Don’t despair, old music snobs. Blip.fm can help find new sounds

April 2, 2009

FROM JASON’S EARDRUMS — I’m getting old, and radio is repulsive now.

Sure, there was a time when I was hooked. I was an FM junky at 16, spending hours dialing up music by the orange electric glow of my stereo receiver. Everything was new still, and I was doing the teenage thing: Deciding what I liked as part of defining my own personality.

More than a decade later, I know exactly who I am. I know what I like. I know what I don’t like. And I don’t want to become one of those pathetic easy listening adults who only listen to Rod Stewart and Michael Bolton. Ugh.

The trouble now is finding music that’s artistically good, still has an edge, and is meaningful without indulging in all that teen angst bull that’s floating around out there. So I started experimenting with Blip.fm, the social networking tool for tune addicts.

I have my own channel, where I post songs to stream out into the ether, to be caught by anyone interested in my white-boy-aging-and-fat-hipster-inspired-by-old-LPs taste. While pushing my own selections, I can browse through the Twitter-esque offerings of other “DJs” and browse a large number of random tunes in a very short span.

In three days of use, I’ve found a handful of new sounds to fill out my iPod playlist:

Metric – Help, I’m Alive

The Faint – The Geeks Were Right

Goldfrapp – Strict Machine

Cage the Elephant – Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked

I also picked up some classics that were blatantly missing from my collection, including titles from The Velvet Underground, The Cure, Iggy Pop, Johnny Cash, and Van Morrison. These had previously just fallen through the cracks in my memory, and were nicely jogged by the odd “blip.”

There is a downside to Blip.fm’s buffet-style music surfing: There’s very little emotional connection to the music. Honestly, most of my favorite songs are linked to specific movies or television shows. Soundtrack music comes with visual luggage. That’s what made the old MTV era (when they actually had videos — remember that?) so great. It provided a new dimension of context to the music.

With Blip.fm, we get a lot of noise, little context. But I guess that’s been radio for a long time now, and is a main reason why I ditched actual FM in favor of YouTube and iPod (other than endless trash jockey talk and commercial interruptions, plus ad populum garbage).

Despite my enthusiasm, Andrew’s not digging blips either. His bone: “They don’t have the songs I want… It’s too mainstream.” I asked how he defines mainstream. “Anything I don’t like,” he answered. So there you have it.

Apparently I’m not the only new acolyte, though. According to the site’s dev blog, new users have been flooding the site faster than they can keep up with server power. The result has been sporadic crashes. During one Monday night about 10 p.m., the site went down, and when it reloaded this gem appeared before the UI came up:

blipboot

I can get behind anyone or any service with that sense of humor.

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Music Monday: Such Great Heights

March 31, 2008

The Postal Service

Cleveland doesn’t have an indie or alternative-that-isn’t-Smashing Pumpkins stations, so this song filtered down to me in commercial form. It was released in 2003 by The Postal Service, but I first heard it on the Garden State soundtrack and then (as a cover) on that infamous kaleidescope M&Ms commercial. I didn’t really think much of it at the time.

Then Andrew sent me a YouTube link for the above vid a couple of months ago, and I instantly recognized the song. But what I recognized wasn’t — again — The Postal Service. What tugged at my mind was a jangling ditty I’d heard by piano virtuoso Ben Folds.

I’ve spent a good bit of time in the past few hours trying to decide which version I like better. The original is more clipped and polished with an electric edge.

I think the video is worth mentioning. Remember when Mr. Rogers used to take us to the peanut butter factory of the cotton mill to show us how those things were made? Well, I’m not sure if the PS vid was filmed in a real microchip lab or if some set design engineer deserves a raise, but The Postal Service uses some very nice shots to give us a new spin on the old Earth-as-dirt-under-a-giant’s-fingernail chestnut (think the big pull-back shot at the end of Men In Black).


Ben Folds

He’s a genius. I’ve always had a man-crush on Ben Folds, and here we get so many things to praise: Starting with his awesome glasses, hitting his frenetic piano-key-jamming performance, and wrapping up with the improvised percussion.

After a lot of reflection, this is my favorite version of the song (to date). It’s by far the most dynamic in it’s highs and lows (see what I did there?) and I really think the piano is an underused tool. With so much being done by synthesizers, you can sometimes forget how great that deep, rolling concert piano timbre is. Plus, he adds the word “shit” where it should be.


Iron and Wine

This cover was released right on the Postal Service single in 2003, and it’s my least favorite of the three (I know, Wiki-heads, there are some other covers but I haven’t tracked them down). Iron and Wine blatantly try to yank my emotions around with that angsty whisper-over-acoustics tactic I hate. That’s led to a legion of 14-year-old amateur guitarists posting their YouTube odes. Ugh.

Sadly, it works so well as a soundtrack mood piece that I can’t just blow it off entirely. Oh well.