Obsessive Listening

Music of note so far in 2016

I have been busy trying to keep up with all of the new music that has been released thus far in 2016. It is not easy to do when you work full time! I have been eagerly adding songs to my 2016 Spotify play list, and my collection of songs for the decade has grown to over 300. And I keep finding tracks that were produced in previous years that I missed. Like I said, it’s really hard to keep up!

Here are some of the many highlights that I have been obsessively listening to so far this year.

Tedeschi Trucks Band – Let Me Get By  My favorite album thus far in 2016. In fact, this will likely be one of my favorite all-time desert island albums. It has been in regular rotation at my house since its release. And I usually only choose one or two tracks from one album to add to my favorites lists, but I love each and every one, so they all appear on my 2016 list and my decade list. Susan Tedeschi (vocals and guitar) and spouse Derek Trucks (guitar) have assembled a group of musicians who are talented enough to stand on their own. Together, they are a powerhouse. Watch the whole band here on NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert.

Bonnie Raitt – Gypsy in Me She’s still Rockin! I love Bonnie.

Mavis Staples – Livin on a High Note This is like an industry tribute album for her. It’s a collaboration with some more currently popular and respected names in music right now, each paying homage to a legend, a hero to many. Her voice is more sandy and gritty, and even more soulful than before.

I got to see Mavis Staples and Bonnie Raitt in concert together a few years ago. It was one of those profound moments in life, two legends performing together who you know they absolutely love and respect each other. I get chills thinking about it.

Ray Lamontagne – Ouroboros – Very psychedelic for Ray, suitable for his ethereal voice.In early April, he played the entire album at the World Cafe here in Philly. You can listen to the whole concert, and watch this video of Hey, No Pressure.

Dylan Leblanc – Cautionary Tale – Very pleasant to the ear, similar style to Ray Lamontagne.

Lucius – Good Grief Fun pop music. I don’t love the single they’ve been playing on the radio so much, Born Again Teen. It’s okay, but I think there are much better tracks on this album, like All Mighty Gosh.

Single Notes

ANOHNI – Drone Bomb Me – The video for this is just devastating. ANOHNI’s voice is haunting. This song has been described as and ” indictment of the drone campaigns carried out by the United States and elsewhere, delivered from the perspective of a young girl whose family has been killed in a drone strike.” She has confirmed that she will release a new album on May 6, Hoplessness. A tangential opinion here: She really should have won the Oscar for best song.  She absolutely should have been invited to perform on the show. What a missed opportunity.

Kindness – A Retelling – I learned about Kindness (solo project of Adam Bainbridge) last year, and this is his latest track. He recorded it for the The Long Road project, a collaboration between musicians and refugees.  Just lovely.

Anticipated Obsessions

case/lang/viers – Atomic Number This trio is nothing but a miracle, something I never would have conceived of, but when I heard about it I knew it would be amazing. Neko Case, k.d. lang, and Laura Veirs (who I admittedly am less familiar with) are releasing an album together, and touring this summer. They’ve released a couple of singles to give us a taste.

Beth Orton – Kidsticks This beautiful single was released on March 2. Looks like she’s getting back to combing her folky style with electronica, and it’s just a lovely combination. This track definitely makes me want to hear more!

Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth Sturgill Simpson is a new discovery for me, just this week, as a matter of fact. I heard a cut from this new album on the radio while I was on the way to work one day, and I was blown away. I looked him up first thing when I arrived at my office, and found that NPR was streaming the entire album. The web site says “At the artist’s request, songs from this album cannot be played individually.” After listening all the way through it, I can understand why. It is totally worth listening to from beginning to end. I don’t know what to say except that this album is like nothing I’ve heard. Twang, funk, soul, spiritual….the Dap Kings play on five of the tracks. He plays a mellow country western version of Nirvana’s In Bloom for gosh sakes! I heard a reviewer say “I just want to hug him.” So do I.

The new album comes out next week, April 15. Meanwhile, thank goodness you can stream it on NPR. I predict this is going to be one of my favorite albums this year, and maybe even make my Desert Island list.

There is a lot more! And a lot more to come! You can find my 2016 curated play lists on Spotify.

What’s Making Me Happy, May 18, 2013

Perfect (well – almost) Chocolate Chip Cookies

I found this recipe on Saveur‘s website (one of my favorite food magazines) a while back, and it is almost perfect. Gillian had been telling me for years that she wanted to find a good recipe for flat and chewy and just a little crispy chocolate chip cookies. We found that the  recipe on the chocolate chip bag just wasn’t cutting it.

I say it is almost perfect because I don’t like the shaved chocolate that it calls for. I found that it melted so thoroughly throughout the dough that it made chocolate cookies, rather than chocolate CHIP cookies. They were good, but not quite what I wanted.

With a few tweaks and the original recipe more or less halved, this is what I’ve come up with. They are perfectly delicious almost every time. Being able to satisfy the discriminating palate of my spouse, who is an extraordinary cook, makes me very happy.

Ingredients

1 C flour
1 t  fleur de sel (or your favorite salt – I like to get a little fancy here)
1/2 t baking soda
1/4 t cinnamon (optional)
3/4 C brown sugar
3/4 C white sugar
8 T unsalted butter, softened
1 egg
1 t vanilla extract
6 oz chocolate chips, roughly chopped

Instructions

1. Mix flour, salt, cinnamon, and baking soda in a bowl; set aside.

2. In another bowl, beat sugars and butter with a mixer on medium speed until fluffy. Beat in eggs one at a time, then beat in vanilla.

3. Add reserved flour mixture, chocolate, and nuts; mix until just combined.

4. Roll the dough out onto a sheet of plastic wrap, and roll into a thick log. The log should be wrapped in the plastic wrap. You may opt to wrap the log with a second layer of tin foil. Chill for about 1/2 hour before baking.

5. Heat oven to 325°. Divide dough into 1-tbsp. portions; roll into balls, transfer to parchment paper–lined baking sheets spaced 3″ apart, and flatten. Bake until set, about 15 minutes.

I keep the dough in the fridge and make cookies to order, so they are fresh out of the oven whenever we want them.

Enjoy!

What’s Making Me Happy, February 23, 2013

Knitting

While I don’t fancy myself an expert knitter at all, and I am taking baby steps in learning how to crochet, I am finding the crafting pastime a lovely creative outlet. I’ve been knitting for many years, and I have never been able to get beyond small projects, such as hats and scarves, or an occasional shawl that is rectangular in shape. I’m good with that, as long as I can complete the project I start, which has been a bit of a challenge at times over the years.

Out of determination, I picked out a couple of projects recently that I knew I could finish successfully, and in a short period. My Dad celebrated a birthday in January, and since it has been freaking cold in his neck of the woods this winter, I decided to knit him a scarf. I went Stash Knits in nearby Ardmore and picked out some gorgeous merino wool that was really wonderful to work with. Within a couple of weeks, I had completed a cable knit scarf, completed with love to keep my Dad warm in the frigid Minnesota winter.

Dad Birthday Scarf I particularly like this picture of Dad because he looks like a bandit with the scarf covering his face, and he’s sporting his Pink Floyd baseball cap, which he thought was a gay pride hat when he got it. He’s adorable.

ScarfAnd here’s a shot that shows off the cable patter pretty nicely.

Gillian HatI was so inspired after knitting the scarf that I went back to Stash to get another skein of the merino wool so that I could knit Gillian a hat. Here is the result. I completed it last week. She has been in need of a hat, but hasn’t been able to find one that is comfortable, hip, and warm. Until now. I couldn’t be more pleased!

What’s Making Me Happy January 25, 2013

Pop Culture Indulgence

Winter is hibernation season, during which we, and Chez Conner-Smith, put our jammies on as soon as the sun goes down and we are in for the night.

After which we indulge in prime time TV popular culture.

In my adult life, I have let go of any shame that I ever felt for enjoying popular culture, particularly television, and I just indulge with relish. My recent show are particularly low-brow, and I am almost prideful of how much I enjoy watching these shows:

The Good Wife, Nashville, and the deliciously soapy Revenge and Scandal. Of course there is Mad Men and Son’s of Anarchy, which we need to catch up with since we haven’t had premium cable for over a year now. That is also why we haven’t been able to enjoy Homeland yet, which I look forward to

And now it is award show season, which I guess you could say started with the Kennedy Center Honors, followed by the Golden Globes. Next of course is the Oscars. Honestly, I don’t care that much about the winners, but I do enjoy the self-celebration of the entertainment industry and remind myself of all of the TV shows and movies I want to see. Some of it is entertaining, some of it inspiring. Some of it is annoying and tedious.

Oh, and then of course there is the red carpet. I admit, I do love the fashion show!

I also indulge in erudite popular culture criticism. The critics I regularly follow are Linda Holmes of the Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast, the folks at and Slate’s Pop Culture Gab FestTim Goodman, David Bianculi and Bob Mondello.

And then there’s Music: Pandora, GrooveShark, and since I got my iPhone I have been addicted to TuneIn Radio and All Songs Considered and the NPR Music App.

Finally, and though it has already been a few weeks since it aired, this clip from the Kennedy Center Honors is still making me happy.

What’s Making Me Happy – January 6, 2013

Cake Flour – and baking in general

Yes, cake flour. My wife is the resident artist-chef Chez Conner-Smith, and I am the designated baker. I do alright in that role, but I have to admit I have been discouraged by my results over the past year or so. However, I had some good success over the 2012 holidays, making delicious baguettes, a rustic loaf, and chocolate cookies that knocked my wife’s socks off (no small feat that – and no pun intended).

There are a few recipes in particular that I have thus far found vexing, such as biscuits. Before today, I had yet to follow a biscuit recipe that did not result in bricks that were just barely edible. Today I discovered the secret ingredient: Cake flour.

I just needed a little less protein. The following recipe that yielded light and fluffy biscuits that melt in your mouth. Delicious.

1 1/4 C cake flour
3/4 C all-purpose flour
1 T sugar
1 1/2 t baking powder 
1/2 t baking soda
1/2 t salt
1/4 C butter, chilled
3/4 C buttermilk*
1 pat of melted butter
A little extra flour for the work surface

  1. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Mix all dry ingredients in a food processor.
  3. Cut the butter into small pieces or pats and put them in the processor with the dry ingredients. Pulse and mix until you have coarse crumbs.
  4. With the food processor running, pour in the buttermilk in a steady stream. Mix until you have a ball of dough, which should only take about a minute. You don’t want to work the dough too much. The dough should be nice and wet.
  5. Put the dough onto a generously floured work surface. Pat or roll the dough out until it is about 3/4 to 1 inch thick. Cut the biscuits into the desired sizes and shapes, either using a cutter or a knife.
  6. Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper. Lay the biscuits on the baking sheet. Brush tops with melted butter. Bake for about 10 minutes, or until tops are golden brown.
  7. Remove from oven, serve, and eat!

*If you don’t have buttermilk, you can make your own by squeezing about a teaspoon into the 3/4 C. milk.

I’m encouraged to try cake flour with popovers, and perhaps other recipes!

What’s Making Me Happy, October 13, 2012

My favorite pop culture podcast, Pop Culture Happy Hour, ends each episode with a segment called “What’s Making You Happy,” and each of the panelists takes a turn sharing what in the world of popular culture and the arts is making them happy. With that inspiration, I’m going start doing a regular blog post on Paradoxologies about what’s making me happy. It will be fun to write, the sharing will also make me happy, and it will be an opportunity to spread good vibes (think: Puppies and Rainbows!).

I’m not promising that it will always be related to popular culture, although this first blog post is. And actually, I have two things that are making me happy:

The first: WXPN – I don’t know why it has taken me almost a year to discover this station. I guess I have been listening to Pandora and my podcasts all the time. Happily, a colleague at work told me that this week they are doing a count down of the 885 Greatest Rock Songs. It made the end of the week more fun in the office, and now I (finally) know about this local Philly radio station that has amazing programming! Yay!

The other thing making me happy is Tig Notaro. Notaro is a stand-up comedian who first came to my attention this past spring in the live show that This American Life did, in an act called Groundhog Dayne about Notaro’s encounter with the pop singer Taylor Dayne. I loved Notaro immediately. She’s silly and hilarious.  Later in the summer, I saw a clip of Notaro on a blog post that was shared in response to Daniel Tosh’s offensive rape “joke”, a story that was controversial and viral in July. The post was 15 Rape Jokes That Work (debatable, but Notaro’s clip is decidedly funny).

A few weeks later, I heard through social media that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer – in both breasts. And the prognosis didn’t look good.

More about how her story came to light, about about how she was faring came out this week. The best part of the story is that she has been successfully treated, and there is only a 7% chance that the cancer will come back. I was very happy to learn this.

The other part of the story that is making me happy is that Notaro is making a name for herself professionally, with the help of a very sweet and significant endorsement from Louis CK. After her cancer diagnosis in the summer, she did a live set at a comedy club in LA, and with raw emotion told the audience about her current bumps in the road. As if the cancer diagnosis weren’t enough, she had just suffered from several other major blows in her personal life, compounding everything. Louis CK was in the audience that night in August (and had performed at the club that evening as well). The next day, Louis CK tweeted:

in 27 years doing this, I’ve seen a handful of truly great, masterful standup sets. One was Tig Notaro last night at Largo.

That right there made Tig Notaro go viral. So, her comedy and the very happy conclusion of this rough patch in her life, and Louis CK’s endorsement (really – what a great guy) of her work are making me happy this week. I can’t wait to see more of Tig Notaro’s work and comedy.

Terry Gross interviewed both Notaro and Louis CK about this story this week. You can hear part of her set in the story. Plus they are just great interviews.

You can purchase Notaro’s whole set on Louis CK’s site for $5.