Category Archives: Music

Music to Code By – 2015, or, how I learned to love the Dire Straits

Standard Disclaimer: My favorite band ever is The Smashing Pumpkins, or possibly Nine Inch Nails. In recent years my favorite genres of music have been EDM and Post Rock. If it’s dark, and/or mopey, I probably love it. If it starts off slow and sad and crescendos with catharsis 9 minutes later, I probably love it. Consider yourself warned.

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Music To Code By, 2014

Previous years: 2013 2012 2011

Standard Disclaimer: I’m a fan of post rock, electronic music, and alt rock. To me, the best album ever is Siamese Dream by the Smashing Pumpkins, and my current favorite record is either 65daysofstatic’s Wild Light or BT’s These Hopeful Machines. I like to listen to albums all the way through, and I’m not really a top-40 or metal fan, somewhere in between metal and top-40 – that’s me.

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2014 has been a slow year for music. I’m hard pressed to recommend much of anything new this year, so my recommendations this year are mostly from years past. Due to the slow year, my listening habits have been all over the map in 2014, so there’s bound to be something in here that you’ve never heard of.

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Top Album Recommendations

I highly recommend the following records – they’re all solid listens all the way through, and I find that I can’t start any of these without an obsession with listening the whole way through.

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BT’s These Hopeful Machines – EDM (electronic dance music), his masterpiece in my opinion, 2+ hours of incredible highs and lows both fast and slow, all mixed perfectly into one endless soundscape of amazing.

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65daysofstatic’s Wild Light – Post-rock meets a swirling wall of synth with a never-subtle virus of glitch constantly threatening to tear it all down, both inspiring and apocalyptic all at once. Fantastic.

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The Glitch Mob’s Love Death Immortality – EDM/Glitch. Their previous album (Drink the Sea) was a regular repeat-forever on my commute to and from work a few years ago, and this latest effort is even better – if ever there was a EDM supergroup to top all EDM artists ever, they’d be hard pressed to match the glitch mob’s work.

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Black Rebel Motorcycle Club’s Specter at the Feast – Moody shoegaze perfection. Impressively consistent with enough variation to keep your attention – and, like all good shoegaze, it keeps moving you places without ever being front and center. It’s hard to pay attention without losing yourself in daydreams or memories while listening, and I think that’s kinda the point.

The Playlist

I hate attempting to make a playlist out of tracks when they flow much better within their respective album’s framework, but the albums playlist for these tracks is over 37 hours long, so, a hacked up playlist it is.

I joined spotify recently. If you think 65daysofstatic and/or this will destroy you and/or the glitch mob and/or matthew good and/or sigur ros and/or the paper chase is the greatest band ever, shoot me an email, let’s share playlists.

My playlist is a spotify playlist this year, it’s 45 tracks that clock in at 3 hours 48 minutes (there’s a fair bit of post rock in there..lolz):

Spotify has a couple ways to link to playlists, so here are options you may want:

Option #1: The playlist http link.

Option #2: The playlist Spotify uri.

Option #3: Search for me on Spotify with “1226261222” (no quotes), and look at my public playlists for 2014 Best Of.

Track By Track Breakdown

Not everyone is a fan of post-rock, and not all post-rock fans are fans of EDM. To that end, I’m going to utilize a “post rock warning” image throughout the track lists. For this, I’ll be using the greatest meme of all time: the post-rock raven.

Here’s an example post-rock raven image:

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When you see this meme, you’re reading about a post-rock track.

My advice to you: listen to the playlist, if a track catches your ear, read the breakdown about that track below – or, you know, just read all of this blather if you’re bored. Don’t miss the other bits about good vinyl and other music developments at the end of the post though!

Ok then, onto the track by track breakdown:

Track #1: Caspian – Hymn For The Greatest Generation

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I went on and on last year about how Caspian’s album Waking Season is the greatest album in a long while. I still agree with this synopsis, and still strongly encourage you to listen to my #1 track from last year: Gone in Bloom and Bough.

This track, Hymn For The Greatest Generation is the title track from Caspian’s EP released late last year in 2013 – the EP has been the start to my day through much of 2014, with this slow-building and bittersweet enchanting title track opening things, and a track I’ll mention later ending on a driving “I can conquer the world!” theme finishing out the short but amazing EP.

Track #2: Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Lose Yourself

A nice, representative moody shoegaze track from the previously mentioned Specter at the Feast album – one of my top albums for the year.

Track #3: Led Zeppelin – Tangerine

Fun fact: The movie Almost Famous is semi-autobiographical. The director of that movie was a teenage writer for rolling stone and met his rock gods Led Zeppelin during that time. When Almost Famous was coming out, the director ran the film by Robert Plant and Jimmy Page for approval. The band nixed use of Stairway to Heaven and Kashmir, but approved 3 or 4 other songs – most of which come from the album Led Zeppelin III.

As a youngster, my father introduced me to Led Zep, stressing that Led Zep IV and Houses of the Holy were their greatest albums. I strongly agree with this synopsis, having listened to all their albums years ago. But, somehow, all these years, Led Zep III flew under my radar.

The band reissued remastered editions of their first five albums in 2014 and while I listened to Led Zep I as well, and still haven’t opened IV or Houses of the Holy yet, it was III that I could not set aside for a long period this summer. Truly a treat to listen to.

The album starts strong with the track Immigrant Song, which you’ll immediately recognize when you hear it. Upon first listen you’re prepared for more of the same from Led Zep that we heard on I and II – over the top prototype rock for the following 30 years of music, but then the album takes a turn.

The in-your-face power anthems give way to a lighter side of Zeppelin not before seen – acoustic guitars and anthems for light hearted summer days abound – with this track, Tangerine, being the prime example of that beautiful and somber final side to the album.

Another fun fact: The 2014 reissues are remastered in the opposite direction of the early 90s remasters. Where the goal of the 90s remasters was as flat and crystal clear (read: lifeless) as possible, the 2014 remasters are truer to the original mixes back in the 70s. The 2014 mixes pop with a sense of life previously missing on CD releases. Stairway in particular has had dynamics returned – if your friends and family couldn’t grok zeppelin due to the lack of life in the 90s cds, urge them to give these 2014 mixes a go.

Bonus fun fact: The 2014 remasters were released on vinyl as well, making it easier for a new generation of music nerds (read: me) to get high quality versions of these albums at an affordable price.

Track #4: Hole – Malibu

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The downside to a slow music year is nothing new to listen to, the upside? – rediscovering something you missed a long time ago. When Hole’s album Celebrity Skin was released in ’98 – it was very cool to dislike Hole, and the album. Dislike of the album is well placed I think, the title track is bland, and hard to get through. Celebrity Skin, the track, there’s something off about it – an engineered-for-the-masses grunge hit that’s a little too formulaic and yet lifeless all at the same time.

But wait!

Celebrity Skin, the Album, is pretty good – or at least it sounds that way to me in 2014. It’s a bit like Ozzy Osbourne’s Ozzmosis released around the same time – a good solid album with a who’s-who big name list of music consultants aiding in turning out something generic, but still palatable for music fans of the time.

I was seventeen when Celebrity Skin hit, and my albums that year were Adore by the Smashing Pumpkins and Mechanical Animals by Marilyn Manson. Celebrity Skin, the album, can’t hold a candle to those other two albums in my opinion, but when you’ve listened to Adore and Mechanical Animals some thousands of times as I have over the past 20 or so years – Celebrity Skin is there to be discovered.

Give it a try.

Track #5: BT – Always

Just one example of the amazing tracks on the previously mentioned These Hopeful Machines album, one of my top albums for the year. The album was released in 2011 or 2010.

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Track #6: Crosses – Prurient

I listened to this album on repeat for days on end over two months earlier this year. The Crosses album is legit – but I listened to it so much that I burned myself out on it – so I can’t tell if it’s good anymore :/.

For fans of Deftones, Crosses is a side project of the Deftones’ frontman Chino Moreno.

But wait, Deftones fans, don’t let Team Sleep color your opinion before you begin!

Chino’s an outspoken fan of Depeche Mode and a few years back another side project of his, Team Sleep, issued a downtempo album that can only be described as ‘meh’.

Crosses’ self titled debut album is the album I wanted from Team Sleep. Remember that track Digital Bath from the Deftones’ White Pony album? Remember how you wanted an album full of *that*? Good news, Crosses is probably as close as you’ll get to the digital bath album.

I feel like Crosses is a bit more digital bath than depeche mode, but Chinos vox on the album are about the same as on Team Sleep for the most part – that is, fantastic. The difference here is that the backing music has life to it on the Crosses effort.

Crosses’ self titled debut album is a love letter to the Deftones fans who heard White Pony and were hoping for White Pony forever from then on. It’s White Pony 2.0 – minus the nu-metal – perfect.

Track #7: Queens of the Stone Age – God Is On The Radio

An apology is in order. About 5 years ago my coworker Chad tried to introduce me to the QOTSA album Songs for the Deaf, and, unfortunately, I just wasn’t ready for it. At the time my musical tastes leaned heavily on heavy-handed and over-the-top emotional mope rock – I was just discovering post-rock (heavy handed over the top emotional mope/feels rock without words) and I just wasn’t ready for the pinnacle of stoner rock that songs for the deaf is.

This album. God. Like the top albums recommended for this year, I cannot start this album without finishing it – listening to songs for the deaf is an event. I’ve got to check my schedule and ensure I’ve got an hour and a half undisturbed free before I begin. Perfect for airplane rides or just on repeat forever at volume 11 while working at home.

My only gripe with the album is the ridiculous offspring-like between-the-tracks banter of mock FM radio DJ satire – to me, this crap really detracts from the super solid and amazing album.

Don’t be turned off by other, lesser, meh, not for me, QOTSA efforts – this one’s accessible and pop rock as hell, I fucking love it. Thanks Chad, and Matt.

Track #8: The Naked and Famous – To Move With Purpose

I really liked The Naked and Famous’ first album a few years back – but now I can’t listen to that album anymore because this new album, In Rolling Waves is worlds better. The entire album is a torn-love/breakup album, and it’s great – at once subdued and poignant, beautiful. Electropop alt rock music, think MGMT or Passion Pit, but good – more like a love letter to The Postal Service.

Track #9: Hole – Hit So Hard

Another track from the previously mentioned Celebrity Skin album.

Track #10: Everclear – Why I Don’t Believe In God

The only album from Everclear that I can stand – I’m clearly a fair-weather Everclear fan, and to me, So Much For The Afterglow is an album that should not be missed.

Everclear has a sound, like Oasis, or Foo Fighters, and like those bands, the second album is the one to get. If you’re heads over heals insane about the album you may enjoy the more-of-the-same-forever follow ons, but personally, I don’t.

I’m a So Much For The Afterglow/The Colour and the Shape/What’s The Story Morning Glory fan, and I’m hard pressed to enjoy anything outside the greatest hits otherwise.

Everclear kinda meh to you? That’s fair, give So Much for the Afterglow a chance – like Celebrity Skin, it’s a post-grunge alt rock love letter – generic as hell but damn if I can’t stop listening to the full album on repeat.

Track #11: BT – Forget Me

Another track from These Hopeful Machines – one of my top album recommendations for the year. Forget Me is one of my most-listened-to tracks of the year, my current favorite from BT (and that is a hard choice to make as there are many stand out tracks by him..), and a strong candidate for my personal list of top 50 songs of all time.

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Track #12: Mogwai – Remurdered

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I’m not a Mogwai fan – like Explosions in the Sky and Caspian, and several others, I’ve listened to back catalogs without interest – the post rock all starts to sound the same when Takk and () from Sigur Ros are your introductions to what post-rock can be.

Like Caspian’s latest efforts, this latest album from Mogwai (Rave Tapes) and the B-sides EP they released a month ago are worth a listen.

Rave Tapes isn’t 65daysofstatic, newer Caspian, Sigur Ros or other standard over-the-top make-you-feel melodrama (read: perfection) post-rock, it’s more in line with This Will Destroy You – great in it’s own right. But, I can’t help but thinking Mogwai wouldnt have made my list this year had some of the other post-rock bands I like released something.

Good album, easily overlooked and forgettable, chill and serene. Perfect to code to.

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Track #13: The Glitch Mob – Fly By Night Only

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A track from the previously mentioned album Love Death Immortality, one of my top recommended albums. Pure adrenaline perfectly intertwined with serene synth and glitch all at once. Ugh, so good.

Track #14: Jack White – Would You Fight For My Love?

Another artist my coworkers Chad and Dan introduced me to a handful of years ago.

I *enjoy* the white stripes, but I don’t *love* them.

Something about Jack White music leaves me with a he-doesn’t-give-a-fuck taste in my mouth – to me, almost all of his solo and white stripes albums sound like a collection of b-sides to a really great album that he never released. I suppose that’s due to a lack of polish my cherished albums usually have – what can I say, I’m a full-album front to back listener, and Jack White’s always got something in there that’s so meh that it has a sort of an uncomfortable twist and makes for a hard listen.

I know, I get it, Jack White is avant-garde or whatever, he doesn’t subscribe to pop sensibilities and accessibility – o rly? False. Proof? Ok: Seven Nation Army. The End.

It’s as if Jack White takes himself super seriously and not seriously at all, all at the same time – perhaps that’s the point. Anyway, if you’re a white stripes fan, fair-weather or otherwise, his album this track comes from, Lazaretto, is more of the same – good, a thousand great hooks sprinkled with poignant interludes here and there with a fair helping of filler that could have hit the editing room floor.

Track #15: Garbage – Milk

Ugh. Garbage. So Good. There was a three or four month phase this year where I was listening to every album Garbage ever issued, on repeat, for days. If you’ve only heard the singles, do yourself a favor, listen to their first two albums.

Fun Fact: Butch Vig, the drummer/producer from Garbage is the same Butch Vig who produced the greatest album ever, Siamese Dream by the Smashing Pumpkins, as well as Nevermind by Nirvana, and a ton of Foo Fighters records (Don’t knock him for that though, he just tries to make them sound as good as he can..). In my opinion, Butch Vig’s super polished sound production is the reason Garbage is as good as it is.

Also, Shirley Manson’s vox – liquid velvet you cannot get enough of. God damn.

Track #16: Longwave – Sirens In The Deep Sea

Amazon recommended Longwave and 65daysofstatic to me at random years ago, and I’m glad they did.

Longwave is a now-defunct early 2000’s rock band. Fans of Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots (sorry to hear that), and Foo Fighters (sorry to hear that too) need to give Longwave’s Secrets Are Sinister a spin.

Solid album front to back.

Track #17: Matthew Good – Advertising On Police Cars (Acoustic)

Matthew Good is one of my most favorite artists ever. This version of the track comes from a ‘deluxe’ triple-disc version of his greatest hits compilation In A Coma. The ‘deluxe’/extras cd has this 5 or 6 track acoustic session of some of his songs and they sound phenomenal. I wish I could have these tracks on vinyl.

The acoustic tracks in particular sound amazing in a room with great reverb, such as my brother’s home office with one wall covered in a wooden cabinet and wood flooring. Sonic catharsis and euphoria at volume 11 – easily one of the greatest listening experiences of my entire life.

Track #18: 65daysofstatic – Safe Passage

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It is a yearly goal of mine to introduce someone to 65daysofstatic. 65 days is labeled as post-rock or glitch or EDM depending on the album you’re looking at, and this album, Wild Light is, in my opinion, just as good as the Caspian Waking Season album I so highly recommended last year. Both Wild Light and Waking Season saw very heavy full-album playthroughs throughout 2014 and I anticipate that continuing in 2015.

This track is the epitome of Wild Light, all wrapped up into 6 minutes – a subdued haunted sad piano intro with guitar tremolos teasing just out of sight. Then, all at once – heavy-handed over-the-top right-in-the-feels synth overload – still mellow somehow, until about 3:10 when the drums kick in and you realize the track is getting out of hand – it’s accelerating and turning from a grey subdued morning to one of those car-crash 90MPH hour days you experience perhaps 3 times in life – it’s spaceships on a collision course with the sun with half the machinery malfunctioning. Epic. God. Damn. Epic. I love it.

Fun Fact: 65days fans, one of the band members, Paul Wolinski, released another short solo EP under the Polinski name again, entitled Full Bleed. It’s a full free stream – but give the man some money so he’ll keep going on making the music of our lifetime. His last solo record Labyrinths was one of my top recommendations for 2012, and I feel like that record showed the direction the following 65 days record (Wild Light) took. Full Bleed is good, but different – where Wild Light and Labyrinths were heavy handed overly dramatic walls of synth, this is like a pink floyd record with sounds of everyday life leading up to a delicate melodic final piano track. I’m not surprised, all of 65’s records have always been an evolution from previous efforts, and if this where 65days is going next, I’m excited to hear it.

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Track #19: Caspian – Halls of the Summer (Lazerbeak remix)

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This track comes from the previously mentioned Hymn for the Greatest Generation EP that Caspian released late last year. This track finishes that album out and often it’s my go-to for amping myself up to conquer the world. If time will not relent for the entire EP, this track will do in a pinch. Good stuff.

Track #20: The Glitch Mob – Our Demons

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More of the same of what we’ve covered earlier in this post, from the album Love Death ImmortalityTrack #21: REM – Sad Professor

REM’s unplugged on MTV sets from 1991 and 2001 were released this year – a good listen if you’re a fan of REM, fair-weather or otherwise.

Track #22: Mike Birbiglia – The Scrambler

2014 was the year I finally listened to my buddy Tim’s advice and listened to comedy albums. I spent days listening to everything from Jim Gaffigan, Patton Oswalt, and others, but I did not expect Mike Birbiglia.

My favorite writers have always been Douglas Coupland (of Generation X / Microserfs fame) and Matthew Good (of Matthew Good Band fame), but this year I’ve got a third favorite author – and that’s Mike Birbiglia.

Like many music artists I enjoy, Birbiglia is hard to really explain or sample one track at a time – he’s a full story/full-album listen required kind of guy. He’s a standup comedian, and his very first album is just regular standup comedy, but if you work your way backward newest album to oldest, you’ll fall in love.

Birbiglia’s albums are comedian concept albums, that is, they’re one long story. He’s a master of self-deprecation and being an asshole at the same time, he’s the underdog you cant help but root for as he tells tales of his first kiss or the time he visited his girlfriend’s boyfriends’ house and tried to impress his parents in hopes she’d choose him over the other boyfriend.

His stories start off harsh – Andy Kaufmanesque in many ways (on purpose) – “I dont believe in marriage” – for example, but by the end of the story he’s enraptured your soul in such a way that his final crescendo or twist at the end brings you to tears – it’s that endearing.

Birbiglia is the perfect story teller. This comes as no surprise, as he’s apparently had 15+ years of practice, often appearing on NPR’s this american life (don’t hold that against him though, that’d be like holding the foo fighters against butch vig..) and other such shows. His performances are theatre – he builds a story and constantly revises it as the tour progresses, ending with an absolutely immaculate story every tour.

Like my other favorite authors, Mike Birbiglia is the reason I write – he is the relatable guy who makes entertaining writing filled with humor and poignant moments seem so effortless. It seems effortless, but only upon the fifth listen through do you realize the amazing amounts of effort he must invest to make a show that appears so effortless. His simplicity and self-deprecating awkwardness is at once endearing, charming, and disarming – you feel bad for the guy and then, before you realize it, you’ve learned something precious about life when all you came for was the jokes.

Birbiglia is inspiring, and genius. Some of my most favorite books and people in life have been just like this guy, and Birbiglia’s packaged the amazing experience of knowing those books or people into something anyone can experience. Incredible.

Start with the album My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend, watch it on DVD or stream it on Netflix ideally first.

Track #23: Garbage – The Trick Is To Keep Breathing

Garbage. Ugh. So Good, search for “liquid velvet” earlier in this post. That. More of that.

Track #24: Everclear – Sunflowers

Another track from So Much For The Afterglow, an album mentioned previously in this post.

Track #25: Direct Hit – The World Is Ending (No one cares.)

Direct Hit’s Brainless God is an entertaining pop-punk concept album about the apocalypse if it were to happen in current suburban America. Fucking brilliant, and catchy as hell.

Track #26: Brody Dalle – Dressed In Dreams

Here we have contender #1 for over-produced generic pop alt rock album of the year. Listening to this album is a dirty-secret pleasure – there’s nothing super remarkable about it, but it has all of the signature sounds a good rock album should.

Like the previously mentioned Celebrity Skin/So Much For The Afterglow/Ozzmosis, it feels like this is kind of phoned in with help from consultants. Dalle is the lead singer from the early 2000’s pop punk band the Distillers – not a band I particularly care for, but Dalle split a record-store-day single with Garbage this year, so I looked her up and found this.

A fun listen, just don’t tell anyone you listened to it.

Track #27: Jeff Rosenstock – Hey Allison!

A preview of a forthcoming album from the lead singer of the now defunct Bomb The Music Industry!.

I highly recommend BTMI’s album Vacations – an enjoyable listen front to back, indie power-pop-punk with a sprinkle of chiptunes here and there. Feels like the Broken Social Scene of the punk rock scene, because it is – a collective of musicians having a good time and kicking out records in the mean time.

Anyway, Jeff Rosenstock – I don’t dig all of his stuff, but this track and that Vacations album are awesome.

Track #28: Shakey Graves – Dearly Departed

I ranted about this guy in previous posts. Phenomenal live. His first album was a bit lifeless, and somewhere along the way he found his way and now he’s kicking out folksy country stuff like the best of them. Good album – And The War Came – released this past fall.

Track #29: TV On The Radio – DLZ

A track I had on my 2013 list but it kept being played through 2014 on repeat, a beautiful groove that crescendos in all-out-feels-righteous-anger-style. I have not yet listened to the band’s 2014 release Seeds, but I intend to. Maybe more on that in 2015.

Track #30: Mogwai – The Lord Is Out Of Control

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Another track from the previously mentioned Rave Tapes.

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Track #31: Hole – Petals

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Another track from the previously mentioned Celebrity Skin.

Track #32: Blue October – Fear

My wife is a huge Blue October fan. Their 2003 album Foiled (with the song Hate Me) was a super strong and amazing alt rock album. But albums from the band after that languished as the lead singer worked through a bullshit divorce and addiction issues. His struggles at the time show on the albums between Foiled and this latest album Sway. If you’ve heard those in-between albums, don’t hold it against the band, Sway is a return to form, Foiled 2.0 with a bit more love and a bit less anger. Phenomenal in my opinion.

This track in particular, Fear, is the standout in my opinion. Don’t fall for the recently released terrible amateur-hour digital-drums-added re-release radio version of the song, hear this version, the original version from the album.

If you’re a Blue October fan who’s suffered the past few years through some shit albums, give Sway a try. Also consider the lead singer’s cool solo album this year, Songs from an Open Book, in which he plays solo acoustic renditions of Blue October hits and tells the stories behind the songs in the meantime.

Track #33: Garbage – You Look So Fine

Garbage. Ugh. So Good, search for “liquid velvet” earlier in this post. That. More of that.

Track #34: First Aid Kit – My Silver Lining

If you liked their previous album, The Lion’s Roar, you’ll dig this. If you like other folksy country hipster crap these days (Shakey Graves, Shovels and Rope, Edward Sharpe, Of Monsters and Men, etc), you’ll dig this.

The new album’s called Stay Gold. Great weekend afternoon music.

Track #35: Metric – Help I’m Alive (Acoustic)

A cool acoustic version of the first track that opened their album Fantasies several years ago.

I loved the acoustic versions of the Synthetica songs on the ‘deluxe’ version of that album, and I realized this year there’s a digital-release-only EP called Plug In Plug Out with these acoustic renditions of various Fantasies tracks. I really wish this EP was available on vinyl, I’m sure it’d sound fantastic – just as Fantasies and Synthetica do.

Track #36: Matthew Good – Blue Skies Over Bad Lands

Heavy-handed lyrics, with an overly dramatic long-drawn out signature Matthew Good backing track.

From my least favorite album from one of my favorite artists, White Light Rock & Roll is OK, but kinda throwaway – which makes sense, that’s kinda how he recorded it (less obsessed solo perfection, more just jamming with a band and seeing where it goes).

Anyway, I missed this track previously, it’s good, but it’s no Champions of Nothing, Near Fantastica or a dozen other such amazing anthems.

Track #37: Enigma – Return To Innocence

Earlier this year my wife and my brother in law invited me to an erasure concert.

Fun fact: Erasure is a happier version of Depeche Mode, which make sense because the main musician was actually in Depeche Mode early on.

Another fun fact: Enigma is not Erasure. And I thought we were going to see Enigma, not Erasure.

I listened to the enigma album with this famous track before the concert anyway, and I’m glad I did – great mid-nineties tribal music mixed with accessible soundscapes made for white people – predictable over-used sound clips of apollo-era astronauts included here and there.

Fun fact: I love songs with over-used astronaut sound clips.

Also, Erasure is pretty awesome, if you like EDM such as Depeche Mode or BT, check erasure out. Also check out VNV Nation and Blaqk Audio while you’re at it.

Track #38: Interpol – Ancient Ways

I haven’t liked anything since their first album, but this latest effort El Pintor is listenable and enjoyable. Generic, forgettable, but hey, 2014 was a slow year.

Track #39: Garbage – So Like A Rose

Garbage. Ugh. So Good, search for “liquid velvet” earlier in this post. That. More of that.

Track #40: This Will Destroy You – Dustism

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Fun Fact: Before I saw that photo above, I had not heard of lowercase noises, I will check them out in 2015.

Anyway, This Will Destroy You’s latest – For some reason I was expecting more of their self titled effort, the melodramatic predictable post rock subtle near-silent start that builds into an anthem crescendo then back down and up again for a few more rollercoaster dips – all sprinkled with hints of electronic beats here and there.

This latest album, Another Language is not that. Gone are the over-used melodramatic post-rock swells.

TWDY insists they’re not post-rock, and where Sigur Ros went all-swells-over-the-top on their last effort, TWDY went the opposite direction with Another Language – this sounds more like Tunnel Blanket 2.0 (Tunnel Blanket was their previous album). It’s really good, and I feel strange saying its like Tunnel Blanket, because it’s not – it’s very subdued and somehow a very strange album – it leaves me with an unsettling feeling like I’m not sure what to feel or what I’m feeling at all – very strange.

Where previous efforts have been a direct punch to the feels jugular, over-the-top melodramatic heavy-handed Sigur Ros type stuff, this album is different.

This latest effort reads as a band that’s matured beyond all of the generic melodrama. This album reads as a band who’s hit their stride and yet somehow seems to be hunting for something yet to come – the album feels like the pedestrian build up in a given post rock song – except the *entire* album is that build up with no release – like foreplay for an album yet to come.

If anything, I’d compare this to Sigur Ros’ Valtari record a few years back – it’s still post-rock, but you can fall to sleep to it without being woken up every 10 minutes with some over the top driving crescendo full of catharsis.

With Another Language, I kind of think TWDY is both fucking with us and educating us while dragging us kicking and screaming into the realization that there’s more to good music than formulaic melodrama. I like it.

Track #41: Moby – When It’s Cold I’d Like To Die

I watched all of the Sopranos this year, again. I hadn’t watched it in nearly a decade. In a post-The-Wire world, the sopranos reads as pulp tv drama, a Mad Men of yesteryear – whatever/who-cares.

Still, the storytelling in the series is a bit like Game Of Thrones books – there’s a lot of get-to-know-the-characters that’s enjoyable but leaves you with the feeling that the entire series’ content could be quartered in length and be fantastic.

But, there’s a trick – the melodramatic moments just read as melodramatic and lame if that’s all there is all the time, see 24 or any other hit show ever (aside from The Wire, that show, ugh. so good.)

For melodrama moments to have maximum impact, you need the post-rock build up, the 6 seasons of formulaic sopranos ho-hum, the familiarization with the characters to the point that they’re family to you. Then the protagonist gets shot, no – not the first (or second?) time, – the third or fourth time where they have this best-of-series episode where Tony’s in the hospital and nobody’s sure if he’ll come through.

I hate hospitals. Babies are the only good thing to come from hospital stays, otherwise the best you can shoot for almost all of the time is a return to normalicy. Hospitals get a bad wrap because the hospital is where terrible things happen – maybe, just maybe some minor miracle of modern day science saves someone, but often hospital stays equate to tragedy.

This episode of the sopranos perfectly captures family tragedy, and hospitals, in the span of an hour – it is profound. The episode perfectly captures the effortless fragility, chaos and emotion one feels in the face of family emergency, all within the span of one hour.

So, yeah. Great episode, and the finale to the experience? – A montage set to this track from Moby.

I’m no Moby fan, but this track, with some 70+ hours of sopranos leading up to it, it hits you right in the feels. Tears. Everytime.

The episode in question is Join The Club, but don’t watch it without watching everything before first!!

Track #42: Garbage – Beloved Freak

Garbage. Ugh. So Good, search for “liquid velvet” earlier in this post. That. More of that.

Track #43: Inventions – Peacable Child

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Side project from one of the guys in Explosions in the Sky. I’m not a big Explosions in the Sky fan, but I dig this side project album a fair bit. Slow moving, serene at times, forgettable, but worth a listen. Not post-rock, no feels/melodramatic builds and crescendos, more easy-going electronic meanderings I’d say.

Track #44: Aaron Behrens & The Midnight Stroll – Keep On Rising

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Our second contender for dirty pleasure listening generic all-the-rock-music album of the year. This EP from Ghostland Observatory’s lead singer’s new project is good, but generic as hell. This track in particular opens all U2 sounding and then moves into a standard rock-ballad/slightly-country song I know I’ve heard before a million different ways.

This self-titled debut EP is an enjoyable listen while cleaning the house or otherwise idly ignoring the me-too generic feel to it. Aaron Behren’s vox tho. Right? Right.

Track #45: Led Zeppelin – When The Levee Breaks

The closing track to Led Zeppelin IV, one of the greatest albums of all time (which also includes Stairway to Heaven). Often these ‘greatest albums of all time’ have an epic single that makes up for the rest, this is *not* the case with Led Zep IV – I feel the album would be just as amazing without Stairway altogether, it’s just such a solid prototype for rock music done right. Fantastic.

One of the things I want from the future is for Led Zep to be less stingy about their music rights in movies, so this song can get the remaster treatment that Hendrix’s All Along The Watchtower had in The Watchmen movie.

Yes, this is a 2014 remaster, but one gets the feeling that Jimmy Page is trying to remain as true as possible to the source mixes back in the day, without over-producing something in a 2010s flair like the 90s remastered misses came out – but god, this track, if ever there was a track that could use the crystal clear overdriven brick wall compression movie-version mix – I need this. Future, please deliver it. Not a full album of over-done, just this. one. track. please! When The Levee Breaks, the movie mix, let’s make this happen.

More 2014 Music Fun

Other Music related things I highly recommend:

Sonic Highways

The HBO show, not the album, or the band.

A year or two ago Dave Grohl from Foo Fighters published a neat documentary about a famous record studio called Sound City.

Sonic Highways is to Sound City as Band of Brothers is to Saving Private Ryan or From the Earth to the Moon is to Apollo 13 – that is, someone makes a great movie or documentary and realizes they can’t tell an adequate story in 3 hours – there’s more to tell!, so they go to HBO and say “hey, what if we made a miniseries on this theme and tell the more of the story?”. That’s sonic highways, the show, not the terrible album.

In the show, Grohl and his band go to different famous music studios and cities around the US and talk about recent rock history from the area – Seattle, Austin, LA, etc. Really awesome, must watch for music fans. They also record a track from the terrible album with the same name and have a annoying lame music video for the Foo Fighters at the end of each episode, but you can skip that bit.

How Music Works

A really great read for music nerds. Did you know widely-distributed recorded music didn’t exist before the phonograph? Of course you did, but have you ever thought what society and music was like in those days before a cd? Before the phonograph there was no such thing as a personal listening experience or radio – music was a shared cultural thing, everyone knew how to sing or play something, music was a family event – like a never ending disney movie I guess – thank god for the phonograph.

That’s just a small nerd-tastic profound detail of many captured in this book. The book is semi-autobiographical, about Byrne’s new wave band the whoever, and though I’m not a fan, the autobiographical bits are interesting because he captures the ‘scene’ and inner workings of the music industry with vivid detail – it doesn’t even matter if you care for his music or not.

Good Vinyl In 2014

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(above image courtesy of Steven Potter)

Vinyl is going crazy – and I’m just another hipster wannabe who’s on the bandwagon. That being said I bought some music equipment this year where I can really hear a difference between music sources, and some stuff really shines on vinyl. I’m not sure that there’s a type of music that would sound like garbage on vinyl that doesnt already sound like garbage (i.e. dubstep), but there are a lot of artists who don’t seem to ‘get it’ and the vinyl mix comes out sounding flat or over distorted or neutral at best.

So, here’s a list of vinyl releases you won’t be disappointed with (in no particular order):

  • Led Zeppelin III (2014 Remaster/Reissue)
  • Caspian – Waking Season
  • Caspian – Hymn for the Greatest Generation
  • The Naked and Famous – In Rolling Waves
  • 65daysofstatic – Wild Light
  • First Aid Kit – Stay Gold
  • Mogwai – Rave Tapes
  • Blue October – Sway
  • Hole – Celebrity Skin (2014 Remaster/Reissue)
  • Nine Inch Nails – Hesitation Marks

There are a few albums yet from this post that I haven’t obtained on vinyl, but the This Will Destroy You vinyl sounded substandard, and several others sounded just the same as the digital mix, avoid unless you’re a super fan:

  • Smashing Pumpkins – Adore (2014 Remaster/Reissue)
  • Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Specter at the Feast
  • Oasis – Whats The Story Morning Glory? (2014 Remaster/Reissue)

Kudos

Ok, that’s “it” – 6500+ words put together over a series of evenings this holiday season. I hope you find something you enjoy.

Thanks Brian, Dan, Amanda, Jonny, Jeff, Cesa, Chad, Tim, and Matt for introducing me to many of the artists I listened to this year.

Music To Code By, 2013

It’s that time of the year again. For more great music, check out the previous ‘Music To Code By’ posts from 2011 and 2012.

It seems this year, soundcloud really became a thing. In previous years I’ve had to link to Amazon mostly for 30 second clips at best. This year, links below are actually worth a click – as almost all of them link to music you can stream for free from soundcloud or bandcamp – no subscription cost necessary. That being said, I strongly recommend that you join a music service like Rhapsody or Spotify – so you can hear some of these amazing albums in full.

Standard Disclaimer

I prefer full-album front-to-back listening experiences. Favorite genres currently include post-rock, noise-rock, EDM, alt rock, shoegaze, and dream pop. Also, new this year, this blog post isn’t just music I’ve found on my own – there’s a fair variety of tastes this year, thanks to some excellent suggestions from friends and colleagues.

Executive Summary

I’ve put together a couple of soundcloud playlists – in an attempt to capture a good slice of worthwhile music to checkout.

First, there’s the 2.5 hour 2013 Code Mix – this is the mix I can listen to while coding with my brain on. It’s primarily post-rock (caspian, this will destroy you) with bits of dance and noise-rock (tv on the radio, 65daysofstatic, BT, blonde redhead) in between.

Because I’m paranoid, and sure soundcloud tracks will change, here’s the original track ordering:

  1. Blonde Redhead – 23
  2. Caspian – Gone In Bloom and Bough
  3. Matthew Good – Non Populus
  4. 65daysofstatic – PX3
  5. TV on the radio – DLZ
  6. Tv on the radio – Wolf Like Me
  7. 65daysofstatic – PRISMS
  8. This Will Destroy You – A Three-Legged Workhorse
  9. Caspian – Hymn For The Greatest Generation
  10. Metric – Breathing Underwater (Acoustic)
  11. BT – Skylarking
  12. Caspian – Hickory ’54
  13. This Will Destroy You – Communal Blood
  14. Carbon Based Life Forms – MOS 6581 (ALBUM VERSION)
  15. This Will Destroy You – The Mighty Rio Grande
  16. Matthew Good – Champions Of Nothing
  17. Orbital – One Perfect Sunrise
  18. Caspian – Fire Made Flesh
  19. 65daysofstatic – Tiger Girl

Next, there’s the “god, I hate bug fixing and need something to distract me” mostly pop-rock 2013 Best Of playlist. Here you’ll find a good old-fashioned all-over-the-place mix 2 hours in length. It’s a healthy dose of the latest fashionable pop rock junk (such as 80s revival nonsense like the national), with enough alt-rock and just enough of a sprinkling of punk-rock to help you not feel like a tool for listening to it all. There’s some bleed over from the code mix – because some tracks are too awesome not to hear multiple times.

The ‘Best Of’ playlist is too long (timewise) to embed in this entry, so click above, or here to go listen to it.

‘2013 Best of’ track list:

  1. Mark Duplass – Big Machine (Acoustic Version)
  2. Avicii – Wake Me Up (Extended Mix)
  3. TV on the radio – DLZ
  4. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Let The Day Begin
  5. The Neighbourhood – “Female Robbery”
  6. Caspian – Hymn For The Greatest Generation
  7. Blonde Redhead – 23
  8. Matthew Good – Via Dolorosa
  9. J. Roddy Walston – Heavy Bells
  10. Dire Straits – Romeo And Juliet
  11. Shakey Graves – Late July
  12. Kitten – Cut It Out
  13. Twin Shadow – Five Seconds
  14. The National – Afraid Of Everyone
  15. The Neighbourhood – Sweater Weather
  16. Mirror Travel – I Want You To Know
  17. Alkaline Trio – I Wanna Be A Warhol
  18. Bomb The Music Industry! – Felt Just Like Vacation
  19. Alkaline Trio – This Could Be Love (from Damnesia)
  20. Matthew Good – Non Populus
  21. Caspian – Gone In Bloom and Bough
  22. Caspian – Hickory ’54
  23. Metric – Breathing Underwater (Acoustic)
  24. Crystal Castles – Not In Love (Featuring Robert Smith)
  25. Champion – No Heaven

Top Five Albums

If you listen to nothing else at all, do yourself a favor and at least listen to this track, at max volume, ideally on speakers that will make you feel the kick drum in your soul:

This is “Gone in Bloom and Bough”, by Caspian. The entire album is an amazing post-rock trip of beauty that rival’s Sigur Ros’ ‘Takk’ album (one of my personal favorites). You can stream the entire album for free. If you’ve dismissed older Caspian records as generic post-rock (along with godspeed / explosions in the sky), don’t dismiss this one – it’s different. Where other bands are blending electronic elements and synth into post-rock, Caspian’s already made the record everyone’s aiming for, ‘Waking Season’ is it. Also, their latest EP ‘Hymn for the Greatest Generation’ is amazing as well, you can listen to the title track from that EP here.

Caspian – Waking Season (full album stream):

Matthew Good – Lights of Endangered Species (sample track):

Matthew Good’s album from last year, ‘Lights of Endandgered Species’, is, I feel, his best album to date – and that’s saying something. This track, Non-Populous is the latest in a long line of 7 minute + epics that take you on an unforgettable, almost intangible emotional journey. He also released a more typical alt-rock record this year, entitled ‘Arrows of Desire’, it’s good, but if you’re new around here, check out the ‘Hospital Music’, ‘Endandgered Species’, ‘Avalanche’, and ‘Beautiful Midnight’ albums first.

65daysofstatic – Wild Light (Sample Track):

‘Wild Light’, is, in a word: fantastic. 65days started as mostly high-energy high-bpm math-rock/post-rock – very aphex twin fairly often. In recent year’s they’ve morphed. Where the previous record, ‘We Were Exploding Anyway’ was essentially a dance/rock record – ‘Wild Light’ pulls back a bit, the music has morphed into a synth-heavy droning guitars noise-pop/post-rock/glitch masterpiece that absolutely refuses to loosen it’s grip on you. If you dug the Polinski side-project record I mentioned last year – this, to me, is that with guitars.

Sigur Ros – Kveikur (Full Album Stream):

Other post-rock outfits are trying to find the lighter ‘pretty’ side of music that Sigur Ros’ pulls off so effortlessly, but with their latest, Sigur Ros is going in the opposite direction. Their latest, Kveikur, is at once driven and beautiful. It seems for the first time, drums and bass are in the driver’s seat. There’s a darkness to the album, a sense that something went wrong and somebody’s pissed – I like it. Great album.

Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Specter at the Feast (Sample Track):

I’m not familiar with BRMC, but I ran across them after checking out the Sound City film, and their latest album, ‘Specter at the Feast’ is awesome. Shoegazer meandering mope rock fuzz-pop at its finest. An enjoyable listen all the way through.

Other Bits

I spent a fair number of days this year listening to Alkaline Trio’s ‘Damnesia’ album (acoustic versions of their punk/alt-rock/mope-rock hits) on constant repeat:

The same repeat-forever multi-day full-album treatment was given to..

Bomb The Music Industry’s ‘Vacations’ (amazing punk rock, the end):

Full album stream on their website.

Kitten’s ‘Cut It Out’ EP (80’s resurgence pop), full album stream:

The Neighbourhood’s ‘I Love You’ (pedestrian alt rock, album is really *really* catchy and good):

The National’s ‘Trouble Will Find Me’ (80s resurgence, basically the smiths + joy division), full album stream:

and Limp Bizkit’s ‘The Unquestionable Truth’ (don’t knock it till you’ve tried it – it’s actually decent, whereas I consider the rest of their albums aside from the first a waste of time), this is a full album stream:

I don’t usually listen to single tracks on repeat, but there are occasionally albums I can’t stand most of, but one track is god like, this year those tracks were:

Blonde Redhead – 23:

Battles – Atlas:

Tom Waits – Goin’ Out West:

Crystal Castles – Not In Love (Featuring Robert Smith):

Champion – No Heaven:

And then there are awesome albums that get re-released with devastatingly beautiful poignant acoustic versions of great songs, such as Metric’s ‘Breathing Underwater (Acoustic)’:

Go ahead, enjoy your next few days of time spent spinning one of those tracks on repeat forever. I’ll catch you on the flipside when you’ve had enough euphoria.

Vinyl

Finally, my wife and I got into vinyl a bit this year. I’d highly recommend it – it sounds a little different, yeah – but the thing that caught me off guard was the manual/personal-involvement of it. Not for nearly twenty years had I been physically limited to playing one disc at a time, and with a record you’re flipping it every 15-20 minutes, so its even more involved than a cd would be. It sounds like work, and it is – but it’s a labor of love. Vinyl has been a catalyst to a change in my life toward relaxing and appreciating music the way I used to when I was young. It’s part nostalgia, part backlash against always being on the internet and wasting my life. We’re enjoying ourselves.

If/when you check out vinyl, I highly recommend the following albums:

  • The Rolling Stones – Let It Bleed
  • The Cure – Seventeen Seconds
  • Sigur Ros – Med Sud I Eyrum Vid Spilum Endalaust
  • Dylan Leblanc – Cast The Same Old Shadow
  • Mirror Travel – Mexico
  • First Aid Kit – The Lion’s Roar
  • Pearl Jam – VS
  • Silversun Pickups – Swoon (this one sounds suprisingly fantastic, warm fuzz.. mmm)
  • Modest Mouse – Good News For People Who Love Bad News

Credit Where Credit Is Due

I can only seriously claim credit for almost all of the “code mix” – most everything else recommended this year was recommended to me by friends and family.

Thanks to Alex for recommending Tom Waits and Death From Above 1979, among a dozen others I still need to check out!

Thanks, Brooke, for Kitten, The Neighborhood, Twin Shadow.

Thanks, Jonathan, for Crystal Castles, Battles, Sleigh Bells, and a ton of music back in the day, including introducing me to Stellastarr, and Death Cab for Cutie – we wouldn’t have known of ‘Transatlanticism’ or used it for our wedding day first dance had you not introduced me to it.

Thanks, Daniel, for recommending carbon based life forms – truly awesome music to work to for hours on end.

Thanks, Brian, for your awesome indie/punk finds, including Bomb The Music Industry, and Direct Hit. I have a feeling Direct Hit is going to be on repeat for a while in 2014.

Thanks, Dad, for the recommendation of Dire Straits – I had no idea the ‘Romeo and Juliet’ song in one of my favorite movies (Empire Records) was by them – good stuff.

Thanks, Adam, for suggesting we play through borderlands when we were sick of code – truly one of the highlights of my year, and the ‘No Heaven’ credits track by Champion was an awesome end to a great time.

Thank you Amanda for recommending Shakey Graves, and Avicii; and thanks for sticking around late that one week night after 65daysofstatic’s set to discover caspian with me. Also, thanks for going to the Sigur Ros’ show with me, that was truly the greatest show I’ve ever seen.

To the rest of you who recommended great stuff, thanks, keep it up.

Cool Stuff: Music & Audio (Part 1)

I recently discovered that I’m the son of an audiophile – suddenly I understand why I was encouraged to buy a decent amplifier/receiver at a very young age, suddenly I appreciate those old dads-college-days/hand-me-down kickass KLH speakers just a little bit more than I always have. I am definitely not an audiophile myself, but music is a huge part of my happiness in life. I’m also a geek, so over the years I’ve learned a clever thing or two about the hobby of collecting and listening to music, and I’d like to share a bit of what I’ve learned.

Required Reading

Before we get into the hardware geekery, I think it’s prudent to point you toward a few classic articles and books about the music industry.

First up is Steve Albini’s The Problem With Music. Albini produced classic pixies and nirvana records, but, to me, his no-nonsense approach to writing and putting it all out there is just as important. There’s also a classic no-bullshit letter from Albini to Nirvana before recording In Utero that’s fairly entertaining to read.

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Next, consider Courtney Love’s Courtney Does the Math article. It’s a financial deep dive that shows the money for a fairly successful act dwindling from $2 million up front to almost nothing for the actual band members at the end. Sombering stuff.

Another highly recommended read is David Byrne’s How Music Works. And, depending on your interests, there are some entertaining bios out there for various musicians, I’ve enjoyed a few: Marilyn Manson, Pearl Jam, Nirvana, The Pixies, The Smashing Pumpkins. There are also a few books I haven’t yet read, but will eventually for bands such as: The Cure, Jane’s Addiction, and Pink Floyd.

While we’re at it, music fans should also check out Sound City, Hype, It Might Get Loud, Pearl Jam Twenty, The White Stripes: Under Great White Northern Lights, Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, Anvil: The Story of Anvil, The Other F Word, Almost Famous, High Fidelity, Empire Records, SLC Punk, and Spinal Tap.

Finding Music

Before you get yourself in too deep with discovering great music you want to hear, I’d highly recommend considering a monthly subscription music service such as rhapsody or spotify. Each of these services cost about $10 a month and let you listen to as much music as you’d like on a computer or on your iOS or Android device.

Years ago these services were a ridiculous pain in the ass in terms of portability, but the advent of the iOS and Android apps for the services simplify everything greatly. If you don’t have a smartphone, I recommend considering an iPod Touch and using the service’s download-for-offline-play feature.

One downside to the streaming services is that at times, it’s like netflix vs hbo go vs hulu vs whatever. That is – an artist can have a terrible exclusive deal with one music service or another, so the one you pay for doesn’t have that artist’s latest. And don’t forget that some of your favorite bands are stuck in the 20th century mindset, for example: you won’t find led zeppelin, ac/dc, metallica, the beatles, and a few other acts on these streaming services. Jerks.

The rhapsody/spotify services also have the ability to browse music by genre, often with features like “most popular track, album, artist for this genre” – find a genre, or obscure corner genre such as shoegazer or dream pop, and discover something new that way.

Screen Shot 2013-10-16 at 5.09.55 PM

Discovering music in the 21st century is super easy. Just plug a favorite band or song into an internet-radio/recommendation engine like pandora radio, last.fm (more indie acts, but less big-label acts), or itunes radio. The subscription services (rhapsody, spotify) also have social features and recommendations such as “acts similar to this one” or “albums similar to this one” or “influences for this band”.

Other recommendation sources to consider are your friends and family who enjoy similar music; online forums for bands you like (examples: nin, matthew good); and amazon’s recommendations listed with your favorite album (“people who bought this also bought..”).

Occasionally a band will mention bands they’re influenced by or listening to in interviews, and often the wikipedia page for your favorite band will have this kind of information readily available. For example, I probably would not have given The Cure a fair shake if it weren’t for James Iha from The Smashing Pumpkins going on and on about them every chance he got.

Indie and popular acts alike often upload tracks to soundcloud, and bandcamp, and there’s always random music blogs to consider, such as sound junkie soapbox, or mixed tape masterpiece.

Discogs.com is sort of a music-central wikipedia/music marketplace. It’s often a better resource for websites and discography lists related to a band than wikipedia or an artist’s own site is. This website is especially dangerous for niche or vinyl fans, as you can find almost any album ever published for sale – sometimes very expensively.

Finally, for a little nostalgic trip, consider wikipedia’s album release lists, genre lists, and/or billboard lists.

Buying Music

These days the most popular way to acquire music is by buying it online. Keep in mind that when you buy something on iTunes you’ll run into insane DRM nightmares down the road, fun such as not being able to play music you bought on a non-apple device, etc etc. Basically, this:

Screen Shot 2013-10-16 at 5.15.33 PM

Instead, I recommend buying music through Amazon, bandcamp, or directly from the artist’s website.

Most music purchased on Amazon is forever-available to instantly stream or re-download in the future via Amazon’s Cloud Player.

If you’re still a fan of purchasing physical copies of music (a cd or vinyl), you should definitely consider purchasing new copies of your albums through Amazon when they have the “AutoRip” label on the cover.

With AutoRip, Amazon automatically gives you a forever streamable and/or downloadable copy of your album in their cloud player. A cool feature about AutoRip is that it’s retroactive, there’s a good chance you can insta-download mp3s of albums you bought 10 years ago on Amazon, right now.

For CD/Vinyl fans, It’s getting harder and harder to find anything you’re looking for in a local brick and mortar big-box such as best buy, target, etc. I’ve found fry’s electronics still has a halfway decent in-store selection, but really, these days, the physical media nerds will need to check out a record store. You can find a nearby record store by searching on yelp in your area. Here’s a short list of stores I’ve visited and highly recommend:

* Waterloo Records (Austin, TX)
* Pirahna Records (Round Rock, TX)
* Easy Street Records (Seattle, WA)
* Forever Young Records (Arlington, TX)

Vinyl fans should also consider the following:

* The Austin Record Convention – annual record convention w/ more than 300 vendors.
* Absolute Vinyl (Boulder, TX)
* Breakaway Records (Austin, TX)
* Austin Citywide Garage Sale – monthly convention, half a dozen vendors have vinyl.

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Choosing Test Music

Before you buy any music equipment, it’s important to understand that unless you’re paying many hundreds or thousands of dollars, the equipment you buy will most likely “color” the music. That is, the equipment will bias bass a bit louder, or treble, or feel more “open” (like a concert hall) or “punchy” (like a small room w/ carpet).

I recommend testing equipment before you buy it. To do this, you need to make a playlist of songs to demo equipment with. Put the playlist on your smartphone and a cd, and bring necessary wires to hook your device into whatever you’re targeting. Your playlist should have a couple or three songs that you are very familiar with and you know how you expect the song to sound. Everyone’s taste in music and sound balance differs, and you don’t have to be a music snob or genius to understand what you’re looking for – just pick some favorite songs that you will *know* when they sound “right” to you.

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For myself, I like a balanced sound that’s just a tad warm with super clarity. I love me some reverb/open sound, so what I’m looking for is something that sounds “wide open” with super clear mids and treble – with bass I can hear that isn’t overpowering the rest but instead is a subtle but powerful driving undercurrent.

There are more than a few songs that I considered that exemplify what I “like”, but here’s what I came up with: When I was test driving cars I used Sigur Ros’ Saeglopur, and when I tested PC Speakers I used Ulrich Schnuass’ In The Wrong Place and The Smashing Pumpkins’ Porcelina of the Vast Oceans.

Video for Sigur Ros’ Saeglopur:

Note that youtube compressed audio may not be the best representation of the nuances I’ll describe below.. but you get the idea.

Saeglopur was chosen because it has this beautiful super clear beginning piano w/ bells – right off the bat I can tell if a stereo’s halfway worth it if that section sounds enveloping and beautiful – or muddied. Later, the song builds into something roaring and huge and the moment of crescendo/catharsis is absolutely key. Right around 1:50 – 2:15 a huge swirl of spine-tingling warm catharsis fades in and ought to make me skip a breath or two – some cars had auto-volume leveling features that muddied or otherwise ruined this. Later, after the swell – the track is muddier than I’d like – to an annoying degree, I suppose there’s too much going on – but I find it bothers me less depending on the clarity of the hardware.

Video for Ulrich Schnauss’ In The Wrong Place:

The Ulrich Schnauss song has a similar super-clear intro with this little “springy/bouncy” sound on the kick sample – you’d be surprised how many sets of PC speakers we tried where the “spring” effect was completely muted and gone. Like Saeglopur, it quickly builds into a bed of lush instrumentation with more than a few distinct synths of varying tonal qualities running around. In particular there’s a very subtle but strong bass line going that was often absent on test equipment. Around 3:00 there’s a significant change to the tune and a new synth melody comes into the picture – but it’s subtle and hidden to some extent – I would fast forward to this spot and listen and on many speaker sets this driving melody would be completely hidden in mud and the song ruined.

Video for The Smashing Pumpins’ Porcelina of the Vast Oceans:

The Pumpkins’ track, Porcelina, is more or less Saeglopur with a better mix/balance IMO, it starts off with a long fade-in of guitars that either sound lush and full – like the music surrounds you in a warm envelope of comfort, or like little treble punches here and there – all depending on the quality of the speaker set. As the song builds to serious overdrive w/ the classic marshall sound there’s an edge to the guitars around 2:15 through 2:40 – again, a fullness of sound, that just can’t be lost – but often is. Finally, there’s a synthy/raspy guitar in the right speaker during the first verse that would often be completely lost on substandard sets.

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Purchasing Hardware

If at all possible, test your potential hardware in person – at a fry’s electronics, or (worst case..) a best buy, or a friend’s house.

If in-person won’t work, Amazon is the obvious choice, with a great return policy in place if you aren’t satisfied.

Other options to consider include Newegg, J&R, Musician’s Friend, and Guitar Center.

Also, seriously consider MonoPrice for all of your cable, adapters, and so on – you can occasionally find similarly priced quality ‘amazon basics’ items on Amazon – but MonoPrice’s prices and customer service in the event of a problem are awesome.

Decent Hardware (Home Theater/Computer)

As I mentioned earlier, your individual taste in music will affect the type of equipment you like. Price points are an important consideration as well, you may be able to purchase a $10 set of headphones that beat some $50 sets, but you will not find a $50 set that eclipses a $250 dollar set – and so on.

Before we start the hardware recommendations, keep in mind that I’m not an audiophile myself, but over the years I have cobbled together some audio equipment that is good enough for me. I have a even mixture of moderately expensive (more than $100 per part) and inexpensive hardware. Further, I have some hardware that’s more than a decade (or two) old, and still doing just fine – this works for me, but if you want stuff with the bells and whistles, I have a few more recent home theater builds from friends that I think sound amazing as well.

In our living room we have an ancient, inexpensive, but still kicking and awesome Sony STR-D615 receiver driving my father’s college KLH Twenty speakers, which are 40 or more years old. This setup was the configuration that I cut my teeth on and annoyed my mother to-no-end with as a teenager – as a kid there was nothing better than turning these up astoundingly loud and sitting not 4 feet in front of them – listening to porcelina repetitively. These days the KLH’s have a pair of MBQuart QLC104 speakers sitting on top of them as the “front” speakers – the MBQuart’s are better for TV and video games than the KLHs are, but the KLHs slaughter the MBQuarts for music imo.

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I’m not a 5.1 or 7.1 guy, as most setups I’ve heard sound like garbage or oddly balanced, and I generally enjoy friend’s setups with similar predispositions against the N.1 nonsense. A buddy of mine with much newer hardware has a beautiful sound emanating from Paradigm Studio 100 v5 for left/right and a Paradigm Studio CC590 v5 for center. He drives all of this with a Pioneer VSX-21TXH. If I were to upgrade our living room receiver/speaker situation – his would be the one I’d match.

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That being said, I do have one buddy with an amazing 9.2 (7.2 in reality, as nothing does 9.2 yet) setup that actually does the proper 3D surround sound effect. The trick seems to be to have a table with the rear speakers directly behind your couch, right behind your head. He drives his system with a Pioneer SC-1222-K. The speaker setup is two Polk Audio New Monitor 75T Four-Way Ported Floorstanding Loudspeakers, Polk Audio New Monitor 25C Two-Way Center Channel Loudspeaker, and 4 rear speakers poached from a Klipsch HD Theater 600 Home Theater System. He configures his system with the 3 polks in the front, 2 klipsch’s next to those, 2 subs up front, and 4 on the table behind the couch.

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Note: Both of my friends with the 2.1 and the 9.2 setups are fairly hardcore in their dedication to finding the best equipment for their price range – they both did extensive research to land on their setup of choice, and the research definitely paid off – both setups sound amazing.

In our kitchen we have a crappy little $35 iphone dock (iLive IBP181B) that sounds like garbage. The price is right, and for our needs, it work’s perfectly – we don’t exactly need crystal clear tunes when we’re making a bunch of racket in the kitchen cooking, doing the dishes, or cleaning.

For years we had a pair of unassuming – but *amazing* sounding – Harmon Kardon pc speakers setup in our bedroom, one speaker per nightstand table – with the audio jack floating around and easily pluggable into a laptop or portable music player. We purchased a pair of these for my father a few years later, and my father, the audiophile, liked them so much that he purchased 5 more sets for various places around his house – they’re awesome.

Years ago, a friend of mine had the Harmon Kardon space-bubble speaker set and it sounded excellent as well. One more thumbs up for Harmon Kardon: newer toshiba laptops in the $700 range (ie model P745-S4320) have Harmon Kardon speakers – and these little speakers absolutely slaughter other laptop sound systems, including macbook pro laptops with the speakers beside the keyboard.

My buddy has had a terrific pair of pc speakers forever, the original cambridge microworks model, but they were too expensive for my blood until recently. My wife and I tested pc speakers at fry’s for a nice set in the bedroom, and unsurprisingly we found the cambridge microworks ii to be the best they had to offer – important note: these were not the most expensive pc speakers the store offered!

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For our computers I have a Klipsch ProMedia 2.1 set – which for all intents and purposes is identical to the microworks ii set as far as I’m concerned. One downside to the promedia set is there’s no easy way to turn them off, the volume nob bottoms out at no-sound, rather than “off” – and there’s an off switch on the back of the sub, buried behind my desk – useless.

My wife’s computer has a set of Bose Companion 2 Series II speakers – these sound decent enough, but are a far cry from the microworks or promedia sets (as expected, they cost half the price, and have the label “bose” on them..).

A fairly solid inexpensive option for PC speakers or a small sound system in a random room, the Logitech S220 from a few years back retailed for about $20-$40, and they rival many of the $100-$150 options I’ve seen – a bit tinny, but functional.

Another inexpensive setup to consider is the popular LP-2020A+ Lepai Tripath Class-T Hi-Fi Audio Mini Amplifier, with a set of Sony SS-B1000 speakers. A small office I worked at had this setup for a conference room, and the sound was amazing – super clear, full, and defined. I was shocked that the speakers only cost $70, I was expecting a much higher price tag based on the clarity of sound.

Headphones

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I have a love/hate relationship with headphones. I’ve spent probably $1000 in headphones over the past ten years, in $50 and smaller increments mostly, over and over. I continually bought cheap headphones b/c I thought there’d be a satisfactory pair that could match a $50 pair a roommate discovered in college – but I couldn’t. For me, the holy grail of headphones is a pair of Coby CV-670.

Coby’s stuff is generally average at best, but those CV-670s will always have a special place in my heart as the set to match. More recent models such as the CV-630 are decent enough, and they’ll be great for most listeners, but they pale in comparison (build quality, and sound is “super bass”/crap – as labeled) to the CV-670 model of 2001.

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A half dozen not-worth-mentioning $20-$50 attempts later, I finally put real money down for the Sennheiser HD598 open air model – my god. I spent a fair bit of time researching various models in the $150-$300 range and took a minor chance on this set after reading many comparison reviews on Amazon. The research and expense was worth it – I’ll never buy another ‘high quality’ set of headphones again until this pair wears out 10 or 15 years from now. The funny thing is, I spent well over $300 in $30 and $50 pairs of disappointing headsets over the past 12 years since the CV-670s – sometimes it makes sense to save, I guess.

I cannot begin to describe the experience of listening to music on those sennheisers – I think the best way to get the point across is to say – I’ve never had a piece of audio equipment that made me want to go back to all of my favorite music and hear it anew again – until I bought these. If you are a big music fan and/or listen to it while you work, do yourself a favor and save the money – your next decade of music enjoyment will be worth it.

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With this pair of headphones I can tell a significant difference between remastered and non-remastered versions of the same album, and as cliche as it sounds, I can truly hear nuance and bits of my favorite albums that I’d never heard before. The headphones are so good that they forced me to start buying CDs again, to rip a higher-quality version of the albums I love – because with this set I can hear a difference between that high quality rip and the “HQ” stream or download from a music service.

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For a long while I tried to find noise reducing headsets or closed ear headsets to use at work. The aim has generally been to not disturb my coworkers rather than the other way around – as I tend to listen to music very loudly.

A short history of sets to consider, but probably pass on: JVC HANC line – colors the music, tinny, muddy – decent on an airplane though; Koss QZ-99 – inexpensive, sound is passable, so heavy they gave me headaches; Bose QuietComfort® 15 – best noise reduction, colors sound quite a bit, not as bad as JVC but meh.

In the past year I settled on the Audio-Technica ATH-M50 – I’m not in love, b/c the sound color is not to my liking – I’ve read these have a very flat accurate response so perhaps I just like things a touch warmer than reality, but they’re better than everything else I’ve tried. One thing that’s surprising about the ATH-M50s is that they sound *great* on an Airplane – perhaps because you can’t hear the nuance as well at high altitudes, but it does feel like they sound better in the air in than on the ground. Another set to consider that’s much less expensive and with a minor test sounded better to me than the ATH-M50s, is MonoPrice’s Premium Hi-Fi DJ Style Over-the-Ear Pro Headphone – this pair costs about $25 and sounds like or beats the $100-$150 ATH-M50s.

If you’re not looking for $300 or noise canceling options, there are a bunch of inexpensive earbud type options I’d recommend. The Panasonic RPHV21BL earbuds run about $10 and easily sound the same or better than many $30-$50 range options. I was never a fan of the apple earbuds that came with their devices, but their newer EarPods line sounds really good – not much better than the Panasonics though.

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That about covers my long list of core music recommendations. In the next part for this series I’ll cover portable music, wireless hardware, a bit of vinyl trivia, and various odds and ends.

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 🙂

Music To Code By, 2011

A bit late with the ‘best of’ 2011 lists.. but better late than never. This is a list of some great music that I listened to in 2011.

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.

Post Rock

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.

Noise

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.

Mope Rock

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”.

Remasters

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.

Pop

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.