Recent music and books

Posted in books, music, personal at 12:25 am by danvk


- A Tribe Called Quest, The Low End Theory (1991)
- R.E.M., Murmur (1983)
- The Velvet Underground, Loaded (1970)
- Bob Dylan, The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan (1962)

Some albums are just inextricably associated with times and places in my life. Loaded wins that award for summer 2006. It’s hard to say how long you have to wait to know, but the early returns have Reasonable Doubt as the sound of starting at Google.


- Kenneth Browser, The Starship & the Canoe (1978)
- Eric S. Raymond, The Cathedral and the Bazaar (1997)

Hopefully I’ll write more about both these books in the next week or so.


Nas: Hip Hop Is Dead

Posted in music, reviews at 1:29 am by danvk

nashiphopdead.jpg I recently noticed that a friend was intrigued by Hip Hop Is Dead, so I figured I should write a little about it. As the two readers of this blog know, I’m a big fan of Nas, or at least of Illmatic. And that’s a distinction that no small number of people make. Nas’s predicament reminds me a bit of Bob Dylan’s. No new album of Dylan’s will ever be called “his best ever”. It would be absurd. The highest praise his new albums can be given is “the best since Blood on the Tracks“. High praise, but I imagine that kind of prior success would weigh heavy on an artist. That being said, this is his best album since Illmatic.
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Stuff I’ve Enjoyed Lately

Posted in books, music, personal at 12:11 am by danvk

The Freshest Kids: A History of the B-Boy

Fun history of hip-hop and breakdancing in particular.

Modern C++ Design, by Andrei Alexandrescu

If ever you thought you understood C++…

Hard-boiled Wonderland and the End of the World, by Haruki Murakami

A much easier, faster read than The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, but I prefer my darkness alone in the bottom of a well rather than in a subterranean cavern with a plump 18 year-old who may or may not be a sex interest.

King: Man of Peace in a Time of War

A look at Martin Luther King’s principle of nonviolence in the context of the Vietnam War. The extended clip of King on the Michael Douglas show was fascinating. In the future, we’ll be seeing more and more legendary figures in down-to-earth contexts like this.

Malcolm X, Directed by Spike Lee

Malcolm X’s life forms a fascinating counterpoint to Dr. King’s, and this is one hell of a movie.


Favorite Albums, 2006

Posted in music, personal, reviews at 8:53 pm by danvk

This isn’t a list of my favorite albums that came out in 2006. It’s a list of albums that became favorites of mine in 2006, regardless of when they were released.

10. The Mountain Goats, The Sunset Tree (2005)

Learned about it from the Pitchfork 2005 list, which has been mysteriously excised from Pitchfork’s site. I love the album cover. It’s a pretty quiet album. The last two songs are eerie and wonderful.

9. Joy Division, Substance (1988)

I’ve known I should like Joy Division for a very long time, but sometimes it just takes that extra kick to make it happen. In this case it was seeing how excited Nathan got when “Dead Souls” randomly played in the background at someone’s house. Now that song stands out for me, too, and it was the key to finding more and more to like on this album. It’s a singles collection — I still haven’t been able to get into their original albums.

8. Jay-Z, Reasonable Doubt (1996)

I decided that Jay-Z was pretty cool in 2005, when Pitchfork put Blueprint as the #2 album of 2000-2004. Then I thought about Blueprint some more, and decided that, on second thought, maybe I didn’t like Jay-Z after all. So I didn’t get around to listening to Reasonable Doubt until I saw it on this list. I really love the sound of this album, starting on the very first track (right after the skit). The guest spots are incredible, with Memphis Bleek on “Coming of Age” and Foxy sounding tough as nails “Ain’t No Nigga”. And “22 two’s” may just be the cleverest song I’ve ever heard.

7. Michael Jackson, Dangerous (1991)

What do Hurricane Katrina and Michael Jackson’s Dangerous have to do with each other? Not much, but Katrina did drive a mysterious girl from Tulane over to Rice who convinced me that MJ wasn’t so bad. According to her, this album was “probably his artistic height,” so I had great expectations.

Tracks 1-6 are incredibly upbeat, but at 5-6 minutes a pop, the front half of this album gets incredibly tiring. But then we start healing the world and things settle down until the end. I was forced to sing “Heal the World” in grade school, so the song has been forever ruined for me. But “Black or White” is amazing, and the remaining tracks are solid, easy listening. And then there’s “Dangerous” to close things out.

Michael Jackson may be better when his artistry is less heightened, but Dangerous is a solid album.

6. Talking Heads, Sand in the Vaseline (1992)

I’ve always been a fan of Remain in Light, but the rest of the Talking Heads songs just didn’t click for me. Then I heard a story about David Byrne giving a concert in the Eighties while “coked out of his mind,” and somehow that did the trick.

Sand in the Vaseline is a singles collection and it was great company on my ride across the country, particularly the second disc. Standouts for me were “Lifetime Piling Up” and especially “(Nothing But) Flowers”.

5. Art Brut, Bang Bang Rock and Roll (2005)

A winner from the 2005 list. Who can resist “Formed a Band”? I normally prefer more mellow songs, but Art Brut is best when they’re completely strung out. “Good Weekend” and “Modern Art” are two of my faves. I went to the San Francisco MOMA a few months ago and suddenly had “Modern Art! Makes Me! Want to ROCK OUT!” stuck in my head, and it made me smile ear to ear. Who the hell says that?

4. The Velvet Underground, Loaded (1971)

I decided to listen to this album after seeing how happy “Sweet Jane” made somebody when it came on at a party. Sweet Jane makes me happy, too, as do the rest of the first three tracks on here (“Who Loves the Sun” and “Rock and Roll”). The rest of the album took a lot longer, but it came around. I still love the start. “Who loves the sun? Who cares that it makes flowers? Who cares that it makes showers, since you broke my heart?”

3. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah! (2005)

The big winner of Pitchfork’s 2005 list for me. Rarely does an album simultaneously do well on the year-end best list and the year-end worst list. I think the opening track is there to make “Let the Cool Goddess Rust Away” sound just that much better. Standouts are “Details of the War” and “The Skin of my Yellow Country Teeth”, but the whole album sounds great. Except for the opener “Clap Your Hands!”, of course.

2. Belle and Sebastian, If You’re Feeling Sinister (1999)

It’s amazing that I didn’t discover this album sooner, given its prominent placement on Pitchfork’s 90′s list. I made an MP3 CD of the top 13 albums on that list a few years ago, and at #14 B&S just missed the cutoff. It’s too bad. I loved this album almost instantly, especially “Stars of Track and Field”, “Get Me Away from Here I’m Dying” and “Judy and the Dream of Horses”. All three are perfect songs. It takes me back to good times in high school and college, feeling innocent and in love. Did I mention that “Stars of Track and Field” is just great? It’s forever changed my image of high school running with the girl who “only did it so / that you could wear / you terry underwear / and feel the city air / run past your body”.

1. Nas, Illmatic (1994)
In all fairness, I liked Illmatic before 2006, but this was a really good year for me and Nas. Forget the whole rivalry with Jay-Z, this is just Nas showing what he can do. “New York State of Mind” sets the tone for the album. It’s got a simple, perfect beat. It’s just a few piano notes over and over, but with Nas’s words over them, it sounds downright menacing. “Life’s a Bitch” is a perfect track with a perfect guest spot by AZ. Almost every track on this album is fantastic, and only “It Ain’t Hard to Tell” feels at all over-produced. The lyrics are incredibly dense but somebody must have told Nas “enunciate” before he recorded this, because they’re not too hard to pick out. Every once in a while you’ll catch a few lines that just blow you away. The album’s loaded with gems: “keep static like wool fabric”, “I need a new nigga, for this black cloud to follow / Cause while it’s over me it’s too dark to see tomorrow”.

“One Love” is another standout that’s a letter to his boys in the tank. He lets them know how things are going, and then there’s lines that hit you like these: “So stay civilized, time flies / though incarcerated your mind dies / I hate it when your mom cries / it kinda makes me want to murder, for real-a / I’ve even got a mask and gloves to bust slugs / for one love”.


Race/Gender in my iTunes Library

Posted in music, personal at 11:42 pm by danvk

Mostly out of curiosity, I tried to do some race and gender statistics on my iTunes Library this evening. Weighted by number of tracks I’ve played in the last three months, here’s how my iTunes library breaks down. By race:

  • White 1340 tracks played
  • Black 505 tracks played

By gender:

  • Male 1833 tracks played
  • Female 12 tracks played

This is by race/gender of the lead vocalist only. Apparently I’m sexist but not racist. The numbers don’t change too much if you count Michael Jackson as white.

I haven’t been able to find a good way to automate this. There’s tons of directories of musicians and bands, but none of them include information about race or gender. The closest I’ve found is the Notable Names database which has some musicians, but nonspectacular coverage.

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