Special random acts of genius edition!
Because I work at home, I listen to a lot of music during the day. I’ve always played music when I worked, but now it serves as more than background noise. It's a companion that helps me hear something other than my own thoughts or conference calls during the day.
Even though I am fortunate to have a big collection of music, I get bored with the way I listen to it sometimes. I want to be surprised sometimes and not know what’s coming up next, which is why I started doing the Random 11 in the first place.
I've always done the 11 with the shuffle function. However, over time, shuffle can be annoying, delivering stuff I don’t want to hear, or bits of albums that make no sense out of context. I want a DJ, not music collection entropy.
Then iTunes introduced Genius. You could pick a song and have Genius pull a bunch of related songs into a playlist—while also suggesting new songs you could buy at the iTunes Store (yay, capitalism!). Still, I found Genius a little lacking. The logic wasn’t always really great, and the lists could be really narrow sometimes if I picked a song that was rather unique in my collection.
This week, iTunes 9 introduced a new feature that seemed like it could be more focused than shuffle but more flexible than regular Genius: Genius Mixes. Like Genius, Genius Mixes goes through your collection and identifies songs that fit together. However, it creates separate general playlists, like Rock or Country, which gives you pre-made mixes to check out. It's like having John Cusack make a mix tape for you, without all the fuss and bother of getting in a relationship with him.
The key with these features, however, is how well they put songs together. Would it be based solely on my music tags? On data that iTunes collects from me and other consenting Genius users? On the historic relationship of certain bands or styles? On level of double-entendres in songs? On use of the word "rock" as a verb? On smell?
I decided to take another step toward letting machines gain control over humanity by letting Genius Mixes take over this week’s Random 11. I’m going to pick one random song from each of the twelve mixes Genius created. It’ll be like assigning a theme song to the twelve musical apostles that live in my hard drive. Will they deliver salvation, or hand me over to the Romans for a $30 iTunes gift card?
1) Indie Rock Mix: Based on Death Cab for Cutie, Gorky’s Zycotic Mynci [ed: wow, I played that once], Modest Mouse and others
“Sea Legs,” The Shins. What could be more indie rock than indie rock from Albuquerque, New Mexico? Of course, this is from their third album that debuted at #2, which means that lots of people bought it, maybe even your aunt or your dad, completely ruining the indie cred that the kids hold so precious. Still, a good start.
2) Rock/Pop Mix: Based on Crowded House, Liz Phair, Sarah McLachlan and others
“Wire Greyhounds,” Guided by Voices. So my Rock/Pop mix pulls out one of the greatest indie bands of all time? That seems a mistake.
Then again, Guided by Voices do rock, yet also have a great pop sensibility. Could the Genius Mix be deeper than I anticipate? Is there some HAL-like reasoning here? Should I be concerned that it might murder me if I attempt to investigate the monolith on Jupiter?
This also illustrates my obsession with tagging my music. Case in point: I have a very serious mental debate over what constitutes Rock/Pop and what should be labeled Pop/Rock. For instance, Crowded House is indeed labeled Rock/Pop. But Hall & Oates? Pop/Rock. When I got to Billy Joel, I was stumped, but I eventually settled on Pop/Rock because I tend to dislike that tag more, and I don’t particularly care for Billy Joel’s music anymore. And don’t get me started on the line between Rock/Pop and just Rock, or what’s Indie Rock and just plain Rock…
3) Rock Mix: Based on Joe Satriani, Queen, The Kinks and others
“Sin City,” AC/DC. Now we’re cooking with gas. One of my favorite AC/DC songs. It perfectly captures the dirt under the expensive manicure of Las Vegas. Speaking of which, I am hoping to take TLB to Vegas this year. She’s never been, and I am curious to see what it’s like to go when I’m not in a drunken, sleep-deprived, table-dancing, staging-a-pants-pooping-intervention stupor.
4) Punk Mix: Based on Nirvana, Green Day, Blink-182 and others
“Bright Pavilions,” Superdrag. No, no, no. No I’m pretty accurate about labeling the punk music in my collection. Nirvana is not categorized as such, but perhaps Genius is recognizing them for both relying on and rejuvenating the punk ethos. Fine. But Superdrag belongs in Indie Rock, Rock/Pop, or perhaps Power Pop if I was feeling sassy when I was tagging. What are you trying to tell me, HAL?
5) Alternative Rock Mix: Based on Smashing Pumpkins, The White Stripes, Foo Fighters and others.
“Wind Up,” Foo Fighters. I’m not sure how The White Stripes wind up here, but the Foo Fighters definitely belong in Alternative Rock. Crunchy, overdubbed guitars? Check. Pop sensibility buffed with a slightly coarse punk shammy? Check. Too rockin’ to be Rock/Pop, too hip to be just Rock, too commercial to be Indie Rock? Check, check, check.
On a related note, I watched part of a Foo Fighters concert from Wembley stadium. Toward the encore, they predictably played “Everlong” in an unpredictably unplugged style, with Dave Grohl just playing on guitar. The opening was good, but when he got to the part where the drums kick in, the part of that song that just rocks my face off…he kept quietly playing on the guitar. He did that for almost the entire song, until at the very end the band rocked out for about a minute. It was a classic example of some songs that should never be unplugged.
6) Rock/Pop Mix 2: Based on Blur, British Sea Power, Radiohead and others.
“I Like You,” Morrissey. It would appear that my Rock/Pop from across the pond has been relegated to one Rock/Pop Mix ghetto. Still, close enough with solo Morrissey.
7) Alt. Country Mix: Based on Wilco, John Hiatt, Ryan Adams and the Cardinals and others
“Heart on the Ground,” Jay Farrar. Definitely on the mark considering that the label Alt. Country exists because of Jay Farrar and Uncle Tupelo. Although I would have preferred listening to some Uncle Tupelo instead.
8) Rock/Pop Mix 3: Based on Graham Parker, Echo & the Bunnymen, Pat Benetar and others
“New Moon on Monday,” Duran Duran. Wow, that categorization seems very random and makes me think the question is, “Who are three people who have never been in my kitchen?”
As for Duran Duran, Seven and the Ragged Tiger is where they jumped the shark for me—admittedly jumping a shark in a gorgeous video filmed in Tahiti with Simon LeBon playing the shark hunter and the shark being a model wearing fin pasties over her nipples. The decline started with “Union of the Snake,” continued with this song that doesn’t sound like them except in the chorus, repackaged the journey into suck through 27 remixes of “The Reflex,” and finally bit the dust with the thoroughly obnoxious “Wild Boys.” I liked them better when they were just dancing on the sand.
9) Rock/Pop Mix 4: Based on Brian Wilson, Fleet Foxes, Of Montreal and others
“16 Military Wives,” The Decemberists. A very good song, but the “Based on” groupings are starting to resemble the pledges to Delta House at the Omega House mixer. “This is Brian, he’s a reclusive genius, and Fleet Foxes, who’d be more popular if they weren’t so hairy, and Of Montreal, who’d be more popular if they didn’t make Ziggy Stardust look staunchly heterosexual and had a band name that didn’t make people think they were from the redneck version of France. Why don’t you guys enjoy some punch over here in your little corner?”
10) Indie Rock Mix 2: Based on Fountains of Wayne, The New Pornographers, Cheap Trick and others
“Armies Walk,” Nada Surf. This appears to be Power Pop in Indie Rock clothing. I have no idea how Cheap Trick would wind up here. Perhaps the Genius is trying to make a point about the restrictive, nay discriminatory, aspect of labels. After all, who cares what the category is if it results in a wonderful Nada Surf song, or the possibility of “I Want You to Want Me” being played? Perhaps Genius is just trying to tell me that I’m a tagging fascist.
11) Rock/Pop Mix 5: KT Tunstall, Tenacious D [ed. WTF!], David Gray and others
“Not Supposed to Break Down,” Van Morrison. If Tenacious D ever got that close to KT Tunstall in real life, they’d be slapped with a restraining order. But Van Morrison is a nice way to close this out…except we have one more category left. I wonder what it could be? Maybe…SATAN!!!
12) Metal Mix: Based on Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath, Ozzy Osbourne, and others
“Breaking the Law,” Judas Priest. Fire, fire!!!
A funny story about this song: I am one of those assholes who speeds up when the light turns yellow. It’s wrong, it’s dangerous, but it is also my destiny. Anyway, after one particularly egregious, Spicoli-esque incident (“that light was yellow a minute ago”) with The Lovely Becky, I could tell she was unhappy with what I did. I made the devil horns with my hand and sang in my best Beavis voice, “Breaking the law, breaking the law.”
Over the years, that joke was shortened, to the point where now I simply make the devil horn sign, wordlessly, as the notes of Judas Priest as sung by a sociopathic cartoon character with a room-temperature IQ float between us wordlessly.
That’s the magic of marriage.
Well, the Genius Mix wasn't accurate, but it was fun. I know who to turn to the next time the simple act of finding something to listen to seems mentally strenuous.
Have a good weekend.