David Emery Online

Hi there, I’m David. This is my website. I work in music for Apple. You can find out a bit more about me here. On occasion I’ve been known to write a thing or two. Please drop me a line and say hello. Views mine not my employers.

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Writ Small: "Today" by Julie Morstad

“How was your day?” was the first story I ever asked my kid to tell me.

This line hit me as remarkably profound.

And true — you can see the cogs of storytelling slowly start to mesh together as they grow up, narrative and plot appearing out of a steam of consciousness.

Well, when they don’t just say “it was ok”, which is remarkably often.

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Collaborative Playlists in Apple Music

The latest version of iOS—17.3—just dropped*, and with it comes a great and long overdue update to Apple Music: Collaborative Playlists.

There’s delightful touches throughout, including emoji reactions per song, which strikes me as just the right amount of social in a Music app.

If you want to test it out, update to 17.3 and add something good (no pressure) to my shared playlist (link below).

* Can operating systems “drop”, or is that reserved for sneakers and hipster brewery collabs? Needs research.

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Apple Music Replay ‘23

Apple Music Replay ‘23 just launched—I say ‘launched’, but you can actually get your stats all year round, so it’s just the final year recap that’s fresh.

Either way, this just makes me wonder what a Taylor x Four Tet remix would sound like…

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Is My Toddler a Stochastic Parrot?

The world is racing to develop ever more sophisticated large language models while a small language model unfurls itself in my home.

A beautiful mediation on a concept that has been contained to science fiction for the longest time but, now, is quickly losing the “fiction”. While it is likely that AI and large language models may well take jobs away from people, it seems that philosophers have heady days ahead of them.

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The Inter typeface family

Inter is a workhorse of a typeface carefully crafted & designed for a wide range of applications, from detailed user interfaces to marketing & signage.

A wonderful free, open source typeface, just updated to version 4 with a range of additional alternate glyphs and styles.

So wonderful, in fact, that I’ve just switched it in to replace the default-choice Helvetica on this site. Much better. I particularly like the option that let you switch in slashed zeros—amongst many other little tweaks—to give it a little more character.

(No pun intended.)

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The Mystery of the Bloomfield Bridge

This pedestrian bridge crosses I-494 just west of the Minneapolis Airport. It connects Bloomington to Richfield. I drive under it often and I wondered: why is it there? It's not in an area that is particularly walkable, and it doesn't connect any establishments that obviously need to be connected. So why was it built?

Never have I been more interested to know why a bridge was built.

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Radiohead x Kendrick Lamar

A NYC DJ named Dwells released this mashup of Radiohead's Everything In Its Right Place and Kendrick Lamar's N95 back in March and I love it.
— From Kottke.org

There’s two things I like about this.

Firstly, if you mash up my favourite album from 2022 with my favourite album of 2000, and you do it this well, there’s no way I’m not going to write about it.

Secondly, posting a mashup clip from YouTube, found on another blog, seems so deeply noughties that I’m getting nostalgic whiplash. Be right back, I’m just going to put this on my Facebook wall.

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Blur - Live at Colchester Arts Centre

Stepping out of Colchester station you are presented with a giant Asda lurking off a roundabout, which is connected to another roundabout which, too, is connected to yet another roundabout. I did not stop to check whether that third roundabout is, indeed, hooked up to the first one as well, but I would not be surprised if it were so. All of which to say; Colchester is a town in England, similar in structure and form to so many others. Maybe a little prettier then most, though, with sprinklings of ancient walls and a river with lush greenery drooping over and into it; all of that sharing the space with Nando’s and H&M and Zizzi and countless other chains that wearily cling on across the country, sandwiched between empty resurants and shuttered shops.

I come from a town that could fit the description above almost exactly—other then it being a Tesco not an Asda, and there being an additional roundabout between it and the station—so I say this with love: It is the sort of place you only visit for a reason. Maybe you need to get your MOT sorted at the KwikFit, maybe it’s for that big shop. My reason would have absolutely infuriated my thirteen year old self.

I was exactly the right age to buy into the idea that some music was good and some music was bad. CDs were expensive, and you had to be sure—really sure—that what you were buying was worth the fifteen pounds or so you’d saved up. And of course, once you’d done so that decision was locked in. It was good, and you would revel in telling everyone of your refined taste and excellent spending choices. The conviction of a young teenager with a limited purchasing power is strong, and those definitive decisions would spread through a friend group like a virus. It was this landscape that Blur vs Oasis was born into.

I am unsure of the origins of why, or who was patient zero, but my friend group and I were very much on team Oasis. My first gig was Oasis, supported by The Verve, at Earls Court. My dad took me and we stood on the second barrier, not that far from the front, and I was awestruck. On the other hand Blur, deep in their Country House and Girls and Boys era, seemed somewhat silly and irrevant. It wasn’t until their self titled fifth album—which coincidently came out in the same year that Oasis’s infamously bloated third album ‘Be Here Now’—when I started properly paying attention. Blur revelled in trying new things, reinventing themselves time and time again, which was in stark contrast to the unfortunately diminishing returns from the boys from Manchester.

That reinvention continues with new song The Narcissist, from forthcoming album The Ballard of Darren, which got its live debut in a converted church in Colchester last Friday night. Nestled in the encore between the aforementioned Girls and Boys, and perennial favourite Tender, The Narcissist was a standout, which is impressive for a song that was less than twenty four hours old and surrounded by bonafide hits. It is reinvention by the way of introspection, the lyrics sounding world weary in a way that the best Blur songs do, the sound sounding fuller and more rounded then they have before, especially with Graham’s harmonies.

The rest of the set was a study in setlist selection, mixing in deep cuts, a smattering of new songs, and hit after hit without even getting to all of them. Yes, we were all a little older—the crowd were about as wild as you’d expect for an audience that fell in love with a band some thirty years ago—but it felt like Blur have found something, an indefinable spark, that they haven’t had for some time.

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Three Drums by Four Tet

I came to electronic music late, much like I always thought I would with jazz. I could see jazz, hovering there, interesting, beguiling, not quite in view but on the horizon. Inevitable. I would get to it eventually. Electronic music, on the other hand, I dismissed out of hand.

I remember working with an artist when I was early to the music industry—I was going to say fifteen years ago but, sadly, I just checked and it will be twenty years ago next year—and being entranced by the music, but I could not get past the lack of vocals, or the lack of live instrumentation. The latter I find most odd in hindsight, coming from someone who was only in their orbit by virtue of his decades long obsession with ones and zeros. For far too long I was caught up in maintaining how I thought things should be, rather than embracing all of the possibilities of what they could be.

Four Tet, right now, is embracing those possibilities. He has entered his imperial phase—a phrase coined by Neil Tennant from the Pet Shop Boys, who knows a thing or two both about pop culture and electronic music, referring to when an artist is at their commercial and creative peak—which is objectively quite funny for someone that clearly is just having so much fun. From accidently forming a supergroup with Skrillex and Fred again.. to releasing albums by Brian Eno (and Fred again.. again), and ending up accidentally headlining Coachella, Four Tet is somehow everywhere, but in the nicest possible way.

This latest track—another in a long line of standalone singles since his last album proper in 2020—is over 8 minutes long, but the first time I heard it I immediately played it again. The way it builds and flows and ebbs and soars, adding new elements only to take them away and make you long for their return, makes that runtime feel the same as a punchy radio edit, drowning you only to bring you back to the surface. I remember my cocky, righteous, twenty-something self being so sure that electronic music couldn’t bring the same emotion, the same connection, that quote-unquote real music could conjure. I’d like to think that if I’d played him this track, maybe—just maybe—he might have changed his mind.

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Black Country, New Road - 'Live at Bush Hall'

Black Country, New Road are a fascinating band. Up until last year, a music journalist would have probably focused on the dry wit of their lyrics and the wry delivery of lead singer Isaac Wood, both of which were the cornerstones of a sound that was taking them to bigger and bigger audiences. And then, on the eve of their second album release, he quit.

They were always more than just one person, though. And so, they have continued, reconfigured, and got on with it—continuing to tour, but with all new material. It’s still great—different, of course—but the spark that made them interesting in the first place is still very much intact.

‘Live at Bush Hall’ is a statement of intent—a full live performance film of brand new material, complete with a dose of theatre and artistic rigour. The vibe is Arcade Fire (without the problematic overtones) meets the best high-school band that ever was:

UPDATE: This has now been released as a proper live album, and it’s glorious: Black Country, New Road – Live at Bush Hall

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The Work by Gold Panda

Sometimes, and in fact often with my most favourite records, it takes quite a few listens for an album to reveal itself. Listen one will just bounce off in a wave of indifference, or disappointment if expectations are high. Another try will result in the same, often the second half doesn’t even get listened to. Then a week will go by. Maybe a track appears in shuffle and I’ll check to see what it is and be surprised. And so on. Until, eventually, my ears are accustomed enough to let the whole album in, and again and again until it dominates my listening.

So it goes, and so it has been with the latest album by Gold Panda.

I’ve been a fan for years, and in fact I would credit his 2013 album “Half of Where you live” as being my first introduction to electronic music, having focused on guitars for far too many years prior. “The Work” initially passed me by, despite wanting to love it. Now it’s a daily play.

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In Memory Of Tweetbot

On January 12th, 2023, without warning, Elon Musk ordered his employees at Twitter to suspend access to 3rd party clients which instantly locked out hundreds of thousands of users from accessing Twitter from their favorite clients. We’ve invested over 10 years building Tweetbot for Twitter and it was shut down in a blink of an eye.

For a while I’ve been hearing people say how “bad” their Twitter experience has been recently. How many controversy-baiting tweets they’re being pushed, or how often they get content they just don’t want to see. This had always confused me, as it didn’t match at all with what I was seeing—I thought to myself that maybe they should just unfollow whoever was retweeting that content into their timelines.

Well, now I get it.

I’ve not used the official Twitter client in—checks notes—over a decade and, well, it turns out it’s not… great. Spot checking it just now, and out of my latest 15 posts, 7 of them are negative, click-batey noise that the algorithm is prioritising as the most “engaging” content. I’m also getting notifications about random accounts that I don’t follow having posted. Hugh Laurie’s dog has died. Thanks for letting me know, Twitter.

Tweetbot has been one of my top used apps for years, but also my refuge. Always focused on the user experience above all else, it is such a loss to see it come to an end in such an abrupt and unceremonious way.

The only silver lining to this dark cloud is that Ivory—Tapbot’s new Mastodon client—is brilliant. It already feels like home.

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Weightless by Arlo Parks

Phoebe Bridgers has been busy.

I can only assume that three separate music marketing teams independently came to the conclusion that the third Wednesday in January was the optimal time to announce a new album, because yesterday was slammed with new music. A new record by The National. A new record by Arlo Parks. And a new record by boygenius.

You would, of course, expect Bridgers to appear on that last one, as it’s an in-air-quotes supergroup of her, Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus. All stalwarts of the American indie scene—and all great—and now all, such are the whims of the music industry, signed to Interscope, home of Lady Gaga and Sting.

She also appears on The National album, which makes sense, alongside Sufjan Stevans, which also makes sense, and Taylor Swift. Her appearance does, also, make sense—in fact it would have been almost surprising for her to have not been on it, such is where we’re at in The National Extended Universe in 2023—but if you told me that ten years ago I wouldn’t have even thought you were joking, just very confused. Phoebe is on the album twice though, so her work-rate still comes out on top.

Finally, Phoebe also makes an appearance on the new Arlo Parks album. The three separate labels did at least have the communication skills to avoid Bridgers appearing on multiple different songs on the same day, so we’ll have to wait until later to find out her contributions, but—and I stress that music is not a competition, we are all winners—the Arlo track is clearly the best, at least on first listen.

If you only have the chance to listen to one of these, make it that one. And then proceed, like I have just done, to wonder just how Phoebe Bridgers handles time management.

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Be On Your Way by Daughter

I must confess that Ex:Re, the solo record by Daughter’s singer and main songwriter Elena Tonra, is a once-a-week listen for me, despite it coming out over 4 years ago now. That also accounts for the 7 year gap since their last album proper.

It’s beautiful, of course.

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2022 in Music

Writing about music is like singing about grammar. Rarely done well, but sometimes someone manages it.

Let’s start with Kendrick. An artist who has gone beyond the traditional confines of genre to create something bold and distinctive. Mr Morale and the Big Steppers is not a perfect record—there are a couple of stumbles, like the eminently skippable ‘We Cry Together’—but it certainly comes close, and bristles with artistry. For me, the standout is ‘Mother I Sober’ featuring Beth Gibbons from Portishead, whose presence underlines the fragility shown across the rest of the track. His performance at Glastonbury was, too, a standout. It seems wild to think that it wasn’t that long ago that the thought of hip-hop on the main stage caused an uproar when Jay Z headlined in 2008. Fast forward to 2022 and Kendrick is head and shoulders above.

Staying with live music, a personal highlight was catching one of LCD Soundsystem’s residency shows in Brooklyn. They still know how to make people dance. They also managed to release a very good standalone song—attached to the new Noah Baumbach film White Noise—in ‘New Body Rumba’, which hardly breaks new ground...

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What Can We Learn from Barnes & Noble's Surprising Turnaround?

Publishers give discounts and thousands of dollars in marketing support, but the store must buy a boatload of copies—even if the book sucks and demand is weak—and push them as aggressively as possible.

Publishers do this in order to force-feed a book on to the bestseller list, using the brute force of marketing money to drive sales. If you flog that bad boy ruthlessly enough, it might compensate for the inferiority of the book itself. Booksellers, for their part, sweep up the promo cash, and maybe even get a discount that allows them to under-price Amazon.

Everybody wins. Except maybe the reader.

Daunt refused to play this game. He wanted to put the best books in the window. He wanted to display the most exciting books by the front door. Even more amazing, he let the people working in the stores make these decisions.

—Ted Gioia

There’s a lot of interesting points in this piece, but the overriding theme for me is trust. Trust in the staff to make the right local decisions for their unique market and local conditions, and trust in the audience that they might want something different.

There’s also trust in the very concept of being a bookshop, and a focus on the answer to the question “why might someone go to a bookshop?” The answer, which seems obvious but clearly isn’t, is to buy books. Not to drink coffee, or to buy assorted trinkets, or to chase after a completely unrelated business line in the hope that it might magically bring more customers in.

Focus and trust.

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Dowsing is a technology for intuition amplification

So my unfounded, imagined mechanism starts like this: thinking about water, and stepping into a location where there is increased water likelihood, one may become primed to look down, which is physically represented as a microscopic movement or twitch of the fingers. (Which could of course be a random twitch because that happens too.)

—Matt Webb

I am absolutely fascinated by the idea that pseudoscience ideas like dowsing could—due to the deep and strange and mysterious ways our bodies are cobbled together—actually work on some level.

See also: homeopathy. I don’t for a second think that sugar pills with a microscopic amount of something in them have any effect, but—sometimes they do. Which means that our brains and our bodies are conjuring up that response out of nowhere, because the taker believes that they do.

And maybe—to build on Matt’s point about amplifying our own bodies intuition and natural responses—paracetamol, aspirin et al often work in the same way; it’s not the active ingredients that make you feel better, it’s the action of taking it. See also: when I give one of my kids a plaster for the most minor of scrapes.

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NO THANK YOU by Little Simz

A few listens in, and this sounds like a worthy follow up to her Mercury Prize winning last album, ‘Sometimes I Might Be Introvert’.

Also a timely reminder not to collate your “Best of the Year” lists until the year is actually done.

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