New Radiohead Album Preview

Radiohead will be blessing the world with its creative juices in the very near future. It is a time of much anticipation, with excitement and wariness rolled into a caldron of suspense.

What will the new album sound like?
Can it possibly match the group’s reputation?
What new musical ideas will the world be forced to grasp and understand?

We won’t know the answers to those questions until sometime this autumn, but for now here’s a bit of a preview, courtesy of YouTube:

Update: 9/30. The new album is titled In Rainbows.

Gomez: Whippin’ Piccadilly

From the album Bring it On (1998)

The highly regarded and Mercury Prize-winning debut album by Gomez mixes a down-home sensibility with slick production values. With three husky vocalists interchanging on the lyrics, these guys can blend together some mind-bending harmonies. Put those on top of some smooth bluesy-roots-rock-with-an-English-twist and you’ve got some pretty compelling music.

Whippin’ Piccadilly is a standout track on an album of standout tracks. With carefree abandon, Gomez stitches a picture of fun-loving guys have a fun-loving day in Manchester. The title of the song, I believe, is a reference to Manchester Piccadilly station, the busiest rail station in England. It is alluded to in the lyrics as the departure point for the guys’ next destination of Sheffield.

[audio:070615WhippinPiccadilly.mp3]

What I Love: The simple strumming of the guitar and, of course, those harmonies.

whippin piccadilly at itunes store

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And for something completely different, check Petty Booka’s polynesian-style cover of Whippin’ Piccadilly.

Pioneer DVR-107D DVD burner + Max = Perfect encoding solution

Recently, I’ve taken to re-encoding some of my favorite CDs, mostly ones that I originally encoded long ago, some as far back as 1999. Hard drive space was at a premium at the time, so I traded acceptable losses in quality for a smaller storage footprint. When the music is coming from a beige G3’s internal speaker, 112 kbps and 320 kbps mp3s sound basically the same.

But as I’ve gotten older and I’ve been able to afford audio equipment with higher fidelity, the flaws in those original files have become ever more noticeable.

Since hard drive space isn’t much of a problem these days, I’m endeavoring to upgrade all those ancient files to modern quality standards. As I run across those sub-par album rips during my daily listening routine, I’m replacing them with 256 kbps VBR AAC files or Apple Lossless (if they are deserving of the extra attention to detail).

Max Icon

And so was this situation that occurred last week when listening to Velocity Girl’s ┬íSimpatico!, one of my all-time favorite albums. The music sounded “off” and it reminded me that I’ve been meaning to create a new encoding for a long time. I grabbed the disc off the shelf, fired up Max, the handiest freeware audio converter/ripper/encoder available for Mac OS X, and set it to work.

But it did not take long for an anticipated problem to rear its head. The seventh song on the disc, Rubble, has had a pretty nasty scratch for I don’t know how long, a scratch that marred the original file years ago. As I feared, the encoding process stalled, so I canceled it. I’ve known my iMac’s built-in Matshita UJ-846 drive to be problematic with flaky discs, frequently getting hung up on them, so I pulled out my external Pioneer DVR-107D and hooked it up via Firewire.

The DVR107D was one of the first DVD burners available for less than $100 and I got one to use with my G4 iMac, which couldn’t even read DVDs, much less write them. I crammed the drive into an old LaCie case I had and, let me tell you, this thing has performed like a champ for the entirety of my ownership. It has read every disc I’ve put into it. And recently, it allowed me to consolidate some old, and I mean old, CD-Rs onto DVD when the built-in drive balked at them.

So I slipped my CD into the Pioneer and resumed my encoding task. No hang-ups whatsoever. But the thing that blew me away, and I have Max to thank for this, was that when I listened to the new song, all traces of the disc damage were gone.

It turns out that Max leverages the power of an obscure CD audio extraction tool called cdparanoia which uses “high-level error-correction” to resuscitate heavily flawed discs, and completely compensate for scratches on CDs.

Combined with Pioneer’s hardware, Max turns out perfectly encoded songs. Just give it a listen. The following are from multiple encodings excerpted from the damaged section of Rubble from my Velocity Girl CD:

This first sample was encoded to 128kbps AAC/M4A by iTunes 4.7 using the built-in CD drive on the iMac G4 I owned two years ago. The glitches on the disc is quite prominent:

[audio:http://www.tunequest.org/matrix/uploads/2007/06/rubble-original128kbps.mp3]

This file, however, is golden. It was encoded to Apple Lossless by Max using the Pioneer DVR-107D. Pristine; nary a hint of trouble:

[audio:http://www.tunequest.org/matrix/uploads/2007/06/rubble-pioneer-max.mp3]

Frankly, I’m amazed by the results. Max + Pioneer makes for a seriously perfect encoding solution.

The DVR-107D shipped as the standard optical drive in some (but not all) of the PowerMac G5 towers, so you may already have one. If not, at the time of this writing, Other World Computing has its descendant, the DVR-112D for less than $50.

Even if you don’t have access to the drive itself, download Max. It’ll go a long way toward creating higher-quality files.

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PS: Google Docs, which I use to store drafts for this site and other correspondences, now works with the new Safari 3 beta from Apple. This post was written using the combo and it’s nice to have my familiar Mac OS Services, integration and text and keyboard handling at my disposal.

Underworld: Bruce Lee

From the album Beaucoup Fish (1999)

Life, kid, suck, drink from the box, the juice kicks up.

yeah.

bruce lee.

High energy and repetitive, Bruce Lee basically sounds like it was recorded on a manufacturing line. With one verse repeated again and again, Underworld performs an exercise in rhythm and variations on a theme.

Using brute force, this thing will pound its way into your head, but for a form of House music, strangely you won’t feel like dancing. So just sit back and let your brain take a beating.

[audio:070612BruceLee.mp3]

What I love: That cold, industrialized beat.

Bonus Separated at Birth entry

I’ve been listening to this song for roughly eight years now, but it wasn’t until I posted the above that I noticed that the beat I’m so fond of bears a striking resemblance to Michael Jackson’s Speed Demon from Bad (1987).

Once you’ve listened to Bruce Lee, check out this sample and then tell me it doesn’t sound a little “inspired by.”

[audio:separated/070612SpeedDemon.mp3]

Nine Inch Nails: Metal

From the remix album Things Falling Apart (2000)

Trent Reznor is no stranger to cover tunes, having turned in notable studio versions of songs by Soft Cell, Pigface, Queen and Joy Division, as well as performing a number of live covers at concerts. On the remix album that accompanied The Fragile, Nine Inch Nails added Gary Numan to that list, with a surprising faithful rendition of Metal.

To be sure, Trent layers on his trademark Fragile-era soundscapes, giving the song a gloomy NIN atmosphere. He even tacks on a superfluous 3 minute extended outro, but the soul of the song remains close to the original.

Rumors of this song’s existence circulated the late-90s Internet for a number of years before it was officially released. It was a point of contention among Fan sites whether the song was real or not. When a thirty second mp3 excerpt surfaced in 1999, many supposed that the song’s production was abandoned during the years in the wilderness between The Downward Spiral and The Fragile.

Fortunately for us, the song was completed for our enjoyment.

[audio:070609Metal.mp3]

What I Love: The subdued menace and relaxed feel.

Mogwai: 2 Rights Make 1 Wrong

From the album Rock Action (2001)

I can’t begin the to describe how awesome this song is, but it’s worth noting that it made me completely fall in love with Mogwai. Clocking in a 9-and-a-half minutes, this song is epic. Not for any story it tells, but for how it makes you feel. This mostly instrumental piece of slow-burning segments of increasingly complex layers of post-rockian composition ebbs and flows in hypnotic fashion. Upon crescendo, the song descends onto a melancholy banjo riff, repeated again and again, until the music fizzles out, leaving an intense feeling of profound inspiration.

This is one of those songs that for years has gone largely unnoticed, leading a quiet existence as pleasant background music, until one day it, when the slightest amount of extra attention is cast upon it, its brilliance explodes in your mind. From that day on, the song is never the same and neither are you.

What I Love: The descending bass lines; the extended banjo outro.

Playgrounds: Fun and interesting applications of Last.fm’s technology

The vast array of listening information available at Last.fm probably had a great deal to do with CBS’s decision to purchase the company. Though I’m wary of the deal, I’ve not lost all hope for the site. The Audioscrobbler technology behind it is some pretty fascinating stuff and the data it collects is open and available be analyzed, interpreted, shared and displayed in a lot of diverse applications.

Hopefully, now that CBS’s hand is in the cookie jar, this aspect of the service won’t change. As long as the data is accessible, here’s a number of cool things that can be harvested from Last.fm.

LastGraph

last.fm waveform 2007

My waveform for 2007, through the beginning of June.

Lee Byron’s work on Last.fm data visualization made a fairly large splash on the net recently. The multi-colored waveforms showed undulating music tastes as artists’ popularity expands and contracts over time. It’s fascinating stuff.

And of course, after a moment of exclaiming "cool!" and "pretty!" the question on everyone’s mind was "How do I get one for myself?" Since Byron’s page was more of a demonstration and proof-of-concept, there was no way for someone to enter their username and get a graph of their own listening habits, leaving many visitors disgruntled.

Enter LastGraph, which does what all those disgruntled users were requesting, for whatever username you want. Results are offered in PDF and SVG formats, which are vector based, so you can zoom very close to see small-scale changes in data. The only thing that’s missing is the ability to track an individual artist within the ebb and flow of your listening. Specifically, I’d like to hover over a line and see that artist’s trends highlighted. That’s not going to happen with a PDF though. Oh well.

The site is running kinda bare-bones right now and there is a queue system in place. You may have to wait several hours before your PDF is ready to download. So be patient. It’s worth it. The site’s performance has much improved since it launched.

Also note: the PDFs produced by the site do not render in Mac OS X’s Preview app, so be sure to view them in Acrobat.

Musicmapper’s Last.fm in Time


This chart shows my listening habits during the past 121 weeks (roughly the beginning of March 2005). Click to see larger.

Musicmapper’s Last.fm in Time generates a single graphic that displays a variety of data. The bar graphs in the background represents the total of each weeks play counts. Your top 50 artists are displayed, in rank order, on the right. The line graphs show how each of the top 50 have grown over time.

This can be useful for determining trends in your tastes and habits. In my case, before the 52 week mark, I see a lot flat-lined activity, especially among my top ten, that suddenly takes off. Also, I notice that Susuma Yakota, who I had never heard of before January this year, is in my top 50 and that he got there rather quickly. There is a very steep curve for him starting 23 weeks ago.

Tuneglue relationship explorer


Click for full size.

Tuneglue creates a web of related bands and artists. Start with one artist or band, expand the results to find similar artists or bands, then do the same to those. With four or five clicks, you’ll have a large interconnected web of new bands to explore based on similarities and relationships to your tastes. It’s a neat visual metaphor of musical interest and a good jumping off point for new music recommendations. The lack of sound samples limits its usefulness as an exploratiom tool, though the map is still fun to play with.

One killer app of the site, however, is missing. I talk of course, about a "six degrees" linker. It would be very cool to input two artists and see how many jumps are necessary to connect to two. For example, it takes four jumps to connect Mogwai to the Strokes (Mogwai » Radiohead » The Beatles » The White Stripes » The Strokes, according to Tuneglue). I figured that out on my own, but it would be nice of the site to do it for me.

Last.fm tools by Anthony Liekens

cloud of recommendations

This site features a number of Last.fm related tools. My favorite is the artist recommendation cloud, which generates a number of suggestions for musical exploration based on your top artists. Higher recommendations appear at a larger type size. Recommendations can be based on stats from your overall list, the past 12, 6 or 3 months or the past week.

Also be sure to check out your eclectic rating. I scored an 80 out of 100.

How compatible are your tastes with a radio station?

sekrit

Last.fm user profile bbc6music is, you guessed it, created by the songs BBC Radio 6 (6music) plays on air. Though not every song that the station broadcast gets uploaded to Last.fm, the user profile still manages to add about 100 play counts per day. As of August 2011, the station has an accumulated track count of nearly 380,000. The most played artist is David Bowie.

Mainstream-o-Meter

mainstreamnes

Finally, there’s the Mainstream-o-Meter, which compares your top stats with the overall most played artists site-wide. Each of your most-listened-to artists are given a weighted score which is then used to calculate your overall "mainstreamness."

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Last.fm is certainly a vast treasure trove of information, so hop to it and get exploring.