Crush on Radio, S2E13: Hornographic

If it's been a while since you checked out Crush on Radio, my music podcast with Richard J. Anderson and Matt Keeley, I recommend our latest. We discuss new albums by Franz Ferdinand and John Mayer, plus X-Ray Spex and much more:

This week, a long discussion on separating art and artists, vis-à-vis John Mayer and Kanye West. Also, discussion of our fall concert schedules, the upcoming Long Winters show in NYC, big concert lineups, Adult Album Alternative radio, what is and isn’t “country”, punk vocals, and not much else in this jam-packed episode.

You might just discover your new favorite song. Give it a listen.

Music Diaries

Frank Chimero has taken my musical time capsule concept to a whole new level with music diaries:

At the beginning of 2011, I started a music diary on Rdio. I’d make a new list of frequently listened-to songs each month, and ledger them into a playlist without worrying about how it all sounded together. It was a garbage plate of music.

[...]

Now, as I start the first list for 2013, it feels like I’ve stepped into a time machine when I glance over previous months and years. Sticking a song to a month and year turns it into a more spacious memory palace.

I've quickly fallen in love with several songs from his 2012 shortlist, like Beach House's "Other People" and Bat for Lashes' "Marilyn". Both artists I'd never heard of before.

I wrote about Rdio a few months ago, and the more use it, the more I like it, especially given its social features.

I'm definitely going to start making music diaries. You can subscribe to Frank's playlists via his Rdio profile. My profile is here.

Stop Googling Lyrics with Strophes

When given the choice between a native app and a web app, I will invariably choose the former. I don't see the appeal of opening my browser, navigating to a website, and logging in instead of just tapping an icon on iOS or launching an app with Alfred in OS X. Native apps reduce friction.

Take Twitter, for example. I very rarely use twitter.com because I can launch Tweetbot in two seconds with a tap or keystroke. Logging into twitter.com is cumbersome by comparison.

However, there is one task for which I've always had to rely on my browser, and that's searching for lyrics.

I love music, so I look up lyrics on a regular basis. Fortunately, Alfred removes considerable friction from this task: ⌘ + Space to bring up Alfred, type "[name of song] lyrics", hit Enter, and boom — instant Google search.

But, I still have to wait for my browser to open, and then I have to click on one of the search results. And really, that's way to much work for 2012.

Enter Strophes.

Strophes is a lyric reader for your Mac.

Why do you need this? Because it loads the lyrics automatically. That's right; no searching required.

Open Strophes, and the lyrics to whatever song is playing in iTunes, Rdio, Spotify, or Radium will automatically be displayed. Changing the song changes the lyric. You don't have to do a thing. If Strophes can't find lyrics, you can click a button to search Google instead. You can also search for lyrics within the app, and it offers Last.fm bios for the artist you're listening to.

Strophes has a few preferences, including three themes, the ability to translate lyrics into five languages, and a Safari extension you can use to display lyrics for YouTube videos. The selection of typefaces is poor (Noteworthy, Bradley Hand ITC TT, and — fortunately — Helvetica), but I'm willing to overlook it because of just how handy Strophes is.

Launching the app is faster than searching Google, and if you frequently find yourself looking up lyrics, you'll love Strophes.

See Federico Viticci's review for more.

Get Strophes for $4.99 on the Mac App Store.

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Crush On Radio #10: "The Internet is a Void"

Our tenth episode is a tour de force:

Rich and Andrew are joined by the brilliant Jonathan Pfeffer of Capillary Action for a rollercoaster ride of a show, talking about being in a band versus being a solo performer in this day and age, the brilliance and horror of Prince, Jeff Mangum’s mythical status, the National, tall singers, setting expectations for music and missing them, the value of criticism, and so much more.

Picks this week are: Prince, Liars, and Neutral Milk Hotel

This is one of my favorite episodes of Crush On Radio. No joke required.

Go forth:

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Review: Rush's Clockwork Angels

To fully understand the significance of Rush’s new record, Clockwork Angels, one must look at it in the context of the band’s entire discography.

Their twentieth studio album, Clockwork Angels is a monstrous musical achievement, replete with the imagery, thematic elements, and technical virtuosity fans have come to expect from the holy triumvirate. But beyond all that, what makes the album truly satisfying is the knowledge that Geddy Lee, Alex Lifeson, and Neil Peart can not only still tolerate each other after almost forty years together, but also put out some of the best music of their career.

Rush is defined by — among other things — different periods and changes in musical direction. They began with the blues-based, Zeppelin-inspired rock of their 1974 self-titled debut before transitioning into their epic progressive era, which reached a peak with 2112 in 1976. The albums that followed — A Farewell to Kings and Hemispheres — featured even more epic tracks, unparalleled musicianship, and fantastic elements.

The weight of Hemispheres, with its eighteen-minute opening suite and nine-and-a-half minute instrumental, “La Villa Strangiato”, caused Rush to immediately switch direction with 1980’s Permanent Waves and the seminal Moving Pictures in 1981. These records saw more accessible, radio-friendly songs, although they featured no less instrumental process and contain some of the band’s most well-known pieces.

As the 80s wore on, the band’s synthetic side came to the forefront with increasingly keyboard-driven songs and less prominent guitar work. This stylistic direction would last through 1987’s Hold Your Fire. Fans of Rush’s heavier side were finally placated with 1993’s Counterparts, an aggressive alternative rock record, and 1996’s Test for Echo, the last album to be released before the tragic loss of Neil Peart’s daughter and wife within a year’s time.

After a lengthy and painful hiatus, 2002’s Vapor Trails saw the band’s triumphant return, and it was followed with Snakes & Arrows in 2007.

Snakes & Arrows is a solid modern rock record, and although it’s laden with faith-based lyrics and imagery, the songwriting and musicianship remain quite strong.

Five years later, we arrive at Clockwork Angels.

In the Rush chronology, of which I have just given you a brief synopsis, there are several landmark records. 2112 and Moving Pictures in particular are often cited as the “must-listen” Rush albums, and I agree. These records are unquestionably regarded as some of the band’s best work. Where the other albums rank is mostly a matter of personal preference. Personally, I prefer the progressive era of the mid to late seventies, particularly Hemispheres.

With so many records and so much achieved, it’s hard to imagine the band topping itself after so long.

And yet, Clockwork Angels is a landmark in the band’s career.

Notably, it’s a concept album, complete with an upcoming novelization by Kevin J. Anderson:

In a young man’s quest to follow his dreams, he is caught between the grandiose forces of order and chaos. He travels across a lavish and colorful world of steampunk and alchemy, with lost cities, pirates, anarchists, exotic carnivals, and a rigid Watchmaker who imposes precision on every aspect of daily life.

That’s the album in a nutshell. For all of Clockwork Angels’ variety — straight ahead rock, sweeping multilayered pieces, crunchy grooves, and (by Rush standards) quiet moments of reflection — it remains one of the band’s most cohesive records. There is no need to skip any of the eleven tracks here. Each is a memorable entry in the band’s catalog, and together they create a powerful body of music that stands up to even their most lauded records.

The album opens with the thunderous “Caravan”, heralding the band’s return with a stomping groove and tales of “a world lit only by fire”. The song features one of Geddy’s all-time best bass solos before continuing its onslaught.

“Caravan” segues into “BU2B”, which now features a wistful acoustic opening. It quickly explodes into one of the band’s heaviest tracks, however, giving “Stick It Out” a run for its money. Both “Caravan” and “BU2B” were released as radio singles in 2010 prior to the Time Machine Tour, but they take on new meaning here in the context of Clockwork Angels, and they’re stronger for it.

The seven-and-a-half minute title track follows, opening with quiet, wailing vocals before creating a foundation of droning guitar, driving cymbals, and churning bass. The track swells for a full minute before blossoming into its first verse. Despite the holy quality of the song’s title, “Clockwork Angels” doesn’t lack anything in the power department. But rather than achieve its greatness through sheer aggression, it opts to soar “synchronized and graceful” into our ears. One can’t help but imagine the titular angels in flight above some grand gothic cathedral. The song is multilayered and sweeping, and it’s absolutely worthy of carrying the album’s namesake.

The familiarity of the first two tracks and the beauty of “Clockwork Angels” makes the album easy to get into on a first listen. But with the fourth track, “The Anarchist”, we find ourselves in true uncharted territory. Admittedly, the middle of the album was the most challenging for me to digest. That’s not to say it’s weaker than its bookends. Rather, it requires the most time to get to know.

“The Anarchist” is a guitar-driven track with a slight Middle Eastern flair. It’s also full of bass and drum fills that will make any Rush fan smile. The song alternates between dark and uplifting tones and contains a subtle hook while maintaining the high level of musicianship and powerful imagery set by the first three tracks.

“Carnies” is a strong companion piece to “The Anarchist” in that it also features heavy guitar and moves between a speeding chorus and slower, churning verses. The album’s steampunk themes continue here, with “the smell of flint and steel”. Neil’s drumming is particularly driving, and the track stops on a dime, emphasizing the trio’s ability to work as one.

We’re granted a respite with “Halo Effect”, a song about “a goddess with wings on her heels”. It’s one of the album’s quietest tracks, although Rush fans know that the band’s definition of “quiet” is far from the norm. It’s also the shortest full track on the album and features a beautiful bridge section. After the frenetic rage of “The Anarchist” and “Carnies”, “Halo Effect” provides a wonderful oasis of strings and elegance.

Lucky #7, “Seven Cities of Gold” will immediately have Rush fans grinning from ear to ear as it opens with some of Geddy Lee’s greatest bass work to date. The song’s title belies its personality; this is Rush at its funkiest. But unlike “Roll the Bones”, you’ll find no hip-hop influences here. Rather, we are reminded that for all their technical virtuosity, Rush is still capable of writing a great hook that’s anything but simple. The driving backbeat and crunchy groove will have listeners bobbing their heads for all six-and-a-half minutes.

Supposedly, Alex and Geddy switched instruments while writing “The Wreckers”, but the result is anything but a gimmick. It’s a medium-tempo tune with one of the best choruses in the band’s catalog. Perhaps no other song on the album encourages a singalong as when Geddy cries, “All I know is that sometimes you have to be wary / Of a miracle too good to be true”. There’s also a gorgeous, chilling bridge, as the story of a ship being lured to its doom unfolds, “washed away in the pounding waves”.

The 7:21 monster, “Headlong Flight” was released to radio stations earlier this year, accompanied by a lyric music video. Despite being a single, this one is sure to please diehard Rush fans, as the music recalls “Bastille Day” with its bass and drum fills and high-flying chorus. The song takes no prisoners, and the instrumentation is relentless from start to finish. As its name implies, “Headlong Flight” is a high point in an album of consistently great performances.

“BU2B2” is a brief, ominous, string-driven piece, detailing the failure of belief. For all its sobriety, though, there remains a ray of light: “Life goes from bad to worse / I still choose to live”.

It’s a dark cloud that fades with the opening notes of “Wish Them Well”, probably the most accessible track with its memorable chorus and vocal hooks. It may be the most overt song on the record, but it’s also the “happiest” sounding. After all, “It’s not worth singing that same sad song… All that you can do is wish them well”.

It’s hard to imagine how such a grand album could or should end, but Rush pulls it off with “The Garden”, a song unlike anything else in their catalog. It opens with gorgeous strings and beautiful arpeggiated bass work before Alex’s acoustic guitar takes over for the verse. The chorus is powerful and will inspire more than a few goosebumps over “a garden to nurture and protect”. The album’s final minutes feature a wonderfully grandiose guitar solo before the vocals and strings carry us off beyond the horizon. One always wonders whether it’s better to end an album with a bang or with a moment of thoughtful reflection. Perhaps uncharacteristically, Rush chooses the latter, and it’s the perfect conclusion to a concept album that promises to and succeeds at taking us on a far-reaching musical journey.

Clockwork Angels’ cover art features swirling red clouds and a clock displaying the time 9:12, i.e. “21:12”. It’s a fitting homage to the band’s first towering achievement, and yet Clockwork Angels features very little in the way of nostalgia. Rather, it’s incredibly forward-looking. The Rush of 2012 is clearly at the peak of their powers, and amazingly, they are still capable of producing work on-par with their most timeless albums. It’s comforting and inspiring to see three men who’ve been together for almost forty years put out something of this caliber.

Clockwork Angels is a brilliant addition to the band’s discography, and it’s more than worthy of being their twentieth record. As a Rush fan, I couldn’t be happier with it.

Solving a Music Workflow Problem

In the spirit of this week’s episode of Crush On Radio, wherein we discuss how we listen to music, I thought I’d write up some additional thoughts, as well as detail a new component to my musical workflow.

I keep all of my music on an external hard drive. I have 13,791 songs in my iTunes library (up from 12,170 after the great iTunes purge). This amounts to 125.85 GB of music, which I don’t want weighing down my three-year-old 15” MacBook Pro.

The downside to this setup is that I have to have my external hard drive plugged into my Mac if I want to listen to my iTunes library. Normally this isn’t a big deal because my MacBook Pro is my only computer, and it’s usually relegated to my desk anyway. I have a TwelveSouth BassJump 2 Subwoofer (which I adore), so my music sounds great when I’m working at my desk/in my room.

However, inconvenience arises when I take my MacBook Pro away from my desk. I can’t cart the BassJump around with me, so I’m left with comparatively wimpy laptop speakers. I could — and usually do — use headphones in these instances to improve sound quality, but that still doesn’t solve the problem of my iTunes library being back at my desk on my external hard drive.

Take this scenario, for example. The other night I decided I wanted to do some writing on the living room couch instead of at my desk. This is awesome because the couch is right in front of the TV, which has been newly outfitted with my dad’s gorgeous Mirage speaker towers. An ideal listening experience.

BUT. My music is still upstairs on my external hard drive.

Blast.

Previously, I’d been getting around this issue by streaming music from my iOS devices to our Apple TV, which is a decent, but less than convenient, solution. My entire library is in iCloud via iTunes Match, which is great, but it means I have to download music to my iOS device before I can listen. That means I have to go to Settings, switch on Show All Music, and navigate my entire library via my iPhone or iPad. Given the size of my library, it’s not the smoothest or fastest setup.

So, I need my iTunes library on my Mac without actually having my iTunes library on my Mac.

Conundrum.

Services like Rdio and Spotify aim to solve this problem by offering streaming music subscriptions. I never gave them much thought because I like having ownership over my library, and I didn’t like the idea of paying a monthly fee for my music.

But, as I sat on the couch with my MacBook Pro on my lap, periodically tapping around on my iPad to stream music to the Apple TV, I knew there had to be a better way. If I’m working on my Mac, controlling my music via a second device is cumbersome. I don’t want to have to take my fingers off the keyboard.

I remembered Shawn Blanc being a big Rdio fan, so I search his site for articles about the app and found this great tip. Shawn uses Rdio in conjunction with Rogue Amoeba’s Airfoil to stream music to his Apple TV.

It sounded like the perfect solution, so I signed up for the $5/month Rdio subscription and downloaded the desktop app. I also bought an Airfoil license from Rogue Amoeba for $25.

This setup works flawlessly.

Rdio’s selection is very good, and the desktop app is well done. You can even match your iTunes library with Rdio’s to build up your music collection, which I wasn’t aware of. (Note: Rdio was able to match only about half of my library, but still more than enough for my needs.) Suddenly, I had access to a good chunk of my music — plus much more — on my Mac without having to overburden my hard drive or be connected to my external. Excellent.

Rdio can’t stream directly to Apple TV via Airplay like iTunes can, so that’s where Airfoil comes in. Airfoil is a simple utility that lets you send music from your Mac to a wide variety of devices. It works great.

I don’t know if I’ll move to Rdio full-time in the future. It doesn’t have every song I have in my iTunes, although I’m sure they’re expanding their selection every day.

Right now, I’m happy to pay the $5 a month to have this flexibility in my music workflow. If you keep your music on an external drive, but wish you could access it from your Mac without fiddling with iOS devices, I highly recommend Rdio + Airfoil. Special thanks to Shawn Blanc for bringing this solution to my attention.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed or benefitted from this article, please consider sharing it with the button below. Perhaps follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.

Crush On Radio #7: "Look at Those Tracksuits"

Our lucky seventh episode:

This week, the Crush On Radio brain trust shares their guilty musical pleasures. It feels good to come clean. We also gush mightily over the new collaboration between St. Vincent and David Byrne, talk about podcasts, the band Barcelona as opposed to the other band Barcelona, female pop stars and the messages they send—Katy Perry in particular. You also can find out what Britney Spears and James Joyce have in common…

This week’s guilty, guilty pics are Yes, Eiffel 65, and Pink (or is it P!nk now?).

We had a lot of fun with this episode, and it’s ripe with shameful embarrassment as we discuss our guilty pleasures.

If you approve, click five stars or leave a review on iTunes. Because we love you. And you’ll inherit millions of dollars.

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Required Listening III

Today’s post is my third Required Listening piece over at First Today, Then Tomorrow.

If would mean the world to me if you clicked over and checked it out.

As always, my thanks to Randy for having me and Penny for making sure I sound smart.

Crush On Radio #5: "Full Price or from the Dollar Bin?"

This week, we inflict upon you… Crush On Radio Episode 5!

In this Siracusa-length episode, the Crush On Radio crew talk about special editions, remastered albums, bonus tracks, and all the things that drive the completionist in us up the wall. We also chat about recent and upcoming shows we’re attending, Victor Wooten, bands injecting politics into shows, bands you respect but aren’t really into, stereo versus mono versions of The Beatles, Pink Floyd, and The Beach Boys albums, how silly concept albums are on paper (or in the case of Rick Wakeman, in actuality), and how much you really need to listen to Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots. Because you do.

Picks this week are: The Flaming Lips, Mike Watt, and Mr. Unloved.

They say girth is more important than length.

Fortunately, we have both.

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Favorite Apps: Recollect

I love music, and I love Twitter, so naturally I love to share music on Twitter.

The thing is, you can’t just tweet a lyric, because people won’t know what song it’s from, and they won’t get to hear it in the context of the song, which is often what makes a lyric great. For me, as per Crush On Radio episode 4, it’s often not the lyrics themselves, but how they are sung. People need to hear your music if there’s any hope of them liking it.

With that in mind, the most effective way to share music on Twitter is using a song preview.

I’ve tried a few different apps for tweeting song previews, including Soundtracking and Path. Both apps do music fairly well.

But I’ve found a new favorite.

Recollect bills itself as “the best way to recommend and discover new music on Twitter”, and I’m inclined to agree.

Unlike Soundtracking, Recollect is beautiful, and unlike Path, it’s specifically designed for tweeting music. It does one thing well. In short, “choose a song, write a brief recommendation, and tweet it.”

Recollect has a news feed where you can view everyone’s recommendations, featured users, your friends, or trends in list or shelf views. These feeds make it very easy to discover new music, and you can “collect” (similar to a Facebook Like) any song to bookmark it for later. Recollect also lets you flip through any user’s recommendations in a record bin style view, which is well done. You can also retweet and reply to people’s tweets, or buy the song in iTunes. Your own profile shows your recommendations, collected songs, and your friends and followers.

At any time, you can compose a new recommendation. There are three options for doing so: search for any song by artist and title, use the song currently playing on your device, or choose a song from your device’s library.

I usually tweet the song I’m currently listening to. If you don’t have album art for the song, Recollect will offer several options and let you pick the best one. Finally, you can include a message, or just use the buttons to automatically input the artist, album, and song. Tap Send, and you’re done.

Besides its speed and ease of use, what makes Recollect so great is the web page it uses to present your recommendations to others. It displays high quality album art, all of the songs information, your message, plus the preview and “Buy on iTunes” buttons. It looks wonderful in mobile view, as well as on the web. I haven’t found an easier or more attractive way to share music on Twitter.

Overall, Recollect might be my favorite app in a long time. It’s beautifully designed, fast, easy to use, and does one thing well. I wish there was a desktop version so I could easily tweet music from my Mac, but that might be on its way.

Recollect is free on the App Store, so there’s really no reason not to check it out. Go get it.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed or benefitted from this article, please consider sharing it with the button below. Perhaps follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.

Crush On Radio #4: "Fan of the Dan"

Our extraordinary fourth episode:

This week, sleep-deprived blabber about the things that make us like music, as we swing dangerously into the territory of the pretentious. Also, we talk about the concerts Andrew and Rich saw on Friday night, great lyricists, the meaning of groove, technically skilled playing versus emotionally charged playing, vis-à-vis Metal guitarists, and say, Frank Zappa… or even The Shaggs.

Picks this week are Vanilla, Robbie Fulks, and Steely Dan.

Special thanks to Matt for doing the heavy lifting this week.

If you love the show as much as we do, please leave us a review on iTunes. It’s a huge help. Also, note that you don’t have to leave a written review; you can just click five stars! People who do leave written reviews, however, are statistically more likely to have genius offspring.

Listen and/or leave a review on iTunes.
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Crush On Radio #3: "In and Out of My Wheelhouse"

Have you listened to Episode Three of Crush On Radio yet?

We get up early in the morning to talk about falling in and out of love with bands, with personal stories of our infatuations and de-infatuations with The Dave Matthews Band, Sparks, Pink Floyd, and Moxy Früvous, listening to something you don’t like until you do like it, guitar and drum two-pieces, getting into Industrial Music and our first weekly pick that bombed (only slightly, though.) Picks this week are Umphrey’s McGee, Foetus, and Japandroids.

New episode will be up shortly, so be sure to get this one under your belt.

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Like a Slow Fire Burn

You are what you listen to.

In many ways, my iTunes library is an extension of my identity. This music defines me. These artists represent my values. These songs represent memories and scenes from my life.

My music is who I am.

I bought an iPod Nano the other day for workout purposes, and so I was perusing my iTunes library trying to decide which songs to put on it.

The problem with going through your library song-by-song is that you unavoidably come across its deep, dark secrets. The songs you no longer listen to because of the memories associated with them.

There’s one particular song I always scroll past because it reminds me of a girl I was in love with. Back then, I wasn’t familiar with the artist, but it was one of her favorites, and this particular song was the one I enjoyed the most.

It’s a song I never would have known existed if that relationship had never happened.

And now that the relationship is over, and the song is still here in my library, I find myself in a difficult position. Even looking at the song in my iTunes brings back painful memories. Or perhaps they’re good memories. Or perhaps they were good at the time, and the pain stems from their being lost.

In any case, on this particular day, something persuaded me to listen to that song.

It hurt.

But at the same time, it was a therapeutic pain. As soon as the song started playing, memories came flooding back. Images. Faces. Feelings. All of which were wonderful at the time, and all of which now hurt like hell.

But for some sick reason, I forced myself to sit through that song. And as I endured that chorus and let those memories punch me in the gut over and over again, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to cry over what I lost or smile about what I had.

The funny thing is, I played it again. And again, and again, and again.

And every time I played it, I felt a little bit better. And I felt a little less like crying and a little more like smiling. Because just because I lost it doesn’t mean it’s gone. The memories are mine, and they’re still here. The fact that they hurt only confirms that it was real. And that makes me smile.

It is a good song.

Life remains amazing.

Have a wonderful weekend, everyone.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed or benefitted from this article, please consider sharing it with the button below. Perhaps follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.

Crush On Radio #2: "Get My Feet a Little Wetter"

I’m proud of how this episode turned out. We’re starting to find our groove, the music is great, and we avoided any major Skype issues.

In our landmark second episode, we talk about the ethics of downloading, local record stores, buying music at big box stores, the future of record labels, bootlegs both digital and physical, and go down several ratholes about various bands.

Picks this week are: Laurie Anderson, Gotye, and Chumbawamba.

If you enjoy the show, please take a moment to leave a review on iTunes. It’s the best way to support our little podcast.

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Crush On Radio: A Weekly Podcast About Being a Music Fan

I love music.

You love music.

Well, guess what!

Today, I’m psyched to announce Crush On Radio: a weekly podcast about being a music fan.

The show is hosted by Richard J. Anderson of Sanspoint, Matt Keeley of Kittysneezes, and me!

Our first episode, “Passionately and Ineloquently”, went live yesterday morning:

In this inaugural episode, we talk about the show, ourselves, and how we became music fans. Specifically, we’re talking about “the band(s) that ruined us,” learning to actively listen, picking up instruments, the intersection of novelty music and experimental music, and the passing of MCA of The Beastie Boys.

New To Us this week, are Grimes, Sharon Van Etten, and Propaganda. New To You are The Fatima Mansions, Morphine, and Peter Ivers.

You can listen to the show here or on iTunes!

I had a great time recording the show with Rich and Matt, and I’ve already spent hours rocking out to new music thanks to their exquisite tastes. We’re planning on making Crush On Radio the most awesome podcast of all time, so this is your chance to join us as we embark on our musical journey.

If you love music… if you’re looking for new, amazing artists and songs… if you think we have the sexiest voices you’ve ever laid ears on… you should listen right now.

Seriously.

Go!

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed or benefitted from this article, please consider sharing it with the button below. Perhaps follow me on Twitter. Need something? Email me.

The Top Nine Long Winters Songs

You probably woke up this morning and thought to yourself, "Damn it, Andrew Marvin; You haven't written about The Long Winters in forever. What the hell is going on?"

And you would be correct. But fortunately, I'm here today to guide you through a small portion of the Long Winters discography. Prepare your ears for an auditory orgasm.

Since I've already detailed my discovery of The Long Winters, why you need to listen to them, and my thoughts on one of their albums, I thought I'd take a different route and offer my top nine Long Winters songs.

"Why nine?!" you exclaim with incredulity. Because I can't bear to pick a tenth. It's different on any given day. It might be "Sky Is Open", or "Samaritan", or "Rich Wife", or "Nora", or any of the other songs John Roderick has written.

See, the hard part about picking your favorite Long Winters songs is that they don't have any bad songs, and thus this is not so much a list of my favorites so much as it is a list of my most favorites. Each Long Winters song is unique, and thus each is the best in its own way.

And to be honest, other than number one, these are in no particular order. That would be like trying to pick my favorite child, of which I have none, thus only adding to the impossibility of such a task.

So without further ado...

9. Teaspoon

Best Line: I know I wasn't made to play on a team...

Album: Putting the Days to Bed (2006)

Length: 2:54

Listen!

The introvert's anthem, "Teaspoon" is a concise little number, whose length belies its infectious groove and soaring personality. This is a sunny day song if there ever was one. Its chorus begs to be sung at full volume, and its horns are uplifting and celebratory. Featuring one of my favorite John Roderick vocal performances, the lyrics evoke a sense of longing, but one that gives you chills and makes you smile uncontrollably. This was my first favorite Long Winters song.

8. Delicate Hands

Best Line: I held you under / Wanting to feel you wanting to breathe...

Album: Ultimatum (2005)

Length: 3:59

Listen!

The 2005 Ultimatum EP features just four studio tracks, accompanied by two live acoustic performances by John. Of note, three of my nine favorite songs can be found on it, which makes this little EP a musical treasure. John himself explains that the album is largely about disaster and dissolution, and "Delicate Hands" is no exception. The lyrics are vague, and we don't know to whom the singer sings. A lover in trouble? An aging relative? What we do feel is a sense of wanting to help someone who — for whatever reason — cannot be helped. Despite the melancholy subject matter, the music comforts and soothes, even as the speaker cries out for something he thought he knew.

7. Mimi

Best Line: Those flaming babies / Came down from the sky

Album: The Worst You Can Do Is Harm (2002)

Length: 5:06

Listen!

Bonus! Acoustic performance by John Roderick

The lyric notes describe "Mimi" as a song about "a road in Alaska where beautiful and terrible things happen." It's a slow song, with lyrics indicative of tragedy and music befitting a silent, winter landscape. It's haunting and gorgeous and powerful. I love it.

6. Clouds

Best Line: The ground is so proud just to hold us up

Album: Putting the Days to Bed (2006)

Length: 3:34

[Damn! Can't find it on YouTube. Guess you'll just have to buy the album.]

A stark contrast from "Mimi". "Clouds" is a fitting title; the song is wandering, whimsical, and light-hearted, best enjoyed on a beautiful day with a big blue sky. Listen for the banjo (or is it a ukelele?). It's hard to pick a favorite line, as each is delivered so perfectly, imbued with the uplifting-yet-slightly-sad tone found throughout Putting the Days to Bed. This one always makes me smile.

5. Ultimatum

Best Line: And I hope I can keep seeing you / Just as long as you don't say you're / Falling in love

Album: Originally appears on Ultimatum; rocked-up version appears on Putting the Days to Bed.

Length: 3:38 and 3:06, respectively.

Listen!

"Ultimatum" is the only Long Winters song to appear on two albums: first as a quiet, acoustic, string-laden number on the eponymous EP, and second as a soaring, dynamic rock song on Putting the Days to Bed. I will admit that I prefer the up-tempo version a bit more. Like most Long Winters songs, this one demands to be sung aloud, preferably on the highway with the windows down. The lyrics are pained, yet cautiously optimistic, as if the speaker is climbing his way out of the depths of heartbreak, ever upward towards the sun.

4. Carparts

Best Line: Baby wasn't down with the heist!

Album: The Worst You Can Do Is Harm (2002)

Length: 4:05

Listen!

Bonus! Acoustic performance by John Roderick

More Bonus! Merlin Mann's thoughts on "Carparts"

What can you say about "Carparts"? It's a classic, and a monument in the Long Winters canon. The inhale at the beginning, the brilliant lines, the soaring music, the mischievous bridge, the vocal delivery... It's hard to beat. Listen, learn it, and sing your heart out. See Merlin's post above for more.

3. The Commander Thinks Aloud

Best Line: The crew compartment's breaking up...

Album: Ultimatum (2005)

Length: 5:26

Listen!

John's beautiful elegy, "The Commander Thinks Aloud" is about the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster. According to S1E31 of Back to Work, John felt that such an event was too big to be turned into a metaphor, hence the lyrics' literal quality. The song is sparse, featuring just three piano chords, swelling synths, and a somber, marching drum beat. But this space allows the song to be filled with tearful emotion. The song's imagery is unparalleled as John describes the Commander's last thoughts, and the fact that we know the shuttle's fate makes our hearts ache for him and his crew. Easily the most powerful song in the Long Winters catalog. You will be moved. Don't miss it.

2. Hindsight

Best Line: And if I hold you now will I be / Holding a snowball when the season changes / And I'm craving the sun?

Album: Putting the Days to Bed (2006)

Length: 4:07

[Damn! Can't find it on YouTube. Guess you'll just have to buy the album.]

Arguably the strongest track on Putting the Days to Bed, and certainly one of John Roderick's finest pieces. In some ways, "Hindsight" seems to be a follow-up to "Stupid" on When I Pretend to Fall. Whereas the voice of "Stupid" is clearly heartbroken — he has to be held back from calling her — "Hindsight" sees the singer in recovery. He asserts, "In hindsight / You're going to wish you were here", and we get a sense we're all going to be OK. One of the most lyrically dense songs in the Long Winters discography, every line is flawless, delivered with courage and backed by uplifting harmonies. There's so much depth here. My heart feels better every time this song comes on.

1. Scared Straight

Best Line: You were cursed, and scolded, and scarred!

Album: When I Pretend to Fall (2003)

Length: 4:18

Listen!

I love everything about "Scared Straight": the organ intro, the groove, the celebratory horns, the this-song-was-written-for-me lyrics, the perfect vocal delivery, the arrangement, the bridge... It's a masterpiece. There's not just one good part — every part is so good, and they come one after another. "Scared Straight" speaks to me. It's one of those songs you wish you could play for someone because it so perfectly expresses everything you wish you could say to them. It's my favorite Long Winters song, and I'll never skip it.

Change Your Life

And there you have it. Let me remind you that each Long Winters' record is full of musical gems from start to finish, and I could have just as easily listed my top forty songs here. Once you've digested each album as individual entities, feel free to put the entire discography on shuffle. You can thank me later.

iTunes Links

$36 for a lifetime of love? C'mon.

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How to Craft a Musical Time Capsule

I’m a huge fan of albums. One of the hallmarks of my favorite bands is that they’re all capable of delivering a cohesive, album-oriented listening experience.

Albums like Before These Crowded Streets, Sailing the Seas of Cheese, Mantis, Moving Pictures, Animals, Kind of Blue, When I Pretend to Fall… The list goes on and on. These are records that never require you to hit the Skip button. Each song contributes to a beautiful tapestry of sound.

However, now and again I’ll fall in love with a song without hearing the rest of the record right away. Maybe through a friend’s recommendation; maybe a cover by one of my favorite musicians; maybe through the vast expanse of the interwebs.

After a while, I’ll end up with a collection of arbitrary songs with no apparent connection other than the fact that I happened to discover them all around the same time. This phenomenon has been happening to me ever since I discovered what music was, and so I came up with a solution.

After I’ve collected a handful of new music discoveries, I make a playlist and give it a current chronological label, i.e. “Fall 2010 Semester”, or “Summer 2011”, or “25th Birthday”.

This playlist serves two purposes:

The first is practical. Hunting for each song individually is a pain, so a playlist allows me to enjoy an album’s worth of new, unrelated music all at once. This, of course, is the point of a playlist.

The second purpose is more metaphysical. By labeling the playlist chronologically, it acts as a musical time capsule. Years from now, when I go back and listen to it, the songs transport me back to that time in my life. All of the sensory memories — joyriding on the highway, crying in the rain, sighing as the sun goes down — come flooding back in glorious waves of musical nostalgia. It’s a great way to remember who you were and what you were feeling back then.

Naturally, I’m not the first person to invent the time capsule playlist, but I thought it was worth sharing. Revisiting my old playlists always gives me a cathartic sense of comfort and peace, as well as an appreciation from how far I’ve come since then. I recommend it.

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Required Listening II

Today’s post is my second contribution to Randy Murray’s excellent Required Listening series, which features great albums you might be missing from your favorite genre.

This record is one of my favorite live albums and concert films, so please click on over to First Today, Then Tomorrow and check it out!

Special thanks to Randy and Penny!

Why I Write About Music

Quarter-Life Enlightenment is not a music blog, and yet I’ve written about music several times since starting the site last year. I suspect this will not change, and for good reason.

Quarter-Life Enlightenment is about inner peace, and for me, music is a huge source of happiness, comfort, and contentment.

But it wasn’t always. I didn’t grow up in a particularly musical household; no one in my family played an instrument. My discovery of music was actually quite gradual.

The albums I remember growing up with were my dad’s old copies of Queen’s Greatest Hits I & II and Tom Petty & the Heartbreaker’s Greatest Hits. I remember sneaking them up to my room so I could listen on my CD player. I wore out those records, and I still play them regularly.

Perusing my dad’s collection quickly taught me that I enjoyed music, but it wasn’t until later that I began to learn the importance of good music.

In 2002, when I was fifteen years old, I came home to find my dad playing Dave Matthews Band’s Listener Supported through our home entertainment system. I didn’t know who Dave Matthews was, but that DVD knocked me on my ass. I loved the carpeted stage and purple lights. I loved that there was a violin and a saxophone. I loved the dancing and the pretty girls in the audience. And I loved the music. It sounded like nothing I’d ever heard before.

I was particularly entranced by a moment in the song “Rapunzel”, when Stefan Lessard, DMB’s then-25-year-old bass player, played an amazing fill during the song’s climactic chorus. He was playing some huge green guitar, and I wanted to be just like him. It was also while watching that concert that I first noticed the bass, when it kicks in on “Rhyme & Reason”. I fell in love with it.

Around the same time, I reached an important milestone in any boy’s life: the moment when he decides he wants to be in a band. In my case, my friend Keith, who had been playing guitar for several years, conveniently told me I should buy a bass and join his band, also known as him and a couple of other guys we knew. My parents, being thrilled at my interest in something other than Game Boy and Super Nintendo, bought me a $200 jewel blue Ibanez and a practice amp for Christmas that year. I haven’t put it down since.

When you’re a kid who’s just picked up an instrument, what you want more than anything is to be able to play along with your favorite songs. And so I set to learning the entire Dave Matthews Band catalog, starting with “What Would You Say” — in retrospect, an excellent place to start. I listened to that song nonstop trying to figure out how to play it. Even when mowing my neighbor’s lawn with my headphones on, I imagined myself rocking out onstage and playing that sultry bass slide right after the guitar break at 2:35.

Say what you will about Dave Matthews Band, but they were the first band I became completely obsessed with, and subsequently, they were the first band that showed me the value of music beyond “Oh, I like that song on the radio.” Many other bands would follow, but Dave Matthews Band was the true genesis of my musical education.

For the past ten years, I’ve been in love with music. It uplifts me, challenges me, and comforts me. It keeps me up at night because I’d rather keep listening than go to sleep. My basses are at once a source of joy and therapy. Rarely does a day go by where I don’t pick one up and play for at least a few minutes. I’m constantly looking out for amazing music I haven’t yet discovered, and when I find some, it always makes my day.

Aldous Huxley said:

Next to silence, that which expresses the inexpressible is music.

That’s exactly why music is such an important part of Quarter-Life Enlightenment. I hope you feel the same way.

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Your Life Needs More Bass

Note: This is a review of the BassJump subwoofer for MacBook by TwelveSouth.

As a bass player, I understand the importance of low frequencies vibrations. Bass is what unites the rhythm of the drums and the melodies of the guitar and piano. It’s the cornerstone of the groove, and groove is what makes you move, whether it’s tapping a foot, bobbing your head, or rocking out on the dance floor.

And yet, bass is the humblest of instruments. It’s a supportive role, designed to give the soloist and the rest of the band a strong foundation to build upon. You can lean on a good rhythm section. In fact, all the other instruments can drop out, but as long as the drums and bass are still grooving, the song doesn’t stop, and people don’t stop dancing.

You don’t realize the importance of bass until it’s not there anymore. If you’ve ever been in a club with loud music, you’ve seen how they kick people out when it’s closing time: they cut off the speakers and the subwoofers. If there aren’t any vibrations moving you, you can’t dance.

Which brings me to the awesomeness of the TwelveSouth BassJump 2 Subwoofer. I absolutely love this product.

The BassJump is a small USB-powered subwoofer designed to give your MacBook a much-needed boost in the bottom end. It’s beautifully designed, and it looks great next to your Mac.

Laptop speakers aren’t great. Everyone’s been in a situation where they want to crank up the music, only to be forced to endure the thin sound of a laptop at full volume. The BassJump solves this problem by acting as a subwoofer for your computer, so the laptop speakers themselves can function as tweeters. This setup essentially creates a 2.1 stereo system.

The BassJump comes with its own software, so you can tweak the volume and crossover frequency. Installation is a snap, and since it’s USB-powered, you only need one cable. No batteries required. Plug in and rock out, as it were.

The difference in sound is phenomenal. You don’t just get an increase in volume, you get a dramatic increase in quality. It’s a much fuller, richer sound overall. The BassJump is capable of shaking my entire desk. It lets me feel my music while I’m at my computer. Turn it off, and you immediately notice that missing low end. Everyone I’ve shown the BassJump to can’t believe how much better music sounds with it.

At $69.99, you can’t buy a better upgrade for your MacBook. If you love to listen to music on your computer, and especially if you like to turn it up loud, you won’t be disappointed with the BassJump. You’ll wonder how you ever listened without it.

You can buy the BassJump 2 Subwoofer at TwelveSouth.

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