Tag Archives: discoveries

New Music Tuesday: Us – No Matter Where You Are

Us_NoMatterWhereYouAre_800

At first brush the album comes off so sugary sweet that even the most ravenous of the sweet-toothed pop enthusiasts might find themselves running to the nearest grungy, rough salt lick. You can’t blame them: these two young musicians, turned internet sensations, turned doting husband-wife alt-country pop pairing sure do love each other a whole heck of a lot. On further inspection, however, deeper dimension begins to appear, and a more complex confection takes shape.

Us, comprised of Californian musicians Michael Alvarado and Carissa Rae, first gained attention as prolific internet entertainers, posting well-received covers in long form on YouTube (Scream & Shout, Pop). More recently they’ve taken to the micro-video social media site Vine posting imaginative #6secondcovers including one of Royals by Lorde, a Michael Jackson Tribute, and this one by Earth, Wind, and Fire:

Clearly talented folk. And so gosh darn cute. And, oh-by-the-way-did-i-mention, recently betrothed.

So it’s no surprise that this, their second indie release should be a joyful ode to young love. It’s what The Civil Wars might sound like if they subscribed to a Keep-On-The-Sunny-Side-Of-Life mantra. The first 6 minutes of music alone signal the sort of proud, triumphant alt-country sound to drown out any Lady Antebellum, Sugarland, or like-minded group out there. All done with warm, airy harmonies and exultant, anthemic instrumentation. (The track “Falling In Love” alone is fit for any cheesy fondue-filled scene of a candle-lit dinner by the Seine, complete with cornball accordion accompaniment.)

Hyperbolic comparisons aside, given all the joyful blissful trappings and trinkets of romance and companionship found in the first few tracks, it’s easy to overlook the presence of other, less gleamingly happy tales, but they exist. They may seem like just bumps on the road of this couple’s otherwise exuberant love and satisfaction in each other, but the presence of these more somber pauses are no less well-crafted and executed.

If anything, these moments, like that of the biting “Final Bow” or the plaintive “Come Back,” are an even stronger representation of the duo’s skill in storytelling than are the rest of the lot. In a sea of otherwise gleeful optimism, these stories could just as easily come off as forced or dishonest, but they’re not. On “Heartbreak,” the harmonies that had formerly assumed a bright and airy quality now sound delicate, fragile, and breathless, perfectly in step with the storyline of love labors now lost.

There seems to be a resurgence of sorts in the field of talented male-female duos, a number of which are comprised of husband-wife pairings (Shovels & Rope and Grace & Tony among others). Though on the surface Us may appear to lack the emotional depth of some of their contemporaries, there’s no mistake that their peachy keen exterior hides some less-than squeaky clean damage and hesitation underneath that is definitely worth a listen.

Us – No Matter Where You Are
Independent, 2013
Rating: B
Listen Now: “No Matter Where You Are,” “Final Bow,” ” ‘Til the Morning Comes”

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The Benefits of Running With– and Living Like– an Empty Cup

You probably know the feeling. It’s race day and it’s hot. Not as hot as it could have been this late into the summer, but hot enough that you feel sticky and gross the second you step into the sunlight, and almost the entire length of the race is in wide-open sun.

You’re in the final few miles of your run, and you’re starting to fade, huffing and puffing and looking for relief. Luckily, there up ahead some hundred meters or so is the watering station.

You’re relieved. But just as you pick up the cup from that friendly race volunteer you realize why G-d invented the closed cap water bottle and the sippy cup. Sure you might manage to get a few drops down into your parched, gaping gullet, but most of it likely never touches your lips, deciding instead to do its own 100-meter sprint from cup to the area between your chin and chest.

You press on, you finish, but yea, you will always remember: it’s near impossible to run with  a full cup of water.

Likewise, it’s hard to learn anything when our minds are like a full cup: full of our own ideas will no space for anything else.

If the idea of living with an empty cup causes you to think “how very buddhist of you,” then you’re right. I first learned of this concept from the book Zen Guitar by Philip Toshio Sudo, which looks at guitar technique and style from the perspective of the Zen Buddhists.

Not only has this lesson been beneficial to me as a musician, but, as you might expect, it’s also been helpful when applied to other aspects of life, including how I’ve gone about keeping up my running regimen since last week’s race. Continue reading The Benefits of Running With– and Living Like– an Empty Cup

Making Adjustments

I’ve done it. I’ve passed the six mile point two threshold and have thus run far enough to finish a 10K race. Excellent. Now the task becomes getting comfortable with maintaining that distance.

Recently I’ve felt myself begin to drag or get discouraged for one reason or another. Maybe it’s the realization of aches and pains in certain areas, maybe it’s the fact that even though there’s over 100 songs on my running mix I always seem to hear the same 10 songs when I go out, maybe it’s this weather and the increased humidity that comes with entering the thick of summer– most likely it’s a little of all three.

And that’s okay. There are going to be challenges. There’ll be days like this. Etcetera. The key is to not allow myself to let these difficulties become setbacks as the setbacks will become disinterest, disinterest becomes despair… etc.

It’s not news to me that I’m a recovering perfectionist: even when I try to do better, I’m often dissatisfied by my efforts, feeling that I haven’t properly resolved the issue straight away.

The thing is that it’s the small adjustments and gradual progress that are the keys to improving. Add a base of healthy, positive perspective and this progress has found its fuel.

Specifically it’s been good to keep the following things in mind:
1) These issues aren’t going to be around forever
2) I have the last say over my destiny.

From here, I begin to make resolutions for how to remedy the issues.

1) Aches and Pains
The discomfort is felt in shins and just below my right knee. I imagine it probably has to do with the fact that I haven’t been giving enough attention to those areas during my post-workout cooldown, so I’ll be looking into what sorts of exercises might best support them.

2) Broken Record Syndrome
Music has been a driving force in keeping me inspired and focused while running, but I have to keep the list fresh and current to keep the energy up. This means updating the playlist, either by swapping out overplayed tunes and penciling in new ones, or simply changing how the playlists are arranged and run.

3) Oppressive Weather
Obviously this  factor I have the least control over. Sun’s gonna shine, humidity’s gonna stick, and a hard rain’s a-gonna fall. What I can do though is prepare appropriately for the uncooperative climes. Right shoes, right clothing, well-rested, and being properly hydrated at all times can ensure I’m ready to go the distance.

Allowing for minor adjustments along the way.

In the end it really is about the making small adjustments that will keep me getting out and trying for more time or distance, and ultimately allow me to feel comfortable out in the environs. It’s slow but steady progress, but that’s much better than no progress at all.

Off to a Running Start

Three months ago I didn’t think I could run 3 miles much less 1 mile without a huge stop-and-go, huffing-and-puffing type mess. Others would look at me with the keen, appraising eye of a car buyer, and tell me I had the right frame to be a runner. Maybe, I said, but I hadn’t the pep. Or maybe not the right engine. Something lacked. At best I could run a mile and a half or so at a time, but that would require sporadic, sometimes lengthy breaks for walking, and worry over every little discomfort.

Fast-forward, and now I’m running an average of 12 miles a week taking no walking breaks, feeling less aches and pains due to the training routine, and I’m looking to increase that average mileage this weekend. It’s a thrill to see what this mortal coil can really do.

But whence cometh this seemingly sudden transformation? First of all, remove the term “sudden” from the picture. Though it’s not much time in the grand scheme of life, three months is not a finger’s snap either. As with learning to play a musical instrument, speaking a foreign language, or even learning your multiplication tables it has been a gradual process. It started with a little inspiration (a race in which my company was participating), which caused an epiphany (why not?), which developed into a little planning (deciding on a simple training plan), which was encouraged by incremental progress (1 mile sans breaks, then, 2 and 3 miles), all of which has been sustained and carried along by good music, good footwear, a positive mindset, and focus. When one goal is reached, a new one is established.

Now I’m training for my first 10K in July, and, as visions of longer distance races beginning to dance in my head,  I find a giddy sort of excitement at the prospect of these opportunities.

And I’m running for fun. Sure there are the health benefits of daily and weekly cardio exercise, not to mention the increased production of endorphins and other positive side and after effects, and those things are great and extremely beneficial, but if I’m to say I’m running for anything it’s for the fun of it and for the opportunity to challenge myself every time I go out.

Oh there have been obstacles and stumbling blocks along the way. Erratic weather, some aches and pains, a lot of pollen, physical roadblocks, and days when it just isn’t working– running has a way of reminding you that those stumbling blocks are as tangible and painful as they can be figurative and demonstrative.

All the same, you press on. You get up and you keep going, because the positives far outweigh the negatives. And because you love the song that’s just come on from your workout playlist.

In the three months since I’ve started running, I’ve discovered other benefits- personal discoveries and fresh perspective. Running begets challenges which begets excitement which at some point around the bend I reckon must beget these discoveries. So I look forward to that next turn in the road for what comes next.