#HolidayShopping: Gift Guide 2020

Bookish and Music Based Gifts for The Smart Cookie in your Life!

It’s the time of the year (although I know 2020 has been one of those years) when you put yourself and all you want out of your mind for a whole month, and think about the people you love and how you could possibly make their lives better with a gift that screams them. Well, I’m not an expert on the best gifts for people who like fashion, home goods or even monster trucks. I am an expert on all things books and music and I have the perfect list of gifts for the Smart Cookie in your life.

Books

  1. Living Lightly: Bring Happiness and Calm to your Everyday by Dale Curd and Kimberly Alexander

In the beginning of the year I began reading this book and found it helped me have something positive and meaningful to reflect on each day. No matter your creed or color, this book is a helpful devotional style book which helps anyone feel lighter and more focused on what they bring to the table instead of what they lack.

2. Of Whelter and Whim by Mike Mac

This was my 2020 introduction to National Poetry Month and it definitely started the month off on the right note. I found it to be incredibly simple yet so telling which is my favorite reason for reading poetry. Perfect for non-poetry readers and poetry readers alike. My favorite poem would have to be this one right here although more are included in my review piece at the link above.

3. Beyond Worthy by Jaqueline Whitney

Sometimes you read a book of poetry and it absolutely hits you right at the center of your pain but instead of placing a band-aid over it, it was salve for the wounds I suffered following a season of double trauma. It was everything I didn’t know I needed post-trauma. And I thank Jaqueline Whitney for putting her words, her heart, her story out into the world because they helped me heal even more.

4. Betty by Tiffany McDaniel

By far, this was one of my favorite books I read this year. Not only because I am friends with the author but because her writing is so lyrically brilliant. I can’t tell you how powerful this story was. It’s crazy to me that this book took twenty years to come to fruition but wow, it’s absolutely worth all the work that went into writing it, and even more so, worthy of every ounce of buzz and nomination it has gotten since it’s release.

5. Good Brave People by Nicholas Trandahl

Sometimes you read a novel at the exact right time and it makes you nostalgic when you didn’t have to excuse you actually enjoying Fitzgerald or Murakami or even Garcia Marquez back in high school. If you like any of those writers, please consider Good Brave People as it reads with poetic prose but has the mystique and literary stamina of all three writers combined. It’s hard to believe this is his debut novel.

6. The Haunting by Melissa Combs

In preparation for putting out my own book, I began posting some poetry of mine to gain exposure for my collection as any writer does on social media. I connected with this writer and it was apparent right away we both were heartbroken and haunted by our twin flames. A twin flame is a spiritual concept where two people are actually two halves of the same soul so they complete each other, and sometimes the connection can span many lifetimes. They don’t always achieve union every lifetime but every lifetime causes them to cycle karmic cleansings and self-healing to achieve their highest selves until they achieve union or entirely mirror one another.

7. When My Mind Winds Up by Jennifer Ervig

Opening up the discussion about mental health by sharing her own personal story about her struggles with anxiety, it’s written in a devotional style so it is an easy read and helps people who suffer with anxiety through to defeating it once and for all.

8. Sticks and Stones by Chelsea DeVries

Shameless plug but my brand new poetry book is now available in paperback and ebook format. It’s already gotten 4.6 stars on Goodreads and even resonated with a Bookstagrammer in India. Overall, I hope that by me writing this to heal, it offers you the same no matter what you are going through or have gone through.

9 and 10. Cookies For A Cause: Bookish Merch That Deliciously Gives Back

Launched in 2018, we now have over 14 products and 7 charities that we support. The newest designs are the mask that helps Save the Children and the ESPRESSO YOURSELF fanny pack that helps end hunger.

Coming in 2021: a pet friendly design that celebrates that our furry friendships are fur-ever.

Music

  1. Tangerine EP by Hot Chelle Rae

2020 was the year my favorite band came back with new music and it gave me purpose yet again. Their Tangerine EP was a blessed fruit in the desolate year that was 2020 but it’s worth a listen and it’s less than $5.

2. Calm by 5SOS

Dare I say it but when I sat down to listen to their third studio album, I actually thought it was going to be sub-par but instead like their two previous works, not one bad song on it. So much strong lyricism and inventive musicality that again changes their sound as a band. Watch out 5SOS are always evolving. Try to stay CALM about it.

3.Folklore by Taylor Swift

If 2020 ever needed a savior it would have to be T. Swift. She showed up with a folk pop album written entirely in 3rd person and it was exactly what our quarantine playlist needed, and our souls needed too.

4. Out of Body by NeedToBreathe

You ever been given an opportunity just when you were about to give up and you literally wondered why you were picked. Well, the chance to review this album came like to me this year and it’s a wonderful body of work. My favorite song is probably Who I Am? on this album but the entire work takes you back to a youthful viewpoint and you all know how much I love being nostalgic.

5. Restoration by Lecrae

Lecrae is my favorite rapper so when I heard he was releasing new music in the year of all years I was restored that God truly is watching over us and is walking with us, no matter how much we wrestle with the Holy Ghost.

6. Thank U Next by Ariana Grande

You ever fall in love with someone and their potential of being with you was all in your head? Well, if not, if you’ve ever seen the good in goodbye, Thank U Next is Ariana’s most powerful work to date. It shares struggles with mental health, heartbreak, grief, and feeling too needy.

7. Colour Vision by MAX

Max’s second major label studio album is a colorful work full of strong musiciality and lyricism and you will not be able to stop yourself from dancing to the jam Working for The Weekend.

8. Smile by Katy Perry

While this one wasn’t my favorite, it definitely will get you dancing, jamming out, and it will make you smile. My unexpected favorite on this one is Champagne Problems.

9. Inspired by True Events by Tori Kelly

Musical Notes episode for this one coming soon but I was surprised by the fact that this charted so low for a Tori Kelly album. My favorite song on this one would have to be Coffee.

10. What You See Is What You Get by Luke Combs

Fine, I’ll admit it. I’m secretly in love with Luke Combs solely because he has a beard, drinks beer, and wears crocs. Haha. Well he’s newly married to the prettiest girl but his artistry sure has stolen my heart. He writes amazing songs. His song Beautiful Crazy stopped me in my tracks and I am still not over it.

Wishing you all an espressive Holiday season! Cheers to 2021!

#MusicMuses: Look at life through a youthful prism with NeedToBreathe’s Out of Body

I remember when I first heard NeedtoBreathe. I stopped whatever I was doing and just let the soundwaves of the hopeful lyrics of “Brother” wash over my troubled and tired person.

The lyrics spoke to me and ended up giving me the courage to walk away from things that were no longer serving me:

  • a job full of abuse and demeaning treatment by the family who owned the business
  • a mental breakdown leading to several attempts of suicide ideation
  • away from a guy who made me paint his name in every sky only to leave when the rain clouds poured out and opened wide

As I started listening to the album, I felt all the heavy weights of that toxic time in my life literally lift off my soul and I no longer feel their burden but only now see them in the light of God’s grace and glory.

The Grammy Award nominated platinum-certified South Carolina trio-Bear Rinehart [lead vocals, guitar], Seth Bolt [ bass, vocals] and Josh Lovelace [keys, vocals] look at life, family, and friends through a youthful prism.

Their 2014 album Rivers in the Wasteland hit #2 on the Billboard Hot 200 with platinum-selling Hot 100 hit “Brother” [feat. Gavin DeGraw] and “Multiplied,” which garnered their first Grammy nod.

They identify as a rock band first and foremost looking to “shed a little light in the world and have an absolute blast” along the way.

“In order to be a child again, some things have to go away,” Bear leaves off. “However, you find new beauty and love. I know we did” (Elektra Records).

needtobreathe

Song by Song Review

pablo

Mercy’s Shore: A folk rock intro to the album with soulful vocals and vocal layering. The musicality creates a build and crash sound that mimics that of a wave crashing upon the shore. A hopeful look at God’s mercy and glorious grace.

pablo (1)

Alive: One of my favorites off the album for it’s running through an open field truly free feel, built up by a heavenly chant, robust riff, and boisterous groove. It explores the feeling of truly being alive in Christ.

pablo (2)

Hang On: energetic guitars, a stadium size refrain and nostalgic lyrics paint this very timely song about holding on to the feeling of bliss from your youth.

pablo (4)

Survival: A duet with Drew and Ellie Holcomb with a bluesy rock musicality and old school gospel sound. It explores that Jesus is the answer to our very existence.

pablo (5)

Child Again: A crystallized musical exploration of child-like faith that features glimmering keys and expansive rhythms

pablo (3)

Out of Body: The title track from the album is an alternative rock song about this idea that once we think and feel with our spirit, who the Son sets free is free indeed. It has an infectious groove and rhythm and utilizes vocal layering.

pablo (7)

Who Am I?: The latest promotional single for the album, poetic exploring the idea of defining our identity in Christ, it’s musicality is made up of handclaps, soaring chorus, and emotionally charged vocals. Overall, it’s a song about the fight to accept, embrace and trust that the greatest love requires nothing in return.

pablo (8)

Banks: A song written for the women in the band member’s lives, the musicality is built with acoustic guitars, romantic, vulnerable lyrics, soft vocals, vocal layering, and windpipes that build a beautiful swelling of the overall listening experience.

pablo (11)

Riding High: Bluesy Soul Rock meets Classic Rock Feel (Guns N Roses Welcome To the Jungle meets Poison’s Nothing But a Good Time) exploring this concept of living large in the mercy and grace of God.

pablo (12)

Bottom of a Heartbreak: Soft Rock Ballad about the true emotions one feels while in the midst of a heartbreak featuring vulnerable emotive lyrics and pain portrayed in the vocal performance.

pablo (13)

Seasons: Delicate piano, plaintive strumming and starkly powerful vocals, this song finishes out the album by telling the true story of a close friend of the band’s struggles with fertility and adoption. It’s based on the passage in Ecclesiastes 3. God makes everything beautiful in it’s time (Ecc 3:11).

mail

Out of Body is NeedToBreathe’s seventh studio album and will be released to the public this Friday August 28, 2020 from Elektra Records and available for pre-order now wherever music is sold.

#MusicalMuses: Third Person Narrations and Stories Haunt Taylor Swift’s ‘Folklore’

Imagine the absolute screeching brakes sound that resounded when the entire world, affected by COVID-19 pandemic and still dang bored in quarantine, when Taylor Swift posted the image announcing her new album was written and recorded entirely in quarantine, and with no warning was released on July 24, 2020.

taylor-swift-miss-americana-premiere-2020-billboard-1548-1024x677

Folklore is the eighth studio album by Taylor Swift who recorded the entire album while in isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

With elements of indie folk, alternative rock, electro-folk, and chamber pop it brings Taylor Swift’s natural storytelling ability to life without the upbeat pop sounds. It is written in entirely in third person narrative flowing from a stream of consciousness.

It debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 chart and also helped Swift gain a Guinness World Record for the biggest opening day for an album by a female artist on Spotify.

Song by Song Review

Click here to listen to the entire album while reading this review.

Taking us back to her RED album era, Swift’s Folklore is a book of lyrical poems and stories that will peak your curiosity, inspire you, and educate you. Few songwriters have the power of achieving all three in one album.

pablo

The 1: Driven by a danceable, bouncy arrangement of trickling piano, minimal percussion and electronic accents. Lyrically it centers around the nostalgic remembrance of myths and lost loves. It contemplates a what if scenario with at person being possible.

pablo (3)

Cardigan: With elements of folk and soft rock ballad driven by a stripped down arrangement of a drum sample and moody atmosphere, it discusses the teenage love triangle which follows a love triangle from three people’s perspectives at different times in their lives.

pablo (4)

The Last Great American Dynasty: Features a glitchy alternative production with classical instruments. It tells the story of Rebekah Harkness, who was hated by the town and blamed for the death of her then-husband and heir to Standard Oil. Swift makes parallels to her own career and the harsh criticisms she’s received.

pablo (5)

Exile: A melancholic duet with Bon Iver over dramatic strings. The weepy song begins with a plodding piano, advancing into a climax of chorused vocals, synths, and glorious harmonies. This song describes two ex-lovers seeing each other following a break-up.

pablo (7)

My Tears Ricochet: A Gothic song encompasses twinkling music box instrumentals, backing church choir vocals, reverberated ad-libs in the bridge, and shuddering drums. Sung from the perspective of a deceased lover’s ghost, it is one of my favorites off the album.

pablo (8)

Mirrorball: Folk-tinged jangle-pop and dream pop song with a nervous dance-floor sensibility, swirling vocals, jangly guitars and pedal steel. It depicts Swift as a reflective disco ball: she sees herself as reflecting all the personalities around her, she entertains others, and she shatters like glass when her heart is broken.

pablo (11)

Seven: A nostalgic escapist song sung in her upper register about Taylor’s childhood friends who seemed to have an unhappy life at home.

pablo (12)

August: This track’s musicality is my favorite off the album, driven by acoustic guitar, shimmering vocal reverb and Swift’s perfectly timed key-changes. This gloomy pop rock song and dream pop ballad talks about a summer fling that is ill-fated.

pablo (13)

This is Me Trying: Musically, an orchestral grandeur surrounds Swift’s ghostly vocals drenched in reverb, talking about accountability and regret.

pablo (14)

Illicit Affairs: I kept this track on repeat for an entire day. Over a stripped down arrangement, finger-plucked strings and soft horns narrates infidelity and highlights the measures the disloyal protagonist has to carry out in order to keep the affair between a man and herself a secret.

Her wordplay in this track is absolute fire.

 

Invisible String: Banjo-driven with an airy-folk production consisting of acoustic riff and thumping vocal backbeats. It references an east Asian folk myth about a red thread of fate tying two soulmates together.

pablo (19)

Mad Woman: A song that tackles the taboo associated with female rage making comments referencing her battles with Scooter Braun and Scott Borchetta over owning her music and rapper Kanye West who defamed her on his song, “Famous.”

pablo (15)

Epiphany: A Coldplay-like song; it’s an ethereal hymn that depicts the devastation of the COVID-19 pandemic paying homage to healthcare workers and comparing them to her grandfather, a military veteran who served in World War II. The reverent vocals in the song are supported by “glacial” piano.

pablo (16)

Betty: A folk rock and country song with intertwining harmonica, it concludes the third perspective of the teenage love triangle from the perspective of the cheating boyfriend James.

pablo (17)

 

Peace: Musically, a pulse juxtaposed with a lush guitar bassline, a calm tune describing Swift’s maturation and changing view of romance.

pablo (18)

Hoax: A despondent note of hopeful sadness compromises this piano ballad that closes out this incredible musical work. Filled with melancholy and darkness, “Hoax” narrates the struggles endured in a toxic relationship.

#MusicMix: Selena Gomez proves she’s rarer than anything American pop music has ever made with album ‘Rare’

Sometimes you put an album on and instantly feel it was exactly what you needed to hear following some traumatic experiences.

That’s what Rare started out as for me. Like a private message or a text from a close friend about what you went through, what you feel, and how to get past it, this album was the healing soundtrack I needed to press play on.

Like even the week it was released January 10, 2020 was so timely, and divinely gifted to me when I didn’t know how to feel about the first week of the year which was jam packed with chaos and a cacophony of bullshit.

Channeling Paula Abdul for the 21st century, Gomez’s third studio album quickly charted the Billboard 200 at #1.

It’s a midtempo pop and dance album with influences from electronic, latin pop, and R& B. Lyrically, it’s themes are self-love, acceptance, and empowerment.

FB_IMG_1592517889163

Click the above graphic to listen to the album while reading this review.

Rare: Gomez’s favorite song off this new album with a sound of compromised backing vocals and muffled instruments as if the whole thing has been dunked underwater. The song is a self-empowerment anthem about independence and self-love.

pablo

Dance Again: Blended genres of funk, dance, electro, and electropop. It’s lowkey yet infectious musically. It’s main message is acceptance.

I kickstart the rhythm. All the trauma’s in remission. No, I don’t need permission.

pablo (1)

Look at Her Now: Reviewed in a previous post but this is an upbeat song about becoming stronger person after a turbulent relationship. Acknowledging that you mess up and you go through stuff but you always come out of it just feeling like a boss.

pablo (2)

Lose You to Love Me: The only ballad on this album. It has bare bones production, plucked violins, booming bass, tearjerker piano, an orchestra, and multi-layered vocals from Gomez. It was produced and co-written with Billie Eillish’s partner in crime Finneas. The melancholy lyrics talk about her split from ex, Justin Bieber.

pablo (3)

Ring: The latin-influenced track has musicality that is likened to Goyte’s Somebody I Used to Know and Santana’s Smooth. It’s about expecting the best & realizing you deserve the best.

pablo (4)

Vulnerable: My favorite song off the album because of it’s unbreakable huge heart type love themes and so many beautiful lyrics. A warm disco and electropop record with a moody synth groove and elements of italo disco and tropical house.

pablo (5)

People You Know: Electropop musicality contrast this melancholy song about the pain of come and go people friends, lovers, and acquaintances.

pablo (7)

Let Me Get Me: Influences of Latin music on the upbeat and dance-floor ready song about lyrically coming out of body and detaching herself from the thoughts in her head, and she doesn’t want the joy she feels to be shot down.

pablo (8)

Crowded Room: R&B song about the instant connection you have with someone across a crowded room.

pablo (11)

Kinda Crazy: Tongue in cheek tune and sinuous kiss-off driven by a clean bluesy guitar lick and accompanying horns, about a lover who mixed his signals and changed his tune.

pablo (12)

Fun: Playful and catchy co-written with Julia Michaels about a casual relationship with someone not good for her

pablo (13)

Cut You Off: A slinky downtempo pop song with influences of funk and a slam jam about moving on from a relationship and the empowerment you feel.

How could I confuse that shit for love?

pablo (14)

A Sweeter Place: An R&B collaboration with Kid Cudi about finding a place free of worry and brighter days are ahead.

pablo (15)

Gomez hits it out of the park with this treasure of a musical masterpiece. It proves she’s a strong artist, strong human, and yes in fact, very rare in today’s musical scope.

 

#MusicMuses: June Music Mix

I have actually found that for a while there it looked like less music was coming out and I wasn’t sure how I would survive without new music. So I waited until I had more than five songs to discuss and highlight. For this month’s mix, it’s a mix of new pop and some new Christian/inspirational that I found while the COVID-19 pandemic has been going on.

Despite the pandemic, many artists still put out the albums they had worked so hard on, and I look forward to reviewing those. Until then, here’s a summer playlist for you curated by yours truly.

June Music Mix

Click the above graphic to listen to the playlist while you read.

Boyfriend: I remember the first time I heard this. I went for my morning walk and was instantly into the backbeat of this song. It makes this simple song go from whiny and complaining about being single and occasionally lonely into a dance party. It’s almost like a fun pop twist on the saying, “It takes two to tango.”

pablo

I Love Yous: Sampling “No More I Love Yous” by Annie Lennox, this song talks about the importance of healing and self-care following a break-up with someone you cared for deeply, and not jumping right into a new relationship.

pablo (1)

Holy Water: Anthem of various genres with a timeless sound, this song celebrates forgiveness which believers have once they come face to face with Jesus and his never-ending grace.

pablo (2)

I’m Ready: A choir-filled anthem with a powerful declaration of putting it out in the Universe that you are ready for love to find you and love you back.

pablo (3)

 

Break My Heart: Disco-oriented, a dance party track about finally being in a happy place and wondering if this new person will end up only breaking your heart.

pablo (4)

Genetics: A single off Trainor’s album Treat Myself that talks about body positivity and how it can be hard with the surgery craze of the West Coast. It also has this runway type musicality.

pablo (5)

Savage: Made famous by TikTok, this hip-hop self-love anthem defines what it means to be a female in today’s world.

pablo (7)

Together: A song of hope released early amidst the global COVID-19 pandemic, it touches on sticking together through the good and the bad. It’s got a choir-like anthem musicality.

pablo (11)

Clean: A song about taking care of your own sanity and mental well-being after you clean someone from your life. It has a multi-layered vocals musicality that mimics a choir.

pablo (12)

Yikes: Trap banger released early after Minaj’s retirement announcement. The track is 2:36 and hits hard from start to finish.

pablo (13)

All My Friends Are Fake: A beautiful lyrical look at how unreliable people can be, and it ends up causing people to develop trust issues.

pablo (14)

That Way: A piano ballad about two friends who have an unspoken chemistry which messes with your head and causes tension on the friendship

pablo (15)

CRZY: This song came out in 2016 but I just discovered its genius. CRZY is a defiant R &B ode to take back the reigns on Kehlani’s own narrative. She’s not addressing anyone who counts her out, but instead applauds her own success and the challenges she’s faced.

pablo (16)

Daisies: One of my favorite songs right now; a self-empowerment anthem that features a mid-tempo production in its verses and a guitar in its chorus. It just reminds the listener to remain true to the course you set for yourself, regardless of what others may think.

pablo (17)

Stuck With U: An R&B Collaboration between Justin Bieber and Ariana Grande to raise money for first responders during the COVID-19 lockdown.

pablo (18)

Savage (Remix): A brand new verse from Meg and an equal verse from Beyonce. They put this song out to raise money from COVID-19 relief for their hometown of Houston.

pablo (8)

X: When I first heard this song, it brought me right back to being ten years old and obsessed with Ricky Martin. With musicality that reminisces his first album, the Jonas Brothers hit another one out of the park with the way they fuse genres into pop music. It’s dancy, fun, and muy caliente.

pablo (19)