Critical Metrics- who says the charts suck?
"All the music on the radio and the charts sucks. It's like it used to be back when I was a kid..." Yes, yes, we know... Everything was great when you were young and just starting to get into music and now it's a soulless mass of commercialism. It's time to get rid of the rose-colored shades because you need to get up to speed. It's one thing to tell you that there was bad music in your salad days (or that there's always good and bad music around) or that maybe there's no Aretha now but she was no Billie, who was no Bessie... (you get the idea). No, the best way to stop the lies about today's music being one huge suck-fest is to really immerse yourself in some of the highly regard music out there now and see if your prejudices still hold up.
I can't make any promises though. Some people are so tied to their own time that they'll never believe that good music is still out there now. But, if you do have a little bit of an open mind, maybe some aural evidence will sway you at least a little bit.
There are a couple of ways to experience it for yourself. One obvious way is to turn on the radio and listen to your local top 40 station. If that's too frightening, there's plenty of online music services that offer more personalized access to not just 30 second samples (i.e. iTunes, Amazon, Barnes and Noble) but also streaming entire songs or entire albums (i.e. Napster).
But if you want a good, easy place to sample all the songs that top music mags are drooling over, the best place I've seen is Critical Metrics. From their own propaganda: "Dozens of highly recommended singles appear every day- Critical Metrics makes it effortless to find them, try them, and to buy your favorites." Yeah, it sounds peachy creamy but what does that mean? They sift through reviews at Spin, Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, Vibe, Blender, Stylus, XXL, The Source, Pitchfork, the New York Times and other locales for their own top 20 list. They then provide the songs (full length) to stream and/or the videos accompanying them. Sometimes neither of these areaffablee and right now, the list is heavily weighed towards rap and R&B but as it stands, it's still a good way to get a bead on what's hot and being talked up now.
Thinking that I was going to be a masochist, I went through the entire top 20 list for last month. As it turns out, not only was it relatively painless but in a lot of cases, it was downright pleasurable and eye-opening.
Discounting the stuff that they don't have sound/video for (Ghostface, Clap Your Hands and Say Yeah, LCD Soundsystem, all of which I'm pretty much pre-sold on anyway), they did have sources for the rest of their list. Then there was the stuff I didn't have any use for: top rated Young Jeezy (nice orchestral backing though), Cadillac & J-Money (good that they're minimal but not enough going on), Xzibit (good chanting/clapping background but his bluster sounds like hot air) and Annie Stela (the Spin review is perfect: "tailor-made for VH1 weekend countdown"). Note that the iffy stuff mostly appears at the bottom of CM's top 20 list, which means that they know something about quality.
There were a number of good (not great) offerings too: Pop Levi's bluesy glam-psych, dancehall singer Turbulence, shoe-gazers Beach House, New Young Pony Club's trashy dance-rock, Rich Boy's boasts about his ride (especially like the soulful strings) and Jay-Z's ruminating break-up song ("Lost One").
For the very good stuff, there was the Shins' "Phantom Limb" (who now sound just like the Pernice Brothers, which is cool by me), Fantasia's "Hood Boy" (nice single that I missed but I still love "Not the Way That I Do" more), Lupe Fiasco's "Daydreamin'" (who I didn't have any use for before but here doing a sweet soul turn with Ms. Jill Scott), Amy Winehouse's "Rehab" (another neo-soul entry and again, didn't have any use for her previously but she's definitely got the spirit), Ciara's "Promise" (ditto and it's not immediately obvious what a great, steamy groove record it is), 50 Cent/Eminem's "You Don't Know" (the Source nails it, saying that M's cameo makes the song) and Art Brut's "Nag Nag Nag Nag" (hilariously bitchy rock and as musically self-referential as Hold Steady).
Again and again, I was coming back to songs or albums that I passed off as weak, now discovering nuggets here and there. Isn't that one thing radio was supposed to do? Also, it was kind of a relief to listen past the hype and actually hear if the songs/artists were as good as they were made out to be. CM ain't perfect- I don't agree with some of the choices and it's not just missing out on rock but also country and plenty of other genres- but I know that I'll be back to visit it again.