Fly-By: Still here, still rockin’ out, just super busy

Hey gang!  Sorry to keep you waiting for another WiS blog update, but in the past few weeks I’ve given myself a ridiculously tight deadline:  I will, with Best Laid Plans finally coming to fruition, be self-releasing Book I of the Bridgetown Trilogy in the Mendaihu Universe (aka A Division of Souls).  I am doing nearly all the work myself: the final line edit, the e-book cover, the formatting, the uploading to the e-pub site, and so on.  The deadline I’ve given myself is 8/20, with the drop date of the book being 3 September.

In other words, I’m going to be stupidly busy in the next couple of weeks.  I’ll be scarce here, but once it’s released, I should have more time to entertain and educate you here at this here blog.

In the meantime, here’s some tunage that’s been on heavy rotation here in Joncworld to tide you over.  See you soon!

It’s Just a Dugout That My Dad Built

In my recent dollar bin shopping spree at Amoeba, I finally got around to picking up Donald Fagen’s post-Steely Dan solo debut, The Nightfly.  It’s very typical Fagen — jazzy, sardonic, nerdy, and wonderfully creative all at the same time.  I remember the first single, “IGY (What a Beautiful World)” being played a bit on the radio, but the second single, “New Frontier”, was the one had the video on MTV and became the memorable hit.

I loved the use of animation in this video, multiple styles used to show multiple facets of the song itself:  the (then modern) computer graphics to show the futuristic layout of new housing developments; the early Vogue ads and the Picasso paintings come to life; Soviet propaganda hinting at the impending Cold War.  And my two favorite bits of animation:  the cowboy-hatted, pistol-packing general marching around and shooting at rogue Commie nukes (a distinct nod to the old UPA films), and the bendy, lo-fi-but-cool jazz band.

[That last one had a particular effect on me; a few years later when I went through my jazz phase in the mid-80s, I would often visualize this particular image while listening to it late at night on my headphones.]

[Also, a quick bit of interesting trivia: the directors of this video, Annabel Jenkel and Rocky Morton, also directly my other favorite animated video, Elvis Costello’s “Accidents Will Happen.”  Furthermore, they’re the co-creators of the Max Headroom franchise, and also co-directed the Super Mario Bros movie.]

I was listening to this track the other day and thinking about the sounds of the radio, pre-1989, before the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall.  Growing up in the 70s and 80s, we all listened to the popular sounds and were aware of the possible political threats out there.  Some of us kept it separate, some of us mixed the two Amnesty International-style.

We weren’t oblivious or ignorant of world issues out there; we just chose not to be completely frightened or doom-laden about it (Prince’s “1999” comes to mind, for instance).  We’d gotten so used to the elephant in the room that we just treated it as part of the furniture, and felt reasonably sure that in its advanced age and sedentariness, it probably wasn’t going to act up any time soon.  Our reaction to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the dissolution of the USSR wasn’t so much a patriotic whoop of victory as a sigh of happy relief that it had finally gone away.


New Release…Friday?

I’m still getting used to that.  I’m so used to getting my new release emails from AllMusic and elsewhere on Mondays that it seems strange getting them midweek now.

This month signaled the global change of new music release dates to Fridays.  Per Billboard, it’s been Tuesday in the US since April 1989 (coincidentally, my next-to-last month of high school life and right about the time I really started paying closer attention to album releases for my beloved college music).  Before that, Mondays were the default release day for years. It was moved in ’89 due to the fact that most retailers were not receiving their product until later in the day, thus losing most of their first-day sales. Moving the release date one day leveled the playing fields.

I’m a bit surprised that this is a global thing; it wasn’t just the US moving the standard drop date, but labels and distributors worldwide, finally aligning.  That’s pretty big news, considering the UK has always been Monday (the start of the retail week, natch) and other countries have had similar setups.

I’ll be honest, I loved working Mondays when I was at HMV.  That meant that I got to unpack all the new titles and slap security tags, price tags, and sale stickers on them, all while listening to them a day before everyone else.  I discovered way too many great albums that way, and it’s part of the reason my music collection is so ridiculously large. But back then it was also perfect for when I was on the sales floor, as I could upsell new titles to customers and back it up with actual listening.

Nowadays, (again per Billboard), in this digital age, more active fans and listeners prefer listening to new titles on Fridays and Saturdays, and would rather not have to wait that extra day or so in their own country for a title to drop.  Granted, it’s gotten a mixed reaction from some of the labels and distributors — some feel this will continue to let the majors to oversaturate the stores, leaving the indies in the lurch — and that’s frustrating yet understandable, given that that’s been pretty much the norm for decades anyway.

I imagine this would have come in handy during my years at Yankee Candle, when I’d get paid at the end of the week and would have to wait four or five days before I could do my music shopping.  Then again, I most likely would have been in much deeper financial straits in the process.  So it’s a toss-up there.  Still, I’m curious if we’ll see an uptick in sales, given that some of us still get paid just before the weekend.

How do I feel about this now, though?  Well, I’ll admit I didn’t notice the change right away, at least not until I looked at my shopping list and saw all the new stuff this week with the drop date of 7/10.  [Yes, I have a shopping list.  It’s a spreadsheet, showing prices from multiple purchase sites. I am such a sad and pathetic man.] [On the plus side, said spreadsheet comes in mighty handy because I can access it via Dropbox on my phone while I’m at Amoeba!] [ANYWAY]  I suppose this makes things a bit more exciting if I happen to be heading towards a brick and mortar shop, because it’ll be something to look forward to on the weekend, which is when we usually head over to the Haight for anything in particular.

It’s too early for me to say how I feel about it, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be totally fine with it. As a good portion of my purchases are downloads nowadays, I think it’s something I’ll have to get used to.  For a good few years there, I had a solid schedule of checking out all the new release streams on Monday so I would know what to expect the next day…now I have more time to do that.  I follow a number of music blogs on Twitter, and they’re more than happy to let us all know when something new is streaming.

I’ll just have to learn to start saving up for Fridays then.

The Best Albums of 2015…So Far

Hey, every other blog is posting one of these, so I may as well join in the fun, amirite?

The year in music so far has actually been quite enjoyable, as many of the bands that had come out with great albums in or around 2012 are now releasing new titles that are equally as great, if not better.

In order of release date:

The Decemberists, What a Terrible World, What a Beautiful World (20 January)
Colin Meloy and Co have come up with another wonderful record of alternafolk the way I like it – full, strong vocals, original (and often quirky) song subjects, and wonderful performances. It’s hard not to like this band.

Dutch Uncles, O Shudder (24 February)
My wife came up with the phrase “in a totally different film” to describe a character or person (or in this case, a band) who doesn’t seem to fit anywhere within the context of everything else surrounding them, and yet somehow they fit in just nicely despite that. Dutch Uncles is like that for me–a band who seems to willingly bypass trying to fit into the indie scene by way of odd time signatures, intelligent (and sometimes purposely awkward) lyrics, and a complete lack of irony. This album is about childbirth, for instance.

Public Service Broadcasting, The Race for Space (24 February)
Another band from out of nowhere (and a band that consists of two people playing multiple instruments…that seems that’s a thing now) that popped up on my radar…um, how? I think YouTube suggested I check them out at one point. They kind of remind me of Emergency Broadcast Network from the 90s (remember them?), who melded media soundbites with danceable pop. PSB, on the other hand, mix public domain newsreels with instrumental rock and funk, and the end result is pretty damn fine.  This latest release of theirs is, you guessed it, based on the Russian/US race for space in the 50s and 60s.

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, Chasing Yesterday (3 March)
I’d mentioned earlier that I felt Noel’s first HFB album was kind of hit or miss, and that this second album is miles stronger musically. The more I listen to it, it kind of reminds me of Oasis’ early 2000s work (Heathen Chemistry in particular), dialing back the Britpoppiness and the overt Beatle nods and really showing off his excellent songwriting skills.

Steven Wilson, Hand. Cannot. Erase. (3 March)
Wilson returns for a third solo album, this time a song cycle based on a harrowing story about a missing person who was found dead in her own apartment, having passed away there three years earlier. A haunting subject, but a beautiful album.

Swervedriver, I Wasn’t Born to Lose You (3 March)
Really, why had I not owned any Swervedriver before this? I loved “Rave Down” even when it came out back in the early 90s, but I never got around to buying any of their albums. That changed with their excellent comeback album, in which they haven’t missed a beat. Swirly and crunchy guitars and fantastic writing. Think a more melodic, rocking and understandable MBV.

Big Data, 2.0 (24 March)
I’m sure most of you have heard “Dangerous” at some point (that song that kinda sorta steals the slappy bass line from Nine Inch Nails’ “Only”). The rest of this album is a lot of fun, combining both analog guitar melody and bloopy synth work in such a unique way it works perfectly. Bonus points for using overmodulation as a legit sound level on “The Business of Emotion”. More bonus points for getting away with using a broken image icon for an album cover!

Joywave, How Do You Feel Now? (21 April)
I’m convinced Big Data and Joywave are the same band, as they seem to be all over each other’s records. I heard these guys on Radio BDC near the end of last year via the track “Tongues”. It’s one of those songs that’s kinda doofy and not that good, but it gets under your skin to the point that you start to believe that it’s actually better than you thought. Their other single “Somebody New” shows their other side, a stronger rock track that hints at what they actually do sound like.

Wire, Wire (21 April)
WOO YAY NEW WIRE! Always happy to see a release from one of my favorite bands! While their Mark III era (from the Read & Burn EPs forward) has been louder and crunchier, they’ve begun infusing their music with less experimentation and more melody as they go on…in essence, combining the post-punk of the 70s Wire and the melody of 80s Wire to come up with something both hard and soft at the same time.  With new a new guitarist in the mix (Bruce Gilbert having left a few years ago), they’ve got a fuller sound and seem much more confident this time out.

Blur, The Magic Whip (28 April)
I’ve admitted to being a shameless Blur fan, and that’s because I’ve always been a big Britpop fan for years. It’s great to see a new platter from this foursome (now a foursome again!), especially after that excellent single “Under the Westway” from a few years ago. They haven’t lost a bit of their quirkiness or their knack for being able to write an extremely fun song. Definitely a welcome return.

Best Coast, California Nights (4 May)
Okay, hands down, the title track from Best Coast’s new platter is totally my summer jam. I never thought I’d say that, but there we are. And the rest of the album is absolutely gorgeous. Possibly my top favorite of the year so far. Here, have a listen:

Dog Party, Vol 4 (16 June)
I was introduced to this band via Santa Clara University’s college station. These two sisters from Sacramento (one of which just graduated high school, I should add) are my favorite local band at the moment. Cute and punky in a style that reminds me of We’ve Got a Fuzzbox and We’re Gonna Use It!! (specifically their Bostin Steve Austin album), the album is perfect punk: chunky riffs, fun melodies, goofy lyrics, and totally jamming econo.

Failure, The Heart Is a Monster (30 June)
WOO YAY NEW FAILURE! Another one of my big favorite bands (Fantastic Planet still gets a shit ton of play here in Spare Oom and at the gym) put this one out via PledgeMusic, so how could I say no? A great band that makes excellent use of unexpected directions in melody, drop tuning and tasty, chunky riffs. Ken, Greg and Kellii came back with one hell of a great album.

So…what does the next half of 2015 have in store for us?  A very brief look at my shopping list says new albums by Civil Twilight, Chemical Brothers, MS MR, Oberhofer, P.O.D., Duran Duran, Low, New Order, Veruca Salt, Frank Turner, Beach House, Foals, Ben Folds, Stereophonics, Metric, Robert DeLong…and maybe a new Editors (which I am pumped about, if their new single “No Harm” is any indication of what it’ll sound like).

All in all, an excellent year for music, I’m happy to report!