Spotify and Trouser Press
March 26, 2012 § Leave a Comment
One of the strangest things about the age of the Internet is not how everything has changed in 25 years, but how this digital connection has made it more like it was before or better. I’ve certainly found this to be the case with music. When I was high school- and college-age, I was not just an avid music fan, but a ravenous record collector, and much of my spare cash and time was spent in record stores.
Back then, it wasn’t so easy to just find the music that interested you. Often geography could affect what was available to you — both in where the records came from and where they were going. Imports or regional indie labels could be very hard to find. Conversely, small towns and rural areas had less of a “off-the-beaten path” variety in their record stores. When I think about all the time I spent searching for things that weren’t actually there, or even remotely attainable, I begin to think of pre-digital music collecting as a self-imposed Sisyphean exercise.
The digital age has offered several ways to find music that are more efficient and wide-reaching, but seldom both. Then came Spotify, the streaming musical service that offers three tiers: pretty affordable, very affordable and free, along with a huge catalog of music to listen to. At first, I would occasionally go on to check out new music that I had heard about. But one day, it occurred to me to turn back the clock a bit.
Back in the old days, I swore by the Trouser Press Guides as maps for record-buying expeditions. There were several editions of this alphabetical-by-artist music encyclopedia for new wave, punk, alternative and weird. It still exists as a website – trouserpress.com – but a couple decades ago, I used to read these things cover to cover, page by page, rabid for reviews and descriptions of bands that seemed like something I’d find interesting maybe.
I found plenty of these bands, but many never crossed my path, and while the years passed, my desire to hear this music never left. At the same time, the ability to track it down didn’t get any better, though every once in awhile, someone might digitize their vinyl for something weird from the era and stick it on their blog.
How surprised was I when I pulled out a mid-80s edition Trouser Press Guide and began going page by page and searching for these obscure bands and finding them? Words cannot express, really. So many of the things that had hid from me way back when — almost like it was on purpose — were sitting patiently in Spotify, waiting for me to find them.
There was the Swedish dance pop band Hey Elastica, with their herky-jerky guitar work and gleeful vocal chants. I found more by the percussive sextet Electric Guitars and others who were spawned in the same rhythmic pool as Talking Heads and I think were much better musicians — just without the integral ingredient of David Byrne.
There’s also forgotten Stiff Records act Pookiesnackenburger and its before-its-time Balkan rock. There’s Family Fodder’s incredibly bizarre and funny album of Blondie covers and the complete works of quirky Swedish madwoman Virna Lindt. I discovered ex-Buzzcock Steve Diggle and the Flags of Convenience’s fun new wave pop, Nebraska should-have-superstars For Against, early British twee popsters The Brilliant Corners and the mysterious “multinational-styled” new wave funk of Albania.
Sardonic new wave by Shoes For Industry, including the funny non-hit “Invasion of the French Boyfriends,” great, energetic, scrappy old punk bands like The Boys and Dogmatics that somehow I missed the first time around, and songs that escaped my attention by people I did know, like Mick Farren’s “Let’s Loot the Supermarket Again Like We Did Last Summer.”
And I finally got to hear the Damned’s album of ‘60s covers recorded under the name Naz Nomad and the Nightmares.
Now I’ve got a pile of five Trouser Press Guides sitting at my desk and a mission — and I’m only up to the F section of the first one I picked up. I hate it when music is boring, and this exercise is going to guarantee that doesn’t happen for a long, long time.
Culture has always moved fast, and there are always corners of it that get spotted by very few. The shame isn’t that only a certain number of people at the time noticed it; the shame is that it becomes a repeating cycle over years. Some people are glued to the pop culture of today, but others love the archaeology of the past. Too often, though, something is buried so long that no amount of shoveling will reveal it again.
No longer. Spotify is one tool to change that, whatever your taste. Anyone up for some Big Balls and the Great White Idiot?