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Spot the fake CD

Posted by Joshua Glenn  February 27, 2008 07:17 PM

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Earlier this week, I spent an hour or so admiring hundreds of randomly generated band names, album titles, and CD cover images; I blogged about theCD Cover Meme project for Brainiac.

Then, yesterday, after returning from my son's field trip to the Paul Revere House, I found myself with a couple of hours to kill on Newbury Street before school let out for the day. So I popped into Trident Booksellers & Cafe -- the only place I still enjoy visiting on Newbury Street -- and flipped through some music magazines. The CD Reviews sections of these publications were bugging me, but why? Then it hit me: The band names, album titles, and CD cover images seemed... randomly generated!

You don't believe me?

Here's a little test. Of the five CD covers below, three are authentic CDs and two were plucked from the CD Cover Meme photo pool on Flickr. Can you tell which are which?

"If You're Feeling Sinister," by Belle and Sebastian
"A Weekend in the City," by Bloc Party
"Venus on Earth," by Dengue Fever
"One Cell in the Sea," by A Fine Frenzy
"Our Love to Admire," by Interpol

I was just kidding. These are all authentic CDs. But were you fooled, for a second there? Here are a couple of other examples:

"Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga," by Spoon
"Because of the Times," by Kings of Leon

The unfairly neglected Canadian writer-director Dan Zukovic -- perhaps the most brilliant critic of 1990s pop culture -- was onto this sort of thing. In his 1993 short film "Conjurer of Monikers," he played the title role, a highbrow drunk who makes a living dreaming up names for soulless, talentless rock bands... by flipping through a thesaurus. These bands -- whom the Conjurer saddles with monikers like Fear of Banality, Draconian Measures, and so forth -- don't seem to understand that he's insulting them. What's worse, each one of them becomes more successful than the last.

So is this the secret agenda of the CD Cover Meme project: to point out how random-in-a-formulaic-way indie- and alt-rock band names, album titles, and CD cover images are these days? So formulaic that generating them can be crowdsourced?

Probably not. But that's what I'm taking away from all this.

UPDATE: The Zukovic short was recently uploaded to YouTube:

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.

Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.

Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.

Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.

Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."

Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.

Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.


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