Wednesday, 25 November 2009

100+ Songs of the Noughties - A Mixtape Adventure

This is a playlist of my songs of the Noughties, as a prelude to DiS' end-of-decade coverage in 2010 (we're 10 years old, so it's 10 years of DiS, as well as the decade, etc) and just thought, seeing as every other magazine editor is throwing out their best of the decade stuff now, this might serve as an alternative reminder of some other stuff that came out and hopefully reveal a few things you might have missed/forgotten about. CLICK HERE to listen to the Spotify playlist. 

Please note: Some things weren't available on Spotify and you'll need to take 30s to install the free software from to hear it. It's a work-in-progress and I'll keep adding to it as time goes by and make some kinda ordered-by-how-much-I-likes-it list at a later date and will of course, offer some insight and commentary, in due course. 

Electrelane – Film Music
Arctic Monkeys – 505
Six by Seven – I O U Love
The Postal Service – Such Great Heights
At the Drive-In – One Armed Scissor
The Shins – Sleeping Lessons
The Stills – Still In Love Song
Franz Ferdinand – Darts of Pleasure
LCD Soundsystem – All My Friends
Friendly Fires – Paris
Blonde Redhead – The Dress
PJ Harvey – A Placed Called Home
M83 – Don't Save Us From The Fames
TV on the Radio – Staring At The Sun
The Cooper Temple Clause – Let's Kill Music
Metric – Monster Hospital
LCD Soundsystem – Losing My Edge
Peaches – Fuck The Pain Away
The Kills – No Wow
Justice – Waters Of Nazareth
The Rapture – House Of Jealous Lovers
Crystal Castles – Vanished
CSS – Alala
The Knife – Heartbeats
Phoenix – Too Young
Tarwater – Stone
Cut Copy – Out There On The Ice
Hot Hot Heat – Talk To Me, Dance With Me
Blood Red Shoes – You Bring Me Down
The Long Blondes – Giddy Stratospheres
Maxïmo Park – Apply Some Pressure - Original Demo Version
Les Savy Fav – The Sweet Descends
Yeah Yeah Yeahs – Y Control
Liars – Mr Your On Fire Mr
Death From Above 1979 – Romantic Rights
These New Puritans – Swords Of Truth
No Age – Everybody's Down
Interpol – PDA
Idlewild – Listen To What You've Got
The Walkmen – The Rat
Gwen Stefani – What You Waiting For?
Lady Gaga – Poker Face
OutKast – Hey Ya! - Radio Mix/Club Mix
Missy Elliott – Get Ur Freak On - LP Version
Jay-Z – 99 Problems
Buck 65 – Le 65isme
The Streets – Let's Push Things Forward
Justin Timberlake – Cry Me A River
The Faint – Paranoiattack
The Rapture – Olio
The (International) Noise Conspiracy – Smash It Up!
Primal Scream – Swastika Eyes - Jagz Kooner Mix
Panic! At the Disco – I Write Sins Not Tragedies
Jimmy Eat World – Sweetness
Paramore – crushcrushcrush
Lostprophets – Shinobi Vs. Dragon Ninja
Minus The Bear – Pachuca Sunrise
I Was A Cub Scout – Pink Squares
Destiny's Child – Independent Women Part I
Gnarls Barkley – Crazy
Lykke Li – I'm Good, I'm Gone
Feist – I Feel It All
Girls Aloud – Je Ne Parle Pas Francais
Yann Tiersen – L'autre Valse D'Amélie
Youthmovies – The Naughtiest Girl Is A Monitor
Battles – Atlas
Foals – Balloons
The Icarus Line – Slayer
The Mars Volta – Drunkship Of Lanterns
Radiohead – Idioteque
Patrick Wolf – A Boy Like Me
Regina Spektor – Us
Kate Nash – Nicest Thing
Gemma Hayes – Tear In My Side
The Cribs – Be Safe
Bloc Party – The Pioneers
Pretty Girls Make Graves – This Is Our Emergency
Sonic Youth – Incinerate
Midlake – Roscoe
Muse – Butterflies and Hurricanes
Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds – We Call Upon The Author
Manic Street Preachers – Jackie Collins Existential Question Time
Deftones – Digital Bath - LP Version
Biffy Clyro – 57
Forward Russia – Twelve
Rival Schools – Used For Glue
The Blood Brothers – Set Fire to the Face on Fire
Marilyn Manson – Disposable Teens - Album Version (Edited)
Queens Of The Stone Age – Lightning Song
Death Cab for Cutie – I Will Possess Your Heart
The Maccabees – No Kind Words - Single Version
Sufjan Stevens – Come On Feel The Illinoise!
Björk – It's Not Up To You - Live - Vespertine World Tour
The National – Squalor Victoria
Beirut – Postcards From Italy
Jeniferever – From Across The Sea
Explosions In The Sky – Magic Hours
Sigur Rós – Staralfur
Four Tet – She Moves She
Gang Gang Dance – House Jam
Panda Bear – Bro's
Bright Eyes – Poison Oak
Broken Social Scene – Anthems For a Seventeen Year-Old Girl
Hauschka – Blue Bicycle
Elbow – Grace Under Pressure
The Veils – The Tide That Left And Never Came Back
Mystery Jets – You Can't Fool Me Dennis - New Single Version
Frightened Rabbit – I Feel Better
Modest Mouse – Float On
The Dandy Warhols – Get Off
Nine Inch Nails – The Hand That Feeds - DFA Remix
Ratatat – Wildcat
Beck – Lost Cause
Grizzly Bear – On a Neck, On a Spit
The Radio Dept. – 1995
Jamie T – If You Got The Money
Cat Power – Free
Les Incompétents – Escapades
Gonzales – Dot - Instrumental

CLICK HERE to listen to this Spotify playlist. 

Saturday, 21 November 2009

The Best Tracks of 2009... Or rather, my favourites, your favourites and this year-end listopocalypse!

Somewhere, not far from this blog, lists are being made and totals are being totted up. They're being double-checked and ratified... 

It's coming to that moleskin Almanac time of year again. A time when everything has to be wrapped in a ribbon and buried in a capsule of time to ensure the world of music can take stock and move on. The overlooked all year, will remain overlooked (unless the publication in question focuses on the overlooked), with a few palatable concessions. Mixtapes and playlists are being woven together with such anal detail that you'd think a song following a song could cure ear Aids. Then, when the best albums and tracks have been sprinkled with corked wine, it's time to list the acts who will be bigger than bejeezus in 2010...Oh and this year's a rollover and you'll also be bombarded with end of decade lists too (sorry!).

Who will top the lists? Who will care? Oh, yeah, the people who rely on these lists to pick their festival bills and book acts for TV shows, they will care. As will those clueless types at brands, wanting to be on trend with their client's chequebooks. That's before noting how these lists also become a reference point for those who contribute to them. This is why lists are dangerous, because they oxygenate the flames of hype, whilst cementing what you probably already knew if you were paying attention and what you probably would find out about anyway, if you weren't. Yet, so much time is given over to these lists and so much fuss is made of their 'importance', yet they're utterly flawed!

Oh to be able to step back and see it as the ramshackle folly that it really is - a marketing exercise. A cynical manipulation of "this is who we are, this is what we stand for." Or, if you're not in the media a "this is who I am, this is how coolandjustlikeyou I am, aren't I?" list. Thankfully, this time of year we're so blinded by the Christmas lights and collectively ensnared by the capitalist buy-some-shit values of 'the holidays' that it's hard to snarl at the year-end window displays which'll be coming to a new Firefox tab near you, soon.

If all this sounds obvious so far, that's because it is. Oddly, the discontent is isolated and quiet because it's hard to dissent about what a music blog or magazine has to say, when the airwaves are riddled with seasonal novelty and pop music swimming in an inch deep mainstream. You can leave comments but in the grand scheme of things, you, me and mardy columnists, we all know these lists are predetermined nonsense.

I wish I could believe that a year will end without the muddled but prevailing 'popular things are popular' mentality. I wish, just for a moment, that a few influential publications would sidestep their PR relationships and the "well, we already said this..." and "we can't forget that after we did a cover feature with them," ass-coverings. I wish these charts mined the depths of people's passions, rather than were mindful of the audience gap which results in a liberal peppering of pandering to the predictable choices. Yawn.

Instead of people people telling you why one album is important, huddles of staff members pick lists and totals are totted up - no-one's personal favourite album of the year ever making the top 5 or getting the time to shine that they believe it deserves (else Panda Bear woulda topped the 2007 DiS list). And even the lists staff members submitted probably made concessions for weighted, political, democracy-blurring reasons. I know this because I've done this taken this tactical low-rad when submitting my lists. This is why, last year, despite previous year's democratically voted charts, the DiS year-end list wasn't totted up but approximated and influenced by patterns pulsating from people's year-end lists - kinda like an inversion of how American political parties pick a candidate and then leave it up to everyone else to pick a president, only with me dictating the winners. It wasn't perfect but looking back at the list now, it doesn't seem too silly. It reflects who our audience are and the readers we'd like to appeal to if they only first hear of us by our end of year list - which looking at our stats, is about 400% the average number of people that read an article, so these lists are fairly important in the grand scheme of our business. This year, I'll be running things similarly but also presenting every staff members end of year list and as of Monday, every user of the site can make their own list and rate every record, so we're have the best rated album of the year, as well as a staff list, come mid-December.

No-one ever really talks about why they don't like end of year lists (although Hipster Runoff did a damn fine job of ridiculing them), I guess because you're not really allowed to say you don't believe in the fundamentals of democracy, unless you want to appear as some tormented dictator-in-waiting. But then, when it comes to music, things shouldn't be measured by how agreeable they are. Words like palatable and "quite nice" are the enemy of music (music journalism, especially), yet year end lists seem to reflect little more than this. There's nothing worse than something that is so mediocre that the largest possible swathe of people can agree upon - when did MOR become middle of the superhighway? Middling, what a horrible word, who wants to find out what is average? [See also: the success of Coldplay. Although I'd love to believe in a meritocracy where things that are good, get big!]

Music is, has always been and should forever be about individuals. Not just renegades and pop puppets but people so exceptional they stand out and connect, and in doing so, find an army of people willing to defend (ideally, to the death) why what they've created means so much, to all of those it offends. Music is a divisive art-form and should be all about personal connections manifesting as a undeniable passion that can't be reduced to a broad brushtroke 'list'. Yet, it seems in a way, technology has made us retreat into our little trenches with glowing screens and tinny speakers which has left us craving a sense of collectivism whilst searching for self-definition. I've never really understood why some people like music purely for its unifying capabilities - it all feels like falling in line, become enslaved to our similarities and abilities to fit in. [Although I really love songs that are universal, so I'm a contrary bastard at the best of times but admitting as much weakens this 'argument'].

Music should be about opinions that don't attempt to scale and define the impossible "What is the best?" question. Because to answer it, requires the ability to define how this 'best' was quantified and most media doesn't have room or the attention spans for much more than "it just is" (this is why I don't particularly like the Brits and the Mercury Music Prize, especially in an age of such transparency, given the impact they wield. Maybe it's moreso their impact I don't like...).  And why does 'best' now just seem to be the success of marketing? And by marketing I don't mean billboards and Editor's Google street map, but the 'positioning' of acts so that their relative merits become a forgone conclusion, especially with tip lists. It's all about the lineage at the foundations and the undersell of expectations. The investment in playing every relevant international festival but playing all of them smaller, earlier, to ensure bigger crowds. The artist associations via street tours or family ties or syncing; the hook, the strap-on party-line, the teeth-sinker. I dunno why people argue that it's about the music or how good you are live, when last year's big tip La Roux didn't play her first gig 'til the February and her people had only let people doing the tipping hear the first two singles?! At least with the year-end lists people have the benefit of hearing the albums, in the context of other albums but obviously not every has the ability to hear every album before making an informed judgment, blah, blah, blah....

Surely the results of these lists are the antithesis of why people get or got involved in music in the first place? Maybe to be able to infect them is why some people get involved in the first place and invest their lives in the music they believe in (pretty much why I released the Kaisers first single). Perhaps, in an age of public charts like and, which can measure things in more quantifiable ways, the end of year lists and January tip lists have lost their importance anyway. Maybe it's only media and the hardcore audiences sites/mags already have who care and will never be please, any of the time. Yet, the influence these things wield, ends up infecting the populace in the long-term, so it pays to be influential (lolz), even if it's only upon the minds of an intelligentsia. 

It seems the only thing we can all agree upon (or at least that I can agree with myself) is that, on aggregate, whatever list it is, it doesn't represent anything that's truly 'the best'. Perhaps these lists are little more than symptomatic evidence of what's wrong with the entire system and yet, rather ironically, they're also reflective of what's truly happening in media. Personally, I think it's interesting the difference a few passionate voices can make in a sea of indifference. It'll warm my cockles that amongst every list, there are many a few surprises and a few records which I hadn't taken the time to check out, so they're not without use.

Ultimately, there's only one real winner and that's the perpetual loop of success, fueled as much by marketing as the nice, agreeable, universally sound, 'quite good' qualities of the music.

Anyway, without further ado...

My Albums of the Year (listen on Spotify)
1. Paramore brand new eyes
2. Phoenix Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
3. Metric Fantasies
4. St Vincent Actor
5. Yeah Yeah Yeahs It's Blitz!
6. Manic St Preachers Journal for Plague Lovers
7. Grizzly Bear Vecktamist
8. Idlewild Post-Electric Blues
9. The Veils Sun Gangs
10. Arctic Monkeys Humbug

My Songs of the Year

Or as a Spotify playlist.

My Tips for 2010
This is what I sent to BBC Sound of 2010 this week... although I also wrote this for Sunday Times Culture about these kinda tip lists.
1. Free Energy - tracks on Hype Machine
2. James Mercer (The Shins) & Brian Burton (Danger Mouse)
3. Joy Orbison - tracks on Hype Machine

(explanations to follow at a later date on DiS)

Saturday, 14 November 2009

Live is not THAT alive?! A few gut reactions and general observations ...RE: The graph the record industry doesn’t want you to see.

RE: Do music artists fare better in a world with illegal file-sharing?

I think this is a great graph but a very flawed piece of evidence. A few gut reactions and general observations... 

1. Festivals Are Bad... I'm pretty sure the rise of festivals means a hugely disproportionate rise of "revenue" (this is not profit) to the industry. The problem with this is that rather than significantly more funds going to more artists - because by my reckoning approx 30% of acts on festival bills get about £50 to play (at the smaller 'urban' festivals, this is more like 70-80%) - there's simply more money going to a few headliners, who ironically are often cannibalizing their own headline arena show earnings for that year, in the hope more people will want to relive the experience next time they tour.

If anything, I think festivals are having a negative impact on the average gig attendance across the year too. Dunno about you but I'd rather see 10 gigs of bands I like for £100 than see four or five 30min un-soundchecked sets and a headliner at a festival for £150+. Yet, who within the festival industries core demographic (those under the age of 23) has that kinda money after saving or splashing out on festival tickets? And for that matter, how many bands who are about this kind age have this kinda of money to invest in themselves? I do not wanna live in a world of trust fund kids and cynical, market-savvy bands like Vampire Weekend and The Drums. I double-dare any band to reveal how much they've spent on their 'hobby' with hopes of it being a career, and if they can share how £50 covers four guys food for a day, let alone a youth hostel and petrol or godforbid van hire, then I'll eat my iMac.

2. What about the Kate Bush-like artists who don't play live? Or genres which are so niche they only make sense to put on shows in a few major cities? It seems you need to be a global niche band like No Age or Yacht and gig 300 nights of the year, just to make ends meet - how many niche bands "go global"?

3. What about the £500-700 per day it costs to have a semi-professional band on the road until they get to Scala/Shepherd's Bush Empire level in London or 400ish+ people in other cities, when they might break-even. Who's factoring for that £10-20k+ investment of 'tour support', not to mention the unquantifiable 'investment' for rehearsal rooms and bands having to live for 2-3 years until they can fill 1000 capacity venues at £12-15 ticket prices in about 10 major cities? Certainly not labels like mine, not any more. And not a lot of the majors, from what I'm hearing - least of all when it comes to investing in being a support band on a European tour, where the band are being paid £50-100 per night to 'cut their teeth' playing to a disinterested room, with poor sound and little-to-no lights. This essentially means that the live industry has no-one (apart from maybe a few large management companies) investing in its future, yet no-one seems particularly scared by the fact that the live acts who do get catapulted onto the mainstream, haven't come through any tributaries and by and large are rubbish live and therefore a reason for the average punter to question seeing the act again or taking repeated risks on new music.

If the live music industries product is bad but its revenues are meant to be a salvation to the rest of the business, why isn't there big news story after big news story about a boom in the live music industry? Does this short-term blip have a future? Why is no-one publicly worrying about this? Why, as someone who doesn't work in the live industry does this SCARE THE SHIT OUTTA ME?

4. Is live music, below a certain level, really very healthy? Where's the cut off point when you're alright and can stop using up your holiday days at a job you hate to hit the road? I wonder, if they're really honest, what percent of bands in DiS' albums of the year list work full-time jobs but also I wonder how many bands think they can't 'work' and be in a band if they're 'taking it seriously'?

Put it another way, never before have I had more emails, a few days before gigs, from worried promoters that gigs are not gonna sell half the venue, let alone sell it out and can we run a competition to give away tickets. The size of some of these acts is worryingly bigger than you'd think. I'm getting about 3-5 emails like this per day direct from promoters, every day - plus another 5 emails like it from PR companies. To put that into context, it's often the only time I get personal emails from PR companies (of which there about 300+, with about 3 staff at each, working 10+ records each per quarter = inbox hell!), most of whom think 'PR' is spamming as many people as possible with press releases about bands even the savviest music fan are only vaguely aware of.  These are PR companies paid by record labels to promote records for anything between £500-2000 per month, who have record companies worried the gig is going to be so empty that it'll reflect badly on them and in reviews upon the artist. These people don't send me flustered emails like this about the 'records'. When the record labels are worried that a revenue stream - one which most of them have no involvement in - is suffering, surely this is symptomatic of something being incredibly wrong in the live industry?

5. The above graph is a good but possibly as misleading as including sales of iPods in the recorded music revenue pot because all signs I've seen recently is that live music is in freefall (the article itself does state its flaws, to be fair). For every Bon Jovi, Beyonce and Muse tour, there isn't a day goes by when there's isn't talk of venues closing or being bought up by conglomerations.

Caveat: These are just reactions, would be curious what people who work in the live industry or bands have to say about some of my broad brushstroke statements as this isn't really my field of expertise and would love to read further research or hear evidence of how right or wrong I am on any of the above topics.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

The trouble with super-fans/social media and music...

"In a world in which musicians are encouraged, if not forced, to cater exclusively to their most passionate followers, likewise a world in which music fans listen exclusively to music most passionately loved, we lose this important but overlooked capacity to connect. The world shrinks. Something about being human is lost."

"I suspect many musicians will be unhappy when they find that time and energy that once could be devoted to writing and performing must now be deflected into other endeavours and activities that may have little to do with music."

The above is the concise crux of this illuminating blog post, which has managed to articulate a lot of what I've been thinking lately.

The piece touches on a lot of hot air to do with this idea of "1000 true fans" (essentially, 1000 people all paying £50-100 a year on one band = sustainable career), flaws in the economics of small fanbases, how digitalisation is really cannibalizing the music biz, the dangers surrounding the evangelism of the Imogen Heap school of marketing/investing your life in social media for minimal return-on-time-invested. Plus it explores the issues to do with making music intended for a small audience (see also: my dislike of nofi) and mentions the ballsack-lickingly shoddy music that comes from artists being led massively by the expectations a cluster of (sycophantic/psychotic) fans.

But mostly, it's about how all this talk of a new dawn of "fan engagement" has ignored or simply forgotten that the most important fans of a band and of music in general, aren't the diehards but the casual 5CDs-and-a-festival-ticket-a-year consumers. In losing focus of the bigger picture, we're in danger of disengaging the masses and in doing so, we're likely to be pulling the plug on funds which feed the machine and the oxygen the ecosystem of music needs to survive.

He also says one thing I keep repeating, regarding a sense of patronage rather than consuming:
"I am much happier when I feel as if I'm pushing money to my favorite artists rather than having it pulled out of me."
Well worth a read.
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