There aren’t many people in music right now who are under more pressure than Brian Fallon. Labeled as the torchbearer of the classic rock tradition upon the release of 2008’s The ’59 Sound—the sophomore album from his Jersey-based quartet, The Gaslight Anthem—Fallon has spent the better part of his career not just having to live up to the quality of his own albums and songs, but to his idols as well. A lot of people got into Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty, and Bob Dylan after hearing consistent references to each in Gaslight’s early music. In fact, Gaslight’s legacy got so entwined in the “inspired by Springsteen” narrative that fans started requesting Bruce songs at shows. Even Fallon’s side project, the Horrible Crowes, got whipped up in the Springsteen tornado, drawing at least a handful of parallels to Nebraska. Let’s be honest: figuring out a way to live up to an album as terrific as The ’59 Sound is hard enough. Doing it when everyone is comparing your stuff to albums like Born to Run and Damn the Torpedoes is just downright unfair.
On this week’s episode of Encore we start by talking a little about the Academy Awards, do some follow-up on last weeks “best 10 albums of the last 15 years,” and then tackle some reader questions. Thomas recounts his history with Set Your Goals, we give some updated thoughts on The Wonder Years’ last album, and we look at how we’ve changed or matured how we handle conversations on the forums. We talk a bit about “where to start” with different forms of art by well known musicians or authors or filmmakers and then get into some of the big news over the last week: Transit have broken up, Yellowcard are back with Hopeless, and The Hotelier have released the track listing and album art for their new album. We end with some talk of Rolling Stone’s top 40 emo albums and The 1975 aiming for that number one spot on two charts. And there’s the return of the siren. Rejoice.
Harriet Gibsone, writing for The Guardian, looks at the pros and cons of social media in the music industry. The article itself is interesting, but this tidbit really stood out:
“I mean I’m not a drinker any more, but when Twitter first came out I was, like, drunk tweeting, and nearly put my foot in it quite a few times,” Adele told the BBC last year. “So my management decided that you have to go through two people and then it has to be signed off by someone, but they’re all my tweets. No one writes my tweets. They just post them for me.”
This is probably something that should be put into place by most bands/labels/management. I wonder if there’s a market for an app like this? One that looks and works just like regular Twitter, but any post or reply gets queued up instead of posted immediately. Combine that with some fancy screening of the at-replies section (to filter out harassment, assholes, and spam), and maybe Twitter would be more attractive to celebrities, sports stars, and other public figures.
Ben Popper, writing for The Verge, looks at how Netflix has revamped their recommendation system to handle a more global audience:
“We were very worried that running the algorithms we knew worked well when we pulled data from a single country and a single catalog, if we tried across places where the catalog differed, the recommendations would be pretty bad,” says Carlos Gomez-Uribe, vice president of product innovation at Netflix, and the leader of the recommendation redesign.
This obsession over the data and delivering the best recommendations for every subscriber is something I think is sorely missing in the music world. Spotify cares more than Apple Music, but imagine if it gets this good?
MTV has been revamping their news and publishing recently and have put out just fantastic content. Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib recently wrote an article on Kanye West’s The Life of Pablo and the “myth of rare black genius.”
Assessing The Life of Pablo, like assessing the entire career of Kanye West, means considering the demand for black greatness and the toll it takes on the great. I am not commenting now on West’s mental or emotional state. I have no access to Kanye West, or his life, beyond what he shares through his work. I am talking about the toll it takes on artists in the black imagination, in the spaces where we hold them dear. It is equal parts frustrating and wholly understandable to see the way both white establishments and black consumers hold on to the idea of black genius. The concept is held so tightly and with so little change or evolution in what the black genius can or should represent. This leaves the imagination with so few established and named black geniuses that they must be protected at all costs. I have been guilty of this, both the limited naming and the relentless protection, more with Kanye West than anyone else.
So what are your ten favorite albums of the last fifteen years? That’s the question that makes up the main topic of this week’s episode of Encore. The rules are simple: favorite albums, 2001-2015, there can be only ten. We’d love to see your lists in the replies where you’ll find our super-sized episode goes into detail on how we picked the albums on our own lists. This was way harder than I expected. This week’s episode also covers some news on Kanye West and his new album, some first impressions of The Hotelier’s new album, and a discussion around walking into a very anticipated album or band for the first time. Oh, and of course there’s our usual random banter about life and things. We went long on this one to make up for last week! Hope you enjoy it. You’ll find show notes, ways to subscribe, and links to stream and/or download this episode by hitting read more.
Harper Lee, the author of To Kill a Mockingbird, has passed away.
People generally see what they look for, and hear what they listen for.
Natalie Angier, writing for The New York Times, looks at how and why we’re drawn to certain music:
Now researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have devised a radical new approach to brain imaging that reveals what past studies had missed. By mathematically analyzing scans of the auditory cortex and grouping clusters of brain cells with similar activation patterns, the scientists have identified neural pathways that react almost exclusively to the sound of music — any music. It may be Bach, bluegrass, hip-hop, big band, sitar or Julie Andrews. A listener may relish the sampled genre or revile it. No matter. When a musical passage is played, a distinct set of neurons tucked inside a furrow of a listener’s auditory cortex will fire in response.
The 1975 have released their new video for “The Sound” on YouTube. The video includes real quotes from past critical reviews of the band. Their brilliant new album is also now available on Apple Music. Over the years when writing about music I’ve come across bands that I think are special, that have it, and that find their way into rarefied air in my music collection. This is one of those bands. This is one of those albums. I hope it means as much to everyone that hears it as it has to me.
Boston Dynamics have released a new video of their robot, Atlas, which can walk on two legs, open doors, stack boxes, and handle being pushed around by dudes with sticks. I had two thoughts while watching this: First, “oh great, like the robots aren’t going to remember this one day.” And two, that maybe I’d been watching too much Humans, because I felt this ping of empathy for what I know is a machine.
Last week Bill Simmons announced his upcoming new website, The Ringer. Today his partnership with Medium for the publishing of said website has been announced. Edward Lichty’s post about the partnership is filed with PR platitudes but one line in particular set off my bullshit detector:
We eliminate the need for any investment in tech, provide access to a growing network oriented towards meaningful engagement, and deliver constant, always-on innovation from a world-class product development team, whether you’re a single blogger or a large commercial publication — all for free.
I think Medium is a really interesting product and a great environment for hosting medium to long form text — and I’ll continue to recommend it for a certain set of writers. But any company promising this sort of thing for free is really saying for right now. The other shoe drops eventually. I’d recommend a read of David Winer’s “Anywhere But Medium” for the counter argument.
Eli Schiff, writing on his blog, takes a deep dive on the missteps of Uber’s rebranding:
In general, it is not a great idea to put the brand of a company valued in the tens of billions of dollars in the hands of people who readily admit they don’t know what their own intentions are. Uber tore through and rejected the proposals of half a dozen external agencies and eventually made the decision to rebrand internally.
More news, and some great analysis, has surfaced over the Apple vs the FBI situation I posted about a few days ago. I’ve rounded up some of the best articles I’ve come across on the subject from a variety of angles.
Rich Mogull, asking if we have a right to security:
The FBI wants this case to be about a single phone used by a single dead terrorist in San Bernardino to distract us from asking the real question. It will not stop at this one case, that isn’t how the law works. They are also teaming with legislators to make encrypted, secure devices and services illegal. That isn’t conspiracy theory, it is the stated position of the director of the FBI. Eventually they want systems to access any device or form of communications, at scale. As they already have with our phone system. Keep in mind that there is no way to limit this to consumer technologies, and it will have to apply to business systems as well, undermining corporate security.
Elspeth Reeve, writing for the New Republic, looks at the secret lives of “Tumblr Teens,” the back alley monetization schemes, and the story of some of the most popular accounts being terminated. It’s an in-depth profile on a faction of the internet, and youth culture, that I seemed to just miss.
Each social media network creates a particular kind of teenage star: Those blessed with early-onset hotness are drawn to YouTube, the fashionable and seemingly wealthy post to Instagram, the most charismatic actors, dancers, and comedians thrive on Vine. On Facebook, every link you share and photo you post is a statement of your identity. Tumblr is the social network that, based on my reporting, is seen by teens as the most uncool.
Grab some pizza, or if you’re my age: a beer, and dive in.
Apple has publicly responded to a court order brought on by the FBI and US government asking them to purposefully break into one of their devices. There’s been a lot written on this subject today, so I’ve rounded-up what I think are the must reads after the jump.
The implications of the government’s demands are chilling. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data. The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge.
Nicola Twilley, writing for The New Yorker, with the behind the scenes look at the scientists that discovered gravitational waves exist:
The fact that gravitational waves were detected so early prompted confusion and disbelief. “I had told everyone that we wouldn’t see anything until 2017 or 2018,” Reitze said. Janna Levin, a professor of astrophysics at Barnard College and Columbia University, who is not a member of the LIGO Scientific Collaboration, was equally surprised. “When the rumors started, I was like, Come on!” she said. “They only just got it locked!” The signal, moreover, was almost too perfect. “Most of us thought that, when we ever saw such a thing, it would be something that you would need many, many computers and calculations to drag out of the noise,” Weiss said. Many of his colleagues assumed that the signal was some kind of test.
Cyrus Farivar, writing for Ars Technica, looks at the losses that are apparently piling up for SoundCloud.
New financial records released by SoundCloud show that the company has nearly doubled its losses from 2013 to 2014—those two years combined account for a total of €62.1 million ($70.3 million) in losses. […] With mounting losses, the company’s board of directors wrote that there are “material uncertainties facing the business.”