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The year in music: Best songs of 2016

December 29, 2016
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Ugh, my heart just isn’t in this post this year. But I’ve made a tradition of listing my favorite songs of the year, and I don’t want to skip posting now only to regret it later. (For previous installments, see 2015, 2014, 2013, 2012, and 2011.)

Almost every musician I’ve ever loved died this year, so I spent the bulk of 2016 listening to musical tributes for those artists. But there were a few bright spots in new music.

“Alaska” • Maggie Rogers

I don’t remember which one of my friends introduced me to this song, but I was instantly hooked. (I’m in good company.) Maggie Rogers is dazzling with a sound that’s part-folk, part-electronic, totally captivating. Plus the song’s message is fitting on the brink of a new year: Leave that old shit behind.

“Go!” • M83 (featuring Mai Lan)

This one didn’t quite hit me the same way as “Midnight City,” but I’ll always love the sweeping, epic sounds of M83.

“In Heaven” • Japanese Breakfast

A syrupy sweet song, but I swear it’s about my mom’s death.

“Somebody Else” • The 1975

Ignore the fact that the song doesn’t begin until 3 minutes into the video. It’s worth it.

It’s been a long time since I’ve felt the kind of isolation and heartbreak Matt Healy sings about, but I still feel like I’ve lived this song 1,000 times.

“River” • Bishop Briggs

Explosive song and powerful pipes. What’s not to love?

“Best to You” (feat. Empress Of) • Blood Orange

Here’s how things work: Blood Orange releases an album. That album becomes one of my favorites of the year.

This year’s Freetown Sound album is equal parts soothing and searing, but always dreamy. This song is a particular favorite for writing, sipping coffee, and staring into space.

“Lazarus” • David Bowie

Not my favorite Bowie song, because it forces me to reckon with all the things about life and death I don’t yet want to confront, but a masterpiece all the same. When the rubble of 2016 settles, this is the song that will endure.

“Hold Up” • Beyoncé

Someday, entire libraries will be written about Beyoncé’s Lemonade, and nothing I say could ever compare. So I’m just gonna leave this song here without comment. Let it wash over you.

“Higher” • Carly Rae Jepsen

You know her as the “Call Me Maybe” chick, but to me she’s the queen of the new New Wave movement. All hail pop royalty.

“Boyfriend” • Tegan and Sara

I don’t listen to cassettes anymore, but if I did, this song would’ve worn out my tape.

“Drunk Drivers / Killer Whales” • Car Seat Headrest

Singer/songwriter Will Toledo reminds me of one of my exes, but talented. It makes me vaguely uncomfortable, but thankfully his music is fine enough to transcend that. This is confessional songwriting at its very best.

What were your favorites from 2016?

PHOTOS: Bikes around the world

August 7, 2012

My sister has been obsessed with bicycles lately, to the point where she wants to redecorate part of her home with a cycling theme. It’s a really cool idea, especially since she’s so passionate about her own bike.

But I couldn’t stomach the thought of her paying a lot of $$$ for a framed bike photo from World Market or Target — especially when I took thousands of photos of everything around the world. I was positive I had something she could use. And I was right!

Here are just a few of the bikes I encountered on my travels.

 

Lone red bike in a neighborhood in Hoi An, Vietnam.

 

A line of rental bikes in Sukhothai, Thailand, because bikes are THE best way to explore the ancient city’s ruins.

 

It’s like Jem and the Holograms took over this street in Vientiane, Laos. Pink and purple power!

 

A mustard home on a side street in Hue, Vietnam.

 

Pretty bike on a New Orleans street.

 

I love this one the most, even if the bike isn’t the most photogenic, because we are two sisters.

 

This last one I wouldn’t put on any wall in my home. But I still marvel over this man in Mumbai with a seriously impressive stack of eggs. He is the eggman! He is the walrus! Or something.

Top 5 Faves in Magical, Mellow Yellow Springs

August 4, 2012

I grew up down the road from Yellow Springs, Ohio. My household was fairly conservative and military, so Yellow Springs was always referred to as That Place.

That Place with the hippies.

That Place with the freaks.

That Place where people write poetry and eat tofu and smoke the pot.

As a kid I went to That Place a few times, mostly field trips and a sixth-grade trip to the nature preserve. Whenever I returned home, my parents examined me for signs of corruption by That Place, the same way they scrutinized my dog for ticks every time she wandered off too far in the woods.

But, of course, my parents couldn’t see what That Place had done to me. They didn’t know my stomach grew tingly and warm each time I reached village limits. They couldn’t see the way Yellow Springs made both my head and my heart expand. Over the years, my strong love for the place only increased the more time I spent there.

I won’t go so far as to say Yellow Springs is perfect. But it was perfect for me. It is a challenging, creative place, and I found my way there during the most impressionable time of my life. I don’t know if I would be the same person today if I hadn’t grown up seeing so many politically-active, socially-progressive, intelligent, artistic and fun people, all living together in 1.9 gorgeous square miles.

 

Now that I live in California, I make a point of visiting Yellow Springs every time I return to Ohio. I still toy with the idea that I’ll end up with a home in Yellow Springs one day. Or maybe a simple cabin. Or a little artists’ retreat. Something. Anything.

Of course, I always come up with this plan in the summer, when Ohio winters still seem like a romantic notion. The reality of living there with slick streets, snowstorms and bone-freezing weather might not be that great.

That said, if you’re making a trip through Southwest Ohio — at any time of year — I highly recommend stopping by Yellow Springs. It’s by far my favorite place in the Midwest and ranks among my happiest places on earth.

Here are the five best things about it:

1. A bike path that promotes health and helps the environment. The Little Miami Scenic Trail, which runs from Yellow Springs to Xenia, is part of an 80-mile trail network that extends from eastern Cincinnati to Buck Creek State Park near Springfield. That means you can see a lot of Ohio on zero gas!

 

2. Beautiful local businesses. Yellow Springs makes a point to cultivate beauty in their community, which includes a network of unique shops and artisans you won’t find anywhere else.

 

3. Art is integrated into a way of life. Buildings are colorful, flowers are plentiful and yarnbombing is a way of life!

 

Check out some of the yarnbombers here.

 

4. Places where you can really get away from it all. Nature lovers can get their fix at Glen Helen Nature Reserve and John Bryan State Park. Both places are perfect for walking, wandering, getting lost and getting found.

If you spend too much time in front of a computer, here’s your antidote.

 

5. A variety of flavors are represented and respected. Where else can you get samosas, lomo saltado  and vegan soft serve ice cream — all within one block?

 

World-class architecture in … Columbus, IN.?

July 20, 2012

I first heard about Columbus, Indiana from a boyfriend. He said it was the greatest non-city he’d ever seen — a rural town stocked with extraordinary architecture, fantastic public art and some very cool shops. However, that boyfriend also snacked on dried cuttlefish, had a pill-popping habit and stretched out my skirts by wearing them while I was at work. We really didn’t have all that much in common, other than that we both liked sleeping with men. When the relationship dropped off my radar, so did Columbus, Indiana.

That was years ago.

This summer, I traveled to Indianapolis with The Husband, a man who doesn’t eat any variety of dried fish or delve into my closet. Looking for fun things to do with him and my mother-in-law, I suddenly remembered Columbus and suggested a day trip.

“Why Columbus?” The Husband said. It was the same tone of voice someone might use to say, “Why eat deep-fried horse poop?”

Since he grew up in Indianapolis, sure, he’d heard of Columbus before. But he’d never actually gone there, and he certainly didn’t know it was supposed to be something remarkable.

I rattled off the facts about the place: Columbus has a population of just 44,000 but is ranked sixth in the nation by the American Institute of Architects for innovative building designs. Only Chicago, New York, San Francisco, Boston and Washington D.C. rank higher. “National Geographic Traveler” magazine ranked Columbus as number 11 on their list of 109 great historic destinations in the world. And it was less than one hour from where we were standing.

For our day trip, we didn’t create an itinerary, do any intense research or sign up for the official bus tour, though I’m sure it’s very nice. We simply hopped on the highway and drove straight to the Columbus Area Visitors Center, 506 Fifth St., located in downtown Columbus.

There we got a map, downloaded the Columbus tourism iPhone app and put the two together to create our own custom tour. First stop was the Large Arch by sculptor Henry Moore. It stands immediately in front of the Bartholomew County Library, designed by I.M. Pei, the same architect who created the glass pyramid in front of the Louvre.

 

Across the street was First Christian Church, 531 Fifth St., a buff brick and limestone structure designed by Eliel Saarinen in 1942. The light hit it in the most perfect way.

 

The Bartholomew County Veterans Memorial, 200 Washington St., is one of the most effective memorials I’ve ever seen. Twenty-five limestone columns, rising 40 feet into the air, are engraved with the names of those who gave their lives — along with excerpts of selected correspondence.

 

Walking through the pillars is a meditative, intimate experience.

 

The Second Street Bridge, designed by J. Muller International, was completed in 1999 and is the first of its kind in North America.

 

The local newspaper, The Republic, has this gorgeous office building at 333 Second St. It was designed by Myron Goldsmith of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill in 1971, specifically for the newspaper. I love the openness and transparency of the building — just perfect for an office of communications.

 

This whimsical door (photobombed by The Husband) was at the Children’s Museum, 309 Washington St.

 

Columbus City Hall, 123 Washington St., has cantilevered arms to frame the two-story, semi-circular window wall of glass.

 

Even the Bartholomew County Jail, 543 Second St., is rather pretty. It fits right into the downtown structure and design.

 

First Baptist Church, designed by Harry Weese and completed in 1965, is covered in hand-laid slate, drawing attention to the dramatic, non-dimensional bell tower. Located at 3300 Fairlawn Dr.

 

This minimalist showpiece is First Financial Bank, 707 Creekview Dr. “Dwell” magazine said, “It may be the most refined bank branch in the world.”

 

Another First Financial Bank, 2580 Eastbrook Plaza. Another Harry Weese design. This one isn’t really my style, but it does nicely blend with nearby bridges and businesses.

 

And this is my favorite thing of all — North Christian Church, 850 Tipton Lane. I’m told locals call it The Oil Can Church. Designed by Eero Saarinen and completed in 1964, this church has a six-sided building, a sloping roof and a slender 192-foot spire, topped by a teeny-tiny cross. If the Jetsons were regular churchgoers, they would probably go here.

 

I absolutely fell head over heels for Columbus, and our day there was decidedly too short. I only saw about half the things I wanted to see. It actually made me regret not going there many years ago with the ex-boyfriend.

Though it was the architecture that drew me there, what hooked me went well beyond the bricks and buildings. Columbus just does so many things right, from plentiful, free wifi to chic bike racks all over town. It is a place that values creativity, art and originality, which is rare to find in many cities of any size, let along a small, Midwestern town.

 

Columbus has a small-town, friendly feel with many modern touches. Somehow they’ve managed to respect the past while continually moving forward. I can’t wait to go back.

World’s best valentines (for people who don’t like Valentine’s Day)

February 4, 2012

You’d think that I’d love Valentine’s Day, what with all the candy and cards and heart-shaped pizza. But I don’t.

It’s just that I hate being told what to feel. How can you possibly be starry-eyed and romantic when everything is shoved down your throat? It’s like the Linda Lovelace of holidays.

This is the same way I feel about the forced fun of Las Vegas. Yeah, yeah. You’re supposed to be all, “Vegas is so crazy epic, man, and what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas.” You know what happens in Vegas? You spend too much money, cry in front of a stripper and vomit on yourself in an elevator. That’s what happens in Vegas. You want a truly debaucherous weekend? Go to Fresno. Shit gets real in Fresno.

That said, Valentine’s Day is going to happen every year whether I want it to or not, like a pap smear. So I might as well make the best of it with really weird, unconventional valentines.

So here you go — some of my very favorite lovey-dovey, but not cloyingly so, images. Consider this a sickeningly sweet, candy conversation heart just for you.

For the one who plays hard to get:

 

For the boring-ass couples in your life:

 

 

“Walking Dead” fans:

 

 

For medical students:

 

When love hurts:

 

And when love is taboo:

 

When you’re crushing on a glassblower:

 

For those who enjoy stern, disappointed animals:

 

And for my very close friends: