Archive for April, 2010


In praise of our musical mentors

April 26, 2010

My very first musical mentor was my sister, V, and she’s probably the person who bears the most responsibility for my taste in music. When we were both barely teenagers, she turned me away from the dark side that was Top 40 radio, and set me on the path that I’ve followed for the rest of my life.

V’s only a year older than me, but she was infinitely cooler. When we were in middle school, I wore nondescript black clothes. She got in trouble for wearing a hot-pink minidress she designed and sewed herself. She talked to boys; I didn’t talk to anyone. She performed in the school musical; I was a library helper.

Both of us spent our childhood watching Casey Kasem and waiting eagerly for the Top 40 countdown on our local radio station so we could tape our favourite songs. Then, her musical tastes evolved. I remember her staying up late to listen to Brave New Waves, the CBC‘s groundbreaking indie/alternative music show, while I was still listening to Def Leppard. She was probably the first person in her school to become a Smiths fan. To this day, “How Soon Is Now?”  is like Proust’s proverbial madeleines—when I hear it, I’m instantly transported back to the streets around the house we lived in where we were kids, where V and I shared a paper route. She started listening to David Bowie when Let’s Dance came out and, because she was older and cooler, so did I, thus beginning a relationship with an artist that’s endured my entire life. We discovered that the Toronto Public Library had a fantastic collection of records and started working our way through his entire discography. And, most importantly, she started listening to our local alternative radio station, in lieu of Top 40 radio—and so, of course, did I.

If you’re reading this, you probably have one or more people who introduced you to the wider world of music, either as a kid or an adult. Today’s a good day to thank them.

Thanks, V.

MP3: The Smiths – How Soon Is Now? [buy]


What’s your theme song, and why?

April 23, 2010

What happens when music fans go to the ballpark? Well, if you’re me, you get instantly distracted by the ‘rally songs’ that come over the PA as players run onto the field (and by how weirdly inappropriate they are) and start thinking about what your own personal theme song would be. I asked this question on Twitter yesterday, and received answers ranging from the Imperial March from Star Wars through Sheryl Crow’s “Every Day is a Winding Road” through MOP’s “Ante Up.”

Me? I have two candidates. On good days, Cake’s “Short Skirt, Long Jacket.” And on most days, “Girl Anachronism” by the Dresden Dolls. What’s yours, and why?

MP3: Cake – Short Skirt/Long Jacket [buy]

MP3: The Dresden Dolls – Girl Anachronism [buy]

Image: Fenway Park (on top of the Green Monster) by (Alex), used here under its Creative Commons license.


Watch local: Do It Again

April 19, 2010

Guest blogger Scott writes:

In an earlier post about Kickstarter, I gave the example of how the producers of a documentary about The Kinks were funding its editing through small donations. That movie, Do It Again, premiered in March at the Cleveland International Film Festival to positive reviews, and will be showing in Somerville at the Independent Film Festival Boston on Saturday, April 24th. I haven’t seen it yet, but it looks to be less of a music documentary and more of a Nick Hornby/Studs Terkel mash-up, in that it isn’t so much about The Kinks as it is about how people (creator/star Geoff Edgers in particular, but also the people he enlists in his quest) think, or even obsess, about the band. And while the Hornbyish narrative story of a quest to reunite The Kinks is intimately tied a single band, it can be seen as a lens for thinking about the Terkel-ish question of why people love the bands they love and how that love shapes them. In that sense, it seems like a good pairing for The Heart is a Drum Machine — One asks “What is music?”; the other asks “What does music mean?”.

Previously on z=z: Watch: Music docs at IFF Boston, Apr 23-25

Image: Photo of Ray Davies from the Wikimedia Commons, used here under its Creative Commons license.


Watch: Music docs at IFF Boston, Apr 23-25

April 19, 2010

Boston indie music and movie lovers, rejoice! There is a hat trick of music-related documentaries next weekend as part of Independent Film Festival Boston. All three screenings are at the Somerville Theatre at 7:30 pm. The italicized excerpts are from the IFF Boston site, and you can get more info and buy tickets there.

Searching for Elliott Smith:

Friday Monday, April 23rd 26th, 7:30 pm, Somerville Theatre

An icon defined by his music’s emotional accessibility and the detached enigma of his public persona, Smith is as quietly compelling in the accounts of his friends and fans as his life and lyrics were….Balancing his darkest depressions and greatest achievements, SEARCHING FOR ELLIOTT SMITH reveals its subject’s kindness, subtle humor, and reserved brilliance, as well as the perfect imperfections of his prolific output—and it testifies to the overwhelming effect his visceral truths had on his closest friends and anonymous admirers alike. [D. Barnum-Swett]

Do It Again

Saturday, April 24th, 8:00 pm, Somerville Theatre

Every real music fan has a favorite band—but it’s a very rare fan who single-handedly attempts to reunite them years after they’ve packed it in. In director Robert Patton Spruill’s DO IT AGAIN, that rare fan is Geoff Edgers, a Boston Globe staff writer and dedicated follower of the Kinks. Edgers was driven to embark on a risky and time-consuming quest to get the Davies brothers and their old bandmates back in the same room to play some songs…. [B. Searles]

Strange Powers: Stephin Merritt and the Magnetic Fields

Sunday, April 25th, 7:30 pm, Brattle Theatre

…Directors Kerthy Fix and Gail O’Hara provide us with comfortable, homey access to Merritt and the most important, grounding influence in his life: his decades-long friendship with his chipper musical collaborator Claudia Gonson. On his home turf, in the apartment that has doubled as the studio for the lion’s share of his recordings, Merritt is anything but prickly or uncooperative. He is a reflective, passionate, and even playful artist who is producing many of the great songs of his generation. [SL Frey/K Aikens]

EDIT: Factcheck fail. Dates, times, and venues have been corrected. Thanks to Brad for the heads-up!

MP3: Elliott Smith – Waterloo Sunset (Kinks cover) [via Rawkblog]


Welcome to zed equals zee!

April 16, 2010

zed equals zee focuses on the intersection of music, technology and culture.

This blog is now on permanent hiatus. It was time for us to move on, creative differences, make more time for other projects…you know the drill.

Here are some posts that I like and am proud of: How artists hide from Google. Streaming music needs better batteries. Payola and self-fulfilling prophecies. Thinking about playlists. You can also check out the companion Tumblr.

For more about my other and current projects, please see my main personal site. I’m also on Twitter and Instagram.

Thanks for stopping by!


Tourfilter Night playlist (April 15)

April 16, 2010

As promised, here’s a full playlist from last night’s set for Tourfilter Night at River Gods, in Cambridge, MA. Unsurprisingly, local and Canadian bands are overrepresented – I’ve flagged the local bands with a red asterisk, but you’re on your own for spotting the Canucks. Hyperlinked song titles takes you to free MP3 downloads. I had a fantastic time assembling and sharing this playlist – thanks to Chris Marstall for inviting me to guest-DJ, the wonderfully friendly and welcoming staff at River Gods, and everyone who came out.

01    Holy Fuck – “Lovely Allen”    May 29th @ Middle East Downstairs.

02    The New Pornographers “Letter From An Occupant” June 18th @ House of Blues.

03    Echo and the Bunnymen – “Stormy Weather” April 26th @ Paradise Rock Club.

04    The National – “Brainy” June 2nd and 3rd @ House of Blues.

05    Stars – “Your Ex-Lover is Dead”    June 1st @ Paradise Rock Club.

06    Pavement – “Cut Your Hair”    September 18th @ Agannis Arena.

07    Visqueen – “Crush on Radio”    May 19th @ The Middle East Downstairs.

08   *The Motion Sick – “Winged Bicycle”    May 19th @ Middle East Downstairs.

09    Caribou – “Melody Day”    May 6th @ Middle East Downstairs.

10    The Besnard Lakes – “Devastation”    May 30th @ TT the Bear’s.

11     *The Lights Out – “Miss Fortune”    April 30th @ TT the Bear’s.

12    Yeasayer – “Sunrise”    May 3rd @ Paradise Rock Club.

13    Sea Wolf – “You’re a Wolf”    April 30th @ Paradise Rock Club.

14    The Church – “Under the Milky Way”    April 21st at Arts at the Armory.

15    *Dear Leader – “Barbarians”    April 23rd @ Paradise Rock Club.

16    Cowboy Junkies – “Murder, Tonight, in the Trailer Park”    April 18th at the Somerville Theatre.

17    *Electric Laser People – “I’m a Doer”    May 15th @ The Middle East

18    The Psychedelic Furs – “President Gas”    June 5th @ House of Blues.

19    Quasi – “Alice the Goon”    April 20th @ Middle East Downstairs.

20    *Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling – “First We Take Manhattan” (Leonard Cohen cover)    April 29th @ Great Scott.

21    The National – “Bloodbuzz Ohio”    June 2nd and 3rd @ House of Blues.

22    *Gene Dante and the Future Starlets – “A Madness to His Method”    May 1st at TT the Bear’s Place.

23    The Tallest Man on Earth – “King of Spain”    April 21st @ The Middle East Downstairs.

24    *Clatter Clatter – “Downpour”    April 27th @ Middle East Upstairs.

25    Kate Nash – “Do Wah Do”    April 28th @ Great Scott.

26    Born Ruffians – “Hummingbird”    June 20th @ Great Scott.

27    Elvis Costello – “Radio, Radio”    April 20th @ Orpheum Theatre.

28    Tegan and Sara – “Back in Your Head”    I kind of lied. They are touring with Paramore, but will not be at the Boston show. Sorry.

29    Los Campesinos! – “Please Don’t Tell Me to Do the Maths”. April 24th @ Paradise Rock Club.

30    Frightened Rabbit – “The Twist (*DJ Die Young Dub Edit)”    Frightened Rabbit @ Paradise Rock Club on April 29th. DJ Die Young @ Middlesex Lounge on Thursday nights.

31    Revival Revival vs Lady Gaga vs David Bowie – “Let’s Just Dance”    Lady Gaga @ TD Garden, July 1st and 2nd. Sadly, no David Bowie tour planned.

32    Quintron and Miss Pussycat – “Witch in the Club”    June 16th @ Great Scott.


z=z at Tourfilter Night, River Gods, Cambridge

April 13, 2010

In the Boston area? Join us at River Gods in Central Square, Cambridge, on Thursday night (April 15th, 9-11 pm) for an evening of music chosen by yours truly. It’s for this month’s Tourfilter Night – on the third Thursday each month, the amazingly useful concert site hosts an evening of music from bands that have upcoming shows in Boston. Chris Marstall, the man behind Tourfilter, graciously invited me to be the guest DJ this week.  There are tons of amazing bands coming to Boston in the next few months, so I’ll get to play lots of fantastic songs. If you’re within range, please join us! And stay tuned – I’ll post my playlist after the set.

Image: River Gods by brixton, used here under its Creative Commons license.


Audio fidelity is overrated

April 8, 2010

For most of us, more audio fidelity isn’t better. It’s a bar. And above that bar, you’re fine.

My car is old-school enough that it doesn’t have an MP3 input, which means I listen to everything on CD. That means I’m regularly swapping between purchased CDs (LPCM audio) and burned MP3s – it’s not quite an A-B comparison, but it’s close. Could I tell the difference if I was sitting quietly in a soundproofed room? Maybe. Can I tell the difference over engine and traffic noise on my factory-installed car stereo? Not a chance.

In general, advances in reproduction of music have been about making it more accessible, not about making it sound better. From live musicians to player pianos, from record players to iPods, most consumer-oriented music technology has led to music being available to a wider range of people, in a wider range of environments. And Paul Lamere made a related point in a discussion earlier this week: “The audio fidelity you can buy for $100 today is a lot higher than what $100 would have gotten you thirty years ago.”

Note that I can think of two counterexamples to this general progression of increased access and lower quality. One was deliberate: the move from AM to FM radio, which sounds much better but generally has a  shorter range. The second counterexample is really more of a side effect: the move from vinyl to CD, which was clearly mandated by the convenience of the shiny little discs. I know that many people argue that vinyl sounds better than CDs. I’ve never done the comparison myself (although I’m sure that many people reading this post have), but I can readily believe that a pristine LP on an expensive system would sound better than a CD. But in the real world? I have CDs that I’ve been listening to regularly for well over a decade, and they sound as good as they did when I first ripped off the cellophane. I doubt that would be true for a record. Digital fidelity is not to be sneezed at.

So this idea of being prescriptive about audio fidelity—”Oh noes! You’re storing all your music at MP3s! You’ll regret it!”—doesn’t seem to be in line with what people actually do with music, which is to readily trade fidelity for accessibility. Kryder’s Law being what it is, it’s increasingly possible to store lossless versions of music on your hard drive—but how many people will take advantage of more hard drive space to simply store more songs? I love music, but I have no illusions about being an audiophile. Based on the overwhelming evidence, I’m not alone.

The open question remains: how low can you go? A friend of mine finds satellite radio intolerable because of the high degree of audio compression low bitrate [see EDIT, below] (many people are oblivious, including me, although I do find it intolerable that there are 200 channels and barely anything worth listening to). As streaming becomes an increasingly viable alternative to downloading, is something similar going to happen with audio on mobile devices?

Feel free to flame me for being a audio Philistine in the comments. Or just share what you think.

EDIT: Mike corrected me in the comments, below: satellite radios use a lower bitrate, not a higher degree of compression.

Image: MP3 vs CD quality (PCM) by Flickr user filicudi, used here under its Creative Commons license.


Listen local: art rock vs Americana edition

April 3, 2010

Today in Boston: Two great bands (in two completely different genres). Two CD release parties. Two different venues. At exactly the same time. The horror. What’s worse, members of both bands are friends of mine (and frequent commenters here at z=z).

Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling is duo Sophia Cacciola and Michael Epstein (also of The Motion Sick). Their music is loud, minimal (just drums, bass and vox), and angry. Themed off the TV series The Prisoner, their music and lyrics deal with similar themes of alienation and totalitarianism. Despite all that, their songs are inexplicably catchy (occasionally dangerously catchy, as I found myself singing/yelling along to “Gun gun gunning for you!’ as I drove on the interstate). They’re releasing their debut EP, The New Number 2, today with a set at Church.

Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling, with Voodoo Screw Machine, Gene Dante and the Future Starlets, Vostok 4 and Corey Tut at Church of Boston

MP3: Do Not Forsake Me Oh My Darling – Episode 1: Arrival [more info/buy]

Kingsley Flood, on the other hand, is a (post-?) Americana  band, blending traditional folk instrumentation (including fiddle and mandolin) with lyrics touching on modern and urban themes – think Wilco or Hey Marseilles. And they put on a fantastic, energetic, compelling live set. They’re celebrating the release of their debut full-length, Dust Windows, with a show tonight at the Middle East Upstairs.

Kingsley Flood, with Cassavetes, Grown-Up Noise and Spouse, at the Middle East Upstairs

MP3: Kingsley Flood – Roll of the Dice [more info/buy]

Both bands go on at 10 pm. Decisions, decisions….