I haven’t done one of these for a few, well, several, years. That’s been the result of multiple factors, but at least some of the blame goes to a downward trend in my acquisition of new music in recent years. I managed to reverse that trend this year with the help of a Don Giovanni Records music subscription (incidentally one of the best musical value propositions I’ve ever availed myself of), so I feel on better footing in rendering some year-end judgments. No weird format experiments this year, just a basic Top 10:
Science Fiction Double Feature
Back in the 70s, one of the Philadelphia UHF stations dedicated its Saturday afternoon airwaves to B-grade horror and science fiction movies. Horror Theater and Mad Theater (the show name varied according to the genre of movie being shown) were presided over by local personality Joseph Zawislak, aka Dr. Shock, an amiable vampire/mad scientist hybrid. Perhaps it is exposure to this program during my formative years that has always blurred the distinction between horror and sci-fi for me. In any case, it is with a tip of the cap to the good Doctor that I offer up a double bill of Halloween-ish playlists....
I turn 50 this year, a milestone that is neither particularly unusual nor particularly difficult to reach. Nevertheless, custom seems to dictate that I mark such an event in some way. So I rolled out of bed one morning, recalled the Magnetic Fields’ 50 Song Memoir from last year, and decided if Stephin Merritt is allowed the indulgence of writing a song for every year of his life, I could at least get away with making a playlist of songs from every year of mine.
A murder of crows
A not-so-new, but perhaps seasonally appropriate playlist. This had a long gestation period, like most of my mixes, but in an unfortunate coincidence of timing, I was finalizing it on 8tracks just as news of the the Orlando nightclub shootings last June was breaking. By that point, I was kind of wedded to the title, but it seemed in very poor taste to publicize it, so I let it sit. I still like the playlist, even if I strayed outside the Corvidae family to populate it. ...
Despite what the timing might suggest, this is not a Valentine’s Day mix, unless you equate Valentine’s Day with mistakes, regrets, and apologies, in which case I guess it is, albeit a few days late. Just one more thing for me to feel sorry about.
I am acutely aware of the lack of activity here on Donut Age of late, but I’m not prepared to resume even my decidedly irregular posting frequency yet. So in lieu of real content, I will just share some music mixes I’ve created in the past few months.
…going soundlessly smash…
Nineteen years ago this weekend, my heart was captured. Three years ago this weekend, my heart was broken. I am not over this. I can't imagine being over this....
This will only take a minute
Yesterday, the immortal WPRB DJ Jon Solomon asked his Twitter followers for their favorite songs under 60 seconds, his own nominee being the Angry Samoans' Lights Out. That's a fine candidate, but for me, the indisputable champions of the sub-60 form were the (aptly named) Minutemen, the only question in my mind being which of their dozens of qualifying songs to declare as my favorite. It took some deliberation, but I finally went with Ain't Talkin' Bout Love, their 42-second distillation of the Van Halen ‘classic’ (specifically, the live version included on their 1984 Tour Spiel 7-inch, which loomed large in the musical landscape of my freshman year of college).
Favorite Albums of 2011
Maybe it is fitting that it has taken me until April Fool's Day to finally finish writing this. It certainly feels foolish to be going on about last year's albums a quarter of the way through the current one. But I am stubborn enough to post it anyway. I'd pretty much settled on my favorites back in February, but I needed to get that piece about what star ratings mean to me out of my system first (only partly to create some padding between this post and last year's favorite albums post), and then life intervened a little, and, well, here we are....
Silly love songs
Well, another Valentine's Day has passed. For reasons I needn't repeat, it is not my favorite holiday on the calendar, but it is a good excuse for making up playlists. Lots of material to choose from....
Oh my stars
This is the post I was trying to write earlier this month before I realized that what was supposed to be a parenthetical explanation of my Mix-o-matic playlist was spiraling out of control and needed to be quarantined in its own post. If it wasn't already clear from that post, I spend an absolutely inordinate amount of time thinking about the star ratings I assign songs in iTunes. That's partly because I rely on ratings to fuel things like the Mix-o-matic, and partly because I am just kind of obsessive that way. So obsessive, in fact, that I feel obliged to expose my thought process here....
I first wrote about the Mix-o-matic, the iTunes smart playlist that serves up the vast majority of my music listening, back in 2007. It's still my go-to playlist, but it has evolved quite a bit in the past five years. It's hard to imagine a geekier topic than yet another exploration of the intricacies of my playlist system, but because the Mix-o-matic plays such a central role in my listening habits, it's hard for me to write about music without referencing it, and if I am going to do that, I figure I should at least be referencing the current incarnation of it and not its ancient ancestor. ...
Albums of 2010 revisited
In my usual late-to-the-party fashion, I am still working on my favorite albums of 2011 list (it's a smaller field than 2010 was, but a lot of the albums came out—or I only acquired them—late in the year, so my feelings on a lot of this stuff are still a bit unformed). In the meantime, I thought it might be interesting to look back on my 2010 list (which, embarrassingly, is only two posts ago) and see if I still agree with myself.
Favorite albums of 2010
I have not made a practice of doing yearly ‘Top Albums’ lists. Usually, I am so far behind on and so slow to form opinions about new releases that any such list would have to be woefully incomplete and/or laughably late in arriving. This past year, however, I actually did manage to listen to a good bit of the year's music and had at least a few strong opinions about what I'd heard. I tweeted a provisional Top 10 countdown in the waning minutes of the year, and I probably would have left it at that, but the Grammy awards (and the hubbub over The Arcade Fire winning album of the year) got me thinking about this again.
The redress of grievances
Last week, I went to see Titus Andronicus (along with The Tough Shits and local boys Free Energy) at the First Unitarian Church in Philly. You may recall that I wasn't entirely happy the last time I saw them (last year in Louisville) and I skipped them in favor of the Thermals when they came through Philadelphia this spring. Nevertheless, I headed to this show with some pretty high expectations, based on my ever-deepening love for their latest album, The Monitor. I am happy to report that Thursday's show exceeded even those expectations. They were, in a word, brilliant....
A giant fist is out to crush us
Since returning to the Ancestral Lands, I've taken advantage of being in a major metropolitan area to get out and see some good bands. I've been remiss in not chronicling these shows as they've happened, and at this point, I'm probably not going to bother with most of them. But I did have a few things to share about the Thermals show in Philadelphia back on April 15. I had a bit of consternation over deciding to go to this show because Titus Andronicus were also playing in town the same night. Despite being less than satisfied with my previous Titus Andronicus concert experience, I've been very much digging their new album, The Monitor (while being somewhat disappointed with the Thermals' most recent one, Now We Can See), so it was a tough call to make. However, three facts tilted the balance in favor of the Thermals: (a) I'd never seen them before; (b) Atlanta's all-girl quartet The Coathangers, whom I'd also never seen before, were opening for them; and (c) the show was at the First Unitarian Church, and I needed to see first-hand what has inexplicably become Philadelphia's premier indie rock venue. Anyway, I was thoroughly pleased with my choice. In lieu of a real concert review, I'll just post an email I composed on my phone as I sat, sweat-soaked and ears still ringing, on the PATCO train that took me back across the river after the show. ...
In which grievances are aired
The weekend before last, I made an excursion to Louisville to see my fellow New Jerseyans, Titus Andronicus. I was recently introduced to this band through a gift of their The Airing of Grievances (2008), and I’d been digging the album (especially My Time Outside the Womb, Titus Andronicus, and No Future Part Two: The Days After No Future), so I was looking forward quite a bit to the show.
I'm not sure if it is a measure of how much I miss my family or just an indication that I am going soft in my old age, but when a friend pointed me, some weeks ago, toward the following video for Frightened Rabbit's Head Rolls Off, I found myself sitting in my office, transfixed and teary-eyed....
Heavy rotation: Oct. 29-Nov. 4, 2007
Here's installment number two of of my new format for music-logging. One thing that is already clear is that given my listening habits, which are structured around the monthly cycle of my eMusic subscription, the weekly "top artists" lists are going to have a fair amount repetition in them from one week to the next. I don't know if that's a problem per se—in fact it might be interesting to see if my enthusiasm for a brand new acquisition sustains for several weeks or fades after the first blush—but I'll go ahead an apologize in advance for entries along the lines of "Still listening to [insert album name] a lot. Still rocks."
I finally got around to trying Amazon's MP3 Store, the latest attempt to challenge the hegemony of Apple's iTunes Store in the world of digital music sales, and for the first time, there seems to be a legitimate competitor in the market. I bought PJ Harvey's new album, White Chalk (2007). It's available on the ITMS as well, but because her label (Island) is a subsidiary of Universal, it is only available DRM-free from Amazon. That, much more than cost or encoding details, is the main draw of Amazon's store. ...
Heavy Rotation: Oct. 21-28, 2007
Having fallen woefully behind on my "Acquisitions" series, I am trying out a new approach to logging my music habits, namely looking at my Last.fm "weekly top artists" list and commenting on what I find there. This should have two advantages over the Acquisitions approach. First, since it is limited to ten artists, I shouldn't get overwhelmed by sheer volume, as was happening regularly with my monthly acquisitions lists. Second, since this is the music I've listened to the most in a given week (more or less—not everything I listen to manages to get scrobbled to Last.fm, but the vast majority does), I should actually have something to say about it, which was not always the case with the brand-new music covered in my earlier posts. There should actually be some intersection between what comes up with this method and what 's actually new in my library, because the structure of my playlists keeps new arrivals in heavy rotation for about a month after they get added to iTunes. But it will also give me reason to revisit older music that's caught my ear, which appeals to me as well. Obviously, this will not wind up being some perfect log of my listening habits, but I never really set out to do that in the first place. The tougher question will be whether I can keep up with a regular schedule of weekly posts. History would suggest not, but maybe this exercise will be the impetus I needed to get more disciplined about my blogging.
Of beer and bastards
It wasn't looking good for my chances of getting to the Heartless Bastards show in Lexington last night, but thanks to a last-minute babysitting offer from a friend, Sylvia and I were able to make a date of it. Heading out from Morehead after dinner, we skipped the opening act in favor of making a stop at the obscenely huge Liquor Barn at Hamburg Plaza to indulge in a little frivolous consumerism. Besides such difficult-to-obtain-in-Morehead items as decent bread, cheese, and wine, I picked up a couple of promising seasonal beers—Great Lakes' "Nosferatu" red ale (which I am sampling right now: it's pretty damn good) and Abita's "Pecan Harvest" (I'd had a tiny sample earlier this week and was intrigued)—as well as a couple old standybys: DAB and Staropramen.
The following is a real-life email exchange between myself and a colleague regarding Belle & Sebastian:...
Friday night lights
We are entertaining a foreign guest, specifically a 14-year-old French girl, at the moment and given how entertainment-challenged Morehead is, we've been racking our brains to find appropriate activities for our youthful ward. Friday night, it fell to me to acquaint her with the "savage ballet" that is American football in the form of a local grudge match between Rowan and Morgan County High Schools. This was the first high school football game I have been to in nearly two decades, basically since my own days as a marching band geek, and it was an unsettling experience. ...
Christmas in July
iTunes has been besieging me with Christmas music lately. Why this happened and how I fixed it cannot be explained, however, without delving into the maze of twisty little passages (also known as playlists) that I use to manage my iTunes and iPod listening experience. So strap on your spelunking gear, here we go!...
Still trying to catch up on the inventory additions. February was a very light month: it's shameful that I haven't been able to get this posted before now. At least I've formed some pretty firm opinions on most of this....
iTunes innovations big and small
The big iTunes news of the week is the announcement by Apple and EMI that beginning in May, EMI music will be available without Digital Rights Management and at double the current 128kbps bitrate for $1.29. Consumers will even be able to previously purchased ITMS tracks to the higher-quality unprotected format for 30 cents a song. Besides being, very likely, the death knell for DRM in the music industry (yes I know we aren't there yet, but without a united front, the other majors won't be able to hold the line on copy protection much longer), this announcement is pleasant vindication for those of us who took Steve Jobs at his word when he released his "Thoughts on Music" two months ago. (As for cynics, like Cory Doctorow, who accused Jobs of lying in February, the Macalope puts it succinctly: "Eat my shorts." On the other hand, kudos to the BBC's Bill Thompson for admitting he was wrong [via Daring Fireball]. ) It's also probably the end of Apple's European lawsuit problems. Everybody wins, except, perhaps, people who've stockpiled a lot of Zune-bucks. ...
Continuing my attempt to get back up to date with my library additions. ...
Since I have fallen so very far behind with this, I'm just going to list the last couple months of iTunes library additions with a minimum of commentary. Here's the rundown for December. ...
Jobs throws down over DRM
Well, this is interesting. There's an open letter by Steve Jobs, dated today, on the Apple website. It is simply titled "Thoughts on Music." It may, however, be a landmark moment in the history of Digital Rights Management. In the letter, Jobs takes on the various calls that have been made for Apple to "open up" the iPod+iTunes franchise. After a brief history lesson on how we got to the current state of affairs (namely that the "big four" music labels were dragged kicking and screaming into digital distribution and only with promise of DRM protection), Steve gets down to business with refuting the criticisms that have been leveled against Apple's successful combination....
it's not you, it's me
As I alluded to briefly a while back, The Hold Steady played in Louisville on December 9, and by a happy coincidence, I was in town for work that very weekend. The show was supposed to be the highlight of my trip, but while there's little I can fault about the show, it was not the exhilarating experience I'd hoped. The biggest reason for this was that I was just too tired to fully enjoy it: I'd been conferencing for two days already, my arthritis was majorly acting up (thanks to my boneheaded decision to walk from downtown out to Headliners, which seems to be in some sort of outlying industrial district), and I just don't have the stamina for those midnight start times that are a point of pride among the indie hipster set (the two abysmal opening bands I endured to get to that midnight start didn't help either). ...
Ooops, it looks like I've fallen a little behind in my 'Acquisitions' reporting. Although I reined in the breakneck pace of previous months, I still have plenty to write about, so I'll catch up in two posts, starting with November's acquisitions....
On Wednesday night, I kicked off my Thanksgiving break with a trip to The Dame in Lexington to see the Heartless Bastards. I've been listening to this Cincinnati-based trio for about six months now (here's what I had to say in September), and my appreciation for them continues to grow. It's terrific blues-based rock fueled by the gutsy vocals of Erika Wennerstrom. I was positively giddy when I heard they were coming to Lexington, and the show did not disappoint. It's impossible to write about the Heartless Bastards without mentioning The Voice (i.e., Wennerstrom's). Its presence dominates the music, and in the live setting, it basically becomes a fourth member of the band, especially since it seems impossible that something so powerful could be emanating from as unimposing a frame as hers. Drummer Kevin Vaughn was pretty impressive as well, glowering from behind the set and banging out the snare beats like gunshots. And then there was bassist Mike Lamping, providing the rhythmic glue from a private island of tranquility apparently only he can access. However they manage to put all this together, it works. ...
Last Saturday, while many of America's football-watching eyes were focused on a little contest in Columbus, OH, something much more important happened back east in Cambridge, Mass: as Yale trounced Harvard, 34-13 and claimed part of the Ivy League championship. For those who would like to celebrate the blessed event with me, please listen to Bull-dog and Down the Field (performed by the Yale Precision Marching Band). Feel free to sing along....
Acquisitions - October
Installment number 3 in the saga of the ongoing bloat of my hard drive. ...
Acquisitions - September
In the same spirit as my August report, here's all the additions to my iTunes library for the month of September, with comments: ...
…is the only word that comes to mind to encapsulate Saturday night's triple bill of Ruby Vileos, Swearing at Motorists, and The Wrens at The Southgate House in Newport. This was my second trip to the Southgate (the previous being Yo La Tengo during their 2004 'Swing State Tour'), and it has already earned a place in my heart for serving up great bands in a great atmosphere. All three bands were of some interest, so here's the rundown.
By George, I think she's got it!
Just when I thought everyone in the media industries had their eyes clamped shut, their fingers in their ears and started chanting "DRM, DRM, DRM" whenever the topic of the digital revolution comes up, ABC-Disney's Anne Sweeney proved there is some sentient life in that sector after all. The following comments quoted in Ars Technica are so startlingly perceptive, open-minded, and forward-thinking it's hard to believe they came from the mouth of a media executive....
Acquisitions - August
I seem to be fighting blogger's block (or perhaps blogger's "I have things to write about but that would require thinking harder than I feel like doing right now") at the moment, so here's a pretty much mechanical post, which might become a regular feature, just to get things moving again: all the new additions to my iTiunes library for the month of August. ...
Meet the new hacks, same as the old hacks
Cory Doctorow's article on Digital Rights Management in InformationWeek a few weeks back is a sad example of the "new" journalists of the blogosphere being every bit as sensationalist and inaccurate as the "old" journalists they disdain. Provocatively titled "Apple's Copy Protection Isn't Just Bad For Consumers, It's Bad For Business," this piece is a muddled critique of DRM that inexplicably blames Apple—purveyors of the most consumer-friendly and commercially successful DRM scheme in existence—for all of the problems inherent with copy-protection generally. Even more bizarrely, the article somehow manages to portray the entertainment industry—whose short-sighted, heavy-handed policies have given us our current DRM mess—as victims of mean old bullying Apple.
I am no...
Finding new music
Diane Greco was moved by my post on the New Pornographers/Belle & Sebastian show to go out and get The Life Pursuit (Stuart Murdoch, you now owe me 37¢!). She goes on to muse on the difficulty of finding new music: "I don't find new music by listening anymore. No radio, no MTV. It's all so sucky and boring. So the result is I don't hear about much, and when I do, the channel is almost as interesting as the band."
Pornos & Sebastian
By a curious sequence of serendipities—being sent to a conference I'd had no plans to attend, overhearing a stranger's conversation about his evening plans, and arriving at the ticket window just after a number of reserved seats went back on sale—last Thursday evening I found myself smack in the middle of Row F of the Brown Theatre in Louisville for the New Pornographers/Belle & Sebastian show. I was, in a word, well chuffed.
Not that my love of iTunes and the ITMS is waning, but recently, I've been experimenting with a couple other online music services. Pandora and eMusic are quite different from each other, and for my purposes, both are complements to rather than replacements for iTunes. Each is interesting in its own way....
I am back from a 12-day family trip to Germany (Christmas with the grandparents), and am still working through my (and the kids') jet-lag, but I want to get a post up for the new year and there's some interesting stuff going on there that I don't want to completely ignore, so here's some quick jabs that I might (but very well might not) come back to in greater depth....
New Orleans bluesman Spencer Bohren, who was on campus last week as an artist-in-residence, did a show Friday night at local coffeehouse Grounds & Sounds (which has been a godsend to Morehead's sparse restaurant and even sparser music scene). This was an exciting event for several reasons. It was the first live music I've managed to see in about a year. I didn't know much about Bohren except that I really liked the free MP3 of "Ghost Train" I downloaded from Playlist magazine a while back, so I was eager to hear more from him. And the show provided the impetus for my wife and I to get a babysitter and go on a much-overdue date....
Numa numa iei
My recent expedition to AECT was satisfying on several levels, but the most indelible memory would have to be the session on open content that began by showing the Star Wars Kid and Numa Numa memes. (I realize that having heard of neither of these prior to the conference makes me majorly unhip, but that's no surprise, right?)...
Punk Rock and the Absolute
I'm reading Greil Marcus's Ranters and Crowd Pleasers: Punk in Pop Music, 1977-1992 at the moment and finding it difficult to put down. Composed of 15 years of assorted reviews and brief essays loosely organized around the idea of "punk" (for Marcus, this term is capacious enough to include the Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen, and Cyndi Lauper alongside the Sex Pistols and the Clash), the book turns into something much more: a sustained critique of an increasingly moribund music industry and the deadened popular tastes that the industry shapes and serves. In the process, Ranters also becomes one of the more lucid treatises on aesthetics I have read....
I Wanna Be Lou
Quizilla says: ...
The ultimate iPod?
All the world seems to be a-twitter about Apple's iPod nano. The press is using words like "marvel" and "perfect" to describe the ultra-thin music player (I'm impressed, too, but I have to say that one of my first thoughts looking at the promotional pictures was "I wonder if it breaks as easily as a Number 2 pencil, too?"). In that light, let me nominate this ad for the "iPod Flea" (which was forwarded to me by a colleague a few days before the nano launch) as the logical extension of the product line.
Saw this meme a while back on mamamusings and thought it would be an amusing exercise. The rules are: sort your music collection by title and pick the first song listed for each letter of the alphabet. I decided to go one further and include songs for each numeral and miscellaneous punctuation marks. Here goes:
"A Big Hunk O' Love," Elvis Presley, The Number One Hits.
"B + A" Beta Band, The Three EPs.
"C Is The Heavenly Option," Heavenly, Le Jardin De Heavenly.
"D-C-G," Silo the Huskie, Cringe.com/pilation.
"E Motel," The Clean, Old Enough To Know Better - 15 Years Of Merge Records.
"Fabliau Of Florida," Wallace Stevens, Poetry Speaks.
"Galveston Bay," Bruce Springsteen, The Ghost Of Tom Joad.
"H.W.C.," Liz Phair, Liz Phair.
"I (Heart Sign) Apple," The Mekons, I (Heart Symbol) Mekons.
"Jackals, False Grails: The Lonesome Era," Pavement, Slanted & Enchanted.
"K-Jee," M.F.S.B., Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack.
"L Dopa," Big Black, Songs About Fucking.
"Ma Rainey," Sterling Brown, Call & Response - The Riverside Anthology To The African American Literary Tradition.
"Nadine," Chuck Berry, The Great Twenty-Eight.
"O Death," Camper Van Beethoven, Our Beloved Revolutionary Sweetheart.
"P-Funk (Wants To Get Funked Up)," Parliament, Live: P-Funk Earth Tour.
"Quarrel With The World," Thomas Jefferson Slave Apartments, Bait and Switch.
"R & R," Charles Mingus, In A Soulful Mood.
"SAAB," Randys, Cringe.com/pilation.
"T. & T.," Ornette Coleman, Ornette!
"U Can Do (Life)," De La Soul, Art Official Intelligence: Mosaic Thump.
"Vague Space," Stephen Malkmus, Stephen Malkmus.
"W-I-F-E," Old 97's, Wreck Your Life.
"x-ray man," Liz Phair, Whip-Smart.
"Ya No Hay Mujeres Feas," Tito Puente, The Very Best of Tito Puentes and Vicento Valdes.
"Zebra," The Magnetic Fields, 69 Love Songs.
"09-15-00 (Part One)," Godspeed You Black Emperor! Yanqui U.X.O.
"1 Million Bottlebags," Public Enemy, Apocalypse 91...The Enemy Strikes Black.
"2 Piano Pieces: 1," Daniel Barenboim, Mendelssohn: Songs without Words.
"3 Away," Pretty Girls Make Graves, Pretty Girls Make Graves EP.
"4 (from The Dream Songs)," John Berryman, Poetry Speaks.
"5 Nights," Grafton, Salt Horse Release Party CD.
"6' 1"," Liz Phair, Exile In Guyville.
"7 Chinese Bros.," R.E.M., Reckoning.
"8 Ball (Remix)," NWA, Straight Outta Compton.
"9-9," R.E.M., Murmur.
"?," Outkast, Stankonia.
"...and Carrot Rope," Pavement, Terror Twilight.
"(Crazy for You But) Not That Crazy," The Magnetic Fields, 69 Love Songs.
"#1 Hit Song," The Minutemen, Double Nickels On the Dime.
8'03" (apologies to John Cage)
I've mentioned Apple's iMix before — a feature of the iTunes Music Store that allows account-holders to upload playlists and gives other shoppers the opportunity to buy those tracks with one click (I wonder if anyone actually does this, or if iMix mostly serves the vanity of the mixer). Well some clever iMixer has posted what is perhaps the ultimate playlist: one consisting entirely of silent tracks from iTMS albums. 14 tracks (seven of which are individually purchasable) amounting to 8 minutes, 3 seconds of empty bytes. Even more interestingly, three of the tracks are offered in both "Explicit" and "Clean" versions.
You have no chance to survive make your time
Following up on my earlier post on an All Your Base-inspired Valentine's verse, the Evolution Control Committee — the merry samplers whose 1998 single "Rocked by Rape," consisting entirely of clips of Dan Rather talking about violence and destruction on the evening news, led to a legal dispute with CBS and some notoriety — have posted a number of karaokesque renditions of popular songs with the original lyrics replaced by the infamous Zero Wing dialogue. The "Smells Like Teen Spirit" version is excellent, and the "Piano Man" and "Jailhouse Rock" versions are amusing enough to be worth your bandwidth.
I just became aware of Clutter this week, and already I'm in love. Although the intended purpose is to add a more familiar interface for selecting music to listen to on your computer (namely the visual metaphor of "albums" laying scattered all over your desktop), what I found most delightful about Clutter is that it automatically looks for album art (via Amazon) and you can copy that found art into iTunes. So I was up till 3 a.m. the night after installing it, grabbing cover art for all the music in my iTunes library. I was amazed that I managed to find most of it, although my practice of renaming and re-dating compilations and re-releases to reflect the original issues sometimes caused some confusion. I'm not sure I will use Clutter in its primary capacity that much (my desktop is cluttered enough, thank you), but I definitely like having the visual reminders of where my music cane from.
iPod segue of the day
My iPod is almost always set to random shuffle. Sometimes this leads to small miracles of juxtaposition. Today's: Sonic Youth's "Bubblegum" (from EVOL) into "Questo è il fin chi fa mal!," the choral coda to Don Giovanni. Delightful!
OK. Like everyone and his brother has already posted their impressions of the Macworld San Francisco announcements from last week. Reactions have been mixed (Mac Net Journal is "underwhelmed"; Creative Bits thinks the marketing of the iPod shuffle is "genius" even if the device itself isn't; bsag finds the MacMini "adorable"), but there seems to be broad agreement that the three announcements of significance are the the $499 Mac Mini desktop, the ultra-small flash-based iPod Shuffle, and (to a lesser extent) the iWork productivity suite. Here's my two cents....
2004 music review
It is the season of 2004 retrospectives and best-of lists. In that spirit, I offer this meager review of 2004 music releases. Meager primarily because I just did not buy much new music last year. I actually acquired quite a bit of music last year, adding over 1300 songs to my iTunes library (admittedly many of these were me ripping CDs I already owned), but only 80 of these were 2004 releases (and quite a few of these were free MP3s from band and label websites). In the end, I only picked up six new albums last year, just about all by established members of my personal canon.
PJ Harvey, Uh Huh Her
: Her first album since 2000's Songs from the City, Songs from the Sea, this is certainly a good album, but does not match the near-perfection of its predecessor. I can't think of anything negative to say about Uh Huh Her except that after six months of listening, only "The Letter" has managed to stand out in my mind as an exceptional song. That track is quintessential PJ Harvey: haunting, jagged vocals and razor-sharp guitar riffs held together by a driving percussion that never let's you forget this is a rock song. PJ Harvey is the artist that wannabe angst-mongers like Kate Bush and Alanis Morrisette dream of being.
: I probably shouldn't like Interpol, given that everyone traces their geneaology back to New Order/Joy Division/The Cure, all of which I never did have any time for. But 2002's Turn on the Bright Lights, reminded me, instead, of The Feelies, in its jangly, almost percussive guitars and (oddly appealing) flat vocal style. Antics is similar, although I hear the other influences more strongly here. It's still fun in a dreamily moody sort of way.
Le Tigre, This Island
: Their third full-length release, This Island sees Le Tigre polishing the art of merging the raw energy of feminist punk with the danceable beats of the techno-club scene. The explosiveness is still there (on "Seconds" and "Don't Drink Poison"), but the balance seems to be tilting further toward pop appeal. Occasionally, I think the balance has swung too far (the cover of The Pointer Sisters "I'm So Excited"), but more often they seem to hit it just about right and succeed in creating an unexpected hybrid: the dance-music of radical politics ("Viz," "New Kicks").
The Magnetic Fields, i
: There was probably no way that Stephen Merritt could live up to the expectations he established on the last Magnetic Fields album, 1999's epic triple-CD, 69 Love Songs. To be honest, i probably doesn't reach the level of my second-favorite Magnetic Fields album, The Charm of the Highway Strip (1994), but it is a solid effort and does boast at least one perfect gem, "I Thought You Were My Boyfriend," perhaps Merritt's best song ever.
Sonic Youth, Sonic Nurse
: I have been faithful to Sonic Youth ever since I was exposed to the Starpower EP by a roommate my freshman year of college, although the intensity of my devotion is not what it once was. Stick-in-the-mud that I am, I still think 1987's Sister is the pinnacle of their oeuvre (with 1990's Goo a solid second). I kept up with them through the 90s but, to be honest, found a lot of the stuff from that period to be meandering and diffuse. Murray Street (2002) sparked my interest again, and I think Sonic Nurse might really signal a Sonic Youth renaissance. It seems more tuneful than anything they've done since Goo, and while I don't hear a "Schizophrenia" or even a "Kool Thing" on this, the top-to-bottom consistency of the album is impressive. Their art-punk sound seems to reach full maturity here: effortless, controlled, and utterly confident in what it is trying to do. I'm not sure this album will entice new converts to the SY cause, but it ought to be good for winning back a few prodigals.
VA, Old Enough to Know Better - 15 Years of Merge Records
: A 3-CD retrospective in celebration of Merge's 15th birthday, I got this on the strength of some of the more recognizable contributors (The Buzzcocks, Neutral Milk Hotel, Superchunk) and the presence of a number of I've-kinda-herad-of-them-but-don't-really-know-what-they-sound-like bands (The Clean, East River Pipe, Portastatic, Spoon, Versus). Also because proceeds were supposed to go to the Future of Music Coalition. Unfortunately, I haven't heard much on this to hold my attention -- no lost gems, no new finds (OK, maybe Portastatic, a side-project of Superchunk's Mac McCaughan). At least some of the money went to a worthy cause.
Through the 90s, I waffled back and forth on the question of CDs. To be sure, I bought a fair share of CDs, but I also kept buying vinyl, both out of used bins and from indie labels that continued to offer it. But even as I continued to buy new LPs, I seldom listened to them. The convenience of CDs and, recently, the deterioration of my turntable, trumped my nostalgic loyalties. However, I've more or less forbid myself (for financial reasons as much as any real scruple) from actually buying CDs of albums I have on vinyl. As a result, a large portion of my music collection is seldom listened to, and quite a few of my late vinyl acquisitions didn't get much play at all....
Song of the day
I doubt I have the discipline to do this every day, but the best song I listened to today was "Bowtie" by Outkast (with Sleepy Brown and Jazzy Pha) from Speakerboxx (from last month's buying binge) Pure unadulterated funk.
I signed up with del.icio.us, the "social bookmarking" service, a few weeks ago (found via Liz Lawley, who's had quite a bit to say about it). So far I'm not really using the social aspects of it, but it is a handy repository for links I suspect I am going to want to look at again, but which I don't want in my bookmarks or which I'll need from another computer. Lately, del.icio.us/donutage has been especially useful for holding links for my off-campus course (hence the links to Kentucky curriculum standards)....
One of the ways in which the iTunes Music Store revolutionizes music purchasing/listening is by once again making the single a viable unit of music. Album-oriented rock has been in ascendence since the seventies; today the main purpose of singles, at least in mainstream music, seems to be to lure saps into paying $15-$20 for a CD with two or three listenable songs on it. (This argument is perhaps a tangential elaboration on a theme I vaguely remember reading in Robert Christgau's Record Guide.) Singles (whether 45s, 7"s, or mini-CDs) have remained available, but they have not really been things you'd buy unless you were a professional DJ, a collector or a completist. Albums have been the center of the music industry for three and a half decades. ...
Yielding to temptation
Jenny Toomey and Franklin Bruno's Tempting has been on my heavy-rotation playlist ever since I bought it at their recent show in Lexington, and it keeps going up in my estimation. The songs are clever and infectious, and Jenny's singing is first-rate. I don't think there's a weak link in the dozen songs on the album, but the closer, "Every Little Bit Hurts," is the one I currently want to listen to over and over again. Go buy the album at Misra Records, cause I'm not sharing mine.
A night at the Dame
Jenny Toomey's show at The Dame last night was well worth the hour-plus drive and $8 admission (even if that worked out to approximately a dollar per song). Accompanied by Franklin Bruno on piano (mostly) and Jean Cook on violin, Jenny did a short set alternating songs from 2001's Antidote and 2002's Tempting: Jenny Toomey Sings the Songs of Franklin Bruno. The Antidote material sounded much better live—if anything, my complaint about that album is that it seems a little overproduced and too "smooth." Live, it was more raw and passionate. The stuff from Tempting—which I was hearing for the first time—is a bit unusual, recalling, dare I say it, classic showtunes more than anything else (the CDDB listing I pulled when I added the album to my iTunes library today classified the album as Easy Listening). But if post-punk indiepop has taught us anything, it's that no style is inherently uncool, and this stuff was definitely not uncool. "Your Inarticulate Boyfriend" deserves a prize just for its delightful title, and the rest of the album maintains a tone of clever but embittered wackiness that is endearing. I would have liked the set to go on all night, but as first openers, Jenny et al. played less than an hour. Since it was a school night, I only stayed for a few songs by Fruit Bats and missed headliners Iron and Wine completely. Given the small sample size, I'll refrain from comments on either.
Jennifer, O Jenny
I discovered the website of Jenny Toomey -- another of my personal heroes -- this weekend. Tonight, I'll be going to see her open for some bands I've never heard of in Lexington (at The Dame). Those two events feel a little like tracking down an old school friend or long-lost relative. ...
Old and nasty
Listening to a track from Chuck Berry's The Great Twenty-Eight, I was momentarily stunned by:...
Impulse buyers beware
I finally got around to trying the iTunes Music Store, which is part of Apple's iTunes 4 software. Although I'd been keeping tabs on this since it was first released, I hadn't been in a hurry to actually use it because initially all that was on it was mainstream from the major labels. But I had heard that they were expanding the inventory, and I had some time on my hands, so......
Mark Bernstein just blogged about the need to avoid the "temptation... [of] the mass audience" and the promise of hypertext to help us do just that. I think I was trying to get at something like that when I called Yo la tengo my heroes, because I think they have succeeded in finding a middle ground between mass appeal based on compromise and a purity that yields only irrelevance and isolation. In any case, this is, I think, what the Indie music scene is about: creating the means so that musicians can work and record without being controlled by the demands of mass appeal. What worries me (and this would apply also to Mark's comments on hypertext) is that people keep missing this point. Many people, it seems, would rather beat the system than change it. The enduring rock and roll dream is not to be on an indie label that allows you freedom to pursue your musical vision and to have a small but ardent fanbase interested in sharing your vision. The dream is to Make It Big, whatever the cost. Likewise, the 90s dot-com bubble was fueled by people who wanted to cash in on a craze rather than really revolutionize the way people conduct business. I would like to share Mark's optimism about a brave new many-to-many world -- I agree that the potential is there -- but I find it hard to believe that it will ever overcome the din of broadcast.
YLT Concert Review
Despite Ira Kaplan's apologetic comment that the show had not exactly been "rocktastic," Yo la tengo sounded great to me last Wednesday. The show featured mostly songs from their most recent album, Summer Sun, which like its predecessor, And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out, is certainly in a quieter vein than some previous Yo la albums. And the assigned-seating theater-style venue helped contribute to the feeling that one was at some avant-garde jazz-fusion event rather than a Rock and Roll show. But just when I would start feeling antsy at the electronica-inspired atmospherics, they would switch gears, Ira would lay down some skronk on his guitar, and they were a rock act again. One of the things that occurred to me during the show was how wide-ranging YLT have been stylistically, and how effortlessly they move between styles. It got me thinking that style can be a kind of trap. Perhaps an idea for a future post....
This Wednesday I'll be going to see Yo La Tengo at the Singletary Center in Lexington. I'm pretty excited because I haven't seen them in a number of years and haven't seen any shows to speak of since we moved back to Kentucky (after being spoiled by the decent music scene of Columbus, OH and the outstanding music scene of Athens, GA). And YLT are, more or less, my personal heroes. Here's a group that has managed to survive as an "indie" band for at least 17 years without selling out, blowing up, or falling apart; a band that has stayed artistically interesting for their entire careers -- no descent into repetition, nostalgia, or self-indulgence; a band that seems never to have been seduced by the lure of Rock Stardom, but simply remained true to themselves and their music. I'm sure I'm romanticizing what has probably been a grueling and at times disheartening career path, but I find the continued existence of Yo La Tengo to be one of the few positive signs of the viability of not just music but art itself in our culture. Viva YLT!