Best of 2015 (A Personal List)

December 30, 2015 at 6:22 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , )

One of my favorite recurring posts that I do is a top 10 list of my favorite albums from 2015. I effed it up last year and didn’t do a list (spoiler: the top album was Taylor Swift’s 1989), but I won’t be repeating that mistake again!

Here are my personal rules for this list: 2015 needed to be the first time I heard the album–I couldn’t have heard more than a single off of any of the albums released prior to this year and they had to be albums by a single artist/group, no compilations.

If you’re curious, here are my top 10 lists from 2012 and 2013. A lot of really wonderful music showed up for me in 2015, and top to bottom this might be my favorite group of tunes yet, though had I done one for 2014 the combo of Yes!/1989/Lights Out probably would have given this one a run for it’s money. Actually, that’s a lie, but it’s mostly because of the album that takes the top spot on this list. If you know me, you already know what it is, but are you willing to wait for it?

10. Chasing Rubies (EP); Hudson Taylor (2013)

The #10 album on my list is actually an EP, consisting of 4 songs from the Irish folk duo Hudson Taylor. I love acoustic guitars and sweet harmonies; this album has both in spades. What it lacks in length it makes up for in quality, and the fact that I’ve listened to it about a thousand times lets this album sneak onto the list. Though all 4 tracks are wonderful, my favorite is “Butterflies.”

9. The Silent War; The Silent War (2015)

I discovered the Silent War quite by accident when they opened for The Weepies at a show in Portland this summer. I was immediately impressed enough to get this album (or rather have my friend Rebecca buy me their self titled album, since she insisted on paying me back for the Weepies ticket. Great idea, Rebecca!). This album, coincidentally, also features an acoustically oriented duo in Garrison Starr and Adrian Gonzalez (who you might know from The Rescues). My favorite track off this album is “Some Kind of Soldiers,” which features one of my favorite lines in ANY song from 2015 – this is the silent war/this is what we’re fighting for/reclaiming victories that we’ve already won. I can also award myself some serious hipster points for this entry, since their album is not yet out in digital format. You’ve got to have a physical CD. I assume that will change shortly, but for now…super underground. Where’s the line to renew my Portland card?

8. Days Are Gone; HAIM (2013)

If you had asked me 4 months into 2015 “Jordan, what’s your best album of 2015? I would have given you the #2 entry on this list. However, I would have quickly added that it barely grasped that spot, because this album is GREAT. How it took me 2 years to get on the HAIM train I’ll never know. Eventually, though, I did get on, and I LOVE this album. “Jordan,” you say, “what the hell is it doing all the way back here at #8 then?” Sadly, there was a lot of fantastic music this year, and I honestly think it’s mostly recency bias that pushes Days Are Gone to the back of a logjam at the midsection of this list. I could have put 5-8 in any order and I would have felt good about myself. For better or worse, though, it ends up here. My favorite track off this album is “The Wire.” It rhymes with fire, which is what this album is.

7. Safe Travels; Jukebox the Ghost (2012)

In what I feel is most appropriately described as a musical blend of Billy Joel and A Great Big World, Jukebox the Ghost is an outfit I first heard this year opening up for Ingrid Michaelson at Edgefield. While they have a more recent album as well, it paled in comparison to 2012’s Safe Travels. This album is both excellent AND takes the listener on an emotional roller coaster. You can be rocking out one moment and listening to what is almost an introspective lullaby the next. I really enjoy these guys. My favorite track on the album is “Don’t Let Me Fall Behind.”

6. So There; Ben Folds & Ymusic (2015)

Ben Folds is one of 4 artists gracing this list that have appeared here before (I guess I know what I like), but So There might be one of the more interesting selections I’ve ever put on a favorite albums list simply because the last 3 tracks of the album are 3 movements of a concerto. I am not usually big into instrumental music, but I really enjoy what he’s done blending something of a pop sound with the classical music genre. My favorite track on the album, however, is “I’m Not The Man,” which…woof. Feelings.

5. How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful; Florence + The Machine (2015)

Florence + the Machine is a longstanding favorite of mine, and she did it again with How Big, How Blue, How Beautiful. Chock full of jams and ballads (and jammin’ ballads), this album is big and beautiful. It feels more purple than blue to me, though, for whatever that’s worth. It also contains what might just be my favorite song of 2015, “Which Witch.” Not only is it fantastic wordplay, it’s definitely the song I belted in the car most in 2015. It’s definitely the reason this album moved to the front of a crowd of really solid albums I talked about in the Days Are Gone section.

4. Sirens; The Weepies (2015)

We’re out of the logjam section now! The final 4 albums on this list are just SO. DAMN. GOOD. There’s a clear winner, sure, but this is where we ascend to the next musical tier in my mind. The Weepies make another appearance on an end of year list for me, and add an extra layer of awesomeness by introducing me to the #9 album. The Weepies are absolutely one of my favorite bands, and Sirens, recorded while Deb Tannen was going through cancer treatment, is a beautiful piece of work. Not much I can say about the Weepies that I haven’t said before, but from the first haunting chords of “River from the Sky” I was hooked on this record. It’s incredibly hard for me to pick a favorite off this album; every track is a win. However, if pressured, I would pick “Crooked Smile.”

3. What’s Inside: Songs from Waitress; Sara Bareilles (2015)

The first musical on this list (oh no…have I said too much?) isn’t exactly a musical at all, but rather a collection of songs from the new Broadway musical Waitress. In fact, if you didn’t know better you might assume this is just a Sara Bareilles album. It’s quintessentially her, and reminds me a lot of Kaleidoscope Heart. The fact that she brings in Jason Mraz to do the duets with her doesn’t hurt, either. Fun fact about Waitress: it’s the first Broadway show with an all female creative team! It’s the kind of progressiveness you might expect from one of the premier artists of our time. I love Sara Bareilles, and I love this album. My favorite track is “I Didn’t Plan It,” which is both musically awesome and exceptionally appropriate for people in the midst of transitions.

2. Carrie & Lowell; Sufjan Stevens (2015)

Sufjan Stevens…another longtime favorite, another artist with an album on this list. I got the chance to see him perform last summer, and my god it was worth every penny. The man is brilliant. This album is brilliant. A sort of love letter to his late mother, this album drips with emotion. I will also always love it because I listened to it a ton in Asia, and that association will always stick with me…falling asleep on the other side of the planet, listening to the strum of a guitar. The opening track, “Death with Dignity,” remains my favorite.

1. Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording); 2015

How does a bastard orphan son of a whore and a Scotsman dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean by providence impoverished in squalor, grow up to be a hero and a scholar? Listen to the musical Hamilton and you’ll find out! I could talk until I’m blue in the face about how wonderful this music is, how important it is (on a number of different levels), about all the cool musical and historical things that happen in this show…but honestly, if you’re reading this you probably know me and therefore are painfully aware of my love for Hamilton. I love this show for a number of reasons, but I might most love it because my first term of grad school was really hard in a lot of ways, and Hamilton was there for it. There were days when literally the only thing getting me through was this show – days where I was stressed and upset and wanted to give up. But Hamilton didn’t, and neither did I. In the darker moments this show was there for me, in whatever ways, and I will always be grateful for that. #1 in my heart and #1 on this list for 2015. My favorite track? So hard to pick…but either “The Room Where it Happens” or “Hurricane.” You could probably convince me in 5 minutes to change my mind to any song in the show, though.

 

Honorable Mention: Forest Fires (EP); Axel Flovent (2015)

 

I’m always looking for new tunes, so if I egregiously whiffed on something in 2015, let me know! Maybe it’ll make it onto next year’s list 🙂

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I Didn’t Plan It

November 13, 2015 at 8:20 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , , )

Plans are funny things. We try to predict the future (with mixed success), but there’s always going to be something that jumps out at you unexpectedly. I’ve been listening quite a bit to Sara Bareilles’ new album “What’s Inside,” which is a collection of songs from her new musical Waitress. It’s really good – you should listen to it. One of the main themes that resonates with me, though, is the idea that life throws things at you that you can’t expect. You can either let that throw you off, or you can embrace the challenge.

I didn’t plan it / but the light turned red and I ran it / and I’m still standing 

I understand it / a story written by my own hands / life biting right at your heels

I used to think to myself “how different can grad school be from undergrad?” The answer is that it can be oh so very different. You don’t know what you don’t know, as they say. Still, it’s an exciting time, and we do try to plan to the best of our ability as to how best to get through it. I’ve decided on a thesis topic, which is pretty exciting! We technically call our theses “MPP Essays,” but functionally it’s the same thing. There are just slightly different semantic requirements, is all. Fortunately, I get to choose what I do my thesis on. Grad school is really challenging, though. Part of that is on myself and my own time management skills, and some of it is because there’s a ton of material to get through. Everyone keeps telling me that the first term is the hardest, so I’m holding on to that. For instance, this weekend I have 2 papers due Monday, one due Tuesday, and an Economics exam on Wednesday (just worth like 30% of my grade, no big). This, of course, on top of my GTA research. One the one hand, what a great opportunity! On the other hand, holy shit this is going to be a busy weekend. I don’t help myself too much by procrastinating on a Friday night, but I tell myself that writing myself into a better state of mind isn’t the worst way to spend it. A little self care is important, too. That’s my plan!

I didn’t plan it / taking back what’s been taking for granted / ‘cuz I can’t stand it / I’m sick of the way I’ve been waiting to break free

I need saving / And a good mistake needed making / maybe you need the same thing

Shifting gears, I’ve also been thinking somewhat about long term plans. What am I going to do after grad school? Am I going to die alone? Is it too soon to be thinking about the post-Grad School dog that I’m invariably going to get? Should I already be feeling guilty about wanting a pug when there are lots of wonderful shelter dogs? Are these really the plans to be making when the final sprint to the end of the term is staring me in the face? Will I ever break my habit of writing entire paragraphs of rhetorical questions? (The answers, if you’re curious, are: doesn’t matter yet, probably, of course not, yes – but I could get TWO dogs…they could be friends!, it’s all about balance, and nah that ain’t me, respectively)

Ok, time to be productive. #notthrowingawaymyshot

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Satisfied

October 25, 2015 at 3:37 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

I love the rain, especially in the fall. The way it sounds falling on the roof. The smell in the air. It’s important to remember the things you love when life gets crazy.

When I haven’t been doing grad work I’ve been listening to Hamilton (a new musical) basically nonstop for the past two weeks. It’s incredible. You should check it out. One of the big themes in the show is this idea of Hamilton never being satisfied – he has to keep going nonstop all the time. His ambition allows him to attain dizzying heights, but it also leads to his political downfall and eventual death in a duel against Aaron Burr. I think that theme, though, dissatisfaction, affects all of us in various ways. We all have things about ourselves or our lives that we’re unhappy with, and we deal with it in a multitude of ways. I want to lose weight, I want to get better grades, I want a partner, if I only had x or y I would be finally happy, etc. Sometimes we drink to forget, sometimes we distract ourselves, sometimes we take action and change ourselves. Sometimes the things we want to be different are things that we can work on fixing. In those circumstances it’s important to take it day by day. Everyone (myself included) seems to feel that everything is a race across a finish line – if I do this one thing, I will finally be happy. I will finally be satisfied. It’s important to look at our goals day by day and moment by moment, though, because life is just one long continuation. It’s just one process. We’re never done. We are constantly “being.” The more we can become OK with that, the happier we will be. You have to be kind to yourself.

For today, though, I am mostly thinking about the things that are not under our control. I’ll say it again – you have to be kind to yourself. No one is perfect. No one has all the answers. Most of us have very few answers. I don’t particularly trust people who tell you they have all the answers (maybe that’s why I can be a bit standoffish toward organized religion as a general concept). Something I try to do is be OK with not knowing. I want to have the answers, but the world is large. Can I be enough, just being me? What if I fail? What if I do something stupid in front of my classmates, my peers, my professors? I know I really want to be liked; to be loved. What if no one does? What if I have all these implicit biases, and I say something hurtful? Can I atone for the mistakes I’ve made? Can I make less in the future? I’ve been mostly single for the past three years, does that say something about me? Can I be satisfied with myself? Can I be satisfied with someone else in my life eventually? Can I stop asking rhetorical questions? Am I wasting my time writing this now instead of working on my paper that’s due tomorrow?

I’m afraid of all those things, but I need to be OK with being afraid. That fear, I believe, is normal. Grad school is supposed to be hard. Your mid-20s are supposed to be a time of transition. As a book I read would say, it is the “defining decade” of your life. It’s about building a foundation of a house that won’t ever be truly finished. It’s the first verse of the song of your life, and you get to play it in real time. Every moment of my life needs to be enough. I need to be able to find satisfaction in my life, and find motivation in my dissatisfaction. Eckhart Tolle says “Accept – then act. Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it. Always work with it, not against it.” Where would I rather be than right here, right now? I am me because of everything that has happened; me in everything that IS happening. I am luckier than many.

I could be thoughtful. That would be enough.

I could sit here, in this moment. Live here, because this moment is all there is. That would be enough.

I could view myself with kindness. That would be enough.

I could take one step toward my goals. That would be enough.

I could love, even when I’m upset. That would be enough.

I could make a mistake. That would be enough.

I could fail. That would be enough.

I could go confidently in the direction of my dreams. I could go unconfidently in the direction of my dreams. I could stall out for a while and stare at the wall. That would be enough.

I am enough.

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My Shot

October 12, 2015 at 10:52 pm (Uncategorized) (, , , )

I’ve been writing a lot lately. Reading quite a bit too. For better or worse, though, it has all been academic. I definitely feel like I’m finally getting my sea legs back under me in that regard, so to speak – 4+ years out of the classroom requires a bit of getting up to speed. Fortunately school has always been a skill of mine, so it’s all coming back.

I felt it was important for me to take a bit of time here, though, for some self reflection and honesty with myself. Writing has always been therapeutic, and I tend to treat this blog as more of a journal than anything else, so here we go…

Much like the beginning of a football game or a performance, beginning any new project doesn’t really start until you have take that first hit or sing those first couple notes. For me, that happened last week with my first grad school paper. It was 2 pages – nothing massive – but it was my first chance to prove to myself that I was capable of doing the work at this level. It’s one thing to intuitively feel it, but actually getting into the grind is another thing entirely. My first paper happened to go relatively well, but that just means that I need to continue to up the ante and get as much out of this program as I can.

I think sometimes about the idea of building a house. A small error in putting together the foundation can lead to big structural problems 2 or 3 stories up. It’s important to really take advantage of the time I have early to learn the basics (especially in research methodology and economics, where my background is not as strong) so that I can build my skill set in a way that will be effective. I’m trying to get into a routine that allows me to get everything done I need to get done, lets me be as social as I need to be for my mental health, and keeps me at least relatively active. The balancing act is one that definitely can be done, but it requires some thought and a lot of tinkering here and there to really make it work for me.

Speaking of social life, I feel quite grateful that I have met so many interesting, passionate, intelligent, and fun people here in Corvallis and the MPP program. I’m very lucky that my roommates just happen to be great humans as well. Life is always better when you get along with the people you live with. At the same time, though, I do miss many of my friends who are in the Portland metro, flung across the northwest, and beyond. There is a certain sadness inherent in transition, I think, that is neither good or bad. It simply is. As my life changes, there is a bit of melancholy knowing that nothing will be the same. We can’t remain static. I don’t want to be static – I want to learn new things and meet new people, hear the songs that I will sing to my children someday (if I have them), and maybe fall in love and out of love or at least have some interesting stories about dates I went on.

I can’t say that this is exactly what I imagined for myself at 25, but then again, I don’t know if I really imagined anything specific about 25 in the first place. It’s exciting. It’s new. It’s challenging. I’m in uncharted waters. I’m in a place that feels very different from just about anyone I knew before I came here. I’m trying really hard to be here, where I am, in any given moment. I’m trying to be myself in a world that thinks I’m too nice, or too yielding, or too whimsical. I want to change the world. I want to change myself. I want to feel like there is no distinction between those two sentences. I want to have all the answers. That’s actually untrue…I enjoy the mystery. What I really want is more comfort with uncertainty. I want to make my family and friends proud of me. I would like to leave people’s lives a bit brighter than I found them.

Just have to keep heading onward and upward.

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Song for a Friend

September 10, 2015 at 9:16 am (Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

Weddings generally make me thoughtful. Now, they also make me want to party the night away with friends, family, and strangers, but once the party part has passed, they make me thoughtful. I think it’s inevitable – you see people making a HUGE life choice and you say to yourself, “they were probably pretty thoughtful about this. What about you?” To the extent that we all can’t help but compare ourselves to others, I find myself taking mental notes about what I liked and didn’t like for my own potential wedding someday. I also think it’s pretty natural for single people at a wedding to wonder about what their future love life has in store. Those things are interesting, certainly, but they weren’t the dominant feelings I was experiencing.

Rather, I found myself filled with gratitude.

Gratitude for the fact that I have such wonderful/caring/fun/talented/sweet friends, gratitude for the fact that all the variances of life brought me to such a joyful moment, gratitude for the fact that everyone puts up with my silliness. Gratitude for the fact that you can be far away from people and always pick up right where you left off. I’m grateful that everyone is just a text message away if I want to hear from them. Happiness that I can be absolutely ridiculous, and my friends will not only accept but embrace it. Gratitude that I have so much that I can learn from the way that they live their lives and their friendship.

I think that the best way to be a positive change in the world is by being kind and loving to everyone you come across. Big, sweeping, societal changes are good (and needed!), but positive change needs to come from each of us individually, as well. I know I’m not always perfect – I can be kinder, more open to others, more generous with my time and attention, and more compassionate. The trick is to keep working at it, ESPECIALLY when you don’t feel like it, and then to be kind to yourself when you inevitably have a bad day and lash out at someone for no reason, ignore someone, or when you just can’t seem to get anything right. There’s always tomorrow – always an opportunity to be your best self.

The Dalai Lama posted something relevant on Facebook this morning:
“Change in ourselves and in the world in which we live may not take place in a hurry: it will take time. But if we don’t make an effort nothing will happen at all. Change will not take place because of decisions taken by governments or the UN. Real change will take place when individuals transform themselves guided by the values that lie at the core of all human ethical systems, scientific findings, and common sense.”

So we all have to do it ourselves. We have to take care of ourselves, of others, of the world around us. I guess that’s why weddings are great – it’s an excuse to throw off the societal constraints we sometimes have about being open and truly tell the people we love how we feel about them. It’s about two people making a commitment to one another, but also about everyone at the wedding to let them know that the love they experience is not limited to theirs. We’re all here for you; we love you too. We feel the abounding joy that comes when we let ourselves freely love other people. It makes you happier to wish and work towards happiness for others.

We can be the change. We can be the love. We can do things for each other and let a rising tide lift all boats, rather than be selfishly focused on our own self-interest. We can all kick ass and be awesome together. It’s about blurring the lines that divide us, to stop seeing the “other” and start seeing yourself in the faces of the people you encounter.

As far as general life updates…

So far Corvallis has been treating me well! My roommates are great, the town seems fun, and I’m excited to jump into my program and start working. I think the next two years will be a great experience, an excellent career launch point, and full of personal growth and adventure.

Football starts today! I’m very excited, even if the two teams playing make me wish they could both lose. It’s like Christmas, if Christmas also came with a bunch of reservations about head trauma, hyper-masculinity, and the exploitation of persons of color. It’s a complicated love affair, to be sure.

I’m trying to be better about writing more consistently, especially as I will have to write much more for grad school, and I haven’t had the experience of pumping out tons of text in the last few years. I’m going to see if I can either write or run (or both!) every day. No promises, but that’s the goal I’m working towards.

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