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Sam’s Choice: My Top Songs for 2013

SamsAnother year has come and almost gone and with it I have discovered more new music.  And since I’m such a swell guy I’m going to share my favorites with you here.  If you’re interested in my past lists you can take a look at 2012, 2011, 2010, and 2009.

And just a qualifying note before I get started…while most of these songs came out in 2013, that isn’t necessarily my criteria since I make playlists according to seasons of the year and then cull my year-end list from them.  So if a song catches my ear and I’ll always remember it for whatever season it was, then that’s where it goes.  So without further ado, I present to you the songs I’ll remember 2013 by…

Teach Me To Know by The Lone Bellow

Look, I can’t say anything more about The Lone Bellow that I haven’t already said, but just trust me, if you aren’t listening to them you’re missing out, and if you haven’t seen them live, then you haven’t lived.  Right, right, Zach is a friend of mine and I am likely the most biased observer of theirs ever, since I’ve been going to Zach’s shows for 10 years now, but these folks bring an energy and vigor to their music and stage that most bands would only dream about.  To be in the audience when the show turns from concert to sing-along is remarkable and I’m just selfishly glad these guys are finally getting some national recognition because that means they’re touring more now and I get to see them play live more.  Just buy their album already.  Also, might be worth it to buy stock in guitar strings since Zach kills about 2 sets per show.  Dude is intense!

Always Alright by Alabama Shakes

I first heard this song when my Wonderful Wife and I went to see the movie Silver Linings Playbook and I remember thinking “Hey, that sounds like Alabama Shakes but I have all their songs and I’ve never heard this.” Of course the song was released on the soundtrack to the movie and then about 2 weeks later Alabama Shakes played on SNL and laid down the above performance.  As my Wonderful Wife and I watched she turned to me and said “Holy cow, when did they get so tight?”  And she was right, these kids went from local band made good to legitimate stars with this phenomenal performance.  It’s a toe-tapper of a jam and definitely one of the best songs of the year.

Most People by Dawes

Dawes was one of those bands that I always kinda liked and thought were good but never really paid too much attention to.  And then they opened for the above Alabama Shakes at a show we went to this summer and I really enjoyed their set.  Like a lot.  Enough to re-evaluate my previous position on them and they are now one of my favorites.   They’ve got a good laid back rock vibe while telling cool stories in their songs.  This song is a perfect example of why I like them so much and why they made this list this year.

Miracle Mile by Cold War Kids

I’ve been a big fan of the Cold War Kids since their debut album so I was pretty excited about their new stuff coming out this year and this song definitely did not disappoint.  It’s vintage Cold War Kids, catchy, fun, and edgy without being too much of any of those things.  And I love that these guys have such a distinct sound that you can always know when a song is theirs, even if you don’t know it.  The piano, the voice, the vibe; it all combines to make great music and that’s why I love it.

Time to Run by Lord Huron

Lord Huron was probably my favorite band discovery of 2013.  My best mate James texted me one day and said “I’ve been listening to this band Lord Huron and I really think you’d like it”.  Since he and I have similar taste in almost everything (seriously, music, movies, sports, sense of humor; all the same) I had a pretty good inkling I’d like them and I was right.  Their entire album is fantastic and I actually spent a ton of time listening to them as I went on my runs this summer and fall.  Their music has a sort of fast-paced dreaminess to it that seemed to make my running pace work well and so I just kept listening to them.  And never tired of them either.  Really good stuff. (Sidenote: My Wonderful Wife is way cooler than I am.  After listening to Lord Huron for about a week I said to her “Hey, I really like this band Lord Huron.  You should check them out.” I played her a song and she said “Oh yeah, these guys are great.” Pretty sure the lesson here is marry someone cooler than you and you’ll always have good music around.)

Down Below by Overseas

I really like Pedro the Lion so it is no surprise that another David Bazan project would end up on this list.  But if you read the note about my Wonderful Wife above, then let me also say that she got me a gift subscription to Paste Magazine for our anniversary this year.  It is a digital release that includes a sampler of music each week and one of the first weeks I got it, this song was on it.  It drew me in and now here it is on this list.  I’ve definitely gotten a good amount of great music this year from that subscription and if you’re looking for some good new tunes, I’d highly recommend you check it out.  Have I mentioned my Wonderful Wife is cooler than I am?  She is.

Birmingham by Shovels & Rope

Besides Paste Magazine, the other ways I discovered new music this year was the greatest local radio station ever, Birmingham Mountain Radio, a public radio station out of Minnesota that I discovered on a business trip, The Current, and NPR’s music show The World Cafe (quick tangent: One night I got in my car to run an errand and as I turned it on The Lone Bellow were being featured on The World Cafe and I heard Zach speaking and it was weird and awesome at the same time…).  If I am driving in my car from 7-9pm there is a really good chance I’ll be listening to The World Cafe and likely hearing some new music and that is how I first heard Shovels & Rope.  Their song Birmingham is not only named for the city in which I currently live, but is also a great modern folk song, so here it is as one of my favorites for this year.

The Ceiling by Wild Feathers

What can I say? I’m a sucker for a catchy song that breaks down into a rollicking jam that has 4 guys on guitars rocking out, jumping up and down, and standing on drum sets.  It’s just a given.   So yeah, when I heard this song I knew that it’d end up here because it encompasses so many of my favorite elements like a slow build, a frenetic peak, and a catch rift to hold everything together.  I am nothing if not consistent.  Enjoy.

Wake Me Up by Avicii

Speaking of catchy, this song takes the cake for this year.  It falls into some nebulous category that I like to call Pop Rocks (not to be confused with Pop Rock) and I can’t really define it but to say that it contains some kind of an unexpected dance/synth break in it that is so dang catchy I just want to listen to it over and over again.  It’s another toe-tapper head-bobber that I always am a sucker for and that’s why it ended up on this list for 2013.

Ride On/ Right On by Phosphorescent

This song is a funky jam that has an insanely catchy hook and any song that makes use of an organ is usually going to be something that I enjoy.  I first remembering hearing this song in the background while working and as The Current continued to play it, I finally stopped and listened to it and realized that I really enjoyed it.  Plus the whole Ride On/Right On thing strikes me as kind of a cool play on words, so there’s that too.

Heavy Bells by J. Roddy Walston & The Business

I have no idea what in the world is happening in this video, but this song is pretty awesome.  It’s a hard-edged funky song that really rocks and is yet another product of The World Cafe.  And there is something about the crazy hard chorus combined with the catchy hook from the verses that contrasts together to make a whole song that just kinda feels like a frenetic episode of something that just leaves you out of breath when you’re done.  Might not be for you, but I love it.

Shake by The Head and The Heart

This is the first single off of their new album that came out this year and in my humble opinion it is the best.  It showcases all of the things that have made this band take off into the national consciousness including a driving beat, a meandering piano rift, strong vocal harmonies, and general music making merriment.  And handclaps.  I’m always a sucker for handclaps.  So anyway, these guys are good and their sophomore album is good stuff.

Wildfire by John Mayer

It has never been a talent issue with me and John Mayer.  Dude has absurd guitar skills, there is no doubt about that.  But I banished him to the No-Listen List for a few years after a few of his less-than-desirable interviews came out and he did a few things that I found kind of objectionable.  But with his apparent transition to bohemian hippy and the movement of his music with him, I’m back.  I really love this song (and to be honest I went back to his last album and really liked some of the songs there too) and just how light-hearted and fun it is.  It’s just a good song and I’m glad he’s back to making good music and seems to be happy and free and not all moody and weird (though sometimes you go through those phases to come out the other side, so it’s cool John).

Tape Deck by Jack Johnson

This is my favorite track off of Jack’s stellar album that came out this fall.  It just seems to capture the innocence and excitement of a high school garage band and having seen Jack play this song live in Nashville I could that he just really enjoyed it.  In fact, getting to see him play at the historic Ryman Auditorium (the Grand Ole Opry used to be there) was an incredible night.  He seemed so relaxed and into his songs and really seemed like he was having the time of his life playing with his band.  He played a bunch of old stuff to go along with his new stuff and (The Lone Bellow notwithstanding) that show was one of the better shows I’d been to in a while.  So if by some small chance you’ve not picked up this new album, you need to check it out.

When We Were Younger by The Careful Ones

This was a pretty late entry into this list…like I was working on this post and this video got posted by a good friend of mine that knows good music so I checked it out and I loved the song.  Such a hauntingly beautiful sound that drew me in immediately.  Apparently this is the first song from their new album that comes out later in 2014, so check back with me next year to see if they have another song that makes the list…but for now, just enjoy this lovely song.

So that’s about it for now.  Sorry I haven’t been more bloggy in recent months but having twins is kind of a time/energy/free time drain.  Don’t get me wrong, I love my boys and wouldn’t trade them for anything, but blogging hits low on the priority list right now…but hopefully things will level off in 2014.  But thanks for reading and hope you enjoyed all the songs.

Love and Sweatpants!

Music that Moves Me and Makes Me Move

I just spent the last hour or so watching and listening to music and performances that really get me fired up.  I’m not sure the connecting trail that led from one to the other, but I thought I’d share nonetheless so that you could get your head bobbing and your toes tapping.

Started out with The Lone Bellow and their brilliant performance in this tiny little barn thing.  Seriously, no idea what is going on there but whatever, they kill it anyway, as always.

From there I moved to the Alabama Shakes and their funky song Always Alright played to perfection in Australia.

That in turn lead me to Wilco shredding the song Hoodoo Voodoo complete with shirtless roadie killing it on the symbol (wish I had moves like that dude).

Next came Damien Jurado losing himself in the song Let Us All In as he and his band absolutely hammer away at it.

After that I watched John Mayer and company make Jimi proud by taking on Wait Until Tomorrow.

And I finished things off by watching The Gourds take apart and put back together the Snoop Dogg song Gin and Juice (along with a few other songs mixed in) but the lyrics are pretty rough so I’m gonna let you find that one for yourself…

Well, at least I thought I was done until I started looking through my iTunes to see what else might work for this little post…and so I then added in The Avett Brothers doing At the Beach with what can only be described as joyful glee.

And it went on from there but I’ll just leave it with that…

I can’t exactly put my finger on what the unifying thread of all of these songs are besides the fact that I can’t listen/watch these performances without being totally and completely caught up in all of them, bobbing my head, tapping my toes, and knocking my desktop.  So maybe you got some enjoyment out of it like I did and just maybe these fun songs all brought a smile to your face.

Fostering Love

I eat alone a lot.  I travel for work and since I’m usually in strange towns by myself I end up eating alone.  It isn’t that bad, so long as the food comes out in a relatively timely manner.  Last night was not one of those occasions and it got to the point where I was sitting all alone in the booth in small restaurant and feeling kinda awkward.  So I had a lot of time to sit there and observe the people around me and think.  There were a few kids in the restaurant and some were much more rambunctious than others.  It started me thinking about this journey my wonderful wife and I are on, that of becoming foster parents.  Like possibly in the next week.  And I started freaking out.

We’ve prepared as much as we can and know to.  We’ve read books, taken classes, practiced on nieces and nephews, talked to people, accumulated stuff, organized, prioritized, and agonized.  But last night, for whatever reason, I started feeling completely inadequate to be a parent, let alone one to another persons child or children.  I figured that the doubts and questioning would come eventually, but I thought they would come at 2 in the morning when I was trying to comfort an inconsolable child, not at 8 in the evening sitting in a restaurant by myself in East Texas.  Have we made a huge mistake?  Have we bitten off more than we can chew?  Are we really capable of doing this?  Am I ready for this?

The questions swirled around as I sat and thought about it.  Eventually my food came and I ate and I calmed down and I stopped freaking out.  Finished my meal, paid my bill, got in my car and started my drive to my hotel.  As I looked for something to listen to on the way, I landed on NPR’s This American Life just in time for Act 3.  The theme of the show was Babysitting.  And the story that was told in Act 3 was moving and sad and funny and made me sit in the parking lot of my hotel for 10 minutes to hear the end.  Essentially, a girl makes up a family to go fake babysit for so that she can get out of the house.  You need to listen to the whole story for it all to make sense, but the gist of it is that her mother was really strict (and likely mentally ill) and let her brother go/do anything, but was really harsh on the girl.  So she invented this family to give her, and eventually her brother, some modicum of freedom to go do what they wanted to.  The story ended up being more about a terrible mother and her neglected children and how they had invented this family that they wished was theirs that they fake babysat for.  Reading more into it, I sort of think that they did this as a coping mechanism because they were so desperate for someone to love them.  Thankfully they had each other, but their mother, for whatever reason, was not capable of loving them and so they created a fantasy that contained parents that were loving to their children, and in turn welcomed these two children into their (pretend) family.

I don’t know if any of this makes any sense at all, but as I sat in a hotel parking lot in the middle of nowhere listening to a 70 year old man give an interview about how he decided at age 10 that he’d never ask her for anything or need her again, it made me realize that even if I am a terrible foster father, I can still love the children placed in my home and at the bare minimum let them know that there is someone real in the world that loves them.  Just for being them.  Unconditionally.

You’ll probably get a better sense if you go ahead and listen to what I heard:

Click here to listen

Wiibledon – The Best Idea That Never Was

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WiiBledon

It was, and remains, one of the best ideas my buddy and I have ever had.  We love Wii Tennis (documented here) and decided that we’d set up a Wii Tennis tournament to coincide with Wimbledon.  Seedings and draws would be made, players would need to wear all white to play, we’d even have Centre Court and Court 1.  Heck, I even went to Goodwill a couple of times to see if I could find a lamp with a pineapple on top that I could then re-purpose as a trophy. It was going to be glorious and wonderful and hilarious.  And look at that logo, which was expertly crafted specifically for us by my wife.  How awesome is that thing?

But it just never worked out.  One year I was on my honeymoon.  The next year half the field was out of town.  The 4th of July happens in the middle of the tourney.  Then my buddy moved, people stopped getting together to play Wii Tennis like we used to and now instead of an epic tourney, I think we have to admit that it just isn’t going to happen, at least anytime soon for us.  

I still think it is a fantastic idea and I’d still love to pull it off someday.  But really, I just think that logo needs to see the light of day.

Fruits of the Labor ~ Sowing and Reaping

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SowAndReap

Yesterday I gave a glimpse of how our garden is doing growing-wise.  And while the plants look good and we’re enjoying the increased green around our home, we also were intending on partaking in some of the delicious vegetables generated from said garden.  It’s still early in the process and I’m sure I’ll have more to share later, but here’s just a quick look at a few of the things we’ve enjoyed so far.

imageFirst off are the cucumbers, which are growing really, really well.  I took the 4 largest, ripest ones that we had and made 2 batches of fridge pickles.  One batch was really good, and one was not so much.  Nothing to do with the cucumbers, I just was testing out a couple of different recipes to see which one I liked the best and one was clearly better than the other.  But as you can see this small jar looks good and I can assure that it also tastes delicious.  There is another set of cucumbers that are almost ready to go, so I’ll probably do a fuller post on them and include the winning recipe as well.

imageThe other set of plants that has been producing are the tomatoes.  There are a ton of smaller ones that we’ve gotten and the bigger ones are starting to get ripe now as well.  I recently took advantage of having both fresh tomatoes and basil available to make this one pot pasta recipe, which was really easy and quite delicious.  Highly recommended.

The corn, carrots, squash, peppers, and watermelon all still have a little ways to go before they are ready, but we’ve been pretty excited about what we’ve gotten so far and are definitely looking forward to more delicious fruits of our labor.

Overgrown! ~ Sowing and Reaping

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SowAndReap

So it has been a little while since I’ve updated on the status of the garden, but it isn’t for lack of growing of the plants, that is for sure.  Once the weather turned warm and the summer rains started, our garden TOOK OFF.  Stalks started getting high, blooms exploded all over the place, vines started climbing and stretching, and most importantly, fruit started showing up.

imageSo far we’ve been able to harvest some tomatoes, cucumbers, and basil (more on those tomorrow) but the sunflowers have bloomed, the carrots seem like they are close, the squash is growing, and the peppers are reddening.  Corn and watermelon are in for the long-haul as is the surprise pumpkin plant that made a reappearance (after I killed last year’s accidental plant).  The arugula lettuce is so far the only thing that hasn’t done well as we likely planted too late in the season and it got too hot for it (which we thought might happen but took a chance anyway…).  But as you can see, we’re now going crazy with the growth!

imageAs for the overgrown look of the garden, well, that’s actually a little intentional.  We opted for groupings of plants rather than rows and wanted the plants to grow together, supporting and shading one another instead of neat and fancy yet unnatural and arbitrary rows.  I think we’ve succeeded..and then some.  But all the plants seem to be happy, the rain barrel has been providing plenty of water for everything, and the little bit of food we’ve gotten so far has been delicious.  So I’d say that the great garden experiment has thus far been a rousing success.

The Fiasco

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I walked out of the office and over to my car and as I started to get into the drivers side I noticed a lot of liquid pooling under the front of the car…didn’t look so hot. So I popped the hood and went to investigate. As I was looking around and figuring out that all of coolant had drained out of my car, I put my hand down in the grass to try and look underneath the car. Evidently, I put my had in an ant pile.

After talking with a co-worker for a bit and not noticing the ants swarming my hand/arm, they started biting. Bad news. I’m allergic. And I was COVERED. I managed to get as many as I could off as quickly as possible but it wasn’t good at all. 20+ bites on my right hand. I had called my wife for a ride already so updated the call to include a trip to Urgent Care as I figured I was going to have a bad reaction to this. I usually swell a bit from 1-3 bites, but I knew 20+ could be big problems.

Of course my wife is stuck in traffic and can’t get to me so I began the search for Benadryl. Office First Aid kit didn’t have any, so I ended up walking a few blocks over to a gas station and buying some, taking two. My wife arrived and tool me to Urgent Care, where we were turned away bc it was 5:59p and they closed at 6p. (THANKS TRAFFIC)

At this point I am tingly all over, my whole body is RED as can be and my nasal passages have swollen to the point that I’m breathing out of my mouth. I’m relaxed and cool but now we’re headed 5 miles down the road to another urgent care place (an ER does not exist on this side of town and given traffic we were at least an hour away from one), one that is open til 8p.

We made it and they gave me an Epi shot and a steroid shot and the reaction started to slow and gradually subside. Redness went away, nasal passages opened and tinglyness was gone. We stopped off to grab some dinner and pick up my prescriptions before heading home, and while I fell asleep in the car (The wonders of Benadryl!) when I got up and went back into the house the whole reaction started all over again. So we called Mrs. Bear 71 (a nurse) who said call a Dr., so I called my friend who is an ER Doc here in town. He said to wait for a bit and let the prescription meds take effect and then take some more Benadryl and then, if things got worse, and I couldn’t breathe, to call 911 since they’d be the fastest for an Epi pen shot over and against a personal trip to the ER.

Thankfully it didn’t come to that and I just feel asleep and woke up with some localized itching and swelling at the bite sites, but nothing else. And a car that doesn’t work…but I guess it could have been a lot worse. Also taking steroids for a week or so, so I expect MLB to come knocking any day now…I hear they’re on a steroid finding binge these days.

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