Robin Sloan
main newsletter
May 2023

There is a light

In my previous edition, I told you about some recent greebling in support of the new Cotton Modules album.

Today, that album has arrived!

An album cover. Text reads THE COTTON MODULES and THE GREATEST REMAINING HITS. A spaceship hangs in the center of the frame, lonely against the cold stars.

You can stream The Greatest Remaining Hits on Spotify and Apple Music. This is a sci-fi concept album, so it comes with a story: a tappable web presentation with sound and music.

The story begins like this:

The Deep Space Sloop John Bethel was leaving Earth because culture had stopped.

It was an age of paranoia and boredom.

Politics and enter­tain­ment ran in a dumb, dark loop — the regur­gi­ta­tions of banal AIs that were, apparently, good enough.

The Bethel’s patrons believed there could be more. They were the last of the rock stars, disap­pointed by history, and before they died, they traded their music — a vast tranche of intel­lec­tual property — for permis­sion to exit the solar system.

What follows is a tale of inter­stellar survival. You’ll learn why this album exists … and who made it.

This is an archived edition of Robin’s newsletter. You can sign up to receive future editions using the form at the bottom of the page.

It’s a strange time to be making and sharing music — art of any kind, really. For as much as inde­pen­dent artists and assorted weirdos have griped, over the decades, about gatekeepers, the truth is that discovery always requires an intermediary, and if it’s not a publisher, it’s a platform.

So it has come to pass that, in 2023, as you are preparing to launch your sci-fi concept album, you cobble together a little DIY press list, and you write your email newsletter — hello — but/and the most conse­quen­tial thing you do, by far, is pitch your music to the playlist editors at Spotify.

It’s a weird feeling!

As a gateway to listeners, old-fashioned radio stations were (and remain) totally daunting, and of course sometimes also corrupt … but are we really better off with two, maybe three, monstrous “radio stations” for the whole planet?

Well, it’s what we’ve got — so let’s play.

I will now humbly request your participation. Saving (or “hearting”) the album helps. Adding a track to a playlist, any playlist, helps. Listening helps, of course! Every little inter­ac­tion sends a signal into the algorithms at the heart of Spotify and Apple Music. Maybe, if enough of those signals add up, the algo­rithms get the hint and put this music in front of more people. Then, a few of THEM save the album … and the flywheel begins to spin.

In platform-ized media, there’s not much of a middle ground. There is the calm obscurity of mere availability, and there is a seat on the algo­rithmic flywheel. The latter is difficult to secure, partic­u­larly if you are not willing to change the substance of your work to make it more “algorithm-friendly”.

Difficult — but not impossible.

Even in the instru­mented 21st century, pop break­throughs depend on luck — luck, nudged by effort. Spotify’s algorithm has intro­duced me to plenty of music that’s become important in my life, and I would love to see it introduce The Greatest Remaining Hits to some people who don’t read this newsletter.

As you’re listening (and saving, and sharing) here’s what you should know:

There are about a million things I want to say about this project, but I am not going to make the mistake of loading you down with an album, a story, AND an essay. I’ll write more soon. For now, it’s suffi­cient to note that, after working on this music for 18 months, we release it into a world suddenly electric with discus­sion of AI tools, newly flooded with voice-cloned pop simulacra. I’m very proud of the fact that The Greatest Remaining Hits is NOT that. Instead, Jesse and I made something original.

The album’s story continues:

The last of the rock stars recruited passengers: a thousand and one refugees of the heart.

Their desti­na­tion would be Wilson 6b, a healthy and habitable planet that sparkled across the gulf of space.

The lure wasn’t money or oppor­tu­nity or destiny. It was the thing that had broken the loop before, at its dumbest and darkest:




P.S. You’ll receive my next newsletter on June 4. It will be a return to form, packed full of links and recommendations. Can you believe my DISCI­PLINE with this one? I didn’t know it was possible … 

May 2023