Top 10 Albums of 2014 is a damn fine list of great alt music from 2014 by Thomas Schrijer. Most of my favorites or honorable mentions are present for sure and a few surprises are there as well. All albums provided as Spotify links so you can get to the listening immediately.
I listen to a lot of music. Still. Even though I haven’t recorded a Tracks Up The Tree in years, I curate and collect music as if another show is just around the corner. (In reality, Josiah and I haven’t really ended the show. It still goes on, it just hasn’t been recorded for a while.)
In my searches for music, I inadvertently ran into the music of Otto A. Totland one lone and wintry night. His music is like listening to a pianist explore the keys while he thinks no one is listening. It is as if the music is too precious to share, the recordings keep all the artifacts of the playing – with footsteps, the rustling of clothing, and the depression of piano keys. His music, late on that wintry February night, was a revelation for me and I ran through my trusted music-selling services to find where I could get a high-quality FLAC copy of the album.
FLAC you might ask? But Ben, who uses Flac files? And why use them? Can’t we just use the Apple iTunes Music Store and get to bed?
Well Shirley, (I am assuming your name is Shirley – if it isn’t – I’m really not in touch with my audience anymore.) you see I have encoded my entire iTunes collection 3 times in my life (MP3, 128kbps AAC, & 256kbps VBR AAC) and at this point, I am paranoid about my music collection. Every CD I buy gets ripped to FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Compression) or ALAC (That is Apple Lossless Audio Compression Shirley) and then I make an AAC (Advanced Audio Codec like the iTunes Store) which I put on my iPhone (this is like a music player that also receives phone calls). The time-consuming process is really the ripping of the audio, once I have that on my computer as FLAC, I can transcode it to any audio format and the audio quality my heart desires. When I have created my iPhone-compatible AAC file, I archive the FLAC files onto Blu-ray discs. (Fancy right Shirley?!) If I can get a FLAC file off-the-bat it saves me the process of buying and ripping CDs to get my music fix.
In searching for the FLAC audio or CD of Pinô, I came across a recommendation on Amazon.com mentioning Drip.fm a music service for independent record labels. After heading to the site I was greeted with a huge page of independent record labels to which I could subscribe to. Each monthly subscription, varying in price from $10-$15, secures you a spot to receive everything the record label releases during that month. It is very “of the moment” and there is no back catalog for you to download. When you subscribe is when your music starts rolling in and you only get what has been released that month or any back catalog the label decides to release.
So hoping I would get Otto A. Totland’s masterpiece Pinô – I subscribed to the M+6 drip pool. The M+6 pool is a conglomeration of 6 independent record labels; Morr Music, Altin Vilage & Mine, Miasmah, Shelter Press, Immune, Sonic Pieces, and Roots Strata. While I had only really heard about Morr Music, who represent Múm, Lali Puna, and Ms. John Soda among others, there is tons of music and artists I had never heard about from the other labels.
After about a month, I can say the experience has been great! The M+6 pool is always interesting. I’m not into all the music that is released. Some of it sounds more like an audio sketch than a cohesive piece of music, but everything has been fun to listen to for the most part. The awesome music far exceeds the music I am lukewarm on. I also promptly subscribed to Ghostly International drip as I was curious to get ahold of the new Com Truise album and the new Tycho album releasing mid-March.
So now I am a patron of the arts, blindly supporting record labels who make music the masses may not care to explore and it feels great. It is like the Columbia House Music Club for hipsters who want to be closer to the cutting edge rather than the mass market. I totally recommend it to any of you who love music and want to listen to interesting things they might not have the time to discover on your own. For me, it is $10-$15 well spent.
A quick aside. When I was writing this, listening to Pinô by Otto A. Totland, Funtime Julia actually came into my office and asked
“What are you playing? This is the most beautiful music I have ever heard. I realized I am relaxed instead of anxious about going to work today.”
Update: Drip.fm is no more. Sadly the market for owning music just doesn’t quite exist anymore with the prevalence of streaming services. Now I check on my subscriptions through Qobuz and listen there.
When TJ Jagodowski and Dave Pasquesi get on stage they introduce themselves, work the crowd a bit … and then, the lights go off. And when the lights come back on, they’re just standing there, staring at each other. The audience is waiting, wondering what’s going to happen. And so are TJ and Dave.
Do you have a podcast? Then you should really be using the free audio utility The Levelator. I spent many years trying to get my podcast audio to sound uniform and this utility does automatically.
I Can’t Make You Love Me / Nick of Time
Bon Iver on Calgary single
Pretty incredible cover, although Justin Vernon of Bon Iver sounds like a Muppet. Think about it.
I have been using Google Play a lot more recently now that they have music matching and a free 20,000 song upload capacity. It is especially great when I’m at work and want to listen to a few of my tunes. However, I always forget I have the player open in my web browser and close it by mistake, thus ending my epic music party. To counteract this, I created a Fluid app for my Mac which will keep the music going even if I close the window.
But every app needs a great Icon, so I created this transparent PNG Google Play icon for my application. Feel free to use it for your Fluid app.
Audirvana Free is the counterpart to the more full-featured Audirvana Plus mac application. While the interface may be a little hokey, it is the best sounding audio player I have ever found. Seriously, everything I listen to just sounds better with this player. The Gapless track RAM pre-caching, FLAC support, and system integrated volume means you are always listening at your system’s full potential. My biggest gripe is that there is no Last.fm scrobbling, but that is a fairly small issue.
In light of this I have switched over to Vox another lightweight mac audio player. Although I find its appearance a little stark, it stays out of your way and plays just about any audio file. Best of all it has menubar control and IT SCROBLES TO LASTFM!
Sonora is a tiny and elegant little replacement for iTunes that plays just about any music file you throw at it.
When Apple purchased LaLa last year, my favorite music streaming service ever, I have to say I was upset. LaLa had a wonderful model which put their users and the music they liked into a wonderfully social system. Unfortunately for LaLa, that system didn’t make much sense from a money-making standpoint and Apple bought them for the technology and the experience they had with streaming media.
I figured with such an accomplished head start, Apple could flip a music streaming service in no time. They had the people who created the ideal, just do more of that? Not so fast mister, this is Apple we are talking about and nothing at Apple gets released without being perfect.
Cut-to more than a year later
Last week Amazon released 2 free products, Amazon Cloud Player & Amazon Cloud Drive. The basic gist of both is storage online for all your media — in the cloud. Cloud Player is all about audio (at the moment) and Cloud Drive is all about all other files. Confused? Maybe this video will help.
Sounds pretty incredible right? So how does it stack up against all the other cloud based storage systems out there? For files it is pretty good, it is definitely not as easy to use as DropBox, but that may change rapidly as Amazon figures out what they have. The major advantage of DropBox over Cloud Drive is finder integration on both Mac & Win computers. Not having to keep a web browser window open or download some strange “uploader” is a real advantage.
For music, the service is basically unmatched at the time of this writing. Being able to upload mp3s and have them instantly available for playing online or to be downloaded on another computer is wonderful. The Amazon Cloud Player itself is relatively simple in its design. It has a big yellow play button and does a fantastic job at streaming audio files smoothly. The sound quality is the same as you would expect from a desktop application.
But what about all us people who have bought lots of songs from iTunes? We’re out in the cold, right? Amazon Cloud Player uploads and plays those flawlessly too! What?! You heard me. As long as the AAC track isn’t copy protected (ie – not a 128kbps .m4a file you downloaded from iTunes 2 years ago or earlier) it will upload, play, and have all its tags. This is wonderful functionality for all the folks like me who drift from one music service to another. Amazon has smartly not excluded its competitors users.
Unfortunately if you rip your music into FLAC, APE, Apple Lossless, OGG, or any other formats; you are going to have to convert them to MP3 or M4A if you want to listen to them online. If you just want to upload them, they can be uploaded and accessed through Cloud Drive, but Amazon Cloud Player will not recognize them as audio.
Time to give up on Apple?
So is Apple so late to the party that it will be impossible to catch up? Far from it. Apple will release their cloud music service soon and it will be a game changer, of that I have no doubt. For all of us iPhone and iPod users, the service will also be compatible with our devices (Amazon’s Mobile Cloud Player is not yet available for Apple products). But what Amazon’s service does do, is offer a glimpse in to the future of cloud based services. It may not be perfect yet, but it does change how we store and consume media. Best of all this gives Apple a high bar to jump over — competition is never a bad thing.