Expanding musical horizons
March 26, 2005 2:20 AM   Subscribe

I haven't bought a CD in over 6 months - not because I'm downloading them, but because I can't find anything I like. Help me find more music?

I have about 2000 tracks on my PC that I listen to on shuffle, a combination of my CDs and anything that I have downloaded. This covers a bunch of genres - rock, funk, blues, jazz, classical, pop, punk...pretty much anything, as long as its half decent. I don't listen to the radio since everything played is crap, so I almost never get exposed to new artists. I'd quite like to get some more David Bowie and Tom Waits, but I'm intimidated by their large back catalogue - I have Ziggy Stardust and Best of.., and Rain Dogs, but don't know where to go from there. The same problem goes for classical music - where do I start? Can anyone recommend internet radio stations with a wide range of music, or some other way of expanding my musical horizons?
posted by Orange Goblin to Media & Arts (47 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
All music guide is your friend. Just explore and taste.

Classical Music: Liszt (he was the first classical musician to act like a rock star, THE best piano music.. esp Liebestraume and Hungarian Rhapsody #2)
Ravel (more piano)
Rachel's (modern classical group from Kentucky, very beautiful)
Nick Drake is my favourite guitarist, a british folksinger with very complex fingerpicking and catchy melodies, very mellow.. good rain music.
posted by adzm at 2:47 AM on March 26, 2005

If you want some "newer" bands to start exploring from, check out
Dirty Three (violin music, classical style, very good)
Owen, the Owls, American Football
Morcheeba, Portishead, Annie, Air
Ryan Adams, Jayhawks, Calexico (good southwestern-kinda music), Elliot Smith
THE BLACK HEART PROCESSION (real good), Cave In, The Arcade Fire, the Shins, the beta band, Iron and Wine, Camera Obscura (real catchy), flaming lips (been around for a long time), Elbow, Grandaddy
Some female singers: Rilo Kiley (execution of all things), nellie mckay, tori amos and the first (and only the first) jewel album, portishead, azure ray, blonde redhead, mazzy star, mirah
Brainiac (terse, "math" rock), Enon
And if you missed the whole post-rock thing, start with Godspeed You Black Emperor, A Silver mt. Zion, Explosions in the Sky, and I'm done typing.
posted by adzm at 2:56 AM on March 26, 2005

For getting exposed to new artists KEXP is good. For hearing things you've never heard before WFMU is the boss. Both have streams and archives.
posted by James_in_London at 3:49 AM on March 26, 2005

David Bowie is hard to pin down because many people like many different things about his music, but his collaborations with Brian Eno (particularly "Low" and "'Heroes'") are generally considered classics. I'd say the two essential Tom Waits records are "Swordfishtrombones" and "Frank's Wild Years".

There have been many AskMe threads filled with recommendations of bands and Internet radio stations. You should check 'em out.
posted by jjg at 4:02 AM on March 26, 2005

Bowie: The eighties are the most toxic. His 90s+ material isn't so bad in my opinion but you'll want to hear it first. The sixties stuff is pretty dodgy with a few good bits (I like the Space Oddity album but nobody else does). It's hard to go wrong with his seventies output. If you like Ziggy then Man Who Sold The World is the prototype (there was a version that had bonus tracks of the EP with early Ziggy tracks). You'll want Diamond Dogs and Alladin Sane too as they're closely related to Ziggy as well.

Beyond that I'd say that Station to Station, Low and Scary Monsters are essential Bowie. I love Hunky Dory and it's hugely influential, but I know it makes some peoples teeth itch.

BTW: Other than that I think your question is far too general which will make any recommendations here largely useless to you. Go and search out some of the free MP3s out there - may I point you to Viewropa? - or try 3hive.com and their ilk.
posted by dodgygeezer at 5:32 AM on March 26, 2005

I have sometimes felt like you Orange Goblin, but then I come across an artist/group of artists that revives my interest and opens a lot of doors for me.

Some examples of recent ones, for me: Lambchop, Airto Moreira, 4Hero, Jem (her album is available for download at 256kbps MP3 for $9.95 on her site I think), The Cinematic Orchestra, Tortoise (jazz crossed with rock), god.. just too many. Also, try a dive into jazz. There's a lot of exciting stuff happening there these days.

Lastly, I'd recommend taking a dive into the show archives at Radio 1, the UK's primary modern/experimental music station. Annie Mac plays all the latest trendy/happy/upbeat stuff (not pop).. and the world famous Gilles Peterson plays lots of jazz, soul, funk, latin, and miscellaneous goodness. His show is always worth it. He's introduced me to Tina Marie, Jon Brion, Herbie Hancock, The Cinematic Orchestra, 4Hero, Airto Moreira, and a whole ton of goodness via his show.

Ah, and before I forget about it.. SomaFM has about 6-8 decent bitrate online stations that play nothing but music. No talk at all. Totally free (although I throw them a few bucks when I can).
posted by wackybrit at 6:20 AM on March 26, 2005

The same problem goes for classical music - where do I start?

For what it's worth, I pretty much seized up on classical music until a few years ago (mainly ending up listening to Rachmaninoff and Beethoven) when I was introduced to the work of Philip Glass. If you go and play with the Glass Engine, you can listen to a significant amount of Glass's back catalog right from your browser. I found he revived my interest in classical music because he just about covers every aspect or genre of it from the electronic to the symphonic.
posted by wackybrit at 6:23 AM on March 26, 2005

I'll second the Swordfishtrombones and Franks Wild Years Tom Waits suggestions - I'll also recommend Mule Variations and maybe Real Gone and Bone Machine if you're feeling a little more adventurous.
posted by soplerfo at 6:44 AM on March 26, 2005

Sing up for Audioscrobbler, then install and configure the appropriate plugin for your MP3 player. After logging a couple hundred songs, it starts to give good recommendations, including a list of people with taste similar to yours.
posted by Eamon at 7:32 AM on March 26, 2005

Also sign yourself up for the next
MeFi swap
- it's a fantastic way of discovering new music. The next one is, IIRC, in June.
posted by TheDonF at 7:37 AM on March 26, 2005

That's kinda neat, eamon...

I dunno what kind of stuff you're into now... but it's important that you break this spell! Otherwise, you'll just be one of those classic rock people, forever listening to the forgotten tracks of a long lost era.

I dig pitchfork and tiny mix tapes for indie rock type stuff. Blabbermouth is awesome for metal news and has the best rss feed of all time. That is, if you wanna know what the ex-members of Savatage are doing with their time now.

At any rate, I recommend grabbing a copy of soulseek and just grabbing whatever strikes your fancy. If you like something you find, go out and buy it on CD.
posted by ph00dz at 7:48 AM on March 26, 2005

What ph00dz said. No "on preview" needed.

Oh how I love these threads.

One other place to look (listen) are NPR's handful of more contemporary stations. WNCW 88.7 out of North Carolina is one of my favorites (www.wncw.org -- they post playlists too).
posted by socratic at 7:56 AM on March 26, 2005

When you click an artist's name on Amazon, you get a page that has a link for "Customers Favorites". Follow that and you get a list of the artist's output with the average customer rating and number of votes.

It's not perfect but for smaller band, it has worked for me.
posted by mischief at 7:56 AM on March 26, 2005

*cough*, you ain't from 'round here, as they say, so, let me translate a bit: NPR = National Public Radio (listener supported). Good luck! :)
posted by socratic at 8:07 AM on March 26, 2005

Recommendations for something as subjective as music can be difficult.
The Itunes music store has fast-loading, decent quality previews of everything they sell. Just browse & listen for a while, and you're bound to find something you're interested in. The catalog isn't perfect by any means, but there's still a ton to choose from.
posted by yorick at 8:07 AM on March 26, 2005

BBC Radio 6 - you can listen to the live show with Windows media player. Also the DNA collective has music reviews
posted by Lanark at 9:00 AM on March 26, 2005

This is very general, so hard to give advice. some of my preferences from a while back are on that page, but I haven't updated in a long time. I'd probably add arab strap, arcade fire, black box recorder, bloc party, broken social scene - well, a lot, as you can imagine... I'm only in the B's! - but again, I don't know if your tastes would be anything like mine or not, so it isn't probably worth long lists.

But, if 2000 tracks cover practically every genre, and tom waits & david bowie are possibly new-ish to you, then I would bet there's a huge amount of interesting stuff out there you haven't been exposed to yet.

Check out:
and old askme threads.

Also, if you have iTunes, you have an automatic connection to a lot of internet radio stations that are particular to some sort of music or other (in other words, suck less), and you can often find interesting stuff there.
posted by mdn at 9:26 AM on March 26, 2005

I'm a big fan of buying by label. Of course, this only works if you listen to bands on smaller labels, but it works well. For instance, I really like pretty much everything Polyvinyl puts out, even though Saturday Looks Good to Me and Volcano, I'm Still Excited! don't sound terribly similar to one another or to Owen. In cases such as these, it's good to order directly from the label every once in a while so you can get the free/cheap sampler.

Also, go to your neighborhood's small record shop. Go over and over. Eventually, they'll recommend for you. Until then, don't be afraid to pick up something with a neat cover and ask the clerk what it sounds like. They like to talk about music, and everyone like it when her expertise is in demand.
posted by dame at 9:36 AM on March 26, 2005

Oh, since you did specifically ask about classical, I will promote the fantabulous (and still open) thread that resulted from my recent question. There is a lot of detail and good advice about composers from the classical period through to 20th c. in there.
posted by mdn at 9:37 AM on March 26, 2005

Gilbert & Sullivan takes some getting used to, but once you do, it's an enduring affection.
posted by orthogonality at 10:17 AM on March 26, 2005

The new Fiona Apple CD, when it comes out.

Also - I own Rain Dogs, and would heartily recommend Heart of Saturday Night as the next album to get. It's not quite the same but I like it a lot.
posted by Muffpub at 10:28 AM on March 26, 2005

I'm a big fan of buying by label.

Really? With the exceptions of Motown, Stax/Volt, & Sun, that approach hasn't worked well for me.
posted by jonmc at 10:43 AM on March 26, 2005

Buying by label only works for people with quite specific tastes, and you're especially proud of being an equal opportunity listener, who knows all about indie stuff but still loves Slayer (or whatever). But small labels are basically groups of people endorsing certain music. It's like trusting your friends with good taste to introduce you to good stuff - it's not failsafe, but it's a pretty good avenue.
posted by mdn at 10:50 AM on March 26, 2005

good taste = taste that aligns with your own, of course :)
posted by mdn at 10:53 AM on March 26, 2005

Perhaps. But if a label concentrates extra hard on a certian genre or subgenre, that can lead to wide variations in quality, in terms of broad appeal. For instance I'd reccomend Glen Glenn to a rockabilly fan, but a non-fan would find him annoying, whereas, Jerry Lee Lewis, I'd reccomend to anyone. But I'm babbling.

And, Orange Goblin, if you enjoy Tom Waits, you might also enjoy some of the odder 70's singer/songwriters like John Prine, Swamp Dogg, Rickie Lee Jones and especially Randy Newman (his early stuff, ignore "Short People,"), whom Waits has cited as influence.

And if you liked Ziggy period Bowie, I'd recommend Mott The Hoople and Jobriath who combined theatrical feyness and rock and roll balls better than almost anyone. He's cool (even if Morrissey likes him ;))
posted by jonmc at 11:36 AM on March 26, 2005

Actually jonmc & mdn, I find buying by label works if you like sort of specific stuff but not too specific. If the label only does one thing, then, yeah, you get low quality in search of depth, but good medium labels, like Kill Rock Stars or Polyvinyl or Saddle Creek seem to have a nice mix.

Then again, that's only part of the strategy--good recs from friends & clerks + a willingness to get some bad CDs every now and again are essential, I would say.

Also, the appearance of jonmc reminds me of another technique: find out who influenced bands you like and work back.
posted by dame at 12:29 PM on March 26, 2005

find out who influenced bands you like and work back.

Excellent advice. I'm a feind for finding original versions of covers that I like (this began at age 12 with "Cum On Feel The Noize"). The hazard is that everything new will start to sound like something old and you won't want to listen to new stuff anymore.
posted by jonmc at 12:38 PM on March 26, 2005

I have a couple of things that I do religiously: the above-mentioned pitchfork is usually pretty good, my local university radio station is always a good source and online, and what is for me the holy bible, exclaim! magazine's reviews (the print form is much easier to go thru, but the online version will do in a pinch). There's lots of stuff out there, you just have to dig for it. Once you start digging, you'll find gold, I promise.

jonmc, slade was such a fun band, eh? Sadly under-rated in North America.
posted by ashbury at 12:40 PM on March 26, 2005

jonmc, slade was such a fun band, eh? Sadly under-rated in North America.

Oh yeah.

But I was drinking with a young British guy last week and when I said that Slade was something of a cognoscenti band here, he said "Wot? They do bloody Christmas songs!"
posted by jonmc at 12:43 PM on March 26, 2005

two bands i just got into, for what its worth: iron and wine, and this band called ratatat.
get em.
posted by alkupe at 12:46 PM on March 26, 2005

Live 365 has many thousands of small stations. I like to click on random genres and random buttons and get mystery music selections. Here are their classical choices. The Live365 free service though is filled with the most obnoxious don't-you-hate-ads-advertising you can imagine.
posted by growabrain at 1:00 PM on March 26, 2005

find out who influenced bands you like and work back.

Excellent advice. Another thing to do is research the members of the bands you like and find out about their other projects (like the Tool-A Perfect Circle thing).

As to classical: you can't go far wrong with Gershwin, Rachmaninoff's Piano Concertos are brilliant, and Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms is wonderful and unnerving.
posted by biscotti at 1:20 PM on March 26, 2005

jonmc: I would've figured you'd go for Estrus, Crypt, Gearhead, etc. Maybe you're not the sort of rocker I figured you for.
posted by Eamon at 1:32 PM on March 26, 2005

The Fastbacks were on Estrus, right?

Truth be told I never paid much attention to record labels. I just stumble upon songs I like and extrapolate based on influences. When I'm p2p'ing I just go by interesting sounding band names and browsing the collections of people who have obscure stuff that I like.
posted by jonmc at 1:40 PM on March 26, 2005

In that case, you should realize a lot of cross-influencing happens between bands signed to smaller labels. It helps to think of musical influence not as a tree, but rather as a directed graph.
posted by Eamon at 2:05 PM on March 26, 2005

I dunno, choosing bands based on record labels seems like choosing pants based on whose name is stitched across the ass rather than how they fit.
posted by jonmc at 2:22 PM on March 26, 2005

Jon, I think it's more like trying on dresses by someone who makes skirts that fit you well. That is, being on a certain label makes it *more likely* that a band will be similar to one I like; it's a place to begin. If it were like your analogy, I would be listening to bands I didn't like *just because* they were on a certain label.
posted by dame at 2:44 PM on March 26, 2005

As to choosing bands based on record labels -- I tend to give any act signed by Rounder a chance. Why? Because Rounder has signed lots of artists that make music I like. So -- Rounder publishes music that I tend to like, so if they publish an act I don't know about, I'm more likely to give them a chance than if some label I don't know published them.

As to music. If you like softer stuff, HEM leaps to mind (both Rabbit Songs and Eveningland are amazing works. IMHO, of course.

As to a source of new songs, try Radio Paradise
posted by eriko at 2:51 PM on March 26, 2005

Ach. I suppose it's some kind of record-geek Zen thing. In p2p, I'll look at the band name, the song title, any pithy description the trader has, and if it grabs me, I'll DL it. Since it's free, my standards arent quite as stringent as when I'm paying money for a record. There, I use the same criteria, but I'll throw in the aesthetic impression I get looking at the record, if theres a connection between some artist I've previously appreciated, or if some irreducible something tells me "Listen to this!"

But label and genre loyalty has never led me very far. It's too much like responding to niche marketing for my taste. YMMV.
posted by jonmc at 3:28 PM on March 26, 2005

I've had good luck following the producers of records I really liked. For example, in the '90s I used to buy any record Jerry Harrison produced, which led me to a lot of (admittedly very mainstream) records that I liked a lot. Live's first record, Rusted Root's second, The Verve Pipe's breakthrough, etc.

I started more or less because Harrison has the same first name as I do, and I'd liked his post-Talking heads solo records, but I had such good results with that that I started following other producers. Mitchell Froom, T-Bone Burnett, a few others. I enjoyed a lot of Rupert Hine's productions back in the day, now that I think about it.
posted by kindall at 3:46 PM on March 26, 2005

If you like Tom Waits - you might dig Mark Lanegan [mp3], who used to sing for the Screaming Tree's, and/or Crooked Fingers [mp3], the solo project of Eric Bachman of Archers of Loaf fame.
posted by Quartermass at 6:46 PM on March 26, 2005

I had become real burned out on most rock music around the beginning of the Napster era. But it just so happened that around that same time I first heard Le Monde by Thievery Corporation. I fell in love immediately and now have all their work. They're music is pleasing at any decibel, great for having friends over for drinks or smoke, sexy, sensual, has a very long life span, as diverse as any electronic music you'll find, and is very fun to watch live. Their newest album The Cosmic Game has a song featuring Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd of The Flaming Lips (azdm mentioned them up near the top). David Byrne and Perry Ferrell make appearances as well. Overall the album is truly a delight to listen to. I highly suggest anyone to give their music a spin.

As far as other artists, try The Postal Service, Kruder & Dorfmeister, Boards of Canada, The White Stripes, Modest Mouse, Zero 7, DJ Shadow, Peace Orchestra, The Shins, and Lamb.

I've also found some great new music since I started using audioscrobbler.
posted by sublivious at 7:59 PM on March 26, 2005

I look for mp3s on altavista's audio search. I tend to look for something I know, or have heard of a bit elsewhere, but I'm constantly stumbling onto new music. I find a page with the one song I was looking for, only to find that page has three other songs - If I liked the first, I'll give the others a try. I found Jason Mraz that way - bought the albulm and now like him better than the guy I was originally searching for. (He has mp3s on his site, I think - there are also a bunch online, if you want to try before buying).
posted by jb at 11:08 PM on March 26, 2005

Oh - and mix CD exchanges are also excellent.
posted by jb at 11:09 PM on March 26, 2005

Orange, your last six months was my life -- I used to have the hardest time finding new music that I liked, and as a consequence I became too used to a handful of artists and albums. I finally realized this was turning me off from music completely.

I've almost never been successful buying based on written reviews, either.

For a while Amazon's recommendations helped me a little, but they had a strong tendency to give me retreads by artists I already owned or rated, rather than actual new music. I sympathize with your eclectic tastes, which mirror my own -- no matter the genre, as long as it's good.

LAUNCH helped me some, but so much of their stuff is radio fare like Jet and JoJo that it's hard to avoid. I still have my personalized radio and video stations there, and it helped me find Damien Rice and Nellie McKay, so it's not all bad. I do like having a foot in the wider world.

But I finally got on audioscrobbler and its sister-service last.fm [my profile], and it's completely changed things for me. The audioscrobbler plugin keeps track of what I'm really playing, and last.fm will play a radio station customized to my profile -- including what people with similar tastes to mine listen to. What I really use the site for, though, is group radio -- I've joined a variety of artist or genre or whatever-specific groups, and those with >9 members can play an aggregate profile radio station. This lets me choose based somewhat on mood, such as feeling like today I want to listen to Pixies-related stuff, or tomorrow what fellow MeFi IRC members like. I can also click around on the site to find artist pages, link through to allmusic, look at my last.fm/scrobbler recommendations, look at similar artists, browse the playlists of other fans of favored music, and so on endlessly.

I've also found new music through blogger recommendations -- the two most notable being megnut recommending Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, and Follow Me Here recommending The Arcade Fire's Funeral. (Both albums simply knock me over, even on the 100th listen.) And I didn't really follow them before, because of my aversion to having my expectations challenged poor new-music experiences :), but mp3 blogs are really a great resource -- grab a dozen tracks a week from artists you've never heard of and you're sure to find at least something you want to hear more of. Get into it and over time you'll enjoy just the sensation of having a "temporary" hitlist -- 10x and to the recycle bin. No risk of overexposure!

What else? Hmm, you do have Jeff Buckley's Grace, right? What about Talk Talk's Laughing Stock (due to being out of the loop, I only belatedly learned that a favorite band was very influential in post-rock)? My newest jag is Dresden Dolls -- the debut is great, but the earlier EP A is for Accident is even better (rawer, which suits them).
posted by dhartung at 12:18 AM on March 27, 2005

check liveplasma
posted by mailhans at 12:48 AM on March 27, 2005

the two most notable being megnut recommending Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

posted by ludwig_van at 8:29 AM on March 28, 2005

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