Here’s a quick and dirty post of my year in arts – these aren’t necessarily the biggest art stories or the best things I’ve seen, although I think they’re all excellent. Also, some of these things weren’t even released this year (esp., the music). These are just the things I spent the most time gushing over and repeatedly exposing myself to so my mind would be blown in the most optimal way possible.
NOTE: Decided to only do people I wrote about this year for theater and arts. Enjoy!
“Lights” by Ellie Goulding
There is literally nothing I don’t like about Ellie or this album and she has rightfully been pegged by many as a rising star. Her almost ghostly way of singing and light melodies got me best, but those dance beats didn’t hurt, either. I had several favorite tracks including “Lights,” “Starry Eyed” and her totes brill cover of Elton John’s “Your Song.”
“Gimme Some” by Peter Bjorn and John
I got to write about PB&J for The Jersey Journal in September and also saw them at Maxwell’s. Their stuff is just super fun and it’s nice to see them give their songs real energy when they perform live. They are so much more than “Young Folks,” which is a good song, but isn’t all they have to offer. Some of my favorites are “May Seem Macabre,” “Second Chance,” and “Dig a Little Deeper,” a catchy ditty that’ll quickly have you singing along, “Oh, oh.” Definitely taking the cover’s suggestion and giving this album three thumbs up!
“The Rip Tide” by Beirut
Beirut has a distinct sound and if you’ve liked Zach Condon’s past work, you’ll probably love this album, too. It’s nice to see more influences from other genres coming in, especially with danceable, electronic beats and folk rhythms jiving side-by-side. I still love Zach’s crooning, even when I sometimes have no idea what he’s saying, because I frankly don’t care. “The Rip Tide” does what every Beirut album does – it simultaneously takes you to places you’ve never been before and reminds you of all the wonderful places that you have. All the best parts of life, the small moments of joy, spring to my mind when I listen to Beirut. (Fun fact: My copy of the CD was actually given to me by my best friend with whom I’ve shared many memories with and who is a fun person to go exploring with, so this album was the perfect gift!) Favorite tracks? The title track – which sounds like the sensual culmination of every deep-seated form of passion one can have – and “Port of Call,” which is great to listen to while walking through the streets – it instantly makes the world more beautiful.
“Teenage Dream” by Katy Perry
When I first listened to this album after its release last year, I wasn’t that impressed, but over the course of 2011, I found myself liking and loving several of its tracks more and more. When it was announced that she had tied Michael Jackson for having five number-one songs on one album, a lot of people weren’t pleased. Frankly, I think she deserves it. There are definitely several well-composed pop tracks on “Teenage Dream,” several of which actually explore subjects with respectable depth and poignancy. The simplicity of the title track and its honest depiction of young love as a combination of fun, lust, affection and chemistry will probably give it the most radio longevity. Also, “The One That Got Away,” paired with its awesome music video (Diego Luna!), strikes a chord with anyone who’s ever lost a great love while “Not Like the Movies,” which has truly beautiful vocals, makes you think about relationships on a lager scale, almost from the outside.
Self-titled by Young the Giant
I first heard this band while listening to a college radio station on Pandora and have been hooked since. Young the Giant’s musicians are all quite talented and vocalist Sameer Gadhia sings with passion without being sappy or trying too hard. I have a rather narrative mind, so I love to imagine using several songs off this album as soundtrack music for movie scenes. Like with Beirut, I’m not really sure what some of the songs are even about – I mean, I do, or I could if I really bothered looking them up or listening closely – but I just don’t care. Their songs just get me in a good mood. There are a few tracks I don’t care for as much like “Islands” and “St. Walker” (it’s street walker, not saint walker – a-he a-he), but my favorites – “Cough Syrup,” “I Got” and “Strings” – more than make up for a few “eh” tracks.
“Torches” by Foster the People
Yeah, I know, “Pumped Up Kicks” is the song of every summer and everyone fell in love with Foster the People in 2011. But this is another case where a band is associated too much with its break-out song. Personally, I appreciate “Pumped Up Kicks,” but it is far from the best song on this album. This album is just SO PERFECT. The lyrics are clever, the vocals are well-done but free-and-easy, the music is always just danceable enough. “Call It What You Want” always gets me hyped when I need to get in the zone for something (on a side note, my other “power-up” songs of 2011 are “Super Bass” by Nicki Minaj and “Rabiosa” by Shakira). My favorite line is, “He said, ‘What’s your style and who do you listen to?’ – Who cares!” because the phrasing is just perfect. I’m also in love with “Life on the Nickel,” “I Would Do Anything For You” (which I’ve covered), “Miss You,” “Waste,” and the song that made me discover them, “Houdini,” which I think is their best song – better than “Pumped Up Kicks” any day. What? I listed almost the whole album while naming its stand-out tracks? Hm. Guess that says something on its own.
“21″ by Adele
I like good music and excellent vocals. I’m a girl. I’ve been sad and/or heartbroken before. Duh, I like this album. I was overjoyed when the Queen of Heartbreak came back and avoided the sophomore album slump so many breakout artists end up facing. A lot of these songs are brilliantly composed and smartly executed – Adele knows when to bring out her strengths and when to go out and try different things. “Rolling in the Deep” and “Someone Like You” are obviously brilliant and bound to go down in history as classics of the early 2010′s, but even songs that are praised less often like “Don’t You Remember,” “Turning Tables,” and “Rumour Has It” show the Brit’s skillful mix of soul, R&B, jazz and raw emotion. “He Won’t Go” and “I’ll Be Waiting” get bonus points for being super fun to sing.
“Chesapeake” by Rachael Yamagata
I got to see Rachael at Maxwell’s in Hoboken after writing about her for The Jersey Journal and she was amazing. I was even inspired by this album to cover one of my favorite tracks, “You Won’t Let Me.” Like Adele, she makes me curl up on the floor and cry like a big baby, but that’s largely a good thing. She also has a lot of fun on this album and tries different musical flavors like on on the sexy, dance track “Starlight” or “The Way It Seems To Go” – which is just a little bit honky-tonk and was, according to Yamagata, written as an inside joke with herself about who people expect her to be and who she really is. Some of my favorites – “Even If I Don’t,” “Miles On a Car” and “Dealbreaker.” Her gift for rhythm, tight melodies and smoky vocals are just as amazing as ever.
“Girl/Group” (La MaMa Experimental Theatre)
In June, I interviewed Jersey City high school teacher Susan Murphy about “Girl/Group,” a play she wrote based on her mother’s life as a singer in short-lived doo-wop group The Carmelettes. I went to see it with my friend Khier Casino and it was definitely one of the best shows I saw in 2011. The play opened with Murphy as herself in a recording studio, blown away by how much she sounds like her mother. As she listens, she is thrown back in time where she becomes her mother Angela and sings with The Carmelettes. Throughout the show, Murphy switches back and forth seamlessly from 43-year-old Susan to teenage Angela without missing a beat, thanks to creative lighting by Sarah Rae Murphy and Mario Giacalone’s direction. From its great music to its honest performances, this entire play blew me away.
“God of Carnage” (Mile Square Theater)
I had always heard good things about this play so it was nice to see Mile Square take it on. In the show, Michael and Veronica Novak (Charlie Kevin and Patricia Bailey) invite Alan and Annette Raleigh (Associate Artistic Director Matthew Lawler and Annie McAdams) to their home to discuss an incident between their children – in short, 11-year-old Benjamin Raleigh hit Henry Novak in the face with a stick and broke his teeth. While the boys’ fight is certainly the reason for the two families coming together, it does not stay the subject for long. The parents’ personal issues – as couples at odds or spouses at odds – quickly take center stage, with espresso and “rum” (stage secret: it’s iced tea!) fueling the fire. Each of the actors did a great job pushing the limits of their character while staying consistent and believable as caricatures of different parental attitudes.
“Murder on Ice” (Art House Productions)
I got the chance to work as stage manager for a short time with Christine Goodman and Jack Halpin, two of the people who helped push me into theater, for Art House Productions’ “chilling comedy” “Murder on Ice.” Production was super fun as was, of course, the show. The play was quirky and fun and had just the right amount of 1940′s cheese. Most impressive were the “ice skating” moves created by choreographer Morgan Hille-Refakis, which brought us back to the old day when singles, doubles and even boring old spins were daring, dangerous and exciting!
“Jersey City Nutcracker” (Nimbus Dance Works)
One of the best assignments I’ve had this year was playing “Mama Cannoli” – a character inspired by Mother Ginger in “The Nutcracker” – for Nimbus Dance Works’ adaptation of the E.T.A. Hoffman classic. I got to rehearse with some adorable little girls who played by children – the “Cookies” – as well as see the whole cast work their magic at a dress rehearsal where they almost forgot I was supposed to play the matriarch. While the big performance hit a few snags (my gigantic dress got caught on some stage lights), it was overall a success and just a ton of fun. My cameo aside, the company’s dancers are just amazing and gorgeous, especially the beautiful PeiJu Chien-Pott, who shined as their Sugar Plum Fairy, and the young stars of the show, Luis Garrido and Serena Brown.
“365 Days of Print” (Various artists, NJCU Arts Gallery)
This exhibit stood out to me because of its unique concept. For the project, artists create one work inspired by a news article every day for a month. Some artists explored different aspects of different news events while others commented on journalism and the media in general. “We live in digital sort of age where reading the news is something we do for five minutes on the train or when we read, we read headlines and not full articles,” said project founder Maya Joseph-Goteiner. “The hope is that this exhibit will help people slow down, consider the bigger picture and think about how current events are part of history. Looking at these events through art will help us access it in a different way.”
“Oaxaca” (Maya Joseph-Goteiner and Michael Courvoisier, Majestic Theater Condominiums)
Yes, both the exhibit and its contributing artists have names that are somewhat hard to pronounce; it’s wah-HAH-kah, mah-YAH JO-sef GOT-ner (oh, hey, she’s sort of on my list twice!) and MAI-kel kor-vwa-see-AY, I believe. But this photo exhibit is about what transcends language. During their several-week stays, the pair snapped these scenes of villagers’ preparations for Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, Mexico, to capture a side of everyday Mexican life that few Americans get to see. Their quiet images are simple, yet striking – A boy climbing on his father’s shoulders for a bird’s eye view. Women coming home from the meat market. A kid in a mummy costume.
Mad, Mad Media street art exhibit (Various artists, Moishe’s)
Some of the most amazing art out there isn’t found on canvases. Graffiti artists are the bad-boys of the art world, putting what they want wherever they want to and sharing their ideas with the world. A recent exhibit alongside the Exquisite Corpse show and other Jersey City Artists Studio Tour attractions by Mad Mad Media featured four talented street artists. “A lot of their styles differ. Some work is abstract, some artists are good at realism and some do 3-D, twisted, colorful letters like you see in a lot of graffiti,” said media company founder Dylan Evans. “I want to show with this installation that not everyone with a can of spray paint is a vandal.”
“Kick It” (Jayson Atienza, Bar Majestic)
My favorite part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art? The furniture section. I love the decorative arts so doing this feature on Jayson Atienza’s JC Fridays exhibit was super awesome. This guy puts his signature design on all sorts of stuff – skateboard ramps, purses, fridges and his signature item, sneakers. His graffiti-esque watercolor-and-ink motif is like a virus that takes over both whatever object he applies it to and their owners. Some of Atienza’s biggest fans? People like David LaChapelle, Tiger Woods and Nigel Sylvester, who have all gotten custom kicks from the Chilltown native.
Hoboken Artists Studio Tour
I got to both advance and cover the Hoboken Artists Studio Tour this year. I’m a Chilltown girl at heart and was out of town for the Jersey City one (boo!) so it was nice to be able to see some Hudson County artists really doing their thang.
Before the event, I wrote about the “Small Works” group exhibit at the Lana Santorelli Gallery, which always has some amazing stuff, and surrealist artist Jane Migliore (who painted “Pier A Suspension,” above – get it, above?).
There were some awesome artists at Hoboken City Hall like J Loren – better known as The Star-Ledger’s Joe Epstein – and a painter not afraid to use technology to take his art to the next level, Joe Lanzo. While I was there, I also wanted to talk to Stephanie Riggi – who is, if you have never met her, just as bold as her work is – but she hadn’t finished stepping up her display.
The Hoboken Business Center also had quite a few outstanding artists including New York’s Kara Rooney, who explores language and dialogue through her visual art and photographer Sandra Swieder, whose exhibit of 9/11 photos have helped many heal.
Last, I headed to the Paul Vincent Gallery, a place I’ve always wanted to visit but pretty much never get to go to. There, I saw awesome pieces created in their weekly Figure Drawing class and other works by the likes of Tara Thurber and Jay Boucher.
“now and here” (Milosz Koziej, The Friends Building)
My favorite artist of the year just might be Milosz Koziej. It all started when we got this very vague notice about him having an exhibit somewhere in Jersey City. I was going to try writing a short note about it but quickly realized I didn’t have enough from the press release to say anything substantial. So, I tracked down a number for the artist himself and he gave me an exclusive sneak peek at the show. I was blown away. His colorful, mind-bending paintings feature layers of geometric shapes and patterns in contrasting colors which often trick the eye and create holographic depth. Checking out the full gallery of his work is a must.