Music Albums of the year 2012

Regular readers know I like a music post from time to time. This one is my end of year look at this years best albums. For me, this year had plenty of good albums, but not one I think that stood out as something really special, or ground breaking. Mojo magazine went with Jack White’s album, as their number one which shows what I mean. Good, but a bit retro. I like this album, but I haven’t played it in a few months. So for my number one, I went with something different.

Fiona Apple - The idler wheel. Best of the year?

Fiona Apple – The idler wheel. Best of the year?

Album of the year

Fiona Apple – The Idler Wheel Is Wiser Than the Driver of the Screw, and Whipping Cords Will Serve You More Than Ropes Will Ever Do

For the second year running, I’m selecting an album by a female artist (last year it was PJ Harvey’s “Let England Shake”). This one a more unusual choice for me in the respect that I had never bought anything from Fiona Apple before, prior to this year. This means to me she was pretty much a new artist, albeit one with a back catalogue to explore. However with running this blog this year, I took more of an interest in poetry, short story, song lyrics and that whole area. Fiona’s album has a clever mix of intelligent lyrics. and phrasing, and the way she delivers or sings them, with subtle adjustments in her voice, mean there is lots to continually find. It made a good balance for me against the aforementioned interests. Musically it is also pretty subtle, a little low key, a lot of percussion, but it lends a touch of freedom which shows through in the album as a “whole” (speech marks intended). Try “Werewolf” or “Regret” as examples.

Runners up, were Bat for Lashes (another female artist), which I like a lot but as a fairly recent release, I’ve not lived with it long enough. Tame Impala with its neat way of live band dance music, and rolling drum beats, is also pretty cool, and a good soundtrack to various things going on in my life.

Further close calls include Bob Mould’s “Silver Age” (regular readers will know I’m a big fan and only recently saw him live for the first time). Bruce Springsteen also had a good, accessible record in “Wrecking Ball” which seemed to fit in with this election year (in the US). See also honorary mentions which I think are all good albums work checking out.

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“The experiment” – The conclusion thus far

Ok, Ok, I think I found the conclusion down here somewhere…

A few weeks back I was having some fun with blog posts, and conducting a little experiment. In part 1, “The search phrase experiment and what makes a popular blog post“, I posted some musings on what makes a a popular blog post, based on my four or so months blogging. As also experienced by other bloggers, I had received some odd search engine search terms, which led to my site. I was interested in what phrases might prove popular in pulling in viewers, so I added some random popular search terms taken from the Google “hot trends“. I wanted to see if this boosted viewers in any way.

In part 2, I picked up on some points I had missed in the first post, then mused that using popular search terms might not be a benefit at all purely because there will be a lot of sites catering to the popular search phrases, and thus my site will rank low among them. So this time I posted on advertising, sex slang (via a quiz), typing search engine optimisation and looking at the related search terms, and highlighting the 15 most popular blog sites. Would any of these categories work?

So what did happen? Well first I would differentiate between the blogging community, or more specifically, the blogging community on WordPress, who have the reader, the “follow” and “like” functionality, and readers outside of WordPress. This is important, the wordpress community is different because:

  1. The community is likely finding my site via the wordpress search terms / reader, not a search engine, the obvious choice being Google.
  2. Or because I commented on another blog that the person reads (or read), and they decided to look me up.
  3. Or they already follow me.

This is not the same as finding it via a search engine. You may have a blog site via blogger or bloodspot, or some other blogsite, but in those examples, you are out of the wordpress loop. You may just be web searching for something, and found my site, but you are still not in the wordpress loop. Within the wordpress loop, the posts proved relatively popular, given that it was June / July and audiences are down a bit anyway. They drew in a reasonable amount of comments and likes. People are interested, because they too are bloggers and wondered, did the experiment therefore have any effect. Or they wished to make comment on my ideas about what makes a popular post, which looking back, were also largely for readers within the wordpress loop.

So on the one hand the posts did ok, and even gained me a few new followers. The search engine side however… I’m almost embarrassed to admit it, but I shouldn’t be because it is a result in itself, but there was nothing. That’s right, it added nothing of any significance at all. No bump in viewing stats even on the posting days. In the last 30 days, my top five most popular search engine terms were:

  1. Word association list – I have no idea why that suddenly became the most popular one recently, but it did, linking to some old writing exercise post.
  2. my big fat gypsy wedding – from my old tv vegetable posts, one presumes.
  3. the wire drama – From an alternative take post.
  4. reasons for writing – Nothing springs to mind here ?
  5. rolling stone 500 greatest albums – this one has been consistent on the search stats since I posted on it.

In fact I got more searches via the phrase “VW classic beetle” matching to a “100 word fiction” post from a few weeks ago. I did wonder why this might be, why it seemed to have next to no impact at all. Then someone pointed out to me that the posts having so many links and terms of different types, might register like spam pages, and not rank high in searches. Is that true? I do not know. It sounds feasible. I know Google does a lot of categorisation based on the amount of links which link from somewhere else to your page. But they also have some spam detection which works hand in hand with the page ranking. In that sense I could have created some spam posts.

One other related point, I seem to have a decent number of referrals from “StumbleUpon“. I had no idea what this is until I noticed it in the stats and checked. That one needs more investigation

So to conclude for now, the posts proved relatively interesting to regular readers and one or two new ones, especially within the wordpress loop. Some of my ideas struck similar experiences to other bloggers. The experiment in putting together several different categories of “nonsense”, had no impact on viewers via search engines. This might have been because the pages were categorised as spam. This sounds feasible because none of the nonsense has pulled in even the odd search term viewer after a “something” I used. As a comparison just the words “Fiona Apple” from a list of music I need to catch up with pulled in some views via search engine. I definitely was not the only site with those words on it given she just had a new album out via a major label.

If I was to self publish a novel and needed the blog to partially promote it, some more lessons in website optimisation are required. Assuming I could be bothered to do it, which I probably would. Hmm… maybe the experiment shall continue.

Lexicon word of the day: nubbin.

Am I too addicted to buying new music?

Some recent buys and yes, I’m boring enough to burn downloaded music to CD so I can also play it via my stereo.

No results to “the experiment” parts 1 or 2 this week, I haven’t got round to writing it yet. My mind is on other projects, so I had to add a bit of finish to this half written post, instead.

I love music. Regular readers of this blog will know and understand this. An early post of mine discussed how music influences me, or more specifically, what music and writing have in common, to me anyway. I’ve blogged on music lots of times, although not too much recently. I’m always hearing new things I like on radio Sirius XMU, or reading about music that sounds interesting in Mojo magazine or on Pitchfork. So I like getting hold of it. I’m mostly talking about albums here. The snob in me looks down on just buying individual tracks. I’m an old timer in that sense. You can tell I’m a music fan when I love the album over downloading seemingly random tracks.

My current dilemma involves buying new music. Although I prefer CDs (for the quality of the format), I’m quite willing to try new music as downloads, especially when the price is good, that always seems to serve as a good introduction. But naughty Amazon.com keeps putting albums on a $5 or sometimes even less, price. So what is a music fan to do I ask you? Ok I shall give you the answer. Buy some music. Bring it on…

So I both do, and did. And you know what, it’s great. Problem is, when you get a new album, especially a half decent, or good, or great one, they take four or five listens to really open up and to begin to get to know the songs a bit. Your mind needs time to decode the layers. Usually a song that sounds great straight away, rarely lasts that long, before fading into the sometimes played. So time is needed to play new music, to fall for the lyrics, the melodies, the beat, the timbre, or whatever facet grabs you most. And I’m now getting a bit of a backlog of albums I’m trying to familiarise myself with. Here is a list of recent buys, loosely grouped into genres although admittedly some could cross into several groups:

Pop / Folk

  • The idler wheel is wiser than the driver of the screw and whipping cords will serve you more than ropes will ever do – Fiona apple
  • What we saw from the cheap seats – Regina Spector
  • Thats’s why God made the radio – The Beach Boys
  • Yours trully cellophane nose – Beth jeans houghton
  • Home again – Michael Kiwanuku
  • Tramp Sharon Van etten
  • Valtari – Sigur Ros
  • Bloom – Beach house
  • Master of my make-believe – Santigold
  • Dr dee – Damon albarn
  • Huh? – Spiritualized

Rock / Alternative

  • Maraqopa – Damien jurado
  • Oceania – The Smashing pumpkins
  • Neck of the woods – Silversun pickups
  • Open Your Heart – The Men
  • Celebration rock – Japandroids
  • Ghostory – School of seven bells
  • Funeral Blues – Mark Lanegan
  • Blunderbuss – Jack White

Dance / Soul

  • Hurry up, we’re dreaming – M83
  • Wonky – Orbital
  • The bravest man in the universe – Bobby Womack
And this is not everything either, there is probably some I’ve missed. Some of the above I am more familiar with than others. Thus far I would recommend checking out tracks from the Bobby Womack album, Fiona Apple, Jack White, Damien Jurado, Spiritualized, and if you like a good rock / slightly punk album, Japandroids. Though that said, none of the above strike me as bad thus far. For example if you’ve liked Orbital in the past, you’ll probably like that one. Oh and I’ve also bought the Sugar “expanded” reissues (when I was in the UK where they came out earlier and had dvd discs). I loved that band, they are one of my all time favourites. I’m obviously familiar with those though.
To help with this fun problem I recently received (a few weeks ago) an expensive but completely fabulous gift from my lovely wife and son. It was a pair of these superb Grado Labs SR225i headphones. You can keep your Dr Dre, or Bose headphones, I’m not criticising them, and I do own a few pairs of Sennheisers which are decent, but I prefer Grado Labs.

quiet now.. come to daddy..

This particular pair are open headphones which means if you are sitting nearby you will also be able to hear what is being played. But as anyone familiar with how headphones work can tell you, you can get a much better sound out of open headphones than you can closed ones. It is to do with the airflow. These headphones really are fabulous, they do a great job of opening up the sound, great clarity on instruments, great separation, they introduce things you have not noticed before. As a downside, they also show up when MP3 quality can be bad (the detail isn’t in the file to play), or when something has a dense mix and the separation is not there. These headphones are great, noticeably different from e.g. a $50 pair. An upgrade from my older pair Grado Labs Sr60i (also very good). And more encouragement to buy more music. Oh well, I love music, what can I do.

Music. It’s my addiction. Am I addicted to buying new music? Well of course, and old music as well. I love it. It is entertaining and inspiring in so many ways. If only I had time to do it justice. This addiction I’m ok with. Oh by the way, suggestions for other new good music are welcome below.

Lexicon word of the day: pudendum.