Carlos Paredes

Carlos Paredes

Regular readers of this feature might know that I have a thing for unusual stringed instruments. Last month, I found myself listening to an awful lot of music performed on the Portuguese guitar, a 12-string instrument with a rounded body that plays in integral role in creating the sound known as fado. There are two major types of fado and two corresponding models of Portuguese guitar: fado from Lisbon, which is the classical form, dating back to the early 19th century; and fado from Coimbra, which arose in the early 20th century and is played on a slightly larger instrument with a teardrop-shaped body. My perfect Portuguese guitar is the Coimbra model, as played by Carlos Paredes, the defining virtuoso of the instrument. Paredes, whose father helped invent Coimbra fado, was a musical prodigy who seemed destined for greatness from early on, but it took him until he was in his early 40s to cut an album. (He had what they call a “compelling reason,” though, having been imprisoned and blacklisted for his Communist ties.) The result, 1967’s Guitarra Portuguesa, is one of those sublime, revelatory, once-in-a-blue-moon recordings that introduces an artist who is already fully formed. Compositions like “Romance No. 1” and “Canção Verdes Anos” (written for the 1963 film Os Verdes Anos) showcase the instrument in all of its stark, loping, expressive power. (To my millennial ears, the former sounds oddly Jonny Greenwood-esque.) Paredes’ 1971 follow-up, Movimento Perpétuo, is little more than a slight reworking of Guitarra Portuguesa, though new compositions like the title cut, in which Paredes’ guitar races over a baroque progression, make it very worth seeking out. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]

Advertisement

Knock computer-unlocking app

The commenters might make fun of me for this one, and they’ll be right to do so. Knock is an app with a single function: to unlock your Mac by whacking your iPhone. My Mac at work is set to turn off the display and lock itself (i.e., require a password) after five minutes of idle time. I do this to maintain some illusion of privacy in our cursed “open office,” where every moment is subject to observation and therefore judgment by our colleagues. By locking my Mac when I’m away, I at least know that my emails and browsing history are safe from prying eyes, and nobody has to know that I use corporate time to watch pornography and old game show reruns, not necessarily in that order. The downside to locking my Mac is that I have to enter my password a lot, which gets old. That’s where Knock comes in. Now that I’ve installed Knock and paired it with my Mac, to unlock the computer I just rap twice on the phone in my pocket, like I’m knocking on a door (a door in my pants). This convenience is as minor as they come—it’s not like typing in my password was such a burden. And perhaps it’s not ideal to make a habit of slapping my fancy smartphone. But Knock is fun and feels like the future, which is why I like it. [John Teti]

John Galm, Sky Of No Stars

Advertisement

As the lead singer of Street Smart Cyclist and Snowing, John Galm was out ahead of emo’s recent resurgence by a few years. When Snowing broke up in 2011 it felt like that scene was on its last legs instead of on the cusp of a rebirth, as the loss of the band came at a time when many of the scene’s best (Grown Ups, Cloud Mouth, Algernon Cadwallader) were disbanding. In Snowing’s wake, Galm has played in a pair of garage-punk bands (Slow Warm Death, The Beds), but on his first solo album, Sky Of No Stars, he opts to turn down the noise and show off his Leonard Cohen influence across eight songs that all vie for the title of “feel-bad anthem of the year.” Galm is no stranger to ruminating on death, and Sky Of No Stars comes across as his bleakest endeavor yet, as songs about funerals (“Thirty Five Hundred Days”), falling asleep at the wheel (“Accident”), and personifying the bullets that took the lives of Hunter S. Thompson and Kurt Cobain (“Death #1”) are just the tip of the depressing iceberg. It’s an album that creaks toward its end, offering up the simplest instrumentation and places evocative melodies atop, making Sky Of No Stars easily one of the saddest albums released this year and–strangely–one of the most cathartic. [David Anthony]