The Hypercritical Way

David Smith has some great commentary on the end of Hypercritical:

I started to think retrospectively about Hypercritical and why I liked it so much. John has demonstrated that it is often far more satisfying to understand why you like something than to just blindly hold an opinion. I began the process of re-listening through the entire Hypercritical catalog, all 158 hours of it. My goal was to be able to clearly describe why I love the show so much. The result is a critique methodology that I’ll rather overbearingly refer to as The Hypercritical Way.

He's also compiled a twenty-minute clip reel of some of his favorite Hypercritical moments. Terrific tribute.

Via Merlin

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.

Three Piles

Scott Berkun with a crucial bit of wisdom:

Here’s an oversimplified theory to play with for today: there are only three piles in life.

  1. Things that are important
  2. Things that are unimportant
  3. Things that are unimportant but distract you from what is important

Most suffering in life comes from #3.

It’s a short article, so you should read the whole thing. Especially the first big paragraph.

In fact, because it’s so succinct, and because I so heartily agree with every word, I’m not even going to offer any further commentary. This article speaks for itself and for everything QLE stands for.

If you’ve already read it, read it again.

Then go have a marvelous weekend.

Thanks for reading! Want more? Grab the free QLE Manifesto. 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.

Listen, rate, and/or leave a review on iTunes.
Listen on our website.

Crush On Radio #6: "Noodly Hippie"

Our groundbreaking sixth episode:

Our first “all picks” episode! Well, sort of… We share our favorite live albums, and some of your favorite live albums. Also there’s talk about Jonathan Coulton and John Roderick who contributed to the show without realizing, Industrial shows and “laptop syndrome,” getting into DEVO by being thrown in the deep end, recording fidelity, Jaco Pastorius, John Entwistle, Keith Fuckin’ Moon, our favorite concert experiences, and much much more.

While Crush On Radio is still in its infancy, ratings and reviews on iTunes are ultra important. They increase the show’s exposure, which leads to more listeners, which is good for everybody. Plus, rating us on iTunes has been scientifically proven to raise sperm counts and increase fertility.

Listen, rate, and/or leave a review on iTunes.
Listen on our website.

Enough #141: "Primal"

This week, I had the privilege of guesting on Patrick Rhone and Myke Hurley’s prestigious audio program, Enough. We talk about the Paleo/Primal lifestyle, barefoot running, and more.

I had a great time recording with Patrick and Myke. They’re both Internet heroes of mine, so being asked to come on the show was a great honor.

It was a really fun conversation, and it’s only about 40 minutes long (unlike certain other podcasts), so I hope you’ll give it a listen.

My sincerest thanks to Patrick and Myke for having me.

Click here to listen to the show!

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.

Listen and/or leave a review on iTunes.
Listen on our website.

On Crush On Radio | Sanspoint

My Crush On Radio cohost, Richard J. Anderson, tells the story of how our little music podcast came to be:

It’s been great to learn the technical side of things, great to learn about new bands and artists, but just sitting with a glass of water, and chatting with good friends about the things we’re madly passionate about has been the best part. It’s proof that Obsession x Topic x Voice is a great way to make cool stuff. If you like the idea of hearing three complete music nerds talk about their obsessions for over an hour, this show is for you. If you like to hear about cool music you might not know about, the first half of each show is for you. In either case, I hope you’ll tune in.

Me too. I love this thing we’ve made.

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.
Listen on our website.

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.

Listen and/or leave a rating on iTunes.
Listen on our website.

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.

Listen on our website.
Listen on iTunes.

A Superhero Without Powers

Colin Wright:

The thing I’ve always wondered about Car Guy is this: when he’s not with his car, who is he? He’s invested everything of himself into a thing, so what’s left when that thing isn’t around?

Do not attach your identity to anything other than love and knowledge of yourself.

Have an exceptional weekend!

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On Tweaking vs. Fiddling

Mike Vardy makes an important distinction between tweaking and fiddling:

Fiddling generally involves avoiding the things you need to do rather than work towards making those things happen. You wind up getting caught up – and have to play catch up as a result.

Tweaking is making changes that are necessary in order to better optimize your situation – in this case, my ability to shift between work mode and life mode. Tweaking are changes for the sake of progress; fiddling are changes for the sake of change.

I totally agree.

As I mentioned in my Byword review, I’m pretty good at avoiding fiddling. I admit that I love to go through preferences and settings, but once I have everything set up, I tend to forget about them. That’s tweaking. Fiddling, on the other hand, would be playing with preferences to the point where it interferes with getting your work done.

For me, tweaking is a way to tailor something to suit my specific needs. If we’re talking text editors, for example, the proper font is important. I use Open Sans in Byword, which is also the body font I use on this website. It just feels good seeing that nice sans-serif on a pleasant white background.

Much of my tweaking comes from a desire to make an app “feel” good. Fonts are a big part of how an app feels. Look at Instapaper. Each of its iOS apps’ new fonts has a different feel to it, and choosing the right one for you is central to having a great reading experience. (I’m currently using Proxima Nova on my iPhone and Tisa on my iPad.)

The point is that taking the time to decide what font I want to write or read in is not fiddling. I don’t spend time trying different options every time I open the app. If I did that, I’ve never get anything written or read. Rather, I carefully consider my choices, pick my favorites, and then get to work.

If I love the way an app looks or functions, I’m much more likely to use it. If Instapaper only had Arial and Comic Sans, I’d never feel compelled to open it. The lack of tweaking would deter me from using the app. In turn, I’d just keep saving things to Instapaper and never get around to reading them, which would make me feel guilty. Or — heaven forbid — I might switch to another Read Later app. Fortunately, Instapaper is highly functional, reliable, and offers just enough customization to make using it a joy. After I’ve taken a moment to pick my preferences, I can get down to reading.

The same is true of Byword. It’s reliable, ultra pretty, and it works on all of my devices. Byword makes me want to write the way Instapaper makes me want to read.

In addition to apps and productivity, tweaking can also help improve your quality of life. As Mike suggests, tweaking is a way of refining and improving. It’s adjusting for the sake of getting better.

If you love taking hot showers, but your skin is always dry, you might try taking cold showers — James Bond style. That’s a tweak.

If you find yourself spending an extra hour in bed playing on your phone in the morning, you might consider moving your charger to your desk. That’s a tweak.

If you hate running, you might try running barefoot like Mike and me. I couldn’t stand the thought of running a few years ago, but since I tweaked my footwear, I love it.

The important part is not spending too much time on any of these decisions. That’s when tweaking becomes fiddling. If you’re spending more time tweaking than you are getting things done, you need to dial it back. Fiddling is aimless; tweaking is focused.

Tweak, then do. Repeat as needed — no more, no less.

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Night Owls Are Not Lazy

Yesterday, as I struggled to wrench myself out of bed to make my 9am yoga class, I was reminded of the debate between early risers and night owls.

I’ve written about the power of night before, but I still let myself feel guilty from time to time for staying up late and sleeping in. I willingly admit that the early morning is an amazing time of day, if you can get to it. I’ve flirted with the idea of becoming an early riser, possibly by making it part of the Year of the Habit.

But I’ve decided that’s a dumb idea.

I love staying up late and sleeping in. Nighttime appeals to my introverted nature: the quiet, the calm, the solitude — it comforts me. In a weird way, the night energizes me. Even if I only slept for a few hours the night before, if I make it to sundown, I’ll usually stay up far past midnight.

I suppose my relationship to nighttime is akin to a morning person’s relationship with the early hours of the day. I imagine the process of waking up energizes these people. They love having a brand new day ahead of them. (I, for one, wish they would lower their voices.)

There’s a parallel between night and day, and introversion and extroversion, which I attribute to the presence of human beings and the resulting effects on the individual.

According to a definition I agree with, extroverts get energized by being around people. It’s easiest to be surrounded by people in the middle of the day, when everyone’s rushing around trying to get things done.

Conversely, introverts find other people exhausting. I completely relate to this. If I’m in a social setting with a bunch of people with whom I’m not familiar, I can only be friendly and outgoing (or my version thereof) for so long. It’s very mentally taxing to pretend to be someone you’re not. Eventually, I’m going to need to not be there anymore. Not in a rude way, but in an “OK, that’s enough” way.

Solitude energizes the introvert, and what better time to find solitude than when the world is asleep?

Mike Vardy has a terrific article about why it doesn’t matter whether you’re an early riser or a night owl:

There is no advantage to being an early riser over being a night owl when it comes to increasing your productivity. It’s all in how you handle what comes at you – day and night – and making sure that you handle in it in a way that suits you and your lifestyle [sic]. If you find that you like getting up early, go for it. If you don’t, then don’t change that. Instead, put your efforts into making sure that your are being productive rather than when you are being more productive [sic].

So simple, yet so profound. As Mike says, “The notion that early risers are more productive than night owls is a myth.”

Exactly. It’s a myth perpetuated by social convention — the same conventions that say you need to work from 9am to 5pm to be successful, or that you need to buy a big house to be happy, or that you need 6 – 11 servings of grains a day to be healthy.

I lovingly reject all of that conventional wisdom, so why would I try and force myself to conform to the “rule” that says I need to wake up at the crack of dawn when it defies the nature of who I am?

You should read Mike’s article, because it’s spot-on. A night owl gets as much done as an early riser; he just does it at a different time of day. Neither lifestyle is right or wrong. What’s wrong is trying to force your body to do something it doesn’t want to do. You don’t force yourself into a yoga pose if your body is screaming, “NO!” That’s how injuries happen.

As long as it’s not negatively impacting other aspects of your life, I say keep whatever hours you like. Doing great stuff is more important than trying to do it when other people say you should.

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Required Listening

Today, I have the privilege of contributing to Randy Murray’s Required Listening series.

Required Listening discusses great albums you may be missing from your favorite genre. The series has featured wonderful pieces by writers like Patrick Rhone and Penny Mattern, and I’m honored to be featured alongside them.

Randy himself is a professional business writer, and his site, First Today, Then Tomorrow, is one of my favorite blogs. My sincerest thanks to him for this opportunity.

Be sure to click over and check out today’s post, and then stay for Randy’s inspiring thoughts on writing, productivity, and life!

You can read my Required Listening piece here, at First Today, Then Tomorrow.

The Influence of Unicorns

Randy Murray offers some tough love about the influence of unicorns:

You may feel that you deserve that terrific job, starring role, the recognition of your greatness, but no one is going to hand it to you. You have to ask for it. You have to work for it, earn it. You may have to recruit all of your friends and family and everyone you know to get you in front of the right person. Your simple virtues won’t lead them to you to lay their head in your lap and surrender.

It's Just Stuff

Shawn Blanc reminds us that it’s just stuff:

Instead, look at how he (or she) treats his family. What is his character like? Look at his relationships and his beliefs and how he spends his time. These things — the metaphysical, the intangible — they are the true extension of the soul.

The Internet Is Amazing.

I want to take a moment to point out just how awesome the Internet is. The number of amazing people making cool stuff on the Internet makes me giddy. I aspire to be counted among them.

Here are a few things I’ve come across recently:

  • Aquarium Drunkard, which describes itself as “an eclectic, independent audio blog featuring daily music, reviews, features, MP3s, sessions, interviews and more.” It’s already introduced me to several new artists. See: Junior Parker’s 1971 cover of Tomorrow Never Knows, and Henri Texier’s Les “là-bas” from his 1977 album Varech. Astounding. I found Aquarium Drunkard through the DMBTabs message board. Thanks, Mikey.

  • AlfredTweet, which I found via Federico Viticci, is a nifty little script that allows you to interact with Twitter via Alfred. You can tweet, follow/unfollow, and read tweets and DMs with only a few keystrokes. Also, if you’re not using Alfred, you should get on that.

  • You should watch this insane video of 30 giant Japanese hornets slaughtering 30,000 European honeybees. It was brought to my attention by Jason Kottke, whose job is to essentially find and share incredible things on the Internet. Amazing!

  • I love this quote by Neven Mrgan: “Wake up unable to stop thinking about the awesome thing you’re working on.” It’s profound. That’s the life I want to live.

  • This is a funny video called His Name Is James Bond. It made me laugh out loud, which I rarely do while perusing the Internet. Brought to you via Steven Ringo, who was retweeted by John Gruber.

With the new year, I’ve resolved to make QLE primarily a place for my own long-form, serious-esque writing. Still, I want you to know about fantastic things like those above. So, I collect all the cool things I find at andrewmarvin.tumblr.com. It’s updated daily, so be sure to subscribe. Useful and awesome stuff abounds.