Saturday, June 21, 2014
I mentioned a few weeks ago that I wrote a piece for TIME about Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith; here’s a picture of said piece, taken within the comfy confines of the Toronto bus terminal. I like being in print!

I mentioned a few weeks ago that I wrote a piece for TIME about Ed Sheeran and Sam Smith; here’s a picture of said piece, taken within the comfy confines of the Toronto bus terminal. I like being in print!

Monday, June 16, 2014

A few quick bits from last week:

  • 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.

Hope you’re all well, and thank you for reading. 

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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Colbie Caillat, “Fallin’ for You” 

This is one of my favourite songs ever. It comes into my life every year or two, like a comet: I’ll hear a verse or even just the guitar melody, shopping in a drug store or walking through a mall or beside someone’s open car window, and then I’m obsessed with it for a week before putting it in my back pocket until next year. I never have any trouble finding something new to love about this song. There’s the sound: the guitars cast in that late summer afternoon light, Caillat’s broad, warm voice, a melody that’s somehow always falling the way you do when you’re just on the edge of falling asleep. There are the words: this is a very simple song, but one that grasps on a basic level that love is defined by fear. Right now I just keep thinking about how approachable this song is, how easy it is to pretend it just came into your life organically, a pure thought you had or a string of notes rattling around your brain. Caillat is not an especially distinctive or powerful singer, but that works in her favour here. In the hands of Whitney Houston or Sam Smith, love songs are feats of strength: they give voice to feelings in a way almost all of us could never accomplish, blowing them up to their greatest possible size. “Fallin’ for You” is not like that. He could be singing it to you as you wake up in the morning, legs folded and clad in old boxers, brushing your hair and grinning. She could be on the other side of the campfire running through the chords, hair smelling like smoke. You could catch him half-humming the melody in the shower when you’ve never heard him sing before. It’s not hard to fold this song into your plain little life, and I love it for that. 

(I’ve included a Walmart Soundcheck (!) live performance because the official video isn’t available on YouTube, and I feel like that somehow says more than I ever could.)

Friday, June 6, 2014 Tuesday, June 3, 2014 Monday, June 2, 2014 Saturday, May 31, 2014 Thursday, May 29, 2014

Mariah Carey, “Shake It Off”

I’ve been spending much of my free time listening to Me. I Am Mariah… The Elusive Chanteuse, Mariah Carey’s new record. I like it because it sounds like the product of someone who’s very comfortable with their identity and incredibly self-aware: warm, worn in, frequently funny, relaxed, every song a subtle variation or a slight rearranging of some very enjoyable basic elements. I think about the people I know who have one finely honed skill, runners and swimmers and artists (including writers), who all have the ability to make small changes to their technique or approach and assess the impact of those changes in real-time. Mariah is like that, albeit operating on a much larger scale than those weekend warriors or keyboard jockeys, and when she takes tiny steps left and right on The Elusive Chanteuse (my chosen truncation) you can almost hear her in the studio, headphones half off, remarking on a infinitesimal adjustment or a beat or genre excursion. Her mastery of her craft is remarkable. 

Anyway, this post is not about The Elusive Chanteuse, not really — I wanted to share a funny mondegreen — at least I think this could be considered a mondegreen? I might be using the term wrong, maybe this should just be considered a standard error, feel free to correct me — I uncovered the other day. Vulture recently published a ranking of Mariah’s 25 best singles, which included “Shake It Off” at #17. Lindsey Weber writes: 

As far as Mariah’s diss tracks go, “Shake It Off” is perhaps her finest. Sure, it’s arguably jacking Usher’s Confessions style, but would Usher lyrically reference a 1980s Calgon ad? Nope.

That linked Calgon ad is tied to a line in the chorus where Mariah sings, “Just like the Calgon commercial, I / really gotta get / up outta here / and go somewhere.” I found myself shocked by this, because I had no idea she was singing “Calgon”; I thought she was singing “Cal Klein,” as in the fashion designer.

I’ve probably heard this song several dozen times, and I never thought to interrogate exactly what she was saying in that line. It wasn’t until I learned that I was wrong that I began to think about why “Cal Klein” made sense: something about Mariah being one of the quintessential American divas, and Calvin Klein occupying a similar space in American fashion, and the way their periods of cultural prominence mostly aligned. It made sense to me that Mariah would just drop a Calvin Klein reference into one of her songs; hell, she probably knows Calvin Klein, thus the use of the short form “Cal.” And hey, Mariah’s a bit older than I am, there was probably some Calvin Klein ad that features Marky Mark gallivanting on a beach as a means of escaping the drudgery of his day-to-day routine playing on repeat during the early ’90s. Just like the Cal Klein commercial! But I was very wrong, and I’ve been laughing about the truth for a few days now. I’m glad it hasn’t ruined a very good Mariah song for me.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

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.