The Glorious Return of TMX: Music Is Math v. Starship Trooper

The Glorious Return of TMX: Music Is Math v. Starship Trooper In our last episode of TMX, I had sent Rich “Starship Troopers,” by Yes, and he sent me “Ready Lets Go/Music Is Math,” by Boards of Canada. Here is my response to “Ready Lets Go/Music Is Math”:


Excerpt from “Music Is Math,” by Boards of Canada.

I tell you Rich, the initials B-O-C will always represent Blue Oyster Cult, which is more of an effect of my age than it is of personal preference. I like Boards of Canada, certainly much more than Blue Oyster Cult.

But to the tracks at hand. “Ready Lets Go” is a short little bit, at just under a minute. I like the film-strip sound quality to it, and the three repeating tones make me think of an old radio network’s call tone. “Ready Lets Go” was more evocative to me than “Music Is Math.”

I wanted to really enjoy “Music Is Math,” since whenever I hear that title, I say, usually aloud, “Music IS math!” The first three minutes were building up to something. It was slow and leisurely, which surprised me, since you’re so into music that you can dance to. But I understand when you get into a groove, so I was anticipating something really big.

And then we hit the 3:30 mark, and the song failed. Sorry. It just failed. I really didn’t like the last part of it. The mood shifted from open and expansive to claustrophobic. I don’t know if that last minute or so is a bridge to the next song or a theme used later in the album, but it was just didn’t belong there.

Still I like Boards of Canada. I like trance-y music. But “Music Is Math” just didn’t do it for me.

Well, bummer. Let’s see what Rich thought of “Starship Trooper”:


Excerpt from “Starship Trooper,” by Yes.

Now I’ve got a pretty random musical past. The first record I ever bought was Doug E. Fresh & Slick Rick‘s “The Show.” The first cassette album I owned was Run DMC‘s “King of Rock.” My second cassette was “Big Generator” by Yes, and I loved it. (Cassettes number 3 and 4 were Bon Jovi, “Slippery When Wet,” and Belinda Carlisle “Heaven on Earth”–but that’s not really something I’m proud of.) Ahhh, “Big Generator.” The bass lines were so groovy, the drums punchy and tight, the production was so big and 80s. It had super-catchy hooks and great harmonies. Add to that the almost beat-box intro to “Big Generator,” the track, and I was right at home.

Now I know Yes gets a lot of flack for being too prog-rock and Jon Anderson‘s higher register vocals grate on some, not unlike how some people either love or hate Geddy Lee‘s voice, and how Rick Wakeman‘s synth solos can sound a bit like he’s practicing scales. I remember reading in an interview a great diss that went something like, “Rick Wakeman is excellent at playing scales. Do you know who else is good at playing scales? My twelve year old daughter.” Classic. Oh yeah–others balk at the length of the songs. Nine minutes and twenty three seconds? No problem. I’ve got 173 songs in my iTunes library that clock in at 9 minutes or better, so it’s right at home.

In spite of what detractors say, I really can vibe on the Yes sound–they are tight musicians, and even though their songs are sometimes sonic mazes riddled with odd time signatures and more sections than your average pop song, it doesn’t land them in the same category as Rush or Dream Theater. The songs tell some great stories and the music builds some fantastic soundscapes while not being too indulgent with groove-breaking fills and solos.

I was definitely digging on “Starship Trooper.” While it’s far from the first time I’ve heard the song, it was cool to revisit it with some critical listening.

Next week, I send Rich “Rock and Roll,” by The Velvet Underground. Will Rich be able to handle a five-minute track with basically one stanza repeated three times as sung by Lou Reed?

TMX: Music Is Math v. Starship Trooper

Tomorrow sometimes seems like a week away. Anyway, this time Rich and I are exchanging “Ready Lets Go/Music Is Math,” by the Boards of Canada, and “Starship Trooper,” by Yes. Rich offered this bit for me before I listened to BoC:

Artist: Boards of Canada Album: Geogaddi Tracks: Ready Lets Go / Music Is Math Label: Warp Records Released: 2002

Within the first few minutes of listening to this album, Boards of Canada had established themselves, without question, as one of my top 5 favorite bands.

Quite simply, the music is audio psychedelia–rich in sonic depth and texture, and emotionally evocative. It is completely electronic, and yet altogether human.

I don’t want to spoil the experience with too much hype, so relax, sit back, close your eyes and take the ride. And this is how I introduced “Starship Trooper”: Okay, rich(e)rich, my next song is “Starship Trooper,” by Yes. This came out in 1970 off The Yes Album, which contains the wildly overplayed “I’ve Seen All Good People.” If I had to choose a favorite Yes album, it would tough to decide between this one and Close to the Edge.

I like prog rock. What can I say? Yes is one of those divisive bands–most of my friends really don’t like them, or, worse, confuse them with Rush. My parents, who, in all honesty, shaped my musical tastes from an early age, don’t like Yes, since bands like them and ELP represent the downfall of album format rock-and-roll. I dug Yes before Pink Floyd, before Led Zeppelin. It’s just one of those things that appealed to me as a kid, and still does.

Now, why “Starship Trooper”? Well, your first song was 8 minutes long, so I figured that all time restraints were off. ;) Next, this song has what I consider to be a perfect build. Starting at about 5:36, there’s just a guitar playing a lick, it’s subtly joined in by organ and drum, then bass, and it just builds from this one riff. It grips me every time I hear it. It goes on forevah!, but it holds me for every second. There’s a false crescendo two minutes in, and it still goes on. There’s this wall of sound that just grows and grows. When it finally does peak, at about 8:25, I get all wobbly. Seriously. That’s what music does to me. If I’m listening through headphones, I’ll tear up when that peak hits from the release of the tension.

I’m not expecting the same visceral reaction from you, of course. After we listen to the tracks, I’ll post our reactions and set up next week’s exchange.

TMX: Reactions to Pretzel Logic v Cowgirl

Ooops! Sorry for the delay. So, as established previously, Rich and I were sending music to each other that highlight our musical backgrounds. Last time I chose “Pretzel Logic,” and this is what Rich had to say about it:

Before hearing this song, my only exposure to Steely Dan was the song “Bodhisattva”—an up tempo rocker that I always looked for in the jukebox when having a few drinks at the bar, so I was happy to check out some more from “the Dan.” Now one thing I like about hearing bands perform cover songs and/or standards is that it allows you to put the unfamiliar—in this case SD, in a context that is more familiar—a jam based on the ubiquitous rock staple: the 12-bar blues. In this case, it really allowed me to see what is unique about the SD sound. (Keep in mind that I’m not really a blues guy, so I’m going to speak in broad generalizations about my impressions of blues jams I have heard.) Most blues jams rely heavily on a deep shuffle groove that keeps you moving — and this groove is very effective — at both slow and fast tempos. As far as lyrics and vocal melodies, they connect with the listener on a sort of core level, unadorned with the frills, so to speak, but speak simply and honestly to some fundamental, common experience we all can relate to. The music, to me, is more of a vehicle for this core emotional expression—the blues! But then there is “Pretzel Logic.” While it is rooted in the basic 12-bar progression, it has a completely different vibe and feel with a jazz/prog rock sound and structure, feeding all the fundamental blues elements through the “Steely Dan” music production machine. The lyrics are not raw and simple, but clever and require a bit of attention to catch all the subtleties. As far as the performance, SD doesn’t sound like an improvised jam based on some simple chords. This piece has been arranged and composed in a very deliberate way. I can hear it. It’s almost too deliberate at times. The experience of listening to “Pretzel Logic” is reminiscent of when I listen to progressive rock. The key focus is a commitment to achieving a level of performance and composition that meets and/or exceeds the existing technical standard. So combining this technical, heady vibe with the usually raw and emotive blues makes you take notice. I am happy to report that the production quality of this recording is excellent—the drums are tight and mixed well, the vocals are well recorded and in tune with an almost transparent quality to them, and we even have some nice stereo imaging. This is clean and professional, a well engineered and orchestrated mix that creates a sonic space for the song to exist in. This is significant to note. This means that the song, regardless of what the music evokes at any time, will be something that always at the very least sound good, because it is a recording with a collection of good sounds arranged well. Now I’ve listened to this track about 15 or so times since I received it from you, in various states of mind, in headphones, on a mini system, and in the studio. Listening usually brings on one of three responses: 1) I’ll look for this in the bar’s jukebox next time I’m out. I’ll think about the images and probably will start some conversation based on “Imagine meeting Napoleon?” or “It would be a strange trip to tour the southland in a minstrel show. I could only guess it would feel like being on Acid for weeks at a time.” Which is good! The song moves me a bit, and I can connect with what’s going on. Plus, it gives me a bridge to connect with the classic rock heads in my life. :) 2) “These white boys are stiff.” You know I love to dance. I need a groove (slow or fast) to keep me moving or engaged mentally with the track. It’s like, I hear the blues element, but want it to be more bluesy. It’s as if the core, raw, honest elements of the blues “proper” have been refined and edited out. When it hits me like this, I’m more inclined to want to turn something else on. 3) In certain states of mind, shall we say, the song is a synestheticly “takeable” ride. =) Let me conclude with “How frequently will I listen to Pretzel Logic in the future, and when?” It’s definitely made it into rotation when at the bar, for certain. This is where I think will enjoy listening to the song most and most often. When hanging out with you Supa, it will probably find it’s way into the playlist. =) When hanging out at home alone, I’d guess that it’s much more likely to find it’s way on via shuffle over deliberate effort. It will probably never come on with Alyssa around—she has matching aversions for Steely Dan and Fleetwood Mac, interestingly enough! And if a friend puts it on, I am familiar enough to enjoy rocking out to it with them! This was my reaction to “Cowgirl”: My only previous exposure to Underworld was “Born Slippy,” off of the Trainspotting soundtrack. They reminded me of Orbital, which was probably due more to my lack of exposure to electronic music than anything else. (Were we still calling it techno in 1996?) But the main point here is that I really enjoyed Orbital, and I thought “Born Slippy’ was pretty good too. With only knowing “Born Slippy” and maybe a few other passing tracks from Underworld, I was surprised how recognizable “Cowgirl” was to me. Underworld has a very unique groove. I really enjoy the build at the beginning of the track, and, like my very favoritest prog and psychedelic music, the song has a half-dozen different movements within it that make the entire track seem more epic than probably 8 minutes normally allow. The synths sound great. I know you’re more of a beat man, but I love the pretty noises. Also, since this is from 1994, all these sounds may be played out, but they’re new to me, which is a nice feature to being exposed to music a decade or so after the release. However, I also like to be able to sing along to a song, which is nearly impossible in this case. The vocals are used as another instrument in the track. I appreciate this on a technical level, but it does limit how deeply I get into it. Also, I couldn’t make out exactly what the vocalist (I can’t really call him a singer) said, which turned out to be “an eraser of love.” It’s a cool line, and actually means something, but it’s affected to the point where it’s difficult to understand. Figures I’d have an issue with that. :) It’s a very cool track. I’d love to hear it at a party. It would be fun to dance to, what with the glow sticks and whooping noises and trails and such. It stays in my library, for sure, and I gave it 4 stars on iTunes. Even more importantly, it makes me look forward to hearing more Underworld tracks. I knew eleven years ago that I wanted to hear more from them, but I was too obsessed the death of grunge at the time. Tomorrow, I’ll post the next exchange: Music Is Math v Starship Trooper.

Tuesday Music Exchange: Pretzel Logic v Cowgirl

When Rich and I first discussed Lingua Shapta, we knew that we had a common musical ground in our appreciation for the band Soul Coughing. What we didn’t realize at the time, however, was that our musical pasts were completely divergent. Rich was immersed in Hip Hop, Industrial, and Techno, where as I was all Prog Rock, Psychedelic, and Grunge. It limited our conversations about music at first, because excepting the recent past, where we began to converge, we shared little in what we considered essential music. But that was ten years ago. (Yipes!) Since then, we’ve had a decade of commonality in our musical surroundings. Even if I’m reluctant to admit the talent of someone like Eminem, I’m more than aware of his presence in pantheon of popular music, so the conversations about music and style are far more productive than they had been all those years ago. Still, because the two of us were shaped by our earlier musical influences, there’s still gaps in our understanding of each other. So Rich proposed a musical exchange. Each week we would give each other a track to listen to. We would comment on the tracks and get each other’s comments on the track. I thought that was interesting, so I said I’d post them. Here’s our first exchange: I sent Rich “Pretzel Logic,” by Steely Dan. In my email to him, this is what I wrote:

Well, if we’re gonna go with music that the other one isn’t exposed to, I’ll have to start off with Steely Dan. I’m pretty sure your exposure to them is limited and you probably can’t stand them. ;)

Steely Dan is one of the bands that’s both respected and vilified by critics. They’re consummate musicians, but too cold and aloof, apparently. I don’t know from any of that. I think their music is a perfect mix of jazz and rock, and their lyrics are clever and often misanthropic, which is pretty much my style all around. Hmm…, maybe I just justified the cold and aloof charge against them.

Anyway, this song, “Pretzel Logic,” is a smooth blend of Dixieland and country rock. The thing about the Dan is that it’s hard to date when the music. Almost everything they do has a late 70s vibe and late 90s production values. I won’t give away when this one was recorded, but you’re pretty savvy with the ‘net, so if you must know, it’s just a few clicks away. ;) For those readers who must know, it came out in 1974. You can’t tell that from the recording though. The Dan had amazing production quality. Rich then sent me “Cowgirl,” by Underworld. In his email to me, this what he wrote: Thanks for the Steely Dan track! I can’t wait to spend some time with it (as soon as American Idiot- er i mean American Idol is done!) The only song i really know by Steely Dan is “Bodhisattva” which is pretty groovin’, so i’m looking forward to this! The only other thing I know is that they really don’t like touring and don’t really care about the fan’s response to that, so maybe that’s in part where their reputation for aloofness comes from.

Here’s the first song I’d like to offer in our exchange….

The song is Cowgirl by Underworld from their first album Dubnobasswithmyheadman, released in 1994.

This song is the epitomal underworld song, and probably in my top ten songs of all time. (Only the best for you, Supa!)

Right from the start, it puts me in a sonic and emotional space. I love how rhythmical the vocal loops are and how well they integrate into the sonic soundscape without defining a distinction of “this is the music, these are the vocals.” There is just music, and it’s a great trip. This song has taken me places both in my mind and on the dancefloor. The structure and development of the song is also something to note, as each element gets it’s moment to shine, and the song seems to never stop evolving.

Plus, it works in the club, at the rave, in headphones, and as listening music–how cool is that?! Next week, I’ll post our findings on these two songs, and the next two songs we’ll be exchanging.