Monday, December 24, 2007

(untitled 208)

O holy night!
The stars are brightly shining
It is the night of our dear Savior's birth.

Long lay the world in sin and ever pining
'Til He appeared and the soul felt its worth.
A thrill of hope; the weary soul rejoices
For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn.

Fall on your knees!
O hear the angel voices!
O night divine!
O night when Christ was born!
O night divine!
O night, O night divine!

Truly He taught us to love one another.
His law is love and His gospel is peace.
Change shall He bring, for the slave is our brother
And in His name all oppression shall cease.
Sweet hymns of joy in grateful chorus rising
Let all within us praise His holy name.

Fall on your knees!
O hear the angel voices!
O night divine!
O night when Christ was born!
O night divine!
O night, O night divine!

Just a short reminder what the season is about. Merry Christmas, everyone.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

(untitled 207)

It's nearly the end of the year, which means it's time for lists of the top whatevers of the year to come out. I put together a list of my CDs of the year last December, and I was pretty pleased with the results. So now, while my Japanese 1 students make posters for another hour, I give you the five CDs of 2007 that you really ought to have been listening to.

Even with a new Radiohead album, I don't feel like there was any one standout album that demands to be made the album of the year. I'll list my five CDs in alphabetical order this year instead.

1. Armchair Apocrypha, Andrew Bird. This CD came out in March, during Lent, so I missed it and all of its hype at first. I bought the CD and set it aside while I fulfilled my Lenten vow, only to find that I didn't like it quite as much as I thought I might. (This shouldn't be a surprise to me, since I didn't particularly like The Mysterious Production of Eggs at first, either.) Genuine and I took in a concert of Bird's in May, and while it was fun, we just weren't that familiar with his new album. The more I listen to it, though, the more I really like it. While most albums I really enjoy have two or three standout songs and several good ones, Armchair has, by my count, six standout songs. I like "Fiery Crash" enough to have it on the mix playing at our wedding reception, and I've liked "Heretics" since I downloaded it from Bird's website before the official release of the album. "Dark Matter" is the rocker of the bunch, showing that Bird can cut loose, while "Scythian Empires" is the surprisingly beautiful and gentle song at the end. (It occupies the same spot on Armchair that "MX Missiles" occupies on Eggs.) While Armchair isn't Bird's best album, it is a very good album, and the logical progression from Eggs. It shows him growing up just a little bit, and if growing up means he produces more music like this, I say that's just fine.

2. In Rainbows, Radiohead. I've reviewed this once in depth and once in passing already on this blog, but I'll write a little more with the benefit of hindsight. I think so much emphasis was placed on Radiohead's innovative distribution model (you can have it for whatever price you want!) that the music sort of became lost in the shuffle. And it's amazing music. Radiohead has focused for years on being the most avant-garde and cutting-edge band that their music, while both avant-garde and cutting-edge, suffered a bit. (Don't get me wrong - I adore Kid A.) With In Rainbows, it sounds like the band, for the first time in ages, are actually enjoying themselves. The subtle back and forth action of the band playing off of each other is back, something that we haven't seen since the days of OK Computer. "15 Step" at first sounds like the album will be more of the electronica that has dominated the last three records, but once it breaks into something that's almost soul, you can see the band is headed somewhere new. "Arpeggi/Weird Fishes" has a beautiful cascading guitar part that sucks you right in. "Reckoner" does the same thing with both Ed O'Brien's guitar and Phil Selway's drums. And "Faust ARP," a sort of version of "Blackbird" for the millennial generation, brings back images of "Exit Music (for a film)". It feels like the band is relaxed for the first time in years. Ironic that once they stop trying to make the best album in history, they succeed in making something tremendous.

3. Neon Bible, Arcade Fire. This is another album that I missed during Lent. Right from the get-go, you can tell the album is much darker than its predecessor, Funeral. "Black Mirror," the leadoff track, has dark, brooding guitars that draw you in. Really, the only way into Neon Bible is through "Black Mirror" - the bright, optimistic spots on the record don't have the same impact unless contrasted with that dark opening. "Intervention" is clearly the highlight of the record, with its impressive pipe organ and the soaring voice of Win Butler shouting lyrics like "Who's going to reset the bone?" Yet the climax of the album, in my mind, comes at two points - once during sinister bass strum and delicate bells of "Black Wave/Bad Vibrations" ("eating from the ghetto on a hundred dollar plate"), and once, more impressively, during "No Cars Go," in which the band pulls out all the stops for their finale. There are a lot of stops, too - with eight regular members, there's a lot of sound to play with. Neon Bible takes some work to warm up to, but, given time, it's worth the wait.

4. Sound of Silver, LCD Soundsystem. I initially only bought this album so I could be ready for the joint Arcade Fire-LCD Soundsystem concert Genuine and I went to this September. I'm really glad I did, since it's fantastic. James Murphy delivered on his first album, but on Sound of Silver, he ups the ante. Each song is built around one set of beats, slowly assembling itself into a full-fledged dance tune by the end. That's just like his first album, except that on this album, he seems to be focused on making his songs more polished rather than just loud and fast. He also sounds like he's having fun, too - "North American Scum" is, by any account, the funniest song of 2007 ("And to all of you who still think we're from England/We're like, no"). Even if you aren't a huge fan of dance, this is still worth checking out. The beats are infectious enough to get even the most reluctant listener tapping their toes.

5. The Stage Names, Okkervil River. This was probably one of the most anticipated albums of the year until October, when In Rainbows dropped. Okkervil River take a step back from their brooding, melancholy music of the last few years to release something a bit happier. "Our Life is a Movie, Or Maybe" shows that the band are ready to start playing songs in a major key, and without any mournful lyrics, either. Their penchant for well-researched, hyperliterate songs hasn't abated, though. "Savannah Smiles" is about the death by suicide of Shannon Michelle Wilsey (better known as the porn star Savannah) in 1994. The soft ballad is kinder than you might expect from an egotistical porn star, but the tenderness in the song is deeply touching. "Plus Ones" comes in as the runner up to "North American Scum" for funniest song of 2007. Will Sheff put together a list of numerical references in famous songs and added one to each of them. Lyrics like "no one wants to hear about your 97th tear" are both clever and funny, each building on the last. And yet, it's more than just lyrics. Okkervil River make beautiful music, and this record is probably their most approachable one yet.

It's long, but those are my reviews of the five best albums of the year. And with Christmas coming up, these are great ideas for gifts, if you're looking for something to get someone. (Not me, though. I already own all five of these.) Honorable mention goes to Beirut's The Flying Club Cup and Spoon's Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, both of which probably would have ended up on this list if I'd heard anything from them.

Happy 2007, everyone. Here's hoping 2008 is as rewarding, musically.

Monday, December 17, 2007

(untitled 206)

One of my kids in class today, in speaking to another student, said, "My dad can beat up your dad."

Which made me think of this:

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

(untitled 205)

Fun fact: While helping Genuine Draft carry some boxes home from work so we could pack up our belongings, I earned a gigantic (cf. huge, freakin' enormous) paper cut on the tip of my thumb.

Additional fun fact: If you pour hot water over a paper cut, perhaps while washing your hands, it hurts like a mother.

(untitled 204)

During my Japanese 2 class, I had my students memorize a dialog and present it to the class. Three students approached me and asked if they could work in a group of three to memorize it. I would have protested, but they were all good, hardworking students, so I let them go ahead, even though the dialog only had two parts (thus, a dialog). I stopped by as I was walking around the class, helping everyone out, and asked how they were doing. The boy in the group (who was working with two girls) simply said, "This threesome is working out great."

He didn't even intend any innuendo. No one giggled or said anything inappropriate. I'm so used to hearing kids search for any trace of entendre in everything they say that it caught me off guard a little. Way to go.

Friday, December 07, 2007

(untitled 203)

The Christmas season is upon us, and I've actually been listening to Christmas music this year. I normally make a point of not listening to Christmas carols, if only because the type you tend to hear are songs like "Feliz Navidad" and Paul McCartney's truly horrid "Wonderful Christmas." I really like Christmas hymns ("The First Noel" especially so), but I have a hard time listening to schmaltz in any form. Last year, however, I managed to pick up a copy of Sufjan Stevens' fantastic Songs for Christmas (which I had as my fifth-best album of 2006), and I've been listening to it to and from work. Stevens writes some really solid music, and though this is mostly gimmicky, it's still really good. He has a balance of traditional hymns ("Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing" makes an appearance) with his own originals ("Hey Everybody, It's Christmas Time!"). It makes for a pleasant, soothing commute.

Listening to Stevens' music, though, has had an effect that I did not anticipate. For the first time in quite a while, I find my thoughts centered on Jesus Christ during the season of the holiday commemorating His birth. In recent years, I've been so wrapped up in school and other things that that true spirit of Christmas has fallen by the wayside. This year, it's almost hard not to think of the Savior, though. How can I not when I'm listening to songs like "Little Drummer Boy" and "Once in Royal David's City"? What might be even stranger, though, is that the primarily Protestant doctrines mentioned in the songs ("God in three persons, blessed Trinity," for example) is strengthening my faith in my own decidedly not Protestant church. If anything, I've heard the contrasts more clearly than I would have normally.

It's a really good set of songs, dear readers. You'd do well to pick it up, or at the very least listen to the streaming audio he's made available on his website. It's good for the soul.

Monday, December 03, 2007

(untitled 202)

I taught a killer lesson today in my English class. Teaching English has been really difficult, since it's nowhere near my area of expertise. I know a little bit about the books in question (The Scarlet Letter and The Chosen, for eleventh and tenth grades, respectively), but that's as far as my formal training has gone. I really don't know much beyond the plot. I don't know which symbols to develop or what quotes to build on. That said, I talked about the latent hypocrisy in the society in The Scarlet Letter and compared it to high school. The kids spent the first hour of class talking about what horrible people the characters in the book were, but when I pointed out that it's actually not all that different than their own society, everyone got really quiet. The looks on their faces told me that they understood what point I was driving at. I doubt it's anything that they're going to keep with them long-term (I wouldn't be surprised if some of them are currently being judgmental in passing period), but at the very least, they know that I have some relevant points to make, and that I'm worth listening to. I love knowing that I've made a difference, if only a small one. This is why I got into teaching in the first place.

Two little things that probably aren't worth a post of their own now. I'm also pleased with my outfit choice today. It's not especially snazzy or anything, but I really feel like a teacher wearing this. All I need is a nametag of my own and I'd be set. That, and when I got into my car this morning, the odometer read 66666. It's the little things, you know?