Sunday, January 19, 2014

Best Discography Sites - Part 5 of 5

This is the 5th installment in a series.  Click here for parts 1, 2, 3, and 4.  For today's test artist, The War on Drugs, it's important to say what today is.  Today is Sunday, January 19th, 2014.  The reason that's important is because The War on Drugs is releasing a new record in March, which is the future...  future....  future...  future (that's supposed to be a futuristic echo effect, by the way).

As of today at 10:16 am PST, wikipedia says this about the band:


The War on Drugs is an American indie rock band from PhiladelphiaPennsylvania, formed in 2005. The band consists of Adam Granduciel (vocals, guitar), David Hartley (bass, guitar), Robbie Bennett (keyboards, guitar) and Patrick Berkery (drums).
Founded by close collaborators, Granduciel and Kurt Vile, The War on Drugs released their debut studio album, Wagonwheel Blues, in 2008. Vile departed shortly after its release to focus on his solo career.
The band's second studio album Slave Ambient, was released, in 2011, to critical acclaim and extensive touring, with a third, Lost in the Dream, due for release in March, 2014.

I don't know what it says at the moment you're reading this, but you can check for yourself if you want.  As of two minutes later, allmusic lists the new album, Lost in the Dream, in its discography, but it does not give a date or list the tracks, so it's impossible to tell from allmusic alone that this is really a new record and not an old one.  I was surprised by that.  Allmusic is usually a step ahead of the rest on this sort of thing.

As of 3 minutes later, discogs does not list the new album at all.  Discogs lists the same other 5 releases as allmusic, but discogs considers one of them (2010's Future Weather) to be an EP, and allmusic considers it to be an album.  Wikipedia sides with discogs on the 8-song release, also calling it an EP.

Only 10 minutes later, RYM not only lists Lost in the Dream, but it even includes the track listing.  To be fair, given that we're looking at the future and all that, let's just double-check that nothing new has happened at discogs or allmusic in the last 10 minutes.  We're nothing but fair here at nothing but good things.  Every minute counts.  Nope.  Nothing new at the other sites.  RYM wins the race.  I should also note that discogs allows members to see pending submissions, and I just looked there and there's nothing about Lost in the Dream.

I don't anticipate much from 45cat with The War on Drugs, since they really aren't a singles band, but 45cat does deliver on the one true single.  Musicbrainz covers the same territory as allmusic and discogs and agrees with everyone but allmusic about what's an album and what's an EP.

So today's winner is definitely RYM.  A purist may argue that the record doesn't belong on a discography until it's actually released, and I do have to give one RYM rater a thumbs down for giving the record a rating before it's actually released.  Perhaps they rated it on the strength of the pre-release video of Red Eyes.
To conclude the series, let's consider whether a final ranking is possible of the sites considered.

#1) RYM was the flat-out winner twice, tied for first once, and was the named second place contender once.
#2) Discogs was the flat-out winner once, tied for first twice, and was the named second place contender once.
#3) 45cat tied for first twice.
#4) Wikipedia tied for first once.
#5) Allmusic came in second or third or got an honorable mention 3 times.
#6) Musicbrainz didn't win any rounds, but there were a bit more competitive than I'd guessed they would be, and I like their simple interface that makes it easy to find what you're looking for.

Now, you might conclude from this that RYM should be your go-to site.  Actually, I think the key finding is that you probably need to go to 3 to 4 sites if you want comprehensive information for any artist that's slightly outside the mainstream.  Nobody else does 45s like 45cat does, and wikipedia is impressively competitive for older artists, but surprisingly weak for obscure indie rock.  Allmusic is very impressive in its exhaustive list of compilations, and RYM and Discogs are so competitive as to be nearly redundant, but there are often small differences between the two with no really clear and consistent winner.

And, now that the series is concluding, I realize I meant to do one obscure 80s band.  I could be back with a part 6 of 5, just to show off my weak counting skills.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

The Best Discography Sites - Part 4 of 5

See part 1 for an explanation of this series.  Today's test artist is 60s soul singer Joe Tex.  As a general rule, I find that 60s discographies are reliable for artists on Motown, Stax, or Atlantic, and spotty for anyone who recorded for other labels.  Joe Tex's career spanned multiple decades, but he definitely peaked artistically in the 60s.  I first encountered Joe Tex when I bought a record called "Ain't I a Mess" from Sam's Jam in Ferndale, Michigan.  Sam's Jams is long gone, but I did happen upon an interesting site with short blurbs about many different long-gone Michigan stores of all types.

"Ain't I a Mess" was released by Chess in 1984 and is totally lacking any useful information about the original source material.  I later determined that my favorite track on that record, "Sit Your Self Down", was from a 1964 album and single, but, if you look at his discography on Allmusic, it looks like he didn't get started until 1965.  Allmusic lists 16 60s and 70s original albums, an incredible 80+ collections, and 6 singles and EPs.  Really, why does allmusic both with the singles and EPs category if they aren't going to attend to it?

At 45cat, we start to get a real feel for Joe Tex's history.  He released over 100 singles from 1955 to 1981 on many different labels, including King, Dial, Ace, Anna, and Checker, including "Sit Yourself Down" in 1964.  Discogs also list more than 100 singles, and, while they don't include Sit Yourself Down, they do include the 1964 album on which it's featured, and their list of 21 60s and 70s albums suggests allmusic didn't really miss too many of the actual albums, and discogs list of compilations is about half the length of allmusic's.

Rateyourmusic has a nearly identical original album listing compared to discogs.  They list about 10 times as many singles as allmusic and about half as many as 45cat or discogs, and a few more collections than discogs.  Musicbrainz isn't very competitive here, listing only about half of the original albums and only 2 singles as well as a small selection of the collections.

Wikipedia has a special discography page for Joe Tex, as they do with more and more artists, as a companion to the main Joe Tex entry.  It's annoying that the album list doesn't distinguish original releases from collections, but they do include "Ain't I A Mess" from 1984 and "Hold On" from 1964, and the layout of the singles list with the chart positions is quite nice.

The winners of this round are 45cat, discogs, and wikipedia, but allmusic gets a special mention for exhaustive listings of collections.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

The Best Discography Sites - Part 3 of 5

Previously, this series was introduced with a 90s indie band and then followed up by a 50s rockabilly queen.  Today, for the third installment, we'll go to the late 70s with The Shapes.  As we can see from 45cat.com, The Shapes released a 4-song 7-inch in 1979 featuring "Wot's for lunch Mum? (Not B*****s again)" and "(I Saw) Batman (In The Launderette)" and also a 2-sing 7-inch in 1980.  As always, 45cat excels at providing high quality pictures of the original records, the sleeves as well as the insides.

Both Wikipedia and Discogs have the same two releases along with the 1998 collection which first brought The Shapes to my attention.  Discogs also includes 5 appearances on various compilations, including their appearance on the excellent Messthetics series.  Importantly, they are findable as a UK band via wikipedia's well-known, but too-infrequently-imitated disambiguation feature.  They're a tad harder to find on Discogs.  If you enter "The Shapes" into the search tool on Discogs, nothing that comes up initially is close to what you want, but if you click on "Artist" at the top, you quickly get to a set of links for various bands called "The Shapes" from which you can find the right one.

Allmusic.com is relatively incautious about disambiguation.  I don't know if bots are too blame or if it's due to their minimal use of crowdsourcing corrections.  The bio at Allmusic appears to be accurate, or at least consistent with other reliable sources, but the discography includes not only the collection that is truly theirs but also two other releases that are almost certainly some other band's or bands'.  For instance, this record can also be found at bandcamp, and I really don't think the original The Shapes became a mathrock band called Shapes.  Mind the "The".

Musicbrainz.org does an impressive job of listing the different options for The Shapes.  You can find the band that Allmusic.com miscategorized at musicbrainz.org under "Shapes (Birmingham, UK Rock Band)" and you can find The Shapes for whom we are looking today easily identifiable as "The Shapes (UK Punk Band)" second on the list.  Musicbrainz only lists 4 compilation tracks, not the 1998 collection or the original singles, but it feels like musicbrainz has at least built a framework that will allow for continuous improvement.

Rateyourmusic, on one nice single page, list the 4-song 7-inch (the EP), the 2-song 7-inch, the collection, and 5 appearances on various compilations.  I can't tell for sure if the 5 compilations included by rateyourmusic are the same as the 5 listed by discogs.  They have slightly different titles and dates, but only rateyourmusic has cover photos for all 5.

This round goes to Rateyourmusic, but Discogs a very close second.  Allmusic, to my surprise, comes in dead last.  I knew they were facing tougher competition these days, but I'm starting to wonder why I keep putting up with the aggressive pop-up ads for what is increasingly looking like an inferior site.  I hope they make a comeback, because they're a site I've valued as a resource for many years.

And now I think it might be time for lunch.  I don't think I'll have beans, just to disimbiguate myself from The Shapes.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Best Discography Sites - Part 2 of 5

I recently introduced a new series to evaluate the best discography sites, starting with Vehicle Flips, a 90s indie band.  Let's shift now to the 50s with Lillian Briggs and see how allmusic, discogs, rateyourmusic, 45cat, wikipedia, and a new competitor, musicbrainz, stack up.

This time I'm going to start with Wikipedia.  The Lillian Briggs wikipedia page rather boldly asserts that she was the first woman to achieve super-star status at the dawn of the rock'n'roll era.  The wikipedia page also provide the year and chart position of her first single, and it closes by noting that she has a new 2013 collection on Jasmine records.  It also includes my favorite Lillian Briggs fun fact.  She owned the boat (monkey business) where Gary Hart got caught with Donna Rice, knocking him out of the presidential race.

Let's move along now to allmusic.  As of the very end of 2013, allmusic is the only source that lists the new collection on Jasmine records.  Yes, the wikipedia page mentioned its existence, but it didn't show a cover or give a track listing or provide any useful information about it.  The collection is the only record allmusic lists in the Lillian Briggs discography, but, it too mentions the monkey business fun fact.

Discogs.com fills in quite a bit more of the Lillian Briggs discography with 6 singles, an EP, a 1985 collection, and 6 compilation tracks.  The compilations include Hot Boppin Girls, Vol III, They don't have the new collection though, and that reflects a general observation I have that allmusic tends to list new releases faster than the other sites even when the other sites are otherwise more complete.

Rateyourmusic also has 6 singles, but they aren't exactly the same ones as discogs.com, and rateyourmusic has dates for all of the singles, while discogs did not.  RYM has 2 EPs, and 5 compliation appearances, but no collections, neither the new collection listed by allmusic nor the 1985 collection listed by discogs.

As you would hope, 45cat stomps the competition in the singles category.  They list 10 singles in the US alone, and most have not only the release year but even the release month.  They also have high-resolution pictures of almost all of the records.  They list 7 additional releases ex-US for a total of 17 listings.

By popular request (or maybe just a single comment on a previous blog post), I'm also consider musicbrainz.org.  They list 3 compilations and that's it.

It's hard to pick a winner this time.  It may be a 3-way tie between discogs, RYM, and 45cat, but you can't totally discount the fact that allmusic was the only site (as of the end of 2013) to list the new compilation.  On the other hand, the new compilation is easy to find on Amazon, so maybe it's not so important for it to be covered on music sites. No - I think the music sites need to cover it.  I'll need to check back during 2014 to see when any of the other sites pick it up.

This concludes part 2 of our series.  Stay tuned for part 3 because, in Lillian Briggs' words, I can't stop.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Best Discography Sites - Part 1 of 5

On my bookshelf, my go-to music resources are the 3rd through 5th editions of the Trouser Press Record Guide, Joel Whitburn's billboard chart books, and Martin Strong's Great Rock Discography and Great Alternative and Indie Discography collections.  As with so many other resources, however, the web has overtaken print as a more up to date and complete source of information.  This is the first in a 5 part series exploring which web resource is best for what.

Thanks to Kickstarter, Vehicle Flips is releasing a collection of their 90s singles and compilation tracks.  Vehicle Flips had a complicated discography of 3 CDs and 5 singles spanning several different labels, not to mention all the compilation tracks, making them a good test case for completeness and accuracy at the 5 different sites I plan to evaluate in each part of this 5 part series.

We'll start with Allmusic.com, which was for many years my favored resource for getting information on band's discographies.  Once you get past the annoying pop-up ads, which have become increasingly aggressive at allmusic, you can find that they correctly list the 3 Vehicle Flips original CDs.  Selecting singles and EPs, it gets a lot sketchier.  They list 3 of the 5 singles, but only one listing is complete and accurate.  They don't have a date for "Impressed Beyond Belief" and they are under the misimpression that "Terminus" is a different band as opposed to the name of a Vehicle Flips song, an error they compound with a bizarre review.  In allmusic's favor, they do note that Frank went on to form The Gazetteers, but they don't mention Wimp Factor 14, his prior band.

Increasingly, Discogs has overtaken allmusic as my go-to resource.  Let's see how they do with Vehicle Flips.  They list all 3 CDs and all 5 singles.  Interestingly, the 3rd CD gets a 2000 date at allmusic and a 1999 date at discogs.  The CD itself does have 1999 imprinted upon it, but I believe the true release was delayed until 2000.  That's kind of a toss-up, but I think I'm willing to give allmusic credit for that one.  Discogs also lists 7 compilation appearances, which is pretty impressive coverage even if it isn't 100% complete, missing a rare cassette compilation.  Interestingly, the bio is nearly if not totally identical at Discogs and Allmusic.  I wonder who stole from whom, or if they both got it from the same third source.

Rateyourmusic, which started out focusing on ratings has gotten increasing reliable with discography's as well.  They do OK, but not great, with Vehicle Flips.  They mistakenly list one single as an album, and they miss 2 of the singles, but they get 6 of the compilations.  Like the others, they mention the Gazetteers and not Wimp Factor 14 as related artists.

For old 45s, I've found that 45cat is the most reliable source, and we'll get to that later in this series.  They also do well with the early punk era, but they're pretty spotty with recent (as in last 20 years) indie rock.  Vehicle Flips is no exception.  They don't show up at all, but, interestingly, they do have 3 Wimp Factor 14 singles listed.

Lastly, we need to consider Wikipedia.  They remain far behind the other sources when it comes to music, but they've been improving rapidly, and may eventually overtake them.  As of the end of 2013, there is no Vehicle Flips entry, but, if you search on Vehicle Flips, you can find the Harriet Records Discography, which looks pretty complete to me.  I've found Wikipedia to compete most successfully with the music-centric information sources when it comes to artists who are either more mainstream or who are outside of the main rock genres.  We may get to that later in the series.

So, the big winner in part 1 of 5 of our series is Discogs.com, with rateyourmusic.com, and allmusic.com coming in 2nd and 3rd respectively.  Stay tuned for further trials with other artists.


Sunday, December 22, 2013

Best Tracks of 2012

It's that time of year once again.  It's the time when countless websites and publications make lists of the best songs and albums of the calendar year that is not even over.  I love these lists, but I also find that their publication is creeping ever closer to Thanksgiving every year.

Meanwhile, contrarian that I am, I will continue the tradition I began in 2011 by counting down the best songs of 2010 a year late.  Last year (2012) at about this time I counted down the best songs of 2011.  These are some of my least read posts, so I have little reason to keep up this tradition other than my love of lists, self-righteousness and obstinate disregard for popularity.  Therefore, let's pause a moment.  Love of lists?  Check.  Self-righteousness?  Check.  Obstinacy?  Check.  Forging ahead!

These are the top 75 tracks of 2012, with an extra year to evaluate, re-evaluate, supplement, and sift compared to all those sites that came out with their lists prematurely in 2012.

75) Water Liars - Rest
74) Bear in Heaven - Noon Moon
73) Menomena - Plumage
72) Sufjan Stevens - Lumberjack Christmas / No One Can Save You From Christmases Past
71) The Dandy Warhols - Enjoy Yourself
70) fun. - We Are Young (feat. Janelle MonĂ¡e)
69) Old Crow Medicine Show - Levi
68) Yppah - Film Burn (feat. Anomie Belle)
67) Shovels & Rope - Keeper
66) Trampled By Turtles - Risk
65) Tomten - So So So
64) DJ Food Feat. DK - Sentinel (Shadow Guard)
63) The Evens - King Of Kings
62) Field Music - Sorry Again, Mate
61) Amanda Palmer - Institutionalized
60) Daughn Gibson - Rain On a Highway
59) Animal Collective - Honeycomb
58) Air - Astronomic Club
57) The Coup - The Gods of Science
56) Punch Brothers - This Girl
55) Peter Blegvad & Andy Partridge - St. Augustine Says
54) Porcelain Raft - Unless You Speak From Your Heart
53) Opossom - Blue Meanies
52) Beach House - Myth
51) Lord Huron - Time To Run
50) Giant Sand - Thing Like That
49) The Shins - Simple Song
48) Pond - Elegant Design
47) Dr. Dog - That Old Black Hole
46) Adele - Skyfall
45) Squarepusher - Energy Wizard
44) Oh No - Ohnomite Jazz
43) Tame Impala - Apocalypse Dreams
42) Grizzly Bear - Sleeping Ute
41) Kindness - That's Alright
40) Rosie Flores - Working Girl's Guitar
39) The Mountain Goats - Harlem Roulette
38) Bonnie "Prince" Billy - Hummingbird, pt. 1
37) The Balboas - Souls (Taste Like Chicken)
36) Kid Koala - 8 Bit Blues (Chicago To LA To NY)
35) Cory Branan - Bad Man
34) Nashville Cast - Kiss (feat. Jonathan Jackson)
33) Robert Glasper Featuring Erikah Badu - Afro Blue (feat. Erykah Badu) - Robert Glasper Featuring Eri
32) Beachwood Sparks - The Orange Grass Special
31) Daniel Rossen - Silent Song
30) Lower Dens - Stem
29) The Lumineers - Flowers in Your Hair
28) The Royalty - Bartender
27) Kelly Hogan - Whenever Your'e Out Of My Sight
26) Rayland Baxter - Driveway Melody
25) Public Service Broadcasting - Everest
24) M. Ward - Sweetheart
23) Django Django - Love's Dart
22) Noisettes - That Girl
21) The Fresh & Onlys - Presence Of Mind
20) Calexico - Splitter
19) Japandroids - The House That Heaven Built
18) The Tallest Man On Earth - Criminals
17) Trembling Bells & Bonnie 'Prince' Billy - I Made a Date (With An Open Vein)
16) Sharon Van Etten - Serpents
15) Lotus Plaza - Strangers
14) Pepe Deluxe - Queenswave
13) Cloud Nothings - Stay Useless
12) Woods - Back to the Stone
11) Father John Misty - I'm Writing A Novel
10) Damien Jurado - Working Titles
9) Hospitality - Eighth Avenue
8) Alabama Shakes - Hang Loose
7) Jake Bugg - Trouble Town
6) Zammuto - F U C-3PO
5) Craig Finn - Jackson
4) Allo Darlin' - Neil Armstrong
3) Menahan Street Band - Sleight of Hand
2) Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros - Man On Fire
1) First Aid Kit - first place tie (The Lion's Roar and Emmylou)

Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Early Year-end Music Lists of 2013

There are still 23 days left in 2013 for musical artists to release new tracks or albums, but none of those tracks or albums will appear on any of these year-end lists.  I love year-end lists, so I can hardly complain about them starting so early, but it really does feel like they show up earlier and earlier every year.  For myself, I'll be sticking to my tradition of waiting a full year.  Look for my best of 2012 list sometime in the next month.  Wait another year for my best of 2013 list.  In the mean time...

Paste Magazine features both a song list and an album list:

Paste's top 50 songs of 2013

Paste's top 50 albums of 2013

Pop Matters gives us the top songs of the year and the top albums in various categories

Pop Matters top 75 songs of 2013

Pop Matters top 10 best indie rock albums of 2013

Pop Matters top 10 best indie pop albums of 2013

Spin provides their lists in annoying slide show format

Spin's top 50 sings of 2013

Spin's top 50 albums of 2013

Stereogum also uses the slide show format, but it's a wee bit less annoying because there's a little more content.

Stereogum's top 50 albums of 2013

Pretty Much Amazing gives us a top 100

Pretty Much Amazing's top 100 songs of 2013

Pitchfork also goes to 100 with top tracks and a top 50 album list

Pitchfork top 100 tracks of 2013

Pitchfork top 50 albums of 2013

Drowned in Sound has just 20 albums, but only scrolling and no clicking is required, which is really thoughtful of them

Drowned in Sound top 20 albums of 2013

A New Yorker blog provides a very pop-centric top 40 songs list

Top 40 songs of 2013 (New Yorker blog)

Billboard has a critics picks list, which is also, of course, very pop-centric.  It's valuable though to have pop-centric critics lists because often critics ignore pop and some pop is definitely a lot better than other pop.

Top 20 songs of 2013 (Billboard critics list)

NPR thinks a top 100 should be listed alphabetically by artist.  I disagree, but here it is.

NPR's favorite 100 songs of 2013

NPR's top 10 folk and americana albums of 2013

NPR's top 50 favorite albums of 2013

Allmusic suffers from the same inability to rank their selections, but they alphabetize by last name (phone book style) rather than NPR's first name first approach (iTunes style).

Allmusic's top 50 albums of 2013

eMusic has a top 100 albums list with a rather odd interface.  They claim the "experience" of looking at the list is optimized for iOS7.  I think I'd like it better as a read rather than an experience, but I'm old-fashioned that way.

eMusic top 100 albums of 2013

Uncut has a top 80 albums list.  Why 80?  Twice as good as 40?  I don't know.

UNCUT's top 80 albums of 2013

I found all of the above a bit more predictable than I would have hoped, so I went searching for a few more obscure lists.  I haven't actually had that much luck so far.  Maybe those looking for hidden gems wait until after the year has really ended, much as I do with my own lists.  These were at least a little bit different in one way or another:

Secretly Important 10 best albums

The L Magazine best 20 albums of 2013

Chart Attack's 50 best songs of 2013

Top 10 songs of 2013 from The Boot

More lists will follow soon enough.  I'll update this post when they do.