Enjoying some really terrible contemporary R&B on Pandora courtesy of Jason Derulo.

So here's a dirty secret: one of my longest-standing Pandora stations started with Mandy Moore's "Candy."  It spews the most saccharine sugar-coated bubble-gum pop ever, and after 3 years of careful tweaking, it does exactly what I want it to.  

Every once in a while I get fatigued listening to it so much, and try my hand at creating new stations.  Some of the ones I've created and abandoned: Tori Amos radio, Norah Jones radio, Sheryl Crow radio, Vienna Teng radio, Black Eyed Peas radio, Zero 7 radio, Buena Vista Social Club radio, Counting Crows radio, Explosions in the Sky radio.  Et cetera.  The problem with Pandora is that when they try to expand the variety on a given station, the stations start bleeding together.  Also, when I'm trying to focus on work, I have to listen to something upbeat -- because jazz, folk, and anything smacking of angsty indie rock-band, will put me right to sleep.  It's best saved for lazy weekday evenings at home.  Or yupster cocktail parties.

A couple weeks I tried a variation on my Candy radio station: Lada Gaga.  It's been pretty good - nothing like electronic dance pop to keep me going.  But this morning, I had a flash of brilliance and created a station using that terrible song "Whatcha Say" by Jason Derulo (I literally had to google "mmm whatchu say" because I had no f-ing clue what it was called or who sang it).  
BINGO.  Pandora immediately obliged me by offering a steady stream of truly insipid and repetitive lyrics, smooth young black male vocals, thick with synthesizers and softly driving beats.  It totally amazes me that there exist so many songs that sound so alike in their stupidity, with such varied themes as 1) cheating on your 'shawty', 2) making love, 3) dancing in a club, 4) cheating on your 'shawty' by making love in a club with some other girl.  So terrible but so great.
  • Chris Brown, "Forever"
  • Jay Sean, "Down"
  • Jay-Z & Linkin Park, "Numb/Encore"
  • Jesse McCartney, "Leavin'"
  • Kanye West, "Stronger"
  • Mario, "Let Me Love You"
  • Ne-Yo, "Mad"
  • T-Pain, "Buy U a Drank (Shawty Snappin')"
  • Akon, "Beautiful
  • Usher, "Love in This Club"
  • Drake, "Best I Ever Had"
  • ...and on
The only way this station could get more awesome is if I could design a station around early-90s R&B groups, when R&B was actually good.  Zapp & Roger anyone?

Discovering Rodrigo y Gabriela

After more than a week-long hiatus (I was in Half Moon Bay at a work retreat), I'm back!  And the first thing I want to tell you about is this amazing guitar duo, Rodrigo y Gabriela.  Thanks to my coworker Nate for the recco.  They started as a thrash metal band from Mexico City and earned money playing background music at seaside resorts.  Finally they decided to move to Dublin because they heard about the city's thriving indie music scene.

Now they are more of a flamenco band, but influenced by all kinds of music. Their first album debuted at number one in Ireland, and they've been slowly making their way back to the new world ever since.  I never really thought I was a fan of flamenco until I went to Beijing two years ago and fell in love with the Xinjiang Boys, a Uigher flamenco band who played Gypsy Kings covers every weekend at Cheers in the Sanlitun district.  I've been missing their masterful sound ever since, and R&G are promising to fill that gaping hole in my heart.

Here's an excellent cover of Metallica's "Orion."

And here's a more extended clip of Rodrigo y Gabriela playing their rendition of "Diablo Rojo" at the studio of Indie 103.1 in LA (how I miss that radio station!) and talking a little more about how they rose to stardom.

The Music of Braid: the Game

A few weeks ago, Garry, Mark, Sanny and I stayed up until the obscenely wee hours of the morning to play this fantastic and ingenious game called Braid, on the XBox 360.  The game is conceptually profound, created by indie game developer Jonathan Blow (no kidding!), with artwork by David Hellman.  It follows a protagonist, Tim, through various puzzles that explore the flow of time, in different worlds in which time behaves according to different rules:
  • Time and Forgiveness
  • Time and Mystery
  • Time and Place
  • Time and Decision
  • Hesitance
  • World 1
By the way, Braid is quite possibly the most depressing game ever--at least the overarching themes.  The look is a bit like Zelda or Super Mario Bros., but the mood and feel of the game are on a whole different plane, and I attribute that in part to its haunting, gorgeous soundtrack.  It's a bit Celtic or new-age in style, but not super cheesy like a lot of new-age-y music is.  And in the context of the game, it is simply otherworldly, mysterious, and multi-dimensional.  And it's especially bemusing juxtaposed against the relative simplicity of the graphics, yet totally befitting the complexity of the gameplay.

Here are a couple of my favorite tracks, but the whole list of songs from the Braid soundtrack can be found here.

Suddenly in love with Kina Grannis. Marie Digby, eat your heart out!

Thanks to GiveandGo for tipping me off about this extraordinary young singer-songwriter.

I don't think there is much to say here about the talented and 24-year-old Kina Grannis, making her way through YouTube, because her music speaks for itself.  There isn't much use talking about the obvious things, like her beautifully delicious voice, or her mastery of her chosen instruments.  I'll leave it at this:

1) She's lovely and adorable.  I mean, look at her!  Unaffected, unselfconscious, down-to-earth, totally chilled out.  She definitely falls in the category of Women I Would Totally Date, If I Were a Dude.  Not to mention, she gives Jason Mraz a run for his money on the ukelele in "Back to Us."

2) She's fearless and playful. Makeup mishaps notwithstanding, she goes out of her way to connect with fans in "Stars Falling Down."  

3) For the most part, her 'originals' are way better than her covers. One exception is this fantastic cover of the "White Winter Hymnal" by Fleet Foxes, performed with a couple of her friends.  It reminds me a little of the gorgeous music made by the Sisters of Kuumba at Harvard.

4) I can't pick a favorite.  Seriously, every one of her original songs are totally solid, if not outstanding and repeat-worthy.  Here's "Make Me," the introspective and slightly melancholy one from GiveandGo's posterous that got me hooked:

Buffy + Taylor Swift's "Love Story" mashup

Let me let you in on a little secret.  Directly following that week and a half I was completely consumed with Twilight, I decided I had not had quite enough of teen vampire melodrama, and I went straight to the library to check out seasons five and six of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.  I hadn't really watched it at the time that it aired, so I totally missed out on all the cheeky monster-bashing.  

And why seasons five and six?  Because, of course, I prefer Spuffy over Bangel any day--I realize somewhere in season four, after Angel left, it became a totally different show.  Really, I just love Spike.  I'm a lover of anti-heroes, remember?  I can't get enough of his sly wit.  And the chemistry was scorching hot.

At any rate, I watched some fan-made videos on YouTube (there are SO MANY!) around the Buffy saga.  One of the best ones, alas, is a tribute to Bangel, but the girl who put it together (a Spike fan) proves herself to be an enormously talented editor.  She strung together a whole story based on the song, not based on the show.  Too bad it didn't turn out with such a happy ending for Bangel.

Natalie Merchant: My Skin

Darn disabled embedding.  I just replaced it with a different video, but just listen to the song--it's so quietly gorgeous, and the best part comes a full two minutes into the song.  I kind of want to get the sheet music and learn it on piano.

I need the darkness
The sweetness
The sadness
The weakness
Oh, I need this 

I need a lullaby
A kiss goodnight
Angel sweet
The love of my life
Oh, I need this 

In Portland...$0.75 buys you a rocket pop and a song.

We were walking near the waterfront on our way to Saturday market when this tattooed young woman pushing ice cream in a tricycle came pedaling down the street with a giant red clown 'fro.  Garry stopped her for a rocket pop (you know, the red/white/blue ones) and she goes, "it also comes with a song!"

The next day, we ran into the same girl in a completely different part of Portland, in a neighborhood grocery on Hawthorne.  Alas, she was not wearing her giant red clown 'fro.

More random Pandora goodness.

"Sonho Dourado," by Daniel Lanois.  On the Friday Night Lights movie soundtrack.

This is not Daniel playing, but a YouTube cover tribute (no less beautiful I might add).  Perhaps just a tinge cheesy, but still rather raw and emotional and all-American.