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Music of 2012 [F]
Jan 9th, 2013 by Dan

Colorful Dream

They’re not a real band, but I think you get the idea.

The biggest change in 2012 for me was the rise of Bandcamp and Soundcloud. Sure, I still bought plenty of music from Amazon or Google, but an increasing amount of the stuff I picked up came from the individual himself. I mean, why would I expect the Fez soundtrack to occupy a spot in Amazon’s mp3 store? Thanks to Bandcamp, I can just pick it up almost directly from the artist.

2012 also marked the year that genre walls were officially smashed for me. I think the only stuff I can’t really tolerate is noise metal. Just about everything else can penetrate my cold, black heart and move me to sing and dance.

I certainly never would have guessed that I’d be listening to so much hip hop and R&B back when I started this blog in 2008. It was all punk, rock, and ska, but now I cast a much wider net.

Top Artists of 2012

1. The Beatles (409)

This has been a mainstay of every list since the catalog re-release back in 2009. There’s not really much more to say about how incredible this band is so I’ll instead comment on the fact that I listened to them ~1,100 fewer times this year than last. I really spread out my music time this year…

2. The Weeknd (333)

I can’t remember what month it was when I discovered the trio of mixtapes just waiting for me online, but I will say that The Weeknd opened my eyes to R&B in a way I would have thought impossible. Without him I guarantee you that Frank Ocean would not be on this list. Everything about his music is simultaneously sleazy and sexy and so wrong it almost feels right. “High For This”, “Wicked Games”, and “House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls” are all stunners.

3. Sambomaster (サンボマスター) (326)

Another mainstay ever since my Japan trip. My understanding of the lyrics approaches zero, but I feel like I understand everything Takeshi Yamaguchi is trying to say with that heartfelt, almost mournful, sandpapery voice. As cheesy as it sounds, it speaks to my soul, man.

4. Frank Ocean (270)

Think about this: I didn’t get channel ORANGE until November. Everybody’s talking about this record, I know, but allow me to say that Ocean penned and crooned the best album of the year. Nothing tops this in 2012, guys. Nothing.

5. Jonathan Coulton (269)

Some people would have you believe that Coulton is a novelty singer best enjoyed in small doses. Some people are wrong. Coulton’s earlier work may lean on a geeky, nerdy motif, but, like I said last year, Artificial Heart really takes him to a new level.

6. Disasterpiece (240)

I listened to a lot of game sountracks this year thanks to the ubiquity and ease of Bandcamp. Disasterpiece’s moody, quasi-ambient work on Fez proved spooky, lonely, and mournful while also igniting that spark for adventure. It’s all synth-y, but the notes never feel quite right, which is pretty much what Fez is all about.

7. Yoko Kanno (202)

I bet you’re thinking that this is all Cowboy Bebop music. You’d be wrong. Kanno’s work on the jazz tunes in Kids on the Slope opened my eyes to a genre I’d ignored for most of my life. That medley in the culture festival? Pure. Magic.

8. George & Jonathan (184)

One of their tunes was the theme to Polygon’s podcast, The Besties, and the album, Beautiful Lifestyle, struck just the right balance of playful and fun without getting obnoxious.

9. Regina Spektor (152)

I fell for What We Saw from the Cheap Seats as hard as a person could for an album. “All the Rowboats”, “Firewood”, and “How” are all so stunningly beautiful that I want to be listening to them right now…In fact, I think I’ll go put them on.

10. Rodrigo y Gabriela (151)

The first entry that confuses me about being on this list. I still dig their stuff, but I don’t really remember listening to it that much this year.

11. The Civil Wars (136)

I’m really worried about the state of this band now that they’ve canceled their tours. What will I do without Joy Williams’ beautiful voice? I hope they figure it out.

12. Kanye West (129)

The current king of hip hop, as far as I’m concerned. Yeezy goes big. Even though I haven’t loved his collab stuff as much as My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, I can’t help but come back to this guy time and time again.

13. Fall Out Boy (126)

So few bands know how to craft a tune as instantly catchy as these guys. Too bad they broke up.

14. Eirik Suhrke (119)

You may be wondering who this guy is. He did the music for Spelunky, a genius take on the Mega Drive soundchip that gives me that extra push to hit retry on the off chance that I get that sweet sax tune in the Ice Caves.

15. Tsunku (つんく♂) (114)

If I had properly tagged my Rhythm Heaven Fever music earlier in the year this number would be much higher. Academically I understand why other people might not love all the music in Rhythm Heaven, but in my heart I can’t understand why any awesome person would hate it.

16. Childish Gambino (113)

Part of that hip hop kick this year. Donald Glover is pretty awesome.

17. Nintendo (98)

You know what? I think that this 98 is supposed to be added to the Tsunku tally above. Hear that, Tsunku? You should be 7th.

17. Jim Guthrie (98)

The composer to the Superbrothers soundtrack knows how to make a sweet groove. Seriously, go check it out.

19. OK Go (97)

“Needing/Getting” will always be a favorite of mine because I’m a hopeless romantic (emphasis on hopeless).

20. Jasper Byrne (95)

The Lone Survivor soundtrack is responsible for this play count. It was equal parts creepy and beautiful and I couldn’t stay away last winter/spring.

21. Alex Cuba (91)

Man, that afro is cool, isn’t it? There’s a clarity and richness to his voice that soothes me and makes me feel funky.

22. Hannibal Buress (88)

Is your name really Hannibal? These plays are thanks to two of my favorite stand-up albums that I got this year. That Buress dude is pretty funny, y’all.

22. Ana Tijoux (88)

Saw her live this year. That was awesome. Her ability to spit rhymes in Spanish is mind boggling to me.

24. Juan Luis Guerra (85)

I wonder what percentage of these come from “Niagara en bicicleta”? (Answer: ~26%)

25. Kendrick Lamar (84)

I picked up good kid, m.A.A.d city at the same time (or close to it) as channel ORANGE and figured that it would definitely win, play-wise. Didn’t quite go like that, but trust that Kendrick Lamar’s rhymes are equally awesome. Definitely check out that disc.

Top 10 Tracks of 2012

1. The Weeknd – “House of Balloons/Glass Table Girls” (23)

It all sounds so drug-addled and sexy, but in a dirty way. This was the first track I heard by The Weeknd and the rest is history.

2. Juan Luis Guerra – “El Niagara en bicicleta” (22)

Quite possibly my favorite song ever? I honestly have no idea how it didn’t make the list last year.

3. George & Jonathan – “Little Marcus” (21)

The aforementioned former theme to The Besties. It doesn’t overstay its welcome and it’s super pleasant. A great little tune.

4. Carla Morrison – “Compartir” (20)

I would have expected “Una salida” to have this spot, but this is also a fantastic love song by a beautiful vocalist. Carla Morrison has this sweet, delicate voice that just breaks your heart while you listen to her. I absolutely love her and this song.

4. Neon Indian – “Polish Girl” (20)

I think I own two Neon Indian songs, but this chillwave track puts me in a spaced out place where I can’t not love it. Put a gun to my head and I wouldn’t be able to describe what makes this song so special, but I think it really does speak for itself.

6. Regina Spektor – “Small Town Moon” (19)

It probably ended up with the most plays by virtue of being the first track on her new album, but “Small Town Moon” is no slouch. It perfectly sets the mood for a thoughtful, beautiful album.

6. George & Jonathan – “Street Monsters” (19)

There’s really no good explanation for how this track got up here. It’s funky and it’s quick and I guess it got lucky compared to the rest of the album.

6. Frank Ocean – “Bad Religion”, “Pilot Jones”, & “Pyramids” (19)

And the list closes out with my three favorite tracks from channel ORANGE. All three of these are perfect in their own way. Be it the soulful poetry of “Bad Religion”, the simple hook of “Pilot Jones”, or that sexy electrofunk of the first half of the epic “Pyramids”, they all land so unbelievably perfectly on my ears that I’m shocked they’re not higher up on the list.

What I’ve Been Doing 19 Nov 2012 [FB/IB/F/BT/GO]
Nov 19th, 2012 by Dan

K.O.

GPOY (I’m Patel today)

It’s been a tough week.

Movies

Safety Not Guaranteed – A neat little piece about loss and regret. Could have probably developed Aubrey Plaza’s character a little more, but I also understand her arc. Good to see range from her too.

TV

Happy Endings – Holy crap this episode (Boys 2 Menorah) made me laugh. These writers do funny really well. A little slapstick-y with the Dave/Alex plot resolution, but I liked it.

Key & Peele – I’m not sure that anything really blew me away in this episode, but they do have some good ideas that developed ok. Just not quite enough to push it over the edge into greatness.

Parks and Recreation – Ben’s job offers and the accounting firm were funny as was the continued development of April. How dry can I be talking about humor? There were many parts that made me express joy in the form of laughter. Ha. Ha. Ha.

The League – A little bit of gross out humor never seems to elude the show. Enjoyable enough, but not blowing me away.

New Girl – Not the most progressive handling of PMS, but the scenes with Nick getting a water massage were pretty great.

Music

Jonathan Coulton and John Roderick came out with a new Christmas album. The Weeknd’s first label release came out. I dunno, listen to something.

Books

A Confederacy of Dunces – The high degree of interconnectedness of its cast reminds me a little of how sharply integrated the Arrested Development writing used to be.

Video Games

XCOM: Enemy Unknown – More episodes recorded, but I haven’t played a whole bunch. Min beat it! Yay!

Hotline Miami – So much weirder and creepier the more I get into it. Fell behind on recording episodes, so I need to get back on that this week.

FTL – Had a miserable stalemate with the Mantis ship during a landmark episode.

TNNS – Pretty great co-op play and sharp single player too. Wish I had an iPad to mess around with it in a better form (I tried it on Min’s and it was nice), but my phone will suffice.

The Walking Dead – Episode 4 was pretty brutal. I was not expecting it to be quite so harsh, but my mind is blown for, I guess, tomorrow.

2011 in Music [F]
Jan 3rd, 2012 by Dan

last.fm t-shirt

Thanks to last.fm, I can tell you what my personal favorite music of 2011 has been!

Top 10 Artists of 2011

1. The Beatles (1,156)

I’d say the number of tracks in my collection that are by The Beatles or by the Rx Bandits far outweighs the number of other tracks. It’s not a coincidence, since I love both bands, but I don’t think you’ll see these positions change much in the future.

2. RX Bandits (571)

The Bandits split up this year. It’s tragic, but that concert was amazing and I’ll always love their music.

3. Jonathan Coulton (343)

Coulton’s new release sparked way more interest in his work than I’d had last year. Adding in the band allowed his music to grow in a great way.

4. Arctic Monkeys (328)

The Monkeys are a pretty solid band and I got to see them live for the first time in 2011. Their new tracks are pretty solid, especially “Black Treacle”

5. Sambo Master (277)

I’ve written thousands of words about why I love this J-Rock band. They’ve got so much energy and emotion in their lyrics (that I can’t even understand!) and their place on this list is well-earned.

6. Kanye West (185)

My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy was an incredible album. It got lots of playtime throughout the year, but the final push that put it above OK Go happened as a result of the Giant Bombcast and their obsession with “Power”. I literally listened gave Kanye the listens he needed to get #6 in the last two days of the year.

7. OK Go (184)

OK Go is just a solid rock band. They’ve got great lyrics, great hooks, and they’re always great fun to listen to.

8. Rita Indiana & Los Misterios (172)

I ran into this fantastic merengue band thanks to Alt Latino. Rita makes merengue even more frantic and fun than you remember it being and I love her for it.

9. Sondre Lerche (163)

Everyone’s favorite Norwegian crooner. I like this guy because he’s got a clean

10. Janelle Monáe (161)

Janelle gets funkier than any human has any right to. Her latest, The ArchAndroid, was so well put together that I’m on the edge of my seat to see what she does next. A definite can’t miss.

11. Vampire Weekend (154)

I think these listens were front-ended on 2011. Not that I dislike VW now, but I can’t remember listening to their stuff all that much in recent months. I like busting out Contra in the cold winter to warm me up, but it’s been a mild one so far.

12. The Civil Wars (133)

Joy Williams and John Paul White have one of the most incredible duos I’ve ever been lucky enough to listen to. Their voices just go so well together and have this longing quality that is surprising considering they’re both happily married…to other people.

13. Alex Cuba (132)

This Cuban-Canadian crooner makes pretty chill, easy listening Spanish music that I can’t get enough of.

14. Keiichi Suzuki, Hirokazu Tanaka, Hiroshi Kanazu, Toshiyuki Ueno (127)

This would be the staff behind the music of Mother games. I picked up the soundtracks to the second and third game, but they’re so massive that this team rose quickly.

15. Wild Flag (123)

One of my favorite new bands of the past year, I still remember queuing for two hours (to no avail) on Record Store Day for a chance at their single. Their album turned out fantastically (easily one of the best of 2011) and seeing them live was awesome.

Top Tracks of 2011

1. Rita Indiana & Los Misterios – “El juidero” (27)

My go-to track for merengue that makes my legs want to move. “El juidero” was just fantastic and I remember putting it on all the time just to get my heartbeat up.

2. RX Bandits – “…And The Battle Begun” (25)

I have so many versions of the tracks on …And the Battle Begun that I listen to with such regularity that this song not appearing on this list would be weird.

3. RX Bandits – “Only For The Night” (24)

My favorite song makes the list? Shocker!

4. April Smith and The Great Picture Show – “Colors”, The Ghost Of A Saber Tooth Tiger – “Jardin du Luxembourg”, & The Book of Mormon Cast – “All-American Prophet” (22)

April Smith is awesome, we already know that, but I also fell in love with Sean Lennon and Charlotte Kemp Muhl’s little duo thanks to NPR. We also can’t forget how awesome The Book of Mormon‘s soundtrack is. Great stuff.

7. Wild Flag – “Glass Tambourine” & Jonathan Coulton – “Nemeses (Featuring John Roderick)” (21)

The first single of both band’s discs from this year got lots of listens from me in anticipation of the full tracks.

9. RX Bandits – “Decrescendo”, The Beatles – “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window”, Nortec Collective Presents: Bostich+Fussible – “I Count the Ways”, & Wild Flag – “Future Crimes” (19)

“Decrescendo” closes off a bunch of Rx Bandits recordings I own. “She Came in Through the Bathroom Window” is my favorite part of the Abbey Road medley. “I Count the Ways” is my second favorite Nortec song on that album. “Future Crimes” is the other single from Wild Flag released before their debut album.

13. The Beatles – “Happiness Is a Warm Gun”, Barenaked Ladies – “Enid”, & OK Go – “WTF?” (17)

I listen to “Enid” a lot. Mostly when I’m mad at a girl, but sometimes just to get the heartbeat up. “WTF?” is not my favorite songs on OK Go’s new album, but it was their first single and it was free. “Happiness Is a Warm Gun” is one of The Beatles’ late, weirder songs, but man do I love it. So creepy and weird and awesome.

January: The Concert Curse [Fukubukuro 2011]
Jan 2nd, 2012 by Dan

I’m sure I’ve mentioned it before in this space, but I was not a frequent concert attendee prior to my undergraduate degree. It’s partly not living in a major hub in high school, part a disdain for live music that I have since lost, and part a sense of urgency as I feel myself aging.

A concert is a weird beast, really. I’ve probably attended more in 2011 alone than most people get around to in their entire lives. Don’t get me wrong, live music is still a huge thing, but I wonder if the ubiquity of Youtube and easy, pervasive access to music has dulled people’s enthusiasm for blowing out their eardrums in large, sweaty groups of people.

You may recall that I received some bad news at an Anamanaguchi concert back in March of 2010. This is a story of the rise and fall of The Concert Curse (cue spooky music).

See, two similar events are easily dismissible as a coincidence, but three? That’s hitting pattern territory. Eric touched upon it in the comments of my April Smith post in last year’s Fukubukuro. A superstitious man would stop going to concerts while dating. I was not a superstitious man in early January.

Anamanaguchi was, coincidentally, in town yet again. I’d been dating Danni for about a month and things seemed to be just peachy. She was super into me, but I guess I had glossed over the fact that she was just re-entering the dating game after a broken engagement the year before. Danni was cool and she dug video games and was receptive to chiptunes so we decided to hit up the Black Cat with David and Kendra and catch Anamanaguchi doing their thing.

Pete, Ary, Luke, and James delivered in a set that was much stronger than the one we caught at Sonar and the night was awesome. Everyone had fun. Everything seemed like it was fine. Two days later Danni broke up with me. She said she felt trapped and like she was in too deep. Meeting my little brother was the straw that broke the camel’s back. It made her freak that things were moving too fast and getting too serious. I jokingly blamed David, but he and I both knew that it was something more insidious: concerts

Of course this all turned out to be a blessing anyway. The end of my relationship with Danni opened me up to dating Tiffany, who things were going well with, except…two concerts were coming up within three days of each other with a date sandwiched in between. Could my budding relationship handle that kind of mojo?

I frantically laid out the impending crisis to my visiting friend Liana in a night that I rather embarrassingly spent lamenting the woes of my love life rather than enjoying hanging out with my friend. That very night we were at an embarrassing half-concert at a Cornell event, but the real deal was that coming Monday. Min and I were set to go to Philadelphia to see Jonathan Coulton. Surely the melancholic songwriter would curse my relationship and doom me to loneliness yet again!

No. Not this time. The curse was somehow lifted. Perhaps I had confused it by cramming three (really 2.5) concerts into one month and it had forgotten to ruin my relationship. Maybe there never was a curse. Sure, sometimes I get a small tingling at the back of my neck when I’m about to attend a show, but all I know is that I’m free.

Wild Flag Drum Kit

Artificial Heart Review [Feedback]
Sep 13th, 2011 by Dan

Jonathan Coulton

JoCo performing an acoustic set

Big surprise
It doesn’t care about second tries
You’re afraid whatever choice you make
Won’t be exactly the right mistake

-“Fraud”

Jonathan Coulton’s latest release, Artificial Heart, represents a much larger step that a lot of people might realize. After about eight years of pure solo effort, AH is Coulton’s first effort with a band and produced by someone other than himself. It also breaks with his comfort zone and explores many deeper themes and constants without using the nerdy/comedy song hook that made him internet famous.

To be honest, that’s really the best part of Artificial Heart. People love songs like “Re: Your Brains”, “Skullcrusher Mountain”, and “Code Monkey”, but there have always been greater depths to Coulton’s oeuvre that seemed almost hidden in his back catalog. Artificial Heart hides its comedy/nerdy songs at the tail end, almost as bonus tracks with a haunting rendition of “Still Alive” by Sara Quin, the Coulton version of “Want You Gone”, and the only real clunker on the disc, “The Stache”, a song about, well, mustaches.

The real meat of the album explores Coulton’s professional insecurities, maturing and dealing with the responsibilities of family life, suburban loneliness and despair, and, yes, a silly song in French. I’ll be going into detail, track-by-track, below:

1. Sticking it to Myself

The benefit of the increased production is rocketed right to our ears with this first track. It’s not really miles beyond the complexity of Coulton’s more flashy songs prior to this date, but it feels so much richer than anything that came before. It makes sense for this to be the first track of this new direction Coulton’s taking. It’s brash and loud and Stan Harrison kills on saxophone while Jonathan Coulton himself shreds on electric guitar.

It’s all apt for a sharp statement that Jonathan Coulton refuses to be classified in a specific way. I’m sure the Planet Money profile aired long after this song was done, but I can’t help but hear Coulton’s response in his lyrics.

The references to hostage situations could be interpreted as his perceived shtick holding him back while he also recognizes that said perception was partially created by the music he decided to put out. Still, he still feels that his career is in his own hands.

2. Artificial Heart

Paul and Storm regularly joke about Jonathan Coulton always writing melancholy songs about metaphysical creatures. Both may be true, but my point is that Coulton is a pro at writing the sad song. “Artificial Heart”, like “Not About You”, is a song about a breakup, only it’s a lot more obfuscated than “Not About You”.

His more subtle lyricism is brilliantly at play here in a song that tries to capture the aesthetics of a beating heart. There is a regular and prominent beat throughout the whole thing, but when it all ramps up we’ve got a strong bass drum keeping time.

I’m also rather fond of the piano/keyboard work in this song. It’s a fun song, but I think it’s mid-tier on this album.

3. Nemeses

One of the few Jonathan Coulton tracks headed by not Jonathan Coulton, John Roderick takes lead vocals here while Coulton harmonizes. Of course, not three tracks into a record I describe as less reliant on geeky topics, “Nemeses” is about a hero trying to get a villain to be his arch-nemesis.

Only it’s deeper feeling than it normally would be. Instead of hovering on the concept like he might have done with humorous lampshade hanging and trope highlighting, Coulton just lets this song be. Roderick’s vocals are smooth and sweet and Coulton’s harmonies add tremendous depth to a song that is as much about a hero who needs a villain as it is about professional jealousy, rivalry, and living up to your potential.

The Japanese seem to almost fetishize the concept of the rival in their anime and video games as a not-necessarily-antagonistic figure who is the motivation and catalyst for realizing your full potential. Here we see something similar in a hero attempting to get the attentions of a villain to make them both better. It’s interesting and I wonder if this is yet another way for Coulton to work out his professional insecurities toward other larger acts as he seeks to grow and expand.

4. The World Belongs to You

On the forefront we have this wonderful song whose main draw is the delicate sounding banjo work about a god whose star has begun to fade as its decisions, ambivalence, and handling has caused his believes to become disillusioned with it.

It’s definitely a stretch, but the themes are also applicable to the kind of meteoric rise to success that some stars have. Their initial success brings them into the spotlight and they can do no wrong. Of course the egomania from fame begins to take shape and while the creative mind of the artist pulls him one way, the demands of the people go another. Our “god” cannot reconcile this with his vision of what is right and sort of writes them off.

“The World Belongs to You” is a really grim and depressing song. I love that Coulton is so skilled at hiding them within really upbeat ditties. The arrangement in here is sparse and delicate, but it doesn’t feel precious. It’s one of the good ones on this album.

5. Today With Your Wife

From the hidden melancholy of “The World Belongs to You” we dive face first into the morose sounding, “Today With Your Wife”. It doesn’t go where you think it might from the title, but it’s more depressing for it.

Even sparser than the last track, this is a pensive piano track. The only other sound, beyond Coulton’s longing voice, comes from brass tones. It creates an empty sound that emphasizes the gap in the situation. Our song narrator is lamenting the fact that someone, probably Coulton, “should have been there” in this nice, soft, touching, close moment he had with his wife.

I see this song as Coulton expressing anxiety over the fact that his touring keeps him away from his home and his family. Being gone so much has to put a strain on them as he is missing these tiny, tender moments. The small moments that really make up real life. It’s touching and sad and precisely the kind of song I love from Jonathan Coulton.

6. Sucker Punch

It’s actually pretty appropriate to have “Sucker Punch” follow “Today With Your Wife” as both deal with responsibility.

“Sucker Punch” is one of those songs that feels obvious on the surface on what it’s about, but I can’t quite see any levels beyond that. It’s a short song, clocking in at under two minutes, and I think it’s about not wanting to grow up, mature, or accept responsibility as everyone else around you does.

There are some neat percussive parts in here that feel more complicated than pre-band Coulton percussion, but not to a highly noticeable one. It’s just the kind of small touch that I feel a dedicated drummer (rather than drum loops) can add.

7. Glasses

“Glasses” is another of my favorites on this album. With all the songs about longing for lost loves and suburban depression, it’s good to see a happy song about the people he loves.

It’s not super sweet sounding, since it’s got some hard drumming and guitar work, but it’s sweet in tone. This is a song that celebrates the tiny moments in life and how it’s the tiny things that bring people together, not the grand gestures or moments.

Like I said before, great drums and guitar work in this song and the vocals are sneakily poetic. My favorite section from the song:

“There’s water in the walls
The stairs make waterfalls
Down in the basement the soft sound of a river digging deep”

It’s just a beautiful reflection of the way that water moves and is such a huge element of change, but it’s always so gradual and slow and hidden. Little bits of water able to make rivers able to dig canyons.

8. Je Suis Rick Springfield

This song has got this real lounge singer style to it and it’s perfectly in line with the ridiculous French. I love the xylophone.

I read the English translation of this song and it seems like it may be poking fun at him for the French “Re: Vos Cerveaux”. It’s not meant to be taken that seriously and it’s full of poor French and a hilarious Greek chorus-esque part where the French listeners mock his French. The other great thing about it is that Rick Springfield, assuming he’s talking about the same guy, is Australian, not American.

9. Alone at Home

This song is a lot like “Shop Vac” in its exploration of the vapid, consumer-driven, hidden unhappiness of the American suburban ideal. It’s been done by him and done better thanks to “Shop Vac”‘s haunting news stories in the background.

It’s not a bad song, just not a great one. Got solid band work, just not that interesting to me.

10. Fraud

The bass line to this song carries the whole song, but the real beauty comes from the fantastic acoustic work. “Fraud” has a soft sound that belies its message about professional doubt (as I see it).

It’s not the deepest reading of the lyrics, but it certainly seems like it’s about those personal demons that gnaw at you from inside making you think that you’re a fluke and that your success is accidental. Could be that Coulton is making a statement about his doubts in expanding his operation, adding a band, and growing his sound. Is it too coincidental that this song feels most like it could have been an old Coulton song?

“Fraud” has got a great hook in the chorus that I absolutely love. This song ranks among my favorite on the album.

11. Good Morning Tuscon

This feels like the way more happy and mature spiritual sequel to “Code Monkey” in the sense that it’s a song about working and the way that goes, but not in the computer science or romantic way. “Good Morning Tuscon” is a good six years later from “Code Monkey” and the insecurities of youth have given way to a guy who is a lead in his morning show. The protagonist of the song is weary and shocked at how old he’s become, but he’s still able to do his job well. There is a hint of the Coulton melancholy in here too with that line from the chorus:

“I throw to you before I throw the rest away”

It’s definitely a catchy song and I can see why it was one of the first cuts that JoCo released online in advance of the album.

12. Now I Am An Arsonist

“Now I Am an Arsonist” is an absolutely beautiful song that is layered so deep that I can’t quite decipher its meaning. It’s full of imagery about heat, height, flight, construction, and destruction. I mean, it’s pretty much a story of a relationship that didn’t seem to work out with neat shifting perspectives, but, like I said, I can’t quite parse out all of the imagery. I can say that even the somber talk about an astronaut burning up in the atmosphere is absolutely beautiful.

Suzanne Vega does most of the heavy lifting on this song, with JoCo harmonizing and singing only one verse. Her voice is haunting and beautiful, which appears to be the two qualities Coulton is looking for in his duet partners, but that haunting aspect is helped along by sparse instrumentation (ie: little to none). I love this song. I don’t think I get it yet, but I love it.

13. Down Today

Both chipper and bitter, “Down Today” centers around a dude who is rubbing his new relationship in his ex’s face. Rather like “Not About You”, we’ve got contrasting lyrics with Coulton singing about not “coming down”, but all the time that he’s up he’s obsessing about ridding himself of his ex. It’s the kind of contradictory lyric that Coulton does reasonably well and it doesn’t feel that old.

Unfortunately, “Down Today” is stuck between two far better songs so, despite how much I dig this song when I hear it, I rarely remember it compared to “Now I Am an Arsonist” and “Dissolve”

14. Dissolve

A lot of this album seems to move in phases about similar topics. This relationship phase kind of ends with “Dissolve”. Where “Now I Am an Arsonist” feels like a relationship in progress, but headed toward failure and “Down Today” feels like a guy who has recently ended a relationship, “Dissolve” seems to be long after that relationship has ended. In fact, it appears to end with the character breaking up with a new person. Throughout the song we see how the character has learned from his failed relationship, but that while the changes seem to have made him stronger, he’s not above doing the same thing to someone else.

This song is my favorite one on the entire album. It resonated with me from the first listen onward. Everything about it is so great and I think it’s where the entire band concept congeals best. The bass line is wicked, the drums are hot, the guitars are sharp, and JoCo’s lyrics are perfect. This is the song that makes it happen. I especially love that last verse with its sparse bass and drum portion. So much fun.

15. Nobody Loves You Like Me

The most popular interpretation of this song is about an aging musician dying of throat/lung cancer resulting from too hard a life. It’s supported by the constant references to death, breathing, lungs, even an overt reference to smoking. The theory is even supported by the heavy vocoder use that makes Coulton’s voice sound like it’s coming from one of those throat vocoders for throat cancer patients.

It’s also readable as an embittered lover at the end of a relationship with its references to divorce papers. Let’s just say it’s a nuanced song.

There’s barely any instrumentation aside from the heavy vocal processing and it does create a sad, lonely feeling. It’s a good song, but it feels like it’s over before it starts because of how quickly it moves.

16. Still Alive

This version is sung by Sara Quin whose petite voice contrasts pretty deeply with Ellen McLain’s GLaDOS. There’s spooky theremin work and it makes for a sweeter, but sadder version of the song. Quin doesn’t quite hit the emotional notes as hard as McClain does in the game, but it’s different and good enough that you’ll like listening to it even though you’re probably sick of “Still Alive” by now.

I’m not sure I like Coulton harmonizing in this, but it’s relatively inoffensive. Just feels a little unnecessary and like it’s stronger with only Quin’s voice to guide us.

17. Want You Gone

This is my favorite of the two Portal songs and it’s interesting to hear Coulton’s voice versus McLain/GLaDOS. It’s almost a bummer that it’s from Portal 2, because the elements stand on its own…aside from the Caroline reference.

The instrumentation is almost identical to the game version minus one or two touches that I particularly loved from the original. Still, it’s a good song and I was happy to see the non-game versions on the disc instead. I think “Want You Gone” works better in Coulton’s voice than “Still Alive”, so I’m glad to see that he got Quin for that too.

18. The Stache

My least favorite song on the disc. Maybe I don’t fetishize mustaches enough, but it’s kind of dumb and I don’t like it. The music is fine, but the lyrics are too stupid for me to love.

Ok, ok, it has its moments. It’s not that bad, just not my favorite. That’s why I devised that bonus track idea about the album.

Artificial Heart is a bold step in a new direction for Jonathan Coulton. Purists might not dig the new production or the new direction, but I think it represents tremendous growth for JoCo and I hope to see much more along these lines in the future. Coulton has always been much more than the deceptively simple, geeky songs that made him popular and while I do love those, I’m happy to see him move away from being pigeonholed as a niche performer.

What I’ve Been Doing 05 Sept 2011 [FB/IB/F/BT/GO]
Sep 6th, 2011 by Dan

Wild Flag

Best NPR First Listen!

Movies

Tokyo Godfathers – I wrote at length about this movie here, but I just wanted to take a few words to say how truly fantastic it was. Great movie.

Crazy, Stupid, Love. – Tiffany and I were choosing between this and Our Idiot Brother (ostensibly because they were the only two “date” movies, but really because of my dual crushes on Emma Stone and Zooey Deschanel), but I think this would have been the better choice. Crazy, Stupid, Love. was sweet and funny. Only real downside was the C-plot being a little creepy. Easily the best romantic movie I saw this summer (Best comedy goes to Bridesmaids).

Super – James Gunn is a sick man, haha. The movie was middling to me, but it was much better at showing how sick and ridiculous everyone involved would have to be than Kick-Ass was, so I liked it more than that. Ever wanted to see an awkward sex scene/quasi rape of Rainn Wilson by Ellen Page? This movie’s got it and it’s just as off-putting as you’d think it would be. Ellen Page does a great job playing a quasi-psychopath in this. She’s fantastic.

TV

Weeds – I can’t believe I’ve missed what’s been in front of my face this whole time. The whole season has been about Silas and Nancy’s relationship with each other after he found out who his real father was. Things are really ramping up here.

Top Gear – What a fantastic show. Makes me think stupid things like that I want to buy a BMW, but it’s a lot of fun to watch. The segment where they tried to escape that Italian town was hilarious.

Dexter – Lent my mom Seasons 1 and 2 and ended up watching part of the first episode. Always neat to watch the pilot and see how the show has changed from its inception.

Better Off Ted – An adequate way to kill a half hour while I eat or need a break. The show wasn’t gonna break any funny records, but it’s better than some of what’s out there. Just no real place for it on ABC, I guess.

Retro Game Master – The affirmation section of The Wing of Madoola was really funny. This show is at its best when the Kacho is able to make all kinds of silly jokes. Also hilarious was the part where he called the game company to see if he could still win a raffle from the 1980s.

Music

WILD FLAG – NPR’s First Listen looks like might it’s still up. Go check it out. I listened to this disc all last week and loved it.

The Civil Wars – Really got into them last week. Joy’s voice is so sweet and John Paul harmonizes well with her. Delightful to listen to.

Jonathan Coulton – His new album, Artificial Heart, came out this week. Good times, good music. I really like “Dissolve”.

Books

Collected Stories – So far Márquez is obsessed with twins and death.

(Comics from here down)
Amazing Spider-Man – Spider-Island continues! Still lots of fun.

Spider-Island: Deadly Hands of Kung Fu – Felt just a little too stereotypically Asian for me. Good art, but the story was kind of boring.

Ultimate Comics Hawkeye – I can’t say I’m that interested in Hawkeye as a character, but Hickman’s writing remains really cool and the consequences on the Ultimate U are huge. To have the X-gene eliminated in all but one region is a tremendous tactical advantage. Wonder if it will stick.

Video Games

Bastion – I agree with most people, the Narrator is super awesome. This game is fun, but it couldn’t tear me away from TF2 and…

Star Wars: The Old Republic – Got in the beta. Can’t say anything else or I’d violate the NDA.

Team Fortress 2 – TF2 remains awesome. Playing with Dave and Lee this weekend was a lot of fun. Got a lot of new achievements, but Sentry Gunner continues to elude me. I will have it one day. Oh yeah, I also played with KENDRA. Killed her once too. She did not get me back…yet.

Dragon Age 2 – Still working on that second playthrough as a Templar supporter this time. Reminds me that I’ve gotta go back and fix my ME2 playthrough for ME3 in March.

My 2010 in Music [Feedback]
Dec 31st, 2010 by Dan

last.fm t-shirt

Thanks to last.fm, I can tell you what my personal favorite music of 2010 has been!

Top 10 Artists of 2010

1. The Beatles (989 listens)

The re-release of the entire catalog reinvigorated my love for The Beatles as I more thoroughly explored their catalog and loved songs I’d never realized were by the Fab Four. Heaping praise on The Beatles is almost ridiculous, so I’ll leave it at that.

2. April Smith and The Great Picture Show (385)

This one doesn’t make as much sense to me. I think there might be some miscounting by one of my tagging services, but, regardless, I’ve loved April Smith since the first time I heard her singing “Terrible Things” on All Songs Considered. She was absolutely my breakout sensation of this year. There will be more on her in the New Year…

3. Rx Bandits (370)

“We get it, Dan. You love the Bandits, even though almost no one on earth has heard of them…”

4. Arctic Monkeys (295)

Kees van Dijkhuizen’s fantastic Youtube video Cinema 2009 featured “Crying Lightning” and I was hooked. Then I gave Favourite Worst Nightmare and I knew that these kids from Sheffield really knew what they were doing. We’ll see if 2011 will bring a new album.

5. Sambomaster (268)

“Shut up about Sambomaster already, Dan.”

6. The Zutons (179)

A fine band whose plays came mostly because I made “Put A Little Aside” the anthem for visiting a girl I was quite taken with. It’s a song about a guy having an affair, so I’m proving that we really only hear what we want to out of our favorite songs.

7. Jonathan Coulton (177)

Everyone’s favorite nerdy singer of songs about robots, monkeys, zombies, and evil geniuses continues to get tons of plays from me. Great stuff.

8 Glee Cast (165)

No comment.

9. Lucky Boys Confusion (163)

An old staple that will never get old. Too bad they broke up.

10. Girl Talk (147)

Talk about making a fast impression. With only two months of the year to make an impact, Girl Talk still finds itself in my top ten. Props.

Top Tracks of 2010

1. Felicia Day – “Penny’s Song” (88 listens)

Whoa, really? Wow. Didn’t realize I loved this song that much. Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog is one of my favorite musicals, but “Penny’s Song” isn’t really my favorite track from the movie. Oh well, I’m still happy to see this top the list.

2. Glee Cast (featuring Kristin Chenowith) – “Fire” (79)

I love this song. I’m just barely not embarrassed to admit it.

3. Sambomaster – “Ohベイビー” (70)

More Sambomaster love.

4. Stars – “Your Ex-Lover Is Dead” (68)

Another song I wouldn’t have heard if I never listened to All Songs Considered. Their episode on break-up songs featured this track by Stars and it blew me away. Always makes me think of Ashley. Nearly makes me cry plenty of times. This song is brutal and awesome at the same time.

5. Glee Cast (featuring Kristin Chenowith) – “One Less Bell to Answer/A House Is Not a Home” (65)

Kristin Chenowith’s voice is amazing.

6. Rx Bandits – “Mientras La Veo Soñar” (60)

A great song on a great 2009 album.

7. Lucky Boys Confusion – “Not About Debra” and April Smith and the Great Picture Show “Wow and Flutter” (58)

Probably my favorite song by LBC and one of April Smith’s best. Smith currently uses “Wow and Flutter” as the last song in her set and the band all plays fantastic solos. Love both of these songs.

9. The Zutons – “Oh Stacey (Look What You’ve Done!)” (55)

It’s weird to have this so high when I love at least four or five Zutons songs more than this one. Guess that’s how it goes when you do a lot of random shuffling.

10. April Smith and The Great Picture Show – “Drop Dead Gorgeous” (54)

Brilliant song, because, really, “If you’re just drop dead gorgeous, you should just drop dead”

Best Video Games of the Decade [Game Overview]
Dec 30th, 2009 by Dan

You may notice some games that are missing from this list and are on every other list. Well, I didn’t play everything because I didn’t have the time or the money, so that accounts for some of the big misses like Pyschonauts or Resident Evil 4. Other games are deliberately omitted :cough: HALO :cough:

This list is also way long, but I didn’t want to limit myself to an arbitrary number like 10 or 20, so here it is:

Half-Life 2 (2004, 2006 – Episode 1, 2007 – Episode 2)

There are two divergent paths for shooters in the aughts. Halo and Half-Life. In the first corner you’ve got everything on the consoles since then: Regenerating health, aim assist, silly physics, and general jackassery. In the better corner you’ve got everything that’s come out of Half-Life and the Source engine: more realistic weaponry, realistic physics, and a much better legacy. Say what you will about the future of shooters and the PC market being antiquated, but this is a damn good shooter. I’d call it the best I’ve ever played. Valve has completely mastered the art of environmental storytelling and player manipulation. They can make you look where they want you to look and feel what they want you to feel all without ever wresting control from the player or relying on cutscenes. This game has brilliant pacing and amazing characters that you actually care about. Who’s ever heard of an NPC sidekick that you don’t hate? H-L 2 and its episodes are among the greatest gaming experiences I’ve ever had.

Rock Band 2 (2008)

Ok, so rhythm games are kind of saturated now, but Rock Band 2 is the pinnacle (only because The Beatles: Rock Band doesn’t let players bring their dlc in) of music gaming. It hits at just the right sweet spot, four players, and its filled with music from all kinds of genres. Better yet, the interface and note tracking isn’t sloppy like that other franchise and it’s a fantastic way to get people together for a fun time and even grow as a person. It’s probably the game I’ve played the most since 2008 and a ridiculously fun time.

Left 4 Dead (2008) and Left 4 Dead 2 (2009)

There are a lot of Valve games on this list. The Left 4 Dead series is on it because it has done cooperative, first-person multiplayer right in a way I’ve yet to see done better elsewhere. Everything about these games is top notch, tons of fun, and worth returning to time and time again. Beyond the mechanics, the games also feature great environmental storytelling and fantastic voice acting putting it at the top of my list for the best games of the past two years. Zombies may be getting old, but this series will always feel fresh.

Braid (2008)

Jonathan Blow didn’t revolutionize video gaming when he released Braid last summer. What he did do was bring indie games (and XBL games, in general) firmly into the spotlight for consideration. A self-funded and self-made game, Braid proved that one man (and one hired artist) could still create a top-notch, professional caliber game. Braid is deep and complex and tons of fun to play, especially when you’ve figured out a tricky puzzle.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (2005)

OBJECTION! This game should be higher on the list. Overruled, this list has no numerical ordering.

The Japanese sensation that brought visual novels and a resurgence in adventure games to America may have a niche audience and play real loose with the legal system of the real world, but it’s tons of fun. Just think quirky anime and you’ll get the idea of what playing this game is like. It just feels right to present a damning piece of evidence while Phoenix screams OBJECTION!

Shadow of the Colossus (2005)

I have yet to beat Shadow of the Colossus, but I absolutely love what I’ve played so far. Ueda is among the genius game designers in how well he understands presentation. The game world feels absolutely empty, as it should. All you come across, as the player, are the giant Colossi and man, they are wild. Each one is a dungeon/level to itself and the player is tasked with taking them down to save his love. But what have these giants done to you? Each one I take down makes me feel sad inside and a little empty. I usually find myself thinking What have I done? What did he ever do to me? The best art makes you think.

Final Fantasy XII (2006)

I had my choice of any Final Fantasy game between 9 and 12 for this spot, but I really couldn’t go with anything but the best. X was definitely a close second, but there are just so many things that XII did right in its evolution of the series that I couldn’t pick anything else. Maybe it’s because I’m in love with the world of Ivalice, but everything about this game just grabs me in a way I hadn’t been grabbed since VI. Maybe it was because I wasn’t being assaulted by too many belt buckles and leather by Nomura. It was probably because the story was mature, the characters way less annoying than before, and the battle system was finally revamped and moved into the 21st century. In any case, the best FF game of the decade.

Portal (2007)

Portal really does everything right. The game gets you acquainted with its mechanics quickly, gets you doing neat things with them right away, and then finishes up with a climactic and cool boss fight all comfortably within the span of 5-8 hours, if you’re slow. With mechanics and dialogue that are beyond brilliant, the only thing that could make this great game better would be to give it a hilarious end credit song penned by Jonathan Coulton. Oh wait, you’ve gone and done that already, haven’t you Valve? Bravo.

Burnout Paradise (2008)

Realistic racing games are kind of boring to me. Until Burnout Paradise, I would have said that I only enjoyed Mario Kart games, and those were starting to wear on me too. Then Criterion put out the first open-world racing game (that I can think of). Burnout Paradise would be tons of fun if all we had to do was run into walls and other cars. The fact that the game is so easy to get online and play (and purchasable as a digital download on the PSN) is brilliant and makes for tons of fun.

Mass Effect (2007)

Shepard. Wrex. It’s brilliant. It really is. Hard science fiction is always tons of fun to me, but when you go and flesh out this world to the nth degree, you’ve got me drooling already. Add in characters I genuinely cared about and enjoyed having in my party and a morality system that was finally free of cheap moral choices and I’d say that Bioware had a genuine hit on their hands. I anxiously await the sequel in January.

Eternal Darkness (2002)

I’m really not a big scary games guy. It’s simple: I’m too jumpy and I’ve got an overactive imagination. Those things don’t combine to make a pleasant gaming experience. Now you want me to play a game that’s actively trying to mess with my head to freak me the hell out? I’d normally say “No thanks,” but I was eventually convinced to try this Lovecraftian horror game and I found myself loving it. The plot is interesting and the characters are neat, but the insanity effects are what stick with me to this day. I can still see that image of Alex lying dead in a bathtub filled with her own blood when I think about it and it still gives me the chills.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii (2009)

You know what? I really loved the old-school Mario games. Those 3D ones are way too easy. This game does it right. What makes it even more awesome is that you can play it with four dudes, making it both infinitely harder and easier while also making it more fun and frustrating. Use the multiplayer mode at your own risk, it may start fights.

Rhythm Heaven (2009)

Scratch-O, HA! The Rhythm Heaven (Paradise in Europe) series is loosely based on the bizarre Wario world, which is totally obvious after three minutes of play, which is great, because that series is brilliant (if stale by now) too. This game features simple rhythm mini-games, but man are they fun AND catchy. As I write this I’ve got the Moai statue song stuck in my head. Go play this.

Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (2004, Subsistence – 2006)

I love this game. MGS 2 may be the biggest practical joke (and most significant of the four), but this is undoubtedly the best. The epic cycle of the Metal Gear universe is made clear in this game that does its best to subvert war in every way possible. I do truly find it significant that in a Cold War game focused on stealth action, you can make it through from start to finish without killing one person. Well, almost. Metal Gear Solid 3 is almost heartbreaking when you play it non-violently and the ending still has a strong effect on me to this day. Definitely Kojima’s finest work.

World of Warcraft (2004)

I would give anything to get the time I spent playing this game back, but I definitely can’t deny how truly great it is. We’re talking about a bona fide phenomenon here. The absolute refinement of social engineering to such a degree that escape is nearly futile. Blizzard has truly outdone itself with this one.

Team Fortress 2 (2007)

What a surprise, more Valve. The Orange Box was a groundbreaking offering in value and Team Fortress 2 continues to be a huge part of that. I bought this game at launch back in 2007. Since then they have added achievements for nearly every class, new weapons for nearly every class, new game types and maps, hats, and an item crafting system. I’ve never seen so much free support for a game in my life. It’s no reason that Valve is my favorite developer of all time. They really know how to treat their customers and put out a great game.

The Sims 2 (2004)

Yes, I did create Sims of my friends and family. You’d better believe I killed some of them, turned one into a vampire, another into a werewolf, one into a zombie, and bargained with death to revive another. The Sims certainly don’t feel as relevant as they did at the start of this decade, but man were they a success and tons of fun. Sure, I should feel a little guilty that I spent so much time in what amounts to a digital dollhouse, but I really don’t. It was fun.

Super Smash Bros. Brawl (2008)

If you don’t think that this is the best in the series, you’re wrong and you’re clinging to the past. Tons of characters, great level design, fantastic music, and all the right refinements to the battle system are what makes this great. The fact that I can listen to Snake Eater or the Love Theme from Mother 3 is just icing on the cake.

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (2003)

I know most of you saw that Spaceworld Zelda trailer and expected another realistic LoZ on the Gamecube. When you saw that it would look cartoony did you A) Claim that you would never play it or B) Realize that maybe you should give it a chance. If you were an ‘A’ person, you’re too impulsive and need to lighten up a bit, because you missed out on the best Zelda game since Majora’s Mask (another one that most people hate). Celda, as it became known, was a great retelling of the Zelda story and actually kind of explained the world somewhat. It was also really fun to sail around and hunt for treasure.
MLB Power Pros 2008 (2008…obviously)
For some reason I really can’t get into the next-gen baseball games. The pitching and hitting just don’t make sense to me and I’m overall just not that fond of it. Lucky for me, the Japanese are still keeping it real with their Pawapuro and Pro Spirits line of games. I wish I actually had gone and picked up the 2009 editions in Japan, but I’m sure these will come out in the states again someday.
Mother 3 (2006)
Masterpiece. Shigesato Itoi really outdid himself with this game. It’s dark and serious, but also lighthearted and funny. It’s a game that has actual authorial control and, therefore, is a game that is actually art. Itoi’s fingerprints are all over the scenario and the little quirks. It’s no wonder that anyone who’s played a game in this series instantly falls in love with it.
Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (2009)
I really credit Amy Henning most for the great decisions behind Uncharted 2, a game whose characters are so fully realized that they’re almost real people. It’s not that surprising to me that hearing Nolan North voice other characters makes me wonder why Nathan Drake is moonlighting as a voice actor. Everything about this game is just fun and every aspect of it was polished and enhanced from the previous version. The showcase came for this generation.
Warcraft III: Reign of Chaos (2002, The Frozen Throne – 2003)
WCIII was the last great RTS I played. I don’t expect to play anything better until StarCraft II comes out later next year (if it comes out). While the story seems mostly lifted from StarCraft, it’s still quite good and an innovation in the way that RTS stories are told and plotted. It also lead right into the most successful game of this decade, WoW.
Dead Rising (2006)
The first game I ever bought for my Xbox 360 and the best (non-L4D-related-) zombie game I’ve ever played. Trust me, I’ve covered wars, you know.
Street Fighter IV (2009)
When you’re reviving the most loved fighting game franchise in history, a lot can go wrong. Do you stray too far from the original and innovate too much or do you go back, reevaluate what was good, and make incremental changes? Sure, the latter is a bit more cowardly, but I love Capcom more for it. I’ve never been much of a fighting game guy, but the instant familiarity of SFIV made it the perfect game to try and break into and I really got into it. My twitter became a repository for my win percentage after each day of play and I devoted hours upon hours of time into developing my Cammy playstyle. In the end, I’m still pretty bad at the game, but I also have tons of fun with it and I’m awaiting Super Street Fighter IV in 2010
Sid Meier’s Civilization IV (2005)
The best series I’ve ever played, bar none. I mean, the number of hours I’ve sunk into Civilization has to dwarf any other game, I’m sure of it. The number of days and nights spent completely developing one civilization is ridiculous. My favorite part of this fourth incarnation was the loose competition Eric and I developed as we would send each other save files intended to compare winning scores against each other. One more turn syndrome got its start here and this is a game that I find myself returning to at least once every year.
Persona 4 (2008)
Remember the days when I was posting every episode of the Giant Bomb Endurance Run on this blog? That series motivated me to finally finish this fantastic RPG and to really get into its characters and events. I’m especially proud of the review I wrote because it feels like my first foray into New Games Journalism, but this game is great for more reasons than that. A fine return to the world of hard RPGs that should be on every person’s queue to play.
My Favorite Bands/Albums/Musical Concepts of the 2000s [Feedback]
Dec 14th, 2009 by Dan

It’s really been tough coming up with the music that has most resonated with me in the 2000s. Wanting to represent the entire decade is tough, since I don’t really find the music that I used to listen to before I went to college all that good. Once I had more money and exposure beyond the mainstream acts I was familiar with in high school, I feel my tastes really changed up some. This list is definitely not representative of the actual best bands of the decade, they’re just bands that had a strong effect on me and my musical development.

I’ll start with a band who I was introduced to my sophomore year of high school, Lucky Boys Confusion.

Lucky Boys Confusion

Notable Albums: Throwing the Game (2001) and Commitment (2003)

This one came to me courtesy of my friend Kristin who brought a burnt copy of Throwing the Game up to Tampa with her for a summer visit my sophomore year of high school (2002). The band isn’t anything too special that’s about to revolutionize music or anything, they’re just a solid rock band from Chicago with a great sound. My favorite songs by the band are “Not About Debra”, a Latin-infused song about a girl in the wrong relationship, “Do You Miss Me? [Killians]”, an upbeat cover of the freestyle classic by the same name (sans the [Killians]) by Jocelyn Enriquez, “Sunday Afternoon”, a nice reggae-type break from the usual uptempo beats that LBC is known for.

The band never really saw much mainstream success. “Hey Driver” was their most popular song and actually made it into some video games, movies, and got some airtime, but they broke up only moderately more famous than they were when they were first signed.

Five Iron Frenzy

Notable Album: The End is Near/Here (2003)

As a primarily ’90s act, I was hesitant to include FIF in my list of my favorite music of the aughts, but their musical swan song had a major effect on my musical development, so I couldn’t rightly leave them out. Beyond just the CD, Five Iron Frenzy’s farewell tour, Winners Never Quit, was the first time I recognized that a live show was well worth attending. Before that I’d seen music live a few times and listened to a live CD here or there, but found them to be sub par. I was annoyed that the songs varied from the usual pace and intricacies of the album version and seemed to have lower quality. It all changed that night.

The small, intimate club atmosphere put me up close with fans for the first time (my previous concerts had been mega-stadium deals) with a band playing an emotional final tour. I also learned the best part about a live show: the new ways in which a band mixes up their music. I got to listen to the amazing FIF Medley (also on The End is Here), which, aside from it luckily being on a CD, I probably would never hear again. Ever since that night in Orlando, concerts became a part of my musical experience and the effect that FIF had on me is apparent when you realize how much of my music is upbeat, uptempo, and filled with brass sections. They may not be the best band on this list, but they’re one of the most important ones.

Rx Bandits

Notable Albums: The Resignation (2003), …And the Battle Begun (2006), Mandala (2009)

I didn’t realize what I got when my friend Daniela gave me a copy of The Resignation for Christmas back in 2004. We listened to it and she brilliantly pinpointed “Mastering the List” as my favorite track on the CD, but I didn’t get just how good the CD was for two years, a testament to how music tastes can drastically change over short periods of time. When I finally started listening in earnest in 2006, I think the best adjective to describe the experience was revelatory.

Of all the bands on this list, I think I’ve gone on and on about the Bandits the most on this blog and for good reason. They are talented, their music is rich and full, their lyrics are pretty solid, if not a little too hippie, and their dedication to an organic sound seems unparalleled in today’s overproduced soundscape. If there’s one album on this post that you choose to listen to, it should be …And the Battle Begun. It’s my favorite album of all time (as of 2009) and I don’t think there’s a single stinker on the whole disc.

Their best songs are “Mastering the List”, “Never Slept So Soundly”, “Decrescendo”, “In Her Drawer”, “Only for the Night” (my favorite on the list), “Tainted Wheat”, “White Lies”, and “Mientras la Veo Soñar.”

If there was one criticism I’d have for the band, it’s that they got rid of their horn section between …And the Battle Begun and Mandala. It doesn’t mean there’s no more brass in their newer work, it just means that it’s no longer a regular part of the band. Shame that they’re losing it, but they claim it has allowed them to open up and improve their song complexity.

Green Day

Notable Album: American Idiot (2004)

Another band that hails primarily from the previous decade, but whose 2004 release marked a huge turning point for the band. Yeah, Dookie is probably their most famous album, but American Idiot went and upped their pop relevance to eleven. The rock opera heralded in the “new” Green Day and turned the band into something far beyond its punk rock roots singing about weed and bumming around. For me, it was a great concept album whose lyrics seemed bold (I’m pretty sure they were early on the Bush backlash train) and far deeper than “Longview.” I don’t listen to the album much today, since I played it out my freshman year, but I’ll still let “Give Me Novacaine” or “Extraordinary Girl” play any time they come up on shuffle.

Relient K

Notable Album: Mmhmm (2004)

When I think of my freshman year at Cornell, American Idiot and Mmhmm are the soundtrack that plays in the background. I listened to both CDs many times on my way too and from the townhouses and the engineering quad, not to mention through my computer’s speakers. Mmhmm represents the transition from Relient K from a slightly niche, Christian music band to a more popular, mainstream act with its understated message (it seems that they returned to their more obvious Christian references with Five Score and Seven Years Ago) and their sound had matured to the best I’d heard since their debut album.

The album is full of some great songs, but my personal favorites are “High of 75″, because it cheered me up in the miserable Ithaca weather, “My Girl’s Ex-Boyfriend”, because I love sappy love songs, and “Which To Bury, Us or the Hatchet?”, because it resonated with my seriously rocky and messed up relationship at the time. Beyond that, the rest of the album is also great, but I can’t just list all the tracks now, can I?

The Zutons

Notable Albums: Who Killed…… The Zutons? (2004), You Can Do Anything (2008)

This one comes straight from my old high school friend Michelle. A fan of the quirky, indie scene, she recommended that I check out this band of Liverpudlians and I was not disappointed. You almost can’t go wrong with me if you’ve got brass or a saxophone in your band and The Zutons have one saxophonist adding her own distinct flavor to their already distinct rock grooves. Their music is unique and just great to listen to, especially when you get Abi Harding’s voice harmonizing with Dave McCabe’s on a lot of their numbers and the band’s sound has improved greatly from Who Killed on to You Can Do Anything. Their best songs, “Pressure Point”, “Havana Gang Brawl”, “Valerie”, “You Could Make The Four Walls Cry”, “Put A Little Aside”, and “Freak” are all so different, but all so much fun to listen to, even if they’ll probably never get any airtime stateside.

OK Go

Notable Album: Oh No (2005)

There’s a reason the phrase “sophomore slump” is part of the vernacular and it’s not often that a band not only releases a far superior second album, but does so with a significant change in sound. At a live show I saw them play at Cornell, OK Go outright stated that they were going for a safe, pop sound on their first album to try and appeal to the masses. Listening to it yields some decent tracks, but otherwise, I’d be inclined to agree. It’s cautious and it probably got them a record deal, but it’s not great. In three years, they turned around, completely matured their sound, and launched one of my favorite albums of the decade, Oh No. Almost everyone has heard “Here It Goes Again” or seen the treadmill video and I think you’d be hard pressed to find a person who would rather listen to “Get Over It.” They got that much better.

While I’m mentioning the videos, it’s also worth mentioning that Oh No also represents a creative turn for the band with it’s quirky, interesting, low-budget, high awesomeness music videos. “Do What You Want” has a more typical look, but “Here It Goes Again” and “A Million Ways” have hilariously awesome and indie videos a tradition they’ve melded with budget to create their newest video for “WTF”, which you already know I love. I don’t think that the viral video approach to music videos will take over the industry, but I don’t think you can say that they didn’t start something big with their Youtube-released video.

The whole album is pretty solid, but I’d also like to point out “Oh Lately It’s So Quiet” and “Let It Rain” as great tracks (beyond the ones I’ve already mentioned). They’re two of the slower, more contemplative ones, but they just feel right to listen to.

Fall Out Boy

Notable Albums: From Under the Cork Tree (2005), Folie à Deux (2008)

Yeah, they’re not the greatest band in history, but they’ve got some seriously catchy songs that I can’t help but enjoy. If their songs don’t make your toes tap, I’d seriously question whether or not you have a soul. FOB finally managed to break mainstream with their sophomore album, a CD filled with a neat take on pop and rock that’s just complex and different enough to pique my interests and just safe enough to be ok with the average Joe. Since then FOB continues to push into strange boundaries with its music borrowing from tons of genres and recording some solid tracks. I may not agree with their single selection (:cough: “This Ain’t a Scene, It’s an Arms Race” SUCKS :cough:), but I’d say that 80-90% of their albums are filled with great tracks.

My favorites: “The Take Over, the Breaks Over”, “Hum Hallelujah”, “A Little Less Sixteen Candles, a Little More “Touch Me””, “7 Minutes in Heaven (Atavan Halen)”, “She’s My Winona”, “Headfirst Slide into Cooperstown on a Bad Bet”, and “20 Dollar Nose Bleed”.

Matisyahu

Notable Album: Live at Stubb’s (2005)

I had the chance to see Matisyahu my freshman year at Cornell, but I had no idea who he was. The posters were up one day advertising a Hasidic Jew singing reggae and so I chuckled and went on with my day. Little did I know that a year later I’d hear a track from his live album in my ex’s brother Bobby’s car and fall in love with his brand of religious reggae. That’s the catch, of course, if Jewish-themed music offends you, Matisyahu is not for you. Then again, aside from allusions to scripture, isn’t reggae really all about peace and love? Matisyahu’s music may be about the Old Testament God, but its a celebration of love, life, and peace that will undoubtedly make you smile. My favorite songs by Matisyahu are “King Without a Crown”, “Aish Tamid”, and “Chop ‘Em Down”

Wolfmother

Notable Album: Wolfmother (2006)

Ever feel like the days of classic rock are gone? You must not be listening to Wolfmother. We’re talking straight up 1970s, Satan’s music here. From their ridiculous throwback album covers to the solid guitar solos, these guys clearly never gave up on the past and they want to bring it to the youth of today. They sound so classic that I didn’t notice for months after playing their songs in Guitar Hero II and Rock Band that the year was post 2000. If you’re ever craving a true hard rock sound, look these guys up. They’ll rock your socks off.

Best songs: “Woman”, “Joker & the Thief”

Incubus

Notable Album: Light Grenades (2006)

I know what you’re thinking. Incubus, really? Yes, really. Light Grenades was a solid album. Their best work in the decade, really. I happen to really love “Dig”, “Light Grenades”, “Anna Molly”, and “Paper Shoes”. It’s my list, leave me alone.

Streetlight Manifesto

Notable Albums: Keasbey Nights (2006), Somewhere in the Between (2007)

Probably my favorite ska act and one with kind of an ugly history. If you’ve ever heard of Catch-22, you’ve probably heard their most famous album, Keasbey Nights (1998) and the vocals of Tomas Kalnoky. At some point Kalnoky and the rest of the members had a major falling out and the band mostly split up. Kalnoky started up Streetlight Manifesto and the band gained notoriety quickly while Catch-22 morphed into a new band, but still played Kalnoky’s old songs from Keasbey Nights. Things were pretty dicey and ugly for a time too, because the bands traded lyrical jabs on their subsequent albums and, eventually, it seems that Kalnoky decided it was worth re-recording one of the seminal albums of third-wave ska, hence the Streetlight Manifesto edition of Keasbey Nights. As the owner of both editions of the album, let’s just say that the extra time and money made an already good album great. Kalnoky’s music work in Streetlight is sharp, the horns are solid and the guitars are great, creating a sound that you can’t help jamming to. Their best work comes out in “Riding the Fourth Wave”, “Keasbey Nights”, “Would You Be Impressed”, and “Somewhere in the Between”. Ska can be hit and miss, I know that most people don’t like it, but you’ve gotta check these guys out, they’ve refined the genre to its best.

The Fratellis

Notable Album: Costello Music (2006)

The UK makes the list again with Scottish rock band The Fratellis. Their music is so full of energy and that unique, intangible British music quality that I couldn’t help but fall in love with the band after playing their songs in Rock Band for the first time. “Henrietta”, “Chelsea Dagger”, and “Ole Black ‘n’ Blue Eyes” are my favorites from the disc, but there are plenty more where that came from with a mix of wild rock and slower, British-sounding songs to break up the beat and calm the heartbeat. A band definitely worth checking out.

Jarabe de Palo

Notable Album: Adelantando (2007)

I’ve listened to a lot of Spanish music in my lifetime. It’s a byproduct of my heritage, but most of what got airtime when I was a kid was salsa, merengue, the occasional bachata, and (nowadays) reggaeton. While they’re all plenty fun genres to listen to, there’s not a whole lot of innovation to be found in the strict confines of their musical definitions. Then Daniela went and introduced me to yet another great band, Jarabe de Palo. They’re not what you’d call typical Latin music, in fact because they’ve gone and formed a rock band and it’s actually not half bad. It’s actually pretty common to see other countries try and adopt American musical styles, but the results are usually pretty ghastly. Thankfully, Jarabe de Palo avoids this common shortcoming of foreign rock and is actually some pretty great music. His best tracks (that I know) are “Me gusta como eres”, “Dejame vivir”, and “Estamos prohibidos”.

Jonathan Coulton

Notable Albums: Where Tradition Meets Tomorrow (2004), Thing-a-Week 1-4 (2006)

In 2007 I played a game by Valve called Portal. Aside from being one of the best games in the history of gaming, it also featured one of the greatest songs in gaming at the end, “Still Alive”. That same Christmas, my ex-girlfriend’s brother (he makes a reappearance) showed me a youtube video of Coulton playing “RE: Your Brains”. Both were great, but in the hustle of the season, I failed to take notice of Coulton until about April or May of 2008. On a whim, I decided to check out Coulton’s work and bought his entire collection off of his website without listening to most of it. That day I took notice of the greatest Internet folk sensation to ever grace the web. Coulton’s music is mostly nerdy love songs and he himself has claimed that he needs to make an effort to write fewer melancholic love songs, but he’s also got songs about completely random things, like a tall tale about baseball’s first commissioner and how he dealt with the Black Sox Scandal, Kenesaw Mountain Landis (in a song appropriately titled “Kenesaw Mountain Landis”) or one about the trials and tribulations of being a clown (“Bozo’s Lament”). Perhaps his greatest undertaking was his Thing-a-Week challenge, where he took it upon himself to write and produce one song every week, which actually produced some of his most famous songs like “RE: Your Brains” and “Code Monkey”.

Other than the songs I’ve already mentioned, my favorites include “Screwed”, “Skullcrusher Mountain”, “Madelaine”, “Mandelbrot Set”, and “When You Go”, but I could list 10 or 20 more songs that are just as fantastic. Even better is that Coulton is all about Creative Commons and he understands the internet. He’s got an option to pay him some cash if you’ve already stolen his music and he’s more than happy to let you remix it or use it however you want, so long as you credit him. He’s truly a product of the Internet and a great musician to boot.

2007/2008 also brought two big concepts that changed the way I dealt with music and time. One thing, podcasting, is arguably not music, but it’s audio-related, so it’s worth mentioning. Before I had an iPod, I occasionally walked around campus with a CD player, but I mostly didn’t listen to much at all. After I got one and started getting podcasts, the way that information was relayed to me made a fundamental change and now I was learning about all of my hobbies and passions during my dead time walking around campus (and driving to work once I graduated). It’s pretty amazing to see that in a few short years which podcasts I’ve settled on and which ones I’ve moved on from as I struck a balance between too much (and a diminished ability to listen to anything but podcasts) and too little.

The other major musical revolution of the decade was the rise of Guitar Hero and Rock Band. I first played Guitar Hero back in the summer of 2007 and I immediately fell in love. When word started to trickle in about Rock Band, I was initially skeptical, since I believed it to be a knockoff (I later learned that it was the true evolution of the series put forward by the true innovators behind the magic, Harmonix), but I eventually came around and pre-ordered the special edition for my xbox. That game meant a lot to me and it even changed some fundamental things about me. It’s also been one of the best ways for me to gain access to new music and has widened my musical tastes considerably.

Back to bands!

Anamanaguchi

Notable Album: Dawn Metropolis (2009)

I get why people might be skeptical about chiptunes. It’s 8-bit music coming out of retro sound chips and nine times out of ten, people use it to just remix video game music. Imagine my surprise when I read an article about Anamanaguchi on Kotaku by Leigh Alexander detailing how this Brooklyn band was making great strides. Their music is top notch and stands out from the crowd because they don’t just play a 1985 NES, they’ve also got a drummer, guitarist, and bassist thrown in there. The music may take its cues from some of the conventions set forth by the game composers of the 1980s, but their music is completely original and super catchy.

My favorites: “Jetpack Blues, Sunset Hues”, “Tempest, Teamwork, Triumph (at Sea)”

Sambomaster (サンボマスター)

Notable Albums: サンボマスターは君に語りかける (Sambomaster is Talking to You) (2005), 僕と君の全てをロックンロールと呼べ (Call everything that we (you and I) are ‘Rock n’ Roll’) (2006)

What’s an article on this blog without some sort of tim rogers mention? It was this year that I read “changing the world in japanese” on his blog LargePrimeNumbers, a treatise on rock music, Japan, and, most importantly, how Sambomaster was one of the most important bands playing in Japan. Listening to the track he had posted on that article, Romanized as “Sono Nukumori ni Yō ga Aru”, I saw precisely what he was saying and became an instant Sambomaster fan. From that sandpaper, gravely voice to the emotion that is so obviously apparent through the language barrier, Sambomaster’s music speaks to a deep part of me. The guitars are stellar and interesting, the drumlines are solid, and Takashi Yamaguchi’s vocals just resonate and feel so right.

My favorite story about the band is that I’d actually heard their music back in 2005 as the fifth opening to the Naruto anime. I had no idea what the band was called or what the song was, but when I heard it, I immediately called it my favorite opening of the series and filed it in the back of my mind. Imagine the joy that returned to me when I was reading about Sambomaster on tim’s site and I downloaded and listened to “Sono Nukumori ni Yō ga Aru”. As I recognized Yamaguchi’s distinct vocals and guitar style, I immediately began researching whether or not the same group was responsible. I was right and I’ve been smiling about the band ever since.

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