Nevermind stopped me in my tracks.
I was browsing the racks in Skoolkids Records in Chapel Hill on the Tuesday it was released, and when "Smells Like Teen Spirit" came on the store's speakers I dropped the album I was holding, tilted my head, and listened in amazement.
After the song ended I raced over to the counter and asked the guy behind it what the band's name was. He told me a bit about Nirvana, some about Kurt Cobain, and even more about the Seattle SubPop sound. Ten minutes later I left with the album and spent the rest of the day listening to it.
I wagered many hours in record stores searching for moments like that -- the musical discovery that would change my life, or at least the next several weeks of it.
Before the Internet we learned about music in dorm hallways or in record stores. Record store clerks -- sometimes obnoxious and arrogant but always knowledgeable -- were our spirit guides.
Now the record stores are mostly gone, but the search for the big bang of revelation continues. The clerks have been replaced by bloggers who stand behind the virtual counterspace with recommendations and links.
And the time I used to spend in record stores, walking through Greenwich Village from one to the next, is now spent on line surfing music blogs. Simon Reynolds argues in the new Pitchfork Review that we have lost something in the process -- the authoritative critical voice at the handful of music magazines that everyone read -- the physical experience of visiting your local store. I miss those days too -- but I like hearing more voices in the conversation and the music they recommend. And I like having a world of music just another click away.
Here are a sampling of some of my favorites -- a half dozen; each of them guaranteed to expose you to something wonderful that you have never heard before. Happy hunting.
Written by three Canadians immersed in the burgeoning Montreal music scene, Said the Gramophone is an idiosyncratic guide to the best music North of the Border. Said the Gramophone posts songs and writes little stories about them -- less about how they sound than how they will make you feel. This is where to go if you want to discover the next Arcade Fire or maybe just someone like Carl Spidla, a singer songwriter in Montreal that I became briefly obsessed with a few years back.
When Phil Everly passed away most bloggers posted their favorite Everly Brothers performance in tribute. Justin Age at Aquarium Drunkard uncrated an obscure 1972 cover of "When Will I Be Loved" by Sandy Denny and Linda Thompson. Drunken Aquarium may sell tshirts and promote shows, but its focus is on sharing good music-- whether an old Bob Dylan demo or an Elliott Smith B-side, or a recent interview with my current favorite, Hiss Golden Messenger.
I discovered a hypnotically brilliant song by Mark Kozelek on TwentyFourBit this year -- a single from a charity compilation for Dave Eggers' writing project. It was my favorite song of the year until TwentyFourBit went and posted a Phil Spector seance by Clare Maguire the following week that still has my knees shaking. Not a lot of fuss and muss here, just good taste and great songs.
I was looking for Mononoke's Alice all year. I didn't know this, of course, until I chanced upon the mesmerizing video for the song on Breaking More Waves, a UK blog that is my go to for new music from across the pond.
Breaking More Waves participates in the annual U.K Blog Sound poll of 5 dozen bloggers to determine their favorite emerging artists, which is a great way to stay a step ahead of the new new thing.
Adobe and Teardrops posts on background that looks like faded parchment or a rusted wall, yellowed, worn, and authentic. It's a blog in search of lonesome, twangy music that sounds old even if it isn't. I discovered a lot of great music like that on this site this year -- Doc Feldman's album made my top ten list and Jeremy Squires should have.
I hadn't heard of a single album on Gold Flake Paint's annual top ten list from last year and none of them made my own -- which is of course what made it so essential. Visiting Gold Flake Paint is like talking to a brilliant friend who has exqusite taste that's just a bit different from yours. I am absolutely convinced that one day I will find the single greatest piece of music on this site and this site alone, and I check it every day. If that's too obscure, check out the interview with Nathaniel Rateliff, who you should absolutely know.