'Round about this time of year, all sorts of top ten (or whatever number) lists start coming out. Already Dori is planning her best music of the year, as is Andy. I usually try and send a couple songs Andy's way, hoping to make the compilation, though generally with limited success. Early this year, I tried to start a list (and a playlist on iTunes of the ones I got) of the new music I ran across so that, when the time came, I could make a meaningful contribution.

But soon after, circumstances conspired to cut me off from IndieSF during the day and around that same time, KCRW changed its lineup around and I wasn't really liking what they were playing during the times I was listening (which all may be changing again now that Jason Bentley is taking over as music director). And so I started listening to Pandora.

There's been a bit of a learning curve, figuring out how to really take advantage of how Pandora evaluates your preferences and recommends music, how to make selections to create more diversity — there's a pattern at work that Liz clued me in to that affected how I defined my selections. It's still not the same as having a good DJ who will challenge you, and there's some odd, even bad, choices that it makes, but every so often it just nails it right on. Sometimes, it's been music that I even own that I'd forgotten about, and often some new stuff I'd never even heard of.

Thing is, it turns out that I don't really seem to like anything more recent than around 2005. Which will probably only surprise most of you only in that I made it that far.

So, my recommendations? I liked what I heard from MGMT's Oracular Spectacular, but not enough to seek out anything other what what I could find for free (legal) download. Santogold's album — one of two new CDs I bought this year, something I haven't done in ages — is a wild, diverse treat that really plays better as individual tracks than as a whole. I got to listen to Portishead's long-awaited 3, and really, the only song that sticks with me is "Machine Gun." Moby released Last Night (my other purchase for the year), it's kind of a concept album that attempts to distill a night's clubbing into one disc; I was a bit disappointed, but it is a decent listen, even if the mellowing out tracks run a bit long. Does It Offend You Yeah offered some good songs, as did M83. What I heard of the new Thievery Corporation I liked, but hasn't compelled me to buy; for me, The Mirror Conspiracy (probably a Desert Island Disc that, yes, predates 2005) sums up what they do best. Seems that I should already own the new Reckless Kelly, but I'll get around to buying it; I do enjoy seeing them perform, but their studio albums tend not to grab me. Last year's demo of "I'm Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You" by Black Kids is, I think, inferior to this year's studio version, though what else I've heard off their album is catchy. And The Ting Ting's "Shut Up And Let Me Go," despite getting overplay on an Apple commercial, is still just fun. In the "oldies" department, Pandora introduced me to Ladytron, Hybrid and the guilty, gothy pleasure that is Lucia; reminded me how great Lush's Split is; and showed me more of Curve's catalog.

Mostly, it's been interesting to see how we've just gone to listening to streaming radio rather than albums. Last year, around this time, I burned all our CDs to iTunes, so all our music is in unorganized mess on the desktop computer in the office. With the Airport Express (and PandoraJam), anything that's on the computer can play on the living room stereo and/or the speakers in the office. Every so often, there's an album or artist we want to hear, or we just hit shuffle to take a random tour of the collection, but often we just find ourselves letting someone (or -thing, in Pandora's case) else choose the songs.

When our local public radio station KSFR finally made their big transmitter switch, it increased their signal everywhere in the region except our neighborhood. Seriously, you get out to Alameda and it's fine, but in our house it's just static, so we listen to their stream. And every so often we do stream the ol' WAMU, often Saturday afternoons for their talk lineup, and then in the evening for Hot Jazz Saturday Night. We've long enjoyed (in its various forms) Indie, and were sorry to see them lose their spot on the air. But they've rallied and have a reliable stream and a terrific selection of music, and The Independent Get Down is our soundtrack for New Comic Night. I still worry about their survival, though; we all know that the future of ______ is digital, and radio's no exception. But like everything else, I'm not sure anyone's making enough money off the Web to keep going — so check them out and drop them a line if you're listening, OK?

We do still occasionally tune into an actual radio station, getting our NPR fix from a couple Albuquerque-based public radio stations. And Wednesday nights, we try to listen to Toast and Jam on KBAC. We're not particularly fans of jam bands or anything, but our friend Chris (from True Believers) is one of the hosts, and they always produce an entertaining couple hours.


Super Step-Mom said...

Hi, just browsing blogs and I saw your beautiful tree! If you want a good chuckle check out my blog to see my tree. I think next year I am going real (green).

Merry Christmas!

andy said...

My problem is my wife is gradually sucking me into alt country. I did just pull the trigge ron the new Reckless Kelly. Had forgotten about new Portishead (although was never really a fan). Put it on order at library. Likewise, Does it offend you.

Vampire weekend most overrated band of the year. Period. Perfer old black kids to overproduced new black kids.

I discovered Bon Iver the other day after seeing name on several blogs I respect. But it does grab you immeditely. I just listened to several does it offend you tracks - sounds like a more techno TV on the radio.

The problem is time. songs that grab you and kick your ass are far and few. But repeated listening allows you to separate the wheat from the chaff (vampire weekend). Alas. as adults, dont have time to really dig into this so no matter how good the new Cure album is, it will never become part of the fabric of your existence like say head on the door or wish (cause its not a kiss me or disintigration level). does it offend you left a good first impression, but will take time to decice on them (and Bon Iver and others) which may push them to 2009. Heck I still cant decide if I like or dont like the gutter Twins.

On Jose gonzales, I love me some Mexican Swede (or it the other way around) but he made the best of 2007. i'm willing to allow some overlap but doesnt count as new music. When Brams best of 2010 featuring songs from 2007 shows up, I demand that it be included (although I'm thinking about using Twilight Singers cover of "down the line" this year).

andy said...

And that goes double for Radiohead. I'll allow annual overlap but Radiohead really is a 2007 sound.

Bram said...

And that's the biggest part of the thing that ticked me off about the KCRW changeup. They used to have just a few shows in rotation on the music channel -- and, though, from their point, I can see the need to introduce more into the mix -- but listening to, literally, the same show a couple times over the course of a week (from the DJs you know) would give you the opportunity to evaluate what they were playing, and let the ones that you like catch your attention.

New Portishead was good enough; I mean, you expect a certain sound from them, but this one certainly doesn't sound like they'd continued innovating for the 10 (?) years since the last.

Also, Bon Iver sounds like something I should recognize, but it doesn't ring any bells.

Furthermore, Twilight Singers is falling into the group where I really, really, really like one album by the group, but the rest of their work (though nothing against it) fails to grab me -- Foo Fighters and (heresy to most of the readers of this blog [all four of you]) Pixies fall into this category. Colour and the Shape and Surfer Rosa, respectively, BTW.

Anonymous said...

Bram, et al:

One potential option is to stream the Current, the alt music station on Minnesota Public Radio. It's a really wide and often random lineup, and they tend to heavily feature local (Twin Cities) artists, but the variety is high and the overall entertainment value is pretty good. Plus, Mary Lucia (afternoons) is Paul Westerberg's sister, so she has good insights.

Just sayin'...

Paul Bob

andy said...

I propose wers.org from Emerson College. Mornings/days are free form alternative nights reggae. weekends are the triple shot of showtunes, acappella and kids music 5-8 pm. the playground ("for kids of all ages") is a must listen for anyone with children. i heard wierd al doing "anakin jedi" to the tune of "american pie" this weekend. Plus Miley and Muppets, too.

Bram said...

Yeah, I probably should've included The Current, we enjoyed it while we were in town.

Just don't wind up listening to it too much because the stream is pretty poor on my computer/network.

Check it out here.

liz said...

Care to share your Pandora station? I'm dying to see what the first song might be. Can't be worse of a shock than Dokken was for you?!

dori said...

I've got to get in on this thread, albeit a couple weeks late. Especially now that Andy has blown my best of mix out of the water without even knowing what's on it :) I really like Vampire Weekend. Me and all the rest of the 15 year olds. I have no defense of this other than it just makes me happy, and that's enough for me right now.

I saw Black Kids in DC a couple months back -- they put on a good show. They're not taking it all too seriously (yet). None of their tracks made it onto my best of, but only because I misplaced the cd before it made it into iTunes.

Speaking of iTunes, the Genius and I are having a love affair. Similar sort of to Pandora, except it pulls only from your existing music collection. More of a naval-gazing approach to random mixology. A recent Genius mix had me listening to Michael Jackson followed by Hannah Montana (don't ask).

You really think Jose Gonzales' first album is better? Or you just think his sound is so last year? Love that guy. Loved him in Zero 7. When are they giving us some new stuff, anyway?

Bram, if you decide to put together a mix I'd love to hear it. Andy, I'd ask if you'd want to swap mixes but I think you'd hate mine :)

And Bram, I'm going to pretend you did NOT talk smack about the Pixies...

andy said...

Dori - Let me clarify because as usual my writing is not as clear as my thoughts (or is it the other way around).

(1) Vampire Weekend isn't bad. I enjoyed listening but after repeated listening, I jsut dont think their is another level there. An interesting sound but not much more. They are "overrated: in the sense that they are everybody's favorite list this year while I would say they are merely "good."

(2) No shame in Hannah Montana. Well maybe there it is but it is the inevitable outcome of having children 5 - 10.

(3) Which Jose Gonzales album is better? I've never really considered that (especially since I don't the names of the songs). I guess I'm going to have to go with the first by a whisker based (1) heartbeats is such a good song (2) I prefer the twilight singers version of "down the line" (which I am considering for my best of). My comment was that jose gonzales was definately a 2007 best of in that it didnt come out int he q4 and we couldnt figure out if was good until March.

(4) Bram once said that a little Pixies goes a long way and I agree with that. The only Pixies album I can listen to over and over, start to finish, is "trompe le monde" (which I beleive I purchased on a dc trip). But there are four or five great songs on each album

(5) Bram I agree on twilight singers although "stich in time" ep is quite good (you did mean Powder Burns right). But so many good live performances.

(6)dori if you want to see it will be posted on the blog, soone ror later. Here is last years:

But send me your address and I can send you a hard copy. Looking at the 2007, I kinda of impressed with myself in that it holds up well.

Bram said...

Ah, see, even when we agree, we disagree. Trompe le Monde never did anything for me; Doolittle, some of it, but it's Surfer Rosa all the way. And, for the record, I wasn't talking smack -- I have nothing against them or their place in alternative music. I just couldn't live the lie anymore, pretending that I'm a fan of everything the Pixies ever did. I feel better now that I can admit that.

For Twilight Singers, it's Blackberry Belle. I kind of see it as a concept album about angsty, overprivileged teenagers in Southern California. And it totally nails that. Plus, it's moody, but with terrific pop hooks. Worth noting it was Monica who found it for me -- and won't listen to it.

I'll also weigh in that I really came to like Jose Gonzales' cover of Massive Attack's Teardrop.

Saw the Genius feature when we upgraded iTunes a while back, but haven't really done anything with it. Usually, when we're playing from the library it's either for something specific, or we just want a unguided tour through the collection. Plus, with Pandora, if a poor selection comes up you can at least blame it on the Music Genome Project.

dori said...

I'm going to check out Twilight Singers after all this. What does everyone think of Fleet Foxes? I don't get what the big deal is.

Such a deep truth that most albums fail to hit me viscerally these days. I remember so clearly what it was like, the anticipation and complete absence of disappointment with hearing the new cocteau twins or smiths album (we're going back to the late 80s here). I wonder if it's the simple fact of a priority shift, or a (somewhat) emotional maturity, or that they just don't make em like they used to. These days I feel like I got a good deal if more than one track really grabs me. The Bon Iver album has that one track, Skinny Love, that transports me. The rest of it is good. Same with Band of Horses (no one's gonna love you). I can count on one hand the number of Albums I've bought in the past 5 years where every track is fantastic. And I'd need an hour or so to come up with that list.

Bram said...

OK, first, be warned that Twilight Singers is that guy from Afghan Whigs -- and apparently their first album was a bit more experimental, but their music is kinda in the Whigs vein.

And it's the same question -- are we just getting older, is today's music, by some empirical measure, just bad?

I think it's a little of both. As been noted, we no longer really have the time get attached to music.

But also, I think we need to consider that the album (or CD) is no longer really the unit of music -- with the rise of digital distribution, the single rules again. Groups will be popular (and deservedly so) for a song, or a couple. We're all listening on iTunes (or the PC equivalent) and our iPods (or the PC equivalent) on shuffle, to individual songs. That Santogold I mentioned, it's pretty much all solid songs, but a tough listen straight through.

andy said...

Have to disagree. i have a tought time narrowing down to 15-20 songs every year and know I'm missing a ton of stuff. I came across a blog post today "the best 212 song of 2008" (you gotta to be kidding me, but never the less its out there). Several problems here:

(1) It's all been done before. The Smiths ripped off Elvis but we still enjoyed - we just dont know it. I think music goes in about 30 year cycles albeit wiht a layering effect going on. We've just been around long enough to have heard it already rather than be blown away by something "new."

(2) Kids these days. this is actually a couple of problems. First is quality. We grew up listening to records, then tapes, then cd's and finally transitioned to mp3s. At each stage, the sound quality declined. Now that can be compensated by mixing and recording but it usually takes 5+ years for music folk to figure out to do it and we're in year 3 at best. but as Bram points out the kids consumption of music changed. We listened to concept albums by Yes and a ten mintue single didn't scare away top40 radio. This makes it harder to find good music as we had MTV and radio to feed good stuff us (we may have the internet but more people use this for porn, youtube and facebook than finding music). To kids today, the long play format is dead. In some ways, music is just another electronic entertainment - we needed to fill the day before good tv came on about 4. It was much more integral to our life. Rock and roll always was a singles business, weather radio, Elvis or the Smiths. It's almost a return to roots.

(3) live music. this use to be one fo the main sources of new music, weather the dance club or the concert. Now we only go to "pre-selected music" we own the album we own the t-shirt lets go see the show. I think the last "what the hell" show I went to was Dwight Yoakam when maddy was a newborn. Likewise, living in the middle of nowhere, having kids or just too damn lazy and boring to venture out to somewhere loud without ebough bathrooms for an hours worth of entertainment after regular life isn't as appealing which brings me to my recurring point.

(4) Time. It takes time to invest in any liesure activity and we just dont have enough of it anymore. I used to listen to somewhere between eight and twelve hourse of music everyday. If I get two hours a day (on the train, which is up from 15 minutes two years ago), I'm lucky. In college, I had two plus hours a day to exercise. I used to read two or three book a month for pleasure, that's a year now. Same for movies. I probably listed to Disintegration more times in 1989 than I will listen to total music in 2009. I wont even talk about comic books or weekends. These songs became imbedded in our lifes. I hear a song and can remember how I was feeling when I heard it at some point, thirty years ago. It's like the smell of madelines. There are songs I love now, but none are going to get to that point because I just dont have time to listen to 212 songs and figure our which 50 are good and which ten are great and then listen enough so they are part of me. but the music is out there. you just have to find it.

In summary, I wont say getting old sucks (life is wonderful and always full fo surprises) but the trade offs in life are tough. I only hope to embrace grumpy old man-ness as well as Bram has. I'm going to go take a nap now.

PS agree on fleet foxes. Likewise, while not sold on bon iver (yet), skinny love is a great song. Having giving another listen, ordered Santogold from library today - while I noticed it, I passed as too close to MIA which is a tough listen too and I think a bit overrated. Different is not the same as good although frequently confused as.

PSS Powderburns is better than blackberry belle but what you rally want is to find a bootleg (I gotta a couple) as it combines the best album tracks, covers and guest stars.