Nov 302008

This Just In: Virtual Bits Outselling Physical Ones

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So Atlantic Records recently hit the tipping point where now their digital sales are surpassing their physical ones.  Do you hear that sound?  That’s the sound of no one at all being surprised.  I mean, sure, there might be a FEW C-Level execs left in the record industry who are looking at the Internet and saying “oh that’s just a fad.  That flummery will pass and people will go back to buying vinyl!”  But if there are such execs left, they’re few and far between and probably well-insulated from the actual music-related decisions of their company.

See, even the Majors are starting to realize that this Internet thing is around to stay and that, for the foreseeable future, digital sales are probably going to make up the lion’s share of their revenue.  Even companies (like Atlantic) that had to be dragged kicking and screaming into the Internet age are starting to realize that this whole “online music sales” thing doesn’t hurt nearly as bad as they thought.  In fact, it feels kind of good.

The most cursory reason that Internet sales are good for the companies is the impulse-buy, candy-in-the-checkout-line effect.  I can be browsing Amazon and come across an album I’d heard good things about and one click and 7 bucks later, I own it.  It’s easy.  And while that’s not strictly speaking unique to the Internet, the Internet makes such impulse purchases a lot easier and available.  I mean, if I get blitzed one night and I decide at 3 AM that I really need the new Britney Spears album, well, now I can go online and buy it and have it downloaded via Amazon with a single click.  This, if nothing else, is a Good Thing for them.  I mean, compare that to the pre-Internet days: how many times have you been shitfaced in a record store?

Glib observations about the power of drunk-buying aside, Majors are starting to grok the fact that what’s good for their customer is, generally speaking, good for them.  This is ESPECIALLY true if we’re talking increases in convenience.  There are a lot of records that I never bought because I never thought of them or was never covetous of them while I was at the record store.  Well, with all of those records now available over the Internet, my room is a record store.  There are also a lot of albums that I was curious to hear, but not curious enough to actually hop in my car, drive to Sam Goody’s, purchase, and drive home to hear.  With the Internet, buying music so easy that I don’t even have to put on pants.

(I suppose I don’t TECHNICALLY have to put on pants to go to the mall, but the one time I tried it, it didn’t end well . . . )

The point is, purely digital music is faster, cheaper, and more convenient than any physical media can possibly be.  This is a Good Thing for music consumers, obviously, but it’s also a Good Thing for record labels.  This is due to the simple equation that (Easier To Buy) + (Cheaper To Buy) = (More Likely To Buy).  The horror stories the labels have been trying to sell us about piracy being the slow bleeding death of the industry and digital music being its dark-robed harbinger are (and always have been) total bullshit.  The truth is: if people want to hear their music, the odds are that they’re perfectly willing to pay for it if they can.  Sure, the ones that can’t may pirate it, but those are mostly people that weren’t going to buy it anyway.

So it really should be no surprise to Atlantic or anyone else that digital sales are quickly outstripping physical sales.  Digital sales are more convenient and cheaper and so are a much better choice for most customers.  And as always: what’s good for the customer, is good for the label.

UPDATE: If you’re interested, the amazing Bob Lefsetz does a pretty interesting analysis of this story.

Nov 252008

Tuesday Playlist for 2008.11.25

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Intro: This Playlist is brought to you by the power of Insomnia(tm)!

Listening: Well, my new job comes with many perks, one of which is that I can now once again listen to streaming audio while I hack away.  This mainly means that Pandora has returned to its rightful place as the one site that I ALWAYS have open.  I mean, the Mozilla folks really just name the first tab The Pandora Tab and leave it at that.  (Oooh, note to self: The Pandora Tab would be an awesome name for a band.)

The funny thing about Pandora is that, like many things in life, small changes can have fairly serious consequences.  Take for instance my much beloved Noise Rock Radio station in Pandora.  It’s seeded by a delightful mix of Silversun Pickups, Sonic Youth, The Lemonheads, and The Pixies.  Now I’ve been grooving pretty hard on the old Meat Puppets track “Backwater” recently, and thought that maybe some similar tunes would fit in well with the general feel of the station.  So I happily added Meat Puppets as an artist seed and kept on jamming.

But suddenly, Weezer’s “Island in the Sun” popped up.  Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad tune (quite the opposite, in fact), but it wasn’t really what I was looking for.  I thumbs downed it and kept going.  A few songs later, “There She Goes” by the Las comes on.  Now again, I like the Las as much as the next guy, but the almost doo-whoppy, sparkly clean pop sound just wasn’t what this station was about.  I yanked the Meat Puppets.

I then re-added just “Backwater” as a song seed and let it spin for a few tunes.  Up it pops with the awesome live version of Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” off of their From the Muddy Banks of the Wishkah live album.  Now THAT was exactly the sort of music I was hoping to bring into the station.  Small differences, wide-ranging consequences: it’s not chaos theory, it’s Pandora.

On the less random side of things, Silversun Pickups’ Carnavas is still seeing near-permanent rotation on both my car stereo and .mp3 player.  I mean, it’s just . . . it’s just so good!  It’s everything I’ve ever liked about grunge and power pop rolled into one bizarrely wonderful, raucous, fuzzy musical wonderland.  Basically, if you don’t have this album yet, you’ve done a grave disservice to your music collection.  Go forth now and get it.  I’ll wait.

Got it?  Good.  Now listen to the whole thing, but pay special attention to “Well Thought Out Twinkles”, “Future Foe Scenarios”, “Lazy Eye”, “Rusted Wheel”, and “Dream at Tempo 119”.  If I could only listen to five songs ever again in my life, I would be perfectly cool with these being those five.

I mean, just listen “Well Thought Out Twinkles” and pay special attention to the lines leading up to the climax at around 3:00 where, after an extended drum fill, frontman Brian Aubert comes growling in with “Come join in the last hurrah!”  The lead up to and the punch of that lyrical phrase are just immense.  It sends shivers down my spine every time.  Also particularly brilliant is how, despite the general raucousness of the drums and fuzzy guitar lines, there’s definitely a beautiful and cohesive melodic theme going on.

Silversun Pickups, amongst their other talents, have completely mastered the epic climax.  In “Future Foe Scenarios”, for instance, the tension builds and builds throughout most of the song until there’s a huge final musical release from about 3:41 – 3:52, again with Aubert sing-growling while Chris Guanlao goes to town on the drums.  Amazing stuff.

I will say, though, that I think my favorite song on the album at the moment is “Dream at Tempo 119”.  Nikki Monninger’s thundering bass alone is enough to get my head nodding.  Add in the many perfect melodic breaks and the great lyrical hooks (especially the repeated melody on “don’t open your eyes, don’t open your eyes”) and I’m constitutionally incapable of sitting still through it.  It’s pure, noisy, soul-thumping brilliance.

Seriously, this is easily one of the best albums I’ve discovered this year.  It’s flat-out amazing.  You really should own it.

Upcoming: So the new Killers album is out, and if you wanted it you should have snagged it yesterday, when it was $3.99.  As it is, it’s only $8.99, so you’re not out too much.  Today sees the release of a new Coldplay EP, as well as material from Sir Paul McCartney’s side project, The Fireman.  Today also marks the release of Scott Weiland’s new album which, lending credence to the notion that the Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver frontman has gone soft and/or insane in his later years, is entitled Happy in Galoshes.  No word yet on whether or not it’s an entire disk of hard rock covers of children’s songs.  (Oh, come on, you know you’d pay to hear Weiland do a grunge-y hardcore cover of “The Hokey Pokey”.)

Looking forward, the first Tuesday in December will bring us the new Britney Spears album, whether anyone wants it or not.  Brave enough to share a release date with the recovering diva are Akon and whoever it is that’s pulling Ricky Martin’s marionette strings these days.

Thinking: Few things with regards to music bug me on principle.  I mean, sure, the modern country twang (which is meant to sound Southern but in fact just sounds affectedly dim, like one is trying one’s hardest to sound mentally deficient and succeeding) sends shivers up my spine.  But I like a lot of country artists who eschew it.  But really, that’s just a taste thing.  One thing which irks me on a deeper level is knee-jerk anti-genre-ism.  Now, I understand that there are a lot of genres that aren’t going to be for everyone.  I dig Bop, but that doesn’t mean that putting on my Miles Davis albums will satisfy everyone within earshot.  What I object to are people who insist that a particular genre is inherently deficient.  (This is usually expressed in terms of said genre being “retarded” or somesuch.)  It’s also more generally represented by the “ugh, [disfavored genre]?  The only people who listen to that are [disfavored social group].”

Take, for instance, hip-hop.  The mere mention of the genre sends many people into self-righteous conniptions.  Note well that these people aren’t making the argument “I don’t like hip-hop”, but rather the argument that “hip-hop is bad music”, or more often “hip-hop is stupid.”  Newsflash: Jay-Z’s 2006 comeback album Kingdom Come sold 680,000 records in the first week.  There is a strong possibility that it sold better in its first week on shelves than your favorite album did from its release until now.  That means that there are at least 680,000 people out there for him Jay-Z’s music is important enough to shell out money for.  If art is about communication to people on a deep, emotional level and evoking an emotional response, those 680,000 are good evidence that hip-hop is doing just that.  A similar argument, of course, could be made for Country, Techno, Pop, etc.  These genres all exist because they speak to people enough that those people are willing to buy what they’re selling.

Now don’t get me wrong: I’m not a musical relativist.  I do believe that music can be judged to be better or worse, but there is a profoundly subjective aspect to music.  Bach’s Mass in B Minor is one of the greatest works of music created by man, but even still, it won’t reach everyone.  Pulp’s The Wickerman is one of the best narratively styled songs to come out of modern music, and yet it’s not going to have the same effect on everyone.  These are songs that are brilliant, but being brilliant isn’t enough.  The song also has to be cast in a context to which the listener’s going to respond.  For some people that’s Classical, or Jazz, or Indie Rock.  For others it’s Techno or Country or Hip-Hop.

So please, if you don’t like a genre, fine, it’s not your bag.  But can we all PLEASE drop the “genre X is stooopid” thing?  That genre X is big enough to talk about means someone’s doing it well enough to matter.

News: Speaking of hip-hop.  MC Breed passed away recently, apparently from complications of his kidney being “insulted”.  On less morbid sad and more pathetic sad comes the news that you still can’t get the Beatles catalog on iTunes.  Which reminds me: I’ve got a joke for you.  “Knock knock.”  [Who’s there?] “The Beatles!” [Seriously?] “No, just fucking with you.  Hope your parents’ Abbey Road vinyl is still in playable condition.  BWAHAHAHA!”  [Oh well, I’ll just get your entire discography off of Kazaa…]

Get it?  … ‘Cause, you know, the Beatles aren’t keeping up with modern formats and so are denying younger generations the chance to purchase their music?  No?  Well, I, uh, guess it loses something in the telling. *Cough; Awkward Shuffle*

Right, moving right along.  Franz Ferdinand are still around, as are music journalists who obsess over trivialities.

Song of the Week: I just have to go out with something from Carnavas.  If only to try to help loosen its grip on me sufficiently that I can maybe someday listen to new bands again.  Here’s “Well Thought Out Twinkles”:

(P.S: Mad props to Dangerbird Records for allowing embedding on their videos on their official youtube channel. Finally a label that realizes that spreading their music around is GOOD for them. Reward them by buying albums from Dangerbird artists, like Silversun Pickups!)

Nov 222008

Friday Five

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So I was watching VH1’s 100 Best Songs of the 90s the other night, and it was full of depressingly crap tunes.  So here are 5 singles from the 90s that both belong in the top 100 and are underrated enough that they probably didn’t make the list.  (Confession: I couldn’t sit through the whole thing.  They announced that Digital Underground’s “The Humpty Dance” made their list and I had to turn it off.

So anyway, here are five awesome, yet underrated tunes from the 90s:

Pulp, “Common People”

Fatboy Slim, “Rockafeller Skank”

Bad Religion, “21st Century (Digital Boy)”

Johnny Cash, “Delia’s Gone”

Sonic Youth, “Sugar Kane”

Nov 182008

Okay, so last week my excuse for no column was craziness while my job got done.  This week it’s that things at my new job are crazy as I get brought up to speed.  But I PROMISE you’ll get a full column next week.  For this week, here’s a few quick hits to keep you going until I can get organized enough to go back to the Tuesday Playlist.

1.) Via the Onion: Donald Fagen Defends Steely Dan to Friends.  And Steely Dan performing one of my favorite tunes, “Kid Charlemagne”:

2.) Tool and A Perfect Circle frontman Maynard James Keenan has finished his slide into irrelevancy and has made it official by doing a cabaret show in Vegas.  Here he is in the good old days fronting A Perfect Circle as they rock the hell out of “Judith”:

3.)  There’s a new Third Eye Blind EP out.  I just grabbed a copy earlier this evening and haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet.  It’s only three songs, so it even stretches what it means to be an “EP”, but since this is the first music the power-pop combo has released in 5 years, I’m prepared to cut them a little bit of slack.  They also have a new album, called Ursa Major coming out in February.  There’s supposed to be a single out this month off that album.  But since I’ve found naught but rumors about said single, here’s “Semi-Charmed Life”, the song that launched the whole 3EB phenomenon, back in 1997:

4.) The Boss has a new album slated for January release.  If it’s anything like his last album, it’ll be in my stereo from then until sometime in May.  I mean hell, I think I spent months of my life just dancing my ass of to “Radio Nowhere” alone:

5.) And finally, apparently there are still people dumb enough to do business with Michael Jackson.  Seriously, he’s not only most insane artist in the industry (despite some stiff competition), but also the least professional.  At any rate, here he is in marginally less insane days performing “Smooth Criminal”:

Nov 162008

“With a crimson moon a-shinin’ down upon my devil’s wings.”

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Courtesy of my good friend Mike, here’s a great video of A. A. Bondy (one of the best things to happen to Folk in the past decade) performing his song “O The Vampyre”.

Nov 152008

Well, in honor of my new job, here are five end-of-job-appropriate songs that kick epic amounts of ass:

Fountains of Wayne, “Bright Future in Sales”

Peter Parker, “Eliot”

Bishop Allen, “Middle Management”

The Business, “Code Red”

The Clash, “Dead End Job”

Nov 122008

“I don’t know just where I’m going.”

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Hey folks.  No column this week, as this is basically the first free moment I’ve had in almost a week.  (I was out of town all weekend and playing catch-up to try and get everything done at work, since this is my last week.)  So instead of a column, I leave you in the capable hands of Mr. Lou Reed.  Here he is playing a brilliant version of “Heroin”:

Nov 072008

Friday Five

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Well, I’m off on a cross-country flight.  So in honor of being crammed into steerage class for hours on end, here are five songs that never fail to get me grooving in my seat:

The Clash, “Guns of Brixton”

Moby, “Flower”

The Lawrence Arms, “Faintly Falling Ashes”

Oasis, “Morning Glory”

Iggy and the Stooges, “Search and Destroy”

Nov 042008

Intro: Well, it’s election Tuesday, and that means that I’ve got a television and a six pack of Sam Adams waiting for me.  I figured I should probably throw my column together before I sat down to survey the political damage.  I also figured that I should steer clear of anything political in case anyone out there wants to stare at some non-election-related for a few minutes.

So here it is, your election-news-free Tuesday Playlist.

Listening: Okay, have you ever liked a Cure song?  In your entire life?  Do you think “Lovesong” was kind of awesome, or maybe think that “Jumping Someone Else’s Train” is sort of catchy?  Maybe, like me, you have a fondness for “10:15 Saturday Night” because it’s a fairly accurate picture of your social life?  If so, then drop what you are doing and go get a copy of the new Cure album.  It’s called Dream 4:13 and I honestly don’t think that Robert Smith & Co. have done an album this great since 1989’s Disintegration.  It’s exactly the sort of dark, melodic New Wave goodness that have made the Cure one of the best bands of the past few decades.

I mean, I’d go on and on about the tracks off of the album to which I’m addicted and which are being spun on constant repeat but, well, that’s pretty much all of them.  I mean, hell, “The Only One” was released as a single back in May and I’m still totally smitten with it.  It’s full of the sort of catchy musical quips that make the Cure so effortlessly listenable and enjoyable.  “The Reasons Why” is a perfect example of exactly the sort of hook-laden, spacey New Wave pop that made most of us fall in love with the Cure in the first place.

Also quite excellent is the the new album Ryan Adams and the Cardinals, Cardinology.  My friend Trevor aptly described it as the upbeat version of Cold Roses. I haven’t gotten too much of a chance to listen to it thanks to the new Cure album taking up near permanent residence in my stereo, but it’s definitely Ryan Adams’ rich, well-crafted rock music, but with a more upbeat aesthetic than a lot of his previous albums.  I’m especially a fan of “Magick” and “Born Into a Light”.

Upcoming: Election day this year will sees the release of new material from Shiny Toy Guns, OhGr, and Travis, among others.  In the following weeks look for full lengh albums from Chris Cornell, Mudvayne, Nickelback, Beyonce, Sammy Hagar, and even a new project by Sir Paul McCarney, called the Fireman.

Thinking: Of late I’ve mostly been devoting mental run cycles to either work or thesis, so no deep, insightful thoughts regarding music.  So here’s a video of Bjork explaining how a TV works.  Hat tip on that one to Ann.

News: You’ve all seen these literally-lyric-ed music videos, right?  If not, then watch them immediately.  The one for “Take On Me” is brilliant, as is the newest one, for Red Hot Chili Peppers’ “Under the Bridge”:

Okay, so not really news, but, uh, brilliant.  And new, at least to me. . . .

Right, in REAL news: Snoop Dogg has apparently figured out that he needs decent musicians to prop him up these days and has collaborated on a track with UK Trip-Hoppers Massive Attack.  If you’re undecided even at this late hour but still have the chance to vote, you might want to consider that Akon has announced he’ll leave the US if McCain wins.  So, you know, not saying that on its own is enough to vote McCain, but it certainly does give one something to think about.  Finally, Noel Gallagher announces that he’s already written the next Oasis album and that it’ll sound like the Kinks.

Song of the Week: Here’s another of the singles off of the new Cure album.  It’s called “Freakshow” and I find it to be all kinds of groovy.

Nov 012008

Friday Five

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Well, for a variety of reasons it’s a whiskey and Ryan Adams night.  So here are five albums that compliment a whiskey nightcap:

Ryan Adams, Love Is Hell

The Wallflowers, Breach

Leonard Cohen, Songs of Love and Hate

Bright Eyes, Cassadaga

Miles Davis, Birth of the Cool