Decent record here, it’s heartening to see veterans playing around with new tones and ideas over a decade into their career. This is one where you can’t really get hung up on the score, I think — it’s just a really small piece of how I feel about the album, and it doesn’t really matter. If you want to sample it first, head for “Sisters” or “The Rains of May.”
The last few weeks have been pretty busy with “real” work, writing, and travel, so here are some quick and dirty links to reviews that have been published during that time:
I reviewed Slow Club’s excellent new album Complete Surrender for Pitchfork.
I reviewed Woman’s Hour’s promising debut Conversations for Pitchfork.
I reviewed Jenny Lewis’ strong return to the spotlight The Voyager for Myspace.
I also had a lovely time in Chicago for Pitchfork’s music festival. It was great to see plenty of friends who come up often (or did, once) in this dashboard or my Twitter feed. I love going to P4kfest because it’s the rare chance I have to put on my music critic drag; when I went back to work on Tuesday, all I could think about was the time I spent living my second life in a different country. I can’t wait to go back next year.
I hope you’re having a nice week, and thanks for reading.
Oh, also: I’ll be in Chicago next weekend for Pitchfork’s music festival. This is the third year in a row I’ve attended; I start looking forward to the next year’s edition about a day after the previous one finishes. It’s a great time for any attendee, well-run and still relatively small and packed with good music, but there’s an added “adult summer camp” layer for music writers: lots of people you know from the Internet show up, you run into people you might not see all year (or ever) otherwise, you can drink together and talk shop and shoot the shit and hang out with all of your favourite Twitter avatars and bylines. (I don’t know if the weekend has this feel for writers who work out of major media centres, i.e. New York. But I write in isolation, connect with peers and editors online, and work full-time in a non-writing field; P4kfest is the one weekend a year where I really get to dress up in my “legitimate music journalist” drag and play around, and I love it.) I’m especially excited for this year because a) I’m bringing a friend, for the first time ever, and b) this is my first visit to the U.S. since turning 21.
I know a few of you are attending for sure, but if you’re going to make it out next weekend and you’d like to meet up and chat for a few minutes and catch a few songs or something, feel free to put a message in my askbox and we’ll sort it out. Can’t wait!
I love this song and I jumped at the chance to write something a little longer than your average track blurb, both about its musical merit and how it marks another step towards a different echelon of pop stardom for Grande. I hope you like it too!
This album largely fails to deliver on the promise of “Chandelier,” which remains an excellent single but is rendered an outlier by its quality here. But hey, maybe you’ll like this record more than I did! (I hope you do.) Thanks for reading.
A complicated question, to be sure — hope you don’t mind if I turn it into a little meditation on process and personal growth before talking about actual people.
I spend a lot of time thinking about the kind of writer I want to be, and the answer I give myself has changed over time. When I first starting writing in earnest, I was really concerned with voice and style. I wanted to be distinct, to write with a certain panache and flair, to handle sentences in ways that would make people sigh behind their monitors and think, “Damn, I wish I had written that.” But as time has gone on and I’ve gotten more practice I’ve come to believe that I’m just not that kind of writer, and transforming into such a writer would take an amount of time and energy that I’m not in a position to expend, not with a full-time job and other commitments and a natural inclination towards a different style.
So now I focus on expressing my ideas with the most clarity and precision I can summon, and I try to do it with a kind of grace. I was thinking about this question and my response earlier tonight and I kept coming back to the word “gentle,” which can be a dangerous word for a critic: you need a bit of incisiveness, a willingness to cut and slash whether you’re editing or explaining why something rubs you the wrong way. But “gentle” works for me, I think, if you believe a well made bed or a nicely manicured park can be gentle. I try to come at each new topic with an open mind and a positive attitude, and I try to keep everything very clean, and I focus on ideas and structure instead of agonizing over the perfect word or the knock-out punchlines I don’t really have a talent for anyway. This is where I’ve settled right now. I don’t know, maybe people see my work in an entirely different light, and I’ve got myself all wrong; the way we see ourselves is inevitably warped. But I think I’ve got it pretty close.
I can start by mentioning a few writers who have influenced my conscious practice of this particular style. Some non-musical authors include Alice Munro, Haruki Murakami, and Michael Chabon when he tamps down his experimental streak and focuses on direct sections of prose. I’m currently reading Siddhartha Mukherjee’s The Emperor of All Maladies and that’s a good example too, it’s a book that explores the tangled and long history of cancer in a very clear and understandable fashion. As for music critics, I tend to think of them in two groups: writers who are a fair bit older than I am (like, at least a decade or so), and people who are closer to my age (or a little older) that came up around the same time, whether on Tumblr or somewhere else. Without getting into specifics — because I’m going to ask them to read this post via a bunch of networks, and I don’t want to make people feel bad about getting left off some off-the-cuff list of writers I like — I’ve derived the most influence from the writers who I think are doing the best kind of work I described above: not overly showy or reliant on voice or gimmickry, very precise, impeccably structured, leaning towards kindness, open to new sounds and perspectives. (And if you really want some names and links, send me an email.)
Just out of curiosity, how did you become a writer? Im interested in becoming a writer myself but I'm not sure how I should improve my writing.
I’ve written about this a few times before (and will include relevant links below) but for me, it was as simple as firing up a Tumblr and making connections with the writers I admired who were also active on the platform. They noticed my work and shared it with some of their colleagues, and the resulting attention was enough to help me build a small audience of peers and make a few connections. This was a little over three years ago, and it might be more difficult now — the dynamics of the music writing community on Tumblr have changed a little bit, and if you look around you’ll find plenty of good writing on that topic — but I think the same principles apply no matter the platform: practice your craft and make an effort to participate in what we casually term a “community of practice” in my “real” workplace, and good things will happen for you.
In the same vein, the best way to improve your writing is to practice, and to supplement that practice with active reading of the writers you admire and who have different experiences than your own. I think everyone from the greenest blogger to the most successful and respected critic in the country would tell you the same.
I wrote about joining the music writing “community” on Tumblr here, about a year and a half ago; I shared some thoughts about coming up as a writer, and the field in general, here, last summer. And I stand by pretty much everything I shared in those two posts, though of course I’d flesh them out with some new bits now. If I could only add one, it’d be something like this: work really hard at treading the line between seeming professional and sounding like a robot. Re: professionalism, it seems obvious, but you see it all the time: don’t get into mindless beefs with other writers, don’t shit talk publications you’ve worked with on Twitter, support your peers and people whose voices might not be as prominent as yours, be timely with your copy and invoices, etc. etc. The “seeming human” thing is harder, somehow, but there are so many little things that matter: don’t plug your pieces too many times (a fine line, to be sure), don’t engage with other writers just for connections or “networking” purposes, don’t hop on memes if you don’t actually get what they’re about, show some personality. You can just tell when someone in your feed is really, really sweating their self-promotion or their conversations with someone. You don’t want to be the person sweating.
And I know I’m saying all this like it’s super easy and intuitive, but of course it’s not! It’s really, really hard work, and I think people who are inclined towards writing might have an even harder time navigating the line than your average extrovert or social butterfly: many of us are interior, semi-awkward people. That inward focus and unflinching eye yields some of the best writing out there. I think I’m pretty good at maintaining the balance, but it’s something I think about all the time, both as a writer and in every other realm of my life. Like any other skill worth cultivating, it takes time and effort to make it work.
Anyway, thanks for giving me the opportunity to wax poetic — I’m always happy to talk process, I think it’s healthy to do it once in a while. I have another writing-related ask coming up tonight, so keep an eye out for that.
Decent guitar-pop record here, the guitars are what really stand out for me — Drew Citron, who wrote these songs, has a great ear for tone and texture that helps to make them pop even when the melodies aren’t particularly memorable or strong. If you’re a genre enthusiast, this album will probably work for you, but I can’t see it transcending those admittedly blurry lines. As always, thanks for reading.
I wrote two reviews for Pitchfork, covering Shamir’s debut EP Northtown (idiosyncratic, battered house) and Tomas Barfod’s new full-length Love Me(polite, rhythmically driven Danish synth-pop).
I also have a new piece in last Friday’s issue of TIME, on rising Brits Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith. You can read the first paragraph or so here, though the remainder is behind a paywall for subscribers — hope you’ll consider picking up the magazine and giving it a read! (I’ll have a copy sometime next week.)
I had my convocation this weekend, meaning I’m officially a Real Adult, or something like that. A picture of my diploma is below. It’s scary, trying to define yourself without being able to use the word “student”; it’s been a nice crutch for the last five years. There’s a solid Tumblr post in me somewhere about the way things have changed even in the six weeks between finishing exams and getting my degree, how a half-decade’s worth of maturation and slow growth just clicked into place. It feels like levelling up. But anyway! I somehow have a degree in chemical engineering and management science that I’ll almost surely never use in any traditional sense, and it feels great, and I can’t believe it’s over.
Sébastien Tellier’s latest is a musical reimagining of his childhood inspired by the sights of sounds of Brazil rather than the reality of his French home. Veteran French musicians Jean-Michel Jarre and Philippe Zdar of house duo Cassius contribute, along with celebrated Brazilian composer Arthur Verocai and Brazilian jazz drummer Robertinho Silva.
This is a very good album from a veteran pop polymath; I’d even call it a pleasant surprise. It’s not out internationally until the middle of July, but if you’re curious there are ways to hear it now. I had a lot of fun writing this review; Tellier is a compelling character. Thanks for reading.
I know what you’re thinking: “Seriously, another one? Don’t you have a full-time job? Why are you writing so much? Is your head coming apart at the seams?” To which I can only respond, yes! yes, I do! because I can’t say no! a little bit, yeah!
But anyway: I liked this album a lot, and I don’t usually write about country so it was fun and challenging to step outside of my comfort zone. The harmonies on this album can’t help but catch light. It sounds very rich, and very exact; I was saying to someone the other day that all of the arrangements are perfectly calibrated to complement the songs’ lyrical sentiments, or to summon very specific feelings, like woozily hanging out at a bonfire while stuck in romantic limbo. That’s the one conjured by my favourite song on this album, “Smokin’ and Drinkin’.” So if you’re interested in that sort of specificity, or if you appreciate a big, bright, classic voice, this album will make you happy.
I wrote a bunch for TIME’s half-year tracks list: Ariana Grande, Allie X, Future Islands, Chromeo, Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey, Real Estate, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, Todd Terje… they’re all in there. There are plenty of other great songs folded into the list, too, so check it out if you’re in the mood for a recap of 2014 thus far.
I think this might be the first review of this album out there — it’s one of the first, for sure. I worked hard to get it done last night after work. I think Sheeran is really interesting because of the way he combines and moves between genres in an effortless, seemingly natural way — that’s a comment that’s often made about artists like Grimes, or other more indie-leaning members of the “post-Internet” generation, but I think it can be applied equally to Sheeran. Anyway, this album, x, is worth checking out. “Thinking Out Loud” is one of my favourite songs of the year thus far. Thanks for reading.
The Swedish songbird and Norwegian duo pick back up where they left off for a five-song mini-album. Opinions may vary, but the project sure bangs.
For a project that’s largely just three friends spitballing, this is a total triumph: reasonably adventurous, occasionally sprawling, always catchy. Robyn remains a singularly intriguing vocalist: few people can navigate sterile, cool environments like she can. “Sayit,” one of my favourite songs this year, would fall apart without her. She’s the core, the beating heart and the calm taskmaster, the linchpin. Anyway, this is worth your time, glad I had the chance to write about it.
I bought new running shoes yesterday on a whim. Our new apartment is right across the street from a Running Room, and when I get off the bus after work I have to walk right past it on my way up King St. to Erb St., where I wait for the light to change. I was in there looking for a water bottle belt, but I saw the pair on sale and thought about my old pair sitting in my closet, battered black and yellow Nikes too skinny for my wide feet and marred by little rips in the black mesh that covers the top of the shoe. I asked to try them on, size 10 and electric blue, and five minutes later I was carrying them home in their red and white box, along with the belt I had came for in the first place.
The new shoes are made by New Balance, and they are mind-bogglingly light. They weigh just over six ounces a shoe, which makes them two or three ounces lighter than my old ones, and picking them up is an unsettling experience at first. Looking at them in my palm, I can’t shake the feeling that they should just be heavier, like some basic physical laws are being violated. For several years, the running shoe industry has been trending towards lighter and lighter shoe weights, a direct result of the minimal/barefoot running craze that, like most things, is equal parts valid and bullshit. While there’s no real benefit to running without shoes — in fact, it can cause serious long-term damage to your feet — runners at any level can potentially benefit, in terms of speed and efficiency, from wearing a lighter pair. This new pair is one of the lightest currently available.
To neutral observers, the furor over slicing mere ounces or milligrams from shoes that are being worn by humans weighing hundreds of pounds must seem ridiculous. There’s undoubtedly some robust explanation rooted in real, practical physics out there, but I’m writing this immediately after running with these new shoes for the first time, and all I can do in this moment to counter that obvious ridiculousness is explain the difference in feel and hope you trust me.
Think back to some instance where you’ve had to run quickly and without thinking. Your dog has gotten off its leash, and is tearing away down the street; a basketball has taken an unexpected bounce and is rolling towards a wooded creek (this was a common problem for me growing up, anyway); you’ve left your wallet in a cab and it’s accelerating, changing lanes, leaving your house. When we have to run like this, we never think about our feet. Our minds are consumed by the sheer urgency of the situation, and no part of our consciousness is lingering on the energy required to lift our feet off the ground, or the angle at which we’re striking the pavement. We’re totally focused on reaching our destination and achieving our objective.
I can’t speak for other people who run for sport, but I find it very difficult to achieve this mental state when I’m making a conscious decision to go out and run. I wrote a bit about performing in that state a few days ago as a means of writing about Todd Terje, but that’s a rare, fleeting period of peak performance. Most of the time I vacillate between thinking about technique and thinking about pain. With which part of my foot am I striking the ground? Am I turning my ankle enough? Is my back aching on the lower left side because I sat funny at work today? Would I have this acid gurgle in my throat if I drank more water? Should I be doing speedwork? Why is the “We Made It” beat so sharp in these headphones? Is this what it means to pass your physical peak? This will be so much worse in a decade.
All of this legwork to say that wearing these new shoes, it has never been easier to find and reside in that zone where I’m always chasing something, around the next corner or at the next light, and that’s the only thing I really have to think about. They slap the ground with a light thwock that reminds me of bedroom slippers. Picking my feet up off the ground feels simple and leisurely. My focus can shift from pain and technique to a sort of nothingness. (The pain will still come later, of course; my calves are going to feel like cinderblocks tomorrow.) I ran for an hour in moderate heat this afternoon and it kept spinning through my head that it shouldn’t be this easy.
I sometimes waste too much time agonizing over the big decisions: where to live, the work I do, the people I want to be around. That’s a function of my brain and the stage in life I’m passing through right now, I guess. It can be stressful, and it can lead to the disease of “what if?” For an hour or so, it was refreshing to revel in the impact of a mere two or three ounces.
This review is also going to appear in print, albeit greatly condensed, starting this Friday. (I probably won’t have a copy for a few weeks because I live in a Canadian backwater, but hey, it exists!) This is probably my least favourite Coldplay album, though there’s no accounting for the effect time will have. The band will always be able to write songs — they are ruthless with melody and build-up — but their take on this particular sound is less successful than their anthemic Brit-rock mode or their colourful pop mode. With that said, it’s still worth your time, especially if you have even a tangential interest in a stingingly detailed, album-length document of Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow’s conscious uncoupling.
Here’s my newest piece for the Pitch, Pitchfork’s staff blog. “Love Never Felt So Good” is my favourite song of the year thus far, though of course it dates back over 30 years to Jackson and Paul Anka’s studio work together in 1983. There is an irrepressible, ecstatic joy to this song that I find impossible to deny. Jackson is such a physical, graceful vocalist; I know he’s working so hard — I can hear the snaps, the grunts, the way he moves back and forth behind the microphone, I know he did 20-something takes without a glass of water to get this right — but it’s all silk at this point, all clouds. Just promise me you’ll seek out the demo version of this song. It’ll break your heart.
I’m sitting in my parents’ basement watching basketball. This is my first visit home as a newly minted university graduate; I’m moving into a new apartment with my boyfriend on Monday and starting work on Wednesday. Everything is moving really fast right now! My parents have a new dog who is mostly helping them understand the incredible power and rarity of their connection to our dearly departed Bellers. The new dog’s name is Molly, and she does not slow down. She likes to pick up and chew everything, so none of us can put our beer bottles or remotes or books on the floor or else she’ll tear them to pieces or make a mess. She’s a minor terror in this way. My favourite thing about her is her skin: she’s just a puppy, and even though her body isn’t even close to its ultimate size she already seems to have all the skin she’ll need. It’s just hanging there, bunching up and waiting for her to grow. Pull her by her collar, and her neck and face wrinkle up and fold; pet her and she feels like a snake, strangely liquid and slippery. Her energy is just one of the many things that’s making me feel older right now. You never think about all the things that can fill a home until you have one that’s truly your own. My brother is nearly legal and my sister is a high school student. Friends are trekking through Europe, getting married, moving away; almost none of them are going to live down the street anymore. I have to be careful about how I sit, or else my back will start to hurt.
After we finished dinner tonight, my mom was fulfilling her maternal duties by asking me about my relationship. She said something like, “when you were just starting out single and writing all those posts on Tumblr, did you ever think that you would be in a long-term relationship this soon?” She didn’t mean anything by it, of course - she’s just my biggest fan, and has a better head for everything I’ve ever written or tweeted than I do - but it was the sort of innocuous question that can throw you into a mental tailspin if you’re not careful. I’m not the kind of person to go back and read things I wrote a few months or years ago, but I knew what she meant by “all those posts”: raw, unvarnished rants, lonely, horny, whining, screeds that went up for fifteen minutes before receiving one like and getting banished to Tumblr’s trash bin. They felt right, even necessary, then; now they’re just another handful of awkward artifacts. I don’t think I have changed in any drastic ways, but I’m more “me” now - or better at expressing exactly what “me” means - than I was a few years ago. Tumblr’s place in my life and writing process is changing too: laboratory, diary, link repository, dusty archive. Maybe the speed of time’s flow can be partially eased by a restoration of this space to a portion of its former vitality (or call it “glory”).
So: here’s to newfound maturity and a bit more free time and some new posts to match, and I hope everyone’s having a lovely Friday night.
It’s been a week, hasn’t it? I’ve been mainlining coffee and shitty food for four days straight trying to put the finishing touches on this term. Tomorrow’s the last day of class this term, meaning it’s my last day of class ever. I have to present my senior design project in the morning and finish designing an air pollution control system in the afternoon. And when that’s over, I will spend the night with my friends drinking and doing dumb stuff, and then I’ll start studying for exams.
Anyway, here are some things I’ve written recently over at Pitchfork:
- A review of the unexceptional new album by Australian indie pop group Architecture in Helsinki, NOW + 4EVA.
Popping in quickly to plug two recent reviews for my friends over at Myspace: here’s one about Future Islands’ new record Singles(emotional, masculine, complex synth-pop), and another about Cloud Nothings’ new one Here and Nowhere Else(intense, pummelling, anguished punk).
I like writing for Myspace a lot, and they’ve published a ton of worthy journalism and feature writing over the past year. If they’ve somehow managed to stay out of the “culture” section of your bookmarks bar, give them a slot and check in often — you’ll usually find something you’ll like.
When I’ve had free listening time over the last few weeks, it’s almost exclusively gone to Mac DeMarco and Todd Terje, with some Tony Molina in the shower because the songs are extremely short and pack a lot of potency into small packages. He makes me want to shower faster, which is important because six people live here and there’s never enough hot water. (But that’ll be a problem of the past soon!)
Exams start next week, so I’ll either be writing more than usual to maintain my sanity or hiding out completely to focus on my studies. Hope you’re well — see you later.
Barring an unforeseen catastrophe, I have about a month left before finishing an engineering degree that I will almost surely never use, at least not in any traditional sense of the profession. While much of my class will work in the energy sector, pharmaceuticals, or manufacturing, I only needed a few months’ worth of experience to know I would never be satisfied carving out a career in those fields. When classmates and acquaintances from the engineering world find out about my side hustle as a writer (and vice-versa), it doesn’t take long for the question that has defined the last few years of my life to bubble to the forefront: “If you don’t like what you’re doing, and you’re demonstrably better at other things, what’s the point of your engineering degree?” I’m writing this as an answer to that question, if only for my own benefit.
In the months before graduating, Canadian engineering students receive an iron ring as part of an elaborate ritual whose details are kept private. The Ritual of the Calling of an Engineer is nearly a century old. Its roots lie in a 1922 meeting of seven esteemed Canadian engineers who wanted to bind the members of the profession together and craft a set of obligations for said members. The engineers contacted Rudyard Kipling, who authored both the obligations and the ceremony surrounding them. The iron ring lies at the heart of the ceremony: it represents both the pride engineers should have in their profession and the lofty ethical standards that are integral to the profession’s maintenance of public trust and professional conduct. The ring even has its own legend, one derived from the 1907 collapse of the Quebec Bridge during construction: each ring isn’t truly fashioned from one of the broken bridge’s original beams, but the bridge’s failure was instrumental in the implementation of professional standards for Canadian engineers, and so the myth is fitting.
The iron ring ceremony (and its accompanying mega-bash, IRS) is a huge deal for engineering undergraduates, comparable to convocation itself. The countdown to the ceremony begins as soon as each new undergraduate class steps onto campus for the first time, and milestones along the way are marked with little parties and celebrations of their own. I ridiculed the countdown every chance I could get: to me, it seemed like a frivolous extension of the paternalistic boys’ club mentality that pervades engineering here, an ill-earned sense of exceptionalism that’s wielded against other faculties and anyone who doesn’t exactly conform to the beer-swilling, purple-stained, undeniably masculine ideal that’s been cultivated over the past few decades. (One of the weirdest nights of my life was spent going from dearly departed pool hall Dooly’s to a pit stain of an engineering kegger, where an HDTV hosted a Tumblr that existed to curate the finest possible sets of breasts and pictures of kittens. As much as I’d like to forget the wagging tongues and testosterone haze of that party, I can’t erase Titties ’n Kitties.)
I felt that way right up until I left the ceremony, during which something changed inside me. Chalk it up to the sobriety of the session or the physical impact of receiving a ring laden with significance, but it was one of those rare moments where I could feel myself growing and reaching a deeper understanding of myself. Instead of allowing my feelings about engineering to be coloured by my lack of enthusiasm for the work and disdain for many of its practitioners, I began to realize the many ways a commitment to integrity and a personal code of ethics could help me to become a better writer, worker, and person. I can use rigour when I’m researching for a review or completing a project, and I can remember respect and fairness when I’m writing emails and tweets and making decisions in the workplace. Even if I’m not working as an engineer in the way most of us recognize — building a bridge, designing a pipeline, controlling a reaction — I can employ the ethical principles that govern the profession, and I remember that every time I look down at my right pinky and see a ring sitting below my knuckle. That’s what my degree means to me now, and it’s a big reason why I don’t view the last five years as a waste of time and money.
Hey, hope everyone’s doing well out there — I haven’t had a lot of time to spend on Tumblr over the last few months. Between my senior design project, a standard load of classes, and a freelancing schedule that gets more and more packed (I haven’t yet learned to say “no”) it’s been a struggle just to find time to sleep, never mind to write new stuff for here. I feel bad about it, and not out of some sense of obligation to the people who are reading this, but simply because I think writing in this space helps me to get better and cool down in a way that writing for money can’t. I only have four weeks of class left and a handful of exams, and then I’ll be finished, at which point I should be simply swimming in free time. We’ll see. Anyway, here are some things I’ve written over the last few weeks.
- I reviewed Danish producer Tomas Barfod’s decent new EP Pulsing for Pitchfork.
- I reviewed Pharrell’s fun new record G I R Lfor TIME. I have some really exciting news about this review coming in a few days — probably just after the weekend — so stay tuned for that, you’ll definitely understand my excitement when you see it.
- Moving outside of the world of music criticism for a second, I’ve accepted an offer to work here at the University of Waterloo for a year starting in May. (I know, I’m counting down the days until I wrap up a degree here and then I’m coming right back, it’s ridiculous.) I’ll be returning to the department I’ve been working at in both full-time and part-time capacities for the last 16 months in a slightly upgraded role, and I’m so glad that they had a slot for me to come back as a Real Adult, at least for a while. I’m not sure what’s in store after the contract runs its course, but I’d happily continue moving up in the institutional sector if the work’s there.
- I’m going to see a real apartment tomorrow, and meeting with a financial planner next week. Adulthood: a little bit terrifying, but mostly totally thrilling!
- We bought a heater a few weeks ago and it sits by our patio doors. We sleep in the basement in this place, it’s our only source of outside light. I keep looking towards the doors as I’m writing this: the sun is out and it’s bright, and if I look at the window with the right focus I can see the waves of heat rising from the heater, shimmering and slightly warping the image of the glass. There’s magic in being able to see heat; we take it for granted because it typically moves unseen. I wanted to get that image down on paper in case I forget about it.
- I’ve been listening to the Clientele a lot over the next 24 hours, so before saying goodbye for now, here’s "I Hope I Know You." How does this band make it look so easy? See you in a few days/weeks.
This was a spur-of-the-moment purchase that turned into one of my most satisfying concert experiences ever. In terms of creative ambition, musicality, and sheer gutsiness, the Justin Timberlake show I saw three days before this one belongs on some other, lesser planet. A lot of other writers have taken their crack at the Kanye West live experience over the past few months, so it was rewarding and challenging to try my own hand at it. I hope I brought something new to the tour’s universe of coverage — and if not, I just hope it’s a satisfying read.
The 23-year-old Ottawa singer-songwriter Kalle Mattson’s third album, Someday, the Moon Will Be Gold, is a document of personal growth set against the backdrop of his mother’s death. His sound’s never been this fully realized, and he has never drawn himself in such clear, unflinching light.
This album landed in my inbox one day and was such a pleasant surprise: warm, ambitious, familiar. If you’re into indie rock — esp. the sort that came out of the Canadian indie golden age of the ’00s — I think you’ll find a lot to love in this record.
1) A programming announcement: I’ve been curious for a while about using Medium as a writing platform. Speaking personally, I think it has potential in the short-term as a complement for Tumblr: there are some things that will be better suited to the form, and some that should remain on the latter. I wrote something there about how the changing nature of my readership has gradually made me a better writer, and you can read that here. I’m going to split it like this for the foreseeable future: short posts about songs and albums and personal items (so maybe like ~80% of things) will remain on Tumblr, and broader thoughts on writing/media/trendy issues (the other ~20%) will find a new home on Medium. We’ll see how it goes.
2) Next week is our school’s Reading Week, which means a week off to catch up on all the assignments, projects, and readings I’ve been avoiding since the term started. (I will spend most of it worrying about my senior design project, a.k.a. the project that haunts my waking and dreaming hours, a.k.a. the item without which my life would be pretty much ***flawless.) My boyfriend and I are heading to Toronto tomorrow night to see Justin Timberlake, staying the night, and then leaving for Montreal Saturday afternoon. We’ll be there until next Wednesday morning.
This is going to be my first trip to a province other than Ontario, which is pretty strange and very exciting for me. Neither of us has ever been to Montreal, and I don’t have much idea about what to do there except search for bagels and smoked meat sandwiches. So if you live in Montreal or have been to the city and have any recommendations for stuff to do/eat, I would really, really appreciate them. (Leave a reply to this post, askbox it, email, whatever.) Here’s hoping my weeks of sporadic French practice using Duolingo will prove even 1% helpful.
3) I just updated this blog’s “other writing" section — a collection of major clips that serves as a decently comprehensive introduction to my freelancing over the last few years — so feel free to check that out.
This is my second post for TIME’s Entertainment section — I wrote about Miguel’s new song for Girls yesterday — and this song is great, up there with some of my favourite singles from the likes of Chvrches, Charli XCX, etc. (who are all operating in similar pop spheres)
I’ve expressed similar sentiments before, but here it is again, for old time’s sake: never in a million, billion years did I think starting a Tumblr (because I was lonely, depressed, in the closet, and desperate for a creative outlet) would lead to a TIME byline, or a byline anywhere for that matter. What a weird, dumb, cool life.
I wrote about growing up on Apple earbuds, and learning to leave them behind, for Pitchfork’s staff blog. I’ve been thinking about this for a while — and have written about it before here, a bit — and it felt good to finally put fingers to keys and explore my personal history as a listener.
I recommend reading Mark Richardson’s piece for the staff blog from last July about vinyl sound quality if you’re interested in this topic — it’s not directly related to what I wrote, but he articulates a few things that ended up sparking what I wrote about, and it’s a good read re: the subjectivity of sound and the role our personal preference plays in our listening experience.
One of my favourite writers, the newly minted Time editor Sam Lansky, wrote something last week that’s stuck with me:
But then, that’s the big dumb myth of writing — that inspiration has anything to do with the rough mechanics of the process, which is all about pushing through the mundane distractions of everyday life and writing when you don’t feel like it, writing when you are certain that you have nothing to say, writing when the words just won’t come.
This isn’t a new sentiment, of course, but Sam expresses it simply and clearly, and in doing so compelled me to think about my own run-ins with inspiration (or a lack thereof) over the last few weeks. For the time being, I write for self-expression and for beer money. I don’t have to fight for every word to cover the essentials — food on my plate, a roof over my head, decent WiFi — and this occasionally leads me to believe, falsely, that I have the luxury of inspiration: I can wait until something special comes to me because it’s just a hobby, a passion kept on the side.
But I know it’s not that simple, and it only takes a while before I’m staring at my screen, trying to make the words fit together. It’s like a mental valve has been struck with a hammer, and no matter how many times I turn it towards its initial position I can’t stop the incessant drip-drip-drip, can’t cut off a stream that’s demanding attention, or at least a bucket. Writing is an integral part of my process of reflection and self-improvement, and when I give up for a few days or weeks I can feel the liquid start to back up and trip high-level alarms.
I find joy in other activities and it’s not enough. I spent a few hours tonight figuring out a dispersion model in Excel for my air pollution class, a quick program that would take in a bunch of parameters — wind speed, cloudiness, stack height, the rate at which a chemical is being emitted, etc. — and spit out the distance at which the air would be most concentrated with that chemical. I wrote out long lines of equations and shifted terms around and added exponents and looked up figures in a textbook and typed it into a computer, and I couldn’t get it to work. I redid the question with an entirely new set of assumptions, ran back the writing and the shifting and the adding and the researching and the typing, and it still didn’t work. It turned out, of course, that I had made a simple error at the beginning of the question — an errant button push on a calculator, basically — that rendered the whole thing impossible. I went back and fixed it and everything clicked into place in an instant: the numbers were right, they were expected, everything in the world made sense for a few perfect seconds. Solving a puzzle like that, even a simple one, is a window into nirvana. The pleasure I find in that little burst of light and the corresponding afterglow keeps me going when I think math and science are stupid and I regret every decision that led me to become an engineering student. They are fleeting, beautiful moments, but there aren’t enough of them. I can still feel it in the back: drip-drip-drip.
The valve in my brain is broken, and writing is the only way I can drain the bucket. I certainly can’t talk about it: just now, my boyfriend came up behind me and asked me what I was writing about, and I couldn’t find the right words to tell him. I gave up, saying, “This is just for me.” I’m dependent on this sacred, silent scrap, and that’s why I always come back and realize the truth in what Sam wrote above. I don’t have to write when the words won’t come to pay my rent; I have to write when the words won’t come so I can keep from drowning.
There were probably some people in that theatre who had only thought about AIDS once or twice in their life, or who have never had a meaningful interaction with a gay person, or who had to suppress a benign chuckle when Rayon first tries to chat up Ron Woodroof in the hospital, and they sat there for two hours and were encouraged to reflect on the weight of gay people’s lives and their struggles and a plague that killed many of them. I don’t want to ignore that good, so let’s put it out there.
But: we all know this movie could not have been made without the attachment of Matthew McConaughey or someone with equal pull, and it definitely couldn’t have been made without a straight lead character, and it probably couldn’t have been made with an ending that included a room full of mostly gay people applauding Ron Woodroof as he walks in. It’s a tough set of facts to escape. It’s tough, being reminded that your story will only get told if you can fit it into the right box, and even then you might just end up an accessory. (I make this note while trying to remain conscious of the fact that my own story is several orders of magnitude more prominent than others.)
There’s a scene near the end of the movie where Woodroof is talking to Dr. Saks in the house that’s hosting the operations of the buyers’ club. He’s thinking about the life he could’ve had compared to the one he actually has: the wife that won’t be there, the kids that’ll never happen, the years of health. This is all fine and good; everyone deserves those thoughts. The issue is that Woodroof is the only one who is given a platform to express them. Rayon suffers the same loss; for that matter, so do every single person who’s shown lining up outside the house or the motel for their own piece of the action, their own cocktail supply. But we don’t get to hear those stories, and we should. They’re the ones I really want to hear.
And about Rayon: Jared Leto is very good, minus a few affectations that cross the line from fleshing out into caricature. But I find myself having trouble forgetting his Golden Globes acceptance speech, where he ended his remarks by saying something along the lines of, “And to all the Rayons out there: thanks for the inspiration.” It’s like, don’t you get it even a little bit? People like Rayon, real people, don’t exist simply to serve as bits to be researched, as fodder for your acting career. I’m sure his camp has heard criticism in this vein loud and clear, and I’m curious to hear what he’ll say if he wins the Oscar (and I expect he will). But his first set of remarks are representative of an obvious larger problem.
I was tested for STIs for the first time about a year and a half ago. I had been going out with my boyfriend for roughly a month. We went to the public health office together. There is a quick test for HIV positivity that can be completed with your blood right in front of your eyes, at about 98% accuracy. The nurse took my blood and prepared to conduct the test. I felt myself get very flushed and light-headed; my heart was racing, just sitting there. She asked me, “Are you feeling alright? Are you worried that it might be positive?” And I told her I wasn’t, because I didn’t really have a reason to be nervous: I had never had unprotected sex, I had never used intravenous drugs, I was completely clear of every cause I knew off the top of my head. And yet there it was, the flush and the light-headedness and the waves of fear. It was like the fear of millions of men before me who might not have been so sure, men who were suffering, who would have to face the consequences or had already faced them. I was fine, but the fear lingers. It hung there in the movie theatre every time they said AIDS, every time I looked at Woodroof’s emaciated face. So I can look at this movie with as much objectivity as I can muster and point out some of its problems, and I can acknowledge the fact that my risk is thousands of times lower than it would’ve been 20 years ago or than it would be if I lived in a different part of the world, but I can’t deny that it affected me at least a little bit.
Despite all of the above, as a movie it was really very good: good performance, nicely shot, good script even if it was a little loose.
Shout out to Bradford Cox, who didn’t have to do very much but certainly did this Deerhunter fan proud.
I hope you’re all having a nice weekend. I’d like to check in re: my life and music I’ve been enjoying soon, just had to get this out now while it’s pretty fresh. See you soon.
because this is as good a place as any to write them down
eat more vegetables: in the vision of my best life I keep inside my head I have an almost entirely plant-based diet with a lot of greens, juices, and green juices. this one can be more easily achieved by moving much, much closer to a grocery store (like, optimally within ~800 m) and making a visit part of my daily/tri-weekly routine, but no matter how it works out I’d like to eat less junk and more fruit and vegetables
run another half-marathon: my last one was in 2011, and while I probably won’t ever beat that time because I pounded out 80 km weeks all winter on my parents’ treadmill and the filthy Timmins spring roads because I had no friends here and nothing better to do, if I can get below 1:37:00 this year I think that’s a decent springboard for running a marathon next year, which is really the ultimate prize
I’m not running right now for a whole host of reasons I’ve invented (proximity, hibernation, curiosity, etc.) but really it’s just because I’m lazy and I want to live in a building with a treadmill to deal with the winter months, but I’m so much happier and healthier when I’m pulling at least 30-40 km a week, and the sooner I get back to that base level the better
it’s been a long time since I’ve come at it like “I want abs someday” because a) lol, I don’t think that’s my body type and b) running lots is just going to blow up your quads into rock hard tanks and turn your calves into lasers, but I just want to be as healthy as possible
keep learning French: I started doing this two weeks ago using this app/website called Duolingo, which is really fun though probably not as efficient as a single first year introductory French course (I didn’t have much room for electives, I had like two all through university so French dreams got the axe almost right away) and I figure if I use Duolingo for like half an hour a day and work really hard to make that time for myself, and put real thought into practicing and making little notes and doubling back on my weaknesses, maybe I won’t be a hopeless case when we visit Montreal during reading week; at the very least I will be able to read all the restaurant menus
work on procrastination: this is my single worst habit as a writer and worker, I have too much faith in myself because I’ve always been able to get the job done well at the last minute and one day it’s just not going to happen in the worst way and it’s going to blow up in my face. I would like to steer the ship away from this black hole. I woke up at 8:45 a.m. to write this flimsy Tumblr post so I consider that like half a start
but really I’m probably going to need browser plug-ins and alarms and a veritable shit-ton of post-it notes to make this one happen
review an album that earns Best New Music: this one is pretty silly compared to the ones around it! and of course it’s not totally independent, I’ll have to work with my editors and hear the album in advance and love it to make this happen. I had a good feeling about 2013 in terms of my writing even before the year started but it exceeded pretty much all of my expectations: lots of freelancing, lots of development, some really healthy reflection and some valuable lessons, and I think it resulted in some great work, stuff I can stand to look at more than a week after its publication. I know I haven’t shut up about that Blood Orange essay in a week or so but damn, I’m really proud of that, and I think it kinda represents a turning point for me in some vague ways I’m still thinking about
so I would like to build on the personal satisfaction and success of that piece with a suite of great reviews and essays in 2014, and while a BNM is a pretty big deal and I was nervous to even think about it when I had just started writing for Pitchfork, I think I have enough confidence and feel like a part of the community (cue Smog, “Ex-Con”) and I can do this at least once in the new year
(he whispers, from the back of the room: “would even be content with getting into the #1 slot once”)
continue to cultivate healthy relationships with social networks: this one is really tough, and maybe even impossible! but I’m hoping this year I will be OK with not reading every single post that comes up in my feeds, I will have the strength to unfollow popular/powerful people who I think are stupid and annoying, I will not let myself get infected with secondhand anger or bitterness, I will let unhappy people be unhappy without absorbing it myself, I will not check my phone in bed, etc. etc. etc.
if I invoke fucking “professional reasons” as justification for doing/not doing anything in 2014 you have permission to fly to my house and throw me off the nearest cliff
keep exploring old and new sounds: I could give you a story like this for every week of the year but here’s one: in the airport before flying home I heard the most beautiful song over the speaker but couldn’t place it, I was pretty sure it was Elton John but didn’t know the name (it ended up being “Daniel”) and when I got to my parents’ place I rummaged through his greatest hits looking for the song
and I was just blown away at the depth and the strength of that collection, I guess I had fallen into something like an “Elton John is a silly clown who just wants to prance around with twinks” sort of mind (though I’m pretty sure that is totally true) but his music was so dramatic and rich and pure, my heart was burning for him
I love this process, the discovery and the rediscovery, it makes me a better listener and a smarter writer and one who’s more open to possibility, and I hope it keeps coming not just in 2014 but for the rest of my life, it’s why I love music and some of what I try to share in writing about it: the joy of discovery, the way you can find love in something you’ve never heard before or you’ve heard a billion times
become a better son, a better brother, a better friend, a better lover: more patient, more perceptive, more thoughtful, more accepting of faults, more libidinous at appropriate times
trying not to take anything for granted
get a job and start building a life: I just finished the last work term of my undergraduate career; barring a total collapse I’m going to have a degree in chemical engineering and management sciences in four months. I had two exit interviews, and in both of them I kept saying that I was ready to become serious, to take the next step forward towards, like, ideal “adulthood,” to leave the student world behind. in my head this means I’m ready to give up the myth of infinite potential: I would like to get a job that pays decent money over fair weekly hours in a place I like and I want to get really, really good at that job, and that will be the platform on which I put my life together
so let’s hope that happens
get cable: because I’m tired of watching basketball on crappy, nebulous European streaming sites, and because NBA League Pass costs my weight in gold and I can’t even watch Raptors games or big match-ups on national TV
I don’t have much more to say about 2013 but here is one parting shot: I’m proud of what I did with this year in pretty much every sense, whether it’s my personal life or my writing career or my professional life or just, like, being a person, I think I saw improvement in most realms. and I’d like to thank you for taking time out of your day to read what I write on this platform and/or on other websites, because it still blows my mind daily (hourly?) that people like reading my opinions and loose thoughts and hearing what I have to say, that brings me a ton of joy and personal fulfillment
so yes, thank you! and here’s to a happy, healthy new year for all of us. see you in 2014