Music

The Sweet Algorithm

Apparently, my new passion is mocktails: the popular non-alcoholic concoctions that promise to keep us all swanky, relaxed, and unthirsty, but without the hangover or taxation of our livers. I say apparently because my Facebook feed is awash in ads for these elixirs. Clearly, at some point, I hovered over or clicked on one of the ads. Now the algorithm has decided that I want to know about EVERY VARIETY of these delicious and non-threatening glassfuls.

Ah, the algorithm. The sweet algorithm.

Please Stand By, mixed-media art by Sarah Rowe.

I suppose that if I looked at Facebook regularly, (and if I didn’t already think that this situation was kind of funny,) I would find this inundation annoying. But I have been thinking about the upside of online algorithms. Especially the ones that work in the background of Judy’s and my Apple Music account in what Apple qualifies as “Alternative” or “Indie” genres.

It is there among the unselected legions of songs that I find the most wonderful sounds and discover new artists. The songs come to me. If I am having a little trouble finding something to listen to, I play a song or two by a reliably satisfying artist and then let Apple Music decide what I should hear next.

This experiment has led to the discovery of scores of fantastic songs and dozens of artists that I think I may never otherwise have learned about. Most of what I have been led to is music by bands who I missed learning about when they were new, but whose songs still mean something to me.

The strategy is this: Pick an album you love by an artist you love and start it up in Apple Music. After listening to a couple of songs, skip ahead to the penultimate or final song on the record. When the last song has finished, the algorithm will fade in with a new song, and though sometimes it is a song or a group you already know of, and probably already like, often enough it is a song by a group that is brand new to you.

A couple of examples of the old algorithm doing some fine work for me:

A group I love, Kitchens of Distinction, (you can click here to listen to Railwayed from their 1991 record Strange Free World,) led me to listen to the music of this group from Chicago, that I had totally managed to miss when they were recording:

Sharron Apple by Airiel from Winks and Kisses: Melted (2004 Clairecords.)

Another favorite group is For Against.

For Against

Seesick from Mason’s California Lunchroom (1995, remastered 2018 Saint Marie,) led me to this:

Sun Warmed Water by Secret Shine from Untouched (1993 Sarah Publishing.)

One more:

I found this one on BBC6, but it could easily have come from a Stereolab algorithm. Or from an algorithm of our dearly departed Trish Keenan (11 years gone this week….) and her brilliant group, Broadcast. From Paris, En Attendant Ana with Same Old Story from Principia (coming February 2023 Trouble In Mind Records.)

Enjoy and Happy new Year from Thundy and me!

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