blarg?

music

I was in an Ikea last weekend, when their background music system started playing Rage Against The Machine.

I was actually paralyzed for a moment. I found myself looking around, thinking “Am… Am I just old? Is this old-person music now? Or is it finally time? Here? Why here, now?” I felt, briefly, like I was revisiting a scene from They Live, entirely in my own head. Am I the only person who can hear this? Doesn’t anyone else know what comes next?

I took a minute to look around; I expected to see at least one other person trying to decide whether or not it was time to start flipping stuff over and setting it on fire, but nope. Not a one.

UPDATE: A cölleägüe pöints öut thät there ären’t enough ümläuts in this pöst, which I will äddress directly.

Piano keys

For some reason I have a bunch of nonsense in my feeds about old people music today, a phenomenon whose majestic inertia continues to appall.

People, look: the Beatles are not the greatest band of all time. Some people think so, but those people tend to have a couple of things in common, notably that they’re very old, very wrong, and stink of a nostalgic desperation that gets worse every year. I know, I know, your demographic wants very badly for the bestest band ever to be some icon of your dimly-remembered youth, as opposed to that noise those kids on your lawn are listening to these days, but every generation wants that. And I know that the lurching demographic hunchback of the most self-absorbed generation in history has got the Beatles’ aging backs, sure. But in music criticism as in all things there is nothing good on this earth that baby boomers can’t collectively screw up for the rest of us. But there’s just so many good choices now, why stay hung up on this one?

Furthermore, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is not the greatest album ever, mainly because it’s not even the best album by the Beatles, a title that belongs to either Revolver or the White Album depending on your mood. Have you really listened to it recently? In the last ten years, at a time when you’ve got a clear head and good speakers and not when you’re not drunk or high on Aleve or racked out with crippling maudlin nostalgia? Yeah, I didn’t think so, but you should try it. In the cold light of a modern morning a good two thirds of that album is children’s music, “Peter, Paul and Mary” for people scared of encroaching middle age instead of the dark. And anyone willing to go on about the Beatles’ brilliant harmonies should put the title track and Mr. Kite on repeat and call me in an hour.

Honestly, I don’t know what the answer to the “greatest band” question is; I’m not even willing concede that it’s a meaningful question. Most popular? Most successful? Most influential? The Beatles, and Sgt. Pepper, are none of those, but: I encourage you to broaden your horizons, old people. It’s never too late.

But really, I’d just like you all to shut up about the Beatles for once.

Another Tire Swing

Internet Jackass Day got off to its usual pervasively unfunny start this morning, but mercifully, this happened:

09:59 <mhoye> Dria! You disappeared from that other place.
09:59 <dria> i did
09:59 <dria> i felt entirely too interlopery
10:07 <mhoye> When you said that, for some reason my mind conjured up an image of Big Bird saying "interlooper?"
10:09 <ted> mr hooper
10:09 <ted> i bet!
10:09 <ted> http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mr._Hooper

… and my day went right off the rails shortly thereafter, as people started talking about their favorite bits from the shows they watched as kids. Those links included:

Cult Following: this is how much I love you.

Together, They Fight Crime

We finally opened the boxes of baby furniture that have been haunting our first floor and moved their contents up to their permanent home on the second, and unboxing them caused my wife quite a shock. She thought we wouldn’t get it all done tonight, because they’d take too long to assemble. Surprisingly, they might be the first pieces of furniture we’ve bought that didn’t arrive in the house packed flat, and her remarking on it caused me no end of amusement.

So I put the Jefferson’s theme song on while we hoisted it all up the stairs, a cultural appropriation I’m sure amounts to some sort of trans-ironic cultural obscenity but which made me grin like an idiot regardless[1]. So now we have a our gutted office back, our baby room is in play, and with a little bit of luck it’ll be calm waters from here to whenever El Kid arrives.

( [1] – Forgive me; I know it’s no excuse but I swear it really is the only furniture we own that doesn’t contain the Ikea Nature. )

During that part of the day that I spent desperately trying to stop listening to I’m On A Boat, it occurred to me to wonder where I’d heard that heavily-synthesized-voice sound before, so I made list, and this is what I found:

  • Word Up – released in mid-1986, by Cameo
  • Return Of The Mack – released in early 1996, by Mark Morrison, and
  • apparently T-Pain’s first album was realeased in in the last weeks of 2005.

So oddly, we’re apparently on a nine-years, nine-months cycle for re-using that sound in catchy, otherwise-completely-idiotic music.

I plan to have my ears plugged for most of the summer of 2015. You may wish to mark it on your calendars as well.

Honestly, it’s hard to tear your eyes away from this cultural multi-car pileup. Horrible, but fascinating.

That Johnny Cash thing is the one that’s going to keep the developers of Songsmith awake at night, staring at the ceiling and hoping there’s no afterlife in which they’ll have to answer for what they’ve created.

Microsoft makes this thing called “Songsmith”, which lets you sing into your microphone and, based on some hideous internal logic, will produce backing tracks for your vocal stylings. So some people have done what any rational person would do with a tool like that available, and take the vocal tracks from existing and often well-loved songs and feed them into it just to see what would happen.

The results are… they’re more than criminal. They are mind-rending, a landscape of crumpled bodies and pockmarked walls littering the sandy courtyard of some spiritual Hague. Behold the Songsmith versions of:

…among many, many others.

To precisely nobody’s surprise, Oasis’ Synthetic Wonderwall, Britney Spear’s Toxic Flamenco and Michael Jackson’s Set-Electrofunks-To-Kill Beat It are substantial improvements over the originals. And amusingly (and tellingly) enough, A-Ha’s “Take On Me” and Beyonce’s “Single Ladies” are almost indistinguishable from the originals.

Which might be the real value of Songsmith. If you put a song through it and nothing happens, that’s valuable information.

The other day:

00:25 < mhoye> http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uYSULkXcVYw
00:25 <@humph> howdy hoye
00:25 <@humph> I watched this from your blog and didn't get it
00:26 * nadavers is watching now, also doesn't get it
00:26 < mhoye> "get it"?

Ok, so:

I’ve been a fan for a long time of The Dresden Dolls, the piano-and-drums duo of Amanda Palmer and Brian Viglione, the sole occupants of the “Brechtian punk cabaret” niche of the music world. A nice gentle introduction to their music might be this video for Coin-Operated Boy off their live album “A Is For Accident” and the twitchy, frenetic oddity of Girl Anachronism. But some of my favorite (and quite a bit darker) music comes from their earlier self-titled EP and later also-self-titled full-length album, including Half Jack and Bad Habit, though the Jeep Song, Glass Slipper and The Perfect Fit are perennial favorites as well.

The more recent album, “Yes, Virginia…” is a lot more polished than their earlier work, and it’s really good too, (Necessary Evil and Me & The Minibar are among my favorites there) but after a couple of listens I felt like the raw, sparse sound of the earlier albums was missing, and didn’t have anything really substantial in its place.

Which brings me up to Leeds United, the single off Amanda Palmer’s new solo album, produced by Ben Folds. I’d understood that this was an Amanda-Palmer-only album, and I was expecting a generous dollop of the sort of thing Palmer’s done well before – slower, distressingly passionate songs about damaged people and the uglier edge cases of modern romance. The name is a reference to Twin Peaks, another slow, distressingly passionate show, so I thought I couldn’t be all that wrong.

For the first bit the song shows every sign of going that way, opening up with a ragged, whiskey-and-cigarred Palmer singing over some sparse piano, a promising opener indeed. But over the course of a verse that goes “who needs love when there’s law & order, and who needs love when there’s southern comfort”, a drum kit wanders off the street and starts stomping out unexpectedly upbeat rhythm, and now here we are in a totally different song. And even that doesn’t last long; a verse later and about two minutes in, right after a line ending “who needs love when the sandwiches are wicked and they know you at the Mac Store” (100% awesome in its own right, and the first new thing I’ve heard in a love song this century) the song gets ambushed by an entire horn section that jumps out of nowhere and into the song with both feet.

The horn section brings that fat brass sound and some ridiculously exuberant, over-the-top enthusiasm in with them, and like all good horn sections before long it sounds like they’re all competing to out-joi-de-vivre the next guy over. And I thought this, this is what the last album needed to fill that void. It needed a bunch of talented lunatics with horns.

That’s roughly when the song shifts gears again, going back to it being just Palmer, her half-cracked sandpaper voice and her piano and just a little quiet cymbal work before the horns start to ramp back up to 11. Then it’s this big, rumbling soccer-mob push to the finish; it’s every brass instrument for itself with the horns now going determinedly all over the place, the drummer trying to chase the horns down More Is Better Lane, and everything building up to this great, jangly, screaming finale.

So, there you go. That’s why I like the song, because listening to it is like joining some sort of wierd musical pub crawl with a bunch of too-enthusiastic fans.

If you like it, you can see videos for the album at the Who Killed Amanda Palmer site, and the Dresden Dolls download page and Automatic Joy (whose name comes from a line from Coin Operated Boy) are also worth checking out. Throw a few bucks their way if you like it.

After a relatively crappy day, I got off the subway, and there’s a couple of buskers playing a fiddle and a banjo at the station. And they’re really going at it, playing the hell out of those things, and I can’t figure out why ’til I get up close. The answer turns out to be that a couple of local b-boys have decided that it’s time to throw down, to the tune of these guys playing some good old-time country fiddlin’ and pickin’.

And man, did that cheer me up.

So I did what any sane person would do in that situation, and recorded a video. I feel bad that I broke one of the lesser rules I’m going to be pushing at my presentation later this month, but I’m glad I saved the moment for posterity, and for you.

East From Spadina

Like alcoholism and pyromania, in moderation paranoia can be a lot of fun. So if you’re interested in making your commute just a little bit surreal or add a certain cold war East-Berlin-chic to your next get together, I have quite a treat for you.

Numbers Stations are shortwave radio stations that transmit seemingly-random sets of numbers, repeated in sequence, on some arbitrary schedule; they’re guaranteed not to mean anything to anyone except for the shadowy figure with the right one-time pad, for whom those numbers will magically become their next marching orders through the magic of crypto.

But since it’s shortwave, anyone with a shortwave radio can tune in, and the Conet Project has collected several CDs worth of transmissions from all over the world. And if you grew up reading John Le Carré these crackling synthesized tones and strange recitations will speak to you through a code that means nothing; they will make you think of dimly-lit meetings in the cold alleys of East Berlin, of dead drops, safe houses, microfilm and old men with old secrets.

The Conet Project isn’t selling the CDs anymore, but they’re all downloadable, so put it on shuffle and head to work, looking over your shoulder the entire time. That woman with the loose suit-jacket? She’s wired. That guy with the moustache? He’s an informant, guaranteed. Don’t look him in the eye. Those two guys on the train with you, who were were on the streetcar too?

They’re on to you, man. You’re blown.

Run.