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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:

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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.

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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…

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

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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…

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

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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

Island in the Stream…that is what I am.

In the interest of full disclosure, I should tell you that for my wife Katie and me, the Kenny & Dolly duet is “our song”. So, before you even skim my list of 2011 music that I deem excellent, I’ve already destroyed any smidge of credibility you might have assumed that I had. You must understand that sometimes lovebirds don’t choose their song; rather, their song chooses them. Such is the anomaly Katie and I shared during our third date. It’s an anomaly that we both now own, and proudly. But, that’s another story for another time.

Don't judge me, not yet at least.

Let me explain why I’m an island in the stream. I’m in the Stream because I no longer consume music from files that I store on a hard drive. Instead of a carefully researched and price-shopped collection of music that I assembled, I depend on the cloud (and Spotify’s label affiliations) to hear anything in their catalog of more than 15 million songs. I can’t imagine returning to music, and life, as it was with an 50 GB iTunes library.

I’m an island because I have few friends using Spotify. I jumped into a premium Spotify subscription in mid-July, soon after they launched service in the U.S., and I haven’t looked back since. If only the 10 or 12 people whose taste in music I really value would do the same, the Spotify experience would be further enhanced. Maybe I’ll ramp up my recruitment efforts in 2012.

Spotify is not without flaws. Most importantly, artists get a miniscule revenues from streamed music. This seems fair for the albums I wouldn’t have purchases outright, and grossly unfair for the albums I would have bought. Katie has reminded me that I don’t make the stuff I like as available as I did with iTunes. That’s because I only sync playlists with my phone, and not with the family mp3 players we use around the house and on the go.

There are some new releases (maybe about 5% in my brief experience) that I can’t find when I look for them. Interestingly, two of my favorite albums from this year (by The Weeknd and A$AP Rocky) were mixtapes available on the web for free download. To hear them in Spotify, I have to import them from a local directory. I also miss all the metadata tied to albums in iTunes (e.g. BPM, year, etc.).

Overall, I love Spotify. It’s cut my annual music budget by more than half, and I have access to almost anything at almost any time. Before this post turns into a full-blown Spotify review (too late?), I’ll get to the point of all this.

Albums

In sharp contrast to the iTunes years, using a subscription service has resulted in listening more to full albums and EPs. When I relied on hard-drive storage for music files, individual mp3s were the basic units in my collection.

I would pick and choose songs and avoid purchasing LPs to save money. Now that I no long have a discrete collection, and unlimited access to (most) albums, I’m back to consuming long-form recordings. And to think, I used to the album as a genre was dead!

Also, I’ll go on record as saying that I think three of the best-received albums of 2011 according to Metacritic’s aggregation are overrated (PJ Harvey, Bon Iver, and The Horrors). My daughter would agree — when I played Bon Iver soon after it came out, Jackie gave me a bored look and pleaded, “let’s play some JAMS Daddy.”

These are my 20 favorites of the past year, classified in four tiers below:

Tier One

Days – Real Estate
House of Balloons* – The Weeknd
SUBTRKT – Sbtrkt
The English Riviera – Metronomy
Black Up – Shabazz Palaces

Tier Two

Lenses Alien – Cymbals Eat Guitars
Electronic Dream – araabMUZIK
Wounded Rhymes – Lykke Li
Sepalcure — Sepalcure
Parallax – Atlas Sound

Tier Three

Looping State of Mind – The Field
Mirror Traffic – Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks
A$AP Rocky — LiveLoveA$AP
Tomboy – Panda Bear
No Color – The Dodos

Tier Four

Helplessness Blues – Fleet Foxes
Hurry Up We’re Dreaming – M83
Smother – Wild Beasts
Carrion Crawler/The Dream – Thee Oh Sees
It’s All True – Junior Boys

Songs

My 60 favorite songs of 2011 are listed below, and here’s the link to the Spotify playlist.

  1. It’s Real – Real Estate
  2. An echo from the hosts that profess infinitum — Shabazz Palaces
  3. The Bay – Metronomy
  4. Wildfire (feat. Little Dragon) – Sbtrkt
  5. Rifle Eyesight (Proper Name) – Cymbals Eat Guitar
  6. I’ll Take Care Of U – Gil Scott-Heron & Jamie xx
  7. The Morning* – The Weeknd
  8. Black Night – The Dodos
  9. Street Joy – White Denim
  10. Video Games – Lana Del Rey
  11. Nasty – Nas
  12. Gorilla* – Clams Casino
  13. Stick Figures In Love – Stephen Malkmus and The Jicks
  14. Every Night My Teeth Are Falling Out – The Antlers
  15. Streetz Tonight – araabMUSIK
  16. Still Sound – Toro Y Moi
  17. Reach A Bit Further – Wild Beasts
  18. Love Out Of Lust – Lykke Li
  19. Pencil Pimp – Sepalcure
  20. Ungirthed* – Purity Ring
  21. Is This Power – The Field
  22. New Map – M83
  23. Come To The City – The War On Drugs
  24. Street Halo – Burial
  25. Alsatian Darn – Panda Bear
  26. Lotus Flower – Radiohead
  27. Need You Now – Cut Copy
  28. Ritual Union – Little Dragon
  29. Top Bunk – Gauntlet Hair
  30. Brand New Guy (feat. ScHoolboy Q) (prod. Lyle) – ASAP Rocky
  31. Edge of Extremes – Clubfeet
  32. Make My – The Roots
  33. All The Same – Real Estate
  34. What You Need* – The Weeknd
  35. Santa Fe – Beirut
  36. If I Had A Boat – James Vincent McMorrow
  37. Other Side – Family Portrait
  38. My Mistakes – Eleanor Friedberger
  39. Shut Up, Man (feat. El-P) – Das Racist
  40. Songs 4 Women* – Frank Ocean
  41. I Follow Rivers – Lykke Li
  42. Grown Ocean – Fleet Foxes
  43. Woods – The Rosebuds
  44. Falls (Violet) – Van Hunt
  45. Angel Is Broken – Atlas Sound
  46. Every Night – James Pants
  47. Don’t Move – Phantogram
  48. Under Cover Of Darkness – The Strokes
  49. Like Gentle Giants – Corduroi
  50. Something Goes Right – Sbtrkt
  51. Banana Ripple – Junior Boys
  52. Something Came Over Me – WILD FLAG
  53. Wait In The Dark – Memory Tapes
  54. Get Right – Megafaun
  55. Hey Sparrow – Peaking Lights
  56. Gangsta – Tune-Yards
  57. Weekend – Smith Westerns
  58. Get Away – Yuck
  59. Make Me Proud – Drake
  60. Holocene – Bon Iver
* denotes a track that can’t be found on Spotify, but can easily be found on the web.

As you might guess, the Burns Family Reunion in Vogel State Park (in north Georgia) is about spending time with family. Katie and Jackie are blue bloods; they are genetically obligated to hang out with the other Burns blue bloods all day. Robah, me, and any other spouse, pet, or guest are outlaws. We outlaws are made to feel accepted and loved; we truly feel honored to be a part of this week-long family gathering.

But once in awhile, outlaws like to spend a little time away from the throngs of blue bloods. Maybe the outlaw retreats back to an empty cabin and reads a book. Maybe a couple of outlaws drive over to Helen for a few hours. Robah and I chose to walk through the woods every morning. I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge my other dog, who didn’t make the trip. Baxter doesn’t travel very well, so he was left behind at Camp Canine (which he seems to really like).

There are several trailheads in the middle of the park. On our first morning at Vogel, we hiked the four-mile Bear Hair Gap Trail. Every subsequent day, we hiked a little farther. Our goal was to work our way up to a long hike on Friday — the Coosa Backcountry Trail, a 16-mile trail through the Chattahoochee National Forest that begins at Vogel, crosses the summit of Duncan Ridge, intersects the Appalachian Trail, and takes the hikers near Blood and Slaughter Mountains (not as violent as they might sound).

Coosa Backcountry Trail from Google Maps

It’s not the distance that makes it daunting. Rather, it was the 7,735 feet of aggregate elevation gain that really wore us down. As you can see from the graph below, the elevation gain during the first half is a tease for the climbs and descents in the second half.

Elevation, by mile

Here are the final stats of our hike. By the way, I captured this data using the GPS receiver and My Tracks on my EVO phone. My Tracks is an incredible tool that is especially helpful for a directionally-challenged guy in the woods with nothing, and no one, in sight or earshot. Here are the hike statistics that My Tracks captured:

Now that you’ve seen the objective data about the hike, let me tell you about a few things that my smartphone couldn’t assist me with. Except for a few guys camping near the trailhead, Robah and I saw no one else anywhere near the trail all day. Thinking that the unfamiliar part of the long trail would have about the same amount of creek water access as the familiar part, I decided to travel light and carry only enough water for me. I had about 70 ounces for me, and Robah could drink from the many creeks along the way. This was a potentially dangerous mistake on my part.

Finally, it seemed to me before we set off that 85 degrees in the north Georgia mountains would feel cooler than 85 degrees in Raleigh, because we would be shaded for almost all of the hike. We were shaded, but we got hotter and hotter the more we walked. I didn’t bring enough water, but I did bring changes of shirts, shorts, and socks. Despite the dry changes of clothes, my pack was dripping wet when we finished.

Here’s a list of highlights from the hike, in order and marked on the map:

  1. Robah and I embark around 9:30 a.m., fully hydrated.
  2. I drink my first bottle of water (24-oz.) at Burnett Gap. Robah drinks from a creek, as planned.
  3. We come upon a recently-vacated campsite. A red Toyota pickup is parked next to a boombox that is playing an unfamiliar Red Hot Chili Peppers song. No one is there.
  4. GPS notwithstanding, I think we’ve taken a wrong turn after the Coosa trail intersects a couple of different Appalachian Trail spurs. After some backtracking and worrying, we figure out the right direction and keep moving.
  5. We meet a deer and Robah goes into berserk mode. I finally convince him to forget about it.
  6. After hiking the last few miles soaked in sweat, I change shirts, get out a fresh sweat towel, and eat half a sandwich and some carrots I brought. Robah scarfs a few Pupperonis (his favorite).
  7. There is no creek anywhere in sight, but Robah is thirsty. I give Robah some water and finish off my last water bottle. We’re officially out of water with approximately eight miles to go…not even half-way. The dry socks I put on are heavenly.
  8. We reach the second crossing of Highway 180, and I realize that the next ascent is just as high as the previous one. In about 20 minutes, we’ll both be hiking (or struggling) on all fours as we climb the mountain. We take breaks every fifty feet during the climb. It’s getting a little hard to swallow.
  9. At the top of the incline, we are greeted by a sea of ferns. Relief and natural peace help us carry on.
  10. A tall man in a white lab coat appears to be gathering rocks from the ground. After a few confused seconds pass, I realize it’s a minor hallucination. It’s actually a half-dead tree. Robah looks at me like I’m weird.
  11. The trail (if you can call it that) is barely recognizable. Bees are swarming in a couple of places. I hurry Robah along, pretty sure that the bees are not just in my head.
  12. I’m feeling better about things now that we’re heading downhill. We scare several quails from their ground nests as we go.
  13. More bees.
  14. Gorgeous, delicate red wildflowers align the trail. I decide against picking some illegally for my girls.
  15. FINALLY, a creek. Robah and I find our respective spots in the water and lie down. We each drink a couple of liters from the creek.
  16. Rain falls on us as we reach familiar territory. I’ve been soaking wet all day, so the rain is no inconvenience. After 16 miles of up and down, we get back to our cabin around 2:30 p.m.

Here are a couple of pictures of my hiking partner. If you’re going to be out in the woods for awhile, there’s no better dog in the world (nothing against Baxter — he has other virtues).

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This brief post is sort of a test…I’m trying the WordPress app for Android on the EVO 4G I’ve had for a week and a half now.

So far, I’ve been really pleased with my transition away from “the cathedral,” to “the bazaar.” The hardware and OS are killer. If Sprint delivered better 4G coverage, the advertising hype would match reality.

Oh, and the picture of my boys fighting over a stick was taken with the EVO.

Image from Raleigh

Urban dirt-biking

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

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