Remake/Remodel

Yesterday, true to form, I sat myself down and strung together a few self-indulgent sentences for later-in-the-day Cedar blog publication. Got started on the cleanup and link-insertion phase when I had an epiphany. I believe I could be heard to mutter, 'This is crap.'

So. Take 2.

Sometimes when I am very very bad I do penance by re-reading some of my own writings. This latest self-punishment left me with an uneasy thought: have I become another of those who believe that music was better way back when?

Short answer: no. I persistently hold that there is as much (or more) good music today. What's missing is the shared excitement by the many about the new. Unless you count 'American Idol.' And I don't.

What a gas it must have been to have come of age when Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Buddy Holly were in their prime. To have felt the seismic artistic shifts of Brian Wilson, Lennon & McCartney, and Hendrix. And to have witnessed it all, en masse, on American Bandstand or at Newport Folk or Monterey Pop.

Artistic possibilities are still endless, but the canvas is different. Songwriters and musicians can now draw from decades of recorded popular music for inspiration, sophisticated production software and techniques for the highest or lowest fi, and cultural globalization for infinite variation.

Perhaps because these days artistic progress generally is more incremental than wholesale, and because fewer classics for the ages are emerging (likely due to splintering of tastes), it is easy to become a bit blasé about the current music scene.

Well, that's an easy sensation to combat: Explore. Read reviews. Keep your ear to the ground. Subscribe to an all-you-can-eat streaming service. Go to live shows at specialty venues.

And be the joyful kid who loves the sounds that hit your T-Ball zone. You, too, can decide that music today really is better than ever.

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Now then, with that little exhortation out of the way, what say we connect a few dots?

Hope you have had a chance to read NPR's feature, 'Splitsville: Breaking Up With Your Favorite Bands.' Great subject. Robin Hilton played a spoiler role, though, as he mentioned my number one choice: Sting. I rather liked The Police, right up to about 'Synchronicity.' They were so massive by then that I decided to put them on hiatus. When I checked back in a decade or so later, Sting had become preposterously precious...

Anyway, I thought instead of albums I once loved but now despise. My easy number one is 'Sittin' In' by Kenny Loggins (with Jim Messina). Side one was a staple in 1973 (right there with 'Tea for the Tillerman' which, by the way, I still enjoy). It was so delightfuly groovy then. It is so irritatingly groovy now...

One sometimes-forgotten factor in the vinyl nostalgia craze: the PITA factor when moving a large library. One fall-semester September day I loaded our farm's flatbed Ford with all my worldlies, 90% of which were my waterbed frame and fifteen fruit boxes chockablock with LPs. When I reached the last rural road on the outskirts of Chico, the truck's engine threw a rod. I hitched into town, leaving my entire music collection unattended. When my roommate drove me back to the scene, we saw a slow-moving van (if memory serves it was a '72 Chevy Abduction), its driver doing reconnaissance. He sped off, but I was never retroactively concerned for the welfare of my music. The guy would have needed an army of henchmen to pull off a crime so back-breaking...

Honestly: isn't it mind-bogglingly cool that you can hold the equivalent of a 10,000 album library in a single SATA drive with the form factor about the size of a deck of playing cards? Want hard media that displays well and inspires conversation? Buy books...

Something I do miss about vinyl: 'secret' messages etched into the leadout groove area. The one I remember best is Aleister Crowley's quote 'Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law,' split over sides one and two of Led Zeppelin III. Naturally there are whole web pages devoted to this subject. Here is a fun compendium. Made me pull down my copy of 'London Calling.' Yep, there it was: 'Tear Down the Walls'...

Another eMusic note: their rips, though squeezed more than iTunes's or Amazon's, sound just fine, especially if you're buying deep indie stuff (eMusic's bread and butter). Without reference CDs in hand for sound comparison, it's safe to assume that medium-fi with little polish was the artist's intention...

My earlier complaint about Rhapsody's declining hit rate might be attributable to a commensurate decline in US licensees for Europe-sourced music. Makes sense: no reason to bother releasing something here if there is little word of mouth and no chance of an artist's feet touching these shores...

For this reason, UK-based Spotify is an ever-more important exploration tool. And now it can be told: Spotify's free service no longer requires an 'invitation;' anyone with a bit of tech savvy can join. You can read all about it here. In short: if you know what a VPN is and you don't mind spending five bucks a month for a good one (I like AceVPN), Spotify's service is an absolute must for the music-lover. Bear in mind, though: their free service is now tightly metered. Use sparingly...

Speaking of Rhapsody, a recent DRM issue turned into a real nosebleed, so I had several lengthy email back-and-forths with their support staff. Among those I dealt with in this week-long struggle were Lance, Victoria, Sam, Reba, Donna, Wendy...and Johnson. It's not difficult to imagine the grief that kid endured on his grade-school playground in Mumbai...

More for the music exploration toolkit: Grooveshark deserves a shout-out. They may be on legal thin ice and employ a clunky interface, but much of their available content (all free) is unique. I'm becoming amazed at what I can track down on Grooveshark that I couldn't on Rhapsody or Spotify. Beats hell out of resorting to the execrable mySpace music site, too...

Cloud enthusiasts are starting to take note of potential downsides. First we saw the breach of Sony's Playstation network and the crash of Amazon's cloud servers. Even more threatening than security or short-term failures, though, is metering: ISPs are already starting to cap power-user downloads. Hard to imagine data pipelines are going to keep getting wider without wallets getting lighter...

I don't think I ever understood the true meaning of a love/late relationship until 'Glee.' I have played every minute of every episode since its inception, but I cannot always be in the same room. Love the rapid-fire humor. Hate the show-tunes karaoke. Love Brittany. Hate Terri. Love Rachel. Hate Rachel. This show has only two modes: genius and insipid...

I'll be away from my desk next Thursday, as mom and I will be celebrating her birthday (a day early) by hopping the ferry across SF Bay to The Phone. We'll be seeing Matt Cain throw a three-hit shutout at the Arizona Diamondbacks while we are enjoying garlic fries and bunned pig-snout tubes. Amazing the lengths to which I will go just to hear 'Blitzkrieg Bop' and 'We Will Rock You'...

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Beanstalks and Boneyards...

Sometimes a new grower will seemingly emerge from between sidewalk cracks. I knew zero about Lower Dens until a few days ago, when I was giving a listen to a sampler CD curated by Fleet Foxes's Robin Pecknold. The track I heard inspired me to listen to their whole album on Rhapsody, and now it's in my library. Here we have an NPR mini-concert. As one commenter mentioned, their sound is appealingly spacious. See what you think.

I own five Frank Sinatra studio albums: In the Wee Small Hours, Where are You?, Only the Lonely, No One Cares, and September of My Years. (Obviously I prefer his blue, introspective side.) The third of those, 'Frank Sinatra Sings for Only the Lonely,' is his highest-graded studio album on the Rate Your Music website. The following track, performed live on this clip, is from that album.