Friday, May 27, 2011

Hail To The Clear Figurines: How Artists and Indie Labels Can Make Rock ‘n’ Roll Better If It Can’t Be Saved



I just stopped writing this big, overblown history of how digital format has changed the music industry in both good and bad ways. I’ll spare you by not clogging the blogosphere with more garbage that only a select few will read and like all opinions thrown out there, will generate an endless barrage of conflict and bickering. However, I’ll repeat my often touted opinion that the music has gotten much better while the industry on the whole, at least the larger parts, are failing. The digital revolution gave smaller indie and unsigned acts a better chance to have their music heard. It’s an ongoing problem that there’s so much out there that nobody cares anymore. They don’t discover music anymore. They don’t go to a record store and hear something new. Radio and internet radio can still do that, but with being able to change songs on internet radio, the limited audience of satellite radio, and pure radio being only heard as an effort by the devoted, the opportunity and therefore, the excitement of hearing something new is not there anymore.

We’re overloaded. MP3’s have advantages, but it’s a nonstop feed. Even if we hear something good, we can buy it on download or many illegally download. It’s binary code and holds little meaning. There’s this whole generation that’s grown up on collecting binary code. Music is art. Albums are art because the packaging is how the artist presents their work to the world. It has greater meaning as a whole. Vinyl has always had a small but devoted audience, and that’s mostly been from musicians and audiophiles. It has advantages. It sounds better, it’s visual, listening to vinyl is a ritual and one can’t sit there with a remote and switch between thousands of songs. It’s more active.

Many of us and the bands we love appreciate technology and like that we can take the music we love anywhere, but it comes at a cost to those who make it since one can buy a few songs and even a full mp3 album is cheaper than vinyl. However, and this is the most important point: Vinyl was the only music medium that grew last year. The digital revolution is here and has been for a long time, but we see its disadvantages, and a growing audience is beginning to see that, too.

CD sales are declining, MP3 sales are stable, vinyl sales are growing. So why not press only vinyl? Vinyl is a lot more expensive to make. It’s 50 cents to make a CD, they sell for $15, it’s $10 to buy an MP3 album, but no art. A CD cover is small and cheesy, though. Albums? They’re big, sensitive to heat, need to be held and cared for gingerly, the art is better, you can read liner notes, oh, and we know: They sound better. Albums are $5 to make, though, and one has to order them in larger quantities, so it’s a bigger investment.

We love rock ‘n’ roll, we want it to live on. Most of our indie label friends, bands, and unsigned ones feel the same way, but the truth is that CDs and MP3’s are cheaper for them to make, and vinyl is not huge in sales.

We all want the same thing, don’t we? We do! We want great music. We want to see the artists get recognized. We want them to do well so they can keep making music. We want the labels they’re on to keep putting it out. So artists, labels, and fans: We want the same thing, only the first two are the ones making and selling, the third needs to buy it. Make it special. Be creative. Not just with the music, but how you put it out into the world.

It’s not just the music that matters. It’s a product that we’re investing in. It’s art. For many of us, it has symbolic meaning as material culture. It’s the packaging, the artwork, the care and effort that one puts into not just making the music, but presenting it to the world. I started telling people a few years ago that they should phase out CD’s entirely. They’re cheap, they don’t sound as good as we once thought, and most of us just burn it into mp3s and then put it away anyway. Wicked Cool Records was including CD copies with their vinyl. Although many still said the CD market was big when I made the comment, some started to ease toward multiple formats. Labels? You figured it out. Give us both formats and don’t force us to choose between one or the other since both have advantages and disadvantages. I want to listen to an album in my home. I want to take it out of the sleeve, put it on the turntable, and put the needle down, but I also want to take it with me so I could hear it at work, or in the car. We deserve multiple format and shouldn’t have to buy the same thing twice. I’m glad more of you have caught up.
We appreciate it. It’s not easy for you. The costs are higher for vinyl and you have a small consumer group for it, although it’s growing. You want to sell volume. You need to. You’re not here for just a few of us. We want you to so you can stay with us.
We love this music and we love you for putting it out, so we want to see the audience grow as much as you do.

So how do you do this? There’s a number of options that everyone’s playing around with. Right now, the accepted norm is vinyl with a download card. That’s pretty much industry standard. However, a few labels have tried new things that make it more exciting. Yep Roc Records offers a free instant download with album purchase. Great! Good things take time. We don’t mind waiting for fresh vinyl, but that extra step tells us, the consumers, that you’re offering instant gratification for our investment. How do you make that better? Do you remember when you heard upcoming releases on radio before they came out? Do that again! Send only vinyl to some radio stations. Release the album on your band and label site a few weeks later for preorder with the free instant download. We get the music early, the album arrives the same day it does in stores! How cool is that? It brings excitement and anticipation back.

What about Hail To The Clear Figurines? It’s stellar. Simple yet complex, droned out yet primitive, acidic, fuzzy yet clear, and with a genuine feel that’s simply unmatched. “ignition Slated For Eight” is the closest anyone’s ever gotten to “Piper At The Gates OF Dawn” despite the numerous psuedo goth sounding drone bands that try to get there but mostly can’t feel it and get nowhere near it. Consequently, The Asteroid #4 are still the most listened to band on Rainbow Quartz’s last fm station, but here’s where they set themselves apart from the rest of the industry currently. The Asteroid #4’s new album and their label, The Committee To Keep Music Evil, threw something new at me. Like a few others, they decided upon colored vinyl. This is special. A small amount more for manufacturing, depending on the volume, but it stands out. Again, it’s the presentation. It’s the details and just one more way one presents their art to the world. Not only that, but some of their earlier releases are reissued and available on colored vinyl also. It was very, very special when it came in the mail, I opened the records, put on the new one on red vinyl, marveled at the reissue of “Introducing The Asteroid #4 on dark, opaque blue vinyl, listened to the new one all the way through, put on the new 10 inch and marveled at hearing The Catherine Wheel Cover “I Want To Touch You”, which was almost a revelation when I heard it live a few years ago. I stayed up way too late that evening with the lights out listening to “Introducing...” on high volume and soaked in how the music filled the room, all the while thinking how the blue vinyl gave it a new feel that somehow should have always been there. The Asteroid #4 and TCTKME did something really, really special, and they have a few more reissued gems on colored vinyl that I’m really looking forward to getting and hearing again as if it’s for the first time.

Many you are rightfully thinking in practical terms. Vinyl is a big investment and most indie labels are boutique labels that cater to an audience, so it’s a bigger investment that’s not really feasible. The vinyl market is growing and will continue to do so substantially for the next few years, but maybe not to the point where the artists and the labels will be able to reap larger, tangible results to make the investment in pressing vinyl seem worthwhile. The Love Me Nots, an unsigned garage (for a lack of so many other great adjectives to describe them) act from Phoenix, AZ might have come up with a solution. They pressed 400 mango vinyl copies of their new album, The Demon And The Devotee on Project Infinity Records. Their last album, Upside Down/Inside Out, was also pressed in limited number. The first pressing in red vinyl sold out, so they made more in two tone black and red vinyl, so not only did they press a limited number, but made more that were slightly different once those sold out, thus appealing to some of their fans who might want to own both versions. By their example, a return to vinyl is possible if one keeps their numbers smaller but doesn’t create a snob factor by not making more available.

So there you have it. A problem. CDs are becoming obsolete and most real music fans are not going to take a download only copy seriously. You can’t cherish binary code. Vinyl is the only medium that’s growing. It sounds better, but it’s more expensive to make. Press vinyl. Do so in limited quantities. If you sell those, make more but experiment with a different color. Include the mp3 download card with the vinyl. It’s better if one offers the instant gratification for your fans by having a free download at the time of album purchase. Have it available before release date so the fans can feel special and to show them some gratitude for their enthusiasm. If you find a service that you can include download cards or link for the automatic download, but also feature you with other artists from the same or similar genre on their site. Apollo Music is a great example. Rainbow Quartz artists The High Dials, Solaram, TCTKME with The Asteroid #4, The Quarter After, and Brian Jonestown Massacre, Optical Sounds, a prolific psych label from Canada with act The Hoa Hoa’s, Planet Creature, The Disrealis, and others such as unsigned acts Sweet Jane and The Cult of Dom Keller. Apollo Music also offers download purchases, as well as free full length album streams. After all, having a place where you’re included with other unique, similar indie acts and especially if you have free streams on the same site increases your audience by giving you opportunity to be heard by an audience that’s genuinely interested.

Material culture has symbolic meaning. Cover art, liner notes, a unique color, whether solid, opaque, or marbleized, making limited vinyl copies, then making more available in a different color so more people can purchase it without making a huge investment to begin with that you might not be able to recoup, enabling the consumer to exercise their right once they buy your music to own it in multiple formats, and rewarding them with an instant download upon purchase of an album so they can enjoy the music before it gets to them in a few weeks is a reasonable, multitiered approach to keeping your costs low, making something unique that will encourage more excitement and devotion by your consumers, and getting your music out there to a larger potential audience with vinyl only advance copies sent to stations who will play your music and digital downloads and streams on a site that can highlight you among similar artists is a better tactic then doing one or the other, or as many are, struggling with a market that has different formats and can’t decide which way to go. You win, the vinyl fans win. Your music gets out there faster and is more available in the dominant format and the growing format.

Music is a gift. Great wrapping included. However, in the end, if your music isn’t great to begin with, what goes around it and how you present it to the world doesn’t make a difference. The music in the end has to speak for itself. For those of you that I’ve cited and those of you that I’m writing to, it already does.

Hail To The Clear Figurines.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Fleshtones: IT'S SUPER ROCK TIME: The I.R.S. Years 1980-1985

The Fleshtones

IT'S SUPER ROCK TIME: The I.R.S. Years 1980-1985
Raven Records


Whether you're a devoted fan trying to get their hands on the old stuff that isn't available, or a new convert to Super Rock, you've learned by now that older Fleshtones material is rare and super hard to come by unless you have unlimited funds to pay off shady dealers on ebay. Mourn no longer. Raven Records has released IT'S SUPER ROCK TIME: The I.R.S. Years 1980-1985 with a whopping 25 (!) tracks covering The Fleshtones' five year tenure at IRS Records. This is not just a compilation of their three IRS released Roman Gods, Hexbreaker!, and Speed Connection, but also rare tracks appearing on CD for the first time!

Songs like the raunchy fuzz of "The Dreg" put one smack in the middle of New York 1979 at a Blue Whale Party. It's not only young, fresh, and LOUD, but so surprisingly modern that you'll end up feeling like you missed out the first time, even if you didn't. Another track from Roman Gods is surf and harmonica of "The World Has Changed." The song and statement haven't aged at all. A personal favorite is "Screamin' Skull" from 1983's Hexbreaker! I owned a copy of the vinyl 25 years ago. Needless to say, I was a little new wave kid caught up in "The Age of Earnestness", so our beloved 'Tones didn't do too much for me back then since it had very little hints of seriousness, but I have fond memories of that tune as well as the silliness in Keith's voice on "Right Side of a Good Thing." It's great to hear it again. Obviously, it didn't take too long for me to learn my lesson.

I have to make a sidetone here about the whole "Age of Earnestness" thing. It was brought on by countless new wave bands who made serious, somber, sad, silly emo music. Unfortunately, it put great rock 'n roll bands like The Fleshtones and their former rehearsal space mates, The Cramps out of contention for gaining the recognition that they really deserved. Luckily for us, both bands are cemented in our own personal Hall of Great Rock 'n Roll Fame and their music continuously withstands the test of time and is rediscovered.

25 tracks to span five years, two studio albums, a live album, and tons of EPs, singles, maxi-singles, and extras. Over three decades of The Fleshtones. The great party anthem "Girl From Baltimore", the anthemic "American Beat '84", the psyched up cover of Lee Dorsey's "Ride The Pony", the awesome tremolo and sing along of "The Theme from The Vindicators" - honestly, every song is a sing along party anthem, a sweet groove, a little garage, a little rock, a little surf, and a whole lot of soul. It's a lot for five years and it only scratches the surface of just how good they really are. The Fleshtones are unabashed rock with soul that's unmatchable on songs like "All Around The World" The stuff is so good that it's a true musical revelation, and the best party your ears will ever have.

The Fleshtones were so prolific that a box set of all their material would be overwhelming, but a requirement for anyone who thinks they're a real rock 'n roll fan. Sadly, this is likely to never happen. For now, IT'S SUPER ROCK TIME: The I.R.S. Years 1980-1985 is essential. You'll be grateful to own a copy.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Grip Weeds Strange Change Machine Exclusive!

Hey Grip Weeds fans: Strange Change Machine is available exclusively for you at the link below...Double LP - Double CD - Downloads!

http://gripweeds.com/StrangeChangeMachine/StrangeChangeMachine_store.html

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Flickr

This is a test post from flickr, a fancy photo sharing thing.

Friday, May 7, 2010

The Grip Weeds New Release: Strange Change

The Grip Weeds

Rainbow Quartz Records

The Grip Weeds establish a colorful, maybe murky, but distinctive space in the musical aether. Their discography itself is a trip through jangling 12 string Rickenbackers, Mellotrons, wah wah pedals, three part harmonies, melodic but simple bass, and more. Imagine the veritable kitchen sink if one has in it the best vintage instruments combined with the best recording gear and all in the hands of four people who are talented enough to make them work together. Eureka! Now we’re getting somewhere. To summarize The Grip Weeds, go back to the beginning of the review.

In their new offeringStrange Change Machine, they offer an interstellar blast from start to finish. The opening “Speed of Life” is a soaring power pop blast with a building beat, Kurt Reil’s infinite drum flourishes, distinctive guitar licks, both jangly and wailing, and art rock keyboards that are definitely spacey. It’s almost like having as much as many bands can put into one album in to one song, but it never loses its simplicity and excitement as a fun rock song. The Grip Weeds are rock and roll fans, so their frame of reference is based on “what’s good” and not using a genre to define that. Among the results of this broader appreciation is “Sun Shower” an acoustic based, psych folk song with Kristin’s flute and a building tempo that goes into rock, but the buildups keep the song engaging. This is definitely a standout song.

The albums title track “Strange Change Machine” is unabashed, cranked up rock with added vocal harmonies that best communicates what the band is all about - “Pull you out of the same, mix it up in a Strange Change Machine.” This album was sequenced and putting the title song on the B-side of the second album is a great way to tell the listener who they are without announcing themselves by using it as the first track. Instead, one gets a an incredible rock experience with the songs before it, but having the title track afterwards is like getting to the meat of an essay after a strong introduction.

In true contradiction, the longest song on the album is “The Law,” which is also the most basic rock song with it’s emphasis on Rick Reil’s strong, loud, power chords. It also stands out in true rock ‘n roll spirit not only in it’s rawness but also in its outright middle finger to authority. One might also find themselves singing along to the loud guitar intro of “Hold Out for Tomorrow” only to be surprised by the backing vocals reminiscent of Cream. The hard power pop near the end of the second album is interrupted with a Nick Drake based instrumental “Love in Transition,” but the addition of flute and a simple beat accompanied by tabla and more aggressive acoustic flourishes give traces of Arthur Lee and Love. As much as one could stay true to the basic rock milieu and admonish the idea of giving prominence to a “non rock” instrument, the song is a great surprise that has a wonderful depth.

The closing “Mr. X” is a pure stroke of genius. Not only in its multiple melodic nods to “Tomorrow Never Knows”, but also in using it as the closing track. Much like its comparison, the ending notes stay with you and make one want to play the song over a few times.

New Jersey’s The Grip Weeds occupy an odd space. On one hand, they’re a ‘60s rock inspired band. Now that we have a primordial ooze of their foundation, the confusion begins. The frenetic beat and feedback of The Who, the wonderful jangle of The Byrds, the sweet melodies of The Beatles, the rhythm of The Kinks, the Delta Blues solos of The Yardbirds and the bands that followed: Led Zeppelin, Cream, the psychedelic leanings of most of them combined with The Creation, The Move, The Zombies, and more, possibly some louder wailings akin to Ron Asheton of The Stooges, even. It’s been five years since their last studio release “Giant On The Beach.” That’s a long time. A lot of change, things brought into the soup, balances changing, things shifting. All that time away resulted in a groundswell and resulting outpouring of creativity. This double album over 80 minutes long was worth the wait. It’s packed full of great songs, epic in length and substance, but stand out as a great rock album that has material that will continue to be discovered, which is the true trademark of a great, enduring rock and roll album.

The album will be released in the next month. Currently, CD copies are available for purchase during their performances in the New York area. However, a deluxe CD edition as well as a double album vinyl edition are forthcoming. A free 10 song download is available if you sign up for their fan club at The Grip Weeds home page

Sunday, April 18, 2010

The Contrast: The God of Malfunction

The Contrast

The God of Malfunction
Wicked Cool Records

Peterborough, UK's The Contrast have been at it for a while. A power pop band, a little psych, songs written around a Rickenbacker Jetglo 330, but a clean sound that didn't really fit anywhere but power pop, although almost their own category. They always sounded too clean for garage, yet possess a simple, modern jangle that doesn't make one go backwards as most good rock does, but still has it. In a sense, The Contrast exist as a great rock band, but it's hard to make direct points to the lineage except for power pop. However, five great albums on the high quality but niche paisley pop label Rainbow Quartz Records show a high quality catalog that has largely been unrecognized. They chime and have influences, but the sound speaks of rock noir (psych-noir) more than anything.

In their first completely new foray with Wicked Cool Records, front man David Reid and company take their film/pop culture sound a lot further, but the underlying theme of their songs remain the same. It's always been about dysfunctional women, broken relationships, women on the verge that are unreliable but magnetic nonetheless.

The Contrast always had studio sense that took them well out of the garage. There's no mistake that the elements are there: the simple chords, the harmonies, the melodic hooks that draw one in, but the production has always been so clean that many garage fans find a substitution in B-movie imagery of the same era for the garage punk sound. The opening "Underground Ghosts" might be a song from the 2007 album of the same title that never made the cut. Vintage keyboards providing the basic melody in sharp difference to the guitar chord ethos of garage rock, Reid's trademark melodic guitar taking center stage, great vocal harmonies, and of course, a supernatural theme that low budget, vintage film buffs catch on to.

A sure standout track in line with the obscure movie theme is "I Am An Alien" with it's twisting theremin presence and pounding beat, but the theme is not outer worldly. Instead, it touches of the eternal divide in relations of what someone thought you were and what one finds out once they're involved: the divide is too great and the planets are too far apart. "Gone Forever" is the retro groove in nothing but Rickenbacker, Byrds-y jangle that's all classic power pop. The mellotron set on violin gives it a bigger feel and the overall result is a harmonious revelation of an end. The title track is full of parts that make The Contrast so unique, but juxtaposes a boppy chorus with metallic riffs. that make a memorable melody. The equal jangle of "Unexpected" takes on a personal note that's familiar territory for The Contrast, but it's simplicity and twist between a softer take that's replete with strong drumming lives up to its title.

Brit rock/pop has always taken American rock influences and turned them upside down. Therefore, most of us have a soft spot for the "sensibility" in care that good British rock from the '60s to now has taken. In a sense, The Contrast have always had this sensibility that matches bands like The Kinks in being polished and harmonious but focusing on angst. "She's A Disaster" is a perfect accomplishment on these levels with guitar lead and keyboard melodies that hook one in but simultaneously idolize the familiar yet traumatizing theme of the beautiful girl (or boy) who's presence is so strong that it dominates, but that strength is wrought out of so much pain that it presents both fear and longing with lyrics like "Her words are charge with hidden games, her makeup's going up in flames right now" only to be followed by "She's in my head from my distant past and future."

The closing "False Ambition" is no less intriguing in its depth and angst, added piano which not necessarily adds to the depth of the song since their songs have always relied on guitar led melodic hooks, but providing the piano background allows a larger breathing room where Reid builds a stronger climax to the simpler hooks of the rest of the album and their catalog, for that matter.

The Contrast has an illustrious catalog to being with. It's full of simple, jangle but '80s angst mixed with a strong polish. The God of Malfunction is a standout in stretching out the guitar hooks and trying some new things. The big difference with the earlier catalog is that the music slows down more as if bridging the gap to other alternative genres, namely dark, postpone Brit Pop. As if a predictor to this change, the original version of 2000's "Perfect Disguise" touched upon this expansion.

The God of Malfunction is overall, a great album, but it's full of challenges for the ''60s garage faithful. It's probably the farthest thing from garage, yet it shares many strong elements with those elements, adds in bad horror films, alienation and angst, but the biggest departure and new foray into power pop is the guitar hooks making the melody instead of the melody over the chords, which is more common for garage rock. Essentially, The Contrast have always made incredible, jangling, harmonious music that twisted up psych/garage roots with '80s angst. They've always been extremely polished. The juxtaposition is trademark for The Contrast. They are a new era of power pop with elements drawn to make their music a life of its own that presents contradictions and constant reconsiderations.

The God of Malfunction is available in a wide variety of formats, including vinyl, at Wicked Cool Records

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Free download version of the new Grip Weeds album coming soon!

The dawn of Strange Change Machine is approaching! Follow the link and sign up for the fan club to get a free download version of the new Grip Weeds album, which will be available as a free download VERY soon! All you need to do is enter your email address!

The Grip Weeds