotions.

Forcing people to confront a world they aren't a part of can bring out the worst. It's a quick way to find out who the control freaks are. People suddenly feel the need to control exactly where all their stuff goes and even how people use it down the road. To allow people to control their stuff after they've died, estate planners typically use a trust. My professor likes to joke that, "You only use a trust when you don't trust the people you're leaving your stuff to." That's not entirely true, but it's funny so I'll allow it.

At its best, contemplating your own mortality can help clarify who the people are you care about. It also helps if you, like me, don't own anything of great monetary value. It's easy not to care when you don't have anything to give away. I love it. Stuff just holds you down.  

My estate is full of sentimental equity. I decided that the material things I value the most are my guitar,  "Taylor Swift," which I left to Tommy. Followed by my soccer jerseys, mostly to Alban. My original Jacqueline Erwin painting, to Cody. And Alban, whom I left to Tommy.

Now, for those of you thinking, "David! Why would you tell people they get some of your stuff when you die? Aren't you afraid they'll kill you"? Don't worry, Washington has a "Slayer Rule." If they slay me, like with the "jawbone of an ass" or whatever, they don't get any of my stuff.

I encourage anyone who wants to measure their attachement to their junk to think about who they would give it away to. Would you be tempted to add any conditions?

Don't worry Phil, I left you a fun surprise.

This kid is pretty attached to his ice cream

* This is not my "Last Will and Testament." It is not intended to be a testamentary document of any kind, including but not limited to a codicil or will replacement.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Tommy's Top Six

My musical palette has been exploratory in the most recent months. Though I will always love the old standbys such as Sufjan Stevens, Sigur Ross, and Coldplay, I’ve found myself yearning for a new kind of music. As I enter the green waters of careerdom, I yearn for a fresh music to be the backdrop for this vernal stage in my life. Something inside of me is calling for a soundtrack to settle down and build a career on, a kind of rice base. The following albums are the chosen few who I’ve made acquantinces with so far. Some of them are foriegn and will likely be deported, but still, put a gun to my head and ask me my top six albums, these are them.  

Bonnie Tyler is the one in the picture.

“Late at night I toss and I turn...” If that line from “Holding Out For A Hero,” ever fits you, I don’t recommend this album as a sedative. Bonnie Tyler Super Hits is a refreshingly audacious endeavor to mix raw human emotion and music, and Bonnie Tyler. The angelic skuzz-buzard vocals of Bonnie accompanied by the distorted hell-bending guitar are perfectly accented by the three second reverb snare sets. Where some albums suck, this one doesn’t. This album seamlessly blends the evocative emotion and philosophical meandering that’s come to typify Bonnie Tyler’s music. For example, the song “If You Were A Woman (And I Was A Man)” has a saxophone and an affected choral chorus that Jon Bon Jovi later mimicked. And don’t even get me started on the courageous lyrical imagery that is effortfully strewn throughout: “Total Eclipse of the Heart” ...

The performance isn't miserable. 

In this album, The Miserable Ones deliver a surprisingly edible concoction of uncompromisingly good things. The seductively commanding voice of Jean Val Jean capture attention in “Prologue” with one harrowingly delivered line, “I stole a loaf of bread!” That same voice returns to take us on a journey of decision, ultimately ending in a contentedly responsible hope, that captures the essence of Jean Val Jean’s plight in, “Who Am I?” This song is the brooding question of every young professional. I’ve often found myself in my office shamelessly resonating that question out the door and down the hall, as I, withJean Val Jean, come to the final realization that I too, am in fact, “TWO-FOUR-SIX-O-ONE!!!” 

The hands might be Johnny Cash. 

Johnny Cash reminds me of my Grandpa Vern, mostly in resemblance, but also in time. I always admired my Grandpa Vern’s faith in Jesus. When I listen to Johnny Cash in My Mother’s Hymn Book sing “I Shall Not Be Moved,” I’m immediately transported to my Grandparent’s basement, on their little self-made stage called “The Rocking Horse Review.” There my Grandpa and I are singing together, and his faith, the faith I need, is shared with me––something like a Seventh-day Adventist smokey-saloon foretaste of heaven. 

Songs of the Aztecs, older and newer.

Mexihkateokwikameh is an unkempt journey into the imagined chants of ancient Mexico. Tzotzollin give a pleasantly compromised blend of pre and post-Columbian America music, with what seems to be some tribal African-like harmonies as well. This album gets at the humble hummer in all of us. The Spanish/Aztecan fuse of "Temetzkaltzin Kwikatl" is driven by a calm but persevering percussion rhythm, and in the drivers seat the vocals optimistically chant about something in foreign chords, joyfully permitting us to be okay at life. And near the end of the album, "Tlanezi Kwikatl," rocks us to sleep with its new but familiar lullaby-like progession. Oh, and who can’t help but sing along with, “Ome Tlazokamati Kwikatl?” ... “Ome Tayayo! Ome Tayayo! Ome Tayayo!” 

This is Album 2, but same cover as Album 1. 

Jean Val Jean is back and older than before, but he can still sing. He takes the audience beyond the barricade in his falsetto prayer, “Bring Him Home.” But the Miserable Ones really do it right when the dead join the living in “Epilogue [Finale],” for the most lavishly beautiful zombie-chant ever accompanied by a pit orchestra. This album garishly, yet amazingly unpretentiously, filters the human condition inspiringly into the hearts of the audience. Who can contend, after such a performance, that “To love another person is to see the face of God”? And when the questions are asked of me, “Won’t you join in our crusade? Who will be strong and stand with me”? May my answer be a resolutely intrepid, “Yes, I will. Bring it on tomorrow. I’m ready.”   

Bloop: The Underwater World Nature Sounds,
New Age Music Relaxing Sounds for Deep Meditation, Enlightenment,
Relaxation, Message, Yoda, New Age Healing Under Water Enigma,
 Nature Music, Sound Therapy and Spa.

This album is a sixty minute recording of someone playing in the tub, laced with white noise.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Phil's Albums

My original plan was to sit down and write this list without reading the other album posts; the thought of etching my musical taste in digital stone (melodramatic much?) seemed much more authentic if I made my choices in a vacuum. Fortunately (or unfortunately), I put my willpower to better use elsewhere (I hate writing cover letters. See also, Parks and Recreation marathon/binge: four seasons in two weeks, check.), and I have been greatly enjoying the posts so far. But on to the matter at hand.

The order isn't particularly important, other than the fact that the albums are written in the order in which I thought of them.

Dizzy Gillespie: Compact Jazz, 1990
I did a little detective work to try and figure out when this album entered into my library. I looked through all the library catalogs of placed I've lived and scoured old hard drives, and the best answer I could come up with is that I found the album on some shared piece of a network sometime during college, maybe in 2003 or 2004.

It's not a standalone jazz album, but it is a very solid compilation. This wasn't the album that started my love of jazz (see Miles Davis, Kind of Blue), but it was the one that deepened it. It's a gorgeous, often joyous album of trumpet-led jazz infused with latin rhythms. It's full of memorable melodic licks that I find myself humming from time to time, even when I haven't listened to the album for a while.

Dirty Projectors: Swing Low Magellan, 2012

Easily my favorite thing about this band is that they are masters of playing with aural texture in their music. I have only heard snippets of Morning Better Last!, but I think the "fabric scraps" from this album were the textural bits of sound that were quilted together in Bitte Orca and layered together in Swing Lo Magellan. It's a really interesting evolution of sound and complexity. Also mainly, I just enjoy the album immensely. About To Die is my jam. Seriously.

M83: Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, 2011
This album brings to mind a cold and quiet January in rural Korea. Well, it was quiet until I started (respectfully) blasting this album in my apartment. It was the awkward part of the Korean school year when classes kinda take place for two weeks, punctuating the middle of a two-month stretch of vacation time. I didn't have many teaching responsibilities, which meant that I was often home, playing one silly computer game or another with this album on repeat. There may or may not have been some dancing during Midnight City. But there were no witnesses. Like a tree in the forest, if no one sees it fall,  does it even happen?

This album is decidedly more electronic than most of the music that I love. But I instantly took to this 80's synth-tastic symphony.

Radiohead: In Rainbows, 2007

According to iTunes, this is the album with the most plays in my library. In some part of my brain, I know that Kid A and OK Computer are regarded as better Radiohead albums by most fans and critics. But sorry, this is the album that resonates the most with me. I remember fixating on Weird Fishes/Arpeggi and playing it nonstop; this one song was added to my library a year before the rest of the album, and it used to hold the record for most plays until Bodysnatchers and 15 Step made it into my running mix. Bodysnatchers used to come on mid-run, and I immediately couldn't help but pick up the pace and start burning up the road (less slowly than usual).

Arcade Fire, Funeral, 2004

Seeing Arcade Fire live in Montréal was perfection in audio/visual form. The trip to Osheaga in 2010 was a perfect storm of a trip: excellent company (Evan, Alban, and David), fantastic food (bagels, Di Fara pizza, coffee), and so much good music. And the pinnacle of the trip was seeing headliner Arcade Fire end the day with a concert in their hometown. I heard Rebellion (Lies) live. They played seven songs out of ten from this album, some favorites from Neon Bible, and a bunch of songs from The Suburbs. The encore finished with Wake Up, with hundreds of people singing along with the opening lines.

It was easily the best concert I've been to yet. And this will always be one of my favorite go-to albums. It's a perfect mix of contemplative songs and orchestral rock anthems. I really want to see them in concert again.

Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues, 2011

When I listen to this album, I remember the sadness of post-college withdrawal and the hope of spring and the end of winter. I moved back to my Mom's house after graduation, and I had forgotten both how rural and unpopulated the area was and how harsh and lingering the winter in New England was. I started listening to this album in April, right at the transition between winter and spring. So I can't help but associate this album with returning sun and creeping warmth.

But at the same time, Helplessness Blues was the song that encapsulated my questions about life and work and purpose after graduation. And to me, Grown Ocean is the essence of the Northwest distilled into audio form, and it made me nostalgic for the time spent there with good friends.

This Fleet Foxes album is bittersweet and weighty with memory and emotion. Also mainly, it's beautiful and a joy to listen to.

Honorable Albums Worth Mentioning

- Sigur Rós: Takk, 2005
I went from ridiculing (a little; I joked that they were probably singing about fish sticks in Icelandic) this album in Argentina, to using it as the soundtrack of my life in Thailand.

- Joanna Newsom: The Milk-Eyed Mender, 2004
The Book of Right On would also appear on said soundtrack.

- Sufjan Stevens: Peace! Songs for Christmas, Vol. V, 2006
My favorite holiday album that warrants listening all year-round. I pity the fool that doesn't Recognize Christmas. Amirite?

- The Shins: Chutes Too Narrow/Port of Morrow, 2003/2012
I might have made fun of this band too.(Sorry, Trina!) Stupid move, 'cause they're a whole bunch of folksy rock fun. Both albums are good but different. See the first for the original folksy rock fun.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

David's Albums

Eric Clapton: Unplugged, 1992

I must have been about 13. My mother and I had just finished running some errands. She was just about to take the key out of the ignition when I frantically stopped her. I turned up the radio and told her I'd bring the keys in when the song was over.

There are a few songs that stand out in my mind as game changers. Something, by The Beatles, Kodachrome, by Paul Simon and Layla, by Eric Clapton all dramatically opened my mind to what music could be. 

After I graduated from my "John Denver Anthology for Easy Guitar," I went straight to the blues. I listened to this album on repeat for hours working out every note of every slide and solo. I admit I didn't really understand what he was singing about, but the blues spoke to me anyway. The piano solos from Nobody Knows You When You're Down and Out and Alberta, along with the guitar work from Lonely Stranger and Tears in Heaven, were inspirational. My favorite song currently from this album is Lonely Stranger because it captures the satisfaction I get every time I feel like I don't fit in with the other law students. I love this album. 

Arcade Fire: The Suburbs, 2010

When I listen to this album I have flashbacks that involve spending my last summer before law school with the Howes. Excellent memories of music, food (thanks Ansley!) and a trip to the farm. I guess I did some work as well. It also reminds me of my first year of law school.

Before I started law school I made up my mind that I was going to defy whatever was expected of me and do it my own way. The entire goal of law school is to take perfectly good people, break them, and rebuild them into lawyers. This album was the soundtrack to my resistance. It's my tradition to blast Modern Man in the car on the way to finals. I try to take the pressure off by reminding myself that people who let law school determine their value are missing the point.

In line for a number but you don't understand
Like a modern man

For me, the track that hits hardest is Suburban War. When Win Butler cries, "All my old friends / they don't know me now / all my old friends / are staring through me now," I get choked up. These lyrics reflect how it felt to go through an experience that no one else understood and my intense desire to come out on the other side as someone my closest friends still recognized.

Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues, 2011

This album is immense. Helplessness Blues is the post-Nirvana soundtrack of the Pacific Northwest. It speaks to me through beautiful harmonies, existential questions and gritty defiance. On the title track Robin Pecknold takes the words out of my mouth regarding my future when he says:

And now after some thinking, I'd say I'd rather be
A functioning cog in some great machinery serving something beyond me...
I don't need to be kind... 
Or bow down and be grateful and say "sure, take all that you see"
To the men who move only in dimly-lit halls and determine my future for me

The Shrine / An Argument, is an absolute masterpiece. Pecknold tells the story of a failed relationship in three parts. Anyone who has experienced the deterioration of a relationship knows exactly what he's talking about. 

He launches into the second movement of the song with a drum beat and strum pattern that evokes an image of someone, eyes closed, trying to get up the courage to end a relationship he knows has run its course. He describes the frustration as the relationship breaks down and the inevitable period immediately after it ends where each person works to rid themselves of the influence of the other and become their own person again. Then he resolves the chord progression, signifying the release and peace of being free. 

When you talk you hardly even look in my eyes...
In the doorway holding every letter that I wrote...
in the ocean washing off my name from your throat
in the morning, in the morning

Seriously, just listen to it... 

Beach House: Teen Dream, 2010

When I share this album (or the ones above) with others, I always say, "It's ok if you don't like it. I won't judge you." But I do. "Meh... it was ok," is not an acceptable answer. Save your uninformed apathy for a dry cupcake or a subpar taco! *... Gees David... that was harsh. Do you think maybe you went too far on that one?* Of course not.

Alban introduced me to Beach House my last year in The Estate and then I saw them the following summer in Montreal with Phil. (Alban and Evan were scoping out their spots for Arcade Fire). The experience was magical. If you close your eyes during 10 Mile Stereo or Take Care you can literally feel music fairies sprinkle pixie dust on your soul. Victoria Legrand's voice is translucent and powerful all at once. Beach House are on a short list of bands who are able to harness restraint and silence to make their music even more powerful. (See also, The XX).

I have tickets to see Beach House for the third time on October 4. I'm stoked.

Ryan Adams & The Cardinals: Cold Roses, 2005

There is a special place in my heart for the alt-country genre. I've often thought that if I wrote my own songs they would sound like this. If I am a Stranger perfectly describes what it felt like to reach a point in a serious relationship and realize that if you can't fully share yourself with them at that point, it's not going to happen.

If all this love is real, how will we know?
And if we're only scared of losing it, how will it last?...

To tell the truth it's hard enough to find a lover
Who you want to hide your darkness from
So they won't let you down

If I am a stranger now to you
I will always be, I will always be...

Let It Ride captures the desire that everyone feels sometimes to drop all your relationships and responsibilities and run. I know a rolling cadence and slide guitar don't work for everyone, but I love it.

Coldplay: Parachutes, 2000

This album is solid all the way through and feels like the last album Coldplay wrote that wasn't specifically meant to blast in a sold-out arena. That being said, many of the tracks are quite blast worthy. My itunes play count tells me that the songs on this album have been played an average of 112 times. The lowest, High Speed, at 74 and the highest, Don't Panic, at 138. This album doesn't ever unsettle your nerves or make you question life. Instead it projects an atmosphere of calm and hope.

My favorite memory associated with this album involves jamming Everything's Not Lost / Life is For Living, with Alban at The Estate. When I recall the memory I imagine the scene from the perspective of someone on the sidewalk looking through the living room window at night, drawn in by the sound of music. Five guys in the living room, I'm on drum or guitar, Alban is playing the old piano. Tommy has his black Nike hat on and is reading a book about pastoring while Cody tempts him to drop it and play MKart. Phil is talking to Jax about bread.

I'm sure I have combined a few different memories into one, but I'm ok with it. The next time we get together we need to jam this.

Honorable Mention

Ben Folds Five: Ben Folds Five, 1995: I'm a major sucker for bluesy piano, tight harmonies and crunchy bass lines.

Dirty Projectors: Swing Low Magellan, 2012: This was incredible live. About to Die is one of my favorites. It's hard to go wrong with lyrics like, "If you squint trying to recollect the bosom of your hoodlum love."

Bon Iver: Bon Iver, 2011: Gorgeous. All of it.

Santigold: Master of My Make-Believe, 2012: This album has some serious beats that even a white boy can get down to. Sort of...

Monday, September 17, 2012

Evan's Albums

The Cure: Disintegration, 1989

I had barely turned 7 when The Cure released their eighth studio album. I wasn't ready. The recent (1988) release of the He is Our Song praise collection made a bigger impact on my musical landscape (no that's not me) at the time. But though it took a while for this album to find me, it had an immediate and profound effect, and remains one of my all-time favorites. 

This is a deeply nostalgic record for me, the music was the soundtrack for a memorable four hour road trip from Newbold College to the city of Blackburn in the northwest of England. Every time I hear "Plainsong" I'm sitting once again in that cramped sedan, staring out at the stunning, harsh beauty of the emerald green hills. Countless "hip young bands" have imitated The Cure's patented guitar sound, with Wild Nothing and DIIV being two of the most recent examples. Though some of these admirers do succeed in capturing evocative aspects of The Cure's sound, none of them match Robert Smith's songwriting. Listen to pop masterpiece "Love Song"... I rest my case.

When I play Disintegration, I remember what it felt like to question everything, and what it felt like to meet my soulmate at the age of 20. 

Dirty Projectors and Bjork: Mount Wittenberg Orca, 2010

This is a strange and brilliant EP that defies the norms of celebrity-charity-collaboration projects. Originally a digital-only, pay-what-you-will release, Mount Wittenberg Orca features the distinctive voices of Bjork and the Dirty Projectors singing as a family of whales. The songs were written by David Longstreth and the proceeds of the project went to support National Geographic Society marine preservation efforts.

I love this collection of songs for many reasons. The sheer ambition and flawless execution of the complex vocal arrangements will be familiar to Dirty Projectors fans, but they move front and center on this project with additional instrumentation kept at minimal levels. Ever since this EP's release, "Beautiful Mother" has been a mainstay of the Dirty Projectors' live set. The song is impressive in its recorded form; it unambiguously rocks live. In the final track of the album, "All We Are", all the elements come together memorably: the unmistakable, indescribable voices of Bjork and Longstreth, the pitch-perfect close harmonies of the background vocalists, and the meticulously structured elements of Longstreth's composition: 

                                          We looked out across the long horizon
                                          We looked in each other's eyes 
                                          And realized that we are only one
                                          Through a moment we could glimpse an infinity
                                          And through an infinity we could see
                                          All in all is all we are

My Bloody Valentine: Loveless, 1991

For better or worse, my introduction to rock music came courtesy of grunge. I remember listening to a fair amount of Nirvana, Soundgarden, and Smashing Pumpkins as an 8th grader. Sadly, I would not know until much later that a band from Dublin had produced a better album in the same year that Nevermind, Badmotorfinger, and Gish were releasedI was listening to grunge without realizing that Kevin Shields' brand of shoegaze was what I was really looking for.

Loveless is a perfect album. Its heady mix of heavily processed guitars, obscured vocals, and electronic drum loops results in a sound that is bigger and yet also softer than grunge. It is the first album that I listened to straight through at a very high volume on very good speakers: exactly as Shields would want it. "To Here Knows When" and "Come In Alone" are particular favorites of mine. "Sometimes" may be familiar to some readers due to its inclusion in the soundtrack for Sofia Coppola's lovely film: Lost In Translation

Radiohead: Kid A, 2000

A few months ago I was part of a group discussion in response to this question: "What's your theme song?" In other words, if you were a character in a movie, what musical theme would introduce you? In an ideal world, what song should ideally come on every time you enter a public place? For me, that theme would be the opening bars of "Everything In Its Right Place", the first track of Kid A, an album which I rate as the masterpiece of one of the truly great bands of my lifetime. 

I love the fact that Radiohead, at the height of their powers after the justified success of Ok Computer, chose to keep experimenting, to keep pushing the boundaries of what they could create as a band. Thanks to the current ubiquity of electronic textures in popular music, it's easy to forget how fresh and innovative songs like "Idioteque" sounded in 2000. Kid A has been a frequent part of my life over the last twelve years, on European trains, across North American interstates, in dorm rooms, rented apartments, and little houses. In all these diverse settings it has served as a source of inspiration and catharsis. I enjoy the entire Radiohead back-catalog, but Kid A is the album that, for me, will always stand alone. 

Beach House: Devotion, 2008

Devotion is not Beach House's strongest album. But in many ways it remains my favorite. It contains the band's first great single, "Gila", as well as the haunting and beautiful "Turtle Island" - still one of my favorite Beach House songs. 

I love Devotion because it conjures a sense of that happy time when Beach House were still Baltimore's best-kept secret: maybe we wouldn't get more than two albums, maybe the band would slowly fade away like so many other little Myspace projects. Then Teen Dream arrived and everything changed. And we were so pleased for them.

Sufjan Stevens: The Age of Adz, 2010
As a radical departure, The Age of Adz mirrors Kid A in some ways, even if the release of All Delighted People a few months earlier provided an indication of Sufjan's new direction. I remember listening to the pre-release stream of "I Walked" with Alban in Boonsboro and thinking: 1) This doesn't sound like the Illinoisemakers, and 2) I need to work on my dance moves! It was an exciting time, and when the album dropped in October, I was able to listen to the final version of several songs that I had first heard months earlier with Ansley, at a tiny, unforgettable show in Portland, ME. 

This is a wild, heart-breaking, synth-infused, intergalactic party of an album, at least loosely inspired by the fascinating and tragic life of Prophet Royal Robertson. It contains essential dance classic "Too Much"and 25 minute mini-masterpiece "Impossible Soul". Throughout the roller coaster ride, Sufjan's gift for memorable melody ensures that a great song lies amidst each jubilant, anarchic composition. 

In addition to the the moments described above, this album takes me back to a perfect concert in Philadelphia with Larry and a memorable evening in Prospect Park with Jenny, Alban, Ansley, and Phil. We took the concert t-shirts very seriously: 

Honorable Mentions:

Joanna Newsom: Have One On Me, 2010 (I'm still conflicted about not including this in the top six. Joanna Newsom possesses an utterly distinctive voice, virtuosic instrumental technique, and enduring craft as a songwriter and lyricist. This triple album is an astonishing achievement.)

Broken Social Scene: You Forgot It in People, 2002 (The album that introduced non-locals like me to an inspired collective of musicians based in Toronto and Montreal that combined to great effect on this album while gaining additional acclaim as members of other bands and side projects: KC Accidental, Metric, Feist, Stars, Apostle of Hustle, the list goes on. This was one of the most frequently played albums of my later college years. An intoxicating blend of world-weariness, aggression, and hope.) 

tUnE-yArDs: whokill, 2011 (Merrill Garbus is a force of nature. I love the attitude, ecstatic energy, and infectious bass grooves on this album. "Bizness" and "You Yes You" are two of the more delightful singles in recent memory. Yes that is a ukelele!)

Purity Ring: Shrines, 2012 (I have to second Alban's nomination of this album. It's somewhat telling that the pitchfork review is preceded by no less than 5 singles. It could just as easily be 8. This is the album I turn to for the last four miles of a long run. Let's go!)

Monday, September 10, 2012

Cody's Albums

In deliberate, but not descending order:

Muse: Black Holes & Revelations, 2006
David said it first: "Muse is Cody's soul music." But, I didn't know it was true until we saw them in Seattle. After that, I drove across the country to work on the East Coast. On the drive, I listed to Muse almost exclusively.

It's my soul music because it's the sort of music that inspires the overthrow of something like a government or an academic administration.

The Killers: Day & Age, 2008
This was my first concert. In my memory, all the members of the Estate made that trip to Seattle. I know that wasn't the way it went down, but I can see all of us clustered together on the floor waiting for Wild Light to hurry up.

The most important thing about this album is how it probes into the most pressing philosophical questions. "Are we human? Or are we dancer?" Prior to this album, I had not known those were mutually exclusive.

Nonetheless, there's nothing like five guys on the way to Seattle signing Day & Age.

Coldplay: X&Y, 2005
Coldplay's forgotten album. What I mean is that when I think "I'll listen to Coldplay," I don't think of this album. But, after a few songs from other albums, I invariably resort to X&Y. Perhaps more than any other, I consistently listen to this album from end to end.

Simon & Garfunkel: Bookends, 1968
Nothing makes me feel more mature, sophisticated, and altruistic than listening to Simon and Garfunkel. You can't deny the legacy and timeliness of their anti-war sentiments and raw talent. What's great about this album is that it has several unknown gems in addition to the famous "Mrs. Robinson." "America" is actually my favorite S&G song of all time, but "A Hazy Shade of Winter" makes a particular effort to be sung with much gusto. Do it.

Belle & Sebastian: ...Write about Love, 2010
This is the newest addition to my listening habits. I trust the sincerity of the music and their earnest melodies do much to enhance the message behind their poetry in songs like "I Want the World to Stop." 

In terms of philosophical tenor, I see them as a gentler Muse. They don't care about the typical worldly measures of success. This is an album about love and love changes the bottom line. 

Sigur Rós: Takk, 2005
I liked Takk right away, but I fell in love when I saw this video:

Kent State was one of the darkest moments in American history. It was the moment we realized it wasn't only foreign fascists who would kill when their people challenged them. Moments like Kent State make me determined to live for something worth dying for. Nothing sums up my feelings about Kent State better than "Glósóli."

Throughout, the album encourages contemplation and cultivates patience.

The Carpenters: Carpenters, 1971
These artists are concertedly artistic. "Sing" graciously supplies an optimistic and radical philosophy that I'd like to teach to every child (which is probably why it was created for Sesame Street). Also, "Sing" isn't on this album (it's on Now & Then).

There's something about music from this era that suggests a sort of emotional sincerity (see also: John Denver in the Honorable Mentions) compared to the seemingly less convincing artists of today (except for B&S above). Sing along with these ballads while you're reading your casebook. I do.

Stars: The Five Ghosts, 2010
Driving to and from Metallak, Alban and I agreed that the latter half of this album is lacking. The first half makes up for it though. Alban introduced me to The Five Ghosts and The Suburbs on that trip; it was an important trip. I'm not sure why it was so late when we were driving, but I remember stopping in the middle of the night to, I don't know what, get gas or something. It was the sort of helter skelter, seat-of-our-pants, raw adventure that really gets seared into your memory and makes you think of Fight Club. It was real.

Beach House: Teen Dream, 2010
I suppose Beach House could lend itself to memories of our Oregon Coast trip (an almost perfect time except for our lack of Phil), but it rarely makes me think of that. I listen to this album when I'm cleaning. And the reason I do is because it makes me think of two specific things about our time at the Estate.

First, I think of Alban, in the midst of one of his cleaning fits, cleaning junk off of the coffee table. Remember how he used to fan out our magazines (mostly The New Yorker) and stack our newspapers (exclusively The Collegian)?

Second, I think of Phil in the kitchen during family dinner. In the scene, David has already completed the salad and Phil is making his last magical gestures over the pan on the stove (it's Texas Enchilada night). Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros was more our Family Dinner fair, but somehow Beach House is connected for me too. Over the next two hours, we stuff ourselves with TE topped with Phil's magic sauce and relax contentedly knowing there's no place we'd rather be.

Honorable Mentions: 

Jónsi: Go, 2010 (Good music for driving around Berkeley. Also reminds me of Tommy dancing.)

John Denver: Rocky Mountain High, 1972 (If Edward Abbey and Wendell Berry can't make you love our Earth, John Denver should do the trick.)

Franz Ferdinand: Franz Ferdinand, 2004 (We saw them at Outside Lands. They are the next generation of Euro band that appeal with their traditional stage presence and evident style.)

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Alban's Albums

Sufjan Stevens: Come On Feel The Illinoise, 2005

The summer after I graduated from Highland View Academy, Sufjan Stevens invited me to Come On Feel The Illinoise.  I remember driving to the Hagerstown Borders and being pretty excited that they still had the illicit albums with Superman on the cover.  I bought two.  One is still in its wrapping.

Illinoise was one of the first albums I listened to straight through multiple times in quick succession.  This wasn't because I loved the album on first listen, it was because I was reorganizing the entire HVA library for Mrs. Payne that summer.  It took me a little while to warm up to Illinoise.  I hadn't been exposed to much Sufjan before, and so it was unlike anything I had heard before.  The predatory wasp finally got me, I guess.  

Sigur Ros: Takk, 2005

When Takk arrived in Argentina in a package from Jen, it was a welcome respite from the old-style gaucho music that was usually playing in our room.  My roommate Güenche didn't really appreciate it, so I only got to play it when he was gone.  Takk fit my mood in Argentina remarkably well.  It is at times lonely yet leaves you feeling energized and optimistic.  I can remember sipping mate while listening to Glosoli and working on grammar homework.  The arpeggiated piano chords that open Hoppipolla and its ensuing crescendo represent one of the best years of my life.  The final track of the album, Heysatan, is exactly how I was feeling when I left Argentina.

Dirty Projectors: Bitte Orca, 2009

Evan introduced me to the Dirty Projectors during my first year at The Estate.  I can't remember what albums I was listening to at the same time, but I remember liking them more than Bitte Orca.  This feeling didn't last particularly long.  When I listen to the first chords of Cannibal Resource, I am taken back to Phil and my road trip to Angwin for Thanksgiving, 2009.  It was the same time Fantastic Mr. Fox arrived in theaters.  This is not especially important, but I associate the two events for some reason.

It was during that trip that I realized that Bitte Orca manages to be interesting in every category: melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, and lyrical.  And yet, it remains grounded enough to be both danceable and singable.  This unique characteristic is represented throughout the album, but the behemoth of a track, Useful Chamber, perhaps demonstrates it best.  It was soon after the Thanksgiving trip that I started to realize The Dirty Projectors was my favorite band.  This was later confirmed when I saw them play live at the 9:30 club. Twice.

Arcade Fire: The Suburbs, 2010

When the first single from The Suburbs, Month of May, dropped in early 2010, I was underwhelmed.  By the time Osheaga 2012 rolled around on July 31st, we had only heard three songs from the new album: Month of May, The Suburbs, and Ready To Start, but my attitude had changed dramatically.  That Arcade Fire show was the first time that I had heard songs by one of my favorite artists live before hearing them at home.  I heard Empty Room, Rococo, Deep Blue, We Used To Wait, Half Light II, and Sprawl II for the first time in Montreal.  Three of those songs had never been performed before.  It was one of the best concerts I have ever been to, and its inseparable connection with The Suburbs only adds to the album's sacrosanct status.

M83: Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, 2011

M83's massive double album, Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, dropped on October 18 last year.  For me, it was the best album of 2011.  On Sunday the 21st, I went to Takoma Academy and worked for about ten hours, which allowed me to listen to the 74 minute album eight times.

It was around the same time that I realized I could beat the "First Year Teacher" level.  Hurry Up, We're Dreaming reminds me of that feeling - the feeling of facing incredible stress square in the face and beating it, just barely.  Here are some of the apropos lyrics from Intro:

           Carry on, carry on, carry on!
           And after us the flood.
           Carry on, carry on, carry on!
           Our silver horn it leads the way.
           Banners of gold shine,
           In the cold, in the cold, in the cold.

Midnight City was Pitchfork's track of 2011 for good reason.  Raconte-moi une histoire is one of the best feel-good crescendo tracks in existence.  Claudia Lewis has the sexiest intro I have ever heard. When Will You Come Home? showcases Anthony Gonzalez's ability to write ethereal interludes.

Are we still talking about the first of two albums?

Beach House: Bloom, 2012

It is often the case that the first singles released from new albums are intriguing, while the album itself turns out to be mediocre.  Not the case with Bloom, which was introduced by the release of Myth and Lazuli.  After hearing these songs, I remember wondering if the rest of the album could hold up.  In truth, I was such a blind supporter of Beach House by this past May that I really had no doubts at all.

My faith was rewarded.  It's impossible for me to pick a track on Bloom that I don't thoroughly enjoy listening to.  And while New Year's celestial melody and hypnotic beat probably gives it the best shot at being my favorite track, it could easily be challenged by about five others.

Honorable Mentions:

The xx: xx, 2009 (xx reminds me of quiet evenings at The Estate with the best people and hits me with nostalgia like a waterfall to the face.  Sounds lame, but it's accurate.)

The National: High Violet, 2010 (I'm still not sure this should have only been an honorable mention. It was the perfect commuting music this year.)

Fleet Foxes: Helplessness Blues, 2011 (Robyn Pecknold's hauntingly piercing voice represents Walla Walla wheat fields, and a great senior year with TP and JE.)

Purity Ring: Shrines, 2012 (This electronic beauty is the absolute best late-night driving music.)

Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Book of Mormon Girl

A couple of days ago I finished Joanna Brooks's book The Book of Mormon Girl. It was excellent. 

She writes about her experience growing up in the Mormon faith. She focuses on how comforting it was to know that her religion had ready made answers for all the difficult questions of life. Outside of some of the doctrinal differences, growing up Mormon sounded very similar to growing up adventist. One of her special skills as a child was being able to tell which cup of brown liquid was root beer and which was coke, because she wasn't allowed to have the caffeine. I'm pretty sure I know a few people who could identify which casseroles contained cheese as opposed to soy cheese :)

Later, she talks about her experience at Brigham Young University during the 90's when the Mormon church excommunicated many feminists, scholars and intellectuals for questioning the church. She started to see the cracks and shortcomings that all churches and philosophies possess.

"These are the unspoken legacies we inherit when we belong to a people: not only luminous visions of eternal expanses of loving-kindness, but actual human histories of exclusion and rank prejudice. We inherit not only the glorious histories of our ancestors, but their human failings too, their kindness, their tenderness, and their satisfaction with easy contradiction; their wisdom as well as their ignorance, arrogance and presumption, as our own. We inherit all the ways in which our ancestors and parents and teachers were wrong, as well as the ways they were right: their sparkling differences, and their human failings. There is no unmixing the two." Pg. 133. 

She recalls her disgust as her church turned out to support proposition 8(banning gay marriage) by mobilizing a massive grassroots movement and contributing nearly 50% of the $82 million dollars donated to the cause. $82 million dollars that could have provided oral rehydration packets to children dying of diarrhea, the second leading cause of death worldwide, for a decade. 

She asks, "What do we do when we fail to become the adults we dreamed of as pious children? How do we react when we discover at the core of faith is a knot of contradictions?... Throw it out? Do we resent the worry in our friends eyes?... Do we blame ourselves for taking seriously the talk of love, compassion, equality, mercy and justice?"

Things get sticky when the faith that provided so many warm childhood memories and a fulfilling community isn't as bright and shinning as you thought. Anyone who has been in a relationship knows that warm memories aren't enough to create a bright future. 

Her conclusion is that everyone should work to create faith traditions that are big enough for all stories and points of view. Instead of abandoning something so fundamental to your life, accept that it is imperfect, decide how it fits into your story and work for reformation. Do we need to be loyal to faith traditions in an all or nothing deal?

I highly recommend this book to anyone working to decide the role that faith will play in their life and what that faith will look like. I found it very insightful. 

Saturday, August 18, 2012

The Album Series

When we first stumbled upon the idea of a favorite albums series,  we quickly discovered that the prompt, "name your top six albums" just doesn't cut it.  How do you define top six albums?  Should the albums be selected because they were critical to your own musical formation?  Should they be selected to represent your tastes over time?  Should they be selected as the travel music for your journey to Mars?  Each of these prompts creates vastly different lists.  We'll keep it simple.

Over the next six weeks, the five estate members plus one special guest will be presenting six albums that they would choose to listen to right now over all others.  Their selection will be supported by a short explanation.

Here is the order of contributors, selected at random:


365, believe it or not.

Thursday, August 2, 2012


These are our pets. (minus some chickens and two cats I couldn't find)

The dog on the far left is my dad's dog. His name is Romeo, though I usually settle for something more frustrated like dummy. He's a Rhodesian Ridgeback and he's tall enough to rest his head on the dinner table and lick your food.

I dont like him because he won't respond to anything anyone says.

David: Romeo sit.
D: Sit.
D: No!

I complain to my dad a lot about what a lame dog he is. My dad always reminds me that he was bred to protect people from lions. Do we have a lion problem? This does not excuse his behavior.

I prefer buddy, followed distantly by Red cat and Bailey.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Cafe There's

"We're here! At There's," says Phil. 

We won, one level at a time. From the moment I saw Alban walk through arrival gate B at Hong Kong Int'l, to the moment I watched him rush to the top of an escalator at Incheon Int'l, we accepted each new adventure and challenge like a new track on Mario Kart.

The Asia Happy & Wild Tour 2012 crossed five borders, consumed countless cups of mocha, sampled several different regional foods, got diarrhea, watched Spiderman and Star Trek, shared the new Beach House and Dirty Ps albums, and most importantly, included all five members of the Estate (counting one brief text message to David, and a one and a half our skype convo with Cody and J).

Among the favorite levels, was our journey to Jinbo, the place where Phil had been getting his Hugh-robes dirty this year. In Jinbo, along with delicious Kim-bop, and Kimchi stew, is the delicious little coffee trough known as "Cafe There's." We can't say much for their coffee, not because it's bad, we're sure it's the best in Jinbo, but because we didn't try it. The sign, the fake trees inside, the atmosphere, the company, and the hip wild-cat-baristas, were enough to keep our dopamine levels full on. Besides, who needs coffee when a place has hazelnut fraps on the menu? We all loved it ... a lot. The above photo shows it.

Among the most difficult levels, was getting my luggage to and from Incheon Int'l. The first time I faced this level, when Alban was busy with the Tokyo Metro level, I wasn't sure I was going to make it. I learned something though, when you're planning on carrying over 150 lbs. of luggage around a busy city to a place you've never been..., plan ahead. The second time I faced the level –– getting the luggage back to the airport for the return flight –– I had Alban with me, which made it much easier. Still, thanks to some dirty kimchi the day before, it was a close call making it to the gate on time. In our hurry, we nearly clothes-lined a few old Korean ladies in the subway stations with our fifty pound duffle. We did what we had to do, and we made it. Excited for the next tour, coming soon.