Sometimes I try to imagine music discovery before the Internet. I imagine folks in bell bottoms leaning against counters in record stores, all huddled around thin cardboard sleeves, studying album art as the opening track pops and hisses on the hi-fi.
I imagine longhaired grunge fans trading cracked jewel cases and dog-eared copies of SPIN between classes.
I suppose I could just think back to my own childhood—recording radio shows and CDs to cassette tape. Though I’m not even 30, it seems so long ago. Like it wasn’t my life at all. Even the early days of Napster—the beginning of large scale Internet music piracy—is something I have to remind myself actually happened. That it was something I lived through.
With Napster, I discovered so much music because of mislabeled mp3s and the thousands of search results for “punk.” Bratmobile, At the Drive-In, and River City Rebels are a few that come to mind.
It was hard to filter out all the noise, so I just clicked play and hoped to find something great.
It’s still difficult to filter out all the noise. Music blogs and publications have proliferated as the Internet’s spread. This time of year my Twitter feed is clogged with their top 10 lists and declarations of the Next Big Thing. Sure, that last example is my own doing, but still.
The music pundit proliferation has given rise to aggregators like Metacritic, a website that sifts through music reviews for me. It prioritizes, weights, and boils them down to a one number snapshot for we consumers. I find it wonderfully helpful, because music is subjective. Metacritic can essentially tell me how an album is trending with fans and “experts.”
For example, Metacritic says the reviewers collectively gave The Coup’s new album, Sorry to Bother You, an 80 out of 100, which qualifies as “Generally Favorable Reviews.”
But no worries, with a single click the site will direct me to individual reviews if I want to see what certain publications, like Pitchfork or the AV Club or Rolling Stone had to say if I put more weight in their opinions.
A few times a year I’ll sift through Metacritic’s high scores board to see which music and movies have had the best reactions. I’ve found some fantastic albums—like Madvilliany—I might have missed otherwise.
And now that snow’s fallen on the Twin Cities—which is how I mark winter’s official beginning—I’ll be listening to Bon Iver more than usual. Here he is playing in the back of a London black cab.