I’ve been listening to Soma.fm a lot these days. The listener supported service reminds me that radio at its best functions as a sort of accompaniment to one’s daily life. You’ve picked a station because the signal musically or narratively reflects in some positive way the world as you experience it. Thus the venue validates your lifestyle; it becomes your life soundtrack.
Soma is part of that story: around thirty or so online music channels that stream nearly six million listener hours every month. When the service first launched over a decade ago, it got a lot of media attention. These days everybody is streaming, but I still think is Soma is special, in large part because of the high quality and originality of its channels. They really function, at least for me, as life soundtrack stations.
So when I am in gotta-make-things-happen mode, I tune one of three Soma channels: Poptron, Groove Salad, or Beat Blender. I especially like the last stream, sort of low stress steady energy electronica with lots of Thievery Corp, Boards of Canada, Royksopps, and Ltj Bukem stuff. Beat Blender “will keep you awake but not stress you out,” the station info page proclaims. Groove Salad is a little more intense. It plays songs like Forces of Nature’s “Ion Storm.” Definitely an all-nighter channel.
If you need a little more postpunk soulishness in your morning mix, Poptron will probably work. It is playing Fan Death tune “Reunited” as I write this. Reminds me of Roxy Music without the antidepressants.
Alternately, if it is 10:30 PM and you are writing up some grand Desiderata on your fourth cup of coffee for your cosmology and metaphysics class, here are the Soma stations for you: Deep Space One, Earwaves, Space Station Soma, and Drone Zone.
The first, second, and last are hosted by Soma.fm founder Rusty Hodge. When I tune into Space Station Soma, I definitely feel like I’m scanning for life on the moons of Saturn. Deep Space One, Hodge explains, consists of music “that’s too slow for Space Station Soma, and too fast for Drone Zone.” The latter channel streams as advertised: “atmospheric space music and ambient textures with minimal beats.”
Of these four, Earwaves is probably the most challenging. But the music is truly beautiful—deejayed by New Mexico public radio veteran Dwight Loop, whose programming regaled Albuquerque and Santa Fe listeners on KUNM-FM and KSFR-FM for two decades. I just tuned into Steve Reich’s “Octet.” Awesome stuff.
Then again, if you are in Trendoid Mode, dressing up and getting ready to go out on the town and meet the movers and shakers, I recommend the following stations: Secret Agent and Illinois Street Lounge.
Secret Agent is pure camp: “the soundtrack for your stylist, mysterious, dangerous life.” Lots of tunes like Unforscene’s “Nuclear Symphony” and Al Caiola’s “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” medley. Illinois Street Lounge is where you go if you want to get back in touch with your inner Yma Sumac (I forgot all about the “Gopher Mambo”).
Soma.fm has lots of other great streams: indie-folk, synthpop, world, Christmas, and Americana. But when I am in Plotting Revenge Mode, there’s only one Soma station for me: Doomed, aka—”dark industrial/ambient music for tortured souls.” And we are definitely talking dark and tortured here, people. Five minutes of listening and I feel like the proverbial cinematic stranger coming to in a bathtub full of ice and . . . wait, what are those stitches on my waist . . . NOOOooo!!!
All ghoulishness aside, three other things I like about this service. First, no ads (as long as folks contribute). Second, many ways to listen, including a nice popup application that obviates downloading endless .pls files to your desktop.
Third, the system doesn’t ask me to “like” tunes. I’m getting very tired of streamers that want me to train their database software not to play me anything I don’t expect. Soma’s streams are curated. An actual human being gave the playlist some thought. If you enjoy the tunes, listen. If not, go listen to something else. There are lots of choices on Soma.fm, and as far as I can tell, they’re all good.
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