May 11, 2012 at 5:24 pm

This Week in Music Apps: Sweet Visualizations, Pockets, and Podcasts

carmenThis Week in Music Apps, of course, is a chance to gather together all the intriguing stuff we find in our daily quest to bring you the best new music apps. We’ll get to that of course, but first, we’d like to point out that some stories — like honey, which has been found in still-edible form in a 3000-year-old Egyptian tomb — have a habit of staying fresh regardless of the week, month, or year. (We’ll conservatively exclude millennia.)

That’s why we’ve added a brand new section to our coverage called Evergreen, an editorial term for stories that are fit to enjoy year round (sort of like those prickly trees that take one for the team when the snow comes — way to be, guys.) There, you can find Evolver.fm coverage that makes sense on regardless of the season — perfect for lunch-hour reading (see also our curated directory of music apps for every platform and past installments of This Week In Music Apps.

Onto the reviews, then our latest crop of music apps.

The Week in Reviews

  • WeatherMusic Picks Tunes Based on (You Guessed It) the Weather
  • Spotify Releases iPad App at Last, with New Sonic Exploration Features
  • Play Musical Pinball on iPhone, iPad with eDrops
  • Soundtastic Serves Up ‘Pop-Up Video’ and Smart Radio from YouTube
  • Unreleased Rage++ iPad App, Designed for Party Music, Does Not Enrage Us
  • Soundtrack of You: Another Way to Listen to Music from your Conception
  • Game-Changer: Toma.hk Embeds Music from Spotify, SoundCloud, Last.fm, More
  • TokStar: Like Turntable.fm for Karaoke
  • Track 8 Music Player Brings Microsoft’s Beautiful Metro Design to iPad
  • Latest Spotify Apps Offer Musical Love Connections

Apple iOS

Carmen ($1; pictured top right): This app adds real-time audio analysis to a standard music player, to generate live visualizations that react to your music as it plays — nice! The no-frills interface focuses on the visualizations, though it does pack in a few useful extras — like the option to control the app remotely while your device is docked, and gesture controls that simplify basic playback functions like play, pause, and skip for a safer experience if you simply must adjust the music while driving — when you most certainly should not be looking at visualizations. As usual, DRM spoils the fun, and protected tracks won’t generate pretty pictures, nor will songs downloaded through iTunes Match. Thankfully, Carmen filters these tracks out of your available library, should you have any, to avoid letdowns.

whoaWHOA Magazine Mobile (free; $2 subscription; pictured right): What’s Happening with Original Artists (WHOA) is an attractively designed mobile magazine featuring independent artists, musical underdogs, as well as film, culture, travel and lifestyle stories. At $2 bucks per issue, (or sign up for a 3 month subscription that auto-renews for the same price), it might be considered a bargain, compared to what you find on the newsstand — plus, you won’t forget it on the train, because it fits in your pocket along with your phone. Speaking of pockets…

Pocket (free): While this app was not designed specifically for the music fan, it’s pretty useful for tracking bands. It can collect material from most of the other apps on your phone– a new artist’s page in the Last.fm app, an article from NPR’s music app, or a YouTube concert video. It’s simple to “pocket” stuff; clicking the Share button brings up the usual list of social networks, as well as the Pocket option. The app’s home screen provides a list of “pocketed” items, and also houses the search box. You can tag what you pocketed; I sort everything by artist, but the app also lets you filter search results by title or URL. To read pocketed text, you have the option to tweak the text size and background color to make it more readable, which is a nice touch. Without an internet connection you won’t be able to play pocketed YouTube videos or view web pages, but you can read articles, making this a fine app for the plane or subway. A web version is also available.

pocketcasts1 Pocket Casts  (iPhone $2; Android $3; pictured): If you love the podcasts, Pocket Casts is perfect for you. It can import podcasts already on your device, so you’re covered on that front, but you can also download additional podcasts by browsing by category; the “most popular” charts from nine different countries; or searching for a specific URL. Whether using Pocket Casts to save memory by streaming your podcasts (there’s also a “delete after listening” option), or simply listening to playlists of downloaded podcasts, the app neatly keeps track of all unfinished, recent, downloaded, and unplayed episodes of each episode. Its slick interface and friendly reminders when new stuff is available will help you keep track of what you’ve missed, and what’s new.

Sounds for Sleep (free): This basic app comes with five different sounds, each with a corresponding background, although I’m not quite sure why you would want to look at a picture of clouds when you’re trying to fall asleep. Some of these sounds incorporate nature noises, and a few were childish-sounding music box songs, which might be too lively to fall asleep to. You can choose how long you want the sounds to continue, although there is a stop button as well. For podcast addicts who lose sleep due to listening [ed. note: like me], this could be a more restful alternative.

Ukulele (free): First, we must mention that this app doesn’t have multi-touch capabilities, so chords and strumming are a no-go. However, touching the space between frets produces the corresponding note, as promised — and hey, this is a free ukulele we’re talking about here. While the sound and tuning seemed rather accurate, which should help you find your way around a real uke, it can be difficult to move quickly between the higher notes (numbered 7-12) and the lower notes (1-6), because they’re on two different screens. True uke players might get frustrated with these limitations, but it’s a fun app instrument for the rest of us.

we7 (free): Similar to Pandora, we7 is an ad-funded music streaming website that features a variety of hit-based and artist-based radios. The site has a number of pre-made radio stations including genre-based, decade-themed ones. Unlike Pandora, we7 allows for Last.fm scrobbling, and doesn’t play audio ads. Sign in using your Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, Foursquare and LinkedIn account (among many others). Each song has a share button and Facebook “Like” button so you can easily alert your friends of your new favorite song. Each month, listeners are allowed a number of “song requests” that permit you to listen to a song on demand. This feature might have been more impressive in the pre-Spotify era, but it does set we7 apart from Pandora.
Playlist.com (free): Although the original site’s homepage featured the top playlists, top searches, and new genre pages, I used Playlist.com’s alternative new site, which had a much simpler homepage. After logging in – using the new site requires you to log in – I was no longer able to easily access the day’s top playlists, and instead was greeted by a large search box. While this new version was much cleaner, it almost seemed too simple. Similar to Grooveshark, users can queue up songs and stream the full length versions. You can build, save and share playlists, as well as listen to other users’ playlists. The site attempts to encourage social interaction by allowing users to chat each other, though I’m not certain how many users actually utilize this feature. Overall, the site seems to be a strange mix of Spotify’s playlist publishing and a Grooveshark-like interface.