Sunday, January 18, 2015

Sunday Shuffle #357

Let's just get right to today's ten...

1. Alphabet Pony/The Kills (4) - last played on 1/20/13
2. Open The Door/British Sea Power (3) - last played on 10/5/14
3. Nobody Knows (But I Do)/Mary Weiss (3) - last played on 11/1/14
4. Company Book (Live)/Sugar (2) - last played on 4/28/13
5. Sim Sala Bim/Fleet Foxes (14) - last played on 10/24/14
6. Rollercoaster/M. Ward (4) - last played on 5/6/12
7. Feast Of Hearts/The Damnwells (10) - last played on 4/21/13
8. Shrinking Violet/Bishop Allen (4) - last played on 8/11/14
9. Cast Iron/Superchunk (17) - last played on 10/24/14
10. Misfits & Mistakes/Superchunk (12) - last played on 6/2/13

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Sunday Shuffle #356

I typically let shuffle mode run all Sunday long but I don't know how many more songs I'll hear today. There are 2 playoff games to watch. I also want to continue watching Parks & Recreation; on Dec. 1, I decided to rewatch the series on Netflix so I would be ready for the final season. Well, the new season starts Tuesday and I only hit the halfway point last night. Yes, I know I won't watch 55 more episodes in 2 days but I do want to keep watching because the show is great (save for the 6 episode first season). Anyway, long story short, I should get to today's ten...

1. Backstabbin'/Sloan (17) - last played on 11/28/14
2. Pretty Girl from Feltre/The Avett Brothers (4) - last played on 6/28/12
3. My Favorite Year/Destroyer (10) - last played on 8/16/14
4. Cato As A Pun/Of Montreal (6) - last played on 10/5/14
5. Maybe After He's Gone/The Zombies (13) - last played on 11/4/14
6. Scarlet Town/Bob Dylan (5) - last played on 5/16/13
7. I Fought Piranhas/The White Stripes (12) - last played on 3/2/14
8. God Or Man/Ivan & Alyosha (11) - last played on 10/27/14
9. I Miss Your Bones/Hospitality (5) - last played on 12/29/14
10. The Stars/American Music Club (4) - last played on 10/20/13

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Sunday Shuffle #355

I wasn't 100% sure I was going to continue the shuffle in 2015. I got burned out on it last year and went 4 1/2 months without doing one. When I did one at the end of September, I thought I might dip my toe in and out but ended up getting back into the swing. I'm enjoying the process again.

Another reason to keep this feature going is that my other long-standing Sunday morning tradition has come to an end. For well over a decade (and probably for at least 15 years) I watched The Sports Reporters on ESPN. This past week, however, we cut our cable and I no longer can watch. I will definitely miss that ritual, so it's going to be good to keep this one going, at least for a while. If I do stick with this throughout the year, I will reach #400 before the end of the year. Maybe that would be a good stopping point. We'll see.

All of that leads me to this: here are today's ten...

1. 30 Gallon Tank/Spoon (13) - last played on 10/12
2. Daphnia/Yo La Tengo (4) - last played on 12/9/12
3. Young Men Dead/The Black Angels (6) - last played on 6/2/13
4. I Keep Coming Back/The Afghan Whigs (19) - last played on 10/7/14
5. This Room/The Love Language (18) - last played on 6/20/13
6. Gorgeous Georgie/Stephen Malkmus (10) - last played on 1/2/14
7. 7/4 (Shoreline)/Broken Social Scene (8) - last played on 4/7/13
8. Pittsburgh/The Lemonheads (8) - last played on 12/19/13
9. Some Racing, Some Stopping/Headlights (5) - last played on 7/8/11
10. Hostages/A.C. Newman (17) - last played on 4/13/14

While I was listening to these songs, word came via Twitter that longtime ESPN Sportscenter anchor Stuart Scott passed away. He's been fighting cancer for years. He was one of my favorites and will be missed. Rest in peace, Stu.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Firsts

I'm worn out from yesterday's marathon blogging but thought I'd mark down the year's pop culture firsts...

The first book I'm reading this year is World of Trouble by Ben H. Winters.

The first comic I read was She-Hulk #11.

The first TV show I watched was Parks & Recreation Season 2, Episode 23.

The first song I listened to, as is traditional, was "This Will Be Our Year" by The Zombies.

The first album I listened to was Ryan Adams' self-titled, my #2 album in 2014.

The first podcast I listened to was half an episode or so of Pop Culture Happy Hour.

The first blog post I wrote was this one.

Boom.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Books 2014

My goal for the year was to read 64 books, which would put me at 4 more than last year's 60. I only managed to read 62; I say "only" but that's more than I've read since I started keeping track in 2001. Heck, it's double what I used to read. Sometimes I was reading more than one book at a time but there were also times when I wasn't reading a book. I picked up and put down a bunch of books this year; I mostly chalk that up to the wrong book at the wrong time (one I put down on initial read is one this list). 11 of those 62 were non-fiction, which is probably my highest percentage ever. Regardless of the stats and goals, I found plenty of books to love this year...

1. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel - I almost stopped reading this book because at its outset it seemed like yet another novel about the apocalypse and at the time, I just couldn't see myself reading another one of those. Luckily, I stuck with it. It's more a novel about what happens after the apocalypse but more importantly, it's filled with characters you come to care about. Maybe more importantly than that, the writing is beautiful. I am very thankful I spent almost a week with it this year.

2. The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell - Here's the book I put down the first time around after about 60 pages. Happily, I picked it back up a couple weeks later and spent a week wrapped up in its story. Like many Mitchell novels, it does not follow one character in a linear fashion; instead, the plot wheels around Holly Sykes while telling stories of writers and journalists and immortals and the fate of humanity. It is a tour de force and reminded me of why I've loved previous Mitchell novels. In fact, just today I bought his previous novel, which I somehow hadn't gotten around to. I won't make that mistake with his work again.

3. Tigerman by Nick Harkaway - Speaking of writers I will always read, I don't think this novel got as much attention as it deserves. The isle of Mancreu is emptying out because a disaster is going to occur; in fact, there's already been some weirdness. Lester Ferris is a representative from the British government just maintaining a presence in the last days when some things happen and he decides to become a sort-of super-hero. It is great, a meditation of what it means to be a father, to serve your fellow man and your government at the same time, what it is to be in love. That's all wrapped up in weirdness and action and great writing.

4. Broken Monsters by Lauren Beukes - A serial killer is loose in Detroit and a cop and her kid get caught up in the weirdness. It has a page-turning plot with character depth and a whole lot of creepiness. It's realistic and fantastical and horrific. I definitely need to delve into her back catalogue.

5. The Martian by Andy Weir - Mark Watney is on a mission to Mars when something goes wrong on the surface and he is accidentally left behind by his crew. The book is the story of his attempt at survival, not only from his POV but from his fellow crew members and those at NASA back on Earth. It is full of hard science but is also very funny and full of humanity. It's currently being made into a movie and I suggest reading the book first.

6. The Girl With All the Gifts by M.R. Carey - Yes, this is a zombie novel but it's not your typical zombie novel. It's told from the perspective of a child, Melanie, and her teacher, Helen Justineau. Things, however, are not quite what they seem. I don't want to say more than that because I hope that you give this book a try. It's quite good.

7. The Magician's Land by Lev Grossman - This is the final novel of Grossman's Magicians trilogy. I actually went back and reread the first two books in the series before this one comes out and I don't reread books very often anymore. I remember not liking the first book as much as the second but upon rereading, I understood Quentin Coldwater more. Naturally, this book wraps up the plot threads of the whole series and sees the return of many characters from the series, as well as introducing new ones. People have said this is Harry Potter for adults, which isn't an awful tag line. It certainly builds off of Harry Potter as well as the Narnia books but it stands completely on its own a series one should read. I urge you to go back and read all three books; I think you'll like them.

8. Get in Trouble by Kelly Link - That's right, one of the books on my list isn't even out until 2015! I happily won an ARC (Advanced Reading Copy) via a contest on Goodreads and couldn't wait to dive in, as Link is one of my favorite short story writers. Once I started the collection, though, I slowed down and doled out a story every few days or even one a week because I didn't want to stop reading. There are stories about fairies, super-heroes, the crew of a spaceship on a long mission, movie stars, and more. These stories are alive and beautiful and Link proves yet again what a great writer she is.

9. Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle - Darnielle is the main (and sometimes only) member of The Mountain Goats, a band I've loved for its fantastic lyrics, so it's not a surprised that I really liked this novel. It's the story of someone who was physically damaged in an accident (although maybe it wasn't quite an accident) told in a non-linear manner. It's about fandom and creation and depression and healing and it is not a story you've read before.

10. Shovel Ready by Adam Sternbergh - This is set in the near future in which New York City has been damaged by a dirty bomb. It stars a hitman who used to be a garbage man. He gets mixed up with the daughter of an evangelist in a plot that deals with virtual reality. It's great and the sequel is one of my most anticipated books of early 2015.

Music 2014

I listen to most of my music via Spotify these days, though I will buy mp3 albums when the price is decent and I have some spare cash. That means I'm able to listen to way more albums than I used to and I'm able to try new artists that I never would have gotten around to in the old days. There was a lot of great music in 2014 and here are 10 albums that I loved...

1. Spoon/They Want My Soul - This is Spoon's sixth straight fantastic album and might actually be my favorite. That's hard to do 8 albums into a career. I don't know if the 4 years off the band had in between albums or if maybe Britt Daniel's time in Divine Fits contributed to the greatness of these 10 songs but something did. From the opening rock of "Rent I Pay" to the spacey, synth sound of "Inside Out" to the sunny sounding "Do You" to the whistling on "Knock Knock Knock," there is so much to be found here. In fact, I'm playing this album while I write this post.

2. Ryan Adams/Ryan Adams - I was a big fan of Adams in the early 2000s but somewhere along the line I lost the thread. He was quite prolific in those days and I just couldn't keep up with the sheer volume of his music. Fast forward to this year and this album and I had to go back and listen to what I'd left behind. Why? This album is so good I realized I might have been missing out. There are echoes of Tom Petty ("Gimme Something Good") and Bruce Springsteen ("I Just Might") but mostly it sounds like prime Ryan Adams ("Trouble" and "My Wrecking Ball").

3. The Both/The Both - I love Aimee Mann, so I was naturally going to give this project a try. Fortunately, I also like Ted Leo, who makes up the other half of this band. The result is an album that sounds halfway between the two; or, like literate power pop and rock that is full of great lines, great slabs of Leo's guitar, and solid bass work from Mann. In addition, they have been perfectly charming on all their podcast appearances this year. It's an album I like so much that I bought it for my cousin without him having heard it; I was that confident he would love it. He says he did too.

4. First Aid Kit/Stay Gold - The gold here is in the sister's harmonies and the great batch of folk pop songs. I liked their previous album but wasn't prepared for how much I love this one. Seriously, it's one song that gets stuck in your head after another. They also did some cool covers this year, like Simon & Garfunkel's "America" and R.E.M.'s "Walk Unafraid."

5. Ex Hex/Rips - The obvious line here is that this album definitely does rip; the fact that it's true makes that obviousness less obtrusive. Huh? Ahem. What this album delivers is 12 great rock songs in under 36 minutes. Short, sharp, and punchy songs that make you want to play all the air instruments at once. Mary Timony was in Wild Flag, who made a great album a couple years ago. I think I like this one even more.

6. Real Estate/Atlas - I'd heard of Real Estate before this year but I'd only heard one or two of their songs in passing. After hearing this record once or twice, I realized I'd been missing out. I consider this to be jangle pop of the highest order, with ringing, chiming guitars providing a base for really good songs. "Talking Backwards" was on my first mix this year and I could easily have used 3 or 4 other songs in its place. I still haven't dipped into their back catalogue because I can't stop listening to this one, even after 9 months.

7. Strand of Oaks/HEAL - Here is another artist I only had a passing familiarity with before this year. From what I understood, Strand of Oaks was a folky band that seemed solid enough. This album, however, is another thing entirely. From the storming rock of opener "Goshen '97" to the driving synths of "Same Emotions" to the stately grandeur of "Woke Up To The Light" to the cathartic rock of "JM," this album delivers emotional music that packs a serious musical punch. A revelation.

8. Lydia Loveless/Somewhere Else - A third artist I only vaguely knew before the year in my top ten. Funny how that happens when I can listen to music before committing to purchase. I suppose you could consider Loveless country but it's country in the best way possible (with a lot of rock in the mix). These songs are smart and easy to sing along to. The middle of the album brings the ache of "Hurts So Bad," the raging "Head" (as in don't stop giving me some), and the sexy doom of "Verlaine Shot Rimbaud." The songs around those ain't too shabby either.

9. Nude Beach/77 - I'd at least listened to some Nude Beach before this year, as their video for "Some Kinda Love" off their last album caught my interest. This is a classic power pop band and as I've said many time, I love power pop. This is a double album with 18 songs but it isn't just a collection of songs. I think the collective power of these songs and how they work in context with each other make sthe whole album sing. Speaking of singing, this is a great record for singing along with, as well as for playing air guitar or drums. If you like Matthew Sweet or Badfinger or Tom Petty, I think you'd love this record.

10. The New Pornographers/Brill Bruisers - I have to have another old favorite in here, don't I? The critical consensus was that their last two albums weren't as strong as the previous three. That may or may not be but I found plenty to like in both records. This one feels like it has some extra power pop bounce to it and it adds synthesizers and some harmonica to the mix, as well as some vocal tricks. In the end, it's all about the songs and you can't argue with the title track or "War on the East Coast" or "Backstairs" or "Marching Orders" or "Spidyr." So, don't argue and just listen.

Comics 2014

I read 270 single issues and 15 trade paperbacks this year (yes, I do keep track) (yes, I know I'm a giant nerd) (have you met me?). However, I didn't even come close to reading everything I wanted to; I started a lot of series (especially from Image) but wasn't able to afford to keep up with them (luckily, Comixology has a sale going on right now that will help me catch up) (might have to reread those first issues too). Regardless, I think the comics medium is in great shape, not only because of these great comics...

1. The Multiversity - The long-awaited Grant Morrison series about the DC multiverse finally arrived in August and it completely exceeded my expectations. After an opening issue introducing the concepts and characters (hello, Captain Carrot!), we got 4 one-shots by Morrison and a wonderful group of artists that took closer looks at different Earths. Each one was fascinating and made me want more set in that particular world. Of special note were Thunderworld Adventures (with Cameron Stewart on art) and Pax Americana (with Frank Quitely on art). These are comics that I really need to write about it much more depth than I should go into here. I'm already anticipating the eventual collection of this series will be one of my all-time favorites.

2. Saga - This is the best ongoing series out there and has been since the first issue. This year the series wrapped up its first arc then jumped 18 months in the storyline for 6 more fantastic issues. Fiona Staples continues to gives us amazing art and Brian K. Vaughan is a master storyteller. I hope this comic runs for years to come. I read this series digitally but got a giant hardcover collection the first 18 issues for Christmas; rereading those issues will be one of my early 2015 joys.

3. Astro City - We got 11 issues of one of my all-time favorite series this year and they were all very good to great. This year brought a first to the series as well, as two issues weren't drawn by Brent Anderson. We learned more about a bunch of old favorites like Winged Victory, Samaritan, Crackerjack, and Quarrel and got to know Raitha, assistant to the Silver Adept, The Gentleman Bandit, and Starbright, among others. This is another series I read digitally but plan on getting in collected editions; the first of the current series was another Christmas present. This series has been around for almost 20 years and I hope it's around for at least 20 more.

4. Lazarus - This series is set in a world where the rich have completely taken over the world; corporations are families while most everyone lives in poverty unless they have skills needed by the various families. Political intrigue, family dynamics, longevity, and the Lazari, specialized guardians of each family. Written by Greg Rucka and drawn by Michael Lark (my second cousin). Great comic.

5. She-Hulk - This series is as much about the law as super-heroics, features Hellcat as a series regular, had a 3 issue story arc with Captain America on trial, is mostly drawn by the sublime Javier Pulido, and is topped by Kevin Wada covers. Oh, Charles Soule is the writer. It's my favorite Marvel series; unfortunately, it's going away after one more issue (though with luck in will return in some form in 2015).