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Shouts to Jackie Jones, William Wegman, and the “dog eating with human hands at the table” genre that never gets old to me.

There was a fall at the end of the video, but no children or dogs were hurt. Maybe Robah will get a seat next time.

My man McLain can flat-out get loose. I introduced him to Gorillaz a few weeks ago, and I don’t know why I didn’t do it sooner. Albarn’s virtual band seems to be the best answer to this question:

What act from the recent past made fun, innovative music that everyone can like, and is also appealing to kids?

So lately, he’s been trying to rap with Del or begging to watch the 19-2000 video. The kid loves his jams…so much so, that I made a trailer for McLain’s new feature film — the movie is a “self-actualization through dance” story (think “Fame” or “Footloose”). Look for it in indie/arthouse theatres around Thanksgiving.

I also dug up the following clip of a 2-year-old McLain (video credit to Alison Saville), and you can see a different style of summertime expression in his technique.

I still don’t have good footage of his biggest contribution to modern dance: corny slow-motion. We’ll work on correcting that.

Jackie and McLain and I spend 30-45 minutes reading good books every night. Why did I italicize good? Because this nightly reading time doesn’t just belong to my children. It’s my time, too. I love it, as long as we read the more interesting, fresher books in our home library. And, considering that I’m the only one (until recently) who knew how to read, I had all the power.

It used to be easy. I’d ask Jackie and McLain to each pick 3 books for reading time. When McLain returned with Duck Soup (which we’d just read the previous two nights), or when Jackie brought me any book with flaps or any other types of moving parts other than the actual pages, I’d send them back to the shelves to try again. My wonderful wife was complicit, comfortable with her authority over most other aspects of our home life.

If a selection didn’t have a plot, I’d reject it. Jackie and McLain, accustomed to making multiple book submissions for approval on any given night, would go back to the drawing board and find something their father would accept (like some of the favorites below).

Jones house classics

Some of “our” favorites

Lately, reading time is changing around here, though. I’m losing control. The dictatorship is being democratized. My daughter is empowered, and it’s partially my doing.

Last April, Jackie and I started lesson one in Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons, which is an adaptation of the DISTAR method. She wasn’t quite four and a half years old, but she had been ready to learn to read since she was three. At a rate of about three lessons a week, Jackie was reading at an end-of-kindergarten level by lesson number 75 sometime in September. We stopped following the lessons after she had mastered all of the 40-odd phonemes in the English alphabet.

Now, she’s reading at about a first-grade level. I secretly recorded her with the Berenstain Bears, a book that she was reading for the first time:

Those 80 or so lessons taught me as much about parenting as they taught her about reading. About a one-third of the time, the lessons made one or both of us angry, or at least very frustrated. It’s never easy to correct someone, no matter how old she is or the relationship you share with her; it’s never fun to be corrected, no matter how you slice it. For a child who is extremely bright, it’s important to understand that hard work and dedication trump raw intelligence.

I think Katie and I are realistic about our children’s strengths and weaknesses, just as we acknowledge the good and could-be-better in ourselves. Jackie is a verbal whiz kid. She’s making her own books now, and is quick to remind me that she’s the author and illustrator of these original works. I suppose McLain is next to learn lesson-by-lesson how to take control of storytime (although mini-Charlie Chaplin might be a little more gifted in comedic dramatic arts).

JaM

JaM

First things first. Two of my favorite tracks of 2013 were live performances of holiday standards. The songs themselves are borderline mundane…it’s the vocals that’ll bring a tear to a glass eye.

Now, for the rest of year’s jams…

If there’s one thing I detest, it’s parking in a parking lot and shopping for junk in an actual store. So, it wasn’t until this year that Black Friday had any meaning to me. On the day after Thanksgiving, I heard rumblings of The Walkmen calling it quits.

The official announcement from the band used the term “extreme hiatus”. Since then, I’ve read about the details of the end of The Walkmen.

I’ve seen a lot of my favorite bands go from maybe they’ll release something and come to NC next year to something like extreme hiatus. The most extreme extreme hiatus was probably the band Morphine, when Mark Sandman collapsed on stage. When Pavement broke up, I was irrationally surprised and disappointed. When Ween broke up, I was mildly surprised for no good reason. When Guided by Voices broke up, I knew it was a matter of weeks before Uncle Bob found new sidemen.

At 36, I look back morbidly at old mixes or playlists and think of who’s next. But, I don’t get disappointed anymore.

Now that I’m mature enough (on good days) to understand why the grind and the business in general can drive musicians apart, I don’t feel let down in any way. The Walkmen were different, and their breakup affected me differently. I always could relate to their look, their perspective, their point in time. I feel like Katie and I grew into adulthood with Everyone Who Pretended to Like Me is Gone and Bows + Arrows, into responsible adulthood with You & Me, and into parenthood with Lisbon and Heaven.

For Christmas 2010, Katie gave me tickets to see them at Cat’s Cradle. The show remains one of the best I’ve ever seen and heard, and I remember walking out of the Cradle as the band was packing up. We walked out front, and there was Hamilton Leithauser in his tweed jacket, loading amps and other equipment into their van. Not only was there no roadie to do manual labor; this guy, the frontman and lead singer, was dressed like a private school guidance counselor while doing the dirty work. I told him, “Great show!” as we walked by. He said thanks, and I noticed how tired he looked at 1:00 am, humping gear after putting on a two-hour show.

It’s nearly 2014, so there’s no better tune for tribute than this rendition of “In the New Year” from that night.

Tough decisions…that could be the alternate title of this post. 2013 was a wonderful year for music and life. I should take a cue from the band and move on with things. These are the jams that made me happy this year.

Albums

A few quick notes about my experience with new albums in 2013 and my ground rules for these selections:

  • There are no jazz albums included in the following list, mainly because I didn’t spend enough time with jazz this year. That may be because there’s not enough time to explore beyond the many options in my personal wheelhouse. For the record, my personal wheelhouse is indie rock, hip-hop, and electronic ambient and dance music.
  • 2013 was excellent for hip-hop. If rap music seems underrepresented in this list, it’s only because it didn’t really match the brilliance of everything else at an album level. For example, Kendrick Lamar didn’t release a record in 2013, but every guest verse I heard from him was golden genius. The big names released good albums, and the new artists really
    Note: Yeezus wasn’t that big a deal for me. There are too many outstanding lyricists to include a Kanye record solely based on interesting production and interview-borne controversy. You could easily classify one-third of what I listened to this year as hip-hop.
  • For the first time in my life, I took metal seriously in 2013. I’m just one in millions who see the crossover appeal in Deafheaven’s Sunbather. I remember a few other records that featured screaming vocals, and for the first time I heard so much more than just the screaming. Maybe I’ll wear more black t-shirts in 2014?

These are my 25 favorites of the past year, classified in four tiers. Underneath those are my favorite EPs.

Tier One

Disclosure – Settle
It’s rare that you love a pre-album single (White Noise), you love the second pre-album single (Latch), the album comes out and your kids love the second track and recite the chorus whenever someone says, “Fire” (When A Fire Starts to Burn), and you continue to love the album more and more every time you hear it. Then, you find yourself replaying the FOURTEENTH track on the album months after the album release and decide it’s one of your favorite songs of the year (Help Me Lose My Mind).

Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City
What more can you ask of these guys? Is matching catchy songs with fascinating production not enough? Nevermind that the overarching theme of Modern Vampires is deep, and that they continue to be witty, semi-annoying, yet lovable. They semi-sample Souls of Mischief and Pachelbel’s Canon in the same song! Someday I’ll play this album for my grandkids and try to convince them that music was fantastic way back in 2013. They’ll laugh hysterically when I explain how Jackie and I would rig up my phone to the car stereo to play the Vevo video of Step just so we could hear the song before it was available in any other format. “Grandpa Andy is ridiculous!”, they’ll say.

Arctic Monkeys – AM
In 2013, this was my comfortable, trusty rock n’ roll sweatshirt. I would put it on any old time of day, and it would make me feel good. It also made me feel a little old, which I am, but also proud of the Arctic Monkeys tradition and evolution. AM proves that really good bands can grow up to become great bands in ten years time. If it weren’t for a couple of tracks that sound a little to classic rock-like, this record might have been my overall favorite in a really good year.

Majical Cloudz – Impersonator
My biggest music-related regret of the year is missing Devon Welsh’s set at Hopscotch. Back in the spring, however, it took me awhile to give Impersonator a fair listen, though. Based on nothing more than the name Majical Cloudz [sic] (is sic necessary here?), I resisted this album even after I read all the glowing reviews at the beginning of the year. I quickly learned how powerful, serious, and downright gorgeous some of the songs are, despite the worst band name since Gauntlet Hair came on the scene.

Foxygen – We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
I think I’ve played this album in its entirety about every two weeks since February, which makes it second only to AM in the comfort-listening category. I remember a local radio guy saying, “I don’t get the whole love song to the ’60s thing.” I also remember my father-in-law hearing it and saying in a wistful way, “This reminds me of older music.” I agree with my father-in-law and the undeniably derivative nature of their sound, but not the radio guy. This album is not some hackneyed attempt at a white album for younguns today who’ve never heard The Beatles. There’s a ton of variety from track-to-track, and the songs are extremely well-written. Plus, Jackie loves the lyric, “I met your daughter the other day…that was weird. She had rhinoceros-shaped earrings in her ear.”

Danny Brown – Old
I saw this dude play an art museum just last year with my wife and my brother. All three of us loved it, but I never imagined he would put together this kind of masterpiece a year later. In fact, before Old, I didn’t know he was capable of any voice other than the likable, but crazed honking type of style. Now I know, low/normal voice is for serious storytelling, and shrill/crazed voice is for when he’s turnt up (or maybe just turnt down for what). Either way, this record shows unmatched versatility AND introspection, which are two uncommon qualities in hip-hop artists.

Haim – Days Are Gone
Are you 30 or older, and love “alternative” music? If so, you might also love this feature Radio-Friendly Unit Shifters from September. Here’s the factoid from the article that had me scratching my head:

After Tracy Bonham’s “Mother Mother” departed the penthouse in June 1996, no solo woman would top this chart for more than 17 years; during that period, only three songs by bands with so much as a female singer (GarbageHole, and Evanescence) would make it to the No. 1. 

Bizarre, isn’t it? I’m sure sexism and other societal contextual factors are to blame. Nowadays I play Days Are Gone for my own enjoyment as much as I do for my daughter to hear three women rockers whose debut album compares favorably to anything recorded in 2013.

Tier Two

The Range – Nonfiction
Earl Sweatshirt – Doris
Waxahatchee – Cerulean Salt
Kurt Vile – Wakin on a Pretty Daze
Joey Bada$$ – Summer Knights Mixtape
The Field – Cupid’s Head

Tier Three

Volcano Choir – Repave
M.I.A. – Matangi
The Men – New Moon
Mount Kimbie – Cold Spring Fault Less Youth
James Blake – Overgrown
Deafheaven – Sunbather

Tier Four

White Denim – Corsicana Lemonade
Deerhunter – Monomania
Prodigy & Alchemist – Albert Einstein
A$AP Ferg – Trap Lord
Local Natives – Hummingbird
Los Campesinos! – No Blues

Best EPs

FKA Twigs – EP2
Burial – Rival Dealer
Phantogram – Phantogram
DJ Rashad – Rollin EP
Wild Nothing – Empty Estate

Songs

The first 30 of my favorite 80 or so songs are listed below, and here’s the link to the Spotify playlist. Or, you can use the player below.

  1. Step – Vampire Weekend
  2. No. 1 Party Anthem – Arctic Monkeys
  3. Help Me Lose My Mind – Disclosure, feat. London Grammar
  4. Childhood’s End – Majical Cloudz
  5. Dream House – Deafheaven
  6. Hood Pope – A$AP Ferg
  7. Will Calls – Grizzly Bear
  8. Numbers on the Boards – Pusha T
  9. Days Are Gone – Haim
  10. Toe Cutter – Thumb Buster – Thee Oh Sees
  11. Temple – Kings of Leon
  12. Only 1 U – M.I.A.
  13. Hold On, We’re Going Home – Drake
  14. Monomania – Deerhunter
  15. You’re Not Good Enough – Blood Orange
  16. Comrade – Volcano Choir
  17. We No Who U R – Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds
  18. Ya Hey – Vampire Weekend
  19. Dubstep – Danny Brown, feat. Scrufizzer
  20. Fireside – Arctic Monkeys
  21. Ain’t That The Way – Divine Fits
  22. The Fall – Rhye
  23. Never Run Away – Kurt Vile
  24. Shout It Out – Mikal Cronin
  25. Brother Bryan – Waxahatchee
  26. Shuggie – Foxygen
  27. Sunday – Earl Sweatshirt, feat. Frank Ocean
  28. Lose Yourself to Dance – Daft Punk, feat. Pharell
  29. Overgrown – James Blake
  30. White Noise – Disclosure, feat. AlunaGeorge

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).

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.

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.

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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…

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.

In every orderly house, the members follow a set of conduct guidelines. We try to be good people, and Katie and I practice and enforce the moral standards that we inherited from our parents. But, the golden rule and other tenets don’t always apply directly to certain situations (especially if you are three-and-a-half or almost two years old).

How does a family deal with these situations, that often occur daily, on White Oak Road?

We’ve come up with the following set of principles and accepted truths to help keep our household happy and productive:

  1. Be sweet to Robah… he never done nothin’ to nobody (and when you recite this rule, use Robah voice). All the rest of us have been mean or rude one time or another, but Robah never done nothin’ to nobody. Here’s McLain, mouth full of eggs, proving why this rule is necessary as he comes close to crossing the line.

    McLain tests the limits of rule #1

  2. At any time, in any place, JAMS will be played on request. For example, let’s say Cokie Roberts’ Monday segment is on NPR when we get in the car to go to Ms. Rose’s house, and Jackie says, “Play some JAMS, Dada.” Then, it’s goodbye Cokie, hello Bear in Heaven, Guided by Voices, J Dilla, etc.
    Note: “Dada” is the keeper of the JAMS, and this is the only situation in which a “please” is not required (see rule #4).
  3. Always thank Katie/Mama for dinner; we’ve got it really, really good. On the rare occasion that Dad cooks, try washing it down with your milk.
  4. Manners matter; good manners is an easy way to show respect to your co-eaters. Exception: good manners are postponed if McLain is practicing for his future in competitive eating.
  5. If Baxter brings you something, and you throw it he will fetch it and return it to you. If you continue to throw it for him, the result will eventually be Baxter passing out or maybe even perpetual motion.
  6. Every story told to Jackie at bed time must feature at least two of the following characters: a mean witch, a nice witch, a family, mean or nice animals, and girls with pretty dresses (including, but not limited to princesses). The more of these characters you work into the narrative, the more positive her post-story review is likely to be.
  7. Try not to show off at the playground, even though Jackie might swing better by herself than an older boy being pushed by his mom.
  8. Any statement that begins with, “I want…” automatically gets the following response: “Oh, you want something? Okay, well, I want a new custom-built home computer and compatible wireless music system.” Please ask nicely for something that you want, and understand that you might not get it.
  9. If McLain takes off his shirt and runs around the house or yard, don’t be alarmed. He has been possessed with his alter ego, Party Boy. In extreme situations, you can change Party Boy back to McLain by putting him in a bubble bath.
  10. As you go through life, assist other people (the Kendall Marshall rule). When you’re the recipient of an assist, be grateful and give credit to anyone who assists you (the Dean Smith corollary).

We get pretty stoked around here for Halloween, so we’ve been talking tricks and treats lately. Coincidentally, McLain has a new-found confidence on his feet. That’s right — he’s now ambulatory. He’s going to be a spider for Halloween, but as our friend Sarah suggested, his walking style and grunting evoke a miniature Frankenstein.

 

Jackie and I were busy this weekend with a new art project.

Jackie's on the left, mine on the right. I know, I know -- I probably could have picked a scarier paint color than pastel orange.

We made these light-up haunted houses that are pretty darn spooky when you turn them on in the dark.

Darth Vader lives in Jackie's box. When he's renovating the Death Star, he lives in a first-floor room with a large window.

Here are two more pictures from our family trip to the state fair on Friday. Katie took both kids on a tour through Jalopy Junction.

McLain is posing here with a sweet potato that’s close to the same weight as he is, with about the same amount of hair as he has.

Our daughter has had sushi a few times now, and has willingly tried whatever we put in front of her at mealtime. She tells us she likes tuna, amberjack, eel, and even various roe, but her favorite food on the Japanese menu is clearly edamame. Beans in a pod present a challenge that she seems to find rewarding. Robah and Baxter like it too, because roughly 40% of the soy beans end up on the floor. My guess is that it’s comparable to a stingy piñata for them — as treats fly out one by one, the closest dog gets a tiny snack.

Jackie is not just the source of intermittent treats dropped on the floor; she also provides their real food. Twice a day, after breakfast and dinner, she is eager to complete her first real chore of filling the dogs’ bowls. I look forward to the day when she teaches McLain how to feed the dogs and is promoted to the bigger task of back yard waste management. I’m ready to pass the torch, as well as the official title of Head Pooper-Scooper.

Image from Raleigh

Urban dirt-biking

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

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