The real value of LastFM

A little while ago I mentioned that I subscribed to Slacker. I’ve been using them pretty extensively, and the caching of the stations has been awesome. I can load up my custom stations on my iPod and listen to them in the car. I have not had the actual radio on in the car for quite a while.

I still listen to LastFM too. Until now, I had mostly been using them to get my library in a good mix and to hear their recommendations based on my library. Now that I have a few “friends” on LastFM, I have figured out another great thing about that service. I can essentially borrow my friends’ music collections any time I want to. Some of them (Mary, Adam, I’m looking at you) have very similar tastes in music. A couple others aren’t so close, but I’ve heard some amazing things on those stations too. Have I mentioned how much I love internet radio?

25 albums I could listen to all day, any day, all the time…

Got this from my friend John Carson off of Facebook, here’s my list, in no particular order…

 

1) Trinity Sessions by the Cowboy Junkies

2) Help by the Beatles

3) Cookin’ by the Miles Davis Quintet

4) The Shape of Punk to Come by Refused

5) Waitin’ for the Night by the Runaways

6) Double Nickels on the Dime by the Minutemen

7) Goldburg Variations (1981) by Glenn Gould

8) Let it Bleed by the Rolling Stones

9) Sarah Vaughn with Clifford Brown by… well, you can guess

10) The Lion and the Cobra by Sinead O’Connor

11) Chapter Two by Roberta Flack

12) Live in London ’69 by the Beach Boys (my very first album!)

13) Surfer Rosa by the Pixies

14) 20 All TIme Greatest Hits by James Brown

15) Fear of a Black Planet by Public Enemy

16) Three Feet and Rising by De La Soul

17) Bach the Sonatas and Partitas by Paul Galbraith

18) The Best of Bill Haley and the Comets

19) Live at Folsom Prison by Johnny Cash

20) Elephant by the White Stripes

21) Burnin by Bob Marley and the Wailers

22) Retrospective by KRS 1

23) Sounds of India by Ravi Shankar

24) The Lexicon of Love by ABC

25) RIO by Duran Duran

 

There’s plenty more of course, these are the first ones off the top of my head. I haven’t bought any albums in a long time, mostly just singles. I’d like to see some of your lists!

An experiment

So I figured out the caching feature in Slacker radio. Essentially, I pick the station I want to listen to on my iPod and then tap a button to tell it to cache that station. I’ve read that it saves about 100 songs per station. I’ve set up 12 to do that, classics (as in Beatles and Stones), New York Dolls, Potishead, Modern Punk, UK Indie, Silversun Pickups, Pixies and stuff, Buddy Holly Radio, ’80s alternative, Indie hits, Classic Jazz, and Indie.

I have decided to go with an all “picked for me playlist” approach for a while. So I’ve got the Slacker stuff on there, and I’ve also put some genius playlists on there as well, Punk Mix, New Wave mix, mainstream rock mix, jazz mix, Indie rock mix, Brit-pop and rock mix, alternative pop/rock mix, and Alt. singer/songwriter mix.

What I like about this approach is that I still get the music I like, but it is a surprise for me, and I spend zero effort getting it on my iPod. You laugh, but when you have 34,000+ songs in your library, it’s a pain to go through and actually make playlists. Even if I did, I would then face the monotony of knowing exactly what was in them. This approach keeps things fresh. As strange as it may sound, even with 34,000+ songs, you can get into ruts. That’s where Slacker comes in. I can once again have the thrill of finding the song on the radio, but I get to skip the songs I don’t like.

 

Ahhh, life is good! Who needs cellular service to enjoy internet radio?

Just subscribed to Slacker Radio

I’ve been enjoying Slacker radio on my squeezebox ever since I got it. I love the genre stations I’ve picked out (Indie, indie hits, 80’s alternative, and classic jazz) and the custom stations I’ve created have also been great. I have never been able to get Pandora to do what I want, but slacker has done the job for me. At 4 bucks a month, it’s well worth it to me.

 

I’m intrigued by their cache option. They say I can cache the station on my iPod touch and then play it offline. For you iPhone users, you do this over wi-fi so you don’t chew through your bandwidth limits. That would come in real handy for the car. I’ll update you on how that goes. I also have to figure out how to do the song request thing on my squeezebox. I love having the radio without dealing with FM!

This machine kills fascists

That was a line in a book I was reading. It rang a strong bell, but I couldn’t place it. In the story, a punk rocker was saying it after an unlikely dispersal of an alien with a guitar chord. But who was that? Who said that? Oh right…

woody.jpg

In many ways, Woody Guthrie was the original punk rocker. He didn’t really align himself with right or left (although these days he’d be squarely on the left I think) but he knew when he didn’t like something. He could sniff out corporitism and crony capitalism at its worst. We need more Woody Guthries than we do John Lydons…

Last FM and more…

I had mentioned Pandora radio before, I now feel that I have found an even better internet radio service. It’s called Last FM and it is amazing. Here’s the way it works, it looks at all the music you have played, in iTunes, internet radio, and on your iPod, and builds an artist library for you. From there, you can play “your” radio station (assembled from the artists you play), or listen to recommendations for you based on those artists.

I am in heaven. I have found a radio station that will play Joan Jett, Wilco, Devo, Glenn Gould, The Bouncing Souls, Bob Dylan, Bob Marley, Spoon, the Detroit Cobras, and all of my other favorite groups. There isn’t another station that has that kind of spread. It’s my station, made of my music. Oh life is good, life is good my friends.

That station is for the sure bet, when I’m in the mood for something reliable. I haven’t done a lot of listening to the recommended station yet, but I’m excited about that too. I’m getting new music ideas from the Slacker “Indy Rock hits” station, Radioio’s jazz standards station, a crazy east coast Doo-Wop station on live 365, and I’m looking into classical.com.

This is the radio I’ve been waiting my whole life for. I had no idea that this was even possible. Last FM may be all the reason I need to actually get an iPhone, it will allow me to take this on the road. We’ll see if I ever shut up about this, in the meantime, please bear with this music lover’s gushing….

Lady Gaga

“I have a confession to make. I like Lady Gaga.” That’s what my friend _____ told me today. I had been hearing a bit about her from here and there and had made some Bowie parallels from the critical comments. I wanted to see if she really was the next Bowie and had watched a few of her videos for the first time the night before my friend made their confession.

One thing that I did know about her is that she has a constantly changing “look.” I had seen her when “Poker Face” came out, and then I saw a poster for “Fame Monster” and didn’t realize she was the same person. The videos reinforced this idea, she totally changes several time during the space of a 4 minute song. Hmm, so she has mutable looks, that’s a parallel with Bowie I suppose. The thing is, I didn’t see any personality differences, or even real narratives like Bowie was wont to do.

The thing that really struck me watching those videos (Telephone, Bad Romance, Just Dance, Poker Face) was how little sex appeal she has. She’s the only attractive woman I have ever seen that can wear a bikini like a uniform. She seems to only ever wear extraordinarily form fitting clothes, or next to nothing. She is a good looking woman, and she has quite the figure, but she doesn’t come close to, say, a Karen O (who is far plainer by any criteria) in sex appeal. This is going to sound strange, but Lady Gaga resembles what I would imagine a gay guy would come up with if he wanted to make a “sexy” woman. All of the obvious things are there, but something essential is missing.

If we assume that this is an intentional thing, then there might indeed be some parallels with Bowie, it’s all very “meta.” What does it mean to be a pop female singer? Is she sexy by dint of the uniform that she wears, sings, or dances? Is Lady gaga a character? Does it matter what character she is, if she looks like that must she wear scanty clothing? Bowie explored some of the ideas behind fame, characters in rock, and image as well. Hell, “Fame Monster” sounds like an album he could have made in ’74 or ’75.

I can’t say that I like her music, but I understand why some people would. If she is indeed trying to explore some of this stuff, she has picked the most vapid, least meaningful genre to do it in. Maybe that’s part of the act. I wasn’t really cognisant of what Bowie was up to back in the early 70’s, for all I know the same criticisms were leveled against him. People are giving the label of performance artist to Lady Gaga, I’m willing to wait and see what she has planned before crowning her as the next Bowie. But I won’t write her off either…

Radio reborn!

App Gallery – Welcome to mysqueezebox.com!: “”

I had heard about the Squeezebox from Logitec for years, but I never paid any attention. My loss… Listening to the radio was always fun in the past. Part of it was the thrill of the hunt, cycling through different stations in order to find something that fit my mood was a common pastime. The problem is that FM is a total wasteland now. Even the satellite stations don’t do much for me.

Here’s where the squeezebox comes into play. It is a device that allows you to stream your music collection to a sound system. No big deal, right? An airport express will do the same thing. Ah, but the squeezebox allows you to stream internet radio, even if your computer is off. In addition, it is easy to move it around or add more devices in your house. These can be linked together or operated separately. Logitec makes devices that you would hook to an existing system or stand alone devices much like a table radio.

There are over 20,000 stations by my quick count that you can get on there. In addition, there are services like the BBC, classical music organization, and the live performance archive that you can play on there. Then there are the customizable stations like Pandora, Last, and Slacker. You pick a song or group and they will play songs similar to them.

I love the music on my computer and listen to it all the time but it is nice to be able to get exposed to new music too. I think the squeezebox touch (as well as an app for my iPod touch) will be my next audio purchase. I’ll hook it up to a table radio I own right now and in the future I’ll hook it up to a pair of active speakers via its digital output. Stay tuned, don’t touch that dial! I’ll be back soon with more exciting audio news from Isaac!:-)

The genius of genius

I know, I’m late to the party, especially considering that I work at the Apple store, but I have just discovered genius playlists on iTunes. They’re pretty amazing, I’ve been really impressed with how they work. I kept putting off activating the genius feature because my music library is so huge these days (170.5 gigs and growing). It took forever for it to go through everything, I eventually let it run when I went to bed and it was ready in the morning.

It came up with 12 different mixes from my library, punk, indie rock, alternative pop/rock, new wave, classic rock, alt singer/songwriter, classic R&B, mainstream rock, jazz, folk, and classical. I have serious issues with the names of a couple of the mixes. I loathe the moniker “alternative” when applied to rock music but I understand that it is a commonly used category. They have a much different definition of “New Wave” than I do and Blink 182 and Pearl Jam are poor choices for “punk” music IMO especially considering how much actual punk music I have.

If I ignore the naming conventions I really enjoy the mixes themselves. I think that this works better with really large collections, I probably could have put together mixes just as good but it would have taken me forever. As it is, I can start any of these mixes and really enjoy it.

It also does a good job of making a mix based off of a single song. I’ve saved a jazz mix on my itunes library and I fooled around with it on my iPod to good effect.

Of course whenever you have an automated system to pick out music there will be errors. I’ve had a couple of howlers so far. No, I really did burst out in laughter when these things came up. That jazz mix I mentioned is a great collection of mostly hard bop and scat singing. Inexplicably, it also put in “I will Follow Him” by little Peggy March. A quality pop tune, but it has no relation to jazz at all. The best one so far made my roommate knock on my door to see if I was alright. I was listening to the “punk” mix when a Celia Cruz song came on. My reaction was so loud that he worried about me.

Anyway, I’m having a blast and I highly recommend giving genius a try in iTunes.

Itching for a stereo system

Being cooped up in the house for so many days in a row has made me start missing my stereo system. I still own a really nice one. The trouble is that I don’t have the space for it, so it has been at a friend’s for the last three years or so. One day I’ll have space again, and then I’ll be able to listen to it again.

But in the meantime, I need something to listen to. And I want it to be a real system, one that this audiofool can appreciate. It needs to be small, inexpensive (in audiophile terms), and suited for my cramped living space. Here’s what I’ve come up with…

My music source will be my computer. I will simply play the music I have on it. Over time, I will get access to my CDs again and do proper, lossless copies for the best sound quality. For an amp, I will get one of those cheapie, but decent tripath amps that put out around 15 watts a side. For the time being, I will just use the analog out from either my computer or an airport express. Eventually I will add a digital to analog convertor in the chain to improve things more.

I think I’ve settled on the speakers. They are going to be a bit of a departure from my usual type of speaker, but that has a lot to do with my current situation. I’m going with some full range, single driver speakers from Tekton. I’ve been talking to the builder and he thinks his 4.1 speakers will be the best fit for me.

Here’s what I like about them:

1) The price. These will be new speakers, and they will be built for me. I’m still trying to decide on the finish, I’m leaning towards either cherry or walnut.

2) It is easy to drive which means I can get decent sound from a 40 dollar amp.

3) This type of speaker is supposed to excel in low volume listening.

4) They are small enough to work well in my room.

5) And finally, they are a type of speaker that I want to own at least once.

I have a few things to take care of before I do this, but I will at some point in the near future have a working system again!