Archive for November, 2007

11 Songs to Be Thankful For

In a mainstream musical landscape of, for the most part, rapidly declining talent and increasing acceptance of incredibly low musical standards (I mean, you have just read an entire blog about people actually performing and videotaping jack ass Soulja Boy’s song, complete with the lyrics “superman dat ho,” and didn’t think it was entirely out of the ordinary, in fact, you were probably entertained), it’s important to keep somewhat grounded by recognizing the unrecognized…the real musicians and rappers that slip through the crack because they can’t sell or ink deals with the majors. Also in need of recognition are songs of the past that we sometimes discard as the next CD/download comes out.

On this Thanksgiving weekend, I give you a newly discovered or enjoyed song from each month of my musical year. Not all of them are new to this year, the month merely represents when I first heard them or came back to them. Some of them you might have heard, some you may not have, but the idea is these are songs that immediately sunk in and made an impression, and can probably offer you three minutes or more of something you’ll enjoy more than taking a hammer to your head (which is what 94.9 makes me feel like doing). For whatever reason, of the 600 or so new/refound songs I’ve heard this year, these stood out and deserve a listen if you’re looking for something new, or a revisit to a song you’ve heard that’s worth hanging on to. Copyrights prevent us from posting the actual songs, but I’m sure y’all are smart enough to do a little research…

January: “Tulips (Club Version)” (Single) by Bloc Party. Actually a 2005 song, but hidden in single format, this one sounds just as relevant as their more current work. With the driving rock mixed with a melancholy edge, the song is at once both energizing and haunting. Honorable Mention: “Classical Hit” (Straight From the Crates, Vol. 1) by Phil Da Agony

February: “Float” (Half Full Ashtrays, Half Empty Glasses) by the Lab Rats. Off their 2006 self-release, “Float” provides some of the most intricate and touching lyrics of any of their songs. This group, independents out of Ohio, usually vent on the struggle of a below middle class life and the difficulties of getting their music conceived, written, produced and distributed. This one though finds a more harmonious tilt and examines the feeling of letting the tide of life come to you rather than chasing it. “Where you are right now is a specific composition of every single decision that you’ve made in the past.” Honorable Mention: “In Love” (The Medicine) by Planet Asia feat. Jonell

March: “4 AM in 4 Parts” (Prox EP) by edIT. Off the 2006 various artist EP, this super glitch song displays edIT‘s diversity as he breaks the song into 4 parts to elicit different aspects and moods of the rave culture. A must listen for anyone trying to get a grasp of what edIT is all about. Honorable Mention: “Mirror in the Sky” (Atlantis – Hymns for Disco) by k-os

April: “Cooter Brown” (To Tha X-Treme) by Devin the Dude. Off his 2004 release, the laid back beat and old sample of this song had me cruising for weeks. His smooth delivery as he examines the issues in his life and his progress through them drift over this melody with a relaxed purpose that make it good for any mood. Honorable Mention: “Pusherman” (Supafly Soundtrack) by Curtis Mayfield

May: “Groundswell” (Moonbeams) by Throw Me the Statue. If you wonder why we keep plugging TMTS over here, it’s because the music is worth the listen and you may not hear it elsewhere. This song, utilizing the same excellent mixture of driving rock, positive sounds and yet still slightly melancholy feel that made “Tulips” stick to me, does it with horns and an acoustic riff that you can take with you. Honorable Mention: “Do It” (Loose) by Nelly Furtado (I’m still dancing to this one, a rare tasty pop treat)

June: “The Killing Moon” (Songs to Learn and Sing by Echo and the Bunnymen. Odds are, if you were born when I was, this song doesn’t remind you of a pop radio hit. But it was, back when we were running around in DARE programs and listening to Bush and Dukakis square off. It came back to me through the repeated watching of Donnie Darko. It’s eerie, fleeting and perfect for a fast drive down a dark street. Honorable Mention: “Got Me Lost/Driving In LA” (Telefon Tel Aviv – Remixes Compiled) by John Hughes

July: “Relax” (Port Authority) by Marco Polo feat. J*Davey. A mellow hip-hop/R&B cut with a Tribe Called Quest sample, this song is lounge perfect hip-hop and nightcap music. Honorable Mention: “Back in Your Head” (The Con) by Tegan and Sara.

August: “Play Your Cards Right” (Finding Forever) by Common. Off his newest album, this track works on your way to or from your evening. The up-tempo throwback sound and Common’s expert delivery work again and again, and the feet keep moving to this one. Honorable Mention: “None Shall Pass” (None Shall Pass) by Aesop Rock

September: “Good Life” (Graduation) by Kanye West. I don’t think I need to break this one down…if you haven’t heard it, it’s very possible you’re living in a cave and not reading this. Sampling a little Michael Jackson, Kanye toasts to his newfound status and keeps it moving. Honorable Mention: “Crunk de Gaulle” (Certified Air Raid Material) by edIT feat. TTC, Busdriver and D-Styles)

October: “Bayani” (Bayani) by Blue Scholars. This one is short, sweet, uplifting and at the same time borne of pain. Honorable Mention: 15 Step (In Rainbows) by Radiohead

November: “Windmills of Your Mind” (Thomas Crown Affair Soundtrack (1968) by Noel Harrison. A fantastic oldie/goodie I hadn’t heard before checking out the original movie. Cut in the echo filled folk sound mold of some of Simon and Garfunkel’s work of that era. Honorable Mention: “Dancing In the Dark” (Born in the USA) by Bruce Springsteen

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Can You Crank Dat Soulja Boy?

Soulja Boy. It’s sweeping the nation. The song, the dance, the rapper. As a former student of Anthropology, naturally I’m fascinated by what fuels a trend like this. Is it the catchy tune? The lyrics? The dance? His style? Some unknown element that touches the heartstrings of humanity?

My first introduction to Soulja Boy was in my bar where, recently, some of the customers started doing this crazy dance. Totally clueless as to what “crank that soulja boy” or “supaman” was, I went home and got on YouTube. Turns out that not only has the song/dance/video become exceedingly viral, but now there are a plethora of home videos as well as clips spliced together from animated movies/tv shows inspired by Soulja Boy. Whether you’re into SB or not, some of the copycat videos are worth checking out.

Warning: If you actually click on all the following links you will SO be sick of the song by the end of this post. (Either that, or you’ll know the dance and have become one of “them”.)

But, first. Who is this Soulja Boy character?? Born DeAndre Way, the rapper/producer who has become an internet sensation with a growing cult following is only 17 years old. Though from humble roots, his beats, style, and personality quickly got him noticed by Interscope Records and his career is rapidly gaining momentum. Read the rest of his bio and more on the official Soulja Boy website. Or on his MySpace.

Now, for the videos. To search for more of his stuff, check out his YouTube profile. But, here is the original video. So ya, that’s what started all the hype (actually SB and his buddy A-Rab posting clips online was probably what started it originally, but you know what I mean). What I’m more interested in are the spin-offs! Here are some highlights:

There’s Winnie the Pooh, Lion King, Sponge Bob, Family Guy and obviously Superman for starters in the animated category. Next, we have the home videos by people of all ages and from all walks of life. No, seriously. Like these kids. Or University of Wisconson basketball coach, Bo Ryan. Or this dance class. The Miami Canes’ mascot even. Oh and these little dudes are not bad. Not to mention the random hot girls (3 separate links). Everybody’s doin’ it…

Some are clearly more accomplished dancers than others. But hey, gotta love the enthusiasm! There are too many to list from the “goofy white boy” category, but here are a few: sample 1, sample 2, sample 3.

Speaking of goofy, this is my favorite:

Yuuuaaaaaaaaaaa.

Self-Tuning Robot Guitar

Tuning your instrument. One of the necessary evils that goes along with being a musician. I remember back in the day, as a young flautist, standing outside Bristol Farms playing for holiday shoppers (ya, that’s how cool I was) and trying in vain to tune and retune our flutes as my fellow performers and I kept going flat due to the cold. Or, in high school orchestra, how a great classical piece could be seriously butchered thanks to a few out of tune oboes or violins. There’s nothing worse than an out of tune violin. I mean, seriously folks. Well, it looks like those days are soon to be over. For guitar players anyway.

According to the Listening Post, Gibson has come out with a self-tuning Robot Guitar (after 10 years of development). No, it doesn’t play itself for you, clean your room, or cook you dinner. But it makes tuning a heck of a lot easier. How does it work? The Powertune system (developed by German company Tronical), “uses a set of piezo-electric pickups to determine the pitch of each string. These are separate from the regular guitar pickups, which rely on the string vibrating in a magnetic field to cause a current.” (Read more here.)

robotguitar.jpg

While the guitar comes pre-calibrated for concert pitch, you can tune one string yourself and the rest of them will adjust accordingly. Powertune can even store custom tunings. You can either get the Robot Guitar itself or if you can’t part from your own favorite guitar, there is a $900 add-on which should do the trick. Pretty damn cool. Watch the instructional video here.

While critics may legitimately argue that real musicians should be able to tune their instrument, it certainly doesn’t hurt to have the option out there, especially if you need to change tunings on the fly or want to ensure perfect pitch for a performance. Rock on, Gibson.

Throw Me the Statue @ Bimbo’s 365

Bimbo’s Marquee

Friday night, Throw Me the Statue (aka Scott Reitherman) descended on Bimbo’s in the city to hype his new album Moonbeams and visit with the hometown folks on his way to the Troubadour in Los Angeles. Because of the nature of the concert, it was packed with the high school crowd.

I was excited to hear how the album songs translated to concert, knowing that Scott wasn’t bringing some of the session musicians brought on for the CD. With Aaron Goldman and two others, the four man set did a remarkable job of turning out the songs, often in ways that brought more energy to both the venue and the sound.

Despite the fact that it felt like a concert in high school, complete with Gavroche heckling Scott from the crowd, it was an impressive set in a great venue. For those that haven’t been to Bimbo’s, you should get out there if a band you’re even remotely interested in is playing. It’s spacious enough to provide comfort for everyone, and at the same time small and intimate enough that it feels almost like a coffee shop show of sorts.

While I don’t remember the set-list order, they came out and started “Written in Heart Signs, Faintly.” From there, they played “Lolita,” “Groundswells,” “Yucatan Gold” (which they made very cool by passing out shakers to the crowd and asking them to assist with percussion,) “Young Sensualists,” which was amped up with a strong amount of tempo and energy not found on the album version, and “About to Walk.” “Young Sensualists” surprised me the most…as the album opener, it’s a very nice song, albeit slightly lower on energy. In concert, the song found new life and was right up there with “Groundswells” and “Yucatan Gold” for me in terms of enjoyment.

What was most interesting to see was the transformation of one of our friends from a high school/gig musician to an actual rock band on stage. They fit perfectly into the crowd and the venue, looking well rehearsed, and easily poking fun at their own mistakes (“sometimes we like to test the patience of the audience by playing wrong notes. You guys are still here!”). What I didn’t expect was how easily, once off the stage, Scott went right back to being Scott. There were no handshakes or hellos in the lobby that felt forced. Scott was still Scott, and still genuinely glad that people came out and enjoyed his music. It didn’t feel like he was in the band and we were fans. It felt like he had just got done doing something and we were back at a party from high school or college. His parents came out as well. Mainly, everyone had a great time.Gavroche and Scott @ Bimbo’sActual and Scott @ Bimbo’s

Scott certainly appears to have the right mix of crowd sensibility and notions of grandeur, while keeping a grounding that should keep him close to his closest friends and supporters. It makes for an interesting mix in a rock group, and one that will be interesting to chart as he gains a larger following (which will happen…they heard “Lolita” on KCRW in a cab ride home in Los Angeles following the Troubadour show).

Throw Me That Homecoming

TMTS[Please note…while you might be able to find a bunch of blogs out there about this next band, this is probably one of the few written by someone who knew the artist as far back as middle school. Of course, that serves the dual purpose of making me appear a bit biased, but truthfully, I don’t like music for the people that put it out, so I wouldn’t let that association get in the way of an honest review.]

In high school, a group of guys (not much unlike the group of guys responsible for MMM), went around creating bands. The band members would rotate, change names, change styles, but the basic nucleus remained the same. Red Rum, Blue Fin, Gobo, and then Elephant Blend were all part of the revolving door of bands this group of guys created. From all of these came interesting music, with the Elephant Blend CD Liberty Market Summer providing a clear example of just what kind of quality music these gentlemen were capable of producing. Scott Reitherman of El Granada teamed with Alan Khalfin and Aaron Goldman, created lyrics and sounds derived from their experiences with travel, women, and to some extent the effort involved in growing up and the experience of living in San Francisco.

Scott Reitherman grew up in El Granada, CA attending Nueva before moving on to Crystal Springs Uplands. Following graduation from college, Scott moved to the Seattle area and has now helped co-found Baskerville Hill Records. Baskerville Hill is a record label based on the principles of a family type community and musical collaboration. To date, they’ve released Black Bear‘s debut album The Cinnamon Phase, and Scott has reincarnated himself musically as Throw Me the Statue to release Moonbeams. Now, when I first heard the name Throw Me the Statue, I thought it was a reference to James Ferrer’s high school game of picking up expensive things in his parents’ house and throwing them at unsuspecting guests, not really caring if they broke or not. It’s not, but the image remains.

To know Scott is to better understand the breadth and depth of his music. He’s not content to put out a disc, or even more than a few tracks of similar sounding material. At times he keeps things very simple with easily to grab pop melodies and honest lyrics to sing along out loud with. At other times, the musical compositions are complex and layered, making you not sure where one musical influence ends and the next begins; the lyrics personal enough to make the listener feel almost excluded in an odd sort of way. Through all of them, Reitherman’s unique voice continues the current musical trend in indie music vocals of on key but just off. And musically, he doesn’t hesitate to get his hands dirty, being credited in the liner notes on vocals, guitar, keys, bass, melodica, accordian, glockenspiel, drums and percussion.

Moonbeams brings all of these sounds together for the first time. Previously, Throw Me the Statue could be heard on the Dr. Rhinocerous compilation CD from Baskerville Hill, but the first solo release, complete with well designed insert art and well-paid professional session musicians in places, finally showcases the diversity of the music and the inspiration behind it. You can hear traces of Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails, Bosstones, Postal Service and Death Cab, Say Hi to Your Mom and Black Bear. Not to say that all of these artists had a hand in Reitherman’s musical make-up, or were in his mind during the creation of the music (you always need to be careful when attributing influences to a writer or musician), but traces of those sounds are there. You can also simultaneously imagine watching him kneel down on the good side of an ice luge at a backyard high school party, lamenting a break-up, driving cross-country or making music on the floor of his Seattle apartment with the rain hammering the windows.

In an effort to get y’all to go out and support the band, see a show or get the CD, I’m not going to give you a track by track breakdown of sound description like I’ll usually do with albums. The tracks I particularly enjoy are “Young Sensualists,” “Yucatan Gold,” “Groundswell,” and “Take It or Leave It.”

What’s amazing about it all is that growing up in the Bay Area, we saw plenty of shows over the years at Bimbo’s 365 club. Now, we welcome Scott as TMTS back to San Francisco to play there. You can see Throw Me the Statue performing with Jens Lekman November 9th at Bimbo’s 365 in San Francisco, or November 10th at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. You’ll have to get there early though, the word is they’re sold out and you’ll have to scalp. Come February of 2008, you can pick up the tweaked and re-released version of Moonbeams from the indie label Secretly Canadian. Congratulations Reitherman!

The Semantic Web = Shit Has Meaning

So, I signed up to be a beta tester for this upcoming website called Twine after reading about it on Slashdot. Apparently I am not the only one who thinks that the Semantic Web idea is HOT, as their welcome email said I was one of tens of thousands of requests they’ve gotten.

As demonstrated in the comments section of the Slashdot article, this technology (and Twine in particular) has its critics. But, for the time being I’m going to remain optimistic, since I like the idea of organizing a bunch of my stuff in one place. Without actually having to do it myself.

There is plenty of speculation about what Web 3.0 might entail. Mashups? Artificial intelligence? Customization? 3D? And the Semantic Web concept of a “web with meaning” seems to be a main ingredient.

For more on what a Semantic Web would entail, click here. As the tutorial explains, it’s about the relationship between things and the properties of things, rather than just links between web pages. The Semantic Web uses RDF (Resource Description Framework – a markup language for describing information) to allow computer programs to aggregate information. So, basically, you let the web do some of your thinking for you and organize information pertinent to you, your interests, and your contacts in an easily searchable way. Tim Berners-Lee, the WWW pioneer, puts it nicely:

“If HTML and the Web made all the online documents look like one huge book, RDF, schema, and inference languages will make all the data in the world look like one huge database.”

Technology Review gives a nice little breakdown of how Twine aggregates information (emails, YouTube videos, web searches etc), analyzes, tags, and sorts it into categories, and also uses social networking to collect information gathered by others in a user’s network. Based on research done in fields like natural-language processing and machine learning, Twine purports to be “one of the first mainstream applications of the Semantic Web.” An early tester of Twine recounts his experience here.

Nova Spivak, the CEO and founder of Radar Networks (makers of Twine) also mentions some other cool up-and-comings in the same space on his blog, like the “new semantic search engine” called True Knowledge. He says “True Knowledge is about making a better public knowledgebase on the Web — in a sense they are a better search engine combined with a better Wikipedia.”

Though the Semantic Web seems to be catching on rather slowly, I think it has huge potential. We will surely see more and more applications of the concept as people witness the advantages of leveraging technology that understands the meaning of the information it finds, collects, and shares for you. On the Semantic Web, shit has meaning.


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