Wednesday, January 27, 2016

I See Nothing Wrong With This

What the hell?

Joseph Fiennes has been cast as Michael Jackson in a forthcoming TV drama from Sky Arts.

The one-off drama is based on an urban legend, entertainingly documented in a 2011 Vanity Fair article, which claims Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor and Marlon Brando fled New York City together in a rental car in the wake of 9/11.

According to the legend, Jackson had invited the Hollywood icons to his concert at Madison Square Garden and after the 9/11 attacks, when all air travel was cancelled, the trio decided to take a road trip to safety in California. "They actually got as far as Ohio – all three of them, in a car they drove themselves," a former employee of Jackson later claimed. Along the way, they apparently made pitstops at several fast food restaurants.

After all, there probably aren't any other actors who could pull this off, right?


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Friday, January 22, 2016

No One Wants to Buy New Music

There's one good way to look at this--we're going to be arguing about music from the 1960s and '70s for another thirty years or so. Can you imagine someone in 1970 having anything remotely resembling a conversation about music from the turn of the century? Can you imagine any other era in American history where the popular music of one decade remained relevant for sixty or seventy years?

And I'm not talking about a handful of incredible artists. I'm talking about at least several thousand albums and several hundred different, distinct artists who still sell relatively large numbers of records.

Popular music was something consume and move on from. We have not moved on from an era running roughly from 1964 to 1979. Incredible.


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Selling You the Same Thing a Fourth or Fifth Time

This is an older article, but it's a damned good read. If you're interested in vinyl, and why wouldn't you be, I think you need to know the latest scam that's being perpetrated by the major labels:

There was a gold rush at Sony and the other majors, and it’s hard to shake the feeling that the labels are trying to sell their archive a third time, this time to middle-aged buyers who can remember buying vinyl, naturally switched over to the CD, sold or threw away their old vinyl and aren’t completely happy with streaming today. A look at the vinyl section of a large Berlin store proves the shelves are full of reissues of old titles, mostly from major labels. Record players can be purchased right at the checkout. There’s nothing wrong with that – music should be sold in the formats that meet customer demand. But there are indicators that the majors are actively trying to secure substantial vinyl production capacity at the remaining pressing plants. How? By paying in advance. There might even be presses completely reserved for certain companies. That techno EP can wait – Led Zeppelin can’t. In the course of researching this article, we received emails that confirm such requests by the majors.

If this is the case – and the pressing plants are denying it – it would mean that the majors are attempting to buy their way into an industry that they played a significant role in destroying. And they are attempting once again to starve the indie labels, the very labels that never gave up on vinyl. On Record Store Day, when the shops are full of specially-made vinyl records and customers wait in line for these limited editions, the pressing plants have already had many hard weeks of work leading up to it. Who knows how many machines were quickly patched-up in lieu of a proper repair? Nobody has time to take a breath. The next releases are already on standby, and the machines continue to run at a furious pace.

But the vinyl production process isn’t only slowed down by the pressing plants – there are many steps long before a record is pressed that are also subject to complications. “The problem is the monopolization,” says Andreas Lubich, a mastering engineer and vinyl expert from Berlin. “There are currently many good mastering studios that prepare music for vinyl and also take care of the recording themselves. But the cutting machines are old and have to be used with a great deal of care. Replacement parts are rare and the secondhand market prices are unfathomable. Only a handful of people can repair them. They travel around the world throughout the year and have more to do than they can handle. In the worst case this means that a machine will lie idle for many weeks.”
The trouble starts before that. “There are only two companies worldwide that produce lacquers. One of these companies is a one-man operation in Japan run by an old man who produces the lacquers in his garage. It’s excellent quality, but who knows how much longer he can and especially will want to continue to do this. When we are in contact with him, we attempt to order as many lacquers as we can in order to stock up as much as possible. You don’t really know when you will reach him again. The other company is in the USA and serves a large portion of the market. It is practically a monopoly. This is not good for business.”

The whole thing is worth a read. But for a handful of European companies, running antiquated machinery, the whole vinyl resurgence would grind to a halt.


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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Foo Fighters Are the Greatest American Rock Band

Now, I don't want to get off on an anti-Eagles rant here. That sort of thing has a shelf life, and I'm not interested in trying to make an argument based on the legendary assholery of Glenn Frey and Don Henley. What good would that do?

I will say this--if you're going to have a discussion about the greatest American rock and roll band, you start with the fucking Foo Fighters.

Full stop. Foo Fighters are the greatest American rock and roll band.

Can they fill arenas? Yep.

Can they rock the hell out of any song you want to throw at them? Yep.

Can they put out albums and not embarrass themselves? Yes, mostly and mainly.

They've been doing this for twenty years. How many American bands have lasted longer than that? Don't count Aerosmith because they stopped being a band for a while. Don't count Kiss because they threw guys out who were integral to the band. Twenty years is forever and a day for an American rock and roll band.

Foo Fighters aren't done. They can go another twenty, and if they do, then they are the greatest American rock and roll band. If they quit tomorrow, they're top three, easily.

But what's sad? They're not even in the top ten of all time bands. England has eight of them and Ireland and Canada each has one.

1. Beatles
2. Stones
3. Led Zeppelin
4. The Who
5. The Kinks
6. Pink Floyd
7. Stone Roses
8. The Smiths
9. U2
10. Rush

Foo Fighters are somewhere in the top twenty, and props to Green Day as well. The Eagles aren't even in the top 50. This is just my ridiculous list. Argue amongst yourselves.


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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

I Just Died of Absolute Boredom and I Don't Know Why

I mean...zzzzzzzz...

Sting and Peter Gabriel will tour together in the US on a tour they have dubbed the "The Rock Paper Scissors tour".

The live dates will see Sting and Gabriel perform solo sets and also as a duo. Each night will see one half of the pair perform a solo set with the decision as to who that is decided on the night.

Introducing the concept of the tour in a video you can see below, Sting says: "We will start together. We’ll do two songs together, and then we’ll choose who will do a set on their own, 15/ 20 minutes, and then we’ll come together again.”

At present, the tour will only include dates in North America. The jaunt begins on June 21 at the Nationwide Arena on Columbus, Ohio and ends in Edmonton, Alberta on July 24.

If someone hits a drum too loud, it could possibly wake me up. And I like Sting and I like Peter Gabriel, but. What were we talking about?

Oh, right. If you're going to see them in Lake Tahoe, it's $225 for the good seats. Even though that's insane, it's cheap because these guys are still considered famous. I'm not saying they won't pick up acoustic guitars and put everyone to sleep instantly, but it could happen.

God, I hope he plays a nine minute slow version of Fragile on a mandolin while Peter shushes the crowd with a well timed triangle solo.

Everyone Hates False Modesty

Yeah, don't tell stories like this on purpose:

On the receipt of NME's Godlike Genius Award 2016, Coldplay discussed the recent death of one of music's legends, David Bowie. "I felt incredibly sad when I heard David Bowie had died," said guitarist Jonny Buckland. "We've all loved his music for as long as we've known about music."

Drummer Will Champion continued, "When you have any involvement in music he was one of the points of reference for absolutely everything, for genres and for how to be a rockstar or a popstar or whatever it was. Completely defining that. So for musicians it's quite disorienting." 

In the below video, though, Champion reveals their past dealings with the man himself. The Coldplay lads once tried contacting Bowie to see if he would consider collaborating with them on one of their songs in which they had a "David Bowie-type character". 

Singer Chris Martin sent him a letter asking him to be involved and, according to a smiling Will Champion, Bowie replied, "It's not a very good song, is it?" Coldplay's reaction was to not be overly phased – Champion notes, "He was very discerning – he wouldn't just put his name to anything. I'll give him credit for that!"

This is one you quietly put away and forget. The stories you want to tell are the ones where people actually liked your band.


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Lush Will Visit North America This Year

Lush are coming to North America:

14th April - The Roxy Theatre, LA - tickets

16th April - Coachella Festival, Indio - tickets

17th April - The Warfield Theater, San Francisco - tickets

19th April - Crystal Ballroom, Portland - tickets

20th April - The Showbox, Seattle - tickets

21st April - Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver - tickets

23rd April - Coachella Festival, Indio - tickets

14th Sept - Terminal 5, NYC - tickets 

15th Sept - Royale, Boston - tickets

18th Sept - Vic Theatre, Chicago - tickets

21st Sept - 9:30 Club, DC - tickets

22nd Sept - Union Transfer, Philadelphia - tickets

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Monday, January 11, 2016

David Bowie 1947-2015

The New York Times:

“Under Pressure,” a collaboration with the glam-rock group Queen, supplied a bass line for the 1990 Vanilla Ice hit “Ice Ice Baby.”

Proof that the fundamental grasp of important culture has slipped away from whoever edits the Times these days. Jeebus.

How many Bowie obituaries are referencing Vanilla Ice today?

Thursday, January 7, 2016

David Lowery vs Spotify

Right when I was in the middle of blowing up all the blogs, this happened:

Camper Van Beethoven and Cracker frontman David Lowery, retaining the law firm of Michelman & Robinson, LLP, has filed a class action lawsuit seeking at least $150 million in damages against Spotify, alleging it knowingly, willingly, and unlawfully reproduces and distributes copyrighted compositions without obtaining mechanical licenses.

The lawsuit comes amidst ongoing settlement negotiations between Spotify and the National Music Publishers Assn. over the alleged use of allowing users to play music that hasn’t been properly licensed, and also without making mechanical royalty payments to music publishers and songwriters. According to sources, Spotify has created a $17 million to $25 million reserve fund to pay royalties for pending and unmatched song use.

The lawsuit was filed on Dec. 28 in the Central District Court of California.
According to the complaint, Spotify has unlawfully distributed copyrighted music compositions to more than 75 million users, but failed to identify or locate the owners of those compositions for payment, and did not issue a notice of intent to employ a compulsory license.

"We are committed to paying songwriters and publishers every penny," says Spotify global head of communications and public policy Jonathan Prince in a statement. "Unfortunately, especially in the United States, the data necessary to confirm the appropriate rightsholders is often missing, wrong, or incomplete. When rightsholders are not immediately clear, we set aside the royalties we owe until we are able to confirm their identities. We are working closely with the National Music Publishers Association to find the best way to correctly pay the royalties we have set aside and we are investing in the resources and technical expertise to build a comprehensive publishing administration system to solve this problem for good."

The complaint states that Spotify has "publicly" admitted its failure to obtain licenses and created a reserve fund of millions of dollars for royalty payments which have been "wrongfully withheld from artists." The use of songs not lawfully licensed "creates substantial harm and injury to the copyright holders, and diminishes the integrity of the works," the complaint states.

The songs alleged to have been Illegally reproduced and/or distributed by Spotify include "Almond Grove" (copyright registration No. PAu003764032); "Get On Down the Road" (No. PAu003745342); "King of Bakersfield" (No. PAu003745341); and "Tonight I Cross the Border" (No. PAu003745338), according to the complaint.

The complaint further notes that statutory penalties allow for judgments between $750-30,000 for each infringed work, and up to $150,000 per song for willful infringement.
The complaint claims the lawsuit qualifies as a class action because there is a well-defined community of interest in the litigation and that members of the proposed class, which will exceed 100 members, can be easily identified via discovery from Spotify's database files and records. A class action is more efficient than letting the courts be burdened with individual litigation, if every member of the class could afford to pursue action (which is highly unlikely). Class actions conserve the resources of the parties and the court system and protects the rights of each member of the class.

In addition to entering an order appointing Lowery as the class representative and the plaintiff's counsel as class counsel, the complaint asks the court to enjoin Spotify from continued copyright infringement; from further violations of California Business & Professions Code § 17200; injunctive relief that requires Spotify to pay for the services of a third party auditor to identify the works reproduced and distributed by Spotify without first obtaining a mechanical license; and requires Spotify to remove all such works from its services until it obtains the proper licenses.
Lowery, who also teaches at the University of Georgia, and the class seek restitution on Spotify's unlawful proceeds, including defendants' gross profits; for compensatory damages in an amount to be ascertained at trial; statutory damages for all penalties authorized by the Copyright Act; reasonable attorneys' fees and cost; and pre-and post judgment interest on monetary awards.

I am a proud supporter of Lowery's efforts to hold business models like Spotify's up to some level of scrutiny. At this very moment, artists are being ripped off while large companies see their valuation skyrocket. A streaming music service can be worth an implausibly large amount of money because there will always be an "endless" supply of "free" music that can be marketed and delivered to people without having to pay the artists. Spotify is worth an estimated $8 billion dollars. That number will plummet if they're forced to actually pay people what they're owed.

See also:

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Lush Are Playing Coachella

It's not as if Miki or Emma will listen, but, don't open for Guns and Roses, ladies.

Coachella better pay well. That's all I'm saying. I'll never forgive Coachella for the cold, indifferent response that the Stone Roses received and that's because the Coachella audience isn't there for music. They're in it for the scene.

And what's funny is that the music industry has changed so much that the Friday night headliner is a dance-punk electronica alternative band and the Sunday night headliner is a DJ who doubles as an underwear model. Axl Rose and company aren't even headlining the festival. You couldn't make this up if you tried.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Can You Make Money Selling Vinyl Records?

I doubt very much that this will continue:

Music retailer HMV has revealed that they sold one vinyl player every minute in the week running up to Christmas.

As reported by The Scotsman, the company also predicted vinyl sales of around two million in 2016 as the ‘vinyl revival’ continues.

Ian Topping, Chief Executive of HMV, said: “Entertainment products form a major part of the Christmas shopping list. The gift of the year in 2015, though, has to be a turntable as we have seen a huge resurgence in the sales of vinyl.”

Gennaro Castaldo, spokesman for industry body the BPI, stated, “Having faced near-extinction in 2007, when only 205,000 LPs were sold, it’s likely we’ll see the best part of two million copies purchased this year.”

He continued: “While some fans are buying vinyl simply to own and collect it, many, naturally, want to be able to enjoy its warm, authentic sound, but unfortunately no longer have access to turntables. So it’s no surprise if retailers are reporting a surge in demand for record players as one of the ‘must-have’ Christmas gifts this year.”

Barnes & Noble used to be a book store. I know because I worked there! Now it's a toy store. And in the middle of the toy store, they sell vinyl records. The problem is, this is reissued vinyl cut from the digital masters used to produce compact discs or music downloads. 

Many of these recordings were made "natively" by a producer and engineer team that employed software such as Pro Tools. Their work went through this digital process (and was not intended at all for a vinyl release) or was converted to a digital master from tapes. You're not getting the same product that you would have gotten thirty years ago when they were still producing albums in vinyl and CD format at the same time. One of the last vinyl albums that I bought was Hold Your Fire by Rush (among many others, but 1987-8 was the "stopping point" for vinyl for me as I was kind of a late adapter to CDs). 

Everything sounds about as good as the equipment you play it on and the speakers you set up. Don't buy this new vinyl expecting something magical--it's all crap. Buy old records and see if you can't tell the difference. If you don't care and can't hear any difference, buy what you like. Old farts have no business telling people what to do.

If HMV can make money doing this, someone needs to get with the clowns at Barnes &Noble. Their abandoned bin full of uncategorized vinyl sits in the middle of the store and does nothing except confuse people looking for the toys their kids asked for a month ago.




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Game Theory Were Just Okay

Everyone's trying to find that lost genius out there that will prove to everyone that they have discovered something incredible you didn't grasp or understand because you're not special enough to have done so:

In mid-December, Omnivore Records announced a reissue of Game Theory’s 1987 double LP, “Lolita Nation.” To say the news was long-awaited is an understatement: The album has been out of print and nearly impossible to find on CD for many years (unless you want to shell out big bucks on eBay), and it’s considered by many to be the finest work produced by songwriter Scott Miller. Although known as a power-pop touchstone, the Mitch Easter-produced “Lolita Nation” is actually far denser and more complicated than that tag might imply: The collection leapfrogs through genres and sounds—theatrical synthrock, psych-torqued pop, swaggering jangle-rock, British Invasion exuberance, soul-jazz moodpieces—with fluid grace and ease.

One of the more bittersweet aspects of the “Lolita Nation” reissue is that Miller isn’t here to see it, as he took his own life in 2013. His unexpected death stunned fans, and spurred an outpouring of grief and admiration from musicians, journalists and fans alike. One such admirer was Boston-based journalist Brett Milano, who recently published a compelling, comprehensive biography of the musician, “Don’t All Thank Me at Once: The Lost Pop Genius of Scott Miller.” (More information and places to buy the book are here.)

There was a time in the early 1990s when I listened to these records. I owned them, and I sold them off because I didn't find anything in them worth hanging on to. Not bad, just not great. I still have Donette Thayer's collaboration with Steve Kilbey because, yeah, Kilbey is an actual genius and has the catalog to prove it. She was a bigger deal than Miller, if you want to get right down to it. Game Theory was an interesting attempt at a band, but it was all too obscure and pretentious. You can make the case that Scott Miller was a genius, but he was actually just another pretentious indie artist from the 1980s and 1990s who got to make some records. They didn't sell because people didn't get into them. Dime a dozen, man. Dime a dozen.

That doesn't mean Miller was an obscure genius. And it doesn't mean that there's anything wrong with really liking Game Theory. There's also nothing wrong with saying meh, either. People felt the same way about Royal Crescent Mob, Pere Ubu, Wire Train, The Rave-Ups, The Rainmakers, and Fire Town. Where does it get you? I have no idea, either.