“Hills for Halloween”

We’ve primarily been focused on tempo and speed workouts so tonight I decided to shake things up with a long, painful Halloween-themed hill climb.  Lots of long, slow, muscle-screaming, agonizing climbs; just what the ghoulish spin doctor ordered before a weekend of pigging out on leftover Halloween candy.

Besides, I’ll inevitably be driving home from Brockville on Halloween Eve so I won’t be able to participate in my annual ‘Walk/Quaff Workout‘ with the kid, so I might as well make others suffer.  And if that’s not keeping with the true Halloween spirit then I don’t know what does.

My Halloween playlist includes:

  • (Don’t Fear) The Reaper – Blue Oyster Cult
  • Halloween – Ministry
  • Careful with that Axe, Eugene – Pink Floyd
  • People Who Died – Jim Carrol Band
  • I Don’t Know Where It Came From – Ride
  • Bela Lugosi’s Dead – Bauhaus
  • Werewolves of London – Warren Zevon
  • I Put A Spell On You – Screamin’ Jay Hawkins
  • The Halloween Theme – John Carpenter
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Easy Spin

Before class tonight, I decided to slip in an easy spin of my own while trying to finish my current read, the Graham Nash autobiography ‘Wild Tales‘.  As part of the tradition whenever I read music autobiographies, I also like to familiarize myself (or in some cases, re-familiarize myself) with the particular albums that I am also reading about.  In this case, it was the ‘Songs for Beginners‘  album released in 1971.

‘Songs for Beginners’ is Nash’s first solo album and one of four high-profile albums released by each partner of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young in the wake of their chart-topping ‘Déjà Vu’  album of 1970.  It peaked at #15 on the Billboard Top Pop Albums chart, and the single ‘Chicago‘  made it to #35 on the Billboard Hot 100.  For the making of this album, Nash brought in an impressive group of guests to assist in the recording, including David Crosby, Jerry Garcia, Phil Lesh, Dave Mason, Dallas Taylor, David Lindley, Rita Coolidge, and Neil Young under his early 1970’s pseudonym Joe Yankee. The making of this album directly followed his break-up with longtime girlfriend, Joni Mitchell and many of the songs are about their time together.  Truthfully, of all the CSNY alumni, Nash slipped almost entirely past my radar in that I had largely passed him off as the boring, sappy one.  How wrong I was…and thankfully so.

The album is book-ended by two of Nash’s best-known tunes, the anthemic ‘Military Madness’  that remains timeless in the 21st century, and ‘We Can Change the World‘.  Yes, there’s also ‘Chicago‘.  That said, they are among the weakest songs here in my opinion – which reveals what a really solid collection it is.  ‘I Used to Be a King‘  is the real standout, with Garcia on a gorgeous pedal steel and Lesh on bass, it’s a direct, mature response to ‘King Midas in Reverse‘, a song Nash wrote and recorded with the Hollies. ‘Simple Man‘, with its sparse melody and strings and a fine backing vocal from Coolidge, was written on the afternoon of the breakup with Mitchell.  Perfect for maintaining a slow, steady cadence in the saddle.

So while it probably still qualifies itself as lightweight “Dad Rock”, it’s cool Dad Rock and I ended up pretty impressed anyway.  Enough that I still had enough left in the tank afterwards for a 5 minute tempo to finish off my 40 minute spin.

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It’s been a long 48 hours of parenting while Kelly has been working and in that time I’ve squeezed in lots of cuddle time, watched an insane amount of Disney television, arranged a play date, attended a Ghost Walk around Niagara-on-the-Lake, hosted friends for dinner, spectated at the Niagara Falls International Marathon and, yeah, slip in a 40k bike ride into a ree-DONK-ulous headwind, a last run over the lawn with the mower and all on approximately 7 hours of sleep in total and, well, let’s just say I’m pretty beat.  I’ve been hung on, clung to and otherwise peppered for the past two days with an endless barrage of redundant and ridiculous questions – very exhausting indeed.  But before I drift off into a coma for the rest of the weekend, I want one last go around at the gym and unwind a little with the weights with some new music I’ve been looking forward to checking out, beginning with the ‘Every Kingdom‘  by Ben Howard. ‘Every Kingdom’  is the first studio album by the British singer-songwriter troubadour in the same vein as Nick Drake, although it’s probably more indebted to Jack Johnson, Ray LaMontagne or, say, Newton Falkner.  Anyway, it was originally released in the United Kingdom on September 30th, 2011 as a digital download, on CD, on LP and as a 200 copy limited edition cassette.  I stole it off the Kickass Torrents website (sorry Ben).  It reached a peak chart position of #4 in the UK Albums Chart in February of 2013 following his success at the Brit Awards that week.  Yay Ben.

The album has layers of beautiful songs that are full of meaning, wonderful vocals and unique guitar parts with extra percussion and background singers to give it a full sound while it does not stray away from its acoustic roots.  There are some intense songs, alluring love songs, and mellow songs that are uplifting yet sad at the same time.  As I listening to this album between sets in a completely empty gym, I recognized a certain warmth and familiarity to it that I just couldn’t put my finger on, but I definitely loved it In fact, half the time I didn’t know if I was inspired to really to giv’er with the weights or sit down and cry – good thing the gym was empty I guess.  Very confusink.

There’s lots of great tracks to choose from like ‘The Wolves‘, ‘Everything‘, ‘Diamonds‘  and ‘Old Pine‘, but there are two particular standouts: ‘Keep Your Head Up‘ (which will forever remain on my iPod) and the 6+ minute ‘Promise’  to close out the album.  This is definitely an album I’ll be looking to add to my future record collection as the digitized version will not be enough to keep me happy going forward.  Easily one of the best albums I’ve heard this year – hands down.  However, as awesome as it is, there’s only 50 minutes worth of music on the album and that’s just not enough tunage to sustain an entire weights workout today so I also happen to have his newest ‘Burgh Island‘ EP as well.

Released the following year in 2012, this was really my first introduction to Ben following the 5th episode of Season 4 of ‘The Walking Dead’, when they played the slow and haunting track ‘Oats in the Water‘  off this particular EP.  I was blown away and ended up hunting this EP out along with the previous album.

This EP demonstrates a darker, more methodical side to his songs represented in the previous album, more highlighted by the use of the electric guitar rather than his acoustic; even still, the gritty, and albeit, gloomy sound does not take away from the emotion and soul that is put into the lyrics and songs themselves. The songs themselves were all inspired by his memories from surfing the beaches of Burgh Island.  Why so dark then?  Is surfing dark?  Jack Johnson doesn’t seem like such a dark dude so what’s Ben’s deal?  Anyway, beats me.  But it sure suits not only the overcast gloom outside right now, but my exhausted mood and particular mindset this moment as I work myself through this last slow and methodical weights workout this afternoon.  Is it Monday yet?

Did I really  just say type that?

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Functional Strength/Core

It’s Tuesday night and that’s swimming lesson night so I’m trapped at the gym for an hour while the kid does her hand stands, belly flops and doggy paddles in the pool (it’s infuriating they call these ‘swimming lessons’ actually).  Of course, it’s pissy shitty outside so I don’t particularly mind being indoors today so I’m making the best of it by kick-starting my functional strength and core program beginning with this new album by Parquet Courts, ‘Sunbathing Animal‘.

If you recall, I was pretty impressed with their last album ‘Light Up Gold‘, so you can bet your sweet bippy I was pretty excited to learn that they had another recent release out this year (June).  If you believe Wikipedia, they would have you believe that Parquet Courts falls under the bracket of ‘punk rock’.  And while their previous album had lots of short and punchy pop numbers (a la Ween) that might fall under that umbrella, I think this album largely strays away from that particular classification into more – dare I say it – shoegazing.  Okay, shoegaze meets the Velvet Underground meets Pavement meets Television…maybe.  Whatever, it still sounds pretty cool and I bet this is what Thurston Moore is beating off to these days.  And nowhere is this more prevalent than on the fantastic tracks ‘She’s Rollin‘  and ‘Instant Disassembly‘, both of which I bet sound terrific performed live. Looking deeper, ‘Sunbathing Animal‘  is a four minute impassioned fury that doubles as the real solid punk tune and a speed-addled take on pre-Beatles rock and roll, ‘Ducking and Dodging‘ is a skittish garage blues number which also keeps things interesting and ‘Into the Garden‘ is a creepy, neo-Bauhaus like tune.  Alas, the closest the album ever really gets to it’s predecessor would be ‘Always Back In Town‘ which is less ‘Stoned and Starving‘, and more just plain stoned.

All in all, it was enough to keep my brain positively engaged while I ran the gauntlet of clams, planks, squats, and other girly Pilates bullshit and trying to avert the eyes of, like, every other dude in the place.  Yay me. 

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The Turkey Sweats

Since we missed last week in lieu of our annual ‘Festival of Calories’ (i.e. Thanksgiving), we had some making up to do this evening.  And that means I ratcheted up the over all suck factor to 12 for tonight’s class of high tempo spinning with some steady climbs and sprints thrown in for good measure.  At the end, it was an all out sprint for the finish; no retreat, no surrender.  Gobble gobble, bitches.

Tonight’s playlist includes:

  • White Knuckles – OK Go!
  • We Used to Be Friends – The Dandy Warhols
  • I Ain’t Hiding – The Black Crowes
  • All These Things That I’ve Done – The Killers
  • Family Tree – Kings of Leon
  • Sophisticated Honky – Orgone
  • Gold On the Ceiling – The Black Keys
  • Stargaze – Xavier Rudd
  • Hard Sun – Eddie Vedder
  • Funky Tonight – John Butler Trio
  • Love Will Turn You Around – Kenny Rogers
  • Hip Hug Her – Booker T. & the MG’s
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Grillin’ and Chillin’

Some friends of mine (Lance & Amy) have a weekly tradition called “Vinyl Sunday” dedicated to all things vinyl (preferably of the musical variety, but what they get up to in their intimate lives is none of my business).  Soon I hope to be hosting my own Vinyl Sunday tradition (the musical kind of course) and I’ve even been stocking up on some new acquisitions lately in anticipation of that in the near future, but those new purchases will just have to wait a while longer before they grace the pages of this blog (i.e I upgrade my current turntable).  As it goes today, I’m here alone prepping for a family BBQ later so I’m making the most of it with some tunes; may as well be the vinyl kind, albeit an older offering like the ‘Triumvirate‘  album by Bloomfield, Hammond & Dr. John from 1973 on Columbia Records.

I originally came by this album years and years ago while browsing through some milk cartons crammed with dusty records at a flea market somewhere and, low and behold, there it was.  I had mo idea that these three guys made an album together, but I knew of and loved all three individually so I didn’t need much convincing to take it home with me.  Of course, I think I paid about $2.00 in total for it so, yeah, it was a no-brainer.  Anyway, I played it once before my record player at the time crapped out so I ended up ordering a digital CD version of it and, well, let’s just say it didn’t have the same luster and hasn’t left the CD shelf in quite some time as I much more prefer the unpolished sound of vinyl, just as I’m enjoying it this afternoon.

I’m sure there’s a story on how these three were brought together (in fact there is, click HERE) but, that aside, this was still one of my first vinyl acquisitions that I truly loved.  I still do.  I do recognize that most people will consider this album lame in comparison with anything either of the musicians have released separately but I don’t care.  I have some find memories of this album, beginning with the opening chorus of ‘ Cha-Dooky-Doo‘  the opening track.  From there, there’s some Dr. John originals and after that and a few decent covers of B.B. King (‘Rock Me Baby‘), John Lee Hooker (‘Ground Hog Blues‘) and Willie Dixon (‘Pretty Thing’).  In short, I don’t care what the critics say as I think the album is pretty sweet…every last snap, crackle and pop of it.

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I had originally planned to do this workout on Wednesday but that never really transpired; Blame Mother Nature or my own laziness, whatever, it just wasn’t in the cards that day.  What can you do?  So after my physio appointment today after work, I decided to rectify that missed opportunity by re-initiating the old Friday Night He-man sessions of my not-so-distant bachelorhood while Kelly is zipping HRH  to Burlington to be with her dad.  Fortunately, I’m still prepared with a suitable album queued up on my iPod, the ‘Odelay‘  album by Beck.

Odelay‘  represents Beck’s fifth studio album released on June 18, 1996, by DGC Records and would ultimately go on to become his first hit album in the U.K., peaking at #16 on the Billboard 200, and eventually selling over 2 million copies in the United States.  It was nominated for the Grammy Award for ‘Album of the Year’ and won a Grammy Award for ‘Best Alternative Music Album’ in 1997, as well as a Grammy Award for ‘Best Male Rock Vocal Performance’ for ‘Where It’s At‘  and was ranked #16 in Spin’s 100 Greatest Albums, 1985–2005.  It was also awarded Album of the Year by the American magazine Rolling Stone  and voted the 51st greatest album of all time in 1998 by Q magazine.  In 2003, the album was ranked #306 on Rolling Stone  magazine’s list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time and #9 on its list of the 100 Best Albums of the Nineties.  So, yeah, there lots of love for this album to spread around.

At the time, however, I had no idea who he was.  I mean, I recognized the “shaggy dog album” but never actually paid it any mind attention given I was more into my Manchester shoegaze at the time.  and even when I did finally ‘discover’ Beck (my first initiation was the ‘Mutations‘  album in 1998), I somehow skipped over this album altogether and I’m only getting around to it now.  And good thing to I guess as it was a terrific listen this evening over the clanging weights and ripping muscle fiber.

Burrowing into the studio with sampledelic producers the Dust Brothers (in their first gig since the Beastie Boys’ ‘Paul’s Boutique‘), Beck came back with a Technicolor version of his Woody Guthrie-meets-Grandmaster Flash vision, demonstrating to his rock peers that turntables had a brighter future than the refried grunge pap being offered at the time.  There are interesting reworks of the blues (‘Devil’s Haircut‘), country (‘Lord Only Knows‘ and ‘Sissyneck‘), soul (‘Hotwax‘), folk (‘Ramshackle‘) and even rap (‘High 5 [Rock the Catskills]‘, as well as ‘Where It’s At‘).  In fact, the whole thing is pretty damn eclectic (and awesome I might add) making it the perfect compliment to my weights workout today.

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