sat, 26-aug-2006, 12:29

the books

image from pinkbelt

I came across The Books because they're similar to Animal Collective (Feels is a great album) in the last.fm similarity diagrams I've been playing with. Lost and Safe is their latest record. The music is hard to describe, but is oddly compelling. Most tracks are combinations of simple string melodies, odd percussion, manipulated vocals and lots of spoken words from random recordings. It's not quite ambient music, and it's also not the sort of thing you can hum while walking to your car in the parking lot. All the layered melodies, strange spoken words, and descending string progressions really bring a lot of emotion to the music.

My favorite tracks on the album are Smells Like Content, An Animated Discription of Mr. Maps, and An Owl With Knees. Smells Like Content and An Owl are both more straightforward than the other tracks, with nice layered melodies and mostly traditional vocals. Mr. Maps is a percussive tour de force and demands to be listened to loud. It's also got lots of spoken word material, including the great line: "Leaving the friendly aroma of doughnuts and chicken tenders hanging in the desert air." There's also someone reading what sounds like the criminal profile of a serial killer, but there isn't enough detail to figure out if it's from a movie or a news recording.

This is certainly not music for everyone. But if your tastes tilt toward the experimental and are looking for a change, give The Books a listen. I'm looking forward to picking up their previous two albums (Thought For Food, The Lemon of Pink) in the near future.

tags: music 
fri, 25-aug-2006, 17:17
enon

Last weekend I was listening to Enon's High Society with the idea I'd post a review of it here on my blog. Music blogs typically report on the newest, usually not-even-released albums, but I'd rather discuss the stuff I'm listening to and why I like it (or don't).

I listened to each track of the album, and when I was finished, I couldn't really figure the album out because it seemed like it was several different records. The John Schmersal tracks served up a couple musical styles, and those sung by Toko Yasuda seemed totally different. So I didn't post.

Earlier today on good hodgkins he wrote about the same album and said pretty much the same thing, although he identifies only two different styles (Dayton-rock and bass-driven dance-punk) and closes his review with: "This is one of my favorite albums of the decade."

Anyway, here's what I wrote, unedited from that listening session:

Tracks:

Old Dominion -- Pretty much straight up rock with a strong guitar driving the song. A great start to the album.

Count Sheep -- Slower song, more electronic stuff going on in the background. Sharp drums, slow extended guitar parts. Dark feel.

In This City -- Upbeat dancy drums, nice bass and synthesizer melodies in the background really compliment Toko Yasuda's voice. Surprising pop sound after the first two more rock numbers with John Schmersal on vocal.

Window Display -- Another Schmersal tune very much in the Pavement, lazily sung indie-rock mold.

Native Numb -- Strange vocal process effect as another instrument, dark, heavy song. More solid drumming driving the song. Lots going on in the background.

Leave It To Rust -- More mellow song, like Count Sheep with a nice melody.

Disposable Parts -- The second upbeat dancy drum song sung by Yasuda with synthesizers and the processed vocals. Definately a different style than the other songs.

Sold! -- Almost sounds like The Cars with solo vocals to start the song, and other instruments coming in as the song progresses.

Shoulder -- Lots of synthesizer effects, droning guitars and a strong beat backing up Yasuda. Slower than her other songs on the record.

Pleasure and Privilege -- Punk, britpop sound. Great driving drums and loud guitars behind Schmersal's shouted lyrics (and screaming).

Natural Disasters -- Slacker indie sound like Window Display. Not as loud or driven as much of the record.

Carbonation -- Reminds me a bit of Love and Rockets for some reason maybe because of the way Schmersal is singing and the bass driving the song. Great lyrics.

Salty -- Third upbeat dancy song sung by Yasuda, but more rock than dance. Reminds me of a more techno version of Magnapop.

High Society -- More of the slacker indie sound. Maybe it's more about the strength of the vocals in the mix and the slower beat and more acoustic sound that's making me think Pavement. This one has a bunch of strings in it too, and a Morphine-esque saxiphone.

Diamond Raft -- Slow song with a synth loop pulling the song along. Ends before it really begins.

Instruments:

Excellent drumming, nice mixture of guitars, synthesizers and lots of effects. Yasuda has a striking voice. Schmersal can sing straight up rock, punk, as well as slacker-indie.

Overall:

Great record, but quite varied in style. If the songs were in a different order you might think you were listening to three (or four!) different bands.

Anyway, I don't think it's one of the best of the decade like Ryan does, but it's pretty damned good if you can get past the variety of styles.

tags: music 
tue, 22-aug-2006, 16:56

Back in April I wrote about some methods for seeing who is connected to your iTunes library and what they're listening to. Or downloading. There's actually a much easier way to see what's been accessed, at least if you're on a Mac. (Note that this might work under Cygwin on a Windows machine if the Windows filesystem stores access time.)

In Unix all files have three dates associated with them; creation time, last time modified, and last time accessed. You can see all of these times for a particular file by using the stat command. For example, in a terminal window:

$ stat The Jesus Lizard/Down/01 Fly On The Wall.m4a
234881026 2016664 -rw-r--r-- 1 0 4733250
"Aug 22 14:22:57 2006"
"May 12 07:45:03 2006"
"May 12 07:45:03 2006"

(I've edited the result slightly)

The three times shown are the last accessed, last modified, and the creation date. For this file, you can see that it was accessed earlier today. Since I wasn't playing any music with iTunes today, someone else accessed this file through my shared iTunes library.

There's an easier way to, ahem, find this information:

$ find ~/Music -type f -amin -360

This command shows all the files in the Music directory (where your iTunes music is stored by default) that were accessed in the last 6 hours. Students have just started showing up for the fall semester here at UAF, and when I ran this command at the end of the day, it yielded 451 tracks that other people on campus listened to. I also had my watch_itunes.py Python script running for part of the day, and it was clear from watching, that most of these "listeners" were actually downloading these tracks.

I wonder how long before this becomes a problem for the Recording Industry Association of America? Seems like Apple has created their own P2P filesharing network by allowing iTunes to share tracks in the same network block. Apple can claim it's not their problem because purchased tracks with their FairPlay DRM won't play on anyone else's computer. But what about all those ripped M4A and MP3's files that will play anywhere? It's a free-for-all, thanks to Apple.

Me says to RIAA lawyer: Talk to Apple. I'm just using iTunes, nothing more.

tags: music 
mon, 14-aug-2006, 18:08

A couple posts ago I showed a hand-made similarity diagram for The Magnetic Fields, where I started at the last.fm similarity page and followed the top two most similar artists until I'd made a diagram. At the time I wondered how hard it would be to generate these things automatically.

Not too hard, it turns out, but it took me several months to get it all working properly. I wrote a Python script that queries the last.fm database, loading and saving the similarity pages for the artists related to the original query. Because it saves the similarities locally, after a few runs there's not much traffic to the last.fm web site.

Once all the data is collected, it generates a text file of links in the DOT language. These files are processed by the graphviz suite of programs (unflatten and dot, in this case) to produce similarity diagrams like the one below (click on the image to download a full-size PDF, 17 KB).

the olivia tremor control similarity tree

The diagram was produced by:

./build_and_graph.py -a "The Olivia Tremor Control" -c 60 -r 1      \
  | unflatten | dot -Tps > /tmp/graph.ps

Click on the image for a PDF version of the entire graph. The darker and redder the lines, the more similar the two artists are. The options passed to my script control what the initial similarity cutoff is, and what the r-value is for the logistic function that controls how similarity changes as you get farther from the initial artist. For these values, the cutoff starts at 60 for the artists directly connected to The Olivia Tremor Control, rises to 80, then 92, 97, 99 and finally 100. That's why the links all get darker as you move down the diagram, moving farther from the original artist at the top.

tags: music 
sat, 12-aug-2006, 17:04

Today when I went out to take care of the neighbor's cats I noticed that I'd worn through the leather soles of my cowboy boots. I went upstairs and got my older pair and while I was slipping them on I remembered buying them in California as a pair of boots to go with my new motorcycle. That was in 1991, so those boots are more than 15 years old.

More and more I find myself coming across something that I've owned for more than a decade, or a memory occurs to me from longer ago than seems possible. I'm no longer in my 20's, and even though I know this, it still feels like I'm a young kid who has just graduated from college, just old enough to drink beer. Maybe not yet wise enough to know not to drink too many.

But I'm not that young kid anymore. I've been a lot of places and done a lot of things since then. A lot of it has been chronicled in my journals, or in the other pieces of paper and electronic records that are part of every person's life. I'm thinking it might be fun to make a journal book that would be a sort of lifetime accounting for the places I've been and the things I've done. My journal books are 192 pages, and if I put four months on a page, I can cram around 63 years into the book. With four months per page, that's around six lines per month, which sounds like just the right amount of space. I'll put the details of the book itself on my bookbinding pages.

June 1991: bought motorcycle and cowboy boots.

Check.

tags: books  make  writing 

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