Books

Best of 2016: Music & TV

In the age of social media (read: barrier-less entry to digital publication), our end-of-year world is overran with a bevy of bovine best-of lists that subjectively say nothing about music or art. I have often considered forgoing the practice. But truth be told I am a man of traditions and patterns. Since 2010 I have been making such subjective lists and cannot turn back now.

But I do promise to simplify.

This year, I’m talking just music and TV. (If you find yourself curious about the books I’ve read this year, however, follow me on Goodreads (Goodreads is still a thing, right?)).

Top 5 Records

2016 was a weird year for mainstream music. Rock was fueled primarily by mega-bands from previous decades (Blink 182, Green Day, Metallica), hip-hop spent its social currency on Kanye West drama, and pop-music decided to just wait it out for a new Taylor Swift album. Beyonce, I suppose, did something interesting with pop music, but there isn’t much else to hear. Where mainstream music failed, indie-music (used here as a sweeping genre) and new independent artists (across all indie-music genres) soared.

Almost weekly, there was a new artist or band or group making waves. Car Seat Headrest, Big Thief, Julien Baker, Margaret Glaspy, Kevin Morby, Nice As Fuck, to name a few at top of mind.

With Apple Music and Spotify and Amazon Music and now Pandora Unlimited — streaming services becoming commonplace for the listener — there’s little excuse to miss out on all this great new music. But these tools don’t make keeping up any less overwhelming. In fact, having access to everything, I find, makes it worse. At the end of the day, you have to find what works for you — those albums that connect from start to finish and demand repeat listens — and fit in the other stuff when you can.

So what are my favorites from the year? There are many reasons that the following list of albums stood out to me as “favorites” (originality, longevity, boldness) but the best metric is this: I refused to delete their files from my phone. (more…)

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Fiction Prediction: How Crichton Prophesied Our Awful Internet Age

The past two or three years, in my late twenties, I’ve almost exclusively read fiction. Call it escapism, call it the consequences of a creative writing college program, call it what you want — but after years of reading memoirs, business biographies and spiritual poetry, I’ve sunk my brainteeth into something else. I read fiction because I believe that is where the truth lies.

The author, or the voice, or narrator — whatever — through the guise of fiction is freer to speak.

As original hipster Sir Philip Sidney famously wrote:

Now for the poet, he nothing affirmeth, and therefore never lieth. For, as I take it, to lie is to affirm that to be true which is false; so as the other artists, and especially the historian, affirming many things, can, in the cloudy knowledge of mankind, hardly escape from many lies. The poet, as I said before, never affirmeth… He citeth not authorities of other histories, but even for his entry calleth the sweet Muses to inspire into him a good invention; in troth, not laboring to tell you what is or is not, but what should or should not be. And therefore though he recount things not true, yet because he telleth them not for true he lieth not.”

-The Defense of Poesy (1595)

Kevin, why are you quoting poetry? You don’t even like poetry.

Because I’m about to quote a Jurassic Park book, and I want to seem smart before I do.

What Sidney is saying is that the poet (or the author) has more power to tell the truth than anyone else, because storytelling taps into something that arguments, facts, and heavy rhetoric cannot. It taps into the human experience, which, of course, is truth. The reader is not agreeing or liking characters, but absorbing and experiencing, seeking to understand and further enrich his or her life. We might not agree with Ahab, for instance, on his search for the white whale, and we’re certainly not rooting for Kurtz in the African jungle, but we understand their quests and motives, and it teaches us something about ourselves, even if it’s dark and ugly.  

Whew. Okay, that took too much brain power.

A few months ago I read the sequel to Michael Crichton’s mega-famous novel, Jurassic Park, called The Lost World, and there was a passage in a stretch of dialogue that metaphorically punched me in the proverbial stomach.

Those who have read Crichton’s novels know the man was a genius. Agree or disagree with his logic, the guy had brains. As it turns out, the late science fiction author (that is, science with a sprinkle of fiction) of The Andromeda Strain, Jurassic Park, Sphere, and a bunch of other fantastic tales, was also a passive-aggressive Internet prophet.

In Crichton’s 1995 novel, The Lost World, his protagonist — the chaos-theory-mathematician Ian Malcolm (played brilliantly by Jeff Goldblum in the movies) — aptly predicts our modern, ultra-aware, internet-addicted, hyper-connected population. His outlook, however, is bleak.

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Our Lost World

“I think cyberspace means the end of our species.”

Say what now? (more…)

Best of 2015: Music, Film, Literature

Oh hey there. Let’s jump right in.

Music

2015 was a fantastic year for music. Adele and Taylor Swift reminded us that people still buy music and that pop stars still exist. Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal and a host of other streaming services pushed the discussion of “music as a commodity” centerstage. Despite where opinions settle, I think we can all agree that our streaming discussions were well overdue (and on two fronts: people paying for their music again and artists getting fairly paid for streaming).

NOTE: Amazon Prime’s streaming service (Amazon Music) is the industry’s best kept secret. It’s by far the best streaming service. Comes with your Prime account, you can download thousands of records, listen to them offline. Why is no one talking about this?

Every year I have artists and their releases that I look forward to, but this year there were some out-of-left-field albums that no one saw coming. Leon Bridges and Sufjan Stevens’ masterpiece, for instance, rocked (and rolled) almost my entire musical year.

Sufjan Stevens – Carrie & Lowell

Someone once told me that art should look different every time you see it. I think the same can be true for music, where you hear something different every time you play it. Stevens’ latest hits the proverbial mark. Borrowing from Gregorian chants, from 70’s folk, from his own catalogue — Carrie & Lowell is lyrically transparent, musically restrained, and almost perfect. Make no mistake, people: Sufjan Stevens made a masterpiece.

There are instances, such as in “The Only Thing“, where the track is just begging for a rhythm section (i.e., bass & drums), but we don’t get it, and it’s the right choice. “The Only Thing” is about despair, about barely holding on with just a glimmer of hope. Sure, you can sing about depression with a backing band, but it wouldn’t fit here. Stevens isn’t trying to be flashy, and he’s not making anthems, what Stevens is doing is splitting open his chest and singing therapy.

As someone who’s had a similar (not exact, but similar) upbringing as Stevens, I latched onto this record like a child to his mother, and it brought me comfort many times over. Can someone with a glossy childhood enjoy this album? Of course. But who actually had a glossy childhood? (more…)

Snowy Eyes & Ears: My Winter Break Book & Podcast Recommendations

It’s that magical time of year: the snow falls, the semester ends, cookies are everywhere. Best of all, I get to read and listen to non-homework related content! Suck it, Blackboard.

This is my last winter break ever, by the way. I’m finishing school in May. My goals include reading through my book list, catching up on podcasts, and returning to CodeAcademy to learn HTML and CSS. Oh yeah, I’ll also be preparing for a Pompeii-style resume distribution. (Shhh… be very, very quite. It’s job hunting season.) Also, are you hiring?

Sure, this is a big list to get through. How will I do it? A fresh case of Surge soda, will do. Also, you should help me conquer this list, we can be accountability partners. It’ll be like an entertainment support group. It’ll get us through the winter. I’ll bring the Surge.

Books

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The Spy Who Came in From the Cold—John Le Carre

I led off with this book for two reasons: 1) it has “cold” in the title, which relates perfectly to my winter theme and 2) my best friend’s fiancé said it was one of her favorite books. They’re not getting married until April, which gives me plenty of time. If the book sucks, I’ll have to shut down that wedding, Wayne Campbell style.

tumblr_n855ti6PTY1sp4nfqo1_500 (more…)

Sharing Saturation Through DeLillo’s “White Noise”

Over summer, my wife and I visited the most photographed lighthouse in the world. We didn’t question the claim’s validity. We just went with it. The lighthouse stop was part of our New Hampshire and Maine last minute road trip. It was a good trip. We slept in the car and jumped in the water and ate a lot of seafood. We were in York when we heard about it: “The most photographed lighthouse.” Just up the road, said the internet, a few miles from where you are.

So we jumped in the car and found it. Instinctively, my first thought was, Yes, this looks like a lighthouse. It’s cute, scenic, impressionable. It is all the things lighthouses are and should be.

I didn’t want to take a picture.

Rather, it seemed better to be the guy who visits “Most Photographed” type places, and doesn’t take pictures. The concept would make for a good blog. But as I stood there watching dozens of tourists snapping their film and tapping their screens—a fervent mixture of new and old technology, crunching, shaking, iPhones uploading moments through invisible data, data that I too could claim!—something crept up inside me, like a tremor, and before I knew it, there I was, unceremoniously taking a picture.

So here’s the picture:

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It wasn’t until later, while reading a novel by Don DeLillo, that the lighthouse was *uhem* illuminated once more inside my head. As I’ve come to understand, DeLillo is a cultural critic; his novels address society’s many obsessions and explores what roles these obsessions play in our lives, as well as how they define us. Death, technology, consumerism, media, crowds, for instance, these are common motifs DeLillo highlights with excellent vision and irony.

His novel, White Noise, takes a look at these motifs and addresses them in terms of family life and the suburbs (also there’s an Airborne Toxic Event). Here’s what a book cover may look like: (more…)

Kevin’s Ultra Hip (Hella Sick) Summer Book Club

Recently, I made a pact with my brain. That over summer I would spend more time reading than Netflixing. Netflix, my best fake friend, is a great tool for relaxing, especially after a 23 credit semester, say, by me. And, oh, I wanted to veg-out on Netflix more than my hipster neighbor wanted rollerblades. But I made a pact, and pacts are serious.

Previous post-semester breaks have included many veg-out TV series marathons (8 seasons of 24 and 9 seasons of How I Met Your Mother come to mind). To be Frank, I’ve still been enjoying Netflix in moderate occasions: a Sherlock episode here, a Comedy Bang-Bang there. But moderate is where I’m trying to keep it.  It’s time to take a break from marathon Netflix summers and, instead, marathon some books.

And the readings have been excellent so far.

If you are looking for some great books to read, then please, read these. We can talk about them together and start a cool kid reading club. Maybe you’ve read a few. Maybe you’ll have a little catching up to do. Maybe you can pick and choose. Either way, join my club. It will be ultra hip and hella sick. We’ll watch The Pagemaster together at the end of summer, and it will be fun.

Kevin’s Ultra Hip (Hella Sick) Summer Book Club

 The_Stand_cover1. The Stand by Stephen King – Completed

I just finished this one the other night, and I had never felt so accomplished. 1200 breathtaking pages. Technically though, it’s sort of cheating. I started the book back in December. The Stand is super long, and I had to wait till my semester was over to read most of it. But it was worth it! Also, Hollywood making a big budget movie. You could be ahead of the curve! (more…)