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Category Archives: Digital Music
Just checking out this new Spotify Play button thing. Actually it’s underwhelming – it doesn’t play it for you inline – it just starts up Spotify (at least on my Mac it does anyway). So I fail to see what the advantage is over just having a link using the spotify URI.
But in checking out, I figured out that there really is a heck of a lot of stuff on Spotify now. Wow. I mean a lot of stuff still isn’t, but they have some seriously obscure LPs. Peg o My Heart by Robert Maxwell. I wasn’t expecting that and couldn’t imagine a market for it. Loads of records I hunted down fanatically on LP or CD – Knef for example.
One really good thing about it is that it can confirm suspicions – such as my suspicion that it would be impossible to do a decent cover of Se Telefonando by Mina. There are dozens of random recordings/karaoke tracks. All dreadful!
I wrote about this five years ago. Here is the actual track (an excerpt of it actually):
More info here.
To follow up on the post I did last year, the situation for listening to music is definitely getting better and better where I live. After messing around with a hard-drive-free netbook and playing music off that, I took the plunge and bought the Sonos ZP-90. I live in a flat so the Sonos’s multi-room capabilities were kind of irrelevant to me – the key thing here is the ability to play back music with no computer.
I have to say, it’s like night and day. While with the computer I was always messing around trying to get the network connection to work or waiting for Itunes to load, the Sonos just works. I can control it from my Ipod touch or Iphone via their free app. It brings up music from my network drive pretty much immediately. And finally… it also lets me access Spotify (note: for Spotify access you have to be a subscriber, which I am – more on that separately) and digital radio from around the world (even local radio – so I can bookmark WFMU and listen to that whenever I want). You can make playlists combining music from different sources.
So basically it’s unbelievable.
As for Spotify, having ignored it (I think I thought ‘hey, I’m a bigshot – I have 50,000 digital files of my own – I don’t need their library), I woke up to it a few months back having been able to hear an astonishing array of tunes (jazz/throwaway pop/new releases etc).
Consider the scenario now compared with how it was when I was a teenager.
Then: read NME, Melody Maker or Sounds. Read about new bands (or old bands for that matter). Wonder what they sound like. Try to borrow stuff from friends. If you didn’t know anyone, save up your money and gamble it on a 7″ single based on hearsay (and whatever they happened to have in stock).
Now: Dig around one or may of the authorative/interesting review sites or music blogs on the web. If they have a sample MP3, check it out. If they don’t have any audio (and this is sometimes the case with some great old school record store websites), make a note of the band names you’re interested in and you can listen to them on Spotify to establish how much you like them.
It’s all pretty fantastic. But there’s still an open question in my mind: do we still have a need for the notion of ‘This is my stuff – this is what I’m into’? Or as people become more digitally dependent will they just simply express themselves differently and not have the notion of a ‘collection’ of music anymore?
Spotify has collaborative playlists and Facebook integration, but still there’s something missing in terms of musical discovery tools. Not sure what it is though. I guess a kind of customised journey – almost like an audio compilation version of what things like flipboard are doing with social media/blog posts. I think maybe that’s it – the problem of how to find music is actually analagous with the social media overload – there’s so much stuff out of there it’s hard to keep up with what’s actually great, so maybe you need a systematic filtering and spoonfeeding.
The tricky thing issue with doing this for music is that applications like the one I mentioned are extremely visual. No matter how much people claim not to care about design, it has a huge and undeniable effect on how people react to an interface, and this is why applications like Flipboard are so powerful. So is what we need a kind of audio magazine with visual accompaniment? Perhaps. There could be a simple m3u or spotify playlist version too.
You might notice I’m thinking out loud. Sorry about that.
Congratulations to Katya on the launch of the new Oddio Overplay. The site is basically a celebration of music, and in particular, music transmitted over the internet. There’s a huge volume of links to sites hosting mp3 audio, presented in a variety of interesting ways, such as annotated lists, mp3 playlists featuring audio from all over the web, and collections of radio stations. There’s also artwork, an accompanying blog, and information about audio players. The site has been around for a while, but this redesign has definitely helped its focus. I contributed a track to the compilation celebrating the relaunch. Now I see that it’s the first track, I wish I had spent some more time on it, but I don’t think it spoils the compilation too much!
My pal Don aka opl3003 has set up his own site, and it’s awesome! He has a record collecting diary going, and is also providing some mp3s of some great 60s Brazilian tracks. Check it out at http://www.balansamba.com/.
I regret having been so silent recently, because I have been discovering lots of incredible music, often unexpectedly. Last week I downloaded an unknown foreign-language version of Lee Hazlewood’s ‘Houston’. After some research, it turned out that it was in Finnish, and I was led to the absolutely amazing Database of The Finnish Institute of Recorded Sound 1901 – 1999. This site has details over 277000 records released in Finland, all kept in a well-designed database. What this means is that you can search on song title, composer etc. and bring out a list of all (well, most) Finnish recordings of that song or by that composer. Many of these are examples of a phenomenon that is always fascinating to me: foreign-language versions of English-language pop songs. I stayed up pretty late the night I first found this database, and I’ve already discovered some artists that would otherwise have remained forever lost to me. More on these in the coming weeks.
I’ve also had a bit of a resurgence of interest in late 1950s/early 1960s sleazy rock/jazz tracks. That wasn’t a very good description. I’m talking about the kind of stuff featured on the Swing for a Crime compilation. I discovered the amazingly sleazy and brilliant singer Kay Martin a few months ago. But oddly enough what brought me back to Swing for a Crime was an album by Albert Van Dam (not to be confused with Art Van Damme, the accordianist) that I found last week. I gather that Albert was a sleazy orchestral bandleader, working from the 50s through to (at least) the 80s. The record I bought was a rather ridiculous 1975 effort described below, ‘dedicated to beautiful women’, but it turns out that his earlier work was in that rocking 50s style.
Another artist featured on Swing for a Crime is Cozy Cole. As far as I can tell, Cozy was an organist who liked to say the name of the song in a deep voice at the beginning of the track. ‘Topsy Part 2′ is a superb track that I’ve just found on 45.
Finally (well, that’s not all, but it’s all for today), I’ve been listening to two different ‘songbook’ style compilations of the work of Roger Nichols, one put together by Musical Taste member eftimihn, and the other by another person somewhere on the web. Very interesting stuff.
Albert Van Dam: 'Soft Shoulders and Dangerous Curves' (LP; Unknown; 1975)
I'm afraid this album had to be bought. A whole album of original 'musical fantasies about women', one of which is called 'Lesbos-a-nova' was simply more than I could resist.
Not surprisingly, the album disappoints as much as it entertains. Overall, it has an excellent sleazy mid-70s Bilitis/Emmanuelle-style groove, with strings and sparse electronic effects. But it's not always very tasteful, and the aforementioned 'Lesbos-a-nova' track is particularly disappointing. The best tracks are the opener, 'Soft Shoulders and Dangerous Curves' (which has a brief disco section in the middle), and 'Supergirl'.
The arrangements are by well-known UK conductor Simon Park. The album appears to be a private pressing.
Evinha: 'Eva 2001' (LP; Odeon; 1968)
I discovered Evinha only recently. She was a contemporary of Claudia on the Odeon label in Brazil, and thus her albums have similar arrangements. Evinha went on to form the Trio Esperanca, but it was with this album that she recorded what I think was her first big hit, 'Casaco Marron'. This beautiful and tender ballad opens the album. The whole thing is very pleasant, with a couple of lesser-known Marcos Valle/Paulo Sergio Valle tracks thrown in as well. Evinha's voice is not particularly strong, but it has a kind of vulnerable sound to it that appeals to me. The backings and orchestrations are superb.
Probably the 'grooviest' track is 'Vou Seguindo,' but the whole album is a winner.
Franck Pourcel: 'L'Enfant Roi' (LP; Pathe; 1970)
This was my final French easy listening purchase of the day, and unfortunately it has little to recommend it. I was encouraged by the fact that one track was composed by Morricone and another by Polnereff. But that wasn't enough. I've had good Pourcels before, but I think overall Paul Mauriat is the better arranger
Franck Pourcel: 'Paraphonic' (LP; EMI-Pathe; 1969)
I bought this album many years ago in Amsterdam, attracted by both its beautiful cover and the version of 'Daydream'. Of course, the whole 'daydream' thing is a bit of a minefield. Most 60s versions of 'Daydream' you find are covers of the John Sebastian/Lovin' Spoonful hit. Some others are the Duke Ellington 'Day Dream'. Good as these are, I'm more interested in digging up versions of the Wallace Collection's Belgian hit (recommended over at musical taste). This was recorded far less often, so I was pleased to add this excellent icy, moody version to my collection. The rest of the album is a bit up-and-down; there's a nice version of 'Good morning starshine', but not a lot else.
Leroy Holmes: 'Once Upon a Time in the West' (LP; United Artists; 1968)
I was pleasantly surprised by this album. To be honest, I'm not the biggest fan in the world of spaghetti western music, although I enjoy it when I'm in the mood.
This is a bit of a cash-in album, taking advantage of the fact that many of the original scores that the tracks were taken from had not yet been released.
Although the title track is slightly disappointing, with a bizarre tempo, there are some real winners here. The real standout is the first track, 'The Days of Anger', which has a superb funky groove and some incredibly spooky vocal glissando effects. Jerry Goldsmith's '100 Rifles' is also a winner. Throughout, the guitar work, which I'm sure is by Al Caiola (although it doesn't say), is superb.
Meirelles e sua Orquestra: 'Brazilian Beat' (LP; London; 1970)
This is a 70s reissue from Bolivia, one of the few records I was able to find in La Paz when I was there nearly 6 years ago. Time flies. Some Meirelles records are very sought after. I don't think this is one of them, but it's very nice all the same. Extremely percussive. The best track to my ears is the tasty piano-led version of 'Mas que nada'. It's similar to the Sergio Mendes version, except with some more prominent harmonies added in the chorus by the brass.
Nuoveformesonore: 'Nuoveformesonore' (LP; Curci; 1974)
I'm out of my depth with this one. It's extremely strange experimental modern classical music from Italy. It sounds pretty mental, with instrumentation that consists of vocal, flute, trombone, cello, percussion and guitar. I would make a great music critic, huh...
Paul Mauriat: 'Theme from a Summer Place' (LP; MGM/Verve; 1972)
They were closing up the Salvation Army shop, so I had to choose a selection from the seemingly huge collection of French easy listening LPs quickly. I'm glad I picked up this one. It's hardly an outstanding LP, but the arrangements are quite interesting, and the final track is a real jewel.
Ever since I heard it on a compilation made by a friend, I had wondered who in the world made this incredible version of 'Day by Day'. Over the years, I've bought maybe 5 different albums in an attempt to locate it. As it turns out, it's right here. The track starts out as nice simple sparkly early 70s mood music piece, but then explodes half-way through and becomes really outstandingly funky and energetic. I'd say the album is worth picking up just for this track.
Mine is a US issue, but I gather that some of these tracks (including 'day by day') were issued in the UK on Philips as Summer Memories. Tantalizingly, this issue contains a version of what I presume is Gainsbourg's 'La Decadanse'.
Raymond Lefevre: 'Soul Symphonies' (LP; Barclay; 1973)
I knew this double album of pop adaptations of classical pieces wouldn't be much good, but I still had to buy it when I saw it at a charity shop.
I was right, the arrangements just aren't quite beaty and interesting enough to really hold my interest, but it's still not completely without value. The version of Grieg's 'In the hall of the mountain king,' featuring bongoes and a huge beat, is quite fun, although the Psycho effect of the strings can be a bit trying.
Roberto Menescal: 'The Boy from Ipanema Beach' (LP; Kapp; 1964)
A tasty mid-60s instrumental jazz album featuring Roberto Menescal on guitar, along with Eumir Deodato (some of whose compositions are featured), Joao Palma, Sergio, Hugo Marotta, and Henri. A Brazilian recording packaged for the American market, this isn't particularly wild, but it's extremely nicely done. The opening track is an early instrumental version of 'Nao Bate Coracao', which Astrud Gilberto did so nicely on her Beach Samba album
The Michael John Mood: 'Songs for Swinging Sweethearts' (LP; Marble Arch; 1967)
I picked this up in a charity shop last week. I was hoping for some groovy bossa nova sounds, but was mostly disappointed. The arrangements are by Pete Moore, and the whole thing sounds very British. The mood is far more mid-60s than late 60s though, and some of the tracks are so peppy that they're rather maddening. A few of the tracks do have a Brazilian flavour, and 'Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars' is probably the best of those. I can almost imagine a few of these tracks popping up on one of those Japanese 'Cafe Apres-Midi' compilations, but perhaps they're not quite late enough. The liner notes imply that this is going to be a jazzy vocal LP, and while it is, the group vocals and track choices give it more of a Mike Sammes Singers feel than I would have liked.
I hope you dig the new design. Does it look ok on a mac? Seems fine in Mozilla/IE on a PC.
I’m still enjoying my emusic subscription, to the extent that it has probably been 2 weeks since I bought a CD. The service is occasionally down, and I can’t help feeling that their site is deliberately slow and hard to navigate, in order to stop people finding and downloading too much music. However, I managed to find Del-Fi in their list of labels, which is great news. Between Fantasy, Stax, Verve and Del-Fi, that’s a lot of good music.
It has been too long. I have been kind of busy. I was over in the UK this weekend for a family get-together, which was fun. NYC feels like the North Pole by comparison.
Anyway, Nancy Sinatra was really not a good show. Sorry Nancy. Don’t get me wrong – she can still sing really well, but her band were very rocky in an eighties way that I found very naff. Most of the crowd didn’t seem to care, but as a big fan of the 60s/70s production on most of her work, the Guns and Roses style licks didn’t sit well with me. The best moment of the night was a montage of Nancy’s film appearances. None of this was helped by the venue, BB King’s Blues Bar, a touristy spot in midtown. Because of where I was sitting (at the edge, on the side), wait staff walked in front of me, obscuring my view, literally 2 or 3 times a minute. I was a little pissed.
I bought an mp3 player. It turned out that for my requirements (a large hard drive, and the ability to record onto it), I had a choice of exactly one item. So, I bought it, along with some nicer headphones (no, I don’t always shop at amazon, but they were pretty good for these items). I’m very pleased with it so far. It’s a geeky, ugly little thing, which connects at high speed to my computer via USB 2.0. I was glad that mine came in black and silver, rather than the bright blue and silver advertised. Ok, it’s still ugly. But, it can operate as an extra hard drive, which is pretty cool (in fact, it’s a bigger hard drive than the one on my computer at home). My only problem with it is that there’s no ‘Record’ button. This means that in order to record (there’s a built in microphone), you have to scroll through some menus. Not very handy for spontaneous moments. But overall it’s pretty good. I was extra-pleased, because Amazon put the price up quite a bit after I ordered it.
To go with my mp3 player, I also bought a 3-month subscription to emusic. Although there was one day when it didn’t work, I’m pretty pleased with it overall. It’s a shame the mp3s aren’t of a higher quality (they’re 128 kbps), but there is a remarkable volume of great Jazz and Soul stuff on there (from verve, fantasy, stax) – the kind of stuff that would cost pretty much full price even if you were able to find it used on CD. So, it’s well worth checking out. As an extra incentive, they also have a huge amount of Ennio Morricone stuff on there.
Not much else is new. Misty Roses played a show at Rififi. We have another at Galapagos on March 12th. I’m thinking of going to see Sigur Ros at Radio City Music Hall. This will mean that I only go to see Icelandic artists there. Aston Villa lost the Birmingham derby in abysmal fashion. Life goes on…
I’ve been grooving to a few bits of mp3 audio recently. The first couple are from the American Song-Poem Music Archive. Their mp3 page features at least one great track: Rodd Keith’s Run Spook Run, a great mix of lo-fi vocals, 50s beatnik styling and wailing brass. The next is the well-known ‘Blind Man’s Penis (Peace and Love)‘. Although I read about this many years ago in RE:Search’s Pranks book, I had never heard it until I happened upon this mp3. If you’re not familiar with it, check out the background story of the track. My favorite lyric is probably “Warts love my nipples/because they are pink/vomit on me baby, yeah yeah yeah,” but it’s all good [yes, I have an extremely dumb sense of humor. The ‘pranks’ book changed my life]. Finally, if you didn’t check out Patience and Prudence‘s ‘Apples on the Lilac Tree‘ (courtesy of Basic Hip), I urge you to do so. Much as I love their earlier recordings, this track has that pseudo-hip 60s orchestral sound that I love so much. I never knew they recorded tracks like this.