2011 Year in Review
Blue Whales
Christmas Carol
Duty to Object
Evenhanded Pursuit of Truth
Flood and Bush
Never There or Here
Review: Sufjan Stevens' Age of Adz
Space Flight
Success With Values
Terrible Kids Music
The Nineties
Year in Review

Reflections of an Astonished Man

As I celebrate my 40th birthday, the main emotion I feel is one of astonishment. This Saturday, my family and I went to Space Center Houston to meet with some dear friends who had come to visit on my birthday. They did this by flying with their three children, two other friends and their two children on a giant metal cigar tube that weighs several tons but can still generate enough thrust and lift to fly from San Diego to Houston in a matter of hours. My friends are not wizards or dragon riders, nor are they royalty or members of the 1% elite who might be expected to pay for such miracles. No, they are just regular citizens, and, somehow, nine of them were able to fly across the United States in a weekend (they flew from Houston back home to Atlanta). This we accept as a matter of course.

I go through my life like an unfrozen caveman, in a constant state of amazement. The flight from San Diego was, perhaps, the least astonishing part of the day. We were, after all, visiting a museum that commemorated the fact that human beings have not only flown, and not only flown into SPACE, but have also LANDED ON THE FREAKING MOON! This utterly incomprehensible feat was accomplished less than 66 years after the Wright brothers first flew in Kitty Hawk. Now there are plans to send a manned mission to Mars by around 2030. Like, with actual human beings and not just Matt Damon playing pretend. Which is 13 years away. Of course, there is the small matter of keeping humans alive and healthy for the 2 to 3 year voyage to the Martian surface, but the NASA folks seem no more concerned about this than we might be about navigating road construction. MARS!

They have the original Saturn V Rocket displayed there at the Space Museum. The Saturn V was the rocket that the lunar capsule sat atop as it was blasted from earth into orbit. It is stored in a giant warehouse laid down on its side. This is because it is 363 feet tall. This is about 60 feet taller than the statue of liberty, and I’ll let you calculate how many football fields it is. Even on its side it towers over you on account of its 30-foot diameter. As we walked around it, I found myself wondering just how much metal there is in the earth, because it all appeared to have been melted, folded, and shaped to make this one Saturn V Rocket. “Sorry, kids, no more soda cans. It was either go to the moon or have any other metal things on earth. We didn’t have enough metal for both.” Of course, this is silly, but these are the thoughts you have in the presence of something so astonishing. And, that’s before you find out that they used over 200,000 gallons of kerosene and 300,000 gallons of liquid oxygen in STAGE ONE of the three-stage rocket, and you begin to wonder how someone even makes one gallon of liquid oxygen, much less 300,000 gallons, and you don’t even want to know about stages two and three because by now your brain has shut down and is leaking out of your ears.

This is pretty much a daily occurrence for me. It takes far less than manned space flight to completely astound me. Something as simple as a meal can do it. Have you ever been just eating dinner in a restaurant and you begin to think about the fact that you are eating a part of some animal you’ve never seen that was probably raised hundreds of miles from where you are now sitting and dining on it, and it’s being served with broccoli that’s probably from Guatemala or somewhere, and, maybe later, you’ll have some sort of decadent dessert with cacao beans from, like Columbia, and sugar from, what, Hawaii or something, and that’s been made by a professional exercising the mastery of millennia of cooking expertise because somehow someone figured out a long time ago that if you mixed really bitter cacao with milk and sugar it made just about the best thing on earth, and somehow, you are the recipient of this bounty even though you are not, again, royalty or a celebrity or anything, but just some schmuck? Well, you probably don’t think of these things because you are normal and well-adjusted, but I do, and, whoops, there goes my brain melting again and leaking out of my ears.

Or, how about this? We were keeping the two sons of another set of dear friends a few weeks ago as they were in Europe (the friends, not the sons). This time we’ll pass over the whole thing about normal people flying to Europe, but, c’mon! No, the thing that got the synapses in a tizzy for me was that, on a nearly daily basis, we would face time with them, and – presto! – there they were, inside our phones talking to their kids from the other side of the world in real time like its some sort of magic mirror. This, when the phone was not streaming music or video or checking email or surfing the internet or playing an app or doing a million other things because it’s about 1,000 times more powerful than the computing systems that, again, we used to put actual human beings on the actual moon. And all of this incomprehensible magic is so small that it fits in your pocket and so affordable that most of the 7 billion or so people on earth have one of these things? I’m really supposed to believe this is actual life and not a crazy fever dream?

Our world is utterly beyond comprehension. You know about blue whales, right? They can be over 100 feet long and weigh over 150 tons. You do know that a ton is 2,000 pounds, right? So, that’s, what, 300,000 pounds? This is one living mammal, not, like, the population of Belize or something! Their tongue can weigh as much as an elephant. As in, the largest land mammal in the world is this thing’s tongue. Their heart weighs about as much as a Mini Cooper and can be detected from two miles away. A human being can easily crawl through its arteries ( I mean, they could if the arteries weren’t full of blood and totally gross, but you get the idea). And, they reach this massive size eating tiny krill which are less than an inch long because of course they do.

Of course, that’s just one animal. If you really want to liquefy the old brain, you can start thinking about the size of the universe or the size of the microverse, and you will start just kind of staring into space and shaking your head pretty quickly. I could start throwing statistics at you, but just do a Google search for the “scale of the universe” and check out the website that comes up and don’t be surprised when you wake up a week later with a growth of beard and a pungent body aroma.

But, this is just one of about infinity things about the world that I find to be just about infinitely interesting. I discovered some years back that Amazon will let you make a wish list of things you’d like to buy or check out some time in the future, which sounds wonderful, but the thing is that now I have over 1,000 items on my list and I’m not even exaggerating a bit. Though the small part of my brain that is still capable of rational thought realizes that, if I lived to be 440, I would not be able to read or listen to or watch all of these things, the part of my brain that gets excited and chases shiny things keeps finding new, interesting things to add to the list. And that part of my brain is sad that I will probably never truly find the time to really understand or appreciate jazz or the novels of John Dos Passos or why Mondrian is art and not just some guy drawing boxes. Mostly because I will spend that time watching baseball or playing Civilization or doing some other time-wasting thing that is also astonishing and incomprehensible in its own way.

And, somehow, more astonishing than all of these are the real-life flesh-and-blood human beings that are an actual, non-virtual, part of my life. The amazing friends from throughout my life who take the time to wish me happy birthday even though, in some cases, I haven’t seen them in literally 20 years. My utterly astonishing and flabbergasting children who continue to learn and grow and have personalities and senses of humor even though just yesterday we saw them for the first time on the ultrasound. My big man, Geoffrey, who, though we share the same brain and have the same mood swings and grouchiness, somehow knows more about coral reefs than I ever have and can count well past 100 and can spell his name and all the names and knows the name of ever truck ever and is the smartest, goofiest, sweetest boy there ever was. And my little guy, Joseph, who is just a force of nature and curiosity who will find all the markers in your house and write on all the surfaces, but who also, at age two, sings like and angel and knows all the words to all the nursery rhymes, both standard and Builder Goose version.

And my astonishing princess, Jennifer, who not only keeps us all fed and clothed – which would be beyond me – but also finds time to come up with 1,001 activities and crafts and games and puzzles for our boys to do which not only keep them occupied but teach them things and which are why they are the brilliant little guys they are. And who is still amazingly fun and competitive and will absolutely crush you in whatever board game you want to play but you don’t even mind because it’s so much fun. And who always puts her selfish husband’s needs first and goes to boring baseball games and endures sports on television because she is a tremendous wife and mother. And who is so much more than I deserve or could ask for.

Maybe, most of all, I’m astonished that a man with little to no useful skills – seriously, I have a nice jump shot and am able to play a few songs on the guitar; I can neither fight nor flee effectively; I would last about 20 minutes in a zombie apocalypse – somehow has a nice, air-conditioned home, enough clothes that he has to donate some of them periodically, waaaaay to much food, and owns not one, but, two automobiles that not only drive at insane speeds but also play music and are themselves air-conditioned. All of this after most human beings in history considered it a good day if they did not starve or get smallpox or have to fight in a war. Why should this man, who knows very well the selfishness, fear, greed, and laziness of his own heart, nevertheless receive the boundless grace of God and the endless blessings of His creation, to enjoy freedom, prosperity, and opportunity that, again, most human beings in history could not even have conceived of? Why should he be the recipient of such copious blessings that he cannot seriously consider them without welling over with tears of gratitude and astonishment? These things are the most astonishing of all.

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2014 Musical Year in Review

So, 2014 was a pretty crazy year. Between parenting a two-year old and starting my own business and getting ready for a new baby, there hasn’t been a whole lot of time to enjoy new and exciting music this year. Plus, most of my music-listening time has been dedicated to music suitable for a two-year old. Which — well — can we be honest, guys? Kids’ music is pretty much the worst. I mean, kids are great and all, but they have some pretty terrible taste in music. In fact, here is my list of the five worst kids songs of all time:

5. Little Bunny Foo Foo.

The field mice need to organize themselves in revolt from this tyrant. Why do I want my child listening to this fascist propaganda?

4. John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt

No, that is not your name. And it’s not your name either. This song is not fun and whimsical; it is a neverending nightmare of nonsense.

3. Ta-Ra-Ra-Boom-Dee-A

WHAT IS THIS SONG?! You’re not even speaking the Queen’s English! Plus, that is the most annoying melody ever!

2. Muffin Man

Unfortunately, Geoffrey loves this song. More unfortunately, it causes my ear canals to bleed freely. Look, muffins are tasty and all, but they are not chocolate or even ice cream, so I don’t see why we are writing songs about muffin purveyors.

1. The Grand Old Duke of York.

AAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHH! Where are you going with your men, Grand Old Duke of York?! Why do you keep marching them up and then down the hill? That is some seriously sadistic stuff! And why do you employ a chorus of zombie children to sing about you? And what is with captain obvious dropping the profound wisdom on us that “when you’re up, you’re up, and when you’re down, you’re down, but when you’re only halfway up, you’re neither up nor down?” Thank you for that insight! The fortune cookie I ate last night was not only delicious but much more enlightening! Please, Grand Old Duke of York, get in a duel with Little Bunny Foo Foo in which you are each mortally wounded and the earth is purged of the terrible songs about both of you!

Someone please stop this psychopath.

So, yeah, I’m a little tired of listening to certain classics from ye olde children’s songbook.

But, there was also some great music this year! And I actually heard some of it! I heard a lot of very good songs this year, though there were not many that rose to a “song of the year” level. 2014 also seemed to be the year of the “deluxe edition.” It was hard to find an album that didn’t offer the option to buy a few extra songs for a couple dollars extra.

In honor of that trend, I have prepared both an “official” playlist and a “deluxe” edition with about 12 extra songs. I felt that there was a pretty clear cut line after about 35 songs, but it was hard for me to differentiate much within that group.

So, without further ado, here is the 2014 Song of My Year playlist:

  1. “Back to the Shack” by Weezer
  2. Is this song pandering and over the top? Yes. Do I care? No. I am old and cranky. Please pander to me. Plus it sounds great; you know, the way Weezer is supposed to sound.

  3. “Shelter Song” by Temples
  4. Sort of a trippy — I don’t know — Jefferson Airplane feel to it. The verse has a great call and answer structure, leading into a solid chorus.

  5. “Seasons (Waiting On You)” by Future Islands
  6. Hmmmm, I guess this is my song of the year? Like I said, there were a lot of good songs this year but few “instant classic” types. This is pretty close, though. Deceptively simple, but there’s a weird sort of intensity in the vocal delivery that raises it a level or two.

  7. “Gilded Oldies” by Cataldo
  8. This song gets me every time when it get to the “what awaits you” part. Yup.

  9. “Numbers Don’t Lie” by the Mynabirds
  10. This song is actually a few years old, but I discovered it this year, and this is my playlist, so there.

  11. “Avant Gardener” by Courtney Barnett
  12. Easily my favorite lyrics of the year. Classic lines from beginning to end, but my favorite is probably, “The paramedic thinks I’m clever ‘cause i play guitar/I think she’s clever ‘cause she stops people dying.” Perfect.

  13. “Buffalo Days” by Lanterns on the Lake
  14. I always like to find a couple of hidden gems, and this was one for me this year. Sort of sounds like a mellowed-out Joy Formidable. Very nice.

  15. “Can’t Do Without You” by Caribou
  16. Doing a lot more with less. Pretty much one lyric gets repeated this entire song, but they (he) holds your interest by the song’s structure; just a clinic in how to build a great song out of a couple of good melodic ideas.

  17. “Blue Moon” by Beck
  18. Morning Phase is my album of the year, and it’s not particularly close. I seem to be drawn to breakup albums for some reason, but I think that’s because a traumatic breakup is just great fuel for an artist. I wasn’t really moved by most of the other albums getting album of the year run in 2014 (War on Drugs, et al.). I think this is Beck’s most consistently excellent album (Odelay is probably still his best overall because the highs are higher); not a weak track on it.

    “Estoy tan cansado de estar solo.”
  19. “Team” by Lorde
  20. “Royals” is tremendous, but this is the best track on Pure Heroine. Great intro, solid verse, and a soaring chorus.

  21. “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift
  22. Anything that can inspire this brilliance is going to make the list.

  23. “Left Hand Free” by Alt-J
  24. You know what’s great about this song? The video is just a bunch of people tubing down the river, then some other people ride four-wheelers, and then there’s some fireworks. All things that are the best.

  25. “Water Fountain” by tUnE-yArDs
  26. I’ve largely been annoyed by the tUnE-yArDs, in no small part due to the pretentious use of capital letters in their (her) band name. But, this is just an amazing song. Complex, impossibly rhythmic, building to a tremendous climax, and all done with basically just a bass guitar, hand claps and vocals.

  27. “Brill Bruisers” by New Pornographers
  28. Just an incredibly consistent power-pop force of nature. It’s pretty incredible how New Pornographers continues to make great, engaged music when so many other “supergroups” prove to be much less than the sum of their parts.

  29. “Longer Than You’ve Been Alive” by The Old ‘97’s
  30. This may not be the best song about the reality of life as a rock star, but it’s surely the most instructive . . . while still managing to rock out, which is kind of the point.

  31. “Marigold” by J. Roddy Walston & The Business.
  32. Oh, man. This song is so funky and nasty you can hear the sweat falling on the piano keys. “Likes to share his money but hates to pay his bills.” Preach it, brother.

  33. “Too True To Be Good” by Dum Dum Girls
  34. The song title is a clever idea that’s just executed perfectly. This album was one of the more pleasant surprises of the year for me.

  35. “Fall In Love” by Phantogram
  36. One of the better “sexy girl/keyboard dude” duos going these days. This song is a great showcase for Sarah Barthel’s vocals; the strings and keyboards providing a great canvas to work on.

  37. “Coffee” by Sylvan Esso
  38. This song was a slow burner for me. Passed it over a few times, but it started to haunt me after a while. The bridge near the end — “My baby does the hanky panky” — shouldn’t work, but it totally does.

  39. “Master Pretender” by First Aid Kit
  40. This is more of a celebration of their entire catalog. First Aid Kit has had several good songs the last few years, but it has been hard to single one out. I went with this one, but I could have easily chosen a few others. Check them out if you haven’t yet.

  41. “Inside Out” by Spoon
  42. Spoon’s never had an album that seriously challenged for album of the year in my opinion, but they’ve never had a bad album either. Remarkably consistent.

  43. “Country Down” by Beck
  44. I couldn’t resist adding a second track from Morning Phase. This is just a classic country song; would be at home on a Merle Haggard or Waylong Jennings album.

  45. “Love Never Felt So Good” by Michael Jackson
  46. Um, look, I just listen to the songs, and they tell me what to do. If Michael Jackson’s ghost wants to release one of the best songs of the year, then I’m going to put it on my playlist. The equal of anything he ever did not named “Billy Jean.”

    Bonus tracks below. These are also good, but most of them had something that I didn’t love. But, for the most part, you could easily talk me into trading out one of the “official” playlist songs for one of these:

  47. “Everything’s Bigger” by Speedy Ortiz
  48. “Still Knocking at the Door” by Papercuts
  49. “Take Me to Church” by Hozier
  50. “Fake Fur Coat” by Tweedy
  51. “Silver Timothy” by Damien Jurado
  52. “Glory” by Wye Oak
  53. “Past Life” by Lost in the Trees
  54. “The Sticks” by The Budos Band
  55. “I Miss Your Bones” by Hospitality
  56. “Prince Johnny” by St. Vincent
  57. “Shut In” by Strand of Oaks
  58. “Honey Do” by Beverly
  59. Super, unofficial, guilty-pleasure bonus track:

  60. “All About That Bass” by Meghan Trainor
  61. Look, they were always playing this song at my gym, and, well, it’s just funny, and, that chorus, and, well, look, let’s just say that, maybe, I don’t change the station when this comes on and, maybe I sing along a little bit in my head, and, I mean, it’s basically “Baby’s Got Back” from the girl’s perspective, and who doesn’t love “Baby’s Got Back?” Right? Am I right, guys? Guys?

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My 2013 Playlist, Such As It Is

I gave some serious thought to not doing one of these this year. Back when I started this, keeping up with new music was a much bigger part of my life. I would listen to, or at least sample, 100+ albums in a given year, and I always felt like my year-end list was relatively well-informed. This has always been an illusion, of course, but it used to be an illusion that was easy enough to maintain. Not so any more. This year, I may have listened to 20-30 albums, and most of those just kind of washed over me, getting swept out of my brain as soon as they ended. The list of albums — or songs even — that managed to get a foothold in my grey matter and set up residence there was very short indeed. I’m not sure if this is because my brain is already over-crowded with tunes and there isn’t room for any more, or if it’s just life and having a baby and becoming the oldest of the old, but, for whatever reason, I found less music that really grabbed me than in any year I can remember.

But, a few concerned citizens have asked where the list is (thank you, friends). And, after looking into it, I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were easily 30 to 40 songs I really enjoyed from this year, and I still had a hard time paring my list down to the final 22. So, here are some songs . . . in a list. It is not the best list, but it is hopefully also not the worst. Whatever it is, it is my list, and these are the songs that I enjoyed from 2013.

But, first, here is Geoffrey’s playlist from 2013:

  1. “What Does The Fox Say?”
  2. “What Does The Farmer Say?”
  3. “What Does Mama Say?”
  4. “Mama? . . . Baba?”
  5. “Trrrrrruck! Trrrractor!”
  6. “Da da da da da da da” (This one was my favorite.)
  7. “Mmmmmmmmmmm” (Said while bouncing up and down. Not to be confused with “Mmmm Mmmm Mmmm Mmmm” by Crash Test Dummies)
  8. “Deck the Halls” by Mannheim Steamroller. This kid is seriously crazy for some Mannheim Steamroller.

Favorite albums in no particular order:

  1. Lucius – Wildewoman
  2. Tame Impala – Lonerism Yes, this is a 2012 album, but, just, be cool for once.
  3. Telekinesis – Dormarion
  4. Josh Ritter – The Beast in Its Tracks
  5. The Civil Wars – The Civil Wars
  6. Ivan & Alyosha – All the Times We Had
  7. Over the Rhine – Meet Me at the Edge of the World. I know I said in no particular order, but this is number two for me, but it’s not quite . . .

Album of the Year:

Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

Just a very satisfying album, musically at least. It’s always nice to see a really talented person or group of people deliver on their potential. This is the album we’ve always hoped Vampire Weekend were capable of, full of gorgeous melodies, tight harmonies, excellent musicianship, and challenging lyrics. I doubt Ezra Koenig and I would agree on very much if we ever met, but there’s no questioning his songwriting skills.

Here is the playlist. I usually spend some time organizing the songs to flow together like, you know, a playlist, but I’m lazy and it’s already January 13, so feel free to reshuffle these songs on your spotify playlist or whatever as you see fit. Here you go:

  1. Lucius – “Wildewoman” A big shout-out to Jon and Shannon for tuning me in to these guys (and girls).
  2. Vampire Weekend – “Step”
  3. Daft Punk – “Get Lucky” I was not as crazy about this album as some people, but I did like this song. You should also check out the San Cisco cover; mighty nice.
  4. Cold War Kids – “Miracle Mile”
  5. Phoenix – “The Real Thing”
  6. Jake Bugg – “Lightning Bolt” Yes, this song was in a Nike commercial. So, I watch a lot of sports.
  7. Tame Impala – ”Apocalypse Dreams” Song of the Year. I could listen to this song on repeat forever and ever. And shut up again about the 2012 thing.
  8. The National – “This Is the Last Time”
  9. Ponderosa – “Navajo” Or is it “Ponderosa” by Navajo?
  10. Over the Rhine – “All Over Ohio” Has my favorite lyric of 2013, “And I still get shivers when I hear you singing down the hall.” I, too, still get shivers when I hear my sweetie singing.
  11. Telekinesis – “Ghosts and Creatures”
  12. The Civil Wars – “Dust to Dust”
  13. Josh Ritter – “New Lover”
  14. Hollow & Akimbo – “Singularity”
  15. Matt Pond – “Love to Get Used”
  16. Pyyramids – “Do You Think You’re Enough?” Not sure what’s going on with the spelling. Maybe Cheops the Great threatened to sue them for trademark infringement.
  17. Ivan & Alyosha – “Running for Cover”
  18. Charles Bradley – “Strictly Reserved for You” Bradley is a great story. He did odd jobs for years before signing with Dunham Records in 2002 at age 53. Also, he records for Dunham Records! How cool is that?
  19. Grace Potter & the Nocturnals – “Timekeeper”
  20. Pickwick – “Lady Luck”
  21. He’s My Brother, She’s My Sister – “Same Old Ground”
  22. The Silver Lake Chorus – “From the Snow-Tipped Hills”

What music did you guys love in 2013? What are you looking forward to this year?

I hope you all have a blessed 2014 that is full of beauty and wonder. Love you guys!

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