Sunday, December 6, 2015

Best Music, Vids and Food of 2015

Music, videos, books, movies, television and food are where many of we spend the majority of our leisure and socializing time. We also spend a decent percentage of current or future earnings on these pursuits. Do you have time to find out about the new stars and releases? I do, and here is my list from 2015. Hope you find something to talk about at the next party! And, there are links to free versions and pro reviews of almost all the listed music and videos. No free lunches at the restaurant though!

Music 

This was the year I developed more of an ear and appreciation for hiphop with even some rap here and there. Last year started this morph with Azealia Banks' Chasing Time video and Vic Mensa's Down on My Luck inventive storyline. This year brought Future's Dirty Sprite 2 which is at once both nihilistic and entrancing with its brutal portrayal of inner city life dominated by drugs, violence, generational crime and the resulting mindset focused mostly on money, sex and getting high with the strongest ties in life to your gang members. Listening to that album while reading the translation on lyrics Genius was like taking a trip to a foreign land that in Future's case is the Little Mexico section of Atlanta.

Albums

  1. Neon Indian - VEGA INTL Night School LP This is completely infectious and instantly accessible though has held up to heavy rotation since its release in October.  Dance music that sounds innocent though a lyric dive can reveal some dark shit.  
  2. Nao - Feb 2015 LP Nao is supposed working with Jai Paul's brother to produce her latest effort. It has that funky heavy bass synth beat reminiscent of Jai Paul's latest. Her vocals are somewhere between Aluna and FKA Twigs.  
  3. Kurt Vile - B'lieve I'm Goin Down  Kurt is known as putting out the best stoner guitar picking music in the universe. I don't know about that but have enjoyed this album since its release in September. 
  4. Future - Dirty Sprite 2 If you are not up on the latest lingo then DS2 can be difficult to comprehend. With the help of Lyric Genius though anyone can figure it out quickly. In case you don't know, a Dirty Sprite aka Lean and aka Purple Drank is a mixture of cough syrup (codeine and promethezine), Sprite and a Jolly Rancher.  I've never taken this but after a hernia operation the end of August I ended up with a hydrocodone scrip and only took one and half pills before feeling very sick and dizzy and was taken off of them.  Getting back to the music on this album, it seems that even someone like me who is not a big hiphop fan will appreciate this music because of the high artistic achievement of making me understand the hopeless feeling of being a hood on the wrong side of town. I have never felt such nihilism from music before.  Trap Nigga (a black man trapped in a bad situation or place) is one of the more accessible songs and gives a good idea of this album.  
  5. Grimes - Art Angels  Claire Boucher goes by the music artist name of Grimes. This is her fourth album and the first I had heard. The music was so good I ended up exploring her earlier catalog and realized she has been a major talent for years. The album is hard to categorize with styles all over the place which is what makes it great. I never felt like it was listening to the same song 10 times.  This is pop dance floor music at heart with musical techniques not usually associated with that genre thrown in to make it endlessly interesting since the mid-November release.  

Singles

  1. Fifth Harmony - Sledgehammer  An immediately foot stomping dance song with great vocals and music from girl band Fifth Harmony.   
  2. Joey Bada$$ - Save the Children  This song deserves a top notch video - hard to believe a cutting edge producer has not done it for free by now. This just begs for visuals.     

Video 

This year did not have the big impact standout video like last year's Chasing Time. What 2015 did bring was a lot more high quality vids which made selecting three very difficult. It was a lot of fun reviewing the many worthy considerations.

Men's

Future - Blood On The Money



This is not happy holiday music, is not uplifting and does not have a happy ending. Regardless, the funeral feel to the music and the dark visuals create a mood and movie scene that sticks with you after watching it.

Women's

Demi Lovato makes you simultaneously dread and thirst breathlessly for summer 2016 to be here now.



Honorable Mention for being very cool and probably costing more than any other one.




Books 

The one standout book I read was The Shephards Crown by Terry Pratchett. This was a work in progress at his death in March that his friends and family finished from his notes. It is in the fantasy genre and was enjoyable because it was really good and had the added drama of being his last.  I listened to the audio version and highly recommend.

Meal

Allegro Romano  - Italian restaurant on top of the Broadway Tunnel in San Francisco.  My friend had the truffle risotto special which was fantastic. I had the chicken saltimbocca that was served with a picatta type sauce. Other dishes at the table were the beef carpaccio appetizer and lobster ravioli. Food, service and timing were excellent. The view from the hill outside back into downtown is wonderful.  The restaurant feels like your own private find in a nice neighborhood away from other commercial businesses.

Movie

CitizenFour was released October 2014 and I watched it in 2015.  Chilling movie that helped me understand the absolute futility of the idea keeping guns in your house will protect you from a tyrannical government - forget that - it is way too late. I consider it almost a duty for every intelligent US citizen to watch this movie. You then realize how this world works on many levels and can better identify and understand the media propaganda we are bombarded with every minute.

Television

 What can I say? It was a great year to be a Warriors fan!!!! My wife and I so enjoyed watching the team play all season and then eat the competition alive in the playoffs.  They are starting the new season off pretty well too. Haha!


Friday, May 15, 2015

What's Your Ride?

What’s Your Ride?

What’s Your Ride?

Everyone has a vehicle. I am not really talking about a car or motorcycle. No, the vehicle I am talking about is what you use to explore for new places both physically and in other ways. So, it might be your car. But, it could be your running shoes or your yoga mat.





Most of us have more than one way to get around. There are the few one-trick ponies who maybe find work or school all-consuming. But, like a different set of clothes, we have our various ways of seeing and experiencing. One of my favorites is the bicycle. You can ride paved roads bicycle paths, dirt roads, and dirt trails. You can even put it on your shoulder and walk for a while to get over obstructions.
And, when the same routes get boring there are resources like Google Maps, RidewithGPS, Strava, and many others to find new places, see new sights, and change up the routine that maybe has become stale. And, like those same roads we travel day-after-day that can become boring and tiresome, we have our standard ways of thinking and experiencing the world that can make us feel trapped on a treadmill going nowhere. What are the maps of our interior daily life we can consult to find a new way?
The maps are surprisingly similar and sometimes the same. When bike riding on a new road yesterday called Skywalker (really — I swear!) that turned into a paved trail when barriers to cars appeared, with vistas of a 100,000 person metropolis, and a hill-side house reminiscent of The Jetsons, my interior map changed as well. The experience of a new physical area changed the interior landscape as well. Simple enough you may say, but possibly a bit more complex than at first blush.
What were the choices made along the way? What expectations were involved? How much awareness of my immediate surroundings did I need? If my head is down the whole time huffing and puffing up the 14% grade will I see The Jetson house? The rain clouds not too far off provided a sense of urgency. The previously unknown road that just turned into a paved trail with one foot high weeds makes me wonder if I’m lost. Something is making me feel edgy now.




When was the last time someone was here? Does it matter if I know?

So, it seems that fear is a vehicle for opening up something new. Fear makes me want to turn around and go back to the car and then head into Pete’s for a coffee. Recognizing that the fear is probably irrational pushes me on to new vistas both physically and mentally.
Once committed to moving forward then like magic a downhill appears which accelerates the adrenalin flow. My senses have become more acute to subtle changes in the road since hitting a rock at 35 mph could send me flying.
Like following physical maps someone else has made in order to get somewhere sooner and with less effort, there are interior maps that have been left behind. Those can be ways of analyzing data. It might be emotional maps of dealing with fear and other feelings that can carry us away. My emotional map regarding fear is one traveled extensively and was familiar enough for me to make a good decision.
Sometimes we just have to go with the flow though. Like being in a strong current in the ocean or a river, if you fight the current then your body will tire out and you could drown due to exhaustion. When to fight the current and when to go with the flow are important decisions. Sometimes you can make a quick burst of swim strokes to make it to the beach or the side of the river and save yourself.
There are some serious rain clouds building up from where I came and am planning to return to in about 3 hours. Should I turn around and try to beat them back? Or, should I stick with the plan and head away from them and hope they are gone by the time I am heading back in that direction? My intuition is to follow the plan because, hey! — things have worked out OK so far. But, just following intuition seems wrong somehow. A quick check of iPhone weather shows that the rain is supposed to pass in about 1.5 hours. Everything seems great!





Beautiful scenery unfolds and joy. But, the road is strange. There is a sort of foreboding. I have not been here before. Can I stay on schedule? And, what kind of sign is this? I mean, this ride is feeling a bit weird. But, what-the-heck?





I am feeling a little strange, but really, does life have to cooperate so fully? This seems like a time to go with that flow. And, in just a few minutes that will get tested.
The clouds are getting darker and I am thinking of stopping for lunch but want to stay the course. The air gets that fresh smell of rain so I stop to put my phone in a plastic bag and get my gilet out. And, then the rain comes down and the rain is fierce in my face. I have to really push hard to pedal up the hill into this 25 mph wind. I am rewarded by some oak trees to gain cover under where I discover that my GPS says I am off course. I was supposed to turn at that last intersection and missed the beep due to the wind. My good fortune of finding the oak trees also lets me correct course. The wind dies down and the rain passes.
Heading back to the car on this last stretch of more familiar roads, all the events of the day coalesce and this little memo-to-self writes itself. In the end, that Pete’s ice coffee tastes really good. But, now instead of feeling like a salve for giving in to fear, it seems like a reward for pushing my physical and emotional boundaries
What is your vehicle? How do you get outside and outside yourself?

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Healthy Approach to Physical Fitness Training

Mark Sisson, over at MarksDailyApple.com posted a good article called Is Your Workout Worth The Risk? Check it out if you work out regularly as it has really good points about listening to your body, limiting/eliminating higher-risk exercises, good form, and many other common-sense daily practices. While his post and this one are primarily for the person who works out regularly, the advice can help anyone. As Mark says, everyone will deal with this issue sooner or later.
A recent survey of CrossFit athletes found that 73.5% had experienced an injury during training, 7% of which required surgery. But before the anti-CrossFit crowd starts gloating, realize that this injury rate is similar to Olympic lifting, powerlifting, and gymnastics and lower than contact sports like rugby. Similar polls in runners find that in a given year, 13% of runners experience knee injuries, 8% get Achilles tendinitis, 7% suffer hamstring pulls, 10% deal with plantar fasciitis, 10% have shin splints, 14% report iliotibial band syndrome, and 6% get stress fractures. There’s no way around it: engaging in non-essential, extracurricular bouts of physical exertion, also known as working out, carries some risk. Not working out carries its own set of (greater) risks, but that’s beside the point. As many a lauded strength coach has said, injuries are a matter of when, not if. And many of these injuries become chronic injuries that stay with you for the rest of your life.
 Though his article is good on the do's and don'ts of training, I would add a few things to Mark's excellent post:

1. Rehabilitation of injured joints and muscles is critical.
My goal is to rehab the injury so that area is stronger than it was before. Finding a good PT (physical therapist) and maintaining a good relationship with them is critical as well. It can be a PT or DC or sports massage or Osteopath - whatever works for you. 

2. Backs seem to an issue for most people sooner or later. Personally, I know more people with messed up backs from doing yoga so be careful if yoga is your thing.  Foundation Training developed by Dr Eric Goodman has proven itself with my wife, son and myself.

3. An excellent joint mobility program is call R-phase by Eric Cobb. 

4. Egoscue Training was recommended by my Tai Chi teacher. I have done some of the online videos to help me through a knee tweak from skiing and the exercises are simple and seem to work.

The bottom line is that a workout regimen needs to have a preventative group of movements
like Pilates, Foundation Training, R-Phase, etc. Though I have done Tai Chi for 20+ years, I hesitate to recommend it or Yoga because there is definitely a risk of injury if done incorrectly and in my experience there are not a lot of good teachers who know how to limit students egos to push and then get hurt. For example, Upward Dog done with the legs off the ground is very high risk for lower back injury. Most people should be doing Cobra with no weight on the lower back muscles. Upward Dog done by someone who knows the technique and has a good teacher who can spot slight form issues is safe, but, is it worth the risk?

In summary, think about breaking your training into two parts. For every workout day (a run, crossfit, kettlebells, weight training, etc), have a core/preventative day like Pilates, Foundation Training, joint mobility, balance, etc.  And, get on good terms with a PT and rehab all your injuries back to making the injured component better than it was before. Invest time in finding a PT, ART specialist, ROLF'ing, Osteopath, etc that you trust and has a record of success helping you.

And, last by not least, have a goal for how long you want to live and treat your body as if it has to last that long. If your goal is 100 and you want to be active that long, look at good examples like Jack LaLanne or others of what they did to be active and healthy to the end.

In an effort to keep this post short and readable, I included links and brief mentions of many resources but did not go into detail. Use the comments section to ask questions about any areas that you want more information. Have a happy body day and be kind to it! 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Best of 2014

Music 

Since the Grammys were just given out it seemed I should publish this post which I wrote up about two months ago and never felt inspired to release. Since I disagreed with every award except #10 Best Electronic/Dance Album (Syro by Aphex Twin) it seemed my list should get published to provide some counter-weight (haha, like anyone reads this blog) to the misguided Grammy judges and nominators.

Albums

  1. War on Drugs - Lost In The Dream  Why?I discovered this album in early May and have been listening to it a lot since then. It still sounds new after six months of heavy play. Jangly guitars, good vocals, interesting lyrics and a driving beat make for a good listen over and over.Under The Pressure is beautiful example of the music on this album. 
  2. Hundred Waters - The Moon Rang Like A Bell Why? Even though the voice of Nicole Miglis can sometimes be annoying due to the difficulty understanding her and the piccolo-pitch she reaches, it is the instrument-like quality of her singing meshed with the amazing musicianship of the band along with songs that paint landscapes in your mind that make this a wonderful album. As an aside, I had to put my cat of 16 years down due to a broken leg and a couple weeks later when listening to this song, I almost stopped breathing.
  3. Kelis - Food Why? I love ribs and with a song like Jerk Ribs that just smokes like the best R&B, this hit a very high rotation on my playlists this year.
  4. Courtney Barnett - A Sea Of Split Peas Why? With the funniest song of the year being Avant Gardener, this just had to be a top 10 pick.
  5. Quilt - Held In Splendor Why? Great psychedelic music that reminds me of The Jefferson Airplane and hints of other bands. Like one friend put it, listening to Quilt is like drinking a fine wine where layers of sound and musical influences peel off the more you hear it. 
Here is Pitchforks top 50 of which with the exception of the Kelis album are included. 

Singles

  1. Vic Mensa - Down On My Luck
  2. Pharrell Williams - Happy

Video 

The videos of 2014 were very strong overall reflecting the superb depth, variety and artistry of music matched with equally strong visuals that produce spellbinding interludes to reality.

Men's
Vic Mensa - Down On My Luck


I liked this video for a few reasons. Mr. Mensa employed a different kind of delivery that is unique among hiphop where the words are almost slurred together. The music has very engaging hooks. And, the video is very creative showing how life is the culmination of many small choices and when we are in the life groove the negative stuff does not manifest.

Women's

Ms Banks' video combined interesting hooks, rap, and infectious beat together with imaginative filming, props, and costumes all delivered by a confident and attractive artist who pulls off an unabashed powerful performance that can leave you speechless when played over the right video and audio equipment.



Honorable Mention for being very cool.

Books

The Ocean At The End of Lane by Neil Gaiman. I didn't read too many books this year. This is in the fantasy genre and an enjoyable read.

Meal

Capannina - Italian restaurant on Union Street in San Francisco. The grilled octopus was a revelation. I have never tasted anything so amazing and if my eyes were closed would never have known what I was eating.Great service, a table by the window onto Union Street, family, wine that matched the food, and amazing food created magic.

Movie

I did not watch many movies this year and was mostly underwhelmed by the ones I did see.  One that I have really enjoyed and have watched at least three times so far is Discovering Mavericks.  It is a movie about the surfer who first discovered the California coast location for maverick waves and the stories about the first surfers who rode them. You can watch it for free on Vimeo. It is more than a movie about surfing. The interviews go beyond the surfing into the motivations of these people and how their lives and character are shaped by the waves and experiences.

Television

 Nothing came close to The Roosevelts.  Ken Burns created a documentary about Teddy, Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt that is not only a fantastic story of their lives and accomplishments, it helps you understand how different our country and world is today because of them. The expansion of Presidential executive authority, the national park system, social security, labor laws, human rights, and on and on and on are the result of these people. A must-see to understand how the world we live in today and the many things we take for granted now came about.