In the beginning…
When I put on my first album exchange in April, 70 people, mostly from Durham (mostly my friends) signed up. I didn’t really expect it to go anywhere so I was massively chuffed with that turnout, even if, looking back, it was a pretty low-key affair.
I was really eager to make the second one bigger than the last one. However, despite my best efforts to promote it, only 50 people signed up at first. Even the incoming Durham Freshers paid me dust (a particularly humbling experience).
However, after a pep talk from my good friend Jacob (thanks bud <33) I decided to go hard on the promotion. So I went on Reddit. Specifically, I posted about the exchange on every music-related subreddit I could find. I was temporarily banned from r/classical. I was permanently banned from r/teenagersnew (the moderator called me a penis). I was even accused of being a spambot. Was it terrifying? Yes. Was it also exhilarating? Yes. I have never been banned from anything, ever – one to tell the grandkids methinks.
200 people had signed up after I posted on Reddit. Riding the high of this initial success, I decided to post the exchange on every Facebook uni confessions page I could find, using this handy little article from the Tab as a guide. This is when it really blew up, with hundreds of entries pouring in from Bristol, Lancaster, UEA, Newcastle and Oxford. It really made me happy to see people tagging their friends and generally showing appreciation on those pages, so thanks to everyone who found the exchange on there ❤
I was nothing but pleased when I closed the form with more than 700 entries. I mean, how hard could matching 700 albums be?
The matching process
Like an old morality tale, I paid the price for my hubris. However, before I get into that, I do have to acknowledge everyone who volunteered to help out. Even though I eventually just went off on one (sorry guys), big shout out to Adam, Alaric, Amie, Caleb, Charlie, Emilia, Henry, James, Jo, Joshua, Ishaan, Kat, Livi, Loti, Luka, Mae, Martin, Matthew, Rory, Ryan and Sophie. Whether you did absolutely nothing or spent hours helping out, whether I met you or not, you were all either added to that Google Doc by me or Martin, or you volunteered to help, so thank you very much! Big up especially Martin for just being an absolute rock in the first week of matching when it was all a bit mad.
Anyway, despite assembling the loveliest volunteers of all time, I realised that if I wanted to make every match as perfect as it could be, I would have to listen to every album. So I did. For three weeks I sat and listened. I knew that though the huge pool of albums presented an opportunity for every match to be good, and I wanted to capitalise on that.
Did it drive me insane? A little. Was it also really really fun? Somehow, I think so – I must be a secret masochist. Even if the process was sometimes head-bangingly dull, and some artists had to be listened to a hundred times before I could match them, the thrill of finding the perfect match for every album using only Ctrl F, a word doc and my memory was also really satisfying.
The way that I matched was to listen to snippets from every single album to begin with and then slowly go through every album, categorising them into microgenres. These would range from “Screamy Metal” to “British Indie” to “Pitchfork-core”. Then I matched every album, one by one, trying to take into consideration what people wanted.
Sometimes I matched by vibe (Heaven or Las Vegas by the Cocteau Twins with In Rainbows by Radiohead) and sometimes by sound (Written In Blood by The Casualties with A Sickness Of The Mind by The Restarts [coincidentally matching an actual couple!]). Sometimes I had head-scratchers (Connie Converse? Susuma Yokota? Death Grips?) but eventually I think I found good answers (Joanna Newsom! Boards of Canada! Dalek!).
Often I had to try and be a bit of an armchair psychologist. Would someone who suggested ___ turn their nose up at ___? Would they be open-minded enough to like ____? Obviously it’s an imperfect art, and making sweeping assumptions about people based on what they’ve suggested will rarely be accurate, but making sure the majority of people liked their matches meant trying to suss out who would be a bit snobbier, who would need a really obscure album (shout out to everyone who asked for “different sound/different vibe”, you’re maniacs and I love that), who would love anything at all, etc. etc.
The fact that matches have to be compatible both ways was also really challenging. Often A goes with B, but not the other way round. This was especially a challenge when matching really popular albums. These considerations were ultimately secondary to the task of just getting the matches done – for instance, the sheer number of Pink Floyd albums suggested meant they feature in pretty much every prog rock match, even if most prog fans have likely heard Pink Floyd already. However, in spite of occasional compromises, I did try really hard to make the overall utility of the matches as a whole as good as it could be, even if not every match was perfect.
If you’d like to see the whole list of matches, you can over here!
One of the questions in the Google form was “What kind of album would you like to be matched with? Do you have a particular genre preference/vibe in mind? Do you want a break-up album or a reflective one etc. etc. Write as much or as little as you’d like!”
Giving the word “reflective” as an example in that question is amongst my biggest regrets. Hundreds upon hundreds of people asked for reflective albums. I never want to see that word again. Like, go look at a CD…
However, despite the turmoil this question brought into my life, it was also super entertaining to read through people’s responses to it. There were requests for albums that were danceable, sad, dreamy, wholesome, heartbreaking, nocturnal, summery, lyrical, instrumental, coherent, incoherent, political, romantic, raw and cosmic. There were tonnes of incredibly specific subgenres, and long descriptive paragraphs that would put my English Language GCSE to shame. I was told to “remove option 6”. I was told “[change] nothing, not even Option 6”. Some great ideas were suggested and lovely things were said. I loved it all, genuinely – even the person who posted the entire lyrics to Yummy. Thank you.
There was only one thing that consistently threw me: people who would ask for albums that were the exact opposites of the albums that they’d suggested. Can you imagine that? The fucking cheek of it! To submit “Pink Moon” by Nick Drake and then have the absolute nerve to say “I just want something happy :)”!*
It was also really interesting to see how “underrepresented” certain “classic” albums were, and how certain albums I’d never heard of were “overrepresented”. Part of this comes from where I solicited responses (unsurprising that 5 Lana Del Rey albums were put forward when I advertised the exchange on r/LanaDelRey) but, like, where were the Beatles? In a way it was heartening though. As someone reared on internet music culture, I went into this thinking that I knew a fair bit about music. Discovering how much amazing stuff is out there, old and new, that I had absolutely no idea about was both a really humbling and a really exciting experience.
If you’d like to sign up for the next album exchange, or help out with volunteering or programming, the links are below! Gonna have a bit of a break before #3 so won’t start matching until August or September, but see you all for the next one!
*(Nobody actually suggested Pink Moon so I’m not actually @ing anyone in particular – no submissions were harmed in the making of this post, love you all <3).
P.S. scroll down for a list of my favourite matches and stats for the freaky freaks among you who are into that kind of stuff.
Links, social media and email
Link to participate in the next album exchange, with matching probably taking place in September: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/10wW1FwHe-1PzdSH4bwiUgg7IK1Gp1Wt-Nf6wCusb_0Y/edit
Link to sign up as a matching volunteer: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1j9AM9eKHD9__vHYIWGCT4_R3yae5EOXdhVpW750TCEE/edit
Link to sign up as a computer science volunteer: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/1ZvC_IOUiemrVkPkr0BprKWUAAnMHdOHN_EWwi5tpN5s/edit
Personal website: oneelevenoneeleven.wordpress.com
Picking my personal favourite matches was really difficult and I had to leave a lot out for fear of the list being too long. I’m also very conscious of the pretty dire representation of hip hop, country, and various other genres, but I didn’t want to fake the most cosmopolitan list I could – my personal tastes do lean towards indie, and the list definitely reflects that. However, these are, at least for now, the albums that really stood out to me in the exchange, and I’d love other people to hear them. There’s some avant-garde singing (Sings by Patty Waters), South Korean folk jazz (Karma by Black String), lost 60s should-have-been-classics (Now That Everything’s Been Said by the City), Zimbabwean pop (Friends on the Road by Bhundu Boys), and an amazing Japanese house album (Fruits of the Loom by Susuma Yokota). I personally can’t get enough of variety, and a lot of these albums were amongst my absolute favourites because they brought that sweet sweet sonic novelty. Hope you enjoy!
Old favourites (albums I already love that I was very excited to see pop up)
An Awesome Wave by Alt-J with I See You by the xx
Antidotes by Foals with Get To Heaven by Everything Everything
Channel Orange by Frank Ocean with Miseducation Of Lauryn Hill by Lauryn Hill
Electric Ladyland by Jimi Hendrix with The Dark Side Of The Moon – Pink Floyd
Fetch The Bolt Cutters by Fiona Apple with Horses by Patti Smith (matched myself with Fiona as I couldn’t find any album that would quite fit other than Horses!)
Grace by Jeff Buckley with The Bends by Radiohead
In Rainbows by Radiohead with Heaven Or Las Vegas by The Cocteau Twins
Is This It by The Strokes with Hot Fuss by the Killers
Kid A by Radiohead with Turn On The Bright Lights by Interpol
Leak 04-13 (Bait Ones) by Jai Paul with Paul’s Boutique by The Beastie Boys
Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness by The Smashing Pumpkins with Spiderland by Slint
To Pimp A Butterfly by Kendrick Lamar with Blonde by Frank Ocean
New favourites (matches where one or both of the albums I had never heard before)
A Toda Cuba Le Gusta by Afro-Cuban Allstars with Friends On The Road by Bhundu Boys
American Boyfriend by Kevin Abstract with Blonde by Frank Ocean
Antiphon by Alfa Mist with Ardour by Teebs
Baduizm by Erykah Badu with Heavn by Jamila Woods
Bareback by Hank Dogs with Five Leaves Left by Nick Drake
Beyond Words by Bobby Mcferrin with Tassili by Tinariwen
Blood Orange by Negro Swan with Safe In The Hands Of Love by Yves Tumor
Blue;s by Mamamoo with Another by Kim Jaehwan
Calling Out Of Context by Arthur Russell with Fever Ray by Fever Ray
Crush by Lettuce with We Like It Here by Snarky Puppy
Didn’t It Rain by Songs:Ohia with Stratosphere by Duster
Esperanza by Esperanza Spalding with Getz/Gilberto by Getz And Gilberto
Goo by Sonic Youth with The Killer Was In Government Blankets by Yaphet Kotto
I Let It In And It Took Everything by Loathe with Bergtatt by Ulver
Invisible Touch by Genesis with The Turn Of A Friendly Card by The Alan Parsons Project
It’s A Wonderful Life by Sparklehorse with The Glow Pt. 2 by The Microphones
Kalk Samen Kuri No Hana by Sheena Ringo with 1000 Gecs by 100 Gecs
Karma by Black String with Majid Bekkas by Magic Spirit Quartet
Luz Nacarina by Javier Hernando with The Disintegration Loops by William Basinski
Mellon Collie And The Infinite Sadness by The Smashing Pumpkins with California by Mr Bungle
Melodrama by Lorde with I’m All Ears by Let’s Eat Grandma
Mother Earth’s Plantasia by Mort Garson with Another Green World by Brian Eno
Music Has The Right To Children by Boards Of Canada with Fruits Of The Room by Stevia (Susuma Yokota)
Negro Swan by Blood Orange with Heaven To A Tortured Mind by Yves Tumor
Now That Everything’s Been Said by The City with Let’s Stay Together by Al Green
Odessey And Oracle by The Zombies with The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society by The Kinks
Oh No by Jessy Lanza with Black Lights by Samaris
Overcast! by Atmosphere with Guru’s Jazzmattazz Vol 1 by Guru
Sables by De.Ville with X100PRE by Bad Bunny
Sings by Patty Waters with The Marble Index by Nico
Strawberry Jam by Animal Collective with Long Season by Fishmans
Ten by Pearl Jam with Soda Stereo by Canción Animal
The June Frost by Mournful Congregation with F♯ A♯ ∞ by Godspeed You! Black Emperor
The Lemon Of Pink by The Books with Radio Highlife by Aunite Flo
The Milk Eyed Mender by Joanna Newsom with How Sad How Lovely by Connie Converse
The Velvet Underground And Nico by The Velvet Underground with Station To Station by David Bowie
Travelling Without Moving by Jamiroquai with Nuova Napoli by Nu Guinea with Late Night Tales: Music For Pleasure by Groove Armada
Ultraviolence by Lana Del Rey with Cigarettes After Sex by Cigarettes After Sex
Most common name: Tom/Thomas at 15, with Alex and Joe/Joseph tied at 13 (better luck next time kings <3). Dick and Harry absolutely floundering with Dick nowhere to be seen and Harry at 4.
Most interesting email address: [Censored, GDPR]
Decade popularity, from most to least: 2010s, 2000s, 1990s, 2020s, 1970s, 1980s, 1960s, and 1950s (How Sad, How Lovely by Connie Converse and Blue Train by John Coltrane).
Longest album: The Disintegration Loops by William Basinski
Most obscure album: Luz Nacarina by Javier Hernandez. An artist with only 2 monthly listeners on Spotify? That’s not self-promoted? And is also really good if you’re into ambient? Incredible. Make that 3 monthly listeners!
Most common genre: Indie