2017 Music

Posted by: Ryan 3 years, 10 months ago
Categories: Music

I am definitely overdue on this post.  I'm excited to write about some of my favorite music from 2017...

Before I dive into it, I want to reflect a little on how I experience music.  The way I listen to music is not conducive to making "best of" lists like this.  I like to find an artist or album I enjoy, and then listen to that (almost exclusively) for a few days/weeks/months until I extract every last ounce of enjoyment out of it.  Then I move back into "music discovery mode" until I find something else to feast upon.

Because of this, my music knowledge tends to have a lot of depth and not a lot of breadth.  I think I do this because I appreciate music more and more each time I listen to it.  For the past few years, I've considered making new year resolutions of listening to an album no more than twice to curb my compulsive listening tendencies.  I didn't do anything like this in 2018 (thank goodness) - but maybe 2019 will be the year where I turn into a music discovery fiend (doubtful).

If anyone else can relate to this, let me know and maybe we can form a compulsive listener support group.

Below is a list of my favorite albums from 2017.  Based on the above disclosure of my listening habits, you can be sure that I obsessed over each of these albums for a minimum of 1 week.  The albums are listed in no particular order.

(A) Ryan Adams - Prisoner

Brooding, authentic, enduring.  Ryan Adams wrote and recorded this album while going through a divorce, and that clearly amplified the usual moody emotion of his music.  You'll have to go to the B-sides album to hear my favorite track, 'Stop You'.  I'm not sure why that track wasn't on the actual album.

(B) The War on Drugs - A Deeper Understanding

Comforting, smooth, and confident.  Love this album.  This sounds a little bit like Bob Dylan, but please don't let that turn you off.  I mean it in the best way.  This is the sound of a band that is entirely on the same page; they know their sound, they figured it out, and they bring it on every track.

(C) Jay Som - Everybody Works

Dreamy, charming, and cozy.  I read that this album was recorded in the lead singer's bedroom - and I totally believe it.  The guitars have a hint of surfer vibe, and the singing always has a whisper element to it.  It adds up to a unique sound that can't be found elsewhere.

(D) Big Thief - Capacity

Haunting, thoughtful, patient.  Full disclosure: these guys had one of the worst live performances I've ever witnessed at Newport in 2017.  Yet, the quality of their studio albums still impresses me.  The songwriting is great.  Jess and I will see them again in 2018 at Boston Calling - perhaps because it's hard to look away from a car crash.  But, I genuinely hope they can put on a live performance that their albums deserve.

(E) The xx - I See You

Clean, sparse, and vulnerable.  The xx is a three-part band consisting of a male vocalist/bassist, female vocalist/guitar player, and DJ.  The DJ, known as Jamie xx, is the secret sauce here, mixing samples and echoing beats into the otherwise extremely sparse pop/rock tracks.

(F) BROCKHAMPTON - Saturation I, II, and III

Out-of-the-box, passionate, collaborated. This band's story is almost as good as their music.  The 14+ member ensemble met on a Kanye West internet forum and decided to make a band.  The fact that such unique and heartfelt hip-hop can come out of such an origin is amazing.  The band released three full-length albums in 2017 and they're all good.  The music seems to have an inexplicable consistency hidden away under its highly variable sonic qualities.

(G) Fleet Foxes - Crack Up

Meandering, echoing, carefully-paced.  This is a great album to enjoy when you've got plenty of time to be patient with it.  It will reward you.  Get some good headphones, and settle down.  Or listen while on a road trip.  Just make sure you turn up the volume a little bit.  Fleet Foxes released this album after a long hiatus, and it's great to hear that they're still performing at a high level.  Fun fact - did you know that Father John Misty (AKA Josh Tillman) was the former drummer of Fleet Foxes?

(H) Future Islands - The Far Field

Movement-inspiring, Catchy, Synthesized.  Going into 2017, I liked Future Islands.  Coming out of 2017, I love Future Islands.  These guys delivered one of the best concerts I've ever attended, and now I'm a believer.  It's hard to not - at a minimum - bob your head to their music.  It's just fun to listen to, and it's delivered with an unparalleled level of enthusiasm by the lead singer, Sam Herring.

Some other 2017 honorable mentions...

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Not Christmas Songs

Posted by: Ryan 3 years, 11 months ago
Categories: Music

I have been developing this Spotify playlist full of songs that sound like Christmas songs, but are actually not Christmas songs.  This is a great playlist for someone who's natural tendency is to be a grinch, yet still wants to get into that festive mood.

I was adding songs to this for a few months, and then just recently scoured the internet to find some more tracks to help fill it out.

Serving suggestion: Listen while drinking a heavily sweetened white russian (which may look/taste a bit like eggnog) and some peppermint hard candies (which look like candy canes...wait what do candy canes taste like??)

Click here to access the playlist (will require a spotify account)  - I set it as a "collaborative playlist" - I think that means that anyone can add more songs.  So...I guess we will see how that pans out.

Disclaimer: I am not going to claim that all of these songs are good.  All I am saying is that they sound sorta like Christmas songs.

For those we don't have Spotify...sorry.  I pasted the tracklist below (for what it's worth).


Track Artist Album
Hospital Food David Gray Life in Slow Motion
White Winter Hymnal Fleet Foxes Fleet Foxes
Two Weeks Grizzly Bear Veckatimest
Standing in the Back at Your Show Wild Ones Mirror Touch
Days The Drums Portamento
Amour Amour Livia Blanc Amour Amour
Step Vampire Weekend Modern Vampires of the City
Phantom Limb The Shins Wincing The Night Away
Welcome Home, Son Radical Face Ghost
Somewhere Only We Know Keane Hopes And Fears
Soul Meets Body Death Cab for Cutie Plans
Heartbeats José González Imperial Recordings Best Of
I'll Be Home Harry Nilsson The Best Of Harry Nilsson
Disarm The Smashing Pumpkins Rotten Apples, The Smashing Pumpkins Greatest Hits
Beth/Rest Bon Iver Bon Iver
Zeal Tchami Revelations EP
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Posted by: Ryan 3 years, 11 months ago
Categories: Music

Last night, Jess and I went to our good friend Abby's graduation from her DJ program.  She was the very last act to perform, she played a great set, and the turnout was definatley solid.

There was a driving force that inspired Abby to take this DJ class, despite all of the various things that make life "busy" - and I admire that.  There is something to be said about persuing hobbies and making dreams a reality.

I think this struck a chord with me because I have been finding very little time to persue my interests because of work commitments lately, and that can get frustrating.  I am trying to use this blog to keep the ball rolling on the machine learning stuff.  Anyways - I wasn't planning on making this about myself when I started writing.  Nice job on that set, Abby.  Her website is:

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Tiny Desk

Posted by: Ryan 3 years, 12 months ago
Categories: Music

I'm a big fan of NPR Music's Tiny Desk concert series. These concerts started in 2008 - almost 10 years ago - supposedly when Bob Boilen (host of the All Songs Considered podcast) became frustrated with noisy and distracting concert venues. The Tiny Desk concerts are recorded right at Bob's office desk - and they are great because they strip away all of the cruft that gets between the music and your ears.

The music is front and center, and artists seem to have great respect for that.  They treat their Tiny Desk performances as something special.

I feel like the quality of music has been especially high over the past few months, so I decided to share a list of my favorite Tiny Desk concerts.  I haven’t come anywhere close to watching all of the concerts, so I might have to update this list again sometime in the future.

The Roots (featuring Bilal)

Gotta love this.  The vocalist's (Bilal's) performance is powerful yet it often seems effortless.  This sort of thing only happens when there is passion behind the music - and I sense there's a lot here - particularly in the last 3 minutes or so when he seems legitimately pissed off about equality issues.  Definately one of the best Tiny Desk concerts right here.

Albin Lee Meldau

This guy is a bit of a contradiction. He has a really soulful voice that sounds like it comes from New Orleans - yet he's from Sweden.  Nonetheless, he's got the goods!

Benjamin Booker

He sounds a bit like Ray LaMontagne.  Solid concert here – it’s so easy to watch that it will be over before you even know it – and then you’ll say, ‘is there more?’  Yes there is - and it was recorded at Newport Folk Festival.


This is three sisters in a folk band.  The vocals are the main focus here.  Lots of good harmonies, and just the right amount of yelling.

Red Baraat

With Tiny Desk, I find that a band completely outside of my typical preferences can grab my attention - and impress me!  This is a good example.  Honestly – I dare you to play the first 10 seconds of this, and then not listen to at least 5 minutes.  It’s got a guy playing an electric guitar with a violin bow.  It’s got an Obama lookalike playing drums.  I’m pretty sure the lead singer starts handing out snacks near the end.  Everyone is having so much fun here.  I’d join their band if they asked me.  Mom do you still have my clarinet from elementary school?

The Arcs

I didn’t know who The Arcs were before I watched this concert.  This is a great band, perhaps underappreciated.  Also, this was recorded two years ago and it was the 500th Tiny Desk concert.  So, estimating that there has been about 150 additional concerts since then, and that each concert is about 15 minutes long, that means there is about 9,500 minutes or 158 hours of music – and more getting added every week.  Now you know why I haven’t listened to all of the concerts.


This is a hip-hop artist, and his Tiny Desk performance is great.  Writing about music is hard - but the person who writes the YouTube descriptions for NPR music is on point - they said this: "His deceptively intricate rhythm tracks interlock with complementary harmonies and brilliantly constructed bars in ways that appeal to both diehard hip-hop heads — those who decipher and analyze lyrics as a hobby — and those who just want a clutch beat."  Woah, now those are the words of someone who actually knows what their doing.


When these guys finish their set, the host - Bob - was so excited that he gave the band high fives, and then catches them off guard by asking for another song.  They didn't seem prepared, but they grabbed random office supplies to use as instruments - and then proceded to jam.

St. Paul and the Broken Bones

Standing on the desk of Tiny Desk is a move you see from time to time – but Paul Janeway, the lead singer, pulls it off better than most.  Soulful.

(Honorable Mention) OK Go

In traditional OK Go fashion, their Tiny Desk concert is an intricate video recorded during NPR Music’s move from one office to another.  They recorded little segments of the song in the first office, then in the hallway, then in the moving truck, then in the new office elevator, all the way to the new Tiny Desk location.  This isn’t really a “stripped down” intimate performance that is typical of Tiny Desk – so I would feel disingenuous putting it in the list with the others.

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Posted by: Ryan 4 years ago
Categories: Music
Last Saturday, we went to see a band named Twiddle in Boston. The music sounded great. They are a jam band from Vermont. They are in the same genre as Phish and DMB, but they seem to stick to an "up-beat" funk sound. Clearly a lot of talent in this band.

We saw them in a venue called The Paradise - as you can tell from the photo, it's a pretty small place. I thought the venue was fun. I think some bands that are popular enough to fill a larger venue (such as the Orpheum, House of Blues, or Blue Hills Pavilion) would really be more at home in a place like this. Sometimes the music just belongs in a smaller venue without seats. I'd be willing to pay more for the tickets, really.
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The Con X

Posted by: Ryan 4 years, 1 month ago
Categories: Music
On this blog, I've previously revealed that I am a closet fan of the Canadian rock duo Tegan and Sara. I have a feeling my demographic is a minority within their fan base. Jess and I were able to see them live this spring at Boston Calling - which was great by the way.

Their music has transformed a lot over the years. It started off as punk rock, and now it's pop. All of it's good, but the 2007 album The Con is my personal favorite. This album is like a heavily distilled dose of angst filtered through Tegan and Sara's unmatched ability to craft catchy musical hooks.

To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the album, they just released 'The Con X', which consists of other artists covering each song in the album. I was excited to listen to this. Some of the tracks are fresh new interpretations of the original songs. Only a few of the covers were able to capture the magic of the original recordings. The best cover on the album is 'Back in your Head' by Ryan Adams. This might be because Ryan Adams recently went through a divorce and he is able to conjure up some feelings of desperation that was displayed on the album. Or maybe it's because Ryan Adams has been making sad rock songs for years. The cover of 'Dark Come Soon' by Grimes was enjoyable because that particular song somehow fits perfectly within Grimes' style. I'm not sure who Ruth B is, but she did a good job covering 'I was Married'.

I am particularly disappointed in Bleachers, Hayley Williams (of Paramore), and CHVRCHES for producing really bland emotionless covers. Williams covered 'Nineteen', which is my favorite track on the original album, and she turned the nuanced punk anthem into a snoozer. CHVRCHES' covered the album closer 'Call it Off', which is a rock-solid ballad epitomizing the tragic acceptance of a failed relationship, and they made it monotone and sterile. Even Bleachers, who often perform their songs with a bit of yelling and texture, chose to make a slow and quiet version of 'Burn Your Life Down' - would have been better if they made it loud!

Overall, it was fun to listen to new interpretations of these songs. I think this type of thing should be done with classic albums more often. At the very least, it helps us remember how great the original recordings were!
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Future Islands Concert

Posted by: Ryan 4 years, 1 month ago
Categories: Music
Jess and I went to a Future Islands concert on Monday night. If you don't know, future Islands is rock/pop/electronic band. They are hard to categorize.
This was honestly one of my favorite concerts ever. The frontman/singer is a truly great performer. He is known for his over-the-top dance moves and outrageous voices, but, when seeing it live, it's clear that he is living through the music and is putting no effort or energy into acting 'normal'. And if that means busting out a silly dance move while screaming, he ain't gonna hold back.
I could tell the audience was feeding off of his energy. I've never seen a crowd that was so happy. Everyone was on their feet and having a good time. Songs were punctuated with long stretches of applause - everyone was in awe!
Speaking of the audience - it was a very diverse crowd. We saw all ages enjoying this show.
Anyways - this was a great show. I'm looking forward to the next time they're in town. Below is a full concert from about 3 years ago. They have a lot of newer material, but this particular concert video is a part of the history of Comet. I basically listened to this concert on loop when I programmed the first version of Comet.
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Loops in music

Posted by: Ryan 4 years, 1 month ago
Categories: Music
I like to be creative and make things. One thing I don't ever make - and don't ever expect to make - is music. I am happy to just listen. Since I am completely unaware of the majority of things that go into making and performing music. I am forced to just enjoy the apparent mystery of it all. That might make listening more enjoyable in some ways.
I recently found some interesting music performances online. The first was by a band called "The Academic." Last week, they live streamed a performance on Facebook. While live streaming, they connected to their own feed and allowed it to loop back on itself. Like when you point a camcorder at a TV and it creates an infinite loop. They took advantage of the loop and used it to layer an entire song together piece by piece. One thing that was especially interesting is that the singer adds words to the chorus of the song as it progresses. That's a neat concept - unfortunately the lyrics of the song make very little sense, and the song itself isn't really great. If you want to check it out, you can click here.

I also found a song by a Hawaiian reggae singer named Mike Love (no relation to Mike Love of the Beach Boys). Now - fair warning - this is some Northampton-grade hippie stuff, plus he's singing about going against the "corporate lifestyle". During the song, he uses an electronic loop to record bits and pieces of a chorus. Then, as it loops, he adds more pieces as it goes. It's really incredible. The song is actually pretty good. You can fast-forward to around 4:00 minutes where he starts doing the insane loop, or watch it from the beginning if you want to get the true experience, maaan.

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Bluetooth Receivers

Posted by: Ryan 4 years, 2 months ago
Categories: Music
I have had four different bluetooth receivers in my car since April of this year. These things plug into the auxiliary audio input jack in my car, and "receive" Bluetooth audio transmitted wirelessly from my phone. Basically, they allow me to play music in my car without having to plug my phone into anything.
These devices suck. They are all garbage. This is why I've bought four of them. I am always hoping that the next one will be decent, but it's always a letdown.
The first receiver was the Miccus mini-jack. I had this for the longest time of the bunch. It lasted about two years before suddenly dying. In retrospect, this was the best product of the bunch. The sound quality was passable, but it required a ground noise filter (which is a separate product you can buy from amazon). The nicest thing about the Miccus was that it would automatically turn on and connect to my phone when I turned on the car. I assumed that this was a typical feature for these kind of devices, but that's definitely not the case. This device still annoyed me though. About once every two weeks I'd have to re-pair it with my phone for no apparent reason. The re-pairing process wasn't so easy either, it was finicky.
After the Miccus died, I bought the MPow from Amazon for around $15. I was really frustrated to learn that the MPow wouldn't automatically turn on and connect when my car started. Every time I wanted to connect I'd have to hold down the button on the MPow - and then about half of the time it would connect. The other half of the time I'd have to go through the painful pairing process. Needless to say, I didn't like this.
After getting fed up with the MPow, I decided to move to a more reputable brand. I bought an Anker brand receiver, which is generally a respected brand for phone accessories. This receiver was probably the worst of the bunch. The power and audio cord were tethered together, which at first seems like a nice design. But it's not; the power causes a lot of interference on the audio cable. The sound quality was awful. I tried to use the ground noise filter, but it wasn't enough to fix it. I ended up returning this to Amazon.
About a month ago, I took yet another gamble and bought an ESuper Bluetooth transmitter and receiver combo device. This device is really only so-so. It doesn't automatically connect to my phone; it requires me to press and hold the button to connect. But, it at least remembers me phone and doesn't require to constantly repeat the pairing process. The sound quality is slightly worse than I'd prefer, but at this point I'm willing to deal with it.
In conclusion, I am still in the market for a good (verifiably good) bluetooth receiver for my car. I'm almost at the point of just manually plugging in the audio cord, which isn't such a big deal if you take into account all of the hassles I've had with these devices.
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Feist, 'Pleasure'

Posted by: Ryan 4 years, 3 months ago
Categories: Music
Late to the boat on this one - but Feist put out an album a few months ago, "Pleasure". It's good, but it's one of those albums that requires a few listens before it clicks. I like it! Lots of subtle hooks buried deep in these tracks. Recommended for semi-low-key enjoyment while driving, cleaning, working.
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