Monday, April 13, 2009

Weekly iPod Shuffle: 4/13/09 + We Test the iTunes Genius, Part 1

1. "Waltz (Better Than Fine)," Fiona Apple
Another new thing to try out this week. But first, beautiful Fiona, who hasn't resurfaced after her last resurfacing, 2005's Extraordinary Machine. This is from the official release, though it's identical to the bootleg. Both versions are more than adequate. (****)

2. "Call Me When You're Sober," Evanescence
I guess it's a girls-with-pianos shuffle. I've babbled about Amy Lee more than once before; I shouldn't need to do it again. Suffice to say, this is her finest moment -- as a singer, as a songwriter, even as a pianist. (*****)

3. "Paranoid Eyes," Pink Floyd
I like Roger Waters's final Floyd album, The Final Cut, an awful lot. It's a shame, though, that he felt so insecure about the power of his music to tell his story and relies so heavily on sound effects. This track adds nicely to the mood, theme and narrative, but it's weighed down with unnecessary foley tricks that merely distract the listener. The Wall had this same problem, but not nearly to this degree. (****)

4. "Lord Only Knows," Beck
From Odelay. Beck's always had a country streak in him, and he lets that flag fly here, with glorious results. I don't hold Odelay up in the same Valhallah as everyone else, but I adore this song. (*****)

5. "Dick in a Box," The Lonely Island ft. Justin Timberlake
Surely, you've seen this video from SNL by now. If not, go find it. And then get Incredibad, which is one of the funniest albums of the decade. (*****)

6. "Alone + Easy Target," Foo Fighters
Dave Grohl's slide -- fuck, plummet -- into mediocrity and near-self-parody has annoyed me to no end. But this is from his first Foo record, back when he still seemed to give a shit, and it's incredible. One of his best tracks, ever. (*****)

7. "Greasy Jungle," The Tragically Hip
Yeah, this song's nice. You know else, though? Lookie here:

That's the cover of the brand-spankin'-new Hip album, We Are the Same, which is available now and should be in your collection, pronto. I'm listening to it as I write this, and I'm prepared to say it's their best in...oh, ten years or so. It's a little different, a litte more mellow, a little more restrained -- it's gorgeous. After all these years and all these records, I didn't think the Hip could surprise me anymore, and certainly not with Bob Rock at the controls. I was wrong. "Greasy Jungle," for what it's worth, is a perfectly fine track from Day for Night, which features the very first Hip song I ever heard, back when they played "Grace, Too" on SNL. (****)

8. "Mutha'uckas," Flight of the Conchords
It's a one-note joke, really -- rap songs sound idiotic when their obscenities get gutted and excised -- but flawless execution makes this a classic. (*****)

9. "The Hazards of Love 1 (The Prettiest Whistles Won't Wrestle the Thistles Undone)," The Decemberists
Yes, I got the new Decemberists record. Yes, it's a masterpiece. Yes, you should own it. Why bother asking questions you already know the answers to? (*****)

10. "Cream and Bastards Rise," Harvey Danger
By some unfathomable miracle, someone other than me has heard this song, and it wound up as Rock Band downloadable content, which I promptly snapped up. The hardest part to sing? Sean Nelson's barking laughter at the end, which forces to you to yell "HA-HA-HA HA-HA-HA-HA" three times in a row, on key. (*****)

And now: We Test the iTunes Genius.

The newest version of iTunes features the Genius, whose effect is essentially to lead you to music simliar to what you're listening to. You pick a song, let Genius do its work, and it makes up a playlist of -- theoretically -- similar music.

Here, we put it to the test. I'll pick a song -- more or less at random -- and see what Genius gives us. I'll start with something fairly popular and straightforward, so we can all play along.

The White Stripes, "Seven Nation Army"

That's not a bad choice, is it? I don't think so.

Okay. Already we're in trouble, and I haven't even started the playlist. The "Genius Recommends" sidebar that pops up (providing iTunes Store links to simliar artists) features Audioslave and Jimmy Eat World, who couldn't sound any less like the White Stripes if they were trying. Anyway. I click the button, and here is my playlist:

7 nation army playlist


This looks pretty hideous at first glance. Right off the bat, Queens of the Stone Age seems like a misstep. And Muse -- twice? System of a Down? And is that Nine Inch Nails? And Marilyn Manson? Are you fucking kidding me?

But aside from that, it hits more than it misses. The Strokes, Franz Ferdinand, Green Day, Weezer, the Clash, the Hives. Nirvana and Smashing Pumpkins run a little darker, but fit in better than you'd think. And then there are the surprises -- Cake and Tenacious D, whose goofiness actually makes them a perfect fit, despite not really sounding anything at all like the White Stripes. "New Slang" is a nice breather, a bit of acoustic beauty on a rockish set.

The biggest blunder from the Genius? Its failure to include the Raconteurs, who sound an awful lot like the White Stripes, thanks to it being Jack White's other band.

I'll give it 7 out of 10. We'll come back to it next week with something a little more difficult. I'm thinking Regina Spektor. Have at you, Genius!

1 comment:

  1. I've been using iTunes more and more and I think it gets smarter... IE it learns over time. It does tend to stick in a genre, so I've slowly been fixing genres. Whenever I give it a blues or rap song I'll get pretty much just blues or rap, but if I give it Lucinda Williams or Tom Waits it does pretty good. Not sure if it factors in my own playlists or song ratings...

    It should.