Tag: music

DJ Mook in the house!

On Friday I was privileged to be MC for the launch of Geek Mook, the latest anthology of new writing from Vignette Press, edited by the very talented Aaron Mannion and Julian Novitz. I tried to help out as much as I could for the launch, and one thing I realised as we were about to start having people arrive was that we needed house music! (By this, I mean music played when the house lights are on and the audience are entering, mingling or leaving, not the Chicago-born genre of electronic music.) I sprang into action – which is to say, I took out my trusty 64GB iPhone (I bought the largest size specifically so it could carry my entire music collection) and set to work making a quick tracklist of appropriately geeky-yet-eclectic music.

This is that list. It’s short – only 19 tracks – but played on repeat and shuffle it did the job. It’s been a while since I posted, so I thought I’d write about these tracks, why they’re geeky, and why I picked them for the night. So I’ve put them on shuffle and I’m listening to them while writing this, in the order they come up.

The Transformers (Theme) – Lion

There are two great things about the Transformers: one is the toy line itself, a genius idea that, in its original incarnation at least, was incredibly well realised. We all wanted an Optimus Prime. But the other thing is Transformers: The Movie, which before Michael Bay and Steven Spielberg, took a bunch of robots which could turn into trucks, jet planes and dinosaurs and told a truly epic story of heroism and sacrifice in the face of potential apocalypse. (It was famously Orson Welles’ last film; he provides the voice of the gigantic, planet-eating antagonist, Unicron.) This version of the original cartoon theme song, but Lion, gets it exactly right: it truly rocks without taking the piss, and incorporates new lyrics drawing on the plot and themes of the film. The rest of the soundtrack is pretty good too, both the score and the music, which includes the unforgettable “The Touch” by Stan Bush. You know the one: “You’ve got the touch…you’ve got the pooweeeeeeeer…”

Life’s a Happy Song – Mickey Rooney, Feist, Amy Adams, Jason Segel & Walter

One of my rules in life is not to trust anyone who doesn’t love the Muppets. While it wasn’t to everyone’s tastes, I thought the recent  The Muppets movie really nailed the essence of the loveable little felt monsters. Brett McKenzie – who, incidentally, I’m very excited to be seeing in concert tonight – won an Academy Award for one of the other songs in the film, Man Or Muppet?, but for my money this big showtune from the start of the film is the killer number. Just try singing it and not being filled with joy. I dare you.

Thanks for Your Time – Gotye

Wally De Backer released two albums before Somebody That I Used To Know propelled Making Mirrors to the top of the charts across the world, and this track is a great sample of his nerdy obsession. From his second album, Like Drawing Blood, it’s a distillation of every frustrating moment we’ve ever spent on hold trying to speak to someone at any large company. If you’ve ever had to phone Telstra or Optus, or worked in a call centre, you’ll immediately identify with this beautifully layered track, featuring samples, dialogue and great harmonies.

Game of Thrones Theme – WhiteNoise Lab

A rock cover of one of the greatest television themes in recent history. I wrote about it last year, and for those keeping score, iTunes says I’ve now listened to it 224 times. Here’s the YouTube video:

The Mesopotamians – They Might Be Giants The Else

Of course I had to include something from the original geek rock band, They Might Be Giants. This track is my favourite from 2007’s The Else, one of the first albums I ever bought as a download. I picked it because it’s incredibly nerdy, super catchy, and a great excuse to mention that you should head to Melbourne Museum to check out their current special exhibition: Mesopotamia.

Who Needs Sleep? – Barenaked Ladies

I was introduced to the Barenaked Ladies back in the late 90s, not long before the release of Stunt, the album which featured their first big-outside-of-Canada hit, One Week. Before then, none of their albums were released in Australia; I remember the Australian One Week single included four additional tracks, one lead single from each of their four previous albums, as a way of saying “see what we’ve done?” But even the juggernaut that was One Week didn’t bring this folk rock powerhouse into the mainstream, and their subsequent albums never got a local release. Still, I love them, even if they have lost their iconic lead vocalist Steven Page. This track is also from Stunt – for a few years my favourite BNL album, until the release of Everything to Everyone – and it features a slight disconnect between the lyrical content and the mood of the music, something very typical of the band and one of the reasons I’m such a fan.

Jimmy Olsen’s Blues – Spin Doctors

The Spin Doctors were that 90s rarity – a three-hit wonder. This song, Two Princes and What Time Is It? all did really well, and all came from the same album, Pocketful of Kryptonite, but afterwards they vanished without a trace. The album  gets its title from this track, about a Jimmy Olsen in love with Lois Lane who laments that he is competing for her affections against a literal Superman. (It’s a bit of the archetypal nerd vs jock story, though of course in this story, both are genuinely nice guys.) There’s a pretty rich tradition of songs about Superman, but this one is the only one I know to be written from another character’s perspective.

Code Monkey – Jonathan Coulton

Jonathan Coulton is the king of geek rock, having risen to fame on the Internet by writing and recording a new song every week for a year after quitting his job as a programmer. This song is probably his most famous, and is – as he says at the start of this slower, more heartfelt live version from Best. Convert. Ever. – “how it feels to write software for a living”. It speaks to the IT professional experience on many levels, not least the frustration at doing what should be recognised as a creative job in a bureaucratic and soulless environment where no-one in charge really understands what you do. It’s a sweet song, while not overly romanticising the fast-food-eating, disrespectful-of-his-boss, awkwardly-hitting-on-the-receptionist protagonist.

The Ballad Of Osiris Stark – Scott Edgar and the Universe

Scott Edgar is, of course, one third of Tripod, but this is from his other band, the Universe, whom I also love. The Ballad of Osiris Stark is an ode to one of Scott’s Dungeons & Dragons characters – possibly his first, if I remember the pre-song banter correctly – but he plays it straight, with the result that this is a truly lovely tribute to a beloved hero. Playing an actual campaign RPG, you spend more time with your own characters than any you can encounter in film or television (well, maybe with the exception of the Doctor), so it’s hardly surprising this comes so clearly from the heart. I’m not sure why, but I always think of Osiris as a Drow (Dark Elf) Ranger…perhaps it’s his backstory of being exiled from his home, though his home seems to be above ground, so that’s probably wrong. You can find it on the Universe’s self-titled debut album.

(I’m the One That’s) Cool – The Guild

This was the first track to go into this list. Produced to celebrate the launch of Felicia Day and Wil Weaton’s Geek & Sundry online channel of nerdy television, it’s an out-and-out, unapologetic geek revenge fantasy. “Try and cop my style, but I’m the real thing: while you played sports I played Magic: The Gathering” sings Day, in lyrics expertly rhymed by Jed Whedon, explaining that now “geek is chic” the people who bullied her in school are now out of style and shouldn’t try to get in on the nerd fashion action. I think it could have benefited from a little more introspection and a little less nerd-was-bullied-now-bullies-norms (“prom queen bitches” still seems too harsh, but maybe it’s the gendered insult that bothers me), and if you’ve ever heard me talk about geeks and nerds, you know I think our strength is bucking the very nature of “cool”. Still, it’s a rocking great tune that anyone who was ever picked on for being a nerd will love.

Katamari on the Rock – Masayuki Tanaka

The fairly bizarre “puzzle-action” game Katamari Damacy is…well, it’s hard to know where to start. You play as one of the sons or nephews of the King of All Cosmos, who after a galactic bender, has accidentally knocked all the stars out of the sky. For some reason, the only way to fix them is to roll your “katamari” – a sort of magical spiky ball thing – around planet Earth, picking up random objects as you go to increase the katamari’s size until the King is happy with your progress. This is as bonkers as it sounds, but is also immensely entertaining and a visual treat for the eyes – and to go along with the visuals is an amazing soundtrack. I have the soundtrack albums for the first two games in the series, but this track is the shorter, in-game audio from the intro video to the original game, which I found on the Internet somewhere. It’s brilliant. Oh, and did you know that “Katamari Damacy” roughly translates as “soul clump”? Of course you did.

Princes Of The Universe – Queen

It’s Queen. It’s the best track from the Highlander soundtrack. It will rock your face off. Find it, along with the other songs from Highlander, on It’s A Kind of Magic.

The Power of Love – I Fight Dragons

I heard about I Fight Dragons long ago; someone linked them to Dungeon Crawl for some reason. I forget, but I never listened to any of their music until this track was featured on a recent Huey Lewis episode of my favourite music podcast, Coverville. IFD expertly combine traditional “chiptune” sounds – music made with the kind of music technology found in the 8-bit era of videogames – with traditional instruments and a great lead vocalist. This track even incorporates an a capella rendition Alan Silvestri’s iconic Back to the Future score in the intro. Highly recommended; you can find it on their EP Welcome to the Breakdown.

Maybe I’m A Lion – THE BLACK MAGES

Nobeo Uematsu is the genius composer behind the amazing music you hear during most of the Final Fantasy games, and I have a few of his soundtracks, including an album of him playing the songs on real instruments (the earlier games, especially, use software synths, rather than pre-recorded music). This, though, is a little different – one of the most rocking battle themes from Final Fantasy VIII, played by The Black Mages, a rock band formed by Uematsu and two other composers working for Square Enix, the company behind the Final Fantasy games. It’s a bit hair metal, a bit prog rock, but all badass. This one is from their second album, The Black Mages II: The Skies Above.

Some Things Man Was Not Meant To Know – The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets

H. P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos is never far from the mind of most of us who’ve read any of it; indeed this morning I tucked into some delicious Anathoth jam, and couldn’t help but wonder if it had anything to do with the foul star daemon Azathoth, mentioned in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. Canadian punk band The Darkest of the Hillside Thickets have embraced the rich themes of cosmic horror – that there are vastly powerful, unknowable beings beyond our understanding, the very knowledge of whom may drive us mad – and have made it into a darkly humorous career. This track is from their latest album, and my favourite, The Shadow Out Of Tim, which is sort of a rock opera/concept album adapted from my favourite Lovecraft story, The Shadow Out of Time. It’s a slow, brooding track, forming a sort of combined overture and epilogue to the story, and I picked it as a change of pace from some of the other stuff in the list.

Ghostbusters – Run-D.M.C.

Angela Meyer, one of the Geek Mook contributors performing at the launch, wrote her piece about her and her sister’s mutual obsession with Ghostbusters. While I didn’t have the original Ray Parker Jr. theme in my library – something I’ve since remedied – I did have the soundtrack to Ghostbusters II, which features this new version by Run-D.M.C.  It’s pretty great, frankly, considering how perfect the original was. Sure, they rhyme “ghost busters” with “ghost dusters”, but they also use the line “we are the busters of any G H O S T”, so I’m prepared to forgive.

Spiderman – Moxy Früvous

When my friend Trace introduced me to BNL, she also introduced me to someone a bit more esoteric by way of an extra copy of Bargainville, the debut album of Toronto folk-rock outfit Moxy Früvous. I have since collected all their other albums and as many bootlegs as I could get my hands on, but Bargainville remains a definite favourite. Not only did their track My Baby Loves A Bunch Of Authors provide the impetus for my book-reading blog, but every song is a treasure. Perhaps most unusual is this a capella arrangement of the 1960s Spider-Man cartoon theme, which starts out mostly faithful to the original, but soon veers off into subversive territory. I often find myself singing “Spider-Man’s master plan: build his own little spider clan / in the woods, now they’re troops / fighting for special interest groups”. The random sound effects and narration are also hilarious. It forms an irreverent counterpoint to the other a capella tracks on Bargainville, especially the deeply personal and political Gulf War Song.

Halfway Down the Stairs – Amy Lee

In the lead up to the new Muppets movie, a bunch of artists contributed covers of classic Muppet songs for The Green Album. I will admit to being a bit of an Evanescence fan – I know, I know, but it’s okay, I handed in both my Cool Guy and True Goth cards long ago – and while there are lots of great tracks on the album, I picked this one from Amy Lee because I love the song, and since this track again offers something of different pace and mood to the rest of the list. It’s cute and a little haunting. What’s not to like? Oh, and if you’ve not seen it, here’s the Muppet Show Theme music video from OK Go, from the same album. The cover itself took a few listens to click with me, but the video is an instant classic – watch all the way to the end!

Still Alive (Portal) – missFlag

Another track I discovered via Coverville, this tribute to evil science is a cover of the song Jonathon Coulton wrote for the finale of the game Portal. In the game it’s sung by the defeated, sinister supercomputer GlaDOS, but this version from Israeli rock band missFlag kicks the rock dial up a few notches and adds a few flourishes of its own. You can download it for free from the missFlag web site.

Variations on a theme

I love soundtracks. I think it comes from when I was young, when I used to put my tape recorder next to the television and record the audio of my favourite Doctor Who stories so I could listen to them on my Walkman later. Sure, there was lots of dialogue, but I also heard those music cues a thousand times. When I started buying CDs, some of my earliest purchases were a box set of the Star Wars soundtracks (I don’t even like Star Wars that much!) and the Silva Screen Doctor Who soundtracks. Listening to the medley of music from The Caves of Androzani I am always transported to the first time I saw it, and I picture every moment in perfect detail. I’ve listened to it hundreds of times. I’m also a bit obsessed with Hans Zimmer’s amazing soundtrack for the Sherlock Holmes movie, Alan Silvestri’s score for Back to the Future, Joby Talbot’s work on The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (especially the desctruction of Earth, one of the funniest pieces of music ever if you’ve seen its context), even Vinc DiCola’s ultimate 80s electronic rock for Transformers: The Movie, but I also love the best game work, including Yu Miyake’s Katamari soundtracks, the Final Fantasy titles scored by Nobuo Uematsu, and the incredible work of Michael Z Land.

I also love cover songs, and nothing brings the two together like a good theme. I was part of a sadly abortive cover band called Rough Draft, and our gimmick was that we would play only acoustic covers of cartoon theme songs. We started with the theme to Sealab 2021, and managed to learn at least a dozen songs or so – I particularly enjoyed performing The Trapdoor, Dangermouse and Count Duckula. We never got past rehearsal stage though – probably because, even if we played our entire repertoire, we hardly managed a 6 minute set!

But there are three themes which have occupied my brain like a fever over the years, one quite recent.

Doctor Who

The Doctor Who theme is one of the most important pieces in the history of electronic music. Composed by Ron Grainer, it was “realised” by Delia Derbyshire, for many years an unsung heroine of the Radiophonic Workshop (who were never credited individually). In the days before computers, Derbyshire used tone generators and manually spliced together tape to create the most iconic television theme tune of all time. Grainer himself was rightly so impressed by the final product that he supposedly didn’t recognise it as his own composition. There were several revisions in the show’s first couple of decades, then the Peter Howell 80s update changed the pace and spawned a couple more revisions (I have a soft spot for the Trial of a Time Lord version, with its extra little layers) until Dominic Glynn’s slower version for Sylvester McCoy. The television movie in 1996 (which I prefer to call by its nickname, Grace: 1999) had a pretty lame orchestral version which lost a lot of what made the originals great, and while I have enjoyed the new series versions, they too started out too generic themey; when more of Delia crept back in, and they lost the trumpety bits added in by Murray Gold, they won me back.

But it’s not just the show that’s produced new versions; there have been loads. The most famous is probably Doctorin’ the Tardis [sic], the KLF’s cynically manufactured number one single, a glorious mash up of the theme with Gary Glitter’s “Rock n Roll” (parts one and/or two) and “Blockbuster” by The Sweet. I do love that track; it brings a mix of memories, of car trips, my first album (Smash Hits ’88 or the equivalent), and of being chased around the school yard by bullies chanting the chorus.

But for my money, it’s the fan versions I love. Some are slavish recreations of this version or that; some horrible misfires; some new interpretations that blow you away with power, or humour, or experimentation. The web site whomix collects them and even has a handy feed you can subscribe to as a podcast; I have nearly 250 of them sitting in my iTunes library, and despite having a few CDs worth of profressional remixes and new versions, it’s one of these I sometimes use as a ringtone (it’s the Vortex Mix by Hardwire, a chap who’s made many of my faves on whomix).

Monkey Island

I’m relatively old school when it comes to gaming. Sure, I like Dragon Age: Origins and Portal and my XBox 360 gets a decent workout with the cream of the crop of new titles and downloads, but my heart belongs to the long dead graphic adventure genre. While I played plenty of games before it, it was LucasArts’ The Secret of Monkey Island which really made me love computer games – and no small part of that lies in the musical genius of Michael Z Land. He put together a magnificent score, and at its centre lies the theme from Monkey Island, a brilliant piece which combines a Caribbean feel and a real sense of humour to perfectly encapsulate the mood and tone of the series.

Like the Doctor Who theme, it’s an iconic piece that many, many fans have sought to cover. While The International House of Mojo has been the main community hub for LucasArts fans, your best bets for finding covers of the theme – and other parts of Land’s very memorable score – are World of Monkey Island, which has a whole section for fan music, or The Scumm Bar, which also has a fan music section. My favourites would have to be Monkey Island Rocks, a heavy guitar version by Eduardo Gouveia, and the enigmatic MJ, TW, and PH’s atmospheric Monkey Island Medley, which reinterprets various refrains and introduces new music which fits in seamlessly with Land’s stuff.

Game of Thrones

I have rarely found a new obsession and thrown myself into so wholeheartedly as I have Game of Thrones, the HBO adaptation of George R. R. Martin’s beloved series of fantasy novels, A Song of Ice and Fire. The theme – and the score – for the series are works of art by Ramin Djawadi, and indeed my newest heavy rotation playlist has been my top nine tracks from the soundtrack album – including the title theme of course – and a couple of fan covers for good measure.

Yes, before the series was even finished, lots of people were covering the theme. In keeping with its newer pedigree, most of the covers are found on YouTube, though thankfully both of my favourites also provide mp3 downloads. Unsurprisingly, given the popularity of the books among metal bands – there are at least three songs titled “Take the Black”, which is what it’s called when you join the ancient order of the Night’s Watch in the series – one of the best ones gives the theme a harder edge.  The Heavy Version version is by Whitenoise Lab, and since it was the only version I had prior to the release of the soundtrack, iTunes tells me I’ve listened to it 159 times. (It’ll be 161 by the time I finish this article.) The layers of guitar, bass and drums really kick things up a notch! My other favourite is no less amazing, though accomplished with just two instruments – both of them violins. Jason Yang’s violin cover is a thing of beauty from a great musician, laying down around a dozen tracks on acoustic and electric violin to give a rich, full sound. This one is climbing up the charts!

Journey of the Sorcerer

This is a bonus track, of sorts. It’s not technically a theme, but rather an instrumental track from The Eagles’ album “One of These Nights”. You probably know it, though, as the theme from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. The original radio series used the song without any modification to great effect; the ethereal banjo and strings arrangement really does fit perfectly with hitchhiking between the stars, and was used at Adams’ insistence. The television series used a new version which has charm, but the soul of the original wasn’t recaptured until a short sequence in the film version which paid homage to this extraordinary piece of music. It’s been my default ringtone for years, and back when I had a phone which could use custom text message tones (are you listening, Apple?), my phone would emit one of those iconic banjo chords to let me know I’d received a message.

There are quite a few covers and alternate versions on YouTube, though to be honest I can’t really fault the original, and play it constantly. Of the others, this one is perhaps most interesting: played at the end of the last episode of the expanded radio series (produced by Dirk Maggs and covering the books after the first two, bringing them into the radio continuity), it uses parts of the original song not often heard in the radio series, and brings a little orchestration in.

Wow. Look how productive I am when waiting for my iPhone to restore from backup!

Tell me doctor, where are we going this time?

The Man in the Lab Coat travels back in time tonight for a spooky Friday the 13th! See him travel back to 1985 as a special guest of megaband 80s Enuff, performing for free tonight in the Bella Union bar at Trades Hall. So come and get your dose of time travelling megahits of the 80s, and while you’re there you should probably buy your tickets to Science-ology in advance – the ever popular Tightarse Tuesdays are selling out fast!

Not to put too fine a point on it

Here’s another Man in the Lab Coat date for your calendars: on April 21st, as part of Trade Aid, I’ll be performing as part of BirdHouse, a tribute to the songs of They Might Be Giants. What songs will the Man be singing, you ask? Well, let’s just say that he’s been brushing up on his astrophysics and the life-cycle of stars…

Tickets are $22 or $18 for groups of 6 or more, with all proceeds benefiting the Asylum Seekers’ Resource Group.

Don’t forget, Science-ology is still on until April 29th, and you can also see the Man performing with the Crew in Classic Impro Sundae, Instant Order: Trial by Audience, and Instant Musical Odyssey. Check out the Crew’s line-ups for details!