Hebrew School

The 1:30 rule

More and more in the digital age, music enthusiasts have complained of gluts in their collections.  What was once the strict provenance of high-browed critics and DJs— the ability to scratch one’s chin and self-importantly wonder, “what shall I listen to today?”— is now the conundrum of the avid consumer.  We have hard drives full of gigabytes of music we may never listen to, and yet our dopamine receptors twitch at the prospect of acquiring more.

As the now decades-old failure of physical music media— corresponding with a pitched rise in sources for cheap and free digital music— turns us all into critics and curators, it’s only logical that consumers would begin to develop their own artistic and empirical criteria for listening, enjoying and sharing.  With that in mind, I’d like to share a couple of tools I’ve used to wade these waters.  In the realm of pop music, which is to say, audio pieces structured as songs between two and ten minutes long, I’ve found these strategies remarkably dependable.

The first is a bit of a no-brainer with a finite twist:  If a song does not grab me within about one minute and 30 seconds, I move on.  Of course, we all make aesthetic valuations of pop songs by playing them from the beginning, but do we do so for a full minute and a half?  I didn’t always.  Vocals with an Eddie Vedder-like husk or guitars that sounded like mid-’70s Eagles would have me scrambling for the “next” button in five to ten seconds.  Now, with the exception of the horror-inducing, I’ll wait these out.

What happens in this 1:30?  Invariably and in different combinations, a number of things:

  • An introduction comes to its end, and “the groove” starts.  Take for example O.C. Smith’s “Little Green Apples:”
  • One or two verses end, and the chorus ties the song together:
  • A bridge or new (non-chorus) section redeems or reinforces the beginning (this one happens for me at 1:40— like I say, it’s approximate):
  • A break (often after a chorus or verse) winds up the tension:

This listening technique has led me to believe that most pop songs have a tipping point in time, a “fish or cut bait” moment where the artist must act to keep the listener engaged.  And if an artist proceeds past this mark, he or she better have already done something wholly compelling for me to continue on.

Do you have certain strategies for wading the high volume of music out there?  How do you manage your listening experience without limiting it?  In my next post, I’ll take a look at how harmony guides me through my collection.


Land of Blood and Sunshine
December 17, 2009, 8:36 am
Filed under: Bands, music | Tags: , , ,

“sick mystic” (mp3)

Moving forward into 2010, perhaps LOBAS gives us a glimpse of the coming decade. Fuzzed out vocals seemingly run through a stressed car stereo speaker, parallel octave harmonies, pushed through wires and air from a small city 50 miles northeast of Des Moines, Iowa.


decade end mix.

giselle numba one – listen kid
Washed out – Hold Out
Lane – Diamond Ring
Lucky Lucky Pigeons – Knife for Life
i love you avalanche – the weather
Taken by Trees – Watch The Waves
Born Heller – Good Times
rastlös och orkestern – eat a frog
Prairie fire organizing committee – Death is a beautiful…
Studiocat – Metropolitan
Kool Keith – Tess Shit
Smokey And His Sister – A Simple Cameo
Legends – Old Man Hollow
Hospitality – Argonauts
Shuttle358 – Finch
The Go! Team – Bull in the Heather
Yumbo – Cake
Electrelane – The Greater Times
Eyeball Skeleton – Flat Top Vampire
JON dog – favorite cow cow of John
Camera Obscura – Eighties Fan

get it here.

A decade in Hebrew School

A couple of weeks ago, I managed to proclaim the Lucky Lucky Pigeons’ Bird Flu as the decade’s best album. The idea was to continue on with a “best of” list.

But starting with a record that only had 100 or so physical copies– made by a band that never played outside of Sweden– ended up being far too instructive. So for Hebrew School’s “aughties” I have decided to focus on the criminally unheard. Even better, I’ve dropped the superlatives and present you the following in no particular order:

Born Heller, “Good Times” from s/t, 2004.

Giselle Numba One, “Listen Kid”

Giselle Numba One is Montreal’s M.I.A. times Josh Dolgin.

Studiocat,  “Metropolitan” from Best of the Early Years

Studiocat was made up of Benjamin Butler and Anne Eastman. The 2003 album was made entirely on a Casio keyboard.

Lane, “Diamond Ring”

Lane is a seemingly defunct band from Sweden. Browsing myspace by unsigned indie/shoegaze, and then filtering by Sweden in 2006 might have brought you to Lane.

The 2007 reissue of Smokey and His Sister‘s self-titled Columbia LP.

Brooklyn duo Legends.

Hospitality has been diligently whispering smart melodies into your ear for half of the decade. Finally we’re paying more attention.

Remember when Jens Lekman got the swine flu? He’s the outgoing theme music for part one.

The Silent Death of Lee Avenue
November 24, 2009, 7:58 am
Filed under: music, records | Tags: , ,

Bob Guber, The Silent Death of Lee Avenue

Haunting Shoah meditations from 1970, released by the United Synagogue of America.  Could he mean Lee Avenue in the Brooklyn? New Brunswick, New Jersey? Hard to say.

Tip of the hat to The Strange Experience of Music for this find.

“the silent death of lee avenue” (mp3)

Hebrew School end-of-decade superlatives begin!
November 17, 2009, 11:31 pm
Filed under: music | Tags: , ,

Since superlatives are the only words for mapping music, Hebrew School tweeted his choice for best lp of the decade, about 5 minutes ago.

Lucky Lucky Pigeons, Bird Flu

notable tracks: “who smells marshmallows,” “knife for life,” “make money money”

i think we’re safe for the next 6 weeks, too.

Friday sunset: You are Michael Jackson
July 3, 2009, 6:56 pm
Filed under: music, video | Tags: ,

Thriller was released when I was barely six years old, but I can definitely recall its impact. It captured my earliest awareness and participation in pop culture, which suddenly had a capital ‘P.’ I think it was clear to our six-year-old minds that a powerful cultural moment was happening. We had no knowledge that Jackson’s singing and performance had already captured the heart of a whole other generation. We had no knowledge of Off the Wall.

That spring, some of my first-grade classmates found some cardboard, laid it on the cement island of a busy suburban intersection, and showed off their break-dancing moves. It was the first time I was aware of a shift in consciousness originating from a popular performing artist. It brought us all together– mostly working- and middle-class suburban white kids– in a way we hadn’t been before. Friendships and alliances were made that would have been unthinkable earlier on, friendships that may have played some part in shaping the rest of our childhood.

I know it sounds silly to think I hold onto these kinds of memories from when I was that young, but music has sort of always done that to me. (The following fall, I started Hebrew school where other music helped me keep proper places for other pictures in my head.)

Thriller was the first album I owned, bought on cassette. I found it in a frantic hurry much later in my teens– thrown to the bottom of my closet at some point when I would have been embarrassed to be seen with it– whereupon I hastily put scotch tape over the tabs and dubbed part of a live Grateful Dead set onto it, having run out of blanks. I don’t think I ever listened to that live Grateful Dead set.

I lived for a year in India in 1996-97, and in the middle of a heady and chaotic trip to the Red Fort, as we boarded a tourist put-put, a young man looked into my eyes, and, gathering from our group that I was from the U.S., exclaimed, “You are Michael Jackson.” That’s not what he meant, of course, but I count this among my most jarring and absurd of existential moments. It’s true that often in India, when we revealed ourselves to inquisitive onlookers as Americans, Michael Jackson was the first thing they would want to talk about; even the most haphazard student of Bollywood’s music and choregraphy will tell you of Jackson’s impact.

Some time after the musical pretension of my late teens and early 20s wore off, and peer-to-peer file sharing began its march to upend the recording industry once and for all, I came back to Thriller completely wide-eyed and astounded. And while your idea of Jackson’s most important record will depend on “which one came out when you were a median of 8 years old”– folks a little older than me claim Off the Wall as the most important, folks a little younger, Bad— the 28x-platinum Thriller was clearly the landscape-changer, and I had personally come full circle.

Poor Michael. I’m just glad that the country and media that pretty much forced him into exile in his final years appears to be looking more kindly on him in his death.

You’re a vegetable, you’re a vegetable
Still they hate you, you’re a vegetable
You’re just a buffet, you’re a vegetable
They eat off of you, you’re a vegetable

– “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin'”