App review: Discover new playlists with Wonder.fm
Every year on my birthday, one of my best friends gives me a mix CD (or, in recent years, a Spotify playlist) with new music that she thinks I'd like. I look forward to this annual ritual of spending one or two nights with these songs as a backdrop to my study or work sessions. I'm no music aficionado, but her picks are usually pleasant enough -- and I always add a few songs and artists to my daily listening.
Using Wonder.fm (free, iOS and Android), an application developed by Hydric Media, reminds me of this experience in the best way. The concept and design are simple: Wonder's team plucks new songs by independent artists that are trending on music blogs and displays them as tiles in the app, which you can access on phone, tablet or desktop. The list of 99 songs is ordered -- though it changes throughout the day, and I'm unclear on the organizational metric -- and listeners can play them in sequence or can play specific songs by clicking on the tiles, which display photos of the artists.
Although the user interface and functionality mirror those of many other streaming services, what sets Wonder apart is its focus on discovery. Outsiders to the independent music scene shouldn't expect to know most of the names here; I, for one, an occasional reader of Pitchfork, Spin, the Fader and the like, only recognized two artists in the list of just over 100 (including featured artists). That said, streaming via Wonder doesn't have to be an active pursuit: As with my birthday mixes, most tracks make for easy listening.
But this is also Wonder's most obvious limitation: Its selection of "indie" music is mostly electronic, with some R&B and hip-hop sprinkled in. Perhaps that's a reflection of the lack of genre diversity in modern indie music, but at the very least, I expected some folk or rock influences.
Another shortcoming, albeit one that I personally find unbothersome, is that Wonder does not make any effort to learn your music tastes and personalize the list for you. Again, I never click on Spotify's suggested artists, and I often found Pandora's selections to be quite off -- so I didn't miss this feature. But at this point, we're conditioned to expect a "You Might Also Like" section on every streaming service, so it's worth noting that Wonder will never change its algorithm for you.
Still, though, if you're unpicky and hungry for new music, Wonder won't disappoint. I've used the app for roughly one week, and I haven't heard anything that I dislike.
Operating system: iOS 9.0; Android 4.1
Creator: Hydric Media
User ratings: iTunes, 4.5 stars out of 5 (19 ratings); Google Play, 3.9 stars out of 4 (28 ratings)
Review's bottom line: Wonder.fm can help you discover new music by budding artists in the electronic and hip-hop genres.