Music I listened to – April 2023


The music collection continues! Here’s what I’ve added to the collection this past month.

I picked up these nine CDs from Amoeba Music:

An endless sea of forgettable 90s rock

There’s one shortcoming of my “buy cheap CDs” strategy that I should have realized earlier: The selection is strongly biased towards the 90s and early 2000s. This trip to Amoeba started to feel like I was scraping the bottom of the barrel.

And when I pick a CD because I’ve only heard one song from it, there’s usually a reason that one song made it big and the others faded into obscurity: The album is mediocre. Especially when I’m shopping in the clearance section.

Such is the case for Semisonic’s Feeling Strangely Fine, which I bought for a dollar because I love the song “Closing Time.” It’s an excellent song, catchy enough to have stuck with me since I first heard it when I was a teenager. There’s also a great episode of the podcast Song Exploder about the song. Unfortunately, I can’t say that the rest of the album is anywhere near as memorable. With the exception of a couple standouts (like “Secret Smile”), most of the album just blends together into a forgettable blob of late 90s rock.

Counting Crows’ This Desert Life was a bit more fun to listen to, but ultimately it also felt more like a sample of the time period than a memorable work on its own. I bought it because I liked the song “Colorblind,” but after listening through the album, “Colorblind” is still the one song I remember.

Ditto for the Royksopp album. It’s a little more memorable but most of the songs progress slowly and feel more suited for background listening than active listening.

Ditto for Joshua Radin’s Simple Times, which is earnest and friendly but also wasn’t particularly memorable. I bought it for “I’d Rather Be With You,” which my friend Kathleen shared with me many years ago, and that song still seems like the best one on the album.

I really gave these a try! At last for the time being, these don’t really occupy any special place in my heart.

The CDs I liked

I’m pretty happy with the other CDs this month.

James Taylor’s Greatest Hits is a classic; to me, he’s one of those artists whose songs are deeply familiar because they were so deeply woven into the cultural fabric as I was growing up. To be honest, I don’t really know much about James Taylor, but I definitely know his songs and find comfort in them, like a familiar face or family car or hometown. So I’m glad to have these in the collection.

I really like the James Blunt album too. The lyrics and instrumentation deliver a mix of passion and nostalgia that make me long for decades-past late nights spent with forgotten lovers, clubbing and drinking and regretting, even though I have never done any such things. The songs are emotional and deeply memorable and impossible not to sing along with. I picked it up because I already loved “1973” and “Carry You Home,” but I think all the other tracks are of similar quality.

I splurged a bit ($5 each!) on the two Coldplay albums because they’re some of the first songs I listened to when I was starting to actively discover music as a teenager. I didn’t know much, but I knew a few Coldplay songs and held them close. “Viva la Vida” in particular is tightly bound up with my memories of the Apple iPod advertisements from those days. That song still sounds like nothing else. And the album is a cohesive, artful work. I especially appreciate the transitions and moods of the last song on Viva la Vida, “Death And All His Friends”—it goes from soft and quiet to bold and driving to euphoric to finally ambient, looping back into the beginning of the album.

Finally, I really splurged (a whole $10) on xx by The xx. I think this album is one for the ages, and I had to have it in my collection. At the time, the minimal instrumentation and sparse vocals sounded like nothing else to my green ear.

An early 2010s treasure trove

I was cleaning out the files on an old USB flash drive when I noticed a folder named Music. It contained over 4 gigabytes of music files, mostly from my early high school days. So many forgotten memories! This was 2011-2012ish. I didn’t have any money of my own, but Google was launching the Play Store, and Amazon was launching its digital downloads store, and both were throwing money into promos to get people to try the new storefronts. I took full advantage of all the free songs, $5 albums, and free albums. (I remember now why I became a loyal Amazon customer for a few years—they had great deals!)

I’m trying to build a fully legal music collection, so I found receipts in my email inbox for everything that I imported to my current collection.

The complete albums on the flash drive:

I’m excited to listen to these over time. It’s a good mix of albums very close to my heart and albums I don’t know as well (but own because they were cheap or free).

This month, I’ve been mostly listening to Ed Sheeran’s +. I really like and miss the early sound of Ed Sheeran, though his imminent album Subtract is rumored to be a return to that early acoustic sound, so I’m cautiously excited. I really want to add his first three EPs to my collection someday.

Looking ahead

I’m not sure if I’ll keep writing monthly about the music I’m listening to. Maybe I’ll write shorter summaries rather than these longer posts. For one, I’m not sure how interesting it is as a topic. It’s starting to feel a little bit like a chore to write, and I struggle to imagine that anyone would find it interesting to read.

But more importantly, I think my music collection has gotten big enough now to really stand on its own, without need for these blog posts to lend it legitimacy and purpose. Now I have a big enough pool of music that there’s something to match a range of moods and situations. There’s stuff in here I haven’t properly listened to yet. It’s really taking on some depth, so maybe it’s better served just growing organically as I like it. I think that’s something to look forward to.