Unsolicited Feedback: Boom 2

16 November 2022  •  Filed under ,

Proposed changes to the Boom experience

Unsolicited Feedback is a series which explores design possibilities from an outsider perspective. These design exercises consider what could be while acknowledging that, inside organizations, there are complex reasons for why products are shaped the way that they are. We’re just having fun here.

I like Boom a lot. I’ve written about it in the past, and raved about how installing it on my computers has significantly enriched my music-listening experience. It’s got nice features and is generally easy to understand.

Could be better, though.

The Problem

My issue with Boom is the extent to which various settings have to be individually adjusted every time the audio output is changed. In my case, I like turning the Preamp and Boom Volume all the way up when I’m listening through my headphones. It just sounds nicer that way. However, when I switch to listening through my speakers, I have to turn the Preamp all the way down, and the Boom Volume down to around 10%. If I forget to do this, the output is too powerful and the resulting blast of high volume could permanently damage my speakers. No bueno!

The Equalizer preset also needs to change every time the audio output is changed. Added to the other adjustments, this is a total of 4 mandatory interactions that I have to remember to do just to change between headphones and speakers:

The current Boom 2 interface
  1. Adjust Preamp volume
  2. Adjust Boom Volume
  3. Change Equalizer Preset
  4. Finally, select the new audio output

It’s not the end of the world, but it gets pretty annoying. Here’s what I think would work better.

The Proposal

What if there were Listening Profiles that could collect & recall all of these settings? When switching to a different Profile, all of its saved selections (O/P Device, Preamp, Boom Volume, Equalizer, and Effects) would be swapped in automatically. The interface would need to be redesigned a bit to better convey this hierarchy, with the Listening Profile sitting at the top left as the primary controller:

Boom with Listening Profiles

Making edits to a Listening Profile would work just like current Equalizer edits. When any change is made to any control, the Listening Profile dropdown would receive Cancel and Save icons to either discard or commit the changes. Here, for example, the equalizer changed, so the interface is allowing us to save or discard changes at both the Listening Profile and Equalizer levels. I think saving the Listening Profile would implicitly also apply the Equalizer change, but the user could also replace/cancel the Equalizer and therefore nullify the Listening Profile change. For the purposes of this exercise, we’re accepting the Listening Profile change. I don’t love this particular Save/Cancel pattern, but it’s what Boom uses so I’m sticking with it for this exercise:

Listening Profile has changed

Inside the Listening Profile UI, clicking the red Cancel icon would revert the Profile back to its previous, saved state. Clicking the green Save icon would allow the user to replace (overwrite) the currently-selected Profile, or create a New one:

New or Replace Listening Profile UI

Selecting “Replace” updates the current Profile with the new settings. Selecting “New” allows the user to type a new name and create a new Profile:

Specify New Listening Profile name

The new Profile is saved & applied:

New Listening Profile saved

Profiles are selectable in the Listening Profiles list:

New Listening Profile in selection list

There It Is

With one dropdown selection, five settings can be changed at once. No more multi-step mental checklist.

I’m not that smart, so I have to wonder why Boom doesn’t work this way already. It could be that no one has complained about this stuff before, or that most people don’t switch inputs as often as I do, or that Boom prefers to keep these settings independent for some reason.

This UI also solves for more complex scenarios, such as:

  • The user has multiples of the same output type. For example, someone who listens with more than one set of headphones would likely want very different settings for each one.
  • The user may plug their headphones and speakers into the same 3.5mm jack, unplugging one and plugging in the other as needed. Boom would see these both as Headphones, but they would likely require different Profiles for the best sound.
  • The user may daisy-chain their headphones to their speakers, which then connect to the computer. Boom isn’t going magically detect those headphones, so bespoke Profiles are a good solution to differentiate between them.

So there it is. Like I said, there may be good reasons for not doing this, but—then again—maybe there aren’t?


Fin del Mundo

27 October 2022  •  Filed under ,

Photo: Melissa Restrepo

Fin del Mundo (End of the World) are a post-rock/shoegaze band hailing from Buenos Aires, Argentina, though some of the members grew up near Tierra del Fuego, at the southernmost edge of the continent. That’s partially what the band’s name refers to; not an apocalyptic end of the world, but the end of a geographic as well as a familiar one (pre-rampant fascism, pre-rampant xenophobia, pre-pandemic, etc). It’s an important distinction, not only because the band’s music doesn’t sound apocalyptic at all, but also because it doesn’t fully dwell on the loss of the past.

As the band explains it:

“It’s kind of like now we’ve left behind the “old world” and now we have the new one. We talked about this the other day. That’s how it seems. And sometimes, I mean, it’s kind of scary. And a lot of people are wondering if things are going to go back to the way they were before. And a lot of people say that no. So I think that yeah, as Lu said, we’re at the end of a time.”1

Musically, Fin del Mundo sound like a perfect blend of post-rock, shoegaze, and dream pop with a slice of indie sharpness. It’s plucky, gorgeous, swirling, and delightfully thick. Most of the songs from their two-EP deep catalog lean toward the instrumental and feature long, sweeping intros and sparse lyrics. Like post-rock, there’s no reliable semblance of the standard verse/chorus songs structure. Instead, the lyrics simply occupy a progression in the arrangement.

Lyrically, the songs are poetic and dreamlike, evoking feelings of nostalgia, longing, and resigned anxiety—all that entails coming to “the end of the world.” There are also notes of hope, perseverance, and the grace of the natural world. Translating the lyrics from Spanish, the sense of loss is readily evident, but there are also moments of peace and lightness, like in the lyrically brief “Hacia los Bosques”:

It’s just that I opened the window a moment ago
And on the thin wings of the wind
Spring has brought me its sun

I discovered this band by serendipitously stumbling into KEXP’s YouTube channel and watching a few other Argentinian bands. They’re all worth checking out, but Fin del Mundo’s performance has me totally floored. I listened to it all day, and it put a much-needed smile on my face. Kudos to KEXP’s sound production team on this, because it is absolutely pristine. If this gets released as a live recording, I will buy the absolute crap out of it.

Anyways, the band’s performance is below, and I (clearly) highly recommend it if you’re into any of the aforementioned genres.


  1. Emilyann McKelvey, Standing at the Edge of the World With Fin del Mundo, La La Lista

Alvvays - Blue Rev

12 October 2022  •  Filed under

Photo: NME

🤯

These days, there isn’t a much more satisfying feeling than falling ass-backwards into music that immediately ticks so many boxes that it becomes an instant obsession, destined to enter the regular rotation. I’m not sure what rock I’ve been living under, but it’s now vacant and I will not be subletting it. Alvvays is one of those bands that I know I’d heard of, but hadn’t heard. Now that I’ve had some time to catch up, I can say with confidence that I’ve been missing out in a big way.

All three of Alvvays’ albums are great, but I’m kind of obsessed with the sound of this latest one. I’ve read in a couple interviews that producer Shawn Everett “had the band play the album twice through, live off the studio floor, and then spent the rest of the recording process meticulously fucking up the recordings.”1

He decided to run the tracks through a finicky tape machine that was technically broken, but produced a sound he liked. “Every time I’d print a mix it would sound slightly different—it was an excruciating process,” he says. “But I always try to have one chaotic aspect that is outside my control, so I’m not just working into my own thoughts.”2

I’m sorry, what? That’s a pretty unorthodox approach to a studio album—definitely an aesthetic that a lot of bands don’t go for these days—and it’s exciting. Blue Rev sounds like an analog photograph looks: beautifully grainy, broadly contrasting & dynamic, and purposefully hand-made.

Add to that a level of songwriting that you don’t hear much anymore, and Blue Rev is easily going to end up on scads of top ten lists for this year despite entering the game late in the season. Vocalist & guitarist Molly Rankin’s gorgeous melodies and bittersweet lyrics paired with guitarist Alec O’Hanley’s wide palette of tones is this fall’s most prolific earworm farm, harvesting hook after unforgettable hook. I was almost instantly reminded of The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart, only learning later that they toured together in the past. Of course they did. That shared vocabulary—churning shoegaze, twee toe-tappers, punk attitude, leveling-up key changes, and searing guitar solos—keep me coming back again and again. And again.

And again.


  1. Alex Hudson, Alvvays Are Unpredictable, Harsh and Better Than Ever on ‘Blue Rev’, Explain!
  2. Carly Lewis, Alvvays Enter Their Epiphany Era, Pitchfork

This Is How I Fight

5 October 2022  •  Filed under ,

Ke Huy Quan in Everything Everywhere All At Once

Ideas don’t need to be new to be powerful. That’s the great thing about art: anyone can express an idea in their own way and give it new life.

Watching Everything Everywhere All At Once was pretty overwhelming. If you’re not familiar, the film follows haggard laundromat operator Evelyn (Michelle Yeoh) as she bounces across parallel universes, guided by her husband Waymond (Ke Huy Quan) from “the alphaverse” to stop their daughter Joy/Jobu Tupaki (Stephanie Hsu)—also from the alphaverse—from destroying everything by jumping into a giant, nihilistic everything bagel. I know, it’s a lot.

The film is a bonkers, surreal romp designed to navigate complex subjects and pull the viewer into Evelyn’s drinking-from-the-firehose experience of discovery & eventual awakening. There is plenty of subject matter to digest as the film barrels ahead: the importance of even the smallest choices, the struggle for true intimacy, the search for approval, choosing hope over despair, and the self-discovery and unconditional acceptance of others in Evelyn’s redemptive arc, just to name a few. And, yes, that’s all important. It’s especially good that Evelyn learns from her experiences and chooses to atone. That’s the hopeful takeaway for all of us: it’s never too late to wake up and evolve.

Then there’s Waymond.

Waymond embodies a real subversion of norms, especially those surrounding masculinity. He’s sweet, sensitive, emotional, polite, and domestic. He leads with levity and kindness, battling to win over the crotchety tax auditor with cookies and earnesty, and countering the drudgery and stress of running the laundromat by dancing with customers and sticking googly eyes on everything.

Of course, his multi-Waymond, across-the-universes speech is the pivot point for Evelyn, and a reasoned explanation for his goofy behavior. But more than that, it’s the beating heart of the film:

Evelyn’s Waymond: Please! Please! Can we… can we just stop fighting?
(Business Waymond: You tell me that it’s a cruel world, and that we’re all just running around in circles. I know that. I’ve been on this earth just as many days as you.)
Evelyn’s Waymond: I know you are all fighting because you are scared and confused. I’m confused too. All day… I don’t know what the heck is going on. But somehow, this feels like it’s all my fault.
(Business Waymond: When I choose to see the good side of things, I’m not being naive. It is strategic and necessary. It’s how I’ve learned to survive through everything.)
Evelyn’s Waymond: I don’t know. The only thing I do know is that we have to be kind. Please, be kind. Especially when we don’t know what’s going on.
(Business Waymond: I know you see yourself as a fighter. Well, I see myself as one too. This is how I fight.)

😭

This is the moment Evelyn begins to transform; fighting with kindness, she hilariously disarms her enemies by manifesting exactly what each of them need to be happy. Kindness—and everything it engenders—is revealed as the ultimate strength, and fighting like Waymond is what averts disaster and gives Evelyn the chance to pursue a life worth living.

Kindness is not a new concept, and it seems to have gained a lot more traction in recent years (yay!), probably as a response to the amplification of unkindness (boooo). But ideas don’t have to be new to be impactful. This scene struck a chord in me as well; packaging this idea into such a compelling vignette somehow made it more real than it had been before. I feel impressed to do better.

Cruelty is easy. Perhaps that’s why there’s so much of it out there, especially online, where the targets are so abstract. It’s also powerful. One only has to look at *gestures everywhere* to see the ruin it causes. I have to believe that kindness is equally potent, and that becoming, multiplying, and elevating the Waymonds in this world is the path forward. The more we can see people—especially men—embracing these the qualities of kindness, the more it’ll be normalized and mirrored.

That’s how we’ll fight.

(And voting for progress. Do that, too.)


My Chemical Romance - The Black Parade

21 September 2022  •  Filed under

So I was watching the end credits of a recent episode of The Umbrella Academy and happened to catch the name of its creator. Gerard Way? How do I know that name? A quick Google search later, and I remember: It’s that guy from My Chemical Romance, a band I’d never listened to but somehow still knew its vocalist’s name. Brains are weird.

Some people are lucky to be open minded from an early age, but that’s a quality I’ve had to cultivate (thanks, mildly intolerant upbringing!). I definitely ignored My Chemical Romance back in their early-2000s heyday. The high-key theatrics, scene-kid hairdos, gothic marching band uniforms, and druggy-sounding band name were a very hard pass for me. But now? Why not give them a chance?

I picked The Black Parade because it’s widely regarded as the band’s best and most popular album. I’ve enjoyed watching The Umbrella Academy, so I’m not sure why I expected anything less, but The Black Parade is surprisingly good! I can see why many people point to this as one of the most epic and important albums of their lives. It’s huge, theatrical, and deeply emotional, and the music is a lot more diverse and creative than the whatever-that-means “emo” label would suggest. I also didn’t expect it to rock this hard. There are elements of punk, hard rock, alternative, and classic rock, and and the influence of Queen—specifically—is readily apparent in many songs.

The Black Parade is a rock opera that finds the main character, a man called The Patient, at the end of his losing battle with cancer. Some of the songs are set in the present, some look to the future, and some are scenes of The Patient’s life flashing before his eyes. Believing he is going to Hell for all the terrible things he’s done, he reflects on his life and struggles with how to leave his relationships with his mother, his lover, and himself before he dies. Gerard is an incredible vocalist and summons amazing intensity for each of The Patient’s vignettes.

In at least two of the music videos, the band dons the persona of The Black Parade, the “marching” band that welcomes The Patient to the afterlife. Part of the album’s mythology is that death summons a person’s fondest memory, in this case The Patient’s memory of his father taking him to see a marching band when he was a kid. (Twist: this is also a memory from Gerard’s life, blurring the lines between fiction and autobiography.) Of course, death has distorted the memory into a sort of post-apocalyptic parade of the dead, perhaps mirroring The Patient’s final destination. “Welcome To The Black Parade” is one of the coolest music videos I’ve ever seen. The character designs, camera angles, and other visual treatments are extremely comic book-like, not to mention the almost inhuman passion in Gerard’s performance. It’s totally over the top and amazing.

This is all pretty dark subject matter, for sure, but it’s also strangely uplifting in places. I appreciate this record’s ambition to knit together a complex emotional narrative, like a graphic novel set to music. I found myself really getting into it, following along with the lyrics and other sources to fill in the blanks. There’s so much craft going on beneath the surface, giving body to The Patient’s terrifying burden. The way The Patient cycles between feelings of hope & hopelessness, regret & resolve, and surrender & resistance really speaks to the conflicting relationship many people have with themselves. The final song makes it unclear if The Patient is actually going to die or not, hinting that he may be ready to fight the cancer and live, despite the consequences he may face.

Time will tell if this is something I’ll come back to on the regular, but it sure was a journey to listen to this album a few times while following along with the lyrics and others’ documentation. If you’re genuinely curious, Madison Murray’s The Storyline And Intricacies Of My Chemical Romance’s 2006 Classic The Black Parade is a really great read for understanding more of the album’s backstory and mythology.


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