Posts Tagged ‘Review’

Earbud review

So I bought some Skullcandy Titan earbuds a little while ago, on sale for $20. (They normally go for $40.)

I’m very satisfied with them, especially because the only earbuds I had were the iPod ones, which are basically terrible. I have a pair of headphones that I’m pretty satisfied with, but lately they’ve been sitting on my keyboard, and I’ve been using the earbuds for my computer and iPod.

(Yesterday I also bought a pair of cheapo speakers at the IU surplus warehouse for $10. They’re okay; the sound isn’t very clear, but they’re not for music anyway.)

Anyway, some people have asked me what I think of the earbuds. Since MS Paint is worth a thousand words, here’s my review:

earbuds

They’re pretty much as good as my headphones, which is an accomplishment for cheap-ish earbuds, which are typically quite lousy. At any rate, I do recommend them, assuming you’re interested in buying earbuds for less than $100. According to the Internet, Skullcandy’s cheaper earbuds aren’t as good as the Titans, but I haven’t tried any others. In audio equipment, though, more money does translate into better sound (up to a certain point) so I wouldn’t try skimping.

Octavarium

Given that I tend to appreciate albums in their entireties, and favor complex, layered sounds over, for example, the bare production of typical ’90s power pop, it’s no surprise that my tastes have recently gravitated towards progressive metal.

Pause for a conversation about genres. “Metal” encompasses a hugely diverse group of sounds, from the fast, aggressive riffs in thrash metal, to the melodic, punk-inspired metalcore, and even the stupidly violent, distorted…sounds…of grindcore (ugh). Progressive metal, a highly complex, technical genre, often doesn’t sound like metal at all. Dream Theater is one of the oldest, most successful bands in the genre, and in my opinion, the best.

Apparently, they’re one of those bands everyone either loves or hates. All the album reviews I have found are either too raving, or–ack! they just don’t get it at all!–somewhat confused and unimpressed. There doesn’t seem to be anyone who listens to them in serious moderation. (As a side note, while I was looking through the last.fm API, I discovered that many examples are about Dream Theater; I was confused until I realized that Audioscrobbler’s founder is a huge fan.)

Octavarium is probably my favorite album of theirs, though I had a hard time deciding whether to write about it or Six Degrees of Inner Turbulence, a double album ending in a namesake 40+ minute eight-movement epic. (Note to Dream Theater fans: I’m sorry; I just don’t get why everyone thinks Metropolis Pt. 2 is so good!)

Octavarium isn’t their best example of extreme technical proficiency, and isn’t particularly metal, but it’s just so rich. It’s absolutely their most progressive album, in its diversity of sounds and abundance of self-reference. Even if you don’t like metal, I think the title track at least is required listening for everyone reading this post. It’s just a totally different way of doing music.

Their eighth studio album, Octavarium is a sort of concept album about cycles, filled with the numbers eight and five in surprising places. (Here’s a ten-page summary of little details people have found in the album.) In particular, the dominating cycle in the album is that the first track starts on F, the next on G, and so forth until the eighth and final track, which starts again on F and ends with the same piano note which begins the album.

“The Root of All Evil” starts out the album, centered around a driving, heavy guitar riff. Written by their drummer about his past alcoholism, it’s actually the third song in his five-song “Twelve-Step Suite” mirroring the steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, and is full of references to the previous two songs.

“The Answer Lies Within” is, in stark contrast, a slow, melodic ballad dominated by piano and strings. This track perhaps best showcases James LaBrie’s soft, soaring vocals. This is one of the two songs on the album which almost sounds like it could be played on the radio.

“These Walls” is a mellow, atmospheric song which slowly builds to a climax that just washes over the listener. Ensemble doesn’t get much better than this.

“I Walk Beside You” was Dream Theater’s attempt at a single on this album; it’s rare to see a DT song clocking under five minutes (or often, even eight). It’s catchy and interesting, and I do wonder why it wasn’t actually released as one.

“Panic Attack” is the virtuosic performance on the album, with a strange guitar riff and constantly morphing, complex rhythms. It only gets stranger (especially starting around 4:39) but somehow captures the breathlessness of a panic attack.

“Never Enough” is a rant about ungrateful fans, a pretty unique song in DT’s catalog if only for how much it sounds like Muse.

“Sacrificed Sons” is about 9/11, a dark, largely instrumental track with a long introduction and gothic-sounding vocals. It’s definitely my least favorite track on the album: it’s a bit too slow for me, and the instrumental break at 4:15 is, while great, rather incongruous.

Octavarium” is, in my opinion, Dream Theater’s best song. I really don’t want to give much of it away, so I won’t say too much here. It starts with a fantastically expansive four-minute solo on the Haken Continuum, before a flute melody leads to the first of five sections. The first two sections are downtempo and soft; the third, “Full Circle,” (13:48) is an upbeat wordplay tribute to many of the bands which influenced Dream Theater. But the fourth section, “Intervals,” (18:30) is my favorite part. It references each of the tracks on the album, in order, while distorted samples from the tracks play in the background; crescendoing masterfully from a low growl to a hair-raising climax (“Trapped inside this Octavarium”).

Seriously, listen to this album. At least the last track. YouTube quality doesn’t really do it justice, so try to find a better-quality version somewhere (or just ask me). And do comment here if you listen to it; I’m interested to hear what other people think.

The Colour and the Shape

It’s summer, so I feel I ought to be writing something here once in a while. I have a few entries on math in the works, but until I get back to those, I figured I’d write a bit about music.

Much of my initial exposure to music was of the classical variety, and perhaps as a result, I have always conceived of music as something larger than a sequence of singles. I don’t like listening to the radio, because the selection is so manic (and repetitive). I prefer to listen to artists one at a time, and in particular, albums from start to finish.

So when I think of my favorite music, I think primarily in terms of albums. Which albums do I love in their entirety? Which albums do I keep turning back to, and rarely skip a track? I started forming a list, and realized that these are albums I have quite a bit to say about, and want to evangelize as simply great albums.

The first one I’m going to mention is the Foo FightersThe Colour and the Shape.

The Foo Fighters are an “alternative rock” (whatever that means) band fronted and formed by Dave Grohl (previously Nirvana‘s drummer) shortly after Kurt Cobain’s death. Their eponymous first album was entirely written and performed by Grohl himself. CatS was their second album, and first with a band besides Grohl. Of course, Grohl was dissatisfied with their drummer, William Goldsmith, and ended up re-recording almost all the drum parts without telling Goldsmith, who subsequently left the band.

The album loosely follows the arc of a relationship, but I wouldn’t really consider it a concept album. It’s probably Nick’s favorite, and definitely one of mine. I don’t need to comment extensively on it, since theoretically you will go listen to it, but here are my liner notes:

“Doll” is a short, quiet prelude to the album, immediately followed by the fast, loud “Monkey Wrench.” One of the popular songs off the album, and one of my favorite, it uses the loud chorus, quiet verse structure that the Foo Fighters follow in many of their songs. (I think this song, in particular, shows ’80s metal’s influence on Grohl, a genre to which he later paid tribute with his solo metal side project, Probot.)

The next few tracks build from a calm happiness to a sort of loud elation that seems to climax at the end of “Up in Arms.” Following that is “My Hero,” a song that received a lot of radio play but which I honestly think is the weakest track on the album. I really don’t understand why people like it so much, besides its vague subject matter.

A few tracks later comes “February Stars,” a quietly resigned song that seems to signal something went wrong. After that is “Everlong,” without question my favorite Foo Fighters song, and one of my favorite songs ever. It’s the first track on the album since “Monkey Wrench” that I’d call driven, and it’s pretty much the opposite of “Monkey Wrench”‘s “good riddance.”

To me, “Everlong” perfectly captures the point just past the apex of a relationship, when everything’s too perfect and you feel an impending fall. It’s a sort of blissful desperation to keep things exactly the way they are. (“And I wonder / If everything could ever feel this real forever / If anything could ever be this good again.”) It’s a catchy song, almost therapeutic in its recklessness, as you remember what it is to feel that way. (Or maybe it’s just about sex, but is that reading really any different? SURPRISE CLAIM)

“Walking After You” follows through on the breakup, with a whispered, sad hope that things can be back that way. (“If you walk out on me, I’m walking after you”) But the album ends with hope, in what’s maybe my second favorite track on the album, “New Way Home.” It’s a persistently hopeful track that ends in the repeated insistence that “I’m not scared.”

I’ll also mention that one B-side to this album is a great cover of Gerry Rafferty’s “Baker Street.” You should check it out.

Anyway, I’m about out of things to say, so I hope you’ll check out this album, and love it as much as I (and Nick) do. If nothing else, listen to Everlong.

NEXT UP: Dream Theater’s Octavarium, an immense concept album made of total awesome.