Friday, September 25, 2009

Featured Music - Explosions In The Sky

So I still suck at blogging, but I stopped caring a long time ago because I haven't had much to say. All the big news (like new babies) and pics end up getting shared in person or facebook, and I haven't had the time lately to even think about creativity, let alone pursue it. However, I have been meaning to throw a featured music post up on Band Of Horses - I've been digging on them for quite a while... but before I could get around to it, I stumbled upon Explosions In The Sky - and they have pretty much dominated all my musical inclinations since.

*Note: you probably should start one of the songs I link to below now - they're all pretty long. But don't worry, they're worth it. Don't get impatient - you'll miss out. Just crank them up while/if you read this and as you go about your biz. Then, repeat.*

Explosions In The Sky have been around for the better part of a decade - I know I've actually heard them before, just never in-depth. They hail from west Texas, and are absolute masters of their brand of instrumental post-rock. That's right - instrumental. No vocals, no lyrics, but probably more meaning and passion than 98% of the music you'll hear on the radio. And that's the beauty of instrumental music... it definitely means something specific to the creator, but to the listener, that meaning has freedom to evolve. I can tell you that most of my favorite songs from 10 years ago are definitely not my favorite songs now - but only some of that is due to their musical style. It's mostly just that life marches on and things that were relevant to me then are not relevant to me now. But quality music is always relevant. This song from 2003's The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place is already one of my all time favorites - it's called "The Only Moment We Were Alone":



Their songs may be long, but they're certainly lacking the repetitive jam-band quality you would expect at that length. In fact, one of the first things I noticed is the almost classical style of their music. Most of their songs have at least 2 or 3 distinct parts, with an AB format and extensive motifs - or some even seem through-composed. There's never so much repetition that you grow tired of it - they're restrained. They leave you wanting more. This is possible my second favorite of theirs - it's called "First Breath After Coma":



The thing about instrumental music is it often takes more work to appreciate it. I keep getting pieces of these songs stuck in my head, but sometimes I'll have no idea which song it is. Like I said, each one has at least a couple distinct parts, and there are no lyrics for a frame of reference. That's why you have to keep listening. The more you listen, the more you appreciate it. This is a great live version of "The Birth And Death Of The Day" off of their newest album All of A Sudden I Miss Everyone:



The band probably gained their biggest exposure by writing the soundtrack to the movie "Friday Night Lights" back in 2004. This song was on The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place, but was also reprised and adapted for the movie. It's called "Your Hand In Mine":



Their overall sound doesn't vary that much, due to their consistent, guitar driven instrumentation. But it's a good sound. And it's worth noting that all those intertwined melodies and layered guitar solos sound just as fabulous live as recorded. Very tight. This is "Six Days At The Bottom Of The Ocean":



And just to prove they can still rock out, this is "Greet Death" from 2001's Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Die, Those Who Tell the Truth Shall Live Forever:



Finally - just to underscore my point about having to give them more than one listen - I'll bring it full circle to the first song I posted. Here's a simply amazing live version of "The Only Moment We Were Alone":



There you go - Explosions In The Sky. Go buy their albums. Since the songs are long and painstakingly crafted, there's just not that many on an album. And on Amazon music, short albums = cheap albums. For example, I just featured most of The Earth Is Not A Cold Dead Place because that's the only one I own at the moment; It's about 45 minutes long, has only 5 songs, and cost me $4.95. Best 5 bucks I've spent in a long time.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Featured Music - Ray LaMontagne

So I kind of suck at blogging... mostly because I spend about 8 hours a day on a computer at work, and it's the last thing I feel like doing when I get home. But anywho...

In the second installment of Featured Music, we move from one bearded troubadour to another: Ladies and Gentlemen.... Ray LaMontagne. (lah-mon-tain)

LaMontagne took a rather unlikely journey to his musical career - he was already in his late 20s before he started playing music. At the time, he was a loner working in a shoe factory, who - as a result of a somewhat sketchy upbringing and a lot of moving around - had barely graduated highschool. But after being inspired by a Stephen Stills song on the radio, he picked up the guitar and started writing music. Now he has three albums out - Trouble, Till the Sun Turns Black and the newly released Gossip in the Grain. As a performer, introverts such as myself can relate well to LaMontagne. He is rather reclusive, almost painfully shy, and rarely gives interviews. He's admitted he sometimes has to force himself to leave his hotel room while on tour, and has been known to perform shows in the dark to separate himself from the crowd.

Ray's signature sound is his raspy voice - often drawing comparisons to Joe Cocker among others. Except LaMontagne manages to enunciate everything beautifully. He milks the emotion from every syllable, but without making it feel overdone. Musically, he's been compared to a host of people - Van Morrison, Tim Buckley, etc. For some reason he reminds me the most of Jim Croce. I'm not going to claim that everything he does is magic. Some of his songs make me go "Meh, that was ok." But some of them are pure gold. Here's the song that first caught my attention - from Trouble, this is "Jolene":


Ray gained a bit of popularity when a couple of American Idols covered songs off his first album - Taylor Hicks performed the title track "Trouble", and Kelly Clarkson performed "Shelter". I have to admit I discovered LaMontagne first and found out about that afterwards. But anyway, here's an old, rough, extended version of Ray singing "Trouble" followed by a great version of "Shelter":




I know I'm practically linking to his entire first album, but what the heck - here's the last track, a beautiful ballad called "All the Wild Horses":


And in case you think he can't rock out, here's a song from his second album, Till the Sun Turns Black. It's called "Three More Days":


And for the pacifist in all of us, this is "Within You":


I haven't had much of a chance to acquaint myself with his newest album, Gossip in the Grain, but here are a couple good ones - "You Are the Best Thing", and "Let it Be Me":




So there you go, Ray LaMontagne. Check him out.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The WBC

I'm sure everyone has been following the World Baseball Classic with rapt attention... Well, last Tuesday, I got a chance to check it out personally as Round 2 came through San Diego. Mom and I braved a very busy and drunk St. Patrick's day crowd down town for some dinner, then headed to Petco to watch Japan take on Korea...


















We had killer seats in row 17, just to the left of home plate.
The crowd was relatively small, but extremely loud and surprisingly coordinated - especially the Koreans. They were also very...interesting.










































Pitching for Japan was young phenom Yu Darvish - 22 years old with a consistent fastball @ 94mph, a good 2-seamer, a cutter, a wicked curve, and an unhittable slider coming in around 72mph. Crazy good. He had a rough first inning and gave up a few runs, but then he settled down and just cruised. Here's a clip of him striking out former Mariner Shin-Soo Choo.
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Unfortunately, team Japan just couldn't get anything going. Here's Ichiro reaching on a fielder's choice... but that was about as good of a night as he would have.

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And here's Akinora Iwamura striking out for the final out, as Korea won to advance to the finals in LA. The WBC definitely has some flaws - I'd love to see some format changes before next time around - but it was a sweet experience, and I'm glad I got to check it out.

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Saturday, February 28, 2009

Welcome Back, Junior

Of course this is old news now, but after weeks of speculation and conflicting reports, Ken Griffey Jr. has officially returned to the Mariners.

Last weekend, I caught up with life-long baseball fan Cohen Allen to get his reaction:

ME: "Hey Cohen, did you hear the news?"














COHEN: "What news? You're finally gonna change my diaper?"
ME: "No, your mom can do that. But the Mariners just signed Junior!"














COHEN: "Oh my gosh. OH MY GOSH! Are you serious?!?"
ME: "Yeah! It's a one year, 2 million deal. The press conference is on in a few minutes!"














COHEN: "I'm so excited and I just can't hide it!"

A FEW MINUTES LATER, WATCHING THE PRESS CONFERENCE...

ME: "What's the matter, Co? I thought this would be a happy moment!"














COHEN: "Oh it is. It is. It's just...so emotional.... I'm getting a little verklempt. Talk amongst yourselves..."

After the presser was over, and he had a chance to collect himself, Cohen summed up his thoughts on the signing...














COHEN: "Strictly from a baseball sense, I know this isn't the greatest signing, and likely has minimal impact on the team. Griffey is nowhere near the player he was when he left the M's, and doesn't really have that much left to contribute. However, contingent upon the Mariners utilizing him properly, it's not a bad move either. He should be platooned against leftys, and should definitely stay out of the outfield, but he can still rake against rightys, and thus has value as a DH. From an emotional standpoint, it's a slam dunk for all involved. If there were ever a year to bring Griffey back, this was it. While they do have a long-shot at contention this year in a weakend AL West, realistically, this is a building year while they wait for some bloated contracts to come off the books. I'm looking at you, Washburn. Anyway, new General Manager Jack Zduriencik has had a tremendous off-season so far, and even if you view this signing as a concession to nostalgia, it will buy him immense amounts of goodwill from the local writers and casual fanbase - potentially giving him greater leeway to further improve the team in 2010. For me, personally, I'm afraid Junior transcends all reason and logic. And seeing #24 in a Mariners uni again for the first time...It might be the most exciting thing that's ever happened to me in my whole life. Well, you know, other than being born a few months ago. But you catch my drift."

Yes we do, Cohen. Yes we do. I couldn't have said it better myself.

Spring training is in full swing, the season starts in about a month, and the Mariners organization has done a complete 180... For the first time in years, there's reason to be excited about the future of baseball in Seattle.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Old Ties, New Digs

So obviously I'm way behind at keeping up with this blog, and people in general... What can I say? I've been busy. The weekend after we got back from our snowy trip to Idaho, Jesse and Sarah came through San Diego and we got to spend some time with them. They were going to Mexico to do some cross-cultural training in preparation for joining Sacred Road ministries in Yakima, and we were able to have them stay with us on both ends of the trip. It was really awesome to see them - it had been a while and we had a really good visit. We just spent some time relaxing - walked around the beach at La Jolla, and had a BBQ over at Mom and Bill's with Grandma and Grandpa and Adam and Shonna. Good times.











































Then shortly after they left, we ended up moving to a new apartment. It's in the same complex we were already in - but it's a 2 bedroom! I know! We're moving up in the world. No more moving Cohen's playpen in and out of the living room twice a day - he has his own room! I absolutely hate moving, but we're pretty settled now and it's a very nice change.

So now it's just work that I'm pretty much swamped with... But I'm hoping things will calm down there soon and I can get back to being a better friend/family member/blogger. Although baseball is starting though, so we'll see... :)

Monday, January 19, 2009