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.