Category Archives: Music

Song of the Day #200 – The Milk Carton Kids

After ten months and 200 articles, this is my last Song of the Day for a while. I hope you’ve enjoyed this series — it’s been a labor of love. For my last entry, I’m featuring a song called Permanent, which I had the good fortune to see performed live a few nights ago. The Milk Carton Kids, comprised of LA-based singer/songwriters Joey Ryan and Kenneth Pattengale, form a powerfully synergistic package: talented singers with exquisite harmonies, complementary guitar styles (Ryan plays rhythm to Pattengale’s amazing improvisational skills), superbly original songs and laugh-out-loud stage patter. On top of all that, the lyrics to this song are beautiful (reproduced below). The last line is one of the best I’ve ever heard.

Permanent by Joey Ryan

Well I think I’m gonna work construction
Just to make something of myself
I can’t live off these childhood trophies on my shelf
Now I wanna get my hands dirty
I wanna feel a burning in my legs
I want more than the receipt for what I paid

Because everybody loves something new
Cause you can open it and plug it in
And it feels like a good night’s sleep
Like the girl you like paid you a compliment
They can keep the change and they can keep it coming
They can talk to who’s listening
But I’m still looking for something a little more permanent

I am not a poet
Show me the easy way and I’ll do it
No one could ever say that I’ve been trying way too hard
Cause everything that I have ever owned
Got dusty and old
So I threw it out just to make myself some room

I’m like everybody, I love something new
Cause you can open it and plug it in
And it feels like a good night’s sleep
Like the girl you like paid you a compliment
They can keep the change and they can keep it coming
They can talk to who’s listening
But I’m still looking for something that I can die with

If my luck is running out
Please don’t let it be so with love
It’s been a long year but I’m not ready to give up
Cause even if I lay ten million bricks
And they break through the summer haze
Someone’ll come around and bulldoze ‘em down some day

Because everybody loves something new
You get rid of what came before
And it feels like a long hot shower
Like getting in your bed when the sheets are warm
They can keep construction and they can keep coming
And I won’t be listening
Cause I found something a little more permanent
Oh yes I found someone that I can die with

Bonus video: here’s another great live performance; this song is called Queen Jane.

Song of the Day #199 – Reggie Watts

Today’s song is by the multi-talented comedian, musician, beatboxer and singer, Reggie Watts. Reggie is so funny that he comes across as a comedian, first and foremost, but the longer you listen, the more you realize he’s making some serious music. Like another of my favorites, Flight of the Conchords, Reggie exists in the exquisitely enigmatic space between comedy and music. Plus, when’s the last time you’ve heard a hip-hop song performed in a golf sweater and featuring the word “pancreas”? Enjoy this clip of Reggie singing a song about Brown History Week live on Late Night with Conan O’Brien.

Why Record Companies Should Learn to Stop Worrying and Love the Internet

Something amazing happened over the past twenty five years: all media has gone digital. There are many implications of this revolution but one of the most impotant ones is an economic effect: the cost of copying digital media is, effectively, zero. In the analog era, when our music was stored as bumpy grooves on a vinyl disk, unless you owned a custom record press in your basement, copying a record was no mean feat. Same story with copying a book: turn page, reposition book, press copy button, repeat a few hundred times – no fun for anyone. Thus, in the analog age copyrights were self-enforcing.

Digitization has changed all that. You can now copy digital books, music and movies with the click of a button on your computer. Copyrights are no longer self-enforcing and media companies are spending large sums of money to protect and perpetuate their business models (Google Disgusted with Music Labels, Music Industry Will Force Licenses on Amazon Cloud Player – Or Else).

But here’s an interesting question: why, in the digital age, do I continue paying for my music? In the past ten years I’ve purchased more MP3 music via the internet than analog music in any previous decade of my life. I could have borrowed those CDs from a friend or from the library and copied them for free. Why do I bother paying at all?

Though I like to think it might have something to do with ethics, there’s a better explanation: a transaction that used to involve getting in my car, driving to a record store, and physically handing someone my hard-earned cash has turned into an impulse purchase. I hear something that interests me, I click on a button and, Presto!, I own it. The very same technology that makes it easy for me to steal music also makes it incredibly easy for me to buy music.

Tim O’Reilly is a media entrepreneur who understands the digital world about as well as anyone. In this excellent short interview with Forbes, he shares his insights on digital rights management. This excerpt is particularly noteworthy:

Jon Bruner: On all your titles you’ve dropped digital-rights management (DRM), which limits file sharing and copying. Aren’t you worried about piracy?

Tim O’Reilly: No. And so what? Let’s say my goal is to sell 10,000 copies of something. And let’s say that if by putting DRM in it I sell 10,000 copies and I make my money, and if by having no DRM 100,000 copies go into circulation and I still sell 10,000 copies. Which of those is the better outcome? I think having 100,000 in circulation and selling 10,000 is way better than having just the 10,000 that are paid for and nobody else benefits.

People who don’t pay you generally wouldn’t have paid you anyway. We’re delighted when people who can’t afford our books don’t pay us for them, if they go out and do something useful with that information.

I think having faith in that basic logic of the market is important. Besides, DRM interferes with the user experience. It makes it much harder to have people adopt your product.

Times have changed. The companies that succeed will be those, like O’Reilly’s, that adapt to the digital world and figure out how to get great products into peoples’ hands quickly, conveniently and at a competitive price. Right now the record companies seem to be spending a lot of their time and energy trying to figure out how to put the genie back into the bottle. Good luck with that.

Song of the Day #197 – Juliana Richer Daily

Today’s song is dedicated to my friend and fellow music lover, Ayça Bağçeci, who told me about an amazingly talented and largely unknown singer named Juliana Richer Daily. Juliana is a graduate student at Cornell who writes, records and performs music as a hobby. Her videos have collectively garnered millions of views on youtube. The video below is a very different arrangement of a song I featured just a few days ago (Song of the Day #195): Coldplay’s Viva La Vida. You can watch many more of her wonderful videos (including some of her own original music) on Juliana’s youtube channel.

Bonus video: Here’s Juliana doing a lovely solo guitar and vocal arrangement of Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance

Song of the Day #196 – Chris Bathgate

I learned about Michigan folksinger Chris Bathgate from a wonderful Canadian web site called Slowcoustic. I love this site’s self-description:

But if you must know, Slowcoustic is a blog about the unhurried side of Americana/Alt-Country/Folk/Indie/Down-Tempo music. You may have to listen to a bit of rambling alongside this soundtrack, but its worth it, trust me.

If you are here by mistake, maybe you are supposed to be here, stop – read a few posts, listen to a few songs – relax already. It’s about time people were a bit more Slowcoustic.

I couldn’t agree more. Here’s the official promotional video for Chris’ song Serpentine.

And here’s Chris and a friend playing a lovely live acoustic version of Coda.

Song of the Day #195 – The PS22 Chorus

Today’s video is so powerful that it manages to do something no other video in this series has done: it actually brings tears to my eyes. Watch these beautiful sixth graders from PS22 in New York City sing their hearts out to Coldplay’s Viva La Vida and see if it doesn’t make your heart swell. This may be the best advertisement I’ve ever seen for the value of music education.

Song of the Day #194 – J Mascis

I was born in 1960 and, thus, was too young to fully appreciate that magical decade while it was happening. I was a toddler when JFK was assassinated. I was only superficially aware of the historic fight for civil rights and the protests over the war in Vietnam. I had a pretty good excuse for missing Woodstock. Even as a kid though, you could feel the currents of change. I still remember my teacher wheeling a (color!) TV into my classroom so that we could all watch Neil Armstrong step down on the moon.

Today’s song, Not Enough, by J Mascis has a wonderful vibe that takes me back to those days when anything seemed possible. Though I was only dimly aware of the profound cultural impact of the sixties, one thing was clear to me then, even as an eight year old: Richard Nixon was not to be trusted. Some things are obvious, even to a little kid.

P.S. Seattle friends: J Mascis plays the Tractor Tavern on April 29!

Song of the Day #193 – Wye Oak

You know what’s weird? There seems to be very little relationship between a person’s speaking voice and singing voice. A few weeks ago I featured a video by Adele (Song of the Day #164), which I thought really highlighted that contrast. Today’s video, another fine one from NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series, gave me the same sort of surprise. It starts with Jenn Wasner of Baltimore based Wye Oak introducing the song Civilian in her normal, not particularly noteworthy speaking voice. Then she starts to sing and her voice immediately takes on a very distinctive and evocative quality. I wish I could do that trick.

This song is so good, it deserves two listens. Check out this retro-looking black and white German video of a solo performance of the same song.

Song of the Day #192 – The Shins

Today’s offering is more than a video – it’s a very entertaining mini-concert film from La Blogotheque’s brilliant Take Away Show series (check out La Blogotheque’s youtube channel for more great videos from this series). This one features one of my favorite bands, The Shins, in a spontaneous musical romp around Paris. The show starts on a busy street corner with an impromptu, traffic-stopping performance of Turn A Square. From there, the band regroups in a quiet courtyard for a lovely performance of The Past And Pending, followed by a raucous performance of Australia out of a sixth floor balcony, to the delight of an appreciative crowd inside and below. If you like the Shins, also check out Songs of the Day #32 and #131.

Song of the Day #191 – Strand of Oaks

Check out this absolutely stellar black and white video of Strand of Oaks performing Bonfire, from the excellent 2010 release Pope Killdragon. It’s a beautiful, melodic and dark acoustic song, which is right up my alley. This is courtesy of hearya.com, who do a phenomenal job with their live music videos and audio recordings.

Thanks to Lauren Bricker for capturing these intriguing lyrics:

My wife sits with me
scorched earth drying sheets
little bit of land. not much heat
the sun’s been down for weeks

keep me warm, keep me clean.
keep me warm, keep me clean.
’cause it’s just you and me
it’s just you and me
it’s just you and me

Bonfires burn,
in the hills they glow with light
and children won’t care
if their mother’s sleep tonight.
we’re all alone here.
we’re all that’s left here.
so let’s stay here, and be calm
we’re all alone here.
we’re all that’s left here.
so let’s stay here and be be calm

And put down the phone
it hasn’t worked for years.
and I’ll get the water
and we’ll plant a garden
we’re all alone here
we’re all that’s left here
so let’s stay here, and be calm
we’re all alone here.
we’re all that’s left here.
so let’s stay here and be be calm

’cause it’s just you and me
it’s just you and me
it’s just you and me

Open Letter to Amazon Re: New Cloud Music Service

Dear Amazon.com,

I like your cloud music concept so much that I wrote a veritable love letter about it two nights ago. Since then I’ve spent a little quality time with your new service (I uploaded all of my 20GB digital music collection) and I’m still infatuated, but I now have some specific feedback for you.

  • Bulk upload is easy to use, easy to customize and works like a charm. Kudos on that. It’s also very slow (it took nearly a full day to upload my 20GB of music) but I’m guessing that’s by design – by not hogging my processor or network adapter, it quietly chugs along off to the side doing its thing, while I get real work done. That’s fine, I only have to bulk upload once so I can live with it being slow.
  • The web player is clean, intutive and surprisingly responsive for a web app – it seems to be in that category of well designed Ajax apps (like gmail) that feels almost like a desktop app.
  • Device support – not so good. You have to figure out a way to support iThings – this can’t be about Android vs. Apple. Trust me, I’m on your side, I want this service to succeed but I’m not dropping my iPhone or iPad just to access your cloud player. I understand that out of the box you don’t yet support iOS but you need to at least make some sort of statement so we know where you stand.
  • Love that you give a free 5GB for the casual user and, on album purchase, a free upgrade to 20GB for one year for the more serious collector. Even after the promo, a dollar a GB for backed up storage with ubiquitous access seems like a pretty reasonable price to me.
  • Not that you need my help on the marketing end but here’s a suggestion: in addition to the free 5GB, offer three free MP3 albums. Free cloud storage space is sexy only to nerds like me. Free music has much broader mass appeal.
  • When I buy music from your MP3 store, you force me to store it in one of two places: directly on my cloud drive or downloaded to my computer. Guess what? I want the “both” option. I’d like it dropped immediately into my cloud drive and I want a copy for safekeeping on my computer. Why? Because I don’t want my music locked into your service. If someone offers a better service, I’d like to be able to move my music to another cloud (it’s my music, after all). With the current setup, I need to download purchases and then upload them to my cloud drive, which is a hassle.
  • UPDATE: The cloud player supports automatic download (details here, see the “Setting Cloud Player to auto-download new purchases” section). Here’s the setting you want to look for:
    It would be nice if that choice could be made more explicit at MP3 purchase time.

In summary, nice work on a truly groundbreaking service. I’m a fan, but to keep me you’ve got to finish the job. Make it easy for me to play my music on my iPhone and iPad.

Your friend,

Marc

p.s. As far as I’m concerned, you needn’t worry about iPods. I’m betting some enterprising Andoid developer is already working on a wireless portable cloud player. I’m much more willing to ditch my iPod than my iPhone or iPad. BTW, a cloud player based on Whispernet (ubiquitous connectivity with no service contract) would be awesome!

Song of the Day #190 – Kelli Schaefer

I’m a recent convert to the charms of Portland, OR based singer/songwriter Kelli Schaefer and so taken with her that today I’m featuring three of her songs. There’s something about the way Kelli performs that pulls you right to the edge of your seat. All three of today’s songs are on Kelli’s record, Ghost of the Beast, which I highly recommend. The first video is a mesmerizing live performance of Gone In Love at the Columbia City Theater in Seattle. The haunting melody, the delicate backing guitar, the vocals and harmonies, and the dark, shadowy lighting all conspire to make this one of my favorite videos in this series.

Here’s Kelli performing Ghost of the Beast in a lovely outdoor setting on Doe Bay in 2010.

Finally, here’s a powerful performance of Better Idea from an intimate show in Vancouver, WA in 2010.

This Is How It’s Supposed to Be

Today Amazon.com announced something that is, to borrow a famous Steve Jobs-ism, insanely great. For a while now, Amazon has been the industry leader in so-called cloud computing (providing storage and computing resources via the web) with their Amazon Web Services (AWS). I could go on about how innovative and powerful AWS is but that’s a topic for another day. Today I want to talk about the new announcement: Amazon has come up with a creative way to merge their music download store with their cloud computing services.

Why is that a big deal? Think about how you normally work with music. You’ve probably downloaded a bunch of songs from iTunes. First of all, you’d better make sure you back up those songs because you’re only one disk crash away from losing your entire digital music collection. Secondly, you need to worry about moving copies of that file around. Want to play it on your iPhone? You need to synch it. Want to share it with your kid’s MP3 player? You need to do another synch. The point is that you didn’t just download a song, you took custody of a bunch of bits which you are now responsible for managing. I don’t know about you, but I’ve got enough things to manage in my life.

So how does this new service help? When you buy music from Amazon, instead of downloading it to your computer, it gets stored in what is essentially your personal music storage locker in Amazon’s cloud. Guess what? No more worrying about backups – it’s taken care of for you. Want to play that song on a smart phone or tablet? It’s immediately available to be played remotely from any device that supports Amazon’s music player – no more need to synch anything. You buy it – you play it, anywhere, from any device.

It’s important to note that in this initial release, the Amazon Cloud Player is limited to access via the web and a native Android app. Amazon doesn’t yet have a native app for iOS (i.e. a version for Apple products), but this is the very first version – Apple support is bound to be high on the list of early features.

In the past, I’ve written about why I never buy music from iTunes. My normal mode of operation for the past few years has been to buy all my music from Amazon in pure MP3 format but then store the tracks in my iTunes library so that I can synch it with my family’s various iDevices. As soon as Amazon comes out with iPad/iPhone/iPod support (or, in the case of iPod, a suitable replacement), then I’ll just store all my music in the cloud. Hopefully there’ll be a way to upload my existing songs en masse. Then my entire digital music collection will be backed up for me, automatically, and I’ll be able to access it anywhere I like, from any device I like. In the words of Jack Johnson, this is how it’s supposed to be.

Song of the Day #189 – Van Morrison and Bob Dylan

Today’s song features the greatest singer ever to emerge from Ireland. Sorry, U2 fans, it’s not Bono. And it’s not Enya or Dolores O’Riordan of the Cranberries. It’s not the Corrs, or Elvis Costello, or the Pogues, or Glen Hansard. It’s a singer with one of the most timeless, soulful voices ever: Van Morrison. Today’s video features Van Morrison collaborating with Bob Dylan on a live duet of Van’s One Irish Rover. I usually avoid static cover art videos but I made an exception today due to the rarity and the raw beauty of the audio. Enjoy this treat from the Youtube rock and roll time capsule.

Song of the Day #187 – Damien Jurado

Seattle might just be the best place on Earth for finding original acoustic music. Today’s video is another great Black Cab Session. This one features veteran singer/songwriter and local hero Damien Jurado, recorded in 2008 at the Green Man Festival in the back seat of a London cab. The song, Last Rights, performed live with Jena Conrad, features folky fingerpicking and lovely vocal harmonies. Sit back, relax and enjoy four minutes of pure acoustic bliss.

Song of the Day #186 – Pete Townshend

About ten years ago I sold my vinyl record collection but there were about a dozen albums I simply could not part with, even if I were never able to play them again. Three of those records were Who’s Next, Tommy and Quadophenia, which brings me to today’s artist: one of my all-time favorite guitar heroes, prolific songwriter, singer, music legend and composer of the soundtrack of my youth: Pete Townshend. In this video, Pete plays three songs in his dressing room, before a show in 2000: Tattoo, I’m One and an improvised acoustic jam. By the way, does anyone know how Pete does that high speed “stutter strum” heard around 3:50? That seems like guitar magic to me.

Song of the Day #185 – They Might Be Giants

Today’s video is both entertaining and educational. That, in a nutshell, is what I like most about today’s artist. They’re talented musicians who write about the most interesting and unusual subjects imaginable. For a music loving computer nerd like me, that’s a very appealing combination. Enjoy this animated version of Why Does The Sun Shine?, while learning a few things about our solar system and enjoy thinking about the warmth coming our way this spring, courtesy of They Might Be Giants and The Sun. If you like today’s song, also check out Song of the Day #109.

Song of the Day #184 – Mark Knopfler

There’s a conventional way to fingerpick a guitar, which you’ve probably learned about if you’ve ever taken lessons. You’re supposed to use your thumb to pluck the bass (top) strings and your fingers to pick the lower strings. Mark Knopfler‘s self-taught style defies those and many other conventions and it’s precisely that innovative approach, that refusal to conform to convention, that characterizes Knopfler’s unique sound. Best known for his days with Dire Straights, over the past 15 years Knopfler has quietly released nine remarkably original solo records. Today’s video features Mark performing Old Pigweed from his excellent 2002 release The Ragpicker’s Dream, live in Norway.