Alexander Parij (SingAndStudy) – Interview (Part 2)

Here you have the final part of my interview with Alexander Parij from SingAndStudy. You can read the first part here, of course.



Q:When did you become interested in music? What was the first album or single you ever purchased?

A: I did not have a lot of pocket money to buy CDs, so I mainly listened to the radio.
The first album I purchased was the soundtrack of Spawn when I was teenager.

Q:Are you in a band yourself, or have you been in a band in the past? Is there a clip on YouTube or elsewhere we could watch?

A:Not really.

Q:Musical likes and dislikes? Favorite artists?

A: My music tastes change a lot. I think it progressed from heavy metal to psy-trance and then to something more mellow. Right now I listen a lot to Eduard Artemyev (one of the founders of Soviet electronic music), Pink Floyd and Jimmy Hendrix. Continue reading

Alexander Parij (SingAndStudy) – Interview (Part 1)

Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing Alexander Parij, the founder of SingAndStudy, the service for learning languages through music that I reviewed here, and that I really liked.
The interview is broken down in two parts; the first one is below, and the second part is here.


Full Name: Alexander Parij
Age: 30
Startup: SingAndStudy
Position: Founder



Q:Tell us a little about your startup. How was it conceived? What are its most distinctive features in your opinion?

A: I was taking French courses and to improve listening comprehension skills and just to give us a fun break, the teachers used to direct us to Youtube or some small websites with music videos, giving us a worksheet with lyrics to fill in the words. It was a really fun experience since I think French sounds beautiful, specially when sung. So I started doing the same on my own, searching for videos on Youtube and saving lyrics in plain text file. And then I said I can do something better for myself, programmed it and after using it for a bit, I posted it for download, thinking others might also find it useful. Got some response, added some features doing it as a small side project and eventually when I felt I had something substantial I decided to release it as a paid application. The main drive to create this application was the freedom to choose the songs that I wanted.
There are many websites that try to incorporate songs in education but they are all controlled by editors or they are to complex for the users to submit new material. Learning in a browser is also distracting, it’s so easy to click away, you are bombarded by dieting women on your left side and guys with six pack on you right side. SingAndStudy gives a more private and focused learning experience. And it’s certainly more fun than grammar rules and verb tables!

Q:What was the original launch date?

A: The very basic beta version was launched in February 2009, and in January 2010 I launched version 1.0, which is a paid application.

Q:What has been the response so far? In which countries has it been more successful?

A:The feedback I’m receiving is very exciting. Curiously, some of it comes from people I originally thought they would have no use of SingAndStudy, like parents of small children or teachers. To generalize I would say that SingAndStudy is more popular among small European countries and nations whose people specially like to travel abroad, like Australia or New-Zealand. At least this is consistent with my experience traveling in South America and seeing where most of backpackers came from! Continue reading

Elizabethtown Vol. 1 – Original Soundtrack Album

The First Installment Of The Elizabethtown Soundtrack Was Issued In 2006. Two Different Covers Were Used, You Can See The Other One Below.

The First Installment Of The Elizabethtown Soundtrack Was Issued In 2006. Two Different Covers Were Used, You Can See The Other One Below.

Cameron Crowe’s 2005 film didn’t turn out to be for Americana what “Almost Famous” was for rock and roll. But the comparison should not be drawn that quickly. Look at it like this: just everybody knows what rock and roll music is all about, no matter where he lives. However, many people outside of the States haven’t got an idea what Americana actually is. I live in Uruguay, and few are acquainted with the concept. As a matter of fact, not even the people in charge of the two biggest import stores in the country knew that such a genre existed when I asked them. They had no idea My Morning Jacket was an Americana band, for example. They just associated the band with rock.

I think that such a fact showcases the main hurdle “Elizabethtown” faced, and I am talking about the music – the story was beautifully narrated and uplifting in every sense (look for the review of the movie in the next couple of days). But the music featured on the film lacked the general appeal that the songs on the soundtrack to “Almost Famous” and other films by Crowe like “Vanilla Sky” and “Jerry Maguire” had. The Elizabethtown soundtracks (there were two of them) were to be more specialized by definition. And that is always a barrier that repels a lot of people.

Anyway, those who are keen on the sounds hailing from the southern regions of the US couldn’t ask for a more enlightening album. Both discs are true mini-encyclopedias that touch upon artists both old and new – from Tom Petty and Lindsey Buckingham to Ryan Adams and My Morning Jacket, the old and the new mingle and swap places in a very supple way. Besides, the presence of songs by Patty Griffin only makes the link between past and present stand stronger – her career might have started in earnest in 1992, but she has been around since the late ‘70s, and she has associations with emblematic figures like Emmylou Harris and Ellis Paul.

In any case, many classic rock and pop performers are featured. As far as the first volume goes, these include The Hollies’ excellent “Jesus Was A Crossmaker” (the first song that is featured on the film, during the helicopter sequence) and Elton John. As you know, Elton stole the show on the “Almost Famous” soundtrack with the song “Tiny Dancer” (originally found on “Madman Across The Water”, one of his first truly necessary records from 1971). Suitably enough, the song of his featured on “Elizabethtown” was “My Father’s Gun”, from “Tumbleweed Connection” (his 1970 record devoted to Country and Western themes). In my humble opinion, Elton provided a movie by Cameron Crowe with its most memorable composition once again, although it can’t be negated that the song plays twice, and during key scenes at that (it is actually played during the journey at the end, in the most cathartic moment for Drew, the protagonist).

And Crowe also found room for some oddballs and left turns along the way. The most obvious example is “Let It Out (Let It All Hang Out)”, a one-off hit for a ‘60s band named The Hombres that was never heard about again. The song is disorienting at first (it is lodged between Buckingham’s unendurable “Shut Us Down” and Eastmountainsouth’s “Hard Times”), but it all eventually gels together. Continue reading

Earwurm – For These Songs You Just Can’t Get Out Of Your Head

EarwurmName: Earwurm

I don’t know how useful this site can really be, but it is something different for sure and that is something I always celebrate. It revolves around something that we all are familiar with: the feeling of having a song going round and round in our heads. I once saw a documentary in which a scientist compared the phenomenon with a kind of rash that itches and itches, and that only subsides by applying the right unguent. Scratching it would do no good. The “right unguent” is not the song that is stuck, but rather a different tune that will supersede it. That is one way to conceptualize it all.

Another way to approach it is offered by this site: it names these songs that repeat like a scratched record “earworms”. A handful of other names are provided on the site for the phenomenon, actually, and personal favorites include “involuntary musical imagery” and “tune wedgies”. Whichever name you apply to them, this site is a social resource where you can tell everybody about these songs that just won’t go away. Will doing so make them disappear altogether? Probably not. And has this got a “real” use? Well, I found one myself. There are songs that notwithstanding how awful they are still have an immensely catchy quality. Think “SOS” by the Jonas Brothers, or “Seven Things” by Miley Cyrus. Just one listen can lead to nightmarish times. This site could let those who were unfortunate enough to “become infected” warn everybody in time. Continue reading

Psychoderelict (Pete Townshend) – Album Review

One Of The Two Covers Of "Psychoderelict" (1993)

One Of The Two Covers Of "Psychoderelict" (1993)

Pete Townshend’s relationship with the music industry was always defined by a sort of unresolved tension. His one dream project (Lifehouse) clearly spelt that he wanted something from music and from listeners that was not to be. And that tension began pouring into songs by the point “The Who By Numbers” was issued. The jabs were to become full body blows in solo songs like “Jools & Jim”. And the final solo album that he was to release examined the way artists were at the mercy of unscrupulous managers and press agents as thoroughly as only a lifelong insider could.

Named “Psychoderelict”, the disc came out in 1993 and many experts touted it as one of the comebacks of the decade. But it was to perform ingloriously in the charts, and if we leave aside the “Lifehouse Chronicles” boxed set and some compilations (including a “Best Of” package and another title in the “Scoop” series), Pete was to issue no more original material ever again.

Psychoderelict was a conceptual work that took the shape of a CD drama. The story revolved around a ‘60s s musician named Ray High who ended up cocooning himself as the years went by, much to the chagrin of his ruthless manager Rastus Knight. He was desperate to spur Ray into action, and a music journalist named Ruth Streeting devised a way to revive Ray’s career. This involved the creation of a sex scandal that effectively put the name of Ray in everybody’s lips again.

The CD is made up of songs interspersed with dialogue, and the story is completely understandable (and even funny). Ray High (whose name was a direct homage to Ray Davies and Nick Lowe) is entirely convincing as he rallies against the industry and the press, but the true stars are Ruth and Rastus. They are truly two villains you will love to hate. They are hardnosed and truly mercenary. They are also entirely tangible, and the words they speak to each other must have been spoken a billion times over the fates of artists everywhere. At around the time the disc was issued, Pete told Keith Moon’s biographer Tony Fletcher that the music industry “feeds on the corpses of artists”. By that yardstick, Ruth and Rastus come across as the most accomplished undertakers you are liable to ever come across. Continue reading

The Most Moving Performances In Music (Part 1)

This is the first part of something that I hope to build along with your collaboration. The title speaks for itself, really – I’ll try and collect together these moments in which music becomes a true epiphany.

I have begun by picking my five favorite moments. I have made an effort to include some performances by artists I am yet to add to the blog like Pink Floyd (just give me time), and artists I am to cover more extensively like Queen.

Please, add your suggestions by leaving a comment. The idea is to let everybody discover these performances he might not hear about otherwise, and which are too amazing to be missed. I’m counting on you!

So, without further ado:

1- Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova Perform “Falling Slowly” At The 80th Academy Awards.

Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova Performing "Falling Slowly" Live At The 80th Academy Awards

Glen Hansard & Marketa Irglova Performing "Falling Slowly" Live At The 80th Academy Awards

The stars of “Once” play the movie’s signature tune at the 80th Academy Awards. You can watch the performance here.

2- Pink Floyd Performs At The Live 8

The whole band reunited for the first time in 24 years for the Live 8 festival, and they proved that they still had it. “Comfortably Numb” was the final song they played that night. The performance started gathering momentum when Mason threw his headphones away (around the 2:00 mark)… The song ended up being even more mesmerizing than ever.

3- Music Video: Queen’s “These Are The Days” Continue reading

Using 2 iPads As If They Were A Turntable

Steve Jobs and the guys at Apple were sure the iPad was going to do fine, but sales so far have proven to surpass all their expectations. People are finding more and more uses every day, and some result in the kind of press an entrepreneur can only dream about. I am thinking about the 99-year old woman who now uses the slate to read books – she suffers from glaucoma and the device lets her adapt the size of the text until she can read it comfortably. You can watch that video (now a viral hit) here.

And what’s in store for musicians? Well, the first radical usage of an iPad involves taking two of them and creating a turntable by combining both devices. The person who came up with the idea is Rana June Sobhany, well-known for her extensive coverage on mobile devices and the way they can make life easier for musicians. You can learn more about her by checking her website.

The video below shows the way the combination is done, and the results it can yield.

Cínica (Uruguayan Unsigned Artist) – Part 2: The Music

(Read Cínica’s profile in the first part of this review)

Cinica 3

In art as in life, sometimes execution and ideals can occupy adjacent squares. That is rare, but it does happen sometimes. Think of Jeff Buckley, or Soul Asylum. When it happens, the music creates a mold of its own. And the musician ends up in a position that was perfectly defined by Cat Stevens in the song “Sitting”: “Sitting on my own not by myself, everybody’s here with me / I don’t need to touch your face to know, and I don’t need to use my eyes to see”. All senses but one are rendered superfluous because the power of sound conveys all there is to convey. It is the biggest form of communion between an artist and his public.

Yet, that is not the norm. In the same way that one has to renounce to some (or many) dreams in order to succeed in life, any performer that wants to make it has to sacrifice that ability to stand alone in the most crowded of places (yet always present and seemingly reachable to everybody) and gain a kind of immediacy that in the end disconnects him from those who cared about him, and that he cared about.

I am under the direct impression that many Uruguayan bands do not break into the big time internationally because not many of them are ready to make these sacrifices, compromises or whatever you want to call them. We are a small country, and the sense of unity is very strong – far, far more than some like to admit. There are unwritten rules and lines to toe that actually cross our geographical borders. Any Uruguayan artist crosses a single one of these, and the rest of us look askance on him for evermore.

It is difficult not to think about that when running through the songs any Uruguayan band records for its debut, and wonder whether or not they will reach the end of the process with the same frame of mind they had started out. In the case of Cínica, its first EP (to be self-funded and self-released by the band) will have four original compositions, and one of these (“Panacea”) is also going to be featured in an acoustic version. The remaining songs are “Salvación” [Salvation], “Conciencia” [Conscience] and “Velo Frío” [Cold Veil]. The music is colored with the melodic canvass of a band like Dream Theater, and intermittent brushes of Pink Floyd are used to decorate the remaining spaces.

On the whole, the playing is as tight as that of any band that has been around for some time (Cínica first got together in 2008) I was particularly pleased with the work of the lead guitarist and the drummer (Marcelo Simonetti and Manuel Kastanas respectively, the two founding members of the band). The guitar is suitably stinging and the way the drums are pounded makes me think of a heart that is flayed but that refuses to stop, accelerating when the lyrics require it (listen to the chorus of “Salvación” [Salvation] for a clear example). The combo is rounded up by singer Victoria Campbell and Marcelo’s brother Gonzalo in bass. Victoria’s vocals are focused, and Gonzalo gallops along to the beats set by Manuel pleasurably enough. Marcelo also sings backup, and the first lines of “Conciencia” [Conscience] are actually sung by him.

Both “Salvación” and “Conciencia” are studies on the perils of submissive acceptance in which the catharsis is brought by the instruments, but my personal favorite from these sessions is “Panacea”, maybe on the strength of the intimidating vocals. The sound also seems even more fleshed out than in the other cuts, with the song bearing the most refined introduction from the whole set.   Continue reading

Cínica (Uruguayan Unsigned Artist) – Part 1: Profile & Interview

It fills me with immense joy to officially inaugurate the section of MusicKO devoted to Uruguayan artists that are yet to find a record company.
The first band to be featured is Cínica, from my hometown of Montevideo.
This is the first part of the article, here you can read some basic band information and the answers to the questions I put their way. And you can read my opinion regarding their music in part 2. Of course, you can listen to it here.

An enormous “thank you” to Marcelo, Victoria, Gonzalo and Manuel for their time and enthusiasm.


Band Information

Name: Cínica

Genre: Alternative Metal

Band Members:

Victoria Campbell – Vocals
Marcelo Simonetti – Guitars/ Backing Vocals
Gonzalo Simonetti – Bass Guitar
Manuel Kastanas – Drums

Been Together Since: June 2008

Some Questions

How would you capture the essence of your band in words?

If we’re talking specifically about the band, we could say that we have a great chemistry that is evident if you ever see us onstage. That chemistry is also felt when it comes to writing and giving shape to new songs. We all come from different styles, and in our opinion that is a plus when playing and composing. The resulting music has a mix of various flavors, but always with metal and hard rock at its root.

Are you trying to make a “new” artistic statement as far as Uruguayan music goes? Or will you just let history play its role?

The band started as two friends who met and played for fun, and it developed from that. It got more and more serious, and it eventually grew into a full band. We’ll try to play the music we like and reach out to the most people we can. We know our music has things in common with other bands but we like to think the combo is pretty unique in this country. So time will tell.

How does your music fit in global terms, IE what perception will a person who is located at the opposite end of the world have of it?

In spite of the language (we agreed from the very beginning that the lyrics would be in Spanish) our music could be heard all over the world. We don’t add (yet) elements that have exclusively Uruguayan roots like Candombe or Tango to our music. Most of our lyrics are also about universal issues – IE, issues that anyone could relate to. Continue reading

All This Useless Beauty (Elvis Costello) – Album Review

"All This Useless Beauty" Was The Final Album Elvis Costello Cut With The Attractions

"All This Useless Beauty" Was The Final Album Elvis Costello Cut With The Attractions

Costello’s artistry was in permanent evolution during the mid-90s. Learning to write music at the start of the decade was the first of many events that led him to reconsider his position as a performer and a composer. In 1995 he released a disc devoted from start to finish to covers. The title of the album was “Kojak Variety”, and it felt more like a resume than anything else. There was only one true gem, namely the version of The Kinks’s “Days” (a little known non-album side that is often packaged as a bonus on reissues of “The Village Green Preservation Society” today). And in 1996, after having given us the chance to glance at those artists whose music spoke to him in one level or the other, Costello swapped sides and looked at how he spoke to other artists. He ran through songs he had written for others to perform, and decided to interpret them for what was to be the final studio album with The Attractions: “All This Useless Beauty”.

At the time, many critics did not get the point. The charge was that Costello was running out of steam, hence his decision to play other people’s material. Now, more than fifteen years later we know that Costello was not really running out of steam. Rather, he was accumulating steam for an unbridled return. He wasn’t empty – he was almost half-full by then. He let it all grow and grow inside of him, and when the time came he ventured forth again without breaking stride with albums like “The Delivery Man”, “Il Sogno” and “Momofuku”.

But that was to come later. If we situated ourselves back in 1996, what we had was a disc made up of songs written for others like “Complicated Shadows” (composed for Johnny Cash) and “All This Useless Beauty” (penned for June Tabor) along with collaborations like “The Other End Of The Telescope” (written with Aimee Mann, and originally issued on ‘Til Tuesday’s album “Everything’s Different Now”) and “Shallow Grave”, a leftover from the writing sessions with Paul MacCartney.

Surprisingly for songs that came from so many sources and that were meant for so many dissimilar destinations, the album had quite a pronounced sense of unity. Of course, some songs were altered in order to suit Elvis’ sound – “Complicated Shadows” was done as a loud rocker, and a countrified version was not to surface until “Secret, Profane & Sugarcane” saw release in 2009.

“All This Useless Beauty” had a predominance of ballads and mid-paced cuts. The exceptions were “Complicated Shadows”, the rockabilly-oriented “Shallow Grave” and the exciting “You Bowed Down” (grossly omitted on “Extreme Honey”). This stood in direct contrast with “Brutal Youth”, a disc that was defined by songs in which Costello revisited his roots. There is only one tune on “All This Useless Beauty” that could have fitted on the previous disc, namely “Starting To Come To Me”. But if the energy was what characterized “Brutal Youth”, a true refinement would be the key note of “All This Useless Beauty”. And that refinement didn’t just boil down to the actual performances being tamer.  Mitchell Froom was no longer acting as Costello’s producer. That was a defining factor. Continue reading