Category Archives: Six-week visits

boots

Surely the Pony Express was more efficient than this…

Last week, when I was chatting with E and F about life, they made a confession of tragic proportions. Apparently, back in February, they sent me a birthday present by way of USPS. Unfortunately, two months passed, my birthday came and went, and no package arrived. I checked with the friendly Scottish man who trades in parcels at my apartment complex, but he had no trace of it either.

The Hanson Project: Part 3: The Epic Conclusion

Hanson fans @ Toad’s

Sometimes, I get really inspired about a blog piece. I start writing enthusiastically and then… I get distracted. Something else comes up, and the further removed I get from the event, the harder it becomes to write. I have a half dozen such posts sitting unfinished, collecting e-dust in my drafts folder. My friends start harassing me about why it hasn’t been posted, but the more time that passes, the less likely it seems that they will ever be published.

Such is the case with this post, which I started over three months ago now. It would be really convenient to just never finish writing this, but alas, I am going to visit E and F this weekend and I fear that if I don’t publish it, they may bind and gag me save my fingers below the knuckles, toss me in the trunk of a car with a laptop, and not let me out until I’ve produced a worthy post on the matter. So to avoid that inevitability, here it goes…

A long time ago (October), in a galaxy far, far away (Connecticut), I went to a Hanson concert. You may remember from back before I fell of the face of the internet that I prepared for said concert by listening to all of their albums in chronological order and then making the sweetest t-shirts ever, at least until I made these epic Twilight shirts after which I really should have re-evaluated my life-choices.

Anyway, one October afternoon, I found myself climbing on a bus to New York. Six excruciating hours later, I was finally greeted by the scent of 33rd and 7th, a welcoming mix of mediocre pizza, stale urine, and cigarettes. E appeared, already sporting her “I

The beginning of the weekend passed in typical fashion–late night sushi, farmers market, eating, eating, and more eating–but then we got down to business. There were two more in our party so we slapped together shirts for them as well, including my all-time favorite thing I’ve ever made. I don’t have a good picture of the original, but I liked it so much that I’ve screen printed several copies since then:

I have made myself the companion t-shirt, “Sorry, I was watching Court TV”

If I ever open my Etsy store for secretly-embarrassing-yet-superficially-cool-looking t-shirts, this will be the first thing I sell. I love this design. Inspired by one of Hanson’s best-worst songs, “Man from Milwaukee,” this shirt is for the Hanson fan that doesn’t want anyone else to know they’re a Hanson fan, but is maybe ok with the world thinking they buy nonsensical graphic tees at Urban.

Attempting to harness the glow in the dark properties pre-concert. It was a fail.

After getting all gussied up with our TOMS, t-shirts, and glitter make-up that would have made our thirteen-year-old selves die from envy, we headed out for the concert. On the way, a girl stopped and asked directions to Toad’s in a state of urgent panic. “How did you know we were going to the Hanson concert?!” we asked in mock surprise. “Oh, I saw your shirt,” she replied without a hint of irony. Apparently Hanson fans are not good with the sarcasm.

What Hanson fans are good at is being scary. Once inside, we discovered the venue was already packed. This did not bother me, as I am always one to throw a few elbows and dance my way to the front of the crowd in about three seconds flat. But I only got us about five feet further into the fray before being utterly terrified by the death glares surrounding me and retreated back to our original corner. Alas, actually seeing Hanson in concert was apparently not on the agenda.

Full zoom, on my tip-toes. Bonus though: the crappy quality makes Zac look topless.

It didn’t matter, however, because as it turns out, Hanson is AWESOME in concert. Like, really, really good. They are so good that I strongly considered going to Northern Virginia (ew!) a week later to see them again (in the end, Hatred of NoVA > Love of Hanson concerts). I didn’t even mind Taylor’s whiny voice! Although, that’s 90% because it turns out that Taylor is our prettiest man.

I like your scarves, Tay.

Even their terrible old songs sound good. I know this because the gimmick of the “Musical Ride Tour” was that for each city, the audience voted online for Hanson to play one of their albums in full. New Haven was given the option of Middle of Nowhere, This Time Around, and Shout It Out. If you will remember from my extensive notes, I loved Shout It Out, hated This Time Around, and thought Middle of Nowhere was hilariously awful. But Middle of Nowhere was going to be my only shot at hearing “Man from Milwaukee” in concert, so I put all my eggs in that basket. Lucky, too, because we only won by four tenths of a percentage point. I was four tenths away from having to listen to this shit in concert.

Instead, I got the great pleasure of hearing all my favorite least favorite Hanson songs. “A Minute without You!” “Mmmbop!” “Yearbook!” Plus, they included some good ones from their current album, and the less noxious songs from the ones in between. And to my delight, they closed the concert with my personal favorite, “Man from Milwaukee.”

The best part about seeing “Man from Milwaukee” live is that, apparently, on the original CD, tracks 13-20 are blank. So in concert, it’s tradition that everyone counts up to the song:

Now, I cannot tell you why the good people of San Diego here are not properly enthused, because in New Haven, the crowd went APESHIT during the countdown. I tried to film it, but all you hear is high pitched shrieking like it’s 1964 and The Beatles just rode into town on a stallion called Ed Sullivan. I was totally party to this, which is why the camera is so shaky that I’m not even going to assault your eyes with the video I recorded.

After singing “With You in Your Dreams” as their encore (a bit of a letdown after the glory of “Man from Milwaukee”) we decided it was imperative that we get our hand-crafted Hanson shirts autographed. I do not have much experience with such matters; the closest I’ve come to getting an autograph from someone not at Disney World is groping Kim at the end of a Matt & Kim concert. Knowing that just a few weeks prior, my penpal had gotten Zac’s autograph on the shirt I’d made her, I sought her advice:

Find the tour bus afterwards. Put your hands on it for good fortune. With luck, a brother emerges.

Let me know if your mission is a success.

E eagerly awaits a brother’s appearance (Preferably Zac)

We loitered with at least a hundred other grown-ass women for at least a half an hour, while they tried to clear us out of the street. But Hanson refused to emerge. Finally, we accepted defeat:

Heartbroken, we left and went on with our lives. Normalcy returned with things like eating lots of food and E embarrassing herself horribly at a party. We thought our Hanson weekend was over, but we were so very, very wrong.

The next afternoon, E and I packed up and got a train back to New York. I noticed how incredibly slowly the train was moving when I realized how much I needed to pee and that there are no bathrooms on the MetroNorth to New York. Finally, the train stopped altogether.

After waiting at a standstill for at least a half hour, I checked twitter and discovered that a bridge was out. Finally, they pulled up to a train station in the Middle of Nowhere, Connecticut. This is the point in the story where E and I realized that we were living the lyrics of “Man from Milwaukee,” a song that was written when Hanson’s bus broke down in the middle of nowhere. The Middle of Nowhere.

It started at a bus stop in the middle of nowhere
Bus stop, train stop, potayto, potahto. We all piled of the train and stood pointlessly in the parking lot, not sure of our next course of action. E went to find a gas station across the street in search of a bathroom. I sat down on a wall with our luggage and waited for something to happen.
This was only the first wave…
Sitting beside me was a man with no hair
A balding man totally came and sat down next to me.
From the look on his face and the size of his toes
He comes from a place that nobody knows
I didn’t inspect his toes. But he was kind of weird and was carrying a big empty plastic storage bin.
Maybe I’m hallucinating, hyperventilating
Letting this big-toed bald man sitting here tell me about the sky
It was a really nice day. I think we commented on the weather, and how nice the clouds looked. E came back and took my place while I found the bathroom. In the meantime, she also befriended him. In fact, on my way back from the bathroom, he shouted “ALIX IS BACK!” Even though I’d never told him my name.
Maybe I’m hallucinating, hyperventilating
If you asked me now then I couldn’t tell you why
I’ve been sitting here too long by a man from Milwaukee
Let’s assume, for argument’s sake, that our new friend was from Milwaukee. And we had definitely been sitting there way too long. It was looking more and more likely that I was going to miss my bus back to DC.
He’s been talking too long on his yellow walkie talkie
Cell phones are kind of like latter day walkie talkies, right? Cause he had one of those.
He’s been talking to Mars but I think he’s wacky
Technically it was his sister-in-law that he was talking to… Maybe her name was Mars? She’s apparently a very nice lady with twin infants and a minivan.
He says they’ll come get him, come get him some day
At this point, they were trying to cram hundreds of people on to a handful of city buses to get us to the next train station beyond the broken bridge. The possibility of escaping this Connecticut hell-hole was pretty grim, and we were looking for contingency plans. He was trying to con his sister-in-law in to coming to come pick him up, and us too if we so desired.
E continues her weekend pose of “standing next to buses she can’t get on to”
He says where he’s from is called Albertane
There they use more than 10% of the brain
But you couldn’t tell it from they way they behave
They run around in underwear and they never shave
He was not clean shaven, but happily, also not in his underwear. That would have been weird.
Or maybe I’m hallucinating, hyperventilating
Letting this big-toed bald man sitting here tell me about the sky
Maybe I’m hallucinating, hyperventilating
If you asked me now then I couldn’t tell you why

{Repeat Chorus}

 
This is Mother Bird calling Baby Bird
Baby Bird come in, come in Baby Bird

For the love of Pete come in!
This is Baby Bird…sorry I was watching Court TV
Do you copy? Do you copy?
Of course we copy…24 hours a day…in color

Nothing could ever make this spoken interlude applicable to real life.
You wouldn’t believe me if I told you the rest
Just as we were sold on hitching a ride with his sister-in-law, a bus appeared from nowhere and we forced our way on. We were deposited at another train station.
Never been so happy to be in South Norwalk
The man sitting by me who was barely dressed
Flew off to Milwaukee or perhaps Albertane
And left me at the bus stop just barely sane
After getting off the bus, the three of us sprinted onto the platform. And then we ran in opposite directions. Just like that, our new friend, with whom we’d share two bizarre but not unenjoyable hours, was gone from our lives forever.
I’ve been sitting here too long thinkin’ about Milwaukee
I’ve been talking too long on my yellow walkie talkie
I’m talking to Mars you may think I’m wacky
I know they’ll come get me, come get me someday
I know they’ll come get me and take me away
I know they’ll come get me, come get me someday
If not tomorrow then maybe today
Finally, we made it to New York with 13 minutes to spare before my bus left. Unfortunately, my bus left from Penn Station, and MetroNorth runs through Grand Central. We tried to get a cab, but none were to be had. Instead, we sprinted across town and made it to the bus stop just five minutes after it’s schedule departure.
And for the first time in the history of BoltBus, the bus had left on time.
In the standby line, E and I nearly got in a rumble with some bitch and her two hulking boyfriends, and I had to argue my way onto a bus to Baltimore instead of DC. Then I caught the last metro from Greenbelt. I suffered a near mental breakdown when I discovered that track maintenance on the green and yellow line meant the metro would leave me stranded in Petworth, land of no taxis, but I managed to catch the last shuttle bus home. In the end, I think it took me 11 hours to get from F’s apartment in New Haven to my front door, a trip that should really take no more than 7 or 8, max. But it was totally worth it to really live the Hanson experience. Now I can wear my “Sorry I was watching court TV” walkie talkie shirt with real Fanson pride!
Just kidding. I will never be a Fanson. Those people are insane.

The Hanson Project: Part Two

If you’ll remember from part one, I was roped into going to a Hanson concert in New Haven this past Saturday. I’ll get around to telling you about the concert later this week, but before we get there, it’s time for a little craft lesson.

Since I was already going to the effort of traveling 400 miles and listening to 8 albums for a concert, I figured I might as well dress appropriately. Luckily, I’ve acquired some excellent costume-making skills over the years. One of my recent favorites–freezer paper stencils.
The process is fairly simple: cut a stencil out of freezer paper, iron it on a shirt, slap on some fabric paint, peel the stencil off. And the results look AWESOME.

Now, before you even suggest it, I will not be selling these shirts on Etsy. I understand that they are incredibly rad and that lots of people on the internet have more money than sense. But I could never sell these on the internet because then I would be the kind of person that sells Hanson shirts on the internet.
I can however, tell you how to make them yourself.
For this little endeavor, you will need:
Step 1: The Stencil
The most important part of this process is picking out something to put on a shirt. You can draw your own, or find lots of stencils online that you can print off. If you need ideas, just check out The Google. Of course, we already knew what we wanted: Hansons. So I put my excellent photoshop skills to work, and went from this:

 

To this:

 

Because there were three of us, we obviously each had to pick a brother. Seeing as E was the real fan, I offered her first pick:
Me: Since you are the reason we’re going to this concert, do you want to take Taylor?
E: DO NOT WANT TAYLOR ON MY SHIRT! I WANT ZAC!
Me: Isn’t Taylor the hot one?
E: I LOVE ZAC! ZAC AND I HAVE BEEN MARRIED SINCE WE WERE 12!
I was a little taken aback, but it turns out that E has always been an rabid Zac Hanson fan. When she was 12, she asked for a law text book for Christmas (???) and the first thing she did upon receiving it was open the book to the marriage section and check the age restrictions for marriage in South Carolina. Seeing that she conditionally passed, she then made her mother PROMISE that IF she met Zac Hanson and IF he then asked her to marry him, her mother would give her legal consent. Her mother wisely acquiesced.
So E took Zac, I dibsed The Hot One since I was putting in the effort to make the shirts, and we gave Isaac to F since she already has a tendency towards attraction to old men (j/k W!!!!).
Step 2: Cutting
Now that you have your stencil, tape it to a piece of cardboard thick enough to use an Xacto knife on without cutting through the bottom. Take a piece of freezer paper larger than the image you’re cutting out, and tape it plastic-side down on top of it.

 

This is the part that takes a lot of patience and attention to detail, depending on the complexity of your stencil. Our Hansons definitely fall on the complex end of stenciling (Curse you, Taylor, and your girlie neck-scarves!). Since I obviously wasn’t going to cut out all the different textures of their hair and clothing that had come through in my somewhat hasty photoshop work, I had to figure out what to keep in each image. We chose to maintain most of the structural elements of their clothes (collar lines, pocket squares, etc) and a couple of details in the hair, but avoided lots of the facial hair and clothing patterns.
The other tricky thing to worry about is saving enclosed whitespace. Think about if you were stenciling the letter A:

 

If you just cut out along the black outline, you’d end up with a finished product of this:

 

Which looks dumb. So instead, you need to cut out the middle first, and save it for later:

 

In a long string of words or in a stencil like this, where there’s lots of little bits of enclosed whitespace, it can be difficult to keep track of all the pieces. If they are large enough, I number them before cutting out for ease of lining them back up. I also find it helpful to lock these away in a tupperware to keep them from blowing away.
It’s usually easiest to start from the inside and work your way out. So in the Hanson case, I started with their faces, then extra details like hair highlights, ears and neck scarves, then cut out the the whole outline of the head. When you finish, you’ll have a piece of freezer paper with a silhouette cut out, and a bunch of little freezer paper puzzle pieces you’ll have to put back together again.
Step 3: Ironing
Next, you’ll need your t-shirt. It should be pre-washed so it doesn’t shrink after you paint it. Lighter color shirts are easier to work with. You can use dark shirts, too, but you’ll need to use opaque fabric paint and more layers of it than with a light shirt, reducing flexibility. Since we were using gold paint, we thought we’d run with the dark shirts for contrast, even though it would be trickier. American Apparel makes great shirts for this purpose but has the severe detriment of a) forcing you go give money to American Apparel and b) forcing you to set foot in an American Apparel. You decide if it’s worth the cost.
Turn on your iron and get another piece of freezer paper, large enough to be bigger than your stencil, but small enough to fit inside your shirt. Lay it flat inside your shirt and iron it on (I used to turn the shirt inside out to do this, but it was too difficult to invert the shirt with the freezer paper on and works just as well this way). This keeps the paint from bleeding through so is very important.

Take the silhouette part of your stencil and place it on your shirt, plastic side down. Iron on flat, being careful not to create puckers in the fabric inside your stencil.

Begin lining up your tupperware of puzzle pieces. The parts of the stencil you cut away can be helpful in placing pieces in the corret part of the stencil. It’s most painstaking but also safest to iron these on one by one, since they are susceptible to flying away when you so much as breathe. Be careful to put the plastic side down, or you will end up with a ruined piece of stencil glued to the bottom of your iron.
Zac’s superfluous hair is a guide for placing his face
When you’re done, you will end up with the inverse of what you want your finished product to be:

 

Step 4: Painting

Yay painting! Get your foam brush and bottle of paint. After spending all that time carefully cutting and ironing stuff on, you will probably be eager to dip your brush in and slap on a lot of paint at once. Don’t do this! When you put too much paint on, the freezer paper stencil will start to warp and then your paint will bleed and then Taylor Hanson’s eyes will look really creepy up close. Instead, use a very little bit of paint on your brush at a time, dabbing paint slowly into tight corners and around edges, then smoothing everything out so there aren’t any thick spots.

Be extra careful with Isaac’s pocket square
If you need more that one coat of paint, wait until it’s mostly dry to add more. I know you probably want to be done and hurry through this part, but I promise it’s worth the wait.
Optional Step 4A: Glowing
Now because I’m awesome, I decided to make them glow-in-the-dark t-shirts. I didn’t find any suitable glow in the dark paint, so I ordered some glow powder off Amazon and mixed it with some colorless textile paint extender and water. Once the gold paint had mostly dried, I put a thin layer of this on top. It only slightly affected the color of the gold.
Unfortunately, it also only slightly affected the glowing properties of the shirt. The shirts do glow, but you have to actually be in the dark, and not in say, a music venue where they have green tube lighting everywhere for safety and décor purposes. I intend to try again with a different brand of glow powder, or else some glow paint I’ve since found online. I’ll let you know how it goes.
Step 5: Drying
Yeah, this part sucks, and I never take enough time. But you really want the shirts to be properly dry by the time you peel the stencil off . This means several hours of drying time, usually. I’ve been too impatient with this before and ripped off the mostly-dry paint with the stencil.
Step 6: Peeling

THIS IS THE MOST FUN STEP. When your shirt is finally dry, peel away your freezer paper. If you have lots of itty bits like in ours, you’ll have to get tweezers for the more intricate stuff.

 

Step 7: Ironing

The final step is heat-setting the pain. You must iron your shirt once more to ensure the paint doesn’t come off. After you do this, take the paper out of the inside, and voilà! Most epic concert shirt ever!

We also stenciled the Hanson logo on the back, which you can easily find with the help of google.

The Hanson Project: Part One

Back in July, I got a hurried call from F asking if I was free the weekend of October 8th. That’s when Hanson would be coming to New Haven. And she needed to buy tickets immediately.

Every six weeks or so, F, E and I get together in one of our respective cities, cook many things, and eat ourselves into oblivion. Excited at the prospect of this epic concert-going experience, we quickly rearranged our visiting schedule to accommodate everyone’s favorite long-haired boy band.

Only problem: F and I are not actually Hanson fans. We both missed that boat entirely when it sailed into town around 6th grade. F lived under a homeschooling rock for most of childhood and rarely gets any musical references past 1890, and I… Well, I am a special case. Unlike nearly all my friends, I am the baby of the family. My sister is five and a half years older than me, and that means I sometimes get confused about which decade I grew up in. Having an older, significantly cooler sister meant that in an effort to also be cool like my sister, I missed a lot of pop culture boats, not just the Hanson one. Boy Bands in general were decreed totally lame, meaning I will never be able to engage in the time-honored debate: N*Sync v. Backstreet Boys (though, when pressed, I say N*Sync because I hate ballads). And it also means that until 3 months ago, my Hanson knowledge started and ended with “Mmmbop.”

Luckily, what F and I lack in enthusiasm, E makes up for 1000 fold. Girl LOVES Hanson. I did not know this about her until a couple years ago, because it’s kind of embarrassing and she kept it well-hidden until adulthood. But she is the reason we’re even going to this concert. Hell, she’s the reason I know that Hanson is still making music (which they apparently have been steadily since their Mmmbopping days).

E insisted that we at least learn their later (better) stuff and provided us with all the relevant albums. But if I was going to become a Hanson fan for this concert, I needed to do it right. That meant I had approximately 13 years of Fansondom to catch up on in just three months. And so, The Hanson Project was born.

The first (and most important) step was tackling the music. Hanson has released 8 studio albums since 1995. That’s a daunting task. But thanks to a friend who probably wishes to have zero association with this project, I had a strategy. You see, this friend likes to experience new bands in chronological order. So let’s say he’s never heard a Beatles song but has decided to listen to the Beatles. He would not be able to skip ahead to Abbey Road without first listening to Meet The Beatles, Hard Days Night, Help!, Rubber Soul etc in chronological order first. Now, my friend has many good reasons for pursuing this strategy, but instead of enumerating them here, let’s just pretend he likes being ridiculed a lot. Which I have done myself, on several occasions! But given the nature of this Hanson Project, I thought it would be good to to have a methodical structure for making it through these albums. This was a perfect way to condense my Hanson fan experience.

To the Music!

Ok, so here’s what I knew from the get-go: back in the early 90s, three brothers in Tulsa thought it would be a good idea to start a band. This was probably not a good idea. At least, not yet, since none of their voices had changed and 8 year olds really shouldn’t be writing songs. They recorded their first studio album in 1994 but didn’t gain success until 1997’s Middle of Nowhere. This is the period of Hanson that everyone remembers, the long-haired, awkward (pre)teen “Mmmbop” years. They got three Grammy nominations, probably because Taylor Swift hadn’t appeared yet to show the world that children can write basic melodies AND have sensical lyrics.

The boys followed Middle of Nowhere with a Christmas album and the resoundingly mediocre This Time Around, got married super young, had a passel of children, and started their own record label. This is when their music supposedly starts getting better, beginning with Underneath. They subsequently released two more albums on their on label. Somewhere along this route, we got from this:

to this:

But in terms of musical style, actual songs, etc, I had no idea what I was in for. Which is why listening to 8 albums in a row was a little overwhelming. And it took me… a long time. As in, I just finished last night. That Christmas album slowed me down quite a bit, and I lost the will to continue for a while after This Time Around. But thanks to E’s constant harassing, I finally made it.

Some notes on my reviewing rubric: rather than assigning a letter grade, which I did not feel could appropriately capture the extreme variance of quality in Hanson’s music, I have created a category called “Musical Topography.” For point of reference, let’s assume that Paul Simon’s Graceland represents the peak of Mount Everest on the scale of Musical Topography. All other albums can be compared in general goodness to Graceland by picking an appropriate topographical landmark on the globe. Don’t like Graceland? GTFO. Haha just kidding. Just insert your (inferior) musical opinion here.

Also, I am nothing if not thorough, so I took detailed notes on every track of every album. I was recently telling someone about this project, and they asked if I am obsessive compulsive. “Hahahhahah, no!” I responded. “Well, maybe… yeah, probably a little bit.” You can see all my notes here, along with two Hanson-loving friends’ additional commentary.

Now the moment two or three of you have been waiting for, my opinions on every Hanson studio album, in chronological order:

Boomerang
1995

 

Best:

Worst: Everything
Musical Topograhy: The Bottom of the Mariana Trench
You will notice that I left “Best” blank here. That’s because there are no winners in this album, least of all me. It was actually physically painful to listen to. They covered a Baha Men song here. As in, the fools who were responsible for making me listen to “Who Let the Dogs Out” every time ARod came up to bat for the Mariners many moons ago. Why would you ever choose to cover a Baha Men Song?

In my notes on this album, all I wrote was, “clearly trying to be the White Jackson 5; influenced by gospel, tragic synthesizer music.” And that’s all there is to say, really.
MMMBop 
1996

Best: “Day Has Come,” although best is still a relative term.
Worst: “Surely As the Sun,” which I noted “sounds like a bad Christian rock”
Musical Topography: Sea Level
While my initial reaction was more positive, I quickly realized that my metric was just off after listening to Boomerang. Not everything on this album was terrible, but it definitely needed some editing. On the heels of the success of Middle of Nowhere, they re-released a version of this in 1998 with Three Car Garage, but it was sadly a big step down for them. On the whole, falls between somewhere between bad and mediocre.

Middle of Nowhere
1997
Best: “Man From Milwaukee,” “Mmmbop” (of course)

Worst: “Weird”
Musical Topography: That super-fun hill you used to slide down in a cardboard box
This is their first commercially successful album, and in a lot of ways is the first one that counts. This is not the best album I’ve ever heard, but it’s certainly not the worst (Boomerang might hold that spot). This shows miles of improvement over their first two albums. There are some bad moments–“Yearbook” is like an unfortunate precursor to a Taylor Swift B-track–and the lyrics are pretty repetitive. The content of the songs made me uncomfortable at times; I feel anyone whose voice has yet to change should not be singing about lovelorn episodes. Shouldn’t they be writing songs about super-soaker battles and dinosaurs? I found that I liked Isaac’s songs best, and maybe it’s because he’s the only one who’s not a child. But melodically, this album is miles better than the last two. Songs are overall pretty catchy, even if they are derivative and tend to sound the same.

Is this album good? Absolutely not. I’m frankly appalled that they got three Grammy nominations. But it’s kind of so-bad-it’s-good, and chock-full of nostalgia.

Snowed In
1997

Best: “Everybody Loves the Claus.” This might be the highlight of their career, actually.
Worst: It’s a toss up between the “Silent Night” medley and “White Christmas”
Musical Topography: A small iceberg, but one with really cute penguins playing on it.
Listen, I do not do Christmas pop albums. I am very particular and I only like very traditional carols. Also, as any of my college roommates can tell you, I get pretty belligerent when people play Christmas music before Thanksgiving. I am pretty much the Ebenezer Scrooge of holiday music. Making my way through this pop Christmas in July was a serious challenge for me. So when I say that this is not the worst Christmas album I’ve ever heard, just know that that is EXTREMELY GENEROUS for me.
The passing grade of this album stems from two things. One: they (mostly) chose to cover upbeat holiday songs which, while not my favorite songs ever, played to their strengths as a band. Second, there are some surprisingly bearable original songs, including one entirely about Santa’s poor eating habits. It’s kind of legitimately great.

This Time Around
2000

Best: “This Time Around”
Worst: “Love Song,” “Hand in Hand”
Musical Topography: Space Mountain
On the plus side, the songs continue to sound better overall on this album, and they definitely picked the right lead single from this album. Now for the more critical: although their melody-writing has improved, their lyrics have not much. A lot of times, their songs are just as repetitive as the past couple albums, and when they’re not, they read a bit too much like sixteen year olds think songs are supposed to read. Also, the amount of rhyming that goes on is distracting. This will not be the last time I say this, Hanson, but lay off the rhyming dictionary. It’s almost farcical to listen to some of the lyrics and think that they already had several Grammy nominations at this point. Anyone who criticizes Taylor Swift for winning too many awards, I’m going to send them straight to Hanson’s early stuff. I’m sounding super negative, and that’s not entirely representative of my opinion. This album is not great, but it definitely shows musical ability, and I sure as hell couldn’t write decent songs at age whatever this is (or at any age). They have come leaps and bounds from Boomerang and developed somewhat of their own sound. Taylor’s voice annoys me, but that’s more a personal preference than a comment on talent. There is a lot of potential for them to mature as musicians here and be really good.

Underneath
2004

Best: “Lost Without Each Other,” “Strong Enough To Break”
Worst: “When You’re Gone”
Musical Topography: Mount St. Helens (started decent, then exploded somewhere around track 7 and blew off 1000+ feet of altitude, leaving a crater of crappiness in its wake)
This album is what I like to call Hanson’s “Swiftian Period.” Because half these songs sound like they could have been written by Taylor Swift. This is NOT a criticism. I love to sing Taylor Swift in the shower as much as your next 24-year-old fake southerner. This is their first album where I might voluntarily listen to a couple of songs. But they still have some maturing to do in the song writing department. The music is pretty good, and they’ve added horns in a couple places–an interesting choice that we will visit again soon with Shout it Out. HOWEVER, we’re six albums in and I fear that I can never be a true Hanson fan because I find Taylor’s voice so incredibly grating. I mean, it made sense back in 1996 when he was a whiny, young teenager singing about love, but at this point he’s a grown-ass man with a wife and a toddler. As a band, their music is richer, they’ve occasionally laid down the rhyming dictionary and started writing slightly better lyrics, they’ve enjoyed almost a decade of success and started their own record label, so WHY ARE YOU STILL SO WHINY, TAY?

The Walk
2007

Best: “Great Divide” “Tearing it Down”
Worst: “One More”
Musical Topography: Mount Kilimanjaro
The topographical reference for this album is particularly relevant because this is the album where they traveled to Africa, heavily endorsed TOMS, collected a children’s choir for the backing vocals and donated some record sales to perinatal HIV care. And while that is all very nice and Bono, what does it mean for their music? Positive things! It was so refreshing to hear them deviate somewhat from their standard Hanson sound. The child singers worked pretty well, too. I wouldn’t say the album is a complete success–I think they had trouble fully embracing the African vibe and incorporating it with their own style, so you get kind of cooler sounding songs like “Great Divide” next to typically awful Hanson ballads like “One More,” and it doesn’t quite mesh. But yay for musical growth!

Shout It Out
2010

Best: “Give a Little”
Worst: “Carry You There” but in contrast to the beginning of this project, worst is a relative term!!!!
Musical Topography: Rocky Mountain National Park
Dude, I unreservedly like this album. I KNOW! What happened? I have listened to it a few times more since last night, and it keeps growing on me. The songs are SO catchy, and I really like all the horn additions.
I think what I like best about Shout It Out, though, is that I enjoy it despite the Hansonness of it all. There are several ballads, and I found them all at least tolerable. Some of the lyrics were still really, really dumb (“You don’t need a Cadillac/Cause I’ll be waiting with my bare back/to carry you there”), but I didn’t feel the need to strangle something upon hearing them. In true Hanson form, there were songs that seemed to consist of the title alone, repeated over and over, and Taylor’s singing continues to be totally incomprehensible. And I STILL LIKE THIS ALBUM. I appreciate someone that can convince me to like them without having to change the essentials of who they’ve been all along.

So what does this all mean? After an extremely grueling process, I can now say without a doubt that I… have listened to all the Hanson albums in chronological order. Sorry, were you waiting for me declare my undying love or passionate hatred for Hanson? Turns out this whole experience taught me less to be a Hanson fan, and more to be a Hanson connoisseur. I can appreciate their musical journey and how much they’ve grown as a band, but it’s kind of hard for me to separate my opinions from the process I created here. Do I legitimately like Shout It Out, or do I just like it given my knowledge of all the rest of Hanson’s music? Does it even matter if I like it based on its own merits or based on its historical context?

I’m not sure, but I definitely don’t feel like a Hanson fan. But though I am hardly going to become one of those overweight Fanson groupies that follows them around the country, fueled by the sustenance that only fast food and sweat sprayed from Zac’s sweaty locks can provide, I’ll at least check out their next album.

Stay tuned to find out how to make some really sweet, glow-in-the-dark Hanson shirts for all your concert-going needs.

A Proustian Moment

Who is that outrageously adorable little Irish girl? Oh right! It’s me!

When I was three, my father took a sabbatical and moved my family to his birthplace of Cork, Ireland. For nine months, we lived with my Great Aunt Kal, the sister of my late grandmother. Auntie Kal was a wonderful woman who in many ways served as one half of a surrogate for the grandmother I never met. I don’t remember much from the following year–a game of blind man’s bluff in the greenhouse, playing in light dusting of snow, a particularly foggy day–but the one thing that I will always associate with my great aunt are her scones and homemade raspberry jam.

Sorry to go all Marcel Proust on you, but I don’t think there could be anything more perfect than Kal’s jam and scones. There are entire childhoods wrapped up in those scones; for me, being scolded for cutting my own hair (and then lying about it after very obviously throwing both the hair and the scissors in the kitchen bin) to sitting in a different kitchen a dozen years later, cheating at a crossword puzzle with my cousin by filling in the remaining boxes with whatever words would fit. I know my sister has her own stories tied to those scones, and I’m guessing Kal’s children and grandchildren have theirs as well.

Auntie Kal passed away while I was in college, and for the last few years prior to that, she was not in a state to be baking. The last time I had her scones and raspberry jam was during a trip to Ireland the summer that I was 17. Unfortunately, those final scones will forever be tainted with the realization that her sharp mind was already succumbing to dementia and that they would probably mark the last time I saw my Aunt as I remembered her.

Since her death, her recipes have been passed down to various relations scattered around the Anglo-Irish countryside. My cousins in Northern Ireland took over jam-making duties, while a cousin in Dublin is the keeper of the scone recipe. Both have generously shared the fruits of their labor, but an ocean is a long distance for a pot of jam, and scones do not travel especially well. I harassed both cousins until they handed over their respective recipes and cooking tips, and a year ago made my first attempt during a six-week visit with F and E in New Haven.

F found a nearby u-pick farm where you practically steal the fruit from the vines–something like $5/lb of raspberries. Sadly, we got super lost on the way and only had about ten minutes to pick two pounds of berries and so did not have a huge quantity of jam at the end of the day. I cautiously hoarded my share until my sister’s birthday and Thanksgiving so that my family could approve, and it was at least enough of a success that we tried it again this year.

This month’s six-week visit was scheduled for E’s house on Long Island. After F put the fear of God in her, she called nearly every farm in the surrounding region until she found one with raspberries. Our chauffeur, Matt I (also known as E’s husband) drove us there on Saturday, and we wrestled some bees to collect 6 pints of the best berries. These we supplemented with some frozen ones F had gotten at the u-steal farm in Connecticut, and we got down to making jam! I’m super lazy, though, so I just used pictures from last year.

Raspberry Jam

For every pound of rasberries, use a half a pound of granulated sugar (technically, the recipe we were given calls for equal weights sugar and berries, but we promptly ignored that and it turne out fine). This past time, we had three pounds of raspberries so:

3 lbs raspberies
1.5 lbs sugar
10 8 oz jars and lids for canning
2 large stock pots

To begin with, put the canning jars in the dishwasher. You want these to be extra clean so you don’t get botulism and die. If you don’t have a dishwasher, seriously? It’s 2011, people. Update your kitchen.

Next, wash all your raspberries! If you got them from a farm like us, you will probably find all sorts of new friends living in them and will want to cry as you spend hours trying to drown them all.

Now put all of your raspberries in a large pot. Turn the heat to medium and simmer gently for ten minutes. The rasberries will begin to break up and your wooden spoon will start to turn a pleasing shade of magenta.

Add the sugar. This is where it gets iffy, because the recipe just says, “stir until dissolved and boil rapidly until setting point is reached. Pot and cover in usual way.” That is not… terribly informative. Your guess is as good as mine on what the setting point is. Both times, F and I have just said, “Ok, I think that looks good?” and started canning. My best idea is to treat it like you would a custard–when it starts to thicken and covers the back of a metal spoon, call it a day.

I don’t want to be responsible for you dying from canning incompetence, so you should read about how to “pot and cover in usual way” in this handy-dandy canning guide from Ball.

You can put any leftover jam in a covered bowl in the fridge for your immediate eating needs.

Auntie Kal’s Scones

After some trial and error, I’ve come up with these Americanized measurements:

3 2/3 (3 lbs) cup all-purpose flour
Pinch of Salt
1 t baking soda
2 t cream of tartar
1 T sugar
Stick (4 oz) of unsalted butter
1 egg
1 cup (ish) buttermilk

Preheat oven to 425 F.

In a large bowl, combine dry ingredients. Cut butter into dry ingredients and incorporate with a fork.

Crack egg into a liquid measuring cup. Add buttermilk on top of egg until you have 1 1/5 cups (half an imperial pint) of liquid. Whisk together lightly.

Add liquid to dry ingredients. Mix together with wooden spoon, and then turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead gently, just until dough forms a soft ball. Flatten into a circle about a half an inch thick. Cut scones* and lay on greased (or parchment papered) cookie sheet. Brush tops with egg/buttermilk wash.

Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until tops begin to turn golden brown. Serve warm with butter and Kal’s raspberry jam.

Tastes like childhood.

*In my memory, the scones were round with a fluted edge (this could be inaccurate), so I normally use a fluted biscuit cutter. But sometimes I also use a fluted heart-shaped cutter because it’s extra cute that way!

Dark Chocolate Raspberry Truffles:


While we were at it, we also experimented with raspberry truffles. They were pretty epic, especially considering that we made up the recipe as we went along:

1 cup raspberries
1/4 cup sugar
1/3 cup heavy cream
2 1/2 cups dark chocolate, chopped (Do not use chocolate chips or I will come after you!!)
Plastic fork
Parchment Paper

Set aside 1 cup of the dark chocolate. Put the remaining chocolate in a medium bowl.

Cook the raspberries and sugar in a small saucepan on medium high heat until all the sugar is dissolved and the raspberries start to disintegrate: about 10ish minutes. Or not 10ish minutes–I wasn’t looking at a clock and have a bad sense of time.

Add the cream to the mixture and bring to a vigorous boil, until the mixture is relatively unlumpy. Turn off the heat and carefully pour the mixture over the 1 1/2 cups of chocolate. Wait about 30 seconds, and then stir till all the chocolate is melted and the mixture is smooth.

Cool on the counter until room temperature. Chill in the fridge for about an hour.

Set parchment paper on a cookie sheet. Remove ganache from fridge. It should be solid enough that you can roll into balls, about 1″-1.5″ thick. Place on the cookie sheet and chill for another hour.

Melt the remaining chocolate over a double boiler. If you want to get fancy, learn how to temper chocolate. But I’m guessing you either already know how or can’t be bothered. Break the center two tines of the plastic fork and use this to dip the truffles in the melted chocolate. Place them back on the cookie sheet and cool at room-temperature until chocolate hardens, or if you’re lazy and impatient, in the fridge.

Makes 12 truffles which won’t last long enough for you to take a picture.