all posts tagged 'music'

Juan L. Otaiza - System of a Down - Relaxing Piano Version

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The algorithms1 blessed me with this video last week, and I find myself coming back to it when I'm doing deep work.

I also am enjoying his Rammstein version, and I am eagerly looking forward to checking out the Linkin Park and Avenged Sevenfold ones soon.

If I could play the piano, this is absolutely the kind of stuff I would want to play.

  1. Speaking of algorithms, you should watch Hank Green's latest video that I just wrote about. 

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High quality album artwork

originally shared here on

I don't know if I'm one of the only weirdos that still uses Plex and listens to MP3s, but dammit, a carefully curated music collection of which I feel some ownership feels critically important to me.

I have started going back in and using the rating systems to rate entire albums.1 Because this seems like a natural follow up question, I basically only give albums one of three ratings2:

  • ★★★★☆ (4 stars): This is an important album to me, but I don't wanna hear it every day.
  • ★★★★★ (5 stars): This album is everything right now.
  • ★★★★⯨ (4.5 stars): Somewhere in between the two. It is either a 5 becoming a 4, or a 4 on its way to fivedom3.

Doing this gives me the ability to create a smart playlist containing all of the albums with at least a 4.5 star rating.

This morning while getting ready, I uncharacteristically grabbed my iPad and used Plexamp to listen to that playlist on shuffle.

The first thing I noticed on the much larger screen was how awful the album artwork looked for many of my albums.

They looked quite pixelated and blurry. Some of them looked like scans where you could clearly see stickers and thin, diagonal white lines on the sides.

I decided this must be something I rectify tonight.

I've updated the artwork for maybe 50 albums so far, and I'm stunned at how much of a difference it makes to have nice looking album art.

I've had some of these albums for decades now. When I added artwork back in the mid 2000s, the best I could hope for in many cases was a 256x256px JPG that I could find on a message board.

At the same time, the past few weeks gave me several opportunities to pay attention to these albums in a way I never have before.4

For most of my life, I generally used music to distract me from my thoughts. I would occasionally listen to the lyrics and look up the meaning of a song, but those details were often secondary to the overall feeling of a track.

Something in the past couple of years changed that in me, though, and now I have been enjoying music on so many more levels. What was an artist going through when they made a song? What was the creative process like? What do these words mean to the artist?

The best system I found was to use the Plex web app on my laptop to select new album art, and then use the Plexamp iOS app to move from song to song, finding songs which had low res album art.

I noticed after a few changes that when I saved the album art on my laptop, it instantly reflected on my phone.

So of course, I started hovering over the "save" button on my laptop, then glanced down at my phone while clicking.

And what you'd see was a cool cross fade where the image got sharper. Cleaner. Fresher. Way more detailed. Way less pixelated.

It allowed me to be a bit of an ophthalmologist, covering one eye, flipping between two different lens strengths and asking whether I preferred option 1 or option 2.

Polishing up my music collection, cleaning up this blog... these were things I used to do for fun.

They were mindless activities. A chance to express myself without feeling any judgement.5 To feel accomplished and organized, a little slice of order within a chaotic life filled with incessant disorder.

I have been so busy for the past twelve years that I forgot what fun really looked like.

I thought fun was learning how to build a company. To understand what it takes to build successful and impactful software.

And in many ways, those things were fun. It is really cool to make computers do complex stuff, to build tech that makes people's lives better. It brings me so much joy.

But that's not the only thing that's fun in the world. And I might have done a bit better at relegating those pursuits to my professional life, and then figured out a way to pursue other joyful things outside of that.

It's weird coming back to my media library after essentially neglecting it for most of my adult life. It feels like opening a time capsule, but then jumping down into it and living amongst the decade old cruft.

But it feels good to clean it out and use it again. To treat it like my house instead of a history exhibit.

  1. I don't really care much about rating individual songs. It feels too granular and seems like unnecessary to accomodate my listening habits. 

  2. If I don't rate an album, then it's only in my library because I'm a digital hoarder and I need to seriously do a deeper purge on my virtual footprint. 

  3. Believe it or not, ⯨ is a Unicode character for "Left Half black Star", but there's very limited font support for this. Someday, perhaps this blog will be able to properly render half of a star filled in. 

  4. I can't believe how much I rushed through the last 12 years of my life. Everyone talks about being mindful and present, and there's nothing quite like anxiety to take you out of being present. 

  5. When you learn how to program computers, they become far less judgmental of you, by the way. Or maybe you get less judgmental of them. 

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Why Americans Suddenly Stopped Hanging Out

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We come into this world craving the presence of others. But a few modern trends—a sprawling built environment, the decline of church, social mobility that moves people away from friends and family—spread us out as adults in a way that invites disconnection. Meanwhile, as an evolutionary hangover from a more dangerous world, we are exquisitely engineered to pay attention to spectacle and catastrophe. But screens have replaced a chunk of our physical-world experience with a digital simulacrum that has enough spectacle and catastrophe to capture hours of our greedy attention. These devices so absorb us that it’s very difficult to engage with them and be present with other people.

The sum result of these trends is that we are both pushed and pulled toward a level of aloneness for which we are dysevolved and emotionally unprepared. Sartre said hell is other people. Perhaps. But the alternative is worse.

Ironically, this article was shared to me by one of the few people I see IRL nearly every week.

Paul, Micah, Nick, and I get together every Monday night and make music. It’s often the highlight of my week.

We get dinner beforehand and talk about the day to day goings on of our lives. Then, we retreat to Paul’s multi-million dollar recording studio 1 and just noodle around.

We don’t have a set agenda, no prescribed musical style. One of us just starts playing something, and the rest of us join in.

No matter how depressed, anxious, or frustrated I feel walking into Paul’s house, I never leave with those feelings. Getting to spend time with three smart, talented, and caring dudes always leaves me with a filled bucket.2

Find an activity that brings you joy and go do it with other people. And if you don’t know where to find those people, just ask someone. That’s what Paul did, and thanks to him, I’ve now got two new friends and a weekly outlet for building my guitar skills and expressing some creativity.3

  1. It may look like a laundry room to you, but between the gear, the artwork, the lighting, and Micah or myself inevitably smacking our guitars on the overhead duct work, it’s just as inspirational as any “real” recording studio has felt to me.  

  2. You know what drains my bucket? Non-stop Zoom meetings. Reddit during an election year. Hell, Reddit in general. YouTube’s algorithm surfacing any sort of hot take on a modern news event. Just, kinda, being on the open internet in general.  

  3. I should write a longer post about this, but it is terrifying to play an instrument within a band. I often find myself just sticking to the chords because I don’t wanna screw up everyone else. But the more I watch better guitar players like Paul and Nick and Micah do their thing, the more confident I get and the more I find myself actually practicing on my own. One of these days, maybe I’ll get enough courage to try shredding in front of others. 

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Another year another...

🔗 a linked post to » — originally shared here on

Ever since I entered into adulthood, I think that I’ve pretty much played by the rules. I sometimes try to present myself as anti-authoritarian, but I’ve come to understand that underneath that, I am someone who is very afraid of doing the wrong thing, everyone getting mad, and abandoning me.

The learning, or unlearning, or re-learning, of this year has been that I can make my own rules. And, inside that, I can also break my own rules. I make the rules, I can remake the rules, and I can do it as many times as I like. How liberating, am I right?

I’m finally checking out my pal Micah’s 2023 mix, and reading this explanation of his rules is super relatable.

I’ve always presented myself the complete opposite, though: extremely compliant and eager to follow the rules.

I’ve been trying to unlearn these habits over the past few years. It’s not so much a middle finger to the system; rather, it’s my way of posturing to others that I am willing to cooperate with you, but I’m not going to partake in unnecessary ceremonies anymore.

The spirit of this mix embodies a delightful way of rebelling against our own anxieties. And the fact that it is just barely askew from the rules makes it that much more lovely.

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I Just Want To Go To A Concert

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I am sorry, I am not willing to pay $97.58 for general admission at History, a Toronto club co-owned by Drake. Nor will I pay $446.25 for a seated ticket. The only time I would pay $446.25 is if I were taking a plane across the fucking ocean back to Sweden. 

Three thoughts:

1) I think I wanna take a trip to Sweden and see where both First Aid Kit and Jens Lekman grew up.

2) My wife and I have spent way too much money this year on concerts and shows. Here’s a list of performances I went to in the last three months of 2023 alone:

  • When We Were Young festival in Las Vegas
  • Audra McDonald
  • Tool
  • Frozen with the MN Orchestra
  • The Grinch at Children’s Theatre
  • Aladdin at the Orpheum
  • Andrew McMahon
  • The Nutcracker (okay, this was my neighbor’s daughter’s rendition of it, but still)
  • Jinkx Monsoon and BenDeLaCreme’s Holiday Show
  • OnStage 2023 at Rosemount High
  • Peter Pan at the Ordway

I’m looking at my feed reader this evening and browsing through everybody’s year-end posts. If I’m honest, while it’s amazing to see how much hard work people have done this past year, they mostly make me feel like I’ve wasted my year.

But then I look at that list of shows I’ve seen in the past three months and feel a little bit better.

Most of those shows were seen with my kids.

The other ones were all seen with my wife (except the Tool show, which I got to see with my best buddy).

Even as I struggle personally right now with finding purpose in life, at least I can admit that I’m out there experiencing life and sharing it with those I love.

2024 is already shaping up to be a big year of experiences as well. There’s really no better time to appreciate life than the present, no?

3) Seriously, shame on Ticketmaster, Live Nation, and all the market forces that conspire to make shows unnecessarily expensive for the vast majority of people to attend. I’m insanely fortunate that I’m able to afford all that, but it still stings every time I fork over gobs of money just to feel the joy I get from seeing artists do what they do best.

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🔗 a linked post to » — originally shared here on

The very first album I ever bought was the Space Jam soundtrack.

While I was making my daughter's lunch this morning, I got this line stuck in my head from the song:

I'm the only bunny that's still goin'

Know what I'm sayin'?

I had no idea what that meant.

For decades now, I've been stumped by one cartoon bunny dissing another one .

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The Number Ones: Crazy Town’s “Butterfly”

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My last handful of posts were a bit depressing... so I thought I'd share this one that was in my Instapaper queue for some reason.

I love the idea that someone at Stereogum is reviewing every single number one hit since 1958, and it brings me a great deal of joy that they needed to write a piece about this song.

The summary nails it here:

As a band, Crazy Town were fucking godawful, and they were the kind of godawful that’s easy to mock. But “Butterfly”? I’ve never been mad at “Butterfly.” It’s the kind of silly bullshit hit song that makes the world just slightly more fun. Rap-rock faded away in the rearview a long time ago, but “Butterfly” will always evoke a very particular moment. That moment was short, just as it should’ve been. Butterflies aren’t built to live forever.

A recent revelation of mine is that I've kind of been a music snob for most of my life. I basically turned my nose up at the entire emo/punk genre sometime in middle school and never took the time to re-evaluate that position.

Now that I'm in my mid-thirties, I've been letting go of those unnecessary positions, and I probably don't need to be the one to tell you this, but there's a lot of good pop-punk and emo stuff out there.

I've also found myself lately drawn toward music that reminds me of my middle/high school years. Rap rock is a defining genre of that time for me, and Butterfly is one of those songs that will forever transport me to a time when I would load 5 incredibly compressed MP3s onto my 16MB (that's megabyte, not gigabyte) Cybiko MP3 player and bike up to the middle school for football practice.

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The Contingency of Listening

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Let the mastering engineers do their thing, using whatever technology they find best. Get the reproduced music however you can. And focus on the analog component you are going to have to add to the chain in the end, no matter what: your ears.

A while back, NPR had a test that allowed you to tell whether you could tell the difference between various levels of audio compression.

Even though I did decent on that test, I’ve still never really been able to discern the difference listening to an album on vinyl versus a 320kbps MP3 rip.

That could be because I’m not listening to it on amazing headphones or speakers, but I think the main reason I enjoy listening to vinyl records is that it forces me to focus.

Having a majority of the music ever recorded at our fingertips is incredible, but taking time to really listen to an artist’s work from front to back feels like a luxury. The ceremony of selecting a record, setting it on the table, and dropping the needle feels more special than shouting into the air for Siri to start it.

(Shouting into the air to summon music is also supremely dope, though… don’t get me wrong.)

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Erykah Badu: NPR Music Tiny Desk Concert

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YouTube’s algorithm brought this video to me and my wife’s attention tonight.

For as many faults as you can place on Google and their algorithms, I sure am grateful they surfaced this.

Two observations:

First, the stunning artistry, my god. The song “Green Eyes” is like listening to an emotional onion being peeled. You start with denial, which fades into anger, which fades into loneliness/lust/regret. What an amazing commentary on heart break.

Second, I never appreciated recorded concerts much until now. I always thought the in-person factor made more of a difference for experiencing music than what could be accomplished via a recorded medium.

It must be what it felt like to listen to a vinyl record in the sixties, or an orchestra in the 1800s, or a gospel chant in the 1400s. Simply an ethereal experience that makes you happy to be alive.

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Still Killer: Deryck Whibley On Sum 41’s “Fat Lip” 20 Years Later

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“I think I still feel the same way about it that I did in the very beginning,” Whibley says. “The day that I get sick of playing a song that everyone knows and everyone goes crazy when we play it, and everyone starts jumping around and everyone sings it, I should just quit because I’m so fucking jaded. It’s the greatest feeling in the world. I’ve never understood that. I don’t get Radiohead, even though I love Radiohead, why they don’t play their big songs.”

I respect the hell out of that pull quote, it’s how more of us should feel about things that make other people happy.

It’s hard to express what this song meant to me back in 2001 as an impressionable sixth grader. I’m definitely not an edgy, punk skater kid (nor have I ever been), but this song is still in my regular rotation because it gives me so much life.

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