Twofer Tuesday

Occasionally, I come across small utilities or other free applets that’re worth passing on.   It occurred to me that it’s been a long time since my last Two For Tuesday Utility post, so here are a couple of utilities that I’ve been using quite a lot lately:

  • Lyrics Plugin is a free applet that lets you easily view song lyrics in either Windows Media Player or WinAmp.   Just play your favorite MP3s and their lyrics will be displayed automatically.
  • Notepad++ is a free & open source replacement for Windows’ Notepad.   The program is highly customizable and offers a wealth of powerful features that make it especially great for use as a source code editor — like hacking out some HTML, for example.

Media Meanderings

Y’know how quite often you begin reading about one specific thing on the Internet and you end up meandering all over the place?   Next thing you know, you’ve hyperlinked & explored across the Web — reading blogs, watching videos, & listening to streaming audio stuff — and couple of hours have suddenly vanished?   Well, that’s exactly where this post originated…

Jamendo logoA relatively new site called Jamendo that offers more than 5000 free music albums in high-quality DRM-free MP3 format.   You can save individual tracks or use your BitTorrent client to download entire albums in a jiff.   This is an excellent way to discover emerging new artists & music!   All music on Jamendo is licensed through Creative Commons, making it legal to copy & share, and even modify.   Some of the musicians even allow for the use of their music in commercial products or to be redistibuted as part of other projects.

And that’s how I came across Deus and try^d.   French electonica musician Deus’ captivating track called "Nothing Is Impossible" had been used in The Machine is Us/ing Us, an excellent video by Michael Wesch & the Digital Ethnography students at Kansas State University.

Internet-based electronica group try^d’s "Waltz Into the Moonlight" is featured as the soundtrack to a cool new video that I discovered last weekend, thanks to Michele Martin’s The Bamboo Project Blog.   Prof. Wesch has produced another thought-inspiring video, "A Vision of Students," that summarizes some of the most important characteristics of students today — how they learn, what they need to learn, their goals, hopes, dreams, what their lives will be like, and what kinds of changes they’ll experience in their lifetime.

Art That Flows

Recently, I predicted that .   While I suspect that digital music has lessened the visual aspect of music and only a few really memorable album covers have come along in recent years but I believe that Apple’s Cover Flow UI is going to cause far-reaching ripples that will, among other things, revitalize the importance of graphic design as it pertains to music.

Coincidentally, a couple of days later, I ran across Chris Smith’s cool article 23 Album Covers that Changed Everything! on Mental Floss.   I don’t necessarily agree with all of Chris’ choices but there are certainly a bunch of excellent, unforgettable records mentioned that helped shape a whole generation’s tastes in music and popular art!

That article made me think back about some of the first records I owned.   Music was a tactile thing back then — you held the LP in your hands, placed the record player needle ever-so-carefully on the outer ring of that big ol’ slab of vinyl, and marveled at the creativity of the album cover & liner notes design while the music seeped into your soul.   Okay, okay, maybe that seems a little deep but music was a truly special thing back in my formative teens.   I still love music now, but it just seemed more substantial & eventful back in the analog days of vinyl.   Records weren’t just something you listened to — they were something you escaped into.

Here are just a few of the memorable LPs that Dede & I listened to that changed our worlds:

Boston's self-titled album cover   Fleetwood Mac's "Rumours" album cover   Billy Joel's "Glass Houses" album cover
Journey's "Escape" album cover   Loverboy's "Get Lucky" album cover   REO Speedwagon's "You Can Tune a Piano But You Can't Tuna Fish" album cover

What’re some of the LPs that left an indelible mark on you, both for their memorable artwork and music?   Or do you recall what your first record album was?   Post a comment & share your story!
 

Go With the Flow

Recently, I’ve been thinking…   The widespread acceptance of digital music has probably caused album artwork to become much less important since so much music is being bought electronically now.   And even of the CDs you might’ve physically purchased in the past few months, what was the last one you bought that featured a truly memorable cover design?   Can you even recall the what the album covers from the last 4 or 5 CDs you purchased looked like?

I believe that’s all about to change…

Cover Flow screen shot

Cover Flow, the 3-D interface that iTunes & the new iPod lineup features for visually browsing through your digital music libraries via album covers, was created by independent Mac developer Jonathan del Strother and purchased by Apple back in ’04.   It’s a gorgeous, intuitive, & fun way to peruse your music collection — almost exactly like flipping through stacks of vinyl LP record albums back in the old analog music days.

The more I see of the visually-stunning Cover Flow interface, I’m convinced that its popularity — thanks in no small part to Steve Jobs’ miraculous iPhone — will spark a revitalization of the previously-withering art of album cover design.   Since thumbing through your music collection’s cover art is the coolest way to find stuff on all of the new iPods (except the display-less iPod Shuffle), I think we’re about to see the visual aspect of music get a serious kick in the pants!

And I don’t think the impact of Cover Flow ends there.   No sir, not by a long shot!   Similarly-styled GUIs are going to spring up left & right — not the least of which is Leopard, or Mac OS X v10.5, the sixth major release of Apple’s Mac OS X operating system due out in October ’07.   It’s a safe bet that we’re seeing the next paradigm shift in user interfaces.

What do you think?   Will Cover Flow revitalize album cover design within the music industry?   And will it become as imitated as the iPod’s venerable click wheel?
 

After Words On Afterwords

Collective Soul's "Afterwords" album coverLast month I was fired up about Collective Soul’s forthcoming Afterwords CD.   Well, the album released yesterday and sure enough, it’s great stuff!

I quickly got the feeling that they’ve worked hard to pay homage to some of their own favorite musicians.   On "Bearing Witness," you’d almost swear they had George Harrison on guitar.   There’s the distictive chimey guitar reminiscent of U2’s Edge in "Good Morning After All."   You can easily hear The Cars influence on the CD’s bouncy, fun, first single "Hollywood."   Dede & I both picked up on some Cheap Trick and on "What I Can Give You," there’s even a nod to The Killers.

Even atop all of that, the album still has the signature Collective Soul sound.   If you liked their previous albums, you’re sure to enjoy this one, too!   Grab the CD for $10 this week at Target and let us know how you like it!
 

Collective Soul’s Afterwords Coming Soon!

Collective Soul  Afterwords album coverMan, I am so stoked!

I just found out that one of my most favoritest bands, Collective Soul, is gearing up to release their seventh studio album in August.   I’ve long since been hooked on their sometimes-orchestral, post-grunge, layered music so I’m definitely psyched for this new disc!

The interesting twist that accompanies the release of their "Afterwords" album on August 28th?   The band has struck a deal with Target as the exclusive retailer for the (physical) CD & iTunes for the (digital) downloadable files.

You can give a listen to the Georgia quintet’s awesome, bouncy new single, "Hollywood" at Collective Soul’s MySpace page.   At first I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but the style of this new song really reminded me of another band.   Then it finally hit me… (with a gentle nudge from Dede)   The Cars, back in the ’80s..   Anyone else catch that vibe?
 

Two Tool Tuesday

It’s been awhile since my last "twofer" utility post, so I thought I’d toss out a “twofer” of Tuesday tips from the (software) toolbox:

  • WordWeb is a quick & powerful free utility for thesaurus & dictionary functions within virtually any Windows program, without requiring you to go online. WordWeb displays word definitions, synonyms, pronunciations, usage tags, & links to the Internet for even more functionality.
  • MixMeister BPM Analyzer has become an oft-used tool in my MP3 app arsenal. This freebie analyzes your MP3 files, calculates the beats per minute of the music, and updates the appropriate ID3 tag field with that info. You can then use that number to help create music playlists with a consistent tempo for walking or working out. You’ll have to experiment a bit to find a BPM that sets a comfortable pace for you but I find songs in the 105-115 BPM range are good for starters and 125-130 BPM for when you’re really eager to sweat.)

    Update: Refer to this handy chart to find the right BPM for your workout playlist.

    And as I’ve mentioned in a previous “Tuesday Utility Twofer” post, Florian Heidenreich’s excellent Mp3tag is an absolutely essential MP3 tag editor. Don’t wait, go get it now!

A Hint of Hope for Hip-Hop

I love music and have a fairly broad range of musical tastes, although I guess most of this is fairly mainstream. I can’t quite cozy up to some of the stuff out at the extremes like bubblegum pop junk, really twangy old country, or Trey & Linda’s fierce “growl rock” death metal.

But one main musical genre that I mostly ignore is Hip-Hop. I've often ranted on (just ask Clems & April) most urban music (Rap, Hip-Hop, or the new generation of "R&B") for being morally bankrupt and drowning actual talent with just so much “gangsta” ghetto attitude. Jamie Foxx’s “Unpredictable,” for example, could've been great, but he trashed his credible & real vocal abilities with fistfulls of guest street thugs, er… rappers & MCs spouting pointless rhymes and injecting loads of needless profanity. It's telling that the best parts of Kanye West or Snoop Dogg songs are the guest artists — like Jamie Foxx, Usher, or Justin Timberlake — guys who have soulful singing skills, but junk up most of their own songs with distracting, meaningless, and often tasteless (c)rap.

But where most Hip-Hop or Rap artists may fail to impress me much for their own musical talent, it seems that their real skill is in finding fresh new sounds to accompany them. Kanye West's violinist (introduced by Jay-Z), Miri Ben-Ari, for example, is at the forefront of an emerging variant of Hip-Hop that's really got me excited. Miri brings highbrow classical musicianship to the street. Her sound & style doesn't sacrifice smarts just to be hip. And she's kinda hot too!

Likewise, with Nuttin' But Stringz, brothers Damien & Tourie Escobar infuse Classical, Jazz, & R&B styles into Hip-Hop music that's fresh & fun.

And dreadlocked Daniel Bernard Roumain throws down a hybrid of styles that veers more towards orchestral, but features turntable scratch riffs, thumping bass lines, & some very funky violin string plucking.

And then just the other day I discovered this video from Korean group Last4One that remixes Pachelbel's “Canon in D Major” with zithers & breakdancing.

Maybe there's hope for Hip-Hop after all…
 

More Pod Peoples

Linda & Kayla have joined the ranks of the iPod people. They both received a 30GB iPod Video for Christmas. In Linda’s case, Santa must’ve forgotten to check that "Naughty" list twice this year!

We were initially skeptical about the video quality since the screen seems so small. But after watching a few minutes of Desperate Housewives, well, that Steve Jobs is a genius!! I could definitely stand to watch a movie on this screen without my eyes becoming bleary. Linda says if you plug it into your TV, the image is just as clear at that size as it is on the small screen. 2Dolphins gives 2 thumbs up!

The 'Other' Carpenters show off their Video iPods