Here's a list of my favorite music from 2015. It's taken me a lot longer than I expected and instead of the traditional list of albums, I decided to simply put together an epic mix for your listening pleasure. I hope you enjoy these songs as much as I did.
Best of 2015
1. Shigeto - Miss U
2. Jamie XX - Girl
3. Caribou - Can't Do Without You
4. The Juan Maclean - Love Stops Here
5. Azealia Banks - 212 (feat. Lazy Jay)
6. Yelle - Toho
7. Shamir - Vegas
8. Miguel Migs - The Distance (feat. Aya)
9. Saint Pepsi - Skylar Spence
10. Music Go Music - Shine Down Forever
11. Wilsen - Sea To Sea (Wye Oak remix)
12. Broken Bells - The Changing Light
13. Modest Mouse - The Ground Walks, With Time In A Box
14. Ex Hex - Beast
15. Wolf Alice - You're A Germ
16. Sleater Kinney - Fangless
17. Courtney Barnett - Elevator Operator
18. Built To Spill - On The way
19. Mac DeMarco - Without Me
20. Death Cab For Cutie - Black Sun
21. Yuna - Mountains
22. Ancient Warfare - Gunsmoke
23. Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas - Over
24. Kera & The Lesbians - Gypsy Song
25. Hundred Waters - Cavity
26. Estere - Reptilian Journey
27. THEESaisfaction - EarthEE
28. D'Angelo & The Vanguard - Prayer
29. Curtis Harding - Freedom
30. Leon Bridges - Lisa Sawyer
31. Hindi Zahra - Can We Dance
32. Ibeyi - Ghosts
33. Blonde Redhead - Penultimo
34. Metric - The Governess
35. Heartless Bastards - Gates Of Dawn
36. Amanda Shires - Devastate
37. Calexico - Beneath The City Of Dreams
38. Alabama Shakes - Gemini
39. Eilen Jewell - Down The Road
40. Zoe Muth - Somebody I Know
41. Midnight Pine - Tears
42. Waxahatchee - Air
43. Beirut - Fener
44. French For Rabbits - Spirits
45. Melody Gardot - Don't Talk
46. Roisin Murphy - Exile
47. Freddie Gibbs & Madlib - Shame (feat. BJ the Chicago Kid)
We finally received "Mad Max: Fury Road" from the library and to say that I was really excited to watch it is an understatement. It has been universally praised all year as not only one of the best movies of the year, but one of the greatest action films of all time. It's been nominated for Best Picture at practically every awards ceremony out there, with George Miller being nominated for Best Director, as well. It's been a long time since a movie has been this hyped up. Pretty much everyone in the film world has great things to say about it, across both the mainstream establishment and independent critics.
So let's get at it then. Is "Mad Max: Fury Road" a great movie, as everyone has proclaimed?
The movie is a ridiculous spectacle, a video game transported to the big screen with comic book sensibilities. It's a delirious cinematic thrill ride, if there ever was one, a fun-filled feast of entertainment bonanza. The action is impressive, with incredible stunts and seamless editing. It must be extremely difficult to film these sequences and keep them in order, so that everything makes perfect sense, as these maniacal machines careen around the desert at vicious speeds. There's a fine line between making that aspect of an action film appear professional or amateurish. George Miller and company get it right. It's an impressive display, exciting and immersive...for about 30 minutes. Then I became numb to it and found it a bit tiresome. So, Fury Road is basically an action movie that is 1 1/2 hours too long.
I know that doesn't sound like a ringing endorsement, so far, but let me point out one other part of the film that is truly outstanding. It's Charlize Theron's Imperator Furiosa. Her presence on the screen almost makes watching this entire film worth it. It's wonderful to see a badass woman take control of the situation and battle a storm of oppressive forces bent on destroying her. And Theron embodies every ounce of emotion this movie is attempting to convey; in her eyes, in her movements, her body language, her essence. Without her this movie would be a total bust.
It seems like the entire film community would agree with me on this point because everything that I have read about Fury Road is quick to point out its feminist spirit. That's completely due to Theron's performance in the film, nothing else. It's true that Miller placed her in the midst of this crazy world, and props for convincing the actress to take part, but he does everything possible to undermine this feminist agenda that so many critics out there wish to applaud. I know, it's hard to believe that an old white guy might have trouble presenting a feminist perspective but it happens to be true in this case.
First, the introduction of every other woman in the film is problematic. The mother's who milk are all overweight cows being used like animals, not an ounce of humanity here. The beautiful breeders are introduced in typical spring break beer commercial fashion, with bikinis and wet t-shirts galore, strictly presented for the male gaze, embodied in our omniscient narrator, Max Rockatansky. The Vulvalini, name pretty much says it all, are a bunch of feminist shrews who are actually too dumb to protect themselves, as our perfect man is quick to point out.
Then, after all is said and done, after Furiosa has her heroic moment destroying the big bad symbol of patriarchy, she must then be saved by Max, of course. Not the women who know her well, or even one of the nurturing Vulvalini, the many mothers who might possibly know a thing or two about human medical care, having survived so long together in this apocalyptic wasteland. No, it's the police officer who saves the day, the lone silent reluctant wanderer who just needs a purpose and has finally found it in this moment. Because, really, this is Max's story, after all, a tale of love. Furiosa can't die because she means something to him. He's even told her his name, allowing her this intimate connection. He'll even give his blood for her, his heart mingling with hers in such glorious redemption. No, Furiosa's great story isn't really feminist at all because it ultimately comes down to her connection with Max, her great white male savior. Only the oldest most patriarchal story ever told.
So, after taking away the feminist angle of our film, what do we have left? A barrage of car chase explosion porn and that's about it. Sure, it may be fun and exciting and gripping and totally awesome, but can we stop pretending that it's anything more than a movie for the teenage boy in all of us. Is it really worth all the critical accolades and awards ceremonies? I tell you what comes to my mind when I see it being nominated at the Academy Awards, over amazing films like Todd Haynes's "Carol" or Cary Fukunaga's "Beasts of No Nations", when I see it being universally praised by practically every critic in this country, intelligent or not. It suddenly makes a lot of sense that Donald Trump is leading in the polls. I'm sure that he loved this movie and totally identified with Big Daddy Immortan Joe. Hell, he probably even got a few pointers on how to run America.
"Mad Max: Fury Road" is no grand work of art. It isn't the shiny chrome expression of perfection delivering us to hallowed halls of action film valhalla. No, with the famous words of Immortan Joe, it's really just "mediocre".
During the holidays, we decided to take in the quintessential christmas movie, "It's a Wonderful Life". It's been awhile since I've seen it and the emotional resonance affected me deeply as I watched it with my family. What is it about this film that makes it so beloved? Why does it have such a lasting affect on our American conscience? These were some of the the thoughts that swept through my mind as the credits rolled.
It is now 2016 and the United States of America is a country in turmoil. Everywhere we look, we find conflict: mass shootings, racism, corruption, attacks on women, greed, environmental degradation, anger, hate. So many of us are wondering, "How did this come to be?" Not only that but, "What can we do about it?" It's easy to feel like we are powerless against the onslaught of despair.
In a way, our nation is at a crucial turning point. We are a lot like George Bailey, standing on the bridge while we look down into the turbulent waters, wondering if we should just jump and allow the chaos to consume us. But if we do, what will become of our great nation? What will happen to all of the goodwill our beautiful system has created over the years? Right now, it's so important for us to take to heart the valuable message of this wonderful film. There's a reason that we love to turn it on when we are surrounded by those we love.
It's about the value of community, about caring for the livelihood of your neighbor. It's about making a place where everyone has an opportunity to thrive, so that we all can create a life of value. It's about embracing the spirit of compassion and finding the courage to stand up to the exploitation of authoritarianism. It's truly a movie about cherishing the value of democracy, the very heart of what we believe to be the American experience.
Unfortunately, as we look around today, our American culture doesn't seem to reflect this lofty human ideal. Instead it looks a lot more like the world Henry F. Potter built, the world as it was without George in it. Too many of us are suffering. There's an abundance of misery. That's because we have allowed the negative influences of greed, anger and intolerance to control the outcome. By rejecting the fundamental tenet that all lives are sacred, we have created this crazy place. And by remaining ignorant to the power of our own thoughts and deeds, we continue to embody the pain of the world.
But the most sublime message of "It's a Wonderful Life" is the simply truth that each of us has tremendous power. It only takes one person to create incredible change in the world. The true spirit of democracy is not something that is given to us by the leaders of our country. The beauty of a democratic society lies in the heart of the people, when they embody that spirit within their lives. When each and every one of us takes this message to heart, only then will our communities be places of joy and appreciation. Our families, our neighbors, our coworkers are all affected by the causes we make. So what kind of choices to we want to make? What kind of life do we want to live?
Like George Bailey, each of us has an angel that is here to help us. I know that it may sound like a cliche but it's true. The angel is inside of us, in our hearts. But there's also a demon in there and both of these aspects of our nature has the same potential. What really matters is which of them are we going to feed? Our thoughts, our words and the actions that we take are the fuel that empowers them. We must ask ourselves, "Who do we serve? Angel or demon?" No one else can answer that question for us. We must do it, every day, in every moment. When we take this responsibility as our own, then we have the power to shape the world around us.
There is only one reason that America is great. It's not because we have the biggest economy or the biggest military or the best marketing team. It is only because this country was founded on the ideals of democracy, a philosophy based on equality that recognizes the inherent value in each and every life. Regardless of gender, or the tone of one's skin, or how we pray, or where we came from, or how we were raised, we all have an opportunity to participate in the process of developing our lives and our communities. An ocean is vast only because it accepts all rivers that flow into it, never discriminating. That is the American dream. George Bailey embodies those values and that's why we love him so much.
Let's take a moment and consider how we are living our lives. Stop looking at the spectacle that is "out there" and ask yourself, "What am I doing? How am I participating?" Do you support those who are only interested in helping out themselves? Who are greedy and hateful? Who are trying to divide people so that we no longer see another person's humanity? There are a great many of these type of people out there and they are trying to influence you. It's not that hard to spot them. They may be people in power, perhaps even running for president, people like Henry F. Potter. Or they may be someone close to you, a friend or family member who has become deluded to the sacred value of all life, the very meaning of our American democracy. I implore you to reject their agenda. It is the very force that has created all of the suffering we are seeing in our country today. It is the destruction of our way of life.
Instead, why don't we embrace the George Baileys of the world? They're out there, working hard for everyone. They understand the fundamental truth that when you light the way for another, then you can see the path, as well. Or, even better, let's be George Bailey. Let's shape our Bedford Falls, our own communities, wherever they may be. Let's be the change that we wish to see. We have the power. We can become a great beacon for the world and when America shines that wonderful light of democracy, then it, too, shall no longer remain blind.
Remember when we would dress up like rockers? Maybe for Halloween or a costume party. It usually began when we were hitting middle school, our early teens when we were trying to figure out our place in the world. This brought along various rebellions and for many of us the most edgy thing in our lives was rock music and the rock stars that made it. So we painted our faces and mussed our hair and ripped our clothes and went out our doors different than before, hoping that it would make our hearts strong enough to deal with all the growing that we had to do. Some of us continued on with this look, becoming punks or goths or whatever wasn't accepted by our society. Some of us actually decided to make music too, trying to produce the same energy that we felt when we listened and looked at those rockers from our youth. That's ultimately what it was all about anyway. We needed to feel that energy, hold it, if only for a moment. We saw Wye Oak earlier this year at the Belly Up, here in San Diego, and I was totally surprised how these two musicians don't look like rockers. But when you hear their music, it's pretty obvious that they can rock. Appearances can be deceiving. I called them music geeks and they put on quite a performance. I don't care about looking like someone else anymore. I'm long past that now but I still love the energy in music, especially the kind that's found in the true heart of the creative spirit, the kind that we felt in youth when we all wanted to shriek.
Sometimes I hear music that is so soothing, so pristine that it feels like it was exclusively meant for me, like it is connecting directly with my creative soul. There's a calm, natural feeling that washes over me and I have this sense of peace. I become such a small thing, a precious new earth that reaches up out of the depths of what it means to be human. I connect with the soil that sprouted inside to blossom into a spark of light. That's me seeing for the first time, voiceless and nurtured into a soft space that is absolute with comfort. That's a song heard from the moment that sound escaped the womb and spread its wings for a new horizon. That's the touch that comes with the milk of the skin, the breath found in every pore. That's the aroma of sweetness, washing through me until I am buzzing with warmth, placid and at ease. That's something that I've searched for throughout time, a sense of happiness that comes from the heart and understands simple budding pleasures that were meant for human consumption, experience that floats above it all. A blessing, truly.
St. Vincent, aka Annie Clark, has been with us for a long time now. I remember hearing about how she was a back-up singer for the Polyphonic Spree and Sufjan Stevens, who at the time was gaining notoriety with his album Illinois. Every time I heard the song Chicago, I imagined Clark singing her heart out. Eventually she stepped out of the shadows and started making her own music. A couple of albums later we eventually come to the point in time when the masses have joined hands in tremendous celebration of her art. This, her eponymous fourth album has been on virtually every top list that I've read for 2014. I could easily have put her album on the top of my list, as well, because she is simply amazing. Clark has far surpassed both of those acts that she gave support to in the distant past. The future is St. Vincent and if you harbor any doubt regarding that truth, go listen to her rip that guitar to shreds before she serenades you with her sweet jar of syrup.
When I was younger, I hated to dance. Especially when we were forced to do it in some nefarious planned class assignment. And going to the school dances in Junior High or High School? Forget about it! But let's face it, dancing can be a lot of fun, as long as you don't worry about how other people are looking at you. Good advice for just about every aspect of our lives, really. Well, even though I don't dance all the time, I have to admit that I really do enjoy it when I allow myself to be free of all constraints. It usually happens during a concert, when the music just overwhelms all other motor control skills and my heart jumps right out of my chest. The last time I felt that way was when we experienced the CocoRosie show at the Belly Up. The energy in that room absolutely buoyed my spirits. Though, when I think about dancing, I have to go back to the time I went to Street Scene, which was a big music festival here in San Diego. We experienced the show of Ghostland Observatory, these two crazy guys from Texas. Oh man, the beats and lights and all out joy that filled the sky that night was incredible. I literally jumped out of my skin that night. I didn't know what I was doing, beyond feeling the music right through me, and I didn't have a care in the world. It was one of the few times in my life where I was absolutely free. Thank you, Blood Orange, for making me feel like dancing.
The same year I met my wife, there was a band of two Japanese expatriates from New York who released their first album. The band was Cibo Matto and the album was Viva! La Woman. In 1996, I was a disillusioned twenty-five year old who only wanted to discover a new path in life. Little did I know but that amazing woman I just met would still be by my side almost twenty years later. I was excited, of course, and enamored but most of all, I truly wanted to understand what it meant to have a partner in life. Three years later, as we prepared for our wedding, Cibo Matto released their second album, Stereo * Type A. We were at an important junction of our commitment to one another and, where the first album was raw and full of energy, our relationship was filled with more swooning hope, a sense of beauty that was caught up in the notion of forever. Later, days after the vows had been read, Christina and I would see Cibo Matto at Brick By Brick here in San Diego. It was one of many concerts we've attended over the years, sharing a love for music. We even met at a concert, after all. The years would pass without anything from Cibo Matto, as we brought two children into the world, as we struggled to build a family that provided equally for us all, as we kept reaching for the love in our hearts. As we lived life, basically, and what a wonderful ride we've experienced. Now, Cibo Matto has finally dropped another album into our lives and though it's different than the others in so many ways, it's as beautiful and as weird as ever. To me, that sounds like a perfect metaphor for the life I share with the one I love.
About twenty years ago, I used to be a complete idiot. Okay, well, maybe not completely but I definitely didn't have appreciation for my life. Whenever I consumed alcohol, I often did idiotic things. So, this one time, during a fourth of July party at a friend's house, I suddenly had an incredible urge to jump from the roof of the five story apartment complex into the pool, which was probably only about six feet deep, at the most. Like I said, totally moronic. I was pretty drunk, obviously, and I managed to get a different friend of mine to go up there with me. Now, this wasn't the first time that I jumped off roofs into pools. This was the type of thing that I enjoyed doing but I had never attempted something so high before. I did jump off another friend's roof from about three stories up and that was pretty scary. Anyway, we ended up on the roof of this apartment building and I began to gauge whether or not I could make the leap. My friend told me that if I did it, then he would have to follow me down. It was kind of a dare. Across the way, we could see another set of apartments where a party was in full swing on the penthouse. People began to chant for us to jump, just the encouragement we needed, right? Well, at just as I was preparing for my approach, my friend suddenly had a revelation. He tells me, "Wade, this is the crap that we read about in the paper. You know? Some idiot tries to jump from the roof of an apartment complex into a pool and ends up dead." I looked at him and totally saw the wisdom in what he was telling me. We went back down to the party and proceeded to get even more drunk. I don't really remember anything beyond that moment of truth but to this day, I have never jumped off a roof into a pool again. I must say that it was one of those moments when I began to appreciate my life a little more. The same goes for the moment that I began to listen to Salad Days by Mac DeMarco.
So, I've been playing fantasy sports for about twenty years now. Long before it became such a national pastime. When I was younger, checking out the stats and watching for trends was something that always brought me a sense of relief, I would say is probably the best way to describe it. In a complicated world where I had plenty of difficulty understanding how to relate to other human beings, these columns of numbers were completely lacking in confusion. It became my little obsessive compulsive twerk, because everyone in the modern western world can relate to obsessive compulsive behavior in some way. Well, now that I'm an adult, I don't need to self-medicate so frequently, or not in that way, at least. I still play fantasy football, as many know, and it's grown into something a little more than just a fun distraction. This year, my beautiful wife, Xtina, my brother-n-law, Rick, and I started a website focused on providing fantasy football information for the masses. The motto for our little company was 'Play It Right', as in we're here to help you play the game right. That motto came directly from Sylvan Esso's first album. Whenever I heard the song, Play It Right, it would fill me with a sense of purpose toward our endeavor. It helped me feel like I was doing something important for me and my partners, even if it's just providing a little fantasy football advice.
When adolescence hit me, there weren't very many places that I could go where I felt safe. I was an uncomfortable, awkward and shy tween. The force of the opposite sex was overwhelmingly attractive and terrifying at the same time. I had absolutely no clue how to approach the idea of connecting in any intimate way but it soon became the most important goal of my life. Music was a diversion, not a distraction but a place where I was able to hide away and find comfort in a strange new world. Every lyric brought beautiful thoughts and my imagination would bloom, expand with dreams of the perfect romantic communion. I gravitated toward pop songs that spoke of love and delight, that gave me visions of a future that I longed to fulfill. Of course, I was the lead character in the stories that filled my head when I would descend into the sweet bliss of these songs and the young women who accompanied me were always special. Eventually, as I came to discover, life doesn't exactly travel along such charted waters. It's so much fuller than the traced out lines of a simple tale of bliss. But even after I learned about the true way to connect with another human being, I still love to create stories of the heart. So, there are still times when i hear a pop song that is reminiscent of that time in my life and I find myself falling into the starry-eyed bliss of romantic illusion. I guess that's one reason I love to write.
Shulamith Firestone was instrumental in the women's liberation movement during the mid to late 60's. Her newsletter, Voice of the Women's Liberation Movement, is recognized as providing the name for the movement. She advocated for radical feminism, with the thought that gradual change wasn't enough. She denounced the patriarchal structure of modern society as a biological ill, stating that the subjugation of women is the oldest form of prejudice, ultimately culminating in the nuclear family unit. She proposed that the only way to truly create equality in this lifetime was to eliminate the structure of the nuclear family, as it is the true cause of all the world's woes. Based on the idea that every experience stems from the inherent flaw of the family unit that still exists to this day, there is truly no way for any of us, men included, to understand a free existence outside of this oppression. We are either following along a preordained path forged along these gender inequalities or we are striving against it any way that we can. In both cases, it is a response to a system that is affecting everything. Only by destroying the nuclear family completely will we finally be free of this tyranny. Obviously, many of her proposals were extreme and failed to gain traction during her lifetime but they still resonate. They obviously have affected Channy Leaneagh, singer and co-founder of Polica. Just check out the video for the song, Tiff, in which Leaneagh brutally tortures her double, for some extreme imagery. There's so much about Polica's music that is radical and that's what makes it so resounding. It's profound and beautiful and revolutionary.
Speaking of legendary shows! Ever since I heard about Warpaint a few years ago, I heard about their epic shows. I really wanted to see them live and it eventually happened this past November, when they played the North Park Theatre. For most of the night, the room was a ensconced in groovy goodness. The four women in the band glowing as they played with their hearts wide open. I've never seen anyone performing with such joy, especially for a band whose nature isn't the type that jumps out of the speakers with enthusiasm. Their music is a slow but earnest sense of happiness, that sways through the hips and makes you swoon. They take their time as they provide a lusciousness that is embodied in every note. As the evening was winding down, Xtina and I went to the back to find a spot against the wall where we could rest our backs. When I looked down at my feet, I spotted a twenty dollar bill lying on the ground. Suddenly, all the drinks we had consumed were paid for and the night seemed too good to be true. Unfortunately, that turned out to be more than just a cliche. As the band began their encore, a strange smell filled the theatre and people started to leave in droves. I couldn't understand what was happening but it smelled like someone's colostomy bag had ruptured or some asshole dropped a stink bomb in the room. Perhaps, the perpetrator wanted Warpaint to watch their fans leave as they played their encore, the opposite of what they normally see. Maybe a jilted ex was to blame. Who knows? But the evening ended rather abruptly, as we could hardly stand the aroma, as well. Regardless, this concert will definitely go down as one of the most memorable in my life, a memory that will be both good and bad.
The very first concert that I ever attended was Echo & the Bunnymen at Open Air Theatre, SDSU. This was back in 1987 when I was sixteen years old. That year they released their eponymous album with the classic song Lips Like Sugar on it and I was super excited to see them live. Not just them, of course, but just the idea of real live rock music was so mystical for me at that point. By the time you're a teenager, you've heard about all the power of a live show. There's the grand tales of legendary shows throughout history, the likes of Woodstock and whatnot, that affect you but even the thought of catching a great contemporary act that's of the moment is exciting. Back in the late eighties, I was obsessed with alternative college music, as it was called back then, and Echo & the Bunnymen was one of my favorite. The concert truly lived up to the hype. Ian McCulloch performed with such incredible energy that the entire audience was pulled into his trajectory. He was the operator and we all went along for one of the best rides of our lives. It will always be one of those music memories that I will cherish. You're probably wondering how this relates to this Future Islands album? Well, Samuel T. Herring, the singer in the band, has quite a reputation for his live performances. We've all seen the David Letterman show, which is the closest I've come to seeing them live up to this point. The last time they came to San Diego the concert was sold out and though we considered buying overpriced tickets online, we weren't in the theatre that night. It's one of the few shows of late where I truly felt regret at missing out. Not like passing up a free ticket to Nirvana at Iguana's twenty years ago but you get the idea.
I've been skiing in the snow since I was six years old. It's one of the few things in this life that provide both a rush of excitement and a feeling of transcendence at the same time. Like so many other aspects of my life, when I think about a certain instance or situation, I can hear a soundtrack floating through the scene. Or when I listen to a song, I can place it amongst certain memories or feelings that I have within. This is the soundtrack of our lives, right? It's just another way that music penetrates through our awareness and immerses to carry deeper meaning. When I think about the exhilaration and beauty of downhill skiing, I can hear a groove that flows like a dream, soft and airy like the dancing shadow of a bird coasting across the earth, but also pushing with a force against the grain, sliding along an invisible path that flexes from the pressure. Zaba, this album from Glass Animals, definitely works in that scene. The melody lifts and I close my eyes, see my body bend and move in a waltz with the mountain, fluid and effortless, as I carve the slopes up.
There was a time when I was young, the early teen years, when I loved to listen to pop music more than anything, especially if the voice of a sweet girl accompanied it. I knew that it was women who sang to me but I imagined the young blossoming girls in my class. It was a magical sound but it absolutely had to frizz and bounce with sugary melody. Bands like the GoGos and the Bananarama were a constant presence and women like Susanna Hoffs and Terri Nunn came to me in my dreams. It was a world of summer, sunshine and fields of flowers and it bubbled with happiness in my imagination. Later, when I would drive around town alone, coming down off the mountain of Jamul, I would secretly listen to bands like the Popinjays and the Sundays and feel such bliss, though my dreams had turned darker by then and the happiness I caught from the sound of these lovely women's voices were but a fleeting glimpse. I've grown much since those days but I still carry a fondness for the sweet sound of pop music, catchy tunes that squeeze my heart with a songbird floating lightly above the sway. Hospitality, a fresh band out of New York, has captivated me in such a way this year. and the stories that flow from my imagination when I listen to them take me back to sunflowery goodness.
I recall seeing Thievery Corporation years ago, when they played at the now defunct 4th and B here in San Diego and it's one of the more memorable concerts for me.Now, if you haven't been in the 4th and B space, then you won't understand how unique an experience this place provided. It was basically a large warehouse space with tiered seating in the back, sort of like the bleachers at a high school basketball game. It was a big space but still felt pretty intimate. The problem with the 4th and B was that the sound in the room was simply horrible. I don't know if it was the acoustics or if the sound guy just couldn't make it work but nine times out of ten, you were cringing at the way the music bounced around your head. Fortunately, that didn't happen with Thievery Corporation. Their music is so melodic and beautiful that even in a space like 4th and B, they were able to sound great. They had a full band with various instruments, including an incredible sitar, of course, and they brought along all their guest singers, so the experience felt so alive. This was the only time I've seen Emiliana Torrini, who we have loved for years. She along with the band were a blessing to behold. Needless to say, I have been following Thievery for a very long time and they continue to give us wonderful music. This mix of sweet delicacy is bound to make you feel all warm and cozy inside.
When I first lived with my wife, in a small one bedroom apartment that was about 420 square feet, which was perfect for us because we loved to smoke out all the time, I loved to listen to airy voiced musicians riding the waves of deep beats. My mind would float up into the clouds with their beautiful voices, harnessed by remixed electronic goodness. It was almost like every nuanced moment was important, every sound that entered my heart was meaningful and every afternoon I walked along with these green hued goddesses. As soon as I heard FKA Twiggs, I was transported back to those days, over ten years ago now, and it was so easy for me to fall into the hazy expectation of a dream. I don't have to worry when I have music that brings such bliss. It's simply a blessing that we are given for this one moment in time, to listen and appreciate.
Oh man, for the longest time I reveled in finding sweet ass grinding grunge music that swooned with rhythm. So much of the nineties alternative scene was about turning up the reverb and sending your mind into the stratosphere. While that could be fun for awhile and there were definitely moments when a early twenty-something needed to have his mind blown, it wasn't enough for me to simply feel those guitars. I need the love of a melody that makes me move, that gives me a sense of synchronicity with an expanded verse that is inherent in all great rock bands. The Dum Dum Girls have the heart of a poet and for most of the year, I was belting out along with them, singing these lyrics with the utmost acclaim, mostly from behind the steering wheel with the volume turned up loud. The true sense of rock is meant to be heard with such undaunted ferocity and the Dum Dum Girls get it right.
I don't really understand why I am attracted to country music. So much of it is absolutely ridiculous - the fashion, the hats, the lyrics, the twang - but when I hear it played just right, it's almost like I am listening from the center of my heart. I wasn't raised with the sound of a slide guitar in the background. I didn't listen to country ballads nor was I even aware of the great musicians who came from the heartland of America. I simply became more aware of it when I began to expand on my musical tastes and started to crave it. Now, I'm not one to gravitate toward the bland flavor of conservative mainstream culture but I'm also not one to go off the deep end of the extreme cyanide dreams of total revolution. I like the type of cultural experience that is just a bit off-kilter. I like it new and strange and hopefully surprising. Valerie June's album Pushing Against a Stone hit all of those aspects of music for me. It has a country sound but it also is so much more than that. There are times when I'm grooving with a smooth swing or crunching with a thriving hammering guitar or twisting with a pop sensibility. Now, I'm not talking about country-pop (God forbid!) but more of that sixties pop sound. For some reason I could picture June in a sixties girl pop group wearing matching tacky outfits with knee-high boots, swinging her hips while she and her bandmates belt out top forty hits to screaming teenagers. Another life, I guess. For now, we get a surprising new voice that does so many things right.
Back in the summer of '89 I suddenly felt so grown up. That June I had graduated high school and was preparing to start college in September. Over the previous year, I had experienced many firsts, among them my first real girlfriend and first concert. That summer I was obsessed with music. I felt like I knew all the cool bands and was seeking out whatever could be cooler. I discovered Melody Maker, which was such a profound source for what was the next big thing, but I found the greatest band of that era in the strangest of places. In the back of People magazine (my mom's favorite) there was a little blurb about an album being released by this amazing band called Pixies. Not the Pixies but just Pixies. It sounded cool so I went down to Off The Record and bought the album, Doolittle, the next day. I don't know how to describe it but sometimes you hear something and you simply know that it is special. It's not because it's catchy or obvious but it's something that causes your soul to perk up, that gives you notice. When I pressed play on that cassette tape (yes, cassettes were still around back then) and the song "Debaser" began to assault my ears, all I could think was, 'What the fuck is this?', and I mean that in only the best of possible ways. I didn't understand why I liked it but I knew that I was supposed to like it. Well, before long that album became an anthem for my first jaunt out into the world as an adult and to this day, it is one of the few records that I can turn on, play loud and fucking still appreciate, just like I did that summer. Not long after, Pixies began to fall apart and eventually would break up in the early nineties, right when a bunch of other bands would capitalize on their groundbreaking sound. A decade later they would reform and play packed houses to adoring thirty-something fans (yes, I was one of them) that couldn't get enough of the idea that they were actually going to get to see the band that faded away before their time. Of course, I never imagined that they would ever release another album, beyond retrospectives or greatest hits, but this year we were graced with "Indie Cindy", a collection of new songs. Now, I'm not one to promote an old band that was popular in my youth, simply because they're trying to capitalize on the success they had ages ago. I'm usually completely bored by that sort of thing. I'm looking for a new fresh sound, which usually comes from someone with new fresh energy, not from some regurgitated has been. I admit it! I was skeptical when I heard that this album was being released but I knew that I just had to listen. These musicians were so instrumental in my development as a human being, after all. Well, I was pleasantly surprised by what came of it
For the longest time, I didn't listen to jazz. My dad played it around the house when I was young but that was like, cheesy eighties jazz, Kenny G style. But, of course, if you are willingly searching for beauty in music, then there will be a moment when jazz enters your life. I discovered it in my late twenties, mid-day, lying on the sofa, under the flavor of marijuana, with John Coltrane's Love Supreme on the stereo. Listening to the softest drum solo that you will ever hear in your life, I fell into a half-dream state and discovered the heart of the universe. It was a magical moment that revealed to me how valuable my life could be and all I wanted to do was tap into the creative part of my soul that was the embodiment of that sound. Coltrane was a message riding on the wings of immortality and if you are ready to hear it, your life will change forever. Well, that was many years ago and now I actively seek out the type of jazz music that I can connect with in a similar fashion. Sometimes it's of the moment and sometimes it's eternal. I have a feeling that this album, Extended Circle by the Tord Gustavsen Quartet will be one of the latter. It is a gentle reminder that we need time to rest, hopefully on the couch in a state of life where our entire beings are open to the universe.
When I was a kid, my life revolved around baseball, BMX and wandering through the canyons near my home. One of the great things about the San Diego landscape is that the entire region is basically a bunch of hills and canyons. From the cliffs of Torrey Pines to the scrub brush of east county, you can't go anywhere without driving around, hiking through or climbing up to get a view from the top of a summit, the canyons splayed out below like veins rushing to so some primordial heart that most likely can be found beating somewhere near Mission Valley. When I spent my days exploring the canyons near my home, it often felt like I was in another world that was so far from our modern structures, even though the sound of the freeway jut over the ridge could be heard in the background. I would see a hawk floating overhead and instantly be transported to the wild terrain of the west during the 19th century, the struggles to survive playing in our minds, though a warm meal and a soft bed were just around the bend. It was a delight to travel so deep into my imagination whenever I wanted by simply stepping outside my door and wandering just a few yards away. When I listen to Samantha Crain, my mind immediately goes into deep canyons and begins wandering amongst ancient tales that take my breath away. She has the voice of a storyteller and the incredible yearning to express it. It's so pleasant to listen to these songs because my youth climbs into my heart, the abundant searching aspect of those days when I went searching for adventure and was able to find it.
Back when I was in my early twenties, back when I knew everything about everything and if anyone tried to tell me otherwise, well, they didn't know anything about anything. back then I was extremely satisfied with myself, with my indie rock version of the world and I imagined that I was at the leading edge of the cultural expanse of my generation. Well, back then, I met a girl whose perspective on life, so many aspects of life, well, she helped me to open my eyes and see the sun that was out beyond the umbrella I held over my head. This girl, who would later become my wife, would tell me, Oh, mi amor, I do so love your quirky music that is so wild and different but what about other types of music? What about world music? And jazz? And reggae? What about classical music? All of these musical voices have value to give. So I listened and my heart began to expand. But the one type of music that she loved the most was the sound that held a groove, a soulful thump that you felt deep inside, that made you sway. She loved the music that came with a smokey voice that was an element unknown to the periodical chart. It soon became an essential part of our collection and now, to this day, I love it just as much as she does. Little Dragon embodies so much of that style.
There comes a time in every person's life when we must discover our own voice. It's a rite of passage that all of us must experience in order to have a fulfilling existence. For me, I never knew where to go inside to find that honest expression until I started chanting Nam-Moyoho-Renge-Kyo. I was lost at sea but then I found a Buddhist philosophy that suddenly connected with the fundamental story that was my own. I began to believe in my vision and started channeling my energy into creating value with my life. What a wonderful feeling to discover who you are meant to be! When I listen to Jolie Holland sing, I immediately understand that she is someone who carries the same fundamental philosophy. She may not be Buddhist but she is a powerful unique voice in this universe. I marvel at the tone and honesty that comes from these songs and I can imagine a place where people respect one another and strive to build something of value. What a world this would be if we were all just as creative! It must look something like Holland's wine dark sea, a swirling beauty that lies beyond the mystique of the heavens.
There was a time, a soft spot in the morning when the light leaked through the window, casting dust motes across the space of the room. Tiny starships floating through the air, hoping to find a habitable planet, away from the pain they left behind. Perhaps a place next to the sweet smell of the river, green plants swirling under the surface of the water, the rise of white sandy islands catching the propeller. We get out and lie on the particles, scratchy on my back, as the sun scorches our bodies. When it gets too hot, we run and jump in the water, cool against the red of our skin, then warm because the rays stir in the shallows all day long. Camp fires, crispy food, cold drinks and the lazy haze of the day drifting through our brains, causing our eyes to droop low against the coming night, the light drifting away, as if they were chasing the shadows or the shadows were chasing them. The soft warm of a comforter takes me away from all that came with the day, a smile on my face because the hoppy days of summer have infiltrated every part of me.
There was a time when I was like, yeah, I know who Galaxie 500 is but have I ever listened to one of their songs? Obviously not, because that's like deep college radio stuff, deeper than anything I was listening to on 91X. But then I was like, in my mid twenties where I'm digging through crates of used music, hoping to find something for nothing and I run across one of Luna's albums. I somehow knew that Luna was the band that came out of Galaxie 500's break up but I didn't really know the exact players in the game or anything like that. But since it was used, I was definitely up for a listen. Mind you, this was back in the mid-nineties, long before we had the type of access to music that we have now. I couldn't just go listen to them on soundcloud or watch one of their videos on youtube in order to find out if I really was into them. This was back when you had to guess half the time and hoped that you didn't get some album with only one decent song on it. Well, all I have to say is that Luna album (Pup Tent) was pretty damn awesome and, of course I had to find out more about Galaxie 500 at that point, couldn't put it off any longer, you know, and they were pretty damn awesome, as we all know now. It didn't take long for Luna to become one of my favorite bands and, to this day, I still think that they wrote the greatest pop-rock song ever. Of course, eventually Luna broke up, as well, but that didn't stop the guy who made both of those bands great from making music. Dean Wareham, everybody, and this is his latest offering.
Back when I was just a wee lad, I was raised in a household with very little music. I wasn't required to understand or learn about music or how to play it. I was given a minimal introduction into the world of sound and harmonies. My mother didn't bring much of her tastes into our environment, aside for the occasional Christian pop album or mainstream easy listening. My father on the other hand, had a love for rootsy, bluesy style rock and folk music, which was quite popular during the seventies. Eventually he discovered jazz, as all of those who start out listening to rock learn to realize is connected to the roots of the music they love. I hated most of it, beyond appreciating a nice tune from Fleetwood Mac or Lynard Skynard but I did come to admire one of his favorites. J.J. Cale was one of the great guitarists and song writers of the 20th century. He took blues and softened it just right but didn't fall all the way into the sentimental type of folk music that drives some of us crazy. Cale was a master and so many great guitarists of the seventies and eighties emulated him or covered his music. Now we come to Lee Fields, who does a beautiful cover of Cale's song, Magnolia, on this album and captures it in a unique way that pulls every ounce of emotion from the tale. I've mentioned Fields before and, much like Cale, he presents a sound that takes so many elements of the past that we know, then gives us his magical blend that can't be found anywhere else. This is music that is easy to love because it is expressed with so much love. It also takes me back and reminds me of a time when I first began to love music on a visceral level, a time when I didn't know the real power of it, except when the twist of a melody skipped a beat in my heart making me perceive it all with such difference.
This Thanksgiving break, as we gathered with family and friends, my brother-in-law regaled us with a tale about a rave that one of the cousins threw back in the day. It was in a warehouse that they were renting and the lease was up, so they decided to throw a big bash before this prime spot was gone. Mind you, this was long before all the revitalization efforts that went under way here in San Diego back in the aughts, so it was quite an underground event. Well, apparently this was one epic rave and I'm sure there was plenty of music that pounded down on the all the sweaty bodies harbored under that roof. At the time of this occurrence, I wasn't really into dance music and never attended these types of parties that were becoming such an important part of our culture. Of course, by now music that thumps our hearts and bones in such a way is common and I have come to love it in my own way. Porter Robinson's Worlds is my favorite dance album from the past year, mostly because, even though the beat will drive through you in a way that is primal, Robinson also blends in the type of soaring beauty that lifts us over the crowd and into the heavens. Now, I mentioned that I never went to a proper rave of the kind mentioned this past weekend but the most impromptu party that I ever was involved with happened in my early twenties when I still lived out in Jamul. Some friends of mine had gathered at my place to appreciate the beauty of a weekend out in the countryside when my sister came to tell us about a band, going by the name Green Box, that couldn't find their party out there in the boondocks. We welcomed them with open arms and set them up next to the pool. Green Box spent the evening blasting us with nineties punk rock, while we all got properly wasted. It was such a spontaneous and intimate experience that I know I'll remember it forever.
Did you know that Jenny Lewis was a child actor during the eighties and nineties in a bunch of lousy family films and a few interesting indie flicks. Most notable of all these films was the movie, Foxfire, which is notable because it was one of the early films in Angelina Jolie's career, when she was starting to get recognition as a presence. In the movie, Lewis plays a high school girl who is being sexually harassed (assaulted?) by a creepy teacher and even though she seems to be this quiet, meek type, Jolie's rebel character helps her stand up to the guy. The movie is pretty decent but I totally remember her in the film, especially because she was the cutest of the bunch. I had no idea that she would soon form a band that would become one of my favorite artists for much of the aughts. Rilo Kiley blew me away in 2004 with their album, More Adventurous, especially the song, It's A Hit. I became one of those rabid fans for a couple of years and enjoyed all of her side projects, even seeing the very first Postal Service show ever, here at the Casbah in San Diego. It's been an interesting ride with many ups and downs; her collaboration with the Watson Twins got me hooked on them, while her collaboration with Johnathan Rice made me lose all hope in her future endeavors. Well, here we are in 2014 with her second solo effort, The Voyager, and it reminds me a lot of the old Rilo Kiley stuff that I always loved. Songs that evoke a story or a place that doesn't quite touch the earth. It's wonderful to journey on with an artist that captured my youthful heart so long ago.
This is my blog. There are many like it but this one is mine. My blog is my best friend. It is my song. I must master it as I must master my life. Without me, my blog is useless. Without my blog I am silent. I must articulate my song true. I must aim straighter than my adversary, who is trying to silence me. I must extend my voice further than he extends his. I will. Before the excellence of the universe I swear this creed: my blog and myself are defenders of my realm, we are the masters of those who shun thought, we are the saviors of free thinking beings. So be it, until there is peace. Kampai.