Monthly Archives: July 2010

The death of the album?

A few years ago, my friend offered to download a song his teenage step-daughter liked. When he asked if she wanted the whole album, she said, “What do you mean?” That’s pretty telling. Not only are today’s young people not buying or listening to albums, many of them don’t even understand the concept. The digital age has definitely had a major impact on music. Is it killing music? That’s what the industry would have you believe. Labels and musicians aren’t making the kind of money they used to. I recently came across an article that raises the possibility that what’s actually going on is the return to a singles model: The state of internet music on Youtube, Pandora, iTunes and Facebook.

As illustrated by the chart above, people are still buying music, but appear to be abandoning the album. It looks like the album model that has dominated the music business for the past several decades was an anomaly. If that’s true, is it a bad thing?

I don’t know that it has to be a disaster for the music industry. Popular music has been singles-oriented before. When my mother was a kid, she and her friends didn’t buy albums, they bought 45s and played them over and over. Yet people were able to make a living in the business.

I think the digital age really has changed the way we think of music. And it didn’t just start with Napster and downloading. The seeds were sown when they came up with the compact disc (in a way the industry asked for it by forcing us to switch to another format to squeeze more money out of us). When the CD met the personal computer, people were bound to figure out that an album didn’t have to be a unit any more. A song is a “file” that can be separated from that album, and an album when you get down to it, has become a “folder” or directory.

I’m still not sure what I think about that. Does it mean musicians will just start doing singles? No more coherent themes, no more Dark Side of the Moon or Led Zeppelin 4, no more 2112? The idea bothers me, because I’m a collector. Anytime I find a song I like, I instinctively wonder what album it came from and if I would like it too. Maybe I just have to change my way of thinking and learn to love a good song for its own sake and forget about albums.

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Filed under commentary, music

Farewell to the Asylum Street Spankers – spanks for the memories

Wow, this really makes me sad. I just went on Facebook and saw an announcement that my favorite Austin band is retiring. The Asylum Street Spankers are like nothing you’ve ever heard – retro style, rockin’ sensibility, superb musicianship and funny as hell. There will never be another band like them. I don’t know what brought this about. Could be the bad economy is getting to them. Also, Christina and Wammo both have small children. If it’s what they need to do, then I wish them well. Musicians aren’t actually obligated to wreck themselves for our entertainment. They’re giving a farewell tour and if you get the opportunity to catch one of their final shows I would advise you to take it. Their schedule can be found here.

If you need any more convincing, read my recent post about the band: Asylum Street Spankers’ vintage sound captures Austin’s spirit That post also includes some great Youtube links that will give you an idea what Spankers shows are like, and a link to their Bandcamp site where you can stream Spankers songs or order mp3s or CDs.

Also, check out their albums on Bandcamp.

P.S. I’ve been asked why Wammo is not being listed on the ASS Facebook page. I also noticed a lot of the people who surfed into this blog lately entered search terms like “Is Wammo on Farewell Tour.” I don’t know the answer to that and would like to. If anyone has seen a show on this tour I’d like to know if Wammo was there. I’d also like to know why the band is retiring. I imagine it has to do with Wammo and Christina each having new babies. Maybe they’re all tired of touring and want to devote more time to their families. I can respect that. I just wish the band would let us know what’s up. In any case, I would still recommend catching one of the farewell shows if possible. If Wammo’s not on the tour it would definitely be a disappointment, but I did see one Spankers show when Wammo was out with the flu and it was still awesome. Speaking of which… It has occurred to me that Wammo could be ill. I’d at least like to know that he’s all right. If anyone knows anything, please let me know.

PPS. Saw a comment on the ASS Facebook site stating that Wammo was leaving for family reasons. Probably about what I figured. His wife just had a new baby and probably asked him to stick around and stay off the road. Fair enough I reckon. I will miss him though.

Update: Wammo sent out an e-mail announcing his plans and telling his reasons for quitting the Spankers. I reposted it here: Word from Wammo aka ‘Road Dog’

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Filed under alt-country, blues, country, experimental, folk, hip hop, humor, indie, music, rock, roots, Uncategorized

Proto-metal – the roots of hard rock and prog

I’ve been a hard rock fan ever since I can remember. I’ve moved onto other styles of music, but I always end up listening to the stuff at some point. It’s like comfort food for the ears. But as much as I dig well-known hard rock bands like Zeppelin and AC/DC, I really get a kick out of lesser-known tunes from a time when the music was about to branch off into heavy metal and progressive rock. There was a whole class of music back in the early ’70s that fell somewhere in between. Bands were developing that heavy distorted guitar sound and wanted to rock, but at the same time, they had some complicated ideas they wanted to explore, lyrically and musically. Some of the bands who made this music went on to greater fame as metal or progressive rock acts. Some just put out an album or two and then disappeared.

A couple of years ago, I put together a CD-R full of mp3s with help from the guys at Rate Your Music. For the past week or so, that disk has seldom left my car stereo.

I used to think that kind of music came about because the rock ‘n’ rollers were still doing acid instead of coke and speed, but recently learned that the guys in Black Sabbath were doing coke by the bowlful, so now I’m not sure. Maybe they were doing cocaine all along and it just got too hard to find good acid? (Read my not-too-serious ramblings on that subject here.)

One of my favorite discoveries while assembling that comp was a group called Lucifer’s Friend, with my favorite song being “Ride in the Sky” from the self-titled debut, which features John Lawton on lead vocals – who sang lead for Uriah Heep from 1976 to 1979.

Who would’ve thought a French horn could be an instrument of such heaviness? The Lucifer’s Friend debut sounds just like heavy metal and it came out in 1970 – far ahead of its time. I also downloaded LF’s Banquet, which I liked, but it sounds like a completely different band. Not hard or heavy at all. More of a jazzy pop.

Another favorite that came out of that project is Captain Beyond, which is also a bit on the psychedelic side. Check this out:

I also found out something surprising. The Scorpions, who became hard rock/metal staples, debuted in 1972 an album called Lonesome Crow that sounds very different from the music most fans are familiar with. If not for the German accent, I might think it was early Rush. You can also hear a major Black Sabbath influence.

If you like that sort of thing, check out this thread from RateYourMusic and download or whatever you need to do. There’s a ton of great formerly inacessible early prog/hard rock out there that can be found today thanks to the Internet and those RYM folks really know their stuff.

And if you want to hear a modern group that does that kind of groove today, check out Black Mountain, a group I posted about a while back.

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Filed under metal, music, progressive rock, rock, roots, video

Music biz not an easy road to bling – at least not bling you get to keep

This is a pretty revealing piece about how much musicians actually make: The Music Industry’s Funny Money

If you think being in a band will get you rich, you don’t know the whole story. If the labels and management are going to take such a big cut, artists might as well go indie. – especially in an industry that’s contracting the way the music business is.

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Sa!nt – unique freak of an indie artist

Check this guy out. I discovered him on TheSixtyOne, not long before they did the redesign that caused me to bail out of the place. One of my first reactions to his music was the thought: Wow, this guy is a true freak. And I mean that in the best way. Someone who does things his own way and doesn’t care what people think. Out of the mainstream and proud of it. Interesting that he has a song called “Sideshow Freaks.” On the other hand, I think he’s what the mainstream should sound like – a mix of all those things that have bubbled their way into our pop culture – pop, rock, sampling. It’s the kind of music that ought to be coming out of our radios, but sadly isn’t.

His real name is Sean Brown of Palm Springs, California and he’s doing his best to get his music out there. Listen to his stuff on ReverbNation and MySpace and check out his videos on Youtube. I think he deserves to be a huge success. If you agree, maybe we can help make it happen. Below are three examples of his work – a folk song, a sample-heavy track featuring techno artist Ronald Jenkees, and a mash-up of Bjork and Lil Wayne.

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Filed under folk, indie, indie rock, one to watch, rock, Uncategorized

Mexican musicians paying price for war on drugs

This situation is so sad and frustrating: Mexican musicians wary after latest murder. Drug lords are at war and musicians have been getting caught up in it. Musicians are being assassinated, kidnapped, shaken down for money. It’s really awful. I love Mexico and I don’t know when I’m ever going to get to go back down there. This insanity has to stop, somehow.

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Filed under commentary, Uncategorized, world music

Songs for the Fourth

Happy Independence day folks! I love the holiday and I’m a patriotic kind of guy. I love watching those little parades made up of  kids on tricycles and in wagons, decorated in red white and blue and I always salute the color guard. Gets me all misty-eyed, but lets face it, the Fourth of July is not a very good day for art. Nobody can sing the Star-Spangled Banner on key, especially when you get to “and the rocket’s red glare,” and all those US flag decorations are kitchy at best. So what to post?

There’s no point posting Jimi Hendrix’s version of the National Anthem from Woodstock. I know you’ve heard that before. And I’m definitely not going to post Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA.” Blech. What I’ll do instead is put up a few vids of American-themed songs, whether they’re patriotic or not. America stirs strong emotions all over the world, both friendly and otherwise. That ought to make us feel proud. At least folks are thinking about us.

I also asked folks from Rate Your Music forum to come up with some USA songs and they’ve already come up with a ton of great suggestions. Check that thread out here.

What are some other good songs for Independence Day?

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Filed under music, Uncategorized, video