Archive for the 'music' Category

Spotify

January 9, 2009

I’ve recently received an invite to Spotify, a music service which allows you to stream tracks and albums in full, as often as you like, and for free (bar some advertising, which I haven’t actually been subject to yet).

I’m a big fan of last.fm, and Spotify allows you to scrobble tracks to your account. The great thing about Spotify is that, by contrast to last.fm, using its iTunes-like search interface allows you to immediately pull up any track or album that you want to hear, unlike last.fm’s addmitedly interesting radio feature. So, for example, I am currently listening to New Order’s masterpiece Technique in full, thanks to the power of Spotify and the interwebs.

Spotify is exactly the thing that the big music companies should be seeing as the future, and to their credit they seem to have gotten on board, with the so-called major labels all signing up to provide music.

The service is currently in beta and requires you to queue for an invite, but mine took just a week, and I think the service is fantastic so go and sign up!

Best music of 2008, a list

December 24, 2008

Hello all! I’m spending a lazy Chrismas Eve afternoon in front of the telly, after a fairly traumatic visit to the supermarket at lunchtime. With time on my hands and thoughts turning towards the end of the year, I thought I would round up a subjective and probably partial list of my favourite releases of 2008 (with a hat tip to Information Overlord!). I’m also throwing in an older record I discovered, just because.

Portishead: Third. The wait for this was reaching My Bloody Valentine-esque proportions, and while MBV have yet to release any new material, Portishead vindicated the wait. They did so by ditching most of what made them famous in the first place, namely the filmic, down beat hip hop (avoiding the “t” word there!) of their first 2 albums. Instead they emphasised the mood of dread that was present but muted in those records, and brought Beth Gibbon’s keening vocals to the fore.  This, combined with some startling production (see “Machine Gun” in particular), makes for a gloomy yet compulsive listen.

Optimo: Sleepwalk. Optimo are my favourite DJ team (check out Psyche Out and Walkabout), and they specialise in non-cheesy 2 Many Djs type stuff, but this is something a little different. The mix is a back to mine affair of downbeat stuff, ranging from bleepy Krautrock and ambient to low-key electro and Ethiopian jazz. The result is somnolent but seductive, working as chill out music it’s okay to chill out to.

The Hold Steady: Stay Positive. Better than their last record, Boys and Girls in America, but not quite up to the standard of their masterpiece Separation Sunday, Stay Positive maintains the high quality of their releases. If this sounds like faint praise, it’s not meant to be; this record is great, plotting a path between the aforementioned shimmering stadium rock of Boys… and the raddled, hard rocking Separation Sunday. I particular like The Hold Steady when they sound quiet and dissipated, allowing Craig Finn’s lyrics to come to the fore, and the closing track “Slapped Actress” does this, sounding sad and regretful, the musical embodiment of the morning after the night before.

No Age: Nouns. Part of the resurgence in lo-fi noise rock that seemed to happen during 2008, No Age are a couple of LA skate punks who turn out melody-filled, pounding shoegaze/ punk rock. Nouns is the apotheosis of their sound, and despite being ragged and aggressive it is supremely addictive, revelling as it does in being young and making a great big noise.

Girl Talk: Feed the Animals. Certain critics have decried this as music for people with ADD, but I think that’s unfair. Or at least it’s only fair if you’re not that much into fun, which Girl Talk delivers in spades. The record mashes up a huge number of tracks, ranging from hip hop to classic rock to chart pop, creating completely original compositions. The intellectual property implications of this are perhaps questionable, but the results are fascinating and hugely listenable, if a little like eating too much chocolate gateau in one go.

Nas: Illmatic. A hip hop landmark from 1994, Nas’ debut Illmatic has apparently never been topped by him, and remains an all-time classic. It’s well worth this tag; the lyrics are incredible, possibly only matched in my experience by a few releases by the Wu-Tang Clan, and the beats (by, among others, DJ Premier and Large Professor) just about define mid-90s hip hop. It’s also unusually short for a hip hop album, coming in at under 40 minutes. I was amazed at how damn good this record is, and sorry that I hadn’t heard it much, much sooner.

Honourable mentions of other 2008 stuff: Cut Copy’s “In Ghost Colours”, Justin Robertson’s “Art of Acid” mix, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’s “German Only” mix of Krautrock and other teutonic weirdness, Fuck Button’s “Street Horrsing” (great live!), Fleet Foxes’ S/T.

Merry Xmas and a happy New Year!

S is for Song!

October 10, 2008

Lo-Fi has tagged me to continue a song meme originally started by Information Overlord. As with these memes, it’s totally arbitrary, and all the more fun for it! Perfect for a Friday, and a good way to get blogging again (I’ve been even more remiss than usual recently). The idea is to name five of my favourite songs by artists beginning with the letter “S”. And here we go:

Shellac: “Wingwalker“. One of Shellac’s first singles, and possibly their best. It has all the elements: rumbling bassline, whipcrack drumming, sheet metal guitar, Steve Albini’s impassioned ranting, and the stop-start dynamics that make them such an entertaining live band. I’m going to see them in a few weeks, I hope they play this!

Studio: “No Comply“. This was the track that introduced me to these guys. It’s like Happy Mondays meets Can on the beach in Ibiza with Swedish accents, and is as fun and sun-kissed as that sounds. A perfect pick-me-up on those quickly drawing-in Autumn nights.

Steinski: “Lesson 2 (James Brown Mix)“. Steinski was an early exponent of what are now called “mash-ups”, and is about 100 times better than most of the exponents of this around now. He specialises in using old hip hop and funk breaks to create something both witty and true to its roots, and was obviously a big influence on the likes of DJ Shadow. This is a concatenation of about 10 snippets of fantastic James Brown tracks, along with a load of other samples, and is truly get on the good foot stuff!

Smog: “Cold Blooded Old Times“. By the standards of Bill Callahan (Smog’s guiding force and songwriter) this is a pretty cheery number, if a song about domestic violence and unrequited love can ever be considered cheery. It’s the infectious riffing and handclaps that make it feel, if not exactly like a party number, then at least a happy way to feel depressed.

Slint: “Good Morning, Captain“. It’s difficult to write about this song without sounding horribly pretentious, but here goes. It’s in the long tradition of gothic seafaring stories, along the lines of Moby Dick or The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner. A shipwrecked captain realises he is alone on his ship, only to see a (ghostly?) child looking in at him through the window. This is backed with slowly developing, ominously intertwining guitar lines and a relentless rhythym section. The song reaches its climax with a cathartic howl of regret and loneliness from the captain, with a raging guitar maelstrom behind, possibly one of the heaviest (both in the “heavy metal” and “bad vibes” senses) things I’ve ever heard. It still sends tingles down my spine on hearing it to this day.

So that’s my selection. I hereby pass the meme on to Tom P, Nick, Dan, Jude and Tom A. Do your worst!

Green Man

August 21, 2008

I went to Green Man festival at the weekend with a whole bunch of friends, old and new, located in the beautiful Glanusk Park near Abergavenny in Wales. These included Jude, Tom P (Green Man thoughts here), Tom A (thoughts here) Welsh Jude, my brother Jim, Alex A, Alex F, and Steve, along with about 15 other people. This made it extremely sociable and fun throughout, despite the somewhat dubious weather. Friday was fine, but it rained most of Saturday and some of Sunday, making for a damp latter couple of days.

Nevertheless, the good vibes and music shone through, along with the excellent bars (one of which sold proper spiced cider which turned out to be real loopy juice) and a wide range of good food stalls.

Bands wise, I saw a whole bunch of good-but-not-great acts, along with a few real standouts. In the “not bad” file we had The National, Spiritualized, Sennen, Wolf People, Pentangle and a load of other bands I saw in passing. The really great bands were Fuck Buttons (by the standards of Green Man, aggressive walls of droning noise), Junior Boys (who had the misfortune to be playing in the middle of a downpour but really benefited from a huge soundsystem to propel their bass heavy electropop), and Black Mountain (who sounded suitably doomy and strung out).

The real point of the festival is hanging out in the beautiful surroundings with friends, and that was great throughout. Particular fun (despite the incredulity of certain hataz) was playing an RPG called The Shab-Al-Hiri Roach, in which you play an academic jostling for position within an American East Coast university in the 20s, with the added distraction of brain-infesting cockroaches to deal with.

All in all, a lovely weekend. Oh, and if you run into me, be sure to ask about gong baths!

Last.fm serendipity

May 30, 2008

I had a last.fm user called Radgardener leave a comment in my last.fm shoutbox. It turned out that  not only was our music compatibility “super”, but that I appeared as one of this user’s musical neighbours.

Not so strange, you might think. Until you find out that… we share a name! Or at least, his name is Neal Stewart. Apparently he’s my Canadian musical doppelganger.

Spooky or what? It’s like we both had entered The Scary Door (warning: those of a fragile disposition should not watch this clip).

1000 del.icio.us posts!

March 6, 2008

A landmark, of sorts- I just posted my thousandth link to del.icio.us, a service that allows you to save URLs and then refer back to them as and when you need to. As well as this, it allows you to tag things you save, thereby building up a folksonomy.

You can view my links here– they are a real mish-mash of stuff, running the gamut from web tools to libraries to politics to film to sport. For the record, my thousandth post was an interview with Carl Wilson at the AV Club, talking about his new book about Celine Dion in the very good 33 1/3 series, and it was tagged with my most popular tag, music.

Thoughts on the iPod

February 13, 2008

Yes, yes, I know, I’m about 5 years behind half the people in this country on this, but I finally got an iPod this Christmas, and I thought I would note some of my thoughts on the ways in which it has changed my listening habits.

First of all, it has really made me think about my unwieldy collection of CDs. I must have burnt only a fraction of the total number, and this begs the question: how many of these CDs do I actually really want to keep? I mean, it’s conceivable I might want to listen to a track off that Bentley Rhythm Ace  album I have, for some reason, held on to for the last 10 years, but in all honesty it’s not going to happen. So maybe a CD purge is in order.

On a related note, burning a whole load of CDs has made me realise how weak parts of so many albums (including a lot of albums I like) are. One of my favourite albums of the 90s is Royal Trux’s Accelerator, and I still really like it, but could probably live without hearing half the tracks ever again, which made me think twice about burning the whole album. This is where compilations come into their own, since they provide perfect iPod fodder, and you can easily delete tracks without feeling guilty for dismembering a cherished album (a rockist idea anyway, I know!). Mix CDs are also great in this respect, since if done well they are unique in providing the cohesion of an album with the variety of a good compilation.

And the perfect medium to hear new mixes is in podcast form, which really has opened up a whole new world of (free!) music to me. The two I have subscribed to that particularly stand out are Resident Advisor (check here for a mix by the always excellent Optimo DJs) and the Beats in Space radio show coming out of NYC. As these choices indicate, another side-effect has been that I am listening to lots more dance music than previously, which is perhaps also to do with the fact that dance music tends to work better on headphones from an MP3 than, say, stoner metal.

It has also made me think about my small to medium sized collection of LPs. One the one hand, I kind of wish I had them available in a format that was easily transferrable to computer, since many of my favourite albums are in this format. But then, on the other hand, I picked up a copy of the gatefold edition of Black Sabbath’s Vol. 4, which features  some truly great artwork, making me remember why I enjoyed buying vinyl in the first place.

Finally, owning an iPod has brought home the need to buy myself a decent laptop, over which I have been prevaricating for years. I can’t continue to clog up Jude’s computer with my (to quote her) “funny bleepy music”!

Did anyone find their listening habits changing in the ways I describe when they first got an MP3 player? Or perhaps in other ways? Leave a comment!