Free Dr Pepper

Remember when Dr Pepper promised a free soda to everyone in America if Guns N’ Roses releases Chinese Democracy this year? They’re following through. This means my friend Jeff’s prediction is hilarious but wrong:

Ah, but you forget – Axl Rose is the kind of asshole who would wait to release the album – even if it’s ready – until January 1, 2009 just to prevent people from getting their Dr. Peppers.

I’m more excited about the soda than the album.

Two takes on “Toxic”

Speaking of losing indie cred, here’s two very different versions of a Britney Spears song. Nickel Creek rocks it out:

Yael Naim takes it slow:

Norah Jones covers Arcade Fire

It’s a live recording and the audience seems to have no reaction to her mention of the band. An unexpected choice, but a beautiful cover.

New law bad for CD sales

DRM cripples downloaded tracks. Now ownership of CDs is being restricted too?

Independent merchants selling and buying used CDs across the United States say they are alarmed by stepped-up pawn-broker-related laws recently enacted in Florida and Utah and pending in Rhode Island and Wisconsin.

In Florida, the new legislation requires all stores buying second-hand merchandise for resale to apply for a permit and file security in the form of a $10,000 bond with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. In addition, stores would be required to thumb-print customers selling used CDs, and acquire a copy of state-issued identity documents such as a driver’s license. Furthermore, stores could issue only store credit — not cash — in exchange for traded CDs, and would be required to hold discs for 30 days before reselling them.

At least one Florida town has enforced the law, resulting in the cited merchant pulling used CDs from its store.

The nominal purpose of the laws is to protect against the sale of fraudulent or stolen goods. But is this the real motive? Perhaps the true beneficiaries are music companies who don’t like used CDs competing with new ones. Ars Technica speculates:

Why this trend, and why now? It’s difficult to say, but to be sure, there is no love lost between retailers who sell used CDs and the music industry. The Federal Trade Commission has scrutinized the music industry for putting unfair pressures on retailers who sell used CDs, following a long battle between the music industry and retailers in the mid 90s. The music industry dislikes used CD sales because they don’t get a cut of subsequent sales after the first. Now, via the specter of piracy, new legislation is cropping up that will make it even less desirable to sell second-hand goods. Can laws targeting used DVDs be far behind?

If this kind of legislation is being pushed by the music industry, I’m not convinced it’s doing itself any favors. Sales of compact discs are plummeting. Potential sale of used product is good for cars and books, so it might be one of the few advantages remaining to CDs over downloads, too. The possibility of finding used CDs I want is also one of the only things that gets me into boutique music stores instead of going straight to the internet to buy music.

The ‘A before Abba’ challenge

Problem: iTunes lists artists alphabetically. For my playlist, this makes Abba “Gold” the first thing listed. And while I do enjoy Abba very occasionally (as do you!), it’s not the first thing I want people to see when they glance at my music collection.

Solution: Find an artist with a name that comes before Abba. This pretty much limits the options to guys named Aaron and a few other names. I thought I solved the problem with Aaron Copland, but classical CDs are listed by conductor.

So who’s an artist worth listening to and whose name would knock Abba off the top of my list? I’m open to suggestions.

(I know I could change the names or sort by a different field, but that would be cheating.)

Update 3/26/07: Some good suggestions so far. Numbers and punctuation marks are the key. Thanks, guys!

Update 3/29/07: Success! Er, partially. One of my favorite music blogs, I Guess I’m Floating, posted an .mp3 today of !!! covering the Magnetic Fields’ “Take Ecstasy With Me.” It’s a pretty good track, but more importantly it shows up before Abba on my iTunes playlist. It’s only one song, but it’s a start!

The IGIF post also includes the Arcade Fire covering the Magnetic Fields, so check it out here.

Surprise

Surprise is the name of Paul Simon’s new album, which I learned about this evening from Tyler Cowen. I’m surprised to see it. Having gone six years since releasing You’re the One with its ending lyrics

I am heading for a place of quiet
Where the sage and sweetgrass grow
By a lake of sacred water
From the mountain’s melted snow

I thought that may have been his last full album. The NY Times review is here, song samples here. The album moves away from world music and is produced by Brian Eno, which could take some getting used to.

And here’s one more link for Paul Simon fans: “Graceland” as covered by jazz singer Erin Bode. She and her band give it a beautiful, jazzy interpretation on her recent release Over and Over. If you like the sound of this, I recommend taking the whole album for a late night drive with the windows down.

Back from Rites ’06

Yes, blogging has been light lately, and yes, it may stay that way for a short while as I work on some other things. But this weekend I had an excuse as I headed down to Nashville to visit friends, toss the Aerobie, and attend this year’s Rites of Spring concert. One of the most amusing parts of this outdoor music festival is always Vanderbilt’s hopeless attempts at making sure that in a crowd of hundreds of undergrads only the ones over 21 are drinking alcohol. Chad describes our utterly pointless troubles with The Man here.

The low point of the concert was unquestionably Clap Your Hands Say Yeah!, who had everyone within earshot commenting that they were one of the worst bands they’ve ever heard. It was amazing to hear how many people (Barzelay, for example) have said that their studio album is very enjoyable, despite their terrible live performance. The sentiment was so universal that I’m almost convinced it’s the result of an insanely genius marketing strategy: after enduring such a miserable hour of their live music, I’m almost tempted to buy the album just to see how they can possibly produce something good. Almost.

Playing catch up

I’ve been extremely busy for the past few days moving to a new apartment and just barely getting a book review submitted by deadline. I’ve left the place Court and I shared in Clarendon. It was a great location and she was an ideal flatmate — one of the few people I could tolerate, much less enjoy, living with — but it was time to move on. I’d originally planned on throwing my stuff into storage and bidding D.C. adieu for the summer, but at the last minute a number of plans changed and I decided it was worth sticking around. I was lucky to find a great apartment in Courthouse’s Colonial Village, a sunny complex with lots of grass and no high rises, and move into it this weekend. The downside is that I’m no longer just two and a half blocks from Murky; the upside is I’m now dangerously close to my favorite pho restaurant.

Rather than play catch up with new blog entries, here’s a list of the things I would have written about if I’d had the time:

Radley on Wegmans — Radley has a good op-ed up about the awesomeness of Wegmans grocery stores, the way they defy the expectation that markets produce low culture, and how lame grocery chains like Giant are using politics to block their expansion.

The Village Voice on Starbucks — In contrast, this Village Voice piece about Starbucks is all kinds of stupid. It’s written in reaction to news that Starbucks will have six weeks of exclusivity on retail sales of Alanis Morissette’s acoustic version of Jagged Little Pill (which I admit I’ll probably buy the day it comes out). I needn’t count the ways this op-ed goes wrong for frequent readers of this site, but I do get a kick out this quote from a member of the indie band Antigone, who will apparently have their CDs in Starbucks stores soon. It’s the smartest remark in the article:

“I think the biggest challenge for labels is breaking bands,” says Antigone’s Kristen Henderson, whose band will release its major-label studio debut in August. “The situation with Starbucks is perfect for us because it’s going to get us into 4,400 stores, front and center, and expose our band, our music, our name to a whole group of people who have never known us.” The acoustic Starbucks release doesn’t do the band’s accomplished hard-rock chops—which at times recall the Allman Brothers or the Black Crowes—justice. Still, the twentysomething guitarist feels no shame in having her band associated with the coffee store. “There’s always negative spin, people get like, hate the Man, the corporation—but we’re signed to a major label. We were an indie touring band, but we consider our band a small business. We want to grow our business. . . . It doesn’t really freak us out.”

[Via Starbucks Gossip.]

Portafilter.net — Sticking with the coffee theme, check out this new coffee group blog. The contributors include Murky owner Nick Cho and reps from Eternal Recurrence favorites Counter Culture and Intelligentsia. It’s got a podcast, too.

Love and motivation — There’s some interesting new cognitive science research out about the way romantic love works. Peruse the NY Times article (thanks, Court!) or, even better, read Randall Parker’s take on it.

“Influential magicians” — Google offers an unintentional commentary on the state of the art. [Via The Magic Circle Jerk.]

The musical baton

Is this meme business getting out of hand? First there was the Caesar’s Bath Meme, and now Jeremy of The LCD has passed me the Musical Baton. Since it saves me from having to come up with a topic of my own, here we go…

Total volume of music files on my computer

6.21 MB. No, that’s not a typo. Don’t take this as any sort of commentary, but I don’t download music. It’s all on CDs. The only two songs I have on my computer are Leah Morgan’s “London” and “My Life is Like a Movie” (currently the featured download on her website).

The last CD I bought

It’s Time by Michael Bublé. I was slow to like this one, but it’s growing on me. Great cover of “Save the Last Dance for Me.”

Song playing right now

“The World is What You Make It” from Jen Cohen’s Far Enough Away.

Five songs I listen to a lot, or mean a lot to me

“Think too Much” (a and b) from Paul Simon’s Hearts and Bones.

“What a Good Boy” from Barenaked Ladies’ Gordon.

“Corner of the Sky” from Pippin.

“Surrendering” from Alanis Morissette’s Under Rug Swept

“Guido’s Song” from Nine

Five people to whom I’m passing the baton

Five’s a bit much, but I’ll send it on to Mike, Ben, and another Mike since I know they like writing about music.

Hootie and the Blowfish, McGrouther and the Gelatinous Blindfish

And we’re back. After a long near-two weeks on the road, I’m back in Arlington, where I can finally get down to the important business of updating my blog, hanging out at Murky, reading books, and maybe even writing some things that people will pay me for. I was accompanied by a few friends for the drive from Nashville to here, which made the drive a lot more fun but also stretched it out quite a bit with things like a 45 minute breakfast at Hardee’s, a stop for me to pick up a magic performance table in Lebanon, TN, and night-time frisbee toss at a highway rest stop to try out a new light-up frisbee. The drive was capped off with me getting pulled over on I-66 in Fairfax and me getting out of the ticket for, I suspect, giving the officer such a ridiculous explanation for what why we were on a road trip.

Officer who has pulled me over for following another car too closely: So are you guys in a hurry to get somewhere?

Me: No sir, it’s just been a long day of driving. We’re coming home from a trip to Nashville.

Officer: Ah, what we’re you doing in Nashville?

Me, saying the first reason to come to mind: We went to a Hootie and the Blowfish concert.

Officer, laughing incredulously: You drove all the way to Nashville for a Hootie and the Blowfish concert?

As he laughed I ineffectually began to explain that there were other reasons, but by that time he was heading off to run my license and another car had pulled up. Soon another officer walked over and asked me to step out of the car. At this point I was expecting the worst, but his interrogation was pretty light. “So I hear you guys drove all the way to Nashville to see Hootie and the Blowfish?” He was laughing, so I agreed that this was a silly thing to do. He then asked if I had any explosives in the car (I didn’t) and sent a bomb-sniffing dog around it. The first officer came back, gave me a friendly warning instead of a ticket, and we were on our way.

I can’t know for sure, but my guess is that I owe my break to Hootie. Four guys traveling more than 10 hours for a Hootie concert, no girls in the car, and driving, of all things, a Pontiac Aztek, was probably enough strikes against us to make the officer decide that we had enough problems and that a ticket wasn’t necessary. So thank you, Darius Rucker. I’ll eat a Tendercrisp Bacon Cheddar Ranch burger in your honor.

McGrouther and the Gelatinous Blindfish is not the name of a band, but it certainly should be. No, the gelatinous blindfish is a new addition to the Australian Museum Fish Site and another specimen from the NORFANZ expedition. Mark McGrouther sent me the link to this one while I was on the road, noting that a Mr. Blobby fan like me would like this one’s floppy jelly-like body and tiny eyes. Check it out here.

Hootie and the Blowfish face death ray, headline Rites of Spring

I’m not a fan of Hootie and the Blowfish. Their music seems pretty well designed to not offend people, so I can’t really say anything
derogatory about it. It’s sort of like a noble gas, just filling space, not affecting the listener. But Hootie isn’t one of the fun noble gasses, like Neon or Helium. On the periodic table of music, I’d put Hootie as the equivalent of Argon, making up roughly 1% of the musical atmosphere.

However, mix Hootie and the Blowfish with the power of 112 suns, and you’ve got something much more interesting…

So say the creators of the Solar Death Ray as they blast a Hootie and the Blowfish audio tape into liquid oblivion. Hootie lives on, however, promoting the Tendercrisp Bacon Cheddar Ranch burger and headlining this year’s Rites of Spring.

I’ve been planning on attending Rites for a while now and, like most Vanderbilt students, surprise was my first reaction. Not so much because Hootie and the Blowfish were selected so much as that the band still exists. Surprise turned to perplexity as I tried in vain to recall a single Hootie song. Then, finally, I felt relief that Vanderbilt had not gone with its usual inexplicable choice of a rap group to top the concert billing… or had it?

Should be fun, with lots of good music and Aerobie time. The rest of the Rites lineup is available here.

Taylor (the Latte Boy)

Finally, a love song for the barista! Today I received in the mail my copy of Broadway singer Christiane Noll’s jazz CD Live at the West Bank Cafe. Having wanted this album for a while, I played it immediately and was delighted to discover that the second track is a fun little song about a woman hitting on her morning barista. Written by Marcy Heisler and Zina Goldrich, it features some clever lyrics about love in the age of Starbucks:

And today at 8:11, Taylor told me he was playing

With a band down in the village in the basement of a bar.

As he smoothly flipped the lever to prepare my double latte,

But for me he made it triple! (And he didn’t think I knew)

But I saw him flip the lever, and for me he made it triple,

And I knew the triple latte meant that Taylor loved me too!

I said, “What time are you playing? And thank you for the extra skim…”

He said, “Keep the $3.55,” because this triple latte was on him.

I can’t help quoting this rhyme, too:

I used to be the kind of girl

Who’d run when love rushed toward her.

Till finally a voice whispered, “Love can be yours,

If you step up to the counter and order.

Finding an online recording is tricky, but luckily the Gay Christian Network points the way. (It came up on Google, I promise. Though I suspect many would be less surprised if I were gay than if I were Christian. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.) A recording of Kristen Chenoweth singing “Taylor” is available here. Click the stream labeled 30:14 and scroll over to about seventeen minutes into the clip.

More Christiane Noll is available here; advice for hitting on your favorite barista here.

Summer music round up

Road trips are always a good excuse to pick up some new CDs, and with all the traveling I did this summer I was sure to find a few good ones. Two are worth writing up here. Both of them, coincidentally, come from England. If my taste in music means anything to you (and I can’t really give you any reason why it should), keep reading.


The first is Katie Melua’s debut album Call off the Search. I picked this up on a lark after seeing her compared to Norah Jones. I haven’t heard much about her here, but the album is already quadruple platinum in the UK. Happily, she doesn’t disappoint.

The comparison to Norah Jones is understandable, in that they’re both young and jazzy. Melua’s voice is more girlish, yet expressive, beautiful, sometimes sultry, and always demanding of attention. I find myself listening to her more closely and more often than I ever have to Jones.

Only two of the songs are her own, but the selection showcases a variety of styles. “Mockingbird Song” surprised me the most. It’s a sexy re-write of the old lullaby, complete with a more lilting rhythm and new, mature lyrics (think “And when my man’s no longer hot/I’m gonna bring him a vodka shot” in place of “If that billy goat won’t pull/ Momma’s gonna buy you a cart and bull.”) “Crawling Up a Hill,” “Closest Thing to Crazy,” and “Belfast” are a few of my other favorites. Amazon has the sound samples, but their tinny sound definitely doesn’t do justice to Melua’s voice. Highly recommended if you enjoy slower, jazzy music with smart lyrics and a focus on the vocals.

The second album is much more pop: The Corrs’ Borrowed Heaven. I was eagerly awaiting this since it’s been almost four years since their last studio album (In Blue), but also somewhat dreading it since their last was such a disappointment. In Blue had its moments, but it was overproduced and lost the distinctive Celtic feel of their previous work. Its main purpose seemed to be to get the band airplay in the U. S. It succeeded at that level, but was otherwise forgettable (though some of the songs actually sound pretty good live).


Borrowed Heaven opens with the radio-friendly single “Summer Sunshine.” It’s catchy, and I like it, but it did make the album remind me of their last. After giving the whole CD a few listens, however, I changed my mind. While it still has a pop feel to it, the lyrics are much smarter than on In Blue and Sharon Corr’s violin is once again given a more prominent place in the scores (though still not prominent enough – judging by the crowd’s reactions at their concert a few weeks ago, she’s definitely their strongest asset). The final track is almost purely instrumental and lives up their previous standards.

The album is, undeniably, commercial pop, but it’s a big step above the vast majority of what’s out there. The Corrs have real talent that shines through and they’re great fun to listen to. Borrowed Heaven has become one of my favorites for driving. Recommended, though not as highly as 2002’s Live in Dublin.

Jen Cohen — last Nashville show

My remaining Nashville readers should drop their plans for tomorrow and head over to Centennial Park for the American Artisan Festival. That’s where local singer Jen Cohen is giving her last Nashville performance before heading to cantorial school in New York.

I saw Jen in concert three times while at Vanderbilt and every show was a hit. The Tennessean has called her voice ” a great, big soulful treat” and I couldn’t agree more. See her and Rick Plant tomorrow from about 12:00 – 2:30 or, if you can’t make the show (I wish I could!), check out her CDs Jen Cohen and Far Enough Away.

Twelve dollars spent

When I was in D. C. last month I spent much of my down time back at Common Grounds, my frequent coffee shop hangout from the fall. One of those days they played a song that really caught my attention and I immediately began trying to track it down on Google. No luck. But compelled to find out what it was, I asked the barista for a list of the CDs in their rotation that morning.

That narrowed it down to six and the song turned out to be the opening track of local singer Leah Morgan’s “Zero Dollars Spent.” Twelve dollars later the CD was in the mail. I haven’t been able to stop listening to it this week; the songs are eclectic and hard to classify, but folk rock may be the best description. They’re all good. You can hear samples on her website or at the CD sales site. Or, for my D. C. friends, check the schedule for upcoming live performances. (There’s one in Common Grounds! Makes me wish I was back in town.)

Spring break road trip

Spring Break begins today, and once again I find myself ready for a (mostly) solo road trip away from Vanderbilt.

Tomorrow — day trip to Memphis with two friends with dinner at Texas de Brazil, a very cool Brazilian churrascaria my family went to back in August.

Sunday to Monday — Back in Nashville.

Tuesday — Leave early to drive to D. C.

Wednesday to Friday morning — hanging out in D. C.

Friday to Sunday — in Richmond for Libery Fund’s colloquium on “Liberty and Modern American Conservatism.” I have no idea how I came to be invited to this, but it should be interesting (and only slightly more tame than Venice Beach, I’m sure). Back to Nashville Sunday night.

Of course, no road trip would be complete without a few new CDs for the car. Topping the list this time is Jen Cohen’s Far Enough Away. Jen is a Nashville singer with an amazing voice (and a great smile, too — I still remember being greeted by it, before the show, the first time I saw her perform at Vandy. That was over two years ago). Her other CD has long been one of my favorites and I’m liking Far Enough Away just as much.

I’ll also be listening to the last of the Barenaked Ladies albums I didn’t have till now, Billy Joel’s debut Cold Spring Harbor, and, of all things, The Vogues: Greatest Hits. It was “Five O’Clock World” that sold me on it.

I have no shortage of things I have to read for school and the colloquium, plus I have an ever-growing stack of books I’ve been wanting read on my own time. Even so, over break I’ll be reading Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet . This is at the recommendation of a good friend who says it “could be worth checking out at this crossroads of your life.” A girl at the bookstore today agreed — she read it on a beach in South America last year — but cautioned me not to expect any answers from it. Not answers, but perhaps some inspiration as I try to figure out what I’m doing post-graduation.

That’s all for now. Expect an occasional update from the road, thanks to the marvelous combination of wi-fi and espresso that makes the modern coffee shop such a great place.

Feelin’ Groovy

I just got back from Simon and Garfunkel’s Old Friends concert at the MCI Center, easily the best concert I’ve ever attended. I went with Court, who is not only into free markets and coffee, but also knows all of S&G’s songs and so made the perfect person to enjoy it with.

For the past few years I’ve been much more into Paul Simon’s later work, with its South African and South American influences. Seeing the duo in action tonight, though, has renewed my appreciation for their early work, and also made me realize that I’ve dramatically underappreciated Art Garfunkel’s vocals. His “Bridge Over Troubled Water” elicited the longest stream of applause I’ve ever witnessed, and justly so.

The biggest surprise came about midway through the concert when Paul and Art began talking about the influence the Everly Brothers had on them. I knew in advance that there was going to be a set of the Everly Brothers’ music; I didn’t know that the Brothers themselves would be there to perform it. After a few songs on their own, S&G joined them for “Bye Bye Love.” Seeing these four legends on stage together was a once in a lifetime treat.

Other highlights included a jazzed up version of “Homeward Bound” (it works and I want a recording of it!), a haunting rendition of “Kathy’s Song,” and my favorite “The Only Living Boy in New York.” The concert closed on a second encore with a touching “Leaves that are Green” and then the entire audience dancing to “Feelin’ Groovy,” which by that time is exactly how we all felt.