Rock opera update/teaser: a first listen!

Anyone who follows me on Twitter or Facebook probably knows by now that I’m working on a semi-top-secret (wha??) rock opera. Yes, it’s true!

I am not yet ready to reveal the full details of the project, but suffice to say it is in the late stages. It’s mostly down to recording vocals, which is sure to be the most time-consuming part of the process. I am shooting for a January-February 2013 release date at this point.

But it’s time for a first listen now! Of the 11 tracks on the album, 7 will have vocals. But I’ve made one of the instrumental tracks available in a rough mix form now on Alonetone. You can check it out here! (Or, if your browser is adequately HTML5-itized, you can play it below.)

All of the sounds on this track come from Atari 2600 video games. Specifically, they come from actual Atari and Activision games that were available in the early 1980s. I sampled these sounds out of the commercial emulators for these games that are available for the iPhone, created a software instrument from the samples (using this technique), and played them on my keyboard to produce the music you hear. The sounds are minimally processed… other than some EQ and reverb, they sound exactly like they did in the original games (especially Super Breakout, which provides most of the “melodies” you hear).

December(ists) in March

The Hazards of LoveI’m having a serious Decemberists fest this week, having just purchased their new song cycle/rock opera/concept album/tour de force, The Hazards of Love, a week early thanks to iTunes. On Tuesday I debated buying it now or waiting for the CD, and now I can’t imagine not having bought it.

It’s one of those albums that just seems so perfect, so essential, that I already can’t imagine the musical world without it, and I can scarcely even imagine wanting to listen to anything else. The last time I felt this way about an album was… well, let’s see: when I first heard The Decemberists’ last album, The Crane Wife. (And I even have documented evidence to prove it.)

Well, I loved The Crane Wife, but The Hazards of Love blows it out of the water. If The Crane Wife was the best album since OK Computer, then Hazards has to be the best album since… oh, I don’t know, let’s go for the obvious comparison: The Dark Side of the Moon. I’m not sure if, in this era, an album can possibly leave the kind of indelible impression on our musical culture that Pink Floyd’s masterpiece did in 1973, but you can’t fault The Decemberists for being born a generation too late.

The band performed the new album in its entirety on Wednesday night at SXSW, and it was broadcast live on a handful of NPR stations around the country, including The Current here in Minneapolis. I didn’t get to hear it live, but no matter — you can download the whole thing for free on the All Songs Considered podcast.

Listening to the live version, two things struck me: one specific moment and one general observation. The specific moment is some d-bag in the audience, in the middle of the show, calling for “Valerie Plame.” Sure, that’s a great song, but they’re right in the middle of a freakin’ song cycle, idiot! The general observation: the band’s prog-loving keyboardist, Jenny Conlee, cranked the synths to 11 in concert. Sweet.