The Musical Box (Vol. 1)
Firstly, to clarify, this is not a post about the early-Genesis tribute band The Musical Box, although I hear that they're great. Instead, I thought I'd combine some of my recent musical discoveries in a (potentially) monthly post. I'll be embedding videos of the artists I mention only until I can find an audio alternative, since the lifespan of Youtube videos is often measured in weeks due to copyright policing.
I've dabbled in folk music, mostly enjoying the very famous artists from the 60's and 70's (Leonard Cohen, James Taylor, Gordon Lightfoot, etc.) After speaking with my friend Malini, who brought up artists such as Tori Amos and Ani DiFranco, I noticed that my preference for folk artists was majorly skewed towards male singers. That trend has begun to change recently after another friend introduced me to indie folk singer-songwriter Feist. Since her single "1 2 3 4" has been getting noticeable radio airplay after that new iPod commercial, I thought I'd talk about the slightly less well known Regina Spektor instead.
I first saw her perform on Conan O'Brien a few months ago, but only recently have I had a chance to enjoy her "Soviet Kitsch" and "Begin to Hope" albums. They're both musically, lyrically and thematically brilliant. Her voice has an unconventional quality that I can't quite pinpoint, which is emphasized of course by her frequent use of irregular vocal techniques. Perhaps being raised behind the Iron Curtain gives her a unique view on things, since her lyrics are whimsical and often silly, yet feel soulful and beautiful all the same. Wikipedia tells me that this is a characteristic of the "anti-folk" scene, but I'm not a big fan of fussily pigeonholing everyone into a restrictive musical genre.
If you've played through the excellent game Portal, which I wrote a little on last week, then no doubt one of your favorite moments was the song at the end entitled "Still Alive". This song was written by folk rock singer-songwriter Jonathan Coulton, a man who has made great strides for both internet published musicians and the Creative Commons license. Being a programmer, I was first exposed to Coulton's music about a year and a half ago via his geeky hit "Code Monkey". His quirky and nerdy lyrics reminded me a little of the first few Barenaked Ladies albums, so I was immediately a big fan.
While Coulton does publish under Creative Commons and encourages people to spread his music around, keep in mind that he does make a living off his internet music. As such, I urge you to check out his MP3 store where you can listen to all of his songs and download them for the standard $1 each (no DRM either, eat your heart out major labels). My personal recommendations include the aforementioned "Code Monkey", "The Future Soon", "Ikea", "Re: Your Brains" and his folk cover of "Baby Got Back".
Lastly, along with just about everyone else on the internet, I've been checking out Radiohead's latest album, "In Rainbows". While their choice of digital distribution isn't exactly going to send the record executives packing just yet, I believe that this is most definitely a step in the right direction for the music industry.
As someone who really only got into Radiohead less than a year ago, I feel ill equipped to judge "In Rainbows". I do believe I'll just default to agreeing with Chris Dahlen, who wrote a sensible piece on the subject. It is in that spirit that I embedded Radiohead's excellent cover of "Nobody Does It Better" in lieu of one of their new songs.
That concludes volume 1 of my Musical Box experiment, here's hoping that I have the discipline to pick it up again next month!