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Category: music (page 2 of 5)

Prisencolinensinainciusol: Oll raigth!

When I was in high school, I asked an exchange student what American English sounded like to someone who didn’t understand the words. She said, “Sort of like pigs.”

For some reason, I wasn’t completely satisfied with this answer. Fortunately, I found this video instead.

The song is total gibberish, but it’s intended to represent the sound patterns and intonation of US English. Trippy.

Who likes Benny Lava?

Starting out with “Who likes white people?” seemed a little out there, even for Michele Bachmann.

Language Log has done a convincing job of demonstrating that she really said, “Who likes wet people?”, which you can prove to yourself by closing your eyes and listening. You know what it is — it’s those damn subtitles (or are they supertitles?). When you see the words up there, it sure sounds like “white”, even when you know it’s “wet”.

I like this as an example of the suggestibility of perception. Could this be the Benny Lava of American politics?

No, maybe not.

Inappropriate brand identificaton

There’s enjoyment and there’s investment.

Let’s take the band Gomez for an example. I noticed the other day that I have a lot of Gomez albums, and I like them, but I wouldn’t call myself a Gomez fan. There’s some level at which I haven’t identified with them.

On the other hand, when I first heard the Leisure Society or Seabear, it was more than just liking their stuff. I connected with them in some way that made me say “I can get behind this.” I reserved a tiny part of myself for them, and made them a part of my social identity (because listening to music is as much about social alignment as musical enjoyment).

But defining yourself in terms of musical taste might not be such a great idea. What happens if ‘your special band’ releases a disappointing second album (as the Leisure Society and Seabear both did)? Will you be able to update, or will that be too threatening to your self-image? Maybe you’ll just never listen to the new stuff, and keep thinking they’re great.

What I’m talking about is the perils of Fanboi Syndrome, and it’s the topic of this study (thanks to Kuri). Except this is about brands, not bands.

You may think you’re defending your favorite platform because it’s just that good. But, according to a recently published study out of the University of Illinois, you may instead be defending yourself because you view criticisms of your favorite brand as a threat to your self image. The study, which will be published in the next issue of the Journal of Consumer Psychology, examines the strength of consumer-brand relationships, concluding that those who have more knowledge of and experience with a brand are more personally impacted by incidents of brand “failure.”

The researchers performed two experiments, one on a group of 30 women and another on 170 undergraduate students, in order to see whether the subjects’ self esteem was tied to the general ratings of various brands. Those who had high self-brand connections (SBC)—that is, those who follow, research, or simply like a certain brand—were the ones whose self esteem suffered the most when their brands didn’t do well or were criticized. Those with low SBC remained virtually unaffected on a personal level.

Boy, do I hear this. I used to be an Apple fanboi. Well, I still kind of am, partly because I think their stuff is good, and partly because of the thousands of happy hours I’ve spent computing on the MacOS. But a little tiny part of me is heavily invested in Apple, to the extent that I have to try not to feel personally affronted if AppleHaterz bag it, and I’m likely to write off their opinion.

I used to be worse. You should have seen me in the 90s, when the Mac was an endangered species. But brand identification is something of a danger. It’s one more kind of bias that keeps us from seeing clearly. Companies shouldn’t have that kind of hold.

Best of Music 2010

Most Interesting Change of Direction
Swim – Caribou

This album divides fans just a bit. A few people got whiplash when founder Dan Snaith switched from glitchy sunshine laptop pop to straight-up four-on-the-floor dance grooves. You can still hear the old Caribou, but it’s not exactly a straight line. Even so, I really enjoy this album. You know that he knows what he’s doing, and you go along for the ride.

Outstanding track: ‘Bowls’. Cool harmonics from Tibetan singing bowls, plus slightly lop-sided percussion from the wooden sticks you use to play them. Trippy.

Best Scandinavian Album
Skit I Allt – Dungen

I was new to Dungen’s proggy psychedelia, but this album pulls away from that formula and throws in some easy listening and something approaching pop tunes, but in a good way. The most striking element for me is the drums. They’re in there, hammering away, but folded into the mix so as to take out any harshness, and make the whole thing smooth. Really easy on the ears, and musically very accomplished.

Best Local Album – Perth Division
Sail Becomes a Kite – The Bank Holidays

Their live gig was one of my favourite shows this year. I remember sitting in the audience thinking These are really good songs. Fortunately, it translates well onto disc. The Banks (or the Hols?) are more downbeat, and summer has turned to autumn (as on ‘Tripping Up to Fall in Love’). But the harmonies shine through on the wonderful ‘Oxford Street’ and ‘Her Majesty’s Voice’.

The magic only fails them on the last two tracks — ‘In the Desert’ is a bit less-than-inspiring, and why would a note-perfect band introduce pitch problems into ‘Gravity’s Playthings’? Less would have been more. But that doesn’t stop this album from being one of my most-played of the year.

eMusic link here.

Best Album from a Legacy Band
Something for Everybody – Devo

When a old favourite band releases their first album in twenty years, you just hope it’s not a disaster. In this case, it’s far from it. Maybe it was the creative hiatus, maybe the clever and public focus-grouping, but there are a lot of strong songs on this album. It’s not a new direction for Devo, as they cheerfully admit on ‘What We Do’ (“What we do / Is what we do / It’s all the same / There’s nothing new”). But what this album does well is combine the energy and sound of Devo while borrowing back the electronic dance grooves of younger bands that grew up under Devo’s influence. And on songs like ‘Later Is Now’ or ‘March On’, you get a sense of that epic swoosh — the anthemic quality that made earlier Devo albums so stirring.

Best Jazz Album
Jasmine – Keith Jarrett & Charlie Haden

Two great masters return to the standards. Who needs drums when these guys have such telepathy between them?

Best Ambient/Electronica Album
Tiger Flower Circle Sun – Christopher Willits

There were lots of good albums in the ambient category this year, especially Loscil’s “Endless Falls” and Taylor Deupree’s “Snow (Dusk, Dawn)”. But I keep coming back to this album. Maybe it’s the way the album takes the glitch concept (which was already great in the hands of Willits) and expands it beyond its traditional boundaries. What you get is a compulsively listenable rock/glitch hybrid. Very fitting, given the botanical theme of the album.

Best Album I Missed Last Year
Sapphire Stylus – Nick Duffy and the Lilac Time

Well, really I didn’t ‘miss’ this album — it was a December 2009 release, and I didn’t get to hear it before last year’s roundup. It’s an amazing album, or perhaps ‘sketchbook’ of multi-instrumental folk. Whereas previous Nick Duffy albums have a wistful tone, this one seems more assured and confident. Happy, even. Perfect for contemplating the run of a river, or watching the sky go by. Not a bad track in the bunch.

Can’t find a video. Check out samples on eMusic.

Song of the Year
Half Asleep (Lusine Remix) – School of Seven Bells
Album: Horizon Line

This is actually a SVIIB song from a couple of years ago, but Lusine’s remix makes it fresh, cutting out a lot of the murk of the original, and keeping things perking along. The vocals of twin sisters Alejandra and Claudia Deheza work to great effect.

Have a listen, or even download it free if you wish. Isn’t it nice when that happens?

Album of the Year
Lali Puna – Our Inventions

I never even liked Lali Puna before this, but this is my most heavily played album of the year. Once I start it playing, I soon find myself at the last track wanting to hear it again. There’s something simple and effortless about it, and very downbeat. Try the title track, which combines lovely lyrics with a line from Saint-Saëns’ ‘The Swan’.

Great voice work.

When I heard of Leslie Nielsen’s passing, I immediately thought of this.

‘Dandelion’ by Boards of Canada.

No question: Antoine Dodson owns this speech event

I’m still mesmerised by Antoine Dodson’s incendiary appearance on WAFF news last week. He’s the guy that fought off an attacker who tried to rape his sister. The clip has gone viral. Here it is:

There’s a lot you could learn about AAVE by watching this, but what’s amazing to me is the pragmatic range he evinces in his speech performance. It’s a theatrical display of bravado, anger, indignation, and taunting, all at once. Wow.

Best of all, it’s been Autotuned by the Gregory Brothers.


What comfort is atheism?

A lot of people I care about have come back with some really bad god-damn diagnoses in the last few months. Mom’s not well. Two friends have cancer, but they’re both holding it together.

It’s throwing me, frankly. I’m getting older, and I wonder if I’m due for some similar bad news. Are some of my cells even now going berserk, turning into the cancer that will kill me in five years? I look at Miss Perfect and she looks at me and we wonder how many more days we get to have together.

I know some people get comfort from their belief that after this life, a supernatural being will allow them to live in peace and happiness with loved ones forever. And there will be pie in the sky when you die. It’s a nice thought. I can see why people turn to it in times of existential uncertainty.

By comparison, atheism doesn’t seem to offer much comfort. We’re here, we die, and there’s no reason to think that any supernatural beings exist to revive us. Fine if you enjoy accepting the harsh realities, but not much in the way of comfort. Which is fine with me. I’ve always cared more if something’s true, rather than if it’s ‘comforting’. You could say that drugs offer a degree of ‘comfort’, until they wear off and it’s back to reality.

And for me this is the problem with the comfort offered by religions. It’s a comfort only if it’s true, otherwise, it’s a cruel illusion. If atheism doesn’t provide comfort, the false comfort offered by religion is even worse. It’s expensive and time-consuming.

How, then, do we explain the diseases that strike those we love? If you believe in a god, you have to believe that he has the ability to heal you, but for some reason, might not. (He certainly doesn’t heal amputees.) Then after he lets you go through pain, death, and uncertainty, he’ll whisk you away to paradise. And what kind of heaven awaits? Christopher Hitchens (another unwelcome cancer diagnosis) opened my eyes by pointing out that the Christian version of heaven is not an eternity we should wish for:

We would be living under an unalterable celestial dictatorship that could read our thoughts while we were asleep and convict us of thoughtcrime and pursue us after we after are dead, and in the name of which priesthoods and other oligarchies and hierarchies would be set up to enforce God’s law.

But for those who look to the natural world, the explanation is different. Our bodies know how to carry out the processes we need in order to live, but they don’t always do so optimally. We’re engaged in an evolutionary struggle of survival with other individuals and other life forms. Evolution has seen to it that we survive pretty well most of the time, but sometimes not.

So is that it? We’re just going to die, and then that’s the end?

No. We’re going to live, and then that’s the end. And how amazing to have lived on this world! How unlikely! Some humans made a human child with a brain that could experience consciousness, and that human was me. I may not know how long I have to live my life, but I’m not going to waste any of that time in church, helping to support someone else’s comforting scams. I get my comfort knowing that when it’s my turn to go, as we all do, I will have lived fully, loved deeply, and kept my mind as free of delusion as best I could.

This life is full of people, love, food, knowledge, questions — and, yes, difficulty, pain, and sorrow. Even so, I’ll take it.

There’s a song that keeps coming back to me: What a beautiful life. It makes me feel optimistic when I hear it. Maybe you’ll like it too. It’s true, you know.

The Bank Holidays — ‘Ship Becomes a Kite’ album launch

Last night was the album launch for the new Bank Holidays album, “Sail Becomes a Kite”.

For this sophomore album, the Hols have turned down the temperature, washing their trademark sunny harmonies in a golden melancholic glow. You’d think this would make for a difficult concert, playing downbeat songs that the audience doesn’t know. In fact, the concert worked amazingly well, for three reasons:

  1. They interspersed their old favourites like ‘The Greatest Game’ and ‘She’s Not Into Love’.
  2. They played a kick-ass version of the Kinks’ (or the Jam’s) song ‘David Watts’. Hope they recorded it — that would be a great b-side.
  3. The new material is really strong, and they can do it live. The three-part harmonies were incredibly listenable — the audience seemed to be hanging on to the notes, or maybe it was just me.
I haven’t gotten through the whole album yet — I’m savouring it. The Bank Holidays partake in the unpretentious optimism of many other twee bands, but twee isn’t usually welded to songwriting as confident as this. A great show, and so far, a great album.

The Pope Song: A linguistic analysis

Been enjoying this new video from Tim Minchin. It’s catchy, but it does have a wee bit of profanity. Entirely justified.

Here are some stats about the song.

  • some variant of ‘fuck’: 84 times
  • some variant of ‘mother’ + ‘fuck’ in the same word: 35 times
  • some variant of ‘cunt’: 0 times
  • That’s one ‘fuck’ every: 1.54 seconds
  • Ratio of ‘fuck’ words to other words: 1:3.85

Other songs, for comparison:

  • Fuck tha Police by N.W.A.: One ‘fuck’ every 9.32 seconds
  • Too Drunk to Fuck by Dead Kennedys: every 8.89 seconds
  • Fucking in Heaven by Fatboy Slim: every 2.29 seconds
  • Bodies by the Sex Pistols: every 1.0 seconds (but only that one part in the third verse)
  • Fireflies by Owl City: every 0.6 seconds (subliminal)
  • Number of other songs I know that rhyme ‘papist’ and ‘rapist’: 0.

Talk the Talk Twofer: Cave signs

Two scintillating interviews for your enjoyment, all featuring me, and the charming and talented Jamie MacDonald.

First, from the 23 February show: Stroke patients, unable to speak, have re-learned to say words and phrases by singing them instead of speaking.

It’s already been shown that speech and music operate somewhat independently, and some linguists think language might have evolved via music.

Click to listen:

Next, from the 2 March show, a look at cave signs. Why should cave art get all the attention? Researchers from the Uni of Victoria have noticed that some non-representational markings turn up in caves all across Europe. Did they have an agreed-upon meaning? If so, it would mean that the beginnings of a writing system (and the cognition needed to power same) would have happened far earlier than heretofore supposed. When researching this topic, I expected to find a language myth ripe for debunking, but I think it’s pretty solid and the claims are presented fairly modestly.

Click to listen:

I’m on about 5/6ths of the way through the stream. Watch out; it starts playing as soon as the page loads.

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