Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Get Lykke Li to the Greek

August 10, 2011

After the energy and banter that typified the recent Ben Folds show I attended, I was expecting a more relaxed and staid show from Lykke Li last week.  Expectations were not met.  But that’s not a bad thing.  More on that in a minute.

This was the first time to the Greek for me.  A historic amphitheater located inside Griffith Park, it has a much more intimate vibe than the much larger Hollywood Bowl.  It had a makeover in the past ten years, and it showed with nice concession areas, clean and large bathrooms, and a nice facade that apparently is true to the original facade of the theater.  The soundsystem was also more than adequate.

There were two opening bands.  First up was Fool’s Gold, a local band who mix African rhythms with pop music.  Think Vampire Weekend.  In fact, during a few of their songs, the resemblance was striking.  Musically, they were very adept, and gave the early arrivers something nice to listen to.  Unfortunately, the lead singer didn’t have anywhere near the voice of Ezra Koenig.  That took away a little from the rest of the band’s overall appeal.  As openers go, they were decent.

Next up was Best Coast.  We had seen them earlier in the summer in Pasadena, and they played a pleasant set of lo-fi “surfer” rock then.  Ditto for this set.  Armed with only one full album (and some EPs), the setlist was pretty much the same, if not identical, to the Pasadena show.  Singer Bethany Cosentino has a sweet voice that is complemented nicely by the rough guitar of Bobb Bruno.  I use words like nice and pleasant to describe their sets because they are.  But they lack a pop, ooomph, or some other adjective that separates a good live set from a great one.

Now back to Lykke Li.  I last saw the Swedish songwriter in a very intimate setting at the Sixth and I Synagogue in DC.  With only one instrumentalist and no sort of light show, the spotlight was squarely on Li, and she delivered with a powerful performance.  From the beginning, this show was different.

The first photo in this post was the stage as Li and her band entered the stage.  They had the smoke machines working overtime and the light display would have gotten a nod from Pink Floyd roadies.  Lykke had many more people on stage with her, including two drummers and a backup singer.  As before when I saw her, she keeps a drum and cymbal nearby, and occasionally beats on it along with her percussion section.

It was a really good performance.  She interspersed a lot of her more upbeat songs with some slower numbers, new songs and old.  She was a lot more energetic than the last time I saw her, dancing around the stage and going to town on the aforementioned drums.  Her voice is still great, though unlike the last time I saw her, a few times the music overpowered her vocals.  The crowd didn’t seem to mind, and there was a lot of dancing, even in the seated area where we were at.  The light show was nice and not too over the top (other than the smoke barrage at the beginning).  Only regret was that she didn’t play my favorite song, Tonight, during the encore.  But, all in all a very good show.

4th in the Mountains

July 13, 2011

Sarah and I decided to celebrate the birth of our country by combining two American values, pioneer spirit and technological ingenuity, with a combo tram ride/backcountry hiking trip in the Mount San Jacinto State Park.

The technology came in the form of a tram that took us from the Palm Desert floor (about 2600 feet) and 100 degree heat to mountains of roughly 8500 feet high and cooler temperatures.  In about 15 minutes you ascend nearly two miles and get some spectacular views of the surrounding valleys and the enormous cliffs surrounding the tram route.  The tram cars rotate so that you get different views throughout your ride.  For some history of the tram, see this.

We continued to enjoy creature comforts at the top as we ate our lunches in air conditioned splendor before strapping on our backpacks for a short three mile hike to our camp site for the weekend.  Outside the tram station, we descended steeply down a concrete walkway to the beginning of our trail.  Our travel companions, Ashley and Christina, warned us that the worst part of the hike would be coming back up that concrete walkway with our backpacks.

The hike to camp was relatively easy as we took the low trail around Round Valley.  There’s some nice pine forest and we eventually were walking near a stream that ran near a large meadow.  We reached the Round Valley campgrounds and using the map provided with our permit, we set out to find our campsite, which was in the next campground, Tamarack Valley.  It looked easy, but we got tripped up by a downed tree that covered the trail we were supposed to turn onto.  How many Sierra Club certified navigators does it take to find Tamarack Valley campsite?  Apparently 4.  After a couple more wrong turns, we got back on track and found the first of the sites in Tamarack Valley.  We scouted out some other sites, and settled on one that wasn’t too far uphill that abutted a small stream and was near the “toilet”.  The 3 mile trip took about 2 hours.

After setting up camp, we decided to spend the rest of the afternoon taking a quick hike over to Cornell Peak and try to get to the top.  Our campsite was nearby, so getting to the base of it was pretty easy; the trail running through the campground took us part way and then we went cross-country to the western side of the peak, where there was a ridgeline that connected up with Cornell that we thought would be the easiest way up.  The picture to the left shows what we saw from the ridgeline.  There was no real trail at all, and as you can see, it was very rocky so we were mostly scrambling over boulders.  There was some fun bits of climbing that required using hand and footholds, which were plentiful.

We thought we were finally approaching the summit when we hit a dead end.  After scrambling over a large boulder we stood on a small area that continued up a chute towards the summit on one side and looked out over the edge of the mountain on the other.  Sarah and Ashley got part way up the chute, but could go no further.  I decided to stay put.  The GPS we were carrying put us on the same contour line as the summit, so we considered it a victory and decided to head down.  Going down is always hairier than climbing up, and after a few rough spots we made a quick descent.  As we looked back at the peak, we were impressed with our climb, but wondered if there was another way up that would have gotten us to the tippy top.  Upon our return to civilization, a few Google searches indicated that the way to the top involved approaching from the east side.  We’ll have to try that next time.

Since we had only had a short hike into camp, we had loaded up our packs with vittles for a little gourmet camp cooking.  We also packed in alcohol for the first time on a backpack trip, with two small cardboard cartons of wine and a flask of Bushmills.  We chilled the wine and flask in our stream, which did the job nicely.  For dinner, we did a shrimp ramen dish.   Frozen shrimp and packages of ramen noodles were combined with chopped jalapenos, onion, dried mushrooms, scallion, soy sauce, sesame oil, and a bouillon cube.  We prepared most of the ingredients beforehand, so it mostly involved dumping in all the ingredients into some boiling water.  It’s a really good camp dish if you want something other than dried food.  The wine wasn’t great, but it was nice to have something other than water with your dinner.

The next day our goal was to climb to the top of San Jacinto (stopping off at Miller Peak on the way), then go off-trail to several other peaks in the area.  Sarah had planned out several possible routes.  Only three of us started out the next day, as Christina was feeling the effects of the altitude.  We’d been camping at around 9100 feet and having had altitude sickness before, it’s no fun.  I actually woke up in the middle of the night with a headache, but some aspirin and water had kept me from getting any worse symptoms.

The trail was pretty steep all the way up to Wellman’s Divide.  There you get a break from the trees and you get to look out over a valley and a lot more mountains.  We took a quick rest stop there and also noticed that there was quite a bit of clouds gathering.  We kept going up and now we were able to see the valley we were camping in as well as Cornell Peak and even the tram station which was  a couple of ridgelines over from Cornell.  We also were able to see rain coming out of some of the clouds miles away.  Dang.

As we approached the last stretch of trail to Jacinto, we took a brief off-trail excursion to the top of Miller Peak.  It took about 5 minutes to find the rockpile that led to the summit, and after a few more minutes, we had found the plaque that marked the summit.  One peak down, several more to go.  We hoped, because the weather was looking worse.  We were surrounded by clouds now and the wind was getting stronger.

We made it to an emergency cabin just below the peak at San Jacinto when it started raining and the wind was whipping.  We took shelter behind some rocks and put our rain jackets on.  When the rain died down, we scrambled up the last section of rocks to the peak.  Peak number two taken.

On a clear day, the view from Jacinto is spectacular.  With clouds all around us, we couldn’t see much.  We had another visitor snap the shot to the left.  At a little over 10,800 feet this was the second tallest peak I’d ever been too.  Since the weather wasn’t that great, we skedaddled out of there and headed back off the peak to the trail.

The plan was then to go cross-country following the ridgeline between Jacinto and our next target, Jean Peak.  We left the trail and it was slow going.  There were lots of trees and large boulders, as well as some manzanitas for good measure.  It was pretty slow going and eventually we stopped for lunch in a clearing.  Unfortunately the clouds weren’t moving away and it started raining again, this time harder than before.  We had seen that the route to Jean was going to involve a lot of rock scrambling, and after a short discussion, we decided that climbing over wet rocks off-trail was not a smart move.  So, we decided to cut the trip short and head back to camp.

Rather than following the trail back to camp, we decided to go cross-country.  The first section was quite steep, but we made a quick descent to a clearing where we met up with the trail again.  After taking it for a short while, we tried to find an old trail that was no longer in use that would lead us to the general vicinity of our campsite.  We never really found that trail, but we soon found a stream that we located on our topo map, and used that as a landmark to guide us back to camp.

Since Christina was feeling better and we had made it back to camp much earlier than expected, we did another little excursion to try and find a section marker and some other landmarks on our topo.  We got to the general vicinity of the section marker but never found it.  We found some tall rocks and hung out on those awhile, and then found a spring marked on the topo.  With those small victories, we headed back to camp for dinner number two.  This time we made a chicken and grits meal from our latest issue of Backpacker.  It was tasty, and we had our second “bottle” of boxed wine.

After dinner, I took some shots of the stream.  I was trying to mess with the film speed to create a “fluid” look with the water.  I got mixed results, but I think this one turned out pretty well.  We played some Uno, but the bugs were out in force, so we turned in pretty early.

The next morning we packed up and headed back to the tram station.  This time we took the high road around Round Valley, completing the “round” in Round Valley.  The final push up the dreaded concrete walkway was the only thing left to do.  It wasn’t as bad as I expected, and I think the fact that I knew a Stone beer at the tram lodge was awaiting me as quickly as I got up added a little pep to my step.

We all made it and had that celebratory beer.  The tram ride back was equally as impressive and even quicker than going up.  The drop in elevation was met with a rise in the temperature.  Since we were all hungry, we stopped in Palm Springs and ate at a great Jewish deli called Sherman’s.  Great sandwiches and an absolutely huge array of pies, cakes, and pastries for desert.  Given the calories we burned hiking, we figured we could splurge on a large piece of chocolate cake.  A delicious end to a great weekend of hiking!

Joshua Tree x2 (Part 1)

April 17, 2011

Been awhile since I posted.  Rather than a music post, wanted to do a quick hiking/backpacking post about two recent trips to Joshua Tree.  Sarah’s dad was visiting the Joshua Tree area for 9 days, and Sarah and I joined him for the two weekends we were there.  We had two pretty distinct experiences with the weather highlighting the extremes of desert camping.  The first weekend we were there had warm temperatures during the day and pleasant nighttime weather.  We didn’t even need to put on our tent’s rainfly the first night and got to look up at the stars at night.

Our first weekend plan was to take one car to the Boy Scout Trailhead, hike on the Boy Scout trail, set up camp a mile or two in, hike to Willow Hole, and then pack up camp the next day and continue on the Boy Scout trail to the other end of the trail, where our other car was waiting.  Having two cars is nice, since you can avoid having to backtrack over trail you already hiked to get out.

There’s Sarah to the left on the Boy Scout Trail.  You can see that it’s a relatively flat trail and is surrounded by the ubiquitous Joshua trees and large rock piles.  We only backpacked in about two miles before veering off trail to find a site to set up camp.  With most of the backcountry open for camping, you don’t have to go to designated backwoods camping sites, which has been most of our experience in Sequoia National Park.  We found a spot near some rocks that would offer shelter from winds and after leaving most of our stuff in our tent, we decided to walk off-trail for a bit and then would hook up with the Willow Hole trail, which leads to one of the larger water holes in the park.

Sarah and her dad have both gotten pretty good at navigating using a topographic map and a compass.  I was given a quick tutorial earlier in the morning.  It is a lot of fun trying to guide yourself from point to point, and obviously a good skill to have if you ever get yourself lost.  So, we got our bearings and headed off to Willow Hole.  We eventually caught up with the main trail, which eventually went down into a wash, which is basically a dried up waterway that is now full of sand.  There was actually a substantial amount of water at Willow Hole, and there were even two ducks swimming around in one of the waterways.  I was somewhat surprised, as previous “oasis” we’ve been to in the park held very little water other than a few puddles of green water.

After relaxing for a while we headed back, going cross-country again, and then decided to walk up the Boy Scout trail a bit before dinner time.  We spotted a peak called Key’s Peak and Sarah and I decided we wanted to try and climb it.  It was very rocky (see the picture to the right) and there was no trail, but we figured we’d give it a shot and turn around if it got too difficult.

We skirted around boulders bigger than us and slowly made it up to the saddle then started going more vertical.  Along the way I had an encounter with one of the many cacti dotting the rocks.  Jumping from rock to rock, I stabbed my left leg into a single pointy spine.  Ouch.  I could tell it was bleeding, so I rolled up my leg and indeed it was.  Luckily we carry our trusty first aid kit, so I was patched up and we continued on.  We made it near the top pretty quickly, but found ourself in a spot where we thought we’d be stuck.  A narrow passage between two rocks had a rock wedged in between them that was taller than us.  Eventually we figured out that we could wedge one foot in to boost ourself up and we scrambled the rest of the way to the top.  We had a really good 360 degree view of the surrounding area.  A couple pictures later, we made a quick descent, finding an easier path down a gully.

The wind was picking up as we got back to camp.  That night we experienced a first.  So, the desert because of the dry air and lack of water, abounds in static electricity.  When we set up our camp, we picked a spot that only allowed us to stake down one of the two doors on our tent.  The door on my side just was laying there, though I had tried to keep it pinned down with a few rocks.  Well, the rubbing of the tent’s rainfly on the desert floor created a lot of static electricity.  All night, every time the wind hit the tent, it created weird noises.  At first we were freaked out by the noise, since it sounded like something was hitting the tent, almost like raindrops except it wasn’t raining.  After figuring it out, it was just an annoyance.  Lesson learned.

The next day, we packed up and continued on the Boy Scout trail, going past Keys Mountain, and then beginning a long descent to the other end of the trail and our car.  We purposely planned the route so as to get to go downhill on that section of the trail.  Smart thinking, it would have been a bear toting our full packs up that.  I’m out of shape right now for backpacking, so the downhill trek was welcome.  The trail went down into a big wash which you walked through for a while, flanked on each side by large rock walls.  The last mile or two was back up hill, but not too steep.

We spent the rest of the day driving from the north end of the park to the south end in hopes of seeing more desert flowers in bloom.  We’d seen quite a few during our backpacking, but in the lower elevations we thought we’d see even more.  There were patches, below is a sample of some really nice yellow ones I took right before we exited the park.  There were some blooms on a large cactus-like tree whose name eludes me at the moment.  All in all a very nice trip.

Ya mama’s so fat…

March 13, 2011

Ya Mama – Pharcyde from Bizarre Ride to the Pharcyde

Having arrived in Los Angeles, thought I would do a shout-out to a song by one of my favorite LA rap groups.  Coming out of South Central LA, they released a debut album that was not the hardcore gangsta rap album you’d expect given their birthplaces.  Instead, the album is full of upbeat backing tracks laid down over witty, funny lyrics.  No song exemplifies the lightheartedness of the Pharcyde more than “Ya Mama”.

Taking the simple premise of the “ya mama” joke launched between friends (and enemies) across the nation’s schoolyards, Pharcyde decided to expand the premise into a full length song.  As I’ve said before, sometimes the simplest ideas are the best ones.  All four members trade insults about their moms over an organ-driven track that matches the whimsy of the four guys’ barbs.  They laugh along with the listener as the various “ya mama” jokes fly.

Personal favorites:  “ya mama got a glass eye with a fish in it,” “ya mama’s got a pegleg with a kickstand,” “ya mama’s got an afro with a chinstrap,” and “ya mama got snakeskin teeth.”

That’s gold, Pharcyde.  That’s gold.

Here’s the accompanying silly video:

Sweet Torture

February 27, 2011

Torture – Jon Spencer Blues Explosion from Acme

Jon Spencer has been a musical provocateur for a long time, from naming his first band Pussy Galore to referencing the Willie Horton ’88 election campaign ads in his first Jon Spencer Blues Explosion (JSBX for brevity’s sake).  Even deeper, Spencer’s vocal stylings seem meant to be divisive.  Affecting a sneering Elvis impersonator for his JSBX work, I’ve found that people either get on board with what Spencer’s doing with his vocals or you hate it.  Frankly, I don’t understand the hate, as it fits the musical style of their music to a T; but then there’s other vocalists with whom I’m guilty of not getting past their voices.  I could also see Elvis purists finding what JSBX is doing to be musical trash.

This is definitely a more mellow, downtempo JSBX track.  A languid bluesy guitar hook punctuated by drums and a pretty piano flourish provide the backdrop for Spencer.  With a syrupy delivery in line with the music Spencer sings a sometimes hard to understand opening volley, “Torture/that’s what it is/I’m really mixed up baby/Torture/It got to me the same.”  As the track continues, a falsetto chorus of “oohs and ahhas” accompanies his vocals, providing a nice counterbalance to Spencer’s deep voice.  Later on in the song, Spencer gives a 1-2 shout-out to Johnny Cash and Iggy Pop (two people I would think have had to influenced Spencer) as he sings “You know I walk the line/I’m gonna be your dog.”

About halfway through the track there’s a moment when you think they’re going to open up, but it’s a mirage.  A short guitar solo and a little harder drumming quickly ends, and the track settles back down for Spencer to continue singing about the woman he cannot spend “every minute of every hour of every day” with.  The sentiments Spencer sings about after the breakdown (the lyrics before maybe not so much) are sweet and ones I can relate to after having to carry on a cross-country relationship for over a year.  Being away from someone you love can be torture.  And Spencer captures this while at the same time giving you an escape as you rock along with his drawl.



February 21, 2011

So it’s been awhile since I’ve posted and that’s because I was caught up in all that accompanies getting a new job across the country.  As of tonight, I’m officially in Los Angeles, California with enough stuff to keep me going until my furniture arrives, which is scheduled to make it here sometime this week.  Luckily, I was able to move into my girlfriend’s place, so I don’t have to sleep on the floor or live out of a motel until that happens.

I can’t wait to immerse myself in LA culture, including the music scene.  I’ll get back to the music-centric posts, hopefully with some reviews of shows here in LA, soon as I settle into my new environs.  In the meantime, here’s some highlights from Sarah and my cross-country trip that started on Tuesday and ended this afternoon.  We took a southerly route, driving from DC to Atlanta, Atlanta to Dallas, Dallas to Santa Fe, then to Phoenix for the weekend before making the last hop to LA.

  • It was a remarkably traffic-free trip.  We were able to avoid the horrible rush hour traffic going through downtown Atlanta on the first day, thanks to HOV lanes.  The only real traffic we ran into was when we were crossing the mountains in Arizona heading into Phoenix and that was due to an unexpected snowfall that had cars creeping along at 30 mph with snow on the road and limited visibility.  Definitely would have closed schools in the DC area, but we trucked on.
  • Had some great food along the way, and stayed away from fast food til today with a stop at Wendy’s.  The Walnut Tree in Vicksburg, Mississippi served up a blue plate special filled with southern vegetables (mustard greens, purple hulled peas) and chicken pot pie or country fried steak.  The Shed in Santa Fe had some great chile-flavored dishes, with some really refreshing margaritas.  We also ate at Snappy Lunch in Andy Griffith’s hometown of Mt. Airy, NC which had an interesting pork chop sandwich.
  • Apparently Andy Griffith modeled his show on his hometown, and the town has embraced its folksy hero by trying to recreate Griffith’s TV version of their own town (there’s some sort of meta-thing going on here).  Even weirder than Mt. Airy though was Vicksburg, MS.  A town besieged during the Civil War for its strategic importance as gatekeeper to the Mississippi River, now it alternated between fantastically old but preserved plantation-style homes and seedy or completed gutted buildings.  At one point we walked down from the largest of the restored homes (Cedar Grove) to the railroad tracks that run through the town, and it was obvious that there was a literal “wrong side of the tracks” with rundown shacks and old cars parked in yards.  We turned around and headed out of town.
  • In Dallas we visited Dealey Plaza to see where JFK was assassinated.  We got there early in the morning so we didn’t get to go to the museum in the old Texas School Book Depository, but it was a surreal experience to just see people driving and walking to work all around this spot in which one of the most famous episodes of modern history took place.  The night before, we had gone out to the Deep Ellum neighborhood, which we had read was a new thriving area.  There was a long strip of bars, shops, and music venues that was pretty hopping for a Wednesday night.  It reminded me of the H Street corridor in DC except with more bikers (of the motorcycle variety), even more tattoos, and louder music (there was some sort of death metal band playing at one of the venues that could clearly be heard from outside the club).  We went to one of the more tame bars and chatted with a professional bicyle racer who had just moved from Charlottesville, VA (small world, huh).
  • We had planned to camp in New Mexico, but when we figured out it was in the 30s near Santa Fe and we’d be arriving after dark, we opted for a last minute B&B near the historic downtown.  It was a good choice, as it gave us easy access to walk around and see all the old buildings in Santa Fe.  We also had an enthusiastic host, who met us outside the B&B, got us a reservation at the aforementioned Shed, and walked us to the restaurant and told us about why he loved Santa Fe so much.
  • In Phoenix, we stayed with one of my good college friends and also met up with my cousin.  Since it rained most of the day, we couldn’t partake in any outdoor activities.  So, my friend (who is a real estate agent) took us to some homes that were for sale nearby.  The highlight was the house with a 70 foot working waterfall that cascaded over rocks, a 3600 square foot garage, and enough rooms to house a small army.  It can be yours for a mere 1.9 million.  If you’re interested, I’ll put you in touch with my friend.
  • Having driven cross-country twice now, I still think the Southwest has the most interesting scenery to look at in the entire country.  While most of the interstates on the East Coast and South are lined with trees keeping you from seeing much except, well, trees, the Southwest’s highways cut across desert landscapes that allow you to see everything from the many small homesteads dotting the landscape to mesas and mountains in the distance (and sometimes up close).  Also, driving through the Southwest, especially after covering a good bit of territory in Texas, I have the sudden urge to buy an American-made pickup truck.

So that’s six days of driving and eleven states summed up in less than a 1000 words.  While it is tiring, it really is the best way to see this country.

Phoning It In

January 11, 2011

Since I listen to a lot of music, I wear headphones a lot.  Headphones have come a long way since I was a kid and you had things like this:

The sound quality was terrible and the foam over the earpieces would always end up wearing away (and wasn’t that comfortable when it was there).  We’ve come a long way baby.  Even the earbuds that come with an iPod today are better sounding and more comfortable than these.  However, the iPod earbuds lose a lot of sound when they don’t fit your ears well, requiring you to crank up the volume.  All this really does is make it possible for everyone in your immediate vicinity to hear your musical choices, which is about a daily occurrence on my bus ride.

If you don’t want to go the route of huge over-the-ear phones that are generally on the expensive side and can be cumbersome, you can try sound-isolating earbuds.  That’s the route I decided to go when I recently purchased a pair of Nox Audio Scout earbuds.  I was looking for a replacement for some Sennheiser buds that I had loved until they developed a short that made their performance hit-or-miss.  I had never heard of Nox, but a glowing review that a friend sent me from CNET convinced me to give them a try.  The “audiophile” who wrote the review was very impressed with the sound which obviously is the most important aspect of a headphone’s performance.  A quick word on audiophiles.  Is there some sort of test you have to take to get this title?  Are they born with super hearing?  Do they wince when they hear dog whistles a la Teen Wolf (and yes I did just spend 10 minutes watching clips of Teen Wolf on youtube to see if I could find the scene I’m referencing)?  As you can see, I’m skeptical anytime someone says they are an audiophile.  Anyways, enough about that.

The sound is very crisp.  It is not really bass-heavy, so if you’re looking for that thumping bass that some phones provide (usually with an accompanying loss of other tones), these probably aren’t for you.  But, if you’re looking for headphones to give you a replication of sitting in a quiet room while listening to your favorite music, these are great.  Coming with three different sets of molded plastic bud covers, the medium-size gave me a good seal over the ear, which is the key to keeping the sound in your ear and not escaping out so that everyone around you can hear you listening to “Baby One More Time” (how embarrassing).

The other benefit to this seal is that you can keep the volume down on your device and still hear your music loud and clear.  I only have to put my iPod on quarter volume and that’s plenty loud.  While these do drown out some outside sound these aren’t Bose Sound Isolation headphones.  You are still going to hear some ambient noise.

Anther features that I like: two tabs (that can be removed if you wish) that help keep the bud in your ear.  I’ve never seen this on another set of headphones, and it works very well.  Riding the bus to work, you often are brushing up against other people, and the tabs do a good job of keeping the buds from popping out.  The cord from the jack to where the headphones split is unique as well, instead of a thin cord it is flat and resembles a piece of fettuccine.  This seems to be a sturdier design than previous headphones I’ve had, I’ll have to see how it holds up over time.

These aren’t perfect though.  The black material on the phones pick up lint very easily and the aforementioned cord creates a lot of noise when it rubs against clothing, so I wouldn’t recommend these for anyone looking for a headphone to go running with.  The jack is straight rather than the 90 degree angle jack of the Sennheiser earphones I previously owned which creates a smaller profile when stuffing your portable device in a small pocket.  I also miss the Sennheiser’s behind the ear cord, which allowed you take the buds out and have the buds sit around your neck rather than just falling down.  But these are all minor quibbles and the sound quality outweighs any of these shortcomings.  The only potential real issue I’ve noticed that on a few occasions I’ve had them in my ears for extended time (2+ hours) my left ear was getting a little achy where the buds rest against the ear canal.

Overall, given the price point and performance so far, I’d give these a B+.  I’ll update in a few months to let you know how they are holding up.

The Most Interesting Man In the World also got a pair of these, so expect to see a review from him soon too.

Investigating Shenandoah

December 5, 2010

A few weeks ago I decided to go explore an area of Shenandoah National Park I had never been to before, Whiteoak Canyon and Cedar Run.  I decided to take two existing trails and create my own loop that would allow me to get back to my car without having to do any backtracking.  A map of the area I hiked is here.  I drove into the park and parked at the Hawksbill Gap lot.  Parking there would allow me to hike down the Whiteoak Canyon trail, cut over to Cedar Run, and then head up Cedar Run trail back to Hawksbill Gap.

It was a little chilly but a clear day.  I started out from the trailhead at 10:35 AM (I’m listing times and mileage so you have an idea how long it took me to do each section in case you want to try this out).  I was taking a section of the Appalachian Trail to begin that would follow the road back towards the Whiteoak Canyon trail.  One day I’d love to hike the whole AT, but for now I take the one mile chunks I can.

The trail started to the right of the main trail (which goes up to Hawksbill summit).  This section of the AT was pretty rocky and it was slightly uphill, but it gave you a nice view of Hawksbill Summit and the valley down below.  After about a mile there was a steep ascent to the Cresent Rock Overlook that got the blood flowing.  Unfortunately the overlook was closed for construction, which meant I had to climb over some orange fencing to get across the overlook.  A bunch of the overlooks were closed for construction with signs saying “Your stimulus dollars at work.”  Hopefully, there’s enough money to actually refinish the overlooks.

A quick cross of the road and I was on the Cresent Rock Trail at 10:57.  Next up was a 1.1 mile relatively flat trail.  This section is pretty easy and makes it way through the woods without much in the way of views.  The trail was pretty well covered in fallen leaves which made for a nice walk.  I didn’t see anyone on this section at all (or on the AT).

The Cresent Rock Trail ends at the Limberlost Trail.  I made it to the junction at 11:20.  Limberlost is a short loop that is a crushed gravel path with lots of benches if you’re tired.  I only needed to go on part of the loop (.4 miles) before I would hit the main attraction, Whiteoak Canyon Trail.  Turning right onto Limberlost I was at the Whiteoak trail intersection by 11:28.  Not much to see on Limberlost, though for the first time, a small stream trickled to my right.

That stream got gradually bigger as I began to descend the Whiteoak Canyon Trail, which I would descend for 3.6 miles.  The sun was now out and the sun was sparkling on the clear water.  I ran into the first people I’d seen since beginning, coming up the trail.  The trail soon crossed over the stream and it soon joined forces with another stream to create a bigger waterway that was now on my left.  This relatively calm stream would create some spectacular waterfalls further downtrail.  I scrambled off-trail at one point to check out a pool that had been created by a large fallen tree.  I was able to get down right on top of the tree and took a few pictures of the pool at eye-level.

Continuing my descent, I came to the first fall of the Upper Falls.  It was now 12:12 and I’d traveled 1.4 miles down.  There was a large group hanging out at the falls, so I continued on to an overlook located a little bit further down the trail.  I took the picture at the top of this post there.  It was an impressive waterfall, I couldn’t even capture the whole thing in that picture.  I took a short break for a snack and to take off my long-sleeve layer as the sun was warming up the valley.  After chatting with some backpackers coming up the trail, I set off again.  The trail descended pretty steeply now and I was running across more people going up, and a lot of them were resting.  I don’t blame them, this was a tough climb and I was happy to be going down.  I soon came to the second fall and third falls of the Upper Falls (around 12:50 to the second fall).  These falls were also larger than I expected and quite captivating.  As I descended, I also got a better perspective of the valley I was in, as the ridges on each side of you became more pronounced.

I made it to the lower falls at 1:30.  These were every bit as interesting as the Upper Falls.  I decided to eat lunch on some rocks by the falls and took some pictures, including the one above of a lone leaf still hanging on, with the falls in the background.  I also decided to take a picture of myself using my tripod and timer.  After setting up the shot, I’d planned on depressing the shutter and then gracefully jump down onto one rock and nimbly spring to another one that would put me next to a small fall.  The flaw in my plan was that I failed to notice the first rock was completely covered in slippery moss, which I totally slipped on and caught myself before falling in.  Water and me just don’t mix when it comes to hiking.

After that little adventure, I planted myself on a rock and enjoyed the waterfalls for a little bit longer.   Then I decided to start making the trek home.  At 2 pm, I hit the Cedar Run link.  You’ll know you are there when you see  a series of large stones on your right crossing the stream.  No real danger of falling here, but you do have to hop from rock to rock.  It reminded me of playing Pitfall as a child, hopping on the alligator heads.  The link is .9 miles and was a gradual ascent.  The path was covered in leaves and fingers of the afternoon sun came through the treetops.  The shot to your left was taken on the link.  At 2:17, the link ended and I was left to cover the 2.7 miles of the Cedar Run Trail.

Pretty soon I came to the first fall along Cedar Run.  It was a nice fall with a deep pool at its base.  Crossing it was a bit tricky, as the “trail” that had been established required you to cross some rocks right at the edge of the pool, as it dropped off at a smaller fall.  Generally, you want to do water crossings at a spot where you have an escape point or time to get out of danger.  A fall here would be bad, but there was enough dry rocks to make it not too hairy.  After that, it was pretty much up the entire way and really steep at some points.  There were some nice smaller falls along the way but I was concentrating so much on the climb that I probably didn’t enjoy them as much as I could have.  I ran into a few people coming down, but no one else was heading up.  While it was steep, I don’t think it was any steeper than the Whiteoak Canyon trail would have been if I’d flipped the loop, and it was shorter.

I was definitely getting that “come on, where’s the trailhead” feeling when I finally heard the sound of cars in the distance and I emerged at 3:58 to the parking lot I had departed from roughly 5.5 hours ago.   All in all, the loop was about 10 miles long.  Definitely not for beginners, but anyone in moderately good shape can do this loop.  And if you aren’t too tired, you could cross the road again and take the 1.7 mile round-trip to the top of Hawksbill Summit and watch the sun set.  Having just done a sunset hike a few weeks ago, I decided to pass this time.  Tired but satisfied, I got one last treat as a full moon was out while it was still light, the cherry on top of the beautiful scenery of the surrounding mountains.

Happy hiking!


Not a Love Song

December 4, 2010

Come to Daddy – Aphex Twin from Come To Daddy EP

This is an ugly song.  But that does not mean it can’t be a great piece of music.  This song creates a palpable feel like many other great songs, it’s just that the emotion it creates is dread.  If I was going to soundtrack a horrific incident in my life, this would probably be the song.  Starting with the packaging of the EP (at left), featuring pictures of Richard James (the real identity of Aphex Twin) pasted on the bodies of children, there is something unsettling about Come To Daddy.  The song is unhinged from the beginning, with a guttural guitar riff and a voice hissing “i want your soul / i will eat your soul.”  In the background short blips of sound enter the mix.  A jungle-style drumbeat works its way in.  By the time you get to the first “chorus” consisting of various inflected versions of the phrase “come to daddy” you’re metaphorically battered.  It keeps getting louder and more sound effects bounce around until there is a slight pause from the guitar riff as the maniacal drums take center stage before giving way again to the guitar, this time louder and harder than ever.  A howling voice drops over it, fades out, and we’re back to the drum and guitar, before a final barrage of sound blasts shoot back and forth across the mix.

One write-up I read online suggested that this was James’ sly sendup of Prodigy’s Firestarter.  I don’t see that at all, though Come to Daddy is a pretty big departure from a lot of James’ work, which can often be quite sweet, a hard feat to do when dabbling in drum n’ bass and the like.  While songs like Firestarter and things by bands like KMFDM and Ministry (all of which I like) have the veneer of edgy and scary music, James’ Come to Daddy is the real thing to the core.

Here is the disturbing video for the song, which adds a little bit of pre-song acoustics and a mid-song interlude not part of the original song (which begins at 1:20):

Versus – Settling Disputes Edition

November 8, 2010

Come As You Are – Nirvana V. Eighties – Killing Joke

So why I am I comparing a song from THE 90s alternative band with a song by a late 80s/early 90s post-punk outfit that most people have never heard of.  Well, I was driving around the other day and Killing Joke’s “Eighties” came up on XM.  I vaguely remembered the song, and I was definitely enjoyed hearing it.  But there was something about the song that was bothering me.  The guitar riff sounded really familiar.  By the end of the song, I was pretty sure it was a Nirvana song.  Hmm.  Being the geek I am, I went straight to wikipedia when I got home to nail this down.  Bingo, the song was Nirvana’s “Come As You Are” and there were disputed claims as to whether Killing Joke did or did not file a copyright infringement suit.  So I figure there’s only one way to settle this beef.  Let’s go to the audiotape!

So I come into this with a definite bias.  “Come As You Are” is my least favorite song on Nevermind and has one of my least favorite videos (I mean c’mon, a dog with a cone collar, water flowing down stairs, wtf?).  It doesn’t help that this song comes after two legitimately great songs and immediately after my favorite Nirvana song ever, and the song I’d choose as the best song of the 90s if I had a gun to my head.  I think the main sin of  “Come As You Are” is that it kills the momentum for me created by “Teen Spirit” and “In Bloom.”  I just feel like it’s kinda a lifeless song, though the guitar solo at the 2 minute mark is pretty rockin’.  The riff beginning the song is very deliberate and sounds as if it’s coming from underwater (guess that might explain all that damn water in the video, or a pipe broke on set and they didn’t call a plumber).  Likewise, the lyrics just sound flat and Kurt sounds bored singing “memoria” and “i don’t have a gun” over and over.  Dave Grohl’s drumming breathes some life into the song until they get to that guitar solo.  Even not taking into the context of the album, I’d say this is an average song.

Killing Joke’s “Eighties” carries none of the baggage that “Come As You Are” carries in my mind.  I don’t know much about the band or the album this song came from.  But, as a song I like it so much more.  For one, the riff in question is sped up though it also has a similar, though less, waterlogged quality.  I think this riff was just meant to played at this tempo, and Nirvana’s slower version just can’t match it.  The bass drum pounds a few solitary notes before being joined by snare and cymbals that keep the song moving along at a brisk pace.  Lead singer Jaz Coleman’s sneering vocals (reminding me a little of PiL era John Lydon) are very effective and while lyrically this certainly isn’t saying anything profound, the hook “living in the Eighties” is catchy, much more than Nirvana’s tune.

So, I think the winner here is clearly the underdog, Killing Joke.  And, oh yeah, there’s no way that Nirvana didn’t clip that guitar riff.