CD Recomendations

Shit, I spent a lot of money on CD's. Here's my haul for the last two weeks:

The d4, 6Twenty
The Who, Who's Next (Deluxe Edition)
Vic Chesnutt, Silver Lake
Idlewild, The Rumor Part
The Derailers, Genuine
Joe Jackson Band, Volume 4
Turin Brakes, Ether Song
Radiohead, Palacio Congresos, Salamance, Spain, August 7, 2002 (Bootleg)
Sorry About Dresden, Let It Rest
Stephen Malkmus, Pig Lib
Uncle Tupelo, Anodyne
Cursive, The Ugly Organ

My April Etc. Column: Is Downloading Killing the Record Business?

Writing about music used to have its perks. Besides the obvious
gratification of having your opinion showcased in front of the entire
city, there were many less obvious reasons why I've been writing for
almost fifteen years. It certainly wasn't the money, nor the
opportunity to meet women (one has to actually play the guitar to
attract groupies, not write about guitarists).
There were plenty of thrills back in the Tempest days. I had the
opportunity to interview many of my idols (along with plenty not of
my personal tastes); I shared cocktails with a few of these greats. I
had the opportunity to stand in the sidelines as local bands went
through the usual cycle of meeting, jamming, playing, thriving, and
inevitably calling it quits.
The perk that excited me the most, though, was the sort the mailman
dropped off at my door. The Nineties, particularly the first half,
was a time when record labels desparately wanted their music heard. A
simple call would result in a box of goodies. One label
representative even kept a box in his office that he'd fill with not
only the official releases but rare singles and radio promos. When
the box was full, he'd ship it.
Ah, the good old days. Not that everything was available in
promotional form, nor did it prevent me from spending a good
percentage of my paycheck on music. It was bountiful enough to keep
me going, though, even during times that I had little desire to pump
out 3000 words of copy.
Unfortunately, those days are long gone. Labels don't care about
little guys like myself. Lately, they've even given up on "real"
reviewers. When members of Linkin Park was called by the Minneapolis
Tribune to promote a recent appearance, the band was reportedly
shocked to hear that the label refused to provide the reporter a copy
of Meteora, which wasn't due for release for a few days before the
Why are labels so paranoid? The story begins a few years ago when
Metallica single-handedly made Napster a household name. Metallica
had provided a tune for the Mission Impossible soundtrack, and weeks
before the album was released the band discovered that the song was
readily available online.
We all know the firestorm caused by this incident. Metallica sued
Napster. Napster sued back. BMG purchased Napster, only to see their
pay-per-download model die before it's release. Napster closed down,
only to be quickly replaced by Kazaa, Limewire, WinMx, and many
Now downloading is the cliched blame for everything that ails the
record biz. One cannot read a story about the music business without
some blame cast on those darned kids grabbing their music for free.
it's the sole reason why sales are down almost 10%; why concert
tickets have risen by almost 50%, and why nobody cares about Michael
Jackson these days.
I'm willing to accept that downloading may be a small part of these
problems, although there has yet to be an extensive study to support
this position. Many even claim that downloading is leading to
increased sales; that the industry would be in even worse condition
if people weren't exploring the web for new music. This has
definitely been the case in my life. With radio and MTV tightening
their playlists, I've used the web to investigate what friends and
various magazines have suggested I add to my always-increasing
The industry is going overboard in their whining, though. Consider
this quote regarding Eminem's The Eminem Show by Eric Garland, the
CEO of BigChampagne, an online research company that tracks
downloads. "I think he's clearly been affected. Maybe even his legacy
is adversely affected, because The Eminem Show should have been his
Thriller." Okay, whatever.
It's number crunchers such as Garland that continue to perpetuate the
myth that all downloads are a lost sale. This is clearly not the
case. Sure, there are people that refuse to purchase music. Their
entire collection is amassed through Kazaa and LimeWire. They're the
electronic age's version of those annoying friends in the 70's and
80's who would borrow your entire collection to put to tape. They
rarely bought albums; they were content with crappy cassette versions
of your collection.
What Garland, Metallica, Linkin Park's record label, and Korn's
Jonathan Davis, who recently complained that the appearance of their
latest album months before it's release date was the sole reason for
it's dismal sales, won't even consider is the enthusiasm (and lack of
patience) of their hard-core fanbase. When word spreads that their
favorite artist has an album due for release, they want to hear it
and they want to hear it now.
Of all bands, Metallica should have realized this fact. They're
successful because of a loyal fanbase that would purchase every
t-shirt and would hunt down every over-priced import single. They
didn't lose a single sale due to downloading; those sorts of fans
were standing in line at record stores on the day the album was
finally released.
I may not be the biggest Metallica fan in the world, but I can relate
to this enthusiasm. I scour new release dates for my personal faves,
and immediately start looking for tracks from these albums. I
downloaded the Eminem album for my son a month before it's release;
that didn't stop us from purchasing did four million other
fans (Eminem protege 50 Cent recently repeated this same feat,
selling over two million albums in ten days despite an internet leak
weeks before). Just a few weeks ago, I scored on new albums by the
White Stripes, Jayhawks, and Lucinda Williams. I may sound like a
broken record, but those crappy CDR's will be replaced by the real
thing when they're released later this month.
Luckily, not everyone shares these paranoid thoughts. When Wilco was
having label problems, they placed Yankee Hotel Foxtrot on their own
website for downloading. The result was the biggest seller of their
career. Likewise, bands such as Radiohead and Weezer regularly offer
their fans sneak peaks of upcoming releases. Iceland's acclaimed
Sigur Rios didn't even have an American record deal until their debut
album became a Napster fave.
As stated before, online trading may be a serious issue but it's not
the only one. And it's not the most troubling...nor is it going away.
The record industry needs to look at the burgeoning sales of DVD's
and video games. These products have the same potential for online
theft, but they're thriving. Why? They're giving the public what they
want at what seems to be a reasonable price.
Enough ranting - here's a few albums that everyone should check out:
Jayhawks - Rainy Day Music. After a couple of attempts at
overproduced pop music, the veteran Minneapolis bands goes back to
their roots. Soaring harmonies, acoustic country-rock. Easily their
best album in over a decade.
Uncle Tupelo - No Depression, Still Feel Gone, March 16-20, 1992, and
Anodyne. The entire catalog of this legendary alt-country band has
been reissued with bonus tracks, informative liner notes, and, most
importantly, remastered sound.
Vic Chesnutt - Silver Lake. The acclaimed yet eccentric
singer/songwriter returns on a new label with the album of his
career. Recorded in a large living room in a California mansion, this
is easily his most fully realized release.
White Stripes - Elephant. The full-length followup to the critically
acclaimed White Blood Cells is quite possibly the most eagerly
anticipated album so far this year. There's no major overhauls - why
fix something that's not broken? it's still Jack White's ferocious
blues-influenced garage sound coupled with Meg White's simple yet
powerful beat. But there are some twists to the formula - there's a
bassline on a few tracks, Meg sings one tune ("In the Cold, Cold
Night"), and Burt Bachrach is covered ("I Just Don't Know What to Do
With Myself").
Lucinda Williams - World Without Tears. Those expecting another
version of 1998's Car Wheels on a Gravel Road will be in for a shock.
The Byrds-ish country rock of that album has been completely replaced
by a much rawer sound that's closer to the first-take immediacy of
early 70's Stones and Faces. There's a few missteps, but one cannot
help but be attracted to the naked honesty of her music.


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