Dave vs. Mmm-Bop

NPR recently released its Songs of the Summer, which invokes memories of summers past by conjuring up (or dredging up, in some cases) songs you couldn’t go anywhere without hearing. Songs like “Crazy” by Gnarls Barkley (2006), or “Hips Don’t Lie” by Shakira (also 2006). Or the bane of 1991, the unforgettable “Summertime” by the equally unforgettable DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince.

In 1997, one of the songs of the summer was “MMMBop” by boy-band Hanson. And mercifully, I avoided hearing it. I remember the summer of 1997. While everyone else was listening to that, I was listening to aging bands like The Cure and Echo and the Bunnymen, and that habit saved me. I managed to make it until 2004 without hearing that boy-band staple. It’s an achievement I’m proud of. Read more

Bacon and ice cream

So Burger King decided that a bacon sundae is a good idea. I have to mention it because this blog’s original name, back in October 1999 was, believe it or not, Bacon and Ice Cream. No kidding, though I’m not sure many people are still around who remember that. A week or two later, I decided that was too weird and re-launched as The Silicon Underground.

The name was a reference to an obscure Lou Reed song called What’s Good, which contained the line, “Life’s like bacon and ice cream. That’s what life’s like without you.”

So the question is, if life’s like bacon and ice cream, does Lou Reed think life is something good, or something bad?

Read more

The best band I forgot about?

A couple of days ago I ran across a Material Issue CD at a secondhand store. It was priced at $1, so I couldn’t pass that up. They were a band that was always on my list of CDs to buy, but never moved high enough on the list that I ever got around to it. And of course, in 1995 they just dropped off the radar entirely.

Like most bands I like, it seems, they have a sad story.Material Issue was a Chicago band whose major-label debut sold 300,000 copies, which wasn’t bad for an alternative band in 1990-91. Their songs ranged from power pop ballads to the just plain weird, and I remember hearing their songs “Valerie Loves Me” and “What Girls Want” on Les Aaron’s “New Music Sunday” radio show on 97.1 FM in St. Louis in the early 1990s. That stuff was just too weird to get much play on the right-hand side of the FM dial in those days, and for that matter, I don’t know that even Les Aaron played them every week.

Alternative music became the new big thing (and ceased being alternative, in a lot of ways) in 1992-93, due in large part to Nirvana bursting onto the scene. I remember every station with alternative sympathies in St. Louis and Columbia, Mo. having them in rotation after that, and critics always thought highly of their work, but for some reason their stuff just didn’t catch on.

In 1995, their record label dropped them after their third record sold a mere 50,000 copies. (In 1975, Lou Reed proved that a recording of 60 minutes of guitar feedback could sell 100,000 copies.) A year later, their lead singer/guitarist Jim Ellison was dead, committing suicide about a month after his 32nd birthday.

Ellison and Material Issue really could have been a Cars for the 1990s. Like Cars leader Ric Ocasek, Ellison penned quirky, disturbed lyrics, and he even had a slightly odd look, like Ocasek.

The song I really remember Material Issue for was “Kim the Waitress,” which was pretty much their last hurrah. And it wasn’t even their song, originally. I was vaguely aware that it was a cover, and I dug up the original, by a Seattle band called Green Pajamas, on Youtube. Material Issue’s version is faithful to the original, but still sounds like Material Issue. The original is a bit quirkier still, featuring a sitar, but Ellison sang it with a bit more urgency than the Green Pajamas did. To the Green Pajamas, Kim the Waitress comes off as a crush, whereas Material Issue sounds like they’re head over heels in love with a girl they barely know.

In the early 2000s, Stereo Fuse scored a minor hit covering Material Issue’s ballad “Everything.” Stereo Fuse electrified it (the original was largely acoustic), and in a way Stereo Fuse’s version ended up sounding more like Material Issue than Material Issue did, but Stereo Fuse didn’t capture Jim Ellison’s urgency in the lyrics.

It’s really too bad I didn’t pay more attention to them in the early 1990s. They were the kind of band that any shy, slightly neurotic guy would really relate to.

I guess Material Issue came in with too much emo too soon, and sounded a little too psychedelic too late. If they’d come around 20 years earlier or later than they did, they might have done better. Or, maybe Jim Ellison was just a shade too honest in his songwriting, and people were afraid of what others might think if they admitted to liking his stuff.

12/22/2000

AMD, part II. Intel will have its work cut out for it when Micron releases its Mamba chipset for the Athlon and Duron. Micron noticed a great waste of space in its Samurai chipset, so they decided to turn the wasted silicon into 8 MB of high-speed, low-latency L3 cache. Intel wouldn’t license the P6 bus to Micron, so Micron went to AMD, who of course welcomed them with open arms.

The Mamba is expected to perform 15% faster than the AMD 760. Unfortunately, I know nothing about expected release dates.

And what of AMD’s great hope for the Duron, the VIA KM133? Horrendous 2D performance holds it back. While it has the memory bandwidth of the earlier KT133 and KX133 and offers decent 3D performance, its 2D performance seriously lags behind the SiS 730–and SiS video isn’t exactly renowned for performance. In other words, the reason the Savage series flopped as a standalone card remains. Intel’s integrated chipsets put up better numbers overall, so if AMD’s going to beat Intel in this space, it’s going to have to be on price.

The new Musicmatch Jukebox. I normally don’t pay any attention to this app, but I caught a review of it and it includes a compelling new feature. It’s optional, and most privacy activists will hate it, but that’s why you can turn it off. For me, it’s the draw.

Tell it your favorite artist, and it streams stuff that other people who like the same thing like. I punch in Aimee Mann (who else?) and it responds by playing a set of Aimee Mann, Moby, Abra Moore, and Lou Reed. Nice. The next set was David Bowie, Iggy Pop, and Blur. And none of the tracks was the artist’s best-known song.

For me, the whole point of radio is to discover new stuff. I love my music (I’ve got a modest-sized collection of nearly 200 CDs), but radio has become so repetitive and it’s really hard for a quality artist like Aimee Mann to get any radio play. And when she does get play, it’s “Voices Carry” (her smash 1985 hit with her band, ‘Til Tuesday), or if a station is especially progressive, her Oscar-nominated “Save Me.” About once a year, you might hear one of her minor hits like “I Should Have Known” or “That’s Just What You Are” or “Red Vines.” The problem is, she doesn’t have the promotional engine behind her to give radio stations much of anything in return for playing her stuff (short of the occasional concert ticket, but she doesn’t tour much). So we get the same ‘N Sync and The Backstreet Boys and Celine Dion and Elton John songs over and over and over. Nothing new about that.

Sometimes a good station does come around, but when you hear a new song, good luck finding out anything about it because the DJ usually doesn’t say (except for the songs everyone already knows). When a song is playing, MusicMatch optionally brings up a browser window with album info, a review, a listing of the most popular tracks off the album. And in some cases, you can download a free track off the album. And–unlike radio–if you don’t like a track, you can skip it!

You can also choose from a list of 18 preset stations, and you can tell it to mix selections from the stations. So if you yearn for the days when AOR stations mixed in a dash of alternative music, you can approximate it by mixing Classic Rock, Hard Rock, and Adult Alternative (since that’s what they now call most of the stuff that was considered alternative in 1992).

The other nice thing is it’ll favor the artists whose MP3s you rip using the program in the 18 preset stations. So presumably if I rip a lot of Badfinger and Cars (I still have trouble calling The Cars classic rock) tunes, if I click on the Classic Rock station I’ll hear something other than a constant barrage of Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Rush (which, as far as I can tell, is all that anyone listened to in the ’70s). Sounds good to me.

This, I think, is a killer application for the Internet. Musicmatch is at www.musicmatch.com.

Spam. If it sounds too good to be true, it is. At least the phrase “boost the reliability of ordinary Windows 3.x…to nearly the level of Windows NT or 2000” gave me a chuckle.

Ignore these chumps.

Dear Windows User,

Now you can boost the reliability of ordinary Windows 3.x, 95 and 98 to nearly the level of Windows NT or 2000, Microsoft’s professional and industrial version of Windows.

The new WinFix 4.3 is a very effective way to improve the reliability of Windows, because it makes Windows fault-tolerant and self-repairing. And WinFix is very safe, because it operates completely independent of Windows.

http://www.backtoday.com/comph to find out more about WinFix, the safest, most effective way to keep you working, by keeping your PC working non-stop.

Arlen Dixon, CEO
Westwood Software Marketing

This announcement is being sent to PC users who asked to be kept informed about new developments in Windows(tm) technology. To be removed from our mailing list, go to the Email-us page. OR To be removed mailto:remove@backtoday.com?Subject=REMOVE

10/28/2000

~Mail Follows Today’s Post~

Microsoft hacked! In case you haven’t heard, some hackers in St. Petersburg, Russia, had access to Windows source code for three months and the intrusion was only discovered this week. This could end up being a very good thing for you and me, believe it or not. (And this is even assuming the hackers didn’t fix any of the bugs they found.) As security consultant Andrew Antipass told Wired magazine, “It is interesting in a kind of cruel way that Microsoft has been eaten by the monsters it created.”

Microsoft has always been oblivious to security in their products. The only way they were going to learn was to be bitten, and hard. Now something has happened that calls their network infrastructure into question, the security of their products (which they’ve tried to present as more secure than Unix) into question, and even the integrity of the code they’ve produced in the last three months into question–Microsoft can say what they want about it being impossible to change the code. Of course they’re going to say that. Will the public believe it? Some will believe anything Microsoft says. Others wisely will believe exactly the opposite of anything Microsoft says. Still others (like me) will believe the worst no matter what Microsoft says.

If this incident doesn’t force Microsoft to start taking security seriously, nothing will.

The downside, however, is that if the hackers did indeed get Windows and/or Office source code, vulnerabilities become potentially easier to spot (not that access to Linux source code has significantly increased the number of vulnerabilities–remember, most hackers are script kiddies at best, writing in batch languages, and aren’t any more proficient in C++ than you or me).

All of this overshadowed Microsoft’s Internic entry being hacked (Apple’s entry got hacked too, though less creatively), which you can read about in The Register.

Enough of this computer junk. Let’s talk about music.

Review of U2’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind. If U2 were to call it quits right now and we had to pick out U2’s defining album, this would be it. That’s not to say it’s their best album–it’s awfully difficult to match the raw energy and wonder of Boy, the raw power of Achtung Baby, and if this one sells like The Joshua Tree, it’ll only be because there are so many fewer bands making good music in 2000 than there were in 1987.

That said, U2 seems to have finally answered the quintessential question of how to sound like U2 without sounding like selling out. For the past 13 years, every time U2 released an album, people expressed disappointment that it didn’t sound like Joshua Tree. But others would point to the inevitable single track on each album that did sound like Joshua Tree, then wave it in the band’s face: Can’t you do anything original?

You can divide U2’s music into roughly three phases: 1979-1983 (Boy through War), 1984-1989 (Unforgettable Fire through Rattle and Hum), and 1991-1997 (Achtung Baby through Pop). Although the band has reinvented itself with every album — sometimes for the better and sometimes not — they tend to hold on to their sound for a couple of albums at a time before they make major changes.

But the album title might as well be referring to those sonic changes: This album manages to incorporate all of those previous sounds while not sounding too much like any of the previous albums. You could take the defining song off any previous U2 album, drop it randomly into this album’s mix, and it would manage to fit.

The Edge’s jangly guitar? It’s there. Larry Mullen’s precise, militaristic drumming? It’s there. Adam Clayton’s low, thumping bass? It’s there. And of course, there’s also Bono’s wailing vocals. The experimentation? That’s there too, and that’s the bit that always scares people.

Make no bones about it: U2 is a rock band, and this is a rock record. But listen closely, and the experimental elements are still there. The synths are there. The sequencers are there. So is the drum machine. In fact, they lead off the album. But whereas in the past they have sometimes been the focus, now they complement the band’s sound rather than defining it.

They pull out a unexpected tricks as well. Listening to “When I Look At the World” for the first time, I half expected to hear Frankie Vallie filling in on lead vocals. Bono’s soaring falsetto doesn’t reach as high anymore as Vallie did in his prime, but the crafty veteran vocalist makes what he has left work. Meanwhile, in the tracks “New York” and “Grace,” Bono manages to out-Lou Reed the real article, though as a closer “Grace” is just not up there with U2’s great closing tracks of the past (War’s “40,” Achtung Baby’s “Love is Blindness,” Pop’s “Wake Up Dead Man,” or Joshua Tree’s “Mothers of the Disappeared”).

The biggest surprise is track 8. In that track, titled “In A Little While,” U2 finally succeeds in sounding soulful. So much of Rattle and Hum was contrived, a bunch of Irish guys in their late 20s trying to sound like B.B. King or Bob Dylan, and they clearly hadn’t lived long enough yet to pull it off. Now in their early 40s, they nail it.

The opening track and first single, “Beautiful Day,” is a good introduction to the album. That song’s sonic elements are for the most part present throughout. Like most U2 songs, to the casual listener it sounds good immediately. As one who picks apart lyrics, I initially didn’t like the song because it seemed too superficial. So what if it’s a beautiful day? Even a no-talent Kurt Cobain wannabe like Gavin Rossdale can say that! Only upon closer listening does the real meaning surface: the story of someone who has lost everything, yet never felt better. That sounds a lot like me. It probably sounds like you too, or someone you know.

So, how’s it stack up? Most people rank War and The Joshua Tree as U2’s finest albums. I buck convention and place Achtung Baby (their amazing 1991 comeback) and Boy (their 1980 international debut) ahead of those two. At the bottom, I’d rank October, Rattle and Hum, Zooropa, The Unforgettable Fire, and Pop. All That You Can’t Leave Behind definitely blows away the lesser five albums.

However, the album falls a bit flat after the first four delightful tracks. It picks it back up again for a track or two here and there, but the immediate greatness that grabbed you when you first heard The Joshua Tree or Achtung Baby just isn’t there throughout. And the superstrong emotions that drove and held together those great albums aren’t here.

This is probably the album of the year, and many bands go their entire careers without recording anything as good as U2’s worst. This effort borders on greatness, but just doesn’t quite manage to cross over.

Strong points: The first four tracks.
Weak points: “Peace on Earth;” “Wild Honey;” “In a Little While,” though good, doesn’t seem to fit (seems to be there only to settle a bet from 1989); “Grace” is a good track but ill-suited to end a U2 album.

And a survey. I’m considering a one-day-per-page format, like Frank McPherson and Chris Ward-Johnson use. When marking up by hand, a weekly format is much easier. When using Manilla, it really makes no difference.

If you don’t want to join the site in order to vote, feel free to just e-mail me. Members can vote here. (I do wish there was an option to open discussions and voting to non-members. I can see why some people would want to require membership, but that should be optional. So it goes.)

~~~~~~~~~~

From: “Dan Bowman” < DanBowman@att.net >
To: <dfarq@swbell.net>
Sent: Saturday, October 28, 2000 11:03 AM
Subject: Music reviews

Now I’m really glad I spent my discretionary funds yesterday! After reading your review (the class is watching a movie while I make copies),
I’m real tempted to pick up the album.
Then again, I have a Costco run set for after class…

Have a great weekend,

dan

~~~~~~~~~~

Don’t look too hard; it’s not available until Tuesday. I got a chance to hear it a few times and I got sick of seeing reviews from people who just listened to the 15-second clips available on the music store sites and said, “This is the best U2 album ever!” based on that, so I wrote it up. Good practice anyway. I think it’s been 3 1/2 years since I’ve written a music review of any significant length.

I wanted to strike a balance between “this may be the year’s best album” and “this is the best album ever!” because it’s not (it’s not even U2’s best).  Hopefully I did that. But I remember when I wrote up a review of Pearl Jam’s No Code in 1996, people said I was too harsh and shouldn’t have compared it to the past (though looking at that album’s longevity or lack thereof, I’m inclined to think I was right).

Reviews are tricky business but I want to stay in practice, so I may start doing a review a week just to get and stay sharp.

10/22/2000

Discussions should now be live. Thanks to Al Hawkins for the pointer. (Dan Bowman found it too, but Al said it first.)

And this is the last change for today. Constant changes so you’re always showing up on Weblogs.com’s most recently changed list is a good strategy for getting more hits, but I’ve got a magazine article I need to be working on, and a World Series to ignore!

Speaking of sports, with the Chiefs and Rams playing I couldn’t be too disappointed regardless of the outcome, but my Kansas City loyalties are very happy with that upset. (I’m from KC but live in St. Louis and normally pay little attention to football.)

And discussions… Dan Bowman asked me to turn on discussions “so [he] can make rude comments directly from the browser.” I’m used to rude comments so I kind of like them, but I can’t figure out how I managed to turn off that Discuss button, nor can I figure out how to bring it back.

In Prefs –> Editorial, site access isn’t set to editors only. Anyone have any other ideas?

Thanks a ton.

The page should render faster in Netscape now. I cut it down to three tables (it had been five, for no really good reason). It’s not as fast as I’d like, but Netscape 4.x just doesn’t handle scalable tables very quickly.

My best songwriting ideas come from church. One of our seminarians came up at the start of service and asked what kinds of songs we sing during the week. Are they songs like the Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction that put the focus on and glorify ourselves, or on God?

Well, I was writing a song yesterday. The chorus was to go something like “I want to use it all up before You call me home / I want to flame out for you.” It’s speaking to God, but the focus is on me, and it’s works-oriented. Remember, this is Christianity. Christianity has the DH rule. If we’re truly putting everything we have into living for Christ, the work is happening through us, but it’s really God doing it. We’re just allowing it. It’s when we’re taking the bat out of the Specialist’s capable hands and going up there to hack away ourselves that we find ourselves in trouble.

So I bounced it off my songwriting partner to see what he thinks. I may write the lyrics, but I still want his editorial opinion. He likes the idea but not necessarily the exact words. Making it grace-oriented rather than works-oriented will be a challenge.

Getting back to secular songwriters for a minute… I have trouble understanding one-hit wonders. Aimee Mann is basically that, and her huge hit with ‘Til Tuesday, Voices Carry, was one of the first songs she wrote by herself. The first worship song I wrote is decent (better than the one I’m working on now), but will anyone remember it in a year? I’ll be surprised. You get better with time.

And the one-hit wonders who survive illustrate that. Listen to Mann’s latest, and it’s as good as anything Lou Reed ever did. Listen to ‘Til Tuesday’s first album, and the majority of it sounds like the stuff Madonna was doing at the time.

Another Day. It’s amazing once I kick into design mode, how much I just want to change the design just a little… No, wait, better change it back. Hmm. Sheesh, even the location of the search engine tool (it’s working now, not that there’s much to search yet) is a big deal.

Imagine once I get around to scanning a photograph of myself to put up here, how big of a deal that will be. I guess there’s more graphic designer in me than I thought there was, which is strange because I don’t like to draw all that much. But I am creative, so that’s probably where the designer comes from.

I still have to clean up that list over to the left. I like having the search engine there rather than on its own page, so I need to get rid of that page link over there. And so on. It’ll happen later.

I see 254 page reads on yesterday’s post, which is higher than I expected. When I stopped tracking my last site, my high for a day was the day my review of Mandrake Linux 7.0 appeared on LinuxToday.com. That was just under 1,100 reads if I remember right. So for a weekend, on a new site, 254 seems really high. Thanks.

Windows speed tricks. The Register, the great British IT tabloid, has a collection of Windows ME speed links at http://www.theregister.co.uk/content/1/14154.html. I wasn’t impressed with such online collections two years ago, and I’m not impressed now. There’s some good info there, but it’s pretty light. One writer boasts of Windows ME booting his system in 50 seconds. I’ve gotten a Pentium-200 with Windows 95 to boot in 15. (Granted, it was after putting a 7200 RPM hard drive in it, but I’m betting this guy has a 7200 in his system too, and a much faster CPU.) If you’ve got a NIC and a modem in your system, it’s never likely to boot much faster than 30, but come on. Fifty? That’s pathetic for an OS that’s supposed to boot fast.

Believe it or not, turning off the Windows splash screen at boot yields tremendous speedups. Unide c:msdos.sys, then load it into Notepad. Scroll down to [options] and add this line:

logo=0

Now save it and hide the file again. This trick works on all flavors of Win95, 98, and ME. I thought this would only make a difference on pitifully slow machines, like 486SX/20s. I was wrong. Even if you’ve got a 1.2 GHz Athlon, that splash screen slows things down. With Windows 9x, you’re rebooting enough that this is worth doing.

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