The house arrived in pieces–from the competition in DC–and is now being reassembled on Porter Field Road for likely occupancy this spring. That’s Ben Brown, Solar Decathlon Health and Safety Officer, snapping on a piece of the roof and surveying the landscape.
The following post is not even close to an administrative update, but for the past couple of years Matt Jennings and I have blogged about our favorite albums of the year (for instance, see this and this). Because we do a radio show on WRMC every Friday afternoon, we get to pretend to be authorities on pop music. And we have fun.
We ‘re doing it again this year, and share the following recommendations in the spirit of the holiday season. We invite readers to post their recommendations as well. The more, the better . . .
Astute listeners of 68 Degrees and Holding will not find my list particularly surprising (nor will they be surprised by what will surely be a snarky response from my friend and co-DJ, the author of this blog).
Some really good music was produced this year, but to my admittedly quirky ear, this five albums represent the best of the best:
- Mumford & Sons, “Sigh No More”
A brilliant debut from this West London quartet. From Marcus Mumford’s passionate vocals to Winston Marshall’s banjo pickin’ (yes, Spears, banjo pickin’!) to Ted Dwayne’s mastery of the stand-up bass, this band manages to sound both refreshingly original yet appropriately reflective of their musical roots in bluegrass, folk, and eclectic rock.
- The National, “High Violet”
I enjoyed “Boxer” so much that I was both eager and anxious about this album’s release. Eager because “Boxer” just left me wanting more, more, more and anxious because I fretted that “Boxer” was so good that anything that followed would be a letdown. Well, I wasn’t disappointed.
- Frightened Rabbit, “The Winter of Mixed Drinks” [Insert Spears eye roll here]
I’m well aware of the heresy of comparing the Irish to the Scottish, but this band reminds me of the Pogues–without Shane MacGowans drunken (and ultimately destructive) antics. “The Winter of Mixed Drinks” is the perfect follow up to 2007’s “The Midnight Organ Fight”; it’s fun, catchy, and addictive.
- LCD Soundsystem, “This is Happening”
A trendy pick, I know, but to ignore James Murphy’s latest work would be a flagrant omission, especially if we were to look back on this list in a year’s, two years’, ten years’ time. Aggressively original and fascinating to listen to.
- Treme Soundtrack
From the traditional (Dr. John, Rebirth Brass Band, Trombone Shorty, Kermit Ruffin) to the original (Steve Earle’s “This City, which was written for the show) to the hilarious (“Shame, Shame, Shame” by Steve Zahn and friends) this soundtrack from the HBO original series is a must have, both for fans of the show and folks who love great, authentic music.
No snarkiness here. All sweetness and light!
- Cee Lo Green, “Lady Killer”
Cee Lo Green has a storied career in the hip-hop world, but this is a full-out R & B record that traditionalists will love. It includes the infectious and infamous “F– You,” which can be seen and and heard in all its glory on YouTube. But there is nothing gimmicky about this album. Fans of Michael Jackson, Al Green, or Beyoncé should take note.
- Janelle Monáe, “The ArchAndroid”
At times, this sounds like another entry in the R & B sphere, but the album is so diverse and international in its offerings that it really can’t be categorized (though I don’t think it includes any banjo). Style-wise (check out her videos), Monáe gestures to 1920s (the album cover art is apparently inspired by Fritz Lang’s 1927 film, Metropolis), but her genre-mashing encompasses hip-hop, jazz, Afro-punk—you name it. A virtuoso performance, and Monáe, who is from Kansas City, is only 25.
- Bruce Springsteen, “The Promise”
The outtakes from Springsteen’s 1978 album, “Darkness on the Edge of Town,” the songs here will please long-time fans of the Boss. This album is not entirely new, since Springsteen has been performing these songs for decades and they’ve appeared on bootlegs. But it is great to have them all in one place. And it’s also worth listening to these songs along with “Darkness” so you can see what sort of sound and statement he was going for on the original album, which is more stripped down than “The Promise.”
- Robyn, “Body Talk, Pt 1”
The Swedish techno-pop star hits the sweet spot with songs about dancehall love, gender bending, and cyber culture. She keeps it light, witty, and danceable—not so heavy as Lady Gaga. And, believe it or not, she will be performing at Higher Ground in later January. I already have my tickets.
- Jamey Johnson, “The Guitar Song”
This is country music about the useful themes: heartbreak, crummy jobs, alcoholism, and the little pleasures of everyday life. Johnson is a compelling storyteller, and his Alabama-tinged bass voice gives the lyrics a sense of gravitas and depth. I don’t listen to a lot of country music, but I keep returning to this album, trying to understand why I like it so much. There are also just enough guitar riffs here to satisfy rock fans.
I received a request for further information about the plan (recently approved by the Board of Trustees) to move the Music Library to the Davis Family Library, and then to house the History of Art and Architecture Department (HARC) in the space vacated by the Music Library. Although the CAMPUS carried this news, and MiddBlog picked up a LIS blog post on the project, these reports were pretty general. So it makes sense to provide a more detailed account of the project here.
The most important thing to know about this project is that it is aimed at strengthening two areas of the arts curriculum, and that it will unfold in multiple stages. In the first stage of the project, the music library collection will be relocated to Davis Library; that will happen some time this spring or early summer. Then, over the summer, the Music Library space will be renovated for use by HARC, and the department will move out of the Johnson Building, thereby freeing up space in Johnson for the Studio Art Program and Architectural Studies (though this program is part of HARC, it will remain in Johnson). HARC’s newly configured space in the MCFA will include an office suite, and at least one classroom. After the design for that space is complete, a program committee—including faculty from all the arts departments in MCFA—will undertake a review of the teaching spaces in the building to make sure that the classrooms adequately support the full arts curriculum. In a final stage of the project—discussed but not yet formally approved—we plan to renovate the Johnson Building, improving the studio spaces for Studio Art and Architectural Studies and upgrading the building systems.
There are several benefits to this project:
• Moving HARC to the MCFA will bring the department closer to the Art Museum, which is an important teaching resource for Art History, now one of the larger majors on campus. When the program for MCFA was first conceived, the College planned to include HARC in the building, but had to drop that part of the program due to budget constraints in 1988. Returning to that original plan now will be a clear gain for students and faculty.
• Relocating HARC to MCFA will also increase traffic in the building, which is off the beaten path for most students. The atmosphere in MCFA will not change overnight, but over time, I think we can realistically hope to see a significant uptick in the energy
• Creating more and better studio space in the Johnson Building for Studio Art is a major enhancement for that program, as the College has struggled in recent years to find adequate space for the art curriculum. The Architectural Studies Program will likewise benefit from the improved studio space.
One could say—as someone commenting on Middblog already has—that music students and people who just happen to like the Music Library are the losers in this proposition. This is true only in an absolute sense, for while the Music Library will certainly be missed, it is also true that the library’s collections and functions will be well supported in the Davis Family Library. When the Music Library was planned two decades ago, we did not have a cutting-edge, almost new library or one large enough to house music and dance materials. We do now, and so taking advantage of this resource to meet other pressing curricular needs—without constructing new facilities—is the smart thing to do.
Some have asked whether the administration surveyed students to see how they would feel if the Music Library disappeared. We did not, and the details offered above suggest why. We are moving forward to address significant curricular gaps that have been long in the making, and making full use of all our facilities to strengthen the overall profile of the arts at Middlebury without having to build costly new buildings and expand the College’s physical infrastructure.