Each new music playing program that I try brings me a little closer to perfection. From Banshee I moved to Clementine, because Clementine can link to my online Spotify account and play my Spotify playlists. But it was a problem for Clementine when a playlist contained both online tracks and tracks from my own PC — when it got to a local track in the playlist it would just stop and refuse to play further. So Clementine is no longer my darling, now I’ve tried Tomahawk.
Tomahawk is not widely known — or at least, it wasn’t when I started using it — but it’s been getting some good reviews and it’s available through the Mint repository. It can import your own MP3 or other tracks and play them seamlessly in sequence with streaming tracks from Spotify and other free or paid online providers, including Jabber, Soundcloud, Jamendo and Last.FM. It can incorporate tracks from any or all of these sources into a single playlist. It imports my existing Spotify playlists, and updates them if I modify them in Spotify. And unlike Spotify for Linux, it’s a native Linux application, so it doesn’t occasionally crash and hang my system.
There are no surprises in the Tomahawk screen display. A toolbar allows you to move back and forward, search all your sources for tracks, add or remove music sources and configure Tomahawk itself, though the main configuration you will need is just specifying the source of your local files. A panel at the left allows you to browse recently played or ‘loved’ tracks (which is silly; all my tracks are loved tracks, otherwise I wouldn’t keep them). You can bring up your local collection or see and select playlists from Spotify and (presumably) other sources. At the bottom you can set up and work with ‘stations’ which will play randomly selected music of a certain type — like Genesis or Phil Collins or Peter Gabriel, for instance — drawn from your online collections. These tend to be a little disappointing, because there seem to be only a few tracks of each type in these sets, and they play on high rotation. You can also generate ‘automatic playlists’ on the same principle, although the only difference seems to be that you see all the tracks in advance rather than having them appear one at a time.
In the central panel you see the tracks in the playlist or the station you have selected. If you search for a performer or group, their album covers appear at the top of the panel and their tracks are listed at the bottom. At the very bottom of the screen are the play, pause, previous, next, repeat and shuffle buttons, and a bar showing your progress through the currently playing track. When Tomahawk is running in Cinnamon, a red icon appears in the notification bar, and you can click on here to pause a track, move back and forwards through the tracklist, or close the program. An advantage over Spotify is that playlists are automatically sorted into alphabetical order.
What are the negatives? There are a few things about Tomahawk that I would like to see changed. First and foremost, when it autostarts in the morning and I click the ‘Play’ icon, it will continue playing the track it left off on when I shut down the day before. That’s fine: but when it gets to the end of that track it will play it again, and again, and again… There should be an instruction to remember and continue with the playlist, not just the previous track. Secondly, new playlists and other changes made in Tomahawk don’t seem to feed back into Spotify. Maybe I’m missing something, or perhaps it’s just the temperamental Spotify for Linux that’s causing problems, but that’s my experience so far. Thirdly, shuffle should stay on by default, and not have to be turned on each time the program starts.
The other thing I miss from Spotify is the ‘Discover’ option that points you to new music similar to what you’ve been listening to. It’s almost worth crashing the system from time to time in order to discover some of these new performers. And finally, Tomahawk doesn’t appear to have an option to connect to Internet radio stations. If all those features could be incorporated in Tomahawk, I’d never need to risk running Spotify again.