Archive for July, 2007

Not So Little Voice

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

Shortly after the iTunes program was released (1998?), I started the long process of transferring my music to my computer. I lived in an apartment at the time, and my computer and stereo were situated right next to each other in the smallish front room; the potential for my computer to act as jukebox was too good to pass up, and I quickly had the two connected so that my trusty Mac was pumping tunes straight through my amplifier. When the stereo’s CD player stopped working some time later, I barely noticed — as by that time I was already pretty exclusively playing music from the computer.

This of course significantly changed my music listening habits. I saw the “shuffle” effect, as rather than listening to a few favored CDs over and over again, I was hearing a lot of forgotten favorites — especially a lot of songs that were the one or two good songs on an otherwise lesser album.

The flipside of this is that I very quickly stopped listening to whole albums all that much. In my CD listening days I would get a new album, and if it was a good one, I would listen to that album over and over again several times, getting to know the music and the lyrics — learning the subtle licks, backgrounds, and vocalizations that distinguish a great album from a good one. Post-iTunes, I buy a new album and it gets a listen or two, then goes into the mix.

Until now.

I haven’t written a lot of reviews on this website — just a few book reviews in the early days. A couple weeks ago I purchased an album from iTunes that has already become my favorite. A few weeks ago Apple released a single from the album as the free Song of the Week, as a preview of an upcoming album. Unlike many of the (generally pretty good) free songs from Apple, I found myself listening to this one over and over again. When I saw that the album was out, I picked it up.

The album in question, Sara Bareilles’ Little Voice, has quickly become my favorite new album in at least ten years. It would be easier, actually, to tell you which are the least of the songs on this outstanding mix — featuring a range of song styles from funky pianos to slow plaintive ballads, with powerful, fluid vocals, catchy tunes, and intelligent lyrics. The arrangements are simple enough to be catchy, but complex enough to have levels worth listening for; and her voice is a smoky amalgam of power and sweetness somewhere between Sheryl Crow and Sarah McLachlan. (Her voice itself leans toward the latter, while her style frequently evokes the former.) [Update: Corrected the previous sentence. I had the two switched!]

The first thing that catches you is the bouncy piano rhythm throughout the first track, Love Song. The arrangements are extremely listenable — and that’s before the singer’s voice kicks in and grabs you. It wasn’t long before I really started listening to the lyrics — and discovering a poetic strength that evokes the originality (if not the quirkiness) of early Crash Test Dummies albums.

It’s also worth mentioning the background vocals — which are arranged with the same skill as the instrumentation. They slip in from time to time and buoy the main vocal without overwhelming, appearing only when necessary and falling away as soon as they’re not — leaving us able to enjoy Bareilles’ clean tones and soulful articulation.

There are no songs on this album that I do not like — something I’m not sure I can claim about any other album. Love on the Rocks is probably the most formulaic — with a pattern of refrain and verse that primarily acts as a vehicle for repeating the titular catchphrase over and over again, but even that is a very listenable song. Fairy Tale builds off a clever conceit of using fairy tale characters and lamenting their problems with men — with verses for Sleeping Beauty, Snow White, Rapunzel, and others. City is a beautiful reflection on longing — echoing, in a totally different style, the earlier Vegas. The aforementioned Love Song — the free single that first drew my attention — is cleverly written and catchy. Morningside is a energetic funk jam — showing some of the most prominent backgrounds on the album. Winding it all up is the slow, mournful “Gravity” — the most beautiful song on the album, and perhaps my favorite.

Little Voice” is a strong mix of moods and modes, with something for just about every mood. I can’t think of any album in years that I would recommend more highly than this — it’s an outstanding work.

Update: I saw the calendar on her website. She played a local gig just this Saturday and I missed it! AARRRGGGGGHHHHH!!!!!

iDon’t Believe You

Monday, July 30th, 2007

From The Wall Street Journal this morning:

The British Broadcasting Corp. made most of its shows available to download over the Internet, free of charge, in what may be the boldest online broadcasting push by a large television network.

Called the iPlayer, the BBCs service lets anyone in Britain download TV shows….

The BBC says the name isn’t playing off the Apple Inc. products with similar nomenclature and “i” stands for interactive.

[emphasis mine – ed.]

I find this kind of statement both irritating and hysterical. The short response is “Who do you think you’re kidding?” The longer response goes something like this:

Dear BBC: Are you actually claiming that, without Apple’s insertion into the common popular lexicon of such now-ubiquitous brand names as “iTunes” and “iPod”, you would have entirely independently come up with the exact same distinctive and never-before-seen quirk of starting your program’s name with a lower-case “i” followed by an uppercase letter? The funny thing is, I don’t have a problem with companies following a popular trend in marketing in an attempt to make their latest efforts seem hip to young audiences; but I do find it pathetic when somebody does so, and then claims that it’s their own original idea and has absolutely nothing to do with the trend.

News Flash: It’s transparent and sad. It’s as though you’ve looked your audience in the eye and said, “Apple? Never heard of ’em.” The claim is so obtuse and blatantly false that it is an insult to the intelligence of your audience. Fortunately most of your audience is clever enough to know that the real insult is on you.

Ironically, from the same WSJ article….

Some critics have complained the iPlayer doesn’t work with Apple’s Mac computers.

Wow! You really are trying to convince us you’ve never heard of them.

He keeps her on a shelf right next to his SAG Award

Tuesday, July 10th, 2007

Fred Thompson with his wifeOh No! Fred Thompson’s wife is younger than he is! How unseemly!

Jiminy Christmas. If that’s the best the Democrats can come up with, Ol’ Fred’s going to be our next president.

Hat Tip: GOP Hub

Bad Ad

Sunday, July 8th, 2007

I was at a friend’s house last night, and while bouncing around IMDB, The following banner ad popped up on one of the pages:

An Internet banner ad for a hotel chain.  A woman on a bed looking up.  A man's feet dangling in frame from above

All I can really say about this ad is that the advertiser clearly meant to send one image, but his intent went horribly, horribly wrong. I mean… am I the only person seeing an image of a woman looking on bemusedly as her husband has just hanged himself?

“Oh that Bob… always doing outrageous stuff.”

Or even more cynical:

“Well at least he could do something right.”

Wait… What’s that? You think I’m imagining things? Okay, fine. Look at it again with one small change:

Same ad as before, but the feet are gently swinging side to side

Told ya so.

Cool Tech

Sunday, July 8th, 2007

This was originally published in January. Since it’s topical again….

'The Duplex' comic strip about iPhones

I’m somewhat amused by the now-primitive design he assumed a cell phone would have. (Or he may have just been screwing with the geeks who notice such things….)

Update: added a link

Pow! Eek! Splap.

Thursday, July 5th, 2007

Went to see the fireworks Tuesday evening with my wife. We walked several blocks to the park in town, and when we got to the right area, the spare bits of lawn and sittable ground were pretty well filled up already. After a few minutes we found a convenient tree to sit under, which was handy because we didn’t have chairs and it gave us something to sit up against.

The fireworks started out with a big spray of gold shooting up from the ground. Herself thought it was a misfire, but judging from later parts of the show, I think that’s a new type of firework — basically the Bellaggio fountain done in light….

Then the rockets started going. Some of these were arching so far up that they were basically going off right over our heads. It was only a few moments in when the first of the “boomers” went off — you know, the ones that make such a loud bang that you can practically feel the shockwave hit you? One. Another. Again.

Something hit my shoulder.

I saw the… whatever it was out of the corner of my eye an instant before it struck my shoulder and bounced away. What they heck? Are bits of spent firework raining down on me? There was a small dark mark on my brand new shirt — I reached up to see if it was hot, or if it was recognizably soot or something.

My hand came back wet. What the hell?

The sky had been threatening rain for an hour or so, so wetness didn’t seem too bizarre, except in the conjunction with something falling on me. I looked a little closer. There was a small (maybe a centimeter in diameter) brown spot on the shoulder of my shirt. I still haven’t positively identified it (I’ll have to send it to my buddies in the CSI lab…) but I have a working theory:

…I think the “boomers”, literally, scared the shit out of some squirrel.

Brand new shirt, too. Damnit.