Friday, December 11, 2009

Music of 2009

Old habits die hard, and I still look to the album as the definitive way to present music. Here are my favourites for 2009. The first five are equal number one, the rest are equal number 2. I reserve the right to amend this if anything else occurs to me or takes my fancy.

Animal Collective - Merriweather Post Pavilion. First and foremost, it's pop music, that simple appeal of rhythm and melody, stripped of the pretension other styles (rock, jazz) are susceptible to. The vocal arrangements here are great, too: harmonies, counter melodies and rounds, harking back to the Beach Boys and others. They're not great singers, but their vocals are a standout. The word 'experimental' is often a bit meaningless. The earlier AC albums I heard sounded ramshackle to me because of it. Experimentation is pared back here, and they've gone for more structure. But the all-important non-conformism of their old work remains in place. No-one else sounds like this. As a lover of electronic music I like their instrumentation, which really stands out in an American band. And I like to pick the different influences of the two songwriters in the band, like analysing Lennon and McCartney's styles. I can't wait for the new Panda bear solo album, he's my favourite.

Girls - Album. They came across as misfits with gifts for melody and several classic pop and rock styles.

Fever Ray - Fever Ray. Throughout the year they gradually revealed themselves the worthy successor to the Knife.

jj - no 2. Utterly beautiful electro-acoustic summer pop. Why are they not on the critics' lists?

Patrick Wolf - The Bachelor. Talented poetic brat would be out of sync in any era. To me that emphasises his originality. The title track was a nice take on the new folk zeitgeist.

Muse - The Resistance. They manage to be modern and plunder classic rock at the same time. I love Matt Bellamy's virtuosity.

Fuck Buttons - Tarot Sport. It sounds like old school techno with heavy doses of minimal. They don't make 'em like this any more.

Bob Evans - Goodnight Bull Creek. Just great songs that make you love pop music the way you did in your teenage years.

Gui Boratto - Take My Breath Away. He adds songcraft to electronic music without spoiling its simplicity and sweet repetition.

Mew - no more stories. Being Danish makes them outsiders. Despite some stylistic pointers, they are not prog rock. There's too much pop in there, and thrilling, emotional melodic and lyrical twists they get away with.

Decoder Ring - They Blind the Stars and the Wild Team
. The rest of the world could be forgiven for thinking they're 5-10 years too late with the whole post rock thing (Mogwai, Tortoise, Godspeed You Black Emperor) , but the Australian widescreen mood makes this really special.

I might add the Horrors, The Big Pink, and The Flaming Lips to the list after I've had time to listen to them more.

Older albums I loved in 2009:
Fleet Foxes - Fleet Foxes
Bon Iver - For Emma Forever ago
Neutral Milk Hotel -
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea

Cocteau Twins - From Lullabies to Violaine

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Why Lily Allen is Wrong About Filesharing

At first I was distressed to see the first shots fired in the latest battle of the Filesharing Wars. The British government is considering laws requiring ISPs to disconnect persistent filesharers. And some artists are making supportive sounds. There are two worrying things here: firstly, the feeling that the party might be over... governments and the industry will stop us getting free music. Secondly, it raises the disturbing prospect of musicians colluding with the government to ban music. The penalty for ignoring the ban, is to have the whole internet banned as well... so no Facebook, no email, no web research for your school assignment and no photos of your new baby cousin, you naughty filesharer you!

But after a bit more clear thinking, I wasn't distressed any more. Even if the government did go through with this ridiculous ban, it would be doomed to fail. Alternative technologies are already available to keep the music flowing. There's web-based Bittorrent, currently free for limited though still generous bandwidth, and most likely immune to government detection; there are darknets, sharing among smaller groups closed to prying eyes; there are proxy servers, so it looks like your internet address is in Tonga or Sealand or somewhere equally obscure; there's music blogging, where inividuals source their own hosting to make music available on the web; and there's good old-fashioned face-to-face sharing, like getting your friend to tape an album for you... except instead of a blank C90 cassette, you'll give them a 500GB USB drive and get them to give you 10 thousand albums. Many other marvellous new filesharing technologies are doubtless just around the corner.

Actually I feel a bit silly for thinking even for a moment that the party would end. There have been countless other false alarms: the demise of Napster and Audiogalay, the loss of the Grokster case, the US lawsuits, the Piratebay raid. They've all come to naught. In this aspect of the war, we have superior firepower. The industry has been reduced to guerrilla tactics.

In fact, it might just be resorting to suicide bombing. By calling on artists to join her in condemning filesharing, Lily Allen is lining up with the police and the politicians. She's no longer one of us, an ordinary girl made good. She's a musician calling for the banning of music, a member of the powerful, moneyed elite telling us what to do. She's not your mate who formed a band, she's your music teacher who said it was just a load of noise.

The new model offered by filesharing has a good selling point... we are giving away all music ever recorded, for free... and we delivered upfront, in advance, and there were no conditions placed on it. Lily Allen believes - mistakenly - that this will stop new artists getting a look in. Having every single masterpiece, every piece of pop and rock ecstasy ever recorded in the past, absolutely free, is pretty good compensation. I think with that as a hypothetical election promise, people would vote for a Filesharing Party, and not Lily's music-banning party. The voters would be pleased to have a system which would dump the likes of Lily, who have allied themselves with our jailers.

But really I am also convinced that the election promise will include the artists of the future, who benefit from having their work exposed globally to an unlimited audience for free. And it will also benefit the artists of the present. The voters might be happy to swap Lily for free music, but in fact they can have Lily too. I guarantee that those great songs Fuck You, Smile, and The Fear will continue to be available on filesharing networks. Given Lily's attack on my tribe, that's pretty generous.

The filesharing wars

Lily Allen throws petrol on the Filesharing fire.

Below are the posts I have made in response to this ludicrous article in NME:

stylofone [Visitor] //September 19 2009 at 12:14
I don't understand how it can be a bad thing to get music for free. If we accept the reality that music is now free and always will be, then a new model will emerge. Some artists will benefit, others will fail. You will find fossils and youngbloods in both groups. But who cares, the music is free! TV is free, radio is free. Filesharers are working to mould people's perceptions, to accept that free music downloads are no more shameful than listening to the radio.

stylofone [Visitor] //September 23 2009 at 05:06
Back in the 90s my band booked some studio time at around $100 an hour, recorded some songs and pressed a thousand CDs. It was a vastly expensive exercise then. Today we find the Australian government is giving school kids laptop computers loaded with software far more capable than the studio we paid for. The net gives those kids the power to distribute for free the music they make, far more effectively than our CDs. The cost has come down dramatically, but if you look at the price of music from the dinosaur industry, it hasn't been passed on to consumers. In other information industries, you do see the price cuts. Microsoft used to charge about $30 for 10 megabytes of hotmail. 2 megabytes was free. Then Google came along and gave away a thousand megabytes, since upgraded to more than 3000. So you now get 1500 times more. If you divide the price of a CD by 1500, it's pretty damn close to zero. That's why there's a file sharing revolution. We should be getting the same value for music. Doing it the old way is a kind of a cross between protectionism and charity. Well, I choose not to donate to your cocaine fund.

stylofone [Visitor] //(awaiting moderation at time of posting)
File sharing has shown that the most expensive part of the process of making music - the manufacture and distribution of the product - can now be done at no cost to the creators. The filesharers pay for the computers and the bandwidth to spread it around... no need to make a CD. The technology for recording the music is also massively reduced in price compared to 20 years ago. This is a shake-up for the old industry, which is built around exploiting the market which developed around the selling of a physical product. The copyright laws were built around that too, to protect the massive investment made in pressing and shipping all those tonnes of vinyl. What the industry is trying to do is create an imaginary version of the old business. It's like tying a piece of lead to every weightless download, to make it weigh as much as a CD would have done. The lead will make it cost as much as the old product, too. All the marketing and promotion and administration will now be based on the piece of lead. It will be possible to believe in the imaginary piece of lead because the government will fine you, cut off your internet access, or perhaps even jail you if you deny its existence. What Lily Allen is talking about is the maintenance of the lead industry. The most important function of the lead industry is to place artificial restrictions on the increadibly cheap new music distribution methods. Please don't tell me the money to make the lead is going to new artists. That's simply unbelievable. The best thing that can happen to musicians will be the GM style bankruptcy of all the major labels, allowing a new industry to emerge which actually treats music and music fans with respect. And we'll have no government bailout thank you, these companies are certainly NOT too big to be allowed to fail. Until that happens, I believe it is wrong to buy music. Downloading is the only proper course of action. The current industry is all about choking off supply as much as possible to ensure prices stay high. It's actually the music PREVENTION industry. Lily, artists do not get the money that comes from the high prices charged under this regime. In percentage terms, artists are a very small part of the equation. Let's have a new regime where music is freely distributed, but more of the money that IS collected goes to artists, not a bunch of synthetic corporations.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Return to Blogging

The obvious deficiencies of Twitter, combined with the relentless hype for it, have tempted me back to blogging. I feel like recording some thoughts and observations, without the restrictions of social networking etc..

But like Twitter, there are no guarantees it will last.