Friday, July 10, 2009


Another Pedro Almodovar movie has passed through our house. This time, it was significantly better than the last one. Still given to a touch of "wha?" here and there, but when Almodovar sticks an irrational element into his plot, you should generally just go with it. Much fun.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Two 'New' Albums

And I'm out of credits. Next cycle sees my reduced allotment, effectively limiting me to three albums, instead of four. Already feeling the pinch...

So what did I get this time?

Horses arrived with the Sony catalog, but I'll forgive them, as I've always enjoyed Patti Smith. One of my favorite albums is Radio Ethiopia, which I first owned on vinyl, and bought during a long break in my shift at WHDF, my first round in college, at Michigan Tech. RE was actually her second album, Horses being first. So now I finally own it.

The other album is found in slot 177 of the Top 200 Jazz CDs list. I was just looking to grab some jazz from eMusic by an artist that I have yet to hear. This fit that bill. It's not up there with The Sidewinder or Kind of Blue, but it's nice background music.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Bitches Brew

One of the albums I used for my gripe-fest with eMusic and their new album 'cap' policy was Miles Davis' Bitches Brew. Based on it's historical format as two CDs, and the long jazz tracks, eMusic wanted 24 credits, which for me works out to $9.60.

If you go to the Amazon MP3 entry for the same album, they want $16.99! So why not just pony up the $9.60 at eMusic and quit my belly-aching? Because Amazon will sell me every one of the tracks on Bitches Brew separately. At $0.99 apiece. Buying all seven tracks on the album this way costs me $6.93. It works, because that's what I did last night! So eMusic lost another sale! Will they lose a customer entirely? I still don't know.

I do know that there are currently quite a few albums available, including Sony catalog items, that do not apply the reverse-cap of 12 credits. I have my eye on Patti Smith's Horses and Leonard Cohen's I'm Your Man, for instance.

Still, a lot of the jazz albums I had queued went up from two, four, five, etc. credits to 12. In many cases, they were not classics of the field, but rather interesting live albums by name artists, or even artists I'd not yet heard of. Experiments, mostly. Now they are not so attractive as experiments.

Whine, whine, whine... Anyway, I now have Bitches Brew, and the first listen was very fun!

Head Hunters

As I mentioned earlier, I queued Head Hunters, a classic album by Herbie Hancock, which I owned in my early college days. I picked it up last night. This is one of those jazz albums which has four tracks but due to their length ends up costing the 12 credit cap. I did the research, and even at that price, it's significantly cheaper (around 50%) than either Amazon MP3 or iTunes Music Store. So I went ahead and grabbed it.

I've listened to it several times already, and am listening to it again while I write this. What a great album!

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Musical Backfill

In keeping with my promise to explore the back catalog of Sony items now available on eMusic, I downloaded two albums that I wore out on vinyl decades ago. Both are from that overbroad umbrella category, jazz fusion:

Birds of Fire was the second album by John McLaughlin's band, and the last with their original line-up, losing Billy Cobham, but gaining Jean-Luc Ponty for their next effort, Apocalypse. Birds of Fire came out in 1973, while I was still in high school ("Drink and drive, drink and drive, we're the class of '75!"), but to be honest, I probably didn't really find out about it until my freshman year in college. As I understand it, it was a watershed album, diminished in impact only by the fact that it followed their first album, The Inner Mounting Flame. However, my own experience is that the years of high school and college were filled with so many unique and rich bands that this just seemed appropriate. Listening to it now, I can say it is still a great favorite of mine.

Heavy Weather is probably the only Weather Report album I owned. My memory is vague. Looking over the album info now, I am amused to find that Wayne Shorter was in Weather Report. He was a great bebop jazz musician who both led bands of his own and appeared in many other important bands such as Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers and Miles Davis' second quintet. This is kind of like the revelation I got when I first found out that Herbie Hancock, whom I'd previously known from another favorite 1973 album, Head Hunters (in my queue at eMusic), had a prior life full of jazz appearances, including a stint with Miles Davis in his second quintet!. Urp! I think I just swallowed my tail!

Anyway, just living off of fond memories, I can mine the Sony catalog for years, if I want to. They think they're soooo clever, only agreeing to put albums that are at least two years old onto eMusic! Is 1973 old enough for you, Sony! Thpppt!

eMusic on Probation

Today, eMusic launched their partnership with Sony music. A ton of albums owned by Sony got added to the roster, and coincidentally, the rates were raised. I say coincidentally because the eMusic honcho says they were planning on raising rates in response to their main indie labels' request, and viewed Sony's entry as the catalyzing event.

Here's how eMusic works. You subscribe, and you get a certain number of 'credits' per month. Credits do not roll over. Every song you download is worth one credit. Originally, the more credits per month you bought, the lower the 'price' of each credit. They've mostly eliminated that with this revision. Here is what I've been paying since I joined eMusic:

  • 50 credits / $14.99 ~= $0.30

At that price, experimentation is a no-brainer for me. iTunes wants $1.29 for a track of DRM-free music. Amazon MP3 wants $0.99 and up. So at around a third to a quarter of the going price, I often downloaded an album by a group I'd never heard of, just to listen at my leisure. I learned about groups I'd never listen to otherwise, and have even downloaded more albums by these no-names after the initial experiment.

Here's my new plan (non-standard, grandfathered):

  • 37 credits / $14.99 ~= $0.40

My price per track increased by a third. A newcomer supposedly will only get 35 credits, and pay $15.98. We'll see if I get the grandfather rate or not.

Now you may say that $0.40 is still significantly less than the majors. You may say that I should still be, what, two-thirds as enthusiastic for experimentation as I was before the hike. Unfortunately, I find my response is somewhat more non-linear.

With the original announcement of these coming changes, eMusic tried to take some of the sting out of the hike by adding that they were going to cap 'some' albums' prices at twelve credits. So if you like albums with dozens of short tracks, and they tag those albums with the cap, you come out ahead.

However, they've also implemented another policy, which they didn't announce. If a track is longer than ten minutes, the only way to download it is by purchasing the entire album it is on. Right up front, let me say that I object to being pushed to download an album to acquire a single tune. If I'm experimenting, I may willingly download an entire album of unknown songs. But if I'm trying to pick up an old favorite, I will be damned if I will pick up the eight or ten filler songs on the same album. Screw you, eMusic.

But that's not really the key problem with this issue. Consider Miles Davis' album "Bitches Brew". It has 7 tracks, but is a 'two cd' set (two long tracks on the first 'cd', five more on the second). The 'album price', therefore, is 24 credits (no option is given to buy the first or second 'cd' only). Six of the songs are over ten minutes apiece (jazz, remember?). Only one short track can be downloaded separately. To get any of the others, you have to download them all, and pay 24 credits!

Result: Bitches Brew costs (me) $9.60. Given that I can buy separate tracks at Amazon and thereby get the entire album for $7, eMusic has very little to offer here.

I buy a lot of jazz albums. Jazz albums often feature long tracks, but also frequently have fewer than twelve tracks. Between the 12-credit 'cap' per 'cd', and the rule forbidding downloading longer tracks without downloading the entire album, I end up getting the short end of the stick. Just to be balanced, the Sony back catalog has a lot of great albums. For the first few iterations (however long I last) I'll probably be dipping into that.

However, eMusic justified it's existence for me by offering a low-friction avenue to experiment. If I feel compelled to perform the kind of math juggling I've used above before each purchase, then the friction has just increased dramatically. I'll continue to subscribe for now, but I'm definitely feeling reduced value for my given tastes.

Genmai Cha

I actually had my first sampling of this tea a few days ago. What's more, I used to have a rather generous quantity of same in a lovely airtight canister, but I've long since exhausted that stash. Anyway...

This version, gotten from the same Perrenial Tea Room, is not a disappointment. I guess you could call genmai cha the vanilla of green teas. Actually, chocolate is probably closer to the mark. Genmai cha is made with green tea and roasted rice. One cup is like having a little snack. It's a bit like drinking one of those thick dark beers that substitute for a meal.