Thursday, April 26, 2012

Music Made Me 29

September - Earth, Wind & Fire

We celebrated Jessica's thirtieth birthday with a disco house party. We'd warmed up with a number of excellent New Years Eve events, but this disco party was where the house dance floor really hit solid gold. People dressed up and really got into it. Of course, disco is genetically engineered to speak directly to the booty, so there's no denying it.

1901 - Phoenix

There was this song on the radio that kept getting stuck in Jessica's head. She would try to sing it to me, but I had no idea what she was talking about. What the hell is "Lisztomania"?

She found the album on Zune and downloaded it in time for our trip down to Portland for my friend Carlos' wedding. So at last I was able to hear this catchy tune. But wait, what's this next song… "1901"?

This is… perfection. I don't even know where to start. This song just drives the whole way through, taking you on an expertly crafted journey. I have no words for it. I'm completely in love with this song.

Later we're at the wedding venue, but it's the day before. We're hanging out in the pool outdoors, and another wedding is going down nearby in the place where Carlos will be married the next night. I remember them playing another song off that Phoenix album we'd listened to on the ride down: "Girlfriend".

Okay, it was settled. I had to explore this band for real. Upon returning from the trip I completely absorbed myself in Phoenix's discography. Was. Not. Disappointed.

Intro - The XX

This is one of my all time favorite album intros. It's exactly how you should prepare someone for the musical journey that follows. Simple, building, ear catching, but not overwhelming.

And what a solid album it is. A distinct point of view, and a refined sound. Generally super relaxed, but also completely capable of getting things moving in its own way. My only complaint with this album is that it's the only one. I demand more.

Underneath the Sycamore - Death Cab For Cutie

I find that I paint best when I have music on. So when I sat down for the crazy task of painting every day for thirty days, I needed a lot of music. Which made it a great time for a new Death Cab album. I don't think I would have listened to this album so much in immediate repeat if it hadn't been for the fact that I was spending hours painting every single evening. Not because it isn't excellent, because it is. I just generally try to space out my album listening more.


And at last we have caught up with the present. Thirty of years of my life, defined by the music I was listening to. 140 tracks in total.

It seems odd to just trail off here. But that's the thing, isn't it? Now that I've started this… it won't be done until I'm dead. Who knows what music the next thirty years will bring?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Music Made Me - Part 28

Yes - Morphine

After nine years of courtship, I finally married Jessica. We had met so early in life, neither of us expected to find such perfection by then. So we felt no need to rush. Maybe we overshot a bit, but I'm much happier that we made our own decision on our own schedule, and walked into our wedding more confident and loving than ever.

We walked down the aisle to "The Nearness Of You" by Norah Jones. And we walked out to "Yes" by Morphine. Not a typical choice, I know. But a song by a band we both loved that chanted "yes, yes, yes" seemed like the perfect song to start our marriage.

Moondance - Michael Bublé

We'd been ballroom dancing for a number of years by this point. There was zero interest in half-assing our first dance. So months before the wedding we started working on our performance. The final number had foxtrot, swing, balboa, lindyhop… seriously, we went all out. I had a spreadsheet to block the whole thing out. It was probably the only thing I was nervous about on our wedding day. I mean, that whole wedding ceremony was obviously going to be fine… but could we pull off the dance?

The dip and kiss happens at 3:30, in case it isn't obvious.

Slow Dance - John Legend

Before the wedding Jessica's aunt Donna gifted her greatest piece of wisdom: play this song. I don't think I had ever heard it before. Which is a shame, because that's too many years without this absolute treat of a song in my life.

We played it immediately after "Moondance". The idea that was that people would join us and start the dance floor. We'd even seeded certain people in advance to set up the whole transition. But in that moment far too many of them lost their nerve. Apparently dropping a dance number like that wasn't good for convincing the general crowd that it was time for them to dance too. Oh well, their loss. Great song.

"Our love is… \  Our love is… \  Our love is… slow dancing together."

Loud Pipes - Ratatat

Oh hell yes, Ratatat. This was an introduction from Jevan. One of the awesome things about working on music software is how talking about music is just part of the culture. There was truly a love for music there.

Another Zune Arts video brought me Ratatat earlier, but it was so short I didn't dig deeper into the music. I didn't even make the connection that I'd heard the music before until a year later. But seriously, those videos are awesome. I highly recommend watching all of them.

Ratatat filled a void that Daft Punk had left empty. Instrumental, tightly mixed, conceptual but hard hitting and rhythmic. And like Daft Punk, I'm always left wondering why there isn't more of it.

Your Touch - The Black Keys

I first heard the Black Keys while tooling around on Zune looking for new music. I believe I started with Attack & Release, since it was the new release, but it was when I traveled back in time that I found what I was looking for.

Discovering The Black Keys felt a bit like unearthing one of my dad's old records. The band just doesn't sound like something from this era. Clearly this can't be music from the year 2006? What sorcery is this?

Raw simple blues rock. No tomfoolery. Heartfelt, pure, and oh so good. There are times when I find a new album, and there are times when I find a new artist to delve into completely. This was most definitely the latter.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Music Made Me - Part 27

Dirty Laundry - Bitter Sweet

I'd been working on the same product at Microsoft for four years, and it had come time to change the scenery. My team was migrating from Media Center to work on this new music project called Zune. A friend of mine, Ian, was already over there, and was able to give me some preliminary info on what it was all about. Sometime before I'd made the switch Jessica and I were going on a trip (to San Francisco, I think) and Ian lent Jessica his Zune device for the duration.

Preloaded on the device was a number of surprisingly decent tracks. One of which was "The Mating Game" by Bitter Sweet. There was a big full sound to the band that reminded me of Supreme Beings of Leisure. So naturally I liked them immediately.

If "The Mating Game" was the entry point, "Overdue" quickly became the favorite. I love the stilted groove of that song. It hits so raw and hard with this odd collection of sounds that don't really map to instruments in my head. It's then swapped out for this super relaxed MMW-esque organ groove and excellent silky vocals. But it keeps coming back to that sublime groove. Love it.

However if we're picking the song based on sheer number of memory connections then it has to be "Dirty Laundry". One of the cooler things they did at Zune was commission these animated music videos to represent the brand. I don't think it did much good, but the videos were pretty consistently awesome. The one for this song, titled "Moodbot", was no exception.

I also remember recommending the album to a friend who ended up putting together a brilliant burlesque number to it. So I have not one but two visual aids for this song, one with robots and one with explosions of glitter.

And now I'm realizing that we're starting catching up to reality. Because around a year after this point I went to see a Bitter Sweet show and blogged about it here.

All Mine - Portishead

We'd already been listening to Portishead for awhile, but there was a bit of a rebirth of Portishead around this time. And none of it more than this song.

Damn this song is sexy. It crawls, it bumps, it slides. But I'm amazed at how this live recording manages to carry more weight than the album recording. I guess that's what happens when you bring a 35-piece orchestra to your live show.

Brick House - Commodores

My cousin Kelly got married some years before this. Halfway into their traditional first dance she and the groom broke into a surprise swing routine. It was highly entertaining, and provided the inspiration I needed to finally cave into Jessica and get some dance lessons.

So some time after that Jessica and I started partner dancing together. And then some time into that we started trying out west coast swing. It was at that point that we truly discovered the song that is "Brick House".

It's so perfect for a laid back sloppy west coast. It is impossible for this song to come on and for Jessica and I to not to dance to it. I couldn't even count how many times we've danced to this song, yet it's still awesome. It's a staple at most weddings, and there's a reason.

Move Along - The All-American Rejects

I've already mentioned here all sorts of music and rhythm games. Singing to Karaoke Revolution; drumming to Donkey Konga, and strumming to Guitar Hero. I even once threw a party where we had all of the above available at the same time. Thankfully someone else thought this was just as awesome as I did, because Rock Band was released and made the world a better place.

While working on Zune my team played plenty of Guitar Hero during breaks. When Rock Band came out we got a full kit for the office and kept the tradition going. The addition of drums was the newest most exciting element since they were obviously many steps above the crude bongo drums of Donkey Konga. A couple times before I had sat down in front of a real drum kit and felt immediately lost. But making a game out of it enabled me to grasp the basics.

Once I grasped the core it was possible to really feel the difference in performing various beats. This song became an absolute favorite, and one where people would fight over who got to play the drum part. It's exactly the sort of song I never would have a relationship with if not for Rock Band. It's total pop fluff, but I've had so much fun playing the song (all parts of it, even) that I unquestioningly turn up the radio when it comes along.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Music Made Me - Part 26

Proper Hoodidge - Amon Tobin

I was at the Experience Music Project for some reason that I can no longer recall. I remember getting my dad a pass as a Christmas gift, but this particular time I know that I was there alone. Regardless of the reason, I found myself in the attached music store, which actually had a decent sampling setup. I found myself reading some staff reviews and trying out some albums in the store.

Amon Tobin didn't sound like anything I had heard before. It was electronic music on a more fundamental level than I was accustomed to. It wasn't just lightly remixed, it was as if someone was crafting music out of the raw waveforms in the ether.

It can be challenging to listen to. Not always satisfactory, but always interesting. Because of the uneven listen-ability of the album as a whole it's not something I can generally just put on, but there are many sparks of brilliance at work here.

Stitched Up - Herbie Hancock & John Mayer

I'm in Oslo, Norway. I've got a Creative Zen Micro and a pair of headphones. I'm sitting in a park, enjoying the scenery and the (unrelenting) sun. My dad is there too, and we're talking a bit about music. I remember playing a couple songs for him then, and just sitting there to enjoy the moment.

I know this was one of the songs. I'm not positive, but I think the others were The Shins "New Slang" and The Postal Service "We Will Become Silhouettes".

New Slang - The Shins

I was introduced to this song by that scene in "Garden State". And ever since The Shins have had this folksy throwback feel to me. Like that melancholy moment at the end of The Graduate where "The Sounds of Silence" plays. I guess there's just something Simon and Garfunkel-y about them.

The Shins have more versatility than I expect of them. "Kissing the Lipless" surprises me every time. And there's that the raw energy when "Sleeping Lessons" breaks through. I feel like I've put The Shins in a box, and I keep forgetting about how much more they have to offer. That initial association was so strong that it's hard to overcome for me.

Vultures - John Mayer

With Continuum John Mayer was officially forgiven of any prior trespasses. The pop is dialed way back here and makes way for the likes of "I Don't Trust Myself", which sounds more like a modern blues song, or "Gravity", with its excellently nerdy choice of a scapegoat. And of course "Vultures".

This is the album I was hoping from Mayer all along. It feels like what he wanted too, but he just needed some distance from being confused as just some pop heartthrob. Hard when the ladies are throwing their money and themselves at you.

Canned Heat - Jamiroquai

I'd guess that most people think of this scene from Napoleon Dynamite when they hear this song. I personally didn't find that movie nearly as funny as everyone else seemed to, so that association never formed for me. I had already long ago filed Jamiroquai and this song filed under "awesome".

It's time for CES, and I've decided to hitch along with some coworkers for their trip to Vegas to work the booth. This is at the same time as the launch of Windows Vista, and there's a corresponding party at some club at Caesar's. Naturally, we go.

The DJ at this event is notably awesome (I look up this "DJ AM" later and find him to be "kind of a big deal"). He has a knack for being able to play completely un-danceable songs and make them awesome without compromising their familiarity. I keep trying to get another drink from the open bar, but find myself pulled back to the dance floor by mix after awesome mix.

Despite the talent on display this is of course a party with too many geeks and not enough dancing. I decide that we need more Jamiroquai. But of course it's loud and verbally communicating a request to the DJ is not possible. I improvise, type "Canned Heat" into my phone and hold it up for him to see. He sees it, nods, and shortly thereafter makes it happen.

When the song comes on the dance floor gets a surge of new energy. It implants this idea in my head that "Canned Heat" is a song with magical powers. This is an idea that has yet to fail me; the song somehow always delivers. It took me some time to realize that this is probably mostly related to that scene from Napoleon Dynamite. Which is a bit disappointing for me, but whatever it takes to get the bodies dancing.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Music Made Me - Part 25

Brothers On A Hotel Bed - Death Cab for Cutie

I remember having a rather vivid, deeply sad dream with this song as the soundtrack. I don't think my dreams generally have soundtracks, but this one did. I hear the song now, and my breathing instinctively slows. It's so sad, and so beautiful. Thankfully I know that I don't process lyrics well enough for that dream to actually be about what the song is about. I can pick up on emotion, and melody, but lyrical comprehension is not my strong point.

I Bow Down and Pray to Every Woman I See - Chuck Prophet

Jessica got this album as a recommendation off of the radio. And I'm glad, because it's a solid album through and through. There's some blend of folksy and groovy happening on it, and I dig it.

There are lots of songs I could pick from this album. I was deeply considering "Summertime Thing", with its heartfelt nostalgia. Or the sweet album send-off that is "Old Friends". "I Bow Down" won over on account of just how damned slick it is.

Eple - Royksopp

While we were playing games Rob put this on and introduced it as "Swedish Daft Punk". Well, they're technically Norwegian, but I guess that's close enough. It's a softer sound that Daft Punk for sure, but I could see what he was getting at.

He burned me a sampler disc which I know now as a subset of Melody A.M.. It's odd when someone pre-filters an album for you. Because later you can come across the album in full and become curious about those unexplored tracks between. Are they undiscovered treasures, or awful that you were mercifully spared from? Do you trust your friend's taste or not?

I general I think Rob pulled out the high notes, but he maybe didn't need to filter so heavily. But it's all good, it just gave me some b-sides to search for later.

Texas Flood - Stevie Ray Vaughan

This odd little game came out that required a plastic guitar as a controller. I didn't even technically own a PS2 of my own, but I bought a copy of Guitar Hero because it was just so damned awesome. Sure it wasn't playing a real guitar, but it was still freaking cool. Much cooler than bongos.

I was already quite familiar with this song, but playing it in the game was an entirely new experience. Stevie Ray was far out of my range on a real guitar (and it's not as if I'd picked one up in years anyway), but in the game I could incrementally close that gap. A false sense of accomplishment maybe, but it didn't feel like it. Striving to keep up with Stevie felt deeply satisfying. Gamer me and musician me were finding some common middle ground.

Train - Goldfrapp

Goldfrapp rocks my face. After listening to them I'm always left wondering why I don't listen to them more often. Great super-danceable grooves, gritty electronic elements, sultry vocals. There are so many totally ass-kicking-ly awesome tracks to choose from. How is it that I keep forgetting to come back to them? What's wrong with me?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Music Made Me - Part 24

Inner City Blues - Marvin Gaye

I don't know what inspired Jessica to start delving into a 1971 album all of the sudden in 2003, but she did. It was less of a discovery of Marvin Gaye and more of a rediscovery. "What's Going On" is a great album, but there was no question about what song to put in here. Makes me wanna holler...

Love and Happiness - Al Green

At the same time as Jessica was rolling out the Marvin Gaye she was also dropping the Al Green. I think she did this specifically to confuse me. They sound very different to me now, but at the time I was very mixed up. Al Green seems to on average have a groovier sexier sound, but Marvin Gaye is the one to really call out "Let's Get It On" and lay down some "Sexual Healing". However Marvin Gaye is the one with the thoughtful social commentary, while Al Green is the Reverend. It was a bit disorienting.

But ever since I'm prone to, as Morphine put it, "put the Al Green on". You really can't go wrong. Everybody wins.

I Believe In A Thing Called Love - The Darkness

Music games. They're a huge thing now (or maybe a huge thing that's jumped the shark a bit), but not so long ago they were new and niche.

I remember Ben first bringing around Karaoke Revolution to our gaming gatherings. His idea was simple: he wanted to get better at singing, and a game seemed like a great feedback mechanism to make that happen. The idea of a game judging your musical ability was still a novel idea back then. So we played this game, and soon it became clear that non-gamer people were interested in this too. Even, gasp, girls.

Fast forward to the sequel, and we have a growing crowd of people. But no one has the balls to tackle this song. Until Rand does. And he fucking nails it. He committed, he delivered, and it was awesome.

For years I was waiting for this song to make it to Rock Band. It always seemed like an obvious pick. Fun and challenging vocals, rocking guitars, and of course a big cup of awesome flair. I mean, have you seen the video? One of the best ever. Anyway, someone had once figured out the rights to get this song into a music game, so what was the hold up? I did eventually get my wish, although only a year ago. I'm still waiting for someone to really step it up and deliver the vocals...

Habanera - Carmen (Donkey Konga)

Okay, so no orchestral recording of this song is going to accurately represent how this song exists in my head. Thankfully bored people on the internet exist to archive this stuff for me.

So, somehow this crazy Gamecube game that came with a plastic bongo controller made it stateside. The track selection was… well… I'd be generous even calling it "uneven". But beating drums to music is pretty much fun no matter what. Even if they're fake drums, and even if the music is often terrible.

By the time Donkey Konga 2 came around we had a setup with a TV and two bongo controllers at work. When the mood was right at the end of the day we'd have some drinks, bang some bongos, and have an all awesome time.

Oddly enough, this song was the best one. So many times Jon and I would be scrolling through the track list, pondering, and just end up back on Habanera. It makes zero sense until you've actually drummed along to it.

Go It Alone - Beck

Beck, you're not so sad anymore are you? You've had years to heal that broken heart, and as a result you were able to give birth to Guero. Which I like to believe is so much better for the heartbreak that preceded it. So... thanks for taking one for the team.

This song… yum. It's a foot stomping, snappin', can't help but bob your head kind of a groove-a-long. A minimalistic triumph. So. Good.

I actually first hit this album via the GameBoy Variations remix. Okay, it's not all proper chip tune mixes, but the thought is still there. I actually prefer the remix version of "Hell Yes" to the album version. The "Girl" remix is also pretty rad.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Music Made Me - Part 23

Transatlanticism - Death Cab for Cutie

I remember listening to this song, lying face-up on the floor of the townhouse we lived in at the time. Jessica had put on this album on and it was this song that first stood out to me. Which is saying something, because the song is pretty deep into the album, and there are a lot of great songs that come before it. But it was the one that operated on the wavelength I needed.

I think the reason for that is that this song isn't as concerned with being, well, a song. It finds a space, and then it spends some time just existing there. Building without building. I can see myself lying there on the floor, listening, and then really starting to feel it as the song enters its latter half of pure jam. Then at 6:31 the vocals come on in this lifting way that's perfectly justified and made more powerful by what preceded them. And then of course it just expertly blends into the next track. Album planning for the win.

Once my ear was cocked, I delved into Death Cab pretty deeply, and they quickly became a favorite. This was the bridge.

Catch Me - Supreme Beings of Leisure

I discovered Supreme Beings of Leisure in a bit of a roundabout way. I got the Animatrix DVD as a gift. I want to say that the soundtrack came with it, but it's possible I just followed up and checked it out later. Doesn't matter. There were a couple interesting tracks on it, but the one that matters here is called "Under the Gun" by Supreme Beings of Leisure. I enjoyed it, but didn't immediately dig deeper.

It took hearing the name a second time, from Francis if I recall, to lead me to Divine Operating System. And with that came many things, but especially the excellent James Bond anthem that never was: "Catch Me". This band is one sexy, classy act.

Somersault - Zero 7

Ambient chill background music, it's a thing. Here is some more. But there's a bit of a story to go with this one.

I remember hearing about this band on the pilot episode of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. For those first couple episodes they had some other dude sitting in the questionable "culture" seat. I remember him riffling through the subject's CD collection and criticizing it. Making fun of a dude's clothes and lame bachelor apartment is one thing, but it's something else entirely to hate on their music. Sure, I think some music is less than worthy; not all of it is good. But it's ridiculous to think that you can take someone's entire music history, dump it in the trash, and replace it with something hip. They can't un-experience all of that. Maybe other people don't have the emotional nostalgic connection to music that I do, but I can't imagine completely changing my music tastes overnight. I mean, that's why I'm doing this whole thing - I consider music to be part of my identity.

Anyway, the culture guy had the subject put on this Zero 7 album in the background during his date. It's odd how despite my negative reaction to the whole scene I actually looked up the album. The thing is, it's not the music recommendation that I found repulsive; it was the request that the subject also throw out their pass.

The album actually has a number of good tracks on it. Super soft, super chill, but good.

Panther Dash - The Go! Team

This is something that my officemate Krishna brought to my attention. We would close our door, crank up the volume, and groove to Go Team.

The entire album sounds like it was duct-taped together in a basement with bargain bin recording equipment. But there's so much energy in the music that it doesn't matter. Actually, I prefer it this way. It's raw. The only downside is that this makes it incredibly difficult to insert into a mix with more-produced music.

I mean, this whole album is bat shit crazy. It's got this bizarre backbone of cheerleading chants. Mix that with funk, and pop, and hip hop. And a harmonica. And trashcan drums. And a string section. And... holy crap what the hell is happening and why is it so awesome? How did I get this huge grin on my face?

The sort of raw delight that this music can induce is probably why they decided to use "Get It Together" as the theme for the adorable Little Big Planet. Which is a good pairing. But despite that huge marketing association Go Team always takes me back to those times with in that office with Krishna.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Music Made Me - Part 22

Sure Thing - Saint Germain

Okay, one more ambient track before we move on. Groovy, bluesy, relaxed, repetitive. Good for programming and parties. I like it, partially because of the fact that it doesn't tax my brain.

Undress Me Now - Morcheeba

Jessica finally made it out to a Morcheeba show, at the Moore. It was around the release of their album Charango, but I remember that we hadn't heard it. Either it wasn't out, or we hadn't picked it up yet, I can't remember which. What I definitely remember is that it was very fortunate that we caught this show. Shortly after the band split ways with the lead singer, Skye Edwards, in pretty much the Worst Idea Ever. I don't care if you have artistic differences and are miserable, it's your job to suffer through that and keep bringing me more music. I have needs.

I remember her singing this song at the show. She was entirely wrapped up in the performance. When the song was over it was as if she woke up and just then realized what she had been singing. "Undress me now, you know how / Using my mind". Suddenly she had returned to earth and was blushing and embarrassed. It was adorable.

We Will Become Silhouettes - The Postal Service

There's something special about The Postal Service. The way the electronic elements blend with Ben Gibbard's vocals is so… something. Wistful? It sounds nostalgic to me now, but I'm pretty sure it always has.

I remember listening to this album while playing Halo with the boys (Alex, Ben, and Rob). It doesn't seem like the most obvious pairing, but there's something about the genesis of this music that works so well for a bunch of programmers playing video games.

I think it was actually in response to Daft Punk, and it was probably two years earlier, but I distinctly remember a car conversation with Rob where he made a critical connection for me. Our generation grew up with Nintendo. The only way to communicate music on this hardware was with glorified bleeps and bloops. What the musicians of the time were able to accomplish with this was actually pretty incredible, but the important point is that we as kids were absorbing this new kind of music slowly, and in an enjoyable context. Those seeds laid dormant for years and years and eventually blossomed into brain receptors that were attuned to things like The Postal Service or Daft Punk. We had never thought of ourselves as being listeners of electronic music, but without knowing it we had been prepared for this since childhood.

I adore this album. I've heard it countless times, and it still totally works. It's simple, and joyful, and just lovely. Except for the last track. I recommend erasing it from existence.

I Know You (Pt. III) - Morphine

Back when I was in college I used Napster to fuel my music discovery. There wasn't much barrier to trying something new. Then they shut down Napster and that all became hard again. People still did it with torrents and such, but at this point I had a job and a paycheck and didn't feel comfortable stealing music off the internet. Music is important to me, and when I find something I like I don't have a problem paying for it. But in this legitimate world how do you discover new music?

Into this situation was born the music subscription. Pay a fixed fee for access to all the music you want. I started doing this when Napster relaunched as a service, and I've been doing it ever since (although now with Zune). Under this system there's absolutely nothing getting in the way of finding new music, which is how it should be.

Another aspect of this newfound access is that I could dig into my back catalog of artists. Despite my love of Morphine I hadn't really had a chance to listen to their older albums. As soon as I hooked up to the music subscription fire hose I was able to check out everything else they had ever put out.

This song is off of Like Swimming, and it's amazing. It's so deep and dirty. Soulful. I love how it rolls into the chorus with those paired sax hits. It's sexy, sultry, and oh so good.

Chicago - Groove Armada

Through work I got on the Halo 2 multiplayer beta. I had played my fair share of local LAN multiplayer on the first Halo. In the sequel they were doing some pretty revolutionary stuff with how they brought this online, and that's what I was supposed to be testing.

What does this have to do with music? Well, I had both my Xbox and my Media Center hooked up to the TV. I had a Napster app on the PC that let me stream pretty much whatever I wanted. I figured out a workable setup where I could get the audio from that in addition to the audio and video from the Xbox. I set this up right around the time I got on that multiplayer beta, so the whole time I was playing I could listen to music.

This song is completely linked to the "Ivory Tower" map from that game. As it grooves along I can see myself running around in that space. The song and the environment and the game just all fit together for me. It's one of those crazy tight links that I keep talking about here - personal but undeniable.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Music Made Me - Part 21

Paper Tiger - Beck

Beck went through a serious breakup, and he wrote an album. There is no denying the impact of one on the other. Gone is the manic spread of tunes from the previous albums. In their place is solid cohesive songwriting. This is the ultimate breakup album. Thankfully you don't need to be going through epic heartbreak to appreciate it.

This song is probably one of the least depressing of the lot. I mean, it sounds borderline uplifting. Tonally, not lyrically, that is. The whole album is a pit of crushingly depressing lyrics. So it feels a little odd to single it out this song, a relative outlier, to represent the album. But it's just so damned good I can't bring myself to put anything else in its place.

I apparently get off on depressing music. Too much happiness and I start to get suspicious. So naturally I love this album.

Teardrop - Massive Attack

Apparently most people know this song as the instrumental intro theme for House. Yeah… no. I can't even imagine this song without the vocals. I mean, I've seen House. I just get disoriented and keep waiting for the rest of the song to kick in.

As great as the song is, I'm putting it on here for the album as a whole. It was a recommendation to me by Francis. Jessica was very confused when I mentioned this, because she already owned the album. Had for years. And somehow I'd missed the whole business.

The album fit in so well with my other M's: Morphine and Morcheeba. Deep, dark, and lovely.

Clarity - John Mayer

This song is a fantastic album opener. It starts out sparse and gentle, slowly adding elements. It feels like waking and opening up to the day. It takes a full minute to put it all together, but even then it doesn't overpower. It's relaxed. The thing I love about this song is how it comes out of the bridge at 3:18. Restraint, horns, and then the wall of sound hits. It gets me every time. Perfection.

I've already gone over my introduction to John Mayer. I felt some betrayal at the overproduced Room for Squares. Plus I could do without Mayer's pop crush image. Jessica and I went to a concert of his at the Paramount and were overwhelmed by the large number of swooning young girls. Mayer was too, apparently, and openly mocked them from the stage. Sadly it seemed to go over their heads. They weren't so into his jazzy instrumental indulgences with balding accompanists; they just wanted to hear how their bodies were wonderlands. Gag.

Heavier Things was still pretty poppy, but less so than Room for Squares. This thankfully proved to be a positive trend that would continue with the following albums.

Lebanese Blond - Thievery Corporation

I think Jessica and I first came across this via some sort of compilation. From there we dug in dabbled with The Mirror Conspiracy and The Richest Man in Babylon. There's definitely a fusion of a wide range of elements happening here. Latin, Indian, African… the album just kind of stirs them altogether into some sort of super chill soup. Because of that it's hard to develop strong opinions about any track in particular. The whole experience is rather ambient. Not really challenging, just there and… listenable.

It feels weird to punctuate this list with music that feels a bit like filler to me. But it's what I was listening to at the time. I think I needed some ambient filler. As I mentioned before, that sort of music is of particular use to us programmers. Sometimes you need music that doesn't make you think, but keeps you driving forward.

Epoca - Gotan Project

This is such a lovely blend of old and new. Tango music met electronica, and a beautiful thing was born. But I don't know if I have more to say about it than that. Yes, it grooves, it moves, it's hip... but it's destined to stay in the background. It fills a certain kind of need. Party music. Something to put on so that there's not nothing, but it’s not something that's going to invade and derail you from whatever it is you actually want to be doing.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Music Made Me - Part 20

Buena - Morphine

Oh Buena. So aptly titled. This song starts with such powerful elements, rolled out one at a time to slowly increase its hold on you. And when it stops it just drops you on the floor, ravaged.

I had been listening to Cure for Pain for awhile by this point. But I have a specific memory of gifting this song to Rob in the middle of the computer science lab. I'm wearing headphones, grooving on some Morphine, and Rob's sitting next to me. I hand him the headphones and queue up this song. I can see it washing over him in waves. After about a minute he's taking off the headphones and demanding to know what it is he's listening to and how he can get more.

"I hear a voice cry out... you want something good."
"I think it's time for me to finally introduce you to the Buena..."

Bubble Toes - Jack Johnson

It would have made sense for me to discover Jack Johnson through his work with G. Love, but that's not how it went down. It also feels like something Dan could have put in front of me as a guitar showcase around the same time as John Mayer and Monte Montgomery. But it's probably more simple. Jessica heard it on the radio, picked up the album, and eventually put it in front of me.

What really connected for me was the unrelenting chillness. There's an undeniable rhythm to his vocals. This song in particular highlights it around 2:00. Yet despite this the sound always manages to stay relaxed. It works incredibly well.

The runner up here was "Flake". Great song, but it doesn't capture the vocal quality that really caught my ear in "Bubble Toes".

Ghosts - Dirty Vegas

I graduated from college and got a job. With this came something called a paycheck. Those are handy for paying rent and utilities and such, but they can also be used to buy stuff. So it was that after getting some essentials out of the way I bought myself an Xbox.

The Xbox had this nifty feature where you could rip music to the hard drive and use that as a soundtrack in certain games. Racing games in particular seemed more likely to support this feature. These games also happened to be something that Jessica and I could play together. I remember us dabbling with Project Gotham Racing, Rallisport Challenge, and especially Quantum Redshift (because racing games where you can shoot the guy in front of you are inherently more awesome).

The games had their own music. In fact I believe the first time I heard The Chemical Brothers was in PGR. But it was so much more awesome to drive along to your own music. One of the few discs I put in there was Dirty Vegas, and to this day when I hear those songs it makes me think of these games.

I had thought "Days Go By" would be the obvious pick here, but listening back on the album "Ghosts" actually better captures this time for me.

Star Guitar - The Chemical Brothers

I was going to put "Star Guitar" in as an honorable mention for the previous story. But then I listened to it again and decided, f-that, it gets its own entry.

I remember jumping through some serious hoops to get this song and put it on the Xbox just because I thought it'd be awesome to drive to. It involved getting the song a la cart, then burning that to a disc, then ripping it again onto the Xbox. When I finally got it in there, I was totally right. I remember happily zipping around in a virtual Mini Cooper S with "Star Guitar" driving me forward. But I don't remember how I got the idea that this was a good idea. It could have been a suggestion from Francis, but I'm not sure.

As far as I'm concerned the song was invented for this sort of pairing. I mean, have not you seen the music video? It resonates with me on a fundamental level. Seriously, it feels like childhood. Riding in the car, bored and staring out the window, listening to music, my eyes and my ears finding hidden connections. It's still true today, as I commute on the bus. But now I get a bit more emotional about it, feeling that the connections I see are part of some sort of cosmic transcendental truth.

Last Nite - The Strokes

There's something about The Strokes that sounds like they're saying "Screw you mom, I'm gonna be a rock star!". Not in an angry way, but in a teenage optimism sort of way. It's earnest and detached all at once. It's like they care more than anything in the world, but also don't want to let you know.

At the same time this music sounds to me like something both old new. The vocals are… distant. But perfectly paired. It somehow makes them even more present. The musical structure is so incredibly simple, not overly produced, and just… good.

Simple. Good. Love it.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Music Made Me - Part 19

I-76 - G. Love & Special Sauce

The first time I heard G. Love I wasn't ready for it. Despite the title Yeah, It's That Easy was not an easy album to relax into. I know that Jessica tried to start me on "Willow Tree", but I didn't connect with that song. She was trying to pick a track with fewer of the hip-hop elements. But for me the pace didn’t feel right - it was too sloppy. The same idea is done better on the album in "Lay Down the Law" and "Take You There", which are both great songs.

It took some warming up, but I did eventually fall for G. Love. It wasn't a vocal style I was accustomed too, and at first it sounded abrasive. But over time I could really feel how much fun they were having with the music and I started having fun too.

After some deliberation I chose "I-76" to represent my entry point into G. Love. But it was hard, because this album is all over the place. This song does a good job of introducing a number of the musical styles without overwhelming you. It's got the rhythmic vocals, but also the dude harmonies, and a general overall playfulness. It was part of the bridge I needed to get into the album, and the band in general.

Reckoning - Ani Difranco

Ah, at last an Ani album to fit in with the rest of what Jessica and I were listening to. This one has such a strong point of a view, a deliberate feeling. And it really comes across in this, the title track (well, one of the two title tracks) of Reveling/Reckoning.

The horns. Oh my god the horns. When they come in it completely changes the character of the song. It jumps from melancholy to uplifting immediately. The guitar and vocals sound cold and alone in the beginning, but there's this undeniable warmth that the horns bring that transforms everything at 1:13.

Those parts later where the horns are walking up the scales really remind me of Bar Kokhba. And then there are parts where I can hear a bit of Chicago in this. I didn't think about these connections at the time; this is something I say now listening to it in close proximity to the rest of my musical journey. It's nice to see the context compressed like that and understand why I had particular affinity for certain songs.

This album changed Ani from something just Jessica listened to into something we would really listen to together. It's a magnificent collection of sound and feeling.

So Far Away From You - Dire Straits

Every summer Jessica was away for one reason or another. Road trip, camp, whatever. This was of course on top of the fact that we lived far apart in the first place. We needed an anthem to get through it all, and this song was it. "Tired of making out on the telephone…" Yep, this was the one.

Papa's Got a Brand New Bag - James Brown

I hit college at the same time as the likes of Quake 3 Arena and Unreal Tournament. It was a new era, where multiplayer gaming was becoming so important that developers were releasing games with no singleplayer component at all. This was happening at the same time that I moved off of a dial-up modem and onto the blazing speed of college ethernet. Mind. Blown.

Some other kids in the dorm were playing this game Half-Life, so I decided to check it out. In addition to its own multiplayer, Half-Life also had a vibrant mod community. After sampling many of them I eventually stumbled across one called Science & Industry.

But first let me back up and explain something. There was nothing like a centralized gamertag back then, so whatever name you were known by was whatever you typed in. There was nothing to prevent you from changing it as much as you wanted. You could pick a name that matched your mood… or whatever song you were listening to at that particular moment.

At the time I was starting to listen to a lot of James Brown. And on one fateful day while I was listening to "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag", I popped down the in-game console and typed "/name PapasNewBag". That same day, on that particular server, I met two guys (Whiplash and Cadaver) in charge of development of this mod . Turns out they had inherited it from the original creators, and they were in a bit over their head. In particular, they badly needed programming help. We talked some then, and more later after I'd earned their trust, and before too long I had taken over primary development of the mod. It was a turning point in my life.

Getting to know a new community meant I needed to keep a consistent face. So my habit of constantly changing my name had to stop right then and there. It stuck at the song I was listening to at that one point in time.

Good times.

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger - Daft Punk

I started listening to Daft Punk during that same summer when I first started working on Science & Industry. Functionally and thematically the music was perfect suited for the large amount of programming I was doing. You need something driving, light on distracting vocals, and maybe even slightly repetitive. You know, like Daft Punk.

This song in particular was perfect. One of the things I was working on for the game was a new cybernetic implant system. I wanted to flesh out that part of the fiction to give new alternatives to weapons or device development. I wanted players to be able to become faster and succeed through raw agility. I wanted them to become stronger and overwhelm with in-your-face melee proficiency. For me this song, that development time, and the end product are all completely intertwined.

When the development team played against the other clans we called ourselves the "Six Million Dollar Men". So, in tag form, I was "-smdm|papasnewbag-". Except when we were being inclusive of our UK members, and wore it as "smpm". Anyway, I think you can see how this song was such a good fit.