2009 in Music

I’ve been a member of last.fm (my profile) for almost three years. Last.fm is a social music recommendation engine. It does this by collecting play counts (scrobbles) through iTunes, your iPod and any number of other media players (download). It then examines the music of people with similar listening habits. This is augmented by a tagging system. These recommendations are then piled into a radio station, tailored to your tastes.

Personally, I don’t use the radio stations that often, but the site offers other benefits. The historical information allows for some powerful investigations of musical taste – and with three years of data and nearly 35,000 plays I have an impressive personal dataset. It’s all accessible through the last.fm API. This makes it possible to create really cool mashups, like LastGraph, which creates awesome visualizations of listening history:

Today I started using the pylast Python library to track the evolution of my musical tastes from last year to this year. Here’s a quick recap:

’09 Artist ’08 Change
1 Wilco 1
2 Radiohead 3 (+1)
3 The Avett Brothers 6 (+3)
4 The Decemberists 13 (+9)
5 The Beatles 2 (-3)
6 Say Hi 12 (+6)
7 Third Eye Blind 21 (+14)
8 Counting Crows 4 (-4)
9 Nickel Creek 9
10 Nada Surf 73 (+63)

Note: Links in italics point to Amazon Associate links, plain links should be YouTube videos.

Radiohead has solidified itself as one of my favorite bands. I rediscovered Hail to the Thief, which I had never properly listened to before. The entire album seethes with a beautiful driving anxiety, which re-emerges in later songs such as Bodysnatchers and Jigsaw Falling Into Place. Of course, Wilco is still first, but largely due to the strength of their old catalog. Wilco (the Album) was released this year but was generally unimpressive.

The rise of The Avett Brothers and The Decemberists to the top 5 highlights an embrace of “new folk”. I saw The Decemberists live in August which was an absolutely incredible experience: they took the stage in silence and played straight through The Hazards of Love before breaking for a set of old favorites. I find it hard to listen to the album now, as the piece has aged well with practice and performance. The Avett Brothers released I and Love and You in September, which is now one of my favorite albums – from the opening meditation on “three words that became hard to say” to the final resignation of being “Incomplete and Insecure”.

Indie pop has been rising up my charts. Say Hi is number 6, even though half their music is tagged with Say Hi to Your Mom – if the two tags were combined we’d probably be looking at one of the top 5 slots. Say Hi is one of the most under-appreciated bands I know – lyrically and musically they’re great fun. Oohs & Aahs was released in March and last year’s The Wishes and the Glitch was an incredible turn for the band. I also discovered Nada Surf, which rose an impressive 63 places to make it to the top 10. Particularly, I’ve enjoyed the albums Let Go  and Lucky (especially the song Weightless).

90s alternative and pop rock is not quite as prevalent as it once was. As the release of Saturday Nights & Sunday Mornings grows more distant, the Counting Crows have been declining. On the other hand, Third Eye Blind has made a huge jump – their eponymous release has to be one of the best albums of all time, particularly Motorcycle Drive-by. They released a new album this year, Ursa Major, which has a few good songs, but doesn’t have the same luster as the original or Blue.

Finally, the Beatles Remasters are one of the best things to come out last year. While I haven’t been listening to quite as many Beatles songs (falling from 2nd to 5th), the remasters have made the experience new again. For the audiophile, there’s several things that have been changed – the most noticeable of which is the crisper bass throughout the discography. I’m not sure I’d pay twice for all the albums, but it’s a highly recommended collection.

A few other artists worth mentioning from the past year, despite not making the top 10: Joe Pug’s Nation of Heat EP is an amazing testament to folk music that belies his age – just listen to the lyrics of Hymn #101. His first album will be released in about a month, and I can’t wait. Also, I’ve been rocking out to Dan le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip’s Angels. Scroobius Pip is a British MC with an awesome beard with some amazing diction – check out The Beat That My Heart Skipped and Look for the Woman, which have been stuck in my head forever. In a more dance-y vein, I’ve been checking out dubstep – a techno style marked by the “wobbly bass”, heard clearly in Africa VIP. A great album to get into the style is Caspa & Rusko’s Fabriclive.37.

What should I watch for in 2010?

2 thoughts on “2009 in Music

  1. Jaimie Murdock

    go to the original post for better formatting: http://takethelongcut.blogspot.com/2010/01/2009-in-music.html

  2. 2010 in Music

    […] A year ago, I reflected upon my musical evolution during 2009. As another year passes us by, it’s time to dive into my last.fm data once again for an empirical reality-check on what I’m listening to: #ranks td { padding: 0 5px 0 15px;}td.up, td.down, td.no-change { display: block; padding: 0 20px 0 10px; background-position: center left; background-repeat: no-repeat; text-align: left; }td.up { background-image: url("http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_A3eOhiVcb8s/S1T1tIUufvI/AAAAAAAAA-M/PkoJ8J7-RYM/s320/greenarrowsmall-index.gif"); color: #009900; }td.down { background-image: url("http://3.bp.blogspot.com/_A3eOhiVcb8s/S1T1t57RcOI/AAAAAAAAA-U/MSjL72-P1N4/s320/redarrowsmall-index.gif"); color: #ff0000; }td.no-change, td.old { color: #999999; text-align: right; } […]

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