Still More Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck

SK Holiday Open House by flickr user vastateparksstaff
"Christmas music."  "Holiday tunes."  "Mind-numbing winter-themed muzak pabulum."  Call it what you will, our ears are subjected to a lot of crap every winter.  Well, Wired For Music is here to help, with yet another edition of our patented "Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck" playlist.

This year's playlist has some songs that a lot of you will probably already know, but I've had enough people ask me about them in the past that I finally decided to put them on.  Hopefully there'll be some surprises on here too for more "advanced" listeners, whatever that means.  And it even features one song I swore I would never, ever include (it grew on me).

Enjoy, and be sure to check out the playlists from previous years!


Reading Roundup

Before I leave town for a few weeks (pity me, I'll be in Hawaii), I figured I should leave you all with something to read.  Here you go!

  • Fingertips Music has an interesting essay about the "social music fallacy."  I think the author makes a great point: sharing music is meaningful when it's done between friends with common musical interests; it's spam when you're simply seeing what everyone's listening to in your Facebook feed.

  • For those of you who disagree with the above article and are ready to start sharing your every listen on Facebook, check out evolver.fm's "Beginner's Guide To Facebook Music."  I don't really like Facebook's branding of this - this isn't "Facebook Music" so much as "Facebook updates about music to which people are listening through other platforms."  Still, this is a good guide if you want to have your FB friends list appear in Spotify, but don't want to share every damn track you listen to.

  • Speaking of evolver.fm, they have a good writeup of the new metadata-driven music app Drinkify, which promises to help users decide what to drink based on what they're currently listening to.  (Apparently a neat Hendricks Gin with pickled carrot garnish would be the perfect complement to this Youth Lagoon album I'm listening to as I write this. Sounds right to me.)

  • Drinkify was only one interesting app to come out of a recent Music Hack Day in Boston. Check out the Echo Nest's roundup of the hackage, and be sure to play around with the "Bohemian Rhapsichord" (Chrome only), a crazy little app that lets you play and combine samples from "Bohemian Rhapsody" to create something entirely new.

  • Music Hack Days are great for getting ideas off the ground, but of course it's once they really take flight that things get interesting.  Public media stalwarts KCRW & PRX have created a high-flying iPad app called "Music Mine" which represents "an ambitious bid to improve the experience of music discovery online."  Anyone want to buy me an iPad so I can write a review?

  • And finally, if (like me) you're in need of a new pair of headphones to wear while you play with all this great music stuff, check out Gizmodo's guide to the best budget headphones (helpful when gift-shopping for your local music/tech blogger!).
Happy reading/listening, and I'll see you all in December.


    Halloween Playlist

    "Halloween" by flickr user Nate Hofer
    It's baaaa-aaaack! That's right, a brand new Halloween Playlist is here to scarify your ears and help distract you from your usual workday activity of trying to look productive while wishing you were (un)dead.

    So pull up a tombstone, put your feet up on that pumpkin, pop open a cold bottle of blood (or pumpkin beer), and enjoy.

    And when you're done listening, check out 2009's Hallowen playlist....if you dare!


    Friday Playlist: Fall Has Sprung!

    "Fallen Leaves" by flickr user Cherice
    Fall has sprung!  I can feel it in the air!  Well, I could...for a day or two...before it got ridiculously humid and then it rained for 3 days and then got more humid and then was really hot for an afternoon.  But I refuse to let that get me down.  Fall is right around the corner (ignoring the fact that October is hot every year on the East Coast) and I am excited.  Not excited enough to curate an actual autumn-themed playlist (saving that one for real Fall), but excited enough to put together a great playlist of some new stuff I've been enjoying lately.  I hope you enjoy it too.

    The songs:
    1. Viva Voce - "Plästic Rädio"
      First track off their amazing new album.  Higher level of production and tighter songwriting than I've heard from these guys before, and all of it sounds fab.  Plus they're really nice in person!

    2. Thao & Mirah - "Eleven"
      I was never a huge Thao Nguyen fan before, possibly because she's from Virginia.  But she made a really interesting album with Mirah Zeitlyn, and it was produced by Merrill Garbus (of tUnE-YarDs), who really wasn't shy about letting her rather distinctive style seep into the duo's sound.

    3. The Antlers - "French Exit"The Antlers' latest album grew on me slowly but surely, but it's really a beautiful, tender album and shows some subtle but sure growth for this great band.  If you get the chance to see them live, don't miss it.

    4. TV On The Radio - "Will Do"
      I kind of tuned out through TVOTR's last album or so, and I think I'm not the only one. So then "Nine Types Of Light" came out earlier this year, I was definitely skeptical, and I actually wrote it off at first as a failed experiment.  But somehow over repeated listens, the songs started to open up to me in a new way, and that experiment started really working for me.  I saw them play live the other night at the Williamsburg Waterfront, and they blew me away.  They had a great mix of styles on display and the band's sense of fun really came out.  Definitely one of the better live shows I've ever seen.  This song in particular took on a whole new life for me last night - makes me wish they would release a live album.

    5. Handsome Furs - "When I Get Back"
      I go back and forth as to which Wolf Parade side project is my favorite, but I'm split pretty mcuh 50/50 between Spencer Krug's Sunset Rubdown and Dan Boeckner's Handsome Furs.  Their new album is a nice mix of electronica and good old rock and roll.

    6. Mother Mother - "The Stand"
      I've been waiting for years for these Canadians to release a new album, and now that they have, I am pleased.

    7. Wugazi - "Another Chessboxin' Argument"
      Wu-Tang Clan + Fugazi = awesome.

    8. Okkervil River - "Rider"
      I kind of feel like Okkervil River has taken over where Wilco left off several albums ago - i.e. by writing good American roots rock.  Their sound has very little in common with Wilco, but I think they're going where Wilco was headed, before Wilco took a terrible left turn into mediocrity.  The new Okkervil album is better than I expected, and has an edge to the production that wasn't there on previous efforts.

    9. Gillian Welch - "The Way It Goes"
      What can I say?  There's a new Gillian Welch album, obviously you should go buy it.

    10. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - "Senator"
      I'm not half the Malkmus fan that the Abstract Citizen is, but even I can tell that "Mirror Traffic" is both an excellent return to form for Malkmus & the Jicks as well as an exploration of some interesting new ground.  Elsewhere on the web, much has been made of Beck's influence as a producer on this album, so I'll leave it at this:  it's good.

    11. Portugal. The Man - "So American"
      I think their new album is their best effort in a while.  Still not quite what I know they're capable of, but really good nonetheless and definitely worth a listen.

    12. TV On The Radio - "Killer Crane"
      Yes, that concert made me like them so much I had to include another track from this album.  This isn't their typical sound, but it's really pretty and somewhat haunting and it ends up working better than it should.
    What are you listening to now that Fall is (nearly) upon us?  Tell me in the comments.


      Reading Roundup

      Yay, it's time for another news roundup!  I just got back from a few weeks out of town (apparently the universe did not like the fact that I was out of New York, and decided to get all pouty and start throwing around earthquakes and hurricanes - hopefully now that I'm back, things will settle down considerably).

      Anyway, here's what's been happening lately in the digital music world:

      • Not content to own all of our private data, Facebook is launching a music platform in conjunction with Spotify, MOG, and Rdio.  It will apparently allow users "to listen to music from within Facebook.com," since it's not convenient enough to simply have music on in the background while you spend all day on Facebook.  Interestingly enough, a Facebook rep apparently told Mashable “There’s nothing new to announce,” so take this one with a grain of salt.

      • eMusic and The Echo Nest have teamed up to create a new streaming radio offering.  It's an interesting mix of human-curated content (by the music nerds at eMusic) and computer-based playlist generation (by the tech nerds at The Echo Nest).  If, like me, you feel that Brooklyn has been woefully under-represented in the musical arena, you might want to start with their Brooklyn station.

      • The Atlantic has an interesting piece on The Loudness Wars and how they might possibly be over.  Let your eardrums rejoice!  The piece has an interesting take on Sleigh Bells' use of extreme compression as a purposeful technique as opposed to a last resort to make a record sound louder than it really is.

      • Not really news, but a useful roundup of Spotify playlist tools that help you create, discover, share, and collaborate on Spotify playlists.  Enjoy them now before they implement streaming caps in the US!

      • If you're feeling generous, take a look at all the cool SXSW Interactive 2012 panels that Echo Nest is proposing, and go sign up and vote for them!  While you're at it, you might as well go ahead and vote for my panel, "Change Happens: Improv For An Unpredictable World."  Thanks!
      That's all for today, folks.  Got any cool music-related news?  Let me know in the comments.


      Web Developer's Lament

      This one's for all the web developers out there...

      I'm on a "working vacation" for a couple weeks up in Belfast, ME, staying in a house on the bay.  Somehow working from here doesn't feel quite as much like work as it does when I work from my usual office location.  However, events have conspired to make it feel as much like work as it possibly could - namely, a client has been doing their best to make sure that no piece of code I write this week is ever actually done, due to the specifications changing daily, not unlike clouds shifting in a summer breeze.

      So I wrote this song to explain how I feel.  [This isn't all about this particular project, but that was a good starting point.]

      This is a live recording made down by the water.

      They changed the specs again
      Just when I was nearly finished
      Said the client changed their mind
      I don't know if I can take this

      They changed the specs again
      I've already written so much code
      And the thought of starting over
      Makes my sanity erode

      Why won't they just let me finish?
      Why can't I just be done?
      Why won't they just let me finish?
      Is this their idea of fun?

      They changed the specs again
      Pushed the launch up by 2 weeks
      They've added a shopping cart
      God, my knees are feeling weak

      They changed the specs again
      To match the new designs
      They want it to just "work like Google"
      Lord, I'm losing my mind


      I give up, I give up.
      I give up, I give up.

      Let's add some features, I give up.
      Let's build a CMS from scratch, I give up.
      Let's refactor every function, I give up.
      Let's start calling ourselves agile, I give up.
      Let's have a status meeting, I give up.
      Let's adopt a framework, I give up.
      Let's add members' only area, I give up.
      Let's change databases, I give up.
      Let's review my timesheet, I give up.
      Let's never document anything, I give up.
      Let's outsource to India  


      Spotify: Awesome, But Not Awesome Enough

      Like a lot of people, I've spent some time over the past couple of weeks trying out Spotify (and no, I don't have an invite to give you, sorry).  And I've reached a conclusion: namely, that while Spotify offers a lot, I will never switch all my music to a rental/streaming model.  I was already pretty sure of that, and then last week's Netflix streaming outage (on the heels of jacking up their prices to push users towards streaming-only plans) convinced me.  Access to music is simply too important to me for me to rely on a rental model where I'm at the whim of a company who is subject to outages, price increases, changes in Terms of Service, etc.  But that's not to say there's nothing good about Spotify; on the contrary, it's a pretty amazing service, and I'm glad it's finally available in the US.  Here's how my experience with Spotify has gone so far:

      I was delighted to get the invite in my inbox.  I installed it immediately, and watched as it scanned my music folder (without asking me) and added the music files on my computer to its local database.  Well, not all the music files - only the MP3s.  For me, this was a big drawback.  Most of my music is in FLAC, and so Spotify only picked up about 40% of my local files.  This is important not just for playing those files locally, but because Spotify uses the presence of a file in your local library to determine whether or not to play ads to you while you listen - for example, say I searched for "Viva Voce" in Spotify.  If their new album comes up in the search results and I play it, Spotify will check to see if I have a local copy (in MP3 format) of those files - if so, it plays the local copy and does not play me ads.  If not, it will stream those tracks to me via their fancy P2P implementation, and interrupt the music with ads.  In addition, other Spotify users can't use my local copies of those files as part of their streaming experience, so everybody takes a small hit when Spotify can't recognize all of my local music.

      Speaking of those ads, they are horrible.  My first 24 hours or so with Spotify was a beautiful, ad-free music playground.  I looked up artists I'd wanted to hear more of, I could quickly find bands that a friend had recommended to me, etc. all without hearing or seeing a single ad.  Then at some point I closed and restarted Spotify, and when it came back, it was more like listening to commercial radio while browsing the web without AdBlock.  The ads were typically either for the latest album from some horrible nu-metal band (rather jarring to hear in the middle of an otherwise nice playlist) or for Spotify Premium.  Sometimes the music would just stop after an ad played, and the interface would show me a message saying that my music would resume after the ad had played.  I had to restart to fix that.

      Now for the good:  their music library is nearly unlimited.  I've had a hard time stumping it (but when I did, it wasn't always with something obscure - for example, they have The Byrds' version of "Mr. Tambourine Man" but not Dylan's), and so I've enjoyed exploring the back catalogue of some artists I like.  The queuing system is convenient and intuitive, it's simple to make (and share) a playlist, and in general, it works the way you'd expect it to, which is nice.  Speaking of playlists, "shared playlists" are a very cool feature - that's the ability to see playlists that your Facebook friends have put together.  If their playlists contain songs from their local library that Spotify doesn't have in their rights network, you can't play them, but you can play everything else, so it adds a nice social aspect to the experience.  I do wish that it didn't enable sharing of your playlists by default, though - I don't necessarily want to share every random playlist I throw together. But it is cool to see the list of Facebook friends growing as more and more people get access to invites.

      Speaking of shared playlists, they made me realize that for me, Spotify is missing a key feature:  recommendations.  I found myself looking to shared playlists as a way to find some new music, or something that I might like (the old-fashioned way, i.e. "what are my friends into?").  I know that recommendation isn't in Spotify's core path, and that makes sense...but I was hit with the conundrum of "now I have access to nearly every song, ever....what the hell do I listen to?"  Fortunately, I found Spotibot, which generates Spotify playlists for you based on various information from your Last.FM profile.  This is just one of many mashups and integrations that Spotify highlights here.  All of this is made possible via the Spotify Metadata API, which appears to be pretty great - though I'm not sure yet how it compares to the one from Echo Nest in terms of depth of data.

      After playing with Spotify for a while, I did notice some unexplained UI things that were not intuitive to me (and not well explained in their documentation) - e.g. the music note icon (which I think means that a file is in your local library), the "Unlink Tracks" context-menu item, the "Go To Replacement" context-menu item, and a few others.  But on the whole, Spotify is a great addition to the world of digital music players/streamers/aggregators.  With the ads playing, I can't see myself using the free version every day - it's just too annoying.  And I can't really see paying for access to thousands and thousands of tracks I don't want to listen to just to get access to a few more that I do.

      How about you?  Have you used it yet?  What did you think?  What's great?  What's missing?  Tell me in the comments.


      I Wrote A New Song!

      Summertime doesn't just mean Mother Nature training a red-hot death laser on us with no end in sight, it also heralds the return of 50/90, which is the summertime cousin of FAWM.  Basically it's a web-based community who are taking on the challenge of writing 50 songs in 90 days.  Yes, it's crazy.  So crazy, in fact, that I have never attempted it, but I do try and write a few songs each summer, in large part because I find that in the absence of a deadline of some sort, my songwriting tends to grind to an unglamorous halt.

      Well, now that the heat and air quality have made going outside quite possibly the last thing I will ever do, I spent some time over the past week or so hiding indoors working on a new song.  I've had the background music for this one rattling around my head for months, and finally decided to do something with it.  The melody line was inspired by 2 things:  1) I recently received this awesome Rode microphone (my first condenser mic!) as a birthday present and needed something with a lot of soaring high notes to justify it, and 2) my wife nudging me to "write something that shows off [my] voice."  I don't know if this satisfies #2, but I tried.  As usual with my songs when I'm just starting one of these songwriting cycles, the lyrics are more or less about getting off your ass and doing something creative, etc.

      The song is called "Set You Free."  Enjoy!



      Cloud wisps by flickr user turtlemom4bacon
      There's been a lot of talk lately about cloud-based music services. [Editor's note: all of those links are worth reading, if you have some time.  You know you do.]  If the concept is new to you, here's the gist:  instead of storing your MP3s (or ideally, FLAC files) on your computer, you store them on someone else's server, and access them over the internet.  It's not a new concept, but recently it's gotten a lot of buzz and helped revive the horrendously overused term "cloud" to mean "something that lives on a remote server."  All web sites live in the cloud, and you access them from wherever you are.  The big difference here is that music used to be something you owned, not something to which you (essentially) rented access.

      I've had my own version of the cloud for a while now.  Before there was Google Music, Apple's iCloud, or Amazon Cloud Player, there was the Squeezebox.  For years now, I've used some simple server software, a decent home internet connection, and a dynamic DNS service to let myself stream my music from any other computer.  The benefit for me is that I don't have to upload my sizable music collection (most of which is in FLAC, meaning the files take up a lot more space) to someone else's servers.  This could realistically take days if not weeks, since I have a pretty low upload speed at home.  Second, I'm not relying on a third party to give me access to my music.  If Google or Amazon decides that they don't trust the provenance of one of my tracks, that's too bad for me - I simply lose access to it.  Or if they decide that cloud-based music services are no longer a good business for them to be in, that's the end of that.  Third, I have control over how my files are organized, tagged, listed, sorted, etc. - basically I am in control of the metadata and how I access it.  And as we all know, metadata is cool [PDF].

      But it goes deeper than that.  At heart, I'm a collector, and I like the idea that I own my music.  I don't want to give up control over to it to someone else, nor am I remotely comfortable with the idea of renting my music from a service like Rhapsody. I used to feel the same way about DVDs - I wanted to own them (I still do), because owning them feels good.  A DVD library, much like a book library and certainly a music library, says something about its owner.  I know this is somewhat ridiculous, especially in my case because all of my DVDs are in crates (New York apartments aren't huge on storage space), not visible to the public.  I have similar qualms about switching from printed books to the Kindle (which I love).  It just doesn't feel the same to be renting access to books as opposed to actually owning them.  And yet I couldn't wait to move from physical CDs to digital files.

      But despite all that, I do download books to the Kindle.  And I love streaming movies from Netflix.  But music is different - I'm not reading a book or watching a movie for 8 hours a day, but I have music on non-stop during my workday.  And on my headphones when I ride the subway or walk the dog (unless I'm listening to the radio or a podcast).  Music occupies a unique and very large place in my media consumption pantheon, and so for now, at least, I'm not willing to give mine up to someone else.  I will suffer for this, I'm sure.  For example, there is still no good, reliable way to stream from the Squeezebox to my Android phone (I've tried other services like Subsonic, with less-than-great results).  And while it's easy for me to stream my music to any computer, it takes some setup and a bit of work - not a lot, but not as little as just downloading and installing the Google Music player, for example.  But despite some drawbacks, maintaining my own "cloud" just feels right to me, and so that's how I'll be rolling.  At least until something better comes along.

      How do you store/manage/stream your music?  Tell me in the comments.


      Google Music - Still a Mystery

      After reading some interesting reviews of Google's new "cloud"-based music service, [Editor's note: can we please stop calling anything hosted online "cloud-based?"] imagine my delight (go ahead, imagine it) when a beta invitation arrived in my inbox yesterday.  I was particularly interested in its playlisting abilities - i.e. how well it performs in the task of "recommend a bunch of songs from my own collection that have qualities in common with the seed song/artist/album."  Over at Echo Nest, Paul Lamere (one of my music tech heroes, who's involved with a really cool company) did an in-depth head-to-head comparison of Google Music, iTunes Genius, and the Echo Nest's own API.  The result:  Google Music fails what Paul calls the "WTF Test."  Meaning, way too many songs in Google's playlists would cause the listener to say "WTF?  This has nothing in common with my seed song."

      I've written about music recommendation engines in this space before, and generally I've found them to be a mixed bag.  While I do sometimes hear about new artists I might not have heard otherwise from the web-based tools, these days I'm actually more interested in diving deep into my own collection.  I have about 80,000 tracks in my digital collection.  I use a variety of tools to manage this beast, primarily SqueezeCenter, which is the software that enables streaming to a device such as the Squeezebox.  One of my favorite features of SqueezeCenter is its integration with a nifty little product called MusicIP.  MusicIP used to be a great tool for generating playlists based out of your own music library.  It's perfect for someone like me with more tracks than I can handle.  It finds hidden gems, reminds me of things I forgot I had, and of course generates a few WTF moments.  Sadly, the folks over at Amplifind Music Services discontinued support for this product a long time ago, thus ensuring that some of its most maddening bugs (my personal favorite is the one where it has trouble analyzing FLAC files on a network drive, but can analyze those same files perfectly on a local drive) will never be fixed.  Kudos to folks like whoever runs Spicefly, who keep the torch burning for MusicIP, but the fact is, it's never going to get any better.  And I haven't yet had the time to devote to learning the Echo Nest API enough to have it analyze my whole collection and thus fulfill the same function for me.  Which brings me back to Google Music.

      Despite its purportedly high "WTF factor," and the fact that you can only upload 20,000 tracks, and the fact that they will delete any track that Google deems to have violated copyright (I'd love to know how they know which track is the one I ripped from my own CD, and which is the copy I might have given to someone), I was still hopeful that Google Music might, one day, fill the coming void in my life when I finally upgrade Windows and MusicIP breaks down altogether.  So now that you've imagined my delight at receiving an invitation to the beta, imagine my disgust when the stupid thing told me I already more than 2 authorized user accounts tied to my current device, whatever that might mean.  This for software that I've never installed before.  So I consulted their help page, which told me to simply go to my Google Music settings in my browser, and de-authorize my devices.  Now, finally, imagine the words I uttered upon discovering that, according to Google, my authorized devices numbered exactly zero.  I wrote to support, but haven't heard back yet.  So for now, Google Music doesn't even have a chance to fail the WTF test for me, it's too busy failing the WFI test (Won't Fucking Install).

      Anyone else used this thing?  Let me know in the comments.

      UPDATE: Google support got back to me, apparently this was an issue where by default the software assumed if you had any virtual machines on your computer that you were already using Google Music.  They have released a fix, so I'll be trying again soon.


      Music Without A Net

      Hello loyal readers.  I'd like to take a break from my usual spotty coverage of music and technology plus the occasional playlist to let you all know that next weekend, I will get not 1 but 2 opportunities to do one of my favorite things in the world:  perform musical improv in front of an audience.  And if you're going to be in New York City the weekend of May 20th, I'd love for you to come out and see me.

      Friday May 20 @ 8:00 PM
      Vox Pop Presents:  An Evening of Musical Improv

      My 2-person group Vox Pop will be hosting an evening of musical improv, with a ton of amazing guest groups from the Big Apple.  Vox Pop performs an entirely sung show - every word you hear will be sung, every tune and lyric will be made up on the spot, and it will be entertaining as hell.  My co-star Karen Lange lives in Washington, DC, and I live in New York City, so we don't get to perform together as often as we'd like, which makes this show a big deal.  So come on out and see an event that's way more rare and entertaining than a triple rainbow or a super moon or any of that other crap.


      Friday 5/20 8:00 PM
      Theaterlab, Studio C

      137 W. 14th St., btwn 6th & 7th
      New York, NY
      $10 - Tickets
      More info

      Saturday, May 21 @ ~ 8:00 PM
      iMusical:  The REUNION Show!  (Part of the Queens Fringe Festival)

      Washington DC's acclaimed iMusical is coming to New York to participate in the Queens Fringe Festival.  iMusical has performed to standing ovations up and down the east coast, and was called "spot on" by the Washington Post.  Despite these accolades, various cast members (including yours truly) have left the group over the years to pursue life in the Big Apple.  Well, on Saturday May 21st you can see these all-stars back together on stage for the first time in years.  This is bigger than [some awesome all-star sports game that I can't reference because I don't follow sports]!!!  You don't get a chance to see this many musical improv heavy-hitters on stage at the same time very often, folks, so don't pass it up.

      Saturday 5/21
      We are in a slot of groups which starts at 6:40 PM.  We're expected to go on around 8:00 PM.
      The Secret Theatre
      44-02 23rd St
      Long Island City, NY
      $15 for an all-day pass which also gets you $3 beers all day(!)
      More info

      I hope you can make it out to one or both of those shows, I can pretty much guarantee [Editor's note: not a guarantee] that they are going to be awesome.


      Friday Playlist: SXSW and Beyond

      Good news, everyone, the Friday Playlist is back!  Today's edition features mostly bands I heard about this year at SXSW, with some old favorites thrown in for good measure.  Enjoy!

      1. TUnE-yArDs - "Gangsta"
        Despite the monstrously inappropriate use of mixed-case letters in their name, this world-music-meets-hip-hop-meets-a-bunch-of-other-stuff album from musician Merrill Garbus is really incredible, and is everything the last Dirty Projectors album should have been.  She also recently produced and penned a few songs for the latest Thao Nguyen album, which (in my not-so-humble opinion) has made Thao more interesting than ever.

      2. Beach House - "Used To Be"
        This album came out last year, but I finally got around to listening to it a couple weeks ago and was struck at how Beach House put out the perfect Walkmen album.  It's really beautiful but never boring.  Excellent.

      3. Shad - "Rose Garden"
        Shad, or Shadrach Kabango as his parents called him, is a Canadian rapper who played at SXSW this year to much acclaim.  This whole album is great, and this song in particular showcases his lyrical prowess, flow, and ear for a good sample.

      4. Yuck - "Get Away"
        Another SXSW darling, this London group has been getting a lot of press lately as a band who obviously worships the sound of the 90s, despite seemingly being way too young to have actually been cognizant of music during the actual 90s.  My cynical prediction is that you won't be hearing about them for very much longer, but it's a fun album if you were around for the real thing.

      5. Gold Panda - "Quitters Raga"
        This is a cut off of Companion, a digital-only download of tracks released prior to this SXSW star's Lucky Shiner.  But it's still a cool song.

      6. Superhumanoids - "Cranial Contest"
        Hailing from LA's Echo Park, Superhumanoids got a lot of press at SXSW this year, and they deserve most of it.  Their sound borrows pretty heavily from the late 80s/early 90s, but they turn those influences into some cool lo-fi pop songs that stick with you.  They show a few sides on this EP, and I like that they haven't decided on one yet, it makes for a more interesting sound.

      7. Braids - "Lemonade"
        I know it's simplistic to call Braids "Animal Collective with a female singer," but I'm going to do it anyway.  Not all the songs on this album hold true to that description, but enough do that I feel OK with it.

      8. Destroyer - "Kaputt"
        Ah, Destroyer.  The thinking man's Steely Dan.  Who else could make an album full of songs about girls and cocaine sound so goddamn square?

      9. Paul Simon - "Dazzling Blue"
        Amazingly, Paul Simon's voice still seems to be serving him as well as his songcraft and his gift for lyrical poetry.  I really liked a lot of his new album, but I don't recommend listening to it on a long drive that you start at 7:00 AM (like I did).
      Thanks for listening!  As always, please let me know what you thought in the comments.


        SXSW Music: Day 3

        After the previous night's excitement, I was ready for some R & R on my last day in Austin.  R & R meaning, of course, rock and roll.  [Editor's note:  not my best work, humor-wise.  Forgive me.]  The ER doctor, while stitching up my wife's face, told us about "the best coffee shop in Austin" where there was going to be a whole afternoon of free music the next day, "more in a folky, bluegrassy vein."  And this woman knew veins.  [Editor's note:  that was funnier, right?]  So off we went to the Once Over Coffee Bar, stopping along the way for some delicious tacos from - you guessed it - a food truck right in front of the coffee shop.  Once inside, we secured some beers, then made our way to the back deck where a lady with a ukelele was just starting her set.

        It turns out that lady - Datri Bean - was going to become one of my wife's new favorite artists.  On her web site, Bean describes her music as "music for a lazy afternoon on the porch" and I couldn't agree more.  We spent a nice long while basking in the Texas sunshine, nursing our beers (and, for some of us, our head wounds), and happily grooving on Datri Bean's folky, jazzy tunes as she switched from ukelele to accordian and back again.  It was heavenly. We stayed for a few more groups afterwards (unfortunately, I can't recall their names) and really enjoyed ourselves, finally heading indoors for some of the excellent coffee and a surprisingly good bagel.  All in all, a good afternoon.

        Datri Bean and her accordion

        That night was going to be my last night in Austin, so I knew I had to make the most of it.  I had plotted out 5 bands I wanted to see (with about 5 backups for each time slot), all at venues within walking distance of each other.  I knew if I stayed focused and kept on a steady diet of Jack & Coke and Lone Star, I could do it.  So I set off on my rental bike around 8:30 PM, plan in hand, ready for a good time.  Here's how it played out:
        1. My first stop was a church where the over-50 set, a handful of teenagers who looked way too young to sneak into any over-21 clubs, the other 3 Jews in Austin, and I all enjoyed the klezmer-honkytonk stylings of the Yiddish Cowboys.  Truth be told, they were really just a klezmer band in cowboy hats, there wasn't any discerinble honkytonk to my ears.  But I did learn from them that the song "Miserlou" has its roots as an old Greek folk tune who's title means "Egyptian Girl."  So that was interesting.  Also, the entire church smelled strongly of bacon, which was being cooked out in one of the common rooms, along with a whole slew of breakfast items available for sale, as well as beer.  Fascinating.

        2. Damien Jurado, rocking out
        3. Next up was Damien Jurado, who performed a beautiful set despite some obstacles.  He was in an upstairs club above some place that was blaring some sort of horrible nu-metal music or something.  It was impossible not to hear the drums pounding through the floor as he sang his quiet heartfelt songs.  At first everyone in the club was sitting down, and it felt really communal, but eventually the club asked us all to stand up to let more people in, which was weird, because the people who came in just stood at the bar and talked, prompting Damien to yell at them to "shut the fuck up" at one point.  He seemed a little perturbed the whole time, but still did a great set, even doing one of his guitar solos a cappella as he played the rhythm part, inviting the crowd to sing along with him during one song, and then telling us a story about the "rich assholes [he] knew growing up who owned a trampoline."

        4. My next stop was easily the loudest of the night, when I managed to squeeze myself into a very crowded club to see Tapes 'n Tapes.  Apparently they have a new album out, I had no idea.  I haven't really heard anything about them in a while, but it turns out they are very good live, they are incredibly loud, and they are extremely punctual.  All of which are positives in my book.  They did a crisp half-hour set which actually included a lot of songs, which I guess highlights how short their songs are on average.  This show made me want to listen to them more, so maybe I'll check out that new album some time soon.  I also really appreciated the brevity of this set, as it gave me some time to enjoy a nice food truck falafel before rushing off to the next show of the night.  Side note: this was the only show of the evening for which I did not get to sit down for at least a portion of the set.  At my age, that's worth keeping track of.

        5. Her Space Holiday, pre-retirement
          The penultimate band of the night (for me, at least) was San Francisco's Her Space Holiday [Editor's note: according to AMG, Marc Bianchi relocated to Austin back in 2001, so I guess he was a local act that night.]  I've been a fan of this emo-electronic bedroom-pop act for a while, so I was really looking forward to this show, and he didn't disappoint.  He combined a couple songs for some reason, and played a few I'd never heard, which was cool.  It was illuminating to see a live guitarist and bassist playing along with all the pre-recorded electronic backing music; I'd been curious as to how that would work out live.  It's nothing new, but it's still kind of weird to see a band playing live with a laptop.  There was a surprisingly large crowd for this show, or at least I guess Bianchi was surprised, because he opened the show by asking the crowd "where have you guys been for the past 5 years?"  I had no idea how long this band had been around until he announced at the end of the show "I've been doing this for 15 years, and I'm going to be stopping soon."  So I guess that counts as a surprise retirement announcement.  Woo hoo, I got a scoop!

        6. Damien Jurado, hanging out
          My night ended at the same club where I'd seen Damien Jurado, and on my way over there, I passed some bearded guy in a plaid shirt (there were literally hundreds of them on the streets) who turned out to be...Damien Jurado.  I told him I'd really liked his set and he shook my hand and thanked me.  That was cool.  Then I went upstairs to see another act I've loved for a long time but never seen live before, Viva Voce.  This married couple from Portland makes excellent guitar-based psychedlic rock music, and it was very cool to see them re-create some of that music in a very intimate setting.  By which I mean, there were only about 10 other people there to see them, which is a crime.  One of those people happened to be the aforementioned Damien Jurado, who walked over and sat down at my table (where there was a free bar stool) and proceeded to spend most of the show seemingly checking the weather on his iPhone.  Meanwhile, Viva Voce did an awesome for a small but enthusiastic crowd, and afterwards I got to talk briefly with Kevin Robinson (who mostly plays drums and sings), who was really nice, and told me all about how he'd shredded his rotator cuffs drumming and had to take several years off, and how happy he was to be playing again, and how his wife Anita is really the super-talented one and how great she is.  It was really cute, and I really enjoyed talking to him.  Then someone from the venue told the "crowd" that we all had to leave for the night, so that was that.
        The next day we re-visited the rock poster exhibit, did some shopping on Austin's wonderful South Congress St., and waited in vain for the cab we had ordered to pick us up and take us to the airport.  We eventually hailed one on the street.  That part of the day was pretty stressful and made me hate Austin's taxi drivers even more than I already did.  But in the end, it was a great week, the weather was nice, I got to see a lot of old friends, a ton of live music, and some interesting panels to boot.  And my own panel went really well and got a very enthusiastic response from the crowd.  So until next year, thanks for a great time, Austin!

          Wall art/musical instrument from our Austin rental condo


          SXSW Music: Day 2

          Now that I'm safely back at home in the near-freezing fog of Brooklyn, I can tell you guys all about my second day of SXSW Music, which was pretty darned eventful.  The day began at a reasonably late hour, due to staying up past my bedtime the night before.  When I did finally make my way over to the Austin Convention Center (or "ACC" to those of us in the know), I got there in time for a panel all about how to get your music featured in commercials.  Apparently the short answer is, "it's hard."  The longer answer is, "it's really hard, but keep at it and good luck!"  After that dose of realism, I wandered down to the Flatstock Poster Exhibition where I immediately wanted to spend every last dollar I have (which wouldn't have taken long) on amazing rock posters, t-shirts, and art for me and a lot of people I know.  If you're reading this, chances are I saw I a poster I wanted to buy you.  But I showed remarkable restraint and only bought myself one robot t-shirt from this guy.

          Please buy me this
          After drooling all over the poster show's floor (and a few of the posters), I made my way down to the "Gear Alley Expo," a much smaller version of the SXSW Trade Show featuring only vendors that have something to do with music.  Within seconds, I had already fallen in love with several products and was trying to figure out how to sell my body on the spot to pay for them.  The first thing was a very cool amp from Fender that plugs into your computer and gives you on-screen controls to use it as a modelling amp (meaning it can emulate a bunch of different amp sounds, and it has a ton of included effects, etc.)  You can load your own backing tracks on it or use one of the many included ones and play along live with yourself, without having to bring a laptop to your show.  If anyone would like to buy me this, I would be forever (or at least for a long time) in your debt.  I also had a nice long chat with the guys at Raw Talent, who were there promoting a new computer-based guitar training program that actually looks very cool and useful.  After talking to them for a while, they asked me if I happen to write about music or technology.  Why yes, yes I do!  Even though I warned them that I only have a handful of readers (but it's the best handful on the Internet) they gave me a free copy of their software to evaluate and review.  So watch this space for a review coming soon, and watch me have 1 fewer excuse for having incredibly limited guitar skills.

          Next up was a panel titled "Songwriters Explain Everything," which sounded pretty useful.  But much like imaginary numbers, it turned out to be pretty cool, but of limited practical value.  While there wasn't really too much talk about the craft, there were some great live performances from Hayes Carll, Ron Sexsmith, and Hazel Dickens, who is not only adorable, but can still belt it out pretty well for an old lady.  Hazel did say something about songwriting that I loved - the moderator was asking the three musicians how they got started with songwriting, and she talked about how she loved singing along with music as a child, but that she would always "run out of verses," so she had to writer her own.  I could really relate to that, both as a musician and in particular as a musical improviser.

          Letting Up Despite Great Faults - dig that giant beard!
          I ended up skipping the panel with maybe my favorite title of the week, "I'm Not Old, Your Music Does Suck" in favor of going home and preparing for a night out of seeing shows.  Turns out I didn't need too much preparation, as I only ended up seeing one band.  Halfway through a really, really great set from LA's electro-shoegazers Letting Up Despite Great Faults, I got a phone call from the wife.  I texted her back, explaining that the club was loud and I couldn't really talk at the moment.  She texted back, explaning that she had taken a little spill, and was currently dripping blood from her face.  So I missed the rest of the set (and I missed seeing Portugal. The Man and TV On The Radio later that evening) to spend time in one of Austin's most exclusive (seriously, the wait to get into that place is ridiculous) venues, the emergency room.  Fortunately (very!), she was fine, and is now sporting some styling face stitches and very strong views on cities that leave downed street signs lying in the middle of the sidewalk for unsuspecting (and completely sober, sadly) pedestrians to trip over.  On the plus side, she did get some kick-ass painkillers from the doctor, who also told us about a great (and free!) bluegrass/folk showcase going on the next day at a coffee shop right near the condo we were renting.  And it was at that showcase that Amanda discovered a new favorite artist.  So that's kind of cool.

          More on that in my next post, as well as reviews of the five(!) shows I saw on my final night in Austin, including a honky-tonk klezmer band, the surprise announcement of Her Space Holiday's retirement, and the loudest band in Austin!  Stay tuned...


          SXSW Music: My First Night

          This year marks my 4th time at SXSW, and my first time at SXSW Music (thanks to a gift from my lovely and talented wife).  I didn't really know what to expect, and with something like 2000 bands playing over a handful of days, planning out my evenings has been not unlike planning a small military operation.  Every band I want to see is playing at the same time at different venues and nothing starts on time and everything's crazy and everyone's everywhere etc. etc. etc.  So far, this has been a good experience in learning to let go of expectations, because all the planning can really go out the window once you try actually navigating the drunken hordes on Austin's 6th Street at 1:00 AM to get over to that one club with the really cool band playing.

          But despite all the craziness, I've seen some great stuff so far, and I'm here to tell you all about it!

          Wednesday night I caught a very short set from Canadian hip-hopper 4th Pyramid (I think he was told about 8 minutes into his set that the entire set would only be 10 minutes long).  After that, I hopped on my bike and headed over to catch college-age rappers Chiddy Bang at the "Vibe SXSW House Party," whatever that was.  They were listed as going on at 9:15, but the signs posted near the men's room indicated that they would be taking the stage closer to 12:15 (that's AM, people), so after sticking around for an hour of middling-quality West Coast hip hop acts, I ditched the House Party to host my very own gourmet sliders party at a local food truck.

          Once sated, I parked myself at my final destination for the evening and saw three bands in a row, 2/3 of whom hail from Brooklyn these days, just like me.  First up was The Vandelles, who seemed to have left most of their effects rack at home, so (despite turning the reverb way up on their amps) they did not manage to fully re-create their spacey psychedelic surf-rock vibe on a live stage, but they did feature 2 female band members sporting dangerously hip levels of bangs, so there's that.  Next up was The Antlers, who easily won the coveted "Jordan's Favorite Band Of The Night" award with a killer set drenched in beautiful effects, high-pitched emotional vocals, and an overall sense of quality.  Here's a totally legal video that someone who is totally not me shot of their closing number, (a personal favorite of whomever took this video), "Two" [Editor's note:  the sound quality on this video is, to put it technically, not very good.  But it's still cool.]:

          "Two" - The Antlers at SXSW 2011 from Jordan Hirsch on Vimeo.

          The Antlers performing their song "Two" at the Parish during SXSW 2011 (3/16/2011).

          Following that awesomness, The Dodos came on and practically bored me to tears.  I really wish I had jumped ship at that point and tried to catch Parts & Labor (also from Brooklyn) at another club down the street, but by that time in the evening if you were already deeply ensconced in a crowd (as I was), changing venues was a bit of an uphill proposition.  So I stuck it out for about 40 minutes, then finally walked out into the cool night air, just in time to catch a few songs from Kansas City's own hip hop legend Tech N9ne.  He was performing inside the aforementioned "Vibe SXSW House Party" venue, and for a brief wonderful period the people in charge had left the doors and full-length windows open, so a small crowd on the street could enjoy the show as well as those inside.  Then some jerk came along and closed the doors & windows, and I got on my bike and went home to sleep it all off.

          But of course that's not the end of the story...stay tuned for more updates including the old-timey country singer lady, the next evening's winner of the Jordan's Favorite Band Of The Night award, and a surprise trip to the Austin ER!


          What I've Learned at SXSW So Far

          The first thing I learned was that when people remind you all day to set your clocks ahead an hour on Sunday night, you should probably do that.  Instead, I woke up the next morning thinking I had plenty of time to make it to Paul Lamere's panel "Finding Music With Pictures: Data Visualization for Discovery" only to discover that it was, in fact, happening at that very moment, thanks to the ridiculous scam that is Daylight Savings Time.  Fortunately, Paul has posted his slides over at Music Machinery (linked from his name, above) and so when I have some more time I am going to try to piece together what he talked about based on a smattering of pictures and text.

          I also learned that the SXSW Animated Shorts are not as good as the ones at Sundance that I was lucky enough to see a few years back, and in retrospect I should have skipped them entirely to attend the "Bloggers Fight Back: Legal Workshop for Music Bloggers" panel.  But since I didn't, don't be surprised when I start writing this blog from jail.

          When I finally got into some panels, I learned even more.  Mainly, I learned that metadata is the magic word of the day.  First up was the "Love, Music & APIs" panel featuring speakers from Echo Nest and SoundCloud.  Their main point was that APIs are the new currency in music apps, and if you don't have one, you're not really playing in the same game as everyone else.  They had a slide listing all sorts of cool music companies with APIs - interestingly enough, Pandora wasn't listed.  I wondered why not, as they seemed to be in the heart of the music recommendation space, and my friend Lori quickly realized "they must not have an API."  I felt so sad for them.  The panelists talked a lot about Music Hack Days, finally answering the question of what actually happens at those things.  The answer:  a lot of smart people make a lot of really interesting and cool music apps in a very short amount of time, nearly all of them based around APIs.  And what do those APIs revolve around?  Metadata.  That was also the topic of the second music-related panel I attended that day, "Music & Metadata: Do Songs Remain The Same?"  The panelists here used a pretty broad definition of "metadata," using it to cover everything from the spelling of a song's title (apparently when users submit their own titles to most metadata repositories like MusicBrainz or the old CDDB, you can end up with 176 spellings of "Knockin' on Heaven's Door") to things like a song's cultural impact or a singer's unique and recognizable turns of phrase.  The main takeaway is that metadata may start out in the hands of the artist, but quickly becomes "owned" by listeners, users, remixers, etc.  Metadata is cultural currency in much the same way that APIs are technical currency.  Combined, they are helping make this a fascinating and wonderful time to be a music nerd.

          The last thing I learned is that the line to see Surfer Blood was too long last night, so I will be trying again tonight.  Of course, there are about 50 bands (and a movie) that I want to see all playing at the same time tonight, so I have no idea what I'll end up seeing, but I'll tell you all about it here!


          SXSW Is Here!

          Well, almost.  It officially starts tomorrow, and that's when I'm heading to Austin.  Amanda and I are going to be leading a session called "Improv For Everyone" on Tuesday 3/15 at 3:30 PM.  It's about how the lessons of improvised comedy can actually help you (yes, even you!) get more out life.  But that's not what this blog is about.  This blog is about music, so let's talk about that.

          My awesome wife gave me an upgrade to SXSW Music, and I have spent the past week trying to decide which of the 400 or so bands that are playing I want to try and see.  Every time I've gone to SXSW in the past, we've been leaving Austin just as all the bands arrive, and I've always wanted to stay for the music portion of the festival.  Now that I have that option, I'm overwhelmed.  There's tons of bands, and all the bands I like are playing at the same time, and there's so many bands I've never heard of that I can't possibly get myself up to speed on all of them in time to make an informed decision.  So what's a music fan to do?

          One thing I can do (and so can you) is check out All Songs Considered's SXSW Preview, featuring a playlist of some of the bands that they think are great and that most people probably aren't already familiar with.  During the festival, you can also stay tuned to NPR's SXSW page, where they will be live-streaming many of the shows.  If you want to dive deeper, check out the "Unofficial" SXSW Torrents Page, which features collections of songs from nearly every band that's playing SXSW this year, as well as archives going back to 2005.

          And of course, keep your dial right here, because I will be posting about any shows I see, and all the music panels I'm able to get to.  It should be a great week.


          The Echo Nest Is Listening

          I've written before in this space about Paul Lamere, a deep thinker about music and technology and the director of the application developer community for The Echo Nest, a "music intelligence company" that is pushing the boundaries of what technology can tell us about the music we listen to.  They recently got some love from Fast Company in a piece that highlights some things they've been up to recently, including the following snippet:

          The Echo Nest crawls the web in search of music and writing about music; it also partners with major labels like Universal and aggregators like 7Digital. It then devours data about the music, on both the "acoustic side"--tempo, key, etc. (Echo Nest's system crunches that sort of data in about 10 seconds for a song)--and the "cultural side"--what reviewers are saying about the music for instance. It crawls the web, Google-style, ravenous for new musical information. If you tweet about the band you saw last night, "we have that in our databases within the hour," says Whitman.
          Not only are they listening to everything we're saying about music, and listening to the music itself, but currently the Echo Nest has information about 30 million songs in its database.  30 million!  I'm not entirely sure what the difference is between the 30 million songs that you can query about using their API vs. the 1 million in the "Million Song Dataset" they just announced, but either way, this is really, really cool.  [Editor's note:  I think the API gives you access to song information only, while the Million Song Dataset actually gives you access to 30-second samples for each song, so developers and researchers can actually perform automated musical analysis on those samples.]

          I'm looking forward to seeing Paul's SXSW panel this year (plug time:  I'll be there leading my own panel, about how the lessons of improv can help you live a better life).  If you're interested in music and technology, Echo Nest is definitely a company to watch.


          Killer Robots Can Love, Too

          This robot just needs to be loved
          As any reader of this blog knows, I like robots.  In fact, they're one of my favorite inspirations when I write music.  And no, I don't really know why.  Regardless, my lastest FAWM song is a country ballad sung by a poor lovelorn horrible killer robot.


          Loved By You
          My Visual Input Sensors Start Leaking Coolant When My Memory Banks Retrieve Playback Of You


          (Amanda helped me edit these lyrics to make them better.)

          I was made in a laboratory
          I guess by now you prob'ly know the story
          Made of wires, and metal fittings
          Built for revenge, yeah I was born to kill things
          My instruction set is "maim, kill, destroy"
          I ain't got the moves like all them human boys
          But I know this much is true: I just wanna be loved by you

          My first mission was quite successful
          I remember the headlines so well
          "Killer Robot On Murd'rous Rampagel"
          They put my picture all across the front page
          But afterwards I just felt empty inside
          I took no joy from all the thousands who died
          I look back on that with rue...but I just wanna be loved by you

          I got a saw where my hand should be
          I got a mouthful of razor-sharp teeth
          I got infrared to see all through the night
          But without you, girl, something just ain't right


          Now that I've got you, wrapped up in my arms
          Don't you worry, cause I'll never do you harm
          I'll squeeze you so hard so that you can feel
          My love for you dear human is so real
          Oh no, looks like I'm squeezing you too tight
          Your tongue is hanging out, your eyes are losing light
          And even though you're turning blue...I just wanna be loved by you


          A Love Song

          For this FAWM song, I asked my wife Amanda to write some lyrics for me, and she started by grabbing Entertainment Weekly and saying "pick a number." So I did, and she opened up to that page number, where someone from the latest Scream movie was being interviewed. The sentence she read aloud was something along the lines of "We were trying to shoot Ghost-face and there was literally a blizzard behind him." We both really liked the idea of ghosts in a blizzard, where they would be more or less invisible.

          That idea plus a few drops of our history mixed with a lot of poetic license ended up becoming this love song.

          (lyrics by Amanda Hirsch with some tweaks by me)

          They say I'm a fool
          With my heart open wide
          Wanting this world
          Nothing to hide

          We met in the rain
          Drops coming down
          But we didn't care
          There was no one around

          'Cause we're ghosts in the the blizzard
          Ghosts in the blizzard
          Oh yeah

          They said it won't last
          They said we don't know
          As if we can't tell
          Rain from the snow

          They tried so hard
          To steer you and me
          But we vanished away
          And they couldn't see

          'Cause we're ghosts in the blizzard
          Ghosts in the blizzard
          Oh yeah

          It's a turbulent world
          And it's a turbulent time
          But I'm so glad, girl
          I'm so glad that you're mine

          & We're ghosts in the blizzard
          Ghosts in the blizzard
          Oh yeah


          A Song For (And By) My Dog

          Cosmo is awesome
          My wife made a request recently: she wanted me to write a song about our dog Cosmo.  This isn't the first time he's inspired one of our creative endeavors, but it is the first time he helped me get closer to completing FAWM (other than providing moral support, of course).  It's a pretty unflinching look at the rough life of a tough dog living in the big city.

          I ended up writing what I believe is my third song (there might be more, I'm not sure) written in the form of "a day in the life of [X]."  I found this one incredibly easy to write (I had to cut out several verses, that's how much I have to say about my dog), and just as difficult to play and record.  My piano, guitar, and bass skills are not what they once were (well, my guitar and bass skills were never really all that great), and so I spent a very long time plunking out some parts measure by measure, then editing, time-warping, etc. to make everything line up right.

          But I'm really happy with the end result, and I hope you enjoy it too!

          2 distorted guitar tracks, 1 clean one to help even out the sound.  2 piano parts, basically splitting the left and right hand parts into their own tracks.  1 bass line, and 1 line of eZ Drummer (I think I used every fill in the Pop/Rock series on this one).  1 main vocal track, 1 harmony track, and 1 extra harmony track during the bridge.

          The chorus is pretty obviously stolen from "Black Gold" by Soul Asylum.  The verses are familiar too, but I'm not sure if I stole them and can't remember the source, or if they just have that sound.

          i wake up, it's a sunny day and i jump up on the bed
          i start to drop all kinds of hints that it's time for me to get fed
          sometimes i give them that "special look" and sometimes i give them the howl
          cuz' every dog knows when it's time to eat that it's time to eat RIGHT NOW.

          breakfast has happened so i sneak a quick nap in, during the pre-walk wait
          i spend some time sitting up on my couch where the view is pretty great
          i look out the window and i wonder if they know that i really have to pee
          so i break out the howl and i put on my scowl and say "pay attention to me!"

          'cuz it's a dog day in a dog's life
          and everything's all right
          here's how i'm living and i don't need forgiving
          'cuz i only bark i don't bite

          out on the street, so many people to meet, out in the neighborhood
          i make my cute face and I lean up close, so that they can pet me good
          when it's time to drop a bomb i know that mom or dad will pick it up
          'cuz they do the dirty work when i'm outside, that's the beauty of being a pup

          back to the couch, now it's time to relax, while my humans do their work
          sometimes i nap sometimes i just rest my eyes, stretching out is just one of the perks
          of being a dog, i'm like a bump on a log, unless the goddamn doorbell rings
          and then i lose my ever-lovin' mind, god i really hate that thing


          things aren't always peachy keen
          sometimes i have to go to the vet
          i bark a lot, yeah i make a scene
          if i could i'd break out in a sweat
          but then when it's over, they give me a treat
          i guess it really ain't so bad
          but of course i can't let them know
          so don't go telling my mom and dad!

          when it's time for bed i lay down my head up where my humans sleep
          i let them pet me and i give them a snuggle, it's really kinda sweet
          then it's off to slumberland where i chase rabbits all through the night
          but it's only a dream, i'm just blowing off steam, i'd  rather love than fight



          Twitter Told Me To

          A couple nights ago, I was sitting at my computer, staring at the blank canvas of my audio recording software, when I realized that I had no idea what song to write.  FAWM is in full effect, and there just isn't enough time in February for me to waste a night on my own with no committments - I had to start something.  A few songs I'd been tinkering with were eluding me, refusing to give themselves up no matter how I coaxed.  In short, I was boned.

          And then a wonderful thing happened:  I checked Twitter, and noticed that the FAWM Twitter account had posted a prompt.  I had used one of their prompts previously when I wrote a (semi-)classical song, but that time it had just been for a lark, not because I had writer's block.  This time it was a life-saver.

          I haven't worked much with writing prompts, though I know some writer find them an incredibly valuable tool.  My wife Amanda wrote some great blog posts during December based on the Reverb 10 series of daily writing prompts.  I had never really thought of prompts as something I could use, until this particular prompt sent me on a 2-and-a-half day songwriting journey.

          The prompt directed anyone reading to write an "electronica/dance song."  While I love using robot noises and other electronica effects in some of my songs, I've never tried to write a straight-up electronica piece before.  Turns out they're much harder work than I thought (mostly on the production side).  Speaking of production, I'm still doing my mixing on either headphones or computer speakers, which is a mortal sin to people who take these things seriously.  So if any of my readers wants to buy me a nice set of monitors, I would be forever grateful.

          And now, please get ready to dance to the trance as I present "Dark Room."