Known Johnson

April 28, 2005

RIPOFF ALERT: Ben Folds – Songs For Silverman DualDisc is copy-protected

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 6:40 pm

A word of warning: the DualDisc version of Ben Folds’ Songs For Silverman is copy-protected and WILL NOT play in your computer. Not to show off, but I am pretty computer-savvy and have a brand new, extremely high quality CD/DVD rewritable drive that has been reviewed as one of the better drives for ripping copy-protected discs and it won’t even read the stereo-audio side of the DualDisc. I am more than pissed – I’m so mad that not only will this disc be returned immediately, I may not choose to replace it with the more expensive, separate CD and DVD “deluxe” edition. I know that it’s not fair to blame the artist for a label-directed decision, but the impact must be made somewhere. Unfortunately, my only visible, viable target is the artist, who will lose my money and, hopefully, the money of any other faithful buyers who decide that ENOUGH IS GODDAMN ENOUGH.

The literature included with the disc, on a small bright-red flyer, extols the many wonderful virtues of this new technology. Oooh, you can have video on one side for your DVD player and stereo audio on the other for your CD player. Except, down in the corner is a warning that states ” The audio side of this disc does not conform to CD specifications and therefore not all DVD and CD players will play the audio side of the disc.” When I first read that, moments after opening the package, I assumed that they meant older units would choke on the disc, which, while not fair, could reasonably be expected. And it did work in my car’s in-dash Pioneer CD player – a location that has, generally, proven to be the first point at which I find fails any of the very few copy-protected discs I’ve managed to get suckered into buying. It worked – and I was temporarily happy. When I arrived back at work, I popped the disc into my computer’s CDROM drive and listened to it grind away with uncomfortable sounds. After a few minutes of grinding, my computer acted as if nothing had changed – nothing viable was in the drive. I was obviously miffed, but figured it was a crappy drive and it would work fine at home. And then it didn’t.

I get the point of copy-protection. I really do. What I don’t get is why it is only the people who paid for the disc that get punished. Because I did pay for this disc, and according to US laws, I have a RIGHT to use this disc as I please for my own personal enjoyment. That means I can rip it and copy it to a CDR if I want to, as long as only I use it. I’m fine with that. I’m also allowed to transfer it to another medium, such as mp3, which is my goal here so that I can listen to it on my Ipod, and, again, it’s only my right to use the resulting files. I’m fine with that. What I am most definitely NOT fine with is a record label telling me that I don’t have this right, or that I do, but they’re just choosing not to support my decision to invoke it. All I did when I bought this CD was buy a license for the music on the disc. My right is being stepped on here because I cannot listen to this music the way I wish to.

This was my first experience with DualDisc technology. It will also be my last. And, hopefully, I’ll steer some others away from it, but, please, do me a favor first: go buy this album, or any other DualDisc release, then immediately take it back and complain that it will not play. Get all your friends to do this too. If enough people do this the labels will be stuck with a massive amount of returned discs that they can’t do anything with. This is the only way I have figured out that will send some sort of a message to the labels. They won’t listen to complaints – not when tons of these discs are flying off shelves (and I guarantee they are – Bruce Springsteen’s new album is only available as a DualDisc.) When they are faced with a pile of unsellable discs, they’ll at least know the technology’s not going over very well. All I’m asking is that you take a stance – don’t buy these DualDiscs, or buy them and return them.

UPDATE: Because I do enjoy the Ben Folds, I relented and returned the defective DualDisc to exchange for the upgrade to the “special edition” packaging, which is a handsomely executed book with expanded liner notes and artwork, and contains separate CD and DVDs that actually conform to the very specific standards and also bear the official marks of their conforming to those standards (the well-known Compact Disc Audio and DVD Video logos found only on discs that do conform to those standards.) The CD plays and rips perfectly fine. Buy away.

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Overlooked Alternatives: new releases for April 26, 2005

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 6:29 am

(This was delayed on Blogcritics by technical problems, so I waited to post it here until those issues were taken care of. So forgive me the delay.)

How is it that so many other weeks of the year suffer from having only a tiny amount of interesting releases and then suddenly there’s a day with so many things to buy that it’ll take weeks to catch up? This is one such week. In addition to that Springsteen guy’s new album, there’s also the following:

Porcupine Tree: Deadwing – Steven Wilson’s powerful prog-metal outfit returns with a follow-up to 2002’s amazing In Absentia. This time around, the emphasis appears to be on the heavier aspects of their sound, with less of the dreamy psychedelia that has informed much of their earlier catalog. It’s nothing particularly new sounding, as In Absentia was, but it continues on with the successful “metal meets Pink Floyd” sound they’ve developed and honed to near-perfection. Adrian Belew and Mikael Ã…kerfeldt of Opeth guest on a few tracks.

Ben Folds: Songs for Silverman(Not an “overlooked” release by any means, but I’m going to comment on it anyway because I do enjoy the Ben Folds.) Folds is back with another album of smart piano-pop. Reports are that this album forges a more low-key path than pretty much anything he’s done in the past. This one comes available in the increasingly popular Dualdisc format as well as the annoying “special package” CD/DVD ploy to loosen a few more dollars from your wallet. What do you get? The Dualdisc’s DVD side has a making-of documentary as well as a “strings” mix of first single “Landed.” The CD/DVD has a longer DVD and comes in a pretty book with 40 pages of photos and various notes. Here’s a tip on getting the best deal on that pricier book version: Head over to this page at BestBuy.com and order the book for $14.99, select “in-store pickup” as the shipping option, and you save yourself $5 over the in-store Best Buy price.

Eels: Blinking Lights and other Revelations – Eels’ front man E (otherwise known as Mark Oliver Everett) has some dark shadows in his soul, but he sure uses them to make some pretty music. Mostly strings, acoustic guitars, and lilting melodies, Blinking Lights isn’t going to be heating up any dancefloors, but it’s introspective nature should make for many hours of deep contemplation on the state of the human soul. If you enjoyed Daisies of the Galaxy and Electro-Shock Blues, you’re in for a treat – E has headed back more in the direction of those two than anything else in the band’s catalog. It’s very pretty, like I said, but it’s also very dark and dense – this album, a heady two-disc affair, is going to take some time to reveal its secrets. Thankfully, the Eels’ music makes the effort more than worthwhile. Tom Waits, John Sebastian, and REM’s Peter Buck make appearances.

DJ Spooky vs. Dave Lombardo: Drums of Death – Another entry in Thirsty Ear’s deservedly much-praised Blue Series featuring frequent Series contributor Spooky paired up with Slayer/Fantomas drummer Dave Lombardo, along with Living Colour guitarist Vernon Reid, Meat Beat Manifesto’s Jack Dangers, and contributions by Public Enemy’s Chuck D. Fellow Blogcritic Mark Saleski sums it up nicely here.

Elvis Costello: King Of America Deluxe Edition – Rhino has apparently gotten tired of putting three of these reissue/remasters out at once, what with the rapidly approaching end of Costello’s re-releaseable catalog, so they’re only handling one this time. King Of America is Elvis’ 1986 exploration of Americana and ranks as one of my favorites in his catalog. If you wanted more of Costello handling country-like songs but Almost Blue was too dreary, this is the album for you. Disc two features 22 non-album tracks, 6 of which appeared on the Ryko/Demon reissues from the 90s. Mysteriously absent are the live tracks that formed that issue’s second disc . . . better hold onto that one if you have it (like I do.)

A quick warning to ward you off of one rather disgusting release:

Yes: (Re) Union – Yes’ much-maligned 1991 conglomeration between the previously warring Yes camps – Trevor Rabin’s “Yes West” vs. Anderson/Bruford/Wakeman/Howe – isn’t as awful as some make it out to be, but this hacked-up release makes a complete joke out of the album and further sullies the band themselves (after years of multiple releases of the same album with only slight variations – this needs to stop, Yes!) What’s been left out are tracks that may not have been so strong, but the real problem is that it’s being marketed as a new product – new title, artwork, etc. Less knowledgeable fans might stumble upon this and think it’s a great deal, but I’d still direct them to the original 1991 issue, warts and all, and let them decide which tracks to skip over.

April 25, 2005

Ch-ch-changes

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 10:29 pm

If it isn’t becoming obvious, this site is shifting toward an all-music focus, which is something I had not originally intended to happen. As life with the soon-to-be-known Johnson approaches, I’ve started realizing that the journal I’m keeping at my old site, Unproductivity, to document the changes in our lives leading up to the happy arrival, is going to suddenly become a journal to document how our lives react to life with a tiny third member of the family on a day to day basis. There’s a natural rift developing here – one interest is taking its own route while the other finds its own outlet somewhere else more appropriate. So if it looks music-obsessed here, click on over to Unproductivity, where it’s becoming more frequent to find me commenting on life in general, and where music rarely makes its presence known. In other words, yeah, that site’s becoming a daddy blog. (I highly recommend checking out Laid Off Dad – not only is it a good “daddy blog,” it’s an incredibly entertaining read.)

You want the music-talk, you check here. You want life, hit up Unproductivity. Sorry to be so confusing – here, there, why can’t I make up my mind on which site I’m going to hang out at?

Anne Murray sings “Sweet Child O’ Mine”

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 10:19 pm

A coworker of Alissa’s gave her a CD he’d made of “lullabies” for the baby. The gesture is nice, but the reaction to most of the artists on the CD was almost exactly the same: no way would we want to expose our innocent child to such music. It was then that I realize that our children are doomed to be weird.

Most parents dream of the days when they’ll be teaching their kids how to ride a bicycle, play catch, read, etc., and it’s not that I have anything against that . . . but I’m excited about watching my kids discover things like art and music and movies and seeing how they interact with it. I have to admit that there’s no small amount of excitement in me for the day when our kids discover my CD collection and wonder “what is all this weird stuff?”

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve watched friends who had previously shared a seemingly similar (but, admittedly, less intense) interest in music drift further and further away from it, to the point where they rarely have any idea who I’m talking about when I mention bands I’m currently listening to. I can understand that priorities change as do interests, but music, to me, is so fundamental to who I am that I can’t fathom not keeping up. Not that I’m chasing down new fads – it’s just that there’s always something interesting, intriguing, and challenging out there. I wouldn’t really feel very alive or interested if I wasn’t able to indulge in the pursuit of new music. This is my art, this is what I obsess about. When I’m not thinking about the baby or Alissa, there’s a pretty good chance that I’m thinking about music. Call it crazy if you will, because I know it’s not as acceptable as, say, collecting books or rare artwork, but there’s nothing any less satisfying about maintaining a music collection. I could, in fact, argue that it could be more satisfying because of its tangible relationship to your own life on a day to day basis that few other artforms can share.

So when my initial reaction to a CD filled with music by the likes of John Denver, Don Ho, and Jimmy Buffet is one of an intense desire to protect my children from something that I’ve deigned inappropriate, it’s a pretty good bet that our kids are going to be a little . . . different. I’ve got a collection that runs the gamut from, in rock, the weird pop of Brian Eno to the pummelling terror of Slayer, or, in jazz, from the tender, emotive beauty of Dave Brubeck to the slashing horror-show antics of John Zorn. There’s nothing particularly pedestrian about my collection – a fact I am most proud of – but there’s also very little that is suited to young children. My fear, however, is less that my children will turn out warped from hearing something the rest of a musically uninformed society frowns upon, but more that my kids will simply be odd because, well, frankly, a lot of dad’s music might scare the hell out of most soccer moms.

When I see that the name of this generous gift of a home-made “lullaby” compilation is “Child Of Mine” and features not one but two entries by Anne Murray, I have to question how qualified I am to be a parent when my initial reaction is snort-filled laughter caused by imagining Murray’s warm-honey voice faithfully re-rendering Guns ‘n Roses’ anthem, “Sweet Child O’ Mine.” (You can’t see it here, but I paused a moment right after typing that to laugh quietly to myself, again, about this. This has happened about a dozen times tonight, by the way.) I’m trying to look at it as any parent should approach any challenging topic: be it drugs, sex, or the dangers of bad music, it’s better to face it head-on. If you aren’t teaching your kids at home what is right and what is wrong, then they’re just going to learn about it on the street . . . and bring it home.

April 24, 2005

Trading spaces

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 11:58 am

Things are slowly beginning to kick into a higher gear around here. We’ve been creeping along getting things ready for the baby, but the major stumbling blocks are going to be out of the way as of today. There’s been a million legitimate excuses for why we haven’t gotten very far until now, but that’s about to change.

The two small bedrooms in the house have been, essentially, for each of us – I had “my room” with my computer and CDs in it, and she had “her room” which had her computer and, well, just a bunch of stuff. And by a “bunch of stuff,” I mean piles of things that had no other place to go and which now must either find a place to be stored or find its way to the garbage or charities.

We had already decided that “her room” would become the baby room, and I would move my computer and stuff out to the front room of the house, which would become a sort of office type of space for me. Up until now this room has been pretty empty, serving more as a space for all the really ugly stuff we didn’t want to see – old boxes, exercise equipment, etc. The old boxes are gone, sliced to shreds and carted off by the recycling truck a couple weeks back, and the exercise equipment has been moved further forward in the room to make space for a big new desk bought from Ikea.

What I’m going to do with my approximately 1800 CDs, I don’t know yet – I didn’t say we solved all of the problems yet!

A couple weeks back, after realizing there was no cable in that front room and hence no internet connection, my dad and I ran 70 feet of cable all the way around the house, underground, through the wall, and into the room. It really wasn’t as big a project as it may sound like it was – it took a few hours, total. I got a wireless router and card for Alissa’s computer and just yesterday installed that with all the security stuff setup, too, in only about an hour, which pretty much shocked me. We then went out and got a ceiling fan for the front room, as it gets pretty hot out there. Today I have no excuses: the ceiling fan must go up, and this computer must be out of this room so that Alissa’s can go in here and that room can be cleaned out.

So on the eve of being exactly four months from the arrival of the Unknown Johnson, we’re now really beginning to do something to prepare for that momentous occasion. There’s a lot more work to do, however . . . so no celebrating yet.

Name that tune

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 8:58 am

If you’ve ever been troubled by trying to figure out who the hell sings that song in some commercial, check out AdTunes. If the site itself doesn’t list it, search the forums for the answer.

I’ve been bugged for the last couple of months trying to figure out who the hell sings that song in the Target commercial that goes “wake up ’cause I want to go / You can have it all.” It’s kind of preciously-retro with the vocals, which have that soft, airy indie-pop sound that sounds inspired by 60 pop-jazz like “The Girl From Ipanema.” I had told Alissa about it and said, “This sounds like something your brother would listen to.” I hit all the other ad-song sites (SongTitle.info, What’s That Called – both also good resources) but only AdTunes’ forums was able to provide the answer: Sam Prekop, of the band the Sea and Cake, and it was recorded exclusively for this commercial (which is a shame, I’ve kind of grown to like that song.) Sam Prekop and the Sea and Cake are both things my brother-in-law listens to, so score one point there for me.

April 23, 2005

Glen Phillips – 4/21/05 Marquee Theater, Tempe, AZ

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 12:32 pm

Somehow both Alissa and I entirely missed any announcements that Toad The Wet Sprocket’s ex-lead singer, Glen Phillips, was coming to the area, finding out about it only hours before the show on Thursday. We decided to throw caution to the wind, be wild, and just go. After August when the Unknown Johnson arrives we likely won’t be able to just do these spur of the moment things anymore. I’m glad we did go – Toad is a shared band between us, and as I’ve said a few times before, Glen’s new solo album, Winter Pays For Summer, is one of the year’s best albums (and yes, I will continue to hype and link to this album until you buy it.)

Opening act Blue Merle was entertaining with their unusual blend of bluegrass and pop with mellow vocals that mimic Coldplay’s Chris Martin, and they were given a generous length of time to woo new fans with. Between sets, I noticed a number of people returning to their seats clutching copies of their debut album, bought at the merchandise desk. This band is likely going to do pretty well, especially after their upcoming support-slot on the summer Dave Matthews Band tour. DMB fans will eat this stuff up.

Glen Phillips took the stage in an unassuming button-down shirt tucked into jeans, sporting a recently cropped-short haircut and glasses. Looking like he’d just gotten off work, one of his band members would comment later how studious Phillips appeared. Studious he may have looked, but his demeanor was as laid back and comfortable as anyone could expect of someone on stage.

Glen Phillips is a real showman, engaging the crowd with just the right amount of humor and chatter, pulling material not just from his two studio solo albums, but also a lot of material from his better-known days with Toad, and even inviting one audience member on-stage to play drums during one song. What really blew me away was how absolutely, perfectly identical Glen’s voice sounded live compared to what is usually the more “polished” studio versions found on his albums. He’s blessed with a clear, distinct and, most importantly, natural voice, which he put on display, flawlessly, throughout the entire performance, even tossing in a spot-on cover of Bjork’s “Hyperballad,” which he carried with impressive skill.

Phillips closed out his show with a set of acoustic songs that he performed solo, save for giving the spotlight to his backing guitarist and keyboardist Jonathan Kingham, who sang his own song “Grace,” showing what a generous and supportive band leader he has become. That kind of involvement with his band members is what helped make Thursday’s show such a tight, emotional performance, and which makes the much larger, less intimate acts seem so meaningless in comparison.

The setlist from Thursday’s show:

Thankful
Fly From Heaven
Easier
True
Something’s Always Wrong
Courage
High on a Riverbed
Finally Faded
Crowing
Gather
Train Wreck
Released
Walk on the Ocean
Duck and Cover
Cleareyed

Encore:

All I Want
It Takes Time

Second encore solo:
Half Life
unknown song (written with Lori McKenna)
Comes A Time
Grace (Jonathan Kingham)
Hyperballad (Bjork)
Drive By
Don’t Need Anything

April 19, 2005

Overlooked Alternatives: new releases April 19, 2005

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 10:34 pm

A quiet release week comes as a bit of a relief, giving us all a little time to catch up on releases we’ve missed the past few weeks. There are, of course, still a couple of notable releases, but keep in mind some of those nuggets that might have gotten overlooked recently – Glen Phillips’ excellent new album Winter Pays For Summer comes HIGHLY recommended, as does ex-James lead singer Tim Booth’s Bone. On to the new stuff:

Autechre: Untilted – You think it says “Untitled,” but it really says “UntiLted,” instead. Oh those wacky Autechre boys. Autechre (or, as fans call them, because no one knows how to really pronounce that name, “ae”) are back with another serving of mixed up noise. If you’re not familiar with Autechre, the music is more of an experiment with sound – rhythms are pitted against each other, sounds are extracted and magnified until they’re unrecognizable, beats transform randomly. It’s challenging music, but it can be very rewarding in the right mindset. When it comes to electronic music, these guys have been around a long time, but even I’m hesitant to say that this is a must-have item. There’s only so far you can take the noise aesthetic, and I’m of the mind that maybe ae’s gone about as far as it can be taken and still have it register as some form of music. That said, I’m still intrigued as to what they’ve concocted with their home-made software this time around.

Elvis Costello and the Imposters: Club Date Live in Memphis (DVD) – This one kind of snuck out unnoticed, probably hidden beneath the publicity for next week’s Rhino 2-disc reissue of one of my favorite Costello albums, King Of America. Filmed last year in a small Memphis club in support of his fantastic album, The Delivery Man, this DVD is Elvis’ first. Emmylou Harris even shows up to duet with Elvis on “Heart Shaped Bruise,” “Wheels,” and “I Still Miss Someone.” And not to sound like a major music geek, but getting to see the masterful Pete Thomas on drums is a major plus. In addition to the great tracklisting, there’s also two extras in the form of “Off the Beaten Path: A Road Trip with Elvis and Pete” and “Radio and the Fan.” Speaking of that tracklisting, check it out:

1. Waiting For The End Of The World
2. Radio Radio
3. Mystery Dance
4. Blue Chair
5. Bedlam
6. Country Darkness
7. Blame It On Cain
8. Either Side Of The Same Town
9. High Fidelity
10. The Judgement
11. Monkey To Man
12. The Monkey
13. I Still Miss Someone (w/Emmylou Harris)
14. Heart Shaped Bruise (w/Emmylou Harris)
15. Wheels (w/Emmylou Harris)
16. The Delivery Man
17. Hidden Charms
18. Alison / Suspicious Minds
19. Peace Love And Understanding
20. Pump It Up

Louden Wainwright III: Here Come The Choppers! – I’m actually not familiar with Louden’s music, but I do love the work of his son, Rufus. Blogcritics’ own MuzikMan reviewed this a few days ago here so I won’t bother to duplicate what he said, except to say that if his backing band is any indication (the incomparable Bill Frisell on guitar and a group of very familiar names to Frisell fans – Jim Keltner on drums, David Pilch on bass, and Greg Liesz on various stringed instruments) then this is probably quite a great album. It’s on the list, that’s for sure.

Check back next week – there’s more great stuff than my wallet can possibly afford – and enjoy this relatively quiet release week.

April 15, 2005

Private dancer

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 10:44 pm

Week 21 arrived with Alissa slowly realizing between last night and this morning that the little knocks and werbles going on in her belly were definitely not the previous night’s pizza but the flailings of the Unknown Johnson dancing about in the womb, and has continued doing so on and off all day. The doctor said during the earlier ultrasounds that this was a busy one . . . so we’re likely going to have our hands very full in a few months.

Taxman

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tom @ 10:34 pm

I don’t quite get taxes. The government has all this information on us – they know our social security numbers, birthdates, where we work, how much we get paid for working there, etc. – yet every year they hand us all the paper work and say, “Here, you figure this out for us.” Wouldn’t it make more sense for them to just take care of the taxes for us and send us detailed paperwork explaining what they did? Because I sure as hell hate doing this crap every year.

And how come when you’re filling out your W-4 forms for every job you get, you never get any tips on what any of what you’re filling out really means? For friggin’ years now Alissa and I have had to pay extra money on our taxes each April 15. We’ve never been able to figure out why. It’s only now, thanks to the glory of the internet, that we’ve finally possibly figured out what it is that’s screwing things up. No details, but in short, I’m basically still have taxes taken on my salary at the same level I did over 8 years ago as a single man. Every year that we’ve been married we’ve faced the same grim outcome – fork over some more cash – yet were never given any indication of why we were doing so, nor any hints as to how to prevent it the next year. Luckily, for fiscal-year 2005, Alissa and I will have a happy, beautiful little deduction to add into the mix. Maybe then we’ll actually not have to fill out any checks to the government. If we’re real lucky, we might just be signing some checks that get deposited into our checking account this time.

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