Spotify’s Discover Weekly – Music Picked Just For Me

“It’s like having your best friend make you a personalized mixtape every single week.” – Spotify

Discover weekly Spotify

Spotify definitely isn’t taking a wait-and-see attitude with Apple Music. They punched back at Apple’s curated playlists this week with Discover Weekly, a unique two hour playlist of tunes crafted specifically for each user based on listening history and that of similar listeners. Updated every Monday, this “mixtape of fresh music” is a fascinating look at how a machine takes user data and predicts what I will like.

I couldn’t wait to see what my playlist had in store for me for several reasons.

First of all, I am more than a music fan. I long ago sprinted past music music nerd and rocketed beyond straight into music obsessive territory. As a kid the local record store was my favorite hangout. When other kids collected baseball cards, I spent my money on Beatles and Rolling Stones records. I was a DJ for years at various college stations. My library is somewhere around 1500 vinyl albums, 600 singles, 3000 CDs, 400 cassettes and about 8 months worth of digitized music. Yep, I have more music than I can ever really consume.

Second, I’ve made dozens and dozens of mixtapes over the years and the idea of someone (or a machine) I don’t know creating a playlist for me is interesting and a challenge. Rarely listening to the same thing twice, I jump from decade to decade, genre to genre pretty quickly. Rooted in classic rock, soul, funk, punk and new wave, my tastes run from classic country and blues through hip-hop, post-punk into lo-fi, indie, electronic, ambient and beyond. They’ve got two hours and thirty songs to make an impact.

Third, I am still debating between Spotify and Apple Music. Who will win my monthly fee? I am a longtime Spotify user and Apple Music will have to work damn hard to win me over. I’ve all but abandoned most physical formats so my final pick needs to give me everything, make it convenient and surprise me with great music and features.

So let’s get to the music!

This first week’s playlist is actually pretty strong. Heavy on sixties and seventies rock with a few tracks from the eighties thrown in, the list misses about 70% of what I like and listen to on a regular basis. Every song is at least three decades old and most of what I’ve been streaming lately has been relatively new. However, the list is pretty solid and a rewarding listen with a mix of hits, obvious album tracks, wonderful surprises and a few things I’ve never heard. While a real mixtape has some flow and a sense of theme or narrative, this mix is wonderfully random and enjoyable.

Spotify Discover Weekly Playlist

Opening nicely with former Byrd Gene Clark’s “Strength of Strings” from 1974’s underrated and masterful No Other, the playlist rambles and stumbles through obvious choices from Nick Lowe, John Cale and Neil Young before the first surprise. Scott Walker’s (of Walker Brothers fame) baroque pop treasure “30 Century Man” from 1969’s Scott 3.

Spotify Discover Weekly Playlist

As if to apologize for getting somewhat obscure, the list reverts to the hits and “So You Want To Be a Rock ‘N’ Roll Star,” one of the Byrd’s last Top 40 hits. Then it meanders (in a good way) through The Rutles, Talking Heads, Todd Rundgren and Traffic before landing on the always stunning “Hallogallo,” the lead song from Neu!’s 1972 debut.

Spotify Discover Weekly Playlist

Then there is a real surprise. Up until now I’ve been familiar with everything. Twelve tracks in, they knock me out with a delightfully obscure choice. Not only do I not know the song or the group, the track is great. From the late 60s Canterbury scene, psychedelic band Arzachel kills it with the sprawling instrumental “Queen St. Gang.” I dig into their biography and discover it was Steve Hillage of Gong fame and players who went on to become Egg of Canterbury prog-rock notoriety.

Spotify Discover Weekly Playlist

The middle of the playlist gets progressively odder and more interesting. Can’s “Moonshake,” Pink Floyd’s “Fearless” with its appropriation of a Liverpool choir singing Rogers and Hammerstein’s “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” Roxy Music’s “Both Ends Burning,” “Cowboy Movie” from David Crosby’s mind blowing If Only I Could Remember My Name and Little Feat’s “Trouble” all lead into two “wow, I’ve never heard this” tracks.

Spotify Discover Weekly Playlist

Patto’s “The Man” is a heavy jazz-rock track from their 1970 debut album. My favorite trivia bit about this band is drummer John Halsey portrayed drummer Barrington Womble in The Rutles.

Then, we’ve got Manfred Mann Chapter 3, the little known missing link between Manfred Mann and Manfred Mann’s Earth band. Another heavy jazz-rock number, “One Way Glass” has a deep throbbing beat and kick ass horn section. This one is definitely a keeper.

Spotify Discover Weekly Playlist

After a Crosby, Stills, Nash & Yuung song we get Mick Ronson’s “Only After Dark,” “Lorelei” from the Tom Tom Club, Spirit’s kick ass “Fresh Garbage,” Beach Boy Dennis Wilson’s “River Song,”  and XTC’s alter ego The Dukes of Stratosphear’s rollicking “25 O’Clock.”

Spotify Discover Weekly Playlist

The 4th “never heard it” is Roxy Music guitarist Phil Manzanera’s 801 project “TNK (Tomorrow Never Knows)” from 1976’s 801 Live. This is one of my sacred Beatles songs. I’ve heard several covers (The Chameleons, Danielle Dax, The Mission, and Phil Collins) and this one is particularly special. Brian Eno sings and Manzanera’s guitar playing is spectacular.

Spotify Discover Weekly Playlist

The playlist comes toward the end and swings back to the more recognizable. There is Klaatu’s ” Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft” (later covered by The Carpenters), CSN’s “Dark Star,” ELO’s “Boy Blue” and the final stomper, “No Quarter,” from Led Zeppelin.

There it is, two hours of music that Spotify picked just for me. Overall, I was very impressed and enjoyed the playlist from start to finish. It definitely focused on a very narrow sliver of the music I like. However, good choices, fun surprises and enough music I’ve never heard before captured and kept my attention. I can’t wait to see what they serve up this coming Monday.

What do you think of Discover Weekly? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Just in time for Spring – My Favorite Music of 2012

I saw the first Best of 2012 Music list a few days before Thanksgiving . It seemed premature and incomplete as there were 6 weeks left to go and I still had plenty of listening to do before I could even get my head around a year’s worth of music. Typically, I hit publish between Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Not this year, not even close. Before 2012 is forgotten forever let’s get this one out the door so I can focus on the music of 2013.

Every year I hope to offer up the music that mattered to me as opposed to a balanced, definitive list of what we’re supposed to like. Plenty of other folks can do that. LargeHeartedBoy.com compiled over 1000 Best Of lists if you really want to dig deep into any genre and discover the music that defined 2012. I just want to share some great music and hear about what you liked. Oddly enough a record from 2011 informed and shaped the listening path I took last year. The Caretaker’s An Empty Bliss Beyond This World set the tone with its quiet, otherworldly beauty and texture. Much of what I sought out in 2012 featured longer songs, older music, drones, repetition and less emphasis on guitars and individual songs.

TOP TEN

Godspeed You Black EmperorAllelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!

It’s been 10 years since Yanqui U.X.O. and I had almost forgotten about the sprawling majesty of this band and their epic sonic assaults. I have most of their catalogue and it amounts to a mere 19 tracks, yet each record requires repeated, attentive listening. Allelujah! is an immersive journey best played loud. Two cascading guitar driven cathartic sound collages and two layered, scouring drones This is beautiful noise.

SwansThe Seer

Another epic from a band that could be hitting their peak (or maybe that was Children of God) after 30 years. Swans split in 1997 and leader Michael Gira focused on solo work, Angels of Light and running Young God Records. In 2010 Swans reconvened with the solid My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky. The Seer combines the best of the band’s pummeling, punishing earlier sound and adds light and space to an uncompromising, incredible two hours of music.

John Talabot – fIN

Combining deep house, retro techno, found sounds and samples, plus a strong pop undercurrent, Spanish DJ John Talabot has created a record that bubbles and percolates across 11 gorgeous tracks. He’s been around in various incarnations for over a decade but fIN is his proper debut.

Moon DuoCircles

Fantastic drugged-out psychedelia with a propulsive Krautrock undertow, Moon Duo’s music is driven intoxicating guitar noise barely masking groovy pop sensibilities. Wooden Shjips guitarist Ripley Johnson is three albums deep into what seemed to start as a side project, but is now definitely much more.

DIIVOshin

With a sound reminiscent of early Echo and the Bunnymen or pre-Starfish Church, DIIV do dream-pop with sweet jangling guitars and vocals that ebb and flow across the songs. A few individual tracks stand out, but this all works together better as a blissful whole.

Andy StottLuxury Problems

Stott’s two 2011 records were my introduction to his bass-heavy, pulsating production. Both were stellar releases that revealed more and more with each successive listen. Luxury Problems slows down the tempo and adds layers of gorgeous vocals and textures to create something new and incredible beyond its dub, techno, house foundations.

Ariel Pink’s Haunted GraffitiMature Themes

Mr. Pink can be a bit polarizing. His lo-fi subversive twist on 60s and 70s pop isn’t for everyone. There’s a little Zappa darkness lurking under the bright, sunny tunes. His vocals take a bit getting used to and you always feel like he is playing an elaborate prank on his fans. However, it is difficult to deny the songs. If you hated it the first time, give it a second listen.

The ChromaticsKill For Love

The Chromatics defy easy description. As soon as you think you’ve pinned them down, they head off in a different direction. Combining synth-pop with disco, post-punk, indie rock and moments of icy minimalism, this album kicks off with a thrilling deconstruction of Neil Young’s “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black) and just gets better from there. It had been five years since their last album, but it was worth the wait.

Field Music – Plumb

On their fourth album the Brewis brothers draw on both lush melodic pop and prog-rock, but strip the sound down to its essence. The clever songwriting, sharp musicianship and tight harmonies make this my favorite batch of songs since their debut.

DarcysAja

The Darcys take one of the most highly-polished, perfectly produced pop albums of all time and deconstruct it as a post-rock homage to Steely Dan’s masterpiece. Their tense, sparse take on the original material helps it transcend the novelty and stand on its own.

TEN MORE

Advance BaseA Shut-In’s Prayer Sadness and cynicism from Owen Ashworth who did the same as Casiotone For The Painfully Alone.

PinbackInformation Retrieved Better living through precision. They do what they do and they do it well.

Scott WalkerBish Bosch Difficult listening at its finest. Rumbling, clattering, caterwauling majesty.

YeasayerFragrant World The difficult third album from a band that nobody can agree on.

ShackletonMusic for the Quiet Hour Dub and darkness on an epic sonic journey to the center of your mind.

Grizzly BearShields It’s all about the details. Listen, listen and listen again.

Demdike Stare – Elemental Parts 1 & 2 Sloooowww, dark and droning. The low end will rattle your brain.

Lotus PlazaSpooky Action at a Distance Deerhunter guitar player, Lockett Pundt, creates an elegantly restrained album of gauzy, dreamy, indie pop.

Dan DeaconAmerica He shoots for the title of “serious composer” and scores.

ScubaPersonality Techno as an escape hatch from the world of dubstep

What were your favorites? I am interested in what YOU liked.

Coming soon – Best 2012 reissues and compilations, maybe just in time for summer.

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Celebrating the Cassingle

Music formats come and go. 78s, 45s, LPs, 8-tracks, reel-to-reel, cassettes, CDs, MP3s. Some come back again and others disappear. On one hand vinyl is stronger than it has been in almost three decades while the lowly cassingle (or cassette single) has been banished to the crap can of history. Even the much-maligned 8-track has made an ironic comeback, the cassingle will likely never make a revisionist return. It was designed to be cheap and disposable.

cassingles, cassette singles

Music you will deny ever buying

The cassingle emerged in the 80s as an inexpensive, portable replacement for the dying 7″ market. From 1987-1995 sales boomed. In 1990 there were more than 90 million sold. By 1996 sales had dropped off a cliff and by 1999 it was all over. Wrapped in a simple cardboard sleeve, shrinkwrapped and sold for a couple of bucks, they were the YouTube clips of their day. Some had the single and a b-side, but many just gave you the single on both sides of the tape. Kids could buy the hits and slap them in the Walkman, boombox or car stereo. Instant gratification in the analog world!

Cassingles

Enter the Goldmine

Little did I know that in my very own basement there lurked a treasure trove of these three minute nightmares. While moving things around so I could paint the walls and floor I made the discovery. Tucked away in a box, more than a hundred of them waited for me to come along and unleash their big-haired, shoulder-padded power. There must be at least one nugget buried in this goldmine. I dumped out the box and began digging. George Michael, Janet Jackson, Pet Shop Boys, Roxette, Paula Abdul and countless other misdemeanors against music. Shuddering as I dug further, I uncovered three true atrocities, Jive Bunny and the Mastermixers, Gerardo and Billy Ray Cyrus.

cassingles, billy ray cyrus

Crimes against music

I almost gave up. And then I found it buried underneath everything. Pure gold. A song that will live forever. Yes, it was BIZ MARKIE! Now I just need a cassette player and I am in business.

Biz Markie Cassingle

Nobody beats the Biz

If you want to know more there is a website, Cassette Single World,  dedicated to fans and the digital collection of “every Cassette Single ever released.” Enjoy!

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Swallowing the Ocean – The Case for Information Overload

One of my favorite books as a kid was The Five Chinese Brothers. I loved the story of five identical siblings who escaped a wrongful conviction and death sentence through smarts and special skills. However, my favorite part and the bit forever burned in my memory was the first brother who could swallow the sea. The thought of uncovering hidden treasure, pirate skeletons, shipwrecks, exotic fish and the unknown, unseen bottom of the sea was irresistible to a curious kid.

Today I am just as curious if not more. I want new information, hidden knowledge, the practical and the ephemeral. Every day I want to swallow not just the sea, but the ocean. Scouring websites, twitter, email newsletters, rss feeds and countless other sources, I strip mine for the remarkable, the random and the wonderful. Deploying apps and search engines, I connect the infinite dot-to-dot of our world. My desktop, iPhone and iPad are gateways to the curated and serendipitous discovery of knowledge, both useful and useless.

Ten Steps to a Successful Brand Portfolio Strategy. Read it. Peter Saville’s inspiration for the cover art on Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures. Watched it. A new book about the Mars Attacks trading cards. Ordered it.

My meme driven life can be a daunting task. There is so much ocean and I can only devour so much. When I finally end my day and reluctanly put my phone on the bedside table for the last time, I recount what I learned and try to synthesize and make connections. Like the first brother I must release the ocean and start again the next day.

Last week I heard a terrific Creative Mornings lecture from designer Simon Collison who advised us all to clear away the distractions. Ignore the endless twitter stream, avoid email, turn off your devices and focus on the task at hand. Be productive. Design. Build. Make. If the information is important enough, it will find you.

I agree that we need to step away from distraction to focus and finish the job, but there is too much to learn, see and experience. Too many great ideas. Too much remarkable brilliance to fit into such a short day. I am on information overload and it’s a good thing. The hunting and gathering energizes and drives me forward. It’s what I do. Excuse me, but the tide is rising and I’ve got an ocean to swallow.

If a song gets played in the woods and there is nobody there to meme it, does it make a sound?

I had a fascinating conversation with a great and very smart friend last week. Among the many things we discussed, we touched on what it means to be culturally relevant in 2012.

With mass audiences rapidly splintering and subdividing into various tribes and subcultures, does broad cultural relevance exist beyond huge news stories, live sports and blockbuster movies? We all watch our own shows, listen to our own music and find the news and information that matters to us. Everything that isn’t interesting or relevant, we just ignore.

So what is a hit anymore? The shelf life for anything that sparks our imagination has become so short. New shows, songs, articles, movies, books and memes crowd our inboxes and social feeds every day, demanding our limited attention. If something doesn’t grab our immediate interest, chances are it will disappear quickly.

Music is especially hard hit as physical formats are rapidly disappearing and most music can be found for free without much effort. Plus, there is just so much available. We can all find the music that matters most to us and the multi-platinum crossover records just don’t happen anymore. I’ve noticed that the only songs that really ascend to mass popularity are those that become omnipresent cultural memes, parodied, lip dubbed and burned into our collective cultural conscience.

So does the song make the meme or does the meme make the song?

Two recent songs we’ve all heard way too many times are perfect examples of what it means to be a hit in 2012. Gotye’s “Somebody That I Used To Know” and Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe” have both become mega-hits, overplayed and hogging the cultural spotlight. But are they relevant on their own merits or because they have become ubiquitous hit memes that reach way beyond the original work?

I heard “Call Me Maybe” several times, but it was the Harvard baseball team’s video that seemed to propel it into the stratosphere. A friend sent me the Gotye video months ago, but it was just another catchy song until the Walk Off the Earth cover or the Star Wars parody showed up on Facebook, Twitter, etc. Cultural relevance almost seems determined by the broad meta-meming (yeah, I think I just made that word up) of the original rather than the original itself.

Will this phenomenon extend across all forms of content where everything becomes an ultimately disposable meme? Or will content become a truly fascinating and creative space where art, music, film, television and books all serve as source material for a virtual cultural palimpsest with deep meaning and resonance? My guess leans toward the former, but I want to know what you think.

Clearing the Archives – Best Music of 2009

In my ongoing efforts to cram more music on my list every year, for 2009 I divided my favorites up in 3 groups.

1 Stuff other folks turned me on to
2 Stuff I liked
3 Stuff that everybody seemed to agree on

YOURS
worriedaboutsatan
avett brothers
wooden shjips
elvis perkins
falty dl
biblio
department of eagles
atlas sound
crystal antlers
antlers

MINE
phantom band
fuck buttons
big pink
twilight sad
volcano choir
wild beasts
neon indian
girls
nodzzz
yacht

OURS
phoenix
passion pit
animal collective
pains of being pure at heart
grizzly bear
yo la tengo
bill callahan
camera obscura
cass mccombs
flaming lips

Clearing the Archives – Best Music of 2010

Top ten
Foals – Total Life Forever
Radio Dept – Clinging to a Scheme
Das Racist – Shut Up Dude
Tame Impala – Innerspeaker
Yeasayer – Odd Blood
Black Angels – Phosphene Dream
Liars – Sisterworld
Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti – Before Today
Frightened Rabbit – The Winter of Mixed Drinks
Titus Andronicus – The Monitor

Ten more well worth hearing
Stornoway – Beachcomber’s Windowsill
Toro y Moi – Causers of This
Sun Airway – Nocturne of Exploded Crystal Chandeliers
Scuba – Triangulation
The Chap – Well Done Europe
Allo Darlin’ – Allo Darlin’
Junip – Fields
Field Music – Measure
Owen Pallett – Heartland
Gonjasufi – A Sufi and a Killer

Three best reissues
Robert Wyatt – Box Set
The Fall – The Wonderful and Frightening World of the Fall
Orange Juice – Coals to Newcastle

Clearing the Archives – Best Music of 2011

John Maus – We Must Become the Pitiless Censors of Ourselves
Tycho – Dive
Austra – Feel it Break
M83 – Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming
Real Estate – Days
Balam Acab – Wander/Wonder
The Field – Looping State of Mind
Wild Flag – Wild Flag
Hospital Ships – Lonely Twin
War on Drugs – Slave Ambient
Cults – Cults
Cut Off Your Hands – Hollow
Brown Recluse – Evening Tapestry
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Unknown Mortal Orchestra
Gold-Bears – Are You Falling in Love?
The Men – Leave Home
Man Man – Life Fantastic
Fucked Up – David Comes to Life
Antlers – Burst Apart
Demdike Stare – Triptych

Clearing the Archives – Best Music of 2003

TOP 20
Belle & Sebastian – Dear Catastrophe Waitress
Broken Social Scene – You Forgot it in People
Calexico – Feast of Wire
Crooked Fingers – Red Devil Dawn
Delgados – Hate
Fire Theft – The Fire Theft
Grandaddy – Sumday
Jayhawks – Rainy Day Music
Ted Leo/Pharmacists – Hearts of Oak
Long Winters – When I Pretend to Fall
Mull Historical Society – Us
My Morning Jacket – It Still Moves
Nada Surf – Let Go
New Pornographers – Electric Version
Pernice Brothers – Yours, Mine and Ours
Josh Rouse – 1972
Shins – Chutes too Narrow
Super Furry Animals – Phantom Power
Thrills – So Much for the City
Wrens – Meadowlands

just bubbling under
Yo La Tengo – Summer Sun
BRMC- Take Them on Your Own
Blur – Think Tank
Nick Cave – Nocturama
Coral – Magic & Medicine
Decemberists – Her Majesty
Fountains of Wayne – Welcome Interstate Managers
East River Pipe – Garbageheads on Endless Stun
Eels – Shootenanny
Enon – Hocus Pocus
Wire – Send
GBV – Earthquake Glue
Idlewild – The Remote Part
Lilys – Precollection
Stephen Malkmus – Pig Lib
Radiohead – Hail to the Thief
Postal Service – Give Up
Raveonettes – Chain Gang of Love
Shazam – Tomorrow the World
Sloan – Action Pact
Spiritualized – Amazing Grace
Starlight Mints – Built on Squares
British Sea Power – The Decline of British Sea Power
Travis – 12 Memories
Tyde – Twice
Rufus Wainwright – Want One

Clearing the Archives – Best Music of 2007

Going back and posting my favorites from years past

TOP TEN
Band of Horses – Cease to Begin
Okkervill River – The Stage Names
Apples in Stereo – New Magnetic Wonder
Beirut – The Flying Cup Club
Caribou – Andorra
The Besnard Lakes – Are the Dark Horse
Menomena – Friend and Foe
The Mabuses – Mabused
The National – The Boxer
David Kilgour – The Far Now

TWENTY MORE I LIKE A LOT
The Shins – Wincing the Night Away
Dan Deacon – Spiderman of the Rings
Sloan – Never Hear the End of It
Pelle Carlberg – In a Nutshell
Jose Gonzales – In Our Nature
Polyphonic Spree – The Fragile Army
Animal Collective – Strawberry Jam
Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
Andrew Bird – Armchair Apocrypha
LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
Battles – Mirrored
Of Montreal – Hissing Fauna, Are You the Destroyer?
Iron and Wine – The Shepherd’s Dog
Thurston Moore – Trees Outside the Academy
Modest Mouse – We Were Dead Before the Ship Sank
The Fall – Reformation/Post TLC
Arcade Fire – Neon Bible
Architecture in Helsinki – Places Like This
Pinback – Autumn of the Seraphs
Rogue Wave – Asleep at Heaven’s Gate