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iPod Chicanery Nearly Derailed by iTunes

My attempt to listen to the entire contents of my iPod on random without skipping hit a snag: the necessity of charging. Once iTunes loaded, I said goodbye to my old random playlist. I had 167 songs down before iTunes intruded on my fun, but I realized that I could sort by last listening date, which made it easy to grab the rest of the songs, put them in a playlist, and shuffle that playlist. The purity of iPod Chicanery has been lost, but at least I can still continue with the project.

I'm currently near the end of song 193, John Coltrane's "Locomotion." Here are the recent trends, highlights, and lowlights of note:

Biggest Rebound: After almost nothing happened in the first few minutes of Múm's "Sunday Night Just Keeps on Rolling," a horrible condition for late-night driving, I almost reconsidered my fondness for Yesterday Was Dramatic—Today Is Okay. But as I remembered that Múm songs have a tendency to begin with little or fall apart halfway through, "Sunday Night" started to gain steam, helping keep me awake until I reached my destination.

Stealthy Long Song: I seemed to recall something being amiss with the Rolling Stones' "Going Home" (from the US edition of Aftermath, but it wasn't until the three-minute mark that I picked up my iPod and recognized that eight more minutes remained. Not necessarily a bad thing, mind you, but I don't expect eleven-minute jaunts from the Rolling Stones. I leave that to Tarentel.

Best Pairing: Hearing Múm's "Smell Memory" (my favorite track from Yesterday Was Dramatic followed by Clark's "Roulette Thrift Run" made particular sense in terms of genre, but following up the ebb and flow of the former with the emphatic pulse of the latter just clicked. "Roulette Thrift Run" wasn't my favorite song from Body Riddle, but this combination helped it step out from the shadow of "The Autumnal Crash," "Ted," and "Frau Wav."

Surprise Appearance: I drew an absolute blank when Solbakken's "Relaxing Yourself to Death" came on, but then remembered that I had put the excellent Klonapet on, drawing from the strength of "Love Interest," "Space Bordello," and "Dung." My blank might have been due to how Solbakken is Dutch, but sounds like late '80s/early '90s Boston indie rock (Volcano Suns, Flying Nuns).

Breakthrough: I've always appreciated Television's Marquee Moon, but when "Elevation" came on, I didn't think about that and actually, you know, enjoyed it. Tom Verlaine's vocals have always bothered me a bit, but considering how many contemporary bands do a similar style of slightly unhinged vocals, I've probably had that impulse tempered since I last pulled out Marquee Moon.

Worst Timing: I considered blowing off this entire project on Monday when I needed something to drown out the din of nearby conferences at my office but not something that featured prominent vocals. After listening to Accelera Deck's "Passerine," which worked well with Debord's The Society of the Spectacle, I tried (and failed) to listen to Echo & the Bunnymen's "Bring on the Dancing Horses" while retaining any knowledge of the text. Seeing that Bottomless Pit's excellent "The Cardinal Movements" was up next, I opted to put away the iPod and save that song for the ride home.

iPod Chicanery, Part One

When I purchased my 8gb iPod Nano back in October, I recognized that my listening habits would change, since the switch from my 40gb Creative Zen Touch required a significant paring-down of my listening pile. My initial idea was to only include my favorite albums and recent acquisitions, but my usual habit of listening to all of the music on shuffle proved this inclination to be a mistake. Sure, I loved almost all of it, but I got overly skip-happy in routine searches for the perfect song for a given moment.

After dumping a number of standards (roughly five gigs of them), I filled the remaining space with records I hadn’t heard in a while (Arab Strap’s Philophobia, Glossary’s This Is All We’ve Learned about Living, Dis-’s The Historically Troubled Third Album), records I knew I would (cough, should) like but had never heard all the way through (Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s I See a Darkness, Wire’s Chairs Missing and 154, DJ Shadow’s Preemptive Strike, Fugazi’s Red Medicine), and a few different genre excursions.

Most of my iPod listening occurs in the car, so it didn’t take long for this new digitized stack of records to suffer my “next song, please” habits. After a disappointing hour of driving, I decided that I would re-shuffle the songs and listen to all 1164 of them in that order, all the way through. No skipping. I’m not listening to my iPod exclusively, only when I regularly would.

This project started on January 11. I’ve managed to listen to 113 songs in that period—most of them have been in the car, but walking and reading have also been accompanied by the whims of my consumer electronic device. In retrospect, I would have liked to update every day that I listened to my iPod (I’ll try to update more regularly now), but here are the high and low points so far:

Best Reward: I’d heard Will Oldham before, particularly enjoying Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy’s Master and Everyone, but I hadn’t given much attention to I See a Darkness despite its critical acclaim. But when the title track came on while driving down Cambridge Street, I was captivated. I wanted the next traffic light to stay red until the song finished and the rest of the record to play in order. Neither of these happened, but “I See a Darkness” is still the best song that I’ve heard thanks to this endeavor. The entire song is remarkably affecting, but the best part is when Oldham says “buddy” in the second verse.

Most Trying Song: Accelera Deck’s “As Always” came up on the drive back from Boston College on Tuesday night, a poor time for a very gradual, fourteen minute swell of processed guitar. The first half of Pop Polling has great songs, whereas the second half (which closes with “As Always”) is more structurally and sonically severe. Perhaps worse than the first eight minutes of exceptional quiet that begins “As Always” is the knowledge that the jarring noise of “Sunskull” still waits in the wings.

Excellent Old Favorite: The math-rock riffs and monotone sarcasm of “Do All of the Good Ones Have Muslim Names?” mark one of the best moments on The Historically Troubled Third Album, which sounds like it could use a mastering job. I don’t run into too many Dis- fans nowadays, but that record holds up well in the songwriting department.

Best Stretch: Juno’s “When I Was in ____” came on during the final part of my drive to campus on Wednesday. “The French Letter” and “January Arms” made up much of my drive home. I was almost disappointed that these songs weren’t spread out over the entire span. Almost.

Begrudging Acceptance: After hearing the title track from Emperor Tomato Ketchup, I thought “Stereolab sounds like a car commercial for socialists.” “Cybele’s Reverie” is still great, but I doubt I’ll ever be able to sit through an entire album.

Worst Timing: Tarentel’s “For Carl Sagan” came on part of the way to Chestnut Hill this morning and I knew that I wouldn’t make it through the entire song before parking. After removing the key from the ignition I realized that I had the final four minutes of feedback to listen to at a later time. Splitting up the entire arc of that song ruined the listening experience—who wants to come back to the closing waves?

Best Timing: I walked home from MIT Friday night to the aching mock-closure of Pavement’s “Fillmore Jive.” Guitar solos flooded the crisp evening air.