La Roux

As I browsed through The Hype Machine Zeitgeist 2009, I came across La Roux. As soon as I heard the first song on her self-titled album coupled with the good reviews on The Hype Machine, I knew I should probably just go ahead and buy it. The Hype Machine helped me discover an artist I otherwise would have probably ignored.

La Roux’s “A Flock of Seagullshairdo matches her musical style quite well. It really has that “straight from the 80’s feel” of futuristic synth-pop. The song variety leaves a little to be desired, but the entire album has a fun feel to it. Normally the occasional falsetto strain in her voice would turn me off, but her voice is quite unique and likable. Maybe it’s her accent. I bet that’s it. Of course, the lyrics are nothing to write home about, but I didn’t expect them to be.

Notable songs include “In For The Kill,” “Tigerlily,” “Cover My Eyes” and “As If By Magic.” This album is nothing groundbreaking, but it’s a fun twist on an old style and probably worth a purchase (or at least a listen).

3/5

(As a side note, I purchased this album from 7digital soon after Ubuntu announced that 7digital would be providing the music for the Ubuntu One Music Store. Not that it matters much.)

Begin To Hope

I probably first discovered Regina Spektor years after most other people in the country. It was only a few months ago that I was captured by her song “Us” featured in the movie 500 Days of Summer. As I went searching for more of her work, I found that she was already a fairly well-established musician. She just released a new album in 2009, and she also released a popular album called Begin to Hope in 2007. I decided to pick it up after enjoying a few samples. (As a side note, this was my first full album purchase from the new Ubuntu One Music Store.)

The album is definitely something unique and worth checking out. Her music immediately made me picture her performing as an independent artist in a city like New York. Spektor’s lyrics are phenomenal. She embodies everything I’d hope from a modern singer-songwriter. Some of her songs are based on syllabic repetition in a style that is truly her own. Their hooks are so simple, and yet they work so well that it’s hard to imagine trying to complicate them with anything more. There were a few songs on the album that I didn’t care for much, but they gave me a deeper respect for Spektor as an artist. They reminded me that she is a true creator that is not afraid to push the boundaries of what a song should sound like. Above all, she appears to remain true to herself and her vision, and that is worthy of respect.

I definitely recommend checking out some of Regina Spektor’s work, especially Begin to Hope. I will probably end up with some more of it over the next few months. Notable songs for me included Fidelity, Apr├Ęs Moi, On the Radio, Better, Sampson, and Edit. You may noticed that the first song that drew me to Spektor isn’t on this album. It’s actually on another called Soviet Kitsch, which I’ll have to pick up at some point too. As for Begin to Hope, if you’re looking for some unique and well-done music, this album comes highly recommended.

4.5/5

Sansa Clip Plus

My aunts gave me a gift certificate to Amazon.com for Christmas. I like to spend gift certificates on something I want rather than something I need (like a text book) because I don’t always get a chance to do that. I had been thinking about buying a portable music player to use in my car for a while now, and this was the perfect excuse. I knew that I didn’t want an iPod, so I did some research at Anything But iPod. I was very impressed by their review of the Sansa Clip Plus (or Clip+), and I noted that it took home their #1 player of 2009. I won’t go into too much detail about why I chose the Clip+, but the ability to play OGG and FLAC formats in addition to mp3, the cost, the expandable memory slot, and the reportedly great sound quality were all key factors. I must say that ABi didn’t misrepresent the Clip+ at all. It’s fantastic!

Sansa Clip PlusI bought the 8 GB model from Amazon. Since the Clip+ has an expandable microSDHC slot, I also recently grabbed an 8 GB card for $12 from Fry’s, giving me a total of 16 GB. My main reason for buying a portable music player was to replace the (literally) 50+ CDs strewn over the back seat of my car. I have a lot of music on my computer, but I get sick of listening to the same album all the time, and I usually get very frustrated with the radio. Since my car’s radio unfortunately doesn’t have a line-in jack, I also picked up an iriver AFT 100 FM Transmitter, which works surprisingly well. I was a little skeptical of the FM transmitters at first, but with this one the sound is usually pretty clear and without static.

I don’t have much else to say except: I love this thing! My assortment of music on the road is huge now, which is something I’ve been wanting for a long time. I did a lot of driving during the months of February and March, and this little guy was a perfect companion. Plus, I’m thrilled that this thing has an expandable microSDHC slot. Recently companies have started making 32 GB microSDHC cards, and in a year or two when the price drops, I’ll have a 40 GB mp3 player that’s about the size of a box of matches for very cheap. Plus I love that I have an excuse to expand my music collection. I bought a couple of new albums recently, so look forward to some new music reviews. Sansa also impressed me by having standard protocols for syncing, so I can choose either MSC or MTP mode. To make a long explanation short, it works well on Ubuntu (and Linux in general).

All-in-all, this Sansa Clip+ gets an A+ from me. It comes with a very high recommendation.

The Sound of White

My first encounter with singer-songwriter Missy Higgins was so positive that I had to check out her debut album, The Sound Of White. I have been eying this album for a while now, and I finally got it for Christmas this year.

I was turned on to this album after hearing All For Believing, Higgins’ first song that she astonishingly wrote when she was only 16. Maybe I was expecting too much from The Sound of White, but I was less impressed by it than On A Clear Night. Higgins had not quite perfected the variety and edginess evident in her later work. That’s not to say it was a bad album by any means, and surely it will grow on me as I listen to it over the coming weeks. I was just hoping for the near perfection found in her second album, which admittedly is a little unfair of me.

Despite my lackluster review, there are a few stand-out songs, including All For Believing and Scar. If you were a fan of On A Clear Night, this album is still a solid addition to your collection. Her voice continues to be unique, refreshing, and a pleasure to listen to. If there was this much improvement between her first two albums, I am now awaiting her next release even more eagerly.

3/5

Honeysuckle Weeks

I discovered The Submarines as many people did, even if they did not realize it. Their music plays in nearly every iPhone commercial, namely the songs You Me and the Bourgeoisie and Submarine Symphonika. I went in search of other music by The Submarines only to find that I liked a lot of it. For some reason, I never got around to purchasing the album this year, so I asked for it for Christmas.

I popped in Honeysuckle Weeks on one of my many hour-long drives this holiday season and was mildly blown away by it. I hadn’t heard much of their music since discovering them back in March, so I had forgotten how great they are. The entire album is refreshing. The band is a male/female duo, and the vocals are shared by both John Dragonetti and Blake Hazard. I especially enjoy Blake’s voice, and interestingly I see from the wikipedia article on their band that she is the great-granddaughter of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Stand-out songs, besides the two already mentioned, include Swimming Pool and The Wake Up Song. The energy of the album seemed to dwindle near the end, which was mildly disappointing. My biggest complaint, however, was that the album was too short! It didn’t last my full trip to Chicago from Sadie’s house. And if that’s my biggest complaint, you know the album is pretty good. Next up, I’ll have to check out the duo’s debut album, Declare A New State.

4.5/5

On A Clear Night Review

Every week Amazon MP3 offers up the Friday Five. They sell 5 popular MP3 albums for $5 each. I grabbed Missy Higgins‘ album On A Clear Night on the Friday Five two weeks ago. I had actually been thinking about buying the album after hearing the song Steer on the music blog Ryan’s Smashing Life. Missy Higgins is an excellent singer/songwriter from Australia, and I immediately picked up on the quality of her singing and guitar playing.

Missy Higgins - On A Clear NightOn A Clear Night is a fantastic album that I ended up liking even more than I thought I would. The diversity of the songs really shows her breadth as an artist. She plays both guitar and piano very well, and that’s complemented by her killer vocals. Her voice is reminds me a bit of Norah Jones, who is one of my favorite female vocalists. Surprisingly, you don’t get too much of an Australian accent when she’s singing except for in one or two songs. Ms. Higgins is probably known best for her single Where I Stood, which I hadn’t heard before. It grew on me the more I listened to it. The songs 100 Around The Bends and Steer both grabbed my attention as upbeat guitar songs, while Sugarcane was an fantastic piano ballad. Peachy even shows an angry side to her music, which was very refreshing. All-in-all, I felt it was a fairly well-rounded album with no two songs sounding too much alike.

It’s available for purchase as a CD or an MP3 album from Amazon, and it comes highly recommended.

4.5/5

Vampire Weekend Review

I discovered the band Vampire Weekend on The Hype Machine Zeitgeist 2008, where their self-titled album came in as the #3 album of the year according to hundreds of music bloggers. I sat down and listened to it all the way through using their lovely built-in player, and I found myself pleasantly surprised. Even though Chris from Flickin’ Spit thinks the album is all buzz, I missed out on any “buzz.”

Vampire Weekend - Vampire WeekendI loved the musicality of the entire album. They combine a cornucopia of instruments including a kettle drum, harpsichord, and a violin if my ears don’t deceive me. I will say that despite listening to it a number of times, the lyrics haven’t stuck with me as being terribly insightful. That doesn’t mean that they’re not, just that they haven’t caught my attention. Still, the musical quality of the album is fantastic. Notable songs for me included A-Punk, M79, Walcott, and The Kids Don’t Stand a Chance. It’s always nice to find a new band to listen to, and I especially like Vampire Weekend. I’m looking forward to hearing more from them in the future. Thanks to The Hype Machine!

You can purchase the CD or MP3 Album from Amazon.

4/5

The Hype Machine rocks my world

I recently discovered The Hype Machine when browsing Ryan’s Smashing Life. I didn’t exactly understand what it was at first, but it’s actually really cool.

So people have these music blogs all over the Internet. They review albums and usually post free promotional mp3s in their reviews. Record labels give out these promotional downloads to spread the word about a new album or band. The Hype Machine catalogs and organizes all these music reviews from the best music blogs for your viewing pleasure. They also have an awesome built-in music player (by imeem) that allows you to listen to the attached mp3s directly from The Hype Machine. Users can mark tracks as a “favorite”, and you can view the “favorite” count for all the tracks.

Now if that was all The Hype Machine offered, it would be interesting, but only moderately useful. Fortunately, there are a bunch of other incredibly cool sections of the website. The “Latest” section is the first section you’ll encounter. It contains the latest posts in the music blogosphere. The “Popular” section contains the most popular music on the site from the past 3 days, either by “favorites” or by play count. The “Radio” section contains a non-stop radio stream of the most popular and recent music. Put it on, and you’re sure to have some fresh tunes to listen to non-stop. You can even plug this into your favorite music player as an online radio station. The “Spy” section lets you spy on what the most users are currently listening to on The Hype Machine. There’s also a “Dashboard” section that lets you customize your experience with The Hype Machine.

Surfing through all that music might seem a bit overwhelming. Even though it’s fairly easy to navigate, finding good new music on there could be challenging, especially for a new user. Thus my favorite section of The Hype Machine is the “Zeitgeist.” At the end of every year, they catalog the most popular music from that year and give you the top 50 artists, albums, and songs. The really cool part, as I read about on ReadWriteWeb, is the Top 50 Albums section. For the 2008 Zeitgeist, The Hype Machine partnered with the folks at imeem and musebin (which creates one-line reviews of every album on The Hype Machine). They pulled some freely distributable, Creative Commons licensed photos of the bands from Flickr and made awesome spreads for each album. Plus with the help of imeem, the full albums are available to listen to for free. I was really intrigued by this. I had already bought the #1 album a few weeks ago, but I really enjoyed the #3 album by a group called Vampire Weekend. I liked it so much that I ended up buying it a few days later (using their referral link directly to Amazon MP3).

If you’re grooving on The Hype Machine, I figured out another cool feature for people using Firefox and other modern browsers. Mozilla’s Mycroft Project, which implements OpenSearch, will let you add an entry for The Hype Machine to your Firefox search bar. Furthermore, if you go to the “Manage Search Engines” section at the bottom of the search engine drop-down menu, you can highlight The Hype Machine entry and edit its keyword to something like hype. Now if you want to quickly search for some music by The Submarines, you can simply type hype the submarines in your Firefox address bar (awesome bar). That’s a pretty awesome and quick way to find new music!

If you’d like to know more about the blogs that are syndicated by The Hype Machine, you can check out their blog post at the Machine Shop blog on the matter. There are literally thousands of music blogs that are syndicated on The Hype Machine. I’ve also found that their musical taste also varies quite a bit, including some pretty interesting jazz and blues. No need to worry that it’s all weird indie rock, although there is quite a bit of that.

So, what are you waiting for?! Go find some new music on The Hype Machine!

Ryan’s Smashing Life

After reading a post on Ars this morning, I got turned on to a new music blog called Ryan’s Smashing Life. I’m really liking it so far. In the past few years, I’ve become a bit disgusted with modern music, but I’ve perked up these past few months. Maybe I was just sick of the music that makes its way to mainstream radio. Or maybe the music industry is finally turning around and picking good artists. Or maybe the market is correcting itself in spite of the industry. Or maybe I’m just an idiot who didn’t know that there’s a lot of good music out there that doesn’t make it to the airwaves and the Interwebs is a good place to find it. Either way, RSL has got some decent stuff on it. He’s also got a really nice, unobtrusive streaming music player on there. I recommend listening to “Peace and Hate” by The Submarines.