Friday, December 30, 2011

Samuel James Dunn, Esq.'s Most Listened Albums from 2011

I realized something this year. I listen to music a lot. Whether I'm driving down the road, sitting in my room doing homework, sitting on campus doing homework, sitting in my room or on campus pretending to do homework, working at Boostability leaving mildly spammy comments on strangers' blogs, going for bike rides on Eliza Stardust (my sky blue little girl bike), or just walking around the streets of Provo, I'm always listening to music of some sort. Having realized that music is such a big part of my life, even if more often than not it's little more than background noise while more important things are happening, I've decided that I'm going write up a list of Samuel James Dunn, Esq.'s most listened-to albums from 2011.

Now, there are a lot of music-dedicated blogs out there that will probably give you a lot better analysis of music than you'll find here. Such blogs include a lot of well-worded, grandiose music descriptions that I find rather pretentious and off-putting. For example, I once read Kristian Matsson's voice described as, "incredibly distinctive, projecting a wistful snarl that attentively sways along with hazy acoustical progressions." (Matsson is the swede behind the band The Tallest Man On Earth)I don't really know what that means, but I do love the turn of phrase "wistful snarl." This will not be that kind of post. This will be more of a reflection of my year through the lens of the music I've listened to.

So if you're looking for music analysis, you'd do well to stop reading. If you don't care what music I've listened to over the past year, you'd do well to stop reading. If you think Norah Jones sounds like Macy Gray, as did one of my students this past semester, we probably can't be friends and you too would do well to stop reading. However, if after reading that Kristian Matsson has wistful a snarl, you imagined to yourself a love-sick coyote on the prairie gazing longingly at a waning gibbous moon, read on.

And so, in no particular order, the list:

Beirut - The Rip Tide

Favorite Tracks: Vagabond, Goshen

To be honest, I hadn't ever really gotten into Beirut's music until this album. But The Rip Tide spoke to me like a long lost friend. It was like I was playing with my friend Morgan from my Kindergarten class. I haven't seen Morgan since Kindergarten. In fact, my last memory of Morgan is the time he came over to play at my house, and after playing with Legos for a while, we decided to go explore the old dilapidated chicken coops. While climbing around in the chicken coops we found a can of red spray paint. Naturally we then proceeded to paint most everything in the coops including Uncle Brad's motorcycle license plate. After that afternoon I have no recollection of Morgan whatsoever. In fact, I'm not entirely sure his name was Morgan. Anyway, this album left me feeling like I had run into Morgan after all these years, and we had a nice long chat about good ol' times while sitting at a sidewalk cafe and sipping exotic juice.

Boston - Greatest Hits

Favorite Tracks: Don't Look Back, More Than A Feeling, Peace of Mind

When I wake up in the morning I often have a song stuck in my head that served as the soundtrack to my dreams the night before. For instance, when I woke up Christmas morning this year I had "Christmas in Killarney" by Bing Crosby in my head. I don't know why. The song that is most often in my head in the morning is "King of Pain" by The Police. (what does that mean?) But coming in a close second is "More Than A Feeling" by Boston. As such, I probably listen to Boston's Greatest Hits while getting ready in the morning more than any other album of music. I now associate "More Than A Feeling" with the pain of getting up in the morning, "Peace of Mind" with the smell of Old Spice Showtime shower gel, and "Don't Look Back" with driving to school. On an unrelated note, I associate "Foreplay/Long Time" with Nick Homer...and I wish I knew why that was.

Fleet Foxes - Helplessness Blues

Favorite Tracks - Helplessness Blues, Montezuma, Blue Spotted Tail

In May the whole family went for a trip to western New York to see my brother Dr. David Dunn graduate with his PhD in Pathology from the University of Rochester. We stayed in a lovely little place in Palmyra, NY across from the Sacred Grove. One morning I woke up before nearly everyone else (I don't think it's possible to get up before Mom and Dad) and decided that I would go for a walk. So I grabbed a jacket, my ipod and my camera and set off. The music of Helplessness Blues accompanied me on my walk and I honestly couldn't have asked for a better soundtrack. Walking in damp tennis shoes past endlessly green fields bathed in misty early morning light was, for me, one of the many highlights of the trip.

The Tallest Man On Earth - The Wild Hunt

Favorite Tracks: King of Spain, Troubles Will Be Gone

Yes, Mr. WistfulRaspyness himself. Though I had to endure the derisive comments of one Chad Nielsen as I listened to this album, this was one of my favorite discoveries of 2011. Yes, it came out in 2010, but I didn't come to it until January of this year. One of my proudest moments of the year was converting Smed "Smed" Smedley to the song "King of Spain." This album will forever be the soundtrack to getting up at 5:30 in the morning and walking to the MOA in the freezing cold while wearing Maggie's old blue and red coat over my pajamas. In April I sadly left the MOA after three years of securing it from all potential malefactors. While it was hard to leave working there, I shan't miss the biting cold of those early mornings that came with it. Without the Tallest Man on Earth to accompany me, I'm sure I'd not have been up to it.

Shaun Davey - Waking Ned Devine Soundtrack

Favorite Tracks: All of the them, seriously. But if I had to choose I suppose Let the Draw Begin and Michael's Ride and Lux Eterna, My Eternal Friend and The Tullymore Polka/ The Witch, The Fiddle and The Phonebox and of course The Parting Glass.

Waking Ned Devine very well may be my favorite movie of all time. Even if I'd never seen the movie, I'm fairly certain that the soundtrack would be one of my favorite albums of music of all time. The music embodies all that I imagine Ireland to be. I listened to this soundtrack an awful lot this summer while I was working at Boostability because it offered me some semblance of an escape from sitting at a desk doing search engine optimization. As I followed Carolyn Carter's adventures through Europe via her blog, I became increasingly dissatisfied with my life centered around an 8-5 desk job. This soundtrack, along with the view of the field next to our office from the window by my desk, made life more bearable.

Coldplay - X & Y

Favorite Tracks: Talk, Swallowed In the Sea, Till Kingdom Come

This is possibly my favorite Coldplay album. Possibly. I don't know for sure, but it could be. This album, along with any and all of Sigur Ros' music is what I listen to when I'm writing papers. Given that I often (more often than I'm perfectly comfortable with) end up writing all night long the night before papers are due, this album often gets equated with that feeling of stillness, peace and inspiration that only comes when you're sitting on the floor at 3:30 am. In that moment you know that there is a God and that yes, you are going to get your paper done. On top of being a late-night paper writing soundtrack, when I go down to the lake to throw rocks and think about life, the universe, and everything, this album, especially the song "Till Kingdom Come," gets quite a bit of play time.

Bon Iver - Bon Iver

Favorite Tracks: Again, all of them. This album, to me, it best listened-to as a complete work rather than single tracks. However, Perth, Towers and Beth/Rest would probably be my favorite stand-alones.

This album is the soundtrack of sitting on the porch on a summertime evening with a mild sweatyness hanging over my body as I either wait for Ben and Melinda to come over to play with me or as I lace up my Brooks to go for a run. Also, one morning in July I woke up at 4:30 am (without any alarm I'll have you know) and decided that as long as I was awake I might as well go for a hike. So I grabbed some water, a box of wheat thins and my ipod and made my way up rock canyon with the end goal of pride rock (squaw peak). Being surrounded by mountain trees, graying darkness and the lilting falsetto of Justin Vernon is an experience I would recommend to anyone.

Miles Davis - Kind of Blue

Favorite Tracks: So What, Flamenco Sketches

It seems like whenever I get sick I listen to this album. Maybe that's a little bit melodramatic, but there you go. This isn't my favorite jazz album by any means, but it seems to catch the mood of being sick on the couch really well. Also, I had to include at least one album of jazz because I had my students this last semester convinced that I was a jazz junkie that slapped on the black turtlenecks every weekend and hung out at jazz lounges. Now that I think about it, I kinda wish that was my life. Kinda. Whenever my students were doing rush writes or group work or anything of the sort I would put on some jazz and quiz them about the artists. None of them but one knew anything about jazz and for some reason I found their exasperated ignorance endlessly entertaining.

Honorable Mentions (and when I say honorable mention what I really mean is that I'm tired of doing this and just want to wrap things up.):

U2 - Joshua Tree
Diana Krall - Live in Paris
Norah Jones - Come Away With Me
Mumford and Sons - Sigh No More
The Temper Trap - Conditions
The Head and the Heart - The Head and the Heart
The Avett Brothers - I and Love and You
Amos Lee - Supply and Demand
Youth Lagoon - The Year of Hibernation
Dvorak - Symphony No. 9 in E Minor, Op. 95 - "From the New World"

There you go. Feliz Año.

Christmas Spirit

Ghost of Christmas Present (muppet-style): "Have you ever noticed that everything seems wonderful at Christmas?"

Scrooge (Michael Caine-style): "Uh...In all honesty, Spirit, no. Perhaps I, I've never understood a 'Merry Christmas.'"

At this point the Ghost of Christmas Present, with the help of the other Muppets, goes on to sing one of my favorite Christmas songs. In fact, here's the video straight from the movie (via youtube):

What I'm trying to say with this post isn't a (direct) call for a return to Christianity in the celebration of Christmas, but rather an exploration of something that is taught in Christianity, as well as most other churches, and that the Beatles summed up nicely when they made clear to the world that "all you need is love." And that's why I love this song and video from the Muppets. They make it very clear that Christmas, when experienced to its fullest degree, is all about love.

To quote some of the lines from the song in the video above:

It's true, wherever you find love it feels like Christmas.
In all the places you find love it feels like Christmas.
It is the season of the heart, a special time of caring, the ways of love made clear.
It's all the ways that we show love that feel like Christmas.
Yes, when you do your best for love it feels like Christmas.
It's true, wherever you find love it feels like Christmas

When you line up all of those lyrics one after another it seems like the Muppets are hitting us over the head pretty hard with their message, but their delivery of it doesn't seem quite so heavy-handed. Maybe the member of the band in the street getting punched in the face and the snowman losing its head lend enough slapstick comedy charm to overcome the schmaltz. Then again, maybe it is schmaltzy and that's okay. Anyway, schmaltzy or no, the message bears repeating: Christmas is about love.

I'm not talking about romantic love, though I'm not not talking about it either. I'm talking about taking time out of your own self-interested labours to take a look at the race of men scurrying by and seeing what you can do to help someone out. Anytime we sacrifice something that we want to do or have in order to do something for someone else or give something to someone else, we're expressing our love for that person. That's what Christmas is all about.

That, in a nutshell, is why the commercial aspect of Christmas is so disheartening. It's not that it detracts from Jesus -- though, from my perspective, anything that detracts from Jesus is a concern -- it's that it distracts people from doing what Jesus taught: "A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another." The gospel of Christ is all about love. But Christianity doesn't own love and charity. Everyone, from all walks of life, can and should strive for charity towards those around us. Charity is the greatest of all. Charity is a word that we're familiar with at Christmas time, but how often do we really make an effort for true charity?

When people recount their happiest memories of Christmas it often has little to do with the presents they receive or the food and goodies they ate or any of that. Rather it has to do with their memories of the Christmases where they felt love the strongest. This is a big reason why Christmas cheer is so strongly tied to family togetherness. It's in the family that we often feel this love the strongest and with the greatest frequency. However, being in a close-knit family isn't the only path to feeling this love, and families don't have a monopoly on having merry Christmas. Just look at Scrooge. As Scrooge dedicated his life to true charity, he learned what Christmas was all about and became a happy man.

Scrooge had no close family that he could really call his own. No wife, no kids, no parents, no siblings. He did have a nephew who was keen to be close with Scrooge, but Scrooge wasn't interested and tried to cut any tie that might have existed there. That was the extent of it on the family end. As for friends, Scrooge had made every effort to ensure that he had none of those either. He was thoroughly unencumbered by the expectation of showing love for anyone. Scrooge had given himself every reason in the world to be self-interested and closed-up. And he was miserable because of it, though he didn't realize it. But through his associations with the various ghosts, he realized that he had to open himself up to loving and being loved by others if he was to truly understand what it meant to have a "Merry Christmas," and, more broadly, to be happy in general. And so he opened up. He went out and showed the world that he loved Bob Cratchit and his family, that he loved his nephew, that he loved the poor of the city and anyone else within his circle of influence. He went about the cause of true charity, and as Dickens recounted it, "He became as good a friend, as good a master, and as good a man, as the good old city knew, or any other good old city, town, or borough, in the good old world." He made true charity his goal and worked diligently towards it.

The same should be true of us. True charity is a gift that all can give, and that doesn't have to cost so much as a plug nickel. It just requires that we have the drive and the decency to "open [our] shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below [us] as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys." We ought to make it our quest in life.

As I've been writing this I've been thinking about something that I tried to ingrain in the minds of my freshmen writing students this past semester. That is the need to take your audience into account when you write. Being as I'm writing on a blog that is public to any and all who venture upon it, I suppose my audience is fairly broad. But as I look at the arguments for love and against egoistic, self-interest I realize my main audience is myself. I definitely need to be first in line to have true charity in my life.

There's a verse from the Muppets' song that I think is particularly germane to this discussion. In referring to the Christmas season they sing, "It is the season of the heart, a special time of caring, the ways of love made clear. It is the season of the spirit, the message, if we hear it, is make it last all year." Just as The Ghost of Christmas Present makes it clear that there is a special feeling about the Christmas season, living truly charitable lives is easier during Christmas time because it's a higher priority on people's minds. Let it be our goal to make true charity a goal we strive for year-round so that we can always enjoy the wonderful Christmas spirit.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011


"Is there anything better than butter? Think it over, any time you taste something that's delicious beyond imagining and you say 'what's in this?' the answer is always going to be butter. The day there is a meteorite rushing toward Earth and we have thirty days to live, I am going to spend it eating butter. Here is my final word on the subject, you can never have too much butter."
- Julie Powell, Julie and Julia

So I just watched Julie and Julia with my parents and Mauri. I then promptly took some drugs for my cold (you know what they say; it's not the holidays unless you get sick) and came upstairs and got in bed. I quite possibly may fall asleep before actually finishing up this post. But I couldn't get that butter quote out of my head. So here I am, writing away at 12:30 in the am.

There were a lot of things I might have taken away from the film. For example, you need to stick to projects no matter how long or time-intensive they are because the sense of fulfillment you receive upon reaching a goal is indescribable. Or perhaps, no relationship is perfect or easy and neither party is really 100% to blame or 100% innocent in a dispute. Or even, I should probably try to cook more quality meals. These are all great takeaways, and I'm sure there are others as well, but that's not what I left the couch with. I left with a sense of pride and vindication that came encapsulated in the quote up above that started us off this evening.

I love butter. I will readily admit that I usually use margarine instead of real butter, but I refer to the two interchangeably. If you have a problem with that, deal with it my deepest apologies. The quote heretofore referred-to and written out is exactly how I feel about the subject with one slight amendment: I'm not going to wait for a meteorite before I start my butter consumption. I've been on the butter train for as long as I can remember. And I tell you what, no locomotive was ever so slick-down-the-track nor provided such delicious fare as the butter train.

As any of my roommates, or really anyone who has watched me eat spaghetti with butter can testify, when I say I love butter, I really mean it. On more than one occasion I have been told that my buttered noodles are gross, or disgusting. I've been told that I'm going to keel over and die whilst out running, and then, when they perform the autopsy, they will find butter lining not only the arteries in my heart but every vein and vessel in my body. I've found that nearly everyone is a critic and ascribes to the same butter-consumption school of thought whose credo seems to be, "I don't know how much butter is the correct amount, but I do know that Sam uses too much and I must therefore express this to him." I've always acknowledged that I do use a lot of butter, but that "I do what I want" and therefore don't care what anyone says about the subject. But now I have vindication. Julia Child loved butter and she was a famous cook. Julie Powell loved butter as well and a lot of people read her blog and book and saw the movie about her. They're famous so they're right. (that's how it works, right?) Since they're right, and since I agree with them, I too am right.

Not that it really matters. I would have continued my love affair with butter anyway, but now I'm justified in doing so.

But seriously, butter is awesome. I buy butter by the bucket and scoop it onto piles of steaming-hot rice with an ice cream scoop - drooling as I watch the yellow mass melt and run over every grain until it the whole meal glistens with a glorious sheen. Even in my runny-nosed, cough-riddled, sinus-headached state I can't help but smile and crave a heaping mound of mashed potatoes with a nice fat pat of butter (or two...or three) swimming around in the spoon-crafted crater in the middle. Or if not that, then perhaps a few snickerdoodles that have been prepared with liberal amounts of butter.

Butter is a rather unattractive word. Just say it to yourself out loud a few times. Here, I'll even type it out to give you an excuse so that you don't feel so silly talking to yourself.

butter. butter. butter. butter. butter. butter.

weird, right?

But the unattractiveness of the word can't detract from the glory of the substance itself. I'm reasonably certain of the fact that butter is served on most dishes in heaven.

So while it may lead to an untimely, not to mention somewhat slippery, demise, I'm okay with that. The consumption of butter is worth it. And both Julie and Julia agree with me. So there.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Christmas

"I am sure I have always thought of Christmas time, when it has come round -apart from the veneration due to its sacred name and origin, if anything belonging to it can be apart from that- as a good time; a kind, forgiving, charitable, pleasant time; the only time I know of, in the long calendar of the year, when men and women seem by one consent to open their shut-up hearts freely, and to think of people below them as if they really were fellow-passengers to the grave, and not another race of creatures bound on other journeys. And therefore, uncle, though it has never put a scrap of gold or silver in my pocket, I believe that it has done me good, and will do me good; and I say, God bless it!"

~Charles Dickens

Thursday, December 8, 2011


First all-nighter of this end-of-semester in the books.

I learned from Alexis, a classmate/colleague/friend of mine, that this genre of photo is called an "awk selfie." Now you know.