Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Best Songs of 2014

I have to confess that in 2014 I struggled to understand and appreciate new music. I've begun to feel chewed up by the indie music machine. I think we all romanticize the music that was released as we became adults and learned what it meant to be human, what it is to be real and to exist alongside everyone else— to feel ourselves and to begin to understand what we are so the music released between 2002 and 2010 is very romantic and nostalgic for me. These days, I watch my coming-of-age get repackaged and resold as reunion tours and vinyl “10th Anniversary Edition"s and festival headlining tours and “the first new release in 7 years” and it’s only been a few years since it all happened and in a lot of ways it makes me sick. I was a devoted festivalgoer for many years, but these days the thought of loading up my car and going to Coachella to spend four days in a drunk, drugged haze sleeping on a flattened air mattress in a hot tent just makes me feel used up. I used to do anything to see a band at a free show locally or in a residency gig before they hit it big, but these days, I feel like everything new is a rehash of something I once loved, or hardly music at all. Nothing is what it used to be, and I guess that’s what it is like when you get a little older and a little wiser.

Case in point: I hate FKA Twigs, I love The War on Drugs, and maybe my music taste isn’t what yours is, but I have the tinnitus to prove that I’ve spent years listening, absorbing, feeling and learning. Sun Kil Moon divides me because of his cynicism and sarcasm; If I admit I align with it then I admit my own defeat my own "old man from the porch" attitude— but at the same time, I admit that The War on Drugs IS "beer commercial rock". That doesn't mean I love it any less. My cynicism is probably what now attracts me to acts like Father John Misty, LCD Soundsystem and Courtney Barnett, and what in the past attracted me to acts like Bright Eyes. There is nothing as easy / lucky / free

All this being said, I struggled to comprise a list of songs that I truly loved this year when I first sat down to write it, but as I listened my attitude shifted and my heart opened and I found that even though I'm getting older, there’s a lot out there to hear. Maybe I don't have the energy or the stamina to explore it all, but I’m happy to share with you here what I've loved, and I hope you have an ear for some of it, too. So here we go, in no particular order, my favorite songs from 2014.

tUnE-yArDs – Water Fountain
The War on Drugs – An Ocean In Between the Waves
Father John Misty – Bored in the USA
Ray LaMontagne – Ojai
Damien Rice – My Favourite Faded Fantasy
Real Estate – Talking Backwards
Amen Dunes – Splits are Parted
Sun Kil Moon – I Watched The Film The Song Remains The Same
Allah-Las – No Werewolf
Pure X – Starlight 
Cloud Nothings – I’m Not Part of Me
Perfect Pussy – I 
Broncho – Class Historian
Future Islands – Seasons (Waiting on You)
Elbow – Charge 
Hozier – Take Me to Church
Fink – Looking Too Closely
TV on the Radio – Happy Idiot 
Lana Del Rey – Brooklyn Baby
Jungle – The Heat
Mr. Little Jeans – Good Mistake
Caribou – Can’t Do Without You
Sylvan Esso – Could I Be
Kero Kero Bonito – Sick Beat 
Shamir – On The Regular
Captain Planet – Un Poquito Mas
Zero 7 – U Know
Flight Facilities – Merimbula 
Slow Magic – Girls
Prince – Funk n Roll

And for those of you still without Spotify (or those taking a moral stand against it, I understand), here's a YouTube version of the playlist in its entirety (excepting my Slow Magic selection, which I've replaced with a remix that I don't like as much, but what can you do?). 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Long Time, No See

It's safe to say I haven't been putting These Things First.

But I have a lot in the pipeline; there's a year worth of photos to process, edit, upload and share. I've been listening to music, and I want you to hear it. I've been living, loving, and working out a lot inside myself so that what I share is worthwhile. And I'll be back. And it will be good. And I hope somebody, anybody is along for the ride.

Coming Soon... I should have been one of these things first.

Catch me on Instagram at @misacruzader

Otherwise I've been dead on the web, but trust that I've been busy!

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A Selection of Photos

Here's a small selection of photos I've taken on my adventures over the past few months, hope you enjoy!

Here's another outtake from last summer when I went up to the Tahoe National Forest to camp and swim and have a little fun.

Nova got attacked by another dog in the neighborhood and got a little bite on her nose, poor baby!

Spent a lot of time this fall & winter exploring the Angeles National Forest, driving up the Angeles Crest Highway and taking hikes off the beaten path with my friend Andrew.

There is nothing quite like a California sunset, especially up in the mountains. The time I've been spending outdoors has been such a blessing for my health and my state of mind. When I get back from quality time spent in nature, facing the crushing work week and crippling traffic of Greater Los Angeles doesn't seem quite so bad.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Inspired by "Her"

Illustration by Melissa Cruz

It's not often that I'm moved by a film these days. Since the rise of long, serial television dramas like Mad Men, Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones, the level of depth that can be reached in a two hour cinema experience pales in comparison to the character exploration that actors are given the chance to pursue in the hours and hours that make up a television season. It seems to me that movies ought to expend their energy on telling smaller stories-- stories that offer a window into something pure and simple and just out of reach-- something like a dream. So it was a delight and a true pleasure to have the opportunity recently to view Spike Jonze's Her at the historic Cinerama Dome at the Arclight Hollywood.

The movie touched on themes of isolation, surrogacy and detachment and made a powerful impression on me. Even today, it doesn't seem too far-fetched to imagine someone falling in love with an operating system, or that people could become so detached from human interaction that they believe that it's acceptable to simulate sex involving a dead cat. I found the isolation crippling; in an early scene, Joaquin Phoenix's character, Theodore Twombly, asks his phone to play him a melancholy song-- in spite of him standing in an elevator surrounded by people. There's no true reason for him to feel isolation except for the walls he has built around himself. The visual tone was stunning, a pastel pastiche of a not-too-futuristic but connected and fully developed Los Angeles. The walkways and expansive public transportation system serve to highlight Theodore's detachment-- he can travel from the mountains to the ocean in a sprawling metropolis full of people doing the same thing and still he feels alone. Even the cool, muted fashion choices seem apropos-- as stated in a New York Magazine review, "When you live so much in your own imagination, communicating through screens and ear pieces, who needs innovative clothes?" The staid fashion choices serve to make Scarlett Johansson's Samantha all the more alluring.

I didn't realize until the credits rolled that my favorite band, Arcade Fire, had not only written the score for the film, but had also been nominated for an Academy Award for their efforts. Unfortunately, it's also the only nominated score that isn't available for purchase (and as of now, it appears that there are no current plans for release), though you can stream the soundtrack online for the time being here.

The soundtrack was so moving that I immediately came home and put together a playlist of songs inspired by the score and the general themes of the film. In the score, I heard the desperation of Ben Folds, the lo-fi murmur of Washed Out, and the classic AOR smoothness of Atlanta Rhythm Section. Sometimes touching and often desperate, the songs reflect my interpretation of Theodore's loneliness and desire to connect.

And for the non-Spotify users, here's a YouTube playlist.

Last of all, I'd like to leave you with one more video, also directed by Spike Jonze, for Arcade Fire's performance at the first YouTube Music Awards of their song "Afterlife" from Reflektor, my pick for Album of the Year in 2013.

Please enjoy, and if you do, link to and share my blog with your friends and family. Thank you!

Saturday, January 25, 2014

30 Before 30: Evergreen Memorial Park

Established in 1877, Evergreen Memorial Park is the oldest cemetery in Los Angeles and many prominent early Angelenos are interred here. Being a lover of the South and it's great history, I really desired to come to this cemetery for its Old World feel... we just don't have many old cemeteries on the West Coast. It took nearly a year, but I've notched at least one item off my 30 Before 30: Los Angeles Edition list-- spending a day taking photos here in this memorial park.

The Downtown skyline almost looks like a ghost outside of the cemetery.

Spending a day in the sun at Evergreen Memorial Park was an excellent exercise for me to practice my photography and I look forward to more adventures here in Los Angeles. Hope you enjoy the photos-- feel free to leave comments, keep up with me on Instagram, or contact me about things you'd like to see me cover in future posts!

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Best Songs of 2013

I've been gone for a long time-- trying to adjust to a new space, a new energy and a new life. 2014 feels charged, like I'm truly going to take control of my life so that I can be in the places I want to be in and follow a path that fulfills me and challenges me to rise to the occasion and enjoy myself. Thankfully, regardless of all its other hiccups, 2013 was a great year for music, which helped carry me along the way when I was feeling hopeless or reckless or helpless or shameless...

I used to listen to a lot more indie/alternative rock, but this year found me opening my mind to more electronic and dance music, so you'll see this playlist develop slowly from album rock into tracks that are worth dancing to (or at least belting out in the car at top volume). I did a lot of thinking in 2013, which led to a lot of instrumental tracks without words. I guess this last year I spent more time focusing on the feelings of things rather than how to speak to them.

Top albums of 2013 were pretty difficult to narrow down, which is why I chose to make a playlist instead, but I would say these fit the bill: Arcade Fire - Reflektor, Rhye - Open, Shigeto - No Better Time Than Now, Jagwar Ma - Howlin and Bonobo - The North Borders.

This playlist is in no particular order, but hope you'll enjoy the flow and don't find it too schizophrenic.

Lorde - Ribs
David Lynch - Star Dream Girl

Local Natives - Heavy Feet
Rhye - Open
Washed Out - All I Know
White Denim - Pretty Green
Jagwar Ma - Uncertainty
Arcade Fire - Afterlife
Jon Hopkins - Open Eye Signal
Basecamp - Smoke Filled Lungs
Jessie Ware - Wildest Moments
Yuna - I Wanna Go
RAC feat. Kele & MNDR - Let Go
Hanni El Khatib - Penny
Unknown Mortal Orchestra - Swim and Sleep (Like a Shark)
Blood Orange - You're Not Good Enough
Kanye West - Bound 2
Classixx feat. Sarah Chernoff - Stranger Love (RAC Remix)
Movement - Us

Shigeto - Detroit Part 1
Daft Punk feat. Panda Bear - Doin' It Right
tUnE-yArDs, ?uestlove, Angelique Kidjo & Akua Naru - Lady (from Red Hot + Fela)
Thee Oh Sees - I Come From The Mountain
The National - Don't Swallow the Cap
Yo La Tengo - Before We Run
CHVRCHES - The Mother We Share
Phosphorescent - Song for Zula
Cayucas - High School Lover
Drake - Hold On, We're Going Home
Disclosure - You & Me (Flume Remix)
Gold Panda - Community
Tokimonsta feat. MNDR - Go With It

Machinedrum - Clissold VIP
Anenon - Ghost Light
Boards of Canada - Nothing Is Real
Courtney Bartlett - Avant Gardener
Kings of Leon - Supersoaker

Mayer Hawthorne - The Stars are Ours
Bonobo - Cirrus

For those of you who don't have Spotify, never fear (but seriously, you should get it), I've also compiled a much briefer playlist of my favorite collected tracks on Soundcloud this year, mostly remixes and things that I haven't been able to grab from Spotify.

One more concession for those of you without Spotify-- I've made a playlist on YouTube showcasing all the songs on my Best of 2013 list for you to enjoy musically as well as visually!

Happy 2014, everyone. Let's make it the best year yet!

Friday, August 23, 2013

Ch- Ch- Changes

Everything always seems to happen in the blink of an eye. Time passes by so quickly and it's easy to miss the special moments in all the fog and haze of daily life-- but we're here and we're all just doing the best we can to take this great big life one day at a time!

News is good, honestly. I've moved out into my own place at the border of Hollywood, Los Feliz and Silverlake and I'm striking out on my own. I've loved and loved and loved, but some things just aren't meant to be-- there's timing involved, and intent, but mostly a lot of emotions that can get really complicated. It suffices to say Nova and I are learning to live in a new part of town.

Immediately after moving, my computer's motherboard decided to take a nosedive and I also lost a prime location in which to take product shots for Dewclaw Vintage. Between that and packing (and unpacking), I've lost a little impetus to use my camera, although on my switched-up commute I see plenty of things on my new route that I'd love to shoot-- so it's just a matter of getting back into the swing of things.

I have goals-- I'm finally on my own in the Big City like I always dreamed I would be, so now I'm motivated and feel charged to pursue my career, whatever that really means.

This blog is called "These Things First" after the Nick Drake song "One of These Things First" -- I always have focused on living life to its fullest potential... I never wanted to have to ask myself if I missed an opportunity because I wasn't letting myself be "this thing first" -- so here I am, plain as day, take me as I am. I'm living my life as I want, rolling with the punches and being grateful for every opportunity that is presented to me. Hope you will stick around for the journey, because it is going to be full of life and very powerful.