On Blast #2

Our Editor's thoughts on Beats Music, and the music that we couldn't stop listening to this week.

Welcome to On Blast, a new weekly column/playlist where we share what music we're listening to, new and old.

Beats Music

words byLUIS TOVAR

Beats Music
I've literally had Beats Music on blast. I've spent so much of the week diving head-first into it that I had little time to really return to any one song or album - aside from one obvious exception, but more on that in a little while.

For the uninitiated, Beats Music - yes, the same Beats brand launched by Dr. Dre to sell pricy, subpar headphones with an overblown lower end - is the latest foray into the increasingly crowded world of online music streaming services. Unlike other services where the extent of my interest is met my desire to peruse through 20+ million song libraries, I actually feel connected to Beats.

Let me explain: I'm not saying it's perfect, and I won't get into the little things that bother me about it - hell, here's a brief list: still somewhat buggy web player; "heart"-ed songs aren't save anywhere; no hyperlinking on mobile; no embeddable web players; no messaging system; can't share music to specific user(s) - but undeniable is Beats' achievement: it is absolutely delightful to use. Not unlike an Apple product, it disappears when I need it to, but not once do I forget that its Beats that is giving me this experience.

Its greatest asset isn't in its cute, but so far superficial, "The Sentence" feature, or in its intuitive design (which seems to merge the best of Ive-era iOS and Metro), but it's found in its bleeding heart. Beats' human component, its expert curated playlists, is where the delight comes from. The staggering amount of human-made playlists across a wide, wide net of genres exemplifies a dedication to and love of music that I haven't felt from other services aimed at music fans. (Beats' spiritual and intellectual predecessor, MOG, was perhaps the only other service that came this close.) The human-made playlists include the typical iTunes-era celebrity-curated list (You'd be surprised—or not—at what Jay Z listens to at his house!) and more interestingly, genre- and artist-specific primers. My favorite Beats playlists are the ones which concern themselves in dissecting iconic artists' influences and influence. I've spent a long time listening to playlists highlighting the massive influence Boards of Canada and Prince have had on the music we listen to today.

That's nice and all, Lu, but is it worth $10 a month? It's true, Beats doesn't offer an ad supported freemium option for its service. It's pay only, which I respect - I don't mind dropping some dough on quality. In any case, ten bucks is a steal.

Merriweather Post Pavilion by Animal Collective
A Good Friend once told me that listening to AnCo is like stepping into a vortex. He's prone to hyperbole (aren't we all), but I immediately knew what he meant. Like listening to some of the best bands in the history of bands, putting on an Animal Collective album inspires not only goofy grins and drunken pagan dancing, but also fervent, unadulterated obsession. Almost every one of their thirteen releases will do this to me, but so few albums have captured my heart the way Merriweather Post Pavilion did on Christmas of 2008.

AnCo have always looked to the heavens and nature to help them make sense of the noise in their heads, and on MPP they've distilled their creativity and present it at its most basic and child-like. Every song is a mini-masterpiece. Stars dance and clash on "Daily Routine," pop perfection is made elemental and subaqueous in "My Girls," a terrible storm surges toward nirvana in "Brother Sport," celestial choruses abound gleefully, and a treasure trove of new sounds is waiting to be discovered, even five years after its release.



"Blind Willie McTell" by Bob Dylan
As Steve McQueen’s remarkable and unflinching “12 Years a Slave” continues to dominate the awards-season narrative, I’m drawn back to Bob Dylan’s recitation of America’s greatest shame. Like McQueen, Dylan sets wretchedness against natural splendor (“Smell that sweet magnolia blooming/ See the ghosts of slavery ships”). The lesser-known bluesman of the song’s title is our entryway into a spare and sighing tale of horror and its aftermath, from the modern era all the way back to the biblical subjugation of the Jewish people. “Blind Willie McTell” remains one of Dylan’s three or four greatest songs – full stop. And to think, it was left off his inferior Infidels to remain in the vault for years. On "Blind Willie McTell," Dylan bears witness to human misery with sonic transcendence, simply and with devastating command.

"Television Rules the Nation / Crescendolls" by Daft Punk
Here’s the surest proof that Daft Punk’s worst music can still birth great riches given the proper context. When paired with a booming live setting – and an incredible Discovery tune – “Television Rules the Nation” quickly converts from a flaccid album cut into a electrifying rave-up. The robots deserve every hosanna heaped upon them of late. But it’s worth noting Human After All was not a failure of songcraft, but merely a result of botched studio execution – a blunder they rectified, so completely and gloriously, on Random Access Memories.



“A Stone” by Okkervil River
The raw ache of Okkervil River’s Black Sheep Boy is nowhere more devastating than on “A Stone”, a weary, beautiful centerpiece on an album that never relinquishes control of your heart or your tear ducts. Will Sheff is a poet; look no further than that final verse.

“See You Through” by Bear Mountain
Bear Mountain dropped their debut album last year to little fanfare, but the vibrant “See You Through” rubs off so easily that you wont soon forget these guys. It is simply too unabashedly joyous to turn away from.

“First Breath After Coma” by Explosions in the Sky
Arguably the best song from what is arguably Explosion in the Sky’s best album, “First Breath After Coma” sounds like it’s surfacing from an immeasurable depth. Over its nine-and-change minutes, every instrument shivers as they build from climax to climax, barely leaving time for you to, uh, take a breath. I challenge you to find a more appropriately titled song.