You know, just sort of that kind of indie rock thing

January 19, 2007

I used to be a skeptcical music buyer, purchasing new records (always records) only after I’d heard them, in their entirety, at somebody else’s house. Then, in 2000, I took a risk on The Moon and Antarctica by Modest Mouse and was completely blown away. It captured the feeling of growing up angry and jaded in a woodsy Seattle suburb in the 80s and wandering through the woods thinking big thoughts about life and death. I felt like I was 17 again.

So since then, I’ve occasionally bought records based on reviews or recommendations from friends or musical acquaintances whom I respect as players. Some of these work out OK–usually fairly obscure music that never gets any radio play even on college radio, like Friends of Dean Martinez or Secret Chiefs. And I still love the old standbys like Yo La Tengo. (The last song on their new album is the best piece of music I’ve heard come out of the indie rock world in years.)

But the other day I found myself looking through my record collection and seeing a lot of these indie rock records–the “you know, just sort of that kind of indie rock thing” pushed by Pitchfork and KEXP–that I really don’t like and will probably never listen to again. Like:

Calexico‘s last album. They used to be so interesting. Why would they do a straight indie rock album?

Wolf Parade. Issac Brock produced it, which I guess is why it sounds like junior-grade Modest Mouse.

Broken Social Scene. Not bad, but I cannot imagine ever listening to it again.

My Morning Jacket‘s last album, Z. I’ve tried about three times, I keep thinking I should just put on Crazy Horse. (I really liked the album before it.)

The Rapture. Big mistake thanks to reading Pitchfork a couple years ago. (Best album of 2003? Are you kidding me? I don’t know what was, but it wasn’t this.)

Of Montreal. Again, not horrible, but I doubt I’ll ever listen to it again. (This is one of their older ones, not the one with that let’s pretend we’re in Antarctica song, which is pretty decent.)

The Walkmen. Horrible mistake thanks to some chick in the Amoeba in SF who saw me considering it and said it was really great. I think it was the guitarist’s girlfriend or something–they were playing in town that night.

I am getting old. I put on David Bowie’s Low the other night and wondered why nobody makes good music anymore. I mean, what happeened to the spirit of adventure that let this platinum selling pop star make a great experimental record consisting mostly of instrumental synth tracks? Even the indie rock bands all sound like each other, like their only goal is getting on the radio.

Although at least I’m not as old and jaded as this guy.


iPhone and convergence

January 12, 2007

I still stand by my earlier contention that consumers don’t want convergence, but would rather have one well-designed device that does everything well. Although the touch-screen with switchable UI may solve the problem of accidentally dialing my mom when I really want to listen to “Mother” by The Police, I tend to agree with this writer that the iPhone hype is far ahead of the reality. That’s not even getting into the many flaws that observers are already pointing out.

Is it really that much of a sacrifice to carry both a mobile phone and a portable music player? If not, is it worth switching to Cingular and paying $500 to combine the two? Not for me. Then again, MP3 players existed well before the iPod, but the combination of style, design, and ease of user have allowed Apple to capture more than 70% of the market.

Wireless Rhapsody

January 12, 2007

One of my long-awaited desires, the celestial jukebox, is arriving in 2007, courtesy of RealNetworks and a handful of partners like iRiver, Samsung, and Nokia. Not only can these forthcoming iRiver players download subscription-based Rhapsody content over the air via Wi-Fi, but they also have other cool stuff built in like voice and line-in recording.

Why couldn’t Microsoft have done this with Zune? They better get cracking, the competition’s moving faster.

CES vs Jobs

January 12, 2007

Attended CES this year for work, and was one of those who felt like they went to the wrong party. While Apple was busy introducing what will inevitably be the most-talked-about product of the year (albeit vaporware at this point–they never used to do that!), Microsoft was busy acknowledging that the copy-restriction capabilities in Vista will in fact mean that you’ll probably have to buy new hardware–including an HDCP-compliant monitor–to play most forms of high-def video on a Vista PC.

I’m not sure that Peter Gutmann is completely right about Vista’s anticopying provisions ruining the entire computer industry, but Microsoft’s assurances to me in 2005–“oh, many content owners won’t even use these copy-protection provisions” (so then why did you build them in?) — are appearing more and more like desperate spin (formerly known as “bullshit.”) So Vista as home entertainment hub could be dead on arrival. Why buy a new $3,000 system when you can add individual, locked-down components (DVD player, HD cable set top box) to your existing system? Are benefits like being able to track your fantasy football players in real time while you watch the games and highlights really worth swapping out your whole system? (Of course, it won’t make a bit of difference to sales–every new consumer PC will come with Vista Home Premium whether you choose to use all the features in it or not.)

That said, Microsoft’s Home Server announcement was actually pretty interesting–automatic nightly backup, storage of all your digital media files, capacity only limited by the size of drives you add (HP’s hardware features four swappable drives, plus 4 USB connectors for additional drives), remote access via a URL (albeit tied into Windows Live Domains, which lets you register your own domain name via a third-party in Melbourne Australia, and was kludgey as hell when I tested it for Office Live), health monitoring of PCs on your network. They purposely left out firewall software, reasoning that you wouldn’t want to reconfigure your network, but simply add a storage device to it. They also left out security and auto updating, reasoning that a lot of people have laptops and want to be secure even when they’re not connected to the home network. Reasonable. ALso, it’s not a domain controller, which means you’ll still be using local accounts on each PC…essentially, it’s just a shared folder on a new box.

But the thing they haven’t announced yet, which will make it really attractive, is the price. Let’s just say cheaper than the cheapest PC. Priced more like a consumer electronics add-on.

Now, sure, as a friend pointed out to me, you can do similar things online. But most of those services have pretty low storage limits–25GB for the free version of MediaMax seemed to be the limit–and rely on you having a fast Internet connection. Personally, I’d rather rely on my home network.