Friday, September 12, 2008

Probably the Concussion Talking

I first became aware of Math the Band through their association with two other fantastic geek-friendly groups, Harry and the Potters and Uncle Monsterface. On the good word of the aforementioned – in this case, meaning that Math was joining Monsterface and the Potters on their summer tour – I checked them out, hoping for the best.

What I discovered amid scores of old (free!) demo tracks was a one-man minimalist synth punk machine that could be favorably compared with the likes of Atom and His Package and I Hate You When You’re Pregnant. But while Atom often focuses on slanted observances and personal recollections and IHYWYP plays performance art against ironic provocation, Math seems firmly rooted in making music that’s fun, accessible, and at times a little absurd.

The band that I discovered on stage at the Unlimited Enthusiasm Expo’s stopover at this summer’s Nerdapalooza was a variation on a theme: a three-person setup that transformed those bright, key-heavy numbers into a solid wall of rock ‘n’ roll aerobics. After getting my ass handily rocked off by the spectacle, I approached the trio to discuss the bewildering spectacle.

Apparently truthful flattery goes a long way with Math the Band, because I was treated to a free copy of their newest CD Banned the Math, which I’ll now explore in depth.
  1. "Hey Dude! (A Predule)"
    Epic and sweeping, and maybe a little sinister, "Hey Dude!" starts the album on a note of classic misdirection. The sound of this intro track is (almost surely) intentionally misleading, but it’s such a perfect primer that the listener is halfway through the second song before realizing he’s been duped.
  2. "Let’s Hear it for Capitalism"
    An amazingly smooth transition from the disparate lead-in track takes us into this fun, pulsing "merch song." Despite the fact that Kevin’s declaration that he doesn’t play instruments and doesn’t have much talent is a lie, this song is both lyrically and musically compelling. The synth lead is sharp and uplifting, and, as advertised, it makes you dance.
    Another silky transition and a well-layered intro, make up for the fact that "LEEEETTTSSS GGGOOOOOOOOO!!!" is a bit too similar to the preceding song. That being said, this is easily my favorite song about exercise. Ever. It skillfully alternates between breezy instrumentation and a good, old-fashioned group scream, lending a lot of power and energy to a song that’s less than two minutes in length.
  4. "Blue Skies and Blue Jeans"
    "Blue Skies and Blue Jeans" changes the album’s tone a little, both musical and vocally. It stands out by being as low-key as Math gets (save one later instance). The fantastic instrumental breakdown around 1:10 mark gives this piece true depth, but the hooky, chirpy instrumentation and oddly touching lyrics will keep you interested along the way.
  5. "Wear Wolf Fever"
    A full 360 degress from its predecessor, this song (which is one of my favorites from the old demos) could rightly be called a defining moment of the Math the Band sound. With its odd vocal timbre, layered refrain, frenetic music, and surreal lyrics, it’s a sub-two-minute-miracle that proves to be the acid test for determining who is and is not a fan of Math the Band. 
  6. "My Algebra Teacher (Sold Heroin)"
    Another perfectly smooth transition leads to fun galloping "bass" and warm synth lead of "My Algebra Teacher." This is the first of two album tracks that contains a reference to the "bottom of the ocean," which is either a clever lyrical motif or an oversight. The classic chiptune feel and predictably fun vocals make it a treat, but the glitchy instrumental outro is its genuine strength.
  7. "The Water Cycle"
    This is another standout track that manages to make edutainment interesting, if not wholly accurate. (To my knowledge, motorcycles have little to do with the water cycle.) The musical refrain is used to punctuate the vocals to a particularly interesting affect, giving it an almost call-response style. And while it probably goes without saying, you really can’t go wrong with synthetic handclaps. 
  8. "Everyone is Embarrassing"
    Kevin introduced this track live at Nerdapalooza by stating that is was about "my sister who had lice and I love her." On all levels it's both earnest and laughable, and has proven another one of my personal favorites. It's also of note because it contains swearing. I like swearing. In the end, the lyric "nobody’s cool and I still love you" comes through as a candy-coated affirmation. It packs a lot of power for a song scarcely a minute and a half long.
  9. "Following All the Rules Is Not a Crime"
    While the vocal delivery is totally unhinged, the musical backing of "Following All the Rules Is Not a Crime" is fairly subdued, which makes for a handsome contrast. The "chorus," as such, is almost touching. But mostly it's weird.
  10. "You Can’t Spell"
    Another markedly brilliant song transition leads into what could be construed as the musical equivalent of Kevin losing his fucking mind. There are moments of lucidity, of course, but they merely punctuate the lyrical madness. Calling the project a "one-man band" may be a bit of an oversimplification with regard to the current project, but this is another great minute and a half of blissful chippyness.
  11. "Four Square or Square Ball"
    "Four Square or Square Ball" is one of the few moments of the entire album that I find a bit lacking. The sound's simply a bit too compressed for my liking, although there's a great Super Mario World-esque breakdown mid-song that prevents me from skipping it. It also contains an inexplicable transition to "The Star Spangled Banner" in its waning measures. Yeah. At 3 minutes long, it simply serves to drive home the fact that I prefer my Math in short bursts of genius, as opposed to more lengthy musical meditations. Still, the final crisp snare hit leads perfectly into the following cover track.
  12. "Upside Down From Here"
    An Atom and His Package cover wasn't exactly what I expected out of Banned the Math, but it certainly works. Boasting all the flavor of the original without quite as much camp, it actually shows a brand of restraint (both musically and vocally) from Math, which I’m opposed to in theory, but it works well in this instance. 
  13. "The Alphabet Using Spellcheck"
    Hal 9000 samples, spacey instrumentation, and faint screaming make this the most experimental track on an album that’s nothing but experiments. You'll find the song has burned through half its track time before it really kicks in, but it’s an enjoyable, upbeat ride that must be heard to be understood.
  14. "The Order of the Planets from the Sun"
    Another little piece of edutainment, "The Order of the Planets from the Sun" features some almost whiny keys that make this an incredibly fun track. It could be easily compared to the likes of the recent kid-friendly fare by They Might Be Giants, only without the borderline stodginess. Pluto’s orbit is eccentric, as is Math the Band. And yet I love them both.
  15. "Homework Sucks"
    Lyrically, this song recalls earlier references to being "under the ocean" and robots, which might be recurring themes. Of course, I could just be paying a little too much attention to lyrical subtleties. In essence, this is anthem centered on the refusal to grow up. Maybe. Again, perhaps I’m paying too much attention. Still, at less than two minutes, it manages to achieve an oddly sweeping air. 
  16. "Techno Machine (With a Laser Beam)"
    "Techno Machine" comes off a bit too nouveaux disco for my liking, what with the abundance of staccato vocals and harsh rhythm. It’s one of the few moments only the album that loses me, but at under a minute and a half, it’s a minor inconvenience at worst.
  17. "Dinosaurs Were Made Up by the CIA to Discourage Time Travel"
    Another fantastic transition leads to a track boasting what is, perhaps, the best song title ever. It recaptures some of the inertia lost on "Techno Machine," and it integrates an odd stuttering click that’s maddeningly catchy. It also features equations – which only a band like this could get away with without sounding pretentious or totally preposterous – and another genuinely elegant ending. 
  18. "Shoeless Wonder"
    "Dinosaurs" trails nicely into "Shoeless Wonder," a song marked by expertly implemented secondary vocals that punctuate and break up its sometimes thick sound. And while I’m glad I finally know "who put the bop in the bop shu bop shu bop," its jarring end is a little bit of a buzzkill.
  19. "Third Sunday of October the First"
    Allow me to quote: "I thought that I’d try something different / my band’s gonna sound like a videogame… like The Postal Service but hopefully not as lame." With "keytars and electric beats" sandwiched between crispy layers of whimsy and odd echo effects, I can’t help but say that Math succeeds in the aforementioned task. 
  20. "Shark Attack"
    An immediately engaging nonsensical tale, "Shark Attack" is another excellent introduction to the band’s sound that just so happens to show up at the end of the album. It’s got a catchy and capably created melody, a scream-along refrain, and an outro that’s a great in-joke in its own right.
  21. "Shark Attack (Reprise)"
    This lilting piano rendition of "Shark Attack" is totally unnecessary and wholly charming. It really drives home what’s great about Math: their genuine enjoyment of the music-making process and refusal to take things too seriously. The vocals are a bit whiny, but it’s still a fantastic end to a fantastic album of fun-loving, absurdist genius.
Math is a band with a healthy disrespect for the standard conventions of pop music, and Banned the Math is a release often devoid of typical verse-chorus-verse structure. But somehow, despite all that, the songs manage to reach the very epitome of catchiness and harmonious charm.

The tracks are, more often than not, tiny nuggets of musical excellence, and through them Banned the Math succeeds on two primary levels. Not only are the songs themselves imminently enjoyable, but the project as a whole is cohesive, well-paced, and solidly engaging. It's one thing to make good songs, but arranging them into a proper album is totally different beast. Banned the Math proves unequivocally that Math the Band does both.

While obviously not for everyone, Banned the Math is easy to recommend to those who enjoy music for music’s sake, as well those with an appreciation for the unusual and the exemplary. I can’t make any guarantees that you’ll enjoy it quite as much as I do – which is a lot – but at $10 it’s a must-purchase for the geeky music lover in you. (EDIT: Looks like you can currently get the album and a t-shirt for $15 via Math’s MySpace. Get on that shit!)

In the end, with their humorous lyrical slant, well-crafted but never exaggerated instrumentation, and emphasis on music as a fun and engaging experience, Math the Band is an easy act to support. So take a moment to check out the album samples, and, if it gives you a warm, fuzzy feeling, kick a couple of bucks to some folks who really deserve it. 

And, if you get a chance, check them out live. It helps you develop a whole new appreciation their unique brand of musical mischief.

"I look around; there's no one left but me. / I take off my headphones."

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Nerd News in Brief

So it looks like the Large Hadron Collider didn’t destroy the Earth.

(Or, at least it hadn’t when last I checked.)

So we got that going for us. Which is nice.

Despite the trappings of my simple southern raising, I don’t fear science. Nor do I, as a rule, embrace superstition and hokum. Don’t get me wrong, I adore superstition and hokum – I find them ceaselessly amusing – I just don’t exactly, y’know, believe any of it.

I guess I’m the worst brand of skeptic: the kind who wants desperately to believe in the fantastic, but just can’t seem to find sufficient evidence.

In the end, science is the foot that kicks magic square in the nuts.

  • Earth-shattering in its Own Right: This week I interviewed Toren Atkinson of The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets for GeekDad. I’m a big Thickets fan and he’s been on my to-interview list for years. Thusly, it was a pretty fuckin’ awesome experience for me a as fan. Lemme know what you think.
  • Beef up Your Musical Gamer Score: Attack Slug has just favored the nerdcore world with another release, and it features the additional talents of KABUTO, T.Y.T., and The Ranger. It is titled Achievement Unlocked, and you can pick it up the album and relevant a cappellas at his site.
  • AKA Grover Kent: My pal Glenn Case has hipped me to a new project over at The 61. It’s a tribute of sorts to 61 scenester Supergrover, as well as to his favorite-band-that-no-one’s-heard-of For Squirrels. Thirteen years ago this week that promising group lost several of its members in an auto accident, and earlier this year ‘Grover was diagnosed with cancer. This one is for them and for anyone else who’s had a run of bad luck. Namely all of us. 
  • To Beef or Not to Beef: Also helping out his fellow man is mc chris. mc has started a cystic fibrosis fund to gather money for research into the disease and its treatment. In celebration of chris’s birthday, YTCracker donated $33 to the cause. mc chris responded by saying that it was "the quickest possible way to squash beef with [him]. STC is the greatest. "
  • Brooklyn Zoo: mc also shared a bit about his recent 60 Minutes interview. It has come to light that MC Frontalot was also involved in the piece, although Front has yet to say anything about the experience.
  • Get Inoculated: What Front has provided is a little video preview of the track "Diseases of Yore" from his new album Final Boss. It features Jonathan Coulton. And is awesome.
  • Formally Known Food Processor Magazine: You can see Frontalot, Random, and a rogues gallery of other featured artists from this year’s Nerdapalooza SE in this month’s edition of Blender. It has the Pussycat Dolls on the cover. That is counterintuitive.
  • Game On: And on the subject of my friend Random, Church points out that Ran topped the charts in this recent Examiner list of the top 10 videogame sampling hip-hop tracks. Suffice it to say he finds himself in good company.
  • BAHston: This week Uncle Monsterface returns to its old stomping ground. Sort of. On Thursday, September 11th several "Best of Monsterface Tee Vee" shorts will be featured as part of EXPERIMENTALLY ILL 2 : An Indie Showcase of Alternative Film at the Coolidge Corner Theater. And on Friday, September 12th you can catch UMF’s Marty playing a solo gig at Jamaica Plain's Midway CafĂ©. And don’t forget to pahk the cahr at Hahvahd yahd.
  • Potter Ink: And thanks to Matt for providing ample information regarding this wicked cool Harry Potter Dewey Decimal tat belonging to librarian and WRock aficionado Becca. It turns out, unsurprisingly, that Becca is one of the Wizrockateers. What can I say? Matt has a marked interest in the naked flesh of Potter fangirls. You heard it here first!
  • They Are the World: And lastly, HiTekElvis has just favored me with an amazing vid from this year’s PAX. Apparently, during the artist's panel Blak Lotus, suggested they all sing "We Are the World." And they did. So behold The Minibosses, Mustin from the OneUps, JoCo, Front, Blak Lotus, G Minor 7, The Categorical Imperative, Freezepop, The Darkness of the Hillside Thickets, and Anamanaguchi singing for the children. They are the ones who make a brighter day!

Monday, September 08, 2008

Radio Free Hipster Ep. 52: Just Drunk Enough

It's simple podcast math: The more individuals involved in a podcast, the longer it is. Further, the more you drink, the more you talk. These truths are invariable.

Thusly, this podcast is long as shit.

I'm serious.

Download Radio Free Hipster Ep. 52: Just Drunk Enough [hosting provided by Antisocial] Size: 55.2 MB Running Time: 1:20:31

Show Notes:

Intro: Baddd Spellah – "Radio Free Hipster Theme (feat. Beefy)"
I hear Beefy was totally sloshed when he recorded these vocals. Maybe.

Track 1: Space Ghost Coast to Coast dialog / Mary Prankster – "The Bottle's Talking Now"
Matt picked out this most fitting intro track.

1st drunken interlude: "A fake holiday season of my own imaging."
In honor of Drunken Podcasting Month, Matt joined me via Skype and Church contributed via chat. They simply couldn't stand the thought of me drinking alone!

Track 2: Southside – "Vibrate"
Church mentioned that this song should be played before the feature presentation at movie theaters. I concur.

Track 3: Optimus Rhymes – "Obey the Moderator (Remix)"
You can check out the OR video footage I mentioned here.

Track 4: Strange Brew dialog / The Sprites – "Modern Gameplay"
Complaining about new school controller design isn't exactly unusual, but The Sprites sound good doing it.

Track 5: Strange Brew dialog (cont.) / Hayseed Dixie – "I Believe in a Thing Called Love"
I picked this one out. Surprising, no?

Track 6: The Mudbloods – "I Wish You'd Be My Witch"
It's hard not to love The Mudbloods. This song is the reason why.

2nd drunken interlude: "Will you drink to that?"
Of course they will. These boys will drink to anything!

Track 7: Jonathan Coulton – "I Feel Fantastic"
Didn't Matt do a great job introducing this song? Seriously. If I paid him he'd totally get a raise for that.

Track 8: Beefy – "Minimum Wage Slave"
Beefy no longer works two shitty minimum wage jobs, but he's still down for the common man.

Track 9: Doug Stanhope – "He's Just Drunk" / Computerization – "Collars"
Wait, are we implying that it's oaky to get drunk at work?

Track 10: Fountains of Wayne – "Bright Future in Sales"
Yes, I believe we are.

Track 11: Dual Core – "Unplug"
Nobody sings the programmers blues quite like int eighty.

3rd drunken interlude: "There were a lot of work songs in that set, wasn't there?"
Can you tell we're getting sloppy here?

Track 12: Eddie Murphy – "Drinking Fathers" / PC Speaker – "Scheduled Rhymes"
According to PC, nerds have the best drugs.

Track 13: Severely Snaped – "Petrified"
It's like a Black Sabbath cover band fronted by Severus Snape. Don't gimme that look; you're just pissed 'cause you didn't think of it first.

Track 14: No Kill I – "Tranya"
A repeat from episode 20.

Track 15: Eddie Murphy – "Drinking Fathers (cont.)" / myf – "Homebrew"
I am amazed at the number of people who don't know how to pronounce myf's name. It rhymes with "stiff."

Track 16: Catchlove – "Legacy of the Fallen Wizard"
Let it be known: there is no "the."

Final drunken interlude: "Y'all are now my official unofficial co-hosts."
They are. For realsies.

Track 17: nYgel – "1to3for" / Space Ghost Coast to Coast dialog
Feist + YTCracker? You wouldn't think it would work, but it does!

And there you have it, folks: my first official Drunken Podcasting Month podcast. I'd like to make this a yearly celebration, but only time will tell whether or not the concept strikes a chord with the general populace.

I'm hoping to get in another drunkcast before month's end, although my vacation plans may complicate matters. Still, if you want to hear more of my friends and me swearing, making gross generalizations, and otherwise babbling incoherently, just let me know.

We'll be glad to oblige.

Either way, thanks to Church and Matt for pitching in. Gentlemen, it was a pleasure!