27 March 2009

Jackson Browne and the Benefits of Aging

One of the consolations of getting older is that I've been able to shed all of the stupid prejudices of my youth. At a certain age I wouldn't have been caught dead listening to Jackson Browne. For some reason I thought there was nothing in his music that could mean anything to me. Besides, I listened to bands like The Clash, The Sex Pistols and X--there wasn't much room for plaintive California balladeers in my teen stable of artists. And while I still respect and love those bands, I find myself listening to them less and less. Partly, I suppose, because I know most of the music note for note: London Calling and Under the Big Black Sun are my Classic Rock albums. But it is also the fact that I am no longer a young man with a fire to change the world through political agitation (if indeed I ever was). The best part of punk was really always the music. A close second was the outsider status badge (clothes, attitude) that listening to the music conveyed.

All of which is just a long-winded way of saying that as you become more comfortable with being an individual you require less validation in your listening, and the world of music is truly and fully open to you.

Jackson Browne's first album is a masterpiece: a record fully of its time but transcending it as well. The songs are 37 years old now, and they are still fresh. Full of California gold-burnished piano ballads, it's arguably Browne's best work, but the LPs that followed in the early to mid 1970s were all excellent. The writing and performing are remarkably mature for a 23 year old (though the stellar cast of session musicians surely helped). From the opening "Jamaica Say You Will" through "My Opening Farewell" there isn't a clinker in the set. There is the perenially classic "Doctor My Eyes" and the lament "Song for Adam", but my favorite track is probably the four minutes and thirteen seconds of perfection that is "Rock Me on the Water", a secular gospel number that never fails to lift my mood.

I've found that the average person--for whom music is not really an important part of their life--that person tends to solidify their tastes. The music from their high school years is usually the music that resonates with them; thus the proliferation of Classic Rock and oldies stations. But for me, the universe of music is continually expanding. Much like the actual universe, come to think of it.

19 March 2009

Your own radio station: Pandora.com

By now, anyone who cares to probably listens to some sort of internet radio, either via iTunes or Last.fm or one of the myriad methods available. One of the better ways I've found is via Pandora Internet Radio. While I haven't fully explored the differences between Pandora and Last.fm, I can say that Pandora is simple to use, very customizable and mobile via your Blackberry, iPhone or Windows Mobile device.

Pandora is based around something called the Music Genome Project, which basically is a group of people analyzing every piece of music they can get their hands on, looking for traits (acoustic, vocal, lyrical, tempo--there are 400 in all). Pandora uses these commonalities to find related songs and artists. So you can go to Pandora, search for an artist or song that you like and create a station based around the song or artist. Pandora names the station for you, but it is simple to rename. You'll also find yourself adding variety by including artists related to your original pick. Pandora will add what it believes are artists and songs you like as your station plays, and you can give the thumbs up or down to refine its choices for your station.

You'll find yourself wanting to tweak, but there is are problems with overdoing it--too few options and your station sounds flat, with the same sound; too many and it becomes wildly eclectic. If you choose an artist that is difficult to classify you'll also get big swings in styles and tempii. I chose a song by the band Beirut as the basis for one of my stations (you can create as many as you want), the first song that came up was by Metallica, the second by an authentic Bavarian brass band. Vive la difference, I guess.