Saturday, June 11, 2016

On Going Up

Part 1

I'm four days removed from it. A lot of effort and encouragement was necessary for it. I was buoyed by positive people and kind advice. In the end, I and four other people went up.

To be specific, we went up Mount Adams. This particular mount is located an hour and a half-ish northeast-ish of Portland in the -ish lands. It is called Pa-Toe by the natives and was named Adams by mistake when a mapmaker mixed up his coordinates for Mount St Helens, which was originally intended to be Adams. Not to worry--we did not mix up our coordinates and arrived just fine with credit to Mother Google Maps and Chuck's intrepid driving.

Found it! View from Trout Lake, WA

The first night, we camped below our giant where a teeming rush of melt ran river wild. There we rested on its low bed in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest. We swam mostly clothed in the river, gawked through the Ponderosas at the hint of a Milky Way sky, and shuttered our eyes as glacier plum fairies danced in our heads. I woke late to a shudder, because the dream I had was not of glacier fairies but of failure. It's a recurring dream of signing up for something I don't have the will nor the stamina to finish, and it passed through me to quite harsh effect. I woke up weary. I heard myself doubt me. And then I shook that damn dream off!

Rush of wild wet

When you are about to go up there are some things you should consider taking along. One of those things is a strong team of benevolent people--this we did not lack. I also recommend a few beers. This falls in the "no duh" category, but you'd be surprised at my failures in Backpacking 101 on this trip. Truth be told, this was my first multi-day backpacking adventure and first mountain ascent, so I was at the mercy of many dear friends' recommendations and my aforementioned benevolent co-champions on the climb. So before going up, I also recommend having terrific people in your life who are willing to loan you gear and even call you the night before to wish you luck.

Up up up!

Adams has a road leading to the trailhead. And it is total garbage! It is the road created for the horsemen of the apocalypse to chase people down because it will be so easy to ruin them since just using the very road will do most of the work. Once at the trailhead, you find a dirt path quickly giving way to sprawling whiteness dotted by trees and rocky shelves. This whiteness took us 5-ish hours to ascend, gradually gaining 4000' of elevation to the standard overnight spot called Lunch Counter at 9350'. We prepped food and, though we intended to sleep early, struggled to beat back the overpowering beauty of an angled sunset. The colliding lines of horizon, mountainside, and sun arc conspired together as I was forced to reconcile this new geometry with what my previous 10,000 days on earth taught me. Night fell and sleep ensued (or not, in my case) for five hours.

Dusk fox
Sunset geometry with Mt St Helens

2AM came with a whimper. I was wide awake waiting for the alarm and had no trouble rolling out of the tent. There was prepping of coffee and the Oat Elixir of Life (more on this later). I was tired having hardly slept, but there was also a full on Milky Way. So tired was less interesting. We secured our tents and bid them farewell for the day, "See you in a few hours, dear tents! We will be new people by then!" We donned our crampons and ice axes, headlamps and game faces. It was on.

On like crampons

It took very little time for the sun to begin flinging some lightness in our direction. The thing about being at 10,000' elevation is the sunrise happens even earlier than usual for this latitude. By 4:30AM I had turned off my headlamp and let our brightest friend do its work.

Zanna and Laura ravin' all morning

Gabe wields a steady axe

Food break contemplating the mountain's sunrise shadow on the land

At about 6AM we began ascending a very steep section that would eventually lead to the false summit on Piker's Peak. It doesn't sound like too much, but the 1300' gain in that kilometer was of destructive force. It wrenched my crampons from their seemingly secure laces on my boots, it pushed my huffing and puffing to new, altitude-affected levels, and it made me have to stick my ass out and poop on the side of a cruel, white wilderness. It was my personal bête noire on the ascent as I watched my companions reach the resting point at the top one by one while I was sitting to fix my crampons and then to poo 50 meters away behind some rocks. When I reached them, my vision was blurring and my head grew lighter at altitude. I kept on the water and opened the Oat Elixir of Life to recover my strength. The OEL is a concoction of my colleague-in-climb, Laura, who dumps steel-cut oats, chia seeds, flax seeds, coconut shavings, and for all I know the glowing heart of our very universe into a pot and fires it up. With luck she had made too much for us in the morning, and against some reservations I decided to huff it along to the top. There is no doubt in my mind that OEL saved my day as I fought altitude woes and hunger the entire morning, snarfing down every last seed.

Huffing through the sunrise behind Gabe

My colleagues patiently waited while I tended to my food needs. They then informed me that what we were looking at ahead of us was not the false summit (as I believed it to be) but was, in fact, the top. Realizing that we were actually on the false summit was the biggest boost of energy and glee I would have all day. I leapt for the sheer delight of being wrong! I screamed in pleasure. We had 600' to the summit and, while my legs and boots were as anchors, I surged in the categories uncharted by calorie counts: hope, determination, and joy.

The final ascent and trip photo contest winner by Zanna

Here's the thing about my summit experience: we had been looking at breathtaking mountains all day. Mount St Helens was at the west, Mount Hood was at the south, Mount Jefferson to the farther south, but there was no sign of our friend Mount Rainier. You knew it was on the other side, but somehow the reality of what it would mean to see it (that you were at the top!) had not yet occurred to me until I was ascending the final ledge of the final push. To set the scene a bit, I was the second to reach the top. Laura had gone ahead while Gabe and I waited for the others, but the farther she climbed the more we considered sending a second person to avoid separation. So I went up. As I crested that final ledge, I saw the air stretch out where before there had only been snow, and I saw each step reveal more of the north horizon. Then, there: Mount Rainier and the few steps needed to reveal our 360 degree view. A hug was waiting there for me, after which I promptly fell to my knees and wept.

Rainier got my back

To me, there is no more significant event than unexpected tears; they are to be dwelt on and understood. I wept out of exhaustion. I wept at my dream vanquished from two mornings ago. I wept for lack of sleep, emotional unrest, and the stirring victory the team shared. I wept for it all. Then, as I stood to my feet I saw that mountain over there, the next one, and it presented a profound reality to me: on the other side of one mountain is just another damn mountain. Consider your victories, (and congrats for climbing!), but remember that there are only more challenges for the challengers in life. It was a moment of true enlightenment and inspiration, yes, but it was also a moment of deep realities, tears, valleys, and the resolve to climb them all.


Part 2

The descent was quick work. We snapped pictures on top; we hugged and celebrated. We refueled and considered that it was only 8:30AM. There wasn't much need to linger too long at the summit. It is a glorious place, of course, but with the goal reached there was a sense that what we had accomplished continued long beyond the summit. So we went down. We glissaded down huge chunks of the steep climb on what would become our very sore butts. Glissading is quite the experience: find whatever waterproof item you have (in our case, trash bags), make foot holes in it, pull it up like a diaper, and glide down these snow chutes carved by the many smiley butt people that came before you.

Sore butts 101

Once at camp, we melted snow for water, stuffed some food in our faces, and began packing up for the last leg down. It was past noon at this juncture, so the snow had softened to the point that it was pleasantly cushy and quite slippy. It turns out downhill + soft snow = endlessly "skiable" descents in boots. Learning to control these elements was a challenge we all mastered by the base with only a few crazed tumbles that flung snow and laughter everywhere.

Once back at the vehicle, we relieved our feet to the open air, hit a few whiffle balls (yep), and climbed into the quad cab for another treacherous turn on apocalypse road. The mountain sat unchanged behind us now, a massive and wild playground on which these five kids romped for a couple days. We stopped in Hood River to wade out on a sandbar in the Columbia River, bringing cool relief to our feet and bodies. The obligatory burger and beer dinner followed at Full Sail Brewing and soon enough we were cruising north on I-5 back to home.

In the days since this climb I've felt an extraordinary sense of accomplishment. I've talked about myself more than usual. I've also missed our team! Every time I've ever reached a goal or had a life-binding experience in a team environment (thinking of directing study abroad programs or producing large-scale theater shows), there is this sense of loss that the people who were with you and helped you rally through will continue to be your friends but never in that context again. The team, as it were, has disbanded though the accomplishment lives on. I've felt that this week, seeing the faces of these literal colleagues of mine back in our work environment, knowing we shared an ineffable bond in that accomplishment, but knowing that would never happen again. This is where I pivot to saying that the joys of outdoor experience are what call us again and again to reenter the unknown and wild lands. They are fleeting moments that draw us closer to each other and ourselves. We have new words for ourselves, we have new perspectives. We've seen from new angles and watched our world through new sweat and new tears.

We are reborn. We went up.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

Favorite Musics of 2015

This is probably the least music-centered year of my last 15 (this is an alarming group of words to type). I spent 2015 removed from all of my former outlets for either playing live music or digesting a dozen or more albums a year over stacks of grading. There were a couple shows I got to play here in Seattle with a rocking "northmidwest emo" band Shredding. Then there were a couple isolated jams with some friends and my own guitar standards for at-home noodling. I also generally found less time to sit and listen to what was new. Frowny face. BUT I still found enough favorite music to justify a post!

Here are some songs I loved:

Tobias Jesso Jr. - "Hollywood"
His record from early 2015 (Goon) shows why Adele recruited him on her team to help co-write the most smashiest album of last year. I was hooked on the sad/hopeful "Hollywood" when it emerged during my own sad/hopeful adventure in the fall of 2014.

Deerhunter - "Snakeskin"
Shake, rattle, roll.

Julio Bashmore - "Holdin' On"
I had some album of the year hopes for Knockin' Boots about 10 seconds into this first single. That's a lot of weight to project onto the other 99% of the music I had not heard at that point, but it felt so timely and correct. The album disappointed, leaning more toward house dance music than what I hoped would be the perfect straddling of pop and house (like Caribou has crafted over the last 10 years). "Holdin On" is perfect despite its unrealized implications for the rest of the album.

Here are some albums I loved (in the order I thought of them):

Viet Cong - Viet Cong
I had guarded hopes that this album would be the overwhelmingly destructive force of post-rock that I expected. This is what Viet Cong gave us. I've long saved a place in my heart for politically charged agro/math rock catharses (what the hell does that mean? idk, it's the best I could do). Bands like Frodus, Sleater-Kinney, and Women have filled me with happiness for their embodiment of anger and alienation. Maybe it's the junior high boy in me that just wants to thrash around and have it feel like a personal purification by fire. Viet Cong is composed of ex-Women members and amazingly released an album that challenges their former band's towering 2010 album Public Strain. I listen to Public Strain all the time. I listened to Viet Cong all the time. It came out in January, 2015, and I'm sure I listened to it several times each month. It is probably my favorite album I heard this year and also probably the album that will least likely be enjoyed by anyone I know. It's grey, brooding, and ends on a pummeling, 11-minute exclamation point called "Death". What's not to love? Listen to "Continental Shelf" for the most accessible introduction.

Carly Rae Jepsen - E-Mo-Tion
Yes, I am going for absolute incongruity with this album following Viet Cong. But it so happens that I also have a place in my heart for laser-guided radio pop. CRJ (yup) was written off as a one-hit wonder by probably every person with ears in 2012 after "Call Me Maybe," but she returned with an actually phenomenal stack of glitter-glazed pop songs. I found that once I let myself decide it was just fine and not wrong to love this, I loved this. That moment happened between the first mouse click on "I Really Like You" and the song's chorus. In those 30 seconds I realized again that the modern pop music machine can make just as many diamonds (hi, Britney) as lumps of coal (hi, Fergie), and so can Carly. Hear "Run Away With Me".

Tame Impala - Currents
I'm feeling lazy. This is a great album. Kevin Parker's singing frequently reminds me of John Lennon. This is not a psychedelic garage rock album like he's used to putting out. Listen to "Eventually".

Sufjan Stevens - Carrie & Lowell
Sufjan lost me with 2010's Age of Adz. Truly, he lost a lot of us. Artists should be allowed (and want!) to evolve their sound and explore new territory. I can't begrudge him for wanting to push himself in a different musical direction after 2005's Illinois, but I am unfortunately not obliged to follow him with my likingness into those new directions. I didn't. I sort of stopped listening to him altogether except maybe at Christmas time! This album brings it all back home. There was no way to pair eulogizing your mentally unstable, absentee mother with his Adz's "Willy Wonka gets a digital studio" sound. He had to return home. It's a window into an artist whose soul has been seen beneath so many biographical or implicitly autobiographical stories, with this standing as a true chunk of explicit autobiography. It's as devastating as it is healing. Hear "Fourth of July".

Empress Of - Me
I heard this album about three times. I don't own it so there haven't been more listens, but I can tell you that it is creative and accessible. I barely remember what it sounds like except that it fits a vague profile of experimental indie pop. Just hear it here.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015


"So what brought you out here?"

I have been interested for a while in listening to myself attempt to answer some of the biggest questions that are posed to me on a daily basis. This particular question's answer is quite heavy and personal yet slips into small-talk with total nonchalance. A typical stab at it goes like this:

"I wasn't sure how to make a big change in my life/career direction unless I relocated to a new place. It's like the overgrowth was so thick that trimming things back to reform it wasn't enough; the whole thing needed to be replanted. I could have stayed and been happy my whole life in Lincoln--I'm quite sure of that. I guess I just wanted to try something else. Who knows why."

Given the casual nature of the conversation, I suppose my cerebral, labyrinthine response is probably a bit more than is expected, but meh--you asked a very pensive person! Also, imagine a bunch of "uhhs" and "hmms" in there. Also, imagine the above making much less sense when constructed in 10-15 seconds instead of the 4-5 minutes it took me to compose the paragraph.

What I'm thinking about today is the fact that the above comes out differently every time I say it (for example, last night I said "ah, wanderlust" and left it, but that's not really true, or is at least only a slice of the truth). I arrange a new group of words every time, and I think ultimately I'm trying to say the answer for myself or else I probably wouldn't try so hard to find the perfect expression of it.

I wish I had audio of these conversations over the last year plus because my suspicion is that the narrative has changed over time. The changes may be subtle or overt, but I know the way I frame it has to have been altered by my experience since moving here. I know my perception of myself as a professional and former academic had a big influence on my earlier explanations, but I can't quite know exactly how it has evolved since then, though it is likely that I'm leaning on that former professional identity significantly less to explain myself these days.

Narratives are hard to pin down for me. I'd have a hard time putting my life's narrative in simple terms because there would be too many parentheticals and asides diverting from the main thread for it to be very linear. I've loved realist authors and novels for many years (Dostoevsky, Clarín, and Galdós spring to mind) because of the incredible detail they inject into every page. Not just the characters and each of their tiny emotions! I will describe for you the lamp as well, dear reader! And I suppose that proclivity leads me to look with the eyes of realism on my life course and want to identify each and every bit of meaning along the way.

I can't give a clear or perfectly framed answer to the question, but the good news is the words are still being lived and written. Maybe next year? Who knows.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015


Climbing to Paradise
Nearly one month has passed since RAMROD (Ride Around Mt. Rainier in One Day), so this writeup has been smoldering for a good time.

Training consisted of mostly casual rides of up to 70 miles. I've long encouraged other riders attempting great distances that if they can ride half of it comfortably they can ride the full distance. "All you need is more food, water, and time," I say. It's a helpful little distillation, but I had major doubts throughout the summer when putting it to the test. I remember sitting down for a beer with Josh Rice in Lincoln about 10 days before the ride when he said something very true after I elaborated on my training plans for when I flew back home the next day: "It's too late at this point. You'll either have it or you won't." I shuddered a little. He was right!

Here are my field notes from the ride:

1) Mile 1: Enumclaw High School has views of Rainier from afar. It's startling to think you'll circumnavigate it from that vantage point.

2) Mile ~33: I spoke with a construction worker who was holding a two-sided STOP/SLOW sign on a section of highway. He was grizzled, bearded, and wearing sunglasses; we were stopped for about 3 minutes there. I started asking him about his job, and eventually he explained with bewilderment that they get no respect. He said he stands there for 8 hours with no bathroom breaks and no relief for lunch. I was dumbfounded. I always wave at these people or ding my bell but don't seem to get much response back from most. Maybe I understand why now. After hearing that I stuck out my hand and said, "Here's the respect you deserve." He shook my hand, laughed, and flipped the sign to SLOW.

3) Mile 58: Two food stops behind us and rolling hills through chilly, foggy valleys and sunny vistas. This is the park entrance and the start of the climb to Paradise. A couple miles before I popped some Ibuprofen to push back at pains surfacing in my seat and right foot. More pills at 3 hour intervals probably saved my day.

4) Mile 73: Atop Paradise the mountain is staring you in the face. The road points down as far as one can see from here.

5) Mile 86: The descent is unforgettable and worth the entire day's suffering. Imagine sitting on a 35mph office chair for half an hour as it wraps its way around stunning summit views, lakes, hairpins, and rocky ledges. 15 miles up to Paradise took 2 hours; 13 down, 30 minutes.

6) Mile 93: I wasn't aware Cayuse Pass had started. I was crawling along at 6-7 mph for about 45 minutes before I realized I had reached the water stop halfway up the pass. That was a great feeling, because I was almost out of water. Pain in my right foot was now very intense, so I took a couple more pills. I noticed the pain had developed from constantly reaching down on my right side to pull out my water bottles. The repeated movement of angling my right knee out was forcing most of the resulting pedaling pressure to fall on my smaller toe bones of that foot.

7) Mile 100: The bummer about reaching the top of Cayuse Pass and knowing it's all very literally downhill from there is Cayuse Pass is also where the headwinds start. So even though you have essentially 50 miles left of 2% grade downhill, you're never able to hold a steady 18-19 mph like you would expect. Instead, you have to slog through the wind at 14-15.

8) Mile 126: I waived at some people in lawn chairs on the side of the road thinking it was fun that they were out there watching people ride. About 5 miles later as I reached for water bottle #2 I realized that the final water stop and that I would ride the final 20 miles into the wind and in the hottest part of the day without reserves. Very shortly thereafter I got a left hammy cramp and had to get off the bike to stretch. I had about 8 ounces of water left, so I dumped 4 Nuun tabs into it to create some delicious electrolyte sludge. I got back on the bike but didn't make it another 100' before another cramp wave struck. I drank my sludge then, I stretched, and I hoped for the best.

9) Mile 144: The best happened. A policeman directing traffic offered me about 4 more ounces of water and encouragement that I was there at the final turn off the highway into town. I made it to the home stretch of curvy downhill roads back to Enumclaw and the high school.

10) Mile 150: I bunny-hopped across the line and almost took out one of the volunteers needing to retrieve my electronic tracker. Ha. I heard the announcer saying something about having had too much sugar. He wasn't far off--all those caffeinated Nuun tabs! Then it was time for a shower and sharing of war stories with my fellow REI riders.

When morning came the next day I had a fun moment looking out the window in my kitchen at the mountain. It looks totally different now. I know it. I know around it. I know behind it. I know on it. It appears less imperious to me now and somehow less huge. It's not that it was brought to my level; I ascended to it. This is a key point, I think.

Having attempted and finished rides approaching RAMROD before (150 miles and 10,000 feet of climbing), I had a decent idea what to expect. Gravel Worlds in Lincoln, NE is 150 miles and about 5,000 feet of (mostly rolling) climbs. Knowing this, my training was probably still insufficient. I kept thinking to myself, "Those extra 5,000 feet will be tough, but it's road not gravel!" I wasn't all wrong as it turns out. I certainly had some dark spots on Cayuse Pass, the third and biggest climb of the day beginning at mile 93. I definitely missed the final water stop had those cramps as a result. But overall, I think I felt more beat up by Gravel Worlds. I'm fully willing to believe that the fact that I knew I could do it was enough to make RAMROD feel like less of an achievement than Gravel Worlds, a race I had serious doubts about finishing in 2014.

Here is the route. Notice the profile below, too. Green is speed; brown is elevation change.

Phone died 6 miles from the end

Monday, February 16, 2015

Holy Candor

My thoughts on Grace Chapel and why it is holy, candid, and special:

First, there are elements that make it feel instantly homey. There is coffee, there are donuts, there are pews--snuggle in!--and there are children scampering about. Second, there are spoken reminders that the adventurer, the new face, and the wanderer all belong, and soon they discover that they have never been new at all. We know them and they know us; we are them as they are us. Third, there is humility from the pulpit, balm for the church-sick. This iconic place of brow-arching disapproval is instead a display case for the humanness we all know and share. Finally, there is an understanding that our fears, joys, and poverties are not separate stories but one, and that in their telling is the rest of burdens released and born together.


And now a point by point explanation:

1. The Geneva House, where coffee and donuts are provided, serves as a buffer zone where less than comfortable newcomers or attendees can acclimate to the environment. To me, this is a foretaste of the later, more deliberate meal we share together. They are elemental to setting the mood because they provide immediate familiarity, and not least importantly because they travel with us to the sanctuary. Yes, there are greeters saying "Good morning!" but first there is the unspoken "Good morning!" of drink and food--the first family meal. If you are new and anxious, at least you can cling to a coffee mug.

2. As a partner to the candidness of traveling mugs of coffee, the service always begins with an acknowledgement of just how challenging it is to wander into a new church followed by a hearty voicing of support for such adventurers. This underscores one of the other essential mood pieces of Grace: the intentional airing of realities we know to be true of us. Church is tense if you're new. No reason to quietly hope new people don't feel the tension--instead, there is explicit permission to feel it and also to be encouraged in the midst of it that you are, in fact, brave just for being present.

3. I've yet to forget one of the first times I attended when I heard these words come out of the pastor's mouth in the opening prayer: "...forgive the sins of he who preaches, for they are many..." It may have been the first time I felt like the pastoral voice ever partook in the spirit of the Lord's Prayer with us ("...forgive us our debts..."). If we preach and believe that heaven and earth are being made one, it only follows that we should strive to make pulpit and pew level with each other. It took 25 years for me to feel like a pastor existed on my plane, a pulpit on my earth.

4. This final piece is the least tangible of the four elements I've tried to summarize, but it is the most essential for what I mean by "holy candor", which is the phrase I've arrived at to describe the general tenor of this place. A chapel is a humble, unassuming place, and inside this particular one there is a sense we are wholly sacred when we are able to be wholly human. The human story, which is to say your story and my story, has sanctity. Its strands are individual but undivorceable from one another since together they stretch, tie, and tether us to the ultimate reality. Without the blending of each individual life's colors, we paint a pale picture. Thankfully, as I wrote in the previous paragraph, those in positions of leadership are both shepherds and the first to put their strokes to canvas.


Addendum (four months later):

I arrived at "holy candor" because a question was posed to me about the essence of Grace Chapel. After reflecting for some time I feel it encapsulates the sense of the people and practices of this dear place. I realize much of it is quite rosy. Everything is not perfect, though, and Grace would be the first place to say that. Some of it is idealized as I look back on the last eight years, but all of it comes from what I felt there then and even more acutely now as I search for a spiritual home here in Seattle. There is holiness because there is Great Presence. There is candor because there is deliberate frankness regarding who we all have been, likely are now, and God willing can become some day. Together, there is this "holy candor" I have tried to articulate.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Not-Too-Late Favorite Albums of 2014

Against Me!, Transgender Dysphoria Blues

A devastatingly honest and challenging listen. Think Japandroids but with something to say. The only album in a long time I would dare call important. (Helpful history) Favorites: Transgender Dysphoria Blues, True Trans Soul Rebel

AJ Dávila, Terror Amor

A crass, bravado-driven Latin rock album served with a pinch of doo-wop soul. Favorites: Ya Sé, Es Verano Ya

 Caribou, Our Love

Dan Snaith does it again with this slow-burner of a dance/pop record. We’ve all seen time-lapse video of flowers opening for spring. Now we’ve heard it. Favorites: Can't Do Without You, Dive

D’Angelo and The Vanguard, Black Messiah

A timely return for D’Angelo and some of the most chewy-delicious vocals I've ever heard. Favorites: Till It's Done (Tutu), Another Life

Deerhoof, La Isla Bonita

I always thought that eventually I wouldn’t need new bands, that the bands I loved would keep making music and I would keep loving it. This has proven true for very few groups (Caribou is one, Spoon another). And here is yet another collection of wonderfully twisted guitar pop nuggets ranging from the ANIMAL SMASH variety to the more noodley odyssean type. Always sounding uniquely themselves. Favorites: Exit Only, Mirror Monster

Mac Demarco, Salad Days

Another cache of tuneful albeit crooked jams. “Let Her Go” could be his best song to date. Favorites: Let Her Go, Blue Boy

Spoon, They Want My Soul

The most consistent rock band on the planet. Favorites: Rent I Pay, Do You

St. Vincent, Digital Witness
While the live show alienated me a bit from the Annie Clark I loved, that was the point of the expressionless Clark’s newest dare all along: to shed too much light on our modern acts of performance. Favorites: Birth In Reverse, Prince Johnny

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Favorite Songs (Not Albums) of 2014

Todd Terje - "Johnny and Mary"
Absolutely not too long at six and half minutes. The slowly constructed warmth of warbling keys, a breathily sung story, and cautious percussion eventually settle into an electro Chariots of Fire groove that is given about four and a half minutes to crest, crash, and sink away back into the sand.

Ariel Pink - "White Freckles"
This is the only song from Pom Pom that approaches former favorite album of 2010, Before Today. It's as weird as it is fun as it is musically confounding. Video game glam.

Ariana Grande - "Love Me Harder"
This is the kind of radio pop one often dismisses as an instant Forever 21 playlist classic. Yet, hear that chorus, hear those fluttering "Ooooos" and the space they give the song's perfectly stuttered synths to shine. Blissful pop, perfectly paced.

TV On the Radio - "Happy Idiot"
Even on imperfect albums, they always seem to put out at least one song to stand alongside such career highlights as "Wolf Like Me" and "Staring at the Sun".