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Dueling Apps: Pandora vs. Last.fm, Round One — The Smiths

George Lang Published: October 27, 2009

Having gotten my first iPhone two months ago, my main focus in collecting applications is on music and news, and the music part has been chaotic at best — while I enthusiastically downloaded apps for KCRW and Indie 103.1, I became frustrated at the number of dropouts and buffering issues I faced with both these L.A.-based alt-music powerhouses.

My best music app experiences are currently with Pandora and Last.fm. I downloaded Pandora almost instantly once I got the phone, but I was pointed to Last.fm by a friend this past weekend, and since the two services are fairly similar in format and functionality, I decided it would be interesting to take one artist each day and build stations for them on each service. I will list the first 10 songs Pandora and Last.fm deliver for each artist, and then assess which service offered the best response.


Let’s mope a bit, Pandora, with The Smiths!
1. The Smiths, “Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me.”
2. The Cure, “A Forest.”
3. Morrissey, “The More You Ignore Me, The Closer I Get.”
4. New Order, “Love Vigilantes.”
5. The Smiths, “I Want the One I Can’t Have.”
6. The Cure, “Close To Me.”
7. Pixies, “Here Comes Your Man.”
8. Morrissey, “Piccadilly Palare.”
9. Radiohead, “High and Dry.”
10. The Smiths, “I Started Something I Couldn’t Finish.”

Pro: Pandora is great at delivering the actual artist requested, so a full 50 percent of the first 10 songs Pandora spit out were either Smiths or Morrissey, so Pandora is fairly literal-minded in its delivery. As for the balance, I mostly got contemporaneous post-modern rock from the mid-to-late ’80s, including the indispensable New Order track “Love Vigilantes” and two Cure tracks. The clear outlier here is Radiohead’s “High and Dry,” which was from 1995, but stylistically it meshes nicely with the rest of the classics in this 10.
Con: Pandora could be a little more far-reaching in its selections — even the most mediocre radio programmer could group The Smiths, New Order and The Cure in their sleep. I would have liked to see some less-obvious followers such as the Smoking Popes or Girl in a Coma.

And now, Last.fm, strangeways, here we come!

1. The Cure, “Close To Me.”
2. Joy Division, “Love Will Tear Us Apart.”
3. The Smiths, “Vicar in a Tutu.”
4. Echo & the Bunnymen, “Ocean Rain (Live).”
5. The Libertines, “Hey Yankee.”
6. Television, “See No Evil.”
7. Queen and David Bowie, “Under Pressure.”
8. The Libertines, “If Wishes Were Horses.”
9. The Jesus and Mary Chain, “Just Like Honey.”
10. Echo & the Bunnymen, “Thorn of Crowns.”

Pro: Last.fm seems historically more geared to delivering artists like your requested singer or band, not toward delivering that artist specifically, and so what we have here is exactly one Smiths song — and not an obvious one — and a good mixture of contemporaries, progenitors (Television!) and followers. I’m normally not a fan of these services pulling live tracks when a studio version is readily available, but I had never heard the 2001 live version of Echo’s “Ocean Rain,” from “Live in Liverpool,” and it was nothing short of majestic, so hats off.
Con: If you wanted to hear the Smiths, you got a mere taste, and (cue Seinfeld delivery), “What is the deal with ‘Close To Me’?” Also, I’m not entirely sure how “Under Pressure” thrives on this particular musical planet. I love it, but it seems out of place in this grouping.

Advantage: Last.fm for thinking outside the timeline and offering a tad more context. This delivered a more interesting and less predictable listening experience.

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