When I lived in New York, I ran 20-25 miles per week.
I was living in the southern most blocks of Astoria, Queens at the time. I would run west along 36th Ave, past a closed Greek nightclub, 2 laundromats, a place that sold Brazilian takeout by the pound, Dunkin Donuts, Bank of America, a supermarket that alwas smelled like a butcher shop, a liquor store, through a small pocket of Bangladeshi bakeries and restaurants, past the towering Ravenswood projects, and across the smallish bridge to Roosevelt Island.
Roosevelt Island is an odd little place. It once held criminals, the mentally unwell, and the highly contagious. It was called 'Welfare Island' until the 70's and there are remnants of it's legacy: the crumbling skeleton of a former smallpox hospital stand at the southern tip and a part of the insane asylum has been transformed into luxury rentals on the north end. It boasts green spaces, a spectacular view of midtown east, and with only a handful of streets it offers almost 4 miles of relatively smooth sidewalks.
At the time that I started the route, I had been running 2.5-3.5 miles per session with regularity. This new route kicked that up to 5.5.
Needless to say, I enjoyed a few weeks of blistered toes as my feet accustomed themselves to this new level of performance.
I have also, at least for the last month, been practicing the bass guitar.
I spend 40-50 hours per week squinting at a computer: trying to squeeze something useful out of a sea of curly braces, mixins, and prototypes. My preferred form of entartainment is movies, with video games very close behind. Even when I'm not working, I'm staring at a matrix of lighted pixels. Even now, as this is typed, I'm basking in the cool glow of my work-issued slightly-outdated retina screen. Aside from walking the dog, running (which I'm happy to say I've rediscovered my love for), and conversing with Heather, most of my life is spent focused on a flat pane of glass.
I needed something that was completely outside of my wheelhouse, and the bass guitar seemed as good as any instrument to learn: relatively simple mechanics, no chords or crazy fingerwork, and best of all: no screens.
I've spent 2-3 hours every week with that thing slung over my shoulder for the last 8 weeks. I'm certainly not good at it yet, but I'm worlds better than I was 2 months ago. And in 2 more months I'll probably be halfway decent.
And maybe these blisters on my fingertips will have calloused over by then...
This month's playlist has nothing to do with blisters: the unifying theme is the presence of stringed instrument sounds (whether synthesized or organically produced). I thought about writing something clever about string theory. But my fingers hurt.
Parson Brown - Hey Rosetta!
You And Moon - Adem
When That Helicopter Comes - Andrew Bird
Cello Song - The Books feat. Jose Gonzalez
Destroy The Robots - The Red Paintings
City Sleep - Talkdemonic
Pale Green Ghosts - John Grant
Learning to Love Her Lazy Eye - Bexar Bexar
Cut Me Loose - UNKLE feat. Gavin Clark
Don't Come Down Here - Serena-Maneesh
Kolapot - Amiina
A Necessary End - Saltillo
Roads Must Roll - Boom Bip
If you would prefer to listen via Google Play Music, you may do so here.
In the cryptic world of medical notation, the code FB denotes a Foreign Body.
Last March, my wife (fiancée at the time) gave me a bicycle for the 33rd anniversary of my birth. It's quite a handsome machine: shiny black frame, mustache handlebars, and a leather saddle. It's one of my prized possessions. Days after assembling it, we were out on a leisurely Sunday afternoon ride through College Park (one of Orlando's few truly charming neighborhoods) salivating at real estate and pretending that we were house hunting. We cut a meandering path through street after street of 70-year-old bungalows, and were contemplating heading home to get ready to go out for dinner. Then something landed in my eye.
I know now, as I did then, that the absolute worst action to take when there is an object that has no business being on the tender side of your eyelid is to rub it. But did that stop me? Did that even slow me down? Certainly not! I dug my knuckles into my left eye socket and kneaded and pushed and ground- grunting in discomfort. Heather immediately put 2 and 2 together and commanded that I cease rubbing the eye: that I needed to pull out the top lid and allow tears to flush the offending particle away from my now profoundly irritated eye. Which I tried, but the damage had already been done. My left eye was so inflamed that it refused to open. And my right eye, in some seeming display of solidarity was tearing just as profusely as its twin.
I was thoroughly incapable of safely piloting my bicycle: so we walked our bikes the two and a half miles back home, where I immediately jumped into the shower and tried to blast the embedded crumb out of my eye. Spoiler alert: I did not succeed.
My wife is excellent at first aid. And I am stubborn and foolish. She recommended that she go to the pharmacy and purchase an eye patch and an eye cup. I insisted that it was unnecessary: that I had resolved the issue in the shower and that the redness and swelling was due to my poor handling of the nasty little fragment's introduction to my cornea. I vehemently assured her that I would feel fine in the morning.
Spoiler alert: I did not.
My left eye was swollen completely shut and any movement of my eyes caused lightning bolts of pain to sear across my field of vision. I had Heather run to the pharmacy to purchase an eye patch and an eye wash cup (Lesson learned: listen to my wife). Upon her return, I flushed my eye three times and threw the patch on: providing immediate relief. I felt confident that I could safely pilot my car to work. Word to the wise: if one of your eyes is out of commission and you are not accustomed to a lack of depth perception I do not, repeat DO NOT recommend driving a car, truck, or any other type of motorized vehicle. It was the most insecure and frightening driving experience of my life. Don't do it. Get a ride, call a cab, or just call in to work.
At the end of the day, my eye felt significantly better. The next day, I felt fine. I assumed that the grumpy little speck had been removed in the triple eye douche the previous morning. I forgot about the entire incident.
Fast forward six months. My eyes have become profoundly light sensitive: bad enough that if I am outside between the hours of 9 am and 7 pm, I need (not prefer, require) polarized sunglasses to keep my eyes open. I can no longer stand overhead lights. I dim my computer monitor and phone display to the lowest possible brightness and still be able to do my job. And it happened so gradually that I didn't really become aware of it until Heather called me out on it one day that she came home from a gig and I was sitting in our darkened house, next to a tiny lamp with a 40-watt bulb. It was time to see a professional.
The Optometrist was fantastic: he was able to identify pretty immediately that there was something inhibiting my left eye from it's full range of motion and after some eye drops to relax them, he pulled out the top lid, slid a swab across the top of my eye and dug out a tiny black chunk of asphalt.
One week later, and I am no longer bothered by bright lights.
It's astonishing how accustomed we can become to being uncomfortable.
This group of tunes is a testament to carrying around foreign bodies: while all pretty in their own right, there is something discordant about each of them...something out of place, off, or otherwise disharmonious.
John Talabot - Oro y Sangre
Blue Hawaii - Sweet Tooth
Caribou - Bijoux
Amon Tobin - Big Furry Head
Blackbird Blackbird - Keep It Up
Red Snapper - Racing Snake
SomethingALaMode - GString
Niki and the Dove - Gentle Roar
Amon Tobin - Nightlife
Bonobo - Dinosaurs
Hexstatic - Perfect Bird
Blackbird Blackbird - Tear
SRFKR - Laadeedaa
If you would prefer to listen via Google Play Music, you may do so here.
“Those zealous idolators [counted] it a great blasphemy to make their God a stone, whereas notwithstanding they were so senseless in their adoration of idols as to make a stone their God.”
In this specific context, Wilkins (an English Bishop who lived in the early 1600s) was referring to the imprisonment of Anaxagoras, an Ionian experimentalist who lived and worked in Athens in the 5th century BC. Anaxagoras was guilty of teaching that the Sun and Moon were large rocks flying around in space- one cold and one very hot, and not Apollo and Artemis, two members of the Greek Pantheon. He was later released, but while imprisoned, attitudes changed, and his controversial teachings were no longer of interest to ancient Athenians.
Those of us who enjoy a more privileged flavor of free speech have different forms of blasphemy: from the mild ("You don't like Breaking Bad!?!"), to the harmlessly provocative (The Festivus Pole that was erected in Florida's State Capitol), to the disrespectful & dangerous ("The Interview" debacle with Sony or the Charlie Hebdo incidents immediately spring to mind). There are many who would debate that the "The Interview" incident is not an accurate example of blasphemy, but considering that he is referred to as "Supreme Leader" I think that it stands. And few would deny the potency of the attack on the Charlie Hebdo offices. But it all basically stems from the same place- when we are hurt by the fact that others don't hold the same values sacred. Because it makes us face our own idols. And some of them are a lot scarier than a couple of stones whirling around in space.
The solution? Hell if I know.
A little more empathy. A little more respect. And a lot more communication.
And maybe a little more rock & roll.
These guitar-heavy tracks bring me to a place somewhere in between all these points: from ancient Athens to Talahassee, from a pair of Hollywood jokesters who feel they are striking out against tyranny to a pair of angry and alienated men who feel they are doing the same. To a place of rebellion, defiance, but ultimately hope.
Rumspringa - Queer Eyed Boy
Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - Beat the Devil's Tattoo
Bars of Gold - Needle
White Denim - El Hard Attack DCWYW
Bombino - Amidinine
Goat - Disco Fever
Boom Pam feat Balkan Beat Box - Gross
The Budos Band - Aphasia
Calexico - Sideshow
Melt Yourself Down - Camel
mr. Gnome - House of Circles
Buke & Gase - Hiccup
If you'd rather listen on Google Play Music, you can find the playlist here
Kurt Vonnegut is, hands down, my favorite author.
And though I never had the privilege of meeting him, one of my favorite humans to ever walk this earth.
I was recently charged with choosing a favorite book: a difficult task, to be sure. I knew that it would be a title that he was responsible for. But the memories of his books, much like the narratives of the stories contained within, are ephemeral: weaving in and out of each other. Small details poke out of the fog, but I have very little recall of greater story arcs or character names. Was Hocus Pocus the one about the painter? Or the kid who accidentally kills a woman? Which one has Morasses? Wasn't there a chemical that would instantly freeze all water on the planet?
I'm pretty sure I marked Slaughterhouse 5 as the pick, but in retrospect, I think that The Sirens of Titan deserves the spot. Not because it was necessarily the most riveting plot (Mother Night), the most emotionally involving (Jailbird), or even the most outlandish (Galapagos).
Sirens deserves the spot, because it was the first of his books that I ever read. And it was at a time when I needed his unique brand of whimsy, wisdom, and reluctant optimism. It also taught me a lot of the inherent power of women at a time when I had really only known girls.
My wife is a truly gifted singer & songwriter. In the early stages of our...courtship...it occurred to me that very little (by which I mean virtually none) of the music I listened to was created by females. And in an effort to more fully understand the music that she makes, I tapped in to my feminine side.
Here are some of the standouts that I re/discovered in the process:
Agnes Obel - Beast: I love that the instrumentation is carried almost entirely by a harp. It's surreal and elysian. I'm not usually into breathy, whispery voices, but when the effect is used sparingly it's chillingly beautiful.
First Aid Kit - The Lion's Roar: These Swedish sisters wail together. It doesn't hurt that they sound more sincere than 95% of the garbage played on commercial country radio. Take note, record producers: this is a single.
Lucius - Wildewoman: Like First Aid Kit, Lucius has mastered tight 2-part vocal harmony. But these two have embraced a degree of whimsy and silliness that makes it so you just can't help but smile when you hear it. And they dress identically. Which is strange. But still really cool.
How To Destroy Angels - Ice Age: arguable the prettiest track on an album that very obviously has Trent Reznor's thumbprint all over it. Simple production. Just the right amount of dissonance. Carefully treading the line between hope and despair. Very mature music.
Lydia Ainsworth - White Shadows: This woman has a very bright future ahead of her. Her ear for production is nuanced and strange and glitchy and gorgeous. I can't wait to hear what's next from her.
Crystal Castles - Empathy: 95% of their music is noisy to the point of being painful. The remaining 5%? Haunting and ethereal and very very beautiful.
Purity Ring - Belispeak: this band is almost painfully intriguing. Production that leans heavily on 90's Horrorcore. Dark lyrics that speak of death, occultism, cannibalism, mutilation. And one of the sweetest voices in the indie pop world. An odd combination that works very well together.
Sleigh Bells - Treats: Zero Nuance. Zero Musicianship. Zero Finesse. Just chunky guitar riffs, nasty beats, and a fashion sense plucked right off of Bedford Ave. Which in small doses is so awesome.
Lamb - Sugar 5: It's a shame that more of this album doesn't stay in this place, because there are so many things about this song that I love: the analog-sounding drums & secondary percussion, the bubbly string swells, the dreamy backing vocals, the walking bass line. A seeming fluke, but a great one.
Goldfrapp - Train: Proof that you can be sexy and silly at the same time. The vocal lines would not be out of place in the golden age of disco.
Heather Friedman - Gotta Move: This song feels like the opening credits to a creepy children's movie: my favorite recording of Heather's so far. But that will likely change in a couple of weeks when her new album drops...
Janelle Monae - Many Moons: if you're unfamiliar with her work, Janelle Monae is in the process of writing a multi-album super concepty rock opera about a dystopian future, performance androids, and love. And it's still some of the most compelling pop music of this generation.
Metric - Stadium Love: I fell in love with Metric when I first saw 'Scott Pilgrim vs the World'. They're not afraid of noise, but are always pleasant sounding. Emily Haines' lyrics are smart, fun, and accessible. And sometimes she sings in French. Which is really cool.
Nina Simone - Feeling Good (Bassnectar Remix): there are a lot of people who will not approve of contemporary DJs messing with classic recordings. But if it makes believers of youngsters, then I take no exception. This song (well, the original) was the first dance at our wedding, and will always be important to our family.
If you'd rather listen on Google Play Music, you may do so here
I use them everyday: my phone, my car, the card reader at the pharmacy, the device on my countertop that fills uninteresting tap water with delicious bubbles of carbon dioxide, my credit score. Anything that I don't fully understand the operations of can be classified as a black box: collecting input, performing some sort of magic and then spitting out something useful out the other end.
I'm clever enough to figure out as much as I need to get by: charge the phone overnight & don't drop it, make sure the car has fuel & check the oil every few fill ups, swipe the debit card with the stripe facing down and to the right...but these things are ultimately a mystery.
But that is not to say that they are incomprehensible.
Here's a collection of tunes to help inspire you to open those black boxes: to decide that you've not known how to do something or what something is or how something works for too long. There's a huge chance that whatever you're seeking is easier attained than you thought.
Clap! Clap! - Kaluma: a product of an Italian Producer playing in a sonic space that's primarily African. Leaning heavily on tribal percussion and a trance like repitition of patterns and themes. Simultaneously sinister and whimsical: like a gang of boys playing with knives.
The Flashbulb - Lines Between Us: probably playing the nostalgia card on this, but the simple chord progression reminds me of Thomas Newman's work on 'Six Feet Under'. It's somber but hopeful: an agnostic hymn.
Ben Frost - Aurora: there's slow burn on this and the climax is noisy and chaotic and best experienced via a pair of headphones.
Black Moth Super Rainbow - Harispray Heart: there is a fine line between comfortably weird and psychically distressing. These guys tread that line like a trip that is on the borderline of taking a turn for the worst at any moment, but is an absolute blast.
The GOASTT - Too Deep: finally, Sean Lennon produces a work that stands tall on it's own owing nothing to his musical pedigree. The entire album is fun, strange, pretty, and very listenable. Easily one of my favorites of 2014.
Alt-J - Every Other Freckle: don't be fooled by the production, this is a very sexy tune. It takes a deft group of musicians to compare his lover to a 'Crisp Packet' (an empty bag of chips for us yanks) that he intends to 'turn inside-out and lick'. And they succeed brilliantly.
Self - So Low: Matt Mahaffey is so ridiculously ahead of his time that pop music is just now catching up to this record from 1995. Tight vocal harmonies, grungy guitar riffs, simple lyrics. Still scratching my head that this guy's not huge.
Battles - My Machines: proof that music is math in it's most beautiful form, Battles knocks this one out of the park. I love these guys.
Bonobo - Between the Lines (Instrumental): this guys oozes cool. If my life warrants a movie version and even one of his tracks makes it on the the soundtrack, I will have considered it a life worth living.
The Budos Band - Eastbound: Afro Funk band from Daptone Records + Vintage gear & recording equipment = some of the nastiest grooves in music today.
Django Django - Hand of Man (Gulp Version): 'Sit down and talk to me\Think of colors, shapes and harmony\Picture it, the space becomes a scene\Open up your eyes and start to dream' - sounds like meaningless psychedelic nonsense. And maybe it is. And maybe there's nothing wrong with that.
Puscifer - Tumbleweed (The Beta Machines Delusions of Grandeur Mix): one of Puscifer's most melancholic & beautiful songs turned on it's ear. The end result is driving and noisy and still really pretty.
If you'd rather listen via Google Play Music, you may do so here.