Tuesday, October 30, 2007

New Hobby Alert

Just thought I'd update you with what i'm doing lately when not sleeping or laying in bed trying to sleep, because, as I've said before, why have a blog if you can't talk about your interests as if people actually cared. Unless you don't actually have a blog, your friend does, and then makes you write for it and then adjusts the formatting and removes your references to sodomy.

Anyway, getting back on track, my interest in lists and all things census-related has brought me to to trying to figure out Google data, and while I haven't really found what I'm looking for, Webtrends is a decent approximation for now. It's an easy way to browse search terms that have spiked recently. Today's search terms are pretty lame, due to the dumb Boston/World Series thing, though the inner high-schooler in me grudgingly moved her finger and clicked on cheerleader trampled, original pledge of allegiance, and dropout factories.

Yesterday was a winner with anarchic hand syndrome, patricide, and shipoopi all making it to the top 5.

On an awkwardly personal note, my grumpiness subsided with subsequent refill of psychotropics, thanks for asking.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Again, I Hate Titles

I've been meaning to post for a while but have also been in a terrible mood, and wanted to shield you from all that. But after shouting like a million obscenities at my printer (my roommate's printer - all my stuff is actually my roommate's), I figure I may as well take it public and list some things I hate:

1. That sound babies make when they're unhappy. You know that sound, it's like a mix between a squeal and a shriek and it's impossible to ignore.

2. Cockroaches. I've told you about my cockroach phobia and where it come from, and if I haven't you can ask someone else. It involves a foam mattress, a bottle of raid, some pot and the most roach infested apartment in history. In Sydney, obviously.

3. Sydney, Australia. For sucking when it claims to be so good.

4. Those people who stop in front of you when you are trying to walk on the sidewalk.

5. Boston accents. Actually, everything about Boston.

6. Window's Vista. Because it's annoying and I have to reformat my computer to get rid of it and, I don't know, that sounds like a pain in the ass.

7. The Spin Doctors. Possibly the worst band in history.

I am so bored of this list and I haven't even scratched the surface. On the plus side, If these were the only things that made me unhappy, life would be pretty sweet. So I'll just leave it and pretend that's the case.

What are you going to be for Halloween?

Thursday, October 18, 2007


I've been wondering about Toronto ever since I learned urban philosopher Jane Jacobs forsook her beloved New York to move there in 1968. Now I find out some crazy jugendlicher has been tagging walls around Corktown "Gustav Mahler?" Sign me up!

Friday, October 12, 2007

15 Step

I’ve heard In Rainbows about five times now, enough to know I like it, but too soon for any definitive statements. (Sorry, Alice. Sorry, Thom.) Meantime, I thought I’d hold you with a quick description of the first track “15 Step” which so far strikes me as one of the best on the album and lends itself well to the sort of "evidence gathering" that was supposed to be happening here from day one.

As usual, I haven’t paid much attention to lyrics, but the title makes a sort of musical sense when you consider the piece is in 5/4 meter. (If you were in music school and an incredible nerd, you might make up a 15 step dance and feel confident you were staying in time. Most other pop songs, in 3/4 or 4/4, would require a 12 or 16 step - just fyi.)

Anyway, the piece opens in this awkward meter with annoyingly trebly drums to match. Yorke’s voice when it enters provides relief and contrast. His melody, somewhat unusual for this band, is blues-based, and he delivers it in a smooth croon that reminds me of a young Michael Jackson.

It’s a stark introduction – just Yorke and drums – but the ear doesn’t miss much as the vocal melody traces chords and implies its own harmony. That said, it’s another relief when the guitars come in after two cycles, fleshing out the harmony and providing more smooth textures in contrast to the drums.

With the guitar in, and a few measures later a deep melodic bass, the melody intensifies and you think you’ve arrived at the chorus. Could be, but then it lasts longer than the purported verse and you never get it exactly the same way twice. Like a lot of great Radiohead songs (“2+2 = 5” and “Paranoid Android” come immediately to mind) “15 Step” moves in a straight line rather than cyclically.

The rest of the song rides the chorus-like groove with a few cool touches along the way: a group of kids (see above) whooping as the beat snaps back around, a sudden reverb blur as Yorke intones “15 Step,” a melodic swell during a breakdown which I still can’t place as vocals or synth.

The lyrics from what little I gather are classic Yorke ready-mades: “cat get your tongue,” “won’t take my eyes off the ball again,” “reel me out and cut the string.” Yorke, as always, seems to have a lot on his mind, but I think sound usually trumps sense in these songs. (Perhaps the most movingly delivered line: “etcetera, etcetera.”)

In any event, it's a great one. The textures have beautiful contrast, the vocal performance is as good as any Yorke has given, and the odd meter feels entirely natural as I do my weird dance. Have you heard it yet? Thoughts?

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Pedal Pointers

I'm not generally interested in music written to demonstrate technical principles, but a recent assignment to compose a piece making use of "pedal points" has been a lot of fun. There's a good, long explanation of pedals (sometimes also known as pivot tones) at Wiki, but a more rough definition might just be "a note held over from one chord to another." If we were to switch from a C-chord (C-E-G) to a G chord (G-B-D), say, the note G would be our pivot (or the only note that shows up in both chords).

When pedals are used frequently, they give music a sort of droning, static quality, and make transitions between chords fluid. (Power chords, used frequently by novice guitarists, can sound choppy because they don't make use of pedals. See "Iron Man.")

In any event, rather than bore you with theory, I figured I'd give you a few favorite examples. The first is "Everything in Its Right Place," from Radiohead's Kid A, released in 2000. You can hear the pedal in the keyboard introduction: it's the highest note repeated in each of the three-chord series.

The second piece is by Chopin: Prelude no. 15 from 1839. It's been nicknamed the "Raindrop" prelude because of a series of steadily repeated eighth notes, supposedly inspired by rain beating on the roof of the composer's home (with George Sand) in Majorca. It's these "raindrops" - gentle, then stormy, then gentle again - which are the pedal points here. Try to ignore the guy's facial expressions; they're pretty raunch.

Finally, there's "French Disko," a Stereolab single from 1993. The pedal here chimes out from the guitar during the step-wise moving chords of the verse. The back-up singer (the lovely Mary Hanson, who died in a bicycle accident in 2002) also reinforces it.

Hope that was reasonably clear. If not, just enjoy the music!

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

New Modest Mouse Video - "Little Motel"


Apparently Jake mistook my absence as his cue to turn this into a Radiohead fanboy site. I half expect naked photos of Jonny Greenwood to appear in his next post.

We could be posting about that awesome Caribou show at Bowery Ballroom on Saturday or the last perfect beach day of the summer or Sunset Rubdown last night. All music and/or sunshine related. But that doesn't seem to be happening,

Here's what I have to say about the matter: The results for Google query "pull a Radiohead" has leapt from somewhere around 186 late Monday night to 418 (and counting) today. Let's hope this is a reversible trend, as I find the phrase almost as distasteful as that guy who doesn't realize it's not funny when you yell "Freebird!" at a concert. Embarrassing.

It's now up to 926. If only the stock market was this predictable.

Here We Go

First impressions of complex music are usually pretty useless. Still, wanted to jot down a few notes if only to see how things develop:

01) Album delivered on-time, no downloading glitches
02) No jaw-dropping departures
03) They've been listening to reggae
04) In Rainbows: nothing to do with gay lib
05) Yorke's voice: still wonderful
06) "Faust Arp": they've been listening to Nick Drake
07) Phil Selway (drums): stiff or tasteful?
08) They've been listening to Krautrock (see 7)
09) Guitars: delicate or lifeless?
10) "Videotape": better solo (see clip below)?

More later, I'm afraid.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007


Okay, YouTube. But check this: live version of the last song on In Rainbows.

The way he shakes his head as he plays the opening chords, weirdly off pulse, makes me wonder what the recording will be like. (The audible toe-tapping toward the end, also on a slightly different pulse, might be another clue.) Skittering polyrhythms? Here's hoping.

Enough now. I will not write about this band or album for at least an hour.

In Waiting

Just paid $10 or the iTunes equivalent of full-price for In Rainbows, out in a matter of hours. My rationale:

a) Pay-what-you-will seems like a good idea and we ought to support it. If Radiohead gets paid, other bands should follow.

b) I expect I'll listen a lot. Why stint?

c) When you don't know about pricing, imitate an established model.

d) I have this feeling Thom's wandering eye will somehow fall on my order - one of millions, yes, but I have this hunch. He'll smile or twitch or do whatever it is Thom Yorke does to express pleasure, and he'll be moved to phone. (He has my info now - am I the only one this pleases?) "You're worth it, Tommy," I'll say coolly, the new album playing softly in the background. "Thanks for the music."

Saturday, October 6, 2007

Taste: Get Some

Such was my response to the ugly poll below and the weirdly enraging salad I had with lunch. What is it with New York City chain-grocery produce? Sometimes it feels more conceptual than edible. I know this isn’t news, but Lord, this pepper: enormous, firm, a beautiful glossy red, but utterly, utterly tasteless. Does a person really need to go to farmers' markets to get produce that tastes of this earth (and not some unsubtle marketing firm)? I have a new understanding of ranch dressing. . .

Friday, October 5, 2007

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Rainbows Redux

The Times Music section devotes its lead story today to a survey of East Village hipsters asked what they'll pay for In Rainbows. It's an interesting question, but the piece almost entirely fails to address how people arrive at their figures.

One guy says he'll give $5 or, weirdly, $8, depending on his next pay check; another will give $5 because Radiohead "already have plenty of money." Beyond this, we get very few justifications.

As I consider what I'm willing to pay, I realize the issues are fairly complex. For instance, doesn't it seem unfair to go with the guy above who values labor based on the economic status of the worker? Should we pay people less just because they're rich? (Shouldn't taxes account for this already?) Or conversely, should we pay less just because we're not?

It's also unclear how the cost of production (equipment, manpower, time, etc.) should factor into our decision. (And why do I suddenly sound like a Marxist?) Should a piece for orchestra go for more than one for solo guitar? Should we pay more for an album that took two years to produce rather than two weeks?

Finally, should we consider quality? If the album is great, as I expect it will be, should we pay top dollar? If it's crap and we only listen a few times, can we justify taking it for free?

Alice, commenters, what are you thinking? How do you handle these questions in other, comparable situations - at pay-what-you-will cultural institutions, say, or when they pass around the hat at a rock show? How does this mesh with your feelings on other issues - taxation, for instance, or the obligations of pharmaceutical companies to the world's poor? What would you do in an ideal world? What will you do in this one?

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Dollars & Cents

It feels a bit ungrateful to quibble with Radiohead's pay-what-you-will release scheme for the upcoming In Rainbows, but did anyone else notice that to get all the music you have to drop around 80 bucks for a deluxe "discbox" (including two LPs I would guess the majority of consumers will never play)?

I'm all for artists getting paid and I suppose it's cool Radiohead still has an appreciation for LP culture and collectors in general. But if they're trying to be so egalitarian, save energy, subvert capitalist norms, why force us to pay so much to get all the songs? (I have no problem paying extra for art which can't really be had in a low-cost digital equivalent.)

I'm not sure. Perhaps the band isn't trying to be political, but just responding realistically to the MP3 age. After all, they've never shied from elaborate and expensive releases in the past; and maybe this isn't so much about saving us money as presenting more diverse options for spending it. (Have any economists chimed in? Will Radiohead make any money on this deal?)

Also, I suppose one could argue at least they're doing something, and that from a band who commands such market power it's all the more meaningful. Still, I think of this bit of ham-handedness off Amnesiac and feel a bit confused:

"We are the dollars and cents and the pounds and pence
And the mark and the yen, and yeah
We’re gonna crack your little souls
We’re gonna crack your little souls"

I'll take Fugazi over Radiohead for DIY credibility any day. But for better or worse, when it comes time to listen, ethical considerations quickly fall away. One week to go, folks. . . just one week to go!