30 December 2014

My 2014 "The Hell With It! I Get To Make A List, Too!" List

Look, I know a lot of you don't come over the this blog much.  I don't post here much.  You probably are coming here because you saw a link over on Wicked Guilty Pleasures, my lovely music blog.  But I do a list like this most years.  And sometimes, I second-guess myself.  Actually, to open this year's list, I'm going to second guess last year's second guess.

Album of the Year, 2013 Edition - Lorde, Pure Heroine.  I totally didn't give this album a chance, mostly because Track #2 ("400 Lux") bored the hell out of me on first listen.  And second and third, too.  Those who know me well know that my favorite album of all time is House Tornado, the 1988 masterpiece by Throwing Muses.  My first reaction to that album was similar.   But I kept going back to it, over and over.  One by one, each song won me over.  And, as good as Sky Ferreira's Night Time, My Time was, and as much as I cannot deny the brilliance that was the woefully ignored True Romance by Charli XCX, Pure Heroine is the album I keep going back to.

I cannot give Pure Heroine my Best Album of 2013 I Didn't Hear Until 2014 award, because I did hear it.  I could give Lorde's EP The Love Club that award, but 1. it was an EP, so probably not fair (I retroactively grant it 2013 EP of the Year) and 2. it had freakin' Royals.  Too easy. 

Co-Album of the Year, 2014 - Iggy Azalea, The New Classic.  Not Reclassified (which is a fine album, but in my opinion, a reissue).  All the great singles that went unnoticed by Iggy over the past year, all together.  And then "Fancy" happened.  And they were no longer unnoticed.  Which is a good thing, because Iggy has a way with lyrics, and

Co-Album of the Year, 2014 - Angel Olsen, Burn Your Fire For No Witness.  Anyone who doesn't hear glimmers of Liz Phair's Exile in Guyville is either ignorant of that prior work or are just fooling themselves. This entire album, end-to-end, is heartfelt and brilliant. It is criminal that radio - even country radio - ignored this so whole-heartedly.

Albums of the Year, Honorable Mentions:
Charli XCX, Sucker (It was really good, but not as good as the ones above) (might have been up there if she had put "SuperLove" on there like she said she would last September)
Laura Cantrell, No Way There From Here (Simple country album by an artist who is shamefully overlooked)
RAC, Strangers.

Comeback of the Year - Bob Mould, Beauty and Ruin.  I Dü believe this reminds me of Hüsker days. In all seriousness, it was his best effort since Black Sheets of Rain.  He never really went away, but this album just seems like a comeback. True brilliance from a long time favorite.

Most Disappointing Album of the Year - Phantogram, Voices.  It was good, but overproduced.  It should have been great. I am glad this great band got some popular radio airplay.  I wish this would have been the magnum opus that was Eyelid Movies.  I don't want to give the impression that this was a bad album.  I just expected it to be great, and it wasn't.

Single of the Year -The Pierces, "Believe In Me".  Best known for doing the theme song for the TV series Pretty Little Liars, these two sisters released a new album this year.   This song was one I heard on the radio exactly once.  It was on a "new music" type show on NPR.  The harmonies on here are amazing, and it is far more upbeat than "Secrets" (the aforementioned theme song that was also a single of theirs). 

Single of the Year, International Edition - Fine, It's Pink, "Secret Island".  A really new Romanian band, I really hope they take off outside Romania, because they are darkly fantastic.

Single of the Year Honorable Mentions (in no particular order):
Iggy Azalea feat. Charli XCX, "Fancy" (two greats break through on one single)
Iggy Azalea feat. Rita Ora, "Black Widow"
Iggy Azalea feat. MØ, "Beg For It" (little known fact - Charli XCX co-wrote this song)
Rita Ora, "I Will Never Let You Down" (best thing Calvin Harris ever did)
Lorde, "Tennis Court" (Technically, a 2013 single that charted in the US in 2014.  Dark brilliance)
Tove Lo, "Habits (Stay High)" (Disturbing, but darkly clever)
Disclosure feat. Sam Smith, "Latch" (see "Habits (Stay High)")
Nicki Minaj, "Anaconda" (a sample so good Sir Mix-A-Lot loved it!)
Charli XCX, "Break The Rules" (after "Fancy" & "Boom Clap", a reminder of the depth of talent)
Charli XCX, "Breaking Up" (reminded me of an angrier version of The Waitresses)
Katy Perry, "Birthday" (the song we all forgot).
Jason Derulo, "Trumpets" (admit it - this was a damned clever song)

This next category is a first.  But it is the most deserved award on this whole list.

Worst Single of the Year - Jeremih, "Don't Tell 'Em".  An extremely lazy, very profane hip hop song that lifts its lyrics straight from the classic "Rhythm Is A Dancer" by Snap.  It's an abomination, and an insult to music.  And, when I say the performance was lazy, I mean it - there's no attempt to stay in tune.  And this was a HUGE hit.

Worst Single of the Year, Dishonorable Mentions:
Katy Perry, "This Is How We Do" (she phoned this one in, people. A rare miss)
Calvin Harris, "Summer" (indistinguishable from any other song he's ever performed)
Jessie J, Ariana Grande, and Nicki Minaj, "Bang Bang" (a lame attempt to blur lines)
Pharrell Williams, "Happy" (clap along if you cheered the week "Fancy" dethroned it)
Bebe Rexha, "I Can't Stop Drinking About You" (never heard it? Consider yourself lucky.  Rips off the aforemetioned "Habits" something fierce)

Artist of the Year - Iggy Azalea.  She owned the year.  And she deserved every bit of attention she got.  She's one of the good ones - she worked hard for what she got (see: "Work").  She lives a quiet life off-stage.  And she has done wonders for the careers of Charli XCX (who is a talented songwriter behind two of Iggy's hits, including the one on which she appears), Rita Ora (who has not been allowed to perform her own single), Ariana Grande, and MØ.  So yeah.  She earned this one. 

Best New Artist - Tove Lo. Surprised?  So was I.  I didn't like "Habits (Stay High)" at first.  But it's clever and sad and upbeat, all at the same time. And "Heroes" was so achingly beautiful, full of pain and despair, while keeping promise.  I think we'll hear great things in the years to come.

Best Album of 2013 That I Didn't Hear Until 2014 - Natalia Kills, Trouble. I had heard "Problem", her fantastic 2013 single, but I had not heard the whole album until this year. It's all good

Best Album of 2010 That I Didn't Really Hear Until 2014 - Marina and the Diamonds, The Family Jewels. Far far different than Electra Heart, it is a very personal affair about Marina's life as it was starting in the music industry.  I first heard it near the end of 2013, but really gave it a good listen in 2014.

What I Am Looking Forward To In 2015:
Froot, the new Marina and the Diamonds album.  It's already pretty much leaked, and it's fantastic.
The new Lorde album.  We've got to have something strong there, if "Yellow Flicker Beat" (her song from the movie The Hunger Games: Mockingjay) is any indication.

That's all I've got this year.  Let's hear what you have to say in the comments.

10 September 2014

I'm Serious About My iPod Classic Petition

Yesterday, I started a petition on the official White House Petitions website.  I was upset, and still am upset, that Apple decided to discontinue the iPod Classic.  A lot of you probably think this is frivious, but I don't.  I take this very seriously.  Here is why.

(I've also shared it on Change.org, here)

Let's first look at the economics of the situation. 

The last top-level iPod Classic cost $249.  For that money, you got 160Gb of storage for your music and, if you chose, videos.  No further contracted service is required.

The largest iPhone 6 - which they announced yesterday - has 128Gb of storage, but also a lot of apps.  You don't get all that storage for music.  And it costs you at least $399 - for the iPhone 6 option...... if you accompany that purchase with a 2-year cellular plan, which will run you hundreds, or perhaps thousands of dollars.  You CAN purchase the iPhone off-contract, but it will cost you at least $849.

Of course, Apple will still sell you an iPod, which doesn't involve a contract, either.  The largest of those is the 64GB iPod Touch, which is currently priced at $299.... still more than the iPod Classic, with almost three times the storage.

Let's not even get into the fragility of the largely-glass devices, which require expensive cases to prevent from accidental breakage and inevitable replacement when they break anyway.  

My point: Apple eliminated the most economical storage option from their line.  That has effectively eliminated an entire segment of the buying public.

Technology accessibility is another big part of my argument. 

In 2001, Apple "revolutionized" the portable music industry with the introduction of the original iPod.  Specifically, they included in their design a very popular and intuitive scroll wheel, which could be used to navigate your entire music library.  Back then, it was a physical wheel, but the design was improved - with the click wheel - and made more durable.  This technology was used on the iPod, the departed iPod mini, and earlier versions of the mini's replacement the iPod nano.  The configuration of the wheel, in simpler form, has been used as pushbuttons on the iPod Shuffle.

So, it's a popular interface.  But it's more than that, and to illustrate that, I want to share with you a personal anecdote.  One of my Apple devices - one of two (the other being my Classic) (three if you count my former work-issued iPhone 4s) - was a 3rd Generation iPod nano, red.  About two years after I got it, my screen started to fail.  All I would see is a white screen.  Thanks to the simple interface, I was still able to navigate my music library on my nano, blind.  That nano is still in use today - it holds my extensive Christmas music collection - five years after the screen got flaky.

By the way, I know how to do the temporary fix to the nano screen.  So that has helped me a lot, too.

My daughter has also had three Apple products.  One is an iPad mini, which we don't need to discuss here - it is a different class of product.  She currently has an iPhone 5c, which replaced a 4th generation iPod touch.  The touch needed to be replaced, because it fell two feet and shattered.  The glass was shattered.  She could see the screen, but navigation was impossible because THE USER INTERFACE CUT HER FINGERS UNTIL THEY BLED.  Since we didn't have an expensive AppleCare option on this device, we didn't get to repair it.  The economics of that situation called for an iPhone 5c, although not an immediate replacement.

And before I hear all of you say "there should have been a case on that iPod" - there was.  Not an OtterBox, which IS on the iPhone 5c. The point is, I should not need to purchase an additional case to protect something that should work from accidental dropping.  Some of you also are saying "just slap a screen protector on there", and we did THAT, too, which helped extend the life for a little while, but did compromise its usability.

If the damage was any greater and did limit screen visibility, this would have impacted the device's usability.  More to the point, it would have been a very expensive paperweight with a cutting hazard built in.

Meanwhile, my screen-challenged iPod nano still runs. 

The iPod Classic has no replacement, and is a bellwether for things to come.

Many people call the introduction of the iPod "the 2nd revolution of portable music".  No longer were people limited to whatever 16 songs a record company chose to put on a CD (itself a fragile technology).

However, that speaks more to Apple's past technology strategy, and not its present, which is a shift away from music and towards applications.  Apple is a technology company, and they are expected to innovate.  I know that.  However, when they have innovated in the past, there was always a bigger and better model coming to replace it.  Here is the timeline of iPods, as supplied by Wikipedia.

Timeline of the iPod device family. Source: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IPod
There are a few things to note on this chart.  First of all, the 9 September announcements aren't included, so there will be models later on the iPhone timeline, as well as the Apple Watch. 

The second note is that when a model - like the iPod mini, or the original iPod - is discontinued, a new model - bigger and better and usually thinner - the iPod nano and the iPod Classic, respectively in these cases - was introduced. With the cancellation of the Classic, there is no model with so much storage.  I haven't yet discussed in great detail the amount of storage available on the iPod Classic.  My entire music library - nearly 20,000 songs - fits on my iPod Classic.  It's pretty close to full.  No current iPod offered could hold my entire library, and anything that comes close will cost me a lot more.  Apple still offers two pure music players - the iPod nano and the tiny iPod Shuffle.  At their current sizes, you'd need 10 nanos or 80S huffles to match the capacity of one iPod Classic. The iPod touch isn't purely a music player, and I discussed that above - it's just more than a 1/3 of the size of the Classic at its very largest.

And, sure, there's iCloud.... with 5Gb of free storage and costs for more storage - best suited for backups - and iTunes Match - so you can access your ENTIRE MUSIC LIBRARY from a tiny little device.... if you have connectivity to the Internet, either via WiFi (which isn't prevalent everywhere) or a cellular connection (which you don't get on an iPod and isn't free (unless you are a T-Mobile customer, where music is free).  It's not the same as having access to your entire music library at the top of a remote mountain getaway.  You can no longer unplug and have all your music with you.

The final thing to note is, no iPod got a 2013 refresh, nor does it look like a 2014 refresh is forthcoming.  In fact, the workhorse Classic and simple Shuffle haven't gotten refreshed in a longer period of time.  The Classic hadn't been refreshed during the entire history of the iPhone, although there have been some revisions in the amount of storage available.  So, we are looking at the death of the iPod Classic today.  By the looks of this timeline, the iPod nano and iPod Shuffle are next.

Some of you are saying we should have seen this coming in 2011, when the device wasn't even mentioned when every model got an "all-new design".  Well, we didn't.  But that sign we should have seen coming tells me that I'm right about the nano and the Shuffle.

Steve Jobs might have forgotten about the Classic, but we didn't. Source: 9to5mac.com
 What Can We Do?

As I mentioned earlier, I started a petition at the official White House site.  If you want to sign it (and please do) go to https://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/compel-apple-continue-offering-ipod-classic-option/7DR7W1kbhttps://petitions.whitehouse.gov/petition/compel-apple-continue-offering-ipod-classic-option/7DR7W1kb.  Apple is an American company - each of their products still say that are "Designed by Apple in California".  The Obama Administration has a history of getting involved in economic, technology, and commerce issues.   For example, a petition asking for products by Tesla Motors to be sold to consumers in all 50 states got a response.  (To be fair, they also supplied the recipe to White House Honey Brown Ale).

I have also written to Apple, who have not addressed this issue publicly as of this writing.  I encourage all of you to do the same.  I am going to share this on Twitter and make sure Apple is tagged, and I encourage all of you to share on your favorite social media platform.

Please share any other ideas you have in the comments.  I sincerely hope we get through to Apple.  They need to know that there is still demand for this product.

Update: I have added a 2nd petition, here.

13 January 2014

My Year-End List Edit, or, I've Decided I Was Wrong About My Album of the Year Choice

I was wrong. 

This is what I said, exactly:
Album of The Year - Charli XCX, True Romance. Every single song can stand alone - and several have as singles - but the sum of all the parts - a dark pop gem that teeters between love and heartbreak - is so much greater. There's a lot of great promise here, and since her 2nd album drops in June, I think we will see it coming in 2014.  

And until December, that choice wasn't even close, until I heard.......

Album of The Year, Runner Up - Sky Ferreira, Night Time, My Time. There are so many great pop singles on this album, it's almost an embarrassment of riches.  Lyrically, it's deeper than what is playing on standard pop radio nowadays, reflecting a maturity far beyond Ms. Ferreira's years. It's dark pop gem-dom almost made me declare a tie in this category.

Why I Didn't Declare A Tie - As good as Night Time, My Time is, I keep going back to True Romance.  Both are going to be in heavy rotation for years to come, though.  That, I have no doubt about.
 So, it's two weeks into the new year, and about four weeks after I wrote this.  And Night Time, My Time is in my heavy rotation.  I'm really getting to know the album better.  So, with all due respect to Charli XCX... I'm sorry, but Sky Ferreira's album was better.  So flip-flop these rankings. 

I still stand by Charli as Artist of the Year.  "I Love It" and "Superlove" weren't on that still-excellent album, so those are added to her achievements. 

01 January 2014

My 2013 "The Hell With It, I Get To Make A List, Too" List

Well, here it is.  I decided I'd make a list this year.  These are a few of my favorite things from this year.  It's going to be mostly music, as usual - I do co-write two music blogs (Wicked Guilty Pleasures and Totally Covered), so it makes sense - but we'll pepper other stuff in.

Album of The Year - Charli XCX, True Romance. Every single song can stand alone - and several have as singles - but the sum of all the parts - a dark pop gem that teeters between love and heartbreak - is so much greater. There's a lot of great promise here, and since her 2nd album drops in June, I think we will see it coming in 2014.  

And until December, that choice wasn't even close, until I heard.......

Album of The Year, Runner Up - Sky Ferreira, Night Time, My Time. There are so many great pop singles on this album, it's almost an embarrassment of riches.  Lyrically, it's deeper than what is playing on standard pop radio nowadays, reflecting a maturity far beyond Ms. Ferreira's years. It's dark pop gem-dom almost made me declare a tie in this category.

Why I Didn't Declare A Tie - As good as Night Time, My Time is, I keep going back to True Romance.  Both are going to be in heavy rotation for years to come, though.  That, I have no doubt about.

Single of The Year - RAC, "Let Go" (feat. Kele and MNDR). Remix Artist Collective, a.k.a. André Allen Anjos, finally took the CSS route this year and made his own music.  For this great single, from the EP Don't Talk To, Kele from Bloc Party was tapped for lead vocals, with MNDR handling the chorus.  It's a dark year for music, and this single is no exception.  Still, it's a really cool, laid-back electronic gem, with Kele and MNDR both getting excellent highlights.

Single of The Year, Runner Up - Lorde, "Royals".  Perhaps the sparsest song to ever hit #1 in the US, with a lot of sharp rich cultural references, Lorde has crafted a cool, memorable song that speaks to those of us who do not keep our tigers on gold leashes.  Incidentally, this was the first US #1 song by a New Zealander, so good for New Zealand.

Single of The Year Finalists (in No Particular Order)

Icona Pop feat. Charli XCX - "I Love It (I Don't Care)"
Charli XCX - "You (Ha Ha Ha)"
Charli XCX - "Superlove"
Sky Ferreira - "You're Not The One"
HAIM - "The Wire"
Kacey Musgraves - "Follow Your Arrow"
Kacey Musgraves - "Blowin' Smoke"
Mala Rodríguez - "33"
Ylvis - "The Fox"
Miley Cyrus - "Wrecking Ball" (you know I'm right about this one)
Daft Punk feat. Pharrell Williams and Nile Rogers - "Get Lucky"
Robin Thicke feat. Pharrell Willams and T.I. - "Blurred Lines"
The Primitives - "Lose The Reason"

I could have written paragraphs about each of these songs.  For sure.

Artist of the Year - Charli XCX.  Don't act like you're surprised. Not only did she release a great album (see above), but she wrote and performed on one of my finalists for single of the year, "I Love It (I Don't Care)" by Icona Pop (the songwriting credit went to her real name, Charlotte Aitchison, in case you want to fact-check this).  Listen to the song.  That British accent you hear on this Swedish group's single... that's Charli. 

Best New Artist Not Named Charlotte Aitchison - Sky Ferreira. 

Best New Artist Not Featured Prominently on This V Magazine Cover - Kacey Musgraves.  Truly the future of country music, a toiling songwriter for years, she finally got her big break album and Grammy nominations this year. 

Speaking of that V Magazine Cover, Best Album of 2012 that I didn't hear until 2013 - Grimes, Visions.  I don't know how I missed her in 2012. This album is brilliant.

Comeback of the Year - My Bloody Valentine.  mbv was one of the best albums in 2013, especially out of a band who hadn't made one in the 22 years prior. Believe me when I say you NEED to check this one out.  Now.

Biggest Disappointment of the Year - Karmin, "Acapella".  It didn't grab me at first, because it wasn't really the in-your-face style I expected from these two.  Then I noticed that the song wasn't actually done acapella.  All it all, it was a chart flop, a poor follow up to the promise of their Hello EP, and a song that probably deserved about as little attention as it got.

Best Television Show, New or Otherwise - Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.  The character development on this show, centered around the presumed-dead-in-The-Avengers Phil Coulson, is pure magic.  It's also nice to see Ming-Na back on TV.  (For that matter, since Clack Gregg has been missing since the early days of Law and Order, it's nice to see him, too) I'm not usually a fan of Josh Whedon's work, but he crafted a gem here.  It's not just about superheroes.

So, I guess that's a good start.  How do you feel about it?

18 June 2013

Mashable..... A Rebuttal, in Defense of Ravelry

First of all, I should make a few things clear.
  • I am not looking to date anyone based on the breed of their pet.
  • I am not a single farmer.
  • I'm not trying to complete with anyone for a place in line to Heaven.
  • I have no interest in investing in a strange woman's breast implants.
  • I don't really have a passion for mustaches.  Anymore.
  • I'm not a single Star Trek fan.
  • I'm not seeking to get my dreams interpreted online.
And I'm also not a knitter.

18 December 2012

Why I Have Gone On A Personal Crusade Against The Westboro Baptist Church

Those of you who follow me on Twitter have noticed that I have had a marked change in tone over the last few days.  I've gone from lighthearted curling talk and posting about wicked guilty pleasure music..... to taking a church from Topeka, KS head on.  Some of you are probably wondering why I suddenly decided to do this.

24 January 2012

Oscar Predictions - So How Did I Do?

I did OK on Oscar predictions, but I made some big mistakes.  Let's review, shall we?

I have crossed out my errors, and added the additional nominees in Italics.