Monday, March 31, 2014

The Trumpet Player

Outside my apartment, but somewhere just out of view from my windows when I peer between the blinds, someone is playing a trumpet. This person does not know how to play a trumpet. At least, this person does not know how to play a trumpet well. Every other a minute, after a few (semi) successful notes, I hear those sharp, painful squeaks one might associate with sounds coming from a middle school band practice room.

With each new squeak, Mufasa, my cat, jerks her head around wildly. At first I was trying to drown out this noise with music, but now I’ve put it on pause, indefinitely.

The trumpet player has started to shout, or laugh, after each screw-up. At first I was confused: Am I imagining all this? Are the neighbor kids playing a prank? (I guess now that I’m 30, I legitimately have thoughts that include “the neighbor kids”?)

After one of the most offensive of the squeaks thus far, someone clapped. A dog barked—yipped, rather. Another squeak.

But then. Then! Back to the playing.

It’s been about 20 minutes. The squeaks are not as constant. Below the dim of traffic passing on California Avenue, I can hear it. The playing continues. It’s fainter, now, but steady. Every so often, there’s another squeak. Another shout. The playing goes on.

When I was about 8 years old, my mother bought a used piano. She had taken lessons as a child, but she decided she wanted to practice again. Whether this urge was driven by her purchase of the piano, or vice versa, I’m not sure. Regardless, she was going to take lessons, and as such, so would my brother Jay and me.

While my talent for the piano never went much past repeated one-handed playings of the Tarantella, or my other favorite, songs from The Little Mermaid book, my mother continued to practice. Our miniature poodle Tinker was not a fan of her playing. In particular, the dog was less than fond of her repeated attempts at learning to play Für Elise on Saturday afternoons.

From my bedroom, a short hallway away, I’d often be reading a book when Mom would take up her playing. She wasn’t bad, really; she just reached a point in the song where she’d miss her key, and then Tinker’s whine would get louder. She’d stop, yell at the dog, then start over. With each new beginning, she’d play the start with renewed confidence. You could hear it. I’d perk up a bit as I’d rest my book in my lap, listening. And then, the fumble. The dog whining. This would continue, until finally I’d hear her close the piano and open the front door to let “the damn dog out.”

Those opening notes of Für Elise have been burned on my brain since childhood. I can even picture her sitting at the piano, her posture perfect, just as it was whenever she sat at the computer.

She never did master the song. But better still, the memory of her perfect posture; the intensity with each fresh start; even her annoyance at the poor dog.

It’s quiet, now. The cars pass by on California Avenue. Mufasa is asleep, next to me, her head resting on my knee.

The trumpet player has retired for the evening.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Mixtapes, Pre-Valentine's Edition: You Got Me So Pathetic

If, like me, you're dreading getting through the work day tomorrow because it's just SO MANY HOURS UNTIL YOU CAN WATCH HOUSE OF CARDS, never fear. I have some jams for you.

Oh yeah, it's also going to be Valentine's Day, so I can think of no better way to start this off than with a song that goes, "You got me so pathetic." Ugh, I know. Don't remind me. But for a song called "Pathetic," it's really a lot more fun than you'd expect:

And then here's one for all you with one foot in, one foot out. (And yes, this is the same Kelis of "Milkshake," and if you have an issue with that, we clearly need to talk.) "I know I said, 'leave,' but baby don't go":

Finally, oh hai, Boots. I don't really know Boots and maybe you don't either, but we all should because: Beyoncé. Also, if this song isn't just the sex, well then, I don't know what is.

Happy almost-House of Cards/Valentine's Day! I love you.

PS - for you Chicago peeples, I wrote about three date-free date ideas for tomorrow night, or any Friday really. Yes, House of Cards is mentioned in this, too.

But Today, We Got to 30

Winter on California Avenue
To say this has been a rough winter is to grossly underestimate. The Chicago Tribune ranks it as #13 on a list of lowest temperature seasons in Chicago. Considering this list includes winters as far back as 1886, I think it gives us ample cause to say: It’s been really fucking cold.

One afternoon in January while I was working from home, my furnace started to crap out. As I waited for my landlord to show up, I shivered in front of my space heater, wearing a scarf, fingerless gloves, and a blanket wrapped around my shoulders. I felt so ridiculous I wanted to laugh, but I was too cold to laugh. I thought of Laura Ingalls Wilder and The Long Winter and told myself it wasn’t so bad. After all, it’s not like the snow was making my eyeballs bleed; I hadn’t been house-bound for months, I had just been sitting in my until-then warm-ass apartment watching Bob’s Burgers with a cat on my lap. Things weren’t really all that bad.

Yet I still keep finding much to complain about, if only in my thoughts, to myself. Like the evening the 66 bus was delayed and I waited for 20 minutes at the bus stop, the cold shooting needles of pain through my toes and fingers. Or how every time I’ve had to do laundry since before Christmas, I fear my death from the climb up and down to the basement on the steep ice- and snow-covered stairs. Or the mornings the thought of putting on all those layers, yet again, and stepping outside to start my commute made me feel so despondent that I stayed in bed for a full extra hour than I should have.

I try not to complain, because again, it’s really not that bad, right? I have heat and a home and all those layers to keep putting on, morning after morning. I have enough hot tea to last for months. And I can almost always afford to add one more bottle of wine to the shopping cart (it helps when it’s $3 Winking Owl from Aldi). Last week, leaving the bar with a friend, we got in a snowball fight. One snowball smacked me in the ear, and slid down my neck below my scarf, but I was so flushed from laughing that the cold felt good. Yeah, it’s not all that bad.

Today, the temperature made it all the way to 30 degrees. I forgot my hat, and I was okay! It was utter madness. I missed my first bus leaving work, but in the four-and-a-half minutes waiting for the next one, at no point did I feel murderous from the cold. I came home, and made enough pasta to feed myself for the rest of February. I had to do laundry again. My steps are still so covered in snow and a thin sheet of ice that I probably should have just luged down to the basement. But I made it down, one small step after another; and up, one hesitant step after another.

As I walked back up the steps the last time, clutching my laundry basket, the neighbor’s dog jumped at the fence, barking at me like always. I almost lost my balance, but I didn’t fall. Beau, the dog, continued to bark.

I grinned back at him. After all, my bathroom is inside. And so is my wine. Ha, ha, I win this round, Beau.

Every day I don’t fall down in this ice and snow and slush and shit is like a gift. And the bus always shows up eventually.

Today, we made it to 30. Spring awaits. We can do this.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Monday Mix Tapes: Toni, Babyface, and Another Time

Next Tuesday, all my dreams come true.

That's right! On 2.4.14, Toni Braxton and Babyface are releasing their duet album, Love, Marriage & Divorce. 

About damn time. Cause, duh:

Look, I know I'm being a little flip about this whole thing, but I should probably be clear that my heart aches every time I listen to this song. (And I've been listening to it, often.)

Not only do I absolutely love Babyface and Toni Braxton collaborating with every fiber of my being, every time I listen to Toni Braxton sing, I'm transported to a different time. A time when I'd put my mother's Toni Braxton CD on in our living room while we'd be cleaning the house on a Saturday afternoon. A time when I so often snagged her Waiting to Exhale soundtrack to play in my room, she finally laughed and told me to just keep it.

So yes, while I can only assume that this duet album will be jam-packed with tunes to make my heart ache about love and romance and breakups (unless of course it's just an incredibly misleading album title), it's also going to make my heart ache in a wonderful, separate way.

It's like hearing my mom laugh again. It's the two of us in my little Dodge Neon, and her turning up the radio to one of our favorite R&B songs and tapping her hand on her oxygen tank to the beat.

I couldn't be more excited.

So let's take it back for a minute to one of mine and my mom's favorite Toni Braxton songs.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Poetry Slam: Our Whisper Woke No Clocks

[via here]

by W.H. Auden

Dear, though the night is gone,
Its dream still haunts to-day,
That brought us to a room
Cavernous, lofty as
A railway terminus,
And crowded in that gloom
Were beds, and we in one
In a far corner lay.

Our whisper woke no clocks,
We kissed and I was glad
At everything you did,
Indifferent to those
Who sat with hostile eyes
In pairs on every bed,
Arms round each other's necks,
Inert and vaguely sad.

What hidden worm of guilt
Or what malignant doubt
Am I the victim of,
That you, then, unabashed,
Did what I never wished,
Confessed another love;
And I, submissive, felt
Unwanted and went out.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Monday Mix Tapes: Spend Your Snow Day with Sharon, Stephen, & SITA

Happy 2014, geeks!

It's really fucking cold outside!

Today in Chicago, it's record-breaking cold. We're talking wind chills of minus 50 degrees, here. In other words, it's the perfect time to wrap up in three different blankets, a scarf, and write while wearing fingerless gloves!

There are so many great things happening out in the world of music while I huddle with my Macbook in front of my space heater. First up, the much-anticipated arrival of Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings' new album, aptly titled Give the People What They Want. (You can stream the full album on NPR.)

"Retreat" (and its delightful, animated video) almost makes me forget that I'm currently living in the Arctic. This was recorded before her cancer diagnosis and battle, but I still take it as further proof that Sharon Jones will kick anything's ass. She is the boss.

Next on my list is Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks, largely because I'm geeking out over their upcoming album's name (Wig Out at Jagbags) and this video for "Lariat" accompanied by the lyrics, in French. (Also, to the girl applying eyeliner and the dude reading in the tub, je vous aime tous les deux.) You'll have a crush on the star of this video by approximately 34 seconds in, too. I promise.

"Tu n'est pas ce que tu n'est pas."

I can't stop listening to this next one from James Vincent McMorrow, either. Maybe it's just how high and perfect his voice gets when he sings, "I remember my first love." I can't wait to hear what else he's bringing on his new album Post-Tropical.

I found this next gem over at Disco Naïveté. Brace yourself. This girl can sing. Here, she's doing a cover of James Arthur's "You're Nobody Till Somebody Loves You," and I can't wait to hear an original. Holy shit:

What's on your music radar this January? Tell me everything.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

End of Year Mixtapes Special Edition: My Top 25 Tracks of 2013

Are you ready?! Are you ready to feel all the feelings?

I know I am.

That's right: It's Year Three of my End of Year Mixtapes Special Edition blogtastic music celebration! My top 25 tracks of the year! (For a blast from the past, check out my favorites in 2012 and 2011.)

Let me preface this year's list by saying a couple of things. One, this is not the place to celebrate Yeezus. (Or Miley. Or Robin Thicke. Though I will still agree/argue that "Blurred Lines" was catchy as fuck.) Two, it was a little hard to focus on finishing this, as THE QUEEN—yes, duh, Beyoncé—just dropped her surprise album last week, and I've pretty much listened to nothing else since. That said, I wasn't quite prepared to change this list into 14 Yoncé songs and ignore all these other tunes that have been near and dear to my heart.

So, let's do this! Behold, the songs that had me hitting replay again and again.

I hope you enjoy them even a fraction as much as I do.

25. Laura Mvula — “That’s Alright”

You know how I love my Brits. And while I enjoyed the entirety of Laura Mvula’s album, Sing to the Moon, this track was a clear standout for me. Her other songs, “Like the Morning Dew” and “She,” might showcase her classically trained voice more, but this song (and video) showcases that she is a boss. This stomping, snappy bizness starts off with her declaring, “I will never be what you want and that’s alright” — followed by my favorite, “Tell me, who made you the center of the universe?”

24. Jay Z featuring Beyoncé — Part II (On the Run)

I just can’t help myself. I love when these two collaborate. “She was a good girl until she knew me” — uh huh, Jay, uh huh. Wonder what it’s like being married to the Queen? (Oh wait, I think I just found out this past week. Ahem, "Drunk in Love" ... which is terrific, aside from the troubling/confusing Ike Turner reference. The fuck, Mr. Carter?) Wait, I'm getting off track here. The return of Bonnie and Clyde!

23. Foxygen — “No Destruction”

2013 started off with a bang, thanks to Foxygen’s We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace and Magic, which I promptly fell into a deep, deep obsession over. This song absolutely delighted me, and made me want to sing to any Logan Square hipster who annoyed me: “There’s no need to be an asshole, you’re not in Brooklyn anymore.”

This summer I saw Foxygen perform at Pitchfork, and I think singer Sam France actually thought he was scaling that Blue Mountain he sings about as he climbed all over his set with his pants constantly falling down. He was absolutely off his rocker, and I loved every minute of it.

22. Marques Toliver — “Magic Look”

My love of Lianne La Havas led me to first stumbling upon Marques Toliver, and that promptly turned into love of his beautiful violin-playing and soulful voice. He put on a great performance at Lincoln Hall this year—which included him scolding audience members who wouldn’t put down their damn phones and stop chatting—and afterward I met him and was exactly as dorky and awkward as you would imagine. “If Only” was a close runner-up for my favorite on Land of CanAan, but there was just something about “Magic Look” that was just, well, magic.

21. Arctic Monkeys — “Do I Wanna Know?”

I was late to the game with the new Arctic Monkeys album, and then was pleasantly surprised how much I loved the whole damn thing. This song killed me, with: “(Baby we both know) / That the nights were mainly made for saying things that you can't say tomorrow day.” Well, shit.

20. John Legend — ”Made to Love”

John Legend is my husband. Yeah, yeah, so he had to go and get married in real life or whatever, but it doesn’t stop me from loving him, his new album, and this one in particular.

19. Low — “Just Make It Stop”

When I first heard this song in January, I was feeling all kinds of smug that I could listen to this tear-jerker and not weep. I was lucky enough to see Low twice in Chicago this year. While I was maybe having a wee bit too much fun at Pitchfork to get too sentimental about anything, when I saw them the second time, with the Chicago skyline behind them and a warm breeze blowing (yes, it was a warm, gentle, breeze, don’t take this away from me), I’ll be damned if I didn't choke back a tear during the few minutes this song played.

18. Kelly Rowland — “Dirty Laundry”

When I first heard this song, it felt like a swift kick in the gut. On top of the fact that it’s a beautiful, personal song, it’s an important one, too. I listened to it again and again. I still cry when I listen. Kudos to you, Kelly Rowland.

17. Rhye — “Open”

“I’m a fool for that shake in your thighs.” And from there, Rhye had me. Woman was one of my favorite albums of the year, and this track in particular just slays me. I said it before; I’ll say it again: "I wanna make this plain / Oh, I know you're faded / Mmm, but stay, don't close your eyes"

(For some puzzling, yet awesome, reason, Rhye released two videos for this song, so I’m sharing my personal favorite of the two.)

16. Phosphorescent — "The Quotidian Beasts"

I was listening to the Phosphorescent album non-stop right around the time I was reading Cheryl Strayed’s amazing book, Wild. So that might have had some influence on the fact that this song made me want to run off to the wilderness alone and just howwwwwl. But, umm, maybe that’s only me?

15. Blood Orange — "You're Not Good Enough"

Ohmygod, Dev Hynes. I loved you at Pitchfork, I loved your album, and most importantly, I love this song, even if you tell me, “I never was in love / you know that you were never good enough”:

14. Disclosure featuring Sam Smith — “Latch”

My devotion to Sam Smith has been pretty well documented here this year, so this shouldn’t be much of a surprise. And while I do recognize that this is a Disclosure song featuring Sam Smith, whatever. It’s all about Sam Smith for me. And yes, this beat certainly helps.

13. Alice Smith — “Cabaret”

Alice Smith released She, her follow-up to For Lovers, Dreamers, and Me (only one of my favorite albums of all time) this March, just in time for my birthday, and just in time for me to spend the better part of my year blaring this song way too loud into my earbuds. Maybe cause no one has ever demanded, “Where are you going with your life?” and sounded so damn great.

12. Lion Babe — “Treat Me Like Fire”

I kicked off the Mix Tapes in 2013 with this one, and I still quite agree that there was no better way to start the new year than with this: a big, sexy ROAR. Lion Babe, aka Jillian Hervey, aka Vanessa Williams’ daughter, aka lioness goddess. I mean, Lion Babe. You’ll see.

11. Tegan and Sara — “Goodbye, Goodbye”

Tegan! Sara! My darlings! My long-standing love affair with these two took a turn this year, when they transformed into a pop smash, and I couldn’t be more delighted. While I did wish the teenyboppers surrounding me at Lollapalooza this year knew a single word to any of their older songs, I can’t blame them. Cause I was freaking out right along with them when this song played, jumping up and down, yelling, “Goodbye, goodbye, goodbye!”

I spent many winter mornings at the start of 2013 walking downtown with Heartthrob blasting, feeling alternately defiant during this track and then crushed and defeated when it segued into “I Was a Fool,” one of my other favorites from the album. So let’s stick with the fun defiance, shall we?

10. Arcade Fire — “Reflektor”

Look, just cause Noel Gallagher has a bunch of gripes about Arcade Fire doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy them. This “sleek, dark disco epic” got a little help from David Bowie and had me constantly singing, “Entre la nuit, la nuit blah blah” to myself with delight.

9. J Cole featuring Miguel — “Power Trip”

I’m just going to ignore completely how utterly creepy this song becomes when you pair it with the music video. But know that I recognize that, okay? Okay? The point is, it still hasn’t gotten old every time Miguel comes in and sings, “Would you believe me if I said I’m in love?” I believe it. And that second verse just kills me. I can’t help myself.

8. Volcano Choir “Byegone”

Dammit, Justin Vernon. I don’t even know what it means when you say, "Tossin' off your compliments, wow/Sexing all your Parliaments" — and I don’t care. This song explodes right from the start, and I’m not exaggerating in the slightest when I say that at certain times, I’ve listened to it and felt like my heart might burst.

“Set sail! Set sail! Set sail!”:

7. AlunaGeorge — “Your Drums, Your Love”

Because: “I’ve been treading water for your love / whether I sink or swim, it’s you I’m thinking of.” That’s all.

6. Eleanor Friedberger — “Stare at the Sun”

“If that was goodbye, then I must be high” — YES! Yes, exactly! Good god, how I’ve been loving Eleanor Friedberger this year. I got to see her perform at Empty Bottle in June, and it was magic. (I saw her again more recently, opening for Colin Meloy, and that was NOT magic, but I’m pretending that didn’t happen.) This song makes everything okay! Everything!

5. James Blake — “Retrograde”

"So show me why you're strong / ignore everybody else / we're alone nowwww"

Well fuuuck, James, I wish we were. My god, I feel so much.

4. The National — “Demons”

Any year that The National releases an album is bound to be a great one for me. Any year that The National releases a new album and I get to see them play live is an even greater one. And that I did, in the boiling heat at Lolla this year, as I beamed into the sun while Matt Berninger and crew rocked my face off like always.

It’s pretty tricky for me to pick a favorite when it comes to these guys — I mean, “Graceless”! “Hard to Find”! “Pink Rabbits”! — but there was just something about this one I just can't get over. “When I walk into a room / I do not light it up / Fuck” gets me every.fucking.time.

3. HAIM — “Falling”

HAIM! I first felt the butterflies of a crush last year, when HAIM squeezed their way into my top 25 of 2012 with “Don’t Save Me,” but this year marks a full-blown, head-first love affair. This song starts off their terrific, terrific album and sets the mood just right.

2. Local Natives — “Colombia”

Back in March, I shared maybe one too many feelings in a post about Local Natives, but I don’t regret it. I don’t have the space here to fully explain what this song means to me. This song obviously has nothing to do with me, but it has everything to do with me. Somehow, someway, I hope my mom can hear it.

1. Janelle Monae featuring Erykah Badu — “Q.U.E.E.N”

Finally, my number one, my Q.U.E.E.N. Oh my fucking GAWD, I love this song so, so much. It's six minutes of electric-lady badassery. Or, as I wrote before, "Where does one even BEGIN with this song and video? The lyrics are gold. The beats are gold. The outfits! The dancing! BADOULA OBLONGATA!"

So, going into the new year, I think we should all remember two things. One: "Even if it makes others uncomfortable / I will love who I am"; and two:

The booty don't lie.