Tuesday, November 22, 2016

NYC Marathon Playlist

(as originally written for and posted by KTSW San Marcos

On November 6, 2016 I was lucky enough to be one of 50,000 people who got to run the New York City Marathon. The race began in Staten Island, and made its way through all five boroughs  including Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and ending in Central Park in Manhattan. Throughout almost the entire 26.2 mile course, there were crowds cheering us runners on, which is why the NYC Marathon is referred to as New York’s biggest block party. It was estimated that over one million people came out to cheer us on.

Despite the overwhelming crowd support, occasional on-course live music, and epic views of one of the greatest city’s in the world, there was no way I could have survived the four and half hours it took me to complete the race without a playlist rocking in my bluetooth headphones. The night before, as I tried to get some rest in the Airbnb I was staying in, I had to figure out what I wanted to be included in this playlist. 

I knew I wanted to avoid starting the race too fast, which is a common mistake for first time marathoners such as myself. So I started off my NYC playlist with Tycho. Their new album “Epoch” was the perfect ambient soundtrack to keep my mind and body away from moving too fast as I made my way over the Verrazano–Narrows Bridge. I got to enjoy the view of Manhattan off in the distance across the bay as I made my way into Brooklyn.

In Brooklyn, I wanted to keep the chill vibes going, but also find my rhythm as we entered the crowds on the roads cheering us on. I stuck with the electronic feel and went with ODESZA. Their album “In Return” has long been one of my favorites to run to during training, as it provides melodic beats to find my pace with and soak in the neighborhoods like Bay Ridge we were running through. By the time we got to the infinitely hip Williamsburg, one of Brooklyn’s best bands came on as if by fate: LCD Soundsystem’s “This is Happening” provided the soundtrack for the rest of the second borough, and I may or may not have run one of my fastest miles to “Dance Yrself Clean.”

As we passed over the Pulaski Bridge and into Queens, passing the halfway mark of the race, Glass Animals’ newest album “How to Be a Human Being” took over, and it felt like perfect timing for this upbeat album as the crowds grew larger, louder, and rowdier. I was feeling great, smiling from ear to ear as I occasionally even sang along aloud to some of my favorite tracks like “Youth” and “Poplar St.” As we crossed over the Queensboro bridge and into Manhattan for the first time, my playlist got a little grittier for the first time, as Queens of the Stone Age blared guitar rifts into my ears for most of my trip up First Avenue. 

As I made my way into the Bronx, with it came my all-time favorite band Radiohead, whom I have already written a lengthy blog post about for KTSW earlier this semester. As much as I love everything Thom Yorke touches, it was almost ironic that this would be who I would be listening to as I hit the wall as runners call it, and began struggling in the race for the first time. Although it only lasted between miles 21 and 23 of the race as I returned back to Manhattan, I will always remember how terrible I felt when I heard “Everything In Its Right Place” during my first marathon. 

At mile 23, I was surprised to see my wife cheering me on, and even coaxed her into running a couple of blocks with me, which provided me a much needed pick-me-up (along with the energy gels I had consumed a few minutes earlier). As I entered Central Park to finish the last two miles, my favorite album of 2015 was there to take me home. Tame Impala’s “Currents” is one that I continually find myself coming back to, and I sped through the crowds to “New Person, Same Old Mistakes.” 

I finished the race in 4:34:15, running negative splits (meaning I ran the second half of the race faster than I ran the first half) which is hard to do on a challenging course like this one. I could not have done it without the amazing volunteers at the water aid stations, my beautiful wife surprising me towards the end, and the playlist I put together just a few hours before the race. What are some of your favorite albums to run to? Which ones should I include in my future races? Let me know in the comments below!

The EDM Transition

(as originally written for and posted by KTSW San Marcos

We all have that one friend. The one who never misses an electronic music festival. Who prefers furry boots to sneakers. Who only listens to music that sounds like an old computer trying to connect to the internet via dial-up. And if you haven’t been to a show that didn’t involve glow sticks in years, then you very well may be that friend. 

I am not here to criticize your taste in music. In fact, I myself have been to countless EDM shows in my 20’s. But as I come within months of my 30th birthday, I thought I would try to help broaden the horizons of some of those people who insist they only like DJ’s or people who wear a giant mouse-head when they perform. Because regardless of how much you love dancing all night to dubstep or house or trance, eventually you will reach a point when you just can’t hang like you used to.

That’s where I’d like to step in, and introduce you to the EDM Transition. There are tons of bands out there that are heavily influenced by the EDM movement, or influenced the very DJ’s you find yourself blaring in your car as you drive to your early morning classes to try and wake you up. As fun as it can be to watch someone push a couple of buttons to play that catchy hook you can’t get out of your head, (I am looking at you “The Chainsmokers”)  I think you’ll find that not only are some of these artists in your wheelhouse, but seeing them perform live with real musical instruments might take seeing your passion for “live music” to an entirely new level.

The first transition can be entirely painless. Many artists are already combining EDM with live instruments when they perform. Take Big Gigantic, and similar artist Griz, as an example. Both of these acts add a saxophone to their tracks, and if you have never seen someone blow on a sax over some heavy beats, then you are truly missing out. Similarly, Pretty Lights Music artists Break Science incorporate keyboards and live drums with electronic elements. Consider these baby steps out of EDM and into more conventional music genres.

Next, if you insist on the visual elements of EDM shows and festivals, I would recommend the “jam-band” groups. Some of my favorites include STS9, Thievery Corporation, and I throw local Austin legend Ghostland Observatory into this category when they are touring. Others would include Phish and Widespread Panic, to name a few. At these shows, you’ll get a lot of the same elements you get at EDM festivals, some of which I won’t go into too deeply here. But all typically have incredible set designs and light shows that help captivate the audience along with their large bands full of multiple instruments. 

The electronic acts playing with a full band trend continues with groups such as Emancipator
Beats Antique, and Bonobo. The bands play live renditions of studio material, with a singer, and often times additional band members such as a keyboardist, guitarist, saxophonist, string section, electronics, and drummer. Even traditional DJ’s who typically focus on the old-school style of spinning music on wax records, such as Wax Tailor and RJD2, have begun touring with full live bands in support of their albums. You can catch both of them at Empire in Austin in the next few months.

Many artists do not identify as electronic music bands, although their music is in my opinion very influenced by the genre. Some of these include Tycho, SOHN, Neon Indian, and Washed Out. These groups incorporate electronic elements into their songs, and provide a nearly seamless transition away from EDM and into more alternative and indie music genres, the kind we like to play here at KTSW. 

Even some of the most popular bands in the world have heavy electronic elements incorporate into their process. I have been pleasantly surprised  by both Bon Iver and James Blake’s newest albums, which both have added new sounds and effects into their more folk sound. My two favorite bands also give and take to and from the electronic community. Both Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails have been pioneering in pushing the boundaries in mainstream, alternative rock and adding sounds they could not have produced with instruments alone.

So next time you get in the car and plug your phone in, instead of listening to that Major Lazer song for the 100th time this week, consider trying out some of these options as an alternative. I think you’ll be surprised how much you’ll enjoy these and still feel like you are getting your EDM fill.

Going Solo

(As originally written for KTSW San Marcos)

When I first move to Austin at the beginning of 2010, the chance to see live music consistently played a big part in my decision to relocate there. Growing up in a conservative East Texas town, getting to see bands perform was rare. After attending SXSW in Austin in 2002 and visiting friends in the city often while I was in college, I saw that it lived up to the hype as being the “Live Music Capital of the World.” However, once I got there, I ran into a problem: What do I do when I want to go see a show and no one wants to go with me?

Despite having friends living in Austin already, not all of them were as eager to go see bands they had never heard of at small clubs and bars on random weekday nights as I was. I will admit that at first I was hesitant to go alone. It was definitely outside of my comfort zone. Who do I talk to in between sets? Who do I turn to and yell “this band is awesome!” or “this song sucks” to? I had only had concert experiences with friends in the past, so it felt a little awkward to be standing in a crowd alone.

My mindset completely changed during my first time attending Austin City Limits in 2010. Although I showed up to the festival with a group, it was inevitable for us to get separated once bathroom breaks and beer runs started. I found myself alone, floating my way through the crowds. Once I came to terms with the fact that it was highly unlikely I would find my group again, I felt a sense of freedom in the fact that I could now essentially do whatever I wanted. 

Gone were the worries of checking to see if everyone could see the stage, if anyone needed to use the restroom, the debates of when to leave this set to make it to another one across the park. I realized that although I had lost my friends, I had 70,000 other “friends” in the park all there to enjoy the festival just like me. I witnessed LCD Soundsystem deliver an electric performance as the sun set behind the crowd, tried flirting with Warpaint for the first time from the front row, and held up Wayne Coyne from the Flaming Lips in his plastic encasing as he walked out into the crowd. From that moment on, I realized seeing concerts alone may not only be enjoyable, but might actually be preferable.

There is a lot of coordinating that goes into attending shows with a group of people. When and where do we meet? How close does everyone want to get? Will we be able to find each other if we need to go to the bathroom? These can all cause stress before the show even starts. It can be even worse when going with a significant other. The worrying about their experience can actually take away from your own personal enjoyment of the concert. There is also the dreaded “can we leave early?” question that can arise. “Leave early? And miss the encore? Are you crazy?!” Speaking from experience, this can lead to tension, both during the show and long after the concert is over.

Going to a venue alone gives you the flexibility to move through the crowd and find a spot that is just perfect for you and you alone. We all come in different shapes and sizes, so when you are in a group it is not always easy to find somewhere that suits everyone. Rolling solo also eliminates distractions. While I agree sometimes it is great to share concert experience with friends or significant others, there are also times when you want to focus on the show itself and get lost in the music, and not have your chatty Cathy friend next you trying to show you their Snapchat. Which reminds me, while we are on the topic of concert etiquette…


If you are going to a show so you can chat with your friends, go to a bar instead so the rest of us can hear the band we paid to see! 

Please excuse me while I step down from my grumpy old man soapbox, but seriously - if you are talking loudly with your friends during a headlining set of a show, have some courtesy and either save it for afterwards or consider moving to the back of the crowd. 

So next time you want to go check out a band, consider only putting one ticket in your cart at checkout. Get there when you want, grab the perfect spot, and enjoy the undistracted and stress free environment of getting lost in the music. You may never want to go with a group again!