Music News

Apr 25 2013

I Spy Spotify

Today I am continuing my roundup of online music services and focusing on the behemoth that is Spotify.

With over 24 million active users worldwide (6 million of these paying customers), it is certainly one of the largest music streaming services with a catalog to match- providing access to around 20 million songs. Users can explore this seemingly endless musical database by artist, track title, label and genre. Searching by terms will also yield results that include other users’ playlists, which I have utilised in the past to enjoy instant theme-based and often quirky playlists (eg. Halloween, Christmas).

Decidedly social in nature, Spotify can be integrated with Facebook and Twitter accounts and users can post tracks, playlists and summaries of music that they are current enjoying to their feeds.

When I first started using Spotify, it was primarily to listen to latest releases- albums that had just hit the shelves which I hadn’t yet had the chance to hear- to ascertain whether they were worthy of purchase. It would seem I’m not the only one who uses Spotify for this purpose… When Daft Punk released the first single from their much-anticipated new album, RAM, a week or so back, it became the most played track of any song in a single day on Spotify.

I soon discovered that there was a whole lot more to love about this service. One of my favourite features is the ability to build and share playlists and integrate them almost anywhere (on blogs- such as I have done in past posts, websites, emails, social media and so on). You can choose to follow your friend’s, favourite artist’s or random individual’s playlists, which are subsequently updated when the playlist creator makes additions or changes.

Then there is the app finder which can be accessed via the desktop client. These are 3rd party applications which help you discover new music and provide access to other musical content such as lyrics, band bios and heaps more. Whilst these have been a bit hit and miss for me, they are still fun to explore during moments lacking in musical inspiration. My faves are the Any Decent Music, Rolling Stone Recommends and triple-j apps.

There is also a Radio app which will create a radio station based on an artist or genre selection. Personally, I prefer to use Pandora for this function, which I find always comes up trumps in its uncanny ability to play exactly what I want to hear.

If there is one area where I think Spotify could improve, it would be in personalising the user interface based on past music selections, and offering suggestions of new or alternate music/playlists/apps based on past user behaviour and choices.

Spotify is available for free from your desktop. The free version is laden with ads and limited to 10 hours playback per month. For $7/month you can get rid of the ads and the playback restriction, but if you’re going to pay that much, I would suggest biting the bullet and going for the premium service ($12/month) which adds extra benefits of mobile access and caching of playlists for offline listening. New users can enjoy a 30-day free trial period to test out the features of the premium service.

If you are after a music service that offers an abundance of musical choice, social networking functionality and iTunes style of interface (including ability to integrate your iTunes library), then you ought check out Spotify.

www.spotify.com

Are you a Spotify user? What do you think about it?

Apr 18 2013

Ready Set Go-Set!

goset_postLast Saturday I paid a visit to one of my favourite old haunts- The Espy. My initial disappointment at the apparently long-gone sticky carpets and mutilated foam chairs quickly subsided when I learnt that The Go Set were performing in the front bar that very evening. This was to be my second serendipitous stumbling upon this band… the first time I chanced upon The Go Set was around 8 years ago at the Hi-Fi bar when I purchased tickets to their gig mistakenly thinking they were UK indie-rock outfit The Go Team! I emerged several hours later with a jig in my step, a signed CD in hand and an overwhelming desire to go out and cause some trouble… a new fan was born! Hence my unbridled excitement when (almost literally) once again stumbling upon this 5-piece Melbourne outfit whilst out for a night of shenanigans with two of my favourite partners in crime last weekend.

The Go Set were formed in 2002, fronted by Justin Keenan. With a unique blend of punk rock and Celtic folk, their sound has been eloquently described by Blunt magazine as a cross between “The Pogues and The Clash having a late night jam in a local pub with an endless supply of booze”, but as my mate Bev summed it up simply, “they are like Green Day with bag pipes!” True, but they are also undeniably Australian, no doubt influenced by their pub rock origins. They have toured extensively around Australia and internationally since forming and have released 6 albums, the most recent being self-titled and released in 2012.

The atmosphere imbibed by last Saturday’s venue- a mix of indie cool and blue collar groundedness- set the perfect scene for The Go Set to unleash their unique and relentless rock upon the appreciative crowd. With a fantastic support line-up- the standout for me being McAlpines Fusiliers- it made for an unforgettable night. I have all my fingers crossed that my path may once again collide with The Go Set at some indeterminable time in the future!

Gig Details:
Band: The Go Set
Support Acts: The Stiffys, McAlpines Fusiliers, The Ravines
Venue: The Esplanade Hotel- St Kilda, Melbourne
Date: Saturday 13 April 20-13
More info: www.thegoset.net

Apr 11 2013

Hip-2-tha-OZ-H-O-P

hilltop_hoods_600 Let me preface this story by saying, I love Australian hip hop. Nah mate, I mean, I fuckin love Aussie hip hop! For the most part, hip hop is not my musical genre of choice. I find the American origins of this genre overly aggressive and generally derogatory in nature… neither element of which I equate with listening pleasure. In contrast, the Australian stylings are playful, full of tongue-in-cheek antics, and surprisingly, emotional sentimentality. Rarely egotistical, the feisty MCs could just as easily be one of your mates having a beer and talking shit at the pub on a Friday arvo, which only adds to the appeal of their music. The tonality is undeniably ocker, as are the themes, which regularly include checking out chicks, drinking, taking the piss out of others and kickin back, partying or avoiding work. And whilst these elements are evident in almost all modern Australian hip hop music, it is the individual music styles of the current performers that continues to impress me; reflecting influences as diverse as Latin, classical, rock, pop and soul.

Whilst the history of Australian hip hop can be dated back to the 80’s, it was the 90’s where it developed its own true local flavour and not til the 2000s where it emerged as a dominant force within the Oz music industry. In 2004, the ARIAs recognised the growth in interest in the genre and introduced a new category to their annual awards- Best Urban Release. Koolism took out the award in the inaugural year, and since then, industry heavyweights Hilltop Hoods have taken home the pointy prize a massive 4 times. Other  recipients include Drapht, M-Phazes and Bliss n Eso.

Australian hip hop has gone from strength to strength over recent years, and deservedly so, with a slew of talented groups and MCs enjoying commercial success. The playlist below features some of my favourite tunes from these bands. So crack a beer, kick back and enjoy… after all, it’s almost Friday afternoon… isn’t it?!

 

How about you? Do you have any favourite Aussie hip hop artists or songs? Let me know by commenting below.

The raspy voice manages to locate a place deep within my being every time I hear it. It is all-encompassing, like a warm embrace on a cold windy night. It evokes joy and sadness in equal measure. It transports me to a place where there is nothing but the music and inevitably leaves me wanting more. The voice I am referring to is Ted Hawkins, and his album The Next Hundred Years. I was introduced to this album by a close friend and fellow music lover over 10 years ago, and it has maintained unequivocal favouritism, enjoying high-rotation on all of my music devices, none more appropriate for these musical stylings as my turntable.

The music on the album speaks for itself with every track serving up a deliciously hearty dish of country soulful blues. And yet, to gain a true appreciation of the lyrical content and musical idiosyncrasies of this late, great musician, it is necessary to know a little about the man who was Ted Hawkins.

Born into abject poverty in Mississippi in 1936, Hawkins formative years gave him the perfect basis for a life of singing the blues….. sent to reform school at the age of 12; given a 3-year prison sentence at the age of 15; and subsequent years spent drifting, stealing and hitchhiking across the country. His musical calling was finally realised in 1966 when he purchased a steel string guitar and a one-way ticket to Los Angeles but his dreams of musical fame were consistently shattered. He took up a residence on the boardwalk of Venice Beach, where he would often be found busking amidst the sand and salty ocean spray, which Hawkins himself attributed to his unique, raspy voice. Attempts to produce a debut album were marred by further jail stints and drug problems, and that album- Watch Your Step was only finally released in 1982 followed by Happy Hour in 1985. Disappointingly, both albums were largely ignored in the US, but garnered critical acclaim in a number of reviews, including Rolling Stone magazine, and received recognition in both Europe and the UK. Despite the fame enjoyed away from his homeland, he was inexorably drawn back to California in the early 90s where he resumed his street performer status. The Next Hundred Years was Hawkins’ first major-label release in 1994. The album brought with it the long-awaiting national recognition and success that Hawkins had dreamed of. Ironically and tragically, Hawkins suffered a stroke only months after the album release, from which he never recovered. He passed away in January 1995 at the age of 58. There have been 7 posthumously released albums.

I regularly listen to the album from cover to cover, but my favourite tracks are undoubtedly: There Stands the Glass with its country twang and lyrics hinting at Hawkin’s own destitute life; Groovy Little Things as a sweet and innocent ode to love; and Green Eyed Girl, whose lyrics I have often imagined being serenaded with, even though my eyes are actually hazel! His cover of John Foggarty’s Long as I Can see the Light is also sublime and in my opinion even better than the original.

Do yourself a favour and if you haven’t heard this album before, go and get yourself a copy. If you have, break it out, dust if off and pump it up!

Ted Hawkins- The Next Hundred Years

Listen to it when: you are sitting by the fire with a glass of red wind in hand

If you like this, you might also like: Otis Redding

Mar 24 2013

Easter Treats

Being the music aficionado that I am, I tend to believe that there is a perfect playlist for every situation. This concept has been most commonly embraced by the general public to commemorate seasonal holidays and  festivities. There are numerous songs that can be played in celebration of one’s birthday, for example. The same can be said for Christmas, with a slew of both traditional and modern odes to help you get into the festive spirit.

But with a week to go until we gorge ourselves on chocolate eggs, I am inclined to feel a little sorry for poor old Easter. I mean, can you readily name any Easter songs …at all? Has Elton John taken the time out to salute this holiday that is so momentous that it runs over 4 days?! And really, why couldn’t Wham have written “Last Easter I Gave You My Heart?”

Easter is well and truly the red headed stepchild in the musical tribute family. Well, I plan to make a change to that… I say let us raise our hearts and voices and sing out in celebration of Easter. In honor of my crusade, I have embarked upon an Easter inspired melody hunt and found a basket full of lyrical eggs ready to be cracked open and enjoyed this Easter season.

Perhaps you can add a few suggestions yourself and we can unite in making Easter the melodically celebrated event it deserves to be.