Category Archives: Music

Amazon and Music

Amazon goes big with unlimited cloud music storage ($20/year) and iPad optimized web player | 9to5Mac | Apple Intelligence

Amazon today announced unlimited storage for music in its cloud drive.  The catch is you have to upgrade your overall Cloud storage (also includes Docs, Pictures, movies, etc) to the 20GB plan which is $20 per year.  Once you do that, you can upload “Unlimited” amounts of music and play it anywhere.

I’m not sure I get the appeal of what Amazon is offering here. I have to upload all my music to the cloud drive and then I can…stream it? If I had vast amounts of music that wouldn’t be practical to take portably, I could potentially see the utility, but the reality is that much of music listening is mobile, and a streaming solution isn’t really practical yet (certainly not one that requires a web browser). There are always dead zones and the whole process is generally slow and cumbersome. It makes more sense, unless you have a really mammoth collection, to store the music locally on your portable device.

The Gap is My Radio

Did Steve Jobs really kill the music business?

I don’t know.

What I do know is that in college, I had no trouble finding interesting new music to listen to. Somehow as I’ve aged I’ve retreated into replaying the songs of my youth or (only a marginal improvement), new creations from the same characters. I’ve tried the modern tools that are supposed to help people in my situation (last.fm, Pandora) with little success. Ping would help if people actually used it and it didn’t require such effort to get to.

Strangely, my only refuge has been the Gap. Yes, the clothing store. It’s become a regular destination for my son’s clothes. While I don’t always notice the music (it’s often barely audible), there have been several times where I’ve heard something I liked enough to take a closer listen later on.

My first find was VHS or Beta’s Fall Down Lightly. A few weeks later was MGMT’s Kids. Last weekend it was Ellie Goulding’s Little Dreams. What’s odd is that the two of these weren’t even singles.

Of course, technology has played a roleSoundHound has been key to figuring the songs’ identities.

If you see me at the Gap holding up my iPhone and walking around looking aimless, I’m not…I’m just trying to find that one location where I’m both close to a speaker and have adequate 3G coverage to make this work for me.

Review: Paper Empire by Better Than Ezra

Once every so often, a work of music comes along so powerful, so original, and so masterful that it not only adds a new dimension to one’s musical experience, but also has the potential to redefine our very concept of what music is all about.

Better Than Ezra’s Paper Empire is not one of those albums, but it’s still quite good.

Like many, I first became familiar with their 90′s hit Good, which is probably still their best known work. I heard a few more songs on the radio in subsequent years, like Desperately Wanting and King of New Orleans, but it was only after a change in direction with the experimental album How Does Your Garden Grow that I started to follow them regularly.

Despite being thought of as a 90′s band by many, BTE has produced several well-received albums since 2000, including Closer, whose life was cut short by the demise of the record label, and Before the Robots, which sparked the singles A Lifetime, Our Last Night, and the Desperate Housewives-linked Juicy.

Paper Empire is more accessible than How Does Your Garden Grow, and kicks off with Absolutely Still, one of their best songs in years. Nearly all of the songs on the album are good, and there aren’t really any I’m tempted to skip while playing. At times, Paper Empire can be a bit disjointed, with energetic songs like the football anthem Hell No! and the pseudo-techno Nightclubbing flanking the mellow ballad Hey Love, but in today’s world of electronic music, you can reorder the album how you like anyway.

iTunes is probably the best source for Paper Empire, given that the Keane-esque bonus track In Between Moments is included.

While a bit more mainstream than some of their prior efforts, Paper Empire is a great listen and an impressive display of Kevin Griffin’s mature songwriting.

The video for Absolutely Still is below:

The iTunes/Starbucks deal is not so crazy after all

When Apple announced that they were partnering with Starbucks, many people scratched their heads. I’ve now changed my tune. In fact, I think the plan should be expanded to more types of stores.

Here’s the basic idea…you walk into a Starbucks. While you’re waiting for your double peppermint soy latte, you notice that you happen to like the song that’s playing. You take out your iPhone or WiFi-capable iPod Touch and it tells you what song is currently playing, as well as what songs were playing previously (in case you didn’t realize you liked the song until after it stopped playing). You can then buy the song right from your iPhone and sync it back up to your computer when you get home. The program is now active in Seattle, San Francisco, and New York, and will expand to more cities next year.

It’s not something I can see myself using frequently unless I start spending more time in Starbucks, but the idea is sound. This morning, I went to get a bagel from Bruegger’s and heard a song playing that caught my attention. It was a female singer who sounded somewhat like Kate Bush and sounded like it belonged to the late 80s-era alternative scene from England. The sound system wasn’t very good, but I thought I made out the lyrics “We could be dancing” as part of the chorus.

I hate not being able to figure out what song I’ve heard, so I hopped onto Google when I returned home and searched for ‘”We could be dancing” lyrics’ in Google, but came up with songs that sounded nothing like what I heard. Thinking I may have miss heard part of the lyrics, I modified the search to “could be dancing”, “you could be dancing”, “I could be dancing”, even “be dancing”. None of the songs were even close.

I then resorted to a different strategy. I knew Kate Bush had recently released a new album, so I checked out the most popular songs from it using iTunes – didn’t sound anything like what I had heard. I then thought further: who sounds like Kate Bush, may even sound like she has a British accent, but is more recent? Tori Amos. I tried searching for ‘”We could be dancing” “Tori Amos”‘ in Google but again came up short. I tried several purported lyrics search site as well as Melodyhound, a site that lets you enter a tune to search with using a virtual piano keyboard. Nothing.

In one last attempt, I went to iTunes and looked up Tori’s newest album and picked the most popular song, Bouncing Off Clouds. To my surprise, that was the song. It turns out the would “dancing” was actually “bouncing”. Who knew? If Bruegger’s had a system like Starbucks, it would have saved me a great deal of wasted time and frustration.

Discovering new music

As I grow older, I find it increasingly challenging to find new music that I enjoy. It’s not so much that the music isn’t out there, but rather that I don’t come across it as often. Radio listening used to be a more significant part of my life. There is no reason why I could still do this, but podcasting has replaced radio as my commuting entertainment, and I have yet to come across a good podcast with new music. When I was in high school, Dave Kendall brought me the latest in alternative music as part of MTV’s weekly program, 120 Minutes. Despite the MTV assocation, the show was really first-rate and exposed me to some truly great music that I continue to enjoy to this day.

Through college and medical school, friends continued to introduce me to new music, as did occasional radio listening. However, nothing quite lived up to Dave Kendall’s show. Since finishing school, it has only become more difficult. Ironically, despite the increased access to music through the Internet, it has only become harder to find new material. The Internet makes it easy to find what you are looking for, but with music you sometimes need to find things you are not looking for. Much of what a listen to ends up being new albums by old bands.

Fortunately, there are still a few gems I have come across. My brother introduced me to The Notwist a few years back. Even though it is a fraction of what it once was, occasional listens to WFNX have introduced me to The Information, whose “I Lose Control” and “A Simple Plan” have become regular items on my iPod playlists.

Lately, I’ve been listening to a band who I had not heard of for several years, Nada Surf. Like many people, I had first heard of Nada Surf about 11 years ago with their first single, appropriately titled “Popular”. I didn’t particularly like it, but it got enough airplay that the band’s unusual name stuck in my head. It wasn’t until last year that I heard “Always Love” on the radio. I liked it enough to buy their album, The Weight Is a Gift, which is quite good. What was even better was that it led me to Let Go, a truly outstanding piece of work.

While some of my friends have switched to individual song purchases in the age of MP3s, I cling to albums because it’s one of the few ways I have to hear songs that I might like but haven’t yet heard. The Nada Surf albums will hold me for a while, then my search continues.

Trashcans are still rolling

The superbly underrated Scottish band, the Trashcan Sinatras, have emerged with a new single following the release of their latest album, Weightlifting. Another nice mellow track, perfect for a relaxing Sunday like today. Unfortunately, despite the website??????s claims, it doesn??????t appear to be ready for downloading from iTunes yet, but the CD, with two additional live tracks, can be purchased from the band??????s website.