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28Mar2012 1415: The Gift of Language

My feed reader brought me from Penny Arcade to the latest article about "don't call me a geek". This topic pops up from time to time on the Internet, just another way that geeks pat themselves on the back and say "look how far we've come". It's possible that this time there were some actual good points made in the lower paragraphs but I got stuck early on:

I'm defined by the things I like and the things I do, sure -- but I'm not labeled by them, I'm not consigned or obligated to some group because of them.

That's where I stopped reading. Lady, if you are defined by a list of characteristics, and that list of characteristics has had a label or category applied to it, that you can absolutely be labeled. You don't get to walk out on stage with a horn section, play your rhythm guitar on the upbeat, sing a song about marijuana and picking things up, and then get upset when we call you a ska band. "We're not a 'ska band', we're the Skanking Wolf Shack!", my strawman would say.

Labels and categories are the reason we have words. It's what humans do. It's why music has genres, why art has movements, why colors (usually) have names. Maybe later in the article she lists all the things she doesn't have in common with geeks, maybe she comes up with a new label to identify the subspecies that she wishes she belonged to, but my brain seized up after reading the above and I had to close the tab.

I've said before, music only has two genres: "music I like" and "music I don't like". All other descriptors and genres and labels are mental shorthand meant to help us sort music into the Ur-Genres. But as mental shorthand, labels are great! Words are great! If you don't want to be identified with a short label, speak German. I'm sure their compound word for "geek" exhaustively lists all the associated traits.

You'd be better off arguing that we need to invent a new word because the word "geek" has been inappropriately appropriated from its original definition of "circus freak that will indiscriminately eat anything placed in front of them"; then again, Apple fanboys amirite high five.

I need to stop typing about this and take a deep breath. Language! Deep breath.

We've run out of Rising Artists, which means it's time to scrape the bottom of the barrel of Amazon's recommended songs. Two actual songs on the list this week, if you count [Lionsgate - Official Hunger Games Instrumental] as an actual song. Which I don't: it's a six-second clip of the mockingjay whistle used in the movie, which would be clear if they had reversed the song title with the album title "Hunger Games Mockingjay Call". It's also at such an incredibly low volume that I thought Amazon had glitched and mistakenly given me six seconds of silence. Between the title and volume problems, is it possible that a non-Lionsgate entity slipped this onto the store somehow?

Has [Amy Stroup - Just You] been used to score an e-reader commercial yet? It's the sort of wee folk/pop ditty that signals a wee computer advertisement. This ad would present stop-motion images of hipsters using their tablets on the El and in fantastically appointed kitchens, and Twitter would explode with people asking the name of this song so they can download it to their white iPhones.

The rest of the freebie list is still packed with those terrible cover compilations. As loath as I am to link one, I think everybody needs to go downvote [The New Troubadours - Every Rose Has ItiaaaAAAAGGGHHHH] because of the apostrophe catastrophe. Loath wrestled with wroth, and wroth won out.

21Mar2012 1145: Filter

You know, Amazon spends all this money on fancy-ass algorithms to recommend products to me -- and most of the time it's pretty good. Yes, Amazon, I do like (band name | Batman | USB drives)! But while it's combing its database for a list of Batmanish doodads to fill out that space at the bottom of the page, it spends not one microsecond filtering out products I've already purchased...purchased from Amazon! This has come to a head recently with an update to the Cloud Music Player. Now a sidebar throws ads at you based on the current song. "I see you're listening to a Tegan and Sara song that you bought from us; maybe you'd like the rest of the album (that you already bought from us)?"

And then, just today, an email ad informing me that I might be interested in Game of Thrones: The Complete First Season Blu-ray. Oh, you mean the show I preordered from you a year ago and received not two weeks ago?!? Now you're just being ridiculous. I know what a database query looks like; just throw a "WHERE suggestion.productId NOT IN (SELECT history.productId FROM customerHistory history WHERE history.userId == username.userId)" on the end of that shit. If you're going to burn computer cycles building a list, burn a couple more so you don't look like a fool.

[The Barr Brothers - Old Mythologies]: Iron and Wine with two guys.

[The Phenomenal Handclap Band - Shake] sounded a little too assured of their glee, like The Polyphonic Spree. But the song isn't all that gleeful; maybe compared to The Cure. And why not compare them to 80s bands, with all that synth? And both the dude and the lady sound like 80s solo acts that got together for this duet, and then the duet blew up on the radio and both their solo careers were forgotten.

[We Are The In Crowd - Rumor Mill] took all their resentment at not being the in crowd in high school and shoved it down deep. Ten years later, their thirst for revenge burst forth as -- what else -- pop punk. Avril Lavigney, Paramorish pop punk. I'm not going to waste any more time on this band by doing research, but it is my fervent wish that they went whole hog with the high-school in-crowd theming; [Rumor Mill] is a good start, but songs called "Midwinter Dance" and "OMG Did You Hear About Jenny?" would wrap the package up with a neat little bow.

14Mar2012 1425: In Fake Life

Hide the children, bar the doors, the Internet is here. It is fascinating every time something rooted in the Internet makes its way into real life, whether for good or ill. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go play a Studio Ghibli film. No, not that one. People are still talking in very general terms about their Journey playthrough, which might mean they're holding back spoilers but could also mean it's hard to describe their very personal experience. Hopefully it's both!

Have you guys seen the weather? Like, that big yellow sky-thing took away all our snow and it's still March? I could be grilling right now but I was unprepared for such Spring.

[Bhi Bhiman - Guttersnipe] has a very earnest voice, so he's got that going for him. This is the kind of low-impact contemporary adult soul that gets sampled in an American Express commercial, or any time that TV needs a montage of classy people drinking wine. I don't know that I'd go as far as saying that some topics are taboo for certain genres, but Bhi Bhiman is not who I would pick to sing about anything involving gutters. Not with such an obvious alternative. And oh man I was able to type all of that, find the Guttermouth video, and start cracking wise about Mux Mool's album art, and Bhi Bhiman is still going. I don't know that there's even a refrain in here; Bhi just keeps on keeping on for seven minutes straight.

Is Mux Mool one guy, or several, or something in between? That would require research. For now let's just agree that his album art is silly. [Mux Mool - Palace Chalice] starts off with some arrhythmic noises and then kind of sorta puts them on a beat. Synth synth synth, a breakdown, more synth. This is the title track from a mid-80s scifi movie, except it was a B movie and this is the track everybody fast-forwards past on their Walkman.

[Madi Diaz - Gimme a Kiss] is a sweet sugary pop song. Without high school nostalgia to back it up, I have no desire to ever hear this song again. I guess I should give thanks that Madi isn't autotuned into an unrecognizable mess.

07Mar2012 1900: Additions and Corrections

I'm about six hours into Assassin's Creed: Revelations, the first misstep in the series. Every game has brought something new and revelatory: AC1 established the parkour+stabbing that made them famous, AC2 gave us the Renaissance and money to upgrade buildings, AC:Brotherhood gave us some decent multiplayer and the phenomenal summon ninja button. AC: Revelations' additions are terrible by comparison. They've shoehorned in a tower defense minigame somehow and added some first-person parkour missions. I guess the bombs are okay, but I've never needed bombs before. The only bright spot is that all the new systems this time seem to be optional; after the requisite tutorial, you can avoid doing any first-person parkour or tower defense by playing the other parts well. And five years into the series, I play well.

Assassin's Creed 3, though? That's going to be sick. Hell yeah parkour in trees.

[Now, Now - Thread] is pretty okay. Their driving tempo and synthetic hand claps put me in mind of Metric, which works in Now, Now's favor. If this band was fronted with some dour indie dude I wouldn't like this song at all.

[Audra Mae and the Almighty Sound - The Real Thing] wins the battle of the album art this week. I wasn't sure if this would be country (Audra Mae? Really?) or gospel (the Almighty Sound), but it turns out to be some sort of country funk rock. Audra Mae (really?) has a big slightly-twangy voice that skips over the top of some funk bass in the verses and up-and-down rhythm guitar in the chorus. And hey, the album's also a $5 selection this month; I'll just mosey over here and click "Buy"...

Amazon knows you got a little amped up from that fun tune, so [Memoryhouse - Walk With Me] is here to mellow you back out. Don't sit down while listening to Ms. House take a trip down memory lane; you'll fall right to sleep. Don't operate heavy machinery while spinning "Walk With Me"; injuries may result. Don't use "spinning" to refer to playing music; those technologies are obsolete.