Friday, January 2, 2015

Happy New Year! (or "My Favorite Albums of 2014")

While I stand by my previous statement that this is not the best place to keep up with me (for that, try social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, or stand in the street outside my house and wave as we come and go!) I couldn't pass up my annual tradition/habit/neuroses of posting my favorite Albums of 2014. Shortly to follow is the list in no partcular alphabetical order, by artist. This year was unique musically in that there were several releases from bands I love (U2, Foo Fighters, Coldplay) that simply failed to excite the way a Top 10 List item ought to.

Without further ado, my picks for Top 10 Albums of 2014:

Anberlin - Lowborn
Their final record returns to form that would do their of Friendship/Cities heyday proud.

The Black Keys - Turn Blue
Shouldn't we all be tired of the "guitar+drums+Danger Mouse=hit record" formula by now? Maybe, but I'm not.

Copeland - Ixora
They went away 5 years ago, and announced their return to much joy/consternation on April Fool's Day. Ixora's release was like a meal with an old friend you haven't seen in years.

Foster the People - Supermodel
Their Torches was quite likely my most-played album of 2011. Supermodel lacked some of that contagion, but showed growth  in crafting an album, not just a series of singles.

Kye Kye - Fantasize
Perfect music for driving at night, summer or winter. Haunting, beautiful.

Manchester Orchestra - Cope
First introduction to MO came at a festival performance, 4 PM on a rainy Sunday in September. Cope has been in heavily circulation since.

Needtobreathe - Rivers in the Wasteland
I found 2012's The Reckoning to be a disappointment - whether of its own merits or simply in comparison to 2009's The Outsiders - but Rivers brought me back into the fold and did not disappoint.

Saint Paul & The Broken Bones - Half the City
Make yourself comfortable, because you're going to want to watch all 20 minutes of this live radio set.

(Also, I didn't figure you'd believe a bunch of white guys could make music like this if you didn't see it for yourself.)

Switchfoot - Fading West 
Fading West doesn't stand up as well as some of Switchfoot's outings as albums go - almost fell in with this year's disappointments - until I realized how many of the songs I absolutely love. It's no Hello, Hurricane - but it clearly earned a spot on my list.

TV on the Radio - Seeds
Another discovery via our fall festival outing. I'll forever remember dancing in the September rain with Krystal to TV On the Radio's funky grooves.

That's it. Excited for a new year, new opportunities, new challenges, new music. Looking forward to more time in the studio, hopefully a calendar with room to put a couple shows on the agenda, motivate some serious production. Until next time - adios.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

December Update

For the most current updates, please follow me on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. It's been quite a year and I'm finding myself lucky to have time in the studio, much less time to blog about it.

In the meantime, I recently unloaded my first glaze firing in the new studio. It was not without incident as I ran into some electrical snafus in the ^6 firing cycle that did not occur in the ^04 cycle, and a couple failed partial firings may have negatively impacted some of my glazes. But the bulk of the firing was more or less successful. Hoping to have at least a small offering of updated listings on the Etsy shop this week.

Thanks for stopping by.

First fruits of the new studio. Mountains from the mountains.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Studio Update

There's clay on my jeans today, so that's a good place to start.

I've finally gotten back behind the wheel after nearly a year apart. She's a little touchy, and the clay doesn't seem to be quite awake yet after some hibernation, but it felt good, for sure.

Meanwhile: it's only been a month since I last logged in here! That oughtta count for something, right?

Pictures of pots soon, but in the meantime I thought I'd share a little background on my new studio - "where the magic happens," so to speak.

I've set up shop in the basement of our "new" home, again.  Fortunately for me, this time around I get more than just a corner.  I actually get two thirds of a proper room! We have a decent sized laundry room here complete with a double-tub utility sink, so no more mucking up the guest bath with pottery and such. Getting set up was a full process that included laying a new floor and hours of cleaning and scrubbing. Between a somewhat regularly backing up sewer drain, apparently poorly vented dryer expulsion resulting in lint everywhere, and the generally decaying status of the floors, the room needed a little work. Lots of scrubbing of the floor with abrasive tools and cleaners of all ilk. And lots of rubber gloves. Here's a "before" photo for your enjoyment (thought I think it was still post-cleaning).
Studio/Laundry before. Room is in the neighborhood of 12x12, if I recall correctly.
We decided to go with tile for the floors after observing the particularly persnickety sewer line/drain under the sink. Explored a few different options including vinyl tile, laminate wood flooring, and some other ideas (I thought, wouldn't it be cool to just run linoleum three to four feet up the wall so cleaning up wheel splatter would be easy? Krystal vetoed.). The one thing I did know was that I really wanted to put a proper floor in my studio after learning first hand that clay will in fact strip paint of basement floors and getting clay out of the concrete was not much fun. I wanted something that was going to be quicker and easier to clean, as well as durable and more attractive for the long haul, as it is our house after all.
Work in progress. Don't judge my technique. Making it up as I went along.
Last of the tiles in place!
Well, that was exciting. Next step was getting our laundry/appliances set so I could start working on studio stuff.
Laundry. Stacking! Space saving and wow!
Shelves and whatnot! 
The final piece of the puzzle (for now) was the building of a proper wedging table. I'm not going to go into the details and schematics because I don't think they'd help you out that much. I'm a potter, not a carpenter. That said, I could probably give you some pointers on what NOT to do throughout the process.

Okay, a few details: it's a pretty basic workbench style table constructed mainly of pine 2x4's. Frame at the top supports the wedging surface while a frame closer to the floor supports a shelf. Due to not thinking things through fully beforehand, there's a secondary brace (2x4) running from the shelf to the top frame to reduce torque on the screws holding everything together. The top of the table is a hardwood frame on top of a piece of oak plywood, with a center divider to reduce the size of the plaster slab (to be poured). The plaster top of the table is one piece and affixed using L-braces underneath, so if I have to replace the plaster surface in the future, I could replace the entire top rather than trying to get all the plaster out of the boxes.
I probably could have left the wood bare, but given the amount of moisture this thing is going to be exposed to, I decide to go ahead and stain-and-seal. Plus it looks real purdy now.
 In prepping to pour the plaster, I used some clay snakes to seal off the seams around the boxes edges for good measure. Didn't want any plaster escaping throughout that process.
And the finished table in place, below. I don't work with plaster nearly enough, so that whole process was a little more stressful and traumatic than it needed to be, but they're now functional wedging and drying slabs. The plaster stops about a half inch below the top of the frame which will be nice when I have extra wet clay slop to recycle. 
So there's my studio. Looking awfully cozy, huh? And certainly more spacious than my itty-bitty corner of the basement at our old place. Still a few more things to work out (have another shelf to put up, still waiting on electrical work to get the ol' Skutt kiln firing, haven't even begun to think about my glaze inventory.
Oh yeah - my wall of inspiration! Or something...
So that's most of what's been going on in the studio. Finally got throwing yesterday, easing back into it. Still, felt so good to be back in the clay. Outside the studio happenings have been plenty busy as well - finally running out of house projects, but lots of job hunting and such. 

Last week (two weeks ago?) I got to check out Continental Clay's "new" Denver location for the first time (needed my plaster!). Was great fun - a potter's playground. 
All kinds of toys and goodies, including sample bags (two pounders?) of all their clays. I took them up on that offer, came home with their full assortment of mid-range clays to try out. I'm very happy with my clays of choice (CC B-Clay and CC Buff Stoneware) but in the name of science I'll give the free clays a shot and see how they hold up with my throwing, decorating, and glazing style. Maybe I'll stumble into a new favorite.
In other news, we recently finished celebrating "Krystal week" in our household (a.k.a. Krystal's birthday is the same week as Valentine's Day and there's no way around celebrating both separately. This year we splurged to land some nosebleed seats to see Paul Simon and Sting down in Denver.
See them? The itty-bitty guys in the center of the stage? 
It was a great time - alternating solo and duet sets with band members that just kept coming and going and swapping in and out and having a grand old time. I was most thrilled with the fact that my favorite Paul Simon record (Rhythm of the Saints) was not excluded from the set-list, but represented in fine form with "The Obvious Child." So that's what I'll leave you with tonight.  

(If you don't know this song, and you refuse to take the time to watch the full video, just check out this part right here. Gets me every time.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

2014 > 2013

Out with the old, in with the new. It's been quite a year, friends, and certainly quiet one, digitally speaking.

On May 15th, 2013, two days after our scheduled departure for five weeks backpacking in Europe, my wife, Krystal, was diagnosed with a classical Hodgkin Lymphoma. Needless to say, by this point we were certainly not doing any backpacking. Long story short, on October 15th, 2013, after four full rounds of chemotherapy, Krystal was declared in complete clinical remission.

See! Good news! We'll just ignore the bad news that came first, right?

Like I said, quite a year. But we came out on a high note, certainly. On account of having already quit our jobs, stowed our earthly belongs, and selling our house in South Dakota, we spent six months in Arizona where we got to spend some quality time with Krystal's family during her treatment. I found work that kept me busy and the medical collectors at bay, but unfortunately left me in a clay- and studio-less state. In October, my wife was offered a job in Northern Colorado. With the clean bill of health in tow, we returned to the Rocky Mountain State and are making a home (and studio) in Loveland, CO.

[That really is the shortest version of the story. Mayhaps there is more to be shared later. This is it for now. Thanks for understanding.]

So: back on the road to having a studio up and running. Still some logistical issues to sort out in preparing the house for full studio-ness, but the bottom line is that there is clay in my immediate future, and I'm very much looking forward to sharing whatever 2014 may have to offer.

Currently working on a few small projects related to getting the studio up and running and should be able to offer some sort of a post on that in the near future.

In the meantime: Happy New Year!


And as a PS: in as much as there's a lot of 2013 I'd like to just put in a box and forget about, please celebrate with me my favorite music from last year. Because, you know, that's kind of a thing I do.

10. Justin Timberlake, "The 20/20 Experience."
I'll probably losing my indie cred for including this record on my list, but let's face it: this two-part project is chock-full of undeniably catchy pop. I lean toward Part I in my including it on the list, but I won't back down and am not ashamed to say that "Suit & Tie" was my jam for the better part of 2013. Check out: "Suit & Tie"

9. STRFKR, "Miracle Mile." 
Though I'd certainly hesitate to even mention them by name in polite conversation, I was really first introduced to this band by their inclusion in one of this year's SoundSupply Drops. And it's just an impeccable Alt-Rock/Pop album all the way through. This one became an almost immediate favorite of mine and was certainly perfect for summer in the desert. Check out: "While I'm Alive"

8. Atoms for Peace, "Amok."
Pet project of Thom Yorke (Radiohead) notably featuring Flea (Red Hot Chili Peppers) and the extremely talented Nigel Godrich, Joey Waronko, and Mauro Refosco. Great mood music for a long, hard year. Along the same vein as Yorke's solo outing ("Eraser") and Radiohead's latest "King of Limbs," it's a great electro-jazz groover. Check out: "Before Your Very Eyes"

7. Citzens, "Citizens."
It's rare anymore that I come upon a "Christian" radio station that plays anything I'm really excited about listening to, much less introduces me to a new artist. Citizens certainly blew those expectations out of the water after I heard their song "Made Alive" on the radio in Phoenix this summer. This is just a good record for fans of music (alt-rock, specifically). Check out: "Made Alive"

6. The Hawk In Paris, "Freaks."
Dark pop. Clever lyrics, cleverer hooks. Hard not to groove along with this project featuring Dan Haseltine (Jars of Clay) on lead vocals. Check out: "Freaks"

5. Leagues, "You Belong Here."
Great danceable pop-rock here. I was grandfathered into my Leagues fandom via guitarist Tyler Burkum's previous work as a solo artist, hired gun (Mat Kearney, Matthew Perryman Jones) and as longtime lead guitarist of Audio Adrenaline (arguably his least engaging work as a musician thus far). Great beats, grooves, melodies, and harmonies throughout. Check out: "Walking Backwards (Live)"

4. The Civil Wars, "The Civil Wars."
I hope they're able to work out their "irreconcilable differences of ambition" to bring us more music, because Joy Williams and John Paul White make magical things happen together. Check out: "Dust to Dust"

3. The National, "Trouble Will Find Me."
I'm a late adopter of these slow-building indie darlings (2010's "High Violet" made a believer of me). This is a nearly flawless record. Haunting and beautiful, with layers upon layers of sonic master strokes. Check out: "The National - NPR Tiny Desk Concert"

1. TIE - Derek Webb, "I Was Wrong, I'm Sorry, & I Love You" / Jars of Clay, "Inland."
Two beautiful records from artists that write consistently write some of the truest music exploring the depths of life, love, and faith. Definitely worth checking out, regardless your personal feelings on any of those topics. Webb returns to his alternative rock/country roots after several experimental records for this beautiful collection of songs, while Jars of Clay forges new, yet familiar, ground again with a record that simply feels more "real" than just about anything else out there these days.

Check out: Derek Webb, "Everything Will Change"

Check out: Jars of Clay, "Love in Hard Times"

Monday, May 6, 2013

A Mid-Globetrotting Update

Greetings, friends!

Thought I'd pop in and send a few photos your way. In addition to "the move," we're looking a lot of travel in our immediate future (and immediate past). Krystal had to travel to Pennsylvania the last week of April for the annual meeting of a board on which she serves, so I tagged along for the trip. 

We spent a couple days in Philadelphia catching the sights (historical and otherwise) and practicing for our upcoming European backpacking trip (what, I haven't mentioned that yet?) with efficient packing and hostel accommodations. As someone who has always been an automobile traveler (me), this was a great dry run on which to learn "Yes, you definitely need to bring this" and "No, you definitely don't need to bring that" and "Why is Luke's backpack smaller and lighter than Krystal's? That doesn't seem fair!" So, obviously a lot going on there.  Oh, look - pictures!
Independence Hall. Quite impressive from down the green.
Liberty Bell/Independence Hall.
Found Ben Franklin's privy. Definitely not the most fascinating part of the Ben Franklin houses area, but still seemed like we ought to snag a photo of that one. 
We managed to coordinate our visit to coincide with the Philadelphia Museum of Art's Wednesday night "pay what you want" special. The Museum stayed open until 9 and attracted a diverse crowd and many families with kids for whom the $20 tickets might otherwise have been prohibitive, while also offering special activities for children of all ages, free guided tours, and yoga in the galleria staircase, just to mention a few things. It was great fun and a good warm-up for all the museum-ing we'll be tackling in Europe (have I mentioned that trip yet?).  But anyway, saw some great art by great artists and very excited to see even more.
They had really quite a tremendous collection of Picasso's works.
Also tremendous: a collection of Brancusi sculptures, this representing about 1/3 of the collection. Absolutely beautiful lines, movement, form, and texture. 
Found some pottery in the American gallery. Something art nouveau-y. Beautiful greens.
Found this Qing Dynasty porcelain jar in one of the roccoco period rooms. More beautiful greens. 
Despite her pacifistic leanings, the gallery of medieval arms and armor was Krystal's favorite. That or Renoir. So, you know, those are obvious pairings.
Finished our days in Philadelphia with tours of the Independence Hall complex. While Independence Hall was nifty (you know, famous history, the actual chair where George Washington sat as president of the Continental Congress, whatever...) it didn't come off as nearly as impressive as our experience of Congress Hall which was home to the first sitting congress of the United States of America. So that was pretty neat.
The first US House Chamber.
The first US Senate Chamber.
 We then spent a couple days just outside of Philadelphia at Pendle Hill, a charming Quaker retreat center, for Krystal's board meeting. I made it a point to have my own retreat for the days spent there as well, and was pleased to discover a full pottery studio in their craft room. I spent an afternoon throwing some pots and enjoying some great conversation with some of the resident students on campus, and left three pieces to be fired and glazed at their discretion. Was a refreshing time after having packed my studio up for the move.
Three pieces to stay behind at Pendle Hill.
When I wasn't throwing pots and being contemplative at my leisure, I was instructed to put some effort into itinerizing our time overseas. So I did spend a lot of time doing stuff that looked like this.
After almost a week on the east coast it was time to return and deal with real life stuff. Like loading a moving truck. That was a chore, but we have wonderful friends who made it possible and not miserable.
See all those blue bins? Those are pots YOU didn't buy, so I had to move them. Ugh.
Now all our earthly belongs are in storage and we're taking a spell off from the real world to do some globetrotting (specifically, abroad).  One week from today we'll be on our way across the pond to spend roughly five weeks hiking and train-ing our way across the continent. Should have some great stories to share when we return. 

Take care!