Listening, Remembering: a 2017 Playlist

In the early days of this blog and being online, I’d make mixes and upload them somewhere for friends and readers. Those were usually one and the same, who am I kidding? Personally, I hardly have time to listen to playlists made by experts, so I don’t know why I thought people would listen to mine. Adult hindsight: I made them for myself.

The end of year mix was a particularly fun undertaking. I don’t scrapbook, or watch algorithmically generated Year In Review videos from Facebook/Google/Apple, and I lack the openness to write an entry all about my experience of the year without doing it in relation to another topic. Hence music.

Every track you add is inevitably a personal choice. Some were soundtracks to moments, some were recommended by important people, others are evidence of flirting with new genres, trying to stay in touch with the distancing past or the youthfully new. A listener could conceivably read between the lines, but hopefully they’re already too busy forming their own reflections.

This year, I started a new job and as an end-of-year team activity, I thought it’d be good to compile a playlist with a couple of contributions from each member. Here it is.

That activity got me inspired to do a personal one, and I think I’m finally done at 34 tracks across 2 hours and 8 minutes. A double album! At the very start, I thought 2017 (not the best year, right?) would be a slim list. And way too many things that came to mind were actually from 2016. A year can seem like a small and fuzzy lump of time by December. But when you start going through your library, the months all come back and start to feel distinct again. It’s really therapeutic and I recommend it.

Anyway, here’s how my 2017 sounded. A few notes on particular songs follow.

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➟ The Beats Question

Apple’s Pursuit of Beats May Foretell a Shift
By BEN SISARIO, nytimes.com

If Apple makes a major marketing push for Beats’s subscription model — or, even better, if Apple integrates Beats into its ecosystem of online services and physical products — it could mean a big lift for streaming.

Apple entering the streaming music market (virtually overnight) with the clout and installed user base of iTunes would be massive, and it’s probably not an exaggeration to say Spotify’s days as currently structured would be numbered. Looks like we’re in for the next phase of music industry economics.

Since the rumor surfaced a couple of days ago, people have tried to rationalize why Apple would buy the headphone and services company. Some good theories and analyses of both brands have resulted; I think it’s fantastic to have lots of smart people simultaneously indulge in a thought exercise, the answers to which we will probably have in the near future.

My resistance to the idea has largely been because I’ve heard several pairs of Beats headphones myself, and haven’t been impressed. It’s not about being overpriced, but being bad experiences, functionally. A pair of BeoPlay H6 headphones at S$700 is subject to many of the same criticisms one might use against Beats: they’re too expensive, they’re made in China, the margins are criminally high, you’re paying for the brand, and so on — except the H6s really do deliver on the music experience. I suppose many Beats owners will say the same, but there are an awful lot of people with taste who disagree. Apple’s brand, to me, has always been on the opposite end of that spectrum. Perhaps this is an effort to change who we currently think of as their customers.

The Beats Music service, on the other hand, has been really impressive in my short time testing it out. There’s a feature called “The Sentence”, where you fill in a statement that defines the mood and situation you’re in, and Beats Music provides the appropriate soundtrack. I wish Spotify had something like it. I said in a tweet the other day that $3.2bn was the complacency tax of being asleep at the wheel of the world’s largest digital music store, and @craigmod noted that it was a rather low price to pay, in that case. Quite true.

The iTunes reluctance to play the streaming library game appears to be a legacy of Steve Jobs’s (and the senior executive team’s) approach to music as a tangible possession. He used to rationalize the download model by explaining how people prefer to own their music, and have collections, possibly informed by his own experiences with vinyls and CDs and so on. While it may have been true in the early days of the iTunes Store, I’ve observed even in my own listening habits as an older person that it’s no longer true. Collections matter, but song access is becoming ubiquitous and hence irrelevant. In a world where everyone pays $10/mo for music, we can build all the collections we want, without having to think about first buying a digital copy or worry about losing access. Why should you? It’s $10/mo for the rest of your life and everybody stays afloat and happy. Sold.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Beats Music became the backbone of a new iTunes Unlimited offering, and the headphones remained a standalone brand, sold prominently (as ever) in Apple retail locations.

[I first wrote this entry on my experimental blog about technological change, entitled T-Axis. I’ll be cross-posting stuff here for awhile.]

Omodaka: The Sound of an Electronic Edo

If you like traditional Japanese folk songs (you shall recognize them by the winding female vocals traveling up and down a scale unlike anything else, usually sung by geisha in period films, accompanied by a shamisen) AND ALSO LIKE CHIPTUNES(!) you’ll love the music of Omodaka. Here’s an article from 2010 that I found, which mentions the songs are composed on a variety of devices including a Sony PSP, Nintendo DS, and a Game Boy.

From what I can gather, the group is a vessel for producer Soichi Terada’s experiments and collaborations — most of which feature intriguing art music videos. Check out the one below: it’s trippy as hell.

Later in the day, I was pleased to get a retweet from Terada’s Far East Recordings account (@fareastrecordin), which seems to tweet info about upcoming shows in Japan. I’ll be heading that way soon, so maybe seeing them in the flesh will happen.

The Sanosa album is a collection of singles released over the years, and should be a good place to start. You can listen to it on Spotify in the player below [direct link].

Tricks & Cider

About two weeks ago, I kinda realized that two people I knew online were in a band together, and preparing to put out their first EP. I visited their website, bought the record when it came out, and ended up seeing them live at the Esplanade last Friday. Hear for yourself through the embedded player below.

In addition to Bandcamp, you can get the 5-song collection on iTunes and Spotify.

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At the Esplanade Outdoor Theater

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Lunchtime concert on Raffles Green
Link

[Branch] Do we still need to physically experience music shopping?

[Branch] Do we still need to physically experience music shopping?

I thought I was perfectly fine with digital discovery, Spotify-style apps and the iTunes Store, but at the risk of losing the last big retailer in town (HMV), and remembering how one could wander for hours and come out with armfuls of new music, I think I’m going to miss the tactile/spatial experience of old. There’s something about walking in and seeing with your own eyes a handmade display promoting an album you’d never heard of, and becoming curious. A thumbnail doesn’t do that.

Branch is a relatively new startup and service that allows anyone to set up ad-hoc, public discussion spaces. The person who sets the topic (or question) can invite others over Twitter or email, and any other viewer can ask to join in by simply writing what they would say if they were already part of the discussion. After that’s approved, they’re in. It’s an elegant and well-designed system, but still relatively unfriendly to some.*

For my first attempt, I asked the question that came to mind after a late visit to the local HMV last night, after the news broke that their UK offices are now in receivership (broke ass). I’ve already enjoyed the experience immensely, even with just two other participants, and look forward to using this more.

As for the topic of discussion, it’s something I want to think about more. I still believe in the power and value of music discovery outside of clickable lists and webpages. Creating a different sort of physical music retail presence is something I’d love to work on for a future client.

* One friend who I invited balked at the standard Twitter authorization screen that said ‘this app is asking for permission to “See who follows you on Twitter” and “Tweet on your behalf”‘ — pretty standard and harmless stuff that most frequent Twitter users don’t even blink at, but frightening language for others all the same.

Aside

Found out after suddenly wanting a single album that contained every song by Jim Steinman (couldn’t find one) that he tried to record his own follow-up to Bat Out of Hell in 1981, entitled Bad for Good. The songs were originally meant for Meat Loaf, of course, but when he lost his voice, Jim decided to go ahead and record them with his weaker vocals. Check out the sample of “Rock and Roll Dreams Come Through” on iTunes, and then compare it to the Bat Out of Hell II version. Seems the album was a hit anyway, but I was only a year old at the time.

Bad for Good

8tracks Mix: Hiphopotamus

 I recently rediscovered and am enjoying 8tracks.com, an easy, free, and legal way to share mixes online. Even if you’re not into that, it functions as an excellent community-driven radio site. There are even good iPhone and Android apps for tapping into it.

➟ Cee-Lo’s "Fuck You"

This super-catchy song by Cee-Lo Green of Gnarls Barkley fame is this year’s “Hey Ya”, mark my words. You’re going to hear it sung out of car windows, college dorms, dive bars, and there’s nothing feeble attempts at radio censorship can do about it. For everyone under 20 right now, YouTube IS radio.