9 . 6 . 14

Long Live - Devan DuBois

He’s got the voice of a Dylan/Petty lovechild and a face made for men’s couture and magazine covers. As implied by his unique tastes and frequent trips to the milliner, Devan DuBois is weird, but the kind of weird you always wanted to pull off. While we squares may try and fail to rock extravagant hats or black nails, Devan’s oddity proves to be no construct - it flows out of him just as naturally as his bluesy croonings on Le Fou (The Fool). 

Using everything from his dark, eclectic image to his filthy guitar riffs, DuBois crafts a detailed atmosphere for the listener - a reality in which he can exist in the fullness of who he is. Color void videos, album artwork, and social media merge to form a black-and-white wonderland for Devan to call his artistic home. This same motif is ever present in his debut album. At its darkest, Le Fou puts a dark, modern twist on images painted by Southern Gothic literature. At its lightest, however, Le Fou exemplifies pure, heartwarming, deep-fried southern charm.

The album may range from black to white, but the rest is anything but grey scale - cool blues, mean reds, and warm yellows characterize the songs in between. But wherever a song may fall on the color spectrum, each finds itself strung to the others with common threads of peculiar whimsy and impending danger. 

Mischievous, southern, and slyly influential, Le Fou will compel you to do very bad things…

…but with very good manners.

9 . 4 . 14

Maps - The Front Bottoms

Brace yourselves - fall is coming…

…and, as usual, it reeks of promise. Things that seemed impossible in the haze and heat of summer seem possible in crisp, cool autumn. Like every year before, falling leaves and longer nights usher in a thick air of anticipation that coaxes my imagination out of its shell to see what kind of trouble it can get into.

Autumn is the dreamer’s season.

But autumn also plays host to my birthday, which, in turn, plays host to what often proves to be a painful, underwhelming reflection on the last year and the compilation of bland years before. As my birthday approaches, all the things my twelve year old self swore to achieve stare back at me unaccomplished.

This sense of promise and this contempt for what’s passed intertwine to create a deep longing for a nebulous something - a something to both appease my imagination and redeem the monotonous years before. But this something is costly. Unsure as to whether my comfort is more than I can afford to lose, I find myself torn between wanting to go everywhere and do everything and forever reliving some variation of this year’s collection of moments.

Enter Maps.

It’s written by a guy caught between the adventure of change and the safety of anticipation. Aimed to dissuade, people around him appeal to the inner tension as to whether or not reaching his goal is worth potential failure along the way. But, in a not-so-surprising, and in no way dramatic turn of events, our pop-punk George Bailey pledges not to retreat into normalcy’s mirage of safety, but to use every minute and every drop of potential regardless of the associated risks.

At a time when the sheer magnitude of what could be seems paralyzingly overwhelming, Maps says go

…one step at a time.

6 . 3 . 14

Ribbons and Detours - Silversun Pickups

I forget I like to write. Generally it’s when I’ve been faithful to it day in and day out, but it doesn’t live up to my expectations of faithfulness. When it yields no monetary gain or future hope, or its healing catharsis wanes, I just abandon it.

But with the exception of the emotional outlet, when were any of those the goal? At some point, the pure joy of writing stopped being enough. It got cheapened with smears of pretension, and squashed by the weight of a potential livelihood all because joy would not suffice. This had to be it - this had to be the exclamation point to the question mark that haunted my future.

But it’s not. It’s just something I love to do. And whether it pays my rent or just keeps me sane, it is worth pursuing solely for that reason. I have to fight the inherent urge to turn every avocation into some ultimate destination, and remind myself that sometimes, just riding in the car is enough.

(I will also have to occasionally force really cheesy illustrations to keep my song and comment couplings somewhat related. But that’s okay.

…less okay than other stuff, but still okay)

4 . 10 . 14

Needle in the Hay- Elliott Smith

I’m tired of trying.

I know how stupid that sounds. I know how ungrateful I seem (and am). I know my definition of trying—soaking up every ounce of potential and taking every one of what makes up an overwhelming mass of opportunity— is a slap in the face to the 3/4 of the world whose “trying” is inescapably bound to survival. I hate that I view blessings as curses and open opportunities as oppressive weights.

I hate that I feel the way that I do. And I hate that I hate that I feel the way I do, because I know that I shouldn’t. Someone once told me that emotions are neither quantifiable nor illogical, and while I suppose I agree, I don’t really understand.

Call it a needle in the hay.

Life’s normalcies have always seemed to cause me the most trouble. Perhaps it’s because the normalcies—school, friends, family, car, commute, work, rent, bills, etc.—always just seemed like givens. Part of the standard package. Paltry. Insignificant in frequency.

But the extras and contras captivated me. The “above average” and the generally-contrary were awarded my time and my attention and my investment while the plentiful and average got locked in a cupboard under the stairs until I could be bothered to let them out for air.

Frequency meant normalcy, and normalcy didn’t deserve effort.

But now, in what feels like impossibly old age, I’ve found that all that effort spent on Extra was unknowingly being spent for the hope of an extraordinary future-normal.

I starved the outcome to feed the means.

But nobody told me (or maybe I just didn’t listen) that normal isn’t really normal!

Having a good friend feels like finding a needle in the hay.

Having a good job feels like finding a needle in the hay.

Real love feels like finding a needle in the hay.

Satisfaction and realized dreams and joy all feel like finding needles in the hay.

The needles of normalcy deserve effort, investment, and time. But as great as it feels to find those needles, the effort, investment, and time leaves me tired. Normal wasn’t supposed to be this taxing! I’m tired of having to sift through straw. I’m tired of finding hay. When I do find a needle, I get tired of fighting to keep what the dark parts of my heart would tell you I deserve in the first place. I never expected maintenance to take so much work, but more, I never expected maintenance to be a vital step in growth.

But it is.

And while I acknowledge and affirm the magnificence and necessity of normalcy, the me that would prefer to spend her entire life in bed in a cabin in the snow wants to pull the covers over her head and stop sifting. Stop trying. Stop seeking.

But this me forgets that she was never expected to do it alone. And thankfully, her helper knows where the needles are.

He put them there, and He puts joy and rest in the sifting.
 
Lord, give me strength…

…and Lord, make me want it.

3 . 7 . 14

These Days- Mates of State (Nico cover)

I don’t like Mates of State.

I don’t really even like Nico.

But I like this song and that Jackson Browne plays guitar on the original, and if you don’t like that, you’re a communist.

I don’t want to be a communist.

I first met Mates of State when I got dragged to their blah-blah-quirkyduo-snore show a couple years ago. People in my neck of the woods really dug ‘em because they weren’t farmers but still went to school in Kansas, and had some sappy love story…

But I just didn’t get the hype (I still don’t really get the hype).

Then they covered These Days.

And they covered it with a mastery and understanding that escaped even Queen Nico and her shiny-maned slave-boy.

Like moody Margot clad in her fur fortress, the Mates wallow in the apathy of having lost their taste in everything because someone lost their taste in them.

Brutal.

1 . 24 . 14

For What It’s Worth- Buffalo Springfield

"Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong."

Maybe it’s as old as time or maybe it’s new, but there’s this idea that has permeated society that popular opinion decides what’s right and acceptable or wrong and condemnable. Thank goodness Martin Luther King or Thomas Paine or Galileo or Helen Keller or any participant in any movement that sought to deconstruct the strongholds of evil or inaccuracy in a given sphere didn’t concede to popular pressure. 

Just because masses of people engage in evil doesn’t make it good, it just makes more evil.

Lately, I’ve been thinking of the same principle in terms of sin and pain. Just because death and divorce and betrayal happen on an hourly basis doesn’t make them any less terrible. The pain is still the same. The consequences still stand. The heart remains shattered. The brokenness of the guilty and innocent, alike, is just as gruesome. But we feign ignorance to evade conviction, preaching to ourselves that frequency should beget apathy.

That’s wrong.

Just because these things happen every minute of every day to millions of people doesn’t make it hurt less. It doesn’t remove the consequences. It doesn’t mend the shattered heart or the influence of brokenness years down the line.

It just means more people experience it.

I think it would serve us well to remember that. That the pain inflicted from some every-sin or every-tragedy isn’t equally distributed among all affected, but that each person shoulders it in its entirety - not just some bearable fraction.

First, friends, let’s weigh our actions before they’re carried out. Second, let’s be good comforters. Good listeners. Always understanding that so-called “normalcy” is just a veil draped over billions of individual stories of immense pain and heartbreak. 

12 . 31 . 13

Together We’ll Ring in the New Year- Motion City Soundtrack

A brief reflection on 2013:

Eves of New Years’ past have been monumental let downs. They typically find me sitting on the couch in my parents’ basement blaring the Dick Clark Rockin’ New Year’s Special as the world swirls around me and my numb inner monologue recounts my failures. I’m never where I hoped (but secretly thought) I’d be. “20XX is my year!” says my quintessential, peppy-but-naive New Year’s Facebook status. Old friend, you were written in vain.

20XX was not my year.

20XX probably won’t be either. With a fistful of confetti and a noise maker battle cry, New Year’s gives me an annual punch in the jaw with the reality of the potential I’ve left untapped, the things I’ve left unsaid, and the dreams I’ve left unrealized.

But 2013 feels different.

Sure, I’ll still be spending our last evening together with Dick Clark via Ryan Seacrest, but for the first time in my life, I’m looking back over a year that hasn’t felt wasted.The excitement that came with 2013 hasn’t been nullified by overwhelming disappointment and defensive cynicism, but has morphed into the ever-elusive Satisfaction. Perhaps it’s because 2013 escaped the vanilla, linear rut the years before had gotten into and, instead, led me to scale the highest peaks of joy and descend into the deepest valleys of grief.

Call it the best and worst year of my life.

The worst hit its lowest point this summer. I lost a dear friend, and two of the sweetest, dearest friends I’ve ever had the honor to call mine lost their entire worlds. We waited together. We cried together. We prayed together. And we mourned together. But somewhere in the midst of boundless tragedy we grew together, too. Both independently and into each other, we grew. Together. It’s odd, isn’t it? It’s odd how the painful and inevitably sudden departures of loved ones bring - in perfect time - growth in the ones they’ve left behind. It’s like their last and lasting gift to tide us over until we meet again on streets of gold.

The best began its upward push in February when I found something I didn’t know I was looking for: the written word. The weird, indecipherable, familiar-yet-foreign feelings that swift conversation could never facilitate finally found an outlet in my keyboard and blank Word documents. Writing has given me the much-needed time to leisurely break down how I’m feeling; the time to choose the exact words I need to formulate the right concoction so those intense emotions don’t seem quite so foreign or quite so scary.  With my pen in my sheath and my sheath at my side, no one thought is wasted and every idea has a fighting chance at developing into action.

All these things culminated in the previously misunderstood truth that some things are meant to be felt, not just observed. I learned that a wall built to keep out pain and heartbreak keeps out joy and love and the gift of being known; I learned it’s necessary to invest.

This year, relationships actually became relationships.

It’s been a year of joy and a year of grief. A year of change and a year of discovery. But in all its peaks and valleys, it’s a year that’s been lived.

11 . 19 . 13

Jolene- Cake

Nope, not a cover of the Dolly Parton song. Just an original Cake hit that plays to a distorted longing hiding in the shadowy places of my heart.

I’d like to think I’m not alone in this; that others harbor the same secret longing to be the fascinatingly troubled girl who inspires great music. There’s this small-but-present part of me that just wants to be the liner-smudged-damsel guitar-heroes want to save. In a world where broken is synonymous with interesting, I oft find myself wishing I were some tangled web woven in knots that coax the inquisitive minds of chronic unravel-ers into the challenge.

Then, I’m reminded that people can’t save people, it’s an act of grace to not live in those problems, and that simplicity is vastly underrated.

…but Jolene is still a great song.

11 . 18 . 13

Soul Meets Body- Death Cab for Cutie

It’s the single matter on which the lustrous Seth Coen and I disagree, but I refuse to compromise.

I cannot stand Death Cab. I think I Will Follow You Into the Dark is one of the most preposterous and pretentious songs known to Generation Y. I want to cut Ben Gibbard’s plastered-down hair and burn those stupid little wristbands he insists on wearing during shows.

But gosh dang, this song is a masterpiece. I attribute the majority of its excellence to that enigmatic guitar lick framing Gibbard’s voice between verses, but all the song’s elements combine to create this thick atmosphere of immortality.

S’just good.

(Hey look, I wrote about Ben Gibbard without mentioning Zooey Deschanel or Jenny Lewis. It is possible!)

11 . 13 . 13

Dammit- Blink-182

I still don’t know what to say. One of my dearest, sweetest friends surprised me with birthday tickets to Blink’s Blink-182 tenth anniversary tour. 

I cried.

I cried when I saw the marquis. I cried to the opening licks of Feelin’ This. I bawled during I Miss You. And I cried during pretty much everything else. I’m not sure if it’s the extreme nostalgia factor (in junior high a good friend became one of my best friends when we bonded over both liking that weird song about spiders eating guts) or the fact that I’m old enough to have been doing something I vividly remember ten years ago, but this concert sparked a flame of emotion in me that will rage for days.

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At the sound of Obvious, all the feelings came rushing over me, more real than when I’d initially felt them. I remember being an underwhelmed freshman whose insurmountable crush on a taken-but-perfect senior brought light to boredom-glazed, small-town eyes. I remember pining at parties and in the wings. I remember wading through the pool with friends, scheming and hoping and lamenting to the sounds of Roller Coaster and Here’s Your Letter (and Family Reunion when the parents weren’t listening). I remember him finally taking notice when I conquered his challenge to name all three members of the band.They were golden days and golden longings bound up in the safety of adolescence.

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Blink offered a safely rebellious outlet for our unintentionally manufactured angst. I’ve realized in later years, however, that many of my childhood partners-in-mischief understood the well-concealed cries of the band better than I ever could; real, defensible angst. At party level, the music just seemed the pop-musings of ornery punk kids, but lyrics heavy with honesty and full-disclosure revealed the deep-seated troubles and fears of kids at the mercy of authority’s bad decisions.

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Everything in me hungers for those days when our futures were drenched in promise and our present mistakes held little consequence. Blink-182 made sure those memories stayed memorable. But the joy in remembrance brought by my childhood soundtrack is tempered with the bearable-but-chronic pain of knowing history is final.

I guess this is growing up.