It Don’t Mean a Thing if it Ain’t Got that Swing…. Including Rock.

Here’s a super cool music hack that I came across while perusing BoingBoing from last weekend’s San Francisco’s Music Hack Day. It’s called Swinger from Tristan Jehan, PhD from MIT Media Lab. It effectively takes any song and transforms it into a swing version of the song. For those not familiar, a swung note or shuffle note is a style of playing, mainly in jazz-influenced music, where notes with equal written time values are performed with unequal durations, usually as alternating long and short notes. Therefore, a swing or shuffle rhythm is the one produced by playing repeated pairs of notes in this way.

So the magic of The Swinger is it converts any song into a swing song, through a program written with a bit of python code. It does this by taking each beat and time-stretching the first half of each beat while time-shrinking the second half (so it takes songs written say in 4/4 time and transforms them into unequal durations – creating a swing rhythm).  The effect is almost magical.  Here are some examples (I’ve included the “straight” version of White Rabbit for comparison):

Jefferson Airplane: White Rabbit “Straight”

Jefferson Airplane: White Rabbit

Metallica: Sandman “Straight”

Metallica: Sandman

Guns and Roses: Sweet Child O Mine

The Beatles: I Will

Random Tasty Tracks

It’s been a while since I’ve written anything but here’s a quick post on a few tracks that I’m fixated on. Three very different bands; one a group from Brooklyn, a Danish indie outfit and a duo whose one half is a movie star. They’ve all been around – some for several years but I recently discovered them and feel compelled to share.

The first track – Across Your Knee by Robbers on High Street, is a tightly crafted rock/pop tune that randomly conjures up Nick Lowe and Rockpile which I pleasantly can’t seem to move beyond. The second track by The Figurines lingers hours if not days after hearing it – a dark plaintive track with a chorus refrain that sticks to the ribs. On the other end of the spectrum is She & Him brought to life by  Zooey Deschanel (Almost Famous, (500) Days of Summer, Yes Man and much more) who partners with country folk artist M. Ward on a fun, kitschy yet highly melodic ride channeling Beatles (Dear Prudence)… luv it. And as always, enthusiastically endorsed by the local munchkin authorities….

Robbers on High Street – Across Your Knee

Figurines – Back in the Day

She & Him – Why Do You Let Me Stay Here

Frank Black Dissects Doolittle

Charles Thompson, AKA Black Francis and Frank Black provides a personal perspective on Doolittle on this week’s Sound Opinions rock talk show – which airs from Chicago and hosted by two rock music writers and critics Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot from Chicago Sun Times and the Chicago Tribune respectively.

Doolittle is the subject of the show’s Classic Album Dissection of the Pixies landmark 1989 release. As it turns out, Mr. Black is actually extremely gregarious, opinionated and funny as hell and provides insights into the Pixies and the album – such as the origin of the album’s title (which does, in fact, involve the “slicing up eyeballs”), how the demos and final tracks were recorded, where his names came from and the real story behind “Here Comes Your Man”. If you’re a Pixies fan – it’s a must listen. I sat in my car today tuned into NPR catching the last half hour – with my son listening. He now knows more about the Pixies than any other eight year old on the planet.

There’s a few minutes of general music news before the interview starts. Click here to stream the interview.

Tasty Track – Beach Comber by Real Estate

Having spent several Summers during high school at the Jersey Shore, I can relate to the hazy dreamy imagery conjured up by the Ridgewood NJ band Real Estateon their self-titled album singing about loving and losing among the dunes. After a few rounds through the record, I get flavors of Yo La Tengo and Panda Bear

For those who think the Garden State is nothing but a bunch of freeways book-ended by Newark and Trenton, take a listen to the album to get a small taste of magical moments that can happen on the mid-Atlantic.

This track Beach Comber is shimmery slice of lo-fi pop has a killer hook that echoes for hours if not days after hearing it.

Beach Comber

Tasty Track – This Isn’t Farm Life by The Essex Green

Instead of doing a write-up on the album – here’s a track from “Cannibal Sea” from the Brooklyn-based group The Essex Green that I’ve been listening to now for about three weeks straight – “This Isn’t Farm Life”.  A nice mix of New Pornographers and Belle & Sebastian (which I honestly thought before reading the Pitchfork review) – with a Shins lyrical bent. It’s a great smart pop song.

Essex Green – This Isn’t Farm Life

Lady Gaga Scares Me

I like to think that when it comes to music, I’m a pretty progressive guy. Although I crossed the 40 threshold not so recently, I still am pretty up-to-speed on what’s going on in music, pop and otherwise – including hip-hop, punk/alternative, electronic, ambient, jazz, etc. And over the course of my listening career, there’s always been the bands that seem more interested in freaking people out versus writing really good music. Bands such as Marilyn Manson and Gwar whose shock-rock approach to performance was a bit disturbing but felt cartoonish and not really dangerous. Then there are bands like Slipknot – that aggregate various nightmarish personas into a loud, harsh, grating wall of angry sound that turned the dial into creepy-dom but, even with their over-the-top aggro approach – still didn’t seem to pose a real threat to pillars of modern society.

So, given that these acts sent chills down some parent’s spines – but not mine, I always wondered what kind of music and artist would serve as the wedge between me (with my supposed open embrace of all music) and my soon-to-be teenagers – who like all their predecessors – have a genetic mission to find a band or bands that simply are incomprehensible to their parents. I used to say that save for speed death metal and maybe some popular country western acts – I’d be hard pressed to be freaked out by anything my kids would listen to.

However – after recently watching “Bad Romance” (below) by Lady Gaga I’ve now crossed into “concerned parent” territory. Although many younger viewers might not quite totally get what’s going on in the video – a forcibly drugged girl getting bid on by anonymous and ominous sex partners with a clear S&M bent resulting in a literal flaming bed and corpse, as an adult, I’m feeling very much “in the box”. What’s causing concern is that, unlike the groups mentioned previously, this isn’t a fringe act or underground artist playing on the margins of pop culture but is currently the hottest talent out there right now – for all young, impressionable teens and pre-teens to consume.

I normally would dismiss a pop artist like Lady Gaga as a flash in the pan… the flavor of the month – but she’s got undeniable talent. She writes all of her own music and lyrics – so she’s not just a voice with dance moves. Apparently she’s more performance artist than true pop artist – having started her career in coffee houses and small theaters working her way up into unbelievable stardom. But that doesn’t compensate for the overtly sexual and disturbing content of the video which brings forth the rubberized fun-buddy “The Gimp” from Pulp Fiction, with an undercurrent of “The Hostel II”, tasty lyrics like “I’m a freak bitch…” and an overdose of product placement – the most frequent appearance by the Ukrainian vodka brand, Nemiroff. A perfect storm of sex and sales.

I’m somewhat aware of what’s freaking me out – she’s a woman, overtly expressing a powerful, somewhat maniacal and fetishistic sexual energy with unabashed confidence – and anger, who is claiming territory typically staked out by her male counterparts while charting new paths into onstage psycho-sexual therapy… and having that tidy package delivered straight into my “family room”. Yikes!

Apparently the artistic explanation of the “Bad Romance” video’s narrative is about the human sex trafficking trade – an interesting subject for a teeny bopper pop act music video. Given that acts like LG need to keep breaking through the clutter and getting buzz and coverage, I’m now scared at what’s next and even more scared at what’s going to be standard pop fare in the years to come. I’m just sayin’…..

Freshly Selected Free-Range Organic Tunes

If your iPod playlists are a bit stale and sound like a time capsule of Billboard’s top hits from 1987 and you’d like to freshen things up a bit but are at a loss of where to go – here’s one blog that I’ve found to be pretty good at pointing readers to new up-and-coming artists: OCMD (Obsessive Compulsive Music Disorder).

OCMD is a simple, straight-forward blog from a SF Bay Area woman who has her finger on the pulse of new, fresh music with an alternative sensibility. Sure there’s Pitchfork and Stereogum and hundreds if not thousands of individual blogs but I like OCMD’s personal approach which taps into the author’s “obsessive and compulsive” love for music versus the ironic and hyper-critical views of the bigger blogs. Really good bands such as Speck Mountain, Starf**ker and White Rabbits are examples of the artists OCMD uncovers.

Click here to get to OCMD’s Best of 2009 list (which is for the first half of the year) highlighting artists that are crafting amazing music.

I’ve become a fan of White Rabbits recently discovered while checking out the 2009 best of list. My song of the moment is “Salesman”. The main riff could be something off of Radiohead’s “The Bends”. Love it.

The Salesman

While we’re talking about great tunes, check out The Comas. Although they’ve been around for about 10 years (so not very new) their most recent album (from 2007) The Spells is track after track of tight, well-crafted indie pop. The song “Red Microphones”  is also getting a lot of playtime these past few weeks in my car, iPod, office, etc. If you’re a fan of Weezer, Fountains of Wayne or backing-up even further, Apples in Stereo – you will like this.

Red Microphones

Album of the Week – Cocteau Twins: Heaven or Las Vegas

Shimmering guitars, echo-y vocals singing other worldly lyrics with haunting harmonies, Heaven Or Las VegasCocteau Twins’ 1990 release is on constant rotation on my home-friendly play lists. Elizabeth Fraser wrote many of the songs about her newborn daughter so it’s not an accident that the album has a bright and dreamy sensibility. The album is the group’s most most accessible of their career and the most successful – topping out at #7 on the British charts. While their earlier works – such as Treasure or Garlands are more goth than pop – Heaven of Las Vegas has less dark and ominous sounds with layers of rich and lush melodies layed down by guitarist Robin Guthrie. It’s hard to believe that the album is nearly 20 years old yet it still feels fresh and new. Heaven-Or-Las-Vegas-(Remastered)-by-Cocteau-Twins_Vn6c6zhBjagx_full

What draws my son to the songs besides the evocative music are the unintelligible lyrics (a trademark of the Twins musical style) which encourages him to decipher what is being sung. Conversations about what a particular line means is an exercise in imaginative interpretation.  I love the fact that he can now pick out a Twin’s song on his own (even ones not from HOLV).

Fotzepolitic and the title track are sublime with soaring sweeps of sound and driving rhythms – while Wolf in the Breast and Pitch the Baby are highly melodic songs with the signature evocative yet mysterious lyrics. My favorite – Cherry-Coloured Funk is a lazy, hazy and beautiful track that takes me on a ride every time I hear it.

Cherry-Coloured Funk


Heaven or Las Vegas

Wolf in the Breast

Pitch the Baby

Album of the Week: Music Has the Right to Children by Boards of Canada

I can’t really say that I discovered Boards of Canada’s first album Music Has the Right to Children(MHTRTC) more so than it discovered me. I remember clearly in Spring of 2000 coming back from lunch one day and finding the CD placed squarely on my desk at work. It was a small office – about 15 people yet apparently no one fessed-up. After the initial listen (with headphones – which I highly recommend), an entirely new world of music opened up. I had been familiar with electronic-based music but BofC’s approach (which I now know was/is rooted in work by Aphex Twin, Brian Eno and other pioneers in ambient compositions) was something that I had not heard before.

music-has-the-right-to-childrenThe mysterious cover with its washed out imagery of faceless parents and kids circa 1970s, gives more than a hint of the hazy and ominous yet sometimes eerily cheerful analog-synth tracks enclosed within. Released in 1998, the duo Michael Sandison and Marcus Eoin from the Northern coast of Scotland had previously released several EPs, so they had developed a signature sound and style, and they took that sound to a new level creating what is considered a landmark recording spawning countless copycats and effectively establishing a sub-genre of ambient music.

For those of us older than say 4o or so, we can all remember watching film strips in class with the Pavlovian “dings” heard from the cassette or record that was playing in the background to signal forwarding the strip the to the next frame. The name “Boards of Canada” is inspired from those documentary films specifically from the National Film Board of Canada, which produced the educational filmstrips in the 60’s and 70’s. This music subtly conjures up, from our distant memories, those grainy images and fuzzy background music that serve as a backdrop for themes of childhood and nature and the tension between innocence and its loss as children inevitably experience the “real world”.

The album has a mix of short vignettes that melt into longer substantive pieces that range from dark brooding, almost creepy – “Eagle In Your Mind” to the trippy and somewhat medicated cheer of “Turquoise Hexagon Sun” or “Aquarius”. “Olson” is a brilliant short track that elicits specific imagery for me every time I hear it… I leave it to you to have your own experience.

An Eagle in Your Mind

Turquoise Hexagon Sun



The combination of hip-hop beats, analog and digital samples and keyboards creates a rich, evocative otherworldly soundscapes that I’ve not tired of listening to repeatedly for almost a decade.

When asked by my son what kind of music BofC had made on this album, I’ve described it as background music for a movie about the future that was made before we were born. This stops the questioning but doesn’t provide a real answer – which is the way it should be. Music this ethereal and magical shouldn’t be neatly categorized.

I love this album.

Click here to get it: Music Has the Right to Children

As a bonus… although not off of the album MHTRTC, this track “In a Beautiful Place in the Country” epitomizes everything about BoC that I cherish… haunting, beautiful and slightly disturbing – the one line of lyric in the song (which is rare in their music) is actually from a recorded interview with Amo Bishop Roden – the wife of a leader from the Branch Davidians (the cult founded by David Koresh whose camp was burned to the ground in the infamous FBI raid in Waco, TX) talking about their camp and inviting people to “come out to live in a religious community in a beautiful place in the country”. Lush, dreamy, weird. Beautiful.

In a Beautiful Place Out in the Country


The Cradle to College List

While driving home the other day, I listened to the classic Harry Chapin song “Cat’s in the Cradle” on the radio.

Cat’s in the Cradle

If you’re not familiar with the song it’s about a father who never finds the time to spend with his son and misses the boy’s entire childhood. For example, when the boy CB066201is 10 he asks his father  “…can you teach me to throw?” The father sings “… not today, I got a lot to do – he (the son) says that’s okay and walks away but his smile never dimmed said I’m gonna be like him…”

When the boy is older and home from college, the tables turn and it’s the father that is left longing to spend time with his boy. The last stanza – which is a killer – has the old man retired and lonely and wanting to see his son, who is now an adult but too busy with his own children and work and unable and unwilling  to make the time to see his father – “my boy was just like me…when are you coming home son – I don’t know when but we’ll get together then dad…”

I must have heard this song a million times before, but now, being a father, it’s a sock to the jaw. Although I think (and my wife attests) that I’m a pretty active and present father, the song left me almost heart-broken with the idea of missing opportunities to share great moments with my children… while they are still children.

So – similar to the “bucket list”, which is a list of stuff you really want to do before you die (i.e. “kick the bucket”), I figured, given how quickly our children grow and time passes, that making a “Cradle to College” list would help in ensuring that my children’s childhood doesn’t evaporate before my eyes and I’m left, sitting during their graduation, realizing my opportunity to share special big once in a lifetime moments with my kids has gone FOREVER.

I submit the following items as the beginning of my “Cradle to College” list (as of October 9, 2009):

  • Build a real tree house.
  • Climb a mountain – a 10,000 footer, and sit on the peak with my kids (and my wife).
  • Get them certified for scuba diving.
  • Take my kids to where I was born and where my mother is from – Lima, Peru and have them meet my extended family there.
  • Professionally record some songs with my children – in a studio, playing instruments and/or singing (it doesn’t matter whether they can sing or play).
  • Take my son and daughter to a political rally and have them understand why people are there.
  • Rent an RV motor home and go on an unplanned road trip.
  • See at least 50 of AFI’s Top 100 greatest movies of all time (before they graduate high school).
  • Develop in my children an understanding and appreciation for classical music and take them to at least one full season of the SF symphony and/or opera.
  • Have a several day stint in Manhattan, taking them to the museums, theater, restaurants and giving them a real taste of the magic of NYC.
  • Work side-by-side with them helping those less fortunate than ourselves – such as working the kitchen at Glide Memorial on a Sunday morning.
  • Go on several 2-3 day back country camping trips in the Sierra’s – sleep under the stars, catch & cook fish, teach them how to sling a bear bag, etc.
  • Make sure they’ve seen and know the Marx Brothers, Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and Sid Caesar and make sure they can enjoy a movie made in black and white as much as one made with CGI in 3D.
  • Ensure they have a strong and well articulated opinion on who is a better drummer, Neil Pert, Keith Moon, John Bonham or Bill Bruford.mountain

This list will shrink and then grow as we check off and add items over time. And with a little luck and some effort and commitment – I, and hopefully you, will look back on the time we’ve had with our children and know that unlike the protagonist in the song, we didn’t miss the magic of our children’s lives.

Send your special C2C items and I’ll post ’em up for others to see – or below in the reply/comment field.