Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks

April 30th, 2008

I’ve been meaning to write a review of Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain (wikipedia) by Oliver Sacks (wikipedia).

The book presents a number of case studies in a variety of topics involving music and the brain, like epilepsy and music, amnesia and music, or depression and music. There are also case studies involving things like amusia and note-color synesthesia. There are people who get struck by lightning and then becomes obsessed with piano music. Or the people who are unable to speak but are still able to sing. Or the violinist for whom a single note suddenly sounds out of tune.

After each case study, Sacks offers some explanation about what might be going on in the brain to cause these abnormalities.

I found this book absolutely fascinating and devoured it whenever I had a chance until I finished it. It’s well worth the money, especially if you love music and have a nerdy bone in your body.

You can read a significant excerpt and hear an interesting piece on Musicophilia at NPR. You can purchase it from amazon.

“I once was Canadian” on the air

April 29th, 2008

cred: me

I’m on the air, once again, on KZSU 90.1FM or online. I’m on every Tuesday[1] from 3-5pm.

You can check out my playlist, updated in real time.

Also, a reminder to listen in tomorrow night at 9pm PST for Geographer, who will be doing a live in-studio session.

[1] Of course, any time you say “every” there’s an exception. I won’t be on next week due to a baseball preemption.

Mark Kozelek, David Bazan @ Palace of Fine Arts: photos, review

April 29th, 2008

On Saturday I saw two of my favorite songwriters, Mark Kozelek (of Sun Kil Moon, formerly of Red House Painters) and David Bazan (myspace, formerly of Pedro the Lion) at the Palace of Fine Arts in San Francisco.

There are some obvious similarities between the two. Each artist has past involving various bands and has recorded solo. Each could be (somewhat broadly) described by the following terms: folk, rock, melancholy, acoustic. Both would be staples of the sub-genre sadcore if anyone still used that term. It the end, the show ended up being two great and distinctive performances.


David Bazan came on a few minutes after they flashed the lights in the lobby. I’ve seen him so many times by now that it’s hard to say something different about his shows. But the thing is this: I’ve seen him so many times because:

  • he’s touring all the time
  • he always puts on a good show

So why not see him every time through town? I do… This show was good as always. The music was mostly new songs that “will be on the new album unless [he writes] better songs before then” but he did have a few from the last EP, like “Cold Beer and Cigarettes” and “Fewer Moving Pieces”. The new songs (many of which I also heard at his SxSW set at Jovita’s). There are a few that I’m looking forward to hearing the studio versions of. You can hear some of these new live songs at It’s Hard to Find a Friend. One of my favorites is “Please Baby Please” and if you know Bazan’s borderline satirical lyrical style, you know that that’s not going to be an average love song.

He’s got a pretty awkward stage presence in quite an endearing way. At one point he was talking about usually when he meets new people or plays in front of an audience of people that might not know his stuff he assumes they think he’s a douche bag. But recently he’s been going into these situations assuming the opposite. Then he added “and now of course I’m a douche bag for saying that….”


After an intermission Mark Kozelek came on with another former Red House Painter Phil Carney, both playing guitar with Mark Kozelek front and center on the mic as well.

His set of songs included some from all throughout his musical career. He played one of my favorites “Rock N Roll Singer” (AC/DC cover) and at least two Modest Mouse songs (“Tiny Cities”, “Four Fingered Fisherman”) and a number of originals. With his fluid fingerpicking and reverb-heavy vocals and Phil’s equally fluid guitar playing, it was soon a very hypnotic set of music.

At one point he started a song and someone let out a cheer. Mark stopped the song and said “You don’t know what song that is. I mean, it could be any of my songs” and then proceeded to play the same fingerpicked set of chords while starting some of songs like “Glenn Tipton” and two more.

Besides the music there were some noteworthy and amusing intersong banter. With three guitars (nylon string, steel string and 12 string) and a different (non-standard, for the most part) tuning for each song, there was a lot of time spent tuning. During one of these pauses, he asked for questions. He’d just mentioned coming from Ohio and someone yelled out:

audience member 1: Where in Ohio are you from?

Kozelek: I’m not going to tell you that. Look it up on my wikipedia page or something.

[and it continued]

audience member 2: Where do you live?

Kozelek: I’m not going to tell you that either.

After a few more questions, Kozelek got a little frustrated with the line of questioning:

Kozelek: Alright. Enough questions.

[long silence]

audience member 3: Are you coming out for an encore?

[everyone laughs]

Kozelek: I don’t know. There’s a very comfortable chair back there. Once I sit down, I may not want to get up.

The other themes of the stage banter were about how he was uncomfortable because people seemed so far away and about how all his friends have been moving to Portland or Brooklyn.

All in all, it was an excellent show with consistently good sets from both artists.

you know you go to too many concerts when

April 28th, 2008

Four signs you go to too many concerts:

  • You don’t bother to take your ear plugs out of your pocket anymore
  • People ask what shows you’re going to soon and you list half a dozen
  • You can accurately predict each band’s start time on a bill based on a number of factors including venue, how many bands, start time, door time, etc.
  • You recognize people every show you go to.

Yeah, that may be me. I may have a problem. But at least I don’t go to 187 shows a year.

four of the next five Wednesdays nights…live!

April 27th, 2008

I’m really excited to announce that I’ll be hosting four great local bands over the next five Wednesday. All of these will be at 9pm PST on KZSU. You can listen at 90.1FM in the Bay Area or online[1].

This week’s band is Geographer, who puts on a great live show of their melancholy indie pop sound.

[1] The newish 192kps AAC+ stream sounds gorgeous, very clear, by the way. I’d recommend trying it out.

melodyne direct note access possibly spells the further degredation of musicianship in music, is definitely awesome

April 26th, 2008

Here’s a rather long (7+ minutes) but impressive demonstration of the Direct Note Access technology by Melodyne.

It’s like pitch correction, which is a common place tool in digital recording these days, but instead of only being able to correct and change single notes, it can change any note in a song, whether it’s by itself, in a chord, or in an arpeggio. Technology-wise it’s pretty impressive.

I heard many stories from friends of friends about pitch correction’s overuse these days–singer having each note corrected a 1/4 tone and things like that. It really points to a degradation in talent among “musicians” this days.

Obviously my concern with a system that allows access to each note is a substantially bigger degradation of musicianship. If musicians no longer need to be able to play anything, then what are they there for? To look cool and strut on stage?

On the other side of the coin, though, is this: someone’s going to have to have some sense of musicality. Records don’t just get made by computers (…yet). If the musicians don’t have it, then it may end up being the engineers and producers.

But, if you think about it, that’s not exactly new either. In the Holland-Dozier-Holland/ Spector sort of school of recording, the producers were the creative forces and, while the studio musicians were top notch, neither they nor the performing act was really in control of things.

In the underground music world, I think there is less reason for concern. There always are forces that correct the music when things get too “fake”. Punk was a reaction to disco; lo-fi was a reaction to 80s pop music. I think they’ll always be a segment of the population that demands authenticity from their music and so there will always be some music that delivers on that need.

her space holiday, lymbyc systym @ bottom of the hill: photos, review

April 25th, 2008

Last night I saw Her Space Holiday (myspace) and Lymbyc Systym (myspace) at the Bottom of the Hill.

Lymbyc Systym went on a few minutes after I go to the club. I’d known their name from their tour with The One AM Radio and that group’s Lymbyc Systym remix and I’d heard a few good tunes on their myspace. Going into the show I wanted to make sure I got there in time for their set and I was glad I did.

It was two guys, one on drums and samples (and occasional face contortions) and one on keyboards. They play instrumental music that has touches of electro/ glitchy pop and touches of post-rock. I remember thinking during an Album Leaf set once that I was amazed at the energy and emotion that Jimmy LaValle was able to put into the music; nominally electronic music isn’t usually able to do that. During Lymbyc’s set I was once again amazed at the same thing. They did the swells decrescendos, the dissonance and consonances and the tension and release that marks the best post-rock really well, but they also had nice electronic beats and glitches in there. I found the balance worked really well.

Her Space Holiday came on to a crowd rife with anticipation. I feel like I couldn’t have been the only one to be surprised when a full band was setting up on stage–not just a full band, but a large one–six piece: two guitars, bass, keyboards, drums and a tambourine/ backup vocalist. In the five years since last seeing HSH live–when Marc performed solo, with a laptop and sequencer, if I remember correctly–I’ve listened to Manic Expressions, Young Machines and Past Presents the Future a lot of times. I loved the lush strings and engaging beats.

But here we were, a full band and no laptop. I’ve enjoyed other throw-out-the-electronics-that-were-on-the-album live shows before, but after the lovely warm-up from Lymbyc Systym, I was ready for some glitch pop.

Glitch pop I did not get. The band played new and old songs in a style that reminded me of southern-influenced classic rock bands–and not the ones that I liked. It’s not that Her Space Holiday didn’t play well–they were solid musically–they just performed in a style imitated by countless mediocre bands and didn’t do much to distinguish themselves from those. That mediocrity carried over into how I felt about their set. Perhaps the crowd was simply content or perhaps they saw things the same way as I did because when the main set ended, so the clapping did soon after and I thought I’d see a headliner not get an encore for the first time in a long time. Eventually the band came back on to a smattering of applause.

I shouldn’t leave you thinking that I had a completely average experience across the board with their set, I should mention that I loved their versions of “Tech Romance”, “Sleepy California” and “My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend” (part of the encore) were all great and enjoyable.

Song obsession friday! (for the week ending April 25)

April 25th, 2008

Song obsessions are those songs that we listen to on repeat. I noticed that my obsessions are often a week long. I also thought that other people might have similar obsessions. I’ve collected a panel of a few like-minded individuals and gotten their “song obsessions of the week.” Quite often it’s easy to explain why the song is good; it’s much hard to explain why we’re obsessed. Maybe you’ll become obsessed with one of these.

Adrian (me):
James Hunter – Hand It Over (mp3) (out in June, artist’s website)

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I got sent this album and I popped it in. I was pretty skeptical, but actually he seems to do new-music-that-sounds-old really well. The production on this track was really catchy. I like the horns, strings and percussion.

Victorian English Gentleman’s Club – My Son Spells Backward (mp3) (buy)

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So I’m not trying to shill for emusic (ahem, uh, my id is zaxxon25), but I’ve come to enjoy the process of browsing through their stacks for import or small label stuff that I just wouldn’t connect with otherwise. One fine find is this effort by the Victorian English Gentleman’s Club. The full-length combines an overdriven bass/spindly guitar sound borrowed from late 80’s US alt-rock with a nervy art-punk vibe out of the early 80’s UK scene. That leads to deceptively complex yet quite catchy confections like this winner.

Port O’Brien – Close the Lid (mp3) (pre-order)

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Port O’Brien’s upcoming release is the best album I’ve heard this year. This song will burrow into your skin. That’s all I’ve got – I think my wife is going into labor…

The Silent Comedy – Daisy (mp3) (not available buy other merch)

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The vocals at the end of the song remind me a lot of Bon Iver. And really, that’s about all you should need to recommend this band to you, and to explain my obsession with this song.

Fionn Regan – Black Water Child (mp3) (buy)

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Hugh Masakela – Stimela (Coal Train) (mp3) (buy)

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I heard this wrapping up on KZSU a while ago and it stopped me in my tracks (da-dum chiiih;) the drums’ sound particularly grabbed me — especially the building 8th notes that morph across whatever bell(s) are being used (I would love to know, what a great sound!) — but Hugh Masakela’s vocals are of course the highlight. The amount of emotional intensity he puts into the last quarter of this song is fantastic, especially as it is somehow perfectly blended into and build out from the rest of the track’s early-nineties noir loungyness.

SFIFF ’08: Faubourg Treme: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans

April 24th, 2008

Production still

This year’s San Francisco International Film Festival features Faubourg Treme: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans.

Faubourg Treme or simply Treme (Faubourg just means suburb) is an old area of New Orleans that some say is the “oldest black neighborhood in America.” It has quite a storied history.

Lolis Eric Elie, a newspaper columnist, had moved back to NO and to Treme, in part because he liked the old architecture. As he was fixing up his house, he started talking to neighbor & carpenter about the history of Treme and became fascinated. The movie is narrated by him and the film is largely a first person story through his eyes.

Some of the history that he uncovered is as follows: Black home ownership in the area dates back to early 1800s. There were early black poetry and newspapers. Some of the historians in the film pointed out civil rights activism much before the national movement with sit ins in 1867, which led to streetcar desegregation.

When the streetcars were resegregated, Homer Plessy, a Treme resident sued and it escalated in the courts until the landmark decision Plessy v Ferguson was handed down. While the political side of things were faltering, jazz was born. In 1960s suburban development brought the I-10 through the area and drugs and guns followed. The first part of the film, which was filmed over five years, showed the area starting to turn around.

Of course the most recent history of the area is that of New Orleans in general in the aftermath of Katrina in general.

As far as music goes, there were some nice scenes of street bands. Particularly brass bands, including funeral bands and the related
“second line” street/ parade dancing. There was also some gospel. Wynton Marsalis also produced the film and appears in some segments.

Overall I found the film a nice mix of history and interviews with current people. I found I could relate to the people who appeared in this documentary. At 60-some minutes, it wasn’t too short or too long; it was a good length to cover the history without getting bogged down.

Screenings are Saturday 5/3 at 1:00p, Tuesday 5/6 at 3:45p and Wednesday 5/7 at 9:00p, all at the Kabuki.

on sale soon (4.24.08 edition)

April 24th, 2008

Posted every Thursday On Sale Soon is a weekly series of the tickets going on sale that weekend.

Where to get tickets: The Independent, Great American Music Hall, Slim’s, Fillmore, Warfield, and other Livenation venues. Another Planet booked venues like Greek Theatre @ Berkeley, Palace of Fine Arts, etc. Bimbo’s.

On sale now/ Thurs April 24:
5/19 -miyavi- @ Slim’s

6/20 Thievery Corporation, Seu Jorge, Bebel Gilberto, Los Amigos Invisibles, Federico Aubele @ The Greek Theatre at UC-Berkeley

7/25 Stone Temple Pilots, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club @ The Greek Theatre at UC-Berkeley

8/2 John Mellencamp, Lucinda Williams @ The Greek Theatre at UC-Berkeley

On sale Friday April 25:
6/3 Matt Wertz @ Swedish American Hall
6/9 Erykah Badu with The Roots @ Paramount Theatre

On sale Sunday April 27:
5/20 De Novo Dahl, Tally Hall, Low vs. Diamond @ Slim’s

6/2 Chevelle with Sick Puppies @ The Fillmore
6/12 Teddy Geiger, Hilary McRae, Scott Harris @ Great American
6/12 Russian Circles, Daughters, Young Widows @ Slim’s
6/13 Pride & Joy @ Bimbo’s
6/14 De La Soul, Sage Francis, Hieroglyphics, Blackalicious @ Berkeley Community Theatre
6/16 The Almost, Emery, Envy on the Coast, Army of Me @ Slim’s
6/17 The Helio Sequence @ Slim’s
6/21, 6/22 O.A.R., Jeremy Fisher @ The Fillmore
6/24 Mosh Ben Ari, Yossi Fine @ The Independent
6/25 Les Dudek @ Slim’s
6/25 US Air Guitar Regional Finals @ The Independent
6/28 Grand Archives @ Slim’s
6/28, 6/29 Tea Leaf Green @ Great American

7/6 Jazz At Lincoln Center Orchestra with Wynton Marsalis @ Mountain Winery
7/14 Aimee Mann, Marc Cohn @ Mountain Winery
7/16 Lynyrd Skynyrd @ Mountain Winery
7/18 Joseph Arthur @ Great American
7/26 Emmylou Harris with Jimmy Gaudreau, Moondi Klein @ Nob Hill Masonic Center
7/27 Emmylou Harris with Jimmy Gaudreau and Moondi Klein @ Mountain Winery

8/5 Pat Benatar & Neil Giraldo @ Mountain Winery
8/19 Yes @ Shoreline Amphitheatre at Mountain View
8/26 Patty Griffin with Amos Lee @ Mountain Winery

9/14 Tim Finn @ Great American

Double check all information as venues and promoters often change on-sale times and days up until the last minute.

Note: All 70-some shows at the Mountain Winery go on sale on Sunday. Only the highlights are shown above. Full schedule below.

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