Matt Brundage

Archive for 2009

Friday, 24 April 2009

Rediscoveries

One of the benefits of having a sprawling collection of CDs and records is that I’ve found myself rediscovering albums and songs that had long been lost in the milieu. If I were to spend, for instance, one hour a day listening to my collection, I could go over three and a half years and never play the same disc or record twice. So naturally, albums get lost in the shuffle. A few have never gotten even as much as a cursory spin.

Medium Image Certain events tend to spark rediscoveries: magazine articles, books, random radio commentary and NPR music “filler” inserts, conversation, even music itself. At the Travis concert last night, the opening band, The Republic Tigers, did a cover version of Blondie’s “Heart of Glass”. Needless to say, they absolutely nailed it. For a fleeting moment, Kenn Jankowski’s garish falsetto, Marc Pepperman’s bass (with its disco chord progressions) and Adam McGill’s punchy New Wave guitar elevated Blondie to genius level. As a result, this weekend, I will probably dig out my old Blondie LPs (starting with Parallel Lines) — albums I most likely haven’t played in over a decade.

Another recent example involves English dream-pop group The Sundays and, to a lesser extent, Irish band The Cranberries. Somehow, through the course of events, I found myself the owner of two Sundays albums, despite not having a particular reason to purchase them. I had a vague impression that their sound was similar to the Cranberries, but that was the extent of my knowledge. I had held onto those albums for years, without really playing them. They just sort of sat there. Recently, though, I happened to play them and enjoyed them immensely. It was as if, when I originally purchased the albums, I wasn’t yet “ready.” Now, after having listened to them again recently, the albums hold much more value to me.

It’s the same feeling one gets upon learning that a long-held stock is suddenly now paying a handsome dividend. The investments that I made ten years ago are just now paying off. And I can’t wait to find out what other treasures are hiding in my living room.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Scottish one-two-three punch

Ahead of Travis’ appearance at the 9:30 Club later this evening, I thought I’d highlight a few particularly impressive Scottish bands that get less attention than they deserve.

The Trash Can Sinatras

Medium Image Initially, the name may be a little off-putting, as it’s probably more fitting for a New York-based No-Wave band than a Scottish indie pop outfit. TCS is the sonic equivalent of an accurately distilled vodka: the distractions have been left behind, but you’re still getting the real deal. The band was first brought to my attention when I heard “Freetime” on the college-rock station KEXP. Released in 2004, “Freetime” is from the album Weightlifting — the album represented a Renaissance of sorts for the band, as it was their first major release in over eight years.

Lately, they’ve been having trouble securing concert venues in the US. Adding insult to injury, their latest release, In the Music, apparently doesn’t even have a US distributor. Rumor has it that Universal Music will soon be reissuing their entire catalog, but I’ll have to see it to believe it. Best of luck to the Trash Can Sinatras.

Belle and Sebastian

For reasons unknown, I’m not a huge fan of Belle and Sebastian, and own none of their albums. On paper, I should be enthusiastically embracing the band. They have the perfect mix of non-abrasive indie pop/twee pop, Baroque sensibilities, retro arrangements, intricate and hooky chord changes, and quirky lyrics. As an added bonus, lead singer Stuart Murdoch happens to be a Christian and is a long-time friend of Fran Healy, leader of our next band, Travis:

Travis

Medium Image I first saw Travis in 2000 when they opened for Oasis. At the time, they were an up-and-coming band in the US and expectations were high. While my ex and I attended the concert because of her desire to hear Oasis, I read up on Travis beforehand; one particular reviewer said, in effect, that Travis, despite not being the headline band, were technically better. Oasis may or may not have been upstaged that night by the “lowly” Travis, but their performance did indeed leave quite the impression. During the past decade, it’s been a pleasure to slowly discover more and more about the band; in fact, I feel that I’ve even gotten a bit into Fran Healy’s psyche. Or at least I like to think I have.

Honorable mention: Camera Obscura

Camera Obscura are often likened to a female version of Belle and Sebastian — I don’t think that’s an unfair comparison. They are thoroughly retro in their application of twee pop and sound mesmerizing.

Saturday, 18 April 2009

Exacerbating the demise

Asa weighs in again on the future of IE6 usage:

In just a few months, we’re going to see IE users split across three versions, likely with IE8 and IE7 each holding about 25% and IE6 holding about 15%. Firefox will have pretty much all of its 24% on Firefox 3.0, and Safari will be trailing back around 10%.

If things go as they have in the past, by the end of this year, we’re likely to see IE8 and Firefox 3.5 leading the Web with 30% and 27% respectively, IE7 and IE6 next with about 10-15 points each, and Safari+Chrome+Opera rounding out the back with a combined 10-15%.

Hmm. I’m actually expecting IE6 to be borderline edge-case by Christmas and near-death by June of next year. In addition to the effect of Windows Update, there are many corporations (and government agencies) that are waiting to leapfrog over Vista when Windows 7 drops. This will exacerbate the demise of IE6, but won’t effect IE7 to the same degree. So, I see a greater end-of-year disparity between IE6 and IE7.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Streaming audio for the masses

While the sad state of radio held a mostly bleak outlook on traditional radio formats, this post provides some examples of where to turn for quality streaming audio.

As many may know, I spend an inordinate amount of time in front of a computer monitor. By choice. When I’m not shuffling through my ever-burgeoning song file collection (currently at 11,400+) or listing to talk shows, I’m usually tuned in to one of the following stations:

  • KEXPKEXP — a non-commercial station from Seattle. KEXP has had more influence over my musical tastes and buying habits over the past decade than any other source. While their orientation is college rock/indie pop/indie rock, they’ve been know to throw a few curve balls. I’ve been contributing financially on a regular basis — at first with pledges, and more recently through their Amazon referral link. Aside: purchasing items at Amazon through an organization’s referral link is a passive and easy way to donate to a favorite cause. Highly recommended.
  • Luxuria Music — self-described as Exotica, Lounge, Space Age Bachelor Pad, Bossa, Soft-Psych, Go-Go, Latin Jazz, Sophisticated Rock and Surf. Often, I will find myself chuckling as I hear an impossibly cheesy MOR cover-version of a well-known oldie — or perhaps some kitschy French or eastern European pop music. Luxuria always leaves me in a good mood. The station almost folded a couple of years ago, so I’m thankful that they’re still around. Another station to which I’ve contributed financially.
  • Radio Paradise — to someone with atypical tastes in music, Radio Paradise may at first come across as somewhat bland but still satisfying. To others with more mainstream tastes, the station will introduce them to established artists that they may have heard of, but haven’t actually listened to. And their Listen page is simply awe-inspiring in its breadth. And you won’t hear a single commercial.
  • WFMU — a freeform non-commercial station from New Jersey. While certain DJs tend to talk a bit too much for my tastes, the musical payoff is more than worth it.
  • dublab — while the name may suggest reggae and turntablism, that genre is only a small part of what dublab plays. Like WFMU, dublab is known for obscure, avant garde, and unclassifiable “material”, but also for lost 1960s/1970s soul gems, hip hop, indie folk, or just about whatever the DJs feel like throwing at us. I never really know what’s going on at dublab. And there’s this one DJ who always sounds as if he’s just moments away from a full-fledged ether high.
  • WSM — the esteemed country station. Unfortunately, WSM recently redesigned their site; it’s now all but inaccessible. Every link off the home page opens a new window. It’s just … bad. It’s so bad that I’ve linked to their Wikipedia entry to spare you the horror. How to listen? Even though they have a live stream, I’d say your best bet is to get close enough to Brentwood, TN and then tune your radio to 650AM. Skip most of the pop country during the day, but listen to Eddie Stubbs in the evenings. Ok, I just realized that this bullet point could have been just for Eddie Stubbs.
Friday, 27 March 2009

Pet Peeves

Being a snob, it was only a matter of time before this list surfaced. Enjoy.

Technology

The way that incredible technology always seems to be 2 or 3 years away from implementation or cost-effectiveness through mass production. Think mainstream electric cars, LED lighting, OLED display panels, super-efficient solar panels, SSD, or basically any improvement that promises to cut energy usage “in half.”

Microsoft Internet Explorer, namely the 6th version.

The subtle adverts that Quicken puts in its software — software that I’ve paid for, I might add.

The seeming inability to change the color of unread messages in Lotus Notes 6.5.1. It’s a bright fire-engine red. I just know that this must be having a detrimental psychological effect on me.

Politics and government

The over-reaching scope of the US Federal government. The apparent inability of the government to stop taxing, regulating, and subsidizing once precedents have been set. For instance, subsidization of corn and excessive taxation of diesel fuel.

Studies that reveal that many Americans can’t name the three branches of government, identify a single Supreme Court justice, or point to a well-known country on a map.

The tendency for people to vote for a candidate for non-political reasons, as such historicity, popularity, stage presence, or charm.

Food

mama celeste The ingredients list of certain Celeste pizza products. Hint: you’re not eating cheese. Instead, your body will attempt to digest Imitation Mozzarella Cheese (Water, Partially Hydrogenated Soybean Oil, Casein [Milk], Modified Food Starch, Trisodium Citrate, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate, Lactic Acid, Natural Flavor, Disodium Phosphate, Artificial Color, Guar Gum, Sorbic Acid [to Preserve Freshness], Artificial Flavor) An abomination before the Lord! Lately, I’ve taken to making my own insalata caprese-style pizza. Now that’s what I call food.

My inability to ingest spicy hot foods without having an acute attack of the hiccups.

The ubiquity of high fructose corn syrup.

Social settings

Being expected to laugh or smile at jokes that just aren’t funny.

Having to resist the urge to say “I shouldn’t have to tell you more than once!” when playing volleyball.

Annie’s camera shyness. This is especially cruel, considering that she’s the most beautiful woman since at least the fall of Constantinople in 1453.

Loud talkers with nothing to say.

The inevitability of the aging process.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Site-wide refresh

Change comes slowly…if it comes at all.

When I first published a personal website — located somewhere at the ever-venerable geocities.com — my intent was that every section of the site would look completely different from the next. At the time (circa January 2000), I thought it was a pretty good idea. Since then, however, the various sections have been slowly evolving and merging into a unified design. The latest site refresh allows for even less “individuality”, so to speak, as I’ve set up a modest custom-built template system.

It was never my intention for this site refresh to involve major style changes, so good luck if you’re looking for something substantial. One notable exception is page width. With widescreen and full high-definition monitors becoming more and more mainstream, the last thing I wanted was a line of text that spanned the entire width of the browser window at 1920×1080. (Or higher!) While I can never completely control exactly how a user views my site, this refresh attempts to regain some control of the viewing experience.

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Snobbery

I’m becoming more and more of a snob every day. (Well, at least according to Annie.) I’d rather call it “discriminating taste” — or in its simplest form, just a preference for one thing over another.

  • I try to avoid high fructose corn syrup and other artificial sweeteners, monosodium glutamate, partially hydrogenated oils (margarine), other “unnatural” fats, and needlessly processed food products with unpronounceable ingredients. Instead, I purchase “real”, “natural”, or “organic” whenever possible. I don’t mind paying a bit more for quality. For that, I am a food snob.
  • I won’t drink Merlot, Rosé (White Zinfandel), or wine that has been “embellished”. For that, I am a wine snob.
  • I am through with North American lagers. Instead, my gaze is fixed upon Ireland (Guinness) and Belgium (Chimay). For that, I am a beer snob.
  • I consume an enormous quantity of music, much of it esoteric. I typically get blank stares or polite nods when I try to describe my tastes to people. I value my vinyl records just as much as my CDs. I’m not the kind of music snob who categorizes his collection as classical, jazz, and “other”, but I am a snob nonetheless.
  • While my video collection is comparatively more mainstream than my music collection, certain “guidelines” still apply: Since the beginning of 2008, I have completely stopped purchasing DVDs and have moved on (without any hiccups) to Blu-ray. I’ve even been replacing my old DVDs with their Blu-ray versions. I will never stretch or crop the picture. I prefer to watch a film in its original, theatrical aspect ratio, whether that be 1.33:1, 1.85:1, 2.35:1, or any other variation. I cannot be happier that “Full-screen” DVDs are finally being phased out. I am frustrated with people who just don’t get it, especially those with capable widescreen televisions. For that, I am a film and video snob. In this regard, the label of snob may be warranted.
  • My requirements for church are becoming more and more specialized. While I’ve always been Catholic, my adherence to the “weekly requirement” hasn’t always been strict. And by that, I mean that, a few times a year, I would attend a non-Catholic church service and count that as my “weekly”. Never again. It’s even gotten to the point where I’m hesitant to attend a Novus Ordo Mass — especially if it’s in the vernacular; I need to hear the old Mass in Latin. For that, I am a church snob.
  • I’m a stickler for proper grammar usage — a great deal of my Wikipedia edits involve grammar corrections or diction in some form or another. I’ve corrected people in everyday conversation: I remember telling someone once that they had “split the infinitive.” Lately, I’ve been surprised at the frequency at which people use the word “less” when they really mean “fewer.” It boggles the mind. I have strong preferences toward the increased usage of both the serial comma and the subjunctive mood. For that, I am a grammar snob.

In addition, Annie says that I’m a snob in the following categories: cars, clothes, computers, paper shredders, razors, lamps, light bulbs, and books. That’s right. I’m officially a paper-shredder snob.

Wednesday, 21 January 2009

Happy Birthday to Lotus Notes 6.5.1

Lotus Notes 6.5.1 Seriously, though. The email environment here at work is anything but ideal. Our email client has now gone over five years without even as much as an incremental update. The overwhelming consensus here is that Notes 6.x is powerful, but clunky and illogical. The UI appears as if it were designed by developers — for exclusive use by developers. This is not a back-handed complement by any stretch of the imagination.

Notes v. 8 appears to be coming around in terms of usability and UI, so all is not lost.

Apparently, our organization will be deploying Lotus Notes v.8 to our desktops “any month now”; I will embrace it with open arms — in a good cop/bad cop sort of way.

Tuesday, 6 January 2009

The sad state of radio

Medium Image It’s unfortunate that artists — such as Van Morrison or Otis Redding — have been reduced to three-minute “career-defining” songs. I’m thinking about “Brown Eyed Girl” and “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay”, respectively. You’d think that Morrison and Redding recorded only one song a piece, if radio play is any indication. Even obvious alternate tracks, such as “Domino” or, say, “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” are rarely heard. In fact, I’ve never heard “I’ve Been Loving You Too Long” on the radio. Ever.

I can certainly provide similar examples for other artists that have been given short shrift. Even mainstream artists with substantial back catalogs — such as Eagles, The Doors, or even U2 or The Rolling Stones — are reduced to an EP’s worth of sound, and played over and over.

Stations such as the Jack FM brand tried to buck that trend, with playlists that in many cases doubled the number of songs that a traditional radio station would have. Their strategy was to recapture an audience that they were losing to the iPod Shuffle crowd. The eclecticism of their mix is an indication that eclecticism itself is the rule, rather than the exception. Jack FM’s intentions are noble, but their “expanded” playlist is still paltry compared to what many people have on their portable music players or computers. 1,000 songs? Ha!

The whole idea of listening to the radio (other than talk shows and news) is becoming foreign to me. Radio was appealing when my personal music collection was small; it influenced my tastes and guided many purchases. Today, not so such. Quality free-form terrestrial radio stations are few and far between; in fact, I can think of only two examples in the United States. KEXP and WFMU, I’m looking at you.