Google killed off its Play Music service back in October 2020. I was a faithful user of the service till the end. When it first launched in 2011, downloads were still going strong, and Spotify had just reached the United States.
The idea of a music locker still had some legs back then because licensing deals didn’t cover everything, and even the biggest download services had gaps. A music locker could fill those gaps by allowing users to upload their collections to the cloud.
The locker was the feature that clinched it for me, and in 2016, I went all in. Japanese artists hadn’t yet expanded their licensing outside of Japan, so Spotify and their ilk weren’t terribly useful for me. Google Play gave me the best of both worlds — the ability to stream new music if I so desired but also having access to items not in their catalog.
YouTube, however, organically turned into the premiere music discovery service on the Internet, eclipsing Play Music’s strengths. So the product managers at Google have now shifted focus on Youtube, spinning out a music service on that platform and sending Play Music out to pasture.
The music locker is gone, its contents migrated over YouTube. The Music Manager desktop application has been replaced with an upload form. I liked the convenience of ripping my files and letting the Manager do its thing. So it’s no surprise I’ve uploaded nothing to YouTube Music since the migration.
I’m pretty much keeping my subscription alive so I don’t have to put up with ads on YouTube itself.
In fact, I’ve reinstalled Spotify and resubscribed to the Premium Plan. The Japanese artists formerly lacking on the service have jumped in, some more so than others. You can even find NUMBER GIRL now. The user interface is less clumsy than I remember, but it’s still not much of a joy to use.
Friends swear by the Spotify recommendation engines, but I’m skeptical. I’m not terribly surprised that when I play NUMBER GIRL, Spotify would recommend ASIAN KUNG-FU GENERATION. I just wish it could connect NUMBER GIRL to a band in the United States and not segregate by genres and regions.
When Spotify can take Sam Hunt and Solange and recommend a band from Japan based on that intersection, maybe I’ll be impressed.
As much as I’m saddened by the demise of Google Play Music, I can’t say I’m greatly inconvenienced by the move. The gaps on Spotify have narrowed, with Japanese bands and modern classical music easily found. And I still have Exact Audio Copy and Winamp for all the music I pick up at the thrift shop, most of it available on the streaming services.
I bet you have albums in your collection — physical or digital — that you absolutely love but would find in a bargain bin of a record store or in neglected corner of a thrift shop.
I call these albums 99-Cent Masterpieces.
I’m always disappointed when I see Blue Sky Mining by Midnight Oil in a cutout bin, even though it’s an album every bit as consequential as Diesel and Dust. In Tua Nua is a band I thought deserved a bigger break in the US, as evidenced by the number of times I purchased The Long Acre for cheap.
And I bought Break Out by the Pointer Sitsters for $2 at Goodwill, thinking it would be fun to have the album with “I’m So Excited” on it. I wasn’t prepared for how underrated this album is.
Yes, the singles off the album are karaoke staples and can probably be encountered as background music for your shopping experience. But the deep cuts on the album aren’t just filler. “Easy Persuasion”, “Dance Electric” and the minor single “Baby Come and Get It” are every bit as solid as “Automatic” and “Neutron Dance”.
I’d almost forgotten about “Automatic”, a showcase for June Pointer’s deep alto and perhaps the most fascinating single off the album. Maybe it’s all the 80s synths, but it feels like it emerged from a dance club in Birmingham, England than Oakland, California. I like it more than “Jump (For My Love).”
It’s baffling this album isn’t consistently ranked on critics lists. Sure, it moved a lot of units in its day, but sometimes, a hit album actually deserves to be a hit. And Break Out certainly qualifies.
The only label to have shown this album much love is Cherry Red in the UK, which repressed a 2011 deluxe edition back in October 2020. Yes, this album is good enough that I recommend seeking out the expanded edition.
My piano teacher wanted me to learn Sergei Rachmaninoff’s prelude in C-sharp minor. I didn’t get past the first page. I bought a tape of Rachmaninoff’s complete preludes, and it sufficiently scared me off from trying any of those pieces at tempo.
At the time, my knowledge of classical music was scant. I knew the usual dead Germans — Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Brahms, Schumann — from piano exercises, but it was all just a monolith to my junior high self. Then my piano teacher introduced to some 20th century Russians — Prokofiev, Khachaturian and Rachmaninoff. These composers started to break down traditional harmony, and I became intrigued by the dissonance of their works.
Except Rachmaninoff, of course. His music was firmly planted in the 19th century, but I hadn’t yet developed an ear to distinguish the various eras. I figured if Rachmaninoff lived in the early 20th century, that made him a “20th Century Composer”.
The more I explored music of the modern era, the more I found Rachmaninoff wanting, and the tape I bought with all of his preludes would get sold for cash to make way for composers who aligned more with my tastes.
But I had already played it so many times that they actually sunk into my subconscious. When I retook my undergraduate music classes some 25 years later, a classmate would rehearse one of Rachmaninoff’s preludes, and I could hum along in my mind’s ear.
I don’t remember much about that tape. I kept a barebones catalog of my collection, but I didn’t note who performed those preludes. I just remember it was an RCA recording.
The Alexis Weissenberg compilation I picked up at the thrift store seemed to fit the bill. Playing it felt familiar, as if it made an exact mental match to what I remember. The first recording you hear of any classical work becomes a litmus, and if you internalize it, you can tell when someone else’s interpretation rubs against that perception.
The Weissenberg recordings felt like I had come home.
What is the memory you most associate with this title?
Spring break 1996. A number of college friends and I traveled to Moloka`i for the weekend. Having lived most of my life up till that point in highly urbanized Honolulu, I never imagined a place where every destination could be described in the singular — not a grocery store but the grocery store.
We rented a pair of cars, and I couldn’t abide by the radio. So we went to the record store, where I picked cassette tapes of Sade’s Diamond Life and Madonna’s Bedtime Stories. I liked Bedtime Stories enough to get it on CD when we got back to Honolulu.
What was happening in your life when it was released?
A year had passed since I returned from a college exchange program in New York City, and I could feel my focus slowly changing from music to journalism.
I was contributing more to the college newspaper, and I felt the music program was changing in a way I didn’t like. A beloved composition teacher had retired, and one of his replacements hadn’t yet developed the skill of letting students find their own voice, even if they were floundering. It was such an encounter that steered me away from composition a number of years after I graduated from college.
What was happening in your life when you bought it?
I was features editor of the college newspaper, which made me realize I was too dictatorial for management. I’ve avoided taking on leadership positions in my career since then.
On this trip, I smoked marijuana for the first time. I also had my first same-sex kiss — with a straight guy. With his girlfriend supervising. It was a good trip.
What do you think of it now?
Bedtime Stories is definitely one of the albums you should own if you’re a very casual Madonna listener.
She faltered a bit with Erotica, between a disastrous appearance on David Letterman and a controversial photo book that seems to have been forgotten. One of the photos from Sex popped up as an Internet meme, misattributing a naked Madonna as Marilyn Monroe.
Madonna recalibrated with Bedtime Stories, focusing more on a smoother R&B sound and even enlisting Björk to contribute the title track.
Anton Reicha, Reicha Rediscovered, Vol. 3 (Ivan Ilić), Jan. 8
I usually pose questions on the blog rhetorically, so I wasn’t expecting Ivan Ilić himself to answer a query about what’s up with the remainder of his Reicha Rediscovered series. The third volume was expected in 2020, but SARS-CoV2 had other plans.
Rhye, Home, Jan. 22
Liked Blood. Was lukewarm about Woman. So I’m approaching Home with caution.
Utada Hikaru, One Last Kiss EP, Jan. 27
Utada Hikaru’s new single — it’s called an EP, but it’s really a maxi single — serves as the theme song for a new Evangelion movie. Hikki fans will probably have the other tracks on this release, which compiles her previous theme songs for the film series.
Cocco, Kuchinashi, Feb. 17
Is it already time for a new Cocco album? [Checks calendar.] Actually, this album arrives 18 months after 2019’s Star Shank, which is 1.5 years quicker than Cocco’s usual turnaround time.
Sturgill Simpson, Cuttin’ Grass, Vol. 2, Apr. 2
Volume 1 of Cuttin’ Grass didn’t include tracks from A Sailor’s Guide to Earth, but Volume 2 does. It does not, however, include anything from Sound & Fury.
Soundtrack, Batman: Original Motion Picture Score (colored vinyl), Jan. 15
When Tim Burton’s Batman hit theaters in 1989, Warner Bros. tried to foist Prince’s album of songs for the movie as the official soundtrack. Fans wanting to hear Danny Elfman’s theme song were pretty miffed that they got a Prince album instead. So the label released Elfman’s score separately. I picked up an original vinyl pressing of the soundtrack a long while back, and I see it pop up in used bins from time to time. This reissue is part of Rhino’s annual Start Your Ear Off Right series.
bloodthirsty butchers, Mikansei, Jan. 20
I’m not aware of very many vinyl reissues of bloodthirsty butchers album. I wouldn’t mind seeing ones for yamane and Kouya ni Okeru bloodthirsty butchers.
Girl Talk, Feed the Animals, April 2021
Girl Talk is accepting orders for this second pressing of Feed the Animals. A recent e-mail announced orders are expected to ship at the end of April 2021 and includes packaging improvements.
I owned this album on vinyl, but I never played Side B all that much because the two hit singles were the two first tracks of the album (“Obsession”, “Let Him Go”). This album also had to compete with Duran Duran, Tears for Fears and ABC for my attention, and it didn’t fare well. Eventually, I would sell the record for cash.
I picked it up again at the thrift store and actually gave Side B a few spins. As a whole, the album holds together incredibly well. I went so far as to find the expanded edition reissued by Cherry Red on CD.
Big Black, Songs About Fucking
The arm of Big Black stretches long.
Richard Goode, Beethoven: The Complete Sonatas
Nonesuch offered a priced-down reissue of this boxed set for $25 to celebrate Beethoven’s birthday. That same week, I spotted a used copy of the original boxed set selling for that exact amount.
Sam Hunt, SOUTHSIDE
On Twitter, I said, “I find Sam Hunt simultaneously fascinating and disappointing.” The disappointing part are the bro country lyrics. The fascinating part is the use of hip-hop beats in country, which I hear is actually a thing.
Bruce Springsteen, Letter to You
Spike Lee has been described as someone who doesn’t know how to end his films. I sometimes feel the same about Bruce Springsteen. This album does drag after a while, but the stronger moments rank up there with his most renowned works.