Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

On Rilo Kiley

Rilo Kiley released a new album, Under the Blacklight, a couple of weeks ago. On opening it, I was excited. The jewel case is tinted purple, and I suspect that it actually glows under a blacklight. The booklet contains no text and is full of pictures of the band seemingly exploring the backstreets of L.A. nightclub scene, with Jenny Lewis looking beautiful as usual and Blake Sennet sort of staring off into the distance. Also among the photographs are transvestites and an old woman dressed as if going to a funeral, carrying a brain inside of a jar.

The album itself, though was a little disappointing. All but three of the songs are written entirely by Jenny Lewis, with one collaboration between her and Blake Sennet, one her and her boyfriend Jonathan Rice, and another written by Blake Sennet and Morgan Nagler. Personally I wish Blake had a little bit more to do with the production; I really enjoyed the albums released by The Elected, but not so much Jenny Lewis’ project with the Watson Twins. Most of the songs seem like there was not much thought put into the lyrics and are full of over-repeated phrases. The song “Moneymaker” is said to be the “big hit” from this album, and I suspect it will get radio play because it’s more “mainstream” if mainstream means songs about nothing that mindless teenagers can sing along to.

My oppinion, at first listen, of the best songs from the album are “Breakin Up” (Lewis/Sennet), “Dreamworld” (Sennet/Nagler), and “15” (Lewis).

Overall, I just don’t think Jenny Lewis is very good without Blake Sennet by her side..

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The Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Fred Von Lohmann (whom I adore, p.s.) explains why EFF is involved in a new suit against Universal Music Group involving first sale rights:

The “first sale” doctrine expresses one of the most important limitations on the reach of copyright law. The idea, set out in Section 109 of the Copyright Act, is simple: once you’ve acquired a lawfully-made CD or book or DVD, you can lend, sell, or give it away without having to get permission from the copyright owner. In simpler terms, “you bought it, you own it” (and because first sale also applies to gifts, “they gave it to you, you own it” is also true).

UMG got litigious first here, suing an eBay music store for selling used cds. Because the cds were promo cds (the kind given for free to radio stations, etc.), they were marked “promotional use only,” which UMG says negates first sale rights.

“If UMG is right, then copyright owners of all kinds can strip away our first sale rights by putting these kinds of “label licenses” on their wares,” Fred writes. “Next thing you know, CDs, books, DVDs, and video games could be festooned with “notices” that erode a customer’s first sale, fair use, and other rights.”

Sure that’s a worst-case-scenario, but spouting worst case scenarios is all part of Von Lohman and the EFF folks’ game, which is to try and show people why legal issues that can seem wonky and dry actually matter in the real world.

Commenter Mike T at Technology Liberation Front points out that the intellectual property holders here are trying to go beyond the rights granted to regular property holders:

There is no reason why by convention or law a copyright holder should be able to scribble some non-sense onto a CD, thus turning it into some super special contract that doesn’t require an actual signature or verbal consent to make binding.

Anyway, interesting stuff. Or maybe not. But raee’s writing about iced meat today. So cut me some slack.

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Oh my, what have we done to deserve this? A new Rilo Kiley album AND a new Wes Anderson movie being released this Aug./Sept.!?! If only Elliott Smith would come back to life, my little hipster heart would be complete.

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punkass mash-ups

Punkass Marc has been mashing up some Radiohead with hip-hop, and it’s pretty awesome. That’s all.

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I have never heard anything by Girl Talk.

I’ve heard of Girl Talk, I’ve just never heard any of his music (perhaps making me not “tragically” unhip, but just minimally unhip). For those who, like me, are whatever variety of unhip in these matters, Girl Talk is a mash-up artist (real name Gregg Gillis). He remixes dozens of songs together at once on each track he makes, and his 2006 album, Night Ripper, is adored by just about anybody who is hipper than you and I. Including Congressman Mike Doyle. Rep. Doyle (D-Pittsburgh) told Congress about Girl Talk in March, at a House Telecom and Internet sub-committee hearing (via The 463):

Congressman Doyle: Mr. Chairman, I want to tell you a story of a local guy done good. His name is Greg Gillis and by day he is a biomedical engineer in Pittsburgh. At night, he DJs under the name Girl Talk. His latest mash-up record made the top 2006 albums list from Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and Spin Magazine amongst others. His shtick as the Chicago Tribune wrote about him is “based on the notion that some sampling of copyrighted material, especially when manipulated and recontextualized into a new art form is legit and deserves to be heard.” In one example, Mr. Chairman, he blended Elton John, Notorious B-I-G, and Destiny’s Child all in the span of 30 seconds. And, while the legal indie-music download site eMusic.com took his stuff down due to possible copyright violation, he’s now flying all over the world to open concerts and remix for artists like Beck.

The same cannot be said for Atlanta-based, hop-hop, mix-tape king DJ Drama. Mix-tapes, actually made on CDs, are sold at Best Buys and local record shops across the country and they are seen as crucial in making or breaking new acts in hip-hop. But even though artists on major labels are paying DJ Drama to get their next mixed-tape, the major record labels are leading raids and sending people like him to jail.

I hope that everyone involved will take a step back and ask themselves if mash-ups and mixtapes are really different or if it’s the same as Paul McCartney admitting that he nicked the Chuck Berry bass-riff and used it on the Beatle’s hit “I Saw Her Standing There.” Maybe it is. And, maybe Drama violated some clear bright lines. Or, maybe mixtapes are a powerful tool. And, maybe mash-ups are transformative new art that expands the consumers experience and doesn’t compete with what an artist has made available on iTunes or at the CD store.

Last week, Steven Levy at Newsweek brought Doyle and Girl Talk together to brainstorm about what sort of legislation would be needed to remedy the kinds of copyright conundrums mash-ups and the like introduce.

At our lunch, Doyle, 54 (whose own iPod is filled with the likes of Earth, Wind & Fire and Steely Dan), had a lot of questions for Gillis, 25. How many artists were sampled on his recent album “Night Ripper”? (Gillis: more than 167.) If he had to pay rights to every person he sampled, how costly would it be? (Gillis: who knows? But at the least, “we’d have to sell the album off the shelf for $100 a copy.”) Gillis said that he’d try to find a middle ground where some samples were OK because of fair-use provisions in the law and others paid for by a reasonable fee.

Most of my knowledge the fair use doctrine concerns video content; I have no actual idea how it has been practically applied to sampling and stuff like that. But I don’t understand why the kinds of things Girl Talk and DJ Drama do wouldn’t fall under fair use in the first place? It’s transformative content; using the material in a significantly different way than that in which it was originally used. It’s not decreasing the commercial viability of the original songs – in fact, both artists have noted that record labels and artists request their songs to be sampled. Solveig Singleton at Tech Liberation Policy brings a fair amount of snark to the whole thing:

Fair use? Transformative use? Why bother with the technicalities? Levy and a legislator like the fellow, so they weigh in on the side of legislating (yet another) exception. Maybe jam transformative and fair uses together into a whole new category, “rave” use, with a safe harbor for “hipster” use and for the older set “cool” uses?

But isn’t transformative use already an integral part of “fair use?” Why the separating them as if they’re two separate things here? And it doesn’t seem that any new sort of legislative exception would have to be made, because existing fair use protocols should apply, right? Am I completely off the mark?

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Feminist issues, libertarian issues, Web geekery, musings on the mediated world …When we started this blog a few months ago, we had some ideas of things we were going to post about. Nothing concrete, but general issues. Guidelines, perhaps. “Soft politics,” you might call it — things that are culturally and politically relevant, but not about, say, health care or the economy or elections or war. Raee is pretty good at it; I’m a bit all-over-the-place. And I’m about to get a bit more all-over-the-place, I suppose, because lately I just keep wanting to post about things that are most certainly not on topic at all, like fiction books and music.

That said … I am on a quest to make the Perfect Feel Good Hits of Summer 2007 Mix Tape®. This quest has led me to consult with various entities about predictions for the Feel Good Hit of the Summer. For the record, my vote is on “Missed the Boat” off of Modest Mouse’s latest album. Suggestions from others have included:

    • “Young Folks” by Peter Bjorn and John
    • anything off Person Pitch by Panda Bear
    • “Hang Me Up to Dry” by the Cold War Kids
    • “Umbrella” by Rihanna
    • “Sugarless” by Autolux
    • “History Song” by The Good, The Bad, and the Queen
    • “Icky Thump” by the White Stripes
    • “Our Haunt” by Palomar, and
    • “Broken Radio” by Jesse Malin

My friend Jables – arguably the most musically-ravenous person I know – suggests:

While there is no definitive summer of ’07 banger, yet, these songs are serious contenders:

Spoon – Underdog
UGK & Outkast – International Players Anthem
New Pornographers – My Rights Versus Yours

These are the songs that have massive crossover appeal, and although interesting enough, don’t get too weird to scare people away. As in, one of these songs will find its way into too many parties this summer, and then eventually stumble into a major league sporting event / car commercial by the end of the year. I’m personally pulling for Animal Collective’s Peacebone to be so ubiquitous by the end of the summer, that they play during the superbowl’s halftime show.

So now I implore you to weigh in on this very important matter. Feel Good Hit of Summer 2007. Go.

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A Complicated Man

Originally uploaded by xxo23o

The above is a taunt from the lead singer of The Bitter Tears, after no one in the audience would join in an improv game during one of the band’s songs that involved shouting out a preposterous situation to be followed by the band’s barbershop-quartet style chorus “That’s whyyyyyy I couldn’t come home last night” (Example: “I was murdered at the bar .. That’s whyyyy I couldn’t come home last night,” or, Best Example: “I was donkey-punched by Barack Obama at the bar … that’s whyyyy I couldn’t come home last night”).

Went to see Califone at The Rock and Roll Hotel last night, but Califone (who was headlining) was far outshone by it’s opening band, The Bitter Tears.

The Bitter Tears do this whole costume business. I think they switch it up at different shows, but last night we had: a dead bride, a live bride, a cat, a Sherlock-Holmes-style detective, and a trombonist dressed as if he was attending a gay pride parade in the 1980s but also wearing a bride-style headband and a handlebar mustache (he’s a complicated man, we decided). I was wary of the gimmicky-ness when they first came out (and somewhat terrified by the creepy faces made by the creepy lead singer/bride), but they turned out to be really good! They have a cellist and a trombonist, and they sound a bit like the Decemberists. And they were just a lot of fun, really campy and energetic and over the top. Most fun performance I’ve seen in a while. I felt sorry for their lead band for having to follow them.

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Violins v. iPods

I just read this article.The opening graphs:

“HE EMERGED FROM THE METRO AT THE L’ENFANT PLAZA STATION AND POSITIONED HIMSELF AGAINST A WALL BESIDE A TRASH BASKET. By most measures, he was nondescript: a youngish white man in jeans, a long-sleeved T-shirt and a Washington Nationals baseball cap. From a small case, he removed a violin. Placing the open case at his feet, he shrewdly threw in a few dollars and pocket change as seed money, swiveled it to face pedestrian traffic, and began to play.
It was 7:51 a.m. on Friday, January 12, the middle of the morning rush hour. In the next 43 minutes, as the violinist performed six classical pieces, 1,097 people passed by. Almost all of them were on the way to work, which meant, for almost all of them, a government job. L’Enfant Plaza is at the nucleus of federal Washington, and these were mostly mid-level bureaucrats with those indeterminate, oddly fungible titles: policy analyst, project manager, budget officer, specialist, facilitator, consultant.”

The violinist is Joshua Bell.

That probably doesn’t mean much to most, and only resonates with me because I listened to his recording of the Bruch concerto about fifty-five thousand times when I was dating my girlfriend from high-school. She was learning the first movement of the Bruch concerto and would routinely pop his recording in and sit, eyes closed, vicariously fingering the chords on her violin while I would watch transfixed, mouth open. It was without question the single sexiest thing I’d ever witnessed at that point in my life.

One of the first times she ever did this, after the movement was over, she looked up at me, crying, and said:

“I’ll never be this good.”

I nodded.

“But you get it, right? You get that this is incredible?”

I nodded.

It was. The Bruch is one of those pieces that has the ability to make you feel something. Its elegiac and melancholy and, in the hands of a master, the goddamn violin actually sounds like it’s crying. It’s not incredibly well-known, but whenever I hear it, I always catch myself listening and thinking back to those moments in her room, Joshua Bell blaring from cheap boom-box speakers.

And now I read that, for an hour, Joshua played in a Washington DC subway station masquerading as a busker. His take? Around $32.00. The article is one of the best I’ve read in a newspaper in quite some time. It’s a meditation on our capacity to recognize beauty without frames, without choosing when and where we will experience transcendence.

And at first, reading this, I fumed at the idiots who scurried on their way, oblivious to the man who had left me such an indelible memory. But then I looked to my left and saw my iPod, playing the same goddamn album I’ve listened to for the last 6 months. And I thought about my car, with its familiar catalogue of burned CD’s, and printed stories scattered across my back seat that I’ve been fine-tuning for the past three years…

I’m no better.

If I was in that station that day, I wouldn’t have even noticed him. I would have been listening to my iPod.

I’ve been obsessed lately with figuring out what this decade should be called. And I think that this story gets at something that I’ve been trying to put into words for a while:

We don’t allow things to touch us unless we choose to be touched. We plan ahead for transcendence. The amount of time we just listen and look and don’t seek is approaching nil.

And it gets to the point where the only thing I can remember are fake moments, like watching someone sympathetically fingering along to a virtuoso and then looking at me and saying that they could never be that good.

We live in “The Vicarious Oughts”. We’ve confused talent with effort and instead live through other people’s exploits to achieve our own epiphanies.

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I’ve often wondered (hypothetically and from afar, because I don’t pay for music from the internet), what happens when a person buys a song from iTunes, and then later they decide they want the whole album. I guess people have been buying the album in its entirety, creating a duplicate of the single and spending a little more than they otherwise would. Now iTunes has come up with Complete My Album button, that will download whichever songs you don’t have from an album and charge you the difference. Of course, you have to have bought the original song through iTunes, and, after an initial grandfathering period, you have to have bought it in the last 180 days to be eligible. Still, it’s something, and should be good for Apple/iTunes from a marketing standpoint. Nevermind that anyone who buys multiple songs and albums from iTunes probably doesn’t care about a $2 price break.
On a side note, I wish the ‘Complete my album’ button was a real thing, in real life. Kind of like the Staples’ Easy Button, only, as I said, real. For all of those genius but not so prolific artists. It could produce all the songs, get the liner notes in order, and just generally get musicians’ collective shit together. I’d give it to Jeff Mangum.

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iTunes may have killed the radio star, but not the indie rocker: sales of physical cds for independent musicians has increased 30 percent over the past year, according to Derek Sivers, the founder of CD Baby (an online store selling indie cds) in a press conference for the Rock the Net coalition yesterday.

Via Harold Feld at Public Knowledge:

… the rise in sales of indie CDs takes place at the very moment that every major news outlet has announced the death of music albums and the resulting decline in music industry profits (despite the rise in online sales).

Of course, Sivers “fact” is unverified, and no where can I find an explanation for where he came up for this statistic. But it’s the kind of fact you want to be true; the kind that can allow you to gloat and go, “See! It’s not the Internet! It’s just that the most music put out by the major labels is crap!” As Feld points out:

… if true, it provides one more powerful argument that the current decline in revenue for the major labels has nothing to do with “piracy” and everything to do with competition working. As I have argued, (along with the good folks at Ars Technica), the decline of the CD market proves what many of us have said for years. The 1990s saw a number of factors that allowed the major labels to push out independents and dominate the market with their own outrageously priced and poorly produced products: consolidation in the music industry, the whole “studio system” of pumping a few big stars to the exclusion of others, the consolidation in music outlets from mom-and-pop record stores to chains like Tower Records and retail giants like Wal-Mart that exclude indies and push the recordings promoted by major labels, and the consolidation of radio — which further killed indie exposure and allowed the labels to artificially pump their selected “hits” through payolla. All this created a cozy cartel that enjoyed monopoly profits.

Now, for the first time in living memory, the music cartel has lost control of distribution. Independent musicians can use a neutral internet to reach listeners directly. Online radio, satellite radio, and podcasting move power out of the consolidated terrestrial radio bottlenecks and expose people to different choices. Digital downloads and online purchases of physical CDs break the stranglehold of the box-store retailers. Even better, the stranglehold on video distribution may follow.

And lo! Competition actually works for once in the way predicted by the neo-cons and techno-libertarians (hey, it happens).

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Amie Street

Via Springwise, a new music site that charges for song downloads based on how popular the songs are. Amie Street starts of making every song available for free, then increases the price of the download, up to a whole 98 cents (still cheaper than iTunes!), based on how many people have downloaded the song.

Another reason it’s better than iTunes?

Artists maintain full ownership of their work and receive 70% of every sale after a first USD 5 to cover storage, bandwidth and transaction costs for that song. All MP3s sold through the website are DRM-free, so can be used on any music player, without restrictions.


Members are also rewarded for recommending music. As explained by Amie Street: “We know music is social, and the process of music discovery is stunted by traditional digital music retail sites because they are not social (or fun). Music discovery is best catalyzed by communication between people, so we reward fans for recommending songs to their friends by giving them credit to buy more music.”

This part of the Springwise blurb made me laugh, though.

Besides giving early buyers a better deal, the market price system gives them the added pleasure of seeing they’ve discovered a song or artist before everyone else has.

You also get the added value of hipster reinforcement!

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Here’s a site I’ve been going to for a while. Again, I’ve just been sitting on it. So here it is to share, I just got some free Bright Eyes. I’d recommend The Hong Kong and Human Television but there is a lot of other good free music to play with.

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links for 2007-01-20

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