The Ultimate Music App

There’s an ever-growing number of online music services out there, but none of them have really nailed it for me. Here’s my list of demands:

  • Instant Purchase – Simple one or two click purchase, which adds it to my portfolio. Downloading from one place and uploading to another is dumb.
  • Standard format/no DRM – This is why subscription-based services won’t work.
  • Automatic Download/Sync – As seamless as DropBox, maybe even with a few rules (per playlist, etc).
  • Smart Playlists – The only reason I use iTunes is that I can set up playlists with dynamic criteria, like “stuff I like that I haven’t heard in 2 weeks”. This entails tracking what I listen to and being able to rate stuff.
  • Upload My Own – No reason for me to have to buy things again. I’m fine with paying a small extra fee for this, but I should also be able to work that off by buying new stuff. Amazon hosts stuff I’ve bought from them for free, but charges me for uploads, so in the long run they could actually end up costing me more. They should give me a 50MB bonus per album to upload other files.
  • Mobile – My phone is my music player now, I should be able to stream/sync/download from it as well as my computer.

Bonus Features

  • API – Let me have another program talk to your service to do things like recommendations and missing tracks.
  • Podcasts – This doesn’t necessarily have to be done in-service, if the API allowed uploads someone else could do it, but it seems pretty trivial to add on if all of the above things are in place.

Don’t Really Care

  • Sharing – Nice to have but I’d be fine with a service I can’t share. I’d prefer the option to sign into more than one account at a time.

The Where and When of Music

The idea that music can bring you back to a time and place is not a novel idea. There are songs you hear that make you remember the first time you heard them, or a specific event like a wedding, but I think there’s an even more powerful level. When I’m addicted to a song, it can get tied to a place as well as date, and when I’ve moved on from that place, I basically put that song back in its box, and file it away. It will come up in shuffle again someday, but it loses its primacy. Here are some of mine:

  • I Love a Rainy Night – Eddit Rabbit: Listening to the 45 in the playroom at my house when I was 5 or 6 years old.
  • Now That We Found Love – Heavy D and the Boyz: Involuntarily being subjected to this song every day on the bus to school. I think my blood pressure jumps 20 points just from hearing this.
  • Dig Your Own Hole – Chemical Brothers: Playing Starcraft in the basement of our hell-hole apartment on Tremont Street, wondering if I’d ever be able to find a programming job with no experience
  • Aenima – Tool: My friend/roommate at that same apartment Andy had a fancy stereo and a huge CD changer, but I think he only had 1 disc, so he pretty much played this album 24/7. I still can’t bring myself to buy a Tool album despite otherwise liking the band
  • Remixes – Ratatat: The second StyleFeeder office in it’s vacant, magenta glory.
  • A Thousand Suns – Linkin Park: The fourth (and current) StyleFeeder office. I seem to have no interest in listening to this album at home or in the car, but put it in a few times a week here

Album of the Year?

My venerable iPod had a bad run-in with an open sunroof and some precipitation, and my other one is still packed, along with my music drive. After a couple months of tinkering with Pandora and Last.fm, I needed to go out and find some good music the old fashioned way. That means without the benefit of a recommendation engine that thinks my affinities for various flavors of hip-hop and bands from France (Daft Punk, Air) mean I will like French hip-hop. Which I don’t. Because it’s horrible. French is well suited for poetry and indignation, but rapping … non.

So, I trawled the Amazon mp3 store for a while and ended up with a basket of albums:

1. Lily Allen’s “It’s Not Me, It’s You” – Decent but disposable pop, previous album was far more interesting.
2. Franz Ferdinand’s “Tonight” – Low expectations were met, I don’t even know if I’ve listened to it twice.
3. Andrew Bird’s “Noble Beast” – I haven’t really give this one a chance yet, it’s kind of wimpy and I haven’t really found the right situation to listen to it yet.

Then things started to get interesting.

4. Passion Pit’s “Manners” – As long as you skip the first song, this is a great, fun album. There’s hints of Michael Jackson, Daft Punk, some 70s and 80s pop, but it’s fresh, not retro. I was hooked on it for a week or so.

One of my favorite albums from 2008, though it was released in 2007, was Panda Bear’s “Person Pitch”, which might best be described as listening to a Beach Boys cover band playing at Arlington station while you’re at Symphony. I never realized that Panda Bear was a part of the Animal Collective, but when I found out, I bought:

5. Animal Collective’s “Merriweather Post Pavilion” – This is a complicated album, that I just couldn’t really get into at first, but after a while, I came back to it and enjoyed it much more.

Serendipity struck when I bought the final album in the list, thinking it was another Animal Collective member, which it’s not, but given the name you can understand my confusion.

6. Grizzly Bear’s “Veckatimest” – The first time I listened to this album I was picking on some Radiohead wannabe vibes, but then I tried again and picked up a couple things and liked it more. Then again, and again, and again, for my entire commute to and from work each day. Each day I have a different favorite song. I haven’t enjoyed an album this much in years, probably since Atmosphere’s “Sevens Travels”. If you want something interesting, a little outside of the box but not as weird as Panda Bear or as over the top as Passion Pit, you should definitely check it out.

Unintentionally Best Albums

Many successful musicians put out albums that aren’t “real” albums in that they don’t contain much new music, but they either have a different take on them (remix albums), round out the fan experience (live albums) or just milk fans and almost-fans of some money (best of albums). They aren’t marketed as heavily, bands don’t tour to promote them, sometimes you don’t even notice them unless you are a devout fan. Once in a while, however, these end up being my favorite (AKA the best) albums a band releases. One of these just came out, namely Daft Punk’s “Alive 2007”, which is “pretty remarkable” to quote a friend. A list is born.

Top 3 Unintentionally Best Albums

  1. Linkin Park – “Reanimation” – LP had a mediocre first album and then dropped this bomb, sending this Emo-band-in-the-making on a detour into electronic spectacle. This is also one of the best DVD-A discs out there.
  2. White Zombie – “Super Sexy Swingin’ Sounds” – Not only did they end up with the most interesting White Zombie album, they put together the ultimate “night driving” album.
  3. Daft Punk – “Alive 2007” – Like Mos Def, the problem with Daft Punk albums, even their songs to some extent, is the inconsistency. Going from boring to exciting beats, amazing flow to mundane limping, this album seems to fix that with great mixes of their best songs.

Honorable Mention

  • The Roots – “The Roots Come Alive” – This might have made #3 before Daft Punk’s CD came out, but I’m not sure because their early albums were already so good. The highlight of this album is Jill Scott’s performance in “You Got Me”, which without exaggeration gives me goosebumps every time I hear it.

21st Century Game Changers

A post on the Freakonomics blog got me thinking. What inventions have genuinely improved, or even affected, my life. I drew up a list, and decided to constrain it to the 21st century, so things like the cellphone, the VCR, the CD, the ATM, instant messaging, and online banking aren’t on the list. Here they are, and where possible I put the approximate year I adopted them.

Major Improvement to Daily Life

  • Tivo (2000) – Definitely #1 on the list. I don’t consider myself a couch potato, but this completely unshackled me from the network’s arbitrary scheduling. It also make more shows enjoyable, or even watchable, by cutting out commercials.
  • RSS/Google Reader (2002, 2005) – RSS enabled me to keep track of a much broader set of sources, and Google Reader took RSS to the next level by making my subscriptions and unread articles available anywhere (including my phone).
  • Smartphone (2006) – I’m far more organized now that I have my full contact list and calendar on me at all times, as well as being backed up, plus last-resort internet access is a nice bonus.
  • TV shows on DVD (2003) – There’s now a new category of TV show, the ones I don’t even bother to Tivo and just wait for the DVD.

Minor Quality-of-Life Improvement

  • Netflix (2002) – Like they say, no more late fees.
  • Wifi (2004) – Adopted later than most geeks, has proven useful in many ways.
  • Wikipedia (2003?) – Coming from someone who used to read the encyclopedia for fun, Wikipedia is like crack.
  • Text Messaging (2006) – Late to the game here. Enables a new layer of communcation and makes me both more responsive and more proactive.
  • GPS (2007) – I waited a while for the price dip, and now consider GPS a mandatory item for my car.
  • mp3 player/iPod (2002/2004) – No more discman and CD cases is a good thing.
  • Digital Camera/DSLR (2001, 2004, 2007) – I’m too lazy to deal with film. I got my first digital in 2001, my first nice one in 2004, and my first digital SLR in 2007, each a vast improvement over the previous.
  • Firefox (2004) – Firefox has gone from lightweight security-minded browser to bloated, customizable security-minded browser, both of which I’ve found value in.
  • Eclipse (2002) – Java wins in my book because of Eclipse. Having a program that thinks for you enables you to think about the real problems.
  • Launchcast (now Yahoo! Music) (2002) – One of the earliest and still one of the best customized music services. If you’re not sold on Pandora and Last.fm it might be because they are are inferior versions of Launch.

(supposedly) Major Advances, Adopted by Me, Negligible Impact

  • Social Networks (2004) – I use LinkedIn as a sort of resume-light, and myspace to keep up with my sisters, and facebook as the site du jour, but they are all just curious diversions.
  • OS X (2005) – Scores high on sexiness. Scores low on stability & usability
  • XP/Vista (2003) – Windows 2000 made computers better and more useful. XP and Vista seem to just make them slower.

Major Advances, Unadopted by Me

  • VoIP/Skype – I don’t use landlines.
  • Fastlane/Speedpass – I still find the ease with which someone can track me disturbing, plus the lines these days are usually shorter at the cash lines.

There’s probably some that I missed, or just weren’t important enough to remember. My main question is, what’s next to get on the list, and where on the list will it end up?

Savage: The Movie

Saw this over at Matt’s LJ, seemed interesting.

IF YOUR LIFE WERE A MOVIE, WHAT WOULD THE SOUNDTRACK BE?
REMEMBER, DON’T CHEAT!
So, here’s how it works:
1. Open your library (iTunes, Winamp, Media Player, iPod, iPaq etc)
2. Put it on shuffle
3. Press play
4. For every question, type the song that’s playing
5. When you go to a new question, press the next button
6. Don’t lie and try to pretend you’re cool…

Note: I skipped the song if the same artist came up again.

Opening Credits: Dr. Dre & Ice Cube – “Natural Born Killaz”
What kind of movie is this going to be?

Waking Up Scene: Susie Van Der Meer – “Somebody Has to Pay”
From the Run Lola Run soundtrack, not a bad choice for a breakfast montage.

Walking Down The Street Scene: House of Pain – “House of Pain Anthem”
This could be funny, fitting or tragic depending on which street we’re talking about.

Car Driving Scene: The Police – “Don’t Stand So Close to Me”
Eh, not a great fit.

High School Flashback Scene: Mr. Mackey – “It’s Easy, Mmkay”
Nice choice here. Life advice, South Park stylee.

Drug Abuse Flashback Scene: Blue Swede – “Hooked on a Feeling”
Bizarre.

Summer/Beach Scene: Blink 182 – “All the Small Things”
Good beach music.

Nostalgic Scene: Insane Clown Posse – “The Neden Game”
Just can’t make this one work.

Bitter, Angry Scene: Nine Inch Nails – “Where is Everybody?”
Few better choices than Nine Inch Nails for bitter music.

Break-up/Throwing Things/Slow Motion Scene: The Dust Brothers – “Psycho Boy Jack”
If you broke up in a run down gas station with flickering flourescent bulbs, this would be a good choice.

Regret Scene: Ahmad – “Back in the Day”
Title works, song doesn’t.

Bar Scene: Air – “The Vagabond”
Harmonica, hand clapping and Beck, sounds like a good bar to me.

Nightclub Scene: Underworld – “Ballet Lane”
It fits if its a laid back club full of people sipping amaretto.

Fight/Action Scene: Green Day – “Basketcase”
Eh, can’t imagine this song causing any fights.

Sad, breakdown scene: Korn – “Lost”
Angsty, gritty, good pick.

Death Scene: Hüsker Dü – “M.I.C.”
Pacifist punk song, bad fit.

Funeral Scene: Moby – “My Weakness”
Kinda sad I guess.

Mourning Scene: Beastie Boys – “Eugene’s Lament”
Probably the best pick of the bunch.

Mellow Scene: Kittie – “Immortal”
Instrumental Kittie song, I guess that passes for mellow.

Dreaming About Someone Scene: Bjork – “Sod Off”
Dreaming about pre-emptively dumping someone.

Sex Scene: Kompressor – “Vitamins are Good”
Bizarre.

Contemplation Scene: Outkast – “Prototype”
Well he says “i think” alot…

Fancy Party: Ministry – “Psalm 69”
Not too fancy.

Realization Scene: 311 – “Fat Chance”
Realizing one of your favorite albums is almost over.

Flashback/Build up Scene: Howlin’ Wolf – “Moanin’ at Midnight”
This song begs for sepia tone.

Chase Scene: Mudvayne – “Nothing to Gain”
Hmm, wouldn’t work for a car chase, maybe a foot chase through the city.

Happy Love Scene: Marilyn Manson – “The Speed of Pain”
Might work with a loose interpretation.

Happy Friend Scene: Cut Chemist meets Shortkut – “No Mistakes in this Number Son”
Not a bad fit.

Closing Credits: Basement Jaxx – “Same Old Show”
Decent credits song.

Musical Addiction

Every once in a while, I (and probably most of you) get addicted to a song or album. The day just isn’t complete without hearing it a few times. I’m currently addicted to a possibly-record 4. It’s also very interesting that all 4 songs are available for free, legitimately!

“Truth Is” and “Uncle Sam Goddamn”, both by Brother Ali, who seems to be the second best artist on the Rhymesayers label, behind Atmosphere. Nice beats, plus Ali’s a very talented rapper, and an interesting fellow, a mixed-race albino who’s found himself in an extremely race-conscious industry/genre. You can hear both songs at brotherali.com

The other two are remixes by Ratatat (apparently unsigned), who I came across a while back when someone used them for a World of Warcraft video. “Party and Bullshit” by Notorious B.I.G, and “The Mule” by Z-re, Devin the Dude & Juvenile. Both are available on myspace.com/ratatatmusic.

So this made me think of the albums (not songs, there’s been too many) that I’ve been addicted to over the years. I’m going to set a threshold here of at least 3 months of compulsive daily listening. Albums I just happened to have left in my CD player for too long don’t count either. This means that there aren’t many, because it’s rare to be hooked for a week, never mind 12. I’m actually surprised there’re even this many, but then again, I am getting old. Note: I’m not making any claims to the objective Greatness of the albums on this list, though some are (OK Computer, Odelay), and some are clearly not (Fine Malt Lyrics). It’s just that these are the ones that stuck the longest, for me, when thrown against the wall.

Check your Head by the Beastie Boys
Black Sunday by Cypress Hill
Fine Malt Lyrics by House of Pain
Dirt by Alice in Chains
Murder Ballads by Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds
Odelay by Beck
Dig Your Own Hole by The Chemical Brothers
OK Computer by Radiohead
Amnesiac by Radiohead
Reanimation by Linkin Park
Seven’s Travels by Atmosphere

Current: None.

What are yours?