Low makes a perfect Neil Young record

the great destroyer

Low’s music has always rewarded careful listening, and its tempos have famously permitted it. Having been lumped in with the slowcore movement for their beautiful and glacial music, the band’s name conjures memories of songs that move with geological speed. But it’s reductionist to think of them as slowcore; the other ingredients in their musical mix—including memorable melodic lines, a sure sense of timbre and atmosphere, drones, the haunting vocal harmonies of Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker, the anchoring bass of Zak Sally, and an underappreciated sense of humor that has led them to cover songs by the Misfits and Journey (as documented on last year’s b-sides compilation, A Lifetime of Temporary Relief)—are the real musical arrows in Low’s quiver. And, with the tempos positively frantic by the standards of past performances on Long Division, those arrows find their mark in The Great Destroyer.

The album merits a song-by-song review, if only because the band’s musical experimentation causes them to stretch in many different directions at once. The album opener (“Monkey”) starts with a wave of fuzzed out bass, and the bass and guitar stay snarling at the front of the mix throughout. “California” is, by contrast, a slice of sunny pop with memorable harmonies and an oddly hooky chorus (“You had to sell the farm/And go to California where it’s warm”). The song falters a bit as it pulls the energy back in the last bridge, turning what would otherwise be a perfect single into just a great song. The same style plus a dash of guitar line a la U2’s the Edge, informs “Just Stand Back” a little later in the album, and is deconstructed with distorted vocals, odd stereo placements, hand claps, and crunching guitar lines on “Step.”

“Everybody’s Song” is menacing, embracing an abrasive guitar riff (oddly reminiscent of the one from Sun Kil Moon’s “Lily and Parrots”) and angry minor-third vocal harmonies over some seriously pounding bass drums. By contrast, “Silver Rider” sounds like old Low circa Things We Lost in the Fire—pleasant and maybe necessary after the preceding three tracks.

Then there’s “On the Edge Of.” The song sounds like the band was listening to a bunch of old Neil Young records—it has that same crazed/pining dichotomy to its structure and to the sound, and the lead guitar hook paired to Sparhawk’s high thin tenor conjure visions of Freedom. The same contrast informs “Pissing,” “Broadway (So Many People),“ and “When I Go Deaf,” which sounds less like a melding of “Low’s varied styles together into a single song” (as Sub Pop writes in the promotional blurb for the album) than a manifesto that declares that beautiful delicate vocal lines and aggressive guitar solos needn’t live in separate worlds. The closer, “Walk into the Sea,” explores the same territory by foregrounding Mimi Parker’s drumming against the delicate melody line.

The album isn’t as much of a departure for the group as it is a needed evolution. Their last album, Trust, sounded constrained by their slow-drone formula and laid bare a few too many of their influences. The Great Destroyer opens up some promising new directions for the band. It also promises that they will follow more than a few of them in albums to come, which is the best news of all.

Originally posted at Blogcritics.

On being relative: rel=”nofollow” and semantic drift

For those that may have missed it, Google weighed in a week ago with a proposal to reduce comment spam. The proposal says that search engines should not include links qualified with the rel="nofollow" attribute in the page rank calculations for their destinations—a move done in concert with MSN, Yahoo, Six Apart, Dave Winer, UserLand, Technorati, and all the other major blogging platform providers. Basically, the move is designed to remove the incentive for comment spam by insuring that URLs entered by anyone other than the blog’s author won’t get a boost in rank, and that search engines won’t follow and index the page marked with the nofollow link (unless, of course, it was linked elsewhere on the web with an unornamented link).

Pretty cool, potentially, as a solution. As discussed, it provides a neat way for blog tool providers to implement the recommendation automatically, by automatically “neutering” links entered by guests and commenters. And it uses an existing part of the HTML machinery, the rel attribute, to do the job.

Except… if you look at the allowed list of types in recent HTML specs (4.01 and 4.0), you don’t see nofollow anywhere. What you see is a list of relations that include both structural instructions to the browser (e.g. alternate and stylesheet), navigation instructions (e.g. start, next, prev), and part-of instructions that show how the link relates to the text (e.g. appendix, glossary, contents). The spec asks you to include a profile declaration in your <head> tag if you’re going to extend the list.

I’d like to see Google provide the canonical profile document for this usage, because it represents a new semantic category: search engine instructions. I don’t have a problem with that per se, since the intent of this link type is that it extends the weak protection afforded by robots.txt for the document into a stronger protection inside the content itself. (Note that the other emergent uses for the rel attribute, including Vote Links and tag links, also represent new semantic spaces that need profiles, and the Technorati developers have provided a Vote Links profile.)

See also Rogers Cadenhead’s contrarian take on the proposal.

(Updated 25 Jan to link to the official UserLand announcement of support for nofollow.)

Folkways vs. Lomax: cage match

New York Times: Smithsonian’s Song Catalog Is Available for Sale Online. Unfortunately, it’s at MSN Music, not the iTunes Music Store. Interesting choice, given the percentage of the Mac market who would be interested in Folkways recordings who are now locked out of purchasing them online (at least through September). Since the other major library of American and world field recordings, the Alan Lomax collection, is only available on iTunes, I guess this is really going to turn into a DRM technology battle.

All business is personal.

Hugh MacLeod pointed to English Cut, the blog of his bespoke tailor friend. Yes, that’s right: a tailor who cuts his own fabric and makes his own suits directly to measure, who blogs.

So why is this interesting? From the business perspective, as Hugh points out, it’s all about strategy:

“the demand for bespoke English suits is fairly steady, but the supply of young tailors willing to endure a 7-year apprenticeship has been drying up over the last 50 years. Now the average age for a good English tailor (at Thomas’ level) is around 60. So even if the market for bespoke is tiny, there’s only about 20 people IN THE WORLD who can cut an English suit at Thomas’s level. And a good portion of Thomas’ direct competition have never even sent an e-mail before, let alone started blogging.”

The service being offered here is neither cheap (a two piece suit will set you back a cool £1610) nor commoditized, so any differentiation could mean defining a whole new market segment.

Of course, the other thing that’s interesting here is that it’s the opportunity to read the thoughts and insights of a highly skilled personal artisan in a business that’s otherwise dominated by alienated labor, large corporations, and mass marketing. Sound familiar? Thomas brings it home in his post about “how to pick a ‘bespoke’ tailor” (emphasis added):

Don’t be convinced by the narcotic effect of labels, they mean nothing. Have your eyes and senses tuned. Don’t trust the glossy magazines for your info, they are writers, not cutters. Their world is about PR, not about the actual stitching.

No journalist ever had to spend seven years as a proper tailor’s apprentice. Their agendae are different from yours.

All business is personal. Especially in tailoring.

Hear that? Cluetrain in the distance.

SmartDeck: Nice, but does it squeak?

Lockergnome: MWSF – Best of Show – Griffin’s SmartDeck (Hardware). While I don’t know if an iPod cassette adapter is what I’d normally consider as a candidate for “best in show” at MacWorld, this one is making me think twice. By communicating the state of the cassette deck (paused, fast forward, etc.) back to the iPod, you can use the cassette controls instead of the iPod controls. Which is brilliant, because it basically does an end-around all the expensive car head unit integration products to allow you to do the same thing—use the buttons on your steering wheel (or the console) to control your iPod’s playback rather than taking your eyes off the road to fast forward.

The one advantage a head unit integration package has, of course, is that it uses a direct line into the stereo and doesn’t have the mechanical aspects of a cassette adapter, meaning no squeak. The adapter in my car has developed a grinding squeak that drives my passengers crazy. Mine isn’t the only adapter with the problem either.