The Sound of 2014

As I did for 2013, I’ve made a top 10 list for 2014. I made one change to my methodology — I’m posting it in January instead of August — but otherwise, same idea: it is music I discovered, rediscovered, or just listened to in 2014 (whenever it was released), and it includes 12 songs.

Again, over the course of the year, I kept a playlist of interesting songs I heard. At the end of the year, I made two more lists: The Sound of 2014, the stuff I listened to and enjoyed enough that they define the sound of the year for me, and The Best of 2014, my absolute favorites.

A strong theme in 2014 was retro (or retro-sounding) dance music: italo disco (Koto & Hipnosis), old club hits (Klein & MBO have been cited by New Order as an influence), and modern retro-sounding stuff (Hercules & Love Affair). In 2013, New Order’s Movement and PC&L were big, as Peter Hook toured on those albums; this year, songs on Low-Life and Brotherhood were big with me, for a similar reason. 2014 didn’t have a dominant album for me (like Jagwar Ma’s “Howlin” in 2013); The Juan Maclean’s “In A Dream” probably came closest, with Hercules & Love Affair and Caribou right behind them. And for some reason, I got absolutely obsessed with “In The Air Tonight” last year.

Here’s the list:
– Klein & MBO – Dirty Talk (Greg Wilson Edit)
– Koto – Japanese War Game
– Husky Rescue – Summertime Cowboy
– The Juan Maclean – A Place Called Space
– Hercules & Love Affair – That’s Not Me (feat. Gustaph)
– Paris – The Devil Made Me Do It
– First Aid Kit – My Silver Lining
– Phil Collins – In The Air Tonight
– New Order – This Time of Night
– Caribou – Our Love
– Liars – Mess On A Mission
– Sugardaddy – Love Honey (Electro Version)

In A Lonely Place

I listen to a lot of New Order, and I’ve noticed certain phrases that pop up in multiple songs: “in a lonely place”, “this time of night”, “you just can’t believe”. So, naturally, I decided to analyze New Order song lyrics to see what else I could find. I included the song title as part of the lyrics (since New Order often doesn’t) and didn’t consider phrases that spanned multiple lines. I found all the phrases of at least four words that appear in at least two songs. I eliminated near-duplicates and the less interesting. Here they are, along with their songs and the lines they appear in. My favorites are at the top.

As It Is When It Was: The streets are so empty at this time of night
This Time Of Night: This Time Of Night

Face Up: It’s dieing in a lonely place
In A Lonely Place: In A Lonely Place

Confusion: You just can’t believe me
Love Vigilantes: You just can’t believe

Blue Monday: Tell me how does it feel
Someone Like You: How does it feel

In A Lonely Place: How I wish you were here with me now
I’ve Got A Feeling: I’d say it to your face if you were here with me,

State Of The Nation: I think about where we have been
Weirdo: I don’t care where we have been

Bizarre Love Triangle: I get down on my knees and pray
Denial: To fall down on my knees and resume this charade

Angel Dust: With open arms I came to you
Shellshock: I came to you, I called in vain

Face Up: But in the end you lost your friend
Sub-Culture: In the end you will submit
Continue reading “In A Lonely Place”

The Biggest One-Hit Wonder


It’s much easier to define a one-hit wonder than the king of pop: a song by an artist who never hit the charts with another song in their careers. The biggest would be the one that spent the most time at the top of the charts; for my purposes, I’m counting weeks in the top ten. I analyzed my data to find songs by artists who never appeared for another song. However, since I don’t have full weekly top 40 or top 100 data, I had to take the top candidates and manually check for other hits. Here are the top one-hit wonders. Clearly, we have three definite winners; two of them are exactly what I think of when I think “one-hit wonder”.

Continue reading “The Biggest One-Hit Wonder”

Who is the King of Pop?


One of the first questions about pop music that occurred to me was: is Michael Jackson truly the king of pop, as he was often called? If not Michael, who is the true king1 of pop? At an intuitive level, it seemed to me that being the king broke down to two main factors: the king should have the most hit songs of all time, and the king should have been a dominant presence on the charts for many years, such that you could barely listen to pop music without hearing one or another of his or her songs.

Continue reading “Who is the King of Pop?”

50 Years of Pop Songs

Like many, I was deeply immersed in pop when I was growing up (for me, the 80s). I then abandoned it for more esoteric stuff for a while, spending the 90s mostly listening to industrial, techno, and electronica. In the last ten years or so, I’ve returned to pop with a new appreciation for the genius of a perfectly crafted pop song.

When I came back to pop, I formed a couple of crotchety-old-man theories about how contemporary pop differs from its forebears. I’m a cautious person though, so before ranting about the kids today, I decided to collect some data and test my theories. The result is an exploration of the last 50 years of pop songs. As it happens, I haven’t yet finished my original driving question about pop song meaning; my explorations of “popularity” are linked below.

Continue reading “50 Years of Pop Songs”

The Sound of 2013

At the end of every year, pretty much every music critic, blogger, or enthusiast makes their list of top 10 songs or albums of the year. I usually don’t, but in 2013 I explored a lot more music than usual and decided to make a list too. There are a few differences between my top 10 list and most people’s though: (1) it is songs I discovered, rediscovered, or just listened to a lot in 2013; (2) it has 12 songs on it; and (3) it comes out in August instead of December.

In 2013, I made an effort to break out of my music habits of the last 20 years and listen to a lot of new music (thank you, KEXP, SoundHound, and Spotify). As I listened, I collected a mostly-unfiltered playlist of stuff I heard and tracked down. Toward the end of the year, I made two more lists: The Sound of 2013, the stuff I listened to and enjoyed enough that they define the sound of the year for me, and The Best of 2013, my absolute favorites.

Honestly, I probably could have just made Jagwar Ma’s “Howlin” the “Best of” list and it would be just as true. Howlin is easily my favorite album of the year and the best new thing I’ve heard in years. An old favorite, New Order’s “Movement”, makes an appearance as well, because I spent much of the year delving deeply into the sound of that album.

Anyway, for those without Spotify, here’s the “Best of” list:
– Jagwar Ma – Uncertainty
– Ana Tijoux – 1977
– The White Stripes – The Hardest Button to Button
– Wax Tailor – Say Yes (feat. ASM)
– Soft Metals – Tell Me
– Jagwar Ma – What Love
– New Order – The Him
– El Perro Del Mar – Hold off the Dawn
– Deltron 3030 – Pay the Price
– Weekend – Oubliette
– Phoenix – Everything is Everything
– Franz Ferdinand – Evil Eye

Adelman-inspired Desk Lamp

After I built my version of the Adelman Chandelier, I started experimenting with different designs, including this desk lamp.

Inquisitive desk lamp


  • 1 cluster body – item BOLG3
  • 1 8″ pipe – item PIBR08-OX8
  • 1 6″ pipe – item PIBR06-OX8
  • 2 5″ pipes – item PIBR05-OX8
  • 1 2″ pipe – item PIBR02-OX8
  • 1 1/2″ brass nipple
  • 1 nut
  • 2 balls
  • 1 switched lamp cord
  • 1 half silver bulb
  • 2 brass swivels – item SV140
  • 1 socket – item SO10045
  • 1 brass cup – item CU578
  • 1 brass reducer – item RE1/8FX1/4MS
  • white wire, black wire

Peter Hook and The Light Play My Favorite Albums Ever

I didn’t even know where to set my expectations for seeing 1/4 of New Order and his new band (about whom I knew nothing) playing two (actually three, since they got in most of Factus 8) of my all-time favorite albums. It turns out it was great. The Light are terrific — everybody was really good, and it was fun watching them. The only weak link really is Peter Hook’s singing, which is not so much that it’s objectively bad as that it didn’t feel like a good fit for New Order songs. Bernard Sumner always had a sort of light voice and higher range, whereas Hook (particularly 30 years on) is lower and gruffer. Anyway, the band was great.

Part of the pleasure was just hearing all those favorite songs played live and loud, whoever’s playing them. But for me, the greatest part was that I’ve been listening to Movement a lot lately and trying to figure out who was playing what, really listening to New Order as a 4-piece playing band rather than as the mad scientists of sequencers and drum machines and so on. So it was great to watch what The Light was doing and hear how it all went together to create the songs I know so well. Plus, whenever I’ve seen New Order, it’s been in a large venue where I was miles away. Here I was ten feet from the stage and could see everything. I imagine it was a little bit what it would have been like to see them live in 1982-3.

Hearing the songs off Movement was probably my favorite part, since you hardly ever hear those songs and I’ve been really immersing myself in that album lately. “The Him” might have been my favorite, since I just covered it, and I love the breakdown in the middle. Everyone started cheering and I was like “IT’S NOT OVER YET!” Of course, PC&L and Fact8 contain some of my all-time favorite songs as well; hearing the sequenced part of Everything’s Gone Green break out was a high point. All the musicians were great; I really need to go listen to my Monaco albums again (a lot of the same personnel are now in The Light).

Moby showing up (he came on for part of the encore and sang New Dawn Fades, Transmission, and Ceremony) was unexpected. He sounded fine, but his jerky sort-of Ian dance was disturbing. What was really weird though was the large men who appeared and started freaking out as soon as he came on. OMG MOBY!!! Really? You’ve just watched Peter Hook play classic New Order for two hours and you’re freaking out about Moby?

Set List:
In a Lonely Place
Dreams Never End
Chosen Time
The Him
Doubts Even Here
Cries and Whispers (Mesh?)
Everything’s Gone Green
Age of Consent
We All Stand
The Village
5 8 6
Your Silent Face
Leave Me Alone
New Dawn Fades
Blue Monday

Connecting the Akai s950 and VX-90

Following up on my last post about connecting Akai samplers and synths with their proprietary 13-pin cable, I managed to get it working polyphonically with my s950 and VX-90. I expect this would also work with the AX-73 (which is virtually identical to the VX-90) and the AX-60 (which is similar) synths, and with the s900 and s612. Based on what worked for me and stuff I’ve read about people using the s612/AX-60 combo, I suspect all the units with the 13-pin connection work (somewhat) similarly.

How to get s950 voices to be processed polyphonically by the VX-90:

  1. Connect the voice out of the s950 to the sampler in of the VX-90. I found one on eBay described as “for Roland cable GKC-3 13-pin” — it’s a knockoff of a Roland guitar synth cable. If you get some other cable, make sure pins 1-7 are connected (1-9 to get all 8 voices).
  2. Connect the MIDI out of the VX-90 to the MIDI in of the s950. Not the thru! The VX-90 is going to transform the midi notes you send it before passing them on to the s950. If you want to be able to run the s950 without the VX-90, you’ll need to be able to reroute its MIDI input.
  3. Connect the outputs of the VX-90 to your mixer or amp.
  4. Set the VX-90 MIDI channel to 1 (edit, parameter 70). Set the s950 MIDI channel to 1. You can probably use other channels, but the two are actually going to communicate over multiple channels, so it’s easiest to just set them at 1 and let them do their thing.
  5. Create a patch on the VX-90 with sample input (parameter 06) set to ON and A/B balance (param 07) set to 100 (or at least 50). Set assignment mode (param 50) to POLY and portamento (param 51) to 0. For starters, open the filter up all the way (cutoff, param 10, to 100, and resonance, param 11, to 0).
  6. Create a program on the s950 with a single keygroup containing a simple synth sample, with the filter wide open (to 99). Duplicate this keygroup until you have 6 identical keygroups. Set the midi channel of KG1 to 1 and its output channel to mono 1. Set KG2 to channel 2 and mono 2, and so on.
  7. Select your sample patch on the VX-90 (the midi mode that communicates with the s950 is only enabled when you select a patch with sampler input set to ON).
  8. Send the VX-90 some midi notes. You should hear the s950 sample playing through the VX-90. Make sure when you run through a series of notes, all the notes are audible and that when you play a chord, you hear all the notes simultaneously. Play with the filter (param 10) to see it processing the sampler output. Assign some envelope modulation to the filter cutoff (param 13) to hear independent filter processing for each voice.
  9. To tweak your program on the sampler, edit the keygroups with KG set to “all”, which will change all 6 keygroups at once. Of course, you could give them different settings if you want a sort of random note effect.
  10. Play with the A/B balance (param 07) to mix the sampler with the internal oscillator. By turning the tune knob on the front of the VX-90 you can get a nice detune going between the two. You should also be able to put the VX-90 in DUAL or UNISON mode (param 50) to get extra stacking. If you just want to use UNISON, you actually don’t need all the keygroup hoo-ha on the sampler; that’s just necessary for polyphonic operation.

Why does this work? When the VX-90 is in sampler mode (i.e. when the current patch has sample input enabled, param 06) it spreads its midi notes across 6 channels, one corresponding to each voice. If you send it a series of notes on channel 1 and monitor the output (the  s950 has a midi monitor function), you’ll see the notes come through on channels 1-6. The s950 program is set up to receive on those 6 channels and route that note through the corresponding output in the 13-pin cable. The VX-90 and s950 have to be in sync this way to make sure the sound from the sampler goes through the corresponding voice that is being played at the same time.