Ryan’s Music Picks ✈️ 20 February 2017

It’s been a while, huh? A lot of stuff happened since my last one of these: Trump became president, my youngest daughter turned one, I turned 34. I’ve been listening to a ton of music and making lots of mental notes and aspirational playlists for this email, but nothing has been actually written down until right now. I just got off a plane not too long ago during which I read (more Cryptonomicon–I’m nowhere near the end still) and so I thought I’d just give you what I listened to in the air and the train ride to my hotel. It’s mostly instrumental and relatively chill because I have travel anxiety and can’t listen to music with words while I read. I’ll also throw in a few albums I can’t help but mention because how much I like them.

Plane Inst:

Balmorhea – Stranger (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
Less “epic” than some other Texas-based sweeping instrumental music, Balmorhea (say bal-mor-ayy) is syncopated and soothing with interesting instrumentation like piano and cello. It hasn’t been commodified and added to commercials or movie soundtracks yet, but it’s certainly ripe for that kind of exploitation.

Frankie Rose – Interstellar (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
My take-off music. Having travel anxiety but also a working understanding of aerodynamics (not a useful one, just enough to make me annoying), I’m cool with airplanes and takeoffs and landings, but I still get kind of worked up during a take off. Having good launch music does help with that, and Interstellar is amazing, driving dream rock, with a good balance of a killer rhythm section and floaty vocals/guitars/synths. Highly recommended. I own this album on vinyl!

This Will Destroy You – Another Language (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
I’m just getting into these guys. They have that loud/quiet dynamic like Explosions in the Sky, but it’s darker and broodier when quiet, and has way more of the slams when loud. Killer.

The Mercury Program – New Myths EP (Bandcamp, Apple Music)
One my favorite and first instrumental rock bands, which led me to telling people that I was “way into post-rock” for a few years, which, uh, I don’t even know what that means at this point. Their trademark is delayed guitars and overactive drums and this EP, their first recording since 2009, is right on par with their classics from the early 2000s (which I recommend you also get into).

Teen Daze – Themes for Dying Earth (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
I’m a huge fan of Teen Daze, in spite of their (his, really) pretty kinda played-out name. It’s like a sea of warm waves and boops with icebergs of perfect pop floating by you occasionally. Super soothing but not boring or too spa-music-like.

Nanook of the North – The Täby Tapes (Apple Music, Spotify)
Adorable early-2000s indie pop that’s lushly produced and has back and forth boy/girl vocals. Opus recently tweeted his 13-year-old review of this album and I’m so glad he did, it’s still great.

A Sunny Day in Glasgow – Sea When Absent (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
This is one of those albums that sounds totally different depending on if it’s being played loudly or quietly. If you crank it up, it’s punishing guitars and stadium synthesizers but, if you turn it down, it’s hushed vocals adrift in a sea of noise and tamborine. Don’t ask me how it works.

Other Cool Stuff that I Wanted to Tell You About (quick shots)

Sinkane – Life & Livin’ It (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
Sinkane makes music that triangulates a ton of music I love and then turns it into something astonishingly new. There’s elements of so much good stuff here, but it’s the heart that wins out and really holds everything together. The grooves are unstoppable, no question, but the real humanity in this music grabs you and doesn’t let go.

Delicate Steve – This Is Steve (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
Instrumental guitar-fronted rock where the guitar functions as much as the lead singer as the main instrument. Delicate Steve plays the most lyrical guitar in the galaxy, and he rocks harder on this album than on any of his (spectacular) previous releases.

Neil Cicierega – Mouth Moods (Download/Stream)
On one level, this is a mixtape of funny, “bad” mashups of songs that are so popular that you probably know the words even if you haven’t heard them in a decade and never made any effort to learn the words. On another level, this is a brilliant, brain-destroying lesson in recontextualization and post-post-modernism. If you have not, definitely check out the two previous releases in this series: Mouth Sounds and Mouth Silence.

I tried a thing:

Cryptonomicon in January: Week 2

It’s looking much more like this is going to be a 2-month book club considering that I’ve gotten halfway through the book at the end of the month. Anyway, a lot of stuff has happened in the book and I still want to finish it. The chapter-by-chapter summary I found online and mentioned previously peters out about halfway through our reading, so here’s very brief sentence-long summaries of the chapters.

  • Lizard: Bobby Shaftoe in Italy while they sit around and make it look like they’ve been there a while and transmit encoded data.
  • The Castle: Lawrence Waterhouse is in Qwghlm and he’s paranoid that everyone is a spy. Also a complete explanation of the creation and use of a one-time pad.
  • WhyRandy Waterhouse is in the Sultanate of Kinakuta decompressing from his flight and preparing for the big meeting by reading the business plan, answering his email (including an interesting one from someone with a root email) and reading up on an old rival who is now into hive minds.
  • Retrograde Maneuver: Japanese soldiers escaping do not sufficiently destroy some code manuals.
  • HuffduffLawrence, still in Qwghlm, engages in subterfuge to make the residents think he’s doing high frequency direction finding while he does other code and information flow works. He advises Bletchley Park to crash a boat with code manuals into Germany as an excuse to abandon codes known to be broken. Lawrence also engages in intercourse with a friendly potential spy.
  • Pages: The Australians find the badly-buried Japanese code manuals mentioned in Retrograde Maneuver.
  • RamBobby is on a boat full of guns. He flashes back to the Italy escape and the very deadly Vickers machine gun, and then witnesses an argument over whether to follow orders and leave a code manual in the boat after it crashes.
  • DiligenceRandy doesn’t tell The Dentist everything that he’s up to in the Philippines.
  • SpearheadLawrence and Bobby investigate the U-553 which just happens to have crashed, with no crew, very near Qwghlm. There’s useful code info on board, but a safe is stuck.
  • MorphiumBobby uses controlled explosives to release the safe. He also gets his hands on some German morphine.
  • SuitRandy emails with root, and has a chat with The Dentist.
  • CrackerLawrence cracks the safe from U-553 and finds a Chinese gold bar and some hand-written encoded sheets.
  • SultanEpiphyte(2) has a meeting with the Sultanate and some potential investors in The Crypt.
  • SkippingGoto Dengo ends up in the water after a surprise American attack.
  • MugsRandy is still in the meeting, realizing that maybe all of these guys are not such good guys. He sets up his laptop for a demo and writes a script that will take pictures of the people who use it.
  • Yamamoto: Admiral Yamamoto is killed while in flight. Dying, it occurs to him that the Japanese codes are probably compromised.
  • AntaeusLawrence talks to Alan Turing. They discuss the Turing machines and binary encoding. It’s revealed that the mysterious handwritten encoded pages on U-553 were in Rudy von Hacklheber’s handwriting.
  • PhreakingRandy reads more about his old rival and his attempts to create a (pre-twitter) hivemind, then watches as some of his pals do some Van Eck phreaking (with explanation) which reveals a long “Letters to Penthouse”-style story about the fetishization of archaic things.
  • AfloatDengo is still in the water. He makes it to shore with one other guy, then finds some cannibals.
  • ShinolaBobby is unnerved by Lawrence but not surprised that he gets along with Root. Now he’s on a mission pretending to be Afro-Caribbean traders and they meet U-691.
  • HostilitiesRandy emails root again, and Epiphyte(2) comes to terms with the idea that they’re going to be helping bad guys.
  • FunkspielLawrence witnesses and takes part in a radio operation to make Germany think that U-691 has been taken by the Allies.
  • HeapRandy emails root agin, then Avi reveals that he’s building the Crypt to store a Holocaust-prevention resource. Randy reveals to Avi that the Shaftoes have found sunken treasure.
  • SeekyBobby and Root get interrogated by the Germans on U-691. They shoot Bobby up with morphine and he tells them everything but they don’t really believe him since it doesn’t make sense. The Captain of the ship, who is the only one who believes that the enigma has been broken, takes back over and decides to go straight to Germany as directly as possible.
  • WreckRandy is back on the water with America and Douglas Shaftoe and they use a sonar ROV to take a look at a sunken u-boat.
  • Santa MonicaLawrence is on his way to Australia. He stops over in the US and, on Santa Monica pier, considers the trans-oceanic data cables.

Whew. See you in…a week 😉

Cryptonomicon in January: Week 1

I decided to read Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon this January for a slightly delayed resurrection of my previous December book clubs. I thought that maybe January would be better because the hectic schedules of the Holidays were over people like to start the year fresh sometimes and decide “this is the year I get back to reading”. So we ended up with an 1000+ page book (depending on the edition) about cryptology, the perfect kind of light reading to help you start the year off right.

We’re reading 32 pages a day, which is a bit more ambitious than I realized. Which is why you’re getting a week 1 recap about halfway through week 2. In fact, here’s the schedule, which is roughly 220-230 pages per chunk (based on my copy of the book, the 2000 paperback edition published through Harper Perennial, which I purchased at a thrift store for $1):

  • Week 1: beginning through Crypt
  • Week 2: Lizard through Outpost
  • Week 3: Meteor through The Most Cigarettes
  • Week 4: Christmas 1944 through end

I have found, in my life, that I prefer certain kinds of literary fiction. While I certainly love the young adult genre novels which read quick and have shoddy world building but fun movies (Harry Potter/Hunger Games come to mind–you’re welcome to fight me about JKR’s Harry Potter world building), I really sink into books that can be charitably described as infodumps. JRR Tokien’s Hobbit is a nice primer into books that have a narrative but spend a bunch of time just explaining stuff, then cutting back to the story. Frank Herbert’s Dune really is where I got my first taste of hardcore, well-thought-out informational overload being balanced with an exciting but somewhat opaque story that slowly comes into focus as background is added. A much more hardcore example of this is David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest. Weird how all of these books have been part of book clubs I’ve led or at least taken part in.

So Cryptonomicon

The book starts with background on, at this point, three main characters. We also start immediately pre-World War II at the tail end of 1941. So we have, in 1942:

  • Bobby Shaftoe, a Marine and eventually a Marine Raider who is a war hero, has seen some shit, and likes haiku
  • Lawrence Pritchard Waterhouse, an extremely smart enlisted Marine who is tends to treat human interaction as a problem to solve, and not even an interesting one. Friends with, among others, actual real-life historical figure Alan Turing.

In 1999:

  • Randy Waterhouse, systems and network admin involved in some kind of new startup in the Philippines. Definitely related to Lawrence.

So far we haven’t received the inner monologue of many other characters, though we’ve been introduced to a lot of other mostly fictional people:

1942

  • Glory Altamira, Bobby Shaftoe’s erstwhile paramour in Manila
  • Rudy von Hacklheber, former schoolmate of Lawrence’s, very good friends with Alan Turing, it’s worth mentioning that he’s German
  • Goto Dengo, member of the Japanese military who befriends Bobby Shaftoe when they’re both stationed in Shanghai
  • Enoch “Brother” Root, missionary with questionable credentials who once saved Bobby Shaftoe’s life and then ended up in his life again mysteriously
  • Ultra/Magic, not actually a person, but the secret code names of the joint British/American cryptography venture that Lawrence is involved with

1999

  • Avi Halaby, Randy’s business partner who is very excellent at human interaction and also really prefers everything to be encrypted (apparently also a reference to Neal Stephenson’s 8-book series The Baroque Cycle, and not even the only one, though it was written after Cryptonomicon)
  • America “Amy” Shaftoe, who runs a salvage/diving business out of Manila, working with Randy. Definitely related to Bobby Shaftoe
  • Epiphyte (1) & (2), the two startups that Randy and Avi are working on. The first is a project to use microwave antennas to bring greater internet connectivity and asynchronous video messages to Manila, the second is the creation of a data haven.
  • The Sultanate of Kinakuta, this is not a real place, though the Sulu Sea is real. It’s where Epiphyte(2) is building their data haven.

There is a lot happening, and it’s a lot of reading. A seriously great chapter-by-chapter breakdown is over here at rackpull.com with tons of links to relevant wikipedia articles. I particularly appreciate the wikipedia photos of the real life places some of this story occurs in, like the Intramuros or the Pine Barrens.  Also really worth reading is Neal Stephenson’s 1996 book-length Wired article Mother Earth Mother Board, the research for which must have partly inspired this book. MEMB is one of my favorite pieces of non-fiction writing, and having read it helps clarify a lot of the undersea cable talk in the 1999 chapters.


This recap is obviously delayed and there’s definitely the chance that the next one will be too.  ¯_(ツ)_/¯

Top 12 Albums 2016

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Here’s my Favorite 12 Albums of 2016.

12 because 10 isn’t ever enough, and “favorite” (as opposed to “best”) because objectivity in art is impossible.

There are a lot of albums from 2016 that I didn’t listen to, and a lot of other albums that I heard once but never spent time with, so expect plenty of 2016 music to trickle out here in the next several months. I don’t make definitive lists because I change my mind too much, but this is stuff I have listened to the most over the last year.

(presented in alphabetical order)

The Avalanches – Wildflower (Apple Music, Spotify)
(from Ryan’s Music Picks: 11 July 2016) This is only their second proper album but so far I love it, from the Biz Markie song The Noisy Eater to some of the quieter interlude bits. It’s heavy-sampled and heavily tropical with that same perfect nostalgia/sadness feeling that Pet Sounds really perfectly handles. This was the band I discovered when I first got into new music after high school and they remain one of my favorites of all time.

Beyonce – Lemonade (iTunes (for purchase)Tidal)
A ton of amazing music was released this year. When it comes to Tidal-exclusives from legendary artists, Beyonce has Kanye beat, hands down. It’s packed with perfect tracks that push the boundaries of pop music into new and exciting places. It’s pretty inescapable and that’s for good reason.

Chance the Rapper – Coloring Book (DatPiff, Apple Music, Spotify)
I mentioned Kanye above, and Chance had a crucial role in the single best Kanye song from this year, but then his 3rd mixtape (album? I get that it’s…not, but maybe we should just call them albums at this point?) blew The Life of Pablo out of the water. Chance stretches his style in this mixtape, trying different styles and cadences while he matches with his guests. His voice is versatile, both as a rapper and singer as well as his voice as a writer. His exuberance is infectious, and this mixtape gets better with each listen.

clipping. – Splendor & Misery (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
(from Ryan’s Music Picks 14 September 2016) This is a hell of an incredible album. It’s a dark afrofuturist science fiction story, told by insanely precise, heavily rhythmic raps over avant-noise soundscapes. It’s unquestionably the evolution of noise-hop, and a clear next step from the noisy Cannibal Ox – The Cold Vein, and afrofuturist scifi rap of Deltron 3030.

DM Stith – Pigeonheart (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
(from Ryan’s Music Picks: 1 August 2016) This is, without question, a headphones album. I tried listening to it a few times this week in the car with kids and playing out of the speaker of my phone and I was not moved. Then, after the kids were all asleep, I donned my preferred listening headphones (Sony MDRZX110 – less than $15 on Amazon) and this album exploded before me into sound-shapes and mind-colors or something. Stith’s trademark haunting ghost vocals are there, backed by a dazzling array of sounds both organic and synthetic. This album is deep, unfolding with multiple listens, and it somehow stays unpredictable, like some sort of weird audio fractal. Highly recommended.

Eola – Dang (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
(from Ryan’s Music Picks: 12 October 2016) This is absolutely my favorite album that I’ve stumbled upon recently. I saw it described on twitter as “lo-fi droney gospel” and I flipped out–I am the exact target market for that. It’s gorgeous and meditative at times, and playful and honestly pretty dorky at other times. But I’m in love hardcore with this record. I will be listening to this for a while.

Helado Negro – Private Energy (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
(from Ryan’s Music Picks: 12 October 2016) I have a confession: I love Helado Negro’s music. I mean, I guess it’s not much of a confession, but every single thing that Roberto Lange has released as Helado Negro has gripped me and I am a buy-every-album fan for life at this point. This album, his fifth full-length (there are also several EPs), really exhibits his growth in songcraft. There’s still the dense electro-acoustic production, and the psychedelic interludes, but everything (even the songs en Español) are so much more singalongable this time around.

Jamila Woods – HEAVN (only on Soundcloud)
(from Ryan’s Music Picks: 18 July 2016) If, like me, you’re into Chance The Rapper, you probably will recognize Jamila Woods’ voice. She is the driving force of Sunday Candy and Blessings (I) and her solo album is incredible even given the high expectations I had going into it. It turns out that she is a poet and playwright in her spare time, and that’s hardly a surprise after listening to the album. It’s a free download from soundcloud and you should absolutely not sleep on this.

Justice – Woman (Apple Music, Spotify)
(from Ryan’s Music Picks 23 November 2016) Justice is one of my favorite French electronic music duos (along with Daft Punk and Air), and I think they’ve gotten better with each album. Though they have mostly abandoned the dirty, noisy version of French Touch house music that made them huge, their focus on combining 70s rock and disco continues to pay off. A perfect steering wheel tapper for LA traffic.

Run the Jewels – Run the Jewels 3 (free download on runthejewels.com, Apple Music, Spotify)
With this third album, Mike and El have cemented themselves in the list of greatest rap duos of all time. They’re still angry and they drop more knowledge in a verse than most rappers do in a whole album. El-P’s production is still singularly top-notch and neck-snapping, too. It’s the kind of album that you put on when you need to feel like you can throw refrigerators through walls.

Sound of Ceres – Nostalgia for Infinity (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
It’s weird how sometimes you find a band who make music just for you. Sound of Ceres hits that sweet spot for me that’s right between tiki-bar-era tropical exotica, shoegaze with whispery feminine vocals, warm ambient noise, and perfect-chorus pop songwriting. The music is so inviting, and it reaches right into my heart like little else. I want to live inside of their songs.

TW Walsh – Fruitless Research (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
TW Walsh is a hell of a songwriter, and I’ve been a big fan of his work with Pedro the Lion, with David Bazan, with The Soft Drugs, and on his solo albums. But this time, he’s augmented his sound with some noisy synths and other experimental elements, and it really makes a big difference to me. The sonic textures on this album really highlight his songwriting skills and production knowledge. I bought this on tape and couldn’t stop listening for months.

Ryan’s Music Picks 🎄 20 December 2016

There are 3 or 4 different kinds of Christmas songs, really. There are songs about Santa coming to town, songs about how it’s cold and romance is in the air, songs about the fact that it is winter, and songs about baby Jesus being born. I tend to gravitate to types 3 and 4, but I’m an equal-opportunity Christmas music listener. I have written extensively about Christmas music because I love it so. I especially love “new” Christmas music, meaning either redone classics in an interesting style, or new songs that evoke the season just right enough for them to earn there way into my personal Christmas music canon.

Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings – It’s a Holiday Soul Party (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
Sharon Jones just died about a month ago, but she has long been an ambassador of soul, bringing the classic sound to the modern era. She left us with this album of toe-tapping Christmas tunes that’s a nice mix of funked-up classics and inspired originals.

David Bazan – Dark Sacred Night (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
In a bygone era, David Bazan as Pedro the Lion recorded yearly Christmas singles on 7″ records. His relationship with Jesus has become a bit more complicated since then, but he still celebrates Jesus’ birth on this new album. Some of the songs from those old singles have been rerecorded, along with some new covers of classic holiday tunes (and a cover of Low’s Christmas song Long Way Around the Sea) and an original. Bazan reworks some of the classics too, adding his own modern and inspired verses in. All around, it’s a pretty dark Christmas record, not exactly the cheery sort, but the kind that we really need this holiday season.

Josh Garrels – The Light Came Down (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
What we have here is a dreamy album of lush, dark holiday tunes, a good mix of originals, classics, and hymns. This is one of a couple of albums this time around that is particularly Jesus-focused, but this one in particular acts less as the antithesis of Bazan’s album as much as it is kind of the other side of the same coin. They are, in a sense, companions, illustrating the doubt and hope that comingle in the Holiday season and the Winter Solstice. The production on this album is particularly gorgeous, and I have found myself craving this album more than most other seasonal albums this year.

Various Artists – Over the Hills and Everywhere (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
If you prefer your Christmas music to be a bit more overt about the whole Jesus thing, this is the one for you. Gospel Song Union is a record label that focuses on particularly modern Christian worship music, and these tracks are really quite good and they’re definitely not ashamed of the Gospel. I’m a fan of the Kings Kaleidoscope track that takes the tune of Auld Lang Syne and adds some very hymn-like lyrics. The Modern Post track features lead singer Dustin Kensrue who also happens to sing in Thrice, so that’s a good one too.

Tartelet Records – North Pole Boogie Vol. 16 (Bandcamp only)
Sometimes for Christmas you just want jazzy house music. This is a pay what you want/free collection of slightly off-kilter electronic music that’s much better than any Jingle Bells remix could possibly be.

Ryan’s Music Picks 🌲 8 December 2016

Quick update for the rest of the year: after this, sometime in the next week or so-ish, I’ll do a roundup of Christmas music. It might be an extra long one, because I have feelings about Christmas music. If you’re curious to see, you can click here for 3 pages to links to Christmas music from my old blog. (Sorry, some of the links will be dead. The internet is in a constant state of decay.)

After the Christmas roundup, I’m thinking about doing a year-end list of my favorite albums. (I gave up making a list of the “best” albums years ago, because I can’t be trusted to be objective about art.) After that, who knows what’s going to happen in 2017?

Scholastics – Live From the Library, Volume VII (Soundcloud, Podcast/Download)
My good friend Ezekiel makes mixes that give me feelings. This one is emotional on both ends of the spectrum: on one end acknowledging how a lot of us have felt in the wake of the election and its aftermath, and on the other end reminding the listener that there is joy still inherent in life that shouldn’t be neglected.

Damien Jurado & Richard Swift – Other People’s Songs, Volume 1 (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
In case you haven’t been following singer-songwriter Damien Jurado’s career over the last 5 years, he has brought forth a series of albums with a cultish, we’ll-form-a-commune-and-live-off-the-land appeal, aided by weirdo church basement assistance from Richard Swift. This album of covers predates all of these albums, and was originally released in 2010, when they began to draft their plan for the albums that they’ve since released. I said in 2011 that it contains “the best damn cover of a Kraftwerk song I’ve ever heard” and that’s still true.

Coins – Daft Science (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
This album is a mashup album of 9 Beastie Boys tracks with beats constructed from Daft Punk samples. It feels obvious and groundbreaking at the same time, and is a hell of a calling card for sample-master Coins. This music taps into that pure party joy that both the Beasties and the Robots can deliver like no other. I could do with more sample diversity (fewer Around the World samples would be nice) but overall this is killer. It’s not available for download anymore because of obvious rights issues, but, uh, well, maybe click this link if you can’t resist.

Air Credits – Broadcasted (Bandcamp, aircredits.org)
Air Credits is Chicago rapper SHOWYOUSUCK with production from legendary internet mashup kings The Hood Internet. The beats on this album bang; they’re a nice mix of sample-based, synthy, and experimental, with a neck-snapping amount of head nodding. But more surprising to me is MC ShowYouSuck’s brainy and complex verses which trade heavily in deep pop culture references that pay off more than just some hashtag rap. I mean, the first track mentions both The Craft and Daft Punk right off the bat. All I Need Pt 2 is a full-on jam, and it’s not even close to the only one on this excellent album.

Brother, Sister – Brother, Sister (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
It must be tough to operate in a genre (ornate chamber pop, in this case) so heavily dominated by a few pretty popular bands. It’s almost impossible to talk about Brother, Sister without referencing Grizzly Bear or Fleet Foxes, for instance. I mean, if you like those bands, dive into this by all means, you’ll love it. But those comparisons miss the baroque country elements of this music, or the choral arrangements that are not at all like the harmonies in those other bands. This is pastoral music to be enjoyed out of doors or at least with a scarf (ironically, this band is from Southern California). It’s beautiful and intricate and dense and rewarding on multiple listens.

Sleigh Bells – Jessica Rabbit (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
Sleigh Bells are the most metal pop music, or the most pop metal band in existance. I love them to an unreasonable degree, even in the face of this, their most experimental album yet. Refusing to rest on their tried-and-true formula of killer guitar riffs + huge beats + pop vocal hooks, some of these tracks don’t even have guitars! Beats are still here, and some songs (It’s Just Us Now is a standout) still bring the crunch I love from them, but there’s a lot of pop experimentation that push this album more towards noise pop and experimental pop music than I had ever expected. Once I got over the sadness over their lack of killer riffs, a lot of these songs have grown on me significantly. I can’t wait to see how this trickles down into mainstream pop music.

Childish Gambino – “Awaken My Love” (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
Donald Glover channels Sly and the Family Stone and brings the funk noise forward to the post-rap era. Believe the hype, this is great.

Tiny EP Corner

It’s been a while since I did one of these.

Avalon Emerson – Narcissus in Retrograde (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
I found out about Avalon Emerson when a friend tweeted a link to this Resident Advisor article and I was not disappointed when I finally looked up and jumped into her most recent EP of house tracks. It’s nicely bleepy with an honest heart at their core. These songs are working with you–they want to make your day better and help you get things done. Give in to them.

Ducky – Don’t Give Up Yet (Soundcloud, Apple Music, Spotify)
This and the next two tiny EPs are from Secret Sounds, home to Ryan Hemsworth’s friends tracks that he likes. Ducky’s EP is careful and alive, remniscent of the glory days of lap-pop before the Postal Service blew the genre apart. There’s a club sensibility to these in a theoretical way–they’d be bangers live but I bet you’d somehow have more fun with this album in your headphones by yourself on a bus or in a library.

Happy Doghouse – Above The Stars (Soundcloud, Apple Music, Spotify)
These are still electronic pop tracks, but they’re guitar-heavy in basically the opposite way that Sleigh Bells is. The guitar is a friend, a companion used to carry the tracks, not rip them open and set them on fire. This feels personal, like I’ve eavesdropped on an album recorded between friends.

Celadon City – Summeryoung (Soundcloud, Apple Music, Spotify)
I’ve written before of my love for video game soundtracks as well as the work of popular commercial and podcast soundtrack band Lullatone. This hits right in that sweet spot. It feels adorably plucked from the garden and like the product of a console’s particular chipset at the same time. If a handheld video game system made an album in an xylophone tree, it might sound just like this.

Ryan’s Music Picks 23 November 2016

It’s been a bit. I’m sure you’re getting lots of emails about black friday deals, but I though you might want some good driving music. I took (am taking?) a break from Twitter and did some stuff with my family. This week we drove up to the Sierras for a family camp, and then took a detour through Yosemite on the way home. Here’s some of what we listened to:

The Blind Boys of Alabama – Atom Bomb (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
I love gospel music, and this Blind Boys album combines their classic gospel harmony sound with some pretty fun covers, including a Fatboy Slim cover featuring Gift of Gab. It’s a great way to start a car trip.

Justice – Woman (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
Justice is one of my favorite French electronic music duos (along with Daft Punk and Air), and I think they’ve gotten better with each album. Though they have mostly abandoned the dirty, noisy version of French Touch house music that made them huge, their focus on combining 70s rock and disco continues to pay off. A perfect steering wheel tapper for LA traffic.

Monster Rally – Mystery Cove (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
I love Monster Rally. It’s the ideal combination of kitsch, beats and vintage soundscapes from the 50s and 60s exotica records. I could listen to it all day, and it’s mellow enough that my kids can fall asleep to it while I drive through the dairies between Bakersfield and Fresno.

Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
Fleet Foxes’ music is perfect for the California mountains. I know all of the words to their debut and to this album, so it’s a no brainer for driving music while I’m going up and down twisty mountain roads. Rumor has it that they have a new album, and I hope it continues the combination of gruff pastorality with song structure experimentation.

Circle of Birds – Circle of Birds EP (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
A gorgeous tiny instrumental EP from some people in Ester Drang and Unwed Sailor, from 14 years ago. Have you even driven into Yosemite valley from the 41? You go through a long tunnel through a mountain and then pop out with a incredible, majestic view of Bridal Veil Falls, El Capitan, and Half Dome. It’s breathtaking. This three-song EP is some good music for experiencing that.

Calexico – Feast of Wire (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
We drove home through the breadbasket of California and Calexico captures the feeling of those rolling hills and wide expanses populated by orchards, cows and tractors.

Ryan’s Music Picks: 7 November 2016

It’s election week this week, and I am stressed. I’m not going to bring politics into this email list, but if you’re curious, you can take a look at my twitter. So, with stress comes plenty of beautiful, mostly instrumental music for me. Check it out:

Delicate Steve – Positive Force (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
This album is therapy. This is the album I reach for when I need comfort, when I am stressed. Delicate Steve’s lyrical guitar playing taps into some sort of emotional lock down in my lizard brain, and it allows me to just stop freaking out better than any other musical force I’ve found. Seriously, it’s one of the most aptly named albums on earth.

Casino Versus Japan – Frozen Geometry (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
This guy has been making quiet, extremely relaxed albums for 15+ years now, but it’s been a while since the last one. So he’s given us 80 tracks of hazy perfection, with some synthesizers in places, some guitars in others, but pure space heart distributed throughout. This is a “wrap you up in a blanket with sound” kind of album, which is exactly what you need sometimes.

Pogo – Wonderland (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
This little EP has been around for a while. It’s four little dubstep tracks built entirely of samples from Disney’s animated Alice in Wonderland (1951). It’s tiny and charming and surprisingly transportative for only 4 tracks constructed from a children’s film. It’s pay-what-you-want on bandcamp!

Douglas Holmquist – PinOut OST (Bandcamp, Apple Music, Spotify)
I recently discovered PinOut through a friend on twitter. It’s a supremely-addicting combination of pinball and an endless runner-type game, with great Tron aesthetics. The most important element of that Tron feel is the synth-tastic soundtrack from Douglas Holmquist. He absolutely gives Daft Punk a run for their atmospheric money in this gem of a soundtrack.

Geotic – Mend (ONLY ON BANDCAMP)
Geotic is an ambient side project from the guy behind the band Baths, mostly consisting of guitar loops and reverb. It is the most relaxing, put-your-kids-to-bed music the world has ever produced, and I have successfully used it on the iPod in my kids’ room for the last 6 years. It’s pay-what-you-want on bandcamp, and your life should not be complete without listening to this album.

Mesarthim – .- -… … . -. -.-. . (ONLY ON BANDCAMP)
Another total gem from these atmospheric ambient metal dudes. It’s equal parts brutal and beautiful, partially depending how loud it is, and partially based on how well you deal with screaming. I deal well with screaming. Only $1 on bandcamp!

Ryan’s Music Picks: 👻 Halloween 2🎃16 Edition

I made a mixtape! I didn’t expect it to happen after I realized that Traktor for iPad and Apple Music tracks didn’t play well together. But I figured it out. So here it is:

Moon Cities – Silent Sandy Circuitry (PodcastSoundcloudMixcloud)
This is kind of a fall mixtape and kind of a Halloween thing, so beware that it’s not 100% ghost and ghouls. There’s a lot of noise, but it starts with violins. I had fun making it and I think you’ll like it. It’s part of the LAMPSHADE (iTunesRSS) music mix podcast that a friend and I run, which, now that I think about, is about 50% Fall/Halloween mixes anyway.

Other halloween music? My go-to is:

The Chiller (BandcampApple MusicSpotify)
The Chiller Part 2: House on Haunted Chill (BandcampApple MusicSpotify)
The Chiller III (BandcampApple MusicSpotify)
The Chiller IV: Night of the Living Chill (BandcampApple MusicSpotify)
This ongoing series of spooky compilations lives somewhere in the lo-fi punk/chillwave continuum of cool internet music. These are all a lot of fun and pretty laid back (hence the name) with instrumentals, skits, honest-to-Skellington songs and pretty Halloweeny vibes without getting gothy. Buried in these four compilations are some songs that will be your mainstay Oct 31 tracks for years to come.

Dope Halloween Fuck (Bandcamp only)
Another, pretty similar compilation that’s a but noisier, a bit lower fidelity, and a bit gothier than The Chiller comps. I once said that this: “…skews nicely lush and lo-fi, like a fourth-hand thrift store version of Pet Sounds outtakes. It’s organic and maybe a little undead like some kind of collective effort of partially-decomposed forest animals.”

Happy Halloween!

Ryan’s Music Picks: 24 October 2016

Halloween’s approaching. I think I’m working on a mix. In fact, don’t be surprised if a lot of stuff you’ve heard here pops into that mix, if I’m able to pull it together in time. Other than that, I’m reveling in the earlier sunsets and the little bits of rain we’re having in So Cal.

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Moon Cities – Golden Ghost Forest (stream/download or subscribe on iTunes)
(Moon Cities is me.) This is a mix I made about 3 years ago for fall-oween times. I think it gets closer to my feelings about the autumn season better than any words can.

John Carpenter – Big Trouble in Little China OST (BandcampApple MusicSpotify)
I’m putting this here mostly just because I want to talk about this movie. I first watched it a couple of years ago for my podcast and I was blown away by just how excellent and totally weird it was. I was kinda put off by it at first, but with each subsequent viewing of the movie, I fall more and more in love. It’s got a perfect synths-n-guitars 80s soundtrack, something John Carpenter (who also directed the movie) excels at. Also the theme (aka Pork Chop Express) is just perfect.

Infinity Shred – Long Distance (BandcampApple MusicSpotify)
Speaking of synths-n-guitars, Infinity Shred take that classic formula and tweak it a bit by adding a Commodore 64 and focusing heavily on the atmospheric post-rock (think Explosions in the Sky, but on a space station). They’re also bros with Anamanaguchi, which explains how bits of pure/glitch pop find their way into these devastating, spacey epics. (It looks like this is pay-what-you-want on bandcamp right now! I don’t know how long that will last!)

NxWorries – Yes Lawd! (BandcampApple MusicSpotify)
Leave it to two very right now music makers (singer Anderson .Paak and beatmaker/rapper Knxwledge) to put together an album that follows up the perfect glitchy improvised R&B of Jamie Lidell’s first album better than he or anyone else has ever been able to. The beats here hit hard but migrate and stutter just enough to feel alive and a little unpredictable, and each track contain more vocal hooks and innovation than 5 or 6 Drake tracks. This is totally not appropriate for kids, and that bums me out because these grooves are unstoppable otherwise.

The Growlers – City Club (BandcampApple MusicSpotify)
They call their genre “beach goth” and, sure. I mean, that works, I guess. It’s buzzy and jangly and kinda hubby rock and roll that’s catchy as all hell. It’s dark but not, like, menacing. It’s kinda gothy, I guess, but in a laid back, ‘we made tiki drinks with black rum’ kind of way. This is basically the musical equivalent of Gravity Falls.

Equip – I Dreamed of a Palace in the Sky (BandcampApple MusicSpotify)
It’s weird how there’s an entire genre of music in 2016 that can be described as “soundtrack to imaginary JRPG that sounds like you downloaded over Limewire”. Maybe the weird part is that I have an entire collection of albums that hit that sweet spot but each of them do it differently and all of them are perfect. Anyway you could get lost in this album and end up on some kind of airship with a mage and a paladin or something, so be careful.

Earthly – Days (BandcampApple MusicSpotify)
Speaking (as I was) about albums that are spiritual sequels of other, completely unrelated albums (see the NxWorries album above), plunderphonics albums like this one didn’t exist before The Avalanches showed up in 2001 with Since I Left You. This one really takes things a step beyond The Avalanches or even Animal Collective have done with its sampledelica: the songs are constructed using the in between sounds of samples. Like, we’re not hearing the actual samples, but the bits you trim off each side of the sample to tighten it up. Earthly have taken audio trimmings, the chaff of samples, and constructed incredible tunes out of it. I’m mesmerized.

The Radio Dept. – Running Out of Love (BandcampApple MusicSpotify)
These guys have been making perfectly constructed political synth pop for ages. It’s upbeat but mostly very seriously built, with just the right tones and pads and beats. It’s got precisely what each song needs, like The Radio Dept. have songwriting down to a beautiful science.

Julia Kent – Asperities (BandcampApple MusicSpotify)
Speaking of beautiful science, composer and cellist Julia Kent’s music is a perfect mixture of looped cello, and other both organic and electronic sounds, combined to be gorgeous and affecting and a little bit dangerous. If you think modern classical music is either all weird noises or movie soundtracks, you owe it to your finer sensibilities to check this out.

The Pipettes – We Are The Pipettes (BandcampApple MusicSpotify)
How on earth is this album 10 years old?! I felt old as hell when I realized that. The Pipettes were an only-kind-of-ironic revival of classic 50s close-harmony girl group pop with some real earworm songs that even now, ten years later, I can’t get them out of my head. This might make you break out in song or dance, or both. Be careful.

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TINY EP CORNER
Tiny EPs are little three to six song albums that don’t usually last more than 10-20 minutes but are just so immaculate that I can’t stop listening to them. I’ve written about some before (Leno Lovecraft, Qrion) but now I’m giving them their own corner.

In Love With A Ghost – Let’s Go (BandcampApple MusicSpotify)
Four songs that combine beats and piano with vocal sounds and ASMR sounds like rain and pages turning. It’s just so cozy and pretty–this is literally perfect headphone music. (pay-what-you-want on bandcamp!)

Vapor Lanes – Hieratic Teen (Bandcamp only)
Sweeping noise that lives and burrows deep inside you. But it’s not menacing as it takes over your body, the noise just knows that your heart is its only true home. Once inside, you feel it slowly replacing your neurons but you can’t fight it. The noise is part of you now, and you corrupt it just as it purifies you, never equalling out but finding a weird type of balance, leading to a whole new type of being.

Moon Racer – Moon Racer (Bandcamp only)
One way to hear this is as some direct-to-tape keyboard demos, but please please don’t listen to it that way. This is the heart of a child, fed through the noise-being who lives in your heart, dreaming of rainbows and glitter and Aladdin and Gremlins on VHS.

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PS: I should hopefully be giving you another of these Sunday night (30 October), chock full of Halloween music and maybe even with a new mixtape from yours truly.