I realized recently that I am a musical monster. My plan was to write about how there are several albums that I started out being indifferent toward, but over time grew to enjoy. Lately that has been the discography of Big Thief, an indie band from the States. But as I wrote, it became apparent that I am the problem. Specifically, the problem is how I find new music to listen to.
I’m always looking to discover new bands, so I head to music blogs and comb through the reviews for anything interesting. That tends to be a lot, so I end up with 56 open tabs. My computer struggles to keep up as I put its processor through the wringer. I’m also putting myself through the wringer by signing up to critically examine 56 new albums on one Sunday afternoon.
You likely don’t need me to explain how that leads to undesirable outcomes. Maybe the first few albums get a fair shake, but by the time I’m on album 38 I start judging songs a lot harsher so I can get these tabs closed and give my computer a break. It’s no wonder I occasionally find out months or years later that I had written off an album that slaps.
That’s exactly what happened with Big Thief’s Two Hands.
Big Thief’s big hits
Normally the albums I write off are by bands I have never heard of before and never hear from again. What makes the Big Thief situation weird is that I already liked one of their albums, U.F.O.F., when I first heard Two Hands. And it’s not as if the band’s style massively changed. U.F.O.F. came out in May 2019, just five months before Two Hands. Still, something didn’t click on my first listen back in October 2019 and I wrote it off.
At the time, I figured U.F.O.F. must have been an unusual achievement, and there was evidence to back up my thinking. Though the album had been out for less than a year, Pitchfork put it as No. 33 on their top 200 albums of the 2010s. None of the band’s other albums made the cut. I viewed Pitchfork’s list as proof of a consensus that U.F.O.F. is Big Thief’s masterpiece. Maybe that is the consensus, but it’s worth noting the list was released a few days before Two Hands and a few months before the end of 2019. It’s also worth noting that Two Hands made the top 50 of 2019 list at 13th, while U.F.O.F. was third. But I didn’t see that until months later when my opinion had been galvanized.
That is textbook confirmation bias. Pitchfork’s top 200 list straight up doesn’t account for the last quarter of 2019, the period in which Two Hands was released, yet I unintentionally used it to affirm a first impression made under unfavourable circumstances. Naturally, this logic did not hold up to scrutiny. It’s no wonder that when I sat down recently to listen to Big Thief’s other albums, without 56 other tabs fighting for my attention, I liked what I heard.
My method is madness
All that raises an important question: Why am I like this?
Seriously, this is no way to find new music. For one, it’s time consuming. Though I could probably make it less time consuming, and open fewer tabs, by trying to do it more frequently. But that won’t change the fact that this method exposes me to a lot of outside influence. I’m going to be more inclined to check out albums with high review scores and less likely to give that 4/10 a chance. Review scores are a pain like that. And if the blogs I visit overlooked an album, I have no chance of finding out about it.
Of course, this isn’t the only way I find new music. I’ll generally check out anything I see people on Twitter or Instagram talking about. I also listen to my Spotify Discover Weekly playlist, but that algorithm has far more misses than hits. It’s usually through one of these methods that I rediscover albums I had previously written off. (I am at least aware of the flaws in my methodology, so I try to give a lot of albums second and third chances.)
Still, not everyone goes on social media to discuss music. Those who do probably have different tastes than me. So, I still end up going through the reviews section of music blogs and stressing myself out while attempting to do something enjoyable.
I can no longer find new music like this
I started using this method a couple of years ago, largely because of the old version of this blog. Back then I was still adjusting to Media Are Plural’s new blog format, and I found that quarterly roundups of new music made for easy content. But up till that point I had found new music largely because Media Are Plural was a radio show. I was spending a lot of time at the station, where I would hear interesting music and get into discussions about cool artists I hadn’t heard about. After I moved away, I no longer had that resource, so I needed a new method.
As you now know, the method I settled on was to open 56 tabs in a web browser. But it can’t be the only way. This is a call-out post for me, but it’s also a cry for help. I need to come up with a better strategy.
So, if you’re a music lover like me, presumably without access to a community radio hub’s kitchen where you can chat with passersby about neat songs all day, please tell me how you do it! How do you find new music?
Alternatively, hop into the comments or reply to me on social media about what music you’ve been enjoying lately. It doesn’t have to be new stuff. I’m always down to discover older stuff too.