Monthly Archives: May 2010

On the playlist, or hardly knew you, Lala

Back when eMusic had a moratorium on major label content, I turned to Lala as my source for what I call the "paid preview" — a low-cost way to sample an album before I make a full purchase.

But then eMusic introduced Warner Music Group titles into its catalog, and my reason to use Lala evaporated. In the past, I would turn to Lala when I wanted to explore catalog titles by Emmylou Harris, the Replacements or Talking Heads. Of course, cheap ass that I am, I would never actually download anything from Lala — I’d just stream it.

The introduction of Warner titles in eMusic’s catalog meant I wasn’t tethered to a web site in a browser — I could download a title instead and play it at my leisure. Yes, eMusic’s Warner titles aren’t extensive, but they have enough for even a cursory exploration.

As a result, my patronage of Lala declined. When Lala announced it would offer the remaining balance in my Lala wallet as either iTunes credit or a check, I chose the check. I can use it for an eMusic booster pack. Or maybe to buy a CD.

Most of the titles on this list were downloaded from eMusic or they could be.

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Tokyo Jihen: Sports

Tokyo Jihen has something of a perception problem.

Shiina Ringo said she was ending her solo career to focus on the band back in 2004, giving the impression that solo Ringo and the group would be creatively independent. But with Shiina taking on the lion share’s of the songwriting — and of course, serving as front woman — it’s tough not to think of Tokyo Jihen in terms of its origin: a touring support band.

Then there’s Shiina’s solo work with which to contend. How could a band live up to the towering legacy of one of its members? Otona was nice and all, but it was no Shouso Strip.

What, then, can Tokyo Jihen do to escape the shadow of Shiina Ringo? Sports offers a pretty good answer: Nothing. Just keep doing what they do best.

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Emmylou Harris: Luxury Liner

It’s taken me more than a decade to resume my exploration of Emmylou Harris’ earliest work, and I wanted to blame Elite Hotel, her second album, from scaring me off. In reality, the fault lies with Pieces of the Sky.

Harris’ stunning debut threaded together songs from diverse eras and genres with a seamless performance that still sounds rich many decades later. It left such an impression, Elite Hotel, which I also bought at the same time, didn’t have much of a chance.

Nor did any of her other early albums.

Thanks to the convenience of online stream (RIP Lala), I got around to listening to Luxury Liner, Harris’ third album. Why did I wait so long?

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Favorite edition 2009: Quarter final, revised

Speed kills, and that’s what has happened to my year-end choices for 2009. I even said as much, detailing all the ways 2009 differed from past years.

The big issue was deferring a lot of listening till after my November trip, and rather than keeping up with 2010 releases, I’ve spent the first half of this year catching up with what I missed in 2009. In that time, my opinion has changed about a number of things, drastically enough to necessitate some changes to that list.

Why make this change half way through the current year? Well, I don’t want to consult 2009’s list at the end of 2010 and get the wrong impression. "Did I really think that was album was that great? Why didn’t this title end up there?" That kind of thing.

So here’s the revised list, with comments only on the changes.

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The Slush Pile, or failure to get things done, part the first

At first, GTD actually helped to organize all the listening I had spread out over various services and formats. I even managed to write a few reviews as a result of the process.

But then I started slacking. The Weekly Reviews stopped, and my Next Action Items languished in limbo. I also let myself get thoroughly distracted by learning .NET/C#, as well as other various professional self-training activities. (I have declared 2010 my Year of Professional Development.)

Soon, my list of reviews on which to catch up grew. Right now it’s up to 66 items. I had hoped using GTD would cut down on the number of round-up entries I write, but really, some albums I encounter really don’t need full-length reviews.

So here’s to trimming down that list some more.

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Department of Eagles: In Ear Park / Grizzly Bear: Veckatimist

Try as I might, this review of the Department of Eagles’ In Ear Park can’t help but also be a review Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimist. An overlap in membership also results in an overlap in sound, and most of what I think about the Department of Eagles is based on what I think about Grizzly Bear.

In particular, Veckatimist was one of the most overrated albums of 2009.

The Department of Eagles consists of singer Daniel Rossen and guitarist Fred Nicolaus. They were a unit before Rossen joined Grizzly Bear and eventually took Nicolaus with him. After Grizzly Bear released Yellow House, Rossen and Nicolaus resumed as the Department of Eagles and recorded In Ear Park.

Rossen’s distinctive voice has since become emblematic of Grizzly Bear, and the eclectic sound of his adopted band spills over into In Ear Park. More than that, actually — this album is what Yellow House should have been. (Yellow House is another album that seems to get better reviews than it should.)

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