Thursday, June 24, 2010

Downloads Review (a.k.a. "My Bewildering Love of Golden Earring")

I don't want to brag, but I get lots of downloads here.  And some are even free!  Here's a rundown of some of the digital-only items I've recently had the pleasure of listening to:  

No, wait, looks like it will be preceded by a rant. (Yes, I've already ranted about this twice; think of this as the "trilogy that would not finish" ending from Lord of the Rings.)

I've recently been dragged kicking and screaming into the mp3 world.  To my vocabulary this equates to "settling for crappy music that sounds about the same as AM radio."  I will not settle for this -- but I need to recognize that convenience can be a good thing too.

My philosophy is quality over quantity; I'd rather have one great sounding track as opposed to ten that sound like they're coming from the inside of a closet.  When you make a sound file so tiny in order to fit 10,000 of them on your 8GB iPod, you have to keep in mind that you are taking information out of the sound file to make the convenience factor work.  In other words, it's smaller because it's compressed.  Smaller size = greater convenience but (generally) significantly impaired quality.

With that, I've taken the following steps in preparing my digital library for iPod use:
  1. Everything on CD is imported via the Apple Lossless codec.  This is a setting on iTunes (Edit > Preferences > General (Tab) > Import Settings (button halfway down the page) > Import Using: [Select Apple Lossless Encoder]) for  importing CD's.  There are consequences to this you should be aware of:
    Pros:  This gives you near CD quality sound (I can't hear the difference) at half the size of .wav files.
    Cons:  Even at half the size, my music collection is almost 300GB.  So it ain't all going on one iPod.  Also, the .mp4a files that your tracks are compressed to are proprietary to Apple, and thus not editable by programs like Soundforge or Easy CD Creator. 
  2. I download everything at the highest possible quality.  This is a no-brainer, but you can improve quality significantly at 256 kbps as opposed to the two previous download standards (64 and 128 kbps).  Keep in mind that taking a track from CD and encoding it via Apple Lossless is five times higher quality than if you paid to download the same track at 256 kbps.  That being said, you do the best you can with what you can.  When you can.  Sam I am.  I will not eat green eggs and ham.
Thus endeth the rant.  In alphabetical order:
  • Able and Baker - Forever is Fleeting (2008).  I cannot remember where I saw this or who told me to pick this up, but they deserve a thank you.  It's indie rock crossed with either My Bloody Valentine or Longwave.  (Always dangerous to throw out MBV as a reference; those who might still be looking to avoid the genre of "college radio rock" might mistakenly give this a try.  Even though that genre no longer really exists.  But those people should avoid this.  That's quite a long aside, which does not bode well, gentle reader.)  This is excellent stuff from a band that does not appear to exist outside of this great EP; I hope they make more music.  Very smart spacey guitar rock.
    CD Placement rating: 
    I'm not feeling particularly creative at the moment, so I'm not going to add yet another ratings system to this blog.  So -- Virtual Portable CD Case.  See, I added "Virtual"!  HA HA HA!  Sigh.  Yes, I know that's lame.

  • Devo - Oh No!  It's Devo (1982).  After losing "King Nerd" status by admitting I just picked up my first Devo album last year, Ben suggested I pick this one up, as it's his favorite Devo album.  (I look forward to the endless Devo suggestions that this is bound to produce.)  I can't say that I like this more than Freedom of Choice, but I recognize that I really need to spend some quality time with this band.  The more I listen to them, the more I recognize their wacky genius.  Excelsior!
    CD Placement rating:  Portable CD Case. 

  • Golden Earring - N.E.W.S. (1984).  Sandwiched in the Golden Earring catalog between 1982's Cut (which features "Twilight Zone" but little else) and 1986's The Hole (which I bought for $1.99 on cassette in 1988, thinking it was Cut, and found it to be one of my all-time favorites), it's clear I have a softer spot for this band's 80's output than most Americans.  "Clear Night Moonlight" is a great opening track, and I love the rest of the album.  Should you buy it?  Absolutely not.  It's really not going to do anything for you except lower your opinion of me.  Even I can't defend the the album's title track.  But it doesn't matter.  I  c a n ' t  h e l p  i t.  I have a problem.
    CD Placement rating: 
    For me, CD Rack (or its equivalent).  For you, buying this would officially ruin any indie cred you ever gave me.  If you did in the first place.

  • The Information - Natural Language EP (2007).  One of my favorite local Boston bands (who I think have broken up).  I own their first EP and album (each of which are great), but I never picked up their last release as it was available in three formats:  flash drive, 8-track (seriously!), and digital download.  This release has a different approach in stretching more towards the synth side of the band, but lead singer and primary songwriter Max Fresen's mix of pathos and vitrol is still there in spades.  I'd call this less poppy than their previous two offerings, but it doesn't matter.  It's great stuff.
    CD Placement rating:  Portable CD Case.  Lame.

  • Golden Earring - Keeper of the Flame (1989).  Following 1986's The Hole (which I bought for $1.99 on cassette in 1988, thinking it was Cut, and found it to be one of my all-time favorites)... wait, have I written this already?  Wow, this is embarrassing.  I actually got more than one Golden Earring album?  (In my defense:  they are out of print, you know.)
    CD Placement rating: 
    For me, CD Rack (or its equivalent).  Once again, not for you.

  • Ladyhawke - Ladyhawke Special Edition (2009).  This I got for free by following Amazon's Twitter postings.  At some point I threw all the albums in this post onto my 8GB iPod and threw it on shuffle.  After a few hours of listening, four songs made me stop what I was doing and take notice -- one by Able and Baker, and three by Ladyhawke.  That's a good sign.  They sound like a mashup of New Young Pony Club, VHS or Beta, Berlin, and Suzanne VegaSongs like "My Delirium" are mid-to-up tempo guitar and synth dance perfection; others like "Love Don't Live Here" are smoother and poppier.  There are seriously another 7 tunes which are excellent from this album.  This album has an 80's feel to it, for sure, but doesn't drown itself in it.
    CD Placement rating: 
    Car CD Changer.
    Guess I'd better burn it to CD.  
  • Golden Earring - Prisoner of the Night (1980).  Wait, I actually downloaded THREE Golden Earring albums?  And no "Twilight Zone" or "Radar Love" amongst the lot?  I believe that Mrs. Snilch Report now has irrefutable grounds to become ex-Mrs. Snilch Report.  If that were a legal name, of course.
    CD Placement rating: 

  • Mojo Nixon - Bo-Day-Shus!!! (1987).  "If you don't know Mojo Nixon/Your store could use some fixin'."  That lyric by The Dead Milkmen was my only exposure to Mr. Nixon prior to Amazon (once again) supplying this album for free.  Here's what I've learned:  1) he's a novelty act; 2) he's definitely an acquired taste; and 3) it's not one I'll be acquiring anytime soon.  I'll take "Elvis is Everywhere" and dump the rest.
    CD Placement rating: 
    Sell-back Pile 1.  Although I didn't pay for it, so technically I couldn't sell it back, and I'm just deleting the files, so I couldn't even sell it.  This ratings system is so 2002.

  • Revere - The Great City (2010).  This is another free Amazon download (in fact, an "Amzon mp3 Exclusive"), and is full of toothless venom.  They have effort, but it has no edge to it.  Think a poppier, more sugary John Faye Power Trip.  (I'm guessing only Denis will fully understand that reference.)
    CD Placement rating: 
    Pile of Digital Death.

  • The Upper Crust - Let Them Eat Rock (1995).  Thanks to Sean for introducing me to this one.  Where Mojo Nixon fails for me, Upper Crust does quite nicely.  Sure, it seems silly that four guys should dress up as 17th (or 18th?) Century nobles, singing songs like "Let Them Eat Rock," which (as it suggests) is a play on "Let Them Eat Cake," but that's my kind of humor.  They cross the lines in just great ways, but their music is actually great as well.  I'd love to know if anyone else has picked up any of their other four (!) albums.  These guys rule.
    CD Placement rating: 
    Portable CD Case.  I am so inadequate.
- Snilch

No comments: