the year in music. or, lady singers not named adele.

2012 gave us some great music from female artists, whether they were new to the scene or had been out of the scene awhile. I was excited for long-awaited new music from both Cat Power and Fiona Apple. Who knows what it means that I love the music made by two women who lean toward crazy and had their own on-stage antics in 2012; just don’t read into it, okay? We had some great debuts from Brits who made it over to the States this year, and new electronic sounds. Here are my favorites.

Cat Power: Even though her Instagram and Twitter feeds are crazy, and I wish she’d stop bleaching/cutting her hair, I love Chan Marshall. And I LOVED Sun. It is undoubtedly my favorite album of the year. If you’ve read any commentary or reviews on it, this won’t be anything new. It had been 6 years since Cat Power released an album of original material. As a Chan adorer, the first listen to Sun was a bit shocking. Where’s your guitar strumming? You’re using a drum machine? What’s going on here? But then I realized how good Sun was and how much I really liked it. I’m so impressed by her ability to create something vastly different from her traditional sound, without losing herself in the process. Chan did everything on this album herself: wrote all the lyrics, played all the instruments, built a studio and recorded it, and produced the final album. Manhattan is my favorite track off the album, but I should probably showcase something like Cherokee, which is a better example of what makes this album a standout in Cat Power’s discography. The video is super weird, but so is she. Also, if you haven’t see it yet, watch this funny spoof she did of herself.

Fiona Apple: I think everyone who listened to The Idler Wheel… had the same reaction as me: Damn, woman. Maybe Fiona should take 7 year breaks between all of her records. I already liked Fiona Apple, but after The Idler Wheel, I luuurrrve her. I forced multiple people to listen to it who did not feel the same. They responded with scrunched up faces. And I get it, she’s weird and her music sounds a bit off in places. But, here are some of the things I love from this album: the sound of real kids screaming while playing on Werewolf, the fact that she’s just hitting random objects with scissors in Anything We Want, and because she and her sister (who sings the harmonies) recorded Hot Knife without any looping. This album is a knock out. It’s stripped down so you get to hear every little bit, yet still layered and indulgent. It’s too hard to pick a favorite track, but give this live version of Periphery a listen. I saw Fiona I guess 6 years ago now and she was weird and great as ever; wish I could have seen her this year.

Lianne La Havas: Will she be the next Adele? Probably not, but who cares. Lianne La Havas can sing, she can play guitar, and she can write good songs. She’s got a pop accessibility, but still gets grungy and soulful. Plus, her hair rocks (ahem, Allyse, just do it already). The title track Is Your Love Big Enough? provides a great introduction to this new Brit. But Lost & Found showcases her depth with the opening line, “Come upstairs and I’ll show you where all my demons hide from you.” I’m excited to see what all Lianne can do.

Emeli Sandé: Hanif put one of her songs on a mix for me at the beginning of the year. I’m not sure if that was the first time I heard Emeli Sandé, but it was the first time I had her name with the song. I don’t like when she gets more poppy with some songs, we need some good R&B, Emeli! Give My Kind of Love a listen, then check out her stripped down versions of a couple songs on the current. I definitely prefer her live versions over studio. It’s crazy when you hear her Scottish accent in her speaking voice after listening to her sing.

Grimes: I’m usually pretty strict about not liking an artist/band if their lyrics don’t make sense or are impossible to understand. (It’s the main reason I don’t like Sigur Ros. deal with it.) But, I LOVE Grimes. I listened to a lot more electronic/synth stuff this year, including Grimes, AKA Claire Boucher. Videos of her live performances are incredible. I’ve listened to/read some interviews that she’s done, and she explains that her songs and lyrics are so personal that she doesn’t really want anyone to understand what she’s saying. In a way, that sounds like a cop out. Why become a musician if you don’t want anyone to hear what you’re saying? But Grimes is way more than the words she is saying, it’s the sound she’s mixing and the work she is doing too. Would love to see her live some day.

Purity Ring: Another group who made me listen to more electronic stuff this year. Okay, so Purity Ring is a duo that includes a guy and girl, but I’m keeping them over here in the lady post. Purity Ring played at Ace of Cups this fall and I still mourn the loss of missing this show. Because I didn’t know anyone who was going, I figured it’d be fine to buy my ticket at the door. I was wrong. The show sold out, and after waiting in line awhile I left super bummed. Watching that video hurts me a little, knowing I won’t get another chance to see this group in a small setting before they blow up.

Solange: I was stumbling around YouTube while bored at work when I came across the video for Solange’s Losing You. I didn’t hear the song before seeing the video, and that’s probably the true reason I like this song. I haven’t listened to anything else she’s done (I’m not even sure if she has an album out?), but you guys, this video is awesome. Cheers to the Solo Dance Party. You go, Solange.

highlights: 2012 in favorites

Well, since everyone is putting out their “Best of 2012” lists, I decided to conjure up my own. But, since Best of really means favorite, there’s no reason to hide the truth under a Best of title. Which also means I don’t have to pick just one.

Coffee: We had more than one new coffee shop open in the Short North this year. I anticipated the opening of both One Line and Mission Coffee Co, and was pleased with my first taste of each. I worry about the sustainability of One Line in a city that’s still learning about coffee. They specialize in pour overs, don’t have much seating, and could be intimidating to new coffee drinkers. But it’s worth the wait for an excellent pour over. Over at Mission, they make great espresso drinks as well as French pressed coffee. I have to say I’m partial to Mission. The environment is more welcoming, the employees (who I think are also the co-owners?) are friendly, and they’re homies with the guys over at Snapstagram. Mission’s struggle will be losing traffic without a High Street-facing storefront. Now, if you voted in the Columbus Underground Best of 2012 survey, listen carefully: STAUF’S DOES NOT HAVE GOOD COFFEE. Don’t miss out on the really great coffee Columbus has to offer. (Shout out to Hans and Joelle manning the Hemisphere Coffee Cart. I haven’t been to the cart yet, but frequently buy whole beans from HCR.)

Eats: Three memorable restaurants that I tried for the first time this year were Till, Explorers Club, and Refectory. Technically, Till was new this year for everyone. It’s the revamped, re-done, but same owners replacement for Dragonfly. As a meat-eater, I’m glad it’s not strictly vegan anymore. They offer yummy, adventurous food, tasty cocktails, and a trustworthy selection of wine and beer. At Explorers Club, I had the most heavenly version of Eggs Benedict. Spicy food + runny eggs = all things good. The downfall of my trip to Explorers Club was that I couldn’t get a Bloody Mary during brunch. And finally, the Refectory, Columbus’ long-running classic French restaurant. The meal I ate there tops the charts in all categories. Melt-in-your-mouth scallops, the biggest shrimp I’ve ever seen (excuse me, prawn), and perfect dessert. But, Parker and I were the youngest people there by twenty years.

Booze: In the fourth quarter of 2012, I toured Middle West Spirits (right here in Columbus) and Southern Tier Brewery (Smalltown, NY). Okay, the tour of MWS was a little long. Brady was all, “I don’t have anything to do tonight so I’m gonna keep you here awhile” and he meant it. But, the more I heard about this small business, the more I wanted to support their products. Well worth your money and time. Southern Tier was my third brewery tour and I really enjoyed it. Maybe because they gave us so much beer to sample. And broke out some Pumpking from the secret stash for us. One main critique is that they don’t have a true restaurant at the brewery, and food is limited as it’s kind of in the middle of nowhere.

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Travel: If you read my 2012: here’s hoping post, you’ll be happy to know I made it to all my National Parks! Acadia in July and Zion and Bryce in November. Acadia was amazing; I’d never hiked a mountain that’s right on the ocean, so it was a completely new experience. I didn’t get to see enough of Zion and definitely want to return to do the Narrows. Bryce was incredible. Parker and I stood looking out across the canyon saying, “Wouldn’t it be awesome if we could go in it?” Turns out, we could! Hiking down into the canyon will be one of my most memorable experiences. I also made my way around Ohio: I received a proper tour of Athens courtesy of Parker, spent some time in downtown Cleveland (which reminded me why I love Columbus), and hiked Hocking Hills more than once.

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Music: I’m working on a separate post just for the lady singers, so I’ll highlight some man singers here. My favorites are on opposite poles from each other: folk bands to electronic/impossible to categorize. Lord Huron. They’re like a beachy Fleet Foxes. Speaking of which, Poor Moon. Saw them open for Lost in the Trees this spring and looooved them. Actually preferred their sound live to listening to their EPs. Alt-J. It’s a struggle to figure what the hell he’s saying, but turns out his lyrics actually make some sense. Really unusual sound. The Lumineers. I listened to them on World Cafe: Next back in January and eagerly awaited their spring release. Though I wasn’t super impressed by their live performance this summer (they aren’t made for a big stage), still loved the album. Kishi Bashi. That guy is nuts. I thought about going to see him open for another group at the Wex, and regret not doing it. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. There are songs on their album that I always skip, but then I listen to Same Love on repeat. (Check out Mary Lambert‘s poetry.)

Concerts: Feist at the Wex. Well done, Leslie, for making everyone get out of their seats. Punch Brothers at the Beechland Ballroom. Always worth a 5 hour round trip drive. Lost in the Trees with openers Poor Moon at the Wex. For me, LITT live transcends music and becomes performance art. Tanlines, Maps and Atlases, Atlas Genius, The Lumineers, Ben Kweller, and Metric at Summerfest at The LC. Emily Haines is amazing live.Feist

Reads: Separate post to follow on the books I read in 2012. It was a weird year for reading.

Babies: Yo, there were a lot of babies born in 2012. And while most of them are cute, Harper J wins the All-Around for Baby of 2012. I could be biased.IMG_3079

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Congrats to all my friends who got engaged, married, or had a kid this year. Congrats to all of us who didn’t. I still got my KitchenAid mixer.

Thanks for a good year Columbus. You owed me one.

oops.

Sorry blog, I’ve been neglecting you. In an unfocused list, these things have been taking up my time:

I got a cat. My friend Beth found a stray and I decided to keep him. His name is Boo Radley and he’s a terror. A cute terror though. He destroyed my roommate’s new iPhone cord and one of my socks. Recently, I’ve caught him drinking out of the toilet. He may think he’s a dog. And although he has a beard, he’s losing his manhood soon (don’t tell him).

I’m doing the social media/promo for the TV show my friends created, Terminal B. Check out the indiegogo site, Like us on Facebook, follow us on twitter, etc. Casting starts in November! I think this can be really great.

I became an aunt! Meet Harper James. I love him and I haven’t even met him yet. He’s cuter than your nephew. And cooler.

I moved cubes! This is actually a major highlight. Previously, I was in a cube where I couldn’t even see the windows by standing up, I had to walk through the cube labyrinth to reach the row of windows. But no more! Now I have a lovely, distracting, sunshiny view of some trees, and mostly a parking lot.

I’m going to Utah for Thanksgiving. As stated in a previous post, we’re headed to Zion National Park. So, I’ve been looking at park blogs and seeking out the best hikes. Please share any suggestions.

I made Halloween costumes. And I am pretty proud of them. For the record, there was a stuffed kitten in my basket and a pair of scissors. At least one person asked to take our picture.

Feel free to compare us to the real deal:

Annnnd here are some distractions while you’re waiting out the storm:

The best cookies ever. (Why haven’t I been making EVERYTHING with brown butter??)

Cat bounce!

Life in Color from National Geographic.

Patagonia’s Instagram feed.

highlights: the books of 2011

Last spring, I decided to start a book club. Turns out, the thing I most complained about in my English lit classes was also what I missed:  talking in circles about books. So I started a book club hoping to keep my mind captivated, meet new people, and read some great books. Most of what I read in 2011 was a book club read or McSweeney’s Quarterly, but I’m attempting to include everything. I strayed a bit from my typical reading, and consumed quite a few short stories this year, along with novels. Here’s the list. It’s in reading order to the best of my memory.

The Best American Short Stories, 2010 Because I let someone borrow this, and read it at the beginning of the year, I’m failing to remember many stories. If I get my copy back, I’ll be sure to update this.

The Twenty-Seventh City, Jonathan Franzen (book club) This book proved to be a rough maiden voyage for our book club. Most of us did not enjoy it. I actually put down Freedom when the book club started and have yet to pick it back up (gasp!). The Twenty-Seventh City is Franzen’s first novel and it shows. The writing was showy and poorly paced. I was so disinterested I actually had to skim the last fifty pages to finish in time for book club. In the midst of my skimming–spoiler alert–I missed the suicide of one of the main characters.

American Pastoral, Philip Roth (book club) Roth’s Pulitzer winner also proved lacking for many of the book club members. We all agreed it was technically exceptional, but wanted more out of it. Confession time:  under all my sass and cynicism lies a sentimentalist. While I can appreciate well written literature, I need some redemption to really love a story.

McSweeney’s Quarterly, 37 About half of this edition featured Kenyan writers and brand new stories from them. The letters are very often my favorite part, but the short stories are the star. Two favorites are “Take Care of that Rage Problem” by Edan Lepucki, which begins with a mother explaining to her daughter why she’s been arrested for indecent exposure, and “A Brutal Murder in a Public Place” by Joyce Carol Oates that tells the story of a bird trapped in an airport terminal.

The New Man, Thomas Merton This is the only nonfiction from my 2011 reading list, and also my first Merton. I read it over a long span of time, for better or worse. Merton’s insights were eye-opening as well as approachable. Having a Catholic background may have helped at times. I especially enjoyed his belief that intelligence and the will must work together in faith.

Kafka on the Shore, Haruki Murakami (book club) I fell in love with this book. I’m a fan of magic realism, but I had to sell it a bit to the book club. They thanked me in the end. Kafka follows two characters:  one, a teenage boy with an Oedipal complex, and the other an old, mentally-handicapped man who talks to cats. INTRIGUE.

Your Blues Ain’t Like Mine, Bebe Moore Campbell (book club) I did not fall in love with this book. I could appreciate its history, as it chronicled (I think) thirty to forty years of a Southern black family. But I couldn’t really get past the writing.

My Name is Asher Lev, Chaim Potok (book club) I think it’s safe to say we all adored this book. Asher Lev is an Hasidic Jewish boy growing up in Brooklyn between WWII and the Cold War. He is an exceptionally gifted artist, struggling to balance his orthodoxy with his gift. Potok not only does an excellent job with character development, he allowed the reader to imagine Asher’s artwork with ease.

East of Eden, John Steinbeck The book of the year. I bought this while Borders was closing, thinking, “Well, maybe I’ll read it someday.” Someday came sooner than expected. Having read The Pearl, Of Mice and Men, and In Dubious Battle for various English classes, and not really enjoying them, I had my doubts about East of Eden. But this book captivated me. I loved the unforgiving honesty of Cathy, Charles and Cal. I loved Lee’s wisdom and faithfulness. This book felt strangely close to home while I was reading it. I even dreamt one of the lines before reading it the next day. I ought to devote an entire post to East of Eden.

Bowl of Cherries, Millard Kaufman (book club) This was our attempt at a “light” read; it follows a boy-genius who has dropped out of his Ivy League university. As it turns out, Kaufman may very well have been a dirty old man. He wrote the screenplay introducing Mr. Magoo to the world, as well as some other Oscar nominated screenplays. Bowl of Cherries reads a bit like a screenplay, complete with explosions and last-ditch helicopter escapes. The story was at least entertaining, but lacked polish.

McSweeney’s Quarterly, 38 McSweeney’s always has some surprises, and while this edition featured the typical fictional short stories, it also included some nonfiction and a retelling of Rapunzel. “The Hens” by Roddy Doyle was a favorite. It’s one of those stories you feel a little disconcerted while reading, as it tells of a woman hired to babysit chickens in the midst of neighbor wars. A lot more blood than I expected.

The Living, Annie Dillard (book club) The Living was our last group read for 2011. It’s an historical fiction, so not everyone’s cuppa tea. This is Dillard’s first novel (if you’re unfamiliar, she writes nonfiction usually). I think Dillard was very successful with her first fictional effort. It’s clear that she devoted much time to researching the setting for her novel (the PNW throughout the 1800s). The Living follows early settlers of the PNW, detailing covered wagon trips from the East Coast, relationships with natives, and hop farming in the midst of Prohibition.

Put Out More Flags, Evelyn Waugh (book club) We decided to go Secret Santa style for our last book club read of 2011, and my assignment was Put Out More Flags. I’d read Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited and didn’t remember enjoying it, so I wasn’t too jazzed for this book. But I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked it. Put Out More Flags follows a loose group of thirty-somethings in England at the start of WWII. Most of the characters romanticize and glamorize the war, unaware of the very real effects the war is going to have on England. I found it to be an interesting social commentary, and couldn’t help relating it to the hipster nation I find myself in. As the characters discussed the war, each eager to get his/her two bits in, I thought of my generation of twenty-somethings who know a little about a lot, and want you to know it too.

2012: here’s hoping

I’m just gonna come out and say it. 2011 was the worst. I mean literally, the worst year of my life. But I won’t get into details here. In an effort to drop some of the cynicism and re-learn how to hope, here’s a list of things I’m looking forward to in 2012:

1. Starting my new job, which also includes doubling my previous salary (CHEDDAR YA’LL). Before you judge, it wasn’t hard to double. I can’t wait to actually put money in my savings account, eat delicious food, and buy my friends a drink for once.

2. In June I’m going to a conference in Orlando. While I think the conference will be great, I’m really hoping to go to The Wizarding World of Harry Potter. That’s right, Harry Potter World. Don’t even try to tell me it’s not gonna be awesome.

3. The London Olympics. I LOVE THE OLYMPICS. I grew up in Atlanta and was able to attend quite a few events at the 96 Olympics. I might have to get DVR before the summer.

4. In August I’m going to be an aunt! My oldest sister and her husband are expecting their first child. I can’t wait to be an aunt, but I do wish they didn’t live 1,300 miles away.

5. Hopefully this fall my family will converge on Zion National Park and Bryce Canyon. I gotta keep up the National Park streak.

6. Bond. James Bond. With Javier Bardem. I mean, do I need to say more?

7. Hopslam. It’s almost here. Please drink responsibly.

8. Hopefully going to Acadia National Park with my friend Faith, and doing things like this. Guess I should find out how much vacation time I have…

9. It’s a new year. New chances, new friends, new places to see.