Sunday, January 31, 2010

Lala - my not-so-new favorite thing.

This post is long overdue.  If you have seen any of my recent activity online (Facebook, Google Reader, or certain posts about top music), you might be aware that I have become an avid user of Lala.  The short story: Lala is a free online music service without advertising.  The longer story follows.

You can read Lala's official story about their features at their How it works page.  I'll expand on what I like about these main features, and one additional minor feature, to show what I think makes Lala pretty awesome.

  1. Play over 8 million songs for free.  They have a pretty extensive music catalog, of which you can play any song for free once.  After the first free listen, you can listen to 30-second clips of songs you don't own (you can always listen to full-length songs you own - see #2).  I especially like that they organize music so that it is easy to queue up albums, which is how I prefer to listen to music.
  2. Play your music, anywhere on the web.  You can match your music collection on your computer to Lala's catalog so that Lala recognizes what songs in their catalog you own (no, it does not matter how you came to own the music).  If you own it, it can always play it for free on the web.
  3. Discover new music through friends and experts.  They've got some social networking and cataloging aspects.
  4. Buy new music starting at 10 cents.  You can buy any song as a "web song" for 10 cents.  This gives you unlimited plays of the song via the web, but you can't download it to your computer.  You can also buy songs for download, usually for 89 cents.  Note that if you have previously bought a song as a web song, you only have to pay the difference (79 cents) to buy it as a download.  The song files are DRM-free variable bit-rate MP3s.  In my experience the bit rate is usually around 240 kbps, which is excellent unless you're an audiophile.

    I will add here that Lala's download prices are pretty phenomenal in comparison with the competition.  For example, here are some comparisons with two other major MP3 vendors for four new album releases that I bought this past Tuesday (yes, I went kinda crazy):

    Four Tet - There is Love in You
    iTunes - $9.99
    Amazon MP3 - $6.99
    Lala - $6.49

    Charlotte Gainsbourg - IRM
    iTunes - $9.99
    Amazon MP3 - $7.99
    Lala - $7.49

    Basement Jaxx - Zephyr
    iTunes - $9.90
    Amazon MP3 - $6.99
    Lala - $6.49

    Jaga Jazzist - One-Armed Bandit
    iTunes - $8.91
    Amazon MP3 - $6.99
    Lala - $6.99

    As you can see, iTunes is kinda ripping people off (though I will concede that they pioneered the MP3 selling business and make selling/buying music very easy for both producers and consumers), so it's a good thing that I don't even have an iTunes account set up.  I used to use Amazon MP3 quite a bit, but I have more recently been buying the majority of the music that I purchase through Lala
  5. Scrobbling to!  Listening to music is pretty much worthless to me unless I can scrobble it to, my ultimate music listening cataloger.  Without this minor feature I don't think I would have begun using Lala nearly as much as I do now.
I've actually been a Lala member since early 2007, back when their main thing was trading CDs, though I never really used it.  They've since dropped that business model and are now a digital music service.  I rediscovered them this past fall when Pitchfork started using Lala to share music that they reviewed and Google started including Lala previews in music searches.  Since then I've been using Lala to check out new releases, listen to recommendations from friends, and listen to my collection from work (don't tell Boeing).  It has greatly contributed to the amount of music I listen to and to the amount of music I actually purchase.

I was a bit disappointed in December to hear the news that Apple acquired Lala.  Although Apple appears to have used Lala technology for at least one good purpose (providing browser-enabled previews for iTunes songs), my fear is that Lala will be absorbed into iTunes and I will lose some of the features I have come to love.  For example, I'm pretty sure this would result in increased music prices.  Also, if the web streaming becomes part of Apple I think Boeing will get wise to the goings on pretty quickly as users jump on board, and therefore block it.  I hope these worries do not materialize.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Skinny jeans are ruining mens' fashion.

For me, at least.  I'm not saying this because I think skinny jeans are stupid - some people (though not all who wear them) pull off the look very well.  I am not one of those people.  I have what I like to call a "black people butt" and "black people hips".  Besides making me feel like I'm wearing figure skating pants, they tend not fit over my butt all the way (or at least not as much as I would like pants to fit over my butt).  I'm also partial to a wider leg opening that falls over the shoe, instead of showing off my shoelace knot and socks.

Skinny jeans don't directly affect me since I don't really ever wear jeans, but the skinny/slim trend has moved over to pants.  This in itself would not be a problem either, except that all the creative effort into making interesting pants is now diverted to making interesting skinny pants.  And there aren't many people out there making interesting mens' pants in the first place.  Every cool-looking pair of pants that I have seen over the past few months has been of the skinny variety.  Case in point: I've ordered 3 pairs of pants off (one of very few places I've found that has interesting pants for men) only to return them because the fit is too skinny (even though I took care to check that they are not described as skinny or slim).  Maybe I should just resign myself to the fact that Diesel does not make pants for black people.

So if you see a pair of cool-looking non-skinny (preferably boot-cut) pants out there somewhere, let me know and I'll be all over it.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Top Albums of 2009, Part 2

We saw in Part 1 that Phoenix topped the aggregate top albums list.  In Part 2 we'll break down all the individual top 10 lists.

Brian George (Obscurity Award, WTF?! Award)

1. Converge – Axe to Fall
2. The Juan MacLean – The Future Will Come
3. Agoraphobic Nosebleed – Agorapocalypse
4. Future of the Left – Travels with Myself and Another
5. Pissed Jeans – King of Jeans
6. Girls – Album
7. Shackleton – 3 Eps
8. Khanate – Clean Hands Go Foul
9. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
10. The-Dream – Love vs. Money

Christy Cronin

1. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It’s Blitz!
2. Manchester Orchestra – Mean Everything to Nothing
3. Metric – Fantasies
4. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
5. Passion Pit – Manners
6. Arctic Monkeys – Humbug
7. Coconut Records – Davy
8. The Big Pink – A Brief History of Love
9. She Wants Revenge – Up and Down EP
10. Matt & Kim – Grand

James Kolpack (I Didn't List Phoenix Award)

1. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
2. Atlas Sound - Logos
3. Office - Mecca
4. The Thermals - Now We Can See
5. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest
6. Flight of the Conchords - I Told You I Was Freaky
7. Papercuts - You Can Have What You Want
8. Max Richter - 24 Postcards in Full Colour
9. Bear in Heaven - Beast Rest Forth Mouth
10. The xx - xx

Jason White

1. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
2. Wilco - Wilco (The Album)
3. Pearl Jam - Backspacer
4. Manchester Orchestra - Mean Everything to Nothing
5. Them Crooked Vultures - Them Crooked Vultures
6. Green Day - 21st Century Breakdown
7. Monsters of Folk - Monsters of Folk
8. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest
9. The Decemberist - The Hazards of Love
10. Mute Math - Armistice

Obi Orjih

1. Mew – No More Stories...
2. Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion
3. Phoenix – Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
4. Yeah Yeah Yeahs – It's Blitz!
5. Pictureplane – Dark Rift
6. Röyksopp РJunior
7. Metric – Fantasies
8. Grizzly Bear – Veckatimest
9. Fuck Buttons – Tarot Sport
10. Doves – Kingdom of Rust

Robert Schwartz (I'm With Obi Award)

1. Mew - No More Stories...
2. Regina Spektor - Far
3. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
4. Beirut - March of the Zapotec/Holland EP
5. Metric - Fantasies
6. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion
7. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimist
8. Bon Iver - Blood Bank EP
9. The Pains of Being Pure at Heart - The Pains of Being Pure at Heart
10. The Mountain Goats - The Life of the World to Come

Top Albums of 2009, Part 1

The results are in.  My cloud has determined the top 10 albums (actually 12, since the last 4 tied) of 2009.  Ignore all other top 10 lists (except maybe Metacritic's, which actually shows you everyone's list) and only pay attention to this one.

Each participant submitted a personal top 10 list, and I aggregated them using a 10-to-1 point system to generate the list below.   Here's the list of critics:
Brian George
Christy Cronin
James Kolpack
Jason White
Obi Orjih
Robert Schwartz

Since there are 6 individual lists, the maximum possible number of points for a single album is 60 points (if it was number 1 on everybody's list).  Without further ado, here are the top albums:

1. Phoenix - Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix [35 points, 5 lists]

2. Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion [24 points, 3 lists]

3. Mew - No More Stories... [20 points, 2 lists]

4. Metric - Fantasies [18 points, 3 lists]

5. Yeah Yeah Yeahs - It's Blitz! [17 points, 2 lists]

6. Grizzly Bear - Veckatimest [16 points, 4 lists]

7. Manchester Orchestra - Mean Everything to Nothing [16 points, 2 lists]

8. Converge - Axe to Fall [10 points, 1 list]

9 (tie). The Juan MacLean - The Future Will Come [9 points, 1 list]

   Regina Spektor - Far [9 points, 1 list]

   Atlas Sound - Logos [9 points, 1 list]

   Wilco - Wilco (The Album) [9 points, 1 list]

Check out Part 2 for each critic's individual list.