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A few decades ago, a high school student sent surveys to well known writers and asked them how conscious were they about symbolism and interpretation for what they were writing. The answers were varied and interesting.

Here’s my perspective as a fiction writer and editor. “Symbolism” is much too strong a word, but I would guess that most of my fiction writing friends would say that they are conscious of at least 95% of the resonances/imagery/parallels in their language and details. Sometimes you need to think this things out if only to keep things consistent. Suppose you were writing a story or novel with Christian overtones; you’d want to make sure that any imagery identified with Christianity (crosses, bread, wine, etc) be used consistently with the overall theme. Sometimes, writers go out of their way to make their imagery inconsistent or misleading or ironic if only to make things fun. Often storytellers like to write allegorically, so allegories definitely can be applied to many different situations. See for example all the crazy interpretations of Wizard of Oz. Poetry is a completely different matter because poets go out of their way to use words and phrases which have multiple meanings and resonances, leaving it to the reader to decide at what level the work ought to be grasped. Finally, the question itself seems to be an artefact of psychoanalysis, which heavily influenced that particular generation of writers. If you asked a bunch of writers the same questions today, I doubt that many of them would attribute such an important role to the “subconscious” for their writing.

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Who is Not Going to be president in 2016

In September 2008 I was visiting distant relatives in Ireland. The topic of conversation was “Sarah Palin.” All the Irish people at the table were genuinely worried about her. “We can’t afford to have another Bush Administration — that affects many people not just in America. This Sarah Palin seems formidable. Why on earth didn’t Obama pick Hilary Clinton to be vice-president?”

I had to smile at this reaction. Obviously, as an American I saw things from a different perspective. I got to see how insiders viewed McCain/Palin and Obama. I knew that many Americans had considerable enthusiasm about Obama, and many people were sick of a Republican in the White House. I knew that McCain didn’t generate as much enthusiasm, didn’t accept federal election funds, had several out-of-touch scandals and had several mishaps. No matter how great Palin was, (and I knew that she was not by that time), these were insurmountable obstacles.

I had that same sort of feeling after Romney nominated Paul Ryan as his running mate. Romney was smart and capable, but he was very domineering in political debates; he also had the arrogance that came with wealth. During the primary to prove his conservative mettle Romney took on some pretty hardline positions, and I knew that would come back to bite him. Paul Ryan has always seemed to be a dishonest politician, but in TV appearances, he seemed sincere and focused (two very good qualities for a presidential ticket). Tactically it made sense to pick him, but it ended up making Romney and Ryan seem out of touch with mainstream America. Even after that first presidential debate fiasco, I knew that demographic trends favored Obama; it wasn’t that Obama won the election, but that Republicans lost it spectacularly.

I realize that it’s too soon to talk about 2016, and I find the premature talk of it to be amusing. I don’t know who will win or who will be nominated, but I know who will NOT be nominated.

  • Ted Cruz. Sure, he’s a rising star, but he has irritated many people inside his party and out. That’s not how presidents get started. He may get campaign contributions (and often this kind of money goes to show support of a position rather than an individual), but he will burn out pretty quickly. I think his positions are too extreme for the country, but I don’t even think that will matter.
  • Rick Perry. He’s good at raising money and politicking (and I mean that in the most cynical way) But he has bungled so many things in Texas (I mean major scandals), really doesn’t understand national issues and really has not faced a major challenger in Texas. He’s also a lousy debater and he refused Medicaid funding. That might play well in Texas, but almost nowhere else.
  • Hilary Clinton. Too old, and Americans have tired of the Clinton brand by now.
  • Elizabeth Warren. I love Ms. Warren’s spunk and advocacy, but she is too old and doesn’t really have a track record as a politician. Also, although she has the gift of gab and good political instincts, you can’t get to know the American political landscape by teaching at Harvard.
  • Joe Biden, Howard Dean, Kathleen Sebelius. Too old.
  • Rick Santorum. Too ideological.
  • Kirsten Gillibrand. Probably a good candidate, but too young and if Cuomo were to run against her, he would probably win (Gillibrand worked for him  at  HUD).
  • Mike Huckabee/Sarah Palin/Pete King/Jan Brewer/John Bolton. Too strange, even for Republicans.
  • Chris Christie. Although his numbers look good now from the recent  jerryrigged election and he polls well with the Bubba vote, he is too abrasive, doesn’t really show a mastery of policy and the fact that Romney didn’t want him  in 2012 speaks a lot.
  •  Bobby Jindal. Probably a competent and articulate Republican, but Louisiana is a puny political base to start from, and Jindal is too young. On the fence though; Jindal has made it a point to get involved in national issues, so I wouldn’t count him out yet. But Louisiana is too small a pond to test your political mettle (at least with a state like Maryland, you are dealing with DC and more national media)
  •  Rand Paul.  He has brand name, youth and cachet with the Tea Party. He also has the tendency to say crazy things and get involved in all kinds of minor scandals. I think his positions are really too crazy even for Republicans.  Still, he’s the nicer version of “Ted Cruz” with more heart and passion for social issues. But as his policies become better known, he  (like Paul Ryan) may find his popularity declines.
  • Scott Walker. Occasionally a politician who stirs national attention for being intractable  is rewarded politically (especially if he survives intact),  but in this case he  will serve as a lightning rod for hostility (just like Rick Perry).  Although he survived a recall challenge, the visuals of having been so vigorously opposed  by students, teachers  and labor unions should help him in the primary, but not in the national election. I could be wrong on this, and certainly he is not the laughing stock like Perry. Reagan had enemies too, but he also had a Hollywood background  and lots of charisma, something Walker doesn’t have the benefit of. Ultimately the key litmus test for whether a Republican can win a general election is  whether you accepted Medicaid expansion.  Opposing the expansion  wins you points in the primary, but not in the general election (unless Obamacare has major setbacks, which I do not expect).

This still leaves a lot of people: Andrew Cuomo, John Kasich, Martin O’Malley, Jeb Bush, Marco Rubio, Paul Ryan. Aha, I see no woman on my list. As I said, Warren would be my top choice if she ran, but she doesn’t really have a deep command on policy issues outside of banking and finance.

I am predicting that Obamacare will not be a train wreck and that governors who blocked it for their state will face inherent difficulties winning the general  election.  That leaves two Republican governors who accepted expansion (Bush and Kasich) and senators who can oppose it rhetorically but never had to block it in that person’s own state. That gives  Marco Rubio  a built in advantage.

On the Democrat side, I would love to see candidates make one or two issues their own (rather than just pointing to executive skills as governor). We may say that Ron Paul or Bill Bradley or Dennis Kucinich had very small chances of winning, but they had major platform differences with the leading candidate. I would love to see a candidate seize on climate change as an issue. Maybe a top tier candidate won’t do  this (Cuomo?) but a second tier candidate probably would, and frankly, none of the potential Democrat candidates have treated climate change as anything more than just another issue.  I would love to see an outsider like  Sheldon Whitehouse, Alan Grayson or Bob Inglis run for president, but that’s what the Green Party is for.

Postscript: I should add that I don’t think I’m demonstrating “ageism” by saying that candidates are too old. It’s just that it has to do with energy level, “passion” and the ability to campaign tirelessly for 2 presidential campaigns. I suppose  a 70 year old with a well-managed schedule could do these things (the Senators seem to have no problems, and a lot of them are 70 and older). What really gets you though is all the travelling.  I think Hilary and  Elizabeth Warren could manage it, but barely. Both woman (and especially Hilary) are supremely qualified and competent. But asking them to campaign in 50 states and then to jaunt to Europe and Asia every two or three months seems to be torture for anyone (much less a person over 65).

Postscript 2. If pressed to predict, I would  say Martin O’Malley for Democrats and  Marco Rubio for Republicans.

Postscript 3 (one year later in November 2014). Looks like Rubio totally misread climate politics, giving me the impression that he’s not really ready for the national scene. Cuomo and O’Malley haven’t seen to have risen in prominence, and Rand Paul seems to be winning the “Likable Tea Party candidate” race.  I think Kasich, Bush, Walker and Paul would be 4 strong Republican contenders with moderate policies, crossover appeal and no real skeletons (well, except Scott Walker). I would love to see Clinton win as president (and the liberal agenda needs her to succeed), but a Republican with a fresh face and a  moderate climate change policy could pose a strong opposition. Despite the fact that the 2016 Senate races are tilting Democrat, it seems that the Republican presidential candidates have executive experience.

Postscript 4 (July 2015). There are really only 6 Republican Candidates in this race. Walker, Bush, Kasich, Cruz, Perry and Rubio. Out of those, I would knock out Cruz (too extreme to be electable), Rubio (lacking in political leadership though a great VP pick) and Perry (lots of baggage and unexpectedly poor in fund-raising). That leaves three candidates: Walker, Bush, Kasich, each with their own minuses: Scott Walker (might be too extreme), Bush (too lightweight and reminds people of his brother) and Kasich (people don’t know or remember him). Of course, Bush has already won the “money primary” (His campaign is raising $760,000 PER DAY). With a fundraising record like that, is it any wonder that Republican candidates oppose entitlements for the mooching class?

Looking back at how things turned out (and keep in mind that the race doesn’t really begin until the first debate), I didn’t expect that Bush would lead would have so much money. Also I didn’t expect that climate change was actually going to be a front-burner issue (horray!) or that the nepotism issue of Bush would be offset by Hilary, so now we’re even steven.  I still think Kasich has a chance, but how on earth will he overcome the disadvantage in fund-raising?

Postscript 5 (October 2015). Well, Hilary Clinton seems to be the most viable candidate on the Dem side. The GOP side has been too weird for words. Walker is out, Trump and Carson are near the top, the superficially impressive (but ultimately unelectable) Carly Fiorina is still in the race, and a lot of Republicans who have no chance of winning are still in the race for vanity reasons.  I still think we’re going to end up with Bush, Rubio and Kasich and one of the 3  extremist populist candidate (i.e., Trump, Cruz, Carson). I think the question boils down to whether the GOP voter wants a candidate who is “authentic” (but not politically correct) or “politically savvy.” (By the way, I would put Clinton into the “politically savvy” camp).  So far the “authentic” voices have been dominating the debate and few of them have paid any political price for their untoward words. I find it interesting that the GOP really hasn’t tried to co-opt the climate change issue — one might expect politicians from Florida to be attuned to polls on the subject. Ultimately the GOP message depends on the voter’s susceptibility to the “lower taxes” meme. Right now, that does not seem to be a big issue (especially when Democrats are counterprogramming by raising the issue of “tax fairness.”)

Postscript 6 (February 2016). I’ll admit it. These past few months have been fascinating for presidential politics. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the popularity of Bernie Sanders. I suspect many Americans are receptive to his overall message and just want to hang their hopes on a non-Hilary Democrat. (He is also helped by the GOP concern trolling).  It’s ironic that someone who rails against money in politics seems to have have attracted so many (grassroots) donations.  I hate to say it, but the Republicans really don’t seem to be playing any issues except foreign policy. While it’s perfectly ok to criticize Obama/Clinton on foreign policy, it overlooks the fact that 1)Obama’s foreign policy overall has been run very deftly, 2)Clinton has an in-depth knowledge of the subject (not to mention personal relationships). Really, all the Democrats need to do is point out how shrill the GOP positions seem to be about any foreign policy issue. Strangely, Trump is the only person who spends any time talking about the “business” aspects of globalism. (Cruz does it very eloquently, but he seems more worried about UN encroachment on US sovereignty than anything else).

I still think that this race is Hilary’s to lose, but perhaps a winnowing of GOP candidates might allow a credible GOP candidate to inject values without sounding like he’s grandstanding.  Interestingly, in the last week the attention seems to have drifted to the ex-governor candidates, which I would argue is a good thing. Kasich/Bush/Christie all seem to have “leadership qualities” missing in the junior senators.  While Bush and Kasich fight over the remaining slot for moderate, I’m convinced that there simply can’t be two candidates from Florida; both pose existential threats to the other. So right now, it looks like a Trump vs. Bush vs. Cruz matchup.

The more I follow this race, the more convinced I am that Mitt Romney would have been the ideal candidate for this cycle. (I am feeling a lot of Romney nostalgia right now). Against Obama (who I regard as the type of leader who appears once in a lifetime), no Republican could have beaten him. But Clinton is beatable. Reflecting on the presidential race, I just realized that the most likely matchup will be HILARY CLINTON/JULIAN CASTRO vs. JEB BUSH/NIKKI HALEY. That would be a remarkable matchup because 1)both sides would consist of a man and a woman, 2)both sides would consist of 1 Caucasian and 1 person with a mixed ethnic background. Even though the MCCAIN/PALIN team was seriously defective, I think it’s a good template to have for a leadership team. Obviously there’s a fine line between inclusiveness and tokenism, but I expect that from now on, having a coed presidential team will be the norm rather than the exception.

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The flaw of libertarian economics

The flaw of libertarian economics is that it overlooks or discounts the predatory aspects of power. You can say that we should get government off our backs or that taxation is an unjust burden or that the free market provides an optimal creation of wealth. But without oversight or interference, more powerful businesses can easily  avoid compliance with contracts and avoid compensating  people who have been harmed by their behaviour. Libertarians refer to the court system as correcting major injustices and disparities between parties, but it ignores the fact that justice is often very slow and  many  victims  are  rewarded  only after considerable waiting (and suffering). A few months ago I complained  that it took the multi-billion dollar company  Comcast more than four months to refund me $20 which it already admitted that it owed me. Comcast, like many Fortune 500 companies,  has the legal infrastructure to fend off legal claims about such malfeasance, allowing it to nickel and dime the American consumer to death with impunity.  A  well-crafted regulation, if applied uniformly with adequate phase-in time, can be easy and  inexpensive for companies to implement; it can also correct injustices promptly  and minimize drawn out court battles  between parties with  unequal power.  I understand that unchecked public agencies can sometimes handicap legitimate business activity without good reason, but at least they are accountable to public pressure.

The laissez faire policies advocated by libertarians   enable the private exploitation of public resources with the potential to cause pernicious  effects. Libertarians often paint the struggle as government agents encroaching on the house and property rights of an individual, but the more common scenario is a giant company whose injuries to others avoid  public scrutiny by virtue of its economic might, with government  agents (woefully outmatched and underfunded) unable to figure out if the company has done anything wrong.

Mexican poet Octavio Paz once wrote that capitalism is efficient at creating wealth but wretched at  assigning it a purpose.  Wealth creation for its own sake is not really a public good  if citizens fear for their safety and economic well-being and  if investment in “social capital” and public resources is minimal. It is not enough for Chevron to pay to build a public park or Walmart to  support food kitchens. There needs to be an entity committed to managing this “social capital” at all times regardless of whether it helps a company’s bottom line at a particular moment.  This entity needs to be accountable to all Americans and needs to have an organizational framework dedicated to treating all people equally and fairly. This entity is called a government.

Related: see my piece on libertarianism and the health care system (which touches upon a lot of general issues about how to measure libertarianism as a philosophy) and an excellent book  which argues for “soft paternalism”: Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth and Happiness by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein (See the Nudges blog).

Postscript: Here’s an interesting question to pose to libertarians: “do private  contracts always take precedence over liberties?”    Can a prostitute sell her obedience for a price?  Can an intern enter a contractual arrangement where he or she receives no compensation but has to follow the contract’s obligations?  If I bought a piece of property with the intent to exploit its mineral rights, are those mineral rights unrestricted and perpetual regardless of what any later government decides and regardless of  any later safety findings?  Libertarians believe that the ability to make contracts is a sign of liberty, but at some point, this contract can threaten the liberty of  one of the parties (or even a third party, as with the case of environmental harms). By their philosophy, the  liberty claims can be pursued only  after the damage or taking has taken place, making redress impossible for the aggrieved party.  You can’t on the one hand grant one party the right to damage another’s life or liberty and at the same time admit that it is impossible for the damaged party to seek redress. That is tantamount to admitting that one party has the absolute right to deprive the party of liberty. The success of the free libertarian state depends on the ability for weaker parties to receive protection from stronger parties. But if you admit that no such protection exists, you are admitting that liberty no longer is an absolute right in your system.

 

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(The problem behind this rant has been mostly solved. See bottom).

(This is Rant 1 of 2. In a few days, I will post my rant about  Smashwords)

Dear Amazon.

I’m really mad — no furious — at how crappy your ipad app is for reading Kindle files. Crazy/unpredictable output.

  1. Your $#$#$# Kindle Previewer on Windows 7 doesn’t render a preview for ipad after it converts it to  azw. (more)  It registers nothing but a blank page on Kindle Previewer. How on earth do you expect me to test that?
  2. If your rendering of azw is so pathetic, don’t you owe it to publishers and authors to document its quirkiness in the Kindle formatting guide?
  3. Why doesn’t the Kindle Formatting Guide give an example of a  CSS media query that can hide/display things  on ipad/iphone?  (more)Why don’t you at least update the ios app so that it is even capable of supporting a media query for ipad/iphone?
  4. Why on earth doesn’t the Kindle app for ipad support KF8 (or heaven forbid epub)? Don’t you realize how much extra work you are creating for publishers? And how much crappier design you are dictating?

Thank you for taking a dump on my ebook design.   Up until now, you have done a lot of things right; for example I really appreciate your rollout of KF8 onto K4 and K3 devices.  You have some great resources for authors and publishers.

But your ipad app is so terrible that it is almost embarrassing to even open it. Up until now, I have relied on the ipad app to read some Kindle books I have bought. I always knew that the ios app wasn’t up to par. It is only now  — at 4 AM while trying to produce an ebook on a deadline – that I realize how abominable it truly is – for everybody involved.

Up until now, I have assured friends with ipads that you can just read Kindle files on your ipad. I truly was suckered in by your usual propaganda about Kindle-on-all-platforms. Clearly now it is obvious that you are abandoning any pretense of supporting Kindle on ipad. Your ipad app makes the publisher look bad, the author look bad and most of all it makes you look bad.

Get with the program, guys! Either improve the ipad app or just remove it from consumers altogether.

Postscript: Your KDP Community forum is now offline. Wow, that’s icing on the cake!

Postscript 2: Let me be clear. I know how to create designs for Kindle Fires and K3s.  That’s because you have provided adequate documentation about how to do that. I am even vaguely aware of  how to design for K1 and K2.  (it remains a distant nightmare in memory).  I know how to degrade gracefully. What I can’t do is design for an undocumented platform without a good testing tool.

Postscript 3. Ok, I may have exaggerated the extent of the problem. The formatting guide hints that using a media query for the older mobi7 format might do the trick. I can definitely deal with that, so I will try that now. The problem is that nowhere does it say that the ipad app actually renders things in a mobi7 way.

Postscript 4. Well, it’s not a problem I can solve by making a mobi7 media query. I need to confirm that I haven’t done anything stupid, but if this is the case, then it looks like I’m going to have to toss out the design and use a bare bones one. (Sigh!)

Postscript 5:  Here’s the publisher’s note I included on the title page:

Viewing Tips: For a Kindle, this ebook is best when viewed by any Kindle device produced in 2010 or later (or any Android device which has the Kindle software app). For Nook, this ebook is best viewed on any Nook device (or on any Android device which has the Nook software app). Please turn the PUBLISHER DEFAULT setting (on the font size menu) ON. For iPad or iPhone, the book is best viewed if the ebook file itself is imported into iBooks (which can be done if you open it as an attachment from within the iPad).

Postscript 6: Wow, Amazon.com claims that you can email the .azw file to your ipad device, but when I tried, I got this error message:

The following document, sent at 12:10 PM on Mon, Nov 04, 2013 GMT could not be delivered to the Kindle you specified:
* mybook-kindle_2013-11-02_12-12-57_2013-11-04_06-08-20.azk

The Kindle Personal Document Service can convert and deliver the following types of documents:
Microsoft Word (.doc, .docx)
Rich Text Format (.rtf)
HTML (.htm, .html)
Text (.txt) documents
Archived documents (zip , x-zip) and compressed archived documents
Mobi book

Postscript 7.  I am happy to report that the problem is not as bad as I originally thought. The ipad kindle app actually has decent rendering of the KF8 format. However, my method of sending a kindle file to the iPad was producing a kind of Frankenstein ebook which was neither Mobi 7 or KF8. I used the method of emailing a .mobi file via Personal Docs to the ipad app. Apparently the only acceptable way to test the file on the iPad was to sync it through iTunes. You could email a .mobi file to the Kindle app on the iPad, but Amazon would not do the proper conversion to make this file readable.  I was vaguely aware that testing via Personal Docs had its issues,  but never in my wildest dreams could I imagine that they would be this bad. Of course, this would never have been a problem with better documentation, automatic conversions to AZW on the cloud or native support of epub to begin with. But there is no point in bitching about it any longer — the problem has been solved!

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A few months ago, Facebook  did something so shocking and stupid that it left me no choice but to leave Facebook. For good.

Up until that time I have enjoyed Facebook for what it is. It’s a great way to keep up with friends from school and work and overseas. Frankly, I have avoided these kinds of social media web apps, but the first tipoff that FB  was actually useful came when Texas uberblogger Gary Denton announced that he was abandoning his Easter Lemming blogs in order to focus on Facebook. Amazing! Soon, too, I found a lot of the same link-sharing which I normally did on my blog could  be done just as easily on Facebook — and more people would read it too. I also found that I was learning about lots of new URLs and essays through Facebook which I’d normally learn about through bloggers. Suddenly FB was a better source for content than bloggers were.

If you think of it, Facebook is nothing more than a microblogging platform with a little bit of messaging and relationship management  thrown in. It’s not rocket science,  and for news junkies and readers, you could follow lots of people and content sources by RSS feeds. But most Americans never paid attention to RSS feeds, plus you had lots of news sources not allowing full feeds (a real pain for readers). Even when things started moving into mobile platforms, few people used naked RSS readers, instead obtaining their content by “Liking” things on Facebook or using an intermediary like Flipboard to browse through cool stuff.

I could talk about some things which annoyed me about Facebook. (such as everchanging privacy controls, unsafe third party apps and difficulty suppressing trolls and promiscuous posters). But for the most part FB was doing many things right. More importantly, 2 or 3 years ago Facebook introduced a personal archive of your data which you can download for safekeeping.

Swell. Every two or three months I would request another personal archive to be made, and shortly thereafter I would receive via email a link to a zip file containing my data in html form. This is a case where everything worked exactly as expected. All my data was there and easy to find offline. I could easily refer to it and look things up on it. I found that I did that often. I posted some of my things onto Facebook  just in case.

But around June 2013, I began to notice that the latest zip of the FB archives was missing stuff. At first, I attributed it to a bug. Facebook is a gigantic system always in flux, and I had read reports that the archiving feature was causing problems for many users. Give it time, I thought.

Then, I noticed that my latest personal archive no longer included the URLs to the links I was making to my facebook posts. Let me explain. One “trick” about Facebook is that when you paste a link into the posting space, FB will automatically discover the Title, Summary and preview image of the link in question. In fact, you can even delete the URL you posted and Facebook will still keep the link in your wall post. It’s a really cool thing, and if you think about it, why does the tiny wallpost form need to include URLs when you already have the preview as a hyperlink?

I had been embedding links into Facebook wall posts that way for over a year now. But now I discover that not only were my personal archives missing comments from others, Facebook had also stripped out every single link I had added.  It had also removed all my friends’  comments by friends to my posts as well as my own comments. Bastards!

The Old Facebook Archives

Here is what the old Personal Archives used to look like for my wall. In this particular screenshot you don’t see comments by others, but in fact, specific posts in my archives do include comments by others (depending on their privacy settings).

fb-good-archive-debate

The “New and Improved” Personal Facebook Archive

Stripped of all my links, none of the posts make sense, and my own comments are removed.

fb-bad-archive-debate

My original descriptions are there, only the links are nowhere to be seen!

There is a way to keep the URls so that they can (for now) be included in personal archives. That is to leave the URL’s in the status bar. But even when you do this, the links themselves will no longer be “clickable.”

Furthermore, comments are removed totally from the archives. I can understand not showing comments by OTHERS (if it conflicts with a user’s privacy settings). But I do not understand why it has removed MY OWN COMMENTS to MY OWN POSTS!

Again, the personal archive from last year did EVERYTHING perfectly. Now let’s look at the monstrosity that motivated FB to ruin its own archiving capability.

Facebook Activity Log: Disaster in search of a problem

Facebook introduced something called the Activity Log. I don’t know why they did it; I’m sure there is some crass commercial motivation behind it; never mind about that.

The fig leaf behind this function is that it’s supposed to make it easier for users to look up past posts. This is a worthy goal; Facebook has always been horrible about having to look up anything older than a week old. I have probably spent hours continuously clicking the More button just to find some link I posted a few months ago.

But here’s the thing. When FB introduced the Activity log, it seems that that they also crippled the personal archive.

Now let’s look at that some post I made about the presidential debate in the Activity Log.

facebook-activity

Everything is posted in unthreaded reverse chronological order without including user comments, making it practically impossible to understand the context of the original remarks.

That means: if you posted on a controversial topic on Friday and on Tuesday someone makes a comment on that same thread (or maybe you do too), any of your other activity in the intervening time will be mixed in with it.

Facebook has a helpful table describing exactly how they are screwing you. Here is the relevant listing of what from your wall posts they will be saving:

facebook-table

 

What’s the Alternative?

Facebook is where everyone is at, so we can’t just leave Facebook willy-nilly, can we?

Or can we?

Google Plus is a newer and cleaner alternative to Facebook. It is not as full featured as Facebook (and doesn’t have 1/10 of the users), but it has some other cool features. Plus, you can’t beat it as an integrated solution.

More relevant to today’s post, Google has made a full commitment to data liberation. Here’s what they say:

For this reason, we always encourage people to ask these three questions before starting to use a product that will store their data:

  1. Can I get my data out in an open, interoperable, portable format?
  2. How much is it going to cost to get my data out?
  3. How much of my time is it going to take to get my data out?

The ideal answers to these questions are:

  1. Yes.
  2. Nothing more than I’m already paying.
  3. As little as possible.

Google Plus has a free service called Google Takeout which lets you export ALL of your data out of the web application. That includes not only Google Plus, but also Google Docs, Blogger, etc.  I haven’t played that much with Google Takeout, except that it does exactly what it says it does. I noticed that Google Plus archives are exported as individual html files. So your archive will accumulate dozens (if not hundreds)  So each individual post is a separate html file. That is inconvenient, yes, but at least I’m not losing any data here. Sure, it’s not as easy to search through in offline mode, but a single grep command in linux  or a good text editor could probably help you find what you want easily.

For me as a writer, I want to keep a record of as much as possible. I never gave free web apps the right to hide my own data from me. It no longer makes sense to use Facebook if I can no longer know for sure if I can export my data outside of Facebook.

The Post-Facebook and Post-Google-Plus Era

I jumped pretty quickly  onto blogging and  other web services. Probably in about 2006-8, things changed. Smart phones came and with that came producing and receiving content from your phone. Then Facebook came  — which managed to straddle both desktop  and mobile devices.

Now we are entering a phase where we want to repurpose content into other platforms. You may have noticed that many people automatically  re-publish their twitter posts or blog posts  to facebook  or to twitter. (To say nothing of instagram, etc).  I used to find that very annoying — especially because things reposted in Facebook seemed ill-formatted or inappropriate for it. For example, I wouldn’t want to repost all my blogposts onto Facebook (although I feel differently about doing so on Google Plus).

I don’t heavily use Evernote, but the concept is alluring: it can keep archived versions of certain web pages as well as your own content. Couldn’t I just store all my content streams there?

I have discovered two services which deal with cross-posting things onto multiple platforms.

First, there is HootSuite, a tool online marketers use to republish content onto multiple platforms. Which only raises the question: if you are creating your content originally in Hootsuite, how do you archive your Hootsuite content?

Second, there is IFTTT (short for If This, Then That) which lets you create or use different recipes to convert and publish your content from one platform to another. It basically lets you set up notifications too. Everything seems to be RSS-based, and sometimes the various platforms have special rules and restrictions which make it hard to import/export stuff. Sometimes just browsing through the known recipes can help you figure out a solution; sometimes you need to use a search engine to find what you want. Here for example is a good way to create feeds out of your Google+ posts which then can be scooped up by Facebook.

Note: this solution isn’t recipe is hosted on a third party site, so it is not likely to last too long. But for now it is the only solution I know of.

The ultimate goal for a blogger like me is to post at one place where I have full control and high confidence (like my blog) and then use customized RSS recipes to re-post certain things where relevant.

Don’t count out blogging software. With blogging software you remain in control over data; you own it, and then you simply use intermediary tools to connect things to another. I’m not sure that there’s a clean solution for replicating or backing up comments (though Disqus makes a compelling argument for outsourcing it altogether).

Of course, you need to take into consideration the specific characteristics of each platform and the nature of the audience. But  I am finding that it is no longer necessary to depend on or live inside these social applications as much. Sure, I stop by Facebook.  It’s certainly nice visiting old friends, but I certainly wouldn’t want to park there and create content ONLY for Facebook.

The flaw with Facebook (and other community sites) is that they succeed only with good content and mindshare. But when the good content can be found elsewhere (or anywhere!), suddenly there no longer is a compelling reason to park there.  Suddenly that mindshare — which seemed to have so much self-sustaining momentum — seems to  disappear.  The time will soon come when more people will be  reposting onto Facebook than posting. And that will be a good thing.

Postscript: Making the Blog Cool Again

A few years ago Virginia Heffernan remarked that with Facebook and Twitter, suddenly it was no longer cool to be blogging anymore. At the time I thought she was mistaken, but over time I  had to admit that my blogging output was significantly less after Facebook came along. I was spending more time on longer articles, less time on casual blogging and linkdumps.

Intermediaries like IFTTT make it possible to have content originate in WordPress. But that does not solve the problem at all. Here are the issues that initially jump out:

  1. How can a personal blog or website feature both short content and long content without making the site itself unusable?  (The theme would have to do this,  you’d need better front page management and you’d need to have separate content types probably).
  2. What are the rules for displaying short content on  the various platforms? What images show up? How many characters? Does the link show up, etc?
  3. How do you make it easy for people on one platform to see comments people have made on other platforms?

About the first question, bloggers have typically made linkdump pages on a daily/weekly basis, but does that solve the problem? One thing fun about FB/G+ is that the posts are really short. There’s really no elegant way to repurpose a linkdump post onto facebook. I need time to think this through…..

 

 

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BREAKING NEWS: Texas is NOT an Economic Paradise

You may have seen Tyler Cowen’s cover story about Texas (discussed on his Marginal Revolution blog).

I’m sure  I see these kinds of articles regularly (Economist had a cover story a few years ago about California vs. Texas).   They annoy me because they are one-dimensional. I think they compare it to California or NY  — which probably is burdened by more paperwork  and has a state income tax. But overall, California and NY and Mass provide a lot more startups than Texas, and Texas doesn’t innovate a whole lot (except for medical, which they do pretty well in). Probably the best known non-fossil fuel  business to come from Texas is Dell, but Dell has always taken pride in NOT innovating but simply running a more efficient suply chain.

  1. Texas acquired their wealth through ample land and  mineral depletion. Many local economies are  still dependent on defense and oil and gas. These are ephemeral signs of wealth.
  2. Texas is VERY vulnerable to climate change, and per capita CO2 emissions are very high. Its pollution is also very high; the whole state would be a smokestack were it not for the federal Clean Air Act.
  3. Texas has pitiful social services, and its safety net is abysmal.  Many people fall through the cracks. Also, we have a significant underground economy from undocumented workers. Who knows? That probably means that the GDP of Texas is bigger than estimated, but the important point is that they operate on the outskirts of  the law (minus worker protections, etc.)
  4. Lack of zoning (I assume he’s talking about Houston only) has some consequences. It becomes impossible to do any urban planning, and as a result mass transit is practically impossible. From that you become a car-dependent city with all sorts of social stratifications.
  5. A lot of companies choose Houston or Dallas as their headquarters, but I think it has to do with low taxes and low real estate than anything else.  Many companies assume that they can find workers from other cities or out-of-state to work for their jobs.
  6. One thing rarely mentioned in talk about Texas is commute times. I have never seen such a high percentage of workers (in Houston and  elsewhere)  be willing to spend an hour or more commuting each way to work every day.
  7. Texas does have cheap college tuition options, but secondary schools have a great deal of inequality which almost makes that point moot.
  8. Texas does have a lot of cultural dogmatism. Remember, 76% of Texas voters voted to ban gay marriage.  It is absolutely suffocating to any educated person (even in a “liberal bastion” like Houston).
  9. Texas has a very fickle judicial system. Election of judges, “tort reform” and political influences on judges.
  10. Housing prices are relatively cheap because land is plentiful; what else is new? Significantly, the biggest political contributors to the state GOP  have been housing developers; as a result, you have homeowners without  much legal recourse in the event of disputes.
  11. One reason innovation is fairly lacking in Texas is the mediocre education system for a state its size. We have a lot of big companies move to Texas (to take advantage of cheap labor and lack of regulation and cheap land), but our startups are not as bold as in California or Massachusetts  for example. If you need some PHDs in Math or Comp Sci, Texas is not the best place to go. (Well, except here and here) On the other hand, if you need minimally educated Americans to provide phone support, Texas can’t be beat!
  12. Creative types in Texas (and especially Houston)  tend to be snapped up by  the fossil fuel sector or the military. The tragedy here is first, much of this innovation  does not transfer easily to other fields. Second,  this innovation does not really better humanity in a way that a product manufacturer or enterpreneur might. As the years go by, the stigma of working in fossil fuels will only  increase.
  13. I have mentioned it already, but Texas consumes more fossil fuels than any other state in the US. If Texas were a nation, it would be the 7th largest emitter of greenhouse gases. Electric plants in Texas (population 25 million) emit as much CO2  as electric plants in the COMBINED states of   New York, California, Florida, Massachusetts and Oregon (population: 86 million). Texas has made the decision to couple its state economy  to the carbon  consumption and generation. But  other states have decoupled their economies from carbon and still have strong growing economies. From a standpoint of risk, sticking with fossil fuels for living and for growing an economy  doesn’t seem wise in the long term.

In Houston (where I live), a large percent of the economy is dependent on the fossil fuel industry — either directly (with drilling, pipelines etc) or indirectly (IT support, financial services related to energy futures). Many of these services relate specifically to oil and gas and don’t transfer that easily to renewable energy or any other industry. Anyway, the profitability of fossil fuels in Texas eclipses the opportunities presented by renewables.  Houston tried to diversify after the oil bust in the 80s, but from what I can tell,  it just shifted away from domestic drilling to global exploration & logistics.

Here is Forbes’ list of most innovative companies  and Fortune’s ‘ Best Companies to Work for in Texas and Forbes List of  Fastest Growing Companies . I realize that not every state can have a Google or Microsoft or Facebook or Amazon, but I think it’s notable that Texas doesn’t really has an industry leader (outside of fossil fuels) which it can call its own. Rackspace and Texas Instruments and Dell are distinguished companies, and Cowen’s article mentions TinyTexasHouses (which also seems great).  With these notable exceptions, Texas is where established or rising companies go to expand.

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I’m in the process of writing an ebook about music collecting. I’ll probably add some book excerpts  on my blog.  This URL will regularly be updated with new information, so feel free to check later.

Two years ago I wrote about great ways to learn about free creative commons music. Since that time, a lot has changed. Jamendo continues to grow bigger, Free Music Archive has grown larger too.

But  most people are more interested in learning about pop music by emerging artists who have risen somewhat above amateur status.  These artists agree to share  a lot of music even though this music is still copyrighted and isn’t creative commons. Often these free downloads are available only for a limited time, so once it stops being free,  you may have no choice to purchase it.  You can amass a large and wonderful collection with samplers alone (though it would be shallow).

Before I start listing things, I want to mention that most of these free sites provide links to high quality downloads. In the past, the thinking went, “we should make available low quality music samples for downloads” in the hopes that later the consumer will buy a high quality version. That strategy no longer seems to be popular, and fortunately most of the free download sites listed here are now distributing high quality audio with the correct metadata.

Festivals/Journals

South by Southwest (SXSW) Music  Bit Torrent contains music tracks by bands who participated in SXSW music fest in Austin. Starting in 2005,  a 5-9 gigabyte bit torrent was released each year (Total = 45 gigabytes!) These artists explicitly allowed these tracks to be downloaded from the sxsw.com, and the torrent simply assembled everything together for permanent archiving. Torrents are released in early March of each year, generally in two parts.  Available: permanently. As of 2013, a lot of the music distributor sites are also featuring SXSW samplers –and often they include additional tracks not in the torrents.

CMJ Mixtape is a monthly download of 20+ songs from College Music Journal. The link says you need to “subscribe,” but that’s not true; all you need to do is to click the link and you should be able to download all the music in single zip file. CMJ is “College Music Journal,” a wonderful mag primarily for college radio stations. I subscribed to it in the 90s, and one highlight was the sampler CD which each issue contained. Samplers in the 90s were wonderfully eclectic and international; Mixtape seems a little more selective and possibly with an Eastern/urban bias. Available: one month only.

Live Jazz Lounge  is a blog linking to 200+ zip files of various live jazz performances.  There looks to be an average of 2-3 free releases per week, so a lot is here! These zip files are hosted on their own website, so they are likely to be available indefinitely (I think).

American Songwriter has an irregular sampler which contains more acoustic/country/folk songs by singer-songwriters.  So far, once every 6 months. Available: until the next sampler is released.  Because it’s infrequent, you should sign up for their mailing list to be notified about new samplers. Available: until the next sampler comes.

NPR’s Heavy Rotation surveys a lot of DJs and asks them to recommend some tracks each month.  Their list of recommended downloads appears in batches of 5 or 10, at the rate of once or twice a month. Unfortunately the download link is somewhat easy to miss (it’s at the bottom of the song description), and you have to download each song individually. On the plus side, NPR is more likely to get tracks by well known artists. Available: several months, or until the artist decides to make the download private again.

Denovali is a German-based online seller of electronic/ambient/jazz music.  They publish a lot of free albums and tracks including samplers. I count at least 5 full samplers of really remarkable stuff. (You can listen/download them from Soundcloud as well).  Available: indefinitely I think.

Chandos/Classical Shop sends out a monthly newsletter which offers information about a free downloadable classical music album.  Chandos is a UK label which publish a range of high quality recordings, including the always interesting  and excellent Brilliant Classics series of low-priced recordings.  Notably, these albums also include album notes. (You can buy these mp3s on amazon or emusic). Unfortunately, you need to know the newsletter URL to be able to find the download link, but they seem to stay online for about two months.  (Still working downloads can be found on an older newsletter and a newer newsletter, but I would be ready for either link to go dead at any time. )

 

Music Retailer Sites

Many of the online music retailers  sites provide a lot of free samplers for members. Most will be specific to one label and specific to that distributor.

Amazon has by far the greatest number of samplers, although the quality of them is not particularly high. It depends on the sampler and the label  obviously. The top free album list is here. Unfortunately there’s no way to sort by release date, so you just have to check it often. The best thing about these samplers is that it goes directly to your Cloud Player; you can opt not to download until you have figured out which songs are worth keeping. The Tunecore samplers have been good. Here’s a search for free samplers.  Look for samplers by established labels: Subpop, 4AD, Merge Records . Also, look for Tunecore samplers.and CDbaby samplers.  Tunecore (like CDBaby)  is for a lot of indie unsigned bands; quality varies, but these samplers are almost always interesting. Available: mostly permanent (with a few exceptions).  I’ve noticed that Amazon has retired some Tunecore samplers, which I hope is not  a trend.

Emusic doesn’t have as many samplers as Amazon, but the ones they have are more interesting. Often in fact, they coordinate a label’s sales with the release of a new sampler. Unfortunately it can be cumbersome and time-consuming to find these samplers. A blogpost from 2 months ago linked to their most significant samplers although it’s already out of date.  Go here first to see articles about samplers which will inevitably contain links to the downloadable samplers as well.  (Update: Here’s another search result for free albums but unfortunately about 40% of the albums actually cost money, so be careful!).  I almost always love emusic samplers. You may have to sign up for (non-free) membership to download the samplers, but it almost always is a good deal. Even if you sign up for only 1 month at $6, you can usually find deals, plus Emusic typically gives new members a $25 credit to buy new music. (Here’s a list of my latest musical finds – which are usually priced low).  Available: permanent. Note, there is also a free song of the day for members. I only started downloading these things recently, and so far it has been totally noncrappy.

Google Play has free downloads although not really free sampler albums. That of course will change as Google Play becomes a stronger distributor of music. When you first sign up for Google Play, you are allowed to download a certain number of free songs by very well known artists. When I signed up, I was able to download 800 individual preselected songs. I seem to remember that you had to download the songs individually. Google Play features freebie songs on a daily basis, but I found keeping up with this more trouble than it was worth.

Bandcamp has a number of respectable bands and lots of interesting music. Here’s a list of all their free albums by popularity  and by release date.  A fair number of these free albums are creative commons, so you might also be able to find them on jamendo and Free Music Archives. Some of the free albums require that you give them an email;  the link for the free albums also lists “pay-what-you-want”  albums, so you will inevitably have to give your credit card and make some sort of token payment.

Archiving Sites

Although I wanted this article not to be about creative commons music, (I’ve already written about that) I wanted to mention 2 special aspects of archive.org.

  • Live Music Archives list recordings of a lot of live shows by musicians. Many musicians have several concerts recorded here. A lot of these recordings are bootlegs; some are band-approved, but generally if it shows up here, that usually means that the band tolerates recording. Generally the landing page gives a list of the most recent uploads and staff picks. I confess, although I have listened to 2 or 3 concerts here, I have not even scratched the surface of what is here.
  • IUMA Archives. IUMA was one of the earliest music hosting services popular in the late 1990s and early 200s. A lot of this is hit and miss, but there are some hidden gems to be sure. Here is a list of its most downloaded and recently reviewed.

Mixing Sites

Although I’m not going to point to specific artists, Soundcloud and ReverbNation have  a tremendous amount of free downloads. Soundcloud in particular has a lot of extended  mixes — although now that I check my favorite artists, I see that items which I downloaded earlier are no longer available for free downloading.  Like Bandcamp, even if you cannot download a track for free, you usually can  stream them for free.

Freebie Tracks

I really don’t know if these music promotion sites which offer daily freebies are worth the effort. Clicking individual songs can be tedious — both on Google and Amazon. My guess is that many of these are from the bigger labels and for tracks which might be included in free albums eventually, so these freebies may not be particularly high quality. If you’re just clicking to add them to the cloud, then it’s not a problem, but how do you know whether to actually download them. Nonetheless, it’s time to start a list.

  • Songzini provides links to free 5-10 Amazon songs each day. It’s a good idea, but it’s tedious to do. Still, there’s a good mixture of well-known and unknown singers, so it might add up. But watch that hard drive space! Update: It’s still around, but it is really time-consuming to download individual songs — especially when a lot of them are in free albums you may be able to find on amazon’s search engine. Also,  Amazon emails you a receipt for EVERY SINGLE SONG so it will clog your email with receipts — yuck!) Update 2: I have finally gotten around to listening to all the random songs I downloaded using Songzini. It is terrific!  As long as you make sure that the song doesn’t come from a free album which you downloaded already, you’ll be fine. Update 3: Although the site is still up, it seems to be totally nonfunctional. Oh, well.

Quirky Music Download Blogs

By now there are quite a number of blogs which unearth lots of overlooked bands from previous years. Often the blogger will upload the digitalized content onto a file downloading site, and the site visitor can download the zip file of mp3s by clicking on a link to the third party file hosting site. These blogs are great for discovering old bands; on the other hand, 1)downloading from these places may not be exactly legal by US standards and 2)the hosting sites frequently remove content or go out of business, so the download links may stop being valid fairly quickly. The quirky download blogs generally try to share music which hasn’t yet been digitalized or that is so obscure that there’s no way people would have heard about it otherwise. A lot of these bands are simply defunct  and so it’s impossible to purchase these tracks anyway. Generally those blogs will take down the download URL if the band contacts them, and so to that extent, they follow copyright law, but I think these kinds of bloggers are more interested in rediscovering and in making compilations of overlooked tracks.  And the bands generally don’t seem to mind (if they still exist).  Hint: a lot of these blogs don’t include the download link in the blog post itself but in the comment section, so be sure to check the first comment at least.

  • Willfully Obscure is probably the best example of the quirky music blog  genre, with lots of commentary and background information about each new download. He emphasizes a lot of raw punk and garage bands from the 1980s, with occasional self-made compilations. I think this blogger probably rips his own CDs, and each week has about 2 or 3 downloads, plus a “mystery download” every Monday.  More importantly, this blog links to a lot of other quirky music download blogs on the right column.
  • I hate the 90s blog features a lot of 90s music. I confess I have not really followed it, but I wanted to mention that the left column includes links to 6 different compilation zips to download.
  • Bloggio Odio Overplay blog features a lot of unusual content. A large number are creative commons, and Katya, the woman who runs it also curates music at FMA and  runs a site collecting kid’s music. Recently she has taken an interest in classical, but she also digs up a lot of novelty music, lounge stuff and vintage European stuff.

 

Related:

 

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Houston Public Library Music RSS Feeds

Recently the Houston Public Library switched over to a new cataloguing system. One nice feature I discovered was the ability to create custom RSS feeds out of search results. So I decided to create a table of permanent RSS feeds for the music CDs for quick reference. This is a work in progress (and actually, I probably need to refine these things and add more categories). But this is good to start with. Everything is sorted by publication date from MOST RECENT to OLDEST. Publication date doesn’t refer to when it was originally published but when the purchased CD was actually produced. So the 1966 Beatles album, Revolver, might be listed as 2009 because the remastered edition was re-released in 2009.

By Language/CountryBy Time PeriodOther Criteria
Chinese Language MusicPop Music 2011-2020: N American Pop/rock, Country Music, Spanish/Latino Music, Jungman Branch Music CDs
Russian/E. European Music Excludes most classical)2001-2010: Country Music, American Pop/Rock, Soundtracks/TV/Musicals
Arabic Language Music 90s Rock MusicJazz
Music in Multiple Indian Languages (Includes soundtracks, classical)Electronic/Dance/House Music
Africa: 2011-2020, African Pop/Folk (generic)Rough Guide Music Series
New Releases
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The Silliness of TV shows

I normally don’t watch TV dramas or procedurals. They are dull and predictable. I started making exceptions for supernatural sexy teen angst shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but really the entire series is silly.

I have done some binge watching of TV shows — I once watched 20 episodes of Lost in 26 hours. That show is well-executed and produced, and I really don’t mind the supernatural aspects of the show even though the flashbacks are mostly dull.  Recently I’ve started re-watching episodes of Lost — skipping through the flashbacks and taking notes on what worked well and how the show managed to be what it became.  There’s a lot to hate about the story, but for certain scenes, I just think the writers must think TV watchers are idiots.

Take this example:

Season 3 opener features a group of  scientists doing all kinds of  suspicious research (medical and otherwise)  on an island. They hear and see a jetliner heading for an inevitable crash on the island. Under these circumstances, how would the scientists react? Do they:

  • send out some of their people to the crash scene to offer assistance?
  • ignore the crash entirely and return to their  normal business?
  • Send out some of their own people to pretend to be crash victims so they can spy and report back?

If you chose option 3, congratulations! You have the limited imagination of a TV writer.

Even if you assume that these researchers from the Dharma Initiative are semi-evil or hostile or reluctant to socialize,  having them pretend to be crash victims is pretty much the dumbest thing you can do under the circumstances.  Yet it’s necessary for the plot. It makes me realize that the show I’m watching is essentially silly and manipulative and that hours of Bergman and Sembene Ousmane are still waiting to be watched.

I sometimes  enjoy escapism and shallow conflicts and characters. I just want it to make sense.

Can you imagine the same Lost show if 1)there were no guns, 2)all the main characters were uglier and older, 3)people weren’t always dying at someone else’s hand? and   4)people weren’t always trying to remove bullets with silverware or their hands? How strange that we watch such silly shows when our own lives are already packed with turmoil and frustrations. Don’t underestimate the dramatic or comic potential of our  mundane  lives.

It’s unfair to compare a book to a TV show, but being stranded on an island offers a lot of drama already. How do you find food and water? How do you handle health and hygiene? How do you not get depressed or bored? How do you use your creativity or ingenuity to fix things and come up with stopgap solutions? That is exciting stuff– and that’s why Robinson Crusoe was such a great read.

Contrast that with Lost where you have to throw in  evil scientists, psychotic killers, imaginary predators, time travel and the fact that everyone is boinking everyone else as indiscriminately as a porn film.

Later, I  will try to explain the things about Lost which actually work well. For now though, let’s marvel at how gullible most TV shows think we are.

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“That fish has been  fried”  is a slang phrase used in the context of  an Internet thread. It expresses (in a terse & fish-fry1colorful way) the speaker’s opinion that a thread is growing tiresome, tedious or repetitive and that the speaker is leaving it for that reason.   In no way does it imply that the speaker believes that the issue has been settled or the previous commenter’s argument was correct or should prevail. Often it’s quite the opposite. A person who utters this phrase may be convinced that his viewpoint is still valid or logically unassailable, but may simply be tired or weary of arguing.

Although I believe the phrase has negative connotations, I don’t believe it should only have negative connotations.   The phrase should remain  ambiguous enough to retain a neutral meaning. Here are some possible connotations:

  1. Both sides have already  presented their respective opinions in some detail, and past this point, the only rational thing to do at this point  is to “agree to disagree.”
  2. One side has simply not done their research or is making too many unproven assertions.
  3. One side is unusually shrill or derogatory, and rather than trying to engage, the other side has decided that it’s best just to leave the thread alone.
  4. One side is too tired or has more pressing matters (Like living, working, etc). I’m a writer and if I have strong feelings about a subject like capital punishment, I’d rather write a long blogpost  to express my opinions than continue some unending Facebook thread about the topic.
  5. The time it would take for one side to disprove the misconceptions of the other side would be considerable.
  6. The context of the thread makes it inappropriate to continue this debate.  It may be off-topic (i.e., a capital punishment debate on an Elvis Costello forum for instance). Or the discussion may just involve too many arguments or people or vantage points to allow for  a coherent debate. Even in a context where the person threw out the question in the first place, the forum itself may not be particularly well-suited to longer and more sustained arguments. Who wants to read something with 400 responses?

I have written before that it is often difficult for reasonably educated people to disengage  from Internet conversations.

How to use this phrase correctly:

Because this neologism is still new, I think the best way to use it  in the context of a thread would be to simply write the phrase with a hyperlink:

It’s not my intent to create extra web traffic to my site. But since I coined the phrase and defined it most thoroughly, it would be easier for people  just to link to this page rather than to explain what it means.

Of course,  when one person declares that “this fish has been fried,”  others may disagree with this assessment. So others may choose to continue this thread. But it broadcasts a message to others that the thread might be ready to end. Rather than encouraging censorship or suppressing speech, my hope is that the expression of this phrase will simply  create initial momentum for people to move on and get on with their respective lives.

I debated several variants to this phrase. “My fish has been fried” “The fish is fried, etc.” I like “that fish” (rather than “my fish”  because it is objectifying (i.e., depersonalizing) the discussion and “has been fried” because there is no point in trying to fry the fish again.

Anyway, world,  here it is! Hope it helps!

Postscript: I will know that this idiom will have finally entered the vernacular when people start using it on me….

Postscript 2. It probably is impossible to force a slang word into vernacular.  Challenge accepted!

Postscript 3. I just realized that my neologism is a snowclone with endless variations (“That banana’s been stretched,” “that kernel’s been popped,” “That bone’s been chewed,” etc). The customizability of this phase attests to its flexibility and usefulness.

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“Perrycare” defined

For better or worse, the Affordable Care Act (the new health care reform law) has been dubbed “Obamacare.”

Here’s  another neologism: PerrycareIt is  is defined as health care inside a state which has refused Medicaid expansion despite generous financial incentives to do so. It is characterized by skyrocketing health care premiums and overall costs for individuals who fall below  138% of the federal poverty line. Named after Texas Republican governor Rick Perry. 

Even though this graph doesn't take into account that many kids go on their parents' plan until 26, it is still an alarming amount of people

Here are some other characteristics:

  • The population between 19-26 have the highest level of poverty. On the other hand, they are still eligible to be on their parents’ plan (that is, if their parents have a plan!). In general, people in this age range are healthy and would require care mainly for emergencies (or giving birth).
  • The population between 26 and 30 have high rates of poverty. They are no longer on their parents’ plan; on the other hand, it is assumed that their income will have risen a bit depending on how long they have been in the workforce. Females are particularly at risk here because these are generally the child-bearing years.
  • The population between 30-65. More likely to have savings, but on the other hand, more likely to have serious conditions and require several visits.

The Kaiser Foundation has prepared a health care rate calculator. Note that it provides two estimates: the estimate under Obamacare and Perrycare. According to the site’s FAQ, “The federal poverty level varies by family size. In 2013, it is $11,490 for a single adult and $23,550 for a family of 4. The poverty level is estimated for 2014 based on Congressional Budget Office projections of inflation.”

On a positive note, medical underwriting  will be prohibited on Jan 1 2014 under Obamacare, so very low-income individuals will be able to purchase a plan without having to go through underwriting; they just won’t be able to afford it!

Update: Here’s a cost estimate from Kaiser about just how much money Texas is not going to spend and not going to receive:

TEXAS (population: 26 million) 

Without Medicaid expansion, between 2013-2022, feds would spend 228 billion and TX state would spend 159 billion on Medicaid for Texans.

With Medicaid expansion for 2013-2022, feds would spend 305 billion and TX state would spend 168 billion on Medicaid for Texans.

In other words, spending 9 billion dollars more on Medicaid in Texas will prompt the feds to spend 77 billion more dollars on health care for Texans over the next decade.

New York (population 19 million)

Without Medicaid expansion for 2013-2022, fed pays 468 billion, and NY state pays 451 billion for New Yorkers.

With Medicaid expansion for the same time period, feds pay 553 billion, NY state pays 433 billion for New Yorkers.

In other words, because NY already  pays a greater amount  into Medicaid,  Obamacare will cause New York to spend 18 billion dollars less on Medicaid,  while the feds will spend 85 billion dollars more on health care for  Medicaid in New York.

A Rand analysis estimates other effects from deciding to opt out of Medicaid expansion.

If 14 states decide not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act as intended by their governors, those state governments collectively will spend $1 billion more on uncompensated care in 2016 than they would if Medicaid is expanded. … In addition, those 14 state governments would forgo $8.4 billion annually in federal payments and an additional 3.6 million people will be left uninsured… “State policymakers should be aware that if they do not expand Medicaid, fewer people will have health insurance, and that will trigger higher state and local spending for uncompensated medical care,” Price said. “Choosing to not expand Medicaid may turn out to be the more-costly path for state and local governments.”…


Researchers also outline how failing to expand Medicaid could have more than financial consequences. Based on earlier research showing that past expansions of Medicaid has led to decreases in deaths, the study estimates that an additional 19,000 deaths could occur annually if the 14 states studied do not expand Medicaid.

My rough  ballpark estimate is that Texas accounts for a third of the population of those states opting out of Exchanges and Medicaid  expansion. Therefore, applying the Rand’s data to Texas, we could say that Perry’s decision not to expand Medicaid will cost Texans somewhere in the range of  $300 million and result in 6000 more deaths.

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Houston Dining Index by Mike Riccetti (2013), Tempus Fugit Press.180 pages.(Author Website)

Ebook Edition: $3.99  (Buy at Amazon, and  BN)

Summary: great restaurant review book with lots of useful lists (such as restaurants near Metro Rail stops), but it is somewhat  difficult to browse by neighborhood or region.

The author is a Houston native who has been reviewing Houston restaurants for a long time.  He and I went to high school in Houston together, and I have fond memories about his taking classmates to an obscure and crazy Asian jazz restaurant where he ordered all kinds of crazy and delicious things for the table. Mike’s enthusiasism for food and fine dining is evident in his book which collects lots of information about Houston’s amazing restaurant scene. In addition to writing regular restaurant reviews for the Examiner and Houston Press, Riccetti has already written one Houston culinary guide. This volume  updates and improves upon the previous one.

The book seems to be targeted to the out-of-town traveller. He gives three dollar figures under price: average dinner cost (including 20% tip), entrée price range and average entrée price. Also, he begins by talking about restaurants in areas frequented by out-of-towners (the airports,  downtown), I have looked up about 30 restaurants I know very well and found that his reviews are succinct, fair but not overly positive and  good at capturing what is unique and interesting about the restaurant in question.  Most of the listings include its neighborhood and/or its culinary type, but this is not always done consistently.

The  excellent introduction gives an overview about Houston restaurants and trends.  This book has some incredible “extras”: a listing of local pubs and microbreweries, a review/list of Bistros (I didn’t know Houston had so many!)  a review/list of restaurants in hotels,  a listing of restaurant without walking distance of the Metrorail (! — this will be even more useful after Metrorail is expanded even further in 2014). There is a section for “restaurant rows” (small pedestrian-friendly areas full of restaurants). Perhaps the oddest section was “Seen on TV” (restaurants which were reviewed or featured on various food shows).

I like the fact that this book covers a lot of budget restaurants and that it contains a lot of lists (Late Night, Sunday Brunch, Uniquely Houston Restaurants). Its coverage of Vietnamese restaurants was  particularly good.  But it can be hard to browse the book by location. The book highlights certain areas (e.g., “West Houston — Energy Corridor and Katy”) but for the most part you have to browse by culinary type and then look at individual listings to see where they are located. Also, there was not a special section for Galleria (where I live, a common destination for visitors). There is not an index  but a section for “Location” near the end (which is useful but easy to overlook). It would have been even more  helpful for the Location section to actually link to the place in the book where the restaurant was  reviewed.  As a practical matter, you will have to use the ebook search feature to find a specific restaurant.  One tip I have is creating ebook bookmarks for the most useful sections (which I found to be “Metrorail”, “restaurant rows,” and “Locations” ) so you can access them later  more easily.

This raises question about whether restaurant books still matter in an age of Yelp and B-4-u-eat. Although raw feedback from  review  websites are great, they can overwhelm you with extraneous information  In contrast, restaurant guidebooks like this are more practical and concise and give you a better overview of what’s here. Houston has some incredible restaurants, and books like this help the visitor and  longtime residents to discover new and wonderful places.

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Disclaimer: Mike and I were high school classmates. More on Disclaimers and Reviewing

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Emusic: (Personal Music Finds) By Robert Nagle

October 2017 Update. After emusic.com changed from a download only site to a download/stream hybrid site, I am happy to report that it’s still a good deal — despite the fact that albums are slightly more expensive, booster packs are less remarkable and some albums have disappeared.  The website is a lot easier to use and more powerful. On the other hand, many of the album links below no longer work — the forum was removed, and the URLs were not redirected. No matter. Also, for some of the non-Roman alphabet albums, searching was impossible. My guess is that all albums from 2014 on should still be on emusic.com even if the links don’t work. (Maybe the prices aren’t as appealing though!). 2014 was when emusic lost a lot of the major labels, focusing on the less expensive indie labels. With new ownership and site improvements,  Emusic has promised that the new site will gradually attract more labels, but I haven’t seen this yet, but frankly I’ve seen enough good stuff to keep me happy. I used to think the mobile streaming app was barely adequate; I’ve since changed my mind —  it works well enough.  Emusic has  improved a member’s  capability to upload and stream their own music — though unfortunately it only lets you upload mp3s instead of m4a, opus, etc.

MUSIC Recommendations Sites. Through reddit and emusers.org I’ve learned about many amazing deals.  Emusers has a  thread about bargains on the new emusic site (mostly classical and avante-garde stuff). Musicisgood has some detailed reviews about jazz, ambient, pop and classical, and one of the contributors follows emusic pretty closely.   Bird is the Word Music Review blog has some good recs (see esp the best albums of the year listed on top). For brevity’s sake,  I’ll just say (for example)  “Bird Best 2014“.   Some other places I go for obscure recommendations include: Nine Bullets Essential Listening page (the blog is interesting too), Tom Hull’s On the web blog (Hull is the ultimate music geek; he has developed a database for gathering and storing ratings , Acclaimed Music’s list of best-rated albums by year; see also Pitchfork’s album reviews and popmatters music reviews.  a list of current labels and linernotes for emusic albums. See also my online database of music reviews from 2014 to present. Finally, I strongly recommend daytrotter, a music download service that lets you stream and download thousands of  unofficial performances in studio environments … sometimes before the material is officially released. At $2.99 a month with unlimited downloads, it’s a steal!

December 2017. I received a bonus credit over a customer service problem. Spend away!

  1. Before During After by Woodtops, 52 tracks, 227 minutes, $6.99. Compilation of a short-lived   80s British synth band, with one third of the tracks being live performances, remixes and outtakes. Great stuff!
  2.  Various 99 cent compilations of Art Tatum piano pieces from Resurfaced Records.  (such as here).  I bought 7 totaling about 8 or 9 hours. A bargain!
  3. Various Indonesian pop albums (50 minutes for 99 cents each) : Album Emas: Tetty Kadi, Album Emas: Titiek Sandora & Muchsin AlatasAlbum Emas: Broery Pesulima, Album Emas The Mercy’s, . Most are recordings from the 1960s and 1970s more or less. Think of the Indonesian equivalent of Doris Day, Tony Bennett, etc. Even the more “expensive” compilation albums cost $3.99 or less.

 

November 2017. Okay, I paid $5 extra for the Two for Sale.

  1. 100 years of Eddie Rosner. (41 tracks, 140 minutes, $6.99). Trumpeter Rosner was called the “Polish Louis Armstrong” and toured in West Europe and USA in the 1930s. The Jewish Rosner was persecuted under the Nazis and Stalin, but in the 50s and 60s he led a big band that toured around the U.S.S.R. He later said, “In 1939, it didn’t help being a Jew playing Negro music, even if your name is Adolf,” (It’s true, his first name was actually “Adolph”). About 1/2 of the album is low fidelity, and all of the tracks are interesting — even though they don’t fit neatly into traditional musical categories. Lots of the jazz number have violin and violas — giving everything a folk/gypsy feel. There are some wacky Western homages — like the “Cowboy” song (Kovboyskaya). It features several Soviet singers mostly unknown to me.
  2. Luminous Group (Compilation album) by Robyn Hitchcock. (90 tracks, 335 minutes, $6.99). A sequel to the I wanna go backwards album I bought a few months ago.
  3. Tartini: Complete Violin Concertos Box Set . 389 tracks, 29 hours! 6.99. “lArte Dell’arco.

October 2017. Account no longer on hold. Buying lots of cheap stuff.  Still on a tight budget.

  1. 80 Aching Options: 45 Years of the Residents.  80 tracks, 270 minutes, $4.99.
  2.  Ote Maloya: Birth of Electric Maloya on Reunion Island 1975-1986. 19 tracks, 73 minutes, 99 cents. Pretty damn obscure African stuff from near Madagascar.
  3. Complete Parisian Small Group Sessions 1956-9. Lucky Thompson. 74 tracks, 300 minutes, $6.99 Great jazz tunes by an underappreciated artist.
  4. L’Oevre electronique by Luc Ferrari.  95 tracks, 570 minutes, $3.99 Avante-garde experimental composer.
  5. Imagine. Martux, Fabrizio Bosso, Bearzatti Aarset. 6 tracks, 49 minutes, 99 cents.
  6. Burhan Ocal Box Set 48 tracks, 270 minutes  $7. Several albums with the versatile Turkish instrumentalist paired with other  notable musicians.
  7. La Legende d’Eer, composed by Iannis Xenakis.  1 track, 45 minutes, 99 cents. Mathematical composition style that this Romanian composer is famous for.
  8. Piano and String Quartet by Morton Feldman.  79 minutes, 1 track, 49 cents. Very slow and restrained.
  9. Under Burning Skies by Souljazz Orchestra, 10 tracks, 45 minutes, 99 cents.
  10. Melatu of Africa by Mulatu Astatke, 14 tracks, 99 cents, 57 minutes. (Update, only 28 minutes, because it includes mono and stereo versions of each track. Still a good deal.
  11. Salone Konde Band. 12 tracks, 47 minutes, 99 cents.
  12. Fantnawa Experience by Fanga & Maalem Abdallah Guinea. 6 tracks, 59 minutes, $2.49
  13. Будет тепло . (Budet Teplo). 23 tracks, 77 minutes 99 cents.  Various. An unusually feisty compilation of Ukrainian pop songs at an  at  unbeatable price.
  14. Onuka by Onuka.  Ukrainian folk-electronic made a splash as the intermission act at Eurovision 2017 (watch the amazing video of their performance).  The studio recordings are not as exciting or as pulsating, but pared down.

July 2017. Too poor to afford booster credits, but I am getting some great deals on classical/modernist albums! All about a dollar!

  1.  Music from Azerbaijan by Gochag Askarov. (5 tracks, 60 minutes, 99 cents).
  2.  Inscriptions by Wil Bolton (5 tracks, 47 minutes, $1.99).  This was number 1 on David Smith’s Top 20 of 2015 list, calling it “especially captivating, a cohesive suite of carefully textured ambient soundscapes of great warmth and delicacy.”
  3. Tiento de las Nieves by Thomas Koner (1 track, 68 minutes,  50 cents). Also highly recommended by David Smith.
  4. Avifaunal by Pausal (6 tracks, 46 minutes, 99 cents).
  5. Nirvana Haze by Alonefold (1 track, 63 minutes, 49 cents).
  6. Patterns in a Chromatic Field by Morton Feldman (1 tracks, 80 minutes, 49 cents).
  7. Lo-Def Pressure by Bill Laswell.  (2 tracks, 48 minutes,  49 cents).
  8. Mausoleum / Hoketus by Louis Andriessen (2 tracks, 57 minutes,  49 cents). 2 minimalist rhythmic pieces from the 1970s. The first contains lots of rattling brassy orchestration, with dissonant choral protests (it’s an homage to Russian anarchist Mikhail Bakunin. The second piece is just percussive chamber music which despite the fast rhythm varies very slowly. Both startling and provocative pieces, but hardly inspiring.

May 2017. Now the site has been redesigned, with lots of new deals, broken links and albums which are missing or new.

  1. I wanna go backwards Box Set. Robyn Hitchcock. 102 tracks, 336 minutes, $6.99. 3 early acoustic albums, with 2 albums worth of rarities. I have my eyes on Part 2 of this box set, Luminous Grooves, which contains albums from the mid to late 1980s
  2. Vasks: Sala / Musica appassionata / Credo, Liepaja Symphony Orchestra & Atvars Lakstigala $1.99, 3 Tracks , 59 minutes 37 seconds. 3 Contemporary compositions by this Latvian composer. Romantic, full orchestration, dissonant, beautiful. (Read liner notes).

April 2017.  Unsuspended my account again…. Hopefully for the last time.

  1. Box Set by William Onyearbor (37 tracks, 272 minutes, $6.99).
  2. 69 Love Songs by Magnetic Fields. (69 tracks, 172 minutes, $6.99).
  3. Eccentric Soul: Omnibus, Various (88 tracks, 288 minutes, $6.99)
  4. Kinks: Anthology 1964-1971. (140 tracks,  374 minutes, $6.99)

January 2017. (I forgot to suspend my membership, but ended up with a winner anyway).

  1. Cooking Vinyl 1986-2006 (compilation). (67 tracks,  276 minutes, $6.49).  Nice and ample collection of A-list talents by a European label. (A good mix of American and European pop stars).

December 2016. Won’t be able to upgrade my account for a while, but managed to buy one album. In the meantime, I’m listening to one-off recordings by Daytrotter Studio (I downloaded 7000 sessions that I need to listen to).

  1. I’ve Got a Way by Kelsey Waldon.  (11 tracks, 38 minutes, $5.39). Also selected songs from her earlier album The Gold Mine. Young rising country star sings slow, heartfelt and almost gothic blues ballads;  it definitely feels more personal than prepackaged; Kelsey has a distinctive rugged voice which in its rock carnation kind of reminds  me of Courtney Barrett. But what makes it special is the quiet dignity she gives to many of the songs.

November 2016.  Back from a hiatus to do some purchases — mainly from the incredible stack of artists I discovered from 2016 SXSW.

  1. Julius Eastman: Unjust Malaise. (8 tracks, 193 minutes, $6.49). Eastman was a minimalist avante-garde composer who wrote complex orchestral pieces for piano and voice. He was unappreciated even by other composers and died homeless and penniless in 1990. This collection of longer pieces are sometimes discordant or hard to enjoy, but they are interesting and expressive (and really, not that different from what Glass and other people were doing in the 70s) But recently several critics have been championing his works. See this
    longish piece in the Guardian .
  2. United Crushers by Poliça (sale – 12 tracks, 43 minutes, $4.99)
  3. Down to Believing by Allison Moorer (13 tracks, 46 minutes, $6.37). One of my greatest finds this year was the achingly beautiful album “Crows” by Allison Moorer which was released a few years ago. Because I had listened to a library copy, I vowed to buy an A.M. album to show my support and gratitude; as it happens, “Down to Believing” is just as lovely as “Crows” and as well regarded — and it’s a bargain on emusic.
  4. Place Called Bad by Scientists (80 tracks, 269 minutes,  $6.99).  The Scientists are a well-known Australian rock-punk group from the 70s and 80s. This band sounds fresh, punk and still relevant.
  5. Mutant Disco Volume 1 (12 tracks, 74 minutes, $5.88). I was watching a hilarious 1989 Richard Pryor/Gene Wilder comedy called “See No Evil, Hear No Evil.” As the credits rolled, I heard this amazing disco melody, which led me to investigate the group “Was (Not Was)” which sang it. This group was produced by Ze Records, who has several emusic compilations. I will probably buy more compilations by Ze Records, but to start out with, I purchased  this  album, which  was positively reviewed by the emusic staff and includes several reviews by emusic fans. There are 4 volumes in this series (and each group is represented by at 4 or 5 songs in the entire series). As enjoyable as the Mutant Disco volumes are, Soul Jazz Records also has two also wonderful disco compilations on emusic which are longer and have more tracks.
  6. Watermelon Summer by Annabelle Chairlegs (10 tracks, 30 minutes, $4.90). Chairlegs is a Austin girl indie-rock album which doesn’t disappoint.
  7. Classic FM by Andy Clockwise. (30 tracks, 133 minutes, $6.49).  This first album by versatile Australian rocker Andy Clockwise  has been scandalously ignored by critics — even in Australia — though everyone seems to have a high opinion of Clockwise and his more recent projects. “Classic FM” is a concept album that tries to juxtapose a dozen different musical styles in one album — as though you were scanning the FM dial on a car radio. Sure, you may not like everything here, but it’s all different, interesting and original. (I would compare this to double albums like the Beatles’ “White Album” or Fleetwood Mac’s “Tusk” which were initially criticized for being sprawling messes, but were later appreciated for what they were). By the way Clockwise lives and performs in the US, and his earworm song Open Relationship has an entertaining and bizzare music video.
  8. You Hear Me: A Retrospective 1983-2009 by Tommy Keene. ( 41 songs, 192 minutes, $6.49). Amazingly I bought this a year ago and never listened to it!
  9. Soul Jazz Records Presents VENEZUELA 70: Cosmic Visions Of A Latin American Earth – Venezuelan Experimental Rock In The 1970s.   (16 tracks, 62 minutes, $6.99) Intriguing genre, and the album pretty much delivers. See this PopMatters review. BTW, because of the current economic chaos in Venezuela, now is as good as any time to show your support for musicians for that country!
  10. Back to Venezuela by Billo’s Caracas Boys. (41 tracks, 128 minutes, $6.49) Billos Caracas Boys is an immortal Venezuelan dance orchestra fronted by Billo Frómeta and lasted from the late 1930s to the 1960s or 1970s. The band is pretty amazing — jazzy/samba with vocals. Personnel changed from year to year, and unfortunately there is not good documentation for this album about when these songs were originally released (or if they are simply re-releases from other albums). But many of the songs here sound like original stuff — probably from the 1940s or 1950s. I want to emphasize that this album merely scratches the surface of what is out there — and doesn’t include many of the tunes which are considered signature songs. Emusic has about 100 albums by Billos Caracas Boys, and this the best and cheapest of the “greatest hits compilations” which I was able to find.

July 2016. Back from hiatus to take advantage of  another double credits sale.  I have a backlog of things to purchase and have some wonderful picks from this year’s South by Southwest torrent.

  1. Best of GEM 2008-2012. By G.E.M.  (24 tracks, 95 minutes, $5.99).  Earlier this year I heard the remarkable Heartbelt album by G.E.M. which immediately made me want more. This compilation album seems equally fun and ethereal — certainly not callow forgettable tracks.
  2. Final Wild Ride. by Long Ryders ( 48 tracks, minutes, 170 minutes $6.99).
  3.  Glacial Glow  (and other selected tracks)  by Noveller. (8 tracks,  34 minutes, $3.92). Known for New Age ambient with guitar, all of her tracks are interesting. I found two other albums from another service (“No Dreams” her best known and “Fantastic Planet” her most recent). I plan to obtain all of her wonderful albums eventually.

March 2016. After a hiatus, I have started buying again.

  1.  Заждалась by Анастасия Приходько. (15 tracks, 53 minutes, $5.99). Lots of great pop singles by this Ukrainian-born singer who was popular in Russia. Interestingly, after representing Russia in the Eurovision song contest, she has vowed never to perform in Russia again.  This and other Ukraine gems come from the fantastic Moon Vinyl S.R.O. label .

February 2016. Ok, I bought $10 of double booster credits to buy some great compilations.

  1. I Am the Center: Private Issue New Age Music in America, 1950-1990 . (20 tracks, 132 minutes, $6.49). A good collection of early New Age/space music, from quite a few well-knowns. A Popmatters review of the album writes, “This is new age music before it became a commodity, before it evolved into aural wallpaper and background music. When it was the domain of outsider artists, eccentrics and experimentalists. As evidenced by this collection, the music’s goals were often lofty.” (My minor complaint is that 5 of the 20 are excerpts from longer pieces, but it’s still a good value).
  2. Juke Joint Blues Black Cat Rag (54 tracks, 154 minutes, $6.49). Here’s a good collection of blues tracks with reasonably high fidelity and lots of performers I have never heard of (and I have heard of a lot!) Though the first few tracks didn’t particularly impress me, the overwhelming majority of the tracks were keepers. Sadly, this seems to be part of a larger series which never made it to emusic. (The album shows it as “Juke Joints 4 — Volume 2”). Still, what we have is pretty special. Lots of Southern bluesy stuff, with harmonica, a good fast beat and a variety of voices).
  3. Liverpool International Festival of Psychedelia Presents PZYK Vol.1 by Various Artists.  (31 tracks, 147 minutes, $6.49) paraphrasing from Piccadilly Records website where the album made their best of 2015 compilations list, is “a deluxe triple vinyl compilation celebrating the current neo-psychedelic underground. Featuring a mix of exclusive tracks, re-mixes, rarities and album cuts, the compilation spans and charts the global PZYK diaspora, with artists from around the world contributing to an international selection comprising 30 of the current movement’s key noisemakers.” I really loved this collection. Lots of electronic which sounded more psychedelic than trance or techno.

January 2016 (skipped December 2015).  I suspended my subscription, renewed it, received $10 in courtesy credits because the site has been down a lot, and then for two weeks my account was available! It’s all behind me, and more importantly, emusic has added in the cost of subscription an ability to stream your purchases. That’s a cool feature!  They have also updated the android and apple app so that you can hear it from cell phones. The semi-permanent double value booster sales have officially ended, thus relieving me of any temptation to buy more music until I get a steady paycheck!.

  1. A Badly Broken Code by Dessa. (15 tracks, 47 minutes, $5.99). Filipino Dessa did a remarkable album Parts of Speech which consisted of lots of adventurous rap songs with excellent and expressive lyrics (no profanity), magnificent arrangements and a variety of styles (though the slow rap song seems to be her  default).  Her albums seem a tad overproduced; I wish we can just enjoy the melodies apart from the lyrics or the strong emotions. Despite my nitpicks, this album – like Parts of Speech —  are absolutely  first-rate and bring additional rewards with repeated listens.
  2. Baroques (Remastered). by the Baroques. (25 tracks, 82 minutes, $5.99). Very obscure Milwaukee psychedelic music group from the 60s.  Although labels from that time were pretty open to experimentation, I think the Baroques abandoned the pop sensibility, lost their record deal and broke up. Sad story, but the songs they made are incredible and fun.
  3. O Vertigo by Kate Miller-Heidke (12 tracks, 42 minutes, $5.88). I’m going to be selecting tracks from this album and others to zero out my balances. Miller-Heidke is this unbelievably talented Australian opera-trained singer who first came to my attention by doing these wild cover versions of well-known songs (like this one and this one and this one ) . Turns out she and her husband write and perform lots of original songs and most recently an opera! A lot of her best stuff is not on emusic though O Vertigo is pretty great).

November 2015. Wow,  it seems that my unemployment will once again reduce my purchases (after months of indulging). I may even suspend my membership temporarily.  Fear Not. I have lots of listening to catch up on.

  1.  Best of Old School Hip Hop. Various. 20 tracks. 93 minutes, $3.89.  Upbeat urban rap from the 90s. Heavy beat, kind of silly and juvenile and not too raunchy or violent. Plus, the lyrics are actually comprehensible!  Everything feels like the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” and at least the lyrics are interesting and tell a story. These are not great tracks, but the musical arrangements are all interesting.
  2. Best of 00-10 by Ladytron. (17 tracks, 68 minutes, $5.99). Hits compilations by one of my alltime fave bands. They know how to write catchy pop songs with hooks and occasionally rock it up (Blue Jeans, Destroy Everything You Touch). The singer Helen Marnie  is great and stylish, but the synthesizer parts are also fantastic! Updates: Silly me. I forgot I already bought individual tracks, and had accumulated another album’s worth of tracks through samplers, etc. Also, it appears that Marnie has started to go solo.  So much as I loved this album, I totally did not need it!
  3. Boom Tic Boom by Allison Miller (8 tracks, 58 minutes for $3.92).  This awesome jazz drummer put together a multi-talented jazz band which put together the zippy album No Morphine, No Lilies which I thought was outstanding.
  4. Boddie Recording Company: Cleveland, OH. (64 tracks, 190 minutes, $6.49).  Multi-decade compilation by a lesser known Cleveland recording company. Not as polished as the Motown stuff, but still very interesting.
  5. Fats Navarro Collection 1943-1950 (39 tracks, 140 minutes, $6.49). Feisty trumpet recordings by a jazz virtuoso who died at a shockingly early age (26) from a combination of TB and a drug overdose.

October 2015. I finished listening and rating my 2011 SXSW torrents and have been amassing things to buy for it. Here are some other purchases:

  1. Bird Call! The Twin City Stomp of the Trashmen. 80 tracks, 224 minutes, 5.99. Lots of variant recordings and live recordings
  2. Hits, Hits, Hits Vol 1 and Hits, Hits, Hits Vol 2 are two huge compilations of 70s disco/early 80s hip hop music from P& P Records. Each volume is more than 530 minutes!  (Read this Guardian critic’s review of this series).  It’s true that both volumes are padded with instrumental versions and extended versions (you have a 13 minute disco  version of the Charlie’s Angels theme — and trust me, it’s great!)
  3. Terry Farley Presents Acid Rain Deep House 1985-1991 61 tracks, 387 minutes, $6.49). Great collection of hard techno/early EDM stuff.
  4. Northern Soul — Soundtrack– Extended Version  (54 tracks, 146 minutes, $6.49)is  a collection of “Northern Soul” (British-based soul plus a lot of semi-obscure American stuff thrown in)This comes from a movie about the time period.  I am especially loving this one.
  5. Weekender: (Music from the Movie & Further Inspiration).
  6. Traxbox (Trax Records Remastered). 226 tracks, 1200 minutes, $6.49. It’s true that there are 2 and maybe 3) versions of each song
  7. Northern Soul 60s Mod. 45 tracks,  128 minutes, $5.99
  8. Dark Tree by Horace Tapscott.  (9 tracks, 127 minutes, $6.49).  Widely praised Live Double jazz album from 1989.
  9.  Guillaume Du Fay: Motets, Hymns & Chansons BLUE HERON. (16 tracks, 73 minutes,  $5.99). Recommended early classic music, and it is fantastic.
  10.  Blues and the Abstract Truth. Oliver Nelson. (12 tracks, 77 minutes, $6.49). Highly recommended jazz album.
  11. Welcome to the Country by Gram Rabbit (10 tracks, 39 minutes, $4.90). Outstanding collection of strange psychedelic country by a group known for shifting genres often. (They do heavy metal, punk all with a psychedelic twist).
  12. Sanremo in the Fifties. (43 tracks, 170 minutes, $6.49) Italian  pop music culture revolves around the annual Sanremo festival which started in the 50s (and is still active). This compilation  contains a lot of the contest winners (and more importantly, the ones which didn’t win but are still great songs.) Most of the recordings are decent quality
  13. Sapore di Sale (100 tracks, 307 minutes, $5.99) has many of the same singers from the Sanremo collection, but different songs released in the 60s. (Some are live recordings, possibly from later Sanremos). You have to overlook the Sedaka, Paul Anka and Petula Clark here, but there are multiple songs by quite a number of singers, including Quartetto Cetra, Gino Paoli and Peppino di Capri.
  14. Great Greek Composers (123 songs, 360 minutes, $6.49) which seems to be a wrong name for it, because all the songs are simple pop songs from several decades and the song metadata doesn’t contain any useful information on the songwriters. (Strangely it lists the musical genre as “reggae” — go figure). Someone mentioned that it sounds like Schlager music (that light-hearted folksy stuff that seems old-fashioned to our ears), and I don’t think that’s offbase. Sound quality is mostly decent, and a few songs are standouts, though all are generally pleasant.
  15. Duo Chrisses Fones – Two Golden Voices: ROZA ESKENAZI & RITA ABATZI (45 songs, 145 minutes, $5.84) is definitely older and more folksy stuff (we’re talking 1920s-1940s). Sound quality could be a lot worse, but it’s about what you’d expect for the time. Roza Eskenazi has the more interesting and melodic voice, while Rita Abatzi sings more emotionally and wistfully. They sing in a rebetiko style, which uses various Turkish song elements. This album is more a musical time capsule than something which feels modern, but I found it interesting still.

September 2015. As luck would have it, there was an “accidental” Double the Value Booster credit sale and I went ahead and spent $50 to obtain $100 in credits. I have lots of things on my list but probably won’t be buying anything until early October. (For the record I’ve been listening — and rating — the 1100+ free mp3 downloads from the 2011 SXSW music torrent — which will eventually result in lots of purchases of favorite band discoveries).

  1. Trilogie de la Morte by Eliane  Radigue. costs $5.99 here for a total of 168 minutes.  It’s drone/ambient, very meditative, but interesting enough to keep your attention. The allmusic review said “it is based on the composer’s complete immersion in Tibetan Buddhist teaching, and takes its title from Thomas Merton’s Trilogy on Death.”
  2. Hot French Chicks in the Garage. (37 tracks, 91 minutes, $5.99).  Compilation of French female singers from the 60s and 70s.
  3. Perfect Lives by Robert Ashley. (7 tracks, 174 minutes, $6.49).   Avante-garde opera project from late 70s, consisting of long, extended arias in English which consist of nonsequiturs, strange poetic pronouncements and pop culture. Ashley intended this to be “opera for TV” (and indeed, there is a DVD version of the performance which makes this intent apparent).  and it resembles the ramblings in Glass’s Einstein on the Beach.
  4. Bunny Striker Lee Story. (101 tracks, 316 minutes, $5.99), Giant compilation of  60s and 70s Jamaican reggae by a noted music producer.

August 2015. I bought another booster credit, so the buying spree continues (at least for the next month). I’m still buying things from my SXSW and the Russian Music  stack (see below). Because I’m out of work again, I couldn’t max out on booster packs, but these 2 for 1 booster pack sales are coming every 3 months, so that gives me time to catch up on listening.

  1.  50 Tunes of Jazz from Venus Records.  (50 tracks, 239 minutes, $6.49).  Compilation of a jazz label from Japan. Generally great stuff.
  2. Deep Soul Moments: Sometime, Someplace, Somewhere. (27 tracks, 67 minutes, $3.24) Outstanding collection of 60s soul. Slow melodies and vocals.
  3. Illinoise by Sufjan (22 tracks, 74 minutes, $4.99).
  4. Cecil Gant Collection 1944-1951 (52 tracks, 143 minutes, $6.49). Bluesy vocalist and pianist with some boogie woogie inclinations.
  5. Jailhouse Blues & Murder Ballads (180 tracks, 570 minutes, $6.49).
  6. Mose Allison Collection 1956-1962 Volume 1 and Volume 2 (Each costs $6.49 and consists of 146 minutes). Jazzy blues singer and pianist who collaborates with Stan Getz and Zoot Sims.   His band plays many jazz standard here.  Great stuff, relaxing, joyful, Still alive today!
  7. Complete Singles A’s and B’s 1949-1962 Vol 2 by B.B. King.
  8. Dark Light Up by Eleni Mandell. (12 tracks, 39 minutes for $6.99). Eleni Mandell is not known for  mainstream pop, but this album tries to do that — and mostly succeeds.
  9. The Peregrine by Lawrence English. (34 minutes for $3.43) Recent ambient recording.
  10. Margaret Whiting: Collectors’ Edition 1942-1960.  (87 tracks, 236 minutes, $5.84) Whiting sang a lot of vanilla jazz standards in the 1940s, but her interpretations are so lovely and charming that I forgive her for not venturing outside familiar territory.
  11. Girl in a Coma. Tracks from all of their albums, especially Trio B.C.  This is a fiesty girls punk band from San Antonio, headed by singer Nina Diaz. They famously met up in MIDDLE SCHOOL! Apparently Diaz and the rest of the band are going off on separate projects, but their Coma stuff is great. Although their original stuff is great, I wanted to point out that their album of cover songs is particularly juicy (though I checked it out of the library instead of buying it).
  12. Music for Airports Live  (Music by Brian Eno) by Bang on a Can All Stars. A music group does the impossible: perform a live performance of something originally written not to be performed. This is a classic of the New Age genre, and the live performance is faithful to the original recording –though it feels softer and more human.
  13. Unremembered. Composed by Sarah Kirkland Snider, performed by Shara Worden and others. (13 tracks, 54 minutes, $5.99).
  14. Earl Bostic Collection 1939-1959. (50 songs, 145 minutes $6.49) Really great jazz. Often compared to Sidney Bechet, this is smoother and more elegant.
  15. Complete Aristocrat and Chess Singles A’s and B’s (Volume 1 of 2) by Muddy Waters. (49 tracks, 141 minutes, $6.49). I ran out of credits, so I bought Volume 1 for now.
  16. One Hundred Hits of Bing Crosby. (100 songs, 299 minutes, $5.99) Bing Crosby had numerous hits in the 40s, and this mega-compilation gives you a better idea of his variety of styles. Lots of random oddball tracks (such as “Road to Morocco”) make this one always delightful.

July 2015. Note that even this month I am still adding a substantial number of albums to other lists below (like the Russian and Ukrainian compilations under June 2015 and SXSW picks under March 2015). In fact, about 95% of my purchases by rising bands come from my SXSW stack.  Even though I bought them this month, they are not listed under the month I bought them. I am starting to list some jazz albums reviewed and praised by Bird is the Worm.  He reviews them faster than I can listen to them!

  1. Cosmopolitan Classics: George Jones. (98 Tracks, 249 minutes, $5.19) An amazing collection of songs for the price. I ended up liking every song!
  2. Dub Side of the Mule Deluxe Edition  (34 tracks, 227 minutes, $6.49).  Recording of  a live musical “happening” by the remnants of the Allman Brothers and some guests (Toots Maytal, according to this review). Apparently they release a lot of these things built around a certain theme, with them all priced pretty low on emusic.
  3. La Sortie by Low-Res. (7 tracks, 49 minutes, $5.99).  Bird Best 2014. This set of jazz pieces don’t overwhelm, but really flow well together.
  4. Wurm Series No. 1. by Oophoi. (1 track, 65 minutes for 49 cents!). Great ambient track.
  5. Enter  by Fire Orchestra. (4 tracks, 53 minutes, $3.30).  Bird Best 2014. Great choral jazzy thing which is full of emotional power and energy. Wow!
  6. Exclusively for my friends (live) by Oscar Peterson (37 tracks, 236 minutes, $6.49).
  7. King of Highlife Anthology by E.T. Mensah and the Tempos.
  8. Figs: What Keeps me up at Night and The Figs. Two interesting albums by Louisiana blues band  with Jillian Johnson (who recently was killed in a shooting in Lafayette LA).
  9.  LAVINIA MEIJER Glass: Metamorphosis, The Hours. (12 tracks, 63 minutes $1.40). Amazingly these Glass-approved transcriptions for harp are terrific!
  10. Vivaldi: 12 Violin Concertos – “La Cetra”, Op. 9  (36 tracks, 117 minutes, $1.40). HOLLAND BAROQUE SOCIETY. Well-reviewed album of lesser-known Vivaldi violin pieces.
  11. The Graham Bond Organization – Wade in the Water – Classics, Origins & Oddities. (96 tracks, 308 minutes, $6.49). Outstanding early 60s British pop/jazz. Very influential on British invasion bands and others.
  12. Absolut Duke Ellington (157 tracks, 529 minutes $6.49).
  13. Dimensions Live by Daniel Schlappi, Jorg Bucher & Colin Vallon (14 tracks, 107 minutes, $6.49).
  14. Minimal Piano Collection, ( 93 tracks, 615 minutes, $4.54). performed by Jeroen Van Veen.  This huge collection features generous performances from Glass, Arvo Paart, Nyman, Adams, Cage, Riley, etc). I spent all morning listening to the Aarvo Paart, this evening listening to the Glass and can happily report that it is generally excellent and an extraordinary value!.

June 2015. Not only did I purchase $150 of double-booster credits, I discovered some great Russian music compilations which I’ll note below.

  1. Boys can be Mean.60 tracks – $5.84. Fun thematic 60s  compilation about girls complaining about boys.
  2. Nigeria 70 Lagos Jump.16 tracks, 77 minutes for $5.99
  3. Nigeria 70 Sweet Times Afro-Fun, Highlife and Juju from 1970s Lagos. 79 minutes, 13 tracks, $5.99
  4. I Hate CDs: Norton Records 45 RPM Singles Collection Vol 1.
  5. Roadrunner 1955-1962 Original Chess Masters (Remastered Edition). Bo Diddley.
  6. Complete Chess Singles As & Bs 1955-1961. Chuck Berry.50 tracks for $6.49
  7. Complete Soul Essentials by Ike and Tina Turner. 75 tracks for $5.84. The version of some of the signature songs is different (and probably inferior), but the vast collection covers the range of songs Ike and Tina used to sing.
  8. Various songs of Novecento. C’ E’ Un Mondo Che… (complete album) and 4 songs each from these albums: Dreamland, Necessary and Secret. Novecento is an Italian band that started out in 1980s Euro-disco pop and gradually migrated into Jazzy Easy Listening pop. Perhaps it seems way too mellow for the modern ear, but it is extremely relaxing and pleasant to listen to. Female singer Dora  Carofiglio was the “real” Jessica Jay in the 90s dance pop band (which I wrote about at length here).
  9. Two famous multidisc recordings by jazz legend Hampton Hawes: All Night Sessions! 1-3 with Jim Hall (17 tracks, 123 minutes, $5.84) and  Trio: Complete Albums (featuring Red Mitchell & Chuck Thompson).  (35 tracks, 156 minutes, $6.49).
  10. Tristeza / Poema / Canto / Images On Guitar. BADEN POWELL . Classic 60s albums by a famous 60s Brazilian guitarist.
  11. Chavela Vargas. Sus 40 Grandes Canciones. (40 tracks, 134 minutes, $5.84).
  12. Buckle Up by Steve Krase. (10 tracks, 39 minutes $4.90) Great electronic blues/rock band led by Krase who plays a mean harmonica.  I saw him perform with Trudy Lynn last night; they were fantastic!
  13. Royal Oaks Blues Cafe by Trudy Lynn (with Steve Krase).  Trudy sings some rowdy libidinous blues even though she’s in her 70s. Direct, comic and slightly outrageous.
  14. 40 Successos de samba & Bossa Nova. Elis Regina. (40 tracks, 110 minutes, $5.99). Great collection of songs by the famed bossa nova singer who died in her thirties.
  15. 25 Years of Brazilian Beats (Mr. Bongo Presents) Part 1 and Part 2.
  16. Jelly Roll Morton — Complete Congress Recordings.
  17. Digital Collection Vol 4. Noor Jehan. Here are the Punjabi language songs.
  18. 100 Anos de Historia Musical Vol 3. Lucho Bermudez. (20 tracks, 57 minutes $6.49). Wish it had more tracks, but the ones here are dynamite.
  19. Louisiana & The Old New Orleans Sound. (100 tracks, 285 minute, $5.84).
  20. Amara Toure 1973-80.  (10 tracks, 63 minutes, $5.99) Influential 70s Senegal singer with a Cuban/Afrobeat feel.

Special Russian and Ukrainian Compilations. As strange as it sounds, I finally found some reasonably-priced Russian/Ukrainian albums on emusic.Typing the words Grand Collection produces a list of double size compilation albums by several well-known Russian pop singers. Also try searching for  “Коллекция”in the search engine.  Unfortunately the links of titles with Cyrillic letters doesn’t work too well, so most of these links will not link. Often copying the Cyrillic names into the emusic search engine will work, or sometimes just searching google can help.

  1. Коллекция лучших альбомов. Анна Герман (Anna Hermann) (8 hours for 120 tracks, $5.99). Hermann was a much beloved Polish singer who died early but was widely beloved in the 70s and 80s by the entire Soviet Union. Sound quality on this collection varies, but it contains a lot of her hits which made her famous.
  2. АЛСУ – GRAND COLLECTION / ALSU (known also as Alsou). (28 tracks, 101 minutes, $5.99).  (listen on youtube). Alsou is a beautiful singer and was predicted to appeal to Western audiences. That didn’t happen as much as it should have; she did win 2nd in a Eurovision contest for an utterly forgettable song, but make no mistake; she’s a major talent, and her tracks always sound great!
  3. Grand Collection. DIDULYA (ДИДЮЛЯ). (79 minutes, 19 tracks, $5.99).  Great guitar-driven pop by a Belorussian guy who likes to infuse folk and  Middle East elements into melodies.
  4. Коллекция легендарных песен.  ГРАЖДАНСКАЯ ОБОРОНА (Grazhdanskaya Oborona). (85 tracks, 260 minutes, $5.99).  Oborona is an early Soviet punk-psychedelic singer (and I do not exaggerate when I compare their early stuff to Sex Pistols   or the Ramones or the Residents). I like how the wikipedia article describes the band’s lyrics as progressing from the political to the metaphysical.  (Alas, if only my Russian were good enough to understand them! — But I find the literary references mentioned in the wiki page reassuring).
  5. Коллекция. АНДРЕЙ ГУБИН. (Andrey Gubin). (42 tracks, 167 minutes, $6.49). Upbeat dance pop, full of catchy numbers.
  6.  Я не скажу “прощай”  by Татьяна Овсиенко.  (17 tracks, 65 minutes, $6.49). A good Ukrainian pop singer. Very sophisticated dance pop with some slow ballads thrown in.
  7.  Большая коллекция, Часть 2 by “АЛЁНА АПИНА” (Elena Apina).  This is only part 2 of a box set, but this part contains 50 songs  and 184 minutes of dance and disco fun by one of the leading Russian pop singers in the 90s. (She is also one of my fave singers too).
  8. Grand Collection: Леонид Агутин. (Leonid Agutin). 112 minutes 28 songs. $5.99..  Agutin has a smooth almost Latino singing style which won me over when I first heard him in the 90s. This compilation contains the songs from those albums and more recent stuff as well.
  9. Skryabin. Selections from Various Albums. Ever since the lead singer died a year ago, I wanted to revisit this Ukrainian band which I used to listen to while living in Ukraine. Despite the fact that it cost more (about $20 in credits), I ended up buying selected songs from various albums. Their eclecticism of styles reminds me of Talking Heads  (although Skryabin is definitely cooler, darker, moodier). If I were to single out some albums, I would have to pick Mova Ryb (very upbeat and pop) and the 82 minute compilation album Balady.
  10. Grand Collection: БОЖЬЯ КОРОВКА (“Lady Bird”).  Zany light hearted pop from a male-female singing duo.
  11. Grand Collection: Vitas. (28 tracks, 105 minutes, $5.99). Ukrainian-born Russian pop singer with an operatic voice, crazy appearance and who sings techno-dance songs. This reminds me a lot of Ukrainian singer El Kravchuk (whose album I also bought on emusic).
  12. Коллекция ФИЛИПП КИРКОРОВ (Collectsya by Phillip Kirkorov) . 952 minute 246 track album for $6.49. Phillip Kirkorov is a major presence for the last few decades in Russian pop (kind of like Elton John or Neil Diamond for the English-speaking world). An awesome deal. A lot of these tracks are winners!
  13. Valentina Levko: Star of the Bolshoi is a (176 tracks, 676 minutes, $4.54 fascinating 10 hour collection of arias and classical songs by a Russian singer. I have only sampled some of the tracks; the ones I know sound excellent.
  14. Большая коллекция by СУРГАНОВА И ОРКЕСТР. (129 tracks, 490 minutes, $6.49).  Pop band headed by Svetlana Surganova. Really interesting sound; it combines folk, jazz and classical elements to produce a nice pop sound.  Her singing is gentle and relaxed, and the melodies and productions are always interesting.
  15. МИХАЙЛ ШУФУТИНСКИЙ – GRAND COLLECTION. MIKHAIL SHUFUTINSKY. (28 tracks, 109 minutes, $5.99). This zany album consists of a lot of live traditional tracks. They sound a lot better than the two studio albums I have by him.
  16. Лучшее by  ИГОРЬ ТАЛЬКОВ (Igor Talkov).  (50 tracks, 252 minutes, $5.99). Collection of a Russian music icon. Parts of it sounds rough and downbeat, but remember, this was the 80s and 90s. Most of the hits I already know were here — and then some. Curiously missing was my favorite song “Летний дождь” (Summer Rains) which you can download separately from the Моя любовь album. potap
  17. Все пучком by ПОТАП И НАСТЯ (Potap i Nastya) (23 tracks, 56 minutes, $5.99). Outstanding upbeat pop/rapping duo from Ukraine. This group produces so many fun and amazing songs (and vids!) that it’s a wonder they are still unknown in the West. Also, highly recommended was their earlier album  Не люби мне мозги  which was just as amazing (though I didn’t buy it from emusic; I checked it out of the library).
  18. Время и Стекло by Время и Стекло (Vremya i Steklo , or Time & Glass)  (18 tracks, 58 minutes, $5.99). Very young and telegenic Ukrainian dance pop duo from the same label as Potap i Nastiya.  They sing more dancey/EDM; Less clever than Potap i Nastiya but more stylish.
  19. Verka Serduchka: (ВЕРКА СЕРДЮЧКА) Selections from various albums such as Do Re Mi and Tralli Valli .Serduchka gained notoriety with his outrageously fun song in a 2007 Ukraine  Eurovision performance.  Though his comedy songs are great (and make great vids),  the more mainstream songs are good too. Let’s give him credit for reinventing the folk pop song.
  20. Irina Bilyk (ИРИНА БИЛЫК). Selections from various albums.  By the way, I saw Bilyk perform at a concert in Lutsk, Ukraine in 1997 with a similar Russian singer, Linda. Bilyk’s songs are pleasant, moody, lightly arranged. Fast techno dance track often combines with a slow downbeat (almost whispering)  style of  singing. (which reminds me a little of Suzanne Vega).  Her 1995 album Нова consists of mainly dance-techno songs  and has lots of great moments. The 1996  Так прост doesn’t have as many memorable melodies, but lots of good vocals and arrangements. Later albums are more lyrical (and not as successful). I ended up loving her slower  2014 album Рассвет. This singer has definitely grown on me over the decade.
  21. Благо дарю by ОЛЬГА ГОРБАЧЕВА (Olga Gorbacheva).  (43 minutes, 12 tracks, $5.88) Cute young blond who sing serious/sincere songs in the same vein of Irina Bilyk (indeed this album shares a track with Bilyk’s 2014 album which I mentioned above).
  22. НЕАНГЕЛЫ: Selections from two albums Best of and Роман. I would describe this as dramatic but unostentatious  pop with a  slow and slick techno sound. It’s fast and danceable but not particularly memorable; at the same time, it’s pleasant enough to listen to.
  23.  Live Шоу “Каролина” by Ани Лорак (Ana Lorak).  (25 tracks, 103 minutes, $5.99). Spectacular  concert by Ukraine’s music superstar.  This concert (which is fully available on youtube) has lavish sets, a full band and chorus and several surprise guests. The songs are not as amazing as the electrifying way they are performed. In fact, I’m at a loss to provide an American equivalent. Perhaps Jennifer Lopez or Diana Ross or Shania Twain or Tina Turner. She’s not rap or really EDM, but more traditional singing which really soar when she’s in a duet with frequent guests.
  24. Коллекция легендарных песен by ОЛЕГ МИТЯЕВ (Oleg Mityaev). (50 tracks, 171 minutes, $5.99). Megacompilation by Russian bard/folk singer who got started in the early 1980s. His style is traditional folk (and frankly the melodies can get  monotonous). About half the tracks are live recordings, and most consist of some combination of piano, accordian or acoustic guitar. Some of the slower ballads are gems. Fun fact; he hails from Chelyabinsk (near the Ural Mountains). In late November as I write this, its temperature is 17 degrees F below zero!

May 2015. I have been winnowing my list of SXSW performers and will soon buy albums by new talents (see April 2015).

  1. Milton Hopkins and Jewel Brown. (41 minutes, 12 tracks for $5.88). Jewel Brown was the main singer when Louis Armstrong was touring overseas  in the 50s and 60s. Jewel Brown is no Ella Fitzgerald, but she has some great songs — most of which are hard to find because they were recorded under the name of Armstrong’s band at the time. Brown retired in 1971 for personal reasons, living in Houston, running a hair salon and doing the occasional concert. In the last few years she has been performing with local blues legends, and this album is one of these collaboration. This album combines a bluesy guitar with Jewel Brown’s lively singing. It’s more bluesy than jazz, but it’s still a worthy album and a lot of fun.
  2. Blade Runner: 30th Anniversary Celebration (Music from the Motion Picture). Apparently there has been no full release of the actual mysterious  Vangelis soundtrack, but this musician decided to reconstruct the soundtrack in its original form as best as he could.  It sounds great and apparently has satisfied most of the people who were complaining about the previous soundtracks.
  3. All Your Love by Siti Nurhaliza. (10 tracks, 42 minutes, $4.90). Nurhaliza is an amazing (and beautiful to look at) Malaysia singer who I discovered during my yearlong period of downloading all sorts of pirated albums from Audiogalaxy in 2001.  I loved her stuff to death. Fun, pop and catchy in an Asian way. This English album probably isn’t her best, but it’s in English, has some good songs and is the only thing emusic has by her. Which is fine (for now at least).
  4. Grandes voces melodicas. Leonardo Favio. (30 tracks, 93 minutes for $5.99). Longest compilation of this versatile Argentine singer, actor and director. Mainly love ballads and random stuff; some very catchy stuff here which when combined with Favio’s brooding and poetic voice make this a winner.
  5. Best of Ho Ngoi Ha. (23 tracks, 101 minutes, $5.99). I first heard this woman sing the traditional part on a great and funky duet on Suboi’s rap album. This is also a good collection (though the arrangements are fairly minimalist and the songs slow and bland).
  6.  Live in 67 (by John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers). (13 tracks, 77 minutes for $6.37). Outstanding but low-fidelity live performances of John Mayall and the three founding members of Fleetwood Mac. Amazing stuff.
  7. The Yardbirds Story by Giorgio Gomelsky. (89 tracks, 290 minutes for $6.49). Amazing 4 CD collection of Yardbird stuff between 1963 and 1966.
  8. Don’t Think I’ve Forgotten: Cambodia’s Lost Rock and Roll. Music Soundtrack. 20 tracks, 68 minutes, $5.99).
  9. Acadian All-Star Special: The Pioneering Cajun Recordings of J.D. Miller. 78 tracks, 209 minutes for $7.50) . Pioneering is a fine word for this great compilation of early Cajun stuff. Apparently JD was a collector of old 78s, and these haven’t been heard in a long time.
  10. Ondatrópica by Ondatrópica. (Soundways Recording). (19 tracks, 77 minutes). Multigenerational collaboration of Columbian singers (old and new), featuring cumbia mixed with a variety of  contemporary styles.
  11. Predestinación by ARIES VIGOTH. 12 tracks, 47 minutes for $6.49.
  12. 20 Exitos De Cristina Maica CRISTINA MAICA. 20 tracks, 60 minutes for 5.99.
  13. Ekstasis (Expanded). Julia Holter. (15 tracks, 92 minutes for $6.49). Experimental mood music.
  14. Various  80s Ital0-Disco compilations, starting with this double-disc one: The Best Off Disco 70/80, Vol. 2 (30 tracks, 174 minutes, $5.99). Other volumes in the series go about 110-120 minutes.  which all have about 110-120 minutes: Best of Italo-Disco Vol 1, Best of Italo-Disco Vol 2 (not to be confused with the double compilation listed above) and Best of Italo-Disco Vol 4. Personally I liked Vol 1 the best (maybe because it’s the first of the series I listened to). The vocals don’t particularly stand out, but the retro disco instrumentals can go to remarkable places. This  label has  a limited number of artists in its stable — and these are NOT the well-known ones in Italo disco, but these are lively and mindlessly fun.Here’s a Pitchfork article about the phenomenon: “Who on earth ever thought that these were good ideas for songs, or that they could become hits? And why, ill-fitting as it is, do I still find some of these strange songs stuck in my head? There will always be something a bit off about Italo but that might be what makes it so pliant, so resilient. It’s failures become its strengths. Its sexiness is like a mannequin posed for a hug, its futurism like a cyborg soaked in seawater, trying to pass as human.”

April 2015. I now have $300 worth of credits to my name. Time to do some serious music shopping. For the next few months, I can stop going for the compilations and start buying newer artists and even fit in some jazz artists (thanks to the smart reviews of the latest jazz releases on the birdistheword blog).

  1. Sun Rockabilly Meltdown, (103 tracks, 236 minutes for $5.84). Besides the familiar Jerry Lee Lewis and Carl Perkins, a lot of new new names to me.
  2. Snake Box by Harvey Mandel (47 tracks, 236 minutes for $6.49). Famed blues player in a gigantic box set. Incredible compilation!
  3. Boleros: Volume 1 and Volume 2 are both hefty albums, weighing in at 180 minutes each for $6. Boleros are slower, gentler songs, and both volumes contain lots of classic singers like Olimpo Cardenas, Los Ponchos, Julio Jaramillo, Los Dandys and Daniel Santos.
  4. Grandes Exitos Vol 3 and Vol 4 by Las Hermanas Calle (each are 16 tracks, 45 minutes for $6.49) Emusic didn’t have volumes 1 or 2. This sister duet from Venezuela has some lovely ballads and boleros dating over several decades. (Bio in Spanish here). Traditional but engaging stuff.
  5. (On bandcamp, not  Emusic — but worth mentioning anyway because of the bargain aspect, 250 substantial  tracks for  minimum $18 donation). Touched Two compilation of ambient/electronic music. Quality varies (and I heard some glitchy things which I removed), but for the most part it sounds like ambient/New Age music by lots of electronic artists. (I assume that they are British/European, because the money benefits cancer research in England).
  6. (On Amazon, for $5 – $1 credit). Greatest Hits: Lean on Me by Bill Withers. (18 tracks, 74 minutes for $5 make this one a steal).
  7. Everything I do Gonh Be Funky  By Allen Toussaint. (40 tracks, 107 minutes for $6). Compilation of greatest 50s, 60s and 70s arrangements of this famed Louisiana-based musical producer.
  8. Happy Times in New Orleans ( Early Sessions: 1958-1960) By Allen Toussaint. (20 tracks, 40 minutes for $6). Lively minimalist jazz piano pieces with occasional vocals.

Special SXSW List I am keeping a separate list of SXSW finds which are priced normally — but still good deals considering the booster credits. This list will incorporate more than one month. Update: I am still only about 1/3 into my 2015 SXSW picks, and I started listening to great tracks from 2011 SXSW. For convenience I will be mingling all SXSW discoveries on this list.

  1. Walk by Suboi (9 tracks, 32 minutes for $4.41). Suboi is a Vietnamese rap singer whose songs are peppy and bilingual and fun.
  2. It’s Alive by La Luz. (11 tracks, 33 minutes $5.39). Good upbeat girls surfer rock by a featured Los Angeles group at SXSW 2015 with hints of anarchy throughout.
  3. Bernhari by Bernhari. (11 tracks, 46 minutes, $5.39).  Energetic Canadian instrumental band with elements of dream pop. Absolutely original.
  4. Your Old Droog by Your Old Droog. (18 tracks, 59 minutes for $6.49). It is rare when I stumble upon a rap album which 1)is not laced with profanity, 2)has nice musical elements and clever lyrics. This album is the pleasant exception. Ironically the singer (who was initially mistaken for NAS) is actually a young Ukrainian-American living in NYC.
  5. Total Strife Forever (Deluxe Edition), East India Youth. (12 tracks, 107 minutes, $8.99). This great electronic album also contains the 54 minutes “20,000 Leagues under the Sea.”
  6. Kalaboogie and the Prosper Project by Doomsquad. (Each about 45-55 minutes for $5.99). Electronic/percussion Toronto-based band with moody hypnotic effects — including the occasional vocals. Think Yo La Tengo with a dance beat.
  7. Another Way to Live and the World You’re Living In by Amber Digby. (35 minutes for each $5.88  album). This Houston native sings unassuming and winsome country songs which remind me a lot of Willie Nelson.
  8. Hanging Spoons by Gina Chavez. (12 tracks, 55 minutes, $5.88)  Eclectic half-Mexican Austin singer-songwriter who alternates between the Latino sound and Texas country — a little like Rosie Flores.
  9. Ways Over Water. Fritz Kalkbreiner. (13 tracks, 72 minutes, $5.19) Berlin electronic artist.
  10. Obsidian Spectre by  Crosss. (8 tracks, 42 minutes for $5.99). Grandiose and Symphonic-sounding heavy metal.
  11. Solstice by the Heaters. (8 tracks, 26 minutes, $3.92). Fierce surf-psychedelic garage rock by a Michigan band. A hard pounding drum beat ensures that you don’t get lost in the haze. This band has become one of my fave discoveries from this year’s SXSW.
  12. Life as a Dog by K-Flay (11 tracks, 44 minutes, $5.39). Gnarly and Arty rap by a San Francisco girl.
  13. Unorthodox by Sno that Product. (17 tracks, 49 minutes, $5.99). Latin rapping  by a tough-talking California girl. Think of Eminem, but it’s a lot more danceable. Actually she’s the Latino M.I.A. with lots of electro-pizzazz  underneath the lyrics. Some pottymouth-ery, but generally there’s a social purpose behind it.
  14. Ninety Thirty Thirty by Fielded. (11 tracks, 36 minutes, $5.39). fieldedLyrical self-produced album by Lindsay Powell, a girl with a voice like Blondie, clever arrangements, surprising space melodies and deliberately slow tempos.
  15. Fantastic Negrito Deluxe EP. R& B with guitars. (7 tracks, 26 minutes, $3.43).
  16. Everyone you love will be happy soon.  by Quiet Company (15 tracks, 60 minutes, $5.99). Plaintive country rock.
  17. Loose Ends by Francisco the Man.  (10 tracks, 50  minutes, $6.99)
  18. Insides by Fort Rameau. (8 tracks, 52 minutes, $6.99).
  19. Under the Surface by Marit Larsen. 11 tracks, 37 minutes, $5.99.  Larsen is a Norwegian pop sensation and songwriter who seems like a less angrier version of Alanis Morissette.
  20. Where We All Live EP by Wheelchair Sports Camp. 6 tracks, 24 minutes for $2.94. A  sort of rap/jazz/punk band from Denver fronted by a rapping girl in a wheelchair. Sounds like a freakshow, but it’s actually good music — and also very fun.
  21. Black Hole Lace. by Kemp & Eden. (9 tracks, 30 minutes, $4.41)  Slow and Arty two-part harmony dream pop by two cute girls with offbeat lyrics.
  22. Selections from Analog Rebellion. Texas Songwriter  Daniel Hunter writes a lot of off the wall songs with bizarre themes and lyrics, but the music is always remarkable. Hunter’s band is prolific, and I ended up picking songs from all his albums.  The albums I took the most songs from included: Ancient Electrons, Evaders,  and Cavanaugh, Something.
  23. 1993-2003: 10 Years of K’s Choice. Compilation. 18 tracks, 64 minutes for $5.99 Laid back 90s grrl rock. It probably needs to be rowdier, but a good restrained Greatest Hits album.
  24. Waving at the Sun by K’s Choice.  12 tracks, 34 minutes, $5.88. More recent album by the band which is absolutely ethereal.
  25. You can’t take a bad girl home. Fabulous Ginn Sisters. (10 tracks, 33 minutes, $4.90).
  26. Collection 1: An Embarrassment of richard. by Richard Barone. (15 tracks, 63 minutes,  $5.99). Volume 1 compilation album of Richard Barone, singer for the Bongos and music producer who writes  slow catchy pop songs. Update: I also bought Collection 2: Before and Afterglow (22 tracks, 76 minutes, $5.99) which I liked even better. It’s slower, more interesting and still fun.
  27. 2 Albums by Secret Colours: Peach and Positive Distractions.
  28. Selections from Extra Classic. (From Showcase and  You Light like White Elephants).  This San Francisco group plays a lot of easygoing dub/reggae (more). The songs are somewhat interchangeable, but the girl’s singing and the jamming guitars makes it refreshing to listen to.

March 2015. Wow, another booster credit sale! Although I will be scoping out the mega-compilations,  I want to grab some by newer artists, especially discoveries from SXSW.

  1. Boston by Fleetwood Mac (30 tracks, 213 minutes for $11.80).  Great and expansive blues track by early Fleetwood Mac when Peter Green was fronting it.

Feb 2015. Finishing off the credits and returning to normal. But I still have a lot of megacompilations to buy! Over the last 3 months I seem to be getting most of my emusic recommendations from a single forum post about multidisc compilations. Indeed, I’ve added a lot to this thread as well.

  1. Rare Soul and R&B Masters. (100 tracks, 263 minutes for $6.49). Wonderful collection of singers and songs I have never heard of. I had expected to recognize a few names, but with the exception of Tony Orlando(!), Brenda Lee (!)  and  Gloria Gaynor, none of them ring a bell.  Like other compilations, these are digitalizations of  “needle-drop recordings” from the 60s,  but they are  still  lively and good-sounding.
  2. Mag All Stars Vol 1 and Vol 3 are compilations of lively 50s Peruvian nightclub gems. Lots of salsa/mambo/nutty jazz stuff by unfamiliar names. Each about 71 minutes for $6.49, both are great deals which come from Repsyched Records.
  3. Lucho Gatica. (107 tracks, 350 minutes).  This A to Z collection is a grabbag, but it contains the major hits of this Latin American singer.

Jan 2015. Continuing to spend the booster credits from last month.

  1. Five Album Set & Bonus EPs. (72 tracks, 291 minutes for $5.99). The American Dollar. Great rock instrumentals which have a symphonic quality. Engaging, exciting (like early Rush).
  2. Petula Clark Legacy. (57 tracks, 150 minutes, $6.49).This generous album contains mainly minor tracks, show tunes and cover tunes– before Petula Clark hit the big time and started producing great 60s rock songs.  But the songs here show an earlier style; they are fascinating, very hummable and entertaining. The good news is that there is virtually no overlap between this album and the more conventional compilation Petula Clark  albums. See also the practically identical compilation It Had to Be You. Unfortunately the best compilation of her rock period (Ultimate P.C.) used to be on emusic, but was taken off during last year’s exodus of  big labels.
  3. Ibiza’s House of House (Compilation 52 tracks, 323 minutes, $5.99). This excellent and long compilation of recent progressive trance has many high moments, plus the songs are all unedited, so you get the full versions.
  4. Countrypolitan Classics by Eddie Arnold (44 tracks, 121 minutes for $5.19).  This Great series contains long compilation of country legends for bargain prices.
  5. Lo mejor de Julio Jaramillo (78 tracks, 224 minutes for $5.84). Great compilation by the great Ecuadorian singer.
  6. Cuba Cubaneando by Benny More (91 tracks, 273 minutes for $5.84). Great combination of old tracks by this Cuban crooner.
  7. Best of Caterina Valente. (52 tracks, 151 minutes, $6.49).Really outstanding compilation of 50s and 60s showtunes/Latino and early rockish sounds by an Italian singer who also made it very big in US and other countries. I loved almost every song. Some of them were just wacky!
  8. Indie Psyche Rock: Rare Recordings from the Attic (58 tracks, 176 minutes $5.84) This is a great, energetic and zany compilation. Really one of my favorite emusic purchases!

 

December 2014/January 15. Another 2 for 1 Booster Credit Month. This time I bought $75, so I’ve been buying a lot of stuff.

  1. Celia Cruz la Reina de Cuba. (45 tracks/126 minutes for $6.49).
  2. Scared to get happy (Compilation of British punk hits — 50 tracks/149 minutes for $6.49). Update: Further listening to this album makes me less than impresed.
  3. VA – Kerrville Folk Festival – The Early Years 1972-81 ($6.49, 518:08, 135 tracks)and VA – Kerrville Folk Festival – The Silverwolf Years ($6.49, 397:56, 95 tracks)
  4. 100 Años de Historia Musical, Vol. 1  and Vol 2 by Lucho Bermudez (each 60 minutes for $6.50). Latin America’s equivalent to Benny Goodman and Big Band. Great stuff.
  5. Los Reyes del Merengue by CHAPUSEAUX Y DAMIRÓN (12 tracks for 30 minutes). A really fun and elegant album by the great merengue masters. Appearances by vocalist Sylvia de Grasse and flautist Gilberto Valdes really balance it all out and make it feel like a magical combination.
  6. chapuseuxDiscos Fuentes Guillermo Buitrago Collection (25 tracks, 74 minutes for $5.99)
  7. Discos Fuentes Pedro Laza Collection PEDRO LAZA Y SUS PELAYEROS (25 tracks for 68 minutes for $5.99)
  8. Wartime Years — Wartime Memories, (200 tracks, 596 minutes for $6.49)
  9. Moochin’ Abouts Stateside Hitlist 1962 (292 tracks,  760 minutes for $6.49).
  10. Moochin’ about Bossa Nova, (70 tracks, 217 minutes for $6.49).
  11. Various psychedelic compilations: London Underground ,(46 tracks, 156 minutes for $6.49), Rare Tracks (89 tracks, 256 minutes for $4.40), 100 Psychedelic Trips (Stoner Rock, Garage Rock, Acid Rock) (100 tracks, 328 minutes for $5.84).
  12. Wussy, Attica. (11 tracks, 42 minutes for $5.39). Rated A+ by Robert Christgau
  13. Retrospektive Deluxe Edition by Nektar. (38 tracks, 194 minutes for $5.84). Great symphonic rock.
  14. Girls, Girls, Girls, Vol 1. (174 tracks, 421 minutes). Random grabbag of unknown female tracks from 50s and 60s. I recognized almost none of them!

November 2014. OMG 2 for 1 Booster Credit Month. Time to go crazy!

  1. City: Works  of Fiction (Expanded Edition) by Jon Hassell. (202 minutes for $8.60) Phenomenally interesting free form ambient jazz soundscapes by a well known avante-pop artist who frequently collaborates with Brian Eno. This totally wowwed me and I am looking forward to picking up Fourth World: Volume 1, which is a classic work which should be available in digital form very soon.
  2. Grandes Exitos de Tete Montoliu . More of the great Spanish jazz pianist (See my comments below).
  3. Kenya Special: (Selected East African Recordings from the 1970s and 1980s). Another great Soundways compilations. Unfortunately overpriced at 11.98, I can afford it with my booster pack credits.
  4. Blind Troubadour of Oaxaca . Alonzo Cruz. Damn those overpriced high-quality Smithsonian Edition recordings. Here’s a 42 minute compilation from the 1960s which is great, spare and memorable.
  5.  Myaskovsky: Selected Symphonies. 204 minutes for $6.50
  6. Two Marimbas from Oaxaca, Mexico . by FAUSTINO GONZÁLEZ RIVERA AND SILVERIO PASTELÍN NAVARRO
  7. Salmanov: Symphonies Nos. 1-4 (Live). 115 minutes for $6.50
  8. Various Punk 45 Compilations from the 1970s. “There Is No Such Thing As Society: Get A Job, Get A Car, Get A Bed, Get Drunk! Underground Punk in the UK 1977-81”, Sick on You ! One Way Spit ! After the Love & Before the Revolution ” and “Kill the Hippies! Kill Yourself! The American Nation Destroys Its Young“. Amazing and jarring compilation of rowdy songs by various underground bands and one hit wonders. Opened a new musical world for me.
  9. Still Some Light by Bill Fay (123 minutes for $6.49). Soulful and almost spiritual ballads with a New Age sound. Bill Fay is an overlooked gem.
  10. Afrosound of Columbia Vol 1 (158 minutes, 43 tracks for $5.84).
  11. 2001-9, Durutti Column,  (329 minutes for $11.96).
  12. Jazz on Film (New Wave) Vol 1-7. (385 minutes for $6.49). Great stuff from European 60s films
  13. El Barrio: Ultimate Collection of Latin Boogaloo, Disco, Fun & Soul (Fania Records). (240 minutes for 6.50). Good collection by a major U.S./ Latin label from the 60s. This label brought us a lot of names which we regard as household names in Latin music now.
  14. Clair Denis Film Scores 1996-2009 by Tindersticks. (189 minutes for $3.89).
  15. Moochin’ about Stateside Hitlist (1961). (853 minutes for $6.49).
  16. The Bats: Volume 1. (169 minutes at $6.99). Great compilation of a leading 90s Australian punk band.
  17. Jazzactuel: Collection of avante-garde/free jazz psychedelia from 1969-1971 (223 minutes for $5.99). Pretty trying  cerebral tracks, but a good change of pace.

October 2014. Classical music time:

  1. Complete Symphonies by Shostakovich , 700 minutes for $6.49, conducted  by KIRILL KONDRASHIN. See this laudatory article about this cycle.
  2. Cantares de la Revolución Mexicana y Canciones Norteñas, Various. (117 minutes for $6.49). This random 2 disc compilation of songs from the Mexican Revolution period (1910-1920) stands out as containing a fair number of well-known singers and unknowns, not terrible sound quality (though not great), a variety of songs and really beautiful melodies.
  3. Music for Anna by Tete Montoliu. Excellent bargain-priced  ($3!) jazz session in the later part of Montoliu’s career. This Spanish jazz pianist seems to be little known, and yet his career  spans decades. Next month I will definitely be grabbing the Grandes Exitos de Tete Montoliu  (105 minutes for  5.84) which takes from several different albums.

September 2014. Amidst the scary announcement that emusic is dropping lots of titles by the big labels, there is still lots of good indie stuff to get into:

  1. Deep in the Shallows by The Church.(154 minutes for $6.49). Outstanding compilation of 20 years of hits by this Australian jangle rock band. One reviewer called the songs on CD 2 to be amazing, and I agree. As the album winds down, the sound is more balanced and moodier. Less about trying to rock you, more about trying to grasp at something unfathomable.
  2. Спасибо by Zemfira (ЗЕМФИРА). Zemfira is a female singer who hit the Russian pop scene in the 1990s with her self-titled debut album. All my students liked her, and I did too. 15 years later, I can’t help but wonder what she has done  in the meantime.  Here’s the answer! Although some of her intervening albums were forgettable, this one had lots of great moments.

August 2014. I upgraded my membership so I had $16.99 of credits per month by paying $134 for the year. On another note, I made a major purchase of used CDs from half.com, including a bunch of ultracheap imports of jazz box sets and all sorts of random 90s stuff. So I haven’t been wanting for music.

  1. RCA 100 Anos de Musica by Tony Camargo.  (107 minutes for $11.10) As tempting as the RCA 100 Anos de Musica compilation albums are,  I’ve resisted because they are so damn expensive. Instead, I have been downloading for free  from Freegal select songs by Pedro Vargas, Roberto Jordan, Armando  Manzanero, Los Churumbules de Espana (awesome!),  Emmanuel and other collections. But I couldn’t resist the Camargo collection; it sounds like early Tito Puente or 1940s Big Band; almost every track is fun and fresh.
  2. Self-Titled by  Ultimate Spinach, (9 tracks, 36 minutes for $4.41). Good 60s psychedelic music from Boston. In September I also bought the excellent sequel  Behold and See soon.

July 2014. They had their 2 for 1 emusic credit special, so this month will have some intense purchases. (Also I checked out some amazing things from the library and bought several amazing used CDs. Many titles were inspired by this great list of emusic albums (which is further evidence that great evidence are everywhere if only they can be noticed).

  1. Car Wash OST by Rose Royce (73 minutes for $5.19). A terrific album with lots of funkiness and soul. Great jazzy instrumentals too.  I saw the movie for the first time a few months ago and couldn’t believe how awesome the background music sounded.
  2. В Добрый Час (Good Luck) (1986) by Time Machine (Машина времени).  Some light-hearted songs with a folk feel but also keyboard and guitar and hints of rock and roll.  This 38 minute album from the 80s capture the early adventures of the group. Stylistically it reminds me of the Beatles’ Yellow Submarine phase — frivolous, lackadaisical and a good kind of weird.
  3. Speak No Evil by Wayne Shorter (48 minutes, 7 tracks for $3.89).
  4. Wattstax: The Living Word, VA. (Live Concert). (47 tracks, 224 minutes for $11.10). Classic blues concert (which was later made into a blues documentary). Also, I added a few extra tracks from Wattstax: Highlights from the Documentary which were not included in the main concert album.
  5. Live at the Summit Club by Johnnie Taylor. (10 tracks, 64 minutes for 5.19, but you can skip the first track, which is just an  introduction).  This concert was recorded for inclusion in the Wattstax documentary, but only one of the songs ended up being used. Here’s what was left on the cutting room floor.
  6. Hello  Avalanche by Octopus Party. ($6 for 43 minutes). This Austin avante garde electronica band is fun and soothing and silly. All their albums can be streamed on their bandcamp site, but the albums are cheaper to purchase on emusic.  It’s worth noting that their band site has several free downloads.
  7. Lift Your Skinny Fists like Antennas to Heaven by Godspeed you! black emperor. ( 4 tracks, 87 minutes for $5.84). Symphonic space rock composition which is purely instrumental, gradually building up and exciting.
  8.  Greatest Rhythm and Booze Collection by Amos Milburn.  ($6 for 77 minutes).  Outstanding and fun 50s R&B tracks by a Houston singing legend. Update:  Apparently songs from this album and other songs can be downloaded for free from archive.org . (See here and here). A cursory listen to the free tracks  indicates that they  don’t suck.
  9. Best of Perception & Today Records compiled by DJ Spinna and BBE Soundsystem (154 minute compilation for $6.50). Double album compilation of 70s funky NY ethnic  soul. Lots of horns, instrumentals and yelling. I liked it more for the overall  “sound” and the instrumentals than the vocals.
  10. Rock-a-billy: Boogie Woogie Blues Man. By Roy Gaines. (37 minutes for $6).  More R&B stuff by a Houstonian I hadn’t heard of. (Actually I guessed correctly that he was related to Grady Gaines of the Upsetters).
  11. Feel the Heat by Henry Paul Band.  A recent Southern blues rock band with lots of power. Great mainstream kind of sound.
  12. Come Again by Even. Surprisingly engaging Australian pop band from the 1990s that has a 60s like Beatles sound (along with occasional dissonances and wit).
  13. Irish Tour by Rory Gallagher. (Live concert: 71 minutes for $4.54).  Highly regarded concert of Irish blues guitarist Rory Gallagher when he was in his prime.
  14. Mark-Almond ’73 by Mark-Almond. (40 minutes for $2.94). Unclassifiable downbeat rock.
  15. Black-top Blues-o-rama Volume 4, by Various Houston blues artists performing at New Orleans (I think).  Some great and powerful stuff, especially Grady Gaines and Big Robert Smith.
  16. Live by Clarence “Gatemouth” Brown. (48  minutes for $5.39). This album was dinged on allmusic for bad acoustics, but I didn’t notice it. This album shows how exciting Gatemouth can be in person (I saw him once and can attest). He floats effortlessly between genres, and this particular recording emphasizes the more energetic jazz stuff.
  17. Soul Makassa by Lafayette Afro Rock Band. (Plus 1 or 2 tracks extra from other albums including the great Ozan koukle)
  18. Rosie Flores by Rosie Flores.  (30 minutes for $5). Great 1987  debut album by this  Texas country singer . Traditional country with a strong guitar presence and hints of rock and roll.  She sticks to  the genre pretty closely, and I personally prefer the more soulful songs like “Somebody loves, somebody wins” than the more upbeat numbers.
  19. #7885 Electropunk to Technopop 1978-1985  by Cabaret Voltaire. (77 minutes, 19 tracks for $7). A fairly accessible collection of CV’s midcareer works, and a good introduction to what this avante pop/electronica band was  all about.
  20. Full Gain by Grady Gaines and the Texas Upsetters. (Selected tracks at 49 cents each). I spent the rest of my balance on this classic Texas saxophone-led blues band. Although the fast-paced stuff is fun and funky, the slow numbers (like If I loved you a little less and Miss Lucy Brown) are really where this band shines.

June 2014. I’m still on the basic plan (hopefully I can upgrade in 1 or 2 months). But I found 3 great low-cost LA punk compilations.

  1. Beach Blvd. Compilation (30 tracks, 65 minutes for $1.95). Here’s a Posh Boy compilation of 70s Los Angeles punk, including Negative Trend (with Rik L Rik), etc.
  2. Posh Hits #1. Compilation (20 tracks, 49 minutes for $1.95). More of basically the same genre, with Pariah, Redd Kross, Simpletones. Etc.
  3. Four Days in a Hotel Room by the Nuns (24 tracks, 72 minutes for $1.95). A really fun and versatile female-led punk group which is always sly, seductive and naughty.  Liked this a LOT!

May 2014. I downgraded my membership to the basic while I look for a job (Remember I went on a buying spree last month, so don’t worry about me!). But I bought something amazing:

  1. Francophonic 2.   (13 tracks, 148 minutes for $6.49). Volume 2 of the Franco compilation featuring tracks from the last decade of Franco’s short life.  Francophonic 1 (which is the same price and duration, but covers the early years) is also unbelievable.  I bought 3 other Franco collections below for low prices as well: Roots of OK Jazz, Very Best of 1960-2: Franco and Lisanga Ya Banganga. By Grand Maitre Franco, all of which are terrific. Although there are dozens of Franco CDs, these 5 budget compilation albums have probably no overlapping songs (well, maybe 1 or 2).

March -April 2014 (combined). I took advantage of the 2 for 1 booster credits to gain $100 of credits for only $50. Just in the nick of time because my To-Buy list is growing incredibly large.

  1. El Kravchuk. Luchshye pesni – 15 let.  (18 songs for $5.99) El Kravchuk is a Ukrainian singer with an almost  operatic voice who sings tunes with a techno pop. Some of the pieces seem low-key, lyrical, soaring, danceable. This is a compilation from the last 15 years and truly wondrous.  I didn’t warm up to it immediately when I first heard it in Ukraine, but now I can’t get enough of it.
  2. Chess Blues Box Set. (101 tracks/290 minutes for $26)  I’ve been salivating over this box set for years, and it bugs me that I haven’t been able to get it from ILL (interlibrary loan). Because the price of the digital box set is steep even with the discounts, I can only justify buying this when I have bought 2 for 1 credits.   But it is great! (I am eagerly awaiting from ILL  another blues box set called Juke Joint Blues which contains no overlap with this one).
  3. Anti 2010 Fall Sampler and Anti 2010 Spring Compilation are each about 50 minutes and cost only $ 1.99.
  4. Samantha Stollenwerck, Carefree. I’m a huge fan of this  Los Angeles singer who seems like a funkier version of Sheryl Crow with J.J. Grey’s rip-roaring bluesy style. Note that you can download some of her live concerts (legally!) for free.
  5. Dual Mono by the Greenhornes. Rowdy, traditional rocking, with almost every song a winner.
  6. Distant Earth Remixed by ATB. Really exhilarating EDM,  starting with the song accompanying the incredible Hulafantastica video.
  7. Awaara/Shree. An album which combines 2 well-known soundtracks from Bollywood movies. A bargain! (Update: Just listened again to it.  What a great collection of songs!)
  8. Noor Jehan Collection in Urdu Volume 3.
  9. Advisory Committee by Mirah. Very well-received moody shoegazing female songs.
  10. Elegancia Tropical by Bomba Estereo.
  11. Lo Mejor De Lo Mejor de RCA Victor by Libertad Lamarque. (Compilation: 40 tracks/112 minutes for $11.10) Great compilation of an Argentine singer who became wildly popular in Mexico. This stuff contains lots of songs from her Argentina days in the 1930s-40s and her later stuff for Mexican films in the 50s and 60s.  The songs are good and gushy romantic, but her voice is outstanding and very expressive. Update:  I still like this album, but very few songs really stand out as great.
  12. Originales — 20 Exitos by Jeanette. Great 20 track compilation of Jeanette’s best songs from the 80s. Lots of hidden gems here. Jeanette has a soft coy soft  like Suzanne Vega, and these tunes are catchy, pensive and very sweet.  Like a Bacharach song, these songs seem deceptively simply and formulaic, but after you unpack the lush orchestration and crescendos, you realize that there’s a lot more here than you expected. (Note: “Originales 20 Exitos” is a generic title for single artist compilations from previous decades (most are smaller than the RCA 100 Anos de Musica). Often you can choose the single CD compilation titled “Originales 20 Exitos”
  13. RCA 100 Anos De Musica – Segunda Parte ( Grandes Baladas De Los 70s) (Compilation: 36 tracks for 120 minutes at $11.10). Outstanding compilation of  Top 40 Easy Listening Ballads of the 70s by all the Mexican greats. Honestly, I wish I could buy every single of the 50+ titles — even though they were rather expensive. Unfortunately, the Mexican music business don’t have low cost compilation CDs, so this is all you’re stuck with.  In addition to single artist compilations, there are some good 2 disc compilations by multiple artists. Honestly I was torn between 3 different compilations and this one won…
  14. Slave Ambient by War on Drugs. Great guitar rumblings and electronic background to a man who sings like Bob Dylan. I can’t for the life of me understand what this singer is saying (the guitar strumming drowns it out), but the music is exciting and at the same time low-key.
  15. Snakebite by Eleni Mandell. I’ve been following Mandell for years. She writes quirky, dangerous and off-the-wall songs. Great lyrics, lots of dissonance and crazy melodies. Sure, she’s mellowing out with her later albums, but this albums comes from her I’m-still-crazy stage. Check out this awesome review of this album.
  16. Tele by Pjusk.   ($4.41) Slow subterranean ambient music that moves at a glacial pace. It’s made by two Norwegian guys who say their music is influenced by the natural landscape — living in the mountains in the snowy winters. A nice change of pace and a genuinely beautiful soundscape (dare I call it music?)
  17. Adams Effect by Pepper Adams. Last recorded performance of jazz great Pepper Adams in a cheap ($3.43) recording. This album has been on my list for over a year, and I finally got around to buying it. Lively perfection and a historically important recording.

February 2014. What luck! I posted the Refer a Friend $50 Credit and Earned $50 more credits to my account.  (PS, If you want me to send you the $50 offer, email me).

  1. Various Polyvinyl Samplers. To take advantage of the 2 week Polyvinyl sale, I’ve started downloading a number of free and very cheap ($1.50) Polyvinyl samplers. After listening to those I’ll purchase some  actual albums. Polyvinyl samplers are everywhere, so here are some links: Free samplers on  emusic: PV Digest, Hey Girl Hey, Polyvinyl SXSW 2013Winston’s Essentials. Free samplers on Amazon (but not emusic): PV 15 year anniversary, Sells for $1.40 on emusic: PV 2005 Sampler, PV 2004 Sampler, PV Summer/Fall 2005 Sampler, Simple Mental Math (2009), PV 2002-3 Sampler, PV 2009 Sampler. There’s usually 1-3 duplicates on each album,  but considering that I spent only $8.40 for about 150 unique indie tracks from an edgy label (about 4 or 5 per artist!), that’s a great deal!
  2. 100 Hits Lounge (456 minutes for $11.98). Probably a frivolous choice, but a good value and I had LOTS of fun listening to it on rdio. The concept is simple: 100 mainstream pop songs are reinterpreted  and rearranged by mostly South American jazz/lounge DJs. So almost every tune is familar, but the reinterpretations (often with jazzy vocals) are fresh, unusual and surprising. I listened to and enjoyed another 100 track lounge compilation for $5.99  called Lounge Top 100 (listed below) which contains unfamiliar tunes and I see that there’s  a low-cost sequel called Lounge Top 100 Vol 2 which I have yet to buy, but almost certainly will do so eventually.
  3. Roots of OK Jazz (59 minutes for $5.99). Early musical offerings by the legendary Congolese jazz band led by Franco. This tracks feature more of the band and less on individual stars (like Franco himself). Just as good as I’d imagine it.
  4. Very Best of 1960-2. Franco and L’Orchestra OK Jazz. (121 minutes for $6.49). Both of these albums are great; this album is a double set. Significantly, with the exception of one track, there is virtually no overlap between this album or Roots of  OK Jazz or the Francophonic 1 compilation.
  5. Places like This.  Architecture in Helsinki. ($5 for 31 minutes) . Peppy rhythmic Australian band with lots of weird sound effects and vocals.  Reminds me of Talking Heads or B52s, with a healthy dose of silliness.
  6. Fluorescence by Asobi Seksu. Great hazy electronic band by a Japanese-American artist. Shoegazing,  meditative, flighty stuff with lots of unusual beats that leave you off-balanced. I actually prefer her earlier work Citrus which was really moody, Goldfrappy  and stirring in a bold way, but Fluorescence was on sale by Polyvinyl, so I decided to get this first. Still an excellent album to contemplate by.
  7. I need you bad. Various. (Sale $5 for 15 tracks at 48 minutes).  Random collection of West Coast garage bands. No single track stands out, but there’s a variety of styles and a lot of  slow/whispery/underwater-sounding tracks. Though I loved it at first listen and like being exposed to these kind of bands, nothing really wowwed me.
  8. Noor Jehan Digital Collection in Urdu Volume 2. (73 minutes for $5.99). Sounds like Bollywood with some individual flourishes. I generally love her voice.
  9. Cartagena! Curro Fuentes & The Big Band Cumbia and Descarga Sound Of Colombia 1962 – 72 (Soundway Records). 68 minutes for $5.99. Not a bad track in the bunch. Really amazing stuff and no overlap with my other compilation albums (such as Diablos del Ritmo below).
  10. King Of History – Classic 1970s Benga Beats From Kenya. (84 minutes for 5.99). This music is characterized by fast jumpy  beats, and call and response by the chorus and the jumpy guitars . A critic writes,” the songs normally start off with a snappy guitar riff as introduction, followed by voices over lulling guitar work. Then, with the singing out of the way, the instruments get down to the serious business, galloping into double time as the guitars trade short, frantic phrases.” Love it overall, but there doesn’t seem to be any musical climaxes, just lots of rapidfire beats.

January 2014.  Still trying to figure out what to get.

  1. Noor Jehan Digital Collection Volume 1. (72 minutes for $5.99) Jehan is Pakistan’s most famous singer who sang in movies and as a playback singer. She appeared in a number of Bollywood movies as well. She has recorded over 10,000 songs (compared to 26,000 songs each for Asha and Lata).  This is the first of 9 volumes. Unfortunately this digital collection doesn’t have any sort of organization (chronological or otherwise), but the songs are great.
  2. 1992-2012 Anthology by Underworld. A 3 1/2 hour anthology for $6.50 certainly seems like a good deal, especially because the compilation of tracks by this legendary 90s techno group provides highlights of many famous albums, including their early 90s stuff. This sells for almost 3x the price on Amazon and itunes. Update: The price recently doubled on emusic. Shucks!
  3. 100% Hits der 60er 70er 80er.  (53 tracks/ 153 minutes for $4.50). I was browsing through many random compilations and came across this ultra-budget compilation of upbeat  German folk hits from previous decades. This hoaky Lawrence Welkish style (called Volkstümliche Musik) was popular among a certain class of German society — but almost certainly not German’s youth; it is roughly analogous to U.S. country, but with oompahs and occasional yodeling. I’m aware that these tracks are easy to mock,  but when I learned German at college, the music teacher used to play these songs occasionally — and it never really occurred to me that real people actually listened to this kind of music outside of an academic setting.  There is not even a whimper of rock and roll here, but a few drops of classical music. In favor of this album, most (or even all of it) seems to be by the original artists. A great glimpse into a European musical style that was buried by rock and roll and disco.

December 2013. I have since found lots of interesting things, but can’t decide what to spend it on.  Indeed, I have found several double albums and box sets available here which though cheap exceed my monthly credit. Good things will have to wait, I guess.

  1. Angola Saudade 60*70. (194 minutes for $.4.40). Apparently someone at emusic goofed, and the 4 CD version is as expensive as each individual cd. Update: This album has been removed altogether from emusic, but it is still available on Amazon. Each of the 4 CDs cost $6.99 in digital form on Amazon. It’s still a fun and remarkable album.
  2. Diablos del Ritmo 1960-1985: The Colombian Melting Pot (Afrobeat – Puya – Cumbiamba – Terapia – Mapalé – Caribbean Funk. (108 minutes for $11.98 — note: This was available on Amazon for 10.49)). I wasn’t pleased at having to pay “full price” for this album, but this album is so smooth and fun when I listened to it on Rdio that I know I will play it to death. The compiler wrote a nice long intro to the songs and how he came to know about them.  This double album ranks up there with the Soundways Original Sound of Cumbia 1948-1979 which is one of my alltime favorites. (note: this second album is also   $2 cheaper on Amazon than on emusic. What’s the deal with Columbian music being cheaper on Amazon?)

November 2013.  Using more of last month’s credit. Overdosing on Cambodian pop and neo-pop. One interesting historical fact is that about Cambodian musicians were very influenced by Western rock and dance styles; about 20% of them were killed by the Khmer Rouge.

  1. Dengue Fever Presents Electric Cambodia. Dengue Fever collects some of their favorite Cambodian pop from the 60s and 70s. Pretty rocking stuff. Highly recommended.
  2. Cambodian Psych Out. Another Cambodian song compilation with an emphasis on psychedelic guitar rock.
  3. Dengue Fever Presents: Dancing through the Mekong. This half-compilation also features DF themselves playing some classic and original tunes.  All very good, but I should add that I fully expect to buy a DF only album next month.
  4.  Not Easy Rock and Roll.  by Cambodian Space Project. Apparently another group from Australia also is trying to squat on this Cambodian/world beat space. Surprisingly modern and  cool.
  5. Now Hear This! Winners of the Independent Spirit Award (Free sampler). A surprisingly cool collection of song winners, most of which I enjoyed. 66 songs total.
  6. Vida Mia and Very Best of Lydia Mendoza   are two dynamite compilation albums by the Latino/Tejano singer from Houston who later lived in San Antonio. Born in 1917, most of Mendoza’s  songs are from the 1930s and are absolutely boffo. mendozaMost consist of simple lyrics (all in Spanish),   solos with acoustic guitar. Yet they have a lot of vitality and heart. They are sweet and relaxing, full of Latin strumming, danceable rhythms and soulful vocals.
  7. Dandelion Gum by Black Moth Super Rainbow. Experimental arty rock by a Philadelphia band. I listened to their other incredible album Eating Us . Each song tries something different. Sounds like downtempo  dream pop with almost a cooing Yo Lo Tengo vibe. These songs are individually so interesting that I find I can relisten to these two albums a lot.

 

October 2013. Still recovering from last month’s listening and buying orgy.

  1. Lyadov Complete Piano Works, performed by Marco Rapetti (248 minutes for $6.49). (Liner Notes). 19th century Russian composer Lyadov wrote a lot of very short romantic programmatic pieces. Insubstantial, but colorful, complex. Hilariously uninterested in sonata-allegro forms, his music is reminiscent of  Scriabin and Schumann. Apparently a lot of these pieces are performed here for the first time, so for $7 in emusic credits, you can get an outstanding deal. Please note that this and other recent classical music acquisitions (aside from Argerich)  are re-releases from Brilliant Classics, a budget but high-quality label. Highly recommended, if only for historical novelty.
  2. Prokofiev. Symphonies Number 1-7. Zdenek Kosler, Czech Philharmonic. 248 minutes for $6.49.  (Long outside  Review here).
  3. Nouela. Chants. Nouela Johnston is a Seattle singer and pianist who has played with a variety of alternative bands, including Say Hi and Mon Frere. She also recorded the solo album People Eating People which I think is great. Chants is basically Nouela with a piano; it  shows  versatility, a mastery of the jazz genre and heaps of soul. I love it.

Sept 2013. Took advantage of the Double-the-Value of your booster pack. I added $50, which meant a whopping $100 of emusic credits.  I gave my nephew $30 of the music credits, that that let me still have $87 of credits which I put to good use quickly. I’m still in Africa, although I’m starting to venture into Classical Land and 80s Land. (Update: I ended up spending those $30 in credits meant for my nephew — sorry, Dylan!)

  1. Lisanga Ya Banganga. By Grand Maitre Franco. This is a collection of duets by Congolese singer Tabu Ley Rochereau and singer-guitarist Franco. I’m continuing my obsession with the Congolese jazz guitarist and singer Franco which started with the amazing collection Francophonic 1 compilation which I bought a year ago. I will certainly buy Francophonic 2, although interestingly, Amazon has lowered the price of both compilations to be $2 cheaper than emusic’s prices. This collection emphasizes singing more than instrumentals; it is very slow, tropical, laid back, and neither singer dominates any of the pieces.   The album actually combines two albums — one of them “Omana Wapi” was called by Robert Christgau one of the best albums of the 80s. Actually, though, I liked the 3 pieces not in that album called “Suite Lettres” which are softer, faster and  more contemplative. This album didn’t wow me as much as Francophonic did, but it definitely will grow on me. Highly recommended.
  2. Martha Argerich — The Collection 1. (liner notes). I was tempted to blow my entire credits on the 4 volume set, but this volume costs $14.40 and contained 374 minutes, and so I know that would keep me happy for a while. This volume contains the “solo recordings” and the selections seem to come from her remarkable and iconoclastic early performances. Next I’ll be buying Volume 2: The Concertos, but I already knew some of her early concerto performances already, so it wouldn’t exactly surprise me.  By the way, I realize that now she’s in her 70s, but some of the photos from her early days (which appear on all her album covers)  are really sexy. 600x600Update: It now appears that the encoding rate for this compilation  is substandard (ie., 160 bps VBR compared to 256CBR  on Amazon.com). This is both puzzling and disappointing. I have notified emusic about this, and hopefully this can be resolved. Update 2: They gave me a credit which I applied to volume 2 — which I am assured is high fidelity quality. Everybody is happy.
  3. Martha Argerich — The Collection 2. The Concertos. (461 minutes for $16.30 — liner notes) I am happy to report that sound quality on this volume is perfectly fine. It includes her early concert of the Ravel concerto in G and Prokofiev #3  (which are electrifying and great, the definitive recording for each piece). Included also are standard works by Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Schumann. These are all a delight; highly recommended. One note: there are duplicate recordings of the Ravel, Tchaikovsky and Beethoven #2, so the total time is somewhat deceptive.
  4. Next Stop…Soweto is a compilation of works from South Africa in the 1960s and 1970s. Volume 1:  Township Sounds From The Golden Age Of Mbaqangwa contains lots of happy stuff .Volume 2: Soultown. R&B, Funk & Psych Sounds from the Townships 1969-1976  is (oops, I haven’t listened to it yet!). The tracks from  Volume 3:  Giants, Ministers and Makers: Jazz in South Africa 1963-1984 are twice as long as the other two volumes, and contain lots of interesting world jazz numbers.
  5. Singles and Sessions 1979-81 by Delta 5. Delta 5 is a British girls punk band I had never heard of (and frankly was flummoxed to learn that they even existed).  But their rowdy smartalecky lyrics  was accompanied by genuine musical ideas and unexpected transitions. I heard about them on an NPR radio show about The 80s: Were they really that bad? and even though I never heard them until 2 months ago, they’re practically my fave 80s band now. Highly recommended.
  6. Nigeria Rock Special: Psychedelic Afro-Rock & Fuzz Funk in 1970’s Nigeria is another Soundways album which I nearly bought 2 months ago.By now I know a lot about what was going on in Nigeria in the 1970s, but there were some excellent tracks not anywhere else.
  7. Shout: The Very Best of Tears for Fears.  I was vaguely aware of this 80s band and never really cared for them, but while listening to one of their songs in that same NPR radio show, I began to really like the moody synth sound and the pulsating rhythm permeating almost all the songs. I still am not a huge fan of the genre or the time period, but I have to concede the brilliance behind the music on this album.
  8. Kokomemedata by Komeda. I just love this Swedish band to death. It’s always dizzyingly fun, inventive lyrics backed by traditional rock sounds and slight electronic effects. I bought the very early Pop Pa Svenska a few months back and loved it with reservations. This album is more mature, a lot more fun and solid. Ironically I haven’t listened to their middle (and most famous) album The Genius of Komeda, but I’ll be hitting that next. This album is fun, fast and  brilliant.
  9. Electro Perfecto by Mike Viola. I found out about Mike Viola from Willfully Obscure’s Top 100 albums of the decade.  Ironically I didn’t buy the 2 albums this blog recommended, but this one is very clever and well-put together. Unconventional lyrics, catchy melodies. I’m definitely going to check out his other works, especially the Candy Butchers stuff he did in the 90s.
  10. Lil’ Golden Book by Princess Chelsea is more slow dreampop, this time from New Zealand. It’s moody, electronic and full of keyboard, child-like melodies and really memorable singing styles. Sounds more like crazy kids lullabies than pop songs though.
  11. Czech String Quartets by Stamitz Quartets  903 minutes! (liner notes here) contain quartets by Dvorak, Smetana, Martinu and Janaceck.

August 2013. Finishing the low price but  gigantic Middle Eastern singer collections.

  1. Mohamed Fawzi Complete Works. (176 tracks for 904 minutes).
  2. Layla Mourad Complete Collection (90 tracks for 369 minutes).
  3. Mughal-e-azam. Movie Soundtrack. Songs by Naushad Ali.  Voiced by playback singers such as Lata Mangeshkar and classical music artists such as Ustad Bade Ghulam Ali Khan (who sang some qawwalis songs).  Unbelievably good (and famous soundtrack) which features uplifting and philosophical songs. Highlights (for me) include Mohammad Rafi’s Ae Mohabbat Zindabad and Teri Mehfil Mein Kismat,  qawwali duet where two women battle over the heart of the Prince (and the nature of love itself).  Each song costs 49 cents and there’s no album discount, making it good to use when you have extra credits.
  4. United Breaks Guitars (and the two  sequels) . Dave Carroll.  The two sequels to the original viral video song are just as good and fun…plus they only costs 49 cents each.  Love the fact that the songs immortalize United Ms. Irwig (what a name!).
  5. Free Sets. Various.

July 2013 (includes a $20 booster which I paid for). I’m taking advantage of a great sale of Soundway Albums.  All these albums were $4.99 until the end of July.

  1. 24 Hours in a Disco 1978-1982. Kiki Gyan. This album came from nowhere. It is as good as disco gets. KIKI GYAN joined the well known Afropop/ Worldbeat band in the 70s at the age of 16, They performed in UK, came in contact with lots of American pop luminaries, until Gyan decided to try his luck in the US. This album bears an uncanny resemblance to the Donna Summer/Disco Inferno sound. My fave track is Disco Dancer (great jivin’ keyboard!), but Disco Train did somewhat well. Highly recommended ( though there are only 7 tracks).
  2. A Nigerian Retrospective 1966-1979 (Double CD Album). Tunji Oyelana. Some of the tracks are more artsy/expressive than fun, but for a double album, it’s a great buy. Highly recommended.
  3. Nigeria Afrobeat Special: New Explosive Sound in 1970s Nigeria. Highly recommended. This album really rocks. I love almost every track
  4. The World Ends: Afro Rock & Psychedelia in 1970s Nigeria (Double Album).  Some of the tracks are so-so,  but highly recommended because it’s a double album and still has a lot of obscure winners.
  5. Dancing Time, the Best of Eastern Nigeria’s Afro Rock Exponents 1973-7  Funkies. I downloaded selected mp3s here. (I had two of their songs from other compilations). Great stuff.
  6. Soundway presents Ghana Soundz (Afro-Beat, Funk and Fusion in 70s Ghana). Highly recommended.
  7. Ghana Soundz Vol. 2: Afro-Beat, Funk and Fusion in 70s Ghana
  8. Afro-Baby: Evolution of the Afro-Sound in Nigeria 1970-9. A good album, but I didn’t have enough credits to buy the whole thing. Instead I bought the rare Fela Kuti track.
  9. Soundway presents Nigeria Special Vol 2 (Modern Highlife, Afro-Sounds and Nigerian Blues). I bought Volume 1 on Amazon (for twice the price), and I’m assuming Vol 2 is just as good.
  10. Kings of Benin Urban Groove 1972-1980. T.P. Orchestra Poly-Rythmo. Highly recommended.
  11. Emusic Hidden Treasures 2013 Sampler (38 tracks/157 minutes! for free! A great compilation of tracks from hot artists from various genres. With the exception of  one death metal track (ugh!), all the tracks are delightful.

June 2013: (includes a bonus “Thank You” credit of $20 from Emusic)

  1. Sabah. Complete Collection (146 tracks — 868 minutes! for $6.49) Sabah is a great Lebanese singer who sang and appeared in many movies in the  1940s and 1950s.  Definitely more upbeat and pop than Kalthoum. Also, the songs are shorter, more dramatic and energetic — many came from movies. For this reason, I think Westerners would find her music more than palatable. This and the other “complete collections” have a few recordings of subpar quality, but most are listenable. For the record, Sabah has recorded thousands of songs, so I’m assuming that this is a good sample.
  2. OUM KALTHOUM. Complete Golden Collection (Remastered) (60 tracks — 2276 minutes for $5.84). Kalthoum is a famous classically trained Egyptian singer who was famous for singing numbers which lasted as long as an hour or two.  This comprehensive collection includes her beloved Enta Omri song/concert as well as lots of other extended numbers. She usually sings with a full grand  orchestra, and her extended songs sound more like symphonies alternating between the orchestra and her intense solos.
  3. Mohamed Abdelwahab (Complete Collection)  (249 tracks — 1957 minutes for $6.49) Mohamed Abdelwahab is a classically trained singer/composer and contemporary of Kalthoum. He was known for his Western influences and for the songs he wrote for Kalthoum and other people.
  4. Farid El Atrash (Complete Collection). (111 tracks — 980 minutes for $5.84) Farid El Atrash is a Syrian-Egyptian singer and composer who performed in many movies in the 1940s through 1970s.
  5. Shadia (Complete Collection) (137 tracks — 784 minutes for $6.49). Shadia is an Egyptian actress and singer who was features in many films between 1940s and  1970s.
  6. Abdel Halim Hafez (Complete Collection) (115 tracks — 1429 minutes – $6.49). Abdel Halim Hafez is a legendary Egyptian singer who sang a lot of uplifting and patriotic songs. He was also a protege of Mohamed Abdelwahab (listed above).
  7. Mark Bernes. Song “Cranes”. A gorgeous song written and performed by Bernes a month  before his actual death. The words come from a famous poem about soldiers who died in World War II.  I’ll buy the rest of the album later. Update: I bought about 5 other Bernes songs, all of them good but not as good as Cranes.
  8. DJ Rap. In the Lazers EP. is a cheap dance-techno EP which cost only $1.96. I basically bought it to spend my remaining balance, but  I’m  a big fan of it too.

May 2013:

  1. El Inolvidable by Tito Rodriguez is a great and almost comprehensive collection of vocal hits by the Puerto Rican mambo singer (i.e., the other Tito). Note that this album is identical to another album Anthology which is slightly more expensive. The 12 minute intro number introducing each performer is rather insufferable but quaint too, but even so, 107 minutes for $6.50 is an amazing deal.
  2. Ima by BT  is an early 1990s trance album by BT with some great soaring moments (Loving You more) and a sampling of Tori Amos which was wildly popular (Blue Skies).  The first album ESCM is also legendary (though somewhat New Age dreamy by contemporary standards). Unfortunately the album itself is not for sale digitally, but I made a youtube playlist of it.
  3. A certain smile, a certain sadness by Rocketship is a vivid and retro mellow electronic album in the style of Stereophonic.  This album (their only one) first came out in 1996.

Now here’s the rest of the albums which I had been purchasing since December 2012.

  1. Best Of Mushroom Jazz, Vol 1 – 5 by Mark Farina.  Farina makes these slow and funky jazzscapes full of random samples and spoken words.  It blends together very well, and actually it’s soothing enough that it doesn’t distract.  I have fallen asleep to many of these unending mixes.  I would have rather bought each volume separately, but this is a good sampling. Sometimes things sag and slow down, but  like  Gong’s soundscapes  (see below) it’s always headed  to interesting places. Ultimately, I bought this more for novelty’s sake than any other reason, but I was not disappointed.
  2. One Day I’ll Be on Time by The Album Leaf. I have no idea why I bought this ambient instrumental album other than it had a dreamy meditative quality and it still had vestiges of a rock band  (drums, guitar, etc). It’s more mood music than anything melodramatic, but almost every track has a rhythmic energy that keeps things chugging forward.
  3. Selections from Hotel Hell and Stand Up and Fight by Richard Lee Wilson.  Richard Lee Wilson is a great blues guitarist  whose rough and roaring melodies will remind you of his idol, Stevie Ray Vaughan.  Highly recommended even though some of his tracks have an uncanny resemblance to Stevie Ray. Hey, sometimes it’s ok to be derivative!
  4. Call the Doctor by Sleater-Kinney. Shrill 90s Grrl band. This album was highly recommended in multiple places, but I couldn’t get into it except for maybe 2 or 3 songs.
  5. Pirates Choice by Orchestra Baobab. I have become a sucker for anything by this Senegalese band. They combine many styles: mbalax jazz with danceable Cuban rhythm.  A saxophone is front and center of almost each performance, and singers alternate between Spanish and Oolof.  This was a one-session album from the 1980s (“Pirate’s Choice “ ironically refers to how often their albums were being bootlegged). Highlights include   bluesy Ndiaga Niaw and the slow and deliberate Ultrus Horas. Highly recommended.
  6. Selected Ambient Works by Aphex Twin (1985-1992): This early electronic album has been called an early groundbreaking work of electronic music. Personally I found it too minimalist for my liking. Not bad, but it had a tinny and cheap techno feel sometimes. It’s certainly a good listen, but it doesn’t compare to the richer symphonic creations of Tangerine Dream (see below).
  7. Pragamatic by Praga Khan. Praga Khan provides the turbocharged electronic energy behind the ground-breaking underground band, Lords of Acid. All of his 90s albums are great (I have them as CDs).  Classify under hard-hitting /house/dancey band with a European feel.
  8. Rehearsals for Departure by Damien Jurado. One emusic editor recommended this acoustic singer-songwriter, and  for the hell of  it I decided to buy this early album.  Jurado has a distinct and fragile voice, and his  country  songs are rich, tightly written and arranged with traditional harmonica and guitar. I think the poetic  lyrics are more interesting than the melodies (which are slow, lilting and heartfelt). But the whole package is so pleasant and sincere that I am able to overlook the fact that the songs aren’t particularly hummable.
  9. Best of Douglas Sahm & Sir Douglas Quartet (1968-1975) .  Tom Moon of 1000 Recordings to Hear before you die ranked this Texan singer’s compilation CD  as one of his fave recordings. Doug Sahm plays a lot of downhome country songs with a slight Tejano and polka  feel. A pleasant addition to the  traditional mix  of instruments is a jazz sax; however, the songs demonstrate a variety of styles and instruments  ranging from rock blues (I’m not that Kat anymore), country ballad (Texas Me), funky pop, and even 50s rock and roll. Everything feels simple and  old-fashioned (even for 70s music) but I think his best songs are these slow, understated  upbeat country songs like Mendocino and Sunday Sunny  Mill Valley Groove Day.
  10. Tangerine Dream: The Virgin Years (1974-1978). I was only vaguely familiar with Tangerine Dream, but I heard that their early electronic  stuff was more interesting and intense. This double set includes 4 complete early albums; that’s enough to get an idea about the  ground-breaking stuff they were doing.  The music has enough  momentum and keyboard crescendos to take your breath away.  It’s exhilarating, eerie, perplexing and spacey without sounding too abstruse. Highly recommended.
  11. (Real Love) (Optimo Remix)  by Factory Floor.  Here’s a dynamite single track recommended by the NPR music editors.
  12. Nothing but the Blues and Texas Swings by Herb Ellis.  Herb Ellis is an easygoing jazz guitarist who plays lovely melodies. His rendition of “American the Beautiful” is one of the most beautiful I’ve heard, and he has collaborated with many immortals (Getz, Hampton, etc). I bought Texas Swings a long time ago, and it was one of my favorite easy listening tapes. Nothing but the Blues is  one of his best  collaborations.
  13. Rough Guide to Psychedelic Africa  Rough Guides are a steal (especially on emusic). They usually contain 2 CDs worth of music, and are impeccably chosen. I check out a lot of them from my public library, but this one was conspicuously missing. The featured performer is Nigerian Victor Uwaifo, whose 10 tracks here show the jazzy highlife sound. Other highlights include great tracks by Orchestra Baobab and other performers unknown to the west. Noteworthy about Uwaifo was the prominence of the flute in his mostly guitar-driven songs. By the way, you can subscribe directly to Rough Music albums. 2 albums per month at 10$ a month (minimum 12 months).
  14. Submarine Bells by The Chills. Wonderful 80s New Zealand band who play these incredible soft rock ballads. This album is just perfect – lots of different styles, most of it lowkey synth rock with laid back qualities. I’m thinking of the Eagles/Fleetwood Mac/Police, but really I don’t think the US has any real equivalent. Highly Recommended.220px-Submarinebells
  15. Shoes – 35 Years: The Definitive Shoes Collection 1977-2012.  I heard a piece on NPR about how the Shoes have basically been ignored by the public despite being loved by music critics. When i heard an excerpt of their  “easy listening” sound,  I thought, “that’s just like The Chills!” I didn’t immediately love this compilation; the sunniness of the songs can grow tedious after a while, and the singer’s voice doesn’t have a lot of emotional range. Songs like Too Late, Girls of Today, Curiosity,  Feel the Way I do and Three Times are interesting  (and catchy) songs, but they feel a little meandering. Over time I have come to appreciate  the fine textures of both the vocals and instrumentation. These songs are not supposed to overwhelm you, but they have surprisingly intricate rhythms and melodies; I just wished the songs were more memorable.
  16. Best of “Rock El Casbah” by Rachid Taha. This Algerian singer does a variety of rock and dance styles while preserving the Middle East feel.  I didn’t love this album as much as I thought I would – it seemed too mainstream and pop, but it still had great moments.
  17. Classic Titles by Boubacar Traore  Traore is a great singer from Mali, and I forgot why I bought this man’s music.  He sings these  slow and  gorgeous ballads with a solo guitar. His voice is always plaintive and yet the expressive guitar counterbalances the melancholy.  Aside from the fact that the songs from this album all seem to resemble one another,  they are powerful, intense and by far my most remarkable find on emusic. Highly recommended.traore
  18. Live at the Old Quarter by Townes Van Zandt  This live recording is supposed to be Van Zandt’s best album, and it has some interesting qualities – the small talk in between songs for example. Van Zandt has a great voice, and his songs are earnest and gentle – more country than blues. But no particular song stood out in my mind. Contrast that with Steve Goodman’s comedy songs (see below)  whose songs always made me  say, “Wow.” I realize it’s unfair to compare comic songs with serious ones and that I’m supposed to love this intimate presentation of Van Zandt songs.  But to tell the truth, I don’t think any of the songs came close to “moving” me.  Let’s  compare and contrast Boubcar Traore with Townes Van Zandt. They both have beautiful voices and a soulful style; unlike Van Zandt  (who gives the guitar a mostly accompanying role), Traore integrates the guitar deeper into the song and uses it more expressively.  Traore’s guitar almost overshadows his voice in importance to the songs.
  19. Very Best of Toot and the Maytals. Imagine Ray Charles or James Brown singing reggae songs. The songs on this compilation album are funky but also seem laid back for reggae; perhaps one could call slower songs like Never Get Weary or In the Dark  gospel or soul. Toot knows how to rock with fast songs like 54-46 That’s my number or Monkey Man or Pressure Drop or Pomps & Pride.  It’s hard to imagine a reggae singer not being overshadowed by Bob Marley’s memory, but these songs seem less political, more about faith and good feelings. To some, this underlying message might seem bland, but at least it shows that Toots is not simply trying to head down the same path Marley did.
  20. DJ Rap Presents Propa Classics Volume 1 . I’m a big fan of DJ rap’s stuff from the 1990s, but this isn’t my favorite album of hers.  I really dug Deep Inside and the downtempo Spiritual Aura 2001 (which ended the album). But the faster version of Aura was really fun too, and so was Diggable Bass. Hardstep was funky and good dance stuff. But I thought there was way too much chitter-chatter on tracks in the middle, especially Your Mind and The Lickshot. (Update: I am really liking some of her more recent stuff, including the $1.96  In the Lazers EP).
  21. World of Daevid Allen and Gong CD 1 and CD 2  So far I’ve bought 2 CDs of the 3 CD collection which contains the best of Gong from the early 1970s. When I first listened, I admit I wondered if this freeform jazzy/prog stuff was pulling my leg – it just sounds like a long drug trip. But the slow and emerging melodies always go to interesting places. It sounds like a more colorful and less dark Pink Floyd. Highly recommended — just for the experience.
  22. Steve Goodman Anthology.  Goodman is a legendary folk singer who sings these fun songs about baseball, TV,  sex, food.  This great compilation album includes lots of great live performances and  hilarious songs with guitar accompaniment. The songs are catchy, upbeat, and clever. This double album costs 11.98 on emusic vs. 17.98 on Amazon.  Highly recommended.
  23. Curve EP by Last Charge of the Light Horse . I used to know one of the performers from high school, so it was a treat to hear this album. Jean-Paul Vest has an interesting voice, and the jazzy instrumental touches really make these songs for me. The best and most accessible song is the lyrical Lately track…a real winner. The other pieces are moodier and less about the lyrics or the singing than about the winding instrumentals and silences.
  24. Pop På Svenska + Plan 714 Till by Komeda.  Komeda is a great Swedish electronic/punk band that combines dazzling special effects (a la Stereophonic) with strange rhythms and beeps, and lovely warblings by its lead female singer. Their later stuff was more palatable for the masses (one song even was played on a Powderpuff Girl cartoon). But this album (actually 2 albums re-released later ) consists of their juvenalia when they were still experimenting with styles and forms (oh, yes, the singer sang only in Swedish).  This album isn’t perfect, but it is bold and dazzling and even mind-bending.
  25. 100 Jazz Essentials  by John Coltrane.  This amazing collection of Coltrane includes both the familiar and unfamiliar. At the low price of $6, it’s a must buy.
  26. 100 Disco Hits of the 70s, 80s and 90s .  ($6) Some have criticized this  (and other) collections for not including original recordings. A number are  “one off recordings” (By that, I mean “different recordings of the same song by the same artist). Let’s not split hairs. 75% of the time, I couldn’t tell the difference, plus I enjoyed the grabbag of stuff from three decades which combines the well-known with the obscure.
  27. 100 Greatest Gospel Classic.  ($6) I totally loved this collection for $6, although it seemed to emphasize African-American gospel a little too heavily. Sound quality is ok considering that it contains lots of stuff from 30s, 40s and 50s.
  28. 100 Greatest Motown Hits . ($6) A lot of “one-off” recordings, plus a lot of singers I’ve never heard of before mixed with Smokey Robinson, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, etc… Still, I enjoyed it.
  29. 100 Original Blues Kings.  ($6!) Some of the specific recordings sound terrible, but there’s enough variety and stuff from little known artists to make up for it.
  30. Lounge Top 100 ($6) This is my favorite big compilation, especially because I haven’t heard of any of the musicians. Lounge/downtempo jazz is a genre totally unknown to me, populated by lots of South Americans and Europeans. Highly recommended.
  31. Number 1 Latin Jazz Album Ever!  (6$) This compilation  of 100 Latin jazz tracks has a lot of odd selections – quite a number from 1940s and Big Band era and Desi Arnaz?  and I suspect that these are quite a few one off recordings. Still it’s a lot of fun.
  32. Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Original Soundtrack by John Williams. One late evening I awoke from bed and felt various melodies from Close Encounters flowing through my head. Aside from the amazing interplay of the musical motif  between spaceship and humans in the final scene, there is a lot of good incidental music along the way. This soundtrack was nominated for an Oscar for best musical score, but lost to John Williams’ Star Wars soundtrack (which I consider a lesser work by Williams). Of course, these are programmatic symphonic works, but it’s fun to compare and contrast with Holst, Debussy, Ligeti… Highly recommended.
  33. Wild Ones by Flo Rida. (recommended by nephew).  This collection of middle-of-the-road  techno-rap tracks   has sweet spots  (especially in the Sweet Spot starring Jennifer Lopez samples, Good Feeling  and Let It Roll tracks).  Clever instrumentals and good and catchy dance tracks, but its repetitive format gets old very quickly. Also,  it seems a victim of the loudness wars; everything is at a constant volume and can be exhausting on the ears. I think the duets between Flo Rida and females work especially well, and as long as you don’t listen too often to these tracks, they will seem great.
  34. Overexposed by Maroon 5 (recommended by nephew). These songs are described on allmusic as “soul groove,” and that’s as fair a category as any (although it inevitably includes some electronic kicks).  Highlights include: Daylight and Lucky Strike  and Sad (an interest  slow number). This album sounded a little too fashionable and prosaic for my tastes and really didn’t leave much of an impression on me.
  35. Some Nights by fun.(recommended by nephew).  I was pleasantly surprised at how engaging this pop album is.  The main vocalist Nate Reuss reminds me of Freddy Mercury — naked, boyish, expressive, full of attitude (though not as histrionic as Queen). The songs are catchy, never overproduced and always have interesting lyrics.  The sunny Why am I the one? sounds so much like the Afternoon Delight/Sara Smile  easy listening of the 1970s that it’s refreshing to hear something so unapologetically retro.
  36. Various albums by Sergent Garcia.  I saw French-born Cosmopolitan singer perform at a Brazilian international festival in Houston. He and his band sung in so many genres that I had trouble catching up. I ended up buying $8 of his 49 cent songs from 3 different albums, and got some great stuff especially from the Mascaras album. He fuses reggae with salsa and cumbia and everything else and a rapid rapping vocal accompaniment. They were amazing in live performance. Highly recommended because of the band’s  versatility.
  37. Nortec Collective Presents Clorifila: Corridos Urbanos is a great and funky  series of electronic jazz pieces with occasional cameos from horns and accordians. Everything has a tribal/ industrial/synthesized feel to it, but the occasional vocals (Naked Ladies), and the dreamy  downtempo songs (Nicole Ya No Baila Aqui and 4:15) make it clear you can’t categorize this album very easily.  This complex pieces are actually collages of Mexican folk with electronic bursts and lots of percussion (almost too much at times).  Highly recommended if only because of their ground-breaking sound.
  38. Politico by Mexican Institute of Sound

I want to mention some other titles which I bought on Amazon, Google Play and other indie sites. Generally, emusic has everything cheaper, but Amazon has some amazing prices on compilation albums and occasionally “flash sales” for 1 day on Top 40 albums.

  1. Anthology by The Clean. I bought this amazing double album for $7 on Google Play when it was on sale. (now it’s selling for $11.50).  The Clean is an important New Zealand alternative band who at times  resembles  a good rowdy grunge/garage band (Side On, At the Bottom), and at other times sounds like 60s  psychodelic pop. Try the mind-blowing Outside the Cage, Point that Thing Franz Kafka at the Zoo.  I guess they’re a kind of Velvet Underground, only smarter and more  obsessed with producing good guitar riffs than meaningful vocals. I liked this album so much that I listened to it continuously for 3 or 4 days and did not feel bored once.  Highly recommended.

(Below is a series of prefaces about emusic and their recent changes of album offerings. It used to be at the top of this post, but eventually I decided to move it off the top — because I refer to this web page so frequently).

Oct 2 2014  Update.  Last Week Emusic announced major changes to its services which is really gutting emusic’s catalog. (I suspect that emusic’s agreements for discounting prices with the major labels ran out, and now they are all refusing to renew). Some of the titles which are purchased below may not be available.  At the moment, it’s unclear whether emusic is still a good deal. I’ll post my thoughts prominently when I figure things out. In the meantime, I still have about a year’s worth of credits to spend…. Update 2. I checked the links below. About 30-40% of the links no longer work.  I’m leaving the links here despite going nowhere because of the possibility that the titles may be retored to emusic, and maybe later I’ll delete them. No longer active links include: The Martha Argerich collections — which were incredible deals  –, the RCA 100 Anos de Music (excellent but overpriced even on emusic), John Williams’ Close Encounters of the 3rd Kind,  compilations by Caberet Voltaire and by a few non-US singers, some of the Bollywood soundtracks, some hits from the 90s like Sleater Kinny, Carwash OST and top 40 crap like Flo Rida and fun.

In preparation for my book on music collecting, I signed up for emusic and  starting downloading (and paying for) digital music.   At first glance it’s hard to get what emusic is all about. Its website is  slow, you can’t stream  easily, plus there’s a membership fee. You may initially not see what the big deal is (especially because as a non-member, you only see non-member prices). But look further.

Comparison of Prices for Digital Music Albums

Name of AlbumEmusic (member price)ItunesAmazonGoogle Play
Francophonic by Franco Vol 16.4917.9911.9816.49
Call the Doctor by Sleater-Kinney5.889.999.99Not found
Some Nights by fun6.499.995.999.49
Close Encounters of the Third Kind Soundtrack6.499.999.999.49
Rough Guide to Psychedelic Africa6.499.999.499.49
World of Daevid Allen and Gong CD 15.999.999.999.49
Truth about Love by Pink8.2410.997.9910.99
12 Bit Blues by Kid Koala6.999.998.9911.49
Grace by Jeff Buckley6.499.995.006.99
Revolution by Miranda Lambert7.1410.995.00 10.99

 About the prices listed on this table. I wanted to show the dramatic price differences between emusic and everybody else. I picked these albums here at random — making sure to include a mix of Top 40 (Pink, fun) with some rather obscure new works (Kid Koala), obscure semi-oldies (Sleater-Kinney)  classics (Francophonic, Close Encounters) and some series (Rough Guides). As you can see, member prices for emusic are dramatically lower than most other  music sellers. Top 40 and “hot artists” are somewhat lower on Amazon. In addition to these “normal” lower prices for popular albums, Amazon will occasionally offer 1 day sales on bestselling albums for $1.99 or $2.99 which are definitely worth watching.  Google Play store does this occasionally too.  Also, Amazon has a special section for select golden oldies/best sellers  with regular prices of  $5 (“Dolly Parton’s Greatest Hits”,  Jeff Buckley’s “Grace”,  Black Keys’ “Magic Potion”, ) which beats emusic and all the others.  Each  store will have its special sales and promotions, but on the whole, unless the album is currently “hot,”  you can find it on emusic for 10-20%  less than anywhere else.  Emusic has lots of  low-priced compilation albums (see below for my recommendations), and so does Amazon, although not the same ones.  Amazon has a good number of budget classical music compilations, while emusic has more and cheaper  pop music compilations.  Both services offer lots of free samplers,  with Amazon.com probably offering slightly more.

For emusic you pay a membership fee which applies to your purchases. Usually when you sign up, you receive some kind of introductory gift certificate (mine was $25).  You are given several membership tiers, but you shouldn’t worry worry about that too much. Just decide how much want to spend, then sign up for the appropriate membership level. You can downgrade or even cancel later. I’ll let you in on a secret. If you do cancel, they will dangle a free month worth of credits – how awesome is that?  If you sign up for higher tiers of membership, you get bonus credits.  If you prepay a year for a Basic $12 membership or a Plus $16 membership, you receive a 30% discount. So when I pre-paid  for  one year  a Plus membership, I paid a one time fee of  $134 for credits totalling $204 ($16.99 per month for 12 months).  (Here’s a complete breakdown of emusic’s prices on their site).     Emusic’s member  prices are almost always 10-20% lower than itunes and Amazon, and sometimes even more. (Its non-member prices are basically the same as Amazon and itunes).  Besides having cheaper prices, emusic also has a higher percentage of music-savvy consumers. Emusic staff write a lot of  reviews, and these are often great picks – not only for new releases but also  obscure music and jazz stuff.

Here’s the downside.  You don’t get particularly good deals with Top 40 stuff, and you can only download it once or twice. Emusic’s website kind of sucks and it lacks a  cloud solution and doesn’t even stream music well.  So when you download, you must backup your files to Amazon cloud player or Google Play cloud player. Also, there are holes in emusic’s music catalog —  though most of the time it’s only compilations. One customer pointed out that emusic doesn’t list the bit rate for the mp3s — which is also a bummer, but I have to assume that the mp3s for sale are almost always high enough quality.

Two other interesting things worth pointing out: There’s an emusic  free daily download which changes every day.  Generally a good deal.  Plus — although the interface sucks, here’s links to various emusic  lists of bookmarked albums which I’m considering buying.

For yuks, I decided to do a comparison with Amazon prices for the things I bought in March-April 2014 (see below):

The Amazon list price for these albums amounted to $191.43
The emusic member’s price for the same albums is $124.54.
If I subtract from the total my monthly bonus credit of $5.82 and the 2-for-1 credits ($50), that means that the total I paid was $68.72 for albums which I could have gotten from Amazon for $191.43

If you add that to the fact that every day on emusic you get free tracks from random bands and that every two months or so you get a free music sampler, that adds up to a tremendous value proposition. Heck, I know I sound like a commercial for emusic, but despite its warts and all, you can really get a great value here.

Before I describe my emusic purchases, I want to make three  general observations about my music collection habits.

First, the things I buy on emusic are things I couldn’t obtain cheaply as CDs.  Hey, music labels, if your digital  prices were cheaper than the cost of used CDs on half.com or Amazon, I would stop buying used CDs altogether.

Second, because of the lower price, I take a lot more chances with the things I download/buy. I’ve made some mistakes (see below), but I’ve also found some amazing things.

Third, I also pay $5 per month to use RDIO’s streaming music service. I can often stream entire albums and later decide whether I want to buy them on emusic.     One might ask if the album is available already on Rdio, why not just listen to Rdio and never  buy anything? The answer is simple: streaming services pay shit to artists!

Each month I get $17 worth of credits, so I’ll tell which ones I get each month.  My main rule for buying is that I need to buy at least one album by a living/still performing artist — it’s easy to focus on the old stuff, and it’s important to put money into the hands of artists now so that they can perform and record tomorrow.  I won’t list half-albums below if I have already bought portions previously.

Note: Since I’m generally loving to death every single thing I buy, it’s no longer necessary to mark an album as Recommended or Highly Recommended.

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I am linking to it casually (and making only superficial comments), but this  professional code of ethics I have developed about working for the energy industry is one of my most important (and most expensive personally). 

I live in Houston, which is basically the center of many energy companies, most of which deal with fossil fuels. I would estimate that 80% of the technical job opportunities in my field (Technical Writing and Instructional Design) are in the oil and gas field. I have turned them down without exception – no matter how lucrative or promising. I generally have to explain myself to HR people and recruiters; usually people’s response to my declaration that I could not work for any oil and gas companies is absolute amazement – and almost hilarity.  “Is this guy crazy?” they must think.

I would love to remain in Houston, but it’s becoming harder to make a living here and stay true to these core ethical principles I have articulated on that page.  The irony is that I genuinely enjoy the field of technical writing – plus I think I am really good at it,  but if most   of the jobs in your city are in an industry you find abhorrent,  then what does it matter that a particular type of work is interesting or well-paying? 

I have been working on a much longer blog post about the ethical question, “Is it ethical to work for an oil and gas company?”  Stay tuned!

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Linkdump from Facebook 2

Here’s some dumping from Facebook onto my blog.  (Warning: very long!)  (This is the 2nd installment. See the first linkdump)

[click to continue…]

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Brief Book Reviews 3

Here’s my next batch of capsule book reviews.  Now that I’ve figured an easier way to lay things out, I hope to post book reviews more frequently. Next batch will have more indie ebooks, I promise! Here’s an index to my other book reviews.

DeadZone Stephen King

The Dead Zone by Stephen King. After viewing the sci fi TV series based on the novel, I decided to read the original source material. Many original elements from the TV show are here (albeit in smaller form). The book did a good job of bringing the plot to a personal level; the book called more attention to the struggle between John Smith and his parents. Because the book used fewer supernatural effects, it was actually more plausible and inward-looking. At the same time, the heavy emphasis on plot and dialogue made this story ready for TV. Aside from the protagonists, none of the characters seemed compelling or seemed to have complex struggles. This book was a train wreck, and even though I'm not a fan of Stephen King's works in general, I feel sure he must have done better than this later on. (I thought Misery was brilliant though overdone and needlessly sadistic). The premise here was great -- and so was the research about brain function, but I don't think the plot or the characters rose above cliche. As a book, it didn't work; however, some of the pop culture details from the 1970s were fun enough to make the book occasionally tolerable.

The Failure by James Greer. Great comic novel about an ill-fated attempt to rob a Korean check-cashing store and one brother's attempt to make a bundle off some Internet scam. The plot is outrageous, and full of strange characters and comic diversions and narrator long-windedness. The "Korean check-cashing fiasco" is announced to be a failure from the start, but it was delightful to hear it in excruciating detail. The book consists of many short chapters with funky titles ("Marcus, Guy's Brother, Contemplates what might have been, standing at the window of his office in Cambridge, the same day as the Korean Check-Cashing Fiasco") and lots of hilarious asides (See the one in Chapter 47 about the "plight of the underappreciated writer."). The book is about the vagaries of wealth and success and how the Internet-driven economy only makes everything more unpredictable. It's just as hard to know whether the check-cashing scheme has any chance of success as the latest Internnet technology which no one quite understands. As zany as it seems to pair a California novel with Irish narrator Tadhg Hynes, the audio book published by Iambik Press works because Hynes easily can adopt a tone of derision, pettiness and cynicism. Hands down, the audiobook was one of the funniest things I'd heard -- it ranks up with Rob McQuay's narration of Bill Bryson's "Walk in the Woods." Highly Recommended. (Also: Here's a revealing interview between Miette Elm and the author.)

Cooler, Smarter: Practical Steps for Low-Carbon Living by the Union of Concerned Scientists . This nonfiction reference guide provides good consumer information about how to reduce your carbon footprint. Out of the 300 page book, 30 pages are end notes, 20 pages are resources and author bios (!?), 50 pages are an introduction to climate change (unneeded by now, I think). That leaves about 120-150 pages of good stuff about home heating, food production transportation, electronics, and bringing green living to the workplace. I thought the food section had good and new information, and the home heating/utility contained useful information for home-owners. I would have liked to see more discussion about the value of organic products and more formulas for calculating footprint; for example, how do you estimate the carbon footprint of an ipad produced overseas? How do you estimate the carbon footprint of bus travel? How do you convert between different measuring units and scales? How does recycling lower your carbon footprint (if at all)? The book is the best on the market, but there really needs to be a better and more comprehensive guide on the subject. Related: I highly recommend No Impact Man (the book) by Colin Beavan and Story of Stuff by Annie Leonard.


Yu Hua brothers

Brothers by Yu Hua. This remarkable picaresque and satirical novel about the rags-to-riches tale of two Chinese brothers against the backdrop of modernization has a lot going for it. An engaging style, two well-drawn out characteristics, and a lot of political and social subtexts. It brims with scatological humor and lots of episodes and hilarious dialogue. I listened to the audiobook and confess that parts were electrifying -- either sad or humorous or both. Yu Hua's satire is so caustic that one is almost shocked to find something so daring from China. (Its far-flung reach is reminiscient of Journey to the West). One critic described it as Rabelais Meets Horatio Alger, and I think that's fair. The central character is Baldy Li, an aggressive, blunt boy whose effrontery translates into being a good businessman. His older brother Song Fanping is more modest and enlightened; at the same time he is crippled and even emasculated by his willingness to follow the traditional paths to success. The novel is more about Baldy Li's outrageous behavior and how it helps him to succeed. I liked Book 1 (which describes how the two brothers were orphaned as a result of the Cultural Revolution and how they both fall in love with the same girl). As the book goes on and focuses more on Baldy Li's business success, the plot becomes more ridiculous -- whores and incurable diseases and opulent living. I read the book as Chinese society's naive introduction to business success. The rags-to-riches fairy tale; is often unrealistic and maudlin. Many characters aren't quite sure how you make money in a privatized system, and only Baldy Li's shameless pursuit of wealth seems to be working. My favorite moment comes when Baldy Li seeks investors for his new business. Several people buy shares on the basis of Baldy Li's bluster. But when it appears that Baldy Li may not be bringing a return on their investments, suddenly these ordinary Chinese realize that capitalism itself might be a scam. This novel was ostensibly written for laughs -- and it's probably unrealistic to hold it up to a standard of realism; at the same time, I suspect that the larger-than-life character of Baldy Li doesn't seem plausible to most readers; more people probably identify with this older brother who would be in the grips of poverty were he not connected to Baldy Li. The book ultimately takes things to ridiculous heights -- to the point where I no longer cared about the outcome. I don't particularly like this novel as a whole, but it did reveal the variety of attitudes (both naive and sophisticated) that oridinary Chinese had towards privatization and dreams of prosperity. Baldy Li is really a horrible person, but the book never really hints that Baldy Li's life may not be the paradise it seems. And Baldy Li's foil (his older brother) is too impotent and bland to stand out as a credible alternative. Everyone loves a funny and boorish literary character, but I have to wonder if the author loves Baldy Li too much. The audio narrator, Louis Changchien, does an outstanding job at bringing the book to life. It's just too bad that the novel becomes a ridiculous concoction.

PuddnHeadWilson

Puddnhead Wilson by Mark Twain. This funny postbellum novel about a nitwit and a wealthy white man who learns unexpectedly that he was actually born black. I liked the early chapters , but as the plot became complex and the Negro dialect became thicker, it became harder to follow. The story proceeds haphazardly; it almost seemed thrown together. Twain's style and humor is unmistakable, but I would have preferred a more focused novel.

1000 Recordings You Must Hear before you Die by Tom Moon. At first glance, this nonfiction book seems to be a typical reference guide of best albums. But the book contains lots of unusual recommendations, lots of connections between musicians in different genres. Reading this book is pure delight. Succinct, full of collector's notes and recommended recordings and great layout for easy browsing. Every time I flip open the book, I learn some new thing both about the artist and the context in which the album was released. Even the indices are useful (they even have a "mood index" where you can find music in categories like "Music to inspire Reflection" and "Cardio Workout" and "Headphone Journey.") Unlike Dimery's book (which actually aims to be a boring reference guide), Moon's book feels more personal and less inclined to list historically important albums. Unfortunately some albums listed here are not easy to find, and Moon -- anticipating this -- does a good job of describing what you're missing. You can download a PDF listing all the recordings, and the website/blog for the book has lots of related commentary. Such a reference guide will by definition go out of date quickly, but it still will be a delight to peruse long after. Highly Recommended (though avoid the ebook edition -- which isn't as browsable or as well laid out).

1001 Albums You must hear before you die by Robert Dimery can easily be confused with Moon's classic, but they are like night and day. Dimery's book tries to be a chronological reference book, and even though the choice of albums are predictable and not particularly interesting, it is still useful to have this reference guide as a counterweight to Moon. This is the kind of book you'd want to give to your son or daughter to give them a conventional introduction to pop music from previous decades, but it won't open your eyes to much. This sounds like I'm knocking this book, and in a way I am. But as long as you don't expect cutting edge recommendations here and simply a timeline of famous albums, you'll be fine. Still, read Moon's book before this one.

Rock Snob's Dictionary by David Kamp and Steven Daly . This slim mock-reference book sounds fairly easy to write, but I wanted to mention how well the authors manage through the format of a glossary to discuss many overlooked musical styles and persons. It explains a lot of cultural terms which even well-informed listeners might miss. Also, some of the glossary items are satirical. Example: "Plangent" is a "standby rock-crit adjective used to lend a magical aura to any nonaggressive guitar-based music (even though the word's primary meaning is"loud and resounding. Perhaps this guide might merely amuse those knowledgeable about music, but I found it very informative as well. Highly recommended.

Christgau's Consumer Guide: Albums of the '90s . (also Christgau's Record Guide: The '80s and Rock Albums Of The 70s: A Critical Guide) By Robert Christgau. Christgau has been reviewing albums for a long time and has perfected a manner of writing of writing capsule reviews of most of the major musicians. Many of Christgau's reviews seem peremptory or missing the point of the music; on the other hand, Christgau does seem to get British punk and rap/hip-hop and is generally good at identifying duds. Despite the fact that I disagree with a lot of Christgau's reviews (he overlooks or belittles some gems), often his snap judgments can give you a sense of where to place individual albums. I'm happy to report 2 things. First, Christgau wrote a great introduction to his 90s edition which is worth reading for its own sake. Second, reviews from all of Christgau's books (and even ones published later) are easily accessed from Christgau's website. His essays are a lot more sympathetic and consumer-oriented. Finally, although Christgau covered the 90s pretty well (despite being generally unsympathetic to alternative music), I've noticed how many titles never get reviewed by Christgau. We have to be grateful that Christgau tried to review as much as he can, but the 2000s, the music world had become too large and complex even for Christau.

Hitler's Last Secretary: A Firsthand Account of Life with Hitler . By Traudl Junge. This autobiographical account of Hitler's final days became the basis for the magnificant German film "Der Untergang" (aka "Downfall." ) This book gives even greater detail, starting with the lavish parties Eva Braun used to throw in various summer houses. Junge writes long after the fact, so she occasionally throws in postscripts about what happened to some of the major and minor actors. Generally though, she writes through the naive eyes and ears of her younger naive self, describing everyone's foibles and predelictions in this typical awestruck way. This of course is a stylistic conceit, because Junge has spent the rest of her life trying to atone for her blindness, but it was important to convey without a guilty tone both logistics and the smaller events that intruded on German politics and war-planning. Probably most fascinating about the book is the afterward by Melissa Muller which describes her life post-Hitler. (For about 10 years she labored under the cloud of her past, and later, she became well known as a liberal-minded editor and publisher). She describes horrifying events (such as the various suicide pacts and the disappearance/death of her friends) with matter-of-factness. She even does not go into detail about her marriage (encouraged by Hitler) to a soldier who falls in battle. One book review mentions that Junge almost never witnessed Hitler's emotional outbursts, and in fact towards his staff he was considerate and paternalistic. I saw the movie first, read the book, and then insisted on watching the movie again. I recognize that a secretary's account of Hitler and the Nazi Party is likely to be blind to many ugly realities, but if anything it dramatized how for incurious people inside the reassuring bubble of Naziism, work and family life seemed perfectly normal ... except perhaps for secondhand reports of casualties. Ultimately, the plight of Traudl Junge is more important than that of Hitler; it's eye opening to read about how ordinary and basically good people become caught up in a totally evil system. Highly recommended. (PS, I read this book in 2 days!) Note: This is available as an ebook for $1.99. Great buy!

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