Twenty-Five Days of Feelings: Day Eighteen

This year I’m undergoing a bit of an experiment: Thirty straight days of doing/watching/listening to/reading something that makes me feel – however fleetingly – like an actual human being, in the hopes that this will thaw a layer of ice off my frozen shriveled little heart, and allow me to not be such a buzzkill this year. So let’s get to it.

Day Eighteen: Continuum – John Mayer

First off, I skipped yesterday. It just seemed futile to blog about ways to make myself feel better when such a devastating thing as Newtown, CT had happened. As a teacher (more or less), I found this especially upsetting, and just needed to process.

So, between missing yesterday and another day a week or so ago, I’ve decided to shorten my list to twenty-five days, rather than trying to catch up with two-a-days or finishing after Christmas.

Anyway, today’s entry is Continuum by John Mayer – by far my favorite album of his, and one of my favorite albums ever. Before this album, John Mayer was really just a fun, pop kind of artist. “Bigger Than My Body,” “Your Body Is a Wonderland,” and “No Such Thing” are all good songs, but there really isn’t a ton there. It wasn’t until I heard “Daughters” that I realized this guy might be capable of more.

Continuum is a pretty significant shift from his previous two albums. While it’s still a little poppy – mostly just “Waiting on the World to Change” – it’s really a jazz/blues album. It’s less a collection of love songs like the previous two, and it’s not just a breakup album like Battle Studies. More than anything, it’s about growing up, and the fear associated with that. Yes, it’s got songs about girls, and breakups, but there’s some definite fear behind it. And as a 25-year old, I think I can understand that.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the age I’m at. I am better-looking, healthier – both mentally and physically, and infinitely more confident than I ever was in high school or college. I’m not pursuing a major I don’t care about, and I’m not desperately searching for my place in life like so many college kids are. I am happy. But there definitely is that voice in the back of my head saying things like “Well you said you wanted kids before you were 30, and that’s only five years to meet someone, date, be engaged, get married, have some alone time with them, and then have a child,” or “You’re 25 and you still live at home and don’t have a full-time job.” Anyway John, I get it.

And now, a story. This summer I went to Scotland for a wedding. Over the course of these ten days, I stayed up late, and got up early. I walked. SO MUCH. Up mountains and around cities. I lost almost five pounds, despite eating extremely well. Over my last three days, I got roughly eight hours of sleep. I spent a night trying to sleep in an airport but couldn’t because of some extremely loud Nigerians. And on my five-hour train ride from Scotland to London, I tried to listen to Continuum. And it took every ounce of self-control to not cry. And by “cry” I mean full-blown sobbing. If I had allowed a single tear to fall from my incredibly full eyes, I would have been gasping for air, sobbing the words “I don’t even…” again and again, until I felt nauseous. That kind of crying. Yes, it was mostly because I was tired, but I guarantee Coldplay wasn’t bringing that level of emotion to the surface.

Maybe it was thinking about my parents getting old (“Stop This Train”). Maybe it was thinking about past breakups (“Slow Dancing in a Burning Room,” “Dreaming With a Broken Heart”). Maybe it’s just the beauty of “Gravity.” I don’t know what it was. But the album is beautiful. It’s soulful. It’s sad. It’s jazzy and a little sweet. In a word, it’s pretty much perfect.

 

And on a different note, did you know that the Westboro Baptist Church is planning on picketing the funerals of the victims of the Newtown massacre? To “sing the praises of God” for executing his divine plan? Did you know that since we don’t hold the power to directly send them straight to the hell they deserve, we can at least petition the government to label them a hate group? Here’s a link to the petition, if you feel like doing that.

https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/legally-recognize-westboro-baptist-church-hate-group/DYf3pH2d

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The Month in Music: Beach House, John Mayer, The Walkmen, and . . .

Bloom  Beach House

Beach House is an excellent dream pop band from Baltimore that started getting significant buzz with their last album, Teen Dream (they had that title first, Katy Perry!). Bloom largely follows the philosophy “don’t mess with a good thing”, but there are significant differences from Teen Dream. For this album, Beach House decamped to west Texas to record, and it sounds like the sweep and grandeur of their surroundings crept into the music. Leadoff track and single “Myth” sets this tone, with singer Victoria Legrand’s breathy vocals soaring at perhaps their highest heights to date over epic, swelling waves of guitar and synthesizer. In fact, “epic, swelling waves of guitar and synthesizer” is a pretty good description of most of the album, but that’s definitely not to say that the songs all sound the same. Beach House does a great job varying the mood and dynamics from track to track, delivering a record that is compelling, captivating, and beautiful from start to finish.

Start with: “Myth”, “Lazuli”, “Wishes”

 

Born and Raised  John Mayer

John Mayer is back! I was largely disappointed with his last effort, Battle Studies – the songwriting sounded unfocused to me, perhaps understandable given his highly publicized, ah, distractions – but he completely rights the ship on Born and Raised. This album is infused with a rootsy, soulful sound that leans towards country and Americana where Continuum leaned to blues rock. The sound perfectly complements the lyrics, which point to a calmer, more peaceful Mayer, who sounds like he has overcome many of the demons that landed him in the tabloids numerous times over the past few years. This is perhaps best illustrated on “Shadow Days”, where Mayer sings “I’m a good man with a good heart, had a tough time, got a rough start, but I’ve finally learned to let it go” over a steady drum beat and peaceful slide guitar. Only he knows if those words are true, but given the contentment and peace that seem to pervade this album, I believe it. Another favorite of mine is “Something Like Olivia”, with Mayer’s bluesy electric guitar recalling the best moments from Continuum and the lyrics singing the praises of Olivia, who though taken, Mayer finds a good model for what he should be looking for. (And of course, because of his tabloid past, you gotta wonder if he’s talking about Olivia Wilde and we’re about to get another round of headlines here.) It’s great to see John Mayer back at his best, because he’s one of the most talented musicians we have today.

Start with: “Queen of California”, “Shadow Days”, “Something Like Olivia”

 

Heaven  The Walkmen

 The Walkmen’s last album, Lisbon, is absolutely fantastic and one of my all-time favorites. If I was doing my favorite albums of 2010 list over again, it would without a doubt be in the top 10. (For the record, so would Dr. Dog’s Shame, Shame and LCD Soundsystem’s This Is Happening; Sleigh Bells’ Treats would be honorable mention.) Lisbon was influenced and inspired by a trip to Lisbon, Portugal, as well as Elvis music. Go figure, right? This, combined with the fact that the Walkmen could have best been described pre-Lisbon as a gritty post-punk band, made for a really interesting and excellent album. The follow-up to that album, Heaven, is not as great, but is still pretty good. As every review of this album will tell you, the Walkmen are getting older, and this album exudes the happiness and reflection that comes with moving into new stages of life. On some of the songs the practical meaning of this seems to be that the band is just less energetic. Thankfully though, this isn’t the case on all the songs, and there are several outstanding tracks: “Love Is Luck” and “Heaven” are, in my opinion, the best songs on here and stand up well to any of their previous work. Even some of the slower, more laid-back tunes, like the short homage to their love of old country music, “Jerry Jr.’s Tune”, are well done and enjoyable. Unfortunately, a few of the songs just never quite come together, which is surprising given that no song on Lisbon could be described that way. And producer Phil Ek, whose work I actually admire, doesn’t seem to be a great match here. The band talked in interviews about how exacting he was, how he made them do things over and over until they got it right, how he made them actually tune their instruments, etc., which they were grateful for and described as a good thing – but part of the Walkmen’s charm has always been how ramshackle and ragged their music can sound, and Ek’s attention to detail kind of rubs that out here. All in all though, I don’t want to sound too negative – the Walkmen hold a special place in my heart and this really is a good record. It’s hard not to compare it to Lisbon, but that’s not totally fair, and when looked at on its own the stronger tunes stand out and make this an overall satisfying listen.

Start with: “Love Is Luck”, “The Love You Love”, “Heaven”

 

 

And last but not least, those who know me know I couldn’t go without saying anything about . . .

Listen Up! – Haley Reinhart

 . . . my celebrity crush, Haley Reinhart. She won me over completely on American Idol last season because of how effortlessly and charmingly different she was from not only all the other contestants, but from what the Idol powers-on-high seem to want in their contestants. Her voice is incredible and unique, full of soul and grit and power, and this album does a fantastic job of channeling all her strengths and quirks into a batch of bluesy, soul-infused pop tunes that have a ton of personality. Reinhart co-wrote all but one track, and even though a couple of tunes in the middle are a tad snoozy, overall the songs are excellent. The only real minor complaint I have is B.o.B.’s appearance on “Oh My!” – he sounds like competition a little out of place, but to be fair, the more I’ve listened to it, the more in tune I’ve gotten with it. All biases aside, this really is a good album, not just for a former Idol contestant but for anyone.

(And man, that album cover . . . the typography is excellent. What, where did you think I was going with that?)

Start with: “Liar”, “Wasted Tears”, “Keep Coming Back”

The Cure for Weekly Summer Ennui

Good morning afternoon everyone! I hope we’re all feeling fit and full of vigor today, and not sunburnt and sore from an excellent but thoroughly exhausting weekend. Wait. I mean… I hope you had weekends of such intensity and entertainment, but I ALSO hope you feel fine, fresh, and fancy-free. I KNOW I DO.

Currently listening to: Monuments and Melodies, aka Incubus’ Greatest Hits album.

Music

Alright so there are a few releases this week, but most of them are SO off my (admittedly under-developed) Cool Music Radar™, I’m not even going to mention them at the risk of sounding so dangerously unhip that you all feel as little respect for my taste in music as… well… as you should. The one release I do feel qualified to talk about is John Mayer’s new one: Born and Raised. It was at some point streaming on iTunes, so a lot of y’all have probably already heard it. From what I gather, it’s more Battle Studies than Continuum, which for some (including a former roommate) is pretty much the worst thing conceivable. It’s less bluesy, and more country, and while I certainly prefer the blues sound, I’ll confess to not missing guitar solos – which I find to be both banal and showy at the same time. So strap in for some emoting, some whining, and some “how the hell am I a grown up?” I will be.

Movies

You may not know this about me, but I hate horror movies. Not because I hate being scared. In fact, I love being scared. I hate being surprised. Things jumping out at you? That’s a cheap thrill. That’s Family Guy humor. That’s fart jokes and making fun of Sarah Palin. It’s easy, and it’s been done before. I want to be scared. I want to drive home with my interior lights on. I want to need a night light. I want to think back to it years later and still look around me for monsters. I want Slappy the ventriloquist’s doll from Goosebumps. I want IT from Stephen King. I want the Truman Show. Ok that last one wasn’t a horror movie, but it EFFED ME UP FOR LIFE. So with that in mind, you should be able to figure out where I stand on this whole “found-footage” genre that really came to prominence with Blair Witch and has been succeeded by Paranormal Activity. And if you can’t, allow me to spell it out for you. N. O. No.

So this weekend sees the release of the Chernobyl Diaries, from the director of Paranormal Activity. Basically, this movie takes six college kids to the site of an old tragedy, getting abandoned, and hunted by a monster. So basically, it’s everything Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard hate about the modern horror genre, and sought to combat with the excellent Cabin in the Woods.

Then of course there’s Men In Black 3, which Will is excited about but I am not. I’m not even sure I’ve seen the first movie since the second came out. It was that bad. And honestly, I’m just over Will Smith, and not invested in the story of Jay and Kay saving the world from aliens. I’ve put all my Alien Movie Excitement Eggs in the Prometheus basket.

And finally, in case you missed it, Will went against medical advice and saw Battleship this past weekend. His review can be found on his blog if you’re interested.

Television

Monday: Eureka – a disaster preparedness drill goes wrong! But of course the bigger news is the SERIES FINALE of House. This is a show I’ve gone back and forth on over the years, ultimately getting too frustrated with the whole Status Quo is God thing, by which I mean “If House has these poignant moments of self-realization EVERY WEEK FOR EIGHT YEARS, how is it possible that he hasn’t changed in any sort of lasting way?!?” And of course the loss of Cuddy and Olivia Wilde after last season was basically the last straw for me. That being said, I’ll probably be watching to see how everything wraps up, because I was once highly invested in the characters.

Tuesday: Glee – graduation. Woo.

Wednesday: On Modern Family, Cam and Mitch look to be taking more steps in the search for a new baby. I wish this had been a more consistent plot thread this season, but oh well. Alex goes to prom, Jay and Manny watch Lily – which should be HYSTERICAL, and Hailey makes an announcement. College? Marriage? Who knows?? On B23’s first season finale, it’s James Van Der Beek (JVDB, natch) vs. Dean Cain over the size of their Dancing With the Stars dressing rooms, plus June tries to party hardy but obviously can’t. And finally on Revenge’s season one finale, it’s Emily vs. the man who killed her father. Last week’s episode was SOLID and left us on a lot of cliff hangers. I am DYING to see which get wrapped up and which are left to dangle in the summer breeze until next season.

Thursday: Awake has its (sadly) series finale. I’m still about five episodes behind, but this makes me sad nonetheless. And then it’s a night for dance fans everywhere: the SYTYCD (So You Think You Can Dance, DUH) premiere!

Friday: Nothing! Supernatural and Fringe are done for the season, so Fridays are pretty jank.

And as always, Game of Thrones and Mad Men. GoT has The Battle of the Blackwater, which is written by George R.R. Martin himself, and promises to tank the budget for the rest of the season.

Comics

DC is having a huge week, but here’s what I’m taking away from it. Batman: The Dark Knight continues the Night of the Owls event (probably along with some other books, but whatevs). Batman: Incorporated by Grant Morrison returns, which everyone says is awesome, and should begin the end phase of his six year Bat Story. Aquaman continues to look into the past of Atlantis. New Flash, plus new I, Vampire. And also, one of my favorite series: the Unwritten! I think I’m a few issues behind on that one, but I really wish I weren’t, because it has heated up so intensely it is pretty much melting my face off biweekly.

Marvel: Couldn’t find anything interesting, but to be honest I didn’t really look too hard. I’m so tired y’all.

Books

From Sword and Laser:

2312 By Kim Stanley Robinson

The year is 2312. Scientific and technological advances have opened gateways to an extraordinary future. Earth is no longer humanity’s only home; new habitats have been created throughout the solar system on moons, planets, and in between. But in this year, 2312, a sequence of events will force humanity to confront its past, its present, and its future.”
Sounds pretty sweet, though I am SWAMPED by Hyperion et al. so this may have to wait a while for me to pick it up.
And with that, I leave you. This week is, I believe, a sports post from Jordan on Wednesday, and a scrumptious food post by Griffin, so let’s get pumped for that, shall we? Now, I’m going to desperately wrestle with my conscience over whether to nap or work out, and probably compromise by watching more Mad Men with the director commentaries on.