’21st Century Breakdown’ doesn’t do much new

June 20, 2009

greenday01FROM SAIL’S EIGHT-TRACK PLAYER — Listen: I am swamped with schoolwork right now. This weekend alone I have to compile a 16-page document on various political topics, finish the first draft of a short story that I have no ideas for, and begin a 10-page paper on education reform.

But instead, for your morbid amusement, I’ve decided that I need to sit through Green Day’s new album, 21st Century Breakdown, in order to be able articulate exactly why I don’t like it.

The reviews have been outrageous. Kerrang! somehow compares this incredibly clean and radio-friendly pop-punk sound with NoFX’s dirty and in your face political thrashings. AbsolutePunk, a source I’ve generally come to trust, admits that the record is nearly identical to their previous one, American Idiot, while still giving it a glowing score of 91/100. Similarly, Rolling Stone gave it 4.5 stars out of 5 while also saying that the music sounds like they’re trying too hard. My own school newspaper compared it to London Calling.

Fuck. I guess I’ve gotta hear this.

10:05 pm – Six tracks in and I’m regretting this decision. It’s not the ear-bleeding brand of terrible, but it’s exceedingly mediocre and unoriginal. Also, [bassist] Mike Dirnt’s playing is ridiculously mixed out.

Miss you, Dookie.

10:14 pm – It’s like Billie Joe has become a parody of himself. He took the idea that people think he writes songs with cheesy lyrics and no more than four chords… and then actually did it.

10:16 pm – “Peacemaker” is actually kind of interesting.

10:22 pm – Too many of these songs sound exactly the same. Or exactly the same as songs on American Idiot.

10:26 pm – Some of this guitar playing makes me seriously doubt [guitarist] Billie Joe’s skill as a musician. I mean, I know he must have the potential, but he’s really just not using it. Tre isn’t an amazing drummer, but he’s always been good enough. I’m disappointed in Mike’s bass playing on a few songs for being a lot more simplistic than usual, but I’m more disappointed about how hard you have to listen in order to hear the better stuff he’s doing.

“Restless Hear Syndrome” is another interesting track. Everyone who likes this album seems to be talking about how much more “mature” it sounds, but I’m really just not hearing it at all, aside from this and “Peacemaker.” And two tracks out of 18 isn’t enough to call a record mature. If anything, this music strikes me as more obnoxious and immature than ever.

I’m going to have to listen to some major Operation Ivy to cleanse my ears after this is all over. Remember when Green Day sounded like OI? Yeah, me too.

10:51 pm – Verdict: A definitive “ick”.

Some may define this record as Green Day’s growing up, and that’s fine with me. I’m not one of those people who is going to bitch about a band or artist changing their sound or getting more popular. Usually, it’s a better thing for everyone involved if the artist doesn’t feel restricted to make the same music that made them famous. But 21st Century Breakdown is just a plan poorly executed.

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Homemade utility install disks are a lost art

January 19, 2009

floppy8FROM JASON’S HARD DRIVE — Back in the deep recesses of time, in an era of blackest techno-prehistoria of the 1990s, when IBM computers still roamed the Earth and the mighty Megahertzaurus ruled, I had a magic CD full of essential software for clean installs.

I’ve set up several computers in the past month, including one that I’ve formatted and reloaded three times with different operating systems. I’ve found myself missing that old CD, but not needing it.

dysan_floppy_disk_011That disc held all kinds of goodies: system utilities like Zip-It Deluxe, WinAmp, modem drivers, task tray hacks, RAM optimizers, benchmark tools, command.com system.ini backups, and a hard drive rescue program. Several of these were leftovers from the days when the magic utilities were all crammed on a tiny 3.5-inch diskette.

cdromThanks to the ubiquity of the Internet, those fixed mediums aren’t necessary anymore. I still felt myself in the past few weeks reaching for the old canvas CD case under my computer desk, though. Of course, the absolutely must-have apps these days are much different; here are the ones that I install right away on a fresh install:

FireFox
AdBlock Plus
Download Status Bar
PDF Download
Image Zoom

Java, Flash, VLC Media Player, IrfanView

7-Zip, WinRAR, TweakUI, ZoneAlarm Firewall

Digsby, Skype, iTunes, Open Office

RocketDock, Yod’m 3D

NOTE: So if I’m being honest, none of these are revolutionary finds for the computer savvy. But if you’re setting up a Windows machine for the first time and you need the basics, this list will get you there. It’s also going to serve as a checklist for the next time I need a fresh install for myself or friends, which has become disturbingly frequent.

I also realized in writing this post just how many third-party shell hacks have been assimilated into Windows. You used to need seperate programs to make icon text transparent; to make quick-launch bars; to more efficiently manage RAM, to monitor the system benchmarks; to set up drivers; to optimize hard drive efficiency; to do color and gamma management; to tweak power usage or core temperature.

I’m kind of lonely for that mid-90s need for under-the-hood work.


Music Monday: The Gandharvas and The Commodores

December 29, 2008

The Gandharvas — Watching the Girl

I grew up in New York state, right across the St. Lawrence Seaway from Ontario, Canada. So most of my youth was spent listening to Canadian radio, which is required by Big Brother law to broadcast a certain amount of nationalistic propaganda made-in-Canada media content.

Living now in the heartland of America, it’s strange to casually mention any number of Canadian bands — Barstool Prophets, The Tragically Hip, The Gandharvas — and get slackjawed stares in return. A few here and there remember Our Lady Peace, but nobody in Ohio has heard of Econoline Crush or Cowboy Junkies.

So here, American friends. Let me act as an ambassador for my penguin-eating, maple-syrup-snorting, hockey-puck-humping, bomber-hat-and-flannel-wearing cousins in our 51st state to the north. Let me share with you a taste of the boys from London, Ontario, the pride of Toronto’s 102.1 The Edge.

Even in the band’s height (they broke up in 2000, shortly after I headed to college in the Great Lakes Region) they didn’t grab a whole lot of airtime. Watching the Girl seemed to ignite a red-hot fan base for about a month, and then it was gone — which is strange, considering how I always thought its artistic invocation of Norse (Ouroboros) and Greek (Sirens) mythology was extremely attractive.

The Commodores — Lady (You Bring Me Up)

My father is a short, compact, curly-haired white man of German and English decent. If he slapped a yamika on his head, he could easily pass for a rabbi. But that never stopped him from thinking he was black, at least when it came to his LPs.

His vinyl collection (still very much in use to this day, and I am hoping to inherit it) is built around prog rock classics like Styx’s Grand Illusion and, strangely, soul brothers like The Commodores, Earth, Wind and Fire, Stevie Wonder, The Four Tops, Michael Jackson, Smokey Robinson & The Miracles, and Marvin Gaye.

When I was little, he would crank up Brick House or Easy and dance around in a pitiful white man’s mockery of rhythm. The memories of that dancing still burn.

But now that I’m quickly approaching 30 and have lived through a full generational cycle of musical styles, a horrible truth is sinking in: My father, though I rail against the idea, had excellent taste. Lady (You Bring Me Up) probably isn’t the coolest song I could have mentioned here, but Dad would be able to tell you it’s got tight composition, a jumpin’ signature bass line, and just the right mix of brass to make it indelibly good, and a more or less permanent fixture on my iPod.


Music Monday: Beggin’

December 15, 2008

Let me say this first: I absolutely adore late-60s music, especially the doo wop and soul. Until recently, though, I never paid attention to the groups or the history behind the music — just the singles.

What surprises me is that so many groups I had assumed based on vocal styling alone to be black were, in fact, very white. The Four Seasons (maybe because I often confused them with The Four Tops) fell into this group.

Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons — Beggin’

The Four Seasons belted out Beggin‘ in 1967, right as the group was overshadowed by Frankie Valli’s exploding solo career. The song doesn’t get a lot of modern air play on the oldies stations I listen to, and that might be in part because it never climbed higher than number 16 on the Billboard top 100 even when it was first released.

I don’t know why. This song is terrific, with its dirty back-up vocals over the loose piano keys. It’s got that same dark, velvety tone as The Turtles or The Grass Roots.

Adidas Originals House Party commercial

I hadn’t heard this song in a long time, and then while flipping through channels I heard it revamped with a lot of bass and a heavier snare. It was an advertisement for Adidas, with The Four Seasons track revamped by French dance musician Pilooski (see the video below for his full edit).

Some of my friends in the British Isles have informed me this song was big there last year, was overplayed on radio and in clubs, and is hated by a large section of the populace. To the haters: I assure you it’s new to my ears, so bear with me.

Pilooski — Beggin’ (Remix)

Apparently, the song was released in June 2007, but I never heard it — maybe because I rarely listen to radio. Truth is, I like the pseudo-retro 50s clothes and dance moves almost as much as the music. I really wish we would see more old 50s and 60s songs — especially Motown grooves — updated like this.

Video edit commissioned by 679 Recordings

I don’t know if either vid aired stateside, but there were two versions of the Pilooski edit. This one almost looks like Flash — pretty low-budget — and remixes the Seasons’ own dance moves across a surreal landscape with trees of snapping fingers.

Madcon – Beggin’

Norwegian rappers Madcon definitely ghettofied the tune in 2007 with a blaxploitation aesthetic and added rap breaks. Once again, the best part of this video is the dance routine, which just screams “Jackson Five meets Good Times.” If you can get past the irritating XBox 360 product placement, then there’s an extremely sexy three-second shot starting at 3:07.


Music Thursday: Jack Johnson and Echo & the Bunnymen

May 29, 2008

Jack Johnson — Rodeo Clowns

It’s an overused device, sure, but imagine for a second that Bob Marley, Bob Dylan and Tony Hawk had a lovechild. It would probably look a lot like Jack Johnson.

I first got turned on to Johnson through G Love, who featured Rodeo Clowns and Jack on his 1999 album Philadelphonic. The syncopated acoustics are just low-key enough to trigger visions of morning-after-prom sunrises or 11 p.m. tiki lounge acts. That’s fitting, since Johnson is Hawaiian. I think it’s that island mentality that appears to me. It’s hard to imagine him playing anywhere far away from a body of water.

Another thing that I like about his music is that it’s always so understated. He has a habit of singing close to the mic, which lends a bit of intimacy — perfect for a love song or soulful disclosures about loss and healing.

I also recommend Flake and Better Together.

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Echo & the Bunnymen — The Killing Moon

For years I confused Echo & the Bunnymen for The Cure. That’s not a bad thing in my book.

Both bands are products of the post-punk move into the early 80s movement that would eventually become alternative. And both Robert Smith and Ian McCulloch sport periods of very pointy hair. But moreover — in case you haven’t noticed — I have a crushing weakness for very dark new wave ballads, and the Bunnymen deliver with The Killing Moon.

The single from the Liverpool boys’ 1984 album Ocean Rain didn’t exactly catch fire in the States until much later than The Bunnymen were hits in the UK. But as America gradually grew more aware of The Smiths and Joy Division, the band gained a foothold on top 40 radio. It even provided a niche for psychedelic hold-overs not quite ready to embrace the goth aesthetic.

Check out The Cutter and Bring on the Dancing Horses.


Music Wednesday: Thin Lizzy and Spoon

May 28, 2008

Thin Lizzy — Dancing In the Moonlight

You know The Boys are Back In Town. You might know Whiskey In the Jar. But for my money, Thin Lizzy’s best is Dancing in the Moonlight, which has instrumentals deceptively upbeat compared to its lyrics.

A couple of covers by the Smashing Pumpkins and Magnet play the song wound tight with angst, but Thin Lizzy effortlessly makes their mournful songs accessibly pop. For example, the guitar solo two-thirds of the way through The Boys are Back in Town is one of the saddest pieces of music I’ve ever heard, and the quiet bass line in Moonlight underlines lyrics borne of a teen feeling trapped.

Also, if you haven’t ever seen the VH1 Behind the Music episode about Thin Lizzy lead Phil Lynott, find it. Of all the working-class rockers to come out of the 70s, Lizzy is easily my favorite and I can’t understand why the band didn’t get more attention.

If you like Moonlight, try The Cowboy Song and Don’t Believe a Word.

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Spoon — The Way We Get By

Andrew likes complicated, thrashing counter-melodies crashing together in dark metal anthems. I like rebellious, jazz-inspired experiments by alt-slacker beatniks. So here I am, recommending Spoon, a band that mixes piano and cymbals with underplayed guitars to create catchy indie pop.

These are songs that are more about creating a mood than causing jaws to drop in awe. There’s not much technical prowess here — just a jangling basement-jam-session pathos. And that’s why The Way We Get By ends up in heavy rotation on my iPod.

May I also recommend Lines In the Suit?


Music Tuesday: Miserlou

May 27, 2008

Dick Dale and the Del Tones — Misirlou

You probably know it as a 60s surfer theme, the iconic ad track for 1994’s Pulp Fiction, or a face-melting tune from Guitar Hero III. But way before it was adapted to the California vibe, Misirlou was a 1927 Greek dance song about an interracial love affair.

The song was adapted in the 1940s and in the 50s became a line-dancing phenomenon in Greek-American clubs. When a young Lebanese-Polish guitarist got hold of the tune with his Fender in 1962 and ran it through an amp with reverberation, Misirlou was reborn.

That guitarist, Dick Dale, was among the early electric pioneers, and the sound caught on when the Beach Boys picked up the song in 1963 on the Surfin’ USA LP.

After decades of experimentation with his equipment and the tune, Dale has moved Misirlou from folk to shredded licks. Go, old guy! Go!

I refuse to post it here, but the sound was even re-molded to R&B for the Black Eyed Peas song, Pump It, which I begrudgingly like.