I have a bunch of Spotify playlists, but one has become absolutely indispensable since I started adding to it — my hastily named That’s My Jam playlist. It’s where I drag the songs I get most excited about and want to hear over and over (well, the upbeat ones — I have a separate sad sack playlist I’m too embarrassed to share the name of). Sometimes a song jumps out at me and has to go on TMJ right away, other times I’ll decide that I like a new album and will add one of its tracks so I’ll have a lasting tether back to it. “Lasting” is the operative word there, because I would be crushed if I lost this playlist. Whenever I have trouble logging into my Spotify account, a deep-seated, panicky feeling rushes in. (I really need to back up this list somewhere, but you’re talking to the same person who puts off doing laundry until he’s wearing bathing suits for underwear, so who knows when that’ll actually happen.)
I recently started another list called Favorite Whole Albums, for releases that seem are particularly suited for front-to-back listening. Usually they’re cohesive in some meaningful way, like how Beck’s Morning Phase feels like a single idea played out over multiple tracks, or how Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d city tells a story that builds from beginning to end, with interludes that need to be played in the correct order.
When I step back and look at those last two paragraphs all typed out, it’s painfully clear how helpless trying to categorize and catalog your listening really is. It’s like trying to bottle up wind with a napkin, or something — just plain insufficient when you zoom out and consider the massive musical universe and all it has to offer. Taxonomy can feel insufficient in micro sense too, as Landlady just taught me.
Marnie Stern. Where have you been all my life? Listening to the first moments of guitar-ninja Marnie Stern’s most recent album was like eating deep fried Oreos for the first time — “Holy bejeezus! How have I not gorged myself on these before?!?” — and I have Pitchfork’s new “Over/Under” series to thank for the revelation. I’d never heard of Stern, and watched her episode completely on a whim (OK, so the series’ name made me think it was about gambling, and the thought of Pitchfork employees gambling was amusing to me for some reason. As in, what would hipsters gamble on? Please leave any theories you may have in the comments below). Turns out, “Over/Under” asks famous musicians to decide if random things, like “Guitar Center Sales Dudes” and the TV show Lost, are overrated or underrated. After hearing her thoughts on Lost’s disappointing finale, penis size and Ryan Gosling, I headed to Spotify to give her self-titled album a try. Cue the deep fried Oreos. The opening seconds of “For Ash” were so explosive and chaotic and pleasing, and my mind immediately started soaking in the sound like a happy, overstimulated sponge. Stern’s music combines the technically-demanding practice of guitar tapping with constantly shifting rhythms to create colorful and exhilarating songs that transcend their technicality and make you want to scream “This is crazy and I love it!” See what I mean by trying out “For Ash” below, her episode of “Over/Under” here, and if you like what you hear, grab her eponymous album from iTunes here.
To wrap up Spotify week, I’d like to look at what this new (to U.S. Americans) service provides in the way of social connectivity. Let me first say that I haven’t had the chance to use turntable.fm yet, and I do not mess with Ping for iTunes. From the get go, Ping seemed unlikely to catch on, and I really wasn’t in the mood to join another social network (yet I just signed up for Google + — I don’t understand me either). However, I was excited when I found out from my friend Robbie that with Spotify, you can easily browse and listen to friends’ playlists. Choosing which of your playlists you want to make public is simple, so you can hide that embarrassing one you put on when you’re a sad, pathetic mess WHAT I’M NOT TALKING ABOUT MYSELF… or, if you’re extremely proud of one, like a certain someone — Spotify account name YouHearThat — is of their Mario Kart playlist, you can make it available for all to see. This special list of upbeat songs has been battle tested and is guaranteed to boost your Mario Kart performance (trust me on the John Williams stuff — you haven’t lived until you’ve won a race while blasting the main theme to Star Wars). One of my favorite tunes on the list is Karmin’s cover of Nicki Minaj’s “Super Bass.” While Karmin is usually a duo, this cover features ?uestlove and Owen Biddle of the Roots, and I’m not sure if it’s the driving synth percussion on the chorus or hearing BOOMBADOOMBOOMBOOMBADOOMBOOM repeatedly, but this tune never fails to send me on a red-shell-slingin’, banana-peel-droppin’ rampage. Check out the video above and download the song from iTunes here.
In yesterday’s post, I talked about how convenient Spotify can be. But let’s talk about cost. Unless you’re Jermaine Dupri circa 1998, money IS a thang, and it’s worth learning about Spotify’s price points. The bottom rung of the ladder is free — once you’re invited and set up an account, you can stream millions of tracks on your computer, but there are ads and time limitations, both of which go away when you sign up for the second rung, Spotify Unlimited, which costs $4.99 a month. The third option, the $9.99-a-month Spotify Premium, is where things get interesting. You get access to the same huge library of music, plus you can access music on your phone AND make songs available for offline listening. So, if you’re on the beach, and Jay Ward of White Laces tweets about a band you’ve never heard of, you can hop on Spotify and find out that Other Lives makes wonderfully enthralling and richly layered songs like “As I Lay My Head Down.” If you love finding new music, this is where the value lies. Apple’s iCloud will let me access my music, but Spotify Premium gives me a legitimate way to hear Other Lives’ totally unfamiliar Tamer Animals album right away. I know I’ll keep buying music from iTunes for the time being, because I’m still not used to not “owning” my music (though that brings up an entirely different discussion about Apple’s file format) and I worry that artists won’t see the money they deserve, but I love that in that moment, while checking Twitter on the beach, I was able to find a band that I look forward to patronizing, in one form or another, for a long time. Check out “As I Lay My Head Down” below, and click here to grab the album from iTunes.
Last week was my vacation, but it was also my honeymoon … with Spotify. Spotify and I tied the knot two Saturdays ago, when Mrs. You Hear That, sister Cary and bro-in-law Brian were on the road to Duck, North Carolina, and I subscribed to the $9.99-a-month premium service. To mark the happy occasion, I thought I’d spend a few days looking at what Spotify’s arrival in America means for music lovers like you and me. First off — convenience. See, I have Rodrigo y Gabriela’s self-titled album in my iTunes library, but where did I turn on beach week taco night when Mrs. YHT hit the musical accompaniment nail on the head? I’ll give you a hint — I didn’t open my laptop, find my cord and transfer Rodrigo y Gabriela to my phone, because it was just a quick search away on the Spotify mobile app. Even with crappy reception, the entire album streamed without interruption. And YES, of course the tacos were delicious, because I added a truly ungodly amount of cumin, chili powder and cayenne. As I ate, pretending not to be worried about what the meal was doing to my extended family, I was taken aback for the zillionth time by the virtuosity of the Mexican guitar-playing/drumming/abusing duo of Rodrigo Sánchez and Gabriela Quintero. They’re fast, precise and compelling, as you can tell by the above video of a very awesome and very speedy live version of “Diablo Rojo.” I’ve included the album version below for comparison, and here’s a link to buy the album from iTunes.