I Fight Dragons and MC Lars Futourama Tour

I hadn’t seen I Fight Dragons on tour since Warped Tour three or four years ago (I missed an opportunity to see them at MagFest a couple years ago), but I really enjoyed that set and I’ve been enjoying their work on their new album. They’ve been sharing the progress of songs from acoustic roughs to rhythm roughs, and so on. It’s been a lot of fun to see how the songs evolve. Tickets were only $15 and it was at the Metro Gallery in Baltimore, so I figured I’d go check it out.

Rare Candy
Rare Candy

For quite some time now I’ve really been enjoying discovering new, local bands by getting there when the show starts and this show did not disappoint. The Baltimore locals in Rare Candy were the opening band. They do rock covers of old video game music. The set opened with Mario castle music and ended with an amazing cover of music from Donkey Kong Country. I ended up nabbing their CD that had the most games I enjoyed from my childhood including Mario Kart, Sonic 2 and 3, Chrono Trigger, The Legend of Zelda, and Super Mario World. I’ve got a few different video covers that I’ve bought over the years from bands like Tanuki Suit Riot or The Oneups. Each one brings a slightly different interpretation to the cover. What I enjoyed the most about Rare Candy was their rock sensibility. In fact, this is one of those times where I enjoyed the live set more than the well-mastered CD. The guitars (rhythm and bass) both took center stage at the concert and really just added a deep menace to the Mario castle songs. It was a LOT of fun.

The next group was a rap group that I didn’t enjoy, but part of that was just the mix making it a bit hard to follow all the lyrics. From what I could hear it sounded like they were doing some neat wordplay.

MC Lars
MC Lars

Then it was time for headliner #1: Mc Lars. For the most part, the only exposure I had to his music was Download this Song from a Nerdcore collection I got a few years ago and in the I Fight Dragons concert video where he joined them on stage for The Geeks Will Inherit the Earth. I was impressed and entertained by Mc Lars. Like MC Frontalot (and unlike MC Plus+), his rhymes seemed to celebrate geekiness and spread a general positivity. Sure, to some degree the posturing of Mc Plus+ and SpamTec is more in the spirit of the branch of rap that is about machismo and declaring that you’re awesome and everyone else sucks.

MC Lars
MC Lars

But I find that to be tiresome and I tend to listen more often to more positive tracks. So it was a relief that MC Lars just wanted everyone to have a good time. I didn’t know he had a song about Edgar Allan Poe, but it was pretty appropriate to be in Baltimore for that one. The highlight of his set was when he had a skanking (ska dancing) contest on stage in which no one really lost. He ended up giving everyone at least a CD for participating and the winners (there were four) got t-shirts.

I Fight Dragons
I Fight Dragons

Then it was finally time for the band I came there to see – I Fight Dragons. They had a killer set – I enjoyed it a lot more than their set at Warped Tour. Part of that was because for Warped Tour they were on the stage where each band gets half an hour. Here they did more like 45 minutes or so. The set was a great mix of their music from their earliest stuff through to a song from the new (as yet unreleased) Patreon album and some B-Sides from The Near Future. The energy was great and it was a tiny club where anywhere in there was a great place to be standing. As I predicted to some Lars fans I met there, MC Lars joined them for The Geeks Will Inherit the Earth. But the best part for me was when they officially ended their set with The End from The Beatles Abbey Road album. It provided a chance for the drummer to have an AWESOME drum solo and it was the perfect song to end the set with. Plus, while the original version is great, it works well with a harder rock set of instruments. Then they did a couple encores which was really great – especially since lead singer Brain Mazzaferri’s vocal cords were giving out since we were the last stop on the tour. It really showed the band giving their all to their fans. I appreciate them even more for it.

Overall, it was a great concert. I recommend the Metro Gallery as a great venue because no matter if you’re at the stage or in the back you’re not very far from the stage at all. (However, because it is so small, you probably want to wear some ear protection – even if you plan to be in the back) I’ll probably end up checking out some more of MC Lars’ stuff and I’ll be keeping an eye on Rare Candy.

I Fight Dragons on completing The Near Future

At the end of my interview about starting the Kickstarter project, Brian Mazzaferri of I Fight Dragons opened the door to speaking with him about the process when it was all done. It was, as is the case with many Kickstarter projects, very exhausting and we only recently had time to actually do the interview. In the interview I briefly mention the delays in the vinyl album. This actually a pretty big problem in the music industry at the moment. Demand for vinyl has increased to a point where the record pressing plants can’t keep up with demand, but not yet to the point where it makes sense to open a new factory (with all the upfront costs involved). Even The Protomen’s new album The Cover Up has had its vinyl release delayed due to production delays. Of course, the new old tech is cassette tapes, so perhaps vinyl demand will fall a little. Time will tell. Without further ado, the interview:

I Fight Dragons Warped Tour 2014
I Fight Dragons Warped Tour 2014

It’s a Binary World: Man, that was quite a rollercoaster ride! From nearly breaking up to discarding the studio version to delays in creating the records – it’s been a crazy year and a half. How do you guys feel now that the record is out there?

Brian Mazzaferri: You can say that again!  It was so crazy that I basically collapsed in a heap at the beginning of the new year, got really sick, and didn’t get back caught up with the world until early February.  We’re honestly so psyched at the way the record’s been received, we felt like it was a gigantic risk to scrap everything and start over, and it added a full year to the process in the end, but creatively we felt like it absolutely paid off, and based on the responses it feels to us like the backers agree.

IaBW: So what do you feel is the biggest lesson you learned during this process? Was it something about how to structure crowdfunding efforts? Or something about what makes I Fight Dragons a band or the type of music you prefer? Or none of the above?

Brian Mazzaferri: Oh man, ALL of the above.  We learned so much about crowdfunding, especially what a painful experience it can be if there’s still creative work to be done.  When we first started I was like, “why does everyone only do a Kickstarter once the album’s done?” and now I understand. There’s just so much uncertainty involved in the creation of anything as large as an album, and creating it with the added pressure of the Kickstarter and backers’ expectations can be maddening.  That said, the backers were all so supportive that it ended up being sort of wonderful.  As far as the band itself, it was absolutely a bit of a crucible that burned off the remains of the traditional music industry off of us, and left us in a new form that I feel like is exactly what we want to be right now.

IaBW: THE main product of the Kickstarter was the beautiful vinyl album. I’ve read that some artists say that it is only through the creation of art (like vinyl) that an artist can guarantee their songs will be purchased. After all, you can’t torrent a physical record. Then again, there’s also Spotify money. Going forward, do you see IFD producing physical artifacts for future albums or going all digital?

Brian Mazzaferri: I think we’ll always make something physical.  I don’t know if it will be vinyl specifically, but I love holding the album in my hands, and I love that it’s not just a run-of-the-mill thing.  It doesn’t feel disposable to me, and yet there’s always the digital version as well.  I like that both versions can be true to what they are.

IaBW: In our original interview you said you’d do a Kickstarter again in a heartbeat to get an album out vice the traditional record deal. Having now gone through a complete cycle, has it changed your mind? Of course we can expand this to include any kind of crowdfunding like Indiegogo. Would you prefer to do it the way you did the early albums instead?

Brian Mazzaferri: I’m still in a very similar spot.  It was a crazy journey to say the least, but in a weird way I feel like lots of the backers feel like this is THEIR album in a way that they would never have had they not been along for the whole roller coaster ride of its creation.  While the ride had its ups and downs, it was something that never could have happened 5 years ago.  I would definitely do some things differently, but the experience overall was still a really positive one.

I Fight Dragons Warped Tour 2014
I Fight Dragons Warped Tour 2014

IaBW: Moving on to the content of the album, as a backer I got The Future Imperfect which contains the demos, B sides, and acoustic songs. I think it was pretty neat to see how sometimes the melody or song survives in another form – such as Burnadette appearing on Jimmy and Sally. It was weird (in a good way) to experience that. How is it for you guys, having created it?

Brian Mazzaferri: I’m glad you caught that and that you like it!  I feel like I do that all the time, especially with songs that don’t make a proper record, I’ll take the parts that I like and often they’ll find a home in the bridge of another song.  Honestly in the first recording sessions, Burnadette was the opening track on Side 2 of the record, so it was more of a through line, but in Jimmy & Sally it’s exactly what I wanted to say in that moment of the song.  If I remember correctly there’s at least one of those stealing-from-my-own-unreleased-songs moments on KABOOM! too, from a song on DEMOlition.

IaBW: With those songs it’s pretty clear that, while they weren’t chosen for the main album, it wasn’t because they were of any less quality than the songs that WERE chosen. At some point in the past it was decided that the average rock album would have 12 or so songs and would last about half an hour. On the one hand, you can do whatever you want if you’re self-publishing. On the other hand, thanks to Amazon and iTunes people expect to pay no more than $9.99 for an album no matter how many tracks it has. (Unless it has like 3-4 times as many tracks) Going forward do you see IFD creating larger albums? Putting out one main album and one B-sides album in the interim between main albums?

Brian Mazzaferri: Thank you again!  I’m glad you feel that way, although to be perfectly honest I don’t fully agree.  I know that I’m really hard on myself sometimes, but I think the songs that made the record are all a cut above the ones that didn’t for one reason or another.  On this album, we did have the limiting factor of the physical vinyl itself, which kept us to about 20 minutes or so of music on each side (we went a bit over, but you physically can’t go too much over or the record will be super quiet and skip a lot).  Truthfully, I actually really like those types of restrictions, I think they breed creativity in a cool way, and while I’d definitely consider making a longer work, I think it’s awesome to make works that are digestible in one sitting too.  I think that’s why you see a lot of EPs these days, they’re super digestible, and they leave you wanting more instead of some 1.5-hour albums which can leave you exhausted if you actually make it to the end.

I Fight Dragons Warped Tour 2014
I Fight Dragons Warped Tour 2014

IaBW: Somewhat related to the question above, having now created a concept album more akin to what your tour-mates The Protomen usually do, what do you hope for IFD’s future albums? More song cycles? A typical IFD album? Or are albums dead and do you just release singles from now on like Weird Al has decided to do?

Brian Mazzaferri: I don’t necessarily know!  I definitely don’t think albums are dead, in fact I think in some ways we’re entering a golden age for long-form content, with the rise of the podcast and on-demand media in general.  If you give people something that’s actually worth spending 30-60 minutes will, I think they will spend the time and really enjoy it.  As fas as what’s next for us, all I can say is we’ll keep doing what inspires us, wherever that ends up leading 🙂

IaBW: I saw you guys at Warped Tour when it came to Maryland. It was great, but it was too short as you were just on the Ernie Ball statge. I have to ask the question on everyone’s mind – when is the Kickstarter tour?

Brian Mazzaferri: coming!  High up on my list of priorities is figuring out our touring schedule for this year and figuring out how we can get out there and play some fun shows.

I meet I Fight Dragons in person at Warped Tour 2014
I meet I Fight Dragons in person at Warped Tour 2014

More On The Soul-Killing Music Industry

Posts like this one and others I’ve mentioned recently help explain why I’ve had an increase in hatred of pop music as my music tastes have expanded. (Although I don’t think there’s anything wrong with enjoying Bubblegum – as it was once known – most of it is garbage) The record industry, as with any established industry (and not too differently from fast food chains), hates risk. They take artists who put out amazing mix tapes and make them bland. As a corollary, when I do enjoy mainstream acts (as opposed to indie), I tend to enjoy the songs they don’t play on the radio. (Lana Del Rey and Fall Out Boy are perfect examples)

Because of the potential for link rot, here’s some of the relevant quotes from the first blog post I linked to:

The prior 3 years of trying to write something that would please both the label and my soul had been a trying experience to say the least.  The label wasn’t really pleased with anything…

… by the end of the whole process, I had really stopped liking anything I wrote on my own, having constantly been forced to look at all my demos and songs through the “Is it a hit?  If not, it’s worthless” lens that constitutes the traditional music industry looking glass.  I could barely even force myself to finish the demos.

So, in February 2013, with no label… I sat down and wrote something …I had no illusion of being a ‘hit’ in any way, something with absolutely no radio potential and no real potential of traditional commercial success at all…

I wrote the story down and made a bunch of acoustic demos, and it made me happy.

Now we’re in final mixing, and just yesterday I finally got to listen through most of the material in order, and I nearly cried.  It’s everything I hoped it would be, and yet so much more…

And it makes me smile.

Last.fm 2013 Listening Trends

This year I bought LOTS of albums. I don’t know if it’s the most albums I’ve purchased in one year since writing these blog posts or even since keeping track of Scrobbles. I do know that while I listened to my music randomly, in general, I did also listen to entire albums whenever I purchased one. Sometimes I’d listen to the album a few times and other times I’d take the album purchase as an opportunity to review the artist’s previous work. I know that was the case with Five Iron Frenzy (although that was also concert prep as I mentioned a few days ago), Relient K, I Fight Dragons, and Fall Out Boy. It was a very fun year for me, musically. Kacey Musgraves, for example, was a reminder that country music doesn’t have to suck. Disclosure made me realize that I could still like loop-heavy electronic music. I hope that I can continue to explore new sounds in 2014.

Artists

1. Five Iron Frenzy (645 listens) – As mentioned both up top and a couple days ago, many of these listens were preparatory for the November Concert. However, they remain one of my favorite bands and I anticipate a lot more listens to my favorite FIF songs in 2014. I like nearly every track of of Engine of a Million Plots, but I really like “Someone Else’s Problem”:

2. The Beach Boys (406 listens) – Listening to the Good Vibrations compilation brought me back to my childhood. As I’ve mentioned before, when we were kids we only listened to the oldies station. (Kinda the only station we were allowed to listen to) Listening to Pet Sounds allowed me to experience the brilliance behind the band I’d only known for pretty cheesy (but fun!) surfer singles. It’s a shame everything fell apart when it did – but you could say the same about a lot of bands.
3. Chance the Rapper (394 listens) – I’ve spoken a lot about how much I thoroughly enjoyed Acid Rap. It is almost single-handedly the album that made me believe in the creativity of rap music again. I know you could say this about almost any genre of music, but the rap stuff that gets played on the radio had become so cliche and so trite that I had all but given up on it. Chance shows what can transpire when you don’t have The Machine dictating what you produce and don’t slavishly imitate it.
4. I Fight Dragons (335 listens) – A lot of my I Fight Dragons listens revolved around excitement with the Kickstarter. Doubtless the number of listens would have been higher had the album come out on time. Still, I am extremely excited and impatiently waiting for it to arrive next summer. I played the heck out of Kaboom! so I think I’m probably going to take a break from that album for a bit.
5. Relient K (314 listens) – Again, a lot of listens to the new album. Tellingly, I didn’t play it at all from October to December. Not a bad album, but it just didn’t stick with me like the others did. Perhaps time will change this. We’ll see.
6. Anberlin (267 listens) – Another group where most of the listens are from the new album. It reminds me of how much I enjoyed the others (I can’t believe I bought the first album when I was a sophomore in college – nearly a decade ago!) I’m going to have to be sure to add some Anberlin to my 2014 music rotation.
7. Frank Ocean (253 listens) – I still enjoy Chanel Orange, but I’m also ready for something new. As is always the case with the artistic medium, I’m afraid the sequel won’t be as good. Like movie studios and book publishers, sometimes they can seek refuge in the comfort of the known. I’d like him to be able to continue to expand his voice as well as maintain the witty humor of this album.
8. Fall Out Boy (240 listens) – It’s funny, every quarter when I write one of these, I think about (and often write) how much I enjoy Fall Out Boy and resolve to listen to them more. I rarely deliver, but I blame that on my large collection. I have so much to listen to and not enough hours in the day in which to listen to it. (Especially considering there are certain albums, FOB not included, that I am forbidden to listen to in front of Danielle) Thus my love of Amarok’s dynamic playlists to keep me from the paralysis of choice. Whenever I have to choose who to listen to on Google Music I never think of bands like Fall Out Boy. Luckily Google has their auto-mixes to help me out there.
9. Anamanaguchi (225 listens) – As I mentioned a couple days ago, LOVE LOVE LOVE the new album. Hope there’s new stuff or another free live album this year.
10. Garfunkel and Oates (195 listens) – I’m done with these two for a while. Like any other comedic entertainment – you have to take a break so the jokes don’t get stale. I love me some comedy, but there’s a good reason Weird Al isn’t on this list. I even went on my Amazon wish list and removed any other of their songs. I recommend it to others, but I think I’m done for a while.
11. Jonathan Coulton (169 listens) – Nearly all of these came from excitement over the Code Monkey Save World kickstarter. Can’t wait for the albums that come out from that Kickstarter. The comic’s pretty great, too.
12. Lana Del Rey (163 listens) – Really like her music, but Danielle really played out the albums in addition to my listens. Lana (LANA…..LANAAAAAAAAAAAA!) needs to come out with that next album soon.
13. MC Frontalot (155 listens) – Listened to a bunch of this early in the year. I’m surprised that it made the top 15, but considering the number of singles I listened to – I’m not too shocked.
14. Jim Guthrie (152 listens) – Went through a bunch of his albums early in the year. Like Fall Out Boy, this is an artist I need to spend more time with.
15. Alan Menken (143 listens) – As I mentioned a couple days ago this came out of nowhere to #15 thanks to Scarlett’s requests for The Little Mermaid and Aladdin sountrack songs.

Songs

Rather than comment on each of these – many of which have been featured before, I’d just like to comment on the surprises. As I did last year, I’ll be making a Top 15 of 2013 label to apply to these songs. Now I can make a Top 15 dynamic playlist so I can listen to the Top 15 songs of both years (and all subsequent years)

1. Jonathan Coulton – The Princess Who Saved Herself (87 listens): I absolutely love this song, but I had no idea I had listened to it nearly 100 times. That just goes to show how well written it is- it’s hard to tire of listening to it.
2. Frank Ocean – Pink Matter [Explicit] (38 listens)
3. 현아 – Bubble Pop! (35 listens) – Scarlett requested this song a lot, but I can’t believe it was able to cut into the top 15 in just a month. That’s pretty incredible.
3. Frank Ocean – Thinkin Bout You (35 listens)
5. Chance the Rapper – Juice (34 listens)
5. Chance the Rapper – Cocoa Butter Kisses (ft. Vic Mensa & Twista) (34 listens)
7. Chance the Rapper – Lost (ft. Noname Gypsy) (33 listens)
8. Frank Ocean – Bad Religion (32 listens)
8. Frank Ocean – Super Rich Kids [Explicit] (32 listens)
8. Frank Ocean – Pyramids [Explicit] (32 listens)
11. Chance the Rapper – Pusha Man (ft. Nate Fox & Lili K.) (31 listens)
12. Frank Ocean – Sweet Life [Explicit] (30 listens)
12. Chance the Rapper – Smoke Again (Ft. Ab-Soul) (30 listens)
12. Chance the Rapper – Everybody’s Something (ft. Saba & BJ The Chicago Kid) (30 listens)
12. Chance the Rapper – Interlude (That’s Love) (30 listens)

Milestone Scrobbles

This year I got to two milestone numbers: 65k and 70k listens. As a strange coincidence, my 65 000th song was the same as the 60 000th song: Five Iron Frenzy’s “You Probably Shouldn’t Move Here”. How strange that would end up being the case considering all the random music I listen to. Speaking of random music, AlunaGeorge’s cover of Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin’ Bout You” ended up being my 70 000th listen. It’s a pretty different atmospheric take than the original, which is the kind of cover I like to hear.

AlunaGeorge – Thinking Bout You

Top Overall Artists

1. Fantastic Plastic Machine (3,480 listens) – No movement
2. Five Iron Frenzy (2,170 listens) – Up from #4
3. Anberlin (2,082 listens) – Dropped from #2
4. The Beatles (1,876 listens) – Dropped from #3
5. Relient K (1,703 listens) – Up from #6
6. “Weird Al” Yankovic (1,548 listens) – Dropped from #5
7. Gnarls Barkley (1,085 listens) – Almost positive I haven’t listened to them once in the last year and probably for two years, but they remain on the top 15
8. Fall Out Boy (945 listens) – Up from #14 – biggest jump
9. Andrea Echeverri (881 listens) – Dropped from #8. Pretty sure I haven’t listened since 2010.
10. Gwen Stefani (857 listens) – Dropped from #9
11. Tom Lehrer (834 listens) – Dropped from #9
12. DC Talk (815 listens) – Dropped from #11. Don’t really listen to them much anymore, but if last.fm had existed back in the day, they’d probably still be in #1 or #2.
13. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah (790 listens) – Dropped from #12. Another band I haven’t listened to in years. (Well, not 100% true – this summer I played a couple tracks for my mom to tell her about some groups that are popular despite having a grating sound)
14. Lostprophets (754 listens) – Dropped from #13. It’s a shame the singer was a paedophile. I try to separate personal lives from the entertainment that people make us. Otherwise I wouldn’t be able to participate in a large part of pop culture. But I’m not sure I’ll be able to listen to this music without thinking of the atrocities. We’ll see.
15. Pizzicato Five (616 listens) – No movement. I like them, but like Fantastic Plastic Machine, I can’t listen to too much at once.

Top Overall Songs

Again, it’s crazy that I listened to “The Princess Who Saved Herself ” enough for it to break into the top 15 while none of the other songs in my top 15 made it here. The rest of these are songs that I mostly haven’t heard in years. I think it reflects how much my library has grown since I started Scrobbling.

1. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Upon This Tidal Wave of Young Blood (115 listens)
2. Clap Your Hands Say Yeah – Over and Over Again (Lost and Found) (113 listens)
3. Fantastic Plastic Machine – Take Me To The Disco [Malibu Mix] (104 listens)
4. Gnarls Barkley – Who Cares (98 listens)
5. Fantastic Plastic Machine – Steppin’ Out (97 listens)
6. Jonathan Coulton – The Princess Who Saved Herself (87 listens)
7. Gnarls Barkley – The Last Time (85 listens)
8. Andrea Echeverri – Quédate (84 listens)
9. Gnarls Barkley – St. Elsewhere (83 listens)
10. Gnarls Barkley – Just A Thought (82 listens)
11. Fantastic Plastic Machine – Love Is Psychedelic (81 listens)
11. Gnarls Barkley – Crazy (81 listens)
11. Gnarls Barkley – Smiley Faces (81 listens)
14. Andrea Echeverri – Amortiguador (79 listens)
15. Andrea Echeverri – Menos Mal (78 listens)

Scrobbles at End of 2013: 71 080
Total Scrobbles in 2013: 10 831. This is the first year I was able to calculate how many scrobbles I listened to in that year, so I’ll be interested in comparing this number next time around.

Kickstarter Update 3

I’m writing this in late August – by the time this post appears I should have received all of my Kickstarter goods or they should be in the mail. Interestingly, even though the Kickstarter backer cycles were spread over about a three month period, they’re all supposed to be delivering the product at around the same time – 4th quarter of this year. As of the time of this writing, this is the status of my Kickstarters:

I Fight Dragons – Project Atma (music): They are recording the album. By contributing daily to a blog about the effort, I still feel a part of the process in a way that most artists don’t often reveal. I’m extremely excited to hear the album.

Jonathan Coulton, Greg Pak, and others – Code Monkey Save World (music and comics): Yesterday they showed us some colored pages from the first issue. It looks awesome. Unfortunately, something about the Comixology process means we probably won’t get access until September, but the good thing is that as restitution we’re all getting a comic that was originally only for backers at a higher level. The colored pages look awesome and I can’t wait to read it. I’ll be posting about it over at Comic POW!

Branwyn – Cyborg Like Me (book): He had a sample PDF with a few articles from this book. It sounded exciting and I can’t wait to read it.

Random Encounter – Let Me Tell You A Story (music) – This is the last project I backed, but it is the one with the soonest predicted delivery – September! (Sure, we get the first issue of Code Monkey in Sept, but not the whole thing) They were recommended by I Fight Dragons on their blog and I liked their personality based on the backer video. I’ll be very interested to see what the album sounds like.

The Kickstarter Lull

Those of you who have been reading this blog long enough know that I often write my blog posts during my lunch break at work and set it to post at some point in the future. I’m writing this post almost 1 month before it is to appear on the blog. So in the middle of July I find myself in what many who have backed projects probably experience as the Kickstarter Lull. I backed a project by I Fight Dragons and interviewed them about it here and I backed a comic project by Greg Pak and Jonathan Coulton. During the backing period as a way to drum up support there was a constant stream of both updates and digital goodies. IFD, in particular, gave backers 2 albums (live concert recording and a conceptual album) and a concert film. A little while after the backing period was over, the projects contacted us for the info they needed to fulfill our backer rewards. Since then I haven’t heard from either of them. On the rational side, I’m glad they’re focusing on creating what we paid them to create. But after the constant communications it just feels odd to have “radio” silence. Now we just wait for the products to be created. In the case of these two projects, the members involved are all veterans: IFD put out records before having a record company contract and Greg Pak has already done about a half dozen Kickstarters. So, outside of catastrophe, I don’t fear for my money. I could see where this silence might be more disturbing with an unproven team.

Anyway, it’s just so anticlimactic after all that excitement to just be sitting here waiting.

The day before this post was schedule to appear I got an update from I Fight Dragons that would help with the Kickstarter lull – They have a production blog they’re updating daily. (And it runs on WordPress, yay!)

Last.fm 2013 Q2 Listening Habits

For the second quarter in a row The Beatles have NOT made the list! But that’s easily explained: I have been listening to a lot of new music and a lot of playlists that don’t include The Beatles. But as you’ll see, they kinda snuck in sideways. This quarter I spent a lot of time listening to Jonathan Coulton and I Fight Dragons because of their Kickstarters, which I backed. I Fight Dragons released two albums as Kickstarter bonuses – a live recording of their most recent concert and a remix album of sorts in which the band members sung different arrangements of the songs. There was also the new Fall Out Boy album, Save Rock and Roll. I really enjoyed the album but it was overtaken in my mind by the previously mentioned IFD and JoCo music and I quickly forgot they had a new album out. Again, that’s a shame since I did enjoy it and while I was in Florida last week I quickly tired of “My Songs Know What You Did in the Dark”. Incidentally, I was reminded of why I stopped listening to live radio – it’s far too repetitive. I think the true problem is that it’s too formulaic in its repetition. I didn’t mind hearing “The Princess Who Saved Herself” every day for a week because the songs surrounding it were always different. On a separate note, I got some music for Father’s Day and I’ll mention that below.

1. Fall Out Boy (142 listens) – As I mentioned, the new album came out. I’d say that out of this 142 listens, probably 50 are from the new album. The rest of the listens come from me revisiting the old albums, as I usually do when a band is about to release a new one.

2. I Fight Dragons (135 listens) – I enjoyed the vibe of the concert album. I go hot and cold on the idea of live albums in general. Sometimes I think they’re great and other times I think they’re a more crappy version of the songs I like and the crappiness is not offset by my being there live with the vibe of the fans. This particular album is a little uneven. Most of the tracks are great, but the singers – both lead and background – go off key on a few songs. This was the last stop on a tour so their vocal chords may have been a bit strained. Plus humans just make mistakes live that can’t be edited out like they can in the studio. The instruments were solid and on target and the improvisation worked well. So while I enjoyed it a lot, I probably wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing it with someone who hadn’t heard the band for fear they might think the band always sung off key. (And I have heard bands for whom that’s their thing – singing off key)

3. Jonathan Coulton (83 listens) – Something greater than 10% of this is “The Princess Who Saved Herself”. I love that song. As I’ll likely have mentioned on Monday’s post (I’m writing things out of order this week), it can be hard to find female-positive songs out there. But this is a song I’m happy to play for Scarlett. She likes the groove, too. It’s one of the songs that she’ll almost always dance to if it comes on. And it’s the entire reason I backed the JoCo kickstarter – they’re making a book out of this song as a stretch goal bonus. Enjoyed listening to the classics that Dan always chides me for focusing on: “Chiron Beta Prime”, “Mandelbrot Set”, “Code Monkey”, “Skull Crusher Mountain”, “Re: Your Brains”.

4. Chance the Rapper (75 listens) – As usual, Dan was ahead of the curve in recommending music to me. He recommended Chance about two weeks before I finally got around to listening to it. And then it was about another two weeks before he was suddenly everywhere. He appeared on NPR Music’s artists to watch in 2013. Then there was an article on him on Rolling Stone. Then I started hearing about him everywhere. He’s from Chicago and he’s only 20  years old, but his mixtape “Acid Rap” from which most of these listens come from is a GREAT album. He first came on the scene with his album “10 Day” which he created on a 10 Day suspension from High School. I heard that as well, but it didn’t resonate with me as much. I’m not sure if he’s matured that much (musically) in the past couple years or if it’s just a bias towards the first album I heard. I continued the trend of listening to albums Dan recommends while playing Team Fortress 2, so I think of that when I hear the songs. I pretty much like all the songs on “Acid Rap” except “NaNa” which has an incredibly annoying hook. My absolute favorite is “Cocoa Butter Kisses”. Be forewarned that there’s a lot of profanity and drug references on this album. That’s a testament to his musicianship, I think. Because I’m not into drug culture AT ALL and I prefer not listen to those songs for fear of Scarlett thinking I’m condoning the lifestyle. But there’s something sad on “Cocoa Butter Kisses” that really makes you identify with and feel bad for Chance (or the character in his song if it’s not auto-biographical) for being shunned by his family just because of his drug use. Also of worthy of special note: “Everybody’s Something” and “Favorite Song”.

5. Nobuo Uematsu (67 listens) – I was going backwards though my artists in Amarok and Japanese comes after latin characters, so I ended up listening to some great Final Fantasy music.

6. Anberlin (59 listens) – As I mentioned last time, I really enjoyed Anberlin’s new album, “Vital”. I continued to play it this quarter.

6. The Oneups (59 listens) – For Father’s Day I finally got their Super Mario Kart cover album; it’d been on my wishlist for years. I enjoy it quite a bit and it reminds me of way too many hours spent playing that game with Dan.

8. MC Frontalot (58 listens) – I just wanted to listen to a lot of tracks from The Front

8. Alan Menken (58 listens) – I created a dynamic playlist for Disney and Pixar music and it turns out I have a LOT of music scored by Alan Menken.

10. The Protomen (55 listens) – For Father’s Day I also got Act II: The Father of Death. This is a rock opera album retelling of how the world of Megaman came to be. However, despite being about a video game from my youth, I’d actually recommend this to anyone who’s a fan of rock opera. The album has a tinge of Queen to its sound. This is my first rock opera album so I’m not sure if this is par for the course or worth complaining about, but if you really want to know the story that’s going on with the rock opera you need to read the lyrics (where they have explanations of what’s happening during the instrumental sections). The upside is that many of the songs are great standalones. I was listening to “Light Up the Night” for 1-2 years before I bought this album and I loved it. Now that I think about it – I’m sure it’s not too different from my Broadway soundtracks, it’s just that I know the stories (having seen them) and subconsciously fill in the story between the songs. If “Light Up the Night” is still available for free, check that out and if you like it – buy the album!

11. Anamanaguchi (51 listens) – I’ve mentioned Anamanaguchi before – having used their music as great ambient music while studying or taking online exams. Until now I hadn’t paid for any of their music – I’d just grabbed whatever they’d put up for free on their website – some singles and a live performance at The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn. When I saw on my new music RSS feed that they had a new album, I wasn’t sure if I was ready to make the conversion to a paying customer. I tend to enjoy I Fight Dragons and their background use of chiptunes. I’d kinda burned out on chiptunes in general after Octorock. But then June’s Amazon Sampler had “Endless Fantasy” (the single) and I really enjoyed it, so I added the album to my wishlist. I ended up getting it for Father’s Day. I REALLY like “Prom Night” although you shouldn’t be surprised as it’s one of the songs on the album with lyrics. Bianca Raquel, who does the vocals on that track, has a beautiful voice. It’s also fun to see the humor in their titles: “Echobo” -> making fun of Chocobos, “Space Wax America” -> making fun of Weezer’s “Surf Wax America”, and “EVERYTHING EXPLODES” followed by “Interlude (STILL ‘SPLODIN’ THO)”. And it’s pretty awesome that they’re apparently not as obscure and niche as I thought they were since Wikipedia notes: “On May 23, 2013, the album debuted at the no.1 position on Billboard’s Heatseekers Albums chart as well as no.2 in Dance/Electronic Albums”

12. dj BC (50 listens) – A scrobbler error kept this from being at #6, but that’s OK. I heard about dj BC in a Boing Boing article that explained he’d created 3 mashup albums with Beastie Boys and The Beatles. As is the case with mashups, some of the songs are more seamless than others, but it’s still pretty awesome how well it works over so many songs. I’m not a huge Beastie Boys fan – I was a little too young during their heyday, but I find his three albums The Beastles, Let It Beast, and Ill Submarine to be pretty awesome and definitely worth a listen.

12. Nintendo (50 listens) – Again, from when I was listening to my music from the bottom of the pile in terms of artist names. Mostly Mario theme songs.

14. Relient K (40 listens) – They happened to come up whenever I did listen to music on random. I’m looking forward (at the time of this writing) to their latest album which comes out on 2 July, “Collapsible Lung”. (will be out for >1 week by the time this post comes out) It appears to be a return to a more pop sound although some of the samples seem a bit TOO generic pop (vs a more rock sound) so I’m cautiously optimistic about it.

15. Donald Glover (38 listens) – The final album I got for Father’s Day, “Weirdo”. I’d seen it on Amazon Video and really enjoyed it so I wanted to be able to listen along with all the other comedy albums I have.

Stats

I wanted to include this new section going forward mostly for my own use because I’m a stats geek. I wanted to see how my collection was changing quarter on quarter and year on year. Was I getting more music or less than before? Was I more singles focused or album focused? Additionally, the final section, Total Scrobbles, will allow me to see how many songs I listened to in one quarter. It will be interesting to see what percentage of the songs I listen to in a quarter the Top 15 are. It’s an indirect measure of how many different artists I listened to. After all, when I listen to the songs I get from Rolling Stone it counts as a scrobble, but it doesn’t have a chance of appearing on the Top 15 compared to artists for which I have 5 or more full albums of music to listen to.

Total Songs: 11 977

Total Artists: 3 706

Total Albums: 3 352

Average Songs Per Album: 3.57 – lowered, of course, by the many singles I have

Average Songs Per Artist: 3.23 – incredible, considering the artists for which I own their entire catalogue, they are essentially swamped by the number of artists for which I only have one song.

Average Albums per Artist: 0.9 – there should be at LEAST 1 for 1 so I’m going to attribute this to two things. First of all, compilation albums that have multiple artists per one album. Second, while I try to be very meticulous about my metatags, I do still have some mp3s from the wild west days (original napster) that might not have an album

Total Scrobbles at end of this quarter: 64 440

I Fight Dragon’s Project Atma Interview

Back on 4 May I backed a Kickstarter project for the first time ever – I Fight Dragon’s Project Atma. Anyone who’s been following my last.fm posts knows that I really like the Chicago-based band. I first discovered I Fight Dragons when listening to a web comics podcast that featured “No One Likes Superman Anymore” from 2009’s Cool is Just a Number EP as the closing song. I have no idea if they had permission from I Fight Dragons, but it was quite fortuitous for the band as it led to me buying Welcome to the Breakdown and Kaboom! (and participating in this Kickstarter) As I’ve said before, the band is the inverse of Anamanaguchi. They are a rock band that uses Nintendos and Gameboys to create extra background instruments (whereas Anamanaguchi tends to have the instruments take the background to the chiptunes). Here’s one of the songs of their new album, Kaboom!

I remember all the excitement the band had for their first full album on a record label – Kaboom! so the Kickstarter left me perplexed.  What happened? After all, most bands’ major goal is to be “discovered” by a record company.

I knew that record deals weren’t all they were cracked up to be – it’s one of the biggest excuses given online for people who don’t pay for music. “After all the artist barely gets any money off each CD sale!” I was curious because the fact that I Fight Dragons was going to Kickstarter seems to be validation of the patronage model I’d been advocating. I’d been taking a look at what MC Frontalot and Jonathan Coulton had been doing – giving away lots of MP3s, not caring too much about people taking music without paying, and making a living by touring. Plus, I Fight Dragons had proven they could make a record when they made Cool is Just a Number on their own. In fact, that’s one of the interesting things about how the record industry has worked until now – bands have to prove they can make a record on their own and build up a following. Nowadays a band would see that as proof they they DON’T need a record label. But that wasn’t the case as recently as 2009. Also, recording an album is not cheap – at least if you want a professional producer. The Front and JoCo have much simpler sounds – rap and folk music – than the rock and roll of I Fight Dragons. So I figured Kickstarter would be the perfect way for a band to make a new album – you already know how many people at a minimum are going to buy an album so you can make sure the financing makes sense. I also has a great side effect of building up a huge excitement level for the new album because fans go from passive fans to backers. I know it worked on me:

But would this really work? Or was it just more ignorant rhetoric we were spouting on the web? I really, really wanted to know. Luckily when I reached out to the band, they were willing to be interviewed by little old me!

It’s a Binary World: It’s only been four years since your self-released “Cool is Just a Number”, but the music industry has radically changed since then. Take us back to four years ago. Why did you want to pursue a record deal rather than continue to self-create and self-promote?

Brian Mazzaferri: You know, it was indeed a very different time back then. We put out Cool Is Just A Number completely on our own, and spent a year self-promoting it and basically doing everything ourselves. Honestly it grew to a point where we couldn’t handle it all from an administrative standpoint, and there was an offer on the table that was exciting. Obviously it didn’t work out in the traditional sense, but I think our time on the label was well spent and that we learned a lot as a band and got a lot out of it. Honestly in 2013 the tools for self-creation and self-promotion are so much more powerful than when we started in 2009 that it’s much more exciting and possible to be doing everything by ourselves now than it was back then.

IaBW: You mention in your Kickstarter video that the record label didn’t seem to want to support you despite getting a heavy radio rotation for “The Geeks will Inherit the Earth”. And you don’t even mention in the video that “Money” was featured on WWE or that “Save World Get Girl” was featured in the Nintendo 3DS store. Many people (including Courtney Love in a Salon piece) have written about how the record industry system tends to only be great for multi-platinum artists while the rest are left saddled with debt and left to wither away. Could you talk a bit on what happened with Photo Finish/Atlantic and why IFD chose to separate?

BM: Honestly, it’s really not much more complicated than what you just stated. It used to be that the labels were the gatekeepers to a music career, but as time has gone on they’ve become less and less relevant. Look, at those larger levels Major Labels have a HUGE amount of overhead, tons of staff, fancy offices, expense accounts. This means that for them, a record isn’t a success unless it has a hit. A record that sells a few thousand or even 25,000 copies just doesn’t make an impact on their bottom line, since their operations are so expensive, and going to radio in the first place also costs a LOT of money. Thus, they’re very conservative about what they take to radio, and they just weren’t interested in taking us there. It’s their decision since it’s their money, but frankly once they told us they weren’t interested, we really didn’t have any motivation to stay on the label any longer, so we fought our way off. Plus, with the rise of things like Kickstarter it’s becoming more and more possible for bands to fund their own recordings, and terrestrial radio becomes less influential every day, so honestly I feel like we’re going to work a lot better as an independent band than we did as a label band.

IaBW: Is it inspiring/vindicating in 2013 that acts like Macklemore & Ryan Lewis have shown that you can get on the radio and TV without a record deal. (Although they did need to form some sort of promotional agreement with a record company)

BM: I think Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are a huge huge inspiration, primarily because they didn’t sign a traditional deal. Most of the acts in the past couple years that have broken via the internet have used that momentum to cash in with a big traditional music deal, which has ultimately locked them into a dying system. The fact that Macklemore & Ryan Lewis kept it to a much more limited distribution and promotion deal is wonderful and really smart on their parts.

IaBW: That said, do you even believe it’s as important to get on radio nowadays? Is there still a legitimizing factor or can Pandora, Spotify, Youtube, and other sources provide the fanbase needed to sustain a band?

BM: I think it’s all about context and goals. If you want to be a mainstream star, you’ll still have to get on the radio eventually (at least for now), but ultimately the much more exciting thing to me is the number of artists who are working outside the metrics of mainstream success and are making really exciting music and building viable careers using the new tools like Kickstarter and YouTube and working in a different, more fragmented paradigm. It’s still a pretty new frontier, and I feel like that’s where the real thrilling stuff is happening.

IaBW: Moving on to the Kickstarter, (for full disclosure I’m actually a backer) it seems to me to be an almost perfect way to produce an album. The whole reason the record company system evolved to be the way it is today is to shoulder the risk that a new band might not have enough of a fan base to make it profitable. So they give out a loan for the recording costs and promotion and arrange for touring. But with Kickstarter you know ahead of time how many people you’re going to sell it to (at a minimum) and you can at least have costs covered as well. (At the time of this interview that’s 2,813 backers) I know you’re just about to start the hardest part (creation and delivery), but so far how well do you see this as a viable model for producing your albums going forward?

BM: I think Kickstarter is the best thing to happen to music since sliced bread (if I may mix metaphors). It’s really great for any creative medium, but especially music since artists have chafed under the yoke of the industry for generations. It was a necessary evil, and once that stifled lots of great music from ever getting heard. The internet in general blew off the shackles a decade ago, but there weren’t really great tools to take advantage of this new freedom, and so lots of people languished. Kickstarter is an incredibly powerful tool and I feel like this year people are discovering it in a big way, which only increases its strength as it is legitimized. That said, I don’t know that kickstarter will be around forever, but I love what they’re doing and would do it this way again in a heartbeat as opposed to a traditional industry deal.

IaBW: This is the first Kickstarter project I’ve ever backed, but soon thereafter I backed the Jonathan Coulton/Greg Pak Kickstarter project as well. One thing I’ve noticed is that projects now seem to require stretch goals – more and more things are offered to the backers as more money is pledged. If this is to be a viable model for new I Fight Dragons albums going forward, what do you feel is the best way to balance rewards with the band actually making enough money to continue as a band. For example, a limit was reached on how complex the record could be because the costs would exceed the pledge amount. Or does this model require bands to make up the difference in t-shirt and concert sales?

BM: I think it’s important to remember that Kickstarter is seed money. You don’t eat your seeds, you use them to grow crops. We’re not actually keeping any of this money for ourselves, but we’re using every cent of it to create new awesome things that we actually own, and ultimately that’s how we’ll make more money. Right now, all of our music is owned by our old record label, which is a horrible way for things to work. In the future, it will all be owned by us, and that makes a huge difference financially even though we’re not going to be taking any of this kickstarter money home personally.

IaBW: Thank you for answering my questions. It was recently unveiled that if the pledges reached the $110k level that there would be a documentary produced that would cover some of the topics we talked about here as well as the process of making the album. I would love to have a followup after viewing the documentary (if that funding level is reached) to see how your thoughts and opinions have changed at the end of the process.

BM: I’d be happy to do it! We’ll have to see if we get there first though 🙂

Before I continue I want to thank Brian again for taking the time to answer my questions thoroughly and not getting caught up in the fact that I’m not working for Rolling Stone or some other prestigious music industry site. It really means a lot to me.

Now, as to his answers – I think the most important answer Brian gave was for the penultimate question about whether the Kickstarter could support the band. I think his seed metaphor is quite apt. I Fight Dragons is growing multiple things. I think it’s growing more dedicated fans. While it’s the $2000 pledge level that gains someone an executive producer credit, in a way we’re all producers in the sense of financing the project. This is something that would have been very hard for the band to do without us and I predict a large portion of the 2.8k backers will become more dedicated fans than they were before. I Fight Dragons is also growing, as Brian said, ownership of their music. I think one of the biggest bits of BS with respect to the record company system is that they own the rights to the songs. I would understand them taking a stake in the songs, but to outright own them when they didn’t do anything creative is just dishonest. And it’s those rights that can pay off in the long tail as the band gets paid for songs appearing in TV shows, movies, Pandora, and other places.

I would say at this point in the Kickstarter experiment that it appears artists with the right expectations for Kickstarter will be able to find this to be a viable option going forward. As I mentioned, by having backers pledge money ahead of time, the band can be sure that production costs will be covered. They don’t have to go into debt (or as much debt) in order to produce music. I would like to see what happens with the band going forward to see if Brian’s vision can be vindicated. I truly hope it will be.

I Fight Dragon’s Kickstarter has four days left. The project page is here if you would like to jump in.

last.fm listening habits Q4 2012

Throughout the month of October I alternated between listening to newly acquired music (of which I had quite a bit) and a dynamic playlist that was weighted so that most of the music had auto-ratings above 90, less music above 75, and even less above 50. Any song that I listened to only once would fit in the third category. After that, if I skipped it just once it would fall out of the group. So it gave me a nice mix of music including forgotten favorites. Now that I’ve listened to a good chunk of my library since the last time the Amarok database was corrupted I may modify the playlist to include the caveat that it couldn’t have been played in the last x days. I’m not sure if I want to make the date large enough that I only hear songs once per quarter or my standard two week waiting period. Given how little time I have to listen to music nowadays I might go for the 90 days. I also spent some chunks of time listening to my music on random on Google Music. That’s completely random so I end up hearing some songs I didn’t even remember ever acquiring. A lot of my new music came from Jamendo when I got an email with the month’s most popular songs and I decided to do a search for ska. Although I really enjoy ska, I got into it rather late so I don’t have very much ska music. (Mostly just Five Iron Frenzy, Save Ferris, No Doubt, and the Orange County Supertones – who are an OK ska band – I mostly like their least ska songs)

In November I started off with the same playlist as in October. I tried to switch to a “haven’t played in three months” playlist, but a lot of my music had an undefined last played date because of the last time the database was corrupted. Convinced that the Amarok guys had finally fixed things, I decided I’d go through my entire music collection again. I wouldn’t necessarily listen to all the songs, but I’d play all the songs. This would have the added bonus of giving all the songs scores as I either listened or skipped. A few songs now have a score of 5 rather than 0, which is good since it signifies I skipped it on the first listen. This should help make my dynamic playlists more accurate. When I loaded in the “Various Artists” artist into my playlist I ended up with 4 days and 10.5 hours of music. Given the holidays coming up which may mean that I don’t spend as much time playing my music off of my computer, this playlist could last me through the end of the year. I guess we’ll see. Plus I’ll be wanting to throw some Christmas music in there. I’ve already discovered some songs that had bad tags – including some of them that just didn’t have an Album Artist (which I think is a RELATIVELY new tag because I don’t remember it from the old days) and that automatically puts them in “Various Artists”. Overall, it’s great to have a nice, semi-random mix. And, although it somewhat defeats the purpose of background music, it’s nice to continue my quest (started nearly a decade ago) of having properly tagged music. That’s the shame of having acquired so much music back in the early mp3 days. Even the legitimate music (like that on mp3.com) was often badly tagged or not tagged at all. Frankly, any music that doesn’t come from a store is often badly tagged. I often have to spend a few minutes on the music I get from RollingStone.com to fix up the tags. Let me make yet another plug for them – Rollingstone.com gives away about one mp3 per day every weekday and a lot of that music is REALLY good. (Although sometimes it’s just not my style)

In December continued to listen to the Various Artists. Finished that up on 20 Dec 2012. Went to the Music I Love playlist for the rest of 2012. That’s a rating of five or a score of greater than 90.

Dynamic Playlist (for blog)

So that resulted in…..

1. MC Frontalot (97 listens) – This semi-surprise as the #1 listen in Q4 comes mostly from a couple days I spent in the basement working on computers. I only had his Greatest Hits album on the computer there so it got a lot of listens. In general The Front (as he’s known) is like Jonathan Coulton, Weird Al, or Tom Lehrer. The songs make you laugh and sometimes make you think, but you can’t listen to too many of them in a row without wanting to take a break.

2. Five Iron Frenzy (75 listens) – The majority of these listens come from me finally getting their final CD (well, until their new kickstarter-backed CD comes out) for my birthday. I’d copied it off Dan a long time ago, but lost the songs when moving my music from one computer to another. Since I love FIF I decided I wouldn’t reacquire the songs unless I was buying them. It’s a massive album with two discs worth of music (that distinction won’t mean much in anotehr few years) – both their last studio album and a recording of their last concert. A great album – I hope the new one is like this one.

3. DJ CUTMAN (67 listens) – As I’ll mention in my 2012 post, this year was a big one for discovering new music. Somehow I ended up on DJ CUTMAN’s mailing list. He puts together some great video game-based albums.

4. Relient K (57 listens) – Once again, a great band I really enjoy. I’m hoping their next album is a bit of a return to the more rocking music of the earlier albums.

5. Danny Elfman (46 listens) – I listened to a lot of The Nightmare Before Christmas during this quarter because of the two holidays that fall in there.

6. The Beatles (43 listens) – Yeah, they’re always on here, but I think this is the lowest they’ve ever been.

7. Frank Ocean (42 listens) – Got his album “Channel Orange” based on all the hype and a listen of “Super Rich Kids”. The internet did not lead me astray. I love this album – it’s one of the best and tightest album experiences. For someone who thought of R&B as sex music or club music (depending on the cadence), it was pretty exciting to discover Frank Ocean’s biting satire. I love me some satire (see aforementioned MC Frontalot), but I love it most when it’s played straight as Frank Ocean does in this album. It’s a shame my wife hates R&B or I’d be listening to this even more often. Special mentions go out to “Thinking about You” – a great carrying the flame song with some great sarcastic lines, “Sweet Life” – which is almost a companion piece to “Super Rich Kids”, and “Bad Religion” which is almost surely the best song, lyrically.

8. Anberlin (38 listens) – I got their latest album, “Vital”. While I miss the carefree lyrics of the first few albums, I think Anberlin has really grown a lot musically. I think this is my favorite album in a while. The drums on “Self-Starter” are a great way to amp yourself up for the work day. If you ever loved Anberlin you need to check this album out.

9. I Fight Dragons (37 listens) – Got their latest album for my birthday. The band continues to evolve in a good way. There are a couple songs on here that were also on the EPs. “With You” really makes me wish that Kina Grannis had stayed with the band. I think her voice really works so well in duets. Hopefully they could collaborate with her on the future album. Unless my memory is failing me, “Don’t You” is also from one of the EPs. Great songs, both of them. It’s funny, when I heard the first few singles they released – “Save World Get Girl” made me want to buy the CD, but “Kaboom!” made me want to wait. But there are a lot of great songs on here. “The Geeks will Inherit the Earth” is a great anthem about how the world now favors the information workers over the brawny dudes of the past. “Working” is a great track about the transition into adulthood and the droll of the workplace. It really captures how I felt 7 years ago when I thought I’d finally made it only to become a cubicle farm drone. (With time I’ve found a fulfilling job/position and actually look forward to coming in to work) Where they really shine in unexpected ways are in the softer songs “Before I Wake” and “Disaster Hearts”. These songs together with the aforementioned “With You” really showcase the lyrical depth you wouldn’t expect from a pop/rock band with video games providing some of the instrumentation. I really hope on the next CD they can continue to balance the power songs with the softer songs. While radio play is slowly meaning less and less vs YouTube views and Pandora/Spotify plays, I do hope I Fight Dragons is able to get their dues and appear on the radio. I think they have quite a few songs that would really resonate with a large audience, not just those of us internet junkies with a fondness for Nintendo sound effects.

10. Elvis Presley (35 listens) – Um, it’s The King. Got an album of his #1s.

11. “Weird Al” Yankovic (32 listens) – Once again I’m left asking myself if I really did listen to this much Weird Al.

12. Cee Lo Green (28 listens) – Got his Christmas album. It’s a good change of pace and I’m glad I broke my “no more Christmas albums” ban for this one.

13. Garfunkel and Oates (26 listens) – I added some albums by this duo onto my wishlist because the brunette had been on Scrubs. I also liked the craziness of the song titles – it reminded me of the irreverence of the song titles. It reminded me of Tom Lehrer and the fun of listening to the dirty jokes on my dad’s Alvarez Guedes albums (which he played for us to my mother’s chagrin). This group is extremely vulgar – dirty lyrics and lots of bad words including F-bombs. Even I, who am fine watching Quentin Tarantino movies sometimes find myself skipping a song because it’s just way too much for me. If you can get past that, there’s some great social satire here. Special mention goes to “Sex with Ducks” which is making fun of a speech that said if we allow gay marriage it will lead to sex with ducks. Look, I know I’m not the best Christian by conventional, American standards. I listen to music with profanity, I have no problem seeing Django Unchained, etc. However, I just feel ridiculous to call myself a believer in Christ when I hear the stuff that comes out of the vocal minority (I hope it’s a minority). So I love this song and enjoy whenever it comes up.

14. Anamanaguchi (25 listens) – I’ve spoken a lot about them. I put them on a loop earlier in the quarter while I worked on my final paper for my master’s class. The lack of lyrics is perfect for letting my left brain work while my right brain gets to relax.

14. Ken Gao (25 listens) – Ken’s on here for the incredible job he did with the “To the Moon” video game soundtrack. More about that video game in a future post. It’s not quite as awesome as the Bastion soundtrack, but that’s because it was meant to be evocative of SNES and Genesis-era RPG music. So the tracks are short and repetitive, but the main song that’s a huge plot point early on is so great!

Video Game-Inspired Music

For people of my generation (and the younger ones of the previous one) video games are cultural phenomenon no less important to the way our brains work than books, music, or movies.  So it’s no surprise that our music, which has been inspired by books and movies in the past is now being inspired by video games.  What was surprising to me were all the different manifestations this inspiration has taken.

Chiptunes
Those of us who played video games before the Playstation 1 era had to deal with synthesized music in our videogames.  While today’s soundtracks can be multi-channel masterpieces on the same level as a movie, those old, primitive sounds aren’t as bad as they’d seem.  Sure, there were plenty of game developers that were phoning it in.  But those of us who played the Squaresoft JRPGs and games like Donkey Kong country knew that these systems were capable of producing music that was just short of CD-quality.  And there wouldn’t still be endless covers of the Super Mario Bros. theme if it hadn’t been amazing.

For the past ten years I’d heard of people making music by messing a Gameboy or NES.  But recently, a few bands have decided to take things to the next level.  One group of chiptunes bands uses the old video game hardware as the sole way of creating their music.  One of the big acts in this scene is Dr Octoroc.  Even though he’s just using these synthesizers he was able to put out a CD cover of Dr. Horrible and all the songs are identifiable.

Then there are groups that add traditional instruments.  At opposite ends of that spectrum are I Fight Dragons and Anamanaguchi.  Anamanaguchi composes original songs the feature their Nintendo as the main instrument.  Their conventional instruments work as second-fiddle (no fiddles involved) to this sound.  It’s pretty amazing how complex they can get – it realy harkens back to those Squaresoft games.  Their music just evokes certainly feelings and often has nothing to do with video games.  I Fight Dragons, by contrast, is more like a regular band (including vocals) that has the Nintendo as another instrument.  Most of the time if the Nintendo doesn’t have a solo it’s just in the background and you can barely even tell it’s there.  The lyrics tend to focus on geeky stuff, but not exclusively.

Inspired By
Then there are those who go off in very different directions.  The OneUps take video game songs and cover them as lounge songs.  It’s so odd to hear your favorite video game songs transformed into CD-quality music that sounds like something you might hear in an elevator or in a classy club.

Then there is The Protomen.  They removed themselves a whole extra level by creating a series of rock-opera CDs that are based on the Megaman video game.  But the songs, at least the ones that I’ve heard, sound nothing at all like video game music.  They sound like the rock operas groups like Styx were doing in the 1980s.  The music is epic and over the top and it just brings a whole new perspective to the game.

I think I’m least excited by pure chiptunes acts like Dr. Octoroc.  It’s great to revisit that time in my life, but it just seems a bit too gimicky and I tend to skip those tracks.  Groups like Anamanaguch and I Fight Dragons are a lot of fun and I know I’m looking forward to the next IFD CD.  But I think as a trend, I’m most excited about The Protomen.  I want to see more bands of my generation and younger to really explore this space.  These games were some of the first challenges we faced in our lives – our first demons that we had to conquer.  They were the most fun brain teasers.  It brough siblings together and tore them apart.  I want more people to explore the stories from our classic games and I want more people to write about how they made them feel and shaped them as human beings.  As more and more of our population plays games and they become less and less geeky, I think I may have my wish.