Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Spring Break Roundup: A Com-PLEX Issue

My PS3 had been dying a slow death for over a year, and somewhere during the move to Denton it finally bit the dust. Although I don’t game very much, I used the console as the central entertainment unit in our house for playing music and streaming video. I embedded a PS4 in our move-in purchases and was horrified to find the PS4 doesn’t support the CD format - at all. There is a Blu-Ray player on the console that is entirely capable of reading music CDs, but it just doesn’t.

My past method of uploading CD’s into the console hard drive for play in the house simply would not work, and this was a very serious problem of the first-world variety. I have known for a long time that the CD is a dying format, but to suddenly not be able to play them in the house at all seemed unconscionable. Due to limited libraries and unethical artist compensation policies, I refused to submit to Spotify or Amazon Prime. I just needed access to my own library. After quite a bit of soul-searching and scrolling through PS4 forums, the answer came in the form of an app called Plex.

Plex allows me to use my computer as a media server and stream my music straight to the PS4, giving me open access to all the music on my computer. Not only that, it painlessly and beautifully organizes albums, displays cover art, and manages playlists. Despite having a few minor bugs, Plex really changed the game for me. I uploaded the entire Superhero Theme Project, complete with track-specific images, and created playlists based on my end-of-year best of posts from the last six years.

Over Spring Break, I ripped CDs to my computer with the renewed vigor of a full-fledged music nerd. Several of these albums are currently in rotation in the car, which represents my listening since my birthday. My birthday was actually at the end of January but, due to some date confusion, I got a second stack of albums at the end of February, too. Not a bad deal.

The Flaming Lips - Oczy Mlody: There is a lot to like about the album, but it wanders. I am still not sure if The Flaming Lips’ current direction has a larger point to make that I just haven’t locked into or if they are just being weird for the sake of being weird.

Run the Jewels - RTJ3: RTJ3 definitely picks up where its predecessor left off, but doesn’t seem to have the standout tracks that kept me coming back to RTJ2. It took me months to really appreciate RTJ2, however, so I will let this one simmer for a while.

The Neal Morse Band - The Similitude of a Dream: I am a huge fan of Neal Morse but, paradoxically, not a devoted follower of his solo work. This album garnered great critical praise, most of which is deserved, but there are a few “tribute band” moments that I have to accept.

The xx - I See You: The xx’s debut album played a big, big role in my soundtrack for 2010, but the follow-up Coexxist seemed like more of the same, but not quite as good. I See You doesn’t change the formula, but it does contain enough new elements to stand on its own and still capture the vibe that made their debut so great.

Gaye Su Akyol - Hologram Imperatorlagu: Really great Turkish artist that very effectively syncretizes Western rock and traditional ideas. David Lynch should pick her up as his new chanteuse.

The Dirty Projectors - Dirty Projectors: The mixed reviews that this album have received are, unfortunately, well deserved. Mixed is the key - it teeters between jumbled genius and obvious self-indulgence, which runs counter to the consistency of its predecessor.

Astronoid - Air: Stumbled across this “dream thrash” group and have been really impressed with it after several listens. Its Mew meets Deafheaven vibe is pretty unique amongst my listening right now.

Jóhann Jóhannsson - Arrival OST: Knowing that I will most likely watch this movie sometime, I looked into this soundtrack and discovered that Jóhannsson is a pretty interesting composer with an intriguing body of work. While the Arrival soundtrack may not reach the great heights of Interstellar, it immediately commanded my attention and has held it for weeks.

The Proper Ornaments - Foxhole: This album sits at the crossroads of pre-Dark Side of the Moon Pink Floyd and late 90s power pop mush. It’s an entertaining background listen, but doesn’t offer up much in the way of innovation.

The Devin Townsend Project - Transcendence: I gained respect for Devin Townsend’s vocal talents way back when he sang lead for Steve Vai’s ill-fated “Vai” group. Here he is unapologetically epic and bombastic in all the right ways.

The Who - Tommy: I have had Tommy since high school, but other entries in the Who’s catalog have traditionally held favor with me. Not so this time, as the album’s compositional genius and far-reaching influence seems more clear than ever before.

United Vibrations - The Myth of the Golden Ratio: Like its name implies, Universal Vibrations gets all of their influences into just the right balance to create something exciting and distinctive. It has the jazzy, political rock side of Dream of the Blue Turtles, but with a distinctive Afrobeat flavor.

Yussef Kamaal - Black Focus: An engaging foray into contemporary jazz/soul/funk that shared quite a bit of airtime in the house during Spring Break. I am looking forward to a more focused listening in the coming weeks.

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