BNL Didn’t Get The Memo, Either

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Barenaked Ladies, in anticipation of “Barenaked Ladies Are Me” on September 12, has put 3 songs up for sale on their website. Not news, you say? Haven’t you ever heard of iTunes? OK, I know there are childless, houseless, underpaid twentysomethings with time on their hands, who can surf the net like it’s their own private Mavericks, but hey, bear with me.

The news is that Nettwerk Records is releasing each song as a 16 piece set. The producer’s building blocks. The basic tracks. And holding a contest for the best remix. Eventually, Nettwerk plans to release EVERY SINGLE SONG from the record this way.

Artists have played around with this, offering slightly-opened up music for fans to play with (David Bowie, Beck), but this is the new gold standard. It’s also a pretty nifty way to persuade fans to pay for music.

Finally, it’s a surefire way to involve hardcore fans and recruit new ones. Each song produces a groundswell of interest that will only help BNL when they tour.

Weird Al – RIAA Tool?

weirdal.jpgWeird Al Yankovic, who is to the song parody what Jerry Douglas is to the dobro, is at it again. The latest sacred cow on his barbeque is the nefarious practice of file sharing. “Don’t Download This Song,” he implores over a “We Are The World” music track, and here’s why:

“You start out stealing songs, then you’re robbing liquor stores/and selling crack and running over schoolkids with your car”

Of course, the song’s a free download, on MySpace, Weird Al’s website (both of them, weirdalyankovic.com and dontdownloadthissong.com). There’s probably kids at the mall offering to beam it to smart phones, and Bluetooth billboards being built right now.

The whole song is Yankovic at his snarky, irreverent best. Don’t mess with the R-I double-A, he cautions, because “if you’re a grandma or a seven year old girl, they’ll treat you like the evil, hard bitten criminal scum you are.” And if you decide to do it anyway, he wonders, “how can I afford another solid gold Humvee?”

C’mon, Al says.  “Even Lars Ulrich knows it’s wrong.”

Are you with me? DO download “Don’t Download This Song” and share it with all your friends. I envision a mashup of this one, “We Are the World” and the great Billy Crystal-as-Prince SNL parody from 1985, “I Am Also the World.”

Today’s Free Download – Asobi Seksu

CitrusEverybody’s arguing about sound quality these days. Paul Rappaport incited a Lefsetz flame war that boiled down to “compression sucks” on the one hand, and “I cut my teeth with crappy 45’s stacked on a mono record player that looked like a princess suitcase” on the other.

Even Bob Dylan got into the act:

You listen to these modern records, they’re atrocious, they have sound all over them,” he told Rolling Stone. “I don’t know anybody who’s made a record that sounds decent in the past 20 years, really.

Interesting, since the Bobster (who I admire more than any musical figure apart from John Lennon) plays mostly low-fi records from 1940’s and 1950’s on his XM Radio show. But I digress.

I agree that a lot of modern records are often packed to the density of a fruitcake, but is that always a bad thing?

Take “Thursday,” the latest from Asobi Seksu’s “Citrus.” It’s stuffed with synth banks, a drummer that seems to hit a cymbal every time he aims at a snare, multitracked guitars, a house dub bass that slaps like a broken door, and no matter what I do with the volume controls, it seems to get louder. But keyboard player Yuki’s sweet, Blondie meets the Cranberries singing swirls miraculously over “Thursday,” and other equally dreamy tracks, like a Grand Marnier float on an orange blossom cosmopolitan.

The band’s name is Japanese for “Playful Sex,” which must be the reason Yuki’s bilingual switch from English to Japanese on tracks like “New Years” feels so seductive.

Sure, the waveform likely resembles a caterpillar conga line, but it’s atmospheric and hypnotic music designed to take your mind elsewhere. Something I enjoy

Citrus

Asobi Seksu
Friendly Fire Recordings

Consumer Coup?

sweeney.jpgAt a recent media gathering, Disney-ABC Television President Anne Sweeney lamented the state of her business:

“We all thought we were in charge of the consumer experience,” Sweeney said. Today, “it’s all about when a consumer wants it,” what device they want it on and where they want to view it, Sweeney told attendees of the Aspen Summit on Monday.

That’s an interesting,and typically adverserial, way to put it. What’s really happening is consumers finally have the tools to shape the entertainment experience any way they want to. Whether that means using a DVR to skip commercials, remixing a song or video or making their own content and bypassing the majors completely, consumers are running the table, no matter how many lawmakers the RIAA or MPA pay off.

In a now-familiar whine, Sweeney said, “Piracy is a pretty darn good business model when you think about it” – as if that were the problem. The fact that millions of netizens see a digital copy of “Desperate Housewives” 15 minutes after it airs is GOOD for Disney’s business. It’s the watercooler effect mutated into King Kong.

Let me put it another way. How do you think a DVD market for reruns came to be in the first place? Not due to some pent-up demand for the mediocre crap that passes for TV’s best work these days. People saw the shape of things to come. The industry had little to do with that awakening; in fact, if left to its’ own devices, it would have killed it.

It still wants it dead, so blind are they to the exponential growth opportunities it represents.

With that reality so clear, what else do consumers have left to do? Of COURSE they’ll YouTube, ABSOLUTELY they’ll fill the Internet with the content they want. If the industry can’t figure out how to make that work for them, that’s their problem, not one for our laws to remedy.

“We all thought we were in charge of the consumer experience,” Sweeney whines.

You WERE. You’re fired.

Today’s Free Download – Judah Johnson

Be Where I Be
“My life’s an empty diner
But there is nothing finer

A jukebox full of heartache

Starts glowing in the ashtrays”

Judah Johnson, “Jukebox Heartache” (From Be Where I Be)

I haven’t been stoned in ages, but I’ve had a few dreams where I got really wasted. Judah Johnson sounds like the way I feel when I’m waking up.

Using synthesizers that can have their way with virtually any sampled sound, their music is sometimes more technical flourish than studied finesse, but always with a hazy yet discernible soul throughout. Kind of like being in a narcotic state. “Jukebox Heartache” may not even be the best example of this. But for zany reasons that I’ll likely forget tomorrow, I latched onto it.

God, I’m hungry.

“Be Where I Be” is feathery and billowing, and insistent as a dark cloud At turns it threatens to break apart or marshal its forces to rain down upon you.

Check out their Flameshovel Records page, which has downloads from their other albums.

Be Where I Be

Judah Johnson
Flameshovel Records

Movie Gives New Meaning to “Audience Participation”

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I didn’t go to see “Snakes on a Plane” this week, for the same reasons Indiana Jones wouldn’t, but I did take stock of the film’s impact on the cultural landscape. There’s never been anything like it, at least not at the level of a major Hollywood blockbuster.

Not the movie – which, depending on the critic you ask, is either brilliant or an extended SNL sketch. I’m talking about the way “Snakes on a Plane” was made, or more correctly, re-made. The moment word of the film surfaced on the Internet, pranksters went to work creating YouTube video parodies and filling up blogs with their versions of what something called “Snakes on a Plane,” starring Samuel L. Jackson, should be like.

First of all, everyone agreed that Jackson’s “Pulp Fiction” character should personify the performance, regardless of what the filmmakers had in mind. “Get these [expletive] snakes off my [expletive] plane!” shouted one wag’s faux Jackson.

Here’s the amazing thing. The filmmakers listened. Early this year, production resumed, and the words were inserted in Jackson’s mouth, along with a number of other changes suggested from various web sites. A web-based contest added a new song, Captain Ahab’s “Snakes on the Brain,” to the movie’s soundtrack.

When the movie opened, it was essentially a fan remix of the original.

It reminded me a lot of “Rocky Horror Picture Show,” a film that might have disappeared after a lackluster 1975 premiere were it not for fans that persuaded a New York movie house to screen it at midnight. An entire culture grew up around watching it. It transformed “Rocky Horror” into a multimedia, audience participation extravaganza, complete with water pistols, thrown rice and shouted responses to key scenes.

“Rocky Horror” fans re-made the film in their own image. Their elaborate antics were choreographed on an international level, at a time when an information conductor like the Internet was a distant dream. The film’s rise in popularity took years.

With “Snakes on a Plane,” it happened practically in real time. But “Rocky Horror” was an early and telling example of the remix culture we now take for granted. In pop music, Rihanna’s recent repurposing of Soft Cell’s lugubrious “Tainted Love” (“SOS”) exemplifies this trend. Today’ performers will take any work of art and re-shape it, for better or worse, into anything they want.

With pop plunderers like that leading by example, combined with ubiquitous technology at nearly anyone’s disposal, it’s not much of a leap for fans to get in on the action. When that happens, who knows what’s next?

Well, I do know what’s up this weekend:

Thursday: New Kind of Blue, Sophie & Zeke’s – Thursday jazz is becoming the hot night out in Claremont, the only place where I actually enjoy waiting for a table. Last week, vocalist Emily Lanier took the night off and gave the band a chance to really stretch out. Tonight she’s back, singing standards and classics. When she sings, “I’m a Lucky So and So,” I bet Big Joe Burrell is up in heaven smiling down on her.

Friday: Chris Kleeman, Bistro Nouveau – A talented blues guitarist, and the first musician to play at Bistro when they began offering music. Kleeman’s solo, and hopefully on the deck if the weather gods are smiling. Among the native Vermonter’s fans is B.B. King, who called his guitar playing “bad-ass” – which he no doubt means in a good way.

Saturday: Keith Urban & Little Big Town, Champlain Valley Fair – The big state fair to the north gets underway with a blockbuster country show featuring the newly-wed Aussie and a band that stands a chance at being this year’s Gretchen Wilson or Rascal Flatts. Other performers coming in the next two weeks include teen-throb Jesse McCartney, Foreigner, Carrie Underwood and the aforementioned Rascal Flatts.

Sunday: Acworth Fundraiser, Claremont Opera House – A benefit to raise money to fix the steeple atop the Church-on-the-Hill, a local monument that’s on the National Historical Register. The show features the Nines, a 10-piece band from Keene with a killer horn section, an a capella group and a one-act play by the Acworth Players.

Monday: Blue Monday, Salt Hill – The South Side of Chicago meets Dublin, with “Blues Gangster” Mike Benoit finessing the frets. This is a good excuse for an after work soiree with friends, even if the 8 PM music start keeps you up past your bedtime. Blue Monday happens every week through October.

Wednesday: Jazz and Tapas, Oona’s – I stopped by Bellows Falls last weekend to see what’s happening since the Windham closed. An abbreviated Front Porch Series, for starters (information at villagesquarebooks.com). But Draa Hobbs jazzy dinner music is still going strong at the place where it all began a few years ago. It’s worth checking out.

Bruce Hornsby – Intersections (1985-2005)

hornsbyintersections.jpgBox set retrospectives usually fall into two categories. First, there are the “hits and more” packages like the Pretenders’ recent “Pirate Radio,” designed for casual fans with a one-stop shopping bent.

Completist sets – Bruce Springsteen’s “Tracks” and Nirvana’s “Lights Out” come to mind – satisfy the unquenchable appetites of serious fans. They’re usually packed with alternate takes, demo versions and unreleased tracks, sometimes of dubious quality.

Bruce Hornsby’s four CD, one DVD “Intersections (1985-2005)” straddles both, but ultimately plays to the hardcore audience. Well-known songs like “The Way It Is” and “Mandolin Rain” are all represented, but mostly as live tracks.

As for rarities, “Intersections” has plenty. “The End of the Innocence,” co-written with Don Henley, appears for the first time on any Hornsby record. The Grateful Dead’s “Jack Straw” and a faithful remake of Elton John’s “Madman Across the Water,” previously available on anthologies, are here as well.

The DVD is filled with stellar moments from Hornsby’s many collaborations. Chaka Kahn’s ballad, “Love Me Still,” is particularly gorgeous, as is “The Tide Will Rise,” a breathtaking live track with Pat Metheny’s guitar work and a perfect Bonnie Raitt harmony. Also included is a selection from his part-time band the Grateful Dead (“They Love Each Other”), and a bluegrass version of “The Valley Road,” a song that appears an astonishing four times on “Intersections” – twice on the CD and DVD.

A telling example of the iconoclastic pianist’s view of his own career: “Comfortably Numb,” a song he didn’t write and never recorded, appears TWICE on “Intersections.” On the CD, it’s part of a medley with “Fortunate Son,” and on the DVD it’s a live take with Roger Waters. Hornsby explains in the liner notes that he wrote “Fortunate Son” striving for the emotional intensity of the Pink Floyd song.

Given the many multiple entries on the box set, it’s a shame that the meandering “Night on the Town” was included instead of the muscular take contained on “Bruce Hornsby and the Range: A Night on the Town,” a 1990 home video release. Also puzzling is the inclusion of the studio version of “Rainbow’s Cadillac,” when another version, featuring torrid slide guitar work from Bonnie Raitt, was likely available from the “Soundstage” archives.

Still, apart from a few indulgences, notably a long-winded instrumental cycle on disk two and an blowsy solo version of “Look Out Any Window,” “Intersections” is a solid retrospective of an artist who’s made his own rules throughout a 20-year career.

(Three out of Five Stars)

Paris Hilton – Paris

parishilton.jpgMoney can’t buy you love, but it can pay for a good recording studio and enough production magic to perform corrective musical surgery on Paris Hilton’s limited talents.

Not content with being famous simply for being famous, the newly celibate heiress now wants to be a singer. To that end she’s released her first (virgin?) CD, the sex-soaked “Paris,” with the help of hip-hop mogul Scott Storch and more co-writers than “Snakes on a Plane.”

Some of the record falls into the “guilty pleasure” realm, while the rest is simply awful. Let’s start with that.

It’s hard to imagine making Rod Stewart’s hideous “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” even worse, but she manages. She samples “Grease” in “I Want You” to similarly execrable effect. “Jealousy,” a series of musical jabs supposedly aimed at her former reality television co-star Nicole Richie, is so simple-minded a fifth grader might have written it.

For Paris, perhaps, that may be an upgrade.

“Fighting Over Me” has Judakiss and Fat Joe rhyming and Hilton’s treacly over-enunciating, stretching “fight” into two syllables.

How is her voice? Let’s put it this way. If someone asks Paris Hilton, are those real? They mean her vocal cords. Her performance is fed through more electronic cheesecloth than a hundred dollar bottle of wine, and still sounds chunky when all is said and done.

OK, there’s plenty of red meat for Paris’s detractors, who with some justification feel that there should be some things money can’t buy. But the record does have its’ moments.

“Stars Are Blind” is a passable bit of pseudo-reggae fluff. “Not Leaving Without You” is at least as good as the worst moments of Madonna’s “Confessions on a Dance Floor.”

“Turn It Up” has a certain hypnotic charm. “Screwed,” a Go-Go’s sound-alike penned by Kara DioGuardi could even be “Paris’s” (sort of) breakthrough song, if it didn’t sound so much DioGuardi’s other clients, which include Kelly Clarkson and Hillary Duff.

The best anyone can say about “Paris” is that if you heard it and didn’t know it was Paris Hilton, it wouldn’t cause screaming and nausea, for at least three or four songs, anyway.

Once you learn the singer’s true identity, however, keep a paper bag close by. It’s a versatile accessory, something Paris Hilton knows a lot about.

(One Star out of Five)

Today’s Free Download – Devon Allman’s Honeytribe

TorchThe 30-year son of Gregg Allman fronts a band that broke up in 2001 and re-formed this year. This track is a pedal to the medal blues-rock stomp reminiscent of Kenny Wayne Shepherd’s tougher stuff. Unfortunately, Devon hasn’t amassed KWS’s chops, but what he lacks in finesse he makes up in passion.

“Torch” is the title cut form the band’s debut album on Liverwire Records, which drops next Tuesday.

Befitting his lineage, young Mr. Allman is a very capable singer, with a throaty baritone that can hit the high notes when it needs to. The band’s web site has a couple of other tracks streaming, a cover of Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry” and “Maholo,” a nifty instrumental featuring Allman playing with the subtle dexterity of a young Carlos Santana.

Torch
Devon Allman’s Honeytribe
Livewire Recordings


Buy at iTunes Music Store

Download “Torch” (MP3, 192kbps)

Today’s Free Download – The Frauds

The FraudsI’ll confess, I wish it were 1979 forever. Disco dead but not quite buried, one-word power pop bands all the rage. Shoes, Skids, Blondie, Clash, Cars & Nerves, all jumping, jangling, happily pissed off and torqued up on old school powder.

Those were the days, my friend, we thought they’d never end – basically, because we couldn’t sleep. There were mix tapes with segues, something DJs used to do on the radio as well as clubs. There was white carton Tropicana and Entemann’s sugar highs.

Modular furniture, Deering blenders.
We went to Sir Morgan’s Cove to see Squeeze, the Sinceroes or the Shades.

We saw the Shades a lot, a great unsigned band who never made anything more than a demo. “Nineteen Eighty-O is changing me, changing you, what are we gonna do?” Their front man married a Broadway dancer; they had a daughter who made a movie before she was 10. The drummer opened a restaurant. Their manager moved to California and started a contracting business. It was all too good to last, but it was all so good.

Listening to the Frauds, a Baltimore band with an eponymous album on High Wire Records, took me back to 1979, badge-encrusted Moon jackets, colored vinyl and picture discs, Genee Cream and King Radio. This track, “The Church of Seduction,” is representative of the whole album, which is currently number one on Promonet, the wonderful musical arm of ioda that makes this free download possible.

Bands, if you want to get the word out, get with Promonet for Podcast and blog links!

The Frauds

The Frauds
High Wire Music