More Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck

photo by flickr user Merelymel13
Once again, the "holiday" season is upon us. All across America (and surely other countries) retail workers are stockpiling their weapons so that one day they can come into work, take aim, and make that unbearable, horrid, godawful Christmas-themed playlist stop forever. Well, before you take matters into your own hands like those poor souls, I'd urge you to take a listen to this year's Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck playlist.

Each song on here is absolutely, positively guaranteed not to suck [Editor's note: not a guarantee]. And if you want even more non-suckage, check out last year's Holiday Music That Doesn't Suck playlist.

UPDATE:  Check out all the Wired For Music holiday playlists!
UPDATE 2:  Click here to download this year's playlist.



It's list time! What with the end of the year looming, not to mention the end of the decade (well, not really - technically this decade ends next year, but whatever, it's the end of the Aughts), list season is upon us. I haven't made my own yet (working on it), but in the meantime, here are some tasty lists to tide you over:

That's all for now! I hope this keeps you busy until I can get my own list up. Stay tuned...


New York...And Beyond

Dusk's Hues in Manhattan by flickr user midweekpostTomorrow morning, I will be moving away from the Washington, DC area for the first time in my life. For as long as I can remember, I've been seduced by the thought (and sometimes even the reality) of living in New York. And in 24 hours, that long-held dream will become a reality.

The reasons behind the move are many and varied, but a few key ones include a longing for expanded artistic opportunities, the itch to live somewhere new, and a need to grow and push myself in ways that I might never do if I stay in the same comfortable place. I'm sad to be putting distance between me and my family, my friends, and the city I've called home for 10 years (and the area I've called home pretty much my entire life). But I'm also excited, and scared, and happy, and several other emotions all at the same time. But underneath it all, I know this is right (plus we've already paid the deposit for our new apartment so there's no backing out now).

So what better way to celebrate this milestone than with a new playlist? This one mirrors our upcoming week somewhat - starting in DC, heading to New York, and finally ending up in...Hawaii, where we will be heading for 2 weeks at the end of the week. Yes, this will be a big week. The New York songs on this list express a variety of emotions about the city - like all great cities, it inspires a multitude of reactions. I'm excited to have my own.

See you in a few weeks!


Friday Playlist: Halloween!

Halloween pumpkins by flickr user Loren JavierBoo! It's Wired For Music's favorite time of year - ever since I can remember, I've been a bigger fan of Halloween than any other day on the calendar (possibly even my own birthday). The combination of pumpkin-flavored things, intentionally-induced fear, and candy is a powerful one. Every year I try to find as many ways to celebrate Halloween as I can - decorating the house with all sorts of cheesy decorations, drinking pumpkin beer, eating way too much candy, watching scary movies, and of course, listening to Halloween-themed music.

I've found a few decent Halloween playlists out there - this one from Flavorwire that I linked to last week is pretty good, and I just saw this one from NPR [UPDATE: that link no longer works, so here's some more Halloween goodness from NPR]. thanks to Public Media Girl. But of course, it wouldn't be Wired For Music if I didn't post my own. So I did.

There are too many tracks in this one for me to do a writeup for each one, so jut know that I pared this list down from the much bigger (over 6 hour) playlist I started compiling last week. The tracks range in tone from funny to silly to scary to pretty to rock-and-rolly-y and back again. Some of them are explicitly about Halloween or other spooky themes, some of them just have a nice creepy sound, and some I just picked for the title alone, even though the content of the song isn't entirely relevant. Still, I think collectively they make for a great Halloween playlist, and I hope you feel the same way.

(While you're listening, check out my guest post for Creative DC about movies to put you in the mood for Halloween.)

What do you like to listen to this time of year? Tell me in the comments. And have a happy Halloween!


Friday Playlist: My Top 20 Tracks From Pitchfork's Top 20 Albums

Pitchfork by flickr user apeteA few week ago, Pitchfork posted their list of the top 20 albums of the aughts. Pitchfork hasn't generated this much excitement since they famously gave "Music" a 6.8 back in 2007. I read through the list several times, and finally decided that my readers shouldn't have to take the time to listen to all 20 of these albums 5 times in a row like I did. As a service to you, dear readers (both of you), I did all the heavy lifting so you can just sit back, relax, and enjoy one track from each of their top 20.

I agonized for some time over which track to choose from each album - should I pick my personal favorite, or a track that best represents the album as a whole, or the one that might be considered the "best" track from each album? The good-looking genius over at Creative DC advised me to pick the song that, if the listener were to die tomorrow, they would be happiest having heard today [Editor's note: I'm paraphrasing, the original was more clever]. So that's what I tried to do.


  1. Interpol - NYC
    This was an easy choice for me. I'm not really too enamored of most of this album (or most Interpol songs for that matter) but this song always manages to worm its my into my brain and stay there for days every time I hear it. I know the lyrics aren't all that fancy (are Interpol's lyrics ever all that fancy?), but there's a certain poetical quality to this song that gets me. And of course it's simple and repetive, and I can't get too much of that.

  2. Spoon - Don't Let It Get You Down
    Lots of great options on this album, but I think this is perhaps the most tuneful of them all. This song also has a special place in my heart because a couple years back I wrote a song that was pretty much exactly this song - took me a couple weeks to figure out where I'd unintentionally stolen the melody from. There's nice stereo separation in this one too (the vocals are on one side for the most part, the drums on the other, etc.) so that's an added listening bonus. I also dig the interplay between the piano, guitar and bass during the breaks. It's a good little number.

  3. Kanye West - Gold Digger (featuring Jamie Foxx)
    I almost went with "Mama" from this album (I really love that track) but this is definitely the song you will be sorry for having not heard if you'd never heard it. Solid song all around - clever humorous lyrics, good beat, great fake Ray Charles sample (cleverly altered to reflect the lyrical content of this song) and a super-catchy chorus that you can't go around singing in public. Nice work.

  4. LCD Soundsystem - Someone Great
    This album was on my top 10 of 2008, and it remains great to this day. Like many of the albums on this list, it was hard to pick just one track from this one, but this song wins because of the brilliant mix of the warm emotions of the lyrics with the cold electronic feel of the music. (And of course it's simple and repetitive.)

  5. Sufjan Stevens - CHICAGO
    You know the refrain by now - it was really hard to pick one song from this album. But this one wins for the arrangement (the way the strings rise and fall is just brilliant, the glockenspiel is inspired) and the beautiful simplicity of the lyrics. I'm not 100% sure I chose the right track from this one, but at some point I just had to stop and pick one. So this is it.

  6. The Knife - We Share Our Mother's Health
    I used to be a bigger Knife fan than I am now. I really didn't like the Fever Ray album, and upon repeated listens this Knife album lost much of its lustre for me as well. But the crazy electronic dance-hall-of-mirrors noises that comprise much of the instrumentation of this song combined with the aliens-who-just-want-to-party-but-kind-of-in-a-dangerous-way vocals make this song a real high point for the album.

  7. Animal Collective - My Girls
    While this song can't hold a candle to Peacebone off of Strawberry Jam, it's still pretty damn good. They manage to pull such a catchy chorus out of pretty thin scaffolding, and that's a good feat, even if it doesn't come until after 3 minutes into the song. Catchy, light-hearted, weird, and confusing, if this song represents the new direction for Animal Collective (picture one of their tunes in a Gap ad in 2 years), I would be OK with that.

  8. OutKast - So Fresh, So Clean
    So many wonderful songs on this album - but none are so boastful and playful at the same time while still holding down such a thick juicy beat. This song is Big Boi-heavy, and definitely reflects his retro style, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all.

  9. The White Stripes - We're Going To Be Friends
    Of course I had to pick the song that sounds nothing like the rest of this album. Well, so be it. I defy you not to have a good time listening to this song. Go on, try. See? Told you.

  10. Ghostface Killah - Apollo Kids ft. Raekwon
    Maybe this makes me a loser who's into over-produced hip-hop albums, but I actually prefer Fishscale to this album. Still, Supreme Clientele is a classic, and I think this song represents one of its peaks. Ghostface tears it up in his verses and Raekwon doesn't slouch on his, either. There are tracks with better beats on this album, but I don't think Ghostface sounds as alive anywhere else on that whole disc. And of course he compares rapping to "ziti" and never explains it. Who else could do that?

  11. The Avalanches - Since I Left You
    I actually had never heard this album before I saw it on Pitchfork's playlist, and I wish I had - it's pretty good. This was my favorite track from this album, and I dig the sonic landscape it paints. I have to imagine The Go! Team listened to this album. A lot.

  12. Panda Bear - Bros
    Yes, this song has been overplayed by hipsters from coast to coast, and no, he's not doing anything the Beach Boys didn't do decades ago, but it's still a great song and shows how far you can go with a good hook and a lot of reverb. Somehow it manages not to get (too) boring even at 12:00 minutes. That's impressive.

  13. Sigur Rós - Olsen Olsen
    More hard choices here - but the bass line on this track makes me feel so good it had to win. Then there's the theme introduced by the bass at 4:12, then picked up by the piano and strings at 4:40, then built upon by horns, voices, etc. for the rest of the song - it's so uplifting and wonderful, it lifts up the whole song around it. Beautiful stuff.

  14. The Strokes - Last Nite
    I'm not sure how The Strokes made it into the top 20 albums of the decade, but as long as they're here, we might as well enjoy their catchiest little ditty of all. Commence enjoyment.

  15. Modest Mouse - 3rd Planet
    Great album, full of great, weird songs. This one wins because it's so evocative - even as the narrator talks about his "only art" being that of "fucking people over," and making fun of people for believing in the "eye in the sky," you can hear the self-doubt creeping in and infecting everything. Great existentialist angst without being emo.

  16. Jay-Z - Izzo (H.O.V.A.)
    Q: How can you understand Jigga without hearing this song? A: You cannot. So don't even try. Classic Jay-Z, from the strings to the lyrics to the ridiculous boasting to the crazy good flow. Way to get pretty much half the country singing along to what is essentially nonsense letters strung together.

  17. Wilco - Kamera
    I changed my choice from this album about 6 times, but Kamera finally won because, somewhat ironically, I don't love it. At least, I don't love it when it starts. Every time I hear this song, my immediate instinct is to skip over it in favor of something more tuneful or with a better arrangement or more interesting lyrics...yet every time I actually hang in there and listen to it for the duration, I am reminded that it's really a very well-written song with surprising layers. The vocals are understated (none of that trademark Tweedy scratchy yowl here), there's no impressive guitar solo, and yet by the end I'm always singing along and telling myself I need to give this song more credit. The production actually reminds me of Spoon a bit here - pretty sparse with some good chunky acoustic guitar backing. Anyway, despite all this, I am still questioning my choice, because there are simply too many great songs on this album. Maybe I got it wrong.

  18. Daft Punk - One More Time
    This was another album I didn't know very well until recently. Most of the album has grown on me, but this track caught my attention and held it right off the bat. Auto-tune never sounded so good.

  19. Arcade Fire - Wake Up
    Another album full of great songs! While I'm way more partial to Neighborhood #1 (Tunnels), I have to admit that this is simply a better song, and if you've never heard it, your ears are poorer for it. So do them a favor and listen closely to all the instruments and voices at play here - it's a veritable feast for the ears. And the lyrics are good, too.

  20. Radiohead - The National Anthem
    Yes, yes, another hard choice from this overly analyzed album. There are practically no lyrics in this song, but that's OK because the vocals are basically just another instrument, and they're used to great effect. This is probably the best song on this whole playlist, so make sure you listen hard.
So, what are your favorites from these albums? Tell me in the comments...


Some Tidbits

Hi gang. I'm still working on my Pitchfork playlist, and I'll have it up by Friday, I promise! In the meantime, here's a few things you can do to keep yourself entertained:

Anything else cool happening these days? Tell me in the comments!


Reading (And Listening!) Roundup

Get your ears and eyeballs ready, folks, it's time for the Reading Roundup!

  • Pitchfork continues their year in lists with the final installment of the Top 20 Albums Of The Decade. You can check out all their lists here.

  • NPR's All Songs Considered blog reviews Pitchfork's lists through the lens of a wonky statistics nerd, and concludes that Pitchfork is sometimes inconsistent, and sometimes isn't.

  • As of this writing, Pandora is narrowly beating Last.FM in Mashable's head-to-head poll of the 2 services. Too bad they don't go more in-depth about their differences, but if you're interested, you can always read this if you haven't already.

  • Logitech has released version 7.4 of the Squeezebox Server software (formerly SqueezeCenter, formerly something else before that, I think). You can read the release notes here, but so far the only real difference I've noticed is an inability to customize my menus the way I like. Boo.

  • Add this robot to the list of things and people that will be famous for singing before I am. To be fair, she's using Yamaha's Vocaloid software, so she has the upper hand. I have to use my own lungs like a sucker.
That's all for today, folks. Stay tuned for this Friday's playlist, featuring my favorites from Pitchfork's Top 20 list!


Future Of Music Policy Summit - Happening Now!

The weightily-named Future of Music Policy Summit is happening right now, right here in Washington, DC (sadly, I am not there). They claim there will be a live webcast starting today, but I can't find it anywhere. You can register to view the webcast here, but so far that hasn't helped.

Bob Boilen from NPR's All Songs Considered is speaking, so maybe he'll tell us more about it on his Twitter feed.

Anyway, I thought you guys would want to know. Maybe one day I'll actually attend this thing! Until then, I'll try and watch the webcast if I can and let you all know if I learn anything interesting.


Friday Playlist: Where Have I Been?

Where have I been? Not blogging, that's for sure. But that doesn't mean I haven't had my ear to the ground on your behalf, gentle reader. Despite my pending move to the Big Apple and all the attendant madness that has brought to my life, I'm still making time to find awesome music to share with you all. Enjoy!

  1. "Black Mozart" - Raekwon (featuring RZA & Inspectah Deck)
    Well, you heard it here first (unless you heard it here first): The new Raekwon album is, in a word, dope. He set the bar high by positioning his latest album as a sequel to his best solo effort, but unlike some other Raekwon albums, this one does not disappoint. There are definitely more hard-core tracks on the album, but this one has one of the best hooks.

  2. "Freak Train" - Kurt Vile
    I've been hearing about this guy forever, and I even read recently that he's one of Yo La Tengo's favorite artists. Despite all that, I found most of his upcoming album "Childish Prodigy" pretty repetitive (which I usually like) but there are a few standout tracks. This one and a couple others sound to me like Animal Collective after they listened to a bunch of folk albums. Or something.

  3. "Avalon Or Someone Very Similar" - Yo La Tengo
    "Popular Songs," Yo La Tengo's new album, is fantastic. Even if you count the 3 over-10-minute jams at the end. I had a hard time picking a song from this album, so I picked 2. This one showcases their classic sound - high-pitched vocals, unassuming but pretty guitar work, a gentle rhythm that keeps things moving without getting all stressed out about it. Peaceful, but not a pushover. Like me.

  4. "Periodically Triple Or Double" - Yo La Tengo
    Also like me, this song is a bit of a mystery. Is it jazz? Blues? "Organ-boogie?" Whatever you call it, it's a good time. It reminds me a little bit of some Belle & Sebastian songs, notably the ones with the organ. Only this one's way better.

  5. "TFO" - Harlem Shakes
    When they're not blatantly ripping off TV On The Radio (see "Strictly Game" from their new album), Harlem Shakes have the makings of a decent band. Too bad they just broke up. Oh well. It may be sophomoric, but I love the line "we got time to waste some time."

  6. "Zombie City Shake" - Black Hat Brigade
    Believe it or not, this is actually not a Wolf Parade side project! They get major points for the theremin on this one. And man, that guy sounds like Spencer Krug. Or maybe the other guy from Wolf Parade. Good ol' whatshisname (no offense intended). Either way, this is a fun song.

  7. "Psychic City (Voodoo City)" - YACHT
    I dig electro-pop as much as the next guy, but it's taken many more listens than I expected to get into their latest album. With the exception, of course, of this awesome party song. [Editor's note: 2 songs with "City" in the title in 1 playlist? Far out!]

  8. "This Is Our Lot" - Wild Beasts
    A friend recommended this band to me, and I'm glad he did. Having largely missed the heyday of this sort of music in the 80s, I'm excited to hop on the bandwagon now. If I ever have to keep a girl in a pit in my basement while I hide my junk and tell myself how pretty I am, I'll play this song in the background. (Here's a cartoon version that is much safer for work than the original).

  9. "Dominos" - The Big Pink
    And now we come to the "super catchy" portion of the playlist. If these guys ever learned to write songs with lyrics that A) didn't betray their massive distrust of and apparent dislike for women, and B) actually rhymed, they would be unstoppable. This is the song I would play in the record store when it was time to magically sell five copies of their album, a la John Cusack. [Editor's note: I assume "Dominos" is the British spelling, but I'm too lazy to check on that.]

  10. "We Are Golden" - Mika
    Mika strikes again! Just when I thought I was over this guy, he comes out with a new album which is supposedly some sort of rock opera/concept album about his teenage years. Or something. Whatever it is, it's catchy as hell - if you thought that Big Pink song might get stuck in your head, just listen to this one a couple times and you won't even have room in your head for your own name. [Editor's note: while it might sound like Los Campesinos is doing backing vocals on this track, I think it's just some British teenagers yelling.]
So what are you listening to these days? Let me know in the comments.


The Best Video Of The Year Blows

I'm sorry, Beyoncé. Kanye West's little outburst at the VMAs this week is - by far - the most interesting thing about the "Single Ladies" video. Since when is 3 women dancing over an alternately white and grey background "Video Of The Year" material? In fact, none of this year's "Best Video" nominees are memorable beyond a few seconds after watching.

Come on, MTV! Don't you remember when videos were interesting? Well I do. This is not in any way a "best videos of all time" or even a "most interesting videos of all time" list, this is just a few videos that came to mind when I thought back on some music videos that never violated the cardinal rule of television: don't be boring.

  • Nine Inch Nails - "Closer"
    I could only find the TV edit, but those "Scene Missing" cards make the whole thing all the weirder.

  • Menomena - "Evil Bee"
    Creepy, beautiful, and a great complement to a great song.

  • Bjork - "Bachelorette"
    Michel Gondry takes us down the rabbit hole of recursion in this fantastic video. Just one of many ridiculous and amazing Bjork videos (most have which have been pulled from YouTube - nice marketing, record label!).

  • Fatboy Slim - "Weapon Of Choice"
    If you're going to make a video that's just dancing, it better either involve treadmills or Christopher Walken.

And, when you're ready to stop having fun and be bored:

Do you have a favorite video? Let me know and link it up in the comments.


Friday Playlist: A Nice Chilly Day

photo by flickr user sniggulyIt's another beautiful chilly day here in DC, and I'd like to say that these songs are all somehow relevant to that. But I ran out of time to make that playlist, so here's some stuff I've been listening to this week.


  1. "Eden Was A Garden" - Roman Candle
    I think emusic recommended these guys to me. Nice alt-country rock from North Carolina. The whole album's pretty decent.

  2. "The Strums" - The Dodos
    I was very excited to hear about a new Dodos album coming out, their last one was fantastic. This one is great, too. This song in particular reminds me of George Harrison. And yes, it's in the same key as track 1 from this playlist. Go figure.

  3. "Senorita" - The Low Anthem
    Another emusic download. This month they gave all their members 50 free downloads, no doubt as an apology for their shitty new pricing models. This is from their album "What The Crow Brings," a very pretty folk/country/roots album.

  4. "Infinity" - The xx
    Allmusic describes this band as an "atmospheric English indie pop quartet." That sounds about right. Their album is pretty quiet, but there's some nice stuff going on if you listen for it (I like the drum machine noises in this song, for example).

  5. "Even Jesus Couldn't Love You" - Lord Cut-Glass
    Another recommendation from my brother. This is a great and weird album of musically upbeat songs with bizarre lyrics. Sample: "your dreams are spent like next month's rent/on cocaine, pills, and [some word I can't make out]." Toss-up between this song and "Big Time Teddy" for favorite song so far.

  6. "Seven" - Fever Ray
    I like The Knife plenty, so it stands to reason I should like this side project, but other than this track, I pretty much hate this album. So there.

  7. "Stealing Time from the Faulty Plan" - Phish
    I didn't go see them on their latest tour, but I heard several shows, and they actually weren't bad. And I firmly believe this is their best studio effort to date. The production is solid, the band sounds focused but relaxed at the same time, and the sound is nice and big. I love the line "got a blank space where my mind should be" on this song - typical Phish, but they still make it work after all these years.

  8. "Om Nashi Me" - Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros
    Believe me, I would love to say that these guys are just over-hyped dirty hippies. But actually, they're really talented and their freak-folk (actually I prefer my brother's term "acid campfire" for this) album "Up From Below" is fantastic. This song is a little weirder than the rest of it, but it also cheers me up every time I listen to it, especially the chanting and horns at the end.
That's all for today, folks. What are you listening to? Tell me in the comments.


Friday Playlist: End Of Summer

This week we in the DC area saw some beautiful weather, temperatures in the 70s, nice breezes, and an overall sense of a season on the way out. Of course, we in the DC area are smart enough to know that this is all a horrible trick and summer will most likely be back for another few months of horribly high temperatures and unbearable humidity. But still, it was a nice week, weather-wise, and so I dedicate today's playlist to the end of summer, whenever it really comes. Enjoy!

I'm a bit crunched for time, so these descriptions will be brief - I'm pretty sure no one reads them anyway.

  1. "Kiss With A Fist" - Florence & The Machine
    Fun British bluesy lady-pop in the vein of Amy Winehouse, et al. A great summer song about sadomasochism (or something).

  2. "I'm Watching You" - Jay Reatard
    Despite his bizarre name and horrible countenance, this dude can write a catchy pop hook. I dare you not to bop your head along to this one.

  3. "Skeletons" - Tiny Masters Of Today
    This band is comprised of a 15- and 13-year-old brother/sister duo from Brooklyn. Despite that nausea-inducing bio, their album is still pretty great. My brother thinks they could be the next Fiery Furnaces. I tend to agree.

  4. "French Navy" - Camera Obscura
    Their new album is just fantastic. Phil Spector would be proud if he wasn't busy fending for himself in prison.

  5. "Ghost Life" - Bowerbirds
    A nice transition-to-autumn song. If you like this, good news! The whole album sounds like it.

  6. "Sans Soleil" - Miike Snow
    Swedish singer/songwriter teams with pop production team (they've written/produced for Madonna, Britney, J-Lo, Kiley Minogue, and others) to create my favorite album of the summer. It was hard to pick a track from this album, they're all pretty damn great.

  7. "There Is No Sun" - Jay Reatard
    This album is so catchy I had to include 2 tracks. So sue me.

  8. "The Mountain" - Heartless Bastards
    Unfortunately, this opening track is the best one on this Ohio band's new album, but that doesn't mean it's not a fantastic song. Although to my ears, it's basically the exact same song as Interpol's "Untitled."

  9. "Untitled" - Interpol
    See #8 above. Included for comparison purposes.
What are you listening to nowadays? What great albums have come out lately that I should be listening to? Please let me know in the comments!


Reading Roundup

Hi everybody. Sorry for the radio silence of late, but don't worry - I haven't forgotten you. And to prove it, I've rounded up some reading/viewing/listening material that I think you'll find interesting.


That's all for now, folks. But don't worry, the Friday Playlists will be returning soon to a blog near you!


Friday Playlist: New or New To You

Well, it's Friday, and you know what that means. Yes, you guessed it: it means you can see me and my lovely wife in a total of 15 10-minute improv shows this weekend. It also means it's time for a new Friday playlist! This week's is a roundup of some music that's either new or new to you [Editor's note: "you" in this case being "me"]. Enjoy! Descriptions below.

  • "Quiet Little Voices" - We Were Promised Jetpacks
    The Scottish invasion continues, this time with the best band name I've heard in a long time. We Were Promised Jetpacks errs on the louder side of the "we are depressed and Scottish, usually in that order" vibe that many of these bands give off. This song is pretty indicative of the louder side of this album - it's a great album, well worth checking out.

  • "Rauðilækur" - Mammút
    My friend Lori recently took a jealousy-inducing trip to Iceland, and she came back loaded with music recommendations. One of them was Mammút, who makes great use of their female vocalist. I assume she's singing in Icelandic. By the way, the playlist tool doesn't really dig those Icelandic letters, so please forgive the gibberish up there.

  • "The Sun" - Portugal. The Man
    I think their new album is my favorite one yet by this great band. I hear traces of The Sleepy Jackson and Viva Voce on this album, and that's a wonderful thing. This song makes me smile.

  • "Even In The Rain" - The Fiery Furnaces
    After a bizarre and somewhat rough patch, The Fiery Furnaces actually put out a good, interesting, weird-but-listenable album! Of course, every song is from a completely different genre, and none of them make any sense, but it's really a good album, I promise. This song is just one of the many catchy (seriously!) numbers on there.

  • "The Lie/The Truth" - Double Dagger
    Double Dagger is a Baltimore-based punk band my brother told me about recently. Don't let that "punk" label fool you - these guys have a surprising amount of pop sensibilities and they know how to craft a hook. Good stuff.

  • "Handsome Furs Hate This City" - The Handsome Furs
    This album is in no way new, but as I've been making my way through the Wolf Parade side projects (or is Wolf Parade the side project of one of those other bands?), I finally discovered The Handsome Furs, courtesy of my friend Jon. They do have a more recent album, but it hasn't won me over as much as Plague Park. This song reminds me a lot of Wolf Parade's "This Heart's On Fire."

  • "We Were Sick" - The Thermals
    I realized today that I hadn't mentioned The Thermals' new album on this blog yet. It's not as good as their last album, but it's still pretty damn good if you're into simple catchy pop-punk, or whatever it's called.

  • "Never Seen" - Lightning Dust
    Another Black Mountain side project, Lightning Dust only has about 1/5 of the membership of Pink Mountaintops, but they still rock, even if they do it quietly and with feeling.

  • "Everyone Is Golden" - Portugal. The Man
    Seriously, this album is so good it deserves to have 2 tracks on today's playlist.
So what else is new? Heard anything good lately? Let me know in the comments.


Friday Playlist: Bees!

Macro Bee by flickr user Antonio Machado
Bees! No time to explain!


Is DRM Dead? The RIAA Says So.

Lifehacker has an interesting piece today (covering a longer piece over at TorrentFreak) about RIAA spokesman Jonathan Lamy's recent comment in an interview on the subject of DRM: "DRM is dead, isn't it?"

Yes, iTunes dropped DRM, and eMusic recently added tons of new DRM-free Sony tracks. Amazon has offered DRM-free tracks for a while now. But there is still plenty of DRM out there, affecting everything from streaming music to video to e-books. I think Mr. Lamy is trying to be funny, and failing by a mile - the persistent erosion of fair use rights and the treatment of customers as criminals is annoying and at times abusive, and has done little to help artists while doing a lot to retard the growth of culture.

What do you think? Does DRM affect your life? Do you use products that employ DRM technology, or do you try to live a DRM-free life? Let me know in the comments.


Muxtape Founder Says The Internet Will Get Worse, Not Better

This week I had the opportunity to attend an interview with (and ask a question of) Justin Ouellette, the founder of Muxtape. The interview was hosted at a very cool space in Soho called "Meet @ The Apartment" which is run by Marc and Sara Schiller from the Wooster Collective. Justin talked mostly about what Muxtape had been: a simple, free, possibly illegal way for people to share a 12-track mix of songs with the world. Like its cheekier cousin, Mixwit, Muxtape was forced to shut down due to pressure from those bastions of innovation, the RIAA. He talked a little about what Muxtape has become: a platform for bands to market themselves and share their music, like a very stripped-down version of BandCamp.

Justin is primarily a photographer and designer, and his design sense comes through in the Muxtape aesthetic - streamlined, slick, simple. He gave us a peek at the backend of the site, and it's no more complicated to use than the front-end. I'm glad to see that Muxtape is still alive in some form, and it was interesting to hear that Justin had never really planned for any of this to happen - he just made a cool and useful tool for himself and his friends to share music online, and when confronted with the option of folding completely, he chose to try and make a business out of his great idea. Kudos to him.

What was less inspiring was his answer to my question, which was about the future. I think it's bizarre that on every site you go to nowadays, you see ubiquitous messaging urging you to "share" content - on Twitter, Facebook, email, whatever - just share. On the other hand, corporate interests are constantly suing people and organizations that try to share content the way they want to, often pretending there is no such thing as "fair use." Justin mentioned that he would have days where record label marketers would call him and ask that their music be posted to the site, right before lawyers from the same label would call and demand that the music be pulled. Meanwhile artists are increasingly speaking out in favor of file sharing and new distribution methods. I asked him how he thought this tension would resolve itself in the future, and his view was bleak: "The internet is only going to get more locked down." He talked about a recent German censorship law, new methods ISPs are using to do deep packet inspection on user's data streams, and his own experience getting mixed legal advice in the face of an implacable foe.

He ended on a slightly optimistic note, saying that "things will only change when kids who grew up on MySpace are senators." What do you think? Are things going to get worse before they get better? Or are we perhaps coming to the end of a surprisingly young age of ridiculously overbearing copyright law? Tell me your thoughts in the comments.


Some Light Reading

Here's a quick roundup of some recent Music 2.0-related articles and blog posts that you might find of interest (I did):

  • Pandora's Tim Westergren blogs about the long-awaited resolution to the Internet music streaming royalty "crisis." Key highlight: Pandora will stay in business (with some service cutbacks), some smaller sites might not.

  • The Pew Internet and American Life Project recently released the (large) report: "The State of Music Online: 10 Years After Napster." Key highlights: No one has yet found a bulletproof way to make money selling music online, bands are leading labels in dropping resistance to giving away their music, piracy continues unabated.

  • Geniocity.com has an interesting piece on why music is "the main battleground in the copyright wars." Key highlight: No record label wants to sue Girl Talk...because they're afraid he might win.
What have you been reading lately on this topic? Let me know in the comments.


Friday Playlist: New Music Roundup

This week's Friday Playlist is a roundup of tracks from some albums that have come out in the last month or so (with 1 exception that falls under "if it ain't new, it might be new to you"). Yes, there are some notable exceptions: in particular, the new Wilco, Regina Spektor, and Mos Def albums seem like they should be represented here, but frankly none of those albums has really grabbed me yet. "Wilco (the album)" is growing on me very slowly, but "Far" has too much sap for my taste and "The Ecstatic" has too much beginner's Spanish.

Instead, this playlist features some new tunes from old favorites, some new bands who are probably going to become favorites, and hopefully, a little something for everyone. Enjoy!

  1. It took me a while to come around to the new Eels album, but now that I have, I can recommend it whole-heartedly. Billed as a sequel to "Dog Faced Boy," this album is full of lust, passion, and pain. And Mark Everett told NPR the whole thing was inspired by his beard.

  2. As many have noted before me, White Rabbits have benefitted greatly from Britt Daniel's production of their new album. The only drawback is, of course, that it sounds like a Spoon album pretty much from start to finish. But it's a fun, rocking Spoon album, so I'm not complaining.

  3. The new Sunset Rubdown album is really, really great. Both of my regular readers may recall that I was a big fan of their last album, and this one is even better. They did a great (if a little too short) set at the Black Cat recently, though it was marred somewhat by horrible sound production which buried the vocals and all the intricacies of the compositions in a layer of unnecessary reverb. But still, great album.

  4. This album is a few years old, but I was just introduced to it courtesy of Pandora. Thanks, Pandora! I love the opening to this song - the piano part sounds like it's from some ELO or Journey song and just got dropped in here by mistake. Awesome.

  5. Yeah, yeah, everyone's talking about Passion Pit's new album. That doesn't mean it's not chock full of catchy electro-pop dance hits. Because it is. So there.

  6. If you haven't read anything about the new Sparklehorse/Danger Mouse/David Lynch collaboration, go read up - it's pretty interesting stuff, from the bizarre marketing campaign to the blank CD-Rs for sale. Also, the music's pretty good, especially this song featuring Super Furry Animals lead singer Gruff Rhys.

  7. Despite having some of the worst fashion sense I've ever seen in a rock and roll band, the new Yeah Yeah Yeahs album is simply awesome. Cool synth sounds, those signature hiccup-y vocals, and great driving rock beats. Good stuff.

  8. Everyone's also talking about the new Dirty Projectors album. I can't vouch for the whole thing, but I can promise that it's never boring. Every song is its own signature brand of weird, and this particular track is pretty un-representative of the rest of the album.

  9. I recently discovered Black Moth Super Rainbow, thanks to a review in The Week, of all places. Their new album "Eating Us" is a nice gentle psychedelic ride that never gets dull and has some surprisingly beautiful melodies hidden inside.

  10. CocoRosie is always reliable for making songs that sound like someone glued together pieces of other unrelated songs and then got Joanna Newsom drunk and asked her to sing over top of it. Their new album "Coconuts, Plenty of Junk Food" is no exception.

  11. I am a latecomer to Metric - I simply can't keep track of all the Broken Social Scene side projects. But I'm glad I finally got hip to this particular jive, because "Fantasies" is a great album - melodic, loud, accessible but with an edge.

  12. St. Vincent's new album "Actor" has been out for a little while now, but I recently gave it another listen and realized just how great it is. I liked her last album a lot, but this one really blows it away.
So what else is new? What new albums are you listening to these days? Let me know in the comments.


Hobnox: Make Your Own Mad Beats

Hobnox is a site that calls itself "a new world of online entertainment." I have to say that even after watching their "What is Hobnox?" video I still had no idea what they were really all about. However, they do have at least one very cool feature, which I heard about from my friend Jim (who can often be found DJing at the Wonderland Ballroom in DC's Mt. Pleasant neighborhood): Audiotool.

Audiotool is a super-cool flash-based app that lets you create and record your own songs using a variety of mixers, samples, synths, beats, and all sorts of dials and knobs the likes of which I have yet to figure out. They get you started with a library of beats which you can then customize pretty completely to create your own music. It's set up in such a way that even a beginner can make things sound good just by blindly turning dials and poking at buttons, which is basically what I did to create this little ambient number:

I haven't yet found a gallery of other people's recordings, but I'm sure it's on their site somewhere, obscured through bizarre IA and lots of German. But if you make your own recording, post it in the comments!


Friday Playlist: Summertime

'Boombox' by flickr user lorigoldberg. Used by permission.Recently my friends Greg and Christina enlisted my help putting together a summertime playlist that they could share with clients of their real estate business. The mission was simple: come up with a CD-length list of songs that "felt like summertime," would "make people happy," and would appeal to (or at least not frighten) a potentially broad audience (i.e. keep it clean).

I had to vary from my usual style of song choices here and err on the side of commercial, family-friendly tunes. I also erred on the side of upbeat as opposed to nostalgic. Of course these constraints led to several notable ommissions (Will Smith's "Summertime" was just too slow, for example) but I still think it's a satisfying mix, and it definitely feels like summertime to me. What do you think? What songs say "summer" to you? Let me know in the comments.

(By the way, the photo at the right is 'Boombox' by flickr user lorigoldberg who was kind enough to let me use it. I couldn't make captions work right in Blogger.)

  1. Mungo Jerry - In The Summertime
    I have always loved this song and I always will. They used to play it on the classic rock radio station I listened to all the time as a kid. Then I saw this picture, and I fell in love all over again.

  2. Sheryl Crow - All I Wanna Do
    I hate Sheryl Crow, but I like this song a lot. I especially like how she works in a little irony into what's otherwise a bubblegum summer song with lyrics like "They drive their shiny Datsuns and Buicks/Back to the phone company, the record store too/Well, they're nothing like Billy and me..." Nice work, Crow.

  3. Tom Cochrane - Life Is A Highway
    I heard this song in college, when one of my suite-mates (who had just discovered MP3s) played it incessantly. Never heard anything else by Tom Cochrane and have no idea who he is. No interest in learning, either. What if all his other songs were terrible? I'd be so disappointed.

  4. Bob Marley & The Wailers - Buffalo Soldier
    When we went to Costa Rica many summers ago, one perfect day culminated in drinks on the patio of Marlin Restaurant in Manuel Antonio on the Pacific coast. They were playing Bob Marley when we arrived after a morning of hiking in Manuel Antonio National Park, and it was simply perfect. Ever since, Bob has been essential summer listening at our house.

  5. The Coasters -Yakety Yak
    The idea of not wanting to do chores seems very "summer" to me, since the amount of chores assigned to me always seemed to skyrocket over summer vacations when I was actually home all day to do chores. I wish the Coasters success in their continuing struggle against The Man Mom.

  6. Paul Simon - Kodachrome
    Hard choice here between "Kodachrome," "Late In The Evening," and "Me and Julio Down By The Schoolyard." They all seem very summery to me, but this one won out because he mentions "the greens of summers." This song manages to be rebellious, nostalgic, and optimistic all at the same time, which makes it a winner in my book. Plus it has some kick-ass honky-tonk piano.

  7. The Lovin' Spoonful - Summer In The City
    Having lived in DC for many years, I can attest that the back of my neck really does get dirty and gritty in the horrible, horrible summertime temperatures we get here.

  8. Donovan - Sunshine Superman
    Not really sure why this feels like summer to me, in part it's just the title - "Sunshine Superman" sounds like a superhero whose superpower is making the sun shine (and doesn't realize that this happens on its own).

  9. Tom Petty - Free Fallin'
    The lyrics really aren't as happy as the music would imply, but this is still a quintessential summertime song for me. I love Tom Petty. There, I said it. Judge me if you must.

  10. The Specials - A Message to You, Rudy
    Props to Eduardo for reminding me how good this song is, and how much it feels like a summer song. Thanks.

  11. The Beach Boys - Wouldn't It Be Nice
    What says summertime more than waiting for sex?

  12. The Rolling Stones - (I Can't Get No) Satisfaction
    What says summertime more than failing to have sex?

  13. The Ting Tings - That's Not My Name
    I thought this was a great summer song last summer, and I'm glad to see it's held up.

  14. Elton John - Crocodile Rock
    This one was an easy choice. It never fails to make me smile to hear Elton John sing about some imaginary rock'n'roll past with his imaginary girlfriend.

  15. Weezer - Buddy Holly
    This and "The Sweater Song" were pretty hard to escape from in the summer of 1995. I can't hear either one without thinking of summer in some way, in the back of my mind. I try not to let my hatred of summertime weather interfere with my love of these songs.

  16. K'naan - Wavin' Flag
    My new summertime anthem. Soon it will be yours, too!

  17. Bruce Springsteen - Born to Run
    You can feel the heat in this one. Bruce has a gift for writing incredibly evocative songs, and this of course is no exception. This song feels like a sweltering summer night to me.

  18. The Beach Boys - Kokomo
    For some reason, I listened to this song a lot in junior high (probably because that's when Cocktail came out), but it wasn't until recently that I remembered how much I love it. I think they captured the simple escapist fantasy of a perfect island getaway better than 100 Jimmy Buffet songs.


eMusic Adds Sony Catalog, Raises Prices, Lowers Downloads

I've been a subscriber to eMusic since 2005, back when they let you download unlimited files for a low, low monthly fee. They realized pretty quickly that this was an unsustainable business model, and over the years they've tweaked their pricing/number-of-downloads tiers and ended up somewhere pretty reasonable. For a long time now, eMusic has been a great alternative to iTunes, offering (relatively) cheap, DRM-free, well-tagged MP3s from a wide variety of independent record labels and artists. And that's the way we liked it, dagnabit.

Recently, eMusic announced that they will be adding nearly 200,000 tracks to their download library from Sony's catalog. Coupled with this news is the far less welcome news that they will be lowering the number of monthly downloads for all their plans and simultaneously raising their prices. Predictably, reaction from their subscriber base has been pretty negative. I for one have little interest in the Sony catalog - I love(d) eMusic because it was the place I could go to find independent music for a good price. Unlike many subscribers, I don't feel like they "sold out" in any way by working with a major label - the more music, the better. What I do take issue with is the lowered number of downloads, the higher pricing (in my case, the price will actually double for me, since I was on a grandfathered pricing plan based on how long I've been a subscriber), and the confusion I suffer whenever I try to understand all of their pricing plans.

I'm not sure yet what I'll do when my account comes up for renewal next year. It's cool that their new 180-day plan lets you download up to your limit at any time in the 180 days (much nicer than having a limited number of downloads every month), but the sticker shock may just be too much for me. It's too bad, I've loved eMusic for a long time and up until now I've been very happy with them.

What do you think? Are you a member of eMusic? Will you be keeping your subscription? If you're not a member, are you more likely to join now that they're offering more music? Tell me in the comments.


Friday Playlist: High School Musical

Inspired by seeing Nine Inch Nails and Jane's Addiction last week, I've been thinking a lot about other music I used to listen to in high school. It was an odd mix of stuff, influenced by my friends, my brother (who in addition to recommending music directly, would often mail home CDs he received as promo items at the college radio station where he worked), and to some extent "alternative radio" which hadn't yet been completely extinguished by this point.

What follows is a big list of some of the songs and artists to which I listened most frequently during my high school years. I tried to pare it down, but I couldn't get below 22 tracks. Sorry, everybody. Time doesn't permit me to do a per-track explication (much as I'd like to) but just assume that I like all this stuff for various reasons. [Editor's note: vague enough?]

It's worth noting that for some of these bands, I listened to their best or most iconic albums in junior high, or didn't really come to know their back catalogs until college. It's also worth noting that despite the length of the playlist, this is actually a very small sampling of what I was listening to in those days - completely ignoring tons of great music like the Beatles, Tom Waits, Leonard Cohen, etc. and also glossing over tons of crap like Cypress Hill and Danzig (not to mention all the death metal). But i tried to keep this all to music was either released within my high school years or stuff I listened to mostly during my high school years. Heavy metal is a notable exception here: that might have to be another playlist altogether, but I was listening to a lot of it in between all the grunge.

Enjoy, and please tell me in the comments what you used to listen to way back when.


Nine Inch Nails & Jane's Addiction: My (16 Year Old) Dream Concert

Photo by flickr user 'General Disarray (ClintJCL)'If you had told me 16 years ago that I could see Jane's Addiction and Nine Inch Nails together at one concert, I probably would have started gibbering incoherently and asked what horrible acts I had to perform in order to get a ticket to said magical dream show. Well, it turns out that the horrible acts included little more than handing over a huge fistful of cash and 16 years of patient waiting. Last night, my dream concert came true, and I couldn't be happier.

We got to Merriweather Post Pavilion in the middle of the Nine Inch Nails set, which was a bummer, but I still got to hear the second half of "The Becoming," as well as great renditions of "Burn," "Dead Souls," "Hurt," and "Head Like A Hole" which was a fantastic closer. NIN definitely seemed more focused than the times I'd seen them in the past, and a bit louder as well, but the rage seemed toned down. Maybe Trent's just in a happier place these days, but while there was plenty of yelling, he just didn't seem as pissed off - he's too obviously happy to be on stage performing songs he loves in front of huge crowds. I can't blame him.

But the real star of the show was of course the always entertaining Perry Farrell. At the ripe old age of 50, he pranced his skinny frame around the stage all night wearing little more than what I'm generously calling pants and sporting some sort of feathery tail. Swigging from his signature bottle of wine, dispensing bits of "wisdom," and dancing around like a gay peacock, he called to mind some bizarre mixture of David Bowie, Mick Jagger, Tony Curtis, and a Jewish grandmother. While his voice has never been his strong suit, Perry worked the knobs and dials of his "make-me-sound-good" machine to great effect, essentially making his voice another instrument in the mix on every song.

While Perry did his "rock star from another planet" routine, Dave Navarro rocked the "too cool for school guitar god" persona all night, replete with a cigarette sticking out from between the strings on the neck of his guitar. My friend Matt made a comment earlier in the evening that Jane's Addiction and Guns N' Roses are essentially 2 sides of the same coin, and watching Navarro, I could definitely see him as sort of a bizarro Slash who used his talents for good. Stephen Perkins looked happy as hell to be on stage, showing not a shred of ego despite being one of rock's best drummers. And Eric Avery did his best to look like his appearance on stage was his fulfillment of some court ordered community service. You could see him wince every time Perry got too close, which of course only made Perry all the more likely to stay close once he got there. I have no idea how these guys haven't all killed each other yet.

Personalities aside, the music was simply incredible. It's hard to be objective about a concert I've essentially waited half my life to see, but the fact that they lived up to my expectations has to mean something. They didn't really vary from the setlist they've been performing on this tour, but that's OK - those were the songs I wanted to hear. From the opener of "3 Days" to "1%," "Whores," "Ted, Just Admit It," "Ocean Size," and more, they brought to life songs that have been part of the fabric of my musical memory since I can remember being interested in music. They even made "Then She Did" (a tune I'd never really cared for) sound alive and interesting. The only low point was "Been Caught Stealing," which the band didn't really seem to care about, nor did the audience. I wonder why they played it?

Of course, I owe all this musical love (as usual) to my brother, who one day randomly walked into my bedroom and handed me a CD of "Nothing's Shocking" and said something along the lines of "I think you'll like this." Whether he meant to or not, he changed the way I would listen to music forever - i.e. I would henceforth hear all other bands through the aural lens of Jane's Addiction. And that's fine by me. I'll be there for their next reunion tour, and my inner 16-year-old will be delighted.


Follow Up: SanFranTech MusicTech Summit

Jason Feinberg has a good writeup of the SanFran MusicTech Summit over at the PBS blog MediaShift (managed by my friend and all-around new media guru Mark Glaser). If nothing else, this blog post convinced me that I would have had a good time at this conference, even though I am definitely not an "industry insider." I'm definitely an outsider looking in, but I do try to be an informed music consumer, and conferences like this one and SXSW seem like good ways to continue that education.

Anyway, check out Jason's post, he makes a good case for why you can skip most music conferences.


Last.FM + RIAA = Bad News

Is Last.FM's parent company CBS handing over users' scrobbler data to the RIAA? TechCrunch seems to think so, and they offer some pretty decent evidence to back up this claim. Of course, Last.FM is denying everything, but TechCrunch is not convinced.

I hate to perpetuate a rumor like this, but A) TechCrunch does seem to have some good evidence and reliable sources, and B) I'm a blogger, it's my job to perpetuate unsubstantiated rumors.

Apparently this all started back in February around the leak of the new U2 album. Hat tip to Dave for bringing me up to speed on this while I was away on vacation. Speaking of which, I technically still am away on vacation, so I'm outta here. But tell me: are you planning on uninstalling the Last.FM audio scrobbler utility?


Friday Playlist: Monday Edition

Behind the 8 Ball by flickr user jorr81I've been a bit behind the proverbial 8 ball lately, but I didn't want to let yet another Friday go by without a Friday playlist, even if it doesn't auto-publish until Monday. I don't have enough gas in the tank [Editor's note: how many metaphors for tired/busy can I fit into this post? TBD.] to do big writeups about each song, but there's a few tidbits below.

I'm going on vacation tomorrow, but I'll be back before you know it with another Friday playlist, I promise. Enjoy!

  1. Great mashup of Dead Prez and a track off the new Grizzly Bear album. Catchy and fun, just like me.

  2. I think their album Lunglight contains half of a really great album (specifically, the 2nd half). The first half is forgettable, but this Velvet Underground-esque number clocks in at track 12 and is indicative of the greatness of that half.

  3. Another indie darling band that everyone else heard of first. They write pretty indie pop songs.

  4. I was very excited to hear that Viva Voce had released a new album, and the fact that it's meandering and has taken me several listens to really get into doesn't mean it's bad. I'm excited that they're trying new things.

  5. I love this band and their new album is awesome. This song reminds me of The Jesus & Mary Chain.

  6. This song by Crocodiles also reminds me of The Jesus & Mary Chain, which probably means I'm thinking of a different band.

  7. This is some band my brother told me about - this song is weird and pretty and reminds me of mid-90's fuzz bands like Hum.

  8. These guys remind me a lot of Los Campesinos, with the same love of wordplay and yelling. Good stuff.

  9. Another sad Scottish band. But a good one.

  10. Since I started with a mashup, it seems only right to end with one too. David Bowie + MGMT = good times.
Have a great week, everybody.


Pandora One: $36 Never Sounded So Good

Mashable has a nice little writeup of Pandora's new subscription-based offering, Pandora One.

Key features include:

  • Higher-quality audio stream (192 Kbit/second)
  • Unlimited skips
  • Adobe AIR desktop app
  • No ads
All this and more for $36/year. Is it worth it? Remains to be seen. I think I might subscribe just for the desktop app, which sounds pretty sweet.

In other news, I recently realized that the headphone jack on my Blackberry + Pandora for the Blackberry + my trusty Radio Shack tape adapter + my car's tape deck = Pandora in my car. I like the mix of old-school and new-fangled technology here to bring me one step closer to my dream: streaming my personal music library to a mobile device, wherever I am. Come on, Logitech! Give me a Squeezecenter client for the Blackberry! Please?


San Francisco Music Tech Summit

I'm not cool enough to go to this, but if you're in the San Fran area, you should go to the SanFran MusicTech Summit [Editor's note: wow, they sure do love their CamelCase] and write me a guest post!

From their site:

The SanFran MusicTech Summit will bring together the best and brightest developers in the Music/Technology Space, along with the musicians, entrepreneurial business people, press, investors, service providers, and organizations who work with them at the convergence of culture and commerce. We will meet to discuss the evolving music/business/technology ecosystem in a proactive, conducive to dealmaking environment.
My hero Paul Lamere will be there - don't miss his panel, he's a smart dude.


Music 2.0 Roundup

Photo courtesy flickr user 'penmachine'Here's a quick roundup of some cool new (or just new to me) stuff happening in the exciting world of Music 2.0 (or whatever it's called nowadays):

  • OWL Music Search
    This service has been around for a while, but I never really thought about it until last weekend when I needed to find some music for a 48 Hour Film I was making. I was looking through Jamendo but wasn't finding any Creative Commons-licensed songs that sounded like a song I had in mind - that's where OWL comes in. You upload an MP3 via their Java applet, select a 5-second snippet, and tell it to find songs that match. We didn't end up using anything from it because we changed our mind about the style of music we wanted, but it's still a very cool-looking service.

  • CAL Playlist Comparison
    A project out of UC San Diego that plays you a song, uses some existing tools to create playlists with that song as the seed, and then asks you to rate how well each playlist meets your expectations. I'm hoping this information will then be used to improve different recommendation engines across the board.

  • Free Music Archive
    Created by WFMU with a grant from the state of New York, this is a massive archive of "high-quality, legal audio downloads" that are pre-cleared for nearly every kind of non-commercial use. A feature I like is that you can browse the archive by "curator" and see what an actual human being (ostensibly with some credentials in this area) thinks of the different musical options available.

  • Bandcamp
    When Del The Funky Homosapien made his latest album available for free, he didn't do it on his own web site or through iTunes or by sending out CDs with newspapers. He did it through Bandcamp, a very innovative web site which makes it extremely simple for bands to sell their songs over the web. What makes them awesome is that the band can set the price per track/album (including no price) and that they offer about 10 different levels of audio quality for us audiophiles/music nerds. The introductory video is actually pretty watchable.

  • The Music Explaura
    Another recommendation engine, this time using a tag-based approach. I'll let them explain why they think their system is smarter than the average bear.

  • Blip.fm Recommender Bot
    I confess, I don't really see the point of Blip.fm. There are a lot of different ways to tell the Twitterverse what you're listening to, and I don't see why they need their own twitter clone on their own site - don't we have enough things to click on in our day? Regardless, this is still a very cool idea: you "blip" a song (basically post a link to the song to Twitter via Blip.fm [which is actually streaming the music via Seeqpod]) and add a #recsplease hashtag to your tweet. The Recommender Bot picks up on your request, queries the Echo Nest API for similar artists, and tweets them back at you. I love this idea, and not only because it ties together something like 20 underlying tools.

  • Last.fm Visual Radio
    Last.fm just released the latest version of their streaming music player. New features include pictures, combo stations, and station history. What will they think of next? Hopefully better-looking pictures without that weird screen-door effect over them.
Have you used any of the above? What did you think? Do you plan to? Why? Tell me in the comments.


Friday Playlist: Movie Soundtracks

I can still remember pretty clearly going on a road trip in college with some friends of mine, and the guy who was driving had a CD player in his car (which at the time seemed pretty fancy). So I eagerly opened up his book of CDs...only to find that every single one was a movie soundtrack. I don't mean a mix-type soundtrack like The Big Chill or High Fidelity, I mean original score soundtracks like Raiders of the Lost Ark, Jurassic Park, etc. And those were the ones good enough to be memorable. Suffice it to say, I was a sad puppy for most of that trip.

But time has passed and I've come to appreciate the value of a great original score. In large part, I have Carter Burwell to thank for that. Burwell wrote the score for Raising Arizona, among his many, many other movie credits. Nearly every time I find myself noticing how much I like the music in a film, it turns out to be Carter Burwell's work.

Raising Arizona was probably the first movie I saw where I can remember feeling like the music was an integral part of the experience for me. This isn't like the Imperial Death March or Superman's theme - those are great pieces of music that add to their respective movies, but they work more as leitmotifs that are more or less associated with specific characters or things in their movies - and they stand alone so strongly that I can hear them without necessarily picturing their associated movies.

This music was something different - it was simply part of the fabric of the movie for me, and I couldn't think of the movie without hearing that music. The second time this happened to me was while watching Buckaroo Banzai - one of my favorite hobbies that year was to recreate Michael Boddicker's theme on the piano over and over again, much (I'm sure) to the delight of my family. Hearing that music put me into the world of that movie in a way that almost nothing else could.

I could go on and on, but I have cupcakes in the oven, so let's get to the playlist. What follows are a handful of my favorite songs from movie scores over the years by an even smaller handful of artists.

Here's the breakdown:

  • "Mediational Field" by Susuma Hirasawa (from Paprika)
    Absolutely beautiful song, and I can't imagine the movie without it. Playful and serious at the same time.

  • "Way Out There" by Carter Burwell (from Raising Arizona)
    You can skip the first 34 seconds. Once it gets going, this is actually a cover of a Pete Seeger song, which itself is a take on an old traditional, etc. More on that here.

  • "Buckaroo Banzai Theme (long version)" by Michael Boddicker (from Buckaroo Banzai)
    Fans of the movie will recognize this as the music that plays over the closing credits when all the characters join up and walk together in lockstep. This is a more expansive take on the main theme, and it takes me right back to the first time I saw this movie and realized that I had a new favorite movie.

  • "Open Spaces" by Jonny Greenwood (from There Will Be Blood)
    Radiohead guitarist/keyboardist Jonny Greenwood was declared ineligible for an Academy Award for this soundtrack because it contained some elements from a piece he had written previously for the BBC - but it's still great. This piece does a wonderful job evoking the feel of this movie: dark, mysterious, foreboding, sad, and complex.

  • "Theme from Shaft" by Isaac Hayes (from Shaft)
    How could I not include this?

  • "Dream of the Future" by Carter Burwell (from Raising Arizona)
    This is essentially "Down In The Willow Garden," an old bluegrass tune, done with synthesizers. This song is a recurring theme in the movie, and this piece does a beautiful job wrapping everything up on a hopeful - yet restrained - note.

  • "A Drop Filled With Memories" by Susumu Hirasawa (from Paprika)
    This is is the same tune as "Mediational Field" from the beginning of this playlist, but it's a completely different take on it. I love how they sound like two totally different songs even though they're essentially exactly the same, note-wise.

Do you have any favorite movie scores? Tell me in the comments.