The Classics of Ratatat

This is exactly what a sophomore album should be. It has everything that made the debut so fresh and engaging, while adding nuance and complexity that show a clear maturation of sound, yet is not so over-indulgent so as to become foreign and off-putting.

I refer, of course to Ratatat’s recently released second album: Classics.

One might argue that it takes a particularly confident or arrogant band to name an album “Classics,” especially so early in their career. But I think the boys know that they’re onto something genuinely inspired and magnificent. The band not only manages to live up to the album’s title, but they exceed all expectations.

For evidence, download yourself some free mp3s of their singles: Lex and Wildcat.

No Alternative: A map of the universe

I came of musical age during the so-called alternative era, when "alternative" was more of an actual alternative to the mainstream rock/pop of the early 90s. However, due to my relatively young age and the relative cultural backwater of my hometown, the movement was well on its way to mainstream-ization by the time it swung through my burg. The year was 1993 and at the tender age of 14 I had already developed a healthy disdain for popular culture in general. Ah, teenage rebellion.

With the exceptions of Guns n’ Roses’ Use Your Illusion(s) and Nirvana’s Nevermind, I had paid little attention to popular music in the previous couple years. Glam rock had lost its appeal (and I had enjoyed Def Leppard as much as a pre-teen could) and I had never really gotten into hip-hop or R&B. All in all, I just didn’t listen to that much music.

But that changed during the summer of ’93. I had completed middle school and was well on my way to becoming a big, bad high school freshman in a handful of months. The prospect of a new environment with new people was a major catalyst for expanding my musical horizons that summer. But the most crucial factor was that my dad, after years of resistance, succumbed to the pleading of his children and subscribed to cable television at our house. I was then exposed to that bastion of cultural awareness… MTV.

I spent a good portion of that summer absorbed in the channel’s programming, from The Beach House to Alternative Nation (which was is full swing) to Real Word California (Venice).

I suddenly couldn’t get enough music and soon joined both the Columbia House and BMG Record Clubs. My first order of CDs included albums by R.E.M., Spin Doctors, Stone Temple Pilots and Blind Melon, all groups that were high on the charts that summer. It was a wonderful time of musical exploration. By the end of the year, I was acquiriing new albums at a rate of one per week, a pace I maintained throughout high school.

I fiercely bought into the "alternative ethos," particularly concerning issues of authenticity in music and the need to stay politically and socially aware. To this day, I endeavor to avoid overtly commercial aspects of American culture.

no alternative girl

I never did look good in flannel though.

But there is one record that had more influence on my musical directions for that year and those that followed. No other record comes even close to the effect that the No Alternative compilation had on me. It was like a map of the universe, a branching point for all that was well and good in the music world. Almost all the bands featured would go on to notoriety and in some cases, stardom during the subsequent years.

Matthew Sweet’s Superdeformed is an rousing punch of indie-pop-noise. The Smashing Pumpkins’ Glynis is a sweet sweet gem that ranks among my favorites in the band’s catalog. This album also introduced me to Sarah Mclachlan which would have made the album worth it alone. Soundgarden puts in an atypically-playful song with Show Me while Goo Goo Dolls present a misleadingly good song with Bitch seriously, I got bait-and-switched on that one. And even though I never managed to discover more of Pavement’s music (despite all the group’s cred), I still quite enjoy their ode to R.E.M.: Unseen Power of the Picket Fence.

Thirteen years later, this record still has power. In fact, a listen has stimulated a completely new and original interest in American Music Club, a band that never made it onto my radar beyond No Alternative.

And now that the term "alternative" has come and gone, been co-opted and is now as mainstream as it gets, I realize that the title is wrong. Alternative does exist, and it’s right here on this record.

Lovage: The most common word in my iTunes Library

According to Super Analyser for iTunes, the most common word in the song titles of my library is "love."

Unfortunately, the program doesn’t tell how it generates that number. Does it include variations like “lovely,” “loves” and “lover”? Probably not. It’s probably a straight-up word-pattern match.

Still, that result surprises me. Certainly it filters out “a,” “an,” “the,” “that,” etc, but I would have expected some kind of standard nomenclature to take that top spot. Something like “mix,” “remix” or “version.”

After doing my own quick analysis using iTunes’ search box (song names only), I find this:

  • Love (252) – loves (6) – lover (17) – lovely (5) = 224 songs.
  • Mix (376) – remix (155) = 221 songs

So it is neck and neck. Of course, those numbers are not quite 100% accurate. There are undoubtedly a handful more combinations and variations that I missed. But for now, “Love” is the reigning champion of my iTunes library.

The question is: What’s yours? Download Super Analyser for iTunes to find out. It runs on both Windows and Mac OS X.

Hooray to 8000: Roni Size makes a Tunequest milestone

In celebration of numbers that end in sequential zeros, I present the 8000th song played on the tunequest: Breakbeat Era’s sex change from the 1999 album Ultra-Obscene. This achievement comes as part of my Roni Size weekend.

I spent a good portion of yesterday listening to his sprawling 2 and half hour double disc New Forms. That was the record, along with The Chemical Brothers’ Dig Your Own Hole, that turned me onto electronic music when it used to be the “next big thing” (ie 1997).

Breakbeat Era, an experimental side-project of Size’s, is actually a bit of a disappointment compared to New Forms. It’s an attempt to infuse his trademark drum-n-bass with a pop sensibility be incorporating vocals and structure on top of the tracks.

On the whole, the results rank as decent, but the song New Forms from the album of the same name uses a similar philosophy to much greater effect.

Apple + Last.fm: If true, it would be cool

This would be interesting.

UPDATE: Turns out this was an attempt at parody. Apple is NOT buying last.fm Oh well. It’s a nice wishlist though. I still think GenreFolksonomies are cool. And even though I don’t put together many playlists manually these days (viva randomization!), SmartTransitions is an intriguing idea.

I, for one, wouldn’t mind seeing:

GenreFolksonomies
No longer will iTunes tracks be chained to single categories. Users will be able to create multiple tags across all track variables, as well as at the album, artist, and playlist levels. This intelligence isn’t tied to individual users either.

That would certainly solve my genre dilemma.

Someone is claiming that Apple has acquired Last.fm and plans of rolling a bunch of social networking features into a future version of iTunes. the more i think about this, the less inclined i am to believe it. first of all, commenting on that post is disabled, which probably means they don’t want to receive any criticism. Second of all, as titillating as it sounds, it’s just as unsubstantiated a rumor as all the fake ipod mockups that occasionally zoom around the net.

a quick jaunt over to the last.fm forums reveals little forthcoming information about this potential deal.

on the other hand, apple has been known to purchase smaller companies in order to get products to market quickly. most of its pro A/V tools were purchased from someone else. and there were other recent rumors that apple was looking to as “social networking” features to a future version of iTunes.

still, i can’t help but be suspicious of this particular claim.

Trans Am – Red Line: Rock from the future

trans-am-red-line.png

red line at itunes red line at amazon

Trans Am’s brand of future-rock has been of constant interest since the day I first heard it in early 2002. I appreciate their hard-drive rhythms and computerized effects. In fact, before i knew any better, I thought the group was from Germany. Turns out they’re actually from Washington, DC, which is why I also appreciate that they tackle political material in a way that’s direct and clever, but not too clever.

However, I have to take issue with the group’s 2000 album, Red Line. This was indeed the album that started my fascination with the band, but really only on the basis of two very good songs: I Want It All, and Play in the Summer. But after yesterday’s tunequest listen, i have to admit to myself that the rest of the album is fairly uninteresting. I mean, the albums left such an amorphous impression that I can barely remember what it sounded like specifically. I’ll hang on to it though; I never know when it might strike my fancy.

Play in the Summer, live in Austin. It’s not as good as the album version, but it gives you a good idea.

Trans Am – Play in the Summer (10/1/03)

Italian Cinema Lounge: A tunequest within a tunequest

I knew this day would eventually come, since the tunequest made it into the "i"s many months ago.

Back in 2001, I ran across a posting on the usenets called Italian Cinema Lounge. It was 225 songs taking up 700 MB and spanning eleven and a half hours of music culled from various Italian film composers from the 60s and 70s ranging from Alberto Baldan Bembo to Walter Rizzati. Fascinated by the concept, I snagged it, naturally. And let me tell you it is some very smooth music, the kind of stuff that’s been an inspiration to modern downtempo artists and urban hipsters, but more raw, orchestral and just plain jazzy.

(think Lalo Schifrin’s Enter the Dragon score)

Despite the well-earned reverence, however, listening to all of it proved to be a daunting task, and I could never quite bring myself to dive in and tackle it. About half the selection remains unheard to this day. (the flip-side is that the songs that have been played received 4 and 5 star ratings and, thus have been played numerous repeats).

Thus a new tunequest is born: to listen to all these Italian cinema masterpieces. off i go!

The Breeders – Fortunately Gone: A Short Case of Sublime Perfection

the breeders - pod

One minute and 44 seconds worth to be precise.

And the subject of this perfection is The Breeders’ Fortunately Gone from their 1990 debut record, Pod. The song is a paragon of simplicity, with a gentle, upbeat, bobbing rhythm and seductively playful singing that doesn’t hesitate to draw you in.

My only complaint is its length. It is so perfect, yet so tantalizingly short, that I can’t help but want to hear more. So, for the one time since the tunequest began this year, I made an exception and listened to a song twice. In fact, I think I blew out a car speaker on the drive home doing just that.

It won’t help though; this song will be stuck in my head for days.

It would be impolite of me to not share such a wonderful song, so here it is in all its glory:

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pod at amazon