Sounds a little mechanical?

Some mornings you get up and on the way in to work you read a story or hear a conversation that makes what could have been another dull day that little bit warmer and happier. It’s the little things in life that do it, and today we spotted a simple little video thanks to the BBC. It shows the work of a retired mechanical engineer who has put his talents towards creating a robot that will translate any MIDI file into the kinetic motions of a robot playing a violin. The result is the sound not of a great master, but instead of a ‘tired and emotional’ street performer after a long day of busking. It’s no great technological leap forward, it’s not quite up to scratch from a performance point of view, but there again, it’s creator describes it as a ‘kinetic sculpture’, so that’s really not the point.

Instead we have something that lays bare the mechanics of sound creation, from vibrato to pizzicato every human movement has been studied and analysed in order to replicate the appropriate sound. It may not be innovatively creative, but sometimes craftsmanship is enough. Check out the latest Bob Dylan album if you don’t believe us.

Check out the sculpture below.

Breakdown J Dilla samples with SampleStitch

Do you remember that graph that showed the relative verbosity and linguistic skill of various HipHop MCs and rappers? We wrote about it here, and in doing so wondered out loud about the motivations of the author, Matt Daniels;

“Sometimes the people who do this are creative geniuses, others are just obsessed by knowledge and datasets, while a few are calculating their imminent internet fame. We’re not sure how many of these Matt Daniels falls under, but as a self-claimed ‘data scientist’ we know the middle description is probably accurate.”

Turns out we may have been under estimating the guy, as he has recently played a trump card that suggests he’s also falling under the first category too. That trump card is, a website that allows you to play your keyboard like a MPC using samples of HipHop greats. In layman’s terms that means you can build up tracks by J Dilla, Kanye, and 9th Wonder from the original samples simply by mashing buttons on your keyboard (it also works on touch screens).

What’s most impressive is that Daniels has got this down to the milliseconds of each sample, indeed that’s the whole point of the exercise. Reading his ‘About’ section is as fascinating as screwing with the samples yourself – do not miss it! There’s not much else to say other than we’re really impressed with this, and had some fun and learned a thing or two along the way. Make sure to check it out…

New Music – February

Kitty, Daisy & Lewis - Kitty, Daisy & Lewis The Third (Sunday Best)
The third album from this sibling trio is a retro affair indulging in classic R&B, Rockabilly, and 50s Rock ‘n’ Roll. This time there’s Mick Jones on production duties, though any raw influence of his time in The Clash is imperceptible here. Instead there’s slick Hawaiian guitar, light double bass, and considered horn accompaniment throughout. It’s a rounded and contemporary treatment that somewhat flies in the face of the band’s love of 78s, analogue recording techniques, and the nostalgic whiff of Brylcreem. Check out ‘Bye, Bye Baby’ here.

Cee-Lo Green – TV on the Radio (Soundcloud)
Sometimes an album drops out of nowhere and that’s the case with this latest from the Gnarls Barkley man. TV on the Radio, which has no connection to the band of the same name, arrived on Soundcloud with no warning and features Cee-Lo singing over televisual hits of yesteryear. It’s an odd collection that showcases Green’s skill with a melody, injecting soul and energy where ever he goes. It’s a quirky collection as you’d expect, very much like the man himself, and the highlight, ‘Rhythm of Life’, uses perhaps the most ubiquitous sample here in its quoting of the classic Knight Rider theme. Check it out here.

The Charlatans – Modern Nature (BMG)
A long time has passed since The Charlatan’s heyday, and over the past couple of years it’s been far more common to hear of frontman Tim Burgess on his own than as part of the band that drew such attention in the 1990s. It’d be wrong to say they sound revitalised here, considering the sad death of drummer Jon Brookes last year, but there’s a certain impetus behind these songs that shines through from the first chord to the last. It’s no great stylistic leap, yet their Indie Rock has been tempered somewhat in recent years and this only accentuated their craftsmanship and musicality. If you’ve ever danced to these guys in an Indie Disco, give them another go by checking out ‘So Oh’ here.

Björk – Vulnicura (One Little Indian)
This is as personal an album as Björk  has made, working its way as it does through the stages of her recent break up. With Arca on the main production duties and Haxan Cloak putting down the final mix there is a visceral heartbeat throughout that ebbs and flows through strings and percussion. This is particularly evident on the beautiful and arresting ‘Black Lake’; a track which wonderfully demonstrates a more moderate form of compositional structuring than we’ve seen on recent Björk outings. It’s nigh on impossible not to be gripped by the elegiac sense of wonder of Vulnicura. Since the album was released early due to leaks there are no official streams this far. Check it out at your favourite music retailer instead?

Mark Ronson – Uptown Special (Columbia)
Now on album number four, this is a key moment for the producer of some of the biggest hits of the past decade as he strikes out to be an A-list star in his own right on both sides of the Atlantic. Yet again he has plenty of A-list guests to help along the way, with the guitar and vocals of Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker repeatedly cropping up, though Stevie Wonder’s harmonica may be the biggest coup here. The obvious highlight is the Bruno Mars fronted ‘Uptown Funk’, and even if you don’t recognise the title we’re certain you’ve heard it. Just to make sure, check it out here.

Belle & Sebastian – Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance (Matador)
It’s hard not to focus on the disco beats and upbeat tempos of this latest release from a band best known for being a little more restrained. That’s not to say that this isn’t a considered album, and there’s plenty of the classic Belle and Sebastian sound so often referred to as ‘Twee’, but best summed up as melodically focused Indie Pop. Stuart Murdoch’s soft vocals and melodic word play are still present and correct, while album highlight ‘Perfect Couples’ starts with polyrhythmic drumming and hand claps before descending into staccato guitar chops. It’s a disparate album that may surprise some but should please all. Check out another favourite, ‘Nobody’s Empire’, here.

Diesler and Various Artists – A Little Something Radio: Music From The Modern Soul Underground (Here & Now Records)
A real hotchpotch of styles is presented here with the thread of Soul at times becoming tenuous at best, particularly as the House beats get dialled in. That said, it’s hard not to be bowled over by the quality on show here, with smooth Disco from Ray Harris, Deep House from Ambient Jazz Ensemble, or the Afro-Funk from Abayomy Afrobeat Orquestra. Despite the diversity it’s the classic soulful Funk of ‘Ice Cream Man’ by the Third Coast Kings that hits the sweetest note here, with blistering guitar, horns and Hammond organ vying to be the crowning glory. Check it out here.

Similar or the same?

Ever read ‘The Manual: How to have a number one hit the easy way’ by the KLF? It’s both a case study of their hit (as The Timelords) ‘Doctorin’ the Tardis’, and a step-by-step guide to producing a hit song with no money or musical talent. At its core is a simple message; you have to sound like everything else to succeed.

It’s not a new philosophy, and its roots go back at least to the work of the Father of Musicology, Theodor W Adorno, who spent a great amount of time examining the ways in which popular music repeats themes and styles, in the 1930s.
So what, right? Music tends to sound similar, particularly tracks and songs within a genre; that’s how we identify tracks as belonging to a genre after all. But how similar is similar?

The recent news of Sam Smith settling with Tom Petty has again brought musical similarities into the news, and we’ve been sitting on this video for a while and figured now was as good a time as any to share it. We’ve held back this far because we’re sick to the back teeth of ‘mash-ups’, but have decided if you ignore the word (which in this case in misapplied anyway), then you have a rather interesting study on the similarities of hit tracks.

And before anyone thinks we’re getting down on Country, we’re not. To reassure, there’s some Uncle Tupelo below too.

The Indie Record Shop Map

Ever been in a new city on release day of a new record you just have to get your hands on? Or are the views on your weekly crate dig getting a bit repetitive? Then check out this map of every indie record shop in Scotland.

The original list for this was created in 2013 as part of a study that revealed that in the ten years previous the total number of record shops in Scotland had declined from 119 to just 54. As of 2013 there were just 15 shops that were independently owned and sold new releases as a predominant part of their business. That number is less now due to the on-going struggles of Avalanche in Edinburgh.

The map currently has 30+ shops not all of which are focused on new releases but all are independently owned. Anyone can add to or edit the map, and it’s hoped new maps can be added showing all the indie record shops in the UK, or even the world.

Full disclosure – we played a big hand in making it, and we reckon it’s pretty cool so go check it out.

The Longest Mixtape (OpenEar Edit)

After the release of Caribou’s ‘The Longest Mixtape’ we thought we’d do some sorting for you, should you not be one of the people instantly hyped by its very existence. We make playlists every day, and we can certainly give this one a seal of approval for diversity and quality – though perhaps not so much for flow and overall tone.

So here, in the order we got them, are ten of the tracks that came up on Shuffle play for us with some of our thoughts on the music contained therein.

Bob Chance – It’s Broken: Proto-House and Disco vibes from 1980 that sound like they should have been released on Mute. If Frankie Knuckles met Fad Gadget…

Z Factor – Fast Cars: More Proto-House, this time rocking an Italo Disco vibe. The Fender bass line makes this, along with the sultry vocals of Jesse Saunders.

Douglas Leedy – Entropical Paradise I: Avant-garde electronics and Moog sounds that could have come straight from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop had this piece actually been interesting.

Emeralds – Genetic: Electronic, glitch-filled Post-Rock is what Emeralds do, and here’s a case in point. Keep your ears open for hints at The Who’s ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ around the 8min mark…

Burundi Black – Burundi Black: Afro-Funk with dollops of groove and grit, surpassed in excellence with a creeping piano line. We have a new favourite song.

Captain Beefheart – Electricity: Possibly the highlight of Beefheart’s career? It’s alleged (and refuted) that Ol’ Don broke microphones singing this one. That slide guitar is electrifying though.

Madlib – Early Party: Short and snappy Indian inspired rhythms from the great beatsmith that is Madlib. What’s more to say?

Sueño Latino – Sueño Latino (Derrick May’s Illusion First Mix): Detroit Techno’s pioneer may be better known for other work but this is a great remix of a track that was already well loved.

Dionne Warwick – You’re Gonna Need Me: Much sampled, most notably by J. Dilla, this is a classic Soul track with a lovely modulated guitar sound buried deep underneath towards the end.

Clams Casino – I’m God: Downtempo Electronica with a particularly airy vibe from a Hip Hop producer who just repeated this feat of eerie beat creation with FKA Twigs’ ‘Hours’.

Harman Car-don

Listening environments are of quite considerable interest to us yet they seem to have dropped off a lot of peoples’ radar of late. Perhaps that’s got a lot to do with the latest waves of high quality portable personal audio equipment, or perhaps that means companies like ours are doing some good work in public spaces. At this year’s CES in Las Vegas, the most noted consumer electronics show in the world, that attention to listening environments seems to be picking up again; in cars.

Harman have displayed a new car stereo that may change long journeys forever. By utilising new software that can auto-balance sound, as well as operate a noise cancelling system, Harman claim to have created a stereo that allows up to four separate listening zones in one vehicle. It’s no great leap in technology but it does sound like an interesting step up from noise-cancelling headphones where alternate frequencies are played to effectively nullify sounds that would be heard as an intrusion.

Unfortunately we weren’t in Las Vegas over the last week so we can’t say for sure whether this system reacts to audio from source or from in cabin microphones monitoring ambient noise. We’re curious if the latter would make conversation a little difficult. That’s all well and good when the children in the back seat want to know ‘are we nearly there yet?’, but not so great when you can’t hear those fateful words ‘I feel sick’.

If you buy a high-spec Lexus over the next few years, let us know how it goes.

New Music – January

D’Angelo and The Vanguard – Black Messiah (RCA)
Comparisons. We could start with My Bloody Valentine and Guns ‘n’ Roses, both of whom spent a decade-plus formulating much hyped ‘future classic’ albums. Or we could draw up the names of such R&B, Soul, and Funk luminaries as Sly Stone, Prince, and Marvin Gaye. At the end of the day though, this is a singular work carried out by one man with a focus that, though it may have wavered over the decade in its making, now stands clear and strong. Whether it’s a future classic only time can tell, but initial signs suggest those hints of Hot Jazz, Doo Wop, and Flamenco have caught more imaginations than chiselled abs ever did. Check out ‘Sugah Daddy’ here.

Moby – Hotel: Ambient (Moby Gratis)
Originally released as a bonus disk to his 2006 album Hotel, Moby was recently asked by a fan how she could get hold of a copy. Upon realising that he didn’t know and that he himself didn’t own a copy, he resolved to bringing about a re-release with added tracks. So here we have a bonus of a bonus which is quite a strange feeling for something so incredibly minimalist. This is as ambient as they come, more so even that the classic Eno album Ambient 1 (Music for Airports). There are hints of Vangelis’ Blade Runner soundtrack in the slow synth chords and oscillating harmonics, but overall this is an album marking the ebb and flow of the most delicate of mood pieces. Check it out for free here.
The Craig Charles Funk & Soul Club, Vol. 3
(Freestyle Records)
Better known as a comic actor, or perhaps as a former poet, Craig Charles is also widely recognised as a bit of an authority on Funk and Soul, hosting radio shows and compiling wonderful compilations such as this. Focusing on upbeat and often exuberant tracks, there’s a tendency towards instrumental rather than vocal tracks, and a predominance of horn sections. While that guarantees some fun, the quality and musical talent is just as high with Open Ear favourites such as Hot 8 Brass Band and Lack of Afro providing the great cuts. Check out the album high, ‘Robbin Hood’ by Extra Curricular here.
Charli XCX – Sucker (Atlantic)
There’s a school of thinking that suggests that the best Pop is that which is most infectious; the tracks that are popular, and populist, almost despite themselves being the epitome of the genre. Charli XCX is most definitely a devoted adherent on Sucker as she mixes hook after hook with a charismatic touch of grit bound to convert the cynical. Sure, there’s an unnerving sense of parody that creeps in occasionally, but that ‘Oi!’ in the punky chorus of ‘London Queen’ hints this is far more knowing than most Pop-Punk released this millennium. Check it out here, but try not to over-think it.

Edwyn Collins – The Possibilities are Endless
(AED Records)

Edwyn Collins has a rich and beguiling back catalogue of music to his name, yet after suffering a stroke in 2005 he was left with a vocabulary of just eight words; ‘Yes’, ‘No’, his wife’s name, and ‘The Possibilities are Endless’. That he has now recorded an album of that name, to soundtrack a documentary of his fantastic recovery, would be a joy no matter how it sounded. In fact, it’s a new string in Collins’ bow as he presents tender and deeply considered pieces, with the assistance of co-artists Carwyn Ellis and Sebastian Lewsley, alongside previously released tracks such as the fantastic I’ve Got it Bad, now 20 years old. Check out the trailer for ‘The Possibilities are Endless’ here.
Nostalgia 77 and the Monster – Measures
(Tru Thoughts)
We’re only just done reviewing Nostalgia 77’s album with Prince Fatty when they pop up in their ‘Monster’ iteration featuring the full live band. This latest, Measures, includes significant compositions both from lead Benedic Lamdin and bass player and arranger Riaan Vosloo and returns to their Jazz core, including a fantastic tale on the great Sun Ra’s ‘An Island in the Sun’. Elsewhere there are hints at Miles DavisSketches of Spain, which makes it fair to say that this is a looser and more freeform album than last year’s ‘A Journey Too Far’. Check it out on Bandcamp.

Steelism – 615 to Fame (Single Lock)
Back when electric guitars hadn’t been played upside-down, set alight, and distorted to an inch of their life was a time when they played a remarkably prominent role. As the melodic line in Surf, Country, and Blues instrumentals in the 50s and 60s they captured many imaginations. Minds still turn to them upon hearing the trans-Atlantic duo that make up Steelism, comprised of Jeremy Fetzer and Spencer Cullum, who met while touring with Caitlin Rose. Named after the road between Nashville and Muscle Shoals, Alabama between which their debut album was recorded, 615 to Fame is vibrant and eclectic and well worth checking out. Catch ‘Caught in a Pickle’ here.


Caitlin Canty – Reckless Skyline (Kickstarter)
Authenticity counts when you’re playing Country, and it counts even more when you’re relying on your fans to help fund the pressing of your new album through Kickstarter. Thankfully Caitlin Canty’s alto vocals express the mystery, steady pacing, and weight of the world so important to all Americana with aplomb. Backed mainly be delicate guitar, drums, and peddle-steel from a band that are tight as can be, Reckless Skyline is straight-up quality. The guitar work on album highlight ‘My Love For You Will Not Fade’ sounds like it’s bolted from Ry Cooder’s stable, only to be tamed by Canty and her band. Check out a live version here.


iRefund – Free rental of digital music?

Edit: Despite initial reports, it appears that refunds may not be available if music or apps purchased via iTunes are ‘used’ prior to cancellation. Issues around copying and transfer of files to alternative storage are as yet unclear.

So the big music news from the end of 2014 is that iTunes now offer refunds on downloads, within 14 days of purchase. Thanks to EU consumer rights legislation you can now essentially rent albums for a fortnight and then cash them back in for the original price paid.

It’s been suggested that this could have a significant impact on the Charts, the premise being that a coordinated scheme by fans of a band could see tens of thousands of people buying a new single to get it into the Top Ten, only to then cancel their orders and get their money back. It’ll certainly make the annual novelty Christmas No. 1 campaign a little more interesting.

However, it could be a blessing in other ways if it encourages more people to take chances on new artists or to purchase music unheard rather than waiting until it can be streamed.

The most significant negative aspect that we see is that it negates one of the most significant positives of digital music distribution. While physical formats always have some spoilage, through scratched disks, lost inventory, and theft (and this cost is almost always passed onto the artist), this is not the case for digital. For reasons only labels can explain, many of the original loss/spoilage costs were still factored into artist contracts for digital product, and only recently have we seen a move away from that. No spoilage charges means more money for artists.

This latest move, where bandwidth and server space is used to transfer and store digital files that are subsequently refunded, could see costs again being laid onto the artist. Do we really think Apple won’t pass the bill on to the labels, who will in turn pass the buck? It’s worth considering before buying all of your favourite artists tracks and then calling in the refund.

Nick Cave (Adj): To steal a hole in rocks

Some songs are created in minutes, others are crafted over years. For a lyricist with the extended vocabulary of Nick Cave, it’s no real surprise that he’s been saving up words for years to whisk out when the occasion arises. There are plenty of examples too, though we rather like this imagery from ‘There She Goes, My Beautiful World’

“Karl Marx squeezed his carbuncles
while writing Das Kapital”

So we weren’t hugely surprised when we saw that Nick has been scrawling his favourite words into notebooks for years. That’s a dictionary we’d read cover to cover.

Check out these images to see for yourself (with thanks to Dangerous Minds)