My greatest songs of the decade

Quite simple. The songs which rocked my world the most from 2000 through 2009. As with any list, there is a personal aspect to this so it is coloured by my musical tastes and personal experiences, through to the memories they draw of good times. Building this has been a fairly big task, involving a thorough trawl through my iTunes libary, and even locating and opening up the box of records stored at my parent’s house.

Initially I built a list of what turned out to be 102 songs, with a strict one song per artist rule from which the final ten have been selected (the list is in a PDF here, in artist order.) The full list more accurately reflects a slightly broader taste in music than the top ten below might suggest. My tastes have evolved (and mellowed) over the course of the decade.

Anyway here they are, in reverse order:

10: The Hives – Hate To Say I Told You So

Makes the ten not only for being a great song, but reflected probably the most vital, alive period of music in the whole ten years, at least from my point of view. Memories of Saturday nights in The Underworld in Camden flood back when I hear this song. This (and some of the other songs on this list) came along at the height of my active gig and festival going. It also represents the huge contribution to the 2000s from Scandanavia. Following the path trodden by The Cardigans and The Wannadies before them came Soundtrack Of Our Lives, Leaves, Kings of Convenience, Erlend Øye, Alphabeat, Röyksopp, Peter Bjorn and John, The Raveonettes and Sondre Lerche to name but a few.

9: Muse – Plug In Baby

One of my biggest musical regrets is staying in the pub instead of going to see the first band on at a Feeder gig at the Portsmouth Pyramids in 1999. To be fair, Feeder were in the pub itself at the time! First support act on? You guessed it. So many Muse songs could make any greatest songs list, but Plug In Baby gets the vote for the awesome intro.

8: Kings of Leon – Molly’s Chambers

The date: 9th February 2003.
The place: Oxford Zodiac
The occasion: Kings of Leon’s first official gig in the UK (I believe they played a warm up at the High Wycombe White Horse the night before though)

One of those true “these guys are going to be huge” moments that don’t come along very often. Despite the assault of the senses of warm up band Winnebago Deal, Kings of Leon simply blew us away that night. Once again, there are other songs that could contend to represent them here, but Molly’s Chambers is the standout of Youth and Young Manhood for me.

7. The White Stripes – Seven Nation Army

Dum, dum dum dum, dum dum, dum. Dum, dum dum dum, dum dum, dum

The White Stripes fall into the same period of intensity as The Hives and The Strokes (see below) but have outlived and outperformed both. It was a hard choice between this and Fell In Love With A Girl. Or Hotel Yorba. Or The Hardest Button to Button. Or…

Honourable mention goes to the awesome Adam Freeland remix.

6: The Strokes – Last Nite

The Stone Roses of the decade? In any case, The Strokes were, undoubtedly, the coolest band on earth for a good period around 2001/2002, and they had the songs to justify that title. Last Nite reminds me of Friday nights at Nexus in Southampton (as, to be fair, do a lot of this top ten) Whilst not making the top ten, the Hard To Explain / Christina Aguilera Genie in a Bottle wins the “Best Mashup of the decade” prize, so here’s a bonus video:

5: The Libertines – Can’t Stop Me Now

Maybe another contender for the “Stone Roses” comparison. It was criminal (quite literally) that such a good band fell apart. Whilst probably not the best example of Pete Doherty’s lyrical genius, it is the intro and first verse of this song that stick so solidly in my mind and cause me to play it over and over again.

4: At The Drive In – One Armed Scissor

A band that just managed to get into this decade before splitting up. Only the fact that I’d been tipped off about them by a friend led me to the new bands tent at Reading 2000 to see them. Definitely one of the bands that had to be experienced live to be appreciated. In any case, One Armed Scissor is a track which defines them.

This station is non-operational.

3: Queens of the Stone Age – No one Knows
2: Foo Fighters – All My Life

These two songs are inextricably linked in my head. They represent yet more memories of Nexus, but also of meeting my now wife. Both are mosh-tastic air guitar anthems that saw me lose all sensibilities whenever they were played. In the case of No One Knows, it’s even one of those rare air-bass classics!

1: The Killers – Mr. Brightside

I was late to wake up to The Killers, and to be honest, this passed me by at first. However, it wormed it’s way into my consciousness as I heard more and more stuff from them. Proof of this is the fact that it remains the most scrobbled song by me on last.fm. Other Killers songs (most notably When You Were Young) could reasonably contend this list, but Mr. Brightside is the daddy. It is also one of those rare songs that has so entered the consciousness that, not only can I recite every word, it also takes on a different set of lyrics whenever I hear it in certain company. If you happen to be in a bar, club or football stadium and hear “I’m Norman Whiteside!” being shouted out by a bunch of drunken blokes then I’m probably not far away!

A little album artwork game

When working at home I invariably end up sitting at my desk working on the Thinkpad whilst my iMac plays music to me or tunes me into BBC Radio 5 (especially PMQs on a Wednesday)

I’ve recently set the iMac to display the iTunes artwork screensaver, and have found myself entranced by it. For those that haven’t seen it, the screensaver shows a mosaic of album covers (40 at a time on my 24″ iMac) and flips one over every couple of seconds to reveal another. My main fixation has been a desire to see a screen full of artwork from what I consider to be good music. Like any music collection, there are a few black sheep in amongst the 830 albums and singles that live in my library. That Simply Red CD seemed like a good idea at the time…

One Hit Wonders

It is quite distracting to sit there and stare at the Gabriel album, willing the screensaver to choose that one to flip over next. The bad ones seem to stay the longest, and Apple plays with your mind by always seeming to make sure there is a bad egg on the screen at all times. It’s not even like I rate my music, how does it know??

A little while ago I reached breaking point and had to just put everything else on hold and wait for that perfect moment:

Good taste

(Large version on flickr)

I can’t say I’m completely happy with it. Fall Out Boy and My Chemical Romance are dodgy to say the least, whilst The Darkness and Catatonia are both albums I’d probably not want to be seen listening to nowadays.

However, the more interesting game is to try and spot serendipitous arrangements of albums. This is highlighted nicely in the above screenshot by this example:

The Crescent and Ed Harcourt

If defunct mid-ninetines Bristolians The Crescent and erstwhile singer-songwriter Ed Harcourt ever got together to release a gatefold double vinyl album this must surely be the artwork!

Incidentally, you may wonder how you capture a screenshot of a screen saver? Well on OS X it turns out that if you press Cmd-Shift before starting the screen saver by pressing “Test” in the preferences panel, you can then take as many shots of the screen saver in action by keeping Cmd-Shift held down and pressing 3 for each shot. Nice. And yes, it did mean that I kept my fingers down on those buttons for about 20 minutes in the production of this blog post…

The long CD ripping slog

CDs

As part of the preparation for our move over to Dublin, I’m in the processing of ripping all of my not insignificant collection of CDs.

In fact, having owned a whole series of digital players over the past 7 years or so I’d already ripped a significant amount of them, and for the past two years I’ve bought stuff pretty exclusively from iTunes. However the CD rips were typically 192kbps MP3 and don’t sound particularly good.

Spurred by the desire to be able to store away the CDs at my folks’ place rather than ship them over to Dublin I decided a while ago to make a concerted effort to re-rip them all, and to this time make the digital copies as future proof as possible.

So, armed with my iMac, it’s 500GB disk, about 500 albums and the same number of singes I made a determined start. The trouble is that a few months later I have only got about 1/3rd of the way through 🙁

To future proof, I am ripping to FLAC, using Max. I’m using the highest quality setting (compression level 8 ) and am using the comparison ripper, which means it makes multiple passes at each sector, then computes their hashes. All of this slows the actual ripping process down, but does produce good results.

I’m then taking the FLAC files and chucking them through XLD to produce 320kbps VBR MP3s using the LAME encoder. These are then imported into my iTunes library. Eventually they will also be shoved up onto the disk attached to my Linksys NSLU2 which runs the TwonkyVision uPnP server. This in turn allows me to access my music library from my XBox 360 which is connected to my Hi-Fi.

There are two other non-technical reasons for the slow progress. Firstly, I’ve started with the large number of compilation CDs I have. A lot of these are double, or even triple disc albums, and in general have more tracks/disc than normal albums. Secondly, and most infuriatingly, the track info held in the MusicBrainz database used by Max isn’t terribly good when it comes to compilation albums. A lot of the time the CD artist will be “Various Artists” but then the artist field for each individual track will not be set. Instead it seems people just put the track title as “artist / track” which needs manual correction. I estimate this has been the case in about 50% of the CDs I’ve done so far.

Thankfully I am now at the end of the compilations, and am getting onto albums and selected singles. These should go past much quicker thanks to more accurate track info and fewer tracks/disc.

A few stats:

CDs ripped so far: 261
Number of tracks: 3906
Total size of FLAC files: 96.83GB
Typical size per FLAC file: 25 MB
Total size of MP3 files: 14.04 GB
Typical size per MP3 file: 3.5 MB

Apple denounces DRM

I always though this would happen. Steve Jobs has posted what amounts to an open letter to the music industry to stop the use of Digital Rights Management for online music downloads. The thoughts contained within it are clear for all to see. Apple Inc. would switch the iTunes Music Store over to a non-DRM format “in a heartbeat” if the big-four music companies would allow it. Jobs elucidates the options they have today: to stay as they are and watch a market fragment into proprietary formats, license FairPlay and watch it get compromised quicker than the blink of an eyelid, or convince the music industry that DRM has never, and will never work.

Interestingly, Jobs effectively issues a call to arms to the citizens of Europe to put pressure on the big four, both because we have been most vocal in criticizing DRM and as the music industry is effectively centered here. Where do I sign up?