Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

LEAVE, and don’t come back

This blog is defunct.  We’ve moved to: http://www.1to10reviews.com

I switched from WordPress.com (which is a wonderful place to write a blog) to a self-hosted blog.  I am still using WordPress, but I got the install package for WordPress 2.6.

Thanks for visiting – please come see us at our new home.

Sad Songs and Waltzes

My Review: 9

I love this song.  It’s funny, it’s poignant, it’s well written.  It’s written in 3/4 time and played as though it were a waltz itself.  I just think it’s brilliant.  Willie Nelson wrote it and published it first on his concept album “Shotgun Willie” in 1973, one of his very best albums in my opinion.  Cake covered it on their 1996 album Fashion Nugget, also an amazing album.

I really like both versions.  I’m running a poll to see which version people like better.

You can listen to the Cake version here.  You can listen to the Willie Nelson version here.   You can also listen to each in the Box.net widget on the right side.  The album art below links to Amazon’s MP3 store.  If you don’t own these albums already, you should buy them.

Muxtapes: These Are Pretty Cool

My Review: 6

I like muxtape.com.  Sol told me about it (more or less) when he sent me a muxtape that he had made.  It was good (we like similar music) and it inspired me to make my own.

The idea is super cool.  You can upload as many as 12 .mp3 files to muxtape, name the “set,” and even configure the header bar color.  Then you can share it with friends.  They can opt to buy the songs on your set list (presumably the founders are getting a cut.)  It’s neat.

However, it’s also sort of cumbersome.  It would be a huge improvement if you could pick multiple songs and do a bulk upload.  The current setup requires you to upload a single song at a time, which is annoying.  I also found that quite a few songs failed.  I don’t know if it was because the files were corrupt somehow, or if maybe the meta data was too ugly to deal with, or what.  There are clearly stated restrictions that it must be a .mp3 file, and that it must be under 10 MB (all the files I attempted met those criteria.)  Having my chosen songs be un-uploadable was annoying.

They have a blog up on Tumblr and seem very interested in and open to feedback.  I like that openness a lot, it’s the right way to go.

The UI is pretty plain-jane, but I kind of like that. It certainly wasn’t confusing, and that is a huge plus in my humble estimation.  I think the concept rules, the product is cool, and the implementation is pretty-ok-kinda-good.  A solid 6, though the idea is really an 8 or a 9.  Just needs some more work.

UPDATE:

You know what else would be sweet?  There should be some kind of “Number of times this mix has been played” hit counter.  Currently there is an RSS feed meter that tells you how many people have favorited your mix, but not a total number of times it’s been played.  Everyone thinks their own mix is rad.  Muxtape should take advantage of that.  Come on muxtape, feed my ego.

Big Bang Theory Theme Song

My Review: 8

CBS recently started airing a television sitcom called The Big Bang Theory. The show centers on two physicists living in LA; both are nerdy and socially stunted. They live next door to a very attractive woman, and shenanigans ensue. The show is actually pretty funny, but it is not the subject of this review.

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Rather, I wanted discuss the theme song for the show. The first time I heard it I said to myself “that sounds like the Barenaked Ladies.”

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And I was right. BNL wrote and performed the song which describes the development of the Universe and the human race in one minute and forty-five seconds. I love BNL and have since I was 16 and Sol played Gordon for me for the first time. (Gordon is their first album, and probably still their best.)

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So I decided I really wanted the song. I searched around a bit, but I couldn’t find it on iTunes or on my favorite Russian site. Then I remembered that my good friends at Amie Street had struck up a deal with BNL to sell their music through the site. Sure enough, I found the song there. Currently it is selling for $0.83. I believe I bought it for $0.79. The Amie Street model is a market-driven one; all songs start at $0.00 and each time they are purchased the price goes up a little bit, until it reaches the maximum price of $0.99. I love Amie Street.

I think the song is awesome. It reminds me of their older, more goofy style (similar to what you find on Gordon.) Today they are a very slick pop band. The music is still good, but I miss the more laid-back silly style. The song also reminds me a little bit of They Might Be Giants’s pseudo-educational music, songs like Mammals and Why Does The Sun Shine.

I uploaded the song to my box – if you look to the Box.net widget in the right hand column you will be able to listen to it. It is fast paced and the lyrics come rapidly. The content is fun and funny. I think the song deserves and 8 out of 10. So that is my rating. Listen and enjoy.

Guitar Hero III for the PC

My Review: 5

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I think Guitar Hero, the series of games from Red Octane, kicks motha-flippin’ ass. I love to rock out, it’s simple and fun. So I am not going to review Guitar Hero in general; everyone already knows that it rules.

Instead I am going to review, specifically, GH3 for the PC.

I don’t own a gaming console. I know, it’s crazy, my bad. For a techno-weenie geek-boy to not own a gaming console is like a Kansas City holy-roller only owning one bible. Not normal.

Nevertheless, I don’t own a gaming console. I’ve played GH2 on the Xbox 360 with friends, and played GH3 on the Wii. I had a lot of fun, but I didn’t want to sink $400-$700 into owning a console so that I could play one game. However, I did recently build my own PC. My buddy Jeff helped me put together a custom computer. This was my first time building my own machine. I bought all the components, installed everything, the works. Jeff helped. Here are the major stats:

  • NZXT Apollo mid-tower computer case
  • Antec Tru-Power Trio TP3-550W power supply
  • Intel Core 2 Duo 2.66 GHz processor
  • Asus P5E-VM DO motherboard
  • Corsair XMS2 240-pin DDR2 memory (4 x 1 GB)
  • 2, Asus 18x lightscribe DVD-RW burners
  • Nvidia GeForce 8400 Graphics card w/ 512 MB dedicated video memory
  • 2, 7200 rpm Seagate 500GB hard drives in a RAID 1 (hardware RAID)

Being as I have a brand-new bad-ass mother-jammer (three hyphenated double-words in a row, yes!) I figured maybe I should search for whether there is a PC version of Guitar Hero 3. Wouldn’t that be cool? Maybe it’s nicer to rock out in front of your television, but I do have a 22″ widescreen LCD monitor, so that’s not too bad. Since I already built the computer anyway, this seemed like a cheaper and more reasonable alternative.

So, 1 or 2 Google search results later, lo and behold there is a version of GH3 for the PC.

180px-aspyr-logo.gif Aspyr, a gaming company, contracted with Red Octane to port a version of GH3 for the Mac and the PC. Sweet. Better yet, on my routine visit to Costco the next day they are selling the PC version. Right there at Costco. Life is good again.

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So, now I have a sweet machine and the video game I’ve been drooling over. How does it all stack up? Not that great.

It’s not terrible, but I have some deep concerns. For one thing, it stutters a little bit. When you are playing a musical game that depends on your being able to follow the rhythm of the song, stuttering present a pretty big issue.

The minimum system requirements for the graphics card list a “Video Card: 3D Hardware Accelerator Card Required – 100% DirectX 9.0c compatible 128 MB Video Memory.” They recommend 256 MB video card. Mine is a 512 MB card, and it still stutters. The only way I could find to mitigate the stutter was to lower the graphics resolution in the game options to the minimum setting. This did not wipe out all the stuttering, but it did help enough so that the game is playable. Yay.

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Now Guitar Hero is not really a graphics intensive game, and truthfully I don’t really notice the difference all that much. However, I think it is totally lame that it was necessary to lower the resolution to the minimum. My new computer meets or exceeds all the other system requirements in addition to the graphics card. That tells me that the problem is probably not my system. I think it much more likely that Aspyr did not make a very good port.

It is also possible that Red Octane did not do as good of a job with GH3 as they did with GH 1 and 2. Harmonix (who is now making Rock Band, a Guitar Hero competitor) did all the coding for GH 1 and 2. Red Octane contracted with a different company to code GH3 – that’s part of the reason that it looks significantly different from previous versions.  The new company coded it up pretty fast, and perhaps they didn’t do as good of a job.  I have seen stutters on GH3 even on the Wii, though not as bad as what I experienced with the PC.

Another bone I have to pick is the controller.  The guitars for all other versions of Guitar Hero 3 are wireless.  Not so for the PC version.  In fact, the guitar for PC is actually the Xbox 360 guitar for Guitar Hero 2, right down to the little Xbox logo.  That is pretty lame.  I can (sort of) understand using a wired guitar on the first version, probably simplified a few things.  But at least give me my own guitar, and not one that has Xbox symbols on it.

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Apparently Aspyr has released a patch for the game, patch #1.1, and it is supposed to resolve certain issues. I am going to download it and try it out, but I am not overly optimistic.  I supposed any port is likely to work less perfectly than the original.  And it honestly  isn’t that bad.  It’s just not great either.  Not the experience I was hoping for anyway.  So, because it is mediocre, it gets a solid 5 out of 10.

Coming To America,

by Neil Diamond.

My Review: 8

I grew up listening to Neil Diamond. My friend Mike Baranov is a rabid Neil Diamond fan, has seen him more than 20 times in concert, and celebrates his entire catalog. Neil Diamond is iconic.

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I am still mixed on whether he really fit in well on the lineup of guest musicians in The Last Waltz, but that is another review in itself.

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From left to right: Dr. John, Neil Diamond, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Rick Danko, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan, and Robbie Robertson

Neil Young’s anthemic ballad, Coming To America, is a wonderful song. The buildup, the chorus, the crowd, the upwelling of emotion that the song can engender in the patriotic soul… they are spellbinding . Even the initial buildup, using strings, is a wonderful piece of musical production. It’s cheese, pure American cheese, but it is so wonderful.

Baranov (mentioned above) use to egg me on to play the song on my acoustic guitar when we were at summer camp together. There is no finer moment than leading 15 or more close friends in a rollicking chorus of “on the boats and on the planes, they’re coming to America…”

What a feeling.

But sentimentality and recollection are not the true basis for the rating. The songwriting is good. Not inspirational, but it is solid. The patriotic attitude and focus are those attributes which make the song great; the attributes which make it a haven for many immigrants and an inspiration for people all over the world, these attitudes are worth singing about. And the cheese. It’s artery clogging, but it is also excellent.

I think Coming To America is a great song. And America is a great country. I’m glad Neil Diamond wrote it, and I’ll continue to listen to this song till the day I die.

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Metalocalypse

My Review: A Brutal 9

A friend at work turned me onto a cartoon on Adult Swim, it’s called: Metalocalypse.

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This show is awesome. It’s about a fictional metal band called Dethklok – they’re the greatest metal band ever and “represent the 12th largest economy in the world.” They are forever in search ways to make the world more “metal.” The lead singer, Nathan Explosion wants all of their music to be as “brutal” as possible.

The bassist (William Murderface) and drummer (Pickles) as well as the lead singer (Explosion) are all American. The other two members are Scandinavian: Toki Wartooth (2nd fastest guitarist in the world and group punching bag) is from Norway. Skwisgaar Skwigelf (the fastest guitarist in the world) is from Sweden.

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In the show, fans of Dethklok are routinely maimed and killed – they sign “Pain Waivers” to release the band of all liability. In the first episode a giant metal box containing the band is dropped from a helicopter and crushes dozens of concert attendees when it misses the landing pad. Brutal.

I don’t want to focus on describing the show – there’s a Wikipedia entry that gives a good synopsis, and you can always join the official Dethklok MySpace page if you want to be friends with Nathan, Murderface, and the guys and learn more about them.

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No, what I want to focus on is how much fun this show is to watch. Even if you don’t like Metal music it’s pretty cool. The plot lines are ridiculous, and that’s what makes them awesome. From recording an album under water (at the bottom of the Marianas Trench) to an interview with a thinly veiled Larry King (who dies in the course of the interview) the shows are sick, funny, and fun. They are bloody, raucous affairs that only last 11 minutes with no commercials, so even the worst ADD TV addict can still enjoy them.

Veoh has quite a few of the episodes up and available if you want to watch. One of my favorites (where we meet the band members families) is up here. I think you should watch it and judge for yourself. But I am of the opinion that this show kicks butt. It’s brutal. It’s metal. I think I’m in love.

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Sweet.

Rick Danko, Bass Player For The Band

My Review:10

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Rick Danko learned music as a young child, became an apprentice butcher at age 14, was a member of an American/Canadian Honky-Tonk Rock’n’Roll band at 17, an international Rock’n’Roll star with “The Band” by age 23, and died at age 56 of a heart attack.

Rick Danko was a kind, fun-loving, goofy man who used a distinctive and flowing style when playing bass (aided in part by his use of a fret-less bass beginning in the mid-70’s) and sang with a pitchy, falsetto voice on many of his lead-vocal tracks with the Band.

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Rick Danko died in 1999 while I was in my senior year of college. I was just starting to understand the music of the Band at that point. The more I listen to the Band (and that activity occupies a significant portion of my daily routine) the more I realize how much Danko contributed to the sound of what I consider the greatest rock and roll ensemble of all time.

Lots of personal information about Danko (personal life, time with the Band, and solo work) can be found on this wonderful resource: http://theband.hiof.no/

There is also a Wikipedia article dedicated to Danko.

Two notable songs by the Band that Danko sang lead for included “Stage Fright” and “The Unfaithful Servant.” Both became staples for the group’s live performances, and both are among the best of the music the group recorded. Streaming examples can be found in the widget on the sidebar.

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Rick was a wonderful musician, and by all reports a wonderful and generous man. The post is small tribute, but I want to honor this man who has had a very great impact on my life. Rick gets a 10, and he’s worth every point.

They Might Be Giants: “The Else”, And Why It Is Rad

My Review: 8

They Might Be Giants.

The two Johns.

TMBG.

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This rock band has written, produced, recorded and (mostly) released a new album, and I like it very much. The hoped-for suite of fun melodies, silly, well-informed lyrics and fun composition is very much present on this album. “The Else,” is set for release on Idlewild Recordings in stores on June 10th. However it was made available on iTunes May 15th and Sol snatched it up.

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“The Else” Album Cover

I have now listened to it 7 times in a row. I’m not bored. Not at all. This album is as mch fun to listen to as “Apollo 18” or “Flood,” though it is a little shorter than I’d like. The primary 13 song CD clocks in at 41 and a half minutes, and I could go for another 15 minutes of fun song writing. Wikipedia says a bonus CD will be included with the in-stores release; I guess I’ll have to get that too.

Some of the tunes are unusually mellow and even pop-ish for TMBG – notably track 5, “Careful What You Pack.” Which is not to say that I don’t dig it – it’s just a bit of a departure.

When he gave it to me Sol made me listen to track number 13 (the final track) first. This might account for why I now like the album so much: it put me in a good mood. Track 13, “The Mesopotamians,” is right there with Ana Ng, Istanbul, Mammals, The Sun, and so many other greats. But lots of tracks rocked here. A couple others include: “The Shadow Government” and “Contrecoup” (it’s awesome.)

I have been a comitted TMBG fan for many years, but they do not get an automatic good grade. I am maybe even more critical of a band that I care about, because my expectations are high. I’m relieved to report that “The Else,” the newest release from They Might Be Giants is a solid, strong, fun album. You should listen to it now.

“The Else” Track List:

  1. “I’m Impressed” – 2:39
  2. “Take Out the Trash” – 3:14
  3. “Upside Down Frown” – 2:17
  4. “Climbing the Walls” – 3:15
  5. “Careful What You Pack” – 2:40
  6. “The Cap’m” – 3:11
  7. “With The Dark” – 3:17
  8. “The Shadow Government” – 2:37
  9. “Bee of the Bird of the Moth” – 3:31
  10. “Withered Hope” – 2:54
  11. “Contrecoup” – 3:11
  12. “Feign Amnesia” – 2:29
  13. “The Mesopotamians” – 2:57

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Wolfmother Review

My Review: 7

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“Wolfmother,” by Wolfmother, is sweet. I grew up listening to AC/DC, Black Sabbath, and Iron Maiden. While these guys don’t pursue as much of the satanic rigmarole, they very much live and breath in that genre and style. Listening to these guys makes me feel like when I listen to Ozzy and the boys at their best.  The chorus in “Dimension” (track 3) is Black Sabbath as I live and breath, but it doesn’t feel like a cheap copy – quite the opposite.

This is no wannabe tribute band; Wolfmother has developed their own sound, and they are distinct. Fun riffs and worthwhile song writing beef up the overall presentation. Joker & The Thief is a great track off the album – it’s something of a single and it rolls with a great melody and and strong writing.

White Unicorn is another great track. It starts with a light electric guitar riff, and when the vocals come in it makes you feel a little… well, a little bit epic. And then the whole ensemble joins together and you feel like you want to kick some ass.

Wolfmother is formed of three guys from Australia who wanted to play music, and they’ve turned (almost in spite of themselves) into something of a sensation. There’s a review from Rolling Stone, and their website offers some more links to reviews, as well as photos and schwag. Wolfmother also has the obligatory MySpace page, find that here.

I think these guys are cool. They make cool music, and in a genre that was pioneered in the 60’s and 70’s, but doesn’t have a lot of good, modern adherents. In some ways they remind me of Dave Edmunds and Rockpile; not the style of music (far from it), but rather an ethic and sense of tradition and genre. Their full length self-titled album was released in 2006. I can’t wait for their next album.

A strong 7 for me.

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