A letter of goodbye to Ayub Bachchu

Dear AB,

I don’t remember the first time I heard your voice. Don’t remember the first song I heard from you. I don’t know when I first heard the name LRB, and I don’t know anything about the struggle you had to go through to become the legendary figure you are today. But I know this- I can recognize your voice anywhere, even when I was just a 5-year-old kid who could not understand anything that you sang about. But your songs and your voice have been a part of me for as long as I can remember. As a matter of fact, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know how to sing Cholo Bodle Jai. Isn’t it amazing how you touched a little girl’s heart, along with a million others?

I am not good at goodbyes, especially the sudden ones. If I knew that you were hospitalized for a couple of weeks, I would be more prepared for your departure. I would get ready to say goodbye if I knew you were battling a disease. But you didn’t give us any time. And you must know how heartbreaking it is when you wake up one day, and someone you love just isn’t there anymore. You must have known how it feels to go on, pretending that nothing affects you. If you did not, how did you come up with those incredible tunes that will resonate over multiple generations?

Ayub Bacchu

শিল্পীঃ মিতা মেহেদী

But I am not angry at you for going away so suddenly. You gave us so much. Your songs helped millions of people overcome their pain. Your creations helped me through a lot of long nights, and I can’t be the only one. You knew the volatility of human existence, and you tried to make the most of it by giving back as much as you could. So, all I can feel is this deep sense of gratification because you gave us so much, and in return, we are giving you a part of our childhood.

So, thank you for everything, dear AB. Thank you for deciding to pick up a guitar. For starting your own band. Thank you for pouring your heart and soul into each song you made. Thank you for inspiring thousands of people to pursue a career in music. For making us cry, and laugh, and feel understood. Thank you for giving us something to bond over. You know how people are- we always fight. But today, we all collectively mourn your departure, and we thank you for being worthy of all this love. You are a true legend, and my heart breaks for the generation who will never know how it felt to watch you LIVE.

I hope that there is something after death because a mere flat line on a screen cannot be the end of you. You are much bigger, and I hope wherever you are, you have a silver guitar there. That way you will never have to part with your Rupali guitar.

Stay well, wherever you are. I hope to catch a show of yours there.

Love,
A little girl who grew up with your words.

Gorillaz: 5 things that stand out in the new music video for “Humility”

Probably the most well-known and certainly the most mainstream virtual music band, Gorillaz, is coming back this year with a new album called The Now Now. They have already released a new music video from the album called “Humility”, featuring George Benson. The video became the number one trending video on YouTube worldwide the day of its release. They also released a music video for Lake Zurich but that song has only been released as a visualizer instead of a fully developed music video. Gorillaz in the past have shown how innovative their music can be, as the fictional band tells the story of Murdoc, 2-D, Russel and Noodle. “Humility”, however, stands out for many reasons among their other music videos, in ways I’ll explain below.

A Power Puff Girl Character?

Ok, let’s address the elephant in the room first. Murdoc, the bassist and evil mastermind of the band, is in jail. We found this out in February, as a video of Murdoc accepting an award from prison was released. This means, staying consistent to their story, the Gorillaz are short one member. This is where the band finds an unexpected member: a character from the Power Puff Girls. Ace is the defacto leader of the Gangrene Gang (a pun on Gang Green, as the members were all green) and shown in the music video knifing a poor basketball. Now, we’ve known this for a little while now, but to see Ace in a Gorillaz video is insanely cool. They also made the former nuisance of a character look very awesome, giving his classic look a modern update.

A Wild Jack Black Appears

Gorillaz is not averse to having Hollywood celebrity in their videos. In fact, they had legendary action movie star Bruce Willis play a bounty hunter chasing the band. This video gets its extra star power in the form of veteran comedian Jack Black. He appears on the 33rd second of the music video and stays in it on and off for the whole video. He’s seen with a Stratocaster enjoying a lone picnic when he starts playing the electric guitar as 2-D passes him by on skates. He is repeatedly seen trying to steal 2-D’s thunder and grab attention of the camera, which is interesting. Maybe Gorillaz meant it as a metaphor of how Hollywood tries to grab attention from anything original and transfer it onto themselves.

2-D Has White Eyes

From 2-D’s backstory, we know how he came to have his signature all black eyes. Murdoc, in his insane quest to become a star, rams his automobile into 2-D’s uncle’s showroom, injuring and blackening one of 2-D’s eyes, forcing him to a vegetative state. Murdoc would be charged and sentenced to 30,000 hours of community service, much of which would be taking care of 2-D. Murdoc, however, would only further injure 2-D, this time in the other eye, and turn both of 2-D’s eyes black. This would also shock 2-D out of his vegetative state, who would be recruited by Murdoc for the way his eyes looked. 2-D is surprisingly missing this signature feature at the start of the video, which I couldn’t find an explanation for. He does end up with black eyes by the end of the video when Russel trips him, but it remains unclear why he didn’t have them in the beginning. As a side note, it could be the physical manifestation of 2-D taking his place as the leader of the rag-tag group, but that wouldn’t make sense because he does go back to having his black eyes.

Chillin’ Vibes

The music video is what many would describe as chill music. It’s a very laid back and happy tune, which is a serious departure for Gorillaz considering their music constantly revolves around darker, sadder themes. It seems Gorillaz took their music, which was already very melodious, and followed vaporwave with them. For the uninitiated, vaporwave is a genre of music invented on the internet that uses nostalgia of the past decades and mixes them with soothing music to create a calming effect on the listener. “Humility” does something very similar by having the signature melodious tunes of Gorillaz mixed with nostalgic vibes. Setting the video in Venice Beach, California while 2-D rolls around in very 80s tennis shorts is sure to create some kind of Déjà vu in even those who have never been there, including myself. The entire song is truly a joy to listen to, from the lyrics, to the music, to the video itself, shot on a bright, beautiful California day.

Noodle is All Grown Up

Noodle, the band’s formerly pre-pubescent lead guitarist, had already been seen growing up in the previous music videos but it is most prominent in this one. “Humility” shows her wearing a Hello Kinky tee shirt, a clear pun at the Hello Kitty brand’s expense, as she is seen playing chess and seemingly winning. Noodle only makes an appearance for a measly 8 seconds but its enough time to see how the little girl has become a young adult.

YouTube Music: Spotify has competition (finally)

It’s no surprise that Google knows where you go most days, where you eat, what kind of products you’re likely to purchase and more or less your entire online presence. They’re monetizing this knowledge of the consumers and trying to sell you a new type of product: YouTube Music.

Google announced on May 17th that they’re killing YouTube Red and turning it into a two level product system, the YouTube Music and the YouTube Premium platforms. The YouTube Music service is going to let users get seamless ad free music on YouTube, even when users switch apps or turn off the screen, for a monthly subscription fee of $9.99. Regular YouTube app users must keep their screen on at all times without switching to Facebook or other apps to continuously play music. YouTube Premium has all those features, but for everything, including music and YouTube Red Originals. This feature costs $11.99 for the user. This means if the user gets YouTube Premium, they also get the YouTube Music service, which seems like the entry point for YouTube Premium.

However, we’re here to discuss YouTube Music, and more importantly, what Spotify can expect for their market. For years now Spotify has had a monopoly of sorts in the mobile music player industry, rarely having any competition. As such their products and services have become a little lackluster. Just recently they had a scandal about removing R. Kelly from the official Spotify playlist, and there are women’s groups who are pressuring the platform to remove artists like Chris Brown and Red Hot Chili Peppers. They have also launched a new hate content and hateful conduct policy, which has been widely criticized for being anti-free speech. Their only competition for a long time, Apple Music, has been slowly stepping out of the spotlight and has yet to take advantage of this.

Yet, with the now YouTube Music label, Google is clearly making moves to take Spotify’s market share in the music app market. With a smart marketing scheme, a library of over 40 million songs and other tools at the disposal of the giant corporation that is Google, Spotify might get caught in a perfect storm.

YouTube Music has a long way to go before it even becomes Spotify’s chief competitor in that market. Yet, we’ve known from Google’s track record that they don’t take many false steps, and most of their endeavors have been successful. It would take a monumental effort from Spotify to stop Google from infringing on their market shares and keep the number one spot in the years to come. For now, they will enjoy being the best-selling music app on the Play Store and App store. Google on the other hand, has other issues. Its YouTube platform has been widely criticized for sudden demonetization and hypocritical ad laws, such as when they let a video of the Jimmy Kimmel show ads for their video on a US school shooting incident, even though that’s against YouTube’s own policies. This kind of behavior and double standards against content creators has seen many get bitter and outright leaving the platform to go to Twitch.com. The battle for musical supremacy is more even than you’d think at first glance, and if not careful, either one of these labels could go down as just another footnote in the history of the other.

Fiio X1 Gen 2 digital audio player – first impressions

From the iPod to expensive iRiver Digital Audio players, the market has changed a lot. Chi-Fi (Chinese hi-fi – no, we haven’t gone global…yet) has taken over, and we all know that means that the market is saturated now. Back then, for a decent Digital Audio Player (DAP), one had to pay a hefty premium and be stuck with a lot of drawbacks. Portable audio has improved in the past few years but the market is slowly changing, with the 3.5mm jack appearing and disappearing in between. But this headphone jack fiasco has opened up a brand new market for enthusiasts for audio players. For such a market (under $100), there exists a great option – the Fiio X1 Gen 2.

Even four years ago, people used the Sansa Clip+, a DAP from Sandisk that took the market by storm. Small, agile and efficient, the firmware could be improved through installing another music player interface called Rockbox. And today, nobody cares about it. It might have been cheap and small, but as smartphone batteries grow smaller for the sake of aesthetics, people are moving to DAPs. And the Fiio X1 Gen 2 is a great starting point for getting into the world of audio players. It features lossless playback, Bluetooth 4.0 and a slick touch based scroll wheel.

The build quality is premium with rounded edges and tactile buttons. The UI is a bit slow, but it’s based on Linux and the problems alleviate a bit when the firmware updates. Supporting up to 256 GB of memory thanks to its SD card slot and up to 11 hours of playback thanks to its 1800 mAh battery, the device is indeed a great choice to be in your backpack for day-long commutes in Dhaka traffic.

The sound is a touch warm and flat, seeing a departure from the original Fiio X1, which struggled with details and soundstage. Overall, this is a solid offering under a hundred dollars from Fiio, and it’s on Gears for Ears, Fiio’s official Bangladeshi dealer for 9,799 BDT only. If you’re struggling with listening to music through your iPhone’s dongle, give this beautiful looking DAP a try.

The curious case of the disappearing 3.5mm jack

How far do you remember in terms of using a cell phone? If you are like me, who started using cell phones in early the 2000’s, you  might remember connector variations based on manufacturers. However, they all had one common grievance; none of them sported a 3.5mm headphone jack. Ahh, the dark ages, when we all had to carry our proprietary connector headphones or stupid dongles to allow 3.5mm connections. Then finally, by the grace of god and common sense, slowly, all manufacturers started adding this miracle of a connector as a boasting factor for their products, and suddenly, any device that didn’t sport it was dubbed backdated.

So imagine the irony when Apple shocked the world with rumours that they were planning on axing the gold standard 3.5mm for their own proprietary Lightning connector, and subsequently established the rumour with the iPhone 7 and its plus sized sibling, minus the headphone jack. And as Apple is considered a market shifter in terms of certain trends, many of the OEMS from the Android camp followed suit with their seeming war with the headphone jack.

So, you may ask why the market is suddenly moving back in time instead of forwards. Sure, the society has a habit of getting into a retro vibe where they start bringing back old ideas and brandish it a bit. While that is fine for things like fashion designs, it is certainly not fine when it comes to technology. I can’t imagine someone giving up their 4K ultra something LED panel for those ancient CRT televisions which you have to bang three times to get it to work properly and needed the whole neighbourhood to move it one inch to the left.

Before you end up saying something like “What’s the big deal?”, let me explain that the inconveniences they cause can be annoying to say the least. Put yourself in everyday scenarios and you will see just how annoying it can be to live the jack-less life. Imagine yourself on a road trip where your friends are playing hateful music and you want to change that with the songs on your phone. You reach for the aux when you suddenly remember you don’t have the jack. Or losing your dongle and shelling out not very little money to get another. Or forgetting your headphones at home and not having the ability to use a cheap one for the time being because of, you guessed it, no jack. Before any of you head for the comments to say “Go wireless”, let me remind you that phones with jacks ALSO have wireless options. And that’s the thing with technology. It is supposed to GIVE you options, NOT take them away.

So how are manufacturers getting away with this you may now ask? Simple. By flogging words like “Digital” or “Freedom” or “Courage” or whatever other jargon they can come up with. They also use excuses like using the space saved from the jack to do something which they could have done anyway, but Shhh, you aren’t supposed to know that. So let’s investigate each of their ‘arguments’ and see if it justifies their motive.

Suspect: thickness

Manufacturers argue that by getting rid of the jack, they are able to make phones thin enough for you to slice apples in between long calls. But, in all seriousness though, has their argument for being able to make thinner phones held up with the sacrifice that was made?

The current thinnest smartphone on record is the Vivo X5 Max, measuring in at 4.75mm, and guess what, it can and has packed a 3.5mm headphone jack whereas the 7mm thick iPhone 7 and the 5.2mm thick Moto Z didn’t.

Verdict: Not guilty. Until phones hit sub 3.5mm thickness, the argument regarding thickness is pointless. Besides, if they do hit that thickness, it’s not like USB C or Lightning would do any good either as neither would fit.

Suspect: digital Audio

This is probably the loudest drum being played by OEMS right now to justify killing the headphone jack. They argue that while the 3.5mm only gave analogue signals, the new USB-C/ Lightning connectors give you true digital sound. Some manufacturers  even supply Active Noise Cancellation through their USB-C headphones, saying it would not have been possible with 3.5mm jacks, in the hopes of quelling some of the hate. So is this digital audio claim another fluke? Well lets clear that one out quite simply. Analogue means physical movement is required to generate sound, whereas digital means ones and zeros. I have yet to encounter a human who has a native USB connection to their brain , having the ability to decode ones and zeros because the only way to experience digital audio is to connect the phone’s USB cable directly to your brain and decoding the ones and zeros.

What manufacturers have done instead is ship the responsibility of decoding the sound to your headphones by placing the DAC (Digital to Analogue Converter) to your headphones instead. There, this DAC converts the digital signal to analogue movements for the driver inside the headphone , creating this ethreal “digital” audio. In the not too distant past, this DAC lived inside the phone and all you had to do was connect your 3.5mm headphone jack and you were good to go. This also meant that manufacturers who made flagships paid extra attention to this in-built DAC to give you a good sound, like the LG V series. Now, they have relegated this duty to USB headphones instead, so technically, you get less for your money now. As for the active noise cancellation, Sony showed us with the Xperia Z2 back in 2014 that you could have active noise cancelling with the 3.5mm jack.

Verdict: Not guilty. Lowering manufacturing costs by not having to focus on a good DAC for their phones and yet, bumping up smartphones prices per year is hurting no one but the consumer.

Suspect: design and spacing

OEMS have even resorted to rubbish like claiming to use the space saved to put a larger battery or some other feature which could not be fitted had the jack lived. Some have even started to blame the new trend of bezel-less screens for the demise of the jack, but how much of this is true? I am afraid it’s more snake oil from the OEMS. Most of us have seen a smartphone teardown,  witnessing the now-extinct headphone jack component. Getting rid of it won’t yield any battery gains.

Take examples such as Xiaomi Redmi Note 4 and Mi Max 2, Asus Zenfone Max, and Lenovo P2. What do they all have in common? For starters they are all phones with battery capacities exceeding 4000 and 5000mAh AND with 3.5mm headphone jacks. As for the bezel-less argument, let’s have a look at the shiny and pretty Samsung S8, Note8, and LG V30 shall we. Boasting industry leading bezel-less displays and yet, they manage to carry a 3.5mm jacks, and bloody good ones too.

Verdict: Not guilty. The jacks hardly occupy any meaningful space that the manufacturers have used for anything useful.

Suspect: wireless audio

Yet another, albeit slightly more reasonable argument regarding the demise of the jack. There is no denying the existence ofquality Bluetooth headsets out there,and they serve the general populous with satisfaction. However, wireless still has some ways to go before they have the ability to match the  standards of wired connections. When was the last time you saw a DJ or a music producer using wireless headphones at work?

Wireless is not a solution for the audiophiles who pay for the top flagships for their sonic performance, so cutting down the jack really doesn’t serve any purpose other aggravation. And lest we forget, wireless solutions and wired solutions can, and HAVE been coexisting together for a while now.

Verdict: Not guilty. Wireless audio hasn’t matured to a point where they are justified to replace their wired counterparts. Besides, there is nothing wrong with keeping both and giving the consumer the the freedom of choice.

Suspect: creating a universal standard connection

This one is almost so close to absurd that it requires but a simple question. What was wrong with the universal and mature connection that is the 3.5mm jack in the first place?

It has been around for a 100 years now, and the market is rich with cheap to expensive options that work with just about anything with a 3.5mm jack On top of that, the whole argument seems ironic when Apple has their own Lightning connector whereas Android has USB-C,  which in turn is  incompatible with several  Android OEMS.

Verdict: Not guilty. This is a moronic argument on which almost the entirety of the elimination of headphone jacks rely on.

So who is really to blame here? For Apple, its mostly profit as they own the right to the Lightning jack and  the OEM has to pay Apple royalty for it. Also, let’s not forget that before the unveiling of the iPhone 7, Apple  acquired one of the biggest wireless headphone brands; Beats. As for the OEMs from the Android camp,  it seems meaningless on what they are doing, as USB-C is not under any of their own creations. With the way things are going, the headphone jack is on its way out.  But if history serves as a reminder, then hopefully in the future, we will see manufacturers regain their senses and bring back the headphone jack. Until then, all I can end with is a simple “stop it”.