The horizon trembling, shapeless. We are all of us brothers.

Enjoy Your Rabbit

Posted: February 19th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Culture, Music | Tags: , | No Comments »

Enjoy Your Rabbit finalIt’s no secret that I love Sufjan Stevens. However, I have never been too sure about his second album, Enjoy Your Rabbit. It’s not at all like any of his early records and it hasn’t always been my favorite thing to listen to. The album is, frankly, noisy. It’s loud and brash and at time unsettling.

Still, it’s Sufjan so I’m a fan.

I was hesitant to dive into this album, but I was pleasantly surprised. As with all of his music, the best part of the album is his focus on a strong melodic presence. The first two tracks are pretty solid, but “Year of the Rat” has a strong hook that really sets the tone for the rest of the sounds.

While it will never be my favorite Sufjan record, it’s quite good and surprisingly adroit in a genre that isn’t necessarily his forte.

Favorite Tracks:

“Enjoy Your Rabbit” and “Year of the Snake”

A Sun Came!

Posted: February 3rd, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Music | Tags: | No Comments »

A Sun Came finalI encountered Sufjan Stevens a little later that I wish were true. Sometime between the release of Seven Swans and Illinois a friend handed me a copy of a live Sufjan show and I was blown away. Most of the songs performed were from Michigan with a few from the recently released Seven Swans and the forthcoming Illinois. What I loved the most, though, were his awkward discussions between songs. The interludes were obviously rehearsed but they were halted and uncomfortable nonetheless.  He had such command during the songs and displayed such vulnerability in the moments before the guitars kicked in. I was already a committed fan.

The next day I spent all my eMusic credits for the month on his existing discography. (side note: Did you know that eMusic still exists?)

All that is to say that the next day was my first experience with A Sun Came. My initial reaction was that, compared to Michigan and Seven Swans, A Sun Came was an impressive first album that showed a promise that was realized in his later albums. The several listens I’ve had of this album over the last few days convinced me that this album is a gem in its own right. This record is quite good, even if it weren’t a precursor for better sounds to come.

It’s been awhile since I’ve heard the full Sufjan Stevens catalog, but this may be his most influenced recording. Nearly every song has touches of Celtic, Indian, Middle Eastern, and American folk tunes. Occasionally–like in “A Loverless Bed (Without Remission)”–the cacophonous musical origins work together to make a uniquely interesting and good track. More often than not, though, the songs seem to reach a bit too far. Still, the old Robert Browning chestnut holds true because this album’s overreaching turned into incredible tunes in his subsequent recordings.

Lastly, let’s talk about the recording method and the strange interludes dropped throughout the album. The production value is relatively low on A Sun Came and it was reportedly recorded on a four track machine a few years before its official release while Sufjan was a member of a band called Marzuki. It’s certainly not garage band lo-fi sounding, but the lower quality recording technique forces the listener to forgive a few songs for their imperfection. And those interludes! “Belly Button,” “Siamese Twins,” and “Godzuki” have me imagining that Sufjan was listening to a lot of Wu-Tang Clan while mastering this album and making the track order. Could you imagine Sufjan Stevens providing an example in the torture introduction of “M.E.T.H.O.D Man” from 36 Chambers? (note: I doubt that there is any more NSFW audio available than the previous link so protect your little ears.)

If anything could be more awkward than live-Sufjan speaking between songs, a guest Wu-Tang verse would be it.

Favorite Tracks:

“Happy Birthday”

This has always been my favorite song from this album and its place remains. It’s the simplest song on this record and is the most Seven Swans like of the all. Sufjan’s simple vocal mannerisms shine here and the subtle vocal harmonies are to die for.

“Loverless Bed (Without Remission)”

The trem/reverb guitar intro is enough to send me over the moon. As mentioned above, it’s a heavily influenced song that works better than most on this record.

“Ya Leil”

Just listen to it. It’s unique and incredible. More chanting!

Check back next week for my take on Enjoy Your Rabbit. I’ve spent the least time with this recording so I’m mostly hesitant about it. Wish me luck.

A Sufjan Celebration

Posted: February 2nd, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Culture, Music | Tags: | No Comments »

Sufjan series imageA few weeks ago our beloved national troubadour Sufjan Stevens announced a new album titled Carrie & Lowell set to be released on March 31st. This will be his first solo album in five years and my anticipation is quite high.

If the official album trailer is any indication, this album will lean more toward folk than electronic music and, for me, that’s a good thing.

There are shades of electronic touches in the trailer so I don’t suspect that this will be a Seven Swans redux, but perhaps something more akin to Illinois than to The Age of Adz. Regardless, I’m excited.

With that excitement comes a fresh commitment to writing about music. The plan is to take an as-objective-as-possible look at each of Sufjan’s previous album releases and record my take here. My love for the music of Sufjan Stevens is well documented and ever present so I have no dreams of journalistic disinterestedness, but I’ll do my best. Here’s how the plan will shake out:

Feb 3: A Sun Came
Feb 10: Enjoy Your Rabbit
Feb 17: Michigan
Feb 24: Seven Swans
March 3: Illinois
March 10: The Avalanche / The BQE / All Delighted People
March 17: The Age of Adz
March 24: Songs for Christmas / Silver & Gold / Chopped & Scrooged
March 31: Carrie & Lowell
Check back tomorrow for my look into his first record.

Whole 30 Postmortem

Posted: February 1st, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: Culture, food, Vegan | Tags: , , , | No Comments »

finished-the-w30-IGToday marks the first day after Whole 30 and we both made it through the whole 30 days. Nearly a month without sugar, grains (kind of), beans, alcohol, or much whining.

Truth be told, it wasn’t all that bad for either of us. Because I don’t eat meat I had to make a few concessions that aren’t right in line with the Whole 30 mentality but which fall within the guidelines for vegetarians (tofu and tempeh primarily), but Jenna was steadfast with the program and did a magnificent job with it. Neither of us had outrageous cravings and I feel confident saying that we both mostly enjoyed the challenges of Whole 30.

Overall, I don’t think we feel much different than before, but we’ve both learned quite a bit about our eating habits and have gotten the chance to rethink our relationships with food.

Here are my take-aways:

1. Sugar isn’t as important as I once thought. We both love dessert and since we haven’t had any sugar since the beginning of January, we’ve learned that it’s possible to finish a meal and not top it off with ice cream or cookies.

2. Fruit is a delicious treat.

3. I really love grains (especially rice) and beans.

4. Advanced meal prep makes life quite a bit better.

5. Roasted veggies are my jam.

6. Dairy is not necessary.

Number six, for me, is the most important.

For the past two years I have been vegetarian and the two years before that I was vegan. Starting today (post-Whole 30), I’m back to vegan. There are a number of factors in this decision but it really comes down to personal ethics. If my ethical beliefs on food will not allow me to consume meat, then it follows that I cannot make the choice to consume animal products in general. The egg/dairy industry feeds directly into meat industries and I cannot buy into that in good conscience.

Please don’t read any judgment in the paragraph above. If nothing else, Whole 30 has revealed that food is an intensely personal matter and it’s fraught with emotion, tradition, and preference. A vegan diet is right for me, but you’re free to your own choices.

All that having been said, here’s to less animal cruelty and more delicious meals.

Whole 30

Posted: January 6th, 2015 | Author: | Filed under: food | Tags: , , | No Comments »

doing-the-w30-IG-300x300On January 2nd Jenna and I embarked on a little dietary journey called Whole 30. If you’re not familiar, it’s a 30-day commitment to a pretty restricted diet that intends to rework the participant’s relationship with food. I say that: Jenna’s done most of the prep work for us. There’s a book, a pretty robust website, and tons of other resources that she’s plumbed, but I’ve just been along for the ride. I’d certainly agree that my relationship with food consumption could use a solid change–but I’m not too excited about it. Still, I’m in and I’m pretty sure it doesn’t count unless you blog/post to social media about your experience with Whole 30.

If I’m not miscounting, I have nearly completed day 5 and it’s not been too horrible. The first two days were a little rough, but then I discovered that potatoes–even regular potatoes–are part of the program. After a good potato fix, I’m feeling less hungry and generally happier.

The biggest issue is that Whole 30 really isn’t designed for people who don’t eat meat. I’ve been meat free since early 2011 and I really have no intentions of changing that, but it’s difficult to get protein within the Whole 30. In order to get protein sufficient for this program (which, mind you, cuts out legumes and soy almost entirely) I’ve had to consume a ton of eggs. I’d rather not eat eggs, at least not in this quantity. Despite all that, I think this Whole 30 business is a good idea and I’m glad to be giving it a try. I know several folks who are much happier having completed it–so much so that they keep going back to it.

Perhaps the best new about Whole 30 is that it’s completely cool with kombucha. With that in mind, I finally put my mind to making my own. Having squandered the scoby that I was given, I’m growing my own from some unfiltered/unflavored kombucha. More fermented foods/drinks, say I.