Category Archives: celebration

i’d rather be a hippie than a hipster

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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.

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.

there is nothing like someone new

I’m moving to Albany next Friday.

I keep saying it, but it still seems unreal. The last few weeks have been teeming with Major Life Changes: I got a new job (in journalism! Finally! Huzzah!), I bought my first car (the brightest of bright reds), and I’m moving back to a city that I love and miss to move in with someone I love and miss. (I’m also pretty sure the laptop — or at least its hard drive — is lost and gone forever. Sigh.)

Frightened Rabbit‘s “Nothing Like You” has been another breath of fresh air,  soothing me amid the stress of all these changes and captivating me for the better part of last week, swirling still about my head six days after it first caught my ear.

This latest single from their forthcoming album, The Winter of Mixed Drinks, is nothing short of miraculous, joyously buoyant and ever so catchy. I dare you to watch this delightfully DIY video (far superior to its glossy counterpart) without cracking a smile:

As one YouTube user put it, “I can’t understand how this band aren’t a total chart destroying, globe-shagging phenomenon.” Indeed, these Scots have been pumping out great, slightly-under-the-radar albums since 2006, particularly 2008’s fierce, lovely The Midnight Organ Fight. But shout-outs in the pages of Esquire and repeated plays on shows like Chuck prove that the world is starting to take notice.

The greatest thing about “Nothing Like You” is that it’s essentially a scathing rebuke of an ex disguised in a shimmering pop package, topped off with a ribbon of jangling tambourines. The video depicts various band members and company bopping about to this chorus:

She was not the cure for cancer / And all my questions still asked for answers / But there is nothing like someone new/ And this girl she was nothing like you

All my Major Life Changes are exciting and terrifying, and as much as I try to assign them meaning, they will probably not end up as grandiosely Life-Changing as I assume them to be.

But there is nothing like something new — job, car, roommate, song, or otherwise — and I can thank Frightened Rabbit for that realization.

the post-birthday world

a selection of cards from my lovely friends.

Yesterday was a big day: Beethoven’s birthday!* Okay, so it was also my 24th. As I contemplate turning another year older, and inching further and further (farther and farther?) into my twenties, I think about all the things I’ve accomplished, and all the things I have yet to achieve.

(*Though I have to say I was disappointed with Peanuts‘ lack of recognition, considering all the build-up.)

At 23 I got a master’s degree, met the love of my life, finally started this long-gestating blog, and interviewed at my dream magazine. I still need to secure a job using said degree, move closer to the BF, update waaaaay more, and try to break my unofficial boycott of The Title That Shall Not Be Named.

Oh yeah, and read more books.

I used to read a book a week, sometimes more, but with school, the soul-suck of the job search, and endless traveling, it’s been hard to fit it in. Birthday to the rescue! I received three new books as presents, and I can’t wait to dive in: A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers, and About a Boy and Songbook by Nick Hornby.

I’ve wanted to read all three for ages, especially Songbook, and I’m positively giddy that now I can enjoy them at my leisure. And since I seem to have a lot of leisure time lately, that will hopefully be sooner rather than later.

the birthday book haul. (with bonus bananagrams gift in the background!)

I’m also going to try to write more here, and hope to bring you reviews of each title. I haven’t written a straight-up book review since about the sixth grade, when I’d complete countless fill-in-the-blank worksheets asking for characters, plot details, and my overall thoughts and grades of books I read in my spare time. I found a whole bunch of these reports recently, and they generally involved copious exclamation points and grades in the A+++ range. I’d like to think my tastes have become more discerning since then.

Also in the spirit of growing up, I’m attempting to make my baby blog a more real part of the ‘sphere by featuring some guest posts in the coming weeks. The first should be up today, with at least one more to follow. (Ahem, Mark.) If you’re interested in writing one, or have suggestions for something you think I should write, drop me a line at catchthesparks.blog@gmail.com.

I even have a blog email now — how’s that for adult?

PS: Check out the site my flatmate Jaime made for me. This girl is talented (and thoughtful), no?

it’s the final countdown

I’ve always loved reading Peanuts, Charles M. Schulz’s classic comic depicting Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the rest of the Peanuts Gang. One of my favorite characters is Schroeder, the precocious, piano-playing Beethoven worshipper, and Lucy’s unrequited love.

Schroeder’s connection to Beethoven always brought me immense joy, and not just because I count myself as one of the great composer’s fans. Beethoven and I share a birthday — December 16 — and just about every year, Peanuts and Schroeder mark the occasion.

You can understand my delight, then, when I read today’s comics and came upon this:

Peanuts

The countdown to my/Beethoven’s birthday has officially begun! But you probably already knew that.

Do you share your birthday with someone famous? Leave their names — and your gift ideas for me — in the comments.

jump, jive, and whales

twitter's popular "fail whale" error message.

twitter's "fail whale" error message makes me seriously consider joining the site. © Yiying Lu

Batten down your hatches, landlubbers, for I’m about to tell ye a tale.

Whales are my favorite animals, a love I can trace back to an obsession with the movie Free Willy* and annual childhood trips to MarineLand. I still have a stuffed orca, Whaley, from one of those visits, who may or may not still sit on my bed.

(*Yes, I know that killer whales are more closely related to dolphins. But considering they’re the BAMFs of the ocean, I think of them as one of the family. Plus their genus name, Orcinus, means “from hell.” Awesome.)

I’m a sucker for these sea-dwelling creatures in any material form they may take. Calendars, posters, jewelry, anatomically incorrect Beanie Babies, even one of those horrendous spray-painted t-shirts from the mall — I have owned and treasured them all.

Today my collection is considerably pared down, but my eyes and ears still perk up at the slightest mention of anything whale-related. That’s why I was delighted to come across Heart on a Stick‘s A Goddamned Guide to All These Goddamned Whale Bands. (Part Two is here.) Whales and music served up with a side of snark? Yes please!

The list is exhaustive (“but not comprehensive,” warns the author. “I left out Namu the Disco Whale, just to be mean.”), featuring dozens of whale-monikered artists. Who knew that Whale is the new black? (Or Wolf/Bear/Hands/Tapes/Cassettes/Crystal, as the case may be.)

I thoroughly recommend reading through the whole Guide, which is sprinkled with wit (my favorite!), fun facts, and a few pretty good bands. WALL•E and Fudgie the Whale also get shout-outs.

The best offerings from a musical standpoint are The Devil Whale and Freelance Whales:

Freelance Whales, whose vocalist reminds me of The Format and synthesizers of Hellogoodbye, is also blessed with one of my favorite names of the bunch. As a freelance writer, I feel for these guys; I can just imagine some poor, frustrated porpoise trying to scrape together a living as a whale.* This is what happens when I’m left alone with my thoughts.

(*Actually, “freelance whale” is a pretty fitting description for the orca.)

Other contenders for best name include:

  •  British Whale: While the name is a combination straight out of my own personal version of heaven, the usually-entertaining Justin Hawkins (of The Darkness fame) disappoints here with only two tracks, both abysmal.
  • Prints of Whales: Another fantastic juxtaposition, this time adding puns to the whales and Britishness. Their MySpace page offers the cheeky tagline “Putting the ‘O’ back into Cuntry,” plus the most giggle-inducing friends list I’ve seen in quite some time. (Thank you, Scrotum Clamp and Gob$au$age.) If it weren’t for the fact that I don’t like their music, I’d be in love. As it is, I’m still slightly smitten.
  • Simien the Whale: Named for a misheard Rusted Root lyric, though I question the band’s ignorance. This song is a classic.

I’ll stop here for fear of ruining the rest of the list’s lustre. Suffice it to say, it’s a worthy venture if you’re up for a whale of a time, mateys.