A Random Memory

Back in the 80s, some time after my family moved from one end of a suburban Atlanta county to another, a married couple moved in a few houses down. The husband was, I think, a former big wig in the Air Force. He’d retired and moved to Atlanta for a new job. Somewhere between 6 months to a year after they moved in, their youngest son failed out of college and moved back in with his parents.

I worshiped this guy. I was a 14 year-old dork, and he was a cool 20 year old guy who’d been away… in college! He liked all the cool bands, movies and art. Cool literally oozed out of this guy. And he especially dressed cool – I started wearing a single rubber bracelet – yes, the same ones Madonna would wear 20 per wrist back in the 80s… just ‘cos this guy did, too.

Now, I’m not gonna lie and say we were friends. He didn’t know anyone in Atlanta when he first moved there, and I was “the kid down the street who liked Bauhaus too, and was good for a laugh on a Tuesday night”. Still, we hung out fairly often, at least for a few months until he got connections to people his age in the city.

And so: in 1985, when I was 14, this dude invited me to see Love and Rockets with him. He bought me a few beers – another cool thing about the guy was that he’d been grandfathered into the drinking age hike, so could buy beer at 20. And I, being 14 and with little alcohol experience, got blitzed.

The venue was a “cinema & drafthouse” that was converting to live music, so security was kind of lax. About halfway through the show, I drunkenly crawled up on stage and propped myself up against the speaker next to David J. He looked down at me, but did nothing. Since I – 5’9″ and 117 lbs soaking wet – didn’t seem like a threat, neither did security. So that’s where I sat for about half the show.

Afterwards, my friend, who’d brought his fancy 35mm camera, magically convinced the back doorman that we were from Creative Loafing, the city’s alt-weekly. We got backstage and hung out for a bit, which was cool. But then the party moved to the Winnebago the band had rented. After a while inside, I realized wasn’t feeling so hot, alcohol-wise. So I stepped out of the RV for some fresh air. While standing there, I got the idea of doodling on the side of the RV with a Sharpie I’d brought. A few minutes later, Daniel Ash poked his head out the door. Instead of getting angry, Ash laughed, came outside and drew on the RV for several minutes with me before they left.

Somewhere I have a fuzzy, black & white photo of our “artwork” on the side of the Winnebago.

My Top Albums Of 2017

Another year, another list of my favorite new albums!

So… 2017 was a strange year for music. There were a handful – emphasis on “handful” – of albums I loved… and quite a few I listened to once and promptly forgot. I also finally noticed a trend that’s been building for a few years: I’ll find a great new album one year, like it enough to put on my “best of” list, but only truly “discover” the album the following year. Fully half of my overall most-listened to albums in 2017 – five of ten – were from 2016.

Below are my ten favorite albums of 2017. As I’ve done the past couple of years, the list comes directly from my Last.fm stats; I have, however, tinkered with the order a bit. After the list are a few honorable mentions, followed by the raw data from Last.fm.

My Top Albums of 2017

10) College – Shanghai – College isn’t a “band” exactly; it’s a “project” headed by French musician David Grellier. He’s worked with acts like Minitel Rose, Electric Youth and Anoraak, and, under the name “Mitch Silver”, he’s been a member of Sexy Sushi since 2004. If you don’t keep up with European electronic music, that might not mean a lot to you, but trust me: the guy has deets. And beats. Ironically, that’s one thing Shanghai lacks: beats. It’s a moody, atmospheric affair, one that could be mistaken for a soundtrack album. It’s not my favorite thing College has put out, but it was good enough in a lean year to sneak onto this list:

9) The Pains of Being Pure at Heart – The Echo of Pleasure – The Pains of Being Pure at Heart are one of those bands where I either love or hate each individual song. Some songs I listen to over and over again; others I listen to once, never to hear again. The Echo of Pleasure is a pretty solid album all around, though. Good job, guys:

8) Furniteur — Perfect Lavender – Furniteur is a bit of a mystery. It’s at least one blonde girl from Washington DC. There are two guys who perform on stage with her… are they part of the band? Musicians only hired when she plays live? Who knows? Her\their various webpages – Bandcamp, Twitter, Last.fm – are quite vague about who they are. But that’s not important, really. All I know is, I’ve played them a lot since they showed up on a Spotify “Discover Weekly” list. Perfect Lavender is an awesome, and surprisingly solid, album. A lot of times albums start off well, but lose steam halfway through (I’m looking at you, Bryan Ferry), or they only have 1 or 2 good songs to begin with (I’m looking at you, Primitive Radio Gods). Unlike the bulk of synthpop artists, where you’re ready to play someone else’s album about halfway in, this album surprises you when it finishes. “I listened to the whole thing? Nice!”

7) Me The Tiger — What Is Beautiful Never Dies – A SWEDISH band on my top ten list? NO WAY! That’s a joke, son: seems like half the bands I listen to these days are from Sweden. Anyway, Me The Tiger isn’t quite like the rest of the Swedish bands I listen to. It’s not “slow, dreamy” synthy stuff. Instead it’s loud, in your face, and slightly abrasive. Instead of the calming vocals of Mia Bøe (Postiljonen) or Anja Oyen Vister (Flunk), Me The Tiger’s Gabriella Åström is loud and, at times, almost shouty. Not that that’s a bad thing – it’s just that Me The Tiger will never be on anyone’s “best chillout songs” playlist. Having said that, the band does get quite a bit “samey” after a while. Still, a pretty sold effort from these Swedes:

6) Johnny Jewel — Windswept – Johnny Jewel is the driving force behind Chromatics, one of my “Top Five” bands at the moment. No band out there can create an atmosphere quite like Chromatics and Jewel can. And there’s no better example of this than Windswept, a collection of songs Jewel wrote (and collaborated with others on) for the recent Twin Peaks revival. Have a listen to the title track, heard over the end credits of episode 5, and throughout episode 6:

5) Kid Francescoli — Play Me Again – Marseilles’ Kid Francescoli returns with another kick-ass album (their 2014 debut, With Julia, was #2 on my “best of” list that year). Any why not? This is solid pop music, folks! Look, I get it. I really do: for decades, French pop music was an easy target for English-speakers to make fun of, with dated Italo disco-style beats behind a chain-smoking, “not nearly as cool as he thinks he is” Frenchman singing phonetically in English. Yes, yes… I know. But French pop has come a long way in the past few years, thanks to acts like Kid Francescoli. Have a listen to this (and yes, before you ask, on the album the singer does not use the words “backwards mother lover”):

4) Maud Geffray — Polaar – Maud Geffray is a French musician and producer. And the lead single off this album, also named “Polaar”, is fantastic. A big part of the reason I knocked this album down from #2 on my scrobble list to #4 on the album list is because those scrobbles were dominated by “Polaar”. That, and much of the album consists of variations on “Polaar” (“In Your Eyes”, a duet between Geffray and Flavien Berger, is just a heavily-remixed version of “Polaar”, for instance). Still, when this album hits, it hits hard:

3) Sylvan Esso — What Now – College radio loves Sylvan Esso… and you should, too! There’s no “sophomore slump” here – just ten kick-ass tracks in a row! The lead single, “Radio”, is a scathing indictment of FM radio… and is exactly the same vibe Katy Perry swung at and missed in “Chained to the Rhythm”. Yet, this album is somehow a mystery: it makes fun of pop music, yet is an excellent example of the genre. Take notes, Katy Perry. Sorry for the live version of “Radio” below, but I guess the foul language in the official music video triggers YouTube’s “adult” filter, which WordPress’ embedding tool doesn’t like. But that’s OK, though: one of the best shows I saw last year was Sylvan Esso, so here’s a taste of what their live show is like:

2) Washed Out — Mister Mellow – OK, let’s go ahead and get this out of the way: yes, this is an album to smoke weed to (see: music video, below). Let’s not pretend it isn’t. And yes, listening to this album in “enhanced mode” is probably better than listening to it sober – there’s a lot of “noise” in this album that will just kind of… annoy some. But that doesn’t make this just a stoner album. Ernest Greene has been the flag-bearer for the chillwave movement, and this is something he does not take lightly. All of the tracks on this album are finely-crafted pieces of art, and if this “visual album” isn’t quite as good as 2013’s Paracosm or 2011’s Within and Without… it’s only because Greene took a swing at a concept album. Whether it’s a home run or foul ball is up to you.

1) Saint Etienne — Home Counties – Saint Etienne have been one of my favorite bands since the late 90s. They are, in my estimation, the “longest-running” band I still like (as opposed to bands like Depeche Mode or Duran Duran, which I consider “nostalgia acts” to the chagrin of friends). Home Counties – named after the counties that surround London – is a “day in the life” tour of the area… and it’s one of Saint Etienne’s best albums. They’re getting up there in age – Sarah Cracknell turns 51 in April – so one has to wonder if this might be their last album. If so, what a way to go out! For some reason, this album, to me, echoes their entire catalog. “Dive”, for example, reminds me of their early, “60’s revival” work, while “Underneath the Apple Tree” seems to hearken back to the “electronic English folk” era of Tiger Bay. And the album’s best song – “Out of My Mind” – is a total belter, made all the better by the (ironic?) fact that once you hear it, you won’t be able to get it out of your mind. Bob, Pete and Sarah have spent 27 years searching for the perfect pop song, and they might have just found it. I adore this album from start to finish, and you will, too!

Honorable Mentions

With the caveat that “EPs aren’t albums”:

Heaven – Lonesome Town EP
Public Memory – Veil of Council EP
Pale Honey – Devotion

Continue reading “My Top Albums Of 2017”

Brainiac Musicians

In this post from 2013 I talked about the hottest brainiacs – that is, female academics and engineers who just happened to be pretty in addition to being smart as a whip. In this post, I want to talk about musicians who are surprisingly smart. Let’s do this:

Amelia Fletcher is a British singer and songwriter, known for being in a string of bands in the 90s, including Talulah Gosh, Marine Research, Tender Trap and (most famously) Heavenly. Looking at it from afar, you might wonder why Fletcher was in so many bands, or why she seemed to quit one as soon as the band started getting famous. That’s because Fletcher was getting a doctorate in economics from Oxford, and could only be in a band as time permitted. In 2001 she was named chief economist at the Office of Fair Trading, roughly analogous to America’s Federal Trade Commission. In 2013 she was named “Professor of Competition Policy” at the University of East Anglia.

Like Fletcher, Ladytron’s Mira Aroyo also studied for her doctorate at Oxford. Unlike Fletcher, Aroyo quit after deciding that the lab work needed to get a doctorate in genetics was much less fun than being in a band. Rumors persist in some circles that she’s still in school, or that she went back and got her doctorate, but these are untrue. In an interview with The Sunday Mail she said “I was a geneticist doing a PhD and realizing lab work wasn’t for me. We were doing Ladytron at the same time and I was enjoying it more. It was easier and more fun”.

After being unceremoniously dumped by British New Wave band Japan, guitarist Rob Dean tried forming a few bands with limited success, including “Illustrated Man”, with Gang of Four’s former drummer, Hugo Burnham. Dean played on a couple famous albums, including Gary Numan’s 1981 album Dance and Sinéad O’Connor’s debut The Lion and the Cobra in 1987. Not getting anywhere in the music industry, Dean left the UK and moved to Central America where, as “Robert Dean”, he has become one of the leading experts on local birds. In 2007 he illustrated The Birds Of Costa Rica: A Field Guide, and in 2010 he illustrated The Birds of Panama: A Field Guide.

The early 80s British “swing revival” band Roman Holliday is mostly known in the UK for their Top 20 hit “Don’t Try to Stop It”. In the US they’re known for their song “Stand By”: although it only reached #54 on the Billboard charts, the music video was played heavily on MTV in 1983. The band’s guitar player, Brian Bonhomme, is now a professor of Russian history at Youngstown State University in Ohio.

Like most parents, Lauren Mayberry’s folks insisted that she get a college degree as something to fall back on if her music career didn’t pan out. Mayberry didn’t just get one, she got two: a bachelor of laws degree and a masters in journalism. She even won an award in 2010 from the Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland for an article she wrote about body piercing safety practices. Not that she needed to: her band, CHVRCHES, is doing quite well, thanks! [NOTE: in most English-speaking countries outside the United States, one can get a “bachelor of laws” degree which, with passing the bar, is all one needs to become a lawyer.]

Lastly, Dan Spitz – lead guitarist and songwriter for Anthrax – left the band in 1995 to pursue an education and career in… watchmaking. He attended the prestigious Watchmakers of Switzerland Training and Educational Program (WOSTEP) on a full scholarship, where he was awarded the title of “Master Watchmaker of Mechanical Complications Specialist”. This is serious business: we’re not talking about Spitz being able to assemble a watch from a kit: he can design (and build) highly precise mechanical watches from scratch! Neat, huh?

An Open Letter to Spotify

Dear Spotify:

You know how some families have two children, and one child is a straight-A student who gets in to Stanford… while the other child is a ne’er do well who’s been to jail at least once and still lives at home… yet, paradoxically, the parents are always riding the successful kid’s ass?

You, Spotify, are that successful kid. You’ve grown from nothing to become the most successful music streaming service in the world. You’ve literally changed the way I consume music, and – in a very real sense – you’ve changed my life. You’re standing at the precipice of greatness.

But you’re not perfect. Nothing ever is, really. Which is why I’m constantly complaining about you. Not because you’re awful… but because you’re so close to becoming The One True Music Service. It’s like you have victory inches from your grasp, and you don’t even see it.

So here’s a laundry list of things you could do to to become truly great:

For starters, get rid of the 10,000 song limit. If you’re not familiar with how Spotify works, there’s a “Your Music” section of the app which lets you “save” albums and singles to your account. So instead of having to search for an album every time you want to hear it, you can “save” it to an easily-accessible list of albums in your account. I keep putting “save” in quotes because the app isn’t really saving anything: it just creates a shortcut to the album in your account, not unlike a browser bookmark. Spotify limits the total number of songs in “Your Music” to 10,000 for some reason (Apple Music’s limit is 100,000). There’s no engineering or data storage reason why Spotify can’t allow you to save 100,000 songs to your account, too. And, if you think about it, it actually makes sense for Spotify to raise the limit: the more music you have in your account, the more invested in Spotify you become, and the less likely you are to switch to a competing service.

Secondly, Spotify should really consider a cloud storage option. No music service has everything. Some artists sign exclusive agreements with one service. Some artists, like Peter Gabriel and Prince, eschew streaming completely. A few albums temporarily disappear while the service renegotiates its contract with a record label, much like how TV channels can disappear from cable lineups while networks and cable companies argue over carriage fees. Some albums were put out by labels that have since gone out of business, and the rights holders can’t be easily found. And most music fans have at least some music that’s “too obscure” or “too sketchy” for a streaming service. I’m not just talking about my treasured MP3s of 86, an Atlanta post-rock band from the 80s that no one remembers – I’m also talking about live bootlegs, demo tapes, etc.

Apple Music and Google Play Music both have apps that scan your local music and upload any songs missing from their catalogs. That way, all the music you’ve collected over the years – the bootlegs, the rare remixes, the fan club singles, the vinyl rips of albums that never made it to CD, much less streaming – becomes part of Apple or Google’s cloud. You can stream it to any device at any time. From the end user’s point of view, it becomes part of Apple Music or Google Play Music’s catalog.

Spotify’s solution to the problem is much less elegant. You can integrate local files into the desktop app, and you can add local files to playlists. If you sync that playlist to a mobile device – but only on the same Wi-Fi network as the desktop app – the local files will be copied to your device. So if you create a playlist which contains 2GB of local files, that playlist will take up 2GB of storage space on your device… which defeats the entire purpose of a “streaming service”. With Google Play Music – which allows you to upload up to 50,000 local songs – those files would take up zero space, ‘cos Google’s streaming it to you from the cloud.

Even worse – and this is something Redditors at /r/Spotify just don’t seem to get – once you leave your Wi-Fi network, that music is simply inaccessible. Example: my all-time favorite version of The Cure’s “A Forest” is from The Cure in Orange concert. I have In Orange on Laserdisc, and ripped that track to mp3 years ago. The song has been uploaded to my Google Play Music account. So if I’m at a friend’s house, and we’re sitting around listening to music via Bluetooth speaker and we get a random urge to hear it, I just open GPM and stream it. With Spotify, I could add it to a playlist and listen at a friend’s house… but only if I had the foresight to sync it to my phone before I left. Otherwise I’m just out of luck. I don’t know how much it would cost for Spotify to add the ability to upload 20,000 or 50,000 songs, but they need to do it. Every time I exit Spotify and open GPM just to play one song is a chance Google has to get me to switch. But if Spotify goes public sometime soon, that sweet, sweet IPO money could get something like this going.

While I’m here, Spotify please don’t stratify your accounts. If you do get around to adding cloud storage, don’t create a new “$14.99/month Spotify + Cloud” plan. Either figure out a way to include it in the $9.99/month Premium plan or increase the cost of Premium to $12.99/month. Or whatever you have to do. My point is, don’t make it more complicated. I wasn’t a paying customer when you had Free, Unlimited and Premium plans, but every time I read about it my head hurts. And I still don’t really know the difference between “Free on Mobile Phones” vs. “Free on Tablets and Other Devices” accounts. It doesn’t really matter, since I’ve got Premium… but just… keep it simple.

Speaking of “simple”, could you please post changelogs somewhere? Like any app, Spotify has bugs. It also gets new features. It sure would be nice if you published lists of bug fixes and new features with every version of the app so end users could know if that weird bug has finally been fixed. Spotify sometimes changes the way things work, and it sure would be nice to be able to go to the app’s page on Google Play and to get confirmation that yes, something has changed, and here’s how it works now.

Next, you guys should fix the apps. On paper, Spotify’s apps are great, and work on multiple platforms, like Windows, Mac, Android, Roku and more. But each has its own share of bugs and quirks. There was a 2-3 month stretch where Spotify’s Android app would take forever to start up on Wi-Fi. It was fine over LTE, and the bug affected all my Android devices, not just my phone. And we’ve got a 200Mbps connection with a decent router that can stream multiple Netflix HD feeds over Wi-Fi no problem. The problem seemed to go away for a while, but still comes back from time to time. The Roku app still can’t scrobble. The Windows app has always taken forever to start (although I disabled the Friends pane, which speeds it up some). Just sit down with your developers and figure out a way to make them faster and more reliable. If that means a new development environment, so be it.

And lastly, a personal beef: the gift card situation in the United States. Some people prefer not using credit cards online if they don’t have to. I’ve paid for my phone service with Virgin Mobile Top-Up cards for almost 8 years, and it works because Virgin cards are available everywhere: Walmart, Target, Publix, Bi-Lo, CVS, Walgreens, Lowe’s, QuikTrip and more. There’s a 99% chance I’ll go to one of those stores at least once a month, so it’s no problem to pick one up. However, finding Spotify gift cards is almost impossible. Best Buy is the only B&M store I know of that sells them, so I have to make a special trip to buy a card. This is especially galling for two reasons: 1) Spotify cards are sold everywhere in Europe; and 2) Shops like CVS carry all sorts of “marginal” online cards. Are people still buying Facebook Game cards? Are Groupon cards a big seller? Is the Nintendo Network a big seller? If not, why aren’t Spotify cards replacing them? Again, you should be making it easier for your customers, not harder. And having options is a good thing, especially since you already have the tech on your site to redeem gift cards.

I didn’t quite say this in my opening, Spotify, so I’ll say it now: I love you. I love you with all my heart. It’s a rare day that I don’t open Spotify and listen to some tunes while running errands, or doing household chores or writing articles like these. I want you to succeed. You’re the best app that ever happened to me! I just wish you’d pay a little attention to some of the points I’ve raised. You’re a sexy supermodel, Spotify… but you’re a sexy supermodel who chews with her mouth open.


Jim Cofer

My Top Albums Of 2016

Sorry this post is so late – I typically try to get it out sometime in late December… but between shopping, other holiday stuff, and being sick as a dog for a couple weeks, I just didn’t have it in me to write this until now.

So… I called 2014 a “down year for music”, then called 2015 “even worse”. Well, it seems like 2016 was a bit of a “recovery year”. While it wasn’t one for the ages, I actually did have trouble picking out just ten albums for this list. And, as always, there are Last.fm stats after the list.

 My Top Albums of 2016

10) Xiu Xui – Xui Xui Plays the Music of Twin Peaks – When I was a teen, I went though a “noise music” phase. Current 93, Einstürzende Neubauten, Nurse With Wound… that sort of thing. Xui Xui is just as “challenging” as those bands. They’re certainly not everyone’s cup of tea, and I certainly wouldn’t blame you for any “WTF?” comments. But while Xui Xui is “just okay” in my book, I really liked this album. The constraints of having to cover Angelo Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks soundtrack not only kept them from going totally off the rails, it actually adds something to the music to hear Xui Xui cover it. This is almost like a David Lynch fever dream. Again, I won’t fault you for not liking it, but this is certainly one of the most “innovative” albums of the year.

9) David Bowie – Blackstar – Honesty time: I love Bowie’s 70s music. He was indeed an innovator and challenger of the status quo, not just in music, but also, in his own way, of culture itself. Yet, I just couldn’t get in to any of Bowie’s work after Let’s Dance. He’s just “not my thing”. I only include this album on the list: a) to pacify any of my friends who might read this list and go nuts at its omission; and b) as an overall tribute to all the great musicians who died in 2016.

8) Memoryhouse – Soft Hate – Memoryhouse is one of those bands I really should like. After all, they kinda sound like Beach House, and I like Beach House, right? Yet, despite several honest attempts to listen to their music, it just never “clicked” with me… that is, until this year’s Soft Hate. I can’t quite put my finger on why that is, though. This album is self-released, so maybe someone at SubPop tried pushing them in a direction they didn’t want to go. I dunno. All I know is, I like this.

7) Julianna Barwick – Will – Man, Julianna Barwick hits it out of the park.. again! I can’t be arsed to check, but I’m pretty certain that all three of her albums – The Magic Place, Nepenthe and now Will – have made it to my “best of” lists in their respective release years. I could try to come up with a million adjectives to describe her music – “dreamy”, “atmospheric”, “ethereal”, “unearthly”, “angelic”, “elegiac”… but if you’ve never heard her before all you need to know is this: ya know those beautiful (but tiny) snippets of music that you used to hear between This Mortal Coil songs? She has albums full of the stuff, and it’s fantastic.

6) Warpaint – Heads Up – The ladies from L.A. are back, and with a bang, too. Heads Up is a terrific album, but most of the hype on this disc comes from the lead-off single, “New Song” which is just… ON FIRE! The rest of the album holds its own, but nothing else even approaches the awesomeness of “New Song”. Not that it could. Still, it’s a solid effort all around, rather than one of those “one great song and 10 filler songs” albums. Good job, ladies! Can’t wait to hear what’s next!

5) Ladyhawke – Wild Things – New Zealand’s Pip Brown is back! And although she’s back to her synth-heavy sound after a brief detour with the somewhat guitar-heavy Anxiety, she still has the same problem: the singles off Wild Things are fantastic songs you can listen to over and over again… but the rest of the album is pretty weak. “A Love Song” and “Sweet Fascination” are easily two of my favorite songs of the year… yet “Let It Roll”, “Hillside Avenue”, “Wild Things” and the rest of the album is just… fine, I guess. Like a good dinner at Applebee’s.

4) Still Corners – Dead Blue – Man, where did these guys come from? I know, I know: the UK. But their music is almost… addictive. This is one of those albums you can listen to and think “yeah, this is OK”. But 20 minutes later, you’ve got this song or that song in your head. So you listen again. And the next thing you know, you’ve listened to the album 14 times in a row! While a song like “Down with Heaven and Hell” showcases what this band can do, there really isn’t a bad song on this disc. I’ve been a fan since 2013’s Strange Pleasures – and I’m STILL kicking myself for not paying $8 to see them at Snug Harbor because it was on a Tuesday and I’m lame. I won’t make that mistake again. This album is totally its own thing, yet I can hear echoes of the best of Cocteau Twins and other 4AD bands. It makes me happy and nostalgic at the same time.

3) Postiljonen – Reverie – I loved Postiljonen’s debut album, Skyer, so much so that it was #6 on my “best of 2013” list. But Skyer was a mix of upbeat synthpop tunes and slow, dreamy songs. I much preferred the former over the latter. Yet this Swedish band seemed to do the opposite on this disc. “Go!” is an almost-dancable tune, but the rest of the album – while eminently listenable and beautiful – is just a bit too sedate for my tastes. That’s not a knock, exactly. It just means that this disc is something you have to be in a chill-out mood for, instead of something you can do chores to.

2) Mint Julep – Broken Devotion – I’ve “been into” music for 30 years, and yet I’m still surprised how a band can appear out of nowhere and just wedge their way into the #2 spot on your “best of” list. I’d never even heard of this band, until that fateful night when Spotify recommended it to me. Wow! Thanks, Spotify! This disc is just… intricately-layered electronic nirvana with some lovely vocals thrown in to boot! It’s even one of those albums where a song starts and you think “oh, I’m not going to like this at all”… yet you do. The album has 9 lovely original songs, but I think their cover of When in Rome’s “The Promise” is the best introduction to the band one could possibly have:

1) Marsheaux – Ath.Lon – Surprise, surprise: my favorite band of the 2010s got their second #1 album of the year! Guys, I wish I could explain my love for this band to you, but the best analogy I’ve yet come up with is a teenage crush. Remember that? When your heart was so full you thought it was going to burst, and all you could think about in any given moment was her (or him)? I have that same exact feeling when I listen to this band. Hell, I even feel that way when talking about them: “yeah I never woulda thought The One would be a synthpop band from Greece, but… here we are”! And this album… well, it just might be their best one yet. I’m not 100% sold on the opening track – “Burning” – but I can listen to the rest of the album over and over and over again (and, according to Last.fm, I did just that this year). This band just has… that sound, man, that certain “it”. There are a ton of electronic bands out there that sound exactly like something from the 80s. Hell, many of them even go so far as to have 80s style cover art, complete with album names written in “laser beams” above computer-generated checkerboards. But somehow, Marsheaux manages to sound so much like those early 80s electronic bands, yet fully modern at the same time. How they manage to do it I’ll never know… I just hope they never stop doing it! This is a band I’m helplessly, hopelessly deeply in love with.

“Safe Tonight”, the first single off the album:

“Like a Movie”, a split-screen video with one band member in Athens, the other in London (hence the album’s name, Ath.Lon):

My favorite song on the album, the totally dreamy “Mediterranean”:

Honorable Mentions

Chromatics – Just Like You EP
The Colorist & Emiliana Torrini – The Colorist & Emiliana Torrini
Montmartre – Hope
Nice as Fuck – Nice as Fuck
Nite Jewel – Liquid Cool
Pylon – Live
Shura – Nothing’s Real

Continue reading “My Top Albums Of 2016”

The True Story of “A Forest”

If you’re a fan of The Cure, you might have had the pleasure of seeing their over the top live version of “A Forest”. The original version – from the band’s second album, Seventeen Seconds – clocks in at 5:55. Live versions can run as long as 15 minutes. And why not? It’s one of the band’s most popular tunes, and the song’s moody, spartan atmosphere makes it ripe to extend by several minutes.

But unless you’re a hardcore Cure fan, you might not know that the extended live version of the song was neither accident nor artistic decision. It was improvised to flip a finger at Robert Palmer.

The Cure played a festival called Rock Werchter in Werchter, Belgium on July 5, 1981. A couple of local acts opened, followed by The Undertones, Toots and the Maytals, and then Elvis Costello. The Cure played, to be followed by Robert Palmer and Dire Straits.

It’s come to my attention that not everyone remembers Robert Palmer. Born in England, he was a moderately successful funk rock singer who went huge after a few giant hits in the 80s, like “Addicted to Love”… which was known as much for the video as the song itself:

Anyway, as it often happens at festivals, the bands started running behind. Before The Cure even went on, Palmer’s road crew started hassling them about keeping their set short. During the set, various members of Palmer’s crew kept motioning to the band to speed it up or, later on, end it already. After The Cure finished the penultimate song of their set – “A Play for Today” – a member of Palmer’s crew rushed on stage and threatened to cut the power if The Cure didn’t leave.

The Cure, of course, didn’t take too kindly to this. Robert Smith introduced their final song thusly:

“This is the final song because we’re not allowed to carry on anymore, ‘cos everybody wants to see Robert Palmer… I think. It’s called ‘A Forest’.”

Just to be dicks, The Cure improvised an almost 10 minute version of the song:

At the end of the song, you can hear Cure member Simon Gallup scream “Fuck Robert Palmer! Fuck rock n’ roll!” Palmer’s people had the last laugh, though, tossing all The Cure’s equipment off the back of the stage.

Over the years, the band has refined the live version of the song. Where the Werchter version is raw and improvised, later versions were much more cohesive, like this version from 1992:


In this post from 2013, I talked about a mysterious record called “Ready ‘n’ Steady” by a band called “D.A.”. What made the record so mysterious was that it hit Billboard magazine’s “Bubbling Under” chart on June 16, 1979… but no one had ever even seen a copy of the record, much less owned one. Even Joel Whitburn – a music historian who has worked with Billboard for decades, making a career out of publishing Bilboard-based reference books – didn’t have a copy. And Whitburn owns a copy of every other record that’s ever appeared on the Billboard charts!

Billboard Chart
Blatantly stolen from mix931fm.com

Well, consider the mystery solved. According to this post, the Lost Media Wiki posted the following information a few weeks ago:

The artists of the song turned out to be Dennis Armand “D. A.” Lucchesi (1945-2005), a California-based mortgage broker and amateur musician, and Jim Franks. Franks is still alive, and willingly gave Paul Haney (on behalf of Whitburn) a recording of the song. It was played on July 8, 2016, on the Crap from the Past radio show on KFAI in Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota.

According to Haney (who appeared on Crap from the Past, explaining the history behind the song), he had spoken with Franks, who told him that the song (as well as three or four other songs) was recorded in 1979 after a major label representative witnessed the band play live. He offered the band studio time and promised that he would help the band get a song on the Billboard charts. Despite its appearance on the charts, the song was never pressed onto vinyl. Because of this, it is unknown if the song even received radio play at the time of its recording.

This kind of raises new questions, though. If it was never pressed into vinyl, how did radio stations play it, and if they didn’t, how did it reach the Billboard charts?

Someone uploaded the song to YouTube. I can’t even begin to describe how disappointing the song is… but here it is, if you wanna listen:

Spotify, Marshmallow and SD Cards

One of the main selling points of Spotify Premium is the ability to download albums and playlists for offline listening. If you’re taking a long plane flight or going on a road trip, for example, you can download the music so you don’t have to worry about having access to Wi-Fi or LTE to listen to your tunes.

On previous versions of Android, Spotify would look for the storage device on your phone\tablet with the most free space, and save your offline music there. For most folks, this would be a microSD card. Hell, apps like Spotify Premium are one of the main reasons Android users install 32GB (or larger) SD cards in their devices in the first place.

If you’re using Marshmallow – Android 6.0, currently the latest version – you may have noticed Spotify storing music on your device’s internal storage instead of the SD card. This is especially worrying for people who don’t have a lot of spare space on their phones… but even if you do have space, it’s kind of annoying to spend money on an SD card, only to have Spotify ignore it.

What’s happening is that Marshmallow, by default, does not allow apps to access the SD card. The app may request permission, but if you accidentally click “no”, or if the app installer doesn’t ask (or somehow fudges it up during install), it won’t use external storage at all.

So… what to do about Spotify and offline music?

If you DO NOT have Spotify installed, go ahead and install it from Google Play, but don’t open it yet. Instead go to Settings > Apps > Spotify and look for the “Permissions” section:

Spotify Permissions 01

The section will probably say “No permissions granted”. If so, tap it and move the “Storage” slider to the ON position:

Spotify Permissions 02

Exit out of all that, then start Spotify and log in. The app should now save offline music to the SD card. You might want to verify this by tapping Settings > Storage and checking the available space on your SD card before and after downloading some music.

If you ALREADY HAVE Spotify installed on your device, tap Settings > Apps > Spotify > Force stop. Wait for the app to close, then tap “Storage” then “Clear data”. Then go back a page and tap “Permissions” and enable “Storage”, as shown above. When you restart Spotify, you will need to log in again. You’ll also have to download all your offline music again, but this time it should be saved to your SD card instead of internal storage.

My Top Albums Of 2015

If 2014 was “something of a down year for music”, then 2015 was even worse. I listened to as much music as ever… but most of it was from years past. My second most played album of the year was CHVRCHES’ The Bones of What You Believe, from 2013, while other albums from 2013, 2006, 2012 and 1983 rounded out my overall top 10. In recent years, I could easily come with at least 15-18 candidates for this list; this year I struggled – mightily – to come up with 10. I even briefly considered making this a “Top 8” or “Top 6” instead of the traditional 10!

Below are my Top 10 albums of the year. After that you’ll find selected stats from my Last.fm page.

My Top Albums of 2015

10) New Order – Music Complete – I didn’t love this album, but you know what? It didn’t totally suck, which is more than I can say for New Order’s last two (or three) albums. I think the band struck a pretty good balance on this album: sounding like the old New Order I loved so much, but not sounding like a retread of all those old songs from the 80s. They didn’t do anything wild and crazy or unconventional on this album… but that’s OK. It’s good enough as it is.

9) Priest – Priest – Priest is a synthpoppy band from Orlando made up of singer Madeline Priest and producer David Kazyk. Priest herself shows promise, and could be one of the up-and-comers on the synthpop scene. However, while this album shows flashes of brilliance, it also shows signs of being overproduced and worryingly mainstream. It’s one of those discs that starts off great, and you want to hear more. But by track 5 you’re like “OK, I’ve heard this. Time for something else”. Still, it’s worth a listen… and it’s worth keeping your eye on Madeline in the future.

8) (tie) Sarah Cracknell – Red Kite and Pete Wiggs – How We Used to Live – It’s a Saint Etienne two-fer! Just the other day I realized I’ve been listening to Saint Etienne for almost 18 years… which made me feel really old. Sure, there are a lot of bands I’ve listened to longer – I’ve been a Duran Duran fan for 33 years, for example. But I only discovered Saint Etienne after I graduated from college… which somehow seems so much longer ago than liking Duran Duran since elementary school. So yeah, the band took a hiatus this year, allowing lead singer Sarah Cracknell to release her third solo album – Red Kite – and fellow bandmate Pete Wiggs to release How We Used to Live, the soundtrack to Paul Kelly’s 2013 film of the same name, which celebrates life in London from 1950 to 1980. Like most of Cracknell’s solo efforts, the album starts out well, and kind of ends with a whimper. Plus, there’s something that’s just so… girly about her solo stuff. I don’t know how else to describe it, but that’s how I feel. I love Sarah and her music, but bandmates Pete Wiggs and Bob Stanley give the band’s music an “edge” (or maybe an “oomph”) Sarah’s music lacks on its own. As for Wiggs’ soundtrack, it’s interesting stuff. It’s not something you’d throw on for the hell of it – I can’t picture myself doing household chores to it – but it’s great “thinking music”. Tune in, space out.

7) Marsheaux – A Broken Frame – If you’ve spent any time at all following my music tastes, you’ll know that this Greek synthpop duo are one of my faves from the past couple years. Even though I didn’t listen to them nearly as much this year as I have in the recent past, they still hold a very comfortable lead in my “most scrobbled band ever” stats on Last.fm. If the title of their newest album sounds familiar, it should: the girls decided to cover Depeche Mode’s 1982 classic… like, the whole thing. And it’s good. Quite good, actually. The girls pay a beautiful homage to one of their most influential artists, yet make it their own at the same time. The only reason it doesn’t rank higher this year is because it’s a cover. As nice as this album is, I want original content from these ladies, and maybe we’ll get that in 2016.

6) Beach House – Depression Cherry – I like Beach House as much as the next guy, and I think this is a solid effort. But lemme toss this out at ya: my girl just bought a new (used) car that came with a free trial of SiriusXM. I really like the SiriusXMU station, but one day I noticed that I really couldn’t tell one Beach House song from another. I’m only partially joking. So listen to this album; it’s good stuff, but it all runs together after a while.

5) Pale Blue – The Past We Leave Behind – Pale Blue is mainly Mike Simonetti, a man who started his own record label in 1993. While the label initially focused on hardcore punk stuff, it later expanded to include many other genres. He became interested in synthpop, and formed a label called Italians Do It Better with Johnny Jewel, producer for Chromatics and Glass Candy. Pale Blue is Simonetti, with help from vocalists Elizabeth Wight and Jana Hunter. The Past We Leave Behind kind of tells you everything you need to know about the album: it’s bittersweet, airy, lonely, and downright elegiac at times. It’s not life changing, but then, one gets the notion that’s it’s not supposed to be. I’m not entirely sure it works as a full album, though. I get the feeling that, had Simonetti pared it down to six tracks and called it an EP, it’d be in the running for record of the year. But this disc never wears out its welcome… it just hangs around a bit too long for comfort. I do, however, look forward to a follow-up. Should the stars align just right, these folks could be magic.

4) Best Coast – California Nights – Bethany Cosentino finally got her hit! Best Coast have been rocking their special blend of jangle pop and surf rock since 2009, and while they were instantly popular with the in-crowd, they seemed to just miss hitting the mainstream. Until now. As soon as this album came out, the band started appearing everywhere, especially the late night talk show circuit. And why not? The album is full of fun fuzz rock, running the gambit from “stuff you can work out to” to “slow and wistful”. The problem with this band, however, is what Pitchfork called “diminishing returns”. Bethany and Bobb appear to be very nice people, but one wonders how many more albums they can crank out in their current configuration. You ever listen to Bob Dylan or Pink Floyd and wonder what the message behind the lyrics is, as if they were speaking almost totally in allegories? Yeah, that’s not a problem with Best Coast. Cosentino is as straightforward a lyricist as it gets, and she often makes Katy Perry’s lyrics seem like Keats in comparison. And when I wonder if their music alone can carry them, I’m inclined to say no. Still, California Nights just might be the high water mark of their careers.

3)  Gliss – Pale Reflections – It’s hard to pin down this Danish-American band. Their early albums were a lot of damn noise. But then they went and made Langstrom Dans in 2013, an album I really, really loved. It wasn’t quite as heavy, repetitive and “stuck in the mud” as most shoegaze stuff. It was almost like some kind soul took the best parts of shoegaze, knocked the cruft off the rest and made it much more accessible. Pale Reflections seems to be a compromise between the band’s early sound and that of Langstrom Dans. It’s not nearly as… “dreamy” as Dans, but it’s not the “in your face” sound from their earlier discs, either. At times, you’d almost think you were listening to their fellow countrymen, The Raveonettes… and that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

2) CHVRCHES – Every Open Eye – Confession time: I didn’t like CHVRCHES the first few times I heard them. The rest of the synthpop subreddit went nuts over them, but I just didn’t get it. Until one day, when I did get it. And CHVRCHES have been my most listened-to band since. I’ve played the hell out of The Bones of What You Believe, and spent much of the summer hyperventilating over their next album. And then it came and… it was pretty good. The tracks I love on this disc, I really love. But the ones I don’t like so much.. I really don’t like. So while I can’t seem to tire of “Leave a Trace” or “Clearest Blue”, I hit always hit the skip button on “High Enough to Carry You Over”, which is something I didn’t do with any of the tracks on Bones. According to Last.fm, I played tracks off Every Open Eye 114 times since September, but that’s mostly just 3 or 4 songs. I don’t think CHVRCHES are in some kind of sophomore slump… I guess I just expected too much. Hype can do that.

1) Purity Ring – Another Eternity – Holy shit… where have you guys been all my life? Purity Ring are Canadians Megan James and Corin Roddick, and their music is… sublime. Beautiful. Transcendent. It’s every damn thing you could want in electronic music. I’ve traditionally been one of those people who has to listen to an album 2-3 times before I like it, but Another Eternity sucked me in from the very first instant, and never let go. Much like the premiere of Mad Men, I felt inexplicably drawn into this universe, only in this case it’s a world of shimmering synthesizers and drum machines. It was only after the first 2-3 listens that I realized that the band are on 4AD Records, and that explained it all. If Purity Ring aren’t “Cocteau Twins you can dance to”, they are certainly the spiritual successors of the name, and they are worthy of such praise. And unlike Every Open Eye, every damn track on Another Eternity is good. I certainly have my favorites, but I won’t skip over any tracks on this disc, and often just listen all the way through… one of the only discs released this year I do that with. As a bonus, their live show is amazing: James makes all the costumes herself, and both she and Roddick play custom-built synths, including one that looks a bit like a minimalist Christmas tree that lights up when struck with a drumstick. Even if it wasn’t the only concert I’ve been to this year, it would certainly be the best.

Raw Data from Last.fm

All playcounts are in parenthesis

Most Played Artists

1) CHVRCHES (352)
2) Purity Ring (286)
3) Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark (148)
4) Marsheaux (119)
5) Postiljonen (106)
6) 10,000 Maniacs (105)
7) The Sounds (102)
8) Gliss (87)
9) The Raveonettes (78)
10) Saint Etienne (73)

Most Played Albums Overall

1) Purity Ring – Another Eternity (2015) (230)
2) CHVRCHES – The Bones of What You Believe (2013) (131)
3) CHVRCHES – Every Open Eye (2015) (114)
4) Postiljonen – Skyer (2013) (98)
5) Pale Blue – The Past We Leave Behind (2015) (65)
6) The Sounds – Dying to Say This to You (2006) (64)
7) Best Coast – California Nights (2015) (62)
8) Purity Ring – Shrines (2012) (55)
9) Sarah Cracknell – Red Kite (2015) (47)
10) Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark – Dazzle Ships (1983) (46)

Most Played 2015 Albums

1) Purity Ring – Another Eternity (230)
2) CHVRCHES – Every Open Eye (114)
3) Pale Blue – The Past We Leave Behind (65)
4) Best Coast – California Nights (62)
5) Sarah Cracknell – Red Kite (47)
6) Gliss – Pale Reflections (43)
7) Pete Wiggs – Saint Etienne Presents: How We Used to Live (37)
8) Soko – My Dreams Dictate My Reality (28)
9) Say Lou Lou – Lucid Dreaming (22)
10) Marsheaux – A Broken Frame (21)

Most Played Tracks

1) Purity Ring — “Begin Again” (75)
2) Postiljonen — “We Raise Our Hearts” (63)
3) CHVRCHES — “Leave a Trace” (49)
4) The Sounds — “Painted By Numbers” (46)
5) CHVRCHES — “Get Away” (42)
6) Owl Eyes — “Nightswim” (41)
7) CHVRCHES — “Recover” (37)
8) Purity Ring — “Bodyache” (36)
9) The Sounds — “Living in America” (33)
10) CHVRCHES — “Clearest Blue” (32)