10 albums that shaped me 

As an adolescent, when music truly started to come into my sphere of knowing, I was lucky to have young parents with excellent and profoundly varied music taste. Listening to music with them in the car or at home wasn’t just background noise or the radio, it was an experience. I made off with many of their cassette tapes and later CDs for my own private listening. Their music formed the foundation not only of what I would then seek out for myself, my openness to new sounds, but it also formed who I was.

Music has changed my life, has saved my life. It can turn a shitty day or shitty mood on a dime if you’re open to it. I got the idea for this post last year during the pandemic, when people were tagging each other to share one of their top 10 albums in a post each day for 10 days. I got distracted after day two or three and stopped posting, but I really like the idea of 10 albums that shaped you, ones that you’d choose without hesitation if you were stuck on a deserted island. 

Some of the albums I’ve included in my list have been in regular rotation since I was 14. Some are more recent discoveries. I was also that person who had the car sun visor CD holder until I sold my car in 2019. Some of these were fixtures there. Some are records that I’ve inherited. I’m not a record hoarder and I’ve moved around a lot, so the 50 or so LPs I have that are still around are solid to me. I love albums that are interesting, nuanced, tell stories, and are solid from top to bottom.

I’ve become such a playlist person, especially when I started using Spotify in 2011. I’m also huge on discovering B-sides and non-radio hits. They can totally change your opinion of a band, smash preconceived notions. As we move more and more into curated playlists, whether homespun, or served to you by algorithms or friends, the value of the album as an art form seems further and further in the rearview. My way of preserving a bit of that is by sharing my top 10 albums here, in order from newest to oldest. I hope you enjoy, and even more importantly, I hope you listen.

Cult of Luna – A Dawn to Fear (2019)

cult of luna, a dawn to fear, a dawn to fear album cover

I found out about this band when I was cruising Instagram. One of the publications I follow (maybe MetalSucks?) posted the Best Metal Albums of 2019 and there were tons of angry comments that this album wasn’t included on the list. So on my 90-minute commute to work one day, I listened to the entire 80 minutes and it fucked me up in such a good way. It was wintertime, so I blasted it on my bus ride home with my noise-cancelling headphones and remember watching the moon rise and having my heart wrenched out of my body by the lilting guitar and steady, driving, somber basslines. This is an album that takes its time and builds up, like any masterpiece should. It also changed how I listened to metal, and reintroduced me to the whole subgenre of post-metal.

I also was lucky enough to see Cult of Luna at Slim’s on March 9, 2020. It was one of the last shows at the venue before it closed for good and my last concert before San Francisco closed down completely for shelter-in-place.

Listen on: Spotify | YouTube
Listen for: Lights on the Hill, The Fall 

Kendrick Lamar – good kid, m.A.A.d city (2012)

Kendrick Lamar, good kid Maad city album

Hip hop and rap music played a big part of my high school upbringing. But even more than any of the artists or albums I blasted in those days, I always come back to Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 album good kid, m.A.A.d city as the best hip hop album of my generation. People who aren’t fans of hip hop often complain that rappers are always just bragging about cars, clothes, women, whatever. And sure, there’s a lot of that out there, but this album turns that notion on its head. I’m a sucker for a good coming of age story and this album delivers, it’s filled with stories of young love, gang violence and death, and salvation. All told with Kendrick’s poetic verses and fresh, interesting beats — he’s sampled Beach House, Bill Withers, Janet Jackson and more. good kid, m.A.A.d city won a flurry of awards when it came out, but it’s also worth noting that Kendrick Lamar became the first rapper to win a Pulitzer Prize for his 2017 album DAMN. DAMN is right.

Listen on: Spotify | YouTube
Listen for: Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe, Swimming Pools (Drank), Sing About Me, I’m Dying Of Thirst

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What it’s really like living in San Francisco

It’s been just over two years since I moved to the Bay Area from Atlanta. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how completely different it is out here and what it’s like living in San Francisco from a displaced Southerner’s perspective. It’s impossible to capture all the little details when someone from back east asks me “How is California treating you?” Usually I make some generic comment about how nice the weather is, or how crazy it is working in tech. But here’s the full answer ⁠— my collection of observations, musings, and rants about San Francisco and NorCal (yes, it’s really called that).

First, let’s make one thing crystal clear. Despite my drivers license and impending jury duty summons, I will never be a San Franciscan. However, there are times when I’ve come dangerously close. These include when I:

  • Developed a concerning Birkenstock tan
  • Cooked and enjoyed my first vegetarian quinoa bowl
  • Referred to every patch of green space in San Francisco as “the dog park”
  • Finally got a Clipper card
  • Ordered a vape through Eaze and it was delivered to my apartment in three minutes
  • Sold my car

This last one is pretty crazy and happened in November. It was a very strange and bittersweet moment, especially considering that I’ve never been without wheels since I was 16 years old. I’ve always needed a car, but not so living in the Mission. I never drove the damn thing except to move it for street sweeping, and when I did, it was a nightmare trying to find parking. Sometime I would just treat myself to an $80 parking ticket as a kind of fuck-it tax.

But I’m chauffeured to work in a luxury coach with Wi-Fi and I live a five minute walk from the BART station. Lyft is also piloting a rental car program in San Francisco, so there are plenty of options for getting around. This morning I rode an electric rental bike to the gym. But mostly I prefer to walk. Some days I walk seven miles without even realizing it!

The Mission

As I mentioned, I live a neighborhood called the Mission. It’s the home of Dolores Park, brilliant street art, countless shops, bars and restaurants, and is a place where people come from all over to people watch, wear their leather jackets and feel cool. It’s like if Little 5 Points and a mariachi band had a baby. On a one-block stretch of Mission Street you can get a street pupusa, a bootleg copy of Gilmore Girls season 3, a $4 happy hour whiskey ginger, a pair of glittery pink hot pants, and a hair cut at a salon called WERK. Continue reading

Melissa Witt | A Tribute to the Gold Standard of Friends

[Now Playing: “That Place” by The Lion’s Daughter]

“Our earthly bodies will surely fall
But the love we share outlives us all”
– “Only Memories Remain” by My Morning Jacket

Yesterday I stood at the gravesite at Rest Haven Memorial Cemetery in Louisville, Kentucky in the pouring rain and said goodbye to one of the dearest people that I’ve ever had the privilege of calling a friend.

Melissa Witt was smart as a whip, quick-witted, funny as hell, curious about the world and how it worked, a brilliant artist and designer and a kind and loving friend. She could pick up new languages and their accents at the drop of a hat. When we went to Tulum, Melissa’s accent was so impeccable that people thought she was a local.

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Age of the Eighties Party

Editor’s Note: This was a rant that I wrote my first year at SCAD in 2007-08. I submitted it to District, SCAD’s newspaper, the following year but of course it didn’t get published. 

We’ve all been to one at some point in our lives, or at least we’ve seen the pictures. The mindless droll that sets us back five intellectual years with every photo we see. I’m talking about Eighties-themed parties. You can’t spend a weekend on a college campus without hearing about one.

Party of the year

The first quarter I was at SCAD, I got invited to “The Party of the Year,” according to some very credible sources and Facebook bullshit. My knee-jerk reaction was to say no because it was, in fact, an Eighties party. I get dragged to said party because I have unfortunate lapses of judgment and moments of pathetic weakness.

80s punk, 80s rocker, eighties punk costume, anarchySince these events are always about the clothes, my wardrobe choice was an outfit a la Debbie Harry-meets-Nancy Spungen (deceased girlfriend of the Sex Pistols bassist, Sid Vicious). It was a completely ridiculous mix of glam rock and punk including a leather jacket and overly teased hair.

I didn’t expect too many people to be dressed as ‘80s punks, but when a friend told me he was going as Dee Snider, I figured there would be a few people there representing hair metal, or glam rock like David Bowie. At the very least, I expected to see some power suits with huge shoulder pads and skinny ties, because let’s face it: it doesn’t matter if you’re in a nursing home or the fourth grade, everyone’s seen Miami Vice.

I was wrong.

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Sound City: A Non-Review

sound city cover, sound city, sound city dvd

Why a non-review? I actually learned once in The Long, Long Ago how to write a film review and this is most certainly not that. Being that I’m a bit of a Dave Grohl fangirl, this post will be completely biased. However, I promise The Foo Fighters actually have very little to do with this review, so rest easy, hoss.

Nirvana, nirvana nevermind, nevermind album coverSound City is a documentary, directed by Dave Grohl, that is all about the San Fernando Valley recording studio of the same name. Incorporated in 1969, Sound City Studios has used their completely analog technique to record more than 100 gold and platinum albums over the years including Nirvana’s Nevermind. Continue reading

Charm City Trip: Murals, Records, and the Sexiest Chicken ‘n’ Waffles Ever

Last week I took a trip out to Baltimore to see some family for Christmas. I flew out Christmas morning and had the pleasure of enjoying the soothing sounds of a screaming baby for the first 30 minutes. And we all know how much I love children.

A Little History

I was born in Baltimore at St. Agnes hospital. It was around the time of Independence Day and my mom told me that she could see fireworks over the Inner Harbor from her hospital window.

Baltimore's Inner Harbor

Baltimore’s Inner Harbor

My parents moved us down to Florida when I was three months old, but I would fly up to visit my grandparents in Baltimore every summer starting at age nine. Continue reading

Music Midtown 2012 Recap: Foo Fighters and Shit

Dave Grohl, foo fighters, music midtown 2012, atlanta

A few weeks ago I was lucky enough to see my favorite band play live at Music Midtown in Piedmont Park in Atlanta. The Foo Fighters headlined the first day of the festival, Friday, September 21, 2012.

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Unknown Hinson: Pure Country Western Psychobilly Magic

Taking some much-needed time off from work to head down to Florida for a grown-up spring break has proven to be pretty rewarding so far. A few hours after rolling into town on Friday, it was time to jump back in the car and head over to Tampa for the Unknown Hinson show for which I’d been recruited.

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“In My Time of Dying”

By now I’m sure that most people in my social network and in my personal life have figured out that my relationship status has gone from “in a relationship” to “single.” Not to make light of the situation, but everyone knows that when it happens on Facebook, it’s really official.

{Currently listening to Neil Young: “The Needle and the Damage Done”}

Harvest, Neil Young Harvest Moon, Needle and the Damage Done, Old Man, Heart of Gold

Neil Young

I don’t even have a playlist made for this occasion. That’s how serious things have become. I find myself grasping desperately at any song that might make me feel better.

A Perfect Circle: "Mer De Noms" album cover

When I want to be angry and spiteful, I might put on A Perfect Circle when I’m driving or listen to some Fiona Apple, but then there are times when I want to be happy, so I’ll put on some Passion Pit or MGMT. But the happiness seems forced.

Passion Pit: Chunk of Change album coverWriting with raw emotion is not something that I am used to. I usually practice restraint and throw out the quick-witted joke here and there, but now that all seems mundane. I know that this too shall pass, but my questions is when? Exactly how much time has to pass before I am able to get some answers?

So I decide to let go and let iTunes do its little shuffle thing and we’ll see how it goes from there. Pretty good I’d say.

{Led Zeppelin: “In My Time of Dying”}

Led Zeppelin, In My Time of Dying
Led Zeppelin Live in San Francisco, 1969

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Music really can save your life. And now that we’re in the age of the iPod, it’s easy to be a control freak and decide each and every song that comes on. But every now and then, if you have a little faith and leave things up to fate you may be happily surprised.

 

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