Monday, February 17, 2014

iTunes radio hits Australia - whoop de do

OK - so it is exciting that it is here, that weare the second country in the world to get it. But it doesn't do much for me - probably because, as we'll see, I am probably not the target. But I'll comment anyway.

To start with I am not a music streamer for 2 main reasons

  • I have a fairly large music library which is made up of music from classical through rock, pop, electropop, experimental, ambient, electroacoustic, phonography through to labels like Dorobo, Stasisfield, and so on. I have a selection on my phone, on an iPod classic and on my iPhod, plus a backup of the music on a portable drive. So where ever I am I can get music that I want. And I'm an album man, but also like variety
  • Download limits - both at home and on the phone - I don't have enough and it's too expensive to waste on listening to music I might not like when I have what I want.
And for the same reason I don't listen to much music radio - OK I might miss a great new track, but I am pretty sure I'll hear about most somehow.

Then there is the implementation. First, it is through the music app which I have stopped using since they stuffed up the album view - now I have three players on there
  • Ecoute is my player of first choice: it has a nice grid view that shows 12 artists or genres on a 4s, then a small icon list view of albums in alpha order.The player is good & interestingly has dispensed with a volume function - assuming you'll use the buttons or earphones, 
  • Picky is interesting for large libraries and filtering - you can do it by number of songs, and then within an artist sort by name, release. It doesn't have a genre setting, but in Albums you can select genres, including more than one at a time, and
  • the interface of Listen is fascinating, very fluid and simple, but the selection process is difficult - it shows all the albums in a grid which extends alphabetically to the left. Dersigned largely for shuffling.
  • But my main player is Ecoute for music and some podcasts (Pocketcasts for ones that I haven't downloaded in iTunes which I do for ones that I want to put on Carol's iPod).
And then, very little styling seems to have gone into the design. The default block view that a lot of podcast apps use also, for your libraries. I don't think you can change the icon.

Finally, the choice, which seems to be
  • a group - like I like the Beatles but not a whole station!
  • generic chart stations - 70s, 80s and 90s; pop hits, etc
  • genre stations - like ambient. Genres are hard to define anyway, but these are either too broad (like ambient) or refine but not enough - within classical you can't pick 20th century or minimalism
Maybe if you have genius working, or iTunes match, or there is some sort of like/dislike the system might learn my preferences, but I haven't got the time. I would rather say to myself - i need some dirty ambient or some muslimgauze or a bit of atonal classical or some environmental sounds to complement my real world and pick an album or genre or artist from my library.

Like I said, not for me: but I wish they had made it look good! A stand alone app at least.

TIMR 25: The Official Andy Partridge Fuzzy Warbles Collector's Album

OK - I came to XTC just a little late: Life begins at the hop and especially Making plans for nigel were big hits and got me into the band and all their albums from Drums and Wires on came my way. This included the vinyl version of their first Best Of which was which came as a double album: Waxworks and Beeswax (the first was the singles, the second B sides). I got the numberered English Settlement, Black Sea in the green bag, the round Big Express, Psonic Psunspot, Take Away/Lure of the Salvage on a tape which was badly mastered with the 'start' about halfway through which made identifying the songs even harder!

I could be argied that XTC were the true heirs to The Beatles in broad musical terms

  • the move from punk/rock through to more complex deep music and unbridled variety
  • a pair of writers whose individual songs could usually be identified (made easier with XTC as they kept separate writing credits
  • a whimsical one and a darker one
  • lyrical and musical depth 
  • experiment - the dub experiments are like John and Yoko - XTC had more room for experiemntal B-sides (thanks to the Beatles)
  • a very britishness, although that musichall vibe comes from and through quite a long line
  • a sad internal decline
Anyways, XTC are THE group of the 80s I think.

At the turn of the century I got the rarities, B-sides etc that is a Coat of Many Cupboards.

Then quietly, unbeknown to me (why didn't he tell me) Andy Partridge started releasing the Fuzzy Warbles. These were compilations of demos (XTC, Dukes of Strosphere and more), musical musings and doodles, songs for soundtracks and more. Each covered a range of ground and included extensive liner notes and lyrics. the covers were based on  stamps
Between 2002 and 2006 8 albums were released, and it was about the time of 4 or 5 I became aware of them. As imports each was quite expensive, but the as the series was drawing to an end, the Collector's Album was released

This takes the stamp theme and runs with it. The box is a stamp album - with theedges printed to look like the sides of a book. It comes in a plastic slip casewhich has the album contents printed on it. Inside the front cover is a book plate for you to fill in.

The 8 disks are nicely arranged and separated by card, so it keeps neat. There is a long book with an essay by Andy about the project - how he did his home recordings. And two little extras. One is a sheet of the 8 images, plus the AP logo, as stick on stamps (who would stick them on something! mine are still here nice and pristine) and an extra cd in a card cover, entitled Hinges (those of you who have never collected stamps will be left in the dark about why that name, those who have will remember the little bag of hinges that came with stamp albums) with another 9 tracks on it - making 161 altogether. There is no seeming rhyme or reason to the individual volumes - they mix early, mid. late XTC with Dukes with other demos, with film music. So each is a lovely separate compilation.

I see the set is over $200 on Ebay or nearly $300 from Amazon links (well over $1000 for a new one from Japan) (even coat of many cupboards is about $250). But it isn't for sale, even though I have ripped it & when I play it, it's the MP3s that I play. Because it is a lovely Thing In My Room!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Blancmange - Blanc Burn

After mentioning Blancmange as a nostalgic treat a couple of posts ago in the KTP I came across news that they were performing Happy Families in concernt and are rerecording/mixing and releasing it as Happy Families Too next month. And a bit of websearch revealed that an new album (their first in 25 years) Blanc Burn was released in 2011.

I had to get it. I got it.

Blancmange had a couple of big hits (Feel me, Living on the ceiling and some more) but were never as big as I thought they should be. They combined great beats, eclectic influences (mainly Indian), experimentalism, a great ear for a song (if you wonder about ABBA, listen to Blancmange's version of The day before you came).

After 25 years there have been technical developments and aging - Neil's voice is perhaps not as strong as it was, but this has added a greater air of world-weariness and possibly ennui. The opener, for example, By the busstop @ woolies uses a vocal that sounds like it could have been a voice message, and a focus on the local and small is reflected across the album

Musically it is strong and sounds fresh and very varied. There are some that sound like they could have been on the earlier albums - such as Drive me or The western and surprisingly they are the ones which excite the least - although they are exciting but more along the lines of developing the sound a bit rather than dramatically.

Ultraviolent, a story of local thugs in masks and with dogs as weapons, uses dense vocoder or autotune and has a descending chorus line which reminds me of the No no nos in I don't want to lose your love.

Radio therapy reminded me of Freeze Frame era Godley/Creme, and I'm having a coffee notes the focus in the album of the mundane smaller things.

What is hard to determine is how much I like this album because it's a new(ish now) Blancmange album and how much is the music itself? The way the songs have hooked into my brain I think it is probably the later - like Bowie's The Next Day the initial suprise and excitement has bled into just playing it because it is good. The name has probably helped push them through (though not so much that I had heard about the album!) but their skill has taken it on.