Sunday, May 13, 2012

Converse's Three Artists/One Song Campaign

I think that I still have a fondness for Chuck Taylor All-Stars because they scream rock'n'roll to me. They embody that spirit of "cool" from back when I wasn't. Converse has always had, I think, a connection to music.

So it made sense to me that Converse has been involved with a "Three Artists/One Song" campaign where they invite, well, three artists to collaborate on a song. There are two that dropped fairly recently that are both kickass in their own rights.

In February 2012, Converse debuted DoYaThing is a collaboration between Gorillaz, Andre3000, and James Murphy (of LCD Soundsystem fame). It's this RapPop song that is as amazing as you might imagine. It's whimsical and booty-shaking fantasy, as you might imagine from arguably the three most...interesting artists of recent memory.

In April 2012, they debuted Warrior provides a more conventional counterpoint to DoYaThing's outlandish whimsy. It's a collaboration between Mark Foster (of Foster the People), Kimbra (featured on that Gotye song. You know the one.), and A-Trak (whose claim to fame seems to be developing a notation system for scratching). It's a really lovely pop song that features Kimbra on lead vocals and gets stuck in your head for days.

It looks like you can download both songs for free on the Converse website and, if you feel so inclined, buy a pair of kicks designed by Gorillaz. And they're both awesome so, you know, pick up some sweet new tunes.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Cabin Fever, ftw!

Erin McKeown, who is one of my favorite artists, has a series of webcasted live concerts called Cabin Fever.

The first four episodes of Cabin Fever were done in conjunction with the release of her latest album, Hundreds of Lions. She lives in a cabin and performed each of the episodes at various places on her property. My favorite was the episode where she performed acoustic covers of songs about water from the middle of her river. Seriously.

The thing that I admire most about McKeown is her fearless, DIY approach to making music. She self-released her first record, Monday Morning Cold, and toured to promote it without the help (financial and otherwise) of a major label. Hundreds of Lions, McKeown's sixth studio album, was released on Ani DiFranco's label, Righteous Babe records, and McKeown used Cabin Fever as a way to help pay for the record.

Fast forward to SuperBowl Sunday.

McKeown announced that she would be doing a fifth installment of Cabin Fever, this time with a sports theme. And it was awesome. She started with the National Anthem (done a billion times better than Xtina, btw) that was followed by a ridiculously awesome cover of Kurtis Blow's Basketball.

Cabin Fever V lasted for about 50 minutes and featured appearances by several guests including Carrie Rodriguez, Scott McCaughey, and Ryan Montbleau. Montbleau's song about the four most hated players in the NFL was both awesomely performed and seriously funny. You can watch it here. And you should.

McKeown closed the show with her own version of the hip hop hit Green and Yellow. It was about the most adorable thing I'd ever seen. You can see it on her blog. And you should.

All in all, Cabin Fever V was a great way to kickoff SuperBowl Sunday. All of the Cabin Fever episodes, including this one, are available for viewing.

ps--If you live in the StL, you can see Ms. McKeown along with Carrie Rodriguez and Mary Gauthier on Feburary 14th at the Old Rock House as part of the Acoustic Cafe Tour.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Book news a-go-go

Two book-related things worth mentioning:

Do you own an ereader? I do. The Dude cashed in a bunch of AmEx points to buy me a Nook in a a Gift of the Magi-esque turn of events for which I am forever grateful to him.

I spent a lot of time considering what kind of e-reader I wanted. I rarely buy books anymore since I can get most of what I want to read through MPOW. I sometimes have to wait to read a just-released book, but there are very few books for which this is a deal breaker. So when I was thinking about buying an e-reader, I knew that I would want to have one that was compatible with Overdrive books which do DRM management through Adobe Editions.

This blog post at ProfHacker caught my attention because it talks about Calibre, a piece of software which allows you to convert ebooks from their native format to whatever format your e-reader requires. As long as the title in question passes the DRM sniff-test, you're good to go.

NPR Books is doing a virtual books club with Unbroken, Laura 'Seabiscuit' Hillenbrand's new book that they're calling a "a book-club-meets-social-media experiment."

Virtual book clubs aren't new--the Onion AV Club does a really cool one. What sets this apart, though, is that the author is involved with this one. Hillenbrand is doing interviews, Q&As, and a live chat through the course of the month.

If you're interested in jumping into the chatter, you can get all the details here. This post gives you everything you need to get started and directs you to the NPR Books' Facebook page and Twitter hashtag so you can start chatting.

I'm going to pick up Hillenbrand's book today so that I can be part of the awesomeness.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Resolved: You're not sunk. Yet.

If you're into making New Year's resolutions, the beginning of February is, historically-speaking, a time to pat yourself on the back or to sound the death knell on your dreams of a life transformed.

According to two really interesting blog posts (one is health related; one comes from the Harvard Business Review) I read today, you might want to hold off on declaring those resolutions dead if you're truly interested in transformation.

MizFit suggests that we take our Big Hairy Audacious Goals for the year and break them down into bite-size pieces. She points out that doing that makes them seem less scary and, thus, more attainable. She also lays out an example of how to do it.

The Harvard Business Review piece suggests that we think about our Big Hairy Audacious Goals more specifically. How exactly will we change that thing that needs changing and how will we know when our work is done? The piece also suggests that we use a technique called mental contrasting which, essentially, makes us all warm and fuzzy (what cool things can we expect as a result of reaching our goals?) while making us think realistically about what it will take for us to achieve our goals.

The New Year is a good time for making resolutions, but I know that not everybody does it that way. I feel like the concepts in these two pieces are good no matter when you decide to pursue a change in your life.

The two take-away points for me are this:
1. Just because you didn't make huge strides on your resolutions doesn't mean you can't regroup and start over. There's nothing wrong with adjusting your plans after figuring out why you haven't been able to make progress on your goals.

2. Good goals are concrete and measurable and have mini-milestones along the way. Knowing the ways in which you wish your life were different is a good starting point for change. As un-glamorous as it seems, building in markers for assessment makes it easier to figure out when you've met the goal and whether you're moving closer to it. Celebrating mini-milestones is one thing I need to be better about, especially when a goal will take a long time to achieve.

What about you? Are you doing well on keeping your New Year's resolutions? Got any tips?

Monday, January 31, 2011

In which Mrs. Dude eats her words

Disclaimer: This isn't a proper review of either the new Decemberists album(The King is Dead) or the new Bright Eyes album (The People's Key).

I've had pretty clear views on both The Decemberists and Bright Eyes for a while now. Which is to say, I don't really dig on either of them.

I'm a simple girl with simple tastes in music. I like bands who play really good, really fun music. My favorite bands right now are The Hold Steady and Drive-By Truckers. And though both are making awesome music, neither is doing much to reinvent the proverbial rock-n-roll wheel.

I have never liked bands who created music that struck me as both too concept-y and not very well executed. Do something weird with style and I'll give you mad props even if I don't really like you--after all, Kanye West's newest release made my Best of 2010 list.

On first listen, new releases from both The Decemberists and Bright Eyes have really resonated with me. I think the reason that I'm enjoying both of these is that, at their core, they're both really good rock records.

The moral of the story, I think, is that you have to be open to being surprised by music or risk missing really good stuff.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Top 10 albums of 2010

They say that what you do on New Year's Day is what you'll be doing the most during the upcoming year, so I'm blogging.

2010 was an awesome year in music, especially when compared to 2009. There are a few albums on the horizon for 2011 that I'm jazzed about (R.E.M. and Drive-By Truckers come to mind immediately). But let's pause for a moment to give 2010 its due.

My top ten albums of 2010:

10. Treats by Sleigh Bells
I wanted to dislike this album, but it was so good that I couldn't. See, I'm a lyrics person, and you can't really hear the lyrics on this album. Musically, speaking, it's amazing. And I think that's what eventually made me fall in love with it. It is literally what happens when a hardcore band crosses with a pop star. Miller's heavy beats provide just the right counter-point to Krauss' light, airy vocals. It took me a few listens, but it finally broke me down.

9. Childish Gambino--I am just a rapper 1 and 2
Donald Glover might be better known for his turn as Troy on the NBC sitcom Community. But Glover's talents extend far beyond his turn as a writer (30 Rock), a comic, and an actor. In 2010, Glover released three albums under the "stage name" Childish Gambino. The two that caught my eye were the "I am just a rapper" mixtapes. On these recordings, Glover raps over indie songs from bands like Sleigh Bells, Grizzly Bear, Yeasayer, and St. Vincent. His talent is nothing short of epic, especially when you consider that his music is self-produced and given away at no charge. Glover's rhymes are wittier and better conceived than Drake, to whom I often compare him. So if you're thinking of buying Drake's album, save the money and get better rhymes.

8. The Hold Steady--Heaven is Whenever
Finn and co. return with an album full of twisted tales and catchy melodies. If Constructive Summer is about growing older, Heaven is Whenever seems to me to be about redemption. This isn't my favorite THS album (Boys and Girls in America earns that honor), but it's really good. And it's totally worth a listen. From "The Weekenders," a down-tempo wistful ditty to "Rock Problems," an up-tempo song with a catchy hook, Heaven is Whenever is a rock'n'roll album with few missteps. As an aside, part of the reason that THS earned this spot on my list is that I saw them live in November in Columbia, Mo. and they were awesome.

7. Gorillaz--Plastic Beach
I have never really loved anything by Gorillaz. They seemed like too much of a novelty act for my taste. But, on Plastic Beach, the novelty works to their advantage. Heavy on guest artists, including Snoop Dog and Mos Def, this albums treks from whimsy (Superfast jellyfish) to sober (Plastic Beach) and back.

6. Drive-By Truckers--The Big To-Do
I will admit that DBT is currently my favorite act, so I might have given this album a lower spot on my list. As much as I thought this album worked well as individual tracks, it didn't always work as an album. It felt disjointed in places as it varied so much in both the tone and tempo of the songs. That being said, all of the songs are awesome. DBT has a knack for writing really great songs that are either alt country or southern rock in their sound. This might not be a starting point for DBT newbies, but it is certainly a wonderful addition to the catalog.

5. Kanye West--My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Okay. I admit it. It's good. If you know my complicated views on Kanye West, you know just how hard it was to admit that. And if I'm honest, this album probably should've been higher on my list. But I can't do it. Nearly every track on this album is perfect. But nearly every track is also self-indulgent. Clearly West is a genius, but his need to be alienating and weird makes me hate him for nearly every reason that I hate modernist authors. My favorite track on this album, hands down, is "Monster." Niki Minaj, channeling Lil' Kim, just kills it.

4. The Black Keys--Brothers
This album got a lot of hype before I finally checked it out. Turns out the hype is not a mistake--i's pretty much perfect from beginning to end. Bluesy and with biting lyrics, this album is one of the gems of 2010.

3. LCD Soundsystem--This is happening
Like Gorillaz, I was never a fan of LCD Soundsystem. But this album made it hard not to love them. Nearly every track on this album is over five minutes. The shortest, Drunk Girls, clocks in at 3:42. The longest, You wanted a hit, is 9:06. Each track is equally dance-able and fun.

2. The Roots--How I got over
My husband talked this album up for nearly 2 months before I was finally willing to give it a listen. I was instantly hooked. This album felt like a mish-mash of formats that fall under the umbrella of "hip-hop," though it didn't feel disjointed or fake. The Roots moved deftly between rap, reggae, and jazz and the album featured guests from John Legend to Joanna Newsom.

1. The National--High violet
I feel like it's anti-climatic to put High violet at the top of my list. Everyone I know talked this album up, and I'm always a little skeptical of an album that is that beloved. But when I finally got around to listening to this album, I knew upon my first listen that it would top my list. 2010 was kind of a crappy year for me, and I often found myself wanting to drown in moody, atmospheric music. High violet is both moody and atmospheric. Even on songs that weren't inherently sad, Matt Berninger's vocals left an introspective and melancholy impression. High violet affected me in a way that no other album did in 2010.

What do you think? Where did I get it wrong? What do you wish had been on this list?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The one where Mrs. Dude blogs about her "real life"

I realize that it's probably poor form to blog about therapy.

In the course of conversation, my therapist and I agreed that I have a hard time differentiating between choosing to take something on because it's what I want to do and when I take something on to be accepted.

2010 has been a year filled with really amazing highs and really crappy lows. I have been blessed, both personally and professionally, to have lots of awesome opportunities. Among other things, starting in January I'm spending six months in a leadership program put on by the American Library Association.

It seems to me that there are two problems with not being clear on why I choose to add things to my life:
1. I have a lot of things going on--some that I care deeply about and some that I don't. And it's hard to know which is which.
2. I end up not being able to give anything my full attention because I'm so busy doing everything. Doing everything half-assed is not as good as doing some things with my whole ass.

I have a sense of the things that drive me, give me personal satisfaction, and (to be cheesy) nurture me:
--creating: writing, crafting, cooking
--absorbing: reading, watching movies, listening to music
--learning: service to others, professional development, taking classes

I want 2011 to be about personal transformation. I want it to be about becoming clear on what's important to me and learning to say no to the things that I'm not passionate about.

Change is hard. Inertia is easy. But if you're not 100% happy with who you are and 100% satisfied with the life you lead, change is the only answer.

Look for more writing here in the coming year, both review-related and otherwise. And look forward to journeying with me and holding me accountable.

Question: What do you want 2011 to "be about" for you?