Saturday, January 1, 2011

Best Music Singles of 2010--sort of

Over the past few weeks, many many many media outlets of all sorts have compiled their "Best Of" lists for 2010. I like to skim through/watch/listen to such things and compare their content to what's rolling around in this lil' brain o' mine. Sticking to only 2010 seems reasonable; the Buffalo News music editor, Jeff Miers, just published a best of the DECADE and I don't even want to know how long he took to sort through that hot mess, but congrats to Miers for his tenacity even as I disagree with most of his choices....Anyway, I'm sticking to this year only and pitching individual songs, just for the sake of time limits, an aging memory, and maybe a good selection, if you will.

Many lists I've read use the "Best 10 of 10" model probably due to our natural penchant for numbers that match and logistical tidiness like decades, Januarys and whatnot. Hhuummph. I tried for 10 songs released as singles during 2010 that positively altered my musical reality, and I think I've revealed to myself that I am not hip anymore. AT ALL. I was amazed at what "new" music I listened to and actually liked, and I totally struggled to find 10 such songs from 2010. I came up with seven, and my avoidance of Gaga/Kanye/things of that nature terribly narrowed the playing field. What a year! AND, a few of my choices were actually released in 2009 (made most popular in 2010, so that's my rationale/disclaimer). Sheesh! With that, below are my Best 7 of 10 (see? just doesn't have that smooth ring to it *sigh*) with explanations. Feel free to add the other three from your musical cache. And, Happy New Year!

7. "Half of My Heart"--John Mayer with Taylor Swift
We know of John Mayer as a public goofball, but I have always liked his songwriting and the minimalist simplicity in his guitar aesthetic. He's a hell of musician (a statement that will undoubtedly spark debate. So bring it!). This song has an easy-breezy sway to it and his vocals are convincing and calm. I had NO IDEA it was Taylor Swift on the vocal harmony at first which, again, makes my current musical awareness a disgrace. Mon Dieu! I can't keep up with everything. Anyway, this song seems to calm Mayer as it matures Swift. I like the guitar melodic motive throughout, and the not-yet-trite rhythmic gesture he uses almost as a subtle high point 2:50 in, the "half of my" that chops off that last pending beat. It's an unexpected moment that's not jolting and feels instead like he's taking a startled inhalation, a reawakening of pain but reflective rather than fearful. Good song. One other thing: we have never been John Mayer, but we can certainly fill our own shoes with this song at some point in our lives. Nicely done.

6. "Beautiful"--Apocalyptica
This band had me years ago when they did Metallica covers using an ensemble of cellos as Metallica substitutes. Who would have thought? Me likey the cello either solo or in large groups (the best ever--Arvo Pärt's "Fratres" for 12 cellos....TWELVE!!!!). This is an ethereal piece for Apoc. tucked smartly within a mediocre metal-rock album riddled (sadly) with guest singers and European-sounding guitar production. Gavin Rossdale, for example, sings on the album's first single in wide release.....underwhelming. But "Beautiful" is a graceful glint of hazy sunlight amid a rather gray and clumsy record. And, again....CELLOS!

5. "Secrets"--OneRepublic
Discovered this song one afternoon driving along the I-90 to work (teaching college students how to appreciate music, of all things!). The opening riff sounds like a processed studio cello solo *sigh* yet struck me as almost familiar. Once I could consult my iTunes library, I confirmed that the opening segment and chord progression (during the intro and subsequent verses) "borrows" SEVERELY from the "Prelude" of J.S. Bach's The 6 Unaccompanied Cello Suites, Suite No. 1 composed in 1720-ish (Bach's diaries of his own compositional ways remains "ish-ish" but the year 1720 is close enough-ish). I prefer the Yo-Yo Ma recordings of Bach's delicious morsels and always will. Anyway, the weird thing about this blatant smash of music history and modern music business is that according to OneRepublic's public forum and the Timbaland website content, the "Secrets" cello melody and chord progression are original, inspired to pop greatness by the band members themselves. But holy canoli, Batman....the speed, tempo, "flow," timbre, and musical character that pushes this song forward, in my humble opinion, comes from JSB: altered, co-opted, re-energized, not apologized for (is it too laaaaaaaaate?). Still, the singer's delivery is distinctive and lovely, and the use of such Baroque tools in the hands of ProTools is somehow disturbing yet satisfying. Call me crazy, and I'll agree. Perhaps someone affiliated with this song took a Music Appreciation course at one point and, as we all do, fell in love with Bach. That's my story and I'm stickin' to it.

4. "Love the Way You Lie"--Eminem
I know. I hear the groan you are making, I see the eyebrow raised. Really, I do. Eminem did enough face-planting on every available media junket this year that he can disappear for a few years again (and we hope this time it won't include rehap and/or suicidal tendencies). But, he cannot be ignored. This is the song from the new record that showcases his crazy-person outlook on the world while reviving the thing that got him farther down the road than his favorite highway exit: his rap and rhythm are ammunition and inspiration. He says what we don't want to hear (but do) and confesses to the world what we live in (but do not want to). Beatings? Burnings? Threats? Death? Nope, not in my lifetime.*fingers-crossed/pinkie-swear.* Aaaannnnd, I am in the car singing along merrily with Rihanna, cuz I love the way he lies. Actually, at this point, it's word-for-word along with Marshall. Seriously.

3. "Radioactive"--Kings of Leon
You may know my absolute love for the Followills. I mean, I'm ready to hug the band members, parents, aunts, cousins-twice-removed, you name them. It's been this way since I stumbled upon this gangly group of (then) teenagers when they cracked open the thunder-clouded skies at Bonnaroo in 2004. My use of "stumbled" is no lie: the July weather in Tennessee was hot and the mid-western Budweiser in RooVillage was cold. Anyway, the song restates "It takes a village" and includes a gentle confession that "This village is not what I'm used to experiencing so I hope the old one is still there." The chords are simple. The lyrics SEEM simple yet provide a dose of interpretive leverage that allows tradition to become revolution. KOL's ability to land so solidly in their own turf and acknowledge the rest of the world lies at the heart of this song, and them. Plus, it's so fucking fun to sing!!!...either the melody, the first harmony, and when my voice is lucey-goosey, the highest harmony (congrats on those Nathan!). OH, and the video. Overdubbing the kids singing. Seeing the band opportunistically play in meadows with picnics and bringing it Back Down South now. And, I have put in another "And"...witnessing 20-somethings address Civil Rights, issues of "belonging," winning while losing, and rockin' out to it all warms my heart. Yahoo! So, with many due respects and without further ado, here's the Buffalo Village taking a crack the lyrics beginning at 1:12, just to share the love: "It's in the water/it's in the snowstorms/of where we came from/our sons and daughters/with all their snowplows /it's gonna shape 'em/and when they freeze/and come together and start snugglin'/it's in the water/where you came from...where you came from."

2. "Little Lion Man"--Mumford & Sons
With a name that sounds like a men's clothing store, I overlooked this band initially. A review of their debut album in Rolling Stone also failed to entice me. Once again, my college students came to my rescue. Perhaps sensing my need for hipness, one of my oh-so-smart 20-year olds handed me a copy of Sigh No More and boldly suggested that I "watch out for 'Little Lion Man.'" NICE!!! Now I'm interested. I threw the CD into my car stereo at 9pm that night after teaching a long day and looking at a long ride home in heavy heavy rain. Annnnnnnd, this CD blew my mind. "Little Lion Man" sounds like a furious and feverish stomping bruhaha in the pouring rain where no matter how hard your feet hit the mud, redemption never comes. My heart was racing, I was singing along like a madwoman, and laughing gleefully. Good Lord! The video adds to the hysterically honest charm of the song (and the band). Actually, I almost swapped "The Cave" (whose video is better) for "Little Lion Man," except that I couldn't resist typing out "LLM"'s chorus in this post. In fact, a-hem, I may have to tell a person or two these words, especially as the new year brings the clean slate forward: "But it was not your fault but mine/And it was your heart on the line/I really fucked it up this time/didn't I, my dear?" Allllrighty then.

#1. "Chances"--Five For Fighting
This one surprised me for both being on this list and perched as #1. Hard to describe. Also, released in 2009, I honestly did not hear this song until the credits rolled at the end of The Blind Side and I reached for a new box of Kleenex (note: the song didn't do well on the charts, so perhaps that why I missed it? another note: as much as The Blind Side got slightly criticized for being too predictable, I cried like a baby almost all the way through it.....these things happen). So, here are the factors that contribute to "Chances" being played over and over and over when I'm home alone to enjoy such things: I've always like this band, or the dude John Ondrasik (whose real first name is Vladimir!!! Good stuff) and the story behind it/him. Being raised in LA, he went to college for math and science yet studied music along the way. Music and math make a sweet combo. In fact, the first chorus says "Chances are/we'll find a new equation." Hee hee. Clever math reference which totally works when dealing with human relationships; I'm intrigued by his voice, the way his falsetto breaks PERFECTLY on "Chaaaaan-ces are..."; The lyrics read like a poem, and like most of FFF's songs, tug at the heart as if an anchor was wrapped around it and sinking slowly. The piano part is easy and fun to play, the chord progression is simple, and the bass leads us smoothly and gently through this story of hopeful yearning. Without realizing it, I think I attached this song to my struggle this past year to work through my Dissertation problems, fears, and accomplishments as this part of my life comes to an end (hopefully) in April when I graduate. Thinking of being "PHinally Done" (ha! get it?!?! PhD? PHinally Done? That's Nerd Kingdom humor right there, baby!) is both exhilarating and terrifying. It brings up what this project has cost as well as the courage that I need to just fucking finish it and claim the unknown future. Lines like "Chances lost are hope's torn up pages," make my mouth go dry every once in a while, and I hold tightly to the final chorus: "Chances are the fascinations/Chances won't escape from me/Chances are only what we make them/And all I need."

Happy 2011. Can't wait to hear what's coming next..... :)

Sunday, December 19, 2010

is there anybody..out there....?

Blogging seems strange with the instant access of connecting via Facebook now that "quips" (status/trending) are cool and, then, bigger thoughts take more TIME!. Hopefully you picked up on the sarcasm yet possibility in my tone, there. Bring it back, bloggers?

Ready to roll. Bring it!


Wednesday, February 3, 2010

I have a cold....

....and I haven't had a cold in a long time. All that wonderful energy amassed last week....pffft. Gone. I'm a walking poster-girl for Mucinex, Tylenol, Puffs, Vitamin C tablets and garlic. And naps.

Teaching is going well, and today is Diss day. OF COURSE it is since I feel like sleeping until Friday. Dammy damn. What timing. But, I think last night may have been the worst of it and I hope these germs decide to leave my lil' body as quickly as they found themselves at home.

I think I can do some Diss work today, though. My Chapter 4 is actually the former second-half of Chapter 3. All together, I realized that is too much material for one chapter, so I separated them. The good news is that I have all the research done because I sat down to write it all out for the recent January Chapter 3 deadline. The bad news is its hard to concentrate today and I'm sleepy. So, if I sit for hours and try to write, it's highly likely that I'll read it on Friday and revise the whole load of loopy prose from today. But, I can do just a little here and a little there at a medium pace---shoot for four new pages instead of fourteen. Get healthy, first. Power-write, second.

In other news, I welcomed three new fish to the tank (for a total of 11), have three tomato plants sprouting (one is almost six inches high!!!) and finally see a flower growing on my peace lily (which hasn't flowered since I bought it 2.5 years ago, although the foliage is beautiful). And, regardless of sneezin' and weezin', life rolls along. Onward!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

first day of "spring".....

semester, that is. At least during the spring semester, we can watch the weather get progressively better, but it's all contextual in these parts. It's a bummer that this first day of class should be so blustery and windy and cold and crappy. I have to walk around campus more than usual to access copy machines, library resources and classrooms in different buildings. Oh, and Starbucks. It will be a 9-hour on campus today, so the weather has affected clothing choice, food intake, efficiency of tasks, parking......I have a lot of copying and organizing to do but that's typical of the first week. I don't teach until 3:30pm, but there is a wicked wind and some patches of the ol' I-90 West can be tricky. Coming home, in the dark, is worse, but at least my day will be done and I'll have that hour to reflect, listen to tunes and avoid being crushed by big trucks.

I'm excited by my classes and ready for a real schedule. Tu/Th teaching days and prep; M/W/F Diss days; Saturdays errands/family stuff; Sundays work (church) and maybe more work in the afternoon if my little dude can find a playmate (the downtown library is open Sundays til 5pm and no one is there then, which rocks). Sunday nights=chill out. We'll see how long this lasts :)

I have 18 enrolled in my "Music of the 1960s" class. The enrollment has some restrictions on it for students, so the smaller number is expected and good, since it's the first time I'm teaching it (and I'm creating it, too). My Monster class (MUS 115) is at 100, and this morning I had the 25th student request to force-add since the class is full. Mon dieu! Um, sorry dude. I get paid by the class, not the student number (although for this biggie, I'll take a double salary. Sure! *sigh*) so 100 it is. See ya next semester. It's in a different lecture hall and I can't really get in much earlier than the start time because it's used all day for the big lectures. I'd prefer to peek in a bit, and hope there are no surprises. I was assured that there is a music console to actually play music (great! since it's a music history class and all), so, again, hopefully no big surprises.

And, Romanticism is full at 30 and begins Thursday night. I'm not changing much from last semester because I think it went well and, well, I have these other two classes to deal with. Revision is what summers are for, me thinks. Poolside with drinkies.

And, I'm off. Welcome back everyone. Hope you are ready to rock and roll.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Back to work....

I do very well with deadlines, usually. Not so with this Dissertation, but that thing has taken on a life of its own, and a very challenging one at that. I turned in Chapter 3 on Friday like I was supposed to, but need to revise my Proposal AGAIN because I've changed the chronological organization of the chapters. Sheesh. But, this project will be done by May 15. Absolutely. I cannot have it hanging over my head like some giant albatross for another summer. No way, Jose.

The deadlines I am better with are the ones like today, which mark the first day of the spring semester for the college where I teach, the day after my son's 10th Birthday, and it's a Monday. So it feels like a fresh start, and it is. I had a six-week holiday break, and although I dreamt of all the many and wonderful things I could accomplish in that time, I did a whole lotta nothin.' Lesson learned: I work well with structure. Having "things to do" actually motivates me to do them. I'm a tasker, eyes on the prize. So, let the games begin!

Yesterday was a great day, though. My son turned 10 which is such a cool age to say, to be, to remember. I love throwing parties and I wanted to invite all the friends (that he wanted to invite) that has made over the past two years of living here. I rented a roller skating rink for two hours and 28 kids came. They had so much fun. In lieu of the annoying and cumbersome party bags that all the guests receive at kids' birthday parties, I had white T-shirts silk screened with a big smiley face and gave one to each child (after they finished eating). So I have a great picture of all the kids in their shirts (but it's on my mother's camera, so I'll post it tomorrow) and fun memories of all these kids smiling their way around the Rink with my son. Good stuff.

The challenge today is daunting. I already said that I have to revise my Diss Proposal, but I can actually do that in the evening after "24" is over (love that show!!). I have three classes this semester (whoo--hoo!!! pay raise!!!) and teach on two days of the week. Tomorrow I have Music Appreciation which I have nicknamed The Monster because it has 100 students in it, all levels freshman to senior. This will be my third semester teaching it, so that one runs like clockwork. I mostly just need to print various things that I've already done (syllabus, study guide, roster) so I can copy them when I get to campus. I used to teach is as a 2.5 hour evening class (which was a doozy) but now it's broken up into two-80 minutes afternoon slots. Change it good.

My Romanticism and Music class runs Thursday night. I love the material in that class. It's basically a philosophy course about the relationship between Romanticism and musical product or reflection. It's also open to music or non-music majors but upper-level only (juniors/seniors). This class always fills quickly and as I stated in the syllabus, the music spans the classical symphony to Kings of Leon, Liszt to Led Zeppelin, and Bob Dylan to Beethoven. Love it. The hardest part is getting them to write a good research paper. More on that as the semester unfolds, but I'm going to work harder to teach them to formulate their ideas better.

The hardest part this semester is the new class that I've created on my own which begins tomorrow night: "Music of the 1960s." I am so excited to teach this class and thank my boss for getting it approved. I'm going to teach it "seminar style" like I do for Romanticism: no textbook, no tests, I provide the readings (online, which is greener and cheapter) culled from various sources (most of which I have on my own bookshelves), and weekly written assignments/responses, and weekly CDs to listen to that I burned on my itunes. I've also included a record review and a biography review. And, all about the 1960s!!!! Whoo---hooo!!!!

But I haven't taught this before so the workload and organization on my right now is a bit heavy. And, I don't want to overwhelm them. The 1960s are such a CRAZY decade, and each year, it seems my lovely college students know less and less about American history, events, people, and ESPECIALLY older popular music. So, that is my task today. Get that class up and running and fun and interesting.

So, here I go again!

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

I know it's already January 20th, but....

it's starting to feel like a new year. Or at least a new something. This is good, and these things happen. Chat soon. Like, real soon!!!!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Historical fiction...not a distraction?

I've got STACKS of books in my office that don't belong to me. I have Buffalo, SUNY Fredonia and UW Madison library books in neatly (artistically? not sure) assorted narrative skyscrapers in my office according to stack is about the New Deal, another about Buffalo, some contribute to my Diss "theories," whatever those'll end up being. One of the greatest lessons/tools I learned in grad school was how to "read" a book in under 30 minutes....start with index and table of contents, browse the intro to see the author's point, find the pages needed for my topic, read back a few and forward a few from that, and BAM! That book makes it into a stack or not. Then, they sit perched, waiting for me to really go digging as the gobbledy-gook I'm writing needs them.

But, in the midst of some are books about Buffalo, a few that fall under the category "Historical fiction." The book City of Light was this, and although recommended because it provided a snapshot of Buffalonia history, was poorly written, thin and somewhat bizarre in plot, and not the best way to spend a few late nights. Felt like the author was trying too hard and left all sorts of nuggets twisting in the winds of Lake Erie. Oh well.

Another is The Birth of the Erie Canal, written in 1960, extremely romantic and "imaginative" with characters' characteristics, but sort of fun to read. That's what I did last evening after getting the kiddo to bed and still having energy (where it came from, not sure. It was a long day....). So, I buzzed through this ol' beauty and enjoyed it. There wasn't a single mention of music at all, but the historian in me often dukes it out with the musician, and I found myself fascinated with the history. What a chore and battle is was to tame western New York (after, of course, wiping it clean of the Five Nations....but that is another story, not fictional at all, and probably not fun to read...). Holy canoli. There is a sketch of the Buffalo Harbor from 1815, and I just can't get my head around it. And, because the downtown library and Historical Society are so ship-shape around here, I've looked at A LOT of historical pictures of The Buff. I think conceptually, I can't imagine being a pioneer--in the literal sense--and viewing this wild mane of a region as it was back then as navigational and livable. Phew.

So, as I weed out distractions, I figure that historical fiction will present itself as a viable way to entertain, invite sleep to come, and still keep me in the pocket of my research when the day is done. Once finished with The Diss, I think I'll expand into other areas of the country.....the California coast, Rockies, New England, etc. Any suggestions welcome!