Welcome to the machine! A computer is making mixtapes just for me and they are better than just about any mortal mix. Yep, it’s week two of Spotify’s Discover Weekly and they just get me, like really get me.
Week one was damn good. Maybe a little heavy on the sixties and seventies, but it was two hours well spent. This week it’s back to the future with a mix that’s centered in the nineties, but stretches from the late sixties all the way up to this year. Of course the playlist dips its toes in the seventies, eighties and oughties (yeah, I just wrote that, sorry).
What I like is my curated mix is eminently listenable from start to finish. Just like last week the sequencing is random, but in a can’t-wait-to-hear-the-next-song way. Jumping from decade to decade and style to style, it’s unpredictable and surprising at times. I guess they’ve got three years of listening data and know exactly what I like.
Well, let’s get to the music.
First up is The Olivia Tremor Control’s “Define a Transparent Dream” from their debut masterpiece, Dust at Cubist Castle. With its touches of the Beatles and their own psychedelic magic, OTC sets the tone for much of what’s to come later in the mix. Next, TV on the Radio goes a cappella with their 2003 cover of The Pixies’ “Mr. Greives.” Then we head way back for “Is This What You Wanted,” the opening cut from Leonard Cohen’s 1974 New Skin for the Old Ceremony. Then there are a couple of decent 70s rockers, Thin Lizzy’s “Running Back” from Jailbreak and “Funk #49” from The James Gang’s second album.
Right when I was getting a little bored, Avey Tare of Animal Collective comes through with the murky and mystical “Laughing Hieroglyphic” from his debut solo record, Down There. The mind-bending continues with Austin’s Holy Wave and “Do You Feel It” from 2014. Next up it sounds like a cracked T-Rex or maybe Devendra Banhart, but it’s David Vandervelde from his first album (as The Moonstation House Band). Capping off this rewarding group of songs is the stone 1966 classic “You’re Gonna Miss Me” with its unforgettable electric jug and killer harmonica from The Thirteenth Floor Elevators. Can we possibly go up from here?
Let’s say we go sideways right into Blake Mills with the power pop punch of “Hey Lover” from 2010. Then, boom, it’s Joe Jackson from his “angry young man” years kicking ass with “I’m the Man” from his 1979 record of the same name. Courtney Barnett doesn’t let up with “History Eraser” from last year’s Double EP. Sonic Youth might have done better songs, but were never cooler than “Dirty Boots” from 1990’s Goo.
Love’s “Alone Again Or” is a wonderful song and it has been covered by bands like UFO and The Damned, but Calexico’s 2004 version is magical. They capture the original and make it their own simultaneously. The Kink’s cheeseball, but still awesome “Celluloid Heroes” is next. Originally a B-side to “Everybody’s Happy Nowadays,” The Buzzcock’s “Why Can’t I Touch It?” is a minor masterpiece. “Just Like Honey” will always be The Jesus and Mary Chain’s defining song, all pop bliss buried under mountains of feedback and sneer.
So I am not supposed to like Phish on principle for a lot of reasons, but when I found myself grooving on “Wolfman’s Brother,” I went to the track listing. Who is this? Phish! Damn it. Yeah, this is why Spotify gets me. They find a great song from a band I don’t like.
Then we’ve got Jason Lytle’s Grandaddy and his loopy lo-fi A.M. 180,” followed by the swirling beauty of Tame Impala’s “Enders Toi” from 2012 and Dinosaur Jr. with the Guitar Hero and Rock Band classic “Feel the Pain.” My Morning Jacket’s 2008 “Evil Urges” with its light funk and falsetto has aged well. So has Built To Spill’s 1999 guitar drenched Keep It LIke a Secret and lead track “The Plan.”
Again we go sideways and back in time to 1982 and The English Beat’s “I Confess” from their third and last album, Special Beat Service. Next is a live version of “Ride a White Swan,” the first hit from T. Rex going all the way back to 1970. Digging even further back to 1968 it’s the crazy I-never-heard-this gem of this week’s mix and Jacque Dutronc’s 1968 French psychedelic nugget, “Hippie Hippie Hourrah” (covered in 2005 by Black Lips). Alabama Shakes surprised me with this year’s “Future People.” Nicely done.
Closing out the set it’s REM’s always delightful “Harborcoat” from 1984’s Reckoning, Robert Palmer’s early hit “Sneaking Sally Through the Alley” and Jeff Beck’s 1968 rocking version of the folk classic “Morning Dew” with a young Rod Stewart on searing lead vocals.
I keep hoping for a little more electronic, industrial, soul and hip-hop but it’s only been two weeks. I am impressed at how well they understand my tastes and my fascination with random juxtaposition of songs and styles. Last week I mentioned how I am using my 90 day trial period to test drive Apple Music, but Spotify captured my attention this past week. They haven’t won the war for my money, but they are winning the battle for my time. What do you think of Discover Weekly? Who’s winning the streaming music war? I would love to know what you think.