Wednesday, November 25, 2015

A Voyage of Discovery

I've discovered a lot of great new artists (and not-so-new artists) this year, but it occurred to me the other day that my methods of discovery have become a lot more passive of late. Most of the bands who have joined my iTunes library in 2015 got there because I happened to encounter them at a festival, or because somebody emailed me a link to their album, or because I heard everyone saying that Wolf Alice/Kendrick Lamar/whoever had just released the album of the year.

What I don't do very often these days is sit and actively search for my new favourite band. I used to spend hours trawling through Listmania lists, reading music magazines, and typing random words into radio in the hope that I'd come across something spectacular; nowadays, I lazily let most of the new music I hear find me.

In an effort to remedy this, I decided last night that I would sit down, click my way through the internet, and listen to whatever I found. The web is full of music, and of links to yet more music, so I figured that a musical Wiki Walk would quickly serve up a whole bunch of songs that nobody else is talking about.

All I needed was a starting point, and happily, I had one right on my doorstep. Fresh, who describe themselves as "a punk band from West London", recently followed me on Twitter, and so I opted to begin my journey on their Bandcamp page and, well, see where I ended up.

Here are the notes I made as I listened and clicked...

Track #1
Passing by Fresh

This singer's voice sounds vaguely familiar. The guitars sound big, much bigger than I expected, as if there are flames coming out of the amps. It's good stuff, though very stop-starty. Oh, and very short, apparently. What next? Here's a link marked 'Recommendations'...

Track #2
Always All Alone by Me and My Dog

Of the three releases listed on Fresh's 'Recommendations' page, Three Songs About Me and My Dog struck me as the most promising. This song is somewhat more focused than Passing, and it's got a sort of shimmery downbeatness that I like very much. The chorus ("And you know you can't do it on your own...") is lovely. Likewise the little solo that materialises around the 2min mark.

Me and My Dog don't have a 'Recommendations' page, so instead, I think I'll click on one of this track's tags. 'Pop', 'Alternative' and 'Indie' are a bit vague for my liking, so let's try 'Westport', which is presumably where M&MD are from...

Track #3
Mantis Fencing by Bluebird Handwriting

Gosh, there are a surprisingly large number of things on Bandcamp with that 'Westport' tag. After some deliberation, I chose to listen to Bluebird Handwriting because of their superb 'pointed at two random words in the dictionary' name. They seem to be from Westport, Connecticut, whereas Me and My Dog are from Westport, Ireland, but no matter.

I like this track. It has lots of meaty synth sounds and beats that are just the right side of glitchy. Then it all gets a bit too busy...and then, at about 1min 50secs, it just goes bananas and morphs into a completely different track. Fun, though I don't know if I'd be able to handle a whole album's worth of that.

Bluebird Handwriting don't have a 'Recommendations' page either, so it's back to the tags. Let's try 'IDM' - I don't know what it stands for (my money's on 'Something Dance Music'), but perhaps I'm about to find out...

Track #4
Flechte by datassette

I chose to click on datassette because their EP is called Can You Smell Maths?, which made me smile.

I was kind of unbothered about Flechte at first, but fortunately the track is 5 minutes long, which gave me plenty of time to get into it. Now I'm rather enjoying it, especially the squelchy synth bassline. Very nice.

I'm getting bored of looking at Bandcamp now. Let's click onto datassette's Twitter account and see what we can find there...

Track #5
Fallen by Shinra

So datassette recently retweeted something from a woman named Kirsti Weir, who in turn has RT'd some glowing praise for Shinra's Ball & Chain EP. Sure, I've ended up back on Bandcamp again, and I'm becoming a *little* concerned that I'll never escape from the electronica pit into which I seem to have fallen, but for the moment I'm having a lot of fun down here; Fallen starts with some cool, lonely-sounding space noises before bursting into an utterly excellent little groove that's, well, pretty much irresistible.

Now then. Bandcamp kindly informs me that the Ball & Chain EP is 'supported by' someone named Nicholas - shall we see what else he's purchased lately?

Track #6
Artificial Island by Carbon Based Lifeforms

Our friend Nicholas (he's from Australia, apparently) claims that Hydroponic Garden by Carbon Based Lifeforms is "one of [his] favourite albums ever", so I thought I'd give it a go. Nic's comments on the album handily singled out Artificial Island as a highlight, which is fine by me - at just over five minutes in length, it's easily the album's shortest track.

The first minute of Artificial Island consists of little more than atmospheric noises and a robotic voice saying something I can't quite make out. The minutes that follow...aren't much different, to be honest. Lots of cool sounds are flitting past my ears, but there's not much underneath for me to get my teeth into here. You really dropped the ball with this one, Nic.

Most of the tags associated with Hydroponic Garden ('ambient', 'acid', 'psybient') threaten to serve up more of this sort of nonsense, so I plump for the one that I suspect will really shake things up: 'Sweden'.

Track #7
Shelter by El Huervo

The name 'El Huervo' doesn't exactly scream 'Swedish', but their colourful releases were all over Bandcamp's 'Sweden' page, so here I am. I was hoping for some mad fusion of mariachi and Scandinavian death metal, but sadly, it's more ambient music. This is even duller than Artificial Island, I'm afraid, though as Shelter is track one I'll give it the benefit of the doubt and assume it's the album's atmospheric, uneventful intro, as unrepresentative of what follows as the first track on Muse's Absolution.

Track #8
Je Suis Perdu by D-AT-KA

So, for whatever reason, I decided that El Huervo's 'Recommendations' page might be worth a look. I wasn't expecting anything interesting, but the words 'French funk' - deployed by EH to describe D-AT-KA's Je Suis Perdu - proved too enticing to overlook. The EP's title track is instantly more interesting than the last couple of things I've heard, sounding like something you'd hear on an old arcade machine as you knock pixelated baddies down open manholes.

It does get kind of samey after a few minutes, though. I wonder if everything released by Pennant Records - the label behind this particular Bandcamp page - sounds like this? Let's find out...

Track #9
Alligator by Duck Dungeon

No, I'm pleased to report that it doesn't. Where Je Suis Perdu was slick and ultimately kind of soulless, this Duck Dungeon track is warm and lo-fi and far more human. It doesn't really go anywhere in particular, but the glockenspiel sounds nice and ohmygosh look at the artwork:

Isn't this just the best thing ever?

I think I've accepted that I won't be escaping from Bandcamp this evening, so let's try one last tag - how about 'indie pop'?

Track #10
守门员 by Chinese Football

Okay, I confess - this is another release that roped me in with its bafflingly fabulous artwork:

Obviously, I've no idea what the title of this song means (or even how it's pronounced), but the good thing about music is the fact that it can cross language barriers and - with a little help from the internet - change the lives of people all over the world. I wouldn't go so far as to say that Chinese Football have changed my life, but this song is very nice, with a sort of gentle catchiness that's probably perfect for sunny summer days. Shame I discovered 守门员 (I just checked Google Translate - it means Goalkeeper, apparently) in late November.

* * *

Well, what a strange little journey I just embarked upon. I barely even left Bandcamp, and I somehow went from messy London punk rock to football-obsessed Chinese indie (via all sorts of other stuff) in the space of just ten tracks. Who knows where I would have ended up had I kept going for another hour or so?

But okay, here's the million-dollar question: did I discover anything worth revisting? Well, yes - more than half of the tracks I listened to were actually pretty great, and I'm particularly keen to dig deeper into what Shinra, Chinese Football, and Me and My Dog have to offer.

I may have to make a habit of this little wander through the web. If it's been a while since you last discovered something new, I'd definitely recommend that you give it a try, too; just go to Bandcamp or SoundCloud or somewhere there's music and start clicking. You never know what might pop up.

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