Thursday, December 4, 2008
Plus, I like the little Last.fm scrobbler box that registers every single song I listen to on my iTunes. And every time I plug my iPod into the computer, it scrobbles everything I played on my iPod since the last time I plugged it in. Hell yeah! It's a complete record of everything I listened to. Pandora has no such features.
If you create a profile on Mog.com, it will also keep track of what you listen to, and the last 10 songs you listened to on iTunes will be listed on your Mog profile. The Mog-0-matic software will also tally everything you have in your iTunes and tell you who you have the most songs by, etc.
Pandora is a lot of fuss over nothing, really. Last.fm does everything it does and more. Music Genome Project? Whatever. If you're not going to give it up to the indie artists, you can put your Music Genome up your wazoo.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
I really didn't even give the recommendation part a chance, primarily because I'm in a bit of a spending freeze in terms of music at the moment (I even quit Emusic, which is a waaaay better deal than iTunes to begin with). But the playlist thing intrigued me. Basically, all you do is select a song in your library and hit the Genius button (in the bottom right corner of the iTunes interface), and it generates a playlist of 25 songs (minimum; you can up it to 50, 75, 100...) that it thinks "go well together" based on your selection (the song you select becomes track 1 of the playlist). I basically went through my library finding the most diverse, random songs possible and hitting the Genius button just to see what it came up with. Some results were intriguing, some were frustrating, and some were disappointing.
Most frustrating is the fact that if the song is not something that is sold in the iTunes Store, or is by an independent artist, more than likely the Genius will just balk at it. For instance, if I select something really obscure and avant-garde (like "Industrial Ambients" by Laibach, from a compilation entitled "An Anthology of Noise & Electronic Music Volume 2), I get a message that says: "Genius is unavailable for the song "Industrial Ambients"." The same thing happens when I select a Dr. Pants song, or even a song by Abi Tapia, an up and coming songwriter in the folk scene (for the record, Genius doesn't work on K.C. Clifford, either).
The "disappointing" element mostly has to do with the stylistically narrow vision of the Genius, especially when it comes to music in genres primarily populated by African-American artists. For instance, I could tell it to generate a playlist based on a Marvin Gaye song, a Sly Stone song, or a Prince song, and I'd get an entire list of r&b stuff. Why, if I select "Little Red Corvette", do I not get some additional 80's hits that happened to be by white people? Why do I only get a list of all the other black folks in my collection? When it come to genres like this (r&b, hip hop, jazz, and even electronica), the Genius assumes that when I select a certain song (like, say, "South Side" by Moby) that I want an entire playlist of things that are in the same genre (a whole crapload of electronic stuff).
Interestingly enough, the Genius becomes most adventurous when operating in the exceptionally broad genre of "rock" (what on earth does that even mean anymore?). However, the Genius tends to select certain songs over and over again, regardless of what else is in the playlist ("Cars" by Gary Numan seems to be the Genius' favorite song in my entire library). I saved 23 of the playlists Genius generated for me that first day, and "Cars" is in 6 of them. It was in a whole bunch of other ones that I didn't save, too. My iTunes library has 9,192 songs in it, and it can't find another song to put in there instead? Seriously?
It did have some very intriguing results as well, though. Here are a couple of playlists that genuinely impressed me:
Playlist Based On "I Don't Wanna Grow Up" by Tom Waits:
I DON'T WANNA GROW UP-TOM WAITS
IT'S A MOTHERFUCKER-EELS
SEE NO EVIL-TELEVISION
YOUR LITTLE HOODRAT FRIEND-THE HOLD STEADY
I AM WAITING-THE ROLLING STONES
BOB DYLAN'S 49TH BEARD-WILCO
SONG AGAINST SEX-NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL
HOLD ON-TOM WAITS
LORD ONLY KNOWS-BECK
IT'S A HIT-RILO KILEY
DRUNKEN ANGEL-LUCINDA WILLIAMS
LOW SELF-OPINION-ROLLINS BAND (When does Rollins Band EVER follow Lucinda??? That's AWESOME!!)
START A WAR-THE NATIONAL
LETTER FROM AN OCCUPANT-THE NEW PORNOGRAPHERS
CALIFORNIA GIRLS-MAGNETIC FIELDS
PABLO PICASSO-THE MODERN LOVERS
HELL IS CHROME-WILCO
GHOST-NEUTRAL MILK HOTEL
YOU CAN HAVE IT ALL-YO LA TENGO
BACK IN THE HIGH LIFE AGAIN-WARREN ZEVON
EARTH DIED SCREAMING-TOM WAITS
TALKING WORLD WAR III BLUES-BOB DYLAN
If you know a good portion of those songs, then I don't have to tell you that it's a mix of the exciting and the bewildering. Also, I don't like the fact that whatever artist you ask it to base the playlist on, it will invariably include at least 3 of that artist's songs in the playlist. Here is my absolute favorite, though. I asked it to create a playlist based on the song "Bustin' Surfboards" by the Tornadoes (featured on the soundtrack to "Pulp Fiction"). THIS is what I got:
BUSTIN' SURFBOARDS-THE TORNADOES
EVERYBODY'S GONNA BE HAPPY-THE KINKS
FOOLS GOLD-THE STONE ROSES
WHAT THE WORLD NEEDS NOW IS LOVE-JACKIE DESHANNON
PICTURES OF LILY-THE WHO
EVERY FALLEN IN LOVE?-THE BUZZCOCKS
WAVE OF MUTILATION-THE PIXIES
BELA LUGOSI'S DEAD-BAUHAUS
LIAR, LIAR-THE CASTAWAYS
MOTHER'S LITTLE HELPER-THE ROLLING STONES
WALK ON THE WILD SIDE-LOU REED
CARS-GARY NUMAN (there it is again...)
LET'S SEE ACTION-THE WHO
TIRED OF WAITING FOR YOU-THE KINKS
ON YOUR OWN-BLUR
IMITATION OF LIFE-R.E.M.
(WHITE MAN) IN HAMMERSMITH PALAIS-THE CLASH
There are portions of this that melt my brain. First of all WHAT ON EARTH does "Bela Lugosi's Dead" have in common with "Bustin' Surfboards"? And THEN it follows that up with "Sweetness Follows" by R.E.M.?? Truly inspired. I mean, that moment almost made me weep with joy. Not all the playlists were this adventurous by any means...It's really interesting to see how inconsistent this thing is.
So, perhaps for a certain brand of listener, iTunes Genius could be construed as brilliantly smart (or some other adjective combination suggested by its name). I'm not convinced. Leave the Genius playlist making to we humans who have practiced it since our adolescence. I want Frank Zappa, Prince, R.E.M and Sly Stone all on the same playlist, and the Genius ain't gonna do that for me.
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
1. To my knowledge, the first record I ever heard was the song "Frog Kissin'" by Chet Atkins. I only know this second hand from my parents. The record WORE OUT before I was old enough to have any recollection of it. I apparently used to ask to hear it incessantly in my 2 year old language by saying, "Play frogsin."
2. Technically, the first record I ever owned was The Beatles Yellow Submarine soundtrack. A birthday gift from a neighborhood friend when I was in kindergarten.
3. Synchronistically enough, the first real concert I ever attended was Paul McCartney at RFK Stadium on July 4, 1990. I was 15, and it was awesome. Our seats weren't very good...We could just barely see Paul, but it was truly unforgettable. I remember before he played "Birthday" he said: "Hey America! It's your birthday!"
4. I really, REALLY don't like the song "Time of the Season" by the Zombies.
5. Circa 1985-86, I probably would have told you that Starship was my favorite band.
6. I don't really enjoy vocal jazz. In fact, most of the things I like that might be called "jazz" are quite noisy and unpleasant to most people. Especially lately.
7. Explicit or controversial lyrical content almost NEVER offends me. Being "offended" by such things is really a waste of time and energy. It results in bitterness, fear, and an inability to enjoy the other merits of a given song or composition. "Catholic Girls" by Frank Zappa might be offensive to you lyrically, but that song is the JAM. Listen to the break in the middle and tell me it doesn't make you convulse with joy.
Okay. Random indeed. Maybe not particularly interesting. I guess I'll tag OkayCityNate, but there's sooo not any pressure from me to carry on with this. I hope to have another more substantial entry up soon, hopefully about the new iTunes Genius feature. I'll be interested to hear what all of you have to say about it, if you've played with it. Later.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
I've really been enjoying Frank Zappa lately. It's easy to forget sometimes how much certain things inspire you if you haven't experienced them in a while. My own aesthetic is really a lot closer to his than it is to someone like, say, Robert Pollard...Pollard's music is fairly one-dimensional by comparison (this is NOT an insult...I love Bob, and think what he does is fantastic, but when you compare it to Zappa's "utopian disregard for genre", it's not exactly diverse). Frank's music is kaleidoscopic, and I've always wanted to be...I've subdivided my work to keep each project within a certain set of parameters, but when you look at it as a whole the picture is large and there's a lot going on (I would never propose that my work measures up to Zappa's, but it's easy to see that he's been an inspiration).
The facts are that the music that has been the most inspiring to me has never been the hippest, except for maybe a brief moment around 1991 or so (or it could have been the fact that everyone I knew and thought was cool was listening to R.E.M. and They Might Be Giants, too). I've always been pretty eclectic, and quasi-picky at the same time. As I post more of the Soundtrack Spotlight mixtapes, you'll see this more and more...1996 is up next and it's a perfect example. There were things that came out in 1996 that I should have been just ga-ga over, but I either didn't like them or didn't catch on until later (I was at least a year late on Cibo Matto, possibly 2 years). Anyway, all of this to say that as I've been falling back into the Zappa zone of late, I feel like I really need to cut myself some slack. I've been very concerned the past couple of years about what I'm listening to, how it's affecting (or not affecting) the music I'm writing, and that maybe if the music I'm listening to isn't hip enough then by default the music I'm writing won't be hip enough...and the reality is that's a bunch of shit. You heard it here first, folks. A bunch of shit. It doesn't matter if I'm hip enough or not. If I'm ahead, or behind, one way or another the world will catch up; it'll come back around.
Go find Frank's album LATHER (there's supposed to be an umlaut over the "A", but I don't have an umlaut key) and bask in the grandiosity of his vision. There is where my inspiration and aspiration lie. At least today.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
I have always been a listener who appreciates musical complexity and skill, probably because I am really nerdy when it comes to music theory and such things. I also appreciate a sense of humor in my music, as well as a weird, quasi-avant-garde sensibility. Listening to Phish's early records, especially LAWN BOY (1990) and A PICTURE OF NECTAR (1991), one can hear all of these elements, and they worked together to create something really magical. Now, let's all understand that I was not a fan of their live work early on because I had no access to it. I didn't know anyone who was in on the tape trading network, and Phish never came to my town, so I didn't get a chance to really explore what they did live until their first live album came out in 1995 (I did manage to see them play twice in concert before this, in 1992 and 1994, but these shows were relatively tame and straightforward). Little things trickled out here and there for a number of years after that, and then, in 2001 or so, the LIVE PHISH series of CDs started to hit stores, and a veritable deluge of high quality live Phish music was available to me. This all came after their first breakup (or "hiatus" as it was called) towards the end of 2000.
All of this is meant to illustrate that, to me, Phish really were a studio band. Did they make a few lousy records? Yes, perhaps more per capita than most bands I'm a really big fan of. But the good stuff, I SWEAR, is REALLY good. The high point for me has to be BILLY BREATHES, their 1996 album. I don't care who you are or what you lean towards; it's a nearly flawless rock record.
The quandary is that, to themselves and many of their followers, Phish were a LIVE band. That was the meat and potatoes of what they did. So, even after they came back from the hiatus, and made a really GOOD record (UNDERMIND), they quit again because the touring lifestyle wasn't working out anymore (mind you, there were some things going on underneath the surface that many didn't really know about at the time...Trey's addiction to hard drugs being the main one), and because the music wasn't moving forward to speak of. This was in 2004.
So, this brings up a number of questions for me in regards to this upcoming reunion. Apparently, they're doing three shows in March at the Hampton coliseum, and then additional touring for 2009 will be announced. What are they playing? The same shit that they were tired of four years ago? Is four years really long enough to decide that you want to go out there and play "The Divided Sky" again? And will there be a new record? Any new material at all? These are my questions, because if there is no new record or new material, and if there is no serious consideration being given to what's on/off limits in terms of setlists (I have LONG been vocal about the fact that, at some point, they should have cut everything from before 1994 out of the set, and that way they could really develop some of the newer songs without worrying about playing "You Enjoy Myself" or "Mike's/Groove" all the time), then this will die a quick and ugly death. It (the reunion) will have most of the same problems and issues that contributed to the 2004 breakup, and it will continue to sully and weaken the reputation of a band that many parts of the music community regard with a LOT of trepidation to begin with. And they don't deserve it. They really don't. At least, not YET. This latest announcement could change all that, if they're not careful.
Stay tuned to www.phish.com for more details, and stay tuned here for more opinions.
Monday, September 29, 2008
2 records, 2 beers
Current mood: thoughtful
I just wish that I could do that every night. Listen to two whole records, drink two beers. I wouldn't be so tired that the beers would make me too sleepy to enjoy the music...I wouldn't have to start so late that I would flake out after the first record, or sooner...
John Coltrane is a beautiful thing, especially once you've been through your day, and your mind has been stretched out enough to handle it. I've always been bewildered by the fact that things that are less conventional are more enjoyable to me at the end of the day. If I try to listen to Coltrane, or Electroacoustic Music, or Sonic Youth even, at the beginning of the day, it doesn't really work out. The beginning of the day is the time for The Beatles, or R.E.M., or They Might Be Giants. Electric Miles Davis, Albert Ayler, Kenneth Gaburo and The Mars Volta are late night indulgences.
I have a conflicted relationship with the night...I desperately want to wade into it, deeply, until I'm up to my neck...I want to sit, engrossed in the music and the awareness of the darkness outside until the final notes of an album fade and I suddenly realize the sun will be up in two hours. I want to deny that the need for sleep even exists. For it doesn't do me any good in my soul to acknowledge said need...It only makes me feel discouraged and sad, because somehow my body has trumped my spirit... and my true being is disturbingly, dishearteningly subservient to my physical one. The intangible elements of my self could go on for days, continually absorbing and interacting with that which gives me life, if my damned eyes didn't begin to feel so tired, and demand that physical rest occur...
Will John Coltrane be there tomorrow? And Aphex Twin, and Frank Zappa, and Guided By Voices? Yes...but tomorrow will contain only a fleeting moment to engage them, and some of them will be left again, for the next day, and then for the next, and the next, and the next...and I will continually say, "Yes, I'm getting to that record. Or getting back to it. Giving it the attention it deserves, even DEMANDS..."
I try not to dwell in sadness because of these realities. And, let's not forget, this is to say nothing of my OWN music, and the neglect that it suffers. That's a whole other story. For another entry. For now, let's just listen.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
This is NOT a mixtape strictly of things that were released in 1989...A lot of it is, but my listening has never followed that strict of a trajectory. These are all songs that I listened to a lot in 1989.
I chose to start with 1989 because I tend to view it as a sort of "golden age" in terms of my musical tastes. It may seem odd, but I miss the innocence I felt during this time, discovering some classic rock and "alternative" music for the first time, but still being very much of the opinion that the top 40 and butt rock on the radio was worthwhile. Granted, I was starting to get pickier about which top 40 songs I liked and was willing to sit through (the radio in the car never stayed on a particular station for long), but there were still some that I just couldn't resist (within a year, top 40 radio would go so far downhill that I would declare myself finished with it forever...a stance I've maintained to this day). Hip-hop was really starting to become un-ignorable, and from about sixth grade onward it was a fixture of my record collection. I also was a huge fan of the Dr. Demento show, which not only permanently impacted the aesthetic I use in my own music to this day, but also introduced me to some pivotal artists as well (The Dead Milkmen, They Might Be Giants, Camper Van Beethoven, Frank Zappa). Many of the listening habits I formed in 1989 continue to be prevalent in my approach to music now; there's no one category of music (see previous entry "Freedom..." to hear more about my opinion of "categories") that I really am 100% loyal to, or that I am a fan of in particular. There's genius to be found in every musical genre, every radio format, but it is in very short supply in each individual context (this is my opinion, mind you...most people are more forgiving than I am). Classic rock radio ceased to be anything I wanted to participate in around 1991 or so...They didn't play enough of the bands that I liked, and too much of the bands that I didn't (not enough Zeppelin, Who, Beatles, Stones, Jethro Tull, too much Styx, Foreigner, Bob Seger, Lynyrd Skynyrd). This problem seemed more severe once I moved back to Oklahoma City from my one and only year living in the DC area...Oklahoma folks like their American 70's rock. God knows why. Add to this scenario the continual discovery of exciting artists outside the radio spectrum, and you have the beginnings of a journey into music geekdom, rock snobbery, whatever you want to call it. I just call it being obedient to my own damn taste. If I don't like something, I'll let you know, and I'll let you know WHY NOT.
All that being said, the 1989 mixtape has 3 sides (yeah, I know...I tried to keep it to 2, but couldn't, and wasn't able to stretch it to 4, either). YOU get to make the 4th side...Leave comments including what would be on YOUR 1989 mixtape. You can just leave one song, or create a whole 45-minute side yourself. How about that?
Wild Wild West-The Escape Club
Fish Heads-Barnes & Barnes
Beats To the Rhyme-Run-DMC
Mr. Brownstone-Guns N' Roses
Turning Japanese-The Vapors
Beds Are Burning-Midnight Oil
Houses Of The Holy-Led Zeppelin
Why Don't We Do It In The Road?-The Beatles
Smokin' Banana Peels-The Dead Milkmen
Polka Dot Undies-Bowser & Blue
Once Bitten Twice Shy-Great White
Detroit Rock City-Kiss
Jenifa Taught Me (Derwin's Revenge)-De La Soul
I Won't Back Down-Tom Petty
Eye Of The Beholder-Metallica
Square Dance Rap-Sir Mix-A-Lot
My Sharona-The Knack
Open Letter (To A Landlord)-Living Colour
One Of These Days-Pink Floyd
Dig A Pony-The Beatles
Purple Toupee-They Might Be Giants
Baba O'Riley-The Who
Werewolves Of London-Warren Zevon
Maybe I'm Amazed-Paul McCartney
Should I Stay Or Should I Go-The Clash
Dig It-The Beatles
Ten Years Gone-Led Zeppelin
In Your Eyes-Peter Gabriel
Wild Wild West-In retrospect, not really that good a song at all. But at least these guys played guitars, or acted like it. It was just quirky enough to hold my attention at the time. This probably came out in 1988, but leading into 1989 it was a song that consistently didn't make me want to change the station.
Fish Heads-This is an all-time Dr. Demento classic, in case you aren't aware. The minimal, absurd arrangement is genius all in itself, before you even consider the lyrics or vocals.
Beats To The Rhyme-By the time the "Tougher Than Leather" album came out in 1988, Run-DMC's big moment was over for most people. I was still loyal, though, and I think this song shows why.
Mr. Brownstone-Hands down, far and away the BEST Guns N' Roses song ever. Totally embodied their attitude and swagger in a way a lot of their other songs did not.
Mercedes Boy-I don't know if I really can explain this one. Couldn't get enough of this song at the time.
Turning Japanese-Totally wasn't aware of this song in the early 80's when it was originally released...Dr. Demento turned me on to it later. Can anyone out there listen to this and tell me it doesn't kick ass?
Beds Are Burning-Another one that I think was 1988, but I had to include it simply because I remember feeling when it came out that it was like a window into another musical world, where good songs were the most important thing, that having big hair or a drum machine weren't important at all. Ground zero for my own personal alternative revolution?
Houses Of The Holy-I remember buying the "Physical Graffiti" album and feeling like it was almost too big to handle...Single Led Zeppelin albums took a lot of getting used to for my top 40 addled mind, and a DOUBLE album seemed much more daunting. I latched on to this song first, since it was so catchy, and I was fascinated by the fact that it had been left off the album that shared its title.
Why Don't We Do It In The Road?-I had been listening to the Beatles since I was 3 years old, but did not hear the White Album until I was in 7th or 8th grade. I borrowed a friend's vinyl copy and taped it...It pretty much blew my mind, and still does. The White Album is one of those records that opens musical doors for you...It supplies a context, or a framework for most other musical experiences to live in, whether it's jazz, folk, sound collage (would I have heard musique concrete the same way in college if it hadn't been for "Revolution 9"??), or whatever. The White Album is, in some ways, where it all begins.
Smokin' Banana Peels-Again, one of the most underrated bands of all time. I'm serious.
Polka Dot Undies-Another Dr. Demento treasure. I really didn't even get that it was a Bob Dylan parody at the time...The implied profane rhymes were really my reason for being there.
Once Bitten Twice Shy-This song was everywhere, and it really doesn't suck nearly as bad as some of the other butt rock from that year. It probably helps that it's an Ian Hunter song.
Detroit Rock City-I had never heard a single Kiss song before 8th grade (with the possible exception of "Rock & Roll All Nite"). Exploring the roots of butt rock led me to "Destroyer", and this opening track.
Jenifa Taught Me (Derwin's Revenge)-De La Soul showed me what hip-hop could be, what it could aspire to artistically. Still a masterpiece (both the song and the album from whence it came).
I Won't Back Down-Tom Petty was like a gift from heaven...I can't explain it any better. He was another piece in the puzzle that helped me understand what my personal definition of "good music" was.
Eye Of The Beholder-Metallica felt like a really extreme thing to be listening to at the time...I had a hard time sitting through a whole album of theirs, but my penchant for purchasing cassette singles (anybody remember those? little cardboard sleeve...YEAH!) helped me avoid that eventuality for a while.
Boyz-N-The-Hood (Remix)-This is, of course, not the original version from NWA's first album, but the remix that Eazy-E included on his "Eazy-Duz-It" album. THIS was extreme as well, and was one of a number of things I taped from a friend and (of course) NEVER let my parents hear. I didn't really follow gangsta rap after 1989...Once the novelty/controversy wore off for me, it failed to hold my interest.
Watching, Waiting-So remember "More Than Words"? Same band, but they had an album before the one with the big hit; that's why the second one was called "EXTREME II: PORNOGRAFFITI". This is a great little butt rock ballad about Christ being crucified...
Square Dance Rap-Most of you know Sir Mix-A-Lot from "Baby Got Back", but his TRUE moment of genius was "SWASS", his first record. There has been much debate whether this high pitched guy rapping on this song is Mix-A-Lot's protoge, Kid Sensation, or just Mix-A-Lot himself with his voice sped up. Either way, this is one of the most ridiculous/brilliant things I have ever heard.
Orange Crush-My obsession with R.E.M. wouldn't truly begin until about 1991, but the "Green" album was definitely one of my first flirtations with music that existed somewhere (even if not very far) outside the mainstream.
My Sharona-I was aware of this song growing up, I think, but didn't really get into it until the year in question. It helped that I heard a parody of it on Dr. Demento entitled "Nine Coronas".
Open Letter (To A Landlord)-Living Colour embodied a lot of what I remember to be great about 1989...starting to break out of boxes and so forth. They were an incredibly talented band...1988-1990 or so was their moment, though; sonically, they would have required a complete overhaul to continue after that.
Whew...only side 3 to go...I'm getting tired...Feel like I say the same damn thing about every song...
One Of These Days-"...I'm going to cut you into little pieces." Still one of my favorite Pink Floyd songs. The "Meddle" album was really my introduction to the band...before any of the more famous records.
Dig A Pony-"Let It Be" is an album I remember listening to constantly after we arrived in DC. I think my brother and I were kind of obsessed with it.
Purple Toupee-I happened to see the video for this song on a late night local PBS rock video show called "Video Spin". The moments in life where one feels he/she has experienced art that truly speaks to him/her are rare...This was one of those moments. Never the same again. Aesthetic doors blown wide open.
Baba O'Riley-If I had heard this song and NOT liked it, there would have been something wrong with me.
Werewolves Of London-My true love of Warren Zevon would not manifest until many years later (when I do a spotlight entry for 1996 we'll talk more about that), but his biggest hit had me from the get go.
Teacher-Jethro Tull only have about half a dozen really great songs, but this is one of them.
Maybe I'm Amazed-This is one of McCartney's best love songs...I purchased a vinyl copy of "McCartney" for 50 cents at a church bazaar, along with a copy of "Thick As a Brick" by Jethro Tull, complete with the newspaper on the inside. Still have that one.
Should I Stay Or Should I Go-This kind of fits into the same category as "My Sharona"...A friend bought "Combat Rock" on cassette and loaned it to me and I fell in love.
Dig It-One minute of the most brilliant gobbledygook ever committed to tape.
Ten Years Gone-This is one of my favorite Zeppelin songs ever. As I explored "Physical Graffiti", I kept coming back to this song, drawn in by its beautiful sense of longing for things past. It became all the more poignant when we moved back to OKC in the summer of 1990.
In Your Eyes-It doesn't really matter what year I discovered this song...If it had been any other year, it would be on a spotlight mix for that year instead. Quite simply one of the most beautiful pieces of music from the 80's, period.
Okay, done. Fill in your own side 4 in the comments. No, really, I really want you to. Looking forward to it.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
I was happy with this arrangement for a while. Really, anything I could have possibly wanted to listen to was at my fingertips. What could be better? I mean, that's what the iPod is for, right? Well, the problem was that I was so overwhelmed by what to listen to (even just narrowing the field down to the actual COMPLETE ALBUMS on the iPod, and cutting out the Soundtrack mixes altogether), that most of the time I would just put the damn thing on shuffle and take what I got. Mind you, this can be a really enjoyable thing at times, but it also just made me lazy. I went through a looong stretch of time where I was taking no deliberate action in terms of getting to know most of my recent acquisitions. If a song from, say, ALIEN LANES by Guided By Voices came up in the shuffle (I was a REALLY late bloomer with that band...a story for a future blog), great, but I could probably barely tell you what one or two of the other songs on the album were called or how the melody went.
So, something had to change.
I went through and whittled down the post-Soundtrack album count. I have around ten on there now. I also went through the Soundtrack project and cut out things that I didn't really want to come up on shuffle (there were moments during shuffle time where a particular song would come up and I'd just think, "No, no..."). All these things remain in my iTunes, so I can add them back in at any time.
This is a fluid process...I have a feeling things will change soon. I do know, however, that the current arrangement is better. I've been listening more to actual albums, and I've only been rocking the shuffle feature when I desperately need to hear something familiar (this shows you how dire the situation was...I was only barely familiar with most of the records I've bought in the last 3-4 years!).
So, coming up soon on the blog, the first entry in the "Soundtrack Spotlight" series...where I create a mixtape featuring music I was listening to during a certain year (they will be newly created mixtapes, using current mixtape format, and none of them will duplicate any disc already made for the larger Soundtrack project). I've got a couple in mind already that I want to do that really showcase where my listening was during a particular time. It's exciting stuff. Also, some time soon (probably after the Dr. Pants EP is finally released) I'm going to start Round 2 of the Mixtape Jones Project (some of you already know what that is...I'll repost my original MySpace blog on the subject before we start so you know what we're doing). If you were in on the project before, count on your mixtapes this time around being a tad more adventurous, musically...Be prepared to be challenged...
Saturday, September 20, 2008
Freedom, freedom in music, in art, in expression...This is what everyone is looking for, at least those who are desiring to CREATE. Many listeners, and the culture at large, are NOT looking for this whatsoever. Society and many people within it are looking for things that can be put neatly into little boxes that they call "categories" or "styles" or (grrrr) "genres"...whereas the REALITY is that to many who CREATE, such words are...meaningless.
This is the kind of blog that is going to frustrate people (including some very close to me, although I will not single out who those people are...you're welcome). However, I think that sometimes people are frustrated by the truth. Ultimately, music and art don't have any obligation or recourse to these things. The music that I make or that ANYONE else makes, for that matter, does not have any inherent responsibility to fit neatly into a box so that YOU can know what to call it. This is the biggest lie of the entire entertainment industry.
I have just finished jumping around to some different sites/blogs that I found the links to on Peter Breslin's blog (www.peterbreslin.blogspot.com), most of which having to do with so-called "free jazz" or other types of improvised music. The reality is that there is all kinds of art and music out there that begs to be listened to, but in a posture that does not subject it to any sort of "boxing". It even demands a kind of attention that is purely about the experience of listening itself, and not about, "What do I do with this? What do I call it? Where do I file it away? How do I know what "it" is so that I never have to hear "it" again?" Some days I feel like that's why the term "free jazz" was invented; so that people knew what to call this thing that they were being told to avoid like the plague (or so that the detractors would have something more constructive to call it other than "noise". Whatever. I'm not a detractor and I call it wondrous).
Mind you, there ARE scenarios in which "style" is a concern (for instance...I played my first gig as a substitute guitarist for my father-in-law's bluegrass band last night, and, although I have yet to play a solo in a performance context with them, if I do, I will definitely make some effort to adhere to a bluegrass "style" in said improvisatory moment). Mostly, though, it's a concern in scenarios where, as a musician, I am not "in charge" of the aesthetic direction of the proceedings. In other words, as a side man (like the bluegrass band scenario), I am under the obligation to adhere to the prescribed "style" of the musical context. However, if I am the LEADER of the ensemble in question, and I want to go really "out" in my solo (like I do sometimes in the second solo on "Hey Abe Lincoln"...doesn't really sound so much like Tom Petty at that point, does it??), I can, and I will, and I SHOULD, as far as I'm concerned. If that one moment takes that song ("Hey Abe Lincoln") out of the box of "classic rock" or "singer/songwriter" or WHATEVER, then so damn be it. I really don't care. From my perspective, that's the way the song is SUPPOSED to be, and it's not about rebellion or some deep-seeded, reactionary non-conformity...It's not a reaction to ANYTHING. It's my pure action. My pure, authentic, artistic ACTION that I make out of my deepest being.
And THAT, my friends, is what we should all be pursuing...the purest, most authentic artistic moment that you can conjure up at any given time, regardless of genre. If you are interested in writing for electronic instruments, orchestral instruments, guitar, bass and drums, and you want each one of those contexts to sound different, then that's okay. Go for it (I say this as much to remind myself of this truth as anything else).
Go out there today and find at least one piece of music that you've never heard anything like before in your life. Start breaking down those boxes.
P.S. Please don't mistake "passion" for "militancy". I am not "militant" about this. I am "passionate". I welcome your comments, your arguments to the contrary...I will just say one more thing. It is not the FAULT of the art or artist that many people find it difficult to break out of "boxes"...therefore it is not the RESPONSIBILITY of the artist to cater to that reality.
Monday, September 15, 2008
Once upon a time, around 1989 or so, I embarked on a project. I decided to create a series of mixtapes that would have all of my favorite stuff from all the albums I owned on them. As I accumulated more albums, I would make more mixtapes. Normal mixtape rules applied, but this was going to be COMPREHENSIVE. Now, I wasn't really too obsessive about the project otherwise...I wasn't rigidly autobiographical (in other words, the music did not go on the mixtapes in the sequence that I discovered or grew to love it), and I kind of just played catch up when it occurred to me to do so. But I kept up with it pretty regularly all through high school, and through my freshman year of college. I can't quite remember how many tapes I had created by then...maybe somewhere around 50 or 60.
Then, tragedy struck...I was home for the summer in 1994, and was driving somewhere, when I suddenly realized that I had left the entire series of cassettes in their storage cases in a cabinet in my dorm room. The dorm rooms were rigorously cleaned after the school year ended, so I knew that the cassettes were gone. All that work, kaput.
I did not attempt to replicate or restart the project for another year and a half or so. I made mixtapes occasionally, but no large connected series of them. Then, some time around the early part of 1996, I decided to attempt the project again, because I thought it would be a good way to occupy my time. This time around I had a LOT more catching up to do, since almost 7 years had elapsed since I started the first time. So I sat around and made mixtapes A LOT. I spent an inordinate amount of time on it. I kept it up until some time in 1999, when I kind of abandoned it for a number of reasons: 1) Cassettes, for better or worse, were on their way out. I didn't even have a cassette player in my car anymore at that point (although I do now, ironically enough). 2) I felt as though a lot of the later tapes had a good bit of music on them that I didn't really like that much...I didn't dislike it, but it was the product of accumulating too much music too fast in a non-discriminatory way, and being able to go back and listen to music that generally didn't mean much to me was not the purpose of the project. To some degree, the point of mixtapes retroactively is to be able to go back and experience a moment in your life, where the music on that tape was, literally, the soundtrack to your life. So...
...in 2004 I began again, with even stricter, more obsessive adherences than the first two times. I decided to use CDs this time around, and did not pursue my current "mixtape" format (see entry "Introduction/What Is This Crap?" for definition) because I had not invented it yet. I rigorously pursued the "autobiographical" nature I had always wanted for the project, starting with the earliest music I ever heard on the first few discs, working all the way up to the present (or early 2004...that's as far as I've gotten with it). So far there are around 250 discs in the series. I found that it's good to stay a few years behind, because when you look back a few years, you REALLY remember what you heard, and what you enjoyed and latched on to...You remember the music that really meant something to you. We'll see how far I get. I know that, given my current situation (most of my CD collection is in the garage, so I don't really have the kind of access to it that the project demands), I won't work on it much any time soon. But we'll see.
This description of this project is necessary to continue a discussion I want to have about iPods, and my struggle/journey with them. So I'll get to that soon. Meanwhile, I'd love to hear your thoughts on the above text.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
So, I wrote a piece of music yesterday that is, again, frustratingly unfit for any sort of "live" performance. It might be a piece of drivel, so it may not matter, but in the current musical culture of Oklahoma City, it's an issue in terms of making people aware that it (or the "project" it's associated with AKA Weird Files) exists. Maybe no one would care anyway, and therefore it doesn't matter whether I try to "promote" it or not. But it also comes back to some of the things I spoke about in a previous entry...
Let's say I want to make this piece (at this moment, it is imaginatively titled "Composition 1", since it is the first piece of music I've written since quitting my day job two weeks ago) a part of a Weird Files live performance. Currently, Weird Files live performances (of which there have been exactly 3 to date) involve me performing on electric guitar, acoustic guitar or vocals over some sort of recorded backing track, depending on the piece. No songs have "lyrics", per se...Any vocals are usually some sort of nonsensical noise. What I've managed to do so far, though, is to make every piece in the show a combination of taped and live performance. "Composition 1" does not appear to be performable in that fashion...No guitar part, no vocal part, all electronics and samples generated from within my little Mac laptop. And, silly, poor me, I have no midi trigger that I might use to play some of those parts "live" (even if I did, it might not gel...I don't know). So what do I do? Do I make the piece a part of the show and just let it play while I stand there? This, again, brings up questions about what performance is, the question about DJs, and when they become "performers" and when are they just spinning records. I would just be "spinning a record" of my piece, really, but in the midst of something that could be called "performance" (this is not the first piece I've written for Weird Files that I felt this way about).
That brings up the whole DJ thing again...I really want to do something along these lines, but it is incredibly difficult not to brand the whole idea as ludicrous, mainly because I don't know of anywhere that would allow me to do what I want to do. I mean, it's partly about choice of material, it's partly because I want to mix my own pieces of music in...It's partly because I don't want to do any sort of "DJing" that really fits in any sort of category that people are familiar with. I also am pretty sure I'm really going to suck at it, and that I'll get laughed at because my gear is shitty and not "real" DJ gear. Whatever. Let's imagine a playlist for a DJ set by me:
Jungle Love-The Time
Discipline-King Crimson/Phil's Boner Story-Weird Files (Phil's Boner Story is just spoken vocal, so it would play simultaneously with the Crimson track)
Ballooon Man-Robyn Hitchcock
Postal Blowfish-Guided By Voices
Dog Breath, In The Year Of The Plague-Frank Zappa & M.O.I.
Music Is My Radar-Blur
Cause For Concern-Nels Cline Singers
Rock & Roll Friends-Sifl & Olly
Fake Talking Heads Song-Liam Lynch
That's probably around 45 minutes or so, but you can tell how it might go on from there. Not especially concerned with any beat matching, or beats period. Not concerned with anything except playing some music that should get played.
I was in Santa Fe for only the second time since 1998 a weekend or two ago. I never thought I'd enjoy being there again as much as I did this time...When I left in 98 I was kind of sick of it, and the first time I went back (2006) I was just kind of in shock that the place was even real. Shocked that my memories were accurate, and that I had, in fact, spent 5 pivotal years of my life there from ages 18-23. This time it was like coming back to an old friend who had no reservations about giving you a warm embrace, even though things had been awkward the last couple of times you had seen him/her. I feel the pull of Santa Fe, of the boho/artistic population that, perhaps unlike anywhere else, and definitely unlike OKC, believes that whatever you do as an artist has intrinsic value, and doesn't need to be acknowledged by the populace at large as having value...a lie that is perpetuated daily by most of the citizens of my current city (more on that in a second...it's all going to tie together somehow). I couldn't help thinking, as I wandered through the park adjacent to the cathedral downtown, "THESE ARE MY PEOPLE!!" Yeah, I'm sure half of them are flaky nuts (e.g. our waitress at Tomasita's the night we arrived), but...it's really hard not to want to be somewhere where my artistic whims could be indulged without having to f$%@ing explain myself to people all the time, or whatever, whatever my complaint of the week is. Plus, I love the mountains more than I ever have...the landscape speaks to my heart in ways that it only showed an inkling of when I lived there. I don't know what to chalk that up to. I came close to tears as we headed into the Texas panhandle on the way home and the last vestiges of the NM-esque landscape disappeared. The clouds became further out of reach, the land became flatter and less interesting...Ugh. Thank God for trips in to Lawton and back the last two Fridays, where I witnessed the Wichita mountains and learned (again for the first time) about the geographic loveliness Oklahoma has to offer. That, and when we went to Lubbock last weekend, I also learned about some NM-esque bits of West Texas that I was unaware of.
So here I am in Oklahoma City, plowing away with Dr. Pants (we do have an EP coming out, that I am really excited about, and it's really positive, and I promise I'll get to talking about that and some other positive things some time soon, just not today), and attempting to muster up the enthusiasm for/tweak the performance concept of Weird Files. And trying to start DJing, all in the face of inevitable apathy on the part of the general populace. So, in the wake of quitting my job, not only do I think about all this, but I make the rather hopeful decision to try and write some string quartet music, with the goal in mind of doing a performance of it some time in the spring of '09. There are two possible explanations for this, one being much more cynical than the other. The cynical one is that at some point, I decided to give Dr. Pants a more narrow focus, musically, because I was convinced that a certain "commerciality" would give the music a better chance at being noticed by a larger audience. Now that I know that people don't give a shit no matter what you do, why not write some string quartet stuff? The less cynical explanation is that now that I have some more time to devote to my art, I feel able to tend to more of the "branches" my "musical tree" and therefore can do some things like this.
A few things about records:
Man...I can't even describe the joy of my late "catching on" that is happening with these guys...I'm all over the map with their material, but this one is a particular favorite at the moment. It's dark, kind of dreary, and has a great 80's production feel that lends it a certain commonality with Joy Division, etc. Highly recommended. Only feel as though I'm scratching the surface.
The Hold Steady-Almost Killed Me
Their first record, which I purchased out of sequence with the others. Has more in common with Lifter Puller, Craig Finn's old band, than their other albums do. Great riffs, less Springsteen-esque than their newer stuff. Well worth it if you're a fan at all.
Brief, yes. But it's almost 1:00 am and it's about all I've got the juice for. Please leave comments. Go be a fan of Dr. Pants on Facebook if you can. We need to build this shit up. "The Cusack-Loggins EP" is almost here. Give us another four weeks or so, and hopefully we'll have it in your grubby little hands. Also, since Mike at Sonicjive.com was so generous as to post a link to my blog on his myspace page, I need to give him a shout out. Sonicjive.com could be one of the coolest music networking sites on the net, if you are willing to allow it to be. Go check it out. Dr. Pants is on there, so how could it be bad?
Wednesday, August 27, 2008
It's taken me a long time to put words to why I find these particular artists so offensive, and why their particular brand of rock just doesn't work, period. First, we must acknowledge that the production on these records pretty much subtracts any hope of the music having any life to it at all, but that's true of the production on almost any mainstream rock record these days. Having gotten that out of the way, the horrible nature of this musical subgenre boils down to two key components:
1) These artists miss the 80's. They miss when rock was flashy, rude, uncomplicated. The 80's hair metal bands had all this going for them (technically challenging guitar solos paired with the dumbest of riffs, and the dumbest of lyrics). Part of their aesthetic is derived from the desire to make dumb rock again.
2) Having come of age in the 90's, however, these artists are of an era where rock bands were TAKEN SERIOUSLY. They want to be treated with the same sort of respect that, say, Nirvana was treated with. Therefore, they are EXTREMELY SERIOUS.
So what does this leave us with? The worst of both worlds. If any of us can say anything positive about 80's butt rock, it's that it was fun. It still is. It was so bad that it was good. You can't ignore the ridiculous hair, clothing, etc. It made that music something fun to remember, and something fun to interact with at the time. So why on earth would we want something that resembled that style musically but without any of the elements that made it so fun in the first place? Add to that the "uber-serious" attitude of 90's grunge, and you have a recipe for musical misery. There is nothing worse than someone making crappy, unimaginative music that is not willing to give an inch in the "serious" category. It just makes the whole thing taste like ass. If you want an egregious example, take for instance Nickelback's cover of "Saturday Night's Alright For Fighting" by Elton John. Now, Elton John's version of this song is fantastically fun. It was designed to be. Nickelback's, on the other hand, is boring, ugly, UBER-SERIOUS SOUNDING and absolutely no fun at all. The combination of an 80's musical aesthetic with a 90's desire to be taken deadly serious is like making a reality TV show that resembles SAW-esque torture porn flicks; disgusting, horrible and conscience-less.
More posts to come soon. I've been trying to get out of day job land, and tomorrow is my last shift. I've got at least two or three on the docket that I want to write. Stay tuned.
Monday, August 18, 2008
Saturday, August 9, 2008
BettySoo-Little Tiny Secrets
I've had this record for a while, but not too long. About five months or so. It has been really difficult for me to get past the brilliance of the second track, "Atlas", and give any of the rest of it the attention it deserves. I mean, "Atlas" has to be one of the most fantastic pieces of music I've heard in a long time. I feel about it the way I felt about "Paranoid Android" for a good while. It just works so well, and yet you are totally bewildered about how it might have been assembled/composed. This album is really difficult to describe...There's a post-punk-ish element to it, and a prog element, but that really shortchanges what the music is.
Most inspiring about this record is the idea that records like this are still possible...that I can sit here and try and convey to you what it's like, but it's so unique that any effort is insufficient. Please go listen to this record, because it is certainly a record that deserves to be listened to by people who enjoy challenging and innovative music.
Peter Breslin-Duology 1
I have only listened to this once (my ambitions for the weekly record report are slowly but surely becoming overly ambitious...I don't feel like I've been able to give any of the five records for this week sufficient attention). It is a recording from 2007, a live concert where Peter brought in six other musicians, and performed improvised duets with them. The order they occurred in was determined by chance (names pulled out of a hat, to be exact): Mark Weaver on tuba, Ruth Zaporah on spoken vocals, Chris Jonas on saxophone, Jeremy Bleich on percussion and oud (a middle eastern stringed instrument), Paul Brown on double bass, and Mike Rowland on drum set. Peter played piano on all selections.
Like I said in the previous entry, I've always had an interest in what might be called "avant-garde". I don't really believe in that distinction...Music is music, whether composed or improvised, whether "folk" or "art"...I think distinctions such as these ultimately are meaningless. Do I think that there was a certain magic to these improvisations that would only be experienced by hearing them live? Perhaps, but that doesn't mean that there's not real musical interaction here that can be appreciated from any perspective. Some people aren't going to get it, but I don' t think that's the musicians' fault. I really don't. We can't fault them for doing something that they believe in, for creating challenging art because that's what their lives and their experience lead them to do.
Oh, and in the interest of full disclosure (in case you didn't read the last entry), Peter Breslin was a teacher of mine in college. Great guy. Hang out and talk to him someday if you have the chance, or just go read his blog at www.peterbreslin.blogspot.com.
BettySoo-Little Tiny Secrets
Betty is also someone I know, someone that KC and I have gotten to know a bit through the folk scene recently. She's a singer-songwriter from Austin. She has a gorgeous voice, something that cannot be said of every folky chanteuse KC and I have heard over the last few years. I like this record, even though there are some songs I enjoy a lot more than others. "The Story of Us", "If You Fall", "Easy Living" and "Goodbye" are all ones I enjoy, and I think I enjoy them more now that I've heard Betty play them live. "Revival", however, is easily my favorite song on the record, largely for reasons that I would describe as spiritual. Being someone who calls himself "Christian", but is largely disappointed with the way that some other Christians conduct themselves in the larger world, this song gives me hope. It is what I believe the Church should be, the way its people should be conducting themselves, the actions that should be taken in the name of Christ versus the ones that are. I have not spoken with Betty about faith or this song in particular, so I don't know for sure how she was feeling or what she was thinking when she wrote it, but it always makes me feel less lonely when I realize there are others out there who might look at the Church the same way I do at this point in history.
BettySoo is also not afraid to write a catchy song, and this should be something that is celebrated in the folk world a lot more than it is. I look forward to enjoying more of her music in the future.
Okay, that's all I got. I wanted to add two more records to this report, but I'm really tired and I haven't had the chance to really give them the attention they deserve. Even these records here have been shortchanged to some degree. We'll have to revamp the plan a bit, maybe...We'll see. Keep listening.
Monday, August 4, 2008
Why all this sudden interest in the avant-garde? Well, the truth is that it’s not sudden at all. It’s been there for years, since college. Some years it has lain completely dormant; as I awaken to the possibility of doing music full time, I also re-awaken to the possibilities of MUSIC. There are many, and I ignore most of them most of the time, shamefully. Weird Files has been an attempt to acknowledge the world outside “pop” music, or “rock & roll”, or whatever you want to call it. At the very least, it acknowledges the fringe of rock, where these so-called “avant-garde” tendencies and ideas creep in. Of course, the response in Oklahoma has been negligible, if that. Weird Files is a project that I don’t even know if I’m happy with, currently. The practicality of putting together the proper live ensembles to perform the pieces as written is nil, so I’m stuck doing this one-man-band, laptop thing, and at that point the parameters start to become unclear. Where is the line between performance of a piece of music and just spinning a recording of it? Where is the line between DJ and musician? When is a DJ a musician and when is he/she not? These are all lines that get blurrier and blurrier as time goes on. Check out the article on Diplo in the latest Paste magazine if you have any doubts.
So, yes, pop music WILL eat you alive. It’s so easy to get wrapped up in the “pop” music world and ignore much of the rest, for good and bad reasons. The good reason is that there IS challenging music within the “rock” world (Trans Am, Sonic Youth, The Residents are just a few examples of ones I’ve been listening to lately…I’ll be writing about all of them here soon), the bad reason is that there are so many people doing amazing things out there on a small scale that are worth paying attention to, and those things are not marketed through many of the same channels as rock, and so if you’re only going to certain sources for your information on things, you miss out.
P.S. Yeah, I know. This entry isn't so much about records or mixtapes. Oh well. Music is music. That's what we're talking about here.