Blood on the Sand

Blood on the Sand


There is blood on the sand,

but whose blood is it?

Is it blue blood,

Jew blood?

Or is it black blood,

that blood,

which curses us in other tongues,

and dripping in the dry gully ditch

consecrated by a crossed camel bone and conch-shell

gathers like the Dead Sea, minerals and water

in the lowest point around

but also in the world.


It’s not British blood, but is it

Yiddish blood? Arabic blood?

American stained and drained and processed blood,

FDA approved?

Is this blood signed and certified by Allah, or by Yahweh?

Is this the blood of olive trees,

forced to bloom

in the clay,

but life is blood

and blood is life,

and life is good,

and good is great,

and so on.


Is it colonial blood,

or is it post-colonial blood?

Is it purple blood?

(No, I don’t think so,

but it could be blood dyed all the colors of the rainbow.)

Maybe it’s all Rothchild blood,

with Zuckerberg also to blame.

Is it innocent blood, murderous blood,

soldier blood or terrorist blood,

or kite-flying-stink-bomb-toting

10-year-old skipping-school cool-kid blood?

Are we really dealing with the blood of children?

This is not a sandbox

but the desert.


Why does blood flow

when the body is impacted by a bullet?


Or is it by and large Gazan blood?


One blood two blood red blood blue blood.

Black blood blue blood old blood new blood.

Imperial ethno-state blood?

Plain Jane blood?

Jesus Christ blood?

Maimonides? Ali Khamenei? Jimmy Carter? Thom Yorke? Al-Muqta Baha-uddin?

(All of them yes, but maybe not him.)


Blood blood blood blood blood blood blood

blood blood blood sand

Sand sand sand sand sand sand sand sand sand

sand sand sand

deserts and deserts and deserts of sand

—crackling under the billion stars and sky-scorched magnesium jet-dust jazz bars—

and blood on sand

and blood in ditch

and blood on porch

and blood on fire

and burning tires

to fade into the dark

and David’s grave

and the flute and the harp.


Haikus: Weeks 1-2

The first two weeks of homophonic haikus, visually arranged. Featuring one poem from each of the five haiku “seasons”, and then a few gorgeous Matsuo Basho winter haikus. For your weekly “Haiku Vocab 101” and more, follow the Instagram here.


Matsuo Basho, Edo period. Spring.

TRANSLITERATION: Yuku haru ya/ Torinaki uo no / Me wa namida

LITERAL MEANING: The passing spring / Bird-song and fish’s / Eyes, flowing tears


A homophonic haiku takes the sound of the haiku as the primary unit of meaning. Its aims to envelop an English-speaker in the experience of the haiku.

Matsuo Basho, Edo period. Summer.

TRANSLITERATION: Samidare o / Atsumete hayashi / Mogamigawa

LITERAL MEANING: The rains of May / Gather hurriedly / Mogami River


Yosa Buson, Edo period. Autumn.

TRANSLITERATION: Bage sau na / Kasakasu toki no / Jigure ka na

LITERAL MEANING: As if to transform / The moment  I open my umbrella / An autumn drizzle, I wonder..



Masaoka Shiki, Meiji period. Winter.

TRANSLITERATION: Iku tabi mo / Yuki no hukasa o / Tazunekeri

LITERAL MEANING: Every time [I] go / the snows’ depths / [I] ask


Saikaku Ihara, Edo period. New Year’s.

TRANSLITERATION: Oomisoka / sadame naki yo no / sadame ka na

LITERAL MEANING: New Year’s Day / [in this] orderless world / order, I wonder…


Matsuo Basho, Edo period. Winter.

TRANSLITERATION: Shio tai no / Haguki mo samushi / Uo no tana

LITERAL MEANING: Salt sea bream’s / Gums also cold / The fish shop


Matsuo Basho, Edo period. Winter.

TRANSLITERATION: Kiyotaki no / Mizu kumasete ya / Tokoroten

LITERAL MEANING: The water gathered / At the clear [pure] falls / Tokoroten (place name/one by one)


Matsuo Basho, Edo period. Winter.

TRANSLITERATION: Izakodomo / Hashiri arikan / Tama arare

LITERAL MEANING: Small, child fishes / Running all around / Jewels of hail


Basho demonstrates why he is the master of his craft. As a love poem lacking both subject and object, this haiku nevertheless communicates a chiming longing, like a temple bell at dawn. It’s a love so pure that it can only be expressed by the most simple and yet generous gestures: tying the beloved’s hair, packing their lunch before they go.

Matsuo Basho, Edo period. Spring.

TRANSLITERATION: Chimaki yu / Katate ni hasamu / Hitaigami

LITERAL MEANING: Rice cake wrapped in bamboo leaves / By one-hand tied / Bangs-styled hair

Come back in two weeks for the next edition of Homophonic Haikus. Until then, much love.


The Haiku Project

[Follow the Haiku Project on Instagram for original haiku art in your feed every day.]

About two months ago, we were given an interesting assignment in my translation class.

Translate five poems homophonicallyentirely according to the sound. Pay no attention to the meaning. Simply try to replicate, as closely as you possibly can, the rhythm and rhyme, violence/softness, fastness/slowness, consonance/assonance of the original poem. I picked out three haikus by Matsuo Basho, and the results stunned me.

I didn’t think I did a particularly good job. However, examining haikus from this angle made me realize something.

Americans don’t have a very accurate picture of the Japanese haiku. We either think strictly of 5/7/5, or a super minimalistic poem, thanks to lots of translation like this:

夏草や 兵どもが 夢の跡

Natsukusa ya/ Tsuwamonodomo ga/ Yume no ato

Grasses in summer.

The warriors’ dreams

All that left.

Like, that is awful. It seems like a machine translation. In reality this is a very pretty-sounding poem, but English readers don’t realize that the 5/7/5 also entails a distinct, rather beautiful lilting rhythm, and that all haikus employ dozens of sonic effects. It made me realize. I think beyond 5/7/5 we have the impression of haikus as imagism, thanks to Orientalist poets like Ezra Pound and Kenneth Rexroth, but haikus also imply stories most of the time.

Japanese doesn’t use subjects like “I”, “he”, or “you” often, so many haikus can imply two or three different stories at the same time–but if you translate it directly, it’ll seem like there’s no story at all.

Thanks to that little homophonic haiku project, I stumbled upon a way to translate haikus that I think conveys more than just imagism, and that captures the sound and the story of any good haiku.

Let’s go through my process.

行春や 鳥啼き魚の 目は泪

Yukuharuya   Torinakio-ono         Mewanamida


The passing spring,

Bird-song and fish,

Flowing tears.

Okay, so we’ve got some nice images here. But in reality the flowing “oo” sound is dominant and juxtaposed with “ohs”, and contrasted with the many “ahs” of the final line. Not to mention the flatness of these three lines. “Spring”, “fish” ,and “tears” all end with your pitch going DOWN, which creates a dull impression of finality. Meanwhile the Japanese ends going UP, lilting, like a song. Let’s translate this entirely based on sound.

You cool sparrow, you

Old tree naked pool, oh no,

Me, nostalgia…

Great. Now we know what the poem actually sounds like. Repetitions of “ooh”, with drawn out final syllables at the end of each line to create a formal sense of “nostalgia”–a word that sounds almost exactly like 泪–we’ve got the flow of the original.

But I think we’ve lost too much of the meaning. So let’s modulate just a bit back without losing the rhythm we’ve established.

You song sparrow, you

naked fish and eye’s old tears.

Me, nostalgia…

Not bad. Could be better, but not bad. We’ve got most of the meaning, and most of the sound. Even though we’ve cut out “passing spring”, the Kigo-word that indicates what season the haiku-refers to, the sense of nostalgia instead becomes much more crystallized. We will always have to make sacrifices in translation, and I’m willing to sacrifice the direct meaning in order to convey the poetic sound-qualities of haikus.

But you may be asking…

What is this “Haiku Project”?

I’m so very glad you asked.

I’ve created an instagram account, the Haiku Project, haikuproject365 (yes, haikuproject was taken. I am angry). On this account I will post almost every day artistically arranged original translations of famous Japanese Haiku.

They will look like this:

Haiku1-2Then in the Instagram post description I will give all the proper creds to the offer, what season it refers to, and much more useful and snazzy information. AND THIS POSTING WILL GO ON FOR ONE MONTH, AT LEAST!

So do me a favor. Follow! Check it out! Get a poem in your feed every day. Maybe it’ll get you hype about the coming summer (or for those in New Haven, the recently arrived Spring), just a little bit.

SEASONS OF JAZZ [1]: The Journey Begins

Welcome, friends. Over the next several weeks, we’re going to begin a journey through the distinctly American art form known as Jazz, educating ourselves through a series of weekly Spotify playlists.

I’m going to explore the cultural origins, the musical innovations, and the social significance of five different movements (and five different 12-song Spotify playlists) of Jazz: Blues & Swing [Spring]; Bop [Summer]; The Avant Garde [Autumn]; Fusion and Latin Jazz [all four seasons]; and Jazz since 1980 [Winter].

It’s a route that will condense the most lush, quaint, and popular period of Jazz (roughly 1930-1950) while expanding on the most artistically dense (late 50s to early 70s), culturally expansive forms of Jazz, as well as allowing for a focus on what on earth has been happening in the world of Jazz over the past 40 years (spoiler: more than you might think!)

What qualifies me to write about this topic? I’m definitely not an expert. I studied Jazz piano for 8+ years, and have been a keen listener of Jazz since I started. However, I think the diversity and far-reaching influence of Jazz on American culture and pop music have been traditionally understated. Even though most of us think about Jazz as being an outdated art form, try remembering how often we encounter it in movies, restaurants, or on the street. Clearly something is sticking.

Over the next month or so, let’s figure out what, and let’s discover just how much jazz has to offer us.

This week, enjoy Jazz in 12 Songs.

As impossible as it is to condense jazz into the months of the year, I gave it a shot. By the end of this series, you’ll understand why each of these songs is included. By giving the playlist a quick listen, you will quickly come to realize a few things:

  1. Absurd stylistic diversity: Obviously Charlier Parker and Ella Fitzgerald are Jazz, but so is Robert Glapser’s record from just 5 years ago. One of the most popular and influential jazz records came out of Brazil. One of the main figures responsible for the revival of jazz in modern hip-hop came from Japan. In these 12 songs you’ll find at least 12 moods.
  2. Nonetheless, there is a pattern: This is gonna sound obvious but it’s important. Black men have been by and large responsible for most of the stylistic innovations and long-lasting compositions in Jazz, while many of the singers we remember have been Black women. Naturally, there is a reason for this. (This is not to ignore the stylistic and artistic contributions of women, which will also be explored)
  3. It can fit any mood: Feeling down? Just listen to Fats, Ella, Louis, or Frank. Want to have your mind torn into little tiny pieces? Try Coltrane, or Ornette Coleman, or Pharoah Sanders.
  4. Improvisation and composition go hand in hand: For every standard verse-chorus-verse-chorus pop Sinatra hit, there’s a precisely, maniacally arranged Duke Ellington big-band standard. And for every Ellington standard there’s an understated Miles Davis, Art Blakey, Andrew Hill, or Keith Jarrett tune that relies almost entirely on improvisation. And techniques for jazz improv as well as composition evolve remarkably from decade to decade. And that’s not just the instruments–that’s the singing too. Discovering the different techniques and relishing in every instrument improvising is one of the key steps to really enjoying and appreciating jazz.

So check out the playlist. Explore, in a 12-song flash in the pan, the world of jazz. Come back soon for SPRING: Blues & Swing, 1918-1948.

Hope to be seeing you all soon. Until them, jam out.


Jazz in 12 Songs

  1. Confirmation – Charlie Parker Quintet
  2. Afro Blue – Robert Glasper Experiment & Erykah Badu
  3. Ko-Ko – Duke Ellington
  4. Ain’t Misbehavin’ – Fats Waller
  5. Summertime -Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong
  6. Monk’s Dream – Thelonious Monk
  7. The Sign – Nujabes & Pase Rock
  8. Spain – Chick Corea & Return to Forever
  9. Blue in Green – Miles Davis
  10. Corcovado – Joao Gilberto, Stan Getz, & Astrud Gilberto
  11. A Love Supreme, Pt. I – John Coltrane
  12. I’m Beginning to See the Light – Frank Sinatra

Embarrassments of Translation

Ginga Tetsudo no Yoru, or as I translate it, Night on the Milky Way Railroad, is one of the most famous, significant, and enduring pieces of early 20th century Japanese literature by one of Japan’s most incredible authors. In it, Kenji Miyazawa walks the line between a child’s fantasy and a complex literary masterpiece with baffling dexterity. He is a commander of the human voice in all its startling range of emotion, an adept inventor of onomatopoeia, and a master juggler of Japanese folklore, western novels and fairy-tales, and Buddhist theology.

And yet the translations that we have–FOUR!, we have FOUR!–fail on many accounts to even hint towards his brilliance.

My title is a bit strong. “Embarrassments” goes too far. It would be more proper to say “Shames”, which would point towards the fact that it is simply a shame that an English reader cannot properly experience Miyazawa.

The premise of the story: Giovanni is a boy from a poor family in early 20th century Italy, plagued by bullies, with an ill mother and a father currently away on business. His only friend, Campanella, keeps him company and gives him sympathy and relief. One day, when Giovanni lies to rest on a hill, he hears the arrival of the Milky Way train to the stars, bound on a fantastic journey for the land of the dead. I’ll go ahead and stop there, and merely drop the hint that the end of the story is brutally sad.

So what goes wrong in translation?

A lot. Miyazawa uses stream-of-consciousness often to represent Giovanni’s thoughts, which few of the translators render in the English. But Miyazawa’s capacity for describing action is near unparalleled, and it’s one moment of description that I’m going to hone in on to describe what exactly an English reader misses in the average translation.

Context? It’s a moment of utter obliteration, of fantastic, transformative change–when Giovanni passes from ‘reality’ into ‘fantasy’, from the real world into the world of the Milky Way Railroad. Let’s take a look at the Japanese, a literal gloss by me, and two translations, one by Roger Pulvers (1991) and one by Sarah Strong (1996), neither of which are bad per se.  They’re just not good.


Then Giovanni saw the weather station pillar right behind him take on the vague shape of a triangular sign, flickering on and off like a firefly. When the blur in his eyes cleared, everything became clear and finely outlined, and the sign with its light soared straight up into the dense cobalt-blue field of the sky…


Giovanni noticed that the pillar of the weather wheel directly behind him had turned into a sort of hazy triangular marker. For a while he watched as it pulsed on and off like a firefly. It gradually grew more and more distinct until at last it stood tall and motionless against the deep steel-blue field of sky. 

Japanese and literal gloss:


soshite jiobani wa sugu ushiro no tenkiten no hashira ga itsuka

And then Giovanni right away the behind weather station wheel at some point


bonyari-shita sankakuhyou no katachi ni natte, shibaraku hotaru no yoh ni

with-vagueness-[sound-effect]-did triangular shape becoming, it at once like a firefly


pekapeka kietari tomotari shite iru no o mimashita.

twinkle-twinkle [sound-effect] turning off and lighting on and so on [it he] watched.


sore wa dandan hakkiri shite, tohtoh rin to ugokanai yoh ni nari, koi kohseishyoku

That bit-by-bit clearly [sound-effect] doing, at last not moving becoming, steel blue


no sora no nohara ni tachimashita.

sky’s field on [it] stood.

In the Japanese passage, sound is absolutely paramount. Not only does it clearly have repetitive qualities of consonance and assonance, but there are a number of onomatopoeia. So Miyazawa is not only inundating a reader with images but also sounds: the sound of fumbling indistinctness (bon-yari), the sound of a faint or dulled glitter (peka-peka), the sound of haziness becoming clarity in a flash (ha-kiri!). Miyazawa’s sonic manipulation defines the moment of Giovanni’s passage between two worlds.

Both Pulvers and Strong attempt to replicate this effect through visual fogginess becoming clarity, but the poetry of the scene is already down the drain. Pulvers accidentally stumbles towards a solution by using “flickering”, a verb charged with visual as well as sonic meaning in the English—but he would need to multiply this sensibility by three or four times before he approaches the sensation of the original.

Ezra Pound’s classification of poetry into melopoeia, phanopoeia, and logopoeia comes to mind. In the original, there’s a sort of melopoeia present, where the words are charged with sound that lends deeper symbolic and sensory meaning to the language. Rendered as phanopoeia (a casting of images), a reader sees Giovanni as a static observer of a faint, distant change, rather than a kid actively bombarded by the sensory overload that accompanies ascension into the fantasy of the Milky-Way Railroad.

It’s not that English can’t accomplish this effect. Far from it! In addition to our own onomotopoeia and plentiful literary techniques to incorporate sonic energy in prose, we’ve got also words that function doubly as auditory and visual words: crackle, spark, whip, and so on. Keeping some of these strategies things in mind, let’s attempt a sonically tuned translation.


And then Giovanni saw the weather station wheel right behind him at once turn into a murmuring triangular shape, glittering and flickering on, off and on like a firefly. Clarifying bit by bit and at long last clattering to a halt, it stood on the field of a steel-blue sky.

I try to do a few different things here.

One, I’m not adding concepts or ideas that aren’t in the original (like Pulvers’ blur in Giovanni’s eyes) and I’m sticking more or less to the original syntax.

Two, I’m attempting to replicate sonic and rhythmic effects. There’s a whimsicality in the original (~tari tari suru~ form, for anyone who knows Japanese) that I try to capture with the “on, off and on” rhythm. We get our sonic triangle sign, now faintly murmuring, glittering and flickering (which sound a bit similar), and then clattering. The point isn’t to replicate every sound in the Japanese, but to replicate the generation of auditory energy.

That’s what Miyazawa does brilliantly in the passage–engage all your senses and generate energy through sonic effects. You need to feel his prose in your body, not just in your head. That could be one definition of what poetry is–generative energy that affects the body. Surely my translation isn’t close to a true, faithful, and poetic rendition, but I’ve got my eye focused on the things that I believe matter beyond mere meaning.

You Love It, Don’t You?

You love it, don’t you?

The warmth of two hands wrapped around you tight. The fleeting touch of a finger on your trigger. The black smoke you exhale after a hard hit… It means so much to you, to have a hand holding onto you. Alone you are a stick of steel, but in his hands or in his mouth you rule his world and all others.

You want it.

You need it.

When you let your bullets come out of your mouth, peerless spheres, and his touch keeps you warm, and pale fire runs hot through your tongue, is it power that courses through your bone-cold spine—absolute power…

It’s addicting, isn’t it? It’s like a needle full of cane-sugar in the vein…

And the blood your bullets spill—it’s what makes you great. People spend hundreds, thousands of dollars on your steel feed, delectable copper bread and mouth-watering wax biscuits. They taste like human fingernails and teeth. Yes, when you open your mouth and feel the fire flow, the world is yours.

Whether he holds you loose in a quaking, trembling palm, or squeezes your guts with a murderer’s grip, you are Lord of not only his breathless, wild eyes and palpitating heart but also over many. You are powerless without him, but when he picks you up, you own this Earth.

Yes, you love it, don’t you? The blood they spill confirms your mastery… your power… Bullets one after another gurgle from your gaping mouth; you hound after flesh, you dream of pierced stomachs, and every ounce of you conspires to this aim with supreme efficiency. Your polished chamber, your supple trigger, your magazine that thrusts and slides as you eject scorched shells… once he pulls your trigger you can do no wrong.

You exhale. Coils of smoke rise over the bodies of dead children.

You Lord of America, you! You are the God they worship. They need your power and they grovel at your feet.

And you love it, don’t you?

The 40 Best Tracks of 2017

Co-written by Gersham Johnson

2017 was a year of confrontations. Some confrontations, to be sure, were red herrings. Did Cardi B confront and best the white supremacist heteropatriarchy, or did she simply write a banger? Did the new Taylor cut down the old Taylor with a katana in a bout of single combat? Did Ed Sheeran have sex one too many times?

In a year in which any sort of struggle towards equality seemed to have degraded into a trenched battle for the very survival of progressive ideals, we’ve often had to search for a silver lining. But only the best music of 2017 dealt with genuine confrontations: confrontations that change the way we think, that spark our creativity and momentum in our lives as well as in society.

Featured on the list, somewhat inevitably, is arguably the greatest artist of the decade: Kendrick Lamar. In his masterful album DAMN., K-Dot generates limitless confrontations: between fear and the self, between nurture and nature, between power and the oppressed, between free will and destiny. Every moment in the album forces a listener into a new perspective from which they can not just see but deeply feel confrontations that we all must face.

But Kendrick is just the tip of the iceberg of confrontations. Japanese producer and underground legend Cornelius returned to write pop music infused with loneliness and the confrontation between the individual and gnomon, the void where something used to be. Camila Cabello went solo from Fifth Harmony to juxtapose Havana and Atlanta, immersing a listener in cultural clashes. Moses Sumney released his first full-length album, a confrontation between a society obsessed with romantic love and an individual that cannot accept such a world.

In terms of genre and stylistic significance, “nu-R&B” rules the present as well as the future. SZA, Kelela, and Sampha delivered other-worldly vocal performances inspired by R&B but otherwise worked to shatter the genre as we know it.  Alternative rock acts like St. Vincent and Grizzly Bear applied the tools and techniques of hip-hop and electronic production, creating brilliant anthems that sound genuinely new.

Meanwhile, rap music’s influence has continued to push popular music further away from the Sheet Music Era of traditionally sung melodies with precisely chosen notes and intervals. Artists such as Oxbow, King Krule, and Gesu no Kiwami Otome have been able to craft great songs while rejecting even explicit rhythmic shapes in their “melodies,” bringing spoken-word into the mix with relative ease.

Perhaps there were few giant “consensus” albums this year because so few of the innovative artists were willing to embrace standard pop forms. Even Lorde, who is somehow vying for title of Queen of Pop despite lacking a single substantial 2017 chart hit, challenged our notions of what pre-choruses should do, how choruses should sound and what it looks like to write about romantic love in a pop song.

These songs toe the lines between music as pleasure and as art, between structural form and innovation, between lyrical familiarity and ingenuity. These are the 40 best tracks of 2017.

(Check out the Spotify playlist here)

Honorable Mentions:

“Pleasure” – Feist

“Attention” Bassline – Charlie Puth

“Fruitflies” – Gabriel Garzón-Montano

The word “shit” on “I Did Something Bad” – Taylor Swift

All of the words in the title of “All the Punks Are Domesticated” – Ron Gallo

Taylor York’s guitar on all of After Laughter – Paramore


#40: “Percolator” – Charly Bliss

Album: Guppy

Writers: Charly Bliss

Producers: Charly Bliss and Slick Johnson

Label: Barsuk

Though Taylor Swift managed a more financially successful heist in her “Getaway Car,” it’s Charly Bliss who invite you along for a ride to remember. Turning a few explosive metaphors into surgically precise melodicism, this is power punk at its most vital. The guitars and vocals can barely contain themselves before exploding into new hooks every few bars. If this is the sound of freedom going up in flames, you could scarcely imagine a more satisfying end.

#39: “The Evil Has Landed” – Queens of the Stone Age

Album: Villains

Writers: Queens of the Stone Age

Producer: Mark Ronson

Label: Matador

“Come close” approaches as an ominous drone before Queens of the Stone Age simply do what they do best: rock out. “The Evil Has Landed” is a Led Zeppelin ripoff of the best sort―rock grooves with over-the-top guitar and bass riffs, minimalist lyrics that are more atmosphere than message, and an epic bridge that launches into a musical world of its own. 2017 didn’t yield a lot of good rock music, but Queens of the Stone Age are undoubtedly among the best rockers in recent memory.

#38: “Havana” – Camila Cabello feat. Young Thug

Album: N/A

Writers: Camila Cabello, Starrah, Ali Tamposi, Brian Lee, Andrew Watt, Pharrell Williams, Young Thug, Frank Dukes and Louis Bell

Producer: Frank Dukes

Label: Epic/Syco

While “Despacito” is inarguably the most commercially successful of the Latin crossover smashes, “Havana” lays claim to being the most artistically successful. Havana and East Atlanta collide both musically and lyrically, as classic Cuban piano chords merge with dirty hip-hop sub-bass, percussion and of course Young Thug’s flow. There’s no big poetic message here, but like with “Despacito” the musical language speaks of a multi-cultural universality that we can all understand.

#37: “The Upper” – Oxbow

Album: Thin Black Duke

Writers: Oxbow

Producers: Joe Chiccarelli and Niko Wenner

Label: Hydra Head

Come for the great piano motif, horn section and overall chaos. Stay for the vocal performance, which defies the laws of music in its rejection of melody and rhythm and yet succeeds all the same. And recall a time when guitar-playing was genuinely able to strike fear into the hearts of millions. This is Oxbow’s seventh album, but their refusal to take musical styles on anyone else’s terms but their own is positively contemporary.

“The Upper” begins at 23:55.

#36: “Confessions Pt III” – BadBadNotGood feat. Colin Stetson

Album: N/A

Writers: BadBadNotGood

Producers: BadBadNotGood

Label: Innovative Leisure

“Confessions Pt III” features BadBadNotGood’s first real dive into experimental jazz. Always talented instrumentalists and creative arrangers, the 21st century jazz quartet finally uses their skills to create an utterly unique jazz soundscape. The swirling saxophone resembles planetary bodies orbiting each other in space, pulling on each other within an invisible cosmos across millions of miles. “Confessions Pt III” is this year’s best way to go somewhere you’ve never been before through music alone.

#35: “AMERIKKKAN IDOL” – Joey Bada$$


Writers: Joey Bada$$, DJ Khalil, Sam Barsh, Dan Seeff and Chin Injeti

Producer: DJ Khalil

Label: Cinematic/Pro Era

Joey Bada$$ is one of the most promising young rappers, with dexterous flow, slick internal rhymes and word-play, a wide-range of emotion in his voice, and an uncompromising willingness to dive into sticky political issues. “AMERIKKKAN IDOL” has the boldest political message of the album, throwing out a furious criticism of the government and criminal justice system that verges on conspiratorial over some brooding, ominous funk. Realistically Bada$$ bites off more than he can chew with the cringey overtness of the lyrics. Still, someone needed to say “Fuck white supremacy” this year. For that we thank Joey.

#34: “No Halo” – Sorority Noise

Album: You’re Not as ____ as You Think

Writers: Sorority Noise

Producer: Mike Sapone

Label: Triple Crown

“Show, don’t tell,” all the English teachers say, and here Sorority Noise achieve their best execution of that idea, evoking the conditions and feelings of depression without recourse to explicit despair in words or music. The rush of rapid and droning sixteenth-note guitar trades off with a desperately half-shouted vocal as the lyrical focus shifts from images of self-neglect to the neglect of a friendship that ended in tragedy. “God called you to fulfill a vacancy/I tried to see why it wasn’t me” is about as heartbreaking as it gets, but the giant hooks and synergy of the band push forward to celebrate a life that could have been and a life that still can be.

#33: “Gwan” – Rostam

Album: Half-Light

Writers: Rostam Batmanglij and Ramesh Srivastava

Producer: Rostam Batmanglij

Label: Nonesuch

It feels a revelation to hear a pop song that feels so thoroughly “composed.” Cello lines twist and turn around each other down below, vocals move in contrapuntal lines high above, and a lone piano strikes out in the middle to define classically inclined chord progressions. Rostam already proved with Vampire Weekend that he was a musician’s songwriter, and now we know that he is a musician’s solo artist as well. Vocal presence aside, the music is as musical as ever.

#32: “勝手な青春劇” (A Selfish Youth Drama) – Gesu No Kiwami Otome

Album: Daruma Ringo

Writer: Enon Kawatani

Producer: Enon Kawatani

Label: Unborde

One of 2017’s rare innovations in indie rock kicks off with the year’s catchiest guitar lick highlighted by creative change-ups and a sticky, math-rock inflected solo, and concludes with mounting pressure on the concept of hedonistic youth that eventually caves in on itself. The most important lyric occurs in the transition towards the bridge: Kawatani sings “もう一回” (One more time). He doesn’t ask us if we want to redo our youth over again, but rather dares us to do so, regardless of how foolish it ultimately might be.

#31: “Call the Police” – LCD Soundsystem

Album: American Dream

Writer: James Murphy and Al Doyle

Producer: James Murphy

Label: Columbia/DFA

LCD Soundsystem capture a sense of recklessness and nostalgia like no other modern band. James Murphy’s crooning spirits each of us into our own most anxious, yearning, joyful moments with four-chord 1980’s grooves that warp into the positively triumphant. It’s easy to get lost in the pummeling bass and drums and want to scream along with Murphy: “Just CALL the police!” Just try to ruin this band’s fun. I dare you. You can’t.

#30: “Symmetry & Black Tar” – Thomas Abban

Album: A Sheik’s Legacy

Writer: Thomas Abban

Producer: Thomas Abban

Label: Deck Night

Thomas Abban is undoubtedly one of the most exciting new faces of 2017, a masked and tattooed guitar virtuoso equal parts gentle and poetic, fierce and grand. “Symmetry & Black Tar” combines all of these qualities into a single song, floating across rapid guitar licks and bare spaces of poetry before Abban fuses it all together into pure rock. His lyrics call back to the sparse, folk-influenced hymns of 1960s psychedelic rock, while his playing style conjures Jimmy Page and Jimi Hendrix in equal measure. “Symmetry & Black Tar” is the can’t-miss rock song of 2017.

“Symmetry & Black Tar” not available for free online streaming.

#29: “Brassy Sun” – S. Carey

Album: Hundred Acres

Writer: Sean Carey

Producers: Sean Carey, Zach Hanson and Chris Messina

Label: Jagjaguwar

A remarkably spare track that’s even more remarkable for its sheer beauty, “Brassy Sun” is itself a musical sunset. A gorgeously lithe keyboard progression that rolls and recedes like peaceful waves remains a near-constant source of light for the duration of the composition, save for a few moments of transitional dissonance that preface a fade-out into darkness. The atmospherics of the music perfectly mirror the lyrics, also incredibly bare but evocative of an intangible and restless nostalgia. A beautiful reflection on the past that points towards promises of more great things to come from S. Carey.

#28: “Better” – Kelela

Album: Take Me Apart

Writers: Kelela, Mocky and Romy Croft

Producers: Mocky, Bok Bok, Ariel Rechtshaid and Kwes

Label: Warp

Always the inventive songwriter, Kelela really shines when the production largely drops away, allowing her inspired melodies and vocal arrangements to build the story her lyrics sketch out. The dissolution of her relationship is a solo vocal line that floats reticently over an electric keyboard. Six months later they’re trying things again, and reconciliation is a haunting, building choir of harmonies that weave in and out of each other, refusing to fully cadence and signaling the pained incompatibility of irreconcilable differences. Industrial drums then clash and echo against the song’s most mechanical vocals, a concrete acceptance of failure in an astonishingly successful bridge. For Kelela, the music is the message, and we’ve received the memo loud and clear.

“Better” not available for free online streaming.

#27: “Rest” – Leif Vollebekk

Album: Twin Solitude

Writer: Leif Vollebekk

Producer: Leif Vollebekk

Label: Secret City

Rest, in both the everyday world and in the one crafted so delicately by Leif Vollebek, is a beautiful, fragile tension that is held together by solitude. In each verse Vollebekk turns the words “close my eyes” into a mini-religious cadence, ornamenting his lonely melody as the featherweight atmosphere he creates continues to swirl round and round him like an undiscovered galaxy. Each harp string and saxophone in his orbit withholds itself from the release that you know will hit like a giant wave—but then over eight minutes passes by and you’re still left rocking like a rowboat on a calm sea. This is the opposite of maximalist pop, but it’s not quite minimalism either. “Rest” paints the world in giant emotions that stretch all the way to the sky.

#26: “Variations on an Aria” – People Like You

Album: Verse

Writers: People Like You

Producer: Sai Boddupalli

Label: Topshelf

The best proof that horns have been the missing link in contemporary pop music. Just listen to the way the trumpet hugs the gorgeous vocal melody—and also listen to the way it subtly defines both the depth and warmth of the whole track. The music is indeed beautiful, but People Like You are also a band that can play with the best of them. So crisply are the lines executed that each cascading rhythm feels like its own instrument. This is a song just begging to be held close, in summer and winter months alike.

#25: “Till Death” – Japanese Breakfast

Album: Soft Sounds from Another Planet

Writer: Michelle Zauner

Producers: Craig Hendrix and Michelle Zauner

Label: Dead Oceans

Michelle Zauner infuses all of her work with just the right amount of self-aware sarcasm and irony. “Till Death” is no different: as Zauner explains, it’s a song about marriage. From that perspective, the song’s message progresses from entirely pessimistic to entirely optimistic: in spite of everything terrible in this world, in marriage she and her partner are in it together until the end. Japanese Breakfast is also among the best at crafting a uniquely gorgeous musical atmosphere. Zauner delivers simultaneously heavenly and abyssal orchestral beauty through a mere four chords, and that alone is enough to make “Till Death” a must-listen.

#24: “Czech One” – King Krule

Album: The Ooz

Writer: King Krule

Producers: King Krule and Dilip Harris

Label: True Panther/XL

King Krule is an artist who manages to defy conventional pop structures while simultaneously breathing new life into our most significant popular music genres. Jazz-inflected saxophone lines, bluesy piano runs and hip hop-styled keyboard loops come together to form an unclassifiable portrait of alienation and longing. Or is it a love song? Like in many of his songs, the object of his affection is a Third-Person “She” that isn’t defined by melodic verses and choruses but by rap-sung stream-of-consciousness observations. When he pivots from being “impaled forlorn/And thrown into a pile” to describing her eyes as the place “where tiny men have been absorbed/For questioning the sky,” any imagined boundaries—between love and longing, hack poetry and brilliant lyricism, pop music and everything else—dissolve before your eyes.

#23: “The Bus Song” – Jay Som

Album: Everybody Works

Writers: Jay Som

Producer: Jay Som

Labels: Double Denim/Polyvinyl

In a year where alternative rock has evolved towards electronic and hip-hop-inspired production, Jay Som sounds like throwback indie rock with catchy guitar chords, a dreamy chorus, upright piano, swelling horns, and shout-along moments. “The Bus Song” is a story told through one controlled moment—a song about a relationship within the context of a single bus ride. The specificity of a well-told story gives way to lyrics we can pocket and bring home, for a rainy day or a hot shower. Jay Som gives us a song that we can remember at the moment each of us needs something to sing.

#22: “Provider” – Frank Ocean

Album: N/A

Writer: Frank Ocean

Producers: Jarami, Caleb Laven & Vegyn

Label: Blonded

Frank Ocean continues to build his reputation as one of the best lyricists of his generation. Each and every line brings to light a dense array of gorgeous images, ingenious references, and myriad interpretations (try thinking about how much “Sleepin’ on my belly in a loop like a serpent/Talking Heads ripplin’ on the surface” manages to conjure in just two lines). Ocean croons over a skittering jazz-inflected experimental beat, stirring in insecurity and self-doubt in one of the year’s most innovative love songs.

#21: “911 / Mr. Lonely” – Tyler, the Creator

Album: Flower Boy

Writer: Tyler, the Creator, Frank Ocean and Raymond Calhoun

Producer: Tyler, the Creator

Label: Columbia

There’s something simultaneously quirky and disturbing about this medley: the combination of the sixteenth-step delay in the beat, the trippy synths, and the sharp shift between Tyler’s cavern-deep rapping voice and the nasally, airy singing. But for a song about desperation and loneliness, there’s so much that is pleasing to the ears. There are sunny chord progressions lacing the change-ups; vocal layering that walks the line between harmonies and frenzied chanting. Tyler embraces an under-discussed and under-emphasized topic, especially in rap music, and paints a vivid picture of loneliness and everything it entails.

#20: “ELEMENT.” – Kendrick Lamar

Album: DAMN.

Writers: Kendrick Lamar, Sounwave, James Blake and Ricci Riera

Producers: Sounwave, James Blake, Ricci Riera, Tae Beast and Bēkon

Label: Interscope/Top Dawg Entertainment

Forget “Bodak Yellow,” this is the year’s best in hip hop braggadocio. Forget “HUMBLE.,” this is the year’s best sinner-saint dichotomy. And forget “XO Tour Llif3,” this is the year’s most relevant drum pattern. Put the Bible down and go eye for an eye for this shit, ’cause it’s a crime that we’ve had to hear “DNA.” like ten times as much. But if you’d rather listen to “XXX.” (or maybe even “FEEL.”), we won’t complain.

#19: “Yellow” – Aminé

Album: Good for You

Writers: Aminé, Frank Dukes, Metro Boomin, Murda Beatz, Chester Hansen and Nelly

Producers: Frank Dukes, Metro Boomin and Murda Beatz

Label: CLBN

While so many of the year’s artists have used their music to express insecurities, heartbreak and other personal demons, Aminé is the rare musician who manages to sustain humor, major chords and an unrelenting sense of fun throughout a whole song. Nearly everything about “Yellow” is playful and in bright colors: the over-the-top synth riff, the light buzz of the electric keys and a lazy Sunday morning rap that references Krabby Patties and Cruella de Vil. This feeling of genuine exuberance makes “Yellow” a great party track, but what gives it depth are the subtle nods to overcoming hard times that Aminé places at the beginning of each verse, reminding us that even the most frivolous sense of happiness must be earned.

“Yellow” not available for free online streaming.

#18: “Sleepwalker” – Julie Byrne

Album: Not Even Happiness

Writer: Julie Byrne

Producer: Eric Littman

Label: Ba Da Ding/Basin Rock

Sometimes all an artist needs is a guitar and their voice to capture universal truths and listeners’ hearts in equal measure. Julie Byrne’s vocals and guitar-playing—both ethereal and precise and yet roughly-hewn—combine with astonishing forcefulness on lines like, “Before you, had I ever known love?” Byrne poses this admittedly well-worn but searching question near the beginning of the song, but the turning point from good songwriting to great occurs when she answers: “The one sense of permanence that I came to feel was mine/Only beneath your gaze.” “Sleepwalker” really speaks for itself: a simple soundscape serving up philosophy both profound and poetic.

#17: “New York” – St. Vincent

Album: Masseduction

Writer: St. Vincent

Producers: St. Vincent and Jack Antonoff

Label: Loma Vista

The greatest love song of the year is less a tribute to the Big Apple and more an instantly iconic distillation of all the love and heartbreak the city inspires into a series of slogan-ready, million-dollar lines worthy of a tourist’s T-shirt. Several of music’s biggest names have spent the past year lamenting the loss of our former heroes and idols, but when St. Vincent declares she’d still “do it all again” over a deceptively optimistic set of rising piano chords, she invites us to look beyond New York the Monolith to see the millions of beating hearts that make the city worth living and dying for.

#16: “How Far” – Tei Shi

Album: Crawl Space

Writers: Tei Shi and Gianluca Buccellati

Producer: Gianluca Buccellatti

Label: Downtown/Interscope

A rising star out of Argentina seems an unlikely candidate as the mastermind behind one of the year’s most entertaining jams. Tei Shi takes Tame Impala’s groove and stirs in a greater attention to melody and vocal delivery: her soft but soaring voice contrasts with the bottom-heavy brawl of funky instrumentation. Crawl Space is one of the year’s most enjoyable start-to-finish listens, but “How Far” stands above as a gem that can be listened to over and over again. It’s a song begging to be remixed and played at a club near you.

#15: “Up in Hudson” – Dirty Projectors

Album: Dirty Projectors

Writers: David Longstreth, Ewan MacColl, David Ginyard and Tyondai Braxton

Producers: David Longstreth and Tyondai Braxton

Label: Domino

An orchestral, swelling horn section. A complete tale of forged and fallen love. An extended percussive outro. “Up In Hudson” is the most ambitious work on Dave Longstreth’s 2017 project, and has all the makings of a musical epic. The story of his relationships mixes the banal (“Now I’m listening to Kanye on the Taconic Parkway riding fast”) with the brilliant (“Do the things that lovers do/Slightly domesticate the truth”) and the always admirable dose of Dirty Projectors’ experimental rhythms and sound effects. What makes “Up in Hudson” such a unique song is that the story is so fully crafted and honest that the resulting message verges on the brutal. In the song’s conclusion he reminds us over and over and over again: “Love will burn out/And love will just fade away.” But as he sings that moral over a dizzyingly optimistic melody, love still has a chance, at least in a listener’s mind.

#14: “Third of May / Odaigahara” – Fleet Foxes

Album: Crack-Up

Writer: Robin Pecknold

Producers: Robin Pecknold and Skyler Skjelset

Label: Nonesuch

“Third of May / Odaigahara” puts on display everything that makes Fleet Foxes a special band. The opening verses are babbling streams through a sunny day that turn upwards towards a vast sky in the chorus. The shift halfway through the song sends us over the edge of a waterfall, seizing a listener in a bone-chilling tempest. Fleet Foxes have pinpoint control over their own dynamics, rushing from a cavernous roar to a single drop of sound concentrated in Pecknold’s sigh. Like no other band, Fleet Foxes evokes the natural world in all its beauty as well as its sublime horror, as all their sounds seem to stand as symbols and keys to greater depths of human thought and feeling.

#13: “The Old Shade Tree” – Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau

Album: Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau

Writers: Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau

Producers: Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau

Label: Nonesuch

What else is there to say? Two of the greatest living musicians fuse a folk atmosphere with pop sensibilities and a jazz playing style in one of the best instrumental performances of the year. Chris Thile’s soaring falsetto is only an accent on a masterful duet of at-once dueling and harmonizing piano and mandolin. Thile and Mehldau use primarily a single chord progression to orchestrate a stunning build-up of emotion, noise, and virtuosic flair. Six minutes will pass before you can exhale.

#12: “If You’re Here” – Cornelius

Album: Mellow Waves

Writers: Cornelius and Shintaro Sakamoto

Producer: Cornelius

Label: Warner Music Japan/Rostrum

Cornelius has always been a producer three steps ahead of the game. In the early ‘90s he was spinning his own modern twists on latin jazz and funk, and after a prolonged absence he comes back with an arrhythmic, sparse and thoroughly lonely love song. Cornelius plays with every production tool available to him, sending wiry shivers across his guitars and synths alike. But more importantly he does not forget the old tools of songwriting—evolving reprises, moody solos, key-changes, and a restrained vocal performance—even as he embraces the new. There’s nothing else that sounds quite like Cornelius now, although there undoubtedly will be if you check back this time next year.

#11: “Plastic 100ºC” – Sampha

Album: Process

Writer: Sampha

Producers: Sampha and Rodaidh McDonald

Label: Young Turks

There’s the mesmerizing melancholy of the chords, the sudden soulful vocal bursts that seem to come from the stratosphere, the other-worldly instrumental (featuring a gorgeous kora pattern) that seems to come from all directions at once, and a lyrical double-entendre equating fame and the isolation of outer space. If you were asked to give this amalgam a name, you’d have to call it “Plastic 100ºC,” the standout moment from the standout debut from Sampha. The song can seem almost overwhelming in the way that the vocals and instruments continue to thicken like mist throughout the song, scarcely lifting as gears imperceptibly shift from verse to chorus. The arpeggiated patterns evoke Johanna Warren, and the lyrical conceit recalls Bowie, but the bending of these elements—and their amplification amid a sea of other textures and vocals—results in a cohesive musical moment as unique as it is beautiful.

#10: “Strangest Thing” – The War on Drugs

Album: A Deeper Understanding

Writer: Adam Granduciel

Producer: Adam Granduciel

Label: Atlantic

Adam Granduciel is the latest in a lineage of Wall of Sound-obsessives that includes talents as diverse as Brian Wilson, My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields and Bruce Springsteen. Granduciel’s work most frequently draws comparisons with the latter, but his genius has been to take the seeds of sorrow and introspection that lurk underneath some of The Boss’s biggest hits and construct entire monuments to them, using layers of guitars to suggest both space and constriction, distance and familiarity, frigidity and warmth. Each guitar seems processed to its own unique emotion: one axe punctures the soundscape with aggressive rock and roll swagger while another cries above the mix in one of the most memorable solos recorded this year. The lyrics speak of an unknown but shifting sense of loss, which may be Granduciel’s way of reminding us that fashioning a gigantic instrumental presence is only half the battle. The instruments must shift and move to remind us why they’re there in the first place, so that they may take us somewhere entirely new.

#9: “シアワセ林檎” (Happy Apple) – Gesu no Kiwami Otome

Album: Daruma Ringo

Writer: Enon Kawatani

Producer: Enon Kawatani

Label: Unborde

After a year of intense criticism in Japan following the exposure of Enon Kawatani’s extramarital affair with a well-known J-Pop idol, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that he wishes he could simply leave his cares behind. As a result we get one of the most entertaining tracks of the year—breakneck pace, catchy chorus, singalong bridge, and rampaging solos all included. Kawatani’s rap-inflected style spits out bitter complaints before launching into dreamy idealism, backed by top-notch talent at guitar, piano and bass. At times Kawatani feels wistful to the point of satire, but the music speaks for itself—this is a song that grasps towards the joy of self-expression in times of trouble. And that’s what music is all about, isn’t it?

#8: “Three Rings” – Grizzly Bear

Album: Painted Ruins

Writers: Grizzly Bear

Producers: Chris Taylor

Label: RCA

Grizzly Bear’s music has always felt like an instructive class in songwriting and instrumentation, and this year’s Painted Ruins added “production” as a new subject at Grizzly Bear Academy. The lyrics are vague enough to conjure a sense of longing and broken-heartedness that perfectly aligns with the explosive drumming and haunted synths that form the basis of what is realistically one of the “pop” songs on the album. “Three Rings” stands out for its brilliant song structure: the vocal harmonies and sing-along chorus fade into a prolonged rhythmic jam with the ambience of swirling winds, lulling the listener into repose. Increasingly violent iterations of the established verse and chorus approach piece by piece with a sense of inevitably, until at once the listener is gripped violently by the throat as Droste shouts the final chorus under a thunderous, melting sky. Grizzly Bear fine-tunes every sound in the track to resounding beauty—the song is truly a master class in crafting musical atmosphere.

#7: “Supermodel” – SZA

Album: Ctrl

Writers: SZA, Pharrell Williams, Tyran Donaldson, Punch and Greg Landfair, Jr.

Producer: Scum

Label: Top Dawg Entertainment/RCA

Though she’d like say differently, SZA’s meteoric rise to pop stardom should come as no surprise. Her voice alone is one of the most unique sounds heard all year. It’s an instrument that in two words can shift from a full-throated and piercing clarity to an unpolished sneer, and in two lines can effortlessly scale an octave, dividing up the interval into subtle rhythmic shifts that move about like a breeze diverted. But “Supermodel” stands above the rest because of strong songwriting that marries a dissonance-drenched guitar progression with lyrics that traverse heartbreak, vengeance and insecurity. But again, it’s her voice that makes even the simplest of lines sound like profound poetry. Though comparisons to Amy Winehouse abound, one cannot help but recall the phrasing of Nina Simone—but seemingly by way of The Beatles’ “Michelle.” Three repetitions of “I need you” somehow manage to say as much as many of her peers’ entire songs. And her voice says even more than that.

#6: “Wreath” – Perfume Genius

Album: No Shape

Writer: Perfume Genius

Producer: Blake Mills

Label: Matador

No Shape finds Perfume Genius embracing spirituality completely on his own terms, and “Wreath” is the album’s greatest emotional and metaphysical release. He rejects all bodily definitions and limitations, declaring at the beginning of the track that “I wanna hover with no shape.” But it’s in the final moments of the song where he defines this declaration. The rising swell of synths, guitar, heartbeat-tuned kick drums and vocals that conclude the song—featuring wordless yodeling straight out of Kate Bush’s “The Big Sky”—move beyond words to a weightless and intangible spiritual climax that only music can provide. In this way, “Wreath” is also the answer to the questions that Bush herself raises on “Running Up That Hill”: perhaps changing bodies with another (or genders, or physical limitations, or anything else) is the only way of inhabiting another’s perspective, but it’s in the shared moments of spirituality that music can provide where we have the best chance at shedding our differences like an old skin.

#5: “Quarrel” – Moses Sumney

Album: Aromanticism

Writers: Moses Sumney, Cam O’bi and Paris Strother

Producers: Moses Sumney, Cam O’bi and Joshua Willing Halpern

Label: Jagjaguwar

“Quarrel” is a mind-bending jazz masterpiece. Sumney’s peerless, soaring falsetto spirits us across a starry soundscape of twisting bass, shimmering harp, and cavernous strings, which eventually devolves into a preposterous gut-twisting jam. Sumney’s Aromanticism features one of the most unique lyrical messages of 2017 as an album exploring the implausibility of romantic love according to society’s expectations. “Quarrel” hones in on the consequences of failing to live up to romantic ideals in relationships, following up “We cannot be lovers/As long as I am the Other” with a climactic fight expressed through expansive timbre and violent rhythm alone. He takes his message to another level by expressing it equally through the content of his lyrics, the texture of his voice, and his elegant song craft. Never before has a lover’s quarrel been more enjoyable.

#4: “The Louvre” – Lorde

Album: Melodrama

Writers: Lorde and Jack Antonoff

Producers: Lorde, Jack Antonoff, Flume and Malay

Label: Republic/Lava

Leave it to Lorde to pen the most cynical chorus for a love song this side of Bob Dylan. But the callousness is borne as much by the music as it is by the words. “Broadcast the boom boom boom boom and make ‘em all dance to it” sits jaggedly atop a marriage of undanceable percussive effects and unidentifiable vocal motifs, defying us to partake in the commodification of something that once may have been sacred. What results is simply the greatest “fuck you” to song structure in any pure “pop” song this year. And that’s not to mention the rest of the song: The musical climax occurs in the pre-chorus and the greatest line and album thesis statement is an aside from Verse 2, where it’s suggested that the tales of young love that she’s been trying to sell are in fact high art. And who knows? Maybe “high art” really is just a convincing lie we all agree to tell each other. In that case, the pop charts are just as worthy a source as any. Funny that Lorde now avoids them like the plague.

#3: “The Story of O.J.” – Jay-Z

Album: 4:44

Writers: Jay-Z, No I.D., Nina Simone, Gene Redd and Jimmy Crosby

Producers: No I.D. and Jay-Z

Label: Roc Nation/UMG

Good luck finding another chorus this year (or from most other years, for that matter) that can better encapsulate the history of classism and racism in America, using just six lines and rap’s most ubiquitous epithet. A master class in irony, “The Story of O.J.” juxtaposes this chorus with observations on how the oppressed and disadvantaged can turn capitalism to their advantage. The fact that he’s encouraging the exploitation of the very system that made writing that chorus necessary is not lost on him. In the final verse, he remarks on the exponential growth in monetary value he achieves from a nameless and authorless piece of artwork, reminding us over a chopped up sample of Nina Simone’s “Four Women” that even as we mine cultures and peoples for entertainment and monetary value, we can’t truly escape the messages or history that they transmit. And don’t let his tricky use of a Jewish stereotype fool you: Hov knows that, when living in a society that endlessly confronts us with a barrage of stereotypes and distortions, sometimes it pays to embrace the ones that can help you the most.

#2: “Dum Surfer” – King Krule

Album: The Ooz

Writer: King Krule

Producers: King Krule and Dilip Harris

Label: True Panther/XL

“Dum Surfer” is not a California surfer groove turned bad acid trip. It’s what happens when you go on that acid trip and end up bleeding, dead, and in a ditch. Rich musically and lyrically in its endless evocations of all five senses and beyond, with chaotic, spine-tingling production fine-tuned with imperfection like singed gossamer, Archy Marshall portrays an internal state of madness, a psychic struggle for survival in the oozing ecosystem of his own mind. Marshall seems to have taken a lesson out of the ambiguity of ancient Japanese and Chinese poetry, wherein a single word has multiple meanings, lending a single poem several completely different readings. Marshall mimics this technique using his inimitable, grating howl, creating overlaps like “dum surfer” with “don’t suffer,” and “we’re mashed” with “we’re matched.” King Krule treats his own voice not as vocals, not as another instrument, but as a mere sound effect, equivalent to ominously stirring background atmospheres, or falling rain. Ambiguity thrives and King Krule converses with himself, conscious and subconscious minds arguing with each other. He mashes a listener’s mind into a muck, a sonic state of horror, in the year’s most innovative track.

#1: “XXX.” – Kendrick Lamar feat. U2

Album: DAMN.

Writers: Kendrick Lamar, Mike Will Made It, DJ Dahi, Sounwave, Top Dawg and U2

Producers: Mike Will Made It, DJ Dahi, Sounwave, Top Dawg and Bēkon

Label: Interscope/Top Dawg Entertainment

When the unfinished but implicitly understood question, “Can you help me understand?”, is raised in the opening seconds of “XXX,” Kendrick brings a listener into the desperate mindset appropriate to the most powerful track on the most important album of 2017. Kendrick leaves us craving answers in a constantly devolving chaos, transporting us from a race through hell bombarded by sirens into a dreamy, bass-studded groove, the picture of the American flag wrapped with explosives hanging in a haze. Kendrick hits a listener with personal and political image after idea after story, delivered with an almost unbelievable dexterity and tight control over his own flow. It’s an impeccable montage of issues (education, police brutality, the fear of death) and images (crucified Jesus, borders, reflections) condensed into 4 minutes flat. You could write an essay about this song, or a novel based off it, and the breadth of the world it evokes is suspended in perfect balance with the specificity of the song’s impact. The result? A throbbing urge, a wound numbed by opioids, to move into the future, and perhaps fix it.

Week 14- A Semester in Nagoya in Review

Last week I listed the top foods. This week it’s the top places. I’m talking the GO-TO places in Nagoya. I’m talking the DEFINITIVE list. It’s right here, folks. I’m talking, if you’re in Nagoya, this is your schedule. Take it or leave it.

Honorable Mention: An Aeon Near You

Aeon is more than a mall. It’s a place for friends and family. It’s a place to buy 64 Liter jugs of Jim Bean for 2000 yen. Come for the free samples and stay for the free wifi.


Inferior Aeon: Aratama-bashi Aeon

Superior Aeon: Yagoto Aeon

Top 3 stores: Stationery store, pet store, 100 yen store


#10: Atsuta Shrine

One of the most important shrines in Japan, Atsuta Shrine affords a breath of nature in the city and a chance to experience primordial Japanese architecture.


The sounds of the chiming bells: Rattly and yet somewhat moving

The sounds of the chirping birds: Notably moving

X-factor: A thousand year old cypress tree


#9: A Sento Near You

Sento (銭湯) is a local bath-house. It functions essentially the same way as an Onsen but the water doesn’t actually come from the deep bowels of the earth, which technically means there are fewer health benefits, but unless you’re some kind of Onsen-expert, you won’t be able to tell the difference.


Ambience: Aesthetic

How it feels: Like heaven

X-factor: Hydration and electrolytes at the many vending machines


#8: Higashiyama Park

Featuring a tree-lined pond and the (for some reason) Japan-renowned Higashiayam Zoo, Higashiyama Park is the perfect place to take your Sunday stroll.


Highlight: Sweet lizards at the zoo

Lowlight: The zoo animals are in small cages and therefore stressed out

X-factor: There are snack stands


#7: Hoshigaoka

Hoshigaoka is an atmospheric strip of stylish boutiques and restaurants just twenty minutes out from downtown.


Ambience: Aesthetic af

Impact on your wallet: Considerably damaging

Added bonus: Western atmosphere if you’re home-sick


#6: Fushimi Park

Fushimi Park is itself a gorgeous and spacious park right in the center of Fushimi, a neighborhood famous for its museums and relaxing shopping and dining, a breath of fresh-air from the craze of Sakae.


Coolest thing: Sandwiched between Art Museum and Science Museum

Lamest thing: The large fountain only occasionally shoots powerful jets

Weirdest thing: The high concentration of tropical plants


#5: ID Café

Arguably the best club for foreigners to go to in all of Japan, you can get in before 8:00 for free if you’re a girl and for 1000 yen as a guy. Do you want to be at a club that early? Of course you do. You can watch middle-aged men breakdance for a little bit and then surrender yourself to what inevitably will be an incredible night as young people gradually flux in. There are six floors featuring all different kinds of music.


Crowd: Young, foreigner-friendly, and generally not-creepy

Bartenders: Willing to befriend you if you put in some effort

Best floors: Floor 1 from 7:00-9:00, Floor 3 from 9-11:00, Floor 6 from 11:00-1:00 (Saturday only)


#4: Oosu Kannon Arcade

Kimonos. Pizza. Spunky fashion. Maid-costumes. Kebabs. Used clothes. Collector-edition Bionicles. Used CDs, DVDs, and comic books. People walking around in cosplay and purple mohawks. Oosu Kannon is where you want to be.


Deals: Excellent

Style: Straight-Up Ninja

Flair: Unmatched


#3: Inuyama

Inuyama is technically outside of Nagoya, but it only takes 40 minutes to get there by subway. This is your “ye-ole” Japanese experience in Nagoya, with a castle, amazing street food, and traditional crafts.


Castle: Unrenovated, hella old, not even that stanky

Effect on your wallet: Surprisingly minimal

#2: Sakae

Sakae is where you want to spend your Thursday-Saturday nights in Nagoya. It has it all: luxury department stores, bargain shopping, tiny back-alleys full of mom-and-pop restaurants, top-notch clubs, seedy bars, a six-floor Don Quixote, Book Off, and food from all around the world.


Ambience: 21st century urban paradise

Top department stores: Maruzen and Mitsukoshi

Effect on your wallet: Astronomically disastrous


#1: Your Local Conbini

Well, it may be anticlimactic, but this is the most important place you will ever go in Nagoya, or all of Japan for that matter.


Ambience: Just like true home

Products: Always exactly what you need

X-factor: ATM, hot coffee, and bathrooms

A Semester of Food in Review

My time in Nagoya is almost over. For the next two weeks I’ll start to go over some of my most memorable experiences here—this week food, and next week places. Feel free to take these lists as recommendations and inspiration in your own future Japanese travels, or just to get a little taste of abroad from home. Here is four months of Japanese food in review—the ten most delectable delicacies I have eaten while in Japan.


Honorable Mention: Ise Udon (¥400)

A local brand of udon wrapped in tofu skin and served in a delicious soy broth.


Aesthetics: Pleasing

Originality: Mind-boggling

X-factor: A 90-yen side of shrimp cake in broth


#10: Fruit Parfait (¥700)

Japanese fruit parfaits are notoriously aesthetic.


Fruit Variety: Surprisingly high

Fruit to cream ratio: Well-executed

Secret ingredient: Sneaky Japanese tea-bean-stuff


#9: Fancy Tofu Dinner (¥???)

When the Light Fellowship takes you out to dinner, you accept.


Flavor: Subtle

Aesthetics: Wabi-sabi

Conceptual mystery: More plates -> more fun -> ??? -> profit


#8: Miso Katu (¥1300)

Nagoya is famous for its miso, and a local store hidden in a winding alley downtown delivered.


Miso flavor: Spectacular

Pork quality: Seems to be no problem here

X-factor: A fluffy orange egg


#7: Soft-Serve Ice-Cream (¥300)

Japanese ice-cream is creamier than American ice-cream. ‘Nuff said.


Iciness: Top-notch

Creaminess: Top-notch

Secret ingredient: A small crispy slice of bread


#6: Homemade Hot-Pot (¥400)

Buy packets of spicy sauce to prepare vast vats of hot-pot with friends. Add only the ingredients that you want to eat (more bean sprouts!). The possibilities are endless!


Key flavor: Kimchi

Key ingredients: Bean sprouts, regular tofu, tofu skin, the circular tofu thingamabobs, the other kinds of tofu

Added Bonus: The pleasures of social interaction with other human beings


#5: Nagano Mushroom Soba (¥800)

Nagano’s soba noodles are renowned throughout Japan, and its best to eat them with their wonderful earthy cousin, the mushroom.


Nagano soba relative to other soba: Tastier

Nagano mushrooms relative to other mushrooms: Mush tastier

Ambience: Rustic farmside mountain shack


#4: Adorable Omelet Rice-Curry (¥1200)

Japan can makes things cute like no other country, and believe it or not, this also applies to omelet rice.


Omelet: Perfectly scrambled eggs

Rice: Chicken-chunked spiced-up rice

Secret ingredient: Symmetry


#3: Kajikken (¥700)

Welcome to the world of abura soba, ramen noodles prepared in pork fat.


Before you eat: Looks OK

The moment you eat: It’s so GOOOOOOOOOOOD



#2: Unagi-Don (¥2200)

Boiled eel on rice is one of Japan’s most famous dishes, and with the ongoing eel shortage (for real), you best get in on this trend before all the eels are gone 😦


The taste of unagi: Like good fish but buttery and gently charred

How much can you eat before getting sick: A little more than this much

Secret ingredient: A mysterious salty delicious fresh plump tomato as an appetizer


#1: Endless Yakiniku (¥3000)

It hurts me to rank something so expensive at number 1, but if the place is any decent, all-you-can-eat Japanese barbecue will send you straight to heaven.


Sauces: Various and ideal

Flavors: Meaty and ideal

X-factor: You get to participate and cook your own meat!

Week 11: A Short Story

Scroll down for English version.












A Quiet Place

I find a quiet place ten minutes from my apartment. The trees are tall, and the dark red foliage obscures and shadows more so than average autumn leaves. Perhaps that’s because of the deepness of the red. Regardless, the place is dark and silent—it feels like a secret. I won’t say exactly where it is.

I go there, and my mind clears. Like the sky, where clouds expand and fade away, in the end dissolved by the wind. Blue remains, or maybe white. I sit, stand, and remain there for one, two, and three hours. If not even a single thought comes to mind, I consider the visit a success. Sometimes I have that kind of fortune.

The blinding winter is dangerously near. But this time, when I arrive, I am not alone. One other person stands in the middle of a clump of weeds and grass. Even though I do not know him, I feel like I do. His expression is blank. Frightened, I flee the quiet place.

Two weeks later, my sister calls me on the phone. I don’t tell her anything, and return to the quiet place. I remember well going to my sister’s wedding. There was a white bouquet of flowers placed on every table. I think that was one year ago.

In those two weeks, I quit my job and moved out of my apartment. I want a new place, I think. I think, why is it so cold, even in these very first days of December? It was warm all of October, unnaturally warm, kept warm by a summer that stayed until late and breathed out raging hurricanes. The mood swings of a child. The will of a dying man. The earth must be upset.

My mind wanders. I return to the quiet place. The old man is still there. I didn’t realize that before—that he was an old man, someone who wouldn’t understand me, most likely. All of the leaves have fallen. From that characteristic red to brittle brown. The one remaining presence, unchanged from before, is that person. Standing in the clump of weeds and grass, blank, expressionless, a skeleton. More than just asking I want to shout at him, “Why are you standing there?” He stole my quiet place.

That night, I sleep at the place of someone who I used to like. Isn’t it amazing that even now I can still sleep through the night?

The next day, I return. Everything is exactly the same as it was yesterday. I can hardly believe it. I don’t want to believe it. No—it’s changed—just a little. I understand that now. It’s a little more… how should I put it? White? Perhaps.

The next day. It snowed in the night. Early, isn’t it? It’s quiet here, isn’t it? But because of the height of the trees, the thickness of the clouds, the snow doesn’t glitter. It instead sleeps dully. The old man hasn’t moved. The snow sleeps on his shoulders, on the thin hair around his head. Fear stirs in my gut. Fear stirring in my gut, snow sleeping on the old man, the silent trees, the tall, silent, skeleton trees. My mind does not clear. The old man does not move. Nothing moves.

A new feeling. If my sister called me on the phone now, I’d like that, wouldn’t I?

Week 6- Poems

八事日赤 7時44分 (Yagoto Nisseki, 7:44 A.M.)

wind passage

life out there among the vines

in bed



八事日赤 7時56分 (Yagoto Nisseki, 7:56 A.M.)

a big throated bird

standing on knotty tightrope hung across the glass

starts to caw and shriek.

it caws and shrieks,

and caws and shrieks,

and stops



栄 20時38分 (Sakae, 8:38 P.M.)

we eat fried vegetables on sticks

and again

we eat lamb curry on buttered naan

and burn our tongues

we say hello and wonder

and again


八事日赤 8時17分 (Yagoto Nisseki, 8:17 A.M.)

in the morning my focus loosens

—an insect on the futon, a haunted monk—

I quickly lose sight of vast distances


新幹線、名古屋行き 14時22分 (Nagoya Bound Shinkansen, 2:22 P.M.)

time passage

dead leaves there on coiled roots

red leaves on the smoking mount

insufficient to express

the time it takes to take a train

to Nagano

in the autumn


ミッドランドスクエア 21時12分 (Midland Square, 9:12 P.M.)

on the 42nd floor

gold thread unwinding

clings to a river’s shadow

cloud mass approaching

brings the molten gray of rain


ミッドランドスクエア 21時29分 (Midland Square, 9:29 P.M.)

on the 42nd floor

I remember the electricity

inherent in two touching fingers,

I remember

many clouded touches

long since turned to rain


八事日赤 16時50分 (Yagoto Nisseki, 4:50 P.M.)

dream passage

violent urges to make mistakes

foolish correspondences between fiction and reality

running over too-steep textured asphalt hills

I find a forest in this city in which I want to lose myself


伏見稲荷大社 16時16 (Fushimi Inari Grand Shrine, 4:16 P.M.)

the spider is the size of a quarter

and reigns over these dead

like a kite over its shadow

(having passed through a thousand crimson gates)

I am halfway up the mountain

New Paperback Edition for Cadivel

WOAH! There’s a brand new (and absolutely gorgeous) paperback edition for Cadivel, Parts I & II available for purchase on!

Get it at this link:

I hadn’t thought about Cadivel in quite a while, but suddenly had a blast of inspiration to get a hard copy out there. Truthfully, I haven’t read it in at least a year and a half, and there’s no doubt that my writing ability as well as my state of mind have carried me far past Cadivel. In order to update the book for 2017,  I included a short story that I wrote this spring entitled “A Well of Dandelions” in the edition.

It’s a bit pricey at $16.99, (printing is expensive too!) but the edition is a really beautiful, sturdy, and impressive paperback with over 500 pages of years of hard work, so I do hope you would consider doing me a great honor and making my book a part of your home library.

The next step? Hopefully you will see Cadivel in bookstores near you!

A Roadside View of the American Landscape

Dear friends,

Over the last two weeks, my friend Joe and I did a road trip from Philadelphia to Los Angeles. Along the way we saw a lot of America: stunning mountains, sprawling oilfields, dirty roadside gas stations, historic jazz clubs. Here I invite you to take a look at some of my favorite photos and moments from the adventure. America is a huge place, overflowing with land, crises, and opportunities, ripe with swift and unexpected changes from road to road and town to town. Enjoy the journey.

Harrisonburg, Virginia


The Appalachians are as forested as they come. 

Nashville, Tennessee 


Nashville is a strange city. You descend out of the Appalachian mountains into the Tennessee Valley, flatter, but just as lush and forested. And then, with no warning, several pointy-eared skyscrapers appear, and at their base a town that resembles a small historical railroad crossing. Nashville is a party town for rock and country music.

Meridian, Mississippi


Flat forest and flatter fields. There were intense thunderstorms, with rain as hard and heavy as hail all the way from Nashville to the Gulf of Mexico.

New Orleans, Louisiana


Ruby-red sunset over a working neighborhood in New Orleans.

French Street, New Orleans


One of the most famous jazz bars in New Orleans, Fritzel’s, represents the curious transatlantic history of jazz. Despite New Orleans being one of the birthplaces of jazz, Fritzel’s is styled after a German pub. Jazz hit Europe in a big way after the Second World War, and is more persistently popular on the other side of the Atlantic in comparison with America. Fritzel’s was packed the brim with tourists when I went. A musical tradition had crossed the ocean and come all the way home. Somehow, it didn’t lose the bluesy bayou soul along the way.

Jackson Square, New Orleans


New Orleans has incredible historic architecture, a beautiful mix of tropical arches and patios and baroque French, with narrow streets, wide plazas and flowers hanging from every porch.

Jean Latiffe National Historic Preserve, Louisiana


The bayou is hot. 90 degrees with 90% humidity is almost unbearable in the direct sunlight. Fortunately, deep in the bayou, thick tree cover shades your skin, melting together a thousand chirping crickets, humming bullfrogs, and singing birds. Most of the animals hide just out of sight, but you can feel and hear them.

Somewhere, East Texas


Once you get into Texas, the land gets big. Despite the tree line you can still see field after field following the horizon into a hazy blur.

Austin, Texas


There’s an oasis in the middle of Austin, a cool and clear spring river that runs through a park that centers the city. Austin is clean and modern, and the prehistoric spring at its center serves as a strange complement.

Somewhere, West Texas


Somewhere in western Texas, the prickly pear cactus begins to thrive. Besides unidentifiable scraggly brush and short trees, it was the single most prominent plant all the way from Austin to Santa Fe. Even in Arizona and California we saw some tall and monstrous prickly pear, blackened and purpled at the base, paw-like green fans knotted together until they reached six feet. You can eat the berries if you cut them open with a knife (watch out for spines) and you can easily find prickly pear juice in this part of the country. Unfortunately, the berries weren’t ripe when we foraged a few.

Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico


As you travel from Austin into New Mexico, the trees get shorter and shorter, and the scrub sparser and sparser as scorching desert climates take over. But even the desert has its treasured secrets. This natural cave leads 750 feet underground, past a thousand swarming bats and into the darkness. It goes to the unforgettable Carlsbad Caverns, full of monumental and expressive stalactites and stalagmites. These reaching, howling, recoiling, flexing mineral beings take on every imaginable form: slim porcupine spines, curved katanas, embracing lovers, Mayan temples, pungent mushrooms gusting spores. Some are over fifty feet tall. In the dark underground the air is cool. A good place for a nap.

Lincoln Forest, New Mexico


It’s amazing what a little bit of elevation can do to a landscape. In twenty minutes we rose four thousand feet out of baking, shrubby desert into a full-blown evergreen forest. Just out of sight there is a field of fifty elk grazing. Within an hour we were back on scorched sands.

White Sands, New Mexico


White Sands is an alien landscape. Long ago, a lakebed dried up. Strong winds blasting across the mountains blew its silted and dusty bottom into a hundred square miles of pure white sand dunes. At noon the white lizards come out for the dose of Southwest sunshine.

Santa Fe, New Mexico


A geodesic dome north of Santa Fe. In the center of the dome, sound and energy seems to pool around you, pressing down and pushing out. Northern New Mexico is a region of mountains and art galleries, encouraging meditation for the mind and yoga for the body. The whole region feels a relatively strong connection to Native American practices, history, and beliefs. Native art, architecture, and contemporary politics are visible on murals, the main streets of towns, and in the daily papers.

Española, New Mexico


Cliffs, hills, and grassy desert landscape. Hummingbirds, snakes, jackrabbits.

Sedona, Arizona


We climbed a mountain for this view. First by we followed narrow trails up through jagged brush, and then climbed up chunks of crumbling stone. The tricolored bluffs of Sedona extend in diverse formations in every direction.

Arcosanti, Arizona


Arcosanti is an eco-commune founded on principles of sustainable urban design. The fundamental idea? Urban sprawl is destructive to the environment and human psychology alike. Arcosanti feels like a different universe entirely on the inside with its 70s space-age concrete aesthetic and mediterranean gardens. On a Sunday, young people relax in the garden, talking or sketching, and the sounds of a piano trickle out from music rooms hidden beneath the patio.

Sonoran Desert, Arizona


The desert is fucking hot. 110 degrees at noon gave me a headache in 120 seconds. And yet, somehow, the Saguaro Cactus pokes up its bald head, claiming the desert as its own without a second thought.

Joshua Tree, California


Welcome to Joshua Tree. Being here feels like being underwater, in a surreal landscape with plants and rocks of bizarre forms. The humanoid rocks gives this part of the park a sense of urban density and unexpected community. Chipmunks, rabbits, spiny lizards, tarantulas. Outside the stony city, a diverse and baffling mix of dancing Joshua Trees and low-lying colorful scrub abounds. Bighorn sheep roam the rubble mountains beyond.

Downtown, Los Angeles


Los Angeles is an unusual city. It has no real sense of gravity, no real downtown center of great importance to the people who live there. Yet even though the streets below are empty, at this rooftop bar an unexpected skyline emerges. As my friend said to me, “This does not feel like LA.”

Pacific Palisades, California


I made it to the Pacific. The shadows of massive mountains cap the view to the north and east, and a strong wind comes in with the waves. Compared to the Atlantic, the Pacific is a different beast. Swimming in it you can tell it is bigger, more powerful. More force stirs in its endless depths, delivering surf-worthy waves for the sunny California Coast. I biked down from Pacific Palisades to Venice and had tacos and a fruit smoothie. 

*NEW MUSIC* Album Review: Daruma Ringo/達磨林檎 by Gesu no Kiwami Otome/ゲスの極み乙女

Disclaimer: Am I in over my head with this? Definitely. I’m neither steeped deep enough or versed well enough in Japanese language and culture to be really accurate or even respectful in this blog post. However, the music is amazing, so I will quietly use my Get Out of Jail Free pass. Hopefully I will introduce you to something new and exciting!

This is a fascinating, perplexing album, by a fascinating, perplexing band, especially to an American. Gesu no Kiwami Otome, which roughly translates as “The Most Extremely Vulgar Girl”, was formed in 2012 by the front-man of Japanese rock group Indigo La End, Enon Kawatani.

He transformed his band from a catchy, guitar focused indie act into a who-the-hell knows-what. Gesu no Kiwami Otome’s first album, Odorenainara Gesuninatte Shimaeyo, which very roughly translates as, “If you can’t dance then you must be a lowlife piece of shit”, is a frantic, out of control, piano-centric romp of an album. It storms through 29 minutes of music about dancing, interpreted as crazy piano riffs alternated with power guitar-rock, hush-hush rapping, male and female band members shouting back and forth, super catchy choruses, with the ugly, fierce, and relentless drama of life as a curtain to pull down at the conclusion of the frenzied dance.

Well, “The Most Extremely Vulgar Girl” is back with a full-length LP, Daruma Ringo, which translates as “Apple Dharma” (as in the Buddhist concept and historical figure Bodhidharma).

Besides the fact that I can’t even quite wrap my head around the title of the album, Kawatani is back with a vengeance. This time it’s not just about dancing, though, and it features some of the strongest songwriting, musicianship, and creativity that I have thus heard in an album by an artist from any country in 2017. It’s fast and frantic, beautiful and tender, expansive and progressive stampede of music, with all of the energy of Odorenainara Gesuninatte Shimaeyo, but with a lot more color to it, influences ranging from progressive rock to hip-hop, and has a lot more sonic invention to soak in along the way.

The album kicks off with “Happy Apple”, a frantic piano dance with one of the band’s typical stellar jazz piano solos, and one of the catchiest choruses of 2017 (piano chord progression is on point). The album moves through a series of moods, each compelling in its own right: the highway cruising, beat-focused groove of track #2 (Shadow Song); those cases where the groove kicks into overdrive and loses itself to progressive drumming (track #3, Mr. Bodhidharma) and insane background doo-wops (track #4, That Tokyo); chilled out, textured atmospheres (tracks #5 and 11, id2 and id3). My personal favorite section of the album is “Selfish Youth” (track #9) to the end. Selfish Youth is an incredible mixture of catchy-as-fuck guitar licks, and a complex structure that builds carefully to a finish, keeping track of its own momentum.

From there on out, you get a crazy math-rock tirade (track #10, “I want to be your kind of novelist”), an emotional, fast-paced ballad (track #12, “Dancer in the Dancer”), and it all ends on a nutso funk jam (“Story of a Lowlife”).

Each track is unique in its own right, and altogether creates an album that, while not quite cohesive, fits together through its forceful ambition and inventiveness. It’s weird, for sure, but that doesn’t mean you won’t like most of it.

I’m not going to attempt to analyze the lyrics and meanings of the songs, since my Japanese level is simply not there yet. But there is a lot of interesting material to soak up, especially in tracks 3, 4, 8, and 9. The image of the “Most Extremely Vulgar Girl” strikes me as an ironic interpretation of the stereotypical sexy Japanese schoolgirl, an interpretation that can be seen in J-pop artists such as Oomori Seiko. For Seiko and for Kawatani as well (I think), the cutesy desirability implodes and reveals how fucked up its own concept really is. From there, identity moves on to either self-destruction (through dance for Kawatani, as seen in Seiko’s opening track “TOKYO BLACK HOLE”), or to revealing that self-acceptance and a motivated overcoming of cartoon stereotypes might lead to something truly good (through dance for Kawatani, as seen in Seiko’s closing track “Shonen Manga and Shoujou Manga”).

Bottom line: Apple Dharma is a worthwhile listen for anyone who likes music, regardless of your knowledge of or experience with Japanese culture. The catchy choruses and fiery solos are simply too fun to ignore, and the creativity is inescapable. There are plenty of parts where Kawatani overreaches: where things get too weird, or certainly where ideas get overdone or in the way of the listening experience. But that’s to be expected for an album with this level of explosive force behind it, and it still manages to wrap up at a neat 53 minutes. I respect that.

CHECK IT OUT ON SPOTIFY! Search Gesu no Kiwami Otome!

My rating: 8.9/10

In Memory of the Paris Agreement

I was walking Lucy today in the neighborhood, and decided to sit down on a bench beneath some shady trees low to the ground like green turtles. Sunlight slipped through the gaps between leaves and made the pair of us look speckled. My neighbor was passing by and asked if she could join us. I greeted her and said that she could. Lucy went sniffing at my neighbor’s toes. I mentioned that today Trump had announced he plans to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, and wondered what she thought about it.

This is what she said:

The earth in itself is beautiful.

I was walking down a grassy path today. There was a breeze. I saw two things: a blue jay, and a rose.

Humans too, in themselves, are beautiful. I was walking downtown today and saw two things. I saw a little girl trying to touch the nose of a huge black poodle. And I saw an old man humming a Beatles song to himself—A Day in the Life. Today was the 50th anniversary of Sergeant Pepper, you know. 

I think that humans are at their worst when they are apathetic. When they choose to not care. So I think the tragedy of today is that it shows how capable we are of apathy. We can be so apathetic that we will tie and untie knots to demonstrate that we simply don’t give a damn.

I asked her if she had strong political opinions. She smiled and said not particularly. Lucy was getting restless and chewing on her leash. I said goodbye to my neighbor, and Lucy and I started walking back home. I wondered if my neighbor was being dramatic. I decided that she wasn’t. I wondered if the next winter might be be colder than the last. After all, the El Niño is supposed to be over, so I heard, or had it ended last year?—I couldn’t remember. Either way they say that mild winters follow mild summers, and May has been so cold.

Three poems by Gan Tanigawa

Gan Tanigawa’s poetry is mysterious and haunting. I worked on a few translations of some of my favorite poems by him, doing my best to preserve the stylistic quirks (and meaning/effect over exact words) from Japanese to English. Enjoy!


Three poems by Gan Tanigawa

Translated by Eric Margolis




who knows the bitterness of flower petals

I ascended the glittering lighthouse barefoot

I ate the wind

I became hollow

and now I am fourteen

and bluer than the sea

who knows the bitterness of flower petals

who knows





ばらは さだめ しり
かぜと でかけ た
まちも むらも ない
いしの あれの で
ばらは かたち とけ
うたに なった よ

うたは かおり すい
つばさ ひろげ た
ほしも みずも ない
いわの はざま で
うたは くだけ ちり
ゆきに なった よ

The Whereabouts of the Rose

the rose   knows   its fate

is to vanish   like the wind

at a desolate   wilderness   of stone

its body   becomes   undone

it becomes   a song


breathing   the scent   of the song

that spreads   the wings   of the stars

at a starless   desert   gorge

the song   smashes   to dust

it becomes   snow




傘もなく雨 午後の店 雨
つめたい 首すじ
百合を買うのは いまを売ること
この手の くぼみに しずくをためよう
葉書の 一文字

傘もなく雨 鳩のむれ 雨
ひとの名 ぬれてゆく
霧を買うのは 影を売ること
めがねの くもりを そのまま あるこう
泥と襤褸 雨
この世は ただよう

Without an Umbrella

Rain without an umbrella, a shop in the afternoon, rain

Chills the back of my neck,

I buy lilies and sell this moment.

The palm of my hand gathers water drops

And the rain fills my shoes.

On the postcard, a single word

Rising to the surface and vanishing


Rain without an umbrella, a flock of pigeons, rain

Goes on soaking my name,

I buy fog and sell my shadow.

My glasses are clouded and I walk as is:

Mud and rags and rain.

This world drifts

On pale green waves.


The 20 Best Albums of 2016

co-written by Gersham Johnson

In such a dichotomous and divided year, it ends up coming as no surprise that the prototypical albums of 2016 are represented by two distinct camps. On the one hand is the expansive opus, fearlessly drawing on diverse musical styles and assertive politics. The artist refuses to compromise, and indulges in lengthy interludes, bizarre collaborations, and experimental and at times questionable tracks. While it values the artist over the band, it embraces a community-oriented process, drawing on a wealth of producers, collaborators, and influences. While these records lack a unified theme, their power lies in their relentless grasping towards undefined greatness. Albums released by artists such as Rihanna, Kanye West, Frank Ocean, Chance the Rapper, and The 1975 are all clear examples of this approach.

On the other hand is the insular record, relying on unwavering and unified musical and lyrical ideas to depict one central theme throughout the album’s run. Every track is anchored to the same aesthetic, be it a noise rock soundscape, or a strings-enhanced rock power trio, or a shehnai melodic hook. While these records can still be expansive in their reach, each musical and lyrical decision is tailored to the artist’s message, thus allowing continuous narratives of dissolved love, racial pride and soul-searching to coalesce into one record. Albums released by artists such as Car Seat Headrest, Mitski, Swet Shop Boys, Whitney and Solange capture this spirit. Notwithstanding, both of the aforementioned artistic approaches often reflect the artist’s desire to transcend the mundanity and pain of a current situation, as they search for meaning through their music.

Hip-hop and R&B continue to dominate the scene in terms of musical, political, and popular significance. But in 2016 there seemed to be a sense of pressure–perhaps due to the year’s politics, perhaps due to the need to follow up towering accomplishments such as To Pimp A Butterfly— to evolve artistically, correspondingly resulting in experimental projects. The rock and indie scene continues to thrive under the radar, creating stellar albums that maintain the traditional sense of what an album is in a way that the aforementioned styles are beginning to defy, but even here we see the crushing pressure to define oneself as individual, leading artists on both sides of the spectrum to eschew many of the formal features that make 21st century pop popular in the first place. Whether it’s in the form of an 11-minute epic with multiple refrains, or a New Orleans-infused country ballad that embraces its genre as much as it redefines it, 2016 has demonstrated yet again that the rules of music are meant to be twisted and reinterpreted as art and society evolve. Each of our twenty listed albums, along with quite a few more that didn’t make the cut, makes a compelling effort to move music–structurally, thematically, politically, melodically–forward.

All in all, the results are fantastic.

  1. “Light Upon the Lake,” Whitney

“Light Upon the Lake” doesn’t sound like much else in 2016, at first glance for the wrong reasons. The opening track “No Woman” sounds like a Neil Young cover down to the falsetto. On the other hand, the croon of vocalist Julian Ehrlich recalls the late 2000s band Girls, who crafted an atmosphere of pain, listlessness, and reckless nostalgia. And even if in theory it feels wrong, to the ear it feels so right. The methodical arrangements create beautiful, complete songs, and the album itself feels whole, mixing upbeat guitar jams with piano ballads, starting with slow sunrise, picking up to a joyful noon, and duskily fading out. Whitney earns the number one spot not by beating out everyone else at the race to create the biggest, most complex, most personal, and most meaningful record, but rather by making the album that is simply the most fun to listen to. “Golden Days” perfectly encapsulates the meaning of this record, anachronistic and yet instinctively relevant to a chaotic 2016: “It’s a shame we can’t get it together now / Cuz I’m aching for those golden days.”

  1. “We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service,” A Tribe Called Quest

“We Got it From Here” feels like a canonical work of hip-hop, representing simultaneously the present and the past: it maintains the sprawling structure and stylistic diversity of 2016, while bringing back a focus on the bare bones of hip-hop and the reasons A Tribe Called Question were so revolutionary when they came on to the scene in 1991. Their rhythms and rhymes aren’t inventive like they were back then. But they’re still fresh, combining elements of funk, jazz, and cleverly applied sonic effects–all with a grooving, spacey, futuristic undertone. They embrace retro vibes as well as nuanced production, and are cleverly self-referential about their status as old folks in the contemporary music scene. Like many great hip-hop and R&B albums of this year, “We Got It” hones in on politics, Black selfhood, and the marginalization incipient and unique to this year, but cuts the bullshit and sidestepping. Due to its length and refusal to develop a single cohesive theme, “We Got It” is in many ways self-indulgent. But Quest’s work is self-indulgent for all the right reasons: after nearly 20 years off, they’ve got a lot to show us.

  1. “Teens of Denial,” Car Seat Headrest

Those ready to declare the death of rock music at the close of “Oldchella” were no doubt unfamiliar with Car Seat Headrest, a band that, through careful mining of lo-fi sensibilities and unorthodox guitar-based structures, have emerged with one of the greatest distillations of ‘80s and ‘90s indie rock seen in years. And all of this is due to lead singer Will Toledo, a prodigious auteur who is simply the best lyricist of his generation. (For all you college-age and slightly-post-college-age kids, that’s us.) Titles like “(Joe Gets Kicked Out of School for Using) Drugs With Friends (But Says This Isn’t a Problem)” conjure entire narratives even before the first listen, and a seemingly inexhaustible set of hypnotic melodies are paired with turns of phrase that make the dullness of young adult life cut like a razor. So whether he’s dabbling in self-therapy, existential philosophy, or merely receiving an acid-induced visit from Jesus Christ himself, Toledo speaks truths that resonate as clearly as the droning guitars that underpin this adolescent opus.

  1. “Malibu,” Anderson .Paak

Paak is one of the most important new artists of 2016, putting out not one but two albums, both excellent for their own reasons. While “Yes Lawd!” is a crafted declaration of triumph, “Malibu” is the honest, tender work that got him there. With a uniquely versatile voice, Paak hits the always-relevant themes of hard work, relationships, and big dreams right on, with a warmth that enfolds a listener. It has sweet and slow moments, bumping and grinding ones, proud and loud ones; its joy and pain is tangible. Malibu feels like more than one man’s album, with its rapping contributions from Talib Kweli and Schoolboy Q, production contributions from the likes of Madlib and 9th Wonder, creative and fun-spirited revival of old-school R&B, and a sense of shared experience in the spine of every song.

  1. “A Seat at the Table,” Solange

One of the most stylistically cohesive releases of the year, the marriage of Solange’s gorgeous soprano with the equally gorgeous upper-register piano passages that dominate the record underscores an essential record “for us, by us.” In a year rife with racism, every lyric feels like a sort of shield, encouragements and declarations of black empowerment that are as vulnerable as they are strong. But it’s in this place of beautifully uncertain strength where the record also achieves something universal. The six-song run from “Rise” to “Don’t Touch My Hair” (plus interludes) is the strongest uninterrupted musical sequence you’ll find this year, and each moment takes the fragility we often experience from both internal and external forms of oppression and fashions it into defiant mantras of resistance. But on top of all that there’s “Mad,” featuring one of Lil’ Wayne’s all-time best verses.

  1. “Anti,” Rihanna

Though this doesn’t have any narratives of adultery or empowerment to hold things together, the strongest pure pop release of the year does embrace the spirit of musical experimentation, liberating Rihanna the Artist for perhaps the first time in her career. Simply, the myriad bold production and style choices here make the record stick, even on the less-than-exciting tracks. Songs like “Love on the Brain” prove that Doo-wop changes aren’t dead. Songs like “James Joint” prove that 1-minute bass grooves can be just as hook-filled as 7-minute jams. And songs like “Work” prove that sometimes an annoyingly repetitive dancehall earworm is the best musical treat for the moment.

  1. “Puberty 2,” Mitski

Mitski feels like a genuine individual, a real person who invites us into her personal life and artistic universe, more so than perhaps anyone else in 2016. She achieves this by balancing personal reflection and memory with meaningful storytelling. The former is articulated by the chorus on the standout “Your Best American Girl” that soars like a roaring jet plane: “Your mother wouldn’t approve of how my mother raised me, But I do, I finally do”; the latter by the concise mantra of the last track that finishes the album’s arc: “Today I will wear my white button-down, I’m tired of wanting more.” The songs are haunting, beautiful, and thematically develop over the album’s course; the most impressive part of her songwriting is how she can paint evocative images with so few words. She relies on the emotional power of the music–a full and textured palette of guitars, somehow both gritty and shimmering, and ‘60s pop-psychedelic hooks–and its growth, development, and climax to give her words so much more meaning even as they repeat. You’re left yearning to hear them one more time.

  1. “Heavn,” Jamila Woods

It’s easy to just look at this as another strong R&B record, but it feels almost ekphrastic in the way it so cleanly combines the sometimes at odds disciplines of poetry and songwriting. Much of the poetry, like on Solange’s similarly spirited record, provides a platform for much-needed emotional solidarity in a difficult time for many people of color. But as with all great art, this single notion multiples itself as it’s refracted through several lenses. Freedom fighting, escapism, and even grieving are given equal weight, hammering home the point that blackness, though unashamedly defining in its own right, is also a part of the greater continuum of the human experience. And where the poetry becomes music is at an intersection rich with samples from The Cure, dense choral harmonies and gentle instrumentation. This is blk girl magic.

  1. “Life of Pablo,” Kanye West

Ye gives us another fractured, bizarre, wonderful, terrible, fascinating record in “Life of Pablo.” There’s something cohesive about its incohesiveness, the ugly use of auto-tune, the scream “Would everybody start fucking?!”, a spiritual spoken word track, and of course “I Love Kanye.” But Kanye can’t make a record without moments of ecstatic brilliance, like the prophetic, celestial shine of “Ultralight Beam” with its simply breathtaking Chance verse, the irreverent and creatively structured “Famous,” and one of Kanye’s personal best verses in “No More Parties in LA,” set to a flawless Madlib-crafted dark funk jam. Kanye continues to challenge our hip-hop sensibilities, creating another flawed, attention-seeking, unfulfilled but pretty awesome album.

  1. “Human Performance,” Parquet Courts

It stands as probably the best in 2016 rock guitarism, if only because Parquet Courts understand how to make their twitching licks and shimmering chords sound as deadpan as the humor of their lyrical insights. Dust mites and dead cops populate a record that’s as lovelorn as it is socially critical, featuring some of the most bittersweet love songs this side of Jonathan Richman. Beautifully chosen minor chords help ask the question of when love is truly deserved, and pained but affectless vocals help search for a true place to feel at home. But more often than not, the music serves to help uncover those simple moments that remind us how pretty a day in the life can be.

  1. “Lemonade,” Beyoncé

There’s only one song on this album that you need to know: “Formation”. It is without a doubt the best song of 2016. From that first bounce, “Y’all haters corny with that illuminati mess,” to the drop, and the music video, and “If he fuck me good I’ll take his ass to red lobster,” and the sudden release, the Super Bowl Half-Time show, the background horns, every lyric, every sound, and every dance-move–it’s a modern “Song of Myself.” But it’s not just for anyone. “Formation” makes no compromises, to the point where SNL was inspired to make a skit about the song called “The Day Beyoncé Turned Black,” depicting white people screaming upon their realization that Beyoncé is, in fact, black. Beyoncé went “political,” but she remained the Queen (and even more awesome than she was before). And the rest of the album is pretty good, too.

  1. “Coloring Book,” Chance the Rapper

Chance’s evolution is perfectly articulated by the first track, All We Got. Whereas on Acid Rap he started off on the euphoric, drugged up piano gospel “Good Ass Intro”, he starts this album off about ten shades more mellow, tender, and sophisticated, but with all of the same brilliant wordplay and fearlessness to sing, rap, moan, and laugh. Coloring Book is an album of good vibes, loving hums, and honest self-introspection. It’s also the album of a changed man, who has embraced spirituality and family even as he struggled to connect with them on Acid Rap. Coloring Book can feel a bit plodding and one-sided as it goes on, but moments of colorful brilliance abound: from the clink and release of “when the blessings go up” to the triumphant singalong “Finish Line / Drown”, on Coloring Book Chance has really grown in a powerful way. He extols the gracious and flirts with the sublime, creating his fullest and most memorable album yet.

  1. “I Had a Dream that You Were Mine,” Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam

Hamilton Leithauser and Rostam have created a true chamber pop record. Their rich arrangements contain acoustic guitar, pounding drums, piano glimmer, and the swell and backing of a full orchestra; what makes “I Had a Dream” unique for a chamber pop record is its sense of groove and rhythm that emerges from time to time. The album sings sunrise progressions and birdflight melodies that meander through myriad worlds: misty dreams of love, post-industrial narrative landscapes, and New Orleans moonglow iced with lemon and sugar. The stunning conclusion “1959” is perfected by the guest vocals, as Angel Deradoorian has a voice beautiful enough to match the music and imagery. Hamilton’s voice is far from perfect, but his cry, at times rough and blistering, helps make this album stand out as an exceptional piece of chamber pop.

  1. “Robert Ellis,” Robert Ellis

No praise is too excessive for a man who can fashion an album’s worth of ideas within the span of a single song. “Perfect Strangers” starts off as an observational piece of songwriting on new romance before dovetailing into a personal tale of failed love, in just three and a half minutes. And in the same timespan, bouncy pianos suddenly become hopeful strings, only to change again to winsome piano. It’s more impressive still that Ellis can link these mini-sagas all together for the duration of a full album. Jazzy electric keys and Spanish-tinged guitar do not compete but complement each other on what is ultimately a really good-sounding breakup record. Truth be told, this is an album that refuses to fully resolve itself, but the questions it raises always seem to become a bit more clear the next listen around.

  1. “Blonde,” Frank Ocean

Frank Ocean – ‘Nikes’ from DoBeDo Productions on Vimeo.

After his long absence, Frank Ocean returned with more of a series of lapping, starlit waves than a tsunami. Ocean is one of the better lyricists in pop music, combining a hip-hop style full of double-entendres with catchy melodies and striking imagery. The lyrics are really what makes this album worth listening to, as the music–though it has its brilliant moments–often feels repetitive and narcotic, with its slow pulse and lack of beat. But Ocean truly sings his heart out on this album, creatively and sometimes cryptically discussing love, isolation, sexuality, adolescence, and the occasional musical or political reference that he feels like slipping in. Blond is a lonesome, beautiful listen.

  1. “Home of the Strange,” Young the Giant

At the heart of this record is an immigrant story of self-discovery that’s invaluable in this day and age. And while that theme isn’t carried out uniformly throughout the tracks, delicate guitars, heavy beats and lush synths unify this collection around a narrative of personal re-definition to produce a strongly cohesive moment for alternative rock. Lead singer Sameer Gadhia has one of the strongest voices in the genre, and each song is centered around his deeply nuanced vocals and melodies. In an era of pop music dominated by heavily disjunct “soundbite” melodies (see “Don’t Wanna Know” by Maroon 5), it’s nice to hear a band attempt to thoughtfully craft full and catchy tunes that tell stories of their own.

  1. “Cashmere,” Swet Shop Boys

In several ways a direct descendant of Public Enemy’s landmark “It Takes a Nation of Millions,” rappers Heems and Riz MC (both of whom simultaneously invoke Chuck D and Flavor Flav) team up with the hybrid soundscapes of minimalist hip-hop beats and South Asian instrumental hooks as they wrap their dense wordplay around a litany of political issues–this time pertaining primarily to the Muslim community. The instrumental samples are striking but effective in this context, allowing the songs to build around concise but persistent musical loops. This consistency allows the emcees to focus on their greatest asset: their shared sardonic sense of humor. “Look Zayn Malik’s got more than eighty virgins on him/There’s more than one direction to get to paradise.” In other words, the year’s best cultural, political, and religious insight.

  1. “Shishamo 3,” Shishamo

This Japanese girl-rock group’s third album demonstrates the true musical diversity of 2016. Shishamo rocks, rocks hard, with smashing drums, slashing guitars, and a restless bass, which is more to be said than any modern American band. They’ve also, in “Nakaniwa no Shoujoutachi,” quietly written one of the best melodies of the year, seconded by an equally catchy guitar riff. While maintaining their positive energy, Shishamo aims towards the climactic pop anthem at the album’s end, missing the mark only because of their commitment to instrumental fun over produced mastery. Non-Japanese speakers aren’t missing much, as the real joy in Shishamo is their restless energy, spirited arrangements, smart rhythmic sensibility, and the way you might accidentally find yourself dancing.

  1. “I Like It When You Sleep, for You Are So Beautiful yet So Unaware of It,” The 1975

Like One Direction, the 1975 have been referred to as a post-modern boy band several times over, but what makes them one of the standout acts of the past few years is the very same thing that aligns them with many of their contemporaries. Throughout their excessively long-titled second album, frontman Matt Healy embraces the kind of diversified, genre-less eclecticism that defined other 2016 albums as far-ranging as “Lemonade” and “Anti.” But the key to the 1975’s approach is the transparency with which they operate. They shamelessly exploit their varied influences, donning Bowie funk riffs and The Blue Nile’s heavy synthesizer atmospheres, making it sound original by sheer force of will. Here, the whole is not greater than the sum of its parts. Rather, each part forms its own distinct statement on 20th and 21st century pop, making this the great chameleonic act of the year.

  1. “Everything You’ve Come to Expect,” Last Shadow Puppets

Half of the lyrics don’t make any sense, but a lyricist as talented as Alex Turner (and also, I suppose, Miles Kane) knows how to make the nonsense of his poetry as musical as the music itself. Aside from a string-section assist from Owen Pallett, a very busy and at times vitriolic bass-guitar-drums section constructs the backbones of songs that love ceiling-reaching melodies, Minor-IV chords, and late-afternoon atmospheres. “Miracle Aligner,” the epitome of those qualities, towers above the rest of the record as one of the prettiest songs of the year. But just about every song here works. It’s not the Arctic Monkeys, but perhaps that’s why it’s able to put its own distinct stamp on retro, guitar-oriented rock.

just missed the cut: “Hero”- Maren Morris, “Seoulite”- Lee Hi, “Blackstar”- David Bowie

The Thorn

A contemporary translation of “The Thorn”, by William Wordsworth (1798)

There is a thorn, and it looks old,

wrinkled, sagging, fat,

hard and cold as buried bone.

It’s old and gray and shorter than a child.

Lichens cover its knotted limbs,

its gnarled brow, every joint, every

chin, pressing into the bark, dragging the thorn down.

It spikes out of a dry alleyway like a bee’s stinger.

All the lonely dusty streets surrounding—

penetrated and emptied by metal

gales whenever wind blows—

are bare, resplendent, stony as coffins,

besides this one thorn and

a little muddy pond of water, never dry;

and a hill of moss, sparkling with every

color, hint and hue: olives and cardinals,

pearls and fish scales, meadows, it’s the size of an infant’s grave.

Alone besides this one thorn and muddy

pond and hill of moss and a

woman in a red jacket.


“How’d she get there?

She’s barely more than a child,” you snarl.

“What the hell is she doing?”

She’s crying, I respond. Tears run down her cheeks,

they drop on to her jacket.

She’s there day and night, known to

“Well, what’s she doing there?” You respond, anger tempered,

somewhat, by her pain.

She comes from Texas, college age,

and she’s the only one that haunts those streets, I say.

I might also mention in this world,

of thorn and alley, moss and water,

the angry old guard had their way.

A dead man didn’t make a difference,

old understandings reversed, a legacy cast aside,

by the supreme authority of the land—

it was all for women’s health.

And how she got there, I’ll tell you what I know.

But it’s not much.

It’s more of a guess, because the

woman in the red jacket—

well, she could be any Texas woman.

Her name is Martha Ray, she had

a fling with Stephen Hill,

Hill’s a star and Ray’s a babe,

adored by college council, club baseball, premed society;

but whether he’s a crook and liar, or a sage

and she a porn star or a nun seduced and raped,

or a Spanish major, or a Physics major,

it wouldn’t make a difference.

Steve moved on, and so did Ray,

but when three months had passed and she stayed dry,

burnt like cinder, blood congealed,

the situation clarified.

She was destabilized, they say, but then again

they say a lot of things; they

called her a Slut—and it’s true she slept around a bit—

but they also called her a Bitch, and a Prude,

and a Lying Bitch, and a Lying

Slut. But yes, she stressed and considered all the options.

Only one friend could abide her madness, sad case

for a brain to hold communion with a basket case.

Knocked up, failing classes, hell, she couldn’t pay tuition,

took out loans at her parents’ bidding.

She worked a part-time job too, but that

was the first to slide, and

still she told herself it would be fine and

still she called her younger sister every day and

still she never skipped a class until

250 miles she went, driven by

this one final friend, this one woman that cared.

Meanwhile up in the mountains

and down in the alley where the thorn grows,

All of the sudden it started to snow.

In fucking Texas it started to snow.

She’d have to drive another 250 miles, they told her,

and wait another three weeks. And at that

she cried again.

Months passed.

Now that’s the last I heard of her

before she showed up in the alley.

And there she sits in her red jacket,

crying. Never sighing, few dare go

there, though she’s no more mad than you or I,

only sadder. Still vultures circle,

coyotes prey, robins pray in the morning light,

and when the snow melts in the forceful shine,

a bludgeoned beating from the man upstairs,

fists at the stomach, hands yanking on your

hair, the pond is overfull.

Water gathers, slick and shrill, trembling over the

concrete, it gathers at the roots of the thorn

and the base of the hill of moss.


“So what happened to her?” you ask.

I don’t know. But what difference

does it make? She’s just one in a long list.

She’s no different from the rest, though some

are brainless, most are bright, some will cross

borders and pay the price. Martha Ray did

none of that, I’m sure.


They say

a baby’s ghost is buried there, in the

colored heap of moss. When the wind blows through

the dangling fibers of lichens, lovers’ fingers, lullabies

swim out of the dense teal fabric and into the air

where they mingle with birdsong. And ever since she

went there, the thorn’s growth froze forever.

A statue of a wrinkled bonsai, immigrant

from a foreign land, cast in stone,

made a monument, weighed down with life. Yes, a ghost

is buried there, but that’s just our fancy,

a fantastic trick of the imagination…

She’s the one that’s really buried.

She’s the one that’s really dead.

Though some say she hanged the baby on the tree,

and others that she drowned it in the pond,

I say a doctor did it there, in the street,

in a tempest as the skies broke loose.

Some say the scarlet moss is red

with drops of that poor thing’s blood,

but to kill a newborn! I don’t think she could.

but a fetus, maybe.

A fetus,

just maybe.

Though it was too little too late, in any case.


Regardless, there she sits,

no matter the stage of moon or color of the sky—

sometimes tropic blue, sometimes iron grey,

sometimes the color of blood oranges or baby showers—

no matter if there’s Texas snow or Texas shine,

no matter if the fire ants on the street’s lush side

make their own mound and bite her ankles,

or the sharpened wind whips at her ears.

I can’t know for sure what’s true,

but some things are clear: the thorn is bound

with heavy green moss, the pond is

shallow, rank, and muddy, the mound

whispers infant’s cries and basks

in its glorious sunset hue.

But still

I know by day, and in the silent night,

when all the stars wink clear and bright,

that I have heard her cry.

The Existential Holiday

What is a Yalie deprived of food, drink, work, and sex?

Hungry and bored, probably. But also, as Yom Kippur proves, well equipped to ask and even answer questions about morality, faith, identity, and existence. The Torah tells us on this one day every year to refrain from eating, drinking, work of any kind, and sexual intimacy, so that we can grapple with the sins we have committed over the past year, and ask for atonement. This is the basic purpose of Yom Kippur.

Interestingly, in the recited prayers, we do not ask for forgiveness for disobeying the laws of the Torah, or forgetting the Ten Commandments, or not observing Shabbat. Instead we admit to sins of the ordinary sort: unkindness, dishonesty, gossip, oppression, mistrustfulness. Yom Kippur is a day about philosophical self-reflection—what have we done in our daily lives over the past year? And what do we seek in the coming one? To aid in this reflection, the Yom Kippur service has several special elements: a repeated confessional, an extended mourning service for the deceased, a service about martyrdom and the Holocaust, and at the end of a 25 hour fast, the epic blowing of the Shofar for as long as a large bearded man can hold his breath.

My two favorite parts of the Yom Kippur service are the confessional and the Holocaust memorial. In the confessional service, all sorts of crazy lines are thrown about—“Who shall die by fire and who by water? Who by sword and who by beast? Who by earthquake and who by flood?” It’s completely over the top. It demands us to imagine our death in archaic, obscene ways. It asks us to be a part of a really, really old vision of the sheer power of god. Fortunately, we live today outside the scope of this arcane apocalyptic universe. So then, what is the purpose of imagining ourselves as a part of it?

I think the answer to this question lies in my other favorite part of the service, the deeply moving and poetic service on martyrdom. The Jewish people do not have a happy history, and this service explores that darker past. Israel under Rome, the Crusades, the Spanish Inquisition, the Russian Pogroms, and the Holocaust are just a few instances of the murder of the Jewish people throughout history. The service therefore takes us through space and time, from an ancient Middle Eastern past where the temple still stood, where the vision of the Messiah and the resurrection burned like truth, towards the present day, linked by a trail of martyrdom and death. The memorial service brings the past into the present, and makes us confront the stakes in every case—life, or death. Yom Kippur uncompromisingly confronts us with visions and a history of death.

Yom Kippur is an existential holiday. We recite in the piyyut: “Our origin is dust, and our end is dust. We are like grass that withers in winter, like flower petals that fade away, like passing shadows and vanishing clouds. We are a dream that dissipates.” And yet, in spite of this knowledge, we ask passionately for forgiveness for both the greatest and smallest of misdeeds. We plead for one more moment as the thin band of clouds passing over the sunset. And though we are ephemeral, we clearly have some importance, or at least some importance we can give to ourselves. On Yom Kippur, though our lives are fading dreams, it remains important for us to confront our mistakes, and to confront death.

Forgiveness is powerful. It leads quickly to compassion and charity. And perhaps it becomes easier to forgive in the wake of an encounter with death. Though it demonstrates my weakness as a human being, nothing makes me turn further towards compassion than recalling those who I have wronged, and remembering that my people have been the victim of systematic murder. So how could I look away while others in America are systematically murdered? And around the world? Yom Kippur forces us to approach forgiveness, to approach empathy, to approach truth within ourselves.

I’m by no means religious, but I love Yom Kippur. I don’t think that Yalies should celebrate Yom Kippur, or abstain from Mory’s, Woad’s, or extracurriculars for even a single day. I didn’t manage it myself this Yom Kippur. But I do think that Yom Kippur is an example of a process every one of us should go through. For just a moment—question faith, question doubt, imagine death, create ethics, demand charity, expand empathy, listen to a sustained note that pierces past the physical—and after, stuff your face with bagels, lox, and cream cheese.

the passion of the sea

I am so, so happy to announce:

At last, Cadivel II is here.

The journey continues as Samuel, Owen, and friends discover the deeper truth behind Raymond Perrin’s conquest and the raging war between Borrigan and the Salt Empire. The truth lies in an island republic of magicians, Petrino, and two dark and long-buried secrets. One secret is an individual quest for vengeance; the other is a centuries-long struggle to control the strongest magic in the Middle Lands.

Samuel balances his relationship with Anna with his ability to aid the princess of the Salt Empire, Linde, against her mad father. Owen develops his magical skills and Evander faces a deadly, winged foe. An epic journey to the White Mountains, a lost village, a corrosive poison, unexpected deaths, and family reunions await you in Cadivel II.

The truth behind the narrator, the world’s magic, and the world’s chaos all is to be discovered.

Get it now for Kindle for just $3.99 on Amazon.


For me, Cadivel was the first project that I seriously wrote, that I seriously worked on. After coming up with the idea by chance on the beach in the summer of 2013–two brothers displaced by war move into a magnificent castle with their evil uncle–I set out to write a short story. Bit by bit, it evolved into an enormous work, at one point more than 180,000 words long. With help from family, friends, and teachers, I revised it several times and cut it by nearly a third into a much trimmer 130,000 word epic fantasy novel. Of course, it has further evolved since then.

I will be honest: I had originally hoped to get an agent, and to have it legitimately published. However, as some of you are aware, the agent-seeking process is a tremendous and a difficult one. Although several agents, including two from the Writer’s House, were interested and read the entire manuscript, they eventually passed up on my work. Tired of seeking agents, but hoping to put Cadivel to rest in order to move on to new writing and fiction, I decided that I would self-publish Cadivel instead.

I worked on it for more than two years in total and grew to love the characters and the world that I had spent so much time in. I can only hope that some of the people who read it will feel the same way–that Owen is a younger brother you can trust, that Linde is someone you can feel and root for, that Ophir is someone who you can marvel and wonder about. I hope you like the sturdy cliffs of Cadivel and the great White Mountains, the golden domes of Altres, and the mighty coniferous forest. I hope you like to read my book, and I hope you share it with your friends.

Thank you so much for your time.



p.s. Like Cadivel on Facebook!

A Spoken Word Poem, a Written Song: Song for Sonya

Prelude: The Blue Men

Once a blue man came to me and told me I was worth shit. Reckon he was right. I was born in shit, and didn’t mind it too much either.

Thought comes to mind whenever I pass this big stinking pile of mud. Really, it wafts and tosses and cradles and nurtures shit in there: always moist, never drying, always rotten and bulbous with flies and festering maggots and other nasty-ass gruel for grime; storks of stink arise like undead and caw out putrid curses. Northmen tossed it there. Building a road or some shit.

I pass this shit-pile whenever I head too far. It’s on an up-down road and when I pass I know it’s shit on one side and all that’s boundless and watery and white is behind me.

I’m biased, hell, and ignorant too, but I reckon I know a thing or two about politics–yes, the very intellectual profession itself, the kind of profession that reckons itself the science of cleaning up shit and it forgets it just spews out more. That’s nasty. And even nastier’s the people up there, and course they’re fine because they’re not in the shit and whenever the see the shit-people the shit-people are god-thankfully away from the shit.

But hell with that, soon enough time comes I’m thinking I’m a cynic too and I can’t live that life. Life I live’s one of birds and gray-eyed flying things, life of tide and tambourine, mango and tango, and above all: the jazz breeze.

Verse 1

Came running back home, the way I always come when spring rises twinklin over the golden mists of the fingertips, reeds and salty pelicans brushing beaks cross crabs and craggy rocks tossed from the yellow manes of coarser coasts; days last longer and nights bright up. Down the palm-lined streets and dragging my big ole bass with me, brand new thing it is and proud about it I am.

Air mists up like the fabric of the world is crying but it doesn’t rain.

Can hardly think straight I’m so pumped to play because I been away for a while and home rocks and cradles and nurtures my soul. Creep in, dressed in dark, eyes dark, flyin towards the smooth sound that hops and skips on the water, slim stones off the beach, leaping from wave to wave on the glistening reflections of white-eyed stars. Dark-eyed folk, I am.

Jobi, Jobi, Tom says as I hunker on in, calls me ‘gain and ‘gain but I roll, heavin the bass ‘long with me, feeling like my limbs dance on their own, little marching in place, little motions of the eye, sweeps of the hand, nods of the head, all in the music’s course, but they don’t got no bassist and that my good friends is why here I am.

Hop into place with the band. Just startin up set number two and I don’t need no introduction: I am.


Rhythm unfolds like the mint light of spring, yet a cool spring day with rhythmic, murky clouds nearly faded grey and green by the filtered tree-shadowed light; guitar strikes on the emotion and I keep the base for the emotion, jamming, up and down the trembling strings and my fingers tremble along with them. That piano glints and I glow, chattering maracas and all the noise strikes up cacophony and harmony at once; disorder ordered into a natural machine. All night we roll o’er the wild love of music and my fingers never tire. Rumtumratum!

Can you pursue the oblong sky, the rippling reflection in the canals you once chased, and these thoughts aren’t even mine, got some sorta divine inspiration and I at once understand another that loved and it pains that it wasn’t me, wasn’t me at all: that kaleidoscope of memory, patterns of jade and amber unknown though the lands be ashen and the scope bleak the aunt’s in black and the boy’s in white—whose memory is this? I feel at once logical and apart from the wild desire of my blasting fingers when I understand that these feelings are not my own.

Shimmering. That’s how I feel and I imagine that now it’s raining because hot fucking shit I can’t even handle this we’re rising! Rising beyond and above and past and she comes with me and we cannot even help it YES tree of light and ring of stars and blistering white and meadowlarks and scorching bark and past past past we have already seen this road but everytime it’s new the world whooshes back in the gaze of a new flooding dawn creeping fingers up the spine of gods to touch the soft and supple neck and kiss the mouth of the most beautiful one in the world; a feeling like electric sleep, a feeling like soft sheep creating the irradiate clouds and this is where we begin to realize it never lasts.

Can I ever do this again?

My fingers pluck and scavenge and my eyes sweep among the six of us musicians, grinning and brimming with wine and feeling vast and viscid. The set has come to a close.

Verse 2

Tom calls me over, as expected. I greet him and notice a young woman by his side, possibly nineteen but blue-eyed wisdom beyond grasp.

You aced and rolled tonight, Tom said, I’m telling you, I can’t wait to have you back.

I’m bringing my music north, Tom. See if northerners can handle some rhythm, I say. Yes, that was the plan. Bring the breeze where it ne’er before dared cross: the shit-line.

Now that’s a tremendous shame! Tom declares. Northerners, they can’t appreciate none of this great music you’re making, keep it south of Taohus, Jobi, I’m telling you. Well this here is—

I’m Lia—she interrupts but I hold up my hand. I recognize this one. She’s tall and olive-skinned, eyes of calm sea blue, short dark hair, kind expression, wise nose and heart looking like it’s outside her body.

I recognize you, I tell her. I’m a musician but I’m not ignorant. You’re Sonya Tana, in the papers and all, and you’re to be engaged. How’s that feel? Yes, for that’s the news. This beautiful young lordly woman who’s rumored to be as good at books as she is at swords is to be married, likely against her own will, and this is the kinda thing that makes me think: if you’re a young woman like Sonya Tana, the niece of the Duke, and you’re to be married—whatchu going to do?

If I’m being truthful, terrible, Sonya says. Her voice is steady but I know she has a drink or two in her. Tom and I were just talking over how to stop it, she said.

Custom’s marriage, I say.

Well, let’s talk about breaking it, she says with a smile.

Well, I say. I sat down in the seat next to her. Strange woman. At breaking custom, an expert I am, I say. Now, your uncle may be the Duke but you’re nearly a duchess yourself. You got power, and that is something.

Power? She asks. And what can I do with this power?

I’m no good at politics, I say. Go with the rhythm and stay true to what the wind says swaying the palms. I get all my advice from the ocean. Don’t let your uncle rule the dance, I add. It’s one for two and more.

Tom leaps up at this unexpected philosophizing. My dear Jobi, you’re a genius, clever clever clever! he says. Much more than a man with a bass, far more!

Yes, Tom. I’m not a fucking instrument.

I’ll be heading out, I say and stand. Nice meeting you, Sonya Tana. Thanks Tom. I’ll be back.

Come back soon, Jobi, please do!

Grab my bass, slide out that beaded door and into the night.

Verse 3

So we have Sonya Tana. About to be married. Clearly doesn’t want to. Surely she values freedom and even prefers the chasmal sleep to diamond chains. I considered this matter.

Wonderin if those thoughts could’ve been hers. Those vivid, clear as light, clear as water, clear as ribboning blood and clear as memories that flooded through me as the music seized my heart and soul clear off its hook were someone’s. But whose memories were mighty enough to transcend all time and space to come into me through music I made, so invoked by throbbing strings, that I could feel through another. Becoming a fucking magician, I am. That’d be some wild shit.

And the feeling of love. Not sure about it. Ever since that blue man came I know better than to love people. Though love… it’s a web that grows, that doubles with every moment and every memory that the moment creates, so time slows down even as it does speed up. All actions in that company replicate innumerable like stars, folds of ocean pressing over foam and fish: each wave feels itself and the one rushing back below.

I’d like to fasten to love but I know that music is the most beautiful thing in the cursed and sunkissed land. Not people.

So I lose time.

But I don’t mind because I ride that jazz breeze; ebb and flow’s my life—rhythmic, savage pulse. They say I’m not like the rest: a southerner. But I was born here. Or maybe the kind ole sea brought me here—against my will I’d add—but I can lose all that, lose all that and all the other things, and I can go after something real and something fresh and full of flesh and fuck I’m not a pessimist and I will make the best of this.

Capitalism’s New Aesthetic

In other news, this week get Cadivel for free! After Friday it will go back to being $3.99 with 50% proceeds going to charity.

Anyways, I understand I’m taking a bit of a turn with the subject material, but it’s something that I want to talk about. Let’s give this a shot.


Immigrants in the smog. Overcrowded slums. Bustling factories. The first skyscrapers. Industrial production churns out steel, coal, and oil. Railroads at their peak, the first automobiles.

Levittowns. Consumerism on the rise. Catalogues, shopping, the middle class, the beginning of the service economy. White collar businesses flourish over the abandoned mines.

The Internet. Instantaneous knowledge, infinite connection, and constant communication on social media. Gentrification of cities. Silicon Valley start-ups, iPhones and Androids, PCs and Macs. A stock market higher than ever; increasing income inequality.

So what is capitalism’s next aesthetic?

It’s already happening, or beginning to happen. Mainly on the west coast–the Bay Area California and the Pacific Northwest. But it’s beginning, burgeoning, and may soon spread.


Local. Green, all natural. Social impact, close-knit communities, sustainable enterprise. Engagement, transparency, accountability.

Sounds pretty great, doesn’t it? It’s difficult to imagine exactly what the consequences on America will be, and it’s certainly plausible that it won’t catch on–and even if it does it certainly won’t catch on everywhere. All the “aesthetics” that I described above did not affect all of America, and in fact affected only the minority of it. But I believe that soon–meaning in the next fifteen years–the aesthetic of capitalism in America could be compassion.

Compassionate capitalism. It’s not an oxymoron, not anymore.

B Corporations, along with many other companies, are changing that. B Corporations are corporations–organized to make a profit–but they meet high standards of social and environmental impact, sustainability, and transparency. Certified by the non profit B Lab, B Corporations are among those incorporating as a new brand of company: the Benefit Corporation. The Benefit Corporation is required to consider its impact on all stakeholders, not just shareholders. This means that the company must take into consideration the best interests of its employees, local community, suppliers, vendors, and the environment in making decisions. This legal move essentially sets companies free from pursuing profit alone, allowing the pursuit of higher causes. Hootsuite, Kickstarter, and Etsy are among the latest in B Corp’s ranks, joining Natura, Ben & Jerry’s, Patagonia, and so many others.

To achieve certification, companies take the B Impact Assessment, a constantly evolving tool developed by B Lab and its partners. The B Impact Assessment measures positive impact, rewarding companies for practices such as recycling, paying employees above the living wage, conducting financial audits, engaging with the community, using local suppliers, hiring individuals from low-income backgrounds, and even more importantly, through practices known as Impact Business Models.

A key trait of the B Corporation is that it does not simply “do less harm”. B Corporations actively pursue making a positive impact on society. Having an impact business model means that a core process of the company creates good. For example, a company that makes solar panels has an environmental impact business model. And if that same company also distributes the solar panels to needy communities, they have an additional impact business model. Other IBMs include donating a high percentage of profit to charity (or even better, being owned by a non-profit), having an intense employee training program like Greystone Bakery, which specifically hires and trains formerly incarcerated individuals, and alleviating poverty through the supply chain by creating high-quality employment opportunities in third world countries.

The community of B Corporations is catching on. In the past five years, the number of B Corporations has increased from 400 to 1400. However, B Corporations represent a tiny fraction of American businesses, and also a tiny fraction of the broader social change that is occurring all around us. Consumers are starting to pay attention and become more educated about what they buy. We’re starting to be aware of the impacts of the thoughtless purchase, and companies, beyond just B Corps, are starting to react and even lead. The exciting thing about B Certification to me is that it reframes rather than fundamentally changes the capitalist mindset. Yet this small change can produce so much good in the world: instead of asking, “Can I be the best in the world?”, let’s ask, “Can I be the best for the world?” And let’s be honest–if you’re saving the world, you probably deserve to make a little profit on the side.

I do not mean to say that this transformation is inevitable. All of us still have a role to play. I put out a special request to all of the college students, and in particular my amazing classmates at Yale (though it applies to students at all institutions). At Yale we are empowered, or even expected, to join the leaders of the next generation. Whatever vision of the world we aspire towards may to some extent become a part of the future. So I ask that my classmates educate themselves on social enterprise. Google B Corp (and you’ll be surprised by how many news articles are being written, now more than weekly, about them). Do not join a company because of the prestige, technological innovation, or salary alone; yet the beauty of this new order of capitalism is that you do not need to turn away from these things to pursue good. Consumers will start to buy products that align with their values. Employees will work with companies that do the same. If we can reach a critical mass of participation in the movement, the tide will turn, and social enterprise could be come the norm, not the golden outlier. And we’ll have capitalism’s new aesthetic.

This week’s book: As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner

This week’s album: Rumors, Fleetwood Mac

Everything You Need to Know About Cadivel

Cover Book CompleteFinal3

Now available on Kindle:

Cover art by Callum Backstrom

Yes, I wrote a book, and it’s out on Kindle. I’m going to skimp out on any and all artfulness and tell you straight what’s up.

What is Cadivel?

Cadivel is a young adult fantasy that tells the story of a beautiful besieged town and its saviors. Told by a mysterious narrator with an affinity for the sea, Cadivel begins with Samuel and Owen, who are displaced from their home because of a war between their home country and the imperial Salt Empire. They flee North, and get taken in by their uncle, who lives in a magnificent medieval castle. Yet their uncle is not exactly who he seems, and when Samuel and Owen investigate, they discover their caretaker may be the biggest threat to their new home.

How do I get it?

On Amazon; the link’s at the top of the page. There are lots of Kindle apps and various ways you can get it–you don’t need to have a Kindle. It’s only $3.99.

Why should I get it?

Ah, I’m so glad you asked. Well, firstly, you might enjoy it. The whole book has been critiqued by an MFA out of Warren Wilson’s famous creative writing program, so the writing is by no means poor. Cadivel features a gorgeous and expansive fantasy world, rich characters, romance, political intrigue, and even magic.

Secondly, I’m going to give 50% of revenue to Room to Read.

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Room to Read is an incredible charity that focuses on literacy and gender equality in education. Their literacy programs focus on teacher training and support, quality reading materials, and hazard-free learning environments. Girls education is the surest way to address global poverty, and Room to Read does it through targeting inequality in primary school, providing mentoring and life skills, and enlisting parental involvement. Room to Read has established over 17,000 libraries and has benefited nearly 10 million children! That is absolutely amazing. The purchase of a copy of Cadivel contributes $1.37 to the cause (1/2 of Amazon’s 70% royalty).

I like the sweet cover, but why are there birds on it?

That’s part of the larger series. You will see some giant, sentient birds in Cadivel, but the cover is as much of a preview of what is to come as much as it is a reflection of the conflict of “A Town by the Rough Edges of the Sea” alone. There is Cadivel II in our (not too distant) futures. In other words, get pumped for crazy bird fight scenes with lightning bolts included.

What’s up with the Cadivel poem?

One line of “The Cadivel poem” accompanies each chapter of Cadivel. The poem reflects on the events of the current and future chapters, while providing clues of what’s to come.

What is the world of Cadivel?


Marinne, or the Middle Lands

I won’t reveal too much now, because I’d love for you to read the book and find out. Plus I’m going to make another blog post at some point going into some more depth about this. But for now, what you need to know is that Marinne, or the Middle Lands, is one of three known continents. Magic is known to flow out of the lands northeast of the Eastern Sea; technology tends to flourish where magic is subdued. Magic is not common in the Middle Lands.

The two major countries are Borrigan and the Salt Empire. Borrigan split from the Salt Empire several hundred years ago due to economic and religious differences, though they have generally been at peace since the split. The Salt Empire is vast, full of natural resources (especially salt in the center, iron ore in the northeast, and gold in the southwest), and has a system of nobility not unlike that of Europe before the 19th century. Borrigan has banned noble titles, and thus has a considerably more modern economic system. The whole of Marinne is on the verge of technological breakthrough, with the first factory cities  Gorna and the Red City beginning to emerge. Another noteworthy country is the easterly island republic of Petrino, where magic still prospers.

Except for major cities like Altres, the capital of the Salt Empire, and other southern cities, most of Marinne is not culturally diverse. Identical ethnic groups take up large amounts of land, dotted with purely indigenous societies. The nobles of the Salt Empire frequently trace their lineage from prehistoric kings often identified as gods, though other say that these kings were conquerers from southern lands. A thousand years later, conquerer kings from the north laid conquest to Marinne, but in a genocide known as the Banes that took place almost 3000 years before the events of Cadivel, all pureblood northlanders were slain. Most of Borrigan is ethnically an intermixture of northlanders and indigenous groups, while the south a mixture of southlanders and indigenous groups.

… That’s enough for now.

I’ve noticed the strange subsection headings… “Fire”, “Thunder”, etc…. What are these?

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I’ve associated each subsection of Cadivel with an element, sometimes taking liberty in my definition of “element”. It is the force–either literary, actual, or mythical–that drives each section of the story. More on this later as well.

What can I do to help spread Cadivel?

Share this blog post (or the last one) with your social networks! Invite friends and family to read the book. Give it a review on Amazon. It would mean a lot to me, and also to those that benefit from donations to Room to Read–children all around the world.

What can I look forward to next?

-Blog posts revealing more information about the world of Cadivel, and in the future, secret, unreleased chapters

-More Cadivel artwork (?)

-A Cadivel facebook page (this week or next week), where you’ll be able to see information about the donations to charity and also deals/promotions for the Amazon product

So, is that it?

Yes. Thank you.

The Town by the Rough Edges of the Sea


Who is the one with the gray hair?

The snow keeps calm in the alpine air

That lacks the brimming stars so bright

And why does the green-eyed dream of white?

If freedom is dealt solely by the sky

Power is boundless for those who fly

A secret washes up in the fingertips

And soon the tide sees lips cross lips

But love alone in the winter brings only strife

Wounds left unhealed until granted life

And granted life by five parts of a whole

An orb of glass, a sword of bone.

The Cadivel Poem, part 1. Each line accompanies a chapter from my novel, Cadivel: A Town by the Rough Edges of the Sea, soon to be available on Kindle. The mysterious narrator, known only as “S”, tells a tale of the passion of the sea, the curses and blessings of the winds, the illumination brought by thunder, the blaze of fire, the glint of gold. Above all the tale is one of survival, resistance, resilience.

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Just to show you that it’s real. It’ll look different on Kindle.

The idealistic Samuel and his lazy but curious younger brother Owen escape a war-torn land. They flee north, drawn by a dilapidated carriage bought by their mother’s last coins. North they go, through the scorched and blackened farmlands and into a coniferous forest. All the way to the crown of Borrigan. There rests Cadivel.

Surrounded by heavy exhales of the sea. Lively red-brick and blue-roof shops wash in oil lamp glow in the shimmering dusk, casks of fish and barrows of oats and barrels of beer roll in the morning markets. Cadivel: Samuel and Owen’s chance for a new home. A safe home. Samuel realizes they can find a new life in Cadivel, one that could unite their family for the first time in years. Cadivel, where Samuel falls head over heels for a certain girl. If there is one place that would be safe from the fires of war, it would be Cadivel, protected by the pulsing hills of salty water, the rearing heads of waves. And yet the war grows, and passions blaze for blood and gold…

No, Cadivel is not safe.

And if Cadivel is not safe, how could Samuel and Owen survive? They are not fighters, only wanderers, explorers; yet they have will, and they have heart. Samuel and Owen may possess the qualities that can save Cadivel from greater threats than war alone.

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Cadivel is a young-adult epic fantasy, best for ages 14+, but I hope that anyone between 12 and 97 can enjoy at least parts of it and hopefully most of it. Two plus years in the making, Cadivel started as a simple story that I wanted to pursue. I wanted to write about two boys who move into an idyllic seaside town with their wealthy uncle, and discover he holds a dark secret. I wanted there to be some romance. Some political intrigue. A sprinkle of magic (though as the story evolved that ended up being a lot of magic).

Cadivel is the product of two years of my growth as a writer, and a reader. It draws influences from fantasy books I read as a kid: Harry Potter, Charlie Bone, Bartimaeus. It draws from books I was reading at the time as I wrote it: On the Road, Sirens of Titan, the Lord of the Rings series. It even draws a bit from what I was reading as I revised it: the A Song of Ice and Fire series, Dune, Blood Meridian, so on and so forth. Cadivel focuses on character, on imagery, on emotion, but there’s certainly action: frightened searches, birds (or men?) on the wing, fiery spells, bloody battles… and even more action will come in the sequel.

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Sequel? That’s right. Cadivel is a two-part story. What will be available on Kindle any day now is the first part, and I have big plans, exciting plans, including some unreleased, secret chapters, previews, and much more! For now just await my blog announcement for when it’s available and buy it on Kindle (I promise it will be less than five dollars). Then sit back, relax, and read.

Later, we can chat about the poem, about the world, about the influences, about the sequel… more blog posts will come, undoubtedly. Please share the work with your friends and family, especially if you know any young teens looking for something to read (and I know it’s only my word, but the writing is good! The whole thing has been carefully critiqued by an MFA out of Warren Wilson’s famous creative writing program). But remember, I think people of all ages will enjoy. Unless you really hate fantasy. Then don’t read it.

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Stay tuned for how to get… I’m thinking late next week.

The Two Sides of A Song of Ice and Fire (Game of Thrones)


George RR Martin’s series has really turned into the monstrous fan fascination and media magnet that it should have been for decades with the takeoff of the HBO TV show in the past year or two. I certainly don’t bash people who just watch the show: that was me for a while. And I’ve still yet to read Clash of Kings though I’ve read the latter three and most of the first. Still, if you are only watching the show, you’re certainly missing out.

Namely, you’re missing out on:

-Really important plot points

-World-building and depth

-Lots of awesome characters


Notably, Strong Belwas

-A way better ending to the fifth season/book

And most importantly: -All of Martin’s structural creativity and literary tricks

The most important outcome of his structural brilliance? A two-sided book. And with one glance at the title, you know it’s no mistake.

What are the two sides of ASOIAF?

1. Fire, light, life, day, summer, south, dragons


2. Ice, darkness, death, night, winter, north, wights


This fundamental conflict appears in literally every facet of the book. Most importantly it’s personified by one of the religions that is probably legit (unlike the predominant religion of the seven that seems entirely superstitious/made up): The Lord of Light. The one with Melisandre and Stannis and fire and the like. We know that the Lord of Light is real to a pretty significant extent, as the priests of the Lord of Light perform actual magical feats. Melisandre’s vision often come true, Thoros of Myr revives the Lightning Lord Berric Donderrion six times, Moqorro saves Victarion Greyjoy’s rotting hand, on and on.


Berric from the HBO series

So what’s the deal with the Lord of Light? Basically it’s a dualistic religion, but one deity is good, and the other is evil. #1 as listed above is good, #2 is evil. #2 is the “Other”. It is unnamed, and it must be conquered. #1 is connected with Stannis (who fights under the Lord of Light), along with fire-breathing dragons and thus Valyria and the Targaryens (who look inhumanly beautiful, per Tolkien/fantasy tradition).

#2 is also a source of magic. This one is even more obvious. A 700 foot wall of ice. People dying, coming back to life, and trying to destroy mankind as undead wights. The blue-eyed Others at their command. Furthermore, all this deadly evil ice magic is inseparable from its host, the North, the land. The land of weirwoods (which Bran and other greenseers can potentially use to see anything that is happening on Westeros at any time in history), direwolves, warging (controlling animals with your mind, an ability that seems distinctly Northern). #2 is also connected with the House of the Undying where Arya Stark trains, simply as to the extent that the Faceless Men deliver death, and death is connected wights and Others and therefore ice.


“The Enemy”

This end of the puzzle is a bit more complicated. Because if we’re viewing the north and the wights on the evil side of the spectrum, where does that put our beloved Starks and their old gods? What about the children of the forest that save Bran from the wights near the end of the 4th season? They seem good!

That’s the wrench in the puzzle. Clearly everything icy/Northern isn’t “bad”, just as everything associated with fire isn’t “good”. The wonderful Lord of Light seems to require human sacrifice at a pretty alarming frequency.

This brings us to the two literary sides of ASOIAF. What are they?

1. Magic, epic fantasy tradition, prophecy, dualism

2. Realism, grit, moral complexity, everyday struggle

Now we’re taking us a step back from the straight content of the book. Now we’re thinking what George RR Martin’s thinking. Thinking about how we’re crafting this tale.


Martin working on the series finale, A Dream of Spring

Fantasy and realism are always at odds in the Martin’s world, perhaps even more so than fire and ice are. Though most of our heroes are lords, almost none of them are constructed in a classic epic fantasy sort of way, like Tolkien’s Aragorn. Notably disrupting chances for a straightforward good-evil fight are horrific cruelty (Joffrey), childish stupidity (Daenerys), deformities (Tyrion), incest (Cersei-Jaime), and in general love and passion (Robb marrying Jeyne is like Aragorn deciding he’s pretty thirsty and needs the quench, thus fucking and marrying Eowyn when she makes her little advances. Can you imagine how Elrond would have felt about that? Does that make Elrond the same as Walder Frey? Ignore what I just said.).

Let me reel this point back in. Throughout the books, particularly through the stories of Arya and Brienne, we get a good look at how shitty life is for peasants during all the wars. Martin does not shy away from it, and in A Feast for Crows even focuses on it. Yes—he has all this crazy magic destiny prophecy stuff going on, and instead he focuses on Brienne getting hopelessly lost in the riverrlands. WHY? Because he cares about the realism. He’s intentionally making ASOIAF different from any fantasy we’ve ever read before, so you better think twice before you assume that the story’s going to end up with three Dragonriders fighting the Others.

Granted, things might end up this way. But there’s an intentional complication and disruption of the two-sided magical battle of the story. It’s disrupted by political intrigue, cruel realism, helpless love. And it might be that the shiny, magical side will win out. The fire might melt the ice.

Or not.


Album of the Week: Fantasma, Cornelius

Book of the Week: Game of Thrones, George RR Martin

Why the Emperor’s New Groove is the Greatest Movie of All Time

Okay, maybe behind the Godfather (or Pulp Fiction and a Miyazaki film), but still. Surely Emperor’s New Groove, full of poetic elegance, hammers, and really really tall waterfalls, the inspiring tale of how a man turns into a llama and grows a heart, ranks among the greatest of the greats.

This is comedy gold. 

In case you have no idea what this movie is about, it’s basically about a pre Columbian south american emperor who’s an asshole, but gets turned into a llama.

Hilarity ensues.

This post is definitely not going to be me posting random youtube clips of the movie.

Plus, it has this man in it.


Yes, this beautiful man. This beautiful, beautiful, hunk of a man. I mean look at that shoulder to hip ratio.


He is the envy of all male super models. Not only that, but he can speak the languages of all the woodland creatures, and is empathetic to boot.

He’s far from perfect. He’s overenthusiastic, and at times, frankly, a bit dull.


More than once he puts his strapping partner in crime Yzma in to tough situations. But that’s okay, everyone makes mistakes. And if that someone making mistakes is as beautiful as Kronk, I tend to forgive.

Moving on. This movie has some serious literary and cinematic techniques at play here. The classic transformation of a beautiful royal into a homely animal, used in this case to humble the figure and make him less of a serious dickwad. It’s set up as a frame narrative and other fun things, and it also confronts the viewer with those tough questions about morality.


Long story short, this is a must-watch. A doubleplusgood must watch. Go on youtube right now and watch it, unless you have better things to do (doubtful), like eating and breathing. And if you still hunger for more grooves, there is a sequel…

I will be learning this dance routine.

Next week? Maybe I’ll analyze George RR Martin’s ASOIAF, maybe I’ll post some of my own writing, maybe not. Until then…

This week’s book: Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut

This week’s album: Bitches Brew, Miles Davis


“n. the inexplicable urge to push people away, even close friends who you really like—as if all your social tastebuds suddenly went numb, leaving you unable to distinguish cheap politeness from the taste of genuine affection, unable to recognize its rich and ambiguous flavors, its long and delicate maturation, or the simple fact that each tasting is double-blind.”

Well, I’m not quite sure why I have a blog, or what exactly I hope to accomplish with it. Still, it’s here. I’m new to this, so feel free to share with me your blog and we can be blog-buddies and read each other’s, etc etc, yay!

Today I had one of those feelings. One of those striking moments where something you have never experienced before takes ahold of you, grips you by the throat. And then you breathe out. It’s the sort of feeling only music can make me feel.

Mauerbauertraurigkeit. It’s a crazy word and a pain to type; it’s a song by the band Closure in Moscow. I was listening to that song, and it was the song that inspired that feeling that I had. The song starts off quiet and worried, ambling. It speaks of the desert, of falling out of yourself. But then it grows and erupts into sadness, bliss, and everything in between.

“Do you know you’re a lovely old soul?
Fruit of my dawn a mist settled within my marrow
Oh but you don’t know, no you don’t know”

Without listening to the lyrics it sounds like rising wind full of fog beating endlessly against something stony, rigid, alone. Then the singer’s voice rises into a surprisingly lovely soprano, and from there, carries you.

“You’re the hymn on the pulpit, the arch up above
The marigold thunder I hear in that distant storm
Oh and I still feel it’s reign in my bones”

This is the sort of love song that resonates with me. Out of a pit of angst and worry emerge images that can only be felt, feelings that can’t be contained. This song was rushing through my head when I went on a run today, and I had that feeling.

I felt full, but also thin like roots, and both confused and clearheaded at once. I’m still not sure what it was. That’s the tricky thing moments like those–you can never really define it, put it into words as much as I would like to. The feeling led to an idea for a story about people who deliver messages by hand, moving around like Buddhist monks, relying on the generosity others for sustenance, delivering messages and lost objects. Not very practical. They would probably starve. Well, at least I had an idea.

I recommend listening to the song, and the whole album “Pink Lemonade”, though fair warning that it’s a crazy prog rock concept album about a man that drinks a magic beverage that sends him balls-out tripping through the space-time continuum. I don’t know whether that ruins the song for me or makes it even better.

My goal is to post something once a week, something brief. What will I blog about? Music, art, writing, funny things, college, advice that I am not qualified to give, hopefully only a little bit of politics. Why? To write for a public audience, to enjoy a simple project, ego.

Feel free to share, comment and send me all your best blogger’s advice. Links to the music are below.


“It’s the sinew of my merit that is swelling with your love
As swift as it is tender, it echoes through my soul
Without it I’m left in this moment
With all I wanted to say and I keep falling out myself
Out of space and time where I’m never going to leave you”

Mauerbauertraurigkeit by Closure in Moscow

Pink Lemonade full album, this has a dope album cover Pinklemonade-closureinmoscow

^^^^That is just whack

This week’s book: All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr

This week’s album: Pink Lemonade, Closure in Moscow

Haikus Weeks 3-4: Spring

My next two weeks of original haiku translations. Featuring the progress of Spring: the white glow of spring sunlight, a second bitter winter, life and green and rain and love and joy, and then the heat of summer. For your weekly “Haiku Vocab 101” and more, follow the Instagram here.


Hakyo Ishida, Modern.

TRANSLITERATION: Basu o machi / Tairo no haru o / Utagawazu

LITERAL MEANING: [I/you] wait for the bus / The highway’s spring / Is unquestionable


Yosa Buson, Edo period.

TRANSLITERATION: Samu tsuki ya / Mon naki tera no / Ten takashi

LITERAL MEANING:  Cold moon / The weeping temple’s gate / The height of the sky


Yosa Buson, Edo period.

TRANSLITERATION: Ono irete / Ka ni odoroku yo / Fuyukodachi

LITERAL MEANING: The axe enters / surprised by the scent / barren winter trees


Kyoshi Takahama, Meiji/Taisho periods.

TRANSLITERATION: Nagere ni iku / Daikon no ha no / Hayasa ka na

LITERAL MEANING: Tears flow on / Daikon leaves / Early, isn’t it…?


Kobayashi Issa, Edo period.

TRANSLITERATION: Zubunure no / Daimyo o miru / Kotatsu ka na

LITERAL MEANING: The wetness (of making love) / [I] look at the Daimyo (my Lord) / A kotatsu, I wonder…


Matsuo Basho, Edo period.

TRANSLITERATOIN: Shibaraku wa / Hana no ue naru / Tsukiyo ka na

LITERAL MEANING: It’s been so long… / Above the flowers / A moonlit night, isn’t it?


Yosa Buson, Edo period.

TRANSLITERATION: Haru no umi / Hinemosu notari / Notari ka na

LITERAL MEANING: The spring sea / All day long gently swelling / gently swelling, isn’t it?


Matsuo Basho, Edo period.

TRANSLITERATION: Shihoru wa / Nani ka anzu no / Hana no iro

LITERAL MEANING: To wither away / Something’s wrong, apricot’s / flower’s color


Yamaguchi Sodo, Edo period.

TRANSLITERATION :Me ni wa aoba / Yama hototogisu / Hatsu katsuo

LITERAL MEANING: My eye the fresh leaves/ The mountain cuckoo / embarks slapjack tuna

In New Haven, Why Can’t I See the Stars?

Goodbye, Stephen Hawking. You made us dream.

A cosmic tower on a hill that

penetrates infinity and keeps

the secrets of the mystic deep in dreaming states—

I sit besides its color,

white, atop a wooden bench,

and I see lavender and rushes

eat the stirring autumn wind and other dark

matter-objects. The sun is yellow and white,

Rigel is blue, and the Milky Way’s a monarch butterfly:

Hold it in your palm.

Feed from the same flower.

Drink from the dark-matter objects that push brighter, quicker things across the sky.


Imagine that our galaxies

are honey-bees, and flit between

colossus oaks near overgrown with roses.

And we, two photons, shot from the dark, alight

the amber on the wing and bound back out

with three times the speed and none of the color, radiant heat.

Before the wing

can close to catch

us we have burst out past the neck and traveled to the lone cloud in the sky.


There the two of us

might sit, dreaming of

the land we left below. We wonder if

there’s anything above the blue

that’s deeper than the sea,

and anything past the liquid of our eyes

that can catch a different source of light and ears

that can hear the other’s breath as light, as dark



When we climb the tower

where will we be?


He casts a shadow over me,

a king black eagle on the wing,

a hung flag smoldering, piercing the tongue.

Week 15: Thank You | ありがとう

I almost couldn’t escape this country. Hokkaido tried to kill me multiple times, with the final attempt as a savage blizzard assaulting quaint Hakodate, exposed on three sides to the sea. In the floodlights you could see snow streaming sideways, passengers in hurried transit. Yet somehow, just 90 minutes late, a JAL flight landed in the midst of tempest. An hour later, it was my plane to Tokyo, ready to take off.

Hokkaido felt like a somewhat different animal from the rest of Japan. The scope of valleys, forests, mountains, and even the coursing flow of the ocean waves felt grander. A certain Japanese sensibility felt flimsier only in the mundane, practical architecture. The more interesting buildings had an international flair in Hakodate and Sapporo alike, and the snow-capped mountains by the sea beats just about any scenery I’ve witnessed to this point. I’m still angry at Hokkaido for making me miss about two flights and giving me a three-inch-radius bug bite on my thigh, but I’m going to go back some day. The skiing was excellent.

Hokkaido did, however, put me firmly back in the realm of tourist, which I hadn’t been for more than four months. I really did feel like a student living in Japan, for which all credit goes to CJS at Nanzan University and the Light Fellowship. Japan is a special place to me–I think Americans can learn a lot from its culture, history, arts, lifestyle, and manners. On the other hand, I know very well now that Japan is far from a perfect place. The education system, working culture, and political system are all deeply flawed. But to me there really is nothing else in the world like relaxing in an onsen, or walking through a zen garden, or enjoying Japanese hospitality and bottomless beverages at a nice restaurant.

But “Thank You” goes to the people, not the country. Thank you to Mr. Light and the Light Fellowship staff for letting me come back over here. Thanks to all the hard-workers at CJS for helping exchange students live in Japan legally with health insurance and all that important stuff. Huge shout-out to my Japanese teacher, Okada-sensei, who is a wonderful person and helped me improve my Japanese in countless ways. At YKK we also had four elderly Japanese managers of our dorm, who varied in their personal traits (cough cough @ strict af Yamada-san), but all were dedicated to helping us live in an enjoyable and convenient dorm.

And FRIENDS! STRANGERS! Why was everyone at Nanzan so nice? I thought Japanese people were supposed to be formal and impersonal! (I mean sometimes stuff was awkward, but, しょうがなない、ね?) I joined jazz club and jammed with a bunch of first-years who had never spoken to a foreigner before; Japanese students came every week to our class to help us practice and chat about fun topics; a girl named Mariko went out of her way to help me volunteer at an elementary school; Tam and Momo invited me to the club every weekend; Billie-Jack was always hosting cooking parties with delicious food where everyone was welcome; Asuha was always down for some Super Smash Bros; Keelan always had wine to share; Pia laughs like an evil Disney-witch at last turned good; Saho and Sayaka and Haruka and Yukimi were always bright faces to see at Stella at lunch time; the list goes on and on and on and on and… it simply doesn’t stop. To every single person: ありがとう。

To Japan: また、ね。