Saturday, October 11, 2008

Genius Testing

My iPod has been growing more into a full-time device, moving beyond a portable Walkman-equivalent and serving as my primary music source whenever I'm outside the house. (At home, I still swear by my Yamaha MusicCast audio server for all my music needs.) I've essentially given up on bringing cd's into the car, opting to plug the iPod into the audio jack. One thing I haven't spent much time doing, though, is creating playlists; for the most part, I tend to listen either to complete albums or Rachel Maddow podcasts. I'll occasionally go for shuffle mode, but with 90 gb of music & growing, the contrast between tunes can be too jarring to make shuffle mode really work (i.e. transitioning from a short Pixies track to a 20-minute Dead jam to the Pretty Things to King Crimson to Liz Phair). The down side is I end up often relying on old fallbacks and not always exploring the nether reaches of my collection (the one real advantage of shuffle, which can force you to listen to tracks you might otherwise have forgotten or passed over in favor of familiar favorites).

So, anyway, I finally gotting around to downloading last month's iTunes update with the new Genius program, which ostensibly creates automatic playlists built around a song of your choosing. Gave it a shot for the first time yesterday, and it was actually kinda cool. For the debut playlist, I selected a song off Death Cab For Cutie's latest album, which I haven't listened to much (because, again, when scrolling around while driving, it's usually more comfortable just to go with old faves like Transatlanticism or Plans). From that pick, Genius pulled together a 50-song playlist from my collection that I believe one would characterize as "Relatively Safe Semi-Recent College Radio Artists." It was fairly predictable -- the Shins, Vampire Weekend, Interpol, Wilco, Decemberists, Fleet Foxes, Bright Eyes, My Morning Jacket, Matt Pond PA, Sufjan Stevens. But a couple slightly off-track tunes made it a bit more interesting -- some Apples in Stereo, Iron & Wine, Yo La Tengo, Built to Spill, Neutral Milk Hotel. As with shuffle play, it was kinda enjoyable to hear a few songs I rarely play and might otherwise have totally forgotten (i.e. a fine track off R.E.M.'s new album that I think I listened to once when I bought it and haven't heard since).

So, hey, cool new toy, think I'll try it more often. I'm interested to see if there are ways to goose it so the playlist is a little less predictable (i.e. you'd think that by picking a downbeat Death Cab song, I'd get some obvious influences like, say, the Cure, but with the exception of the NMH track, everything else selected was from the same three-year time span). While, as a fanatic of the mix tape, I like to do my mixing myself, having a machine pull together a quickie playlist for the commute to work is a nifty convenience.

And a little video while we're at it...*

*NOTE: The song I plugged into Genius was actually "Your New Twin Sized Bed," one of my favorites from Narrow Stairs, but "Cath" has an official video.


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