i’d rather be a hippie than a hipster

The new album from Grouplove is here, and much like their debut, 2011’s Never Trust a Happy Song, it’s all over the place — in the best way possible. Spreading Rumours, their sophomore effort, is loud, messy, frenetic, and fucking incredible. The jumble of musical styles and obvious references to other musicians seem on paper like they would never work, a blend of reggae, rock, rap, funk, soul, pop, and stomp so audacious that it’s actually quite perfect. It’s impossible to listen to this album without wanting to immediately get up and dance — or have an impromptu solo air band concert on your couch.

I suppose I’m Grouplove’s target audience, since I’m a fan in one way or another of most of the above referenced genres, and I’m a sucker for pomp-and-circumstantial pop. You say bombastic, I say fantastic. And that last sentence pretty perfectly summarizes Spreading Rumours. You’re either going to love this album or start shaking your cane and asking those damn kids to turn that noise down. And that’s okay. I’ll just be in the former camp rocking out.

Going back to the aforementioned blend of style and influences permeating Grouplove’s work, the usual suspects from Never Trust A Happy Song are back for round two on Rumours, including the Pixies (“Raspberry”) and Beach Boys (“Shark Attack” — though really just the acoustic guitar breakdown and harmonies; that track is an explosive surf rock/dancehall concoction that might give even fun fun fun-lovin’ Brian Wilson a headache). Joining them this time around are The Beatles (“Bitin’ the Bullet” — see if you can pick out strains from “A Day in the Life”), the Flaming Lips (“News to Me” sounds eerily similar to “She Don’t Use Jelly”), and Better Than Ezra (“Save the Party For Me,” the album closer, which to my ears echoes BTE album closer “Happy Endings”). “Sit Still” could be a lost collaboration between Feist and En Vogue (can someone make that happen for real?). I’m sure there are many more that will jump out at me in the days and weeks to come.

One of the things I love best about Grouplove’s use of such referencing, both obvious and subtle, is that it doesn’t seem forced. Maybe they meant to write a hook that riffs on Black Francis’s best; maybe they just really enjoy the Pixies and their work is always in mind when writing. Either way, Grouplove has found a way to take their reverence and turn it into something wholly their own. Even the very name of the band (and the title of this post, which comes from a Rumours lyric) implies their free-spirited attitude toward other musicians: it’s a group full of love for other groups.

That statement may be a bit of a reach and a more than a little cheesy, but if Grouplove doesn’t care about unabashed sentiment, then why should I? As they sing on “News to Me”:

And if you’re living for something, that’s something / Yeah, you might have it all.

Looks like Grouplove and I suffer from an embarrassment of riches.

come up for air

I adore Cold War Kids’s debut album, and thanks to my penchant for putting artists’ first releases on a pedestal, I’ve been pretty disappointed with everything they’ve done since. So it was with trepidation that I hit “Play” on the lead single for their new album, Dear Miss Lonelyhearts, due out in April.

Turns out I had nothing to worry about.

To call the song “joyous” would be an understatement; it soars, and that persistent plinking piano carries me right up along with it. And while its lyrics certainly convey a melancholy undertone (the song opens with the line, “I was supposed to do great things”), the tune ultimately bears a message of hope, something a lot of us are holding on to after the recent ringing in of the new year.

If “Miracle Mile” is any indication, we’ve got a lot to look forward to, at least from this year’s crop of music. And maybe, just maybe, something more.

it’s the most wonderful time of the year

This time of year always stresses me out. Sure, you might say, the holidays are a trying time for everyone. And you’d be right. But that’s not what I’m talking about.

What’s bugging me right now — weeks before holiday insanity truly kicks in — is a different kind of annual tradition: list-making season. Yes, much like the Christmas carols that hit the airwaves before Halloween, year-end retrospectives have started their interweb takeover shockingly early (at least to me), days ahead of December. NME and Paste debuted their best albums and tracks of the year earlier this week, and I’m bracing for even more musical opinions to hit me like a tidal wave in the coming days.

It’s not that I dislike the list-making, per se. In fact, if it weren’t for Paste’s 2011 list, I would never have heard one of my favorite albums of last year. These round-ups can be a great way for me to catch up on music that I might have missed over the past 12 months (or 11, in the case of the lists out now), giving me endless opportunities to discover my next great musical obsession.

And herein lies the problem. I’m already an admitted procrastinator when it comes to acquiring music I know I should like, so imagine my chagrin when faced with list upon list telling me how great these 50 other albums are, and realizing I will literally never have time to listen to and form a coherent opinion about them all. Compounding this self-imposed conundrum is my recent decision to start list-making myself, and wondering if any of these artists so vehemently recommended by my favorite critics should also be considered for inclusion on my own retrospective.

It’s a vicious cycle that involves far too much time sitting in front of my computer, listening to 30-second song samples and spending more money at the Amazon MP3 store than this broke, unemployed girl would like to admit (thank God for Black Friday Deals Week). I have album upon album stacked in my download folder just waiting for me to listen, love, and then choose a favorite to include on a carefully-curated retrospective mix. Frankly, I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

If I can’t even bring myself to analyze the music I already own, how on earth can I face this onslaught of opinions and the potential greatness they hold? I suppose at some point I’m going to have to just stop considering them altogether. As I hinted at above, I can’t afford much more of this music-buying business, but I what I really can’t afford is to waste away on the couch, clutching my laptop for dear life and hitting “Play All Samples” for the umpteenth time. Sometimes you’ve just got to know when enough is enough. I hope I have the strength to keep that mantra in mind (and my wallet on lockdown) over the next few weeks.

If that fails, I will also accept Amazon gift cards and cash as early birthday/Christmas presents.

i was once a loyal lover

The release of Ben — sorry, Benjamin — Gibbard’s excellent solo album last week got me thinking about how much I used to love Death Cab for Cutie. Not just love — like, LOVE love. (In case it wasn’t clear from that eloquent proclamation, this love blossomed most brightly during my freshman and sophomore years of college.)

I wore out my digital downloads of Transatlanticism tracks, gobbled up Plans as soon as it was released, saw them on tour, and then… things just kind of fell off.* When Narrow Stairs debuted in 2008, I was mildly obsessed with epic eight-minute-plus single “I Will Possess Your Heart,” but I didn’t really care for the other singles, and when a friend lent me a copy of the entire album I just kind of shrugged and the music rolled off, not leaving any sort of strong impression, good or bad.

By the time Codes and Keys came around last year, it was the same story. I liked “You Are a Tourist,” but NPR’s advance stream of the entire album left me cold. I didn’t even bother seeking out a copy until last month, mostly out of guilt at my fairweather fandom. During that same transaction, I also finally got myself The Open Door EP, which I had heard about and wanted to acquire upon its release but for some reason just never purchased.

Wracking my brain for reasons as to why that could be — after all, I had already heard a couple songs off the tiny tracklist and liked them a lot — I looked up the release date, and then realized that its early April 2009 debut was smack dab in the middle of my harried completion of a soul-sucking, time-thieving magazine prototype production project at grad school. So, of course, some things were bound to fall by the wayside, right? I mean, I was barely sleeping, spending hours upon hours in the computer labs staring at slapdash layouts, even making arts and crafts projects in my failed attempt to be a creative art director while also making my life even more difficult than it had to be.

Honestly, sometimes I think my membership in the music fan club should be revoked. Yes, I was beyond busy, but I knew about this EP’s existence, and should have made more of an effort to acquire it. It would have come in handy to have on my Zune for all those long hours in the lab, and probably would have provided a nice respite from the craziness swirling around me, if only for those five tracks.

Rather than regret my musical transgressions, I’m just going to enjoy what I have now — and boy, am I ever. As the chorus goes in this post’s title track: “You can’t even begin to know how many times I’ve told myself, ‘I told you so.'” I still may not be a very loyal fan (I can think of many other bands against whom I’ve committed similar sins, and for that I am sorry), but I’m trying. In this age of  overstimulation and distraction, digital or otherwise, sometimes “better late than never” is the best that you can do.

*Many people will note that I could never have been a true Death Cab fan in the first place since I sort of ignored their earlier releases, which apparently all the cool kids think are really their best work. Fair point. But to give me back some credibility, I do have a handful of illegally downloaded tracks from Something About Airplanes, The Photo Album, We Have the Facts and We’re Voting Yes, and You Can Play These Songs With Chords, and even LIKE some of them. But I’m a simple girl with simple tastes and if I don’t care for music I move on, no matter how much I love the band in question. Sorry.

squirrel! or, how to question your sanity in one easy step

As anyone who’s spent multiple weeks unemployed can attest, the long stretches of free time afford you a unique opportunity to become intimately familiar with your couch. Spending so much quality time with my sofa has led me by extension to grow accustomed to the parade of wildlife visible outside the couch-adjacent sliding glass doors to our balcony.

It’s not like I spend all my ample free time idly staring out the windows (is it sounding like the lady doth protest too much?), but it’s hard not to notice the wide variety of various critters that frequent the nearby trees and telephone poles. I’ve seen cardinals (Indiana’s state bird), blue jays, chickadees, woodpeckers, carolina wrens (who do NOT, by the way, say “cheeseburger” or “teakettle,” no matter what the internet claims), and so many chipmunks — who thoroughly enjoy scampering back and forth across the balcony for seemingly no reason for hours on end — I’ve lost count.

But the animal that has me most intrigued is one that’s both familiar and mystifying: a squirrel. Now, before you start laughing at me and my fixation on a creature that most correctly write off as commonplace, boring, and annoying, consider that this specific squirrel is easily the size of a small cat — not including its mammoth tail — and therefore the largest such critter I’ve ever seen. The first time it materialized, it shook the neighboring tree branches so severely that I thought it was a much bigger animal on the prowl. I can spot it a mile away by the telephone wire vibrations it causes as it bounds along.

This squirrel has become so familiar that I’ve started to mention it to others, which is where my sanity can (and perhaps should) be called into question. When my parents came to visit last week, I almost-proudly pointed it out to my dad while we chatted out on the balcony, and just yesterday I saw it out my neighbors’ window while we were playing Mario Kart, and they smiled politely (and most likely uncomfortably) while I told them how often I spot the not-so-little guy. It wasn’t without some sheepishness that I realized that my penchant for distraction when it comes to this creature can best be compared to a lovable if dim dog.

Yes, it’s embarrassing to admit, but I’m hoping that the subsequent shame that follows this revelation about my nature-watching habits can help me shake my preoccupation with this damn animal. Sure, it’s freakishly large and amazingly ubiquitous, but in the end, it’s just a squirrel. It would do me well to continue channeling Dug and his less-than-affectionate opinion of these creatures. I don’t exactly wish this one dead, but I do wish him to stop demanding so much of my attention. After all, who else is going to spend quality time with my couch?

i need you right now

As I’ve already mentioned, I’ve been in a bit of a funk lately, adjusting slower than I’d like to my new life as a Midwesterner. And as I’m still without gainful employment, I’ve had a lot of time on my hands to contemplate my inner conflict, and thus have been taking every and any opportunity to distract myself, devouring pop culture with a voraciousness I haven’t felt in years.

Enter Howler.

Thanks to stumbling upon a recommendation from Paste, I decided to seek out their debut album (which, yes, came out waaaay back in January, I’m late to the game, blah blah, etc.), and I couldn’t be happier that my wasting time on the internet led me to this band. Mindless link-clicking can be good for the soul, kids.

In the week since America Give Up entered my life, I’ve listed to the album countless times (okay, that’s not entirely true, thanks to Last.fm’s diligence), and its third track has inspired me to hit “repeat” on more occasions than I can recall. I’m not sure the last time I was this obsessed with a single song — maybe December 2008? Either way, I am seriously in love with “This One’s Different.”

It’s difficult to put into words what exactly it is about this track that has me so transfixed. Maybe it’s because the guitar and bass hooks are buoyant and infectious, the delivery is snappy, and the lyrics are dripping with clever turns of phrase, like the narrator declaring that in writing a song, he’ll “put the pen onto the page, let the ink scream along.” I also really dig the Replacements reference in the following couplet:

Paul said, “I could live without your touch if I could die within your reach.”
I say that damn line way too much, like it’s something I have to preach.

Other standout tracks include back-to-back-to-back trio “Told You Once,” “Back of Your Neck,” and “Free Drunk,” though really, the entire album is worth your time (and clocking in around 31 minutes, it’s certainly a short journey to take for such a big reward). I’ve read several reviews comparing these guys to The Strokes, an observation I think is apt, especially when considering their vocal stylings and penchant for fuzzed-out melodies. I’d also venture to say they’re taking some influence from Weezer and the Beach Boys (in addition to the aforementioned Replacements) with their affinity for surf rock, straight-up rock, and tight harmonies, and I am totally on-board with them further exploring that sound on future releases.

As frontman Jordan Gatesmith croons on “This One’s Different,” “When the feeling is there, it’s there.” For me and Howler, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful relationship.

it’s time to move on

Technically, I’ve already moved on. As in, moved across several states (though thankfully not outside the EST timezone) to a new life as a resident of the Midwest — specifically, Bloomington, Indiana.

It all seems to have happened pretty fast, seeing as how October is right around the corner and I could swear that the last time I checked in with this blog wasn’t THAT long ago. Ah, how Major Life Changes (there those are again) and unbelievable stress can make the days and nights blur into weeks and months with the greatest of ease.

How I got from point A(lbany) to point B(loomington) is pretty straightforward: my brilliant husband got a fantastic scholarship to attend Indiana University’s law school, and we packed up our respective compact cars and headed west, arriving in our new home on August 1. But really, the entire decision-making process, including where Nick would apply, if he was even serious about going back to school, and ultimately, where we would be spending the next three years of our lives ended up taking quite a while.

While I was initially hesitant about his selection of Indiana as one of his final choice universities, it took one visit to campus in late March to earn my affection and sway my opinion. Lush greenery and endless flowering bushes and trees left no doubt about the aptness of the Bloomington moniker, and the gorgeous, sprawling campus was impressive to say the least. We were smitten, and when Nick decided that this was the place for him, I heartily agreed.

Then we moved here. From the moment we walked into our apartment’s smells-like-urine vestibule, it became apparent that we were not in Menands anymore. Fond memories of our former apartment faded away as we were faced with a cramped, hastily-slapped-together abode teeming with stains, broken fixtures, insects, and so little storage space that I wondered if it would even be possible to fit everything the yet-to-arrive moving truck was carrying. Coupling those concerns with a collection of seriously shady (and incredibly loud) neighbors — save for the awesome twosome across the hall — and we (or at least I) were seriously wondering whether we had made a mistake.

It’s been a long, slow adjustment period, and there are still some kinks we have yet to work out and many things to acclimate to in our new environment (oh, our previous kitchen’s copious cupboards, how I miss you!), but life has been steadily improving. Of course, the irony as I type this is that I am once again unemployed (as you might recall, my previous joblessness was in part the inspiration to start this blog in the first place), and suddenly find myself with all sorts of time to stew in my unhappiness (and broke-assness).

Well, as the title of this post suggests, it’s time to move on. The only way to break out of a funk is to actively try, and that’s my goal from now onward. Sure, you may catch me complaining about some recent injustice or inconvenience on occasion (ask me some time to tell you about my three trips in two weeks to the DMV BMV), and I suppose that’s to be expected. But I’m going to do my best to let the negative things roll off my back, and embrace the excitement (and, if we’re being completely honest, terror) of an entirely blank slate.

Oh also, if you know of any print or online publications hiring in south central Indiana, could you let me know? Not that I’m not happy about the prospect of becoming a regular blogger again, but, uh, a sister’s gotta pay the bills.

everybody, put your best suit or dress on

While not technically the new year yet, I couldn’t resist the Death Cab reference. This time of year always brings out the nostalgia in me — as I’m sure it does in just about everyone else, too — and what better time to get sappy and reflective than at the end of this year and on the cusp of the next? I’m pretty sure it’s what the holiday was designed for. (Nevermind the whole changing of the calendar thing.)

Aside from a few mishaps along the way, 2011 was a pretty kickass year, at least in my personal life. My parents celebrated their 30th anniversary in May. My brother got married in June and shortly after found out he and his wife are expecting their first child (baby Claire is due in March, and Aunt Katie can’t wait). My adorable nephew, Dante, turned 1 in November, and after spending some time with him around Christmas I can already tell he’s a brilliant child, if his ability to figure out a toy basketball and hoop after one attempt is any indication. (Scholarship, anyone?)

And of course, the best thing happened in August. After months of planning and planning-related headaches, I married my fantastic, goofy best friend, and four months in, we’re as happy as ever. I don’t want to gush too much (my Facebook friends are more than familiar with my ability to wax poetic about my happiness, sometimes to the detriment of others — apologies for that), but suffice it to say, the day itself was wonderful, and so far, the life we’re building together is pretty great. I’m looking forward to many more years of this fabulous existence with my husband by my side.

I hope to write a more exhaustive end-of-year pop culture recap in the coming days/weeks (I’m currently working on a retrospective music mix, which is taking much longer than anticipated, mostly because I keep coming across new tunes to add to the pile), but for now, let me end this one with a few of the things I enjoyed in 2011:

This commercial • Spontaneous trips to Boston & NYC to visit much-missed friends • Seeing “Starry Night” in person • Bossypants • My first iPod • Dancing to Lady Gaga with my father- and mother-in-law at my brother’s wedding • 50/50 • Randomly discovering new music • Repeatedly singing the chorus of LCD Soundsytem’s “Drunk Girls” with my husband apropos of nothing • Leslie and Ben’s coupling and Ron Swanson’s wisdom & ‘stache on Parks and Recreation • The first half of Mindy Kaling’s book, which I started yesterday and absolutely love already • WEQX • Sam Roberts Band • “Internet Killed the Video Star” • Continuing my obsession with Chris Jones and Esquire, especially this piece • Honeymooning in Maine and everything that went along with it, especially the copious amounts of seafood and Dark & Stormies • Mike and Tom Eat Snacks • The Muppets and its fantastic soundtrack • Buying way too much music on Amazon • Inadvertently becoming a USC fan (sorry, Dad), to the delight of my husband and his college friends • Giant teacups filled with Strongbow • My teal skirt from H&M • Big metal chickens • To-die-for dessert at New World Bistro • The soups/sandwiches/smells at Placid Baker in Troy • The “New Girl” theme song • A signed copy of Simon Pegg’s book with a personalized wedding message (thanks, Jaime!) • Hilarious and heartfelt presents/cards/speeches from our wedding, and our sunglasses favors • Having a husband and becoming a wife •

…and Mondoro champagne, which Nick and I drank on one of our first dates, at our wedding, and many times in between, and what we’ll toast with tonight to ring in the new year.

Cheers to 2011; bring on 2012.

hey, hey, it’s a working day

Since I missed the boat on blogging about Lonely Avenue when it was released last year, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to finally, belatedly discuss it in this space thanks to a fortuitous Twitter posting from Mr. Folds this morning.

Ben just released the video for “A Working Day,” the album’s opening track and my favorite in the collection. (Close second: “Saskia Hamilton.”) Perhaps it’s because I, too, have had several guys (and gals) on the ‘Net (and on the phone — two just today) tell me I suck, thanks to my day job writing mostly about small towns and their accompanying small town bickering. Perhaps it’s because like the song’s protagonist, I also think that “everything I write is shit,” including this very blog post. Either way, I love this song if for no other reason than it’s an excellent tune to crank in the car. Rolling in my Nissan, listening to Ben Folds wax philosophic about his own inadequacies, I am nothing but the epitome of cool.

Anyway, the point is, this song makes me happy. And — as if it could happen any other way — its accompanying video makes me equally, if not even more so, ecstatic.

The energy and unadulterated joy behind this clip is contagious. I watched it twice before work this morning, and both viewings left me with a big, goofy grin on my face. I’ve been to a bunch of Ben Folds’s shows over the years and have gladly taken part in his a capella arrangements for songs like “Army” and “Not the Same.” But seeing it done for the first time with a new song — and wishing to God I could have been there to do it, too — is like witnessing Ben’s process for the first time. It’s at once cool and confounding — how on earth did he get it to sound so seamless? How long did he craft the arrangement by himself before trying it out on his audience/guinea pigs? It always works in the end, but the obvious preparation he put into this video in particular warrants new appreciation for his musical genius.

When I first heard Ben was collaborating with Nick Hornby, one of my favorite authors, for this album, I was thrilled. It didn’t immediately occur to me that I would get the chance to hear these songs live if I went to see Ben solo — they lived so perfectly together as one entity on Lonely Avenue that I couldn’t picture them out on their own in the wild concert halls across the continent. Now, I’m ready and willing to jump right in, playing living instrument to Ben’s madcap conductor.

As the song says,

I’m a genius, really, I’m excellent
Better than them, I kick their asses

The next time Ben needs someone to participate in a viral video, he knows who to call.

dirty little secrets

In February, my alma mater, the University at Albany, hosted a PostSecret art exhibit and presentation with the project’s founder, Frank Warren. Excited to hear about the event’s local arrival, I pitched the story to my editor, who agreed to let me write a couple articles, about both the exhibit and the presentation with Frank. I covered the exhibit’s opening, and obtained two press tickets to let me and my friend Maddy see Frank speak in front of several hundred UA students a few weeks later.

But before that, I was able to interview Frank in a more intimate setting, as he agreed to let me and a reporter for the Albany Student Press ask him a few questions ahead of time and in front of his documentary crew. Talk about pressure. I was a ball of nerves and anxiety, hoping I would ask unique enough questions that wouldn’t have him internally rolling his eyes and thinking “THIS again?!” — all while looking and sounding good for the camera. Did I mention we did the interview in a recital hall under stage lighting? I was literally hot under the collar/skirt/tights.

It took a while to get everything set up, Frank’s mic, the camera angle, and then the perfect position on stage for the three of us. My ASP counterpart and I were shuffled around more times than I can count, first asked to sit one way, then another, then switch places, then move our chairs so close together our thighs were touching. It was enough to make one dizzy with diva-dom. Are they getting my good side? I wondered as I nonchalantly flipped my hair for the thousandth time.

After about 20 minutes of maneuvering — and lots of looks of anxiety from our photographer, Jim, who I had brought along with me promising it would be a quick assignment and who had another job to shoot immediately afterward — we were ready to fire away. Our conversation with Frank was awesome. He was so warm and genuine and funny and, well, frank, and that day will go down as one of my favorite experiences as a journalist. It’s hard to accurately articulate what having a conversation like that with someone so influential and important to so many people really means. Suffice it to say, I was giddy for the rest of the day.

Of course, I could only include one or two quotes from my interview with Frank in my article, since I was also covering the PostSecret live event that evening and that was the crux of the story (a story that ended up being much shorter than the one I wanted to write — such is life at a small daily newspaper). But our chat was too great not to share. Inspired by my coworker Cecelia, who posted a transcript of a memorable, too-long-for-print interview over at her own blog, I’d like to post some extended excerpts from my Q&A with Frank.

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