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Music Recommendation – Heymoonshaker

The specific alchemy of what makes a band stand out from the rest will never be codified. Sometimes the lyrics will grab you, enunciating something about your life that you have struggled to voice. Sometimes a voice’s particular lilt or tonality will pull you in or shake you up. Sometimes the thrill resides in how the artist fills each note, each word, each moment, each pause, each breath with an intensity that is utterly honest and devoid of pretense. Whatever the magic, when you find a band that wakes you up and moves you—physically, emotionally, spiritually, and yes, even intellectually—the excitement of discovery is one to be savored. Today, I’m savoring the discovery of this band:

The opening minute or so didn’t really grab me, but as soon as the beat-box performance kicked in, I was hooked. There is an intensity shared between the two performers that is exciting and deeply intimate. This is Heymoonshaker, the collaboration between guitarist/singer/songwriter Andy Balcon and beat-boxer Dave Crowe and I highly recommend you give the band some serious attention. The blend of Balcon’s steel-wool voice and explosive blues playing, alongside the precision and expressiveness of Crowe’s vocal beats creates something special, unique, and undeniably energetic. That those beats are emerging from a human and not from a human hitting things or a drum-machine is hard to remember when you aren’t watching video performances of the music. I’ve been listening to their 2015 release, Noir on repeat throughout most of today and my brain keeps forgetting that the “drums” are actually sounds emerging from a human diaphragm and larynx. In fact, on just listening to the Heymoonshaker albums, Crowe’s work might fade into the background a bit, overshadowed by Balcon’s graveled voice and masterful guitarwork. If, like me, you aren’t very up-to-date with the beat-box scene, you might not realize just how insanely talented and musical Crowe is on his own. So I’d recommend checking this solo performance out:

While I certainly don’t think that you need to see Heymoonshaker to appreciate their music, there is a frisson that comes from watching, even in video form, the way that Balcon and Crowe interact with each other and it helps to keep in mind just how much work Crowe is putting into the music.

In addition to being damn good musicians, they bring an infectious energy to the crowd and you can see it in the way people grin and move in time with the music. But there’s another word I keep coming back to when watching both the first video I posted and this next one: intimacy. Maybe its a U.S. thing, but both videos demonstrate a physical proximity and a directness of gaze between the two men that seems rare to me.

Words after that feel small and unnecessary. So I’ll end by simply suggesting that if you dig their music, give them some support and buy their albums. And if ever they tour the U.S. I’m sure as hell going to line up for tickets.

Without music, life would be a mistake. – Friedrich Nietzsche

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Just Four Songs

Just four songs. One EP. The songs are not even titled, marked merely I, II, III, IV. A woman’s voice sweeps and swoops and there are hints of other musicians to be sure—Antony Hegarty, Ani DiFrano, PJ Harvey—but in the end, you are wrapped up inside the voice of one Anna B. Savage. Each song is a dark and dusky gem of pain, heartbreak, courage, and fear. Her voice embraces you even as her words skewer and cut, drawing blood. This is an artist you cannot ignore, whose songs run deep and raw.

You will, I suspect, either love or hate her work. I do not expect that she leaves much middle ground. I am, already, after one song, in love with this woman and her words and her voice and her guitar and I cannot not share this with the world. After a long silence, after feeling I have little to say and nothing useful to add to this space, I knew I had to write something. Even if very few ever come across this post, every one of them should know this: if you listen to Anna B. Savage you will be changed and you will feel and you will be enriched.

Just four songs. But four songs you may need to hear.

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Dying on Mars

Martian Sunset
Credit: NASA/JPL/Texas A&M/Cornell

I don’t read much about the Mars One project because I’m too jealous of those who might actually go. I know, I know: the whole idea is a crackpot one and there is a very real chance that the project will never actually get of the proverbial ground. But if I’d been younger, fitter, and with skills more suited to the mission…I would have auditioned. Because to be part of that particular journey…just the thought of it takes my breath away. I’ve written previously about some of my thoughts on space and its meaning to me and I don’t really know what more to say about it. But the recent news about Mars One contestants as well as my watching a number of VSauce videos on YouTube about space and the upcoming release of Public Service Broadcasting’s album The Race to Space (which I highly recommend listening to), have me thinking about space a lot tonight.

And death. And how we think about our own deaths, and what we imagine might be a “good” death. For some, a good death would see them surrounded by family, for others it might be in the pursuit of extreme thrills or adventure. Others might simply desire a soft and kind exit, dying quietly in their sleep. If given the chance (which, realistically, I won’t be), my good death would be to die on another planet: to be part of humanity’s reach for the stars. Many might see those vying for the possibility of a one-way trip to Mars as odd and be puzzled by the apparent willingness to forgo family and friends for an arduous and uncertain journey that would certainly end in death—and probably sooner rather than later. But to stand on another world and to be part of that particular legacy? I would most certainly take that opportunity. Finding purpose is a tricky business and maybe I’m being naive to think that a journey to Mars would finally achieve a sense of purpose for me after so many years of struggling to find my own meaning to myself. Still, I can’t help but think that such a journey would indeed give me a profound sense of purpose and accomplishment.

However, I also know that a sense of purpose and meaning are not invested upon us by outside forces but are something we create for ourselves. In the grand scheme of things, being part of a mission to Mars is no more important than teaching someone to read or caring for a sick relative or writing a poem or creating a YouTube video or painting a “masterpiece” or helping a stranger or being kind or singing a song to an audience of one or loving someone or agitating for human rights or protesting war or thinking deeply about something you love or knitting or sharing food or dancing. In the face of deep time and deep space, all our achievements, all our legacies, all our accomplishments will be forgotten because the universe is really fucking huge and we are really fucking tiny…no, scratch that, microscopic…actually not even that, we are infinitesimally, inconsequentially, unbelievably smaller than the smallest thing you can even begin to imagine when placed against the size of the universe. Hell, space makes even the speed of light seem puny.

(For an example of this—and to get the barest fraction of a visceral sense of the size of things—I highly recommend checking out this video that simulates the journey of a photon leaving the sun and traveling through our solar system. Yes it will take 45 minutes and yes, it will require some level of patience that most of us don’t have these days with our need for constant stimuli, but I promise you that your time will be well spent. Especially so if you can watch it on the largest screen you possibly can.)

Our purpose and legacy, no matter how large they seem are ridiculously small when measured against the future, but that does not diminish their importance to us as we live and breathe and scrape and claw at existence for the short, short time we have. Purpose and legacy might be meaningless words to the universe, but they fill our hearts and minds with excitement and desire. Thus, while I know that in the long run all is forgotten in the heat death of the universe, I can’t help but struggle with my own sense of purpose and the legacy of what I will leave behind.

I will, hopefully, one day find my sense of purpose and make peace with my life and my accomplishments. Yet there will always a part of me that wishes I could stand on another planet.

Even if I was to die there.

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A few lines

the sky is pink & grey

pink like a small wet stone half-buried in the sand
grey like your eyes as you turn away

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