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February 17, 2011

A Business Chart for Music Fans

With the Grammy’s behind us, I thought music fans might enjoy mulling over this chart, which came to my attention courtesy of Bob Lefsetz, a music industry blogger.  It falls into the “a picture is worth a thousand words” category.  

Revenue from digital music is growing, but not enough to make up for the decline in CD sales, which have fallen precipitously since the advent of digital music.  It looks like the music business should be in a state of emergency, yet new music is everywhere, from what I can tell.

 chart of the day, music industry 1973-2009, feb 2011

Lefsetz’ quote: 

“… the CD was the greatest invention in the history of recorded music”

And he is right, at least in the context of generating profits for the music industry.  Yet, while the gross margins on CD’s were massive, the margins on digital music should be even better.  Afterall the production and distribution costs on digital music are minimal.  Sure, the revenue of the music business is declining, but I wonder where the profits are headed.  Oddly, much of what I have read indicates that profits are headed down, under the theory that piracy of digital music continues to damage profitability.  While I am sure piracy has eaten away at music industry profits over the years, it is also true that modern technology has significantly reduced the production costs for making professionally recorded music.  To me it feels like there is more music, i.e., more artists and albums in a greater variety, than ever before.  If it is in fact the case that record labels cannot turn an outstanding profit under these conditions, the problem is more than likely poor management rather than piracy.

It also feels like music has transformed from a Superstar culture to a more journeyman profession.  We have a lot more music and many more acts, but fewer mega-acts and fewer stars.  And I think that’s okay.  It’s now inexpensive to make and distribute music, allowing anyone with creative impulse and ability to try to build an audience.  The barriers to entry are low, and it seems that a creative revolution should follow.  I definitely look forward to that.

I have posted on some interesting D-I-Y artists in the past, including Bon Iver, Animal Collective and the Brian Jonestown Massacre, and as I find more new acts that make great music outside the power base of the music establishment, I will definitely bring them your way.

In the meantime, as an example of where music might be heading, keep an eye on the new Radiohead album, King of Limbs.  It is coming out on Saturday, in all sorts of formats, released by the band itself.

http://www.thekingoflimbs.com/

The King of Limbs

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July 16, 2010

Strung Out in Heaven

My last Casual Fridays post featured my favorite neo-psychedelic artist of the last decade, Animal Collective, coming in at number 7 in my Favorite Albums of the Decade list (FAD) with 2009’s Merriweather Post Pavilion.   That put me more than halfway through the list, with Number 8 on its way – soon – once I get through a recent distraction.

I often consume music through serial obsessions which have certainly served as a filter for putting together my FAD list, a recollection of all the new records and artists I could not get enough of at some point during the last decade.  I also get re-obsessed with older music, often in regular cycles.  There’s a yearly all-out Beatles orgy.  I remember listening to nothing but Bob Dylan for about three months after seeing Todd Haynes’ 2007 Dylan fetish film I’m Not There, a pass I repeated recently after reading Greil Marcus’ Old, Weird America: The World of Bob Dylan’s Basement Tapes.

File:Album Cover Strung Out In Heaven.jpgThe absence of a FAD post in previous weeks is a result of just such a re-binge.  I have been Strung Out in Heaven, if you will, with the Brian Jonestown Massacre (BJM), a band I suspect many of you have not heard, but one I really want you to hear.

It all started about five weeks ago, on June 5, at the Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn.

This was not the first time…

Indie Music – a technical definition – from Wikipedia  – “a term used to describe independence from major commercial record labels and an autonomous, Do-It-Yourself approach (DIY) to recording and publishing.”

Indie Music – a working definition – music most people have never heard made by artists most people have never heard of.

Indie Music – a reality – often great music made by artists that fail to achieve mainstream notoriety during the most active portion of their careers, either because of their avant-garde nature or because of a deep flaw in their actions or temperament that leaves them incompatible with the uncompromising workings of scaled commerce, a/k/a the music business.

The Brian Jonestown Massacre is Indie Music, complies with each of these definitions, and is a complete mess, in some ways a real massacre, of itself.  It’s an Indie band for life, featuring throughout its history over 40 different musicians, most leaving the band as a result of impossible differences, or a violent exchange, or both, with BJM’s founder, the sole constant over the band’s history, and apparently a complete and utter psychopath, Anton Newcombe.

There is always wonder surrounding a BJM live show.  Will Anton blow-up on stage, resulting in a completely ridiculous gig, probably cut short by his and the band’s inability to resume peacefully, or will the band be tight and musical.  In either case it is entertaining, but if you are lucky enough to see a show where all goes well, as I was on June 5, you’re likely to see and hear some of the best 60’s-influenced psychedelic-pop music in the world.  The band is really that good, particularly its catalogue of music created from the Mid-1990’s through around 2004.

It turns out there’s a lot in a name if there is enough thought put into it, and Anton is a purposeful and revealing namer of his band, its songs and its albums.  The name Brian Jonestown Massacre tells us a lot about the sound, a wacky tribute to: (i) one Brian Jones, the long-dead founder of the Rolling Stones and one of rock’s first multi-instrumentalists, (ii) cultism, (iii) violence and (iv) hypnotics.  Not surprisingly, Anton, an American from California, is: (1) a devoted anglophile, (2) a lover of late-sixties-early-seventies trip music, a la Sgt. Pepper-era Beatles, Jones-era Stones, Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, (3) a shoegazer (think My Bloody Valentine and Jesus and Mary Chain), (4) underground, and (5) obsessed with the sound of 1960’s guitars underneath the beat of maracas and tambourines.  BJM picks up these classic sounds and movements, revitalizing them in a contemporary context, combining candor, abstraction, irony, love, and, oh, some damn catchy hooks.

This band should have been ample competition for Oasis and Blur in the 1990s, but even as messed up as both those Brit-rock 90’s favorites were, BJM had them beat.  BJM just could not be counted on; they were a bad investment, blowing every opportunity for mainstream exposure.  Today they exist primarily as an influence on many current, highly successful revivalist bands like the White Stripes, the Black Keys and the Strokes.  They still play to small clubs and ballroom audiences that learned of them primarily through indie rags and their starring role in the 2004 award-winning documentary  DIG!, a terrific film that presents the absurdity, comedy, violence and occasional genius of Newcombe and his ever-changing band of followers over a seven-year period where they regress from leaders of the Indie Music scene to also-rans to their major-label-neo-psychedelic contemporaries The Dandy Warhols.

Despite all of its flaws BJM is not lazy.  Anton is an obsessive worker and a super-prolific songwriter with a discography that includes at least 19 available EP/LPs made mostly by the band themselves.  Most BJM’s records are of the DIY variety, made on low budgets and pretty much anywhere the band could find recording equipment.  From 1993-2004 the songwriting quality is outstanding and consistent, but some of the recordings are not.  The one major label record (for TVT Records in 1998) is the herein referenced Strung Out in Heaven, a higher budget affair and the perfect entry point for BJM newbies.  If you like the Beatles, the Byrds, the Animals, the Velvet Underground and/or early Rolling Stones, I believe you will adore this album.  If that’s not enough, and for me it wasn’t, try Their Satanic Majesties’ Second Request followed by a greatest hit compilation of sorts, Tepid Peppermint Wonderland.  The good news is that if you get hooked, and you might, there is plenty more great material to explore.

_____________________________________________

Notable(s):

Dig! is a fantastic film – check out the trailer below – see it.

Whoever this drfostersmith is, he’s got some great footage of the new BJM line up on youtube.  Here’s one of my favorites, Anemone, from the BJM album Their Satanic Majesty’s Second Request, a two chord hypnotic that my wife plays along with at home on her lefty guitar.  This version was performed during BJM’s recent 2010 tour, featuring Anton’s reunion with founding member Matt Hollywood.  Check out all those gorgeous 60’s guitars.  How many are there?  Too many to count, man!

I – I think I know how I feel
cause I – I only play it for-real
you should be picking me up
instead you’re dragging me down
flying over my head
you’re landing all over town

you – you know that I try
try to tell you the truth
oh baby don’t make me lie
you should be picking me up
instead you’re dragging me down
now I’m missing you more
cause baby you’re not around
now that you’re not around
I – I want to know how it feels
cause I – I only play act for-real
you should be picking me up
instead your dragging me down
I could be giving you love
but you’re not around
now that you’re not around
now that you’re not around
glad that you’re not around
If your curious about BJM’s personality, check out this interview with “Anton the Vessel,” which speaks for itself.

June 4, 2010

Favorite Albums of the Decade (2000-2009) – # 7 – Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion

Merriweather Post Pavilion

Animal Collective is special.

And weird.

And maybe psychedelic.

Or maybe folk, like avant-garde folk, sort of like experimental art music, sometimes it sounds like rock, often times you can dance to it, the vocals almost always remind me of The Beach Boys, the song structures and the lyrics, however, do not.

It is a “collective” (not a band, really), because they are not always ALL together.  They like to have other projects, creative outlets, the freedom to play and experiment without one another, and the freedom to come and go as they please.  Over the past decade, the collective, in whole or in part, including solo stuff, has released over 13 albums.

Each of the collective has an alias:

Sometimes they wear masks and pretend they are animals, or other things.

Each is from Maryland (Merriweather Post Pavilion – the album name, see above – is also a famed music venue located in the woods between Baltimore and DC – I think Hendrix and Janis Joplin played there once).

Each knew the other as kids, transplanted separately to NYC and formed the collective in 2000-ish in a loft on Prince Street (a few blocks from my place, b/t/w).

Not ALL live in New York any more, only 2.

Each is now in their 30’s.

The collective is a deep part and a major influencer of a very vibrant, US-based alternative (rock/folk) music scene, much of which is housed in NYC, and Brooklyn in particular (primary neighborhoods:  Williamsburg, Ft. Greene, Red Hook, D.U.M.B.O.).  This scene features tons of bands/collectives, many growing in popularity, slow and steady.  If you are young and you are NOT into hip-hop, classic rock or American Idol-esque pop, this might be your scene.  You also might be a hipster.

It is often hard to tell what instruments the collective plays.  I know there are bass and drum sounds.  My friend Jason thinks they play computers.  I think they do, sometimes, sometimes I know I hear guitars though.  To me, their signature sound is in the vocals, they are gorgeous, and most of the time they are not computers.

Up and to the release of Merriweather it was a challenge for me to recommend the collective.  Its greatness was not obvious, and for some it still may not be obvious, in the same way Kid A can baffle even the most sincere music fan.  Nonetheless, I think it’s time.  It’s music for the patient, the hungry, the anti-pop, those with ears craving something new.  It’s also damn catchy and beautiful.

The lyrical themes of Merriweather center around love, loss and family, which I don’t think is weird at all, and doesn’t feel very hipster, does it?

Here’s my introduction to the band and the record, a tune called My Girls.

 .

There isn’t much that I feel I need
A solid soul and the blood I bleed
With a little girl, and by my spouse
I only want a proper house

I don’t care for fancy things
Or to take part in the vicious race
But to provide for mine who ask
I will, with heart, on my father’s grave

I don’t mean to seem like I care about material things
Like our social stats
I just want four walls and adobe slats for my girls

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