Year in Review: Music

I downloaded music from two main sources this year, emusic and jamendo.  Here are a few of my favorite selections from the year:

The BPA, Fatboy Slim and friends
This collection of songs by a variety of artists is pretty awesome, with jaunty tunes and memorable riffs.  I likes it.

A whole bunch of songs, Jonathan Coulton
This is my year of JoCo.  I was already a fan before 2009, but once I had an emusic account, I downloaded the rest of the music from him that I didn’t have yet.  I also got to see him in concert, much to my delight.  My favorite new song, “Somebody’s crazy and it’s you.”

Chunk of Change, Passion Pit
I don’t normally go for dancy dance music, but this upbeat tubthumper was very delightful.  I was pretty disappointed when their album didn’t follow up on emusic.

Big Trouble, Trout Fishing in America
Big Trouble demands that you sing along.  With awesome songs like the title track and the coffee song, you can’t do better.

Cocoa Krispies & Lucky Charms, Ralph Buckley
Ralph Buckley has a lovely singing voice and these songs are quite catchy.  Whenever I think about it, the title track pops into my head and stays there.

Out of It, Brad Sucks
Out of It is my favorite album of the year.  Emminently listenable and well written.  Plus, it’s from Jamendo, so it’s free.  You will enjoy it.

JoCo rocks the house

Crappy photo of the JoCo concert
A crappy photo of the JoCo concert

So we saw JoCo yesterday.  It was AWESOME.  Completely awesome.  Paul and Storm were great, and JoCo lived up to expectations.  Some specifics:

  • Paul and Storm have an hilarious comedy routine that works wonderfully as an opening act.  They had some dedicated fans in the audience, ready at appropriate cues just like hardcore Rocky Horror fans.  My favorite song of theirs was the pay per view nun boxing, introduced in a mash up of cathedral chanting and boxing hyperbole.
  • I also enjoyed their regular pauses to explain the tee shirts they were selling.
  • JoCo plays very well, altering his songs enough to make them sound different in concert than on his album, but with sound mixing and vocals tuned to make them very enjoyable and easy to understand.  I found myself reflecting on the lyrics of some songs (like “I’m Your Moon”) in a way I hadn’t done with the songs earlier.
  • Because the show was playing simultaneously with a TMBG show elsewhere in Chicago, JoCo decided to do something special.  Apparently, TMBG were performing one of their “Flood” shows, in which they perform their seminal album Flood in entirety.  With the Giants’ blessing, JoCo did the same, opening his part of the show with Paul and Storm, performing Flood.  They did very well, replicating the sound of many of the songs very well, and altering some nicely.
  • The remainder of his show was pretty awesome as well.  I was very happy to hear the super-favorites, as well as the mix of songs I’m less into, like “Curl.”  He did one run of lovelorn science songs  (The future now, Skullcrusher Mountain, Code Monkey, and Mandlebrot Set).  The full set also helped me realize just how good he is at writing funny, yet simultaneously sad, songs.
  • A couple anecdotes from the banter: JoCo performed the Ikea song at an Ikea opening, for which he was offered “a ridiculous amount of money.”  JoCo wrote the song “Big Dick Farts a Polka” in the style of Paul and Storm.  JoCo had to school the audience in how to sing the chorus for “Re: Your Brains,” since we were singing too well: “Zombie choruses don’t sing very well.  They start early, they end late, and they’re very distracted by trying to bite through your skulls.”
  • My favorite moment of the show was Jonathan’s use of the Zendrum to play the more digitized songs, particularly Mr.Fancypants.  (Full disclosure: I had to look up the name of the instrument)

September music rundown

emusic downloads:

  • Flogging Molly, selections from Whiskey on a Sunday — I already own copies of most of the tracks on this album that mixes live and acoustic rerelases of other songs. But I was able to get one new song, the delightful “Laura,” and several acoustic renderings of old favorites, the best of which is “Drunken Lullabies.”
  • Aquabats, the rest of The Return of the Aquabats – solid mid-90s ska. The best of the remaining songs is “Tarantula,” a boppy little number.
  • Johnny Cash, American Recordings — “The Beast in Me” works really well, as does “Thirteen.” Every now and again you really need to listen to Johnny Cash to remind yourself what amazing singing sounds like.
  • Jonathan Coulton, selections from JoCo Looks Back — “I crush everything” and “The Future soon” were the only songs on this album that I didn’t have already. The former is about a sad Giant Squid.
  • Tim Booth, selections from Bone — the lead singer of James made this nice solo album. I downloaded four of the tracks and enjoyed them.

Jamendo downloads:

  • Ben’s Imaginary Band, Nocturnal Fables and Illusions — Ben’s light, lithe vocals dance along above his ethereal music and solid light guitar work. It reminds me of the more dreamy tracks from groups like Belle and Sebastian. My favorite tracks are “Nostalgia, In Retrospect” and “Life in a Cave.”
  • Hunt Club, The Hunt Club EP 2006 — decent recording of metal-infused pop/punk. It’s fine, but didn’t do much for me. I particularly don’t like “LAmerica.”
  • Nexus, Love Technology — Nexus is a group in the vein of Crystal Method and other house/techno ensembles. The music is solidly put together and enjoyable enough, but honestly it all just sounds like Dance Dance Revolution to me. Worth checking out if that genre’s your thing, though, as there are several albums available on Jamendo.

No Jamendo next month, as I have a couple store bought albums to listen to.

Here’s a video of JoCo singing “I Crush Everything”


A little bit of Amen

The Brain in Love
The Brain in Love

So I read some of The Brain in Love by Daniel Amen, M.D.; narrated by Patrick Lawlor.  A few thoughts:

  • The book spends a lot of time talking about brain scans as a key diagnostic tool. At first, it sounded pretty intriguing: peoples’ brains are the root of all their problems! Defective brain patterns account for many of the strange habits we have! But then a few things started to sound weird. First, the Dr. recommended a lot of dietary supplements, including stuff that I am pretty sure gets listed as bunk by many scientists, like Ginkgo. Second, there were only three or four areas of the brain listed, and he regularly returned to these as governors of, well, MANY many behaviors. Dubious.
  • The book also buys into many of the old canards about the sexes with deterministic, brain-scan-based explanations for them. Men don’t like to ask for directions because the direction-asker in their brains is smaller than womens.’ Women think about relationships all the time because their emotion-thinker is bigger (or more active) and so on. Some of these insights ring true (stereotypes often due), but I kept finding myself thinking, “But that’s not really me.” It’s a little like reading a horoscope: you notice the things that fit and leave the rest out.
  • After I finished reading it, I looked up Dr. Amen and found that the brain scans he talks up as the end-all and be-all of psychiatric diagnosis are neither generally supported by the scientific community nor, more importantly in my opinion, backed up by solid scientific research. I noticed that much of his discussion in the book was anecdotal or about studies using really small sample sizes; turns out this is one of the biggest complaints about his work. The general gist seems to be that there COULD be something here, but he hasn’t produced the scientific evidence to prove it.

The part of the book that most interested me, though, was the assertion that our basic personality traits — like being a cranky jerk — are due to elements in our brain that can and should be adjusted by supplements or medication. Which lead me to the classic meditation on self — what does it mean to say I have a certain personality if a small change in diet (such as a specific root or supplement) can drastically change who I am and how I relate to people? Amen’s ideas that we can correct our flaws through these methods underlies a larger question about how we govern who we are. What does it mean to say I’m “better” if I change those ideas? Am I a different person? If someone has always been cranky and they become not-cranky, what is it that has changed?

As always, JoCo has an opinion, in the form of a scifi song about the future in which we use pills to control all our behavior (see also: Gun, with Occasional Music).


August music rundown

I don't know which is Koerner and which is Glover
I don't know which is Koerner and which is Glover

emusic downloads:

  • Koerner & Glover, Live at the 400 Bar – I’m a big fan of Koerner and Glover, whom I discovered among my father’s CD collection. They do old fashioned guitar and harmonica folk music, with good renditions of standards and their own twists on songs. My favorites on this album are “Goodnight Irene” and “What’s the Matter with the Mill.”
  • Aquabats, Return of the Aquabats, 3 songs – I liked these enough to download the rest of the album. Review forthcoming next month.
  • Passion Pit, Chunk of Change – I downloaded one song from this album last month — “Sleepyhead” — and that song continues to be the best track on the album. That said, the other tracks are all delightful. The lead singer’s falsetto croon, which reminds me of James or Radiohead, works very well for the electronically playful tunes scattered across this album. I particularly enjoy “I’ve Got Your Number” and “Cuddle Fuddle.”
  • Jonathan Coulton, Thing a Week Four – I had a couple of the big tunes from this album, but I downloaded the rest this month. None of these are amazing standouts, but they hold up. “Under the Pines” is particularly deceptive, as it appears to be about a lost love, but then reveals itself to be about a tryst with, um, Bigfoot. “The Big Boom” also deceives in the other way, appearing to be an hilarious end-of-the world song like Weird Al’s “Christmas at Ground Zero,” but its jaunty pop guitars hide the very real fear of another attack that dwells inside most New Yorkers, if not in most Americans. Of the whole album, I still think “Creepy Doll” far outshines anything else there, but that wasn’t a new song to me.

Jamendo downloads:

  • Ralph Buckley, Cocoa Krispies & Lucky Charms – Buckley’s light-hearted songs and solid lyrics are a delight. I am reminded a lot of Jude or perhaps someone like David Gray. The high-spirited air of the title track particularly captured my imagination. I’ll definitely be downloading more Buckley in future. In retrospect, looking at songs like “The Bees are Dying” makes me reconsider the phrase “light-hearted.”
  • racecar, Country Gold – This collection of classic folk-style songs with a modern sensibility works pretty well for me. Having listened to some Guthrie and Seeger over the last couple months, I was happy to hear the original songs, as well as the reworked classics. I particularly like “Sunshine Revisited” and “Mary Lou.”
  • Ivan Ivanovich & The Kreml Krauts, Begi Suka – I’ve come to appreciate the European version of ska that has emerged, blending classic Polka sensibilities with punk/ska aesthetic. The result are ska songs driven less by horns and more by accordions. Ivan and the Krauts are an excellent example of this genre. I particularly like “Velospied,” but they’re all solid songs. Not knowing what the Russian lyrics are saying, I’m in danger of succombing to the Engels Laren problem, of course.

Just for kicks, here’s a “Creepy Doll” fan video.


Do you know where you’ll be on October 10th?

Jonathan Coulton (photo by Dale May)
Jonathan Coulton (photo by Dale May)

I know where I’ll be.

July music rundown

June/July’s downloads from emusic:

  • Jonathan Coulton, Thing a Week One: I was missing seven songs from this album, and was very happy to get them. By far, my favorite is “Someone is Crazy.” The jaunty banjo gets me hoppin every time. Check out the AMV below. Apparently there was a contest.
  • Trout Fishing in America, Big Trouble: a thoroughly enjoyable kids album with songs kids and grown-ups can like equally. The coffee song is a must for coffee fans like me. My favorite songs: “When I was a Dinosaur,” “Big Trouble,” “I Think I’ll Need a Bandaid,” “What I Want is a Proper Cup of Coffee,” “The Window,” and “Pico De Gallo.” All are excellent. The best line comes from “Big Trouble,” a song about a child whose parents went out for the day and while they were gone monsters came over to play:

    And what happened to the table? Is a question they might ask.
    There was a big guy with a chainsaw and a scary hockey mask.

  • Booker T. and the M.Gs, four songs from McLemore Avenue: Fine seventies instrumentals, but I guess I expected something a bit more awesome.
  • The Kinks, six songs from various albums: “Destroyer,” “Art Lover” — creepy! The phrase “come to daddy” has never been so horrible — “Celluloid Heroes,” “(I Wish I Could Fly Like) Superman,” “Low Budget” –an excellent rock anthem — and “20th Century Man”
  • Passion Pit, one song: “Sleepyhead”, a weird techno thingy. Enjoyable.


None this month.


June music rundown (should have been posted somewhere around 6/15)

eMusic downloads:

  • Apples in Stereo, New Magnetic Wonder: delightful TMBG-like tunes. I particularly like “Can You Feel it?”
  • Jonathan Coulton, Smoking Monkey: I had a couple tracks from this album already, but here are the rest. I particularly like “I’m a Mason Now” and “Bozo’s Lament.” I guess because my name is Bozo, I was destined to be a clown.
  • The Very Best of Woody Guthrie, five tracks. I like this stuff, particularly “Columbus Stockade Blues”
  • American Favorite Ballads, Vols 1-5, six tracks. “The Titanic” as covered by Pete Seeger. Will probably return to some of that classic old folk again in future months.


None this month.

2009-06-28 Tweets

  • Downloaded a few JoCo songs this month. The banjo on “Brand New Sucker” rocks. #

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My favorite JoCo song today