12 Days of Christmas: My Picks

It’s that time of year again. Classes are over and finals are here to ruin my birthday and make the next week and a half (a very cold) hell. The only redeeming aspect is that Christmas comes after I’m done and in the mean time I can listen to plenty of Christmas music. I’m pretty open with my musical choices and Christmas music is no exception, but I do have a few favorites that I will play more often. So here is my top 12 holiday picks this year that I will be listening to over and over again as I trudge through finals:

Christmas Light, Coldplay- Coldplay’s one of my favorite bands and they released an excellent Christmas track this year. It’s a different take on Christmas, but they stuck to their style and made a great sweet and sentimental song. Plus the music video has some gratuitous shots of London and the Thames!

12 Days of Christmas, Straight No Chaser- This song’s been out for a few years now, but I still appreciate its clever arrangement and how it incorporates everything from Deck the Halls to Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel, to Africa. Always fun to listen to.

Feliz Navidad, Jose Feliciano- Helped me learn Spanish, lol!

Jingle Bell Rock, Bobby Helms- One of my favorite nontraditional Christmas classics.

A New York City Christmas, Rob Thomas- Rob Thomas is one of my favorite contemporary singers and he did an excellent Christmas song a few years ago. It makes me want to go to NYC every year.

A Mad Russian’s Christmas, Trans-Siberian Orchestra- What’s better than the Nutcracker, remixed with electric guitars?

Somewhere In My Memory, Home Alone- One of my favorite movies as a kid and this song just makes me want to be home for Christmas.

All I Want For Christmas Is You, NOTA- When it’s not overplayed, I like Mariah Carey’s All I Want For Christmas Is You, but I think this a capella version is even better. I love the horns and just the overall jazzy feel.

Christmas Time Is Here, Vince Guaraldi Trio- Classic song from a classic holiday film.

Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24, Trans-Siberian Orchestra- The song that introduced me to Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

White Christmas, Bing Crosby- Classic. Who doesn’t dream of a white Christmas?

Sleigh Ride, Boston Pops- To me, nothing says Christmas like this song. Perfection.

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Spotify Review

When it comes to digital media consumption in the UK, its easy to miss those innovations in the US that we take for granted. One of the first things many American students notice upon arriving here is the inability to access Hulu and Pandora. One acclaimed service that they have here but not in the US though is Spotify. Spotify is an online P2P music streaming service currently available only in Sweden, Finland, Norway, the UK, France, and Spain. Naturally, I thought I would take advantage of my presence here to try out this local delicacy. Currently, free Spotify accounts are only available by invite and even though I signed up when I first got here, I only got my invite last week. After playing around with it for a week, I think I’ve got a good feel for the product and here are my thoughts and some screenshots for those of you across the pond.

First the good aspects. The user interface is primitive but easy to use (in fact it reminds me a little bit of iTunes). The sound quality is great and there is almost no lag, thanks to Spotify’s P2P streaming technology. According to a recent speech by their CEO this reduces some of the pressure of its enormous bandwidth consumption. (On a side note I’m still a little confused on how P2P streaming works. It’s not like P2P downloading where you actually have the files on your computer. Is it just mirroring off your computer?)

The library is also pretty solid. Of course you have your top 40, classics like Elvis, the Rolling Stones, and Elton John, and some lesser known artists like Bon Iver and the a capella group Straight No Chaser. They also have a good amount of live albums and movie soundtracks. The only notable absences I could find were The Beatles and Pink Floyd but they’re hard to find online anywhere. Additional features include Internet radio and the ability to share playlists with other Spotify users. They also have a partnership with 7digital if you want to buy and download any song. Currently, the free version has banner ads and a 30 second audio commercial every 3 songs or so. It’s still a lot less disruptive and obnoxious than another UK streaming service, we7.

Now for my complaints. First you can’t just stream directly from their website, you have to install Spotify on your computer first. I understand this is technically necessary because it’s P2P, but it restricts your access to computers with Spotify installed. If you want to use Spotify on your phone, you have to pay £9.99 a month for a Premium account (also includes ad-free and the ability to store 3,333 songs locally). The radio is pretty plain and doesn’t learn like Pandora. I also want them to open the free accounts up to everyone because right now I can’t share playlists with anyone.

I’m not saying I don’t like Spotify. It’s pretty good for sampling new songs and listening to songs or albums I wouldn’t necessarily like enough to download. I was just a little underwhelmed after all the hype and wait. To me it feels a lot like Rhapsody in the US although the free Rhapsody account only lets you listen to 25 songs a month. I think it has a lot of potential once it opens up in more countries. It definitely has the right idea to move songs into the cloud whereas iTunes is going to see a decline in a few years. However, I also have doubts about its long term sustainability since according to their Wikipedia article, the company reported a $4.4 million loss in 2008. Right now, I’m just not compelled enough to subscribe to a Premium account even though I think that’s where they’re looking to grow.

What’s the final verdict? I’ll definitely keep using it for the next two and half months that I’m here. When I come home in June though I’ll probably get cut off unless I go through a UK VPN and its not worth the hassle. So unfortunately as of right now, Spotify is fun to play around with but not a long term keeper.

Rockin’ the Suburbs

 

Ben Folds

Ben Folds

Yep, the one and only Ben Folds was at BC this Friday, and boy did he put on a show.  Ben played for about an hour and hit almost all my favorites including You Don’t Know Me, Brick, Rockin’ the Suburbs, Annie Waits, Landed, Zak and Sara, Not the Same, and a finale of Bitches Ain’t Shit. The only song I wanted to hear that was not played was The Luckiest, but I guess a slow song like that would have killed a lot of the energy. The man’s piano and performance skills are absolutely amazing. I wish I was half the piano player he was…or even a quarter. One really cool trick he did was put Altoid tins on the piano strings to get the synthesizer-like sound for Free Coffee. I really want to try that on my own now, although I don’t think it’s too healthy for the piano. Maybe I’ll try it on one of the pianos in Lyons.

The other headliner Friday night, Lupe Fiasco, was not as impressive. I wasn’t too familiar with Lupe going in–I only know one of his songs, Superstar–so I wasn’t really sure what to expect. If Lupe was hoping to win me over with Friday night, he failed miserably. First of all, it took more than an hour to reset the stage for Lupe which completely killed any energy after Ben Folds. When Lupe finally came on the stage, he was loud but that was about it. The man belted out all his songs with no dynamics at all and instead of the “Cool Lu” voice the entire set sounded more like Linkin Park’s unrestrained yelling. Lupe also pranced around the stage with no logical choreography like a little kid at a BounceU. At times he appeared out of breath and other times drunk. Worst of all his entire set played out like a bizarre cross between an episode of Behind the Music and an infomertial. Honestly you do not need to take 5 minutes in the middle of your show to tell everybody to go out and buy you and your friends’ albums. Heck Jukebox the Ghost was less desperate than that.

Speaking of which, the opening act for the show was pretty interesting. Their subject matter was certainly strange (the Antichrist and the Apocalypse) but I liked their sound (hooray keyboard!). It was kind of a cross between Death Cab for Cutie and Jack Penate perhaps? Anyway, I would be interested in following them in the future. Lupe? Not so much.