Rian van der Merwe

Product manager • Designer • Speaker

🎵 Music recommendation: Phil Collins - Plays Well With Others

Phil Collins Plays Well With Others

Ok, work with me here. Phil Collins - Plays Well With Others is a new 4-CD (yes, cranky-pants, CD) compilation of songs that Phil Collins plays drums on. And it’s fantastic. As it says in the liner notes:

You almost certainly won’t like everything on it; Collins himself certainly doesn’t. But equally, you can’t really comprehend his contribution to rock and pop history without looking at the weeds as well as the blooms.

I honestly don’t think people appreciate how good of a drummer Phil Collins was. This is your chance to find out…

🎵 CHVRCHES live in Portland

Last night we went to see CHVRCHES at the beautiful Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall here in Portland. They are so much fun live. I’d also argue that calling them a “synth pop” band is doing them a huge disservice. They rocked hard last night.

Their US tour just started, so if you get a chance to go see them, do it!

I don’t think it’s news to anyone that we skim-read more. But this article makes a good point at the end:

As with deep viewing, the hunger for deep reading endures. We still read intricate, involving novels. We still seek out layered, contemplative writing online that resists the impulse to reduce itself to glibly articulate opinion. We still want to savor slowly gestated ideas and carefully chosen words. Even in a fast-moving age there is time for slow reading.

🎵 Here’s an interesting perspective on one of the benefits of streaming music from Ben Ratliff’s Every Song Ever: Twenty Ways to Listen in an Age of Musical Plenty:

Infinite access, unused or misused, can lead to an atrophy of the desire to seek out new songs ourselves, and a hardening of taste, such that all you want to do is confirm what you already know. But there is possibly something very good, too, about the constant broadcast and the powers of the shuffle and recommendation effects. There is a possibility that hearing so much music without specifically asking for it develops in the listener a fresh kind of aural perception, an ability to size up a song and contextualize it in a new or personal way, rather than immediately rejecting it based on an external idea of genre or style. It’s what happens in the moment of contextualization that matters: what you can connect it to, how you make it relate to what you know.

I think there’s some merit to the idea that streaming is freeing us from the rigid genres we usually identify with.

🎵 This article about the jazz scene in South Africa is very good and makes me happy:

South African jazz artists are now self-publishing their music at an increasing and unprecedented rate. The music is original and often contemptuous of commercial genre marketing categories.

This is Evernote, and I’m the guy in the last panel.


🎵 Music recommendation: On the Corner Where You Live by The Paper Kites

twelvefour by The Paper Kites was one of my favorite albums of 2015. Their new album — On the Corner Where You Live — came out on Friday and I’ve been listening to it nonstop. It’s more laid-back than twelvefour, but it has a quiet familiarity that is just perfect for where my head is at right now.

Vinyl Is Bigger Than We Thought. Much Bigger.

This is why I never buy vinyl on eBay any more. You just don’t know what you’re going to get:

Note that Discogs’ sales are growing, at roughly the same rate as new vinyl sales, while eBay’s sales have stagnated. Discogs is becoming the preferred marketplace for serious record buyers and sellers. That’s because Discogs insists on sellers submitting detailed metadata about music releases — including such things as identifiers, country of release, pressing information, artist credits, and conditions of both discs and sleeves — whereas eBay has looser metadata standards to encourage more casual sellers and buyers (and, of course, supports auctions). It takes more effort to list your records on Discogs, but collectors like having all that information.

📚🎵 Book recommendations: jazz and the creative process

I’ve been a little bit obsessed with the creative process of jazz musicians lately. I finished How to Listen to Jazz and Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece, and have now moved on to The History of Jazz. The books are certainly more interesting if you’re a jazz fan, but I think even if you’re not, there’s plenty to enjoy and take inspiration from.

Here’s one of my favorite stories. Turns out Miles Davis had imposter syndrome:


And here’s one more, about the improvisation process in jazz:

Don’t do that again

🎵 Rediscovering the joy of the album

I get nostalgic about weird things for long periods of time for no apparent reason. This week I’ve been obsessed with Alanis Morissette’s early work, as well as her later live shows on YouTube.

But let me digress for a bit.

Do you remember CD shopping? You know, that thing where you went to your local store once a week to see if there was anything new… Do you remember how muscle memory took over the minute you stepped into the store, as you deftly flicked CDs with one hand, caught them with the other? Do you remember the sound the CD cases made as they slapped against each other? How your eyes got really good at evaluating covers in a split second based on the important information — do I know this cover? If not, do I know this band? If I do, is this a new album?

I will never forget the sights and sounds and smells of CD shopping. There’s something else worth reflecting on, though: the finality of buying a CD with your hard-earned money. There is only that CD, and those songs, and nothing more. To use a parenting phrase, “you get what you get and you don’t throw a fit.” If you don’t like a song, tough luck. You’d better listen to it over and over until you like it, otherwise you’ve wasted your money, and that’s no good.

Today things are a little different, of course. We don’t suffer songs we don’t immediately like. If you have access to every song in the world, ever, the thing you can’t afford isn’t being stuck with the wrong album. The thing you can’t afford is listening to a song for more than 30 seconds if you don’t like it. There is too much else out there. Must explore! Must discover!

Which brings me back to Alanis Morissette. I kind of lost track of her work after Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie. It’s not that I stopped liking her music, I just kind of moved on. I didn’t even know that she made an album in 2008 called Flavors of Entanglement. I’ve been listening to that album all week, pretending like it’s a CD I just bought. It’s good album. Good, not great.

At least, that’s what I thought at first. But in listening to it front to back several times, and not giving myself the option to skip whenever I got a little bored, I discovered depth and meaning in the songs I didn’t feel when I first listened to it. You see, songs take time. They take time to write, they take time to arrange, they take time to produce and record and mix and master. And when we treat those songs with the respect they deserve, something weird happens. We start to understand them. And like them. And make them part of us.

I knew this, deep down, because that’s what it was like when I bought CDs. But somewhere along the line I forgot what it feels like to really live with an album for weeks on end. Doing this with Flavors of Entanglement enriched my life, and it made me rethink my extreme reliance on playlists.

Maybe this is something you can try too. Instead of your usual playlist, pick an album today. One album. Put it on repeat. Read up on it on Wikipedia. Don’t skip the “bad” songs. Maybe the finality of that — the edges — will do the same for you as it did for me: make my day just a little more calm and controlled.

Oh, one last thing about Alanis. “You Learn” is a great song and this live version of it makes me happy.