Category: Opinions and Rants

Favorite Edition 2010: Quarter final (new releases)

This year, I’m doing something slightly different. Given my propensity for catalog, I’m going to split my lists between new releases and catalog discoveries. The year-end favorite list is a time-honored rockist tradition, but how do you quantify a year-end favorite list of past titles? You don’t — it’s subjective.

Probably a more interesting list would be to pit 2010 against catalog. I think 2010 would lose that fight.

I’m fairly sure the first five slots of this list — although shifted from earlier drafts — are solid. The remaining five are malleable. In fact, I’m not sure how LCD Soundsystem made it on there. (Well, merit, of course, but I think I gave more spins to The Shape of Jazz to Come and Zenyatta Mondatta.) Comments provided for only the newest entries from previous drafts …

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Listening to the past

I use Music Collector to track my music catalog, and according to the database, I purchased only 53 titles with a 2010 release date. That number may be inaccurate since titles may be counted twice if I both downloaded it and bought a CD. Still, 53 is less than the number of titles I purchased that were released in 2009 (61), 2008 (96) or 2007 (92).

Another inaccuracy with the database is the date of purchase, which I don’t actively track but can approximate by the numerical ID of the database (high numbers == more recent purchase). So as an experiment, I cross-referenced my purchases in Quicken with my music database and grouped those purchases by year. Then I further grouped the results by release date. (I like data entry. Sue me.)

The earliest year I have purchase data is 2007, when I started tracking my finances in Quicken. In 2007, I purchased and downloaded 196 titles, 65 of which were released that year. That means 131 titles were catalog. (But I own 92 titles released in 2007. Why the discrepancy? Because 27 of those titles were purchased in subsequent years.) In 2008, I bought 69 new releases out of 159, with 90 catalog titles. In 2009, 51 out of 112 titles were new releases, leaving 61 catalog titles. 2010 — 53 out of 115, with 62 catalog titles.

The numbers are clear — catalog makes up the bulk of my listening now.

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Big Thing, Notorious remasters lift a middle finger to Duran Duran fans

The brouhaha over the special edition remasters of Duran Duran and Seven and the Ragged Tiger must have rankled the brass over at EMI. There was enough outcry that the label had to make a statement, but then stood by their work, which, when analyzed in a sound editor, isn’t all that great.

Of course, I was too bedazzled by the demos to notice the remastering.

After a few delays, special editions of Notorious and Big Thing are now available. This time, EMI opted not to boost the levels to the point they were squashed, but they still are squashed.

I noticed right away the mixes were pumping — soft parts would get loud, and loud parts would get soft, even though the overall level remained constant. So I fired up Sound Forge to confirm my suspicions — the transients were all cut off in the remasters. The result is something that may sound "louder" but isn’t.

That certainly addresses an issue from the previous special editions, but it also loses the spaciousness of the original mixes. Compare the Big Thing and Notorious special editions with some tracks from the Singles 1986-1995 boxed set, and you’ll hear the disparity.

The Singles 1986-1995 tracks are boosted significantly, but they don’t do a bad job of preserving the proportion of peaks. Not so with the special editions. They are flat, flat, flat.

The outcry from this set is going to be something fierce.

Favorite edition 2010: Quarter third

A few third quarter releases and some straggling second quarter discoveries finally rounded out the favorite edition list for 2010.

I’ll admit I’m not entirely passionate about the second half of the list as I am the first half, but I’m glad I’ve encountered enough new releases to stave off the avalanche of catalog that’s been dominating my playlist.

While Tokyo Jihen has a strangehold on the top spot, I would like to mention my pick for single of the year: "Nirai Kanai" by Cocco. That mix of Okinawan chanting with her classic hard rock sound just pushes all the right buttons for me.

I’m not seeing anything spectacular on the release calendar for the rest of the year, so this list might be it.

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10 (Indie) Rock Songs I Want to Hear Renée Fleming Sing

I didn’t know what to expect of Renée Fleming’s indie rock album, Dark Hope. First, I know of Fleming by name only — I don’t listen to opera to gauge how she compares to, say, Dawn Upshaw. Also, I’m familiar with only a few the songs on Dark Hope.

So I’m approaching Fleming and the material with a fairly blank slate, and I have to say — I’ve really taken a liking to the album. Fleming actually does a good job adjusting her voice to the material, sounding like a pop singer, not an opera singer slumming with the pop. (I heard only a snippet of Luciano Pavarotti dueting with Bono. Pavarotti was doing it wrong.)

I have no idea how bankable another Fleming indie rock album would be, but should she venture down this path again, I have a few suggestions for repertoire. Next time, she should try:

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Favorite edition 2010: Quarter second

Used to be by the middle of the year, my year-end favorite list would have 10 fairly strong candidates. Recently, I’m hard-pressed to even fill half those slots.

Or maybe I’m just getting pickier about what to rank.

Seven slots have been filled for the 2010 list so far, but if I were brutally honest, only the top four have a lock on their positions. The bottom three are just occupying space, and nothing else I’ve encountered so far warrants filling out the list.

Two more quarters to go, though. It could all change by then.

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Favorite edition 2009: Quarter final, revised

Speed kills, and that’s what has happened to my year-end choices for 2009. I even said as much, detailing all the ways 2009 differed from past years.

The big issue was deferring a lot of listening till after my November trip, and rather than keeping up with 2010 releases, I’ve spent the first half of this year catching up with what I missed in 2009. In that time, my opinion has changed about a number of things, drastically enough to necessitate some changes to that list.

Why make this change half way through the current year? Well, I don’t want to consult 2009’s list at the end of 2010 and get the wrong impression. "Did I really think that was album was that great? Why didn’t this title end up there?" That kind of thing.

So here’s the revised list, with comments only on the changes.

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Favorite edition 2010: Quarter first

I may as well just call it now.

All the new releases in which I’m interested have all been pushed to April, which makes 2010 Q1 a dud for predicting what may end up on the year-end favorite list. Of course, it’s pretty ridiculous to make such predictions when the year is only three months old. (As if that stopped me before.)

Of the five albums bearing 2010 release dates I’ve so far encountered, only three have managed to wedge their way into regular rotation:

  • Tokyo Jihen, Sports Is this Bizzaro world we’ve entered? While Sanmon Gossip seems like the Tokyo Jihen record Tokyo Jihen never recorded, Sports is the Shiina Ringo album that never followed up Karuki Zaamen Kuri no Hana. The writing on this album is really, really good, and the performances even tighter. I grew to like Sanmon Gossip with a lot of effort, but Sports grabbed hold immediately.
  • Res, Black.Girls.Rock! Res made this album available as a free download on her web site in late 2009, but only recently did she make it available on CD — with poster! — so I’m considering this a 2010 release. How I Do was a remarkable debut, and the eight years since have not diminished Res’ muse. In fact, she gives rock a bit more focus on this album.
  • Sade, Soldier of Love Sade’s previous album, 2000’s Lovers Rock, was the first time Sade made a really cohesive album. Soldier of Love doesn’t feel quite as together, but demand for new Sade material outstrips supply by a long proverbial mile. And given the long wait, Sade and co. made sure it was worth it.

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That fatal X is all you need

A recent post on Alex Ross’ New Yorker blog reports adoption of classical music by Generation X has not followed the traditional mid-life bump as previous generations.

Responding to the notion that early education is needed to keep classical music alive, Ross writes, "If you can convince a harried President and an addled Congress to divert a few hundred million dollars into music education, you might begin to see significant results in twenty or thirty years. In the meantime, classical musicians essentially need to be in the business of adult education if they are to keep their audience and their livelihood."

That’s what I hope this site can accomplish by mixing coverage of classical with other genres. I could have easily carved out a Japanese music niche, but I’ve always felt that I could maybe leverage one type of coverage to get people into something else.

It’s a method that worked for me in high school, when I started to explore classical music. The long-gone Tower Records circular Pulse! covered classical next to rock and everything else. I’d pick up an issue for cover articles about XTC, 10,000 Maniacs or Eurythmics but stick around for pieces on Ellen Taafe Zwilich, Steve Reich and Terry Riley.

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Getting listening done

After years of working in the tech industry, I finally broke down and read that most fashionable of time management tomes, Getting Things Done by David Allen. Spend any amount of time around tech types, and they’ll mention some tool or other used to track their various GTD lists.

I don’t lead as cluttered a life as it seems most of my friends do, so I’ve never felt the compulsion to read Allen’s book. I get things done, and I don’t feel too stressed about it. I’ve read about and heard of GTD so much, I didn’t really learn anything new by the time I did read the book.

Still, I didn’t want to dismiss the concept out of hand. It seems to have a lot of practitioners, and it seems to work. So why not try it out?

As it turns out, GTD has finally gotten me listening to stuff I’ve had on a back-burner for too long a time.

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