Archive for October, 2008


Coverage: Built to Spill does MIA

October 31, 2008

[embedded YouTube video; if you can’t see it, click here]

Wait, that headline sounds a little more NSFW than I intended…

Built to Spill covered MIA‘s ‘Paper Planes’ at a recent concert in Rome. I’ve heard mixed responses to it, but I quite like Doug Martsch’s ringing guitar. Check it out for yourself.


Local news: “Seattle, City of Music”

October 30, 2008

Mayor Greg Nickels thinks that Seattle is not getting the recognition it deserves as a music city, and last night he unveiled the Seattle Music Commission. Modeled after similar organizations in Austin and Chicago, it has a twelve-year mandate to work to improve Seattle as a city for musicians, for live music, and for music businesses. Nickels has had a somewhat rocky relationship with Seattle music venues, having spearheaded some fairly draconian city bylaws, including asking for the authority to shutter clubs that didn’t comply (the City Council balked, and ultimately Nickels decided to veto the scaled-back versions). However, he’s recently proposed rolling back the admission tax at venues and providing city assistance to help new venues start up. Last night also marked the release of a new economic impact study; highlights include the 20 000 or so music-related jobs in Seattle, the 1.2 billion dollars of revenue, and the fact that about 40% of this revenue comes from sales outside King County, bringing cash into the area. Nice to see the Mayor’s Office step up to the plate to help Seattle get even better as a music town.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer article. Mayor’s Office press release.

Image: Music sign at Seattle Center by Flickr user jcolman, reposted here under its Creative Commons license.


My Secret Playlist

October 28, 2008

I’m a total sucker for mix CDs, and you’ll never catch me sitting around bemoaning the death of the Album. So a website like My Secret Playlist tickles me. They ask artists what songs they are currently listening to, and then post an annotated playlist (you can stream all the songs). Recent contributors have included everyone from Chris Walla of Death Cab for Cutie to Donna Summer to a bunch of people I’ve never heard of and am really looking forward to checking out. It’s a great place to hear both the old and the new music that is inspiring artists today.

My Secret Playlist


Music for the winter

October 26, 2008

Well, the days are getting shorter and the weather is turning colder. But for those of us who look forward to winter (and maybe to encourage those who don’t), outdoor outfitters REI got a bunch of gear companies to sponsor songs about the snowy season, from bands including Apples in Stereo (above), Eagles of Death Metal, and Seattle power-pop band Quadrillion. The best part is that REI is making the songs available as unrestricted audiofiles for download. The MP3s are up already, and it looks like videos for most of the songs will be up later this winter.

REI Go Playlist

MP3: The Apples in Stereo – (Baby It’s) So Cold


Future of music, continued

October 24, 2008

This is clearly ‘future of music’ week in the zeitgeist. I wrote a bit about it based on a Boston Herald article about how Pretty & Nice met Built to Spill‘s bassist managing a Jiffy Lube in Boise, and I just stumbled on a Village Voice music blog post on much the same theme, this one focusing on licensing versus developing a fanbase:

Which is to say the model now is to completely bypass the consumer—whose thumbs-up/thumbs-down was once the obvious, inarguable standard of success—in favor of the television drama, the movie soundtrack, and the TV commercial….What is curious about this model is that it essentially imagines an industry future without fans. People will consume music the way they consume actors and actresses: as part of a much bigger whole, to be judged as such. Beatles-type fame is a casualty, although I’m sure these dudes have no trouble getting laid; so are about a million tropes, some good, some bad, traditionally designed to appeal to ‘music fans,’ a demographic that may well not exist in ten years.

So, to recapitulate: mobs of screaming fans – out; a modest revenue stream through licensing, direct CD sales, merch, gigs, podcasts, etc, etc, and yet more etc – in. Hmmm. I’ll have to give some more thought to what I think this trade means for both fans and artists. If you have thoughts, feel free to share them in the comments.


Listen local: Pretty & Nice

October 24, 2008

Following up on yesterday’s post about the Indie Music Survival Guide, and how I want bands that I like to keep making music…

Boston band Pretty & Nice had a sobering run-in with one of their musical heroes:

This may be the most telling anecdote about modern rock ever: A new band with a seemingly bright future meets one of its idols – a guy signed to a major label with 15 years of storied records and tours under his belt – and he’s managing a Jiffy Lube in Boise, Idaho….

The bright new band: Pretty & Nice, which plays a CD release show for its new album “Get Young” Sunday at Great Scott. The idol: Built To Spill bassist Brett Nelson.

“We met Brett at the Jiffy Lube he manages in Boise.” said Holden Lewis. “I came out from paying and was wondering, ‘Who’s this guy talking about touring?’ The whole interaction was about 30 seconds long, but he came to our show in Boise that night and invited us to their Boston show last month.”

The article focuses how what it means to ‘make it’ in the modern music industry, and how the days of being wildly successful (a là KISS and their ilk) are pretty much over. Hugh Dillon‘s character in Hard Core Logo says of his bandmate, “Billy wants the models and limousines, while I’m happy with hookers and taxicabs,” and it looks like it might be all cabs, no limos from here on out. There are clear parallels to other media, and how they are becoming increasingly niche-oriented: instead of everyone sitting in front of their TV watching Dallas on a major network, we moved to the 500-channel universe, and then to watching clips on YouTube. Music seems to be going in the same direction – instead of relatively few bands that are massive and ubiquitous, there’s a complete ecosystem of bands thriving in a wide range of niches. At least, I hope that’s how it plays out; I really need to keep going to shows and buying CDs, Pretty & Nice’s in particular…

More Pretty & Nice: myspace website label

MP3: Pretty & Nice – Tora Tora Tora

[via Boston Blog Crush]


Read: The Indie Band Survival Guide

October 23, 2008

I’m not a musician. I’m just a fan. So I’m kind of amazed (and grateful) that the bands I like are willing to put up with smelly vans, sleeping in a different place every night, and what I’m sure is pretty marginal pay to keep making new music and coming out to entertain me. I’m acutely aware that it wouldn’t take much for most of them to pack it in, go get a day job, and maybe play gigs with their friends in their hometowns occasionally. I therefore have a strong vested interest in seeing the bands I like succeed, at least to the point where putting on the green apron doesn’t seem like a better alternative. So listen up, new bands – please go read Beatnik Turtle’s Indie Music Survival Guide.

Beatnik Turtle, themselves an independent band, have collated everything they’ve learned into this guide, which is available either as a PDF [PDF link, duh] or as a paperback – something you can read during those quiet stretches in the tour van. The guide is a pretty enlightening read even – maybe especially – for a non-musician. It starts by busting the myth of ‘getting a record contract, getting heard on the radio, and being a rock star,’ and then goes into the tools a band can use for a DIY approach. Topics include promotion, putting on shows, filesharing, the basics of recording an album, and a nice primer on copyright and alternatives (like Creative Commons licenses) for independent bands. Speaking of which, for their own music and other work, they decided to improve on Creative Commons licensing by starting with Sampling, Attribution and Noncommercial and adding a proviso: “Don’t make it suck.”

Read more about the Indie Music Survival Guide and join the online forums here, or purchase a dead-tree edition here.

MP3 link: Beatnik Turtle – Mason Rocket (Spy Extraordinaire) [more song info]

[via Boing Boing]


Yet more on concert etiquette

October 21, 2008

My Old Kentucky Blog just wrapped up a series entitled “The Ten Commandments Guidelines of Concert Behavior.” Reading it makes me realize that I’ve been exceptionally fortunate at concerts, as when I wrote my own version, I didn’t feel the need to include “Thou shalt not puke” or “Thou shalt not fart.” I also feel like I’m pretty pedantic and geeky, so I am humbled by the fact that the author managed to work in both Charles’ Law and Herodotus. The posts contain excellent concert etiquette advice, and are also highly entertaining (if occasionally horrific) reads. The Tenth Commandment Guideline is here, and there are links to the other nine at the bottom of the post.

[thanks, Scott!]


Concert Notes: The Mountain Goats and Kaki King

October 21, 2008

[embedded YouTube video; if you can’t see it, click here]

[Showbox at the Market, Seattle, WA; October 20, 2008]

I’ve seen the Mountain Goats umpteen times, and every show that I’ve been to has been amazing – I’ve never been to a show where I felt like John Darnielle has given less than his best. Last night was no exception, and the superlative Mountain Goats performance was only highlighted by opener Kaki King.

There’s a fable for artists, whose source is now lost to me. The story is that two budding potters were taking a class. One neophyte potter was told that his efforts should go towards making the perfect pot, and that he would be graded on the perfection on a single piece. The second was told that she would be graded on the volume of pots that she turned out; that she shouldn’t worry much about any given pot, as her grade would just be based on the total number. At the end of the class, the student who was just interested in getting pots made was making better pots than the student who agonized over making each one perfect. I thought of this story last night as the Mountain Goats played ‘Going to Georgia.’ It’s an astonishing piece of songwriting, a perfect merger of music, lyrics, and emotion. I once listened to it a dozen times in a row, and each time I heard “she smiled as she eased the gun from my hand,” I felt like someone had reached into my chest and torqued my heart. Darnielle is famously prolific and, like the potter in the story, it’s clear that he’s honed his craft. It comes through in both the quality of individual songs and in the sheer depth of stellar songs from his catalog that he can draw from for his live shows.

As well as being an exceptional songwriter, Darnielle is a phenomenal performer. He always comes across as happy to be performing and fully engaged in his interactions with his band and with the audience. One of the manifestations of this is his between-song banter.  A highlight last night was his response to shouted-out song requests. Like most musicians, Darnielle doesn’t do requests from the audience. (listen up, concertgoers!) He described his response in terms of Kafka’s The Castle, in which the protagonist tries to convince the guards to let him in. “The guards say, “You can give us money. We wouldn’t want you to feel like you hadn’t tried everything you could.” So he gives them his money, and they take it, and they still don’t play Ace of Bass.”

Darnielle’s onstage gifts were thrown into stark relief by his tourmate and collaborator, Kaki King. It’s abundantly clear that King is technically proficient, and I’m happy to see a guitar goddess get added to the mostly male pantheon. But her performance was insular. She barely engaged with her band, much less the audience, and her few remarks were surprisingly mean-spirited. She introduced what I presume was her best-known song with, “I’m contractually obligated to play this song. So you can all touch yourselves now.” Not a very effective way to endear yourself to your existing fans, much less win over new ones. And I’m sorry, Ms. King – you’re just not famous enough to be bored with playing your ‘hits.’  The only time she seemed seriously engaged with anything besides her guitar was when she was sharing a stage with Darnielle – she was smiling, facing him, and her body language said, loud and clear, “I’m playing with you!” (they performed several songs from the Black Pear Tree EP and the Smiths’ ‘I’m so Sorry’).  King has a lot to learn from her tourmate, who is admittedly a master – I would follow John Darnielle into Hell if he sang and played his guitar as we went, and I’m sure I’m not alone.


The legality of reselling promo CDs

October 19, 2008

Since zed equals zee’s inception, about a year ago, I’ve gotten a decent number of CDs from promoters. Some of them I want to keep, but most of them aren’t worth the storage space, always a premium in my urban environment. I know that someone likes these bands, and I’d really like it if the CDs got listened to. And the easiest way to find those people is through the miracle of capitalism – I want to take the discs down to my local secondhand CD store, or put them on eBay. But many of them are stamped, “Promotional use only – not for resale.” So I was stuck – I didn’t want to have to store them, I certainly didn’t want to landfill them, I don’t personally know people to give them to, and it looked like I couldn’t sell them.

Fortunately, that last turns out not to be (legally) the case. The Legality, an online law review based out of the University of Oregon School of Law, has a useful and accessible article on the “First Sale Doctrine” and CDs. Basically, once you’ve bought the CD, you can do what you want with it – you can sell it, you can regift it to your Uncle Alfred, you can microwave it, whatever. This principle was recently affirmed for promo CDs, warning sticker or no. Universal Music filed suit against an enterprising individual who was scouting  secondhand CD stores for rare promos and reselling them to collectors. The California courts ruled that, once the record companies hand them out, that’s the equivalent to selling them – they lose control of what happens.

Of course, with everything going on in the music industry today, it’s hard to imagine that bringing suit over the disposition of the physical objects is really worth the effort.

Link: “Damn the Man!” The Ability to Sell Second-Hand CDs

[via Boing Boing. Image ganked from the Guardian’s Music Blog]


Listen local: The Maldives

October 17, 2008

I don’t listen to a lot of country, or even alt-country (unless you count M. Ward, or Band of Horses), but I think the Maldives are drawing me in. Jason Dodson, the principal, settled in Seattle but was raised in Virginia, and their music definitely sounds like it hails south of the Mason-Dixon line. Since I don’t usually seek out country music, all I ever really hear is bits of radio-ready, ultra-mainstream singers, which has little appeal to me. But listening to the Maldives makes me realize why people like country music: it has warmth, emotion, and narrative, while being evocative of a different place and time (that is, one that is not a rainy Seattle evening at the dawn of the 21st century). The band came to my attention through a friend of mine, who tells me that they are phenomenal live. They’re playing at Neumo’s tonight, and they have a steady slate of local gigs lined up over the next couple of months – check out their website or Myspace page for details.

More: myspace website

MP3: The Maldives – Darkness Follows


“Still Alive” as videogame theme, redux

October 16, 2008

I got a press release today, heralding the theme song for the upcoming Electronic Arts videogame “Mirror’s Edge.” It’s sung by Lisa Miskovsky, and Nettwerk is releasing an EP of remixes, including big names like Paul van Dyk. The song is called “Still Alive.” Wait a minute, I think, isn’t that the name of the song Jonathan Coulton did for Portal? Yes. Are the games related? No. (I suspect that asking the question reveals the depth of my gaming ignorance.) I mean, seriously – it’s been barely a year since Portal came out – didn’t anyone at EA realize that the world might not want two videogame themes with the same title?

I’m sorry to have to relate that the Miskovsky song, at least the baseline version, is a little generic-sounding; I streamed it while working at my desk and realized I wasn’t even listening to it. On the other hand the Coulton version, like pretty much everything he does, is anything but generic. If you’re spoilerphobic and haven’t yet played the game, you might want to pass on listening to the song; if you’ve completed the game or don’t care about spoilers, you can get full details of the song process and lyrics from JoCo’s blog. Also, if you have issues with vocoders and/or sopranos (it’s sung by Ellen McLain, who did the character’s voice in the game), you might prefer a version that Coulton sings himself.

MP3: Portal theme – Still Alive


How successful was the In Rainbows download?

October 15, 2008

According to today’s NME, Radiohead report that the three months of pay-what-you-will In Rainbows downloads brought in as much cash as 2003’s Hail to the Thief, although they aren’t reporting the average price. On top of that, they sold around 100 000 of the box sets, which included a couple of extra tracks (as well as the pretty packaging, of course). Looks like a pretty solid financial outcome to a good experiment.


Welcome Diesel Sweeties fans!

October 14, 2008

(portrait by rstevens, of course)

zed equals zee is a site about indie music. I focus on local music, mostly in Boston and Seattle (about). Occasionally, it gets a little scholarly, sometimes it’s historical, and sometimes it’s just plain fun. Scroll down for some recent additions.

Some posts that DS fans might particularly like: The music nerd’s burden; Listen local: The Motion Sick; Amp up your air guitarMore on concert etiquette.

Thanks for coming by!


Read: Scott Pilgrim

October 13, 2008

If you haven’t been spending any time in your local comic book store recently, you might not have heard of this series of comic books (or graphic novels, if you must), written and drawn by Bryan Lee O’Malley. They follow the adventures of twenty-something bassist Scott Pilgrim, who’s trying to figure out his life. Enter Ramona, a sexy courier who has access to shortcuts through space and time, closely followed by her ‘seven evil exes’, whom Scott must defeat in battle. The books follow Scott as he deals with the quotidian (getting a job, finding a place to live), the fun (his band Sex Bob-Omb’s rehearsals and live shows, hanging out with Ramona), and the surreally action-packed (fighting the evil exes, who draw on an arsenal of mind-bending weaponry). The books draw from anime, from videogames, and from the great tradition of indie comics about slackers. They’re amazingly well-written, and great fun. I also get an enormous kick out of the fact that they’re set in my native Toronto – it’s fun to see my old stomping grounds translated into comic-book form. There’s also (unsurprisingly) a movie in progress, and it looks at least somewhat promising – Edgar Wright (Hot Fuzz, Shaun of the Dead) is set to direct, and Michael Cera (Juno, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist) is in the lead role.

Four volumes are out, and the fifth one is scheduled for a February 2009 release (six are planned). Go check them out.

Amazon link


Coverage: Holy Fuck/Foals split 12″

October 13, 2008

Last year I wrote about Holy Fuck doing a split 7″ with their tourmates Celebration – each of them covered a song by the other band. They handed out the vinyl at the concerts, and also made the songs available for digital download. They must have been pretty happy about it, because they are doing it again, this time on their UK tour with Oxford math-rockers Foals (above). Holy Fuck covered Foals’ “Balloons” and Foals covered Holy Fuck’s amazing “Super Inuit.” The 12″ vinyl is available for purchase (limited edition of 250), or you can download both MP3s here.

MP3: Foals – Super Inuit (Holy Fuck cover)

Previously: Concert notes: Holy Fuck

via My Old Kentucky Blog


The Mountain Goats: Satanic Messiah EP

October 10, 2008

Woo! The Mountain Goats (and by ‘Mountain Goats,’ we mean ‘John Darnielle’) just recorded a four-song EP, Satanic Messiah. It’s available for download here; donations via PayPal or Google Checkout are encouraged ($3 for the ‘congregant’ level, $6.66 for the ‘disciple’ level, and $10 for the ‘acolyte’ level). Despite the title and Darnielle’s well-known obsession with black metal, it’s classic Mountain Goats with acoustic guitar, piano and vocals (albeit somewhat darker themes than the usual). It’ll also be available as a double 7″, but in an edition strictly limited to 665 (the 666th copy will be Darnielle’s own, of course).

download page

Previously: A Mountain Goats sampler; John Darnielle plays with the Weakerthans; Upcoming: Mountain Goats + Kaki King EP


Coverage: China Drum, “Wuthering Heights”

October 10, 2008

Following up on the Kate Bush post, here’s a 1995 cover of her song “Wuthering Heights” by British punk band China Drum.

MP3: China Drum – Wuthering Heights (Kate Bush cover)


Old school: Kate Bush

October 10, 2008

Rock music, and especially indie music, is still mostly a man’s game.  But only mostly, and Kate Bush is one of the reasons why women have any traction at all. Her first single, “Wuthering Heights” was the first UK number one single that was not just sung by a woman, but self-written as well. The depressing part was that it wasn’t until 1978, but the impressive part was that Bush was only 19 at the time. In the thirty or so years that she’s been in the music business, she’s had a string of critically and commercially successful albums, with hit singles including “The Man With the Child in His Eyes,” “Running Up That Hill,” and “Don’t Give Up,” a duet with Peter Gabriel. She has a well-deserved reputation for following her own path – she dropped out of music for nearly twelve years to give her young son a ‘normal’ childhood, returning in 2005 with the double album “Aerial.” No one could describe it as a commercial album, featuring as it does the song “π” (pi) in which Bush sings its digits. Nevertheless, it was both a critical and UK hit. Nice to know that a pioneering artist like Kate Bush stiill has what it takes.

MP3: Kate Bush – Wuthering Heights

More: website wikipedia allmusic