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A Map Of The Floating City
November 13, 2011 4:54 PM   Subscribe

Thomas Dolby's first album of original material in nearly 20 years is not only a CD and an online MMO game, but it's also an opportunity to look inside the creative process of one of the more respected artists of our time.

Dolby first introduced his new compositions at TED, when he played Love Is A Loaded Pistol backed by a string quartet. The first known track in his Amerikana EP, he soon followed it up with The Toad Lickers, the creation of which he explored in depth in two parts. (Bonus video looking behind the scenes of the creation of the music video.) He continued to let his online audience peek behind the curtain as he explained how he constructed Road To Reno (in three parts) and 17 Hills (also in three parts).

Dolby then released the second EP, Oceanea, which consists of three tracks: Oceanea, Simone, and To The Lifeboats. He took some time to answer questions from fans about the creation of these songs (in two parts).

The third of the three EPs is Urbanoia, which was never released as an EP on its own, but which opens the album. It includes the tracks Spice Train and Evil Twin Brother. Dolby has, as of yet, not offered any in-depth look into how these tracks were recorded.

Thomas Dolby recently embarked on a lecture tour of the US which featured him speaking about his album and the game related to it. While not much of his lecture has been recorded, the following performances were captured in Seattle:

Europa And The Pirate Twins
To The Lifeboats
Love Is A Loaded Pistol
Evil Twin Brother
The Toad Lickers
Spice Train
Intro to She Blinded Me With Science
She Blinded Me With Science
Hyperactive!

Dolby plans on doing a full tour of the US in 2012.

BONUS VIDEO: Dolby's cat knows how to pee in a toilet. Which is kind of what I'd expect from Thomas Dolby's cat.
posted by hippybear (62 comments total) 51 users marked this as a favorite

 
BRIGHT PINK LEATHER INTERIOR
posted by The Whelk at 4:58 PM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


OH Hallelujah! I had given up. One Of Our Submarines was a PULL THE CAR OVER AND STARE AT THE RADIO moment for me. Matthew Seligman is also one of my heroes.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:01 PM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Somewhere, Howard Jones weeps.
posted by docgonzo at 5:06 PM on November 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


BRIGHT PINK LEATHER INTERIOR

Aliens Ate My Buick is one of the most slept-on freakball masterpieces ever. Dude is a true star, and the new stuff is also wonderful wonderful.
posted by mintcake! at 5:14 PM on November 13, 2011 [4 favorites]


It would be awesome if we were all playing RMFs in our web browsers today.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:34 PM on November 13, 2011


Excellent news. Thanks, hippybear. I hadn't realized how much I've been waiting for a TD fpp until you wrote this. Now I've got something to listen to tomorrow when working.

I just listened to Aliens Ate My Buick for the first time in more 15 years, and, damn, what an album.
posted by mollweide at 5:47 PM on November 13, 2011


Aliens Ate My Buick is one of the most slept-on freakball masterpieces ever.

The secret ingredient was Bill Bottrell. His 90's productions are amongst the very best in the business. The bass & drum intro to Pulp Culture alone is worth the price of admission.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:50 PM on November 13, 2011


I went to see him during the Sole Inhabitant tour, knowing only is soundtrack to the Gate to the Mind's Eye and came away a huge fan.
posted by mkb at 5:54 PM on November 13, 2011


It's hard to believe that the guy who invented an entire audio encoding format just so we could hear his music in surround sound is also a brilliant artist. Truly a Donald Knuth of our time.
posted by indubitable at 5:58 PM on November 13, 2011


I thought Donald Knuth was the Donald Knuth of our time.

Are you saying they are doppelgängers? WHICH IS REAL?
posted by LogicalDash at 6:03 PM on November 13, 2011


I'm not yet feeling the love for AMotFC. It seems ... to be sort of piecemeal and staggered.

I did help TMDR with his wind turbine noise problem, tho' ...
posted by scruss at 6:05 PM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is Lea Thompson involved? Just for old times sake?
posted by jonmc at 6:11 PM on November 13, 2011


It's hard to believe that the guy who invented an entire audio encoding format just so we could hear his music in surround sound is also a brilliant artist. Truly a Donald Knuth of our time.

Thomas Dolby has nothing to do with either Dolby noise reduction or Dolby surround encoding.

He did, however, invent the Beatnik synthesizer, which at one point was part of 2/3 of all cell phones sold, which is beyond impressive.
posted by hippybear at 6:12 PM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


By coincidence I just bought his first two albums: Golden Age of Wireless because that's where the hits are, and The Flat Earth because to this day I think it's an underrated near-masterpiece.

Aliens Ate My Buick left me cold. Only listened to it once, though, and I ought to give it another try. The soundtrack work I've heard has been a mixed bag, though.

I got to see him on tour a few years ago, where he gave a solo performance of his older songs, surrounded by keyboards and electronics and with a projection screen above him. It had a nice relaxed vibe, like he was playing for friends, and on one of the later numbers he treated us to a demonstration of how he layers his songs from individual parts, using a number of small cameras arrayed over the keyboards and consoles. Great fun.
posted by ardgedee at 6:19 PM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Dolby's the Flat Earth is also well worth a listen - He does great justice to Dan Hick's I Scare Myself - which has to be one of the all time great love songs
posted by the noob at 6:19 PM on November 13, 2011


No love for Astronauts & Heretics?
posted by SansPoint at 6:26 PM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


And he also played Keys on Foerigner's 4 and Def Lep's Pyromania.
posted by jonmc at 6:27 PM on November 13, 2011


This is very exciting. Thank you for sharing. I'm a relative newcomer to Dolby, but have heard enough to know he is a master. "I Love You, Goodbye" captures exactly that essence.

Tying in a game is the kind of thing he does to push the envelope. In some ways it reminds me of Tangerine Dream's accentuation though film. I'm signing up to play just to see what a Thomas Dolby -soundtracked game will be like.
posted by iurodivii at 6:28 PM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Aliens Ate My Buick left me cold. Only listened to it once, though, and I ought to give it another try.

I am currently listening to Budapest By Blimp over and over on the headphones while I wait for the new album to download from the iTunes store. I'll refund you the purchase price if you still don't like it, after a good and loud headphones-only, paying attention listen. I'll even make a little chocolate hat to eat. It was a slow-burner for me, but it gets better and better with each listen, as the details emerge.

He does great justice to Dan Hick's I Scare Myself

Orgasmic. Face-Of-God stuff, right there.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:28 PM on November 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


He's the source of my most favoritest quote about music ever:

"I think that album proved to hordes of Foreigner fans that the synthesizer didn't have to sound like a box of moribund wasps..."
posted by etherist at 6:32 PM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


No love for Astronauts & Heretics?

Fitting, perhaps:
Boom! there's a cannon for the first twenty years
Boom! there's a cannon for the next.

It's not mixed as well as the previous three (really heavy on the high-mids, & thin) but there's some good songs there. Beauty of a Dream has some great lyrics, and features Gerry Garcia.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:33 PM on November 13, 2011


And he also played Keys on Foerigner's 4 and Def Lep's Pyromania.

and wrote "New Toy!" and produced Steve McQueen!
posted by mintcake! at 6:41 PM on November 13, 2011


The Flat Earth because to this day I think it's an underrated near-masterpiece

I totally agree. Great album.
posted by davebush at 6:41 PM on November 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


Love Dolby, and my favourite album of his is Flat Earth. Gosh that takes me back...........
posted by seawallrunner at 6:44 PM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


From Buick -- my favourite Dolby: The Key to Her Ferrari.
posted by bowline at 7:00 PM on November 13, 2011


Dolby also did the soundtrack to The Gate To The Mind's Eye, the third in the Mind's Eye series of computer animation compilations. Which oddly isn't listed on his Wikipedia page as part of his discography.
posted by hippybear at 7:01 PM on November 13, 2011


I just recently fell into a mad obsession with Dolby's music. At least half of his discography left me completely cold upon first listen, but over time has grown on me exponentially. A Map of the Floating City also struck me as uneven and mostly mediocre the first time I heard it, but after many listens I really dig almost all of it. Still despise "Evil Twin Brother" though. The Oceana EP segment of the album is among his best work, I think.

For those who have exhausted the man's discography and want more, I strongly recommend you check out the album mintcake! just mentioned, "Steve McQueen" by Prefab Sprout. It's an excellent cheesy 80's pop album, and it's got Dolby's fingerprints all over it.
posted by One Second Before Awakening at 7:09 PM on November 13, 2011


I can confidently state I will be at any 2012 Dolby concert in the DC area, and if I'm not there I probably am no longer alive. Would any Dolby-idealizing folks like to go too?
posted by itstheclamsname at 7:11 PM on November 13, 2011


A Map of the Floating City also struck me as uneven and mostly mediocre the first time I heard it, but after many listens I really dig almost all of it. Still despise "Evil Twin Brother" though.

That's funny. Evil Twin Brother was kind of the doorway into the album for me. It's just such a funny track. That plus the "there are no fucking lifeboats" line in the closing track really got me to listen to the album much more in-depth than I had before.

At this point, I'm mildly obsessed with this new release. I keep trying to move on to other albums, but keep coming back to this release. The tragic story of Road To Reno actually moved me to tears not too long ago, and that was after hearing the song a zillion times.

Dolby is a pretty remarkable music creator. Anyone who has only heard his early hit about being blinded with science really needs to dig more deeply into what he has offered.
posted by hippybear at 7:16 PM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


I am currently listening to Budapest By Blimp over and over on the headphones while I wait for the new album to download from the iTunes store. I'll refund you the purchase price if you still don't like it, after a good and loud headphones-only, paying attention listen. I'll even make a little chocolate hat to eat. It was a slow-burner for me, but it gets better and better with each listen, as the details emerge.

Devils Rancher beat me to it. I was mixed on AAMB as well, but Budapest By Blimp is a song that I can never tire of. Dolby is different things to different people, but for me it's moments like the backing vocal at the end of Cloudburst at Shingle Street..."when I was small, I was in love..."
posted by docpops at 7:27 PM on November 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


I won't have time to dig into this tonight, but thank you for this post. I'm so hoping he comes to Austin, because he's an utter treat to watch live. (Have not listened to the entire new album yet but I have the two earlier EPs and love most of his older material.)
posted by immlass at 7:35 PM on November 13, 2011


For what it's worth, the remastered versions of his first two albums that came out a couple of years ago dodged the hellhole of brickwalled compression that plagues most recent reissues, and are both well worth picking up. Plus, after almost twenty years and god-only-knows how many reconfigurations later, they finally put the original LP tracks back on The Golden Age of Wireless.

I haven't picked up A Map of the Floating City yet, but I'm looking forward to it.
posted by Lazlo at 7:35 PM on November 13, 2011


Dolby is a huge inspiration for me, partly because he's a great musician, and partly because his good musicianship merges neatly with my electronic fetishes.

"Windpower," besides being my all-time sentimental favorite, showcased the dynamic sonic potential of the PPG wavetable in a bassline played on a prototype PPG 340 wavecomputer that was originally used to control light shows for Tangerine Dream. It's a sort of sound that it's hard to produce even now, and my early-nineties struggles to make sounds with shifting wavetables on my Ensoniq EPS eventually ended up with my contacting the designers of the instrument in Malvern, PA, who told me what I was trying to do was impossible. I sent them a disc of my refutation, and was congratulated heartily, though when Transwaves appeared on later instruments, I'm convinced they should have thanked me, but maybe it was just parallel evolution at work.

Big shoes, big shoes.

"The Flat Earth" was another sweet spot, underpinned by that lovely Fairlight-sampled tweedly drone that created a feeling with just a sound, washing gently in and out of the mix like brain waves and counterpointing Page R percussion with a delicacy that was just glorious.

The first time I found myself wandering off Mulholland at night, wandering the hills in the midst of a doomed romance, I looked for deer and heard the piping of those Fairlight flutes in my head.

There's something in the way he worked, where it's not just the standard voice against standard instrumentation in standard forms, where sound was magic—and I joyfully bankrupted myself buying synthesizers when I could have had a better car, better clothes, better trips, and a better home, chasing that delicate thread.

Sometimes I catch it. It's not easy.

Astronauts & Heretics is, as best we can tell, the first complete album produced using a sequencer with in-board audio recording, the gorgeous and also-doomed Studio Vision. The stamp of the Fairlight is everywhere on Flat Earth and Aliens Ate My Buick, but in the same way that The Dreaming is a Fairlight album without being a Fairlight demo record, there's a genius touch there, so gentle and so curious.

Dolby has that kind of awkward brilliance that's sort of cursed his later work, because every album has been a new canvas, and the industry can't really work with musicians who do that, always reaching further. With Flat Earth, everyone wanted Golden Age Volume II, then he took a day-glo absurdist Los Angeles lurch with Aliens, then a sort of incomprehensible star-turn/inner poetry jump to Astronauts.

If I didn't know A Map of the Floating City was recorded in a little land-bound boat and you told me after hearing it that it was recorded in a little land-bound boat, it would make perfect sense. There's a quality to it that sounds like it's something brewed up out on an imaginary sea, and like all of his albums after Golden Age, it's got clinkers, but once you file those away with "Hyperactive," "May The Cube Be With You" and some of his fun, but lesser work, it's just a wonder.

There are many great musicians who don't care so much about timbre and atmosphere, but I'm glad he's always taken the road less traveled.
posted by sonascope at 7:48 PM on November 13, 2011 [9 favorites]


Plus, after almost twenty years and god-only-knows how many reconfigurations later, they finally put the original LP tracks back on The Golden Age of Wireless.


Thank you. For years, my iTunes playlist of Golden Age was CD tracks interspersed with vinyl-to-digital recordings from the LP I made on my old Cube through a cheap-ass USB dongle-thingy. The live drum version of Radio Silence always seemed superior to me, and I loved Urges & Leipzig both. Andy Partridge played the shaker on Urges.

I finally deleted the scratchy vinyl versions just this year. The remasters are nice, and it's good to finally have the holy grail of Dolby rarities, The Wreck of the Fairchild at last.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:56 PM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


Le sigh. Let the Mayan calendar (whichever) strikes us now. More new Kate Bush, and new Devo, AND new Dolby.

Life is good.

Saw him back in the 80's. A truly treasured concert. And Europa and the Pirate Twins never fails to get me chair dancing. And yesterday I was humming She Blinded Me With Science at work, complete with the SCIENCE! hook.

Yummy.

And I liked Hyperactive. It was, well, epistonyrical (fuck it - too tired to spell - long day at work).
posted by Samizdata at 8:01 PM on November 13, 2011


To me, the "holy grail of Dolby rarities" was the 'Guitar Version' of "Radio Silence", which was replaced with a slower, more electronic and twee-er version between the first and second pressings of the "Wireless" album. (I had gotten a radio promo copy of the original LP from a friend at KROQ). My vinyl was lost before I started mp3-ing my record collection eons ago, and I first wandered into the scary world of unauthorized copies on the internet looking for it. (The first copy I found had a SKIP from the original vinyl!) I'm so glad it was included in the 2009 re-issue so I could convince some people it wasn't a figment of my imagination. TUNE IN TO-NIIIIGHT!
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:29 PM on November 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


I can't say there is an album ever that has stayed with me like The Flat Earth.

As kids, my friend Jeff Conover and I were huge fans of that album. Neither of us could listen to it enough. To be honest, in retrospect and unbeknownst to us, I don't think anyone expected an album like that from the same person who did The Golden Age of Wireless and previously played keyboards for Foreigner.

But there it was.

Anyhow, we caught the show at Tampa Theatre. We bought tickets, were young, and didn't understand anything, really, about live shows until we got there.

And what we found was that we had front-row seats in a swank theatre for one of the best shows I have ever seen in my life. It affected the direction of my appreciation of all art, all stage performance, all live music.

Jeff, to his credit, went on to work with muppets as chief imagineer at Disney.

It was that kind of show.
posted by Mike Mongo at 9:51 PM on November 13, 2011 [3 favorites]


PS A few years later, in Atlanta when I ran into George Clinton for the first time, right after Aliens Ate My Buick, I asked him about TD. George said, "Oh yeah man. Cool cat. We went fishing."
posted by Mike Mongo at 9:51 PM on November 13, 2011 [5 favorites]


I had no idea that Metafilter hid a secret cache of Thomas Dolby fans.

of which I am most definitely one
posted by davejay at 10:05 PM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


davejay: "I had no idea that Metafilter hid a secret cache of Thomas Dolby fans.

of which I am most definitely one
"

You may be a secret Dolby fan.

I, on the other hand, AM OUT AND PROUD!
posted by Samizdata at 10:21 PM on November 13, 2011 [1 favorite]


davejay, Welcome to the MetaFilter Secret Cache of Thomas Dolby Fans, founded 2006 by wendell. When people around here talk about 'the cabal', that's what they're REALLY talking about.

But seriously, the first rule of the MetaFilter Secret Cache of Thomas Dolby Fans is: TELL EVERYBODY ABOUT THE METAFILTER SECRET CACHE OF THOMAS DOLBY FANS.
posted by oneswellfoop at 10:27 PM on November 13, 2011 [2 favorites]


Speaking of which, this made me dig out ALL of my Dolby which I am grinding through right now. Currently listening to Dissidents.

Now if there was ever hope for AoN, the awesomefecta would be complete.
posted by Samizdata at 10:37 PM on November 13, 2011


I had no idea that Metafilter hid a secret cache of Thomas Dolby fans.

Trying to suss out the various versions of The Golden Age of Wireless is what got me started creating discographies, which was pretty much my online "thing" for a decade or so, and which in turn allowed me to correspond with -- and even meet -- a lot of artists whose work I love, including (full circle!) Dolby himself.

Yeah, serious Thomas Dolby fan.
posted by Lazlo at 11:46 PM on November 13, 2011


I had no idea that Metafilter hid a secret cache of Thomas Dolby fans.

We are legion.
posted by Joey Michaels at 12:31 AM on November 14, 2011


I had no idea that Metafilter hid a secret cache of Thomas Dolby fans.

Of course. We buy his singles and see all his films.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 1:36 AM on November 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


Just piling on to say what a lovely surprise it was to find this thread and so much love for TD this morning. I thought I was the Sole Inhabitant. Me and my best pal at school Andi were similarly all over The Golden Age and The Flat Earth when they came out (purchased on vinyl from dear old Woolworths). Saw him on The Flat Earth tour at the Dominion on Tottenham Court Road (and he was awesome).

So many old songs stand out for me, so I will have to give the new stuff proper attention this week.

TGOW is still utterly brilliant, especially love the cinematic opening to Weightless, and the way it just goes "urrrr..." and fall over, then drops into that perfectly timed vocal. Pure genius.

That saidThe Flat Earth is still, after all these years, probably my number one 'sit down and remind myself who I am song'.

"...and if love is all you're missing, look into your heart, is anybody home?"

I thought I was immune...
posted by Chairboy at 2:10 AM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


New Thomas Dolby, new Kate Bush - - be still my beating heart!

(Now if Vangelis can just perform live in my town, I'll die happy.)
posted by fairmettle at 2:40 AM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


$27? For a CD?
posted by thelonius at 3:31 AM on November 14, 2011


> they finally put the original LP tracks back on The Golden Age of Wireless.

Or, alternatively, broke the sequence that more people know and love.
posted by scruss at 5:20 AM on November 14, 2011


His label screwed the track order to cram the hits from the EP onto the not-as-well-selling album. The remaster restored Dolby's desired original running order. Artists should have some say in track sequencing.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:05 AM on November 14, 2011


OMG! I'm a big Dolby fan too! Nobody has shown any love for "Screen Kiss" yet, so I'm just going to say it took a very long time for me to warm up to it on "Flat Earth."

But then I heard Joni Mitchell's "Hejira" and it all made sense.
posted by modernserf at 6:19 AM on November 14, 2011 [1 favorite]


Definitely going to shell out for this one come payday... Got the "Oceanea" EP and loved it. Hearing Eddi Reader sing is always a joy, but hearing her sing TMDR is pure heaven.
posted by El Brendano at 6:27 AM on November 14, 2011


$27? For a CD?

Well, to be fair, I did link to the deluxe edition of the CD. You can get the regular release for a much more normal price.
posted by hippybear at 6:42 AM on November 14, 2011


I had no idea that Metafilter hid a secret cache of Thomas Dolby fans.

and Hello Larry fans. Scary, isn't it?
posted by jonmc at 6:43 AM on November 14, 2011


OK, that's good.....I thought that was kind of steep. I don't mind paying for music, but, come on.

Like many, I really loved The Flat Earth, starting with the MTV video for "Dissidents", and then discovering the divine "Screen Kiss". I'll check the new one out.
posted by thelonius at 6:45 AM on November 14, 2011


It's hard to believe that the guy who invented an entire audio encoding format just so we could hear his music in surround sound is also a brilliant artist. Truly a Donald Knuth of our time.

Thomas Dolby has nothing to do with either Dolby noise reduction or Dolby surround encoding.


Not only are they different, but Dolby Digital actively pursued a lawsuit against Thomas Dolby for years to get him to change his stage name (the musician's real name is Thomas Richardson).
posted by aught at 7:23 AM on November 14, 2011


Somewhere, Howard Jones weeps.

You would too if you were the fastest runner but you weren't allowed to win.
posted by mintcake! at 7:45 AM on November 14, 2011 [4 favorites]


Or, alternatively, broke the sequence that more people know and love.

To be fair, the album was released with (at my last count) five different track listings, so there really isn't a single version that makes sense for a "definitive" reissue other than the original LP.
posted by Lazlo at 8:57 PM on November 14, 2011


I was afraid when I clicked into the thread that it'd be all cynical and snarky but instead it's luminescent with shared love. That's the kind of thread I like.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 3:05 AM on November 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow, I like this place. Intelligent, respectful and insightful.

Thomas Dolby's actual real name is Thomas Robertson. Ray Dolby sued and won the right to restrict his use of the name Dolby exclusively to it being used in conjunction with Thomas. Previously Thomas had released material under the name Dolby's Cube. The reason Dr Ray was so uptight about it is that he has a son named... Yep. The other Thomas Dolby is a author of extremely questionable quality.

I'm a mod at Thomas's web-site where there is a community forum at www.thomasdolby.com so if you are really into his thing, and it sounds as if a number of you really are, then you might like to drop into www.thomasdolby.com. There is a wealth of information and plently of like-mindeds discussing all things Dolby there.

The new album is great. As others have alluded to, Thomas's music has rarely found light in the mainstream because it's music you need to think about. Of course there are the Hyperactives that need no real analysis and give instant gratification on the first listen but for every one of those there a half a dozen Screen Kisses. (thankfully)

It seems to me that many people who would love Thomas's music actually never sat down long enough to realise it. I received a dozen copies of A Map Of The Floating City today that I'm giving to family and friends as gifts this year. It is music that deserves to be listened to and enjoyed.

I hope you like it. Remember, if you want to preview it in full length versions you only have to go to Spotify for that.

Enjoy!!
Jonathan
posted by white city at 11:06 AM on November 15, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm surprised by this point that nobody has commented on how Thomas took a zillion takes of guitar solo by Knopfler and created a single guitar solo out of them.

If there's something I found wondrous about the videos, it was the glimpse into how someone like Dolby works in the studio, complete even with handheld camera shots of the computer playing back the tracks, even with different colors so you can see where the edits are.

Listening to the album, you'd never know that something which sounds so organic was created like that.
posted by hippybear at 8:23 PM on November 15, 2011


Also... welcome to MetaFilter, white city!
posted by hippybear at 8:29 PM on November 15, 2011


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