There are different modes of coding, sometimes you need absolute silence, and at other times a loud coffee shop is the way to go. I personally code quite a bit while listening to music and/or watching netflix. I find there are different coding ‘moods’ from time to time, and differing moods require differing types of music.
Standard Nerd Stuff
It’s probably best to start with something that has at least a little nerd cred to it, and work our way down the awesome scale from there.
Just before 2011, the movie Tron Legacy was released by Disney. Daft Punk did the soundtrack to the movie, and it is phenomenal. When you come back up for air after a month of listening to the soundtrack on repeat, try the also-amazing remix album that features remixes from many popular dance/techno artists.
Along the same lines as Daft Punk, my buddy John Quarles and his friend Tim have started a whole new chiptunes genre called “chipsurf”. Chipsurf is chiptunes backed by surf-style guitar, and it is awesome. Listening to these guys is both nostalgic and gripping, the 8bit throwbacks remind you of the best days of NES music, while the guitar lines attach a new sense of melody and movemnt to the genre. Tim and John’s project is called Victim Cache. At the very least, check out the tune Tsunami Gaiden.
Something a bit more laid back
If you liked the Tron Legacy Remix album mentioned earlier, one of the tracks on there is a remix done by M83. M83 is a one-man electronic band with a definite pervasive relaxed theme. This year M83 released a double album entitled Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming. The single from the album to check out is Midnight City.
Another easy-going electronic outfit full of awesome is Healamonster and Tarsier. Their album Cupcake Cave is sure to soothe the soul and get you back to where you need to be.
Along the same lines as H&T is Ulrich Schnauss. I spent a fair amount of time this year listening to his Goodbye and A Strange Isolated Place albums. The track that will sell you is In All The Wrong Places.
I’m a big fan of the post-rock genre of music. My favorite tunes as a kid were always the prog-rock/alt-rock songs that started sweet and quiet and ended with a loud cathartic crescendo 7 or 8 minutes later, and post-rock is ALL about that type of song architecture. If you’re not at all familiar with post rock, do check out Sigur Ros’ album Takk, as that album is the pinnacle of the genre.
In 2011, I listened to Jonsi’s (the singer from Sigur Ros) solo album, Go. I also listened to Mono’s Hymn To The Immortal Wind for several days on repeat. And lastly, but certainly not least, I could not get enough of Saxon Shore’s Luck Will Not Save Us From A Jackpot of Nothing EP, and their It Doesn’t Matter album.
If the chaotic coffee shop while highly caffeinated is the the appropriate mood for focus, the following three albums will fit the bill at home with volume cranked to 11.
First, 65daysofstatic makes this chaotic noise “mathrock” stuff that’s really hard to pull of in a way that’d hook a listener like me who prefers melody. But that’s just it, the band has a magic touch when it comes to weaving absurd electronic drum progressions beautifully in between truly moving melody. Listening to a 65daysofstatic album is like being wound up for a heart attack and then dropped at just the moment before you itch to turn the music off, over and over. It’s amazing. The 65daysofstatic albums that pulled me through 2011 coffee shop type days were their incredible One Time For All Time album, and their 2010 release We Were Exploding Anyway.
If straight-on heart attack of bewilderment is not exactly what you needed, Broken Social Scene may be more fitting. I learned about Broken Social Scene from the great Scott Pilgrim soundtrack. There’s this really weird but oddly catchy tune on there from the band. It turns out Broken Social Scene is a musical collective that has a constantly rotating cast of characters. For example, the lead singer from Metric appears on a track or two on some albums. Broken Social Scene’s music is basically a chaotic jam session put to tape. The opening track to their self titled album sounds like three disjoint jam sessions coming together as one in the span of a few minutes. It’s not heart-attack high-BPM madness like 65 days, but it’s not verse chorus verse either. It’s odd, and usually laid back, but it’s always chaotic, or perhaps, disjoint. The two Broken Social Scene albums that held my attention this past year were the self titled album, and You Forget It In People.
Lastly, an oldy but a goody that seems to just automatically come out on my coffee shop chaos days now: Nine Inch Nails’ instrumental Ghosts album. If you liked the social network score at all, you’ll love Ghosts. Ghosts is 2+ hours of the social network type music, with more bite, and of course, enough random change between beautiful quiet melodies and maddening walls of noise. Chaos as art at its finest. Don’t knock it till you try it, it’s not industrial mope-pop, at all.
All that being said, I didn’t get into Nine Inch nails at 16 for their instrumentals, and for those baeurocratic work days there’s an appropriate genre, mope-rock. I’m 30 now, and listening to mope-rock at this age can be downright embarrassing from time to time, but we’ll save real embarrasment for later on. This year there were a few albums I listened to that made the the-world’s-not-quite-right genre a still-wearable badge of honor.
First, the obvious, The Paper Chase’s Someday This Could All Be Yours, Volume 1 is a must listen. My wife and I *loved* their Now You Are One Of Us album and have listened to it for years, but it took a rhapsody subscription for me to do what I knew was right: give this album a spin. Man. It’s as awesome as anything else they’ve ever done, which is saying something. The Paper Chase is like spooky/horror story lyrics over wall-of-noise guitars making sounds guitars don’t make, all carried along by killer drum/bass & piano. The theme of this latest album is natural disasters, one per song. The lyrics are equal parts bleak and beautiful, as are the songs. A straight punk “we don’t give a shit how it sounds” progression leads into a full on orchestra with lump-in-the-throat melodies intertwined, and back again. This is a band that knows how to pull you up and over whatever blah blah you’re getting around to facing, and makes you feel good about the entire process.
Next, something a bit more pedestrian in terms of mope-rock/pop-sadness. Linkin Park’s 2010 album A Thousand Suns is *really good*. Like, you may not be embarrassed for listening to their back history good, it’s that good. I never really enjoyed the band’s early couple or three albums, but their Minutes to Midnight album from a few years back surprised me and showed promise. This one, A Thousand Suns, shows the promise fully realized. The album’s a concept album of some sort about a nuclear holocaust and the aftermath, or something like that. It opens with a chilling sound byte from Oppenheimer talking about the moment trinity succesfully detonated, and then leads into song after song that flows up and down intertwined beautifully. Reviews for the album said it reminded many of how public enemy albums sounded, which makes me want to check out public enemy sometime, it’s that good 🙂
Last, the king of mope rock and sad songs, my friend Greg “The Shark” Shark released a solo album this past year. Greg and I spent many hours in high school listening to The Fragile, everything Deftones, and way too much Radiohead. Radiohead’s influences show the most on Greg’s solo effort, particularly on the Lament For Wolves track. If nothing else, check out The Fall, I lost days of my life in 2011 listening to that track on repeat, vowing for hours to “stop after just one more listen”.
You know you’re a full-on adult and “old” when your most cherished albums are being remastered. This can have good, bad, and who-cares effects on your precious memories. It’s kind of a roll of the dice, honestly. In past years U2,The Cure, Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Nirvana and even Weezer have released remastered albums. The albums are occasionally “deluxe” sets, so you get some rare/obscure b-sides or demo tracks along with the remastered album, so that can be cool. In the cases listed above, I never listened closely enough to the originals to notice a true difference in sound on the remasters. That’s not to say it isn’t there, it’s just that Pink Floyd has been remastered twice every five years for the past 2 decades, so any variance at all is just too small to notice to me.
Anyway, there are some remasters I’d highly recommend.
Pearl Jams VS/Vitalogy remaster package is fairly amazing, for the VS remaster alone. I remember when VS came out there was quite a bit of news hubbub about it selling pretty well, against predictions. Now that the remaster is out, you can really tell that the record company didnt pour a lot of money into VS the first time around. I never thought of VS as muddy or lacking definition and edge, until I heard the remaster. Some of the better-mixed record-label-money single type songs don’t gain much from the remaster, and WMA in particular seems to suffer a loss of dynamic range to me, but the other tracks being brought up to par makes it all worth it. Pearl Jam’s first album, Ten, was also remastered recently, but I havent checked it out yet (I can’t stop automatically putting VS on :)).
The Smashing Pumpkins also put a couple of amazing deluxe/remaster packages out in 2011 for Siamese Dream and Gish. Both packages include a dvd of a live show from the era, and a second disc including a number of bsides and previously unreleased material. The “Starla” remaster on the Gish package bonus disk pretty much made my year in music, as that’s one of my all time favorite songs ever. Remaster-wise, Siamese Dream shows very minor improvements here and there, much like Nirvana’s recent Nevermind remaster. This is unsurprising as Butch Vig apparently knew what he was doing on the pre-master mix and polish in both cases. Gish shows a lot of improvement though, so much improvement that it’s on my radar for the first time really, the old production was that crappy to me. I’m really looking forward to the Pisces Iscariot, Mellon Collie, Aeroplane, and Adore remasters coming out in 2012.
Sometimes all you need is a catchy tune, or a nice album full of catchy tunes, and I found more than a few worth at least a listen.
Death Cab For Cuties’ Codes and Keys is a great album to get your day started, and the Naked And Famous’ Passive Me Aggressive You delivers a great pick-me-up when food coma hits around 3pm. Alternatively, the Cults’ self titled effort is a great light-hearted collection of tunes all the way through.
If you liked The Postal Service, definitely check out Owl City. Both of his albums (Ocean Eyes, and All Things Bright And Beautiful) feel like the spirit of The Postal Service with a bit more upbeat optimism flowing throughout.
Finally, if you enjoy the SNL digital shorts from Andy Samburg’s Lonely Island supergroup of comedy, then you really *must* check out 3oh!3’s Streets of Gold album. I can’t tell if these 3oh!3 guys are serious frat-pop or if they’re a satirical comedy troupe, I hope they’re serious, because it makes the album that much more funny. That being said, their tracks are really catchy, fake or real, you’ll feel a bit embarrassed to give it a listen, but you’ll be back listening again and again no matter how silly it seems.
That wraps up the memorable music for my 2011. Next time I’ll cover a list of iPhone and iPad apps that I enjoyed last year. Until then, happy coding, or spreadsheeting, or whatever it is you do.