Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Pitchfork, Myspace, and your favorite CD

Monday night, I had a long conversation with my friend Sherman. We talked about the new Sony HD Bravia he bought, the War in Iraq, and also his excitement about the new John Vanderslice CD, Emerald City, out yesterday on Barsuk.

"Dude, I'm predicting a solid nine," Sherman said.

Between music geeks like Sherman and myself, it went without saying that "a solid 9" meant the disc would garner a top rating on Pitchfork Media, a Web site that, just this week, Jim Derogatis of Sound Opinions called, "The Creem Magazine of this generation."

Pitchfork held a very different estimation of the disc this morning, which received a 6.2.

I've been listening to the leak of Emerald for two weeks. I downloaded it on a torrent site, and I've been enjoying it on the way to and from work ever since. I wouldn't rank it as high as Sherman did, though; in my estimation, it's probably only a solid 7.9 or 8.

My opinion might change in the coming months, though. I've been in a Beatles for Sale mood this month, and I've also been revisiting Wilco's Sky Blue Sky, which I raved about on here not that long ago.

Using the Internet to find and listen to music has direct positives for the music listener, for sure. Now, a listener can hear a disc before buying it, removing the gamble associated with music purchases and few other products. A listener can also purchase harder to find CDs on the Internet and listen to more diverse, under-the-radar artists and styles.

However, it has also created a negative culture of immediacy that assesses and passes over music without granting the second or third listens that may captivate a listener. If the disc doesn't immediately grab the listener, it seems destined to be un-synced from the iPod.

Finally, it bestows false praise on artists that perhaps do not deserve the adulation they initially receive.

Okkervil, pre-orders and the plus side of the Web

I first heard about Okkervil River from Pitchfork in 2005. Sherman and I were sent down to Austin from Fort Worth by our college newspaper. In our preparation for what is an overwhelming amount of artists, we often consulted Pitchfork's SXSW day-by-day guide to the conference. Okkervil was notable among a host of bands that were really nothing much. They were from Austin, they were on an independent label, and they had toured with the Decemberists. Just to sweeten the deal, some compared them to Neutral Milk Hotel.

We didn't see the band at the conference, but we would get several chances to see them in the coming year. By the end of 2006, both Sherman and I were full-blooded River fans.

I bought Black Sheep Boy, and Sherman bought Black Sheep Boy Appendix, the corresponding EP. I downloaded the Overboard & Down EP, and justified it to myself by remembering that I had seen the band live three times that year.

Okkervil will release The Stage Names on Aug. 7, and I already have my Internet-only pre-release order confirmation in my e-mail. Along with my order I get the disc, a CD full of demos and an immediate download of the CD.

Without the Web, I wouldn't even have a clue as to when Okkervil River was playing concerts, not to mention all the freebies, photos, etc. that I get. For fans, the Web is a wonderful place.

Falling in love (Is hard on the ears)

When I bought Wilco's Sky Blue Sky earlier this summer, I had already heard the leak for several months. At first, I was hesitant to bestow too much praise on the album. After three records of pop deconstruction and isolation, this new record seemed much more bland and sleepy-sounding. I tend to like music that's a little more left of center, which Wilco possessed elements of in the past.

However, the more I listened to Sky Blue, and the more interviews I read with Jeff Tweedy, the more I feel in love with the album. In an increasingly terse world, this was supposed to be a deep breath and a slow, country drive. It paid real attention to craftsmanship, and it was flat out pleasant. It wasn't trying to be much of anything else.

Quickly, it became one of my favorite records of the year.

As an estimate, including the leak listens. I would say that I probably listened to Sky Blue six times before I really got a great feel for the record. Now, as the summer hits the final stretch, I'm starting to realize that I spent the summer of 2007 driving, working and listening to Sky Blue Sky. That's a good feeling.

But much like Vanderslice's new disc, the Wilco CD received fairly crummy reviews. Pitchfork panned it, and they weren't the only one.

Now, I don't have pitch-perfect music taste. It could be a crap CD that I just really enjoyed, but I do know that my initial feelings about the two discs were similar, but, in the end, it was a grower.

Nor am I saying this is a new phenomenon. Pet Sounds was a grower. In fact, it only did so-so commercially.

But now it may be among the most revered records. Some records are growers.

...and Voxtrot

At the surface, Voxtrot should be just about everything I might enjoy in a band. They are young, Austin-based, and we actually have mutual friends.

The problem with Voxtrot is that I don't really like their music. I'm a big supporter of local scenes, particularly those in Austin and DFW, but I just don't care for this band. I don't dislike them--they just aren't something I've been able to get into.

The music is a little too underwhelming. They aren't really doing anything musically that about one-hundred other bands with guitars are doing, and the lyrics are a little too emo, bedroom, boring for me. There's no real eye for detail or anything. The truth is, these are guys who will most likely not make a career out of having a band, and that is OK. Most people don't. I, for one, won't, and I'm very unconcerned with by this, too.

But, Voxtrot became an Internet success story out of nowhere last year. By this year, though, they were done--the death knell being a 5.9 from Pitchfork for their latest CD.

Ramesh Srivastava, the lead singer for the band, was unhappy about the treatment his band received and basically said that the new record was a grower and the like. Still, very few seem interested. The same folks who made Voxtrot have now, in many ways, killed them.

There was a good article in the Baltimore Sun about that dealt with the fall-out of the quick hit culture:

"Now there's so much out there that I feel silly listening to the same thing repeatedly," he said. "There's only a certain amount of time I can listen to music in a day."

Even Srivastava acknowledges that the quick-hit Internet culture he rails against has infected him as well. "I often find that, when presented with so much music," he says, "I tend to have a very disposable attitude towards anything that doesn't set me on fire in the first five seconds, as it is instantly forgotten."

No one has taken into account here, that maybe Voxtrot was never that great. Perhaps, as the Minutemen said, "The Roar of the Masses Could Be Farts."

The inverse of this is that some music that lights me up in the first five minutes does nothing for me after ten minutes. I really liked Clap Your Hands Say Yeah's The Skin of My Yellow Country Teeth at first, but by now, it's faded. It doesn't have the magic it once did.

The short of this story is this. Don't believe the hype. Take a few deep breaths, and take some time to really enjoy each CD you buy, download or listen to.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

White Stripes - the one note concert

From the almighty BoingBoing:

And CBC article on the concert here...
It almost sounds like something from The Onion.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Subversive vs. De-fanged...

As I mentioned over on The Fort Worthian, I just returned from a trip to see family in Alabama, and while I was there, I played some Guitar Hero with my nephew, who is 12. My nephew likes to play Guitar Hero and other video games with me for three reasons:
  1. He only sees me once or twice a year, so I'm not a common, everyday uncle.
  2. I don't let him win, like several other adults in his life, so when he beats me, he knows he's really won.
  3. I'm decent at Guitar Hero and some other PS2 games, so I'm a bit of a challenge for him.
When they came out to Texas in April to visit, he lost miserably. I think he won 2 or 3 songs during the whole weekend. And when the weekend was over and he was getting in the car to head back to Bama, he told me he was going to practice and beat me. And what does the kid do? He goes home and practices and practices and practices... ...on "Bark At the Moon" by Ozzy...

So I've just driven 8 hours straight and we arrive at his grandparents house, and what's the first thing he wants to do? Play Guitar Hero. He starts it up with "Bark At the Moon" and whips the pants off me. And then he beats me on other songs too, though I blame the combination of 8 hour drive with not playing GH for a while... (Geez, look at me making excuses). After a good night's sleep, I was able to beat him on some songs again. I'd say it was pretty even over the rest of the weekend, but I never did beat him on "Bark At the Moon."

When my nephew plays GH, he quite often sings along with the songs. Now here's the funny thing -- I would seriously doubt he's ever heard Megadeth's "Symphony of Destruction" outside of the context of the game. Heck, the boy is even singing along with "Caveman Rejoice," one of the GH bonus songs. And I know that if his mom or grandparents ever saw one of the Megadeth album covers, they would be appalled.

Old fart moment: As I've told some of you, I was raised in a very conservative environment, and was not allowed to listen to "secular" rock music for a long time. When my mom found a Jimi Hendrix cassette under my bed, she told me his music was Satanic, though I never really heard that element so much... I found some ways to get around the embargo -- following Kerry Livgren's conversion, I referred to Kansas as a Christian band, and I lied about Genesis being a Christian band (c'mon! It's a book of the Bible!). I also found some pretty good Christian rock at the time, but that's another post.

So I was sitting there listening to my 12 year old, Alabama born and bred, church-going nephew sing along to "Symphony of Destruction" without a care in the world, singing it like he was singing any other song, and it hit me that this is subversive. Video games are amazing in that they can get music into households that would have never bought that music in the first place. I'm becoming more and more convinced that the future of music is intertwined with video game licensing. And here's my nephew listening to and singing along with songs by Megadeth, Ozzy and Queens of the Stone Age, when he's mostly a loyal country music fan, and might not have heard these songs otherwise. That's amazing...

And then a second thought hit me -- what if this music has become so de-fanged and irrelevent that it has lost it's power? Ozzy certainly isn't as scary as he once was. We've seen the doddering and stuttering on The Osbournes. I don't think I'd ever seen a photo of Dave Mustaine until a few years ago and he's not particularly scary looking, but I remember looking at Megadeth album covers and being a bit creeped out by them. What if all the mystery and power behind the music has been stripped and it's just another commodity to be bought and sold?

On the one hand, I'm excited that my nephew is being exposed to some of this music. On the other, I wonder if it really means anything to him beyond pressing the right buttons on the GH controller. Has music lost power?