2021: A Music Odyssey

Hi everyone, it’s Ryan. You’re forgiven if you don’t remember, because it has been a literal trip around the sun since I have posted here last. I’d like to tell you that this will be the “post to end all posts”, my magnum opus, or a transcendent Pulitzer-winning work that justifies the long absence because it is the fruits of a whole year’s worth of labor (a labor of love). It won’t be any of those. However, I have been giving it the old college try to bring you guys some good content. So without further ado, let’s get into it.

Best 50 Songs of 2021

To avoid holding anyone in suspense, I’ll first give you the playlist: the 50 best songs I heard this year, each from a different artist.

Because I have a lot of free time on the holidays and don’t have any productive use for it, I made a simple histogram tracking the distribution of number of streams each of these songs had on Spotify.

[these are as of the date 12/20/21]

I realize it’s crude, but this is work that is exactly at my pay grade. What I thought was interesting was that 13 songs I thought were the best of any song I heard all year had only been streamed 500,000 times or less, whereas a mere 5 songs had over 7.5 million plays. The majority (32) of songs fit somewhere in between 500,000 and 7.5 million.

The low numbers may be a product of simply the songs have not been out for that long. However, Taylor Swift’s 10-minute song “All Too Well” (at the time of writing) has garnered a big ol’ 140 million streams since being out for only 38 days. So inescapably, I did not select the most popular songs as the best.

There are a lot of potential reasons for this. 1) I could be horribly out of touch with society, and the songs I picked are nothing close to the best, meaning that streams is an appropriate barometer of quality. 2) I could have an accurate gauge of the “best,” and the people only appreciate hot, hot trash and don’t listen to the “best” music.

3) It could be that I actually do have good taste, but society would also like it and reward these songs with streams if only they knew about it, and it is purely marketing and lack of information that keeps these songs from Taylor Swift-level stream numbers.

I think the obvious answer is that all 3 apply to varying degrees, but part of the reason I do this is because I genuinely believe in phenomenon 3); that these artists deserve a little publicity because they are doing great, great things and are underappreciated. That is not to say that I try to lean towards songs with low streams to be altruistic. I do actually think they are the best in their own right. Especially so because me advocating on their behalf is not going to move the needle for their popularity literally at all.

Genre du Jour

In compiling all of the best music this year, I have noticed that there are some genres of music that are especially en vogue this year as compared to others. Whether that is more a reflection of my tastes, general industry trends, or some combination of the two, is up to you. I thought I would highlight them.

Post-Punk

Correct me if I’m wrong, but in my mind, post-punk as a genre really came into its own in the late seventies. It’s kind of a blanket term to describe alternatives to the general raucous punk acts of prior years (Ramones, Sex Pistols, etc.) and so there’s not a very specific sound. To me, it’s kind of a spectrum that ranges from Joy Division (a la “Unknown Pleasures”) to Talking Heads.

On the former end, it preserves the angst of punk but without the energy: bass melodies, guitar rhythms, and vocals closer to talking than proper singing.

On the latter end, punk was taken to it’s more exuberant side. It’s not as angsty, the beats are bouncier, and (like Joy Division) it’s talk-singing; but it’s in a better mood.

Jump to 2021, we’ve got acts who are implementing a combination of the two to good effect. They’re incorporating the buoyant melodies, talk-singing, and irreverent humor of the Talking Heads, but with some of the social malaise and angst that Joy Division provided. Here are the main offenders:

Yard Act

The new group out of Leeds’ best song, “Dark Days,” is driven with thumping drums and a disco-leaning guitar riff reminiscent of Talking Heads’ “Making Flippy Floppy.” However, frontman James Smith’s blunt and sardonic talk-singing disassociates them from David Byrne’s group. Their social commentary on paper reads as cynical, but the wry delivery from Smith lets you know they’re in good spirits regardless:

Copper’s ‘copters / Stopped us and shook us up and down / We know the graph too, we know the due process / They started discussin’ whether to let us off for doing nothin’ or / Maybe pop us for luck, like we might be hiding something and / The radio buzzed in / “They can’t come here man, we’re full up” / Thank fuck I bought you enough time not to get shot

shame

Hailing from South London, shame bring less of the of the languidness in some post-punk, and more of the brazen confidence that’s the calling card of irreverent youth. The melodies are boisterous and the singing is at a yell. However, it has a certain catchy funk that makes the aggression inviting too.

Dry Cleaning

Dry Cleaning, another London group, brings out bass-driven melodies with understated vocalism that makes lead singer Florence Shaw seem unbothered, even apathetic to even be singing. Add the left-of-center lyricism, Dry Cleaning’s songs are emotionally unavailable words with afflicting melodies. A groove for the jaded. The words themselves reflect this dichotomy:

“I’ve come to learn how to dance / I’ve come to join the knitting circle”

“Do everything and feel nothing”

Viagra Boys

These Swedes might be a bit closer to plain punk as opposed to post-, but I had to get them in here. This song just feels like one big joke, and there’s nothing more punk than taking down the establishment of sincere songwriting. It’s crass, it’s unmannerly, and we love to see it.

New Wave

That’s right; get your legwarmers on and your Tab soda out, we’re getting tubular with the synth, 80’s inspired songs that came out this year. I think this genre trend, more than others, has commonly influenced music that his come since it was “in.” However, this year it seems that acts are really giving full-blooded tributes to the era. And nothing is more 80’s than fully committing to the bit.

Mitski

Mitski, Japanese-American singer-songwriter, historically creates more analog indie rock, with folk or pop tendencies. However, with 2018’s album “Be the Cowboy,” Mitski starting utilizing synthetic sounds in the song “Washing Machine Heart.” That song went pretty well for her (with over 167 million streams on Spotify) and now she’s back with her second single from the upcoming album “Laurel Hill,” “The Only Heartbreaker.” Her sound most reminds me of Kim Wilde, singing over fast-paced, crescendo-ing electric riffs that are songs of heartbreak you can dance to. (The Spotify sample will only show the chorus for “Kids in America” – and it only really sounds similar in the verses. I recommend the full song so you don’t think I’m crazy.)

It also has some of this magic:

Mitski more or less follows this melodic framework, but lyrically and vocally distances herself from the passionate gravitas and gives us a cooler, more emotionally-detached performance.

Nation of Language

Nation of Language are a Brooklyn-based band who really lean into the 80’s aesthetic. Their sound heavily leans into the new wave milieu with an electronic, atmospheric sound. What really brings it into nostalgia is lead singer Ian Richard Devaney’s melodramatic, croon-y voice that captures new wave staples such as Morrisey, Simon Le Bon, and so many more. Influences that come to mind are the energetic, sharp synth beats of Devo, as well as the atmospheric, anthemic quality that Tears for Fears has.

“Across that Fine Line” really melds these two dynamics in their new wave homage, and doesn’t skimp out on the impassioned lyricism that makes the 80’s hit different. Here’s that sappy chorus:

And I’m watching you walk
Across that fine line
I died a hundred times
I reckon you could
Let it bleed
‘Cause I’m resigned

Beach House

Beach House has been making acclaimed electronic indie pop for over 15 years, and thankful for loyalists they did not overhaul their sound for the upcoming album “Once Twice Melody.” The Baltimore duo capitalize on their hugely successful hit “Space Song” and make another shoegaze-y, galactic track that could score your LCD trip to the Milky Way. In my mind, “Superstar” sounds like these slow-burn, new wave hits courtesy of Kate Bush and ‘Til Tuesday. The sounds differ in that they are more rock-based, but it’s more a mood thing. These songs make you feel like your life is a movie in the same way.

Beach House creates a similarly majestic or cinematic sound with their 6 minute track “Superstar,” however it gets there in a slightly different way with orchestral strings to create that expansive, dramatic feeling.

Sam Himself

Sam Himself, a Swiss transplant living in Brooklyn, embodies the new wave with the single “Nothing Like the Night” off of his debut album, “Power Ballads.” An aptly descriptive title, as Sam Himself delivers powerhouse songs through a combination of his Bruce Springsteen baritone and montage-ready, swelling arrangements. Here are two songs that, in my mind, are surely direct influences on Sam Himself and “Nothing Like the Night”

Alternative Rock Anthems

Some songs are just made for arenas: songs with the slow build-up, inspirational lyricism, and vocals that start soft but end in impassioned balladeering. They’re the kind of songs that are made with 10,000 swaying lighters (or more modernly, iPhone flashlights) in mind. And no matter what point in history, there’s always a place for a song with dry ice and light beams that brings the house down.

I’m sure I’m wrong, but I can’t think of a song that embodies the rock anthem as we know it today before The Who did it with Baba O’Reily.

Now that the genre has been established, enter Bruce Springsteen. The Boss made his brand on the kind of uplifting, heartland rock that Gen X’ers still get teary-eyed over.

Fast-forward to the 80’s: rock has died, pop dominates the charts. With synthesizers, disco, and the impending dominance of rap, rock has been relegated to the “alternative.” However, U2 is about to make the alternative mainstream with the worldwide sensation, “Joshua Tree.”

Into the 90’s, grunge and slacker culture dominate the rock scene and “the lost decade” doesn’t see enough action to inspire much of the glamor of arena rock. However, the 2000’s came along and The Killers with it. After initially making polished garage-rock for their debut album “Hot Fuss,” the group changes their sound for “Sam’s Town,” bringing back the anthem to the masses like it never left.

Now, today we’re seeing a little revival of acts picking up the mantel of where these stadium-fillers left off.

Sharon Van Etten &
Angel Olsen

Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen are two established rock stars in their own right. Long-time friends who formerly collaborated for a cover track on the recent Velvet Underground tribute album, the two team up again and recreate the vintage anthem. The song is a heavy dose of nostalgia, both in theme and in genre. There’s this tinkly music-box piano which creates a childhood-memory, reminiscent effect and there is the overt rose-tintedness of the lyrics:

Lighting one up like I used to
Dancing all alone like I used to
Giving it up like I used to
Falling in love like I used to

Open my heart like I used to
Making out long like I used to
Holding hands openly, rights to
Taking what’s mine like I used to

TORRES

TORRES, the stage name of Mackenzie Ruth Scott, embodies the sweeping emotion of an anthem song but with a different emotion. While “Like I Used To” was a dichotomy of the good times then and the bad times now, “Don’t Go Puttin Wishes in My Head” is about the love of someone who won’t commit to you. It’s romantic, but resentful; hopeful but defeating. Here’s the chorus:

I know promising forever’s not your thing
But now, if you don’t want me to go dreaming
Don’t spend your mornings and your evenings in my bed
If you don’t want me believing that you’re never gonna leave me, darling
Don’t go putting wishes in my head

Sam Fender

“Seventeen Going Under,” the title track of Fender’s second album tells of his experience attempting to financially support his mother after she couldn’t work due to illness. Having a tumultuous childhood, Fender takes that strife and flips it, making a cathartic ballad of identity and lessons learned. Fender cites Bruce Springsteen as a direct influence, and it’s evident.

Best Albums of the Year

While it’s one thing to make a single hit, but these artist put together cohesive albums that keep their zest through 9-12 songs. These are the albums of 2021 that are all rippers, no skippers.

1. Wolf Alice – Blue Weekend
On their third album, the London group doesn’t transform their sound so much as enhance it. With lush arrangements, overlaid vocals and slow-burn crescendos, Wolf Alice’s sound here is cinematic and simply big. While some songs are mosh-ready, hot and heavy punk songs (see “Smile” and “Play the Greatest Hits”), the album really shines with its emotional confessionals. Whether the songs are about taking back a cheater (“Lipstick on the Glass”) or a scathing attack on a man’s ego (“The Last Man on the Earth”), Ellie Roswell’s incisive lyrics and balladeering match the occasion of the dramatic compositions.
Favorite Track: The Last Man on the Earth
If you like: Alvvays, Yeah Yeah Yeahs

2. St. Vincent – Daddy’s Home
Annie Clarke with this album (and subsequent tour which I saw a show of) earned herself a spot on my list of “People Who I’d Thank for Punching Me in the Face.” Her sixth solo LP, Clarke reinvented her persona and look with a blonde shoulder-length bob and 70’s style; and the music matches. With inclusion of funk, soul and jazz to her typically experimental repertoire, Daddy’s Home is nostalgic but fresh at the same time. There is a distinct mood to the A-side versus the B-side, as Clarke starts the album with swaggering, sexy songs (see “Pay Your Way with Pain” and “Daddy’s Home”). However, the B-side is my personal favorite part of the album (maybe even because of the juxtaposition to the A-side) because it is more intimate and lounge-ier, with minimalistic instrumentation. This way, you’re more confronted with the lyrics of the song, such as Clarke’s reservations about motherhood (“My Baby Wants a Baby”) and a vignette about a 60-70’s transgender icon (“Candy Darling”) that are affecting.
Favorite Track: My Baby Wants a Baby
If you like: Weyes Blood, Alexandra Savior

3. Lunar Vacation – Inside Every Fig is a Dead Wasp
Lunar Vacation is a four-piece indie rock band from Atlanta, and IEFIADW is their debut. Though they have been releasing music since 2017, this is their first full-length album. The delay has served them well, as the album distinguishes itself from the typical indie rock album with it’s polish and eclectic-ness. Some songs have pop-sensibility (see “Mold” with a groovy bassline running through it, and “Cutting Corners” with a fast indie pop riff akin to heyday Two Door Cinema Club), while others are chill and contemplative (see “Making Lunch (Not Right Now)”).
Favorite Track: Mold
If you like: The Greeting Committee, Sjowgren

4. illuminati hotties – Let Me Do One More
What’s to love about Sarah Tudzin’s second album under the illiuminati hotties moniker is that you never get the impression that she is compromising or making any concessions (one song is titled “Mmmoooaaaayaya”). Every song you know is unabashedly her. Because she takes risks with every song, I don’t think they all hit; but the majority do and are a ton of fun. Tudzin makes high energy, irreverently humorous indie rock that is influenced by 00’s pop-punk (self-proclaimed “tenderpunk”). Some songs are more straight-forward pop-punk archetypes (see “Knead,” “Pool Hopping”) but some are more experimental. “u v v p,” featuring Buck Meek adds some Americana elements, while “Joni: LA’s No. 1 Health Goth,” a tribute to the idyllic “cool girl,” is a blistering shredder of pure punk. There’s even time to calm down with a slower track, “The Sway.”
Favorite Track: Joni: LA’s No. 1 Health Goth
If you like: The Beths, Beach Bunny

5. Snail Mail – Valentine
Snail Mail, A.K.A. Lindsey Jordan, follows up her self-titled debut (which came out when she was 18) with “Valentine.” Jordan says she titled it “Valentine” because there’s “nothing more tender and innocent” than referring to someone as a valentine in a “love-lost” way. It is an apt way to title it, as Jordan relies almost exclusively on romance thematically. However, Snail Mail shows more range musically this time around. With R&B beats (“Ben Franklin”), Orchestral strings (“Light Blue”) and Synthesizers (“Forever (Sailing)”), Jordan graduates from lo-fi indie rock to good effect.
Favorite Track: Madonna
If you like: Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus

6. Japanese Breakfast – Jubilee
Japanese Breakfast (A.K.A. Michelle Zauner) releases her third album in the wake of having written a New York Times bestseller. “Jubilee” as a title sets the tone for the buoyant, polished indie pop album. “Be Sweet” is the obvious radio hit, with catchy hooks and bouncy arrangements. It’s more subdued tracks still radiate charisma, equipped with toe-tapping melodies under Zauner’s intimate singing. (see “Slide Tackle,” “Savage Good Boy”)
Favorite Track: Be Sweet
If you like: Alice Phoebe Lou, Clairo

7. Remi Wolf – Juno
Wolf’s debut album is a fresh introduction. “Juno” is a slick pop album injected with humor, making it contagiously fun. “Sexy Villain” is basically a string of jokes about being hot and bad, “Grumpy Old Man” about being emotionally unavailable akin to curmudgeonly geriatric, and “Quiet On Set” is a self-assured homage to 00’s hip-hop (think “Run to the Sun” – N.E.R.D). It’s evident Wolf is enjoying herself in making these, and it’s infectious.
Favorite Track: Sexy Villain
If you like: [I dont know; what can I say – she’s one of a kind]

8. Durand Jones and the Indications – Private Space
Durand Jones’ group is exclusively his only by title, as it is really a two man co-ownership. In addition to Durand Jones’ Sam Cook-esque soulful vocals, there is also drummer Aaron Frazer, who released a solo album of real quality himself this year. Aaron Frazer joins in on lead singing on a couple of tracks (see “The Way That I Do” & “Ride or Die”). They make a complimentary pair, as Jones’ deep, scratchy vocals are juxtaposed by Frazer’s smooth falsetto, keeping every track interesting. The group follows what seems to be the natural progression for neo-soul groups: initially a 60’s Motown sound, and then progress into a 70’s funkier, sexier, disco-inspired album (see St. Paul and the Broken Bones & Leon Bridges). However, just because it’s been done doesn’t mean we all shouldn’t be appreciative.
Favorite Track: The Way That I Do
If you like: Leon Bridges, Black Pumas

9. Art D’Ecco – In Standard Definition
Art D’Ecco, hailing from Vancouver, British Columbia, is a glam rocker that has a knack for hook. Derivative of acts like T. Rex and Sparks, D’Ecco’s debut album is a piece of 80’s nostalgia that is brazenly confident and danceable. Which is only expectected from an artist that has songs titles like “I Am the Dance Floor” in his debut.
Favorite Track: Head Rush
If you like: T.Rex, Sparks (redundant, I know)

10. Nation of Language – A Way Forward
Nation of Language’s second album isn’t really very different from it’s debut, but hey – when it works it works. The Brooklyn band isn’t really reinventing the wheel here, but it’s a damn good wheel. It’s synthetic, new wave 80’s pop, and although filled with artificial sounds, lead singer Richard Devaney’s empassioned croon adds the humanity to make all of these tracks welcome advancements on the sounds of groups such as New Order and Devo.
Favorite Track: Wounds of Love
If you like: Future Islands, Black Marble, machinegum

New Artists to Watch

Again I also wanted to highlight a couple of artists that are new on the scene, and I think we should expect some exciting stuff from them in the future.

Wet Leg

Wet Leg chose their name by simply toying around with different emoji combinations, and the water droplets and leg combined stuck for them. This is the kind of nonchalance that makes the duo from Isle of Wight, UK so compelling. They blew up immediately after releasing their first single, “Chaise Longue” which typifies their unbothered, self-assured humor. With post-punk guitar riffs like The Strokes but with the attitude of No Doubt, “Chaise Longue” is an emphatic introduction to the scene.

Wet Leg follow it up with their second released single, “Wet Dream.” Another bona fide hit that alternates between grooving and rocking out, it’s bounce-around fun that is suited for both the garage and the big stage, somehow.

Their self-titled full debut is released April 8, 2022.

CMAT

CMAT has made a liar of me to all the people I’ve told “I don’t like that modern, pop-country.” To be fair, no one has done it the way Ciara Mary-Alice Thompson (thus CMAT) is. Dublin-born, and never yet having been to Nashville, CMAT makes what she calls “basterdized” country music, describing her style as “Dolly Parton meets Weird Al Yankovic, mixed with Katy Perry.” It’s goofy but sincere, extravagant but down to earth. And most of all, it’s catchy. CMAT first came to my attention with the 2020 single, “I Wanna Be a Cowboy, Baby!” which earned my ear by being based on an ICONIC vine:

“Oh, I wanna be a cowboy, baby

I wanna be a cowboy, baby

Spin round on the playground”

CMAT followed that up with “I Don’t Really Care for You,” a genuinely funny pop song about loathing both herself and the ex in the wake of an ended relationship.

I just spent seven hours looking at old pics of me

Tryna pinpoint where the bitch began

Somewhere after the Passion of Christ

And before I had an Instagram

In her latest single, CMAT warns herself against dating any more Virgos because they’ve all been bad news. Over 80’s synthesizers, she departs a little from the country genre but there’s no complaining from me.

Watch out for her full length album debut, February 25, 2022.

Diving Into My Spotify Collection (Also The Science Behind Spotify)

Hello nerds.

Today we will be exploring my Spotify library with some data analytics.

I got this idea as I was trying to figure out a way to get artist information from your Spotify for another idea that I had, when I came across this site, https://exportify.net/. Using this site, anyone can log in to their Spotify account, and export playlists as a .csv file. The author of this site, Pavel Komarov, then set up a fancy dancy webpage (Jupyter notebook) where one can upload their exported playlist and do some neat analysis on it. So what I have done is added all of my liked songs (total of 6,195) into a separate playlist titled “TheCollection” and then exported it using exportify, uploaded it to the notebook, and followed his code, with some slight modifications, to produce some cool graphs. Most of the heavy lifting is done for you already so if you yourself are curious about your own musical tastes, the process shouldn’t be that hard to replicate, the only thing you would need to do is upload your own playlist!

Along the way I take two tangents and take a look behind the curtains of Spotify to see how some of the data that is analyzed is collected and what exactly they do with this data.

Let’s dive in.

First up is songs per artist.

You can see that a large proportion of my library is artists for whom I’ve only liked one or two songs. I think this reflects how I often listen to music, being more explorative of different genres and artists and rarely immersing myself in a complete discography. However, there are a handful of artists for which it seems like I’ve liked their entire collection. I had no trouble guessing the top two artists with the most liked songs, however I was surprised with some others, mainly Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar.

This graph really highlights those handful of artists that I’ve spent a good month or two really listening to their complete collection. Back in the early days of my Spotify, I went into a deep dive of Sublime’s discography (as every 20 something college kid does) and was liking virtually every song from their albums. Nowadays, I rarely listen to Sublime, but still enjoy a one off song here and there. The Beatles is the same scenario, in the early days of the pandemic (April 2020) I listened to all 13 of their albums all the way through. Naturally, my Top Songs of 2020 also had around 15 Beatles songs. Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar are a different story, I never did a deep dive for these artists as I did with the others so I am surprised with how many songs of theirs I have in my library. My only possible explanation is that they are frequent collaborators on a ton of other artist’s songs, suggesting I am more of a fan of mainstream rap/hip-hop than Kanye and Kendrick specifically. I would still listen and enjoy these artists (Sublime, The Beatles, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar), but I wouldn’t say they are within my top 10 favorite artists. Something which I am able to say for the likes of Toro y Moi, STRFKR, Vampire Weekend, and Childish Gambino. Lets expand the ranking to see if who I think are my favorite artists make an appearance.

Looks like some of my favorite artists just miss the top 10 (Chance the Rapper, Isaiah Rashad, Hockey Dad) while some others are further down the line (Neon Indian, Fleet Foxes, Future Islands). Again some surprises (ASAP Rocky, Calvin Harris, Black Eyed Peas) and some humorous glimpses into my past musical taste (I had a weird fun. obsession in high school).

Now onto the genres and our first tangent of the day. If you use Spotify, you must have wondered at some point what the hell are all those weird genres and why are there so many of them on Spotify? Well it turns out that a culprit responsible for this madness can be singled out and his name is Glenn McDonald.

Meet the man classifying every genre of music on Spotify — all 1,387 of  them | The Star
Glenn

Glenn is an employee at Echo Nest (something you will learn about later, but briefly it’s what powers everything that Spotify does) and his job is to basically create genres of music.

Not in reality, but he does get to name new genres whatever he wants which makes for some funny reading. What Spotify actually does, again more information later on in the post, is they keep track of certain features for every song in it’s database. These features are music related (i.e. tempo), but also include other things such as where in the world the artist is from and the context to which that song was listened to (what was played before it, time of day it was played, etc.). All this information is combined and using some high level computer science and math, tracks and artists are attempted to be put into clusters based off of their similarity to one another.

Gene networks offer entry point to unraveling autism | Spectrum | Autism  Research News
Cluster Map for genes with implications in autism

It is from this clustering that Spotify genres are born. When a group of songs or artists start to form a recognizable and independent cluster away from others, they can be technically called their own genre. This is where Glenn comes in with his naming. His job is to listen to the music and come up with an appropriate name for that genre. A genre that appears in my collection, “Escape Room” can be described as artists who feel “connected to trap sonically,” but are more related to “experimental-indie-r&b-pop” than they are to traditional trap. Glenn says “it just sort of felt like it was solving and creating puzzles.”. Right on Glenn.

Example of the escape room genre

So now that we know how genres are formed and why there are so many of them (5,507 as of today), I want to introduce you to Glenn’s little side project, a website that attempts to show all genres in a 2-D scatter plot of the genre space. Take a look:

https://everynoise.com/engenremap.html

The site is pretty cool. It is generally organized as those things closer to the top being more mechanical, down is more organic, left is denser and more atmospheric, right is spikier and bouncier. You can click on any genre to hear an example track that represents that genre as well as click the arrows to the right of any genre to see a map of the artists that fall into that genre. If you were ever curios what the genre of fussball (which just seems to be songs and artists singing about German football) looks like here it is:

Kinda catchy, ngl

As you can see, you can click on the buttons at the top to be taken to a variety of playlists for that genre, playlist being the master playlist for that genre, intro being a shorter playlist, pulse being what fans of that genre are currently rotating, 2020 and new being pretty self explanatory.

The site also has a lot more to offer. If you click on the other things button at the top you will be brought to a list of various off shoots of the website. If you’re bored you can spend a good couple hours exploring but here are a few of my highlights:

Every Place at Once: thousands of playlists for individual cities that are filled with songs that distinguish that city from every other city. An example for Bellingham:

Some Shakey Graves, STRFKR, Hippocampus, Babe Rainbow. Lots of good stuff. Wonder if we had anything to do with that?

Every School at Once: same idea but for universities around the world. WWU’s playlist:

The Needle: This machine basically attempts to find songs that are “rising from the depths of obscurity”. Its divided into three playlists based on the depth the machine attempts to find songs. Current is the shallowest search, while underground is the most extensive and obscure.

Back to the graphs


Turns out I have 1147 unique genres within my collection, representing 20.82 % of Spotify’s genres. Similar to my artists, there is a large proportion of genres with only one or two songs and a handful of genres with multiple hundred songs.

Not really surprised by my top ten genres, seems pretty cut and dry.

Some more obscure genres start to pop up when we look at the top 50. Some of those being “mellow gold”, “escape room” and “vapor soul”. Maybe there are some strange ones down at the bottom.

Definitely some unique names.

Looking at what songs these actually are:

Song – Artist Genres:
Collarbone – Fujiya & Miyagi Genres: alternative dance, brighton indie, electronica, neo-kraut, new rave
Feelin’ It (Salva Remix) – Umii,Salva Genres: portland indie, glitch hop, purple sound
Electric Pow Wow Drum – The Halluci Nation Genres: canadian indigenous, canadian indigenous hip hop, escape room, ottawa rap
Surrender – Josh White Genres: christian uplift
Les Champs-Elys̩es РJoe Dassin Genres: chanson, chanson paillarde, french pop
Make It Wit Chu – Queens of the Stone Age Genres: alternative metal,alternative rock,blues rock,modern rock,nu metal,palm desert scene,rock,stoner metal,stoner rock
Bad (feat. Vassy) – Radio Edit – David Guetta,Showtek,VASSY Genres: big room, dance pop, edm, pop, pop dance, classic hardstyle, electro house, euphoric hardstyle, progressive electro house, progressive house, australian dance
Switzerland – The Last Bison Genres: hampton roads indie, stomp and holler
Old Love – Joe Hertler & The Rainbow Seekers Genres: michigan indie
Okan Bale – Angelique Kidjo Genres: afropop, beninese pop, world
Varúð – Sigur Rós Genres: bow pop, dream pop, ethereal wave, icelandic rock, melancholia, nordic post-rock, post-rock
Calabria 2007 (feat. Natasja) – Enur,Natasja Genres: reggae fusion,classic danish pop, danish hip hop, danish pop

As I mentioned earlier, Spotify’s algorithms creates genres based off where that artist is from (hampton roads indie, michigan indie, beninese pop, danish hip hop) which is kind of disappointing. I would agree that this makes sense for larger geographical regions (i.e, nordic post rock, australian dance) or for certain genres such as rap and hip hop where where you’re from does have a large say in the style (southern hip hop, chicago rap). However narrowing it down to a city like Brighton just seems strange. I doubt every indie band from Brighton has the exact same sound.

Spotify also has a Popularity value that it assigns to every single song, ranging from 0 to 100, with 100 being most popular. My library has a pretty normal distribution of popularity values if you ignore the large number of songs with 0 popularity. I took a closer look at some songs with 0 popularity and I believe some of them have been misclassified or simply haven’t had an appropriate value assigned to them yet showing errors within Spotify’s framework. There are some Drake songs with 0 popularity which just doesn’t make sense.

The popularity rating also seems to have a bias for songs that are popular right now, meaning that #1 hits from decades ago will most likely have a popularity rating around ~50 which I guess makes sense. Taking a look at my top ten most popular songs confirms this.

                     Track Name                        Artist Name(s)  Popularity
       Leave The Door Open  Bruno Mars, Anderson .Paak, Silk Sonic   95
            Blinding Lights                            The Weeknd   94
                  telepatía                            Kali Uchis   92
           Save Your Tears                            The Weeknd   91
                 Rasputin                     Majestic, Boney M.   91
                        BED          Joel Corry, RAYE, David Guetta   90
   Head & Heart (feat. MNEK)                       Joel Corry, MNEK   89
                    Circles                           Post Malone   88
                  bad guy                         Billie Eilish   87
               Dance Monkey                           Tones And I   86

In order to analyze the rest of the metrics that Spotify tracks and the algorithms it uses, a little history lesson is needed.

The story starts in 2005 with the doctoral dissertations of two graduate students in the Media Arts and Science department at MIT, Tristan Jehan and Brian Whitman.

Echo Nest deal gives Spotify a local presence - The Boston Globe
Tristan Jehan
Spotify alums create Canopy content suggester that won't steal your data |  TechCrunch
Brian Whitman

These two, as I think they should forever be referenced as, gods of music discovery shared a deep interest in combining science and music during their graduate studies. In general terms, they were both attempting to break down and simplify an extremely complex language, music, into something a computer could understand and utilize.

Specifically, Tristan was interested in building tools for audio analysis, with the end goal being using these tools to create a computer that was capable of synthesizing novel pieces of music. Immediately, my mind jumped to a scenario where you come home from work, take off your shoes, pour yourself a stiff one and your robot sitting on your kitchen counter crafts up and plays you the modern day equivalent of Fur Elise while you heat up some frozen chicken nuggets in the microwave. As Tristan put it in his thesis, “Our goal is more specifically to build a machine that defines its own creative rules, by listening to and learning from musical examples.”. I am no computer science expert (side note: all theses should include a section that is limited on technical jargon and is written for the general population explaining what the thesis is about), but it is my understanding that the system Tristan built takes a ginormous database of songs, uses the tools that Tristan created to analyze each song and learn what makes a song a song, and then chops up various songs and puts it together in a novel fashion. For an example of this technology in action, visit his personal website and click on audio example:

https://web.media.mit.edu/~tristan/

However, the real goldmine wasn’t this computer that was capable of stitching together various bits and pieces of music, it was the tools the computer used to learn about music. Tristan realized that the tools could be used to make music more personal by understanding on a deeper level why a certain song is enjoyed by a certain person.

This particular paragraph from his thesis explaining the motivation behind his research points to this realization.

“The motivation behind this work is to personalize the music experience by seamlessly merging together listening, composing, and performing. Recorded music is a relatively recent technology, which already has found a successor: synthesized music, in a sense, will enable a more intimate listening experience by
potentially providing the listeners with precisely the music they want, whenever they want it. Through this process, it is potentially possible for our “metacomposer” to turn listeners—who induce the music—into composers themselves. Music will flow and be live again. The machine will have the capability of monitoring and improving its prediction continually, and of working in communion with millions of other connected music fans.”

It is no wonder why this guy made it with that kind of entrepreneurial thinking.

It is important to note that the “deeper level of understanding” is key here. It turns out that it is quite easy for a computer to listen to a song and extract information such as tempo, pitch and loudness. This is what Tristan and Brian call low level information. What really sets Tristan’s audio analysis tools apart, is that it combines this low level information using machine learning (taking a huge set of data and telling the computer to separate data into appropriate classifications, repeat using information learned about the accuracy of the first go, see above) to create high level information about songs such as danceability, acousticness, valence (mood). These metrics can more accurately describe a song compared to low level information such as tempo. For example, just because two songs have a medium-high tempo, does not necessarily mean they are both danceable.

A good example:

Lazy Eye – Silversun Pickups Tempo: 127 beats per minute

Thriller – Michael Jackson, Tempo: 127 beats per minute

Although if a song has a tempo of 127 it is typical for it to also be a song with high danceability (see three tracks below). Therefore, tempo has a large influence on the danceability rating but it is not everything. Instrumentation, key, even how the song is structured (no large stretches of downtempo and irregularity) which can be tracked with these tools also have effects on the danceability of a song.

Tempo: 127 bpm
Tempo: 127 bpm
Freshman Year Banger, Tempo: 127 bpm

So Tristan is the bee’s knees, but what about this Brian guy?

Well, his thesis was titled “Learning the meaning of music”. Big ask.

Much like Tristan, he was also attempting to better understand music on a deeper level. However, where their interests differs is the approach they took to understand the music. While Tristan trained a computer to listen to music to understand it, Brian trained a computer to read about music to understand it. An excerpt from his personal website explains it better than I ever could:

Can a computer really listen to music? A lot of people have promised it can over the years, but I’ve (personally) never heard a fully automated recommendation based purely on acoustic analysis that made any sense – and I’ve heard them all, from academic papers to startups to our own technology to big-company efforts. And that has a lot to do with the expectations of the listener. There are certain things computers are very good and fast at doing with music, like determining the tempo or key, or how loud it is. Then there are harder things that will get better as the science evolves, like time signature detection, beat tracking over time, transcription of a dominant melody, and instrument recognition. But even if a computer were to predict all of these features accurately, does that information really translate into a good recommendation? Usually not – and we’ve shown over the years that people’s expectation of “similar” – either in a playlist or a list of artists or songs – trends heavily towards the cultural side, something that no computer can get at simply by analyzing a signal.

This was the motivation behind Brian’s research, he believed that what people were saying about the music could tell you just as much if not more information than the information within the music itself. An interesting example of this ties back to my listening habits. Tristan’s audio analysis tools can tell you a lot about one particular song, but what about multiple songs arranged in an album, or taking it a step further an artist’s complete discography? It would be hard to pin down Toro y Moi as an artist (and any artist for that matter) with a handful of quantitative metrics. Firstly, his music can vary in sound quite dramatically, and secondly, saying he has a valence of 0.63 just doesn’t really make sense. Instead, it would be easier to pin down his music with words such as “mellow”, “groovy”, and “eclectic”. In this way you can learn more information about the music as there are often various connections and influences to other music, i.e. the culture, that will not be captured using audio analysis. So, using a lot of techniques and terms that are way over my head, he basically built a way to scour the internet for any mentions of albums, songs, artists. When any mentions are found, what is being said about the music is also picked up. This is not limited to the basic-ass generic adjectives that I used (“mellow”), but will include anything and everything that one could write about music. A funny example that kept on popping up through his thesis was:

“reminds me of my ex-girlfriend”

These terms and phrases are what Brian calls “cultural vectors”. Important to note is that when a cultural vector is written, it is picked up and given a weight score that basically says how likely it would be to use that to describe a piece of music. So for example, if I said Justin Timberlake sounds like an alley cat eating a tuna sandwich, the cultural vector “cat eating a sandwich” would (hopefully) get an extremely low weighted score because what the fuck does that sound like and who describes music like that. This is beneficial as this cultural vector is essentially useless in attempting to make connections to other pieces of music, which is really the end goal. Rather, if millions of people tweeted about how “hot” Tyler, the Creator’s new album is (tis hot), he would be associated with the term hot and connections to similar artists can be made by looking for those artists also having “hot” as one of their top cultural vectors. Each artist and track has thousands of cultural vectors which change daily as the conversation around the music changes meaning connections can change drastically as an artist evolves.

Another excerpt from his personal website that gave me hope that we are making a difference out there!

“At the time I was a member of various music mailing lists, USENET groups and frequent visitor of a new thing called “weblogs” and music news and review sites. I would read these voraciously and try to find stuff based on what people were talking about. To me, while listening to music is intensely private (almost always with headphones alone somewhere), the discovery of it is necessarily social. I figured there must be a way to take advantage of all of this conversation, all the excited people talking about music in the hopes that others can share in their discovery – and automate the process. Could a computer ‘read’ all that was going on across the internet? If just one person wrote about my music on some obscure corner of the web, then the system could know that too.”

Fuck yeah. This guy is also the bee’s knees.

So these two legends met and decided to merge their ideas and form a startup called The Echo Nest.

The Echo Nest does exactly what I have just attempted to describe, it combines Tristan’s audio analysis tools with Brian’s text mining for the culture associated with the music to generate highly personalized music recommendations. And it is the best at what it does. This is due to something that has been a mainstay in Echo Nest since day one and what Tristan and Brian call “Care and Scale”.

Scale is what it sounds like and is pretty straightforward, how big is the database from which you learn about music. If you only listened to and knew about Lady Gaga, you wouldn’t be able to accurately recommend someone Mumford and Sons. Even more importantly, if you don’t know about some small time girl with a guitar who just released a banging EP from her garage, how are you going to recommend her? Echo Nest at the time (early 2010s) was novel as it had a collection of 30 million songs that it had information for. Spotify today has an extensive database (70 million songs) that is automatically updated daily (60,000 new songs per day).

Care is what they describe as being useful for both the musician and listener and is a bit more difficult to describe. An example they provide which helps in envisioning care is to use various music discovery platforms and look at similar artists for The Beatles. Most often, the similar artists will be individual band members (John, Paul, George, Ringo) and their associated acts following the breakup of The Beatles. Is that what the listener really wants when they ask for similar artists to The Beatles? Not really, if you’re a fan of the Beatles you are most likely already going to know who John, Paul, George, and Ringo are and their various projects. Care is really where Brian’s work on the culture surrounding music comes in. Rather than using purely computer based science and mathematics to tell people who they should listen to, it really makes sense to factor in what actual humans have to say. By providing more “care” and quality assurance than any other music discovery platform, Echo Nest is able to minimize it’s “WTF count”, instances where you are in disbelief why some particular music has been recommended to you.

Get shit on Pandora and Amazon

So fast forward ten years to the early 2010s and Echo Nest has now become the de facto leader in music discovery. It is being used by clients such as MTV, Island Def Jam Records, BBC, Warner Music Group, VEVO, Nokia, and SiriusXM. In March of 2014, Spotify splashed out 100 million dollars and bought the company outright. Today, Echo Nest and the algorithms that Tristan and Brian have developed are what makes Spotify such a great music discovery and streaming service.

Now let’s take a look at the full list of the metrics that can be tracked:

Acousticness: A confidence measure from 0.0 to 1.0 of whether the track is acoustic. 1.0 represents high confidence the track is acoustic.

Danceability: how suitable a track is for dancing based on a combination of musical elements including tempo, rhythm stability, beat strength, and overall regularity. A value of 0.0 is least danceable and 1.0 is most danceable.

Duration: duration of the track in milliseconds

Energy: a measure from 0.0 to 1.0 and represents a perceptual measure of intensity and activity. Typically, energetic tracks feel fast, loud, and noisy. For example, death metal has high energy, while a Bach prelude scores low on the scale. Perceptual features contributing to this attribute include dynamic range, perceived loudness, timbre, onset rate, and general entropy.

Instrumentalness: Predicts whether a track contains no vocals. “Ooh” and “aah” sounds are treated as instrumental in this context. Rap or spoken word tracks are clearly “vocal”. The closer the instrumentalness value is to 1.0, the greater likelihood the track contains no vocal content. Values above 0.5 are intended to represent instrumental tracks, but confidence is higher as the value approaches 1.0.

Key: The key the track is in. Integers map to pitches using standard Pitch Class notation . E.g. 0 = C, 1 = C♯/D♭, 2 = D, and so on.

Liveness: Detects the presence of an audience in the recording. Higher liveness values represent an increased probability that the track was performed live. A value above 0.8 provides strong likelihood that the track is live.

Loudness: The overall loudness of a track in decibels (dB). Loudness values are averaged across the entire track and are useful for comparing relative loudness of tracks. Loudness is the quality of a sound that is the primary psychological correlate of physical strength (amplitude). Values typical range between -60 and 0 db

Mode: Mode indicates the modality (major or minor) of a track, the type of scale from which its melodic content is derived. Major is represented by 1 and minor is 0.

Speechiness: detects the presence of spoken words in a track. The more exclusively speech-like the recording (e.g. talk show, audio book, poetry), the closer to 1.0 the attribute value. Values above 0.66 describe tracks that are probably made entirely of spoken words. Values between 0.33 and 0.66 describe tracks that may contain both music and speech, either in sections or layered, including such cases as rap music. Values below 0.33 most likely represent music and other non-speech-like tracks

Tempo: The overall estimated tempo of a track in beats per minute (BPM). In musical terminology, tempo is the speed or pace of a given piece and derives directly from the average beat duration.

Time signature: An estimated overall time signature of a track. The time signature (meter) is a notational convention to specify how many beats are in each bar (or measure).

Valence: A measure from 0.0 to 1.0 describing the musical positiveness conveyed by a track. Tracks with high valence sound more positive (e.g. happy, cheerful, euphoric), while tracks with low valence sound more negative (e.g. sad, depressed, angry).

Here is the distribution of these metrics for the songs in my library (left) compared to the entirety of Spotify’s database (right). For all graphs shown, the distributions are largely similar suggesting my collection is representative of Spotify’s library.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is music_params.png

One can rank their playlist by each of these metrics to discover some of the most extreme songs in their library.

Fastest song: The Way We Touch – WE ARE TWIN 218 bpm

Slowest Song: Tennessee Whiskey – Chris Stapleton 49 bpm

Most Acoustic: Avril 14th – Aphex Twin Acousticness: 0.996

Least Acoustic: So Tired – Hockey Dad Acousticness: 0.000001

Bottom ten were all similar Australian punk rock songs, maybe there is something about that genre that results in a low acoustic rating.

I was curious at how well the liveliness metric held up and it turns out it does just alright. In the top ten most “live” songs, 4 of them were actual live recordings. The most live song was not a live recording, Momma Told Me – EARTHGANG (0.989), but just beat out the second most live song Trenchtown Rock – Live At The Lyceum, London/1975 – Bob Marley and the Wailers (0.97)

Fantastic live version btw

Valence was another intriguing metric to look at and see how it compared to my own personal opinion. Here are the most “sad” songs in my collection.

SongArtistValence
Sansevieria GreenHouse0.0193
S.T.A.Y. Hans Zimmer0.0250
Nite RiteSTRFKR0.0290
GravitySynthetic Epiphany0.0315
MulticellularEnrico Sangiuliano0.0327
Beach 77B770.0352
L$DA$AP Rocky0.0352
Extreme Northern Lights Majeure 0.0353
The Finishing – Original Mix Stavroz 0.0363
Annika’s Theme MATRiXXMAN 0.0365

Most of these are just electronic ambient songs that I wouldn’t necessarily agree stir up any negative emotions (with some exceptions, watch Interstellar to get a good cry), rather, I would say they are devoid of emotion if that makes sense.

On the contrary, I would agree that the top ten most positive songs do fit that billing.

SongArtistValence
Pressure DropToots & The Maytals0.985
What a Fool BelievesThe Doobie Brothers0.985
The Ghost InsideBroken Bells0.983
O Sol (feat. Tita Lima)The Echocentrics, Tita Lima0.981
SeptemberEarth, Wind & Fire0.981
Demon’s CaveRoy Irwin0.981
Two Extra Pumps Of BlissEnjoy0.979
RydSteve Lacy0.979
Twist and ShoutChaka Demus & Pliers, Jack Radics, The Taxi Gang0.977
Cocaine BluesEscort0.976

Most Energetic:

Satisfaction – Benny Benassi Energy: 0.999

Least Energetic:

Clair de Lune, L. 32 – Claude Debussy,Martin Jones Energy: 0.00532

Danceability was another one of these higher order metrics which I was curious if could hold up.

Top ten most danceable songs according to Spotify:

SongArtistDanceability
Poor RelationsMr Twin Sister0.984
FreelanceToro y Moi0.975
Gronlandic Editof Montreal0.971
Turning AroundBreakbot0.966
Shake ThatEminem, Nate Dogg0.964
One Night In Bangkok – Single Version Björn Ulvaeus, Tim Rice, Benny Andersson, Murray0.962
So High – Acoustic Version Rebelution0.961
Blow My High (Members Only) Kendrick Lamar0.959
H.S.K.T. Sylvan Esso0.959
Island Girl Psychic Mirrors0.958

To my disappointment, the danceability metric performs just alright as well. There are some catchy tunes in the top ten but there are also some WTF instances, most notable being So High by Rebelution. Not a danceable song at all. I was surprised that none of my songs that fall under the actual “dance” genre (besides Toro y Moi) do not appear on the list. It seems like the indie pop/dance genre has more danceability. according to Spotify.

Least Danceable Songs:

Paw PrintsTango In The Attic0.0883
Clair de Lune, No. 3 Claude Debussy, Isao Tomita0.0942
VaruoSigur Ros0.12
S.T.A.Y.Hans Zimmer0.12
I ❤ U SOCassius0.1260
Giant TortoisePond0.1330
When I’m With YouBest Coast0.1350
109Toro y Moi0.1370
Hey Now!Oasis0.1400
I Don’t Wanna DieJeff Rosenstock0.148

Toro y Moi shows up again, guy has so many different sounds and nails all of them.

So there you have it. I hope you learned something today, I know I did while writing this. Now that I am aware of these metrics, I hope to test out some of my own data analysis chops and do some higher order analysis on them in the future, so stay tuned for more!

The Return

I am back from my sabbatical, where I was studying music theory and lyricism. It was through an institution that is super undercover, so I’m not allowed to say where these studies took place, nor am I able to put it on my resume. Just know that I am now more educated in the realm of music. Some would say I should get paid more for this gig but that is neither here nor there.

I’ve unearthed some good tunes! Tunes that would get a biologist out of his lab coat and into some Burning Man attire, and get a lawyer’s nose out of the books and into some hard drugs, such as Adderall (sustained!).

Here’s how this is gonna go: I’m going to rank my top 5 favorite songs in this cohort of cadences, and then I will list 5 songs that would please on microscopic level as well as in a court of law (should I stop trying? Yes. Will I? Not sure.).

I encourage you guys to listen to the other’s recommended songs of course. I will attach a playlist with all of these songs and more for you guys to check out. Hope you are both doing well fellas

I want a poster of that
Not sold on the music video, lost some points for me tbh
I would also like a poster of that
Lol
I had to include this one, my favorite song of 2020

Top Picks for: Garrett

Top Picks for: Ryan

A music video!

The Playlist

My 2020 Playlist

What up everybody

Just a bit late (3 months) but I think I can still say happy new year and cheers to making it to 2021!!! We all know that 2020 sucked major balls for the majority of us out there. However, some industries and livelihoods have been more effected than others. Musicians have been hit especially hard, specifically some of these lesser known artists that rely on small gigs to make ends meet. With that in mind, I present my long anticipated 2020 end of year playlist. I have been wanting to do a version of this playlist ever since Ryan and I first thought about blogging so I am excited that I finally found a way to make it work.

The idea for this playlist was to highlight some lesser known artists out there that made some bangers in 2020 and are on the path to superstardom. In the playlist, you can find one song from the artist’s 2020 discography and one song from an earlier piece of work (or current if they are new) that also showcases their sweet sweet sound. With an eye on the future, as things start to open up and shows resume, keep an eye out for any artists that strike your fancy. If you are lucky enough to have them stop in your city, show them some love and support and go see them do their thing. As you get groovy and boogie your butt off, remember to be appreciative of where you are and never take anything for granted!

To keep things easy for you fellas out there, I have made a mini list of 10 artists whose music from this past year I am especially fond of. Check these out first and then take a good long listen through the rest! Hope you enjoy!

1. Ivy Sole

Ivy Sole Delivers Soulful Performance at Noontime Concert - The Underground

Heavy – Southpaw EP, 2020

A track and artist that I really wanted to put first. This song about a breakup has some haunting lyrics that sums up the feelings of 2020 pretty damn well. Certified banger.

All Mine (Eden, 2016)

2. Peach Fur

Aliens | Peach Fur

Preloved – Awake EP, 2020

Favorite song of 2020, excited to see if this band makes it over to North America anytime soon

Funkn Oath (Awake)

3. Kowloon

Come Over by Kowloon ⋆ Independent Music Reviews
Yet to release an EP or album, watch out for when he does

Come Over (Single, 2020)

Wake Up (Single, 2020)

4. Scribz Riley

Scribz Riley Lyrics, Songs, and Albums | Genius
A Grammy winning producer out of London so not technically unknown but his debut solo work is not getting the plays it deserves.

Introduce Myself – Wish Me Luck, 2020

Eastside (Wish Me Luck)

5. Small Forward

Listen to "Tearjerker" by Small Forward | The Wild Honey Pie
Their self-titled album is definitely worth a listen through, another band I hope to catch in the future

Most of You – Small Forward, 2020

Out of Luck (Small Forward)

6. Babeheaven

Listen to Babeheaven's loose, dreamy new song 'Circles' | News | DIY

November – Home for Now, 2020

Seabird (Single, 2019)

7. Sault

Straight away you realise you’re in the presence of something special ... album artwork for Untitled (Rise).
Interestingly, this band has never appeared publicly and no one is sure who is actually behind the SAULT name

Wildfires – Untitled (Black Is), 2020

Why Why Why Why Why – (5, 2019)

8. Q

Prepare to Swoon Over Q's “Take Me Where Your Heart Is” – The Hidden Hits
Big fan of this guy, surprised the name Q wasn’t taken already

Take Me Where Your Heart Is – The Shaving Experiment EP, 2020

Lavender – (Forest Green 2019)

9. Surfliner

Q&A: Surfliner "Psychedelic Blues" — The Luna Collective
With their easy going surf rock, I find it really hard to believe this gang is from Massachusetts

Vertigo – Single, 2020

Surfliner – (Kiska, 2019)

10. Astro Heart

Astro Heart | Spotify
Indie Folk for the soul

Dear – Pen Pals, 2020

Astro Heart (Pen Pals)

Here is the full playlist with the above artists included. Enjoy!

Click on the link for the full playlist

The 2020 Recap

As we’ve all trudged through 2020, slogging through each subsequent contradiction to “at least it can’t get any worse,” I know there has been a light at the tunnel keeping everyone going: my famous year-end recap!

Here is the second installment of my annual playlist, the best 50 songs by 50 different artists that I’ve heard this year, highly curated for public consumption. Not ranked or in any particular order.

New Artists to Look Out For

This year I’d like to highlight some freshman faces to the scene. So get out your poncho, you’re in the splash zone and these artists are going make a big one!

Sam Himself

Sam Himself is a Swiss artist that blends a baritone voice having the emotional gravitas of Matt Berninger with the new wave, atmospheric sound of The War on Drugs. The result is personal, cinematic music ready for a coming-of-age montage. Here’s him in drag in an awesome video.

Aaron Frazer

It is a little more dubious to include Frazer as a new musician, as he has sang and performed drums for Durand Jones and the Indications. However, this year he has released his first real foray into solo music this year (beyond the odd singles in 2017). The end result is an easily danceable jazzy blue-eyed soul sung with a smooth falsetto.

Feng Suave

A Dutch male duo (What ever happened to male duo pop groups?) consisting of Daniel De Jong and Daniel Elvis Schoemaker, the double-Dans make beachy stoner soul that is just audio catharsis. Yet to send out a full album, their most recent 2020 EP is like riding down a lazy river with nowhere else to be.

Albums of the Year

1
  1. The Strokes – The New Abnormal
    After a seven year hiatus, The Strokes have returned. Produced by Rick Rubin, The Strokes have made their best since Room on Fire in 2003. They honed the new wave influences that were explored in Angles and Comedown Machine and melded it with the tried and true post-punk of their peak. It’s Casablancas’ best singing performance, coming out of his typical understated croon with emotional balladeering and use of a falsetto. The album mixes the angst of garage or punk with the pop sensibility of 80’s synth hits, maybe no more evident than “Eternal Summer” which sounds like Phoenix covered Pink Floyd’s The Wall. The homages to the 80’s are intentional and acknowledged in the lyrics (“Oh the 80’s bands, where did they go?” and “The Rubik’s Cube isn’t solving for us”). The period-piece-ness is most obvious with “Bad Decisions,” their obligatory radio-hit, that is really fun and enjoyable despite being clearly derivative of The Cure and Generation X (they gave Billy Idol writing credit on the song).
    Favorite Track: Why Are Sundays So Depressing
  2. Adrienne Lenker – songs
    The lead singer of Big Thief goes solo again. A stripped down, acoustic, archetypal singer-songwriter album, with such few tools it’s difficult to differentiate yourself. Lenker’s candid and afflicting lyricism is sung with a melodic ease akin to Nick Drake’s Pink Moon that makes the heavy themes go down smooth. The album is uniquely emotionally powerful and calming at the same time.
    Favorite Track: zombie girl
  3. Car Seat Headrest – Making a Door Less Open
    Will Toledo’s frenetic, low-fi indie rock gets a polished revamp. While Toledo’s vulnerable, angsty lyricism may be better fitted to his previous work that leans towards punk or post-punk, he still has his feverish rock anthems with the more slickly produced “Martin” or “Deadlines (Hostile).” Also in the album are synth tracks, however they still have the CSH’s trademark sound that dramatically swells and crescendos (“Life Worth Missing”).
    Favorite Track: Deadlines (Hostile)
  4. The Undercover Dream Lovers – It’s All In Your Head
    The brainchild of Matt Koenig, UDL makes shimmery synth pop that is like Tame Impala with some extra dopamine. Koenig’s slick falsetto hovers over funky arrangements that, true to his moniker, have atmospheric, dreamy haze while being extremely danceable.
    Favorite Track: You Don’t Have to be Lonely
  5. Matt Berninger – Serpentine Prison
    The front man of The National gives us his first solo album, and it’s about what you’d expect. It doesn’t stray much from the general mood or style of his band, though the beautiful arrangements are more minimalist and accentuate Berninger’s distinctive, middle-aged ennui baritone. This emphasis highlights Berninger’s sometimes esoteric lyricism, and sentiments that lean in on Morrisey-level self-pity (“Its so hard to be loved so little.”) But sometimes those vibes just hit the spot.
    Favorite Track: All For Nothing
  6. Fenne Lily – BREACH
    BREACH is an album that is a great example of the vogue Gen-Z, emotionally intelligent indie rock via Phoebe Bridgers and Big Thief. The album switches between slow-burn, heart-on-sleeve tracks (“Berlin” and “Somebody Elses Trees”) and angstier rock tracks (“Alapathy” and “Solipsism”) that are all erudite, vulnerable, and compelling.
    Favorite Track: I, Nietzsche
  7. The Nude Party – Midnight Manor
    The Nude Party, like their name suggests, is a tongue-in-cheek group that produces fun, careless sleaze rock that has influences of the Rolling Stones and The Velvet Underground. While sometimes leaning towards the blues or to country , the whole album rocks and is simply a lot of fun, fit for a dive bar jukebox dance on top of the pool table.
    Favorite Track: Nashville Record Co.
  8. Tame Impala – The Slow Rush
    With Kevin Parker, you can always expect a meticulously crafted album. The Slow Rush is no different, as Parker actually remixed “Borderline” after its initial single release for the album to make the bass more prominent, evincing him a perfectionist. While lacking the consistency of “Currents,” Parker’s lush arrangements are a great time whether they’re club-ready radio hits (“Borderline” and “Is It True”) or smoldering slow-builders (“Instant Destiny” and “On Track”) as all tracks are the passionate synth that Tame Impala has made its name by.
    Favorite Track: Borderline
  9. Muzz – Muzz
    A supergroup including Paul Banks of Interpol and Josh Kaufman of the National, Muzz creates Radiohead-esque, shoegaze-y alt rock. Banks melancholily drones over moody, atmospheric arrangements that are beautiful in a jading way.
    Favorite Track: Everything Like It Used to Be
  10. Bahamas – Sad Hunk
    Afie Jurvanen, or Bahamas, doesn’t stray too far from his tropical feel-good vibes with his latest work. Probably his grooviest contribution to date, he channels John Mayer to provide slick guitar riffs with smooth, breathy vocals for a catchy, easy-listening experience. What makes this album especially good is Jurvanen’s intimate lyricism, baring his insecurities and self-failings in a reflective personal commentary.
    Favorite Track: Done Did Me No Good

Honorable Mentions

Colter Wall – Western Swing and Waltzes and Other Punchy Songs
Charley Crockett – Welcome to Hard Times
For some reason I felt loathe to include country music into the rankings, maybe because many fans of the 1-10 albums would be country adverse. However, these two albums are fresh but nostalgic country albums that starkly contrast from what’s on the radio. I love outlaw country, and both these artists are modern cowboys that elicit imagery of the wild west with charming storytelling and folksy but poignant lyricism to jaunty instrumentation of 60’s and 70’s country.
Favorite Tracks: Big Iron, Heads You Win

Finally, a post

Hello all, after much anticipation, I am here to provide my first contribution to the website. Was it writers block, lack of free-flowing ideas, or a tingling of anxiety that influenced this long wait you may ask? Well, I don’t know, I’m not a doctor. I’m just a dude that likes hearing new artists and songs and spreading the news to all of my loved ones. Here are 5 songs to start off. I hope you enjoy.

Pop therapy by Video Age
This song already holds a dear place despite being in my music library for a little more than six months. The infectious rhythm of Pop Therapy is apparent immediately, with head-bobbing/foot-stomping synthesizer notes right off the bat, it’s difficult to not be entranced by Video Age’s second highest played song on Spotify. The first lyrics of the song are “When you broke my heart tonight…”, communicating a fresh wound to the listeners, which triggers a sense of empathy from the listener. However, the upbeat sounds of the song make it hard to remember that the singer is talking about heartbreak. In the lead up to the first chorus, Video Age disappointingly sings, “So I look at the man in the mirror, and I’m not who I thought that I was” emphasizing his diminishing sense of confidence

Now I don’t want to go line-by-line analysis of the song just yet, I’ll save that for when I’m hired by Genius. To summarize the second verse, the heartbroken singer turns his mood around and is the “talk of the town” in his eyes. He seems to admit defeat in being the master of his own fate and to enjoy the ride of life instead. Not a bad way to bounce back from a broken heart.

Although the entire song is upbeat if it were stripped of the lyrics, the outro takes the jovial feeling to another level, signifying a state of bliss that the singer is now enjoying.

Peach dream by Sniffle Party
Once you press play on this record, you will feel as if you’re at their concert and you accidentally sipped your friends Molly water. I won’t analyze the lyrics so much on Sniffle Party’s most frequently played song on Spotify, but the song would fit right into a movie centered on teenage angst/coming of age storyline.

Sniffle Party haven’t released anything on Spotify in 3 and a half years, blocking me from increasing my library of music from the duet of Serena Wagner and Eric Christenson. Peach dream ends as abruptly as it starts, perhaps a metaphor of peach dreams themselves.

Sniffle Party if you are reading this, I beg you release some new good-good.

Way you walk by Blaise Eldred
Similar ~vibes~ to Pop Therapy, Way you Walk gets started on the front foot with groovy guitar rifts and once Blaise Eldred’s voice gets involved, you are magnetically attracted to this gem.

The album cover is a masterpiece in itself, with what seems like a camera flashing or a light being shown in one’s eyes, with ‘Sex Pop’ written in what looks like a Microsoft paint production.

Around the 3:40 mark, Way you Walk is stripped of the vocals and for the rest of the song, you should just close your eyes and imagine yourself in a happy place.

Guilty conscience by 070 Shake (Tame Impala Remix)
The original version of this song by 070 shake is great, but doesn’t quite hit the same as the Tame Impala remix. Of course that is my opinion and you can check out both versions to make your own mind up.

070 Shake has such an intriguing voice that if there’s any rhythm in whatever song she features on, it’s going to be a song difficult to pass up on. After hearing her feature on Kanye’s album, I knew I had to keep up with her growing discography.

I’m a sucker for songs that build up from a mysterious beginning where you don’t know what kind of song to expect, to a series of climaxes. This song in particular makes me feel like I am blasting off into space with 070 Shake’s voice and the drums working as the engine, I’m merely the passenger.

As I just mentioned the drums, Tame Impala knows how to make hits. The explosion of drums at the 2:53 mark showcases when the song begins its descent is a little detail that I am thrilled they included into the track.

The story of the song is a deep-cutting dynamic of a tumultuous relationship that has unfortunately resorted to petty cheating. The point of view is from the original cheater, who is disappointed in her poor judgement and is suffering from a *guilty conscience*. Once she finds out that her partner is doing the same to her, she no longer feels the guilt that was previously plaguing her.

In conclusion, this song perfectly embodies the reality of a guilty conscience. A chaotic set of background noises with desperate, pleading vocals, with a calm resolution to cap it off. This song is good. Very good.

Only to Live in Your Memories by Night Moves
I’ve been thinking about saying this for a long time and I’m worried about the backlash from all of the major news outlets but I’ve summoned up the courage to say it today. Okay here it is:

Night Moves sounds like U2.

Maybe not this song, but if you listen to Carl Sagan by Night Moves, it’s a good shout I think. Hopefully I don’t have a horde of white fathers breaking into my house for that comparison but dammit I said it.

The rugged voice with the introspective tone and guitar, Night Moves is a and to keep an eye on. Not to mention their cool album art on their Pennied Days record. An artist to keep your eye on.

Thank you for reading!

Country for the Non-Believer

Howdy, Pardners. Greetings from Music City, The City That Never Sleeps, The Big Apple, The Windy City… Nashville, Tennessee. That’s right, I stuck the stirrups in and giddy up’d all the way to the sonic south. And to indoctrinate my first post as a resident of the country capital of the world, I figured I might make an effort to show some southern hospitality to a genre I’ve long neglected: country.

You may be skeptical! You might be like I once was, shirking country all together because I had only ever known pop songs thinly veiled with exaggerated drawls and sleeveless flannels as the anthems of conservative America . You may be shuddering at the songs that soundtrack commercials of Ford F-150 or play to slow motion Clydesdales pulling Budweiser. You may think of the genre as rich celebrities pandering to blue collar sensibilities by recycling tropes of alcoholism, barn hoedowns, idolatry of country, and an over-enthusiastic romanticism of the “good ole days.”

There’s some of that.

However, I’m here to make the case that there is something for everyone in there, if you know where to look. So in an effort to make a case for the genre to every disposition, I’ve compiled a playlist of songs that may appeal to those that didn’t find what they were looking for on the radio.

In promoting the genre to those resistant, I’ve included two categories: First, I’ve included some of the established icons of the genre. If you don’t find Cash, Prine, and Van Zandt to your fancy, then you might want to forsake the genre completely. The rest of the list is what I would categorize as “alternative country.” These are songs that are country, but will incorporate some other genres that you know and love (folk, blues, rock, soul) to ease your transition into country-dom.

Yee haw and godspeed,

Ryan

Quarantine Jams (Part 1 of 2)

First off, apologies for the extended period of time between blog posts! With the world grinding to a halt in March, I’ve just been to busy sitting at home and staring at my phone these past 5 months to come up with a post! Jokes aside, the loyal contributors to this blog, Ryan and myself, have both recently made courageous, fiery and stupid? (TBD) leaps into the depths of graduate education in our respective fields amidst the chaos that is the global pandemic. Without giving too much away for the sake of personal privacy, Ryan has packed up and moved cross country, primarily to attend a storied institution of law, but also equally important, to engage in the local custom that is hoeing down in your cowboy boots every Friday night (expect more country to be showing up in his posts). I myself meanwhile, have haphazardly and carelessly thrown everything I own into my four door sedan and moved myself a mere hour north to the other side of a lowland river delta. Just so happens that I also crossed international boundaries and find myself in a large, vibrant new city that more or less shares the same culture I’ve lived in the past 15 years. To commemorate both our academic endeavors and the federally mandated 14 day quarantine I currently am experiencing, I have come up with a two part playlist set that will hopefully prevent you from both, banging your head against a wall from boredom and banging your head into a textbook from mental fatigue! Such fantastic times we live in! As always, happy listening.

Songs of Summer 2020

My phone’s been ringing, my inbox has been flooded, my mailbox is stuffed, and my DMs are like a slip n’ slide. What’s going on? After the wild success of last summer’s playlist, the people are out in droves demanding the second annual installment.

I am no one to deny the people what they want, and have conjured up almost two hours of sunny songs that pair nicely with vitamin D. This year, I’ve made a cocktail that’s equal parts new releases and older favorites of mine (it’s goes down smooth).

So here’s that.

Social Distancing Soundtrack

Hello hermits. I, like many of you, have found myself with a great deal of time due to our current pandemic. In order to create a false sense of productivity in these times, I created a playlist of songs that resonate a little more than we’d like them to nowadays. Hitting on themes of social distancing, boredom, loneliness, and even appreciation of being home and alone, here is the curated quarantine playlist to get you in the mood for flattening the curve.