October 10th, 2009

The Right Combination

After going months without a functional iPod Shuffle I was recently able to restore a first-generation model that had been on extended loan to someone else. And what a difference having it has made in my ability to cope with the stress and strain of mundane existence. As much as I dig the full-size Toshiba Gigabeat danlmarmot very generously gave me, I always feel somewhat encumbered by its dimensions, not to mention an interface that is hard to navigate when in motion. To be honest, although I find the second-generation Shuffle impressive and am intrigued by what the new third-generation one can do, it's the simple white lozenge of the first-generation model, which feels like a Lego, that I prefer. Sometimes advances in miniaturization make things harder for people of my size. I love how I can always feel my first-generation Shuffle against my chest, the way I can easily handle the controls while riding a bicycle. But my affection for the device also derives from the fact that it was my first portable music player, the one I used for hours on end during my most difficult periods of the decade. For better or worse, sensing the device's presence around my neck reminds me of a time when easy access to new music was just about the only thing keeping me sane.

Back then I would fill up my Shuffle up from a playlist comprising my latest acquisitions. That's how bands like Bloc Party, Modest Mouse, Liars and Band of Horses made their way into the pantheon of artists I identify as personal property. Since I got the one I have now up and running, however, I've been going for a leaner approach. Sometimes I'll only load a single album, if I'm writing a review or feel the need to familiarize myself with new content. More often, though, I'll seek out a middle ground between a fully packed device and one that is only using a fraction of its memory. I pick three or four albums that project to go well together and come up with an extended montage. I don't always succeed in getting a good mix. Tonight, though, I came up with the classic greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts effect: The XX's eponymous debut, just out in the States, the last album by Sea Wolf, a sorely underrated band, and The Notwist's The Devil, You + Me, which reinforced my conviction that they are some of the best artists working today. Every song sounds better because of the music that precedes and follows it. I was delighted to do the tedious household tasks of evening simply because I had a stream of music to spirit me away to a much better place.