15 November 2008

"This singing together, this was our power."

A few months ago, I protested the lack of good modern protest songs that people can sing together at actual protests. I am pleased to report that I found them! Some of them. Sort of. These are not your grandfather's protest songs.

The Classics: We Shall Overcome

Here is a speech by Martin Luther King, Jr., that explains and demonstrates how a song can strengthen a movement. "Know I join hands often with students and others behind jail bars singing it ... Sometimes we've had tears in our eyes when we joined together to sing it, but we still decided to sing it..."

Here is "We Shall Overcome" from a Jerusalem Gay & Lesbian Pride demonstration. ("The video was taken shortly before the crowd was dispersed by snap arrests of peace protesters.")

Old Warhorse Protest: Neil Young

Neil Young always has something to say about oppression, abuse of authority, and war, so it's no surprise that he has a few things to say about President Bush and Iraq. He has built a website on the subject, Living With War. Here is one of his songs urging action, "Let's Impeach the President for Lying".

It's not a song for mass singing, but the chorus works for that and makes a point. This site also has (as of today) nearly 3000 user-submitted songs about the war.

New Dudes: Rage Against the Machine

RATMs name pretty much tells you where they stand on oppression, abuse of authority, and war. They signed up for peace concerts at both the Democrat and Republican conventions in 2008. The concert at the DNC went off smoothly, but police proactively shut down the concert at the RNC. RATM didn't walk away quietly. Instead, they did a 2-song acapella concert with a bullhorn ("Bulls on Parade" and "Killing in the Name of").

Again, these don't really seem like folk songs, but people find powerful bits to sing along with. "Fuck you! I won't do what you tell me!" isn't quite the same as "This land is your land, this land is my land", but it works.

The Singing Revolution: Estonia

The power of folk music is to connect us to each other and to connect the present to the past. It talks about our common history, our common experiences, our common dreams. Estonia, a Baltic nation occupied first by the Nazis and then by the Soviets, used this power to save their nation and eventually to regain independence. Their culture is big on folk songs and they have an old national tradition of the laulupidu.

A laulupidu is a festival with choruses of 20 to 30,000 people singing folk songs. The Estonians were able to use these to save their culture and (as things progressed) spread the idea of revolution among the people, by careful choice of songs. (As I have observed, the power of music to galvanize a revolution comes from the establishment. The more they forbid it, the more energy it has.) There is a new documentary on this. You can see a trailer and get more information at The Singing Revolution website. "If 20,000 people start to sing one song, then you can't shut them up. It's impossible."

The laulupidu tradition didn't die with the departure of the Soviets. Recently, there was a Punk Laulupidu. It makes sense for 20,000 people to stand together to sing "I wanna be anarchy" if you remember that "This singing together, this was our power".

13 November 2008

I Am Weary (Let Me Work)

I've been sick. I've been very sick. There are weeks back there I don't remember, what with the fever and the lack of oxygen and all. (Tip: Do not get pneumonia when you live alone.) I can see from my Last.fm profile that I was listening to a lot of music I don't remember hearing. I can see a very fine new Pandora station that I seem to have tweaked pretty well (Smells Like Grunge Spirit) that I don't remember making. I see a stack of notes on Pandora and other things that don't make any sense at all. (Why do I have a page on the drummers of Pearl Jam?) I see three new albums from a band I never heard of (Kinski: like the first two, third not so much).

I'm still recovering slowly and it's going to take me a while to wade through the notes and figure out where I left off here. I will enjoy listening to "Smells Like Grunge Spirit" while I work. In the meantime, here are three versions of one of my favorite songs, "Wayfaring Stranger", that I found on Youtube while I was looking for something else. The first is in a traditional style, the second is a modern interpretation from England, and the third is timelessly sublime.

17 October 2008

Bands with Split Personalities: Goo Goo Dolls & Spinal Tap

I'm still sick and stupid, so I'm going to leave you with more homework. These are songs that I used to test Pandora's track selection and I'll be pointing back to them later.

Goo Goo Dolls

Early Goo: "Know My Name"

Late Goo: "Stay With You"

Spinal Tap

Early Tap: "Give Me Some Money" and "(Listen to the) Flower People"

Late Tap; "Hell Hole" and "Big Bottom"

15 October 2008

Punt while coughing: Solomon Burke

I have many fine notes on Pandora, but a fever stands between them and you. I now know I can't simplify multi-dimensional data analysis with a temp above 100F.

Don't be sad—I'll leave you with a special song to keep you company, "You're The Kind of Trouble" by Solomon Burke, from his album Nashville. This is one of the songs I've used in my Pandora-poking, so it's not completely a space filler.

14 October 2008

Yet another fan video of yet another earworm, this time from Josh Turner

I'm sick and not up to much thinking. Last night, I plain passed out before I had a chance to put a piece together for you.

I've been blackboxing Pandora, trying to figure out how they decide which artists are similar to the seeds for a station. That is going slowly, but I have been able to work out that their basic unit is a block of 4 songs. I'm still looking for a good band with two distinct and different personalities, but being sick and stupid has put that effort on the shelf for a few days. I'm having some fun now listening to the station seeded with "John C. Reilly" who has done only the Dewey Cox soundtrack. That was designed to have as many different genres as possible, so I am quite interested to see if the station hits all of them.

In the meantime, I am going to share my current earworm with you. A friend of mine has been listening to this Josh Turner song obsessively for the last couple of weeks and now it's stuck in my head. Here is yet another fan video.

The scenes are from Doctor Who and the video probably makes a lot more sense if you know that the two actors are both the Doctor. (Trust me, changing actors is a Doctor Who thing.) I like the official original video very well, but that has "Embedding disabled by request".

At least it's not "Hey There Delilah" again.

12 October 2008

Another great television theme and two of its children

A friend reminded me of three more great television theme/title songs that you can identify immediately from the next room. I still put Doctor Who first, but these are defintitely on a short list. And they are all related.

Peter Gunn

Original Version

Henry Mancini wrote an instant classic, that ended up branding a whole genre: crime and espionage drama. He did later themes for other series, and he did the Pink Panther theme, too, but that went from movies into TV, not the other way around.

Gratuitous Bettie Page Spanking Video Version

How can you skip a chance to put in Bettie, ropes, and spanking?

A Remarkable Cover

This song has been covered so many times, it's a career to look for the perfect example. This one will have to do.

Mission Impossible

Original Version

Lalo Schifrin original, and one of the many themes taking the cue from Mancini's Peter Gunn theme.

Mission Impossible movie

Remix of the original version by Adam Clayton & Larry Mullen Jr. This clip is a fanvid, something that I plan to talk about soon.

Mission Impossible 2

See how litle of the original is required for you to recognize it.

Law and Order

Original Series

Mike Post's instant classic, again in the Peter Gunn family tree.

L&O: Criminal Intent

His slightly different spin on the same theme.


I think that the branding is pretty well established by now.

11 October 2008

The Best TV Theme of All Time (So Far)

Today, I heard a bit of a snip of a piece of music coming from the next room and I new immediately what someone in there was watching. It is the song that has called kids of all ages in to the telly for 45 years and going strong.



45 years and still doing its magic. Just now as I was choosing which YouTube clips to embed, I had two young fans who are supposed to be asleep run in to see which episode I was watching.

Doctor Who
on BBC.co.uk

09 October 2008

Pandora's DNA

Pandora is an application that sits above yet another ginormous database of music information. (Are you noticing a pattern here?) It uses this database to generate lists of songs to play as stations for users.

So, what about this database? It is from the Music Genome Project, which brought together geeky music experts to find a way to describe music in numbers, in a way that would let have tracks that sound similar to each other have close-together numerical descriptions. (My non-Amber mathematician hat keeps trying to get technical, but I am beating it down. So far.)

To do this, they first developed lists of genes, things or qualities that a track might have to some degree. For example, in the category of genes "Strings", they have the genes Background String Section, Bowed Strings, Melodic String Accompaniment, Melodic String Section, Solo Strings, String Ensemble, String Section, String Section Beds, Subtle Use of Strings, Use of a String Ensemble, and Use of Strings. Human expert listeners give each track a score for each gene that applies to its genre. Rock and pop have 150 genes, rap has 350, jazz has 400, etc. That list of values, the score for each gene, is the track's genotype. That goes into the ginormous database with the usual track information like artist and title.

To give you an idea, here are some of those genotypes presented in words, just hitting the highlights. These are taken from the Pandora "Why was this song selected?" feature.

  1. Features electric rock instrumentation, a subtle use of vocal harmony, repetitive melodic phrasing, extensive vamping, and major key tonality. (U2, "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For")

  2. Features hard rock roots, groove based composition, minor key tonality, dirty electric guitar riffs. (Tool, "Sober")

  3. Features hard rock roots, folk influences, mild rhythmic syncopation, repetitive melodic phrasing, and extensive vamping. (Jerry Cantrell, "Anger Rising")

Within the gene system, the distance between two tracks can be calculated mathematically. If they set their system up right, that would correspond almost exactly to how similar they would sound to a listener. (Or to a group of listeners, averaged out.) You can also use math to describe different subgenres or do all sorts of other cool fun stuff, for values of "cool" and "fun" that only really hardcore geeks would understand.

This certainly has my geek propeller hat spinning. I keep wondering things like which gene set did they apply to Linkin Park and Body Count? Does their system let you measure the distance between a rap track and a rock track? Have they explored the data for clusters that cross standard genre labels? How do different recordings of the same song compare? I would love to get my hands on their data and start playing with it.

I can't, directly. But I can play with Pandora. And I have been. Reports on the cool fun will follow.

08 October 2008

Plug of the week: The Last Goodnight

This is the song that's been playing in my head all day. It's a good thing I like it. Here is a nice live performance:

The official video of The Hit is available in all the usual places, but with embedding disabled.

I really like The Last Goodnight. They aren't bleeding edge at all. They are less funky than Maroon 5, less suicidal than Blue October, less quirky than New Radicals, but well within that corner of the musical landscape. They have their own voice, though, sentimental but realistic, biting self-observation but not self-hate.

The "Pictures of You" hook has probably just about gotten control of your brain.

I like their songwriting and execution very well. If I were writing a review, I would run down all the tracks and explain how they fit into the story of a destructive and addictive relationship, but I'm not, so I won't. I would like to give a shout to their keyboards. In a field of bands with strong keyboards well forward in the arrangements, theirs resonate with me the most. Maybe it's just that they have more of them. They credit a pianist and keyboardist and make good use of both.

Here's another example, "Poison Kiss":

I liked the music when I bought the album, but I'm listening to it a lot more than I expected. I definitely think they are worth checking out.

Pictures of you, pictures of me, pictures of me, hung up on your wall for all the world to see...

The Last Goodnight
on Amazon.com

07 October 2008

I guess I can't make up my mind

Last May, I calculated my musical eclecticity using Anthony Liekens's How eclectic is your musical style? tool. I just ran it again, and I am proud to say that my tastes have broadened!

Eclectic Score

Take your top 20 artists. For each of these artists, collect the top 5 similar artists. The resulting number of unique artists is your eclectic score. If the score is small (extreme = 5) your musical preferences are very limited, and if it is large (larger than 80, extreme = 100), then you have an eclectic musical preference. You can compute your own score at http://anthony.liekens.net/pub/scripts/last.fm/eclectic.php

My eclectic score is currently


The 98 related artists for my profile are 3 Doors Down (2), Adema, Alex Chilton, Ari Hest, Aventura, Badfinger, Better Than Ezra, Black Light Burns, Boys Like Girls, Breaking Benjamin, Brian May, Chris Bell, Churchills, Circle of Dust, Coldplay, Creed, Criss Angel, Crossbreed, Crossfade, DLG, Deadsy, Deep Purple, Disturbed, Dope (2), Dwight Yoakam, Emergency Broadcast System, Emmylou Harris, Fireman Joe, Flowbots, Fountains of Wayne, Franz Ferdinand, Freddie Mercury, Fuel, Gavin DeGraw, Godhead, Godsmack, Graham Colton Band, Guy Clark, Halo33, Hawthorne Heights, Ill NiƱo, India, Jakalope, Jason Falkner, Jellyfish, Jerry Rivera, Jesse Malin, Josh Kelley, Josh Ritter, KMFDM, Kara's Flowers, Kasabian, Live, Lostprophets, Lyle Lovett, Marilyn Manson, Matchbox Twenty, Matt Nathanson, Matt Wertz, Ministry, Modwheelmood, Mushroomhead, Narc, Oleander, Placebo, Queen + Paul Rodgers, Radiohead, Rob Thomas, Roger Taylor, Rosanne Cash, Ryan Adams & The Cardinals, SOiL, SecondaryCell, Senses Fail, Shinedown, Slipknot, Sloan, Spineshank, Stabbing Westward, Static-X, Story of the Year, Submersed, Teenage Fanclub, The All-American Rejects, The Calling, The Fullerenes, The Love Machine, The Mayfield Four, The Posies, The Soft Disaster, Todd Rundgren, Tonic, Trapt, Victor Manuelle, Whiskeytown, Wilco, Zeromancer, edwardshor

Super-Eclectic Score

Take your top 50 artists. For each of these artists, collect the top 20 similar artists (where the artist itself is the #1 most similar). The resulting number of unique artists is your super-eclectic score. You can compute your own score at http://anthony.liekens.net/pub/scripts/last.fm/supereclectic.php

My super-eclectic score is currently


The most similar artists for my profile are Smile Empty Soul (4), Puddle of Mudd (4), Tantric (4), The All-American Rejects (4), Orgy (4), Deadstar Assembly (4), Stabbing Westward (4), Fuel (4), Theory of a Deadman (4), Toby Keith (3)

06 October 2008

First you find the haystack

I have talked a bit about recommender systems before. These are the subject of many mathematical models and you can get a lot of very dense articles about the subject if you want to know everything. I'm going to give a very high-level oversimplified version here.

There are two basic types of recommender systems, collaborative filtering ("This is what people like you prefer.") and content-based filtering ("If you like that, you should try this."). There is no pure recommender system, but generally Last.fm is a collaborative filtering system and Pandora is a content-based filtering system. Pandora relies on the large music genome database to identify music similar to music you tell it you like. Last.fm uses a large database of playing histories to identify people who listen to the same bands in similar ways as you, then recommends music from their play histories. On the gripping hand, Amazon.com mixes the Last.fm approach with a standard package of web shopping preference identification and recommendations, because they also track what you look at but don't listen to (and how long you look at each one, and how you follow a trail of links around, etc.)

In practice, any system in use is a hybrid. Pandora passes you individual tracks from bands that tend to have similar tracks to the ones you name, then refines that with your own feedback. They also offer you access to the stations other people have developed, so you can use a band name to find someone who has similar tastes to you, and then see what else they listen to. Last.fm will play you a station of recommendations based on similar users, but they also have user track tagging that you can use to get recommendations. That tagging is both content-based and collaborative. PayPlay.fm uses your Last.fm profile and their own content-based and collaborative data to make recommendations (and in my experience better than any of the others). And PandoraFM and similar bridge the Pandora and Last.fm systems, hybridizing the hybrids. Amazon is probably telling someone "You bought a dish drainer and gardening tools, so we recommend you try Hoobastank and Jack Johnson." I have no idea how the YouTube related videos feature works (matching substrings in titles, with some other content-based stuff on top of that. Hybridized with the user favorites and channels collaborative filtering, I'd guess), but it is busy doing something that leads you all around the videoverse.

That all looks like quite a tangle of possibilities, but there is a layer of preference/recommendation above all that. To use any of these systems, you have to choose to use it. Right at the start, you have made a big filter of who "people like me" are. SmartPunk users are probably not quite the same crowd as Soundflavor users. Youtube music hunters on safari are different from Pandora fanatic hackers. And how did you find out about the system you choose, anyway? Your face-to-face friends are involved in that filtering layer, as well.

What is sad, of course, is that I am such a geek that I have not only used all these recommender systems (and more), I have worried out how they work under the hood (at this high level). In the future, look for more on these systems and on music in social networking sites. I am also thinking about bellwethers, so you will probably be reading about them, too. And the nature and impact and money trail of the super ginormous databases that sit under all these systems.

05 October 2008

Special tidbit

Since I spent most of the day thrashing around fixing a computer problem, I'll leave you with a video with a performance I really like. I think I've mentioned how much I like Keith Urban's "Stupid Boy". This is a live performance by Sarah Buxton, who wrote the song.

I like this version a lot better than the prettified version on her MySpace. This one has bite. I hope her studio learns to let her be herself.

04 October 2008

Let the coolness stream

Hoooooray. I got Pandora working. It never would play in my Firefox, but I got it going in Chrome. Then I couldn't get it to stop, which is a problem. After I rebooted, I got Pandora working in Internet Explorer just fine.

I'm willing to blame my system and not Pandora, since I have started getting messages complaining that there is something wrong with msdmo.dll. That is a whole off-topic thing to solve.

What is even more cool is that I found a web utility that mashes Pandora and Last.fm. PandoraFM is great so far. It runs Pandora in a frame and passes the Pandora play data into the Last.fm scrobbling system. It also give you access to Last.fm tagging and similar functions for the tracks as they play. PLUS, it will take your Last.fm stations and feed them into Pandora to play. It probably does other things, too, but I've only been using it today.

As I've mentioned before, scrobbling is a hard addiction. Whenever I play music that isn't getting scrobbled, the data loss nags at me. I'm apparently not the only one, since there are plenty of other apps around that let you scrobble Panora.

Oooh, Paul Oakenfold just came up. How have I missed that?. Must go click approval.

Pandora FM

03 October 2008

I'd love to open Pandora's Boxes

I am feeling like the stupidest person on the planet.

This whole mad endeavor started with me declaring radio morbid and starting out to look for new ways to find new music. I keep finding new cool stuff and there's no end in sight.

I've read a lot recently about how the RIAA's greed is going to kill Pandora, or maybe not if negotiations go well. This will, apparently, destroy the single best place to find new music ever in the history of the galaxy. (I am going to write more about the money trail soon after I figure it out well enough to explain it.)

I thought I better try out Pandora while I still could, so I headed over. I had set up an account there a while ago, but never did anything else. For a miracle, the password was where it was supposed to be, so I logged in and waited for the great new music to start showing up.

Hah. Of course, I had to do something to make the music appear. I'm sure Pandora has wonderful documentation, but it seemed to me that there should be some obvious entry point and voila, I see a giant box that says "type in the name of your favorite artist, song, composer and we'll create a radio station featuring that music and more like it." That would be the jumping in point.

I decided to try Hoobastank. Type it in and "CLICK HERE TO PLAY", check. Explanation box that says we're going to play an example, click here to close this box, very nice. Many fine labels and control buttons, nice.

And then crickets. The play/pause button changed, but nothing else happened. There is no sound, no blinkenlight, no messages. Nothing.

I thrashed around a bit, but I have only succeeded in getting different songs not to play. Am I missing a button? Is Pandora down? Pandora doesn't play nice with Firefox? Is my computer screwed up? I'm at a loss and frustrated.

My report to date on Pandora: It has pretty boxes.


02 October 2008

Plug of the Week: Soundtrack of Shelter

Shelter is a movie about a gay romance. I like it a lot. If you like romances and are not gay-smooch-phobic, rent it and watch it. It's good and the rental won't cost you much and why not?

I like the movie, but I love the soundtrack. I rented the movie more than once because I had the music playing in my head. When I realized that, I bought the soundtrack album, which went into heavy rotation on my iPod. I thought I was so over "guy with his guitar singing soulfully" music, but it turned out I was just over what I had been hearing.

The Shelter music is from several artists, Shane Mack has four songs on the album, and they set the tone for the whole work. Here's a sample. (The video is a nice picture of the movie, but doesn't illustrate the song very well. I didn't get to make it and they didn't ask my opinion.)

Not all the song are strictly guy with guitar, but they do stay toward that corner of the landscape. Matthew Popieluch has two tracks. I particularly like "Darkness Descends", which I also heard a snip of in a Best Buy commercial. (That drove me crazy because my brain insisted that I knew the song and yet refused to reveal which one it was.)

Darkness Descends - Matthew Popieluch

Dance Yourself to Death has the most-different track, "Teenage Romanticide", which I don't like as much as it seems like I ought to. I really like "No One's Home" from Brett Cookingham & Matt Pavolaitis, which I wouldn't have expected to. Funny old world.

There are two tracks that were written for the movie by J. Peter Robinson. One of them, "Zach Conflicted" blows me away every time I hear it.

Zach Conflicted - J. Peter Robinson

That one is by far my favorite on the album.

A lot of soundtrack albums really don't work standing along as albums, but if you had this one and didn't know it was from a movie you might not notice. It is a very good compilation. You can easily listen to it straight through, and I think it shows off the different artists very well. I like the Shane Mack songs, but when I sorted the album by artist and got his four in a row, it was too much of too similar. Those same four songs programmed with the others sound brilliant. Someone did some great working putting this music together.

The story of how the music got programmed must be interesting. The movie itself was taken from script to screen in an astonishingly short time, so I have to give major props to the Musical Supervisor Brian Goldman. It looks, from some online poking around, that a lot of the music was taken from stuff that had been coming into a new music division of the here! network. Still, to put together diverse music that supports the movie so well AND that works completely on its own terms as an album, in that short time window, is a stunning accomplishment (in my opinion). I hope that some day I can talk to him about how they did it. (If I do, you will be sure to read about it.)

Shelter Soundtrack
on Amazon.com

01 October 2008

I mean it. No, this time I really do.

I am a major introvert and my stint on the phone bank really burned me out. For a long time after that finished, I could hardly stand to listen to music, much less think about it. I am relieved to report that I am rested and ready to get spinning again. I've been listening to a lot of music the last couple of weeks, although I haven't gotten anything new. Now it's a new month and (exciting for government geeks) the start of a new fiscal year, and that has shook me loose and gotten me moving.

The reason that I have been listening again, but not writing again was because my exploration of ways to find new music dropped me into a massive time suck. I'll write that story later in the week after I clear out some things I've been holding on to. Look for ongoing excitement starting tomorrow!

For now, I will leave you with a video of a song that I don't like much. A friend of mine has played it so often that I now think of him whenever I hear it and so it makes me smile. In fact, it makes me feel something very much like happy. That's the power of music.

See ya tomorrow!

25 August 2008

Still out fighting the good fight

I'm still doing the volunteer work, and so I have no time to listen to music or write about it. Yes, this is the sacrifice I am making—doing work that keeps me from finding new music.

I have been sneaking in some classic stuff at work, though. Here is a sample of what I've been listening to.

22 August 2008

Talk amongst yourselves

I am very busy at working doing what-they-pay-me-for during the day. I am busy every night doing volunteer work on a phone bank. I am not busy writing for all of you. Please don't hate me. I will try to simulate content by sharing some of the music I've been listening to, from Stax / Volt.

Carla Thomas, "Gee Whiz"

Carla Thomas and Otis Redding, "Knock on Wood"

19 August 2008

Does the music wonder what's become of me?

As those who have been reading from the beginning on MySpace will probably have long forgotten, the Amber blog was born out of the ashes of my faithful old CD player. I got a new iPod, and when I started ripping my CDs and looking for new music to fill it up, I got carried away.

This week, I have had a chance to reflect on how the iPod has gotten embedded in my life. The short answer is "pretty damned thoroughly". I thread the earbud cord up under the back of my shirt everday so it won't get tangled up in stuff and since the player is on my belt pretty much all the time I'm not showering or going through a metal detector. I never thought about it much, though.

I carried my CD player every day and listened to it a lot, but having the music available all the time means I am listening to it all the time. Lately, I've been working on some soundtracks, so I've been listening even more densely, eking out every moment. I have started chatting with some other music enthusiasts online and we play music for each other. Music wall to wall in my life, 6 or more hours a day of active listening.

This week I've been doing volunteer work. I am a big geek and introverted, so usually I volunteer to do things like clean up databases or do data entry. This week, however, I got drafted to do work that requires actual contact with the public. Passing a petition and working on a phone bank means no music playing. No way, no how. No singing, no humming, no dancing my feet around in rhythm. I can't even sing to myself in my head because I have to pay attention to the calls.

Tonight, we were signing up for volunteer stints over the next week and I was actually thinking about how the shifts would take up music and blogging time. That's when I realized that I had been passing up opportunites to skate because I was afraid of damaging the iPod and the music won.

Is this a bad thing? I have to think about it. Not skating means not enough exercise, and I know I am spending more money on music than I should. Those are both negatives. I'm making new acquaintances to talk about music with and music actually got me to go out to a concert. Those are positives. I'm writing this blog, which is a big positive. Am I paying less attention to the people around me in actual FTF than I used to? I think I am probably just distracted differently, to be honest.

I think I do need to be mindful—once this volunteer project is done so I have a chance to ignore people again, that is.

18 August 2008

Beautiful Pain

I have a stabbing, slashing, blinding headache. That means more YouTube for you! This is a nice unofficial video of one of my favorite sad songs, "I'm Not Supposed to Care" by Gordon Lightfoot.

17 August 2008

I protest the lack of protest songs!

What ever happened to protest songs?

I was doing some community activist work today, standing on the street getting people to sign a petition. In between people, I was singing "Bread and Roses" to myself to keep motivated to stand on a sunny street bothering nice people who would rather have not been bothered.

As we come marching, marching in the beauty of the day, A million darkened kitchens, a thousand mill lofts gray, Are touched with all the radiance that a sudden sun discloses, For the people hear us singing: "Bread and roses! Bread and roses!"

That is a song left over from the early labor movement. There were a lot of those songs and also spirituals revived for the big civil rights actions in the 60s. But are there any protest songs today? I can think of outrage songs, and pissed off songs, and social conscience songs like Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' On?". But are there any new-ish songs suitable for people to sing while marching for a cause?

If there aren't any, why? Have our demonstrations been ruined for singing by bullhorns? I have to investigate this. Meanwhile, for your viewing and listening pleasure, I give you Pete Seeger singing a Woody Guthrie classic. Sing along.

13 August 2008

Plug of the Week: Tom Milsom

Tom Milsom. Classic brilliant British eccentric who proves that the tradition is not dying. Here are two samples of his YouTube videos that will give you an idea what he is about.

Now I order you to go straight over to YouTube and watch the rest of his videos. Be sure to read all the descriptions. I mean it. Stop messing around here and go. Shoo!

Tom Milsom (Hexachordal) on YouTube
Tom Milsom on eMusic
Tom Milsom on his own site, which includes cartoons.

12 August 2008

Show report: 8/11/2008 at the Ottobar in Baltimore

Racing Kites, Lannen Fall, Go Crash Radio, Mercy Mercedes, and The Hint at the Ottobar in Baltimore

I made it to the show way early (under 3 hours door to door when I had allowed more for a transit delay), so I sat on bit of hill next to the area where the bands were unloading their gear and worked on Shelter From The Storm. I made some good progress on that and walked away with a solid draft, so that was the productive part of the night. I got some mildly puzzled looks from the people around, but no one said anything.

The band members all seemed very nice. They hugged people a lot, which is sweet. I made a few observations on band fashion. The headbands? No, please, just don't. Not working on any combination of head and hair. Lowslung pants? Just about at their limit of lowness unless they go to hanging them from suspenders or Prince Albert rings.

I bought T-shirts for the junior dudes. I got to transact with the lead singers of Mercy Mercedes and The Hint, and they were both very nice. (Nice was the theme of the evening.) I spent out my pocket on those, so I didn't get any CDs. The shirts were gelt for leaving the dudes out of the adventure, so that was the priority.

To me, the bands were in two tiers. This is not me saying anything bad about any of them--if I had just seen the Racing Kites, Lannen Fail, and Go Crash Radio, I would have walked away satisfied. They had a lot of energy and got a good response from the people who were there when they were on.

Mercy Mercedes and The Hint were a cut above, though. They had a much more pulled-together sound and more polished stage presentation. I have never heard MM before, so I don't know their songs. I am interested and will probably be getting their CDs when I can. The Hint did the songs I would have expected. I would be a crap reviewer, bcause all I can think to add is that they played well and gave a good show. They did some fun covers. The crowd was really up for them, so that helped.

And there was a lot of nice hugging when the band members were wandering around the club when they weren't playing.

I thought it was very interesting to see a show where everything was so unstructured and informal. There wasn't really any backstage or crews or security. (I felt like I ought to lend a hand unloading eqipment.) The bands were hanging around together all around the club. It made me think of how hard these guys are trying to go from the kind of band life with all the friends and wandering around and hugging to the kind of life that seems to eat people up.

I was also thinking about what made Mercy Mercedes and The Hint better than the others. It was an accumulation of things. My father used to say that good songs plus good playing plus good energy is like 2+2+2=6, but good arranging makes it into 2 x 2 x 2 = 8. That's part of it. I also think that the better bands had more variety from song to song and more complexity within songs, plus they could move the focus of the song around among the band members better. And a more solid rhythmic center and catchy hooks. Never underestimate the power of the hook!

After the show, I just walked back down to Penn Station and waited for the trains to start up again in the morning. That was a long night. Total time door-to-door: 8 hours.

Racing Kites on MySpace Lannen Fall on MySpace Go Crash Radio on MySpace Mercy Mercedes on MySpace The Hint on MySpace

11 August 2008

Doing My Homework

Deadlines looming, I have let myself get immersed in the two programs I'm working on this weekend instead of posting here. Bad me, but good me, too. I am pleased to say that the Smoochies playlist is pretty much done except for a final trimdown. A solid week of forcefeeding myself sweet love songs has left me yearning to climb a tower with a rifle. The work on Shelter From The Storm, which is nicely gloomy, should put me back to my usual self soon enough. That one is harder, because it has to tell a story and not just sound good, but I have a fine list of tracks to start the process with and a good sense of how I want to handle the story strands. I'm putting all that down tonight, though. Within a half-hour, I am on my way out the door for a transit odyssey on my way to The Hint's show in Baltimore tonight. The gap between the end of the show and the opening of the train station in the morning is still a bit hazy, but I will think of it as an adventure. I hope that the concert runs very late, though. Do you think it will help if I keep shouting "Free Bird!"? Tomorrow: concert report!

09 August 2008

You can't tell me what to do

A couple of days ago I wrote about my toedip into BitTorrent. There was one part of it that seemed minor or incidental to me until I thought about it more.

And then I wanted one single track from an album that is not available for download, from an album that is sold at a premium above the usual prices, from an artist I don't want except for that one track anyway. I was working against a deadline and I was irritated and a clicked up a "Take That Bwahaha" torrent download. ... (The greedy asshat who wanted to force me to pay double for his crappy album is still stiffed, though. Bwahaha.)

I think this might be very important. We used to have to swallow whatever we were fed by the music industry. Now we don't. We have more power and we like it. It's such a short and simple thing to say, and yet I think it has a big big impact on the way music distribution is changing. "You can't tell me what to do! You are not the boss of me! Bwahahaha!"

In practice, of course, it's not so clearcut. The functions of the music business machinery don't go away. They just get done in other ways. The freedom that we get with our Bwahaha is the freedom to choose who recommends or finds our music for us, because most people are just not going to sit for hours a day surveying what's out there and deciding what to buy based on that. We can buy and play music a track at a time, but someone has to decide what each track goes well with and how to program it when you play it.

The key is that given the chance to DIY or at least have your friends do it, people take it. They would rather go to the trouble to manage their music purchases themselves than to pay to have someone tell them what to listen to. At least for a while, until the balance starts shifting toward having someone else package music again because DIY is so much work. The puzzle is what form that will take.

This is going to bear some more thought.

07 August 2008

Taking over the world, one uke at a time

There is a whole crazy world of ukulele-crazy people out there. I keep running into them on YouTube. Since today's blog has to be a drive-by, I'll share a couple of interesting examples with you. (I will do a real write-up on it Real Soon Now.)

05 August 2008

BitTorrent Blues

I could compose a big song and dance about all the good reasons I got sucked into BitTorrent, but the truth is I was curious and impatient and frustrated and spiteful. I did it because I could scratch itches with it, even though I am concerned about how it affects artists, and that troubles me.

The first torrent was a long out of print and completely unavailable album, that the artist had told me to grab where I could get it. I managed to get a client and find a thing to click on and after a while I had the album.

Because I am me, I wanted to understand the mechanics of the filesharing system better, so I read a bit and poked around in my client to see what the settings did. And then, because night will follow day, I downloaded another torrent so I could watch the pieces assemble and all.

And then I wanted one single track from an album that is not available for download, from an album that is sold at a premium above the usual prices, from an artist I don't want except for that one track anyway. I was working against a deadline and I was irritated and a clicked up a "Take That Bwahaha" torrent download.

And then I wanted to get two albums right away before I got paid again. By then it was easy to do it, technically and morally, so I just did.

Of course, because I am still me, I was stewing about this all the time and knew I was falling below the standards I set for myself for reasons that were not worth the hit points. I bought proper copies of the three albums I had downloaded through P2P because it was cheap and easy. (The greedy asshat who wanted to force me to pay double for his crappy album is still stiffed, though. Bwahaha.)

There is a lesson in there about the market and the future of music, but that's another day's rant.

What pains me now is seeding. After the first download and my tardy homework on the torrent system, I realized that it is a pay-it-forward system. You get a torrent and then you serve as a new source for it, for the benefit of the others down the line who want the download. That's the deal. Plenty of people stiff this system, too, but I knew going in what the devil's deal is.

Now my client is sitting here night and day happily sending off bits and pieces of these albums. I could just cut it off. I've probably sent off enough to balance out what I got. Having it sitting here, though, reminds me to think about filesharing, which is the center of the questions that started me writing this blog in the first place.

How do people find new music now? How do they get it? How do the artists get it out to people? Who is paying for production and distribution now? What has gotten better with the changes and what has gotten worse? Better and worse for who? How is the new system going get the artists paid? What is a fair price for music now?

I still can't answer those questions well enough to satsify me, but I think I have some ideas on "Why do we see so many EPs these days?" The slightly harder question that I am still thinking about is "What is the optimal length of an EP so that it will satsify that requirement?" Stay tuned.

03 August 2008

My Day Of Music

I finally got my Enemymine The Ice In Me album. I had a horrible time finding a copy that was actually in stock. I'm glad that I really love it. I know I've mentioned them before, but for those who come in late, Enemymine is a trio with two basses and drums. Often one of the basses is tuned way up, but it never sounds like a guitar to me. Circa 2000. Hang on, there must be a clip somewhere ...

Discover EnemyMine!

Last night I logged on to the The Hint after-concert party. They set up a webcam and chat. It was a blast to chat up a running commentary on the party that we could see. They were playing some hip-hop that didn't suck, too. This was, of course, right after I posted the blog about not liking hip-hop. I didn't mind listening to it, but I wasn't moved to write down any of the artists to track down later either. I finally got to hear a bit of "I Kissed a Girl" which I have only heard about before. I suppose the follow-up could be a cover of Big Star's "I'm in Love with a Girl". A female singer would put a whole world of interesting into that one.

Wait, I need to write that one down for the Smoochies playlist of happy love songs. [ ... tick tock music ... ] Okay, got it.

There was one artist from the party music that I wanted to remember, but it slipped away before thought of writing it down. It was something like "binky spiral", but I couldn't pin it down. I ended up searching Amazon.com for every "B ... y" artist until I hit on Biffy Clyro. Definitely going on my list for next month's music budget. I haven't yet figured out which one I heard last night (this morning? It's a bit blurry.) Here is a sample:

Discover Biffy Clyro!
I love the mix of ravey stuff and smashing guitar. Time to get out the combat boots and lightsticks.

This afternoon, I've been watching Words and Music on Netflix. That is an excellent place to explore older music, by the way. They have a lot of concerts and documentaries there. Anyway, this is a fictionalized biography of Rodgers and Hart, done shortly after Hart died. I have to say that generally, if I want clever lyrics I go with Cole Porter and if I want to sing along I go with Oscar Hammerstein. I also observe again that a lot of stuff that was considered wonderful at the time it first appeared on Broadway sounds massively stinky now. But then they hit one of the good ones, and it's magic.

Discover Robbie Williams!

I am frustrated that a disk I ordered from the UK (from one of the Callums) seems to be trapped downstairs in our rental office. I have the slip from the postman, but the office is closed today. I would stamp my foot, but they wouldn't care. I ordered another UK EP (from a completely Callum-free band), because I am such a sucker for the big brown puppy eyes "We are in the studio far from home and it would help if you could buy an album" appeal. That only works if it is on my list anyway, though, so don't you all go crazy with the brown eyes unless you have the tunes to back them up. And in the ROTFLMAO department, Amazon suggests I buy an iPod.

The commission I'm doing now is for an hour of sweet and a few bittersweet love songs, mostly modern rock, new to the client, and no Latin. I realize that I don't buy a lot of happy songs. I could do an hour of "you broke me and I'm trying to live with the damage" songs. I could do an hour of "you left me and now you are having your turn to suffer" songs. I could do an hour of "I'm still thinking about you" songs. I could even do an hour of "I'm well shut of you" or of "you're well shut of me" songs. But sweet, hopeful, or happy? Not so much. It's kind of depressing to realize that my favorite albums in English are mostly breakup albums. I'll take this playlist as a stretching exercise.

And so off to work on that.

NOTE ADDED 13 SEPT 2011: I have no idea what happened with the Deezer links. Now they tell me that they don't cover my country. This is what I was ranting about!

02 August 2008

It it all right for me not to like hip-hop?

Is it all right for me not to like hip-hop? In theory, anyone can like or dislike any kind of music. There's no law about it. But there is a lot of social weight on music. What music you listen to, what music your social groups listens to, what music you mock, all that is usually based on a lot more than just what the music sounds like. And people who don't really know you will associate you with particular groups of people because of what you listen to or don't. I can intellectually know that people divide themselves up into groups and put a lot of effort into keeping straight what is In and what is Out, and yet still have the gut feeling that group divisions based on race are worse than any of the other possiblities. That leaves me trying to decide if I don't like hiphop because of what it sounds like, I don't like hiphop because I haven't listened to enough of it to get it, or because I am a bigot of some sort, or what. It's a liberal knee-jerk, I know. It's not as if I like everything. I don't like the Miles Davis style of modern jazz at all, but I listened to a lot of it before I ruled it out as a category. (It makes my brain want to run away from my body and hide--I think the tonal stuff clashes with some of my wiring in a fundamental way.) I listened to enough hardcore that it didn't all sound the same to me, found some that I liked, and let myself avoid the rest of it without any guilt. There are some artists I avoid because they are (as far as I can tell) loathsome or their lyrics are. I have no problem with that. Some music is inaccessible because you don't have the musical basis for it, like gamelan or Yoko Ono or something. I don't run into that much anymore because I have built up a big basis of personal musical experience. When I do, I try to listen with open ears and then follow up by listening to more of it or related music, until I can parse it better. So what about me and hip-hop? It can't be because it is musically foreign to me. I grew up on Motown and Memphis and Philadelphia. I have heard enough of urban music in general to know what's what. I don't think it is because the artists are mostly black. I listen stuff that is mostly associated with black artists, like old Stax/Volt stuff, reggaeton and zouk. It can't be because I worry about getting a bad reaction from people I know. I listen to enough different stuff and am so out about it that I am pretty sure I must already be bothering the people who police the Them and Us of music. Seeing the other iTunes libraries on our intranet at work keeps this question fresh for me. A lot of people have hiphop and similar urban stuff up there, people who are sensible adults that I know. I have listened to enough of it that I can tell the difference between Akon and Chris Brown. I still find myself clicking away to something else after a track or two. There is always something else I would rather be listening to, and it seems as stupid to me to contemplate taking up hip-hop to make a social statement as to avoid it for the same reason. Can I just admit that I like other stuff a lot better and leave it at that? Would that make me a bad person?

31 July 2008

Plug of the Week: O-Hum (Iran) and Acrassicauda (Iraq)

This starts with a stuffy section. You can skip the part between the lines if you want to cut to the chase scene.

It is traditional for new music to be scandalous. The waltz was shocking, flappers flapping without corsets was disturbing, and hot jazz was so disturbing that the German National Socialists were obliged to ban it. There has probably been no era without the kids thinking of ways to torment adults with their music, but I think that the all-time champion of getting the establishment up in arms has to be rock in its evolving forms.

There are many intertwingled reasons for this. It is supposed to be about sex, rebellion, and dark hidden things (as well as shiny happy people giving the best of their love to the most beautiful girls in the world, of course. Some things really are eternal.) It's not that Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Little Richard invented the idea of mixing music and sex. That goes back through Frank Sinatra into the dim past. Part of rock, though, is to put the sex right on the front of the stage, thrusting itself into your face. In turn, that is part of the larger ethos that says rock is rebellion. Obviously that goes in cycles and not everyone is cut out to be completely Rotten, but a big part of the appeal of rock is the appeal of the bad boy and of the teenager telling the world that he's not going to take it anymore.

So rock is rebellion and sex and music. Rock concerts bring together groups of young people just at the age when their brains are smart enough to think of ways to cause trouble, but not mature enough to give much thought to risk. (Really, it's science—that part of the brain doesn't mature until the early 20s.) Rock recruits, gathers, and indoctrinates rebels, so it's no wonder that establishments set on control of the population would see rock as a very bad thing and try to ban it.

Music is a sneaky thing, though. It's so easy to move around and surprisingly easy to hide considering how loud it is. It turns out that it is nearly impossible to keep the seeds of it out of a culture. The fans and musicians will keep the music alive underground and seize on the tiniest opportunity to burst out. Over the last 50 years, time and again we (in the larger sense, not us in particular of course) have seen that outburst give a shove to the forces that have broken authoritarian regimes.

The best example of this is the Plastic People of the Universe, who managed to bring Velvet-Underground style rock to Czechoslovakia through time that the Russians grabbed control of Czechoslovakia because the government was turning away from Communism. They went to extraordinary lengths to bring the music in to the country and to perform it. It is really worth hitting Wikipedia to get an idea of what they had to go through. It's not an accident that the Velvet Revolution was in Prague: when the Plastic People were arrested in 1977, Vaclav Havel and other activists kicked into high gear.

Governments who realize they can't keep the kids from listening to rock think they can control the problem by controlling the music: censoring lyrics, requiring reviews or permits to perform, record, or sell music, even maintaining government ownership of instruments so that only well-behaved musicians could get them. You can imagine how well this works in practice. Bands always find ways to code messages in ways that kids will understand and their parents won't. You can make gear out of scrounged parts and hold concerts in basements. The thing about rock is that the more you make rock against the rules, the more rebel energy you give it. If listening to Metallica makes you subject to arrest, then you might as well go all the way from youthful rebellion into active resistance or revolt. The power of rock to galvanize a revolution comes from the establishment itself. It's like a law of nature, and yet the Them never quite catch on to that and so we see the pattern repeating again and again.

Which brings us to now and the line I promised the people who wanted to skip the stuffy part.

Now it is the turn of authoritarian Muslim countries to deal with rock rebels.

There is an excellent documentary out on the only Iraqi metal band, Acrassicauda. They struggled with religious establishments's opposition to just about everything associated with metal, including headbanging (which is apparently Jewish) and singing (which is immoral). Then they struggled with the war. Now they are struggling with being refugees and rocking Iraqi expats. I'm not the best one to ask, but I think they are pretty good considering that they have had to go months or years without playing together because of the war separating them. And that lead guitar sounds to me like it has a lot of shreddy goodness. I read that they are now in Turkey and working on a full album and growing their hair. They have three demo tracks on their MySpace page and a link for donations to help them out.

Acrassicauda at their last concert in Iraq
on MySpace
Heavy Metal in Baghdad

The Iranian band O-Hum found a very modern way to subvert their religious authorities. O-Hum's label was denied a permit to produce O-Hum's first album. So O-Hum have released their whole catalog of music as MP3s on the internet, where their fans in Iran and anywhere in the world can get hold of them. This got people to their concerts, caused backlash and commotion, and has wound up with the band being a driving force in Iranian underground rock. They have developed an interesting Persian alt rock that uses elements of traditional Persian music and takes its lyrics from an esteemed early Persian poet. I'm not sure I love it, but I like it a lot. And every time one of those tracks is downloaded, a mullah gets a stomach cramp.

Babak Akhoondi of O-Hum
free downloads

It's hard to say where this will lead. I think that this is a lot harder rebellion than against communism in the Warsaw Pact satellites. A little encourgement could go a long way, though. Plus, you get to listen to the music.

30 July 2008

A night made of win!

My Amber time got eaten up by family stuff this evening, but it was cool music-related family stuff, so I win!

Older son has the MP3 player. As you might recall, he was mindlessly listening to flavor-of-the-month hiphop that he got from his friend until I put my foot down and installed some free tracks from PayPlay.fm as samplers. I told him he had to listen to all of it before I changed his music; then I would buy him two albums.

Tonight, he told me he likes zouk and reggaeton and could I please put more of those on. Goal! At least he thought about it and actually chose instead of just taking in whatever came along. We spent some time working on which two albums to buy and he went off very happy.

Younger son wanted his turn and demanded to dance something "old fashioned" (compared to reggaeton, I suppose). So I played a guitar transcription of Bach's Violin Concerto #2 and we did pavannes and the twist and some Bob Fosse and whatever made us laugh. It's probably a good thing that I am never in situations that call for social dancing, since I would have no idea what would be normal. We all just jump around and have a good time.

All that and popcorn. Like I said, made of win.

29 July 2008

Choice of Weapons

Today, my coworker Mary started ranting about how much she hates musicals. I just started singing Oklahoma! until she stopped.

I told her that if she doesn't behave, I'll do South Pacific.

I suppose that now all the readers who didn't run from Keith Urban are now vanishing into the distance. Tomorrow, it will be Iranian metal, I promise. I'll save the real showtunes post for a day when I have the time to do it right.

28 July 2008

Shoot me, I beg you. Please.

Shoot me, I beg you. Please. The earworm is back and it's eating my brain. Everywhere I go, everything I do, ...

I thought I could ignore it and let it go away. Eventually, all earworms die. Right?

Maybe I could blow it out of my brain with something else!

I tried saturating myself.

Oh, so that's what that guy meant when he said I had "emo hair". I don't anymore, now that I've gone from "I need a haircut" to "I'll tell people I'm going for a ponytail". I wonder what it's like to be in a band and know that your Big Hit was recorded on a day you weren't even invited to the studio.

These earworms can infest anyone. I saw an interview with Adam Levine in which he said that he catches himself humming "This Love", because is has a fucking catchy hook.

NO! NO! Eat hook and die, earworm!

Time for the big guns:

Hah! Take that!


27 July 2008

Rock on, Keith ... Urban

I read a comment from a young music fan on a forum over there somewhere who wondered why rock music just has the same instruments over and over. My brain played that back for me while I was thinking about "What is 'country'?".

I think that in part, "rock" is defined by the standard instruments. Certainly the music we call rock was shaped by the instruments it started with:

Maybe the reason that rock & roll caught on was because of the sound of the instruments. Maybe the reason we like the sound of the instruments so well is that we are used to them because of rock & roll. It doesn't seem like it matters anymore.

It's not a simple equation, that "Rock" = electric guitars, electric bass, & drum kits.

Bob Wills caused a commotion when he added those to his nominally-country Texas Playboys in the 30s and 40s. (When they played at the Opry, the drummer was hidden behind a curtain. Snrk.) (A surprising amount of the music you all listen to today comes out of stuff that Bob Wills did back in the day, by the way. He also introduced the guitar + steel guitar pairing that signals "country" for a lot of people.) Those instruments show up in jazz, blues, soul, gospel, country, all over the place.

Other instruments appear all over rock, too. Keyboard instruments are common. In the last week, I've heard accordion, violin, autoharp (although I confess I did search for "autoharp punk"), ukulele, didgeridoo, and mandolin:

You can all probably spin out your own list.

I think that the differences between the genres we hear so much about is as much social as it is in the music. If you listen to a lot of different music, you realize that those boundaries don't mean much to musicians. Brad Paisley plays on a Snoop Dogg track, Solomon Burke does a country album, Dylan goes electric! It is so common for them to work together in unexpected combinations, take influences from all over the place, and generally do what they think sounds good. That's how we ended up with rock in the first place: rockabilly and blues and all those strands coming together in Sun Studios. That process has never stopped.

This afternoon, I listened to Keith Urban's Love, Pain & the whole crazy thing and something struck me. On most of the songs, you could swap out the instruments (banjo and fiddle out, synth in e.g.) and otherwise leave the songs and arrangements note for note, and it would have been an awesome rock album instead of an awesome country album. The only traces of country left would be Urban's singing style. But were the instruments all that made it "country"?

That makes me think about all the stink about Shania Twain's apostasy. She recorded pop! She was produced by Mutt Lange! She wore the wrong kind of clothes and hair! Instead of being judged as a pop artist, she was judged as a country artist who behaved badly. How did she get stuck with the label "country", then? If nothing about her music and performance was "country", why was she?

These questions are what make me think that a lot of the differences are social. "Country" and "rock" as categories are about marketing. The people who identify themselves as the people who buy country shape what the country labels deliver to them. Artists that get tagged "country" because of the label they came into the system under have pressure to make music that the people who buy country will want to buy. Keith Urban is in the country pipeline, so the people who are likely to hear his music expect steel guitars and all the other standard markers (like topics and standard phrases and all). I believe that Urban probably likes his music the way it sounds and isn't forced to make it that way, but Twain's experiences shows what can happen when the artist's vision strays too much from the genre expectations. Most of the time, an artist has to declare Crossover to try to get away from that, but it's a risky path. You can easily lose your old listeners without attracting new ones. And the music biz establishment only loves you as much as your last album sold, right?

Maybe it all comes down to habit and group identity. We have habits as listeners. Musicians have habits of work. Kane (a group that keeps itself on the edge of country and rock) has a line: "Everybody's got their own definition of 'just their kind'." We all need to have a way to distinguish Them from Us, so those steel guitars end up mattering so darn much. Country is a state of mind. and "country" is the music that marks out that kind of "just my kind".

This brings me around again to the changes in music coming from the changes in distribution. We don't have the big labels exerting as much influence on what is produced. A relatively small and widely-distributed group of listeners who like "surf punk bluegrass"

can form itself into a market through YouTube and social networking services. This is what has always happened along the boundaries, but now the border is bigger and busier. It's making music a lot more fun for me, that's for sure.

Future related rants: How this has brought us uke-mania and so many EPs

25 July 2008

Plug of the Week: Fluid Lines

Fluid Lines could be just another earnest punk-pop band of appealing youths, the next interchangeable unit off the current production line. They have all the standard checkoffs for a local band to make the maidens swoon: four not-bad-looking young guys, lyrics about finding yourself and love and the problems of growing up, just naughty enough to be attractive but safe enough for a beginner's crush, the whole kit. There are a nice basketful of similar bands in their local area that all seem to be percolating a lot of the same ideas (and I should write about that sometimes, because I think some of those ideas are interesting. Anyway...) . In any one attribute, I could name one of those other bands that was a bit better. Looking at their specs on paper, Fluid Lines could be completely generic.

And yet they are the ones I listen to most often. They manage to package up all their not-quite-the-best attributes with some extra something that makes their music gel. Other young bands in their area which might look better on paper and which are nice to listen to don't click the same way for me. Fluid Lines have a harder and punkier sound than their peers, I think, and they do interesting things with rhythms that I like a lot. Even though in their Youtube videos they seem like pretty ordinarily goofy boys, they bring more gravitas to their music than a lot of their peers do. They are not just playing to the girls in the front row—they seem to have their eyes on a farther horizon.

Fluid Lines is still a young band and they don't bring all the power and polish of more mature bands, but I think they are in a good position to burst out of the minor league with just a little more experience and a bit of luck. I am looking forward to their next album a lot. I am already enjoying the sample tracks they put on their MySpace.

I would not insist that everyone should like this band, but I do recommend that if you like punk pop at all you give them a chance to win you over.

Fluid Lines on MySpace

23 July 2008

I will be at this show if I have to walk

I never go out to hear live music.

I run into it sometimes around the city, of course. I wish I had walked into the Joshua Bell performance that the Washington (DC) Post set up in a subway station to see how much money he would get in the hat. That would have been sweet.

But I don't go out. When I started writing this blog, I resolved to go to some shows so I could write about them. It seems like every time I see one I want to go to, I can't for all sorts of stupid practical reasons, or because I forget to write it down, or I get sick, or something else annoying. There is also the problem of being a world-class gold medal introvert and geek. It's just so hard to contemplate going out and dealing with people sometimes.

Just recently, I saw an announcement for a local show of a somewhat local band I like. Unfortunately, it was just far enough away from the urb that I could barely get there on a bus and couldn't figure out how to get home without spending 8 hours killing time waiting for first bus of the morning. I threw in the towel.

Now I have just seen an announcement for the same band playing a similar local gig in August. It's within the urban area of the next city over, so I have put my foot down with myself. I will be at that show. I am not allowing myself to hermit up again. This is me giving myself a stern look.

Ordinarily, I would just grab my pack and head out. I am a public transportation Old Hand and I already know roughly how to get to the club. (I used to go to school in that neighborhood.) Boo-yah!

I am getting all twitchy about this show, though. I have already started making notes on bus and train schedules. I have no idea what time a show that is supposed to start at 8 pm is likely to end (or start), but it looks like I will have 4 hours to kill before the morning train. I already know that the bus service at that time is very sparse and that neighborhood between the club and the station is rough (think HBO's The Wire), but I have also just found out that apparently the train station is closed from 1:30 am to 3 am. (WTF's up with that? Why would you close the train station?) I actually started googling to find an all-night diner in walking distance of the club.

This is getting out of hand and I have until 11 August for anxious trip planning. I haven't even gotten to weebling about how ridiculous it is for me to go to a concert full of teenypunkers. (I should like more age-appropriate music, if I could figure what that is supposed to be.)

Gah, I need to book a day off from work, too. There is no way I am taking the train straight to my office after an all-nighter. ::making a note::

This is me giving myself a dope slap.