Review: UE Boom 2 Bluetooth Speaker

Ultimate Ears (owned by Logitech) makes a great-sounding, sleek-lookin’ Bluetooth speaker: the UE Boom 2, now in its second generation.

 

The Look

 

The cylindrical shape and design are very cool:

 

2_Standing Up Volume Buttons

 

The speaker is meant to be used standing up, but you can also lay it on its side without it rolling away:

 

3_On Side

 

The UE Boom 2 comes in a box that looks like one of those little bank deposit tubes from days gone by:

 

1_In the Box

 

Those volume buttons are HUGE, especially compared to the smaller power on/off and Bluetooth buttons. But it’s a good look. Besides that, you can control the sound just from the volume buttons on the side of your connected device. (Pressing both speaker buttons at the same time will have the speaker tell you what percentage of battery life remains.)

 

The Sound

 

The Boom 2 has great sound, even with flat EQ. The bass is nice and clear. At a price point of just under $200, you’d expect decent sound, and this speaker does not disappoint in that regard. I didn’t measure decibels, but it can fill a whole floor of a house with music, despite its being barely taller than seven inches. Podcasts and NPR both sound great on the Boom.

The battery lasts for ages (officially rated at 15 hours), and the speaker turns itself off after a period of inactivity–which you know because a cool, little drum riff sound indicates that the speaker is powering down. Nice touch!

One down side is that the speaker won’t play when the battery is depleted, even when it’s plugged in and first charging. I found this counter-intuitive and frustrating–in other words, if you use the battery long enough, you won’t be able to listen and charge at the same time, at least not right away.

It seems also to be a design flaw that the charger port is on the bottom of the speaker. The cord protrudes such that you have to flip the speaker upside-down to keep it upright when it’s charging. This doesn’t, from what I could tell, affect the sound, however. Once you do charge it, it’s back to full power in just a couple hours.

 

The Use

 

The UE Boom 2 is waterproof (not just water-resistant). UE claims it “can be immersed in water up to 1m for up to 30 minutes.” I was not about to try this, but I do regularly–with no worries–have the speaker playing on the window sill just above the kitchen sink, while I do dishes. You don’t want to shower with this thing, but you probably could and be okay! (Disclaimer: Words on the Word is in no way responsible if you try and it goes badly for you.)
 

Bluetooth

Initial pairing between speaker and Bluetooth-enabled device (phone, tablet, computer) is a breeze.

 

4_Connecting via Bluetooth

 

The tech specs for the Boom 2 say the mobile range (for maintaining the Bluetooth connection between speaker and device) is 100 feet. That was not even close to my experience–even on one floor of a house with no shut doors, at 50 feet I would occasionally notice the stream starting to cut out.

If you forget your phone is connected to the speakers and you walk out of range, there is an auto-stop feature so that you don’t lose your place in the album you’re listening too. I found this really handy.

The Bluetooth connection gets a little dicier if you’ve connected more than two devices to the speaker (i.e., ever). For the most part, though, the Bluetooth pairing process works well.

 

App

There is an accompanying UE Boom app–it’s simple, but it greatly enhances the user experience.

You can see a speaker battery life icon on your phone, right next to your phone battery percentage indicator.

And you can use the app to power off (and on!) the speaker. This wowed me. The app also has EQ settings you can adjust.

 

Battery life indicator, and other options via the app
Battery life indicator, and other options via the app

 

You can use this bad boy as a speaker phone, though trying to use Siri or place phone calls in conjunction with the speaker is pretty frustrating, unless you happen to be right next to the speaker.

Perhaps the coolest feature is that you can “Double Up” to link two UE Boom speakers to each other via Bluetooth.

 

6_Double Up

 

This is beyond cool, and I set it up (with little effort required) the second I figured out you could do it–I listened in (loud) surround sound.

 

7_Boom 1 and 2

 

Where to Get It

 

The UE Boom 2 is maybe a little pricey, and it’s not without its downsides, but all in all you get your dollar’s worth. Especially impressive are the Boom’s high portability, accompanying app, general ease of use, and good sound quality.

You can find the UE Boom 2 at Amazon, or at the Ultimate Ears site.

 


 

Thanks to the good folks at UE/Logitech for sending me the Boom 2 (and, previously, Boom 1) for the purposes of the review. Their kindness in sending the samples did not, as you can probably tell, keep me from honest and objective assessment in my review.

Bill Mallonee’s Lands & Peoples: Review and Ruminations

Bill Mallonee is a man of many albums–some 80 by the last count.

His 2015 album Lands & Peoples begins with a folksy steel-string guitar and upright bass, lifted up to the stratosphere by ambient loops in the background.

Then, before you know it, it’s all about that bass and Mr. Mallonee’s tried and true vocals:

Somewhere between a border town and outside Santa Fe
Where the moonlight casts her heavy sigh and sent me on my way
You learn to trust the compass stars woven in her hair
And you learn to read the poetry hanging in the thin air

This has to be autobiographical. How else could a songwriter produce so many meaningful lyrics, album after album after album? He finds them “hanging in the thin air”–the secret revealed.

Why, then, is Mr. Mallonee still “a drifter”? The music industry embraced him at one time, especially through the commercial success he experienced with Vigilantes of Love. (Yes, I even remember hearing them on the radio!) Mr. Mallonee, however, still has friends in earthy places:

Should you become a drifter, the Good Earth is your friend
And you learn to read her language till the bitter end

His vulnerability on the first song is what his listeners have come to expect and love about his music:

There was a Rosary on the rearview; this time it went unsaid
But, if Love gets the last word, maybe, I’ll be “ok.”

After the opening confessional, Lands & Peoples moves into the grooving “Hide Me in the Darkness,” a song where the upbeat tempo and its closing lines are a mismatch:

Just look on the bright side…just tend to your homestead
Just look on the dark side…plow’s broke and the horses are dead

But this is Bill Mallonee, gosh darnit, so the juxtaposition is surely intentional. It does not go unnoticed by the careful listener.

I think my favorite track on the album is “Steering Wheel is a Prayer Wheel,” which calls to mind everything I loved about Winnowing, his previous full-length album. And have I mentioned how much I like the drumming on this album, at its best on this fourth track? Who does it, you ask? You guessed it–Mr. Mallonee himself, the same one who sings/prays:

There’s only so much you can freight on your heart’s shaky scaffold
And the steering wheel is a prayer wheel on the open road

Mallonee-Lands and PeoplesOne of Mr. Mallonee’s enduring gifts is being able to turn on a dime from a heart-wrenching tune like “String of Days” to the gratitude-laced “Sangre de Christos.” The former is an addict’s lament, bemoaning the “losing streaks” that go “on for miles.” But he follows it with a prayer of appreciation uttered “under the blue skies.”

For Mr. Mallonee, it seems, life is all of one piece–ups and downs, joys and sorrows, laments and thanksgivings. All of it is as “poetry hanging in the thin air,” and he continues to pull it out, jot it down, and sing it like he means it–because he does. I love that about him.

I found myself having a hard time hanging in there with the second half of the album, but even so, there are more gems:

There’s a story that I’m writing
Would you help me hold the pen?
On every page you will shine just like a star
And if that deck is stacked?
We’ll just laugh and leave the table
And leave the dealer all alone there in the dark

And then “Hope the Kids Make it Out” came on, the second to last track. Ah, those interlocking guitars! The pulsing bass, the perfectly toned drums… the rock and roll. That’s one of my favorite Bill Mallonee songs in the last decade.

I still have a preference for Winnowing, perhaps in part because I randomly stumbled on it late one Friday night, not having kept abreast of Mr. Mallonee’s catalogue for some time. I stayed up and listened to the whole thing all the way through, a moment of being-ministered-to that I needed then. So perhaps it’s unfair to compare this newer full-length to that work of genius, but so it goes.

One way or the other, Lands & Peoples is pretty easily a top 10 Bill Mallonee record, through and through. (About how many artists can you say their album is one of their best 10… and it be a compliment?) That he covers so much territory–drums, vocals, guitars, bass, etc.–makes it all the richer a listen, musically and lyrically.

You can learn more about the album, read the lyrics, and listen and download here.

 


 

My sincerest thanks to the musical powers that be, who gave me the album to download for review, but with no expectation as to the content of my write-up.

New Teen Daze Music! New Teen Daze Music! New…

Teen Daze Célébrer

I’d never heard of Teen Daze before last August. His/their Morning World was one of my favorite new releases in a very long time.

Today I received an email that there is more Teen Daze music. I’m listening to each of these mini-releases, song by song. The feel of the lead single “Célébrer” is pretty different from Morning World, even different from his other more synth-heavy stuff. But it’s pretty sweet.

Here–I’ll just quote a chunk of the email/press release, since it hyperlinks to all the songs. Enjoy!

After releasing last year’s full length, Morning World, Teen Daze has announced that 2016 will see the release of several new, dance-oriented singles.  The first, Célébrer, is already available to stream and download.  Along with the single, you can dive into the first episode of Célébrer Radio, a new, hour long mix series, featuring 60 mins of upbeat dance music.

In other new release news, Teen Daze has contributed a new song to the latest alaya. compilation.  The serene, spacious track, Narrow Road, Too Deep, was created in several different countries and was inspired by “cyclonic weather in Northern Australia, the great new age artist Laraaji, and humid days exploring the labyrinth of Hatsudai, a neighbourhood in Tokyo.”

On top of all of this, there have been two new Teen Daze remixes that have dropped in the last two months.  Check out the dreamy rework of Japanese Wallpaper’s beautiful song, Forces, and the dance floor-ready edit of Drake’s Hotline Bling.

Mediac: This Is The Most Serene Republic in 2015

 

IMG_0137

 

The first half-minute of ambience that opens Mediac took me right back to the first time I listened to The Most Serene Republic’s fantastic debut Underwater Cinematographer. I have my sister-in-law to continue to thank for introducing me to that still-ahead-of-its-time album.

 

Unique Toronto, Unique Toronto

 

TMSR always has been and still is a band very much their own. Are there 4 members? 8? 126? It doesn’t really matter, because they all (there are actually 6) play in sync with each other, even while contributing unique lines you might not otherwise think could be combined in a single song.

That’s part of the band’s unique genius. Sometimes you’re experiencing the music as one unified groove, as in the poppy “I Haven’t Seen You Around,” Mediac’s second track, or as in “Ontario Morning,” the album’s first single. Other times you hear the instruments more disparately and have to work harder to take a song in, as in “Brain Etiquette,” the album’s second-to-last song.

TMSR is not afraid to challenge their listeners, a trait I admire in a band. What other rock sextet do you know of that routinely incorporates brass and strings as if it were second nature? Well, okay, maybe a lot do, but not this creatively. “Failure of Anger,” the sixth track, makes you wonder why you haven’t heard more banjo and electric guitar fuzz in the same song before this.

But back to the beginning for a minute.

 

TMSR Through the Years

 

Underwater Cinematographer came in 2005. And on a blog that has long since disappeared from the Internet, Phages was my 2006 Album of the Year… even though it was an EP. That’s how good these guys are. Their live show matched the energy and quality of their recordings. They were probably my favorite band of the mid-oughts, or whatever we finally ended up deciding to call that decade. Their second full-length, Population (2007), was my favorite outdoor running companion for many months.

I sort of lost touch with the band at that point, and they actually have been on hiatus themselves for the last five years. Well, they’ve worked the last four years on Mediac, but I don’t know who knew that until now.

 

PR Photo of Some Cool-Looking Dudes
PR Photo of Some Cool-Looking Dudes

 

Word Association

 

Ready for some album reviewer’s word association?

Creativity? They’ve still got it.

Quality production? Check. (Brought to you by Ryan Lenssen from the band and David Newfield, who has overseen Broken Social Scene, Super Furry Animals, and Los Campesinos!).

Memorable hooks? Done, throughout.

Lush, interweaving guitars? Yes, even if it’s not a priority as such.

Thought-provoking, critical-of-the-mainstream lyrics? Uh, yeah. In “Capitalist Waltz” (which, awesomely, is not a waltz) Adrian Jewett snarkily sings, “I’ll advertise for you,” an impulse we reviewers have to face cautiously, much as we may love the bands we write about.

In that spirit, some lyrics hit me as a little obtuse:

To fill the day with an effigy of you,

while Earth’s cigarette is freshly lit

in the modern times, the modern times.

(Et tu, Facebook? he Tweeted.)

That same song is still catchy, though:

A montage of you turning around, turning around, turning around

And, okay, I’ll admit–if I’m understanding the song right, referring to Facebook (and/or Instagram) as “Earth’s cigarette” is actually right on the money.

 

Concluding Evaluation and Where to Get Mediac

 

I’m thrilled these guys are back in action with another full-length. Their first few records showed real progression, while each being winners in their own right. Medaic is a little harder for me to know how to place in the TMSR corpus, all of which I’ve listened to. It has some real bright moments, though I didn’t initially experience it as being as cohesive or as innovative as previous efforts.

That said, if you have never listened to TMSR, they exude talent, passion, conviction, and RAWK on any album they put their hands to.

And even as I wrap up this review, some weeks after starting to listen to Mediac, it’s growing on me with each listen. I find more hooks, melodies, motifs, and layers to latch onto each time.

You probably will, too, so definitely untangle those headphones in your jeans pocket, download the album, and queue up your iPod. The Most Serene Republic is back.

Mediac releases today, November 13. You can find it on Amazon here, iTunes here, or at the band’s site here.

 


Thanks to the fine folks doing PR for TMSR, who provided me with an advance copy of the album so I could review it.

Dealer, by Foxing

Dealer by Foxing 

 

I have seen a lot of Tweets about Foxing in the last year, so when I learned they had a new album releasing, I was eager to listen and write about it. The five-piece from St. Louis put out a very good first record, The Albatross, in 2013. On Friday, Triple Crown Records, home to Caspian, released Foxing’s follow-up, Dealer.

Dealer begins with “Weave,” a gorgeous track that builds and builds and builds… until at last clean guitars give way to (just enough!) distortion. The high register of vocalist Conor Murphy calls to mind that of Copeland’s Aaron Marsh, though maybe is a little grittier. “Weave” is the easily the best song on the album and one of the best rock tracks of 2015.

On “The Magdalene,” Murphy sings, “I’m going down… with the rosary,” part of the ongoing post-Catholic sentiment the album expresses. To be clear: I don’t want to minimize someone’s actually painful experience, which the lyrics and music throughout the record seek to express in a heartfelt way. But it’s hard not to hear this and other such lyrics as anti-Catholic, which felt to me a little bit of a tired trope as I listened through.

The third track’s piano and opening lyric—“We danced naked outside of your bathroom”—marks a significant departure from the first two songs and feels like a loss of built-up momentum. What emo kid can’t empathize with the chorus’s “Future love, don’t fall apart”? But the lush and largely upbeat feel of the first tracks gives way to a more morose tone for the middle section of the album. “Night Channels” does end with a nice full-band groove, but tracks 3 through 7 (supple string arrangements of track 6, “Winding Cloth,” notwithstanding) required more patience than expected for at least this listener to engage and keep listening.

The eighth track, “Glass Coughs,” finds the band picking things back up again, especially by the end of the track. On “Eiffel” (the following song) the drums let loose shortly after the two-minute mark, making me want more of that Foxing on future recordings.

 

Concluding Thoughts and Where to Get It

 

I don’t think Dealer is an album that will be on steady repeat for me from here on out. But Dealer is getting rave reviews already, even though it just released Friday. And Foxing’s fans are of the die-hard variety. That’s a credit to the band.

For me, I loved the first two tracks and then found the album had a hard time fully re-capturing my interest after the start of the third track. But I’m open to the possibility I’m just missing something, and am willing to give it another chance.

Either way, Foxing is early in their music-making career and has a lot of people excited about what they’re doing. (And I hear their live shows bring an intense energy to the crowd.) So it’s at least worth a listen or two for you to see what you think.

Check out Dealer on Amazon here, or here at iTunes.

 


 

Thank you to the kind folks at Brixton/Triple Crown for early access to the album for review!

The Rain for Roots CD Winners Are…

image

 

The forthcoming Rain for Roots Advent album is phenomenal. Read more about it here.

Today I’m posting with the results of the giveaway contest my review post included. I’m pleased to congratulate the two winners, Ruth Ohlman and Elisabeth Kvernen! Nice one!

(I will be in touch with both of you via email to make sure the CD gets sent to the right place.)

In case you’re curious… I didn’t count duplicate comments, but did count one entry for a comment and one additional entry for a comment that said a person shared on Facebook or Twitter. There were 59 entries total. I used a random number generator to pick.

 

image

 

Thanks to all who commented! There were a lot of really meaningful reflections on Advent that folks shared, and I only wish I could more fully engaged with each of them, but I read them all and loved it. Rain for Roots has some pretty great fans.

And thanks again to the good folks at Rain for Roots for sponsoring the giveaway and–more importantly–for writing, recording, producing, and releasing this fabulous record for a season of waiting.

Rain for Roots’s Waiting Songs for Advent (and CD Giveaway)

 

Cover Art by A. Micah Smith
Cover Art by A. Micah Smith

 

Rain for Root’s Waiting Songs releases November 10. You can pre-order it here now with a 20% off discount using code WotW.

Also, Rain for Roots is performing an online/streaming concert to celebrate the album’s release, about which you can learn more here.

Finally, there are a few more days left to enter to win a physical copy of the CD, courtesy of Rain for Roots. I’ll randomly select two winners from comments made at this link. For one entry, simply answer the question, “What is Advent to you?” For a second entry, share a link to that post on Facebook or Twitter, and come back to the comments to tell me you did. I’ll announce the two winners Thursday.

Almost, Not Yet, Already: Rain for Roots’s New Advent Album (and a Chance to Get the CD Free)

 

Cover Art by A. Micah Smith
Cover Art by A. Micah Smith

 

There are notoriously few tools for parents to use in engaging Advent with their kids. Rain for Roots this year offers a new and creative resource, Waiting Songs. The album is a joy to listen to, even as it draws out the difficulty of waiting, and helps the listeners to enter into the sometimes awkward liminal space of Advent.

The band explains the genesis of the album:

 

 

Here’s a brief, track-by-track overview.

1. O Come, O Come, Emmanuel

The album begins with a beautiful, stripped down version of my favorite Advent hymn. I’ve always taken this song to be the quintessential articulation of both Advents (so far!) of Christ. What better place to begin a season of waiting (“until the Son of God appear”) than with this classic prayer-hymn?

 

2. Come Light Our Hearts

The full band is in on track 2: guitars, piano, lots of great harmonies, bass, banjo, drums…. Sandra McCracken affirms,

For you, O Lord, our souls in stillness wait

Truly our hope is in you

It’s a compelling and reassuring waltz, giving language to those who wait.

 

RainForRoots94

 

3. Isaiah 11

Next is a twangy, string-bending, rollicking country-ish number. “A little child will lead them,” sing some wonderful mothers! Partway through there is a child reading from Isaiah 11:10, using Eugene Peterson’s Message. The song goes from, “A good, good king will lead them” to, “A good, good king will lead us.”

 

4. Every Valley (It’s Hard to Wait)

Have you ever wondered how to explain Advent to a child? This gentle bluesy, soulful song does a great job:

When you write a letter to a friend

And you don’t know when

You’ll hear back again

It’s hard to wait

It’s hard to wait

So hard to wait

When the one you love leaves on a plane

And you’ll know that she’ll

Come back some day

It’s hard to wait

It’s hard to wait

So hard to wait

BUT!

There is gonna to be a day

Every low valley he will raise

There is gonna to be a day

Hills and mountains gonna be made plain

There is gonna be a day

Winding roads gonna be made straight

Comfort, comfort, comfort, comfort!

I noticed it was getting awfully dusty in my room as that song played.

 

5. The Weight of the World

I’m not a lover of the kind of the stylized vocals that carry this track, but the song itself is—like all the others—a good one: memorable, meaningful, and singable.

 

6. Mary Consoles Eve

First of all, I just saw this “Mary Consoles Eve” image last Advent for the first time ever.

 

“Virgin Mary Consoles Eve,” Sister Grace Remington, http://www.mississippiabbey.org

 

And now there’s a song that accompanies it perfectly:

Almost, not yet, already

Almost, not yet, already

And

Eve, it’s Mary

Now I’m a mother, too

The child I carry

A promise coming true

This baby comes to save us from our sin

A servant King, his kingdom without end

This whole album is so catchy and well-written–even more so than their previous album on the Kingdom of God, if that were possible!–and this is perhaps the song that will stick with listeners the most.

 

7. Zechariah

“Zechariah” is pretty funny, because not only is the story of Zechariah’s speechlessness kind of funny (in retrospect! probably wasn’t for him), but this song gives kids and parents a chance to talk and sing in a babbling, tongue-tied manner.

 

8. Magnificat

“Magnificat” is another catchy—if somewhat somber—tune. This track stands out less to me than some of the others, but that doesn’t mean I’ll be hitting fast-forward when it comes to track 8 on the album. Flo Paris Oakes’s vocals and Kenny Hutson’s guitar and mandolin work call to mind Lead Me On-era Amy Grant… which is, now that I think about it, the album I am going to listen to while I work on my sermon this morning.

 

9. Great Rejoicing

Yet more beautiful lyrics:

The troubles of this world

Will wither up and die

That river of tears made by the lonely

Someday will be dry

There’s gonna be a great rejoicing

Also, while playing this song with my wife and three-year-old in the room, I asked my wife, “Do you like this music?” To which my three-year-old replied, “I DO like this music!” The pedal steel and Skye Peterson’s lead vocals partway through the song are icing on the cake.

 

Don't you want to hang out with these awesome people? Next best thing: put this album on repeat
Don’t you want to hang out with these awesome people? Next best thing: put this album on repeat

 

10. Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus

Waiting Songs ends much as it began: with a beautiful, stripped down version of a classic Advent hymn. (Side note to worship leaders: yes, there are Advent hymns in the hymnal! And you should sing the few of them that exist as many times as you can in the four Sundays leading up to Christmas.)

Rain for Roots’s addition to the hymn will stay with you for days, even after your first time hearing it:

We are waiting

We are waiting

We are waiting for You.

McCracken’s “Hallelujah, what a Savior!” background vocals float above the “We are waiting,” bringing the album to a satisfying close. Advent purists ought to be able to overlook the use of “the H-word” during Advent here. Or does “Hallelujah” sung on top of “We are waiting for you” deliberately point to Christ’s third Advent, when he comes again in glory?

 

Final Thoughts and Where to Get It (or Win It)

 

I really love this record, not just for myself, but for my kids, and for any other kids and families that have the privilege of hearing it! Also, I’m totally going to teach some of these songs to our congregation during our intergenerational Sunday school hour this Advent. They’re excellent.

I was a big fan of Rain for Roots’s previous album, too–it is still on regular rotation in our house, especially on road trips. But Waiting Songs even tops The Kingdom of Heaven is Like This. It’s a remarkable record.

The album releases November 10. You can (and should) pre-order it here. AND… three more cool things for you before you go:

  1. Rain for Roots is performing an online/streaming concert to celebrate the album’s release. Find out more here.
  2. If you use the discount code WotW you can get 20% off the album when you pre-order (in various formats) here. That code is good through November 9, the day before the album releases. (EDIT: Should have clarified–the code is applicable just to the digital download option.)
  3. Want to have a chance to win a physical copy of the CD, courtesy of Rain for Roots? I’ll randomly select two winners from the comments below. For one entry, simply answer the question, “What is Advent to you?” Or, you know, just say, “Yo.” For a second entry, share a link to this post on Facebook or Twitter, and come back here to the comments to tell me you did. I’ll announce the two winners in a week.

 


 

Thanks so much for the good folks at Rain for Roots for the pre-release stream of the album so I could review it.

5 Years Later… A Review of The Innocence Mission’s New Album

Hello I Feel the Same album cover

 

The last Innocence Mission release was 2010’s My Room in the Trees. I’ve been a big fan of the band since I inquired about my youth minister’s copy of Glow on top of the youth group boombox in the mid-90s. My Room in the Trees, however, stood out to me as one of their best. It featured the amazing “God is Love”:

God is love, and love will never fail me

God is love, and love will never fail me

If I’m driving there today

And I really am this afraid

God is love, and love will never fail me.

I’ve quoted it from the pulpit before and have sung it to myself not a few times.

I listened to that song and album in the midst of some dear friends moving out of our triple-decker community house (“Some birds I know are moving on this weekend”). I needed to hear “God is Love,” because we were in the midst of a major transition: our second child was soon to be born.

Without recounting the entire birth story here, I can simply say that his safe arrival left us in tears–more than the “usual” baby-being-born kind of tears. Some last-minute delivery challenges gave us quite a scare–but then there was baby #2, safely being cuddled by his mom and me. It may seem a small thing to The Innocence Mission to sing, “Stay calm… stay calm,” but that line from North American Field Song carried me through some shared moments of difficulty. I still think that is the best song they’ve ever recorded, and one of the very few songs I would ever consider calling “perfect.”

 

* * * * * * *

 

This Friday The Innocence Mission releases Hello I Feel the Same, their first album since My Room in the Trees.

If you are still, 20 years later, longing for the killer drums of 1995’s “That Was Another Country” (my second favorite track of theirs), or the opening track to 1991’s Umbrella, you will be left waiting again till next time. (Every new Innocence Mission I harbor a secret hope that Karen and Don Peris will ply their trade with a rocking band behind them. I’m long-suffering.) Mr. Peris does, however, lay down a sweet drum groove on “Barcelona,” the album’s fourth track. It’s like a fresh-water version of recent Mark Kozelek. The drums make another cameo before the album ends.

The first two tracks are classic Innocence Mission, with just a touch of drums and subtle bass harmonica (!) coming in a minute or so into the second song. Don Peris’s high-register guitar arpeggios and pleasingly breathy background vocals complement Karen Paris’s good-as-they’ve-ever-sounded vocals.

Track 3, “Washington Field Trip,” is this album’s “North American Field Song”–at least as I listen to it. Here is the band, only “wanting to be helpful in this life,” helping–whether they mean to or not–by laying down a devastatingly beautiful song with actually perfect piano tone. Never was a three-note melody in a chorus so haunting. The Perises, again, get into soul territory:

I do not want fear to hold me

I don’t want to be kept from loving at all

The longest song on the album is 3:43. Four songs don’t even reach the three-minute mark. You want all of these songs to keep going, but therein lies the duo’s approach and artistry.

Highlights include “Blue and Yellow” (what The Truman Show might have sounded like had Karen and Don Peris scored the movie) as well as the moving (and highly singable) tribute, “Fred Rogers,” which calls to mind Lancaster, PA (and, now that I think about it, maybe also heaven):

And you know I hate to drive

Maybe I’ll see you at the station

“The Color Green” features viola and violin and closes the album in a wonderfully fitting way–ascending piano with gorgeous melody in the right hand, joined by all manner of longing-inducing string parts.

And darn it if the song doesn’t resolve to the tonic at the end! One hopes The Innocence Mission will not make their listeners wait five more years to hear what’s next.

Hello I Feel the Same is another excellent effort from some beautiful makers of art and music.

 


 

Thanks to The Innocence Mission’s publicity team for early access to the album for the review. I’m sure it’s available on Amazon and iTunes, but why not support the band more directly? Check out the album at their Bandcamp page here.

Review of Audiosharp AS1130 Earbuds

 

Earbuds 2
Image via Audiosharp

 

After I ran a 5K my sweet three-year old picked off one of my earbud covers and left it who-knows-where. So I’ve been in search of a good replacement. Audiosharp’s AS1130 earbuds (currently on sale for $25 at Amazon) have been an exceptional choice for every-day headphones.

Here are the specs from Audiosharp:

 

  • Perfect design: Solid all-metal construction even down to the plugs, Three size soft silicone ear buds provide a super comfortable, secure fit and One Compact rugged case for safe storage are included.
  • Accurately reproduce clear natural vocals: High intensity listening experience with crisp, clear sound and deep powerful bass, Ultra-fast,accurate speaker design delivers the full details of today’s digital music with extreme clarity and deep bass.
  • Awesome noise reduction: Sealed in-ear design reduces external noise for a better music experience. the voice is still clear over the din of the store so you can enjoy uninterrupted music on the go.
  • High Performance: High Quality Tangle Free Cable.Micro-strand wire and flux tube for clear audio with reduced interference.Innovative, cable design is ultra-flexible and tangle free.
  • Audiosharp Features: Audiosharp is the most professional headset seller, Our products are designed by high-end designers and rigorous professional inspection. All Audiosharp products come with a 1-year warranty.

Most surprising was the packaging in which the earbuds arrived. It’s impressive, if excessive:

 

Image via Audiosharp
Image via Audiosharp

 

The carrying case is especially cool–and useful! It’s easy to wrap the earbuds up and store them in their protective cover:

 

Earbuds in case

 

The construction is high-grade, and these appear to be earbuds that will last a long time. The all-metal design looks cool, too:

 

Earbuds

 

Cable

 

As for the sound, the quality greatly exceeds what I expected for an under-$30 set of earbuds. Bass is fully present (but not overly so), and highs and mids are clear. It’s definitely an upgrade from the standard issue Apple set.

Having the earbuds in really does silence outside noise, too. They’re not noise-cancelling (nor do they claim to be), but noise-reducing, for sure.

They stay in my ears well even when I’ve got them outside on a run–a non-negotiable for me with a set of earbuds, and a feature which seems to be missing in most kinds that I’ve tried.

If you’re looking for greater sound quality than what you get with a $5 pair of earbuds, but for something that won’t break the bank and will last you a long time, Audiosharp’s AS1130 earbuds are an excellent option.

 


 

Thanks to Audiosharp for the review sample, given to me for purposes of review but with no expectation as to the content of this post. Find the earbuds here.