App Review: Classical Music Radio

I like classical music. Really … I’m willing to bet that most people do to some degree. I’m not fanatic about it, nor am as well versed in it as I would like to be. But I’m working on it! It just takes me a bit longer cuz I’m Middle-Aged Man. If any of you know the reference, I request that you comment. Who knows … maybe you’ll win a prize. Emphasis on the word “maybe.”

ANYhoo, so I came across this app in the App Store the other day, and being that it’s free right now, I thought I’d try it out. Here are my thoughts, such as they are.

First off, the interface is a tad gaudy. It’s not extremely clean; the background graphic is distracting, and the color scheme washes out the text. Thankfully, the one button you actually NEED to read, “Radio Station,” is perfectly clear. So that’s nice.

The selection of stations is pretty good. Seems to be world-wide, and I’m sure they’re working on adding more and more stations. Germany, Belgium, Australia, Canada, Austria, Peru, Columbia, Norway, and France are all represented, as are a LOT of stations from across the USA.

However, having said that, it also appears that some of the stations are only broadcast in mono, or in something like 64kbps. That’s kind of annoying, given classical music’s strong stereophonic allure. I’d rather see them broadcast in CD-quality. Pandora, for example.

If I’m sitting downstairs at my desk, and I turn off my wi-fi connection to my phone, there is an almost instantaneous drop. Not of quality–of sound. Using just 3G and with 3 bars, I’m pulling in nothing. Contrast this to other streaming apps, such as Pandora, AudioGalaxy, or WGR550 out of Buffalo New York. With 3 bars on my phone for any of those, I get uninterrupted streaming. Not so from this app. Not sure why the difference.

When it does play though … it’s great. And over wi-fi, it’s fantastic. So this might be an app you’re relegated to using at home or over a wi-fi hotspot if you’re oot and aboot (as say the eastern Canadians). Or if you’re a persistent bugger like I am, you can try to wave your phone around until you get a good signal and then just find a way to get it to stay there, but … well, good luck with that.

Hey, for right now, it’s free. Maybe they’ll update it and make it better. You can do no wrong in downloading this right now.

Extraneous Noises in Songs

I’ve come to a conclusion: I’m not a fan of “Uhn”s, or “WHOOO”s in my music. It just seems … blah. I don’t know. Contrived? Cliche’? Boring?

This morning, for my at-work listening pleasure, I turned in to the Jim Rome show on WGR in Buffalo NY. I was hoping to catch a local sports radio show, but apparently Rome Fills from 9-1. So I tried listening to him for a bit. At some point, he announced that he would have Sammy Hagar on his show. Having grown up with Van halen in all their various forms (except that Cherone “moment.” That was pretty desperate.), I thought it’d be interesting to listen to, especially since he just released an autobiographical book.

After the interview, I thought, “Hmm … now I’m in the mood for some VH, Hagar style.” I queued up 5150 and OU812. Yah …

While I still find there to be some gems of good songs on there, the excessive use of “WOOOOOOWWW” and “UUUUHHHHNNNN” just set me in a foul mood. Along with all the “babe”s, “baby”s, “honey”s, and whatever other ridiculous words that have almost zero place in a song beyond one time, and even then, there can only be one–not all three.

I do not, nor will I ever, deny that I still find Edward Van Halen one of the most fascinating, explosive guitarists ever. Not that I’ve heard anything he’s done recently, but that could be because he hasn’t done anything recently. Nothing published, anyway. Nothing we common folk get to hear.

Having said that, like I said, there are still some gems that I still enjoy. From 5150,  I still enjoy “Get Up,” “Dreams,” “Best of Both Worlds,” “5150,” and “Inside.” I believe that constitutes more than half the CD.  From Ou812, the list is considerably shorter. “Mine All Mine” is still great,” “A.F.U. (Naturally Wired),” “Source of Infection” … all good songs. Other than that … not so much. From “The Red Album” (For Unlawful Carnal Knowledge), “Judgement Day” and “Pleasuredome” is about it. I won’t even attempt Balance, mainly becaues I don’t own it and I barely remember anything off that CD. I do remember that when it was being released, there was an article in some magazine where the band claimed something like “This is our most serious CD to date: musically and lyrically.” Then they proceeded to produce a track about getting high in Amsterdam. Maybe it’s just me, but that does not scream “forward progress” to me. At all. If you want to get high, that’s your thing, but please … don’t bore me with details on the size of your blunt and the grade of the roll. I. Do not. Care.

So yah. I think this whole resurgence of “liking” Van Halen may be winding down. Not sure yet, but I’m fairly confident that the 10 or so tracks I mentioned are all I need from the Van Hagar era.

All This Crap about Rebecca Black

It just goes to show you what a sad state of affairs and the length that people will go to to exploit someone. All over Twitter, one of the hottest “trending” topics is this “Friday” song by Rebecca Black. I’ve watched it, and it really is as horrible as I was afraid it would be.

However, I have a completely different take on why it’s horrible. Leave alone the fact that the lyrics are some of the worst I’ve ever heard. Ignore the horrific mis-use of a perfectly good time signature (it’s done in straight 4/4 and the beat is as simple as it gets). The song is, for wont of a better phrase, utterly terrible.

The problem I have with all of the comments is they completely ignore the fact that this poor kid had absolutely nothing to do with the “creative” process in writing the song. She lent her voice to the track and the accompanying video, which is equally brain cell-killing in its mediocrity. No no–the blame for this crap can be squarely placed on the co-writers: Clarence Jey and Patrice Wilson. I have no idea what their history with music is; if I had to guess, I’d say that there is no history because anyone with an ounce of musical background would have written a song at least 10x better than that. Regardless, these two felt qualified to write a song–replete with noise and some of the most inane drool for lyrics that has ever been uttered.

Personally, I’d be curious to see what kind of music Rebecca could come up with on her own. To be fair, she’s probably no Mari Smith (I doubt that there are more than 5 Mari Smith-like writers at any given point in the world … who at that age would have that much talent), so we can’t expect top-of-the-line music, but still … I wonder if she could hold her own. Only one way to find out, eh? Have her write a song. I mean this from the heart of my bottom: she could do no worse than “her” first single.

Review: The Family Crest – The Village

I’m really starting to realize the advantage of moving to San Francisco. The music scene there is exponentially more in motion than that of Salt Lake. We do have some good local artists, but I’m really starting to dig what I’m hearing out of the Bay Area.

Recently, I discussed the luscious sounds of Pomplamoose. Right up there in quality and amazement is The Family Crest–a 7-piece group that borders on classical folk rock. Employing the use of such instruments as the viola, violin, cello and flute, this band is poised to take college radio stations by storm. In NO way is that meant as a slight to their potential; indeed, if anything, it speaks volumes about the state of popular (read: canned, utterly un-original drivel that any typical top 40 or “alternative” station will spit out with their Musak-style “DJ”ing) radio music today. It would be one of my greatest musical joys to see these guys meteorically rise to the top of every applicable Billboard chart. Alas … these guys are so good and so original that I’m afraid that it simply won’t happen. Don’t ask me to tirade about the quality of the cookie-cutter tunes that stale the airwaves on any given day; to do so would be wasteful and futile.

Having said all that, it gives me great pleasure to introduce to you the 7 core members.

  • Liam McCormick handles vocals and guitar.
  • John Seeterlin plucks the bass.
  • Jacob Steuer beats the drums and other percussiveness.
  • Laura Bergmann graces us with her flautist skills, voice, and the occasional percussion.
  • Lucas Chen gently plays the cello.
  • Sarah Dabby plays the viola and provides the operatic vocals.
  • Owen Sutter  rounds out the core with his skills on the violin.

Again, these 7 constitute the core of The Family Crest. From here, the band further diversifies its sound by bringing in “extended family members.” This list is extensive, and it is lovely. Angelic choirs, various brass instruments, more string … they enjoy experimenting with different instruments and sounds. On a few of their songs, I heard either a cornet or a trumpet … not sure which. I hear a timpani on another track. A multitude of different instruments pervade each and every track on this CD, and they’re all beautiful and incredible.

So what are some of the stand-out tracks?

This is one review where I’m not going to isolate individual tracks because that implies that I prefer those over the other ones on the CD. While the vast majority of my reviews do precisely that–review three or four songs–this CD is so incredible that no one track is more worthy than another. Seriously … it’s that good. Instead, here are my thoughts on their music.

Every song is simply epic. I don’t mean that in the modern colloquialism that something is “insanely cool.” I mean it in the sense that every song is so deeply layered that there is simply no other way TO put it. I know that “epic” traditionally deals in length. To some degree, the epic scale applies here, but not across the horizontal plane. In this instance, the epic nature of these songs is due to their sheer layering and number of instruments played. There is a timeless feel to these songs that transcends decades and genres. You hear these, and there is simply no way to pin a time period on them. This isn’t like 80s synth pop or hair metal, or 90s grunge sound, or even 70s disco or classic rock. With those sounds, you can easily identify within at least a couple of years of when the song was released. No–with these tracks crafted and polished by The Family crest, you simply hear music that could have been plucked from a bygone time, or they could have been written 20 years from now. They’re limitless in their ability to spellbind your mind and captivate your attention. I’ve listened to this CD 5 times today already, and every time I hear something new on each and every song! That has never happened with any other CD I’ve ever owned.

If you live in the San Francisco area–or anywhere within 150 miles, or if you have the itch to take a road trip, make SF your destination and catch a Family Crest show. Let’s get them some attention so they can hopefully come to a town near you!

To my SF connection, I am forever in your debt for pointing out these guys and Pomplamoose. Thank you!

They *MIGHT* Be Giants

Once upon a time, in the frozen tundra of southeastern Idaho, I was force-fed one CD for an entire school year. That CD was Flood by They Might Be Giants. My only roommate that year was this blathering dumbness named “John” who apparently didn’t own any other music at all. Given that this was September of 1990, we didn’t have the convenience of hopping on our dorm’s wireless network and downloading anything from iTunes because there was no iTunes. I don’t even know if they algorithm for compressing audio into a small-form file was a possibility at that point. Given that DOS was still the preferred OS at the time, I highly doubt anyone was sending anything of a 3-5MB size at that point. So I got to wallow in my misery as he constantly pumped out this all-out assault on my ears. I didn’t have a desktop stereo. I didn’t even have a CD player. I was happy to have an alarm clock that would play a tape. That was my good fortune. Thankfully, I *did* own a pair of headphones, so there was that small blessing.

Anyway, I spent my entire freshman year of college racking my brain trying to figure out how anyone could possibly stand these guys. When your opening line to your first (well, second, but first actual) song is “I’m your only friend, I’m not your only friend but I’m a little glowing friend, but really I’m not actually your friend, but I am.” What? What drivel is this? I could poop on a paper and let yaks dance on it. That would produce better lyrics than these.

Musical tastes evolve. As previously mentioned, I’ve actually dabbled with interests in The Sea Hags and UK Subs, so … you know, tastes evolve. Even up until my wife and I got married in 2000, I thought that these guys were just crap. Horrible, boring, stupid crap. I had no interest in hearing them at all.

Then we started watching “Malcolm in the Middle.” We got to the point that we’d sing along with the opening credits. We wondered who sang the theme song. Imagine my surprise when we found out that it was actually They Might Be Giants. I was stunned.

So that was about 10+ years ago. Over the course of those years, I’ve slowly but surely warmed up to them. Now they come on and I don’t cringe. I actually turn it up and enjoy it.

THE Most Listless Crowd EVER

Last April, I had floor tix to Muse. My wife was with me, as were two of our good friends. We were all within inches of each other before Muse took the stage. Within moments of Chris pounding his bass, all four of us were swept away with the crowd. Back and forth, left and right, up and down. It was awesome! After two songs, I grew concerned that I couldn’t see my wife. After three, I was really concerned. Midway through the fourth song, I saw her little reddish brown hair bobbing along the front rail. I was about 3 “rows” back, but I muscled my way up, grabbed her shoulder, and we didn’t let go of each other. After the song, we made our way to the side for a break, but we ended up just staying there cuz she was nervous about going back in to the fray.

From before the first song started until the last note faded away, the energy level didn’t abate one joule. I mentioned this in my concert review, but it bears repeating: ALL of us were 100% expended after the show was over. We had nothing left to give! After the show, there was the inevitable parking lot frenzy where nobody moves faster than 5 feet a minute. We were so worn out and so desperate for water that we had to eat snow off the car to re-hydrate.

That was our show.

Check out this show.

Only after about 5 minutes into the video do you see any activity, and that was just from a little pocket of people. WHAT?! Do Seattle-ites just not know how to act at a Muse show?! I highly doubt it. Look at Seattle’s pedigree: Alice in Chains. Soundgarden. Pearl Jam. Nirvana. The music scene that gave birth to grunge. How do you not know how to get up and move it?!

I had to laugh. I even called my wife down to show her this video. Funny enough, there happened to be two Asian guys in the shot when she came down. “Well, honey … they’re obviously in Japan. Look.” and she pointed to the two.

“Honey, this was filmed in Seattle. As in, SEATTLE.”

“Ohhh. Hmm ….” She got a seriously puzzled look on her face, for obvious reasons.

It makes me wonder if the crowd was asked to “behave,” or something. I mean … it’s a pro-shot vid. I don’t know. I’m looking for any excuse I can think of to make sense of this.

Review: Eddy – Start an Uproar

I have no idea how music finds me. I honestly don’t. Sometimes, I just open my iPod and there’s stuff on there that I’ve never seen before. You think I’m kidding, but I’m not.

Okay, maybe I hyperbolize a hair, but not by much. I’ll give you a good example. Today I downloaded Tenpole Tudor’s and Skyclad’s versions of “Swords of a Thousand Men.” A tad campy by both, but the chorus … “Hear our roar, hear our sound. We’re gonna fight until we have won this town. Hoorah hoorah hoorah yay! Over the hill with the swords of a thousand men.” This is potentially the Buffalo Sabres’ goal-scoring song. Philly, Rangers, Boston … all have goal-scoring songs. We don’t. We need one. This fits the bill perfectly. So I downloaded birth versions to test drive them and see what I think. There’s definitely potential.

But that’s not why I’m writing, is it? I’m writing to review Eddy’s four-track EP, Start an Uproar. To be honest, I have no idea how I found her. I just did.

OH! HI! I just made the connection. Maybe it’s not that I have no idea how all this great music finds me, but it’s more the fact that I’m just forgetful as hell. I was checking out TUAW’s website on my lunch break, hoping to get some info on the upcoming iPhone 5 (or whatever it’ll be called). Sifting through their news blurbs, I found one about some chick who shot a video using nothing but a bunch of  iPad 2 devices. I haven’t checked out the video yet due to company policy on streaming media (which in all honesty I do stick to since this company was gracious enough to offer me a writing position. I dont’ even use their wi-fi to run my iPhone; it’s all 3G baby!), but I have every intention of checking it when I get home, which will be in a few short hours.

Anyway, this news blurb had a link to Eddy’s website, with whom I was heretofore unfamiliar. Her website had me curious. At first glance, she looks a bit like Maria Brink. The pictures on her site give her a furtive, “Ha ha … I know something you don’t know, and I’m not gonna tell you what it is” look. An air of mystery! Being the sucker for intrigue that I am, I downloaded her four-song EP from iTunes and gave it a listen. Here are my thoughts.

Where has this chick been hiding?! I’d say “the kitchen” solely because it says right on her website that she bakes cupcakes, so I’m not being sexist or funny–she very well may have been hiding behind her culinary expertise. But apparently while she’s been concocting confectionary delights, she’s been dabbling with making some *extremely* catchy tuneage for us to enjoy. The opening track on the EP is “Rise Up,” and I will tell you this much: if you’re sitting down while you’re listening to this, you will want to jump out of your seat and move and shake it like you never have before. It has “dance club remix” potential like nothing I’ve ever heard. Granted, I don’t listen to a lot of dancey music, but this … even *I* want to get up and dance around.

Her voice oscillates between bold and stormy, and wispy … like cirrus clouds on a deep-blue sky sunny day. Strong when the track is up and moving, soft and gentle when

“Beautiful Mistake” opens with a great piano hook that follows up with some synth strings and bass line. We’re treated to a complete shift in vocal dynamics, where she shows hints of channeling Lacey Sturm (of Flyleaf fame).

In short, I don’t know what her future plans are, but her long-term plans are more and more music. If her website is any indication, new music is possibly on the way. The video she shot on the iPad 2 is for her song “Need,” which is *not* on the EP. GOOD! Like I need to mention it, but this gets filed under “shake” with an emphasis on GET UP AND MOVE IT!

Eddy, if you end up reading this, leave the cupcakes. Embrace your inner musician and keep the tunes flowing!

The end.

I’ve been doing this list on Facebook for the last 4 days. If you want to as well, copy and paste the text below.

The idea is to share a little bit about yourself by choosing one song a day, for 30 days.  Introspection is required, but it sounds like fun.  Looking at the list, I can tell that some songs will be easy to choose, while others will require a little bit of thought.  See the list below and if you’re up to the challenge, let me know in the comments below.  Let the sharing begin!

The 30 Day Song Challenge

Day 01 – Your favorite song

Day 02 – Your least favorite song

Day 03 – A song that makes you happy

Day 04 – A song that makes you sad

Day 05 – A song that reminds you of someone

Day 06 – A song that reminds of you of somewhere

Day 07 – A song that reminds you of a certain event

Day 08 – A song that you know all the words to

Day 09 – A song that you can dance to

Day 10 – A song that makes you fall asleep

Day 11 – A song from your favorite band

Day 12 – A song from a band you hate

Day 13 – A song that is a guilty pleasure

Day 14 – A song that no one would expect you to love

Day 15 – A song that describes you

Day 16 – A song that you used to love but now hate

Day 17 – A song that you hear often on the radio

Day 18 – A song that you wish you heard on the radio

Day 19 – A song from your favorite album

Day 20 – A song that you listen to when you’re angry

Day 21 – A song that you listen to when you’re happy

Day 22 – A song that you listen to when you’re sad

Day 23 – A song that you want to play at your wedding

Day 24 – A song that you want to play at your funeral

Day 25 – A song that makes you laugh

Day 26 – A song that you can play on an instrument

Day 27 – A song that you wish you could play

Day 28 – A song that makes you feel guilty

Day 29 – A song from your childhood

Day 30 – Your favorite song at this time last year

My first 4 songs are:

  • Rush – Lock and Key
  • Los del Rio – The Macarena (that song just pisses me off … I don’t know why, but it gets under my skin and burrows like a tapeworm ulcer and festers until my mind erupts in pustules of putrid loathing and disgust)
  • The Weepies – Be My Honeypie. You cannot listen to that song and not smile uncontrollably. It’s a beautiful feeling!
  • Ugly Kid Joe’s version of “Cat’s in the Cradle. I swear, I want to be the best parent ever, but this song … Jumping Jehosephat on a hot tin roof sundae. I can’t make it through without having to fight the urge to bawl uncontrollably. Maybe it’s because I never had a good, solid father figure growing up, and now that I’m in charge of two kids, it scares the squishy shit out of me because I do not want them to go through what I went through. Don’t get me wrong–my mom was as saintly and wonderful as it gets, and God bless my step dad’s heart … he tried, but how do you dive in with a 14 year old and a 10 year old? That would be so mind-bendingly insane to try to adjust to! I give him credit for trying, but … I don’t know. Gah.

Anyway, there’s the list so far. It’s a fun list!

Saving the World, One Strange, Incongruous Item at a Time

I have been tasked to find a way to keep people from dying. Not sure how I got the tap, but tapped I have been. I will not shirk my world citizen responsibility!

In light of my new task, I have amassed a cursory list of potential items to be used in saving at least a life:

  • Spoons
  • Mayonaisse
  • Peanut butter
  • Cheese
  • Paper clips
  • Duct tape

Because let’s face it … what life-saving list would be complete without duct tape?

In my non-medical/engineering mind, there must be a way to combine those items to make something that will indeed save someone’s life. At first glance, I imagine that the spoon/peanut butter combo would be the most effective spring board, but then again, the duct tape and mayo might be equally useful. I’m not sure how cheese comes into play, though I’m sure I’ve seen some MacGyver or CSI ep where cheese was used to do something BIG. I just can’t remember which show it was. And yes–it does indeed matter because obviously that will make a difference. If cheese were used in CSI, then somebody died of fromagian bludgeoning. If it was used on MacGyver, then it was probably transformed into something like C4 and used to blow a hole in the side of a bank vault to free a group of hostages from the Sandanistas. Or something.

But I digress.

Meanwhile, I have broken out my iPhone whiteboard so I can start drafting instructions on how to use the aforementioned items to save a life. In the interim, everybody quit dying.

More New Music

My machine won’t update my iPhone OS. Every time I try, my phone bricks. Something about the USB ports not having enough power to juice the phone back to life once the iOS install starts. Instead, I’m greeted with some weird screen where I get a picture of an Apple dock cord and the Apple logo. Nice, eh?

The option I exercise is to take my phone to the local Apple store and have them install it for me. Lame, I know, but it’s what I have. Most AT&T stores won’t do it because they don’t want to risk bricking the device. Not the best customer care, as far as I’m concerned, but whatever. Anway, each time I go in, it takes about 15 minutes, which gives me time to peruse the store.

On this particular upgrade last Thursday, I used the time to check out what music was installed on some of the demo devices. I threw on the headphones and listened to the first song that came on. I didn’t jot down the name of the song, but I did take note of the band: Sea of Bees. I was instantly struck by the singer. A blend of Karin Dreijer tuned up an entire octave and Harriet Wheeler. Musically, they’re semi-similar to Cranes, which is *always* a good thing in my book.

Speaking of Cranes and pretty tangential, I had an extra copy of their latest CD sitting around–a self-titled gem. My sister in law’s birthday is tomorrow, and we got together as a family for dinner in honor of her special day. We gave her the CD. She looked really happy to get it. I told her that if she likes it, I have a ton more of their stuff that I’d love to get her hooked on. 🙂 We’ll see.

ANYway, so that was Sea of Bees. Excellent music from a one-woman performance in Julie Ann Bee. Ambient, soulful, folksy, beautiful … it’s fantastic.I picked up a copy of Songs for the Ravens. I’m pretty sure the song I listened to isn’t on it, and I’m okay with that … just means that there’s more of their work to hunt down.

The other band I listened to was The Whitsundays, a Canadian band out of Manitoba. Some further digging around led me to the fact that some of the members are also in LCD Soundsystem, a high-energy electro-pop band with some pretty catchy tunes. Again, not sure what Whitsundays song I heard, but it’s not on the CD I got. More sleuthing and hunting. LOVE it!

A buddy of mine wrote to me the other day and suggested that I check out Lykke Li. This buddy … frick. His musical tastes are just to be accepted as gold. Not once has he ever let me down, this time being no exception. She has a kind of Scarlett Johannsen quality to her music and voice. It’s really soothing, mellow stuff. Check it out!

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