Reid Miles, Brilliant Blue Note Album Cover Designer

Miles is an often overlooked part of the striking design of many Blue Note jazz albums, having designed hundreds of them during his time with the label.

He designed, sometimes photographed, occasionally drew, and exhibited a seemingly endless capacity for clever juxtapositions and flashy, effective, bold colors and typography.

The simplicity and contrast of image and color influenced design for years, maybe still does. Reid contributed an essential component of American culture that went hand-in-hand with the scintillating sonic brilliance of the music inside those wonderful covers.

Algorithmically Generated Coding Events and Personal Playlists

Keeping on the music tack, this article in Wired about “live-coding” parties is an amazing look at the pervasiveness of code and algorithms in our lives today. There’s a SoundCloud sample in the article for the music segment. It’s cool, I’d say not as good as a fully human-generated track or song, but an intriguing start, nonetheless. If you think the robots won’t come for your job eventually, you may be surprised sooner than you think. At least, there may be chunks of code that take over some of that job in relatively short order. There’s also a section outlining the visual art side of things and more links to artist pages.

As I wrote before about adopting Frank Chimero’s music organizing system, I make a monthly playlist to hold all the significant songs I remember or that impact my day which were released prior to the current year. March is nearly over and a short list, but February’s was rich, so here it is:
February 2019 Playlist

“Fixing a Hole” Juxtaposed With Contemporary Metal, on Streaming Services, Anyway

I’ve been working on a playlist for a coworker who’s not well-versed in the various metal genres, particularly the Euro-variety of symphonic metal, province of bands like Nightwish and Epica.

But along with that rabbit hole, I was sifting through a bunch of stuff online about John Lennon and his son, Julian. That led me to Sgt. Pepper’s, and the remastered “Fixing a Hole,” which I think still holds up in a contemporary context. It was a little jarring after so much distortion and vast seas of orchestration and voices, but I was surprised how easy I slipped back into the mode of a more stripped-down arrangement.

It’s eclectic and clever, with a typically monster hook in the major chorus to complement the minor verses. It could have been written today, really. Just a few changes in production would fix it in 2019 instead of 52 years ago.

Rabbit holes are the future. And past, apparently.

Respect for Mark Hollis

Mark Hollis, front man and major songwriter for Talk Talk, died at 64 today Monday.

He was the driving force taking them from synth pop to post-rock to something else. All in the span of maybe 6 albums. Massive evolutions between each release. Brilliant songwriter and musician.

I bought Hollis’s solo album (1998) nearly a decade before I finally listened to it. I was waiting for the right moment, and I decided last fall that it was time. I was alone on a calm fall day, and I watched the sunset as I played it. It’s a very quiet, open record, the final evolution in his musical exploration.

Laughing Stock, Talk Talk’s final album, is not so different, but it’s more well known. Good work, Mark, all around.

Rediscovering Discoveries I Thought I Wasn’t Into Subverts My Assumptions

Assumptions about what I like can quickly become dogma, and it’s especially strong where music is concerned. Like any other preference in art, it’s good to push against your biases and preconceptions, even when you’re the one who made them.

Parquet Courts is a recent example. I like them, but wasn’t as blown away by their last album as a lot of people in my musical sphere of influence. And yet, somehow, this one song played while I was out today, and I didn’t remember they’d done it. It was terrific, different than most of the other songs, and made me want to listen more closely to the whole album.

There. Opinion diverted, openness to explore renewed. I hope I can keep that mindset going in the future.

“Wide Awake” on Spotify

I’ve Been Obsessed With This Song, Since I Tend to Obsess

For the past couple days, all I can hear in my internal soundtrack is Kacey Musgraves’s “Slow Burn,” from Golden Hour.

It’s a terrific album, on many Best of 2018 lists, and for good reason. There isn’t a bad song on it. But this one in particular feels very close to me. Late bloomers and older artists can tend to get caught up in negative spirals of feeling like we aren’t getting anywhere, that our time has passed. But it’s always possible your time hasn’t yet come, at least where recognition or attention of some kind that will expose you to a new audience or group.

It’s a precious message: it’s okay to do you own thing and let whatever’s going to happen, well, happen in its own time.

The thing to concern yourself with in the moment is that you’re doing your best work and it’s filling some need within you. You need to be okay with slowly burning while you wait for the fire to spread.

Yes, Please, a More Dynamic and Present set of Remixes From Steven Wilson

I’ve always liked Yes, from my discovery of prog in high school, through the spiritual strangeness of New Age fads in the 80s, and out the other side to a deeper appreciation of their musicianship. But Steven Wilson, an amazing musician himself, has done a bunch of remixes for some early Yes albums, and they’re beautiful.

Amazon link

Spotify link

Wilson brings presence and dynamics back to the music, contrary to the smashed loudness of many contemporary remasters (and production in general, let’s be honest). Highly recommended if you want to hear every instrument clearly and feel as if you’re listening to them play in the room with you.

A Weirdly Specific List™: My Favorite Moments—Not Songs, Mind—From The Journey Catalog

Ever since I mentioned wanting to listen to the new Steve Perry album on the podcast this week (advance spoiler: it’s okay), I’ve been thinking about how I’ve liked the band since 1981, when Escape came out, which was one of the first rock albums I bought for myself. I know, I had a somewhat sheltered musical upbringing.

I’ve had a lot of friends over the years raise an eyebrow or two when they find out, and say something like, “Dude, you like Journey? But you’re into metal and prog and ambient…” True, but one likes what one likes, and I don’t believe in guilty pleasures.

So. Rather than some windy exposition detailing them, here’s this obsessive trifle: 

5. The beginning of “Anytime”
4. The end of the first verse of “Good Morning Girl: “I see your eyes shining through/Those gentle eyes silver blue/Good morning girl”
3. Near the end of “Escape,” a series of C to ringing Gadd9 chords on the extended vocal of “stay”
2. In “Faithfully,” the syncopation of “Two strangers learn to fall in love again”
1. The last 10 a cappella seconds of “Girl Can’t Help It”

Bonus: “Only Solutions,” which can’t go on that list—the whole song is my favorite one. 

Defying One’s Musical Expectations for Fun and (Non-Monetary) Profit With Strange Genres

That’s what I was listening to earlier this evening, after sampling tracks across the massive Merzbow catalog. I’m not very familiar with the noise music genre, but it’s pretty antagonistic. Not really what I would call music, really, but something like difficult listening? Or kind of terrifying listening. It’s what evil alien robots would put on for entertainment. There are ghosts of melody, and of rhythm, but the tracks keep frustrating attempts to pick stable patterns out. It’s overwhelming, but after a while, I got into it.

The other parts aren’t so confrontational, they seem more akin to the work of a musician I really like: Mick Harris, particularly his Lull moniker. Well, I like Lull and some other isolationist stuff a lot. But that moves glacially and is minimalist. This, especially the first track of Achromatic, is like chaos itself through a few distortion pedals.

But, again, I got into it. It’s a little like reverse meditation. Your discomfort becomes focus, because it pushes everything else out of its path.

If this were your “thing,” if this was what you purport to listen to casually and regularly, I’d raise an eyebrow. I’d miss too much of what I enjoy music for—melody, rhythm, repetition.

Defying your expectations and assumption is a way to break out of stagnation of any kind. Exploring insanely different things than you know is good, even if it’s uncomfortable at first. Everything worth experiencing has a non-zero amount of effort to acquire it.