Archive for April, 2008

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John Darnielle plays with the Weakerthans

April 29, 2008

[embedded YouTube video; if you can't see it, click here]

John Darnielle (of the Mountain Goats, in case you haven’t been paying attention) made a guest appearance at the Weakerthans concert in Carrboro, NC a few weeks ago. He and John K Samson sang “Anchorless,” originally recorded by Samson’s previous band, Propagandhi.

Probably a good thing I wasn’t there – the critical mass of singer-songwriter goodness might have led to a runaway chain reaction of musical joy in my brain, and a resultant explosion of my head.

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Neophile: Spiraling

April 29, 2008

New Brunswick, NJ-based Spiraling seems custom-designed to appeal to me, given that their music inhabits the intersection of love, indie music, and deep geekiness (like some other bands that come to mind). Their sound isn’t very easy to place temporally – I hear echoes of 70s Queen, 80s synthpop, 90s emo and 21st century postpunk. Despite that, the album hangs together as a consistent whole – it’s a melodic mixture of guitars, piano and synthesizers, capped off with bittersweet and yes, geeky, lyrics – “Modern life is much too hard/with no jet packs or flying cars./This is not the future we were promised.” “I won’t forget the breaking of your heart/All I have to do is step into the time machine/And stop before it starts.” Check them out (even if you’re not a geek like me).

website myspace emusic

MP3: Spiraling – The Future

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DIY ringtones

April 24, 2008

Some friends of mine at Zero G Sounds (based here in Our Fair City) recently released a label compilation, Stuff. It’s a great sampler, but one track in particular, “Demonetics” by The Kooky Scientologist (aka The Kooky Scientist), makes my head explode – something about that hooky electro bass makes me really happy. I decided that I needed to have it as a ringtone, and fortunately Eddie O and company were kind enough to release it under a Creative Commons license. In the last week or so of excitedly handing my phone to my friends and asking them to call me so they could hear “Demonetics”, I discovered that not everyone knows how easy it is to create a ringtone.

The simplest way is to just use iTunes – you set the section of the song you want to use as your ringtone (usually 30-45 seconds), change the MP3 encoder to save it in mono and with a reduced sampling rate (so it’s smaller), and export it to a new file. If you go this route, don’t forget to change the settings back! [tutorial]

The fancier way is to download Audacity, which will not only let you create the ringtone, but also tweak the way it sounds, like setting it to fade up at the start of the ‘ring’. [tutorial]

You do need to have a way of getting the MP3 to your phone, usually Bluetooth or a cable. Lifehacker’s tutorial also includes some nice tips on how to choose a song to use as a ringtone.

Listen to “Demonetics” in all its bassy goodness: myspace [stream], beatport [buy]

MP3: The Kooky Scientologist – Demonetics (ringtone) [approx 45 sec. mono]

Image: Mobile Phone by Flickr user Milica Sekulic, reposted here under its Creative Commons license.

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Coverage: Self, “Ana Ng”

April 22, 2008

Guest blogger Scott says:

I have it on good authority from my other purveyor of indie rock opinions that Self is “made of industrial-grade awesome”. This being their only song I’ve heard, I can’t really offer insight into that conclusion, except to say that, were that so, you’d think I’d have an easier time finding their album for purchase somewhere other than Amazon for ridiculous import prices. Additionally, I’m not aware of any facilities for processing and refining high quality awesome. Maybe overseas in an industrializing country with lower environmental standards.

Like so many impressionable geeks, I was introduced to They Might Be Giants by older, cooler friends at a young age (in my case, sophomore year of high school). And, after years of addiction, obsession, withdrawal, and relapse, I’ve reached a point where of course I buy a tribute album to them. This song is the highlight.

MP3: Self – Ana Ng (They Might Be Giants cover)

More Self: website myspace amazon

Previously: Coverage: The National, “Mansion on the Hill”

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Concert notes: Destroyer

April 22, 2008

[Middle East Downstairs, Cambridge, MA; April 21, 2008]

I heart Dan Bejar. Backed by an able four-piece (plus his own guitar), he put on a relatively brief but typically intense show at the Middle East last night. Much as I liked Trouble in Dreams, I really enjoy the way Bejar’s voice sounds when it is freed of the studio – his albums are so carefully produced that it’s more than usually appealing to hear the sonic variations of the live performance. While I was a little sad not to hear some of my faves from Destroyer’s Rubies (such as “European Oils”), it was a good show overall.

tourdates (on Myspace)

Previously: Got a question for Dan Bejar?; Release notes: Destroyer, Trouble in Dreams

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A taxonomy of electronic music

April 20, 2008

I mentioned in a previous post that getting into techno is a little overwhelming. One of the reasons why is the large number of genres and subgenres. Ishkur’s Guide to Electronic Music (check your speaker volume before clicking) is an excellent place to go to codify the bits of music and the artists that you’ve heard or heard of. It’s a taxonomy of electronic music of all sorts, with an opening tutorial and brief descriptions of the different styles. It’s written in a highly opinionated, pull-no-punches style whose primary redeeming feature is that it balances acrimony with enthusiasm: here’s a sample:

Motherfucking electro! Kraftwerk invented it in 1971. Hip hop hijacked it in 1981. Everyone forgot it by 1991. And then everyone started releasing “Hey! Remember Kraftwerk?” albums in 2001. Goes to show how much things run full circle. All electronic music everywhere pretty much owe [sic]  its existence to Kraftwerk. Right next to James Brown and The Beatles, they are the most influential musicians of all time. It also doesn’t hurt that robots are so totally wicked fucking awesome.

But the real reason to put up with the annoying Flash and non-Edward-Tufte-approved design is for the audio samples of songs from the different genres. If you’ve ever wanted to know the difference between minimal and microhouse, between Ibiza- and Goa-style trance, or between jungle and drum’n’bass (or if you just want to know what those genres are), this is the site. Sit yourself down in front of a computer with decent speakers, give yourself a bit of time, and mess around.

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Upcoming: The National DVD, A Skin, A Night

April 18, 2008

[embedded YouTube video; if you can't see it, click here]

Indie-rock auteur Vincent Moon worked with The National to make a one-hour documentary about the creative process behind their brilliant 2007 release, Boxer. Judging by the trailer above, it’s shot in a gorgeously moody style that complements that of the album. The official site also has short vignettes for each track on Boxer. The release is set for May 20, and will include an EP, The Virginia, of demos, covers, live versions and B-sides. Needless to say, I’ve already pre-ordered my copy. 

official site
preorder on Amazon
full details and tracklisting at Brooklyn Vegan

Previously: Coverage: The National, “Mansion on the Hill”; 2007 in review: The National

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Concert notes: Ezra Furman and the Harpoons

April 17, 2008

[Middle East Downstairs, Cambridge, MA; April 16, 2008]

Ezra Furman and his band, the Harpoons, tie together down-home style tunes with angst-y, sarcastic Midwesterner lyrics. They performed an energetic 45-minute set at the Middle East on Wednesday night, opening for Cloud Cult. Give them a few more months and the concerts will be singalongs, I think – I’m sure I’m not the only person who bought the CD and has started learning the witty lyrics. I also suspect that twenty-year-old Furman – possessed as he is of a shy charisma – will be the target of many smitten fourteen-year-old girls (and boys) in the near future. (It’s not captured very well in my photo, I admit, but try this promo photo). And besides, how could you not like a band that passes out York peppermint patties to all their loyal fans?

MP3: Ezra Furman and the Harpoons – My Soul Has Escaped My Body

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xkcd on techno

April 16, 2008

xkcd on techno

[mouseover text, which WordPress doesn't seem to want me to use: "I don't know what's worse -- that there exists broken-hard-drive-sound techno, or that it's not half-bad"]

Besides, everyone knows you buy techno on Beatport.

Previously: The zen garden theory of minimal techno

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Neophile: The Box Social

April 15, 2008

While barely old enough to drink (and the photo above seems designed to suggest that they are making the most of their new privileges), The Box Social nevertheless have a tight, appealing indie-rock sound – think Sloan, or maybe a hybrid of their fellow Midwesterners The Hold Steady and Green Day (especially the opening of “Pay Attention,” which certainly seems like a homage to “Brain Stew”). The Box Social honed their songwriting and performing skills in the Milwaukee basement scene before migrating an hour west to Madison, for school. Their first full-length album, Get Going!, was released in 2007; in true Millennial fashion, they documented the process of making it and put it on YouTube: part 1, part 2.

myspace emusic amazon

MP3: The Box Social – KCMO

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A Mountain Goats sampler

April 13, 2008

[embedded YouTube video; if you can't see it, click here]

I’ve been on something of a Mountain Goats kick recently, partly because of the recent concerts and partly because listening to John Darnielle’s songs can make anyone feel better about their personal life. I ended up putting together a ‘best of’ CD for myself, and then proffering it to assorted friends. In lieu of accosting you personally, grabbing your lapels, and shouting, ‘John Darnielle is a brilliant songwriter and lyricist!’, I instead humbly offer this small sampling of his work. All links are to YouTube.

Going to Georgia (live); from Zopilote Machine, 1994

See America Right (live), from Tallahassee, 2002

This Year (video), from The Sunset Tree, 2005

Woke Up New (video), from Get Lonely, 2006

Sax Rohmer #1 (video), from Heretic Pride, 2008

Intrigued? For more info, check out this recent interview and session on NPR.

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Prepping for the big score

April 12, 2008

I was prepared to hate the movie 21, partly because the trailer suggests that the movie is entirely unlike the book, but mostly because they shut down the People’s Republik and Harvard Bridge for several nights for filming (I really hope there is a kick-ass car chase on the bridge, not just a touching love scene between improbably hot ‘MIT students’). However, I do have to salute the producers’ excellent taste in bringing LCD Soundsystem in on the soundtrack (my love of James Murphy is well-documented). His contribution, “Big Ideas,” begins with a driving beat, underlaid with syncopated drums. The rising tension and accelerating pace have turned out to be the ideal music for last-minute pre-workout details, like putting on a sports watch and finding my keys, as I’m getting ready to head out the door. The horns come in at about 1:40, and by the time the vocals come in at 2:10, I’m ready to sprint.

Of course, “Big Ideas” is also an excellent accompaniment to a strenuous session of couch-surfing. Or, you know, winning big at Vegas.

MP3: LCD Soundsystem – Big Ideas

21 Soundtrack

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Coverage: The National, “Mansion on the Hill”

April 12, 2008

My friend Scott, who is an aficionado of cover songs, was kind enough to make me a mix CD, including a set of amusing and insightful annotations. I prevailed upon him to be a de facto z=z guest blogger and he graciously agreed; I’ll be posting some of the songs, together with his notes, over the next few weeks.

Here’s what he says about The National’s cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Mansion on the Hill”:

Further proof that indie rock stars can occasionally be just as pretentious and minutia-obsessed as some of their fans. God forbid you’d cover a Bruce Springsteen song that somebody had heard of, or even a lesser-known track from one of his hit albums. No, “Mansion on the Hill” is a track that never charted from one of Springsteen’s least-popular albums, Nebraska. If it didn’t sound so good, I’d ask for my money back.

MP3: The National – Mansion on the Hill

Image: The National by Flickr user faithdesired, reposted here under its Creative Commons license.

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The zen garden theory of minimal techno

April 8, 2008

zen garden

As you can probably gather from this blog, I have a deep and abiding love of pop songs. However, in the last year or two, I’ve gotten more into techno music, especially minimal techno. Techno is a pretty maligned genre, and minimal definitely has a reputation as one of its least accessible forms – it’s widely considered to be all bleeps and glitches, of interest mostly to geeky boys who are high-functioning Asperger’s cases. It’s also somewhat overwhelming to get into – there is a massive amount of music available and not a lot of guidance.

But I’m going to argue that it’s worth persevering, or at least not dismissing minimal techno out of hand. Traditional pop songs are like Western gardens – a showcase of colour and form, easily accessible and understandable, and rewarding to our senses. But minimal techno is like a zen garden. At first glance, it seems impossibly austere, even barren. However, sustained attention reveals that its severity hides just as much complexity as greenery does. I listened to the song below half a dozen times in a row, and heard new details with every iteration. Give it a try.

Further reading: A Spirited Defense of Techno

beatport

MP3: Dominik Eulberg – Potzblitz und Donnerwetter

Image: Zen Garden by Flickr user Neilio, reposted here under its Creative Commons license.

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Concert planning: Tourfilter

April 6, 2008

tourfilter

Remember all those times you heard that a band you like played in your town only after the concert? Tourfilter is what you use to make sure this doesn’t happen.

All you do is register, and then enter a list of artists you want to see. Tourfilter scrapes online concert listings for your city and, when it finds a match to a band on your list, sends you an e-mail with the information. The website is reminiscent of Craigslist, with a minimalist aesthetic and a simple, user-friendly interface. That’s pretty much it. It’s brilliant.

For a slightly less minimalist experience, check out the Tourfilter night at River Gods, in Cambridge, MA. Chris and his guest DJs play songs from artists that are going to be performing in the area soon. While you are listening to the songs (and snarfing River Gods’ wonderful fries with aioli), you can text for details on the artist, date and venue, and sometimes other fun info too.

more about Tourfilter

Next Tourfilter night at River Gods: Thursday, April 17th, 9 pm (normally the third Thursday of the month)

Tourfilter on Facebook (login required)

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Fill in the <bleep>

April 4, 2008

Last week I had a conversation with my friend Paul, about how venerable newspapers bend over backwards to make you hear the word ‘fuck’ in your head, without actually writing it. I ran into this phenomenon in the audio realm a few weeks ago, as I was choosing songs to play on WMBR. I listened to all my choices carefully, so that I wouldn’t be responsible for an FCC violation (some albums were more of an issue than others). I knew that Mother Mother used the line ‘to help me get me fucked’ in their song “Touch Up,” so Keith fired up the audio editing software. But we had to listen to the song a couple of times to realize that the station already had the radio edit; the context and the initial ‘fuh’ sound were enough to trick our brains into hearing the whole word if we weren’t playing close attention.

Furthermore, this video is the definitive evidence that sometimes the bowdlerized version can be way, way dirtier than the original.

MP3: Mother Mother – Touch Up [unexpurgated version, so consider yourself warned]

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Coverage: Liz Enthusiasm and Gordon Merrick, “Space Age Love Song”

April 4, 2008

Best Friends Forever

This is from an album of covers recorded by Liz Enthusiasm (of Freezepop) and her best friend Gordon Merrick, titled – a little transparently – Best Friends Forever. I’m glad I’m not the only person who thinks that A Flock of Seagulls should be remembered for more than a haircut.

Download Best Friends Forever here.

MP3: Liz Enthusiasm and Gordon Merrick – Space Age Love Song

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Listen local: Mission of Burma

April 1, 2008

Mission of Burma

In case the previous post doesn’t mean much to you…

Mission of Burma are arguably Boston’s most significant contribution to rock music, and living proof that the ability to create and perform music that is edgy, progressive and, um, loud, doesn’t have to diminish with time. The band formed in 1979 and broke up in 1982, and produced exactly three releases: an EP, a full-length album, and a post-breakup live album (all of which were recently remastered and re-released by Matador). Despite this paucity of material, Mission of Burma were, and remain, hugely influential – everyone from REM to Nirvana to Moby cites them as an inspiration. That should have been the end of the story. But after a two-decade hiatus, the band started playing together again. Since then, they’ve recorded two more albums, ONoffON (2004) and The Obliterati (2006), to massive critical acclaim. I was lucky enough to see them twice in 2006, including at that summer’s Pitchfork Music Festival, where they made most of their successors look like snot-nosed poser-punk kids. I’m stoked that they’ve been invited back to Pitchfork for 2008.

website myspace emusic

MP3: Mission of Burma – Donna Sumeria

Image: Mission of Burma @ Music Hall of Williamsburg – 1.19.08 by Flickr user Bryan Bruchman, reposted here under its Creative Commons license.

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Watch: Mission of Burma’s remastering process

April 1, 2008

[embedded YouTube video; if you can’t see it, click here]

Matador Records remastered the first three Mission of Burma releases: Signals, Calls and Marches; Vs.; and The Horrible Truth About Burma, to create the ‘definitive’ versions that came out on March 18, 2008. They documented the remastering process, and put four videos up on YouTube. Music production geeks and MoB fans rejoice!

Part 1 (video above), Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

[via RCRDLBL]

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