For Tracy Hyde - Hotel Insomnia

25 January 2023  •  Filed under

Photo: For Tracy Hyde

If ever there was a testament to giving an album a second chance, this is it.

I clearly remember finishing this record and thinking “Well, that was… meh,” but I can’t tell you why. My best guess is that I broke my own rule. Yeah, I have a rule, and it’s this: never listen to new music while deep in work. I made the rule for exactly this reason. If I don’t pay the requisite attention, it’s all too easy to glaze over greatness.

And there’s greatness on this, the band’s 5th and—by my estimation—best album. If you were going to listen to one, this is it. Huge Bummer Alert: right after releasing Hotel Insomnia, they announced that they’re disbanding. At least they’re going out on top. 😭

Like of lot of the best shoegaze acts, For Tracy Hyde mix it up with other influences, though on this album they sound as close to “classic” shoegaze than ever. It’s notable that Ride’s Mark Gardener mastered this record; that could account for the overall tone, for sure. It certainly sounds amazing—layered, full, and punchy. It could also just be an inevitability. Azusa Suga is the band’s primary songwriter, and The Internet credits him with writing songs for other very shoegazey acts like AprilBlue, dots, and RAY. If recent, that marinade could explain this more concentrated direction.

“Estuary” is my favorite track right now. It’s aptly named; listening to it, I really can imagine floating out the mouth of a river and into a rolling tide. I’m here for weeping, droning guitars, and they come in on the first note and never stop. Mercy. The melody is gorgeous as well, with plucked strings punching a pattern through the wash of sound below.

Too many albums tend to loose steam toward the end, but Hotel Insomnia goes out swinging for the fences. The final trio of songs—“Milkshake”, “Subway Station Revelation”, and “Leave The Planet”—are all so good it’s curious that they’re not sprinkled back throughout the tracklisting. Not complaining, though. It certainly makes me want to hit the play button again. Reminds me of the feeling I get listening to Weezer’s Everything Will Be Alright In The End. I anticipate those final three songs the whole time. Anyways, “Milkshake” came out a couple months before the record release, and—again—I can’t explain what my deal was in not latching onto it like a barnacle because it is an amazing, crushing, thundering wave. And “Leave The Planet” infuses a heavy-as-hell shoegaze banger with some dang Crystal Method-esque knob-tweaking weirdness that somehow just works perfectly.

As swan songs go, you can’t ask for much better than this. Many of the band members were already part of other music projects (Ferri-Chrome, AprilBlue, So Shibano) and will continue to make music, but together they captured something special. I know I’ll miss it.

Godspeed, For Tracy Hyde.


Yuragi - Still Dreaming, Still Deafening

18 January 2023  •  Filed under

Photo: Yuragi

Recently, on a whim, I decided to listed to Yuragi’s 2018 EP Still Dreaming, Still Deafening while lying down with the lights off. It’s something I used to do quite a bit when I was younger, but haven’t done on the regular for a very long time. I discovered the band—and this EP—about a year ago and have come back to it many time since. It was always enjoyable, but nothing I heard would have prompted me to write about the band. Satisfying, but not amazing is how I would have described the music.

I was surprised at how dramatically the change in listening attitude altered my enjoyment of the music. Encouraged, I tried the same approach with For you, Adroit it but soft, the band’s oddly-named 2021 album. Again, I heard the music in a way that I hadn’t before.

One could argue that it’s untenable to only listen to music while laying in a dark room, and so music should be enjoyable under a broader umbrella of scenarios, and—sure—I’d agree. Still, the conditions in which music is listened are going to have an effect one way or another. Listening to music while working, for example, may lead to it being perceived as exciting and motivating, or unremarkable and forgettable, depending on how the day is going. Brains gonna brain. I suppose my takeaway here is that while there’s no wrong way to enjoy music, a variety of listening attitudes can unlock greater perspective.

Anyhow, Yuragi is a Japanese band commonly defined as “shoegaze”, but genres are frail and increasingly unreliable as artists have long since begun taking the entire history of recorded music and blending up their favorite bits into microgenres. I’ve noticed that the Japanese in particular are fond of picking a musical lane, but pulling in bits and pieces of others to create their own unique sound.

One of Yuragi’s go-to vibes is a quiet/loud dynamic, which reminds me a lot of Sigur Ros. Like a lot of Japanese bands, there’s not much press out there about this one, but in the one article I could find I was unsurprised to read that Sigur Ros is indeed an influence among many band members.1 They also cite John Frusciante and Flea as influences, but those aren’t obvious in the music. Though now I’m dying to hear what Red Hot Chili Peppers would sound like if they played shoegaze.

Both albums are great, but I’m particularly fond of Still Dreaming, Still Deafening’s penchant for low, ambient textures and explosive volume shifts. It’s probably their strongest collection of songs, and has a really moody-yet-uplifting feel to it. Opener “B/C” starts with dark, post-punk bass before bursting into a wash of guitar on “Horizon”. “Utopia” is easily my favorite track, full of dreamy shoegaze goodness, and that vibe continues throughout the center of the record. I really enjoy how the EP circles back to the rolling snare, cavernous bass, and wall of guitars from the first two songs on the closing track “Path of the Moonlit Night”. It makes for a really cool motif, closing out the EP almost exactly how it started.

(For the record, For you, Adroit it but soft contains my favorite Yuragi track, and easily one of my top 5 Japanese shoegaze songs, “While My Waves Wonder”. It’s got a really great melody and a fantastic arrangement. The album isn’t as strong as Still Dreaming, Still Deafening, but it’s worth checking out.)


  1. Yusuke Matsumura, The new state of shoegazer music that yuragi aspires to be: Newave Japan, Digle Magazine

2022 Music Report

2 January 2023  •  Filed under ,

Whew. That was a hell of a year.

The struggles that emerged at the tail end of my 2021 bled well into 2022, but things slowly improved over the year. Yay! And as my increased writing output might suggest, music has been my primary coping and—let’s be honest—escape mechanism, and spinning my little musical cocoon took my listening time & volume to ridiculous all-time highs that I don’t ever expect to surpass.

I also don’t expect to ever top the explosion of discovery I experienced at the tail end of 2021, but I continued seeking out new music and found quite a bit to get excited about. As the vibes will testify, I got super back into shoegaze—specifically the Japanese variety—but shoegaze also seems to be making somewhat of a comeback as a component of many bands’ sound. I’m here for it.

Music is good therapy; not a solution in and of itself, but a comfort all the same. To that end, I made it a point to be more mindful of personally fulfilling endeavors last year, and listening to music definitely qualifies. I became a more intentional listener, making it the activity rather than something that happens barely noticed behind other tasks. I realized that laying in the dark with nothing to do but listen was something that I hadn’t done regularly for many years, and it is satisfying.

I hope your musical year was fulfilling as well. If not, perhaps there’s something here that could kick off a new era of discovery. Shall we?

(Note: I’ve written at length about some of this music. Look for the star ★ symbols if you’re interested in reading more.)


Top Artists

1

Pale Waves

4,053 songs played

2

Softcult

2,010 songs played

3

Rolo Tomassi

1,498 songs played

4

Alvvays

1,362 songs played

5

Fickle Friends

912 songs played

Though occupying the #2 spot, Softcult is my favorite band of last year and continues to take 90s alt rock & shoegaze inspirations and make them their own. They consistently release a track every 3 months or so, and it always feels like they are trying something new each time. Recently, the tone seems to be trending toward more dark, dense soundscapes, but they’re maintaining the intensity of their social and political messaging: taking aim at global villains, wrestling with personal themes, and putting abusers on blast—all swirling in great riffs and beautiful vocals. This band has such an earnest heart, and I’m excited to hear where they take us with their upcoming See You in the Dark EP.

Pale Waves’ 80s gloom-pop era continued to dominate my ears, despite some lamentation on my part about recent stylistic changes. I’ve written quite a bit about my love affair with their pre-pandemic output and all the associated feels. It felt a lot like falling into The Cure back in 1989 all over again. The intensity is waning, but those hooks have kept pulling me in.

Alvvays and Fickle Friends are new to my Top 5s. The former is a band that was wholly new to me this year, and I was so, so bummed to find their Dallas show sold out in under 3 hours. I guess everyone else loves Alvvays’ crushed, reverb-y twee-pop, too. I’m still hopelessly obsessed with Blue Rev, and will just not shut up about it.

I was honestly surprised to see Fickle Friends hit the #5 spot. I listened to their sophomore album a lot this year, but it turns out I listened to their first album a lot more. Much like Paramore’s After Laughter, Fickle Friends are masters of the sad banger, putting anxiety, failing relationships, and insecurities into highly danceable, pristinely-produced, retro-flavored pop songs.


Top Albums

1

My Mind Makes Noises

Pale Waves

2,189 songs played

2

Where Myth Becomes Memory

Rolo Tomassi

1,290 songs played

3

Blue Rev

Alvvays

1,199 songs played

4

Unwanted

Pale Waves

949 songs played

5

Year Of the Snake

Softcult

897 songs played

My obsession with Pale Waves’ My Mind Makes Noises continued strong last year, racking up a play count in the thousands. When you feel it, you feel it. Their third album, Unwanted , came out this year, and although pop punk & emo is not my usual cup of tea, there are some pretty catchy tunes on that record. I’ll be keeping my eye on them, and hoping their new direction grows & evolves into something a bit more unique.

Rolo Tomassi’s Where Myth Becomes Memory was one of my most anticipated albums of the year, and it delivered in a big way. The increased contrast between crushing riffs and gentle melodies is next level and so, so satisfying. Beautiful stuff. In a screamy way.

Blue Rev only came out in October, but I’m not surprised that it shot to the top of my charts. I’m obsessed with the warped, wobbling, live-off-the-floor-yet-still-hi-fi sound of this record, not to mention the profusion of earworms. Alvvays is coming along with me well into 2023.

Softcult’s Year Of The Snake is primarily a collection of singles released in 2022, and it contains my favorite Softcult song to date: “House Of Mirrors.” Like all their songs, this one has a very clear message: wanting to live a life that you’re proud of, but feeling like a failure because of the compounding social, political, and environmental mess that continues to derail even the most carefully laid plans. Paired with a dreamy shoegaze vibe, the song is beautifully sad & endlessly satisfying.


Top Tracks

1

Television Romance

Pale Waves

251 plays

2

House Of Mirrors

Softcult

222 plays

3


Kiss

Pale Waves

221 plays

4

There’s A Honey

Pale Waves

187 plays

5

Gloomy Girl

Softcult

183 plays

Have you figured out my two favorite bands yet? It’s a real mystery.

Hey, at least my top 5 songs aren’t all tracks from My Mind Makes Noises like last year. But I’m not gonna lie: “Television Romance” continues to give me a little chill every time it starts. We stan classic Pale Waves here, and there will be no apologies.


Notables

Some of last year’s musical discoveries didn’t make my top fives, but are still worth mentioning:

Paramore – After Laughter

I’ve been a fan of brand new eyes for years, coming back to it many times but never really exploring the rest of Paramore’s catalog. Last year I rolled through all of their albums a couple times and found myself drawn again and again to After Laughter. Devastating explorations of sadness, loss, forgiveness, and personal growth rolled in bouncy new wave stylings is a wild choice, and turned out to be a potent juxtaposition that I can’t seem to get enough of.

Fin del Mundo

Argentinian post-rock was not something I planned on getting into last year, but such is the occasional magic of YouTube. I’m not sure how it’s possible, but this music is simultaneously joyous and wistful. Their performance for KEXP is endearing. They look so happy to be there, and sound soooo goooood. Can’t recommend this one enough.

Pronoun — OMG I MADE IT

Alyse Vellturo, aka pronoun (all lower case) hit my radar back in 2019 with her heartbroken-yet-resilient album i’ll show you stronger. It’s sad, it’s open, it’s tough, it’s wry, it’s charming. OMG I MADE IT sees pronoun transform into PRONOUN (all caps), pushing the vocals louder in the mix and absolutely tearing into the painful reality of mental health challenges. Coming on the heels of a pandemic becoming endemic, the EP powerfully and openly pits wanting to die against the will to live, all staged in front of effervescent emo pop tunes. Think Jimmy Eat World’s “Sweetness”, but low-key suicidal. Amazingly, despite the heavy narrative, the music feels light and energetic and ultimately perseverant.

FRITZPastel

This album feels so comforting. After discovering Alvvays, I started hearing a lot of shared musical vocabulary between these projects. Either Alvvays is way more 90s alternative than I realized, or FRITZ is way more whatever-genre-Alvvays-is. At any rate, that connection made me come back to Pastel more frequently toward the end of the year and encouraged me to play it back to back with Blue Rev, weaving an ultra-satisfying security blanket of sound.

Crying – Beyond The Fleeting Gales

This album is bananas. One of those “where have you been my whole life?” type of records. It doesn’t sound exactly like The Go! Team, but that’s my easiest reference point. Okay, maybe a The Go! Team, Van Halen, and Weezer supergroup? I think it’s because it’s so energetic & exuberant, but also kinda grungy and fuzzed-out; at every turn, the tunes are cranked up to 11 with bright, Van Halen-esque riffs and keyboard flourishes. The somewhat buried, deadpan vocal delivery doesn’t seem like it should work pushed up against blasting power pop, but the result is surprisingly effective. It’s an overwhelming wall of detailed, layered, bright, and wildly uplifting stadium rock-level singalong melodies. If you’re ever feeling down, spin up this gem and cry for joy.


Listening Highlights

Total Time Listened

1,711 Hours 157%

Longest Listening Streak


365 Days in a row 310%

Artists Played

1,751 218%

Albums Played

2,623 186%

Total Tracks Played

27,355 154%

Unique Songs Played

7,204 134%

Average Plays Per Day

75 150%


New Music

New Artists

1,190 (68%) 554%

New Albums

1,993 (76%) 353%

New Tracks

4,538 (63%) 243%


Vibes

  • Shoegaze (30%)
  • Indie pop (20%)
  • Indie (18%)
  • Rock (17%)
  • Indie rock (16%)



You made it this far, so…

I maintain a Spotify playlist of my favorite jams. Check it out!


Stakes In The River

21 December 2022  •  Filed under

The river surrounds me.

I waded into its waters long ago, wandering the serpentine current that cuts through the landscape. With each step, the river changes, and becomes something different than it was before. I change with it; I also have a current, and it stubbornly carves its own path, bending and twisting and flowing in shape and intensity. All things move, and nothing remains still. The currents are taking me away, whether I want to go or not.

Some steps are placid and cool; others plunge me deep into the rapids and threaten to carry me far away. But I’ve kept my foothold. All along my journey, I carry my bundle of stakes, driving them into the riverbed where intensity has found me. Love. Pain. Happiness. Regret. Awe. Loss. Gratitude. I tether myself to these markers, these moments that have defined me as the river pushes me relentlessly forward, and looking back at them makes the way clearer.

The oldest tethers have long since snapped. The passage of time is merciless, exacting a heavy toll on their strength. I can still see some of these stakes behind me, but they are dark, and crooked. There are a few mementos that I carry with me, tokens by which to close my eyes and imagine my way back these untethered markers. I revisit the place, but the intensity is almost always gone. I am now but an observer, grateful to remember but unable to inhabit the emotions. The loss is bittersweet at best, grievous at worst.

I know that this is the nature of the river, and that my own current erodes the tethers as well. No matter what I do, those markers will never be as near or as clear as they once were. Every moment risks being lost in the depths, a trail of submerged stakes in my wake. All things move, and nothing remains still. The currents are taking me away, whether I want to go or not.

Midway down the river, I feel a new intensity come upon me. It is tears, and sorrow, and a heaviness that I don’t want to carry. My hand curls around my bundle of stakes, yet I’m tempted to pull away. Maybe it’s better to leave this place unmarked, dead in my memory, and free from tethers. Just take a step away. And then one more.

But my own current has seen this before, and I am dissuaded. As the stake is driven deeper and deeper, I recall others like it. Some are still tethered, and others only live on in a memento, but I hold them all dearly. Along with all the happier moments, these markers have shaped my current. As the stake finds its purchase in the rocky riverbed, I remain still for a season, holding it tight and feeling this moment—expansive, humbling, heartbreaking, and unrelenting. My hands are cold, knuckles white. This is intensity.

I’m further down the river now. The stake is still clear in the breaking light, but I can already feel the tether thinning. This is the nature of the river. All things move, and nothing remains still. The currents are taking me away, whether I want to go or not.

As I take another step downriver, I’m grateful for the time that the tether was strongest, and wish that it could always remain that way. I will miss it when it snaps. Even at its darkest, I chose to hold tight and cherish the intensity. Currents were reshaped. That’s what intensity does. That’s what the current wants. I don’t want to forget.

The memento in my hand is still shiny and new, and I make a promise to myself as the river rushes under me: I will do everything in my power to remember this. I know that one day these feelings will fade, or be forgotten completely, and join those darkened, crooked stakes upriver. I’ve done all I can. Surrendering to intensity forges the strongest tethers, and the brightest mementos. I’ll hold them as long as I can. The river is taking me away.

This is who I am. The river surrounds me. I am shaped by the stakes in the river.


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?


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