Blake Snow

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Tagged music

Blast from the past: Remember when “mixtapes” were cool?

Courtesy Disney

Music is easy now. Except when I’m forced to download songs ahead of time before venturing Off The Grid, I can instantly play any track, genre, album or compilation of recorded music with a spoken command.

“Alexa, play the new Taylor Swift!” I bark. (Spoiler, it’s better than her last single.) “Alexa, play ‘All Night’ by Big Boi.” (It’s bumping.) “Alexa, play ‘Feel it Still’ by Portugal The Man.” (It’s choice.) “Alexa, play Waiting On A SongGone Now… or The Click”—all front-runners for album of the year.

Whatever I ask—even amorphous requests for “dinner music” or “relaxing classical”—this inanimate robot gets things right 90% of the time. And when I don’t feel like talking, I can play what I want with a few taps of my finger on the portable jukebox I carry in my pocket. We’ve come a long way.

But while I’m grateful for the limitless amount of audible convenience we now enjoy, I often wonder about the price we paid to get here.  Continue reading…

“I’m in love with this band”—My top 10 Timber Timbre songs

When it comes to listening to music, I’m a skip-mastering control freak. I’m willing to let some records play, especially the greats. But if a band starts to bore me, I skip and/or eventually abandon their carefully curated playlist (aka “album”) with haste.

Recently, however, I discovered a band that I have never skipped—not once. They may be the coolest band you’ve never heard of. Only four of their six albums are commercially available, and I think they’re downright groovy, if not borderline inaccessible.

Hailing from french-speaking Quebec, the band is called Timber Timbre (pronounced “tamber”). The singer sings in english, rocks a “skullet,” and the entire acts sounds a little like Ennio Morricone, Johnny Cash, Magnet, a mellow Killers, Roy Orbison, Talking Heads, slow songs, The Doors, crooning songs, Late Night Tales, creepy songs, and Portishead. I only learned of them after visiting their home province earlier this month and am glad I did.

To spread the good word, I hope you’ll consider and enjoy their albums and soulful live performances as much as I have. These are my favorite songs:

Continue reading…

Good new music: 9 remarkable albums your ears must hear

It’s been a superb year for new music so far. Along with a strong finish of releases last year, these are the albums worth writing home about—and ones I hope you’ll consider in your search for new, inspiring songs from new or rejuvenated blood.

Gone Now by Bleachers

Behold: this is art. From front to back, singer/songwriter Jack Antonoff (aka Bleachers) channels brilliant beats, catchy choruses, and melodic instrumentation in classic stereo. If this masterpiece doesn’t finish as album of the year, I’ll be delightfully surprised.  Continue reading…

I should have been a Daft Punk

blake-snow-daft-punk

Hac Tran

While working onsite with a client last week, I met an Englishman that shared my love of music. At some point we diverged into a discussion on the merits of Daft Punk — his favorite band — and where their latest album went wrong. We both agreed that Random Access Memories was better produced than it was written; Discovery was “bloody brilliant;” and their soundtrack to Tron: Legacy was their second best work to date.

As I was about to leave, my new friend excitedly announced, “I have something to show you!” He left the room, then returned with a custom, LED-lit Thomas Bangalter mask. “May I?” said I, giddy at the prospect. “Of course,” he replied. I put it on, struck a pose, then took several snapshots for posterity’s sake before bidding him farewell.

What’s funny is this Englishman had just traveled 6,000 miles from his office in Munich for weeklong meetings with “corporate” in Los Angeles. While most people scramble for chargers and underwear the night before travel, I laughed at the thought of this kindly bloke deciding to bring his shiny keepsake along for the journey. “Ah, yes! Mustn’t forget my smashing mask.”

That’s a fan.

First published on November 6, 2013

The Struts: Sober performances and the return of stage presence

courtesy photo

courtesy photo

“Who does this guy thinks he is?”

I asked myself that upon seeing Luke Spiller perform with The Struts for the first time. He had just finished ripping through the opening four songs of their recent set in Salt Lake City. Two singles. Two of his debut album’s most anthemic tracks. No stops or pauses in between songs. All in the first 15 minutes of a performance that would eventually double the running time of their only album plus one new song.

But unlike a punk act that similarly keeps the punches rolling, Spiller was wholly uninhibited on stage. He wore glittered capes and spandex. Shimmied his shoulders like Freddie Mercury. Calculated dramatic toe steps and emphatic kicks in every direction. Choreographed his carefully rehearsed movements to the music.

While observing all of this, I couldn’t decide if Spiller wanted to imitate Michael Jackson, Robert Plant, Prince, or Mick Jagger. On top of that, the size of his mouth suggests his mother may have slept with Steven Tyler during the British leg of Aerosmith’s Pump tour.

In a later interview after the show, he brushed off a facetious question about his outrageous showmanship. “That’s just what I am,” he told me. “It’s just what I enjoy.”

For lovers of live performances that make you forget the troubles at home, Spiller’s dramatic charisma is all for your gain.  Continue reading…

Best songs I heard driving “The loneliest road in America”

My family and I recently returned from a weeklong road trip along U.S. Route 50 through Nevada. Famously dubbed “the loneliest road in America” by an unnamed AAA agent, the highway is as beautiful as it is devoid of life.

My column on the experience will publish next week. But one of the highlights was undoubtedly listening to rural country radio through much of it. And by rural I mean no more than four FM stations at any time; two of which were gospel, one talk radio, and one country.

Because our rental car’s auxiliary music jack didn’t work, these are the best songs we listened to while cruising through the beautiful Great Basin of Nevada:  Continue reading…

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Like #music? Wanna win a $200 wireless speaker? Tell me your favorite underrated artist and it’s yours.

ue boom 2 main

I’ve spoken highly about bluetooth speakers before, including the original UE Boom, Mega Boom, and Cambridge Audio. Like 21st century boomboxes, they bring music to life because they’re easy to pair with your phone and go anywhere.

This month, Ultimate Ears sent me a UE Boom 2 in the hopes I’d publicize it, which I’m doing now. Not because they asked me to. But because it maintains the full and deep sound of the original (although not as bumping as the Mega or as rich as the Cambridge) with twice the wireless range, a little more battery life, and pause and skip functions right on the speaker. That alone makes it a no-brainer consideration for budgets between $100-200.

That said, UE are giving away a limited edition Boom 2 (pictured) to blakesnow.com readers. Here are the official rules:

  1. You must reside in the U.S. (sorry international readers)
  2. You must share your favorite underrated or under-appreciated artist of all time in the below comments and convincingly explain why they deserve more airplay.

That’s it. I’ll announce and publish my favorite entry on May 15 and the speaker will ship shortly thereafter.

Thanks for playing. May the best entry win.

I’m so glad Beethoven wrote this music

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I’ve been an avid listener of classical music for twenty years. I’ve listened to greatest hits, lesser-known recommendations, countless composers, all three periods, one-hit wonders, atonal crap, catchy melodies, and everything in between.

While I wouldn’t call my exposure exhaustive, I will say it has been thorough. And while other composers achieved greatness in their own way, none of them come close to the prolific genius of Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven. It’s not even close.

This is one of those pieces that separates the cliche-but-deserving trifecta from their contemporaries. I absolutely adore it, because it sounds like two people discussing a serious issue without ever fully arguing it.

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With no electricity, my contributions cease to exist

Photo: Lindsey Snow

Photo: Lindsey Snow

I get paid to publish online stories. I love my job. But the harsh reality is my contributions cease to exist in the absence of power. Save for only a few printed artifacts, I don’t keep hardcopies of the hundreds of feature stories and thousands of blog posts I’ve written over the last decade.

I was humbled by that realization earlier this spring. The first two publications that ever paid me to write—Engadget’s gaming blog (Joystiq) and GigaOM—both shuttered within 30 days of each other. Their closures reminded me how impermanent life (and work) is. For now, my archives live on (here and here), but there’s no guarantee they’ll remain. They’ll be totally wiped out in a post-apocalyptic world like Mad Max: Fury Road (which you should run, not walk, to see right now).

Admittedly, I don’t sell life-altering work. I mostly help tech companies and media publications sell more widgets (i.e. products, services, or advertising) with believable stories that interest wide audiences. In any case, grasping your own insignificance is never easy. Big wheel keep on turning…

10 things I’m thankful for this instant

pointerTo help my brain stay wired for happiness, here are 10 random things I’m grateful for:
  1. Full head of hair. To all my bros (and any women) out there with thinning, balding, receding, or otherwise missing hair, I sympathize with you. I don’t know what it would be like without follicles. I imagine it’s drafty and uncomfortable. I’m grateful for a full coiffure.
  2. A titanium back. Six months ago, I had my lower back fused. Although my participation in high-impact activities involving running, jumping, and extreme bending have been cut short by two thirds a lifetime, I’m grateful for the $26,000 titanium rods, screws, and spacer that keep me upright and mobile now. With a new lease on life, I feel great. Continue reading…

Things dance class taught me: Gender roles, body talking, and the Cypress Hill two-step

Snow Family

Snow Family

My wife—hi, hot stuff!—bought me ballroom dance lessons for Christmas. Even though I can cut rug freestyle, I was really excited about taking formal instruction. After finishing the eight week course last week, I am pleased to report it did not disappoint.

I fully expected to learn some new moves, but I didn’t expect the class to broaden my worldview and deepen my appreciation for music. But it did. Here’s what ballroom dance lessons taught me:  Continue reading…

I was there: Great moments in rock history (or songs I wish I could play on guitar)

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I learned to play guitar sometime in the spring of 1994. I did it in a single day. Sort of.

Although I knew how to mangle the open chords for A, C, D, E, and G in the months leading up to that fateful day, the instrument didn’t click with me until my brother and his friend Dylan Denny demonstrated how to play bar chords the night before. “You mean I just keep the same finger formation and slide up and down the neck to play any chord I like, even flats!?” I enthusiastically asked. “Yup,” they replied. “That’s the beautify of power chords.”

I was so excited by this revelation — this power, if you will — that I called in sick the next day (i.e. I faked a cough and my mom let me stay home from school).

Armed with this new “life hack,” I learned to play Green Day’s entire breakthrough album by ear that day. I was so elated, I didn’t even break for lunch, let alone breakfast. I just played, played, and played, stopping the CD only to find the right chord. I even learned a few of the album’s basic “fills,” or poor man’s solos, as I call them.

Upon returning from school, my brother and friend were impressed with my progress. It’s not every day a rhythm guitarist is born. From that day forward, I wanted to “play rhythm” forever.

That all changed on a Wednesday night 13 years later.  Continue reading…

Generationals: The best $8 album I’ve purchased this year

courtesy photo

courtesy photo

With exception to the food, my brother, brother-in-law, and consummate friend can’t stand New Orleans. I suspect it has nothing to do with the Big Easy or its people and everything to do with an insolvent business they endured there together.

Whatever the case, I hope the new album by New Orleans duo Generationals might somehow change their mind. It’s as distinct, influential, and catchy as the city they hail from. Certainly not as old and in no way related to jazz, the genre invented there. But the synth-driven, upbeat music will make you want to dance and put a smile on your face, which is good enough for me.

After five listens, I don’t think it’s as moving as their last album, but it’s one of the freshest works I’ve listened to all year, especially “Black Lemon,” “Gold Silver Diamond,” “Now Look at Me,” “Welcome to the Fire,” and “Would you Want Me.” If you’re in the mood for something new, I highly recommend at least a stream.

Four stars out of five.

PS – This is the best $10 album I’ve bought all year

Highly recommended: This wireless speaker has enriched my life

cambridge audio minx air 200

Exposing my kids to great music is a goal of mine. To accomplish this, I incessantly listen to back catalogs, one-hit wonders, greatest hits, new music, and low profile artists in search of the most timeless, dance-able, moving, and energetic songs. Then I test what I find among my household audience.

So far I’ve done an admirable job, with exception to sharing said music on a proper hi-fi. That all changed this year after acquiring the wireless Cambridge Air 200. It looks like an all-in-one Bose system, but sounds significantly richer, cleaner, and fuller without muddy sounds or the inflated Bose price.  Continue reading…

Should have known: Visually straight not the same as mathematically straight

Photo: Blake Snow

Photo: Blake Snow

For anyone with an intermediate understanding of graphic design, you’ll know that some shapes look better when visually centered as opposed to mathematically centered. I thought that truth would hold up over the weekend while hanging square records on my office wall. It didn’t.

As eagle-eyed readers will notice, the right side of the montage is a fourth of an inch lower than the left. I had my pencil, level, helpmeet (Hi, Lindsey!) and string handy, thinking I could crack this nut in minutes. An hour later, and while cursing my inability to recall basic geometric calculations, I thought to myself, “If I can keep it visually aligned, I’m sure it’ll look okay.”

By the time I finished, it was mathematically obvious: My estimation was wrong. Having already invested upwards of two hours on the job, and with the kids asking for the umpteenth time if we were “leaving for the pool yet?”, I hastily skewed some right side records to minimize the visual damage. In doing so, I messed up the two inch margins in between prints.

Although I once excelled at math in school, it’s a good thing I never became an engineer.

See also: Maybe mathematical art is a message from God

These 5 albums have monopolized my airwaves recently

RCA Records

RCA Records

Ordered by most spins so far this year. All worth a listen if you like rock music.

  1. Stay Young by Young Rival. Says my friend David, “Young Rival will fill the gap left behind by Band Of Skulls. Good find!”
  2. Voices by Phantogram. The ’90s called. They want their trip-hop back—their really, really good trip-hop minus the grittiness. Referred by my sister, Sara
  3. After the Disco by Broken Bells. Nice record to clean the house to. Or remember the Bee Gees by. Referred by my brother-in-law, Steven
  4. Heza by Generationals. Cool sound. Not a lot of catchiness, but groovy just the same. Referred by my colleague, Gavin
  5. Melophobia by Cage the Elephant. Ignoble winner of the loudness wars (i.e. poor mastering), but some rocking tracks on this.

NOTABLE MENTION: Morning Phase by Beck—Pleasant, but not as good as Sea Change

Smashing Pumpkins: “Like something from the 1900s,” my daughter says

Virgin Records

Virgin Records

Although they were one of my top three bands in high school, Smashing Pumpkins haven’t rattled my earbones much since. Maybe twice in the last decade.

To remedy that, I turned on Siamese Dream last week for myself and my posterity. My six-year old aspiring-drummer headbanged to it. My eight year old — who prefers electronic music — raised an eyebrow at it.

“Sounds like something from the 1900s,” she said unamused. I laughed and informed her that it was, more specifically, from the early 1990s, which reportedly took place two decades ago.

Well, when you put it that way…

Fun fact: Siamese Dream’s overly thick or “fat” sound is largely the result of up to 100 recorded guitar parts per song.

This performance gives me chills and makes me smile every time I watch it

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I get it. These guys are overplayed. The Old Navy of Rock ‘N Roll. Maybe even a bit pompous.

But if the above video doesn’t alter your opinion of said musicians, you’re a snob.

DISCLOSURE: U2 doesn’t make my top 10 or even top 20 band list. But I still believe they’re deserving of much of their success. This is my favorite song of theirs. And Achtung Baby is a ’90s masterpiece.

Here they are: My favorite albums of the year

Starcadian

Starcadian

Looking back, I won’t remember 2013 as a particularly strong year for music. But I did enjoy a handful of new and retro albums and have fond memories of listening to all of the below, ordered by most played to least played.  Continue reading…

Neighborhood violinist is music to my ears

Interpretation of dreams

Interpretation of dreams

Few things make my ears hurt more than listening to an untrained violinist. It’s insufferable. On the contrary, hearing a skilled violinist is a delight, perhaps second only to an expert piano player.

I listened to an accomplished violinist by accident recently. I was working. My window was open. It was raining. And then it started: a faint viola. A good one. It played for a solid hour without hitting a single stray note. It was the best live performance I’ve heard in a while.

I wonder if the player even knew their was an audience. I hope they practice again soon.

Readers: What’s your favorite unaccompanied solo instrument?

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Click: A few of my favorite links this month

link

In an effort to reduce the spam I email to friends and family, take this:

Top 25: My favorite songs

music_note2I was asked to compile a list of my top 25 songs for a recent family reunion. Here it is for all to see.

As for my methodology, I didn’t submit a single political or consensus vote (i.e. notice no Beatles songs or critically acclaimed “Smells like Teen Spirit”). I only picked songs that are personal favorites; great songs that have special meaning to me, even if some of them are admittedly inferior to others not included on this list. And since my remembering self is biased, the list skews to recent favorites.

Enjoy.  Continue reading…

Remember when I played in a band with the brother of Imagine Dragons?

Screen shot 2013-07-22 at 2.55.17 PMLast month, iTunes shuffled a humble group of songs to my playlist and with them a wave of nostalgia.

The tracks themselves aren’t much, just old, amateur recordings from a short-lived college band I played in. Before iTunes recalled them, I hadn’t heard them in almost a decade.

But they ain’t bad, either. I played drums. My good friend Robert played bass. And the older brother and manager (Hi, Mac!) from the singer of Imagine Dragons played guitar. That totally sounded like the 31 Flavors girl from Ferris Bueller or Chunk from Goonies, but whatever.  Continue reading…

With exception to rap, new music is abnormally good this year

2013 might be to the ’10s what 1991 was to the ’90s — a monstrous year for name brand music.

Phoenix already released their 4-star keeper. Vampire Weekend releases their third album next week to rave reviews (and another really great song). An all analog Daft Punk album follows a week later, which is also garnering favorable reviews and has a catchy summer single.

Then, Empire of the Sun, makers of one of my favorite albums of 2008, releases their second album in June. The first single is good stuff (and shot, by the way, in Bryce Canyon, Utah). And if the first five months are any indication, even more good vibes could crop up in the second half of the year.

As someone who likes to sing, dance, and play air guitar, I’m excited by the prospects. Calendar years are more memorable with good music.

Second class musicians: Why some bands hide touring members

touring-band-member

A friend and I have been discussing touring band members and studio musicians today. After I complimented Phoenix’s rockin’ touring drummer, my buddy emailed this:

“I always have mixed feelings about the use of utility musicians in live performances. While I appreciate Phoenix having them all clearly visible on stage, it drives me a little spare to see The Killers or Muse bury their spare fellas off behind some speakers. And then you have Green Day, who have had a second guitarist helping them out for over ten years, but he still isn’t a member of the band.”

Here was my reply: Continue reading…

Top 5 songs from Phoenix’s upcoming album, Bankrupt!

phoenix-bankrupt

I heard an advance preview of Phoenix’s upcoming album, Bankrupt. It does not disappoint. Overall, it rivals the must-own quality of their last three albums, and runs circles around their forgettable debut album.

While Bankrupt doesn’t charter new territory, it’s undeniably fun. It will make you want to dance and sing. It’s like eating a perfectly ripe peach in August after waiting a really long time to indulge in the familiar sweetness.

For all the people with good taste who plan on adding this album to their library, here are five essential tracks I suspect you’ll be humming most: Continue reading…

Blast from the past: This ’90s album aged well; one of the decade’s best

rentals

When Return of the Rentals released, I was sixteen. I instantly fell in love.

Not only was it a five star album then, it’s a five star one today. To put my money where my mouth is, I think it’s aged as well as Weezer’s seminal Blue Album, something not a lot of ’90s albums can say. (Anyone tried to listen to Nevermind lately? Yikes!)

The reason The Rentals debut still speaks to me is because I like playfulness, groovy synths, classical music, catchy melodies, and ’70s hard rock. That and it makes me want to dance. It makes me want to play air guitar, head bang, and sing aloud. It makes me want to start a band again, even though I never will. It’s like looking at an old photo of yourself and liking what you see. That’s a beautiful thing.

And just like it did when I was 16, the song “Move On” quells any desire I have to run away from my problems. Just singing the words is relief enough to face them. That’s why I love this album.

If you’ve never listened to it, or if you haven’t in years, I highly recommend a spin. You friends with P.?

The perks of hiring a piano teacher

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As part of her piano lessons, my 7 year-old studies one piece of classical music each week, hand-picked by her teacher.

Consequently, our entire family has been exposed to wonderful music, stuff well beyond the popular Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven pieces. It’s like we’re getting a personal classical music DJ or curator, in addition to professional lessons. Score!

I plan to make a compilation of our favorite new discoveries. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with this playful, beautiful, and surprising dandy by Haydn, which was the study assignment for this week.

Enjoy.

One of rock ‘n’ roll’s greatest verses

brian-johnson

And it came to pass, that rock ‘n’ roll was born. All across the land, every rockin’ band was blowing up a storm.

The guitar man got famous. The businessman got rich. And in every bar there was a super star with a seven year itch.

There were fifteen million fingers, learning how to play. And you could hear the fingers picking, and this is what they had to say: Let there be light. Sound. Drums. Guitar.

OOOOOOHHHHHHH, LET THERE BE ROCK!!!—Brian Johnson

I listen to this song often while working on my body. It never fails to get me going.

Deluxe edition? No thanks, musicians. I’ll stick with the “best of” album.

deluxe edition albumMusic consumers in recent years have no doubt noticed the growing trend of “deluxe edition” albums. They often feature 1.5-2 times the number of tracks, cost more, and feature an alternate album cover.

Here’s what they really are, though: A smart business and marketing proposition. A way to profit off throw away b-side songs, selling them to the most rabid of fans.

Thing is, I don’t even by the deluxe edition of my favorite bands. In my eyes, if a track isn’t good enough to make the original 10-12 song album, it’s not worth my time, no matter who wrote it. In fact, of the few deluxe albums I own, I can’t think of a single memorable, must-have, 4-5 star track.

So keep the deluxe edition, bands. I’m good.

Why I love web comments

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Reason #428: The YouTube comment thread for Maurice Ravel’s masterful single-movement crescendo, Boléro. Some of my favorites:

  • doesn’t anyone ever feel bad for the drummer?
  • if i could squeeze my whole childhood into one thing it? would be this song
  • If I had a dollar for every poorly written Ravel piece, I’d have zero? dollars.
  • I love the? part from 0:00 to 14:52
  • Little known fact is that this was originaly going to be the legend of zelda theme. Look? it up.
  • I’m more into house music,hip-hop and reagge but this music is? a master piece.
  • thumbs up? if your awesome taste of music brought you here.
  • The trombone part at 8:00 gives me goosebumps every time i hear it, without fail. amazing how jazz was such an influence in orchestral? 20th century music. love it!
  • As someone who has played this snare part, I can confirm that it is indeed excruciating.?

Although I really like this piece, the only thing I don’t like is the tempo change right at the ending climax. With the flat (or is it sharp?) notes, it comes off sounding a bit sloppy. If I were a conductor, I’d remix it to keep the tempo, kill the flat notes, and finish strong on the last note like it already does. Either way, the YouTube commenters are witty if not insightful.

Proof that lack of focus kills a company (or how to save Sony)

sony-tv

The New York times ran an insightful piece this weekend on the decline of Sony, which is valued at just a quarter of where it was a decade ago, and just one thirtieth the size of Apple:

“Sony makes too many models, and for none of them can they say, ‘This contains our best, most cutting-edge technology,’ ” Mr. Sakito said. “Apple, on the other hand, makes one amazing phone in just two colors and says, ‘This is the best.’ ”

In addition to department infighting, that really sums up Sony’s troubles: too much product, none of them hits. Continue reading…

My favorite song (and album) of the year so far

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The song: “All Alright” by Fun. I could sing this refrain all day long. And often do.

The album: Some Nights by Fun. The whole album makes me want to sing out loud, and that’s a pretty solid metric for a memorable album.

Admittedly, the lyrics are cringe inducing at times. The first song is absolutely trash — I deleted it. But eight of the other 10 tracks are a blast to sing to. And at 2 minutes in, “Stars” features the most groovy breakdown I’ve heard in years.

Individual song ratings after the break. Continue reading…

“Except once my pants are on, I make dubstep mixes”

turntableI’m just like the rest of you. I put my pants on one leg at a time. Only once my pants are on, I make amateur dubstep mixes.

I first heard dubstep a couple of years ago and largely wrote it off. A handful of kids in my community and some online colleagues swear by the stuff though. So instead of holding onto the opinion that it’s mostly noise, I decided to keep with the times and find out for myself.

After listening to hundreds of tracks, I hand pick 20 of my favorites and mixed them with my new decks. Then I recorded and edited the mix at 140 bpm in Ableton 8.

The result: I really like dubstep now and hope my mix can serve as a teaser to fans and non-fans alike. The genre works especially well as audio wallpaper and workout music, me thinks.

Enjoy. Listen here (right click to save) Track list here

Too close to call: Mat Kearney, M83 and Kooks in three way tie for album of year

album

What’s the best album of 2011? After tallying the votes, the venerable Smooth Harold announced today that the debate was “too close to call” and hereby awarded the honor to both Junk of the Heart by The Kooks and Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming by M83.

“I couldn’t name just one,” Harold said via satellite transmission, while vacationing on an uncharted island with the Most Interesting Man in the World. “Junk of the Heart packs a tighter, more accessible punch, but the two disc Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is more rocking; more anthemic.

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Either way, you won’t hit the skip button on either of these records — a very difficult feat for any musician to accomplish. That alone is a testament to each album’s worthiness.”

Another album Harold liked from start to finish was the excellent Young Love by Mat Kearney. “Dude’s the new Coldplay,” Harold said, “when they were still releasing really good albums 10 years ago before burning out. Rant aside: Young Love is as beautiful and fun to listen as Junk of the Heart is poppy and Hurry Up is ’80s rocky.”

When asked what other albums he discovered and enjoyed this year, including records from previous years, Harold named Hymns for the Rebel Soul, Tourist History, Jimmy Cliff Ultimate Collection, Bag Raiders, AC/DC Greatest Hits, Holy Ghost!, This is Country Music, 50 Greatest Pieces of Classical Music, When Animals Stare, A-1-A, and 100 Christmas Classics as memorable favorites.

Readers: What was your album of the year?

My new favorite album pays tribute to catchy ’80s bands without copying them

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The two-sided Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming by M83. 22 tracks. Catchy hooks. Soaring synthesizers. Big drums.

So far, Intro, Midnight City, Reunion, Claudia Lewis, This Bright Flash, OK Pal, and Steve Mc Queen are my favorite cuts.

Hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

My shallow review of Steve Jobs’ official biography

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Assuming his biography well represents him, Steve Jobs was a jerk for much of his life. A work-a-holic with eating disorders, incredibly bratty, ruthless.

I’m sure a lot of devout followers will excuse his actions with “no one is perfect.” I prefer that justification, however, for people who are at least trying to improve their social skills with age, instead of sticking to their anti-social guns as Jobs did for much of his life.

Continue reading…

Junk of the Heart: My new favorite album

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I’ve listend to this album more than a dozen times after discovering it last week. Probably twice a day on average. Whole thing is good, from song 1-12. I’m not familiar with previous Kooks albums, but this is a gem—for certain to finish as a top 5 albums of the year.

Rockstar endorsements make my religion slightly less peculiar

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I’d be a Mormon even if one of the most poetic, influential, and “let’s bring keyboards and saxophones back” rockstars of the last decade wasn’t.

Plus, if I wanted to align myself closer with celebrity thinking, there are a lot more popular, less demanding belief systems in existence to boost my status.

Still, it doesn’t hurt to have Brandon Flowers of The Killers publicly casting his lot with mine. If anything, he rocks a religious promotional video better than other celebrities.

Of course, religion, following Christ, or believing in God will never be cool. Nor should it be. Depending on the community, persecution rightfully comes with the territory. (How else would deity test the faith of its followers?)

Nevertheless, it’s nice to have backup. Superstar DJs very much included.


We now return to regularly schedules jokes about magic underwear, big love, how religion (not greed) ruins the world, why educated people have a harder time believing in God than uneducated people, great and spacious buildings, how successful people often get prideful and turn into jerks, yesterday’s news that Joseph Smith was a controversial man since he was entitled to agency like everyone else (including other purported prophets), why neither atheist nor believers have faith-shattering proof of anything, and Christians calling other Christians non-Christians because the second group worships in a different way. Go figure.

See also:

I just did one of the most enriching things yet in my adult life

don't-touch-my-hatAt my daughter’s request, I read James Rumford’s Don’t Touch My Hat (a family favorite) to her kindergarten class.

I tell ya: I felt som’n fierce having 15 pairs of innocent eyes look up to me from a cozy reading rug while showing and telling the story. As I read, there was a sanctity and innocence in the room I haven’t felt in a very long time—maybe not since leaving grade school.

Admittedly, I’ve done a lot of satisfying things this year. I’ve even managed a few professional coups. But this is unexpectedly near the top of my “most gratifying” list for not only this year, but previous years as an adult and father.

More than anything, I’m humbled and honored that my daughter invited me. Magic is soaking my spine. And Rumford is dead on: It’s your heart that counts, not your hat.

PS — Vampire Weekend, you have no idea. The kids do stand a chance. I’ve seen it in their eyes.

I can’t stop listening to this album

black ghosts when animals stare

It’s called When Animals Stare by The Black Ghosts. It’s like Black Keys + Band of Skulls + Magnet. Which is awesome. And it doesn’t fade halfway through like most albums. Double Awesome.

Thanks for sharing, David.

See also:

Are we learning from our past or basking in it?

katy perry retro

Fun story on recycled pop culture, based on a book by a man who claims we’re engrossed in unhealthy levels of nostalgia right now.

The take-away: Nostalgia is only good if you learn from it. And money-making adults—not senior citizens or youth—rule the roost when it comes to demanding the supply of retro pop culture (or at least what they thought was pop culture in younger years).

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Top 10 best classical piano sonatas ever (with audio)

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Piano is hands down the greatest instrument ever made. Even better than drums. And as far as genres go, classical is, without a doubt, the most timeless music ever.

What happens when you combine the two in their most essential forms? You get this: The best classical piano sonatas ever written.

Before I move on, please note: I use the term “sonata” a bit loosely — my list includes some pieces with no additional movements. But I am using the term “classical” strictly — anything from the common practice period of 1600-1910, spanning baroque, classical, and romantic periods.

So put on your powdered wig. Dress in a frilly shirt. And don’t applaud during the pauses, please. It’s the top 10 best classical piano sonatas of all-time. Continue reading…

My new favorite YouTube video

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The kid who made this is only 17 and hails from France. It’s a remix of 39 pop songs. Dubbed Madeon, he’s purportedly already signed to a label and releasing an extended play album this summer. It’s seriously some of the best live sampling I’ve ever seen.

Says a friend, “I see this sort of thing and basically give up on playing music. I’m a no-talent hack compared to this guy…” which is why this kid will have a long career in music.

Mangnifique!

This is great music. It just happens to be country.

bradpaisleyI can count the number of country albums I like in the order I discovered them on one hand: Patsy Cline’s greatest, Garth Brooks Ropin’ the Wind, Hank Williams’ greatest, Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins, and Jimmy Buffett’s greatest (if you can call that country).

Truth be told, I think the genre may be the second most cliche and boring kind of music ever, after industrial, of course (with exception to Pretty Hate Machine and Downward Spiral).

But I digress. I now have a new favorite country album: Brad Paisley’s This is Country Music. Whether you like country or not, know this: Brad Paisley is a phenomenal musician, songwriter, Telecaster guitarist, and one of the best lyricists in modern music. Of any genre. Seriously, he could give Brandon Flowers a run for his poetic memory. He’s that good.

So if you ain’t scurred to try new things, click on the above link. Not only will it make you want to buy a 10-gallon hat and a pair of wranglers, I’m pretty sure one of the following eight highlight tracks will speak to you when listened to in their entirety: This is country music, A man don’t have to die, Camouflage, One of those lives, Toothbrush, Love her like she’s leaving, New Favorite memory, and Don’t drink the water.

For reals, this album is stacked. It’s in my running as album of the year. No lie.

Unity: This is exactly what Op Ivy was talking about

You’re blind if you don’t see the Egyptian revolution (and its peaceful and unified protests) as a beacon to the world.

“During the fiercest clashes on January 28, I found a guy about my age guarding my back, who I later found out was a Christian,” Yahia Roumi, a 24- year-old protester from Cairo, told IPS. “Now we’re best friends; we never go to the demonstrations without one another.”

Unity.

Be a lamb. Help me identify this sad, sad song. UPDATED

UPDATED: In less than three hours, Smooth Harold reader Whit identified it! Thanks, Whit.

My memory and Google skills are failing me. After searching for an hour last night, I was unable to recall this really good sad song I heard last week. Some identifying attributes:

  1. Sung by a man.
  2. Not outright country, but I remember a little twang in it. Definitely a slow song.
  3. The man is singing to his wife, who has left him (again) at the worst of times, leaving him with the kids even.
  4. The song may or may not reference poverty, job, loss, etc, making the heartbreak all the more painful.
  5. A car or reference to “driving away’ may or may not be involved.
  6. I know the guy says something to the effect that he is truly heartbroken, especially by the timing of the women’s departure.

It’s one of the best sad songs I’ve ever heard. Any ideas, Internet?

My favorite music of 2010

Those who know me well know that I love music. In terms of audio/visual entertainment, nothing compares. Not movies. Not games. Definitely not TV.

When opening it up to all forms of entertainment, music is right up there with books and dancing. In other words, if an armed man asked me which I’d prefer, I’d have a really hard time and probably die trying. What’s more, the latter is virtually impossible to enjoy without music.

That said, this is the new music I most enjoyed last year. New to me, at least. Call it my top bands, whatever. I had this stuff in heavy iTunes rotation last year: Continue reading…

It’s official: Frank Sinatra has a better Christmas voice than Bing Crosby

frank sinatra christmasI grew up on White Christmas and it’s awesome. Arguably the best Christmas album of all time.

But after 25 years of listening memories, I think I’m finally ready to say that Frank Sinatra has the better Christmas voice. His renditions of White Christmas, I’ll be Home for Christmas, and Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas are the best I’ve ever heard. Even better than Bing.

Am I wrong?

Either way, what’s your favorite Christmas artist? (WARNING: Any mention of Mannheim Steamroller will be immediately deleted.)

I love one-hit wonder royalty stories

Yahoo: Songwriter “Dirty Dancing” all the way to the bank

The New Jersey musician, whose first name is pronounced “Frankie,” co-wrote the film’s climactic anthem “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life,” a tune that helped turn a small coming-of-age tale into one of the biggest movies of all time.

Previte estimates that he gets quarterly checks of $10,000 to $30,000 for radio airplay, additional quarterly checks of $50,000 to $100,000 from the hit stage adaptation, and annual checks of $100,000-$125,000 when the song is used in commercials.

Awesome.

See also: Despite being 50 years old, my favorite jazz song makes $100k year

Isn’t it exhilarating the first time you realize your kids know more than you do?

I know because it happened to me this week.

I was in the living room. My five year old was sitting beside her mother on the sofa. All of the sudden, I hear the former speaking in this foreign language. Not an idiom. Music notation! She was reading aloud music! Passing off her piano homework to her mother!

“My kid knows how to read music!!” I thought to myself. “Even I don’t know how to do that!!” (Yes, there were exclamation points after all of these sentences.)

I can only imagine what other things she’ll learn as she grows older — things I never did.

You have no idea how proud this makes me as a father. It makes me want to sing “We are the world” or something. What an awesome feeling.

MLIA

Despite being 50 years old, my favorite jazz song makes $100k year

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That’s what I call perpetuity.

According to Spirited Men by Brian Doyle, Dave Brubeck’s classic cool jazz track Take Five makes a cool $100,000 a year in royalties. Imagine how much it made at its height in the early ’60s!? Yeah, baby!

Cooler still, the beneficiary of said royalties is none other than one of my favorite charities: The Red Cross. Song writer and Brubeck saxophonist Paul Desmond left the rights to the song to The Cross upon his death in 1977, as opposed to some deadbeat son like Will from About a Boy.

Bonus link: Radiohead vs. Dave Brubeck mashup in 5/4 (Thanks, Lexi Sara).

The history of rap

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This is really well done. Fallon’s delivery is impressive, especially for a night show host. The Roots on backup are phenomenal. (Thanks, Mark)

Wouldn’t it be cool if you could rate your music with volume increases instead of stars?

itunesMark Milian describes the best enhancement to iTunes one could ever hope for:

Music software has no way of knowing whether you like one song more than the previous, unless the user chooses to actively rate a track — thumb up in Pandora, 5-star picks in iTunes. Most people, I’d assume, don’t make the effort.

But you might find that many people, when they hear a song they like, will pump up the volume. Music services could listen to that, and take note for future instances of when it’s deciding what to play.

Do this, Apple. It would make iTunes loads smarter.

5+ bands I’m digging right now

dj-headphonesIn addition to this recent discovery, the following have been in heavy rotation on my iTunes lately:

  1. Miike Snow. Incredible album. All songs either 4- or 5-star rated. Standouts include Animal, Song for No One, Burial, and Faker. (previously on Smooth Harold)
  2. Helio Sequence. With exception to the last two songs (boring), this is a lovely album. Hallelujah is the most awesome.
  3. Kid Cudi. The non glamorous lyrics and futuristic beats are a breath of fresh air. Still, this is sometimes indulgent hip-hop. So I bought the clean version ‘cuz I’m like that (Hi, kids).
  4. Empire of the Sun. Only half of this album is good (the first four songs plus the last). But man are they good.
  5. Loscil. Mmm, space music. Excellent background sounds that still keep things interesting.

Honorable mention: Gregory Brothers, if only for their sweet auto-tune remix skills.

My two-year old is a rocker

headbangerLike her daddy, I recently learned that my two-year old has a fetish for really good blues rock.

While listening to Band of Skulls on the way to St. George this weekend, Lindsey and Sadie weren’t as excited to hear the band. Meanwhile, I caught Maddie in a self-taught and deliberate headbang—she enjoyed it so much.

Rock. On.

Top 5 new bands of the last decade (with video)

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After much mental torment, I’ve decided to name the best new bands of the last decade. For one to qualify, they must have met the following criteria: 1) be awesome; and 2) formed in the year 2000 or beyond (which excludes Spoon, Muse, and The Strokes for example).

With the power vested in me, I hereby announce the winners. Continue reading…

Top 10 best Killers songs (with embedded videos)

killers 2008

Prediction: The Killers will end being the best rock band of the decade. They have a fresh sound without straying too far from their rock roots. They’re ambitious, hoping to knock bands such as Led Zeppelin and Nirvana “off their pedestal.” And unlike 90% of most promising bands, their albums have gotten progressively better over time (sorta like Led Zeppelin and Nirvana—go figure.) I expect many more great songs from them in the future, but for now, these are their 10 best.

“You rock too hard”—the greatest compliment I’ve ever been paid

thumb_ROCK_SYMBOLPrior to graduating in 2004, I played drums in a trio band. We mostly played Killers, Interpol, Franz Ferdinand, and Led Zeppelin covers in our bassist’s basement. We maybe played once a week for a month or so and didn’t even have a proper name. But we still wanted to rock.

Anxious to play a live set, we caught wind of an “Acoustic Battle of the Bands” to be played at BYU’s 22,000 seat capacity Marriott Center. I remember thinking, “Who says we can’t rock that? It says ‘acoustic,’ not low energy or slow tempo.” So we traded our electric guitar for an acoustic/electric and proceeded to tryouts that were being held in some small theater room in the English building.

Upon arrival, we were clearly out of place. As we lugged our full drum kit, half stack bass rig, and guitar amp down the hall, dozens of Dave Mathew wannabes practiced three chord love songs in squeaky voices to admiring girlfriends. My opinion of humanity worsened a little that day. But I digress. Our name was called, we entered the room and setup stage.

Continue reading…

Top 5 best Beatles songs sung by George Harrison

George Harrison, Beatles, Let it Be cover

To commemorate the Beatles’ remastered catalog (which I will not be buying, especially since its CD only), I thought it an appropriate time to cash in on the uptick in Beatlesmania interest, some 40 years after the band broke up. So without further adieu, I give you: The top five greatest Beatles tracks sung by George Harrison. He may have only canaried 30 songs of hundreds, but when he did—man were they good.

Continue reading…