Blog Archives

The West Will Rise Again – Thank You Efrim!

At the end of March, I was chatting to friends about music and A Silver Mt. Zion came up, so I thought I’d quickly Google them up. What did I see, but a new EP. A new US/Canada tour exclusive EP. Nightmare. And so I rolled my sleeves up and got emailing.

I started off by emailing Constellation (also home to Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Do Make Say Think and Tindersticks), A Silver Mt. Zion’s label, who informed me that the band were releasing the EP through Efrim’s just formed label Ruined City Birdsong Combos.

I emailed about 10 websites who had reviewed the record to see if they would be happy to sell the copy they reviewed. All of the websites who got back to me said the same thing – they’d downloaded the vinyl rip that was doing the rounds and used that for their review,

I lastly had a thought and emailed the band themselves through the link on their website and, in just 20 minutes, who should email me back but Efrim himself:

hey there miles,

yes and yes, we have some left.
would be happy to oblige, but payment would have to be through paypal (apologies).
also, would need yr. address for a shipping quote.

thanks,
efrim/mt. zion

How’s that for a score? A few more emails later (plus shipping time) I received a well wrapped 7″.

The first thing any ardent fans will notice (I sure did), is the very familiar scrawl on the envelope. It’s evidently Efrim who does almost all the writing on the SMZ artwork. I found it quite bizarre to see my name and address written like this (complete with crossed i’s and fullstops)!

Unwrapping The West Will Rise Again

Unwrapping The West Will Rise Again

Unwrapping The West Will Rise Again

Unwrapping The West Will Rise Again

Unwrapping The West Will Rise Again

Unwrapping The West Will Rise Again

(Fight The Good Fight by the way – had to look that one up!)

Unwrapping The West Will Rise Again

Unwrapping The West Will Rise Again

I’ve found there are very few images besides the cover on the internet, and with the artwork being such an important part of any SMZ release, I’ve decided I’ll pop some photos and scans up before I go into the music! Enjoy!

The West Will Rise Again front cover

The West Will Rise Again front cover

The West Will Rise Again back cover

The West Will Rise Again back cover

The West Will Rise Again

The West Will Rise Again

To be continued…

 

War and Peace

This week Australia and New Zealand commemorated ANZAC Day*. As part of this event, the Gallipoli Art Prize is given out to the artwork that a panel of judges feel best depicts the spirit of the Gallipoli Campaign, as expressed in the Club’s creed of  “…loyalty, respect, love of country, courage and comradeship….”.

Watching various TV clips with artist who were sent to, or chose to go to, warzones in order to document something so horrific got me humming to myself. The tune I was humming was Kevin Carter by Manic Street Preachers.

Kevin Carter was a photographer who documented the apartheid in South Africa and much of the starvation throughout Africa. He’s most famous for his Pulitzer Prize winning photo of a starving child with a vulture in the background, seemingly just waiting for the girl to die.

Kevin Carter's Pulitzer Prize winning photograph

Kevin Carter's Pulitzer Prize winning photograph
Author & Copyright Owner: Kevin Carter

He committed suicide at the age of 33, his suicide note reading:

“I am depressed … without phone … money for rent … money for child support … money for debts … money!!! … I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings and corpses and anger and pain … of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners … I have gone to join Ken if I am that lucky.”

You can read more about Kevin Carter in this Wikipedia article.

You can’t help but wonder how many people in this position suffer these sorts of psychological effects. I can’t imagine the feeling of being so helpless surrounded by such terrible things. We should never forget the men who gave their lives, or the men who documented it.

Kevin Carter features on the Manic Street Preachers‘ album Everything Must Go which is available on Spotify.

*For those who don’t know, ANZAC day was originally created to commemorate soldiers of the Australia and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) who fought at Gallipoli during WWI. These days it more broadly commemorates all who fought and died for their country.

Music Genres

As you saw, a few weeks ago I listened to You Bred Raptors? I was expecting Post-Rock but received something I wouldn’t describe as post-rock. Looking into them I have seen genres as varying as Alternative and Post-Folk.

So, what’s in a genre?

Has anyone else noticed the number of music genres has exploded in the last 15 years or so? I remember when Rock music could only be split into a few sub-genres, such as indie, metal, rock’n’roll, punk. these days there are some fairly obtuse genres. Technical Death Metal? Rock In Opposition? Crustgrind?

You just need to look at some of the descriptions to know how out of hand it seems to be getting:

Metalcore is a fusion genre that combines extreme metal with hardcore punk, and at the same time draws on groove metal. Like grindcore, metalcore can feature breakdowns as well as intense passages conducive to moshing. In the mid-1990s, some metalcore groups began to take inspiration from developments in grindcore. For example, mathcore groups such as Dillinger Escape PlanSome Girls, and Daughters. These groups also include elements of post-hardcore. By late 2000s, deathcore bands described themselves as grindcore. In addition to metalcore some early screamo groups, like Circle Takes the Square and Orchid, have been associated with grindcore by some commentators.

Yep. That’s a lot of different genres. Are they really needed? I’m undecided.

Sure, it’s great to know exactly what sort of music to keep an eye out for, but I think things are out of hand. I’m a big Post-Rock listener. I love Silver Mt Zion, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor.

I think Post-Rock is a very undecided genre. While a lot of it is fairly quiet, thoughtful, atmospheric music (think Sigur Rós [who themselves eschew the tag of Post-Rock in favour of Slow Motion Rock] or Explosions in the Sky)

There is also some much heavier stuff (check out Maybeshewill and You Slut!)

And even some that goes well into the realms of electronic music (65daysofstatic and M83).

Should these very different styles come under different genres? Potentially. But something else worth keeping in mind is that a lot of the time multiple genres will be applied to a band. Math Rock is a genre often applied in conjunction with another, and implies the use of unusual and/or changing time signatures. By describing a band as Post-Rock and Math Rock, of the 6 we discussed earlier, we now have closer to 3. We can also split them them by calling some of them Post-Rock and Instrumental.

How else could music be categorised though? Tempo? Instrument set? Country of origin? None of these, even when used in combinations, are going to cut it. Although the current genre system seems a bit vague at times and over-specific at others, I don’t think there is a better alternative short of the well defined nesting of existing genres. More hassle than it’s worth.

There is one other alternative, and it’s one that would never work in a record shop. Crowdsourced data on similar artists. Anyone who knows me well will know that I’m an avid last.fm user (just look down the right hand panel of my blog and you can see the last 10 tracks I’ve listened to of my 83,000+ total). Last.fm tracks all the music that you listen to, and with its 21million (in 2008) users, it has enough data to accurately guess which artists are similar. This isn’t really a filing system and hence would never work physically, but it’s a great system nonetheless. Worth its own post in the future.

So, that’s about it. I guess we’re stuck with what we’ve got. We have to lump music in with a genre which it probably doesn’t fit. The only plus to this is that you’ll just have to listen to more music in trying to find new bands you’ll like!

Have fun with all that listening ahead!

All artists featured in this post are on Spotify:

Silver Mt Zion
Godspeed You! Black Emperor
Sigur Rós
Explosions in the Sky
Maybeshewill
You Slut!
65daysofstatic
M83

An Open Letter to Spotify From an Android User.

UPDATE: Spotify have released a preview for their next Spotify version which looks like a major overhaul. Hit up this blog post for more!

Dear Spotify

I have been using Spotify Premium for something like 4 years now. I love Spotify, I think it’s one of the best things ever, but why do you not care about your Android users? It’s not just me that’s annoyed with the Spotify Android app – just look at the reviews on Google Play:

Spotify on Google Play

Spotify on Google Play

That’s a lot of 1 star ratings! And there are a lot of people with similar complaints to me and we’re all being ignored.

The majority of the problems I have are as follows:

  • Your app is INCREDIBLY unresponsive. It’s hardly pushing the CPU, GPU, or network connection when you first open it and want to choose some music, so why does it take up to 20 seconds of being totally unresponsive before you can even scroll down the first screen?
  • Playlist management is awful. It’s complicated enough to manage your playlists in your app, but if you choose to attempt it, you get 17 seconds of music before the app restarts itself. This includes starring a track. This is just unacceptable.
  • Why can you only long-press tracks/albums in the search results or a playlist? I want to do it within an album listing, surely that’s not asking too much?
  • Local music. If people plan on putting more than a few tracks from your PC onto your phone to play within your app, they’d best be prepared to have no options about how they’re listed, and which order they play in. No album or artist listings here, just a long list of tracks.
  • Offline tracks (as synced through your app, not local music) get lost if you have to reinstall. I keep my offline files on the SD card, they’re still there, why are you rebuilding them?
  • It takes an absolute age to sync offline tracks. And I mean ages. Your app makes the chosen tracks available offline as they’re played, or you can sync over wi-fi. Doing it over wi-fi is really no quicker than listening to a whole playlist though.
  • Where’s the rotation support?
  • Why will it often reach the end of a track and not move on to the next?
  • …and what’s that buzzing noise between every track? Oh, and also every time the connection drops.
  • Why does my phone on occasion restart? It doesn’t do this very often, but it’s always when your app is either playing or shortly after it’s finished while it’s still loaded.

For me though, the biggest kicker is that you are off doing other things. For example, our iOS friends recently got the SpotON radio app; and just last week you introduced the “Play Button” allowing for the embedding of tracks into webpages. If you have time to create these other things, how about setting some time aside to fix an already introduced app?

You might be excused if this was a new app and had only been out a few months, but this app has been around (and has had very few updates) since 2009.

Please get it sorted. A lot of us are getting very fed up.

Yours faithfully

Miles (Android user)

Do You Work for Free?

Just read this insightful piece on musicians being treated as hobbyists rather than professionals who need to put bread on the table. They(/we?) are often asked to play for free as they are promoting themselves. WTF?

Do You Work for Free?.

It’s a very valid point and applies to a select few other industries too. Case in point journalists – there are too many publications out there looking for free articles under the guise of promotion.

Film samples in music

I was walking to work, listening to my starred music in Spotify when Not For Want Of Trying by English band Maybeshewill came on…

The spoken word part (and in this case video clip) are from a 1976 film called Network about an ex-TV anchorman.

Hearing this got me thinking about how well the spoken word part fits in with the music. To be perfectly honest, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that they had the rant already chosen and wrote the song around it rather then fitting either one around the other. I thought about other songs that feature film excerpts and how it could so easily be done badly.

One of the first songs I thought of with another great film quote where it feels the song was written around the quote rather than the other way round, was Frontier Psychiatrist by Australian band The Avalanches, which features a scene from 1981 film Polyester about a mother dealing with her family.

Unlike Maybeshewill however, The Avalanches’ music is largely made up of music and film clips taken from elsewhere (their debut album is thought to have pulled music from more than 3500 records dug up by the band). Does this mean they deserve more credit? Possibly. It would certainly be more of a challenge for someone with less experience in the field.

Fun Lovin’ Criminals. We’ve all heard Scooby Snacks, we all recognise the Tarantino quotes.

Damn do they look young… Anyway, While the film quotes in this song do give it a certain something, just how well are they used? They fit the theme of the song, but they don’t really fit with the ongoing dialogue of the lyrics. Musically, they break everything down a bit for the samples to give them centre of attention. Before I say this, I need you to know that I love this song and don’t think it would be the same without the samples. The film quotes in this song are NOT well integrated and musically they feel a bit wrong. In my opinion this is a film sample done badly.

Dead Wreckoning by Aborted follows much the same trend as FLC, albeit with excerpts from American Psycho:

Patterns by Mosko is a sort of an in-between track. The music doesn’t change for the Pi sample, but at the same time, it’s not built around it.

Huge differences in musical styles, and huge differences to approach in using film samples. Is there a right or wrong way to do it? No, I wouldn’t say so, but there are certainly better and worse ways.

Maybeshewill, The Avalanches, Fun Lovin’ Criminals and Aborted can all be found on Spotify. Mosko can be found on Soundcloud.

You Bred Raptors?

I stumbled across these guys just a minute ago looking for something else. As well as a totally inspired name…

…they seem to be totally nuts. I was initially thinking post-rock, but it seems to be a bit more complex than that!

Check them out!

8-string bass!

You Bred Raptors? on Spotify

Spotify is coming to Australia!

So, Spotify is coming to Australia any week now (or so we keep hearing), but I’m not sure how many guys over here actually know what Spotify is, so I thought I’d do a quick once over.

Imagine you log onto your computer and open Media Player/WinAmp/iTunes, and you could do a search for nearly any music you want, whether you own it or not, and just play it straight away. Spotify makes this a reality. Rather than owning the music and having it stored locally, Spotify streams the music directly off the Spotify servers.

The pluses of streaming include the huge range of music, and I do mean huge. They had an estimated 15.5 million tracks July 2011, and they add more than 10,000 tracks every day so we can safely say they’re closer to 20 million. They also do a fairly good job with new releases with most major labels and bands on there although sometimes it will be a few weeks before a band puts a new album up, as they have to try to sell as many CDs/MP3s as they can first. Another important factor (for me at any rate) is that the artists get paid through Spotify! not a great deal (hard figures are hard to come by but estimates seem to be in the $0.00003 per play region) but if you get enough plays they all add up – and let’s face it, a fraction of a cent beats an illegal download!

The downsides of streaming. Streaming music will use up huge amounts of data. While this isn’t a problem in the UK, in Australia capped internet is what the majority of people have. For the highest quality streaming (which is premium only – more on that in a bit) we’re talking 2.4MB/minute. You only have to multiply that up to see the amount of data we’re talking – 2.4MB/min = 144MB/hr. If you have friends over and listen to music for 4hrs, we’re talking 576MB. If you like to listen to music all weekend, we could call that 10hrs a day for 2 days – 2.9GB. That’s a huge chunk out of your allowance. Hopefully unlimited deals will become more prevalent in the near future, but for now that’s what we’ve got.

As I said before, there are a huge number of artists on Spotify, so you’ll never be stuck for something new (Anamanaguchi anyone? How about some Dananananaykroyd? Holy Fuck?) and besides some of the more obvious omissions (The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Metallica, Oasis), you’ll find the majority of your favourites!

So, how do the artists get paid? Spotify makes its money through subscriptions and advertising. There are 3 different Spotify packages users can choose from:

Free: (Free) If you go for the free package, you will have to suffer one or 2 adverts interrupting your music every 20 mins or so, as well as banner ads in the program. On top of this, after 6 months you will be limited to 10hrs per month and only up to 5 plays of any tracks. This is to try to encourage you to get a pay account. In the past they have had invite accounts which take these limitations away but currently we don’t know what they have planned for Australia.

Unlimited: (5GBP – approx 7.50AUD) Unlimited gets rid of the adverts and adds a radio option as well as giving you the option to use it abroad.

Premium: (10GBP – approx 15AUD) Premium is where it gets juicy. You get Spotify on your mobile (Android, iOS, Symbian, Windows, and Palm), you get high quality streaming (320kbps ogg), the ability to stream to other devices, and an offline mode (which could save you on the earlier mentioned data).

There’s also a social side. This involves Facebook, which can turn some people off, but for many it’s worth it. Once connected, you can see (and play) other people’s playlists, what they’re currently listening to, what they star, and plenty more. This comes up within the app as well as on Facebook. It’s like last.fm (and yes, scrobbling is supported) but a bit more real time.

I’ve been on Spotify premium for a few years now and it’s much cheaper than buying CDs. The catalogue is huge, the artists get paid, and it’s available on my phone. What more could you want? Visit the official website for more and to sign up for news on when you can get Spotify yourself!

It’s a Pink Moon

Last night was a Full Pink Moon.

I took one look when I saw this statement on Facebook, and started humming Nick Drake’s Classic to myself…

I’m sure I wasn’t alone in making this connection. So just what is a Pink Moon and where does its name come from? It’s the full moon in April and gets its name from herb moss pink, or wild ground phlox.

From Farmers’ Almanac:

• Full Pink Moon – April This name came from the herb moss pink, or wild ground phlox, which is one of the earliest widespread flowers of the spring. Other names for this month’s celestial body include the Full Sprouting Grass Moon, the Egg Moon, and among coastal tribes the Full Fish Moon, because this was the time that the shad swam upstream to spawn.

So there you have it.

It’s also worth noting that this isn’t believed to be what Drake had in mind when he wrote the song, although nobody really knows!

You can listen to the whole of Nick Drake’s album Pink Moon on Spotify.

On the “Difficult Second Album”

I’ve just given Sleigh Bells’ second album Reign of Terror another try and I’m still not sold.

I can’t put my finger on just what it is that I’m struggling to connect with. Sleigh Bells are a two piece band consisting of Derek Edward Miller (guitar) and Alexis Krauss (vocals). Their first album, Treats, was unlike anything I’d heard before. It was like pop music but with massive levels of distortion on everything – I’m talking guitar, bass, keys and drums, all with highly unpoppy levels of distortion. And I loved it. With their second album, they largely copied the formula of the first and yet I’m struggling to connect with it. This has got me thinking of the issues bands have in pleasing all reviewers and all bands. Although I’m using the second album as an example in this post, and I stick by it being the hardest album any band will make, but it can just as easily be applied to any follow-up album.

You’ve released your first album. It’s been fairly popular, you’ve had largely positive reviews, you have a decent fan following. It’s been a few months and you’ve decided to start work on your second album. At this point you are never going to please everybody.

You can release an album similar to your last album and have *some* fans/reviewers say that you’re stuck in a rut, that you’re a one trick pony, that you have no innovation. That would suck.

You can release an album different to your last album and have *some* fans/reviewers say that you’re alienating the people who made you what you are, that you’re totally indulging yourselves, that you should have stuck with “what you were good at”. That would suck too.

Of course you could always mix it up – have plenty of songs that sound like your first album and a few that are heading in a new direction. The last thing you want is to end up with a disjointed album that sounds more like a Now compilation than your own work.

You only need to look at second album reviews for any number of bands to see what I mean:

Bloc Party, A Weekend in the City:
Good review – “They’ve the technical ability – that was clear two or three years ago – and now they’re beginning to let their hearts into the process as well as their heads.”
Bad review – “[…]the direction in which Bloc Party has traveled is entirely unsuited to its strengths.”

Maxïmo Park, Our Earthly Pleasures
Good review – “Our Earthly Pleasures would be pushing for classic certification, but for now it’ll have to be content to be a marked improvement upon A Certain Trigger.”
Bad review – “[…]they’ll need to pull out all the stops to recover their poise after this worrying misstep.”

You’ll notice that these 4 reviews pull heavily from their previous albums rather than judging them on their own merits. The second album. It’s a tricky one, and you’ll never please everyone.

Sleigh Bells’ Infinity Guitars, from their first album Treats:

You can listen to the whole of Sleigh Bells’ Reign of Terror, Bloc Party’s A Weekend in the City, and Maxïmo Park’s Our Earthly Pleasures on Spotify.