Monday, August 29, 2011

3-Sentence Reviews: Good New-ish Music

Pickin' Up the Pieces by Fitz and the Tantrums, which comes recommended courtesy of my dad, is much less indie than most things I listen to--not that there's anything wrong with that!  It's '70s R&B meets Broken Bells by way of Cee Lo Green and refreshingly well produced compared with many of the mainstays of the 2011 indie circuit.  Timelessly angry lyrics and creative, unconventional instrumentation combine to create an album that fans of a dozen different genres can agree on.

We've waited quite a long time for the follow-up to Among the Oak and Ash's self-titled album, and Devil Ship finally sailed this month.  On a whole, it's a little weaker than the self-titled debut, suffering from shaky production in a few spots and sorely missing Garrison Starr's harmonies.  But it still has its standout tracks ("Billy and the Good Girl," "Devil Ship"), and it's good to know that Josh Joplin's mission of preserving the Appalachian music tradition continues.

The rebirth of Paste Magazine as an electronic publication has been an unprecedented success, and one of many things it's done well has been to preserve its "Best of What's Next" issue.  Invoking comparisons to both Stars and Eisley, it made Kopecky Family Band seem like a can't-miss--and the music did not disappoint.  Strangely, The Disaster is at its worst when Kelsey Kopecky channels her inner Amy Millan ("Birds" halts the middle of the album like a speed bump), but the ambitious arrangements and excellent vocal performances on "God and Me" and "Red Devil" make Kopecky Family Band one of my favorite discoveries of 2011 so far.

I have Stephanie to thank for introducing me to Vespers, whose Tell Your Mama contains some darn fine indie folk.  A family-ish outfit reminiscent of Eisley, Vespers aren't as deep vocally or experienced musically, but that should improve over time for the young band.  Vespers are at their best when they make the most of their myriad guitar alternatives (banjo, ukelele, and mandolin at the very least) and when they're unabashedly bluegrassy about their indie folk with a Nashville flavor.

Another offering from Paste's "Best of What's Next," and one I was much more surprised that I liked, was The Bright Light Social Hour's self-titled album.  Paste promised me their music was for fans of Franz Ferdinand and the Killers (which I am, if a little distantly), and the comparison is apt if a little misleading.  Most of the album sounds like it could comprise the soundtrack to a sports video game or a slightly-more-musically-savvy-than-average fraternity, and it's a little unclear why half the songs are interspersed with Spanish non sequiturs, but it's at least a nice change of pace--and potentially much better than that.

Currently listening: "Love the Way You Walk Away," Blitzen Trapper

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Awesome things my new phone can do

For almost two and a half years, my G1 was my favorite toy.  It came with some serious history: the G1 was the first-ever Android phone, when the thought of Google's first OS was so novel that it earned the nickname "the Google phone".  But as the years wore on, my phone grew increasingly geriatric.  I'm pretty sure it actually spied on me, because the more intent I became on replacing it, the clunkier it got.  About a month ago, I broke down and bought what has quickly become my new favorite toy, the HTC Sensation.  I'm convinced this phone runs on equal parts Taiwanese engineering brilliance and magic.  This phone:

Runs the Urbanspoon app.  I've actually been waiting for almost three years for a phone that does this.  I'm notoriously bad at picking restaurants, so Urbanspoon might have been the first thing I installed when I got the phone working.

Allows me to beat you at Words With Friends.  When the Android market told me that devices running Android 1.6 could run Words With Friends, it was lying.  I think what it was trying to say was "grab your chisel and a handful of pebbles and make your own lettery tiles."  Wordfeud is a much better pseudo-Scrabble; its interface is cleaner and less gimmicky, it incorporates native Android features better, and it won't steal your soul because it's not made by Zynga.  But in Wordfeud, I can only beat you if you're running Android too.  Words With Friends is indiscriminate!  (Yep, this is a challenge: I'm Pavalavavalavich on there if you're up for it.)

Can stream all of my music from anywhere in the world.  This is mind-blowing.  Via Google Music, I can upload all of the music that I own to Google's big hard drive in the sky, then listen to it, on demand, whenever and wherever I want to.  This has completely obsoleted my iPod.  (If anyone wants one--and you do--I have three invites left.)

Streams all my podcasts too.  Podcasts are just RSS feeds anyway, so all it's taken to make phone-USB syncing a thing of the past is an RSS reader with an audio playback codec written into it.

Automatically adjusts its screen brightness.  Such an obvious, but entirely novel, functionality.  If it's bright outside, the screen gets brighter so you can actually read it.  If it's dark, the screen dims to save battery.  Phones have had front-facing cameras since before the Motorola Razr was cool, so why not put them to use?

Connects to Wi-Fi without destroying its battery.  4G is really, really solid--but it's incredibly satisfying to download an application update in a matter of seconds.

It's true that I lost a little hipster cred in upgrading from the vintage, truly open-source option to the new and shiny one.  It was worth it.

Currently listening: "20 Years," the Civil Wars