Archive for February, 2011

Album of the Moment: Baba Brinkman

 :: Baba Brinkman ::

Chicks dig a man with a big brain.

The listserv at my local campus is now exploding with all manner of uncouth and unruly commentary, stemming from one student’s rant against the Creationists handing out free water and atheist-hatin’ literature on the Student Union Quad. The discussion jumped the shark within an hour of its starting, but its entertainment value has only increased: “these people are actually calling atheists and agnostics “bad” people (which is a form of racism)” … what? Give me some Baba Brinkman.

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If I want to hear arguments that reference evolution, I’m going to hold them up to Baba Brinkman’s standard. His beats are jazzy and smooth, ready to blend in with the cubicle hum, but his rhymes are laced with acid and research. Over the course of The Rap Guide To Human Nature, Brinkman explains how game theory, ovulation, microbial disease vectors, and any number of Gladwellesque data points all fit in to evolutionary biology and behavior. Heavy stuff indeed, but the rhymes make it easy to remember. My advice to all you creationist-haters out there: Remember your Brinkman gems and drop them on those pamphleteers. Or use them on the ladies:

“My histocompatibility complex is majorly intoxicating – girl, I’m so symmetrical”

The Rap Guide to Human Nature

Radio Playlist for 2/22/2011

And The Moneynotes, Aphex Twin, Arcade Fire, Archers Of Loaf, Arling + Cameron, Asylum Street Spankers, Bob Wiseman, Cage the Elephant, Cigarbox Planetarium, Deadmau5, Evolution Control Committee, Frank Churchill, Garageland, House of Freaks, Islands, Los Straitjackets, Mark Mothersbaugh, Mates Of State, Miss Li, Paleface, Scruffy the Cat, Sir Millard Mulch, Tepado, The (International) Noise Conspiracy, The Bonzo Dog Band, The Coctails, The Dismemberment Plan, The Four Corners, The Glands, The Hush Sound, The Jazz Butcher, The Mekons, The Real Tuesday Weld, The Shins

Lies, Damned Lies, and the Music Industry

Any article attempting to describe the sea change going on in the “Music Industry” these days, and furthermore having the temerity to display some numbers or perhaps a pretty graph to support these claims, is fundamentally flawed. The transformation that has been gripping and kneading the business of making music for the last fifteen years is still going on, and we still don’t know how this recipe is going to turn out.

Of course, that doesn’t stop anyone from shouting about what they think is going to pop out of the oven once this sonic revolution is over. Some outfit called Bain & Company published a white paper that features this lovely graphic:

Image: Bain Analysis

The logical conclusion from this picture is that the public’s interest in purchasing music peaked sometime in 1998-99, and it’s all been downhill from there. But wait! Some people have objected to the graph’s lack of adjustment for inflation and population. The amended graph (taken from this article, which is pretty good), looks more like this:

Image: Recording Industry Association of America

That’s better, right? We can now identify two peaks (disco!), but the growth seen in the last two decades of the 20th century doesn’t seem quite as spectacular, and the slumping trend at the end is even worse. It truly must be the end of the music industry.

That is, if you define “music industry” as “businesses that report their numbers to the RIAA”. While that may have been a near-totality of those selling music thirty or even twenty years ago, it’s certainly not the case now. Absent from these numbers are any number of independent labels, and the hordes of musicians now selling their music directly to fans. It’s impossible to know how significant that number is — it’s the dark matter of the music industry.

Another qualification to keep in mind is that these numbers represent the sale of music in the form of recorded media and digital downloads. Live music and merchandise sales, which in practical terms provide more of a living for the savvy musician than do record sales, are completely absent. Does this mean that we can draw ANY conclusions from all these prettily-colored blotches?

Sure — if by “music industry” you mean those parasitic intermediaries that take a 95% cut of the revenue generated by musicians, then yeah, that’s toast. The real question is “will musicians be able to earn a living from their talents in the future?” That answer is less clear, but more positive. The total amount of money spent by the public in music makes for quite a large pie. Whether that pie is growing or shrinking will always be under debate and fodder for articles like this one and the ones referenced above. These charts make a compelling argument for its shrinkage, but as I pointed out there are pieces that are simply not accounted for. I suspect the pie is actually growing — it’s just that those pieces aren’t being tallied as directly as people are used to.

Shrinking or growing, I think there’s one thing we can all agree on, though. This pie is cut into more and more slices every year. The days of Michael Jackson’s maw-choking servings are over, but that just leaves more pie to be divvied up for the rest. And that’s a good thing.

Radio Playlist for 2/15/2011

Aquabats, Asylum Street Spankers, Belleruche, Broken Bells, Cornershop, Dr. Octagon, Dr. Ring Ding, Drool Brothers, Fela Kuti, He’s a ramblin’ man., Kid Koala, King Missile, Little Dragon, Miss Li, Scruffy the Cat, Shonen Knife, Ska Cubano, Spinal Tap, Supergrass, Tall Dwarfs, The Budos Band, The Capes, The Mountain Goats, The Ophelias, The Pillows, The Slackers, The Unicorns, Titilia, Tom Zé, Vells, Wreckless Eric & Amy Rigby

Album of the Moment: Miss Li

 :: Miss Li ::

Hide the knives, here comes Miss Li.

I’m digging Late Night Heartbroken Blues, the 2006 debut album by Sweden’s Miss Li (aka Linda Carlsson). Miss Li — it doesn’t feel right to address her as an unadorned “Li” — sings in lovely lilting English, and with the sort of edgy little-girl warble that you associate with girls who shred your heart with the casual off-handedness that some people use to pick at their beer bottle labels during conversation.

Witness the video for “Oh Boy,” a song which is more than a bit twee, but whose video (a tribute to the Cure’s “Close To Me” video, intentional or not) is quite fun:

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Late night heartbroken blues

Axe Cop: The Meme

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It’s rumored that Nikola Tesla once built a simple mechanical device which, when placed somewhere inside a building, would find the structure’s natural resonance and exploit it in a way that would have the building shaking itself to pieces within an hour.

I think internet memes work in the same way — something resonates in the popular hivemind and before you know it, it’s reproducing, mutating and evolving its crashing way to the beach, where it sprays out in  glory before being washed under by the next meme and the tragic intangibility of mixed metaphors.

So let’s wade in Axe Cop for a bit. There’s nothing unusual about a web comic put together by brothers, Ethan and Malachai Nicolle in this case. The spin comes from the 24-year age difference, with Malachai’s kindergarden-level writing chops being mated to Ethan’s near-30s artwork.

The effect, as you’d expect, is slick and surreal. Malachai’s fevered 6-year-old imagination is somewhat reminiscent of Japanese narrative WTFness, but at heart is just plain eager to take on a plot twist, no matter how nonsensical. Come to think of it, it’s no less credible a police drama than Face-Off, Con-Air, or any number of hyphenated Nic Cage vehicles. Let this trailer, freshly mutated off the original strip, serve as testimony.

Radio Playlist for 2/8/2011

Afghan Whigs, Asylum Street Spankers, Binder & Krieglstein, Bronco Busters, Cake, Camper Van Beethoven, Chris Murray, David Garza, Destroyer, Jens Lekman, Juana Molina, Los Super Seven, Money Mark, Nine Iron, Noonday Underground, Otaku, Peglegasus, Pixies, Scruffy the Cat, Sir Millard Mulch, Snitches, Stevie Wonder, The Avett Brothers, The Coctails, The Fratellis, The Mekons, The Ophelias, The Sugar Oaks, Ui, Was (Not Was), Young Fresh Fellows, Young Heart Attack

Radio Playlist for 2/1/2011

Aislers Set, Analogik, Ant Neely, Arcade Fire, Binder & Krieglstein, Chinese Man, David Garza, Ellen McIlwaine, Emperor Penguin,, JP Nataf, Jason Lytle, Lemon Jelly, Luigee Trademarq, MGMT, Professor Elemental, Scruffy the Cat, Southern Culture on the Skids, Spinal Tap, Stewart Copeland, The Afghan Whigs, The Jazz Butcher, The Mekons, The Naked + Famous, The Ophelias, The Real Tuesday Weld, The Sugar Oaks, The Vaselines, What!, Wheat