Best of 2k12

Well 2013 is almost over, so I guess I might as well post my annual “Best New Music” playlist… for last year… ¬¬

Here’s the direct download link for the individual MP3 files. It’s about 114 MB in total. I’ll try to get this year’s list posted in a much more timely fashion. Stay tuned!

Best of 2k11

It’s Best of 2k11 time, and this year the list is enhanced with Spotify and other bonus content too!

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1 – The Streets – Outside Inside – The Streets final album Computers & Blues is really really good. Maybe not quite as amazing as Original Pirate Material or A Grand Don’t Come For Free, but what is?

2 – A-1 – Be Cool – This SF rapper comes to you by way of bushwickwill on Twitter who used to write the “Nation of Thizzlam” blog and still writes interesting stuff for The Awl. Here’s the video for the song. Also, A-1 can rap about anything and you can get his mixtapes here.

3 – CSS – Hits Me Like a Rock – It’s a pretty good album but I couldn’t resist this track because of the buzzy synth that kicks in part of the way through. Also, Bobby G. is handling his transition from badass rock star to Serge-Gainsbourg-esque guest vocalist really well, don’t you think?

4 – Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – If I Had A Gun… – The Album is pretty good. Noel should have gone solo before “What’s the Story” though.

5 – Herman Dune – Tell Me Something – Probably the best yeti-related music video since Divine Comedy’s Bad Ambassador IMHO.

6 – M83 – Raconte-Moi Une Histoire – The whole album is massive. Even this novelty-ish song pwns.

7 – Lana Del Rey – Video Games – Fuck all y’all, I like this song. Look how “meaningful” and “relevant” the video is too! =D

8 – Bad Passion – Rockin’ Your Beats – Get the whole EP for free and enjoy the slooooooow jamz.

9 – Daughter – Landfill – Just one EP on Spotify so far, but you can find other stuff in various places too.

10 – Burial – NYC – Any time Burial puts anything out in a given year I’m probably going to post it here.

11 – Melanie Laurent – Uncomfortable – I’ll admit I basically just started listening to this album because of the sexy cover, but then it turns out to be produced by Damien Rice and she’s also Shoshanna from Inglourious Basterds?

12 – Atlas Sound – Te Amo – What I said about Burial applies to this album as well.

13 – Jens Lekman – Waiting for Kirsten – Aren’t we all, Jens? From his 2011 EP. You can here him tell more of the story here.

14 – Jeffrey Lewis – I Got Lost – Never heard of this guy before finding his new album on Spotify, and that is a shame. He also made a bunch more cool stuff including this album of Crass covers.

15 – Strange Boys – Me and You – A fine album by some weirdos from Austin. And they made a fun video too.

16 – Weezer – Like A Good Neighbor – I don’t know why Rivers teases us like this. He’s clearly capable of making Pinkerton-esque stuff but he saves it for some sellout insurance commercial? Barry Manilow wrote this song.

17 The Feelies – Morning Comes – This whole album is worth a listen. Good vibes from a band that has been around pretty much forever.

18 – Trembling Blue Stars – Sunrise on Mars – The final EP from Trembling Blue Stars, but if you’re an idiot like me and never listened to his previous band, The Field Mice, then have I got a greatest hits collection for you!

19 – Jonti – Twirligig – I heard good things about this album from @theavalanches on Twitter, which is pretty much the highest praise you can get, right? Can you imagine that we might get records from Avalanches *and* The Wrens in 2012? That would be apocalyptic…

20 – Little Scream – The rest of the album didn’t catch me at first, but this song is incredible. Even more so in the live video version.

21 – William Elliott Whitmore – Bury Your Burdens – This guy is 33 years old. Why is his voice like that? Anyway, the record is awesome.

22 – Slow Club – Gold Mountain – I’ll admit I basically just started listening to these guys because they share a name with a really good restaurant in SF, but it was all for the best. Their new record and their first one are equally great.

23 – Sakert! – Can I? – 2011 was the year I really got into Swedish pop music. Sakert! normally records in Swedish and then puts out English stuff as Hello, Saferide but this year she put out an album of some translated Sakert songs. Learn more about Hello, Saferide on the aptly titled Would You Let Me Play This EP 10 Times a Day?

24 – Darren Hayman – The Ship’s Piano – Starting to wrap things up on a quiet note with the former Hefner singer’s song (and album) about little pianos. He also made a record and put on a gallery show about Russian space dogs this year and I bought one of his space dog paintings. It’s pretty sweet.

25 – Tune-Yards – Wooly Wolly Gong – Oakland city represent.

26 – Air France – It Feels Good To Be Around You – Sweden, sweden, sweden… This is the only song Air France put out this year but while we’re waiting for more, here’s all the rest of their music.

Don’t forget, you can get all my previous yearly mixtapes (and others) in the /mixtapes section of the archives!

And the amazing Louis C.K. image is from here btw…

Happy New Year!!

At night time I go out and see the people

I don’t really have any speakers large enough for listening to loud music right now, so I’ve been listening to mostly quiet stuff. You can listen to it any time, but to paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald (and Slash), “It’s always 3 A.M. somewhere…” Anyway, if anybody needs a DJ to play the chillout room at your party, just let me know. I got *hours* of this stuff… =)

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Don’t forget, you can get all my previous mixtapes in the /mixtapes section of the archives!

Last Thoughts on Steve Jobs

Technology is a morally neutral or ambiguous force, and this is nowhere as obvious as in the history of modern, digital computers. The earliest such computers were used to calculate artillery flight paths, develop the hydrogen bomb & create actuarial tables that contributed to the massive enrichment of insurance companies & other corporate entities in the second half of the twentieth-century. Prior to this, the mechanical punch-card computers from International Business Machines had served largely the same function & throughout the 1950s it seemed that the advent of digital computer would only multiply the existing competitive advantage held by their wealthy owners.

This arrangement was not entirely without benefit to the average citizens of the United States & other industrialized nations. Standards of living rose as the efficiency gains created by computers were allowed to “trickle down” from producers to consumers in the form of lower prices for manufactured goods, cheaper credit & a variety of other ways I won’t get into here.

However, the new “freedoms” afforded by this process were of a particularly limited & insidious kind. Those who wished to share in them were required to become willing participants in their own systemization. The ways in which this systemization was made palatable to people who had spent the better part of the previous 200 years fighting against monarchistic control are rather astonishing, and have been thoroughly documented in works such as 1984 & Brave New World, as well as the documentary films of Adam Curtis and Errol Morris. While there was opposition to this increasing centralization of knowledge & control, the massive cost of computer hardware made it seem that these “means of (electronic) production” were no more likely to be owned by their true end users than were the mines & factories of 19th-century Europe.

However, throughout the 1960s computers were getting smaller & cheaper at an almost incredible rate. It was becoming increasingly obvious that in a matter of years, anyone would be able to own a computer thousands of times more powerful than those currently being used by the largest corporations. But why would they want to?

Early minicomputers were purchased by universities & eventually microcomputers found their way into the hands of individual hobbyists, but throughout the 1970s, they never really escaped from the ghetto of massive nerdiness. Despite their ever-decreasing cost, there was still little reason for most people own a computer, and those corporations & governments who had already benefited greatly from their use had little (if any) desire for this situation to change.

But Steve Jobs was among the shrewdest of the nerds. He emerged, serpent-like, from the tree of technology, offering us an Apple. We saw that it was good and ate of it, planting the seeds so that more would grow. We shared the seeds with our friends, parents, children, siblings, colleagues and others until the trees grew in every yard and the fruits were carried in every pocket.

But even as Steve’s success has proven the validity of his ideas, there remains much work to be done. As the slumbering giants of mass media, centralized government and academic institutions awaken to their own declining influence, the reactions have been all too predictable.

But the die is cast, the tools are now widely available. It’s time to build something new. And though, “it’s only my opinion, I may be right or wrong“, I think it’s going to be something wonderful.

Endgame

Some guys took apart a new Apple TV & found out that it’s got 8 GB of Flash memory (plus space for more) inside. Since the device doesn’t actually allow users to store any audio or video content locally, this would seem to suggest that Apple is planning to open the device up to iPhone-style apps at some point. The implications of this should already be scaring the crap out of video game console manufacturers like Sony, Nintendo & Microsoft, but I suspect they don’t see the Apple TV’s “iPad guts” as a real competitor for their current or next-gen systems. However, I wonder if they’ve also considered the possibility that Apple could develop (read: acquire) some server technology (i.e. OnLive) that would allow users to stream games of unlimited size and complexity in full HD resolution from a central location, enabling AAA game developers to completely bypass issues of piracy, physical distribution & hardware limitations via a $99 box that never needs upgrading & could in all likelihood be given away free to end users with a online-service subscription. Most of the moving parts are already in place here (user accounts & billing through iTunes, stored value cards at nationwide retail, relationships with game publishers & developers, and now the set-top hardware) so Apple really just needs to wait for broadband internet speeds to reach an appropriate level, buy some big servers & flip the switch. Of course all of this assumes that they can get their head out of their ass about building a real online service with matchmaking & etc. but maybe they’ll learn a thing or two from this whole Ping business and surprise us yet. And if not, it would be pretty damn hilarious to see Microsoft come chugging along & knock down the whole iTunes house of cards by building the exact same thing on top of the existing Xbox platform.

tl;dr Consider buying $AAPL

Anarchy in the USA

Commenter “AL” in a Gapers Block thread on Critical Mass in Chicago writes:

It is an outright statement of differentiating values – expressed not through free speech, not through permitted demonstration – but in guerilla fashion with absolutely no accountability. The very organization of CM is setup in distributed cellular fashion so as to obviate the possibility of anyone being held to account for the misdeeds of those participating.

BINGO! To me it’s the “distributed cellular” setup of CM that makes it so powerful, but also so controversial. As Americans, and members of democratic society at large, we’re all brought up believing in the idea that there is a “system” in place and whether we’re for it or against it, its existence cannot be questioned. The “system” allows us to transfer accountability, both good and bad, to symbolic entities and figureheads. Hate the Tea Party? Blame Glenn Beck. Love your iPhone? Thank god for Steve Jobs! But what’s lost in this process is the understanding that all organizations are composed of individuals acting out of their own free will. Probably the reason we choose to ignore this is that it’s really fucking complicated (and often scary) to deal with thousands of distinct individuals, as opposed to a centralized organization. Consider the record industry trying to prevent piracy by suing individual downloaders or the DEA trying to fight drugs by jailing end users. If all these folks belonged to some kind of organization, “United Drug Users” or “Local Downloaders 451″ then the solution would be much easier! Similarly, if the CPD could simply call up the “President of Critical Mass” and ask him to tell CM riders to obey stop lights, then I’m sure the antagonism between motorists & cyclists would be greatly reduced. But because this isn’t possible, the two “groups” are forced to confront each other as individuals. It’s not something that we’re terribly good at (hence the screaming) but it’s an absolutely essential part of being human.

tl;dr CM is divisive because it represents anarchy and disorder, which can be either incredibly empowering or frightening, depending on your personality & perspective.

(FYI, I could go on for days about the *other* socio-political implications of Critical Mass, but I think this is the crux of it…)

The World’s Greatest

Johnny 5 needs more input

Kevin Kelly knows a thing or two about good journalism, so when I saw on his blog that he had posted a list of “The Best Magazine Articles Ever” (as nominated by the readers of said blog) I knew that I was in for a treat! Several of the articles I had read before, but quite a few were ones that I had meaning to get to for awhile & so I decided to take advantage of the rare summer-y weather in San Francisco this weekend to get outside & read them on my nook (via instapaper!)

Two articles that I found particularly awesome were this one:

“As We May Think” by Vannevar Bush (1945)

And this one:

“Space War: Fanatic Life and Symbolic Death Among Computer Bums” by Stewart Brand (1972)

Because despite being written 38 and 65 (!!!) years ago they have both not only proven to be completely prophetic about the development of the internet and the videogame industry to date, but they also serve as a reminder how how much important work remains to be done in both fields!

But enough of my jibber jabber… Go read some stuff!

ps. OK, a little more jibber jabber… If you’re looking for suggestions on where to go after the previously mentioned articles I’d also highly recommend David Foster Wallace’s “Consider the Lobster“, Michael Lewis’s “The End“, Bill Joy’s “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us” and Atul Gawande’s “Letting Go“. And if you find any other awesome ones, let me know in the comments!

(“Johnny 5″ Photo by liquidnight on Flickr)

An Open Letter to Roger Ebert on the subject of Games as Art

Mr. Ebert, for years now, you have been making the case that video games, the most popular entertainment medium of the 21st century, are not “art”, while film, the most popular entertainment medium of the 20th century, is. Subjectively, we all can (and will) argue this point until the world runs out of oil and both these media are rendered obsolete, but in the meantime let’s approach the issue quantitatively & see where it leads.
First of all, let me give you a bit of background about myself. I was a college film student who ended up working in the game industry for several years before making the jump into tech & marketing and so I hope I can speak on these matters from a position of some experience. I’m also a lover of drama, music, comedy, visual art and literature & while I don’t usually enjoy perpetuating stereotypes, one that I feel contains a grain of truth is that of the “tortured” artist. This is not to say that all artists are Van Gogh-esque nut-jobs, driven to self-mutilation by failed love affairs & the chemicals in their paints, but I *do* believe that we all make choices in life & I think no one would argue that a career in “the arts” is the most profitable or stable one that a talented and intelligent young person could choose.
In other words, people who choose to make a living from their artistic endeavors, whether filmic, dramatic, poetic or etc., are aware of the more lucrative alternatives (lawyer / doctor / social-media expert / etc.) and have instead decided to “suffer” for their art, because they value it more highly than material wealth or social status. Are we agreed upon this point, Mr. Ebert? I hope so, or this next bit is going to be a bit tedious & unconvincing.
I have before me 2 documents. One is a “2009 Salary Guide” from a freelance staffing agency that works with clients in the advertising & technology fields. The other is the “9th Annual Salary Survey” as compiled by Game Developer Magazine for their April 2010 issue. While neither of these documents can be considered definitive, I think comparing the two can offer some useful insights on the “game  business”, as distinct from the broader “technology” industry, and can also support some of the hearsay and observations that I’ve collected during my time in both.
Since the nomenclature used by the gaming industry borrows (interestingly enough) more heavily from film than from technology, it will first be necessary to establish some valid correlations between job titles in the two groups. Let’s start with Project Managers (or as they’re known in games and film, “Producers”). According to the “2009 Salary Guide” provided by the staffing agency, an “Interactive Project Manager” can expect to earn a starting salary between $61,250 and $88,250 (for an average of $74,750) at the national level. Regional variances can affect these figures, with Interactive PMs in San Francisco earning between $82,687 and $119,137 to start, while those in Columbus, Ohio will fall between $58,187 and  $83,837.
Moving on to the 2009 “Salary Survey” from Game Developer magazine, it’s reported that a “Producer” with up to 3 years experience will earn an average salary of only $42,000 for work that is (in my personal experience) largely indistinguishable from that of his or her “Interactive Project Manager” counterpart in tech/marketing. The same regional variances exist in the GDM survey, but comparing the national average salaries across the 2 industries, we can see that the games producer earns a full $32,750 less per year!
Now that this methodology has been established, let’s look at some other positions. On the more technical side of things, we can compare a “Programmer/Engineer” from the games industry with a “Flash Developer” on the tech/marketing side. As an aside, the game “Programmer” would probably consider this a rather insulting comparison, but “Flash Developer” is the best match I’ve got in the “Salary Guide”. In any case, the  video game “Programmer” (with up to 3 years experience) earns an average of $54,975, while the tech/marketing “Flash Developer” starts at $75,625, a difference of $20,650.
Next we come to the “artists” themselves, who work mainly with 3D modeling & animation tools these days. In the games industry the average salary for a “3D Artist” starts at $45,200, while in tech & marketing this figure is $64,375, for a difference of $19,175.
And let’s not even talk about QA (Quality Assurance) or Strategy & Business Development.
So what my point in rattling off all these statistics? It’s this… My friends in the gaming industry are some of the smartest, most talented, industrious and sensible people I know & it is safe to assume they are all fully aware that more lucrative career options exist in other fields. Despite this, they have *chosen* to work in game development for some pretty damn good reasons. Chief among these, and the one which makes their blood boil at your remarks, Mr. Ebert, is that they, along with millions of people around the world, all share a deep-seated belief that the work they are doing has value beyond the purely commercial, that the experiences created over late nights of pizza and Dr. Pepper are reaching, and having an emotional impact on, a massive audience, and that they are all doing their part to help us understand the meaning & possibilities of life on this planet, and beyond, over the next 100 years.
Surely this effort is worth a few thousand dollars a year, and *surely* it is deserving of  some artistic recognition, wouldn’t you agree?
Thank you for your time,
Eric Eberhardt
P.S. On the outside chance that you actually read this *and* get to the end, I’d like to take the opportunity to second the recommendation of everyone on the internet who has commented on your previous blogs to suggest that you take 5 minutes and play Jason Rohrer’s “Passage” for Mac/PC/Linux and I will also add that the 2008 Wii title “de Blob” (originally conceived by students from the Utrecht School of the Arts) is also worth a look. Finally, you should, if you are not already, absolutely be aware of Keita Takahashi’s 2004 classic “Katamari Damacy” for PS2 & Steve Meretzky’s “A Mind Forever Voyaging” from 1985.