Friday, April 24, 2009

Weekly iPod Shuffle + We Test the iTunes Genius, Part 2

1. "I Hope, I Think, I Know," Oasis
I know I'm in the minority here, but I think Be Here Now is Oasis's best work. How do I know I'm in the minority? Someone did a tour through England's used-record shops in the late '90s, and found that the number one most often pawned-off album, by a wide margin, was Be Here Now. Yeah, well, fuck them. (*****)

2. "Analyse," Thom Yorke
From the Radiohead frontman's solo album, The Eraser, which is actually quite good. Though you'd expect as much, being as he's the frontman for the Greatest Band in the World. It's a little quieter, more electronic than Radiohead's work (save most of Kid A, of course). (*****)

3. "Wave of Mutilation," The Pixies
I hate playing this song in Rock Band. You know what, though? It's not that bad to listen to. (****)

4. "Maps," Yeah Yeah Yeahs
I grew very, very tired of playing this song in Rock Band. It's still pretty great to listen to, though. (****)

5. "Shaking the Tree," Peter Gabriel
This is the far superior live version, from the Secret World concert set. It's one of my favorite parts of the concert video: Gabriel convinces his entire band -- save the drummer, of course -- to dance around in a giant circle, skipping around like loons, all while still playing and singing the song itself. And there's a giant tree in the enter of the stage, 'cause, you know, it's called "Shaking the Tree" and all. Tony Levin's bass work on the middle section is awesome. (*****)

6. "Tiny Dancer," Elton John
I think that Almost Famous was both the best and worst thing to ever happen to this song. The film and tune are now completely inseperable, now and forever. (*****)

7. "Oh! You Pretty Things," David Bowie
Harvey Danger covered this as a B-side. Both versions are pretty awesome. (*****)

8. "Battle of Who Could Care Less," Ben Folds Five
The first Ben Folds song I ever heard. I loved his work immediately, not more than forty seconds into the track. Of course, it took "Brick" before anyone else even heard of the guy, but I can say I'm just a hair more with it than the masses. Barely. (*****)

9. "12:51," The Strokes
Man, I love the Strokes. I kind of panned Is This It when it first released, coming as it was after a gargantuan wave of hype -- anything short of Sgt. Pepper's was bound to be a disappointment. But later, I rediscovered it, and that let me to their much-improved follow-up: the phenomenal Room on Fire, where we find "12:51." Every Strokes song sounds the same, and the world is all the better for it. (*****)

10. "You Make Me Feel Like a Whore," Everclear
I couldn't get enough of those Everclear records when I was in high school. This is one of the few songs that holds up all these years later, but don't expect anything other than your Typical Everclear Song. It's about a unrequited lover lashing out at the object of his unreturned affections. Did I mention I loved this song in high school? Go figure. (****)

And now, We Test the iTunes Genius, Part 2.

Last time, we got mixed results with the White Stripes. Now, I go for something a little trickier. Make the iTunes Genius test its might.

Regina Spektor, "Fidelity"

Our sidebar is a little promising this time, even with the presence of one Jason Mraz. So let's see what we've got here:


Now, this is more like it.

Spoon? Bright Eyes? Death Cab for Cutie? Sufjan Stevens? Flawless. Even some bands that seem out of place -- like Bloc Party, say, or the White Stripes -- are redeemed by the tracks chosen, which actually fit rather well. (And "Dreamgirl" isn't exactly the best song Dave Matthews has ever written, but it does fit into this playlist. And big bonus points for including her guest appearance on Ben Folds's "You Don't Know Me.")

Yes: this is what the Genius is supposed to do. Well done.

10 out of 10. Now, for our next installment, I'll have to come up with something much, much harder. Something completely out of left field. Something from...Aperture Science.

I've experiments to run.

I'm afraid I don't know ENOUGH dirty words, it turns out

Penny Arcade's recent Rock Band: Nirvana comic -- tasteless humor of the first order -- reminded me of this travesty, which I first spotted a while ago and somehow forgot to share with the class. Ladies and gentlemen, Paul Anka.

Words fail.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The face that launched a thousand enranged throws of the controller

Over the course of a life, one makes enemies. My life is no different.

When those enemies are made in childhood, the grudges can fester. Grow. Their evil can seep into the soil and bring forth blooms of seething, spiteful hatred. Again, my life is no different.

And over the course of two decades, that hatred -- unchecked, unabated -- can become monstrous, an animal no longer controllable or consolable.

Even if the target of all that rage is a drunken pink cartoon boxer.

soda popinski

You motherfucker.

When I was kid, I played Mike Tyson's Punch-Out a lot. A lot. I didn't have my own copy of Zelda yet, and I'd beaten Mario fifteen times by then. Getting to -- and then defeating -- Iron Mike was my sole focus for a good long while. My cousin Brian, he had a post-Mike version of the game, and again, the quest for victory over Mr. Dream consumed me. But I never beat Tyson, or his white-bread revisionist counterpart. Because I never got there.

Because of Soda Popinski.

Pop is your second opponent in the World Circuit, which actually consists mostly of rematches. Piston Honda shows up to fight you again, and in the interim he's learned how to duck. Not exactly a stunning revamp, to be certain, and he's easily dispatched.

And then: Soda Pop. The fucker.

I couldn't beat him when I was little. Couldn't, ever. I returned to the game briefly in middle school, and found that, if my timing was just right, I had no distractions, and the gods smiled in the heavens over Maryland, then I could actually beat him...once out of every, oh, ten tries. The other nine: defeat -- shameful, ignominious.

Remember that fucking dog we talked about, from Duck Hunt? Remember his laughter when you'd miss? Soda laughed, too. A strikingly similar sound, though a little rougher, I think. Deeper. Callous. Evil.

The fucker.

When I got my big batch of NES ROMs a few years ago, I fired up Punch-Out. And guess what? I still couldn't do it. I cheated, even -- used save states to keep my place just before the big fight. It took me hours, and I finally got him. Once.

There are myths and legends that speak of rivalries like this. I've written of them of myself, even when it comes to old video games -- remember Fester's Quest? My continued failure, followed by righteous triumph and victory?

Last night, we bought Punch-Out from the Wii's Virtual Console. I started it, remembering my Fester's triumph and picturing a similar story unfolding. Surely, I would achieve victory. Surely, I would put those old demons to rest.

"I don't think so," Soda Pop said. "And don't call me Shirley." fucker.

Urge to kill rising.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

iTunes Alphabetics -- Back to back

only the pandas and bears have made a clean getaway

"Back at Your Door," Maroon 5
"Back in '72," Bob Seger
"Back in Black," AC/DC
"Back in N.Y.C.," Genesis
"Back in Our Minds," Funkadelic
"Back in the U.S.S.R.," The Beatles
"Back of a Truck," Regina Spektor
"Back Off Bitch," Guns N' Roses
"Back Off Boogaloo," Ringo Starr
"Back on My Feet Again," Randy Newman
"Back Porch," The Presidents of the United States of America
"Back to Black," Amy Winehouse
"Back to the Life," Spoon
"Backdrifts," Radiohead
"Backfire," Aimee Mann
"Backslider," Toadies
"Backstreets," Bruce Springsteen

Monday, April 13, 2009

Weekly iPod Shuffle: 4/13/09 + We Test the iTunes Genius, Part 1

1. "Waltz (Better Than Fine)," Fiona Apple
Another new thing to try out this week. But first, beautiful Fiona, who hasn't resurfaced after her last resurfacing, 2005's Extraordinary Machine. This is from the official release, though it's identical to the bootleg. Both versions are more than adequate. (****)

2. "Call Me When You're Sober," Evanescence
I guess it's a girls-with-pianos shuffle. I've babbled about Amy Lee more than once before; I shouldn't need to do it again. Suffice to say, this is her finest moment -- as a singer, as a songwriter, even as a pianist. (*****)

3. "Paranoid Eyes," Pink Floyd
I like Roger Waters's final Floyd album, The Final Cut, an awful lot. It's a shame, though, that he felt so insecure about the power of his music to tell his story and relies so heavily on sound effects. This track adds nicely to the mood, theme and narrative, but it's weighed down with unnecessary foley tricks that merely distract the listener. The Wall had this same problem, but not nearly to this degree. (****)

4. "Lord Only Knows," Beck
From Odelay. Beck's always had a country streak in him, and he lets that flag fly here, with glorious results. I don't hold Odelay up in the same Valhallah as everyone else, but I adore this song. (*****)

5. "Dick in a Box," The Lonely Island ft. Justin Timberlake
Surely, you've seen this video from SNL by now. If not, go find it. And then get Incredibad, which is one of the funniest albums of the decade. (*****)

6. "Alone + Easy Target," Foo Fighters
Dave Grohl's slide -- fuck, plummet -- into mediocrity and near-self-parody has annoyed me to no end. But this is from his first Foo record, back when he still seemed to give a shit, and it's incredible. One of his best tracks, ever. (*****)

7. "Greasy Jungle," The Tragically Hip
Yeah, this song's nice. You know else, though? Lookie here:

That's the cover of the brand-spankin'-new Hip album, We Are the Same, which is available now and should be in your collection, pronto. I'm listening to it as I write this, and I'm prepared to say it's their best in...oh, ten years or so. It's a little different, a litte more mellow, a little more restrained -- it's gorgeous. After all these years and all these records, I didn't think the Hip could surprise me anymore, and certainly not with Bob Rock at the controls. I was wrong. "Greasy Jungle," for what it's worth, is a perfectly fine track from Day for Night, which features the very first Hip song I ever heard, back when they played "Grace, Too" on SNL. (****)

8. "Mutha'uckas," Flight of the Conchords
It's a one-note joke, really -- rap songs sound idiotic when their obscenities get gutted and excised -- but flawless execution makes this a classic. (*****)

9. "The Hazards of Love 1 (The Prettiest Whistles Won't Wrestle the Thistles Undone)," The Decemberists
Yes, I got the new Decemberists record. Yes, it's a masterpiece. Yes, you should own it. Why bother asking questions you already know the answers to? (*****)

10. "Cream and Bastards Rise," Harvey Danger
By some unfathomable miracle, someone other than me has heard this song, and it wound up as Rock Band downloadable content, which I promptly snapped up. The hardest part to sing? Sean Nelson's barking laughter at the end, which forces to you to yell "HA-HA-HA HA-HA-HA-HA" three times in a row, on key. (*****)

And now: We Test the iTunes Genius.

The newest version of iTunes features the Genius, whose effect is essentially to lead you to music simliar to what you're listening to. You pick a song, let Genius do its work, and it makes up a playlist of -- theoretically -- similar music.

Here, we put it to the test. I'll pick a song -- more or less at random -- and see what Genius gives us. I'll start with something fairly popular and straightforward, so we can all play along.

The White Stripes, "Seven Nation Army"

That's not a bad choice, is it? I don't think so.

Okay. Already we're in trouble, and I haven't even started the playlist. The "Genius Recommends" sidebar that pops up (providing iTunes Store links to simliar artists) features Audioslave and Jimmy Eat World, who couldn't sound any less like the White Stripes if they were trying. Anyway. I click the button, and here is my playlist:

7 nation army playlist


This looks pretty hideous at first glance. Right off the bat, Queens of the Stone Age seems like a misstep. And Muse -- twice? System of a Down? And is that Nine Inch Nails? And Marilyn Manson? Are you fucking kidding me?

But aside from that, it hits more than it misses. The Strokes, Franz Ferdinand, Green Day, Weezer, the Clash, the Hives. Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins run a little darker, but fit in better than you'd think. And then there are the surprises -- Cake and Tenacious D, whose goofiness actually makes them a perfect fit, despite not really sounding anything at all like the White Stripes. "New Slang" is a nice breather, a bit of acoustic beauty on a rockish set.

The biggest blunder from the Genius? Its failure to include the Raconteurs, who sound an awful lot like the White Stripes, thanks to it being Jack White's other band.

I'll give it 7 out of 10. We'll come back to it next week with something a little more difficult. I'm thinking Regina Spektor. Have at you, Genius!

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

iTunes Alphabetics: Amazed - American

I saw this on another blog, and liked it enough to swipe it completely as a compliment to my iPod shuffles. Basically, I'll pick an alphabetical range and list the songs that fall into it. Sort of glancing at my musical dictionary, if you will. Feel free to participate, or suggestion songs that I should have.

"Amazed," The Offspring
"Amazed," Poe
"Amazing," Aerosmith
"Amazing," Kanye West
"Amazing Journey," The Who
"America," Simon & Garfunkel
"America's Suitehearts," Fall Out Boy
"American Baby," Dave Matthews Band
"American Baby (intro)," Dave Matthews Band
"American Dreamin'," Jay-Z
"American Gangster Time," Elvis Costello and the Imposters
"American Gigolo," Weezer
"American Girls," Counting Crows
"American Idiot," Green Day
"American Pie," Don McLean
"American Tune," Paul Simon
"American Without Tears," Elvis Costello

I like these. Maybe another tomorrow.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Weekly iPod Shuffle: 4/6/09

Apologies for the absence -- computer crashes and vacations stymied my output. Let the ramblings return!

Oh, and the Astros are losing in the background as I write this. Yay for baseball!

1. "G.O.D. (Good Old Days)," Fastball
I wrote about these guys in my 100 Albums feature, which I'll getting back to in a few days. Not much more I can add about this particular track, other than to say the horns are great. (Rating: ****)

2. "All Along the Watchtower," Dave Matthews Band
Interesting timing -- I'm currently midway through season three of my rewatching of Battlestar Galactica. It's somewhat telling that, unless you listened to his podcasts (which I did), you wouldn't know just by watching that Ronald D. Moore made up virtually every last thing about the show as he went along. The Opera House vision, the idenities of the Final Five, the meaning of "All Along the Watchtower" -- all of it, improvised either on the page or in the writers' room. Unlike the Cylons, they had no plan. (Hell, even the first use of "Watchtower" -- the shocking reveal that four of our protagonists were Cylon sleeper agents -- Moore made up because he thought the season three finale wasn't "surprising" enough.) But that doesn't (usually) come across in the final product. It certainly feels like there's a plan, and pretty much everything holds together in its own internal logic. Oh, yeah, the song: this live version of "Watchtower" -- from the Listener Supported set -- is neither the best nor the worst version DMB has played. (****)

3. "I Will Possess Your Heart," Death Cab for Cutie
I've since gone back and devoured the entirety of Cutie's back catalog, but this masterpiece from Narrow Stairs is still one of their best. My only quibble with Narrow Stairs, in fact, is that this song isn't the first track. It should be -- it certainly sounds like the beginning of something extraordinary. (*****)

4. "Spaceman," The Killers
Something I wish I'd snapped a photo of during our Las Vegas vacation -- just inside the doors of the Hard Rock Casino is an enormous display of the Killers' stage gear, worn and held by life-sized plastic skeletons. It's unbelievably cool. (The Killers are Vegas natives, donchaknow). This is a pretty cool song, from the otherwise disappointing Day & Age. (****)

5. "War Buddies," Harvey Danger
Sweet Jesus, Harvey Danger needs to release another album already. It's been three or four years since Little by Little..., and I desperately need a new record to play to death. This is one of Little's most impressive songs -- of course, all of Little is brilliant, so take that as you will. Seriously, go get the damn album. (*****)

6. "So What," Metallica
A crappy, barely listenable afterthought that found its way onto a single, then an EP, and then the minefield that is Garage, Inc.'s second disc. Of course, it's not exactly Metallica's fault that it's crappy and barely listenable -- it's a cover, after all -- but it is their fault for making me listen to it. (*)

7. "The District Sleeps Alone Tonight," The Postal Service
If you listen to the Postal Service and think the singer sounds an awful like the singer from Death Cab for Cutie, it's because they're one and the same. This is the opening track off of their first and only record, Give Up, and it's a surprisingly catchy blend of indie pop and electronica. (*****)

8. "She Came in Through the Bathroom Window," The Beatles
One of my favorite pieces of the Abbey Road medley, inspired by an incident in which a woman actually crawled through Paul McCartney's bathroom window and swiped a few trinkets. See, groups of fans -- called Apple Scruffs -- used to literally live outside of the Beatles' various homes in England. And one of them, bored while Paul wasn't home, climbed in the window, strolled around through the house and took a few small items. Paul, being Paul, simply asked the group to give one of them back (just one), and they did. That's as surreal as it gets, isn't it? (*****)

9. "Bed of Lies," Matchbox Twenty
Rob Thomas channels his inner Phil Collins -- which I can't imagine is buried all that far down, tell the truth -- to churn out this drum-heavy rocker from his best (read: only listenable) album, 2000's Mad Season. It works surprisingly well, anchored mostly by his impressive vocal performance. Though, oddly enough, I think it actually would sound better if Phil Collins covered it. (****)

10. "Susanne," Weezer
You've probably heard this obscure Weezer oldie, as it played at the end of the Kevin Smith's Mallrats, which remains the least of the films. (What's that? I'm sorry, Jersey Girl? Never heard of it.) Shame Rivers never thought to put it on a proper Weezer record, as it's one of his best songs. Of course, I think it appeared too late for the blue album, and it would have been wildly out of place on Pinkerton. And Susanne, by the way, was a receptionist at Geffen, who took pity on Rivers and made him brownies. The more you know. (*****)