Dom Alhambra

some ideas, some music, some gardening

I’m quite impressed by the two large updates to Apple Fitness, which I hadn’t noticed until the past few days. The first is Stacks, where you can add several workouts to a Stack as you’re browsing the workout library, and then start playing the stack as if you are making a larger workout composed of smaller parts. For example, I could add a 10 minute yoga class, 45 minute cycle class, and then a 10 minute mindful meditation, and in this Stack I’ll have a 65 minute workout that will play back to back. 


Apple Fitness has essentially created a queue function for workouts, which immediately makes me want to stack several categories of workouts for efficiency, variation, and be more okay with using shorter classes, as I’ve always just stuck with 30-45 minute classes to feel as if I’ve got “good value” out of my time. Now I can stack a 5 minute core workout with a 20 minute yoga class, and feel as if I’m simply rounding out my day’s workout.

Next, Apple Fitness introduced the Plan function, where you determine which days you want to work out, for how long, and what categories you want to include each day. The app then figures out what classes they can stack in the chosen time frame, and schedules out the workouts by the day. Again, this makes me feel more comfortable with using smaller classes as they seem like they’re adding up to a larger, more varied class.


So I chose an every day schedule, with just Core, Strength and Mindful Cooldown as my chosen activities. I then chose a 30 minute allotment, so I can have several short but strong workouts before giving myself time for a mindful moment. Having the app change things up for me each day is great. I can use more of the library, especially things I don’t go out of my way to choose on a day-to-day basis.


There is a limitation: I wish I could choose several blocks in a day, because in the morning I’d like to do things for 30 minutes and then the evening do things for 90 minutes. Being able to have a Strength Block, and then a randomized Yoga Block later on would be a game-changer, as it requires less input and maximizes my use of the workout library.

But for now there’s a workaround, where I can use the Plan for my brief strength workout, and then create a few Stacks that complement the Plan. I’ve made a Stack to accomplish a personal challenge of mine, to cycle with a weighted pack for 75 minutes, by adding a 30 and 45 minute session together. I also created a 2.5 hour Yoga/HIIT/Running Stack that I want to do every few days. Thus Stacks can still provide a semi-dynamic supplement to the core Plan.

(Note: I do see that Apple Fitness organizes Custom Plans at the bottom, as if they’ll be allowing for multiple plans at once. This will be great for me. Here’s another great example of the benefits of multiple plans: I want to challenge myself to do 90 minutes of yoga each day all at once. I want to create a Plan that can randomize several classes and trainers at once to add up to 90 minutes. Then, I don’t have to look around and add up unwatched yoga classes each time I do this 90 minute block.)

Another limitation: While it’s great that you can save and name several Stacks, they’re hidden all the way at the bottom of the app. It’d be nicer to keep the Saved Stacks at the top. 


In the end, Apple Fitness has finally made its workout library interactive, which will allow people to use newer and older videos without feeling as if they’re digging deep to find something new. Stacks helps users like me make up challenges made up of several workouts at once, and Plan helps me make a consistent schedule for a certain mix of workouts. It honestly took the app up 3 notches.

Cheesy and Living

I don't know if it was an algorithm or a recommendation that led me to this album, but I'm grateful to have found it. The two pillars of this album, “Only You (Disco Jam)” and “Things Fall Apart (Vocal)”, represent a time capsule of the transition from analog funk into a digitized variant, and the avant-garde nature of using minimalist electronics in that era. 

If these two tracks were released in the past decade, they would have been lauded as some kind of vaporwave spinoff, as Monite's producer Nkono Teles appears enamored by electronics, warping and bending and repeating phrases that are unfriendly to hit-making but quirky enough to stick in the head of adventurous listeners. In fact, the track “Only You” achieved cult status in the last ten years, and has been covered by the likes of Frank Ocean and used in modern DJ sets—the album has even been resold at prices exceeding one thousand dollars. 

While promoters describe the album's production as “futuristic”, it is very much the opposite, using synths that are beyond cheesy. But in the 80s, cheesy synths were all the rage, in the attempt at replacing drums with something different. For Only You, the cheesy percussive synths don't feel like a replacement for another instrument, but a destination to a new foundation for music. “This album is electronic, and here's some fun things we can do now because of the new frontier in which we journey.” Without emulation, there is innovation, where the producer doesn't know where they are going with their work, but for some reason it works for them. 

Regarding its recent popularity: My attraction to the album comes from its sheer disregard for traditional dance structures. It's a postmodern piece of electronic music that—indadvertently or not—questions what should be done to fill out a 6 minute track. The gaps between the repeated vocal melodies are cavernous. The effect choices are nearly improvised, giving off a live feeling for a looped track. “Only You” and “Things Fall Apart” stay alive in this millennium because they didn't die from genre-affixiation.

Laurence Guy continues to best himself.

For years, I’ve included artists like Laurence Guy and Daphni in setlists entitled “Manic”. I find that the total elation that these artists’ work can embody are unlocked by inspired sampling, repetition, defiance of “high-fidelity”, and patient breakdowns/build-ups that separate this Manic House from standard club fare. 

As I’ve said previously about “Transitional Tracks”, Manic/UK House relies on the the listener’s ability to fill in whatever gaps that popular house producers fill with explosive builds or story-like melodies. The genre’s primary ability is to create 16 great bars, develop variations and breakdowns, and let dancers and DJs work with the structure on their own terms. 

“You Do Your Best To Hide The Good Parts of Yourself” continues Laurence Guy’s ability to work with mania, pairing bittersweet track titles and sampled lyrics with developing filters and beat introductions that simply lift the samples to celebratory levels. There are few artists that will sound like Laurence Guy: Introductory track *Can’t Find Her* is the essence he’s developed over the past half-decade. I think the magic of his best vocal samples are their ability to be sung. It would be a stilted karaoke for sure, but these tracks’ melodies are so fun that I’ve sung along with many of Guy’s releases. 

Extremely Present or Present in the Extreme is a late-night track, after the mood has turned from celebratory to determined. There is forward momentum in the track, as one takes in the alternating vocal samples and snares, along with a synth string cutting in and out. 

You Do Your Best To Hide The Good Parts of Yourself is the chillest track of the EP, with smooth synths and a lighter beat. It’s certainly a transitional track, setting up a light, airy ambience for the party. 

Laurence Guy provides three dance-ready tracks to this EP, with Waiting For Love being the last—usually we’re appreciative of one or two bangers in a four track record. Mood-wise, it’s a hybrid between the first and second tracks: It takes the celebratory, light tone of Can't Find Her, but uses a cut up vocal sample as the basis for the track, complemented by a simple but super fun two-tone bass line. The track doesn’t demand attention, but adds to the rhythm of life and to the life of a party. 

Laurence Guy is an exciting producer to follow, because he is consistent and progressive at the same time; in other words, he is refining a winning sound, and I can’t wait to hear him at the top of his game.

The Case for “Transitional” Tracks

Over the past five or so years, algorithmic streaming services helped push people out of their musical comfort zones and introduced them to hybrid territories that recognize the listener's tastes, but mentions “I have something a little different for you...“ 

That's my experience at least. As someone who had no interest in dance music outside of Chicago Footwork, listening to the four-on-the-floor beat with the usual build-ups and drops was mind-numbing and quaint. However, growing up as an emo-indie-type guy, I do enjoy emotional intelligence in my music. By 2018, the streaming services recognized this odd switching between quiet indie rock and 160 bpm Chicago Footwork and a smattering of Jungle/DnB and recommended me their Lo-Fi House playlist, which is briefly described as “Distorted and rough around the edges.“ 

In 2018, the Lo-Fi House playlist was little-followed and barely updated, so one artist stayed on it for quite a few months: Laurence Guy, with their track “Saw You for the First Time”. This track is patient and hypnotic, with a looping piano and string section and a minimalist kick. It only takes a low-pass filter to turn repetition into an adventure: The effect hides and reveals its instrumentation over minutes at a time. 

A trumpet melody comes in at the near-halfway mark, along with a repeating vocal line on which the title is based. The vocals and melody are the climax—all pieces come together for the ~3 minute mark just for these quiet segments to take hold. 

The beauty of entering an album like “Saw You for the First Time” is that you don't come with the expectation of dance music, but of an ambience that is unique to this Outsider House, and an instrumentation that is very singular for Laurence Guy, who cuts their teeth on repeated piano lines and bittersweet vocal lyricisms. “Claudi” is an experimental track that haunts. “Wichita Falls” is held up with a four-on-the-floor beat but doesn't ask for dancing, but contemplation. “Drum Is a Woman” touches on the qualities of a James Blake track, using minimalist electronics and a soulful voice. These tracks don't demand dance, but imagination that someone, in a fit of sadness of redemption, may dance to these tracks anyway.

We have become a playlist-heavy people, giving time to an artist's albums only if we like them enough. When we make our own playlist, we may only add the “hits” of artists, making a banger playlist, but inevitably tiresome. We forget that there are transitional tracks in albums that add beauty to the hits. The semi-competent DJ knows that there is a push-and-pull dynamic to music sequencing: People need to catch their breath for a few minutes after a particularly hard-hitting, poppy song. So we lock in an atmosphere and keep people steady, and when they're ready, we give them something more. 

Laurence Guy's album is filled with tracks that might be too “transitional” for people's tastes and playlists, but they are the type of electronic music that I play over and over again in my headphones, as they light up my life without demanding my attention at all times. Algorithmic streaming services have become powerful enough to produce playlists that are filled with transitional tracks that sit side-by-side with bangers, making the highs even higher and the lows capture the feeling we want without taking even more of our energy.

A Love Letter to Lo-Fi House.

Since the mid-2010s, did Lo-Fi House pick up or did some of its artists blow up from sounds and skills beyond the scene? Laurence Guy moved into vocal tracks. Ross From Friends is using his own FX plugins to make surreal sounds. Mall Grab is into some kind of techno/rave hybrid. DJ Seinfeld and Route 8 appear to be making house music for waiting rooms. 

Some of the “household” names of Lo-Fi House have moved on to their own sounds, so a quintessential genre release like Feel U in 2019 begs the question: Where does Lo-Fi House go from here? 

Low-key, hi-pass filter, a glazed-over vocal track: Feel U hits the typical ambience of Lo-Fi House. The vocal choice is perfect, and the song is beautiful. In a bubble, Good Luck made a great track that I’ve been repeating over and over again. 

But each time I play this track, I feel a bit lonelier. I tried to create an algorithmic playlist based on the track in Spotify and Apple Music, and find results that circle back to my play history or rather unrelated tracks that don’t fit the mood. It’s like I already exhausted this micro-genre, just as I am about to exhaust this track. 

I wrote about Lo-Fi House around 2018 or 2019, when I first discovered it and fell in love with just about every artist involved. Considering Trudge’s classic track “Deep Eyes Blue Skies”, I found so much aesthetic value in Lo-Fi House because it held back so much. The energy of the track was directly based on the energy of its listener, who found in their imagination the manic danceability of such low-key sounds. 

“Withholding” is the word I used, a word I’ve internalized since an Arrested Development episode from over a decade ago (“It’s like she gets off by being withholding”), and further developed with an idea from The Young Pope (“Absence is presence.”). The minimalism of Lo-Fi House is so powerful because you know what’s missing, and you can fill that gap with your own ideals. Lo-Fi House, unlike the typical club-fare, doesn’t guide you on what you should feel. It is the wallflower DJ that plays their own opaque selections, and you say “Huh, I think I see where they’re going with this.” You dance, and subtly, the DJ opens up to you even more. 

Do they “get off” on being withholding? No. With the advent of bedroom electronic production, artists have been more capable than ever of creating their own musical corner of the internet, where the millions can pass by without any heartache, but the few who do stop and check out your work are already exceptional people, for having the slightest sensibility that your work makes sense. You withhold because you don’t have any obligations to give people “what they want”. Your only obligation is to make music that speaks to yourself, and let others gather if they so desire. 

And even after this description, I get lonelier. Sometimes, after a period of minimalism, one would like to find what they want without all the games. “Absence is presence” is not a universal, and not an ultimatum, but a philosophy of a particular time, a particular place. I hear “Feel U” and I want to get closer, but its spaciousness, its distance, its hiding-away of the vocals keeps me away, like a puppy behind a shop window. 

To say this in more direct terms: The artists that can truly transcend Lo-Fi House are the ones that can alternate between tracks of absence and tracks of presence. Peel away the gauze from “Feel U” and it could possibly compare with the likes of a manic Daphni release (who can also continue this conversation with their track “Falling”, which plays with Lo-Fi conventions with more awareness). I don’t ask that any artist change their sounds, but now I can understand where Lo-Fi House stands in my emotional-musical being: The quiet, friendly DJ who has the sensibilities of something much more grandiose but shies away from it. So I can’t always stay with the shying-away; many times, I’ll need to step out and stand in more present forms of dance music.

A spectacle-first album.

Festival dance music is its own animal. Whereas underground house music attaches to the internal scenery of the listener, festival dance music sets up external imagery that the listener enters in order to enjoy properly. This is why underground dance can be enjoyed at the smallest dance club, whereas a festival artist will need the venue—inside or outside—to be a canvas for a visual spectacle that maintains context for the music. Underground music requires direct inner-energy, while festival music produces outer-energy to evoke that inner-energy. 

This theorizing is all very abstract, anecdotal and unscientific, but hopefully it can be understood for a duo like The Blaze, whose music is contextualized by live performances and music videos. Years ago I was obsessed by the tracks Territory and Virile—almost solely because of their emotionally-moving music videos. Audio-only listens to these tracks remind me that I can’t separate the videos from the music anymore—they are one and the same. 

This can be a problem for me, as it sets up concrete expectations of how the music should be enjoyed: There becomes a keyhole to the mood and ambience of a track that one must peer through to see clearly. I can’t put festival music on in the background—these tracks do not augment their surroundings but take it over (this is well opposed to my arguments for “Transitional Tracks”). This type of music thus becomes not a canvas for my life, but a lens for living someone else’s. 

Who knew that personal agency could ever be involved with dance music?

Thoughts on JUNGLE

There is a fine line between festival dance and pop dance, and The Blaze seems to be transitioning towards the latter. Using my own definitions of the genres, Pop Dance is vocal-heavy, to the point that it is the focus of the track, with instrumentation just a means of providing climax. “LONELY” is a prime example of this move, where the duo’s typical vocal effects are stripped away and backed by percussion reminiscient of The Killers’ Rock/Dance/Pop hybridism. 

There are instrument-heavy tracks like “SIREN” that balance out the album, but they are a different kind of transitional track—they are the bridge between the pop tracks. Unfortunately, the album’s attempt at recreating this festival track sequence feels thin and forced compared to their previous album DANCEHALL, which was a comfortable collection of festival dance tracks. DANCEHALL contained few transitional tracks that are made like a waiting room for something better. 

To structure an album after an hour-long festival experience is to give up great singular dance tracks for one alright dance experience. The highs of JUNGLE are much lower compared to EP Territory and DANCEHALL (which was already starting to decline on its own track-based merits). The album’s best tracks were already released as singles earlier on: EYES are a continuation of the duo’s earlier productions and can remind fans why they came here in the first place; DREAMER evokes the multi-storied epics that are depicted in The Blaze’s music videos. 

But tracks like BLOOM and HAZE are unspecifically catchy, and show The Blaze at its laziest. They reveal a group that is so enamored by their light shows that they think the music is to decorate the visuals rather than the other way around. Thus, JUNGLE is more of an advertisement for upcoming live performances rather than a display of dance music mastery.

Proudly Embarrassing

I count 2013-2016 to be an era of defining R&B albums. From Kelela to Hiatus Kaiyote to FKA Twigs, this was a time where R&B vocals could fit into almost any production foundation, from UK Bass to XX-like atmospheric minimalism. And Autre Ne Veut’s “Anxiety” fit right in there, with hard-hitting productions and eccentric vocals that cut into the body and soul. 

“Promises” is so desperate and manic, for a time when I was desperate and manic. It opened my days up to opportunity while I walked cloudy-headed in cloudy Seattle. There should be a sub-genre of artists and tracks that are just dedicated to the idea that “I was promised this, and I really, really want it now!” It would also include Antony & The Johnsons, The Smiths, and half of the old hardcore punk bands. 

“Warning” was the first time I could appreciate R&B as music for sensuality. The start-and-stop timing of the percussion mixed with Ashin’s falsetto vocals just unlocked something very different in myself and my musical tastes. This track is likely my standard of a good, emotive R&B track. 

The totality of Anxiety is not afraid to show the rough edges, whether of production, vocalization, or subject matter. It can be painful and exhausting to listen to, but its unique production and energy is something I must return to every year, because it’s so hard to find anything else like it, and I love it (unfortunately, even Autre Ne Veut’s follow-up album couldn’t compare to this densely-packed debut). 

I listen to enough detached, lackadaisical, energetic, happy music, that I still want a taste of the desperation, which I still feel every day, even when it hides in the undercurrents of my psyche. Desperation is amplified eagerness, the one that people try to hide for fear that they will (very likely) embarrass themselves. Anxiety is a proudly embarrassing affair, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

After I dropped out of computer science in Seattle, I moved to Florida to study International Relations, an amorphous degree program that allowed me to take classes ranging from Chinese fiction to African economic statistics. I came to the humanities from the highly organized and digitized field of computer science, and I didn’t let go of the ways that this kind of student organizes themselves. As a potential designer of software, I can also be a picky consumer: I always searched for the best writing program, the best file management program, the best to-do program. There’s a whole community dedicated to the discussion of the best programs.

These programs in total, the great utopian promise, amount to the Personal Knowledge Management system, or PKM. The hope is that all of one’s knowledge and resources can be stored in one place, where it will be indexed and accessible on a whim. I should be able to know who I spoke with, and what I spoke about, on May 23rd, 2013. I should be able to have every single receipt I’ve ever received from Valvoline. This was a system that was supposed to serve me. But each time that I would start this journey, I would spend hours or weeks using a new system for my promised PKM, only to restart the journey somewhere else. I became so desperate for a system that worked for me, that I would force myself to work for it.

Getting lost in your knowledge management system is a fantastic way to avoid creating things. (Sasha Chapin, “Notes Against Note-Taking Systems”)

I spent several years as a “productivity coach”, where I would try to figure out the needs of my clients and provide different digital tools that would help them achieve the tasks they wanted to do, but were too disorganized or overwhelmed to accomplish. I discovered that the tools were not the key to productivity. It was my presence and minor, cool-headed motivations that made the difference for my clients. The tools just helped them connect with me. It was hard to wean them off myself back to the tool, and I don’t blame them: The tool simply indexes. It doesn’t motivate and keep you accountable.

But this thought brings me to something larger: What of the web and digital applications motivate and keep us accountable to ourselves and others? True motivation requires morality: There must be bad to move away from and good to move toward. The life coaches, in their many forms, provide the service of simple morality so that the clients may improve themselves. The client recognizes that stagnation is bad, but nothing in their lives stops them from stagnating. Their computers aren’t worried any which way. Their job is fine if they kept doing the same work over and over again. Their car doesn’t need a better person to be driving it. The only sources of motivation are thus the humans in their lives, but apparently friends and family have been underperforming their moral abilities. So a chunk of people spend money for a specialist in morality, focused on getting you to move towards something. Be more productive, get stronger, lose weight, feel more confident. Something!

Some people feel vindicated when stating that the internet is inherently an amoral object; a tool for anyone to use. But the internet is inherently moral: Don’t you see the millions of people advocating for its takeover of so many aspects of our lives? The problem is that once the internet does take over an aspect of life, it leaves a hole that needs to be refilled by the morality of people. When the internet took over communications by scaling discussions to the tens of thousands or millions, it took away the faces of inherently moral people, so they are reduced to statistics or strawmen. They become overgeneralized and categorized away. For the internet citizens too clever for their own good, morality has become pathology. There is such a strong cynicism for those that believe in anything beyond corporate products and entertainment.

The great curse of the supposed amorality of the internet is that it can only motivate one to better reform themselves as better citizens for the internet. When you find your niche, your comfortable cubicle on the internet, you are treated to a satisfying feed of products, entertainment, and discussions. You won’t feel alone. You spend your time trying to fit better into these niches, which are highly monetized and time-consuming. I think again about the personal knowledge management system: You begin to work for the system, rather than it for you.

When the content dries up, and when the coaches leave, what is left of your motivation? How does one build their motivation from the inside, which drives itself instead of being pulled along by faceless others or expensive services? I believe that a strong moral drive is key, and its not something that can be found on the internet, the self-professed engine of amorality. I think that a morally driven character is built from real-world experiences; digitized experiences can and do build character, but much more plastic and flexible ones that blow with the winds of arbitrary change, like a programmer hungering for yet another coding language.

On the most practical side: Do things first, then document later. And that documentation should be notes of how to do something even better. Not the useless metadata for archival. Motivation is built on itself, not on the systems of others. Doing is built on doing. Reflection should be conducted for doing, not for reflection itself.

Think of what’s good and bad about yourself and strive toward the good and the even better, and you will be doing. Limit planning to the basics. Anything complex is a waste and will discourage you when things don’t go according to plan.

A note to self.

I read Jordan Peterson’s “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos” (2018) to better get a perspective on the thinker and why he might be so relevant to pop culture nowadays. I attempted to read “Maps of Meaning” a couple years ago, but I couldn’t absorb what he was saying, as it was written like any other academic book that hides its logic in choppy, at times esoteric language. Luckily, since Peterson gained popularity, his vocabulary has been geared toward normal people rather than niche, self-styled philosophers.

Peterson appears to have had an axe to grind with transgenderism over the years. He has since been banned on Twitter and sculpted the talking points for Peterson-ites I’ve met over the years repeat. His method for criticizing transgenderism is through a mix of North American traditionalism and light logic dissection:

Gender is constructed, but an individual who desires gender re-assignment surgery is to be unarguably considered a man trapped in a woman’s body (or vice versa). The fact that both of these cannot logically be true, simultaneously, is just ignored (or rationalized away with another appalling post-modern claim: that logic itself—along with the techniques of science—is merely part of the oppressive patriarchal system).

Peterson might not understand that he’s speaking about two different types of people when dealing with these two incompatible logical conclusions. The first person believes that gender is constructed, which means that transgenderism is acceptable to their logic because it epitomizes the ability to move between two culturally recognized gender identities.

The second person considering transgender as someone of one gender trapped in the other does not consider gender to be constructed. They fully recognize and believe in the spiritual properties of each gender, and wish that they could change themselves to best express these spiritual properties.

For both the first and second type of logic, there is a singular understanding: That the issue with modern culture surrounding gender is that that “man” should be applied to males and that “woman” should be applied to females. “Gender is constructed” people don’t believe in this imperative, and believe that males and females can be whatever they want. “Gender stuck as another gender” people don’t adhere to this imperative because it prevents them from being able to be what they believe represents them.


I find it fascinating that a working class hero is so different from a white collar hero. The working class hero, like the firefighter or the emergency medical technician, is recognized as the general idea of all firefighters or EMTs. When they Dan the Firefighter, they don’t see Dan, they see the Firefighter. If Dan were to ever leave the firefighting service, the recognition of heroic service leaves him as well. Thus, Dan must stay the Firefighter to stay a hero.

The white collar heroes of our age, including CEOs, actors, and politicians, are paradoxes. The general public sneers at the leaders of publicly listed companies and political groups, yet they are captivated by those who fill these shoes. Steve Jobs, Donald Trump, and Meryl Streep are loved by those who love them, despite the common disdain for what these individuals specialize in: Corporate leadership, politicking, and acting. Even if these individuals left their professions, their past professions will always carry on with their identities: Meryl Streep the bartender will always be recognized as the Actor; Steve Jobs the theater manager will always be remembered as the CEO.

The working class hero’s iconography is based on a uniform that can fit anyone if they desired to pursue that career; the white collar hero’s iconography is based on the very skin of the individual. They are mythically irreplaceable.

Enter your email to subscribe to updates.