Well, after weeks of hard listening and extreme ear fatigue, I finally sifted through the thousands of tracks available in the Unofficial SXSW torrents and selected/curated what I feel are the best 100 tracks of the bunch. Now, of course, my opinion will vary from many others. But my selection process weeded out only what I felt were either sound-alikes or not representative of musical ideas that captured the independent spirit (as nebulous an idea as that is) or just simply sounded like crap, and not in a lo-fi way. I also assumed that listeners would want variety, which would include tracks that sounded good but were not my “cup of tea”. I narrowed it down to 134 tracks from the 1154 tracks in the two unofficial torrents representing the promotional tracks made available on the official SXSW site for this year. Then I went back over that 134 and narrowed it down to a very difficult 100 tracks. That was tough, dropping tracks that I thought were great but not as great as others. But I finally did it and here it is…
Best 100 of SXSW 2011 (unofficial) *tpb link*
Grab it if you want a decent cross-section of the good stuff this year but don’t want to download 6 and a half GIGS of music to do so. I did this because I figured that most people wouldn’t want to devote that much space to something that would probably only yield about 100 tracks they’d want to keep anyway. (for most, probably much, much fewer) I found as of yesterday I’ve kept about 20 tracks. I did have a few duplicates in there. If you download my playlists and other’s, chances are you will find a few duplicates as well. I really hope this is something people will want and if they end up downloading it in droves, I’ll do it again next year. (unless I’m actually there… in which case I’ll most likely do it many days after it’s all over due to being worn the hell out)
Indie69’s April Playlist is coming, hopefully early this time instead of the usual lateness. Enjoy this in the meantime.
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It’s a short artist, producer or curator interview conducted via e-mail that can either be 6.9 questions answered through a single e-mail exchange or more conversationally through several exchanges, 1 question at a time. I’m having fun with it so far, I hope it’s entertaining and/or informative for you, the reader. I’m also proud that my first interview is with one of my favorite artists, William Doyle. He agreed to the conversational style, thankfully, and here it is…be gentle this is my first.
William Doyle is lead vocalist, songwriter (in his band, along with Ben Clarke-multi-instrumentalist, Michael Goozee-Bass, and Alex Urch-Drums-Percussion), and guitarist/keyboardist. Doyle and the Fourfathers are from Southampton and were formed some time after William’s debut solo work, Born In The USB (my pick for album of the year in 2009). The band’s debut full album release, “Man Made”, was released on Feb 28, 2011 and can be had by mail through Rough Trade(CD or Vinyl) or digitally through 7Digital, iTunes, and Amazon (and soon eMusic). They are touring starting at the end of March, supporting The Undertones through the month of April, followed by some summer festival gigs. Find more info on the tour dates here by clicking “gigs”.
Indie69 – As you know already, I was a big fan of your first release, “Born In The USB“. Looking back at that time, do you recall your expectations for the direction of your music career and musical style being similar to what they are now? Or did you see something different for yourself back then?
My expectations for this album were high. Very high. Their last album Missles, for me, was a masterpiece. Others didn’t agree. Most of them, in fact. (maybe even me at first) Even some fans disliked it. (and to demonstrate that, sort of, even in a few of the good reviews of the new album, some show that they are not even paying attention, with comparisons to Coldplay ??!!?? and TV on The Radio, which hints of a non-musical comparison in my humble opinion, if you get my drift) But for me, it was a grow-er, not a show-er. It was subdued, reflective and all the other words you use to describe something not quite as loud and flamboyant as the last thing one of your favorite artists created. The tracks were wonderful, and to me, perfect. But they also held a promise. A bit like that ugly duckling, except we’re clued in on what that duck really is. Now all we have to do is wait and watch everyone else discover what’s to come. Now that wait is over and The Dears have become part what they were, part what they turned into and part something entirely new. Some have failed to see it that way, sure. But then again some of those same people prefer to listen to what sounds like the Beach Boys finding a software synth and recording their music in a broom closet with a mini-cassette recorder* with towels over their mouths. I guess I mean… I wasn’t too surprised. Degeneration Street is in my opinion the culmination of everything The Dears have done right over the years, finally captured and executed fearlessly.
I wanted to wait a period of time before writing anything about this album, I wanted to get inside it and listen to it’s dark corners, to be able to know it rather than just be familiar. I must make a small disclaimer here, I am a Fan. (yes, with a capital F) But this album is too good, too right for this moment in time to discard my opinion just because I’ve loved what they’ve done in the past.
I was first clued in to what was coming when I found THIS video one day on YouTube, a live recording from their residency shows in Mexico City, playing their entire new album for a live audience far before its release. Pretty unheard of. What I saw was new, strong (and loud) material from a band that seemed to be playing as if their lives depended on it, except with wide, knowing grins. There’s a moment in the video when Krief gets a look on his face that seems to be saying “am I here? AND a part of this? Nice!”, a moment that it all seems to have dawned on him. The passion was palpable from just that one video. You could cut the enthusiasm in the room (the band and audience) with a knife. I don’t think you have to be a fan to get chills from watching it for the first time. Then the second, third, and fourth times. The Dears have never been this good live, period. Close, but no cigar. They have either found their passion again, or they spent some serious time in the “shed”, rehearsing the songs and playing together for hours at a time, for weeks without days off. They sound renewed. And Omega Dog is a perfect example, both its live and studio versions. The drums are front and center, then that familiar guitar kicks in. It slowly progresses into a grandiose showcase for the guitar-freak-out talents of Patrick Krief perfectly juxtaposed before a bed of tape-strip choir voices/strings in the Mellotron style, then a digital harpsichord overtaken by space-out synth/effect noise and an onslaught of bass and drums. Then the abrupt end. What a pay-off.
This makes way on the album to the more familiar Dearsiness of “5 Chords”, which delivers the romanticism they’re famous for. Then “Blood”, the second track previewed before the album’s release, (another with a great live version you can see HERE), contains a bit of that different stuff I was mentioning. It’s louder, harder and very in your face while keeping that Dears catchiness and pop genius. This track really puts it out there, front and center, that this is by far the best sounding Dears album so far. The mix pops in just the right places. “Thrones” follows strongly in spite of my inability to decipher it lyrically. Perhaps another metaphor for the band’s past troubles? “Lamentation” feels like it would belong on Missiles, at first. But on Missiles the track would have stuck with the tone of the first two minutes, never moving out of it’s (beautiful) comfort zone. Instead it explodes in unexpected directions. “Torches” is a short interlude (instrumental), leading into what I consider the real standout of the album, “Galactic Tides”. My god, this is nearly prog! Epic epicness at an epic scale. There’s not much here lyrically, but what is there counts. It feels pessimistic and gloomy, but in a beautiful, large way. As if to cheer us up, next we get “Yesteryear”, an upbeat, uplifting track with a Holland-Dozier-Holland beatstyle. But with a chorus that would have made those guys flee the room, perhaps even in fear (in a good way, from today’s perspective). Then in this same track, we have a middle section with a Beatlesque vocal interlude. And on a side note, is it misery or mercy? Or maybe both? In “Stick With Me, Kid”, we get what The Dears are great at, the romantic, triumphant, scream-along-in-the-crowd anthem.
“I will run, till there’s nowhere left to run.
I will love, till there’s no-one left to love.”
Trust me, if you ever get the chance to see this one live, you’ll pump your fist in the air and sing along. In the past, this track could have easily aped the lo-fi, back to basics era of Blur, but this is a Dears that has moved past, if not beyond, their influences to arrive in a place of their own. And they deserve credit for it. Damn it. This is one track that ends too soon and probably could have used another minute of sing-along anthemic goodness and some more of that Krief magic at the end.
While “Tiny Man” is probably my least favorite track, musically, it is a great song. It makes me think about the world as it is now, how we can feel like there’s no place to feel.. not necessarily safe.. but truly free to live lives rather than feeling like you’re constantly fighting just to stay alive and healthy within four walls. The lyrics feel like a fantasy escape, perhaps the kind of escape every father or husband fantasizes for his family and loved ones, in which he finally finds a way to protect and shelter, away from the fears and dangers of the world. Where nothing bad happens, materialism never corrupts, and they will want for nothing. An ark into space to planet perfect, where the children can “grow and no-one will know”.
“Easy Suffering” could easily fit on “No Cities Left”, as could “Unsung”, especially when the change comes and Natalia gets another shot at the mic in the latter. Lovely song, with a Radiohead-esque intro (without aping them) and a nice big finish. So many of these songs seem to me to be talking directly about the band itself, none more-so than “1854”, with it’s common Dears theme of not giving up, no matter what. Echoes of “Never Destroy Us” are present, but subtly. Musically, it’s far away and above that track.
“We will surrender, at the sight of frozen hell..
and we will surrender, on the last ring of the bell…”
Another Dears anthem, and it works. Chills. All the way to the strangely familiar sounding ending that I can’t put my finger on. Then there’s that last ring of the bell. Perfect. Of course you cannot ignore the title of the song, which refers to the year of the Kansas-Nebraska act and the first Lincoln-Douglas debate (before they ran against each other), where Lincoln first laid out his reasoned argument against slavery. How it must have felt, knowing that a semblance of freedom may be just around the corner, yet just out of reach. They probably realistically hoped only for their children, or their children’s children. Maybe I’m reading too much into it. In any case, chills again.
The title track ends the album beautifully. What a showcase for Murray’s voice this is. And there’s a guitar bit in there that sounds like a cross between Brain May and Robert Fripp, with a limp. It all ends far too soon, like so many great things. (unlike this review, har har) And we are left wondering how long it will be before we get another Dears album, as well as who will be on it. I really, really hope they can keep this lineup together this time around. It’s magical. It will be hard to top this one. No, I don’t mean The Dears. I mean everyone else.
It would be far too easy to simply say that The Dears have “matured”, a term usually having more to do with comfort and a kind of settling when it comes to music. A term used by people who still revere their heroes, but are afraid to tell them they’re getting stale. No, I think The Dears are actually late bloomers, just now reaching their peak and finding their real voices. Let’s hope this is just the beginning and we get to keep The Dears around for a long time to come. Long live The Dears.
(you can still download “Blood” from the Dangerbird site by giving them an e-mail address, and “Omega Dog, as well as other tracks, all over the blogosphere, but really you should buy this masterpiece, as the CD sounds magnificent!)
And this just in! Great live session on KEXP, short interview, 4 songs.
*The first time I heard one of these, it was interesting. The second and third time is was quaint, a novelty. From the fourth onward, I wanted to claw my ears out with the broken, jagged keys of a Casiotone like a smoke-stained, over-sized plastic q-tip. Enjoy it, embrace it, love it while it’s here, but please stop worshiping it. I’m not putting a name to this genre because far too many good artists have been labeled using the same label as this dreck. So speculate away, bitches. I’m not playing. Lo-fi all you want, but when you use the same instruments, the same settings and the same vocal affectations…even the same beats… it gets real old, real fast. Parts of the 80s were fun, sure. But parts of them were also repetitive, forced and duplicative.
Every year I say to myself … “self, you suck for not going to SXSW this year and you will now promise yourself that you will go next year”. And every next year that arrives finds me sadly talking to myself again instead of getting my lame butt down there to see it all happen in front of me. That’s the bad news. The good news is that while I mumble to myself alone and in crowds each year, somewhere someone is quietly compiling all the free mp3s made available through SXSW’s official website and turning it into a massive Torrent that you can download. So maybe you’re like me and either cannot make it “this time”, or you’re there already and want a piece of the action you’re about to enjoy in person, a piece you can take back home with you. You’re in luck,because said Torrents for 2011 are ready for download, NOW!
But careful now, make sure you have the space for it, because these torrents are MASSIVE! So massive, in fact, that I’m compiling my own “best of SXSW even though I can’t be there” top 69 tracks torrent (coming soon). These torrents combined make for a merely huge, barely enormous,
6.58 GIGABYTES!! Holy cow! You can grab it all, or wait a couple of days for my truncated version. Either way you’re in for what will surely be some great musical rewards. I suggest grabbing it all. But rest assured I will not be choosing tracks based solely on my own musical tastes. I will be selecting tracks based on whether or not I think the track or artist sounds like a “sound-alike”. I will also be choosing a wide variety. Chances are if you trust my monthly selections, you’ll be happy with my choices. I’m sure others are doing the same thing. Maybe you should! Nothing stoppin’ ya! Self-mumblers unite!! (and take over)
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Image and this document licensed using a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) License.
I remember hearing the word “sellout” a lot about 7 or 8 years ago. I hear it less and less these days, as it relates to music, for good reason. Many bands are still able to tour and produce new recordings ONLY because they are willing to allow commercial use of their songs, tour sponsorships and other less common means of monetizing their content/personas. Before, a corporate sponsor usually meant an artist (who was not really an artist at all in many cases) had probably figured out that his or her 15 minutes were at the 14.5 minute mark and wanted to secure some kind of post-popularity survival. Or said artist wanted a LOT more money. Maybe because they blew it all on coke or an expensive party habit. Maybe because they were generous and thought it was all going to keep rolling in forever. I mean, how many people who end up being one hit wonders actually know they will be one hit wonders? Probably not very many.
Now, go to a show and you can meet band members standing behind the merch booth right with the fans, signing and selling. Bands that, a few short years ago, would have maintained that false wall and distant, unattainable persona. Noo-one calls them sell-outs. What happened? What changed?
There was a well-attended panel at SxSW talking about how “subcultures” (or niches) can prosper (make the moneys) without “selling out”. Like it’s a magic trick, and maybe there are rules. Listen, if someone wants to call you or think you are a “sell out”, nothing YOU do or say will make that person change his or her mind until someone calls that person out for being an ass-hat. And I have to ask. Is it always necessary for the curators and taste-makers of the world to make a living off it? I’m not suggesting it’s wrong to do so, but I’m also not suggesting it’s always appropriate. Certainly, I would never attack someone for taking a buck for having really good taste and magical powers of discovery. I am saying that typically ad-trickery, sneaky ads, obvious under-the-table swag and cash for critical art-love and questionable partnerships/sponsorships CAN be a bad sign. And you cannot blame folks for making at least some assumptions. Then again, I tend to write only about stuff I love, which some people see as a red flag. I usually simply side with the fictional, animated character Thumper when it comes to my critical focus. If you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say “nothin’ ” at all. Well, isn’t that quaint? Of course this doesn’t apply to my non-music articles or music-biz articles. I think those balance things out a little. I can be, let’s say, a little hard on certain points of view or ways of doing business. This article could well be an example.
People get impatient. When that first thousand (or ms. million if you’re nasty) doesn’t fall into their hands after that first diss-article on Radiohead or Grizzly Bear gets the attention of the editors at Pitchfork, they can get lazy and “other options” fall into their laps. And it’s so hard to find the signal in all the ad-supported noise out there. It can be much easier for people to simply dismiss a blogger, magazine or site and lazily call them sell-outs. So, in a way, it can be difficult to feel sorry for these publishers, since they’ve taken the easy way out (or in).
A little patience and observation of sites and businesses that have been very careful how they proceed commercially could just lead to the building of trust. Take for instance TWIT, ex-Tech-TV host and radio host-programmer Leo Laporte’s home-built network. For decades, Leo has built trust with his audience. That’s right, DECADES. Of course, not all of us can do this, especially if what we cover is current pop or sub-culture. When you’re worried about breaking a hip, it’s hard to find time to stay hip. But he is still a great example of how to build trust. Don’t accept sponsorships from companies you would not do business with yourself. Be careful about advice, be protective of your audience(and they will, in turn, protect you). Never participate in duping them or ripping them off. Always remember your audience/readers and keep them in mind. If you do all of these things and someone still calls you a sell-out, chances are they’re not only wrong, but also in the minority.Even big names worry about this kind of thing. Filmmaker Kevin Smith recently worried publicly about being seen as a sell-out when a company offered to make him a Twitter Book, an actual bound book containing all of his Tweets. In exchange, they simply asked that he take a picture of himself with his free book and post it. Not exactly a sell-out move. He got a free book and they got a single instance of almost-free publicity. No big deal, right? Oh no. See, what Kevin didn’t realize was that people (or, rather, celebrities) are getting paid THOUSANDS for a single Tweet mention. His followers started accusing him, asking him how much he “got paid for that one”. But, see, the other thing he maybe doesn’t realize is that a certain portion of the public not only always assumes the worst, but actually hates the celebrities they follow more than they love them. And worrying about what they think is a bit like trying to convince a bully how cool you are. You will never change them. Whatever change they make happen within will most likely never involve you. They’ve already made up their minds about you. Some brains, also, will always remain tiny and walled-off. The best you can hope for is that they grow bored with you and move on to a Kardashian rather than sticking around and finding out you don’t live down to their expectations.
But, you may ask, what about now? How will I pay the bills now!? Well, ask yourself if you’re homeless. If not, why not? Whatever it is you do to make sure that doesn’t happen, extend it to what you love doing, whether it’s blogging, podcasting, writing,music, film, criticism, commentary, community-building. Whatever it is, treat it like you’d treat food and water, shelter and electricity. Because I guarantee you, the other people who succeeded doing the thing you do? They did this. And if that means you have to put it first, above something else you love or love doing, make the leap and put it first, no matter the cost. And if it isn’t worth it, if it’s not important enough to you to do that, do THE OTHER THING that comes first instead and quit wasting your time doing this other thing that doesn’t matter as much. Quite simple, really. And you don’t need me or some guru to charge you money to tell it to you either. (oops, bubble-burster.. sorry gurus!!) But don’t listen to me, I haven’t made my first million yet. Seriously, I have not “made it” on any level at anything much at all.
But always remember, if there’s a hole in your pocket and your keys, change, etc are falling out, does it matter if it’s the homeless guy that tells you about it 10 feet down the road.. or the “Marketing Professional” at the next block? The messenger is not always important. But the message almost always is, if it is.
In a world filled with blatant, audacious, garish, gaudy marketing and in-your-face, empty commercialism, whatever a real artist has to do to simply live a creatively prosperous life, reasonably staving off hardship and struggle, is fair game. If it means you might have to hear your favorite indie darlings in a Toyota ad (say, as an older example.. Queen’s “Don’t stop me now” or Soul 2 Soul’s “Keep on movin’..don’t stop“.. lol.. sorry.. could not resist that one) then try to remember there’s a good chance the money they received in exchange probably allowed them to come play in your town.. with equipment that actually sounds good.. and..
kinda get over yourself…
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