Kranky RecordsIt seems like such a minor detail, but I have to say that the small packaging change that Kranky Records instated last year sometime has thrilled me. The label started experimenting with cardboard sleeve packaging as far back as Pan American’s 360 Business / 360 Bypass and Godspeed You Black Emperor’s Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antenna To Heaven double CD, but now it seems like the aforementioned packaging has turned into their primary mode of delivering music.

As mentioned above, this is a rather silly, minor thing, but it makes me happy for several reasons. The first of these is that their packaging now feels largely like a mini LP. Obviously the artwork is not as large (and they still make LPs of all their output), but in pure tactile ways, their small sleeve releases are quite nice. Secondly, their CDs and packaging simply take up less room on my shelf while still being plainly visible. Like a lot of people, I’m starting to accumilate quite a collection of CDs, and the slim packages from Kranky still fit on the shelf nicely (with readable spines) while some other companies insist on not only putting releases inside jewelcases, but including cardboard slipcases, etc. I’m not a huge treehugger (well, okay, sort of), but it just seems kind of wasteful at this point in time.

So that’s my little ramble. Kranky has always been one of my favorite labels, and their new understated (but nice) packaging is just one of several reasons why.

If you’ve looked at this site at all in the past, you’re probably aware that the more updated part of this domain is the music review section. In the time since I’ve started doing them (nearly 10 years!), I’ve gotten to the point where I now receive a fairly modest amount of CDs from record labels (and publicists) to review. I do my best to get around to a majority of them, but it’s a bit hard sometimes.

At some point in the past year, I got put on the mailing list of a major label, and despite a couple emails from me to them asking to be removed, they keep sending me stuff. I’ve stopped feeling bad about trading these CDs into stores for things I want, or giving them away to friends who actually like what this label sends me. They also send me loads of crap that if they looked at my site, they’d know I would most likely never review.

At any rate, I open the post office box today and find not one, not two, but three of the usual huge cardboard mailers that they usually send things to me in. Within each one of these mailers is the same, 4-track (same track, different versions) CD of what is apparently the first single from some new forthcoming Eminem album. One of them is nearly smashed to bits, which is maybe why they felt the need to send me two more in addition to it.

3 CDs

Looks like the museum of lost music will be aquiring some new radio singles in the near future.

At least one night per week, this is a fairly typical scene in our living room.

Me podcasting while Elsa sleeps behind me

Elsa looks concerned in that picture, but I think it’s only because she heard me say something that rhymed with “treat,” “walk,” “car ride,” “outside,” or “cheese.” Regarding the podcasts, I’ve now been doing them for about four months in addition to the regular music reviews on my site and just last week I passed the nice round number of 50. It’s a bit more work, but honestly it’s kinda fun, and I have to try to use up my web storage space somehow. Yeah, I still need to make an RSS feed for them, I know that. I have some vacation days coming up in the next few months, so maybe I’ll get to it then.

It’s been almost a year since the last official recorded output (the Summering EP) of Marianas was released to the public. Like a lot of groups, we had a ton of songs that we worked on and never released. All the songs are in various stages of completion and people in the group all have different opinions about whether they actually like them, which are the main reasons we’ve never done anything with them.

A couple weeks ago, I came up with the idea of posting one song per week on my blog here, with the intention of getting 5 or so of the best songs out into the world, but after some discussion with the rest of the group, the idea was scrapped.

I have all the songs in my iTunes, though, and some of them manage to get pushed through the random playlist a fair amount. One of them catches my attention just about every time, and it’s not because it’s the best or the most inventive, rather it just seems nice to me.

So yeah, it’s hard to explain, but the track linked below feels like the close of spring and the beginning of summer to me. It’s a bit rough, and it’s very simple (two guitars and one organ played by Aaron G, Ryan, and I) compared to the majority of our work, but it came on again tonight and I wanted to shove it off into the world.

Download “Untitled”

This week while doing my reviews, I realized about halfway through that one of my featured albums was going to be a release in which the artist name, album title, and songs were all in Finnish. For a moment, this put a bit of fright into me, as I didn’t want to completely butcher the pronounciation while doing the podcast, then I just decided to do an internet search and see what I could find.

As it turns out, I found a site that not only gave pronounciations of different syllables and letters (including special characters), but included sound files so you could hear how they were supposed to come out. After doing a little bit of reading and some prep time, I just managed to plow through the podcast with the help of the online guide. Of course, I probably still messed things up, being as that I’ve never been in Finland (although somewhat close with a trip to Sweden and Denmark) and find myself plop in the middle of the United States, but hopefully I don’t offend too many ears.

Who says I don’t learn anything doing these dang reviews?

CDs Last night, I was looking through my CD collection and pulling out a few things that I decided I could sell and live without. This is a monthly ritual for me now, as I have a defined space that I have allowed myself to fill, and nothing more than that.

As I scanned past a certain title, I had a vivid memory of picking that same CD off the shelf nearly 10 years ago and saying to myself, “the day that I stop liking this CD is the day that I’m officially old.”

Oddly enough, the CD in question was one that almost got sold in this round. My reasons for keeping it were a bit more than that pang of nostalgia and wondering if I’d really gotten old. Instead, I looked through my collection and realized that I still had music that was more abrasive, more avant garde, and more downright adventurous. It wasn’t that I’d gotten soft and started liking boring music, but my tastes had definitely changed in that decade of listening.

It also got me wondering how much of my collection I’ll still have in another ten years. There are certain releases that feel more “timeless” (for lack of a better word) that I simply can’t imagine living without (Gorecki’s Symphony #3 and Steve Reich’s “Music For 18 Musicians,” for example), but there are other artists whom I love right now (like Sufjan Stevens, Animal Collective, and Broken Social Scene) that I wonder if I’ll still be listening to in ten years.

That, or whether I’ll be looking through my collection to see what to sell in order to afford the latest musical brainwave implant in my head.

Last night, Ryan and Aaron and I piled into the Accord and drove 3 hours to Des Moines. For some reason that is still unbeknownst to me, the city in the middle of Iowa manages to snag several groups per year that don’t end up playing in either Lincoln or Omaha. It’s true that there is one cool venue in the town (The Vaudeville Mews), but the two times that I’ve been to the city, the reception for bands has always been a bit strange and seemingly secondary to drinking and socializing.

Getting back to the show at hand, I would have to say that The Books are probably within the top five of my favorite bands at the current time. When their debut album arrived a couple years back, it somehow managed to defy easy explanation as the group deftly combined found sound samples of spoken word and field recordings with organic instrumentation, programmed electronics and other processing. On paper, it was a combination that seemed like it could be a trainwreck, but the duo pulled it off effortlessly and despite many writing them off as a one-album wonder, they’ve now managed to put our three full length albums and hold my attention every single time (their last album, Lost And Safe clocked in at #2 on my 2005 year-end list).

The opening artist was called Death Vessyl and instead of being a full band as on their recorded disc, it was just one guy and his guitar singing rather quietly without much of a presence. A majority of the people in the bar at that point pretty much talked through the performance, and while I wasn’t enthralled with the music, I was somewhat annoyed.

When The Books started, things quieted down in the bar considerably, and Nick Zammuto and Paul de Jong took the stage and played along (guitar and cello respectively) to pre-recorded music and syncronized video backdrops. With their complex arrangements, I figured that would be the setup, but the remarkable part of the show was how well they sucked you into their little sound world and made you almost hold your breath a little as the show progressed.

Songs were slightly extended in places and changed in nice little ways that seemed to fit the live environment better. Their rendition of “Take Time” (and accompanying visuals) had me laughing aloud, while quieter songs like “Twelve Fold Chain” mingled subtle, almost hypnotic visuals with the understated but engrossing songs. At many times during the show, their music (along with video clips from found videos procurred from thrift stores), touched on a sort of simple and yet beautiful humanity that I’ve always loved about their music. They manage to capture those little awkward, touching, and slightly silly moments that come from simply being a human and distill those thoughts and feelings down into musical vignettes. On top of the above, Zammuto and de Jong seem like such nice, down-to-earth fellows that you just want to walk up and give them a big hug.
Needless to say, it was completely worth the drive and ticket price, and since I already owned all their CDs, I made sure to buy a t-shirt. As seen in the graphic below, I even got them to sign a CD. If they come to your town, please go see them.

The Books signed my CD

Song3 It’s been months since I’ve made any sort of mention about music on this site. As you may or may not recall (depending on how long you’ve been reading here), I was/am in a band called Marianas and last summer after releasing a 4 track EP, our beloved drummer Tom moved to Florida, forcing us to decide what to do next.

In true Generation X (or whatever one we fit into) form, we didn’t really do anything. We left our status up in the air and all just sort of focused on different things for awhile. Our bassist Malcom devoted more time to alternately making the world a better place and trying to find some time in his life to breathe between projects while Ryan started taking those previous band nights and using them to work on his own epic solo/collaborative project Rituale Romanum (of which I’ve heard early mixes and been amazed by). Meanwhile, Aaron G got a dog (and everyone who has a dog knows how much time that eats up, in a good way) and has been on the early front end of a couple different musical projects of his own (both solo and collaborative). Tom even mentioned teaming up with some people on a musical project in Florida, so while Marianas is not a band in a true form right now, it may turn out that the scattered seeds of the group end up adding up to something quite a bit larger than it was by itself.
Oh yeah, and since I last worked on things with the group, I picked up a new computer and taught myself a lot about some different programs, mixing, and hopefully music in general. At first, I just tinkered lots and lots without getting much of anywhere, but I’ve been working on several different things on my own and Ryan and I have met up on occasion, slowly pulling together little bits here and there for something that may or may not become a release of some sort down the road.

At any rate, I guess the inspiration for this post was hearing something that we’d been worked on that sounded really good to my ears and made me feel just a little more excited about things than I have been in awhile. It’s nothing that’s close to finished and it might not even be anything that ever sees the light of day, but if you’re a person who works on music or art of any kind, you’ll know what I’m talking about. It was one of those little moments that makes all the trudging and slower passages not seem like such a drag and at the same time gives you a slight kick in the ass towards something that will hopefully be a little more polished.

Stay tuned, and someday I’ll finish something again, I promise.

Talking Heads Dualdisc BrickLike any person who listened to the radio heavily in the 1980s, I heard a lot of the Talking Heads. Of course, the songs that were played on the radio are the tracks that everyone knows, and I think that by age 14, I knew most of the words to “Psycho Killer,” “Once In A Lifetime,” “Burning Down The House,” “Wild Wild Life,” and “She Was.” Beyond that, I didn’t know a whole lot about the group, other than that Saturday Night Live did a sorta funny spoof of the twitchy movement of David Byrne wearing far too large of a suit (with goofy vocals to match).

In college, I really started to explore music more, and for some reason I seemed to skip right by the group in favor of music that seemed (to me anyway) a lot more current. I went head over heels for early Warp Records releases by Black Dog, Autechre, and Aphex Twin, but I still managed to fill in on different things that I’d missed as well, with a little help from college friends of mine that were a little more “in the know” than I was at the time.

By the time I’d graduated from college, I’d heard most of the records by the Talking Heads, a couple of them enough times to form opinions on which albums were my favorite, along with particular songs that jumped out at me from each release. Even then, though, I didn’t find myself stalking up on their releases, relegating the group to a double-tape “best of” compilation that eventually found itself permanently lodged in a shoebox as my CD collection grew and grew.

Last year, almost out of the blue I suddenly decided that I should give the group another solid listen. My wife had a couple of their CDs, and when I listened to them, I started to hear things that I hadn’t heard before, even though the production quality of the albums somewhat bugged me. There was something in their music that was drawing me in, I couldn’t deny it. I picked up a couple more of their CDs and then heard rumors of a full re-release of their work (beyond the odd-shaped box set that was already released last year).

Late last year, the Talking Heads Dualdisc dropped onto the market, and being both a sucker for fancy packaging and boxsets in general, I added it to my list of things I should buy. This week, I finally purchased the box set and in the time that I’ve been listening to it, I’ve had one of those mini epiphanies that one sometimes get when they rediscover something they feel like they didn’t give a fair shake the first time around.

First off, the problems I had with the production of the group have been completely erased due to remastering. All the releases sound great, with punchier bass and sharper beats that no longer have the sort of thin feel that their original releases. Synth parts are juicy when they need to be and a bit brittle and cold when needed. Basically, the discs sound fantastic, with 5.1 surround mixes that I have yet to fully hear with my living room setup (although they sound great on a 2 speaker system as well).

And then there’s all the things that I heard before, but didn’t seem to appreciate as much as I have with this second chance. The group mixes world beat with synth pop and rock and avant garde bits with crazy polyrhythms and interesting and unique vocal harmonies. Basically, they were a bunch of art school friends that sorta slammed together a bunch of different musical genres and ideas and came out the other end with something catchy and amazing.

Another nice thing about the re-releases is all the bonus material they include. I haven’t gotten to all (or even close to) the videos on the DVD portions of the dual-sided discs, but some of the early performances of the group are highly entertaining and the liner notes in each of the discs (including hand-scribbled lyrics and ideas, extended notes from band members, and extra photos) are all nice added bonuses for either fans of the group or someone (like me) who’s looking to learn some more about the group I seemed to pass over the first go-around.

If that weren’t enough, you get bonus tracks on the discs as well, including my favorite, an instrumental precursor track called “Right Start” that morphed into “Once In A Lifetime.” After listening to all the discs again, I have to admit that I’m not a monstrous fan of their last three albums (at least to the extent that I am their first five), but that said, there’s still great songs on each of the last three releases, and the first five discs (including my favorite, Remain In Light) pretty much make up for that.

This is one of those releases that makes it fun to re-discover a group again, simply because it sounds so great and has so many extras. Granted, it’s a bit on the expensive side, but I’ve already listened to the discs enough to make it more than worth it.

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