My Pop Odyssey; It's a Strange Trip from Animal Collective to Leonard Cohen as Our Critic Takes a Tour of the New Online Music Recommendation Services

The Evening Standard (London, England), March 20, 2009 | Go to article overview

My Pop Odyssey; It's a Strange Trip from Animal Collective to Leonard Cohen as Our Critic Takes a Tour of the New Online Music Recommendation Services


Byline: OFF THE RECORDsDAVID SMYTH www.standard.co.uk/davidsmyth

IAM A drowning man. I sit in front of my computer, cast adrift in an ocean of music.

I have instant access to Amazon for CDs, the iTunes store for downloads and now the incredible free streaming service Spotify, more tunes than I could have dreamed of 10 years ago -- and yet the choice is crippling. I'm almost grateful to The Beatles for staying away from the internet and giving me one less band to think about.

Fortunately, help is at hand, in the shape of recommendation websites all claiming to refresh your musical palate. Tell them who you like and they'll tell you who else to try.

Well, I do know what I like, at least -- since the start of the year I've been spending a lot of time with Merriweather Post Pavilion by Animal Collective, a New York-based trio who deal in Beach Boys harmonies, woozy electronica and airy psychedelic experimentalism. I thought I might make them the subject of a little experiment of my own. What else can the music sommeliers suggest for a man of my taste?

Last.fm (www.last.fm) is the best known service. Once I sign up to the London-based website, it eavesdrops on the music I play on my computer, then uses a painful-sounding system called "scrobbling" to analyse my choices and make recommendations. For a quick fix, though, I type the band name into the search bar and in moments I'm listening to "Animal Collective radio", streaming full songs by acts I've never heard of, including El Guincho, Gang Gang Dance and High Places. The names may be unknown but the feel is undeniably similar to my starting point. It's a success.

Apple's iTunes (www.apple.com/itunes ) has its own version, immodestly named Genius. It wants me to spend money, so only offers 30-second clips of the songs it says I'll like and a "buy" link. But it seems it only becomes more accurate the more you use it, downloading songs and giving them ratings to enable it to get to know you, and I don't have the time. …

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