Matt Brundage

Archive for the 'music' category

Tuesday, 6 October 2015

Matt’s first law of aural exhibitionism

reel to reel tape deck The propensity of a person to play back recorded sound in public and unsolicited (for instance, in a store, at the park, or while in the presence of a captive audience such as on the subway) is inversely proportional to the generally-accepted listenability of the music being played and the quality of both the source and the playback equipment.

What this means is that for every kind soul who plays, for instance, Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Brandenburg Concerto #4 In G (Allegro)”, “Flamenco Sketches” from Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, or take your pick from The Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, you have literally thousands of people playing lowest common denominator, dynamically-compressed, Auto-Tuned r&b/pop. And no, the teeming masses are not lugging around their vintage reel-to-reel tape decks, tube amps, and Focal Sopras in makeshift portable configurations; they’re playing back low quality MP3s using the tiny, tinny-sounding, $2.67 speakers that came integrated into their cheap carrier-subsidized smartphones.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Long as she’s got a dime, the music will never stop

The other day, Tanya and I were hanging out in my man-cave, listening to records, as we do most every evening. We had been making our way through my otherwise-neglected collection of 45s when I rediscovered a single that I had completely forgotten about, David Wills’ “There’s a Song on the Jukebox.”

Now I hope I don’t have to describe to you what a perfect gem of an old country song this is. As I hit “play” again after the needle returned, the song got me thinking about jukeboxes, but more specifically, the pricing and economics behind them.

From the 1950s, and lasting until even the 1980s, the jukebox was an essential cog in the music industry machine. In rock and roll’s formative years, the price of a single play on a typical jukebox was ten cents, as evidenced by Chuck Berry’s 1956 hit, “Roll Over, Beethoven:” Long as she’s got a dime, the music will never stop. Fast-forward about twenty years and our old buddy David Wills is still feeding single dimes into the jukebox. As inflation had eroded the value of a dime by almost half in the intervening 20 years, a single play on a jukebox in 1975 represented a much better value than it did in Chuck Berry’s era.

But let’s take it a step further and compare a single play in 1956 to an equivalent purchase in the present day. Merely adjusting for inflation won’t cut it, as there has been a marked increase in disposable income per capita in the United States, after adjusting for inflation. Based on the graph (below), it’s safe to say that per capita real disposable income has increased three-fold since the mid-fifties.


Our inflation-adjusted 1956 dime is worth about $.87 today. But that dime was even more valuable back then, as it represented a much bigger piece of the disposable income pie. Adjusting that inflation-adjusted dime for constant real disposable income yields a value of $2.61. Yep.

Would you pay $2.61 today to listen to a two-minute pop song once? Remember that in the 1950s and 1960s, a typical pop song lasted about two minutes. Three minutes tops.

Put another way, would you spend around $60 to listen to an hour of music — music that you wouldn’t even own afterwards? No, you wouldn’t. But you’d likely pay that amount on an annual basis with a music subscription service such as Pandora, Spotify, Rdio, Google Play, etc. Astounding: the same dollar figure that once provided only an hour’s worth of listening pleasure now provides a whole year’s worth — and with a virtual jukebox with tens of thousands of songs.

Over the past 60 years, the cost of renting music has decreased by 99.9886% on a per-hour basis.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Jens Lekman and the improbable synchronicity

Small Image A few years ago, KEXP introduced me to the music of Jens Lekman, a Swedish-born singer-songwriter. I was immediately taken with his blend of indie pop, with a sound reminiscent of a less-snooty Sufjan Stevens, or perhaps a peppier Stephin Merritt or the Smiths. I picked up his second album, the excellent Night Falls Over Kortedala.

Recently, I put his album into heavy rotation again, for no single defining reason. I was particularly drawn to “Shirin”, a song in which Jens falls for his Persian hairdresser: the song’s namesake, Shirin.

When Shirin cuts my hair it’s like a love affair / Let those locks fall to the ground or let them stay mid-air…

Shirin pulls my head to the side, but in the mirror I can see a tear in her eye…

The song is charming (but not mawkishly so) and is impeccably arranged, with Beach Boys-esque “ooos” and “aaahs” rounding out an ample, wordless vocal tag. In short, “Shirin” alone is deserving of its own blog post, but wait, there’s more.

Last week, while walking home from work, I saw a generic-looking business card in the street gutter. Now, 99.9% of the time, I don’t just go picking up random pieces of garbage off the street, but for some reason this business card (lying face-down, mind you!) piqued my interest as I bent down to pick it up.

Shirin apparently works at Hair Cuttery

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Sisyphus: rock and roll

Sometimes I feel as if the act of listening to my music collection is becoming a Sisyphean task. Let me explain:

Since I began my digital music collection in earnest in 2005, I’ve amassed close to 14,000 tracks, most of which I’ve simply ripped from my CD collection or downloaded from podcasts. How much music is this, exactly? Over 36 continuous days. If I were to average one hour of listening per day, it would take me close to two and a half years to traverse through my entire collection without repeating a single track.

While this is infinitely cool, it also presents a problem, as my “oldest” tracks were last heard as far back as May 2009. And this queue of old tracks keeps growing ever larger, as I keep amassing tracks but don’t really increase my average listening time per day. Quality songs are getting lost in the shuffle, so to speak. It’s easy to forget about them if they only come around once every two or three years. At the same time, new or unknown artists have it equally bad, as they have scant time to impress me with their music.

My only hope? Weeding. I rarely weed, as I understand all too well my penchant for rediscovering lost music.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Three albums dropping soon

Three of my favorite artists are releasing fresh new studio albums in the coming weeks, and I’m super-psyched!

Panda Bear

me, me, me panda! In 2007, Panda Bear released Person Pitch, an album as close to perfection as technically possible. His latest, Tomboy, is already exceeding my expectations, and I can’t wait to hear the album in its entirety. Oh wait: the album is streaming on NPR until April 12th.

Fleet Foxes

I saw the Foxes in early July 2008, when hype for the band was first building. Some claim that they’ve pigeon-holed themselves into a folksy, lush, baroque sound; if I concede that point, I still believe this works to their advantage. Right before the release of their debut album, an old school mate of mine, Josh Tillman, joined the band. While he’s been with Fleet Foxes for going on three years, Helplessness Blues will be his first recording with the band.

My Morning Jacket

MMJ appear to be caught in a Catch-22. They can’t exactly revisit the old sound, the reverb-laden At Dawn and It Still Moves, without coming across as overly nostalgic also-rans. At the same time, their last release, Evil Urges, somehow diverged simultaneously into both white-boy falsetto funk, slow steel-guitar numbers, and standard AOR pop-radio fare. MMJ has promised a “reset” of sorts for their latest, Circuital. Needless to say, the record will probably blow me away.

Tuesday, 11 January 2011

Swim

Something strangely fascinating happens when I filter my digital music library with the simple keyword “swim” — nothing but standout Grade-A™ songs:

  • R.E.M.’s “Nightswimming”. The song represents R.E.M. at their commercial (and arguably creative peak) and is right up there with “Fall on Me” and “Find the River” in the upper echelon of R.E.M. songs.
  • Small Image Surfer Blood’s “Swim”. Bombastic power-pop surf rock with an ocean’s worth of reverb. “Swim” plays as the musical equivalent of an extreme off-roading Jeep. Do yourself a favor and buy this right now.
  • A couple singles from Canadian folk-rock band Great Lake Swimmers, “Pulling on a Line” and “Your Rocky Spine.” Both are melodic, and exude a certain pop craftiness.
  • Caribou’s “Odessa” from Swim. In the same vein as Hot Chip, “Odessa” is an organic-sounding dance track with a tight flute riff and a killer bass line. Someone needs to sample this and rap over the top. Pronto!
  • Tyler Ramsey’s cover of Jackson Browne’s “These Days” from A Long Dream About Swimming Across the Sea.
  • Camera Obscura’s “Swimming Pool”. A twee little duet. Sample lyric: “My head’s been lying dormant like a sleepy little mouse.”
  • Frightened Rabbit’s “Swim Until You Can’t See Land”. Yeah, yet another quality Scottish rock band. I swear, I don’t do this on purpose.
Sunday, 23 May 2010

STP giveaway

Medium Image To celebrate the release of Stone Temple Pilot’s self-titled sixth album on Tuesday, May 25, I hereby offer their first five albums, free. Simply contact me with your mailing address and preferred album, and I’ll ship it to you. Albums available: Core, Purple, Tiny Music…, No. 4, and Shangri-La Dee Da.

Update

Shangri-La Dee Da is gone. Also, I forgot to mention, but Scott Weiland’s 1998 solo album 12 Bar Blues is also available.

Update #2

Tiny Music… is gone!

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Music recommendations

It’s difficult to make music recommendations. If only one in ten of my recommendations come to any sort of fruition, I will have considered it a success. I don’t expect people to instantly enjoy the music that I recommend to them — for the same reason that I rarely “get” a band or album the first time. In fact, as I’ve pointed out, it may take half a decade (or longer) for me to fully appreciate albums that I acquire for myself. This slow burn is one of the reasons that I hold recorded sound in such high esteem.

I’ll purposefully skip the powerhouses that should already be in your collection: The Beach Boys, The Beatles, Johnny Cash, The Smashing Pumpkins, R.E.M., Radiohead, Pink Floyd, et cetera. Here is a list that I compiled today without any premeditation:

Lost in the Woods

My Morning Jacket, Band of Horses, Midlake, Fleet Foxes, J. Tillman, Department of Eagles

Somewhat Christian but not quite

Pedro the Lion, Sufjan Stevens, Damien Jurado, Denison Witmer, Rosie Thomas

Honky tonk and alternative country

Johnny Paycheck (especially his 1960s output), George Jones, Hank Williams Sr., Ray Price, Junior Brown, Blitzen Trapper, The Jayhawks, Neko Case (sometimes)

Panda Bear Indie and experimental indie

Panda Bear, Animal Collective, Of Montreal, Beck, Arcade Fire, The Verve, The White Stripes, The Shins

Scottish rock

Travis, The Trash Can Sinatras, Belle and Sebastian, Camera Obscura

Church music

Composers worth rediscovering: Lorenzo Allegri, J.S. Bach, Gabriel Fauré, W.A. Mozart

Choral groups: Chanticleer, The Tallis Scholars

Dance

Air (sort of), Daft Punk, Basement Jaxx, Hot Chip, The Chemical Brothers, Caribou

Pop (in its many forms)

Weezer, Bee Gees, John Denver, Electric Light Orchestra, Michael Jackson, ABBA

Abrasive

Man Man, Death From Above 1979, Black Eyes & Neckties, Neutral Milk Hotel

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Little-known facts

Since moving to Silver Spring in 2005, I’ve walked approximately 1,568 miles to and from the Forest Glen Metro Station. That’s about 490 hours of walking.

conformation Despite my ardent Catholic faith, I have never been confirmed. This is even more astounding when you consider that the sacrament of confirmation is a prerequisite to the sacrament of marriage.

I’ve been using Quicken on a daily basis since October 1, 1993. I just recently persuaded Annie to join me and now she is all excited.

I’ve made 12,033 edits (and counting) to the English version of Wikipedia. An average of more than one edit per day since birth.

Circa 2001 or 2002, I was scrounging around in the music section of a used book store — trying to find an LP or 45 with the song “Go Away Little Girl” by Steve Lawrence. Randomly, I struck up a conversation with the man standing next to me; I got to telling him what I was trying to find. Turns out the man was Steve Lawrence’s cousin or something. The Odds! I was too astonished to react appropriately, so I muttered something cursory like, “oh, wow, that’s cool.” The mind boggles when I try to calculate the odds of something like that ever happening. To anyone. Ever again.