Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Album Review: Vanessa Carlton - Rabbits on the Run

As you might know, Vanessa Carlton's new album Rabbits on the Run was released yesterday, July 26, after a VERY long wait. I've listened to all the songs a few times, and now I'm here to give you my official review.

Overall Album Review
At least in my opinion, the new album has some significant differences from the previous ones. The piano instrumentals are still there and beautiful, but they're not on every song, and the entire thing is quieter and more subdued. It seems like Vanessa's been experimenting with some new sounds and instruments, and overall I'm pleased with the result. I did miss some elements of her old sound and didn't think her voice was as strong in some places, but I think the album has the same fundamental Vanessa Carlton sound, and a few of the songs are some of her best yet.

Individual Song Reviews

1. "Carousel"

This was the first single released from the album - it came out back in May - and I absolutely love it. It might be my favorite song on the entire album. The piano is amazing and blends nicely with the other instruments without being overwhelmed. This was the first time I'd heard the children's choir that Vanessa featured on some of her songs, and I think it worked well here. I love the lyrics, too.

2. "I Don't Want to Be a Bride"

I've been listening to a live version of this song on YouTube for awhile, and it's something I feel like I can relate to - sometimes, the idea of a white-picket-fence life really doesn't appeal to me. I was anxious to hear the album version to see how it differed, and I have mixed feelings. I like the additional instruments and don't mind the minor changes to the lyrics - they still create a beautiful image. I also especially love the new sounds (instruments and background vocals) after the second chorus. However, one thing I was really disappointed in was the children's choir on the ending. As far as the lyrics go, it's my favorite part of the song, and while the children's choir sounds nice, it sort of drowns out everything else and I thought Vanessa's voice was much stronger on it's own, at least to deliver these last few lines.

3. "London"

This is a very delicate and pretty song, and I like it a lot - it's probably my second or third favorite from this album. Though the piano isn't prominent at first, there's a beautiful instrumental towards the ends, and I love the violins that come right before it. The lyrics, too, are beautiful, and very metaphoric - I love the thought of a "knife-throwing kind of love".

4. "Fairweather Friends"

I thought this one sounded a bit more like her previous albums - it was more intense than some of the other songs. The piano might be my favorite piano-from-a-Vanessa-Carlton-song ever, and it's definitely going on my list of songs I want to learn to play. The lyrics are very strong and poignant, but still show a vulnerable side. I love the idea of "magical thinking" - she explained it in a show as being the idea that you can only deal with so much reality at a time. I also love the first verse - "some other girl in your spellcasting plans for a life" - and the piano/violin instrumental in the middle is to die for. (Those are two of my favorite instruments, and I love hearing them together.)

5. "Hear The Bells"

It's a quiet and subdued song, with haunting lyrics. I don't have a very strong opinion about it; while I don't dislike it, I'm not sure if I love it. The music is very soft, like the rest of the song, so it doesn't stand out much, but it's nice towards the end. I did like the bridge, but was unsure about the verses.

6. "Dear California"

This one is VERY different from her usual sound. I wasn't thrilled about the first verse, where she mentioned being "out on the roof sneaking a cigarette" because - well, smoking seems utterly pointless to me, but it also didn't seem to fit with my usual expectation of fantasy piano-pop - but we already knew this album was different, so I guess that's just my personal opinion. Otherwise, the song is very free-spirited, which I liked - though it didn't sound like Nolita Fairytale, I could see how she might have the same mentality while writing both. There was another great metaphor in this song - "like a paper cut to the heart".

7. "Tall Tales for Spring"

I'm going to start by saying that I don't like the first verse. By including "God rests His head Sunday afternoon" "The wicked in me is surely wicked in you" and "I pray to a ghost that we'd never met", I'm sort of confused about what the meaning of this song is and whether it's something I'm comfortable with. I did like the second verse, which included a Stephen Hawking reference and the phrase "Our minds hold the chaos that started everything." "Madness of the heart" in the chorus is another great phrase. While I'm unsure about the electric guitar mixed in with the piano instrumentals, I did think the song ended strongly, switching from "Madness of the heart" to "Madness in the stars." There was a very chaotic fantasy feel to the whole thing.

8. "Get Good"

I liked this song much more than I expected I would. It fits more into the pop/folk genre, which I find interesting - in a good way. I liked the descriptions and the first verse about "have you lost your constellation eyes?" The meaning is really sweet and encouraging, and though I did miss the piano, I'm okay with the guitar that replaced it.

9. "The Marching Line"

This might top "Carousel" as my favorite song from this album. The song reminds me of the aftermath of a storm on the ocean - especially the lyrics about "ships on gray seas." The the last verse and the instrumental is absolutely gorgeous; the piano chords are wonderful throughout and build up nicely towards the end. I was unsure about the ending, thinking it might have been better to end it before the line about "fortune tellers", but it's beginning to grow on me.

10. "In The End"

This song was very dark; the lyrics were unclear and hard to understand. While the music starts of nice, I though the overall song was a bit of a letdown, and didn't think it was a strong ending to the album. "The Marching Line" would have done better as the last song, I think.

So while it wasn't what I was expected, I am happy with this album.

Off to download some more songs,


Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Nook: Part 2

I've continued researching the Nook (Barnes&Noble's eReader). I've read a few reviews, and they all seem to be positive - despite a few features that people don't like, the device itself sounds like it works well.

Also, after reading the information on the Nook that's available at the Barnes&Noble website, I've managed to scratch one of my "cons" off the list in my previous blog post: the fact that with a Nook, I wouldn't be able to organize my shelves. You CAN organize your electronic books in absolutely any way you want, at least on the nook color.

Now I have to find information on the other things that concern me, and decide whether I want a nook or a nook color if I do buy one. The nook color functions more like a tablet - one review described it as a good middle ground between tablets like the iPad or Samsung Galaxy Tab and basic eReaders like the Kindle. The problem is that although I would prefer the screen to be in color, I don't really NEED a tablet - it would be more portable than my laptop, true, but we've already established that I dislike touch screens, and I don't mind carrying my laptop around. Plus, the color screen is LCD, meaning there's more potential for glare - and the nook color is somewhere around $250.

So I'm still debating whether the bigger, color screen, and the features that the nook has that my laptop and the original nook don't, are worth the extra $100 - or whether an eReader is worth $150 at all.

Hoping to get to a Barnes & Noble soon to test out both the nook and nook color in person,


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Grilled Zucchinni-Cheese Sandwich

In the middle of this steamy, scorching Wednesday afternoon, I found myself confronted with a difficult dilemma: food. Even if it was approaching 90 degrees, I could only survive for so long on ice cream and fruit. I needed something more filling and substantial - preferably something that wouldn't take a lot of effort and wouldn't require lighting the oven.

I was looking through our Food Network magazine last night, so I had a few ideas floating around in my brain. The first one that came to mind was 'dressed-up grilled cheese sandwich.' I didn't have all the ingredients that were in the magazine recipe, but I thought I could manage some cheese and tomatoes. I went downstairs, sliced the cheese, and began assembling the sandwich.

Then I went over to the fridge and realized we didn't have any tomatoes. I started looking for something else to add, and my eyes landed on the plate of grilled zucchini left over from last night's dinner.

Thus, the grilled zucchini-cheese sandwich was born.

It was surprisingly good. I layered the zucchini (sliced into round pieces, drizzled with olive oil, seasoned with salt and pepper and grilled) and cheese on two pieces of bread, seasoned it with a little oregano from our garden and stuck the whole thing in the toaster oven - I didn't want the clean-up that using a pan on the stove involved. (I used Monterey Jack cheese and Italian bread, because that was what we had, but I'm sure anything you would want to use would taste good.)

Anyone else have any recipes that have been created completely by accident but turned out to deliciously? What about dishes for keeping cool on a hot summer day?

With no end in sight to this heat wave....


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Nooks, Kindles, and eReaders...oh my.

I like technology for the most part. That being said, there are some gadgets that I just don't think I could use. Most people accept that I'm not a big fan of touch-screens, which is why I haven't jumped onto the iPad/touch-screen device bandwagon. But the one thing that people are always shocked I don't own is an eReader.

They're just completely baffled, especially if they know how much I read. They get this look on their faces like they've landed in a parallel universe. If they're in my room, they just gesture wordlessly to my overflowing bookshelves. They explain to me that that is the one thing they'd think I would use the most - wouldn't it be easier than cramming eight books into a suitcase for one-week vacation?

Yes, it probably would. But the thing is - they're not REAL books.

And this is where it all goes downhill. People smile, nod and back away slowly, because I am clearly crazy.

Maybe I'm exaggerating a bit, but not much, because the makers of kindle have recently created commercials that pretty much mock people who prefer real books. In the advertisement, someone points out that a kindle isn't a real book, and someone else explains that the kindle is just like a real book, but better, and the other person is just being silly.

1. A Kindle is not a real book. It might have some nice features, but it's not a real book.
2. Amazon has just lost a potential sale.

I know, I'm getting awfully worked up about this, but Amazon made fun of something I take very seriously. It's not like I'm launching a campaign against kindles and the people who have them, I'm just refusing to buy one myself.

Still, even though they're not real books, even I have to admit that eReaders are pretty cool, and I've been thinking off and on about buying one. Since the Kindle's out, that leaves me with the Nook from Barnes & Noble, which I was leaning towards anyway. It's from a major bookstore, which makes me feel better - don't ask me to justify my reasoning, it just doesn't bother me as much that it's not a real book when it's from a place that's focused on selling real books.

There are a couple of problems, though, that I still have to work through before I buy one.

1. I just don't know if I can get over the it's-not-a-real-book thing. My friend Cynthia has a kindle, and she said that the lack of a cover really bothered her. They do make covers, which you can open and close, but still, you only read words on one side of the cover, where the nook is, so I don't know how much that would actually help.

2. I love my bookshelves dearly, and as odd it might sound, I enjoy organizing them. I can always store my potential nook in it's cover on the shelves with the other books, my system is based on genre, and with a nook, I would have books of all genres in the same place, and I wouldn't be able to separate them. The only thing that I can think of that would make it okay is if you can organize books on your nook by genre, or rearrange the order however you want. It wouldn't be quite the same, but it'd be better.

3. I don't know if it's going to be cheaper in the long run; I haven't compared a lot of prices, but for example, "A Game of Thrones" by George R.R. Martin is the same price in paperback as it is in the electronic format from Barnes & Noble, and since I'm a member, I get free shipping. The nook is $139, or $249 for the nook color, while my 5-shelf bookcases are $35 from Wal-Mart.

4. I also go to the library quite frequently; while I've read through quite a few of the books in our public library, there's still the school library, which I really haven't even started on yet.

5. I also lend books to my friends a lot, since I have a ton, and I couldn't do that with my nook - even if there was some software that enabled this, none of my close friends have nooks, so it wouldn't be that useful anyway.

6. Plus, there's the simple fact that it's an electronic device and so it just has some inherent problems. How long is it before there's some virus for nooks or something else that causes them crash and I lose my books? No danger of that with my shelves - the only 'crash' would be if they fell over. I haven't been able to experiment with a nook or kindle to see if it really is possible to have no glare in the sun. Plus, since it's wifi enabled, you wouldn't be able to use it on an airplane when it was taking off or landing. Even though I don't fly a lot, it's still something to consider.

As you can see, it's going to take a lot of thinking and research to decide if the pros - instant downloading, the ability to take more on vacation without packing an extra bag (my purse is currently big enough for short trips - something else the people at Kindle like to poke fun at) and that it would save space overall - outweigh the cons.

I'll be looking at a lot of reviews and doing some research; I'll keep you posted on what I find and how it affects my overall decision.