Tuesday, December 29, 2009

A Year-End List of Lists (2009) - Music and Books

I'm sure, dear faithful reader, that you clicked over here today, thinking this would be a LOST post. (Patience, dear one. That post is arriving next.) Maybe you're wondering where the Musical Interlude Mondays went? Or perhaps you have waited so long for the second-half of my 2009 year-end list, you'd figured I'd lost interest and given up on writing it, or updating the blog itself, for that matter?
Well, let's just say that 2010 did not arrive gently for me. In fact, it hit me square in the face and knocked me down like a sumo wrestler with a bad attitude. I just now feel like I've come around and have been able to catch my breath. My personal life took a big hit with a couple of health scares. (It turns out I'm fine, thank you.) Combine that with some serious family drama and it almost put me in the loony bin. I couldn't concentrate on anything, let alone writing. But never fear! The good news is, I have not given up on my blog. In fact, I'm inspired to write even more now. But more on that later. For now, I want to thank you, gentle readers (all two of you) for hanging in there and being patient with my sporadicness. Secondly, I need to close out my long-overdue discussion on my favorites from 2009. So, without further ado...

In my last post, I discussed my favorite television shows and movies of 2009. Today, I'll review the music and books I enjoyed in 2009, and conclude with what was really important to me.

Favorite Music:
I enjoyed more acoustic goodness from the Once pair of Glen and Marketa under their band name Swell Season (album name - Strict Joy). Depeche Mode put out a new album called Sounds of the Universe and, even if you're not a fan, I suggest you check out the haunting yet catchy song called "Wrong" from that album. After a long wait, 30 Seconds to Mars finally released a new album called This Is War. I was so excited to get it... only to be disappointed. All the things I loved about the band were, for the most part, completely absent from the new album. Elvis Costello's album Secret, Profane and Sugarcane was unusual and interesting, as he always is. Beauty Will Rise by Steven Curtis Chapman made me cry (in a good way) and inspired me. Rock supergroup Chickenfoot rocked it old-school.

However, there were four albums that stood out for me in 2009. I practically wore out The Resistance by Muse. I love the unusual sound they have going for them. The same goes for the album No Line on the Horizon by U2 - I played that album over and over again. You can always count on U2 to deliver consistently good rock/pop music. They are one of the few, in a sea of mediocrity. Another long-awaited album for me was Memento Mori by Flyleaf. They changed their sound up a little, becoming more complex, more lyrical, and I liked it a lot. They still rock! The first two singles are "Beautiful Bride" and "Again" but my favorite song is "Chasm." However...(drum roll please) very favorite album would probably have to be Approaching Normal from Blue October. The song "Jump Rope" might as well have been my theme song for 2009. Each album from Blue October sounds completely different from the last one. You never know what you're going to get (even within one album) - rock, pop, techno, alternative, blues, country. What you do know, is that it will be a powerful journey with Justin Furstenfeld's haunting voice leading you all the way. (As an aside, I just wish they wouldn't drop the F-bomb so much. It's completely unnecessary and detracts from their songs. I recommend purchasing the "clean" version of the album.)

Albums that were released in 2009 that I still haven't checked out yet: Awake by Skillet, Leave This Town by Daughtry, Hello, Hurricane by Switchfoot, Raditude by Weezer, Kris Allen's debut album, Innocence and Instinct by Red, Black Gives Way to Blue by Alice in Chains and Your Songs by Harry Connick Jr. (Now, tell me, where else on the web can you find Alice in Chains and Harry Connick Jr. mentioned in the same sentence? I'm weird. I know.)

Favorite Books:
This year, I read more books than I have in a very long time. Since I'm now a member of two different book clubs, that has consequently ramped up my reading quantities, and I love it. Books that I read and enjoyed this year were: The Soloist by Steve Lopez, Alice In Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (of course), and Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster. I sadly waved good-bye to Harry, Hermoine and Ron as I read the satisfying final installment of the Harry Potter series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling, indulged my inner comic book geek with The Umbrella Academy: Dallas by Gerard Way and Gabriel Ba. (I enjoyed The Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite more than this series.), discovered a new favorite heroine in The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde, (I must seek out and read the rest of the books in this series), educated myself about The Truth Behind Ghosts, Mediums and Psychic Phenomena by Ron Rhodes, which was enlightening. (I highly recommend it.) and was enchanted by The 13 Clocks by James Thurber.

I've read Dracula by Bram Stoker too many times to count, but this year, I was able to read and experience it in a completely different way. I read it in real time, through a blog feed that posted segments of the book in real time, corresponding with the dates in the book. It added a whole new level of suspense.

In way or another, I enjoyed everything I read last year, however, there were four books that stood out from the rest as my favorites. I absolutely laughed myself silly over The New Vampire's Handbook: A Guide for the Recently Turned Creature of the Night by the Vampire Miles Proctor. As a horror-aficionado, this book knew exactly where to reach my morbid little funny bone. The Secret History by Donna Tartt was a beautifully-written tragedy that enveloped me in a terrible sense of dread throughout the whole book, gave me nightmares, and proved that ideas have consequences. (It also made me rethink my intense interest in Greek mythology.) I never thought I would sympathize with, let alone root for and find a hero in the lead character in Fevre Dream by George R. R. Martin - an unattractive, oafish, crass Mississippi steamboat captain. Nor did I ever think I would cry over the demise of the riverboats as time pressed on and made them obsolete. What a terrific specimen of writing and a brilliant new twist on the vampire myth (it was like Dracula meets Mark Twain). It was a twist that, although new, keeps vampires firmly rooted in the monster category. (Ahem...unlike Twilight... but I digress...)

The most exciting thing I read was Dark Harvest by Norman Partridge. It's a small novella that I bought on a whim from the Halloween table display in the bookstore, because I liked the cover art and thought the synopsis on the back of the book was intriguing. I had no idea what I was in store for. I purposely stalled on finishing this book, because I didn't want it to end. I've never encountered a writing style like this, or a narrative style like this that literally makes you a part of the story - an active participant. Wow. I can still smell cinnamon, gunpowder and burning sugar...

Books that I read which exposed me to other genres (which is always a good thing) and made for interesting reads, but that I really didn't care for: Fieldwork by Mischa Berlinski, Last Light by Terry Blackstock, Night Light by Terry Blackstock, Moloka'i by Alan Brennert, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell, and Into the Wild by John Krakauer.

Favorite Moments:
I hope you enjoyed my quick (albeit a late-in-coming) stroll through the artistic media that I encountered in 2009. I feel passionately about the arts (thus my discussion of them on this blog). However, they are not the most important elements from my year, but rather time spent with friends, time spent worshiping God and studying his word, time with my husband - these are the things that matter.

In 2009 we witnessed a miracle, as my very ill mother-in-law received the precious gift of an organ transplant. In fact, we spent the majority of 2009 sitting bedside in the hospital, both with my mother-in-law and for my brother and a very dear friend. We are still singing praises for healing of all three of them! We survived my husband being laid off from work. I was introduced to a mentor at work and she gave me some hope that what is left of my neglected career might be salvageable. I threw a big milestone birthday party for my husband, embarked on a massive decluttering/organizing project from one end of the house to the other (it's taken over a year and I'm still not done.) and for the first time in my life, I participated in a grassroots movement and wrote my first letter ever to the White House.

My husband and I went on a long-overdue vacation, or more like an adventure, in Las Vegas. I helped start a book club at work, made some new friends, got more involved with the youth group at church (love you guys!), assisted with our church's Sunday morning Bible class for pre-K kids, and continued to work with the Care Ministry. I was challenged and forever changed by the Truth Project. Overall, I was humbled, challenged, given opportunities to learn patience, sacrifice and loving the hard-to-love, and hopefully grew in my Christian walk. These are the things that really matter to me.

Many thanks to you, my Loyal Readers, for following my blog and leaving comments. Even though my 2009 supposedly "year-end" post spilled over into 2010, and I'm kinda lurching out of the starting gate, I have high hopes for the new year. I know it might seem a little bit past the moment to ask this, but what were your favorite things of 2009? Leave me a comment and let me know. :-)

A Year-End List of Lists (2009) - TV and Movies

Since everyone is posting their "Best of 2009" lists, I thought it'd be fun to talk about my favorite things from the past year. In fact, it turns out I had so much to say, I've split this post into two parts. Today, lets discuss TV and movies. (Tomorrow it will be books and music.)

Favorite TV Shows:

I still firmly believe that television has so much more to offer than feature films. This year I continued to be addicted to Burn Notice, Fringe, Dexter and LOST. I love the chemistry between Fiona, Michael and Sam on Burn Notice. The show is fast-paced, smart, fun and it consistently delivers. Meanwhile, Dexter had me on the edge of my seat for all 12 episodes. And even though I'm still fuming mad about the ending, it was probably the best season since Season 1. John Lithgow was all kinds of creepy amazing. I might need therapy just to get over everything that show put me through this year!

Next to LOST, I would have to say Fringe is probably one of my very favorite shows. Olivia is an interesting, complex character and a rare, strong female lead (especially rare in that she doesn't have to stereotypically sex it up with short skirts and spiked heels). She's tough without being butch, and has moments of tenderness and vulnerability without being a weak cliche. The layers of character development they've put into Peter and Walter isn't too shabby either. I enjoy the super-weird sci fi craziness on the show, and I'm dying to know more about the Pattern and William Bell, but it's the characters that keep me coming back week after week.

These are all quality shows, but LOST is still at the top of my list. (Beware - minor spoilers to follow - stop reading if you haven't watched Season 5). Last year we got to see all the backstories about the island, including Dharma in it's prime, Danielle and the French shipwreck, the Temple, the Statue, and we got to see Charles Widmore's history with the island. We also got to see Faraday send a distress call across time into Desmond's brain (how cool was that?), saw how and why the Oceanic Six decided to lie about what happened, and how they all made the choice to be on the Ajira plane, we saw a heart-wrenching resolution to the Aaron plotline, saw the reappearance of the mysterious Ms. Hawking, visited The Lamp Post Station and spent a lot of time off-island. We even donned some polyester for the return of the 70s. My favorite episode though, was "He's Our You", when Sayid was faced with the choice of killing childhood Ben, before he grows up to become an evil manipulative villian. Sayid is one of my favorites, so I always like the shows that center around him, plus it had this pivotal point with Ben, and it brought up more issues about whether or not time can be changed, AND it had a flaming Dharma van. What's not to love? I can't wait for the final season to start, yet at the same time it's so bittersweet. It's the beginning of the end...

Other shows that I enjoyed, but might not have obsessively looked forward to like I did the previously mentioned shows were: The Office, Psych, Monk, and In Plain Sight, (and no, I don't work for the USA channel). I cried at the season finale of Monk, which was also the end of the show. It was some good closure. We also added Community, Royal Pains and Parks and Recreation to our viewing list. Parks and Recreation started out a little clumsy, but it has really taken off, and usually provides some pretty good laughs. Like I said, television is better than cinema right now, thus my unusually long TV viewing list.

Favorite Movies:
Have I mentioned that television is better that feature films right now? In my year-end post for 2008, I said, "I honestly don't know if I'll be going to the movies at all next year." and I predicted correctly. I didn't hardly go to the movies at all in 2009. Not only was my viewing experience better at home (with a quality entertainment system and quality TV shows), but there just weren't that many new movies released that I was even mildly interested in seeing: a sad state of affairs for the wonderful art form known as cinema. (Of course, I say that, but then look at the long list below... sometimes I make myself laugh...)

That doesn't mean there weren't a few diamonds in the rough though. The Johnny Depp vehicle, Public Enemy, was an interesting character study, as was The Soloist. While Paul Blart: Mall Cop was cute, funny and clean - a very rare thing in Hollywood. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed Taken, with Liam Neeson as the security specialist on the hunt for his kidnapped daughter. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince started the beginning of the end of the Potter series and was quite satisfying. District 9, did a lot of innovative and exciting things for the sci fi genre but I hated the lead character and the whole plot was uneven and just left a bad taste in my mouth. Speaking of bad movies, I still want the two-hours of my life back that Underworld 3: the Rise of the Lycans stole from me. (My apologies, again, to C.O.O. for making him sit through that.) Oh, there was such wasted potential for that whole storyline.

However, four movies stood above the rest for me. J.J. Abrams consistently delivers good entertainment (LOST, Fringe, Cloverfield, MI:4) and he didn't disappoint with the new Star Trek film. I'm not even a Trekkie and I thoughroughly enjoyed it. I feel like I should write J.J. Abrams a personal thank you note for all the happy entertaining hours he's provided me with! I also recently saw The Blind Side and was so touched by this film, and was impressed with its honest, real, positive portrayal of Christian love. Funny enough, my top two favorites are animated children's films (not sure what that says about me). Coraline was a faithful adaptation of the creepy Neil Gaiman novel and it was a beauty of stop-motion animation magic. I loved every 3D minute of it! But hands-down, easily my favorite film last year, was the Pixar film UP. Words cannot describe how much I loved this film. In fact, it has warranted a multi-post article that I'm currently writing. So I will leave my comments for then. Bottom line - if you haven't seen it, go out and rent it right now!

Movies that were released in 2009 that I haven't seen yet, but really want to: Where the Wild Things Are, Drag Me to Hell, Paranormal Activity, Inglorious Basterds, Zombieland, Pirate Radio, Hurt Locker, A Perfect Getaway, Thirst, Sherlock Holmes, and Invictus.

Lest you think that I waste my life away in frivolous pursuits such as television and movies, please come back tomorrow when I wrap up with my favorite things from 2009, and then conclude this discussion with the things that are really important to me.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Musical Interlude - OK GO

As we all recover from the food coma I'm sure we all experienced over the holiday weekend, I thought I'd give you a song to get your blood pumping again from the band OK GO. I'm not sure how to describe this band, to call them rock pop or pop rock. (No, that can't be right... Pop Rocks is not a band, it's a candy.)

Most people know OK GO from the viral videos they did on You Tube for their song "A Million Ways To Be Cruel", where they did a silly dance routine in their backyard, and, even more famous, the video for the song "Here It Goes Again" where they did a crazy routine on treadmills. If you are one of the few people left on the planet who has not seen this video, it's definitely worth a watch. However, my favorite song of theirs is "Do What You Want". Every time I hear it, I have an uncontrollable urge to get up and jam. I love the way the video was filmed too (with multiple stop-motion cameras, timed with the beat of the song).

Just a word of caution, if you have motion sickness, this video might trip you out. Also, You Tube won't let me embed the video, so just click on the picture below and it will launch the You Tube video in a new window.

Do What You Want

So you were born
In an electrical storm,
Took a bite out the sun
And saw your future in a machine built for two.

Now your rays
Make me kind of go crazy,
Shock and awe and amaze me,
Just a ticker tape parade and me,

But something was wrong
Till you tap danced on the air,
In the night.
Screaming at the top of your
Lungs, you said,

"Come on, come on.
Do what you want.
What could go wrong?
Oh come on come on come on,
Come on, do what you want.
Oh come on come on.
What could go wrong?
Do do do do what you want." Come on.

Me, I was raised
Amid the trickle-down days.
I woke up numb in the haze
And saw my future machine built for two,

But the light
Gave me some kind of fright.
How did wrong get so right and lead me stumbling
Through the dark of night?

Oh something was wrong,
But you tap danced on the air,
In the night,
Screaming at the top of your lungs you said,


Monday, December 21, 2009

Musical Interlude - U2

Since it seems, for all intents and purposes, that my blog has now become a radio station, I thought I'd just roll with it and make today's post a dedication. (Do any of you even remember when you could call radio stations and dedicate a song to someone? Does anyone even listen to the radio station anymore? I know I don't. It's Pandora all the way. But I digress...) Without further ado... just imagine a 50's disc jockey's voice...

Welcome back! This is the Storm in a Teacup, station DLW13 out of Peoria, playing all the hits you know and love. We've got stacks of the best tracks in wax! And now, hold onto your holly, because we're sending out a little Christmas cheer to a Mrs. Laura in Phoenix. Here come your boys from Dublin, belting out a holiday jam that'll make you swoon, 'cause Bono want's to know... won't you please come home...? Let's give it a spin!

Christmas (Baby Please Come Home)
By U2

The snow's coming down
I'm watching it fall
Watching the people around
Baby please come home

The church bells in town
They're ringing a song
What a happy sound
Baby please come home

They're singing deck the halls
But it's not like Christmas at all
I remember when you were here
And all the fun we had last year

Pretty lights on the tree
I'm watching 'em shine
You should be here with me
Baby please come home

Baby please come home
Baby please come home

They're singing deck the halls
But it's not like Christmas at all
I remember when you were here
And all the fun we had last year

If there was a way
I'd hold back these tears
But it's Christmas day
Baby please come home
Baby please come home

Baby please come home
Baby please come home
Ohh...Baby please come home
Baby please come home

Monday, December 14, 2009

Musical Interlude - Robert Downey Jr.

Yes, you read that title correctly. Robert Downey Jr. sings - and he's actually pretty good. Don't get me wrong, it's not like he's going to give Bono a run for his money or anything, but he has a nice bluesy jazzy voice and knows how to use it without overdoing it or trying to reach beyond his abilities. He released an album called The Futurist in November of 2004, on which he wrote all but two songs himself.

In keeping with Christmas music for the month of December, I thought I'd include Downey's version of "River", a song originally written and performed by Joni Mitchell. I will shamefully admit that I watched Alley McBeal when it was on TV, but only to see the episodes that included Robert Downey Jr. He's a wonderful actor and I may not have liked this show, but his character was very interesting and entertaining. It was on the Christmas episode of the show that he sang this song and I was instantly mystified and a little surprised.

Depending on your holiday sensibilities, this song might not sit well with you. It's a little dark, and a little sad, but I find it to be hauntingly beautiful. And we must admit, the holidays can be a very blue time of year for many people - you're missing your loved ones who are either out of state, or have passed on, or you might have just gone through a bad break-up and are having to spend the holidays alone (as is the narrator of this song). I can relate to that sadness, which is felt even deeper because of the contrast, while everything around you is twinkling lights and cheery faces, all telling you to be merry.

Sorry to bring the room down! I promise we'll be back to happy Christmas music next week. Until then, if you'd like to sample another song from Downey, check out his cover of "Smile", a song originally written, appropriately enough, by Charlie Chaplin.

Lyrics by Joni Mitchell

It's coming on Christmas
They're cutting down trees
They're putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
Oh I wish I had a river
I could skate away on

But it don't snow here
It stays pretty green
I'm going to make a lot of money
Then I'm going to quit this crazy scene

I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
I wish I had a river so long
I would teach my feet to fly
Oh I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
I made my baby cry

He tried hard to help me
You know, he put me at ease
And he loved me so naughty
Made me weak in the knees
Oh I wish I had a river
I could skate away on

I'm so hard to handle
I'm selfish and I'm sad
Now I've gone and lost the best baby
That I ever had

Oh I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
I wish I had a river so long
I would teach my feet to fly
Oh I wish I had a river
I could skate away on
I made my baby say goodbye

It's coming on Christmas
They're cutting down trees
They're putting up reindeer
And singing songs of joy and peace
I wish I had a river
I could skate away on

Monday, December 07, 2009

Musical Interlude - Jars of Clay

Since we're in the month of December, I figured my Musical Interludes should reflect the music of the season. First up is Jars of Clay's rendition of "Little Drummer Boy". It has an indie rock feel, and I kinda like it.

Typically I don't care for covers of Christmas songs where the artist has changed up the arrangement significantly to match their musical style, to the point where any specialness or essence from the original score has been lost. (The worst are the R&B versions of Christmas songs where they insert a lot of melisma and "ooohh"s and "oh baby"s. Ugh! Gag me with a candy cane...)

However, I think this particular cover works. There's something about a rock band, proclaiming that they are going to worship the Christ child by banging on their drum, that just makes me smile.

If you like this song, check out Jars of Clay's verison of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen". Enjoy!

Little Drummer Boy
Music & Lyrics Originally by Katherine K. Davis

Come, they told me (pa-rum-pa-pum-pum)
A newborn king to see (pa-rum-pa-pum-pum)
Our finest gifts we bring (pa-rum-pa-pum-pum)
To lay before the king (pa-rum-pa-pum-pum) [x 3]
So, to honor Him (pa-rum-pa-pum-pum)
When we come

Little baby (pa-rum-pa-pum-pum)
I am a poor boy too (pa-rum-pa-pum-pum)
I have no gifts to bring (pa-rum-pa-pum-pum)
That's fit to give a king (pa-rum-pa-pum-pum) [x 3]
Shall I play for you (pa-rum-pa-pum-pum)
On my drum?

Mary nodded (pa-rum-pa-pum-pum)
The ox and lamb kept time (pa-rum-pa-pum-pum)
I played my drum for Him (pa-rum-pa-pum-pum)
I played my best for Him (pa-rum-pa-pum-pum) [x 3]
Then, He smiled at me (pa-rum-pa-pum-pum)
Me and my drum

Friday, December 04, 2009

Sorry About the Spam

To my Loyal Readers who have left comments on the last several blog posts, then received some bizarre follow-up comment notifications, my apologies. Apparently, my blog has attracted spammers. Just the kind of "loyal readers" that I DON'T need. I'm not sure what topics I've posted have made these spammers think you would be interested in illegal knock-offs of high-end athletic shoes (because my blog just screams sports and athleticism...right?) Anyway, I've enabled comment moderation, so please be patient when you post a comment. It will show up as soon as I can get to it and approve it.