Vacation Tunage

We’re heading out to London in a week and a half, and my mind is on two things:

1) I need to prep my In My Blue World and Bridgetown Trilogy freebie cards for when we head to Worldcon immediately upon return, and

2) What should I put on my mp3 players?

Yes, while most other sane people in this world prepare for a vacation with more mundane concerns such as what to pack, what they’d like to see and do once at their destination, and so on, my addled brain almost always goes to ‘I need to bring stuff to listen to.’  [Mind you, I do think of what to pack, just that I usually take care of that in the space of an hour a day or so before we go — I always remember the things I must bring like my passport and any show tickets, and anything I end up forgetting probably wasn’t needed to begin with.]

For these long flights, I usually fill up both mp3 players.  The Zen player is for recent releases and compilations, so that’s easy to update.  The SanDisk one, on the other hand, can be tricky.  That one is my writing mp3 player.  I’ve also gotten into a habit of putting (almost) complete discographies on that one, as I can get through three or four albums in the process.  I already have The Beatles on there (both the mono and stereo box sets from 2009, plus a few compilations), and ELO as well (primarily due to work on In My Blue World), but I still have lots of space left.

So…what band’s discography should I put on there?  Should I go old school and put on Cocteau Twins or The Smiths?  Should I do something new and put on Pinkshinyultrablast or GoGoPenguin?  I’ll have to think about this some.

Any suggestions, of course, are quite welcome!

All That Jazz

The first jazz song I remember hearing, even before Vince Guaraldi’s “Linus and Lucy” from A Charlie Brown Christmas, was Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five”. My mom owned the Time Out album and I remember being fascinated yet a little weirded out by the cover, as well as Joe Morello’s sparse yet intense drum solo on the big hit.

I never quite followed up on my brief 1985-6 fascination with jazz, other than listening to it on my Walkman late at night, but lately I’ve been making a slow return back to it. It’s mostly been the new piano-based bands such as the amazing GoGo Penguin…

…or one of my favorites from the last couple decades, Brad Mehldau…

…but I’m yet to fully embrace it as I once did. I’m thinking this is something I should look further into. I mean, I’m relatively familiar with most of the classic musicians like Miles and Monk and Oscar and Basie and so on. I’m thinking maybe I should do a bit of homework and find a couple of good radio and internet stations and get myself back in the groove.

Who are your favorite jazz musicians, old and/or new? I’d love to try them out!

Second Chances

I think it’s safe to say that everyone has experienced that band or musician that just didn’t do it for you, despite everyone else screaming at just how absolutely phenomenal they are. Sometimes it’s because their style just doesn’t suit your tastes. Sometimes it’s that you’re only familiar with their three songs on permanent rotation at the local radio station, despite a lengthy discography.  Sometimes you’re just not in the mood.

And sometimes, ages later, it finally clicks and you finally understand what the hullabaloo was all about.

Bob Dylan is a good example of me not *getting* him the first time around. As a kid I’d only heard a barking troubadour with songs that went on far too long. It wasn’t until recently when I bought that big box set a few years back (The Complete Album Collection) and started listening through the years that I finally understood what he was doing.  Now I get why so many people find him so amazing.

LCD Soundsystem is another one. I was initially turned off by their retro-disco shtick they had going (especially with their then-hit “Daft Punk Is Playing at My House”).  Pretty sure they were also part of the wave of bands that Pitchfork found absolutely amazing but about three people had ever heard of them.  Then I listened to last year’s American Dream album and, wouldn’t you know it, they’re a damn catchy band with some fine tunes going on!

Another recent changeover is Parquet Courts. I kinda-sorta liked some of their songs but couldn’t make myself go any further than streaming the songs. Then their latest song “Wide Awake” comes out and man, that is one hell of a fun earworm.  It’s one of my favorite songs of this year.

Or Courtney Barnett, which at first I thought, ‘okay, kind of has a dopey-hippie thing going on’, but then I started listen to her lyrics, which are often off-kilter but deceptively brilliant. “Avant Gardener,” for instance, is actually quite a mundane yet harrowing story of having a debilitating asthma attack. And her record with the equally weird Kurt Vile is actually an amazing blues album.

I guess what I’m saying here is that it’s okay not to jump on the bandwagon and sing the praises (har har) of the bands and musicians with everyone else.  Sometimes it’s better to take it all in at your own pace and see where it goes.

Listening In

dave grohl drumming

One of my new year’s resolutions was to change up my listening habits a bit.  It’s not really about any annoyance with stagnant playlist rotation, although that’s a bit part of it.

No, this time out it’s about wanting to check out new things.  I’d like to listen to more podcasts and audiobooks.  I’d also like to discover new stations that play unexpected things.  It’s the wayward listener in me, I guess?  Every couple of years I like to shake up my long-held habits and try new things, and that includes what I listen to.  Quite often, these new avenues inspire me creatively, in new and unexpected ways.

And hey, it’ll give me more to write about here at the blog, right?

I’m not sure where any of this will take me, and I know it’ll probably be a few weeks before radio sheds its post-holiday ennui and brings in new sounds, so for now I’ll keep my options open.  I also have a few free audio book points waiting for me over at Audible, so perhaps it’s high time I cash them in.

I’m curious to see where this goes…!

Boots and Cats

boots and cats

One of my favorite birthday cards ever.

I do blather on about alternative rock quite a bit on this blog, don’t I?  Well, considering that it’s been a major part of my life for over thirty years now, I’d say I’ve earned the right to keep blathering.

It occurs to me, though, that I don’t give enough time to some of my other favorite styles and genres.  I’ll mention them in passing, especially when I’m doing my new release round-ups, but I don’t dedicate nearly all that much blog space.  I should probably do something about that.

I don’t often mention it, but I also listen to a lot of electronic music.  I tend to lean more towards the chill-out / ambient / moody stuff, of course, considering I’m definitely not what you call a club-hopper.  I find a lot of remixes tedious and little more than a keyboard preset left running for ten minutes (with maybe a few seconds of the original recording thrown on top somewhere in minute eight), and I find the bass drops and overmodulation of dubstep kind of ridiculous.  [In fact, overmodulation really irritates me because it just sounds like unprofessional crap.  But hey, that’s just me.]

On the other hand, I find Primal Scream’s Screamadelica an absolutely PHENOMENAL album that everyone should have in their collection. It’s a perfect blend of psychedelic hippie rock and 90s UK techno. I also particularly love the 90s trip-hop of Massive Attack, Tricky and Sneaker Pimps.

That’s not to say I don’t like the loud stuff. I jumped on the Chemical Brothers bandwagon pretty early during my HMV days. I find Aphex Twin weird as hell but amazingly creative.  I love Lords of Acid‘s sexy freakishness.

But yeah, for the most part, I’m more the laid back guy who’ll lose himself in a really cool groove.  [For the record, I’m not a listener who uses additives (so to speak) during my listening.  I tried that once and found it irritating as hell.] I love to listen to this sort of stuff, especially during my writing sessions, because more often than not it creates a positive, consistent mood that works well with my mindset when I’m working on projects.

So yeah…maybe it’s time I started talking about more electronic bands here in the future!

Finding New Music

Finding new music to listen to isn’t always easy.  As I’ve mentioned before, commercial stations tend to have a set rotation so we hear the same core songs over the course of a few months, with maybe a new track popping up every now and again.  But it’s rare for that new addition to the playlist to immediately get a lot of play right away.

In a way, the same can be said for listening to college radio.  While those stations often don’t have the set rotation setup, they can also be a bit too leftfield, playing nothing but obscurities and outsider music.  It’s fun to listen to if you like that sort of thing, but that sort of stuff doesn’t really resonate with me.

I tend to go somewhere in between; I’ll listen to college radio for part of the day (my home station lately has been Boston College’s WZBC, though I’ll slip over to my other favorite, Santa Clara University’s KSCU, later on), but then I might switch over to Boston’s RadioBDC or one of the SiriusXM stations.  Somewhere during all that listening, I’ll catch a new song that will catch my attention.

I’ll also stop by some of the websites that are streaming new albums.  NPR features an interesting selection, as do a few others.  I’ll also check out albums that I can stream through Amazon Prime (one of the main reasons I signed up for it, actually); I actually use that site extensively on New Release Fridays to check out the new stuff and decide if I want to explore the bands further or not.

Interestingly, I’ve found some favorites via social media as well.  Sometimes a random band will follow me, and I’ll always give them a quick listen and follow back if I’m interested. This is always fun, because these bands and musicians tend to be more low key yet absolutely fantastic. I’ve picked up a number of albums from bands this way.

Here’s a few of my favorite finds over the past year:

FiFi Rong (followed me on Twitter)

Of Verona (followed me on Twitter)

The DROiDS (followed me on Twitter)

Pia Fraus (suggested by AllMusic.com)

Cosima (suggested by Stereogum and The Line of Best Fit)

 

Cymbals (suggested by AllMusic.com)

Gang of Youths (heard on WZBC)

Why I’m an avid listener

maxell blown away

Image courtesy of that classic 1983 Maxell commercial.

I’ve been thinking about this lately.  I’ve been drawn toward music since I was a little kid.  I’d hang out down in the basement where my dad would work on his local history files, and he’d always have the radio on.  The car radio would be on when we went on vacations or road trips.  I’d listen to the albums and singles my elder sisters would buy from the local department store.  And of course come 1978, I started collecting Beatles albums and singles.  It only expanded exponentially from there.  I was part of the generation brought up on MTV and remember watching that channel for hours on end.

Nowadays I’ll have an album from my mp3 collection playing while I write, or streaming a station during my Day Job hours.  I have playlists for my novels.  I still make mixtapes.  I’ve been known to listen to the same album multiple times, usually at the gym or working on a specific stretch of a novel project.  There’s hardly a time when I don’t have something playing in the background.  [Ironically, however, I don’t have anything playing at the moment while I write this.]

Is it really about obsession?  Is it an addiction, for that matter?  Maybe a bit of both.  But I’d like to think there are deeper reasons than that.

For instance, I love the effect that music has on me creatively.  I taught myself how to write a scene by imitating the framework of a song.  [As mentioned before, I call this the Miami Vice method of writing.]  The moods of certain tracks will provide me with ideas and settings for what I might be writing about.

I also love the effect it has on me emotionally.  I got through a lot of my high school years listening to college rock on my headphones.  It’s gotten me through a lot of emotional ups and downs over the years.  And recently I started getting choked up hearing one of my all-time favorite classical pieces, the famous second movement of Barber’s String Quartet in B minor, Op 11 (aka the Adagio), performed live at the SF Symphony Hall.

Lately I’ve been thinking about how it affects me in a physical way as well.  I have a very strange sense of hearing; I have a really good sense of spatial hearing (the ability to figure out the relative direction and location origin of a sound), but at the same time I sometimes have a tough time filtering out unnecessary noise (I can’t always clearly hear what someone says, for instance, at a very loud restaurant).  And I’m pretty sure I have an extremely light case of tinnitus from all the tunage I’d listened to with headphones over the years.

I started thinking that perhaps one of the reasons I still listen to a lot of music is that it’s my own personal way of filtering.  Some people use white noise generators, some people use noise-cancelling headphones, and so on.  I have music to let my subconscious focus on something so the rest of me can focus on whatever needs focusing at that moment.  This would also explain the sometimes amusing habit some people have of turning off the car radio when trying to get to their destination in a place they’re unfamiliar with.  I know I’ve done that in the past.  It’s also the reason I have to turn things down if A. talks with me, because otherwise all the sounds will blend together and I’ll miss out on something.

Still, I have to say the most important reason, at least for me, is that I just enjoy the hell out of it.