Ignoring Stuff the Stuff You Don't Like

Earlier in May there was a general election that had everyone saying how unpredictable it was going to be, and in the end it provided us with the least unpredictable result - a Conservative Majority, which in its self was wholly unpredicted. Weird, eh? I mean, surely there weren't enough people willing to vote Tory, because every where I was reading and listening to was against them whole-sale. The obvious answer was that despite the world being more connected, the world's not connecting in the same way - social media is an echochamber, a self-confirming self-curated selection of what you want to hear, and when you do read or hear stuff that you disagree with, you can find the audience also disagreeing with it immediately, confirming your own thoughts. Wonderful isn't it? 

The issue is that in today's world you can almost entirely cut through all the stuff you don't want to hear and focus solely on the self-confirmation bias of the media that you want to see. I don't follow The Daily Mail on Twitter, nor am I going to follow a raft of right-wing conservatives (that is, if they even used Twitter in the first place). I am not going to follow or watch things I don't want to see, am I?

The same applies to the world of television and music. In my youth I would sit in my room and do homework (or play Xbox and Dreamcast) and in the back ground I'd have the radio on, normally BBC Radio 1. From around 7pm Steve Lemaq would host The Evening Session, which introduced me to a really astonishing amount of music throughout my exam revision periods. There would be music from bands I'd never heard of, music that I didn't like, and music that I loved. The mix was pretty good, and I "suffered" this non-curated style because I liked the host and the music was something new to me, but also the fact that there was no other way.  There was no MTV in my room, no YouTube, no Spotify, which meant to listen to new music I had to actually sit there and listen to new music. Pretty wild, to think about these days.

Despite all of that, there is still a place for curators (like me?). You see, with the noise of the on-demand options you do s for med a guide amongst it all, like Lemaq was for me in the past. That's a different point for a different post, but it's worth saying now.

Today I read that BBC Radio 1 is losing listeners. They are at their lowest in years, since 2003 and since the time I used to listen to Sara Cox in the mornings. Apparently, this has been the plan all along for getting rid of the "over-30s" who were polluting their demographic. That's an impressive spin, because it's not just that demographic that has been switching off - "A report last year revealed that 16- to 24-year-olds spent 15 hours a week listening to the radio compared with more than 21 hours a week a decade earlier".

This is because why the hell would anyone listen to something that wasn't "theirs" any more. There are a generation of children and now adults living in a world where On Demand entertainment is the only system they know, and the question that I have one I can answer. I don't listen to stuff I don't like. I don't watch things I don't like. I don't listen to music radio (ironically for a radio show host, I guess) and I don't sit down and just watch "whatever is on". I don't see television adverts (the last time I did was during the leader's debates on ITV and it was muted as I talked with Con and watching or read something on my phone).

That's the struggle that the BBC have. How do they provide a service of non-Demand entertainment to a shrinking audience? How can they compete with a personalised radio station, like YouTube or Spotify? The answer is they can't, which is probably why this loss of listeners probably doesn't worry them as much as it might have done. 

So, is this a problem? The idea of a self-confirming collection of opinions caused a lot of people to think Scottish Independence was a shoe-in, that a hung parliament (or even a left-wing majority) was possible, and that music is all the same. I know for a fact that if you look for it you'll find music for all types of taste, and anyone saying that music is "worse" now, or was "better" then, is talking utter shit. You have to seek it out, and if you only sit in your comfort zone you won't find anything new or surprising. 

But that's a self-fulfilling problem, and the reason that on the surface all of the chart meanderings are  in fact identical. They are playing to the crowd that expects to hear what they actually hear day-in day-out. It's a strange multilayered issue, and one that keeps spinning. But as the mainstream homogenises into a bland estate of similarity, that just breeds a world of insane experimentation in other genres, which is very good news for my radio show.

And probably was very good news for the SNP, eh? 

Spotify: Fucked

Over six years ago I started using an application called Spotify. I was in awe of it when it launched I called it "like having God's iTunes" which is not only perfectly apt way of describing what the service introduced to a massive audience, but a rather funny comment from an athiest. It was brilliant and the upstart, pushign a new type of consumption that had yet to break into the main stream. 

Over the years that I have been using Spotify (and the £££s that I have been ploughing into them) the service has gone from strength to strength, changing and challenging the way that music is consumed and the way that people listen to music almost entirely. I listen to Spotify as a complement to Google Play Music where the music I own is stored. Spofity for me is about discovery and social sharing of music that I am discovering, along with listening to stuff that I don't own either ahead of getting it or old stuff that I've lost in the mists of time.

There are several features that make Spotify my favourite streaming service; I've used Pandora, Deezer, Grooveshark (not technically legal) and Google Play Music All Access, but Spotify is the "best" for me because of the features that the desktop client offers and the Android app actualy works fairly well on my machine (which is something that loads of people complain about, mind you). But a few weeks ago my desktop client got an update to the latest and version and it fucked itself. And it's not just me.

So, in interests of getting these frustrations off my shoulder and to rant a bit, here's what they fucked.

Apps

I hate the word "apps" and have for a long time. I cringe when someone calls something on a computer an "app", like Spotify, because it seems needless babying of what we already had a name for. I get it on phones and tablets as they are self-contained wee units that run on their own. Back in 2011 Spotify introduced apps into their desktop client that allowed developers to install applications like HTML built services into the client. I used Songkick, Pitchfork, Classify, Last.fm and others over my time, and they're great. In fact, I used to read Pitchfork reviews almost exclusively in the app. 

And then Spotify got rid of them wholesale. Just removed it. They said that the feature wasn't worthwhile and the whole system was entirely removed. Weird. Such a value-adding feature removed entirely. 

Closing on "X"

This, above all features, has fucked me off the most. Previously (since 2008) the X in Windows has not closed Spotify - instead it sends it to the System Tray / Notification Tray, where an icon appears. The X feature was so built in that when in the latest update they changed the behaviour to actually EXIT Spotify when clicking it I assumed that it was a bug that was crashing the client on minimising. But no, this behaviour - one that has been ingrained into my mind since 2008 and is actioned on average probably somewhere between 30 and 50 times a day was changed to do the opposite. 

On top of this the system tray icon is dead too - if you right click on this you get a really neat menu that I used all the time. This too is gone - I relearning a technique from before my first smartphone and the main way I control Spotify has been removed. I wanted to throw my computer and smash loads of expensive things every time this happened last week, and if you think that is bad, it gets worse.

Layout

This is something I've talked about in the past, but such slight changes to services fuck everyone over. Spotify's latest redesign isn't as wholesale as the last one but there are some very odd choices made that end up wasting so much space on the client it is hard to justify. I can't make the columns wider for example, or the search bar is not hovering away from everything (when the search bar actually fucking works, mind you) and the new play controls (with a "lyrics" function that is clever but pointless) are so sparsely laid out you've wasted so much space up front it's quite astonishing it made it past testing.

Oh and one fucking thing that is missing that pissed me off; right clicking on a playlist to play it. I can't believe that is gone, but it is. Imagine that. It's like going to open a door with a key and being told "Oh, keys don't work like that any more".

The Missing Options

If you want proof that the latest version is total bumwash just take a look at the forums - paying customers outraged at some of the above. But there is a longer list of strangely omitted options that were in the system that folk used daily. I don't use these as much, but they are wide ranging.

- "Find" not working - Control + F was removed.
- Can't Search in a Playlist - I didn't know that this was a feature, but now knowing it exists it's removal is confounding.
- It is almost impossible to drag and drop songs - Not sure why this is the case (though I remember from my Delphi and Visual Basic coding days that Drag and Drop wasn't the easiest to implement) but it really works about 30% of the time.
- Can't edit information on local files ie: files you ACTUALLY OWN.
- In the older and better versions you can click on a playlist folder and it'd approximate all the songs in that folder into a single unified playlist. I didn't use this feature often, but it was a nice one. It's been removed completely from the latest release with a now empty view.

This isn't A Feature Request List

I did my feature list for GPM previously, but this list isn't that - this is a feature reinstatement list if anything. I don't know about you, but when I did software development cycles at high school (note: I am 30 years old (!) this year, so that puts my final High School year in 2003) one main rule we discussed was the parity of an older version - you can't auto-update or replace a design or client software that doesn't match the expectations of the version you are replacing. Imagine Microsoft released Word without a spell checker. Excel without a Formula Evaluator. Or Apple released a version of iOS without the App Store. Folk would literally shit themselves. Of course, what if they then promised to bring it back in the future... but with no time line or ETA?

Well that's the stance that Spotify are taking. "Don't worry! This is a new version; all the old features you like that we decided to just not bother ourselves with this time round will be coming back (though I have no idea when)". Fuck that. That contempt for the client base is shocking and rather arrogant. This should never have made it to me an end-user, but stayed in Beta testing until feature parity. 

It's crap.

But... Fuck Them and Roll it Back

Luckily I and you don't have to put up with this shit. Unlike when changes are made to Apps downloaded from the App Store on your phones, there is a way to install older versions of Spotify - read the instructions here. It works perfectly; so fuck them. This isn't the first time I've frozen on a version of Spotify mid-change. I remember version 0.8.8 or something fucking everything up. 

And I Might Fuck It For Real

The main reason I stay with Spotify is that I've got hundreds and hundreds of playlists and loads of different ones set up. I'd struggle without them... which is why PyPortify, which allows me to take all my playlists and such to Google Play Music is interesting me a lot.

They are no longer the only streaming team in town.

 

2015 (and the Return of the Reviewer)

Welcome (finally) to the new year, I supposed. I've been away for a bit of time and haven't posted in a while, and for that I apologise. I spent just over three weeks in Canada (which, if I can find a small moment of time, I'll post about) but otherwise I'm pretty starved for time to be honest. The majority of my "free" time is taken up by Joni, Connie, the radio show, and reviewing music.

Actually, that last one is something I should mention. Years ago, as you might remember, I used to review for God is in the TV (which is still going). I even was their news editor for a while. Colin and I also had our own blog for a short while called Sleepwalk Capsules, and I also wrote a bit for Tones of Town. Now, however, I am writing as an on-going concern for Scottish Fiction.

I've reviewed a few albums, EPs and singles, and I'll post a catch up post every few weeks so that you don't miss out on my writing, but it's a pretty good blog to keep up to date on Scottish music, so maybe have a regular gander at it now and then. Anyway, here's in Chronological order my recent reviews.

The Phantom Band - Strange Friend
Remember Remember - Forgetting the Past
Conquering Animal Sound - Talking Shapes
Esperi - Seasons
IndianRedLopez - Commit (Single)
Jonnie Common - Shark (Single)
Sound of Yell - Brocken Spectre
Belle and Sebastian - Girls in Peacetime Want to Dance
 

Interstate 8

Spent 18 hours waiting stoned for space
I spent the same 18 hours in the same damn place
I'm on a road shaped like a figure 8
I'm going nowhere, but I'm guaranteed to be late

You go out like a riptide
You know that ball has no sides
You're an angel with an amber halo
Black hair and the devil's pitchfork
Wind-up anger with the endless view of
The ground's colorful patchwork
How have you been?
How have you been?
How have you? 
How have you?

I drove around for hours, I drove around for days
I drove around for months and years and never went no place
We're on a pass, we're on pass
I stopped for gas, but where could place be
To pay for gas to drive around
Around the Interstate 8

"Interstate 8" by Modest Mouse from the album Interstate 8 and Building Something From Nothing.

Google Play Music - A User's Wishlist

My entire music library is online, uploaded to Google Play Music. This allows me to stream all of my music and my library from pretty much anywhere I can get access to a network (on my phone) or a Browser via the web app interface. This is a wonderful wonderful thing. But there are a few shortcomings and I wanted to suggest some changes and fixes to them here because I feel like they are interesting suggestions for improved functionality... and also with the slight wish that Google'll hear me and just do it.

That'd be nice, right? 

Note: This post will mean nothing to you if you've never used Google Play Music

The main problem I have is with the extensive and pretty awkward layout of the library that GPM provides. There is such a large scope for slight changes to the layout that would make browsing my library, a not-maxed out 13,909 songs (the limit is 20k I believe), a lot easier. If the idea is that GPM replaces my other streaming services (which for a lot my listening it has) these are little tweaks that I (and I am certain others) would find make things a lot easier.

Search

The search, oddly for a Google service, is complete shit. It is a simple text box that gives you no filtering beyond the typing in your search term. It tries to split it out between Artists, Songs and Albums on the fly as you type but the effect is so laggy that it makes it nigh on impossible to use. It'd be nice to have a "quicker" search, but I don't really think I can give them a lesson on search here when it comes to speed, but I have noticed one issue, and that is a lack of "Did you Mean...?". 

When searching I regularly make mistakes when typing out an artist's name or album title. Simply spelling errors like "locsil" instead of "loscil" and GPM doesn't suggest anything to help me out. I good change would be the ability to suggest what I might have meant based on the library that I have uploaded. 

The Library

Something that I wish all players have is a simple change - an A to Z (or #) selector. What do I mean? Well, take my library view - it has the tabs on the left for Artist, Album, Songs and Genre. What would really help jumping to an artist would be this:

A quick A to Z selector allowing you to jump directly to that letter. I've wanted something like this for years in my media players.

While we're in the Library view (a terrible place to even look for artists or albums, which we will come to shortly), we should discuss those four tabs that already exist. Why not add a few extra ways to search for music? In my mind, adding the three options "Year", "Label", and "2014" would make the library a little easier to filter through (and, as you'll see later on, maybe even the option for "tags").

Year would either be a ascending or descending list of all releases by the year they were released. The Label feature would do the same - group artists by the labels of release (and would be smart enough to know that artists release music on multiple labels in their career, grouping all releases by an artist in that Label tab, but highlight the ones that are released on that label; so you'd have a Warp Records section with Boards of Canada, Clark, Flying Lotus and Apehx Twin grouped together, but note that the Boards of Canada release Hi Scores was actually a Skam Records release). The final "2014" tab would be a "this year" tab - it'd change each year to have the most recent releases you have in your library at a single click. You could even have 2014, 2013 and 2012 there to highlight the past three years.

The basic idea behind this (and you'll see it below under Discographies) is that the current tabs are powerful but I'll be damned if they're as useful as they could be. Adding more tabs and more customisation would be wonderful for the usability of GPM.

The Artist Box

I very rarely know what an artist looks like. Take Deftones for example, an artist that I do know what they look like - this is the image that GPM uses to let me know this is "Deftones". 

Even with an artist that I know I can barely tell that's Chino in the middle. Using promo shots of the band is a neat ideal in principle, but it's useless because most of these photos are designed to be artful and they rarely look like the band (and pray tell me how many bands do you know what they look like collectively?). That box above has the big problem that almost none of it looks like it's Deftones to a glancing eye when scrolling down the list. I think it sounds like a good idea to fill your player with non-artwork art because it adds a change of flavour... but for the majority of my music I listen to I have no idea what they look like.

You know what would I recognise as Deftones? Their artwork. The entire list of my library is nigh on impossible to scroll through because it's like looking through a photo album of people that you don't recognise. Instead of the artist's photo it should be an amalgam of their artwork, most played or most recent first, as that is what I identify for that artist. For example, if you compare the above to the below, I can far easily note that this is Deftones from the below than the top. 

It's a very small change, but one that would make scrolling through the library much easier.

Discographies

This is the biggest place that I feel a change is needed. Because GPM takes all of my music and places it online it places singles, EPs, Remix Albums, Live Albums, random tracks and studio albums into the discography in chronological order. So far, so good. The problem is three fold however;

1 - I don't always want to play everything by an artist
2 - I don't always want to play only a single release by an artist
3 - For many artists this one list is overwhelming

Take Boards of Canada, my favourite artist of all time. My collection of their work is a mix of official releases that I've bought that are albums, EPs, and singles, along with a mixture of the taped bootlegs and my own "remix" collection. The overall collection of BoC material is pretty extensive.

I'd love to be able to make this easier to view by adding those same type of tabs from the Library view to the discography view.

This adds a few problems; how does Google know what is what? How can you define an "EP" when certain EPs are longer than other artist's studio albums? Well, the tabs would be not automatic necessarily. For example, "Bootlegs" is pretty unique and might not fit every artist. How would I suggest this be resolved?

Well, for one these tabs wouldn't just be set - they'd actually be "tags" for releases. What I mean is you'd say "Okay, 'BoC Remixes' is an album I created, so I'll tag it 'Bootlegs'" just like you'd tag a photo on Facebook, and it'd automatically appear in the tabbed area "Bootlegs" for that artist. You could even then make the tags searchable, so when I typed in "Bootlegs" into the search bar all the albums tagged as "Bootlegs" would show up.

It'd allow for certain mixtures of tags too; you could have a "Releases" tab where the entire chronological release of the artist (albums, EPs and singles) would appear, that would filter out all of the non-EP/Album/Single tagged releases. Google could make this clever though, and have a selection of suggested tags for each release like Album and EP based on scraping either Wikipedia or the EchoNest for information on each release.

To Close

These are just a few slight UI changes I'd love to see in Google Play Music. There are loads of other little niggles that I encounter (like the fact clicking on the album art makes the release start playing on the app but on the web it opens a large format version of the artwork) that I'd like to change, but these are far more niggly - the above changes are ones that would make my everyday use so much easier and make the whole thing cleverer compared to other streaming services. 

If Google want me to replace my entire listening experience with GPM I'm already there - I just wish it was easier and better to use than it is now. 

The Graveyear 2014

Each year (well, 2012 and 2013 for sure) I listen to loads of new music, some of which will be brand new to my ears from all new artists, and other albums will be brilliant new albums from artists that I have been in love with for a long time. This year, 2014, has been a strange and different year to almost all other years. I have essentially had to listening lives - one of my music that I listen to... recreationally, I guess, and the other one where I am listening to music for the Monday Graveyard. Yes, these two do bleed across each other, but most of the time they are distinct.

I have done a best-of for the radio show (two part show broadcast on the 29th of December and 5th of January) and it'll be written up too. But this, on my normal blog, is my true favourite albums of the year.

1. The Phantom Band - Strange Friend

I waited around four years for them to follow up my favourite album of 2010. The release of The Wants was when I was in Texas and now I'm a dad and married in Glasow. Time changes. I love everything about the Phantom Band, and their third album took a little longer to click it was all the better for it. I reviewed it for Scottish Fiction over here , so have a read, but this bit is what I think about the album:

"While it might not graft new converts to The Phantom Band ranks, it will please the band’s pals and fans for sure, whilst adding nine new tracks to the band’s catalogue. Strange Friend  feels just like that - a friend you’ve not seen in years that you remember being a little eccentric, but as loyal as you’ll find."

And guess what - I won't have to wait another four years for their next album. They've announced Frears Trending for next year - in January! Excellent.

2. Loscil - Sea Island

I have been listening to Loscil for years and when his last full album Sketches from New Brighton came out I devoured it like a big chocolate cake all in one sitting. In fact, earlier this year it was the only antidote to getting Joni to fall asleep in the dead of the morning when she was brand new. I love a lot of his back catalogue too, my favourite probably being Plume or Endless Falls, but this years massive and sprawling Sea Island continues his run of high quality albums. It is long, yes, and dense, yes, but by goodness it's brilllaint. Sturgeon Bank and In Threes are proper stand outs. And this is one of the few times the two lists merge  - this made the Monday Graveyear list too.

3. The War on Drugs - Lost in the Dream

I wasn't expecting much from this album at all - in fact, I hadn't even realised it was coming out. I picked up the previous War on Drugs album (I really dislike that band name) on a whim based on the recomendation from a friend's brother and it was... okay. I don't remember Slave Ambient making much of an impression on me at the time, but I heard good things about this album and listened to the stream once and bought it. I love everything about it - the dreamy vocals, the Springsteen galloping guitar, and the shimmer reverb effect across the whole album. It's a wonderful record and I've been pushing it onto all my friends at every oppruntinuty.

4. Cloud Nothings - Here and No Where Else

This will be short and sweet like the album - this is the funnest gig I had all year, the loudest album I've lsitened too all year, and the most addictive album in this list. 

5. A Sunny Day in Glasgow - Sea When Absent

I had for the longest time Scribble Mural Comic Journal, the debut album from ASDIG, and couldn't get into it. Albums like that sometimes sit for years on my desk so to speak before they click. In this case it took a dead battery on my iPhone and a powercut in my flat in Aberdeen to get me to listen to it fully - I was in one night and decided to listen to my library and there they were, right at the top, and I thought... sure, why not.

Fast forward to this year, and Sea When Absent comes out and it's like a bolt of lightning. From the first opening notes of Bye Big Ocean they had me, and it's stayed on heavy rotation all year. 

Rounding out the top ten...

6. Ought - More Than Any Other Day
7. Mogwai - Rave Tapes
8. The Hotelier - Home, Like Noplace There Is
9. Future Islands - Singles
10. Dalhous - Will to be Well

Get it all in the Wednesday Graveyear 2014: Top Ten Tracks Spotify playlist