Tuesday 13 November 2012

Google Play Music

Today, Google launched its music store to the UK through its service: Google Play - where Android users already download their apps, and acts as the equivalent to Apple's iTunes. Considering the dramatic rise of Google since 1998 and its recent foray into the world of smart phones, there was a certain inevitability that it would provide us with a music service. Remembering that Apple had lost favour by the start of the century, its resurgence and return to profitability can almost certainly be pinned down to the introduction of the iPod and establishment of iTunes. Apple's new life of success began with music, so perhaps it is surprising that Google has taken so long to start its assault in this area.

The US have had the music service for a year now, but today is Europe's first chance. Is Google doing anything different, or special, to encourage users away from iTunes and Amazon's MP3 service? Personally, the most interesting aspect is the new cloud feature which lets you to store up to 20,000 songs online, allowing you to stream them to a device wherever you are. Significantly, this is a free service. I believe Apple grants a very small number of files (250?) before it requires you to start paying a subscription, or certainly limits you to songs that have been bought through iTunes. Admittedly, it is very rare that I think to myself, "I wish I could access all my music right now" since I do have an mp3 player with significant storage space. But I can see how Google's cloud service could be useful to many, particularly with the higher number of files allowed for free.

For many I suppose, the key question is how they compare price-wise. And there's not an awful lot in it, although it depends on how you like to buy your music. For instance, here's a couple of recent albums and a couple of 'classic' albums:

Take Me Home: Yearbook Edition
by One Direction
iTunes: £10.99 or 0.99/track
Google: £7.99 or 0.79/track

18 Months
by Calvin Harris
iTunes: £7.99 or 0.99/track
Google: £7.99 or 0.79/track

Off The Wall: Special Edition
by Michael Jackson
iTunes: £6.99 or 0.99/track
Google: £4.99 or 0.99/track

Pet Sounds (mono/stereo edition)
by The Beach Boys
iTunes: £6.99 or 0.99/track
Google: £4.99 or £1.29/track

For the most part, things are fairly equal. Sometimes Google wins over iTunes, and sometimes iTunes comes out on top. Occasionally, Google throws up some per-track prices that are questionable yet counters this with a cheaper album price - and it does seem that, generally, Google is trying to encourage a full album purchase rather than single tracks. However, if you were restricted to just using one service for your device, I don't think there would be much to sway your vote either way. Google has kept itself in line with the competitors, knowing that a price war would only end up damaging everyone, but perhaps the cloud service might be a deciding vote for some people.

"Music is the prayer the heart sings"

Sunday 11 November 2012

Rhonda Merrick - They Said Bon Jovi Died Today

I do tend to arrive a little late to the party. It's almost the end of 2012, and today I discovered what Rhonda Merrick spent each day of 2011 doing.

Born in New Orleans but currently living here in England, Rhonda Merrick - having decided that becoming a musician was something she really wanted to do - made it her mission to record a song everyday throughout 2011 and as a result has given herself several hours of material to sort, review, critique, and possibly rerecord to a standard suitable for broadcast. Given the nature of her undertaking, the often improv-style of her writing, and the raw setup of her own home-studio the quality of those daily musical moments varies in both the audio and the content, but there's no denying her motivation and commitment, and her thousands of fans appreciated her perseverance and frankness when watching her go through the whole process.

Her music is bluesy, soulful, jazzy, and she lists many of the greats as her musical inspiration: Aretha Franklin, Mahalia Jackson, Janis Joplin, Marvin Gaye. When it comes to what she writes about Rhonda is sparked by everything around her from news reports, celebrities, and self-harm to natural-disasters, sexuality and throwaway messages online. The song that struck a chord with many of her listeners and has since been rerecorded with a video to accompany it, is '27 Club': a song written on the night Amy Winehouse died.

Of the few tunes that I have made my way through so far, the one that I have particularly enjoyed is 'They Said Bon Jovi Died Today'. A song written following a false online report, it speaks of the lies within a relationship and the positivity in moving on, and was the 354th song for that year. I like the Jovi reference, I love Rhonda's soulful vocals, and it feels more substantial and complete that some of her other work.

As far as I am aware, 'They Said Bon Jovi Died Today' has yet to be rerecorded or shared anywhere else except on Rhonda' own website. The link below directs you to the page featuring the audio player and lyrics for the song, though I must sadly warn you that the website isn't the easiest to view or navigate. However, it is well worth ignoring the site's aesthetics and instead just take notice of the music whilst remembering that it is just a demo so the audio is a little rough at times.

'They Said Bon Jovi Died Today' : http://rhondassongs.com/song354.html

RhondaSongs.com: http://rhondassongs.com/

I hope to hear more from Rhonda Merrick as she continues to write, perform and release music.

"Audiences like their blues singers to be miserable" - Janis Joplin

Friday 9 November 2012

Family Machine - Skeletons And That

Somehow, unintentionally, I have found myself listening to (and commenting on) the output of bands from Oxford. ToLiesel, Message To Bears, Perfect Fiction: they all hail from the city of dreaming spires, which also just happens to be the place I was born. I've stepped from one to the other via links between them so it  was inevitable that they'd all be from the same area, and Oxford has an excellent musical history, so I could do a lot worse than focus my attentions there. Thus I have no qualms in mentioning Family Machine's acoustic/indie-pop.

It's been four years since their LP was released, "You Are Family Machine", but they have kept their audience interested since then by releasing the occasional single track. 'Sleep' was short but unwaveringly sublime. 'Quiet As A Mouse' kidnapped We Aeronaut's Anna Log for some sweet vocal work. And, on October 31st, they released a new free download: 'Skeletons And That'.

Although the lyrics do talk of ghosts, monsters, and skeletons, the link to Halloween ends there - this is not a song of thrills and horrors. No. This is a song of loss, growing up, and regret. Whilst certainly mournful, the vocal delivery is so beautifully sincere and the instruments so softly bridled, you can't help but think that there's an adjacent joy being expressed at the existence of memories. As the guitar strums the final chord, it is clear that Family Machine weren't trying to throw us head-first through three-and-a-half minutes of forced forlesing; rather, they were nudging us gently with an acceptance of loss and grief. Through subtlety this band have achieved more in a single acoustic song than some do on an entire album of angst-ridden blues.

"Love is like a violin. The music may stop now and then, but the strings remain forever." - June Masters Bacher

Monday 5 November 2012

Perfect Fiction - Another One

A friend of mine on Facebook had an upcoming gig, and mentioned the other bands attending. That's how I came across the music of Message To Bears. Later, browsing Message To Bears' Facebook page showed me a similar list that they had provided, with some bands they'd been sharing the stage with. That's how I discovered the song by ToLiesel. And then, recently, the guitar player from both those groups followed me on Twitter. Viewing his profile, I saw that he had his own solo material...

And that's how I found Perfect Fiction - the music of Adam Harvey James.

It's rare for me to explore the details of my (currently very few) Twitter followers, mostly because there tends to be a lot of accounts that come and go which mainly exist for the purposes of spam. However, on this occasion I did take a look. And I'm glad I did.

Adam's music stands defiantly, and happily, within some classic genre labels: raw, stripped-back, and acoustic. In the same way that so many have done before him, the songs consist of just him and his guitar, but there's no shame in following the mould set by his influences (Neil Young, Jose Gonzalez) if the final result is worthwhile. And when it comes to this particular song, "Another One", I feel it is.

As the first track of his debut EP 'The Sound Of People', "Another One" is a wonderful start and also my personal favourite. Later songs explore Adam's lower register, or cover potentially more sombre themes, but this song is far stronger musically, lyrically and - crucially - vocally. Adam's key talent clearly lies in his strumming and plucking; a skill that is wonderfully showcased during the lyric-less guitar portion of this song. His singing style throughout the record is appropriately rough and untouched but, in this particular song, it deals out the words with a glorious aptitude that outshines the others on the EP.

Whether he focuses on his own work or chooses to concentrate on the bands he is involved with, Adam James is proving that he has a lot to offer.


"Life is like a piano: what you get out of it depends on how you play it" - Tom Lehrer