Album Art Lovers of the World, Unite!

Emails like this make all the work on my album art project (completed with lots of help from Ashley) worthwhile:

“I just stumbled upon your album page this morning, and I felt compelled to tell you how awesome you are. I have an obsession with album art too, and when I put my iPod on Cover Flowand something is missing, I die a little inside. I have been searching the internet for months [for] a couple [of] fairly random album covers (Big Shiny Tunes 7 and Now 4) and finding them both at the same time, in supreme quality, was the best the [thing] that happened to me all week. Uploading all those covers must have been a killer project, but because of it my iTunes library is nearer to perfection. Thank you, oh random internet stranger, for helping me on my quest to a
flawless Cover Flow.”

And that reminds me, I have to update it – I haven’t uploaded new images in almost a year now and I’ve added quite a few more CDs to my collection since then. I loves the music!

High School/College A Capella: The Best Musical Style You’ve Probably Never Heard Of

Nearly a decade ago, in January 1999, I went to visit a friend from my childhood (Brock Harris) in Los Angeles. Brock was teaching a group of high school students something called “A Capella”. I knew that A Capella meant voices only, but it never occurred to me that someone could take modern pop songs and perform them purely with vocals (at age 24 my musical horizons were more limited then they are now). What I saw blew me away – a bunch of young adults, not that much younger than me (most were 18 or so), blending their voices into amazing sounds. The group was called No Strings Attached, and I still listen to their album to this day. Sadly, that seemed to be the only CD the group put out.

Fast forward nine years later, and I enjoy A Capella more than ever. I think it’s partially because it’s nothing but the human voice – no technology beyond a microphone, no vocal auto-tuning (listen to the before and after) for sloppy vocalists, no layering of the same vocalist over and over so they sound fuller…it’s pure vocals, pure music. I tend to gravitate toward college and high school A Capella because they pick cool songs, and have great energy. I recently stumbled across A Capella videos on YouTube, and not surprisingly, there are a lot of them (especially from this guy). This video caught my eye today, and spurred me to finally post about this topic. Check it out:

I tend to prefer all-female, or mixed groups (great female vocals = heaven), but that all-male group video was just too good to ignore – when the rather short, and somewhat rotund fellow steps up to the microphone, you expect a certain type of voice – not the powerful bass-heavy vocals that comes out of his mouth. And it gets even better when he kicks it up to his higher range…simply awesome! If you want to check out more college A Capella, the BOCA albums are a good place to start.

I Went To High School with Feist? Whoa…

If you watch TV, even the commercial-skipping type, you can’t help but have heard the song “1234” by Feist, featured on the Apple Nano commercial. You know, the insanely catchy one where’s she’s dancing around in the sparkly blue outfit:

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Based purely off the video, I thought maybe Feist was the band name for Zayra off Rock Star: INXS, then I remembered that Zayra couldn’t really sing and Feist clearly could. 😉 I bought the song because I thought it was catchy, but didn’t really look into who the group was. Then last week I read an article talking about how Feist was really Leslie Feist, and how she was in a high-school band called Placebo. A bell went off in my head, because when I was in high school (Bishop Carrol in Calgary) there was a band called Placebo that a friend of mine was in (I didn’t know Leslie very well though, more like a friend of a friend). A quick Google image search brought me to this picture:

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Hey, I recognize her! I did a bit more searching and found this video of Placebo performing live, which confirmed it: I did go to high school with her! The bass player in that video is named Elescia (not sure about the spelling of her name – it’s been a while!), and I went to junior high school with her. The guitar player is named Keiran, and his dad was the art teacher at our high school. I recognize the drummer as well, but I can’t remember her name. What a small world – crazy! I wish Leslie well – go Calgary girl go!

Joy in the Music

I started off today blogging about something that made me sad, but I want to end today by posting something that put a smile on my face and lifted my spirit: some incredible a capella music. An incredible song (Phil Collins is a fantastic song writer) performed by some incredible vocalists. A capella music is pure because there’s nothing but the artist and their voice. Turn up your speakers! Heres the “official” music video.

Stuck in My Head: Emmy Rossum

I love music. I really love music. Silence can be nice, silence can be helpful, but when I don’t feel like silence I want to be awash in music. I stumbled, quite randomly (saw it in an Oprah commercial), across a musician by the name of Emmy Rossum, and the clip I saw had something to do with YouTube. I checked her out and this is the song I found:

Enchanting, yes? Perhaps not musically everyone’s cup o’ tea, but I really liked it. The fact that the song feels like it’s all one big introduction, but the song never “starts”, leaves the listener with an unfinished feeling. Lest anyone think that she’s a studio-diva with a rack of auto-tuners to fix her vocal sloppiness, here’s a video clip of her performing live – and her voice is solid.

The Future of the Music Industry

There’s a very long, but simply awesome article up on the New York Times Web site that’s an absolute must-read if you’re interested in where the music industry is at today, and what the future holds for it. One of the best quotes from the article is from Fredric Dannen:

“My epiphany, if you want to call it that, was simply this: consumers of recorded music will always embrace the format that provides the greatest convenience. No other factor — certainly not high fidelity — will move consumers substantially to change their listening and buying habits. The single exception to this rule was the introduction of two-channel stereo in the late fifties. Let me state this more clearly, by example. When the long-playing record (LP) format was introduced by Columbia Records back in the late 1940s, the industry as a whole resisted it, and many predicted it would never take off because 78s sounded better. Without question, early LPs did not sound nearly as good as 78s. But given the choice of listening to all of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony on two sides of one record versus sixteen sides of eight records, the consumer opted for convenience and simplicity (not to mention less shelf space).”

I couldn’t agree more with that quote – that’s the reason why HD-DVD and Blu-ray are having such a hard time taking off…DVD’s look “good enough” and the newer high-definition formats don’t offer real value over what’s out there now.

Radiohead’s Risky Idea Has a Few Big Flaws

So the lads in Radiohead decide to do something crazy: release a full album online, and allow people to decide what they should pay for it. That’s right, you can download their album and pay nothing for it. Ballsy concept, but it’s massively flawed in one way: there’s no way to listen to the songs on the album first! If you’re going to let people pay whatever they want, shouldn’t they be able to hear what they’re buying first? It seems rather bizarre that they’d not have some sort of embedded player to let me hear what I’m about to buy. I decided to go ahead and pay 1 British Pound for the album (about $2.50 CAD) since I had no idea what I was getting – if I could have heard it first, I would have paid closer to the price of a CD (around $12 CAD). I tried to check out, but their system demands the registration of an account, my address, and even my mobile phone number. What the…? Sorry Radiohead, you’ve made the process too frustrating – I don’t want your album that much.

Nickelback and Daughty in Concert

On Thursday night I went and saw Nickelback play live (thanks for bringing me along Nate!), with Daughtry as the opening band (along with Puddle of Mud and a band from southern Alberta called State of Shock). We missed the first band (State of Shock), and caught the last few Puddle of Mud songs – they were ok, but nothing special. I was really excited about seeing Daughtry live, because I’m a big fan of his debut CD. I never watched him on American Idol, I just heard the first single and thought it was great. He didn’t disappoint – his band played for about 45 minutes or so, and put on a great show. Chris’ voice was superb, and the band was insanely tight – it was like listening to the CD, only better. About the only complaint I had was that it was so incredibly loud it was hard to appreciate the nuances they were tossing into the songs. I’d definitely see Daughtry again if they came back on their own tour. Nickelback was excellent as well – I caught them last year, and they always put on a good show. It does get very tiresome though to hear them talk non-stop about smoking pot and drinking beer though – nothing changed from their last concert. Musically they were great, and I was especially impressed with Ryan Peake, the guitarist in the band. His vocals were super tight – I never quite realized how often I was hearing him sing on the CD until watching him live and seeing him back Chad Kroeger’s vocals. He also sang lead on the song “Saturday Night” and rocked it out good.

I gambled and took along my small camera (Canon SD800) because the past couple of concerts I’ve been to I’ve seen countless people taking photos and videos, so the old “no cameras” rule doesn’t seem to apply any more. The tickets said “No Cameras” but after watching people around me at the show take picture after picture, with flash, I figured I’d give it a try myself. Not surprisingly, shooting a stage that varies between dimly lit and freakishly bright with a point and shoot 3x optical zoom camera is somewhat of a challenge. Here’s the best photo I could manage:

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Yeah, exactly. I thought I’d have better luck with videos, so I ended up taking quite a few – but it was mostly in vain, because the microphone on the Canon SD800 can’t cope with extremely loud noises and most of what I recorded ended up being distorted audio mixed with vaguely musical sounds. Here are three clips that turned out somewhat decently: 50 seconds of a drum solo, a clip of the crowd really getting into the song “Too Bad”, and the big-pyro-explosion ending of the concert.

EDIT: It’s really pathetic that the latest version of WordPress still maims embedded video code. Don’t the developers USE their own product?  I added links above since embedded the videos broke the template.

High Resolution Album Art Page Updated

I’ve had this page linked on up my blog for quite a while, but I’ve never actually posted about it. After updating it with 50+ new album covers that I scanned (there are now over 800 album covers), I figured it was time to give it some publicity. Here’s the write-up about it for those that haven’t visited the page before, and a warning: only do so if you have a fast Internet connection, the page is NOT bandwidth friendly at all (it’s 13 MB in size with all the thumbnails):

“Below you’ll find all of of CD covers from our music collection, including a few generic photos used for singles or indy artists that have no CDs for sale. Why did I want to do this? I really enjoy seeing the album art for my CDs, but I found the 200 x 200 pixel low-resolution, overly compressed junk that Windows Media Player included by default to be completely inadequate (ditto for the equally lame Zune software). I also found the Microsoft method of placing the album art in the music folder to be very short-sighted. When I moved songs to another computer, the songs themselves had no album art. And because FolderShare (a Windows Live service) makes all hidden files un-hidden when it syncs folders, I ended up with thousands of JPEG images scattered through my music folders. Since I often access my music via Windows Explorer rather than the ultra-slow library of Windows Media Player 10 (11 is much better at this), when I’d drag and drop the folder of music the now un-hidden JPEGs would come along for the ride and show up in my playlist and stop the music as they’d display. It was a complete mess. Embedding the JPG album art inside the audio file itself is a much more elegant solution, and it’s one that Microsoft should have implemented by now.

This time consuming project took nearly four months of work, and I couldn’t have completed it without the help of my wonderful wife Ashley (who did the bulk of the scanning). After scanning them at 300 dpi, we cropped and adjusted each of the album covers one by one. This process helped re-introduce me to my CD collection, reminding me of albums so bad I wonder why I purchased them, to albums that are so good I wonder why I stopped listening to them. This project was like looking at my own personal history with music (though I’d have to go back to the remnants of my cassette collection to get true scope).

Because neither Windows Media Player 10 nor 11 will shrink album art to fit the preview window, using the 1500 x 1500 (or thereabouts) pixel original file is impractical. It also causes some media players problems because the header of the file (where the JPEG is stored) becomes too large to process, and the audio file will not play. Thus, these 640 x 640 (or so) versions were exported using Picasa. These covers are the copyright of the respective artists and should only be used in conjunction with music that you legally own. The easiest way to embed the art inside the song itself is to use a tool such as MediaMonkey. I hope you enjoy using these album covers.

I’ll probably update the page a couple times a year when I’ve bought at least 20 new CDs, so feel free to check back now and then.

Kelly Sweet Covering Aerosmith’s “Dream On”

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Aerosmith was a favourite band from my youth, and one of their classic songs is “Dream On”. Imagine my surprise when I saw a young woman named Kelly Sweet covering it and doing a very good job – it’s her own interpretation of it of course, but I found it quite compelling. Her other music is also quite good. I’m a sucker for female vocalists, and when you factor in I’m also a fan of red-heads, well, let’s just say I’m a Kelly Sweet fan and plan on picking up her album quite soon.