Thursday, January 30, 2014

the white caps of memory, confusing and violent

Here's a preview of a short documentary I made, coming soon to The Oregonian.

{fragments} Egbevado's lost days from Casey Parks on Vimeo.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Best songs of 2013

I've been making lists of my 50 favorite songs for a whole decade this year.

1. Drake - Hold On, We're Going Home

I’m a sucker for a good pop song, and this year was full of them. But unlike “Mirrors” or "Royals" or “Wrecking Ball,” I never tired of hearing this Drake track. His voice is so smooth here, soothing his girl into knowing it is going to be all right. It’s kind of dancey, kind of pretty and very catchy.

2. Disclosure f/ London Grammar - Help Me Lose My Mind

Her voice is so pretty on both ends of the register. Disclosure managed to make a timeless track on its very of-the-moment album.

3. Ciara - Body Party

There’s a handicap in Ciara’s favor here: “My Boo” is one of my favorite songs of all time. But any other pop star might have trudged all over my beloved hook. Ciara and Mike Will Made It instead elevated it. Shout out to the video, which we replayed at the end of every hangout.

4. Waxahatchee - Swan Dive

I love the lyrics here -- the words, yes, but also the way Katie Crutchfield bends them over lines. She has a funny way of enjambing, where the middle of sentences rise up, and I love it.

5. Chance the Rapper - Chain Smoker

I have never heard a rapper use words the way he does. This track is stuffed full, packed with internal rhymes that would make Rakim proud.

6. Jason Isbell - Cover Me Up

I always listen to the lyrics over the instrumentation, and I love the story this song tells. His voice sounds great, too. I wish I had thought of this line, in particular: So girl leave your boots by the bed, we ain't leavin' this room til someone needs medical help or the magnolias bloom.

7. Mikal Cronin - Weight

This song just makes me happy.

8. Kanye West - Bound 2

In an era of Kanye innovation, this was old school, a reminder of how good it felt to listen to him in the College Droupout days. Plus, there's a Martin reference! I'm especially fond of the live performance with Charlie Wilson on Jimmy Fallon.

9. Daft Punk - Instant Crush

Julian Casablancas never sounded so good. So smooth and moody.

10. Vinnie Dewayne - Nowhere

Y'all watch out for this Portland rapper. He looks and sounds like Kendrick Lamar, but I think he has something special of his own to add, too. He's bringing rap back to storytelling.

11. Arcade Fire - Afterlife

12. Vampire Weekend - Step

13. Justin Timberlake - Mirrors

14. Local Natives - Mt. Washington

15. J. Cole - Power Trip

16. London Grammar - Strong

17. Kanye West - Blood on the Leaves

18. Disclosure - Latch

19. Janelle Monae f/ Erykah Badu - Q.U.E.E.N

20. Kanye West - Hold My Liquor

21. Jason Isbell - Songs that She Sang in the Shower

22. Lana Del Ray and Cedric Gervais - Summertime Sadness remix

23. Vampire Weekend - Hannah Hunt

24. Neko Case - Night Still Comes

25. Janelle Monae - What an Experience

26. Daft Punk - Doin' It Right

27. Neko Case - Local Girl

28. Blood Orange - It Is What It Is

29. Justin Timberlake - Let the Groove Get In

30. Tegan and Sara - I was a Fool

31. Waxahatchee - Lively

32. Earl Sweatshirt f/ Frank Ocean - Sundah

33. Vampire Weekend - Diane Young

34. Jhene Aiko f/ Childish Gambino - Bed Peace

35. The National - I Should Live in Salt

36. Janelle Monae f/ Miguel - Primetime

37. Sampha - Without

38. James Blake - Retrograde

39. J. Cole - She Knows

40. Mariah Carey f/ Miguel - #Beautiful

41. The Killers - Just Another Girl

42. Drake - f/ Jhene Aiko - From Time

43. Glenn Waco f/ Mic Capes - Paradise

44. Youth Lagoon - Dropla

45. Lady Gaga f/ R. Kelly - Do What You Want

46. Torres - Honey

47. the Internet - Dontcha

48. Volcano Choir - Byegone

49. Tegan and Sara - Closer

50. Rhye - Open

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Favorite albums of 2013

I mostly bought singles the past few years, but I decided in 2013 to concentrate on albums. Lucky me, it was a great year for them. Here are my top 15. Mainly, I chose based on lyrics or how much fun I had listening.

1. Waxahatchee - Cerulean Salt

This is totally an album the 18-year-old version of me would have loved, would have found very important and made for me alone. That it somehow made me feel all those things at 30, too, is a neat little trick. I love the lyrics, and I love her voice. The CD rarely left my car stereo.

2. Jason Isabel - Southeastern

Another one chosen for lyrics. He has a great voice, but it was the stories that kept me replaying.

3. Vampire Weekend - Modern Vampires of the City

I've liked this band well enough on past albums, but this one is so much better crafted. I love all the meditations on religion, the freaky drops and leaps lead singer Ezra Koenig takes with his voice. Some of the songs made me dance; others made me ache. There was a song for all seasons, and I played the hell out of it.

4. Blood Orange - Cupid Deluxe

This is just my kind of sound -- groovy, vaguely retro r&b. Individual songs don't stand out as much, but I'm always in the mood to hear the whole.

5. Disclosure - Settle

For me, this is a great collection of songs. The different guest singers leaves a slightly disjointed feel to me, but the songs are just so good.

6. Janelle Monae - Electric Lady

She can rap and sing and wield a story and a hook. She put on a mean concert, too.

7. Kanye West - Yeezus

So unlike anything anyone else is doing. It's the album I most admire of the year, but I'm rating here on personal listening habits.

8. Neko Case - The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight

Reviewers seem to think this is her most perfect album, but sadly, it's my least favorite. It's the first album of hers I've ever skipped songs. But even at half-mast, she's still better than most everyone else to me. And there are a few stand-outs here.

9. Drake - Nothing Was The Same

I had a similar reaction here: I love his earlier albums so much more, but this one also has such great moments (including my favorite song of the year). He blazes his own trails.

10. Ciara - Ciara

So very catchy.

11. Justin Timberlake - 20/20 Experience

He is not a great lyricist, but the first disc of this project (I refuse to acknowledge the dreadful second) is so fun. How he made seven-minute songs catchy and instant-replayable I don't know. But these songs soundtracked my spring.

12. Chance the Rapper - Acid Rap

I have never heard anyone use words the way he does. Taffier than taffy, springier than a rubber band. This guy has skill. And hooks.

13. J. Cole - Born Sinner

I love his storytelling.

14. Arcade Fire - Reflektor

This album made me a fan again after the snoozefest of The Suburbs. It's crazy with its genre-mixing, but I like the songs.

15. The National - Trouble Will Find Me

Another solid double from The National. I like their sound and their weird sentences.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Books I read in 2013

I thought I'd read 40 books this year, but, oh well. The books I did read were mostly great and inspired me to start trying fiction writing.

1. Ben Lerner - Leaving the Atocha Station

This reminded me somewhat of "Open City" in that the philosophy matters more than the plot. This book is sillier, wry-er than Teju Cole's, though. It's still very thoughtful, but just in a more clever, of-the-moment way. I enjoyed reading it. It's short. Probably wouldn't read it a second time, though.

2. Mitchell S. Jackson - Oversoul

I love his voice. I like the fiction here better than the essays, but I'm really excited to see what Jackson writes in the future.

3. Anuradha Roy - The Folded Earth

I really enjoyed reading this. It didn't break any narrative grounds or do anything particularly special, but I just liked reading it. The imagery is nice, the story is good, the characters are memorable. I felt really a part of the world, and I never felt eager for the novel to end.

4. Daniel Handler - Lemony Snicket: Who Could That Be At This Hour?

I love the language. It is so fun, so lip-smackingly clever. Can't wait to read the next in this series.

5. George Saunders - CivilWarLand in Bad Decline

So fun. So brilliant. I felt so lucky to be reading. The last piece -- the novella -- dragged on, but the short stories. Oh my gosh the short stories. Everything I wish David Foster Wallace or Gary Shteyngart would be.

6. Daniel Handler - Lemony Snicket: A Series of Unfortunate Events

I liked it, but I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as the new Lemony Snicket. I was bummed to see a repetition of tropes ("xx here means xx"), and this one was much darker than the new book.

7. Jennifer Egan - A Visit From The Goon Squad

I skipped this when it first came out because I thought it was a futuristic book. I bought it after seeing Saunders read because I was so hungry for books and felt, OK, I better do this. But it's not futuristic. I love the non-linear structure. I love the writing and the characters. It challenged me to remember everyone and their place in the main character's life, but that was part of the fun. It taught me a new way to view life. Plus, reading it always seemed more fun than watching TV (this coming from an unabashed TV lover). The very last chapter was too blatant to be enjoyable for me, but overall, I loved the meditations on the passing of time.

8. Mary Doria Russell - Sparrow

I put off reading this for months after my former editor sent it to me. A book about a group visiting an alien planet did not seem like my kind of thing. But this editor has always recommended good books, so I finally picked it up. I didn't love the parts that had to with aliens, but 75 percent of the book actually deals in religion, loneliness, purpose and love. And those parts were great. It's dense, but the characters are well drawn. It took me a while to read because it wasn't a book that begged me to read it every second, but ultimately, I really enjoyed it.

9. Alexis M. Smith - Glaciers

I read this tiny meditation very quickly. I don't normally like to read a book set in Portland -- books are for escaping! -- but I found reading this one while reading the bus to be a nice time. It's well written and thoughtful, a good nod to what's to come from her.

10. JT LeRoy - Sarah

Despite all the controversy surrounding the writing of this book, I enjoyed reading it. I thought it was well enough written, and the plot was really engrossing.

11. Cheryl Strayed - Tiny Beautiful Things

I don't think of myself as the advice book type, but I loved this. Her advice in all situations basically boils down to: You know what to do it. It's going to suck, but you have to do it. That voice kept resounding in my head at work, as I headed down to Louisiana to film the documentary. If I had been having love problems, this would have been a godsend. Instead, I used it to push myself at work. It's incredibly written, so beautiful that it made me go buy "Wild," a book about hiking that I assumed I'd never attempt. I read it each day as if it were my devotion. It was everything I had always wished devotionals would be.

12. Karen Russell - Vampires in the Lemon Grove

I shouldn't like this book. Russell's stories are often set in times and tones (hello, magical realism) that I just do not like. But she writes such great sentences. Those looping words kept drawing me in, even through plots I would generally say I won't like. Some stories were better than others, but overall, I felt a gnawing ache of jealousy as I read this. To be this good. Sigh.

13. Nathan Englander - What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank

I loved these stories. Though they tell of a world fairly unfamiliar to me (most of the stories have at least one foot in Israel), Englander's voice makes each piece feel close at hand, relatable. Though the Holocaust and Orthodox Judaism cast a pall over most of the stories, they span generations and places and moods. There is lightness here, even when the stories are dark. It's an imaginative and confidently written collection, and I read it in like two days.

14. Charlie Le Duff - Detroit

When I picked this up from the library, I snorted. There he is, journalism's grittiest, most self-indulgent son splashed across the front pages of his own book. The title suggests this is a book about Detroit, but, as with all his work, it's really about Charlie Le Duff. The cover photo is apt. When he is good, he is great. Sometimes he is not, sometimes he is too bull-headedly himself, but I knew going into the book that he would be. There's plenty to skim through, and it is not, as he would hope, the definitive book on Detroit. He is of that place, but he is not the whole place himself. He doesn't back down ever, and he nearly always describes the race of the person he talks about. A younger version of me would have glazed over it, but the Portland version of me bristled at times. Sometimes it sounds like he's doing that just to show how ballsy and real and unfraid and direct he is. And sometimes I don't need that point drilled in so hard. But it's a fun read.

15. Jess Walter - Beautiful Ruins

This is a great story. I read it over a long weekend and was always eager to choose it over TV. But that's in part because it felt like TV -- a little mindless. I didn't love the voice. At times, Walter just seems to be trying too hard. But the story was great, and I'd recommend it to anyone in need of a good yarn.

16. George Saunders - Tenth of December

I didn't like it as much as CivilWarLand, but there were some really standout pieces here. The Simplica Girl Diaries is one of the best short stories I've ever read. And overall, it was a very fun, incisive book.

17. Colum McCann - TransAtlantic

This is my disappointment of the year. I loved McCann's last book, Let The Great World Spin. It's one of my favorite books of all time. I was eager to lose myself again in his sentences. And he does have some good sentences here, but TransAtlantic fails to differentiate between voices the way Let the Great World Spin so expertly did. Everyone speaks in lofty fragments, rendering each character into one, undistinct somebody. I could never lose myself in this book. Because every sentence was so high in the clouds, I never got a chance to feel the weight of any one line. Mostly, the book felt like work, never like fun. And finally, near the last third, I just gave it back to the library.

18. Mitchell Jackson - The Residue Years

This book is made of the kind of sentences I want to remember forever. I saw Jackson read last year and have been waiting for this book ever sense. It is pulsing and alive, so so good. Again, it made me jealous of his style. It's the kind of book I wish I could write.

19. Claire Vaye Watkins - Battleborn

I loved all of these stories, but the first and last are especially perfect. I can't wait to read it again. Again! I am so jealous of her talent.

20. Cheryl Strayed - Wild

An interesting and quick read that really left me more in awe of Strayed as a person rather than as a writer. I didn't like the writing here as much as I did in the advice columns, but it was still enjoyable.

21. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - Americanah

This was hands-down my favorite book of the year. The sentences aren't as good as those in Residue Years or in Battleborn, but the story is just so good. Which reminds me: Story always trumps sentences.

22. Mark Leibovich - This Town

When he's on, he's on, but this book is a structural mess. Too meandering to really hold me. I prefer him in shorter doses -- he's killer on the news desk.

23. Rachel Kushner - The Flamethrowers

I loved the first half of this book. I rented it from the library and was immediately sad because there were so many good lines I wanted to underline. I kept a running list in my journal instead, a list that soon stretched pages. By the time the action heads to Italy, though, my fever had cooled. I felt less and less like reading it once the novel shifted.

24. Jesmyn Ward - Salvage the Bones

Tough read, but brilliantly written. Important work. I could only read a chapter a day, though.

25. Justin St. Germain - Son of a Gun

I really enjoyed the way St. Germain structured this book, going between his own life and the Tombstone legends. I read the book in only a few days. It's well written, though I wouldn't call him a voicey writer. I didn't find myself underlining any sentences. But I really enjoyed reading it.

26. Jhumpa Lahiri - The Lowland

Lahiri's prose is so beautiful. I love many things about this book -- including the killer last paragraph -- but parts of the story felt too rushed, too paraphrased. I wanted the story to be slowed or more focused, less overarching. I didn't feel the story benefited by showing readers the entire cycles of the character's lives. But I really enjoyed reading it. For all its scope, it was a quick read.

27. Meg Wolitzer - The Interestings

I just never came to really care about these characters. I felt like the novel was always telling me about them and who they are, rather than showing me. That left me with a shallow connection. There was nothing to keep me wanting to read more. I know Wolitzer is super accomplished and experienced, but her style reminded me of a college writer still finding her voice.

28. Jesmyn Ward - Men We Reaped

There are so many beautiful sentences in Men We Reaped. At times, the books feel repetitive or just not done enough (maybe a few more years of distance or editing would have helped?) but I think it's headed in the right direction. Lack of options, lack of government investment in equal infrastructure and economic development, self-medicating precipitated by generations of untreated depression -- these are real factors, nearly always insurmountable. It was clearly a tough write for Ward, and I admired the book.

29. Questlove - Mo Meta Blues

I loved this book. It's such a fun way to learn about the history of hip-hop, its sample sources, its commercialization. This book is so well written, too. Great read and great history of Philadelphia.

30. Jayne Anne Phillips - Black Tickets

I loved the sentences (or, frequently, the fragments) in this book. Very intense read, though, so I was glad to have the break between stories. I like the tiny stories especially.

31. Allie Brosh - Hyperbole and a Half

Not every story is great, but most made me laugh out loud or mutter "so true" to myself. I love how open she is.

32. Ben Fountain - Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

After a while, the criticisms and points seemed repetitive, but I really like this book. The sentences are almost too good for the narrator. I don't believe an uneducated 19-year-old kids knows some of the words Fountain puts in his brain, but as a reader, it was fun to read them. Neat conceit for a book, too: The whole novel takes place during a Cowboys football game.