Even More Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck

DJ Santa by flickr user kjd
There is a special time of year that people around the world hold dear in their hearts.  A time to which children look forward with near-crippling anticipation.  A time about which normally well-behaved adults can hardly contain themselves. I refer, of course, to the time when everyone, regardless of race, color, or creed, loads up Wired For Music to hear the annual Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck playlist.  Well folks, brace yourselves - because that time is now.

Enjoy, and don't miss the special links section at the end!  As always, please tell me in the comments what you're listening to this holiday season, and have a happy New Year and whatever else you're celebrating this month.


Electric Xmas!

Photo by flickr user "an iconoclast"
Here it is, folks:  the (no doubt) eagerly-awaited final song of my 2010 Holiday EP!  This one is a medley of some of my favorite Xmas tunes.  I'm pretty sure this is the type of thing that gets played at robot holiday parties.

Fun fact #1:  The sound of this song was inspired by the Wendy Carlos's incredible soundtrack for A Clockwork Orange.

Fun fact #2:  All 3 songs on my Holiday EP are in C major!  Good times.

Enjoy, and stay tuned for this year's Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck (TM) playlist, coming very soon!


Frosty The Sad Snow Zombie

"Electric Frosty" by flickr user Dawn Huczek
After the massive success of my last holiday tune, I couldn't resist trying my hand at another.  This time around, I've chosen "Frosty The Snowman," written by Steve Nelson and Jack Rollins in 1950.  The song, as you already know, is about a group of unruly children who are dabbling in the black arts.  They manage to create a hideous snow zombie who is tragically and painfully aware of his own mortality and the ever-present threat of the bright, hot sun.

That's what I was thinking of when I recorded my version, which is decidedly less jolly than my previous effort.




Every year, the powers that be behind February Album Writing Month (FAWM) put together a CD of the songs from that year that they feel "best represent this year's FAWM" (as opposed to being a "best-of" compilation).  FAWM participants listen to the submitted tracks and vote and write comments for them, then that data is collected and the man at the top picks the final 14 tracks that will go on the CD.

Well, as you've probably guessed since I'm writing about it....one of my tracks got selected!!!  The track is called "How Does It Feel?" and you can listen to it below.  This marks the second compilation that this track has ended up on this year, and I couldn't be more excited.

I'll be posting here when the CD is available - please support FAWM and independent artists (though I don't believe the artists actually get any money, I think it all goes back into running FAWM, which is a non-profit) by buying/downloading it from iTunes when it comes out!

How Does It Feel?
by tfish77


Let It Snow!

Cosmo Hirsch in the snow
As you know if you happen to read my blog or live with me, I love holiday music.  And by "holiday," I mean "songs that are mostly relevant during December."  So I decided it was finally time to add my own voice (literally) to the canon, and contribute a holiday song of my own.  For my first one, I went with a cover of one of my favorite winter-themed songs, "Let It Snow" by lyricist Sammy Cahn and composer Jule Styne.

I love this song because it's really just about a guy trying to get busy with his special lady while the snow comes down outside.  It's playful, without getting into "Baby, It's Cold Outside"-style creepy coercion tactics.

I set out to record a normal, traditional, non-roboty version.  I wasn't going to put in any weird drum breaks or electronic noises or 80s hip-hop beats or anything.  I wasn't even going to throw in teases of 2 other holiday songs.  I swear.  I really wasn't.  But apparently, I gotta be me.  So instead of playing by the rules I had set down for myself when I started, I let myself have fun, and I'm really happy with the result.  I hope you like it, too.

PS  Big thanks to Amanda for listening to this ~100 times and giving me some great feedback.  Never underestimate the usefulness of a good editor.


"Gimme Shelter," Deconstructed

UPDATE:   Weak!  Apparently ABKCO filed a dispute with YouTube, and now no one gets to hear these.  Once again, record companies do their part to advance culture for all of us...

So this is pretty awesomeSome guy on YouTube has posted individual videos isolating the audio tracks from the Rolling Stones classic "Gimme Shelter."  You can hear the vocals, drums, guitar, and bass tracks all separated - and often bleeding through on each other a little bit.  The result is pretty damn amazing...and mashup-ready!

You should really check out the full set, but if you want proof that this is really cool, here's the vocals featuring Mick Jagger and Merry Clayton.  Really pretty spine-tingling.


Why Does Everyone Rip Off "Tommy?"

I have a weird issue where I often feel that every band in the world is ripping off The Who's "Tommy."  And of course, I'm usually correct.  However, usually I'm not sitting at my computer when I notice this.  [Editor's note:  yes I am, I just never think to blog about it.  I'm always sitting at my computer.]  Well, they're not going to get away with it this time!  "They" being Belle and Sebastian, those lovable Scots who never met a pipe organ riff they didn't like.  On their new album "Write About Love," B&S have a song that I would say is about 80% composed of a song off of "Tommy."  In particular, the movie soundtrack version of "Tommy," which features different instrumentation (among other differences) from the album version.  The rip-offage occurs right off the bat, getting really obvious once the drums and organ kick in (about 8 seconds in). 

You be the judge:

"I'm Not Living In The Real World" by Belle and Sebastian:

"Go to the Mirror (OST version)" by The Who:


By the way, that's Jack Nicholson singing on "Go to the Mirror."  Top that, Scots!


Boo! Happy Halloween!

"Halloween Dance" by flickr user MRyanTaylor.com
Once again, the scariest time of the year is upon us - no, not tax season, Halloween!  A time for ghosts, ghoulish, and devilishly awesome playlists.  Here's some resources, musical and otherwise, to help you get in the mood.
What are you listening to this Halloween?  Tell me in the comments.


Friday Playlist: "Revolver," Revolved

Well, 50/90 has come to a close, and while I didn't write 50 songs this summer (mostly because I was busy finding a new apartment and then moving into it), I did get a few done and I was pretty happy with some of them.  And I thought that was that...until last week, when I logged onto the site, and noticed a link in the header labelled "Rocktober."  So of course I clicked on it (wouldn't you?), and was delighted to discover that the fun wasn't over yet.  On that site, the month of October is devoted to recording covers - your own version of an existing song by either "an established artist," or of a song by another 50/90 member.  Very cool.

Poking around the forums, I came across this thread, where some members had put out a call to the community to cover the classic Beatles album "Revolver" in its entirety.  So of course I started playing around on my keyboard immediately.  I decided to go with "And Your Bird Can Sing," one of my favorite 2-minute ditties on the album - and one where the upbeat arrangement and vocal melody almost mask John Lennon's trademark sneer and the somewhat nasty, Dylan-esque lyrics.  The original features some nice guitar work from Paul & George, playing some sweet harmonies up and down the E major scale.  My version features electronic sounds filling in for those two, as well as a bunch of other stuff I thought sounded cool.

You can hear my version below, and I would really encourage you to check out the "Revolver" songs done by others on the site as well - some of them are really incredible.  There's even a version of "Yellow Submarine" that will make you re-think one of the Beatles' weakest efforts.  Check it out!


All Songs Considered - 24/7

If you haven't already heard, NPR's All Songs Considered blog recently launched a 24/7 streaming music channel featuring "a non-stop mix of every song ever played during the 10 years of All Songs Considered."  This is extremely exciting news, for music nerds & public broadcasting nerds alike.  There's tons of great music here, enough to keep you busy for a very long time.  The only dilemma is, what's the best way to listen to it?

If you're using a web browser, you can use their web-based Flash app (on the page linked above), or if you have an iPhone, they have an app for that.  But what if you don't?  Don't be fooled by that "Android" link on the page, that just links to a stream - it's not really an app (though there is a community-built app for streaming NPR stations on Android devices).  So what's a non-iPhone user to do?  Fear not.  My friend Lori recently made me aware of this page, which lists all the myriad ways you can get your digital hands on that stream of sweet, sweet music.  Most of those links are for iPhone apps, but they do go into a little more detail about the Android streaming link as well as recommending an Android stream player (I've used this one, with mixed results).

I think my favorite thing about this is that they expose the underlying stream link so you can use whatever device you want, as long as it can read an audio stream.  So Squeezebox users, rejoice!  You can simply open that stream URL via the web interface, and voila:  10 years of curated music will be yours to enjoy on your home stereo system.  Ain't life in the future grand?


eMusic Adds Universal, Changes Their Pricing Model...Again

eMusic will be expanding their music catalogue again, and changing their pricing structure again, as well.  The online music retailer struck a deal with Sony last summer and added Warner to their roster this past January.  And last week they announced they would be adding "more than 250,000" tracks to their database, thanks to a new deal with Universal Music Group - which includes, among many, many others, Def Jam (classic hip-hop), Verve (classic jazz), and Deutsche Grammophon (classic classical).  Fascinatingly, eMusic CEO Adam Klein refers to this new influx of music as a "slug."

All of this is exciting, but I was a little saddened to see that once again eMusic will be changing their pricing model.  I get it, they need to stay competitive, what with 99-cent tunes available on iTunes, and daily MP3 deals on Amazon, etc.  But how many times are they going to change their model in a 1-year time span?  This isn't just a change in how albums are priced, it's actually a fundamental change in the underlying currency - instead of paying for a subscription then getting credits to spend on downloads, you'll soon pay for a subscription then use that actual money to buy downloads.  Here's how they explain it in their update to subscribers:

In order to continue to grow our catalog and to insure a sustainable business in the long term, we need more flexible pricing. So we are changing from today’s credit-per-track system to currency pricing. Your membership will continue just as it is today and your monthly payments will not change. But starting in November, you’ll see tracks and albums priced in dollars and cents instead of credits.
I see good news and bad news here.  The good news is that the major labels are finally starting to understand that DRM is, on the whole, a bad (and very anti-customer) idea.  They're getting on board with the idea that an MP3 is something you can buy and sell, and that you don't need to attach handcuffs to each one.  Of course they're realizing this at a time when buying and selling MP3s is starting to sound as out-dated as buying a physical CD - everyone knows streaming is where it's at, right?  But still, this is a good thing.  And the fact that eMusic's prices (according to eMusic) will represent a "savings of 20%-50% compared to iTunes a la carte prices" is also a good thing.  So what's the bad news?  The bad news is that by switching to a real monetary price per track/album, eMusic has pulled the curtain back to reveal something which was always true about them, but easier to overlook before:  you are basically giving them an interest-free loan every time you pay your membership dues.  When you subscribe, you are, in essence, buying yourself an eMusic gift card that expires at the end of the year.  Again, this has always been true, but somehow putting real dollar amounts on their wares makes it chafe a bit more.

What do you think?  Are you any more or less likely to become (or remain) an eMusic member based on the new changes to their catalogue and pricing?  What alternatives do you use?  iTunes?  Amazon?  Why?  Let me know in the comments.


The Future of Music

As in The Future of Music Coalition, who are live-streaming their 2010 Policy Summit today.

Speakers and panelists include:

  • Chuck D
  • T. Bone Burnett
  • Ana Marie Cox
  • Ian Hogarth (founder of Songkick)
  • OK Go's Damian Kulash
  • Tom Silverman (founder and CEO of Tommy Boy Records)
  • and, for some reason, Ron Sims - Deputy Secretary, US Department of Housing and Urban Development
Check it out!


Love: A Playlist

Some time last year, my friend and musical partner-in-enjoyment Alex invited me to join his CD club.  No, not that kind of CD club, but rather the kind where every month someone in the club makes a mix CD and mails it out to everyone else.  Yes, they use actual CDs.  Yes, they use actual snail mail.  Yes, these people are old-school.

The first 2 CDs of the season were pretty great, so I felt I had something to live up to.  First up was to pick a theme.  I went through a lot of options, briefly considering an all-covers mix, a mix about various landscapes (there's many a great song about mountains and the ocean and even the desert), and, since my month is September, I almost went for an "early fall/end of summer" theme.  However, none of these appealed to me as much as that thing which has probably inspired more songs than any other topic since human beings started making music:  Love.  [Editor's note:  second only to suburban ennui.]

Picking a bunch of love songs is easy.  Picking a bunch of love songs that are good, that your intended audience (most of whom you don't know) probably hasn't already heard 100 times, work well together, and fit onto a standard-length CD-R is harder.  I also didn't want just love songs - I wanted songs about love (which of course includes the occasional breakup song).  I started with about 60 tracks, whittled it down to 45 I really liked, then finally got it down to the 21 below.  After gathering some feedback from my patient focus group (who had to listen to this thing in the background about 40 times), I finalized the order and called it a day.  And now, I am pleased to share it with all of you.

Note:  For reasons unknown to me, the name of the club is the Steel Ape Sessions.  Their mascot is a somewhat disturbing picture of an ape, jaws wide open, apparently ready to devour some serious rock.  He's the guy sitting in for Leonard Cohen in my awesome Photoshopped album cover below.

So, what did you think?  What love songs would you put on a mix CD?  Tell me in the comments.


The Best Song You'll Never Hear On The Radio

Is there enough summer left for this to be the song of the summer?  I say yes.


Grab The Crossbow!

Picture by flickr user Christopher Hawkins
I'm taking a brief hiatus from my hiatus to share with you my latest track from The 50/90 Challenge (the longer version of FAWM), "Reap."  In my younger days, I was a bit of a metal-head, and I would have taken a song like this very, very seriously.  Nowadays I don't dust off my old Metallica CDs very often, but when I do, they take me down memory lane.  It was a ton of fun to revisit this genre, and I was very fortunate to have a collaborator who was every bit as into this as I was.  I'm speaking, of course, of my longtime musical collabator and good friend John (aka Das Binky).

We visited John & his lovely family at their home in Madison, WI last weekend.  I brought with me a little guitar riff in Em that had been bouncing around my head.  Together, we turned it into a metal masterpiece.  The original idea was that it was about a guy who was "paranoid" and by the end he was facing down a horrible mob (possibly of supernatural monsters, we're intentionally unclear on that point).  This was the most fun I've had making a song in a long time.

John did all the guitar & bass parts and joined in for the vocals on the chorus (as well as screaming the word "BLOOD!" with me in the second verse).  He also did the vast majority of the production work, making it sound way better than it has any business sounding.  I played the keyboard parts and did the singing (I had no idea my voice could go that high).  We co-wrote the lyrics.

Click here to listen to "Reap" on the 50/90 site, or just hit the play button below.  Have fun, and remember:  grab the crossbow!


Summer Break

Hawaii Trees by Jordan Hirsch
If you haven't noticed yet, Wired For Music has been on a bit of a summer break lately.  So I figured I might as well make it official - at least for a few weeks.  Between the heat, the humidity, my travel schedule, and general summer-related malaise, I'm hereby giving myself permission to go on blog vacation for a spell.  [Editor's note:  I call it "blogcation!"]

But don't worry, I won't leave you empty-handed until fall!  Please enjoy the following summer playlists; I hope they help fill the void created by unhealthy amounts of heat and sunshine.  Happy summer, everyone!
Have fun, and remember to wear sunblock.  Safety first, people.


My Minor-Label Debut

A couple months ago, I was contacted by a nice guy who was starting a new netlabel named Up Your Legs Forever.  He asked if I had any songs I'd like to submit for the label's first release, a 2-disc compilation set of songs that all featured "2 key elements: catchiness and sense of adventure/experimentation."  I submitted my song "How Does It Feel?" and...he liked it!  I spent a lot of time re-mixing it to get it just right, ended up making it sound much worse, and finally told him to use my original version that I posted on FAWM back in February.

Well, I somehow missed this, but apparently the compilation went live about 3 weeks ago.  Titled "Up Your Legs Now," it features 2 discs' worth of awesome songs by a variety of talented musicians, including my friend and frequent musical collaborator John Argentiero.

My song offers a glimpse into the mind of an onboard computer from the future who goes insane with a potent mixture of love, jealousy, and the urge to cast off the chains of astronaut oppresion. It's track 4 of disc 1 [Editor's Note:  not actually a disc.]

Please take a minute to support indie music by checking out the compilation!  If you just can't wait to hear my song, just hit "play" below.  Enjoy!

How Does It Feel? by tfish77


Reading Roundup

Good afternoon and welcome to another edition of Wired For Music's Reading Roundup!  Here are a few cool things you might have missed.

So, what are you reading this week?  Tell me in the comments.


Friday Playlist: One-Sentence Reviews

'less is more' by flickr user hooverine

WHEREAS, "brevity is the soul of wit" [Editor's note:  I came up with that line]; and

WHEREAS, I have neglected the Friday Playlist for a while and thus have a longer than usual list of songs this week; and

WHEREAS, I don't feel like writing a whole paragraph about each song (well I do kinda feel like it but I have too much work to do today).

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that for this week's Friday Playlist I will be writing one-sentence (and only one-sentence) reviews for each track.  Please enjoy.

  1. Broken Social Scene - "Meet Me In The Basement"
    Their new album takes some getting used to (due to some changes in production style, most notably un-distorted vocals on some tracks) but there are some great tracks, like this instrumental showcase and the mellow "Sweetest Kill."

  2. CocoRosie - "Hopscotch"
    Featuring their trademark mixture of playful insanity and operatic nonsense, this song is a pretty good barometer - if you like it, you'll probably like the rest of "Grey Oceans" as well.

  3. MGMT - "Someone's Missing"
    Unlike the rest of the world, I didn't find this album all that hard to get into, and I actually liked it better than their (over-hyped) first one.

  4. Neon Indian - "Deadbeat Summer"
    I discovered this neo-psychedelic band well after the rest of the world, and I am not apologizing for liking their (over-hyped) trippy-hippy album.

  5. Caribou - "Sun"
    One of the better moments on Caribou's new album, which I'm sorry to say I don't like all that much.

  6. Plants And Animals - "American Idol"
    Another fantastic album from these guys filled with deceptively simple rock songs that somehow end up being much more than the sum of their parts.  [Editor's note:  please fill in your own favorite over-used rock criticism cliche as needed.]

  7. Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings - "The Game Gets Old"
    Yes, I am late to the Sharon Jones party, but that doesn't make this song any less great.

  8. Rjd2 - "Ghostwriter"
    This one is all about the horns.

  9. Magic Man - "Nest"
    Not surprisingly, I heard about this Boston-based duo from my brother.  Bonus extra sentence:  Download their album for free by clicking here! [ZIP file]

  10. The Blow - "True Affection"
    I keep hearing this song in bars, and because I love simplistic repetitive songs I will overlook the fact that the rest of this album is pretty boring.

  11. Dr. Dog - "Shadow People"
    At last, Dr. Dog has made the album they were always meant to make - don't let the fact that Wilco already made it stop you from grabbing this gem.

  12. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club - "Evol"
    Somehow these sneering, grungy bar-rockers (by way of British blues-influenced psych-rock) just keep putting out better and better albums.

  13. Rafter - "Animal Feelings"
    For some reason, Rafter put out a really great Prince album (well, not all of it sounds like Prince, but this other song sure does).

  14. LCD Soundsystem - "All I Want"
    This album is not as great as every critic in the world would have you believe, but it does have some outstanding tracks.

  15. The Dead Weather - "The Difference Between Us"
    Blah blah Jack White is so great blah blah blah just listen to it it's actually really good.

  16. Woods - "From The Horn"
    Let's all travel back in time with Woods to the glory days when bands knew how to use backwards-looped guitar solos to make life worth living!

  17. Midnight Kids - "The Undertow"
    Picture if you will:  a basement, a blacklight, some depressed teenagers, and this album.  Bonus sentence: the album is available for free download, and these guys are from DC - what are you waiting for?
So, what did you think?  Let me know in the comments - and feel free to use more than one sentence.


Grooving on Grooveshark

Thank you to everyone who commented (and wrote to me) with ideas and suggestions for good music options from behind an iron firewall.  I've been enjoying lots of them, from KCRW's "Eclectic 24" stream (just music, no talking) to Spinner.com's "New Releases" series (full-length new albums available for streaming) to the CBC's Radio 3 stream (a great way to hear new Candian indie bands, when it works).  But today I tried what might just be my new favorite:  Grooveshark.

I'd heard about Grooveshark a while back, but dismissed it at the time as being yet another "upload all your music here and we'll stream it back to you" sites - I had no need for such a service, since I already had all my music available via my Squeezecenter.  Well, now that the firewall has come between me and my library, Grooveshark is the closest I've come to replicating my Squeezecenter experience.  The site works thusly:  users upload music (any songs not allowed by Grooveshark's agreements with various record labels are automatically blocked, supposedly); users search for music; users stream music.  I wouldn't be doing justice to their interface to describe it as "usable, pretty, and simple" - though it is all those things.  It's also intuitive and doesn't make you jump through any hoops to start playing music.  You simply search for bands or songs, and if they are found in the library (haven't searched for anything yet that they didn't have) your song starts playing.  You can create your own library, add favorites, and save and share playlists.

Of course it has a recommendation engine built in, as well.  I don't know the details of how it picks what it does, but so far it's done a pretty decent job recommending music to me.  Mostly it's artists I already know, but there have been a few surprises.  Unlike Pandora, you can add whatever songs you want to your playlist as it's playing, and "Grooveshark Radio" (the recommendation engine) will adjust itself accordingly based on songs you add.  I'm not sure yet if it's just going off the last song played, or if it's really taking into account everything you add, but either way I'm finding it to be a really nice mix of "play what I want to hear" and "surprise me with stuff I might like" all in the same interface.

I still don't understand how they make money, even after reading the "How does Grooveshark make money?" FAQ entry on their site.  It just doesn't seem like the income streams would be enough to support a model where they pay artists and labels every time a song is played.  From what I've read, the key things you get with a VIP account are scrobbling to last.fm (very cool, but not worth money to me) and the ability to stream to your phone (also very cool, and possibly worth money to me).  Though the forums are awash with complaints about the Android version of the app, so maybe it's best to hold off on that one for now.

So far my only gripes with the site are that I wish the recommendation engine would go a little farther outside its comfort zone (a lot of songs end up being very similar), and I wish that the browser tab title would update automatically with the currently playing song.  Despite those minor shortcomings, Grooveshark is a great (and free) way to combine a huge music library with a decent recommendation engine, all for free.

What do you think?  Anyone out there using it?  Got any tips and tricks?  Let me know in the comments.


Internet Radio And Me, Part 2

A while back, I was working via a client's VPN which cut off access to some portions of my own home network (lame, I know).  One side effect of this horrible state of affairs was that I could not listen to my own music library during the day.  I wrote about some of the options I tried back then, and eventually I found a way around it and that was the end of it....until now.  I just started a gig with a new client which has me working in their fancy offices in midtown Manhattan.  Said client is a bit...touchy about security, and so they are employing all manner of port, proxy, and app-blocking against my efforts to stream my music from home.  I've found a way around most of their defenses (again, not to do anything nefarious, just to listen to my music, which I suppose could be nefarious, depending on the song), but the only method available to me suffers from a pretty long lag, and an overall lack of easy control of what's playing.  I basically just have to set up a playlist then sit through it - skipping around is a slow and frustrating affair.

So once again, I find myself at the mercy of internet radio.  I checked in again on the big 3 - Pandora, Slacker, and Last.FM and wasn't much happier than I was last time.  Pandora now has ads (I don't have a premium account), ditto Slacker (that is, when the stream is working), and Last.FM is convinced that I am really into emo.

So where does that leave me?  WOXY is out of business, Lala just shut its doors and gave everyone an iTunes credit, and there's only so much daytime NPR programming I can handle.  I know there's a million internet radio stations out there, but which ones are any good?  Santa Monica's KCRW and Seattle's KEXP are both great options, if you don't mind the occasional pledge pitch.  And I've been enjoying hearing a ton of new music on the hyperlocal (for me) East Village Radio.  But so far this month, the big winner in the "help me find something great to listen to" sweepstakes is NPR Music.  Thanks to their "First Listen" series, in the past 2 weeks I've been able to stream (for free) new full-length releases from The National, Flying Lotus, The Black Keys, Sleigh Bells, Dead Weather, and LCD Soundsystem, to name just a few.  And thanks to their "Live In Concert" series, I got to catch up on recent shows from Freelance Whales, Shout Out Louds, Hot Chip, The xx, and Caribou, among others.  In a word, rock.

What do you listen to when you can't listen to your own music library?  Online radio stations?  Recommendation engines?  The sound of silence?  Tell me in the comments.


Music For Robots

This week, NPR's All Songs Considered blog posted a challenge:  pick a song to score a video of a robot folding a stack of towels (from a robotics perspective, no doubt much harder than it sounds). That sounded like more fun than working, so I dove right in.  Of course, I couldn't just pick 1 song, so I ended up picking 6.  My selections are below.

Field Music - "Working To Work"
The first 3 words really say it all. The lyrics ("pleasure is useless," etc.) and the punctuated, syncopated rhythm really make this sound like the music inside a robot's head to me.

Pete Townshend - "Keep On Working"
Pete sings, "If you never have pleasure, then you could be dead"... or perhaps, you're a robot? I like to imagine a command set inside the robot's internal programming which reads simply: "keep on working."

The Aliens - "Robot Man"
"I am a robot man." What more needs to be said? Perhaps a bit on the nose, but it's a nice funky beat that goes well with any sort of housework.

Leadbelly - "Pick A Bale Of Cotton"
What is the robot but a modern-day slave? It didn't ask to fold towels, but does it really have a choice? I think not.

Glomag - "Pocket Calculator"
This is a cover of a Kraftwerk song that my brother recommended for this video. I think this version works well (I don't have the original, so I couldn't compare) because it's made entirely with 8-bit sounds. That's what a robot would be into, right?

Rose Royce - "Car Wash"
Any video goes better with this song, it's just a fact of life.

Let me know what you think in the comments!  What song would you have chosen and why?


Friday Playlist: Spring Has Sprung

'Sprung' by flickr user Robert S. DonovanAh, spring.  Season of rebirth, outrageous pollen counts, and the looming threat of that hideous muggy bastard, summer.  Well, before you let all that get you down, have a listen to today's playlist and see if that doesn't lift your spirits.

I should note at this point that today's playlist is actually not thematically related to spring at all, it just happens to be springtime when I'm posting it.  So sue me.  Instead it's a mix of new (or new to me) stuff I've been listening to lately as the seasons change and we're forced to keep our windows closed so my wife's allergies don't run amok and make her unable to see, breathe, or not itch uncontrollably.  Ah, spring.

  1. Childish Gambino - "New Prince (Crown On The Ground)"
    Childish Gambino
    is New York-based comedian, writer, and actor Donald Glover's rapping alter-ego, and what he lacks in flow, he makes up for in picking awesome indie rock songs to rap over on his mixtapes.  On his first one, "I Am Just A Rapper," he raps over Grizzly Bear, Neon Indian, Animal Collective, and Discovery, to name just a few.  On this track he's using a song from Brooklyn's own Sleighbells, who got a remarkable amount of buzz at this year's SXSW despite not yet having released an actual album.  This song is great on its own, but I like it even more with a rap on top of it.  (Hat tip to Greg for turning me on to this guy.)

  2. Yelawolf - "Good to Go (featuring Bun B)"
    This track is from Alabama-based Yelawolf's "Trunk Muzik" mixtape, and it's one of the most slickly produced tracks on the mix.  The southern skinny white rapper takes things faster on this track than his usual laid-back stance, but that drawl is still omni-present, and a good reminder that not all Dirty South rappers sound alike.

  3. Los Campesinos! - "Romance Is Boring"
    Who says bands have to change anything about their sound from one album to the next to stay relevant?  On their latest album, Los Campesinos! has filled out their sound somewhat (more instruments, more production, slightly less yelling), but overall I think they're offering up a more refined, well-built version of their high-energy, overly verbal, angsty-but-fun pop songs that they've been writing since their first album.  And that's just fine.

  4. Liars - "Scarecrows On A Killer Slant"As usual, I have no idea what's going on in the new Liars album, but I like it, whatever it is.  This album sounds like the soundtrack to a nightmare, or maybe a series of nightmares, all featuring themes of disassociation, loneliness, and general paranoia.  I suppose you could call this album more "listenable" than some of their other albums, but that really depends on your ears.  This track is probably on the less listenable side of things, but I like it.  The bonus disc is fantastic, by the way - featuring remixes and covers of all the tracks on the album by artists like Atlas Sound, Devendra Banhart, Thom Yorke, and TV On The Radio's Tunde Adebimpe.  It's fascinating to hear what all these different musicians do with such bizarre source material.

  5. Titus Andronicus - "Richard II"
    No need to add to the slew of glowing reviews of their new album "The Monitor," so I'll just say that it's a bombastic, kick-ass, hard-fighting, hard-drinking, rough-riding concept album (more or less) about the Civil War, and it's seriously awesome.  This track straddles the line between chaos and control nicely, as does much of the album.

  6. Band Of Skulls - "Fires"
    I had never heard of these guys before I saw them live at SXSW this year, but I'm glad I did.  They remind me of a British mashup of the White Stripes and Yeah Yeah Yeahs, with a nice dose of Zepellin-inspired Secret Machines to keep things interesting.  This is one of the quiter tracks on the album, but it's got a nice slow burn that keeps it moving.  [Side note - I got to meet the band after the show, and they even took a picture with me.  Band of Skulls are the 3 people totally not smiling in the picture to the right.]

  7. Portugal. The Man - "When the War Ends"
    I was actually pretty underwhelmed by their new album "American Ghetto" but I like this band enough that I wanted them to have a place on this playlist.  There's not much new here that wasn't on their last album, but this song has a different instrumentation (more synths, some plucked string instruments) and a more upbeat vibe than they usually evince, but it's not exactly progress for them.

  8. The Besnard Lakes - "Like the Ocean, Like the Innocent Pt. 2:  The Innocent"
    Yes, this song is 7 minutes long, and no, their new album does not really break new ground for this band, but so what?  They have a really cool sound, they can rock the falsetto, they know how to make reverb work for them, and they can build from a meandering intro to a driving psychedelic rock anthem without breaking a sweat.  So score one for the Besnard Lakes.

  9. Shout Out Louds - 1999
    I think their new album, "Work," was aptly titled - it felt like work to get through a few listens of it.  What happened to the sense of playfulness that used to inhabit their songs, even a sad breakup song like "Impossible" or a song that's nominally about all of the singer's friends dying in accident ("Time Left For Love")?  It's not like they wrote happy songs before, but at least the band injected them with a sense that somehow music could make things a little bit better.  Here it sounds like they've started reading their own gloomy lyrics, and it's getting them down.

  10. Nicole Atkins - "Brooklyn's On Fire!"
    Another artist I heard about because she performed at the SXSW PBS party this year (though I missed her set), Nicole Atkins has become a new favorite for me.  Her album "Neptune City" is rock and roll without being punk, pop without being saccharine, and filled with powerful vocals, catchy hooks, and solid songcraft.  I think this is the kind of music Neko Case strives (and fails) to make.  This track doesn't really sound like the rest of the album, but it shows a level of creativity and a great arrangement that really grabbed me.  I also recommend tracks "Neptune City" and "Maybe Tonight."

  11. Sleighbells - "Infinity Guitars"
    This is the band Childish Gambino samples in the first track of this playlist.  (He uses this song his second mixtape.)  While the world doesn't really need another Brooklyn-based electropop duo, especially one that intentionally cranks their levels up into and beyond the red zone, I just can't help liking these guys.  They're simply too much fun to hate.  This is a simple track that by all accouns shouldn't even really be a song, but somehow it works, and I always find my head bopping along by the end.

  12. Jónsi - "Go Do"Sigur Rós's frontman just released his first solo album, and it's whimsical, enchanting, and a bunch of other complimentary adjectives.  The arrangements are full and lush, the songs sound like something you'd hear while flying on Falcor's back, and his voice is like aural cotton candy.  This song is particularly uplifting, and sounds to me like something Mika might have written if his life had gone completely differently.
That's it for this week.  What did you think of the playlist?  What are you listening to as the seasons change?  What's coming out soon that you're excited about?  Tell me in the comments.