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november 2007

My playlist accidentally stumbled onto a couple of tracks from the Apples in Stereo's New Magnetic Wonder recently, and it prompted me to go back and relisten to the entire work. It didn't contain quite as much vocoder as I remembered, but it still had a lot, probably more than most people can stomach in one sitting. There are some good tracks, though——I'm just think it might have been better to save his vocal enhancement obsessions and his experimentations with a new music scale.

I downloaded the Beirut track "My Night With the Prostitute from Marseille" from the Big Change: Songs for FINCA compilation that was put together by Natalie Portman, the proceeds from which will go to an non-profit organization battling poverty in Africa.

At $7.99 for the whole album, I considered purchasing all 16 tracks, but the only other one I'm really interested in is the Rogue Wave contribution, "How We Landed". Of course, this is one of those album-only tracks (meaning you have to buy the entire record to get access to it), so I might end up buying the whole thing anyway, but it still really irritates when iTunes or the record company or the artist or whoever insist on making the consumer buy a bunch of stuff they don't want just to get access to one or two songs, and it's especially puzzling in this case because it's for charity——that's an extra 99 cents they could have had from me that they are now much less likely to get (although if I do break down and decide I have to have this track, they will end up getting significantly more than an extra 99 cents).

Anyway. The Beirut track is different from most of their stuff, driven entirely by keyboard loops and drum machines, but it's still unmistakably a Zach Condon composition. Easily worth the cost if you're already a fan——kind of like what the Postal Service might have sounded like if Jimmy Tamborello had collaborated with Condon instead of Ben Gibbard.

While we're on the subject of Les Savy Fav songs that don't sound like Les Savy Fav, "The Year Before the Year 2000" sounds a fuck of a lot like Tokyo Police Club. Not that there's anything wrong with that...

Looking back, I have no idea how the Rapture's "Pieces of the People We Love" did not make it onto my top 10 singles list from last year. I freaking love this song.

Voxtrot's epoynymous debut full-length, released earlier this year, might not be as bad as I first thought. But it's definitely not as good as I hoped it would be.

Prince has had a couple of great ideas in the past few years: first he gave copies of his latest album to everyone who bought a ticket to one of his concerts, and more recently he gave away his newest record with every copy of the Sunday newspaper in England.

Those ideas are genius, or at least seem like they are worth trying. But sending legal notices to every fan site demanding that they move all photographs, lyrics, etc., related to Prince? Not cool. Not only not cool, but just plain stupid. Metallica was shortsighted about file sharing back in the heyday of Napster, and look where that got them. This is even more pointless and backwards-looking, especially when Prince seems to be well aware that the way an artist markets himself and makes money in the internet age is dramatically different than it was when he was first starting out.

None of the news articles I've read about this list any of the affected sites, and I suppose that some of them could be making money from advertisements, etc., and that Prince feels like a) he should have a piece of the pie or b) that he doesn't want to be seen as quasi-endorsing some of the products advertised on the site. But really, both of those are pretty weak excuses, and I don't know that either one is why Prince has chosen to pursue this course.

I can't think of a better way to derail a career that at this point depends on the continued devotion of a fanatical following than to take the most hardcore members of that fanbase and make them feel like they've done something wrong for wanting to share their obsession with the rest of the world and help promote an artist's work at no cost whatsoever to the artist. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Mice eat cheese. Words to live by.

iTunes says that I've only listened to Jens Lekman's "Friday Night At The Drive-In Bingo" three times, and I know that's wrong. And now the obsessive-compulsive part of me is becoming concerned that the iPhone is as good at keeping track of how many times it has played something as my old iPod was, or that it's not syncing everything properly when it connects.

I know it's not that important in the grand scheme of things, but it's pretty important to me. I loved poking around through my iTunes data, and it's making me a little crazy to see that it's not as accurate as I thought it was.

Yesterday's featured review on Pitchfork was an unremarkable Led Zeppelin greatest hits disc that contained no bonus tracks, live versions, outtakes, etc. Yeah, I think it's officially safe to say that we can start looking ahead to 2008 releases, because we're done for 2007.

In the room outside my new office that houses my two supervisees and another part-time worker, there are three light switches, and you can have any combination of the three sets of lights on at once. I don't use the overhead flourescent light in my office EVER, so ideally I like to see that room using the lowest setting of the three switches and have the other two sets of lights turned off completely so that the contrast between the lighting level in my office and the larger room is minimal.

But that's all dependent on which of the three occupants of that room arrives first. Two of them like the lights set as I do, and since one of them is typically in the office before anyone else, that's usually how they are. But sometimes the third person comes in very early, or the other two people come in a bit late, and this third person turns on all three sets of lights at once, which just about knocks me flat when I first step into the room it's so much light. In honor of Killing Joke, I have named this the Brighter Than a Thousand Suns mode.

Every time there's news of a new Spiritualized album, I get excited because I'm still so much in love with Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space. But nothing since that album has come anywhere close to the perfection of the title track or "I Think I'm In Love", and I think it's time to accept that Space was the high water mark. That doesn't mean that Spiritualized have made it onto the Do Not Buy list, but I don't think they're on the Buy On Release Date list anymore.

The recent South Park episode about Guitar Hero was dead on and should give anyone who hasn't already figured it out a good insight into the rising generation of music fans. The profiteers behind producer-driven "stars" like Britney Spears are wetting themselves in anticipation for this kind of consumer, but it scares the hell out of me.

Currently sitting at number 6 on my top 100 most played songs playlist (that list, of course, only covering the past few years since I've switched all my listening habits to the iTunes/iPod realm) is the Shins' "Turn a Square". With 52 plays, it's sitting right below Neutral Milk Hotel's "King of Carrot Flowers Part 1", and it's the only track that I've rated less than five stars in the top 20 (I gave it four). While it's not a bad song, it's not my favorite Shins song by a long shot; in fact, the only other Shins track in the top 100 is "Those to Come" (which I gave five stars), and it's sitting at number 94.

I'm a bit puzzled about how this one got so many plays. I'm going to chalk it up to that period when my wife was loadng up her iPod shuffle from my computer, and so when she would connect it to get new songs, my library would also record her plays as if they were mine. Still, if that were the only explanation, it seems like there would be a bunch more Shins tracks from that album in the top 100 as well, and there aren't.

Tonight I'm going down to DC to see Art Brut and the Hold Steady at the 9:30 Club with my brother and my friend from Sliced Tongue. This has the potential to be the Best. Show. Ever.

The show last Tuesday was pretty good. Opening the set was a British band called the 1990s who I'd never heard of before. They were pretty entertaining, but I'm not sure if the stage energy would translate to a studio recording. Still, after that set, I'm going to check them out, especially at this time of year when there's just no new music being released.

Art Brut took the stage second, and they were exactly what I expected, which means they were fucking awesome. Singer Eddie Argos' manic stage persona was exactly what the kids in front of the stage were hoping for. He had great stage patter, and he even slipped a rant about how record stores sell more DVDs and video games than music into one of the songs. If everyone in a band cared as much about music as Art Brut, the world would be a better place. Or at least a place with more good music to listen to.

The Hold Steady were the headliners, and while they put on a pretty good performance, it was a little short (they blew through pretty much all their good material in the initial set, leaving only a mediocre song, one great song, and some kind of long-form musical goodbye for the encore). The sound also wasn't that great, and I couldn't tell if it was because Craig Finn's talking/yelling vocal stylings were overpowering the microphone or if there was something about standing upstairs that distorted the vocals. I think it was the former, because I've watched plenty of shows from the balcony and never heard the vocals sound that bad.

The other thing was Finn's stage persona, which was like a shorter, more spastic version of Eddie Argos. I don't know if that's because the two bands have been on tour together for the past few weeks and Finn has started to emulate Argos or if Finn has always been that way, but it really didn't work that well with the Hold Steady's music (whereas Argos is perfect for Art Brut). The Hold Steady is one of my favorite bands from the past couple of years, and even though I love both bands, I'd have to say that before Tuesday, if you made me pick one, I would have chosen the Hold Steady. But Finn's twitches and spasms really detracted from the music and the rest of the band's performance, and if I have to make that choice in the future, I'm definitely choosing Art Brut.

Also: a special word for thanks to Sliced Tongue, who covered the tickets for my brother and me. I think we even won my brother over: he'd never heard either band before, but he's already bought one Hold Steady album and he's on the lookout for Art Brut.

I was a little surprised to learn that my friend Sliced Tongue hadn't yet purchased Art Brut's sophomore effort, It's a Bit Complicated. When I first listened to it earlier this year, it wasn't a disappointment, and it had songs that rivaled the best stuff on their debut, Bang Bang Rock and Roll, but it didn't initially excite me as much as Bang Bang.

Before I went to the show, though, I played a shuffled list that included both albums, and it surprised me how well the new stuff compared the older stuff. Even though the band has a unique sound that carries across both records, each album is distinct, and it's not hard to listen to a random track and know exactly what record it came from. I described it to Sliced Tongue like this: Bang Bang Rock and Roll is the sound of a band that's just happy to be on stage, where It's a Bit Complicated is the sound of a band that knows they belong up there. And that's about the best I know how to explain it.

I'm not usually a big fan of the EP that's really a single with a few remixes on it, but LCD Soundsystem's iTunes version of the All My Friends EP actually has a new song and a Joy Division cover and would be worth consideration for these two tracks alone. But throw in an alternate recording by John Cale...I mean, "All My Friends" is already such a great song that you wouldn't think anyone could match the brilliance of the original so soon, but man...John Fucking Cale...that track alone is worth $5.

Speaking of Guitar Hero, here's a great article called "Rock Band vs. Real Band", in which Carrie Brownstein of Sleater-Kinney compares the experience of being in a fake video game band (in this case it's Guitar Hero competitor Rock Band) versus the experience of being in an actual band. She's much more charitable than you would imagine, and she's got some great insights about the culture that led us to the point where playing fake instruments is held in almost as high regard as playing real instruments (which was also piercingly parodied in the South Park episode I mentioned a couple of weeks ago).

One more agonizing month until we reach the new year and hopefully a reasonable stream of new music releases. I hate feeling like this site is a chore, but I can tell you with the absolute lack of new music recently, I'm looking forward to that stretch between Christmas and New Year's when I'll be traveling and not having to come up with something to post every day.