Be Your Own Algorithm
A Golden Age of Downloads
Naomi and I listen to a lot of new music together. Some of it is sent to us by friends – their music, or music they are involved with. But the rest we have to discover one way or another.
At different times in our lives, that discovery has tended to happen through different means. Mixtapes. College radio. Zines. Record stores. Gigs. Piles of CDs brought home from tour.
Most recently, in this lingering semi-isolation from the pandemic, it’s been happening primarily through album downloads. And while I do more than my share of complaining about the state of the music industry, I have to say: I feel we’re in a golden age of downloads.
Look at what’s available on Bandcamp alone. It’s like a virtual Amoeba Music – meaning, bigger than any cool record store you’ve been to before. (If you have a different ideal huge record store, substitute that for Amoeba – and tell me where it is so I can visit one day.)
Add to these authorized downloads all the rarities that circulate through file sharing, and it starts to feel like no album is out of reach. It’s better than Napster ever functioned, in my experience. It’s a deeper catalogue than iTunes at its height. And for many reasons – privacy; sound quality; information direct from musicians, labels or collectors – it is nothing like commercial streaming with its sloppy metadata and distracting interface.
I know it can be difficult, with so much choice, to figure out what to focus on. But on top of everything, you can preview most anything before committing. What’s not to like? Build a library, and you can be your own algorithm.
In the way that some couples tend to divide labor, I do most of the downloading in our house. Then Naomi says: let’s hear something new. We used to do a lot of this listening in the car, on tour or otherwise. But with the new stasis, we’ve started to do more of it at home. I transfer the most recent downloads to a phone or an old iPod, and we go through them together. What clicks for us both tends to lead to further searching along those lines – same or related artists, same or related genres. (We’ve been on an extended ambient kick, like so many others during these stressful times.)
If you’re a regular reader of this newsletter, you know I include a link to some current listening at the end of most entries. I want to celebrate this golden age of downloads by collecting those links below – starting with something new, of course.
I’m not offering this as a “best of” list (I find those kind of exhausting, with awards like this week’s Grammys most exhausting of all). It’s meant as a wander through the incredibly wide possibilities for listening to recorded music right now. Some of these are, I think, keepers for me – albums I expect to return to again and again. Others are places I visited along the way. Everyone’s path is and must be different – there’s no way it could be otherwise, the world is just too big and too strange.
Listening to: Se Ve Desde Aquí, by Mabe Fratti
Cooking: Rice noodles with black garlic
A Year of Shared Listening:
500 Miles High (Live at Montreux), by Flora Purim
Back to the Woodlands, by Ernest Hood
Natalia Lafourcade, De Todas las Flores
Jeff Parker, Mondays at the Enfield Tennis Academy
Voices of Bishara, by Tom Skinner
The Muslim Highlife of Alhaji Waziri Oshomah
Makaya McCraven, In These Times
jamie branch, Fly or Die II: bird dogs of paradise
Širom, The Liquified Throne of Simplicity
Possible Musics by Jon Hassell and Brian Eno
Trace: Sound Design Works 1986-1989, by Yukata Hirose
Universal Beings, by Makaya McCraven
Trust in the Lifeforce of the Mystery, by The Comet is Coming
Kintal da Banda, by Bonga
To Cy & Lee: Instrumentals Vol. 1, by Alabaster dePlume
Over Fields and Mountains, by Branko Mataja
Entourage Music and Theatre Ensemble, The Mermaid's Purse (Live at Chatham College, 1976)
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Thanks for all the links! I've definitely checked out a bunch of the ones you've included along the way and found some I really liked, but not all of them, so this is a handy trove to go through!
Brilliant list. It is now part of my algorithm.