Monday, December 28, 2009

Writer’s Jukebox – Everyone Else is on Vacation Edition

If we had an office, it’d be empty right now.  There’d be the scattered remains of a huge holiday party: crushed solo cups, near-empty bottles of rum and whisky, glasses stained with days-old egg nog residue.  Boivin would be sleeping under his desk because no one wanted to take him home (kid turns into the Tazmanian Devil when under the influence, let’s be honest). 

Rob, Andrew, and I – assuming we weren’t taking the whole Xmas-through-New-Year’s week off entirely – would trundle in Monday morning, temples pounding with epic hangovers.  We’d push some party detritus off our keyboards, sit down, and get to work.

Or look at Facebook.

But we don’t have an office.  So we don’t have to worry about that.  We do, however, still have a jukebox of sorts.  Hit the jump for more.

Andrew – What have you done for me lately, Jonathan Coulton?

My musical phases are often cyclical - I'll go through days or weeks or months-long stints where all I'll want to do is listen to one artist's body of work before moving on to the next thing, occasionally stopping to revisit that artist for a shorter period of time later on. About a year ago I was hip-deep in Jonathan Coulton's music, and for the last week or two I've come back for more. Putting his entire song library on Shuffle was one of the better decisions I've made lately.

Last time, I was mostly enamored of his better-known songs - "Re: Your Brains," the "Baby Got Back" cover, "Code Monkey," an so on - but this time I've discovered some gems of which I was previously unaware (or, maybe, less aware). One is the bouncy, vaguely twangy "Madelaine," another is the ode-to-prescriptions "I Feel Fantastic," two others are "Better" and "De-Evolving," which deal with the twin Coulton staples of robots and monkeys, respectively. As with last time, I've found myself appreciating Coulton's songcraft, the variety of sounds and genres that his songs touch on, as well as his harmonies and his wordiness. There's a lot to like here, especially if you're a nerd who enjoys video games and music and technology, and blogging about those things on the Internet.

All of this is well and good, and I hate to be one of those what-have-you-done-for-me-lately types, but this most recent stint of JoCo listening has made me wonder when he's going to end his most recent "dry spell" (talked about here) and release more stuff. I put "dry spell" in quotes because there are plenty of active bands that go for three or four years between albums, and because he just put a concert CD/DVD out this year, and because he tours with regularity, and because he has in fact released the odd song since his "Thing a Week" project ended in late 2006. Thing is, releasing a song a week for an entire year creates an image of prolific-ness that he hasn't quite lived up to in the last year or two. I'm waiting eagerly (and impatiently) for new material! And while I wait, I'd like to encourage anyone who has enjoyed his music to donate him some money as, I dunno, inspiration, or something.

Rob – Coming in No. 2 isn’t always a bad thing

It may be the first (and only) occasion for Time Magazine and to agree on the no. 2 best album of the year – Bitte Orca by Dirty Projectors.

German for “Please, Whale,” Bitte Orca falls squarely in the experimental-indie camp, and would be insufferably pretentious were it not so goddamned good. Take “Temecula Sunrise,” a bold little tune that staggers and swerves through crescendos and time signatures without care – except there is care. A keen musical mind arranged these ditties, and the complex song structures found throughout Bitte Orca never feel slapdash.

The album’s first single, “Stillness is the Move” shows just how sweet a blend of indie edge and pop sensibilities can be. Just listen to Angel Deradoorian’s voice, how it climbs and falls – it’s practically R&B. It’s been stuck in my head for weeks now. It refuses to leave. And I don’t want it to.

Grizzly Bear frontman Ed Droste said he can’t stop listening to Bitte Orca because it defies categorization. He can’t describe it schematically. Coming from Droste, I’d call that one hell of a hats-off.

CraigLove and Joy in the Capital Wasteland

Having spent upwards of thirty hours playing through Fallout 3’s Capital Wasteland, the meager selection of tunes on its in-game radio has since become one with whatever part of my brain is responsible for music.  For those unfamiliar with the series, Fallout gets its vision of a post-apocalyptic future from 1950s sci-fi.  A general Educational Video tone is used in the game’s tutorials, and most of the game’s humor comes from exploiting a quaint notion of our eventual destruction.  The game being draped in ‘50s schlock, it’s no surprise that the soundtrack evokes a similar nostalgia.

By far my favorite are the tracks by Roy Brown.  “Butcher Pete” tells the story of a butcher who likes to chop up women…I think.  The chorus, in which backup singers repeat “He’s hackin and whackin and smackin,” is incredibly infectious.  The joy with which Brown sings about such terror matches Fallout’s irreverent violence note-by-note.  The other Brown song included is “Mighty Mighty Man,” a similar catchy early rhythm and blues track that showcases Brown’s vocals.  He deftly alternates from fast-talking rhymes to high-pitched bellowing.  Dude’s got pipes.

Also ringing in my airs is Tex Beneke’s arrangement of “(I’m In Love With) A Wonderful Guy” from South Pacific.  Margaret Whiting’s doing the singing, and she’s full of a warmth and glee that is otherwise lacking in the Wasteland of Fallout.  If you want to show someone a distilled Fallout 3 experience, make sure this song’s playing while you blow the limbs of mutants with Lincoln’s Repeater.  I can’t think of a better way to sum up what it’s like to explore Bethesda’s demented, bombed-out District of Columbia.