Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Pageant Material: @KaceyMusgraves | Album Review w/ @sslluvsbooks

Rating: 95%
Artist: Kacey Musgraves
Genre: Country
Release Date: June 23, 2015
Label: Mercury Records
Track Count: 14 (on iTunes)

Track Listing:
1. High Time
2. Dime Store Cowgirl
3. Late To The Party
4. Pageant Material
5. This Town
6. Biscuits
7. Somebody To Love
8. Miserable
9. Die Fun
10. Family Is Family
11. Good Ol Boys Club
12. Cup Of Tea
13. Fine
14. Are You Sure (Hidden Track) feat. Willie Nelson

The first thing you should know about me is - I have been a Kacey Musgraves fan since the very beginning. While my taste in music has changed and diversified since then, if I were to name an album that I have consistently listened to the past three years, it would have to be Musgraves' debut Same Trailer Different Park. There's something about Kacey's relatable, witty lyrics, broad subject matter, and acoustic, homey sound that allow me to listen to her on repeat. Unlike all other albums I listen to, there isn't a single song on STDP I dislike and each have a special, nostalgic place in my heart as their easy sound has accompanied me on many a late night of poetry writing.  

The big question remained until yesterday upon Pageant Material's release. 
Will Pageant Material come anywhere near Same Trailer Different Park

Give her another Grammy!
What critics have been both praising and criticizing is the fact that it has been more than three years since Same Trailer Different Park. In that time, she has become internationally recognized, won two Grammys, toured with Katy Perry, and been exposed to the music industry, love, and life. People have assumed that Musgraves sound and style would be changed due to the demands of what's "hot," following the country-pop trend most female artists are sounding like nowadays. If there's one thing fans know about Kacey is that does not conform to societal expectations. Her sound is raw, acoustic, authentic country, and generally nothing like what's currently riding the airwaves. Each and every one of her songs have a story to tell and an underlying message that most certainly does not stay underlying. Kacey Musgraves was one of - if not the first - major country artist to recognize the LGBT community in her music. Country originated in the south, and often the perception is that everyone is a right-wing, conservative redneck with their John Deers, glasses of various alcoholic beverages, and shotguns. 

Title/Cover | While Same Trailer Different Park spoke directly to Musgraves' country roots, Pageant Material is a physical marker of her evolution as an artist. While the majority of her lyrics could have ben her sophomore record's signature, Pageant Material speaks to the glamorous glitter and sparkles Kacey loves to adorn her sets and costumes in, giving a Random a slightly different impression than who she is. However the title and cover art are their own inside joke with Kacey Musgrave's loyal listeners and upon listening to the title track, one learns that the line goes "I ain't pageant material."

What sets Musgraves apart from not only country artists, but artists in general is the fact that most of her songs aren't about love. I can't tell you how many times I'm annoyed by hearing the same thing on the radio about breaking up and making up and falling in love in between. Even though it's an extremely relatable subject, you would think that someone would be able to come up with another topic to sing about and that someone is Kacey Musgraves. The songs with *stars* next to them are the ones NOT about love.

*Die Fun* | 99% | From the very first note I was completely and utterly obsessed with this song. There is a "we" that could be directed towards a partner, but my own interpretation of the song is directed to the general "we" of society and the young generation of people growing up and attempting to find their place in the world before becoming old, decrepit, and cynical. There's so much pressure on teenagers going into high school and college to take the safe route that will make them the most secure and the most money but this song is really just a message into the void that we don't have to grow up and we should take the chances we can while we have them. So the gist of this is that this would be the poster song for any John Green novel.

"Do we really have to grow up? // If we never do then so what // Before we get to heaven, baby let's give 'em hell // We might as well // Cause we don't know when we're done"

Somebody to Love | 95% | When I first heard of this song, I had hoped Kacey had done a country cover of Queen which we all know would have been incredible. Regardless, Musgraves dabbles in string instruments throughout the track which gives it a unique feel. This is obviously about love, but somehow gives it a new perspective on how lost humanity is. While I'd like to play devil's advocate and say you don't need someone else to complete you, as someone who is in love, I can't deny that having someone by your side just makes everything better, in both romantic and non-romantic contexts.

"We're all hoping, we're all hopeless //We're all flawed and we're all perfect // We're all lost and we're all hurting // We're all happy, we're all hatin' // We're all patiently impatient // We're all good, but we ain't angels // We all sin, but we ain't devils // We're all pots and we're all kettles // But we can't see it in ourselves // We're all livin' 'til we're dying // We all wrangle with religion // We all talk, but we don't listen // We're all starving for attention then we'll run // We'll miss a dime to grab a nickel // We're all little kids just looking for love //Yeah, don't we all just want somebody to love?"

*This Town* | 94% | Soundwise, This Town feels a lot like the Blowin' Smoke of Pageant Material while painting a picture of this community that is well on its way to becoming what urban city-folk would call more "civilized," but it's still a small town where neighbors are all up in each other's businesses and everyone is family. The chorus goes into a neat riff of rhythm and overall, the song seems like it should be sung through cigar smoke by the town gossips.

"You'll end up in the paper, wreck your family name // What goes around comes back around by Friday's football game // We only got one sheriff, but we all know how to keep the peace"

*Dime Store Cowgirl * | 93% | This was the other pre-released track and a great song overall. There's some quality about it that makes me want to jump up and dance as Kacey sings about still being a country girl and its proof that she hasn't changed, just grown since her previous album.

"I'm happy with what I got, cause what I got is all I need // Just cause it don't cost a lot, don't cost a lot, don't mean it's cheap"

*Family is Family* | 92% | Family is Family is one of the tracks released before the entire album and it gets featured during Musgraves' series of behind-the-scenes for making the album. Luke Laird admitted that it's the most cleverly written, witty song on the album and I would have to agree. If you need to hold a particular song up to credit Kacey's skill, it would be this one because the song is just so much fun to listen to.

"Can't live with or without 'em; you might talk about 'em // But if someone else does, well, then you'll knock 'em out cause // You might look just like 'em; that don't mean you're like 'em //But you love 'em"

*Miserable* | 90% | This is the signature Kacey Musgraves song that confronts what she thinks about society and basically tells society to shove it up their you-know-what because there are more important things to spend your time on. Miserable could be subtly directed to a lost love who screwed things up, but it's more likely that it's just directed to the pessimists of the world. As always, she crafts this narrative of things we do on a daily basis that have trapped us into this negative mindset --- "Your neighbor's dirty laundry's cleaner // And the wolf at your door's always meaner // The sky's still grey when the sun's around // But you can't set sail if your anchor's down"

*Biscuits | *86% | This was the debut single off of Pageant Material and personally, I think that was both a good and a bad decision. Good because of its catchy tune, strong message, and the truth it delivers. Simultaneously, Biscuits is what dubbed her sophomore album as another country album and while I like the song, it definitely doesn't atone to Musgraves' skill as a song writer or diverse sound.

"Nobody's perfect, we've all lost and we've all lied // Most of us have cheated, the rest of us have tried // The holiest of holies even slip from time to time // We've all got dirty laundry hangin' on the line"

Fine | 80% | Something about the instruments used in this song are what bumped the rating down for me, but I do love the message. So commonly, the response we use is "I'm fine" when we're really not, and Fine is just another person's story and struggle with putting a good face on after a hard break.

"I pick those tomatoes we grew off the vine // They look out the window just in time // I reach for the phone just to make sure it's on // And I'm fine // I put on my makeup for no one at all // My heels on the hardwood echo down the hall // I open the wardrobe, put my face in your clothes"

*Pageant Material* |  77% | It's quite clear from the beginning of the song why this became the title track and lyrically feels a lot like Blowin' Smoke. The chorus itself isn't one that fits my preferences but the lyrics themselves are quite hilarious.

"And it ain't that I don't care about world peace // But I don't see how I can fix it in a swimsuit on a stage // I ain't exactly Ms. Congenial"

Late to the Party | 75% | While this song could apply to a close friend, I'm assuming it's meant for a lover. It's my own taste that doesn't makes this track my favorite. The thought, while endearing, is one that doesn't make as much sense as some of Musgraves' previous songs. Or it just peeves off my slightly OCD behavior because I never want to be late to parties :)

"Oh, who needs confetti? // We're already falling into the groove // And who needs a crowd when you're happy at a party for two? //The world can wait"

*High Time* | 72% | This is the kind of song I feel like my opera-singer parent would sing to me if she was a country artist because it talks about taking a step back to re-evalute your needs and the flashiness of life which she loves to do when I'm on my phone constantly.

"Been missing my roots // I'm getting rid of the flash // Nobody needs a thousand-dollar suit just to take out the trash // Ain't gotta be alone to feel lonely // I'm gonna turn off my phone, start catching up with the old me"

*Cup of Tea* | 70% | This song has more of a down-home feel to it and I can picture a signature Kacey Musgraves music video fitting this song. It has a nice message to it about independence and not giving a crap about who people think you are. And I would seriously pay money to have some of these lyrics on a t-shirt.

"You can't be everybody's cup of tea // Some like it bitter, some like it sweet // Nobody's everybody's favorite // So you might as well just make it how you please"

*Good Ol' Boys Club* | 68% | When I first heard this song, I was a bit skeptical because it rang faintly of Another Sunday in the South by Miranda Lambert with the beginning chords and lyrically when the song began there were definitely some similarities. By the time the chorus rolls around, it's clear this is a Kacey Musgraves song speaking against the stereotypical boys clubs of the south and there are speculations of a little wink to Big Machine Records which is known for making Taylor Swift famous.

"Cigars and handshakes, appreciate you but no thanks // Another gear in a big machine don't sound like fun to me // Don't wanna be a part of the good ol' boys club"

*Are You Sure* | 67% | This track is only available on iTunes and features the one and only Willie Nelson. Because of this, it follows the lulling guitar playing Willie is known for and sounds like Are You Sure could fit right in with his 2013 album To All The Girls where he sang with prominent female country artists both new and old. It's certainly not my favorite Kacey Musgraves song but I like the message of wondering whether you're happy with the way things are and where your life is heading.

"Please don't let my tears persuade you // I'd hoped I wouldn't cry // Although lately teardrops seem a part of me"

Conclusion | Kacey Musgrave's sophomore album most certainly does not disappoint and marks a young artist's progression through life in unique narratives and acoustic sound that takes us back to guitars and campfires that make country feel like it did in the beginning. If I like Pageant Material this much on the first few listens, it will only get better with time.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Extraordinary Means: @robynschneider | BookTalk w/ @sslluvsbooks

Rating: 90%
Series: None
Genre: Social Issues, Romance, Contemporary, Realistic Fiction, Fiction, Young Adult,
Publisher: Katherine Tegan Books
Publication Date: May 26, 2015
Page Count: 336
Format: Hardcover
Source: Barnes & Nobles

Goodreads Synopsis: From the author of The Beginning of Everything: two teens with a deadly disease fall in love on the brink of a cure.

At seventeen, overachieving Lane finds himself at Latham House, a sanatorium for teens suffering from an incurable strain of tuberculosis. Part hospital and part boarding school, Latham is a place of endless rules and confusing rituals, where it's easier to fail breakfast than it is to flunk French.

There, Lane encounters a girl he knew years ago. Instead of the shy loner he remembers, Sadie has transformed. At Latham, she is sarcastic, fearless, and utterly compelling. Her friends, a group of eccentric troublemakers, fascinate Lane, who has never stepped out of bounds his whole life. And as he gradually becomes one of them, Sadie shows him their secrets: how to steal internet, how to sneak into town, and how to disable the med sensors they must wear at all times.

But there are consequences to having secrets, particularly at Latham House. And as Lane and Sadie begin to fall in love and their group begins to fall sicker, their insular world threatens to come crashing down.

Told in alternating points of view, Extraordinary Means is a darkly funny story about doomed friendships, first love, and the rare miracle of second chances.

Disclaimer: On Loving the Language of Literacy, the term "BookTalk" means that there will be both a spoilery and non-spoilery section of the Review.

Monday, June 15, 2015

The Price of Privilege | Sofia Speculates (8)

So this has been me the past few months...

And wait until you hear why...
I'm going to be in Stockholm, Helsinki & London for 15 days in June

Your opinion...

I know, I know. I'm a spoiled 21st century brat who believes she's entitled to life

Why I didn't want to go...
I would miss all of the end of the year festivities at my school - dance, ceremony, class trip, game day - and the end of a lot of projects/tests.

What I finally concluded...

And this is why...

Thank the heavens I finally came to my senses. 

While timing can most certainly be a bitch, I am so fortunate that my family has the means to go to these foreign countries. When I said goodbye to my teachers/friends, I learned that the majority of them have never been outside of the country and it seemed perfectly absurd to want something other than the amazing opportunity at hand. The cultural experience of eating foreign foods, being dragged to museums, and galavanting around the city is one that I shouldn't want to trade for anything and I am so glad I finally came to my senses.

Backstory | This post was inspired by a book I can only hope to read one day. Also known as one of my parents was reading it and couldn't stop mentioning it in super annoying way only parents can do when they're trying to guilt you into something or subtly point out that obviously 100% well-rounded, puppy-loving straight A, charity worker child you should be more like. In all seriousness, I do honestly want to read this book just for the sake of gaining insight on the professional opinion on this subject. In reality, this post is only based on what I ASSUME this The Price of Privilege to be about.  

Bringing it back to what this post was based off of, I am incredibly privileged and I really need to take a step back and appreciate what I have instead of scoffing or being ungrateful.

What was a time you didn't realize the price of privilege?

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Airplanes | My Reading Experience (1)

I, like many of my fellow members of 21st century society - at least those under the age of 40 who will admit it - have fallen prey to the freedom and distractions that come with constant internet access. Whenever members of the v/blogging community slack off with uploads/posting or even in the case of reading slumps and lack of motivation, the number one culprit is something the internet provides. Of course, we can’t blame it all on the internet because the internet is what gives us all the outlet to rant, ramble, and become slightly more (or less) acceptable members of society in the first place. 

Nevertheless, with age, I have found that it gets harder and harder for me to continuously read books in large chunks of time. Albeit, I’ve read more in the past six months because of the bookish community than the year of 2013 altogether, but it has been ages since I was able to sit down for a good while and just devour a book. Even if I am able to do that, the definition of “reading a book in one sitting” has been redefined for me because of the simple fact that my phone’s notifications get in the way. In the past, I’ve tried reading with it on airplane mode, but alas, I would always take it off within the first 30 minutes because I HAD to check up on something like the release date for a book that reminded me of this one or some other crazy (yet perfectly reasonable, at the time) tangent.

Let’s get onto the reason traveling, more specifically flying, increases my productivity and creativity tenfold. 

There is no internet access. 

This seems like such a simple solution but it greatly enhances my experience living my life in general. I absolutely despise it when adults lecture those around them about addiction to the internet/phones/social media, but that is mostly because I know their points are extremely valid and it has taken its daily toll on me too. When I’m in an airplane, regardless of what I’m doing, it seems that it’s intensified and my focus has magnified. 

Evidence of This 

1. When writing or attempting to outline - I’m more immersed in the words. 
2. When reading, even if I disliked the book, my overall enjoyment of it is better just because I was able to give more of my attention to the text. 
3. When watching TV/movies. On a normal occasion, I’ll blog, scroll through twitter, AND watch TV. The plot of what could have been a rapturing story is put on the back burner and I know I’m not hate only one guilty of this.

Recently, and by “recently” I mean five minutes before I started writing this post, I finished reading Robyn Schneider’s sophomore novel - Extraordinary Means. It was already my 3rd most anticipated book of 2015 - I even caved and bought myself a copy without the certainty that I would like it - but I hadn’t intended to read it the moment I got my hands on it. Nevertheless, reading Robyn’s dedication is what sold me on reading this book.

“For Daniel, who asked which book I recommend he read on an airplane. I finally have an answer: this one.”

Not only is this a killer dedication I wish I had written (you know, if I ever actually get around to finishing my novel), but I feel like Robyn and I had a similar mindset with the whole “reading is made better when you’re on an airplane” tangent my crazy brain is attempting to follow throughout this discussion. 

I’m beginning to think that every realistic fiction/social issue YA novel I read should be read on an airplane just because of how much more I appreciate it. Of course then I run the risk of tears, but that is always a problem when you're a booknerd. And I would completely agree with Robyn, Extraordinary Means is meant to be read as a single sitting, tear-your-heart-to-pieces-and-love-it novel that will have you laughing, crying, and contemplating humanity’s existence all within the span of a page.
I started and finished another book on my journey to Stockholm - transatlantic flights are a pain in the butt (literally) but a win for the reader - and even though I only gave it a 68% because of my issues with the predictable plot/generic main characters, the experience itself was so much fun. Everything, Everything comes out in September of 2015 and is a multi-media novel with little doodles, diagrams, and hilariousness interspersed throughout and I feel like I really got the chance to appreciate all of the detail/care put into it while reading on the airplane.

If I can get enough material, I might even make “My Reading Experience” a sporadic feature on this blog (which most certainly needs a good revival) as I continue reading under odd circumstances.

What environments enhance or decrease your enjoyment of reading?

***I'm not actually dead!!! The hiatus from my blog was unplanned and I honestly have no excuse other than lack of inspiration and motivation. I make no promises, but I hope to get back in the game soon***

Monday, June 1, 2015

May 2015 Wrap-Up


1. Mountain Goat 10 Mile | The Mountain Goat is a rite of passage in Syracuse and I am absolutely ecstatic to have completed the race within my first year of moving. It is hands down, the best (and most hilly) race I have ever accomplished and I had the utter joy of my boyfriend and his family running it as well. We had a really fun after-party and it the already amazing experience was so much more enjoyable with them. 

2. Mother's Day 2015 | This was my very first Mother's Day spent without my mom who passed away due to esophageal cancer in July of 2014. Nevertheless, my best friend (who I'm living with) and I pulled together what we considered a really nice Mother's Day celebration for her mom. I've known her family as long as my own and have spent many a weekend sleeping over at her house and traveling all around the world with her.

3. 1500 & 800 Champion | My first season of Track and Field officially ended on the 30th of May and it was my very first time participating in a team sport, something that was such a beneficial experience for me as a runner as well as person. Running has always been something solitary for me, but the benefit of a team is that no matter how badly you place, people always support and congratulate you. Personally, I wasn't that happy with my times for both events (I am so much more of a 10 mile than half a mile runner), but it didn't matter because I had so much fun doing it. At a moment in the season when I was feeling particularly discouraged, I vowed I would never do Track again, but as of the very last meet, that vow is revoked because I sincerely want to participate again.  

4. My Boyfriend's Birthday | Sadly, I was away for my boyfriend's actual birthday/celebration, but that didn't mean that I let him get another year older without a collage, poem, and cheesy list of 100 reasons why I love him. We ended up just having a really chill private celebration with Yogurtland and watching movies in his basement. 

5. A Weekend in Central California | I had been dreading my weekend in Calfornia for weeks now because I didn't want to be away from home for so long, but I ended up having a fantastic time. We visited family and friends while in San Francisco/Sacramento which was really fun. I got to reconnect with an old friend as well as make some new ones and generally had such a fun weekend at his Bar Mitzvah, exploring old town Sacramento, and the best garlic/parmesan cheese fries ever.


I saw Avengers | Age of Ultron both on opening day and again with my family. I'm usually not too partial towards the Marvel/DC franchises, but this movie was quite a pleasant surprise. It was engaging, if not mentally stimulating, action-packed, and the dialogue was a lot better as well as more humorous than I had expected it to be. While I'm not the Avenger's biggest fan, I am definitely looking forward to the next one and would give the movie - for what it is, genre-wise - 4/5 stars.

You pretty much cannot escape a monthly wrap-up without some mention of Nashville. Twenty-two episodes later and season three is complete. I think my favorite would have to be season two because there was a lot going on plot/character arc wise in season three and there were some weak episodes. Nevertheless, it was another great season and remains as my favorite running TV show ever, and it has been renewed for a 4th season.... so more Sofia rambling about her love come October. The drama continues to escalate, the romance is just as steamy, and the music steals the show.

I binge watched all 13 half hour episodes with my family in less than a week and it is most definitely one of my favorite TV shows of all time. UKS was actually written and produced by Tina Fey, so  it was obviously destined to be a hit with its quirky characters and twisted humor. I have one word for this show - 1. ADDICTIVE: This show will hook you in its clutches and not let you go until you have binged the hell out of it.

I had been hearing about Pitch Perfect for years now and at one point could even do the cup song flawlessly (which involved way too much free time in camp), but I had never felt the desire to watch the movie. That all changed when my boyfriend offered to take me on a date to see Pitch Perfect 2. Obviously, I had to see the first movie and I ended up LOVING it. Pitch Perfect 2 was an extremely solid, humor-filled sequel.

The actual show doesn't premiere until the 2nd of June, but the pilot was available for viewing before it aired and I absolutely loved it. The show is about a young woman named Kirsten who has a rare psychological condition and is recruited to join a secret government agency where her consciousness allows her access to the memories of the dead.



What are your summer plans?

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