Tag Archives: Playlist

How Music Got Free

I just re-read Stephen Witt’s How Music Got Free: The End of an Industry, the Turn of the Century, and the Patient Zero of Piracy for my company’s book club, and thought I’d share a playlist I made (Apple Music/Spotify). This list contains songs that were mentioned in the book, along with some singles from albums that were mentioned.

The book was a fun read because the author is just a few years older than me, so his experience of early digital music was similar to my own (although I suspect he was a member of the music piracy leaking “Scene”, while I was not). It’s a cleverly crafted story that follows three separate threads through the ’90s and ’00s: the team who invented the mp3; Doug Morris, who has been an executive at all of the remaining majors; and Donald Glover, a blue-collar worker, who was the source of a staggering amount of leaked music.

One of the most startling observations was that almost all of the music that was leaked during that period came from a very small, elite group. I thought of the peer-to-peer revolution as a crowd-sourced phenomenon, but that wasn’t true. The music that was leaked early was subject to circumstance, the availability of the CDs, and the cunning and whims of a few key people.

As I’ve mentioned in another post, it boggles my mind that content is often restricted, making piracy relevant still. We had a spirited discussion about this during the book club meeting. We all agreed that if only the media we wanted was available and convenient, we’d be happy to pay for it. I think pirates will always exist – there are bragging rights involved, after all –  but services and artists are not as helpless as they think. Taking content down from a streaming service ensures it will show up on The Pirate Bay. Digital distribution agreement terms might not always be ideal, but I think a collaborative approach will get us all further than restricting content.

Our book club also talked a bit about the transition from music ownership to all-access streaming (which was not covered at length in the book, but here is a great article about that shift). When my generation was young, we bought CDs at $17 a pop. We’d have to really think about what we wanted to buy, because it could be a while before we’d saved up enough money for another. When I was in high school, our CD binders always rode shotgun.  Suddenly, everything was available in mp3 form. It was important to amass the best collection of downloads in order to DJ college parties. Now, music is hosted elsewhere, and we don’t own any of it. But, of course, we never really did. We owned physical copies of intangible music. We never held the distribution rights.

A Midwinter Playlist

I made a playlist today for midwinter. It’s a good one for admiring the rain, drinking coffee, and thinking about crawling back into bed.

If you don’t have Apple Music to open that playlist and want to use your streaming service of choice, here’s the list:

Bon Iver, “Blindsided”
Slime, “My Company”
Sufjan Stevens, “Chicago”
Steve Reich, “Electric Counterpoint: III. Fast” (performed by Pat Metheny)
Balo, “All the Idiots”
Jamie xx, “Sleep Sound”
Etta James, “Fool That I Am”
Radiohead, “Weird Fishes / Arpeggi”
Björk, “Hidden Place”
Sigur Rós, “Untitled 3”
FKA Twigs, “Two Weeks”
Sylvan Esso, “Coffee”


Favorite Christmas Music

‘Twas two days after Christmas, and all through the land

Holiday music still played, all joyful, though bland.

If you know me well, you probably know I don’t like Christmas music. Maybe more than any other genre of pop music, our experiences and traditions shape what songs we put on once Black Friday starts. For me, a few years working in retail – with its crazed, often rude customers and non-stop cheery Christmas playlist – was enough to turn me off most of it. But I’m not being entirely truthful when I say I hate Christmas music. There are a few songs I need to listen to every year before it really feels like Christmas. Here they are, in no particular order.

Vince Guaraldi Trio, “Christmastime Is Here”

I listen to the whole soundtrack for A Charlie Brown Christmas a few times every holiday season, and though “Skating” is a runner-up, “Christmastime Is Here” is my favorite. Like most people, I grew up on the Peanuts holiday specials, and Vince Guaraldi’s melancholy-tinged soundtrack grants the music an extra bit of nostalgia. What I love best about “Christmastime Is Here” is its unusual melody, which descends through a major triad. The song features a lot of major 7 chords (in this case, “major-major” seventh chords), which give you the feeling of wanting to linger. It’s different from most Christmas carols, which have more more predictable chords and ascending melodies: think of the first few notes of the choruses of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” or “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear”.

Leroy Anderson, “Sleigh Ride”

When I was in college, the wind symphony played “Sleigh Ride” every year in the holiday concert. The one year that it didn’t show up on the program, a petition circulated throughout the band, but we were unsuccessful at getting it in the concert. I think every wind band person loves “Sleigh Ride” because it’s a fun, well-written song, and it has something for everyone. The percussion parts are great, of course (like the best whip part in history, first appearing here at 1:07), but everyone envies the low brass when the song slips inexplicably – and wonderfully – into a swing feel for one refrain (starting around 1:54). And of course, there’s the amusing horse whinny played by the trumpet at the end.

Bob Wells and Mel Tormé, “The Christmas Song”

I have memories of MTV doing a Christmas special on a sunny beach every year, and for some reason the perennially-cool Mel Tormé was always there with a digital keyboard to perform “The Christmas Song”. I love the laid-back nature of this one. I recently learned that Wells and Tormé wrote this one on a very hot summer day. Wells had jotted down some phrases like “Folks dressed up like eskimos” in an attempt to cool himself off. He and Tormé made it into a hit song in less than an hour.

Stevie Wonder, “What Christmas Means To Me”

This is one of the few songs I actually enjoyed from my days working in retail. I worked at Old Navy for a little while, and this was on the regular Christmas mix (along with some good Brian Setzer covers). Though it will always remind me of Polar Fleece, I like this one.

Mariah Carey, “All I Want For Christmas Is You”

Don’t judge. At least it gives me an excuse to link you to this amazingness. (h/t Tenley)

Goodbye, Beats.

As you may have heard by now, Beats Music announced recently that Apple will be closing it down on 11/30. Beats users can transition their accounts to Apple Music.

While we knew this was coming for a while, it’s definitely bittersweet. We’ve put in many long hours with Beats since they were a little startup. Everyone is moving on to other projects, but it’s still a little sad to see the sun set on Beats. It was a good service, and I’m proud of the work we did.

As an homage: a cheesy final playlist. Since you have to be one of the few people still on Beats to see the track listing, I’ll paste it here:

“The Final Countdown” – Europe
“It’s The End Of The World As We Know It (And I Feel Fine)” – R.E.M.
“The End Of The World” – Skeeter Davis
“They Can’t Take That Away From Me” – Louis Armstrong & Ella Fitzgerald
“Rainbow Connection” – The Muppets
“A Brand New Me” – Aretha Franklin
“I Will Survive” – Cake
“Phantom Limb” – The Shins
“Skinny Love” – Bon Iver
“Death With Dignity” – Sufjan Stevens
“Outro” – M83
“The Suburbs (Continued)” – Arcade Fire
“Someone Great” – LCD Soundsystem
“Your Silent Face” – New Order
“Once In A Lifetime” – Talking Heads
“Digital Love” – Daft Punk
“If I Should Die Tonight” – Marvin Gaye
“End Of The Road” – Boyz II Men
“Tha Crossroads” – Bone Thugs-N-Harmony
“Cross Road Blues” – Robert Johnson
“The Thrill Is Gone” – B.B. King
“Why Did You Go” – Ray Charles
“Miss You” – Alabama Shakes
“I Can’t Quit You Baby” – Led Zeppelin
“In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed” – The Allman Brothers Band
“Don’t Speak” – No Doubt
“I Will Always Love You” – Whitney Houston
“By Starlight” – The Smashing Pumpkins
“Gone Daddy Gone” – Violent Femmes
“Can’t Do Without You” – Caribou
“Wide Open” – The Chemical Brothers
“The Sound Of Leaving” – Veruca Salt
“Last Goodbye” – Jeff Buckley
“All Over Now” – Washed Out
“Come Down” – Sylvan Esso
“You Are My Face” – Wilco
“Let It Die” – Feist
“The Funeral” – Band Of Horses
“A Dedication” – Washed Out
“End Of The World Party” – Medeski, Martin & Wood
“Stairway To Heaven” – Led Zeppelin
“Afterlife” – Arcade Fire
“Linger” – The Cranberries
“Forgot About Dre (feat. Eminem)” – Dr. Dre
“Tron Legacy (End Titles)” – Daft Punk

Best Summer Music 2015

Summer (unofficially) ends today, though here in Seattle it seems to have ended a couple weeks ago. It was a good summer for music, at least. Here, in no particular order, are my favorites:


The Chemical Brothers: Born in the Echoes

I love the polyrhythms in “Reflexion”, but my favorite track on this album is probably “Taste Of Honey”. It’s just so weird and wonderful. It’s based on a slow, micro-tonal groove, overlaid with buzzing. Listen to it through headphones or earbuds, and you’ll hear the buzzing alternate sides. If strange bee sounds aren’t your thing, check out “Go” (which is a contender for best song of the summer) and “Born in the Echos”. And, of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t recommend listening to “Wide Open”, which features Beck on vocals.


Jamie xx: In Colour

The best tracks on this album may be the ones which feature Romy: “Seesaw” and “Loud Places”. “Gosh” has a weird, frenetic quality that’s somehow perfect for summer. “Obvs” is fun because of the way the steel drums drift back and forth between straight and swung eighths, leaving it with a somewhat lazy, vacation-y feel.

My favorite from the album, though, may be “The Rest is Noise”. It starts out with a weird sample that has two phrases of the following beat groupings: 10, 11, 11, 11. The percussion entrance around 0:30 makes us reinterpret that beat structure – the clap on 2 & 4 create a well-defined meter of 4/4, over which the opening sample is recognized for the (roughly) quarter-note triplet it really is. (That interplay is a little easier to hear after 3:42.) Forty-five seconds in, the piano joins and alternates tonic/dominant every other measure, reinforcing the square 4/4 meter we hear through the percussion. At the point where the piano joins, we also get a very catchy rhythm in the bass drum. Altogether it’s a fun groove with a lot of forward momentum.


Alabama Shakes: Sound & Color

This album has delta blues roots and lush orchestration. There’s plenty of sultry, radio-friendly fodder, while still containing enough depth that it improves upon repeated listens. I love the vibraphone on the title track, but my favorites might be “Dunes” (which always gets stuck in my head) and the gritty, 12/8 ballad “Miss You”.


Veruca Salt: Ghost Notes

I was never all that big into Veruca Salt, but their first release in nearly a decade hits the nostalgia button. “Laughing in the Sugar Bowl” is basically a late ’90s hit written two decades late. This album is fun, and I can only hope that Letters to Cleo follows suit and releases a new album.


Tame Impala: Currents

The first time I heard “Let It Happen”, it was on my local indie station, KEXP. The station plays music from all eras on all types of media, so it’s not uncommon to hear an old CD start skipping, typically followed by silence and an apologetic DJ frantically searching for something else to put on. When I heard this song, I wasn’t sure if it was something old or new. (Tame Impala, often compared to The Beatles, has moved into their Sgt. Pepper phase.) Halfway through the track (around 3:30), it seems like the quality is deteriorating, and then it gets stuck on one skipping section. Just when it feels like you’ll hear the DJ cut in with a new song, or when your ’90s self is trying to find the CD player, you hear a rich entrance in the low strings, and the new skip groove is incorporated into the rest of the song. It makes for a very neat “cold” digital vs. “warm” analog feel.


Honorable mentions (meaning I haven’t listened to them much yet):

Dr. Dre: Compton

FKA Twigs: M3ll155x

Beach House: Depression Cherry 

New Wave Morning

Do you ever happen to hear a few songs in a row that all fit together, like the universe has created a playlist for you? That happened to me this morning.

Many mornings, I get coffee from a place near home that I like to call “Hipster Coffee”. They don’t serve chai (but other teas are okay), their WiFi never works, and their outdoor benches are full of retired 30-somethings. (Although, let’s be honest, I like this place enough to buy coffee there a few times a week. The baristas are nice and the coffee is good.) I’m always interested in knowing what record they’re listening to. This morning it was the Talking Heads album Remain In Light. The 1980 hit “Once in a Lifetime” was playing when I walked in, setting the scene for a new-wave morning.

After I got back into my car, KEXP played Tame Impala’s “Let It Happen”. It’s from their July 2015 album Currents. That track has been getting a lot of play on KEXP, and I have to say, it has grown on me quite a bit. Its sound lies at the intersection of ’70s disco, ’80s new wave, and current house music. KEXP plays music from all different decades on various media, so when I first heard it, I wasn’t sure whether I was listening to something old or new. Then, in the middle of the song, it started glitching out like a badly-scratched CD. I’ve heard CD skips that station before (as recently as this evening), usually followed by an apologetic DJ frantically digging for something else to play. I expected to hear that sort of interlude, but instead, it came as a shock to realize (spoiler alert?) that the skipping-CD-sound is actually part of the song. A warm entrance in the low strings brings a nice contrast to the digital CD-skip sound. The glitch then gets worked into a new groove to finish out the song. I encourage you to listen to it, though anyone who remembers the ’90s will have to fight the urge to stop the imagined CD player to clean it.

After that, KEXP played Cut Copy’s “Lights & Color” from their 2008 album In Ghost Colours. It has that same new-wave sound as the others in my mini-playlist. It was fun to hear how three songs written over the course of 35 years fit together so perfectly.

For your listening pleasure, here are all three songs.