Top Albums of 2013

1. Ducktails – The Flower Lane
One macro element of music that has fascinated me recently is regional influence. Certain sounds tend to come out of certain geographies. And because music communities are generally smallish wherever you find them, one group of musicians tends to know another. As with any creative endeavor, the artist is generally shaped by his or her immediate influences, like places and things. But the main noun—people—has the greatest influence. That is why lately I have explored the who-knows-who social graph of musicians as a way to discover new music.

It is essentially an extension of the label approach. If you like one artist, exploring other musicians on the same label is a quicker way to find other music you might enjoy because labels usually employ the same stylistic qualities. I find the people connection to be more successful because the relationships are more symmetric and influential.

So here we arrive to Ducktails, the authors of my favorite album of 2013. Ducktails is the solo project of Matt Mondanile, a Brooklyn artist originally from New Jersey. Matt is also a member of Real Estate, who took my top stop in 2011′s rankings. The Real Estate crew went to the same New Jersey high school as Titus Andronicus and now-Madison-resident Julian Lynch. Getting hooked on Real Estate lead to the discovery of all these guys, including individual side projects.

This has been a format I’ve started to use elsewhere, like the British DJ scene. Or the branches coming from the Deerhunter tree. It has been the most reliable way for me to discover new music that I enjoy.

As for the album itself, it is incredible. Matt blends the jazzy electric guitar with the breezy sea-side vibes Real Estate is known for, yet doesn’t forget Ducktails’ roots of experimentation. His music is silly yet expertly refined—a dichotomy that makes me genuinely happy when I listen.

2. The Field – Cupid’s Head
Make no mistake—Axel Wilner’s The Field project is something special. Axel has the unique ability to invent a new musical category, then continue to innovate within it. I believe this is his best album to date, as each subsequent piece of work by him has gotten more refined and better sounding. He’s the physical manifestation of iterative improvement.

I went down to Chicago to see Axel at Empty Bottle on a Tuesday night mid-summer. He came on stage at 12:30am. It was a late night; I was tired and hated myself the next day. But it is nights like this were crazy stories happen. He happened to be hanging around by the bar during an opening act, so I snuck up to him and said hello then thanked him for his awesome music. It was worth it. Fun times.

Evidence of the encounter submitted as a grainy iPhone photo taken in low light a few feet away. Seems fitting for his style, no?

axel

Anyways. The Field is unique music that is special. We’re all so lucky to hear it. No other sound has the ability to make you feel lost yet secure. Nothing will compare to the feeling you get from it.

3. Washed Out – Paracosm
I recently watched a short documentary from the Creator’s Project series featuring Ernest Greene, the genius behind Washed Out. In it, he ventures all the way to Calgary (Ernest Goes To Canada? Anyone? Damn.) to find a literal museum of old instruments, which, to his delight, can be manipulated to produce similar sounds to our current Garage Band digital norm. Elsewhere we find out that he used a live band and several of these instruments to record Paracosm, thus achieving his patented chillwave vibe, yet having a physical connection to the music. I’m a fan.

In some ways this has been the reason I’ve embraced collecting vinyl records as a hobby. I could care less about popular movements or trendy brand association–I like vinyl records because as a technologist I constantly have the feeling of emptiness with my every day interactions with the world. There is little to connect with in the physical world. Sometimes I wish I was a carpenter or architect so I’m building a real skyscraper, not a metaphorical one. That I can connect with my music physically rather than digitally makes me appreciate the music that much more. This relationship only added to the interest in Washed Out’s 3rd, and best, album.

4. Wild Nothing – Empty Estate EP
With the exception of The Flower Lane, Wild Nothing’s 2013 EP release was the album I returned to the most in 2013. I played the heck out of it. It’s the first time I felt a band had nailed what seems to be the trend du jour: capturing that 80s vibe while still feeling like 201X. Seriously good 80s music found here. If that’s a style you periodically enjoy, don’t miss this EP.

5. Caveman – Caveman
I remember discovering Caveman via Rdio’s recommendation of artists similar to Grizzly Bear. While I don’t think they are as similar as Rdio’s algorithms would make you think, they do achieve similar levels of chemistry and harmony that Grizzly Bear are known for. (I would argue that Caveman is more traditional folk sounding with less vocals while Grizzly Bear is more experimental with more focus on multiple vocal harmony.) Caveman’s second album, self-titled Caveman, is a promise of what is to come. They are one to watch.

6. Mutual Benefit – Love’s Crushing Diamond
Did someone say folk? I’m not all electronic, mind you. Mutual Benefit is the classiest new folk sound you’ll hear this side of Mark Kozelek (who I also adore). Echoing the sentiment of one of my best friend’s review, a song like “Advanced Falconry” makes me want to wrap into a ball and long for sleepy human embrace. Anyone who appreciates Andrew Bird or Mark Kozelek will love Mutual Benefit, as they are a warm new sound that blends both styles perfectly.

7. DARKSIDE – Psychic
This is the type of album that you reject upon the first one, two, or three listens. But eventually, it clicks. Darkside has an entirely new sound that is fresh and engrossing. It pulls you in once you accept it. In 2011, I rated Lotus Plaza’s release as average. But two-plus years later, it is probably the album I have returned to the most, save maybe Real Estate. Those of us who keep track of music on a yearly basis always have an album or two like that. You know it’s good, but you don’t rate it as highly as you will 5 years from now. I have a sneaky feeling that Darkside will be that album where in 2019, I’m still listening to it and wondering why it wasn’t number one.

8. Evenings – Yore
A friend whose music opinion I hold in highest regard nudged me towards Evenings. I’m really glad it happened because Yore is one hell of an album. Its style isn’t necessarily new, but Evenings’ execution is perfect for what it tries to be.

9. Phosphorescent – Muchacho
Similar to my points about Lotus Plaza in the Darkside review, Phosphorescent’s 2010 release Here’s To Taking It Easy is an album I’m still returning to today. Muchacho was a fine follow up. It has grown on me with each listen, and cements Matthew Houck’s style of music as one of my current favorites. I wish there were more Aww-Shucks-Southern-Folkrock bands who produce as pleasurable works of art as Matt.

Honorable Mentions

You know, I struggled picking a 10th album, but because of lack of quality. There were just too many deserving releases that I couldn’t list just one. So instead, here is an unorganized list of other albums that I genuinely enjoyed this year in some way or another.

  • Toro Y Moi – Anything In Return
  • The Besnard Lakes – Until In Excess, Imperceptible UFO
  • Mark Kozelek and Desertshore – Mark Kozelek and Desertshore
  • All Tiny Creatures – Dark Clock
  • Kurt Vile – Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze
  • Foxygen – We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic
  • Bonobo – The North Borders
  • Young Man – Beyond Was All Around Me
  • My Bloddy Valentine – m b v
  • Boards of Canada – Tomorrow’s Harvest
  • Iron & Wine – Ghost on Ghost
  • Julian Lynch – Lines
  • Holden – The Inheritors
  • Beacon – The Ways We Separate
  • Jim James – Regions of Light and Sound of God
  • Fuck Buttons – Slow Focus
  • Four Tet – Beautiful Rewind
  • Janelle Monáe – The Electric Lady
  • Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – Push The Sky Away
  • Volcano Choir – Repave
  • The Fatty Acids – Boléro
  • Faux Fur – Faux Fur

Top Songs of 2013

1. Janelle Monáe – “Q.U.E.E.N.”

It wasn’t even close. The music itself was fantastic, but the story telling is powerful. I’m not one for lyrics. In fact, I often consider them a distraction dragging down a song. But when words sung cross several tiers of meaning, and are genuine, I pay attention. You can’t help but think that she is addressing four topics all with a single message: the state of pop music, the soulessness of corporatized record labels, the unfair stigma of women who act original and really are unique, and the unfair bias against homosexual women artists. (Though Janelle playfully buffs questions as to whether this album was a statement about her sexuality, the undertones of “Q.U.E.E.N.” and other singles powerfully speak to the topic.) Incredible.

It didn’t hurt that the music video was well done or that the ending of the song is as powerful as Oscar-worthy dramas.

Janelle is who should be pushed upon little girls everywhere. Not the Nikki Manaj’s or Rhianna’s or Lady Gaga’s, et al. She is authentic and genuine, cuts across musical categories, speaks about matters that are important. Youth could do few better as a musical role model than Janelle Monáe.

2. Ducktails – “Under Cover”

Every year I look forward to an album that will stick with me indefinitely. Ducktail’s January release was just that. “Under Cover” was the best song among many excellent tracks. Both the song and the music video shows Matt Mondanile’s unique ability to blend seriously artful music with light air silliness.

3. Hood Internet – “You Know You Like Gas (Sage The Gemini x Iamsu! x AlunaGeorge)”

I’m a huge Girl Talk fan. Gregg Gillis hasn’t published any new work lately, so I was delighted to stumble upon Hood Internet earlier this year. Hood is a duo who take Girl Talk’s stylistic torch and adventure into new territory. They are slightly more focused on prominently premiering the rap/hip hop song and relegating the 70s/80s/90s/2000s song selection to the rear. But their sound can be just as fun, and this “You Know You LIke Gas” remix illustrates why. It was easily my favorite party song of the year. You’ll have to excuse the lyrics, yet if you’re a hip-hop genre fan, how can you not like them?

4. Julian Lynch – “Lines”

Long-time music friends of mine know that I’m a huge fan of Julian Lynch. The New Jersey native has been getting his PhD. at UW-Madison for a few years now, but has still found time to put out several incredible albums. This year’s release, also titled Lines, was not quite as good as his previous two to my tastes. The title track, however, is his best single to date. I seriously hope he continues to make music!

5. Kurt Vile – “Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze”

I’m a shoe-gaze fan. I don’t care. I don’t get why shoe-gaze and chillwave sub genres are picked upon by music pundits and fans alike. Kurt Vile is on the Mount Rushmore of modern shoe-gaze curators, and when he isn’t making some of the best 60s-era recreations under the War on Drugs name, he’s producing fun solo work. “Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze” was the track I found myself returning to the most this year—with the exception of anything from Ducktails—because of the looseness of it. At 9 and a half minutes, it’s a guitar lover’s dream.

6. David Bowie – “Love Is Lost (Hello Steve Reich Mix by James Murphy for the DFA)”

For those unfamiliar, James Murphy is the guy behind LCD Soundsystem. Any year without music from Murphy is a bum year, so with him officially retiring the LCD project some time ago, we were poised for a year without James Murphy. No one wants that. Thank goodness he came out of nowhere with this David Bowie remix.

7. Tame Impala – “Mind Mischief (Ducktails Remix)”

Sorry for all the Ducktails love this year, but seriously, Matt Mondanile is really good at this music thing. Tame Impala published two remixes of “Mind Mischief” this year, one by Ducktails and one by The Field. Friends should know that I’m a huge The Field fan too, so as you can imagine my head promptly exploded when I got this A/B side vinyl this summer. I liked Ducktails’ remake slightly more. For reference, this was Rena’s favorite song of the year.

8. Foxygen – “No Destruction”

Foxygen has some of the closest Bob Dylan sound I’ve ever heard. “No Destruction” was an exceedingly fun song to throw on all through summer and autumn. The album wasn’t so bad itself.

9. Justin Timberlake – “Suit & Tie”

I prefer to avoid pop music, but can sympathize with those who enjoy it. But boy am I a JT apologist. The double-release album itself was pretty terrible, but “Suit & Tie” was my guilty pleasure pop song of the year. I think JT transcends the common denominator pumped out by the pop music scene. It’s a pity the album was so bad overall, because if it was as strong as this single, I think in a few years we’d be talking about how he is the next Michael Jackson. He’s that magnetic and talented.

10. Beacon – “Bring You Back”

Loved this find. I’m a sucker for synth drum machines, and the tonal style Beacon expertly crafts in “Bring You Back” is one of my favorite musical approaches.

More Music!

2012 was a weak year to me. I think 2013 rebounded nicely. To show my excitement, I’m including another 10 songs to round out a top 20 in singles. There was just too much good music not to share!

11. Boards of Canada – “Reach For The Dead”

The album was good, but “Reach For The Dead” competes as one of their best singles to date.

12. Big Black Delta – “Side Of The Road”

This is probably the moment of the list where the word “hipster” could get thrown around. I hate that label, which in its current iteration is the defacto term used to denote a culture that is different and uncomfortable than what one is comfortable with.

There will always be a sub culture of individuals who self select out whatever is mainstream, regardless of medium, ad infinitum. There are those who enjoy certain sports that aren’t the NFL. Or those who enjoy foreign films or anime instead of Super Hero Remake 17. Or those who seek out authentic Japanese cuisine instead of going to Applebees. Or those who watch obscure BBC TV programs instead of Two And A Half Men. Or those who wear obscure sweaters instead of clothes found at Mayfair Mall. The list goes on.

Music is no different.

In casual observance of Big Black Delta on the Internet, I’ve seen more “hipster music” trolling thrown on this band than any other I’ve been exposed to this year. That is unfortunate. Music is music, and you enjoy the taste properties you personally identify with. When I see “hipster” lobbed as a criticism, I see a vocabulary term being leveraged as an abstraction for anything the individual finds different than they identify with. Yes—the other person or thing is different than you, but by degrading the difference with a critical term from society’s lexicon meant to elevate yourself, I shake my head in silence.

So, anyways, Big Black Delta everybody!

13. Suuns – “Sunspot”

Heard these guys for the first time on WMSE, Milwaukee School of Engineering’s radio station. I’m now a full-time convert to this awesome station when driving. It is an example of what’s good about music.

14. Four Tet – “Parallel Jalebi”

I’m still a huge Kieren Hebden fan, but the last few albums have been a bit of a let down for my tastes. I guess that’s to be expected since his 2010 release, There Is Love In You, I still regard as my favorite album of all time. “Parallel Jalebi” was his best song produced this year—a year in which he released a vinyl-only collection of 90s tracks he made, had several remixes, several more DJ sets, produced several other albums, and finished up with an all-new album release which this track featured on.

15. Evenings – “Friend (Lover)”

Really glad these guys were introduced to me this year. “Friend (Lover)” was the best track on a fantastic album top to bottom.

16. Jim James – “A New Life”

I love My Morning Jacket so I was excited for Jim’s solo album. It wasn’t as good as I anticipated, but I loved this single. I chose to share his live rendition on the Jimmy Fallon show because it’s a good reminder of how elevated his live shows are—even if just on late night TV—compared to the studio work.

17. Caveman – “In The City”

Really enjoyed Caveman’s first album, so it was a delight to unexpectedly find a self-titled release this year. “In The City” was the best single, and worthy of a spot here. This is a live version that shows how great of chemistry the band has together.

18. Holden – “Renata”

James Holden is one of the more underrated British artists at the moment. I’m glad that The Inheritors is getting the press he deserves. “Renata” is a loud, powerful electronic ballad.

19. Fuck Buttons – “The Red Wing”

It seems like Fuck Button’s 2013 release had mixed reviews. You really need to be a fan of their style to appreciate what they do. I felt the album itself had several clunkers preventing it from being a classic, but “The Red Wing” was a banging single. Get ready to get loud.

20. Wild Nothing – “The Body In Rainfall”

Rounding out my top 20 list is the best song from the Wild Nothing EP Empty Estate, which was one of the top albums I returned to over and over again. It’s pretty close to perfect indie pop that has a twinge of experimentation to throw off your scent.

Top Songs of 2012

1. “Brains” – Lower Dens

The song I probably listened to most. The song I thought was best constructed. The song that sounded the best. And a great music video. Tough to beat this one.

2. “Baby” – Ariel Pink

I know it’s a cover, but hot damn it’s good.

3. “Her Fantasy” – Matthew Dear

My favorite “party” song. I forced it on everyone every party I went to so we didn’t have to listen to Usher. I have no regrets.

4. “Myth” – Beach House

This one means a lot to me. It’s easily the most emotional of the group. It’s just a touch too short, or else it’d be number one.

5. The Fall – Rhye

Who? What? Only a few singles out, but she’s great.

6. “House Shape” – Mount Eerie

This and “Through The Trees pt. 2″ made for a great album. This one was my favorite of the two though.

7. “Oblivion” – Grimes

Best song off the album of the year for me. It beats out “Genesis” because it has a better music video.

8. “Feels Like We Only Go Backwards” – Tame Impala

Alright, I get it.

9. “Modern Driveway” – Luke Abbott

Title track from his five-song EP. The song I listened to most through headphones while walking. It makes me feel happy and refreshed when it’s done.

10. “Flower Lane” – Ducktails

This song was an early single off Matt’s full length album coming out early 2013. He knows how to tweak my heart.

Honorable Mentions

“Lover” – Blondes
https://soundcloud.com/blondes/lover

Great “get in the groove” song.

“Sweetie & Shag (The Field Remix)” – Battles

No list is complete without Four Tet or The Field in my mind.

“Cooking Up Something Good” – Mac DeMarco

Late 2012 entry. Glad I found him.

“Headcage” – Matthew Dear

Matthew Dear had two spectacular singles. This wasn’t quite as good as “Her Fantasy”, but it’s a blast.

“Depak Ine” – John Talabot

When music was sparse in Spring, I found myself listening to this album more than I probably should have. Part of the reason was because I could not get this song out of my mind. It’s fun.

Top Albums of 2012

1) Grimes – Visions
My single most important criterium is quantity of quality. From first to last, does each song challenge me? grow on me? sound great? Grimes’ album was that rare masterpiece we all live to discover: we get hooked on a fantastic single or two; then we check out the album—woah, a few more great songs, but the rest of the album is only ok; then you find yourself three months later contemplating if the one song you thought was the worst on the album is actually the best. Hats off to you, Claire. Your style is appreciated and will be in my queue forever.

2) Beach House – Bloom
With subjective rankings, often we have personal reasons for rating something higher or lower. This year, Bloom is overloaded with personal moments that admittedly puts it higher than others.

See, I share a lot of music with my lovely wife, Rena. Most of the time it’s a miss, but once in a while I hit a bullseye that becomes something fun to share with her. In the past, Animal Collective, Passion Pit, Grizzly Bear, and Real Estate were major successes. (Sadly, Grimes is not!) Well, this year Beach House was the hit, which I parlayed into an introduction to her first music festival, Pitchfork in July 2012. Beach House was tremendous closing out a fine summer Saturday, a day we’ll soon not forget.

The duo’s impact didn’t stop there. During their tour, they stopped in Milwaukee to play at The Pabst the weekend of our one-year anniversary, and promptly blew our minds. One of the better shows I’ve seen.

So what about Bloom itself, beyond just seeing it live? It’s a style all its own, and it doesn’t deviate from it. So if you like the style, you’ll love the album. If you struggle to get past the first song, everything else will be difficult. For me personally, it’s great summer music.

3) Luke Abbott – Modern Driveway
Luke is my little gem. I found him via a Four Tet remix in 2010. Kieren covered Holkham Drones in a two-hour DJ set. The sound was so unique I had to find out the source. After much research, I discovered Luke. This year saw him release two separate EPs, one in summer and one in winter. Frankly, the winter EP was only average. But summer’s effort, Modern Driveway, was my second most-played album this year. Five songs to play anywhere, anytime. I always feel good about tomorrow when I’m done listening.

4) Grizzly Bear – Shields
Not as good as Yellow House nor Vecktamist. I see a lot of Modest Mouse in them—the history, not the sound. The gritty, folksy, honest, unpolished sound that made their first work so real is slowly giving way to nicer studios and evolving musical ambitions, resulting in music that is well done but missing heart. But it’s fun and well crafted, and guldarnit, I play it loud every time.

5) Lotus Plaza – Spooky Action At A Distance
Late entrant. Deerhunter’s Lockett Pundt sure does do simple, strong bedroom rock well. Spooky rose up my list as I realized how much I love Deerhunter’s sound. Retrospectively, I don’t praise Halcyon Digest enough. This album is the closest thing to Deerhunter’s sound, and included heartfelt personal anguish. This one is filed under “I didn’t realize I liked it this much until I thought about it.”

6) Matthew Dear – Beams
I’m a Matthew Dear apologist. Why can’t I find more Matthew Dear fans? Beams did not get a lot of pump, both by press or peers, but I loved it. A few of my favorite dance tracks lead the charge—if you haven’t given “Her Fantasy” or “Headcase” a good strong listen to on a Friday night before you’re about to meet friends, you’re missing out.

7) Tame Impala – Lonerism
Alright, I get it.

8) Lower Dens – Nootropics
Man I love these guys. “Brains” is one of the best singles of the year. They could have risen higher, but quality really drops after “Propagation”. All good stuff, but to go from the perfection of the first four tracks to the average display in the last six was disappointing.

9) Mac DeMarco – 2
Weird and fun.

10) Blah
Couldn’t even make it to number 10. I’m proving a point: this was a disappointing year in music for me. I look back at years past—like the best-music-year-ever 2010—and scratch my head why I couldn’t find as many diverse works of art this year. Frankly, only the top three albums on this list will stay in my roation long-term. Everything else is just average and I’ll revisit in a couple years.

Another way to phrase it: I like to collect vinyl records, but I make it a point to only buy albums that I hold in high regard and wish to play 30 years from now with my kids. Grimes, Beach House, and Luke Abbott were the only albums this year I plan to purchase. Everything else is relegated to MP3 consumption.

It’s striking to me how many bands, with past music I adored, produced clunkers this year:

  • Animal Collective (so, so bad)
  • Blondes (Touched EP made my top 5 in 2010, think about that! Terrible LP follow up)
  • Lower Dens (could have been better)
  • Matthew Dear (could have been better)
  • Grizzly Bear (could have been better)
  • Nada Surf (meh)
  • Bear In Heaven (lost what made them great)
  • AIR (not AIR like)
  • Of Montreal (nothing catchy)
  • Sleigh Bells (not as good)
  • Andrew Bird (forgot about it)
  • The Shins (commercial music)
  • Sigur Ros (boring)
  • Sun Kil Moon (good, not great)
  • Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti (great singles, always too much wink wink nudge nudge; very frustrating music)
  • The xx (also boring)
  • Ben Folds Five (he should stop)
  • Tame Impala (I honestly think Innerspeaker was much better)
  • Crystal Castles (they keep getting weirder)

I’m sure there are others I missed, which proves the point further.

And the biggy… Four Tet! I appreciate Kieren Hebden’s adaptation the most. He moves with what interests him. So Pink gets a pass because this year he was simply more interested in making club music. But boy what a letdown. Let me be clear: Four Tet is my favorite musician of all time. The shear amount of beautiful music he makes is staggering. It’s remarkable how he can make music as uplifting and positive as Bob Marley without using lyrics. So any year with a Four Tet album is a good year. But Pink is easily his worst effort to date.

Before I part ways, there are several musicians I would like to give a hat tip to. They produced great music, but simply did not resonate with me, so did not make my list.

  • Frank Ocean
  • Jack White
  • Godspeed You! Black Emperor
  • Kendrick Lamar
  • Sharon Van Etten
  • Norah Jones
  • Fiona Apple
  • Yppah

I’m looking forward to 2013.

2011 Favorites

A list of some of my favorites from 2011.

Albums

2011 wasn’t a very deep year for music, but there were some outstanding efforts submitted. Overall the quantity of quality was lackluster compared to 2007 through 2010. I think it’s because I found less new artists. I’m finding myself now looking more forward to new albums of recent favorites, such as Grizzly Bear, Bear in Heaven (lol at bear references), Floating Points, Luke Abbott and more in 2012 than I am new artists out of the blue.

I flip flopped between Real Estate and Washed Out for months. I loved both releases. In the end, I thought Real Estate did some things that will make me listen to the album a lot more 10 years from now than Washed Out, and it was the difference.

Julian Lynch is one of the most underrated artists out there. He has a completely unique style. Terra is his best record to date.

Twerps and The War On Drugs were good finds for me this year as well. Very happy I found them. But I, belatedly, decided to go with The Field to round out my top 5.

  • Real Estate – Days
  • Washed Out – Within And Without
  • The Field – Looping State Of Mind
  • Julian Lynch – Terra
  • Twerps – Twerps

Songs

Individual songs that stood out to me. Bon Iver’s album is highly celebrated, as well it should be. But the album as a whole had gaps, which kept it off my top 5. “Holocene” though is my favorite song from this year, and shows why people are going crazy for Justin Vernon. I applaud his new celebrity!

Cass McCombs is one of my favorite artists, period. He had two albums this year! Many good singles, and “The Same Thing” was the best.

Gold Leaves was a pleasant find this year. “The Silver Lining” was an exceptional take on an “Arthur and Yu” sound. The Rapture had a very weak follow up release this year, but the single “How Deep Is Your Love” was my favorite party jam. tUnE-yArDs is as unique as it gets, and “Bizness” is a jarring yet fun exploration on being yourself.

Rdio playlists of my favorite songs from Fall and Winter. (I didn’t start Rdio until half way through 2011. I recommend it to all!)

Movies

I missed a lot of movies this year, I admit. My list is probably missing some really good ones.

  • Girl With The Dragon Tattoo
  • Hanna
  • Bridesmaids
  • The Ides of March
  • Anonymous

Articles

I read a lot of long-form articles, which is different for me from years past. I would like to thank Instapaper for this lifestyle change. Here are the five best articles I read in 2011.

Managing By Week

I’ve found that a week is the right time frame to manage myself and others.

Every Sunday night I sit down and go over the week ahead. I got this idea from The Economist‘s website. The premise is straight forward.

  • Look at the previous week and comment on all previous items. Were they finished? How’d they go? Was there anything not accomplished?
  • Write out all the required tasks for the week. Things like follow ups, tasks asked of you by colleagues, etc.
  • Look at all the projects you are involved in, and write out the ones you plan to address during the week.
  • Break those projects down into subset tasks and comments. Explore what’s needed; write to help you fully understand the scope.

Evernote works really well as an organization tool. I have a notebook which houses every week’s composition. Each week is a new note.

So why by the week? A month is too long. I find that things change so much week-to-week that to tactically plan a month in advance is futile. (Note: This does not mean strategic planning can’t be scoped to a month or longer.) And a day is way too short. I found myself asking far too often “Is this exactly what I should be working on today?”

Instead, the week gives you the perfect encapsulation of time. It’s short enough to predict within reason how the week will go. It’s long enough to give you a full picture.

A fun analogy is the paragraph. The paragraph is the best tool to communicate a complete idea. A sentence is often too short. A full page is too long. Instead, a paragraph gives you the right amount of time and space to succinctly illustrate a thought.

Writing Is Important

I’ve started to realize the therapeutic benefits of publicly writing.

  • It forces you to be clearer with your thoughts, even if no one is reading them.
  • Ideas become easy to share if you need to. For example, a technical problem you solved, and want to share on communities like Stack Exchange, etc.
  • If the content is good, it can help boost your public awareness. Not necessarily in a selfish way, but in a manner to help others understand who you are, how you communicate, are and how you think.
With that said, I will be attempting to publish more of my thoughts in a journal format.

Blurbs Wins First Place at Milwaukee Hackathon

In the 24-hour-long Spreenkler Talent Labs Hackaton held in May 2011, Matt Stockton and I took home first place for our project Blurbs.

The idea was simple: could we wrap any URL on the web (e.g. http://worrydream.com/ABriefRantOnTheFutureOfInteractionDesign/) with a personal audio conversation? A driving inspiration was what Disqus does for comments on the web.

Example use cases:

  • I’m looking at a pair of shoes on Zappos that could be a neat gift for a family friend, and want to send the link to my wife, but also describe what I like about the shoes.
  • I’m a researcher who needs to annotate a financial report and send it to some constituents.
  • I’m a manager and need to critique something and send back to my team.

After sign up, the user is prompted to install a bookmarklet and do a one-time enabling of Flash microphone settings.

Let’s say I’m visiting this web page AnnArbor.com webpage. I would click the bookmarklet that inserts a bar at the top of the page. From there I can click the record button to record myself.

When I’m done recording, I can add an optional note and save.

Blurbs will give me a short link that I can share with others. Privacy is available: just need to enter a password. Otherwise the link can be accessed publicly.

When someone visits my shared link, they will see a player and my notes.

Back on my dashboard I can see all my past blurbs and manage them from there.

This was a fun event. Matt and I really killed it. It was done with Java and published on Google App Engine, but is no longer available for public use.