I read this morning that Adam Schlesinger, the founder and songwriter of the band Fountains of Wayne, died from complications of coronavirus on Wednesday. I was never a giant fan of FoW—Stacy’s Mom was a pretty good tune—but I was a huge fan of another band he co-founded called Ivy, whose album Long Distance has been one of my favorites since I stumbled across it ten years ago. He was, by all accounts, an extremely busy and prolific writer with multiple projects, so Ivy’s output was sporadic; their last album was released in 2011. In any case, this is shitty news.
I’ve been on an XTC kick for the last couple of days. This is one of my favorites, off Oranges & Lemons, from 1989.
This track crushes. I could listen to just the backbeat minus the melodies on repeat for hours.
Neil Peart died of cancer last week, and because of a site meltdown here at Idiot Central, I was distracted. But what I saw around the internet surprised me. I don’t know if it was a reflection of the algorithms knowing I am a fan, but it seemed like there were tributes to him, and to Rush, on every site I visited—most notably the hipster music sites that traditionally frown on prog rock. I was happy to see so many artists from such a wide range of genres pay their respects.
I’ve mentioned the band here in the past, but having reviewed their catalog in depth this past week, I should restate how big an influence they were on me at a crucial point in my life. I was learning how to play bass when we moved to New York at age 13, and struggling to find new friends in a town that was radically different from the upper-class Connecticut town I’d come from. When I met some people in the music department and bonded over shared interests—and a burning desire to play the bass parts on the first side of Moving Pictures perfectly—I felt like I was accepted and belonged somewhere, which was a huge deal for me.
We spent hours sitting on amps playing their albums over and over, trying to get the fills and grooves right. We piled five guys into a car to drive to the mall in order to buy Power Windows the day it came out, and begged our parents to go see the concert at the Meadowlands when the tour came through our area.
As I got older, my tastes expanded to more esoteric music, and by the time I headed off to college I was still enjoying their music but not keeping up with it. I think Roll the Bones was the last album I bought, and while my college roommate and I saw them live in ’92, my interest faded. Years later, when I read they were doing their farewell tour, I looked into tickets and was interested in seeing them live one last time, but wasn’t able to put it together.
I’ve been listening to their late 70’s to mid-80’s discography (Hemipsheres to Power Windows, roughly) all this week. There’s an urgency and a groove behind their best stuff, and it’s the same thing that makes us music nerds bust out the air drums whenever YYZ or Subdivisions comes on. It makes me feel like I’m 15 again, sitting on a shitty amp in someone’s room, trying to get the bass riffs down, and nailing one for the first time.
Neal Peart, the drummer of Rush, died of brain cancer today, at age 67. Fuck cancer.
In heavy rotation: a (Hardcore? Post-rock? Post-punk? Math rock?) band from Belgium called Brutus. Heavy as shit but with absolutely beautiful melody throughout; the drummer doubles as singer, and I don’t know how she can physically do both at the same time (see also: Mastodon) but she absolutely crushes them both. Standout tracks: Django, Carry, and Space. (via Stereogum)
I spend almost two hours getting to and from work every day, time subtracted from my life that I don’t care to total up, because that figure would make me seriously question my own mortality and then I’d probably want to jump off a bridge. Most of this time is spent sitting on a train, but there’s a lot of other time I spend by myself getting to or from somewhere. I generally choose to fill this time listening to podcasts or music, so having proper headphones is a must. Unfortunately I’ve been skimping on this for years. I’ve mostly been using Apple’s standard earbuds, in their various models, and I guess they work fine. I can hear what I’m listening to, unless I’m under a plane or next to a bus or mowing the lawn, and I can stop, start, and adjust the volume of whatever I’m listening to.
I’m also constantly yanking on the cord as I’m walking, pulling a messenger bag over my head, or working around the house. The dog likes to hook her paw on the cord and yank them out of my ears as I’m putting her leash on. The cord catches on desks, toolboxes, bannisters, and doorknobs. And because they get pulled on all the time, the wires are getting frayed; I’ve got two pairs where the mic/sound control pad doesn’t work anymore, and another where the plug connection is weakened so that it triggers my phone to randomly stop/start/skip whatever I’m playing.
I bought an older set of “wireless” headphones made by Anker several years ago, which were actually two earbuds wired together, and they work pretty good. My two beefs with them were that the cord that connected them was getting caught on my clothes almost as much as an earbud cord, and the fact that they didn’t have a microphone to take calls. They work, and the battery life is pretty good, but they spent a lot of time at the bottom of my bag getting tangled on other stuff.
I see people walking through Union Station wearing AirPods as a matter of course. They are, by all reports, fantastic, but I was wondering if I could find an alternative that wasn’t as spendy but just as reliable. What I settled on was Anker’s Soundcore Life P2, which I got on deep sale through Amazon for a quarter the price of AirPods. They’re a set of noise-cancelling true wireless earbuds that have most of the features AirPods do.
They fit my ears perfectly right out of the box, although they have five other pairs of rubber buds that can be fitted for people with dainty little ears or giant horse flaps. Each one has a small button on the side to turn the unit on or trigger several functions, which I haven’t mastered yet: on/off, start/stop, take a call, talk to Siri. The sound is fantastic. Bass is full, and the highs are crisp, but I also get a full range of midtones. It’s a wide range of sound that I’m not used to after years of tinny earbuds. It’s lovely to walk through the noisy platform area of Union Station next to idling diesel engines and not have to cover my ears to hear what’s playing, and they act as relatively decent noise protection when they’re off.
I used them to call my Mom on Sunday night, and while it worked, I found the experience strange. Because the earbuds had closed off my ear canals, I felt like I was talking inside my own head, as if I’d been talking to her with my fingers in my ears. I found it so distracting, I switched over to a set of wired earbuds to finish the call. Apple announced the AirPod Pro three days after I ordered my Ankers, which are built similarly. I read with interest about the Transparency Mode feature, where you can set them to listen to the surrounding noise, and I wondered what that added to the experience, but I get it now that I’ve been on a call: Transparency Mode opens the outside world back up so that you don’t sound like you’re talking inside a SCUBA mask.
Overall, I’m happy with these, and though I won’t be taking calls with them often (I’ll have to keep my earbuds wound up in my bag for those occasions) I’m cord-free and noise cancelled.
The show was awesome. It was more than I expected, and sounded fantastic. My ears are still ringing.
Update: A quick interview with 3D about the ideas behind the tour and the album at 20. I have a lot of respect for him and for the questions he’s asking through his music.