best albums of 2016

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This was another challenging year in many ways, but one indisputably good thing that happened was my renewed love of vinyl in late 2015. My husband and I discovered a new favorite store in Kansas City, Mills Record Company, where we quickly became regulars. I had my mother’s early-1970s Dual 1019 turntable in my bedroom through my teen years and I just loved it. I didn’t bring it to the dorms, of course, and didn’t think it would be smart or feasible to move it to any of my apartments. But last year I decided to hell with that, and I finally got my turntable set up in Kansas City. I’m sad it was so short lived—we had to bring it and all our records back to my folks’ house when we moved to Singapore. But this experience got me into listening again, really listening, and falling back in love with discovering new music. Here are my top 10 favorite albums released in 2016, in alphabetical order by artist:
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• Lemonade … Beyoncé
My #1 anyway. A bold, experimental, aware, and emotionally raw masterpiece. I had this on repeat for weeks after I first got it. I’m still in awe of this album, its unabashed statements on race, women, society, culture, and more. The whole thing is just stunning and important on multiple levels.

• Are You Serious … Andrew Bird
My favorite since his debut, The Mysterious Production of Eggs. Less pretentious, more personal than most of his catalog. I loved seeing him perform live in Kansas City (April 21, The Midland).

• Blackstar … David Bowie
Dark, strange, haunting, bleak, brutal. It took me a few listens to fully appreciate this avant-garde art-pop album, with each track more unexpected than than the last. A beautiful magnum opus from a legend.

• Changes … Charles Bradley
There’s something warm and familiar about Bradley’s sound, no matter what he’s singing. The pain he emotes on Black Sabbath’s “Changes” twists your heart.

• You’re Dreaming … The Cactus Blossoms
A timeless alt-country sound by Minneapolis brothers. Their songs are clean, simple, and refined. Those harmonies! Sigh. They put on a great concert at Knuckleheads in Kansas City (June 11).

• Black America Again … Common
My favorite since Be. I love Common’s poetic, socially conscious way of commenting on the political landscape today, as well as themes of love, and social justice. It reminds me of Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On in a lot of ways. I still get goosebumps when I hear “Letter to the Free.”

• Hardwired… To Self-Destruct … Metallica
It’s long, but this album is a fun composite of what people have loved about Metallica for the past 35 years. It’s not the “old” Metallica, but Hardwired feels like Metallica refreshed.

• A Sailor’s Guide to Earth … Sturgill Simpson
An ambitious country album with soul, psychedelia, southern rock, and more, Sailor’s Guide breaks free of any one genre label. It’s striking and memorable not only for that reason, but its intimacy and authenticity, too.

• Emily’s D+Evolution … Esperanza Spalding
This album blew me away the first time I heard it. Spalding blends jazz, folk, funk, and rock into this ambiguous style that’s wholly all her own. She’s been one of my favorite artists for a long time, and Emily’s is a prime display of her creativity and originality.

• The Suffers … The Suffers
This feel-good old-school R&B-meets-ska debut album is damn irresistible. Kam Franklin’s voice is one of the best and most soulful I’ve heard in years. There’s a lot of infectious joy on here. I can’t wait to hear more from this band.

Honorable Mentions:
The Last Hero … Alter Bridge
A Seat at the Table … Solange
Weezer (The White Album) … Weezer
Victorious … Wolfmother

There are a few albums I wanted to listen to in 2016, but haven’t had a chance yet: A Tribe Called Quest’s We Got it From Here… Thank You 4 Your Service, Bonnie Raitt’s Dig in Deep, Leonard Cohen’s You Want It Darker, Kendrick Lamar’s untitled unmastered., Angel Olsen’s My Woman, Nick Cave and the Bad Seed’s Skeleton Tree, Iggy Pop’s Post Pop Depression, and Frank Ocean’s Blonde. I’ll get to them!

I only have a vague inkling of what’s on tap for new releases in 2017, but the ones I’d be interested in hearing are those from Ani Difranco, The Roots, Justin Timberlake, Tool, Nine Inch Nails, St Vincent, Jay Z, and Zack de la Rocha (and more than that, I’m sure, once I know about them!). I hope I can hold on to this drive to discover new music, even without my turntable here in Singapore. For now I’m just getting excited to see Metallica perform here next weekend, and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra Amsterdam right after that (playing Debussy and Bruckner 4), Then, in February, we’ll go to the Periphery and Guns N’ Roses (with Wolfmother) concerts!

best reads of 2016

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This year was a whirlwind for me. I honestly can’t believe that I finished the year having read 45 books, with an international move taking up a lot of time and energy most of the year. I originally set my reading goal to 60 books but lowered it to 45, and just ended up making that a week or so before the end of the year. I’m disappointed I lost the motivation to write posts for each and every book I read, which left with being so busy and preoccupied with the move. I was glad to get back to doing monthly recaps at least, which may be how it goes for the foreseeable future. Or not! I’m still deciding. I would actually love to catch up on each book individually on the blog here, but I’m not sure I have it in me to sit at the computer very much for blogging. I admittedly did enjoy letting go of the pressure to post, but I miss having the archive of my thoughts.

Here are the top ten books I read in 2016, in alphabetical order by author’s last name:

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• Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl
+++… Carrie Brownstein (2015)
• We Gon’ Be Alright: Notes on Race and Resegregation
+++… Jeff Chang (2016)
• Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City
+++… Matthew Desmond (2016)
• League of Denial
+++… Mark Fainaru-Wada, Steve Fainaru (2013)
• The First Collection of Criticism by a Living Female Rock Critic
+++… Jessica Hopper (2015)
• I’m Just a Person
+++… Tig Notaro (2016)
• Station Eleven
+++… Emily St. John Mandel (2014)
• One of Us: Story of Anders Breivik and the Massacre in Norway
+++… Åsne Seierstad (2015)
• Mo’ Meta Blues: The World According to Questlove
+++… Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson and Ben Greenman (2013)
• The Fire This Time: A New Generation Talk About Race
+++… Jesmyn Ward, ed. (2016)

Honorable Mentions:
No god but God … Reza Aslan (2005)
Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman … Lindy West (2016)
Dead Mountain … Donnie Eichar (2013)
Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee … Dee Brown (1970)
The Underground Girls of Kabul … Jenny Nordberg (2014)
The Argonauts … Maggie Nelson (2015)
Notorious RBG … Irin Carmon and Shana Knishnik (2015)
My Life on the Road … Gloria Steinem (2015)

761-1Only ONE fiction! Everything else (in both top ten and honorable mentions) are non-fiction books. There was some good fiction I read, but most of it just didn’t stick out to me this year much. To see my Goodreads “Year in Books” analysis, click here. But I kept my own stats which may be a little more accurate. By my count I ended up with:

• 45 books read total
• 7,598 pages read
• 170.93 hours of audiobooks
• 42.2% paper books, 42.2% audiobooks, 15.6% ebooks
• 57.8% non-fiction, 42.2% fiction
• 57.8% library borrows, 42.2% own books read
• 2010: average publishing year of books read
• 3.75 books read per month

I did track author genders, nationalities, and race… but I’m not sure it serves me and my reading much to share it here. I still feel sort of squicky about tracking those, although I am compelled to continue to keep an eye on them so I can make sure I’m continually seeking out books by authors of color, women, LGBTQ+, and authors from many parts of the world. All I know is I want to expand my worldview, learn, and empathize through books—I always have, but especially now more than ever.

farewell reflections on 15 years in kansas city

I wrote a retrospective of my time in Kansas City for my last issue (June 29, 2016) with KCMetropolis.org, for which I’ve been a writer and editor since 2010. I will always hold Kansas City and my dear friends there close in my heart!


_mg_9277_595 - CopyAs I look back on the countless performances and events I’ve attended in Kansas City as a KCMetropolis.org writer over the past six-and-a-half years, I’m a bit in awe at how fortunate I’ve been to see the distinguished Aretha Franklin, Willie Nelson, Buddy Guy, Aaron Neville, Bobby McFerrin, Regina Carter, Dr. John, and more. I discovered a new favorite in Danú, experienced a breathtakingly moving Jordi Savall performance, and witnessed intimate recitals by Yo-Yo Ma, Gil Shaham, Ana Vidović, Joshua Bell, Audra McDonald, and the Takács, Harlem, Jasper, Chiara, and Artemis Quartets, among others. I’ve had the chance to see inspiring symphony orchestras, notable world music bands Los Lobos and The Chieftains, and jazz icons Ellis and Wynton Marsalis, Christian McBride, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Arturo Sandoval, and Esperanza Spalding, to name a few. The quality that our local arts organizations present is truly astonishing. But beyond being a critical observer of this unbelievable roster and many excellent local acts for KCM, more than anything, I’m humbled and honored to have been a part of the Kansas City music scene as a bassist, composer, and advocate of the arts for fifteen years.

When I think about my time in Kansas City, my mind automatically goes back to when I was a college student at the UMKC Conservatory. I remember the endless hours spent in the PAC practice rooms, learning my parts for the Conservatory Orchestra and Chamber Orchestra concerts (and enjoying “chair time” in the lobby). I remember playing Pärt’s Fratres and Stravinsky’s L’histoire du soldat with the Conservatory Wind Symphony after learning my grandfather had had a heart attack earlier that day up in Wisconsin. kristin mafb concert 6.27.16Tagging along on the Concert Jazz Band’s European tour in 2006. Powering through Andriessen’s Workers Union on bass with Musica Nova, the group I co-directed, during a random fire alarm in White Recital Hall. I remember meeting Nick Omiccioli, now my husband, when we were master’s students in the composition program. I remember him conducting my thesis during our last Musica Nova concert, and having profound feelings of elation, pride, and accomplishment as a composer. I knew I wasn’t ready to leave Kansas City after graduation. To keep up with playing bass, I joined the Kansas City Civic Orchestra. Our metro is lousy with community groups, and I had the pleasure to serve as principal bassist not only for Civic, but also for Heritage Philharmonic (the oldest such ensemble in the area, based in Independence) and Kinnor Philharmonic (the “youngest” at five seasons, based in Overland Park).

The local scene has really blossomed since I moved here in 2001, and I must admit it’s hard to leave the city at this moment in its artistic and cultural evolution, a moment in which many groups I love and friends of mine are flourishing. Fountain City Brass Band consistently takes home international prizes. Clint Ashlock has done an outstanding job at the helm of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra. Check out Mrs. Jones perform alongside her fellow immensely entertaining drag queens at Hamburger Mary’s. Pianists Jeremy Watson and Angie Fullerton Benson, usually in the role of musical director, make any theatre production they’re in exceptional beyond measure. Victor and Penny, fine purveyors of Prohibition Era-style jazz, always put on a great show, and Ensemble Ibérica has filled a global music niche that we were missing here in town. New music still has some growing to do, but Mnemosyne Quartet is doing its part with its rare instrumentation, live electronics, and performances in novel venues. If you have the chance to catch Narong Prangcharoen’s Phenomenon performed by Kansas City Symphony next June or Nick Omiccioli’s newly commissioned heavy metal guitar concerto with the Conservatory Wind Ensemble next spring, take it. And if one of Kansas City’s premier bassists Brian Wilson, Rick Willoughby, Jeff Harshbarger, or Johnny Hamil are involved—in anything—don’t miss it. Trust me.

kansas city loveMy final performance of my fifteen-year tenure in Kansas City was on Monday night while sitting in with the Mid America Freedom Band, led by my esteemed colleague and beloved friend Lee Hartman, in a benefit concert for the survivors of the Orlando massacre. We finished our set with the Arlen/Harburg classic “Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz. It brought me full circle and was simply the most perfect last piece for me to play here, as I was obsessed with the film as a child. Although the concert was a response to a tragedy, I couldn’t have wished for a more appropriate way to conclude this chapter of my life, in the city where I musically “grew up,” than making music alongside my friends for an event that aptly illustrated the elements so prevalent in Kansas City’s music scene that I will always cherish—harmony, community, and a lot of heart.

Top photo by Richard Leaf; Middle photo by Andrew Schwartz; Bottom photo by Kristin Shafel Omiccioli
Reprinted with permission from KCMetropolis.org, © 2016 [Original article link]

 

reading recap: april 2016

All right, everybody. I didn’t finish any books in April. I have a good reason:

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I am moving to SINGAPORE!

My husband will be the new assistant professor of composition at Yong Siew Toh Conservatory of Music at the National University of Singapore this fall. I’m so, so proud of him and so excited for this adventure! So as you can imagine, there is a lot of preparation to do for this upcoming international move. You’ll have to forgive me for not posting lately and I may not finish any books in May either… maybe one by the end of June?? But yeah, writing blog posts and getting through books is the least of my concerns at the moment. There will be LOTS of time on the plane ride out there… and when I arrive jobless… for reading, haha!

I still love to see what others are reading, though! What did you read in April? Who’s ready for summer to start!?

a day in the life: 11 march 2016

A-Day-in-the-Life Trish at Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity is hosting her 2nd annual “A Day in the Life” series, where bloggers share a normal day outside of writing about books on their blogs. This is my Friday, March 11, 2016.

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First up, I had a normal workday. Here’s (one side) of my office—two screens means business, people! I keep it pretty colorful and busy on the walls, though. I have original art mixed with concert posters, painting poster-size prints, calendars, and a photo collage of family and my babies (niece and nephew) to get me through the day. Most of my job in the marketing department consists of making the printed programs for our music school’s recitals and concerts, and managing the social media. My office is adjacent to the large ensemble rehearsal room, so on Friday I would have heard conducting class, Wind Ensemble, Orchestra, and one of the jazz bands have class and rehearsal all day. It’s a normal soundtrack to my days. People seem to be split—either they don’t know how I get any work done with the constant action and “noise,” others think it’s super cool to hear live music all day long. It’s a little bit of both for me, but by and large I like the students being around and hearing rehearsals. I’m so used it that when I try to work at home I usually need to put on records or TV in the background!

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I had a couple of errands to run after work. First, I submitted my completed challenge form to the KC Library, which has an adult reading program at the beginning of each year: read five books between January and March. There’s always a theme with suggested books on that theme, but you can read any five books and it counts. If you complete the challenge, you get a piece of awesome glassware (coffee mugs and an old fashioned glass in the past). This year I got a beer stein! Pic on the left above is the book circle sculpture at the entrance to the Plaza Branch.

After the library I swung by our favorite local vinyl shop, Mills Record Company in Westport, to pick up a record that I had on order that came in (Galactic’s Into the Deep). Of course while I was there I picked up another couple of records… Esperanza Spalding’s new one and The Band’s The Band.
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After these errands, I went over to P. Ott’s, a dive bar on the Plaza, where my husband and our friends were already celebrating one of our friend’s passing his dissertation defense that afternoon. We’re not a picture-taking group really, but I remembered to snap this one pic of a poster on the wall of the bar on my way out.

I left the party early because I was assigned to review the Alicia Olatuja Quintet at the historic Folly Theater in downtown Kansas City on its Folly Jazz Series. I love the Folly, it’s one of my favorite Kansas City venues.

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Olatuja was fantastic—she has a beautiful voice and a way of blending genres that’s both memorable and accessible to fans of all styles of music. I spent the weekend after the show writing up my review for KCMetropolis.org, Kansas City’s online journal of the arts, for which I’m also executive editor. Heres the review: Olatuja transcends the Spotlight

After the concert, I went BACK to P. Ott’s to rejoin the party! Nick and I were there until… I’m not even sure. After midnight, I think. I didn’t even read anything all day. Pretty typical!

IMG_1073This happened the next day (Saturday, March 12), but I thought I’d sneak it in this post since it’s a normal thing in my life! Saturday night I played a gig with one of my orchestras, Heritage Philharmonic, out in Blue Springs. We played Vaughan Williams’s Five Variants of “Dives and Lazarus” and Holst’s St. Paul’s Suite for String Orchestra. (There was more on the concert, played by other sections of the orchestra.) This is a selfie I snapped backstage waiting to go on. Fun times!

best of 2015

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I didn’t have the best year ever. In fact, things have been fairly rough since fall 2013. But, I’m an optimist and looking forward to better times in 2016. Despite 2015 being generally lousy, I did have some good times: great visits with family (and seeing my niece and nephew a lot), renewing my interest in drawing, joining Instagram, the Royals winning the World Series, heard Margaret Atwood speak in person, and saw a lot of great shows including Hozier, Chris Hardwick, Audra McDonald, and Slash (on a wonderful road trip to Denver for our 5-year anniversary). I also somehow managed to read 60 books this year! I kind of can’t believe it—a new record for me. I beat my Goodreads goal (55), but didn’t make any of my other reading challenges (TBR Pile, Ebook). While I love a good challenge, I think in 2016 I’m only going to do the Goodreads/50 Book Pledge and probably the KC Library Adult Winter Reading Program, which is an easy 5 books in the early part of the year.

Here are my favorite dozen books I read in 2015, separated here by fiction and non-fiction, in order by author’s last name (click on each title’s link for full review post):

best fiction 2015

Sweetland … Michael Crummey (2014)
Hausfrau … Jill Alexander Essbaum (2015)
Our Endless Numbered Days … Claire Fuller (2015)
An Untamed State … Roxane Gay (2014)
Delicious Foods … James Hannaham (2015)
All the Birds, Singing … Evie Wyld (2013)

best nonfic 2015

Between the World and Me … Ta-Nehisi Coates (2015)
Columbine … Dave Cullen
(2009)
The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace … Jeff Hobbs
(2014)
Attempting Normal … Marc Maron
(2013)
Just Mercy … Bryan Stevenson
(2014)
Men We Reaped … Jesmyn Ward
 (2013)

Ten of these twelve I borrowed from the library (mostly hardcover, a couple paperbacks, a couple on audio). Author races and genders just about split evenly. Most of these were published in 2015 or 2014, a few from 2013, one from 2009.

Honorable Mentions:
Behind the Beautiful Forevers … Katherine Boo
Mother. Sister. Wife. … Rob Delaney
The Long Walk
… Stephen King as Richard Bachman
Missoula … Jon Krakauer
Where Men Win Glory … Jon Krakauer
Girl at War … Sara Nović
Slash … Slash with Anthony Bozza111 (1)

Last year, I took my analysis further and did a whole post with stats and percentages and cool graphs. I kept up with my stats through the year on a spreadsheet, but I don’t think I’ll have the time to break it all down this week! Goodreads has a decent recap page, though, which you can check out here.

Happy new year!