Daniel Kahnemen wrote this book published in 2011 and it is the best business book I’ve ever read. Only it’s not really about business. It’s about humans and how we think.
This book’s many, many lessons on human thinking, heuristics, fallacies and ideas are mostly premised on two “systems” of human thought. System 1 is our knee jerk, act first, consider later system. It’s near instantaneous. System two is our in depth, deep analysis, do the work system. It’s what allows us to do complex math problems or build out a logical rationale regarding a nuanced subject.
Neither of these systems are mapped out anatomically speaking. They don’t exist as part of our physiology. They are a black and white creation in a world of grey. Yet they are an excellent way to explain what we, the most advanced beings known to our little planet, utilize when faced with stimuli.
The results ain’t pretty. When put into scientifically crafted experiments to test the psyche, humans are proven to make decisions that often times go completely against what they should decide, or what they’ve stated they believe, or what they’ve previously decided. It’s altogether fascinating. Kahnemen spent his career creating and testing psychological evaluation and attempting to prove out differentials in what many in his profession and other similar studies thought were the case versus what actually happens.
My problem with the book is that it’s SO good and SO full of lessons I don’t know that it’s really all that easy to blog it’s importance. Anyone who works in a professional environment and has to get groups of people to make decisions should read this. It’s incredible.
Here are a few lessons covered:
Attention and Effort: how often humans faced with difficult decisions or in depth decisions simply skip it for the easy path
Mental Energy: how certain mind states and times can lead to less critical thinking
Prior Mindsets: how humans use their preconceived notions to find the evidence that supports their prior conclusion
Cognitive Ease: how a more complex subject or argument is found less attractive due to difficulty
Causes: how people build a story around something they want to believe, regardless if it’s true or not
Jumping to Conclusions: how people have illusory understandings based on what they see and know, they are incapable of seeing outside of their current understanding and anchor there
Anchoring: how humans use a frame of reference as a starting point and gravitate toward it
Small Samples: how extremely poor humans are at statistical validation due to believing small sample sizes are representative despite not matching base rates
Availability: how we misrepresent recent or highlighted phenomena as more common than actual happenings
Halo Effects: how we take performance or appearance in one area and apply it to others without actual proof
Snowflakes: how humans always assume their case is different and that statistics don’t really apply to them
Statistical Errors: near all humans are not good with statistics, it would seem our brains simply aren’t wired well for it
Regression to the Mean: how humans assume that a particular happening is average when it’s actually an outlier and ensuing happenings will regress toward the actual average
Overconfidence: how overconfident people are more typically the worse performers of a group (not to mention they brush off results as not representative)
Formulas: how replacing humans doing an exercise with a formula replaces human error and creates a statistical certainty of what’s being measured
Intuitions: how humans use feeling and intuition to ignore base rates without good reason
Prospector Theory: how costs are regarded more negatively than gains are positively
Endowment: how quickly humans internalize novel gains as the norm
There are more. This book took me about six months to read, which is a long time, but it’s 420 pages and extremely dense with ideas that are critical. I really can’t recommend it enough, but go in eyes wide open as it is not an easy read. It’s worth it though.
Tuesday this week we left on a jet plane to San Diego for a very quick getaway. The trip was exploratory in more ways than one, with Juniper we just don’t know how well she’ll travel at this point. Her first trips to Florida, Sweden and Iceland were a different time in her cognition state and reactions are subject to variance. As such, the trip was only until Friday, about three days in total but including two four hour flights.
It was also my first foray into California for pure tourism. My job dictates traveling to California roughly four times per year if not a bit more, so I’m used to the areas, particularly San Francisco, but haven’t had a lot of time to simply explore.
On the first day we went to Seaport Village and walked along the shoreline, did a bit of shopping (tourist wares are almost always a waste of time unfortunately), and had free ice cream from Ben and Jerry’s – free cone day! What luck!
The second day was significantly busier than the first. We woke up and headed to the San Diego Zoo after breakfast. The zoo is renowned as one of the best in the US, and although my exposure is somewhat limited I thought it was well thought out and a lot of fun. Juni saw a great deal of animals she’d never seen before and seemed to be enjoying herself. That night we went to Coronado and got a feel for the area including the beautiful beach that stretched for what seemed like a mile long. Coronado seemed like a really nice area and if we go back I’ll be looking to see if we can find a place for rent there.
The last full day we spent going to Balboa Park in the AM, walking around the museums and shops at first then going to the children’s park. Afterward we walked around the area while Juniper slept and finally got lunch at the Prado which had excellent food and drinks. Later that evening we went to La Jolla Cove. This was my favorite part of the trip, we saw seals, sea lions, and many varieties of birds. The best part was Juniper learning to walk along the sand and getting wet when the tide rolled in. She held my hand, which isn’t necessarily something she does often, and we laughed as the cold water lapped at our ankles.
It was a packed trip, but I’m glad we did it. Since then we’ve been doing spring cleaning around the house. Having a few days after a vacation prior to work may be the nicest aspect of it all. I have to catch up on email and a number of other things, but it has been well spaced.
Our next trip is planned, back to California in July. This time it will be San Francisco and the red woods.
The last of three non work books I picked up last year due to needing a break from industry research, Fear and Loathing is Hunter S. Thompson’s most renowned work, an entry into gonzo journalism which he helped to pioneer.
This was the first book I’ve read of Thompson’s, and it was extremely interesting. The idea behind gonzo journalism actually makes it difficult to ascertain what’s true, what’s not, what’s embellished, what’s completely fabricated either purposefully or due to a drug fueled mis-remembrance. The book itself is a walk through of Thompson and his compatriot lawyer as they investigate two potential stories to be written for different publications.
The writing is in first person narration. There are a few things notable in his style, for instance, he uses italics continually as part of speech to denote inflection. This is a common practice in English writing, however the number of times he does so makes it stand out, usually to comedic effect.
Fear and Loathing is outrageous from the outset. It’s a drug addled storyline with actions so out of the norm for most Americans that it must border on unadulterated fiction. However, like other novels that seem somewhat surreal such as Kerouac’s On The Road or Kasey’s One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, these stories were written in a different time. America was wildly different in the 50s, 60s, and 70s, so much that these stories seem outlandish when in reality there were many things happening like this all the time. It doesn’t mean that everything is capital T truth, but you’d be surprised.
Characters say and do things that make them seem like maniacs, and in all appreciable sense they are. From one scenario to another, they seem to avoid any real implications of all their illicit activity. Time and time again, the story keeps on. It works.
This is a fast paced book, you could read it in three hours or so. It’s entertaining, funny and a stark departure from most writers’ style and story. It’s worth reading. Thompson also wrote about Hell’s Angels in another gonzo journalism entry which at some point I’ll pick up. He was a character, to say the least. And he was a good writer too.
This could be an essay of hundreds of thousand of words.
Instead, I’m going to summarize one major area of importance about this particular nation state, despite its flaws.
I am not a “patriotic” person with an ideology that being born in a certain geographical area of the planet Earth makes you different than any other person. Borders of any nature are simply human concocted lines of ownership meant to sequester resources. The planet is not owned by anyone, it’s a symbiotic parcel of livable space matter. Us humans either abide by the unwritten rules of that symbiosis or get shrugged off the carousel circling our one and only energy source, the sun.
Being human is more important than being of a certain geography. The rights for humans should transcend those of being of a certain geography. In the same vein, a human’s choice of religion (or lack thereof), their prosperity in terms of being rich or poor, their “race” or any other facet of their being is irrelevant to their humanity. Governance that embraces this means humans are truly free.
America has embodied this to me. Despite being a cynical youth that sees through many governmental and corporate talking points, our country has long been a sanctuary to the distressed. A place where anyone could come to make a home, work hard and be successful.
“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
This is what made America a great nation, although imperfect.
Yesterday the president signed an edict that refuses entry to refugees into the United States of America. Compounding this, it is particularly weighted against a certain religion. This runs contrary to the main ideals that make me proud to be an American. I can only hope that this is overturned and the innocent lives of refugees are spared.
The last few months I’ve been reading a book called “Thank You for Arguing,” which is dedicated to understanding and improving the important art of rhetoric. Of all skill sets in life, I’d imagine that the capability to utilize rhetoric effectively in personal or group discussions will likely have the largest impact on your career and life as a whole. Every interaction you have in life is somewhat reliant on these skills. Most people are inherently utilizing rhetoric, but fail to recognize the art as it happens.
I actually have a minor in rhetorical writing, which has served me fairly well in vocational pursuits, but has failed to take hold well in my other areas of life. The truth is that rhetoric and persuasion are genuinely difficult in practice. The main reasons are that interacting with others is not necessarily fun–I’ve found as I get older that more and more people would rather not interact with others if avoidable (though not everyone is like this), and that persuading is becoming more and more difficult; it seems like more and more people shut off any argument that’s counteractive to their initial thought processes. Yet it is the only way to really get what you want. Or to do what is right. And that’s an important distinction, what you want is likely (in your mind) what is right. You cannot do what you think is right in most instances without the support of others.
Rhetoric is supremely important today. And this book does well to describe how to use it effectively in speech and debate. Those two activities are not so formal as they sound; they happen every day at the water cooler, kitchen table, email strings and so forth. Learning the tools and wielding them effectively is to your benefit. The following is a brief outline of the concepts in the book:
1. Set Your Goals
Before any actual discourse, consider your preferred outcomes — not necessarily “winning” the argument, but what you want to happen as a result (very different ideas)
Set your goal for the audience, in changing mood or thought process or action
2. Control the Tense
Focus on the future and the choices of the audience, what are the implications moving forward? Looking backward does nothing.
Avoid fault and/or blame of any party as it is unlikely to provide good will
3. Soften Them Up
Argument by Character (Ethos): this relies on reputation of the speaker or other parties – e.g. this person’s reputation is worthy of consideration and potentially consent
Argument by Logic (Logos): relying on the logic of the audience, regardless of the position, this could mean accepting opposing ideas in order to get a certain outcome
Argument by Emotion (Pathos): concern with the audience and their mood given a certain situation
4. Get Them to Like You
Use decorum to fit the audience’s consideration, fit in with the decisions making
5. Make Them Listen
Virtue: adopt the values of the audience
Values: align with the commonplaces of the audience — commonplaces may be one of the most important ideas in this book, it signifies the areas where the group already agrees, which are the areas where an argument starts. Things so basic as “we all want to grow the company” or “we all agree treating customers well is part of who we are” are mores within organizations and need to be considered. Those are obvious starts, the questions come from when you get to alignment of resources or functional expectations.
Touting experience, or having others do it for you, will lend itself toward getting consideration
6. Use Your Craft
Show your experience
Take the middle course – always weigh both sides of the argument and regardless of which way you choose to go, make certain that you’ve covered off on both sides prior to taking a position
7. Show You Care
Reluctant conclusion – come to your position while highlighting the potential of the other areas of choice, perhaps reluctantly given the situation being overwhelmingly right given the facts
Personal sacrifice – sometimes decisions come at a cost of your personal area but are for the greater good
Doubt in rhetorical skill – simple words with verbal consideration “I may only be a caveman, but I know this is right.”
8. Control the Mood
Belief, use the experience
Tell stories where applicable
Control volume – good point to state that any time an argument escalates, you’ve lost
Patriotism and alignment of the group to argument, potentially posing the opposition as against the goodness of the group
Desire and emulation
9. Turn the Volume Down
Use the passive voice and do not assign action/blame where avoidable
Get audience comfortable, smiling and laughing if possible
Empower audience and the importance of their choice for the future
10. Gain the High Ground
Focus on what’s advantageous for the audience
Commonplaces — find where everyone aligns and stem argument from that point of trust
Normally when people continue to repeat ideas (babbling) there is a commonplace in that place
Get to agreement on the subject to create a commonplace where one previously didn’t exist
11. Persuade On Your Terms
Labeling – use of terminology is important as they can hold connotations, use your terms, choose your opponents terms when it helps but reframe their definitions
Future tense problem solving includes focusing on Facts, then Definition, then Quality, then Relevance. Move down the scale as your argument runs into issues, and then consider other action if needed.
12. Control the Agument
Deductive logic creates agreement through “if/then” argumentation
Inductive logic ends commonplaces at the time and creates new paths forward
Facts / Comparisons / Stories are all valuable in these discussions
13. Spot Fallacies
False comparisons – unalike ideas that are compared regardless
Bad example – example doesn’t fit conclusion of argument
Ignorance of proof – when you haven’t seen an example and assume that one does not exist due to that ignorance
Circular logic – using the premise to lead to a conclusion that is therein the premise
False choice – creating a false dichotomy of decisions where none is actually needed
Red herring – creating a non linear distraction to avoid the argument at hand
Wrong ending – proof doesn’t match conclusion
14. Call a Foul
Switching tenses from future to past – always focus on what’s next
Inflexible insistence on rules, when realigning rules may be needed
Humility – setting out to embarrass another is poor form and shouldn’t be tolerated
Threats / foul language – unhelpful and distraction
Utter stupidity – difficult to stop but often times can’t be fought head on
15. Know Who to Trust
Apply a needs test – what are the actors looking to achieve and how does it match their rhetoric?
Check extremes – are they measured in consideration or one sided?
16. Find the Sweet Spot
Assess the practical wisdom: Absolutely one way answers, or “it depends” on the situation, latter means impartiality in most instances
Actual experience of actors and outcomes
Ability to succinctly describe the crux of the issue
17. Advanced Offense
Twist cliches for memorability
Change word order of arguments, clever and sticks with audience
Edit out loud, shows nonscripted consideration and commonplace compass
Emotion where valuable
Invent new words
18. Speak the Audience Language
Simple language where possible, use the lexicon of the group to fit in
19. Make Them Identify With The Choice
See the choice as how the group self identifies for the easiest path to victory, few will disagree with the group identity
Summarize argument with a halo of identity
Do not apologize, ever, just use argument to position for future e.g. “the previous action didn’t live up to my expectations, and I’m going to improve that moving forward”
20. Right Timing
Wait for the right time to push for change — it can take an extreme amount in different scenarios, be patient
21. Give a Persuasive Talk
Invention: create the issue through facts and choosing the historic considerations going into decision now
Arrangement: choose how to layer the argument for maximum impact, with expectations of questions or commentary
Style: word choice, clarity, vividness, storytelling, decorum, ornament
Memory: having your argument down pat helps delivery and considers rejoinders and how to handle
Delivery: execute the ideas
As you can tell, there was a lot covered in the book. And although you’re already doing this on the daily, thinking through what works and doesn’t is probably a helpful exercise. The book is recommended, as are the ideas themselves.
The “winter break” where I often take off the days between Christmas and New Years flew by this year. So I’m actually writing my top music and resolutions post about a week late. Part of this is due to catching a nasty cold while we were in Hayward, Wisconsin. Despite that, it was actually a great trip and I’d like to go back in the future.
2016 Goal #1: Less Sleep.In retrospect this sounds silly anyway, but I did not achieve this goal. I don’t know that I thought it through all that well. My initial take was to get more time for exercise and other activities in the morning by getting up at 5am every day. Truth be told, this idea faded quickly. Parenting and a general lack of time means that sleep is needed. I’d give myself an F on this one, mostly due to it being a poorly thought out idea in the first place.
2016 Goal #2: Less Poor Eating. I’d give myself an A- on this endeavor. Teresa, Juni and I all committed to purchasing only what we needed for meals and it worked really well. Every week (including this morning) we plan the dinners and to a lesser extent lunches and snacks, then purchase the food. This sounds like a simple thing, and it is, but the impact it has on what you eat and the making decisions is really big. There’s less food around the house to snack on, you save money on wasted food or buying things you don’t actually need or use, and you’re more organized. This is a resolution that will stick with us for decades, which is the whole point.
2016 Goal #3: Less Screen Time. What gets measured gets managed. That’s the rub with this. I feel as though we did a better job this last year in terms of not spending too much time on tablets and phones, but it’s tough to say. My consumption of media is relegated to Twitter on a tablet, sports or videogames while on the elliptical, and whatever I watch with Teresa and Juni–usually TV series on HBO, movies or kids television. I don’t think that’s too bad, but it’s not perfect. Teresa was doing this one as well, I think we both did about the same. Overall grade, B-.
2016 Goal #4: Less Long Term Thinking. This was more of a purposeful focus on enjoying today than anything else. I’d like to think this was a successful endeavor generally, but I’d be lying if I stated that my prerogative isn’t still always weighing the long term. My outlook is usually thinking 2-3 decades down the line at this point; I’ve no idea if this is “normal” for most folks, but it’s how I’m wired. Yet last year there was a lot of enjoyment in the there and then. We took a few trips (Iceland, Sweden, and exotic Wisconsin), spent a good deal of time out on the bike and walking in parks. Looking back, it’s pretty intense how quickly time goes now. Grade of B+.
Now, as to the coming year. Looking back at goals, they used to be focused on financial, health and intellectual pursuits. The financial goals are still there today, but I don’t really feel compelled to write about them as they are simply part of the way we live our lives. Save some money, pay off some bills, plan for the future. So many of those pursuits are dictated by the general economy that they become boring, despite being so important. I still read a lot of financial independence blogs, and respect them, but the minutia which some of these folks pursue saving money and building wealth is too much for me. We’re in the black, despite having many things to pay off and many capital expenditures on the homestead coming up.
Health wise, this last year was definitely the first year my age became apparent. A small shoveling incident opened up a potential area of weakness, most likely psychosomatic in nature however nonetheless concerning. My peak health was in the summer of business school where I dropped down to 160 Lb. and was bordering on a six pack. It was great, but it also required an incredible amount of working out. Those days aren’t far gone, but the time to do those things is. In short, health goals are still happening, but they have to be sustainable and built into the schedule. Pushups, pull ups, air squats in the AM. Lifting or running during the lunch breaks. Elliptical after Juni has gone to bed during videogames or watching TV. It works.
Intellectual goals are perhaps the most important out of all, given that the others have been the primary focus in the last ten years. Of course, all of these ideas meld together in uncertain terms as you live your life. Keeping track is the hardest part, which is why these posts are my favorite of the year. The question is what to focus on? What can make a difference for yourself, your family, your friends or the world in general? That’s the difficulty in choosing. Why not do it all? Well the return on invested time declines if you try to accomplish too much. Do something that sticks.
Goal #1: Become Educated On Climate Change. This is both a professional and personal goal, as it’s quite relevant to my vocation now. Most of my life I’ve always tried to figure out what’s the biggest thing I can do to help other people and the planet in general. It hasn’t been a driving force for myself, but a question–when I’ve achieved my personal goals, how can I help to give back? I think there are a number of things that could entail, but the biggest issue from my viewpoint for the next hundred years will be the drastic effects of climate change and how we can curb the inevitable issues that will stem from it. At this point it’s not a question of if, but the severity thereof. The first thing I need to do is get through the books on my night stand and dive into it. By the end of this year I should have read multiple books and viewpoints on the subject and built an internal prerogative on the most powerful ways to address and limit the changes coming.
Goal #2: More Family Time. This last year was a big transition for me in learning how to interact with my daughter, sounds odd, but I’ve never actually had any children and as they grow spending time with them is important but not necessarily visceral. They are learning all the time and don’t always want you around. It comes more natural to mothers, in my estimation, but it’s every bit as important to have your father there with you as you learn in order to build a relationship. This goal is about being diligent and speaking and playing with Juni as she grows, as well as finding time for Teresa and I to go out or just relax at home. With all my other goals for exercise, reading and writing, it actually gets somewhat difficult to find time. But it has to be a precedent.
Goal #3: Cut Down Vulgar Vocabulary. My childhood and adolescents were spent in a blue collar background with great friends of similar ilk. The vernacular of us kids growing up wasn’t always the cleanest, and although we were hardly sailors, many of those less appealing words and phrases have stuck. With a daughter that will undoubtedly soak in anything and everything she’s exposed to, it’s time to limit those words. There’s an interesting aside here in the professional environment; when and where is it acceptable to use such vocabulary? You’d be surprised that it’s actually a powerful tool in many scenarios, but also a humbling achilles heel in others. This is a post for another time. The four letter words need to go in the home for certain, and potentially other areas.
Goal #4: Get To Some New Places. Travel is getting harder with Juniper. We do have a few trips lined up, first off is San Diego over Spring break, then in the summer a week long vacation with Teresa’s side of the family. I’d like to get another trip or two in if possible where we go somewhere new, but again it’s a real challenge at this point in time. It may turn out that the new places are simply a few longer weekends in local areas, but that’d be enough. Travel is definitely one of my favorite things to do and it’s something that we’ll have to work at.
That’ll do it for this year. Best of luck to you and yours in the coming twelve months; we’ll check back in on my progress in 2018.
It’s that time of year again, time to review my favorite music from the year. This last twelve months has been particularly difficult to strum through due to not having Last.fm on my phone since March. Last.fm keeps track of all your played music retroactively, however lately I’ve been playing significantly more music through my Sonos system at home which doesn’t work with the app to my knowledge. I need to look into getting the application working again on my phone and through Sonos, but this year it’s out. Due to that, this is a much more manual review than data centric.
This was another really good year for music generally. I’m listening to fewer albums, I think partly because podcasts are becoming a much more prominent use of my time. They are an excellent way to learn about new things while in the car or at work while doing otherwise menial tasks like updating spreadsheets, etc. Music isn’t becoming less important, but it is getting harder to keep up with all the albums from bands I used to listen to more frequently and the new bands discovered in the course of the year. The fact that my year end lists reflect albums from different periods and outside the sequential chronology of a musician is a good thing as it provides more of a rounded view on the content over time.
TLDR: great year, tough to choose, here we go:
Chvrches – Every Open Eye: Another gem from the synth keyboard rock set from the United Kingdom. This band puts out rich synth pop with many layers, and most songs are of such catchy, replay value high intensity that it’s surprising they aren’t top ten. Tough cut, but it was a good music year.
Okkervil River - Away: Likely an album I’ll return to in the future, Away was a beautiful deviation from the previous Okkervil records, due to altering the band. Will Sheff compiled some truly amazing songs and lyrics in this one. He believes it to be his best record. I don’t currently feel that way over a few earlier records, but have to feel this album will outlast them. Okkervil River RIP, Comes Indiana Through The Smoke and a few others are timeless. That is very difficult to do.
Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds In Country Music: The first modern country album I’d bought in, well ever really unless you count alt country rock bands…and I don’t. I’d heard some rumblings about his 2016 relase A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, listened to a bit of it on Amazon but never bought it for some reason. This album was on sale about a month back and I figured it a good time to get in. It’s really well done and was a prompt for my last tangent on music throughout my life simply for the fact that country hasn’t had a prominent place, yet that seems like it will change if artists such as this exist and put out material. Good music is good regardless of genre. I have a feeling his 2016 release, by most accounts his best work, may find it’s way on to my 2017 list.
Angel Olsen – MY WOMAN: Heady, sultry singing and rock music from a new voice with lots to add. Songs touching at the core of human emotions in relationships while still jamming out a bit.
The official list of top ten albums from the year:
#10: Aesop Rock, The Impossible Kid- Ian Bavitz is aging, much like the rest of us. Seems unlikely for this one, a veritable walking dictionary explaining concepts in crossword rap, colored by mood altering backgrounds wont to alter at any moment, for the better or worse depending on the direction he wants to guide you. Rap is a young mans game, it would seem. Of course, to a certain extent, music is as well. Aes is aging extremely well. He is human and copes with multiple issues on record. He brings you in and shares difficulty, the effort needed to move on, and more. The Impossible Kid may not be his best album, but it’s as good as any of them, if that makes any sense. His craft is mastered at this point, he’s just picking his spots. And you shouldn’t miss any of it.
#9: NOFX, First Ditch Effort – A long time favorite. Definitely in my top five bands all time. They put together another punk gem, rife with funny subject matter that is always worth listening to. It’s catchy punk, but Fat Mike pulls no punches either–he’s still at odds with a great deal of American policies and many who promote them.
This is their best effort since Coaster for certain, and perhaps better than Wolves in Wolves Clothing. Probably only a good buy for someone who already likes the genre.
#8: Modern Baseball, Holy Ghost – This is the first album of this band I’ve purchased. It took quite a few listens to get into the thick of it. Once I did, it was pretty obvious why so many people think they are the next big thing in alt rock. It’s fast, energetic music yes, but it’s also honest and forthright about what’s happening in the lives of the band members. They wear their emotional hearts on their sleeves and put out an honest record with enough variety to keep you coming back.
I’ll likely purchase some other albums to see what else they’ve cooked up, but the quality for this album is very good while still being a high energy work. There aren’t enough of those bands right now.
#7: Bon Iver, 22, A Million- Justin Vernon has been a favorite of mine for some time. Regardless of the project, from Bon Iver to Volcano Choir to his other multiple collaborations, his works are always very good. I heard this album in its entirety at Eaux Claires Music Festival in the summer, and at the time stood under rapture for roughly an hour as he put on one of the better live performances in my recollection. At that point in time it seemed this was destined to be album of the year. It took another few months for it to arrive officially, and at that point something was lost. The album is good, but there are enough points of disconnect throughout that as an entire work it does not seem as good as either of his prior releases. Many will disagree with this thought as it has been cited as his best album.
This is still an excellent record. The opening track is one of the better introductions to a piece of music in recent memory. The risks taken, although sometimes altering the cadence of the record negatively, not outside merit. The final track is also extremely good. Everything in between is interesting and strong musically speaking. Hopefully, Bon Iver continues to put out music and I’ll be able to judge this new record against future albums; it’s divisive for me in that the changes from album to album are difficult to discern. The bottom line is that, though this was an interesting work, it didn’t get as many repetitions as it should have and I can’t shake that.
#6: Elliot Smith, Either/Or – I’d gotten into Elliot Smith a few years back, actually quite a few years back considering it as around the time I began dating Teresa. I’d picked up his self titled offering, A Basement on the Hill, and XO. I did not pick up Either / Or, and that is unfortunate as in my esteem it’s probably his best album! Elliot was renowned for his songwriting most, his musicianship shortly thereafter and a very soft singing voice was his calling card. Elliot Smith made truly beautiful music. The reason I stopped listening to him was mostly that the sadness of the songs occasionally put me in a mood I wasn’t aiming for. It says nothing of the product itself, however that’s the main reason his albums and songs aren’t played more often. This album was EXTREMELY well put together and basically played one month straight (March) as my wait for the next album on this list extended. Just a great album and if you’re a fan of good singer songwriters, an easy choice.
#5: Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield, Seth Avett & Jessica Lea Mayfield Sing Elliot Smith - It was actually somewhat of a fluke that I’d purchased the Elliot Smith record; it just happened to be on sale at the right time. This album, however, I’d been waiting for for roughly six months since getting wind of it via the interwebbery. Seth Avett is the lead singer of the Avett Brothers and Jessica Lea Mayfield is a singer songwriter with a beautiful voice and Southern accent which is incredibly endearing. A fan of both of their works, and Elliot Smith’s songwriting in general, I couldn’t wait to hear what they did with his catalog. They did not disappoint. This album is one of the better offerings for late nights and a drink I’ve ever heard. It’s very much like Smith’s early material, however drawn out with the vocals of both these accomplished artists. Front to back, the whole of it is well done and an absolute must for any Smith fan. Strangely, it did not receive a great deal of notoriety–most likely due to being a covers album, from non mainstream artists of a deceased non mainstream artist. Regardless, it’s a welcome addition.
#4: Conor Oberst, Ruminations – Conor has made many appearances on my list of best albums over the years. Two years ago he had my top listing for 2014, and this year he put out Ruminations, which actually might be a better album overall, although it’s a close call at that. He created this record after having a cyst found in his brain while on tour with the Decaparacidos, whose last album was #7 last year. This album is completely stripped down, it’s really only Conor, a piano, harmonica and guitar. It’s all focused on his stellar writing and sparse organizations of music which I assume he can play all on his lonesome in front of a crowd (hopefully he’ll tour this release.) Like most of his music, this is a fantastic piece of art which is listenable over and over due to the writing and composition.
#3: Willie Nelson, The Essential Willie Nelson – It’s kind of unfair to have an all time great like Willie on this list, because in all reality his greatest hits album would almost unanimously be voted the best of all included offerings by most. However, since it’s actually a listing of my favorite albums in a year, it’s all good. And I mean that about Willie–I’ve always liked his music, but this double album is so full of amazing music that he’s probably joined my top ten all time. I’ll make another list of that some other day I’m feeling ambitious.
I’m not usually a big fan of “essential” or “best of” albums. Listening to albums put out a certain point in time from an artist is so telling of what their doing and their evolution. It’s the best way to listen to music in my esteem. I own another four albums of Willie. They are all pretty darn good. But he has so much music put out over so many decades that my eagerness to go through and find all the best picks waned. The same goes for a lot of artists in the classic country genre like Kris Kristofferson and Johnny Cash. Love the music, but not enough to buy all those albums. So in this case the essential press was the best choice. And it’s amazing. You can listen to every one of these forty plus songs and enjoy every minute. Nelson’s voice is distinct, comforting, challenging, and reminiscent. He’s like no other artist. If you’re a fan of anything you’ve heard of his, this is a great purchase. I gave a copy to my father after purchasing and I’m sure he’s enjoying every bit as much as I did.
#2: Car Seat Headrest, Teens of Denial - This was a random Amazon purchase. I read reviews. I clicked purchase. It took me quite a few listens to really absorb what was going on in this, despite it being a pretty straight forward guitar based indie rock album. Will Toledo is the bands originator, lead vocalist and guitarist. He’s been writing and performing music for some time now and his music has progressively grown more annunciated (I purchased his “Teens of Style” precursor to this release and the amount of deliberate distortion to vocals is notable, as well as the instruments themselves) over time. Each song on this intricate, epic work is dense musically with well thought out play styles. The lyrics are open and somewhat meandering in a deliberate sort of way, showcasing the life of a young musician and the good and bad choices he makes. It’s an introspective trip. When I first started listening to this, it was the spring/summer and I’d recently begun biking down to our local grocery to pick up our weekly provisions. Feeling the sun rain down on my back while hearing each of these tracks play was one of the best parts of my year.
If you like indy rock, guitars and an open look at life as you pass through it, this is the best offering of the year. Toledo is going to be a force to come, if this is any indication.
#1: Frankie Cosmos, Next Thing / Zentropy / Fit Me In – This is a small cop out in that I’m listing three albums in place of one actual album, but it was necessitated out of listening to both full length albums such a large amount it was very difficult to distinguish them in a ranking. The third EP, Fit Me In, is also great and a nice change up. So, where to start? Frankie Cosmos in the namesake of Greta Kline, a young musician based in New York. This is indie rock on the softer side. Greta has a beautiful voice and most of her songs are short bursts of poetic thought processes on varying subject matter. She takes interesting risks in writing and in musicianship, using acapella and backing vocals in ways that entrance you. The first of these three albums purchased was her latest, Next Thing, on the recommendation of Pitchfork. My first real listen was a rainy bike ride to my friends in South Minneapolis, and it was one of the most enjoyable rainy days of my life. The sound of this album is unique. Musically it somewhat reminds of earlyish Belle and Sebastian in it’s simplicity, but combined with Greta’s voice it creates something uncanny. Her vocals range from a monotone base where she exists beautifully, but scales upward to a thin, almost raspy octave where she nears colored whispers. Unfortunately, my capability to describe her sound likely have a negative effect when the opposite is meant–her singing is truly lovely, and when coupled with her musicianship and writing, well it creates an entirely new world to become lost in.
After immersing myself in that album for the better part of a month, it was time to listen to other offerings from the band. They have a large back catalog on Band Camp. The easiest reentry point was Zentropy, their first full length. Upon first sample, I wasn’t sure it would have the same polish so enjoyed on Next Thing, but that was quickly dispelled after a few listens. Zentropy very well may be a better album in it’s simplicity; a walk in the woods with the sun shining on my shoulders listening to it is a stand out memory. The writing and music are every bit as good as their newest album and I’m honestly uncertain where to tell anyone to start.
Finally, in dire hopes of adding to the Frankie Cosmos collection, I picked up Fit Me In – which is a deviation from the other two works in that it’s more focused on electronica and synth pop. There are only four songs, but they are fun and work very well interspersed with their other albums. At this point, I mostly just shuffle all their albums together and enjoy. Greta is my artist of the year, and her band’s albums will always make 2016 a standout. I cannot wait to hear what they to next. Music keeps you young.
Growing up, we listened to the radio in Alexandria, Minnesota. For the most part it was pop music–Kaaaay-Ceeee-El-Deeeee was the station. The local radio was a barometer of what music caught people’s attention at that point in time. My sisters were often dictating what was listened to then and as such it was a reflection of the younger generation’s interests. There was a great deal of alternative rock, gangster rap, R&B, and pop vocalists for a lack of a better term. We’re talking JAMZ here, people.
Radio was an introduction to music which led to purchasing a few albums at our local Target. The first album I bought was REM’s Monster, which I got into despite it being a very mediocre album. At that age, as you start getting into music, almost anything can be found to have merit as you really haven’t listened to a lot of music. I bought Offspring’s Smash, which was actually a really good album and liked it a lot. I had had Green Day’s Dookie on a cassette from a neighbor who dubbed it and gave it to me on the school bus earlier. This was my first real experience with music and it was a slow start. I liked the tunes but didn’t understand albums and how to really find different sounds outside of radio.
As I got a little older I’d start to go to the local record store to buy albums. I started listening to more rock focused radio stations, I purchased a Tool album that became obsession for about six months, a few Metallica albums (same), Pearl Jam’s Ten, Nirvana’s Muddy Banks of Wishkah live album, amongst others. These were my 10-15 age years. I saved up and bought a CD player in the summer of sixth grade and pumped rock albums thereafter. I’d do exercises and get amped up in my room listening while trying to get stronger — using a set of weights from my neighbor to do reps over and over.
Sound pretty boring? Well it was. I was out in the country before the internet had really become a thing and there simply wasn’t that much to do out there. But radio waves were available and became an inlet to many different cultures, even if only through a distorted and glamorized lens.
My cousin was listening to punk music which I saw at his house. He was really into Green Day and had some other records from bands like NOFX and Rancid. Eventually punk music became my genre of choice. It started out with listening to Blink 182 with friends. Blink was a gateway band, they played fast music which was mostly focused on girls and how much it sucked to be a kid growing up, which fit well.
During all this time, country music was always seen as the enemy. It was sappy and slow. It seemed to be the choice of more rural focused farmer types. My sisters, my friends and anyone “cool” in my esteem were not listening to country. At least not pop country. I didn’t really know about any other types of country at the time; it was just the pop country that I’d heard. Recently, however, I’ve found myself listening to a good amount of classic country. Pop is still pretty much out of the question, but the older characterizations of country like Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash and other of that ilk are genuinely great music.
I’m writing about this today as I’ve been considering what types of music I enjoy the most and why. For the most part, music has been a guiding light for me. It does such an amazing job opening up new concepts and areas of intellectual consideration which weren’t really available without. Listening to music is one of my favorite parts of life, definitely my favorite art form and something to look forward to analyzing. With that said, one of my next posts will be on my favorite albums of 2016—and there were many!
My favorite team since I was about five years old is the Minnesota Timberwolves. We haven’t made the playoffs in 12 years and it’s looking like lucky number 13 is a foregone conclusion at this point. We have a new coach and a ton of talent on the team, but we have not improved to date. We will eventually, but this year has been an exercise in restraint and optimism for the future.
The Vikings started the season 5-0 and are now 6-6. It has been a terrible two months of losses, some close and some not so close.
Minnesota seems to have terrible luck with professional sports (and college but I do not follow that closely.)
Sadly, this is one of my favorite past times and I cannot help but root for my teams. It’s going to be a long and difficult season.