Friday, December 26, 2014

Best Albums of 2014 (Albums 10-1)

My music-loving friends and I had many a conversation this year in regards to how it was a "slow year." It seems we all kept waiting for that life-changing album to surprise us and, while there were some solid albums released, the life-changer never arrived. Certainly the top few will withstand the test of time despite the bands' freshness and certainly the releases from tried and true artists (Spoon, Beck, and The New Pornographers) will be stand outs in their large catalogs.

But I suppose that's how music releases go; we can't always have as heavy hitting a year as 2013. So why make a list on a slower year? Or, why make lists of music releases at all? Well, I mostly view it as a way to celebrate and share the creative outputs of the last year even if ranking them is a flawed system.

It should be noted that the top spot was a fairly easy pick for me this year. And I included the late 2013 releases by Beyonce (a surprise release) and Childish Gambino. I don't like "breaking the rules" but they were top listens in 2014 so I'm going to do what I want. All qualifiers out of the way, enjoy my list of my favorite 20 albums from 2014!

Albums 20-11 can be found here.

10. Phantogram - Voices
I will easily give Phantogram the "best live act" award for the year. Jorjette and I were able to catch them at the 9:30 Club this past fall and they brought about as much punch as possible. The lights were all over the place. The band was wholly dedicated to their performance. I first heard Phantogram four years ago when they opened for The Antlers. Moving from a keyboard/guitar/vocals and strobe light to where they are now is just fantastic. Good for them.

9. Beck - Morning Phase
I've always been a half-hearted listener of Beck. Very late in the game, I got into his 1990's album, Odelay, and I've given his last few albums a few spins on Spotify. With it being a slower year for music, I decided to give Morning Phase a deeper listen than his other albums and I'm glad I did. A slower album of his, there are plenty of beautiful cuts. And true to its name, the album is great in the morning: I found myself listening to it while walking across campus and driving by myself and found the album to be a perfect album for early in the day. Lastly, we caught Beck in concert this summer and, well, he's still got it.

8. Childish Gambino - Because the Internet
I originally had a hard time getting into Childish's music and it was a slow appreciation with Because the Internet, Gambino's second full release. He's not generally respected by critics. Rap music's origins stem from the oppressed black narrative, giving the genre a grittiness and level of authenticity greater than many others and, well, Donald Glover (Gambino's non-stage name) had a fairly stable upbringing, attended NYU's writing program, and had a lot of success in TV writing and acting prior to his rap career. Basically, he doesn't fit the rap mold. But I think rap music is at a new place. White guys can rap about materialism and the acceptance of the LGBTQ community. And we're ready for a black guy with a lot of formal education to write nerd rap lyrics and be all feely-introspective on an album. Oh, and the album is really good. Part smart-rap, part Frank Ocean smoothness.

7. The New Pornographers - Brill Bruisers
Another band I've been a half-hearted listener of over the last 7-8 years despite solid releases over a long career. But this album just gets it. Opening title track is probably my favorite opener of the year and the rest of the album follows suit.

6. The War on Drugs - Lost in the Dream
Did anyone even know who this band was prior to this year? Philadelphia based and sounding like Springsteen, these guys created one great blue-collar record. The album grew on me over the year to become one of my favorites. Check them out and then check them out again if you're not immediately pulled in.

5. Spoon - They Want My Soul
Blah blah blah, old-timers who do solid rock music. This album is fresh. Great use of key boards. Great riffs. My only complaint would be that the lyrical content is mostly applicable to people on the road traveling and creating music... not so much asking questions that could be generalized for the common person. That complaint out of the way, this one is great.

4. Beyonce - s/t
Easily the most listened to album of the year, this CD stayed in our car radio from Christmas to March. Beyonce has always been pretty incredible. 4 was full of pop gems (Party, Countdown) and beautiful ballads (1+1) and her previous albums did the same to some extent. But Beyonce's self-titled release took the country by storm. Full of sexy songs (Drunk in Love, Partition), great pop hits (XO), and strong female tracks (Flawless, Pretty Hurts). Incredible live performance with Jay-Z and overall the most deservedly talked-about artists from the year. Here's to Queen Bey.

3. alt-J - This Could All Be Yours
So much anticipation for these guys. While not universally loved by critics and fans, I thought this was a great sophomore release for these young Brit rockers. What set alt-J apart with their first album was a unique sound all their own while sticking to the basic four-piece band setup. New sound but not unrecognizable. I believe This Could All Be Yours moves the band further along, taking risks but not to the point of a complete overhaul. So I'm all about the twang of Left Hand Free, the Miley sample on Hunger of the Pine, and the intricate vocals on Warm Foothills. Keep it up!

2. Ages and Ages - Divisionary
Earlier this year, I saw a list published on Paste Magazine's website citing Divisionary's closing track, Divisionary (Do the Right Thing) as their top song of the year thus far. I checked out the band and instantly fell into their folksy grasp. While not necessarily ground breaking in their sound, they do the folk, choral pop perfectly. They collectively sing about being morally upright without sounding naive. They sing with passion and conviction. They sang songs I felt good about putting on repeat listens.

1. Sylvan Esso - s/t
This beautiful electronic duo is composed of singer Amelia Meath (of Mountain Man) and producer Nick Sanborn (of Megafaun). In trying to describe them to my RA staff, I had a running joke of describing "this band that's a side-project of two bands you've never heard of" followed by the qualifier, "I couldn't sound more pretentious." Thankfully, Sylvan Esso is the exact opposite of pretension. Jorjette and I had a chance to catch them live and their stage presence was that of pure enthusiasm and joy in their art. If you haven't heard much of them, they create some really solid beats with the sweetest (yet strong!) female voice. They play off that paradox well and it results in an album suited for many settings. It's great for the following settings: the morning, grooving in the car, background at a party, foreground at a party, headphones on, and, probably other places as well.

As always, it's been fun making a list. Leave your thoughts if you're into that sort of thing.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Best Albums of 2014 (Albums 20-11)

My music-loving friends and I had many a conversation this year in regards to how it was a "slow year." It seems we all kept waiting for that life-changing album to surprise us and, while there were some solid albums released, the life-changer never arrived. Certainly the top few will withstand the test of time despite the bands' freshness and certainly the releases from tried and true artists (Spoon, Beck, and The New Pornographers) will be stand outs in their large catalogs.

But I suppose that's how music releases go; we can't always have as heavy hitting a year as 2013. So why make a list on a slower year? Or, why make lists of music releases at all? Well, I mostly view it as a way to celebrate and share the creative outputs of the last year even if ranking them is a flawed system.

It should be noted that the top spot was a fairly easy pick for me this year and I added a few late 2013 releases because, well, I listened to them a lot. All qualifiers out of the way, enjoy my list of my favorite 20 albums from 2014!

20. SOHN - Tremors
I don't have much context for this artist but I kept coming back to this album during my office hours. Chock full of reverb and electronic beats, I'll be keeping my ears peeled for more SOHN music in the future.

19. Vacationer - Relief
I was introduced to Vacationer at one of my first B-Sides concerts here on Messiah College's campus a few years back. A few albums later, they've still got beach vibes galore.

18. Damien Jurado - Brothers and Sisters of the Eternal Sun
Certainly Jurado's most other-wordly album, Eternal Sun is a great addition to the Jurado catalog that spans back a decade or so of solid releases.

17. Azealia Banks - Broke with Expensive Taste
While Iggy dominated the radio charts (ugh) and Nicki Minaj released a solid album late in the year, Banks brought us the most worldly, interesting rap album of the year, Kudos for some legit female rap albums this year.

16. Chad VanGaalen - Shrink Dust
Another newbie (to me) on the list, VanGaalen has created some of the most bizarre sounds while maintaining the singular artist/creator persona.

15. Tennis - Ritual in Repeat
This husband/wife duo provides a fantastic sound. Lead vocals are smooth yet full and the backing music is straight forward without being overly simple.

14. Ray Lamontagne - Supernova
A welcomed divergence from his tried and true soulful, bluegrass sound, Supernova is a fantastic exploration into new areas, including some great psychedelic influences. If you've been growing tired of Ray, this one might bring you back.

13. Sam Smith - In the Lonely Hour
Breaking onto the scene by lending vocals to Disclosure's Latch a year or so back, Smith came with high expectations. His lead single, Stay With Me, was powerful and heartfelt and the follow-up, Money on my Mind, proved Smith was still capable of creating a strong pop trackThe remainder of the album provides some hits and misses but was also one of my most-listened to of the year.

12. Coldplay - Ghost Stories
Coldplay definitely isn't in their glory days but they also continue to produce some decent music. While Ghost Stories had a Bon Iver knock-off and a few other appropriated tracks, the album, as a whole, was a welcome listen.

11. First Aid Kit - Stay Gold
This Swedish duo brings delightful harmonies and a throwback sound that is impossible to dislike. Great sophomore album for these ladies.

Thanks for reading! Albums 10-1 can be found here.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Best Songs of 2014

End of the year lists. So arbitrary yet so fun. Throughout the year I've kept a folder on Spotify of some of my favorite songs from the year. Over the last few weeks I've done some minimal editing, adding a few forgotten tracks and taking out a few that didn't really belong there. As for specifications, the single or album had to have been released in 2014 (...or late 2013) and I didn't include more than two tracks from any single artist or band. While there's a lot of cross over with my "Best Albums" lists (coming soon), there's also a smattering of obscure bands' tracks and some top-40 gems of which I haven't bought into the full album. So here are some of my favorite tracks from the year. Excluding the Bon Iver and Taylor Swift tracks, the playlist can be found on Spotify.

36. Tune-Yards - Water Fountain
35. Damien Jurado - Silver Timothy
34. Jack White - High Ball Stepper
33. Caribou - Can't Do Without You
32. alt-J - Hunger of the Pine
31. Sam Smith - Stay With Me
30. How to Dress Well - See You Fall
29. Sun Kill Moon - I Watched the Film the Song Remains the Same
28. Ages and Ages - Our Demons
27. Conor Oberst - Governor's Ball
26. Beck - Morning
25. Phantogram - Black Out Days
24. Lorde - Yellow Flicker Beat
23. The Antlers - Hotel
22. Coldplay - Another's Arms
21. Kishi Bashi - Q&A
20. Chad VanGaalen - Where Are You?
19. Childish Gambino - 3005
18. Hozier - Take Me to Church
17. Nicki Minaj - Pills N Potions
16. Bon Iver - Heavenly Father
15. Sylvan Esso - Could I Be
14. Beyonce - Ring Off
13. Sufjan Stevens - A Little Lost
12. Taylor Swift - Shake it Off
11. The War on Drugs - Red Eyes
10. Childish Gambino - III. Telegraph Ave. ("Oakland" by Lloyd)
9. Warm Foothills - alt-J
8. The New Pornographers - Brill Bruisers
7. Real Estate - Talking Backwards
6. Spoon - Do You
5. Sam Smith - Money On My Mind
4. Beyonce - Drunk in Love
3. Sylvan Esso - Coffee
2. Kendrick Lamar - i
1. Ages and Ages - Divisionary (Do the Right Thing)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

(Un)Clear Narratives

Everything isn't as clear as it seems. And, well, sometimes everything seems pretty clear.
Over the last few days, I've been reading Bryan Stevenson's book, Just Mercy. Stevenson is the founder of the Equal Justice Initiative and a professor of clinical law at NYU. He works for the fair treatment of people of color and the poor, specifically those on death row. The book gives a good explanation of what his organization does, the context of doing said work in Montgomery, AL,, and some of the roadblocks they often come up against. More than that, the book uses a story of a man who was convicted of murder and put on death row in an obviously botched trial with all sorts of corruption at play. I'm only half-way through the book but I can go ahead and recommend it as a good read. Thus far, it has been disheartening to see the systematic injustices that have been and still are in effect - the particular case explored in the book happened in the late 1980's and early 1990's.
As I continue to read Just Mercy, I reflect on the other dominant narratives in our culture this year, true life or otherwise. The book version of Gone Girl easily gets my "favorite novel read in 2014" award and the movie captivated audiences all over as well. For those unfamiliar, the fictional story revolves around the disappearance of a woman (Amy) and the suspected guilt of her husband (Nick). The narration comes from both Amy and Nick's perspective, jumping back and forth in time. While I contend that the crux of the story is the marriage between Nick and Amy, the relationship is explored via murder mystery, leaving the reader/watcher unsure of who and what to trust from start to finish. The second major phenomenon of captivating narrative would be NPR's Serial, the 12 episode podcast about a true life murder case from 1999 in which an 18 year old high school student from Maryland goes missing, is later found dead, and then her ex-boyfriend is convicted of the murder. The episodes - well, the last one airs this week - explore the case from every angle imaginable. We get reports from close friends, from law experts, from the ex-boyfriend himself. From my perspective, the major take-away is not necessarily that he did it or he didn't do it but rather that, sometimes, I may not know who did it.
This leads me to the events that have been happening in Ferguson and NYC and Cleveland and, well, all over. There are as many opinions as there are people when it comes to these incidents of police brutality (or if one considers them brutality at all). It would be easy for my white, suburban raised self to cite these as isolated incidents that don't reflect the "true" nature of our justice system; that, for most people, justice is guaranteed and provided. But then I see the stats of unarmed, African-American men and boys who have been killed by police and suddenly things aren't quite so clear.* And, if the other narratives I've been consuming this year have been teaching me anything, perhaps each of these cases aren't as clear as I'd like for them to be. That then puts the burden on me (read: all of us) to expose myself to a diversity of stories. I'm going to listen when the underrepresented students and colleagues with whom I work share stories of feeling unsafe in situations where I don't give a second thought. I'm going to cheer on and encourage those protesting in NYC as they fight to have their voices heard. Ultimately, I hope we all take the time to go out of our way to hear peoples' stories, and specifically those that are not in places of power.

*I want to be clear that there are certainly many fantastic, sacrificial, fair, justice-oriented police officers out there and they make up the majority of the force. I'm more concerned about systems we have in place (or don't have in place) that provide a check for police officers as they engage people of color. Without some of these checks, I fear the cultivation of a culture among certain police officers that ignores the fair treatment of underprivileged people.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

My Thoughts on the Enneagram

In grad school, I was introduced to the Enneagram as a system for personality types. At the time, I received the book Personality Types, written by psychologists Riso and Hudson. Now, four years later, I've actually taken the time to read (well, skim some parts) the book, and I believe I'm better off for it.

For those of you unaware of the Enneagram: For all intents and purposes for me, the book, and how I am relating to it, it is a system for understanding personality types from a psychology approach. It is based in a lot of old philosophical and mystic sources but that's another conversation. It's great for those that find other systems trite or limiting in their approach. There are nine different types, divided into three triads: feeling, thinking, and instinctive. Each person is not distinctly one number or another, rather one lies on a spectrum (around the circle) so a person might be a Four with a Three Wing. For each person, you Integrate and Disintegrate based on how healthy you are. So when an Eight is at their healthiest point, they exhibit signs of a Two, and at their worst, Five. There's obviously a lot more to it, but that's the dumbed down version.
As the authors point out in the closing chapter of the book, the Enneagram, or any personality test, is not perfect and it cannot save us from ourselves. At the same time, recognizing our motivators in life helps us work in healthy directions. "As wisdom has always recognized, it is only by dying to ourselves - that is, to our ego and its strategies - that we find life" (Riso & Hudson, p. 458). 

As far as I know, there's no quizzes you take to identify for which personality you are. Rather, one should self-identify (something I value). When reading through each description, I identify strongly with the Six the Loyalist, and I think I have a slight 5 Wing. As Riso and Hudson propose, "For Sixes, security comes from a rock-of-ages allegiance and an investment of themselves in something outside themselves which they believe will give them stability and safety. Sixes want to feel protected and secure by having something bigger and more powerful than they guiding them" (p. 218). This is totally me. There are other descriptors of Sixes which I don't feel strongly connected to but then there are other parts of Sixes (and my Five Wing) that also jive a lot with my lived experience. 

Why is this helpful or relevant? Well I think it helps me understand why I am good at writing research papers where I pull trusted information from outside sources. And it helps me understand why I'm not the best at making in-the-moment decisions when I don't have a protocol or previous experience to fall back on. It pushes me towards finding trusted friends and colleagues who are trustworthy and proficient at the role they fill. It also pushes me toward taking time to move past my internal anxiety and ambivalence - doing things like blogging or writing in my journal help with this. It also pushes me to analyze myself during times of watching a lot of TV or movies - am I doing it to avoid myself? Or have I sorted out myself and am able to integrate what I'm consuming into a healthy self? 

To the three of you reading, any thoughts on the Enneagram and the way you've utilized it?


Riso, D. R., & Hudson, R. (1996). Personality types: Using the Enneagram for self-discovery. New York, NY: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Podcasts. And the Way I Think, Process, and Learn.

A few weekends ago, I took a quick road-trip out to Indiana for the wedding of my good friends Kate and Steve. Within a three day span, I spent about 20 hours in the car by myself, spending that entire time listening to NPR Podcasts. To be specific (and in ascending order in regards to time spent with each): This American Life, Serial, All Songs Considered, and Pop Culture Happy Hour.

Upon arrival in Indiana, the inevitable question was asked: "How was your trip?" As I was relaying the quality of my ride, I more fully realized why I love listening to Podcasts. I'm an internal processor.

With the two Podcasts to which I primarily listened (Considered and Happy Hour), the format involves professionals sitting around talking about a subject or theme. With the way I learn, I am perfectly content to listen to others (at least professionals) work out the intricacies of a particular topic while I also do the same in my own mind.

My question is this: is this a positive process for learning/processing?

Yes, a particular, albeit surface, style of learning fitted towards my mind. And the car-ride alternative is listening to music/nothing.
No, enables a passive form of learning and processing in which I should be pushing myself.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

High Fives for Summer: Music

As I've spent most of my summer cooped up in my apartment, occasionally doing laundry but mostly just reading, listening, and watching, I thought I might pass along the media highlights that I've come across. To do so, in this four-part blog series, I'll list five of my favorite TV shows, books, albums, and movies that I've consumed this summer, thus creating my "High Fives" for each medium.

(Below my "High Five," I've listed a few Honorable Mention albums; albums that have been on regular rotation though who knows if I'll be listening to them a year from now.)


It's been a slow year for music and the summer has not been much different. That said, it's not as though I've stopped listening to new music... that'd be ridiculous. Here are some albums I've been listening to a decent amount this summer.

Coldplay || Ghost Stories
May, 2014 || Alt-rock, Post-Britpop || Website
Being old friends, I was obviously going to give the new album a listen or two. And, well, it's not bad. After X&Y, I was starting to question my belief in these alt-rock-pop superstars but then Viva La Vida came along and contends for one of my favorite albums of theirs. Then the ultimately annoying Mylo Xyloto followed and made me question everything about them. And then, here we have Ghost Stories. Perhaps the most adult-contemporary of their albums. But then again, I'm just about a full-fledged adult so that's not inherently a bad thing, I guess. Track Midnight had a pretty awful music video and there were some fairly blatant rip-offs of Bon Iver but, hey, I love Bon Iver. Listening through the album with the lyrics in front of me didn't help but when played while driving, getting ready in the morning, or reading, this album works rather well. 
Stand-out Track: Ghost Story, Another's Arms

Ages and Ages || Divisionary
March, 2014 || Indie-folk, Raw choral pop || Website
Listed on Paste editor Josh Jackson's top songs of the year (so far) list, I checked out this yet unheard of Portland-based band and found them delightfully upbeat, choral (as the genre suggests), and filling my Of Monsters and Men / The Head and the Heart hipster-folk void. As with any album involving more than two people on vocals, the listener is invited to sing along and just about every song does that wonderfully.
Stand-out Track: Divisionary (Do the Right Thing)

Phantogram || Divisionary
February, 2014 || Electric rock || Website
I originally heard of these guys about four years ago as they opened for The Antlers at The Blind Pig in Ann Arbor. They definitely had a good, beats-produced sound to them and their first LP had some good tracks on it. When their follow-up released earlier this year, I gave the album a few spins in my office but moved on. As Jorjette has recently found a growing interest in indie-music (beyond allowing me to play whatever I'm currently listening to), she independently got into them and, once we bought tickets for their 9:30 Club show in D.C., we were hooked. The new album is certainly a major-label affair though, in my opinion, they needed a little more accessibility, making for a still off-kilter summer album. 
Stand-out Track: Fall in Love

Sam Smith || In the Lonely Hour
June, 2014 || Pop, Soul, R&B || Website
Remember when this guy performed on SNL earlier this year? It was kind of boring but he was intriguing, at the very least. Of course that Disclosure released single that he is featured on, Latch, is irresistible (with radio stations finally catching up, playing the track a year and a half after it released...). His single Stay with Me had Jorje and I hooked but then the album got mediocre reviews. The album finally released on Spotify, allowing us to get a full listen to the whole album. While there are still a few misses, album opener Money on My Mind is fantastic and his British R&B vocals soar throughout. 
Stand-out Tracks: Money on My Mind, Stay with Me

Sylvan Esso || s/t
May, 2014 || Electric, Indie folk || Website
Briefly introduced to their single, Coffee, via a mix CD a former co-worker gave to Jorjette, I was formally acquainted with this band when visiting friends Matt and Allison in NYC while playing Sorry in their living room. Looking at their genre, I'm a total sucker for anything slow-moving, ethereal but with a purpose.
Stand-out Track: Coffee

Honorable Mention: First Aid Kit, Kishi Bashi, How to Dress Well

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

High Fives for Summer: Television

As I've spent most of my summer cooped up in my apartment, occasionally doing laundry but mostly just reading, listening, and watching, I thought I might pass along the media highlights that I've come across. To do so, in this four-part blog series, I'll list five of my favorite TV shows, books, albums, and movies that I've consumed this summer, thus creating my "High Fives" for each medium.


Television has been described as being in the "golden age" for the last decade or so and I would tend to agree. Although there's certainly more trash out there than ever before, the broadening of the television market created by cable networks and, now, internet based programming has created both quantity and quality.

Maybe I'm imagining things, but it seems as though this golden aged television has delivered dramas in waves. The Sopranos, The West Wing, and The Wire all aired relatively alongside each other in the early '00s. Mad Men and Breaking Bad dominate(d) for their runs in the following six or so years. And, now, a new slew of heavy hitters are just starting up with House of Cards, True Detective, and Fargo. Of course, this ignores a few shows like Homeland and Downton Abbey and disregards the comedy side of television programming but regardless of my wave-theory, if these next young guns are as fantastic as the last few waves, we're in for a good ride.

As for my "High Five" selections, many of my picks were decided heavily by their availability to me. Namely, whatever I could get my hands on at the local library and whatever is on Amazon Prime Instant Video, which recently added a ton of HBO shows in addition to their FX offerings. That said, here are some television highlights for the summer, old and new, funny and serious.

 Bored to Death || Season 3
HBO, viewed on Amazon Prime || 2009-11 || Comedy || Website
This three season sitcom finished it's course a few years back though I'm not sure why this little gem didn't get more attention. The premise is fairly simple and absurd: Jonathan Ames (Jason Schwartzman) is an aspiring New York author who works as a P.I. in the evenings and is assisted by his two friends, George Christopher (Ted Danson) and Ray Hueston (Zach Galifianakis), both of whom are cast brilliantly. The writing is smart, if not a little smarmy, and the actors are allowed to play off each other in ways a sitcom should allow their characters. Nothing about season three stood out as better than the rest of the series but if a Wes Anderson / Judd Apatow style HBO sitcom sounds intriguing, check it out.

Orphan Black || Season 1
BBC, viewed on Amazon Prime || 2013- || Canadian sci-fi || Website
Generally speaking, sci-fi shows aren't necessarily my cup of tea (e.g. I couldn't get into Battlestar Galactica for the life of me) but this brilliantly paced sci-fi thriller had Jorje and I flying through. Reminiscent of J.J. Abrams' Alias, this felt a bit tighter and had the added foreign-produced spunk. For those unfamiliar, the premise of the show follows orphaned, street thug Sarah Manning (Tatiana Maslany) after she witnesses the suicide of a woman who looks identical to her. It's a fun one, perhaps specifically for a long summer afternoon.

Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee || Seasons 3 & 4
Viewed on the internet || 2012- || Comedy web series || Website
This internet-based interview series hosted by Jerry Seinfeld is quaint and unique and could only be successful with Seinfeld's notoriety and this day of internet programming interest. True to it's title, the episodes include Seinfeld driving some cool car, picking up a comedian friend, and going to get coffee. The episodes range in length from six to twenty minutes, rarely lagging too long or depicting a lull in the conversation. Sure, there is some over-reminiscing with the older comedians and the product placements are overwrought (intentionally, though not as tongue-in-cheek as, say 30 Rock pulled them off) making for a package of a show that might be a little too tidy at times. Still, what distinguishes this series from any late-night show is the off-handedness and strangeness of the locations and activities. Who doesn't love going for a drive in a cool car? Grabbing a cup of coffee? Somehow these household name comedians feel rather relatable. In season three, Tina Fey is herself, which is hilarious. On Patton Oswell's episode, their DeLorean breaks down. But of course they have a back-up at the ready. And Louie C.K. shares about how his favorite thing to do is get high and go to the IMAX, a story which is preceded by a heartwarming story about taking his kids out on his boat (which, by the way, is only another example of Louie showcasing what, I would contend, makes him the best entertainer able to blend the sacred and profane). Season four was recently posted. All episodes are up on the site.

The Wire || Season 1
HBO, viewed on Amazon Prime || 2002-08 || Crime drama || Website
I originally tried watching this show a few years back during my "gap year" between undergrad and grad school but I had just come off watching the entire The Sopranos series and couldn't handle another slow-paced though brilliantly constructed show. I'm glad I returned. The hour long episodes move along not slowly, like I originally felt, but at a pace true to life, taking time to allow the viewer to get to know its varied characters ranging from the Baltimore Police Department, drug addicts, the drug dealers and gang leaders, and the kids from the projects growing up among all of it. No one is overtly vilified or made to be a hero. The police slowly work to bring down the network of drugs and murders. Avon Barksdale serves as the calculating and well-reasoned leader of the network of drug distribution. I've also been watching 24: Live Another Day this summer and contrary to that show's handling of death, The Wire appropriately gives each life the respect any human life deserves, a rarity among television and movies these days, specifically for a show set in one of the roughest parts of the country and focusing on the homicide police department. I'm excited to work my way through the remaining four seasons as they focus on different areas of Baltimore.

True Detective || Season 1
HBO, viewed on Xfinity On-Demand || 2014 || Mystery crime drama || Website
I'd heard great things about this one and, I'll be honest, it catered to my faux-deep side. It's gotten some well-founded criticism for the lack of three-dimensional female characters but the acting, writing, and sepia-toned shots of deep-South Louisiana is gorgeous. The show does a marvelous job of creating mystery in the first few episodes, moving back and forth through time, using interviews of leads McConaughey and Harrelson as voice-overs, occasionally telling the truth, occasionally not. While the conclusion focused more on the inherent bro-mance and general worldview of the two leads, the lack of a mind-blowing mystery ending felt right, I suppose.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

High Fives for Summer: Books

As I've spent most of my summer cooped up in my apartment, occasionally doing laundry but mostly just reading, listening, and watching, I thought I might pass along the media highlights that I've come across. To do so, in this four-part blog series, I'll list five of my favorite TV shows, books, albums, and movies that I've consumed this summer, thus creating my "High Fives" for each medium.

(Below my "High Five," I've listed a few books that certainly got a passing grade and come with a recommendation.)


I like to read books and the summer (usually) provides ample time to do so. This summer has been no different. Here were a few of my faves.

Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? || Beverly Daniel Tatum
1997 || Anthropology, African-American studies || Amazon
I'm not sure why I've waited until now to read this classic guide to understanding race relations, specifically for kids, adolescents, and students. The book helped me understand much, specifically things that, as a white person, I am ambivalent towards. Perhaps most importantly, it caused me to further realize that our society is not inherently moving towards a more racially sensitive and welcoming place but we, conscientiously or subconsciously, move the other direction. Thus, the emphasis must be put on actively working towards better understanding our own prejudices, allowing space for those of color in my own world, and intentionally working on dialogue with those other than me.

The Fault in Our Stars || John Green
2012 || Young adult || Amazon
Read in two days time, this young adult fiction novel, like the movie made after it, is filled with half-cheesy quotes of love and carpe diem living and a desire for understanding how to deal with grief. If all the kids are reading this one, I'm fine with that. And if all the adults who read young adult fiction are reading this... there could be worst things, I suppose.

Gone Girl || Gillian Flynn
2012 || Fiction, Thriller || Website
I'm going to go ahead and say this was the most exciting read of the summer. Definitely the biggest page-turner. Clocking in at over 400 pages, I read it in a three or four days, even as a dreadfully slow reader. This story of a marriage and of suspected murder is intriguing on multiple levels. Split into two parts, the story is told from both husband and wife, past and present, leaving the reader in constant suspense as to what really went down and, eventually, unbelief as to how things unfold. Of course, one could read the whole thing as allegory for relationships/marriage or conspire down a lot of other rabbit trails. Suffice it to say, I'm pretty stoked for the David Fincher directed film-adaptation coming this fall.

Torn || Justin Lee
2013 || Biography, Gender & sexuality || Website
Justin Lee recounts his experience growing up in a Christian home, stable family, leader at school and youth group, and, eventually, coming to terms with his gay identity. The book primarily focuses on Lee's experience in working through his identity, specifically as it relates to the Church, though he also touches on the nature/nurture, Biblical commentary, and appropriate response topics as well. Ultimately, Lee creates the Gay Christian Network, an organization hoping to spur dialogue and support for LGBTQ people and the Church. In the book (and elsewhere), he has helped people converse with each other, even with strongly held oppositional viewpoints. Way to go, Justin.

The Complete Stories || Flannery O'Connor
1971 || Southern gothic || Amazon
You can't argue with Flannery. Admittedly, I'm not as well-read with short stories but Flannery is able to pack more description, character depth, and life commentary into twenty pages then most fit into full-length novels. Mostly set in the South, most characters are both sympathetic and hypocritical and full of surprises.

Honorable Mention: A Storm of Swords, The Violence of Scripture, A Walk in the Woods

Monday, August 4, 2014

High Fives for Summer: Movies

As I've spent most of my summer cooped up in my apartment, occasionally doing laundry but mostly just reading, listening, and watching, I thought I might pass along the media highlights that I've come across. To do so, in this four-part blog series, I'll list five of my favorite TV shows, books, albums, and movies that I've consumed this summer, thus creating my "High Fives" for each medium.


Summers are notorious for their mindless offerings, opting for explosions rather than depth of character, etc. That said, there have been some decent offerings this summer ranging from well-made blockbuster action movies to teen and kids movies doing an excellent job within their genre. And of course I'm not only watching newly released movies; the summer is a time where I can catch up on all those little indie or foreign films that escaped my grasp from yesteryear.

(Below my "High Fives" are a few Honorable Mentions, movies that I saw and got a passing grade. And then some Highly Anticipated, movies about which I hear great things and were released in theaters but I haven't gotten to yet.)

Short Term 12
2013 || Coming of age / Drama || Website
Although I had always heard good things about this one, I missed it in theaters and its on-campus showing this past school year so when I was able to watch Short Term 12 through Redbox, I jumped at the chance. Set on a residential treatment facility for minors, the story closely follows the support staff as they interact with and live alongside of the kids. When introduced to the characters and setting, it originally feels cool and hip, like they're all young and struggling but, since they have each other, they're alright. Though as the movie progresses, it becomes apparent that the support staff isn't as functional and stable as one would like, progressing through and past addiction isn't easy, and, sometimes, those we're working with don't always make recoveries. As someone who works in a live-in position with students of all sorts (though, let me be clear, very different than the treatment facility of the movie), I sympathized with the themes of simultaneously growing as a person while helping those around me. One last note, the lead actress, Brie Larsen, has appeared in a number of movies over the last few years but this is easily the standout role. Look for more of her in the future.

The Fault in our Stars
2014 || Romance / Comedy-drama || Website
The latest teen-sensation book-turned-movie, The Fault in Our Stars has a lot of the elements of a cliched movie packaged up nicely and sold to teenagers and they spend their summer job money on the latest. And yes, if you Google the title, there's plenty of quotable fan-art that's been created. Let's be honest, if this movie came out fifteen years ago, I would have thrown a quote or two into my AIM Away Message to show how emotionally in-touch I was. All that said, the movie (and book) get a lot of things right. Shailene Woodley shines (as always) as Hazel and Ansel Elgort plays the good-looking Gus with ease. (In fact, these two are about the only positive take-away from the otherwise disappointing Divergent.) The movie deals with cancer and death is distinctly teenage, authentic ways while maintaining a deeply meaningful approach to life as showcased throughout the coming-of-age elements throughout. Lastly, the movie takes place in Indianapolis... which I realize isn't really an objective positive quality of the film but it's cool to recognize a few landmarks here and there.

The Broken Circle Breakdown
2013 || Romance / Music / Foreign-language || Website
Stuck at home without Jorjette one evening early this summer, I was scrolling through Amazon Prime's movie offerings and stumbled across this foreign-language Oscar-nominated film from 2013. I had vaguely heard of it but had no official recommendations. I'm glad I took the time to watch. The movie follows the two leads as they deal with love, parenthood, sickness, grief, commitment, and belief. And yes, it is a Belgium movie, set in Belgium, yet they love to sing folk music. The acting is fantastic and the music, an accent rather than the dominating force, gives Inside Llewyn Davis a serious contender for the best soundtrack of 2013.

2014 || Drama / Foreign-language || Website
While visiting family in the Midwest this summer, my mother, lover of all things Eastern European and Jewish culture, suggested going to this little Polish film playing at the arts cinema in Bloomfield Hills. I had never heard of it yet when checking it's glowing critical ratings, happily agreed to join. What resulted was perhaps one of the most beautiful movies I've seen in quite some time. Utilizing a 1.37 aspect ratio (basically, a square frame), the black and white movie is like a series of beautiful photographs. Yet more than a pretty picture book, the film, set in 1960's Poland, follows a young Catholic girl as she prepares to take her vows after a childhood in the convent. Before doing so, she is asked to meet an estranged aunt, a successful Jewish judge. There's lots of self-discovery, few words, and yet more striking images. 

How to Train your Dragon 2
2014 || Fantasy, Action || Website
Beautiful, empowering, and dealing fully with the realities of kid-life (set in a different time/place/etc.). If all kid movies were this good, I'd... go to more kid movies.

Honorable Mention: Snowpiercer, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes

Highly Anticipated: Boyhood, A Most Wanted Man, Locke, Edge of Tomorrow, Obvious Child

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Midwest Tastes Best: Ann Arbor

This three-part blog series highlights the food and coffee in the three cities Jorje and I visited on our bi-annual Midwest trip. My hope is to document the week of food and, if you happen to be looking for very specific recommendations for three Midwestern cities, you may get something out of it as well.

Part one: Indianapolis
Part two: Grand Rapids
Part three (this blog): Ann Arbor

Listed is a little bit of our experience and info on each place including what stood out, links to their websites, and the location of our visit though many have multiple locations in the designated city.

Ann Arbor
Ann Arbor has long had a reputation as a college-town full of artsy folks with quality food options. As I grow older (or rather, into full adulthood), Jorje and I are able to more fully enjoy this and, now having close friends Dauthan and Amanda living a few minutes outside the downtown area, we have friends who can give us the up-to-the-minute scoop on what's new and exciting.

Kerrytown ||

Zingerman's is a staple of Ann Arbor though this was our first visit to the famed deli, creamery, etc. Dauthan promptly asked one of the very knowledgeable employees for "an authentic Zingerman's experience." This led to trying fifteen or so different cheeses including both goat and cow varieties with a full explanation of each - all with little pressure to buy. My biggest take-away was that these people loved food and went all out to create the best products. As way of a full meal, we got sandwiches, a side of soup, and cane sugar sodas and then Jorje opted for a tiny dish of gelato to finish things off. 
Must-have: a sample of everything

Frita Batidos

Described as "Cuban Inspired Street Food," Frita Batidos has some legit, unique options. The staple dish is a frita, a Cuban burger made from chorizo with shoestring fries on top. Add some garlic cilantro fries and a rum infused fresh lime batido (milkshake), and you'll be good to go. We stopped by this place over New Year's Eve last year but I opted out of the burger to save room for further courses - I was glad to have the full experience this time around. 
Must-have: Chorizo Frita, Garlic Cilantro Fries

Downtown ||
Upon typing this review up, I'm realizing that I really just like well-made coffee more than any other special feature and with their use of Intelligentsia coffee, they didn't disappoint. With that said, Lab offers a few froyo flavors in addition to their coffee. Additionally, they are intentional about creating a space for people to interact and converse with each other (like Silicon Valley's labs where people are consistently building off of each other) they try to pour into the local community. To be honest, the service was fine though felt a little bit elitist. Coffee was delicious.
Must-have: anything coffee