The Psalms

music

UNIIQU3 - Heartbeats

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Music on iOS

Reporting from deep within the iOS cult on essential apps/methods for real-life music people.

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Dark Wrapped 2020 - Spotify

Reclaiming tastemaking for listeners in the Spotify era.

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SoundCloud Tile

I’ve got some fucking opinions about SoundCloud…

My friend Sierra has used SoundCloud almost exclusively for her music discovery, consumption, and recommendations, but has remained resolute in her unwillingness to financially invest in the service. As such, her listening is regularly interrupted by ads and limited to bitrates as low as 64kbps. Since I was last employed, I have maintained a vow to her that I would pay for a subscription to SoundCloud Go+ – the premium listener tier of the service – with my own money, once I was once again in place at a steady job. This move would remove all advertising from her listening and up its bitrate to 256kbps, among other benefits.

Two nights ago, we were refueling her car in preparation for another one of our recreational drives into rural Missouri when I made the decision on a whim to simply signup for a trial of Go+ on my own account using Apple Pay, mostly because I knew we’d be going out of effective cell network range and one of Go+’s most emphasized features is its ability to download music locally. (Since my Apple Music subscription expired earlier this year, I only have a single album actually downloaded on my phone.)

*** The above is what I wrote several weeks ago, just as I was beginning my trial period. Now, having experienced a significant amount of time as a SoundCloud Go user, I am a bit sad that my trial is over. To be honest, I fully intended to become a paying subscriber, but my PayPal account was $0.70 short of the $12.99 monthly fee when the first billing cycle came, two weeks ago. This is not a conclusion I expected to come to, as SoundCloud’s fundamental arrangement could not possibly differ any more from the music streaming service I long claimed as my ideal own: Apple Music.

One major worry I would imagine potential subscribers may have when approaching SoundCloud as a replacement for their single music subscription service would revolve around the extent of SoundCloud’s establishment music industry library. There’s no way your Dad’s Sunday barbecue playlist is going to be on SoundCloud, right? Strangely enough, I was unable to find a single track that was not in the library. From my own favorite Keith Jarrett’s archives to the new Dixie Chicks album, every bit of big time record label-distributed music I could conceieve of could be found aside the Go+ badge (though notably, neither of these showed significant playcounts.) As far as the app experience goes, I swear it got smoother as soon as I signed up for Go+. This is probably bullshit, but regardless, with the seemingly ever-widening disparity in the experiences of free vs. premium users, SoundCloud appears to be moving actively away from the former.

SoundCloud Desktop Keyboard Shortcuts

I have long said (somewhat in jest) that Chance The Rapper is the only reason SoundCloud still exists.

From a future historian’s perspective, the battle for the definitive name in independent digital music distribution has already won, largely thanks to its relationship with Chance The Rapper, who’s quickly become a “cultural influencer, thought leader, global star,” and one of my generation’s upmost celebrity champions. Obviously, there is little sense trying to determine whether SoundCloud earned his partnership or landed their popular association with his name as long as the artist maintains it publicly, while continuing to give new meaning to the phrase “serially likable.” -“Bandcamp: Streaming’s Secret Savior” | July, 2018

If CNET_ was asking the question a year before that Bandcamp essay, I think I can feel properly varified. What I’d really like to know, now: does Chance still feel the same way about the streaming service after the launch of SoundCloud Go+? Considering that I am far from a real music journalist, I do not have any more contact resources than you have. That said, I left [a comment on his Facebook Page](https://www.facebook.com/chancetherapper/posts/3299672310124810?commentid=3319045628187478). I guess we’ll see.

Some more technical bits: SoundCloud is now castable on Chromecast, but not supported by Apple CarPlay, for whatever that’s worth. Notably apart from Bandcamp and Apple Music and aligned with Spotify, SoundCloud is explicitly investing in algorithmic music discovery, which means its users are doing the curatorial work. I am doing/have done the curatorial work. That means the DnB crowd is going to receieve Toto recommendations, given what I sought out for this post. You’re welcome, and sorry…

  1. While I was surprisingly unable to find any Tweets or Evernotes further evangelizing Apple Music (I suspect I’m thinking of an old, untranscribed Drycast episode,) I found real magic in the service as I perceieved it: $9.99 a month for all of iTunes. 13 year-old me would considerthat one helluva deal.
  2. Naturally, if you know of one, please do comment and/or drop me a line.
  3. In fact, it is the only streaming app I found that _does not _have CarPlay support. Even Bandcamp and MixCloud for iOS do!

#music #software

The Matchsellers

The duo's new album manages to be wonderfully explorative without sacrificing any sacred traditions.

For years, I took the voices and culture of working Americans for granted and sought to generally distance myself from my origin’s heritage as much as possible, but I’ve since realized that I couldn’t have done so without absolute certainty that country, bluegrass, and folk music were stubborn as State highway ditch-rooted fescue blades: omnipresent forces of Midwestern nature that’d secured their invincibility with the simple superiority of their belonging. While this conclusion is true enough for the time being, it’s quite independently so of their worth or necessity. In such conditional blindness, I’ve simply proven my sensibilities to be (predictably in the case of my seniors) not exempt. This truth is noteworthy only because of its potential to spare others the embarrassment of blatant ignorance to their own privilege. That said, I would suggest that you engage this music sincerely for a moment for your own sake, regardless of your own convictions regarding country music, Indiana, plaid, pickup trucks, the end of the world, or the proper noun for “cantaloupe.”

As young adults, even those folks who’ve remained resolutely country-minded found themselves trivializing the name of the titanic Dallas-born trio The Dixie Chicks not out of half-assed iconoclasm, but because their brand was so cleverly immune to irony. You thought you were proving yourself of a higher caliber of discernment, but mocking goddesses only paraded your ignorance. In my teen rebellion against the culture of my rural origin, I scoffed at their mention for a while, somehow oblivious to my blatant hypocrisy. Thanks to my older sisters and their automobiles, I spent before and after elementary school days absorbing thousands of hours’ worth of late-90s/early-oughts Pop Country radio. Two summers ago, I returned to this library at length for the first time in 10 years and found my heart completely vulnerable to its related memories and my mind consistently flabbergasted by the oomph of the composition that defines the genre’s last mainstream hurrah.

The original three Chicks – Natalie Maines, Emily Robison, and Marty Maguire – are still very much alive, kicking, and radio-playing. They even “returned from exile” with a real international tour in 2016. (I regret little more in my adult life than missing the opportunity to see them.) According to a fascinating November 2015 analysis in The Guardian, their 2003 denouncement of President George W. Bush cost them serious cred among their audience, but Johnny Cash likely harbored similar sentiments, Stephen Morrissey is… not straight, the most worthwhile current country sounds from my teenage home are composed and performed by a trans woman, and the staple tunes from the genre’s most chaste personalities are often just about sex. No reasonable individual would still cite this incident in an argument opposing the essential legacy of these three miraculously talented women.

From a pop perspective at least, The Dixie Chicks are almost certainly the penultimate expression of country music as a technical and emotional exercise. Their extraordinary musicianship and prodigally antecedent mastery of suave sincerity represented the absolute peak of pop country’s untenable relationship with the American working class in one hell of a 21st-century-breaching last hurrah that still brings tears of pride to many an eye. However, the hysterical backlash of the greater working people personified in part by Donald Trump’s presidency is a last sure indication of the mainstream’s final estrangement from all distillations of rural culture. In the coming years, I fear the toiling masses will be left only with less and less authentic, more and more suburban bastardizations of their music as the last superficial delusions of condescending affection from the middle class fade, and the enterprise dies. What does survive will “graduate” (retire) to Folk (for white performers,) and further strengthen the Blues resurrection (for everyone else.) That said, it’s hard to find anyone who’s comfortable mourning the loss openly after acceptance has progressively set in – there’s simply nowhere else to go, and its aging icons have been in desperate need of retirement throughout the Information Age.

The Top 10 Vegan Alternatives to Working-Class America

Even if I’d had the moderate exposure from my current perch in the midst of the notoriously grass-roots nature of Portland’s Folk/Blues scene, 2000 miles west, I would have still been totally blindsided by my incidental introduction to The Matchsellers, two years ago. One needn’t harbor any presumptions about the relationship between Kansas City violinist/fiddler Julie Bates and Hoosier blues guitarist, Andrew Morris – they’re just about the cutest pair you’ll ever see, couple’s act or not (it’s less relevant than you’d think, and none of our business.) They’re also extremely talented and genuinely authoritative world-class musicians with plenty of authentic country mileage who exude a proud air of warm, confident serenity occupying the bluegrass sphere. After happening upon their set at Columbia’s faux-speakeasy in Summer 2016, I was at once charmed and impressed by the pervasive magnitude of the ethereal aura that followed them, especially after our brief post-performance conversation. I’m ninety percent sure they came without a mobile phone between them carrying a wicker basket full of CDs and matchbooks, and shucks… I do believe we’ve been doing this whole thing wrong, all along.

I bought a copy of Kosciusko County then and there and played the shit out of it the next summer, wandering aimlessly around Missouri with my best friend, revisiting (and occasionally disrupting) the resolute peace of the tiny communities I grew up orbiting. On our way to the Hannibal – Huckleberry’s Fictional home/the great Mississippi’s tired tourism machine – we just left it on repeat. As a soundtrack to such sentimental pursuits, a central trio of back-to-back tracks proved especially potent, beginning with “Mentone (The 3,000 lb Egg)” – the work’s nostalgic, tear-jerking sole instrumental. Production isn’t low-fidelity, but appropriately honest – no amount of expensive mastering would be capable of compressing the essence of a surprise late-night live performance from The Matchsellers’ work into a digital audio file, anyway.

Bates’ fiddling is an impossibly rare pleasure – the real type of sawing that mystically manages to erase one’s inhibitions and sense of civic responsibility when tearing about the borders of quiet row-crop plots, leaving long-lived lesions of billowing limestone high above numbered county roads at ninety miles-per-hour. Succeeding the distant, eye-misting cruise of the 1.5-ton Egg, “Driving Escort” is a masterpiece (naturally) of this raucous realm.

Driving down the road with a yellow light on top of my truck / Going down to Vincennes earning my sixty bucks.

Add the accompaniment of Morris’ obviously-fathomless relationship with the guitar, and the result nails a select truth without any hint of prudishness. At sufficient volume, “Muskmelon Breakdown” becomes a beautifully-harmonious catalyst of fast, loose, maniacal, hilarious energy that’s sure to land you in a ditch, but you’ll still be laughing your ass off by the time you’re pulling clay clumps and waist-high fescue blades from your steaming radiator. Kosciusko County isn’t an innovative record by any critical instrumentation, but I’d do best to keep my sun-faded, skip-worn copy readily at hand for the next time I find myself on a fresh gravel road, whenever that may be.

For the last five years, all we said was goodbye I said it again, it was the fifth time

I took your word and did what I thought was best I took your word and went 600 miles west

That’s it, then – we’ve got The Matchsellers pretty well figured for either wannabe(?) or reformed(?) yahoos of their own design; charming, dusty novelties who chose a folly destiny of toiling their craft for none but a seasonal dozen acres of white, sweating State Fair flesh. Obviously, they’re meant for us sophisticated, globetrotting Winners to collect like thrift store antiques on our way down the interstate. Their time is ours to book for nothing on our mediocre “speakeasy’s” waxy new stage; to post on an Instagram story, to Tweet in an easy compartmentalization of their quaint displacement from our time, deep in the dusty recesses of our collections for no good bargain, where they’ll fall comfortably in line as our predictable and willing country servants should an opportunity happen upon us to show a stranger how interesting, dynamic, and worldly we are.

As a displaced (and formerly ex-communicated) yokel, I’ve often been astonished by how easy it is to discard American folk music for huge swaths of time unless it expresses some unignorable sort of spectacular torment. My own failure to recognize the value in this one until I became separated and homesick was an overtly foolhardy cliché (though quite predictable of like privilege,) but I can’t help but wonder: is it unavoidable? Of course, the process is necessary for ‘class justice’ – one might even call it a natural law of sorts – and in the case of The Matchsellers, there’s hardly a struggle to communicate emotionally. For a real music scholar, though, it’s surely worth asking of those voices who know: do the oppressed, destitute, and hope-impoverished people of this country still rely on bluegrass, or has it been replaced for them?

The abstraction of the phrase “good surprise” had plummeted from our collective vocabulary at a record-demolishing velocity in the interim, but this past spring’s release of Bluegrastronauts hit me squarely upside the skull again, stirring a solid half hour of hysterical, shrieking psychosis. I assumed the worst… Dear God, what has the internet forced upon that sweet, rootsy duo?! – and was immediately compelled to drop everything and listen.

Hoosiers, we have a problem. What the fuck is this album, exactly? A nonchalant, apparently oblivious challenge to every assumption you could possibly arrive with. It’s safe to suppose “Bluegrastronauts” refers to its departure from the rest of their discography – from smack dab in Indiana’s center to the goddamned Beta Quadrant, the two managed to stupefyingly ace a theme most comfortable residents of their bluegrass sphere would take care to avoid leaving up on the kitchen whiteboard – even tackling apocalypse with regal serenity. At first glance, I was sure that copious soft glow had to either be the false product of my own insanity, or a deliberate attempt to alienate the sum of their audience in a single crises of identity. In fact, The Matchsellers had pulled off yet another especially-sparse artistic miracle and harnessed their creative restlessness to propel their departure from the elderly genre’s pretensions without spilling a single drip of their secret sauce. It’s not a concept album (thank God,) but doesn’t wander in any disparaging sense, either.

Earl Scruggs in a spaceship on his way to Mars Pickin' away on the banjo at 100,000 miles an hour Bill Monroe in a rocket, see the look on his face it's mighty dark to travel when you're in outer space

Name-dropping four bluegrass legends within the number 1 album-titled introductory track is the pair’s single self-conscious acknowledgment of visiting folk fanatics: this CD looks crazy, but we know what we’re doing – and Kansas City’s mention accredits the locale of the following entirely Missouri-made production. Indeed, in the WhoDoneIts, you’ll see The HillBenders’ Chad Graves layed em’ down in Springfield, and Johnny Kenepaske’s Dead Horse Sound Company spread em’ around in the Heart of America, itself. Missourian musicians especially should take note of these names: the offerings may have diversified since my day, but sound talent like this is difficult to come across, even within explosive college towns. Cutting two live acoustic tracks per performer – four in total – while expecting to retain any subsequent control over the behavior of either unwanted or subject sound is as difficult as any other circumstance you’ll encounter in studio production at this level. I know this much (but little more in that direction): real sound control is simply too tedious to bear for monomiking rascals with GarageBand. Now, having lost or been estranged from any remotely-professional sound reproduction equipment, Bluegrastronauts sounds as balanced and polished as my wired Apple earbuds could ever convey.

In shared verses, Julie and Andrew’s charmed harmonies are separated beautifully about the listener without inducing a sense of lateral imbalance when one of them sings alone. (Admittedly, I don’t exactly know how it’s accomplished.) No single personality in the record’s toolset – guitar, fiddle, banjo, bass, or dobro steps over any other.

I have no idea who’s listening, but I’m positive their numbers should be multiplying by a hundredfold very quickly, filling especially with all of ye who feel abandoned by all authentic American representation. They shouldn’t ever fill up stadiums or establishment radiowaves, nor should their art invite extensive pretentious dissection, but they will be adored.

It’s a quintessential manner of Country Boy pride to whip the middle class’s condescension right back around with a classic demonstration: Oh, you thought I didn’t know about that? You thought I couldn’t do that? Well, of course I can! I’m just not particularly interested. The Matchsellers, though, have attained a much higher tier of comfort and confidence in their own skin.

#music

Indie Folk Battery Burglary

I have to just fucking do it — I’m going to start writing about music in this space. There’s virtually zero chance that I’ll shout over other voices of music criticism as long as Bilge remains so poorly optimized for SEO, and Portland, Oregon has been far too confusing to deprive myself the opportunity to work out any understanding of its youth culture. It’s not a lack of talented musicians in the area — the opposite is true — but a severe drought of the kind of tragedy and trauma which ultimately give acoustic American musical expression its whole shit. What I caught of the weekend’s invasion with Santa Cruz musicians were all praiseworthy, tight and confident performers who’d obviously invested heavily in their equipment and their presence here. Joe Kaplow arrived with a sort of bespoke magazine rack containing 20 neatly-arranged effect pedals, leading me to wonder for a moment if I was about to witness banjo powerviolence for the first time, but he explained that he simply preferred their availability, and wouldn’t use “more than a few at once,” and seemed almost genuinely perturbed by my attempt to explain the specific industrially-influenced involvement of audio hardware in hardcore punk and grind performance which I was referring to with the term. (“Powerviolence” has apparently become an ambiguous one around these parts, and I’m sure he was actually just utterly uninterested.)

Indie Folk Battery Burglary

Indie Folk Battery Burglary

No more than two dozen guests made up their peak crowd of witnesses, yet Joe and his band certainly made good on shear effort expended in laying down a hearty, back-to-back recital for us at an unusually protracted rate, though apparently either they, the Getaway Dogs, or The Curfews had insisted that a “cover charge” be collected at the door of the house show. It’s not my business to to dwell on or attempt to investigate an unsubstantiatable rumor, but I understand this could have been a breach of house show etiquette. What I do know is that one of the visiting musicians stole 4 flat AA batteries out of my COOLPIX and apparently attempted to jack its ancient Compact Flash card, which is only hilarious because they didn’t succeed. Regardless, it should be said that Joe Kaplow’s songwriting is more flattered by Indie mags than my own ears, though one still wishes for a more substantive topic than “I thought it’d be cool make a corn cob pipe, so I did.” Then again, much of what you’ll find at this URL reads a lot like “I thought it’d be interesting to make a WordPress blog, so I did.” White people have truly run out of shit to say, haven’t we?

The inspiration that sparked ‘I Said’ moved me like a puppet. So much so that I had to pull over at the top of Altamont Pass, by the huge windmills, and write the song in the back of my van.

Joe Kaplow for Glide Magazine

Reflection upon just about anything can have personal meaning, but no amount of musicianship can mask a stark lack of context. I do wonder if Indie Folk should just return to the megachurch, where songwriters like Joe and musicians of his crew’s sort are literally handed a gigantic audience of trained experts at finding profound meaning where it probably isn’t, along with great salaries, from what I hear. Otherwise, all that taxing preparation and expenditure will only lead to more forgettable performances. Or perhaps I am simply misguided in my assumption that artists work exclusively to communicate something lasting to someone. Every conversation I’ve had with Portlanders about Portland music has been predominantly about what artists and their audiences wear and how they behave instead of what they’re trying to say. There’s nothing inherently wrong with leaving things petty, lyrically and choosing to remain content with established sounds, musically, as long as your work is advertised as entertainment, not performance.

Before I came Northwest, my fiancé had been exposing me to a variety of its music, which I mostly tolerated politely. Dozens of albums and EPs were played through once and forgotten forever, but when I arrived at a demo tape recorded by her long time friend’s band, The Cigarette Burns, I finally heard something familiar, yet vitally compelling: pissed off punks having fun. That said, I should admit that I only attended Saturday’s show because he was on the ticket, and I’m still glad I did.

After what felt like hours of drowsy corn cob pipes, Christmas sweaters, and old sweethearts at fifty beats per minute (there were literally two young men sleeping within 15 feet of the bands for the duration,) Ricky sat himself on a stool in the midst of Kaplow’s sprawling gear load at 2:30AM with only his guitar and his voice. Unfortunately, I’d squandered the Nikon’s batteries on Californians (the lighting was not ideal anyway,) so I thought I’d share his set on Periscope. Though Ricky had been patiently present and attentive for the entire night (unlike myself,) those who were left of the entertainers bolted to the porch for a lively discussion about unicycles and quinoa while Ricky told us about hate, jealousy, and feeling like shit in a somber elegy. Any further adjectives may edge dangerously close to a half-assed “concert review,” which I am not yet qualified for, but I will say that Ricky’s sincerity made him most engaging part of the night, and his frustrated, conclusive nod to The Cigarette Burns was the first real punk sounds I’ve yet heard in Portland.

Indie Folk Battery Burglary

I realize sharing this small experience does little to grow the conversation, but this isn’t a magazine, and I am desperate for answers about the bizarre reality in which I find myself. When Ricky dedicated a song to Courtney Love, one of the male musicians(?) yelled “Courtney Love fuckin’ killed Kurt Cobain!” which was such an unbelievably cliché happening/decision that I’ll surely spend the rest of my days in this city unsuccessfully attempting to work it out, aloud. I can’t quite recall who it was last Fall that responded to my frustration by challenging “what if there’s nothing to understand?” While this may be a reasonable conclusion, I suspect it’s not one I could accept as long as I remain here without losing my mind. If Portland is truly the dimensionless bastion of apathy and intellectual stagnancy for young Americans, I must blog my way out it as soon as possible (for Pete’s sake, just give these kids some antidepressants,) but I’d still like to believe the idea too oxymoronic to actually exist.

#music

Bandcamp Logo Banner

As the industry endeavors once again to reconcile the cultural and financial incentives of streaming digital music, one independent platform has wavered little from its 10-year-long mission to bring the business to the unsigned artist with elegance and integrity.

If you’ve ever thought to yourself wow, Bandcamp has looked basically the same forever, you were entirely correct – now for a tenth of the century, at least – and you’ll be hard-pressed to find another Silicon Valley technology company toting a venture-funded origin story with such casual, yet robust long-standing user relationships underneath an unwavering, bullshit-free commitment to their product. Even under the most ludicrous scrutiny, the company’s rudder is flawless and its course true. What at first glance you’d swear to be an unsolicited conclusion to an obscure examination could very reasonably be described as cheesy, stubborn, dweebish, pious, or just generally boring, indeed, yet the respective accuracy of each of these adjectives are no more than the byproducts of the very same operational ethics which we’ve suggested, requested, demanded, and begged the rest of the world’s computing capitol to re-adopt, enforce, or at least ponder for a beat. The volume of the masses’ exponentially-increasing attendance of late is only overcome by its hysterical shouting match, so let us pipe down for a while, now so that we may be precise as we dig deeper into the methodology which has finally led to a profitable, drama-free outlying technology organization without the need for a single drop of analogous sweat over its brand upkeep. By arranging the company in its infancy to so precisely and elementally align with the needs of its customers, the original troupe of Bandcamp Bums ensured profound and lasting simplicity in the single overarching priority for those in every single role behind the quiet perpetuation of Bandcamp dot com: selling good music.

The platform indiscriminately provides both individual artists and labels with a clean, cozy, charming, smartly-designed and technically competent storefront with a wide-open storage allocation, optimal search engine optimization and a widely-trusted point of sale experience in exchange for 15% of any sales that should come in – significantly less than other channels; half what Apple Music will take. In examining Bandcamp’s history, its impact on independent music, and its viability as an alternative streaming service, we shall excavate the truth behind the derisive cynicism directed its way by the titans of the tech and music press. Over the course of this super link-laden journey, we’d consider the alarmingly hypocritical possibility that it’s been overlooked by mainstream conversations only because it has so long operated in the precise manner we claim is so hopelessly absent from its neighbors in its deliberate, principled, and innovative journey towards a transparent, progressive vision.

To catch our starting gun, we must first travel to Face The Music 2016 in Melbourne – as far as one can possibly get from The Valley – alongside Bandcamp’s super-worldly Chief Curator, Andrew Jervis to observe his interview for a live audience.

Bandcamp has always grown extremely organically. There’s never actually been any advertising that we’ve done; there’s never any advertising on the site, and there never will be. We haven’t really tooted our horn very hard.

Get it on Apple Books

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