Music To Code By, 2012

Here’s what I listened to while coding in 2012.

This year I’d categorize my listening habits into three moods: getting shit done, relaxing, and background noise.

Standard disclaimer: I listen to albums all the way through, front to back, and am often annoying the hell out of my wife with a single track or album on endless repeat, for an entire day. I like moody music, stuff that takes you places, stuff with meaning or at least the feeling of meaning. If that’s not your style, and you want pop hits – you can stop here.

Getting Shit Done

These are the albums that put me in the zone this year, some new releases, some new-to-me stuff. This is the good stuff to go heads down with, especially at volume 11 or 12 on a 10 point scale.

For many days I listened to This Will Destroy You’s albums and EP. This Will Destroy You is awe-inspring post rock, think sigur ros, with much more tension, and more precision. I’ve seen these guys twice in concert in the past year or so, and they always impress. When you listen to TWDY, you wander off somewhere, and come back, up and down. It’s just perfect, buy it now. If you’re not sold, here’s the kick: you know that main epic theme that kept coming and going in Moneyball, but wasn’t on the soundtrack? The one that practically made the movie? Yeah, that was This Will Destroy You’s ‘The Mighty Rio Grande‘:

You’re welcome.

Later in the year, my good friend Greg and I went to see Tomahawk in concert, so that of course revitalized continuous repeat of their albums for a few weeks. Tomahawk is the rock super group to end all super groups: Mike Patton from Faith No More/Mr Bungle/50-more-bands is on vox, and that should be enough to convince you outright to at least give their stuff a spin. Mit Gas is the record to check out, and the selling point here is this music video, which just happens to be the greatest music video ever:

The thing about Tomahawk is, these guys are truly pro. Hands down, the most amazing concert I’ve ever seen: these guys. They’re not visual overload, they’re not elaborate, and frankly, the mix at the venue we were at was junk, but none of that fluff matters, because their command of moving your soul both aggressively and with pro style – all at once, that’s where it’s at. You hear these guys’ albums and some of it sounds like studio magic that can’t possibly be done live, then you see it done live, and you kind of feel embarrassed for everyone else in the music business. These guys pound the bass, drums, with force, and a moment later they’re drowning you in the most beautiful cathartic melody for just a moment, then bring you back around to aggressive amazing all over again. Tomahawk’s one of those things where, you know, some rock music could be characterized as cock rock, aggressive for the sake of being aggressive – but, again, you hear this stuff, and the level of effort and talent involved and you realize that for Tomahawk, you really don’t give a shit about the labels – it just is, and it’s awesome. BTW, Tomahawk has a new album coming out in January.

Okay, those are the two worth gushing about for hours. Here’s the rest of it:

I spent quite a bit of time this year coding to electronic music of this variety of that. I don’t know or care what classifies as IDM or Trance or LeftField or whatever the hell, b/c it seems all of these artists have albums containing all of the above, so we’ll just call it what it is: good stuff.

First up, The Glitch Mob came out with an *amazing* album in late 2011. This is glitched-out over the top melody and move your body music. It’s just good, the end. They’re working on something for early 2013 right now.

Second, as I mentioned last year, I’m a big fan of 65daysofstatic, and one of their members put this incredible solo effort out as Polinski, it’s really great sweeping synth with a bit of glitch. It’s a short trip, but man, is it epic:

Third, BT’s ‘These Hopeful Machines‘ double cd is godlike. BT’s a ‘trance’ artist, or so I hear, but like most of his more-pop albums, this one’s just good in all of the ways, all of them. Some bits are trance mind benders, others are good old fashion pop electronic love songs dance music style. Like This Will Destroy You, BT likes to spend 5 minutes building up to something, but when the crescendo hits and starts crashing down, you feel the goosebumps and then the waves of cathartic glow wash through you, and you come out the other side feeling like you really need to write this guy a thank you note for the experiences he compiles, or at the very least, do something awesome with your life that may one day pass the feeling on down the line to someone else.

I heard a bit of hype about this Skrillex guy this year and mistakenly listened to his ‘Bangarang EP‘ on repeat, for days, before giving his other albums a go. DON’T DO THIS. Bangarang is a remix album of some of his earlier efforts, with some new stuff in the mix. The thing is, Bangarang is basically a more precise version of his tunes – an added layer of glitch, noise, and so on. There’s that, then there’s the fact that almost every tune has it’s BPM increased just enough to notice. So, if you listen to these things in the wrong order (or perhaps this is the right order..), when you hear the earlier efforts – you find them annoying, b/c they’re slower sloppier versions of the tunes you’re already in love with. Skrillex is glitchy noise, with the correct amount of cathartic breaks in the middle of it all. The EP takes you on a trip, a high speed headache-inducing trip if your mood isn’t just right – but if you’re in the right mood to handle it, Skrillex moves you.

I love me some glitch / noise, or “white noise bullshit” as my wife lovingly puts it, but there were also more than a few regular alt rock records this year that spun endlessly while I was coding.

Metric is one of those bands I don’t think I’d care for, had I heard them before their last record, Fantasies, came out. Frankly, I think they’ve come a long way since the garbage they were putting out before Fantasies. I spun Fantasies quite a bit in 2010 and even 2011, but it still felt – this will sound snobby, but if you’ve heard it, you’ll know what I mean – accessible for the sake of accessibility. Think Rise Against after Swing Life Away hit it big – that kind of accessibility compromise. In Metric’s case I don’t perceive or care that they were so accessible, it’s just that the music sounded not quite there. Fantasies came out, then there was a track on the Scott Pilgrim soundtrack that sounded next-level – I was hoping for more of *that* on the new album that came out this year. Good news, there is more of *that*. Their new record, Synthetica is fantastic. Where Fantasies had some bits that felt off, or goofy, Synthetica is 1000% more polished. I’m not saying Synthetica doesn’t have some not-quite-right moments for me, but I dunno, the ‘Breathing Underwater’ track, and any record that opens with a line like “I’m just as fucked up as they say” over an immaculate bed of synth – these things make it A+ in my book. There’s a deluxe edition of the album that was released later this year. You care about this, because there’s a haunting, amazing acoustic recording of ‘Breathing Underwater‘ on there that you need to own:

It’s funny, when Synthetica hit, I started to think about Garbage, b/c a lot of this new electronic pop makes me feel like Garbage was just ahead of their time or something. This all caused me to poke around on the internets about what ever happened to Garbage, and it turns out they were broken up or calling it quits for a half decade or better – but this year they returned. And, they returned, with force. The new record is the same old Garbage (that is, the first two albums, good, Garbage), but with a 21st century shine. It seemed their last couple or three records were getting into esoteric pop jangles seemingly aimed at churning out sales more than style, that’s gone. This new record is, I guess, power pop. It’s upbeat, but it has a next-level feel to it. It’s the same old Garbage, but the in-between tracks that should have hit the edit room floor are now where they belong – on the editing room floor. It’s definitely worth a spin:

There were also a few decent mope rock records this year, I think.

Notably, Maynard James Keenan (from Tool, A Perfect Circle) released another solo-ish record under the puscifer moniker. Like his other efforts, the album’s flow and quality from track to track varies to a worrying degree – but you get the sense this is his i-dont-give-a-shit take-it-or-leave-it artistic outlet. There’s some half-decent tracks on the record, nothing I’d consider as deep or touching as selections from his first record, but.. it works, I guess. I listened to it quite a bit for a few days, but then I discovered the Blood Into Wine soundtrack, which has some pretty awesome remixes from his first effort and one of the best tracks I’ve ever heard: ‘The Humbling River‘.. the track makes a great point of how accomplished one can be on their own, but without helping hands will never be able to accomplish anything of importance. It’s tracks like these that excuse the white-boy-hip-hop-trash filler that you find in between the tracks that matter on his albums. He may be playing practical jokes on you the listener 50% of the time, but when he cranks someting like ‘The Humbling River’ out, you can tell he’s still got it.

In the opposite direction, you have Trent Reznor, who’s still playing with the idea of making music with his new wife, they released another EP, which just isn’t quite right, just like the last one. And he released the soundtrack to girl with the dragon tattoo, which like the social network soundtrack, didn’t really grab me personally. Once you’ve heard his Ghosts album, this other stuff just sounds like he’s pulling the 9 to 5 punchcard and pushing the buttons over again for client X. Like Billy Corgan, Trent kind of trapped himself in this juvenile lyrical style, and now that he’s a happily married better-adjusted non-addict, he’s not that guy anymore. He has the talent to churn it out, and I have faith he’ll return to form with something mind blowing with a step up in maturity in time – but it feels like he’s still getting over his last few records and adjusting to a better life.

Oh, Billy Corgan also put something out with moderate success, it’s listenable, which is more than I can say for everything since about 2000 otherwise, but that’s not saying much. Maybe next time.

So, with all of the Rock Gods retiring, it makes me feel slightly less ashamed/dirty-pleasure to heartily recommend Linkin Park’s latest effort, ‘Living Things‘. Perhaps it’s ironic the boy-band/nu-metal professional commercial calculated band is sharpening up and moving forward in small steps all the time, whereas Rock Gods proper are treading water. Like many people, I didn’t care for Linkin Park’s first couple or three records very much – then Minutes To Midnight had some hooks and movement to it that signaled something better coming, and something better came. I think that next record, A Thousand Suns was a fantastic record:

I find myself spinning A Thousand Suns at least a dozen times a year, three years later, it’s just a really solid record. It was often compared to Public Enemy, if that means anything to you. Where Minutes To Midnight started bringing some songs with serious depth, A Thousand Suns jammed 3 really great songs together with perfect transition into every single track. With A Thousand Suns, guitars-front-and-center nu-metal lolz are sidelined for electronic-laden super-layerd grooves punctuated here and there with equal parts hard hitting reverb/death-march drum tracks and epic melody. This year’s effort, Living Things, was really good too. It’s not a concept album like A Thousand Suns, but it’s solid front to back. Though, to be fair it feels like a bit of a retreat – mixing more of the safe go-to style into the next-level stuff we heard on A Thousand Suns. A Thousand Suns wasn’t as accessible as other albums and suffered in sales because of it – and that’s a damn shame because A Thousand Suns was epic. I can see why these guys may be back on track in the safe zone, but man, I can’t wait for their next risky concept album move.

Relaxing Music

Some days are heads down code, and others are what-am-I-doing-with-my-life hassles for this reason or that. When I was taking it easy this year, or needed something to calm the nerves, here’s what worked:

For a while, I thought Sigur Ros’ new effort was forgettable. It seemed like a meandering half hearted return to a light/not-sure-what-we-want-to-do-now Agaetis Byrjun. I love their earlier albums, don’t get me wrong – it’s just that everything that came before was always upping the game to the next level this way or that, finally climaxing (for better or worse) w/ Med Sud.. being a pop record. I kind of wondered where they’d go from there, and I just set their new effort aside. Turns out, I just had the wrong frame of mind. You already have your Sigur Ros records to listen to when you’re sad, inspired, happy, or cathartic – what you didn’t have, until this year, was the record to just chill out with and recoil from the stresses of your day to day. This latest effort doesn’t have anything you can impress newcomers with – but it’s still Sigur Ros, and it’s still damn good:

On lazy Saturday mornings, my wife and I seem to continually put Death Cab For Cutie’s 2011 effort on. It’s good – a solid record, with the right percentage of low-key pop jingle intertwined with otherwise relaxed fare. It works, for almost any mood or any time, but it really seems to hit the spot on Saturday morning.

A couple of indie/folksy albums came out this year that are absolute must-listens, but like the Sigur Ros record, you absolutely must be in the proper mood to soak them in. Of Monsters and Men is equal parts sounds-like-that-one-band and i-dont-care-i-like-it:

First Aid Kit is great folksy throwback with a 21st century crispness over the top:

.. and their touring open act, Dylan Leblanc, has a great laid-back whispered wallowing tone that works with a glass of wine as easily as it does a dark room filled corner to corner with volume 11:

Background Music

For those days where I just needed something on:

Angels And Airwaves’ latest album ‘Love 2’, and their just-released EP are really good, as is the just-release Blink-182 EP. The Angels’ EP has a really great track called Diary, and otherwise is a great collection of instrumental remixes from recent albums, they made a great retrospective video for Diary (the real album track doesn’t have the robot voice over..):

Blaqk Audio’s second effort is decent enough, feels phoned-in compared to the first, but it works. Rob Zombie’s 21st century remixes of White Zombie and solo hits is pretty epic, and I feel like I’ll regret saying this, but the Deftone’s latest is bearable front to back, which is more than I can say for their past 2 or 3 records. The offspring put out a new album that’s really catchy, if annoying after N repeats, but solid. I had really high hopes for Silversun’s Neck of the Woods, but it seemed to fall into background-noise mediocrity surprisingly fast – not horrible, but generally meh:

There were certainly other records I gave a chance but am not mentioning, so all of the above at least have that going for them..

One more background album or two: The Smashing Pumpkins reissues are still a thing, and this year saw the Pisces Iscariot and Mellon Collie remasters + deluxe awesome. I’d highly recommend either release, in deluxe form, to any Pumpkins fan. I’d say Gish benefitted the most from the remasters, followed by MCIS. MCIS’ remaster is particularly impressive because they’ve created room to clarify bits you never knew existed (such as a ferocious bass line in the wall of noise during ‘Bullet with Butterfly Wings’), all without compromising the fuzzy/warm/crunchy/wall-of-mud signature marshall-amped guitar sound that seemed to drown all of this stuff the first go-round. The deluxe edition of the MCIS reissue is expensive, but worth the price in my opinion for some of the recorded-live-as-a-band takes that are damn near the final version of what’s on the record. The pumpkins were at their best when they were recording that record, and it’s really inspiring (like, pro tomahawk level stuff..) to hear the raw full-band aggression – you can tell they cleaned up a bit with studio tricks on the backend, but only slightly. Impressive.

Bonus: Jonny’s Stuff

My younger brother, Jonny, occasionally recommends a few bands he’s heard.

Here’s his credentials: he introed me to Metric, Of Monsters and Men, First Aid Kit; he fully agrees that Silversun is basically amazing; and he’d pass on any of my over-the-top post-rock or 8 minute electronic suggestions. He likes stuff that’s to the point, but at the same time he heartily agrees that the acoustic ‘Breathing Underwater’ is best-of-year material.

Here are the bands/songs he sent my way this year:

Later in the year, my friends Adam and Amanda heartily recommended The Lumineers (you’ll enjoy if you like First Aid Kit or Of Monsters And Men), and Ronald Jenkees:

Ronald Jenkees part 2:

I really try not to curse on the blog, but yeah, ^^^ that, fucking awesome.

Jonny actually recommended The Glitch Mob to me late last year, after I wrote my 2011 entry, and somehow I have a feeling Adam’s suggestion of Ronald Jenkees is going to be in the best-of/high-play-count list for 2013.

Finally, my wife recently heard some “white noise bullshit that sounds like something Jason likes” while eating lunch. She inquired about the white noise, and it was Tympanik Audio’s ‘Accretion’ collection. Tympanik is a record label, and this collection is a selection of tunes from their electronic artists over the past five years. 4 hours of music for $9 – it’s worth a shot.

So that’s music for me, 2012. Hopefully you’ll find something new here 🙂