Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Dylan Beale - Tri-Fusion X J-Wing (Sirpixalot Dubplate Acapella)

Only recently becoming familiar with Sirpixalot but apparently this cat has a regular show on Radar Radio and is a regular fixture on UK dance programs. This particular track has Sirpix combining J-Wing's "Dublate Acapella" and Dylan Beale's "Tri-Fusion" instrumentals with the  Radar Radio DJ/Producer rhyming over top. The whole thing is sampled from an old Wolverine game (Adamantium Rage) from 1994. Level up, bitches.

Monday, August 1, 2016

Throwback 1989 || Orbital "Chime"

Largely a victim of "what have you done for me lately?" status, Orbital emerged at the turn of the 1990's as an instrumental dance duo to be reckoned with, and "Chime" was not only their entry point into crossover acceptance but also one of the grand compositional epics that cemented acid house/techno's imperative to be taken seriously.

Bearing all the upbeat, X-static hallmarks of underground club music of its day, "Chime" double down by demanding an exacting attention span: the song builds and builds to a near-10 minute climax in a different manner than most extended tracks of its day, which largely just consisted of repeating the main hook over and over, with just enough filler downtime to get dancers anticipating the reintroduction of the main theme. "Chime" took a slower simmering build that compounded rather than repeated itself, in a way that much anticipated trance (the drone-like German kind, not fucking Darude).

The result is an endlessly remixed classic whose staying power is not only attributable to its innate excellence but also its malleability: in spite of the sprawl this track was designed by birth to be torn down and built back up again in other DJ's images, from further acid house excursions to drum & bass, breakbeat and beyond.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Record Industry Is In Decline, and I Am Part of the Problem

"Piracy is stealing!"

"Support the artists, otherwise there won't be any music industry left to enjoy!"

Record sales have been slipping steadily since an all-time peak in the 1990's, and record sales have always been the key component of artist success in the music industry, so if the music industry is in dire straits there's a clear root problem to be solved there: you. You're not buying enough. I know I'm certainly not, but I suppose I can afford to be a bit glib with my headline there since, as a longtime music critic, I tend to get my promos for free anyway. Sure, they tend to be almost exclusively digital files these days, but I doubt too many level headed pundits would honestly expect me to go out and spend $15 on a physical copy of an album that I'd gotten for free and played to death two months ago.

Or maybe they would. This issue tends to inspire impassioned arguments which are not always beholden to logic or reason, and when you consider that those arguments are positioned as sticking up for the artists first and foremost, well... the arguer has little incentive to shore up holes in their rationale. They get to be "right" in some capacity or another either way.

I'm certainly not here to revel in the paucity of largesse I'm currently throwing at the recording industry myself, nor to encourage you to give up that completist vinyl jones, but in the interest of maybe coming up with more practical solutions to restoring the recording industry's preeminence it seems to me that there's value in picking apart the axiomatic assumptions at the heart of the most common complaints, many of which have been cyclically making the rounds for years with little acknowledgment that maybe their lack of results is a direct function of faulty premises to begin with.

First off, there's the assertion - usually writ large with moralistic implications - that as fans we are beneficiaries of the artist's talent and are obligated to compensate them accordingly. When positioned within the context of such a broad dictum it's hard to argue against that point, although the actual means in which we compensate the artists is usually given a much slimmer interpretation: you buy their music, the same as your parents did and their parents before them.

This argument is not so much flawed as it is anachronistic: it made a lot more sense in the pre-streaming heyday of Napster and Limewire in which it originated, when for all practical purposes there were still only two means of acquiring music: buying the CD or illegally downloading it off of the internet. In 2016, illegal downloading has been almost entirely supplanted by streaming options like Spotify and Pandora, but in spite of the above board legality of these streaming options we as consumers are still admonished for supporting these streaming services due to the services themselves offering below subsistence compensation (WELL below, in pretty much all cases) to the artists. We are informed, in stern intonations meant to impart that we should have known as much without having to be told, that until streaming services are able to at least approximate the lost revenue of traditional album sales they are, if anything, a part of the problem and not the solution.

"Very well", a typical consumer might not be remiss in thinking, "but what the hell does that have to do with me?" It's an interesting conundrum in that the record industry is not the only multinational empire struggling to adapt to a changing tech paradigm, although it is arguably the only one of which it is widely implied that the consumer himself bears some large portion of the burden in solving. The U.S. Auto Industry has found itself in serious peril several times over the years (the most recent of which roughly coincided with the subprime mortgage crisis of the previous decade), but I imagine a Manhattanite getting by just fine on the subway and saving himself a pretty penny in expensive parking fees in the process would be surprised to hear that he had a patriotic duty to go out and buy a Chrysler (in this analogy the government bailouts obviously hadn't happened yet).

While it's a perfectly understandable instinct to go to bat for a relatable artist with which one feels a kinship, on the other hand it's all too easy to overlook the shifting economics of the average consumer's monthly expenditures over the last twenty years. In 1999, the year Napster broke, the average American still had dial up internet and used a land line. The monthly nut we now allot to tech alone has swelled to consume much of the expendable income that we used to throw at our record collections in the 90's (a decade where used CD sales provided a sort of warm-up debate to the filesharing woes right around the corner). Many of us spend close to $100 a month for a combined voice/data plan on a single smartphone; that money would have bought you roughly half a dozen albums at $15 a pop back in the day, surely an at least marginally higher number than the average music buyer was throwing down for each month even at the peak of 90's album sales.

And that apologia completely belies the fact that, so long as Spotify, Tidal, etc are legal, ongoing concerns, the consumer has no obligation to spend his or her money acquiring a physical music library when their needs are being met at a much lower price point and with greater convenience elsewhere... as far as the consumer is concerned, the fight for equitable compensation is entirely between the artist and the licensee, and doesn't require consumer arbitration any more than any other contract dispute between content providers and the intellectual property owners they seek to do business with. For many people that are bewildered at the fact that they're being chastised for not doing more to solve a high-level business conundrum, the very airing out of such internecine grievances represents unsavory dirty laundry which should be handled in-house, behind the scenes.

The imperative to continue purchasing physical media is further undermined by the admission among many existing collectors that, in spite of an enviable stockpile of vinyl that would make the Library of Congress blush, they nonetheless do the vast majority of their listening via streaming... for the convenience.  Well, shit, if even the lifers that never gave up the fight to begin with are still getting their most frequent fix from Spotify or Youtube, how reasonable is it to expect the more casual fan to pony up $10-15 a clip for a physical (or even MP3) album that they'll never actually use? Industry enthusiasts have been playing the shame game with consumers since the advent of filesharing, and the little they have to show for it has never caused them to question that maybe their arguments are one-sided and reductionist?

Another consideration is that, at least in terms of underground or only semi-commercial music, there is simply more material coming out every year than ever. That's not meant to be a cynical denial of the diminishing economics of a reeling industry, but rather an acknowledgment that the ability for a hardcore music fan to stay on top of current trends in 2016 is almost entirely predicated on the idea of the vast majority of that listening being of a free nature. Like it or not, the barrier of entry in getting new music exposed has ensured that only the wealthiest among us could possibly hope to pay for everything we listen to and still expect to maintain any kind of genre expertise within the scope of those purchases.

Very well, let's assume it's not an all or nothing deal, that we're allowing for a reasonable amount of free "skimming" so long as the consumer continues to purchase the music they listen to most frequently. How many repeat streams trigger the obligation to purchase the album rather than continue streaming it? No two people would arrive at the same answer to that question, which makes the whole thing unenforceable, if not downright asinine. In fact, the mere willingness to allow for any degree of free skimming by nature removes the matter from the sphere of ethics and makes it a subjective, practical concern. A mathematical problem, not a moral imperative.

It also doesn't help that the labels themselves have often treated their most loyal customer - the completist - with increasing degrees of bad faith. The people most likely to buy your albums are the ones with the mindset of an archivist: they enjoy seeking out rare pressings, imported b-sides and the like. What they don't enjoy doing is paying full retail for multiple domestic versions of an album just because the Best Buy pressing has one exclusive bonus track, the Target pressing another, etc. And that speaks nothing of the even more common iTunes versions, which in many cases either collects all of the bonus tracks available in various physical editions into one digital package, or even more frequently offers extensive bonus content not available in any physical edition.

Collectors being collectors, they tend to prefer their amassed libraries all in one place, and of a type. For some that may mean a bunch of daisy-chained hard drives full of MP3s, for others that will be a shelf full of vinyl, but for almost no one does it imply a partial discography on physical media, another piece of it in lossy MP3 and the remainder of it settled for on a streaming service. Insisting that such an anal retentive mindset (and again, this is the last bastion of your target demographic here) conform to the vagaries of confusing, unsatisfying - and, ultimately, expensive - marketing decisions just further erodes the case for spending disposable income on large music collections of questionable endurability and fragmented presentation.

So the record labels are unsympathetic and the consumer's financial loyalty is being pulled in a million different directions... where does this leave the artists themselves? That's still the million dollar question, really. Sympathy for the livelihood of the musician (including the purely selfish desire to see them continue making music as opposed to, I don't know, painting houses) is the driving force behind these handwringing arguments about the future of the music industry in the first place; nobody's fussing about whether Def Jam or Columbia will continue to be thriving labels in the year's to come, it's all about keeping the artists in play. I don't have any ready made solutions, unfortunately, but there simply has to be better ideas out there than insisting on semi-voluntary patronage, throwing Scooby snacks their way based on individual discretion, no longer tied to any actual unit of fixed value.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

THROWBACK 1973 || The Southside Movement "I've Been Watchin' You"

"I've Been Watchin' You" is perhaps best known for the plethora of hip hop songs the opening riff has been sampled for: Brotha Lynch Hung's "24 Deep", Diamond D's "It's Nothin'", Beastie Boys' "So What'cha Want"... the list goes on.

Starting off in Chicago as the backing band for (even more obscure) soul duo Simtec & Wylie, the Southside Movement recorded their self-titled debut in 1973 for Wand Records. The next year's follow up, Movin', produced another oft-sampled track in "Save the World". After releasing a third album in 1975, the band dissipated.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Giovanni James: "Shame On You"

Giovanni James is a hot young talent about which I've been able to dig up very little, aside from the facts that he has been picked up by major label Warner Brothers with only two singles under his belt, of which "Shame On You" is the most recent. It will be interesting to see if WB allows him to develop along this stylistically singular display of talent, or if they will insist on pairing him up with EDM/trap producers and attempt to mold him into a crossover pop star.

Monday, February 1, 2016

Harriet: "American Appetite"

I suppose this single has been out for a few months but I'm just now catching up with this week's release of Harriet's debut album of the same title, American Appetite. There's an almost gospel-like urgency in the arrangement that no doubt owes a great deal to the contributions of keyboardist Alex Casnoff, who used to play in Dawes, one of the more sweeping, expansive sounding bands in the Americana/roots rock genre of the past decade. The spare logistics crescendo as the song peaks to swelling effect, with Casnoff's own vocals providing a warbling, uncertain counterpoint. Dawes' loss is Harriet's gain, and ours as well.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Black Tusk: "Desolation of Endless Times"

Black Tusk is not the only Savannah-based metal band to face vehicular-based tragedy in the last year or so: while their own bass player Jonathan Athon lost his life in a motorcycle accident in late 2014, fellow Georgians Baroness collectively survived a tour bus crash, only for two of their members to have to bow out of the band due to critical spinal injuries afterward. But whereas there is a certain amount of resigned pathos to be found on the latter's new Purple album, Black Tusk come roaring back pissed and looking for a fight as ever on new single, "Desolation of Endless Times".

Monday, January 11, 2016

RIP Thin White Duke

Unlike news outlets, who smartly compile obituaries for celebrities ahead of time so all they have to do is plug in the date and cause of death when it finally occurs, I'm never really prepared for these sorts of things. Especially when the artist in question does such a commendable job of keeping their condition on the DL. So, that said, I'm going to collect my thoughts and come back with something more meaningful here in the next few days, but pending a full eulogy I leave you with a representative slice of David Bowie genius, and while it would be both easy and expected to post something off of his carefully crafted farewell, last week's Blackstar, I'm going to skip the obvious ("Lazarus"? Really?) and go with something that straddles the line between apt and distasteful, which is for me the dichotomy that Bowie did best.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Tindersticks: "Were We Once Lovers?"

Tindersticks are pretty O.G. when it comes to this whole dialed down, darkened mellow shit. Starting off in the early 90's as an early, fairly straightforward chamber pop ensemble - think Belle & Sebastian on methadone but with surprisingly advanced musicianship - the band have spent the past two decades mutating that sound slightly but never deviating too jarringly from their central ethos. "Were We Once Lovers?" attests to this, the chamber pop elements subdued up front but gently creeping in over the gently shuffling indie pop backbone as the song advances.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

KILLER COVERS || Exmortus: "Appassionata"

Heavy metal covers of classical songs are a dime a dozen, and in the era of Youtube playthrough videos - where complete unknowns, often teenagers, credibly shred their way through one virtuosic metal classic after another - the market seems as unaccomodating as ever for yet another commercially released Beethoven rendition. But Exmortus approach their appreciation for classical music with an energy and showmanship that is often lost on the Yngwie clones who think it's enough to just show up and flex nuts.

Exmortus are touring early this year with a plethora of other old school-sounding young metal bands, including Enforcer, Cauldron and Warbringer.