Kevin’s Musical Year in Review for 2017

I’ve written these for a few years now (I could have sworn I wrote one last year, but I guess I didn’t), and I think this is the first year that it’s been harder to pick out albums than some great songs. I think Spotify may have finally broken me of my “listen to the whole album” rule since it’s easier to just fire up a playlist or daily mix than go find an album to listen to.

But, I still have my favorite songs of the year list (I’ve embedded it below) and though it’s a little smaller than previous years, there’s still over 12 hours of music in it that came out this year.

Before I get to the albums, the song of the year for me is definitely Goldfrapp’s Anymore. No, really, it’s amazing. So sexy and fun and danceable. You should listen to it a million times.

There’s been a trend for a few years now of releasing a bunch of singles to streaming services before the album gets released, and some of my favorites this years were really just EPs, so I think they should have their own section.

EPs

  • Serengeti: Kaleidoscope – Reminds me of The Submarines in the best possible way. Groovy, fun, and ripe for multiple listens. Bonus points for some lovely muted trumpet on Is It Too Late.
  • Her: Her Tape #2 – Weighing in at 17 whole minutes, they pack a whole album worth of goodness into it. This one kind of snuck up on me, with several songs showing up in various daily mixes until I listened to the whole thing. It’s beautiful, especially Swim, which will make you dance.

Albums

  • Ghostpoet: Dark Days + Canap├ęs – Another great down tempo album from Ghostpoet. It’s like the best of Massive Attack with some modern hip hop.
  • Hurray for the Riff Raff: The Navigator – Folksy, old school, clever, silly and a lot of fun… all without being cloying or annoying. It’s just… good.
  • New Pornographers: Whiteout Conditions – I don’t know how they do it, but this band feels like it gets bigger with every album. I keep thinking their sound will get old or stale, and it absolutely doesn’t. One of my all-time faves that just keeps getting better.
  • Big Thief: Capacity – Kind of like if Beach House, Luna and Emma Pollock teamed up for a really sad and lovely country album. Gorgeous songs and amazing lyrics.
  • The Dears: Times Infinity Volume Two – The Dears should be bigger. Everyone should love The Dears. You need to listen to them. A little TV on the Radio, a little of a lot of other things, always good.
  • Widowspeak: Expect the Best – Dreamy, fuzzy, and ethereal. I love this band unconditionally and they can do no wrong. This album is as good as all their others, and that’s saying a lot.
  • Said the Whale: As Long as Your Eyes Are Wide – Is it wrong to love pop? No. No it isn’t, especially when it’s this good. Also, it’s even less wrong when the band is Canadian for some reason. So, yeah, just listen. You’ll like it.
  • Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile: Lotta Sea Lice – This is way more grown up than her last album, and that’s alright, I guess, though I absolutely loved Sometimes I Sit and Thing, and Sometimes I Just Sit. I’m alright with growing up, I guess.
  • The War on Drugs: A Deeper Understanding – Mostly for the song Holding On which feels like a huge 70’s rock callback, but is also just a great song. The rest of the album is fine too, really.

Musical Discoveries

  • St. Paul and the Broken Bones: I’d heard of them, but never listened until they were coming to Savannah for a show and a bunch of my friends gushed about them. Now I’m sad I missed the show, because this band is great. I listen to them in the kitchen (unapologetic revival soul is perfect baking music).
  • Big Sam’s Funky Nation: Another concert-related discovery. These guys played Revival Fest this year and blew the doors off. Their albums are good, but their live show is insanely great. If you ever get the chance to join Funky Nation, you should rush to renounce whatever citizenship you need to in order to get in.
  • Flunk: I should have heard of this band before this year, because they’re in my wheelhouse. They’re a perfect trip hop throwback, a little like Portishead, and I could listen to them all day at work.

There you go, my musical 2017. Enjoy the playlist below, and here’s to an acoustically pleasing 2018!

Kevin’s Year in Music: 2015

It’s been a great year for actual music, but a sad one for me personally. Why? Rdio died. I loved Rdio for years – even when I was working at a music startup building a competing service, I still loved Rdio. And now it’s gone. I tried Google Music, and had to give up on it because it lacks any idea of social, and does some very strange things with explicit lyrics. Now I’m on Spotify and it’s all right. It’s not perfect. It’s definitely not Rdio – but it’ll do.

Enough sadness, let’s get on to the music! Last year, I just threw together a list of the albums I liked and put them in three categories. That was a cop out and saved me from having to pick a single album. This year, I’m picking a single album that is my favorite of the year! And then a couple more than I really liked.

My album of the year is…

Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit by Courtney Barnett! It’s funny. It’s fun to sing along with, and the songs are actually about things. This album came out early on this year and I kept going back to it all year.

It was really hard to pick just one album but I did it. Courtney’s biggest competition was from an artist that my friend Bryan told me about – Ghostpoet. His album, Shedding Skin, is fantastic. It reminds me a lot of Massive Attack, which is always a good thing. You should listen to it, a lot.

There were a lot of really good albums that came out this year. So many that my Kevin’s 2015 Favorites playlist has 340 songs in it and if you listened to it all at once, it would take 23 hours and 29 minutes. So, get started!

Importing Rdio Playlists (and Your Collection) Into Google Music

My beloved Rdio is dying, and soon. They ran out of money, sold all their assets in a fire sale and have given their users about a week to find a new music home. I tried Apple Music, but quickly ran into limitations (song limit, my patience with their awful UI, horrible apps for importing songs, etc). Asking around, it looked like Google Music was the next best option.

And then the problem was, how to I get almost 5 years of musical history from Rdio into Google Music? All those favorites playlists from 2011-2015, the road trip playlists, the special occasion playlists… all of those will just disappear.

It took a lot of experimentation, but I found a way to export my playlists (and entire collection) from Rdio to Google Music. Here’s what you need (sorry, this is going to require some Terminal time):

  • First, you need to install the Rdio Enhancer Chrome Add-on.
  • Sign up for the Google Music free trial.
  • Install gmusic-playlist – it’s a python library for interacting with Google Music. It has some dependencies, so you’ll need to follow the README instructions carefully.

After you’ve gotten those installed, you need to do the following to save your playlists and collection in a format that’ll work with the importer:

  • Go to Rdio in Chrome.
  • Click Favorites.
  • You should see an Export CSV button. Click it. Depending on the size of your library, this could take a while. It’s going to generate CSV files for your entire collection. My 35,000 song collection took 3 CSV files, and about 5 minutes to generate and download them. Chrome will probably ask you if this site can download multiple files. Say yes and wait for all of them to download (15,000 songs per file).
  • Once you have all those files, it’s time to do playlists!

For each playlist you want to save:

  • Click its link in the left nav bar.
  • Click the 3 dots in a circle button (next to the share button), then “Extras”, then “Export to CSV”.
  • That’ll download another CSV file.
  • You should open up each CSV and delete the first line (the header) or you’ll end up with “Did She Mention My Name” by Gordon Lightfoot in all of your playlists. If that doesn’t bother you, go ahead skip this step.

Now that you have your collection and all the files you want to save, it’s time to set up the gmusic-playlist importer. After you unzip it, open the folder and then open preferences.py in your favorite text editor and make the following changes:

  • username should be your google login email address.
  • Change the track_info_order line to look like this: track\_info\_order = \['title','artist','album','trackNumber'\] (the only change is to change “songid” to “trackNumber”).
  • Change allow_duplicates to True.
  • Change search_personal_library to False.
  • Save the file.

Now you can follow the gmusic-playlist directions to import all those CSVs. Google Music has a limit of 1,000 songs per playlist, so your collection will be broken up, but at least you’ll have all your songs!

Update: I tried to like Google Music. I really did. But, it has some fatal flaws:

  • Their new releases page is bad and not updated with actual new releases.
  • There’s no social at all. It’s awful.
  • The Web UI is just broken enough to be really frustrating, and all the web apps for it are hamstrung by the web’s brokenness.
  • They do very strange things with explicit lyrics.

So, I was going to update this post with instructions on how to import your official Rdio export into Google Music, but… don’t do that.

I’m trying out Spotify Premium again for the first time since I started using Rdio, and they’ve paid attention. Social is better. Sharing is better. The queue is persistent between sessions. They have more music than Rdio did, or that Google Music has. Their new releases page is actually mostly up to date.

Instead of using this process to import things to Google Music, use the official Spotify Rdio Import tool. It takes about five minutes and works really well.

Accidental Greatness: Sriracha Chicken Quesadillas

I have accidentally created the greatest food ever: the Sriracha Chicken Quesadilla:

You need to:

  • Preheat the oven to 350
  • Slice two onions into quarter inch slices
  • Slice two bell peppers (or mini bells) into quarter inch slices
  • Four boneless chicken breasts

Assemble:

  • lay the onions out on a roasting pan or cookie sheet so there’s no overlap
  • put the peppers on top of the onions, again, no overlap.
  • drizzle olive oil over the onions and peppers, then salt and pepper.
  • put the chicken breasts on top of the peppers and onions.
  • salt and pepper the chicken then drizzle with olive oil.
  • squirt sriracha over the whole thing.
  • bake for an hour at 350.

Once it’s done, cut up the chicken, throw some into a tortilla with some of the onions and peppers and sharp cheddar cheese and then griddle that thing until the tortilla is crispy and the cheese is melted.\
And now eat it all up.

I should have taken a picture, but I didn’t because I couldn’t wait.

What You Won’t See on CNN…

“Here’s what you won’t see on CNN” is my new least favorite phrase. I definitely won’t see it on CNN because I don’t watch any of the 24 hour news networks. Their primary job isn’t to inform me, provide clarity of nuanced issues or situations, or to enlighten mankind about the problems we collectively face.

Their entire purpose is to make money. To do that, they need eyeballs. To get eyeballs, they have to turn every situation into an event. And every “event” has to have good guys and bad guys and has to have an “angle”. And that angle has to be clear enough so even the most mouth-breathing of viewers can understand it in less than 30 seconds between commercials and know who to root for.\
The problem is that nothing that happens is black and white and there are rarely easily identifiable bad guys, just people acting in their own best interest (or what they think is their best interest).

All of the coverage, all of the commentary, all of the fancy graphics, all of the “breaking news”, it’s all there to get your adrenaline pumping and to keep your eye glued to the screen and so you’ll stick around through the commercials.\
So, don’t fall for it. Don’t watch the news. Read the news. Read commentary on the news. Read real journalists who do real research and provide perspective and expose nuance.

Stop helping them treat tragedy as entertainment. Stop participating the outrage cycle. Understand that every source of information has a point of view. It doesn’t make them wrong or right, but it affects how they view and report on things. Don’t trust all first person accounts. Be cautious about joining a movement until you understand the motivations of those involved.

There are better things we can be doing with our time than speaking like pundits on the TV or radio. We could be helping.\
I’m not sure how to help with a lot of the things going on in the world (and in my city) right now, but I can at least not add fuel to an already out of control fire.

Vegetable Stock in the Crock Pot

A simple title, but this is a really simple recipe. I decided after a tough week and after seeing someone mention it on Instagram, that I really needed 15 bean soup. Instead of just using water, I decided to try making homemade vegetable stock. I had some veggies and I have a crock pot. How hard could it be?

Not hard at all. I have a mammoth 6 quart crock pot, so you might need to reduce the amounts of things if you have a smaller one.

This is a mishmash of a bunch of different recipes I found online with most of the ingredients doubled and a couple added. This stuff comes out really savory and a lot richer (not subtle at all) than other vegetable stocks I’ve tried before – and way better than anything I’ve ever had out of can.

Ingredients

  • 2 small tomatoes, quartered
  • 2 smallish sweet onions, quartered
  • 1 bunch of celery, cleaned and w/ the butt chopped off. Leave the leaves!
  • A bunch of carrots, chopped up.
  • 1 tablespoon-ish of salt
  • 1 tablespoon-ish of minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon of dried oregano
  • 1 squirt of Sriracha
  • 2-4 peppercorns (I put in 3x that many and it’s really peppery – it’s good, but a little goes a long way).

Directions

  1. Put everything in the crock pot
  2. Fill your crock pot up with water, almost to the top but not quite.
  3. Cook on low for 6-7 hours
  4. Strain out all the bits – mine came out a little cloudy, probably because of the tomato. If you care about that, then you might want to strain it through a coffee filter or cheesecloth.
  5. Let cool for 30 minutes
  6. Put it in the fridge
  7. Make something awesome with it later, or just drink it and get superpowers.

It ended up producing a little over a liter of stock – I think using fewer vegetables would have been just as effective and produced more stock.

I’m making 15 Bean Soup with mine, but you could use it for pretty much anything, or just drink it right up. We had more than would fit in the container for the fridge, so Jen and I both had a mug and it was great!

Enjoy!

Merry Christmas, Now Make Fancy Butter!

\A picture of two fancy butters in ramekins. Garlic herb butter on the left, Honey-Sriracha on the right.[/caption]

We were invited to a big family Christmas Eve dinner and were supposed to bring an appetizer. We had an antipasto tray ready to go, but that wasn’t experimental enough, so we decided to make a “flight” of fancy butters to go along with the bread we knew would be there. They were a big hit, and really easy to make (it took longer to clean the mixing bowl and the whisk attachment than to make the butter). Here’s what we made:

Sweet Orange Butter – This is amazing. Sweet, very orange-rich, and would be amazing on biscuits, waffles or pancakes.

Garlic-Herb Butter

I think because we had lasagna, this one went the fastest.

  • 1/2 pound of softened butter
  • 3-4 sprigs of thyme
  • 2 sprigs of rosemary
  • 10-12 chive stalks
  • 1 teaspoon minced garlic

Instructions:

  1. Remove the rosemary and thyme leaves from their stalks
  2. Pulse all the herbs in the food process until they’re finely diced but before they turn into pesto.
  3. Throw everything in the mixer
  4. Whisk on low for a minute
  5. Whisk on high for a minute or two until everything is mixed in
  6. Refrigerate to firm it back up.

Sriracha Honey Butter

This one was an experiment, mostly because I love adding Sriracha to things. It turned out really well. I’m not sure what the food science is behind mixing fat and Sriracha together that turns things into deliciousness, but I love it. This ended up with just a tiny bit of heat (kids were eating it and not crying, that’s how little heat there is), but with a great smokey pepper flavor that worked really well with the honey.

  • 1/2 pound of softened butter
  • 2 tablespoons of Sriracha
  • 3 tablespoons of honey

Instructions:

  1. You don’t really need to measure things. I’m guessing as to how much I put in there, but it was basically those proportions – slightly more honey than Sriracha
  2. Throw it all the mixer
  3. Whisk on low for a minute
  4. Whisk on high until everything’s combined.
  5. Refrigerate to firm it back up.

We put them in creme brulee ramekins to serve (1/2 pound of butter ended up filling two ramekins, so you might want to halve the recipes for a smaller party).

I didn’t think making crazy butter would be so easy, or be so well-received. I’m going to have to try some more!

Kevin’s Favorite Albums of 2014

I can’t believe the last time I did this was in 2011, but it’s time to do it again! 2014 was a great year for music! Again! My 2014 Favorites has 256 songs on it. Last year’s has almost 350, but I think that’s more about me being more selective about what goes on it than the quality of the year.

I decided to break up the list into three sections, because I don’t think it’s fair to compare albums by bands I’ve loved for years with new stuff that jumped out enough to be considered. I’m getting older and though I’m trying really hard not to let my musical taste calcify, well, I think it’s inevitable. Also, the “throwbacks” fit a theme for me. They’re all committed to a sound from the past and pull it off expertly. All four albums will have you grinning from ear to ear just to hear great new songs in styles you thought were dead.

Repeat Offenders

Throwbacks

The New Kids

And there you have it… my favorite albums of 2014. Enjoy!

Leftovers Accomplished: Turkey Ramen

A finished bowl of turkey ramen

What do you do with your turkey carcass after Thanksgiving? My mom suggested making stock, so that’s what we did! And then I realized that we could turn that stock into ramen broth with just a few more ingredients and with the crock pot, we could do it with a lot less effort than it took to make Momofuku ramen broth (which my son and I took 12 hours to do one day – it was delicious, but a lot of work).

So, here’s my turkey ramen recipe, which turned out way better than I expected and was slurped up in minutes by my family.

  1. We took the turkey carcass, with some leftover meat on it, legs and wings (which no one in my family likes), tore it up and stuffed it disrespectfully into my 6 quart crock pot, then covered it with water. We’d smoked the turkey, so you may get different results if your turkey was roasted, but it’ll still be good.
  2. Crock pot it on low for 18 hours (really).
  3. Strain out the broth. I used a metal colander because I don’t have one of those fancy soup colander things. I just wanted to make sure I caught any bones and big chunks. The great thing about ramen broth is that you don’t have to be as diligent about skimming off fat as you would with a classical stock.
  4. After straining it out, I put the broth back in the crock pot with two packages of mushrooms (one shiitake, one baby bella), a chunk of jowl bacon and two ham hocks and let it go for another 18 hours. You could use bacon ends, a ham bone, just something porky to give it some extra punch. I also added some more water to get it back up to almost the top (I left about an inch between the broth and the top).
  5. With about four hours to go, I added 2-3 tablespoons of soy sauce. It probably doesn’t matter too much when you add this.
  6. I didn’t have any ramen noodles, so I made pad thai noodles, which worked fine.
  7. Plating is pretty easy. In each bowl, I put:
    • 1 poached egg (I poached them in a sauce pan full of water and put the eggs in biscuit cutters to keep them together)
    • Chopped green onions
    • Grated carrots
    • Some chopped up leftover turkey
    • Finely chopped roasted unsalted peanuts.

That’s pretty much it! The broth came out full of strong flavors, which matched well with the light flavors in the bowl.

I don’t think I’ll ever go back to the 12 hour process. This worked really well and should be super flexible.

The only thing I might do differently is to actually make the tare instead of just dumping in soy sauce, since it’s easy to make and super versatile. If I were starting from scratch and had it handy, I might also start with the konbu broth and then pour that over whatever poultry I started with in the crock pot.

If you come up with interesting twists on it, let me know what you do!

Cold Brew Coffee

2014-02-07 09.35.44-2

I love cold brewed coffee. It’s smoother than regular coffee, and depending on the beans you use, chocolatey too. It’s a great change of pace from a regular cup, and great in the summer. I’ve been playing with my recipe for a while and I figured I’d pop it up here so other people can try it out. First, equipment:

  • Takeya Tea Maker – It’s a small pitcher with a built-in basket for tea. I just use coffee instead. It makes cleanup and filtering a lot easier.
  • Good Coffee – This is a must. If you don’t have a local roaster, I’d check out Tonx. But, you probably have a local roaster. Find them. Become friends with them. Get good coffee beans from them.
  • A grinder that can do a coarse grind. I have a cheap one that works fine. Or, if you’re feeling spendy, you could jump up a couple brackets and get a nice burr grinder. I have a small manual Hario thing I use when I’m serious about the grind, but the blade grinder works for me for now.

If you have the 1 quart pitcher, you should grind enough beans for a 12-cup pot of coffee and put your grinder on the coarsest setting.

Once you have the coffee, put it in the basket, fill the pitcher with filtered water and then close it up and stick it in the fridge. I like mine super rich, so I usually let it steep for a couple days before I take it out. The professionals leave it in for up to a week, but two days is usually enough for me.

I also shake it up a couple times a day to stir things up and mix the grounds up a little. It’s probably just a placebo thing, but I think it makes better coffee to agitate it a bit.

After you’ve let it steep in the fridge, it’s time to filter it. The basket’s going to catch most of the grounds, but you’ll have some sludge in there that’s good to filter out. I pour mine through my drip coffee machine filter and that takes out 95% of the sludge. I have friends who use a french press for their cold brew, which works really well because you get to skip the filtering step, but I don’t yet have a large enough french press to make that work.

There you have it, my recipe for cold brew. What’s your recipe?