Saturday, December 31, 2011

Sound Is the Blood Between Me and You

To say it’s been a good year for music would be an understatement. 2010 yielded some great things, but it wasn’t exactly overwhelming. There were some definite surprises this year (The Beastie Boys and The Roots are still putting out quality music! It’s already time for 90s nostalgia! Lady Gaga exists!), and some disappointments (No new Missy Elliott record. What was Lupe Fiasco thinking? Rihanna exists.). And if the hook from “Moves Like Jagger” gets stuck in my head one more time, I’m reaching for the sleeping pills.
Narrowing down my Top 10 for 2011 was a bit of a chore, even more so because I bought a ton of music in the past few weeks, and I’ve been trying to listen to it as much as possible to see if it compares to the stuff I bought earlier, which was already impressive. I wish I had a better system, possibly something more quantitative, like points for catchiness or number of total listens or something; but no, I just kinda look back at all the music I bought this year and pick out my favourites. Anyway, in no particular order, here goes:
• PJ Harvey – “Let England Shake”
Polly Jean has crafted an album about war and politics, but it’s also a dark love letter to her homeland.
• Real Estate – “Days”
This is what lazy Sunday afternoons sound like.
• Washed Out – “Within and Without”
• Wye Oak – “Civilian”
• St. Vincent – “Strange Mercy”
Expert guitarist, emotional singer, gifted songwriter, and not too bad to look at, Annie Clark never fails to bewilder me. This set of songs straddles the line between weird and weirder, but they’re so catchy, it’s almost like a pop album.
• Radiohead – “The King of Limbs”
Well, duh.
• James Blake – “James Blake”
• tUnE-yArDs – “w h o k i l l”
Merrill Garbus’s violent, chilling lyrics are hidden by wacky, exhilarating music. Thinly produced but somehow richly textured, it’s more fun than it has any right to be.
• Fucked Up – “David Comes to Life”
The best punk album I’ve heard in a long time. Back in 2008, they released “The Chemistry of Common Life,” and even though I heard such great things about it, I resisted. For some reason, I picked up DCtL, and I can’t get enough. Yes, it’s somewhat of a rock opera concept album, but get past all the pretentiousness that entails and you’ll find a record full of love and regret that breaks all the rules and doesn’t look back. I’ve since bought TCoCL, and now I understand what all the fuss was about.
• Wild Flag – “Wild Flag”
A little piece of me died the day Sleater-Kinney decided to go on indefinite hiatus back in 2006. Corin Tucker’s 2010 solo album was good stuff, but nothing has been able to fill the SK-sized hole in my heart until Wild Flag. Made up of Carrie Brownstein, Janet Weiss (the other 2/3 of S-K), Mary Timony (of Helium), and Rebecca Cole (of Elephant Six and the Minders), WF takes punk, indie rock, 60s girl-group, and psychedelic influences and blends it all to create their own sound. It’s a tense record, with Carrie and Mary trading off vocals to keep you guessing. Yet it’s still amazing fun, the kind of music you can hear in a dive bar or at a beach party, making you want to raise your hands and sing along. If I had a dollar for every time I almost ran off the road dance-driving to “Romance,” I’d take that money and buy this album again.

So, that’s my top ten, but I’d feel bad if I didn’t give honourable mention to The Weeknd. (Sounds like “the weakened.”) The Weeknd is the musical project of Abel Tesfaye, who released a suite of free (!) mixtapes this year via his website. It’s ambient alt-R&B that I can only listen to at night, preferably while drinking wine, and even more preferably when I have someone to make out with. Not only is the music phenomenal, but I appreciate how he’s taking advantage of the internet, not fighting the inevitability of free music. Radiohead proved that an established act would have no problem operating like this, but The Weeknd is proof that one doesn’t need a big, faceless record company to distribute his art to the masses. The fact that it’s such a quality product is an added bonus.

As a post script, I’d also like to talk about Sufjan Stevens. Like Fucked Up, Sufjan is someone I’ve heard about for years, mostly because of “Illinois,” his 2005 album that put him on the indie map. I’m one of those people who can’t be told about new music; I have to discover it on my own. (I guess it’s a pride issue.) But something came over me late last year when I was browsing in an independent record store in Baltimore with my friend Dan. I saw “The Age of Adz,” and I just had to pick it up. I knew it was sonically different from his earlier records, and even though I wasn’t hooked right away, something about it kept me queuing it up on my iPod every few days. Since then, I’ve purchased the greater part of his back catalogue, and I now understand the draw of “Illinois.” Few singers can make me tear up with sadness with songs like “John Wayne Gacy Jr.,” and then shed tears of joy three songs later on “Chicago.” Equally impressive is how he handles everything so delicately, creating songs with gorgeous melodies and story-telling lyrics, the depth of which is rare in any genre. I still feel like I’m catching up to those who have known about Mr. Stevens from the get-go, but I’m loving the experience.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

In my reclining office chair...

This is just about the smoothest week of work I've ever had. Hardly anyone is around, giving me plenty of time to catch up on projects that have somehow been put off for the past few weeks. One of my bosses (I have three) comes in every morning to chat over coffee, and we don't even discuss deadlines. I'm playing my radio a little louder and taking lunch whenever I feel like it. I'm trying to enjoy it as much as possible, because as soon as everyone gets back after New Years, everything will switch into high gear and won't slow down for months.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

In Fair Verona

Me by currtdawg
Me, a photo by currtdawg on Flickr.

Since yesterday was technically a holiday, and I'd done enough laying around all weekend, Robert, Nick, and I decided to head to Verona for the day. I hadn't been to Verona in over three years, and I'd forgotten what a great city it is to just walk around in.

Nick and Me by currtdawg
Nick and Me, a photo by currtdawg on Flickr.

I work with Robert, and Nick lives in Germany, but is visiting for a couple weeks. He and Robert have been friends since they were five. My whole goal for Nick's visit was to get him hooked on wine. Mission: accomplished.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Let Your Heart Be Light

Over Thanksgiving weekend, I was talking to my parents online, and, as they do every Thanksgiving, they asked me for a Christmas list. I told them I’d work on something to e-mail them, and that they needed to do the same for me. But later that week, I thought how ridiculous it was for us to exchange gifts when I’m not even home for Christmas this year. I understand the whole point of gift giving, but shopping online and having the merchant send the package takes so much joy out of the process. The rest of it is taken out by not getting to see them open it on Christmas morning. So, the next time we talked, I suggested we just forego the whole ordeal. Mom, however, insisted on sending cookies. I didn’t argue.
Anyway, today, I don’t really have much going on. I’ve been invited several places for food and games, but honestly, I’d rather just hang out, lay on my couch, watch movies, and eat the aforementioned cookies. All. Day. Long. This year, it’s just another day.

Friday, December 23, 2011

"I think he's by the bar."

Christmas Party Crew by currtdawg
Christmas Party Crew, a photo by currtdawg on Flickr.

Last night was our Christmas Party, and I have to say, it was pretty kickin'. We do a lot of fundraisers over the course of the year, and the Christmas Party is the reward for everyone's hard work. We sold over 400 tickets, even though capacity for the building was only 300. These are the benefits of working with the fire marshall.
It's also one of the few times everyone gets to see everyone else dressed up. I don't really remember all the details, though, because I made it a point to have two glasses of Wild Turkey in my hands at all times.

Christmas Party Dancing by currtdawg
Christmas Party Dancing, a photo by currtdawg on Flickr.

After the program, speeches, and prizes, the DJ went from playing to holiday music to dance music, and everyone was just toasted enough to get on the floor. They had to ask everyone to leave so they could close down the building. Unfortunately, there was no after party, as everyone was all danced out. Luckily, though, I was hangover-free this morning. A Christmas miracle, indeed!

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Where's My Trapper Keeper?

One of the reasons I neglected this blog for so long was because I was just really busy. I started a new position in July which often keeps me late. And in August, I started taking classes again through University of Maryland. The first half of the term, I took Accounting and Organisational Communication; the second half of the term, which I just finished, I took Nutrition and Macroeconomics. And because I'm so awesome, I got three A's and a B. (Accounting was a bitch.)
Now I have a few weeks off of school, but when classes start back, I think I'm going to limit myself to one class per term. Six credit hours on top of working full time is just a bit too much. Of course, I've said this in the past, then get ambitious and end up way over my head with papers, quizzes, and projects. But it all seems to work out somehow. I was just lucky that it worked out this semester with a 3.75 GPA.

Monday, December 19, 2011

I've fallen and I can't get up!

Saturday morning, I woke up with a little lower back pain. I've never had back problems before, so I figured I just slept on it wrong, and it would go away eventually. I even went for a run that afternoon. Sunday, it was considerably worse. Getting out of bed was excruciating, and putting on my shoes took ten minutes. I feel like a decrepit old man, and I'm angry at my body.
I made an appointment at the clinic today, and the doctor tested my flexibility and reflexes. He said I somehow sprained a muscle in my lower back. He also used the term "sciatic nerve." Now I'm on bed rest for two days, which is a little frustrating because I was using this week as a catch-up week at work. The good news is he gave me Percocet AND Valium. (Score!) So, I'm feeling pretty loopy right now, possibly because I downed the Percocet with Makers Mark. Just kidding! (It was tequila.)

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Sacro e Profano

Over the past few months, I've become a fan of the New York Times. Network news is unavailable and the cable news channels have all become parodies of themselves. Newspapers seem like they're held to a higher standard, and the NYT is the pinnacle of that standard.
Recently, they started charging a monthly fee, and though I resisted at first, I decided I couldn't survive on NPR, Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC alone. So, since I'm paying $15 a month for the NYT, by golly, I'm gonna read the NYT. (You can read up to 20 articles a month for free, but that's just a tease.)
This week, I read two articles concerning Italy/Italians, and they both hit me pretty hard. The first was this essay by Frank Bruni about noticing the beautiful details of things we see every day, which is exactly what I'm trying to do in the year or so I have left here in Italy.
The second was this story by Jeff Gordinier about an Italian restaurateur in Manhattan who flies his mother over from Bologna several times a year just to make pasta. It's a charming, quirky little story, but what I took away from it is how passionate the Italians are. For family. For food. For life. I hope I don't ever lose that.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end

So, first I'd like to apologise for not posting for the past eight months. I'm not sure what happened, but I just kinda lost the passion for writing for a while. You can see from the archives that I'd kinda been slowing down anyway, and I guess I just needed some time away from it to realise how much I missed it.
I considered abandoning this blog altogether and starting a different one, but I didn't want to leave this one the way it was, all cut off like that. Plus, I figured I'd rather be able to look back on this whole thing when I'm old and decrepit and not have to search all over the internet for my stuff. You know, if we still even have the internet by then.
I also thought about taking this in a whole different direction, possibly turning it into more of a music blog or a collection of political rants; but there's really nothing stopping me from just adding those things whenever I feel like it, I guess. I'm not going to make any promises about frequency of posts, either. I'd rather it just develop organically, not feeling obligated or forcing myself to write anything. I mean, that's kinda why I stopped in the first place.
That said, you didn't really miss much. There was a month in Sicily, a new job, moving offices, a birthday trip around northern Europe (which can be seen here), moving offices again, new bedroom furniture, a weekend in London, a ton of school, and a helluva lot of cheesecakes. Oh, and my washer broke, but it's fixed now. Yep, that's about it.
Also, I figured I'd change the look of this thing, too. Why not?