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The Hard Drive Project Day Two: !@#$% and Numbers

Cribbing a brilliant feature from The Onion A.V. Club called Popless, and spurred by a recent clean-up of my computer and external hard drive, I am setting out to listen to every song and every artist on said hard drive. This hopefully will incorporate new releases over the course of the journey as well. Mostly I’ll be running quickly through artists for whom I only have a track or two, but for more major artists, I will try to go a bit more in depth. Today I’ll try to run through artists whose names start with symbols or numbers.

(+44)When Your Heart Stops Beating, the first and perhaps only album by blink-182 survivors Mark Hoppus and Travis Barker; the purpose of the band is in doubt now that blink is reunited for lucrative touring and recording. The album is kinda interesting for one reason: all the songs were originally written and programmed electronically by Hoppus and Barker, as a sort of pop-punk twist on The Postal Service trademark style; but by the time of the album’s release the tracks had been overlaid with traditional blink-style arrangements. The contrast between the writing in one paradigm and the production in another is as often awkward as it is compelling. (+44) doesn’t suffer from the earnest overkill of their former and current bandmant Tom DeLonge (more on him soon), but only the title track captures the heady spark of blink-182 at their best; there’s also a bromantic emo break-up song aimed at DeLonge that hits home, knowing the dudes had been friends for like 15 years prior.
The (International) Noise Conspiracy, “My Star
.38 Special, “Hold On Loosely
2 Pistols feat. T-Pain & Tay Dizm, “She Got It” – A typical T-Pain guest spot – in other words, a ridiculously catchy piece of hip-hop fluff.
2Pac, “All Eyez on Me” & “California Love” – There’s a lot of great artists for whom I have like two obligatory tracks; Tupac Shakur is one of them. These two are pretty unimpeachable rap classics, especially “California Love,” likely the first real rap video I ever saw. Funny how big a deal Kanye’s AutoTune is these days, when the chorus of “California Love” is all fucking AutoTune.

30 Seconds to Mars, “The Kill” – Generic modern rock by Jared Leto.
50 Cent – To me, there’s always been off-putting about 50 Cent’s lack of nuance: he’s all swagger, all the time. That’s not to say he’s not very skilled or charismatic, but I just can’t see myself listening to a whole album’s worth of his braggadocio-on-steroids act. I’m much more drawn to the cringe-inducing honesty of Kanye and the newly-humbled T.I. I mean, Christ, even Young Jeezy can modulate. So I have five choice 50 Cent singles, If I Can’t the best of them.
311, “Amber” – Mediocre band, awesome song. A recurring theme in my library, to be sure.
999, “Homicide
The 5th Dimension, “Aquarius/Let The Sunshine In” – Hippiedom tamed for the mainstream. Classic. I played this, half-joking and half-not, about eight times after Obama was sworn in. Also, the basis for possibly the funniest scene in movie history, at the end of The Forty-Year-Old Virgin.

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The Hard Drive Project Day One: Weird Al Yankovic

Cribbing a brilliant feature from The Onion A.V. Club called Popless, and spurred by a recent clean-up of my computer and external hard drive, I am setting out to listen to every song and every artist on said hard drive. This hopefully will incorporate new releases over the course of the journey as well. Mostly I’ll be running quickly through artists for whom I only have a track or two, but for more major artists, I will try to go a bit more in depth. The inaugural artist: Weird Al Yankovic.

Weird Al is a strange choice to start this endeavour, perhaps, but the parenthesis that begins his artist name in iTunes puts him at the top of the list. My first experience with Weird Al was a VHS tape my dad had, showcasing Yankovic’s greatest video hits. Through the parodist’s wacky (and often food-related) appropriation of whatever was in the contemporary zeitgeist (or at least the Top 40), I also had my first experience with Madonna, Nirvana, James Brown, Green Day, The Red Hot Chili Peppers, rap music, and the delightful musical form and style that is polka.

Most of the time, Yankovic simply appropriates the music and arrangement of a popular song and writes his own lyrics about one of his many preoccupations (food and TV, mostly). He really doesn’t go after an artist directly except for a rare instance – “Smells Like Nirvana,” obviously spoofing Nirvana’s signature song, amplifies Cobain’s mumbly-shouty singing to ridiculous heights (“Its hard to bargle nawdle zouss(? )/ With all these marbles in my mouth”), and in hindsight it reads also as a dead-on satire of the calcified, mainstream “rebellion” that arose in Nirvana’s wake. Otherwise, any overt mockery of an artist comes in more subtle, idiosyncratic moments. “Trapped in the Drive-Thru“, taken from R. Kelly’s immortal “Trapped in the Closet”, hilariously pushes to its annoying limit the song’s penchant for rhyming the same exact word, over and over. “You’re Pitiful,” Yankovic’s otherwise pedestrian take on James Blunt’s noxious “You’re Beautiful,” features my favorite such moment. In the opening of the original, Blunt sings a clipped “My life is brilliant” several measures before the verse actually starts. Weird Al tweaks it, singing the line as Blunt does, then awkwardly asking, “W-was I too early? … Should I …?”

For the vast majority of people, Weird Al is defined by his goofy but sharp parodies of the videos that accompany the songs he, um, modifies, and rightly so. Far from an Al cultist, I have followed Yankovic’s post-peak career from a distance; he gets a lifetime pass for his involvement in “Tim and Eric Awesome Show Great Job.”

Strengths: You have to be a savvy guy to maintain a decades-long career as a novelty artist in an era when everything is already supposed to be sort-of ironic. Digging a little deeper, the “style parodies,” or originals in a style of a particular genre or artist without referencing a specific song, reveal the dude to be a pretty good songwriter in his own right.

Weaknesses: The nature of his act means often parodying a song that is a hit at the time but will ultimately be a dated relic … or forgotten entirely. (cough *Crash Test Dummies* cough)

The big hit: I actually don’t even have this one in digital form, but “Amish Paradise” might be his defining song for music fans my age.

Best song: “White & Nerdy“, a spoof of Chamillionaire’s “Ridin”, sounds just like the original but may have Yankovic’s funniest lyrics, riffing on his common trope of the nerd who is enamored of mainstream pop culture but can never partake (“Only question I/ Ever thought was hard/ Is ‘Do I like Kirk/ Or do I like Picard?”).

Other best song: “Dare to Be Stupid“, an actually fairly scathing spoof of Devo’s absurd synthy wankery. Devo frontman Mark Mothersbaugh has admitted he hated Yankovic after hearing the song, not because he was being mocked but because Yankovic had found a synthesizer sound even better than Devo’s.

Stab at pretension: Every Weird Al album features a polka-fied medley of pop hits from when the album was made; the mash-up of styles and artists, albeit pumped through an accordian, anticipates the iPod paradigm. “Polkarama” from 2006 is the apotheosis.

Most overrated: “Eat It.” Yankovic’s spoofs are usually technically dead-on, but the arrangement here sounds rushed and cheap compared to the industrial crunch of the original.

Most personal for me: I went to a preppy elementary school whose main purpose was siphoning the preppy kids into preppier high schools. I didn’t fit in at all. It kind of sucked. In sixth grade, our class took a week-long field trip to Chicago; on the drive through Illinois, I must have listened to “Alternative Polka” about thirty times on my Walkman.

Hiatus

Hi internet peoples,

I’ve suspended my blogging at Scribblerist while I focus on my fiction writing practice. You can read my weekly posts about Buddhism, culture, and (occasionally) psychology & neuroscience at the One City Blog.

Best,

The Scrib.

Waterfalls

In response to Olafur Eliasson’s upcoming NYC waterfalls installation (which is going to be a huge, wet let down), Curbed has come up with some artist renderings of what actual waterfalls would look like in the city.

Delightful chaos!

The Truth About Blogging

With bloggers getting book deals left and right, and a growing popular awareness that yes, blogging produces real writing and reportage, the reactionary, anti-blog voices in the MSM are beginning to sound like global warming deniers: shrill, stupid, and kind of sad.

That said, it’s no secret that, for me, blogging is often a distraction from writing fiction. This Candorville strip sums it up depressingly well.

Keeping Up with the Jones Boys: Raiders of the Lost Ark

Keesup here. In anticipation of Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, due out Thursday, I naturally wanted to catch up with the first three Indy movies directed by Steven Spielberg. Rather than critique the movies in a traditional manner, I’m going to try a longer, looser format, somewhere between live-blog from an event and an A.O. Scoot review. First up, the movie that started it all, Raiders of the Lost Ark (or, as it was cleverly re-titled for DVD packaging, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark, as if we would forget it was an Indiana Jones movie unless they added that).
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Elitist Obama Supporter Bruce Springsteen