Oasis - Dig Out Your Soul

"The first time I heard "Kid A" I went 'OK, I have no fucking idea what kind of music this is but it's moving me. It sounds like a revelation.' That's what the new Oasis stuff sounds like. They have entered into some strange uncanny spiritual crazy door and have just lost themselves completely to it and it is marvelous."

-Ryan Adams


Ryan Adams couldn’t have said it better. Dig Out Your Soul is a revelation of an album coming from a band which has no business make such an album. It’s the kind of album that impresses at first, but grips and takes a hold after a few listens; the kind of album which remains in your CD player for months, only to be replaced by live versions of the same songs, only to be replaced by the album once again. It should never have really been possible, either, considering this is Oasis we’re talking about. Despite some of the shit that Oasis have produced over the years (though it is often lovable and enjoyable shit) there is a reason allmusic.com, a relatively respectable music review site, gave the album 4.5 out of 5 stars, not to mention all of the other extremely high marks given to the album by media (other than pitchforkmedia.com, which for some reason refuses to give any band which has released more than two albums anything higher than a 4.9, calling every album thereafter ‘stale, derivative, boring, nonsense, etc.’).


For some reason it seems that at a certain point in any long-lasting band’s career things start to become a bit stale. The fresh take on music with which they originally captured your heart begins to feel dated, worn, and unexciting as they are unable to take the steps necessary to keep themselves and their music stirring and original. It takes a truly talented band to evolve and stay even somewhat relevant.


It is a difficult thing for any devoted fan to stomach: the band they have followed for years, the band they have talked up to friends, the band they have sweated buckets for at a concert now can’t make an album which is in any way interesting or good. Not every band falls into this trap, though. The Beatles and Radiohead, obviously, are perfect examples, bringing in new sounds with every album and allowing their song-craft to truly grow and become something which transcends the usual band/listener relationship of “this sounds good to me”, making it “this touches me”.


Oasis are a band who have struggled in recent years; treading water with Be Here Now, Standing on the Shoulder of Giants and Heathen Chemistry. Though each pushed the band in slightly new directions, giving at least a bit of hope for them to begin to grow and become a band which was still important and relevant, each album was unable to truly propel the band into a new phase. After Heathen Chemistry, an album which is extremely good and which contains several masterful tracks, it seemed impossible to believe that Oasis could ever truly move themselves in a new or fresh direction. Then came Don't Believe the Truth, an obvious step in the right direction, showcasing a stripped-down sound which had more in common with the crunch of The Who than the clean, Penny Lane-ish pop and rock which was the trademark of What's the Story, Morning Glory. Don't Believe the Truth, however, was weighted down by attempts to recapture the old magic with obvious singles placed between solid album tracks, resulting in an uneven flow throughout what was actually a very strong album. It failed, though, to truly put the band in a new position, though it certainly laid the groundwork. Actually realizing the potential seen in Don't Believe the Truth was another thing altogether, though, and after three years and several uneven leaked demos (which, it turns out, were Don't Believe the Truth throwaways) Oasis finally made their return to music.


Dig Out Your Soul, released on October 3rd, completely changes everything. Just when hope had run out that Oasis would ever be relevant again, they release an album not so different from Howl from Black Rebel Motorcycle Club: a stripped-down, blues inspired affair which re-energizes both themselves and their fan base. However, whereas BRMC took a folksy, quiet approach to their album, Oasis have stolen the heavy blues of Muddy Waters and injected it with crunching riffs and an immediateness which grips the ear from the very start and refuses to let go until the last, fading chords are strummed.


It is pointless to attempt to describe Oasis, a band most remembered by Americans as the creators of Brit-Rock anthems “Wonderwall”, “Don’t Look Back in Anger”, and “Champagne Supernova”, to any casual American because most Americans see Oasis as a one or two hit wonder and are only vaguely acquainted with their catalogue. It’s a shame really; there is a reason that Oasis continually scores on an even playing field as The Beatles in popularity and importance polls in the UK.


Still, though, even the most fervent fan has to admit that the last few efforts from Oasis have been disappointing, although steadily improving. It was always impossible to recreate either Definitely Maybe or What’s the Story, Morning Glory, but Oasis were spinning their tires, much like Bono and company continue to do with their latest derivative labors.


On Dig Out Your Soul Oasis have changed the game. They are a better band musician-wise than ever before; writing in the studio and approaching things in a collective, organic way (Andy Bell didn’t even play a note on his songwriting contribution to the album) and it is obvious. Dig Out Your Soul is a heavy, immediate album which takes the listener on a blistering trail from the heavy bass and stomp of album opener “Bag It Up” to the droning ends of “Soldier On”. This is not the usual, stadium anthem rock which has defined Oasis’ highs and lows since their inception, it is straightforward rock n’ roll with a 60s British blues verve. This is The Who joining forces with Led Zeppelin and deciding to play “Helter Skelter” with overdriven guitars until they blow their speakers.


Oasis still manage to tone it down on occasion and deliver a spiritual experience through song, however. Liam’s “I’m Outta Time” is a touching exercise in a Lennon-esque ballad which could easily have become a recycled attempt at creating a Beatles epic. Liam’s direct vocal delivery and its unique structure (no second verse?) allow it to transcend attempts by bands like Jet to capture the freshness and beauty of a Lennon-McCartney composition.


This is an album which is difficult to ingest in one take: a labyrinth of interwoven strands of influence and sounds, but never an album which drags on or is inaccessible. Even the honky-tonk and “Bron-Y-Aur-Stomp” drums of “(Get Off Your) High Horse Lady” melts in perfectly with the hard nose pub-rock which the Manc boys tear through on each track.


Of course, no great album can be a truly great album without a once-in-a-lifetime song. Noel’s “Falling Down” is just such a track, though it is an injustice that the extended version is not included on the album. “Falling Down” is among the greatest songs Noel has ever written, rivaling both “Wonderwall” and “The Masterplan”, despite the fact that it is a completely different kind of beast. A rhythmic drum and bass section provides the bed with which Noel lays his strongest vocal performance ever, allowing an intensity to build which is quite rare. “Falling Down” is quite simply a masterpiece and Dig Out Your Soul, despite a throw away track like “Aint Got Nothin’”, can be called the same.


-Luke Barnard



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Bon Iver - For Emma, Forever Ago

Question: Why would anyone sequester themselves for four winter months in a Wisconsin cabin?

To many, the thought may be entertaining for a long-weekend, but four months? I would imagine most of us would be itching for internet access and "in-network" cell phone service by Sunday. Longing for our connection to the rest of world. Justin Vernon did just that though; locking himself away for an entire winter to write and record the songs that would ultimately become For Emma, Forever Ago.

The aforementioned album is Vernon's first under the Bon Iver tag, and feels as bare (both musically and emotionally) as the recording conditions would suggest. On the surface, For Emma is textbook singer-songwriter/heart on your sleeve fare (i.e. songs of heartbreak, recorded with little more than a rusty acoustic guitar). The album carries something intangible though. An underlying sense of integrity. This sentiment that the songs are natural in their foundation, rooted in the most organic form of emotion. It is this unspoken element that sets Emma apart from the ever-growing group of coffeehouse troubadours, roaming from city to city with a guitar strapped to their back, and a notebook under their arms.

Thematically, Emma is somber, but ultimately hopeful. It is almost as if Vernon purged his heart of the myriad emotions that would accompany a breakup, and then laid them all out on tape to rid them from his system. The album is littered with open-ended questions and remarks, presumably directed at lovers past (collectively represented by Emma), but also to himself: "Would you really rush out for me now?", "Now all your love is wasted, then who the hell was I?", "Go find another lover...to string along", "Who will love you? Who will fight? Who will fall far behind?" The minimalist arrangements allow for these soul searchers to burn into the songs, searing the record with equal parts self-doubt and personal inventory. However, in just a little under 40 minutes, as the album fades to silence, we are left with a moment of clarity. An understanding that what we went through is over, but was not in vain ("This is not the sound of a new man, or a crispy realization. It's the sound of the unlocking and the lift away. Your love will be safe with me").

You never get the feeling that Vernon is patiently awaiting his former love(s) to return. Rather, just hoping to sort life out, and ultimately get back to square one. Make himself whole again. Re-hashing the past not to dwell on what was lost, but more so to absolve himself of the weight of that loss. This allows Vernon to archive the good days off into a deep corner, and move on with something to show for it besides the scrapes and scars of a failed relationship.

This is perhaps what allows For Emma, Forever Ago to be a quintessential break-up album. It recognizes the faults of lost love, but also looks to preserve what made it so great in the first place. In the end, it is a convoluted life lesson, but a lesson nonetheless. Emma (or rather Vernon) teaches us that, by losing everything, we are forced to find the only true constant in our lives: ourselves.

Answer: To get it all back.



- Jameson


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Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas

I recently finished reading Hunter S. Thompson's take on the search for the American Dream, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. When I first ended reading Fear and Loathing, I have to admit I was somewhat underwhelmed. However, the more it settles in, I think Fear and Loathing may actually be a stroke of genius. Thompson's tales of drug-hazed debauchery in America's most immoral city, Las Vegas, first came off to me as a chance for Gonzo journalism's forefather to show us just how many drugs he was capable of dabbling in without killing himself. I believe this hasty conclusion may have been taking the work a little too literally though.

It was not until flipping through the book today for my favorite passage (see below), that I noted the following quote (attributed to 18th century essayist, Dr. Samuel Johnson) as a preface to part one of the book: "He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man." This quote changed my whole outlook on the book (or at least caused something to click with me). This idea that Thompson's (semi-autobiographical) characters were partaking in this fiendish behavior to escape the realities of their miserable lives had (somehow) alluded me. In fact, it all seems so obvious, this concept of "solace in excess", that I am somewhat embarrassed to think I missed this all along. Either way, I think this quick (albeit bizarre) read is worth your time, and may be just sick enough to be totally brilliant. See my favorite passage below:

"Strange memories on this nervous night in Las Vegas. Five years later? Six? It seems like a lifetime, or at least a Main Era—the kind of peak that never comes again. San Francisco in the middle sixties was a very special time and place to be a part of. Maybe it meant something. Maybe not, in the long run . . . but no explanation, no mix of words or music or memories can touch that sense of knowing that you were there and alive in that corner of time and the world. Whatever it meant. . . .

History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of “history” it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time—and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.

My central memory of that time seems to hang on one or five or maybe forty nights—or very early mornings—when I left the Fillmore half-crazy and, instead of going home, aimed the big 650 Lightning across the Bay Bridge at a hundred miles an hour wearing L.L. Bean shorts and a Butte Sheepherder's jacket . . . booming through the Treasure Island tunnel at the lights of Oakland and Berkeley and Richmond, not quite sure which turn-off to take when I got to the other end (always stalling at the toll-gate, too twisted to find neutral while I fumbled for change) . . . but being absolutely certain that no matter which way I went I would come to a place where people were just as high and wild as I was: No doubt at all about that. . . .

There was madness in any direction, at any hour. If not across the Bay, then up the Golden Gate or down 101 to Los Altos or La Honda . . . You could strike sparks anywhere. There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. . . .

And that, I think, was the handle—that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. There was no point in fighting—on our side or theirs. We had all the momentum; we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . .

So now, less than five years later, you can go up on a steep hill in Las Vegas and look West, and with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back."

- Hunter S. Thompson


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Review: The Helio Sequence - Keep Your Eyes Ahead

Although they can be categorized in the same vein as fellow indie-rockers and sub-pop label mates Rogue Wave, Helio Sequence dial up a bit more of the dreamy on Keep your Eyes Ahead, juxtaposing stuttering, dance-hall drumbeats with space-rock guitars and enough reverb-soaked vocals to make Kevin Shields or Andy Bell (of Ride, not Pulp) proud.

The work really stands out when The Helio Sequence are driving themselves full throttle forward in such songs as the ridiculously catchy “Can’t Say No”, album opener “Lately”, and “Keep Your Eyes Ahead”. “Shed Your Love” and “Broken Afternoon” showcase the alt-country side of the band and give the album some introspection as well as periods of tenderness which help to illuminate the highs of the more up-tempo songs.

“Hallelujah”, one of the catchiest songs to come out of 2008 thus far, is what really makes the album a winner, though. Its electronically pulsating bass, backbeats, and perfectly layered vocal harmonies catapult the album into new heights and firmly drop Keep Your Eyes Ahead on the shortlist of the year’s best albums.

8/10


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Great Driving Songs - In Narrative Form

The long distance drive can be one of the most frustrating and annoying experiences known to modern man. Traffic, cramps, coffee, coffee induced bathroom breaks, coffee induced bad breath, rain, and countless other factors can make life on the road a pain in the ass. Out of these frustrations, though, good music can be enough of a pleasure to level out the playing field. Of course, not all music is created equally when it comes to the long distance road trip.

The best kinds of driving songs usually have a few things in common: a driving (pun intended), kick heavy beat, thumping bass, and the energy. Daytime driving differs from nighttime trips, however, and the just-listed attributes do not necessarily apply to driving once the sun goes down. Nighttime perfect songs are slower, full of solid lyrical content, and affecting. Compiled below is a list of absolutely spot-on road trip songs which will be sure to power any driver through the pains of long, draining drives. A nighttime driving mix will follow in the next post.


Daytime driving:

Turn on the engine, throw the car into drive and merge onto the interstate, feeling the vibrations of the pistons percolating in your fingertips. Dial the volume up so that the sound of the music blows away all outside distractions (other than safe driving, of course), and pop in the mix. The CD player teases you for a moment, audibly spinning the disc, before you hear the heavy bass and teasing tambourine of This is Music by The Verve. Suddenly the waves of distortion and mammoth, finger bleeding guitar lines of Nick McCabe kick in with a wave of drums and Richard Ashcroft snarls, “I stand accused, just like you, for being born without a silver spoon!”

The song frenetically pounds its way through moving bass and guitar lines while Ashcroft continues his self-loathing and preaching, shifting its way through breaks, rises and falls with blistering energy until the song abruptly ends in a storm of distortion and noise with Ashcroft smugly proclaiming, “This is music!”.

The music falls away and the track changes after a momentary pause. The car continues to hum along as the dark bass line to Spread Your Love by Black Rebel Motorcycle Club chugs along like a nuclear train. Peter Hayes’ crunchy guitar kicks in as Nick Jago’s drumming steadily holds the company line. Hayes and Robert Levon Been’s alternating vocals, cocksure and sneering, extol the virtues of spreading your love like a fever. Perfectly layered harmonicas and guitars continue to fuel the atomic train’s unstoppable momentum as the song crescendos in an orgy of cymbals, bass, and gritty vocals.

Before you can even catch your breath Guy Garvey screams a muffled, “Four!” and Elbow’s Fallen Angel bursts into life. Garvey’s unique voice rides on the waves of grainy bass and thrashing guitar, taking you through ‘mongrels’, dragging your feathers across the dance floor, and keeping your blues on cruise control. The song peaks with its chorus as Garvey sings, “You don’t need to sleep alone. You bring the house down!” Garvey brings the song home along with the rest of Elbow, layering delicate harmonies over the top of the crunch. Before you know it the song has sped to its end and the track is changing once again.

Black Nite Crash by Ride, driven by miles of guitars and the frenetic drumming of Loz Colbert causes the speakers in your car to vibrate the change out of your pocket. Andy Bell’s nonsense lyrics and ridiculous guitar work moves at breakneck speed as his airy vocals declare, “Everyone’s got the same disease. It’s alright.” After two minutes of contained mayhem the song abruptly ends, leaving you gasping for breath after trying to match Bell word for word through a “hunchback abuser working on a cruiser” and the twists of “evening, daybreak, switchblade, stomach ache, gonna meet a man with a rattlesnake handshake”.

A temporary silence allows you to catch your breath a bit, before Set You Free by The Black Keys drives up your pulse rate with its frenzied blues-rock. The machine gun drums and dirty guitar frame the “I can’t believe this voice comes out of a white guy from Ohio” violent melodies and vocal workings of Dan Auerbach. The song quickly zooms towards its apex and ends as quickly and as torridly as it began.

You reach down and take a sip of coffee as the next song begins. A short intro falls away to reveal a quickly moving bass line, distorted organs, synth, backbeat heavy drums, and the strength of Noel Gallagher’s singular voice. Let Forever Be by The Chemical Brothers is easily one of the most triumphant amalgamations of dance-fused rock n’ roll and its pace and layering leaves your ears almost unable to keep up, dropping new sounds and melodies with every passing second. Gallagher’s voice seems surprisingly comfortable outside of his usual Oasis elements and the mixture of dance and rock vibrates your chest cavity. The song ends with a stuttered synth line fading out into silence.

The silence continues for a moment, allowing you to again sip from your coffee and change lanes, accelerating past a slow moving Jetta. The next track begins rather benignly, the simple drum beat and monotonous melody devoid of frills as well as any hint of bass. Once Julian Casablancas declares, “Is this it?” you are thinking the same thing despite tapping your left foot absentmindedly along with the beat. The song continues to layer as your head nods more and more and your fingers begin to tap the wheel. In a moment you are singing full out to Is This It? by The Strokes, and the poppy, distinctive bass line propels the song to new heights as it kicks in. Before the song is over you are singing, playing the air drums (hitting the air freshener hanging from your rear view mirror like a cymbal), and singing the bass line when the vocals drop out. The song is affecting despite its sparseness and when it sputters to its end after only two and a half minutes you are craving more.

The track changes, however, and Pool Song by Longwave kicks in with its Strokes-esque, ringing guitars and overdriven vocals. The song moves in a way which The Strokes never quite capture, however, blending quickly moving rock, gorgeous guitars, stuttered bass, and clickety-clackety drums perfectly together with Steve Schlitz’s simple yet acute observations and lyrical musings. Once the song hits its chorus you can’t help but sing along at the top of your lungs connecting as he sings, “And when it’s over you feel much older. You have your fill.” Massively distorted guitar solos and increasing layers of intricate guitar work add new dimensions as the song quickly transforms itself throughout its verses and choruses. After one final rousing chorus the song ends immediately and abruptly.

An organ fades in as Leadbelt by Sunbear, the little known but brilliant Irish shoegaze and indie pop band, begins. As the organ crescendos an array of distorted, overdriven, and effects laden guitars bursts into life. A stuttered and heavy drumbeat worthy of Loz Colbert fills every nook and cranny of silence the waves of guitars don’t fill as the Martin Kelly vocals plaintively scream for attention, “So climb that ladder slowly, cause I don’t want reach the top right now. Tie that leadbelt round your waist and mine. We’ll do fine just hanging around for awhile.” Halfway through the heavy guitars drop away leaving a slowly building mixture of atmospheric guitar work and complex drum patterns. The build reaches its apex as the thumping bass and heavy guitars join with the lyric, “Sometimes things just work out. Sometimes.”

As the song dies away the track changes and you are suddenly aware of a cherubic falsetto chattering layered nonsense under a hypnotic guitar line and perfectly matched bass and drums of Rockist Part Four by The School of Language, the new side project of Field Music genius David Brewis. The underlying vocals, which sound like someone sang “do, re, me, fa, so, la, te, do” and then chopped them up and rearranged them to sound like a droning drum beat, are present throughout the entire song as Brewis sings over the top, formulating and crafting unique and thoughtful melodies and lyrics. The song hums along brilliantly as you sing along with Brewis trademark “ohhs” and “ooohs” , before the song hits its chorus of “There is only you. There is only you. There can only be yoooouuuu.” The bass steadily beats the rhythm into your chest as reverberated guitar solos take you back to 1974. Despite its repetitive nature, Brewis and the rest of The School of Language continue to surprise your ears with distinctive sounds and by the time the song ends with a droning orgy of noise worthy of mentioning in the same sentence as The Beatles “A Day in the Life” you are continuing to hum the signature guitar riff.

The CD ends and you are arrive at a sudden realization that you have traveled far further than you first thought. Your breath smells like coffee and you don’t care who is unfortunate enough to be the first to have a close-quarters conversation with you. The road stretches out before you and you accelerate, feeling the pistons pumping in your feet as the tips of your fingers buzz along the wheel.


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Reasons Why 2008… Is, and Will Be, Great!

Does anybody remember those carpet commercials from the 90s in which some deep, mysterious voice announced financing deals with such reverb and circumstance that it seemed the heavens would fall from the sky, all the while managing to come up with a ‘fresh’ rhyme every year?

“It’s a deal from heaven! You don’t pay ‘til 1997”
“Your payment will wait… until 1998!”
“You don’t pay a dime… until 1999!”

Well, do you? Maybe? Doesn’t really matter, the title of this post simply reminded me of those commercials.

On to the reasons why 2008 already is, and will continue to be, great!


The video for We Are Scientists’ “After Hours”:

We Are Scientists are quite possibly the perfect band: Insanely catchy songs, sweet haircuts, the occasional moustache (!), and top notch videos. With their first single off of their second (proper) album We Are Scientists have raised their game to a whole new level. “After Hours” is not only easily one of the best songs to be released thus far this year, the video is pure perfection. The boys from We Are Scientists have always shown a penchant for interesting and comical videos, but “After Hours” showcases their strange sense of humor melded with classic songwriting and a heartfelt honesty which serves as the foundation for most of their best work.

The video begins with Keith and Chris having a double date night. Unfortunately something goes horribly (and hilariously) wrong, much to the apparent satisfaction, and later, the dismay, of guitarist/vocalist Keith Murray.

Check out the video here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rv2_LSIujHk


The Return of Elbow

Anyone who knows either me or my fiancĂ©e Allison knows that we are obsessed with Manchester based band Elbow. This could stem from the fact that we once got drunk and bowled with them, but more likely is the result of the fact that they are simply one of the most innovative and interesting bands to ever produce music. Add in Guy Garvey’s distinctive and pitch perfect, soul-melting voice and there is no chance for us to ever wriggle away from the clutches of Elbow’s grip.

So it is with great excitement that we await the official release of Elbow’s fourth studio album, “The Seldom Seen Kid”. Although I do not advocate piracy, I have heard the new album many, many times already even though it has not been released yet and it is simply stunning. It’s already penciled in for the number one album of 2008 in my own eyes and I doubt many other albums will come close to measuring up to its loveliness. It is simply great.

For now surf on over to youtube at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iL4mywCOJXA and get a sampling of the album by listening to first single “Grounds for Divorce”: a rollicking, bluesy, tour-de-force of exploding guitars, thumping beats, chain-gang wailing, and Guy Garvey playing a mug, not to mention Pete working his bass like a madman.

While you’re at youtube do a search for Elbow’s video for “Fallen Angel” as well… you won’t be disappointed.

The Letter K

It has been revealed that the title of the new Coldplay album will be Prospekt, although Coldplay has sort of half-denied this despite using “Prospekt” all over the place. Either way, despite early reports that the album would have a “latin” feel to it, the last time Coldplay used a K where a C normally appears (Politik), the results were spot on genius. Here’s hoping that the fact that the new album could have a ridiculous K somewhere in it means it’ll be better than the last album which was just a bit too much on the cheese side of things.

Random Vowels

David Brewis from Field Music has just recently put out a new album under the name of School of Language, taking his fanciful view of modern indie-pop and putting a heavier, rockier spin on it. The results are quite enjoyable, particularly the songs “Rockist Part 1”, “Rockist Part 2”, “Rockist Part 3”, and, the best of the lot, “Rockist Part 4”. Anyone see a trend?

It’s true that four of the songs on the album are brothers with each being built off of one hell of a hypnotic and driving guitar riff, but the real treasure here is the backing track throughout each song. Brewis sings random vowels and phrases (ooo, aaa, eee, ayy, errr, iii, nnn), cuts them up, and then layers them behind the music to form sort of beat-boxing, random human phrase generator bit of weirdness which is strange at first, but which quickly gets stuck in one’s head. Brewis has already established himself as one of the revolutionaries of British indie-rock along with his brother Peter and his work on the School of Language album only solidifies his stance as a genius.

Here’s the video for “Rockist Part 1”, which apparently had a production budget of $10: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=loBjjI44V_E

In related Field Music awesomeness here’s the video to “She Can Do What She Wants” from my number 1 album of 2007, “Tones of Town”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=t3ml5_DgLSI



Keep checking back… this is going to be an ongoing series…


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It is generally accepted that in its present form the music industry as a profitable business is failing. Sales of physical units are down some 10% since 2001 and although digital sales have helped buoy the ship to a certain degree, the industry as a whole is still facing a downturn. Recently, a slew of top name bands and artists have begun to chafe at the normal release schedules and structure of the major record labels opting either to release their music on their own or through a smaller label (Radiohead), dropping all connections to labels (Nine Inch Nails), or signing a new type of record deal known as a 360° contract (Madonna).

360° contracts are, in their simplest form, an agreement between the artist and the label in which the parties agree to share profits from physical album, tour ticket, merchandise, and other sales relating to the artist. Up until this time record labels have mainly been chained to receiving revenue only from the physical sales of CDs, DVDs, records, tapes, and digital downloads of their artists’ music. The revenue streams from touring, merchandising (for the most part), and any other income generating ventures which are brought in by the artist are kept by the artist. This has been the way the industry has worked for more than half of a century.

Unfortunately for the labels, this model is no longer viable. The downturn in the physical sales of albums and the inability of digital downloads to make up the ground lost to free downloads is simply too much for the labels to bear and it is showing. More often than ever, labels are putting all of their eggs in one basket, choosing to play it safe by releasing uninspired, paint-by-the-numbers, contrived music recorded and performed by interchangeable and utterly forgettable musicians. This is also not helping the cause of the music industry. A complete lack of real talent, creativity, and/or difference is causing most real music lovers to repel even further away from the mainstream and what the major labels have to offer. There was a time when major labels broke important, groundbreaking bands whose vision not only sold albums, but which helped morph music through its many waves. Now we are given Lindsay Lohan, Hillary Duff, Britney Spears, and The Backstreet Boys. Packaged goods which sell for a short time, but which ultimately have little to no staying power and which only further separate the major labels from the people they should be targeting: 14-35 year old music lovers.

The Merits of 360 Degrees

Of course, the industry’s music signing tastes are really better suited for another, less specific article. The question being pondered here is whether or not 360° contracts are good for the industry and if they are an actual option.

The reality is that 360° contracts do net the labels more profit. This can be easily seen when you consider a band selling 100,000 albums at $10 a piece and 100,000 tickets at $10 a piece. Using a traditional contract (and assuming the band pockets a generous 20% of every CD sale) the band will make $1.2 million. The record company would generate $800,000 of revenue (readers will forgive the obviously laughable revenue divisions; it is simply much easier to illustrate this way).

Now let’s see what happens under a 360° contract with which the company takes 20% of ticket sales and offers the band 30% of CD sales. The band will make revenues of $1.1 million and the record label will receive $900,000. This shows that the label has increased revenues by $100,000. So why aren’t all the labels out there signing bands to 360° contracts?

The answer is simple: musicians are not stupid. Why would an artist decide to sign a 360° contract which lowers their amount of income? They wouldn’t. The only way a band would sign a 360° contract is if the amount of revenue they give up in ticket sales is matched by an identical increase in CD sales. Obviously this would end with the label making no extra money and the 360° contract being completely pointless.

Profitability or Coordination Failure?

There is only one way in which the industry could use 360° contracts to create increased income: require all contracts to be 360° deals. If suddenly, all at once, every artist was only offered a 360° contract which allowed the label to increase revenue by way of the example above then artists would have no choice but to acquiesce and sign such contracts. This is not a completely efficient outcome for the musicians, but from an industry standpoint it would be absolutely wonderful.

Of course, there is a large hole in this logic: it would take all of the labels working together to happen. This creates a possibility for coordination failure, one of the most basic principles involved in Game Theory. Let us assume that the industry attempts to institute a voluntary 360° contract program because it would be best for everyone involved. Now let’s also assume that one of the major labels decides that instead of instituting the 360° deals they are going to offer traditional contracts. This sneaky label would end up with the power to pick which and how many bands they would like to sign, increasing their share of the market and increasing profitability by the simple fact that they have the best talent. This is best illustrated in a 2 player game table:



The table is read as follows: Rain Records’ payoffs are the first of the two numbers in each cell. Mercury Records’ payoffs are the second number.

The payoffs are shown as simple numbers to simply indicate higher payoffs and lower payoffs with 3 being the best and 0 being the worst. This sort of game is known as the Prisoner’s Dilemma game because it ends with a Nash Equilibrium which is not the most efficient outcome for both parties.

This type of payoff structure will always end with both players, Rain Records and Mercury Records (who could also be thought of as simply the rest of the industry) choosing their dominant strategies. What’s important is to find the best responses. When Rain Records chooses the 360 contract Mercury’s best response is to choose Traditional because the payoff of 3 is better than the payoff of 2 (if they both choose 360). Identically, if Mercury Records chooses the 360 play, then Rain’s best response is to choose traditional (again, 3 is better than 2). Finally, if either plays Traditional then the other’s best response is also Traditional (1 is better than 0).
Thus, both players (in this case labels) will choose traditional contracts, resulting in no improvement in the situation. The only possible way the industry could win with 360 contracts would be to somehow come up with a way in which they all complied with the 360 structure.

Alternative Thinking:

There are other thoughts to consider here. For one there is the possibility that if an act signed a 360 deal there could be a scenario in which both the record company and the band were made better off. This is possible if one believes that once the incentive structure is changed for the band and for the label they will act in mutually beneficial ways. For example, since bands will begin to receive a larger chunk of the profits of their physical album sales they would most likely act in ways which sought to increase sales. This could be increased personal appearances, publicity deals, less leaking of albums onto the internet, more support for protection from ripping and piracy, etc. Similarly, the label, now that it will be receiving revenue from merchandise and ticket sales for live shows, would attempt to create more income by tirelessly promoting their artist, creating more merchandising opportunities, and attempting to sign bands whose appeal will translate well to live audiences. These mutually beneficial actions could spur on sales of all areas of the band’s portfolio and result in increased revenue streams for both the artist and the label.

The Beginning of the Revolution?

Madonna recently signed a 10 year deal with Live Nation worth an estimated 120 million dollars: an absolutely jaw-droppingly huge deal. Some have speculated that Madge has seen the writing on the wall and believes that the 360° deal is central to improving sales of all of her considerable enterprises. It is thought that the above thinking about mutually beneficial actions is part of the reason that Madonna would agree to give up some of the income from her massively profitable tours.

Unfortunately, the real reasons are most likely much more about age and overpaying than anything else. Live Nation is paying Madonna such a large amount that it is unlikely that it will see any sort of boost to its profitability over signing her to a traditional contract. They paid for Madonna’s name because they are a fledgling label attempting to make a name for themselves as innovators and major players in the music industry. For Madonna the deal was too much to pass up. The overpayment, coupled with the fact that Madonna will be 60(!) when the contract ends makes it idiot-proof. Madonna probably does not mind giving up some of her tour revenue when she realizes that most 58-60 year olds, no matter how physically, mentally, and kabbalah-ly fit, are not monster draws on the live tour circuit and if they are, they are not able to play the amount of dates or physically demanding shows which bring in the major money Madonna’s tours usually do. Madonna is not stupid, she knows she is getting older and she has cashed in brilliantly.

Conclusion

So what does all of this analysis truly reveal about the future of the music industry? Unfortunately, a lot less than those who support 360° contracts would hope for. Of course, the industry could do quite well with these types of deals but they would simply have to demand market wide compliance with 360° contracts while avoiding the temptation to stray into traditional realms in order to get a leg up on the competition.

-Luke Barnard


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Everyone here knows the scene… the father/daughter and mother/son dances have justfinished, everyone is reveling in the joy of being in the presence of true, virginal marital bliss, the bride and groom are glowing, and the dance floor is benignly free from the spilled beer and wine which will soon tarnish its reflective glory. Suddenly, a voice booms out over the crowd, vividly proclaiming in tones eerily reminiscent of Orson Welles, “Are you ready to dance, Baxter/Bennet Wedding?!!!!!”

What happens next is usually an aural genocide of such proportions that it makes Curious George and the Banana Grabber (Arrested Development reference alert) look like Moby Dick. From Celine Dion to Tim McGraw, reception attendees are usually abused in ways which the CIA would find reprehensible.

Seeing as how I am currently in the stages of planning my own wedding, I have put together this ultimate hit-list of wedding songs which are sure to neither get the crowd going nor bring about actual romantic feelings, but which DJs still believe kick up the party, in the hopes of exercising the demons of awful music from ruining my own reception.



5) Marcia Griffiths – The Electric Boogie

How could anyone possibly not love a song which involves line-dancing and the word “woogie”? It’s quite easy, actually. Marcia Griffiths’ ode to all things electric is one of the most ridiculous songs ever written; filled to the brim with classic 80s synth drums and nonsensical lyrics such as the following:

I've got to move,I'm going on a party ride
I've got to groove, groove, groove,
And from this music I just can't hide.


Deep, Marcia. Deep.


4) Edwin McCain – I’ll Be

Although McCain’s song, which has now been used as the first dance for couples about 89 trillion times, was once actually not too terrible a soft-rock ballad it has been overplayed to the point where it cannot even be saved by the sight of the group of single women at table 8 who scream every word as tears build in their eyes. It’s always sad when songs get played to death, but at least McCain leaves those of us who can no longer stand to be within 100 feet of hearing range of “I’ll Be” with something to think about when he sings in the chorus, “I’ll be love’s suicide…”

Can anyone figure that one out?



3) The Commodores – Brickhouse

I must admit that I have actually gotten funky to “Brickhouse” once or twice at a wedding reception and it is a decently catchy song, but that does not excuse DJs from going to the well too often. “Brickhouse” has actually been the first song played as a party starter at two of the receptions I have attended and has been heard at every single reception I have ever been to, which makes one wonder: If disco is dead, why the hell is its reanimated corpse slaughtering uncoordinated white people at reception halls throughout the country?

Creepy Old Man Lyric Alert:
The clothes she wears, the sexy ways
Makes an old man wish for younger days




2) Kool and the Gang – Celebration

Does anyone actually need to be reminded to celebrate good times? When was the last time that you saw a team win the World Series, only to mope around collecting their gear before eventually making their way slowly down the tunnel into the locker room? The fact that anyone needs to be told to, “Celebrate good times, come on!” is ridiculous, not to mention annoying after the 59,549th time in the space of three and a half minutes of song.

I’d like to see a reworking of this song with Kool and the Gang reminding those with short-term memory loss to “Tie your shoes up tight, come on! Zip your coat up now, come on!” and so on. They could really do a lot of good in this world.


1) The Village People – YMCA

Come on, did anyone actually think this wouldn’t be the number one song on this list? Sure it can be cute to see grandparents swaying their hips and spelling letters with their arms, but at what cost to society?

There’s nothing to say here… it’s just awful.


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Radiohead Economics - Part Two

A few months ago I wrote an article entitled “Radiohead Economics” which, in essence, applauded Radiohead for their vision, not as rebellious rockers bringing down the system with their pay-what-you-want release of In Rainbows, but for their creation of a business model which could serve to make up for slow record sales. Most of the article dealt with theory and the fact that Radiohead were circumventing the usual system and allowing the increased demand for music to fall more into line with supply while continuing to make money, but little actual evidence was available to uphold my conclusions.

Now, however, enough numbers are in that we can truly match up the theory with the reality. According to Mashable.com, Radiohead saw 1.2 million ‘free’ downloads of In Rainbows during the time it was up on the band’s website and freely accessible in its first week. The ‘free’ download of the album, which many bemoaned as an end to the record industry and disastrous to profits, actually resulted in an average of $8 (other reports have the number at $6 through Nov. 6th) being spent on each downloaded album. That is only slightly less than the amount that the album would most likely have sold for in stores; and one must also consider that by circumventing packaging costs, shipping, and other fees, the amount of money made on each album is most likely nearly equal to the selling price. This led to a total of $9.6 of revenue (if the Mashable.com numbers are correct). With very little in the way of cost cropping up other than the recording of the album, it is almost assured that Radiohead made more off of the ‘free’ release of In Rainbows than most of their proper album releases.

Furthermore, In Rainbows is now also available for purchase in most retail stores as a proper CD release. It went straight to number one, selling 122,000 physical units in a traditionally very slow time period for CD sales (yahoo.com) in its first week. Hail to the Thief, by contrast, sold around 300,000 units in its first week on its way to selling around a million copies. Radiohead will most likely not sell a million physical units of In Rainbows, but the amount of CDs sold, although roughly half of what they sold on their last album, is not as large of a gap as it seems as the industry on the whole has declined rapidly since Thief and the physical release of In Rainbows was preceded by very little to no advertising or publicity on the band or their label’s part.

In the end, if these numbers can be trusted, Radiohead will generate more revenues from In Rainbows than any other album they have produced and more than most of their albums combined. Total profits will also be significantly higher due to the low cost revenue generated by the ‘free’ release, resulting in a win/win situation in which Radiohead and the general public both benefit from a market in which users have set their own price.

Again, though, this is not a model that will work for most artists, but bands with Radiohead’s stature can certainly benefit from copying what Thom Yorke and company have been up to.


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The Dangers of Rock Band

I was recently afforded the opportunity to play the new ‘it’ game: Rock Band, (which is currently burning through the eyeballs of more than a few of this country’s young men and women) by none other than Tuesday’s On the Phone contributor extraordinaire Jameson Czech. While I enjoyed my time on the plastic axe (though not my time on the extremely frustrating drum kit), I could not help but become a bit horrified at myself and at the game itself the longer I played. The game put out feelers, wrapped them around my throat, and refused to allow me to think about anything other than: “PLAY MORE ROCK BAND!”.

Usually when a game does this to me it is simply the sign that the game is well designed and, quite frankly, damn good, but the more I thought about Rock Band the more I became worried. I thought back to when I first picked up (real) guitar and started teaching myself how to play. It was not only among the more difficult things I’ve ever had to do in the pursuit of enjoyable leisure, it was also easily the most annoying. I’m still not Jimi Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughn, but I do alright (well enough to front a semi-real band: Brownfields). If a game such as Rock Band had existed when I was first learning guitar, however, I most certainly would have traded in my 15 pound Peavey T-150 for the 2 pound plastic Fender Strat that glimmers so beautifully in the blue light of digital television.

And this is the real danger of Rock Band. It allows kids to take the easy way out of actually learning an instrument by wrapping it up in a shiny package which allows wannabe rock heroes to live out their wildest dreams without really learning the skills or theory which is so necessary in reality. Where would we be if Johnny Greenwood or Paul McCartney had decided that playing their plastic X-BOX guitar was satisfying enough?

Of course there is also another possible endgame to all of this: it could actually stimulate people to go out and buy a real guitar or learn how to play the drums because they see themselves succeeding in the virtual world. Rock Band could be a gateway video game; one which leads to higher interest in studying and creating real music. My only hope is that anyone who starts actually tagging skins or shredding frets after playing the game doesn’t bail out and return to Rock Band before the high learning curve of playing an instrument is conquered.

I’d like to continue these random thoughts but I really need to go call Jameson so I can PLAY MORE ROCK BAND!


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Top Ten Albums of 2007 - According to Luke

Music is an extremely difficult beast to attempt to convey through descriptions and wherever I’m able to on this list I attempt to stray from any efforts which seek to convey the experience of listening to the music to any readers; instead I focus on the merits of the music and the emotional reaction which songs trigger. Be sure that even if I don’t go through an album song by song giving my own play-by-play that each album is not only good, but rather incredible and worth at least a listen to for you, particularly the top five albums.

-TRIVIA: Which two artists on this list have worked together in the past? 15 points if you know the answer.

10) Arcade Fire - Neon Bible
There is really only one term which can be used to describe an album with as much sonic power and emotional force as Neon Bible

Absolutely fucking massive


...and that's all that really needs to be said.



9) Paul McCartney – Memory Almost Full

It’s quite surreal to be writing about Paul McCartney at this point. Let’s be honest, Macca may be a legend, but he’s produced some really bad solo music. Even if he occasionally hit pay-dirt with a decent album (Band on the Run) even his best efforts were wildly inconsistent. While Memory Almost Full does have a song or two which doesn’t quite hit all the right notes, it more than makes up for its weaker moments with some of Macca’s most experimental and solid music since his (yes) days with The Beatles. “Only Mama Knows” enters with overly-dramatic strings, but quickly kicks into a rousing rocker which could easily be Helter Skelter Part 2 and shows that McCartney has seemingly found a way to continue to write his songs while incorporating modern music. Similarly strong tracks like the perfectly poppy “Ever Present Past” sparkle with vitality and originality despite feeling entirely McCartney-ish. On the whole the album is simply one of the most interesting things from 2007 to listen to; it is crisp, varied, and an utter delight.

8) Silverchair – Young Modern

Yup… Silverchair.

Allow me to let that percolate for a bit.

Silverchair: “You gonna wait fat boy, fat boy, wait til tomorrow”. Fifteen-year old Curt Cobain wannabes from Australia. Greasy, grunge hair. Anorexia.

Much like their mid-90s contemporaries Nada Surf, Silverchair have slowly been building actual musical credibility with their last few album releases, even if they went largely unnoticed in the United States. Their transformation is now complete, however, as they have fully morphed into a tight, energetic, and impressively creative band led by a front man as flamboyant and confident as Brandon Flowers. Although they can still hold their own on the alternative hard-rock front, they have blossomed into a band unafraid of taking chances (7.5 minute epic “Those Thieving Birds Part 1 and Strange Behavior and Those Thieving Birds Part 2” and “If You Keep Losing Sleep”) while showcasing an ability to write appealing pop-rock songs with massive hooks (“Reflections of a Sound”, “Young Modern”) and all the while constructing a damn good album.

7) Super Furry Animals – Hey Venus!

Another pleasant surprise on this list, Hey Venus finds SFA finally back on the top of their game. After releasing completely brilliant albums in the 90s and early 2000s such as Radiator and Rings Around the World (and a song called “Ice Hockey Hair”… inspired!), SFA began to fade along with many of their counterparts in the britrock movement (despite being unfairly lumped in with the rest). Phantom Power was decent but had too few strong songs and, although they are to be commended for mixing it up on 2005’s Love Kraft; it was a bad, bad album. So it was altogether insane for one to believe that they could in any way recapture their former glory.

Hey Venus!, however, showcases SFA at their best with their trademark weirdness mixing perfectly once again with 60s pop inspired melodies and the lavish production which made Rings Around the World one of the greatest albums of the 90s. “Show Your Hand” and “Run Away” are nuggets of pure joy and Gruff Rhys voice is as strong and unique as ever. Have a listen and enjoy…

6) Band of Horses – Cease to Begin

Cease to Begin was not even on my radar this year as Band of Horses’ first album not only failed to make my top ten list but failed to inspire more than two listens. The album was simply bad. I’m not quite sure how they have managed to go from such a poor album (in this humble blogger’s opinion) to such an inspired work of modern music. The album sails along smoothly throughout its course as Band of Horses’ styles, the up-tempo, layered rockers like “Is There a Ghost” and “Marry Song”, and the slower songs tinged with country such as “The General Specific”, meld perfectly together, creating a unique and full vision which sparkles with careful production and honesty.


5) Radiohead – In Rainbows

It’s good… read Jameson’s review.



I will only add that not only are the members of Radiohead musical geniuses, but they are also economic masters of the universe.



4) Spoon – Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga
I’ve never had more pop-rock albums on a top ten list than this year, and although this album is only really the third best of its genre this year, according to me, it is still an amazing piece of music, particularly when one considers how Spoon continue to reinvent themselves and their music without altering significantly what they play or how they play their music. They have added some new twists as horns are introducted into songs like the Motown inspired “You Got Yr Cherry Bomb”, but for the most part this is the same Spoon it has always been (though more closely linked with Gimme Fiction than any other album) and yet they somehow make themselves sound completely new and fresh.

The melodies are among the catchiest ever produced by someone who sounds like the sound your feet make when you walk on gravel, and lift “Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga” into heights which easily lift Spoon immediately into the pantheon of ‘important’ modern bands.


3) Mr. Hudson and the Library – A Tale of Two Cities

This is quite possibly among the most original albums ever created. Refusing to be satisfied with the awful mashups which layer classic, jazzy songs over modern beats, Ben Hudson felt the need to properly mix jazz and hip hop, utilizing his love of Chet Baker (a favorite of this blogger) and his experience as a beat-maker. What he manages to produce is nothing short of astounding. A Tale of Two Cities, awful album name aside, is probably among the coolest albums anyone will ever produce. Cool in the Miles Davis, Chet Baker, Rat Pack, skinny tie, “I’m so cool I set my own trends” sense. The songs are sparsely played, with minimal beats and instrumentation, but Hudson strikes a perfect balance between his melodies, beats, heavy bass, and wry lyrical musings.

“Bread and Roses” is an epiphany of a song and “Brave the Cold” and “Ask the DJ” showcase Hudson’s unique view of life while propelling the songs forward with unique and lovely production. If it hadn’t been a particularly strong year for music, this would easily have been the number one album of the year. As it is, it is a near perfect piece of music.


2) The Electric Soft Parade – No Need to be Downhearted

The Brothers White return with their third album as ESP and it clearly shows their maturity from teenage wonders to full grown indie pop-sters. No Need to be Downhearted is one of those albums which, when it finally kicks into gear, is almost impossible not to listen to all the way through. From hair-metal guitar licks to Bonham-esque drums, through Weezer-ish pop and heartfelt string arrangements ESP have crafted an album without a dull moment and managed to squash in so many different musical ideas that it is a wonder they were able to keep a single identity throughout the entirety. Considering the fact that too few albums released today actually have flow and cohesion their ability to smash together a broad range of song types and have it come out as smooth and effortless as No Need to be Downhearted might be their most important and impressive achievement.

If you need a single song album primer go find “If That’s the Case, Then I Don’t Know” and experience one of the greatest riffs and chord progressions ever produced in modern rock.


1) Field Music – Tones of Town

Field Music managed to produce my #2 album of 2005 and the fact that they are the only holdover from that list appearing here should be a telling sign. Throughout this year I’ve been consistently complimenting originality and cohesive visions and no album sums up those concepts better than Field Music. Tones of Town is a singular achievement which transcends description, but if pushed only one word can possibly come close to describing it: woodblock.

The use of the woodblock on songs has not been in popular demand since… well, ever. Yet, Field Music not only manages to cram their two minute masterpieces with more instrumentation, harmony, and lyrical sharpness than you can shake a stick at, they also manage to make wondrous use of cowbells, handclaps, beat-boxing, and woodblocks. This is not a joke. After hearing “A House if Not a Home” I not only wanted to buy a woodblock, I felt myself smiling for no absolutely reason. The entire album, in fact, makes me smile, sing along, clap my hands, and dance (in a way only Elaine Benes could appreciate).


Tones of Town clocks in at a thin 31 minutes, but its 11 songs are anything but skeletal. The amount of variation in songs, sounds, and styles achieved by Field Music is nothing short of miraculous, making the album infinitely listenable and continuingly surprising and pleasing. After any listen, though, one is always left with the same general feeling: complete satisfaction and wonder.


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