Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘music’

12 NOVEMBER, 2009

Carl Sagan + Sigur Rós


What Icelandic post-rock has to do with astroscience and the gaping sores of law.

We’re big fans of “remix culture” — the mashing up of existing pieces of content (music, film, text, image) into an entirely original creative product. A couple of months ago, A Glorious Dawn — the Carl Sagan / Stephen Hawking remix — made major viral waves, and on Monday it was even released as a single on White Stripes frontman Jack White’s label.

But this actually isn’t the first remix tribute to the great scientist. This week, we saw the resurfacing of another fantastic mash-up, made in 2008 — a remix of Carl Sagan reading from his iconic book Pale Blue Dot to music by Icelandic post-rock outfit Sigur Rós, easily one of the most innovative bands of the past decade.

And while this is clearly a lovely tribute to two great innovators in science and art, the irony is that it’s illegal under current intellectual property legislature — yet another illustration of how dated and ill-equipped copyright law is to support, rather than hinder, modern creative culture.

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06 NOVEMBER, 2009

Cassette From My Ex: The Book


Time travel, puppy love and the universal relatability of musical self-expression.

I’ve been a longtime admirer of Cassette From My Ex — a lovely, lovely mixtape revivalist project that brings back musical gems from the past, along with the charming personal stories behind them, through hundreds of digitized, streamable soundtracks to first loves. So imagine my excitement over Cassette From My Ex: Stories and Soundtracks of Lost Loves — the marvelous book based on the blog. (Beginning to see a wonderful pattern here with favorite blogs becoming books…)

And while the iPod era may have its many pocketable advantages, there’s still something to be said for the lost charm of crafting these sonic love messages, blending the art of musicology curation — always a winner around here — with the intimacy of a letter. Speaking of curation, that’s perhaps what makes the book most impressive — book culls such intimate stories of mixtape masterpieces from 60 noted writers and musicians, including The Magnetic Fields’ Claudia Gonson, This American Life’s Starlee Kine, Improv Everywhere’s Charlie Todd, and even Rob Sheffied, the godfather of the mixtape genre.

I was an Asian guy with long hair who was into Heavy Metal; she was a Latvian dancer who liked to chain-smoke Camels.” ~ FJ

Long ago, in a city I will not name, I loved a woman, and she punished me for it.” ~ BG

Extraordinarily relatable, Cassette From My Ex: Stories and Soundtracks of Lost Loves will move, inspire and delight literally everyone. Because we all have our stories of being young and in love and desperately trying to capture in music that intangible butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling. These stories shaped much of our relationship with music as a tool of emotion and self-expression — and this book is fascinating anthology of such stories, a beautiful intersection of musicology, anthropology and pure human experience.

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01 NOVEMBER, 2009

Best Albums of October


A whale, a 5-year wait, and imagining Amy Winehouse as a happy person.

Fall is usually the hottest season for indie releases. And October has been sizzling in more ways than we can count. With new releases from old favorites, debut albums by promising up-and-comers, and even some fantastic free mixed samplers, it’s been a grand month for music.


An instant classic by a cultural legend, The Flaming Lips‘ latest, Embryonic, may be a bit self-indulgent at 19 tracks and 70 minutes of play-time, but so long as it’s good music — which it is — that’s okay by us.

Bonus points for releasing it as 2LP color vinyl as well.

Favorite track: Anything You Say Now, I Believe You (Amazon MP3 Exclusive).


Brushfire is one of our absolute favorite indie record labels. (Who, by the way, record in a solar-powered studio.) And their Fall 2009 Sampler is not only completely free, but also DRM-free — something rare and respectable in today’s domination of iTunes proprietary formats and licensing restrictions.

It features tracks from indie favorites like Jack Johnson (the label’s owner), Zach Gill, Matt Costa and the fantastic up-and-comer Zee Avi, whom you may recall from our spotlight feature.

Favorite track: Zee Avi’s Darling.


Songwriter duo The Swell Season began with the romance between The Frames’ frontman Glen Hansard and Czech vocalist Markéta Irglová, who met on the set of Irish indie film gem Once. But the band, named after a novel by humanist Czech writer Josef Skvorecky, suffered an inevitable setback when the romance ended, leaving fans to question its fate. Luckily, the two had the good sense to put their creative integrity first, and continued collaborating on what quickly became one of the best folk bands around. Strict Joy, their formal debut, is every bit as rich and remarkable as their story.

For a taste, grab a free download of In These Arms, the thrid track from the album.

Favorite track: Two Tongues.


We already reviewed British pop-folk outfit Noah and The Whale‘s First Days of Spring and their brilliantly innovative release model, the world’s first-ever film/album hybrid. So no need to wax poetic any futher, but we’ll just say the album a stunning string of quietly excellent tracks.

Favorite track: Slow Glass, which you can hear in full here.


We’ve been infatuated with Norwegian duo Kings of Convenience since the release of their debut album in 2004. So we were increasingly impatient as they took a 5-year sabbatical from recording. Which is why the October 19 release of their new album, Declaration of Dependence, is incredibly rewarding culmination of a long, long wait.

With beautifully melodic acoustics and vocals that clutch you in their quiet but firm grip, their sound is both vulnerable and powerful, full of that intangible but highly distinct Nordicness. Their lyrical sensibility sneaks up on you and catches you by surprise with deep reflections on the simple complexities of everyday life.

For a teaser taste, you can snag Boat Behind, the fourth track from the album, for free.

Favorite track: Mrs. Cold.


Thao With The Get Down Stay Down is easily among the best acts we’ve discovered over the past few years. Their sound has continued to evolve, with vocalist Thao Nguyen channeling Cat Power and and Fionna Apple while innovating in her very own way. Bassist Adam Thompson and drummer Willis Thompson bring a rich layer of vibrant instrumentals to the mix, for a grand total that much grander and more fantastic than the sum of its parts.

And their new album, Know Better Learn Faster, is every bit as brilliant as we expected it to be.

Favorite track: Cool Yourself, because this track is just too white-hot.


Although Danish alt-pop outfit Asteroids Galaxy Tour released a couple of EP’s last year, Fruit is their first full-blown album — and full-blown it is. It’s a glorious intersection of the psychedelic-pop of the 60’s and what Amy Winehouse might sound like if she were a happy person, all wrapped in stunning, unmistakable Scandinavian vocals, with a hint of brilliant but elusive indie collaborator Bajka. Beautiful brass instrumentation and superb drum work give their sound that extra zing that takes it from great, listenable music to head-bobbingly superb.

Favorite track:
Tie between The Golden Age, which you can hear in full here, and Hero.

For more curated music, check out tune of the moment, our Tumblr spinoff, where each day, you can listen to a full track that’s making us smile.

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