What's the Value of Ownership in the Age of Cloud Computing?

My fiancée and I will soon move across the country with whatever will fit in our Honda Civic. This has brought up some discussions about which possessions are truly worth keeping.

"What is this obsession people have with books? They put them in their houses like they're trophies. What do you need it for after you read it?"

This quote from the ever-curious Jerry Seinfeld is particularly applicable to my life right now (which is weird, because usually it's George's wisdom that I find most relevant). This summer, in the span of a few weeks, I'm getting married, starting a new job (hopefully) and leaving my adopted hometown of Chicago to head east to Boston.

As part of this crazy plan, my fiancée and I are aiming to move with as few possessions as possible – just what will fit in our Honda Civic. This has brought up some discussions about what things of ours are truly worth keeping.

Take books, for example: unlike many people we know, who have shelves full of their favorite titles prominently displayed in their apartments, we have a couple of small shelves tucked away and have plans to donate a good portion of them before we move. This latest blow to our collection pretty much ensures that our new home won't feature a wall of books like the one I grew up with. We both wonder, should we care? Does it make us seem uneducated or uninterested to visitors? Or are we just practical -- not to mention ahead of our time -- given the inevitable move to electronic libraries?

The truth is, I haven't bought more than a handful of books over the last few years. While there's definitely something nice about owning a book instead of renting it (libraries always seem to get the ugliest, bulkiest editions), it's not something I'm willing to shell out cash for, especially when I'm not sure it's going to be good. When I buy a book, I like to think it's one I'll read more than once, or at least refer back to; I'm definitely more of a hoarder in this respect than Angela, who almost immediately passes along good reads to friends and family upon completion. There's no way I'll give up all my books, but it won't be that much of a challenge to let go of a significant percentage of my library.

Now, my CDs, that's another issue entirely. My music collection currently sits in several overstuffed CD storage books and one large plastic crate in a corner of my bedroom, taking up real estate as it has in my previous three apartments. I certainly have no desire to show it off, trophy-style, as I noticed a friend has in his apartment; though I may be proud of my collection, CDs have never really lent themselves to prominent display.

But that doesn't mean I can easily separate myself from something I built over 15-plus painstaking years. First I have to preserve it, disc by slowly ripped disc. While many of my CDs were uploaded to my old computer to then be transferred to my old iPod, both these devices are now useless. I’m back at square one, and I have some tough decisions to make unless I want to spend the next few months sitting in front of Angela’s MacBook (my own laptop’s CD drive broke about a month ago and I haven’t deemed it worth replacing, a sure sign that the discs’ days were numbered).

Choosing which albums are worth saving has been a fun process that's reminded me why I put so much importance on physical music objects in the first place – sorting through digital files isn’t nearly as rewarding. But it’s also made me never want to go through such an undertaking again – which is why I might finally be ready to move to the cloud.

Regular readers of this column may remember that I'm more than a little wary of cloud-based services that aim to free consumers from the hassle of actually owning and running software, apps, and files from their local hard drives. The concept's nothing new, but it's become a point of focus for music fans recently, thanks to the launch of Amazon's Cloud Drive and, more recently, Google Music (as I write, plans for the Apple entry are taking shape).

The Google and Amazon models are pretty similar -- neither has a deal with any major record labels, so the main service it offers is the ability to upload your own file collection (for Google it's music only, while Amazon accepts more file types) to large central servers for easy access via web-based apps. Apple, having secured partnerships with the big music-industry players, and Business Insider reports that this will give users the ability to scan their existing collections for legally purchased music, which will then be replicated on the servers and save hours of uploading time.

Regardless of the provider and the options, though, cloud-based music services have their drawbacks. The biggest concern is the loss of true ownership over what were once personal files. Forget tangible storage mediums; in the cloud, you won’t even know where your hard-earned collection is stored – so is it really “yours” anymore? In a recent Wired article discussing the impact of the recently announced Google Chromebook -- a laptop that runs completely using cloud-based apps -- on music fans, Eliot van Buskirk writes that “the future of music collecting lies in access, not storage.”

This new reality seems to make the act of collecting less satisfying; 'access' is not something you can put in a trophy case. When music is both everywhere and nowhere at the same time, what is the point of trying to lay claim to a piece of it? Now, it seems, playing a song in your collection will be no different from streaming something from Grooveshark or YouTube or, for that matter, a jukebox in a bar. If music taste is a part of personality – and I suppose that’s debatable – cloud-based music would seem to limit our connection to that part. Another way to look at it, of course, is that such services actually expand our ability to make our choices heard, as those music collections formerly tethered to hard drives and even iPods can now be freely accessed anywhere, anytime. You don’t have to wait to get home to share the new song that defines you (or even the one that you just recorded) – it’s available wherever you are.

Music’s ever-increasing ubiquity raises another concern, though, according to PopMatters’ own Rob Horning. In a recent “Marginal Utility” post, he writes that “the transformation of hard-to-lug collections into ephemeral lists” actually intensifies “the circulation of music as a commodity,” something that began with the first recorded tracks. As our music tastes and habits become part of the cloud (particularly the Google cloud), they become more fodder for marketers. Music becomes information that we offer up about ourselves, and presumably leads to ever more personalized pitches.

But does this ultimately change the listening experience for the average user? Probably not – and I’d argue that the use of music taste as a method of self-presentation is not unique to the cloud; those long lists of favorite bands on MySpace essentially served the same purpose, even if users weren’t actually ceding recordings to the site. I feel like I’ve been creating a marketing profile for as long as I’ve had an outlet to profess my opinions.

Ultimately, this comes down to a matter of needs. As much as cloud services might stress me out intellectually, the reality is that they help to solve a present problem or desire (Facebook users confront a similar internal battle as they balance social interests and privacy concerns). I may come to regret the move to the cloud and the way that it affects my relationship with music -- but right now, I can't find a good enough reason not to do it. So I'll give up most of my beloved CDs with relative confidence that I'll be able to enjoy them in some form in our new apartment. If only we could do the same thing with our furniture.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

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The Best Dance Tracks of 2017

Photo: Murielle Victorine Scherre (Courtesy of Big Beat Press)

From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

In June of 2016, prolific producer Diplo lambasted the world of DJ's in an interview with Billboard, stating that EDM was dying. Coincidentally enough, the article's contents went viral and made their way into Vice Media's electronic music and culture channel Thump, which closed its doors after four years this summer amid company-wide layoffs. Months earlier, electronic music giant SFX Entertainment filed bankruptcy and reemerged as Lifestyle, Inc., shunning the term "EDM".

So here we are at the end of 2017, and the internet is still a flurry with articles declaring that Electronic Dance Music is rotting from the inside out and DJ culture is dying on the vine, devoured by corporate greed. That might all well be the case, but electronic music isn't disappearing into the night without a fight as witnessed by the endless parade of emerging artists on the scene, the rise of North America's first Electro Parade in Montréal, and the inaugural Electronic Music Awards in Los Angeles this past September.

For every insipid, automaton disc jockey-producer, there are innovative minds like Anna Lunoe, Four Tet, and the Black Madonna, whose eclectic, infectious sets display impeccable taste, a wealth of knowledge, and boundless creativity. Over the past few years, many underground artists have been thrust into the mainstream spotlight and lost the je ne sais quoi that made them unique. Regardless, there will always be new musicians, producers, singers, and visionaries to replace them, those who bring something novel to the table or tip a hat to their predecessors in a way that steps beyond homage and exhilarates as it did decades before.

As electronic music continues to evolve and its endless sub-genres continue to expand, so do fickle tastes, and preferences become more and more subjective with a seemingly endless list of artists to sift through. With so much music to digest, its no wonder that many artists remain under the radar. This list hopes to remedy that injustice and celebrate tracks both indie and mainstream. From the "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique to Stockholm Noir's brilliant string of darkly foreboding, electro-licked singles, here are ten selections that represent some of the more intriguing dance offerings of 2017.

10. Moullinex - “Work It Out (feat. Fritz Helder)”

Taken from Portuguese producer, DJ, and multi-instrumentalist Luis Clara Gomes' third album Hypersex, "Work It Out" like all of its surrounding companions is a self-proclaimed, "collective love letter to club culture, and a celebration of love, inclusion and difference." Dance music has always seemingly been a safe haven for "misfits" standing on the edge of the mainstream, and while EDM manufactured sheen might have taken the piss out of the scene, Hypersex still revels in that defiant, yet warm and inviting attitude.

Like a cheeky homage to Rick James and the late, great High Priest of Pop, Prince, this delectably filthy, sexually charged track with its nasty, funk-drenched bass line, couldn't have found a more flawless messenger than former Azari & III member Fritz Helder. As the radiant, gender-fluid artist sings, "you better work your shit out", this album highlight becomes an anthem for all those who refuse to bow down to BS. Without any accompanying visuals, the track is electro-funk perfection, but the video, with its ruby-red, penile glitter canon, kicks the whole thing up a notch.

9. Touch Sensitive - “Veronica”

The neon-streaked days of roller rinks and turtlenecks, leg warmers and popped polo collars have come and gone, but you wouldn't think so listening to Michael "Touch Sensitive" Di Francesco's dazzling debut Visions. The Sydney-based DJ/producer's long-awaited LP and its lead single "Lay Down", which shot to the top of the Hype Machine charts, are as retro-gazing as they are distinctly modern, with nods to everything from nu disco to slo-mo house.

Featuring a sample lifted from 90s DJ and producer Paul Johnson's "So Much (So Much Mix)," the New Jack-kissed "Veronica" owns the dance floor. While the conversational interplay between the sexed-up couple is anything but profound, there is no denying its charms, however laughably awkward. While not everything on Visions is as instantly arresting, it is a testament to Di Francesco's talents that everything old sounds so damn fresh again.

8. Gourmet - “Delicious”

Neither Gourmet's defiantly eccentric, nine-track debut Cashmere, nor its subsequent singles, "There You Go" or "Yellow" gave any indication that the South African purveyor of "spaghetti pop" would drop one of the year's sassiest club tracks, but there you have it. The Cape Town-based artist, part of oil-slick, independent label 1991's diminutive roster, flagrantly disregards expectation on his latest outing, channeling the Scissor Sisters at their most gloriously bitchy best, Ratchet-era Shamir, and the shimmering dance-pop of UK singer-producer Joe Flory, aka Amateur Best.

With an amusingly detached delivery that rivals Ben Stein's droning roll call in Ferris Bueller's Day Off , he sings "I just want to dance, and fuck, and fly, and try, and fail, and try again…hold up," against a squelchy bass line and stabbing synths. When the percussive noise of what sounds like a triangle dinner bell appears within the mix, one can't help but think that Gourmet is simply winking at his audience, as if to say, "dinner is served."

7. Pouvoir Magique - “Chalawan”

Like a psychoactive ayahuasca brew, the intoxicating "shamanic techno" of Parisian duo Pouvoir Magique's LP Disparition, is an exhilarating trip into unfamiliar territory. Formed in November of 2011, "Magic Power" is the musical project of Clément Vincent and Bertrand Cerruti, who over the years, have cleverly merged several millennia of songs from around the world with 21st-century beats and widescreen electro textures. Lest ye be worried, this is anything but Deep Forest.

In the spring of 2013, Pouvoir Magique co-founded the "Mawimbi" collective, a project designed to unite African musical heritage with contemporary soundscapes, and released two EPs. Within days of launching their label Musiques de Sphères, the duo's studio was burglarized and a hard drive with six years of painstakingly curated material had vanished. After tracking down demos they shared with friends before their final stages of completion, Clément and Bertrand reconstructed an album of 12 tracks.

Unfinished though they might be, each song is a marvelous thing to behold. Their stunning 2016 single "Eclipse," with its cinematic video, might have been one of the most immediate songs on the record, but it's the pulsing "Chalawan," with its guttural howls, fluttering flute-like passages, and driving, hypnotic beats that truly mesmerizes.

6. Purple Disco Machine - “Body Funk” & “Devil In Me” (TIE)

Whenever a bevy of guest artists appears on a debut record, it's often best to approach the project with caution. 85% of the time, the collaborative partners either overshadow the proceedings or detract from the vision of the musician whose name is emblazoned across the top of the LP. There are, however, pleasant exceptions to the rule and Tino Piontek's Soulmatic is one of the year's most delightfully cohesive offerings. The Dresden-born Deep Funk innovator, aka Purple Disco Machine, has risen to international status since 2009, releasing one spectacular track and remix after another. It should go without saying that this long-awaited collection, featuring everyone from Kool Keith to Faithless and Boris D'lugosch, is ripe with memorable highlights.

The saucy, soaring "Mistress" shines a spotlight on the stellar pipes of "UK soul hurricane" Hannah Williams. While it might be a crowning moment within the set, its the strutting discofied "Body Funk", and the album's first single, "Devil In Me", that linger long after the record has stopped spinning. The former track with its camptastic fusion of '80s Sylvester gone 1940s military march, and the latter anthem, a soulful stunner that samples the 1968 Stax hit "Private Number", and features the vocal talents of Duane Harden and Joe Killington, feels like an unearthed classic. Without a doubt, the German DJ's debut is one of the best dance records of the year.

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