Friday, January 27, 2006

1000 lectures in your pocket

Apple ups the ante in the Information Age by providing free podcasts of lectures from Stanford University, and apparently with more content from other universities to come.

What’s amazing is that there was little to no fanfare for this occasion. The most recent MacWorld Conference was buzzing about the release of the Intel-powered Macs, but this new iTunes U seems to have the potential to affect a larger audience. After all, their great iTunes program is free and can be used on PCs and Macs.

The internet is an amazing resource so I guess this can be viewed as just another drop in the bucket. But something about this strikes me as much more special. After all, this is a highly regarded university providing it’s resources out to everyone for free. Much more respectable than those bloggers out there...

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Crusading against the brown-eyed girl

The Strip in Lubbock, for the uninformed, is one of the biggest tourist attractions in the dusty town. No, not that kind of strip, but a stretch of land just outside of the county line that attracts people of all kind. Well, all kinds that drink anyway. You see, I decided to spend my college years in a town that decided to remain devoid of selling alcohol. Afterwards, I would literally stand in the beer section of grocery stores in Austin staring in disbelief. “You mean you can BUY beer right here?! No being ostracized to the outskirts of the community?”

Since there’s just about nothing to see in Lubbock, most people take their visitors to the Strip to see the glimmering lights and neon signs of liquor stores and lines of cars. I loved my time in Lubbock, but even the most devoted citizens of the town should be able to admit that the fact that a cluster of beer toting shacks constitutes a tourist attraction is pretty sad.

But God bless it anyway. I would’ve never survived Lubbock or college without the Strip and its social lubricant (still talking about alcohol).

On one of the many trips to the Strip with Chad in his Chevy pickup truck, he digs through his CD collection and asks if I’m a Van Morrison fan. I think to myself, “Sure, I’ve heard that catchy Brown-Eyed Girl song. He’s pretty good.”

Before I can say those now obviously foolish words, Chad mutters, “Man, I hate that Brown-Eyed Girl song. Worst song of his career. Makes me sick that that’s all people know of his.”

I give a small laugh and slink down in my seat a bit.

Over time, thanks to Chad, I’ve come to be amazed at Van Morrison and the music that no one ever hears. Sure Brown-Eyed Girl is a good song; even today I can admit that. But should one song cast a shadow over an entire body of work? Wouldn’t it be a crime if people only hear Love Me Do and never bothered to listen to Strawberry Fields or Dear Prudence?

I’m big on hunting for good music that you never hear, and one of my methods is to find artists that aren’t necessarily that obscure and hear tracks that no one ever hears on the radio. I always say that I like to “spread the gospel of Gomez” because I think they’re a fucking great band. People will recognize the voice on the Getting Better cover on the Panasonic commercial, but my god, so many of their songs are beautiful.

Fiona Apple will forever be tied to that Criminal song, but look past the angst, heroin-look and there is genius in the album, When the Pawn. Yeah, it’s still full of the girl angst but it’s hard to deny that there’s plenty of musical talent behind it all.

Then there’s Radiohead. One of the few bands to climb out of the 99 cent One-Hit-Wonder bin and be widely recognized as “freaking amazing”. Radiohead certainly deserved another chance after Creep (still a great song, but again it doesn’t deserve to steal the spotlight from the rest of their work).

So in the spirit of getting people off their musical asses to rediscover and redefine what they think they know of an artist, here’s a sampling of Van Morrison songs (better than Brown-Eyed Girl) that more accurately defines his body of work. I’ll admit that I’m not as thoroughly familiar with his entire music collection so I’ll direct any further exploration to the Matador.

Everyone – Bless Wes Anderson for placing it in the Royal Tenenbaums. He’s known for great musical selection in his movies and this is a shining example.

Into the Mystic – The song in Chad’s truck that truly won me over to the greatness of Van Morrison.

I’ll Be Your Lover, Too – The most beautiful song ever.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Get inna studio and whip me up some music already

I could’ve done a Top Ten Albums of 2005 List but it was a pretty lean year in my opinion, plus I had less time to explore, what with the move and job hunt. Besides I’d rather forge ahead into the future!

I’m hoping a new, exciting environment and a more stable year ahead financially will allow me to discover something great out there. But I will also be anticipating some new stuff from old favorites. So here’s a Top Five Anticipated Albums for ‘06:

I still love these guys who are the workhorses of music, constantly touring and recording in the studio. Things have been quiet lately but they should have something out in the first half of this year and we’ll see what sounds they come up with this time. This is a great band live and I’m wondering why they never made it big. It’s like getting seeds for a gift instead of actual flowers. The flowers are an instant gratification, while the seeds, which require some time and effort, are ultimately more satisfying and surprising. That to me is Gomez. Each album has taken some time for me to accept and enjoy but once it sinks in, it’s hard to get it out of your head. These guys are more versatile and talented than given credit for.

The opposite of Gomez, in that you couldn’t freaking drag these guys into the studio and make music and even when you do, they fuck around for forever. They tried the philosophy of releasing albums quickly in succession (Kid A and then Amnesiac) but that didn’t last too long. It’s hard to believe that the Beatles could consistently release two or three albums a year! As for Thom Yorke and Co., I haven’t been as excited about them lately but my sheer love for OK Computer will keep me in good faith for a long time to come. I still maintain that Radiohead is a great rock band (recorded and live) but just don’t have the desire or attention span to do what they do best. On second thought, while I wasn’t gushing over Hail to the Thief, I think, like each of their releases, there is some great music on it. I think the bar is so high with them that it’s hard to surprise people anymore. If any other band had released that album, the music world would be in a frenzy. But now it’s just regular, old, amazing Radiohead at it again.

Gotan Project
Talk about another group that’s slacking off. They’re initial release was in 2001 and I’ve been waiting patiently ever since. Sure there was a DJ mix in ‘04, but I want some original material. But they seem pretty content on living off what they’ve got for the time being so who knows if they’ll whip out another album anytime soon. Here’s hoping they won’t completely vanish like Portishead did.

The Fiery Furnaces
Okay, okay so they released two albums in ‘05 so is it too much for me to ask for one this year? Well, EP was actually a collection of b-sides so it shouldn’t really count right? It’s interesting that the two releases last year were so polar; EP was their most accessible album while Rehearsing My Choir was their most abstract. I’m a huge fan but I’ll admit that RMC is a hard listen. I’m very curious to hear what they come up with next and in the meantime I’ll rock out to Single Again.

The Stills
They’re due for a release soon and there’s been some word on the internets so it’s a pretty good bet we’ll be hearing from these guys this year. I hope they don’t go through a sophomore slump and some of the lineup changes are worrisome but I’ll definitely be anticipating a new release nonetheless.

In Addition:
I’m going to say in writing that Weezer’s last album was so horrendous that I’ve lost all interest in any future releases. I loved the Blue Album and Pinkerton, and like the Green Album and Maladroit although something didn’t quite sit well with those two. But like a loyal fan, I went out and bought Make Believe without previewing it. Big mistake. Was this really Weezer?? Please tell me it’s a bad cover band. Make Believe This Isn’t Really Happening should be the complete title.