Ever since upgrading to Spotify Premium, I’ve found myself trolling the gunmetal-gray player on a more-than-regular basis, whether on my computer, phone, or iPad—particularly, the "Related Artists" tab. I get lost in there so often that I had to ask the girl who sits next to me in the office to give her rape whistle a hearty toot every hour or so to slap me back to reality.
It’s like when you get lost in Wikipedia. One minute, you’re brushing up on your history on the page about the invasion of Normandy, and then twenty clicks later, BAM! You’re reading about the early life of Emmy-winning television sensation Tony Shalhoub.
It was Sunday, and I was coming down from an all-day Saturday drink-uh-pa-LOSE-uh, and I couldn’t watch another episode of Monk, so I thought, "Why not try to discover that same clicky-pedia phenomena with la muthica?" I decided to go on a musical spirit journey, following the trail of crumbs through the the Related Artists tab. I opened up my laptop and a bottle of rosé that someone had left sitting on my coffee table the night before, and I started drinking the music with my ears and the pink fruity wine with my mouth. It is roughly 10:30 in the morning.
I chose Civilian to start because I saw them play at a bar in Williamsburg the previous Friday night. Right from the get-go, the mouth-breathers in the so-called sound booth had zero fucks to give about making sure these guys had the proper levels on their mics and monitors. At a certain point the sound levels got so bad that the band had to improvise. They just sat down on the stage, invited the crowd to gather in real close and then played the rest of the gig unplugged. It was romantic as hell. Especially with about sixteen High Lifes in me. But I felt like I needed to give the album another listen, and that’s where my Dante-esque descent into Spotify began.
Level 1: Civilian
Album: Should This Noose Unloosen (2012)
Genre: Indie Rock
Wow! These guys sound really good when their instruments and voices aren’t being shoved through a giant electric kazoo. Precisely-executed two-part harmonies combined with poignant lyrics that drive the narrative of the album. The frontman’s singing voice bears a spoken-word quality, like he’s talking to you while also singing to you, while someone also says the same things at the same time, harmoniously. The album ends with a slow number, so when I started looking at their related artists I wanted something upbeat and fresh. And I saw these guys.
Level 2: Freekok
Album: A Damn Good Evening (2011)
Genre: Laser-Beamy White-Kid Rap
Alright, things are already getting a little weird. Freekok—or "Gratis Penis," as they’re sometimes referred to by me right now in this article—have this whole dance-poppy thing going on, almost like a more stomachable LMFAO with salty grains of funk, soul, and 80’s hip-hop sprinkled on top. They kinda sound like Justice and the Bloodhound Gang having a thumb war. I was originally attracted to the Terminator font and rapist glasses on the album cover but, admittedly, I did pop and also lock a few times and also dribbled a little rosé down my neck. It seemed like a bit of a stretch to relate these guys to Civilian, so I was getting a little shifty-eyed about the effectiveness of the algorithm (that’s a word, right?). However, the artist I found in Freekok’s related tab, I was like, "Yeah, I’ll buy it."
Level 3: Toffer
Album: Hur Går Det Med Musiken? (2009)
Genre: Swede-Hop Gångstür Rap
Wow, we’ve already managed to leave the English language. Toffer, which I assume is short for Kris KrisTOFFERson Jr., raps very quickly in Swedish and it sounds cool when flanked by the “boink-boink” electronic tones of his accompanying synthesizer. Every now and then, he’ll throw a few English words or phrases into his verbal lingonberry jam. Among the Anglo phrases I was able to catch (like herring) were: "Purple Haze," "Street Fighter," "Make my day," and "Jack the Ripper." In summary, Toffer is my new ‘Holm-boy. Get it? Stockholm. Anyway, this is what happened next.
Level 4: Academics
Album: Tare Lugnt 4 (2010)
Genre: Swedodelic Rhythm & Affordable Blue Furniture
With a name like Academics, I nearly thought we were getting back to English with this one. Nope! They represent the more psychedelic side of Scandinavian hip-hop. The kind of music you want to do drugs to while you’re sitting in your mod living room that you assembled yourself while skiing. As you’ve probably guessed by now, I don’t know very much about Sweden, which is why I thought I would be happy to be back to the English language with this next one. I was more wrong than...something that really doesn’t belong in Sweden, in Sweden.
Level 5: Cleo
Album: Sans Serif EP (2012)
Genre: Party of 5 Soundtrack, if that show were still on TV today
You know that scene in every romantic comedy that happens around the third act where the guy accidentally does something to piss off and/or disappoint the girl he’s been wooing, and then there’s a montage where they look sad walking down the street alone or looking out a window as it rains? This is the music that plays during that montage. I sort of thought this music died out with elastic-waisted jeans and collect calls. The funny thing is that this actually created a real-life sad montage as I was listening to it. I really had to take that rosé to the face and then I punched my refrigerator and went and cried in the shower. There’s no happy resolution for me and this EP, though. All I could do was go down to my bodega and buy another bottle of rosé and spiral deeper into the sixth circle of Spotify. Luckily, I landed in this.
Level 6: Samson for President
Album: Papa’s Old Piano (2012)
Genre: Smooth and Steamy Throwback R&B
Yeah, I’d vote for this guy. This music makes me want to go hit on a girl, instead of just assume that she’s a bitch because she’s wearing those Tory Burch flats with the Knights Templar medallion on the toe. This girl that I just made up is now okay in my book, because of this music. Simple staccato instrumentals do the trick to back up the smoky vocals, as if the vocal chords themselves were made of a the freshest of Slim Jims, ripped gently from their plastic yellowy packages. Al Green would probably nod his head once in approval. Looks like I got out of that third act fall after all.
So to recap, if you’re already familiar with all of this music, you are cooler than I am. In fact, you probably are even if you’ve never heard of any of these artists, just because. We started with Civilian, an indie rock group from Florida, then took a little field trip across the pond to IKEA before finding out that the female protagonist still has trust issues and that the male-love interest might not really be ready for a commitment and somebody might not be allowed to graduate, and then finally we learned that Spotify is a pretty good way to find new music, even if there are a few ups and downs along the way. But that’s what pink wine is for.