Friday, December 19, 2008

Blogs you should be reading

By now you probably know that I don't blog often enough. I'm always caught in the dilemma (that's not a "real" dilemma at all) of "Do I have a story to tell?" or "Do I just have something to say?" I enjoy blogs -- other people's -- who do both of those things...some bloggers tell great stories. Others just have incredibly witty things to say. Some, I suppose, do both. I'm not sure why mine should be "one or the other," but I think I use that psuedo "dilemma" to justify why I don't blog. Silly, lame excuses, I know.

With that being said, I spend much free time (and some working time -- oh well) reading some really great blogs. I thought I'd share a couple with you, and I really encourage you to check them out.

Homeless Guy Blogs

Kevin Barbieux blogs from Nashville about his experiences with homelessness. It's always good to see the world through someone else's eyes for a bit, and their words can help you do that.

Ta-Nehisi Coates Atlantic Blog
A black, D&D loving, WOW playing, self-described nerd writes funny, smart and beautiful commentary on politics, the ridiculous notion of 'post-racialism,' fatherhood, hip-hop, poetry and --most importantly -- football. Some of the funniest stuff I've read paired with some of the most beautiful. I really encourage you to read the comments section, too. It's rare to have such intelligent and witty commentary on the internets these days.

Oh...and PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE read this post on Rick Warren and Obama's inauguration. Read through the entire comments thread if you have a chance. It's beautiful to see the dialogue between opposing points & the changes of heart that come from such an open dialogue. It'll make you glad you took the 5 minutes to do so.

More blog recs later....The good part's coming, I promise.

Studs and Duds 2008 - Songs Edition

This list is in no particular order, so don't assume the first song is any better or worse than the last. My preferences can't possibly get that specific this year because my mood changed frequently. How anyone can pick "the best" song of a year is beyond my understanding, anyway.

Anyhoo, here's a list of songs that I consider to be the "Studs" of 2008. Some of them come off of albums that are great; some are from albums that are just "so-so." Nevertheless, these songs still stand out at the end of this insane year; and if something stands out in all of the mess we've been through, one really should highlight it.

(Hat-tip to como over at LIM for the video format. You should read his list, too.)

Here goes:

"The Rat" Dead Confederate
I saw this Atlanta band at the Earl once and was pleasantly surprised. I checked out the album upon rec's by a few of my favorite music bloggers, and I've enjoyed it. Two songs stand out, and this is one of them. I'd describe it as what grunge might have become if grown in the South instead of the Northwest. Southern gothic, maybe.

"Pot Kettle Black" Tilly & the Wall
I hadn't really listened much to Tilly & the Wall, but this song sends me into full-on dance mode. It's really great for the treadmill or to make ironing more tolerable.

Tilly & the Wall - Pot Kettle Black from Team Love on Vimeo.

"Move" Q-Tip
Hot damn, this is a great one. You can't help but move to this song. I dare you.

Q-Tip - "Move" from Three/21 Films on Vimeo.

"Never Stops" Deerhunter
Another Atlanta band makes the list. I can't say the entire album is memorable, but I did really like a few songs. This song reminds me of driving around at sundown on a summer night. Not sure why, but I enjoy it just the same.

"Skinny Love" Bon Iver
I heard NPR use the term "Beard Rock" to describe this band and some of the others on my list. Perhaps I'm into this because both my husband and my brother are growing beards, and I'm sensitive to the beard rock movement?? Who knows. For whatever the reason, this song is undeniably beautiful. Simple. Moving. Beauty.

"Ragged Weed" Fleet Foxes
Another Beard Rock band. Another beautiful song. I'm not sure what I have to say about this one. I just like it a lot. Nuff said.

"Feedback in the Fields" Plants & Animals
I enjoyed this album in its entirety, but this song stands out in its simplicity, as a contrast to the bigger, more anthemic "Bye Bye Bye." It was also my first exposure to P&A, so it probably stands out for that reason too.

"Bye Bye Bye" Plants & Animals
Big, anthemic choruses and jangly piano action. What more can you want.

"Bow to the Middle" The Rosebuds
This album came out in the heart of the general election. Perfect timing for a political sock-hop rocker titled "Bow to the Middle." I put it on repeat & danced while checking incessantly.

I can't find a video for this one. Go buy the album -- just for this song. And because Kelly & Ivan are cutie-pies.

"Black River Killer" Blitzen Trapper
Oh dear lord, this is a great album. This song hits me in a way I haven't felt since Uncle Tupelo. It doesn't come close to March 16-20, 1992, but this song (and the 3rd track "Furr") helps satisfy the urge for another album like that. I'm sure the album won't age as well as March did, but I can't know that yet for sure.

"Gold for Bread" Blitzen Trapper
Another song off of the Furr album, and this one fills me with glee. It's a playful little ruckus of a tune, and I can't help but bob along to it.

"Teenagers" Department of Eagles
It takes a certain kind of arrogance to be a musician. (I'm allowed to say that, BTW -- being a "recovering musician" and all.) I think this 10 min. video shows that. It also doesn't feature the song "Teenagers," but you can hit the album for that.

Is it odd? Yes. A wee bit self-centered in the filming? Yes. However, the song & this album "sat right" with me this year. It was a light & delicate album -- not too deep or challenging. It just "tasted right" a light, white wine on a summer evening. Not my fave, but refreshing enough.

"Black President" Nas
Yes we can. Yes we did.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Repeat: Blur to bring the background forward

[I posted this last year, but I thought I'd bring it back again this December. It's one of those things I wrote a long time ago that I re-read because it reminds me of something important. I need to remember that lesson again this Christmas, so here's the repeat. Please forgive me, if you've already read this. Hopefully, I can post something new before Friday rolls around to make up for it.]

I wrote this six years ago, but I remembered it after decorating the Christmas tree on Sunday. I thought why not share it here:

Each Christmas I spend many an evening with the lights turned off in my living room and nothing but white tree lights on to provide a warm glow. I lay on the floor looking up toward the lights -- usually white lights only, not the multicolored strands. I love their simple beauty.

I like to cross my eyes a little and squint some, so that the lights become little, blurry rings of gold, twinkling ever so slightly. Some of them cast out thin beams of light -- like fine strands of gold -- and it gives the impression of staring into a star-filled sky.

I blink. It becomes clear again...just some lights on a tree, amidst the other ornaments, beads and balls. Then I stand up, step back and take a look at the whole tree. It's really quite pretty, I must admit. The presents momentarily grab my attention. But the moment passes, and I lay back down -- finding my vantage point on the floor. I squint my eyes again. My stars are there once more. Twinkling and giving off their tiny gold rays.

A strange calm comes over me, and I giggle at myself for being so silly about a tree of all things. I realize that I've been doing this since I was a kid -- ignoring the presents and the big picture for a while and focusing on something much smaller. Something some might consider the"background." Without the lights, though, something is missing.

When you look at the sky in the city, sometimes, something is missing. The stars are often invisible because of the "big picture" -- the buildings, the streetlights, the effervescent glow of everyday life. If you travel outside the city, though, the stars start to reappear. Go outside the city limits one night, and you'll see.

And I don't mean the suburbs, mister. Farther...Go on, now. Go to the mountains, the desert, the country. Now stop looking at the big picture, the presents, the ornaments. Lie down. Look at the background. Blur your eyes -- make the stars dance. Start to see the tiny gold threads that weave this whole shebang together.

Don't worry if you blink. It may look like they've changed, but they'll go back. You'll see...I bet, for a moment, that peace will come to you, too -- if you let it.

The lights are the details in life. The little things...the smiles when you need them, the love that's always there whether spoken or not, or the note that hangs on just long enough in a song. They're always there, but sometimes you have to blur the rest to see them. Sometimes they're forgotten altogether.

At this time of year especially, it's so easy to focus on the ornaments and the obvious details. I have to try to remember to look for the non-obvious details...the blurry backgrounds that hold things together. Those are the things that I think are truly special and truly important.

Random music post

I'm crushing hard on Blitzen Trapper's Furr album. This album better make it onto some "Top of 2008" posts.

I'm not good at the whole "album review" genre of blog posts, so I'll point you to some reviews that are far better than I could write.

All I can say is that the album has put me in the best of moods this morning.
Rootsy. Playful. Soulful. Delicious.