Icky Thump

I once told this girl in a bar that I was sav­ing the White Stripes’ fi­nal al­bum, 2007’s Icky Thump, to lis­ten to at some point in the fu­ture just so I could have the plea­sure of lis­ten­ing to a new White Stripes al­bum when there were no new ones. This was a bunch of years ago, it was true, and she said she was im­pressed with my self-control.

Late last year I found my­self in the driver’s seat in Texas late at night with a long way to go. By then I had bought the al­bum and kept a copy stored up in the cloud, al­ways avail­able but nev­er played and just kind of hang­ing out. I had avoid­ed even mere­ly read­ing re­views for al­most a decade, but these un­fa­mil­iar roads kin­da seemed like the right time, and this night the right place to pull Icky Thump down from the sky and out through the rental car speakers.

You know, I’ve got this playlist for songs that are not nec­es­sar­i­ly great, but when I first heard them made me go “whoa—what world did this thing come from?” (The playlist is ac­tu­al­ly, lit­er­al­ly, ti­tled “What world…?”) Rammstein, Gorillaz, Eminem, Black Flag, Mindless Self Indulgence, and a few oth­ers, have a track apiece on the playlist. None of the songs have that ef­fect on me any­more, but every track was once mind-melting stuff.

Would adding an en­tire al­bum be vi­o­lat­ing the spir­it of the playlist?

Winamp — “feel the love”

Winamp 2.95I prob­a­bly haven’t used Winamp in a decade, but learn­ing that it’s fi­nal­ly go­ing away for good brought it back to the top of my mind this week.

Winamp wasn’t just my pri­ma­ry digital-music-playing-thing1 — like many peo­ple, it was the first thing I ever used to play MP3s.

Yes Junior, back then Windows Media Player was for CDs and WAV files, and iTunes didn’t ex­ist yet.2

What made Winamp so awe­some? I could de­vote a whole post3  to the ge­nius of Winamp skins, and things I’ve been read­ing (1, 2, 3) over­whelm­ing­ly ref­er­ence the clas­sic “whip the llama’s ass” sound clip — which, in ad­di­tion to be­ing a neat lit­tle brand­ing thing, was per­ma­nent­ly im­print­ed on everyone’s mem­o­ry by be­ing the first thing that would play af­ter installation.

Those were cool, but my fa­vorite Winamp mem­o­ry is some­thing a lit­tle less… su­per­fi­cial, per­haps? It’s a short piece of writ­ing that long ago was fea­tured on the “About” page of winamp.com:

Continue read­ing “Winamp — “feel the love””

  1. Until iTunes for Windows showed me the val­ue in hav­ing a li­brary of files. Yeah, I know Winamp has a li­brary fea­ture, but I nev­er used it.
  2. Oh, and by the way, MP3s were these things peo­ple used to lis­ten to be­fore there was YouTube.
  3. And, shit, I may — Winamp was do­ing skeu­mor­phics be­fore Apple did skeu­mor­phics be­fore Apple stopped do­ing skeu­mor­phics.

On wishing for boredom

This is not a post about Steve Jobs. I read enough of them in the days and weeks af­ter his death. I read in these a lot of what I al­ready knew and learned some new stuff for sure, but one Steve quote stood out to me in Wired’s obit­u­ary:

I’m a big be­liev­er in bore­dom,” he told me. Boredom al­lows one to in­dulge in cu­rios­i­ty, he ex­plained, and “out of cu­rios­i­ty comes everything.”

I’m not sure if I’d head this quote from him be­fore, but it put in­to words some­thing that has been trou­bling me for some time: I haven’t been bored in years.

The first time I no­ticed this was in the mid-2000s, and  I on­ly re­al­ized part of it, and I saw it through the lens of my Internet us­age, par­tic­u­lar­ly RSS. Even to­day, as the cool kids have moved on to fol­low­ing Twitter feeds (re­al­ly, talk about a step back­wards) of web­sites and blogs they find in­ter­est­ing, I’m still a huge fan of the no-bullshit, user-in-control, de­cen­tral­ized pow­er of RSS.1

What oc­curred to me back then was that hav­ing posts pushed to me dai­ly gave me more read­ing ma­te­r­i­al than I need­ed. And since I could nev­er get all the way through the un­read glut of posts from blogs I’d sub­scribed to, my need to ever go for­ag­ing for in­ter­est­ing things to read ba­si­cal­ly dis­ap­peared. RSS gave me tons of serendip­i­ty (thank you, linkblogs!)… and at the same time, prac­ti­cal­ly none at all. I miss the old days — some would say the bad old days — when I’d get my on­line en­ter­tain­ment and ran­dom bits of en­light­en­ment by brows­ing aim­less­ly from link to link, be­ing per­son­al­ly point­ed to in­ter­est­ing things by friends on AIM, fol­low­ing lat­est links post­ed to proto-blogs like Pixelsurgeon, and… I don’t know, how­ev­er else we found cool shit back then.

The sec­ond time I felt this ef­fect of this was at some point over the last few years, but this time in a more gen­er­al sense. This time it was big­ger than RSS; this time it was about every­thing in my life.

I re­al­ized I have far too many op­tions for en­ter­tain­ment. There are two rea­sons for this: mas­sive dig­i­tal stor­age de­vices and the fact that, be­ing em­ployed gives me an ac­tu­al en­ter­tain­ment bud­get for pur­chas­ing paid me­dia and fan­cy de­vices on which to ex­pe­ri­ence it. Between a pile of un­read books and bunch of e-books; more un­watched movies, sea­sons of old TV shows and ani­me se­ries than I can name; and games ga­lore that I’ll nev­er fin­ish (thank you Nintendo Wii and DS, Android phone and a still-kickin’ Atari 2600), I’m pret­ty much set for… for­ev­er.2 Even if I don’t seek out any­thing new, it’ll be years and years be­fore I get through all of this. And it’s not like I can just ig­nore new re­leas­es and stuff I be­come aware of in the meantime!

I might be able to en­joy this world o’ plen­ty, if I could for­get about what life was like when I was grow­ing up, be­fore we had the com­put­ing pow­er, stor­age and net­work ca­pac­i­ty to ex­pe­ri­ence all the dig­i­tal rich­es of more en­ter­tain­ment than we’ll ever need. I spent so much time be­ing bored grow­ing up, aim­less­ly think­ing and day­dream­ing and such. This was be­fore my first com­put­er; I had tons of books and had prob­a­bly read al­most all of them, made good use of the pub­lic li­brary, played with toys, ac­tion fig­ures and stuff a whole lot and still found time to be bored and day­dream be­cause it seemed like I had run out of things to do.

If you live a sim­i­lar­ly full, media-rich and em­ployed first-world life, and can still ever find your­self so lux­u­ri­ous­ly bored, how do you man­age? And can you teach me?

  1. Google Reader, please don’t die.
  2. I didn’t men­tion mu­sic here, be­cause the way I con­sume mu­sic is a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. I still clear­ly have more than I “need,” but I don’t feel the same sort of pres­sure to get through it all, thanks to shuf­fle mode.

Uncommon Knowledge: Songs about “you”

Every so of­ten I re­al­ize that some­thing I be­lieve to be com­mon knowl­edge ac­tu­al­ly isn’t, sim­ply be­cause not every­one has the same life ex­pe­ri­ences as I do. I’m try­ing to doc­u­ment such things that I know, for the bet­ter­ment of so­ci­ety as a whole. This blog seems to be the per­fect place to do this.

Here’s today’s bit of very im­por­tant, un­com­mon knowledge:

If you’re not in a com­mit­ted re­la­tion­ship, per­haps the great­est thing you can do for your­self is be­gin one with a per­son whose name — or a rea­son­able nick­name for their name — ends in the let­ter “u” (IPA: u: — MWCD: ü — NOAD: o͞o) or oth­er­wise rhymes with the English word you.

Why would you want to do this, you may won­der. What you lose be­ing in a re­la­tion­ship for an ad­mit­ted­ly piss-poor rea­son, you gain in be­ing able to fill the individual’s name in­to all sorts of pop­u­lar mu­sic from at least the last 60 years or so. This will help you bet­ter put your feel­ings for them in­to words, and not sound en­tire­ly ridicu­lous in the process.

Seriously, have you ever no­ticed how many songs ad­dress some­one in the second-person, where the singer sings words of love, hate or some oth­er emo­tion to an un­named some­one? It’s true! You prob­a­bly don’t no­tice just how use­ful this is un­til you find your­self in a re­la­tion­ship where you want to ex­press some emo­tion or an­oth­er for an in­di­vid­ual who is named in that cer­tain way. But once you do, this sim­ple thing be­comes very use­ful, indeed.

So go and find some­body with a com­pat­i­ble name. I sup­pose you could nick­name pret­ty much any­one “Boo,” but that’s sort of lame. Unless that’s their giv­en name, in which case they’re nat­u­ral­ly a keeper.

Here are some ex­am­ple songs to get you start­ed, and names to help nar­row the field:

  • You’re just too good to be true/Can’t take my eyes off Stu #
  • I don’t be­lieve that anybody/feels the way I do about Lulu now #
  • Hello/I love Drew/Won’t you tell me your name? #
  • I know I’ve got noth­ing on Lou/I know there’s noth­ing to do #
  • It’s Matthew that I adore/You’ll al­ways be my whore #
  • Colour my world/with hope/of lov­ing Jewel #
  • You prob­a­bly think this song is about Marylou. #
  • An Eskimo showed me a movie/He had re­cent­ly tak­en of Pikachu #
  • If on­ly I’d thought of the right words/I wouldn’t be break­ing apart/All my pic­tures of Sue #
  • If I leave here tomorrow/Would Kooh still re­mem­ber me? #

Most pet names count, and of course, this works best with names of few­er syl­la­bles. Find the right per­son and the mu­si­cal world is your pho­net­ic oyster.

Quiet Loudly and the awesome customer experience

Today I bring you an ex­am­ple of an in­de­pen­dent band that seems to be Doing Things Right.™

The band is Brooklyn’s Quiet Loudly.

I first be­came aware of the band from the mostly-excellent, but not of­ten re­leased, Cactus Killer Radio pod­cast. While the stuff CKR plays is var­ied, the com­mon thread that ties it all to­geth­er is that, for the most part, it makes an ex­cel­lent driving-at-night sound­track. I would of­ten wait months to lis­ten to an episode, un­til find­ing my­self alone in the car at night with a long dri­ve ahead of me.

When I lis­ten to an episode of CKR, I al­most with­out fail need to make one or two men­tal notes to find out more about a band, or at the very least, find an MP3 of the song that caught my ear. (Other bands I’ve found this way in­clude My Teenage Stride, Spike, and Sing-Sing.) Episode 52, which fea­tured Quiet Loudly’s “Over the Balcony,” had me rewind­ing to hear it again, mul­ti­ple times. I ul­ti­mate­ly shut off my MP3 play­er at the point in the pod­cast where the song be­gan, so I could hear it again the next day.

I tracked the band down to their MySpace page, where I came across a blog en­try promis­ing a copy of their never-to-be-released de­but al­bum Destroy All Monsters to “any­one that asks nice enough.” I went ahead and did that, and be­fore long found a CD-R and nice hand­writ­ten note in my mail­box. The disc had un­for­tu­nate­ly cracked in tran­sit, but on the strength of “Over the Balcony” and the kind ges­ture, I made a men­tal note to buy their soon-to-be-released (sec­ond) de­but al­bum, Soulgazer.

The re­lease date must have slipped a bit, be­cause I checked their MySpace a few times in mid-2009 and found no sign of the al­bum. Then it slipped my mind for a num­ber of months be­fore, lo and be­hold, I checked in and found Soulgazer had been released!

I knew I want­ed it on CD (I like mak­ing my own MP3s, and when disk space gets even cheap­er, FLACs), but the disc was on­ly avail­able from this not-very-reassuring page. I bought it there any­way. I didn’t get any e-mails ac­knowl­edg­ing my pur­chase (aside from the usu­al PayPal re­ceipt), so I was a lit­tle wor­ried, and made a men­tal note to try to find some­one to con­tact if a few days passed with­out word.

What I end­ed up get­ting in­stead, seem­ing­ly out of the blue, was a ‘fol­low’ no­ti­fi­ca­tion from qui­et­loud­ly on Twitter! I didn’t re­al­ize that I had pur­chased the al­bum di­rect­ly from them. That they take the time to stalk track down their fans on­line is, well, com­plete­ly fuck­ing awe­some. While it’s typ­i­cal­ly my pol­i­cy to use so­cial net­work­ing ser­vices for on­ly keep­ing up with peo­ple I know, I was glad to make an ex­cep­tion for them (even if most every tweet they tweet is about shows they’re play­ing in New York).

I took the ‘fol­low’ as my re­ceipt and ea­ger­ly await­ed the album’s ar­rival. It came a week lat­er, but I hadn’t tak­en in­to ac­count that my on­ly CD play­er was the one in my car, so I spun the disc for the next few dri­ves, wait­ing un­til I found a com­put­er with an op­ti­cal dri­ve, on which I could LAME up some MP3s.

I guess I didn’t give the en­ve­lope a thor­ough enough look-through at first — and it’s a good thing I didn’t throw it out — be­cause I had missed some­thing else inside.

See right.

Seriously. How awe­some are these guys?

I hope there’s some New York in my fu­ture, be­cause I must see Quiet Loudly live, per­haps many times.