Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The Best of 2008

After much thought and deliberation, and a good deal of slacking off, here is my list of top ten albums of the year. These are the ones that never left the iPod, that never left the heavy rotation, the ones whose melodies played in my head before I fell asleep. I've tried to link streamable tracks or mp3s where I could find them.

1. Son Lux - At War with Walls and Mazes
This was an astonishing debut album. Son Lux - real name: Ryan Lott - is an classically trained electronic producer with soul. The songs on this album are all as simple as hymns - there's not much more than a sentence or two of lyrics in each song. But the songs are emotional symphonies, explosions of passion and despair and hopefulness. I played this one all year.

More about Son Lux here. Go get his record. Seriously. You will not be disappointed.

Sample: Raise

2. My Brightest Diamond - A Thousand Shark's Teeth
You all know about my obsession with Shara Worden. She makes good on the promise of her first album with this deeper, more complex, and more layered album. From the crunch of Inside a Boy to the playful kalimba-fueled dance of Apples to the heartbreaking sweep of Ice and the Storm, this is a magnificent record.

Sample: Inside a Boy

3. Shearwater - Rook
A breathtaking album. Jonathan Meiburg's songwriting has never been better, the music never more effective. Wow.

Sample: Leviathan, Bound

4. Cloud Cult - Feel Good Ghosts (Tea-Partying Through Tornadoes)

I already knew I was going to love this when I read this review. Playful and creative songs and a constant theme of wonder and joy.

Sample (video): Everybody Here is a Cloud

5. Juana Molina - Un Día

Juana Molina sings cryptic dazzling songs in Spanish. I have no idea what she's saying. She's completely comfortable with me not knowing what she's saying. She creates her own music with stacks of keyboards, her own guitar, and her looped voice singing mad choruses over and over. This is great stuff.

Sample: Un Día

6. The Fireman - Electric Arguments

Paul McCartney - wow. This record is fuzzy, scuzzy, loud, danceable, and challenging. And beautiful. A great album by an artist I thought was done making great albums.

Sample: Nothing Too Much Out of Sight

7. She & Him - Volume One

If you haven't already caught this bug, I don't know where you've been. Catchy songs, multitracked girl-group vocals, tasteful music. Can't wait for Volume Two.

Sample: Why Do You Let Me Stay Here?

8. Girl Talk - Feed the Animals

This is my first real exposure to Girl Talk, and I was blown away. He takes the last thirty years of popular music, throws it in a blender, pours out the results, and makes it all danceable. Brilliant.

Sample: In Step

9. David Byrne & Brian Eno - Everything That Happens Will Happen Today

This is really all about David Byrne's soaring, inspirational vocals. The music is just a backdrop for his clever lyrics and amazing performance. Unexpectedly moving.

Sample: Strange Overtones

10. Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago

If you haven't heard this, brace yourself. It's quiet, introspective, and absolutely devastating. Listen to it on headphones, in a dark room, while thinking of your last conversation with the first person who broke your heart.

Sample: Flume

Honorable Mentions - Mercury Rev, Snowflake Midnight; Shelby Lynne, Just a Little Lovin', the Hold Steady, Stay Positive; Adele, 19; Esperanza Spaulding, Esperanza; Nine Inch Nails, The Slip; the Ting Tings, We Started Nothing, Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes (this would have been higher probably, but I haven't heard the whole record yet).

Song of the Year

Tie: "Inside a Boy" by My Brightest Diamond. Both the original and the remix by Son Lux.

Both songs are amazing. The roaring song by MBD was one of the highlights of her new album. Son Lux' swirling, pulsing reconstruction of the song is one of the best remixes I've ever heard by any artist, and it made me want to hear more of his music.

Biggest Surprise of the Year

The Fireman - Electric Arguments. I thought about naming Son Lux' album here, too, but I can believe that there is a unknown yet brilliant twentysomething composer/producer out there. I did not believe that Paul McCartney would ever make an album this good and this challenging again.

Biggest Disappointment of the Year

My Morning Jacket - Evil Urges. I loved their performance on SNL, and I had such high hopes for this album. But it was just weird in all the wrong ways - an erratic, tragic misfire. I listen to four or five songs off the album and fast-forward the rest. And as for "Highly Suspicious?" I don't even know what to do with that song.

Let me know in the comments what albums I missed or what I got wrong. Have a happy new year, everyone.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Big Boy

All non-parents will probably want to skip this post. This is about potty training, a subject that is of endless fascination to the parents of potty-training children and endless boredom to anyone else. It's okay. I get it.

Oliver's still doing the potty training thing. He wears a pullup at home and he does fine going potty by himself, although we often have to remind him. He doesn't have accidents per se - wet pants, puddles on the floor - because again, he's usually in a pullup.

He just got some very exciting big boy unders (his word) with bugs and dinosaurs and et al. on them. He loves them. That's not the big scoop.

The big scoop is that suddenly, he's been dashing off to go to the bathroom without mommy and daddy reminding him! This is a very big deal for us. It's a huge step toward him being completely independent. He's had two or three solid days of wearing underwear all day and not having a single accident.

A couple of days ago, he had just came back from a successful visit to the bathroom and we commended him for going all by himself. He got a huge grin on his face and pronounced, "I think I'm a big boy now!"

Tuesday, December 23, 2008


"This isn't New York. We generally have mild winters. It doesn't make sense to invest in infrastructure and equipment we rarely need. We are monitoring every source of information we have." - Greg Nickels, Mayor of Seattle
You got to love this snow. It is soooo beautiful! - from King County Executive Ron Sims' Twitter feed, sent

Our leaders have no idea what's going on in this city.

We have had snow on the ground for at least ten days, and it feels like an eternity. We have been experiencing a cold snap like Seattle hasn't seen for decades, so the snow's not melting. (To all you people in Chicago and Detroit and Boston and Minnesota - I know you cats are used to freezing temperatures. We're not. Snow usually falls and then melts the next day around here.)

People are sledding down main streets in downtown Seattle. The bus system has been running half of their usual buses, and several have gotten stuck in the snow and ice. Stores are sold out of chains and road salt, and now grocery stores are starting to run out of staples like milk and eggs. Gas stations, waiting for their tanker trucks to arrive, are running out of gasoline.

I drove to work last Tuesday, Dec. 16. And that is the last time I drove my car outside of my neighborhood. We haven't been to drive out of West Seattle for a week now. Our cars been parked a block away for over a week, because our own street is on a hill and has not been plowed since the first snow fell.

Seattle is not a town in the middle of nowhere. We are one of the largest cities on the West Coast, a major port and business center. We have 600,000 residents. And we do get snow, regardless of how often we get it. We own a "fleet" of 27 snowplows, sander and de-icers. There are probably small towns in Massachusetts that own more snow equipment than we do.

We don't own more snowplows because we never get snow like this - except when we do. We get a good snowstorm about once every three years. In 1996, we got tons of snow and a cold snap, and the city shut down. 1990 apparently also had a pretty memorable snowstorm. This is not a once-in-a-hundred-years occurrence.

Many people have started to attack the city and the county for their response to the snow. There's a debate breaking out about whether the city should be using salt. (They don't because of the environmental impact, opting instead for stuff called Geomelt C.) But it's more than that. Their entire response to snow is to assume that it will melt away in a day or two. They plow the main streets - not the smaller side streets liked ours - but don't remove the ice deliberately.

"We're trying to create a hard-packed surface," said Alex Wiggins, chief of staff for the Seattle Department of Transportation. "It doesn't look like anything you'd find in Chicago or New York."

And of course, they don't plow the side streets at all, because they don't own enough plows. And they don't own enough plows because they never get snow like this.

Except when they do.

You will recall that I was furious two years ago, when the city couldn't restore our apartment's power for nearly four days after a powerful windstorm. I'm not any happier about their response to the current situation. This just isn't about not being able to get to the mall to buy Christmas presents, although I'm sure there's been a huge economic impact because of the city being immobilized. People are going to be losing their jobs because they can't get into their workplace. I'm certain there are people whose lives have been endangered because they can't get to the hospital, or their doctor, or their dialysis treatment. We'll start hearing about them in the next few weeks. We are suffering, and our elected leaders either don't realize it or don't want to admit that they've failed this test.

The problem is that they're responding as if we're getting the same old weather that we always (read: usually) get. You can't use the old responses when the weather isn't following the old pattern. I would think at least that Greg Nickels, a firm believer in climate change, would realize that. They should have had a plan in place for snow that didn't fit the usual pattern. Now, I don't know what that response should have been and it's not my job to make that decision. Maybe we need a few hundred tons of salt on hand, for just such an emergency like this. Maybe we need to invest in a hundred snowplows that can easily be mounted on city trucks on short notice. Or maybe we need to triple the use of GeoMelt C.

All I know is that right now, their strategy for responding to this snow has been an absolute failure. And a lot of us are starting to get angry about it.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


I'm brewing a morning pot of coffee. I can't believe we still have power.

Last night, we were battening down the hatches and preparing for the worst. The Weather Service was warning of hurricane-force winds (not exactly in Seattle, but it was supposed to get pretty gusty.) The city started opening emergency shelters for victims of power outages and they opened up their Emergency Response center.

And I was having flashbacks to the windstorm two years ago. I remembered how, outside our window, the wind was blowing like we were on the deck of a ship that had sailed into a hurricane. Transformers were exploding outside. Trees were crashing to the ground. It looked vaguely like that Stephen King story, the Mist, what with the apocalypse happening outside our windows. We lost our power around 1 in the morning and didn't get it back for nearly four days.

So this time, we gathered up our flashlights and our blankets. We stocked up on food and bought emergency water for drinking. We wrote down emergency phone numbers and brought up the cooler from downstairs in case our refrigerator went out. And we mentally prepared for a cold, bitter night.

And when the wind started picking up last night, I started getting a knot in the pit of my stomach. And then ... it never happened. The wind never got worse than a stiff breeze. The dangerous winds never materialized for us. The coffee pot's still brewing, the lights are on, the heat is on. Thank goodness.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Weather Outside is Frightful. The end.

So it snowed on Saturday.

At first we were all excited. Yay snow! We watched it fall, we went outside to take pictures.

Oliver woke up in the morning and wanted to go run around in the snow! And throw snowballs! And make snowmen!

I decided to drive to the store to get coffee and provisions. I was in the car for fifteen minutes, and my front tires went about three inches. My back tires slid six feet, jutting the car right out into the road.

Then I spent twenty minutes trying to maneuver the car back over to the side of the road so it wouldn't get hit. Once it was safely on the curb, I walked to the store while Mrs. B and Oliver played in the snow.

This is what the entrance to the local supermarket looked like on Sunday.

Here's what happened. It snowed, it melted a bit, and then everything froze. Now, this is Seattle, so what usually happens is that it snows and then everything melts. Or it snows, and then it rains. Or it snows and then stops fifteen minutes later. This time, it seriously froze. It is 28º outside right now, and they're predicting freezing temperatures for the next two weeks.

So all the snow has turned into ice, and all of the side streets are frozen over. And that's where we get into trouble. You see, Seattle doesn't get snow so we're not exactly stocked up for it. Seattle has 44 trucks with snowplows and sanders for a city of nearly 600,000. So they've plowed and sanded the main roads, and they're trying to get to the side streets when they can. But right now, most of the side streets are beautiful glistening sheets of deadly ice.

We're a city of hills, which is also compounding the problem. We live on a small hill ourselves, and right now that hill is a death trap. Mrs. B and I both drove into work, but it was an ordeal getting both cars out of our driveway and onto the roads. I tried to drive up the hill, toward the main road, and it was almost laughable - I spun my tires, slid, skidded, and finally turned around and careened down the icy hill toward the paved cross street, hoping that I hit pavement instead of a patch of ice when I made my turn. Then I did the same thing for Mrs. B's car. It was a bit of a frightening ordeal.

Don't get me wrong - I've driven in snow before. I used to live and drive in Colorado and western Massachusetts. So snow doesn't scare me. But it's the combination of a) the hills, b) the lack of plows and sanders, and c) the crazy Seattle drivers that have me spooked. Driving on flat plowed roads is a whole different experience than driving on hilly icy streets.

It's going to snow again tonight. It might snow again next week. One local station said that we might see temperatures below freezing through the end of the year! For Seattle, this is culture shock. We're barely used to snow. Freezing temperatures are absolutely stunning. The news stations had to tell people to do things like unplug their garden hoses and cover their outside faucets so their pipes wouldn't freeze. It's fair to say that our city is in shock right now. And it's not going to get better anytime soon.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008


This was in his mouth until Monday morning. (The tooth, not the dime.)

It's a molar. The first tooth he has lost.

It doesn't look all that big, until you realize that it was inside his mouth, and his mouth is tiny.

It didn't get wobbly and come out, the way baby teeth do naturally. This tooth had a cavity, and the cavity got infected, and the infection got down to the nerve, and yesterday the dentist pulled it out.

His mouth has been bothering him for a couple of weeks. Mrs. B took him to the dentist once, and she thought it was a nasty bite on his cheek. But that healed up, and he was still complaining about his mouth. So went to the doctor, and she checked his cheek but couldn't find any wound. She didn't know what was bothering him. And that made the pain go away for a while.

But on and off, it's been bugging him. And then Sunday came. Sunday afternoon, his mouth was suddenly on fire. He was howling in pain. After he went to bed that night, he woke up keening miserably in pain. He was like that all night - restless, thrashing, and moaning in agony. Mrs. B gave him some ibuprofen and that finally helped him sleep for a few hours.

But Monday morning, he was screaming again. I can only describe it from a distance - I was at work, and the Mrs. was at home with him for the day. She called once. I heard him in the background, wailing in a way that I can't remember hearing him before. It was heart-breaking.

So they went to the dentist that morning, and they took x-rays, and they discovered the infection. And the tooth came out.

He feels better now. he's probing around the hole with his tongue, feeling his cheek with his finger. But he's not in pain anymore. He's sleeping now, and he's sleeping like a lamb. I should be relieved, but I'm just depressed.

The hole in his mouth is enormous. It's a giant gaping wound, a scar in his beautiful perfect little mouth.

He knows about the tooth fairy now. She left him a dollar. He's not supposed to know about the tooth fairy. He's only three. His teeth are all supposed to stay in his mouth for a couple more years. All of them.

When he was little - when he was just crawling - we were playing around one day in the kitchen. He was climbing between my legs, and I would squeee-e-e-e-eeze them together around him. He would squeal in delight, and I would let him go again. He'd crawl another step, and then I'd squeeze my legs against his ribs again.

Well, I did that one time and for some reason, I thought that he was holding himself up by his hands. I released my legs suddenly. He fell with a thud, and then he started screaming. He had fallen smack on his mouth and came up with a mouthful of blood.

I held towels to his mouth to soak up the blood, cursing myself for what I had done. I felt sick that I had caused this beautiful boy harm. He was hurt and it was my fault. Months later, at his first dental visit, I found out that he had chipped a tooth. And I knew the exact moment when it had happened.

And now, this tooth. Was it our fault that it had failed? Did we start him on fluoride toothpaste too late? Were we negligent in brushing his back molars? What had we done? I feel like it's my fault, this giant hole in his mouth.

I've had friends tell me that it's genetics, the undeniable hand of genetics. I know that my family has terrible teeth. I have a mouthful of fillings myself. The dentist even said that the tooth was new and could have been malformed. It's all probably true. I'll keep saying that, and eventually I'll probably start believing it.