Monday, December 14, 2015

<|°_°|>

I'd like to say for the record that three of these albums were being given away for free.  (Guess which.)

Björk—Post: 3/10
Highs: Isobel
There is no reason to own this album, or even stream it on Spotify for any reason other than curiosity.

Jessie J—Sweet Talker: 4/10
Highs: Ain't Been Done, Burnin' Up featuring (ugh) 2 Chainz, Bang Bang featuring Ariana Grande and Nicki Minaj
It's like a NOW That's What I Call Music sampler of pop music from the last couple years.

Foster the People—Supermodel: 7/10
Highs: Pseudologia Fantastica, Are You What You Want to Be?, The Truth
Rock music solid enough to make me overlook how little I like the lead singer's voice.

Tove Lo—Queen of the Clouds: 8/10
Highs: Moments, Habits (Stay High), Like 'em Young
A mature pop album with no bad tracks.  Particularly impressive for a debut, though I'm not sure how much that matters in an era of modern production.

Jason Derülo—Everything is 4: 3/10
Highs: Want to Want Me, Cheyenne
A couple worthwhile pop-R&B songs wedged between some intolerable crap.

Clean Bandit—New Eyes: 7/10
Highs: Rather Be featuring Jess Glynne,  A+E (Live) featuring BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, Telephone Banking featuring Love Ssega
I waffled a lot on this one but decided to pick it up.  Nothing on the 29-track two-disc set is bad, though there are plenty of songs that are just okay, balanced out by several that are quite good.

Caravan Palace—<|°_°|> (aka Robot): 9/10
Highs: Lone Digger, Midnight, Wonderland
Infectiously delightful modern swing music.  Would see in concert again in a heartbeat.

Don't miss these excellent singles:
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis—Downtown featuring Eric Nally, Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee, and Grandmaster Caz
Miike Snow—Genghis Khan

Not even once:

Zammuto—Anchor
Dizzy Wright—The Growing Process
Giorgio Moroder—Déjà Vu
Kid Cudi—Speedin' Bullet 2 Heaven (would still be abominable even if it weren't for the 8-10 minutes of Beavis and Butthead impressions tacked onto the end of various tracks, such as Adventures at 4:18)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Focus and headaches

Man, it's been so long since I've written anything.  I've had a busy summer, but not busy in a way that makes for too many exciting ideas of things to write about.  Got a few rainy day topics, but I haven't had the focus or motivation to write them.  I've been pretty unfocused in general—it comes and goes, worse when my headaches get worse.  And my headaches are worse in the summer, and most of my energy has been going toward work stuff and my boyfriend, so I haven't had much left to power any sort of creativity.  But I can feel it coming back now that the weather is turning.  I'm always pretty miserable in the summer, so I welcome the turning of the leaves more than just for visual appeal.

I went to the hospital today for a planned procedure in which some tubes were stuck into my nose and they squirted some high-powered anesthetic up in there.  I'll know more in a couple weeks if it's really helping.  After dealing with this headache non-stop for these eleven years or so I'm pretty desperate for anything.

I haven't been listening to music a whole lot except for in the car, and a swath of Seattle summer concerts.  It's been too distracting to have any sort of sound around me; what would normally be a pleasant experience has been turned by my headaches into a taunt that prevents me from doing anything else.  But despite all that, I've still managed to make it through a few new albums in the past few months.

Olly Murs—Right Place Right Time: 6/10
Highs: Heart Skips a Beat featuring Chiddy Bang, Army of Two, Dear Darlin'
Reasonably solid pop music, but the album gives me the simultaneous impression that it has potential and that it's not living up to it.

Nico and Vinz—Black Star Elephant: 6/10
Highs: Am I Wrong, Last Time, Miracles
The term "world music" always seems at best condescending and at worst racist, but somehow fits here.  Decent overall, and I think most of my problems with the album are production: vocal recording quality, instrumentation, and how the beats feel.

J. Cole—2014 Forest Hills Drive: 5/10
Highs: Apparently, Wet Dreamz, No Role Modelz
This album got a lot of acclaim and I don't think I agree... JC's talented, but this largely isn't life-changing stuff.

Muse—Drones: 5/10
Highs: Dead Inside, Reapers, Psycho
More 1999 Muse than 2013 Muse.  The instrumentation is quality rock, but the songs don't impress me.

Kid Ink—Full Speed: 5/10
Highs: Faster, Body Language featuring Tinashé and Usher, Round Here
Faster is really excellent, but the album leans toward generic too often.

Mika—Mika: 8/10
Highs: Staring at the Sun, Good Guys (Night Time mix is a little better), Promiseland
Lovingly-crafted good pop music all throughout, even though few tracks really stand out as memorable.

The Bird and the Bee—Recreational Love: 6/10
Highs: Will You Dance?, Runaway, Please Take Me Home
A little too sleepy and lacking in the energetic charm of their previous albums.

The Weeknd—Beauty Behind the Madness: 9/10
Highs: Tell Your Friends, Can't Feel My Face, Often
Tell Your Friends is an R&B masterpiece... a filthy, filthy masterpiece.  If this is what we get when The Weeknd turns a little more radio-friendly then I think I'm completely okay with it.


Singles worth a listen:
Fort Minor—Welcome: Excellent, rap (free!)
OOAH and M!NT—If the Smoke Clears: Good, dance (free!)

Monday, June 22, 2015

When help is too great a cost

I'm a helpful guy.  I've got a lot of practice helping people... I've been publishing software under my alias for twenty-one years now, two-thirds of my life.  And it goes for my day job as well: literally 90% of my time at work is either helping other people, or planning things.  Only about 10% of my time is spent actually building software.  But my attitudes about helping people have changed a bit over the past few years.

For my personal projects, I've begun to fine-tine my sense of when help is too great a cost.  I answer every request for technical support that people send about the products I've written.  A few years ago, I began to get really overwhelmed by the volume of the requests: my most popular app has been downloaded several million times, and answering all of the requests began to become an unfulfilling, depressing chore that might take away a couple hours each week.  I spent a long time writing up a series of articles answering the most common questions, and worked on finding other ways to help people help themselves.  And that worked fairly well—now on average I spend less than an hour a week helping people.

But I've also developed a sense of peace with knowing and reminding myself that I'm under no obligation.  Sometimes I receive questions that are too complicated to answer: they're too technical, or too vague, or maybe someone had a hard drive crash and stored some really critical account information in a sticky note on their desktop, and need to get it out.  (That problem occurred with surprising frequency.)  In the past, I might have spent hours of my life helping strangers on the internet recover their lost data.  People talk about cutting Facebook friends out of their lives that cause them too much drama, but here I was helping strangers I'd never meet recover files from failed computers.  It wasn't until the past year or two that I started to realize how tired some of these people were making me.  It was painful at first, but I'm learning to live with myself for just telling these people "hey, sorry, you're going to need to figure things out on your own."

What I'm still trying to figure out is how to apply that to work.  Random people on the internet who want technical support wield no power against me at all other than maybe making me feel bad when I say "that's all I can think of to help, sorry it didn't work, tough luck" to them.  But at work is a very different story.  Anyone at work, anyone at all, holds enormous power over me, because anyone who wants to can craft a story in an email to my manager if I don't help them to their satisfaction.  It sounds like delusional paranoia being worried about that kind of extortion, but almost every non-positive thing that has ever showed up on one of my performance reviews is a direct result of someone doing that (or something awfully similar) to me, so it's constantly on my mind.  But that's mostly unrelated to my main point.

I'm going to continue helping people.  Making an altruistic positive contribution to humanity is the reason we're all here.  But if you look at it in a utilitarian way, an hour of my time spent helping someone else save an hour of theirs is not a good trade-off.  The net gain to the world is zero.  In fact, it's probably not zero, it's probably negative: if I could have otherwise used that hour of my life to create something that makes the world better and they would have used it to watch two reruns of The Big Bang Theory, I probably made the world a worse place by helping them.  So I need to make the right cost/benefit decisions.

I can make a positive impact on the world with my time, I know it.  I know it because I've built things that people have told me have made them extraordinarily happy, time and time again, for more than a decade.  Stories like the woman who didn't have any money to buy a gift for her parents so she used the app I built to make something special for them instead for free, warm my heart.  But to do those things I need to use my time wisely, and be in control of how I spend it.

My time is a fixed resource.  To maximize my positive impact on the world, I non-intuitively need to minimize time spent helping people one-on-one.  That doesn't mean I have to stop helping people altogether; I just need to be conscious of my own value to the world, and make reasonable decisions about how much of my time (and ultimately happiness) I'm willing to trade for the happiness of a stranger.  (And probably the same applies to work in some way: to make a greater positive impact on the company, I need to find ways to spend less time helping people, or at least the ones who aren't extorting sociopaths.)

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Medium term to-do

I keep my life organized through a well-maintained to-do list and itinerary.  If it weren't for my to-do list I'd constantly be forgetting stuff I needed to get done.  But sometimes I end up with these things that I feel like I want to do, but I'm not sure when I want to get to them, so they get perpetually pushed down on the list.  I had some of those tasks that had been in the "medium-term" list for literally a year.

Tonight I just deleted that page from my notebook.  I'm never going to do any of those things; I was just deluding myself into thinking that someday I'd get around to them.  But I never will.  There will always more more interesting or productive or necessary things to occupy my time than anything on that list.

It felt good.  Really good.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Rude

I'm gonna write something that isn't about music one of these days.  But for now...

Imagine Dragons—Smoke and Mirrors: 9/10
Highs: I Bet My Life, Friction, Polaroid
Surprisingly great, with a wide range of styles from hard to hipster to sure-this-isn't-Coldplay?

Emeli Sandé—Our Version of Events: 7/10
Highs: Next to Me, My Kind of Love, Maybe
A few really great tracks, a couple good ones, and a bunch of slow R&B that doesn't grab me.

Mali Music—Mali Is...: 6/10
Highs: I Believe, Royalty, Make It
[See notes for previous album.]

Chiddy Bang—Peanut Butter and Swelly: 5/10
Highs: All Over featuring Gordon Voidwell
It's a free mixtape, and as such it doesn't have the same level of quality or polish as their more recent music, but about half of it is decent.

Afrojack—Forget the World: 3/10
Highs: The Spark featuring Spree Wilson, Three Strikes
A couple tracks shine out through the generic garbage.

AWOLNATION—Run: 4/10
Highs: Run, Hollow Moon (Bad Wolf)
Way too many weird ideas that probably could have been refined into something great, but don't fit together musically as recorded.

Magic!—Don't Kill the Magic: 7/10
Highs: Rude, Stupid Me, No Way No
Finally, reggae music for white people!

Outasight—Nights like These: 5/10
Highs: Shine featuring Chiddy, I'll Drink to That, Let's Go
Frat party soundtrack.

Singles worth getting:
(either an album isn't out yet, or I didn't like the other tracks on the album)
Janelle Monáe and Jidenna—Yoga: fantastic, pop-R&B
B.o.B and Trey Songz—Not for Long: fantastic, pop-rap
Doug Locke—#ThisCouldBeUs: fantastic, catchy summer pop
Kid Cudi—Return of the Moon Man (Original Score): fantastic, electronic instrumental
Rob Cantor—All I Need Is You: very good, ballad...?
Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars—Uptown Funk: very good; don't pretend you're not sick of it yet
Kanye West—Black Skinhead: very good, rap
Kid Cudi and Raphael Saadiq—Balmain Jeans: good, mystery-genre
Pharrell Williams—Marilyn Monroe: good, pop
Matt Palmer—Lovesick: good, cheesy pop
Taylor Swift—We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together: good, pop

Albums that didn't make the cut:
Sarah Brightman—Dreamchaser (sounds like an album of bad covers, because it is)
Kendrick Lamar—To Pimp a Butterfly (too hard to listen to, same thing I thought about his previous album)
St. Vincent—St. Vincent (too annoying to love)
Meghan Trainor—Title (actually pretty good, but I can't really see myself wanting to own it long-term... might reconsider)
ProbCause—Waves
Olatunji—Drums of Passion
Elle King—Love Stuff

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Losing bloodflow to my brain

I had a pretty vivid daydream while working out this morning, which might mean that I was losing bloodflow to my brain; I'm not sure.  It was a TV advertisement.

The commercial starts inside a crowded airplane.  A husband and wife are visibly uncomfortable.  There is a crying baby nearby, and the woman winces.

The scene changes to the exit gate, where we see that the woman is very clearly pregnant, about to burst.  She hobbles along with her bag and her husband through rows of Christmas trees and garlands.  There are also menorahs and Stars of David.

They pick up rental car keys and now they're on the freeway, and you see a large sign that says "Jerusalem" in the distance at the airport they left.  Suddenly they're stuck in awful city traffic, not going anywhere, and then someone passes them very slowly, on a camel, Office Space-style.  The woman grunts and sighs.

They pull their bags into a hotel lobby, and they both finally look relieved.  The desk attendant presses a few keys and "I'm sorry, but I don't seem to see your reservation..."  The couple stare at each other incredulously.  The woman's eye twitches.  "...but we do have one room left, in the stables—er, garage."  The man opens his mouth to speak but the woman interrupts him and says "uh-uhh, no wi-fi."  She turns her back to the desk attendant, pulls out her phone, taps a few buttons, and the text RESERVED appears on the screen.  She briefly turns her head to the desk attendant with a snarky "go screw yourself" look, and then the two of them rapidly leave.

The couple are now relaxing in a spacious hotel room, while an announcer says "Instant, confirmed reservations.  Another reason to book every room through Hotels.com."  Through the hotel's window you can see a bright star, and near the couple's suitcases you can see three nicely-wrapped gifts.

Commercial ends.

Friday, March 13, 2015

Sandwiched between the mediocre

Stuff I've been listening to lately.  Nothing's stand-out awesome, but there's definitely some good, solid stuff sandwiched between the mediocre.

If you're into rock, though, just go get Imagine Dragons' latest album; I'm not even all the way through it yet and I know it's way better than anything on this list.

Charli XCX—SUCKER: 5/10
Highs: Gold Coins, Doing It featuring Rita Ora, Die Tonight
Well-produced pop music that would be better with a vocalist who doesn't sound like she really wished she had a punk band.

Marc7—Food Water and Shelter: 3/10
Highs: I Who Have Nothing, Runaway, Inhale
Those are the only good tracks.  Marc7 should stick with Jurassic 5.  But hey, it's free!

CHVRCHES—The Bones of What You Believe: 6/10
Highs: The Mother We Share, Lungs, Recover
It's the 80s!  If you love synth-pop then this is your dream come true.

Amadou and Mariam—Folila: 5/10
Highs: Nebe Miri featuring Theophilus London, Dougou Badia featuring Santigold, C'est Pas Facile Pour Les Aigles featuring Ebony Bones
Lots of guest artists on this album, and they are most definitely the highlight.  Not sure who to recommend it to.

Kendrick Lamar—good kid, m.A.A.d city: 3/10
Highs: good kid, Now or Never featuring Mary J. Blige, The Recipe featuring Dr. Dre
Kendrick's a talented rapper but his voice gets on my nerves and the album isn't my style at all.

Recommended singles:
Sam Smith—Safe With Me: very good, R&B (not to be confused with Stay With Me)
Nappy Roots—Roun' the Globe: very good, upbeat rap ensemble
Niki and the Dove—DJ, Ease My Mind: very good, Euro-dance
Kid Cudi—Man on the Moon: very good, weirdly relaxing rap (bonus track)
MS MR—Dance Yrself Clean: very good, piano pop (cover)
The Cardigans—Erase / Rewind: very good, strangely mysterious pop
Matt Palmer—Only Happy When It Rains: very good, R&B, chorus inspired by the Garbage single

Albums I didn't like:
I gave all of these a good try on Spotify but couldn't bring myself to buy them.  Not recommended.


Michael Giacchino—LOST soundtracks
Eric Bellinger—The ReBirth
Sarah Brightman—Symphony
Mark Ronson—Uptown Special
Porter Robinson—Worlds
Nick Jonas—Nick Jonas
Teyana Taylor—VII
Drake—If You're Reading This It's Too Late [Because This Album Will Seriously Give You Ear Cancer]

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Music-to-word ratio

I did some thinking not long ago about what I'd like to see from reviews of music, movies, and video games.  I don't really consider what I do here to be "reviews" per se as I make no attempts to be objective, but I'm going to try taking my own advice and be terse, but still highlight the best parts worth listening to.  (Which is good, because I've been listening to a bunch of stuff since the last one of these posts.)  Because really, the vast majority of the words in any given review of something convey no actual useful information.

Google and Microsoft gave away a ton of albums for free last month, so a bunch of the things here are not my usual cup of tea.  I imagine that'll continue for a while, but it'll be nice to run into some new stuff.

Demi Lovato—Demi: 4/10
Highs: Two Pieces, Heart Attack
Generic-sounding pop anthems with an indistinguishable voice.

U2—Songs of Innocence: 2/10
Highs: California, The Miracle
This is the one that Apple threw at everyone and people dodged out of the way like it was a blood-soaked ebola rag, and then complained it was still overpriced.

Ariana Grande—My Everything: 5/10
Highs: Love Me Harder featuring The Weeknd, Problem featuring Iggy Azalea
Only those two tracks escape the realm of "okay."

Enrique Iglesias—Greatest Hits: 7/10
Highs: Not in Love featuring Kelis, Tired of Being Sorry, Bailamos
Definitely better than I was expecting; cautiously recommended if pop with a slight tinge of Latinness.

deadmau5—"> album title goes here <": 6/10
Highs: Professional Griefers featuring Gerard Way, Telemiscommunications featuring Imogen Heap, October
A dance album that doesn't really stand out to me in any particular way.

deadmau5—4x4=12: 4/10
Highs: Sofi Needs a Ladder, Animal Rights featuring Wolfgang Gartner
Nothing noteworthy on this one.

J. Cole—Friday Night Lights (free): 6/10
Highs: You Got It featuring Wale, Blow Up, Higher
A few particularly good tracks and some other stuff that's, well, free.

J. Cole— Born Sinner: 6/10
Highs: She Knows featuring Amber Coffman, Power Trip featuring Miguel, Villuminati
Finally, a rap album with an extensive collection of songs about having sex with women instead of violence, drugs, and having sex with women!  And on top of that, a couple truly excellent songs; most of the rest is merely okay.

Lorde—Pure Heroine: 5/10
Highs: Team, Royals
She's like Lana del Rey but doesn't say "fuck" as much, and is even weirder.

Guardians of the Galaxy Awesome Mix Vol. 1: 3/10
Highs: Blue Swede—Hooked on a Feeling, Jackson 5—I Want You Back, Rupert Holmes—Escape
Not my kind of music, but there are a few likable classic hits on there.

Hunter Hayes—Storyline: 4/10
Highs: You Think You Know Somebody, Secret Love
Not a fan of country music at all, but there are a couple good rock-infused tracks on here.

Kid Ink—My Own Lane: 7/10
Highs: Murda featuring Pusha T, The Movement, No Miracles featuring Elle Varner and MGK
Pretty good pop-rap album with a bunch of solid tracks but only Murda being great.

Lecrae—Anomaly: 8/10
Highs: Runners, Messengers featuring For King and Country, Give In featuring Crystal Nicole
Lots of really great tracks on one of the best rap albums I've bought in a while.  Definitely recommended if you don't have a strong aversion to occasional Christian overtones.

Mark Ronson—Version: 7/10
Highs: Toxic featuring Tiggers and Ol' Dirty Bastard, God Put a Smile Upon Your Face featuring The Daptone Horns, Stop Me Medley featuring Daniel Merriweather
Surprisingly charming jazzy pop music with a lot of tracks that surprised me.  Recommended.

Jason Derülo—Talk Dirty: 7/10
Highs: Talk Dirty featuring 2 Chainz, The Other Side, Zipper
A bunch of disgustingly catchy pop-R&B songs, many of which should probably make me feel slightly ashamed for enjoying them.

Recommended singles: 
Röyksopp and Robyn—Do It Again: Excellent, dance
Rob Cantor—Shia LaBeouf: Excellent, indescribable
Porter Robinson—Lionhearted featuring Urban Cone: Very Good, dance
AlunaGeorge—Attracting Flies: Very Good, pop
AlunaGeorge—Your Drums, Your Love: Very Good, pop
Beats Antique—Elephant Survival: Very Good, electronic+world
Beats Antique—Brain in a Fishtank: Very Good, electronic+world