McLain had a creek-crossing triumph at Vogel State Park a couple of months ago, and I’m thrilled to say that this seminal moment in his childhood has inspired a full-length documentary.

I won’t play the role of spoiler, but I will provide a plot summary:
Boy meets perilous trek. Boy begins trek successfully. Boy falls, gets wet. Boy perseveres and grows up a little bit more.

Here’s the trailer. The film/home video will be released in full in a few days (after I get a chance to put it together).

I compared my favorites from this year with my list from halfway-through 2012. A year ago, I thought the first six months of 2012 produced a lot of great releases.

This year is even better. I love the first five albums on this list more than anything I listed in June of last year.

On a familial note, I’m starting to encounter a backlash of resistance to the JAMS I play around the house. Specifically, my otherwise extraordinary daughter is rebelling against her father’s good taste because she gets a forlorn reaction from him. It won’t be long before I’m shouting upstairs to her, after she slams the door and blares One Direction or some such nonsense, to “TURN THAT LOUD MESS OFF.”

I fully understand that one reaps what one sows, and that life is like a boomerang, and what goes around comes around, and so on, but that probably won’t make it any easier.

Albums

Vampire WeekendModern Vampires of the City
It feels a little weird, but I can admit it — they might just be the best all-around rock band in the world. Who’s better? The National? No less than FOUR songs from this album are flat-out wonderful.

DisclosureSettle
Simply the best dance-pop album I’ve heard since maybe Hot Chip (The Warning) or Junior Boys (So This Is Goodbye), both released in 2006.

WaxahatcheeCerulean Salt
There’s something unabated and magnetic about Katie Crutchfield’s music, and she has moments of lyrical genius.

FoxygenWe Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of blahblahblah
Has there ever been an album with a more stupid title by a band with a greater name? It doesn’t matter…this is good stuff. And, don’t give me that “it’s too derivative of the ’60s” stuff because I wouldn’t care even though you’d be right.

DeafheavenSunbather
No, black metal is not exactly my wheelhouse, but I agree with the predominant Sunbather narrative: this is a black metal band that makes powerful, crossover-ready music that defies categorization.

Mount KimbieCold Spring Fault Less Youth
This record is number five on my list, but it fills an important role in my listening habits; I find that when I don’t have anything in particular that I want to hear, I play this. And, King Krule = bonus points.

Camera ObscuraDesire Lines
Another underrated album…I’ve read positive reviews of this one, but nothing glowing. Perhaps that’s because this band has been around the block, and critics have begun taking them for granted. I like this one better than My Maudlin Career.

James BlackOvergrown
The title track is close to perfect, and I’d say this is second to the Mount Kimbie album in the “anytime, anyplace” go-to listen.

Thee Oh SeesFloating Coffin
My favorite Thee Oh Sees record of all, because there’s a larger variety of sound here that I really appreciate.

DeerhunterMonomania
My favorite Deerhunter record of all, mainly because Bradford made it dingier and more fun that their past recordings.

Honorable mention

Other notable releases include Local Natives, Mikal Cronin, The Men, Toro Y Moi, Classixx, Rhye, Frightened Rabbit, Ghostface Killah, and Daft Punk.

 

Tracks

Best Show I’ve Seen This Year

Tame Impala – Cat’s Cradle, February 21

As I get older, and as time flies faster, I find that my happiest moments occur when my interests converge. The more I can combine the things I love, the richer life seems to be.

Of course, the variables in life often disrupt planned convergence;  a thunderstorm ruins an outdoor concert on a spring night, or a mundane phone call interrupts a meaningful face-to-face conversation.

Nightly, I appreciate one example of happy convergence at our house:

Kids + Books + Dogs

Every night that we’re home, we read for at least 30 minutes (usually closer to 45 minutes). Inevitably, one of the books we read has a canine protagonist. I’m very critical of kids’ books (and ice cream, and sports-celebrity tweets, and car model names, and most all things), and I decided to evaluate a literary genre that gets a lot of run around our house.

I’ve made a list of our top ten kids’ books about dogs, and I already know what you’re thinking — for some strange reason, this guy is putting his favorites in this list and his kids probably don’t care if the books are about dogs or robots or guinea pigs building sand castles. Well, that’s true. But, I’ll tell you the secret requirement that every good young-children’s book MUST have: adults have to enjoy reading it to them. Otherwise, it’s not as much fun for reader or audience.

Our favorite children’s books about dogs

The Best Pet of All

The Best Pet of All
There’s something about the illustrations in this book that I love, even if I can’t put my finger on it…something about the Californian, 1950’s style. More importantly, I never get tired of reading this one. It has some very funny parts, and the moral of the story is evident from the title.


 

 

 

 

Go Dog, Go!

Go, Dog, Go!

If I judge this book by the typical criteria for kids’ or adult books, then it’s a dud. There is no plot, and there are no characters. However, it works as a great beginning and ending to early childhood (bookends, if you can excuse the punny metaphor). It’s simple and colorful enough to engage a baby, and the clear connection between text and images make great material for a child learning to read.

 

 

 

The Blue House Dog

The Blue House Dog
I have read this aloud to my kids only four times total. Each time, I was sobbing uncontrollably before getting halfway through. I mean full-on weeping, unable to speak. Jackie and McLain give me confused looks, and assure me that “it’s okay Dada.” In fact, the last book that sparked this kind of emotional outburst in me was Where the Red Fern Grows. That book, and this one, reveal why dogs are so amazing.

 

Dog

DOG
Great photography, with creative moving parts and simple text. Two GSPs are featured, and the part that reads, “all dogs poop…all dogs pee” never fails to get laughs.

 

 

How Rocket Learned to Read

How Rocket Learned to Read

I’m teaching Jackie to read now, and sometimes she’s really averse to instruction. This book reminds me that nothing worth doing is easy, and that anything worth learning requires practice.

 

 

 

 

Duck Soup
Duck Soup
This one tops the list of all-time McLain favorites. In fact, it was the first book that McLain requested on a regular basis. It’s a stretch to include it in a list of books about dogs, but one of the main characters is a Saint Bernard named Brody (my first family dog when I was a kid).

 

 

The Diggingest Dog
The Digging-est Dog
We all like this classic, but I put this on the list for Katie’s benefit — it’s one of her favorites, and Nana tells us that she memorized it when she was 5 or 6. If you want to overanalyze it, I think there’s a theme in the book about how dynamic (and even fickle) childhood friendships can be in group settings. No? I’m reaching? Well, we’ll just have to ask Al Perkins about that.

 

 

 

 

Pipiolo and the Roof Dogs
Pipiolo and the Roof Dogs

The plot in this one is too complex for McLain, but I read it to them every couple of months for two good reasons:
1) It teaches how important the olfactory system is to a dog, to the point that the lives of roof-confined dogs are changed when they are given uprooted plants to smell. Awesome.
2) Jackie always has lots of questions about other cultures, and this book provides talking points for the role of animals in other places, in other times.

 

 

Skippyjon Jones

skippyjon
Another McLain favorite. This one is a fun tongue-twister to read, and the idea of an imagination-crazed cat pretending to be a dog is plain funny. Add Skippyjon to the list of McLain monikers (along with LOB, John C. McGinley, and Budbud).

 

 

 

Puppies

Puppies
This one is a nostalgic pick for me. The edition we have was a gift from my Grandmother Jones, with an inscription from her, dated 1982. It’s really just a picture book of puppies, and it almost seems that it was created with the sole purpose of making people see pictures of cute puppies so they will want a puppy of their own. Another interesting fact about this and other animal books from this publisher — there are at least 4 different covers.

 

 

 

The Best Pet of All?

 

 

The lineup for Hopscotch 2013 was announced last week, and I’ve spent some time getting familiar with a few of the bigger-profile artists that I didn’t know. My initial reactions to the lineup were: 1) there aren’t as many big names this year,  2) few of the small names ring a bell, and 3) the collection of middle-sized names is STRONG. In the next four months, I’ll investigate the majority of the 175 bands who will play Hopscotch.

Hopscotch isn’t about who’s playing. It’s about who’s playing what, where, and why, in relation to other acts who are playing at the same time.

For example, Raleigh’s own The Rosebuds are covering Sade’s classic album, Love Deluxe live, in its entirety.

Q. Would I buy tickets to see The Rosebuds play live again?
A. Probably not.

Q. Would I download a free recording of The Rosebuds playing Love Deluxe?
A. Thanks, but no.

Q. Will I go to see The Rosebuds play Love Deluxe live?
A. Absolutely I will. I don’t know exactly why, but I feel like my attendance is mandatory.

Speaking of mandatory attendance, these are my can’t-miss acts (without knowing the when and where of the full schedule — like life, trade-offs are inherent to the format):

  • Kurt Vile and the Violators
    Ideally, they would set up in the middle of the Fallon Park field and play Walkin’ on a Pretty Daze at dusk…my wife and I would sit in camping chairs while my kids and dogs splashed around in Crabtree Creek.
  • Ryan Hemsworth
    In two short years, he’s become my favorite producer in the modern era. When someone tells me that you can’t make real music with samples and a computer, I dismiss him or her and bob my head to whichever Hemsworth mix is currently haunting me.
  • Earl Sweatshirt
    I don’t expect Doris to be better than the handful of excellent hip-hop albums released in the last year, but based on his wordplay and flow, he’s the most talented rapper alive.
  • Oblivians
  • Future Islands
    Truth be told, I kinda wish they weren’t playing outdoors in City Plaza.
  • Waxahatchee
    Cerulean Salt is one of my favorite albums so far this year.
  • Mikal Cronin
  • Angel Olsen
  • Adult.
    Not necessarily a fan yet, but you can’t deny their originality. I’m curious.
  • Local Natives
    Good album earlier this year, great band.
  • Big Black Delta
  • Lapalux 
    I like his album, and he’s on Flying Lotus’s Brainfeeder label.
  • Alpoko Don
    Like a poor man’s Cee Lo, maybe.
  • Pissed Jeans
    Sonic aggression mixed with insecurity.
  • Ex Cops
  • Last Year’s Men
  • Shannon Whitworth
    I’ll check her out only if my old friend Barret Smith is playing with her.
  • xxyyxx
  • The Toddlers
    Local and noisy. I liked their set last year, but my festival companions wanted to keep moving.

I don’t yet know if I’ll do a spreadsheet like I did last year, but I do know I’ll need some kind of outlet for my excitement between now and September.

All this happens about two miles from my house. I bought my wristband the second they first went on sale, back in February. In September, 175+ diverse musical acts will play the friendly confines of downtown Raleigh. There’s no better bang for your musical buck, and as far as I’m concerned, the festival is one of the biggest feathers in Raleigh’s cap.

Someday in the near future, Baxter and Robah will die. I love my boys (and often refer to them as “boys” rather than “dogs”), but I don’t allow myself to ignore the difference between their mortality and my own. They’re middle-aged dogs who have fewer days left than this approaching-middle-aged human.

I don’t even want to speculate about life after Robah, but I have been thinking a lot about Baxter dying lately. He’s the older of the two, and goodness knows he’s injury-prone. After I have him cremated and fill a Penn #2 with his ashes (which will have a prominent mantel resting spot), I’ll think often of what I miss about him.

I’ll also think about Baxter memories that I don’t miss. For example, taking Baxter to the vet.

https://vine.co/v/bT5jzvIiqbK
https://vine.co/v/bT5tBbxwjEd

Notes:

  • Baxie especially hates the bordetella vaccination that gets applied to his nose. I meant to get some footage of the part where the vet put the hard plastic muzzle on Baxter during this part of his exam, but I figured that being the “master” of a crazy dog was bad enough; being the master of a crazy dog and recording video of the dog getting muzzled is shameful.
  • These are my first Vines, but I really see a lot of potential in this medium/tool. The six-second of video limit should be enforced on other parts of the web and other social networks.

It took only 10 minutes. When it was over, on that brisk Saturday morning in Five Points, McLain was transformed. A mother wept (or at least teared up a little), as Star Wars action figures and wall-mounted trophy bass witnessed a baby become a boy.

With his wealth of experience and shear talent (see what I did there?), Mr. Jimmy tamed what was once wild; nay, Mr. Jimmy imposed order on golden locks of anarchy. Like so many footprints in the sands of time, McLain’s curls were scattered on the floor.

The people who loved McLain most watched those tiny tresses become memories…memories that would later be swept away.

Melodrama aside, Jimmy and his barber shop are awesome…so awesome, it makes me wish I had enough hair left to justify paying a barber to cut it. On top of that, Five Points Barber Shop used to belong to the father of a family friend.

For four years, our house has had at least one baby. For maybe a month or so after McLain was born, there were two babies. I don’t think Katie and I slept at all that month, and I don’t think we had a single sad moment or dark cloud in the sky.

Then one day around Christmas of 2010, Jackie told me (in her own words) that she didn’t see how Santa could defy the space-time continuum to deliver presents via billions of chimneys worldwide. I muttered something about magic and reindeer, and then changed the subject. She’s a believer again now, but she hasn’t been a baby since that day she questioned Santa.

Lately, McLain is leaving the baby category behind. He’s different than his sister of course, so it’s not that he exposed the Elf on the Shelf for what it really is. He doesn’t doubt the Tooth Fairy, or any other tall tales for that matter. He talks all the time, and tells his sister angrily, “I’M TALKING RIGHT NOW” when she interrupts him, but that isn’t what qualifies him as a toddler. So what earned him a promotion from babyhood?

form

form

He has a legit jumpshot.

MMJ_bball_2

follow-through

He follows through.

buckets

buckets, just like his Ma

And, he shoots about 75% from the 2 to 4-foot range.

Katie and I aren’t planning to have a third child. Our second child is leaving the baby stage, and we need to cope somehow with our growing children and time passing (in general). What do we do to slow down the fleeting of time?

Answer: Don’t cut the youngest child’s hair. Those ends that either curl or stick out in every direction are as old as he is. You can still look at him and see baby as long as he has original locks. It doesn’t matter that he counts to twenty, speaks in sentences, and zones out when focusing on song lyrics; those McLain curls are the trademark of our baby.

Posing with his mic

Posing with his mic right before he bursts into song.

MMJ_hair_1

MMJ_and_JBJ

MMJ_hair_4

One of these days, when his bangs obstruct his vision and he walks into a table or something, Katie will suggest that he get a haircut. I really believe it will take a safety concern for us to take action.

The home office at our house has that new computer smell. In fact, I’m wafting it toward my nose and inhaling deeply as I type this. All I can really say is that our 27-inch iMac is resplendent in every way.

More importantly to those who read this blog, the new computer has liberated hours of video and more than 1,100 pictures that have been stuck on our cameras (neither Katie nor I wanted to use our work laptops for 50+ GB of personal files).

It’s my 3rd Mac, and believe it or not, I’m not an Apple fanboy…just a desktop Apple fanboy. Before I get to the real subject matter of this blog (also known as JaM), please tolerate this graphic:

evolution_of_imac

Now that you’ve read this far, I promise I’ve saved the best for last. The documentation of McLain’s early childhood has been somewhat neglected on this blog. He’s quite a kid, and deserves some catch-up coverage.

DSC_0534

I spliced together some McLain video highlights from most of the last two years:

His older sister loves him as much as anyone, and the little guy is a complete ham…

DSC_0080

And, he’s photogenic enough to run for an elected toddler political office…

DSC_1299

He’s always been a singer, but now he’s a talker too. Like any second child, he finds his spots to shine. Like any kid anywhere, he’s growing up in a rapid flurry of sound and a bright flash of light…

DSC_0034

Oh, and he’s a mama’s boy in all the best ways, which I’ll have to detail some other time.

Maybe I shouldn’t feel heat from a self-imposed deadline for a post that a handful of people will read, but I will kick myself later if I don’t document my favorite jams of the year. With an hour left in 2012, I’m getting this list of 2012 music out the door in the nick of time. Of the thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of annual best-of lists, this one might be the last to be filed. And, if you hadn’t already figured out my low-key New Year’s celebration, it mostly involves blogging at home.

Last year I wrote about a sea change to the way I procure and listen to music. I’m sold on Spotify from the perspective of the consumer; I can’t deny that it’s more or less a music-lover’s Utopia. As for artists, I understand that the tiny-fraction-of-a-penny-per-stream model is not sustainable. The way I reconcile these interests as a listener is to support artists in other ways, which includes paying for downloads, live shows, and a little merch. I also do my best to talk up the recordings I like the best to friends and family throughout the year.

This year I added two Sonos Play 5 speakers to my home audio setup. Sonos is compatible with Spotify, which means I can play anything from the Spotify catalog in the kitchen and living room (a stereo effect in our house) or different songs in each room, all from the controller app on my phone. Moving the music to my bedroom is as easy as unplugging a speaker and carrying it upstairs.

2012 was also the first year I attended the Hopscotch festival in its entirety, as much as I could do so without teleporting from venue/band to venue/band in downtown Raleigh. With my brother and cousin in tow, we saw 14 bands in three nights. Katie went along with us the final night of the festival. I also took Jackie to a day party on Martin Street. The experience was magical; I plan to soak it in for the same full festival weekend in the future just as I did this year. Hopscotch 2012 deserves its own post (which won’t happen), but the highlights for me were somewhat surprising: The Future Kings of Nowhere, Thee Oh Sees, Hiss Golden Messenger, Zola Jesus, and Danny Brown. I should note that my cousin Matt led the moshing at the TOS show (I’m a tough guy), and I cried a little during the ZJ show (with a sensitive side). Here’s some Danny Brown and Matthew E. White with a full ensemble:

Danny Brown at CAM Raleigh during Hopscotch 2012

Danny Brown at CAM Raleigh during Hopscotch 2012

Matthew E. White and friends at Fletcher Opera Hall

Matthew E. White and friends at Fletcher Opera Hall

Last but perhaps most importantly, McLain had his first spontaneous sing-along to something other than kids music. Fittingly (because they share the same initials), it was the My Morning Jacket song Wordless Chorus. I love how that, perhaps coincidentally, the song kind of matches his personality, just as Jackie’s personality matches her first sing-along to Daddy’s jams — Grizzly Bear’s While You Wait for the Others. I didn’t see a page in their baby bo0ks to document this specific “first”, so I’m putting it here for posterity.

Below are jams that made me happy this year.

Albums

A few quick notes about my experience with new albums in 2012:

  • There are no jazz albums included in the following list, but a few of the ones I got to know this year are flat-out gorgeous. By a Little Light by Matt Ulery and friends is an outstanding record, and at night, if I’m lucky, I hear this song in my dreams:

Another jazz release that  I really liked was  Gregory Porter’s record from earlier in 2012…especially this song:  Gregory Porter – Be Good (Lion’s Song).

  • For me, 2012 was an better-than-average year for hip-hop. I’d guess that you could classify one-third of what I listened to this year as rap. Although I included only three rap albums in my top 20, I’d probably include Captain Murphy, Nas, Roc Marciano, Odd Future, and El-P if I stretched it out to my top 30.
  • Let’s suppose that you had an internet connection and a love of hip-hop and EDM, but no money to spend on music. If you were smart, you’d wait with bated breath for every mix that Ryan Hemsworth shares with the world. I listened to this one in particular about a hundred times throughout November.

These are my 20 favorites of the past year, classified in four tiers. Underneath those are my favorite EPs of the year.

Tier One

Tame Impala – Lonerism
Frank Ocean – channel ORANGE
Father John Misty – Fear Fun
Kendrick Lamar – good kid, M.A.A.D. city
Grizzly Bear – Shields

Tier Two

Royal Headache – Royal Headache
John Talabot – Fin
Schoolboy Q – Habits & Contradictions
Daphni – Jiaolong
The Men – Open Your Heart

Tier Three

Thee Oh Sees – Putrifiers II
Killer Mike – R.A.P. Music
Dr. John – Locked Down
Lower Dens – Nootropics
Cloud Nothings – Attack on Memory

Tier Four

Purity Ring – Shrines
Heaven – The Walkmen
Spider Bags – Shake My Head
Grimes – Visions
Baroness – Yellow & Green

Best EPs

Dum Dum Girls – End of Daze
Burial – Kindred
Todd Terje – Its The Arps
AlunaGeorge – You Know You Like It
TNGHT – TNGHT

Songs

My 75 favorite songs of 2012 are listed below, and here’s the link to the Spotify playlist. Or, you can use the player below.

  1. Pyramids – Frank Ocean
  2. Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings – Father John Misty
  3. Climax – Usher
  4. Brains – Lower Dens
  5. Stay Useless – Could Nothings
  6. Inspector Norse – Todd Terje
  7. Between Friends – Captain Murphy feat. Earl Sweatshirt
  8. November Skies – Tomas Barfod feat. Nina Kinert
  9. Yet Again – Grizzly Bear
  10. There He Go – Schoolboy Q
  11. Igoyh – Kwes.
  12. Get Free – Major Lazer
  13. Hurting (Tensnake Remix) – Friendly Fires
  14. Gun Has No Trigger – Dirty Projectors
  15. Heaven – The Walkmen
  16. Oblivion – Grimes
  17. Nancy From Now On – Father John Misty
  18. Know Me – Frankie Rose
  19. Oldie – Odd Future
  20. A Simple Answer – Grizzly Bear
  21. Feels Like We Only Go Backwards – Tame Impala
  22. & It Was U – How To Dress Well
  23. I Belong In Your Arms – Chairlift
  24. Werewolf – Fiona Apple
  25. Backseat Freestyle – Kendrick Lamar
  26. Shape I Was In – Spider Bags
  27. Hole in the Ocean Floor – Andrew Bird
  28. Lay Your Cards Out – POLICA, Mike Noyce
  29. Really In Love – Royal Headache
  30. Ivory Coast – Pure Bathing Culture
  31. I’ve Seen Footage – Death Grips
  32. Default – Django Django
  33. This Heat I Hold – Electric Guest
  34. Lupine Dominus – Thee Oh Sees
  35. One Second of Love – Nite Jewel
  36. Back From the Grave – Chromatics
  37. Brodermordet – War
  38. Lost – Frank Ocean
  39. Monoliths – Lotus Plaza
  40. Why Won’t They Talk to Me? – Tame Impala
  41. The Reflection Of You – Bear In Heaven
  42. Open Your Heart – The Men
  43. You Know You Like It – AlunaGeorge
  44. Hood – Perfume Genius
  45. Give Out – Sharon Van Etten
  46. Cos-Ber-Zam Ne Noya – Daphni
  47. Unless You Speak From Your Heart – Porcelain Raft
  48. All Of Me – Tanlines
  49. Let Me Be Him – Hot Chip
  50. Lord Knows – Dum Dum Girls
  51. Tiffany Lou – Daughn Gibson
  52. Breezeblocks – alt-J
  53. Ashtray Wasp – Burial
  54. Untitled – Killer Mike feat. Scar
  55. Adorn – Miguel
  56. Betty Wang – Hospitality
  57. Getaway – Dr. John
  58. Down The Lane – Royal Headache
  59. Baby – Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti
  60. Locked – Four Tet
  61. Grown Up – Danny Brown
  62. Black Treacle – Arctic Monkeys
  63. Losing You – Solange
  64. I Bought My Eyes – Ty Segall Band
  65. 76 – Roc Marciano
  66. Simple Song – The Shins
  67. Duquesa – Las Malas Amistades
  68. Only You – Taken By Trees
  69. The Full Retard – El-P
  70. Sinful Nature – Bear In Heaven
  71. The House That Heaven Built – Japandroids
  72. Slow Down – Poolside
  73. Compton – Kendrick Lamar feat. Dr. Dre
  74. Candy – The Men
  75. March to the Sea – Baroness

Last month, the four of us donned autumn colors and met Jessica Lobdell (jessicalobdell.com) at Sarah P. Duke Gardens in Durham. In case you don’t figure it out from the images here, these are the picture-making rankings of each family member (from most photogenic to least photogenic):

  1. McLain
  2. Katie and Jackie (tie)
  3. Baxter (not pictured)
  4. Robah (also not pictured)
  5. Andrew

By the way, if you need a photographer and live anywhere close to the Triangle, Jessica is excellent.

Click an image to start the slideshow. All photographs copyright Jessica Lobdell and Jessica Lobdell Photography LLC, 2012.

Image from Raleigh

Urban dirt-biking

I took this post-apocalyptic picture outside Jones Barber Shop in Raleigh last year.

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