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A “history” on the radio page shows me what I’ve heard, which is helpful because I’m
pretty stoned.
TAKING iTUNES RADIO FOR A SPIN
In Which We Venture Boldly Into the Realm of Music Discovery, Armed Only With a GPen

Ask a bunch of music-writer geeks what they think of a new streaming service and you’ll see them turn into would-be DJs pretty fast. With the arrival of Apple’s spiffy new iTunes Radio, we sampled a few of the existing stations (Beatles Radio, Pure Pop, Jared Leto’s guest DJ set). They sounded great, with minimal and unobtrusive commercial interruptions. But you know us: We had to start building our own stations.

As today marked both the 40-year anniversary of Gram Parsons’ death and the eve of the Americana Awards, it seemed apt to build a station around the progenitor of country-rock. iTunes Radio delivered in spades, kicking off with “Return of the Grievous Angel” and then throwing in great rootsy songs by The Band, Buffalo Springfield, Levon Helm, Bob Dylan, Warren Zevon, John Prine and more. This was with the station “tuned” to the “variety” setting, halfway between “hits” and “discovery.”

Adding a few more contemporary acts, including Neko Case and the Old 97s, prompted a more diverse array. Meanwhile, the only commercial I heard in nearly an hour of listening was for a Neil Diamond anthology—reasonably targeted, and a far cry from the shrill, random interruptions I was used to on Pandora.

Love a song? You can buy it while it’s playing by clicking the button in the play bar. A “history” on the radio page shows me what I’ve heard, which is helpful because I’m pretty stoned, and every title in the list has a buy button next to it. The early enthusiasm from label types about this feature becomes easier to understand when you’re feeling the rush of a great playlist.

Switching gears, I set up an Eagles of Death Metal station, adding The Rolling Stones, Tame ImpalaWhite Stripes and Hanni El-Khatib. It was pleasingly loud and introduced me to The Dirtbombs. A Nissan Versa ad had a streaming music tie-in (and was mercifully brief).

Lenny Beer requested a Joni Mitchell station, with Laura Marling added for a modern discovery angle (with the “tuning” on “discovery”). What we got was deep cuts from Joni, CSN, Dylan, Neil Young, Bonnie Raitt, James Taylor and Paul Simon, but—as Beer noted—there’s nothing wrong with that. Still, the “discovery,” at least at first blush, emphasized deep cuts from beloved in-the-demo acts rather than unknown artists.

Throwing another current act, Passenger, into the mix pushes the station into a more contemporary direction; enter Marling, Iron and Wine, and Sam Amidon. Discovery!

Honestly? So far, iTunes Radio is pretty great, and I'm particularly liking the ability to steer a course between the more familiar and the unknown, depending on my mood.

We’ll keep listening and reporting back to you, because that’s how much we care about informing our dear readers. Plus we’re now far too wasted to do anything else.

 

 

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