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2012 in Music

This year, music has again become more than a consumptive activity. Through Afro-Hoosier, Canterbury, and my own noodling, I feel like I’m actively listening for arrangements and harmonies, and it feels wonderful to make that transition as a musician.

So what have I been listening to? The top 10 are pretty indicative:

’12 Artist ’11 Change
1 The Avett Brothers 2 (+1)
2 Wilco 4 (+2)
3 Radiohead 5 (+2)
4 Paul Simon 48 (+44)
5 John Mayer 24 (+19)
6 The xx (–)
7 Kings of Leon 9 (+2)
8 The Black Keys 12 (+4)
9 Bright Eyes 11 (+2)
10 TV on the Radio 20 (+10)

The Avett Brothers are riding on the strength of The Carpenter, which is a stellar album. John Mayer also rests on the strength of Born and Raised, which is easily my family’s favorite album of 2012. My experience with Paul Simon reflects that of seeing Sufjan Stevens – concert in November, followed by “woah this is really interesting” for the rest of time. The diversity reflected in his songwriting is amazing. The xx were the coolest “new” sound: very minimalist and sparse, with hip-hop beats and interesting guitar interplay. Their eponymous debut album is a must have.

New Discoveries (YouTube playlist): Alabama Shakes (blues), The Lonely Forest (alt rock), Cage the Elephant (rock), Passion Pit & Handsome Furs (80s revival synth-pop), Portugal. the Man (psychedelic/rock), Of Monsters and Men (folk), Joshua Radin (singer/songwriter), Ben Howard (contemporary), BADBADNOTGOOD (jazz fusion, heavy electronic/hip-hop influences), Morphine (bass/bari sax/drum trio), Kid Cudi (hip-hop), Nero (dubstep), Above & Beyond (trance), and Shpongle (psychedelic/trance).

Concerts: Above & Beyond, Radiohead, The Black Keys, Shpongle, Todd Snider, Outside Lands (Beck, Andrew Bird, Justice, Thee Oh Sees, Antibalas, Alabama Shakes, Portugal. the Man, Sigur Ros, Die Antwoord, Explosions in the Sky), The Avett Brothers, Victor Wooten.

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2011 in Music

Once again it is time to do a musical year-in-review. I feel some of my scrobble counts are off this year due to the launch of the Amazon Cloud Player, which I’ve been using at work. Of course, my 2009 play counts were also off due to sporadic iPod syncing, but this is still fairly accurate.

’11 Artist ’10 Change
1 Cold War Kids 68 (+67)
2 The Avett Brothers 1 (-1)
3 Death Cab for Cutie 21 (+18)
4 Wilco 7 (+3)
5 Radiohead 2 (-3)
6 Kanye West 78 (+72)
7 Say Hi 8 (+1)
8 Daft Punk 34 (+26)
9 Kings of Leon 9 (–)
10 Counting Crows 12 (+2)

Right below this list of top artists is a significant number of new discoveries. In the folk scene, I’ve been listening to Ryan Adams, The Head and the Heart, and The Goat Rodeo Sessions. In the indie scene, I’ve been listening to Death Cab for Cutie’s newest album, Cold War Kids, and Florence + the Machine. Sonic Youth has been an awesome discovery — Goo is making weekly appearnces in my playlists.

TV on the Radio is the coolest band I’ve discovered this year. Their arrangements are superb, and I really like their use of horns. The first song I heard (and subsequently fell in love with) is “Things You Can Do”. The new album, Nine Types of Light, has an accompanying movie that is an essential viewing for fans of Waking Life. Also, the movie has some amazing quotes: “It’s an unspeakable name. You don’t say it, you just look at it.”

The biggest musical change this year may not be reflected in play counts, but rather in consumption practice. I’ve been going to way more concerts in the past few months including Paul Simon, Punch Brothers, Gillian Welch & David Rawlins, Taj Mahal, Cold War Kids, They Might Be Giants, Main Squeeze, End Times Spasm Band, Joe Pug, and Say Hi. Bloomington has an astonishing number of bands come through, and because it’s a smaller town, we get to see them in smaller venues.

I’ve also continued switching to Amazon MP3, which has gotten even better with the advent of the Amazon Cloud Player, with clients for Windows, Max OS X, Linux, and Android. It’s nice having easy, instant access to my music anywhere. My only complaint is that the Amazon MP3 Downloader doesn’t have a 64-bit Linux client.

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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 data once again for an empirical reality-check on what I’m listening to:

‘10 Artist ‘09 Change
1 The Avett Brothers 3 (+2)
2 John Mayer 29 (+27)
3 Radiohead 2 (-1)
4 The Black Keys 40 (+36)
5 The Beatles 5
6 Laura Veirs 52 (+46)
7 Wilco 1 (-6)
8 Say Hi 6 (-2)
9 Kings of Leon 22 (+13)
10 Nada Surf 10

All in all, this year was a transition year for music, and I feel it’s continuing to move. Whereas 2009 was largely a solidification of 2008’s favorites, 2010 saw dramatic shifts, with 4 bands making double digit jumps, and 5 bands falling off the top 10 entirely. The only music from last year’s top 10 which became more popular was The Avett Brothers, who leaped to a commanding first place lead on the strength of I and Love and You and a belated discovery of Four Theives Gone.

As a whole, this year was a move towards a stronger rock influence, as opposed to a folk influence. John Mayer, The Black Keys, Kings of Leon, and the Gaslight Anthem have all landed in my favorite artist lists. In particular, three albums have stood out as essential listening: The Black Keys’ Brothers, The Gaslight Anthem’s The ’59 Sound, and Kings of Leon’s Because of the Times.

This year I turned 21, which opened up some new opportunities for concerts. Electric Six, Regina Spector, Guster, The Avett Brothers, John Mayer, The Tallest Man on Earth, Joe Pug, and Sufjan Stevens were all particularly memorable nights. Sufjan’s concert was mind-blowingly amazing, both in terms of on-stage production and overall musicianship. I had not heard Age of Adz until that night, but the epic 25-minute “Impossible Soul” is one of the coolest experiments ever. (Sufjan ranked 12th in 2010.)

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2009 in Music

I’ve been a member of (my profile) for almost three years. 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 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?

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