2015glasses

First CPA Exam: FAR, 11-18-2017

I took my first CPA exam yesterday, for FAR (Financial Accounting and Reporting). The other three in the sequence are AUD (Audit), REG (Regulation/Tax), and BEC (Business Environment Concepts / Cost Accounting). My original plan was to complete all four by May.

After yesterday, I believe I will be taking the exams well into summer of 2018. I can't sugarcoat it: it kicked my ass.

I felt good after the first testlet of multiple choice and still somewhat fine after the second multiple choice testlet, but the subsequent simulation testlets (3 sets of 2, 3, and 3) crushed me. I was prepared for a diverse, tricky exam experience. What i didn't expect was that my sims would be stacked toward consolidations. My brain is in a stress fog now, but my recollection is that 4 of the 8 sims involved consolidation concepts of some sort. On top of that, they were of the "fix this mess" type of task, which is no picnic to work through, particularly in a timed test environment.

I didn't run out of time, but I don't feel that I did well enough to pass. I won't find out my score for a month, so all I can do is speculate right now. In that regard, my gut says I'm looking at something between 60-74 (75 is passing). Maybe I will get lucky and one of those consolidation sims was a pre-test sample that will be thrown out. Maybe I did so well on the first multiple choice portion that the analytics kicked in and served me the "hard" branch of the exam. If so, I could benefit from a slight score kicker there. Despite all of the maybes, I am reasonably on the glass half-empty side of the table right now.

So what did I do right?

I've taken dozens, if not hundreds of credits of accounting. I worked through the Gleim CPA review and did practice exams in Gleim and Wiley's Test Banks. I used recent Intermediate Accounting texts and videos from Farhat and others to refresh and clarify my knowledge. In the past 4 months, not a day went by where I didn't put at least 2 hours (usually 4-6) into throwing myself at every possible topic. I would say that in terms of overall breadth, I was as prepared as I could be.

What did I do wrong?

I took the AICPA percentages too seriously. Worse, I didn't expect a nightmare scenario where one advanced topic would appear in concentration. Consolidations are barely touched in school. It's a specialist topic that, while not too terrible, involves complexity and nuance. I am at the point where I can do them, but not quickly or efficiently. I started the simulations with 2 hours on the clock and that just wasn't enough for me given my current level of skill. Added to that, I was totally caught off guard by a simulation related to subsequent events. It's a topic I'm fine with, but in that context, I did not have the time I needed to do it well.

So what now?

I wait. And I continue to work through the AUD curriculum. In the free moments I have, I will continue to take maintenance tests and will put additional effort into consolidations in order to make myself more efficient with them. If I need to retake the exam, I want to put myself in the best possible position to pass it.

And if somehow I did pass... I never, ever want to see that thing ever again. I walked in confident after a gaggle of practice exams in the high 80s. I got to the half way point mostly in control. I walked out feeling like someone had pushed my mom into traffic.

Every horror story about the CPA exam is true. Forget the percentages. Forget the advice. They can and will throw ANYTHING at you.
2015glasses

The journey continues

Goals... when I was younger I didn't really internalize what it meant to have goals or to achieve them. These days, I am loving life thanks to having a slate of goals that I am working toward.

On Monday, I officially achieve one of them by attaining the title Accountant. Not only that, but I'm doing so as part of a critical state project. That is so damn cool and I am looking forward to using my knowledge and drive for efficiency to make my mark on cost allocation. I loved my time as an analyst and was thrilled to be awarded a Good Government coin in October. I hope to find that same spirit and acceptance in my new role. So hyped!

I completed my associate's degree in December and am now neck-deep in a master's program. I'm 95% sure I will take my first CPA exam in January 2018. I should earn my master's in accounting in June of 2018. I could be a licensed CPA by the Fall of 2018. Goals.

I saw something that said "The road to the goal is success." That must be true, because I adore what I've achieved while seeking my goals. Satisfaction. Respect. More money. More friends. I am not where I want to be professionally yet, but I am pleased with where I am on that road. I am in the proper lane and on course. Oh my God that is such a great feeling!

Now, I won't say my life as a whole is perfect. It's surely not. But when it comes to the contribution I'm making to society and in reaching my potential, I am a lot happier than I was 2 years ago.
2015glasses

Goodbye 2016

2016 came in on a high note and ended like burning diarrhea. Thankfully, a little scotch and amaretto helped soothe the aches... and there is hope that 2017 won't bring World War III.

My highlights:
Getting comfortable in my job
Seeing Ken Griffey Jr inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame (in person!)
Drinking Polar Seltzer in Cooperstown
Seeing Kawehi and Lindsey Stirling in concert
Seeing Ichiro hit #2987 and #2988 in Detroit
Pokemon Go and making a new friend thanks to it
Seeing Erin and Aaron Thomas in Chicago and OMG THE CUBS WON!
Finishing my Associate's degree for Accounting
Starting my Master's degree for Accounting
My mom is alive
Cindy is alive
I am alive
My dad is still dead

My lowlights:
Too numerous to list

Seriously, I'm not recapping the lowlights. And I hardly noted them in this journal because I want the annals of history to skip them. Plenty of crappy aspects of 2016 will be remembered by many anyway. Let's just look at those highlights. Nice highlights. Pretty highlights. EVERYTHING IS OK!!

No resolutions. No goals. I will do well at my job. I will continue to earn my graduate degree and make progress toward the CPA. I will annoy, aggravate, uplift, and love my wife. I will likely do the same to others (though not to the same degree... probably). My hunch is that I also won't update this journal very much. It's not that I'm putting my thoughts out there in another venue. I'm just in that period in my life where much of what happens with me occurs introspectively. I could put that into words, but I'm taking it all to my grave.

So, basically, I'm awesome -- you be awesome. And let's enjoy 2017 so much that 2016 hangs itself with jealousy.
2015glasses

Rating Lindsey Stirling's albums - day 5 - epilogue

Final Thoughts

My week of Lindsey Stirling madness has come to an end. What have we learned? That Lindsey Stirling is a great artist and I still have an unnatural fascination toward her. Beyond that, I am of the opinion that her albums rank in this order:

1. Brave Enough

2. Lindsey Stirling

3. Shatter Me

4. Live From London

If someone were to rip the DVD or Blu-Ray tracks from the Live from London release and burn that to a disc, then I’d move it above Shatter Me. For certain, if I wanted to turn someone on to Lindsey, I’d start with Brave Enough and then recommend Lindsey Stirling if they didn’t whine about the non-vocal tracks.

I originally thought about making up my own Greatest Hits playlist to share, but that’s a difficult thing to do now that she has such a huge library of both vocal and non-vocal songs. When I mingle them together, I find myself gravitating to one type or the other. As a solution, I have actually made two CDs for my car, labeled “Music” and “Lyrics.” Music mainly has the non-vocal 9s and 10s noted in my previous posts, with some of the 8s, while Lyrics has the songs I noted plus a number of non-published YouTube tracks, such as “Party Rock Anthem” and her collaborations with Pentatonix (“Radioactive”) and Eppic (“By No Means”).

Frankly, the best way to get into Lindsey Stirling is to go where she exploded. Visit her channel on YouTube, pick a good video (Elements or Roundtable Rival are a good start) and just surf the suggestions for the tracks that turn you on. Considering how prolific she’s been, most people should at least find a handful of songs to vibe to.

2015glasses

Rating Lindsey Stirling's albums - day 4

Brave Enough

After four months of frequent listening, I feel that Brave Enough may have what it takes to endure as Lindsey’s best work to-date. Tracks like “Lost Girls” and “Prism” satisfy the familiar Lindsey+dubstep formula, while full-on lyrical songs like “Brave Enough,” “Where Do We Go,” and “Don’t Let This Feeling Fade” prove that Lindsey as backup is still better than most backup around. Even the softball tracks avoid the dreaded skip button.

This is also the first album where I feel like Target Stores received one hell of an exclusive, because not only do the bonus tracks complete a perfect harmony of music and lyrics, they also offer the chance to listen to “Waltz.” How that track didn’t end up as the opener on the main album I will never know.

1 Lost Girls (10)

A great, dancy “classic style” Lindsey track. No lyrics, just awesome spirit lifting music that comes straight from the sweet spot of Lindsey’s wheelhouse.

2 Brave Enough (9)

I’m usually not a fan of Lindsey’s vocal collaborations, but the story the song tells and the contrast of alternating subdued and crashing violin just keeps me enthralled every time. Christina Perri’s vocal work is kind of weak though, and I wish Lindsey had just taken on the singing duties herself. Also, if this song isn’t about Devin Graham, you could knock me over with a feather.

3 The Arena (7)

Is it possible for a song to be too “old style” Lindsey? At different points, The Arena is wistful, frantic, and cathartic, but it also feels like a B-side that wasn’t quite good enough to be included on Shatter Me. Probably forgiving in my score, but I didn’t want to harsh it solely in comparison to prior work.

4 The Phoenix (8)

This one also feels like a Shatter Me cast off, but I dig it thanks to the chill vibe and smooth violin throughout.

5 Where Do We Go (10)

Grand slam out-of-the-park home run here. Lindsey and Carah Faye have concocted a compelling, emotional track that’s steeped in religious overtones, but in such a way that even is heathens can latch onto. Carah Faye channels Celtic Woman at times, but the Irish tilt works just dandy. I’d have given this song an 11 if it’d been the live rendition we heard in Erie, Pennsylvania. Carah Faye can sing so deliciously raw when she exceeds her vocal range. Better than “Shatter Me.”

6 Those Days (6)

As collaborations go, Lindsey’s violin and Dan+Shay’s vocals form a serviceable track, but it’s one I’m starting to skip with repeat play.

7 Prism (8)

I can’t put my finger on it, but the mix of throbbing beats, mild dubstep, and interspersed voice samples makes me really dig this track.

8 Hold My Heart (9)

Ignoring the mixed message this song sends after having listened to “Shatter Me” for months, I have to admit I find myself singing along more often than not. ZZ Ward’s vocals provide a jazz club vibe that is new to Lindsey’s body of work. I’d like to see her sing “Brave Enough” instead of Christina Perri.

9 Mirage (8)

When I first heard this song, I thought it was written by A.R. Rahman of “Jai Ho” fame. It’s generally just Lindsey rocking the violin with Bollywood samples, but there are also Hindi and gibberish voice samples intermixed. It’s a new flavor for Lindsey and I dig it.

10 Don’t Let This Feeling Fade (10)

Holy shit, this is my wheelhouse right here. Lecrae rapping, Rivers Cuomo providing gripping vocals that shift from tenor to near-falsetto, and Lindsey just providing a current that brings it all together. Every artist at some point does a song to suggest that the journey is better than the destination. This one makes you feel like journeys are the best thing ever. I’d buy a whole album like this.

11 First Light (6)

I find it difficult to describe what I like and dislike about this track. It has some good moments, namely the emotional tide changes and the “hey!...hey!” lyrical interludes, but Lindsey’s violin work is painfully threadbare. Not as muted as “Minimal Beat,” I’ll give it that, but I’m still hitting the skip button more often than not.

12 Love’s Just a Feeling (7)

I don’t know who Rooty is, but she can definitely sing an R&B song. Lindsey also provides serviceable, upbeat violin work. It’s a good track, but I’m not into love songs and I don’t feel like this one has the extra oomph to sit up there with “Hold My Heart.”

13 Something Wild (9)

As radio friendly unit shifters go, I can’t stop listening to this son of a bitch. Is it the upbeat violin or the positive message that tells you it’s OK to face your fears and unleash your inner beast? Is it how Andrew McMahon In the Wilderness (what a lengthy name) sometimes sings like a Scottish mariner? I don’t know. This song is on the soundtrack for Pete’s Dragon and I don’t give a shit what that suggests—it’s good stuff.

14 Gavi’s Song (7)

As a closure to the standard version of the album, Gavi’s Song is a somber reflection on a man that Lindsey and many of us longtime Stirlingites cherished. It doesn’t fit the mood of the album, but it does show off Lindsey’s classical violin chops. I hit the skip button when I’m in a good mood, but when I’m feeling like I need some emotion, this baby conjures that walking through a rainy field mood like no other. Seeing that Jason Gaviati writing credit in the liner notes hurts my heart.

15 Waltz (10)

The first of the Target Stores exclusive tracks. How this didn’t end up on the general release album is a mystery to me. It starts slow, builds, and then takes the listener on an empowering trip that feels like the musical equivalent of “fuck yes! This is it right here!” Waltz feels like it should have been the opening song to the entire album. Buy the Target version or illegally download a rip of this track just so you can hear how amazing it is.

16 Afterglow (8)

Takes a minute to get going, but then starts rubbing the right way. If ever there was a “Minimal Beat, Part 3,” this would be it.

17 Powerlines (9)

The only problem with this track is it takes too long to get going. Once it does though, it quickly turns into a thumping house-techno violin masterpiece. How have tracks like this been relegated to a store specific bonus?! If given a choice, I’d have kicked “Those Days” off the album and put this in its place.

18 Forgotten Voyage (8)

Ethereal female vocal snippets are the hallmark of this otherworldly testament to perseverance. As a longtime fan, this feels like a continuation of Transcendence to me. I see why it’s a bonus track, since it doesn’t quite fit the spirit of this album, but it’s still lovable enough to warrant repeat listens.

Standard Version: 8.2 out of 10

Target Stores Version: 8.4

2015glasses

Rating Lindsey Stirling's albums - day 3

Live from London

A year after the Shatter Me album dropped, Lindsey Stirling held a special concert in London that was filmed and recorded for PBS (in the United States) and various other international outlets. After airing, this concert was published on DVD, Blu-ray, and CD. The CD has 16 tracks and omits the Zelda medley from the video releases.

Fun fact: the Blu-Ray was only released in Europe, but is readily available on Amazon UK for about $18+shipping (converted). If you want sharper video, it’s worth it, but the audio bit-rate on the DVD is so high that there’s really no audio upgrade with the Blu-Ray.

1 Beyond the Veil (8)

As noted above, a building mix of classical, hip hop, and dubstep violin that sets the stage for the whole performance. The violins are richer thanks to the larger sound field of the live venue.

2 Mirror Haus (7)

A richer, more emotional take than the version from the Shatter Me album. Builds, bounces, and maintains forward progress, but I still feel it goes on a bit long (or is it a missed opportunity?).

3 Electric Daisy Violin (6)

Lindsey’s original “theme song.” It’s good, but doesn’t benefit much from the live venue. The “vocal” parts are also too understated.

4 Night Vision (7)

Richer and just overall better than the Shatter Me version. A solid, chill techno track that isn’t out of place at this point in the concert. The violins are more pronounced in this version, giving it a soft, hard, soft feel that I dig. Only reason I don’t rate it higher is it just lacks the oomph or risk of Lindsey’s mainline work.

5 Heist (8)

Richer violins than the Shatter Me version, but the drums and other effects are less pronounced. I don’t necessarily think it’s worse than the album version, but I can’t deny that I very much prefer the album version. Nevertheless, it’s one hell of a crescendo builder and the payoff at 2:40 still tosses me right off.

6 Swag (5)

A little less swingy than the version on Shatter Me, but I still don’t love it. I admit, this live version shows off Lindsey’s violin chops really well... I just wish any other song had been here instead.

7 We Are Giants (7)

A haunting piano intro leads onto Dia Frampton’s pre-recorded vocals. Lindsey’s violin takes a back seat to Dia’s singing. Lovely song, but again feels more like a showcase for Dia than something Lindsey should have slotted into a mass-market concert production.

8 Transcendence (10)

Yes! Lindsey, Drew, and Gavi uploaded a stripped down version of Transcendence in a Youtube clip some years ago taken from a street corner performance. For instruments, it was just a violin, a cheap piano, and a wooden box. There was talk of doing an acoustic album based on reception of the track, but that concept was officially axed about six months later. Thankfully, the style of that busker clip is the basis of this concert performance. A risky departure from the rest of the concert, but a risk that pays off in one of the most beautiful tracks Lindsey has ever done.

9 All of Me (8)

Did you know that John Legend released a version of “All of Me” to Youtube with Lindsey on violin and himself on piano? Sadly, this version lacks John Legend’s vocals, but the delicious violin is there in full effect. A lovely, lovely arrangement and something I could see played at Weddings, Funerals, and every emotional gathering for the next 50 years. I’d rate it higher, but much like We Are Giants, it’s not really Lindsey’s song.

10 Take Flight (9)

And now the concert is back on track. Begins minimalist and slowly builds until you’re all clenched and sweaty at the end. It’s basically the same arrangement as on the Shatter Me album.

11 Moon Trance (9)

Lindsey’s version of “Thriller” never gets old. Fans may be tiring of it by now, but I think the acoustics of the venue give the violins and drums just different enough of a flavor to maintain interest. I grant that this track is better digested on the video releases, so you can see the choreography that accompanies it. However, that doesn’t detract from an epic song.

12 Roundtable Rival (8)

A smashing arrangement that greatly conveys the duel between the evil keytarist and the heroic violinist. I just wish they hadn’t subdued the background effects in order to better emphasize the violin and keytar. Another track that’s better digested on video to add the benefit of choreography.

13 Master of Tides (7)

I just don’t even know. This arrangement is better than the version on Shatter Me and it feels less out of place here, but it still doesn’t get me over the hump like her other performances do. A solid all-around Lindsey track that doesn’t take risks. The sort of thing you’d play for your grandparents before easing them into Crystallize or Elements. My God that sounds so negative. I’ll just move on now.

14 Crystallize (8)

I really like this arrangement of Crystallize. The violins are more pronounced and the dubstep takes a firmer background role. At times, Lindsey’s performance evokes feelings of sadness, hope, and joy. Even for a composition I don’t love, I have to give props when any song can do that.

15 Shatter Me (7)

There are many moments where it’s obvious that Lindsey is miming over a background track. You can tell because when Lindsey’s actual live violin kicks in it is richer and different in tempo than the original arrangement. I can’t slag it too much, since Lindsey is at least doing some playing, but this isn’t the best way to showcase what was the marquee track from her second album. This is also one track where the audio on the DVD and Blu-Ray is significantly better than the CD, because the separation and sound field are more intense in the video releases (I’d give those an 8).

16 Stars Align (9)

If you didn’t see the song title, you wouldn’t realize this was Stars Align until about 45 seconds in. What a wonderful violin intro. Many aspects of the arrangement have been tweaked and I have to say I really, really like this version of it. They missed an opportunity to have the audience perform the chant sequences, but that’s the only flaw in an otherwise solid capper.

CD Version: 7.7 out of 10

DVD/Blu-Ray Version: 7.9 (also includes Zelda medley and interview snippets)

2015glasses

Rating Lindsey Stirling's albums - day 2

Shatter Me

Initially, I loved Lindsey’s sophomore effort. If the Billboard dance chart is any indication, everyone else did too. That’s what waiting more than two years for a follow up will do to a fanbase. As time has progressed, however, I’ve started to lose some of my adoration. It has some amazing tracks, for sure, but there are also tracks that don’t quite fit. I’ve since made my own custom arrangement of the album that drops a number of songs (addition by subtraction, if you will).

1 Beyond the Veil (8)

This track sums up Lindsey’s range in a nutshell. It mixes classical, hip hop, and dubstep style violin, throws in a few voice samples, and builds a wave of emotion that suggests you’re in for one hell of a ride.

2 Mirror Haus (7)

Heads further into dubstep range. A track that’s meant to keep you bouncing, moving, and otherwise engaged. It mostly succeeds, but I sometimes feel like it goes on a minute longer than it needs to.

3 V-Pop (8)

I’m not sure if that’s Lindsey’s voice doing the “la da da da” but I dig the feeling the vocal snippets add to what I’d call a dubstep dervish track. It’s not “Crystallize” or “Elements,” but V-Pop is definitely one of those songs you play when people ask “What does Lindsey Stirling do?” BTW, the answer is: she melts your face and you’ll fucking like it.

4 Shatter Me (10)

As the first lyrical collaboration Lindsey put on one of her own albums, Shatter Me almost makes me think it’d be OK if Lindsey was part of a band. Almost. “Cut me from the line; I’m dizzy spinning endlessly; somebody cut me from the line and shatter me.” True ultimate power right there. You can tell this song was made to appeal to mainstream alternative radio, but that doesn’t diminish the awesome combination of dubstep violinist and rocker chick (Lzzy Hale of Halestorm).

5 Heist (9)

One of those thrill-ride crescendo builders that seems to be one of Lindsey’s strengths. Just sit back, listen, and enjoy those frantic interludes. And be ready for the aural orgasm coming at 2:40.

6 Roundtable Rival (10)

If the concept is Irish jig where violins and keytars are used like sledgehammers, this track succeeds wildly. Definitely in my top 10 of Lindsey’s entire discography. I will miss seeing the rock battle between Lindsey and Gavi at live concerts, but the music video, concert captures, and Live from London disc exist to remind us that this track is more than music—it is life.

7 Night Vision (6)

Going from Roundtable Rival to this is a jarring transition. I was ready to kick some ass and now it’s time to mellow out. It’s a solidly produced techno-esque track that’s just a bit too chill.

8 Take Flight (9)

Stick with it. It takes a while to get going, but like good sexual intercourse it gradually builds into a series of “hell yes” moments that threaten to “ruin” the experience only to give you one heck of a satisfying pop at the end. This is what happens when dubstep is reeled in and used in a minimalist manner to elevate a song to tantric levels.

9 Ascendance (8)

Lindsey calls this the sequel to “Transcendence” from her first album. I don’t know that I feel the linkage in the music, but that doesn’t take away from what’s otherwise a solid, uplifting track. In a way, I guess it does kind of feel like she took a track from her first album, polished the hell out of it, and put it here as if to say “my old stuff can evolve just like me… suck it Kanye.”

10 We Are Giants (7)

As a Lindsey track, there isn’t enough violin or bounce here to get me going. However, as a Dia Frampton song, We Are Giants is freakin’ awesome. Go check out Dia Frampton on Youtube. When you’re done, come back here and lament how few albums she’s produced.

11 Swag (5)

Some people really dig swag. I’ll give that it has a peppy, swingy vibe, but it’s not for me and I feel like it’s out of place on the album. Feels like they had a slot open and just stuck in a random B side.

12 Master of Tides (7)

It’s peppy. It shows off Lindsey’s skill with beat-setting. It’s also goes on for about a minute too long, similar to Mirror Haus. In some ways, it feels like an upgrade to “Shadows” from her first album. I dig that vibe, but in context with the rest of the album it’s not a heavy hitter.

13 Eclipse (8)

The first of the Target/iTunes exclusive tracks and I both understand and lament why it barely missed the cutoff to be on the standard album. It’s not a heavy hitter, but for me it actually resonates better than “Master of Tides,” because it feels like a closing ceremony type track.

14 Sun Skip (8)

First impression: What the fuck is this? Final impression: I love it. Lindsey’s whimsical violin work shines and the goofy vocal samples only make the whole track better. I totally understand why it’s not on the main album. Still a fun track.

15 Take Flight-orchestral (9)

See my write-up for “Take Flight” above, only now your lover is in the best shape of his/her life and has the skill of a generation of sex workers. You don’t like my analogy? Well, fuck my life, I’m going to go be sad with my rice. Or I’m just going to go listen to this song in my basement with the subwoofer cranked for when the drums start spurting.

Standard Version: 7.8 out of 10

Target Stores / iTunes Version: 7.9

2015glasses

Rating Lindsey Stirling's albums - day 1

I’ve been a fan of Lindsey Stirling’s music for nigh on five years. For kicks, I decided to try to rate her albums on my own personal scale. Over the next five days, I will tackle them one at a time and then end with a “final thoughts” post. My primary focus will be on the deluxe editions (usually sold in Target Stores in the United States or on iTunes) though I will do my best to note which tracks are bonus and which were part of the standard album only. Also, in a case where I feel the bonus tracks elevate the album’s value, I will adjust the score higher.

These reviews will include four major releases: Lindsey Stirling, Shatter Me, Live from London, and Brave Enough.

The format will be Track Number, Track Name, and Song Rating. The Album Rating will follow at the end of each album’s song list.

Without further delay, let’s get into album number 1:

Lindsey Stirling

Many of us had to “settle” for listening to this album for more than a year until she signed a major deal, after which it was reissued as a 17 track deluxe edition for Target. Careful ears will notice that certain tracks were reworked for the reissue, particularly Stars Align, in which effects and vocals have been adjusted in volume. In my opinion, the edits don't change any of the tracks in ways that anyone but a non-diehard would notice.

1 Electric Daisy Violin (9)

How do you not like Electric Daisy Violin? Rhythmic melodies, a sweet bass line, and some vocal “harmonies” (for lack of a better term) make for one heck of an ear-worm. This was Lindsey’s de facto “theme song” for a long time.

2 Zi-Zi’s Journey (9)

Thumping beats, numerous mood changes, and multiple genres of violin work went into a track that Lindsey used to refer to as her “life story.” Lindsey, Zi-Zi…. Get it? It doesn’t have a mainstream hook like Crystallize, Elements, or Roundtable Rival, but this track definitely sits alongside them in power level.

3 Crystallize (8)

Most people would say that Crystallize is what got them to notice Lindsey Stirling. Just look at the view count on Youtube (161 million and going). It’s a great dubstep-violin song with some crazy wrist-killing sequences. I’d rate it higher, but I felt the concept was done better with “Elements.”

4 Song of the Caged Bird (6)

Some Stirlingites love Song of the Caged Bird. I don’t. It’s simple, it’s soulful, and it shows us that Lindsey’s talent with the violin can be classically pure when it needs to be. But this song is too plain and just too depressing compared to the majority of her other work. It may be heartfelt, but I tap “skip” half the time.

5 Moon Trance (9)

If Lindsey Stirling were to make Thriller, this is what you’d get. It’s a fun, spooky song that makes you want to dance, and shake, and do the zombie Crip walk. Check out the video on YouTube, or better yet, see it live (complete with a Piers Morgan tombstone).

6 Minimal Beat (8)

Like “Song of the Caged Bird,” this track keeps it simple. Unlike Caged Bird, you won’t feel sad when you listen to Minimal Beat. There’s an underlying beat and some simple dubstep effects, but the main body of the work is just Lindsey killing it with the violin. This is a song that draws out wonder and determination.

7 Transcendence (7)

I hate myself for rating Transcendence anything less than spectacular, but the track hasn’t aged well and the arrangement on the album doesn’t draw out anywhere near the level of emotion or power that the live performance does. It used to be one of Lindsey’s signature songs, but I think she and we, her listeners, have outgrown it.

8 Elements (10)

Somehow, this masterpiece manages to have three tonal shifts and still come across as a cohesive piece. It’s a high-tempo dubstep-violin work of art with production values that are off the charts. It’s the single track I play when someone asks me “What does Lindsey Stirling do?” You know, assuming I don’t smack them around first.

9 Shadows (9)

I have a soft spot for this song, as the video was the one that cemented me as a Lindsey Stirling fan (aka Stirlingite). I had seen a couple of her videos before this, notably the collaboration she did with Jake Bruene on “Party Rock Anthem,” but Shadows is the one that finished my conversion. It’s dancy, it’s upbeat, and while it sounds plain compared to her recent works, there’s still a sense of hopeful joy to it that resists obsolescence.

10 Spontaneous Me (6)

I have a love-hate relationship with this track. I adore some of the violin melodies, especially when they kick in after a chill interlude, but this track also suffers from being too casual at times. The video for this track is amazing. The track itself is one of those if-in-the-mood type deals.

11 Anti Gravity (8)

Now here’s a track that’s difficult to describe. There interplay of slow to fast, bouncy to thrashy, and a whole other myriad of theses makes this a song that demands your ear. It’s only weakness is it lacks a hook to make it stand out next to the album’s upper crust.

12 Stars Align (8)

You could call this“Minimal Beat, Part 2.” Stars align is one of Lindsey’s more stripped-down tracks. I’d ding it for having such a repetitive hook, but darned if it isn’t catchy. This is a fun song to sing along to, especially at concerts (“Da, dun da da da da, dun da da da, when the stars align…”)

13 Crystallize-Orchestral (7)

The first of the reissue bonus tracks. This is a solid orchestral arrangement of Lindsey’s most popular hit, but it also loses points for featuring so little of the jittery violin that made the track spectacular in the first place.

14 Transcendence-Orchestral (8)

For this bonus track, Lindsey adds polish to one of her trademark songs and subsequently brings new life to it. Due to the initial samples that suggest clockwork, I get the impression there may have been plans to put this on her second album, Shatter Me. It’s good stuff.

15 Elements-Orchestral (8)

Another good bonus track, but let’s be honest: the original version of Elements was perfect. If you want to hear the same song, just less dub-steppy, then here’s your chance.

16 Crystallize-Mashup (7)

For this track, Wild Children took a bunch of the songs on the album and threw them into a blender with a big heap of Crystallize. The result is enjoyable on its own, but it really doesn’t fit the album (or any Lindsey album).

17 My Immortal (7)

Lindsay says she always wanted to record Evanescence’s “My Immortal,” and based on that notion she certainly proved she can turn her love for the song into an instrumental accomplishment. It’s just, um, how do you hear the music and not want to hear Amy Lee’s voice with it?

Standard Version or Reissue: 8.1 out of 10

2015glasses

The Cubs win!

Tonight was the culmination of a crazy week. The Chicago Cubs just won the World Series. We were in Chicago this past weekend soaking in the buzz. When we got back, I promptly developed flu symptoms. And tonight, waddya know, they won the whole thing!

I know that's a terrible summary, but let's face it: this sort of thing is a "you had to be there" experience.

We visited Navy Pier, wandered the throngs at Wrigley, and watched game 4 from the friendly confines of Harry Caray's Steakhouse. Afterward, we zonked out in a 4 star hotel and enjoyed brunch in the Signature Room at the John Hancock Tower. And in-between, there was Bocce ball, gelato, and a cheeseburger from The Billy goat. To say the city was full of Cubs fans isn't doing it justice. I hadn't seen that many baseball jerseys since our trip for the Hall of Fame induction this summer. I love the experience of being in a city that's on the cusp of winning it all -- the passion is electric.

And then to see it all pay off tonight? Holy cow.
2015glasses

Changes

I still have to finish my write-up from our Cooperstown trip, which also includes editing more than 300 images. I promise I'll get that up at some point! Going forward, this journal is going to change somewhat in the coming months to reflect the current nature of my life and to reflect that it's time to fully let go of "past lives." Old entries will remain, but links to my freelance writing portfolio and my fiction-writing endeavors will eventually be removed.

It's awesome to know that I made a living for nearly a decade writing about video games. It was great to dabble in writing stories. But I'm a "boring" accounting-type person now and I am happy to say that those endeavors are back to being 100% fun hobbies as opposed to serious work. I still love video games. I still write. But I'm doing so for my own entertainment and I want to distance myself from any memories that might diminish what's generally full-on joy when it comes to these present-day pursuits.

 And yes, I've been playing way too much Pokemon Go this summer.