Wednesday, August 22, 2012

USA Today IDs Sorenson Media As Indicator of San Diego Tech Strength

USA Today just published its "Top Cities for Technology Start-Ups" -- identifying the top 10.  Coming in 6th was San Diego -- and, USA Today prominently identifies Sorenson Media as being one of the 3 key data points to support that conclusion (along with Qualcomm and online music service Slacker).  San Diego's North County Times also chimes in, focusing on Sorenson Media's role in playing "a key role in connecting LA's entertainment sector to San Diego's technology talent."

Good stuff.  We'll take that.  And, we definitely like it here ....

METRIC -- The Best Undiscovered, Discovered Band -- "Synthetica" Reviewed

Yesterday, I posted the new song/video "Madness" from Muse -- perhaps the single most "on the radar" band in the world today.  Everyone is aware of every move they make.  And, for good reason.  They are great artists.  Epic.  Bombastic.  A Queen for current times.

And then there are bands that are great, but continuously fly "under the radar."  Canadian band, Metric, is one such band.

Yes, you know the song "Help, I'm Alive."  Yes, they at least momentarily hit your radar screen with their album "Fantasies" from a few years back.  But, did you know that the band began recording back in the late '90s?  I didn't.  I hadn't even listened to any albums earlier than "Fantasies," until now.  And, I now "get" the power of lead singer Emily Haines.  She is good.  Very good.  Great style.  Great substance.  Great attitude.  She channels her inner Debbie Harry ("Blondie") -- but she is no copycat.

What got me going "all Metric" is the band's outstanding new album "Synthetica," which was released a few months back.  At the time, I listened to it once -- and then discarded it.  BIG MISTAKE which, thankfully, I rectified this past week in which I have obsessively listened to the entire album over and over and over again.  It is that good.  This one may be even better than "Fantasies," and that is saying a lot.

Here's my track by track snap review (meaning, abbreviated -- I'll give my verdict for each track):

(1) "Artificial Nocturne" -- the perfect way to start out a new album (especially a concept album like this one); start slow; make a statement; this does it text-book (but without sounding formulaic); this one sets the stage for experiencing an entire album (and not just single tracks) -- remember doing that? -- VERDICT -- thumbs up, strongly;

(2) Youth Without Youth" -- the album's first single, and it's a rocker (check out the video of this track below) -- love the title (let's face it, our kids find it almost impossible to be kids these days with all of the influences around them); as one reviewer pointed out, this song is Muse-like in its "bigness" -- VERDICT -- thumbs up, strongly;

 (3) "Speed the Collapse" -- only Metric could make a song about global warming/climate change rocking and haunting at the same time; great track -- is the album's inevitable next (third) single -- VERDICT -- thumbs up, strongly (3 for 3 -- impressive beginning!);

(4) "Breathing Underwater" -- this is the album's second single, and deservedly so; this song sounds very much at home with the vibe of "Fantasies," but stands on its own merits -- one of my favorites -- VERDICT -- thumbs up, strongly (4 for 4? virtually unheard of!);

(5) "Dreams So Real" -- "I'll Shut Up and Carry On, The Scream Becomes a Yawn" -- Emily repeats those words throughout this track; tedious?  Perhaps a bit -- at the same time, this intentionally breaks the flow of the first 4 grand-slam songs; not a favorite -- but it fits -- VERDICT -- thumbs slightly down (hey, at least you know the band didn't pay me off);

(6) "Lost Kitten" -- yet another track with an entirely different vibe than tracks 1-4, and that's the beauty; this one is bouncy, kitsch, funny ... it is a great playground for Emily's vocal and attitudinal gymnastics -- I could also see this on a Blondie album in the early '80s -- works beautifully -- VERDICT -- thumbs up;

(7) "The Void" -- vintage Metric, which means that, once again, there is a nod to "Blondie" and most definitely to Debbie Harry -- VERDICT -- thumbs up;

(8) "Synthetica" -- this is the title track, and another track that would fit on "Fantasies," but works well here -- this one is fast driving power new wave rock and roll (check out the Cars-like keyboards) -- VERDICT -- thumbs up;

(9) "Clone" -- brings the tempo down -- changes it up -- and, again, it just works -- VERDICT -- thumbs up, not strongly, but thumbs up; works as part of the overall concept/album;

(10) "The Wanderlust" -- uptempo track that is infused with an air of nostalgia -- has a throw-back vibe to it; an otherwise strong track is, however, thrown off course by the back-up male vocals that simply don't work (in fact, are distracting ... or more accurately, annoying); we want more Emily, and less "him" (whoever "him" is) -- VERDICT -- a thumbs up, but not enthusiastically due to "him";

(11) "Nothing But Time" -- my favorite track; haunting, mystical, magical -- listen to this track while driving late night with nothing around you (think a desert drive); love this song; almost a throw-back to old Alan Parsons concept albums (but don't let me scare you away with that label); the song crescendos for the first 2 minutes to the climax and break out lyrics -- worth the wait.  Emily's vocals are epic.  Would love to see this performed live in concert -- VERDICT -- thumbs up, way up.

OVERALL REVIEW -- 4.5 out of 5 stars -- this is a "run, don't walk" scenario; check it out; and give it a chance ... and several listens.  I did, and am glad I did.  One of the best albums I have heard in a long, long time.

POST-SCRIPT -- Metric's first album is titled "Old World Underground, Where Are You Now?"  The band was very much post-punk then -- harsher, un-polished, all attitude (but the elements were there).  Check out the song "Dead Disco."  You'll be glad you did ....

POST-POST SCRIPT -- here are my other recent "snap reviews":

Silversun Pickups -- "Neck of the Woods" (I gave it 5 out of 5 stars at the time; candidly, now looking back at it, I would give the album 4 out of 5 stars -- I got a bit carried away since I had just seen them a few days before at KROQ's "Weenie Roast" event in Irvine)

The Shins -- "Port of Morrow" (3.5 out of 5 stars)

Death Cab for Cutie -- "Codes and Keys" (3.5 out of 5 stars)

Arcade Fire -- "The Suburbs" (did not rate it with stars -- but certainly gave it a ringing endorsement)

Muse -- "The Resistance" (not really a formal review -- but rather a state of mind musing as I traveled in Europe)

Givers -- "In Light" & Beach House -- "Bloom" (again, not a formal review -- but this is a 2 for the price 1 state-of-mind-musing of two great bands that are still very much under the radar ....)

To Change U/X, or Not to Change U/X, THAT Is the Question!

Windows 8 has garnered rave reviews for Microsoft's re-thinking of its own O/S's user experience (UX).  In essence, with Windows 8, Microsoft has disrupted its iconic self, signaling bold new moves to match the world's bold moves beyond the desktop.  Problem is, Microsoft's bold moves may be a bit too bold for PC users.  Lots of press in the past 24 hours about a prominent usability expert who finds Windows 8 to be a significant step BACKWARD for PC users in terms of overall productivity and usability (calling it "confusing" and "a cognitive burden").

These are the perils of disrupting a U/X that, even if sub-optimal, essentially has been ingrained in users' DNA.  Microsoft did it for all the right reasons.  Microsoft, by most accounts, was (dare we say?) imaginative and innovative in its execution.  But, Microsoft -- like others that are similarly situated -- are saddled with their legacy.  And, it is exceedingly difficult to leave the past completely behind -- at least in one release -- when it comes to U/X.

We faced this same issue when I first came to Sorenson Media in early 2009.  By that time, Sorenson Squeeze already was THE pre-eminent desktop software encoding application for video professionals.  Squeeze had a significant customer base, the majority of whom had been customers for years and had grown accustomed to a certain workflow U/X.  Yet, we had not refreshed Squeeze's U/X for years, and we had significant new capabilities (including a new online video platform called "360") that deserved a fresh approach.

So, when we set out to re-think the overall Squeeze U/X for what eventually came to be known as Squeeze 6, we first engaged in an internal philosophical discussion on this issue.  And, after much sturm and drang, we concluded that we should not start Tabula Rasa with respect to the U/X.  We concluded, instead, that we should reach a compromise on the subject -- i.e., retain the fundamental Squeeze U/X elements to which our customers were accustomed, but then also augment those elements with a new and expanded mind-set (which included our compelling new whistles and bells).

And, you know what?  That was absolutely the right decision -- i.e., to celebrate the past while embracing a compelling new future -- and to evolve our overall U/X gradually over time (rather than as Microsoft did it, in one fell swoop).  Reviews of Squeeze 6 were unanimous in their praise of the "new" U/X (and, more importantly, Squeeze 6 became our biggest seller to date).  Our product and development teams hit it out of the park, so much so that our U/X today (we are now on Squeeze 8.5 nearly 3 years later) is essentially the same.  This means, of course, that we are engaged in these philosophical discussions once again.  The reality is that it never ends.

To be clear, Microsoft should be applauded for its bold moves -- for its willingness to re-invent itself.  And, there are no easy answers to this age-old dilemma.  Every product-focused company that has any customer base to speak of struggles to "get it right."

The market ultimately will decide for Microsoft whether Windows 8 was -- or was not -- the right decision.