Dear Kings of Leon, Are you guys actually any good?

23 02 2010


Yesterday in my post about OK Go, I went on a little rant about how excited I am for Bonnaroo, and how it’s the best festival out, and how every summer they have the best acts, both established and up-and-comers.  Now even though ‘Roo is my personal favorite of all the  festivals out there, I still pay attention to what the other ones are doing, and I noticed a trend.  Kings of Leon is, and has been for  two or three years now, playing EVERY DAMN FESTIVAL in the whole world (hyperbole perhaps, but you get it).  Now I expect this booking from some of the other festivals out there, but Bonnaroo? Really?  I’m not really pissed at the fact that Kings of Leon are going to be in attendance at Bonnaroo, but they shouldn’t be headliners (which at this point it seems they’ll be joining Jay-Z and DMB in that category).

KOL are a good band in my opinion, but thats about where it stops.  Maybe their live show is awesome and full of energy, I don’t know.  What I do know is if you take the three or four best songs off of each of their albums, and combine them into a greatest hits album of sorts, its still just not that great.  Every time they put out a new album I get excited and go out and get it because all I hear from everyone is how good they are.  Well my friends I guess that’s why I write the music blog and you don’t!  Their albums are always incomplete.  There’s always three or four really good songs and the rest just leaves me scratching my head.  And the acclaim doesn’t just come from the people with which I associate myself, it comes from everywhere around the industry too.

So here is my challenge to Kings of Leon: Prove that you belong on the same stage that has hosted Bruce Springsteen, Beastie Boys, Stevie Wonder, and a countless number of other acts who are significantly more talented than yourselves, and maybe you’ll talk me into buying your next album.  Until then you better believe you won’t find much Kings of Leon on this guy’s iPod.


What I’m Listening To – OK Go: Of the Blue Colour of the Sky

22 02 2010

OK Go should be quite the show at Bonnaroo this summer

OK Go have been around since 2002 when they released their self-titled debut.  Despite all the attention they’ve garnered for their outreageously choreographed music videos, fights with their record label over embedding videos, or opening up for Panic(!) at the Disco on tour, I must admit I never payed much attention to them (probably for the exact reasons listed above).  Associating themselves with Panic(?) at the Disco definitely placed them into a specific, judgmental category for me: Don’t bother listening.  So when did the change take place?  Bonnaroo announced their line-up for the 2010 festival about a week ago, and near the top of the list was OK Go.  Having attended ‘Roo last year I know that they don’t mess around when it comes to booking acts for the festival.  It is the most eclectic gathering of musicians in the world.  From old to new, Hip-Hop to death metal to Jimmy Buffet, Bonnaroo knows how to throw a party, and even the artists you’ve never heard of always manage to entertain.  So since I plan on returning to the massive farm in the middle of nowhere for a weekend of only god knows what this summer, I figured I would check out all the acts I’ve never heard that are scheduled to play.  So I got my hands on most of it, put it into a giant iTunes playlist, hit shuffle, and let the thing run while I screw around on the internet for hours doing nothing.  After listening for a while I started to realize that every time I came across a really cool song, it was OK Go who was responsible for said song.  So finally this morning I decided to just listen to the album all the way through.

Of the Blue Color of the Sky is OK Go’s third album, and it’s fantastic.  They are one of those rare bands that has a flare for the outlandish, electronic, and psychedelic rock that doesn’t usually have mass appeal, but they maintain a pop sensibility about their melodies and song writing that crosses over genres and makes for REAL pop-music (sorry Lady Gaga you don’t qualify as real music to me).  The rhythms are basic, dancey, and upbeat.  The mix of synths, arena-rock guitars, and robot vocals (Before the Earth was Round), makes for a dynamic, enthralling listen.  Later in the album they pull out the acoustic guitar for a downtrodden ballad (Last Leaf) and keep it out for a little bit of the exciting psychedelic rock (Back from Kathmandu) I mentioned before.  OK Go worked with producer Dave Fridmann (The Flaming Lips, MGMT) on this album, and his influence shines through on all the aspects of the album that I mentioned earlier.  I hadn’t heard of Mr. Fridmann until recently, but I am a HUGE fan of this guys work.  Everything he touches seems to come out completely original, and he has a way of taking things out of the mainstream, yet maintaining mass appeal (if that makes sense), which is the yellow brick road of success for indie rock bands these days.

All in all I must say that I am really looking forward to seeing these guys live this summer.  They remind me a lot of TV on the Radio who played an amazing set at Bonnaroo last year, so I expect more of the same from OK Go…don’t disappoint me guys I just wrote a lot of really good things about your music!

Key Tracks: Back from Kathmandu, In the Glass, This too Shall Pass

You Might Also Like: TV on the Radio, Animal Collective, Spoon

What I’m Listening To – Akron/Family

19 02 2010

This album cover looks like something my grandma would have on her wall

Akron/Family’s 2005 self titled debut pretty much sounds like a bunch of noise the first time you hear it.  It reminds me of a little kid mulling around the kitchen, banging pots and pans to get his mothers attention as she prepares dinner.  Then they put forth something that sounds conceivably like regular pop-music, and then they take it away and go back to noise.   Needless to say, I LOVE IT.

So as noted by my previous posts on Grizzly Bear and MGMT, I love a good psychedelic, artsy rock record, but Akron/Family is different.  As opposed to being rooted in rock, they instead hold a foot in the realm of folk.  Almost all of the guitar is acoustic, the songs are driven by polyrhythmic, tribal like drums and percussion, and the vocals are imperfect and driven by emotion, like all good vocals should be in the age of Pro Tools where everything is too perfect.  After listening to the album it is pretty crazy to think that the entire thing was performed by only three musicians, rotating instrumental and vocal duties.  Nothing really to specific to say about this album, but in general its another personal favorite of mine, and everyone should check it out.

Key Tracks: Running, Returning.  Italy.  Before and Again.

You might also like: Animal Collective, Annuals

Google, iTunes, and…clouds?

19 02 2010

How will cloud computing change the way we access media?

Yesterday CNET had a story about a coming revolution in the delivery of digital content to consumers.  You may or may not have heard of cloud computing by now, but its not an extremely complex concept to grasp if you have not.  Basically “the cloud” is the internet, and the idea is that instead of filling up your local hard disk with 300 gigabytes of music, movies, photos, applications, etc. one can leave all these things up in the cloud, where they can be accessed anywhere across the globe.  Translation: Soon it won’t matter that the memory capacity of my iPod is only big enough to fit 1/4 of my iTunes library onto it.  Google and Apple both have plans in place to make this happen in the near future.

Now obviously a couple of things have to happen before this becomes plausible.  First of all, bandwidth and internet speeds need to catch up to the technology that is being developed (better believe Google is working on this, they announced plans last week to become a high speed internet provider in the U.S.).  It won’t matter if  you can stream content from your cloud to  your mobile device if your device isn’t connected to the internet, or the connection isn’t fast enough to support streaming content.  Second of all, the content providers (i.e. record labels, movie studios) need to agree to allow this.  Apple supposedly has had talks with the big four labels about such a service, but no deal has been reached yet.  Obviously there are concerns over digital rights management (DRM) and copyright protection, but I’m certain that those are minor aspects in accomplishing the goal of a “media cloud”.

Personally, the sooner this happens the better.  I already complained about how small my iPod is (this is not one of those “you know what they say about guys with small iPods things, ladies), but how great will it be when that doesn’t matter?  Google may have botched up the release of “Buzz”, but don’t think that this has discouraged them in any way.  If they can come out with a nice cloud service for digital media, they could become the first real competitor that iTunes has ever seen, which is something the music industry has been desiring for quite some time now.

What I’m Listening To – Arcade Fire: Funeral

16 02 2010

Arcade Fire's debut "Funeral" is a personal favorite

So the word on the street is that the Arcade Fire have a new album due out this year, combine this with new albums due out from MGMT and Radiohead and it should be a great year for music. Arcade Fire have been one of the most innovative, original bands, both in the studio, and live, of the last five or six years. The news of their highly anticipated third studio album had me excited and so I went back to listen to their brilliant debut: Funeral.

I must admit that I was unaware of this album when it was first released, and I didn’t even learn of this band until the follow-up Neon Bible was released in 2007. Even though Neon Bible was every bit as critically acclaimed as their debut, there is still something about Funeral that I can personally connect to more than its successor. After listening to this album it is no surprise that these songs were the inspiration to the recent film Where the Wild Things are. Oft-ignored childhood themes of dissonance, isolation, rebellion, and free spirit are all touched upon. These are not things that a normal rock band would address, but Arcade Fire do it with such passion and conviction that it is hard to not be emotionally connected to such relevant song-writing. The Lyrics to “Wake Up” really hit on a lot of these points. Lead man Win Butler sings:

“But now that I’m older/ My heart is colder/ and I can see that its a lie./ Children wake up/ hold your mistakes up/ before they turn the summer into dust./ Children don’t grow up/ our bodies get bigger/ but our hearts get torn up./ We’re just a million little gods causing rainstorms/ turning everything good to rust.”

The childhood themes don’t stop with the lyrics. The upbeat, yet serious, anthemic feel that makes the Arcade Fire who they are is all over this album and it fits perfectly with the aforementioned writing style. After reading the lyrics to Wake Up (above) it might be hard to envision the song being placed in NFL advertisements, but the epic guitar makes it perfect. Side note is that Arcade Fire NEVER lisence their music to outside sources (minus the WTWTA) trailor, and idiotic copyright laws allow the NFL to use their music for 15 seconds or less, despite the band’s attempts to protect their music, but that’s a topic for another day.

This is one of those albums that brightens your day for reasons that you can’t quite put your finger on.  Neighborhood #3 (Power Out) puts a smile on my face every time.  All of us remember waking up with the power out and going back to sleep, claiming ignorance, to try and get out of school.  This song is the embodiment of what I said before about the lyrics and  the music coming together to put forth such an emotionally charged, easily relatable rock performance that is as of now unmatched by artists everywhere., and I’m certain that Arcade Fire will continue to break new ground for years to come.  Good luck musicians of the world, Arcade Fire have set the bar, and they have set it high.

Music Manifesto

16 02 2010

Waiting for Detox to be released? He knows, but he doesn't care.

I recently saw an article that included quotes from Dr. Dre and president of Interscope Records Jimmy Iovine from the announcement of Dre’s new line of HP laptops. The comments from one of the best rappers ever and the head honcho from the label that owns Dre’s Aftermath Records really caught my eye. Essentially Dre said that there’s no money in music anymore. Now although I agree to an extent, we’ll get into that a little later. Dre makes the point that he spends hundreds of hours slaving infront of the monitors recording and mixing, tweaking each tiny little detail of every song, and then people listen to low-fidelity mp3s through their iPod earbuds and they don’t hear any of the fine tuning that Dre spent so much time working on. So why should he bother anymore?

Well he probably shouldn’t. Dre is clearly making good money on his headphones and it was a smart decision to apply his brand to a product category that is expanding with the growth of mp3 players. Mr Iovine jokes that if it weren’t for Beats by Dre headphones then Dre’s much anticipated follow up to 2001, Detox, would have been released years ago. So how do musicians make money, and why is it that the record industry has taken such a hit in the last decade?

This industry shot itself in the foot and then salted the wound over the rise of digital music.  Most obvious to me is that the industry as a whole was taking advantage of it’s customers.  CD prices were inconsistent and costing up to as much as $25!  When mp3s were introduced and people realized that for the price of one CD from the local retailers, they could buy 100 blank CDs and have 100 albums from their favorite artists they started to get suspicious and restless.  People wondered: why is it that the physical CD itself costs about seven cents to manufacture, yet I’m paying over $20 for it?   Now I’m not knowledgeable about what sort of profit margins record companies were bringing in at the time, but I do know that to the average consumer it seems like being robbed.  So then the labels tried bringing prices down. Well now we KNOW you were robbing us.  So then they tried to sue us.

Not long ago I was a mischevious teenager whose every action was an act of rebellion against my parents. Tell me not to do something and I just did it more. When the RIAA began suing consumers over copyright infringement they basically dared the entire youth of America to rebel against their parents, and naturally we obliged.  One of the reasons corporations market to children is because if you get them young you often get them for life.  Instead of recognizing what young people were doing and trying to make it profitable, they tried to kill it and amped up resentment among the young people whom they should have been trying to court (maybe they confused courting with taking to court).  So now there’s an entire generation of angry, technologically proficient, trend setting teens who want nothing more than to stick it to the man, and the industry still has no long-term solution to increase falling revenues.   So what is the answer?  There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this issue, but there are a few actions the industry can take.

1. Horizontal Integration
The one bright spot of the industy is the live music sector, but the recent merger between Ticketmaster and Live Nation has a lot of people worried. The concern is that it is a monopoly that will raise prices for concert tickets, but obviously the two companies claim that new synergys gained by the merger will actually lower prices and fees for everyone. These two arguments aside, I wonder if the new concept of a 360° deal can help the situation. The basic idea behind this type of deal is that instead of only bringing in revenue from an artist’s record sales, the company gets a percentage of merchandise, ticket sales, record sales, appearance fees, etc. This has created tension between the labels and their artists because the artists feel as though they are getting a smaller piece of the pie. Fortunately for the labels however, they hold all the leverage in contract negotiations with new artists. EVERY new artist that signs to a label should be signed to a 360° deal, and they’ll do it because it allows them to realize their dream.

2. Promotion
In my opinion, one reason mediums for promoting musicians have remained so static for so many years is the fact that music is too subjective of a product to mass promote it.  This was true for quite some time, but with the growth of social media and real-time location based services, it is now possible to promote artists to smaller, more targeted markets with similar tastes in music.  The problem, in my opinion, is non-fans with preferences for musicians of a similar style are often unaware of an artist who they may love.   There is so much music to be had out there that any person on earth, if properly motivated, could discover a new band that they like every single day for the rest of their life.  Labels need to focus more on generating awareness for the newer, lesser-known artists, because these artists are where there is the most room for growth.  In promoting these artists the labels need to get creative so that they can encourage people to actually purchase the music, and try to make it part of the process of consuming music again.

One promotional idea that I think is a small step in the right direction is bundling.  Yes that’s bundling as in the ‘my cable company tries to trick me into thinking I’m getting things for cheaper because they package them together and tell me I’m saving’ bundling.  What if with a purchase of a digital album, you had the option to purchase the vinyl or CD hard-copy of the album for only five dollars?  What if the purchase of a band’s concert ticket got you special access to exclusive content and deals on the band’s own website?  What if a purchase of Beats By Dre headphones netted you an early listen to Dre’s much anticipated Detox by allowing you to stream it from the web?

What I’m really getting at here is that record labels do not treat their artists in the same manner that Proctor and Gamble treats a roll of toilet paper, and this strategy has its positives and negatives.  That being said I think it is time that the labels took a more integrated approach to promoting their artists.  The above are just minor suggestions, but I believe they are a step in the right direction towards mending the self-inflicted wounds of the music industry.

Random News – Lil Wayne Goes to Jail

9 02 2010

Today Lil Wayne begins a 12 month prison sentance

Here’s a good summary of the Rolling Stone cover story for those of you who are afraid you won’t get your fix of Weezy while he’s in the pen.