Thursday 24 December 2009

Albums of 2009

So it's that time of year, when you look back over the music you discovered over the past 12 months, and try to figure out what has meant the most. Not that these are necessarily the best albums of 2009 - I'm not really sure what that means - but they are the one's I felt most attached to, listened to most, would most recommend. So, in no particular order, here goes:

Grizzly Bear - "Veckatamist"
Not easy listening at all, but really worth the effort.

Noah and the Whale - "The first days of Spring"
A remarkable second album, excellent lyrics, beautiful songs. Listen in one go for maximum impact

Animal Collective - "Merriweather Post Pavilion"
Everyone's favourite American undergound act. Innovative, tuneful, lovely.

Portico Quartet - "Isla"
My favourite jazz album of 09: very distinctive sound, great tunes

Great Lake Swimmers - "Lost Channels"
Something melancholic about Canadian folk rockers GLS; I like it alot

Temper Trap - "Conditions"
The backlash has already started, but I love the songs and that voice

The XX - "XX"
Reminds me of much, but sounds new and different at the same time

The Mummers - "Tale to Tell"
I found their performance on Later with Jools mesmerising. Bjork-ish vocals with a more English feel

Woods - "Songs of Shame"
More American folky ramblings which I seem drawn to these days

Woodpigeon - "Treasury Library Canada"
The second Canadian group in my list. But don't let that put you off, it's great

The Low Anthem - "Oh My God, Charlie Darwin"
In truth I'm not mad on all of this album, but the good tracks are superb and make up for the rockier/less convincing others

Jack Penate - "Everything is New"
Who would have thought that JP would make a critically acclaimed second album loved by the charts and Zane Lowe? My favourite pop album of 09.

Jimi Tenor and Tony Allen - "Inspiration Information 4"
Jazz + African funk = excellent album

Laura Gibson - "Beasts of Seasons"
Portland singer songwriter. Haunting, sad, lovely songs

Bon Iver - "Blood Bank"
Not really an album but an EP, but for someone still reeling from the wonderful "For Emma, Forever ago" album of 2008 this was enough to prove that Justin Vernon has more than one record in him. Thank goodness.

So there it is. There's loads more but you have to stop somewhere. I heartily recommend all of the above 15 albums to you.

Saturday 5 December 2009

In praise of... Guy Garvey

Elbow lead singer Guy Garvey only has one radio show. It's just 2 hours per week, on BBC 6Music. But it's an important show, in that it points to a possible future direction for digital music radio stations to make them stand out in a world of ubiquitous online music.

The question is this: as broadband becomes the norm, and services such as Spotify give you free access to a huge virtual library, what is the point of a digital music radio station? By this, I mean, how can a digital music radio station stand out from the other services on offer, either as a radio station or as a digital music service?

Doing what existing radio stations do is surely not the answer, simply because they are already doing it, and there's frankly lots of them doing it. And the audience are really quite happy with their existing radio listening choices. Doing what Spotify does is not only impossible for a radio station, but again is not distinctive because Spotify (etc) already does it very well thank you.

So where does that leave new digital music stations?

One answer is in becoming a trusted guide offering curated recommendations, which is something that Spotify isn't that great at, despite various playlist sites which allow you to create a spotify playlist. Which brings me back to Guy Garvey. His show is a "must listen" for me, because I've come to trust that there's a high chance he will introduce me to an artist (new or old) or track or album that I really want to investigate. I value that highly.

This is what I would call "high value" content, combining carefully chosen music, interesting and informative bits between the music, some humour, and audience involvement in parts of the show (e.g."Song for Guy"). Importantly, there's really nothing in the two hours that places it in any particular day or time, meaning there's no jarring time checks or news summaries when you listen on-demand. This stands out enough for me to make the effort to spend time with it.

The ultimate irony of all this is that although I often listen to his show on-demand, it's actually a genius piece of old-school scheduling - late Sunday evening - which really works as a broadcast. A perfect end to the weekend. Or whenever you choose to listen.

Thursday 13 August 2009

August 09 mix

Here's what I've been listening to in the last few weeks. Grizzy Bear, Temper Trap, The Low Anthem, The Invisible, Bowerbirds, Jack Penate, and of course the obligatory Microdisney. Somehow it's always Microdisney time round my house.

Friday 24 July 2009

In praise of... Nick Grimshaw

I have to admit to being a little sad when i heard that Colin Murray was leaving Radio 1: his brand of humour and eclectic music taste on his late late evening weekday show worked for me. But now we have Nick Grimshaw (Grimmers) in his place it makes me realise just how old the previous show had become. Nick not only sounds young (well, he is), only occasionally sounding like he's trying too hard, but the music sounds younger too. I'm particularly enjoying his countdown of "1000 albums you should hear" feature, varied as it is. He was good on Switch, but this new show is beginning to sound confident and fun.

It's a good move for Radio 1, who constantly need to do more to attract a younger audience to radio. Nick Grimshaw can only help bring in that sub-24 audience that we need to learn to love radio. Radio 1 now sounds like its target audience between 10pm and midnight, which is a good thing.

Wednesday 20 May 2009

May 09 mix

Latest selection of my home listening. Just re-discovering one of my favourite bands from when i was a student in the 80's: Microdisney. Cathal Coughlan and Sean O'Hagan making glorious bitter-sweet pop. Also featuring new discoveries Woods, Grizzly Bear, Sigur Ros and Leisure Society. Enjoy.

Saturday 18 April 2009

April 09 mix

Here's a taster mix of what i'm listening to at the moment. Mainly accoustic stuff. Particularly keen on the Great Lake Swimmers, The Mummers and Bon Iver. Must mean i'm getting old.

On a lighter note, I'm impressed with new mix site 8Tracks. Not 100% sure of legality, but I think they've actually sorted licences.

Saturday 14 March 2009

Twitter + radio = good interaction

Just a quick thought about how Twitter is having a positive impact on radio. One of our big aims is to help make radio more interactive, and to get programmes to engage in a dialogue with their audiences, and to reflect that interaction in the broadcast. Radio, after all, is an incredibly personal medium, and should be as much about the audience as the presenter.

We've had phone-ins for decades, we've had incoming faxes and letters, for 15 years or so we've had emails, and for 10 years we've had text messages (I introduced incoming SMS to Radio 1 in '98). We've also played - not particularly successfully imho - with message boards and live chat rooms. None of this is wrong or bad, but it seems to me that micro-blogging services - and let's be honest I really mean Twitter - has had a bigger impact with some shows in terms of engaging with audiences than all the rest put together.

Why? Because at it's heart, Twitter is a two-way medium, tweets and replies, which means that a presenter/DJ who sends out a tweet will nearly always get replies which are relevant and useful. And because Twitter is a personal service - you choose who you follow, and tweets are by their very nature personal ("what are you doing/thinking?") - it gives the illusion that you are receiving something more personal to you than, say, a live broadcast. And in fact you are, so it's not really an illusion.

So, when Annie Mac, Mistajam or Hugh Stevens or Chris Moyles sends out a tweet, it's likely to be something more personal than something they'd be likely to say on their radio programme. And when people reply, it's usually with a comment which is directly relevant, which means there's a higher chance of that feedback becoming part of the broadcast. Virtuous circle complete.

There's loads of radio presenters already using Twitter, and it's growing all the time. Some are starting to play with how they can use it - for example BBC 6Music's Jon Holmes is experimenting with offering "simulcast bonus song nonsense" if you follow a particular hashtag during his show. More here.

Steve Bowbrick and Jem Stone are also trying out a new form of social listening via Twitter at Good Radio Club. Having listened and watched and tweeted to a Radio4 progamme this week, I can confirm it makes the listening experience much deeper, more intense, and frankly more fun. Seeing what others are thinking about the radio programme that you are listening to enhances the experience considerably.

For a list of most radio folk on Twitter, see James Cridland's list.

Saturday 7 February 2009

Finding music on

Thinking about our music offering on, and changes which are coming soon, here's a list of ways in which we could be helping people find music, or music content, on Some of these are possible now, most are not. If we can offer these as automated feeds, we really will be maximising routes to content. Which means, of course, that more people will consume more content, and will have improved it's utility considerably.

Tracklistings. All music shows have, or will have, lists of music played on the programme. These will soon become clickable, taking you to the relevant artist page

Now playing. What music is the BBC playing right now? An aggregation of all our music stations live output.

Recently played. We should be listing all artists that have been played recently across BBC radio. We need to define what "recently" means, and in the future get all our stations having live music information. This is not currently the case. By network, and across all networks.

Most searched for artists. Which artists are people searching for on

Breaking artists. Which artists played recently on BBC radio are brand new, i.e. haven't been played before on the BBC?

Most recommended. Which artists are being most heavily recommended by BBC talent?

Most recent BBC session. Which artists have recently performed live exclusively for the BBC?

Most recent BBC interview. Which artists have recently been interviewed on BBC radio or TV?

Most recent BBC documentary. Which artists have recently featured in a BBC documentary?

Artists quoted in SMS sent to the BBC. Which artists have featured most in text messages sent in to the BBC?

Artists being discussed on Which artists are being discussed, commented on, rated, or added to personal profiles?

Artist A-Z. Complete list of all artists played on BBC radio over a certain time period

Charts. e.g. Top 40 singles and albums, music genre charts

News. Artists mentioned in recent news stories published on, and elsewhere

I'll be adding more to this list over the coming days/weeks, so feel free to add other possibilities.