7 songs: Summer 2015

96d836081f0525e23df46d4bfa305f94I feel like August 29th is close enough to the end of the summer that I can recap 7 songs that came to define the crazy, topsy-turvy summer of 2015.  It was a pretty awesome summer for music – maybe not as good as 2012, but as we head into the autumn months, I’ll look back fondly on this summer’s music, but I’ll also remember just how shitty I was at managing my anxiety for most of it. So the songs on this list are a little bit bittersweet, but mostly, they are awesome.

  1. Forget / Marina & the Diamonds
    I wrote about this song at length in a post a few days ago so I won’t say much more than it’s still my favorite song of the summer. And here’s its amazing video again.

  2. Shut Up & Dance / Walk The Moon
    I heard this song a million times at work this summer. Unlike other songs that have been overplayed at work, I don’t want to gouge out my eardrums when I hear it. (see: Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” and John Legend’s “All of Me.”) On the contrary, this little slice of 80s synth-pop in the year 2015 has more staying power than I expected.

  3. Bitch I’m Madonna / Madonna
    It’s not the most accomplished piece of art Madonna has ever recorded. The song itself is nowhere near as good as its title. Regardless, I’ve listened to “Bitch I’m Madonna” more times than I thought I would when I initially listened to it in December of 2014. No matter what you think of it, “Bitch I’m Madonna” is a song Madonna was born to sing.

  4. The Other Boys / NERVO (feat. Jake Shears, Kylie Minogue & Nile Rodgers)
    I kind of love that Kylie Minogue is just doing whatever the fuck she wants to do. At this point in her career, she can afford to do it. Clearly, part of that is performing one-off tracks with other people and by and large, the results have been glorious. Of note: I’d listen to an entire album of Shears & Minogue.

  5. I Can Change / Brandon Flowers
    Flowers’ The Desired Effect is probably my favorite album of the year. It’s a smart, concise album steeped in retro sounds. Trying to pick a single song from it is a challenge because all the songs from the album have taken a turn in heavy rotation. But “I Can Change”, with its Bronski Beat sample and Neil Tennant guest vocal probably wins the prize.

  6. Pageant Material / Kacey Musgraves
    Oh, Kacey Musgraves. You might just save country music from itself yet. Her voice is so effortless and her songwriting so clever. With not a single bit of autotune, she continues to crank out song after song that is true to the spirit of traditional country music while at the same time, poking fun at it. She remains the heir apparent to Dolly Parton. She could do worse.

  7. High By The Beach / Lana Del Rey
    I was not a fan of Lana Del Rey’s second album Ultraviolence. Every song sounded pretty much like the one before it. It was definitely no Born To Die. I have high hopes for this next record though, based on the strength of “High By The Beach”, a song that feels so much like late summer, you kind of have to think she planned it like that.

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Rebel Heart – by the numbers

It’s been months now since Madonna released her 13th album, Rebel Heart. Thanks to the massive amount of leaking, it’s also the only album of hers that feels like it’s had multiple release dates.  Now with the start of the Rebel Heart Tour looming less than two weeks away, I thought it time to take a look at just how I’ve been listening to Rebel Heart.  I screen capped the Rebel Heart deluxe edition from my iTunes library, including the play counts. It should be noted that my “deluxe edition” is a bit of an amalgam of the official deluxe edition and leaked version that hit the Internet five weeks prior to its release.  You’ll have to click on this picture to make it remotely readable.

Screen Shot 2015-08-28 at 10.37.43 PMA few thoughts:

  • Overall, I’ve listened to this album a lot less than I did MDNA. All things considered, it’s a good but not great album.  Part of the problem is that it’s too damn long. I would have rather had a solid 12 songs than the lumbering behemoth that we ended up with.  It also suffers from what I feel like Madonna playing it too safe.  There are some authentic “Madonna moments” on the record, but in general, it feels kind of generic – as if the songs could have been recorded by anyone.
  • The first half of the album has definitely benefited from being out since December when Madonna scrambled to counter the leaks by releasing the first 6 songs on iTunes. It also helps that they are, more or less, the best songs on the record.  That said, I’m not saying that “Bitch I’m Madonna” is a GOOD song, just that it benefitted from the early release.
  • In the “Holy Water” vs. “S.E.X.” war, “Holy Water” wins easily.  Neither is a great song, but “S.E.X” is the only non-remix, officially released song to not break into double digits yet.  If it had been up to me, “S.E.X.” would have been jettisoned from the album. I would have substituted the demo “Revolution” but no one asked my opinion. Based on Madonna’s Instagram, it looks like we’re going to get both “Holy Water” and “S.E.X” on the tour.
  • I still prefer the original Avicii “demo” versions of the title track and “Wash All Over Me” to the finished versions.
  • The two “Living For Love” remixes are largely garbage, as evidenced by a single play each.
  • “Beautiful Scars” and “Graffiti Heart” should have made the album proper (which ends with “Rebel Heart,” rather than being delegated to bonus tracks.)

In the end, I’m still excited for the tour, but it’s largely based on the prospect of hearing classics like “Who’s That Girl” and “True Blue” performed live for the first time in nearly 30 years and the fact that a live Madonna show has never disappointed. Amazingly, precious few details of the tour have leaked. Madonna has apparently learned her lesson from the album launch.  I guess we’ll find out on September 9th when the tour opens in Montreal.

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Forget about it

marinaandthediamonds-feb15-3I’m going to do my annual “end of summer” post with between 7 and 10 random songs that defined the summer. Here is 2014’s list and, for the nuts of it, 2012’s.  Apparently I had better things to do in 2013. But before I get to that, I’d like to mention what was probably my song of the summer – “Forget” by Marina & The Diamonds.

I was so nervous about Marina’s album in the run-up to its release.  I had liked the title track enough, but then all the subsequent songs released ahead of the album were, frankly, a bit on the boring side.  And then “Forget” dropped, and my faith was restored.


“Forget” pretty much embodies everything I love about Marina’s music. Smart lyrics, a punchy beat, and a killer melody. It is easily my favorite track off of FROOT.  It utilizes Marina’s both the sultry lower register of her alto and her upper register as well. She may not have the range of a young Mariah Carey, but I love that she is smart about how she shows off her vocal range.

Lyrically, “Forget” is in the top 5 Marina songs. I am pretty sure that my absolute favorite part of “Forget” is how she manages to work the work “tortoise” into a pop song. That she adorably pronounces it “tor-toyse” is just icing on the cake.  I also double dog dare anyone to find a song with the word “abacus” in it.  Anyone finding one with both “tortoise” and “abacus” is clearly writing their own song.

For those wondering, “Forget” is all but guaranteed a berth on my year-end CD. Even if I grow weary of it, denying it a spot seems grossly unfair when it has been so prominent in my listening all summer.  We’re going to see her live in Minneapolis on October 30th – my second time seeing her live (as well as Anna’s.)

And yeah, I think I’ve already chosen the cover of the year-end CD – but wild horses couldn’t drag it out of me!

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My “duh” moment of the day

I was surfing Tumblr or something tonight and I came across this great picture of Herb Ritts and Madonna.tumblr_nt3ls6RwX61qls92lo1_1280

I saw it and remembered that he had died of AIDS, but couldn’t remember when. I knew he did a lot of work with Madonna, famously photographing her True Blue album cover, directing the video for “Cherish” and doing all the photos for The Immaculate Collection.  So over to Wikipedia I went.

It was there that I learned that these two album covers, which I always thought were so similar, were both shot by Ritts.

I really can’t believe that it took me until now to realize this.  Seriously. Someone revoke my fan card.

No wonder Olivia served as a gateway drug to Madonna fandom to so many Madonna fans.  Also, no wonder why I won’t be recreating the Physical album cover on one of my year-end CDs.  I’ve already done it!

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The house is not a home

My mother-in-law and her husband are looking to move back to the small Iowa town where they used to live. In scanning the real estate listings, they came upon a listing for the house we used to live in when we lived there.

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It’s been almost 12 years since we lived there, but I still think about that house more than you might imagine.  We spent the early years of our marriage in that house, brought a newborn baby home to it, and had the first of our cat deaths under that roof.  The clothesline in the picture above was installed by Heidi’s stepfather. We carpeted the stairs, repainted the walls and completely redid the bathroom.  We redid it primarily because it was woefully inadequate.  For starters, it was the only bathroom in the house and, while it was a full bathroom, had only a bathtub (i.e., no shower.)  As a kid that grew up in a house where the only shower was in the unfinished part of our basement, this didn’t really bother me too much.  We took baths all the time as kids.  But we knew that adding a shower would improve the resale value of the house and besides which, we wanted one.  After all, we were to the point where we wanted a shower.

We got a claw foot tub for free from the neighbors and bought a shower for it.  We replaced the floor and the tile on the walls.  We got a new sink and toilet.  It was a job.  We did it all ourselves with help from our fathers.  I still recall how, when Heidi’s dad was putting in new flooring, there was a hole in the floor that the cats got into.  I was nervous that he was just going to close them up in there.  Fortunately, they all left with us.

Unfortunately, the departure from that house was a whole lot sooner than we had thought.  When we redid the bathroom, we had no idea that in less than a year, we’d be pulling up stakes and moving.  We always say that it was the 2004 Democratic caucuses that prompted us to think about moving. After being treated very poorly by the people that we were supposedly most ideologically similar to, we decided that the small town life, while nice in theory, is less than ideal in reality.  The fact remains that in most small towns, if you don’t have grandparents buried in the cemetery, you’re never really “in.”  So I started looking for work elsewhere and in less than 3 weeks, I had applied, interviewed, been offered, and accepted the job I have now.  Of course, that meant we had to sell our house. No problem, right?  We had a new bathroom!

WRONG.  The house was an albatross around our necks for 18 months as try as we might, we could not move it.  It was a bad time to try to be selling a house in small town Iowa.  Ultimately, we took a huge loss on it just to get it off our hands.  I still kind of shudder when I think about how much I had to pay to stop being an owner of that house.

Seeing the pictures inside the house in the realtor’s listing really made me unexpectedly sad and nostalgic. Heidi would say “of course it did” but I honestly didn’t expect to feel the feelings I did when I looked at the inside of the house.  There are still bits of us in there.  I can still remember what it felt like to live there.  I’m very happy with the life I have now and the house I live in, but I can’t help but pine for the days when things were a little simpler. Or maybe they just seemed simpler.  The temptation to romanticize the past is sometimes difficult to resist.

My daughter doesn’t even remember the house, but I sure do.  I guess there’s something about the first house you own that makes it special, even if it did stick it to you financially. Even that can’t make me feel anything but fondness for it.

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There and back again. Also revamping

Today we got up at 4AM to drive to Mayo Clinic for the next in what is a series of appointments for Heidi as we attempt to have her not end up with a disease named after her. I took FMLA from work to take her up and it was a good thing I did as after 5 days with no antihistamines (she was seeing an allergist), she was not in great shape.  She also didn’t sleep at all the night before. Of the three of us, I was definitely the more conscious and capable of making the drive.  Anna, as usual, just played her DS and put her headphones in and ignored us.

And to save money, we decided to drive back home afterward even though there are two more appointments tomorrow. Fortunately, we don’t have to be up at 4AM as the first appointment isn’t until 10:45AM. At least we’ll be able to hit Starbucks before we leave town.

In the end, they didn’t even do any scratch tests so the 5 day holiday from antihistamines was for nothing.

In other news, I’ve been toying around with what to do with this blog. Retire it and start anew? Retire from blogging altogether? Keep this one going as it is? I was really struggling with it but in the end, I decided that I really do enjoy writing too much to completely abandon it. So what I’m going to do is retitle this blog, recommit to writing fresh content on at least a twice weekly basis and realize that not everything that I write has to be brilliant.

My friend Geoff Symon has provided me with a great new title for the blog and it fits my previous posts perfectly as well as the direction I want to go in the future.

So here’s to the future, whether anyone reads or not!

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High hopes and alternate plans

When Heidi’s book, Fever Pitch, got nominated for a RITA earlier this year and she insisted that I was going to accompany her to New York for the ceremony, I realized that I was going to have to haul my suit out.  I am lucky in that I have a job that does not even require me to wear a tie, let alone a suit, so the last time I had worn it was probably to one of Anna’s daddy-daughter dances.  The last one of those was in 2012, and I’m pretty sure I just wore khakis that year. So to say that it gets worn a lot is pretty much an out-and-out lie.

29651a808da1e27484391a246303e43cI was not terribly surprised when, in March, I went to try on my suit pants and they did not fit.  Not even close.  One of the depressing things about your 40s is that you will never have a 20-something body ever again.  It’s not been a secret that my weight has crept up, slowly but surely all through my 30s. After many false starts, I I figured it was time to really try to do something about it. After all, I had a goal, right?  I wanted to fit into those suit pants by the end of July, right?  I figured if I tried to lose 20 pounds in 4 months, with the right tools and attitude, I should really be able to do it.  That’s not an unhealthy rate of weight loss, and it was reasonable.  Why set yourself up for failure?

And I did pretty well, by and large.  After about 6 weeks of using MyNetDiary.com, I had managed to lose about 10 pounds.  But trying to get the second 10 pounds off was proving to be more difficult than the first.  Add this to the fact that I had been less strict about what I ate and had a couple weeks of really bad eating, and well, I started making backward progress, then took the weight off again, then held steady.  Work’s been extra stressful lately and my go to activity when I feel stressed or tired (which is pretty much all the time) is to eat – and I usually gravitate toward unhealthy choices.

It was becoming abundantly clear to me that I was not going to fit into those pants by the end of July. It was a huge disappointment for me and I kind of had to mourn this fact.  But with the date rapidly approaching, I was going to have to come up with another plan.

71b90dec20e054124477f0afb7f5eac1I took the week off work this week just because so today we headed to Men’s Wearhouse, where I had bought my suit in 2010 to see if they could match the pants with the suit coat I had.  Fortunately, since I had bought them as “suit separates” and not a whole suit, they could do that.  Otherwise, I was going to be on the hook for a whole new suit.  The guy took my measurements and went to find the pants I needed.  He came back and said that he didn’t have the color I needed but could order them, but he gave me the same pants in a different color to try on.  I about did a double take when I saw the waist size he gave me – higher than I have ever been, and after having dieted – and then had heart failure when I saw the price tag. $200 for pants I’m going to wear one evening?  It seemed ridiculous to me and fortunately, Heidi concurred with that assessment.

So we went over to Younkers and we found pants much more in our price range.  And since we had decided I wasn’t going to wear a suit, we found a cool blue shirt and a sharp red tie to go with it.  And then she looked down at my black shoes that I wore because I knew I was going to be trying on dress pants.  No no, these shoes will NEVER do, and I ended up with a new pair of shoes as well which, frankly, I needed because the ones I do have are in pretty sad shape.  I even scored and picked up a fun summer shirt at 60% off that is lightweight and pink and makes me look good.

shirt

After all this, I spent just a little over $200, which would have only bought me a pair of pants at Men’s Wearhouse, but at Younkers bought me pants, two shirts, a tie and a pair of shoes.  For failing, I was winning pretty hard at that point.

But there’s still the point of the waist circumference which I will not utter here for fear of sinking into the floor from embarrassment.  I guess the only answer is to try again, start tracking everything I eat, make better choices, not let stress dictate what I eat and treat my body a little bit better again. Because I was really enjoying feeling better after losing that little bit of weight. As a friend of mine told me, it’s a marathon, not a sprint.  Even though I didn’t manage to meet my goal of fitting into my suit pants in 4 months time, I did learn that I was consuming many many more calories in a day than I needed to.

With firm resolve, I will look even better in that pink shirt than I already do.

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