Kids Raising Kids by Kopecky Family Band (Album of the Week)

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Album: Kids Raising Kids

Artist: Kopecky Family Band

Year: 2012

Details: 11 songs; 39 minutes

Who’s Choice: Deliberate Obfuscation

It was my turn to pick the album to be reviewed this week. Unlike most weeks, I went for something that has been in my library for awhile. It is an album that I already knew that I like very much. This might not be the most repertoire-expanding tact to take, but it served my purpose. The Kopecky Family Band will be playing in Kansas City this week, and I want to go with Dan on my fan-wagon. It was a risk, and as I write this, I still am not 100% sure if it worked or not. (Update: While Dan has a few witty criticisms aimed at the band, he comes away from the listen liking them and looking forward to going to see them.)

Here is what the band is all about. There are six members – only one of whom actually carries the name Kopecky. Their family connection, according to their website and interviews, is cemented by their commitment to each other and their craft. As a proponent of alternative definitions of family, that one works just fine for me.

The album we listened to is their first full-length album, Kids Raising Kids, and it came out in 2012. Before that, the band had put out a couple EPs that I picked up on Noisetrade. As I remember, I liked them from the start. The way this band blends their voices and their instruments is easy to listen to, but not simple.

The Kids Raising Kids title is evocative for me. During a week in which we celebrated Sam’s 29th birthday, I spent time recalling that overwhelming love and awe at his birth. I also remembered how it seemed reckless to let amateurs take this perfect little guy home with them. But, we did fine and we kept him safe. Bringing this back to the album, one of the quietest and loveliest songs on the album is called Change. It includes several passages noting that a look in the eye can be a turning point. Looking into your child’s eyes for the first time gets you. There are lines like that all through the album. You hear it and it resonates. You hear it and you nod. You hear it and you smile.

I don’t want to lead someone unfamiliar with the band to think that this is sappy, emo stuff. The songs go in many different and interesting directions. Main vocals are handled by Kelsey Kopecky and Gabe Simon. Instrumentation and vocals move from simple to expansive; two-part harmony to full-blown Mumford and Son-ish chorus. There is emotional stuff within lyrics that you can delve into, but there is also just good, pleasurable listening to be had.

To sit around and make music together that sounds good, is meaningful to you, and makes other people listen, seems pretty great. The Kopecky Family Band seems to be having fun with that life. And I think that they are going to be awesome to see live!

Next Up: Songs of Innocence by U2

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September’s Good Things

coloMy blog might suggest that, thus far, September has been devoid of good things. Untrue! The first week of the month was spent in Estes Park, Colorado where the sound of the Big Thompson River greeted us each morning and put us to sleep at night. While there, we had visits with friends, did some hiking, read some books, marveled at nature, discovered some new breweries, played some games, and kicked back. Back home, however, things immediately moved into overdrive. What September lacked was that balance between vacation and not vacation. With the end of the last week of the month nigh, I will attempt to summarize September and head into October with at least a hope to get things back on track.

Colorado in September – The first week of September is a wonderful time to visit Colorado. Pictures will do better than any words I can come up with.IMG_1670

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This last page of the September issue of Esquire Magazine – I count myself a fan of Esquire magazine. As a print magazine, they always do interesting things with the layout, and their reporting pieces are killer. The writing is always strong. It was, however, the last page of the magazine that really captured me in the last issue that I read. I giggle over it still. even though I tore it out and sent it to Ali. I can’t find a copy of it on line, so you will have to get an idea of what I am talking about by looking at the picture I took of it.

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Visit from the Tooles – We unexpectedly got to host Carly and Thad as they drove across country to set Carly up in her first gig as a physical therapist in Leadville, Colorado. Carly is Ali’s best friend, college roommate, maid of honor. Thad is in the running for brother-of-the-year. We had a great time sharing some KC hospitality – including teaching them how to play Catchphrase and filling their bellies with waffles for their final leg of their journey.
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I won a fantasy football game – the fact that I put this on my list gives you an idea of what a rarity this is. The poor dude that I beat must be feeling pretty badly.

Steroids – I came down with this very weird mouth ailment that became more and more irritating and painful as the month went on. After several false starts, I started on a taper of steroids that kicked out whatever it was that was going on. I am not a medicine fan, but that action was pretty impressive.

The Royals – I watched the Royals win the World Series that first year I was in Kansas City. Sam was a newborn and Dan was a Cardinals fan who could not believe  what happened. Sam just turned 29 and Dan remains a Cardinals fan – but we all feel good about the Royals finally seeing a playoff game.

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The Ken Burns’ Roosevelt series on PBS – The storytelling in that multipart series was riveting! My favorite was Teddy Roosevelt being shot while delivering a campaign speech and proceeding to talk for another hour before agreeing to go to the hospital to see about the bullet in his chest.

Making Cookies – For one reason or another, I made three batches of cookies during the month. The first was Amish Sugar Cookies which I became familiar with when I was growing up and I went to my friend Sue’s house. They are soft and sugar goodness. For fajita night book club, I made peanut butter cookies that I amped up by putting in some cayenne and sea salt. For dinner with friends, I made the killer rosemary shortbread cookies in the Flour cookbook. I kind of think that cookies are the perfect dessert.

Cards from future in-laws – As wedding planning continues, we are excited to get to know both Jose and Jean’s families. This month we received notes from both – sharing their happiness that our children have found happiness.

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My new fountain pen – I hoarded gift cards for a couple years and finally spent them at the awesome Pen Place in Crown Center. Yes! A store of pens! My pen is beautiful and writes beautifully. It is also filled with some equally awesome orange ink. I love it.

I have left off some other pretty big things that may get some extra coverage some other time. Kind of a silly list, but all things that made me happy during an uneven month.

Diploid Love by Brody Dalle (Album of the Week)

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Last week Dan chose Diploid Love as our album to listen to and write about.  I had never heard of the album’s artist, Brody Dalle. I have also not heard of Bree Robinson, Bree Joanna Alice Mayer, Brody Armstrong, Brody Dalle-Homme, Bree Joanna Alice Robinson, The Distillers, or Spinnerette. Turns out that Brody – like one of Dan’s previous picks - has been known by a number of different names during her musical career. Despite the roving identities, she has been consistent in her style. Girl rocks hard.

This week’s listen marks the debut of Dan’s new blog DJR Blogging. He is fan-boying all over his choice, as I would have anticipated. He does have a soft spot for the hard rocking ladies. For the most part, I am on board with his enthusiasm. 

When I listen to an album like Diploid Love, my tendency is to not pay a great deal of attention to the components. On my reviewer assignment, as I focus in on this one, I find her doing some unexpected things. One that I particularly enjoyed was her use of a brass section. The first few songs of the album highlight this style nicely. The songs start with the punch of guitars and drums, but by the time they finish, songs are almost symphonic in the collection of sounds. I like that.

Listen to the first five seconds of each of the songs of the album and you understand a little about where she is going to go with each. For the most part, there is a drive of energy. Her creativity as a musician shows in that this is not heard in a uniform way. She mixes things up in interestingly. Her voice – which makes me think of Concrete Blond – wails in a style that makes me give a “you go girl!” approving nod.

Interestingly, I was not as fond of the softer side of Brody. There are a couple tracks on the album where she slows things down a bunch. Not only did I find those to be not nearly as compelling as the others, they made me a little pissy. They broke up a mood that I liked – and that I don’t go for that often. When her wail stops dead on “I Don’t Need Your Love” – which is the albums longest song at over 6 minutes – the mood is broken. Weird of me to feel this way since I am typically the sucker for the slow groove. Not here. If she is going to open up my rock and roll heart, I want her to keep it open.

This was another great example of the benefit of this blog exercise. Thanks DJR Blogging!

Next Up: The Kopecky Family Band, Kids Raising Kids

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Guest Post: Gone Mild’s Review of Brill Bruisers by New Pornographers (Album of the Week)

Dan is having some WordPress issues, so he asked me to post his review of this week’s album.

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I missed the rise of the The New Pornographers.  During the early 2000s, I was listening to NPR news programs and MP3s of songs and bands I already knew. Blissfully unaware of The New Pornographers, I had no idea who they were or what they sounded like.  I suppose I probably heard a few of their songs somewhere mixed into a soundtrack or something, but they were a nullity to me until Robin chose this album for our series of reviews.

On first listen, I got distracted by the gloss and didn’t really hear the music.  In my own defense, this is slick power pop, perfect for background music while you’re driving or focusing on other things.  It’s pretty and it’s energy – you don’t need to pay attention to enjoy this album.  You can skip along the surface of this album in a way that you simply cannot with something like Lucinda Williams yowling over a steel guitar.

By the second listen, though, I started to appreciate what is going on here.  This is a group of hardworking, talented musicians who know how to put a song together.  In the second song, Champions of Red Wine, I felt like they were calling me out:

We’ve waves to root for

You’re coming over

You’ve done your research

It has the force of water

And we’ve got a lot here

There is a lot there.  The band is packed – guitars, synthesizer, drums, harmonies, bass, lush production, etc..  At 8 members, this is not a band to hire for your house party.  The album comes across like the big project that it was – no corners cut, no expenses spared, no off notes tolerated.

Soul music this is not.  If you played this album in a Mississippi blues joint, the place might collapse – or, to make the metaphor more accurate, it might explode from the energy and buoyancy packed into this album.  This is car music, meant to be played on a summer day with the windows down.  It’s not something you would sit down in your easy chair to sip whiskey or even chamomile tea to.

That’s not to say that the album is shallow or inane, because it isn’t.  There is a joy that pervades the music, but the penultimate song on the album warns:

You’ve proved your poison is more than noise

And the joy’s addictive although restrictive

Fan baby beware, I’m not always square

By no means is this a deeply poetic album to be parsed for meaning like an early Dylan bootleg or a Joan Baez number, but songs like “War on the East Coast” and “Another Drug Deal of the Heart” keep the album from being lightweight dance music, to be spun and forgotten.

I’ll be going back to listen to the albums of The New Pornographers that I missed during the start of the century.  That’s one of the reasons I am so enjoying the project of choosing new albums to listen to on a mostly-weekly basis.  It’s too easy to get calcified listening to great musicians like Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen, while totally ignoring the bands who are doing new things brilliantly.

Next up: Diploid Love, by Brody Dalle

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Good Things – Special Edition

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Goodness. Where to start here? Having been over two weeks since I have ventured to write about good things, my small band of readers may be worrying that that is because I had no good things to report. Not the case. The last couple weeks have kind of weird in their compilation of good things. I will accept that willingly.

To avoid claims of favoritism, I am going to do the #1 and #2 spots in chronological order. Reading on, you will understand why. These things are major.

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  1. Wedding Dress Shopping – I know that there are shows devoted to it, but it has pretty much escaped me that buying a wedding dress is a social event. When I bought my wedding dress, I believer that I went to the shop within walking distance of school – between classes – picked out a dress  - and got back in time for botany. Different times. I am not stuck in the past! I can adjust! And I was thrilled that Ali wanted me to be there to help her pick out her dress. I flew down to New Orleans on a Thursday. I got to spend some time with some adorable 1st graders on Friday, and on Saturday we met up with friends and new family to find the dress. It was a wonderful and poignant thing to help my little girl into dresses that transformed her into a princess. Seeing how happy she is, and excited she is to begin a new part to her life story, made me more than happy to be there. As it turned out, there were not dozens of dresses tried on. When she tried on number three, all gathered knew that it was the place to stop. She tried on a few more, but we came back to #3. I can’t wait to show a picture of it, but those who have seen it agree that it is her. And I am so glad that I was there!DSCF7624
  2. Another Wedding in the Family – Before I even met her, and before they were even deep into their relationship, I knew that Sam and Jean were good for each other and that they were going to get married. I did tell a few people that, so the record will indicate that my “I told you so” dance, is justified. Last week, we found out that I was right. Probably sooner than later, Sam and Jean will get married. They have chosen a very simple ceremony.  After that, they will bring together special friends and immediate family to celebrate. It fits them, and I am again, so happy that they have found each other, and happiness, and partnership. Having Jean in our family, as it is for Jose, seems natural.

I was going to write  about other good things, but I want to leave it there. After all, if I want anything as a parent, it has always been to have my children happy and healthy. The most important good things ever! Those parents out there who are reading this, know that that isn’t always possible.  Sometimes it takes more directions than your nervous system has the capacity for. But this week, I feel pretty lucky. I am not Pollyanna-ing and saying that Sam and Ali have storybook lives ahead of them. But, I am lucky to know that Dan and I are both here for all four of them. We are here and available to guide them when they want, comfort them when they need, advise them if they ask, and celebrate them whenever we have a chance. That is more than good.

Torch Song by Radiator Hospital (Album of the Week)

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Album: Torch Song

Artist: Radiator Hospital

Year: 2014

Details: 15 songs; 33 minutes

Choice: Gone Mild

If my memory serves me correctly, when I was in college there between 1978 and 1982, winters in Schenectady, New York lasted from late October until April. May would inevitably be a muddy mess due to April showers and the melting of about 4 feet of snow and ice. But then it would happen. Spring days. The beautiful green spaces of Union College would fill up with people who had been swaddled in rag wool sweaters and socks, corduroy, and LL Bean down for months. Windows would open and speakers would be propped into them so that everyone sitting, standing, running, or laying outside could enjoy shared energy that had been dormant and waiting to reemerge. In my mind, those were days of pure bliss, and the music memory of that joy is New Wave music. Radiator Hospital recalls that music memory. While it is not all guitar-y driven rockers, there is enough there that anyone who was there during those days would know what I am talking about. I liked listening to this.

The band offers their music free on their Bandcamp website. Donations are encouraged, but not required. Dan paid for the download for our listening these past couple weeks. Whatever he paid, was money well spent. 15 songs in 33 minutes! The songs come and go with haste.

The lead singer, to my ear, is a vocal doppelgänger of the lead singer of Neutral Milk Hotel. He has one of those slurry, nasally styles that makes it hard to pick out the words. That made it easy for me to just let the music play over my ears and not necessarily permeate my brain. Dan notes over on Gone Mild that the energy of the music belies the more serious nature of the song-writing. I get that, but I am okay to do this one my shallow way.

Sometimes reviewing these albums is made harder by the fact that it is not music that I would listen to, making it difficult to find space in my musical vocabulary to fit it in. This one, while it may be more than the good time and the sound memory that it provides to me, I am content to leave it there.

Next Up: The New Pornographers, Brill Bruisers

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Last Week’s Good Things

bookI am finding it incredibly hard to believe that we are approaching the middle of August. The autumn happenings that seemed so far away, are now rapidly approaching. In the midst of the blur of last week, were some very good things. These were mine:

A new shower head – We live in an old house which brings with it all of its charms, as well as all of its challenges. We have beautiful plaster walls and hardwood floors. We also have questionable water pressure. This week we made some changes that included the replacement of a showerhead. It is a little thing, but when the first activity of your day includes water at a good temperature in an abundant quantity at an acceptable pressure, you are a step ahead.

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National IPA Day – Last Thursday was National IPA day. An IPA is a style of beer – an Indian Pale Ale. To me, the defining characteristic of an Indian pale ale is hoppy goodness. To celebration of this special day last week, Dan poured me a special beer. Dogfish Head Brewery in Delaware makes something that they call 90-minute IPA. For this beer, they continuously add hops to build the flavor that becomes almost raisiny, It is deliciousness. Unfortunately, this beer is not available in Missouri. Fortunately, when Dan travels, he brings me home souvenirs.

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Miso – Having two tastes for this years post is something that I don’t usually do, but I figure that it isn’t a bad thing. I have not used miso much in the  past, but this week, I used it in two different ways. Miso is a fermented soybean product. I still don’t get what umami is, but miso is umami – salty, earthy, deep. The first use of miso this week was to mix it with butter and use it for corn on the cob. It really transformed the corn in such an interesting way. The second use was a salad dressing. This is a work in progress, as I think the version I made was a little too salty, but it was a good starting place.

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TED x KC – Saturday night we went to watch 11 people take a stage by themselves and without a script, talk for an alloted amount of time on a particular topic. We heard a 16 year old girl’s original songs and how she has funded programs in countries of need, we heard about fusion energy, we heard about a new paradigm for entrepreneurship. and about bullying, and politics, and economics, and using humor … We were in a freaking beautiful auditorium that gave a standing ovation to a political scientist!

Slate Audio Book Club – A few days a week, I listen to podcasts rather than music on my short trip to and from work. I have my favorite podcasts that I tend to go to, but there are a bunch of others that I download, but then don’t listen to. The Slate Audio Book Club was one of those, until last week. I listened to two episodes during the week. One was on My Stuggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard, and the other was Jenny Offill’s Department of Speculation. To spend drive time listening to people enthusiastically talk about books – lordy me! That is good. I am not eager to read My Struggle, but I am glad to know about it. Jenny Offill’s book I need to read.

What were your good things last week?

Voyager by Jenny Lewis (Album of the Week)

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Album: Voyager

Artist: Jenny Lewis

Year: 2014

Details: 10 songs; 40 minutes

Who’s Choice: Deliberate Obfuscation

There are several ways you could come to know Jenny Lewis – her 1980s sitcom roles as a teenager, her band that was (Rilo Kiley), or Jenny Lewis, solo. I discovered Jenny Lewis on a cd that I bought at a Starbucks. It was a compilation of songs put together by Elvis Costello. The Rilo Kiley song on it was “Does He Love You?” It is a humdinger of a punch-in-the gut kind of a song.

I listened to and loved that song in 2005. There has been plenty of time for me to get to know Jenny Lewis better. I haven’t really done that. She doesn’t put out much music. She has changed formats and collaborations a few times. While she tends to get well reviewed, her next move seems uncertain.

Last month at Forecastle, I spent an hour listening to and really loving Jenny Lewis. I decided that I needed to listen to more. Her new album, Voyager came out the end of last month. It made sense to start with this one.

The first go through on this made me think very much of Best Coast - one of my favorite feel good listens. There is a California pop thing going on in many of these songs. Some of them could definitely be tracks on a “songs of the summer” playlist.

But listening to this more closely and paying attention to stylings, there is not a single sound on this album that allows for a pigeon-holing. The album’s longest, and my favorite song, is Late Bloomer. Whether it is autobiographical or not, the story seems so personal. With a fresh “Chelsea Girl” haircut, the song’s sixteen year-old protagonist escapes to Paris. She says she is furious and restless, but the song paints a sensitive, vulnerable girl. That seems to be the theme throughout. There is a lot in here about growing up and growing older.

She recently said in an interview that she wants to write happy songs, but she acknowledged that this album didn’t really reflect that. Break-ups, a parent’s death, biological clocks, life’s complications – show up on this album. She questions roles in both humorous and serious ways. She confesses to being completely in love, but damn, those slippery slopes when you are out on the road and there is whiskey and coke involved. She wants a ring, but not really, she looks horrible in white. “She’s Not Me”  is in the same vain as my first Jenny introduction – this time she is calling out to the guy that she cheated on, who is now about to become a dad with someone who is whole hell of a lot easier than she was.

While he liked the album a lot, Dan thinks that the polish of this album creates a void – a lack of soul. I think that is unfair. Jenny Lewis has a pretty voice. Jenny Lewis writes songs that tell stories that seem to be her own life lessons. She mixes those with production that bring interest – whether it is acoustic and laconic, or electric and percussiony. I’m not sure that it is her soul I see, but I think that album stands up strong.

Next Up: Torch Song by Radiator Hospital

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Last Week’s Good Things

weekAfter the tumultuousness and eventfulness of June, July gave some weeks to regroup and begin to get back into normal. By the last week of July, I was definitely feeling that I had regained a little of the structure that had been lost. I am not completely there yet. There are things – like going to the gym – that still haven’t made their way back into my schedule. They will. And looking back at last week, I can already see some  old faithfuls returning on my list of good things. Here are five of the ones that I made note of:

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  1. Begin Again – We had begun a movie night date with friends at the beginning of the year, but it took a couple month hiatus. Last week, we got it back into the schedule. We started our night with cocktails and Chinese food in a restaurant that could have been taken out of Lost in Translation. Our movie choice was Begin Again with Keira Knightly and Mark Ruffalo. It was – like its creator’s predeseccor, Once – a sweet film about connections and choices and music. There is nothing bad about sitting in a theater with people you like, enjoying a movie with loaded listenable tunes.HPIM0800
  2. Yssel getting married – Dan has been in Rotary for a number of years. I have written before about what a great organization Rotary is, and what wonderful work they do. Beside that, we have reaped Rotary benefit by getting to host international visitors who come to the Midwest to learn about many different things. A few years ago, we hosted Yssel, from South Africa. He was the first guy we would host, so I wasn’t sure how that would go. Turns out, it went great! We had so much fun with him, and over the course of a few days, we became solid friends. This past weekend, Yssel got married and pictures of him and his bride greeted us on Facebook. Life gives you lots of opportunities. Getting to know someone from another country is a pretty great thing! There should be more of that going on.marigold
  3. Giant Marigolds and Zinnias – My favorite flower, I think, is the marigold. It is strong and colorful and I marigold smell is an all time favorite scent. This year, I planted marigolds and zinnias in my raised bed. I planted them from seed, and I expected they were just your standard variety. The plants that are filling my bed are monstrous. Most of them are taller than me. I am short, but that does not mean that a marigold should tower over me. It is pretty stunning sight, and every time I walk out my back door and see them, it is a super good things!
  4. Pasta with Beans and Rosemary – On my day off last week, I wanted to cook something different. Even though it was a beautiful day, I wanted to do a pasta – but not something too heavy. The recipe was from Smitten Kitchen - one of my favorite sites. It worked for me, but I can’t see how one could go wrong with al dente pasta – a light veggie sauce with tasty beans and a rosemary, garlic oil sauce.
  5. Working on my book – Also to celebrate getting back to normal, I returned to my desk to work on my book on my day off! The section that I am working on is pretty amazing. It really reflects how people can put their mind to something and make it work. It was so nice to be back with the story.

I hope your week was a good one, and the days ahead are even better!!