Top 15 Albums of 2018

Here are my 15 Favorite Albums of 2018. There were other good albums this year, but these 15 stood out.

Bahamas - Earthtones
This is without a doubt my favorite album of the year. It didn’t seem to get enough press, but Sweet Jesus! It's so good! Saw Afie Jurvanen and crew at The Neptune in Seattle and it was one of those amazing shows where the live set out-does the album—and the album has Pino Palladino and James Gadson! The live band really opened it up with some great extended guitar work from both Afie and regular touring guitar player Christine Bougie (her lap steel stuff is amazing) as well as the usual great backup singing from Felicity Williams. I also bought the (white) vinyl edition of Earthtones and it's got some slight variation in the song selection from the digital version—always good! Get it. And check out this version of No Wrong. Oh yeah, what kind of music is this? I don't know, Yacht Rock? Who cares, it’s great. And it’s Canadian.

Soccer Mommy - Clean
Sophie Allison is probably my favorite new artist of the year (new to me anyway). Hadn't heard of her before 2018. Great mix of lyric and melody and a real stripped-down mix-tape sound with a vibe that reminds of early Liz Phair. She's going to do great things in the next few years. Here’s Your Dog, a favorite track.

Rhye - Blood
Mike Milosh is a long time favorite and so is this album. I had been following him early on under the band name "Milosh" but the stuff he's been making for the last few years under the name Rhye is really quite amazing. Check out "Waste" from really great live set at the Charles de Gaulle Airport to get a good feel for the whole album. This particular lineup is stellar. See you at The Neptune this February…

Noname - Room 25
If I had a second favorite new artist of the year it would be NoName—new to me anyway. Neosoul/Hiphop from Chicago which reminds me of early Jill Scott. Noname's rapping has that poetic feel to it, but the "real" band really makes it stand out—and great songwriting and lyrics. Really great album. And, Blaxploitation has the best bass line of 2018. Grab her first album Telefone if you haven’t already as well.

Janelle Monae - Dirty Computer
There's been more than enough written about this album already. It's really, really good. So funky. So smooth. Janelle is the shit. "I Like That" is probably my favorite song, but you can't beat Make Me Feel for the top groove of 2018. Prince had a hand in this song before he died, and it's really something.

Damien Jurado - The Horizon Just Laughed
I've enjoyed a lot of Damien Jurado's music over the last decade or so, but I've never really found any one album that stood out as complete. Until now. This is the one. Maybe it helps to live in the Pacific Northwest (as this feels like an actual soundtrack to Washington state) but the album is really strong lyrically and the music just flows. So nice. So good. Also, I think I met his sister at a party once.

Phosphorescent - C'est La Vie
This is one of those albums I didn't expect to like as much as I did. Great pedal steel guitar, great lyrics, and that bittersweet heaviness that I am always drawn to. This is a probably good place to start if you are unfamiliar with Matthew Houck’s music.

Blood Orange - Negro Swan
Dev Hynes has made one of my previous year end lists as well—he's really, really good. And it's a brilliant mix of downtempo, alt-R&B—never quite sure what the genre is, actually—which is great. It definitely feels like it's from London (which it is). I like this album a lot. Start with Charcoal Baby.

Kali Uchis - Isolation
Yet another new artist for me this year (I think it's her debut). Solid Pop/Hiphop/R&B stuff from the Columbian/American singer—her voice is really amazing. Tyler The Creator and Bootsy Collins show up on a track as does The Internet's Steve Lacy. It's just a solid summer album, I'm looking forward to more from Kali Uchis.

The Internet - Hive Mind
Speaking of The Internet…I think this album could probably use a bit of editing, but that's not enough to knock it off my list. Groovy and funky and guitar that reminds me of George Benson (these guys are associated with Odd Future as well). It's one of those albums that came around during the summer at just the right moment (right when the sunroof started staying open at night). And for that, I think it's worth the props. Come Over is the song that first grabbed my ear.

Kiefer - Happysad
Hiphop meets jazz piano—really good jazz piano. Kiefer has also made one of my previous lists. I really like what Kiefer Shackleford has been doing. He's worked with Kaytranada, Anderson .Paak and Moses Sumney, but this this album and his previous are uniquely his. Watch this live version of Upwards.

Villagers - The Art of Pretending To Swim
These guys (or guy, Conor O'Brien) have their roots in "folk" but they are so much more. On this album, there's a lot more synth and percussion than previous efforts, which I really like. Nice mix of analog and digital. My favorite Villagers album so far. Here's a sample.

Tom Misch - Geography
More electronic grooves and R&B from The UK. I found this one late in the year but it has grown on me quite a bit. Guest appearance from De La Soul on my favorite track It Runs Through Me.

Khruangbin - Todo El Mundo
Been following these guys for a while now. I was originally drawn to the chilled out versions of old Thai funk on previous efforts, but this one has branched out into new areas of the world (as the title suggests) but the same atmospheric/psychedelic vibe holds strong. Check out Maria También live on KEXP.

Anderson .Paak - Oxnard
And finally, this L.A. funk/rap hybrid album from Anderson .Paak rounds out the Top 15. Guest appearances from Kendrick Lamar, Q-Tip, Snoop and more. Here’s Tints.

Honorable Mentions

There’s always that one album that I missed from a previous year that I discovered this year. This time around it was Phoebe Bridger’s Stranger In The Alps. This would be in the Top 5 without fail if it came out in 2018. Check out Smoke Signals live on KEXP. The keyboard player is even using an OP-1 from Teenage Engineering!

And of course, the best song/video of 2018 was This Is America. I also really liked the song Malamente from Rosalía.

Top 15 Albums of 2017

I don’t have a solid criteria for how this list comes about, but mostly it’s just about what lingers in my head at the end of the year. There’s so much great music out there if you put in the effort to find it, but these stood out in 2017 as great, fully formed albums. In no particular order:

Thundercat : Drunk
Funk and whimsy! You really can’t go wrong with Thundercat. The album feels a bit rough around the edges in a good way—it’s very loose and funky. Cameos from Kenny Loggins, Michael McDonald, Kamasi Washington, and Kendrick Lamar, among others.
Favorite Track: A Fan's Mail (Tron Song II)

LCD Soundsystem : American Dream
Talking Heads Remain In Light is probably my favorite album of all time. American Dream channels that album and then some—and I love everything about it. Makes you want to dance. It’s good to have Murphy & Co. back making music again.
Favorite Track: Other Voices

The National : Sleep Well Beast
No other band I’d rather drink bourbon to. They keep making what is essentially the same album over and over again and I wouldn’t have it any other way. 
Favorite Track: Nobody Else Will Be There

Moses Sumney : Aromanticism
I actually bought the Sumney EP called Mid-City Island with the song “Plastic” back in 2014. The song reappears here again on Aromanticism alongside a bunch of new tracks. Quiet, soulful, sad, and a bit sparse—and really great production. 
Favorite Track: Plastic

Kamasi Washington : Harmony of Difference
I don’t listen to nearly enough modern jazz anymore for some reason, but occasionally somebody gets ahold of my earhole and I can’t ignore it. Kamasi Washington has been doing this for several years now. 
Favorite Track: Truth

Gabriel Garzón-Montano : Jardin
R&B with plenty of funk and pop—reminds me a lot of D'Angelo and there’s a couple of songs that sound like they could have been written by Prince himself. I hadn’t heard of Gabriel before 2017, but I'm looking forward to more. If there was a Top 3 this would be in there. 
Favorite Track: Crawl

Aimee Mann : Mental Illness
I love pretty much everything Aimee does, and this album is no exception. It’s just really good folk music, and we all need some—reminds me a lot of her earlier album Wise Up.
Favorite Track: Knock It Off

SZA : CTRL
Still working my way through this one, but it’s an obvious choice. Pushing the borders of the genre in the same way that Frank Ocean did with Channel Orange. Great stuff.
Favorite Track: Love Galore

Lana Del Rey : Lust For Life
Haters, are indeed going to hate. I’ve enjoyed a small handful of Del Rey’s songs over the years, but this feels like a solid album all the way through. Guest vocals from both Stevie Nicks and Sean Lennon are icing on the cake. I played this a lot over the summer—reminds me of California, natch. 
Favorite Track: Heroin

Kiefer : Kickinit Alone
I spend a fair amount of time on Bandcamp and I occasionally find a gem. Kiefer Shackelford does really great jazz/soul with plenty of J Dilla inspired samples along the way. It’s instrumental hip-hop with a smokey lounge vibe. Kiefer should be famous soon. 
Favorite Track: Tubesocks

Kevin Morby : City Music
I’m still pretty new to Morby’s stuff, but I like this album quite a bit (he was in a band called Woods a while back which I should probably listen to again). Anyway, just good songwriting all around.
Favorite Track: Dry Your Eyes

King Krule : The OOZ
I’ve been a huge Archy Marshall fan since I first heard The Noose of Jah City back in 2011. To be honest, I think this album needs some editing and refinement, but it’s still King Krule, and that’s all that really matters. 
Favorite Track: Czech One

Sylvan Esso : What Now
I think this duo kind of found themselves by accident and the result is pretty great. Still listening to the old stuff currently, but I think I like it all. Feels like “electro-country” if that’s thing.
Favorite Track: Kick Jump Twist

Kendrick Lamar : Damn.
I think there has already been a lot written about this one. 
Favorite Track: Loyalty 

Father John Misty : Pure Comedy
Every Top Fifteen list needs a meta-ironic court jester. 
Favorite Track: Ballad of the Dying Man

Valerie June : The Order of Time
Valerie was new to me as well, as I hadn’t heard any of the old stuff before. I like this quite a bit. Folk, country, gospel, blues, soul—all the good stuff. 
Favorite Track: Astral Plane

Honorable Mention

Grimes : Art Angles
I didn’t find this album until late 2016, but it’s really the album I played the most last year. Grimes is probably my all out favorite thing of 2017. Claire Boucher deserves all of the accolades. Check out Kill V Maim or Venus Fly or even Oblivion from her previous album Visions. So good.

 

* There's actually 16 albums. Sorry. 

Top Ten Music 2015

Here they are in no particular order, mostly. Some links to my favorite tracks included for your listening pleasure.
 
Khruangbin - The Universe Smiles Upon You
The Universe Smiles Upon You
 
Andy Shauf - The Bearer of Bad News
Wendell Walker
 
Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell
Should Have Known Better

Leikeli47 - Leikeli47
Heard 'Em Say

Roman GianArthur - OK Lady
All:Need

Tobias Jesso Jr. - Goon
Without You

Oddisee - The Good Fight
That's Love

Alabama Shakes - Sound & Color
Don't Wanna Fight

Kendrick Lamar - To Pimp a Butterfly
King Kunta

Father John Misty - I Love You Honeybear
Bored In The USA

Amason - Sky City
Went To War

Ibeyi - Ibeyi
Exhibit Diaz

The Villagers - Darling Arithmetic
Courage

Sorry, I guess that's thirteen. See you next year!

I’m Pretty Sure There’s a July

After every holiday dinner my grandmother would pull me aside and give me some words of advice. The advice varied, but over time, the same nuggets of wisdom would begin to repeat themselves. The two most popular were: “Don’t ever get a tattoo, because only sailors and criminals get tattoos” followed by the more common grandmotherly standard “Always wear underwear in case you get into an accident.” This wasn’t sage advice by any means, but I often recalled her words and found them comforting. 

A year or so after graduating high school in 1986, I was preparing to move from Humboldt County down to The City where I would begin my study of graphic design at the Academy of Art College. Before the big move my grandmother pulled me aside one last time for some last minute wisdom before adding something new: “Always carry around a can of Lysol for spraying on handrails so you don’t catch that AIDS virus. San Francisco is full of that AIDS.” I think she was mostly joking this time, but I made a mental note anyway.

Art school was fun at first, but it didn’t really pan out for me. The many distractions of the city took hold and I slowly began failing my classes after the first year. I was young, distracted, on my own for the first time ever in San Francisco—and I’ve never been a good student—it’s just not my thing. So I decided to drop out to avoid any more tuition debt that my parents had been subsidizing. I was working part time as a moped messenger during school to pay the bills, and when the the crew at Aero Messenger heard I was now a college dropout, they happily gave me a full-time slot. The real world was calling.

I spent the next year speeding through downtown San Francisco traffic taking packages from one end of town to the other while running red lights, hopping curbs, careening down tiny alley ways, and basically trying to stay swift and upright as much as I could. I only ever got one ticket and I never wore a helmet. The bicycle guys had more messenger street cred than we did, but us moped guys could take stuff way outside the city if needed, and that’s why we were valuable. As long as you didn’t mind ducking when the kids would throw rocks and batteries at you, a 45 minute roundtrip to Hunter’s Point could be very lucrative.

We all wore the standard company blue windbreakers except for two brothers: Omar and Alex. They were members of a Mission Bloods gang who requested special red jackets and the guys at Aero obliged. One day I was cruising down Bryant street heading back to the shop after a long day and I see Omar flagging me down on the side of the road. I pulled over and he gave me a big bear hug. He had just been released from county after two months behind bars and I was the first person he saw. He was beaming. He grabbed my radio and started yelling in Spanish back to dispatch. Everybody chimed in on their radios and cheered his release. We had spoken maybe two or three words before this particular event, but now I felt like we were old pals.

During this time I was living in a flat off Golden Gate park on 44th & Fulton with my oldest friend Kevin who worked as a messenger for a reprographic firm, and another pal Sean, who I had met a few years earlier. I got Sean his first messenger job at Aero and he lasted one day on the moped before calling it quits. Sean was a real motorcycle guy—a Suzuki 1100 motorcycle guy—and the paltry top speed of 45 miles an hour on the two-stroke Puch just didn’t cut it for him. He took his race bike down the street to Lightning Express and eventually became one of San Francisco’s most notorious messenger outlaws. The SFPD would often put up road blocks to try and catch him. One night I looked out our window and saw a motorcycle headlight racing up the tree-lined hillside of Golden Gate Park across the street from our flat. Moments later Sean would burst through the back door panting with a wide grin as police cars sped by with lights flashing on the street below, the bike safely stashed in the woods. (Earlier in the day he had head-butted a lawyer who tried to cut in front of him to file legal papers at the county courthouse before the 4PM cutoff.) Sean died many years later in a motorcycle accident. His gas tank still hangs on the wall in memoriam at a bar called Zietgeist in the Mission.

We were all partying quite a lot. All the city’s messengers would get paid on Friday and then take their checks to a Filipino grocer just south of Market street. The grocer cashed all messenger checks without ID and no questions asked. In turn, we would all buy our beer and food at his market before heading out to various parties. Outside on the street an open-air drug market would form as everybody was flush with Friday cash. You could grab a case of malt liquor, a bindle of coke, a handful of ecstasy, and your weekend was pretty much covered. 

This went on for almost a year until one bright, sunny Monday morning in early spring. Unlike a typical Monday, I wasn’t hungover from my usual weekend shenanigans as I had opted for a more subdued couple of days off. (There were quite a few life-threatening Mondays previous where I wasn’t even sure what planet I was on due to residual LSD psychosis and severe sleep deprivation, but this wasn’t one of them.) On this particular Monday I was clear headed with a fresh cup of coffee and a spring in my throttle. I grabbed my first ticket, started up the bike, and picked up my first run of the day. All was good in the world.

Crisscrossing the city all day would often make my mind wander—as well as my gaze. And I’ll be honest here, I had an enthusiastic appreciation for the backside of the female San Francisco office worker in high heels on her way to work. On this particular Monday, I encountered a posterior so captivating that I forgot for a moment that I was hurtling down Sansome street at 35 miles an hour. When I finally got my eyes back on the road, the last thing I remember seeing was a bus board advertisement for the Carl’s Jr. Double Bacon Western Cheese Burger—a half second from my face. Then a loud crunching sound.

I regained consciousness lying on my back in the middle of the street as a business man in a suit and tie loomed overhead asking if I was okay. (I wasn’t.) I got up and stumbled around a bit before falling down again in the gutter. When I woke up a second time I was looking out at the street from inside the back of an ambulance. I spotted Omar’s red jacket as he rested on his handlebars shaking his head. He must of been called to get my package and move it along. The back doors of the ambulance closed and that was the last time I ever saw him. The police report would later say that after hitting the bus I was thrown 75 feet through the air, but I don’t think they realized I had been stumbling around quite a bit before I passed out the second time.

The EMTs noticed that I was awake now and started asking me questions as the ambulance sped along with sirens blazing. Who was the president? George Bush (The Elder) seemed like the right answer, but I wasn’t entirely sure. They asked me if I knew what month it was and all I could come up with was that “I’m pretty sure there’s a July. Isn’t there an August too? Wait, what’s a month?” They kept up the questions for a bit and I struggled to answer them. Finally I looked out the window and realized that we were entering SF General. “Do you know where you are?” they asked me. “1001 Potrero.” I replied without hesitation. They seemed rather impressed with that one. As a messenger, I knew the address of every building in the city, and it was all starting to make sense now.

I was wheeled down a few hallways and led to a room where two doctors began poking and prodding. One of the doctors grabbed a pair of scissors and began to cut the legs of my pants off. As she got closer to removing the pants altogether it suddenly dawned on me: I wasn’t wearing any underwear. Grandma was right all along! It was not typical for me to go commando, but I had skipped laundry over the weekend and was forced to make due without. To make matters even worse, I had just got a tattoo the week before and it had barely healed. I was flouting years of guidence and paying for it dearly. The doctor finished the exam by sticking an index finger right where it mattered—almost as if to punish me for not listening to grandma—and I was now fully awake.

A bone was set and some holes were sewn up and I was placed in the common hallway for further concussion monitoring. There were other patients in beds all around me and the person behind me had a compound fracture and was screaming in pain for an hour before she was finally wheeled away for surgery. Patients and visitors and doctors all walked past my bed carrying on conversations and bumping into my IV stand.

More hours went by and I really needed to use the bathroom. I tried to get out of the bed in search of relief, but this proved to be more of a struggle than I anticipated. A nurse finally rushed over and asked what the hell I was doing. She gave me a plastic bottle and told me to fill it up and leave it on top of the bed when I was done. This seemed kind of awkward out there in the hallway with all the commotion, but it was my only recourse. I had some difficulty positioning the goods just so with my newly broken wrist, but I eventually got it right and began a very satisfying release. Just as I did this, a doctor approached my bed with about six medical interns all writing on clipboards. They formed a semi circle around me as the doctor began to explain my various head contusions while I tried keep the flow going unnoticed. He finally lifted up the blanket to show my slightly disfigured knee and they all nodded and took more notes. I’m not sure if they also noticed that I was filling up that bottle, but if they did, they never let on. The group moved down to the next patient and I placed the full bottle on the bed.

At around 6 in the evening I was finally wheeled out to the front of the hospital and the orderly wished me luck. It was getting dark now. I hobbled over to a bank of pay phones and called my friend Bill for a ride home. A few months later I moved back to Humboldt County and got a job as a bus boy in an Italian restaurant. I suppose the best advice my grandmother never gave me was that it’s very impolite to stare. But, I never did get another tattoo and my underwear drawer has been full ever since.

Top Ten 2014

D’Angelo - Black Messiah 
Have to give this to D’Angelo because I’ve been waiting for this album for over a decade. And, it just so happens to be a great album. Pino Palladino on the bass makes it even better. Worth the wait. I think Really Love might be my favorite track.

Sun Kil Moon - Benji
My pal Dave pointed me in the direction of this album and I almost dismissed it twice because I just couldn’t quite grasp it. (Note to self: always play an album three times!) The only album all year that consistently made me sadhappy. Kind of incredible, actually. Bens My Friend.

FKA Twigs - LP1
I actually don’t like every song on this album. But man, the ones that are good are really good. It sounds like nothing else and that’s why it’s so compelling. Two Weeks is one of my favorite songs of the year.

Mac DeMarco - Salad Days
I caught up with this one late in the year and I’m still figuring it out. I can't tell if it’s ironic yacht rock or sincere chillout jazz—but it’s pretty fantastic all around. Salad Days on KEXP.

St. Vincent - St. Vincent
I own all of her previous stuff, but I never quite liked them enough as albums. This one finally hits the mark as a whole. Digital Witness is a really great song.

Ray LaMontagne - Supernova
This is the soundtrack of a roadtrip we took up the coast of Sonoma last summer where we stopped and ate oysters and drank champagne at every single small town along the way. Literally. Here he is on Letterman

Beck - Morning Phase
Sea Change is my favorite Beck album and this picks up where that left off. I guess I prefer earnest Beck to ironic Beck.

Rat King - So It Goes
Hip Hop from Harlem. It’s their first studio album and two tracks feature another one of my favorites, King Krule. Rapid fire percussive vocals, unrelenting, slightly abrasive. Sounds good loud

Chet Faker - Built on Glass
I like this guy a lot. Kind of reminds me of a soulful James Blake. R&B meets chopped & sampled. Looking forward to more from Chet.

Thomas Dybdahl - What's Left Is Forever
Dybdahl is one of my of my favorite artists and I still can’t figure out why the Norwegian isn’t more popular stateside. Jazz/R&B/Folk with a hint of Curtis Mayfield on the first (and best) track: This Love Is Here To Stay.

More

Klapp Klapp from Little Dragon was one of my favorite songs of the year, as was Cibo Matto’s Déjà Vu. Aphex Twin’s Syro had a couple of stellar tracks as well. Kendrick Lamar teaming up with Flying Lotus for Never Catch Me might be the song I played the most. And, First Aid Kit nearly made my top ten as did Kool A.D.’s Word O.K. and Food from Kelis. (Oh! I almost forgot: Yolandi always moves me. Ugly Boy.)

La Mian Ma‘ono Style : 拉麵

Here's my first attempt at pushing the record button on my Nikon D810. This was shot with a single camera in two takes (there are some continuity issues). But, overall it's a good first run at the next phase of LookatLao Studio: back to the very beginning—with video!

A short film showing the process of hand-pulling Chinese noodles (Lamian) with Khampaeng Panyathong and Mark Fuller of Ma‘ono Fried Chicken & Whisky.

Music from bensound.com

Top 15 Albums of 2013 and 5 Other Things I Liked

2013 was an amazing year for music. So many good albums showed up right until the very end of the year. (I’m really liking this new Beyoncé album believe it or not.) So this year’s list is mostly music with a few bits and pieces at the end for fun. On with it…

1. Nick Cave - Push The Sky Away Nick Cave made the best album of the year hands down. I’ve been following Cave since high school and he is truly one of a handful of musicians still able to make compelling music after thirty years. I was lucky enough to see the live show as well and his set list for the tour was pretty incredible. His latest version of Stagger Lee does not disappoint. I’ve been yacking about this album all year…I’ve said enough.

2. King Krule - 6 Feet Beneath The Moon I started following Archie Marshall late last year after purchasing his first self-titled EP immediately after hearing the song The Noose of Jah City. I almost like the less-produced earlier stuff better—it had a real basement quality to it. But, I like everything he’s doing. He’s going to be fun to watch over the next few years.

3. Rhye - Woman I’ve been a big fan of Mike Milosh for a while now and I really like this new collaboration with the guy from Quadron (who also put out a decent album this year). This remix of The Fall is pretty fantastic.

4. Tricky - False Idols I went to see a Liz Phair show in the early 1990s and the opening act was this guy who lit a giant blunt on stage and sang along to some pre-mixed stuff in a scratchy voice while the Moore Theatre filled with smoke. Maxinquaye came out a few weeks later and it’s still one of my favorite albums of all time. False Idols gets back to that original trip hop sound and Francesca Belmonte is a good match on vocals—it’s great to see Tricky back in form. (He’s still sampling David Sylvian too!)

5. Elvis Costello & The Roots This album is really good. One-off collaborations rarely are, so perhaps there will be more. This is great stuff. Check out Tripwire on Late Night..

6. Yasmine Hamdan - Ya Nass Yasmine hails from Lebanon and currently lives in Paris. She teamed up with the guy from Novell Vague and produced an excellent debut. The album is sung in various Arabic dialects set to dreamy music that combines traditional folk with electronica. Her voice is amazing. Check out Samar.

7. Haim - Days Are Gone Simple, great pop music. I played this one a lot. Loud. It was good. (Also, Este Haim has the best Bass Face ever.)

8. Lorde - Pure Heroine More great pop music. Check out a great early morning live performance on KCRW. She’s gonna be bigger than she already is.

9. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City I really didn’t expect to like this album as much as I did. I liked both albums previous, but I assumed it would be more of the same. It’s not. It’s better.

10. Willy Mason - Carry On I first heard Willy Mason on the album Hawk from Isobel Campbell & Mark Lanegan. Then again on a great duet with Lianne La Havas called No Room For Doubt. This is the first album solo album from Willy that I’ve listened to. Sounds like tragic roots music with an occasional modern twist and some “Tom Waitsy” percussion. It is good. Talk Me Down Video

11. Blood Orange - Cupid Deluxe I didn’t know anything about Dev Hynes when I first heard this album. I’m still not even sure I know how to describe it. R&B? Silky bedroom disco? This video might help. I really do like it though.

12. The National - Trouble Will Find Me This album makes me want to drink too much whiskey and be sad, then happy. Then sad again. My kind of album. (Bonus points for ending the album with a nod to the Violent Femmes.)

13. Hiatus Kaiyote - Tawk Tomahawk Funk-rock-neo-soul with a guest appearance from Q-Tip! Something like Little Dragon meets Jill Scott. Can’t wait to hear more from these guys. Check them out on KCRW.

14. Jim James : Regions of Light and Sound of God This is a solo album from the guy who sings for My Morning Jacket. I never really got into My Morning Jacket, but I like this album quite a bit. A strange mix of folky electronic revival music from outer space. Here’s a video for A New Life with dancing buffalo lady.

15. Kanye West - Yeezus While it’s true that Kanye West has become a giant, ego-maniacal asshat over the years, I still (mostly) like the music he makes. This album is something altogether different—just like College Dropout was when it came out. Justin Vernon from Bon Iver is back singing as is last year’s favorite, Frank Ocean. Lou Reed probably wrote the best review of this album here. Lou calls the album “Majestic”. I don’t think I’d go that far, but either way—hurry up with my damn croissants!

Bonus Round

Here’s some non-music stuff that I thought deserved a nod. Sadly, I don’t remember seeing one good movie all year long.

16. Hawkeye Comics - Matt Fraction & David Aja With the exception of Frank Miller’s Batman stuff, I’ve never been a big fan of super hero comics. And aside from the recent films, I know very little about Marvel’s Avengers. That said, Marvel’s new Hawkeye series from Matt Fraction and David Aja is easily my favorite comic book of the year. To be able to take a low-rent character like Hawkeye and turn him into something interesting—and funny—is a testament to Fraction’s writing. Pair that with Aja’s illustrations and a “Chris Ware like” attention to both detail and pacing and you have a superb comic about a regular joe who also happens to be an Avenger while managing an apartment building and getting into trouble with Russian hooligans, bro. The only bad thing I have to say about Hawkeye is that Aja doesn’t illustrate every issue, and I really prefer his stuff to his stand-in. If you have anyinterest in comic books or good story-telling go buy My Life As A Weapon and Little Hits.

17. Saga - Brian K. Vaughan & Fiona StaplesSaga is another excellent comic book (though, this one might be called a “Graphic Novel” even though I’m never quite sure what the difference is.) Vaughan wrote Y: The Last Man a few years back, and while I liked that quite a bit, Saga is much better. People are calling this a “Space Opera” and I suppose that’s a fitting title. Fantasy meets outer space in a classic Star Wars/Romeo & Juliet storyline with plenty of drama, comedy, sex and violence (not for the kids!). Vaughan’s storyline is great, but I really like Fiona Staples’ illustrations here. This one is just getting started, but it looks to be an epic tale. Pick up Saga Vol. 1 and Saga Vol. 2

18. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia I finally caught up with Always Sunny this year and watched every single season. Sweet jesus this show is great! Funniest thing on TV without question. Also I have a crush on Sweet Dee.

19. PBS - Mind of a Chef If all shows about food were this great I would get cable TV again. Mind of a Chef Season One is all David Chang with plenty of MSG and whiskey. Season Two is split between Sean Brock and April Bloomfield. Both seasons are narrated by Anthony Bourdain and the show is really fun and informative—lots of good science info and real world technique. Sean Brock did a great episode where he traced southern food to its true origins in West Africa. If you have AppleTV you can watch them all anytime you want.

20. Netflix - Orange Is The New Black/House of Cards If this is the future of television sign me up. Both of these shows were excellent and the all-in-one format is perfect for how I like to watch television. If only we could subscribe to HBO Go without the extra 200 channels of crap Comcast forces you to buy alongside it. Kudos to Netflix for doing it right.

Not Fade Away

Those conversations you have with friends where you make plans to get together but don’t quite seal the deal are the worst. Why do we do that? My friend Justin and I had made plans earlier in the year to hang out and get some food at a Kenyan Safari restaurant he was raving about in Georgetown. It sounded great. And, perhaps this is a Seattle thing, but we made all the necessary arrangements—save an actual date and time. In a word, we failed at being friends. This is not uncommon. It happens every day.

Fast forward ten months and I’m sitting at my desk working furiously under a handful of sinister deadlines. Throughout any given day, various people will email me asking for photographs for a magazine article or a blog post—all of my clients do this on a regular basis—it’s part of my job. Sure enough, my longtime pal and client Margaret from 611 Supreme was looking for some photos of our friend and her former bartender, Justin, and she was wondering if I had anything in high resolution for a flyer she was making. She also assumed that I knew what had happened. What happened? Well, it turns out that Justin had just killed himself a few days prior, and she wanted to make a flyer to promote a wake in his honor. I kind of lost it.

After sobbing into my keyboard for hours, I found some photos and sent them off and asked what had happened. Not many details, but she was hosting a wake of her own for Justin at 611 the very next day and I attended and saw all the old crowd and told all the old stories and we all cried quite a bit. It was a bittersweet, sad mess of an affair.

But what about Justin? He was such an amazing person. I sat at his bar for years. I saw him every Friday. It’s absurd to try and actually explain what a warm, honest and beautiful person he was. It’s also odd to say that you truly love somebody that you hadn’t seen in over a year—or only ever saw once a week previously at his workplace. But you couldn’t not love Justin. That’s just how it worked with him. But I’m not going to try to describe how great he was to people who didn’t actually know him—but if you did know him you completely understand. In the end, we had a few dinners together, saw a few live shows together, but mostly it was just hanging out at his bar at 611 that made the difference for me. He was a weekly respite from it all. He was somebody to look forward to.

Here’s my advice to everybody: Stop making those empty plans. Either make the plans or move on. But if you really want to spend time with somebody, do it. There’s only so much time left. Spend it with the people who make a difference in your life. Another thing, if you ever suspect your friends are suffering under the weight of the world, make that effort. Answer that phone call. Drive across town. Do what it takes. And finally, you don’t get to take your own life. As bad as it gets, you just don’t get to do that. As Louis C.K. said once: “It isn’t YOUR life. It’s something you PARTICIPATE in.” I was never quite sure I bought into this idea before, but man, I sure do now. I just wonder what conversation—what notion—could have made all the difference for Justin.

Justin, you were amazing. You were brilliant. You made an impression on every person you met. You mattered. I will miss you more than I could have ever imagined because I couldn’t ever imagine this sad scenario. I guess I always assumed we would eventually set a proper date and get some of that Kenyan Safari food whatever the hell it was. I guess I just waited too damn long. I’m so sorry I did.

See you in the next one brother.

Was It Real?

I watched a lot of television as a kid. A lot. For some reason I was even allowed to have a 12 inch black & white TV in my bedroom from time to time. Around the age of seven, I started seeing previews for a new show called The Six Million Dollar Man and I could barely contain my excitement. This show looked amazing. The premier episode seemed like more of an event than a show, and I was so ready to be a part of it all. On the day of the pilot episode, I made a giant bowl of cereal and sat myself down in front of the TV fifteen minutes early and waited for the magic to begin. Just as I got comfortable, my mom and dad walked into my room and asked me to join them in the living room for something very important. Important? What could be more important than a man barely alive that needs to be rebuilt with bionics? Better, stronger, and faster? I put down the cereal bowl in a huff and followed them into the living room.

"Geoff, your mom and I are getting a divorce. I’m going to live somewhere else now, but we’re all going stay friends."

"Okay." I said, rushing back to the TV just in time to catch the opening credits where Steve Austin’s aircraft crashes into the desert. The show was amazing. I watched every single episode that followed it—even the Lindsay Wagner stuff.

The strange thing is, I have no memory of Dad leaving the house. It never felt like anything bad ever happened. It just happened—probably a few days or weeks later—I really have no idea. It hardly seems real. But I remember that particular night like it was yesterday. And Dad was right, we all got to be friends.

Since mom had a full-time job I quickly became a latch-key kid and the television became kind of like a buddy. I had lots of real friends, and we all spent lots of time outside riding bikes and building forts and all that good unsupervised stuff childhood is famous for, but right after school I always had some time to myself at home. And during that time it was all Brady Bunch, Gilligan’s Island and Star Trek reruns. I can still sing the theme songs to both Petticoat Junction and Love Boat without really trying.

Some of my more vivid memories involve experiencing televised events with my (newly single) mom on the couch after doing my homework. Back then, watching television seemed like much more of a collective, societal event—it always seemed like everybody was watching the same thing at the same time—no cable, no DVR, nothing on demand. You actually had to tune in. And we often did. Together we watched Michael Jackson’s first moonwalk on the Grammy Awards, Mary Lou Retton getting a perfect 10 at the Los Angeles Olympics, and we were both shocked to discover that it was the sister-in-law who shot J.R. (spoiler alert). Granted, perhaps Michael Jackson’s Moonwalk was not quite as important as Neal Armstrong’s in the grande scheme of televised events, but to me, it was pure magic.

But, of all the shows we watched together I think it was Miami Vice that had the biggest impact on me. Miami Vice changed television and it changed me. I was already in high school when the pilot came out, but that didn’t stop me from staying home on Friday nights with my mom to watch Crocket & Tubbs battle the evil drug lords of Dade County. This was an entirely new genre. It was really the first television show to introduce style as substance. And Michael Mann did it brilliantly. Before Miami Vice, television was just weak plots with one-dimesional characters involved in gunfights where nobody ever died. Mann introduced pop music and art direction. Consequence and grit—polished grit mind you—but it was still grit. Miami grit. Shit was going down. And it seems hard to imagine now, but nothing like this existed at all before Miami Vice arrived on the small screen in 1984. Michael Mann changed television.

My favorite scene—and what is one of the greatest scenes in all of television—occurred during the pilot. This was Michael Mann showing the world what this whole thing was going to be about. Our two heroes, undercover vice cops Crockett & Tubbs, are speeding through Miami in a black Ferrari Daytona as the Phil Collins song “In The Air Tonight” begins to play. The song starts with a simple synth drum and bit of guitar reverb—but overall it’s very sparse. Throughout the first part of the scene there is no ambient sound at all, just the music. It is entirely quiet. The car is filmed from various angles and the camera keeps coming back to the streetlights reflected off the Ferrari’s hood as the road speeds by. Crockett & Tubbs look angry and tired—but determined. They drive on, obviously heading to some sort of ultimate standoff.

Enter Michael Mann’s genius: Tubbs, in the passenger seat, picks up a sawed-off shotgun and begins loading shells into it. While the sound of the car is still completely mute, the sound of the shells—thunk…thunk—are crystal clear. (So great!) He finally closes the gun with a loud clack as Phil Collins begins to sing. The song is still fairly subdued and a synthesizer quietly creeps in alongside Phil. Then Sonny decides he has time to make a phone call and pulls up to a pay phone below a giant pink and teal neon sign for Bennay’s Cafe. (So eighties!) He calls his ex-wife and asks her a question: “It was real wasn’t it?” He’s referring to everything they had together before the breakup because he knows he is going in deep now, he might not see her or the kid for a long time—if ever. She says yes. It was real, and asks what’s wrong. Nothing. He gets back into the car and speeds off at the exact moment that Phil Collins’ synth drums really kick in—you know the part. (It gives me chills every time.) This scene introduced the beginning of a new kind of television. Television that would blend music and fashion with action and style. It was the greatest thing I had ever seen on that 20 inch box in all of my 15 years.

I watched every episode after. I began to wear teal sport coats made from linen. I wore topsiders with no socks. Wayfarer sunglasses. The show had an effect on me. Eventually, after a few seasons, the term “Miami Vice” itself became a pejorative to describe questionable fashion choices and I soon traded in my pastels for black. But it was a good run while it lasted. I have no regrets.

Memory is a funny thing. I had carried a vivid memory of that scene in my head for nearly two decades before I ever saw it again. It was always with me and I would describe it during various (drunken) conversations with friends in bars or at parties. "The greatest scene in the history of television!" I would proclaim… But in my mind I always thought Sonny had said: “Was it real?” in the phone booth. Once YouTube showed up I finally got to see the clip again and discovered that he actually said "It was real, wasn’t it?" Close enough. I suppose most of the things I remember are real in varying degrees.

Watch the scene here. There are a few moments of footage before and after the scene I’m referring to. When the music starts you’ll know.

http://youtu.be/E1o-NWNmQLM

If you are interested, Miami Vice is available on Netflix streaming. I’m well into season two. Television will never be the same.

Street Photography in Thailand and The Fuji X100

Before leaving for my annual trip to Thailand this year, I made a decision to leave my Pro Nikon DSLR at home, and instead, bring with me a camera I had only owned for a couple of days: The Fuji X100 Rangefinder. I had been eyeing this camera for over a year, and yes, it has massive retro appeal. But more importantly, it has excellent retro function. Specifically: knobs and dials. I love knobs and dials. Knobs and dials are what make cameras easy to use. I’ve owned several (expensive) small cameras before and they all ended up gathering dust on the shelf for one specific reason: lack of knobs and dials. There is nothing more frustrating to a photographer than having to wade through an impossible menu system to simply change aperture. Granted, these cameras were designed as point and shoot—and I guess they work just fine for that. But if you really want to control your shot, they all fail miserably. And, since I can’t afford a Leica, I was always stuck lugging around my five pounds of Nikon and a bag of lenses. Not a real problem mind you, but I longed for something different. The Nikon always made it feel like I was working.

Then came this Fuji X100. Rangefinder style and function coupled with an excellent digital backbone. It seemed perfect. And it is. It’s a really great camera—perfect for street/travel photography. It’s small and it stays out of the way—even while hanging around your neck. And it takes stunning photos. And those knobs! That said, it’s not an easy camera to use. You really have to have a solid understanding of photography to get good photos out of it. It’s basically a manual camera, though it works in aperture priority or shutter priority just fine. But it’s quirky as hell. Though, once you get it dialed in, you can really have fun with it. I read the manual on the plane ride over, and I should probably read it again to fill in some gaps. But here’s what I shot over a two week stay in Thailand.

The camera itself has really changed how I typically approach photography. I’ve never been much of a street photographer, but I now fully appreciate the appeal of it. Small camera, inconspicuous, waiting for moments. Staying slightly ahead of certain subjects, hiding in doorways, shooting from the hip. So much fun! The camera itself got a fair amount of attention too, and my favorite comment was from an Englishman I was hanging out with who asked: Is that a proper camera?

I’ll still use the Nikon for all my pro stuff. But when I feel like wandering around aimlessly with a camera, the X100 will be around my neck. I even found a used old-timey strap for $5 before I left town.

Check out the Thailand photos on Flickr.

Some Stuff I Wrote in 1996 While Living in Ayutthaya, Thailand

At one point, while living in Thailand nearly 20 years ago, I decided I needed to start writing some poetry. I’m not sure if it was because I was was living in a one-room apartment with no phone, television or computer to distract me, or if it was because I was drinking a lot of malt liquor and reading Bukowski. In any case, for two straight weeks I churned out clumsy prose like a madman. I never again tried to write poetry, and that is just fine by me. Here are a few unedited leftovers from that time. Your mileage may vary.

 

The Noodle Girl

The old, fat, convicted child molester teacher sat down across from me at a roadside noodle house.

“You know, Geoff,” he said. “Every time I make a date with these Thai girls I always get stood up.”
“Well, that’s the Thais for ya.” I said.

The noodle girl waited for him to order. He ordered in English. She looked at me. I translated.

“You know Geoff, whenever they wash my clothes they always lose my slacks. I tell ’em: HOW AM I GONNA TEACH ENGLISH IF I DON’T HAVE ANY SLACKS?”
“Well, that’s the Thais for ya.” I said.

The old, fat, convicted child molester teacher lit a cigarette and shook his head. I couldn’t quite understand what he was doing here. Teaching english to small children. He collected his styrofoam noodle containers and left. I finished my beer.

Two months later the old, fat, convicted child molester teacher married the noodle girl.

Well, that’s the Thais for ya.

 

Cause and Effect

The english teacher from California called us snobs because we didn’t hang out with the other foreigners. Then he talked some bullshit beer philosophy.

“Can there be effect without cause?” He pondered.

We yawned, paid our bill and went bowling. Verbal trickery and drunken paradox don’t hold a candle to a good game of ten pin.

 

The Cows

We had walked for almost an hour and we finally saw lights ahead. And a big Coke sign. Whenever we saw a Coke sign we knew civilization was close at hand. Restaurants began to appear, bars, things were looking up. This one bar we passed had a girl in a pink miniskirt singing songs inside a giant fishbowl with little plastic fish hanging from string. We took a turn down a dark alley and came out on another street.

“OH SHIT!” I yelled.
“What?” Dave said.
“Cows!”

“Oh my god, you’re right. Cows!” The road was full of cows. Drivers were slamming on their breaks trying to avoid smashing into the cows. We needed to get across that street. Dave started walking.

“What the hell are you doing?”
“Crossing the street.”
“But the cows!”
"What? They don’t charge do they?”
“I don’t know? They got horns!”

We made it across. Sat down. Ordered a bottle of Mekong.

 

Loy Gratong

It was one of those wacky Thai holidays where everyone throws bombs at each other. A group of about 15 guys sat in a circle across the street from me and passed around a bottle of Mekong. They seemed nice enough.

They threw a bomb at me.

It exploded under a car. Jim ran out of the bar and asked what was happening. I told her the guys across the street threw a bomb at me. She yelled at them in Thai. I assumed she told them not to throw any more bombs at the farang. I couldn’t really blame them. I’m a big white guy in Thailand on a bomb-throwing holiday. What did I expect?

They laughed at Jim and threw another bomb.

This bomb rolled into the street in front of Jim’s bar and exploded. Ong came out this time and gave them a stare only a former gangster turned humble, beer swilling artist can give.

His face was all twisted and mean.

He got on the phone. Made a call. Then disappeared behind the bar and came back with a hatchet.

I ordered a beer.

Soon the gangsters showed up. They rode Harleys. I knew them all. We had shared beers before. But now they seemed different. Menacing.

They ordered beers and started loading their 9mm clips with tiny bullets. I took a long drink of beer and started to sweat. I looked outside and the guys across the street were pacing back and forth and yelling at each other. One guy had a samurai sword.(!)

I sat in the corner and watched my lovable Thai friends transform themselves into axe-wielding hooligans. They laughed quietly and drank several more beers each. Then, they all stood up and turned to go outside. Here comes the killing.

Before I could panic and run out the back door and into the Chao Phraya River, the cops showed up. The cops and the gangsters all had a good laugh together. They were obviously pals. The guys from across the street were rounded up and sent off to jail.

I caught a tuk tuk home and sat down and drank two large bottles of malt liquor.