A musical review of 2014

(my year in other people’s music. here’s 2013)

Maragold

My album of the year (although from 2013). Glad I discovered this. Great guitar tone by Greg Howe and awesome vocals. It’s not a shred record but great songs, great arrangements and very tasty guitar playing.

KXM

A great guitarist (George Lynch), an underrated drummer (Ray Luzier) and the awesome Dug Pinnick on vocals and bass. Another super group, this years Winery Dogs. Great record.

Lynch Mob – Sun Red Sun

24 years after one of my favorite records, Wicked Sensations, they do it again. George Lynch and Oni Logan with great songs. 2 great albums by George Lynch in one year.

The Double Stop Podcast

Props to Brian Sword. If you like rock’n’roll you have to listen, a musicians podcast.

Slash – World on Fire

I wasn’t so sure I’d like this but Slash, Myles Kennedy and producer Elvis Baskette made a great record, solid rock music that will stand the test of time.

Sixx A.M. – Modern Vintage

I had high expectations for this since Are You With Me Now is one of my favorite songs and has been for some time. Modern Vintage isn’t quite there yet but still growing. Well produced as to be expected.

Vulfpeck – Fugue State

I discoverd Vulfpeck with Vollmilch last year and this year’s Fugue State is just so good. Lush. Jazzy but accessible. Easy listening but so not vanilla.

Eden Circus – Marula

„We have listened to Karnivool and Tool.“ Great record for darker days, Hamburg Export I think. Going to be great year for them.

Gregory Porter – Liquid Spirit

Can’t go wrong with this, amazing voice, mellow.

D’Angelo – Black Messiah

I love it.

Dave Kilminster – and the truth will set you free

How had I not heard of Dave? Probably because I am not such a fan of Pink Floyd and personnel. But he’s a great player and needs to be heard more.

Dirty Loops – Loopified

Finally. A little too pop for me but great to see them out there, hope to catch them live soon.

The Brew – Control

I am not so big on the concept album part, but they just rock. Trio, so important I take notice…

Jack White – Lazaretto

Not just another album. Worth listening.

Foo Fighters – Sonic Highways

Cause it’s the Foo Fighters.

Also new to my head phones but not from 2014:

Mother’s Cake – Creation’s Finest

Another support band that took the main stage. Great musicianship, rhythmically challenging, great drumming.

Army of Anyone

Old project from KXM/Korn drummer Ray Luzier. Great rock album.

Brand New – The Devil and God are raging Inside me

Avon Junkies – The Lesser Evil

Punk ska-ish, very fresh.

Wilson Hawk – The Road

Old Richie Kotzen project, very r’n’b soul, almost Motown.

What a musical year ahead: Releases by KSE, Satriani, Soilwork, Adrenaline Mob, Sebastian Bach, Dream Theater

At one point last week I began collecting album release dates from bands I like and I have to say, 2013 is going to be a big year:

March 1st Soilwork
March 8th Bon Jovi
March 11th Amplifier
March 12th Adrenaline Mob
March 26th Sebastian Bach, Sevendust
April Spock’s Beard
April 2nd Killswitch Engage
April 8th Mike Tramp
April 23th Queensryche (with Geoff Tate)
May 7th Joe Satriani
May 27th TesseracT
June 11 Queensryche (with Todd La Torre)
July 16th Aristocrats
July 23rd The Winery Dogs
August 31st Bleu
September 24th Dream Theater
September 13th Sharron Levy
October 15th Trivium
November Dream Theater Live DVD

Plus Steel Panther, Flying Colors coming with unspecified dates.

Call me excited!

What’s next for Apple? My guess:

It has happened before. Apple has released a new product line and the stock price is going down a bit. These days, following the iPad Mini Special Event, the stock price is sinking just like that but a lot more than usual. Mostly, because Apple is sending mixed signals. Sure, the iPad mini is selling like crazy, 3 million units in three days, but that doesn’t count enough. Read more about those signals at Business Insider: Scott Forstall was fired, customers aren’t upgrading as quickly as they used to, Android is vastly outpacing iOS, Apple missed the iPad sales goal and so on and so on. People are leaving Apple products, once a lovebrand, for greener pastures.

The first thing that seems to be on everybody’s mind of course is that Apple without Steve Jobs is losing it. “Maps would never have shipped under Jobs.” “All product lines are now updated at the same time which means there is a 6-9 months window without a big bang.”

Well, this is not going to be a fan boy post, but I don’t see it as black as e.g. Nils Jacobsen writing for Manager Magazin. Yes, FaceTime was probably not the best way to spend money and resources and maps could have used a bit more time (after all, the Google contract was valid for another year). But there is more than the stock market. The company is still growing. The growth trajectory was bound to decrease, this shouldn’t really surprise anybody. Apple is still selling product like crazy, so fast in fact that the manufacturer Foxconn has problems keeping up. And so what if Android is growing faster at the moment, Apple at the moment still has the after sales market meaning the App Store that is generating much more revenue than Google’s Play Store.
Also, I belong to the group of people who thinks that Apple Maps isn’t all that bad. Sure, there seem to be some funny images and parts where the data isn’t as detailed yet, but so far when I was using it: Rock solid and the tin lady giving me directions? Wonderful. Finally hands-free driving again.

But the truth is, there is indeed an empty window coming up. What is Apple going to launch in the next 6 months? I think they have a couple of things on their sleeves. The first guess is the much talked about Apple TV. Will that come? My guess is yes. After the Isaacson Steve Jobs biography quite a few pundits had projected it for February of this year (2012). I think Apple is working on it and with the same intensity and secrecy they were working on the iPhone in 2007.

Secondly, I think Apple’s music offering needs a huge rework and I can imagine they are working on that. Will that be a revolution? There is potential I think. First off iTunes is heavily outdated and no longer adept for the landscape now compared to what it was 10 years ago when it launched. Syncing over several devices, different formats, several accounts, iTunes Match – at the moment this is not a good user experience and if Apple were to reinvent it to the point of “it just works” again you suddenly have a selling point back. In addition, Apple’s status with labels at the moment put it into a great position to solve the streaming business as well. Maybe they buy Pandora or Spotify and enable logging in and payment with Apple credentials.

I have read speculation that Apple would come out with a fitness device but I don’t think so. It’s too small and would undermine the relation with Nike and Nike+. If Apple were to enter the health market they would go bigger. Rather than that I think search and video are two areas where one could look. Google is concentrating on other important areas and has managed to finagle around with their search experience enough so that it is still dominant but not as dominant as it used to be – market share is dropping a bit. Maybe this is a good time to try to make a dent there.

I don’t think that a watch will be the solution, another rumor I have seen. There have been two successful Kickstarter projects in that area and the smartphone has become the watch replacement for many people – I don’t think that the “phone in watch”-product has enough legs to follow in the footsteps of the iPhone.

To conclude I think two things are necessary: Cut the nonessential. Follow out to the Blue Ocean again, get rid of the clutter (like FaceTime, and please let me decide whether I want the stocks app). Secondly, I think they’ll make a big splash. Like buy Square for example. Or, wait for it, the new MySpace if that turns out any good. And thirdly, just one more thing, there will be a new product. But I don’t know what it is yet 😉

Now please rip me.

Review: Paul Gilbert – Vibrato

As you might remember from entries like this about Steve Lukather, Steel Panther and of course my review of the latest Mr. Big album that I am quite a fan of Paul Gilbert. As mentioned not only of his guitar chops but his songwriting as well. For those who don’t know Paul aside from Mr. Big, he has done about 12 solo albums in addition to Mr. Big and Racer X…

This month his latest opus Vibrato (Spotify-link, but I bought it!) was published and it is classic Gilbert an then again not. His last release Fuzz Universe was all instrumental, more in the instrumental guitar album vein, and Vibrato is nothing like it. It’s very bluesy, very song-oriented (Gilbert is a highly underrated songwriter) but also has jazzy touch too it. The whole album has much better ‘band’ feel too it than e.g. Fuzz Universe, Thomas Lang on drums (he who also auditioned for the Dream Theater drum job, among many other accolades), Kelly LeMieux on bass and his wife Emi on keyboards are the guilty parties. My guess is that a lot of the studio tracks were tracked partly live, at least that’s how I hear it.

Vibrato is a very accessible record, not a shred record, although there is great musicianship on display as well as Paul’s virtuosity of course. If you have so far not tried his solo records and would like to  this is a good place to start. It definitely is a more serious record than e.g. Alligator Farm

Spotify. Yes, it has a future. It’s better than sliced bread.

I remember very distinctly the moment when I decided that I would not only have my music collection on the server at home but also on my laptop. All of 800+ CDs at my fingertips, all the gems from my adolescent years. Tracks in the order of my Japanese import, as I remember it, not in the order the Walmart edition is archived.
Getting hooked up with the current version of Spotify was similar, though rather on steroids. I say current because when I tried it the first time my query returned no results (same as on other comparable services).
As you might know, I listen to music a lot and although mainstream is part of my mix, I’d say I go deep into my niches…

Having the Spotify catalogue at hand all the time all of a sudden is like having my CD collection back but on a much bigger scale. The options are endless and range from structured education to perfect serendipity.
Structured education: I recently read Nikki Sixx’ autobiographic book The Heroine Diaries and realized that I – although a big fan of Poison, Warrant, early Bon Jovi and the likes – never listened to Motley Crue. I went to Spotify and listened to the whole catalogue, wondering why they had so much success. Same with the Rolling Stones. I know the chart hits, sure, but not much more, we were a Beatles household. Reading Keith Richards’ ‘Life’ I follow the bands’ journey and especially his evolving guitar style.
And for the serendipity? Somewhere it was mentioned that Paul Butterfield was up for an award. You probably don’t remember this, but several years ago I interviewed network dinosaur Bring-Back-Track-Steve Gillmor about his musical past and he patiently explained the Jimi Hendrix connection, and his time with afore-mentioned Paul Butterfield. I hadn’t really known much about him and his Blues Band but thanks to Spotify I could catch up (no disrespect to Steve Gillmor btw, I love his stream-of-consciousness-writing and the Gillmor Gang).

Now that I am using Spotify – as a paying Premium member – I can’t understand how you can not use it. Check out any album you want, be it the new Alanis Morissette or No Doubt records or new American sensation Frank Ocean. Sure, some artists are not there, but the number is shrinking.
Now, is the business model hurting the company? On the surface, yes. But my hope is that more and more people will realize that 120 bucks/year is really less than they are spending on music right now – with infinitely more music to listen to. Spotify will be a great means to monetize the digital form of music, while many artists today rely on touring and merchandising sales to pay their bills anyway. I know that – status quo today – revenue per stream feels minuscule but if you read this article from SpotiDJ and this piece on HypeBot you get the impression that this will work. It might take two or three more years but he market will get there.

Having said that, at the moment Spotify for me means everything last.fm never delivered. All that’s missing is more social interoperability to drive more usage and new users, even more than the current Facebook open graph actions already do.

There’s more to be said, but for now try it, and hit me up.

UPDATE: Similar but different service Pandora just released a statement by its founder Tim Westergren that they have several artists who actually make more than 100,000 $ from it. Interestingly, Pandora streams more music per month than YouTube does video.

UPDATE: Great quote from SF Music Tech Summit:

“The average American spends 14 hours a week listening to music and 3.5 hours watching sports,” said Nada. “Yet, the sports industry brought in $441 billion in 2011, and the music industry only generated 70 billion worldwide. What the fuck? What are you guys doing? There is five times more engagement, and yet you can’t get fans to pay for your stuff. That’s fucked up.”

Read more at Venture Beat.

Review: Groovebug iPad App

Groovebug aims to solve (or help) the issue of musical serendipity in the iPad way. I like this, so I will probably like this, and I get nicely done biographical info on the artist, preplays on music (all the tracks available in iTunes, yes, the app makes money via affiliate), and videos (YouTube).

Groovebug solves the iPad factor very nicely, but has issues when it comes the other two parts. Videos via YouTube can sometimes be very, let’s say, demanding on the eyes and ears. And the important serendipity stuff – I like this, so I’ll probably like that – should be done with one of those music finders that is already out there, e.g. Music Map. I suspect that they offer curated lists at the moment, for suggesting similar artists they have vetted, put affilliated tracks against and chosen appropriate videos for. That makes sense to ensure a good first experience, but has it’s limits. There are most likely more than the 23 bands listed in the genre Nu Metal, more than 21 in Funk Metal. Chances are that I already know the mainstream answers to the trivia question “name a funk metal” band and am looking to expand my horizon.

But, I am hopeful that future updates will solve some of the issues, this could be a fun app for the couch surfing 😉