Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Obscure Albums That You Should Hear Before You Die: Part 1

As one of the few surviving people of the Digital Apocalypse over the past 15 years, I still buy albums on CD. I have my reasons for this... Reasons that I could elaborate in blog-length form, but I will currently save for another time.
     What this old-fashioned habit of mine does afford me is the revered importance of the music album as a whole. Currently, you can go to iTunes and buy whatever songs like off an album and be done with it and move on to the next one. The problem with this mindset is that you, as the listener, miss out on songs that didn't immediately catch your attention and never truly got a chance to appreciate. I mean really, should we as a the listener be simply content to appreciate only the songs that are immediately catchy to us? For me, some of my favorite albums were ones I had work at liking. I mean seriously, as listeners, we should put a little effort into it!
     Now, I could go on at even further length about this... But that's not the point of this blog update. 
     I was once asked by my friend, (and drummer in my band), to make a list of 5 important albums for him to listen to - specifically ones that he'd never heard or possibly never knew existed. And... as a bonafide music-geek, I had quite the time compiling that short list for him...
     Coincidentally, one of those albums is the one that I'm going to dissect in this, the first of a series of blogs covering obscure albums that you, the mass public should hear..... At least once... And, (whether you enjoy it or not), should appreciate for their impact on the current music you probably listen to....
      So, without further ado...

Artist:  John Cale 
Album:  Fear
Year:  1974
   Hopefully, you have a vague idea of who John Cale is. If not, we'll make this quick: 
Cale was the counterpart to Lou Reed in the infamous Velvet Underground, until leaving the group and pursuing his own solo career, etc... Much like Lou Reed eventually did, as well. 
 Classically trained and proficient on the viola and piano, Cale brought an avant-garde classicism to the Velvet Undergound's first two albums and these aspects also came into play with his solo albums... 
       Alright, enough history... 

Side A
This album starts off with the track "Fear is a Man's Friend"... What seems to be a simplistic piano-based song, inevitably ends in a dissonant climax with Cale yelling the song's title repeatedly. The guitars in this song are fairly clean-sounding, with little distortion, while the bass guitar has a life of its own, rather becoming an integral part of the sonic framework instead of simply "keeping the beat."
     As an opener, this song certainly shows an example of proto-punk tendencies... A good 3 years before "punk" truly existed.....(It should be noted that Cale produced the Stooges' debut album and Patti Smith's "Horses"... So, in my humble opinion, he's a bit of a Godfather of Punk Music)...
     The ending cacophony of the first track suddenly gives way to it's polar opposite in the form of "Buffalo Ballet", a song that shows off the classical beauty of Cale's songwriting, comprised of piano, acoustic guitar, and lush orchestration.
      The rest of side A continues with the quirky "Barracuda", which brings back the guitar work and eventually fades out what could be considered a bit of viola solo - then, switching back to piano-based approach with "Emily." This song seems float along, with a timing that is not dissimilar to Brian Eno's "Deep Blue Day"... Not surprising, since Brian Eno played synthesizer and fellow Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera played on this album, as well.
Side B
      The second half of this album holds what could be considered the center-piece of this album - the song "Gun." This song certainly retains some aspects of Cale's traits that were evident in the Velvet Underground, (perhaps more specifically, the Underground's "White Light/White Heat"). We have a song that's 8 minutes long, partially droning in parts, and some cool guitar riffs throughout. It's vaguely bluesy... But what is really great about this song is the weird combination solo of an electric guitar being fed through a synthesizer being played by Eno in real-time. Basically a two-person synth/guitar solo happening simultaneously.. It sounds perfectly weird, awesome, and enlightening that there were people doing crazy stuff like this 40+ years ago.
      This is followed by the strange "The Man Who Couldn't Afford to Orgy" which wouldn't sound out of place on a Queen album like "A Night At the Opera", with its dips into cabaret such as "Lazing On a Sunday Afternoon", albeit that Cale and his band sound more relaxed and less dainty.
      "You Know More Than I Know" is back to an almost classicist-pop style, which has intermittently been Cale's main tactic with song-writing - basically a baroque-pop feel. Yet another example of subdued beauty, much like side A's "Buffalo Ballet."
     The album closes with "Momamma Scuba" which is a prime example of soulful rock and roll - filtered through an art-rock sound. It's strange, unsettling, and not an expected closer for an album. But what this final song accomplishes is the ability to make the listener wish there was more. It almost feels unfinished as the the final song fades. But it indeed leaves the listener feeling a bit uneasy, which is a not uncommon tactic with Cale's musical output over the years.

   The good news is that Cale went on to do a string of critically acclaimed albums in the rest of the 70's. My personal suggestions for further listening are: "Slow Dazzle", "Helen of Troy" and ...(if you can find it or manage to get your hands on it)... "Sabotage/Live" recorded at CBGB's in 1979.
     One last particular that I should mention, is that when listening to this album - listen for the production style. These songs cover the range from simplistic rock band set-up to lush beautiful orchestration. Yet, each song exhibits a lot of space in the recording. In the first track, for instance, you can plainly pick out each individual instrument in the mix. And in the more complex songs, despite their lushness, you can still pick out individual instruments and parts. No ginormous Phil Spector "Wall of Sound" business here... Just a carefully produced and mixed album that still sounds amazing and relevant. So, please... Listen to this album with headphones... And enjoy... Or appreciate...

   Till next time, take it easy!

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Top 10 Albums of 2014... (More Or Less)...

Oh, it's that time again... End of the year lists of this and that... And my inevitable... (drum roll please)...

Top 10 Albums of 2014

First! A preface..
     Unlike last year... This year has proved to be a bit more difficult. Great pop albums were harder to come by. But there were several albums that had great staying power with me throughout the year, and even a nearly dead-last release date that made the cut-off point by only a week or two that made so I could round off this list.
     As always, this is a list of the most listened to and enjoyed albums I have had the opportunity to hear over the past year. If you're asking "Why didn't the new Ryan Adams or Tom Petty album make the list?" Well, it's because I haven't gotten the chance to listen to either of those yet. So keep your anger/frustrations for the comment section.
     So without further ado... Here they are...

Death From Above 1979 - The Physical World 
    When I heard these guys were doing another album 10 years after their debut album, I was kinda excited already. For a band with one album from 2004, a remix album, and then a band-break-up under their belts, a new album is something of a miracle. But what is also a miracle is how f*cking good this album is!
     It's just 2 dudes with fuzzy bass guitar and drums and some minimal synths, but these guys have greatly exceeded expectations. Highlights are the already-on-the-radio "Trainwreck 1979" and the killer "Right On, Frankenstein." And it doesn't let up from there. Tired of the continually experimental Queens of the Stone Age? Well, these guys are making stoner-rock that you can shake your ass to. So pick it up!

Old 97's - Most Messed Up
    Admittedly, I've never been a huge fan of these guys. Don't get me wrong, they're a good band. But I found them as a band that my Best-Of compilation would cover most of the high points. And believe me, they have had some high-points, (i.e. "Doreen", "Time Bomb")... But I never felt they were an album band.
     So after 20 years of recording albums, these guys somehow made the best damn through and through alt-country album of their career this year. Hell, the first track, "Longer Than You've Been Alive" is a full-on homage to those 20 years in the band. But it's songs like "Let's Get Drunk and Get It On" and "This Is the Ballad" that really show you how great of a songsmith Rhett Miller has become. And the band itself is in fine form with what sounds like literally live-in-the-studio recordings of these songs, giving them a sense of energy that I can only imagine is in full-force with their live shows.

La Sera - Hour of the Dawn
     I stumbled on this album by accident, simply by walking through Music Millennium and they happened to be playing this very album. I had to go over and ask them who it was over the stereo.
   Needless to say, I walked out of there with this album.
     As a whole, this album sounds like it was recorded in 1992. Sorta like a hybrid between the Ronettes and the Breeders, this band makes music that will fit in with your Best Coast albums, but also shines brighter than those with way better guitar work, (see "Losing to the Dark" for some sweet Dinosaur Jr.-type soloing)...
     This album is best heard during the summer and gives off the feel of road trips to the beach. So, if you missed it this past summer, pick it up and be prepared for this next year!

The Flaming Lips - With a Little Help From My Fwends
    Well, this one is going to divide a lot of people, (kind of like the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion), in that you either see it as a interesting and sometimes brilliant view of a classic album.... or.... a complete sacrilege and desecration of a classic album.
     If nothing else, you should at least give this album a listen to see which camp you're in. Obviously, I'm of the former camp. I really do enjoy this technicolor/acid-trip version of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.  With a wacky guest list that includes the likes of My Morning Jacket, Dr. Dog, Miley Cyrus, Tegan and Sara, Moby,  Phantogram, etc...
      Sure, it's not the best thing the Lips have done in the past 10 years, but it's still a lot of fun!

Damon Albarn - Everyday Robots
      After years and years of work with Blur and the Gorillaz, we finally get a taste of the the first true solo album from Damon Albarn. And it's excellent.
       The songs are a perfect culmination of what Albarn's been doing in other projects over the past 10 years or more. Songs like "Lonely Press Play" and "Mr. Tembo" have the feel of Albarn's world-music excursions and the subtle electronic elements of recent Gorillaz efforts - all the while providing  basic everyday observations of isolation and modern life.
       The album is a great listen, if not a somber one. And if we're not getting a new Blur album anytime soon, it's go to know we have this solo effort to tide us over... (Plus, having Brian Eno guest in on "Heavy Seas of Love"is just the cherry on top)...

Foster the People - Supermodel
     The bad news first: there's no "Pumped Up Kicks" on this album. But the good news is that Foster the People really sounds like a band now with good cohesive songs that dig into your ears upon further listens. Granted, I wish they had something as ridiculously catchy as "Pumped Up Kicks" - but I can be sufficed with a really solid pop album from these guys.
    The album isn't ground-breaking, but then again.... neither was their debut.  But it does sound good, and the songs are definitely well-crafted - although not irritatingly catchy... Which in the long run, will serve this band well.
     In fact, maybe that's what I like about this album. There's no standout "single" on it. The songs are all nicely done, but none jumps out and says "Oh hey! I'm the single off this album!" One could argue that maybe it's not as good as the previous album, etc.. but that's really beside the point. It's a different album, made under different circumstances... Of course, it's not going to be the exact same thing we loved a couple years ago, and really... Should it have to be?

The Hold Steady - Teeth Dreams
     I'm always stoked when I hear that there's going to be a new Hold Steady album. This year had a lot of build-up for this band and Teeth Dreams definitely comes through. This album is certainly a return to form, (sounding more like "Stay Positive" or "Almost Killed Me"), and that could be due to less keyboard work on the album - (they seemed to be heading this direction after the departure of keyboardist Franz Nicolay anyway... Although, I enjoyed "Heaven Is Whenever" more than most critics/fans did, I suppose)...
     But with songs about doomsday preppers, ("I Hope This Whole Thing Didn't Frighten You"), isolated people in the big city, ("Spinners"), Craig Finn takes us on welcome lyrical journeys that are at once unnerving and fascinating and all together extremely real.
     So for all you folks who can't handle Finn's talking/singing voice... Get over it! You're missing out on some intensely good song-writing here, and Teeth Dreams is an excellent place to start.

Various Artists - Guardians of the Galaxy Soundtrack
     Okay, it's not technically an album recorded this year - but it was compiled this year and is probably the most-listened to album in the past year for me... So much that my kids even became obsessed with it and had their own particular favorites.
      But honestly, this soundtrack is great.... If not just for Blue Swede's "Hooked On a Feeling", but also for Redbone's "Come and Get Your Love", and/or Elvin Bishop's "Fooled Around and Fell In Love" (which I hadn't heard since back when I saw "Boogie Nights" for the first time...)... This soundtrack is just amazing on an impromptu road trip.
     You should already have this album..... And if you don't, I suggest you sneak off and pick it up...Your friends will be none the wiser...

Cracker - Berkeley to Bakersfield
     This one slipped in a couple of weeks before the end of the year. In fact, I almost missed it's arrival. Cracker hadn't made an album since 2009, with David Lowery focusing more on Camper Van Beethoven stuff.
       But luckily, I found out about this release in the nick of time.
      So after 5 years since their last album, Cracker releases a double album that showcases the 2 sides of this band. Disc 1: Berkeley tends toward the mid-90's alt-rock that Cracker has dappled with over the past 20 or more years, and even pulls out some funkiness with "El Cerrito" that is reminiscent of "Get Off This" from their  90's heyday.
     Disc 2: Bakersfield trends more to the alt-country leanings that have become more and more predominant for this band. Johnny Hickman takes the mic for "California Country Boy" and "The San Bernardino Boy" which are some of the strongest he's sung since "Lonesome Johnny Blues" in 1993.
      Overall, the band wraps this all up in a nice package that despite being a double-album, it feels shorter and doesn't overstay it's welcome. And it's also nice to know that David Lowery is still the king of quirky, almost dada-esque, lyrics...
      Sometimes it's the things that don't change that give me the most listening joy... And the fact that Cracker is still making albums how they want to and when they want to gives me a nice a cozy feeling inside... (Like a nice glass of whiskey)...

Perfume Genius - Too Bright
       Sometimes I find a good album that sneaks up on me... I found this album from internet perusing,  and I'm glad I did.  Probably the most soulful-sounding pop album I've come across in awhile.
        Starting things off with a sparse piano ballad with "I Decline" that sounds like Thom Yorke with a hell of a lot more soul, this album heads out into dark synth-pop tinged explorations. This is melancholy listening in it's finest form.
      There's certainly a minimalism to these songs that still manages to sound full and beautiful... Hmmmm.... Maybe imagine Lorde with less sparseness and...well.... way better songs. Or maybe like a Chromatics album, but less icy-cold. That's about all I can come up with.
     Well, words are going to convey how good this album is. So go hear it/experience it for yourself... Start with this track... "Queen"...

  So there's my top 10 albums... Now, bear in mind there were some other really good releases this year:
The Black Keys' "Turn Blue" was quite good.
Skrillex released a pretty damn good electronica album that wasn't completely overwhelmed by dubstep.
Beck's "Morning Phase" was quite good, as well - the same for Lana Del Rey's "Ultraviolence"...
Even Tweedy's release "Sukierae" was great, (which I had had my doubts about)...
And one of my favorites was Wilco's "Alpha Mike Foxtrot" collection of rare tracks from the past 20 years...
   But for better or worse, those were my top 10 for this last year.. now yours?

Saturday, December 20, 2014

"Bulletproof Coffee" - Take 1...

So, since I can't seem to keep this blog updated consistently, I've decided to make a bit of New Year's Resolution with it and update it with all sorts of crap in the coming months... (I give this about 3 months tops before I lose momentum and it ends up in the stack of my other old New Year's resolutions... hanging out there with "Run More", "Be Nicer", "Don't Make Fun of People", etc...)
    So rest assured that within the next week there's gonna be my totally unbiased list of top albums of 2014... But till then... Let me tell you about the time I made Bulletproof coffee... (uh... that time being 3 days ago)...

    It'd be nice to say that I came across the whole Bulletproof Coffee thing on my own, searching for something to make my body work more effectively and improve it's performance - as if I scoured the internet or went on my own journey to Nepal to see a bunch of Sherpas ingesting their ethnic variation of it. But no.
    I read about it in Men's Journal....

    Obviously, I'm not some fitness fanatic. Or nutritional nazi. I drink a bit more than I should. I sometimes eat horrible food, (rarely I might add).  But I'm not without the vague interest of self-improvement. Thus, this article mentioned the possibility of this coffee giving me more energy (God knows I need that) and increase my IQ (I definitely need that)... So what the hell, I'll give it a shot.
     All you apparently need is brewed coffee, coconut oil, and grass-fed butter. 
     Luckily, two of those ingredients are easy to find. The grass-fed butter required some quick internet searching while in the "Organic" section of Fred Meyer... (Mainly, I was too damn cheap to head over to New Seasons or Whole Foods, and I didn't have any of my hipster friends to lead the way in this journey)...
     But nonetheless, I found some "probably" grass-fed butter from New Zealand that should work... 
    Now, I know what you're thinking... "Dude... You're putting butter and coconut oil in coffee. Weird. Sounds like some sort of self-help fad." And yes. It smacks of an Atkins/grapefruit/South Beach diet fad from over the years. BUT.... 
     When I work 12 hour shifts, I tend to skip a morning meal and drink coffee before work anyway... And usually end my day only having had a lunch somewhere between 11:30am-2:00pm... So, an early morning alternative with some (possible) nutrient adjunct and (possibly) increased energy, is at least worth a try in my book.
     Here's a quick breakdown of how it went...

0645: Well.... I pulled my ass out of bed, and before I woke the kids up for school I started the coffee a-brewing...
      Roughly 2 tablespoons of "grass-fed" butter... Unsalted, (by the way)... If you want it to get really weird, I suppose you could try it with salted butter... But I wouldn't suggest it.
      Then, I toss roughly 1 teaspoon of coconut oil in there as well... (these all went into my wife's Magic Bullet for ease of blending purposes)....
      The coffee's done, so I pour that into the ol' Magic Bullet there, and blend the hell out of it because I'm not too keen on having chunks of butter in a morning beverage.
      Surprisingly, it blends pretty well and and has a cool layering effect when viewed in a cup...

     It doesn't look half bad... So, I toss this so-called "bulletproof coffee" into a mug and at long last.... give it a try....
     Honestly, it's not that bad.... In fact, it's quite  good.... Kind of like a latte, in a fashion. So taste-wise... I can handle it and it's no big deal.

0830: I head to the gym... Run a couple miles...(which I probably would have done anyway)...

0940:   I head to Music Millennium to pick up some new music... I'm not hungry...yet.... (Oh, I should mention that this Bulletproof Coffee is to be used in place of eating a huge, carb-heavy breakfast.... Did I leave that out? Oops..)

1200: Alright, by about noon I'm getting hungry, but not ravenous... So, I have a normal lunch and spend most of the day not being energized, but somehow I don't feel as tired as I normally do in the late afternoon, (where I would usually just drink another couple cups of coffee)....

2032:  Alright... So, Bulletproof Coffee didn't change my life significantly... I'm still tired by the end of the day, but not completely exhausted.
     So maybe there's a bit to this crazy concoction...

Final Verdict: Okay. So it might not be a cure-all for making my body work better, but I did find it helpful for energy when used in place of a breakfast.  Thus, I'm going to give this a secondary experiment over the next  days that I work 12 hour shifts and see if there is a noticeable difference in my energy level throughout the day....
        It warrants further investigation... But on the other hand, it actually tastes pretty good. Just simply a variation on the ol' creamer added to your coffee. I guess those crazy Sherpas might be on to something.... But as far as the "life-changing" qualities go.... I'll get back to you in 5-6 days... I'll either increase my productivity... Or... Gain 50 pounds from all this butter.. The sky's the limit!

Monday, August 18, 2014

If 4 Were 6... or ...(How I Survived the Spokane to Sandpoint Relay)

 Appropriate soundtrack to reading this week's blog, would be My Chemical Romance's  "Desolation Row"

Where to begin again?

Friday, August 15th, 2014 - Approximately 10:45am - Spokane, Washington

     So, some how or another, I opted to do another relay race this year. Where this finds me is in my Chevy Traverse with 4 other people at the Spokane Airport, picking up our 6th member, Sarah. (The names of all parties may or may not have been changed in order to protect the innocent... Although there weren't that many innocent people in our van)
     And as soon as Sarah's in the van, it's full throttle to our first check-in point on the outskirts of Spokane. Our counterpart in Van 1, (also a group of six other classy individuals), has been running their legs of this crazy relay since approximately 8:15am this morning.
     Our course looks much like this:
  So, it's going to be a long 24+ hours...
    We arrive at the first exchange point, and proceed to decorate our van with the only thing available, which happens to be washable chalk. So, to the windows we write our team name "Scrambled Legs and Achin'" and make labelled tally marks regarding how many kills* we've made, and/or how many beers have been drank, and how many Honey Bucket* visits have been accrued by our elite team.
    However, our first debacle of the day is when we realize that none of our directions and street names make any sense to the exchange point where we're located. We then realize that we have arrived at exchange point 7, not exchange point 6 at Sontag Park. We urgently pile in the van and take to the road in order to be in the appropriate spot to meet our teammates before their runner crosses the exchange.
     We're in luck, and we have a good 20 minutes or more of downtime in the park, which looks like this:

       Then it really begins. Erik crosses the exchange, trading off the wrist wrap baton, (if you will),  that looks like these cool bracelets from the 80's, but with less neon colors.
     We greet Erik with our gift of the most disgusting, wussy-type drink we could purchase from a 7-Eleven earlier in the morning: a Bud Light Raz-Ber-Rita. And amazingly, Erik chugs the whole thing upon immediately handing off to Jacob - elliciting cheers from our team as a whole.

     And Jacob is the first one to go from our van. He's got 3.5 miles, and the weather looks like it's about to rain and/or thunderstorm, so there's a touch of apprehension on what the weather is going to do. We load-in and head to the exact same spot where we were before, and await his arrival.
       Jacob burns through the 3.5 miles and hands off to Shelley, who has 3.66 miles to go. There's some sporadic sprinkling, but it hasn't rained yet. And then it's me.
      So, a bit of background here: I'm still not a very fast runner, but I've improved since last year. I've been training with 4.8 to 5 mile runs for this, and can easily do those. Thus, I'm as prepared as I could ever be, since my three assigned legs are all 4+ miles, and not over 5 miles.
      This is where I'm wrong.
      The next exchange point is at a place called Bowl and Pitcher State Park, and has a beautiful bridge that looks like this:

   There's a bunch of stairs at the far end of that bridge. But I'm fine with that.
   However, after conversing with the volunteer at my exchange point, she has a look at her map of this leg and I find out that this stretch is not the Moderate 4.3 miles I had anticipated.
    The map shows a leg that is rated as "Very Hard" and is 6.32 miles instead. It's roughly about this time, that we realize the print-outs I had of my "assigned legs" were old 2013 maps that were no longer accurate.
So, after a mild panic attack, Sarah talks me down with words of encouragement, and then Shelley arrives and I'm off.
     Despite my apprehension, the leg is a beautiful winding run that is partially gravel that then gives way to concrete, and then paved bike trail. And it truly is one of the most scenic runs I've ever done, (I even ran right past a deer that was hanging out on the edge of the bike path), although there are numerous ascents and drops in elevation throughout.
    However, the worst drawback is that there are little to no directions on where exactly to go. The signage is terrible, and only sporadically appears about every mile or so - giving me at least 5 or 6 opportunities to worry that I may have taken a wrong turn and ended up lost somewhere out here in the woods. Luckily, at each little area there finally comes a small pink little flag that at least re-affirms that I'm not completely lost.
     Somehow or another, I make it to the next exchange point and I trade off to Bruce and I've finished... And by some miracle, I finished in exactly an hour.
     After a granola bar and water, we load-in and head to meet Bruce at his exchange, which is coincidentally at the No-Li Brewhouse parking lot. So, the trade off occurs, and the first thing mentioned by Bruce, (in between ragged breaths), is: "Perfect! A brewhouse. First round's on me. I'm buying!!"
     Supportive and loyal teammates that we are, we decide to get a couple sampler beers for everyone to share.... in Matt's absence as he runs his 6.17 miles.
Friday, August 15th, 2014 - Approximately 8:45pm

      After all 6 of us ran our legs, we met the other part of our team at the van exchange and they had bought us Krispee Kream donuts, (which we found out later that one donut may or may not have been tea-bagged by someone in their van), which we eventually threw out.  This seemed to keep in pace with their first "gift" to us at the first van exchange in the morning which had been a bag of pork rinds and a bottle of Olde English 800 Malt Liqour.
      We had a little over 3 hours to eat and/or sleep at McEuen Park before the next van exchange - so, after dinner at some wood-fired pizza place, (which seemed to be strangely run by only teenagers), where this picture was taken, and where most of the conversation was built around discussing definitions from Urban Dictionary - we finally attempted some sleep at the next van exchange point.
       That, of course, was made difficult by someone's brilliant idea to set off colorful fireworks across (what I can only assume was) Lake Coeur d'Alene while all the runners were supposed to be resting up for the next leg.
        Thus, no sleep here.

Saturday, August 16th, 2014 - Approximately 12:50am

      My next leg is in complete darkness over 4 miles of what I assume is a paved bicycle trail. This is where the headlamp came in handy. However, upon starting the run, the red strobe light I have hooked to my reflective jersey keeps pummeling my chest with each stride - till I make the intelligent decision to hold the damn thing, rather than have a ginormous bruise on my chest  by the end of the run.
       The sky wasn't particularly clear, but it was fantastic to run in complete darkness - and a couple Arcade Fire songs on my iPod made this run even a bit more surreal. Definitely the best run I've ever done. Ever.
      Somehow, I score 3 kills on this run - and actually arrive at the exchange point a minute or more before Bruce even had his shoes on.
      So, after carb-loading with a beer from the back cooler - (I believe I forgot to mention that there was an unholy amount of beer in the 2 ice chests we had in the back of the car. It's as if we were on our way to a frat party... But basically an  absolutely ridiculous amount of beer, which Bruce, [well, all of us], had been going through at a fevered pace) - we elected to start watching the movie "Zoolander" at the next exchange. Which we did. And endlessly quoted for the next 2+ hours, whilst giggling like the bunch of sleep-deprived individuals that we were.

Saturday, August 16th, 2014 - Approximately 4:15am

        After Matt and Sarah finish their legs, (7.56 and 6.65 miles, respectively), we head to Priest River High School where we find that we have the opportunity to sleep on a gym floor for a few hours while the other team finishes their final legs. After you've been in a van for 18 hours, a gym floor sounds absolutely amazing - plus, they had free showers at the gym which was unheard of in the last relay I did.
       I went to sleep listening to the Future Sound of London's "Lifeforms" album... and passed out exhausted.

Saturday, August 16th, 2014 - Approximately 9:30am

         After waking up in the gym, (and after gathering my surroundings), I stumble outside to blazing sunlight, and a ridiculous amount of people. There's still a lot of teams in the parking lot, waiting for their own individual hand-offs.
      So, I buy a hard-boiled egg and an "endless" cup of coffee from the donation food cart that is selling breakfast food to a bunch of starving runners.  Three cups of coffee later, I'm more or less ready for the next few hours.
      We load-in again, and Jacob tackles an 8-mile nightmare on a two-lane road, and in no time at all - it's my last run.
     By now it's getting closer to noon, and the sun is already ridiculously hot - even though I'm doing a little under 4 miles, I'm losing it. My hips are sore, my calves are on fire. The last 24 hours have started to take their toll. It's the longest 3+ miles I've ever run.
     Somehow, I manage to make 1 kill on this last leg. But it's all I have. I'm done. And of course, I made the smart decision to wear a tank top without using sunblock - thus, I end up with a terrible tank top-shaped sunburn as a special prize for finishing my last leg. 
      Bruce finishes his leg with flying colors, and returns back to being our official iPod DJ of the van, and Matt heads out on another lengthy run. It's at this time that we decide we should drive up ahead and offer the runners free beer while they're in mid-leg, and of course, we decide that we do the "slow clap from Rudy" as runners come around the corner of where we're parked - which of course ends with us cheering incessantly and offering them free beer as they pass by, of which a few partake.
      Of course, after Matt passes us, we hop in to get Sarah to her final leg, and we head into Sandpoint to the finish line. Van 1 is already there, looking moderately rested, and before long Sarah comes down the hill, and we all run in together to cross the finish line - and it's over.
      We pose for a team picture, we get 1 free drink token, a running shirt, and medal. And then we all have to figure out our way back home from Sandpoint.
      So, at the end of it all, I didn't really learn any new life changing lessons - but I had found myself more prepared for the non-stop, traveling circus of debauchery that 6 people in a van can endure over a period of a day and half. And again, I learned that I packed way too many clothes. We certainly had enough beer to go around this time, so that was an improvement over a year ago. And, I learned that Bruce is a pretty sweet  iPod DJ.  Overall, I'm still not sure if I'm up for another year of this, next August, when Eric plans on doing the Cascade Lakes Relay again... The jury's still out on that, for me.

     But hell... I'm considering it.

*Kills: a reference for when you pass a runner from another team on any given leg of the relay race
*Honey Buckets: a reference to the multitude of plastic contraptions known as port-a-pottys that are found to be at every exchange point throughout the relay

Monday, January 6, 2014

Top 10 Albums of 2013.... (One Week Later)...

It seems I'm always late with getting this blog posted... Usually a couple of weeks... But hey, 6 days into the new year isn't too bad... 
 So, without further ado.... Here is my completely "unbiased" opinion of the best 10 albums that came out last year... (In no particular order)...

Yeezus - Kanye West
    I'm not a big Kanye fan. 
    In fact, I'm pretty sure he's lost his mind and is completely out of touch with reality. On the other hand, Yeezus is pretty damn awesome.  Sounding like early 80's rap taking its cue from Kraftwerk records and creating a freakin' icy, cold vibe throughout - this album surprised me. It has a scattering of samples, but is mostly dominated by squelchy, minimalist synths with Kanye rapping about (seemingly) anything that comes to mind - whether he's ranting about consumerism/racism on "New Slaves" or about hurrying up with his damn croissants on "I Am a God"... The whole thing sounds like a mental breakdown on tape... Which is actually, (possibly unintentionally), the allure of this album.
    Egotistical maniac he may be, but Kanye has made an album that seems an attempt to weed out true fans and, (in it's own way), stand alone as a piece of art - just take a look at the album's packaging and artwork, (or lack there of)...
    People are gonna hate it, but this album is impressive. 
The Silver Gymnasium - Okkervil River
    I was lucky enough to get this album as a birthday gift on my 33rd birthday during an epic pub crawl, (tune back in another week or so for more on that)....
     Anyway, this album is a brilliant Americana album, with every song telling a story in a grand hometown sorta feel... (see the songs "Pink Slip" and "Where The Spirit Left Us" ).... Every time I sit and really listen to this album, I think Bruce Springsteen.  Hell, "Down Down the Deep River"  has a keyboard lick that brings the essence of "Hungry Heart" to this album. Not to say that the rest of the album doesn't solidify the Springsteen-esque inference, but that song pretty much seals the deal - and it's only the third track!
       Seriously. Do yourself a favor and run down to Music Millenium and pick this up. No, seriously.
Pick up a physical, "in your hands" copy. Cause if there was an award for cool packaging and album artwork design - this album would win. Hands down.
Spreading Rumours - Grouplove
     I have a bit of a soft spot for this band. Not that I feel guilty for loving them, cause they're pretty damn amazing, (and if you have the opportunity to catch them live, do it... They're freakin' awesome!)
      But this album was one of 2 that I anticipated for this last year, and it was certainly worth the wait. This album defies your expectations of what pop music should be.
   We have strangely perfect electro-pop ("Ways To Go"), the best Pixies song since 1992 ("Raspberry"), weird Muse-like awesomeness ("I'm With You"), and riffy guitar alterna-rock worthy of a 90's grunge band, ("Borderlines and Aliens").  
       Rolling Stone gave this album 3 stars.... (Which isn't too bad).... But I say fuck that... Five stars all the way. This is a great pop album that doesn't mind changing genres even between songs, yet remains cohesive. 
        And the interplay between Christian Zucconi and Hannah Hooper's vocals is textbook Frank Black and Kim Deal. That combination seems to only come along every 15 years or so, so check it out and enjoy it while you can....
Bankrupt! - Phoenix
    Where to begin... 
     This was the other hotly anticipated album that I waited impatiently for.... And it totally delivers.
     This one isn't a big surprise. Phoenix has an impressive track record of shifting styles a bit, but making it feel natural... (and if all you've heard is "Wolfgang Amadeus", I encourage you to dig a bit further in their back catalog)....
      If there's a psychadelic new wave album, this one is it.  Covered in synths, and practically mutating into each following song - this album hits every milestone from their career and moves it further into the unknown... ("Trying To Be Cool" sounds like it should be on Alphabetical, and "Don't" from "It's Never Been Like That" to name a couple)...
    These guys got a lot of credit for this album, but it's deserved. They've done a solid job on creating a good album, and making it enjoyable. It's not a challenging album, but it's impressive none the less.
AM - Arctic Monkeys
    I've been saying this for at least two years - Arctic Monkeys are the sh*t. 
    Yeah, I might've come to the party late, (liking their first album, but losing track of them since).  But after "Humbug" these guys have continually impressed me with their willingness to experiment. (Plus, hanging out with Josh Homme can't hurt)...
    And after the perfect pop of "Suck It and See", these guys created a dark and sensuous masterpiece here. Attention should be drawn to the sleek opening track "Do I Wanna Know", and the Black Sabbath inspired "Arabella." 
      Enjoy this album, and then wait impatiently for their next one.
More Than Just A Dream - Fit and the Tantrums
     I'm a sucker for good pop music. You should already know this by now. 
     But these guys followed up a R&B-flavored debut album - (which was great in it's own right) - with an album that added more synths to the mix, making them sound more like an updated ABC, than Motown revivalists... (Case in point: "Fools Gold")...
      These guys could've just done a repeat of their previous album, but they pushed it a bit further and made a cool pop album that has paid off well for them, (as evidenced by their increase of radio play)...

Sunbather - Deafheaven
    Ever wondered what Sigur Ros or My Bloody Valentine would sound like if they played black metal? Well, that's basically what Deafheaven sounds like.
    Anthemic and beautiful, with buzz-saw guitars and unintelligible vocals.
    This type of style is bound to turn off a lot of people - but honestly, those people need to experiment a bit more with their musical palate.
     Despite my name-checking description above, these guys have made a metal album that dapples liberally in the shoe-gazing and post-rock vein. with several songs reaching the 10 minute mark, and a few short songs that are ethereal interludes - there are moments of calm on this album that are epically beautiful...and the whole thing is a cool sonic experience.
     Whether this is your type of music or not, this album deserves your attention.

Right Thoughts, Right Words, Right Actions - Franz Ferdinand
      I'd say it's been easy to write off Franz Ferdinand. These once reigning kings of the mid-2000's post punk revival released their 4th album this last year. And needless to say, I didn't rush right out and buy it, (though the reviews I'd read were positive).
    Kind of a loss for me - cause this album is freakin' great! They've certainly not lost any of the appeal that they exuded on their 2004 debut. They're still sarcastic and/or snarky in their lyrics, (as evidenced by the shout-outs of "You randy bastard!" that punctuate "Evil Eye".... Or the possibly serious "Goodbye Lovers and Friends" that seems like a sly song to end their career on...)
     There's some cool acapella vocals at the apex of "Stand On The Horizon" that make it sound like the most mature song these guys have written.... (But don't worry, it's still easy to dance to...
     The main stand out for me, is the quirky "Fresh Strawberries", which turns a few odd little phrases, and ends up being a cool pop song - that only these guys could do.
   Sure, these songs still sound like Franz Ferdinand - but at times, there is something to be said for creating  a working formula and then adding the tiniest of tweaks to make an album familiar, but different. The whole album goes down easy, doesn't hang around too long, and makes itself easy to revisit.  And in that regard, it's fantastic.

Reflektor - Arcade Fire
   Despite my initial concern about this upcoming album being partly produced by James Murphy, (and don't get me wrong, LCD Soundsystem is absolutely amazing... But I wasn't so sure I wanted to hear an overly dancey Arcade Fire), I really had nothing to fear. Arcade Fire doesn't sound more dance-like than they have on previous albums.
 I remember reading an interview somewhere with Win Butler regarding "The Suburbs" as  trying to sound like Depeche Mode meets Neil Young... Well, I would definitely say that that's a better description of "Reflektor", rather than "The Suburbs."
     Either way, it's probably already dividing fans - but it's still a fantastic, if not darker, journey  with these guys. Stand outs are of course, the title track, "Afterlife" and "Here Comes the Night Time"...

 More Light - Primal Scream
     Well, this album basically works as a best of Primal Scream primer, in that it pretty much explores every facet this band has ever shown - but in the form of 13 new songs.
      Starting off with "2013" and "River of Pain", the first two tracks mine the psychadelic rock of their mid 90's explorations - (i.e. "Vanishing Point" and "Give Out But Don't Give Up") - the second of which breaks down into a spatial orchestra arrangement, before heading back into it's acoustic guitar and drum-loop.
      Other songs find the dark electronica elements these guys used way back in 2000 on "Xtrmntr" and smooth out some of the atonalness of it. (see: "Cultercide").... There's straight-ahead rockers here, too - (see: "Hit Void", "Invisible City", and "Turn Each Other Inside Out").        The whole album is a dark, druggy trip into psychadelic-electro-rock, that comes out at the end with "It's Alright, It's OK" shedding a bit of light on the precedings - and giving more than a generous wink to their classic "Screamadelica" album.
        It's not the best album of the year, but it's one of the most interesting.

 So, there's my 10.   And yes, you're asking "What about Vampire Weekend's album? Or Daft Punk's album? They should be on there."
     And yeah, they would be if I could choose 12 albums - but I've kept myself to 10. And I have my reasons why they didn't make it on here, (of which I won't go into now...)...
   But, these are my totally subjective top 10 - the ones I listened to the most, and enjoyed the most.
  So, what are your ten?

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Sound + Vision

No, this isn't a blog in honor of the genius of David Bowie, (although I would love to get around to writing that one)...
 What I'm talking about is the cerebral connection between the visual aspects of movies and their, (in my opinion), even more important auditory counterpart - the music. Even when I was a kid, it was the music in films that I grew up loving - not just the movies themselves. I remember the first soundtrack on a tape that I owned - "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade." Yep, an overzealous John Williams soundtrack, but a suitable one for a nine year old kid.
 And of course, over the years I've grown appreciative of the key part that music plays in movies - enriching the cinematic experience, etc...blah, blah, blah...
  But every now and then, you a see a movie where the director and whomever is organizing the sound track gets it perfect - an exact moment of cinema that is flawless and sends chills up your spine. Oftentimes this is most impressive when the music being used is an old pop song of some form.... And oftentimes, it hooks you visually to a form of music you may have never heard before.... Please allow me to digress...
  Awhile back I had the opportunity to finally watch Nicolas Wending Refn's "Bronson" which had a fantastic opening set to the tone of the Walker Brothers' "The Electrician", (in fact there are other such moments throughout, including a song by Glass Candy, and New Order's "Your Silent Face"). The song just blew me away, and I initially thought it was Nick Cave singing.... But after some careful (ahem... Wikipedia) research, I was able to track this song down and find out who sang it.
   But this doesn't stop there. Let's look at "Breaking Bad" and specifically it's final episode. Using Badfinger's "Baby Blue" was perfect and fitting for those final scenes. Who the hell didn't like that ending?
  How about "Lost In Translation"? Aside from numerous great scenes with an awesome soundtrack, the scene at the end with the Jesus and Mary Chain's "Just Like Honey" playing along? That's movie magic there, not some blue-screened crappy CGI garbage (ahem... George Lucas)...
  Think about every Quentin Tarantino movie - those songs in the soundtrack don't set the mood for scenes - they're practically another character in the movie! There's a whole slew of director's who are following in those footsteps - Guy Ritchie and Edgar Wright being two of the most impressive ones.
  And for all you other geeks out there, think about "Donnie Darko" without all the cool 80's songs that really put it in motion. For instance, the scene of Donnie and Gretchen coming down the stairs to Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart Again"?  Again.... Perfect scene, perfect song..
     Alright, so you can hopefully get my point. However, there is a downside - sometimes in the wrong hands, it doesn't work particularly well. Case in point, the Joseph Gordon-Levitt movie "50/50". While not a bad movie, and pretty likable, there is a part where Radiohead's "High and Dry" is played during a small montage - and for whatever reason, it feels hollow. Don't get me wrong, I freakin' love Radiohead, and "High and Dry" is my jam from my early teenage years. But it feels more like an after-thought, rather than a song that fits those scenes.
   There's plenty of other examples of this - numerous soundtracks that simply are a mixed bag of "hot indie" artists that are more for drawing in cash, rather than an integral part of the movie. For some reason, the movie "Garden State" comes to mind - but since I haven't actually seen it, I'm not going to weigh in whether it works cinematically - but this idea doesn't require lots of examples, you barely have to look farther than the "Hunger Games: Catching Fire" soundtrack. It's a marketing tool at that point. 
    Now, I'm not completely against these "cash-in" soundtracks. The problem is that these soundtracks generally have the feeling of being tacked-on to the movie. And usually the guys actually making the movie don't have the good sense to use the music appropriately....
   Alright.... That's it for my soapbox this week.  As always, I appreciate any feedback or comments - even if you disagree...
   See you next week...

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Next Time I'll Bring More Beer... or... (How I Survived the Cascade Lakes Relay)

 Appropriate soundtrack to reading this week's blog, would be the Old 97's "Timebomb"
Where to begin? Well...

Friday, August 2, 2013: (Somewhere in Bend)
    So, we wake up around 7:00am, (we being Jacob and I), in my parents' RV, (whom were kind enough to let us stay the night with them), desperately hoping our rented/borrowed van hasn't been
A.) Stolen
B.) Broken into
C.) Towed away by the decent folks who own the Wendy's parking lot that we left the van in.

   Somehow the van is still there, along with all our belongings. It's looking to be a nice day, and our first legs of the Cascade Lakes Relay start in the next few hours.
     By now our other half in Van #1 have already started off the line, and we're due to be down near Diamond Lake in a short time frame. We start things off by picking up most of our 6 person team, and then hitting up breakfast at the Original Pancake House - narrowly avoiding a peanut allergy incident in the process. I end up chugging a large quantity of coffee, and then we're off picking up our last 2 team members from the south side of Bend.
     Then, it's all road till Diamond Lake. We'll be doing a relay that's approximately 216.6 miles with a team of 12 people, split between 2 vehicles. It looks like this:
My team in Van #2 lucked out in having the 15 person van, filled to the brim with supplies, protein bars, PB&J sandwiches, Gatorade and water bottles, and 1 twelve pack of Blue Moon.
      We pull into the first van exchange point. Van #1's team hands off the relay wristband to Rob, who kills the first 5.54 miles easily. And then it's me...

Bear in mind, I've only started running in the past 4 months or so. Not exactly an athlete. But I've gotten to the point where I can run a good 5.5 miles, and not die... So I figured I could give this relay a shot. 
    My first leg is 3.98 miles long - easy. 
    Not so. The elevation of our location is a factor. A clear difference in the altitude is the first thing that hits me in the the first leg, along with the blistering heat at 2:30 in the afternoon. Thank God for random other teams with insect sprayers filled with what I assume to be water, standing along the roadside to spray runners. 
    I make it to the next exchange point, and hand off to Erik who breezes through the next leg.
    I'm thirsty and a bit exhausted, but I chug some water and Gatorade, and we're good to go. 
   We follow our Van #2 teammates as they run their legs, occasionally spraying them with water from our bottles, and always cheering for them before meeting them at the next exchange point. It looks more or less like this:
     We also find that our borrowed van has been tagged by the other teams. We end up with a painted turtle on the back of our van, along with some blue doodle on the passenger side window. Even better, there is a sticky moustache that is placed on the front hood of the van as well. 
      Nearly all of the vans/vehicles of teams are decorated with some theme or statement regarding their team name. We see a team with a giant turtle on the top of their van, with speakers attached, blaring Avril LaVigne at one exchange point. Another team is an all-female group wearing fake moustaches and driving a van that states they give "free moustache rides", thus our moustache tagging, I'm sure.
       Our van is plain white with a Christian-based company's logo emblazoned on the side, so our options of making our vehicle cooler are severely limited.

     The sun is beginning to set as our last 2 teammates finish their legs. It's a continuous stop-and-go routine, in which we intermittently sit along the wide shoulders of the road with our van, (careful to not get too far into the loose gravel along the edges), and take in a bit of the scenery.
    We hit Silver Lake and then proceed on an expressionless 50 mile drive to La Pine. The only signs of civilization out here is a creepy mini-mart that has "Deliverence" written all over it. We wisely continue on without stopping, only to find a few miles further a sign pointing off to a secluded dirt road towards "Cabin Lake." We all find this amusing in it's cliche horror-movie title, but again wisely elect to not stop and check it out.
    Sometime closer to 8:30pm we arrive at La Pine High School, where we find our temporary lodgings. There are cots in the gym and showers available for a donation. Most of us elect to just stink, and begin preparing for a couple hours of sleep while Van #2 continue their legs. 
     Erik, Jacob, and I slept in the seats in the van, and woke up more or less at the same time and found it time to get moving to the next van exchange point - a good 30 minute ride away. Everybody gathers up their stuff and we're off again. 
      There's a bit of a joke regarding the showers at the La Pine gym,
which looked more or less like these:

     I think it was Joey who referred to this style as "Locker Rooms Designed by Jerry Sandusky"... 

    Again, Rob is the first to go on the 2nd leg, and has to tackle 7.34 miles that on a topographic map seems oddly reminiscent of the outline of Mt. Hood: straight freakin' up, and then straight freakin' down. It's around this time I realize it's ridiculously cold, somewhere in the 42 degrees range.
     It's 2:15am, and I'm running out under a bed of stars. It's beautiful and absolutely clear, and it's just me, a flashlight, and an envelope of darkness. Probably the coolest run I've ever done - 3 miles, easy. 
    Well, easier than my first leg at least.

Saturday, August 3rd, 2013:
     Next van exchange, and it looks like this outside:
   Our next sleepover point is at Elk Lake, and we take what seems like hours to arrive there. At one point I'm leaning forward with my head against the seat in front of me, and then I'm awake and the sun has fully come out.
    We arrive at Elk Lake and again, half the team sleeps outside - and the other half stays in the van. I take a quick picture,
 and then become comatose. I end up sleeping in the front passenger seat, and surprisingly this works out well.
   I wake up close to 10am, and down a wonderful cup of coffee. It's around this time that it's noticed that several of the mass port-a-pottys are out of toilet paper. This is a bit discouraging, but being that I've been living on a steady diet of protein bars, granola, Gatorade, and water - it doesn't make much of a difference to me.
    My leg this time is 4 miles and is graded as "Very Hard", (as my previous ones were "Easy"), and it goes up a hill with a total elevation of 918 feet over that distance. At the van exchange point, one of the "Moustache girls" asks "Who pulled the shit straw for the next leg?"  The rest of the team points to me and chuckles. Sure, the weakest link in Van #2 gets the brutal uphill leg - but that's fine, I signed up for this and I'm going to do it - or keel over in the ditch.
     My parents show up before I start the last leg, and then by-pass me on the road, along with my team in Van #2 - yelling encouragement at me. Somewhere around two and half miles, they've pulled the van over and are waiting for me to pass. Using a series of charades that indicates to them that I need water and a gummi bear or something, they hand them off as I continue uphill. I attempt to masticate a couple of Swedish Fish, but my mouth's so dry that they eventually just end up goobered like mortar in teeth, and I'm at risk of aspirating a piece of gummi candy. Using the water bottle in my hand, I manage to break through some of the build-up in my mouth and continue pushing on.
     I finally make it to the exchange point, and take a moment to not fall over.
We're now down to the last 4 legs. It's all downhill from here - sort of.

    Joey is a little over half way into his leg, and we pull the van over onto the gravel portion of the shoulder. We yell and cheer as he passes us. We pack into the van to head for the next exchange for Jacob......And disaster strikes.
     The driver's side back wheel digs a hole nearly 6 inches into the gravel, and we're stuck.
    We try pushing, and all that does is dig us in further. Luckily, Jacob brings out a trusty camp shovel to use and dig the wheel out. In the meantime, Jacob runs up to another vehicle from another team pulled over and bums a ride to the next exchange, (and luckily they're kind enough to do so).
    But, that leaves the 4 of us to somehow get this van back onto the concrete. After a series of failed attempts at placing chunks of road-side wood under the tire and pushing, we're running low on ideas.
One final time, we find a large trunk of wood and use it brace the back-end of the van like a lever, and gently accelerate over onto the previous chunks of wood - winding up back on the pavement, and narrowly missing a mile-marker.
    With a ridiculous amount of cheering from the 4 of us, (and after definitely earning our "Man Cards" for the day - per Peter), we pile in the van and race to the exchange to pick up Joey - who's wondering where the hell the rest of the team is.
    Jacob and Peter run their final legs, and by 3:30pm or so, it's over. We meet up with the rest of Van #1, and cross the line with Peter.

  So, in a nutshell, it was worth it. The lack of sleep, the money, the expended energy. And the more I think about it, I'm pondering doing another one... One day... Maybe...
  But if I did again, I'd do a lot of things differently. First of all, I'd pack a lot less stuff, (i.e. extra clothes, extra pair of shoes, etc..). Packing the bare essentials would be more ideal.
    Second of all, I'd pack more beer, too. For all those lonely exchange points and sleepover areas, there's no better way to get your carbs post-run.
    Third of all, we would need to decorate our van up with crazy stuff, at least giving it some sort of graffiti to set it apart from the other 100+ white vans involved in the relay.
    Fourth, and last, of all, I would make an effort to not forget Jacob's camp shovel along the shoulder after using it to dig out our tire.
   That is all.