Random thoughts: About playlists

Around a year and a half I got my hands on my first iPod, a classic 4th generation with 120GB of space for my music.  The experience was good until it broke for no apparent reason two weeks later, and long story short, I had to replace it two times before the shop gave me one that actually worked.

It was not too long ago that I discovered, nearly by accident, that this device has the ability to keep track of everything you listen, something that serves several purposes, such as keeping your Last.fm profile updated when you’re scrobbling directly from your iPod.  But even more interesting, this function serves the purpose of keeping a playlist of your top 25 most listened tracks.  Yeah, I know, this shouldn’t come as a surprise, but I’m usually focused on listening specific records for long periods of time that I completely forgot to explore this kind of functionality.

As you must know, I live in a city cluttered with traffic no matter what day and no matter what hour, and one friday morning while struggling to get to work in time I picked this playlist and let it roll from start to finish (yes, I actually had the time to listen to it from start to finish before getting to the office).  This are the results:

First song to come up was Rocket by Goldfrapp, which I don’t remember listening THAT much in the first place, but for some reason is sitting there comfortable.  Synthpop never felt this fun since the 80s I think.  Second and third place were both claimed by indie-pop band Ivy, with I think of you and Hideaway, and I have to confess now that I still have a fixation with those two songs…  Fourth place belongs to Marsianskiye glaza by Russia’s favorite duo t.A.T.u., and although I can’t recognize two words of what they are singing in that song, it somehow made it that high on my personal chart (for the record, my fixation with that song lasted a very short amount of time, but it was enough to claim a spot, haven’t listened to it in about a year though).

It was at this point that I first noticed how biased this playlist was.  No need to go down and explain the 21 songs left.  This playlist is at best, a reflection of how much I got stuck at some songs during the last year and a half.  I’m a little bit disappointed with this of course, because the potential to make the ultimate personalized playlist is there, and is wasted for the most part. 

Note to self:  Be sure not to stay in the same song for more than two weeks next time.

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Röyksopp – Senior

Röyksopp - Senior (2010)

Röyyksopp - Senior (2010)

It’s always been some sort of tradition, more like a rule actually: Röyksopp never does an album that sounds like anything they have done before. Early in 2009, when news about two new up-coming Röyksopp albums started to spread through the Internet, I was a little skeptical, not because I doubted the duo could deliver, but because it sounded so not them. Not so long after that, the duo stated that this album was going to be the counterpart to Junior (released prior, early in 2009), and while Junior was described as having a spring feel, Senior would be completely instrumental, having an autumn mood.

Senior was delayed for almost a year (originally stated for a late-2009 release), and I started to wonder what could possibly be taking so long? But when it was finally released, I realized what was going on. You see, I have the theory that something so different in terms of music genres can’t be released within 6 months of difference, at least coming from the same artist, and I reckon now that it was the right choice.

But what is Senior about? Being a completely instrumental album means that there won’t be vocals taking the lead role, something that has been done brilliantly with Junior (2009) and The Understanding (2006). The weight of the album then falls on feelings and emotions created by the ambient and atmosphere evoked through the songs, which is something we discuss later on.

For someone not used to paced and relaxed music like downtempo and ambient, and specially if the only previous experience with Röyksopp was through Junior, this might come as a not so easy transition from the electronic / synthpop sound, but you must know that all the ingredients that makes a Röyksopp album so good are all here.

Now, speaking about the songs, The Drug was selected as the single from this album, and it’s a happy downtempo driven song that reminds me in some ways of Boys from The Understanding, although I find it a little misleading when you compare it with most of the other songs. Also there is Tricky Two, that as you might have guessed, it’s a reworked version of Tricky Tricky from Junior, which is not just the original song stripped off of Karin Dreijer Andersson’s voice, it is actually an expanded version with a thicker set of arrays, and before you know, you won’t even remember there was another version…

But Senior is so much more than new versions of old songs, it is more about discovering a new set of emotions through places your mind creates, and songs like The Fear and Coming Home are to blame for that.

I actually believe there are different personalities within this album, if you listen from start to finish you will at first feel like you are still waking up from a Junior-induced hangover (thanks to Tricky Two and the Déjà vu it represents), and ironically right after that you have The Alcoholic, but instead of having a thick, dizzy experience as the name suggests, it turns out to be a warm, nature inspired journey that carries on through Senior Living.

The Drug ends up being the middle point if we stick to this perspective. Forsaken Cowboy is the door to the fascinating second part that this album has, and it is my very own personal opinion that we reach the climax with The Fear. After that, things start to slowly get drone and confusing, almost like if someone suddenly plugged the cord and we are left with just a distant memory of what was happening before being completely shut down.

After it all finishes, the only option left is to go through it all over again, in the hopes of finding new meanings. There is a catch though, you should never idealize it, because as I said at I said at the beginning, Röyksopp never does something twice (ten years later and I’m still waiting for Melody A.M. 2).

Flunk – This Is What You Get (2009)

Flunk - This Is What You Get

This Is What You Get (2009)

In my eternal search for the perfect album, Flunk has always been a prominent candidate in my book. I like the fact that you can tell there is a difference between how their sound has evolved from the experimental For Sleepyheads Only (2002), and their latest effort.

This Is What You Get however has departed from the more traditional formula we were becoming used to. The central part of the album is still the omnipresent Anja Øyen Vister’s voice, but there has been a shift in the way it is presented. The emphasis now is getting an edgier, more experimental rock sound, which blends surprisingly good with Anja’s voice, almost to the extent of creating a feeling that you’re witnessing an alternative rock band rehearse in someone’s garage.

At first I was a little worried that they were just trying too hard to create something new that they actually forgot what made them so good. It wasn’t until I spent a lot of time with this record, then let it off my head for another while, and finally getting back that I really started to get it. My worries started to fade, I realized this is still the band I got to love so many years ago, and yet they surprise me with something completely new.

Fortunately this is not about emulating someone else’s sound, this is what happens when you get out of your comfort zone and you start to add new elements, and happily for all of us, I think it worked out just fine. There is still of course some traces from the old formula, you can’t get completely away from it, but it is very well-balanced that you never get the feeling that something is out-of-place.

Also, in usual Flunk fashion, there is a cover included. Before this record came out, my favorite Flunk cover was Blue Monday (originally by INXS), hands down. This time we get ourselves a treat with a somewhat drowsy version of the cult classic Karma Police (Radiohead), and that of course means that now Blue Monday has enough reasons to worry. I still don’t have a clear winner though.

Lately, a question started to grow in me… Is the old Flunk gone forever? A part of me would miss it dearly, but I’m starting to suspect that another part of me would like some more experimentation before eventually going back to some more traditional sound, unless there is no turning back…