Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Papas Fritas

Back when I was downloading those MP3’s from eMusic around the turn of the century I often would do so based on the text/review for a particular release. I wasn’t too discriminating, obviously with the 28 gigs I would end up downloading, and it took me awhile to sort through things (still am, really). One descriptor in those reviews which soon meant nothing was ‘pop’. I know what pop music is to me, and I guess it’s like the Supreme Court’s definition of pornography…it’s not easy to define, but you know it when you see/hear it.

So I was digging around these piles of bits and bytes for good tunes at a time when I had to burn an audio cd to listen them in my system. When burning ‘pop’ music from the likes of Piebald, The Promise Ring, and others of that emo-crap genre, I was turned off. And somewhere in there I had lumped Papas Fritas in with those characters, much to my loss for the next five or six years.

Now contrary to my previous posts on shitty 128kbps bitrates, I have not put any PF tracks into another format nor sought out the better (cd, vinyl preferably) formats yet. But this music is so incredibly catchy, so fuckin’ POP! that I don’t mind those scattered highs so much on my music player.

The wonderful trio Papas Fritas formed in 1992 or so at Tufts University and released a debut EP, three full-lengths, and a compilation/best-of that seems to have closed the lid on these fine chaps. What a shame. I’m not going to go into an album-by-album rundown here, save that for the all music guide, and since these are loaded onto my music player I tend to listen them not as individual albums but rather as a big chunk of singalong. I can say that the group, basically guitarist Tony Goddess, drummer Shivika Asthana, and bassist Keith Gendel with a few additions near the end, evolved a bit over the course of their albums from stunning-what-they-could-do-with-it-lofi indie pop through better produced (but not Produced) indie-pop to slightly more mature (read sometimes slower) indie pop. All three write songs, sometimes credited collaboratively. Goddess and Asthana trade vocal duties, from his slightly reedy/geeky tone to her boppy/exuberant and sometimes plaintive foil. To simplify their sound, imagine the New Pornographers play early 90’s era twee/cuddlecore with Jay Bennet circa The Church at 4 AM at the production console. Subject matter spans the range; lost love, happy days, playing clubs as a small act, relationships, sunny days. I’ll hit just a few highlights (files are ~1 meg Mp3’s…after the taster, buy the records!):

Passion Play,” debut EP and LP: A downbeat ode to a relationship, with great use of strings on the latter version.

HolidayS/T LP: “Take one of these/ on your holidayyyy…”

Say Goodbye,” Helioself: Asthana sings this beautiful postscript a friend (lover) who has left set to a steady pulsing backbeat. Understated and brilliant.

Hey Hey You Say,” Helioself: A throbbing little piece that will stay in your head all day.

People Say,” Buildings and Grounds: Very nice vocal from Asthana on this one.

Way You Walk,” Buildings and Grounds: Crazy hooky riff that makes you strut. "I can tell by the way you walk that you want to be alone with him..."

See more on these guys at their website:

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Discovering the Lost MP3s

Way back in the dark ages of 2000-2001 I dipped my toes into the developing world of downloaded MP3 music. With a particularly sluggish dialup connection at home, a fast work connection that blocked filesharing sites, and too much holier-than-thouness to ‘steal from the artist’, I looked into What a friggin’ deal! Unlimited downloads, cheap ($12.95/month, now limited to 50 songs/month) subscription, and access to a wealth of mostly indie music. I started downloading with fervor, setting my work computer up in the morning to download piles of stuff on their T-1 connection, burn it to cd at lunch, then start again for the afternoon. Over the course of eight or nine months I pretty much downloaded all I wanted from their library. Then I didn’t listen to it.
Around that same time I was getting into vinyl and picking up the pace of my music collection in general. I was also starting to pay attention to sound quality, not from the audiophile point of view but rather just searching for good sounding playback of the music in my life. Often I would burn a 128kbs MP3 to disc for the drive to work, and I just couldn’t listen to it for more than five minutes, that shrill low bitrate MP3 sound literally gave me a headache especially with jazz or other music with a lot of cymbals and other natural high sounds. I played around with some ‘sound optimizer’ software to make things more tolerable, but basically I shelved all of that music, some 20+ gigabytes and 400 or so albums. I hadn’t even listened to many of them at the time, and downloaded based on the description.
Fast forward to 2006. I picked up an outboard AD/DA unit for our laptop so that I could make recordings of my vinyl (Edirol UA-EX1, works great). So while I had the ‘puter hooked up to the hifi, I figured I’d dump all of those MP3’s onto an external drive along with some select cd’s (in FLAC format, mind you). Suddenly those lost tracks were at my fingertips and playable on a better setup than my then truck cd player. They are still low-quality MP3’s, but they are good enough to sift through, play for background music, and look for higher quality copies of those that I really like. In future postings I’ll mention a few of these ‘lost tracks'....