Tag Archives: top 5s

5 Songs for Shoveling Out The Driveway

#Snowdaze...
#Snowdaze… (photo by hcmz)

Remember snow days when you were a kid? The anticipation of a day without school, the awe and wonder of a world covered in fresh powder, and the possibility of catching some awesome air as you flew down those pristinely blanketed white hills on your favorite sled of choice. Those were good times, y’all. Good times.

These days when considering the implications of an impending winter storm, I immediately start thinking about the amount of time I’ll need to spend shoveling off the driveway and walkways in front of our apartment. Sledding– and fun, moreover– doesn’t usually figure into the equation. Just the necessity of the task at hand and the summoning up of the will to #gitterdone.

It’s not all bad, of course. It’s good exercise and it gives me a reason to get out of the house on a day when I’d otherwise be stuck inside all day. And I hate being stuck inside all day. So really it suits me just fine.

And there’s some fun to be had in it. Snow storms have a wonderful way of getting entire neighborhoods outside and talking with one another, creating space for conversation and camaraderie. And sometimes, when it’s 7:00am on a Sunday morning, you’ve got a 1/2 inch of snow and ice on the driveway, you’ve got work in an hour’s time, and the rest of the world’s still fast asleep, the best thing to do is to plug in the headphones, crank up the jams, and get to work.

I recently read an article about the 16 personality types of snow shovelers, and definitely felt a kinship with a number of them (I think I tend more towards the incrementalist mindset, with a hint of perfectionist / snow angel mixed in).

Regardless of what kind of snow shoveler you are, the tunes below are perfect for mixing the raw, unadulterated enthusiasm of childhood excitement with the slightly more refined– if not slightly more weathered– perspective of responsible adulthood. Like your preferred post-shoveling beverage of choice, they’re meant to be enjoyed responsibly.

1. Good Charlotte – Anthem

I remember purchasing this record at Tower Records during sophomore year of high school and thinking this was the best $9.00 I ever spent. Though that sentiment may not have stood the test of time, this song still has the right amount of energy to get you into the mindset of getting stuff done. Particularly the sort of prolonged heavy lifting required for snow removal. Maybe… maybe it was meant as an anthem for the perennial underdogs of the world, but somehow it’s still the sort of jam that every human person can enjoy (imagine that…). By the time Joel Madden gets to the first chorus, you’ll find yourself plowing through snow with the sort of intensity usually reserved for someone working out their long repressed anger and resentment at the memories a schoolyard bully– even if you’ve never had one. “Y’all got to feel me, sing if you’re with me.” Oh we’re with you, Mr. Madden, we’re all with you.

2. Weezer – My Name is Jonas

Let’s keep the angsty, distortion-rich energy flowing, shall we? High school was a fun time for music discovery, though an inordinate amount of it was consumed by my love for this band. Their Flying W Weezer Rock Music baseball tee was definitely one of my favorite shirts (and incidentally also one of my other “best $9.00 I ever spent”), and this album also seemed to be on near constant rotation for a good two and a half years. Does it matter what the lyrics mean? No. Especially not when you’re faced with a white matted landscape of 3-foot snowdrifts that need clearing before you can so much as even dream of reliving your days on the sledding hills as the fastest thing on a hard plastic toboggan.

3. Citizen Cope – Son’s Gonna Rise

A song for when you’ve hit your stride. Your stance is good, you’re remembering to breathe well, and the snow slinging’s coming as natural as a bird flies. Yeah, so maybe that never actually happens, but the song nonetheless has the power to carry you through. Let Mr. Greenwood’s mantra be your guide:

Well a son’s gonna rise in a mile
In a mile you’ll be feeling fine
In a mile you will see, after me,
You’ll be out of the dark, yeah
You’ll get your shot.

Whether it’s a shot of espresso, cocoa, or the simple satisfaction of a job well done, you’ll get it. Just keep at it.

4. Frank Sinatra – Come Fly With Me

At first I scoffed when my friend Glenn told me that Old Blue Eyes was on his personal winter shoveling mix. But then I thought about it again, and it made total sense. It’s not necessarily going to get you hyped up or keep you in the groove. That’s not the point. It’s fun, plain and simple, the way a snow day is supposed to feel. This little ditty goes a step further by transporting you to the fanciful, wonderful– and warm– far flung destinations of the world on the wings of his don’t-skimp-on-the-sugar-y sweet croon. And here we find another reason to listen: for those times when you want to get away, but can’t.

5. Taylor Swift – 1989 (album)

All of it? Yes, all of it. All of it in its super rich 80s synth pop wonderment. That Sunday morning solo snow slinging campaign I mentioned? I’m not ashamed to say that this album got me all the way through it. It just made so much sense. From the devilishly pointed wordplay of “Blank Space,” to the pulsing backbeat of “Bad Blood,” right through the breathless coda of final two tracks. “Think I’m finally clean,” she sang as I scraped up the last of the gray icy sludge from the asphalt, and somehow I knew she was right.. at least until the next storm came around.

What’re your top five tunes (or albums) for powering through your own obligatory bouts of seasonal snow slinging? I’d love to hear’em.

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#MondayMixtape – Oh Brave New Wegmans-Accessible World

a boy and his ice cream. a love story.
a boy and his ice cream. a love story.

I want to first apologize for the long, unannounced hiatus I’ve taken from writing these last two weeks. I’ve become overly distracted of late, and I know I need to be better. I’ve definitely found myself thinking of fun ideas and new material for the blog, but the next thing I know, I’m wandering around the new Wegmans supermarket that opened up just down the street from the apartment, and everything else seems to take a back seat. It may be half the size of its sister locations, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get lost in it.

Certainly doing one’s weekly errands is important, but there’re other much less important things that end up eating my time. Time that I could otherwise be using on writing and exploring. It’s a constant struggle. But I press on.

And I digress.

But yeah. Wegmans. It’s kind of great. If you’ve never been to one before, let me break it down for you in the simplest terms I can think of. It’s a large, New York-based supermarket that is known for its wide selection of goods, obsessively competitive prices, wonderfully friendly staff, and equally wide and impressive selection of prepared foods. And they boast the sort of following that’s usually reserved for just boy bands or Oprah: the announcement of an opening within 100 miles of your town will send devotees racing to clear their calendars for the entire week of its inaugural operations, and when the big day arrives the parking lot and all major traffic arteries will be clogged with pilgrims from the world over yearning to– if nothing else– walk its long, cavernous, yet uncannily warm and well-stocked aisles.

That said, my personal experience with The Wegs, as it’s affectionately called by its adoring supporters in the 20 to 30something demographic, is limited at best. They opened a few locations in the DC area only after I moved up to Boston, and although this isn’t the first on to open in Massachusetts (that blessed honor goes to the town of Northborough, MA), it’s the first one that I’d actually make any plans to visit regularly since it’s much closer. As in it’s just down the road. As in I can walk to it from apartment. As in it’s maybe 5 minutes roundtrip at a leisurely pace on foot. As in nanner, nanner, boo boo.

And now, after joining the teeming masses yesterday to get a sense of the place and then returning today for my first official grocery run, I have to say that while there’s no denying the appeal of the place- it’s overwhelming. It’s a full sensory overload kind of experience, and in many ways that’s all right (cheese! bread! bagels! bialys!); but in other ways it’s exhausting (they make fruit-flavored bialys? Look at all the different kinds of bread! Ten types of Camembert? What’s with the electric train over the dairy case?).

It’s all lovely, magical, and beautifully laid out for you. But sometimes, don’t you just want some good ol’ black beans and rice, and not this French-imported, bourbon-soaked, twice-baked, thrice-refried edamame-type beans with the short-grain, naturally-blanched, humanely-treated basmati rice?

Where have all the good [read: simple] beans gone?

Okay, maybe it’s not quite like that, but you get it: when you’ve been sent to the market for a hunk of regular, ol’ brie, and you find yourself in the cheese aisle trying to discern the difference between Buttery, Creamy, Buttery and Creamy, Earthy, and Rich varieties… you wonder if maybe we’ve gone a bit too far with our segmentation of dairy products.

But of course, in many ways it’s the freedom to choose and explore that makes our lives so rich and colorful to begin with. So here are five songs that seem to typify our current relationship with the food and food providers we depend on to sustain us from day to day.

Some of them playfully sing about how detached we’ve become in our understanding of the processes that bring these products to us, whether by prioritizing, even sardonically, the loss of the food over the loss of life due to the perils of its movement around the world (“30,000 Pounds of Bananas”) or by forgetting about the people and processes  entirely (“Peaches”). Then there are the odes to excess. Songs that sing the wonders and delights of the instant gratification that comes from a good chocolatey substance. Even as “Cigarettes and Chocolate Milk” concedes that there’s (probably) more to life than those things that supply us that quick fix, the devil on the other shoulder (“Chocolate Jesus”) smiles wryly and reminds you that there couldn’t possibly be anything better (“only a Chocolate Jesus / Can satisfy my soul”).

And then, to tie it all together, there’s Weird Al’s early 2000s gem and tribute to life in fast food lane “Trapped in the Drive Thru.” I’m a firm believer that parodies can oft be more spot-on in terms of subject matter and overall tone than the original, and this one does just that. It cuts to the core of every man’s desires and reminds you that some days, you really just can’t help yourself. Some days all you want– all you really need–  is a thin, juicy burger-like substance with all the trimmings (just hope to Ronald McDonald they don’t skimp you on the onions).

#MondayMixtape: Making a Break for It

pressing on. making a break and getting out on the road
photo by Nigeno

This weekend I listened to Gregory Alan Isakov’s latest album The Weatherman about five or six times. It’s a stellar piece of low-fi, melodic folk-americana that can fit just about any occasion, and I highly recommend it.

Each time the first track “Amsterdam” came on I found myself thinking of the sorts of trips I’d taken, and it occurred to me how much of the folk-rock contemporary musical canon centers not just on the basic idea of traveling and the locations at either end of the journey, but also the complex, often conflicted reasons for wanting to go in the first place.

Then I started putting together a playlist of all the songs I could think of that had travel or escape as a central motif, and I noticed that many of the songs that I’d been listening to most often lately also centered on these themes. Breaking the list down by sub themes, I noticed that these were the three most oft discussed:

  1. Making a break and craving escape.
  2. Heartbreak as a catalyst for change.
  3. Nostalgia. Pure and simple.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be looking at some of the other themes that songs of this sort evoke, what places and cities in particular seem to be most popular with different generations of songwriters, and how different people connect to these songs differently (another question to ponder: why are so many wistful, dreamy songs of travel and escape told in 3/4 time? Three of the tunes selected below do and it was all I could do not to use the word “waltzy” to describe each of them).

For now, we start with travel as a means of escape. As a way to make a new start. The most basic tales of being out on the road sound like this.

1. Leif Vollebekk – Southern United States

This is the other song that got me thinking about how travel and songcraft go hand in hand. Its breezy, dreamy tempo and freewheeling guitars and drums have that sound that’s reminiscent of revving engines and the joyful first miles on the highway while also hinting at certain nostalgic sadness and longing for what’s been left behind. And it has a rambling storyline that’s ripe with beautiful contradictions that portray the inherent complexities of life. Being on the road affords an escape from prior worry and freedom from previous troubles, but you’re only as free as you allow yourself to be. “I was following my heart / Like I hadn’t for years…”Just make sure to keep alive, awake, and alert wherever your travels may lead.

2. The Doobie Brothers – Black Water

Maybe you’re looking less for an escape from the complex contradictions of life and more for just a good reason to play hooky one day. That’s what this one’s all about. This one says life’s fine, but a trip on a lazy river would make it that much finer. There’s no harsh realities to be found here. Leave your negativity at the door– er, at the banks of the river– and hop on board. Nothing can touch you. Not poor weather, mosquitos, or the possibility of rising floodwaters. None of it. This song invites you to get back on the bare necessities boat for an afternoon and remember that life can be genuinely good.

3. Cake – Mexico

There is no stronger inspiration for hitting the open road than fresh heartbreak and heartache, and nowhere is this more apparent than in this deceivingly simple little tune. It’s part mariachi waltz and part achingly forlorn cowboy ballad and the lyrics are as corny and as clichéd as they come, but perhaps that’s the most honest way to tell the tale. When once fond relations turn weathered and gray from years of human error, it’s time to go out, put your hands on the wheel, and leave the destination up to fate. And O what dazzling, gleaming potential that crossing that southern most border brings… Just over yonder where the air is lighter, the spaces are wider, and the adventure is fresh and limitless.

4. Sufjan Stevens – Chicago

This one strikes a similar story to the song preceding it with one striking difference: this is the song of a man in control of his destiny. Certainly this narrator feels regret and remorse for past misdeeds and misconduct, but now “all things go, all things go.” Time to get back to living and get back to life. Also, do yourself a favor and reacquaint yourself with this song. The album on which it appears, Come On Feel the Illinoise, is itself an excellent testament to all sorts of travel-related themes, and it’ll remind you of all the times you yourself ever wanted to get up and go and do the same.

5. Gregory Alan Isakov – Amsterdam

The song that started it all. A haunting, affectionate remembrance of time spent in a distant town. Not just any town either. A town that treated him well, that felt like a knowing friend. A town that gave him the sort of warm, familiar feeling he knew he’d forever be hoping to return to if only he could figure out how. It’s hard to trust the historical authenticity of fond memories, or any sort of memories for that matter, since they’re so often accompanied by the disarming scent of rosy nostalgia. Of course nostalgia offers its own sort of escape, retreat, and release from the pressures of life, and it’s easier to take a trip down memory lane than it is a flight on an airplane.

Still, as the singer declares over the swell of voices and soft melodic distortion, “Churches and trains / They all look the same to me now / They shoot you someplace / While we ache to come home somehow.” Escape in any form, whether through spiritual elevation or mechanical locomotion, can only provide temporary relief. At some point we have to face those less than ideal circumstances head on. Pressing on with strength derived from the fond remembrance of theses times instead of as the shelter with which we shield ourselves.

#MondayMixtape – Showing the Signs of Spring

deviant art, oo-rein-oo, top 5s, music, rock, jazz, americana, poor old shine, chicago, grace kelly, steve miller band, tallest man on earth, spring, seasons, warm, rain, downpour, optimism, deep thoughts
image by oO-rein-Oo

For New Englanders, the anticipation of warmer temperatures and more agreeable climes around this time of year rivals that of the Christmas season. After a long, cold, hard winter fraught with swirling snow, arctic air, and some of the most woefully wicked, bone-chilling winds seen yet this century, it’s really starting to look like spring is on its way.

You know its coming the way birds and buds are returning to the trees; the way the maple sap has begun to flow in the hills of New Hampshire and Vermont; the way runners have taken to the street in droves after their long winter’s exile to the recesses of their local gym. The great thaw is on and soon local restaurants and watering holes will be putting out their patio furniture, local schools will be planning their end-of-year pool parties and field day gatherings, and back lawns across the state will be filled with the smells of seared and grilled American pride.

It’s a wonderful time of year, though it all happens too fast up here. No sooner do temperatures reach that coveted, agreeable 65 – 72 degree sweet-spot than some sadistic sprite in the boiler room decides to crank it full throttle sending temps into the hot, humid, and heavy upper 80s – 90s and sending us racing to retrieve our AC units from dark, dusty basements across the land. And as we fan ourselves for relief as we wait for artificial electric relief we wearily wonder how on earth it ever could have been as cold as it was just a few months ago.

But for now all is good. All is pleasant. All is just beginning. The gradual warming trend, the longer days and more agreeable nights, the long walks in the great outdoors, evenings spent dining on verandas, and lighter, more liberating feelings all around. So let’s thank our lucky stars and rich, beaming new blades of grass for the return of these blissful moments, and rejoice in the coming of the season with a bouquet of perennial spring-appropriate tracks.

1. Poor Old Shine – Weeds Or Wildflowers

You know that moment when you realize that warmer weather is here to stay? That’s what this song sounds like. It’s the feeling of being reinvigorated and rejuvenated. Everything seems to have been given new life, the gray of winter fades further from your memory, and you start to remember what colors look like. You’re ready to take on the world again. It’s the perfect tune for putting the, ehm, spring back in your step.

2. Chicago – Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is

This song is as pleasant and as familiar as a late spring walk in the park and carries an easy-going attitude to match. You can’t help but listen to this track and think, ah to be the narrator of this delightful piece of sonic euphoria… Well, stop imagining it and walk a few miles in his shoes. Try it. One beautiful day in the near future, turn it on, listen good, and then take the afternoon off for a long, leisurely stroll in the park. Thank me (and the band) later.

3. Steve Miller Band – Swingtown

This band seemed to know the secret to crafting relaxed chill and good cheer in 3-minute increments, and this track is a wonderful example of that. It’s the perfect kick off song for long car rides and trips up to the high country with family or friends. You spend the day hiking, biking, and swimming, and then– since “we’ve been working so hard” all day– you retire to an old, unassuming country pub with a dynamite buffet. It’s the perfect reward for many hours of cold winter toil.

4. Grace Kelly – I’ll Remember April

What’s spring without a few good rain showers? The rhythm and tempo alone paint the picture of the first mid-afternoon downpour of the season in the big city. It’s coming down steady and strong as the human parade darts to and fro under umbrellas, raincoats, and makeshift newspaper rain guards hoping to avoid the puddles on cracked sidewalks, the waves of water drummed up by the wheels of passing traffic, and other umbrella-blind pedestrians coming their way. It’s a sea of black, gray, and wet, soggy newsprint, but even with the wet, wild weather, it still feels good and refreshing.

5. The Tallest Man On Earth – Pistol Dreams

And then, gradually, the storm moves on.  The last residual drops make their descent onto the freshly washed streets, and the clouds begin to lighten and part revealing skies of awesome composure and color. Buildings shine anew in the late afternoon sunlight that leaps out from behind the gray, and people slowly shed their heavy waterlogged layers as they head on home, looking forward to a relaxing evening at home and another lovely day tomorrow.

Monday Mixtape – Songs I Was Caught Singing (and Dancing to) at Work

working 9 to 5
workin’ 9 to 5.

By Cynthia Almansi

Like so many people, music is what gets me through the day at work. It helps me set the tone and pace for my workflow, and it is crucial for drowning out the sounds of a busy office when high levels of concentration are required. There’s just one thing (I don’t want to call it a problem since it really isn’t): I often can’t help dancing along. Truly, I am infamous for instinctually finding a dance move to match just about any rhythmic sound. Let me remind you, this is happening at my desk. I also lip-sync and, occasionally, even sing out loud by mistake. (That’s okay if you do too, Buzzfeed says it’s good for you!)

This is only a selection of songs that frequently populate my playlist and have the added appeal of triggering my happy feet syndrome.

1. Dirty Projectors – Stillness in the Move

Although this list really isn’t in any particular order, this is the unbeatable No. 1 of the bunch. A while back I caught myself merrily swinging on my chair and silently singing along to this song, making passionate facial expressions every time the lead singer would raise her voice and totally making up the words because I never paid enough attention to the lyrics— all while still managing to pump out eloquent, thoughtful emails. At one point I swung far to the left and found my company’s CEO standing over me. On any given day this man would be stoic and pensive like a wise, old sage. Yet there he was, actually chuckling at the sight of me being utterly ridiculous. This will forever be one of my fondest office memories.

2. Wild Belle – Keep You

I cannot explain what it is about this song that makes me involuntarily howl like a Chihuahua singing the blues but it just does. My voice comes out in a grave bass at first, “Same song, again and again, you wrong me twice and I keep coming back.” Then my neck begins to twist to one side and then the other like a swan’s. By the time the chorus hits— “why can’t I keep you, keep you…”— I’ve managed to produce a high-pitched tone that I am normally absolutely incapable of producing. There is something in the lyrical longing and stylistic weave of this song that I find intensely overpowering.

3. Devendra Banhart – Quédate Luna

This one starts out in an ultra mellow atmosphere. The mild vibrato, yes, instantly makes me sing and I recline as the anticipation builds up in my upper back. Then the heartbeat— or as some might call it, percussion— picks up and my shoulders begin to make waves in the air. Devendra implores the Moon to stay and provide him with answers. By the time the Moon is done enumerating the reasons why she is too old to stick around, I’m completely ensnared by the languid flow of the tune.

4. Foals – Olympic Airways

This one strikes a stark contrast to all the sinuosity experienced within the last three songs. The strong, persistent beat makes me bounce and bob my head like any stereotypical concert goer, I suppose. Oh well. I quite like the escapist yet non-definitive aspiration of this song. The metaphor of an aviary in particular, a place where winged creatures can pretend to be free while remaining within the boundaries of the human construct we call civilization. Back in high school, Sylvia Plath taught me everything I needed to know about communicating in riddles and this is a bad habit I have so far failed to kick.

5. Stromae – Alors On Danse

Last but not least, “Alors On Danse” is incredibly literal and I absolutely love it for this very reason. Dancing and singing might not fix your troubles but it certainly will help you get by. Becoming completely entranced by a club song is an exceptionally common occurrence for me, and anyone who frequents my workspace has at least caught me moving and grooving a few times to Stromae. Can’t say I sing much with this one but, hey, I’ll always take an invitation to dance—“so let’s dance!”

Photo by asndra

Cynthia Almansi is a communications professional with a passion for all of the arts. She is an avid and eclectic consumer of music who enjoys discovering new and old sounds and attending live shows. Look her up on Twitter (@timesofpeace) to say hi!