Genius take II: indeed.

After last night’s disaster, I decided to give iTunes 8 another try. This time I made sure my library settings were correct in advance, and let it collect and submit the information while I ate dinner. No spinning beachball, no issues, this time around. 

So, Genius. I’m not evaluating the sidebar right now (though I will note that the message that appears when Genius can’t find any recommendations in the store is a pretty good predictor of whether the Genius playlist feature will work. And you know what? It does work, quite well.

The feature in a nutshell is a little like an old bar game: pick a song, then identify a bunch of other songs that go with it. All the songs are pulled from your library and you can vary the length of the playlist, and save it into your library if you choose. Pretty simple. So I decided to throw it some curves. First, “Nuki Suki” by Little Richard. It took this slightly profane funk gem from the master and mixed it with “Sexy MF,” “There Was a Time,” “Baby I Love You,” “The Hook and Sling” by Eddie Bo, “Up for the Down Stroke,” and Marvin Gaye’s “You Sure Love to Ball.” There were a few clinkers as well, like Ready for the World’s “Oh Sheila,” but at least everything was in the ballpark. 

So I tried something a little different: a movement from “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” by Gavin Bryars, from the recording with Tom Waits on vocals. What came back seemed to be mostly related to Tom Waits rather than Gavin Bryars: tracks from Waits, Smog, the Black Keys, the Cocteau Twins, Cat Power, and so on. So I tried another Bryars track but Genius couldn’t find matches. Also matchless: tracks from the Virginia Glee Club and the Virginia Gentlemen, probably because they aren’t available in the iTunes Store. But mixes around Hilliard Ensemble, Pink Floyd, Jane Siberry, Steinski, Jeff Buckley, and Neko Case were all pretty solid.

So I think those of us that like genre-busting mixes and unusual juxtapositions are probably safe: Genius doesn’t automate what we do just yet. But for a good 25 song groove it’s not bad, and for most people it will handily replace Shuffle as a way to plumb the depths of their library.

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