category: Music

Spotify Radio vs. Pandora

Spotify vs. Pandora

There’s a lot of talk right now about Spotify’s new radio functionality that not only greatly improves on their previously lame attempt at “radio,” but also reportedly gives Pandora a run for its money. Though I’m not a frequent Pandora listener, I have found their careful classification to result in pretty darn fine listening.

I decided to run my own comparison using my favorite song of the year, Nostalgia 77’s “Simmerdown” as the base. The song has a very distinct groove and vocal tone, so I was curious to see which radio provided the best listening. (I would have included other streaming services in the test, but none offer radio based on elements of a single track.) Here’s what I heard:

Spotify

  • Nostalgia 77 – Beautiful Lie
  • Kinny – Water for Chocolate featuring Souldrop
  • Lizzy Parks – All That (Natural Self Remix)
  • Sola Rosa – Ready Now
  • Quantic and his Combo Bárbaro – Undelivered Letter
  • Ebo Taylor – Heaven
  • Skeletons – Marathon Man
  • Flevans – Loose Gardener
  • Quantic presenta Flowering Inferno – Cuidad Del Swing
  • Unforscene – Don’t You Worry Feat Alice Russell
  • Quantic and his Combo Bárbaro – Canção Do Deserto
  • Belleruche – The Itch (Acoustic Version)
  • Bonobo – Terrapin
  • Lizzy Parks – Raise The Roof

A number of Tru Thoughts tracks came up (appropriately, as that’s Nostalgia 77’s label) including Belleruche, but there were also some other wonderful songs I’d never heard before, like Kinny’s “Water for Chocolate.”

Pandora

  • Baby Charles – Life’s Begun
  • Bobby Rush – I Am Good As Gone
  • Dave Matthews Band – Grey Street (Live 2007)
  • The RH Factor – Forget Regret (feat. Stephanie McKay)
  • Mindi Abair – Get Right
  • Con Brio – Not At All
  • D-Influence – Shake It
  • JackSoul – As We
  • Ben Sidran – Ballad of a Thin Man

Of this batch, there were two terrible choices that I thumbed-down (thumbs-downed?) after about 30 seconds (Dave Matthews Band and D-Influence) and two that I thought were really good matches in terms of vibe, tempo, and vocals (The RH Factor and Con Brio).

The Verdict

Spotify served up a really solid collection of tracks that were very much in line with the vibe of the original track. I was quite impressed by Spotify’s list, enjoying the entire hour-plus of music. I’m not sure what they’re using to generate the list of suggestions, but their algorithm is pretty darn good.

I was surprised at how underwhelmed I was by Pandora’s line-up, especially when Dave Matthews hit (shudder). I ended up cutting my listening short because Pandora just wasn’t holding my attention. It wasn’t a complete failure, though, giving me two excellent tracks I’d never heard before.

One other difference between the two offerings: Spotify allows unlimited “thumbs down”s while Pandora cuts off at 12 per day for free users (and 6 per hour for all users).

Pandora’s the go-to for smart radio, but Spotify’s starting to make things interesting. (MOG: you should come along for the ride!)

Trenton where we live

I’ve recently gotten involved in a new project that aims to bring back a lot of the old school underground Jersey heads. As a result, I’ve been thinking about some old favorites recently. Stuff I grew up listening to on PRB, music that defined my worldview of hip-hop every bit as much as the music coming out of New York. Though it’s not technically all Trenton (Courageous Chief was from Willingboro, for instance), but here are some South Jersey hip-hop classics from Tony D, PRT, 360 Degrees, The Funk Family, and more. RIP Tony D and Baby Chill (#9).

Seen, Heard, and Read, vol. 1

This is going to be my attempt at an irregular feature here on the site, where I’ll occasionally post a list of one movie, one book or article, and one piece of music I’ve recently consumed, along with some commentary.

Seen

If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front, directed by Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman

While this documentary won’t change the mind of someone whose views are set about “radical” activism, it will no doubt show that there is a big difference between groups like Al-Qaeda and organizations like the ELF/ALF. And it does make one wonder about the “#1 domestic terrorist threat” being an organization that has never physically harmed a person. (That said, their tactics are certainly not ones that I would ever choose to use, but I can understand the thought process behind them.)

There is a bias to the documentary, but even so, it does give a legitimate voice to the victims of the activists’ actions such that the film doesn’t feel like a propaganda piece. Worth watching.

Heard

France Gall: Baby Pop

A while back, I asked on Quora, “What are some amazing upbeat ye-ye albums?,” looking for music similar Chantal Goya’s amazing songs from Godard’s Masculin/Féminin soundtrack. It took a while, but I finally got a bunch of great suggestions from Brie Larson.

I dug in this week and checked out France Gall’s 1966 album Baby Pop. It seems to have been the trend for the most successful ye-ye singers to be pretty young women that didn’t necessarily have the most amazing vocal range, but could carry a tune and look innocent and naive while doing it. Gall fits this role: you can hear some inconsistencies in her vocals, but the songs are catchy as all get-out and downright fun.

Read

Land of the Lost Souls: My Life on the Streets by Cadillac Man

I recently finished this book I received through LibraryThing‘s Early Reviewers program. It’s pretty much what you’d expect from a tale of homelessness as told by one that lived through it: stories of violence, spiraling depression, and a healthy dose of quirky characters. Land of Lost Souls gives us a glance into the everyday lives of the people we pass on the street, often without a second thought.

Though the book’s chronology jumps all over the place, making it hard to get your bearings on your place within Cadillac Man’s life, the structure turns out not to be all that important. What is important are the individual stories, like the touching story of Penny, a 19-year-old runaway who Cadillac Man develops both a fatherly and sexual relationship with before helping to reconnect her with her family. That sounds creepy, but it’s more that it’s just how things go in that environment.

Recommended.

(Cadillac Man reads a selection from his book in this CSPAN video from a couple of years ago.)

Someone saved his life

In 1975, Elton John released “Someone Saved My Life Tonight,” a single off of that year’s Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy, his most personal and, arguably, his best record. “Someone Saved…” was one of those songs that, even if you didn’t know specifically what he was referring to, you could tell that it was about a turning point in his life:

When I think of those East End lights, muggy nights,
The curtains drawn in the little room downstairs.
Prima Donna, lord, you really should have been there,
Sitting like a princess perched in her electric chair.
And it’s one more beer and I don’t hear you anymore.
We’ve all gone crazy lately,
My friends out there rolling round the basement floor.

And someone saved my life tonight sugar bear.
You almost had your hooks in me didn’t you, dear…
You nearly had me roped and tied,
Altar-bound, hypnotized,
Sweet freedom whispered in my ear.
You’re a butterfly…
And butterflies are free to fly,
Fly away, high away, bye bye.

I’ve long been a fan of this song, but never really knew the story behind it. The “Prima Donna” referred to is Linda Woodrow (now, Linda Hannon), who John was engaged to in 1969. According to Hannon, in 1970, John came home drunk one night and broke off the marriage, saying he had to put his career first. Though Hannon disputes that she was “dominating” or “had [her] hooks in [him],” John credits fellow singer Long John Baldry with talking him out of the marriage, making Baldry the “someone” in the song’s title.

Baldry and John were in a band together in the mid-60s called Bluesology, along with future Soft Machine member Elton Dean. John developed his stage name by combining Elton Dean and John Baldry’s first names. Baldry himself was gay and came out as such in the early 1960s. John didn’t come out until the late 1980s after a failed marriage.

Whether or not both John and Hannon felt the relationship was as one-sided as John paints it in his lyrics, it’s clear that he was conflicted at the time not only about how a marriage would affect his burgeoning career, but also his own sexuality, making “Someone Saved My Life Tonight” such a deeply personal song that is still extremely evocative, even 36 years later.

I never realised the passing hours of evening showers,
A slip noose hanging in my darkest dreams,
I’m strangled by your haunted social scene,
Just a pawn out-played by a dominating queen.
It’s four o’clock in the morning,
Damn it, listen to me good,
I’m sleeping with myself tonight,
Saved in time, thank God my music’s still alive.

And I would have walked head on into the deep end of the river
Clinging to your stocks and bonds,
Paying your H.P. demands forever.
They’re coming in the morning with a truck to take me home
Someone saved my life tonight, someone saved my life tonight.
Someone saved my life tonight, someone saved my life tonight.
Someone saved my life tonight.
So save your strength and run the field you play alone.

Best of 2011, so far

Everyone else in the world has done their “here’s the best music of the year, so far” posts/album roundups/etc., so here’s my contribution, a 19-track mix on 8tracks.com:

There are a few tracks I wasn’t able to get on here (stuff by the Beastie Boys and Honey Ear Trio), but otherwise it’s a nice little mix of hip-hop, reggae, dubstep, and folk. Admittedly, it’s a bit heavy on the hip-hop and beat side of things, but hey. That’s what you get.

Comments appreciated.

ex.fm contest stuff

A while back, I won a great giveaway from ex.fm. ex.fm is a Google Chrome extension that gives you an iTunes-ish way to listen to music out on the web. It’s a great tool if you frequent music blogs to catch new singles, album leaks, etc. And, of course, it scrobbles.

Anyway, they’ve posted a picture I sent along and I posted a short video showing what I won:

(If you’re on ex.fm, here’s my profile page.)

The Blindfold Test and The Grumpy Miles Davis

In 1964, Downbeat magazine published a blindfold test with jazz legend Miles Davis, testing his ability to pick out fellow musicians based on the way they played. Predictably, Davis did quite well identifying the players, but didn’t hold back choice words that he had about many of them.

On saxophonist Eric Dolphy:

That’s got to be Eric Dolphy – nobody else could sound that bad! The next time I see him I’m going to step on his foot. You print that. I think he’s ridiculous. He’s a sad motherfucker.

On free jazz stalwart, pianist Cecil Taylor:

Downbeat: L.F.: This man said he was influenced by Duke Ellington.

I don’t give a shit! It must be Cecil Taylor. Right? I don’t care who he’s inspired by. That shit ain’t nothing. In the first place he don’t have the – you know, the way you touch a piano. He doesn’t have the touch that would make the sound of whatever he thinks of come off.

On Les McCann and the Jazz Crusaders playing Davis’ own “All Blues”:

What’s that supposed to be? That ain’t nothin’. They don’t know what to do with it – you either play it bluesy or you play on the scale. You don’t just play flat notes. I didn’t write it to play flat notes on – you know, like minor thirds. Either you play a whole chord against it, or else . . . but don’t try to play it like you’d play, ah, Walkin’ the Dog. You know what I mean?

That trombone player – trombone ain’t supposed to sound like that. This is 1964, not 1924. Maybe if the piano player had played it by himself, something would have happened.

While Davis got into some left-field style jazz in the 70s with Bitches Brew and the electric fusion that immediately followed, he never did venture into free jazz territory. In 1964, Ornette Coleman, Cecil Taylor, Archie Shepp, and others were braving this new sound and bringing their own approaches to the chaos, but apparently Davis just wasn’t having it.

In his New Yorker blog post “Miles Davis: Peeking Through the Blindfold,” Richard Brody shares an interesting bit I didn’t realize about Davis’ search for a new saxophonist in the mid-60s:

When Davis was looking for a new saxophonist, [drummer Tony] Williams suggested Dolphy; Davis said no. He recommended Archie Shepp; Davis listened and rejected the notion. When Williams proposed [Sam] Rivers, Davis took him on briefly (and recorded with him in Tokyo).

Honestly, given the free and fiery nature of Rivers’ playing at the time, I’m surprised that Davis didn’t lump him in with the other free jazz reedmen of the time.

There are a couple of other blindfold tests from Downbeat worth reading with John Coltrane and Charles Mingus.

(ETA: There are three other Davis blindfold tests as well one with Thelonious Monk worth checking out.)

Three distinct record shops in the East Village

The other night, after a fine dinner at Quintessence in the East Village, Huyen and I walked around looking for some art galleries. Unfortunately, we had a heck of a time finding any that a.) still existed and b.) were still open at that time of night. However, we did stumble across three very distinct record shops, none of which I’d ever been to before.

Rainbow Records

Rainbow

With records, CDs, and tapes stacked from ceiling to roof making 95% of them inaccessible, this store is “organized” in a hoarder-esque fashion. There’s only a small pathway and in the few minutes I was there, the owner of the store knocked stacks of CDs over three times and had a heck of a time getting a stool back in its place. As messy and crazy as it is, though, you can tell there’s a lot of love there. I felt bad for not buying anything here because stores with such eccentricities are worth supporting, but I couldn’t find anything of interest and what I did see was pretty overpriced (99-cent bin-worthy albums selling for $9). I suspect that among the stacks, there are some gems hiding.

To quote one Yelp reviewer: “One day, someone will read an obituary in the New York Times about finding the owner of this shop buried alive and rotting under a mammoth stack of used CDs.”

Kim’s Video and Music

As we walked by this storefront, Huyen pointed out that the TV out front was showing one of the best movies I’ve seen in recent years, Czech director Jan Švankmajer’s 1988 Alice, a mindbending live action/stop-motion version of Alice in Wonderland. When I inquired about it inside, I found out that it’s now available as an import Blu-Ray. Consider my mind blown. Sadly, they were out of stock, but I did get a chance to browse their amazing collection of import movies and indie music. I walked out with only a $3 bargain DVD (the documentary Friends Forever), showing a lot of restraint.

Tropicalia In Furs

My favorite of the three shops, we stumbled on this one by accident, drawn in by a store window that made it look like a vintage electronics shop. The selection here is very carefully curated, with a super high quality selection of original pressing jazz and funk records (if only they were alphabetized!) and a breathtaking selection of 1960s and 70s 7″s from France, Africa, and India. They didn’t have any Chantal Goya, but I did pick up one ye-ye record, one calypso record, and an hip-hop EP from ’98. Neat, neat shop.

The Reggae Report Archive

When I was in college in the mid-1990s, I was a pretty heavy hip-hop fan and had been for a while, but I had only started listening to reggae a few years before. Shabba Ranks’ “Trailor Load of Girls” was the first reggae song I distinctly remembered liking. It took some time, but eventually I was listening to Half Pint and starting to dive deeper into roots reggae.

Somehow–and honestly, I don’t remember how–I was given the opportunity to write for Reggae Report magazine, one of the most widely (if not the most widely) circulated print reggae magazine. It was quite a privilege to write for them and I was in some truly good company, especially considering how green I was. I can remember editor Sara Gurgen’s surprise when she had to explain to me what “ital” food was (and look at me now, one of the top five Google search results for the phrase!).

During my college stint, I wrote lots of reviews and the occasional feature article, including interviews with Mad Professor and Half Pint. I’ve always been thankful to the magazine’s founder M. Peggy Quattro and editor Sara Gurgen for giving me that shot. Because of that gig, I was introduced to amazing music and amazing people.

Today, Peggy celebrates her 30th year in the reggae business. If you know your music history, you may also know that today marks 30 years since Bob Marley died. It was quite a first day on the job for Peggy, who describes the day on Reggae Report‘s Facebook page:

10 a.m., May 11, 1981, I walk into DTAM with a heightened sense that something big was about to happen. I was imagining getting to meet Bob Marley, although I knew he was very ill and passing through Miami on his journey back home to Jamaica. I was nervous and excited at the same time. Don wasn’t there yet so I took it upon myself to organize my new office. There were pictures of Bob and Jimmy, posters, gold records, and boxes of papers and receipts everywhere. Herman, Don’s go-to guy/driver had reported in to help. By 11 a.m. I had my space semi-worked out and Herman and I chatted about Bob and he let me know just how serious Bob’s illness was. I was devastated. No, not Bob, not now. There was so much more for him to do, concerts to give, songs to record, lives to touch.

Don came bursting in looking very grave and serious. He barked a few instructions to get ready for Jimmy Cliff coming into town in a couple days. Oh my, I thought, Jimmy Cliff! You can get it if you really want it, harder they come…I was going to meet my idol, the man drawing 80,000-100,000 fans in Europe and Brazil. This was great!

At 11:45 a.m. the phone rang. Rita Marley asking for Don. My stomach sank. Don grabbed the call and raced out the door. Not before stopping to look me in the eye and say, “If anyone calls, you know nothing.” In fact, I knew nothing, but the sinking feeling grew and Herman and I looked at each other with a knowing glance that this was possibly it. The moment everyone dreaded, the moment we prayed not to happen, we knew. Bob was gone.

30 years later, she’s launching a new project, raising funds through Kickstarter for the Reggae Report Archive. She’s making available the entire magazine archive as well as exclusive audio interviews (I’ll have to dig up some of my old tapes!) and video. It’s a great project and if reggae music has made a mark on your life, I encourage you to drop a few coins in the bucket:

Congrats to MPQ and best of luck with this great endeavor.