Archive for February, 2009


New Depeche Mode video, but not song

February 28, 2009

The dark and disturbing video for Depeche Mode‘s new single, “Wrong,” for the album Sounds of the Universe, scheduled for release on April 21 in North America. I’m not much of a video person, but this one grabbed me through to the end and then I watched it again – it hits the right balance between narrative and obliquity.

Depeche Mode’s label, EMI, seems to be aggressively policing people posting the MP3—Hype Machine leads you to a trail of dead links and deleted Blogger posts—so I decided against joining their ranks. You can purchase the single at iTunes.


Threesome: retro gay anthems

February 27, 2009

Listen up, possums: LGBT themes in popular music did not start with YMCA and end with Katy Perry kissing a girl and liking it. So in honor of Sean Penn’s Oscar win for his portrayal of Harvey Milk, this “Commie, homo-loving writer proudly presents three retro gay gems from the vault.

First up is Elton Motello‘s 1977 punk treasure “Jet Boy Jet Girl,” written from the point of view of a gay teenager who is essentially the flip side of Katy Perry’s ‘experiment’ – after a brief fling with him, his lover returns to girls. I suspect it doesn’t get a lot of airplay in the United States, since in 1989, Florida station WIOD was fined $10,000 by the FCC for playing it. But it was in regular rotation in the UK and Canada, and has been covered by bands including The Damned.

Next up is a dance hit by John Water’s favorite actor (or -ress), Divine: “You Think You’re A Man.” Released in 1984, it reached #16 on the UK charts and even landed Divine a spot on Top of the Pops. However, it never charted in the US. (seeing a pattern here?)

Finally, Canada’s Rough Trade were a new-wave band who were, as their name implies, unabashedly sexual. Their song “High School Confidential,” made it into the Canadian Top 20, one of the first explicitly lesbian-themed songs to be a Top 40 hit anywhere in the world. And, oh yeah, this was 1981.

MP3: Elton Motello – Jet Boy Jet Girl

MP3: Divine – You Think You’re A Man

MP3: Rough Trade – High School Confidential


Comic: Every Album Ever

February 26, 2009


[click image for larger version]

Winston Rowntree, of the brilliantly wordy webcomic Subnormality, dissects the album. Click for larger version at

MP3: Dan le Sac vs Scroobius Pip – Thou Shalt Always Kill [buy]


Randomly-generated music albums

February 26, 2009


In case you’re not keeping on top of Internet viral goings-on, there’s a new meme that I think is fairly interesting, conceptually. It’s nominally known as ‘Wikipedia Names Your Band,’ and the idea is to create an album cover using a randomly-generated band name (from a Wikipedia entry), album title (from a quotation), and image (from Flickr’s interestingness pool). This is clearly a descendent of the Surrealist party game, Exquisite Corpse. The difference is that, in the former version, human creativity and agency entered for each component, but the whole was randomly generated. With this Internet meme, each component is random, but the creator gets the opportunity to form a cohesive whole through graphic design. As well, our baseline expectations for record albums is for a certain amount of disconnect for the three elements; it’s the meaningful juxtapositions that violate these expectations.

Or, of course, it could just be another silly Internet meme.

Take a look at the Flickr pool and feel free to share your favorites in the comments, or create your own and tell us about it here.

MP3: Franz Ferdinand – No You Girls [buy] [Franz Ferdinand]

Image: tamachi station – something he can understand by Flickr user sharpener, reposted here under its Creative Commons license.


The Decemberists want you to design a poster

February 25, 2009


The Decemberists are headlining NPR’s opening night showcase at SXSW, where they’ll be playing the entirety of their new album The Hazards of Love, scheduled for release on the 24th. Their label, Capitol Records, has teamed up with Imeem to sponsor a contest to design a poster for the show. You can find full details here.

If you’re going to be in Austin, their show is at Stubb’s on Wednesday, March 18th. Even if you’re not in Texas, you can still get in on the act; NPR will be streaming them live at their SXSW site.

MP3: The Decemberists – The Rake’s Song [pre-order]


$99 Music Videos

February 25, 2009

$99 Music Videos hopes to occupy the space between fan-created videos and traditional music videos. The brainchild of Next New Networks, the rules are simple: the video has to be made for less than $99, it has to be shot in one day, it has to be edited in one day and—this is where it’s really differentiated from fan videos—it has to be made with the collaboration of the band. The idea is to bring together emerging bands with enthusiastic filmmakers: the band gets a video, the filmmaker gets exposure, and Next New Networks gets its cut via the (occasionally intrusive) advertising. Every video has a companion making-of video, in which the creators get to document how they worked within the constraints (here’s the one for La Strada’s “The Sun Song” video, above); for someone who’s interested in how things tick, they might be more interesting than the videos themselves.

Want to make your own? Go find a band you like, or a fan who’s up for shooting a video, get five twenties out of an ATM, and submit your own video here.

Wired has a longer interview with the site creators here.

MP3: La Strada – The Sun Song


Band Metrics: track your band online

February 23, 2009


Band Metrics is a semantic web start-up that lets  you track your band across social media. Modeled after Google Analytics, it’s being designed to let you monitor where your music is being listened to, shared, or talked about; the image above, for example, is a graphic of plays at different sites. While tracking online statistics is not quite as glamorous as, say,  hanging out in the green room drinking with groupies, Band Metrics is intended to give you the tools to track the dissemination of, and sentiments towards, your music online (since, if you have a band in 2009, you probably don’t have a manager excitedly calling you with the latest SoundScan figures).

It’s currently in private beta, but is scheduled to open to the public in a few weeks, once they sort out some kinks. You can register at their site.

Band Metrics

Via ReadWriteWeb. Thanks to David for the heads-up!

MP3: Bon Iver – Skinny Love [buy; Bon Iver’s Rise in Popularity]


PSA: Please return Library Voices’ gear

February 23, 2009

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

Library Voices had $10,000 worth of gear stolen from their tour van in Vancouver while on a tour of western Canada. The ten-piece pop collective from Regina (that’s in Saskatchewan) make a heartfelt and funny plea for its return in the video above.

Even if you don’t have any help on stolen-gear front, you should still check out their brilliant new EP, Hunting Ghosts and Other Collective Shorts. It’s a fantastic mixture of intriguing lyrics, pop hooks, and anthemic choruses.

myspace website

MP3: Library Voices – Step Off the Map & Float [buy]

[via CBC Radio 3]


Threesome: Fuck

February 20, 2009


[image: Kayfabe Design]

A side effect of the rise of digital distribution on the Internet and the concomitant decrease in the influence of traditional media appears to be the rise of bands with ‘fuck’ in their names. Fucked Up, the Toronto-based punk band, got a head start (not surprisingly, given the genre) with their founding in 2001. Fellow Torontonians (and z=z faves) Holy Fuck and Bristol, UK-based Fuck Buttons were both formed in 2004. Even Yo La Tengo has gotten into the four-letter-word act, with a live performance March 2008 as Condo Fucks, and an upcoming album, Fuckbook, under the same pseudonym (although it’s not surprising that Canadian and British bands came first).

MP3: Holy Fuck – Lovely Allen [buy]

MP3: Fuck Buttons – Sweet Love for Planet Earth [buy]

MP3: Condo Fucks – What’cha Going to Do About It? [preorder]


This weekend in Seattle: z=z recos

February 19, 2009

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

Some recommendations for this weekend in Seattle (which hasn’t been getting much z=z love recently):

Thursday, February 19th: Our new favourite local band, Hey Marseilles, has its first headlining show at Neumo’s. Doors at 7 pm. Check out the video above for a taste of their live show.

Friday, February 20th: This month’s Broken Disco, a monthly show by a collective of local electronica collectives, is the third Friday of the month at Chop Suey.  This month features a DJ set by Jona (Berlin; Get Physical) and a live set by Nutownproject (Berlin; Recode/Immigrant). Doors at 9; $10 cover before 10 pm.

Saturday, February 21st: Get your evening started at the Three Imaginary Girls‘  listening party for Dark Was The Night (which is terrific, incidentally). It’s at Moe Bar, from 7 to 9 pm. Then mosey next door for the AC Newman show at Neumo’s.

MP3: AC Newman – There Are Maybe Ten or Twelve [buy]


The return of Muxtape

February 19, 2009


Guest blogger Scott writes:

On Monday, the NYT Freakonomics blog reported on the return of mix tape site Muxtape. While the blog entry has pictures and content links that give a sense of where Muxtape is going, there’s very little at the website itself right now, although the story of what Muxtape was, and how it got to where it is now, is interesting. The major change from the original Muxtape format is that, instead of anyone being able to upload songs and create mix tapes, only artists with licensing rights will be allowed to upload music. On its face, that makes this Myspace without the thirteen-year-old-who-just-learned-HTML design dynamic (which might be sufficient, actually).  But, for me at least, the important aspect is this: “The goal of Muxtape remains facilitating the discovery of new music, and anyone can still create a mix from the music available on the site.” (emphasis mine) In other words, while only those with legal authority can upload music (the charter members include Amanda Palmer, Girl Talk, Dan Deacon, and Of Montreal), a user-created mix tape can include any of the uploaded music. That’s a fairly straight-forward tipping point business model—once a critical volume of music is reached, the ability of Muxtape to reach new listeners has the potential to expand drastically.

Even as improvements in technology have greatly increased the ease with which music can be shared and distributed, the technology of what-the-database-thinks-you’ll-like has been a huge step back, for me. I’ve never been a big fan of Pandora and its ilk, and much prefer recommendations with the human touch. The Shuffle function on my iPod hasn’t seen use since the first two weeks I owned it. While I don’t always know what song I want to listen to at any given moment, I do know that randomization (even based on a seed/relational database or a playlist of things I know I like) does a very poor job. Mix tapes, on the other hand, follow a path that someone has laid out, and if that path passes through something I know I like, then there’s an excellent chance that there will be other steps in that path that appeal. Mix tapes and personal recommendations from people whose taste I understand are generally how I learn about new music, and although there are many options for the latter, the options on the Internet for the former haven’t been especially successful to date. So the return of Muxtape is welcome.

On a related topic, the Freakonomics blog entry also includes a link to an economics paper suggesting that television availability on the Internet increases total television program viewing, even though (as would be expected) it decreases television program viewing on television. The models are sufficiently different that it’s hard to claim that this argument is generalizable to music, but it might help to explain why Alec Baldwin was laughing maniacally during the Super Bowl.

MP3: Of Montreal – Faberge Falls for Shuggie [buy]


Roundup: Neko Case, Crocodile, Blogger, more

February 18, 2009

neko-case[photo: Jason Creps/NY Times]

A round-up of a few items that are either new or that I haven’t had a chance to post:

A long profile of Neko Case in last Sunday’s New York Times Magazine. The best part, for those of us obsessed with infographics, is this interactive map with samples of her solo music and work with The New Pornographers, The Corn Sisters, and more.

If you’re interested in the direction that music and the music industry is going, and you’re not already reading it, I highly recommend Music Think Tank. The postings are typically thought-provoking and knowledgeable.

Speaking of music blogs, Boston’s own Ryan Spaulding, of Ryan’s Smashing Life, was interviewed for this LA Weekly article about disappearing posts on music blogs hosted by Blogger. It’s certainly starting to look like Google (who acquired Blogger in 2003) might be violating its ‘don’t be evil‘ policy by eschewing takedown notices in lieu of simply deleting posts without warning. Ryan makes a  morally compelling argument: “By pulling down my post, they destroyed my intellectual creativity, the very same thing they’re erroneously accusing me of doing.” (‘erroneously,’ because, like many music bloggers, he is posting MP3s at the behest of the same record companies who are presumably putting pressure on Blogger to remove posts). You can read Ryan’s own post on the topic here.

There’s an amusing posting at Panopticist about Andrew Hearst’s experience purchasing AC/DC tickets from scalpers, and the role of typography and design in differentiating between real and counterfeit tickets. [thanks, Clive!]

Finally, Seattle’s Crocodile has a website! We posted previously about its imminent re-opening, and the first listed show is Hot Buttered Rum on March 21st. The calendar page is lovely, utilizing ‘concert posters’ rather than simple lists. [via Seattle Subsonic]

MP3: AC/DC – You Shook Me All Night Long [buy]


Experiment: name-your-own-price merch

February 17, 2009


Should you let your fans pay what they want for merch? Dave Allen, the original bassist of the Gang of Four, recently made the argument on his music blog that bands can make more money by not posting prices at merch tables and instead letting fans name their own price for merchandise at concerts:

My thinking here is that those fans that really like the band and are leaning towards buying will ask what the price of a CD is. And the answer should be “how much do you want to pay?” I guarantee that the answer will be somewhat along these lines – “I only have $4,” “I’d like to give you $10,” “You guys were great, here’s $20,” “I have no money.” You should sell your CD at those prices to all of those folks and give one to the guy with no money. They will never forget the experience they had and they will tell their friends that you are the coolest band on earth for doing that.

Allen argues that, on average, bands are likely to make more money doing this than by having fixed prices. More importantly, however, this approach either leverages an existing relationship (people who have money are happy to give the band more than the ‘official’ cost of the CD) or it helps develop a relationship. Here at z=z, we recently discussed the role of relationships in differentiating artists in a world where the music itself may be fungible.

While I’m not a musician, I know that a number of artists read this blog – please let us know what you think. And if you decide to try this, please share how it works out!

How bands can make more money by not putting a price on a CD

MP3: Electric Laser People – Move Right, Move Left [buy, CC-licensed download]

Image: From behind the merch table by Flickr user Brett L., reposted here under its Creative Commons license.


Remix the new Deadmau5 on your iPhone

February 16, 2009


Here’s yet another new concept in music distribution. Toronto-based electronic artist Deadmau5 released an album’s worth of tracks with an iPhone application that lets you remix them. You can pick two of the ten included tracks, and then mix them together using a small set of effects (loop, filter, flange, delay). You can even scratch. The one thing you don’t get to do (or have to do – how you feel about it depends on your perspective and experience) is beat-matching—the two tracks are automagically synched, and while you can speed up or slow down the bpm, the tempi for both tracks change simultaneously. While the app does an interesting end-run around iTunes pricing restrictions (it’s only $2.99), it’s mostly just ridiculously fun to play with.

Touch Mix – Deadmau5 Edition

MP3: Deadmau5 – Slip [buy]


Data visualization for 2008 Pitchfork 100

February 13, 2009


I am a sucker for data visualizations. So it’ll come as no surprise, therefore, that I was all over very small array‘s pair of information graphics  of Pitchfork’s “The 100 Best Tracks of 2008.” Like all good visualizations, it makes you think about the data, like the fact that songs with male lead vocals outnumber those with female lead vocals 2:1.

Links: Part 1, Part 2

MP3: Cut Copy – Hearts on Fire [buy]


Benefit concert: Factory Records tribute

February 13, 2009


In keeping with my current trend of not being in the same city as the shows that I want to see, what I would be doing if I was in Seattle on Saturday night is going to this show. Chop Suey is hosting “Dancing on the Valentine,” a benefit for the Leukemia Lymphoma Society, and it’s a tribute to Factory Records. So go watch 24 Hour Party People, dig out your t-shirt with the radiofrequency pulses or the yellow happy faces (as appropriate), and channel the spirit of Tony Wilson. And then go to Chop Suey on Saturday night.

Lineup: Peter Parker, Hotels, Police Teeth, Haunted Horse, Leaders of Men, Motorik, This is Friendly Fires, Funkscribe, Atticus & the Arteries

(to be perfectly fair, part of the reason I won’t be in Seattle is because I’ll be going to this show)

MP3: Hot Chip – Transmission (Joy Division cover) [buy]

Image: Holy Mother of F*ck I Love Joy Division! by Flickr user dullhunk, reposted here under its Creative Commons license.


Some new models for music

February 12, 2009


A couple of bands that are using technology in interesting ways…

Groove Armada is making waves with a new model of music distribution. They left Sony last year, and are now in a deal with Bacardi, of all people. Their plan is to reward people for sharing music. You go register at the site (attesting that you’re of legal drinking age, of course), download your first free track, and get a unique link to share with your friends.  As more people get and share the song using your link, you are rewarded by being able to download more songs. I have to admit that I’m less interested in downloading the music than I am in seeing a data visualization of the number, timing, and distribution of how the links spread… (Why yes, I am a nerd.)

Pitchfork is making a big deal about Death Cab for Cutie‘s setting a ‘solid precedent‘ with the band’s new, free iPhone app – I guess they are too hip to have noticed that Pink got there first. Listening Post had a great article last October, in which they make a compelling case that the iPhone could be the new Myspace. It’s pretty clear that cultivating a relationship with fans is going to be a key element of differentiation between bands. Cory Doctorow talks about this in the context of authors, but it’s equally applicable to music:

But what kind of artist thrives on the Internet? Those who can establish a personal relationship with their readers…[who have] the ability to conduct their online selves [in a way] that establishes a non-substitutable relationship with their audiences. You might find a film, a game, and a book to be equally useful diversions on a slow afternoon, but if the novel’s author is a pal of yours, that’s the one you’ll pick. It’s a competitive advantage that can’t be beat.

Putting a direct link to your band in your fans’ pockets seems like a good step forward in establishing this relationship.

MP3: Groove Armada – Chicago [buy]


Listen local: The Hush Now

February 12, 2009

the-hush-nowTo quote (and, well, repurpose) Hippocrates: “Life is short, art long.” So I have to appreciate The Hush Now‘s decision to make their self-titled debut available as a free download, in its entirety, in advance of tonight’s release party (February 12 at TT the Bear’s in Central Square, Cambridge). You have a few hours to listen to it in the warm glow of your computer before deciding whether you want to venture out into the cold Boston night to hear The Hush Now play live. Having given it a hearing myself, I think that their shoegazery-but-not-aimless music would be worth the effort.

MP3: The Hush Now – Sadie Hawkins Dance [download]


To legislators, on the TM/Live Nation merger

February 11, 2009


As of yesterday morning, Ticketmaster and Live Nation announced that they’d merge into a single entity, with the caveat that the merger is still subject to regulatory approval.

If you’re a legislator or a civil servant who’ll be involved in deciding whether the new entity will violate anti-trust laws, you probably know about about the concerns with Ticketmaster and its in-house secondary market, TicketsNow (if not, you can ask Bruce Springsteen). And you should be alerted by phrases like ‘the creation of an entertainment powerhouse of game-changing proportions‘ or ‘the most powerful and influential entity the music business has ever known‘ appearing in news stories about the merger.

But what I really suggest you do is the following: Take a look at the concert listings for your city, and choose an artist that you would like to see. Then go to the Ticketmaster website and ‘buy’ tickets for the concert. Here’s my test run: I picked The Killers, playing at the WaMu Center in Seattle on April 22nd. The face value of each ticket was $33, and after I selected ‘2’ as the number of tickets, I got the first of the additional charges: $9.70 x 2 and $2 x 2 in ‘convenience’ and ‘building’ fees (can’t they do the arithmetic and give me the total charge?). Then I chose their ‘recommended’ delivery method, a PDF of the tickets – apparently it costs them $2.50 to send me an e-mail that I have to print out myself (maybe they could get some hints from the airlines). Next, I logged into an existing account, but if you haven’t bought tickets from Ticketmaster before (lucky you!), you have to create an account. After investing all of that time in the purchase, I got an extra little surprise: $5.35 in ‘processing’ charges. Final tally: $97.25 for $66 worth of tickets, or a markup of 47% on each ticket. Needless to say, I didn’t push the ‘submit order’ button.

If you went through that process, especially for a band you do want to see, you probably feel like you’ve been held up by your ankles and shaken repeatedly to dislodge all the money from your pockets. So ask yourself this: is this the behavior of a company that is vying with its competitors? Or is it the behavior of a company whose business model is predicated on maximizing what the buyer is willing to endure? Ticketmaster already has a monopoly, if not over all live music, then certainly over a large chunk of artists and venues. Live Nation is the same. Given their current behavior, do we really want to allow them to join forces extend their de facto monopolies even further?

There is no way this merger is good for the consumer. Please do the right thing and refuse to approve it.

UPDATE: Less than a day later, and the Justice Department has already announced that it will scrutinize the merger; the investigation may take up to six months.

MP3: The Killers – Smile Like You Mean It [buy]

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