Tuesday, January 19, 2016

I Drop My Phone Too Much

I drop my phone a lot. I used to think I didn't and that I was really careful with my phone, but then I got to thinking about it, and I realized I did a lot. Just little drops that weren't too bad, but I've dropped my phone badly enough to crack the screen three times now, and I decided enough was enough.

I never wanted a case on my phone because I've never liked the added bulk and I've never thought I needed one. But after I had to spend $60 to get a replacement screen and install it, I decided I didn't want to deal with that again.

I have an LG G3 and I really really love it. But it's kind of big and the back is kind of rounded and scalloped and so I was worried that a case would be super bulky and annoying.  But I found a sweet slim case with a nice matte finish, and I even got to customize the case myself and add my own image to it. I chose to go with a classic Blackface Fender Deluxe Reverb amp shape - I had to do some Photoshopping to get the size right because the Deluxe Reverb head version was too short and the combo version was too tall, and the tolex looked weird so I had to use some of the magical content-aware fill in Photoshop to get the marbled tolex texture around the outside. But check it out!

It fits my phone well, doesn't add a lot of bulk, has a sweet little lip on the outside so the screen doesn't scratch on flat surfaces, and looks awesome. Plus it was cheap and shipped fast. I got it from www.case-custom.com

I'm now a believer in phone cases. At least for the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

GET RIGHT By Getting The Soft White Sixties' New Album

The album that's been on the heaviest rotation for me in the past few days is the album by San-Francisco based The Soft White Sixties.  Stylized "GET RIGHT.", this album is totally awesome.  It was released on March 4th of this year, and I just bought it this week.  I was trying to wait a while until my wallet felt comfortable enough to justify it, but I broke down and bought it anyway this week, and I LOVE it. 

I first heard of these guys from a NoiseTrade sampler they have, and then an EP that they have on iTunes, and now they've finally released a full-length LP.  The band is currently rippin' up venues at SXSW in Austin, TX, playing as many as three shows a day some days, and then they'll embark on a slow journey back home to San Francisco, hitting a bunch of towns in between.  Dang, they came through Utah last summer, before I knew about them.  Maybe someday in the future they'll make the trip again.

The band's sound reminds me a lot of the Black Keys - it's a very blues-rock influenced sound.  40 years ago, The Who were described as playing "Maximum R&B", and that label has been resurrected to describe the Soft White Sixties.  It's definitely a fitting description for this hard-driving band who manages to imbibe their album with all the energy and feel of a live album, while maintaining a tight, polished studio sound.  It's a delicate line and the album does a great job at it.  

Here's a quick summary of my favorite tracks:

"Up To the Light" which, independent of the name, reminds me a lot of "Everlasting Light" by the Black Keys.  It's got a happy retro-pop sound and a killer bass groove that's punctuated with crunchy guitars.

"Rubber Band" starts off in an interesting lounge-style vein and then completely shifts into a pounding chorus and clever lyrics with silly imagery in the lyrics like "I know sometimes it can taste like someone poured salt in your coffee".

"Roll Away" would fit right in with the other tracks on "Get Behind Me Satan" by the White Stripes.  Featuring heavy auditorium-style reverb and a slow piano line, it's a good change of tempo in the middle of the album.

"Treat Me" - this baby needs some heavy mainstream radio play so all of the unwashed masses can be exposed to its excellence.  It's the perfect little catchy pop song, complete with carefully-crafted piano hooks and an infectious, simple chorus that just begs you to sing along.  This track also needs to be re-treated as an acoustic version in their live shows.  Just sayin'.  In case anybody ever reads this.  And if not, I like it so much that I think I'll play an acoustic cover of the song myself.  

Finally, "Knock it Loose", officially listed as a "Bonus Track" on the album (probably included because of popular demand from their fans) is a killer blues-rock anthem.  Blast it from your car as you roll through town and everyone with any music taste at all will thank you.  Super crunchy fuzz-pedaled guitars and pounding drums with raspy vocals on a delay filter make this track burn.

The one thing this album is missing is some killer guitar solos.  There are a few bars of mediocre guitar solo in the track "Lemon Squeezer", but it's conspicuously absent in the rest of the album.  Not that I'm complaining too much.  Some of these tracks are perfect as they stand and don't need elaboration on the album.  In their live acts, they do spend some time improvising and soloing, but it's usually just a few short bars, like it is on the album.  I am a major fan of instrumental solos and improvisation, especially in such a blues-influenced genre, so it is just a tiny bit disappointing to not hear any of that on this album.  Maybe improvisation isn't their strong point and they spend their time crafting perfect pop melodies and hooks instead.

Well, what are you waiting for?  GET RIGHT. and get the album right now!  $9.99 on iTunes, or save fifty cents and get it on Google Play or Amazon mp3.  You can also "try before you buy" and stream the entire album via SoundCloud on Paste's website.

P.S.  It's funny to watch how far the band has come from their live videos.  In their first shows they were sporting crummy instruments and off-brand amps in tiny venues, and nowadays they rock Gretsch and Gibson guitars with big Marshall and Orange amps and huge effects racks, and they have a killer live sound.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Listening Lately: Matisyahu

Yeah, I know, I'm late to the party.  Everybody's favorite Hasidic Jew/reggae-rapper Matthew Paul Miller, known as Matisyahu, has been making feel-good spiritually-influenced music and winning fans since 2004.  And he shaved off his glorious beard in 2011 (I'm a big beard fan myself, although his was just a tiny bit excessive).  But still, this isn't a blog where I blog about new or notable music.  I blog about what I've been listening to and enjoying, and that can be anything from Led Zeppelin to Anoushka Shankar, hitting Cab Calloway and Ladysmith Black Mambazo and everything else in between along the way.  

So lately I've been listening to a lot of Matisyahu, and in the last month he's been my second most-listened to artist, losing only to the Beatles (and only because I spent seven hours on the ski slopes one weekend listening to nothing but the Beatles).  Top artist by month is the only way I can keep track of my music trends, because my tastes change so radically from month to month, and usually I'll go on about a one-month binge of a certain artist or a certain style.  Some months it's nothing but Celtic music, other months it's nothing but Vampire Weekend and fun.  So I can only keep decent track of stuff like this in a small timeframe.

I got into Matisyahu because I was listening to a lot of Indie Reggae stuff that I found on NoiseTrade, and I happened to come across a free live album that Matisyahu is giving away on NoiseTrade.  It's called Five7Seven2 Live, and it's a compilation of Matisyahu's favorite live recordings from his "Spark Seeker" tour in 2012.  The album title is a reference to the year 5772 on the Hebrew Calendar, which covered most of 2012, when the tracks were recorded.  It's a great live album, with a lot of the organic, back-to-roots feel that is missing in Matisyahu's latest, over-produced studio albums that are full of noise and "featured" Pop and Hip-Hop artists.

P.S.  NoiseTrade is the most amazing site I've found in my life and I've downloaded almost 600 (now 700) tracks of free, legal, music in the last two months from them, and it has completely changed my life and my listening habits, and motivated me to blog about music and my musical experiences more.  You should go there right now and download everything you can get your hands on.  It's limited to ten albums per day per email address, but if you have more than one email address, well then...  You know what I mean?

So I like his live album, but I've been listening to three of his studio albums, too:  Light, Youth, and Spark Seeker.  

Youth is his sophomore record, and reflects his early influences on his music:  His personal spirituality, his experiences with Judaism, Jerusalem, and stories from the Old Testament.  It suffers a little bit from the "sophomore curse" where it's trying to outdo his first record, and thus feels a little bit over-produced and too glossy at some points, especially when compared with his Live at Stubb's album, which was released right before Youth.  There are some really great tracks on it, though.  The ever-popular "King Without a Crown" and "Jerusalem" are some of my favorites, as well as "Fire of Heaven/Altar of Earth" and "WP" (my guess is that it stands for "World Peace" but I'm not sure).

Light comes from 2009 and features a much more mature, comfortable-sounding Matisyahu, content in his niche and respected enough to collaborate with other artists, while somehow managing to get them to avoid the profanity-laced hate speech that sometimes quite often accompanies modern rap.  Everybody in the world who watched the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics is familiar with the track "One Day", featured on this album.  Other gems include "We Will Walk", "Struggla", and "Motivate".

Lastly, Spark Seeker features the new beardless Matisyahu singing a lot of modern rock/rap stuff, abandoning his signature reggae style for a fairly mainstream sound with lots of sampling and studio magic taking over.  I still quite like "Sunshine" (who doesn't?), "I Believe in Love", "Live Like a Warrior" and "Shine On".  Lots of happy songs in between the strange-sounding stuff on this album.

Well, I'm not sure what format I want my music posts to take quite yet.  I'm not really blogging to make money, and this isn't a persuasive essay trying to convince you to go out and buy Matisyahu's music, and it's not something cathartic or egotistical that I'm doing, so I don't really know what kind of conclusion to put on this post.  Just listen to him!  And thank me that you did!  Because my music taste is better than yours because I have fourteen years of extensive musical training!  Ha ha.  I'll try not to be too elitist, either.  I enjoy a good pop song as much as the next guy.  I just also happen to love jazz and classical and world music and other stuff.

All of the albums I mentioned are the exact same price on iTunes, Amazon mp3, or Google Play Music, so take your pick.  The live album is only available on NoiseTrade, and is completely free, but you can leave a tip of any amount if you want.  Amazon mp3 doesn't charge tax, although the only way to get the music locally on your computer is by downloading it through their annoying Amazon Cloud Player software.  I prefer Google Play Music, personally, because it immediately syncs to my Samsung Galaxy S4 without me having to do anything, and because files from Google Play are available as 320 Kbps mp3s.

More reviews to come very soon, with a decidedly Indie flavor to them, since that's what I've been listening to the most lately.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Frontier Justice, Facebook-Style

So I got an interesting message when I logged into Facebook yesterday: I had been charged, arrested, tried, sentenced, and punished for a crime that I would argue I didn't commit.  And all this within the twelve-hour gap between then and the last time I had signed into Facebook. Also I didn't get the chance to have a lawyer or a jury!  I'm pretty sure there was no judge present, either, because if there had been, this case would have been tossed right out of court.

Apparently a photo that I had posted had violated the Facebook "Community Standards" and had been removed from my account without any prior warning and without any reason given as to why it was removed or when and where and who decided to remove it. Furthermore, I was notified that I was banned from posting or sharing anything on Facebook for the next twelve hours, and I was warned that future infractions could result in my Facebook account being permanently locked.

Well, as a mild-mannered, law-abiding cyber-citizen, I was a little bit shocked and upset and annoyed at this unprovoked announcement, especially given the content of the picture that was removed and that earned me this ban, which Facebook was helpful enough to show me on my main screen as the first thing I saw when I signed in. It was also coincidentally a good friend's birthday that day on Facebook, and I had signed in solely to post a snarky message with a funny inside-joke photo on his timeline, and because of my ban, I had to wait until after midnight to finally be able to wish my friend a happy birthday. So the ban was more than a little bit inconvenient for me, as well.

The offending image is featured below. Proceed at your own risk, because according to Facebook's content filters, it might be NSFW!

That's right, people, the photo that got removed and got me temporarily banned from Facebook was a photo of me posing with my Salvadoreño buddies Carlos and Benjamín in their living room as I finished a two-year LDS proselyting mission in Houston, Texas, and prepared to return home. How scandalous of me to have even dared to post something as appalling as this photo to my profile! If you can't already tell, there's going to be some heavy sarcasm in the rest of this post. You might want to get out your sarcasm-umbrellas just in case before you wade ahead.

So since I was being punished for violating Facebook's "Community Standards", I figured I would research the Community Standards, prepare a rebuttal for every point that they possibly could have hit me for, and send Facebook a loving little note with my feelings and comments. Only there's no real way to directly contact Facebook and expect a response back - another gripe I have. So I filled out a dumb feedback form and I hope some chump at Corporate Headquarters might give my message the time of day in a week or a month or so and get a little kick out of it and then ultimately, absolutely nothing meaningful will get done. But I figured I'd whine about my experience in the public forum a little bit as well.

So here are all of Facebook's Community Standards headings (found here for reference), with the reason why my removed photo does NOT violate them:

"Violence and Threats"
Carlos and I do have our arms around each others' shoulders, but I assure Facebook and The Public that we were not locked in a death grip, neither were we trying to squeeze each others' heads off. And my arm is not heavy enough to have caused Carlos any permanent spinal cord injuries or anything like that from me resting its hulking weight on his shoulders, so I fail to see how this photo includes any violence of any kind. Also there is no theft or vandalism occurring in the photo, which is also included under this section in Facebook's guidelines. Except I'm not quite sure where Benjamín might have gotten his sunglasses...

No self-mutilation. I do have a left arm, it's just hidden behind Benjamín! And I definitely do not have an eating disorder. And I'm not strung out on any hard drugs, seeing as how I was a full-time missionary representative of Jesus Christ for two years of my life during the time the photo was taken.

"Bullying and Harassment"
Yes, I admit that Carlos and Benjamín are both quite a bit bigger and buffer than I am, but they were not extorting money from me or planning on beating me up or abusing me in any way. At least I hope they weren't.  I got away from them without any problems, at least.  We're taking a friendly picture in their living room before I board a plane and fly home, for crying out loud!  How could it be construed as bullying or harassment?

"Hate Speech"
Yes, Carlos and Benjamín are Hispanic, and yes, I am a white-bread gringo, bolillo, güero, etc. But I spent the last two years of my life learning Spanish (I'm completely fluent now), being immersed in the Spanish culture and lifestyle, and working with and serving the Hispanic people. I learned to love the Hispanic people, not to hate and discriminate against them. I would argue that the reason I posted the picture of me with my friends who happen to be Hispanic is because I am not a racist but I am in fact friends with these people.

"Graphic Content"
Facebook refers to excessive violence and gore as "Graphic Content". I don't see any blood at all in the picture, unless you count the small scab on Benjamín's shoulder. Dang, that's some intensely graphic content right there. I should have looked closer before I posted a picture of a guy with a scab on his arm. I should have been more sensitive to those Facebook users with queasy stomachs who don't like to see blood and gore in photos.

"Nudity and Pornography"
Not unless you count the bare shoulders of men in cut-off T-shirts as being pornographic. And I KNOW that Facebook lets a whole heck of a lot worse than this picture slide skankily under their radar...

"Identity and Privacy"
I did in fact tag my two friends in this picture, because I am actually friends with them on Facebook also. Now, unless my tagging them in the picture somehow violates their Identity and Privacy rights as defined by Facebook, then I'm pretty sure I'm in the clear. I was, of course, just following the trends and patterns of the ONE BILLION other Facebook users who post pictures and tag their friends in them all the time. There might have been a policy change concerning tagging friends that I wasn't aware of that happened in the last two years while I was a missionary, but somehow I doubt it.

"Intellectual Property"
This is where I'll admit that I've got the shakiest argument as to my right to have this picture on Facebook. Since I am technically the subject of the photo, and a fourth friend of ours was the one who actually took the photo, then I suppose that I technically am not the copyright holder of this image. Even though this photo was taken on my camera with my SD card and our friend consented to take the picture for us, I suppose that since he is the one who physically pushed the shutter button of my camera, that he is the photographer who controls the "artwork" that was created and I should have asked for his permission in writing before I shared his intellectual property on my personal Facebook profile. And then I should have provided a disclaimer at the bottom of the photo. ...But seriously, if that is the reason the photo was blocked then they're going to have to block every single Facebook account of everyone in the world who is not a teenage girl (because they always take the self-portrait-with-friends shots where they hold the camera in reverse out in front of them with their own arms, so they are actually the copyright holders of their pictures).

"Phishing and Spam"
In the comment underneath this picture, I asked for Carlos and Benjamín to "like" my picture and then provide their Social Security numbers and bank account PINs in the comments section. I apologize for my audacity in trying to scam people out of their money.

I also sold a copy of this photo to a secret government hit team whose purpose is to take out people who immigrate to the United States legally with visas and green cards. And I actually wasn't even a missionary at all; I was just pretending to be one so I could gather dirt ("el lalo" in Mexican slang) on the Hispanic population of Houston for two years and then report back to my superiors. Facebook must have figured it out and removed this picture as an attempt to keep me from delivering my top-secret information...
Well, those are seriously all of the Facebook "Community Standards" and I honestly can find zero instances where my picture of me with friends could possibly have violated any of these standards. And it's ridiculous that Facebook removed my picture and banned me indiscriminately, without even bothering to review the photo or to check for accuracy of the violation claim. My best guess as to what happened is that somebody (a friend of Carlos or Benjamín's who saw the photo perhaps) clicked the "Report" link next to the photo, either intentionally or accidentally, and Facebook immediately removed the photo without even bothering to check up on the claim.

In conclusion, I... don't have a conclusion. I'm just annoyed. There's nothing really I can do to fix this. I just thought it was highly unjust and ridiculous and maybe someday I can actually post photos of me with friends without getting burned by Facebook.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Just A Little Ranting

This post is about musical instrument transportation. Some past events have stirred some reflections and ideas on this subject, and I figured this would be a good venue to express my thoughts in full.

Everybody always complains about having to lug their instruments around to gigs and performances. It's pretty much a given in a musician's life. "My double bass is enormous AND I have to take an electric bass too"; "I hate dragging my bulky drum set around"; "my contrabass clarinet is so unwieldy"; "my tuba's so heavy, my arms are going to fall off"; et cetera, et cetera. However, I'd like to submit that us piano players have definitely got it the hardest when it comes to performing in varied venues.

Sure, I understand that carrying a big instrument around is a pain in the butt. I play the euphonium and the trombone in concert band, so I've lugged my fair share of bulky instruments around. However, even though his instrument weighs as much as he does, at least the sousaphone player gets to carry his own instrument around.
At least musicians with portable (or even semi-portable) instruments get to choose the quality of their instrument and get to play an instrument they're familiar with.

Piano players have no such luck. Their instruments are so big and heavy that transporting a piano to a performance is completely impractical and mostly impossible, unless you're fantastically famous like Elton John and you have to have your flaming red piano with you everywhere you go. Normal pianists are completely at the mercy of the establishment to provide them with an instrument, and sometimes the instruments available leave a lot to be desired.

I play the piano in a jazz combo with a few friends that all have pretty big instruments, and we play gigs at restaurants and venues all over our local area. The tenor sax player has a pretty big case to carry around, the bassist has a big double bass and an electric bass and a big amp, and the drummer has all the different cymbals and toms and bits and pieces. Since I almost never take my own instrument (we occasionally take a digital piano for me when there's no alternative), I end up helping load and unload other peoples' equipment all the time. The drummer always says "Thanks for helping me, man. Carrying my drums around everywhere is such a pain", and I always think "it's a bigger pain to not be able to carry an instrument around. I'd rather be carrying a big bulky instrument around than relying on the mercy of the event organizers."

Throughout the course of our combo's career, I've played on everything from eleven-foot Steinway concert grands, to driftwood pianos with tin strings and only half the keys, to nice-looking pianos that could sound nice if anybody had bothered to tune them in the last fifty years. I've also played on Steinways that sounded terrible (mostly tuning issues) and weird off-brand pianos that sounded and played like a dream. I've seen my fair share of different pianos, and I can definitely say that pianists are at a disadvantage when it comes to instrument transportation. Our bassist gets to carry his beautiful $7,000 double bass with him everywhere, but sometimes I'm stuck with pianos that cost half that and sound like it, too ($7,000 buys a fantastic double bass, but $15,000 is not too much to pay for a decent-quality piano, and that's only at the low end).

The issues with a piano aren't always tuning, either. Sound quality is another huge deciding factor, but that pretty much can't be helped. If the piano's soundboard is crap, then it's crap. But sometimes there are other small problems as well. Sometimes there are keys that don't work. Sometimes only certain keys are out of tune. Sometimes the key action is too low and you can't get good volume out of the piano. Sometimes the damper action is too low and you either get bad sustain or poor cut-off from the sustain pedal. Sometimes the pedals won't work or the action on the pedals will be too low or high. Most of the time, people don't like you dismantling their piano to address these various issues.

Digital pianos are an obvious solution to the problems presented by relying on other peoples' pianos.
They never need to be tuned, they're portable, can be set up easily, are less bulky than acoustic pianos, and you can amplify them and increase the volume easily. However, I dislike digital pianos for many reasons. Sometimes venues I've played have provided digital pianos. Most of the time, they don't realize that a sustain pedal is an absolute necessity when dealing with any sort of piano. I've taken to carrying my own sustain pedal to gigs, just in case, because I've ended up playing pipe-organ style piano - trying to sound fluid and connected without a sustain pedal - one too many times.

Unless you have the most ridiculously expensive digital piano out there, the instrument's synthesized sound will almost always sound like crap. The sound samples, however well blended, still sound nothing remotely like a real piano, and the volume controls are way too finicky. Even if you have a ridiculously nice-sounding digital piano, they just don't feel right.

Digital keyboards with unweighted keys feel way too light, more like a toy than an actual instrument, and it's hard to be accurate and subtle when playing on unweighted keys. Weighted keys, on the other hand, are often weighted too heavily, making the digital piano feel heavy and unwieldy. As with unweighted keys, accuracy and subtlety suffers, especially at faster tempos. I have yet to ever play a digital piano with keys that felt naturally weighted. There's nothing like a good solid block of natural wood mechanically hitting a hammer and pounding the strings on an acoustic piano. Digital just doesn't compare. I'm not entirely opposed to playing digital pianos, and I have played digital pianos for many gigs before, but if there's any alternative at all and any opportunity to play an acoustic piano, I'll usually take it.

Basically, what this all boils down to is: When I'm rich and famous, I'm having my fourteen-foot super-grand piano shipped everywhere I play so I don't have to bother with any of this crap again. If the rich and famous thing doesn't quite happen, I guess I'll have to learn to deal with it, because the problem certainly isn't going away. Unfortunately, there will always be an over-abundance of poorly-tuned, poorly-cared-for pianos out there, and someone will always want you to play them.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Grab A Slice Of CAKE This Summer

As today was the last day of school for me (holy crap, next year I'll be a SENIOR! Then after that I'll have to join the real world!), I figured I'd share one of my favorite summer albums. "Comfort Eagle" by CAKE is an awesome summer album. I bought it at the start of summer last year, and now it epitomizes everything that summer is: Warm, happy, carefree, fun, and lazy. Without further ado: Comfort Eagle is CAKE's fourth studio album. Released in 2001, it's spawned a few good singles, including the hit "Short Skirt/Long Jacket" that I think almost everyone has heard and that almost everyone should love. There are a number of excellent gems on this album, though, besides just the hit single, and I buying the full CD is well worth your money. One of CAKE's better releases, almost every song is catchy and features super-awesome lyrics full of metaphors and wordplay, courtesy of CAKE frontman John McCrea. McCrea's velvety voice shines through on all the tracks (except the instrumental "Arco Arena" of course) and I think the vocal performance is what endears me to CAKE the most (excellent lyrics and awesome bass lines are also big selling points). Whether McCrea is actually singing or sort of rapping/vocalizing makes no difference; he is talented enough to make even rap sound good.

The album opens with "Opera Singer". This is a good fun-in-the-sun summer song with pounding drum machine and sweet meandering guitar lines funky trumpet. There's nothing really special about the song, but it's fun nonetheless.

"Meanwhile, Rick James..." is the second track and is a melancholy song drowning in confusing metaphors and symbolisms. What the heck does "Fawn, Joe, and Tootsie are out on a wire/Lettuce-toothed junkies are full of desire" mean anyway? Not a big Rick James fan myself, I don't know any of his back story, but John McCrea claims to have written this song before ol' Ricky went crazy and became a druggie kidnapper and rapist. He seems to have predicted Ricky's future, then, because it mentions his drug addictions ("Swim in your kidney, kidney shaped pool/Scratching at the bottom for another clue") and his controversies with women pretty accurately.

"Shadow Stabbing" is an awesome song that embodies summer. It's light and bouncy but not quite "poppy". The funky guitar at the beginning is my favorite part, although the melody is pretty freakin' awesome too.

"Short Skirt/Long Jacket" is possibly CAKE's biggest hit, with contenders in "Rock 'N' Roll Lifestyle" and "The Distance". There's a good reason why it's a hit, though: Because it's freaking amazing. Full of wordplay and lists of absurd qualities that McCrea wants in his girl, this one is an instant classic. Great bass, nice overdriven guitar, and sweet trumpet make the music awesome; McCrea's awesome lyrics and light rap make the vocals amazing. My favorite lines are "I want a girl with uninterrupted prosperity/Who uses a machete to cut the red tape/With fingernails that shine like justice/and a voice that is dark like tinted glass". Those lyrics are just so ridiculously hilarious that they get me every time. What the heck does justice look like? What does tinted glass sound like? And I can totally see this ideal girl hacking her way through rules and regulations without a care in the world, as if she was taking a machete to them. It's awesome.

The next few songs are pretty good. "Commissioning a Symphony in C" is pretty fun (funny thing is, it's not really in the key of C. The chorus is in C, but the verses and bridge modulate to F) but nothing special, and the instrumental "Arco Arena" is actually kind of boring, although it makes for some nice filler.

"Comfort Eagle" is a hard-rock Indian-influences song that's pretty sweet. The lyrics are lashing out against the music industry and comparing it to some trashy cheap religion that gives out trinkets in exchange for loyalty. It's pretty cool, and it's fun to sing along with the "Calling you DUDE!" parts.

The last four songs are all really nicely-built songs full of good lyrics. "Love You Madly" especially is a good song about wanting to love a girl without all the crap that comes with relationships like unreasonable commitments and commercialism-laced holidays. Other than that, none of the other songs are tremendously note-worthy.

Most of the songs on the album are just part of the wash and they're not specifically stand-out songs, but the particular "wash" of the Comfort Eagle album is set at a surprisingly high standard. None of the songs are weak, but few of them are particularly strong singles-worthy songs. CAKE is not about being amazing rockin' musicians that kick butt and take names every time they pick up their instruments, CAKE is about making good music and having fun. CAKE is the ultimate lounge band, and they show it. This is not music to perform covers of at a rock concert (with the exception of "Short Skirt/Long Jacket"), but it's excellent music to listen to when you're just hanging out or driving down the road. I don't know what qualities make a good "summer album" but this one had that label jump into my head from the first time I listened to it, and to me it feels like it fits that label perfectly.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Make Room, Weezer!

Bringing you yet another review of an emerging artist, the artist I'm spotlighting today is the band "Switches". They're a British band who has only been around long enough to release one EP and a full-length album. I'll review their album farther down the page, as part of the emerging-artist spotlight.

Switches play energetic powerpop with mixes of other, older genres laced throughout. They're not far removed from Weezer, although they turn the rock meter up a little bit higher than the Weez boys. Switches are very big fans of Weezer, though, drawing inspiration from the Blue Album and Pinkerton and the Green Album, as well as going to one of the famed Weezer Hootenannies this past year. The individual members of Switches have very eclectic music tastes, from 80's pop to 60's bop to Britpop and etc. etc. The prominent genre is powerpop, but there are many brilliant little genre shifts throughout their songs.

Switches' first album is titled "Lay Down The Law". While not very musically new or unique, it's a fun rockin' ride all the way through, with few dead moments and no real filler tracks. Right from the starting gate, with "Drama Queen", Switches set the rocking-out standard and they keep it for most of the album. There are a few boring moments in "Snakes And Ladders" but the track has been slowly growing on me, mostly because of the great vocal parts. The title track, "Lay Down The Law" should have been a massive summer hit (it was still a summer hit, but not on a huge scale). Kind of inane lyrics and a great rockin' feel keep this song marching forward all the way until it ends all too soon. Despite the strong face that "Lay Down The Law" showed, the next track doesn't disappoint or feel like filler. "Coming Down" is an excellent song sung in the Ric Ocasek/Cars style and it's great. The album slows down for "The Need To Be Needed" and features some great falsetto by singer/lead guitar Matt Bishop. The next tracks, "Message From Yuz" and "Every Second Counts" are fairly uneventful, although the killer hook in "Message From Yuz" and the vocals in "Every Second Counts" both deserve mentioning. "Step Kids In Love" is a great piano rocker with some very dark pounding piano at the beginning and some weird plinking later on. "Lovin' It" is kind of a boring song but you forget all about its mediocrity when "Killer Karma" comes on. "Killer Karma" is the best song on the album by far, with everything from a great hook to excellent lyrics and snotty vocals to an interesting rhythm that is part Latin, part one-drop reggae. The album closes with "Testify", which starts out boring but ends strong.

All in all, Switches are definitely a band to watch for in the future. Switches feel as though they're just getting comfortable with themselves as a band, and the stories from each of their members (especially Matt Bishop - playing electric guitar and overdubbing songs at age four and recording hundreds of conflicting-style songs as a teen) leave hope that they'll only get better with time. Hopefully they'll be breaking into the US music scene in full force in the next few years with a new album release that could possibly be even better than this one.

Their entire album, as well as some remixes and B-Sides, is available for streaming on MySpace Music. Seriously, it's a great resource for stuff like this.

Switches' MySpace page
Switches' official web site
Switches' official "DGC/Interscope" web site
(There are multiple Switches websites out there. The former is beautiful and brilliant and has tons of excellent information, including a full band bio. The latter is an ugly, messy, DGC/Interscope cut-and-paste band website that has more than its share of bugs and glitches and has no relevant information. I'm just linking it to make you aware of the two contrasting sites and to let you know that there is a better Switches website out there. I guess the one thing the DGC one has going for it is that there's a forum/message board/comments system, so you can leave messages for the band if you so desire.)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Step Aside, Coldplay!

The new kings of melodic atmosphere rock have arrived! If only they had the exposure, I'm sure they would be able to whup Coldplay and take their spot on the top. I'm doing my part here to help it happen, I guess.

The band I'm talking about it called "Low vs Diamond" and I have been unable to stop listening to them since I discovered them about a month ago. Their sound/style is like that of Coldplay's. It's a little heavier on the rock and they have no true acoustic songs, but the music contains the same soaring melodies and the same weird atmosphere/ambience noise in the background.

They're a new band, with only a self-titled debut album, but the eleven songs on it are so great that I could listen to them for days on end (and that is
not an exaggeration).

The best song on the album serves as the first track, which in most cases is a mistake, but the rest of the songs on the album are excellent enough that the order doesn't matter too much. Just don't leave "Don't Forget Sister" on repeat for too long or you'll wear a groove in your CD and then you won't be able to listen to the rest of the album.

"Don't Forget Sister" is an excellent song that builds gradually into an amazing final section. It starts out with some drums and some piano and some atmosphere and some vocals, then builds and builds into a full-out barrage of awesome alternative pop/rock and finishes with soaring melodies that you can't help singing along with. It's really no surprise that this song landed number 59 o
n Rolling Stone's list of the 100 Best Songs of 2008, even though the band still labors in relative obscurity. It's just so amazing.

The rest of the album explores other pop/rock ideas and structures. There is not much acoustic guitar on the album, and it always takes a backseat to the other instruments when there is. There's a fair amount of piano, though. No other styles are explored, so it's not an album that will satisfy everyone, but for anyone who enjoys excellent melodies and meaningful lyrics, I recommend this album. Heck, "Don't Forget Sister" itself is almost worth the cost of the entire album.

Before you purchase, you can listen to the album in its entirety on the band's MySpace page. That's a great new feature from MySpace. I love being able to listen to full albums before I make a decision of whether or not to buy the album. It's great, and you should give it a try with artists that you enjoy as well as new artists that you've discovered.

Low vs Diamond's MySpace page
Low vs Diamond's official website

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Weezer Day!

I guess we'll get the 2009 archives started up now, with this first post of mine in the new year. I have really neglected my blog lately because I don't really use it for small personal updates, and my posts about other things are generally big and long. I just haven't sat down and typed up a big long blog post in a while. My Twitter account is very active, however, and if you want more poojalooba_cow, I suggest you folllow me on Twitter rather than checking up on this blog frequently, because this blog's update schedule is anything but frequent. It might possibly be getting a little busier in the next little while, because I've got some ideas for content that I can blog about. I want to do some CD reviews and some Emerging Artist profiles, and I'll slap them up here on this blog when I get around to writing them.

Anyway, today, Weezer, as a band, turns 17 years old. Sure, it's also Valentine's Day, but I prefer to remember Weezer's birthday instead of some corporate commercialist "holiday". Weezer has come a long way since their humble beginnings in "The Garage" in LA in 1992. Most of it has been good, some of it has been for the worse. I guess I'll go over a little bit of that in this post.

Also, last weekend Weezer won their first Grammy in their career - their song Beverly Hills received a Grammy nomination in 2006 for "Best Rock Song" but they honestly didn't deserve to win that because Beverly Hills is the worst song that Rivers Cuomo ever wrote (the sweet talkbox solos don't even make up for the awful rest of it). This time, they really did deserve the Grammy for Best Short Form Music Video - the video for Pork and Beans is hilarious and was the most-watched video on YouTube for a number of weeks. The song itself also spent eleven weeks at the top of the Billboard Modern Rock chart, but the Grammy award wasn't for the song. Maybe someday if Weezer picks up the game a little bit, someday they might win a Grammy for the actual music they perform. In my opinion, Weezer hasn't released any Grammy-worthy songs since 1996's Pinkerton album, except maybe Hold Me on the Make Believe album (but it wasn't released as a single so it didn't receive enough exposure). I still love Weezer, but their songs are not the best of the best, the cream of the crop (the exceptions are of course, Pinkerton and The Blue Album, which are absolutely amazing instead of just fun like the other Weezer albums).

Hopefully with this new "business model" that Weezer is pursuing - with every band member contributing to the songwriting and other creative processes that used to be hoarded by frontman Rivers Cuomo - the Weez boys can maybe earn back some respect from fans of the old Weezer, as well as gaining new fans and good critical reviews without falling back on tired pop formulas.

I saw Weezer in concert during their 2008 Troublemaker Tour (on October 7, 2008) and it was the most awesome thing I've ever seen. They were way better than they have ever sounded on an album, and Rivers sounded great (I'd seen live videos of Weezer before and Rivers sounded pretty bad, but he sounded excellent in concert. I also learned later that he had just recovered from a head cold. It didn't reflect in his vocal performances at all). Despite all the awesome music, one of the most excellent things at the concert was the statement that Rivers made at the end: "See you next year." That implies, in a vague and subject-to-change way, that Weezer was going to record and release another album quickly and go back on tour in 2009. I heard rumors that Weezer was scheduled to head back into the studio in November 2008, but then Brian Bell quashed that rumor and stated that Weezer had no definite future plans other than enjoying the Red Album for a while. However, recently I've heard reports, from sources very close to the band, that Weezer is working at least part-time in the studio with Jacknife Lee and that means there's possibly an album due at about the same time the Red Album came out last year, and possibly a subsequent tour. Rivers has said that he wants to tour again in 2009. I don't think he'll tour for the Red Album again (Weezer has never done two tours in between albums, except during their five-year hiatus between Pinkerton and the Green Album). I think this means that we can probably expect a Weezer album out in the second half of 2009 somewhere, and hopefully there will be some Grammy-worthy stuff on it this time!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The Newspaper Music Video

About a month ago, Jman--8 and I decided it'd be fun to make a music video for one of the songs that I had written. Over the course of three days we recorded all the content, and then Jman--8 spent the better part of a month diligently working on editing the video. His efforts have finally paid off with an awesome music video that I'm very impressed with. My only complaint is that the guitars are a tiny bit out-of-sync in some parts (Jman--8 is not a musician, so he didn't have any past experience to work with). Other than that small hitch, I love the video, and I think Jman--8 did an excellent job. Visit the YouTube link or watch it embedded below!

Thanks for watching!