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Best of 2016: Music Edition, Part 2

The musical theme of my year seems to be strong women and emotional ballads. Hey, I can think of many worse themes. Music is wonderful during happy times, but these are the kind of songs to get you through the tough times. Here are my top 5 songs of 2016!

5. Lady Gaga, “Million Reasons”

At first I was skeptical about the new Lady Gaga album, but soon I was living for it. After going to theatrical extremes on her previous efforts, she was wise to move in a more personal direction. I love that Gaga is so in earnest with everything she does, even the songs that don’t work, but “Million Reasons” definitely works for me. Besides the country-twinged melancholy, my favorite part is the play on words between needing a good reason and a good man to stay.

4. Tegan and Sara, “Dying to Know”

“Dying to Know” became a sneaky favorite off of Tegan and Sara’s new album. The jittery vocals and instrumentation fit perfectly with lyrics about wondering how your ex is doing now. In true Tegan and Sara fashion, a potentially depressing topic is softened by an infectious beat. With the album’s throwback vibe, you can imagine yourself as the protagonist in a John Hughes movie.

3. Lykke Li, “Sadness Is A Blessing”

Since Lykke Li still hasn’t blessed us with new music, I went back to her previous album instead. Wounded Rhymes is great all-around, but “Sadness Is A Blessing” has the best blend of melodrama and genuine emotion. My English major heart loves a song that sounds like it could be sung by the heroine of a Victorian novel. To say “Sadness is my boyfriend / Oh sadness, I’m your girl” is an act of defiance hidden by words of acceptance, something Jane Eyre knew all about.

2. Beyoncé, “Sorry”

My spring was dominated by Lemonade, the latest Beyoncé album. I loved it for its depiction of female experience—both the parts that are specific to my experience and the parts that aren’t. “Sorry” is catchy and angry and crass and amazing. Surely we can all agree that “He only want me when I’m not there / He better call Becky with the good hair” is a couplet of lyrical genius. This is another downright dismissal for the ladies (and gentlemen) to revel in.

1. Sia, “Alive”

“Alive” was released in 2015, but I didn’t pay any attention to it until this year. When I really listened to the song, it resonated with me on a very personal level. Sometimes you’re at a point in your life that needs a survivors’ anthem. I love how her vocal delivery toes the line between pretty and pained, and that juxtaposition is always exciting to me. What could be more primal than declaring “I’m alive”? Sia turns those words into a powerful declaration of strength.

Come back tomorrow as we start on the movies!

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Best of 2011: Music Edition, Part 2

Here they are, looking just a little smug. My favorite songs of 2011, numbers 5 through 1.

Brett Dennen, “Comeback Kid”

This year Brett Dennen released his fourth album, the amusingly titled Loverboy. The album as a whole is great, but the immediate standouts to me were “Sydney (I’ll Come Running)” and “Comeback Kid.” They both featured sassy lyrics and a sing-along-worthy chorus. “Sydney” was my initial favorite, until “Comeback Kid” worked its way into my heart and stayed there. The lyrics are the perfect blend of cheeky and hopeful, and the tune is relentlessly upbeat. I defy you not to be singing “Na na na na na na / That’s my dog” by the end.

Meredith Fierke, “Train’s Song”

I had the pleasure of meeting Northfield, MN, native Meredith Fierke while doing a piece for my creative nonfiction class this spring. In the process of researching for the story, I bought her day album The Procession on iTunes. The assignment eventually ended, but my appreciation for her music did not. “Train’s Song” is one of her best, and it also happens to be the only one posted on YouTube. My other favorites are “Make You Real” and “Backyard.” They’re the kind of songs that demand a second listen.

The Temper Trap, “Sweet Disposition”

On top of being one of my favorite movies in recent years, (500) Days of Summer brought some excellent music into my life. Most excellent of all is “Sweet Disposition.” I love the way it builds momentum. I love the way it never lets up until the final seconds. Once you get to the point of understanding the lyrics, you will find them subtly romantic and equally hypnotizing.

Lady Gaga, “You And I”

Forget the absurd music video. Forget that horrible radio edit with “Minnesota” dubbed in over “Nebraska.” The album version is Lady Gaga at her piano chanteuse best. It must be said that piano chanteuse is my favorite Lady Gaga persona. I have the entire Born This Way album, and while most of the songs took time to grow on me, “You And I” was a favorite from the start. It cannot be denied that the woman has pipes. It gives me some serious karaoke urges, but I know I wouldn’t be able to pull it off.

Josh Ritter, “Kathleen”

Score one for Carleton a cappella groups. I first heard this song at an Exit 69 concert, and I was nothing short of smitten. Can you be smitten with a song? I proceeded to listen to it more than any other song this year, so I’m saying yes. It’s musically compelling, but the lyrics are what truly sets it apart. Even before my English major days, lyrics were an important part of my listening experience. “Every heart is a package tangled up in knots someone else tied,” he sings. It doesn’t get much more beautiful than that.

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The Best Time I Got Fingerprinted

Yesterday I found myself at the Clay County Jail. No, I hadn’t committed a crime. The latest and most bizarre step in the MRC employment process was fingerprinting and a background check. It’s as if they don’t want criminals working in elementary schools. Shocking, I know. Needless to say, this was a first for me.

In a burst of self-reliance, I drove to the jail with only a vague idea of where I was supposed to go. I figured that it would be apparent once I got there. Not so, as it turns out. As I approached, there were signs directing me to the jail entrance on the other side of the building. However, what I found was a windowless metal door that was marked as the “jail visitors’ entrance.” A high, fenced-in area with basketball hoops stood a few yards away — a real life prison yard.  “Well, this can’t be right,” I thought to myself.

Back around the building to the police entrance. The doors were locked beyond the entryway with no signs of life inside. A large notice proclaimed that fingerprinting was indeed done at the jail. Great. I returned to the oh-so-welcoming “visitors’ entrance” and went inside. There I found another locked door. To my left was literally the area where people visit with inmates across glass partitions. I had to pick up a phone and tell someone what I was doing there. The woman on the other end said that she would be with me in a moment. “I have someone in holding,” she explained. As in, holding cell.

Finally an officer emerged and led me to a smaller building next door. Apparently other people knew that this is where the fingerprinting took place because there was already a line. The rest of the outing was fairly mundane. I filled out a form and had my fingertips pressed onto black ink pads. This building was almost cheery compared to where I had been before. The fact that men in orange jumpsuits seemed to be wandering freely through the lobby was only mildly alarming. I’m sure the nice police officers had the situation under control.

But kids, don’t go to jail. There are lots of depressing metal doors and glass plates between you and your visitors. And Lady Gaga won’t be there.

*This blog post is inspired by a series of columns on The Hairpin called Personal Bests.

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