Halfway Home

When Tweetbot introduced the new Topics feature a few weeks back I didn't see a use case for myself. Last week, that changed. I once wrote I'd be recommending music here and then went on to write a couple of reviews only to find that it takes a better understanding of music theory to properly convey what's good about an album. I spent a lot of time waffling over getting the descriptions of the albums I was recommending just right. I wanted the words to convey the physical and emotional feel I would get from an album but I couldn't articulate it to the degree I wanted in longer form.

Still wanting to recommend music and having a two hour commute via public transit five days a week I realized that I could use the new topics feature to keep an ongoing log of recommendations. I'm always looking for great albums that I can listen to straight through and aren't comprised of a few worthwhile songs with a lot of filler. These are the albums that will make their way to the Halfway Home Twitter Collection. There are also tons of singles that will make their way into the collection. I'm also thinking of sharing podcast episodes that stand out on the commute. Since I'm an Apple Music subscriber, that's where I'm linking to with these recommendations. I've also created an Apple Music playlist that you can subscribe to if you use the service. If this is the absolute worst use case of someone using Twitter to you, just mute #halfhome in your Twitter client of choice.

I'm a week in and the playlist is already over a hundred songs deep. I'm sure I'll slow down eventually but I have a ton of music that I think is worth your time and I have a dedicated time to listen to what's new and scope out great artists as new music is released. You can find links to access everything below. I hope you enjoy it!

Twitter Collection

Apple Music Playlist

Move to Apple Music

Move to Apple Music Logo

When Apple Music launched nearly three months ago there was only one option to move libraries and playlists from Spotify or rdio and it was cumbersome and time constrained at best. Now that we're nearing the end of the three month trial I've needed to embark on migrating my wife's music from Spotify over to Apple Music so we can cancel Spotify. Her Spotify music library is pretty small at about 1,000 songs spread across 5 playlists but manually migrating them was not what I was looking to spend my weekend doing. Last night I checked to see if there were any new solutions to automate this and was pleasantly surprised to find an app simply called Move to Apple Music.

Migrating Songs

Right off the bat I need to note that Move to Apple Music is only available for Mac. You'll also need to ensure you're running iTunes 12.2 or newer. If you meet the system requirements you're all set. You can test the application out with one playlist and up to 15 songs to see how everything works. After that you'll need to purchase a license for $5 that covers a maximum of two computer installs. The application walks you through the process of authenticating Spotify or rdio, hijacking iTunes and then presenting a list of the playlists from your Spotify or rdio account to select what you want to move. That bit about hijacking iTunes is the secret sauce of the application. You're prompted to love a song that's already in your iTunes library and MTAM (using a local proxy that it has running at this point) uses that traffic as the trigger to tap into Apple Music's API and pull songs from the Spotify or rdio playlists you've marked to migrate, matches them with Apple Music's database and adds those songs to your iCloud music library. I find the whole process very clever and surprisingly effective. The main downside is the speed of the process as there is a 30 second delay per song to avoid overloading Apple's API and getting blacklisted. This equated to seven and a half hours for my wife's initial 800 song migration and will likely take a few days for my 5,000 songs across playlists in Spotify. That still beats the weeks of work it would've taken to do this manually.

Playlist Migration and Unmatched Tracks

The playlist migration is the second (and much faster) part of Move to Apple Music. Once the music has migrated you're given the option to export an XML file that can be imported to iTunes to create those playlists containing the songs that were matched. You're also given an option to export a text document with the songs that weren't matched in the process. In my case this included 25 of 800 songs for Courtney's transfer and I was able to find about 10 these songs manually and add them to the Apple Music library.


Move to Apple Music is the simplest set-it-and-forget-it method to migrate Spotify or rdio libraries to Apple Music. While I focused on the technical details of how the application works I'm thoroughly impressed with its ease of use and reliability on first run. In less than 5 minutes you'll be migrating your music with complete ease. At $5, it's a steal and will save almost any switcher more than that in their time.

Buy it here

Apple Music Ain't Perfect

7-24-15 Update: Jim has mostly gotten the issue of the missing music sorted out. Unfortunately it required Apple intervening and explaining the process and even then it's a mess to understand. There's still a lot ahead to make Apple Music the mainstream product it should be.

Apologies for the post title. I'm feeling southern today I guess.

There have been plenty of complaints to go along with the praise for Apple Music over it's first few weeks but yesterday's Apple Music is a nightmare and I'm done with it post by Jim Dalrymple is by far the most damning account that I've read. Here's Jim writing about what I find to be the most offensive and concern worthy part of his whole experience:

As if all of that wasn’t enough, Apple Music gave me one more kick in the head. Over the weekend, I turned off Apple Music and it took large chunks of my purchased music with it. Sadly, many of the songs were added from CDs years ago that I no longer have access to. Looking at my old iTunes Match library, before Apple Music, I’m missing about 4,700 songs. At this point, I just don’t care anymore, I just want Apple Music off my devices.

I trusted my data to Apple and they failed. I also failed by not backing up my library before installing Apple Music. I will not make either of those mistakes again.

That part about backing up his library before installing Apple Music is likely to cause most nerds to shrug off Jim's frustration as a one-off issue that he should've planned ahead to avoid. This is where I point to Jason Snell's further elaboration on the issues Apple Music has had as of late:

Yesterday, Apple had a pretty severe cloud-services outage. And with it went my access to Apple Music. Most of my music listening takes place on a Mac without much of an iTunes library, so I’m largely playing music stored in the cloud. Yesterday, the music stopped. My Mac wouldn’t play anything. My iPhone wouldn’t play more than a few saved tracks. I ended up spending most of the day listening to music via Home Sharing from the Mac mini in my house that’s got a copy of my entire music library.

There was also another (shorter) outage last Friday, when I repeatedly received a message informing me that “Cloud Music Library was not responding (503)” and that I should check my firewall software. When your error messages conjure Windows 95-era Microsoft, you’re doing it wrong.

Between outages and data loss I'm thinking the beta label would've been proper for Apple Music thus far. It's not that it's unusable, I actually think it's pretty great, but it comes with a slew of power user pre-reqs to avoid potential catastrophe. I imagine being a Genius at the Apple Store and having to face someone who lost a large chunk of music because they tried Apple's new music service. There's no easy way to explain that it's brand new and these things happen. I doubt they'll be doling out iTunes gift cards to repair the relationship with those who've lost music they (hopefully) paid for. So with that said, please, please, please keep good backups and tread lightly with Apple Music for now.

Apple Music and Last FM on iOS

Kirk McElhearn, writing about the lack of syncing of the Recently Played playlist between the Mac and iOS on Apple Music:

This is a huge mistake. If I’ve listened to some music through a playlist on Apple Music, I may want to go back and check what I heard, to listen to certain songs again, add them to my music library, or check out more music by some of the artists I heard. Especially if I’m listening on a mobile device and didn’t have time to note what I heard.

This is frustrating but is a perfect problem for Last FM to solve[1]. I wrote about Last FM as a part of my switch to Apple Music last week:

Last FM is like a journal for music listening and is a required part of my music listening experience. I like having a running log of what I’ve listened to and knowing that I can look something I’ve listened to up with ease. I also like sharing what I listen to with the world because music is a communal experience. There is little in the world that feels as good as finding and sharing an artist that you fall in love with. I want to contribute to that ecosystem and Last FM automates that process. The method of capturing a track that you’re listening to and adding it to your listening history is known as scrobbling on Last FM. Where Spotify integrates scrobbling natively, iTunes and Music on iOS don’t. In order to scrobble your listening history to Last FM you’ll need a third party application on Windows, iOS and Mac OS X. Here are the applications I’m using.

Since writing about the methods I use to scrobble from Apple Music I’ve found that it’s not as cut and dry as everything getting scrobbled when it comes to the Music app on iOS. Florian Eckerstorfer explains:

First of all, scrobbling works for everything that is in My Music (that is, your library). It does not matter if the song is stored locally, streamed from iTunes Match, streamed from Apple Music, or a song from Apple Music that was made available offline. The same is true for playlists, scrobbling works for you local playlists, as well as Apple Music Playlists. But now things get complicated. Let’s take a look at the For You and New sections.

  • If you play a song, album, or playlist directly in the For You section it will not scrobble.
  • If you play from the detail view of a playlist that you previously added to My Music it scrobbles.
  • If you play a playlist directly from the For You section it will not scrobble.
  • If you play a song, or album that you previously added to My Music from the detail view it will not scrobble.
  • If you search for a song, album, or artist and play from the search results it will not scrobble.
  • Everything in Radio, including Beats 1 will not scrobble.

Basically, only music in My Music and Playlists will scrobble, with the one exception of saved playlists.

As I wrote previously, the difficulties of using Apple Music are real and extend beyond the multitude of features buried throughout. I’d love to see Apple collaborate with third parties like Last FM to extend Apple Music but the focus should first go to simplifying the existing UI. Luckily Last FM integration isn’t lost, it’s just cumbersome for the moment; much like Apple Music itself. That said, I’m still loving the service and listening to music more than I have since college. I’d call that a tie.

  1. And makes my need for a workflow seem a lot less crazy.  ↩

My Switch to Apple Music

I can distinctly remember the summer of 2003. I was only a year into working in IT and realizing that I could seriously pursue this as a career. I was working two jobs, imaging Macs and performing various summer related tasks for my school district’s IT department during the day and serving up corn dogs, pizza and fried cheese on a stick (yes, really) at local fairs in the evenings and on weekends. I had just purchased my first iPod, the iTunes Music Store had recently launched and I was pouring a steady stream of my earnings into it. I spent over $500 that summer building the foundation of my music library and discovering new artists. It was exhilarating to have the vast landscape of music available to download on my iBook G4 using my Treo 650’s Edge connection[1] with the tethering that I wasn’t supposed to be able to access. That summer opened me up to a world that my protected upbringing had previously been able to easily divert by driving past the record store and turning K-Love up on the radio. Over the next eight years I’d spend hundreds of hours building my iTunes library to the nearly/merely 13,000 songs that have made the trek with me through a slew of computers and migrations. Then it all changed.

When I first heard about Spotify in 2011 I thought “That makes total sense.” after my brain processed the idea of having millions of songs instantly accessible in my pocket at one monthly cost. I’d been running Subsonic to have always-on access to my music library on my iPhone but it was fiddly and required me to maintain it which, as any nerd knows, takes way more time than you think. The convenience was as important as the music library to me at that point. Fast forward to today and I’ve become a Spotify addict. It’s one of the few apps I use daily and it’s lead me to discover some really terrific artists just like the iTMS had done for me as a teenager. With that said, I’ve switched to Apple Music for a multitude of reasons and with some changes to my music workflow[2]. Here’s my impressions after a week with the service.

My non-native homescreen

Why I’m Switching

Back to Native

For the majority of my time using an iPhone I’ve had a home screen that primarily consists of apps Apple didn’t create. Until 3 weeks ago the only Apple apps on my home screen were Messages, Safari and Settings as seen above. I’ve been a Google Voice user since the service launched in 2009 and have gone through many iterations of how I use it on iOS including jailbreaking my phone to integrate it with the native Phone and Messages applications. Currently I use Hangouts to manage the handful of phone calls that I make and to text with my friends and family that don’t use iMessage. Since moving to Chicago and starting to work with a new team I’ve had more hurdles than ever before explaining how to get ahold of me between my carrier issued (or burner as it’s lovingly referred to by my coworkers) phone number and my Google Voice Number. Google hasn’t helped the situation as they continue to phase Google Voice out and roll these features into Hangouts which has a lackluster interface that’s shoved into GMail almost as an afterthought on the desktop. Google Voice continues to be cumbersome to use on mobile if you’re not on Android where it’s services are integrated into the OS and might not keep me around much longer.

While Spotify isn’t nearly as fragmented as Google Voice has become, the announcement of Apple Music prompted me to dust off iTunes on my iMac and I realized how much of my personal music library isn’t a part of Spotify’s catalog and how much of it I miss having in my music rotation. While Spotify’s desktop application allows you to intermingle your local music files with the the Spotify offering, the mobile applications don’t. This leads me to use the native Music application on my iOS device to access a range of music from The Paper Raincoat to Girl Talk[3] to Taylor Swift (yes, really) who famously pulled her music from Spotify last year. With Apple Music all of this music is intertwined with the streaming component of the service and provide a fully rounded music library. This is the dream come true for me.

Outside of the one library to rule them all, Apple Music fulfills two nuanced features that are hugely important to me. The first is true background sync. I have a two hour commute via The “L” most days of the week and am underground for about half of the trip. For commuters like me offline sync isn’t a nicety, it’s a requirement. While Spotify has background syncing, it isn’t able to truly run in the background. If the application isn’t actively playing music or open and left open then syncing stops. When you have playlists that are 1,000s of songs deep, the time involved in getting the whole playlist synced for offline playback requires you to babysit Spotify for hours every time you restore your device. Being that I do this about twice a year, it’s become more of a nuisance to get Spotify ready for daily use. I’ve been using the native Music app for the last three weeks and started using Apple Music when it launched last Tuesday with no offline sync issues after one request to do so for a few large playlists.

The second feature that I’m most interested in is the sound quality of Apple Music. While sheer numbers would indicate that Spotify still offers a higher quality file, I will refer you to Kirk McElhearn’s post regarding the quality of Apple Music’s tracks that pre-emptively refutes that claim. I believe he’s correct in the expectation that Apple Music provides higher quality files through the AAC/MP4 codec. So far in my usage of the service I’m glad to have found that iTunes is downloading M4P files to a new folder within the iTunes folder structure. These files are nested in a new Apple Music subfolder in the same way that the music I have accumulated over the years is nested within the Music subfolder of my iTunes directory on my Mac. I much prefer this method of offline music storage to Spotify’s obscuring of the file names and folder structure within a buried Library folder. It can be easily managed and the fact that I’m getting copies of the songs just as though I’d bought them from the iTMS (albeit with DRM wrapped tightly around the Apple Music files) instills a sense that I’m getting what I paid for in a way that Spotify’s offline syncing just doesn’t. The perceived value of Apple Music is definitely greater for a nerd like me.

Beats 1

Beats 1 is touted as perhaps the biggest differentiator between Apple Music and other music services. Initially I wasn’t sure that it would be something that would grab on with most users and that it might become a bolted on radio station in the same way that radio has always been bolted on in iTunes and Music on iOS. After my first few days with Apple Music I can say that while I’ve enjoyed tuning in and letting Zane Lowe, Julie Adenuga and Ebro program my listening experience I’ve been more enthralled to see the impact Beats 1 has had on the people around me. I’ve watched Beats 1 instill intrigue in those who weren’t really aware of Apple’s new music service. Beats 1 looks to be not only the biggest differentiator but also the biggest feature that will bring Apple Music to the forefront of the music service mind space. My coworkers have all upgraded iOS and iTunes to fully use Beats 1 and favorite tracks they discover when listening. Clients asked me about Beats 1 while I was on-site with them over the past week. Our work group chat has had more after hours conversation and it’s been about Beats 1. We’re all tuned in and discussing the good and bad about what’s being played and how well the DJs handle the transitions and mix of music. It’s brought about the nostalgia of listening to the radio where we’re all on the same page enjoying and discovering music together. I think Neil Cybart explains it best in his Beats 1 is the New iPod and Apple’s Latest Bet post:

Consider how during what was arguably the most important day in Apple’s music history, nearly the entire discussion was centered around Beats 1. The 30 million songs now available for streaming are nice, but we are already used to that with other streaming sites. Lots of curated music playlists are helpful, but something seems to be missing. Apple’s intention on launch day was clear. The buzz surrounded Beats 1. What was Zane Lowe saying? Who was he playing? What are other people thinking?

It’s been fascinating to watch people I know who are paid users of other services all start conversing about switching to Apple Music. Beats 1 has been a core driver in these possible conversions and proves that Apple’s investment in building great programming that’s driven by proven tastemakers and the artists themselves was a bet that will pay dividends.

Workflow Changes

I listen to music on multiple devices and am a longstanding last.fm user. Spotify has made the process of remotely controlling your library and scrobbling tracks to Last FM natively from their applications easier over the last few years. These processes are different (in both good and bad ways) with Apple Music so I wanted to provide some context on those thinking about switching.

Last FM integration

Last FM is like a journal for music listening and is a required part of my music listening experience. I like having a running log of what I’ve listened to and knowing that I can look something I’ve listened to up with ease. I also like sharing what I listen to with the world because music is a communal experience. There is little in the world that feels as good as finding and sharing an artist that you fall in love with. I want to contribute to that ecosystem and Last FM automates that process. The method of capturing a track that you’re listening to and adding it to your listening history is known as scrobbling on Last FM. Where Spotify integrates scrobbling natively, iTunes and Music on iOS don’t. In order to scrobble your listening history to Last FM you’ll need a third party application on Windows, iOS and Mac OS X. Here are the applications I’m using.

Mac OS X: Simplify
I first found out about Simplify from Brett Terpstra when he started creating jackets for Simplify and created the beautiful and simple Sidecar jacket which I use to this day. Amongst the many features that Simplify provides for music application management and information is scrobbling support for the foremost music application on your Mac. I primarily use Simplify for the information on the current track and scrobbling. Simplify is $4.99 and is available on the Mac App Store.
Alternatives: LastFM Scrobbler for Mac OS X or SimpleScrobbler

iOS: QuietScrob
One of the biggest limitations I expected on iOS with scrobbling is that the application needs to be running at the forefront for real time scrobbling of what’s playing in the Music app on iOS. This expectation stems from my time before Spotify when I would jailbreak in order to have the Music application or Subsonic scrobble in real time. While you no longer needs to jailbreak iOS to do this, it’s still not perfect.

If you’re like me, you don’t want the possibility of any tracks being missed during this process. Initially I was going to recommend the combination of QuietScrob and CloudScrob to ensure this wouldn’t happen. Unfortunately I had an issue with duplicate, triplicate and quadruplicate scrobbles being uploaded for the same play of a song and skewing the data when using both applications so I had to pick one application and I went with the former.

QuietScrob is beautifully designed and runs in the background using background app refresh to scrobble in as close to real time as you’re going to get on iOS right now. It’s the set it and forget it approach to scrobbling. I also think QuietScrob’s free to paid conversion method is clever and effective. The application is free to install but requires you to open the app and watch a video ad in order to unpause scrobbling after so many tracks have been scrobbled. You can remove the ads for a one-time $0.99 in-app purchase if you like the application. In the short time I’ve been using QuietScrob I’ve had a few instances where I’d listened to music and noticed that it hadn’t been scrobbled. This was typically after a device reboot but it still didn’t fit my expectation of 100% tracking of my listening history. QuietScrob doesn’t (at least for me) look at your listening history in order to fill in the gaps since the app was last running. If you’re looking to ensure nothing is missed and are willing to remember to open an application regularly then CloudScrob may be a good alternative for you (Just don’t use it in tandem with QuietScrob).

CloudScrob is an incredibly simple app that looks at the timestamps on songs in iOS, compares them to what’s already been scrobbled on your Last FM account and scrobbles the tracks that aren’t already listed in your listening history. I’ve found it to be 100% accurate and the most dependable way to ensure nothing is missed. Unfortunately I don’t want to have to remember to open the application regularly to ensure my profile is up to date so I’m sticking with QuietScrob as my primary method to scrobble from iOS. CloudScrob is $0.99 on the App Store.

Alternatives: Scrobbler for iOS or SmartPlayer

Remote Control

When I’m cooking and doing other chores at home I like to have music broadcasting from our iMac and to other speakers through airplay (that setup is another post in itself). I need to be able to control my music while I’m busy without needing to stop off at the iMac to do so. Spotify Connect has enabled this type of control from my iPhone for awhile now and I’ve grown accustomed to having this feature. Luckily Apple has long offered remote control of iTunes using their Remote application so I’m not at a loss in making the switch. Apple is actually able to take things a step further with the Apple Watch to provide these controls on your wrist and it’s become my new standard for remote control of my music.


I started writing this post before Apple Music launched and have continued writing it through my first week with the service. There are important features that come with Apple Music that I didn’t cover here as it wasn’t what I set out to write about but they’re clear advantages for the service. Siri integration is the most obvious and unexpectedely useful part of Apple Music, especially with the Apple Watch. It’s worked beautifully the handful of times I’ve used it and it never fails to delight me when it does. Unfortunately the additional features are a double edged sword that lead to a UI that’s working to include a decade of features on top of everything that’s new about the service. This leaves a hefty UI with what feels like a lot of application easter eggs that provide a steep learning curve for most iOS users. While Apple Music has plenty of hurdles in it’s UI and expanding feature bloat, it’s ability to finally provide a truly all-in-one music library is enough to make it my primary music service. The native integration with the OS, curated discovery and artist driven communal listening experience on Beats 1 are just the icing on the cake.

  1. Remember Edge? Those were the days!  ↩

  2. Sigh, every good nerd has their workflow for how they consume anything. It’s a blessing and a curse.  ↩

  3. I’m not a dunce. Yes, Girl Talk is on Spotify, but not all of his music is.
    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~  ↩

YouTube Escape #1

If you've ever followed a link to YouTube and found yourself looking back on an hour that you wish you could get back then I hope to be of some assistance with the occasional YouTube escape. These will be spontaneous trips to YouTube for things that are worth your time.

Today's escape started with the official lyric video for Death Cab for Cutie's first single from their upcoming eighth studio album Kintsugi. The song is titled "Black Sun" and it makes me excited for what's to come on the new album.

From there I found the intro to a YouTube playlist of music videos and performances that Ben Gibbard and Nick Harmer had created in anticipation of their 2011 album Codes and Keys. In it, Harmer mentions The Decemberists at the same time that I noticed an NPR Tiny Desk concert with The Decemberists in the watch next sidebar and jumped over to it.

This little acoustic set featured three songs from their then-new album The King is Dead which is my favorite Decemberists album to date. The three piece ensemble's pure talent is showcased in three songs.

"Down by the Water"
"Rox in the Box"
"June Hymn"

From this Tiny Desk concert I jumped into Iron & Wine's appearance on the concert series and was amazed at how quickly 17 minutes can go by. Sam Beam is an amazing and engaging singer and songwriter with a humility that comes through in his awkward but honest talk between songs.

Iron & Wine played 4 songs in the set:
"Half Moon"
"Big Burned Hand"
"Tree By The River"
"Naked As We Came"

All three of the videos are worth your time even if you've never heard of these bands. I would encourage you to take 35 minutes to catch some great music from truly talented artists.

Play It Forward 2015

Play it forward 2015

At the beginning of December Spotify released its Year in Music 2014 feature which sums up the top music and trends on Spotify for 2014. The feature also allows users to view this information based on their own Spotify usage. This is the second year I've used this feature and while others find it provides a surprising retrospective of their taste in music, it's something I find compelling about using Spotify. Personally this kind of data is why I love Spotify and have adopted it as my primary music application/service. My 2014 Year in Music doesn't conform to all aspects of what I would've expected for myself but it is an accurate representation of how I've used the service this year. The weeks and months following Riley's birth were full of late night sessions of Rockabye Baby's many lullaby covers of popular artists that was a much needed break from traditional lullaby songs which is why the winter months were dominated by the group. The spring brought about a renaissance of my interest in The City Harmonic when my grandmother surprised us in coming to town to meet Riley. Summer months allow me to open the windows in my car which requires the bass and lyrical thrust of Lecrae's fantastic new album Anomaly. Over the last few months of the year with the Fall came a lot of changes for my family and a newfound inspiration to participate and enjoy life and not live to work but rather to take a step back and realize that I want to work to live. I couldn't think of another artist that sums this up for me other than the polarizing Owl City. I'm embarrassed to say that I've debated sharing my Year in Music for fear of what it opinions may be formed about my own taste in music but over the last few weeks I've come to find that I'm confident in my taste in music and find it to be one of my favorite things to discover and write about.

After going through the stats for 2014, Spotify offers to create a playlist titled Play It Forward in your library that takes what it knows about your taste in music and provides 30 songs to get you going for the new year. I was nervous that having so much lullaby music at the beginning of the year might really skew this playlist but I can't find any traces of children's music in the selections Spotify made for me. To be honest I'm rather surprised at the accuracy of what's been created for me and have found some great new music from this playlist. It's to the point that I want more than 30 songs as I'm already beginning to wear some of these new tracks out. If you're a Spotify user and are looking to find something new that's custom tailored to your listening habits I would highly recommend using the Year in Music feature to create your Play It Forward playlist and to take a listen to mine.

Christmas Music 2014

Casey Liss posted a few of his favorite Christmas albums last week. Two of them have been getting plenty of play this year on the Sonos at Carole's1 house the last few weeks and all three are in my Christmas playlist on Spotify. You won't find many of the typical artists in this playlist as I find that they get a ton of radio, film and public play when you're out and about for the holidays. If you're looking for a couple hundred new Christmas songs to enjoy this holiday season you should give my playlist a listen.

  1. Carole is Courtney's aunt in Chicago who I'm living with until our house sells. You should really consider buying our house

Bear's Den, 'Islands'

Bear's Den, 'Islands'

I first found Bear's Den through their Agape EP last year which was followed up by this year's Without/Within EP. I was smitten from the first track of Agape which is the title track of the EP and the first song of their debut album Islands. Every year there are a handful of artists that hit the scene with a truly solid debut album. This year, I would wager that Bear's Den falls into this elite group. While “Agape”, “Isaac” and “When You Break” were present on Agape, they've been re-recorded on Islands with a larger soundstage that incorporates the full band in a wider capacity and broadens the tone and pacing from what was present on the EP. Typically I like to see songs go the other way when it comes to stripping the production down to the metal and wood of an acoustic set but Islands isn't over produced. It carries the authenticity of the London based trio's talents into the mix of some amazing new songs to flush out what may be my favorite album of 2014.

While Islands was only released a little more than a month ago, it was delivered to a growing and rabid fan base. It's hard to believe that a debut album could already have the traction that Islands does but it's not surprising when you hear the immense talent that Andrew Davie, Joey Haynes, and Kev Jones have to create gorgeous and personal stories through their lyrics. When paired with a musical sound reminiscent of Mumford & Sons and The Avett Brothers it's a cogent package that lands with immense force from the first listen. The entanglement of banjo1, guitar and drums drives the album with plenty of unique hooks and immense depth. Lyrically I find “Above the Clouds of Pompeii” and “Isaac” to tell the deepest stories of love and loss. “Think of England” is a progressive track with dark undertones nestled into the backdrop of it's lyrical slang. “Elysium” has a sweeping trumpet interlude that expands it's story into a masterpiece for the ears and tells the story of hope and perseverance even in the darkest times2. This might hint at the best metaphor to describe Islands; it's a collection of scenes that paint a beautiful visual through lyrical proficiency with an evocative and sweeping backdrop of musical transcendence that's not to be missed.

Find it on: iTunes | Amazon | Spotify | Rdio

  1. Yes, there's a theme here. The banjo, when used appropriately, can add a level of depth that buries the negative connotation many have of the instrument. 

  2. The official video for “Elysium” somewhat reinforces my interpretation of the song while adding newfound layers through documentation of a real life tragedy from earlier this year. 

RP: 'Introducing The City Harmonic'

Introducing The City Haromonic

It's 75 degrees outside and pain runs through my body. This is emotional pain like I've never felt in my life. I'm driving up I-10 in Florida from what was my grandparent's house. I've been with my uncle for the last week on an unexpected trip to help my grandmother brace for the impact of divorce.

While my uncle and I drove down together, he's stayed behind as there is uncertainty around grandma's stability when we started packing to head back to Memphis. So I'm alone in a red Volvo on the 13 hour drive home when I begin to process the past week. The lawyer, the counselors, the endless scanning of documents, the friends, the family and the tears. Oh, the tears.

After 56 years of marriage and a family so woven into this patriarchy, it's all unbound in less than two years. I keep thinking this can't be happening. How could it? Not us. We can't be that family. Can we? We're stronger than this. Aren't we? It's all so selfish but it's what everyone in our family has always known to be good and true and now it's over. Dead. Gone.

I'm grasping more than ever for understanding and love that can fill a hole wider than I thought existed in me. I'm searching for God in all of it. Then this song comes on the radio in the background. The DJ of the most recent FM station I've been able to tune into talks the song up as one that's jumping up the charts.

"Here's "Manifesto" by The City Harmonic on 97.1, The Love of K" (or something to that effect).

All I hear is God. Drenched into every sound. It's poignant and loud. Beautiful and noisy. It's what I need. Like a cup of water in the middle of the desert. I realize that I don't know who this band is but I need more of what they're offering. The Volvo doesn't have an auxilary port so I pull over and dig out my headphones. I look The City Harmonic up on Spotify and find a single album. Introducing the City Harmonic. There are six songs. I immediately press play.

I Wonder
The song opens with an orchestra getting in pitch and the conductor tapping their baton on the podium to open the album.

Tears begin to fall almost immediately.

"I Wonder" questions the love of God. It's size and how we see it in our life. Everything hits home when gets to the second verse.

I see it in the pain of the widowed wife.
In death defeated where he found true life.
I see the love of God and I feel alive.
I wonder, I wonder.

These words are what I'm searching for. Finding God's love in the pain of life. I drink it up. Then comes track two.

This is the song that led me to seek this album out. It says so much about who Christ is and what I believe. Even in darkness there is light.

We believe in the one true God.
We believe in Father Spirit Son.
We believe that good has won.

It's hard not to sing the chorus at the top of your lungs and lose yourself in Him. The tears haven't stopped and I continue to belt out garbled lyrics with lots of AMEN.

My God

I lift my eyes up,
In these days of trouble.
Will my help come from You?
And if I stumble,
Will You pick me up?
What else could a father do?

The words are crafted as if they're for me in this struggle. Then the beat picks up and the second verse opens.

I lift my heart up,
Whether it’s whole or broken,
Good God I know You’re gonna work it out.

What more can I do in this moment? I can't handle the weight I'm carrying. I'm so lost in this music that been carrying me for the last 13 minutes and I've lost control of emotion. It just keeps pouring out of me. Everything I've bottled up over the last 7 days since I found out what's been going on and what the outcome will be is just spilling over.

Coming My Way
"Coming My Way" soothes and calms. It's a beautiful ballad to God and talks about the journey home to heaven and finding heaven here on Earth in Him. I calm ever so slightly.

I Am
A simple guitar riff, a drum beat and into the first verse.

I am a man who built his house on sand.
I am a thief upon a cross.
I’m just like Judas, that sorry fool.
Who can’t be glad for what he’s got.

In all of the pain, these words pierce my soul. I've been angry and bitter at the circumstances and choices that have led to what is unthinkable to me. And yet, I'm no better. I'm fallen and failing each and every day. The chorus repeats that God is good, God is great and God is love. And I am...

I am a man who has been bought by love.
I am a man who sold his soul.
I’m like the man, who when he found his pearl.
He gave up everything he owned.

Through His grace I'm redeemed and I am love. Love works.

This song sweeps me straight off of my feet and I listen to it again. And again. And again. It's such a beautiful portrait of forgiveness and the redemption that comes through His unending mercy. This is instantly my favorite track on the album. The tears continue to flow as I realize how broken I am in my own walk and how easily I've judged others throughout this ordeal.

What I Want

So go on sing, sing, all of heaven and earth.
But don’t just sing, be and be every word.

This is my favorite line from "What I Want". It asks us to step out on our faith and walk the talk. To be the change that God calls us to be on this Earth. This is my constant struggle. To fearlessly be who I'm called to be.

I contemplate the experience I've just had. Through these six songs being played a few times over I've given up my burden and opened myself up to God in a way that I've been missing since I was in college. This album is now permanently bound to this specific moment in my life. The ghost of my burden is forever reflected in this album for me. And yet I can't recommend Introducing The City Harmonic more highly.

It's been roughly two years since I jumped into that red Volvo and this album still brings tears to my eyes when it comes on. This past week was the second Thanksgiving without my grandfather present and it has left an impression on our family tradition. As we grandkids grow up and start having our own kids the weight of the thing still lingers. It's been 7 months since I originally shared this as a journal entry. I was too scared to put these words on Course Code directly in April so I buried it in a Day One entry but this is the force that music can have on a person's soul and the fear is overcome by it. I hope that someone might find a similar strength from these six songs.

The Midwest Indies, 'Truman'

<em>Truman</em> - The Midwest Indies

I stumbled across The Midwest Indies on Spotify in one of my many discovery sessions. These usually start with a song from "my" library grabbing my attention. I'll pull the artist up and start clicking through to related artists and sampling a few of each artist's top tracks to see if anything stands out. Sometimes I find something new and compelling and start listening to one of the artist's albums in it's entirety. Such is the case with Truman.

The Midwest Indies have created something really special with Truman. From start to finish Truman carries something rare, an album with few, if any, flaws. The range of sound on the album spans simple acoustic, piano and vocals on "Frederick Fleet" to the slow build of the banjo led and trumpet infused "If You Can't Convince Them, Confuse Them" where the pacing evolves into a song that sounds completely different on it's end than it did when it began. Brad Thomas's voice is staggeringly (and sometimes hauntingly) mature while the harmonies that the band creates layer the vocals in a way that only solidifies the complex individuality of The Midwest Indies sound. The production quality of the album is absolutely stunning; especially when you consider the backstory of how the album was made.

When an artist makes an album that intrigues me in the way that Truman does I usually start researching the band and learning as much as I can about them. The backstory for Truman only adds to my fondness for what these guys have created. In early 2011 Tanner Brown, Chandler Reed, Brad Thomas and Blake Tucker were in high school and college when they formed The Midwest Indies and started writing music and playing it locally in the Springfield, MO area. After fine tuning their sound they started preparing to record Truman and turned to Kickstarter to fund the studio and marketing costs.

Their goal was $1,500 and was fully funded in February of 2012 by 44 wise individuals. It's easy to read the budget on this album and assume that it has a quality that's comparable with Iron and Wine's Around the Well which, while beautiful, is also something that only Iron and Wine can truly pull off and have it add value to their music. The album is mastered so thoroughly in order to layer all aspects of the album in such a cohesive package that negates the need for the typical production faults such as autotune. Ultimately, the fact that these 4 guys were able to create something to the quality and originality of Truman for $1,500 is a testament to their talent. The album artwork is somewhat of another story. While it looks great at first glance it is obviously photoshopped together when viewed at full resolution. This is one of those things that I assume either one of the bandmates or a friend of the band created. Either way I still like it and it's what comes into my mind when one of the songs from the album comes on.

The Midwest Indies are currently working on their second album and have released two singles since Truman released; "Bad Vibrations" and "Voyager". Until their sophomore release we have Truman and that's not a complaint by any means.

Find it on: iTunes | Amazon | Spotify

For Your Enjoyment

About 5 weeks ago I moved to Chicago to start a new job and start planning out my family's future when Courtney and Riley move here. I'll be seeing my family for the first time in 6 weeks when I head back to Memphis for Thanksgiving this week. On the outset 6 weeks seemed manageable but it's grown more difficult with every passing week. For the first few weeks I spent my evenings finishing The Wire one episode per night. Then I was tasked with getting my MCSA and started reading Mastering Windows Server 2012 R2 which lead me to start finding music to listen to while I was studying. All of this lead me to get back to one of my favorite past times, music discovery. Music can be so many things and is the background for much of our lives. Whether it's to pass the time, to concentrate, to get energized, to get by or to heal; music is there.

I haven't listened to traditional radio since I was in middle school. I used to use sites like MySpace, purevolume and the now defunct Stage FM to find artists that had yet to be discovered. I typically blaze my own trail when it comes to the music I listen to and am willing to share with others. When I look to independent writers and podcasters I follow online I often find myself longing to have a topic to dig into that I find interesting and am able to curate for others. I've typically avoided music as that topic as it's such a crowded space that's covered by so many others in the mainstream media. Over the last few weeks I've started to feel more confident that music is something I do have an interesting take on and it's going to become one of my primary topics on Course Code. You can expect that most of my recommendations will be accompanied by the story of how I found the artist, album or song and the impact the music has had on my life. What I wouldn't expect is to find out about the newest music or the hottest thing right now. I'm picky about what I listen to and what I find good enough to share with you.

Music is a huge part of the human story. I hope I can introduce parts of my story into yours.

'Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey' Soundtrack

I've recently been studying for my MCSA and have found that I need quality instrumental music to keep focused without distraction. I've started listening to a lot of Jazz which has been great but I think I've just found my new study music.

This week's Tools and Toys quality linkage is all about space and is such as fun read. On the outset Chris recommends a fine pairing of music for the read; ‘Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey’ Soundtrack which I missed the first time around. Chris followed up with a separate post and more information about these 4 volumes of music from Alan Silvestri today and man am I glad he did. As enthralling as I find space, music is much more of my thing and this soundtrack merges the two in such a great way. Check out Chris's post for the full rundown of links.

Freelance Whales - Weathervanes

Freelance Whales - Weathervanes Album Artwork

As I branch out into music with the site I’m starting strong with this pick.

While Weathervanes by Freelance Whales isn’t their most recent album, it’s definitely what keeps me coming back to the band. I imagine this album being recorded inside a robot which adds the theme comprised of unique sounds that runs through the album. Those sounds are layered into a five person band where the instruments include harmonia (think accordion), xylophone and banjo and it seems that everyone lends they’re voice to the mix. Judah Dadone and Doris Cellar’s vocals are spot on with the overall happy vibes that the album aims for. Lyrically the album tells stories with fairy tale style that sometimes brushes what I imagine it feels like to be a hip New York based band like these lines from Hannah:

And if you’re partial to the night sky
If you’re vaguely attracted to rooftops
Hannah takes the stairs
Cause she can’t tell that
its a winding spiral case
Is she right side up
Or upside-down?

Weathervanes is a cohesive package of story and sound that delivers it’s own unique world[1]. It’s a world I love to live in at least once a week.

Find it on: iTunes | Spotify | Rdio | Beats Music

  1. This is a world that may be best exemplified through the album’s artwork.  ↩