Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Anyone want to run the Caminito Del Rey with me?

I have been looking for some really nice runs to do in the future. Since we are planning to go to Europe soon I found this little gem of a run in Spain. According to the eternal fountain of knowledge Wikipedia the road was built between about 1901 and 1905 to help transport people and supplies to a channel near a hydroelectric plant. The path is 1 metre wide and no longer has a handrail over most of the length. The path is about 984 feet above the river. I asked Vye if she would run it with me and she declined. Any takers? The course seems quite narrow and there may be some issues with vertigo. You may also want to practice running on 3 inch steel beams at various heights above the ground, to get used to a few spots along the run. Another technique that may be useful would be escaping from the concrete path crumbling beneath your feet. I am unsure how best to practice this, but it would be a useful tool for this run. I guess you could hike it and hold onto the steel cable, but I think running it would be much more exciting. I think when I run it I will be the first to trail run the El caminito Del Rey since it has fallen into disrepair. Join me and make history (perhaps it will even get a portion named after us, after they scrape our greasy smears off the rocks below). Why can't I be happy just running around the block? I guess I am an adrenaline junky.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Escape Routes - Book Review

While I was in the ICU with Kaleb, one of my good friends and fellow outdoors man, Nels lent me a book to occupy the time while sitting with my poor little guy.  He lent me Escape Routes by David Roberts.  This book is comprised of 20 essay-style short stories.  Roberts, a native from Colorado, and Harvard grad, has been a freelance writer for 15 years.  Roberts has embarked on many forms of outdoor adventure including climbing, white water rafting, and a unique combination of amateur archaeology and canyoneering.  Several of his adventures included fellow adventurer and life long friend Jon Krakauer (Into Thin Air, and Into the Wild).

Roberts' writing style paints a vivid picture and allows the reader to engross themselves in each unique setting.  His choice of words and sentence structures were well constructed and expanded my vernacular.  Strong character development and a focus on each individuals' positive traits creates a strong base for each adventurous scenario to play out.  Most adventure writing focuses entirely on the details of the adventure and the aspect of man vs. nature.  Many times adventure writing delves into over-the-top detail about this maneuver or that technique.  Roberts' writing actually explored many other aspects of outdoor adventure including archeology and the anthropological effects on each area discussed.  I enjoyed how I gained insight about each location and culture.  This book was actually very educational both historically and geographically.  I would highly recommend this book.  The book reads fast, and because it is a series of shorts, it is exciting to read each chapter start to finish in one sitting (you have to finish each story once you start reading it).  

Here is a small snippet from the book:

"He hooked a bent wrinkle of steel over a tiny flake of granite, stood on a nylon sling attached to it, and gained two more precious feet.  I let the rope inch out. 'I think it's going to go,' Ed said quietly.  It was a little before midnight.  I looked at the sky in the north.  It was June 22, the summer solstice, the longest day of the year.  The sun stood several degrees from the horizon, a yellow fire above black silhouettes of other mountains.
On sleeting, late November nights in Boston, where I live today, it comforts me to think of the Brooks Range, to know it still abounds with nooks and ledges where no one has ever been, and all it takes to get me there is another summer and the flimsiest excuse."

It really is a great read.  Give it a go and let me know what you think.

Which Marathon?

I am trying to decide which marathon I am going to run this Summer/Fall.  I could run the Park City on Oakley's B-day since we will be visiting Utah at the time, or I could run the Royal Victoria Marathon in October.  The challenges with running the P.C. is the difference in elevation, with limited time to climatize, and also there would be a shorter time to train for a faster time.  I would still like to run something while we are in Utah and that seems like the best race to run while we are there.  Victoria is a nice route and is continually voted as one of the prettiest in N.A.  I could also excpect a better time with the extra 8 weeks of training.  I doubt I could properly recover in time to run both marathons.  I will have to decide before races fill up and prices are increased. 

Saturday, May 16, 2009

IAMX - Kingdom of Welcome Addiction - Brilliant New Release

IAMX (Chris Corner's project post Sneaker Pimps) are releasing their 3rd full length album on May 19th.  The album was unfortunately leaked by someone in media who received the album ahead of time for promotion.  Since IAMX is an independent label they will feel this shady act in their pocket book.  They sent a plea to their Myspace audience to still purchase the album legally and support art.  I have to agree, it is our album and concert purchases that allow artists to continually make and share their talent and vision.  I have avoided obtaining the album via torrent (which was 3/4 of the sites pulled up when googling reviews of this album).  I have listened to it via youtube (I know I peeked at my present before Christmas, it was just a little peek, and I am still very pumped to open the gift on the release date).  That being said, I would like to share some thoughts on this album because I am psyched, and couldn't wait to share my always biased opinion until after the album is released.

My first inklings that this was going to be their strongest and most epic album to date was based on the release of When I Think of England, some dodgy bootleg footage from concerts and back drop music to a pre-tour promotional clip.  What I heard from these few instances revealed small tasty nibbles of an IAMX in their element - artistic genius that hinted at being one of my favorite albums of 2009.  

Kingdom of the Welcome Addiction

Nature of Inviting is a moody song with an almost sub aqueous underwater-like baseline.  Corner's voice slinks out in sleazy verse.  Lyrically the song sets a standard for an album charged with strong views and opinions.  A great song to kick off the album.

Kingdom of the Welcome Addiction is an absolute masterpiece.  A powerful lone piano leads into an emotional and elephantine intro.  The fusion of piano, electronics, drums and distorted guitars seeps with brilliance.  The strength of the verse is complimented by a subdued segment of chorus ending in emotion and grandness.  I love this song and feel it is a gem.

Tear Garden is all about drums and piano.  The cheerful drum beats echo from the jungle and are perfectly accompanied by a tantalizing series of rhythmic piano chords.  Corner's voice is the third instrument outshining the drum and piano.   There are hints of violins and cellos giving a slightly sadder sound in contrast to the drums and piano.  Lyrically melancholy and complex, this song is another manifest of their variability and ability to produce an album full of gems.

My Secret Friend is a brilliant blend of Corner and the vastly talented Imogen Heap harmonizing a simple but haunting melody and lyric.  Musically the song is very simple as if avoiding to detract from the beautiful vocals.  I think Corner and Imogen play off each other's range and voices perfectly, and this song fuses their styles with grace.  Spot on!

An I for an I is a very edgy and in your face song.  It rocks harder and the lyrics hint at certain views and politics.  It is left open for interpretation, which I prefer.  This song reveals their ability to convey different emotions and topics exhibiting the bands depth and range.  

I am Terrified is an amazing song.  There is a sexuality and vulnerability linked by a binding relationship.  This song is powerful and emotional with that epic sound I have come to associate with this album.  There is a certain gravity to the lyrics and the raw emotion in Corner's vocals is mind blowing.  This song is the very essence of the album and going to be one of my favs for a long time without a doubt.

When I think of England was the first song I heard from the new album since it was released as soon as November of last year for a sampling.  My first impression was that this was going to be a bigger and more epic IAMX.  This song is such a magnificent blend of ripping guitar riffs, powerful drum beats and a chorus that just tears it up.  This song offers an interpreted link between Corner's past and present by the references of England and Berlin.  I love this song it makes me want to go run, climb a mountain or something adventurous.  Great choice for a first glimpse of their new record.

The Stupid the Proud is a waltzy song with religious undertones.  The music is simple and almost nursery rhyme-like.  The piano that runs throughout the album is a nice accomplice to the waltz-like backdrop of this song.  A xylophone also is sampled through the chorus and interim.  A nice mellow song with a strong take on complex battles.  It is a nice listen.

You Can be Happy starts with bouncy percussion and breaths of violin.  This song is lyrically complex taking on a subject that I have focused on disproportionately for the last year.  The view taken is easily justified.  The orchestral sound and drum beat throughout are nicely composed.  Corner gives an amazing vocal once again and I can't say enough about his performance in this album.  He definitely attacked each song with emotion and power.  This song is amazing and another great track with an applicability many new songs coming out today lack.

The Great Shipwreck of Life  marries the sound of the previous IAMX with the new.  Once again a strong statement is made about a pertinent subject.  A masterfully composed track with many layers.  I love this song.  It has a strong runabillity and is another strong track.  The drums and pianos again catch my attention as the perfect backdrop for Corner's instrumental voice. 

Running is the perfect ending to an amazing album.  This track is a saturated soundscape with such relevance that it was an instant favorite.  Lyrically and musically a beautiful masterpiece.  I can't praise this track enough.  It is eerie but at the same time embracing.  As a trail runner, and runner in the race of life, I most likely take a different slant on this song.  This song conjures up deeper thought and emotion and sends me to a place meant only for my eyes.  I am a runner!

I knew this album was going to be good but it far surpassed expectations.  I fear along with many other selfish audiophiles who feel they discovered IAMX that this type of record will catapult them into the mainstream.  This is great for the band and for creating opportunities to continue their artistic pursuits of making great music, but it also suggests that our secret is out and we now must share.  Like explorers from the far reaches of the Earth, those of us obsessed with music love to be on the forefront of discovery and love to be first above all else.  When the explorer returns to his secret haunt only to find it covered in loitering teenagers and litter, a small part of the explorer fades with the memory of the discovery.  It will be bitter sweet when IAMX is getting play on the local radio stations and their concerts are taken over by hormonally impaired adolescents more interested in hooking up than listening to genius.  That being said, this album is a must have, it is strong, epic, runnable, road trippable, and is stunning listened to in the dark or in a warm bath.  I feel that Corner and the members of IAMX have created a musical masterpiece.  This album finds itself ranked with my top albums of all time.  My only complaint is they are not coming anywhere near Victoria at the moment.   It is amazing to think back during their concert in SLC for The Alternative there was about 200 of us in the shady night club.  I now watch as they are packing large arenas and venues with eager listeners.  The IAMX phenomenon has caught hold.  It will be difficult to top this record but I am already looking forward to new stuff, I can't get enough.  My top record for 2009 thus far.

Virgin Voyage of the Brooks Cascadia 4's

I recieved my new shoes in the mail yesterday from Running Warehouse.  I busted them in this morning on a flat  20 km mixed surface run.  They felt awesome.  It is amazing to crank out 12 miles in a new pair of shoes and experience absolutely zero problems with blisters, hotspots, or rubbing of any sort.  I had no issues with shin splints and knees which I was struggling with as a result of my last pairs midsole breaking down.  I still need to take them on a Mount Doug Gutbuster training run and really push their limits to see how they handle the nasty terrain.  So far so good, and I am thinking they are the shoe for me.  They don't quite wrap my ankle as well as my asics, and so my only concern is ankle support from the upper.  They are a very stable shoe and most likely will lessen the ammount of ankle rolls anyway.  I will really push them  on the slopes of Doug next run to see how they handle the slick rocks, mud, steep desents, tricky side slopes, and loose gravel.  I can't wait.  The final test will come in the form of a 30 or 40 km on Elk Lake this week or early next.  I will have a good idea what to expect from these babies by then. This is a repeat of my georunner post for those of you following my runner blog.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

New Release by Depeche Mode "Sounds of the Universe" - Some Thoughts

Spring often sees a rash of new music breaking out in time for Summer tour dates, and 2009 is turning out to be awesome for new music releases.  Depeche Mode released their 12th full length album "Sounds of the Universe" in April.  Before I can critique an album there are several settings I must listen to the album in to help me formulate my opinions.  I have to listen to a new album alone in a darkened room with head phones (for sound quality and focus), I have to listen to it on some sort of road trip ( preferably on my way to some outdoor adventure, this helps me to attach memories to the tracks on the album, and to see what sort of mood the album sets for the trip), and I have to crank out an extended trail run through crazy terrain and forrests while listening (running to an album helps me to determine the albums groove and general cadence and all important runability).  Since I have listened to the new album from DM in all three settings I can mention a few thoughts I have on this album and give my usual biased opinion.

This is a rushed post and so you will notice it is poorly written, and not too eloquent, but I thought I needed to say something while the new release is still fresh in my mind.

Sounds of the Universe

The album starts with "In Chains" a swanky groovy little tune.  Gahan has some nice vocals with great back up by Gore.  There is not a ton to say about this song, I would say it is not the strongest I've heard from DM. The song lacks a really good hook but it is the kind of song you might chill to.

"Hole to feed" starts with some cool electronic percussion, and some laser echos.  It has a bluesy feel to it, with sporadic futuristic sound-fx throughout.  The chorus has a more organic guitar and drum feel that is a nice offset to the highly electronic and stylized verses.  Up to this point in the album I still feel like I haven't had my attention grabbed, I am still waited to be punched in the face with something edgy and grabby.

"Wrong" definitely grabs your attention and is a fantastic jewel found within this album.  The melody and Gahan's voice paint a dark but edgy backdrop for this new DM classic.  Wrong was a wise choice by the band for their first single.  A great new masterpiece from the band.

"Fragile Tension" exhibits new range and pitch in Dave's voice than that of previous albums.  The overall song is fairly non-descript and not the most exciting on the album.  It isn't bad just doesn't knock my socks off.  The song doesn't really paint a major soundscape or mood for me, it is just another mellow chill song.

I like the intro to "Little Soul".  The strength of this song is in the chorus vocals and sounds.  The first line of each verse is my least favorite part of the song, and it just doesn't grab me.  Little Soul will most likely be one of the tracks that is quickly forgotten amongst fans.  It isn't memorable.

I like "In Sympathy".  The hook in the chorus with the guitar chords is catchy, and there is a nice mood and feel to the song.  I like the subtle sounds and electronic pulses lurking beneath the baseline.  This song most likely won't be on most peoples favorite lists but it is a good song.

"Peace"  is the first song since "Wrong" on the album that strikes me as a major gem.  This song is so different from anything they have released to this point.  I think it is a masterpiece.  I love how they sing "Peace will come to me" I enjoy both Gahan's and Gore's vocals in this song.  The electronic backdrop is so varied with aspects hinting at early 80's synthpop to more industrial or even German electronic influenced sounds and riffs.  Great Song!

"Come Back" is another strong track on the album.  I have a confession to make I really like a remix by my favourite DM remixer Dominatrix "Come Back - Dominatrix extended Passion of Love Remix".  I will critique the remix just because I like it so much.  The original is great, but the remix is absolutely beautiful and has a fuller and richer sound, which sets an amazing mood.  It also has fantastic elements from earlier DM songs for the careful listener.  I feel Dominatrix is a musical genius.  His remixes of DM's stuff often is as good, and on occasion like for this song, is better.  Brilliant track and remix. I will definitely come back to listen to this track.

Space Walker - Hmmmm...  A little dull I have to admit.  I often love the short instrumentals but this isn't their best.  It doesn't do it for me.  Not much more to say.

"Perfect" starts with a nice rhythm and sound, you can definitely pick out Gore's old school synth inputs in this song.  There is a nice guitar riff throughout.   Gahan sounds good in this entire album.  His voice is quite textured and he uses his voice as an instrument well.  Gahan's voice is the most prominent or dominant aspect of many of the songs. I like this song especially because of the backing electronic music.  There are a lot of layers and sounds that allow me to discover new hidden nuggets of genius throughout the song.  Nice track.

"Miles Away" is an upbeat song with vocals sounding a little like Elvis in spots.  Gore's backing is great.  This song is stout, and though I wouldn't call it a gem, it is a great track.

At first I thought "Jezebel" fell flat on her face.  I usually look forward to Gore's ballads more than any aspect of their new albums.  At first listen this song has a "Napoleon Dynamite" organ and slow groove to it.   As I have listened to it more though I have found Gore's vocals are great.  The instrumental sections are actually really good and the electronics are spot on.  Jezebel is getting more enticing with each drink from the album I take.

"Corrupt" has Gahan written all over it and could have come from Hour Glass or Kingdom.  It is a sleazy bluesy night club type song. It is not in the league of "I Feel You" as far as DM's bluesy songs go but it does stand on it's own. Gahan should be proud of this track and his contribution.

General thoughts on the album - This album needs to be listened to more than once straight through, also it should be listened to while experiencing different moods before you can fully start to appreciate it.  Most critiques revealed a very negative "knee jerk" reaction to the album.  Some even calling it a Turd.  I will be completely honest, at first listen I was a bit bored.  I think the first half of the album is quite slow - lacking major hooks or grabby songs.   There is nothing mind blowing in the album, but that being said I have found the "Sounds of the Universe" to have many layers that have to be listened to carefully to fully appreciate.  The album achieves some richness in places but also rings hollow in other parts of the album.  There was a general lack of edge.  

Highlights for me are without a doubt "Wrong, Peace, Come Back".  My taste in DM songs always morphs so it will be interesting to see which songs from this album make their way into my most played list in the future.  There are multiple songs that rang hollow and didn't grab me at all.  I would not class this album with Violator SOFAD or Black Celebration.  It is a nice addition to the DM discography and is worth the purchase and all important play time will improve your opinion of the record.  It becomes more enticing with each listen.  The bonus tracks are quite nice including "Ghost and The sun and the moon and the stars".   

General rating 6.5 out of 10.  It lacked runability, it is pretty mellow.  It is nice to unwind to in a dark room after a long day.  Road tripability is about average.

I will rock their live concert in SLC on August 25.  I can't wait, it will be interesting to see what I have to say about their new songs after the concert.  DM live - there is nothing like it.