Favorite albums and singles of 2013

It’s been a wonderful week of disconnection. After a ton of traveling, I’m back home in Pasadena staying at my parents’ house. My internal clock is totally whack due to overlapping jet lags so I’ve been sleeping at odd hours, floating about and re-balancing myself with cooking, reading, and going on long runs. My head has been shoved up the proverbial ass of TPP for so long I needed a bit of distance to put some perspective on the work I’ve been doing.

Anyway. I’m getting antsy and so I plan to spend my week getting back into the swing of things. Part of that involves posting on this blog~ First I’m gonna list of my favorite albums and singles of the year. Some of these songs/albums might not have been released from this year but I’d like to be able to look back at this and remember that these made up the soundtrack for my 2013. These aren’t in any particular order…and I was so damn busy that I probably missed a ton of amazing music but I’ll try to catch up. Maybe they’ll be in my list for next year.

Here we go!

Best Albums

Bonobo :: The North Borders

If there was such a thing as gourmet music, I’d say this album would be it. Bonobo never fails to put out strong work without relying on a predictable formula. There’s something about their music that’s energizing and soothing at the same time. So good for lone traveling or late night commutes from work.

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Jon Hopkins :: Immunity

I’ve been listening to this while working. The best song, which I almost just wanted to put in the singles list, is “Open Eye Signal.” The music video is pretty awesome too.

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Ponytail :: Do Whatever You Want All the Time

I’ve liked this album for a while, but I got really obsessed with it when I re-discovered it on my ipod that I only use for running. I don’t even know what you’d call it but it’s like avant-garde punk with female vocals screaming jibberish. It’s probably not for everyone. I think it’s amazing for running and so I still listen to it constantly. Sadly, they broke up over four years ago.

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Charles Bradley :: Victim of Love

Beautiful, heartbreaking R&B/blues love songs by a man who started off as a James Brown impersonator. When I’m bummed out about my love life this makes me feel somewhat better.

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King Krule :: 6 Feet Beneath the Moon

Genius 19-year old kid. I swear this guy is going to be the next Bob Dylan.

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Arcade Fire :: Reflektor

It’s all over the place, and some songs I’m not so crazy about but on the whole it’s a wonderful clusterfuck of gorgeous tunes.

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Mount Kimbie :: Cold Spring Fault Less Youth

Great music to chill out, do housework, or drive to. Also features King Krule!

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Best Singles

DARKSIDE – “Paper Trails”

I must’ve listened to this live session over 100 times.

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James Blake – “Retrograde”

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Major Lazer – “Get Free Feat. Amber of Dirty Projectors”

Not from this year but I was so damn obsessed with this song this year. Kinda still am.

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Slow Magic – “On Yr Side”

Hands-fucking-down the best show I’ve seen all year when he opened for Gold Panda. I’m keepin an eye on this guy.

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Julieta Venegas – “Te Vi”

I just love this song. It also makes me think of my amazing trips to South America this year and the great friends I’ve made on them. Yea yea…it’s probably just because this song is in Spanish. So what? 😛

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CHVRCHES – The Mother We Share

ALL my guy friends were obsessed with this song and with the lead singer Lauren Mayberry, who’s admittedly pretty damn cute. Probably heard this 348309832409823 times this year.

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YACHT – “Party at the NSA”

Cuz…come on. 🙂

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Yuji Kawabuchi

photo 2

I’m laying, dazed, in bed at my family’s house in Chiba, Japan, nursing a horrible head ache. Yesterday was my grandpa’s funeral.

It all began the day after I got back from South Africa. It was a 28 hour trip and I was excited to be back home in San Francisco to get some work done before the holidays. Then my sister Hanami IMed me during Staff meeting.

“Gigi’s in a coma. He had a heart attack.”

The rest of the day I was distracted at work. Later that afternoon, I went to a birthday party for Chelsea Manning outside in the Castro to perform with my flash mob a piece we did for the Manning contingent at Pride parade. Right before we performed my sister called to tell me he passed away.

Fujisan and Gigi

We spent almost every summer with him when we’d come to Japan, but I never felt close to him in the normal let’s-share-laughs-and-feelings kind of way. He was tall, stern, practical, and a man of few words—unless that is, you got on his bad side. If you tried to make small talk, he’d ignore you. If you did something he thought was irrational, he’d let you know immediately by giving you one of his lectures about why you’re not making any sense and that you should think about how not to be an idiot. He valued pragmatism over all else, within his own established structure of duties and obligations.

For him, his highest duty was to his family. After spending World War II as an airplane engineer and seeing the horrors of the Tokyo firebombing, he had an arranged marriage to my grandma, a beautiful, tiny girl who escaped her family from the countryside. They had three children, my mom being the oldest. They were poor, really poor, as most families were in post-WWII Japan. He worked crazy hours for years to build a chain of successful pachinko businesses and pulled them out of poverty. He was known to be forthright, but never to be played for a fool.

photo 3

But he showed his love in his own way. When we were little, he always took us to the Chiba zoo and amusement parks. We’d be home watching TV on a hot day, and he’d slowly saunter in and drop a big bag of ice cream bars or rice balls or fireworks on the table in front of us and walk away. We’d scream “Thank you Gigi!!!” in Japanese and he’d just grunt back. Sometimes, he’d come and suddenly announce that he made reservations at a hot springs hotel for a few nights and demand that we were all going. Sometimes we’d already have other plans but there wasn’t any way to argue with him.

Two days after he died, Hanami and I got on a plane to attend the funeral. It was a Buddhist ceremony. Like my grandma’s funeral eight years ago, its rituals didn’t feel gratuitous at all, but each felt meaningful and purposeful. After the monk’s prayers, each person in my family went up to pray and say our farewells to his spirit as we lit incense next to his body. Our whole family filled his coffin with flowers until only his face showed through a mass of white and dark pink petals. I whispered to my sister that he’d probably think this was humiliating.

Entrance

The most haunting and most important part is the cremation process. After the prayers, we all drove to the crematorium. There, we each said our goodbyes for the last time. They then took him into a hall with a line of elevator-like doors, and placed his coffin into one. After about 2 hours they took us into a room where they wheeled in a silver table covered in bones. We were given long silver chopsticks, and in pairs, we lifted his bones into the urn. After we each did so, the cremator guy told us which pile of bones came from which part of his body. As I said before, he was really tall for a Japanese man, so his bones barely fit into the container. We all watched as the he had to struggle to break up the pieces with his silver chopsticks. When he apologized for having to do this, my aunt told him to do what he had to do to fit him in there. A few of us laughed out of the absurd morbidity of the situation.

At the end, the pieces of the skull are placed into the container—so as to recreate the alignment of the body. I don’t think there’s anything at all that reminds you of how ephemeral life is until you’re made to interact with human death in such a direct way.

When I told my friends and colleagues why I was going to Japan, they gave me their condolences. I was sad, am sad, but he was so hard to love. Despite everything he did for the family, his inability to express his feelings, to compromise with others, and to just be able to have a simple conversation about anything in life all made it so hard to be near him. It makes me sad that he had to build his cold exterior as a defense mechanism, and that this was expected of a man in his generation…that this caused so much pain for everyone around him and led to him living alone.

While he never once showed any weakness to anyone, you can see his gentleness in his paintings. He was a landscape painter. It was a skill that, pretty hilariously, he acquired from watching hours of Bob Ross on TV. His works are all of peaceful scenes of the Japanese countryside. I wish I got to know that side of him, to get a chance to talk to him about his painting technique, or at least about his thoughts about art. But that just wasn’t the kind of relationship he had with anyone.*

Pathway

(*) My sister just read this and said, “Oh I painted with him this one summer. He was trying to teach me but he kept yelling at me that I was doing everything wrong. He even corrected my painting after I was done…with oil pastels. He was being such a huge asshole.” So there you go.

South Africa Pt.1: speechless (not the good kind)

I was picked up by a driver at the Cape Town International Airport to go about 200 km northeast to spend the night at an animal conservation/game reserve, after I’d spent over 22 hours in a plane and 12 hours in airports traveling from San Francisco. Walking out of customs, I immediately spotted a short guy in a collared shirt holding a sign with my name in big capital letters. I felt a blip of giddiness at the sight of it—there’s something exciting about meeting a complete stranger at an airport who’s waiting for you, even if it was pre-arranged.

I wave at him and he grins widely, revealing a row of shiny, gold teeth. It’s surprising and admittedly off-putting. He tells me his name is Tony. “Hi Tony, thanks for waiting. Let’s go get Rebecca then?”

We walk to the airport parking lot and to his white Toyota sedan. I make small talk about how long my trek was and that I’m here for an intellectual property conference, and he told me he was born and raised in Cape Town. All I wanted to know was how he felt about the news of Nelson Mandela’s death. He looked mixed, or “colored” as they’d say here to differentiate from “black” and “white” people. I figure he must have some opinions but I felt awkward asking outright.

My sister texted me the news as I was waiting at my gate to board a flight to South Africa. First, I was pretty weirded out by the personal coincidence of it. Then I quickly felt ashamed of my ignorance of the extent of his struggle. I knew what apartheid was…generally. And I knew he was crucial in the fight to rid of its policies and was held in prison for 27 years. That was the pathetic extent of my knowledge. I’m of the generation that knew him as a peace icon, not the organizer, the activist, the revolutionary. I still want to understand more about how he did what he did, but I did know enough to know he is a crucial icon in South African history.

We get Rebecca, who’s staying at the airport hotel about 400 meters away. We start driving into the hills and make some more small talk before the car gets quiet again. I go for it.

“So you heard the big news?”
“Yeah,” said Rebecca. “It’s so sad to hear about Mandela’s passing. It’s strange to be visiting South Africa for the first time when the country is in mourning…”
“Yeah seriously.”
We look at Tony, expecting him to say something.

“Sure…” He says distractedly. Then he says in a burst of excitement. “OH! You know who ELSE died?! Paul Walker! In a car crash!”

I was too shocked to say anything. This must be a joke. Please indicate that you’re joking.

“Who?” asked Rebecca.

“Y’know, Fast and the Furious. So sad…so very sad.” He said as he shaked his head.

“Oh. Right.”

Silence.

I was horrified and so confused. I was particularly shocked because I was expecting him to say anything, anything remotely more reflective. Of course there’s no reason why he’d be representative of any common sentiment… it’s my own fault for thinking that any old stranger that I’d meet here would be engaged in their nation’s story, and be proud of the legacy of a man who sacrificed everything to end legally codified racial segregation. Mostly I was horrified to confirm that people like this exist. They exist everywhere. People who don’t care at all to participate in their community or to celebrate progress in their society.

I have more stories about Tony, who ended up being our “guide” for the weekend and was so dim and yet so bafflingly confident… But I need to go to sleep now. It was a bit amusing at first, then it got somewhat disturbing. Rebecca and I wondered how such a self-delusional person like this came to be, as he continued to make us momentarily speechless all weekend. I’ve never been around someone so unbearable in my entire life. I guess there’s a first for everything.

givingthanks.

Thanksgiving was fantastic this year. I went down to Pasadena a few days early to speak at a TPP protest in Beverly Hills (RT America covered it here). I worked remotely for the rest of the week until I had to help cook up a serious feast for the 21 guests coming to my parents’ house. We made over 20 dishes including of course, the turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing, PLUS 20 grilled quails, green bean casserole, baked carrots, creamed onions, potato gratin, butternut squash, and our family tradition of black-cherry-jello-ring-mold with whipped cream and walnuts. The amount of food we had was bonkers, but it was really fun cooking everything from scratch with my family.

So this is cheesy and I know I’m a few days late now but I still wanted to list a few things for which I’m thankful.

I’m thankful for whistleblowers, journalists, and others who risk their lives to expose the truth about the world. We have massive, glaring issues that need to be addressed, and we can’t even begin to effectively fix them if we don’t actually know what’s going on.

I’m thankful for having the opportunity to live in this crazy place, San Francisco. I enjoy ragging on it: about the Google buses making our rent too damn high, the inefficient public transport system, and the annoying start-up/tech-utopian culture. Sure there’s a lot of apps/platforms/tools being built that’s probably useless in the long run, but it’s nice to be in a place where people are so excited to make things. I think this city is going through a major transition, mostly due to this hot tech economy, in a way that will foreshadow some of the biggest issues of this coming century.

And I’m thankful for having the opportunity to do the work that I do. That it continues to challenge me to pragmatically think about how to make peoples’ lives better. That I get to nerd out on the details and history of the problems of the privatization of culture and knowledge, and examine the resulting backward policies that stifle responsible technological advancement. That I get to meet and interact with brilliant people who work in this space and also do what they do out of dedication to fix our laws and policies…

I hope that doesn’t come off as braggy… but I’m just being honest here and at least that’s better than taking things for granted. I think it’s a good exercise to realize what you have, especially when things aren’t going well overall. I want to always make sure I appreciate what’s working, given that any of it could be lost at any moment.