Thursday, 25 April 2013

Songs of the Week: April 25th, 2013 (Guest Choices)

This week's videos have been picked R. Ogilvie. 

Management accept no liability or responsibility for the content therein. Except for the Peter Gabriel Video. That's pretty boss. 

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

The Creative Process

We delay the onset of sleep to seek fornication

We stay awake because sex

We don't sleep in case sex happens

Nil Dormus Sed Coitus

No shuteye until screwing

No, wait, I think I've got it: 

Am I the only one who doesn't think this is akin to the second coming of Jesus in music terms? It certainly feels that way. 

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Where's the money at?

So here’s an interesting query; how does anyone make any money anymore?

Here’s an example. For the Nick Cave ‘review’, I got the album for £4.99, digital download and all, from Amazon. But how much of that £4.99 does Nick Cave – and his Caverns (I’m sure I should know the name of any of his musicians, but, well, no, sorry) see? You can bet your bottom dollar that a lot of that goes to Amazon for hosting fees and arbitrage, and the record company probably eats some of the rest- but it’s £4.99, for the love of your deity of choice; there’s only so much to go around.

This is extremely pertinent considering that yesterday was Record Shop Day. Which is nice, except I haven’t had a record shop anywhere near me for about ten years. Don’t get me wrong, I respect the idea. I respect the thinking behind it – the socialization of an slowly desocialised media – because, over time, gigs are becoming more of a hassle and downloads directly less so – and I love the idea of a record shop, but if you live in certain places, it’s going to cost more to get to one than to spend that self-same money on, well, music.

This is just me talking – and, we all know, I love talking – but if I had wanted to go to a record store today it would have cost a bare minimum of either £20 in train tickets or approximately £30 in petrol money before parking, etcetera. And I don’t live in the styx, the back of beyond or the quiet places; I’m near a big town, with decent services, and absolutely no record store.

Shit, even HMV shuttered their bars a few months ago and won’t be coming back.

As I say, I really do understand the joy of a record shop and, more than anything, I get that there’s a happiness to owning the physicality of an object – hell, I’m jealous of Somik’s Postal Service vinyl like you wouldn’t believe. But I gave up my record players and walkmen and cd players and, well, minidisc players a l-o-n-g time ago, because of three things:
-    (I)   Convenience
-    (II)  Ease of Use
-    (III) I don’t have to wear trousers to buy MP3s.

On the last point, I probably should, but substitute it for I don’t have to leave the house and you get the same meaning without the mental image.

Even if something’s not available on MP3 via all the major music outlets, it’s easier to buy it Used and New these days than anything. An example; I was thinking of writing a Bloodhound Gang article for the blog – don’t judge – and it would have cost in the region of £8 to get four used copies of their albums on CD then translate them into MP3s rather than £32 to buy them on mp3.

Now, buying Used and New means that the artist isn’t, frankly, seeing a dime.

Let’s say you buy an album from Amazon for a penny plus £1.25 postage. The seller gets approximately 70p of that – although fees and percentages change – and the postage costs for that will be between forty and seventy pence, depending on packaging and package size. So the seller sees between 30p and nothing per CD and Amazon takes 55p off the top, and – while I don’t know and wouldn’t like to guess and am not maligning their business practice – I doubt the artist sees any of that 55p.

(Bear in mind that all figures are approximate, and my maths is appalling.)

Then there’s Charity Shops.

This is a more lateral example, but I finally got round to reading some Iain M Banks recently. Now, I’m broke at the best of times, so I thought charity shops might be the way to go. Except that, of course, buying books from them means that only the charity sees any money; the book’s already, in theory, been paid for once, but second-hand sales from this area only benefit the charity.
Given the circumstances surrounding Mr Bank's recent terrible, terrible news, I’d really, really like to actually be giving money to him as an author. 

Except there, you run up against the same problem; the digital editions come in at £4.99 and the print editions at £6.99 new, which is – to my mind – the only way I can see of making sure that at least some of my purchase money goes towards the author. A used and new copy can be had for most books for £2.81, and the copy I bought in Oxfam – which sparked off the idea for this article – was £2.49.

I would love to live in a world where I could comfortably afford to pay just under 300% of the market rate (where market rate is the cheapest rate) for a product just to support someone, but I spend my time alternating between stony broke and marginally less stony broke, so if there’s a cheap option, I’d rather pay less and swallow the guilt.

Except the guilt’s not settling.

The days of lavish record company advances and gross and net points are, most likely, long long gone, and it’s harder and harder for bands to make their way out of the MySpace Morass or the Social Networking swamp as a whole in order to even get noticed; actually getting an album out there seems to be simultaneously easier – through access to technology and means of production – and harder – in terms of access to consumers and a large customer base. Meanwhile, consumers who can’t afford the more expensive option will plump for whatever’s available if they’re anything like me, and nobody benefits from that, except –

Well, in this case, except for charities. So that argument isn’t wonderful, because if a charity benefits, then in theory many people benefit. But I’m reminded of the example of Sandi Thom, and the swirl that settled around her Basement Broadcasts back in the day, which seemed like clever usage of limited means but, as was thought back in the day, might in fact just have been a relatively clever media campaign (and here, as in many other places, Charlie Brooker puts it better than me.)

This is possibly the most Marxist article I’ve ever written – I mean, using the phrase Means of Production was probably the tip-off for most of you – but I simply don’t understand the new media landscape in terms of art = reward.  Business and art – in this case music – go hand in hand in so many ways, because you can’t eat your chords and drink your bassline. But the argument that’s central to eBooks – how you can charge the same for content without providing a physical product that causes costs for materials and production, which digital products don’t have – applies to music, too. The only CDs I’ve bought recently have been from charity shops and the only music I have access to without a serious hike is via iTunes or Amazon.

In some ways, I guess I’m just bitter that there isn’t a decent record store anywhere near me. I like the idea of tracking down rarities or limited edition new releases or owning physical manifestations of media (even if I digitize them later). It’s engagement with culture on a level more than just the sterile click click click of online buying; you actually have to talk to people. But given the choice between travel costs and spending the money on music, I know where I throw my wallet down.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Songs of the Week: April 19th 2013

Via Somik. 

Via Somik. 

Via Somik. 

I've been meaning to write something about this song for a while. 

Still haven't, though. 

Let's be honest, we needed something cheerful after all that. And this is basically concentrated cheerful. 

The man on the Mac in Macedonia hits on the girl with the fully-loaded PC in DC. This is definitely a new revolution

Pokarekare Ana

I've had a piece on the go for a little while about the power of music - and two songs that changed my life - but if you want to see the power of music in action, well, see above. 

NZ Parliament erupts in song [...] via BoingBoing.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Nothing Better

The Postal Service – Give Up (Tenth Anniversary Edition)

Back in the day (aside – it’s quite telling that all my articles start with that phrase), anniversary editions were a rare thing. An album had to be a true classic that had stood the test of time for at least 20 years before it was afforded a lavish re-release. But such is our culture of disposability, an album need only rack up a few years in the sun before it’s canonised. It was just about OK that the Manics’ gave The Holy Bible and Everything Must Go the luxury treatment, but Generation Terrorists too? It might have been where their story started, but it hasn’t aged well at all. Then of course there’s the case of Suede who re-released all their albums – but I’ve vented about that before so let’s move on.

The Postal Service’s Give Up is definitely worthy of its tenth anniversary edition, not least because it’s the only album they ever recorded. This new package pulls together their entire output, including unreleased tracks, b-sides (remember them?), covers, remixes and even covers of their songs by other artists.

Even at the time I thought Give Up was special – indeed, it was my album of 2003, the first year that I decided to keep such lists. “Finally”, I said, “an electronic album with an emotional edge, and one that won’t bore you stiff. Every track is great.” (You can read more about that ‘vintage’ year over here, but beware – Athlete are number two on the list). And when I came to compile my top 100 songs of the noughties, Such Great Heights was the perfect choice for the top spot.

One of the things that I love about the album is that it emerged completely out of the blue. It was the result of a collaboration between two relative unknowns: Ben Gibbard had been shuffling around the fringes of the US alt scene with Death Cab For Cutie, and Jimmy Tamborello was an even more obscure glitchtronica artist (I still haven’t explored his other acts, Dntel and Figurine). Theirs was a long-distance relationship (hence the band’s name), with Ben proffering lyrics and vocals to fit Jimmy’s electronic instrumentals. The juxtaposition of heartfelt lyrics with a synthetic backdrop worked a treat.

I’m of the opinion that lyrics are over-rated, in the sense that good lyrics can’t save a bad song, but a good song can still have bad lyrics (T-Rex anyone?). Yet the lyrics on Give Up are so good that I’m always moved by them. The songs broadly fall into two categories – the giddy euphoria of blossoming romance (Such Great Heights, Clark Gable, Brand New Colony) and the dawning realisation that a relationship has run its course (The District Sleeps Alone Tonight, Nothing Better). Ben Gibbard delivers both with stunning honesty and clarity. I’m hardly a sucker for romance (ask my wife), but I can’t help but admire the beauty of Such Great Heights’ opening line:

I am thinking it’s a sign that the freckles in our eyes are mirror images and when we kiss they’re perfectly aligned

(Kissing is a recurring image actually; Ben kisses an old flame “in a style Clark Gable would have admired (I thought it classic)”; whilst he wants to “take you far from the cynics in this town and kiss you on the mouth” in Brand New Colony.)

The lyrics dealing with the dissolution of a relationship are equally potent. Take for example the brutal declaration in The District Sleeps Alone Tonight: “I am finally seeing why I was the one worth leaving”. Or Jen Wood’s opening volley in the duet Nothing Better:

I feel I must interject here, you’re getting carried away feeling sorry for yourself with these revisions and gaps in history”

The female vocal contributions are a vital ingredient to the album’s make-up actually; alongside Jen Wood’s star turn in the aforementioned song, Jenny Lewis of Rilo Kiley pitches in with backing vocals on six tracks. And lest you think the album is defined by its lyrics and vocals, the closing track Natural Anthem allows Jimmy to take centre stage and unleash an avalanche of clattering breakbeats that leave matters on a visceral note.

So what of this expanded edition? The two previously unreleased tracks (Turn Around and A Tattered Line Of String) are pretty good, and would have been the basis of a decent follow-up album. I never heard the b-sides at the time but they’re also solid (the pick being Suddenly Everything Has Changed, co-written by Wayne Coyne). There’s a bizarre Timberlake/Timbaland-esque cover of Phil Collins’ Against All Odds, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Phil isn’t as reviled across the pond as he is here.

The remixes are an unexpected highlight. Rather than mangling the originals by cutting up the vocals and throwing in dancey beats, they’re a masterclass in careful retexturing, weaving in new touches to complement and refresh the source material. The covers from The Shins and Iron And Wine have probably been included to pad things out a bit, and they don’t do much for me.

Like a true music geek cliché, I fetishised the vinyl edition so plumped for that. It’s truly a thing of beauty, although I was a bit disappointed that the vinyl is plain old black rather than the coloured versions that only come with the Sub Pop pre-orders. One benefit of the vinyl packaging is that it’s actually allowed me to examine the artwork thoroughly for the first time (something that’s even more difficult these days when album artwork is reduced to a thumbnail on your phone). The front cover captures the fanciful dreaminess of the album; through a bedroom window we see a castle in the sky and what appears to be a fleet of alien spacecraft assembling for invasion. 

The back cover depicts a man seeing his (dead? estranged?) bride lost among the waves. It’s surreal but represents the sense of loss and regret expressed in the break-up songs perfectly.

In a way I’m glad that The Postal Service only recorded one album. Not because Give Up is so intimidatingly good that they couldn’t top it (it’s great but not a masterpiece), but because it captures a moment in time where the stars aligned for two unlikely heroes. As for their legacy, I’m not sure they really have one (although Owl City’s Fireflies was a bastardised rip-off that annoyed me greatly). I hear echoes of Give Up on Thom Yorke’s The Eraser but I doubt he was directly influenced. New-ish artist Mr Fogg bears some resemblances too, but that’s as far as it goes, in my mind at least. Nevertheless, Give Up will always be an album dear to my heart, because it speaks to my heart.


Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Songs of the Week: April 10th 2013

I've been humming this all week so far. Less annoying than that should be, though. 

I thought this was The Cure from the intro, which will probably make Somik hate me. 

This video is oddly crackly, but the apparently official video is bone, so... 

Don't ask. Seriously. 


Because why the hell not, that's why. 

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Incongruity, Debussy

I am, as they say, into films. Something struck me, though, recently; there’s something charming in how odd music can be when it’s used incongruously. Here’s what I would term the Alpha Example:

If memory serves, this sequence marks the end of the second act in Dog Soldiers. 

The first act is the setup for carnage. 

The second act is carnage. 

The third act is, well… carnage. 

And yet in the middle there’s a moment taken out for some classical music, a quiet little moment used to show just how shattered the characters are and how isolated and alone they’ve come to be. It works, but it does so in an odd way. Sometimes, however, it’s just weird. As in: 

I know that this was an excuse – or, let’s be charitable, a reason – to include a song of the day and show Mr Newman frolicking around and having fun and also interacting with a woman rather than, say, his heterosexual life partner (in the film). 

[Sidebar; typing that sentence makes me want to discuss the bringing in of aggressively heterosexual content-centric sequences into otherwise male-dominated films, the best example of which is this:] 
[but we won’t stop to go into that now.] 

There are other good examples; Strange Days has a good one, with Skunk Anansie actually fitting into the feel of the film:


Then, though, you have the strangeness of Juliette Lewis singing songs written by PJ Harvey:


Although, again, a little less incongruous. 

I’ve already raised the spectre, too, in previous articles, of Huey Lewis and the News in American Psycho, but that’s a deliberate inclusion. As opposed to, say, the inclusion of London Calling in Die Another Day which is just, well, a bit silly. 

It swings both ways, as well; a film that I cannot recommend highly enough, Bubba Ho-Tep, is about Elvis, starring Bruce Campbell as Elvis, and discusses the issues of celebrity and mortality through an Elvis-centric narrative. 

It does not, however, feature a single Elvis song. 

 The one thing I wish I could bring to this, too, is the sequence from Crank – and here’s the trailer, just so you know how batshit insane Crank is:


And yet, after receiving a massive overdose of epinephrine, we’re treated to a lovely sequence as Chev Chelios starts to go on the nod while riding a stolen police motorcycle set to Nillson’s Everybody’s Talking. Which, let’s not forget, turns up in Midnight Cowboy, too. 

We’re not even mentioning Quentin Tarantino’s films at this juncture, because that’s a can of sweary interestingly-shot seventies homage worms that could best be left for another day. 

These are just the examples I have, though; can anyone out there give anything weirder? If you like incongruity, this is your chance.