Music

Good Music 4

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Over on Instagram, I’ve been using Stories to share songs I dig at the moment, although of course it doesn’t let me go into any depth whatsoever.

So I’m offloading some of that here and changing the format of Good Music. (I was careful to name this series “Good Music” from “Album of the Month” since I knew I’d probably end up wanting to change things up all over again at some point. I wonder if that’s just the nature of blogging about music...)

Album: Gabriel Gundacker – Unofficial Wii Sports Soundtrack

Comedian-musician Gabriel Gundacker of Zendaya is Meechee fame released a collection of tracks that he wrote as “hypothetical Wii Sports songs”. Every track captures a lot of what makes Nintendo music so fun: soft layered synths, soaring melodies, quirky MIDI instrumentation, accordions – he gets it all. Nintendo should seriously consider hiring this dude. (Then again, we wouldn’t be getting projects like this…)

You can download it for free (or whatever price you want) via his Bandcamp page. I’ve had it downloaded for a few days now. It’s great to throw in the background while working, while exercising, while doing just about anything. It’s guaranteed to not just lighten your mood, but shoot it right through the roof.  8.5/10

Live Performance: Muse – Hungry Like the Wolf

I really try to find an out with this band, I swear… then they come out with gold like this.

The band’s in-your-face style and songwriting is a point of contention for a lot of people, but I think one of the few undeniable things about them is that they make stellar covers. (Case in point, if they fancy your interest.) Admittedly, they don’t add a lot to the song, but what they do add – sharp guitars, chaotic breakdowns, glimmering arpeggios – takes this Duran Duran classic to another level.

You can listen to a different recording of this cover on Spotify.


Album: Takuda Kuroda – Rising Son

Once in a while, I come across an album that operates right on my frequency and becomes an instant favorite – Rising Son by Takuya Kuroda is one of those albums. (Nice seeing you again.) The marriage of funk-inspired grooves and crisp production, especially for a contemporary album, makes this a really palatable album for first-time jazz listeners. Highly recommended as a palette cleanser as well.  9/10

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Playlist: Vantage

I feel acoustic ballads are a lost art. Ever since rediscovering Coldplay’s Parachutes, I’ve been seeking out similar songs that explore the same atmosphere – songs that give you the feeling of being alone by a fire in the woods for eternity.

I came across Kaki King’s Everybody Loves You, also a debut album. It’s completely devoid of vocals and features only acoustic guitar. I feel it’s less like Parachutes and more akin to Coldplay B-sides like I Bloom Blaum and Careful Where You Stand, which manage to sound even more bare than Parachutes and are excellent in their own right.

Below is a short playlist I compiled featuring my favorites from Everybody Loves You and other stripped-down ballads.

 
 

The Look of Jazz

Vox investigates Blue Note Records, one of the foremost jazz labels, and how graphic designer Reid Miles created typography-clad album covers that gave the genre a brand:

As a design student, thinking about why things are and how they come about occupies a sizable chunk of my mind, at this point even at a subconscious level. So it’s nice to come across a fairly ubiquitous thing in the world that I haven’t yet considered as designed. My music tastes have been leaning recently towards jazz, too, so this is kinda timely.

What struck me about Miles’ work was that it’s minimal, yet so expressive. It really emphasizes how great composition goes a long way.

Good Music 3

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A good album…

It takes a lot for me to listen to something new. Sometimes, though, all it takes is happening upon pretty album art. That’s the case here, and I’m glad this album is in my life now.

This album is an incredible listening experience that’s soft on the ears but full of life: it’s euphoric, with a touch of melancholy, all throughout. While it’s not quite diverse sonically, it doesn’t let up – it’s great from start to finish. At only 32 minutes, the album’s rich sound, almost overwhelming, doesn’t overstay its welcome.

It’s also technically masterful. Everything shimmers, from the instrumentation – which changes from song to song – to the production, to frontwoman Molly Rankin’s hazy vocals which embellish each track beautifully.

While it’s great in that regard, the way all its strengths work together leads to something greater than the sum of them. The result is a collection of songs that’s dopamine shot after dopamine shot, an emotional rollercoaster, and, this being a dream/jangle pop record, instant nostalgia. I can only think of one other record like it.

Verdict

Sorry for keeping things vague and being a tad melodramatic. I just think it’s that great.

At first listen, it’s all nice and pleasant, but expect waves of feels with subsequent listens.

Listen on Spotify. That’s not a request.

 

9.5/10

Tracks I play the most: Everything. Just everything.


 

A good live performance…

John Frusciante, Josh Klinghoffer, Flea & Chad Smith - Live at Federation Square 2007

The Red Hot Chili Peppers are a great example of a band that’s more than just its frontman, as charismatic as Anthony Kiedis is.

Case in point. Great spacey vibes here, which you don’t get much of from RHCP. It gets loud but remains great all throughout.

How Drumsticks Are Made

Jared Falk of Drumeo interviews Pro-Mark and D’Addario on their manufacturing process for drumsticks – a great crossover of interests:

Some interesting tidbits:

  • It’s incredible how much waste product is produced even at the very beginning of the process. (Well it isn’t really “waste” in that it’s immediately repurposed.)
  • The use of pitch in a QA task – yeah, as in sound pitch.
  • Even the mere fact that the process is this complicated for making literal sticks is remarkable. I’ll never complain about drumstick prices again.

Sidenote: I’ll be back soon, I promise.

Good Music 2

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A good album…

Saw You in a Dream starts with the titular track – a melancholy ballad driven by a groovy rhythm section. I think the juxtaposition works. At the forefront are Amber Bain’s airy vocals that make the song, and the rest of the album, all the more a dream-like experience. It’s capped off with a 9-minute journey of a track aptly titled Count to Nine.

Verdict

Great hooks and vocal melodies across this EP – enough that I can excuse Bain with indulging a bit in that last track – although all the tracks are very similar sonically. I guess that’s just something that comes with dream pop. It’s great when you’re in the mood for it, though.

Listen on Spotify.

 

7.5 / 10

 

Tracks I play the most: Saw You in a Dream

Tracks I play moderately: Somebody you found, 3/3, Count to Nine

Tracks I usually skip: (none)

 

 

A good live performance… 

Takuya Kuroda - Actors (Live in New York City)

I might have a thing for frantic trumpets.

Good Music 1

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A good album...

A few months back, I was binging on Gorillaz to amp myself up for their new release. While I could be talking about Humanz instead, it didn’t quite live up to expectations. I’ll say it has its merits. Ascension, Charger, and Andromeda are great.

What I’d rather talk about, though, is their previous release, which is far more sonically and tonally diverse. I’d call it their best album, in that it’s, front-to-back, their most listenable collection of songs.

The album goes all over the place, but it’s anchored (bit of a pun there) by buzzing synths and fat snares. The production is borderline childish, but it’s Gorillaz. It’s the misadventures of a cartoon band. It also ties in with the theme of plasticity and artificiality quite nicely. This is the kind of music only they can make.

Verdict

The album trails off a bit towards the end and loses my attention. Other than that and a couple of stinkers, it’s a good album with fun and quirky sounds. Good to listen to whether you’re paying attention – there’s a lot of layers to uncover on here – or leaving it on in the background.

 

7.5 / 10

Tracks I play the most: Rhinestone Eyes, Superfast Jellyfish, Empire Ants (!!!), On Melancholy Hill, To Binge

Tracks I play moderately: Orchestral Intro, Welcome To The World Of The Plastic Beach, White Flag, Stylo, Some Kind of Nature, Broken, Pirate Jet

Tracks I usually skip: Glitter Freeze, Sweepstakes, Cloud of Unknowing

 

A good live performance… 

Linkin Park feat. crowd... seriously – In The End (Live in Argentina 2017)

One of the last live performances of the song. Chester and the rest of the band really feed off the crowd’s energy here, which makes it all the more poignant.

On Writing About Music

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In line with changing the formats of things, I wanted to revamp the music aspect of the site as well. So instead of going forward with the wildly successful AM, I think it’s best to loosen the format a little and just call it Good Music.

The plan is that I'd talk about one good album and one good live performance at a time. (Those who know me well know that you’re more likely to find a live performance on my laptop screen than a TV show or whatever. Helps me concentrate on work more. So I guess that makes that easy to talk about.)

I don’t plan on doing it frequently, nor do I plan on doing it as infrequently as I have been. The reason for the format change is to simply find a good middle ground in that regard.

That’s pretty much it. Expect the first post soon.

Remembering the iPod Nano and iPod Shuffle

Apple has silently discontinued the iPod nano and shuffle.

Stephen Hackett for 512 Pixels:

 
The iPod world has ended not with a bang, but with a whimper, as apple.com/ipod now redirects to apple.com/ipod-touch. Both of the smaller music players were there just a few days ago...

This, of course, should not be a surprise to anyone. The iPod nano was last updated in September 2012, when it gained a weird iOS 6-like interface without actually running iOS 6.

The story of the Shuffle is even sadder. The tiny music player was last revised in September 2010. Out of the two, however, I figured the Nano would go first. The Shuffle — with its built-in clip and easy-to-use controls — is great for running and biking.
 

The life cycles of these two products have been such great stories.

The first nano was such a drastic miniaturisation of the iPod mini that came before it that I couldn’t believe it at first. The only other time I was swept away by such a reduction of size and weight in an Apple product line was with the iPhone, from the 4s to the 5. The nano only kept decreasing in size since then.

Although the nano more notably changed in form between product generations. It became somewhat of a test bed for the ID team at Apple. It was smushed, then narrowed, then smushed again, then narrowed again in what would be its final incarnation.

The nano experienced a lot of firsts, too. It was the first iPod to receive a camera. I had a friend with that model and I remember being amazed that a device that small could have a camera. The 6th-gen nano – and all its tacky third-party wrist-straps – was the Apple Watch before the Apple Watch.

Even as it underwent these big changes on a pretty regular basis, it continued to sell well. It also managed to retain what made it an iPod, in that you couldn’t mistake it for being anything other than an iPod. In fact, you could say it defined the iPod. That can’t be said for a lot of other Apple product lines.

The shuffle was a different story – in a way, it’s the opposite story. The shuffle didn’t change form and function all the much. It went from being elongated and looking more like the first nano to just being a click-wheel. Then it went to being elongated again and received VoiceOver, then it went back to the click-wheel design it’s most known for.

Okay, maybe it did change a bunch… but from what I’ve seen, it was the smaller click-wheel shuffles that were the most popular. I could swear I’ve never seen either of the elongated designs in the wild, so to speak. I think it attests to, more than anything, the popularity of the click-wheel interaction method. (Also, the buttons were great to fidget with. It was the fidget cube before the fidget cube.)

As the nano veered further and further from analog controls, the shuffle remained the iPod that kept its original vision alive – a portable device that simply played your music. The shuffle’s limited function made it the counterbalance to the ambition of the nano within the iPod lineup. It makes it all the more unfortunate they were phased out at the same time.

The Failed Design of Apple Music

John Gruber on Apple Music as a failure of product design:

 

"Maybe there’s a way to design “all your music in one app” that is completely clear, convenient, and obvious. But the bottom line is that a music app shouldn’t be confusing. I think that’s held Apple Music back.

...Last year’s Apple Music announcement in the WWDC keynote was the worst segment in an Apple keynote in modern history. It was rambling, awkward, left important questions unanswered, and went on way too long...

...Coherence in product design leads to coherence in product marketing. And vice versa: incoherence in product design leads to incoherence in product marketing. If the product isn’t logical and consistent throughout, how can it be marketed in a logical and consistent way? That’s what we saw with Apple Music last year, and the meandering music segment of the WWDC keynote exemplified it."

 

Apple’s last big venture into music distribution, iTunes, which is still a strong business today, was successful mainly because it offered a solution to a problem the industry was being plagued by: pirating software like Napster. Today, Apple Music doesn’t offer any definitive solution to any problem, neither for the user nor for music labels. Spotify is also perfectly serviceable and it didn’t take long for them to make up for the things Apple Music had which its own service lacked, mainly human curation.

One problem that comes to mind that could be solved is the impermanence of music libraries. One way or another, Apple users have complained about either music being deleted accidentally by software or songs, sometimes entire discographies, being made unavailable for purchase or download altogether. Maybe labels and Apple can come to some kind of agreement to not let nagging IP policies be the cause of music being deleted from existing libraries by any means, even if made unavailable for further purchase. Permanent download links, perhaps through iTunes, could be made available to users affected by the retraction of copyright-protected music by labels.

It’s a compromise solution with minimal inconvenience for users.