Top 5 Albums of 2013: The Contenders

Yeah, I’m still doing this. So let’s go!

Here are the new albums I’ve added to my collection in 2013, and are therefore contenders for this year’s list…

another cultural landslide — last days last days
Atoms for Peace — Amok
Boards of Canada — Tomorrow’s Harvest
Caroline Smith — Half About Being a Woman
The Darcys — Warring
David Bowie — The Next Day
Disappears — Era
Joe Satriani — Unstoppable Momentum
Justin Timberlake — The 20/20 Experience (1 and 2)
Lusine — The Waiting Room
MGMT — MGMT
Midlake — Antiphon
Nine Inch Nails — Hesitation Marks
Nitemoves — Themes
Phoenix — Bankrupt!
Steven Wilson — The Raven That Refused to Sing (And Other Stories)
Toro y Moi — Anything in Return
Washed Out — Paracosm

Honestly… I’ve heard some really great new music this year, although my range of styles has narrowed in considerably on “chillwave” electronic music and surrounding genres. And while not completely homogenous, almost all of the artists are men, and almost all of them are white. I regret this, but it is what it is. And what it is, is, the music I listened to a lot this year, which is a reflection of me.

My heart isn’t quite in this whole process as much as it has been in years past. (Also, I just don’t have time.) So let’s cut to the chase. My top 5 albums are in bold above. But in what order? That will come in the next post.

Transcript of President Obama’s speech at the Sandy Hook prayer vigil

This morning I wrote a long (over 1400 words) blog post about guns and freedom in America. I haven’t published it, and I probably won’t, because it’s so difficult to put into words what I feel and what I think about all that has happened recently.

Then I read the transcript of President Obama’s speech last night. There is nothing I can say about the situation that he did not say better, and in time I trust that his call to action will become clearer and more explicit about what exactly must be done to prevent similar tragedies in the future. But for now, I will let the President’s words speak for me.

Thank you. (Applause.) Thank you, Governor. To all the families, first responders, to the community of Newtown, clergy, guests — Scripture tells us: “…do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away…inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.”

We gather here in memory of twenty beautiful children and six remarkable adults. They lost their lives in a school that could have been any school; in a quiet town full of good and decent people that could be any town in America.

Here in Newtown, I come to offer the love and prayers of a nation. I am very mindful that mere words cannot match the depths of your sorrow, nor can they heal your wounded hearts. I can only hope it helps for you to know that you’re not alone in your grief; that our world too has been torn apart; that all across this land of ours, we have wept with you, we’ve pulled our children tight. And you must know that whatever measure of comfort we can provide, we will provide; whatever portion of sadness that we can share with you to ease this heavy load, we will gladly bear it. Newtown — you are not alone.

As these difficult days have unfolded, you’ve also inspired us with stories of strength and resolve and sacrifice. We know that when danger arrived in the halls of Sandy Hook Elementary, the school’s staff did not flinch, they did not hesitate. Dawn Hochsprung and Mary Sherlach, Vicki Soto, Lauren Rousseau, Rachel Davino and Anne Marie Murphy — they responded as we all hope we might respond in such terrifying circumstances — with courage and with love, giving their lives to protect the children in their care.

We know that there were other teachers who barricaded themselves inside classrooms, and kept steady through it all, and reassured their students by saying “wait for the good guys, they’re coming”; “show me your smile.”

And we know that good guys came. The first responders who raced to the scene, helping to guide those in harm’s way to safety, and comfort those in need, holding at bay their own shock and trauma because they had a job to do, and others needed them more.

And then there were the scenes of the schoolchildren, helping one another, holding each other, dutifully following instructions in the way that young children sometimes do; one child even trying to encourage a grown-up by saying, “I know karate. So it’s okay. I’ll lead the way out.” (Laughter.)

As a community, you’ve inspired us, Newtown. In the face of indescribable violence, in the face of unconscionable evil, you’ve looked out for each other, and you’ve cared for one another, and you’ve loved one another. This is how Newtown will be remembered. And with time, and God’s grace, that love will see you through.

But we, as a nation, we are left with some hard questions. Someone once described the joy and anxiety of parenthood as the equivalent of having your heart outside of your body all the time, walking around. With their very first cry, this most precious, vital part of ourselves — our child — is suddenly exposed to the world, to possible mishap or malice. And every parent knows there is nothing we will not do to shield our children from harm. And yet, we also know that with that child’s very first step, and each step after that, they are separating from us; that we won’t — that we can’t always be there for them. They’ll suffer sickness and setbacks and broken hearts and disappointments. And we learn that our most important job is to give them what they need to become self-reliant and capable and resilient, ready to face the world without fear.

And we know we can’t do this by ourselves. It comes as a shock at a certain point where you realize, no matter how much you love these kids, you can’t do it by yourself. That this job of keeping our children safe, and teaching them well, is something we can only do together, with the help of friends and neighbors, the help of a community, and the help of a nation. And in that way, we come to realize that we bear a responsibility for every child because we’re counting on everybody else to help look after ours; that we’re all parents; that they’re all our children.

This is our first task — caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.

And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we are meeting our obligations? Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children — all of them — safe from harm? Can we claim, as a nation, that we’re all together there, letting them know that they are loved, and teaching them to love in return? Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?

I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer is no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change.

Since I’ve been President, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by a mass shooting. The fourth time we’ve hugged survivors. The fourth time we’ve consoled the families of victims. And in between, there have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and big cities all across America — victims whose — much of the time, their only fault was being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change. We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law — no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world, or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society.

But that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely, we can do better than this. If there is even one step we can take to save another child, or another parent, or another town, from the grief that has visited Tucson, and Aurora, and Oak Creek, and Newtown, and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that — then surely we have an obligation to try.

In the coming weeks, I will use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens — from law enforcement to mental health professionals to parents and educators — in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this. Because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine. Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard? Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?

All the world’s religions — so many of them represented here today — start with a simple question: Why are we here? What gives our life meaning? What gives our acts purpose? We know our time on this Earth is fleeting. We know that we will each have our share of pleasure and pain; that even after we chase after some earthly goal, whether it’s wealth or power or fame, or just simple comfort, we will, in some fashion, fall short of what we had hoped. We know that no matter how good our intentions, we will all stumble sometimes, in some way. We will make mistakes, we will experience hardships. And even when we’re trying to do the right thing, we know that much of our time will be spent groping through the darkness, so often unable to discern God’s heavenly plans.

There’s only one thing we can be sure of, and that is the love that we have — for our children, for our families, for each other. The warmth of a small child’s embrace — that is true. The memories we have of them, the joy that they bring, the wonder we see through their eyes, that fierce and boundless love we feel for them, a love that takes us out of ourselves, and binds us to something larger — we know that’s what matters. We know we’re always doing right when we’re taking care of them, when we’re teaching them well, when we’re showing acts of kindness. We don’t go wrong when we do that.

That’s what we can be sure of. And that’s what you, the people of Newtown, have reminded us. That’s how you’ve inspired us. You remind us what matters. And that’s what should drive us forward in everything we do, for as long as God sees fit to keep us on this Earth.

“Let the little children come to me,” Jesus said, “and do not hinder them — for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”

Charlotte. Daniel. Olivia. Josephine. Ana. Dylan. Madeleine. Catherine. Chase. Jesse. James. Grace. Emilie. Jack. Noah. Caroline. Jessica. Benjamin. Avielle. Allison.

God has called them all home. For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on, and make our country worthy of their memory.

May God bless and keep those we’ve lost in His heavenly place. May He grace those we still have with His holy comfort. And may He bless and watch over this community, and the United States of America. (Applause.)

Source: NPR

Little by litl, I’m being won over…

litlLast week I ripped on longwinded, narcissistic douchebag tech bloggers, indirectly ripping on the fandango that is (or appears to be) the JooJoo along the way. I can be a bit of a snark at times, and I take pleasure in ripping on things. But it’s a hollow pleasure, and it leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

On the other hand, I do occasionally take the much rarer pleasure of delighting in something really cool… in Steve Jobs’ words, from the days of the original Macintosh project, something insanely great. But those “insanely great” things don’t come along very often. And along the way, there are a lot of false alarms. Many things claim to be the “next big thing” (even if big means being… “little”)… some even go so far as to claim to be… “it.” But in the end, they just turn out to be the Segway. No thanks.

Netbooks have been the “next big (little) thing” for a while now, and although I do see their appeal, they all just seem like cheap, underpowered, too-small laptops. Building a tiny device and then putting Windows XP on it is not going to change the world. Yawn.

But then a few weeks ago I heard about another next big thing, called the litl. Part of the hubbub surrounded the fact that there were some heavy hitters in the design world involved in its creation. This was not just another tiny computer made out of cheap plastic, running an 8-year-old OS from Microsoft. This was something different.

But still, it seemed kind of silly to me. Why would I want a netbook that stored all of its data in “the cloud” (especially given some of the notorious problems “the cloud” has had lately), and especially why would I want one that doubles as a digital photo frame. Yawn… maybe.

Tonight I was reading Slashdot when… of all things… a banner ad caught my attention. I’ve clicked on banner ads maybe 3 times in my entire life, but this was a banner ad for the litl, and it intrigued me. So I clicked, and began to discover that there may, in fact, be some really cool things about the litl that make it worth some serious attention. There’s a litl blog where you can read some press the litl’s been getting, along with some background info on (and from) the team, including some pretty interesting videos. My curiosity is piqued. I’d love to see one of these things in person. I think, as superficial as it may sound, whether or not I would ultimately be interested in a netbook of any kind is determined largely by how cheap the plastic it’s made out of feels. It’s kind of hard to tell from the videos, but one thing I can tell is that a lot of care and love went into creating this thing, and it’s unlike any netbook out there today. Have a look at these videos to see what I mean:

The card concept is cool. This is truly a revolutionary interface… it’s what the JooJoo dreams of being.

I’m still hesitant about having all of my data in the cloud — does this mean you have to be connected to WiFi to be able to do… well… anything with the litl? I didn’t see anything about 3G access. And what happens if there’s a catastrophic server failure? Does litl (the device) become a fancy paperweight while litl (the company) scrambles to get things back up and running? What about privacy and security? (I’d be surprised if these questions aren’t addressed somewhere on their site; I just didn’t encounter those answers yet. And they’re questions any sensible potential customer is going to want answered before they hand over their money.)

Not quite an Apple package design, but close. And this looks like it might actually be made out of post-consumer recycled materials. That’s a plus. I like the overall attention to detail. The people who made the litl love their work, and they want you to love it, too.

Will I get one? I’m not exactly itching to drop $699 on this, or anything else, at the moment. I’d like to see it priced at $499 or less. I’d also like to, you know, see it. In person, I mean. I like the money-back guarantee, but I still think they need to have some retail presence for the litl to really take off.

Consider me impressed. I think this has the potential to be something “insanely great.” I’ll be interested in seeing where this leads… and, if the long-rumored Apple foray into this niche actually happens, how the litl will affect it, or not, and vice versa.

On the other hand, maybe I’m just being seduced by decadent marketing.

Top 5 Albums of 2008: The Contenders

The contenders in Cover FlowOne of the few traditions around here (predating this even being a “blog,” or at least me acknowledging that’s what it is) is my annual “Top 5 Albums” list. I’ve been doing it every year since 2004. I’m still pondering the choices for this year, but I thought I’d give you a little advance insight by listing all of the possible contenders, i.e. all of the albums released in 2008 that I own so far. (I’m hoping for a couple more for Christmas that may end up making the amended list.) A very haphazard restriction on “the best,” but: a) these lists are always subjective anyway, b) I’m not going to bother buying albums I wouldn’t like, and that’s about the only way I’d end up hearing them, and c) I don’t care what you think. Write your own damn blog. (There, that showed you! Wait, come back!)

Here, then, are the contenders. I am resisting the temtation to “monetize” this list by linking all of the titles to the download pages on Amazon or iTunes with my affiliate links. (OK, I’m just too lazy to do it right now.) Some are in more serious contention than others. The five that are the current favorites (in the polling I’ve conducted inside my brain) are in bold.

  • R.E.M.: Accelerate
  • The Decemberists: Always the Bridesmaid: Vols. 1-3
  • The Mars Volta: The Bedlam in Goliath
  • The Killers: Day & Age
  • Metallica: Death Magnetic
  • My Morning Jacket: Evil Urges
  • John Legend: Evolver
  • Fleet Foxes: Fleet Foxes
  • Bryan Scary and the Shredding Tears: Flight of the Knife
  • Nine Inch Nails: Ghosts I-IV
  • Snow Patrol: A Hundred Million Suns
  • Steven Wilson: Insurgentes
  • Fujiya & Miyagi: Lightbulbs
  • Beck: Modern Guilt
  • Death Cab for Cutie: Narrow Stairs
  • Keane: Perfect Symmetry
  • Joe Satriani: Professor Satchafunkilus and the Musterion of Rock
  • Ani DiFranco: Red Letter Year
  • Ra Ra Riot: The Rhumb Line
  • M83: Saturdays = Youth
  • Elbow: The Seldom Seen Kid
  • of Montreal: Skeletal Lamping
  • Nine Inch Nails: The Slip
  • Rush: Snakes & Arrows Live
  • Foxboro Hottubs: Stop Drop and Roll!!!
  • Coldplay: Viva la Vida or Death and All His Friends
  • Ben Folds: Way to Normal
  • Weezer: Weezer (Red Album)

Whew, that’s quite a list. And it doesn’t even include the large number of independent recordings I acquired via the RPM Challenge, the Very Us Artists, Sidedown Audio, and various other places. Special acknowledgment goes out in particular to Revolution Void for what probably is my favorite album of the year overall. But ultimately I decided to suckle at the corporate teat for at least one more year with this list and only consider signed artists. I’ll probably produce another parallel list of the best unsigned/independent recordings I heard this year. And of course I’ll stack the list with my own music.

A few fun numbers from this year’s contenders list:

28: albums in the list

18: artists I had heard of before 2008

13: artists I already owned music from before 2008

14: purchased on CD

3 2/3: purchased on iTunes*

10 1/3: purchased on Amazon MP3*

2: downloaded directly from artist

2: downloaded directly from artist, artist being Nine Inch Nails

* I bought volumes 1 and 3 of Always the Bridesmaid on iTunes and volume 2 on Amazon, only because Amazon didn’t yet have volumes 1 and 3 on the days I tried to buy them. Booo!

Why does this seem like a joke?

FruuppIt was bound to happen eventually, and now it has. Tonight I finally joined Twitter (follow me!). One of my first acts as a Twit (?) was to become a follower of some people I have already been following in more traditional fashions — if blogs and podcasts can be considered “traditional.” And those would be: gruber of Daring Fireball, and scottsimpson, lonelysandwich and hotdogsladies of You Look Nice Today.

I am already a little scared of the power of Twitter. It feels like I’m injecting other people’s thoughts directly into my brain, especially if you are foolish enough to delve into the public timeline. Truly frightening. And a stark reminder that, obscure though you may be, what you do on Twitter is public.

And now then, on to what I’m actually writing about. This tweet from scottsimpson brought to my attention (or to my recollection, as I think I had heard of them before) an obscure early ’70s Irish, as he puts it, “‘hengeprog” rock band named Fruupp.

The unofficial fan site seems suspiciously like an elaborately conceived parody: Spinal Tap, now with more Stonehenge. For a while I was convinced the band had never really existed, until I heard some rare live recordings (warning, it’s MySpace) and found their jaw-droppingly high-priced import CDs on Amazon. So it appears they are were real, after all! Intrigued, I am. (Sorry, been watchin’ a lot of Star Wars lately with the kids.) But not at those prices.

And now, as I drift off into dreamland, I ponder my ability to convey future thoughts within the constraints of 140 characters.