Sept. 1 2010 09:57 AM

Why a passé website is still the best way to discover new music communities

Fabulous Diamonds
Photo by Karl Scullin

Six degrees

Once upon a time, before Facebook took a firm grip over the hearts, minds and egos of the world’s social networkers, there was a little thing called MySpace.

On MySpace, we could stalk exes under a shroud of anonymity, leave inappropriate comments on friends’ “walls,” get random messages from half-naked young girls who wanted to expand their horizons and even post drunken pictures from last Spring Break in Cancun. It was great!

But, despite its drop in overall popularity, there still hasn’t been another site able to top MySpace’s usefulness as a new-music resource. Why it’s taken so long is anyone’s guess. Pandora and do well enough, but they simply can’t replicate the ease of discovery via MySpace.

As much as I’ve been leaning toward the past in my recent listening habits, I can’t help but long for the days logged on this site plundering for new sounds. So, for the sake of breaking out of this retro spell, let’s play a game. The rules are as follows:

1. Start at the MySpace profile of a band you really like. 2. Scroll down to their “Top friends.” 3. Click on a profile of a band you’ve never heard. 4. Listen to their songs. 5. Repeat.

I’m beginning with zoned-out Aussie duo Fabulous Diamonds, whose recent album, II, has been on constant rotation around the house. As I’m already familiar with their hypnotic drum-and-organ dub, I click over to Kes.

It seems they’re from Melbourne—like Fabulous Diamonds—but their page is nondescript, so it’s difficult to tell. Somewhere in the range of Marc Bolan, David Bowie or other very early glam-rock (before it got too hammy), Kes sounds like a tougher version of Destroyer. I’ve never heard anyone in the States talk about this band, but based on a track as well-constructed as the whimsical “Body Time,” wider recognition isn’t too far out of their reach.

On to another Melbourne band, Baseball, who, by the sound of it, don’t place crossover success as a high priority. They count electric violin as a main instrument and have a singer who sounds like Conor Oberst being struck by lightning, and most of the tracks give off a Bad Seeds (read: morbid) vibe. Not my thing, but it looks like they’re a kickass live act, at least.

Next is Pikelet, an intriguing solo project by Evelyn Morris, whose gentle, floating songs meld the organic and the synthetic. On “Smithereens,” she places gorgeous, layered vocal melodies over hand drums and drifting keyboards, and as a result, it’s the best thing I’ve heard yet on this little journey. No surprise—she’s from Melbourne, too.

From there, we’re on to Bum Creek. Fried, squishy electro is their thing, and from this, I’m starting to gather that Melbourne could be some sort of artist safe haven along the lines of Baltimore, where rent is cheap and there’s a thriving community of progressive underground musicians who all play together and support each other.

When I get to Free Choice Duo, it all comes full-circle. A project of Jarrod Zlatic of Fabulous Diamonds, the duo is yet another Melbourne band, one that seems to have taken cues from German electronic music (Cluster, Harmonia, Tangerine Dream, Klaus Schulze, etc.).

But where Pikelet and Bum Creek may have used the music of those pioneers as an influence, Free Choice sounds as if they’re actually continuing forward with the work of their forebears. Analog keyboards squiggle and overlap each other in seemingly endless patterns, morphing from simple abstractions into beautiful, occasionally frightening inner-space mantras.

Judging from the sounds here, I’ll buy a Free Choice LP whenever I come across one, or whenever they put one out in the U.S. (whichever comes first).

It’s strange that, within the span of a few hours, the use of a seemingly outdated social-networking site can be more useful than days spent with one of its competitors. I found out about a fertile music community halfway across the world and got acquainted with five new groups, one of which I’ll be following up on in the years to come.

Twenty percent ain’t bad. Until another site can top that, I’m sticking with MySpace.

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