In the last installment, I attempted to make various playlist generators read my mind by feeding it Yes but meaning mid-80s, post-prog synth-heavy rock & new wave with limited success. For my second experiment, I picked “I’m Afraid of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe” by Murder by Death (which ended up being just a Murder by Death playlist in 3 out of 4 of the contestants).
Experiment 2: Murder by Death
Description: Murder by Death is an eclectic post-rock band from Indiana. Their sprawling songs have equal parts Godspeed You Black Emperor and Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, but their long (and occasionally ridiculous) song and album titles (e.g. “Holy Lord, Shawshank Redemption Is Such a Good Movie”, Like The Exorcist, But More Breakdancing) nod toward math- and post-rock.
Expectations: Lyric-driven post-punk and post-rock a la the aforementioned Nick Cave and/or Godspeed.
Murder by Death – I’m Afraid of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolfe
Murder by Death – The Organ Grinder
Pretty Girls Make Graves – All Medicated Geniuses
The Faint – Victim Convenience (Dance To mix)
…And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead – Wasted State of Mind
DeVotchKa – Venus in Furs
…And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead – Classic Arts Showcase
Murder by Death – Ash
Bright Eyes – a new arrangement
Godspeed You Black Emperor! – Rockets Fall on Rocket Falls
Pretty Girls Make Graves – Sad Girls Por Vida
Thursday – A hole in the world
Murder by Death – Raw Deal
The Faint – Let The Poison Spill From Your Throat
Explosions in the Sky – With Tired Eyes, Tired Minds, Tired Souls, We Slept
Reactions: More or less what I had been thinking, though the fact that out of 15 songs there were only a small handful of different artists showed the limitations of the Gracenote engine powering Genius.
Happy Surprises: “Venus in Furs” by DeVotchKa is still an awesome cover.
Not-so-happy Surprises: Extreme lack of variety.
Murder by Death – Brother
Tiger Army – Ghostfire
Cursive – Art is Hard (+)
The National – All Dolled-up In Straps
Murder by Death – Steal Away
Butch Walker – Ladies and Gentlemen…”The Let’s-Go-Out-Tonites!”
The Hellbenders – Today We Kill…Tomorrow We Die
The National – Tall Saint
Iron & Wine – Freedom Hangs Like Heaven
Murder by Death – As Long As There is Whiskey In the World
Modest Mouse – Dramamine
The Animals – House of the Rising Sun (-)
Old 97s – Alone So Far (-)
The Pixies – Where is my Mind? (+)
Reactions: Pandora couldn’t seem to figure out where on the spectrum Murder by Death fell. Was it country? Was it indie? While this had the best variety of the bunch, it missed the mark several (notable) times.
Happy Surprises: I had never actually listened to Cursive before. I was pleasantly surprised.
Not-so-happy Surprises: The double-feature “House of the Rising Sun” (!) & Old 97s was a bit of a stretch. I think Pandora reached far into my preferences from other playlists to pull out the anomalous (for this mix) Pixies track.
Cursive – Driftwood: A Fairy Tale
Volta Do Mar – On a Hand Held Sky
O’Death – Ghost Head
Murder by Death – A Second Opinion
Murder by Death – Holy Lord, Shawshank Redemption is Such a Good Movie
Ha Ha Tonka – Jesusita
The Murder City Devils – I Want a Lot Now (So Come On)
Fake Problems – Born & Raised
Chuck Ragan – Let It Rain
Tim Barry – Trash Inspirations
The Lawrence Arms – Porno and Snuff Films
Slim Cessna’s Auto Club – Red Pirate of the Prarie
Against Me! – The Ocean
The Snake The Cross The Crown – Behold the River
William Elliott Whitmore – Johnny Law
Reactions: Last.fm veered more into the alt-country realm, which is not someplace I like to live, nor anywhere I particularly wanted to visit. Then again, it also veered hard into punk in the second half of the experiment (Murder City Devils, Against Me!) which basically told me that Last.fm has no clue how to classify Murder by Death either.
Happy Surprises: Volta Do Mar, Murder City Devils (who I would have been convinced only made this mix because they had “murder” in the band name had it not been for more punk immediately following them), more Cursive.
Not-so-happy Surprises: William Elliot Whitmore threw me for a loop. I felt like I was watching the closing credits of True Blood for a minute.
Murder by Death – Raw Deal
Trisomie 21 – Personal Feelings
My Chemical Romance – Desolation Row
Plain White T’s – You and Me
Bright Eyes – I Watched You Taking Off
Piano Magic – Amongst Russian Lathes & Metal Curls
Murder by Death – Foxglove
Murder by Death – Ash
Jimmy Eat World – Bleed American
Nina Nastasia – The Very Next Day
The Paper Chase – The Sinking Ship The Grand Applause
Murder by Death – Steam Rising
Mayday – Virginia
Murder by Death – The Black Spot
Piano Magic – Son De Mar; Part IV
Reactions: Similar enough to the Last.fm mix that you’d think they were pulling from the same sources were it not for the notable additions of Piano Magic (featured twice in 15 songs) and Bright Eyes (who previously had only appeared on my Genius playlist). My Chemical Romance proved, again, no one knows what to classify Murder By Death.
Happy Surprises: Piano Magic
Not-so-happy Surprises: Again, the lack of variety.
Winner: Tie — iTunes Genius/Pandora
Conclusion: Pandora was the only thing that didn’t just sound like generic indie or pull in some punk that really didn’t go with what Murder by Death does. Then again, Pandora pulled some stuff from way out of left field that made it such that it couldn’t be called a clear winner in this case. On the other hand, iTunes Genius, while accurately selecting music that fit what I was going for, could have done a lot better by mixing in artists with similar dreary singer-songwriter vibes going on.
Thanks for the experiment.
While I agreed with your conclusion, I like the evolving criteria of Pandora and think that Genius with this function would be perfect! Maybe being able to select multiple songs and find a common theme?
I can only dream…
I’ve been wishing for that functionality for so long, don’t get me started…
That said, I just discovered beaTunes (http://www.beatunes.com/) that I’m still testing out…