Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Something Must Break

Wow.  It has come and gone again: my annual journey into the world of the LPGA and the long running Portland Classic out at the stunning Columbia Edgewater Golf Club.  Increasingly, it has become not only the highlight of my year, but in many ways the only thing that keeps me trudging through each chaotic and crises filled day.  This year proves, once again, that the thrill remains.  I simply cannot get enough of this event.  It’s overwhelming, like a huge music festival where all of my favorite bands are playing at the same time!

The tournament itself was anticlimactic this year, as the impressive young Canadian phenom, Brooke Henderson dominated over the weekend and went on to win by eight strokes, while setting a tournament scoring record, but it’s the details and moments of triumph and dismay that make the multiple trips around those 18 holes so memorable and intriguing.  Once again, I volunteered to caddy for the money guys in two of the Pro-Ams.  On Monday, I unknowingly caddied for the mayor of Hillsboro (one of the other caddies looked him up on her phone, so I found out after the round), who was a pretty fun guy that looked a lot like the zany David Feherity.  Our pro was the vivacious and pretty Jenny Suh, who continued to prove that these ladies are not just great at golf, but the best ambassadors for the sport period.  She was personable, funny, patient, and helpful to the amateurs.  She coached local sports radio talk show host Isaac Ropp from wildly erratic play early in the round to a series of great shots by the end.  This has been true of all of the other players I’ve encountered so far in this environment.  For the Wednesday Pro-Am, I was able to recruit an old friend, Jon, out to join me.  He is not a golfer, nor does he know much about the game, so he was nervous and worried about taking part.  However, aside from the waiting around part before getting assigned to a group, he did fine and had a great time.  Our pro was Lizette Salas, whose heartwarming story of getting to the LPGA is one made for TV (see here), as she came from rags to riches through the hard work and support of her family and her own perseverance.  She was quiet, but she began to be more open and funny as the round progressed.  

The caddy gig is always a must, especially because of the up close view of these professionals and the chance to see the golf course from the fairways, but the tournament itself is what really gets my adrenaline pumping.  As always, I try to follow groups through entire rounds and preferably two full rounds each day.  Making the decision of who to follow is getting more and more difficult each year, as I am collecting more and more favorite golfers, plus I am devoted to supporting Jee Young Lee, the pro from my first caddy experience in 2012.  I decided to cheer on Jenny Suh from the Monday Pro-Am for the Thursday morning wave and Jee Young Lee for the afternoon. Both players shot rollercoaster rounds of two under par and one under respectively.  Jenny Suh started off slowly before a couple of bogeys had her already eight shots off the early lead.  Luckily, she rebounded with a stellar second nine holes, which included four birdies.  

When Jenny finished I raced over to the first tee to catch Jee Young Lee tee off with her group.  There is a lot of exercise and no rest out on the course for rabid golf spectators like me.  Like Jenny, J.Y. Lee had a crazy round.  She opened with an effortless birdie on the first hole and worked her way to three under par through the first eight holes.  But then, suddenly all went awry.  She bogeyed the 9th hole, and then hit a drive that bounced over my head and into the trees on the 10th hole, which led to a shot into the water hazard and a double bogey – erasing her progress and putting her back to level.  This is one of three shots Jee Young hit directly at me, making me wonder if she was trying to get rid of me.  The round continued along a similar erratic pattern, but she managed to scratch out a hard fought one under round.

Friday was the reverse: JYL in the early AM and Jenny in the afternoon, with even less time to connect from round to round.  However, it was two of their playing partners who stole the show this day.  Caroline Masson, from Germany, continued to hit solid shot after solid shot and then got hot with her putting, leading her to a best of the week eight under par 64 for the day.  Jee Young Lee also played well.  Early on, her iron play was a bit wobbly, but she kept scratching out fantastic and nerve wracking par saving putts, which twisted my guts into knots each time.  Luckily, she started hitting the ball more consistently, and then finished with two nice birdies on her final two holes (8 and 9), including about a 30 foot bomb on the ninth hole. During the round, her caddy introduced himself, perhaps noticing that I was one of two people who followed the group every single hole and after the round he and Jee Young came up behind me as I was studying the pairings guide (tee time schedule).  We were all giddy from the finish.  We chatted for a few minutes and I was so excited I completely forgot my main goal for the week, which was to leave the tournament capturing a picture of her and I together.  I’ve said this every year since 2012, but it has yet to happen.  My mind turns to jelly when she is in front of me and I guess I swoon like a teenage girl at a Beatles gig.  No picture taken, but a thrill to meet her again, especially under happy circumstances.

Quickly and filled with a buzz, I scooted over to the first tee to see the Jenny Suh group.  Again, it was her playing partner, Candie Kung, who shot a flawless round of golf.  She wound up shooting a six under par 66 for the day, but it could’ve been so much better – like record breaking better.  She missed at least five very makeable short range putts for birdies.  She kept placing the ball close to the pin after hitting every approach shot from the center of the fairway.  Candie’s caddy was oddly captivating too.  He looked like one of those old large size G.I. Joe dolls with the felt hair and beards and would read the greens for Candie with extreme exuberance.  He seemed to use his whole body, flopping around, crouching, lying down and circling the hole repeatedly.  It was all very strange.  Meanwhile, Jenny struggled and was clearly frustrated.  She simply could not get anything going.  She managed to steal a couple of birdies along the way, but finished poorly and wound up with a one under round.  Good news is that both made the cut, so the drama of seeing J.Y. Lee barely miss and barely make the cut the prior two years was avoided.

The weekend began with disappointment.  Because the PGA Championship was also this last weekend (congratulations to Jason Day for the big win!  Well deserved.), Golf Channel scheduled their television coverage of the Portland Classic during the time the live coverage of the men’s tournament was airing on CBS, so they could free up air time for their repetitive and endless post game breakdown.  The result being the players played in threesomes and teed off both the 1st and 10th tees to condense the field.  This is something normally employed for weather delayed tournaments to try to squeeze play into the scheduled days.  It was frustrating because it left me with only one chance to go around the course with a player.  As a result, Saturday was pretty non-descript overall, as Jee Young Lee really struggled with her iron play and only managed an even par round, which was a bit of a miracle considering the trouble she kept getting into.  Her round included a lipped out putt on the 7th green that went on to slowly trickle down the slope about 30 feet away – apparently the hour or so of rain (finally!!) the previous day had not taken the fire out of these lightning fast greens.  This was also when Brooke Henderson grabbed complete control of the tournament – eliminating any final round drama.  The bright side is that my friend, Christine, joined me out there, driving in from Moscow, Idaho to see the final round and a half.  

Sunday was different.  We arrived comfortably in time to see Jee Young Lee’s group tee off.  She hit three fantastic shots into the par 5 tenth hole, and as I stood next to the 10th green, Lee looked over at me, smiled, and mouthed “hi.”  I immediately melted.  All of these years, I was never sure if she even remembered who I was, as she has always held a pretty strong game face intensity during each round, and our language barrier has kept our post round interactions pretty limited.  She then stepped up and rolled in a birdie.  What a perfect start to the day!  I could not have been more excited.  It’s a good thing Christine and Jon were both there with me, otherwise, I may have floated off into the atmosphere.  The entire round was like this.  Jee Young Lee was smiley and chatty with her playing competitor, Ryan O’Toole, and her caddy Steve.  She had such a relaxed demeanor.  It was surprising and fun to see.  She played pretty well and finished the tournament at six under par overall, but this is when a creeping panic started to settle into my chest.  The tournament, the thing that keeps me going, one of the only things that inspires and energizes me anymore, was coming to an end.

Thankfully, my friends were with me, when Jee Young Lee and her caddy emerged from the scoring tent after her round.  Steve handed me Jee Young’s game ball, signed, and told us that she is retiring from golf.  She is going to move back home to South Korea, marry her fiancé, and start a family.  Christine was sure to snap a picture of JYL and me together – not allowing me to lose my head and forget, as usual, especially with this sudden news leaving me dazed.  Jee young Lee was kind enough to spend those few moments and say goodbye.  I am thankful for all of the great memories and thrilling moments and highs and lows she and her golf have provided over the last few years, but I will miss her.  I will miss following her progress on the LPGA.com leader board throughout the year from faraway tournaments.  

Looking at this picture now, I see her as a person relaxed and happy with her decision to move on.  Meanwhile I look terrible.  I look sick.  I look like someone in pain - physical pain from the cyst slowly growing in the base of my brain, which feels like someone has jammed a walnut through my skull, and the emotional pain of someone who does not know what to do to find contentment or happiness anymore, except out on the golf course watching a player who I will never see again.

Two years ago, after this tournament, I made a decision.  I realized then that the excitement and life-affirming joy that I always feel while climbing the hills following these wonderful women around a golf course was a feeling that was completely lacking in my personal and professional life.  I envy all of the people out there, from the players to the caddies, to the coaches and the LPGA events staff, for having a dream and going out and finding a way to live that dream each day.  Don’t get me wrong, I know that everyone involved has their issues, gripes, hassles, downfalls and nightmares – we all do.  This was when I decided that instead of complaining about my job day after day, I’d do my best to make my job better.  

I began the long process of studying potential software systems that could really enhance and streamline the processes of the non profit organization I work for.  I’ve struggled through bureaucracy, gotten involved with RFI’s and  RFP’s, contract negotiations, and stuff way above and beyond my pay grade all in order to essentially change my job into something that moves beyond the day to day putting out of fires, all of which could be easily prevented with decent planning and consistency in place.  During this time, there have been massive delays and road blocks and what feels like either devolving management, or my own diminishing ability to deal with the constant unnecessary chaos, or both. Somehow I have continued to push forward with this project, but the fulfillment has not yet been forthcoming.  Instead it has been a battle that I have a lot of wounds from.  I am losing the ability to believe that any kind of system can ever be implemented with any success, because the entropy of my work place seems to always lead to a confusing mass of disorganization and nauseating stress.

As I have mentioned in previous examinations of these annual LPGA events (New Life, Sparkle in the Rain, and Numb), I am increasingly discouraged with the direction of my life and am not sure where to turn.  As I return to work after my week long LPGA adventure, I return to piles of work that has been left undone during my absence, and to tons of needed preparations and information gathering for this big project as the implementation finally begins to come to fruition.  But there will be no available time to work on any of it due to the mess.  Part of me is tempted to walk away, though I have no plan for how to make a living as a back up.  Part of me wants to grind this out and see this damn project through, but I’m realizing more and more that even if I manage to get this thing to work and work well, it’s not a dream or something I am genuinely passionate about.  Will the effort be worth it?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Arizona (redo)

Tracy Shedd
(New Granada 2013)

Back on January 15th of this year, I posted a “review” of Tracy Shedd’s fifth album Arizona, which was released in November of last year.  I put “review” in quotes, because it was really some kind of attempt to capture the feel of the album without the usual rundown of hyperbole.  It was framed as a letter to a long lost flame from a long time ago, who, rumor had it, was struggling with debilitating depression.  It was part album review, part letter in earnest, and part fiction.  It felt wrong the moment I posted it, but decided to stick with it hoping that it would seem better in retrospect (you can see the mess here).  But, as I listen to this album for about the 3,000th time right now, after contemplating my favorite records of the year (see here), I thought I’d revisit and try to correct – or maybe make things worse.

This 2013 album turned out to be my favorite album of 2014.  This is in large part due to the fact that it speaks to me in a deeply personal way.  These songs are about a good many things, but I have tended to decipher the bulk of these as a message of support to someone in crisis.  The song “Control” addresses suicide directly.  Shedd pleas to a person on the verge by simply saying to them “don’t end it all tonight.”  It doesn’t get more direct than that, nor does it ever fail to send shivers down my spine.  This direct communication may be part of why this album has been so powerful for me.  Shedd conveys a comfortable environment that’s about appreciating those we love around us (“and I’ll miss you when you’re gone” – “Take a Ride”), and the memories that can carry us through the worst of times (“Boats,” “Million Pictures”), and by giving a genuine heart to heart plea to someone to not throw all of these things away, as in “Control” and “You’re No Fool,” her music and lyrics act as a guiding light to those of us who are genuinely in dark places.  She says the things that need to be heard – the things that more often than not are not ever conveyed.  How does one broach the subject of depression to their friends and family?  How does one ask for help?  How does one help someone in need?  It’s not as easy as it seems like it should be.

This record is not only lyrically direct, but also musically.  These songs are stripped down to mainly the twin acoustic guitars of Tracy Shedd and her husband James Tritten.  Their interplay is seamless.  Tritten plucks out clear, memorable, and fully realized guitar melodies – making the spare arrangements seem greater than the sum of their parts, yet not so much so that the personal nature of Shedd’s lyrics gets buried in the mix.  This album feels and sounds like a few really talented friends gathered right in front of you playing amazing songs.  Her choice of covers (The Magnetic Field’s early classic “Candy” and Sonic Youth’s breakthrough steamroller “Teenage Riot”) is remarkable as well.  These are songs that have always resonated with me and have provided strong memories, yet framed in this sparse environment “Teenage Riot” is like a brand new song. 

The quiet solitude of the opening “Sweet Talking” is a concise love song that covers the joy of being with a loved one and the hope for it to continue all the way till death in a meager two and a half minutes.  Likewise, the beautiful “Sing to Me” balances between both the closeness needed in life and the despair of death.  This dichotomy continues on “Friday Night at Einstein’s” – a story about losing oneself on the dance floor (reminding thematically of The Sundays’ flowing “She”) that is both life-affirming and lonely.  Elsewhere the lighter touch of the duet “All the Little Things” brightens the overall feel of the record, as does the chorus of the soul searching “Million Pictures,” and the summery and hummable “Broken Arrows,” who’s mantra of “you can die trying / or you can die with a broken heart” is still a rallying cry that resonates and reminds to keep on giving this shit show an effort.

This redo plus the strange letter review from January may together make this review a little more complete, but I’m afraid I’m still missing the mark (part of the reason in general why I may give this writing about music hobby a permanent rest).  Simply put, and probably all I’ve needed to say is: Arizona is an album that is humble and subtle, but one of great magnitude and impact.  I cannot recommend this with any greater enthusiasm.

Tracy Shedd "Broken Arrows"


Top 20 Albums of 2014

This year I have finally chosen not to rank my favorite albums of the year, but instead present them in alphabetical order.  Consider this a 20-way tie for #1.  As always, I’d love to hear what everyone else was listening to for the past year.  Feel free to share your picks in the comments section below. 

Happy New Year!

Allo Darlin’ We Come From the Same Place (Slumberland)

BNLX Produit Collecté (Susstones) 2013

Cheatahs Cheatahs (Wichita)

Dum Dum Girls Too True (Sub Pop)

Pete Fij / Terry Bickers Broken Heart Surgery (Broadcast)

Gold-Bears Dalliance (Slumberland)

The Heart Wants All I Remember is Waiting (Junefourth)

The History of Apple Pie Feel Something (Marshall Teller)

Honeyblood Honeyblood (Fatcat)

The Lawrence Arms Metropole (Epitaph)

The Luxembourg Signal The Luxembourg Signal (Shelflife)

Bob Mould Beauty and Ruin (Merge)

The Popguns Pop Fiction ((Matinée)

Tracy Shedd Arizona (New Granada) 2013

Should The Great Pretend (Words on Music)

Soft Science Detour (Test Pattern)

Spotlight Kid Ten Thousand Hours (Saint Marie)

We Were Promised Jetpacks Unravelling (Fatcat)

Monday, December 29, 2014

Top Singles of 2014

Here are my 5 favorite Singles and EPs from 2014:

Close Lobsters



Marine Life

Secret Shine
(Dreams Never End)

Veronica Falls
(Beachy Head)

Up next: The Top 20 Albums of 2014!


Monday, December 22, 2014


China Drum
“Water” 7”

Oh my, did I love China Drum from the mid-90s or so until they disappeared from view a few years later!  All of their incredible singles and EPs leading up to their 1996 debut Goosefair were so stuffed with energy, excitement, and unstoppable hooks!  Don’t even get me started on their frantic and absolutely electric second album Self Made Maniac, where the songs all flowed into one another – turning it into an album that could not be turned off.  Doing so was a massive crime (there was a third album under the moniker The Drum, which I missed entirely).  The 90s was when the UK punk scene exploded with amazing bands like China Drum, Midway Still, Leatherface, Mega City Four, and Compulsion and unlike here in the US, they were all unique in their own ways – avoiding the sameness of the punk-pop Warped Tour sound that wore out its welcome the second the Warped Tour was conceived.  These UK bands were heavier, more substantive and gifted with better songs.  But this isn’t about who was better, this is about the fact that Midway Still rejoined the fold a few years back with new material, and now, 25 years after they began kicking ass, China Drum have graced us once again with some new music – this simple limited edition two song 7” single.

The original trio is back, but now bolstered with a second guitarist and a new drummer to allow singer Adam Lee to be out in front (I don’t know how Lee sang and played those frantic songs live, even though I witnessed it once at the Satyricon here in Portland).  “Water” kicks in with some muscular mid tempo drums and serious power chords letting us know that they are back to rock.  Each verse grinds along open and spacious, before the huge chorus kicks in with buzzing guitars and even some female background vocals from Kate Stephenson, the new drummer.  This is the “sound of water rushing past your ears” – refreshing as it washes over you.

On the flip, “Kitty’s Burn” returns the band to their speedier selves and another one of those killer sing-along choruses.  For a three minute song, it manages to be both hyper catchy, off-kilter with stuttering drum fills between lines during each verse, and dynamic with a tempo changing bridge. 

This is a solid reintroduction to a much missed band.  Now let’s see what happens next.  I sure hope this means they will continue to offer us new material.  Now, I’ve gotta go crank up the old collection and jump around the room.  Excuse me.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

When I Fall in Love

As the year has progressed, several great singles and EPs have been released for which I have written reviews or should have written reviews.  I’ve waited for many of these bands to go ahead and release new full length albums before offering my thoughts, but several have not yet materialized.  So, over the next week or two, I hope to share my enthusiasm for some great singles that have come along during 2014 that I’ve neglected to share.

The School
“When I Fall in Love” 7”

The 7777777 7” singles club on the mouthful Where It’s At Is Where You Are Records has provided several excellent records in just a few short years.  That small UK label was already making a name for itself in the indie circles, but now with these 7 annual singles being released each year as limited edition picture discs and a high quality variety of artists such This Wreckage favorites as Allo Darlin,’ Eux Autres, Standard Fare, and My Favorite, I think I have been remiss in not yet signing up.

Unfortunately, I am not a subscriber and was too slow to pick up The School’s entry into the 7777777 scene, but luckily, all of this great music is available via download.  If anyone actually reads these music reviews I write, they’ll know that I love me some 60s girl group styled pop!  And The School has been perfecting this sound for several years now.  Their second album, 2012’s Reading Too Much Into Things Like Everything, was my #36 pick for best records of the year.  Liz Hunt’s naïve and plaintive, yet sweet vocals and words evoke simple times from our younger days, when worries were about crushes and who’s seeing who. 

The formula has not changed one iota here, but this versatile and oddly huge band (eight piece last I checked) makes simple pop music that is so spot on perfect, it could be direct from an early 60s date night movie.  The A-side, “When I Fall in Love,” begins with acoustic guitar strums, Hunt’s voice and tambourine splashes, before jumping jauntily into handclaps and a super catchy song espouses her determination that today is the day that she will fall in love and it will be eternal.  Wouldn’t that be nice?  Well, here it is.  Excellent!

The B-side gives us a flowing melancholic song guided by organs, strings, and an excellent trumpet solo, as Liz begs to be with her guy through troubled times.  This band’s strength is their simplicity and versatility.  They seem to be able to pull off any kind of instrumentation flawlessly, without ever overwhelming the song itself.  Now, does this mean there’s a new album coming soon?

The School "When I Fall in Love"


Wednesday, December 17, 2014


As the year has progressed, several great singles and EPs have been released for which I have written reviews or should have written reviews.  I’ve waited for many of these bands to go ahead and release new full length albums before offering my thoughts, but several have not yet materialized.  So, over the next week or two, I hope to share my enthusiasm for some great singles that have come along during 2014 that I’ve neglected to share.

Arts & Leisure
“Weekend” 7”

Every time a new record is released on Sacramento label Test Pattern Records, I get the sense that I need to at least visit that city, if not move there.  I see the wonderful John Conley (Holiday Flyer, California Oranges, Desario) designed record sleeves and hear the great music coming out of that city and see show lineups to die for listed on social media and I think to myself – “What’s happening down there?” 

“Weekend” is a perfect little 7” single to follow-up last year’s Arts & Leisure debut LP ChooseYour Adventure (my #27 pick for 2013).  Arts & Leisure rose quickly from the end of veteran band Baby Grand, whom I had just learned of a few years back and was just getting involved with their cool, breezy sound.  Now they’ve got a very basic old-fashioned straight-forward pop sound and it proves that if done right, it can sound fresh every time.

The A-side, “Weekend,” is as straight-forward musically as a band can get with its simple mid-tempo drum pattern and walking bass line, buzzing twin guitars and Gerri White’s breathy voice enhanced by Becky Cale’s harmonies.  There’s nothing that stands out to describe about the song except that it sounds great, is memorable, and reminds of sunshine.  Maybe the fact that the lyrics tend more towards something from The Jesus and Mary Chain’s Darklands than a California beach party is a cool unexpected twist.  I’m a sucker for the girl groups and rainy day bleakness, so this will win out every time!

Likewise, the B-side, “Over You,” cruises along with a similar vibe.  The vocals are more emphatic, as the killer chorus lets us know that they are “done crying over you.”  If one is to be dumped, there’s worse ways to be let go than by a catchy tune.

This is a nice introduction to the band, but don’t let their debut go by the wayside – go out and get that one too!