music reviews san francisco

Tim Cohen / Sounds for fog & summer

My pal Greg Gard­ner is work­ing on some night moves called Secret Sev­en Records. A few months ago, he released some friend­ly sounds by Mt. Egypt, and now he's get­ting ready to drop some more home cook­ing: The Two Sides of Tim Cohen. It's a solo album by a local rap­scal­lion named Tim Cohen, for­mer­ly of Black Fic­tion, and it's a real nice col­lec­tion of fog­gy folk songs. I tend to favor the loose, spacey side of rock music, and this album is open and astral — but with rough edges that remind­ed me of Pan­da Bear minus the Beach Boys-ish har­monies. More Floyd, ear­ly Floyd. Saucer­ful of Secrets, sound­track to "More" Floyd. What­ev­er the vibe is, it's rough and qui­et and psy­che­del­ic and prob­a­bly has British roots. But I'll stop before I say more because it's bet­ter than I'm mak­ing it sound, and I'll prob­a­bly be on someone's knuck­le sand­wich list if I throw around any more crazy notions. I'll attach a song that's more Leonard Cohen, or maybe mel­low Replace­ments, than Floyd, okay?

music the ancient past

The 90s obviously didn't totally suck

Karp, someone's apartment/bedroom/closet in Atlanta in 1996. This video makes me regret not ral­ly­ing to see them at Gilman Street even more. Thanks for the mem­o­ries, Jacob. PS, you may feel moved to add your own vocal track.

music the ancient past

So you can't stop moonwalking

I won't bore you with my thoughts on Lisa Marie Presley's MySpace thing about Michael ("I want­ed to save him. I want­ed to save him from the inevitable which is what has just hap­pened"), or relate my sto­ry of find­ing out that the rumor was true (upon read­ing this tweet from Lil' Jon: "RIP M J!!"), or dis­cuss Justin's excel­lent email about how MJ helped him stay in his "eight-year old zone." I will only spread some love about my favorite MJ record­ing, which is a very scratchy demo ver­sion of "Work­ing Day And Night" from the Spe­cial Edi­tion of "Off the Wall."[audio:]Enjoy.

music tech

Simple sounds for hard times

The fall­out of greed and incom­pe­tence is once again trick­ling down to Main Street. Kiss my ass, you greedy Wall Street bas­tards. And you bureau­crats and cronies can kiss my ass, too. Is there any­one out there who thinks beyond the cur­rent eco­nom­ic cycle? Any­one? Is any­one try­ing to do any­thing oth­er than make them­selves rich, or keep their friends in office? Arrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrg. When I got laid off in 2001, I did a lot of soul-search­ing, ate a lot of Can­cun veg­gie bur­ri­tos (they were $3.29; they're $4.99 now), and did a lot of read­ing at Green Apple. One after­noon, I came across Woody Guthrie's auto­bi­og­ra­phy, Bound for Glo­ry. Now there was a guy who knows a thing or two about hard times. The title is deeply iron­ic, as Guthrie expe­ri­enced a lot of hard­ship, but through it all he had deep con­fi­dence in him­self and deep faith that he would do great things. Greed, incom­pe­tence and bad luck afflict­ed him, (and mil­lions of oth­ers), but life goes on. And if you're a per­son like Woody Guthrie, you take the hard les­son and you turn it into some­thing like Dust Bowl Bal­lads.[You should see a lit­tle Flash play­er below each song title; apolo­gies if you don't. Work­ing on it].

Woody Guthrie, "I ain't got no home" [Download]

[audio:guthrie_home.mp3] Of course, I was nev­er close to being caught out on a lit­er­al road with oth­er lit­er­al­ly dis­placed peo­ple, but this pas­sage deeply affect­ed me:

My broth­ers and my sis­ters are strand­ed on this road,A hot and dusty road that a mil­lion feet have trod;Rich man took my home and drove me from my doorAnd I ain't got no home in this world anymore.

2001 was no Dust Bowl, and I was nowhere near as des­ti­tute as Tom Joad. But the feel­ing of alien­ation and dis­il­lu­sion real­ly rang true to me, the sense that "a mil­lion feet" have trod a much worse path gave me com­fort, I guess. (Guthrie also hat­ed Wall Street bas­tards more than any­one, which gave me a great deal of com­fort). So the next track is all about turn­ing the cor­ner, find­ing hap­pi­ness, and being bound for glo­ry. It's from an incred­i­ble col­lec­tion of music called Art of Field Record­ing, Vol. 1, a col­lec­tion of record­ings made in rur­al homes and church­es over the past 50 years. 

Lawrence McKiver and the McIntosh County Shouters, "Jubilee" [Download]

[audio:mckiver_jubilee.mp3] For me, this track is an excel­lent reminder that a few peo­ple with a lot of spir­it and some knee-slap­ping can make some­thing deeply affect­ing. It doesn't take much. And that's the first step, per­haps, to being bound for glory.

music tech web

Auto-Tune / An evening on the Internets

We have a house guest this week, and we've been doing a lot of hang­ing out while read­ing and lis­ten­ing to music. Last night, the dis­cus­sion turned to Auto-Tune, and it quick­ly revealed the beau­ty of being at least some­what Internet-literate.

Houseguest - Dave ZohrobSpeak­ing of Inter­net-lit­er­ate, this is our house­guest: Dave.

It start­ed with Lil Wayne. I men­tioned to Mara and Dave that Stere­ogum has an irri­tat­ing post about Lil Wayne's use of Auto-Tune on SNL. It was irri­tat­ing because, to me, there's a dif­fer­ence between using Auto-Tune to com­pen­sate for your own inabil­i­ty to hit the notes (e.g., Kel­ly Clark­son in "Since U Been Gone"), and using it to increase the funky quo­tient, as Lil Wayne does in "Lol­lipop." Any­way, Dave recalled a Pitch­fork inter­view with Neko Case in which she has some salty words on the sub­ject of Auto-Tune. [tap­pi­ty-tap­pi­ty]

Neko Case: When I hear Auto-Tune on somebody's voice, I don't take them seri­ous­ly. Or you hear some­body like Ali­cia Keys, who I know is pret­ty good, and you'll hear a lit­tle bit of Auto-Tune and you're like, "You're too fuck­ing good for that. Why would you let them do that to you? Don't you know what that means?" It's not an effect like peo­ple try to say, it's for peo­ple like Sha­nia Twain who can't sing.

(It gets even salti­er). Then the con­ver­sa­tion turned to Auto-Tune's first major splash, which was recent­ly dis­cussed in a Sasha Frere-Jones piece in the New York­er [tap­pi­ty-tap­pi­ty]

The first pop­u­lar exam­ple of Auto-Tune's dis­tort­ing effect was Cher's 1998 hit "Believe,†pro­duced by Mark Tay­lor and Bri­an Rawl­ing. Dur­ing the first verse, Auto-Tune makes the phrase "I can't break through†wob­ble so much that it's hard to discern.

Of course, then we had to hear "Believe," so Dave sug­gest­ed Fav­tape. [tap­pi­ty-tap­pi­ty] Bin­go; briefly, we revis­it­ed 1998. Then, it seemed like it made sense to lis­ten to Bedhead's cov­er as well. [tap­pi­ty-tap­pi­ty] It fea­tures a touch-tone phone as an instrument.So what's the sto­ry with using Auto-Tune on "Believe?" Did the pro­duc­ers seek it out because Cher couldn't hit the notes, or did they just want to get funky? [tap­pi­ty-tap­pi­ty] The Inter­net has your answer, sort of. It's from a 1999 arti­cle in the British mag­a­zine Sound on Sound, but the prob­lem is that the pro­duc­ers don't admit to using Auto-Tune; it was still a trade secret at that point:

The … obvi­ous vocal effect in 'Believe' is the 'tele­phoney' qual­i­ty of Cher's vocal through­out. This idea came from the lady her­self — she'd iden­ti­fied some­thing sim­i­lar on a Roach­ford record and asked Mark if he could repro­duce it.He explains, "Roach­ford uses a restrict­ed band­width, and fil­ters the vocals heav­i­ly so that the top and bot­tom ends are wound off and the whole vocal is slight­ly dis­tort­ed. It took a while to work out exact­ly what it was that Cher liked about this par­tic­u­lar Roach­ford song, but in the end we realised it was the 'tele­phoney' sound. I used the fil­ter sec­tion on my Drawmer DS404 gate on the vocal before it went into the Talk­er to get that effect."

Actu­al­ly, we now know the truth. It was Auto-Tune. All of this hap­pened in about 15 min­utes; we explored the arc of Auto-Tune in pop­u­lar songs, with exam­ples of ear­ly incar­na­tions and deep dis­cus­sion about how and why it was applied. Nice. [tap­pi­ty-tap­pi­ty]

ixd music web

Muxtape / Non-interface interface excellence

Mux­tape has blown up — just a mat­ter of time, I guess — but I hope this doesn't mean that they'll add a bunch of "fea­tures" to it. It's basi­cal­ly two things — the home­page where you pick a mix, and the play­er where you lis­ten — and it doesn't need much more. Real­ly! Please! 

Muxtape - home

Part one of two: The home page. It's where the "nav­i­ga­tion" is. There's no key­word search, no "cat­e­gories." Just you, the name of each mix like a stick­er on a cas­sette tape, and the sense of root­ing around in a cryp­tic vir­tu­al shoe­box, pop­ping a mix in, lis­ten­ing for a lit­tle while, strik­ing gold, or not, and mov­ing on. It's a real­ly love­ly and evoca­tive of the sim­pler, more mys­te­ri­ous times.

Muxtape - play

Part two of two: The "play­er." It's genius. No "friends" or "peo­ple who are also lis­ten­ing to this" or "mes­sag­ing" or "you may also like." Just the songs, links to buy them, and an indi­ca­tion of which track is playing.For the record, I don't think it needs much else. What­ev­er hap­pens, I real­ly hope this stuff is NOT added:

  • Search. Please, no search. Of course search would make it eas­i­er to find mix­es that "match" your key­words, but who wants that? Well, I did, at first, but after I poked around I real­ized that I was hav­ing way more fun explor­ing, let­ting go of the way that I nor­mal­ly explore. We need more non-key­word-ori­ent­ed ways of explor­ing! Seri­ous­ly! It's way more fun to roll the dice than to look for what you think that you want, and it's some­how more appro­pri­ate to music
  • Any kind of "pro­file-gen­er­at­ing." The mad­ness must be stopped some­where, some­time. A way to con­nect with mix-mak­ers would be nice, but no names, birth­days, pic­tures, blogs, or any of that.
  • Any kind of more "pre­dictable" home­page. Please. Just show the ran­dom stuff. Let peo­ple start here. It's scary and frus­trat­ing and annoy­ing at first, but it becomes fun, mag­i­cal. Per­fect! Done!
flickr music san francisco visual

Music / Lightning Bolt explodes 12 Galaxies

Flickr photo

A few years ago, it would have been sur­pris­ing to see a San Fran­cis­co indie crowd move its feet around in a dance-style motion at a live show. Last week, Light­ning Bolt got peo­ple mov­ing at 12 Galax­ies; it wasn't exact­ly "danc­ing" but (from my van­tage point in the bal­cony), it appeared kinet­ic — lots of mass mov­ing back and forth, a lit­tle crowd-surf­ing, a lit­tle flail­ing around. I took a lot of pic­tures from my perch above the drums.

music web

Design / The Beatles & collaboration

A lot of col­lab­o­ra­tive work goes on at Coop­er (where I work). Design­ers team up to under­stand a prob­lem, or to envi­sion a bet­ter way of solv­ing it. Some­times, we col­lab­o­rate with clients to fig­ure out what's pos­si­ble and where pos­si­bil­i­ty and desir­abil­i­ty meet. In any case, it's hard to trace back any par­tic­u­lar idea to a par­tic­u­lar per­son or moment; once an idea is out in the world, it gets pushed, pulled, dis­as­sem­bled, reassem­bled, and so on by every­one until it fits. My friends and I used to argue over which Bea­t­le wrote a par­tic­u­lar song — John? Paul? George? In most cas­es, it seems pret­ty clear cut. Cheesy lyrics and a boun­cy rhythm? Paul. More com­pli­cat­ed, lay­ered lyrics with more straight-ahead rock? John. A sitar in the back­ground? George. In some cas­es, how­ev­er, it's much less clear. "With A Lit­tle Help From My Friends," for instance; or, "Got To Get You Into My Life." Both have rec­og­niz­able ear­marks of John and Paul.Are these easy cat­e­go­riza­tions valid in any way? Is there any way of ulti­mate­ly know­ing who wrote what? I didn't think so. Until I Googled "bea­t­les song­writ­ing" and found The Bea­t­les Song­writ­ing and Record­ing Data­base, an obses­sive­ly cat­e­go­rized col­lec­tion quotes about who wrote what, pulled from var­i­ous inter­views con­duct­ed over the last 40 years.For example:

With A Lit­tle Help From My FriendsJOHN 1970: "Paul had the line about 'a lit­tle help from my friends.' He had some kind of struc­ture for it, and we wrote it pret­ty well fifty-fifty from his orig­i­nal idea."JOHN 1980: "That's Paul, with a lit­tle help from me. 'What do you see when you turn out the light/ I can't tell you but I know it's mine' is mine."PAUL cir­ca-1994: "This was writ­ten out at John's house in Wey­bridge for Ringo… I think that was prob­a­bly the best of our songs that we wrote for Ringo actu­al­ly. I remem­ber gig­gling with John as we wrote the lines, 'What do you see when you turn out the light/ I can't tell you but I know it's mine.' It could have been him play­ing with his willie under the cov­ers, or it could have been tak­en on a deep­er lev­el. This is what it meant but it was a nice way to say it– a very non-spe­cif­ic way to say it. I always liked that." 

Espe­cial­ly intrigu­ing: John wrote "And Your Bird Can Sing," which (to me) seems to be the most obvi­ous Paul song ever. Per­haps those ear­marks I dis­cussed ear­li­er are less applic­a­ble than one would expect.


Music / Sad anniverary for the quiet Beatle

Today is the fifth anniver­sary of George Harrison's death, as I found out when NPR ran a sweet trib­ute to him this evening. Back when such things mat­tered, George was my favorite Bea­t­le. Why do such things not mat­ter any­more? I mean, real­ly, is there any ques­tion that is more reveal­ing than "Who is your favorite Bea­t­le?" Sure, it's dat­ed, but any ratio­nal, music-aware per­son should have one, and if they don't, well, that says a lot right there. Here's a cheat sheet for what you can expect from the peo­ple you ask, based on very unsci­en­tif­ic "research" …

  • If they say "Paul," you can expect some (most­ly super­fi­cial) charm, and a lib­er­al help­ing of cheesi­ness. Peo­ple who like Paul tend to see Sgt. Pep­per as the height of Bea­t­le achieve­ment, and they prob­a­bly enjoy "Yel­low Sub­ma­rine" and "sto­ry songs" about Bea­t­les char­ac­ters like Eleanor Rig­by more than "While My Gui­tar Gen­tly Weeps" or "Nor­we­gian Wood."
  • If they say "John," you can expect seri­ous­ness, out­ward lefty pol­i­tics, a love of "mean­ing­ful" songs, and per­haps a dis­dain for both cheesi­ness and Paul. Peo­ple who like John, I would guess, sim­ply didn't like Paul to begin with, or liked him until they heard "When I'm 64" one too many times, and then dug around to see who wrote the lyrics to "A Day in the Life."
  • No one ever says "Ringo" in this day and age, and that's too bad. He's charm­ing, a good sport, and (I think) not as bad a drum­mer as peo­ple seem to remem­ber. I chal­lenge you: Lis­ten to "Rain" and tell me that Ringo is an insuf­fer­ably bad drummer.
  • George, final­ly, will always be the favorite of peo­ple who you want to know. He rep­re­sents humil­i­ty, first of all. He's nev­er mug­ging in the movies, and most­ly he looks some­what like you or I would look if we were thrown into the Bea­t­les com­mer­cial jug­ger­naut in the ear­ly 60's. On the cre­ativ­i­ty side, he wasn't Lennon/McCartney, but his gui­tar sound was an inte­gral part of the Bea­t­les appeal. It's always taste­ful, and he nev­er tries to get all Eric Clap­ton on any song, which is why I — for one — can lis­ten to rough­ly 50 Bea­t­les songs for every Eric Clap­ton song. Final­ly, George's solo stuff was way bet­ter than either Paul's or John's, and his low pro­file is endear­ing in a world in which the faces of rock stars' are per­pet­u­al­ly up in your grill.

Beatles, Taxman — from Alternate Revolver

[audio:]Lately, I've been lis­ten­ing to Alter­nate Revolver, a boot­leg album of demoes from the Revolver ses­sions. George's first con­tri­bu­tion to the Bea­t­les' cat­a­logue — "Tax­man" — is on Revolver; it's not my favorite Bea­t­les song, but it's a lit­tle more straight­for­ward and rockin' than lat­er George songs. Is it con­tra­dic­to­ry to com­mem­o­rate an artist by lis­ten­ing to a pirat­ed ver­sion of his/her work? Hmm. I'll ven­ture a guess that George would appre­ci­ate it, so check out Alter­nate Revolver's mono mix of the song, and toast the qui­et Beatle.

flickr music san francisco street art visual

Music / Peggy Honeywell at Mollusk

Flickr photo

Being car-less keeps me (most­ly) around the south­east­ern neigh­bor­hoods of San Fran­cis­co, but every once in a while I'll ven­ture out to the fron­tiers. Last Fri­day, we went out to Mol­lusk, the arty surf shop on 46th-ish Avenue and Irv­ing, (i.e. WAY Out­er Sun­set), for an art open­ing and a per­for­mance by Peg­gy Hon­ey­well, i.e. local art star and beau­ti­ful los­er Clare Rojas. The surf shop set­ting was infor­mal and cozy; the acoustics actu­al­ly weren't bad; there were dogs walk­ing around; all in all, it makes me wish that I got out there more. This inti­mate set­ting was lots bet­ter than the cav­ernous, loud, obnox­ious-peo­ple-filled place I saw her per­form last, Bar­ry McGee's open­ing in Mel­bourne, Aus­tralia a cou­ple of years ago.