Posts Tagged 'ipod'

Happy 30th Birthday Walkman

Happy July, Happy Canada Day, and Happy 30th Birthday to the Sony Walkman. To shed some light on the technological leaps and bounds made since its advent, BBC brilliantly handed one to a 13 year old for a week to review. He (rather eloquently) delineates his experience here.

Luckily, although Sony “initially planned to call the machine ‘Soundabout’ in the United States and ‘Stowaway’ in Britain,” the term Walkman caught on quickly among consumers. In honor of the pesky little device that started it all, lets take a trip down memory road. For those among you who like to delve into model numbers and such minutiae, check out the Classic Walkman Museum.

My personal favorite was always the sporty yellow model. Remember that bad boy?

yellowwalkman

If the Walkman was the iPod’s predecessor, perhaps this commercial planted the seed for all those flashy iPod commercials.

Words can’t convey how rad it was when they came out with a “cassette player as small as a cassette tape!” Want to know more about the how? These guys do a good job explaining how the technology evolved.

Not into collecting vintage electronics or exploring historical perspectives like the young Mr. Campbell? How about using an ancient walkman to disguise an iPod and deter thieves?

Happy Birthday Mr. Walkman. We’ll always love you. Even when Apple puts your maker out of business. You have a very special place in our hearts, right next to Ferris Bueller, Fraggle Rock, and side ponytails.

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What I’m Hearing, Vol. 12

For the new music recommended in March, click here.

Hard to believe it, but this is the 1 year anniversary of the “What I’m Hearing” posts. Last April, I embarked on a mission to bring quality music, both mainstream and not, to readers looking to expand their musical vocabulary beyond the monosyllabic songs pumped ad nauseum from radio towers across the nation. As has been the trend, this month is no exception to the rule as I found a good number of fantastic new artists. As always, all of these artists can be found on iTunes for purchase. This month’s iPod update consisted of 63 songs spanning hip-hop, DIY and electronic. Enjoy!

Brother Ali, The Truth is Here: Originally introduced to the underground hip-hop scene by Slug of Atmosphere, Brother Ali has worked with producer Ant and had his albums released by hip-hop stalwart Rhymesayers. A converted Muslim and Caucasian albino, Ali frequently faced questions of his race early on due to voice, delivery and moniker. On The Truth is Here, his fourth studio album, Ali uses alternatively jazzy and bumping Ant produced beats to explore issues of race, social and economic divides and his adjustments to life in light of his growing success. While 9 full length tracks, this album is billed as an EP preceeding a full album release to come this fall. One thing is certain, the disc doesn’t listen like an EP. Thoughtful, introspective and lyrically deft lyrics keep the listener entertained while Ant’s production of top-notch songs outshines the cookie-cutter beats saturating mainstream hip-hop. Ali’s style varies from aggressive spitting on tracks like “Philistine David ” to laid back delivery on the album’s opener, “Real As Can Be.” Beyond all of this, Ali’s scope encompasses a variety of questions with universal significance. When he asks, “Can you tell me, what language do you laugh in?/The human reaction of smiles and cries/what language are the tears when they’re falling from your eyes?” it is not a question intended to divide in the style of Babel, but rather to point out the similarities we share as humans. An intelligent, varied and musical foray into hip-hop. Don’t Sleep On: “As Real As Can Be,” “The Believers” (feat. Slug) and “Good Lord.”

Filastine, Dirty Bomb: Formerly a member of ¡Tchkung! out of Seattle, Grey Filastine, upon the break-up of the group, has gone on to explore global sounds in experimental electronica. On his February release, Dirty Bomb, Filastine mashes glitch, hip-hop and industrial with sounds from Asia, Europe and the Middle East, including cameos from overseas musicians. The textures are dense and layered, sheets of sound that have no one city of origin, making this album a true global citizen. Hand drums, zithers and traditional chants find themselves side by side with throbbing bass lines and electric blips, all finding their places here in the hands of a producer adept at finding harmony between cross-cultural sounds. While some of the tracks can become repetitive, the majority are well fleshed out and driving. In “Singularities,” the beat is built up, deconstructed and then slammed back down in grimy fashion, an example of excellent production that runs throughout the album. Don’t Sleep On: “Singularities,” “Strategy of Tension,” and “Bitrate Sneers.”

Harmonic 313, When Machines Exceed Human Intelligence: Under the pseudonym Harmonic 313, producer Mark Pritchard has released an album of spacey and electronic music. Interesting about the tracks here is that they range greatly from straight ahead ambient electronica to tracks that sound like J Dilla beats blended with Kraftwerk’s Trans-Atlantic Express on acid. Using sonic pulses, computer blips and beeps and thick bass, Pritchard crafts an album that sounds almost entirely machine created, as if a hard drive rather than a human is behind the composition. Even vocals go hardwired on “Word Problems,” where a children’s spelling computer game serves as the spoken medium. Don’t Sleep On: “Call to Arms,” “Falling Away” (feat. Steve Spacek) and “Köln”

Peter Björn and John, Living Thing: Following a two year hiatus after 2005’s Writer’s Block, punctuated only by a digital only release limited to 5,000 US copies in 2006 (Seaside Rock), PB&J have returned with the March release of their 5th full length album. It has been a busy 4 years for the group as they climbed the ladder of musical notoriety through the ubiquitous hit “Young Folks.” They’ve gone on to be featured on hip-hop mixtapes and make all sorts of late night talk show rounds. While there are no comparable tracks on this album, it nonetheless provides more of the same feel. Tracks range from optimistic up-tempo to slow and melancholy utilizing various levels of production quality. The positive is that the success of “Young Folks” hasn’t spawned an album of copycats. These are original and show the trio expanding their sound, bringing in slightly more electronic drum programming at points. The album’s clear winner, “Nothing to Worry About,” is an about-face from “Young Folks,” female vocalist replaced with a chorus of distorted children at full volume and a funky bass line complimented by drums echoing off the inside walls of the song. A solid outing without going stale. Don’t Sleep On: “Nothing to Worry About,” “Just the Past,” and “It Don’t Move Me.”

Röyksopp, Junior: Big since their debut album in 2001, the fittingly titled Junior is only the 3rd release from Röyksopp in 8 years. And, given the shift in style between Melody A.M. and The Understanding, what happened next was of a great deal of interest. Turns out, the duo has managed to find a middle ground between the two, with various tracks exemplifying the more mellow and sugary aspects of Melody (“Happy Up Here”) and the more polished and electro-heavy Understanding (“Röyksopp Forever.”) The album retains the precision and vision of the duo’s work, bringing in female vocalists, chill melodies at times and electric tweaks that made “Eple” so popular. Don’t Sleep On: “Happy Up Here,” “Vision One,” and “Silver Cruiser.”

The tUnE-YaRds, Bird Brains: DIY. A term that, in an age of bloggers, home studios, and rising costs in all sectors has come to be a badge of honor and distinction. But there’s DIY music, and then there’s the unreal, experimental and phenomenal Bird Brains from The Tune-Yards (capitalization varies depending on site), aka Merrill Garbus. If what I’ve heard is true, Garbus crafted this entire album using small recorders and computer programs available through shareware. The result is a gritty, honest and surprising album that takes lo-fi to a new level. With a distinct and quirky voice, Garbus backs herself with drums and percussion sounds like something being slammed against a hard surface, ukulele and an entire arsenal of found sounds like kids playing in a park, birds chirping outside a window and conversations with a child. At times, the recording equipment’s range is tested as you can hear it clip, but this only adds to the allure of the tracks. Take Björk, mix her with Seu Jorge’s acoustic live recordings for The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou and then juice the entire blend with a sense of creativity large enough to view the world around it as an instrument and you have the Tune-Yards. Nothing is out of bounds here. Spoons on glasses, discussions of blueberries, and steps on wooden stairs are just some of the interesting sounds turned music. One can only hope that follow up efforts will be equally beautiful in their range and direction. Don’t Sleep On: “For You,” “News,” and “Little Tiger.”

So that’s it for April. Chubb Rock and Wordsmith, new Del the Funky Homosapien and a ton of other new music is coming in May, so stay tuned, and keep your listening intelligent.

What I’m Hearing, Vol. 8

For a taste of October’s music, click here.

November’s update comes with over 100 tracks spanning both new and old albums, and quite a bit in terms of the Yancey family. We’ve got hip-hop and indie rock, R&B and rap. Enjoy!

Black Milk, Tronic: An album that pushes the traditional boundaries of hip-hop with futuristic synths and musical approaches, Black Milk still puts out several songs that utilize nostalgic samples. I won’t say much more because I’ve already written a full album review, but in my recent interview with Hieroglyphics members Opio and Tajai, they named Black Milk as one of the hip-hop producers they were liking the sound of recently. Read the full album review here. Don’t Sleep On: “Long Story Short,” “Bounce,” and “Losing Out” featuring Royce da 5’9″

Bloc Party, Intimacy: When Bloc Party released their initial effort, Silent Alarm in 2005, it brought a distinct sound to the indie rock arena with Kele Okereke’s emotional British accent and their hard charging guitars on songs like “Banquet.” That album spawned a remix album before the release of what I viewed to be a lackluster sophomore effort on 2007’s A Weekend in the City, an album that had three, maybe four really solid songs, tops. Thankfully though, Intimacy not only serves to take some of the band’s music in another direction, but returns the indie sound on their rock songs to the top-notch form that looked possible from their debut. Intimacy still has driving drums and screaming guitars, but the band has started to utilize more in the way of drum machines and electronic flourishes that create a new dimension for them to explore and in some cases creates some of the most musically advanced songs the band has produced to date. Okereke’s use of his voice is showing maturity, commanding more range of both pitch and emotion here. In some songs, it feels like the input they had on their work from Silent Alarm Remixes has prompted them to explore in new directions. A very solid album. Don’t Sleep On: “Signs,” “One Month Off,” and “Talons.”

Illa J, Yancey Boys: I’ve read a few reviews of this album that basically mock Illa J’s approach and state that he only made this album because he got posthumously released tracks from his big brother J Dilla. I think these reviews miss the point of the album in that Illa J doesn’t fancy himself a rapper or hip-hopper, he’s a self-described singer/songwriter, so it only makes sense that what he does over Dilla beats is going to be different from Dilla’s output when he was alive. On this album, the younger Yancey proves himself musically diverse and extremely relaxed, while also recognizing the importance of respecting Dilla’s production. The tracks here are laid back and jazzy, and Illa takes no effort to listen to, he’s that easy. Click here for the full album review, and click here for my interview with Illa J. Don’t Sleep On: “R U Listenin’?” feat. Guity Simpson, “We Here,” and “DTFT” feat. Affion Crockett

J Dilla, Welcome 2 Detroit: With the way underground hip-hop is structured and feeds into the mainstream, it’s often possible for fans to miss an initial classic album from an artist, and then never check it out once they’ve gotten big because it gets lost in the new music. With Illa J’s debut album dropping this month featuring almost exclusive production from Dilla, it only made sense to make sure people were aware of J Dilla’s initial solo offering and the way it intersects with the rest of the hip-hop genre. On Welcome 2 Detroit, Dilla’s signature melodic and stoned out beats are in fine form with lyrical help from other Detroit rappers such as eLZhi (WIH6) and Phat Kat. The album, released in 2001, still sounds fresh and innovative today and features several tracks that showcase Dilla’s ability to fuse other sounds into his hip-hop such as the co-produced (Karriem Riggins) “Rico Suave Bossa Nova” and “B.B.E. (Big Booty Express)” which Dilla seems to have created in order to slip onto future releases of the 1977 Kraftwerk album Trans-Europe Express. Don’t Sleep On: “Shake It Down,” “It’s Like That,” feat. Hodge Podge and Lacks, and “Pause” feat. Frank-N-Dank.

Jedi Mind Tricks, A History of Violence: Underground hip-hop mainstays Jedi Mind Tricks return for their 6th studio album with more hard hitting tracks, masterful production and intricate lyrics. The conspiracy themes from previous albums remain here, and the production draws from interesting samples such as the strings and haunting foreign lyrics on “Monolith” and the sparse flute in “Trail of Lies.” The lyrical deliveries on these tracks are tight, concise and deep in content, and on the whole, the album is a display of exceptional craft from artists working together with a common musical vision and knowledge of their strengths. Don’t Sleep On: “Trail of Lies,” “Death Messiah,” and “Heavy Artillery.”

Kanye West, 808s and Heartbreaks: Following the death of his mother, I was wondering what the latest output from an artist so in touch with his emotions and personal experiences would sound like. On the one hand, I could see West shaking off the events of the last year or so and putting out his most bouncy and sample-laden disc to date. On the opposite end of that, I could imagine West delving deep into what was going on and producing an intensely personal album. On 808s, West moves in a direction completely opposite of the roads he’s traveled before, and comes out all the better for it. Let’s be clear. 808s is not an album for anyone expecting the continuation of sound and work from West’s previous three albums, and it’s not an album that everyone is going to enjoy musically. Using an 808 drum machine and extensively using Auto-Tune to sing rather than rap, West has produced a stripped down and emotionally raw album. Heavy on synths and in points retro-80s sounds (tracks here could have made an Aphex Twin or Tricky album), West lays bare what’s going on with him and refuses to apologize for the new direction of his music. What’s amazing is that while I think the roster of musicians today who could completely change course from one album to the next and do so successfully is small, Kanye does make that list with this album. Dark, personal and musically adventurous, 808s and Heartbreaks exposes West as the musician he is rather than the hip-pop clone machine he’s often typecast as. Don’t Sleep On: “Paranoid,” feat. Mr. Hudson, ” “Bad News” (which features a sample from Nina Simone‘s “See Line Woman”) and “Street Lights.”

Ludacris, Theater of the Mind: While some artists are out to create philosophically moving pieces, or to in some way further the hip-hop culture, Ludacris doesn’t concern himself with such lofty ideals. He’s about making money. A lot of it. On his 6th studio album, Ludacris returns with the formula that has made him the hottest rapper in the South’s history… pulsing and grimy beats full of horns and deep bass kicks meet with quick delivery lyrics touching on sex, violence, money and his ability to outsell other rappers. Keep in mind, I’m not saying that this formula doesn’t work for him and doesn’t have its place within rap and hip-hop, but it is without any sort of creative growth that Luda moves forward. If there’s any doubt about the kind of sales Ludacris would like to see, this album is the most saturated rap album I’ve seen in years in terms of cameo appearances. Ludacris is the lone rapper on only 2 of the 15 tracks, getting guest appearances from Floyd Mayweather (yes, the boxer), Chris Rock (yes, that comedian), Jamie Foxx (still an actor?), Common and Spike Lee (one of them is a rapper, right?), Nas, Jay-Z and current Top 40 mainstays T.I., The Game, T-Pain and Lil Wayne. This approach either means that he intends to make a lot of money based on name recognition of his guests or he realizes that to put out an album that only has him on it, he’d need to come up with full lyrics to all of his songs, a task that might seem daunting (I mean, how many times can you really come up with new raps about rims and Cadillacs?) While musically and lyrically this album isn’t challenging, it has certainly produced some tracks that we’re sure to be hearing in clubs and parties very soon. Don’t Sleep On: “Intro” (only a minute of rapping, but well worth it, and one of only 2 songs with just Luda on it), “Undisputed” feat. Floyd Mayweather, and “Wish You Would” feat. T.I.

Opio, Vuture’s Wisdom, Vol. 1: The first in a trilogy of albums to be released by Opio from Hieroglyphics with production by Architect. The idea behind the albums is that people are saying hip-hop is dead, or at least that’s the popular expression lately. Vulture’s Wisdom refers to the ability to pick what’s left of life from the bones of the deceased, and this album shows that Opio hasn’t lost any of the edge that has carried him through more than a decade in the industry as a part of the Hiero Imperium. Be on the lookout for my interview with Opio and Tajai, where they discuss their plans to release a new single every week in 2009. Don’t Sleep On: “Don Julio,” “Mind, Body and Soul,” and “Some Superfly Shit.”

Singles… these are the songs where the full album just didn’t cut it, but the songs deserve their time in your ears. Check out “4 Wind,” a multi-lingual remix of the cut from Breez Evahflowin and Dirt E. Dutch’s Troublemakers album, and the radio ready hip-pop of T-Pain songs “Can’t Believe It” featuring L’il Wayne and “Karaoke” featuring DJ Khaled where T-Pain goes off on the rest of the industry (funny coming from the guy who did “Bartender”) and claims the only cool rappers are Kanye West and L’il Wayne. Well, at least he’s consistent. There you have it, the November update… up next is the second installment of last year’s 11 Songs to Be Thankful For.

Sex and Music

The Naughtibod

The Naughtibod

We all know how nice it is to mix and match music when we’re getting saucy in the sack. Whether it’s goth lovers tearing each other apart to the noise of death metal, or the college co-eds carefully copulating to Dave Matthews, music and getting it on have gone hand in hand since bagpipes blared over the Scottish plains and the first kilt went flying, and really, probably much longer than that. But up until now, that was really only good when you had a partner. But what if you’re on a plane? Or alone in your car? Or trapped in an elevator?

That’s why iPod owners everywhere should be thanking the creators of the new Naughtibod. Measuring 5.5″ long (with 4″ of that “insertable”), the Naughtibod is bigger than your ex and moves in ways that were probably beyond his imagination. You hook it up to your iPod, play some music and enjoy. Is your iPod in color and you’re an accessory fiend? Fear not, Ms. Bradshaw, this handy musically charged vibrator comes in Bubblegum, Licorice, Blueberry, and Green Apple.

Feeling the urge on the Muni heading across town? Put on your favorite John Mayer song, close your eyes, and ignore that bum gawking at you from across the aisle. On your way to that 3 AM drunk dial that you know you should probably avoid for your own mental health? Tell the cab driver to turn around as you turn up Janet Jackson’s “That’s the Way Love Goes,” and by the time you get back home you’ll wonder why you would even bother going to see that lousy bastard in the first place.

Of course, Ohmibod (the company that makes these) wouldn’t want you to be unable to de-stress if your iPod runs out of batteries, so they’ve made it detachable from the Pod and battery powered for those nights when your iPod’s libido isn’t running or you just can’t pick a genre. Intrigued? Go check it out here, and the next time you see someone seriously getting down to their music, before you go ask them what they’re listening to so you can download it from iTunes when you get home, make sure it’s not just the Naughtibod that they’re enjoying. And if anyone at Ohmibod is reading this, we have some staff members who might like to give it a try… contact me for a mailing address.

What I’m Hearing, Vol. 3

For last month’s “What I’m Hearing,” click here.

The June iPod update around here has 97 tracks, not including the IndieFeed Hip-Hop tracks, and there is some most excellent music on it. I continued to collect some Indie and Alt-Rock sounds, while also traveling overseas to get some new pixie pop. Let’s see what we’ve got in the June iPod update.

Young Knives, Superabundance: This is a younger band out of Britain that has been releasing music since 2005, but have only recently begun to garner the type of attention and press that would keep their feet dry in a hop across the pond. This album is only their second full length and brings to the table the geek style sound of Say Hi To Your Mom while infusing it with the energy of The Fashion or Tokyo Police Club. Their choruses are catchy without being disgustingly unforgettable. Solid bass work over rollicking drums tie together the British accent on the vocals and the melody guitar parts sometimes accented by string work. This group continues the wave of impressive Brit Rock Pop/Alternative music that has been landing on our shores recently. Don’t Sleep On: “Up All Night,” “Turn Tail,” “Swimming with the Fishes.”

Lykke Li, Little Bit – EP: When I read that this was just a small release, backed by the production assistance of Bjorn Yettling of Peter Bjorn and John, I got pretty excited. The basement pop, lo-fi sounds brought out on Writer’s Block left me wanting more, and they showed excellent judgment and intelligence in crafting a pop-sensible album without turning the hooks into radio refrains that would lead someone to suicide when they couldn’t forget them in morning traffic. Swedish singer Lykke Li has a gentle and soft style, reminiscent recently of pop darlings Feist and Sia. The pixie voice, simple backings and airy production produce four excellent tracks here. The full album came out last month stateside…now I can only hope that they release it on iTunes soon. Don’t Sleep On: The entire EP…it’s only 4 tracks, and they’re all beautiful.

Fleet Foxes, Fleet Foxes: The self-titled debut from this Seattle based band brings together a number of sounds that fit perfectly in landscape. At various times Simon & Garfunkel, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Beach Boys and chamber music, Fleet Foxes bring together a disparate grouping of sounds that they weave together to create an almost pop-folk album that sounds at various times like classical baroque, and at others like the pastoral longings of 60s singer/songwriters. The acoustic guitars and mellow, drifting vocals call to mind a deserted summer road or quiet walk through a forest. Finely crafted with an extreme attention to detail, I can’t foresee this being the last we hear of the Foxes. Don’t Sleep On: “Blue Ridge Mountains,” “Quiet Houses,” and “White Winter Hymnal.”

Tilly and the Wall, 0: This is the third album released by this 5-piece, Omaha, Nebraska based band. The raw energy and simple production on this album separate it from the legions of power punk pop and other radio driven rock sounds currently. Their distinct Indie Pop sound comes from raw instruments accentuated by a drummer that plays through tap dance. Interesting, exciting and eclectic. Don’t Sleep On: “Pot Kettle Black,” “Poor Man’s Ice Cream,” and “Falling Without Knowing.”

Lil Wayne, Tha Carter III: Not usually a fan of Hip-Pop, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by this album. After hearing “Lollipop” on repeat in an Iowa club, I’ve been interested to see how Lil Wayne would come out on this album, and amazingly, he incorporates a wide variety of styles, both musically and lyrically. True, the music, in production value, can’t touch Sabzi’s beats from Blue Scholars, and lyrically, Wayne is no Immortal Technique, but the album is a fun study in Summer music that brings in rock sounds at time, and goes from a more soulful R&B take on rap to the radio ready “Got Money” with ubiquitous pop chart mainstay T-Pain. While not incredibly amazing, this album is quite a bit of fun, especially when Wayne works in humorous quotes that wouldn’t work for any other rapper in the game like, “I’m not kinda hot/I’m sauna/I sweat money and the bank is my shower.” Don’t Sleep On: “Mr. Carter,” “Shoot Me Down,” and “Let the Beat Build.”

RZA as Bobby Digital, Digi Snacks: RZA has had a tough go of it lately, and it’s not all that surprising. Given fame from his work with the Wu-Tang Clan, yet experimental enough to do some out there cuts for the Kill Bill soundtrack, RZA caught a ton of flak from other members of the Wu over what they considered a musical hijacking on their latest release, 8 Diagrams. Some reviews found RZA’s production on the album to be a great step forward, and one that actually salvaged the CD that was devoid of excellent lyrical material. Others, however, and most notably Raekwon and Ghostface Killah, slammed the production for being soft, hippy and a bastardization of the Wu-Tang sound. Those debates, however, aren’t the topic here, as Digi Snacks finds RZA courting outside help in pursuit of an album that’s perhaps a bit more fun and lighthearted than the Wu material allows for. Slower songs, as well as upbeat and peppy ones pepper a number of tracks that fall somewhere in between on the Wu spectrum. What I enjoy about the album is that RZA’s willingness to take unconventional risks, while they sometimes don’t always pan out, give more of an impression of true artistic exploration than most artists will permit themselves on an album these days. Some work on songs that have a signature sound, release those, and explore between albums. Here, for better or worse, RZA is willing to let it all hang out as Bobby Digital to sometimes poor, and sometimes very great effect. Don’t Sleep On: “Booby Trap,” “Creep,” and “You Can’t Stop Me Now.”

Immortal Technique, The 3rd World: Considering that around 4,000 people have come to Evolving Music to read about the release and review of this album, it’d be a bit repetitive to put anything here. That being said, here is the link to the full album review, and a link to my exclusive interview with Immortal Technique.

What I’m Hearing, Vol. 1

How do you organize yourself and your music listening when you add somewhere between 50 and 150 songs, MixMatchMusic style, to your collection every month? That was the issue confronting me at the beginning of this year as I reflected on 2007 and saw that sometimes my iPod updates and music purchases (yes, I still purchase music) were erratic and not organized to the best possible use. With that in mind, I concocted a new system this year. As I add songs throughout a month to the library, they stay there. At the end of the month, I organize several playlists…album specific lists that are titled “A: Artist-Album,” and an overall update titled “A: Month Update” that includes all songs added since the last update. Then, at some point during the month, the new playlists go onto the iPod, and the old ones are retitled “B:” which keeps the newest stuff at the top of the playlist while also retaining the older updates further down the line.

As it isn’t always possible to do an album review for every one I pick up, and I get some amazing music in the course of a month, I’ve decided it might be beneficial and fun for all if I start a monthly post, “What I’m Hearing,” glossing over and talking about some of the music I’ve been listening to that’s good for your ears. With that in mind, here’s some information about the April iPod Update…

First, I should start by saying that the 80s revival that has been bubbling up for a while now is most decidedly here. I’ve noticed, for the past 8 months or so, a steady and heavy influence of 80s synths, drums and instrumentation coming back to the music scene. And in the past 4 months, I’ve heard an increasing number of groups picking up different styles from the 80s and tweaking them just enough to retain that wistful electronic feel of some of the better songs of the era while omitting some of the more foolish and unlistenable aspects of the original genre.

The Beatles, Let It Be: Sure, it’s an old album, and granted most people think of The Beatles now as that quaint collection they have in their library but rarely get into anymore, but delving back into this late album of the most influential band in history (yes, you read that right), offers quite a few gems that have matured over the years. For a while I thought of Let It Be as the weaker younger brother of the other albums, notably Revolver, Abbey Road and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. But hearing these original songs again after so many remakes of most of them (see the I Am Sam soundtrack, Pleasantville soundtrack and others) gives them a fresh perspective. The simplicity of the songwriting meshes perfectly with a group obviously quite comfortable with their musical abilities at this point in their careers. Don’t Sleep On: “I Me Mine,” “Dig a Pony,” and “Two of Us.”

The Helio Sequence, Keep Your Eyes Ahead: This group out of Oregon weaves an electronic feel into songs that delve into Indie and singer/songwriter varieties. On their fourth album, following the near destruction of the lead singer’s vocal chords which prompted him to take time off recording and re-teach himself to sing, the group brings a number of simple and melancholy songs in the style of Simon and Garfunkel and Bob Dylan interspersed with slightly heavier sounds that would have been right at home on the FM airwaves of the mid-80s. Don’t Sleep On: “Hallelujah,” “Broken Afternoon,” and “The Captive Mind.”

Groove Armada, Soundboy Rock: Andy Cato and Tom Findlay sure like to keep us waiting. Released last year, Soundboy Rock was the first full album since 2002’s LoveBox. What I find interesting about dance music, especially full out dance records like this one, is the lag time sometimes associated with it. It’s not like a pop, rap or rock album that hits the radio airwaves, goes viral, makes the summer BBQ playlists and then disappears. More often, solo tracks will gradually seep through the cracks, slowly filtering from listener to listener. While I can’t say I’m a fan of this entire album, some of the songs are just pure energy. Don’t Sleep On: “Soundboy Rock,” “The Things That We Could Share,” and “Love Sweet Sound.”

M83, Saturdays=Youth: For M83’s 5th album, the soundscapes and emotionally taxing lyrics are as blunt as ever. Drifting piano melodies reminiscent of NIN’s Fragile album, eerie synth work that could support the Blade Runner or Risky Business soundtracks and sometimes wailing guitars provide the backdrop for the spoken and lightly sung lyrics of this shoegazing style album. While it’s out there enough to sound fresh, the songs are unmistakably M83, which I wouldn’t recommend for long drives after dark. Don’t Sleep On: “Couleurs,” “We Own the Sky,” and “You Appearing.”

American Princes, Other People: Sometimes, fantastic bands don’t always show up when and how you expect. This group managed to get 3 albums out before I heard of them. While that makes it impossible to compare Other People to their previous work, what you can compare it to is the rest of the current musical landscape. American Princes does an almost unbelievable job of mixing sounds and genres from Police to Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bravery to U2, Reggae to easy pop, this album covers it all in a spectrum that allows every song to create a different feeling. An incredible album all the way through with a great depth of lyrical emotion and musical intensity. Don’t Sleep On: “Real Love,” “Wasted Year,” “Watch As They Go,” and “Son of California.”

Cut Copy, In Ghost Colours: Australian Cut Copy’s sophomore release is a show-stopper, and in my mind, Other People and In Ghost Colours rule the roost of this particular iPod update. This album has it all, from instrumental wall-of-sound interludes to full out 80s new wave dance songs. The ambient chill sounds of some tracks help to artfully balance the bursting energy of others. This group is an excellent example of what can come of taking the best portions of 80s music and stripping away the garbage. Don’t Sleep On: “Strangers in the Wind,” “Hearts on Fire,” and “Far Away.”

DRM War Update: QTrax

It should come as no surprise that people are still trying to get free music on the internet. Piracy and file swapping happens daily on massive levels that would probably turn a record executive green if they were fully aware of at least 50% of the volume. Luckily for the rest of the new and frontiersman-like recording industry, record executives are like mushrooms…they eat shit and grow in the dark, and in the end, you’re never sure which one is going to poison you or take you on a funky and psychedelic expedition. Similarly of good fortune for all of us…eating mushrooms isn’t mandatory or necessary anymore.

While the ultimate fate of DRM in general and player/company identified DRM specifically is still up in the air, there are a number of companies out there attempting to torpedo the industry by offering free mp3 downloads. Through deals with the major labels that tie-in to ad revenue generated by the site, these sites are offering songs, sometimes DRM protected, sometimes not. One of the big players that was geared to take the internet music download scene by storm this week was QTrax, a French based company that held a gala event this past weekend as a launch party. Apparently, they didn’t get the memo that the Warner group has not authorized the site to provide music from its label. Universal and EMI have also announced that they had no licensing deal ready yet and were still working on it. Not sure how a “free” music download site got to the point of throwing a launch party before it had wrapped up licensing and distribution sales with the major labels, but somehow they did. Guess it speaks to the necessity of having a solid business plan in place.

What I find more interesting is that not only is this site trying to provide music for free with the labels’ consent, but they’re allegedly trying to take a bite out of Apple, claiming that their music files will play on iPods. This would indeed be a big step as the only current music files that can play on the pod is either DRM-free or Apple FairPlay DRM tracks. How QTrax figures their DRM songs will make it onto the iPod is beyond me, but it will certainly be worth watching if and when the company starts allowing downloads.


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