18 May 2013

Twitter Music, Spotify and Rdio compared

Twitter Music

Twitter Music launched recently and uses you and your followers’ activity to help you discover new music. It also features an “Emerging” chart of music mentioned by influential Twitter users, and a “Popular” chart of the most trending artists – so expect a lot of One Direction here. If your followers are using the service at the same time, you can see what they are listening too as well.
The most popular Twitter accounts belong to musicians (at the moment the top three are Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga and Katy Perry) and the hope is that fans will spread the love for their favourite music as they can tweet about new releases or follow artists directly from the app.
You can stream songs if you have an existing Spotify Premium or Rdio account (see below); otherwise you’re stuck with 30-second previews with the option to buy songs through iTunes, so it’s unclear how much of an impact Twitter Music will have when full tracks are out there on YouTube for free. But it’s still early days and the offering will no doubt grow in the same way as Facebook’s myriad features.
Cost: Free previews. Requires Spotify Premium or Rdio subscription for full tracks, or purchase via iTunes.
Mobile apps: Only iOS for now.


The first music streaming program to have a big impact and still the most established. There are still some gaps in the catalogue, notably some major ‘legacy’ artists including the Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Metallica, but Spotify is fairly comprehensive for new releases.For maximum convenience, Spotify integrates its own catalogue with any music already on your computer or phone. Users can subscribe to playlists by others (including your very own HI! Magazine) and create collaborative playlists. Any song can be used to create a radio ‘station’ of similar music.
The Free option now allowed unlimited playback of each song as the previous restriction of five plays per track has been lifted. There are still annoying adverts every few songs though, and so the £5 monthly upgrade to the Unlimited option is well worth it.
Cost: Free with adverts and play limits. £4.99/month for Unlimited (no ads or limits). £9.99/month for Premium (mobile and offline listening).
Mobile apps: iOS, Android, BlackBerry.


A graduate of the Flickr/Tumblr school of missing vowels, Rdio is a growing rival to Spotify. Usefully, it runs within a web browser whereas Spotify requires you to download an application, and like Spotify, it integrates with Facebook and Twitter so you can show off your amazing music taste to your friends. However, Rdio can’t play your local files.
Its attractive interface has won praise from devotees, although Spotify’s recent redesign means there’s now not a huge difference between the two; for example, both feature large tiles to make album artwork clearer.
Rdio’s library is comprehensive and even includes some artists who you won’t hear on Spotify; conversely, some albums available in the US aren’t on the UK version of Rdio due to licensing issues. Rdio users can review music and your reviews are collated on a personal ‘homepage’ for your friends to read and vice versa.
Cost: Free trial with a limited amount of music per month. £4.99/month for web version. £9.99/month for web and mobile.
Mobile apps: iOS , Android, BlackBerry and Windows Phone.

Originally published at HI! Magazine.

8 April 2013

Album Review: The Knife - Shaking The Habitual

Imagine that you come across the Arctic Monkeys album Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not for the first time, not knowing what to expect. Upon first listening you’ll hear songs by some lads with guitars about their lives in a provincial English city – nightclub bouncers, fragile relationships. You might love it, you might hate it, but its context allows the listener to pick up the album’s setting without fuss.
the-knife-shaking-the-habitualNow imagine that you find yourself in a haunted house on a strange planet where a cackling witch holds court about feminism, economics and ecology while her brother throws a selection of percussion instruments around the room. After a while the two musicians get bored of this and head outside for more of the same. Then they come back inside and carry on. Something else altogether, but close to the experience that is ‘Shaking The Habitual’.
Swedish duo The Knife, reunited after both embarking on well-received solo projects, are at their bonkers best on the album’s uncompromising dance tracks – ‘Without You My Life Would Be Boring’ and ‘Networking’, bringing to mind electrons bouncing around the world’s wires. ‘Stay Out Here’ is a masterpiece in song structure, with both siblings’ interwoven vocals coming together to with fantastic energy.
It is unfortunate that the lengthy soundscapes, including the monumental ‘Old Dreams Waiting To Be Realized’ fall flat, instead relying on sheer duration for their impact: this is music to be endured rather than explored. ‘Raging Lung’ provides the ideal counterpoint. A sound akin to a gutsier Portishead, with emotionally charged vocals, and brass stabs splashed over the score, it is a rare moment of light showing how rich, strange and brilliant The Knife’s music can be.

Originally published at HI! Magazine.

19 March 2013

Album Review: Brandt Brauer Frick - Miami

Not a Berlin firm of industrial designers but, in their own words, creators of ‘acoustic techno’, Brandt Brauer Frick occupy somewhere between Mike Oldfield and the Chemical Brothers, making dance music with orchestral instruments where harps, trombones and violins find their way into densely constructed drum patterns. Their approach stands out in the sometimes tired landscape of DJs on decks.
The classically-trained trio have moved away from the rigid minimalism of their work so far – according to Daniel Brandt, “With the first record we always thought a DJ must be able to mix this. But at some point we became bored with that approach, that formula of things slowly coming together. Also the experience of playing so many gigs in the last years changed our way of making music a lot.” Whilst the ‘no machines’ philosophy has been retained, the highly intricate beats are of drum-machine precision and it’s easy to forget that every note on this album was hammered out by a real-life musician.
Miami is presented as a film, with a weighty, brooding ‘Theme’ and pacey, dramatic ‘End Titles’ as the opening and closing tracks, but it’s about a version of Miami, not necessarily the real one; the group reject any literal meaning in the title. A selection of guest vocalists add colour to the relentless percussion, most notably Frank Ocean’s producer Om’Mas Keith, whose growled lines are sliced up and stacked multiple times on the single ‘Plastic Like Your Mother’. Besides hip-hop, there is a prominent jazz influence through Jamie Lidell’s gutsy, soulful vocals on ‘Broken Pieces’, and in the piano and insistent plucked strings which jockey for position on ‘Ocean Drive’.
‘Verwahrlosung’ takes an absorbing route from busy Hot Chip rhythms to an isolated repeated instrumental phrase. The jaunty feel here and on ‘Skiffle It Up’ contrast sharply with the sinister atmosphere of the Kraftwerkesque ‘Fantasie M├Ądchen’, and the tumbling piano chords and electronic freakouts as the ‘End Titles’ play out leave the listener unsure whether Brandt Brauer Frick are men or musical machines.

Originally published at HI! Magazine.

13 January 2013

Total Eclipse of the Chart?

The singles chart has just reached the age of 60. When Al Martino topped the first chart with “Here In My Heart” in 1952, the hits of the day were played on the BBC Light Programme, Radio 1 not coming into existence until 1967, and the NME was getting off the ground as the Accordion Times and Musical Express. Due to the limited amount of recorded music by today’s standards, record sales for each release were much higher than they are today and it was not uncommon for songs to stay at the top of the chart for several weeks – in 1954, there were only 11 chart-toppers for the whole year; in 2011 there were 29.
In 2013 we have more ways to find music than ever before. You can access most of the world’s recorded music without even leaving the house, whether it’s a German classical recording or a mix on Soundcloud by a Japanese DJ. Chances are you’ve been sent a song by a friend on Facebook, or checked out a new band on YouTube…
At the same time it’s never been easier for artists to get their work out to the masses. Mylo recorded his 2004 album Destroy Rock & Roll in his bedroom, without ever needing to go into a recording studio. Arctic Monkeys discovered the power of the internet in spreading music when fans at their gigs knew all the words to songs which hadn’t been “officially” released. The shift from a large number of people listening to a small selection of music to the opposite situation has been identified as the “long tail” effect, as popularised by writer Chris Anderson in 2004.
All of this means that there’s more music available to hear than ever before, but listeners are as likely to use YouTube or Spotify to play a song as to buy a CD or pay for a download. The chart includes physical and download sales, but doesn’t count the new music methods, so it is becoming less representative of the music people are listening to. There is a broader shift from owning to “renting” cultural material, reflected in the rise of services such as Lovefilm and Spotify, and the decline of entertainment retailers (HMV is struggling on, Woolworths and Zavvi are long gone). After 60 years, it could also be time for sales charts to enter retirement.

Originally published at HI! Magazine.

6 January 2013

Say HI! (again)

The fantastic HI! Magazine relaunched on New Year's Day with some new sections (plenty on food) as well as the music, film and other bits from the first time round. They are looking for new contributors/editors, so get in touch if you think you have something to offer or want to get some writing experience.