Portal Closing Themes

Posted in Music, Nerd on May 31st, 2011 by Tom

So I spent all of this weekend playing the single-player campaigns of Portal and Portal 2. They are fantastic games that I’ve become quite taken by recently.

I can probably disclose without spoiling much that at the end of each game, you are treated to a little musical number by GLaDOS, the computer mainframe who serves as the antagonist for the game.

After tearing her to pieces and burning them in an incinerator at the end of the first game, the final cinematic plays, and over the credits ‘Still Alive‘ plays.

‘Still Alive’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

The song is sung by the voice actress portraying GLaDOS, but the actual music is written by Jonathan Coulton, who I thought I’d never heard of before, until a little reading revealed he’s also the artist behind the really catchy song ‘Shop Vac’, which I found via Wondermark‘s post on fantastic video:

But I’m digressing.

These songs are catchy, and even in spite of the gimmick of GLaDOS singing, hold up pretty well. I need to find a name for the genre of music that isn’t outright comedy, a-la Weird Al, but still has the humor as a defining component. Iit’s a little telling that we (see:I) seem to think funny songs aren’t “real” music.

My recent discovery of the Wombats, along with these Coultan tracks, seems to be further evidence that the line is a lot blurrier than I’d previously thought.

The closing theme from Portal 2 is titled ‘Want You Gone‘.

‘Want You Gone’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

It’s worth noting, while we’re talking about these songs, that the National, one of my favorites as of recent, also recorded a track for Portal 2. Beyond that even, the soundtrack is being released for free, so if you like moody, industrial techno, give it a shot.

And if you haven’t played the game, for heaven’s sake, get to it!


WordCamp Boston

Posted in Nerd, Technology on May 28th, 2011 by Tom

I’ll be attending this year’s WordCamp Boston! I’m really excited to go and see what a WordCamp convention is like. I’ve never been before, and it will be fun to see what other people are doing with the platform.

Anything interesting will undoubtedly be reported back here, so stay tuned!

No Color

Posted in Music on May 27th, 2011 by Tom

The Dodos were always one of those bands I felt like I wasn’t cool enough to be into. It was, thus, with some hesitation, that I gave No Color a shot.

The nudge I needed was how great of a single ‘Black Night‘ proved to be. The power in the percussion really bolsters the track, and the the slidey-guitar riffs between the smooth vocals cements it as one of the best songs of this year thus far:

‘Black Night’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

(The only shortcoming is that it’s not an indie pop song about Batman… OR IS IT?!)

I’m a little disappointed in how little attention I’ve given this album based on how good it is, in my objective opinion.

So much of my music-listening is influenced by the seasons, and now that the weather in Boston has finally warmed up, I think I might be in the mood for this record a little more often. The album has a pervasive feel of reckless abandon, which makes it easy to put on and just kinda groove to without a lot of focused listening.

My other favorite track, ‘Don’t Try to Hide It‘, features, like most of the others, jangly guitars, rolling drums, and Meric Long’s sublime vocals, but does so exceptionally well.

‘Don’t Try to Hide It’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

Another point worth noting is the presence of Neko Case (who is loved, revered, and occasionally lusted after, by the author) on the record. Her contribution is pervasive (about half the tracks), but quite subtle. A little goes a long way: to me her vocals really temper the Dodos’ sound to make them more approachable.

I couldn’t quite get behind their earlier work, but No Color is so polished and devoid of dull moments that it’s hard not to like after only a handful of listens.

The Dodos – No Color


Depressing Cars Tracks

Posted in Music on May 15th, 2011 by Tom

I was reading a few reviews of the new Cars album, to get a feel for how similar it was to their older work. In retrospect, I think if I were 20 years older I would be a huge Cars fan. They’re certainly a forerunner to some of my favorite current music, and it would have been fun to follow their career as it evolved.

As it stands, my relationship with the band began in the dead of winter, at the tail end of 2003. I got their “Complete Greatest Hits” for Christmas from my mom. The cool part is, I don’t even think I asked for it, she just knew what a great band they were, and that my young mind would take to it.

Most of that winter I spent listening to that collection of songs, as well as the two-disk Talking Heads Sand in the Vaseline collection. I specifically recall loafing around the house with a portable CD player (which makes me feel really old, in retrospect) listening to the likes of ”My Best Friend’s Girl’, ‘Moving in Stereo’, ‘Shake It Up’, ‘You Might Think’, and plenty others. The CD had twenty tracks!

Since I was reading about their new record, it seemed only proper to dust off the old collection and give it a spin (figuratively now, as I’ve no clue where that CD player has gotten to…). What I’d forgotten was that perhaps in spite their image/reputation as a sort of hits machine, the Cars could write some really, really melancholy music. Which isn’t to say it’s bad, in point of fact, it’s fantastic.

But it’s still sad as the dickens. Exhibit A:

‘Since You’re Gone’
[ mp3 ♫ ]

Sure, this one probably wasn’t the chart-scaling success of the band’s previous hits, but it’s still catchy. But the content is pretty grim:

Since you’re gone
The nights are gettin’ strange
Since you’re gone
Well nothing’s makin’ any sense
Since you’re gone
I stumbled in the shade
Since you’re gone
Everything’s in perfect tense…

Since you’re gone
I missed the peak sensation

Since you’re gone
I took the big vacation
Well never feel sedate
Well the moonlight ain’t so great

Since you’re gone
Well I’ve thrown it all away
Well the nights are getting strange

Sheesh. Rougher still is one of my all-time-favorite-downer songs (a playlist I’m almost too scared to actually make): ‘Drive‘.

[ mp3 ♫ ]

I mean… come on. There’s such a thread of sullen resignation to the entire song, and that would be one thing, but it’s so unwavering. The entire song is about how whatever isn’t working is over; it never flinches from its thesis, not even once.

Still, the track is surprisingly gentle. It’s not angry, depressed, or bitter. It’s one of the purest declarations of sadness I suppose I’ve ever heard from a song. And I am totally guilty of liking my share of mopey music.

Perhaps that was one of the greatest strengths of the Cars was that they could tap into more emotional topics as well as writing some of the most iconic pop of their time, and could even fuze the two: ‘Drive’ was their highest charting hit in the States, which I would not have guessed.

The Cars – Complete Greatest Hits



Posted in Maintenance on May 13th, 2011 by Tom

Sorry for things slowing down a bit. I’ve had exams (one left!), and in addition I started the little side-project of fixing up the blog’s theme.

When I worked on the current theme last summer I stole the code for Black Letterhead and began cutting it up, figuring out how it worked, and re-skinning it to suit our purposes here.

I neglected, at the time, to finish the work. The comments system since the redesign has always been clunky, and the page navigation an eyesore! Tags, monthlies, and other archive pages all defaulted to the same page whose styling was pretty crude. The newest redesign isn’t earth-shattering, but it’s designed to address those issues.

There might be some tweaking, but I fixed all the big problems I’d identified, and accomplished the one goal I had when I started: Pages can now take a “lyric” custom field that will place the text as seen above. I’m not going to go back and add this to all the old entries, but from hereon, I’ll pick my favorite lyric to serve as a type of subtitle to the whole entry.

So that project’s done! I have a zillion drafts sitting around, but most of the music hasn’t got my blood really pumping, so I’ve been dragging my feet. I like to make strong recommendations, and that’s hard to do when something’s just OK.