Category Archives: Reviews

Stuff I Like Right Now

Need something to do online?  Check out these links to the music and words capturing my attention right now.

Music:

Books:

Images from Amazon.com, Borders.com, and terababes.com.

An Alternative to iTunes? Songbird 1.0 Review

GetSongbird.com.  Will this program replace iTunes?

GetSongbird.com. Will this program replace iTunes?

Apple’s iTunes is one of the most popular media library management applications currently on the market.  It’s available for free, comes pre-installed on all Apple computers, supports all of the most popular audio and video formats, and is the most compatible application with the iPod.

But a tall tree attracts a lot of wind.  Just as Mozilla decided to take on the task of toppling Internet Explorer’s dominance of the web browser world (after a few other companies tried), a new start-up is trying to take on iTunes.  And wouldn’t you know it:  their software is based upon the same code as Mozilla’s Firefox.  Continue reading

Morning Coffee at K1-430

Starbucks this is not.

Starbucks this is not.

In the basement of Northwestern University’s Kresge Hall, tucked away between foreign language classrooms and pottery workshops lies what seems like an afterthought of a space.  Too big to be a storage closet; too small a space in which to hold a class, this room sits, likely overlooked on any other day.

Wide windows dominate one wall, allowing the morning light, softened by the haze of winter’s overcast, to wash over the room.  Hung upon the remaining four walls are paintings, sketches, scribbled poems, leaves from around campus.  Chairs scattered around the perimeter of the room are occupied by students, working, talking, laughing.

Those who didn’t arrive in time to grab a seat spread out happily on the floor.  A table set off to the side hosts a man vigorously working at his computer.  And in the back corner of this room, this unusual room lit by the sun, heated by those in it, a folding table.  On the table:  a plug-in water heater, a French press, and a plastic tray of store-bought cookies.

I was told that I could acquire a cup of coffee at this establishment, cryptically named “K1-430.”  “It’ll be a couple of minutes before the next batch is ready, but you can pay now if you want,” the man, the de facto barista, said to me.  I handed him a bow:  one of those twisted deals that’s meant to sit atop a birthday gift.  Appropriately, it’s Northwestern purple.  “Go ahead and have a seat, the coffee will be up in a couple of minutes.”  “All right, great, thanks,” I reply excessively, on the way to an open seat, a yellow chair the seventies would love to have back, placed right next to the door.

When the coffee is ready, I return to the “counter,” to be greeted by a cup too big for an espresso shot, but too small for much else.  Then again, I’ve always thought a Starbucks “tall” was too much coffee.   The coffee is thick and rich, with a few flakes of ground beans floating around the rim.  For some reason, this cup of coffee was particularly satisfying; it needed no cream or sugar:  no bitter aftertaste from which to hide.

As I sat in that chair, enjoying my coffee, others came and went, paying for their cup with whatever they had to offer.  Some gave leaves, some brought poetry, others demonstrated yoga poses.  And everybody received a tiny, ground laden cup of nonetheless delicious coffee.

This strange café was brought to you by a group of students taking Installation Art class at Northwestern and ran from November 21st until today, December 2nd, excluding Thanksgiving break.  This is all too short, if you asked me.  After all, why would you go to Starbucks for a $3 or more cup of mediocre brew when you could go to the basement of Kresge and trade a yoga pose you so happen to know for a cup brewed with love?  Love.

And all it costs is whatever you have to offer.

Sonic Perfection – Grado SR-225 Headphones

Affordable and brilliant, New York audio house Grado has a winner in the SR-225s.

Gradolabs.com

Grado SR-225 Headphones. Source: Gradolabs.com

Grado headphones are something of a cult hit among audiophiles.  Manufactured in New York, they are readily found online at retailers like Amazon, but are quite difficult to find in retail stores.  I first heard about the small Brooklyn-based company while searching for new headphones that were relatively inexpensive, but provided accurate and rich sound.

This probably sounds like a bit of a stretch.  Continue reading

Album Review – “Stay Positive” by The Hold Steady

Loud and unrelenting, rockers The Hold Steady are back with more solid tunes.

Amazon.com

"Stay Positive," by The Hold Steady, 2008; Image Source: Amazon.com

To be honest, I’m not the biggest Hold Steady fan.  Prior to unloading Stay Positive‘s twelve tracks onto my computer, I only had one of their other songs, “The Swish,” from their album Almost Killed Me.  “The Swish” had loads of small-town, small-venue (or pub) appeal.  Continue reading

Games of May Do…Everything. Overachievers.

The more I listen to Games of May, the more I’m impressed.  The small collection of their songs I have in my library run the gauntlet of musical genres – jazz, Latin, rock; and do I detect a hint of burlesque?  How can one band stab at so many genres and still create a solid, connected sound? Continue reading

Bloc Party’s “Mercury” Increases Bass, Video Increases Nightmares

The Mercury Disc Set

The "Mercury" Disc Set (1)

Bloc Party’s latest cut, “Mercury,” dropped in early July to the delight of some and the dismay of others.  Commenters on the Brooklynvegan blog, apart from arguing about career choices and ‘hipster’ status, largely agreed that the song “sucks.”  Among those who deemed themselves qualified to label the song as “sucky” were an anonymous plumber, graphic artist, and even a gorilla.

Some critics, however, have taken the opposite stance.  IGN blogger Spence D. gave the single 9.5 points of ten, calling the song, “a post-apocalyptic jazz mass that will leave your cerebral cortex in a state of vertiginous disarray,” (IGN: “Mercury” Review, 7 Jul., 2008).

The song is a thumping mix of bass-centric beats and stressful strings, which are at the same time hilarious for their melodramatic tone and yet make the song feel like a secret agent jam from a Bond flick to be released thirty years from now.  It’s not the most beautiful or harmonic song out there right now, but its intrigue lies in its chaos – fast and frantic drum beats mixed with string melodies reminiscent of the Flight of the Bumblebee will leave you in a post-rave trance…and might leave you with a headache.

But it’s not as bad as the nightmares the video will cause.  It has something to do with monkeys building a Frankenstein-esque monster to take over the US presidency and start worldwide nuclear war…I don’t know.  I’ve never been much of a music video fan myself, and this one hasn’t made me feel any cognitive dissonance yet.

Bloc Party lead Kele Okereke

Bloc Party lead Kele Okereke (2)

Are Bloc Party going post-modern?  Are they ahead of their time?  Or are they just hopping on to the trance-meets-dance-hall-meets-hip-hop trend spearheaded today by bands like Justice, MGMT and others?  We’ll likely have to wait for the entire album to be released, which won’t likely happen for quite some time.  BP lead Kele Okereke told the Zane Lowe Show on BBC’s Radio One that the band are “still writing and working on” their next album.

Sources:  brooklynvegan, IGN

Image Sources: (1) BlocParty.com Online Store, (2) Mail Online (dailymail.co.uk)

“Mercury” on The Hype Machine

“Mercury” Music Video on YouTube