Spotify — in defense of its potential for music discovery

I’ve heard more than a few people criticize Spotify as lacking good music-discovery features. While I’ll always lean on the side of human introduction (really knowledgable DJs, music nerds, like-minded friends), and next on solid algorithms based upon large sample-sized (a shit-ton of Scrobbles if you’ve lived in the painted-red Last.fm world), I think Spotify has recently done a workable job of this, and simply so.

In Spotify, pick an artist you really like, and not just a track or two, but have go-to albums for. Click the “Related Artists” on their page. Out of the 20—it always seems to be 20, even for a relatively obscure band like Shrimp Boat (my quick test without getting too “out there”)—choose one you’ve never heard of or have never listened to. That last bit is important. And then just listen.

Ironically, I think this process works slightly better the more varied one’s tastes are; people into a broad range of music, especially music with experimental leanings, will see greater sparsity between sounds of those “related artists”, as they become less related by their similarities and more related by their shared deviation from pop or pop-ish formats. Those with flat music taste: you may have a harder time finding something that knocks you off your feet–you may need that human touch to be steered towards something different but not too different.

This isn’t even including the whole notion of public & collaborative playlists, real-time ticker feed, and the recently added “follow” feature for artists/bands/public figures. Granted, these other features could still use some work, but I think as a whole it’s a program that provides many solid outlets for discovery, though no silver-bullet ideological wizardry. Spotify’s enormous catalog reach allows it—when paired with a decent algorithm—to, as far as I can tell, always recommend related artists; one only needs to travel a level or two deep into this web to have a new listening experience.

Fuckbook – Condo Fucks

Excuse the language. Actually, don’t—it’s high time that words that aren’t inherently or materially derogatory to any person or group be descended to a realm of functional usage.

I recently finally got around to listening to the album Fuckbook by the Condo Fucks (see Spotify embed below). Now, here’s the crux of the post: it is a solid album of lofi, live-recorded-sounding punkish covers by the members of Yo La Tengo, one of my favorite bands. I knew this going in. What really interests me is how I would’ve perceived it had I not known this fact. It’s not normally the kind of music I would listen to, not because of its rawness or its pace or its production, but because—and this is the possibly contentious bit—this genre is inherently limiting, especially if the lofi aesthetic is preserved. Yo La Tengo is a band that grows from album to album, even into their now 28 year career (wow). They try different styles, they experiment, they take risks. They utilize production in ways to add subtlety to their sound.

But Fuckbook doesn’t. These things are eschewed in order to pump out some raucous, balls-to-the-wall, distorted punk rock. And I’m not sure what to make of it. As you listen, the songs bleed seamlessly into each other, lending it a very “I’m experiencing this from start to finish in a dive bar that happens to have a corner for live bands and I’d better not risk going to get another beer lest I miss something crucial.” Whether it was recorded this way or if it was done in the mixing phase, I don’t know, but the conclusion I came to was that I’d sure as hell know I’d’ve loved to see them perform a live set, (which was the basis for the side-project and album, as described on their Wikipedia page).

I need to listen again, but I love that bands—nay, artists—like these Hobokens do this sort of thing. They are a premier example of what it means to grow and learn as musicians, and to share that growing and learning with the public in nicely wrapped up packages, like this album. I’ve seen Ira controllably freak out a feedback-laden guitar solo to a small, nascent crowd of first-day Coachella goers in the desert in the very early afternoon, years ago, while my friends and I drifted into head-in-the-clouds revery there on the polo-field grass. And I would pretty much be willing to see whatever he and the rest of the band would be willing to do on a stage in the future.

Feature image via Bryan Bruchman