Beeso and the Doc talk Metallica for toddlers, old school music theft, their famous Twitter stalkers and classic albums from terrible bands.
I'm feeling left out. Apple Music hasn't deleted any of my songs or albums, and the only duplicates I can find in my library were already there – created by an app called Boom. (It's a great audio app which does something to your sound files to make the crappy little speakers on your laptop, or even your desktop, sound way more awesome. Unfortunately it creates amplified copies of the songs to do this. Hence the duplicates all the way through my library).
It's been about a month since the blessed fruit company's streaming music service launched and most of the coverage has been lukewarm at best. Taylor Swift famously scolded them for expecting musicians to cover the cost of the three-month long 'free' trial period. Long-time Apple observers like Marco Arment, John Gruber and The Loop's Jim Dalrymple have all aired their issues. Dalrymple's involved an embarrassing misadventure in which he thought Apple had deleted about four and a half thousand songs from his library, potentially forcing him to buy them all over again. That turned out not to be the case, leading to the aforementioned embarrassment when Dalrymple had to clarify a pretty gnarly blog post on the matter, and cut out a big chunk of a podcast with Gruber.
Initial reports from the other streaming services, mostly meaning Spotify, seem to indicate Apple Music hasn't landed any crippling blows yet. In fact it's only effect so far might be to grow the streaming market.
I've been using it for a month, after subscribing to Rdio for nearly a year. I still have my Rdio subscription, a family plan costing a little more than $20 a month, but I haven't used the app since I got Apple Music. This isn't because Apple Music is a superior service – in many ways it's really not – but rather speaks to the inertia of having a bunch of accounts already set up and configured to everyone's personal taste. You can transfer your playlists from Spotify and Rdio to Apple, but it's not simple or free to do so.
One popular method involves buying an app like the prosaically named Move to Apple Music 1.1 For five bucks it will move most of your music across, but it's not perfect and if, like me, you don't like giving login details to outsiders, you're shit out of luck.
I moved my two most played workout lists over by hand. It took half an hour and cured me of any enthusiasm to repeat the process with my other playlists, such as ‘Writing’ which has hundreds of jazz and blues tracks carefully selected to fade into the background while I tap away.
So, apart from not paying their suppliers, i.e. musicians, and then losing Jim Dalrymple's Ozzy Osbourne collection (since recovered) how is Apple Music shaping up? I can only answer for myself. I use it every day, and I find myself impressed by the power of the service, and frustrated by the experience of using it. The user interface, especially on the desktop, is terrible. Complex, opaque, inconsistent and buggy. The exact opposite of “It just works".
This is partly because Jimmy and Dre are trying to pack so much into the service, but mostly because they've built it atop the layered ruins of iTunes. It’s a bit like building your shiny new mall atop a haunted housing development, which buried an accursed graveyard, that replaced a city of the damned, which sank its foundations into a Hell Dimension. iTunes is not just a music library it is a massively complicated device and content management system that has grown wild and achieved a malign sentience over the years. It is inevitable that Cupertino will eventually split off Apple Music as a pure standalone app, but untangling the Gordian knot of iTunes will probably take a couple of years re-engineering. Until then, suck up the pain.
Apple Music on iOS is simpler, or perhaps just easier, than its OS X counterpart. Mostly because it can live free as a separate application. The iPhone app in particular is less confused and confusing than its companion apps. It is still diabolically complicated, but not as intentionally malevolent. The language of multitouch speaks more fluently to the interface than Yosemite’s point and click. You can already see where Force Touch will fit in, possibly as soon as iOS 9 is released in September or October. For instance, pressing and holding your finger on a suggested playlist or album in the For You section brings up a series of options such as adding it to your library, making the selection available off-line (by downloading it to your device) or even telling Apple you hate this stupid choice and you never want to see it again. (Seriously, Apple, stop trying to make Rhianna happen to me). There are, however, so many options that sub menus exist under the main menu. This is a blindingly obvious use case for Force Touch.
Putting aside the complexity of the interface, there are certain simple actions which appear to be universally available to other streaming apps, which simply don't exist in Apple Music. In Rdio, for instance, whenever you see an artist's name, or an album, or a song, you click on it and go straight to the relevant track or page. This is not so in Apple Music. I'm not always sure what happens with Apple Music. And I say that having used it heavily for a month. The UI is just not intuitive. Or logical. Or even coherent. Often this seems to be a result of an inability to say no.
Apple still boasts that for every Yes there are 1000 No's. While it might be true in hardware design, and even in other software and service offerings – the redesigned Photos springs to mind – the same discipline has not been applied to music. Example? You can add a song to "Up Next" or you can mark a song or album to "Play Next". Two very similar instructions with two very different outcomes. I have learned to avoid hitting Play Next because it deletes everything in my Up Next list. One slip of the finger and hundreds of songs in a stack can disappear. This has made me sad more than once. By way of contrast, Rdio's Play Later option is less powerful but more functional. Programming my set list for the work day was always a pleasure with Rdio. On Apple Music it feels like a gamble.
And yet I'm still using Apple Music. Why? Because for all of the failures of design and execution, the intent and the vision behind it are still great. When it workds as intended, it's brilliant. As much as I came to love Rdio, it rarely surprised me. The delight that I felt in using it was the glutton's happiness at beholding the vast banquet table before him. More often than not, however, I would simply pile my plate high with the same toasted cheese sandwiches I had yesterday. Rdio, and I presume Spotify and the other streamers, do attempt to introduce their listeners to new music, but I never much liked the picks. What new music I did find, I found for myself.
One thing Apple is very good at, is telling you what you are going to like. (And by God you'd better like it, or else you’re gonna find out why Eddie Cue’s nickname is Da Cueball). In the month I've been using this complex, opaque, inconsistent and buggy service it has delivered more surprising and delightful new music discovery than a year on Rdio. I enjoy the way it surfaces playlists depending on the time of day. Workout choices in the morning. Driving lists in peak hour. Cocktail tunes at sundown. I find myself dipping into Beats 1, the radio station, whenever I have a couple of minutes to spare. I sometimes hate what’s playing, but when I don’t, I might just love it with the same intensity and will always add the track to my library. (Again, a process which is not simple or easy. *Shakes head*). The curated playlists, thousands of them, with more being added every day, are often close to perfect.
I have even bought more music after finding one or two artists whose work I enjoyed so much I felt obliged to pay for it. (And one or two artists whose albums were available to stream one day, but not the next – a common enough occurrence across all the streaming services.)
Of course, I bought those albums on iTunes. The UI for gving Apple money works as well as it ever did.
36 Responses to ‘Apple Music is complex, opaque, inconsistent and buggy. But I don't hate it’
The music episode is live: ... In which Beeso and the Doc talk 80s hiphop, 90s electronica and noughties disco-grunge, great Amiga games music, off-label Stones ripoffs, how sausages are made, the Four Kinsman's version of Cop Killa, Fucking Off For Ten Years Album Syndrome, and Teenage Protracker Fury.
2 Responses to ‘BALLS After Dark. Ep 13 "I dug a hole, Dad."’
I asked Twitter to give me one song they put on a playlist if that playlist was only one song long.
Here is that list. It'll take hours to add to Rdio or Spotify but I'll do it as a side project over the next few weeks.
Guided By Voices - Choking Tara
The Left Bank -Walk Away Rene
Turin Breaks - Painkiller
Foo Fighters - Everlong
Public Image Ltd - Rise
Jimi Hendrix - Voodoo Chili
Steve Harley and Cockney Rebel - Make me smile,
Concrete Blonde - Tomorrow Wendy
Tom Waits - Closing Time
Dead Letter Circus - I am
Assemblage 23 - Awake
Talking Heads - This Must Be The Place
Custard - Anatomically Correct
Birds of Tokyo - Anchor
Lou Reed - Romeo Had Juliette
Eddie Vedder - Sleepless Nights
Max Q - Way of the World
Bowie - Modern Love
The Who - Wont Get Fooled Again
Hit Record - You’re Not the Only One.
Nick Cave - The Ship Song
KD Lang - Hallelujah
KLF - Justified and Ancient
The Band - The Weight
The Doors - LA Woman
Leningrad Cowboys and Russian Army Choir - Knocking on Heaven’s Door
LCD Sound System - All My Friends
Katrina and the Waves - Walking on Sunshine
Alt J - Left Hand Free
Bobby Womack - Across 110th Street
Eric B and Rakim - Paid in Full
Lacuna Coil - Losing My Religion
You Am I - Berlin Chair
Dana Lyons - Cows With Guns.
Tool - Vicarious
The Wonderstuff - Maybe
Veruca Salt - One Last Time
Bruce Springsteen - Badlands
Goanna - Solid Rock
Stranglers - Always the Sun
Bird Feeder - Jurassic Park Theme (played 1000% slower)
Buzzcocks - Oh Shit
The Verses - Want Everything
Lana del Rey - Videogames
Johnny Moped - Darling Let's Have Another Baby
The Cows - Shipboard
Mekons - Hard to Be Human
The Rolling Stones - Can’t Always Get What You Want
Spy vs Spy - Clear Skies Ahead
Kate Bush - Running Up That Hill.
Bowie - Suffragette City
The Birthday Party - Release the Bats, ( live version)
The Saints - Stranded
The Stranglers - Golden Brown
Billie Holliday - Gloomy Sunday
Led Zep - Whole Lotta Love (Live 23 mins)
Mike Oldfield - Tubular Bells
Joan Osborne - What Becomes of the Brokenhearted
Bruce Springsteen - Thunder Road
Prince - Raspberry Beret
Ween - Pushin Little Daisies
Grace Slick - White Rabbit
Duck Sauce - Time waits for no one
Marianne Faithful - Why'd you do it?
Triffids - Wide Open Road
Jon and Vangelis - I'll Find My Way Home
Placebo - Loud Like Love
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - Mary Jane's Last Dance
Falling Joys - Lock it
Daft Punk - Around the World
Rule 34 - Save You
Tim Buckley - Sweet Surrender
Midnight Oil - The Power and the Passion
Kate Bush - Wuthering Heights
Pixies - Debaser
The Beatles - Eleanor Rigby
New Order - Ceremony
Barenaked Ladies - Some fantastic
Dire Straits - Tunnel of Love
Arctic Monkeys - RU Mine
David Bromberg - New Lee Highway Blues
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds - Deanna
Michael franti and Spearhead - Oh my god
L7 - Pretend We're Dead
Iggy Pop - The Passenger
Primal Scream - Come Together
Mi-Sex - Computer Games
Rolling Stones (feat Eric Clapton - Brown Sugar (re-release)
The Boys Next Door - Shivers
Lene Lovich - Lucky Number
Louis Armstrong - Aunt Hagar's Blues
Desmond Dekker and the Aces - 007 (Shanty Town)
Blind Melon - Soup
Janis Joplin - Little Girl Blue
The Saints - Just Like Fire Would
Barenaked Ladies - Odds Are
Johnny Cash - Hurt
Journey - Separate Ways
Pink Floyd - Comfortably Numb
Regurgitator - Track 1
Waterboys - Whole of the Moon
The Verve - Bitter Sweet Symphony
The Whitlams - I Will Not Go Quietly
The Saints - Know your Product
Radiohead - Street Spirit
Anaal Nathrakh - Forging Towards The Sunset
Powderfinger - Pick You Up
Divinyls - Boys in Town
Super Furry Animals - The Man Don't Give A Fuck
Government Mule - Beautifully Broken
Son House - Death Letter
Pixies - Where is My Mind
The Beau Brummels - Laugh Laugh
Bowie and Mercury - Pressure
Bill Withers - Harlem
Queens of the stoneage - God is on the radio.
The Clash - Rock the Casbah
Billy Bragg - Levi Stubbs’ Tears
Fontella Bass - Rescue Me
AC/DC - Back in Black
Foo Fighters - Low
Laughing Clowns - Eternally Yours
Metallica - Orion
Black Sabbath - Warpigs
Robert Forster - Let your light in, Babe
Soundgarden - Black hole sun
The Radiators - Gimme Head
The Doors - LA Woman
Nirvana - Come as you are
Bauhaus - Dark Entries
The Mountain Goats - This Year
Louis Armstrong - A Kiss To Build a Dream on
Frank Turner - Love, Ire and Song
Helen Perris - Dancing Around the Subject
Pulp - Common People
Richard Thompson - Wall of Death
35 Responses to ‘One song playlist’
[Warning - one major spoiler for ASCENDANCE below]
This is my second time through this topic. In more ways than one. We discussed imagined sound tracks after Emergence dropped, and I wanted to return to the topic now the whole season is done. And I tried writing and filing this particular blog this morning, but foolishly did so in my browser, not a note taking app. Hit submit. Lost it all.
Anyways. I had two extra tracks for Emergence. Hilltop Hoods Parade of the Dead as an end title sequence. And Lean on Me by Bill Whithers for the retreat of Her Majesty’s Vengeance from an ass kickin in Now Orleans. For the other two books, the by-no-means definite track list is below. Feel free to add suggestions. At this stage it costs nothing. And there's some obvious holes. Both Trinder and Heath need theme tunes. The final battle needs something suitably sombre for poor Zach.
Bad to the Bone - George Thoroughgood (Guyuk in the Inquisitor Pits).
California Sex Lawyer - Fountains of Wayne (Prof Boylan is in da muthafuckin house).
Push It - Salt n Pepa. (The Diwan dar Sliveen gets some respect)
Walk this Way - Run DMC (Threshy gets embiggened)
Re. Your Brains - Jonathan Coulton (A negotiation at Omaha)
Shoot to Thrill - AC/DC (The Battle of Omaha)
Forget You - Cee Lo Green (Dave leaves in a huff).
Lets Get Retarded - The Black Eyed Peas (Dave parties in LA)
She Hates Me - Puddle of Mudd (Dave vs Karin at the Consulate)
California Luv - 2Pac (Jellybean kills a Revenant Master)
Bat Out of Hell - Meatloaf (Hyper speed motorcycle ride)
Risque - Cute Is What We Aim For (Threshy has a crush)
Woman - Neneh Cherry (Karin shows Dave who’s boss)
Feelin’ All Right - Joe Cocker (Threshy at the sports bar)
Song 2 - Blur (Dave and Karen bust some heads at Grand Central)
What’s a Few Men? - Hunters and Collectors (The charge of the fire fighters)
Disco Inferno - Marcia Hines (The Sliveen torch New York)
Last Day on Earth - Kate Miller-Heike (The flight from New York)
43 Responses to ‘#The Dave. #TheSoundtrack’
I coulda killed a guy like Jimmy. The endearing/infuriating doofus of Kate Miller-Heidke’s ‘Jimmy’ – the sixth track on last years O Vertigo – put me immediately in mind of a guy I knew way back when. Stefan. A stringy haired, barefoot monomaniac whose enormous ego was built of Violet Crumble and self delusion. I road tripped all the way from Brisneyland to Sydney with him and can recall waking in a cold car by the side of the road somewhere in New South Wales. We had no petrol. He had no money. And I was of a mind to end his life and bury the body in a shallow grave.
Yet I didn’t, and now I recall that trip and my maddening road buddy with inexplicable fondness. Or it was inexplicable until I listened to ‘Jimmy’ and found in KMH’s lyrics, almost perfect recall of a guy she had never met. But she knows the type, I suppose. The type of hipster nitwit who can’t help but imitate the barista at the Colombian coffee stand, even though he sounds nothing like the dude, and everyone is watching, and your bullshit five dollar soy chai latte tastes like shit, because Jimmy insists on coming here anyway just to work on his stand up routine.
I said ‘Jimmy, don’t embarrass me.
I don’t want a display
Everybody’s staring, see,
I’m just not in the mood today.
And so what does Jimmy say? Does he apologise or dial it down? Hell no. Guys like Jimmy and Stefan they double down, bro! They come back at you with crackbrained non sequiturs like “What you don’t know is that I have a soul full of guns.”
And the hell of it is, they do. Not just big silly fucking cartoon guns either. To live as they do requires a courage we usually get sold in a very different form. In a Chuck Norris roundhouse kick, or the industrial-scale homicide antics of a 1980s meta-hero, an action doll made up of Schwarzenegger and Stallone parts. When I heard that line – “I have a soul full of guns” – it evoked a teeth-grinding envy for a writer who could bundle up so many truths in so few words. (I’m thinking of using it as a title for the first Karin Varatchevsky ebook.)
Envy is a feeling I’ve had more than once listening to Kate Miller-Heidke’s lyrics. I like her music of course, even though I have no technical understanding of it. She is classically trained, but works in popular music, possibly because of the freedom it offers. A teacher once described her voice as ‘garden variety lyric soprano’, which seems a little sniffy and dismissive to me. But her writing? That’s my game and if I’m playing one of her albums while I work, I sometimes find myself breaking off to listen a little more closely and to wonder at the narrative strength she brings to her writing.
It’s possible to enjoy all of her albums as collections of short stories, with all of the meaning, both surface and buried that comes packed in a really well written piece of short fiction, even a tale as unsettling as the suburban horror story she tells in ‘Sarah’, on Nightflight, the album that preceded 2014’s O Vertigo.
A cold read of Sarah’s lyric sheet threads the disturbing through the familiar – an old Stephen King technique. At the ’97 Livid Festival a girl goes missing. The close and familiar and safe, the playful and adventurous – “Stripy tights and fairy wings” – turned quite literally to creeping dread and mounting panic when the singer “turned around” and found her friend no longer there. The Hilltop Hoods, also great story tellers, talk of panicking on stage “like you lost a child” and that runaway panic accelerates through “Sarah” as wider and wider searches find nothing, until the police fish a blue dress out of a creek the next morning. It is a difficult song to listen to, not because it’s not beautiful, but because it so beautifully realises the horror of loss which most of us might experience for only a few seconds or minutes in our lives. Until the missing loved one pops back into sight. See if you can listen all the way through without goose bumps.
She is a pop artist though, and so darkness must be buried, even banished with light or with ironic shading at the right moment. “Drama”, again from O Vertigo, is another favourite character study, perhaps because it’s narrator, surely a late stage evocation of Lindsay Lohan, is so perfectly suited to the foot stomping tempo. “Lose my shit”, a much quieter but no less droll examination of desire, is possessed of a humour so dry it puts my martinis to shame, and most of that wry power comes not from the circumstances of the song, but the deadpan constraint of Miller-Heidke’s delivery.
I’ve always been more taken with story than character though, and it was story for which KMH first came to wider notice. Teen angst and doomed love are staples of pop music, but “Caught in the Crowd” drills deep under the usual surface details – girl meets boy, stuff happens, Just Like In A Taylor Swift Song! – to mine a deeper and more valuable emotional ore. With a few neat pen strokes she gives us an impressionist sketch of the course of true love totally not running smooth.
There was a guy at my school when I was in high school
We'd ride side by side in the morning on our bicycles
Never even spoken or faced each other
But on the last hill we'd race each other
When we reached the racks we'd each go our own way
I wasn't in his classes, I didn't know his name
When we finally got to speak he just stared at his feet
And mumbled a sentence that ended with 'James'
The awkwardness, the pain and reward of revealing just a little of the self, a tentative connection and it’s utter ruin in the face of cruelty and weakness asks us to acknowledge all of the terrible shitty things we have inevitably done in our own past. Wrapping it up in such a perky little pop song makes repeated play-throughs a strangely pleasant and compelling ordeal, like probing with the tip of your tongue at the raw wound of a tooth recently knocked out. There are those of us who never manage to pull off a story with the honesty of “Caught in Crowd”, even given hundreds of pages and hundreds of thousands of words.
How the fuck anyone does it in a few verses, I don’t know.
But I thought the one who might know would be Kate. I emailed her late last year, wondering if, when she’s putting an album together the tenor of the whole collection inspires the stories, or whether the stories themselves arise independent of any deeper wellspring. There’s a lovely quirky positive energy to a song like Jimmy, for instance, despite the exasperation, and the song is as much a character study as a narrative arc. That energy doesn’t so much change as mature into a really sardonic getting of wisdom by the time Lose My Shit rolls around. I found myself intrigued by all of this, because for a novelist the writing all takes place under one big sky, even when you’re breaking it down into shorter moments.
“So, long story short, what happens when you write an album like Vertigo? Are you deliberately creating a new world, or letting a lot of smaller, unique worlds emerge from each song?”
She kindly wrote back that with Nightflight, the album as a whole was its own world. “We tried to thread it through with stories about decay, light, darkness and death. It's quite a creepy album in some ways.”
(I remember Abe saying something like that here shortly after it came out. Like me, he found it very difficult to listen to Sarah.)
On the other hand O Vertigo! was mostly written by just Kate alone, and she didn't pay any attention to making it a coherent album.
“I didn't want to over-think anything, it was a much more instinctive process. Each song was its own world. Themes did emerge. A lot of it was about asserting myself, my 'voice' (both meanings), and generally being unashamed, being playful. Plus love and heartbreak of course. A lot of the songs were written while walking so it has a kinetic energy. It can be hard to tell a whole story in a song - mostly it's more like lifting the curtain for a couple of seconds, and each listener interprets the scene in their own way. I know 'Jimmy' means different things to different people. I know what the songs originally meant to me, but after I've been performing them for a while, sometimes I forget, because I've heard so many different interpretations from people.”
This is the defining experience of telling stories, of course. Once you let them out into the world, they’re not really yours anymore, they belong to whoever listens to them and in a very real sense there are as many versions of one story as there are people to listen to it or read it.