The Internet has given us many great things, but it's also overwhelmed our senses. When given the opportunity to dive deep into uncharted territory, many of us prefer to stick to our comfort zones.
This comes to mind after reading Eamonn Forde's excellent Word magazine story "The Tyranny of Music Choice" (no link because it's print-only). The gist of Forde's piece is that given a wealth of music online, we tend to keep going back to very popular songs. There's a reason Top 20 and classic-rock stations are a staple in every city.
Case in point is Spotify, the brilliant music-streaming service that makes it easy to stream and share millions of songs. Despite this rich archive of music in front of us, Forde notes that a recent study of Spotify usage indicated that roughly one-third of the 4.5 million songs in its database were never played over a six-month period. And when he says "never," he means zero, nada, zilch, nil.
More alarming is that 100,000 songs accounted for about 80 percent of Spotify's streams.
I guess I shouldn't be surprises. Just as restaurant experts will tell you too many menu items overwhelm customers and erode their overall experience, the thought of diving into a morass of unknown talents can be intimidating. Discovering memorable music can be work, and for many of us, we're either too starved for time or just simply too lazy.
With that in mind, I'll share a few shortcuts on new music that's captured my attention. I'm in no way on the cutting edge of music like I once was, but I do like to stay up on trends.
Here are highlights of bands worth checking out. And with fine free services like Spotify, Pandora, Last.fm and NPR Music just a click away, there's no excuse to not to give at least one a quick listen.
- Nada Surf: I'm a huge fan of power pop music, but too often bands in this genre fizzle out after two or three gems. Nada Surf's 2012 album "The Stars Are Indifferent To Astronomy" is a treat, with anthemic, hook-laden songs top to bottom.
- J.D. McPherson: This Oklahoma dude takes us back to the golden age of 1950s rockabilly with a stream of songs that make you want to dance. McPherson's schtick is full-on retro, even goes as far as embracing analog recording in a bid to find warmth in a world of brittle digital mp3s. The songs on his debut, "Signs & Signifiers," are uneven but the energy is unwavering. I'd love to see what happens if this guy were locked up in a studio with Jack White for two weeks.
- Spiritualized: I had heard a lot of acclaim about this band over the years but never checked them out until NPR Music posted this recent concert. This is potent stuff that balances symphonic mysticism and straightforward rock anthems.
- Ron Sexsmith: This Canadian has been around awhile but has been criminally ignored outside music-geek circles. Some of his more recent work has been a bit subdued for me (too much singer-songwriter rather than pop frontman) but last year's "Long Player Late Bloomer" remains in my regular rotation. "Believe It When I See It" is one of the most beautiful pop songs I've heard in a long time, and I never listen to it just once in a sitting.
- Wussy: I picked up on these guys from a MediaLoper podcast, and love the wild changes in style over "Strawberry's" 11 songs. There's glimpses of New Pornographers, REM, White Stripes, The Jayhawks, My Bloody Valentine, and who knows what else. It's a junk drawer in the best sense, with great songs mixed with some unfinished ideas but full of surprises that make each visit an adventure.
- Tab Benoit: I first heard this Louisiana blues guitarist in a New Orleans record last month and after just a few songs grabbed his just-released "Legacy: The Best Of Tab Benoit." It has a few too many covers for my taste but gives a nice introduction to a new voice in a genre that's cluttered with a lot of weak talent.