notes - a music blog
cd collection

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october 2007

I keep track of the CDs/downloads I own in two places: an Excel spreadsheet that lives on my desktop, and the HTML pages in the cd collection section (a smarter and more dedicated man than me would figure out how to make a database that could serve the HTML and be pulled into Excel via a query, but it is what it is). It used to be that when I came home from the record store with new purchases, I'd enter my latest acquisitions into both places while I was ripping the CDs into iTunes, so both lists were about as current as they could be.

For whatever reason, I started slacking on this a couple of years ago, and although I made a half-hearted effort at the end of 2006 to bring them back up to date, I only got through the Excel version, and then I stopped updating it again almost immediately. As a result, before this weekend, the HTML only went up to April 2006, and the Excel to December 2006.

But I spent a few hours getting both back into shape, so that now they should accurately reflect my collection. I don't think anyone else will care that much about this, but it's one of those things that constantly nags at me even though I never do anything about it, and there's one small corner of my mind that can now turn it's attention to some other matter. Like, for instance, the ten or so stacks of CDs that are scattered around my study, waiting for me to clean off some shelves so they can be alphabetized with the rest of my collection. Maybe next weekend...

There are very few meaningful distinctions between the Go! Team's debut, Thunder, Lightning, Strike, and their recent sophomore release, Proof of Youth. And I don't know if that's a good thing or a bad thing.

The iTunes version of Okkervil River's The Stage Names includes a bonus track, "(Shannon Wilsey On The) Starry Stairs", that for once can be purchased on its own without buying the rest of the album, and since I've been really getting into this album recently, I decided to add this track to my collection.

It's a decent song that works well with the rest of the album, but including it as the tenth track kind of throws off the near-perfect closure provided by "John Allyn Smith Sails". "Starry Stairs" has a kind of end of the first side of an album feel, or even better, a quality b-side/extra track on an EP feel, which is essentially what it is. I know it's traditional to throw a bonus track onto the end of a record, but it really isn't an appropriate closer for this album. I'm happy to own it, but I might have to play around with the placement and reorder the record to get this song make more sense in the context of the larger flow of the work.

I picked up a few new things yesterday, including P J Harvey's White Chalk, Iron and Wine's The Shepherd's Dog, and Stars' In Our Bedroom After the War. Just for fun, I looked for Panda Bear's Person Pitch, which they miraculously had in stock for the first time since it was released, and while I was in the miscellaneous P section, I also happened to notice (and acquire) Peter Bjorn and John's second album, Falling Out.

There are some potentially great albums in this bunch (Iron and Wine and Panda Bear seem the most likely), but I'm really looking forward to next week, when we have new releases from Fiery Furnaces, Jens Lekman, and Beirut. Oh, and there's this little band called Radiohead that are supposed to be putting something out as well...

Sam Beam has slowly evolved Iron and Wine's sound from a hushed lofi acoustic guitar to a full band with drums and bass, but he's never lost the thread of his early recordings. There are songs on each of his albums that hearken back to that style, and even on songs that take a more upbeat approach and incoporate other styles and instruments, you can still hear the essence of those first artist-defining songs at the heart of his music.

Each album has been a significant step forward on this evolutionary path, but it never sounds forced or insincere; each record has its own soul and its own sound, even though anyone could listen to the earliest and the latest and know that they are linked. Each record is perfect, but each is perfect in its own unique way.

The Shepherd's Dog is no exception, and while Sam Beam's musical palette was certainly expanded by In the Reins, his collaboration with Calexico, this record doesn't sound like another band adding their touches to Sam Beam compositions like Reins did. This is Sam Beam through and through, just with some new sounds to play around with. Iron and Wine fans will love this just as much as they've loved everything he's done to this point, and this might also be his most accessible record to the as-yet uncoverted (although I think you can make a pretty good argument for Our Endless Numbered Days, which is still probably my favorite overall).

There is probably a very specific mood that P J Harvey's White Chalk would be the perfect soundtrack for, but I'm not sure if I'm ever going to be in that mood.

In fact, I'm pretty sure I don't ever want to be in that mood.

Tomorrow's the big day: the official release of Radiohead's new album, In Rainbows, which was only announced the public about two weeks ago. How can a band release an album with so little time for marketing, packaging, etc.? By releasing it in digital format only, at least to start with.

Radiohead is currently free from any record company entanglements, so instead of signing what would essentially be a distribution deal with a major label (the band paid to record the album themselves; no record company funds were involved, so they own every piece of it outright), they decided instead to set up a web site where you could pay for a digital download. The real beauty part, at least for consumers: you decide what you want to pay. You can enter in any amount starting at 1p, and whether you paid a pence or £1000, you'll get a code that will allow you to return to the web site on October 10 and download the album.

You can also pay £40 for a deluxe set which includes the full album on CD, a CD full of bonus tracks, and lots of extra artwork, etc. And since those won't be ready for a couple of months, you also get a code to download the record so you don't have to wait for the physical media to ship.

This stunt follows on the heels of two other alternative strategies for releasing an album early this summer. First Prince released his latest opus in Britain by having it inserted in every copy of the Sunday paper, basically giving it away for free, a stunt which angered his British label so much that they then refused to released the CD traditionally. I'm not sure exactly what his strategy was there, besides pissing off his label, but if I had to guess, I'd say that because of his stature and well-known brand name, he doesn't see record sales as the primary source of his revenue anymore; they're more a promotional vehicle to keep his name in the news and get people coming to his shows (artists have always had a much larger cut of the revenue for live performances than CD sales——in fact, in an earlier move, Prince started giving away copies of his newest release to everyone who bought a ticket to his live show).

Stars, the Candian indie pop group with ties to Arcade Fire and Broken Social Scene, also experimented with a new release strategy in July. They finished their record mid-summer and had a traditional release date of September 24, but instead of watching as their album was leaked onto file sharing networks, they offered fans an alternative to either stealing the record illegally or having to wait months to hear it: they immediately made it available for purchase and download on iTunes.

Since Radiohead is reportedly mulling a traditional release of In Rainbows early next year, this is a similar strategy: allow fans to pay for a leaked digital version of the album rather than have them illegally download it from file sharing networks. Of course, since you can decide what you want to pay in Radiohead's model, there's absolutely no reason to steal the record: anyone can afford 1p.

I haven't yet decided what I'm going to do yet. I'm considering the deluxe version, simply because I want the bonus tracks and the band has not yet announced whether these tracks will ever be available in another format, but £40 translates to about $80, and I'm not sure it's worth that much to me. At a very minimum, I'll pay a minimal amount for the download (say a pound or two) because I know that if I don't order the deluxe edition, then I'll be buying the CD whenever it's released.

It's cool that a band of Radiohead's size is interested in playing around with music distribution models, because the more that high profile artists like them and Prince find ways to get their music to fans without the help of the major label conglomerates, the more those conglomerates are going to have to wake up and realize that the new models will one day dominate, and they can either get on board or die. Steve Jobs has already done his best to show them one potential new model that has brought in billions in otherwise unrealized revenue, and their response was to try to gougue consumers for more and restrict how and where they could play the songs they bought online.

It's clear they don't get it, and at this point, you wonder if they ever will. But it's also increasingly obvious that it doesn't matter if they do or not; newer models will replace their outmoded structures, starting with established acts and moving down the chain. It's really up to the record execs to decide whether they want to use these new models to revive their profit streams, because someone's going to be making money on music distribution. If they don't take advantage of the opportunities that the digital realm brings, there are plenty of entrepreneurs who will step in to fill the void.

While suffering through a bout of insomnia late last night, I decided to download Radiohead's In Rainbows and pay £2 for it, which came to just under $5 with the service fee and the conversion to American currency. I still might order the box set, but I'll definitely buy the CD whenever it's released, so I feel like $5 was more than generous considering that that's more than the band would have received from a traditional release and they'll also get my money again when there is physical media to be had.

I've been listening to it pretty much non-stop, and while it's good and getting better the more I hear it, it might be they're most unambitious record ever. There are very few of the electronic dalliances that have become so prominent in their sound since OK Computer, although there is a lot of experimentation with the percussion.

You know how every record since Kid A they've told us that they're next record will be a back-to-basics guitar-oriented record? This is finally that record; it's so stripped down and minimalistic that it sometimes sounds like demos for a new album rather than a full-fledged studio album. Some of that could be the sound quality; the digital download tracks are 160 kbps MP3s, which is a little below average compared to other music downloads. Recording techniques/encoding issues aside, though, the music is very raw and muscular, and while it's not necessarily a step back, it's definitely not a big step forward, either.

Still sounds like a great album though, probably ranking equal to their last studio record, Hail to the Thief. I'll let it grow on my a bit more before I make any kind of final judgment, but I expect that this record will be in my playlist for many weeks to come.

Because Radiohead refuses to sell their music on iTunes (they only want their albums to be sold as complete works instead of allowing people to pick and choose which tracks they want, which Steve Jobs refuses to allow), they are one of the few contemporary artists for whom you cannot automatically grab album art for. I decided to remedy this by downloading album covers from, but of course there was one that was missing: In Rainbows, Radiohead's just-released record that as of now is only available in download form without any artwork.

So I decided to take care of this one myself: I downloaded some images from the In Rainbows web site, spent a few minutes messing around in Photoshop, and voila, an album cover that fits in with the overall design themes we've seen for the album, if not an offical album cover. Here's what I came up with:

Feel free to copy and use for your own collection until the band comes up with something official.

Picked up a few new releases yesterday: Jens Lekman's Night Falls over Kortedala, Beirut's The Flying Club Cup, Sunset Rubdown's Random Spirit Lover, and Fiery Furnaces' Widow City. I honestly could have spent the next week just listening to In Rainbows, but I've been waiting for the Beirut release for a long time, and based on the clips I've heard so far from Widow City, I'm hopefully that this could be the album where they finally stop screwing around and give us another relatively straightforward collection of songs (I mean, as straightforward as you're ever going to get from the Friedberger siblings).

I think there are a few more releases I'll want to pick up before the year ends, but this might have been the last hurrah in terms of a single week where so much good stuff comes out at once. And that's probably okay; I'm still getting to know a lot of the stuff that I've purchased in the last couple of months, and there's enough that I know is good even though I don't know it that well yet that it will be nice to have some time to absorb it all before it's time to make up the top 10 lists for this year. There wasn't a release from a previously unknown band that blew me away like the Thermals did last year or the Hold Steady did the year before, but it's a good year for music overall.

My hope was that Beirut's latest, The Flying Club Cup, would pick where the Lon Gisland EP (released earlier this year) left off, and for the most part it does. The sound is still recognizably Beirut, but horns and strings are now more frequently employed than on the debut record, and while the accordian still makes regular appearances, it's not the defining instrument of many songs.

There's a bit of a Sunday-afternoon-at-the-carousel sound to a few tracks, but it's not too annoying if you don't think about it too hard. Frontman Zach Condon took some criticism for the eastern European gypsy stylings on his first record, given that he was a twenty year old from New Mexico, and while he doesn't abandon those influences on Club, the music definitely veers off in different directions on several tracks, exploring more orchestral textures.

Still, aside from the multi-tracked vocals, most of this music wouldn't seem out of place on a scratchy wax cylinder recording, and while Beirut's music certainly deserves a wider audience, I'm not sure if there's anything on this album that would win over people who gave Gulag Orkestar a chance and didn't like what they heard. But if you did like that record, this one won't disappoint, and given that Condon is still only in his early 20s, chances are we've got a lot more to look forward to from him.

If you can make it all the way through a Jens Lekman album, with his sometimes goofy but always sincere lyrics and odd European inflections, and not completely fall in love with him, then I reckon you don't have much of a heart left, and your sense of humor's pretty much gone as well. Oh You're So Silent Jens is ranking a bit higher than Night Falls over Kortedala, but it's close, man. It's real close.

It's the fourth anniversary of this site, and the signature project, the year mixtapes series, is barely farther along than it was a year ago. At this time last year, I had written the entry for the Pogues' "Bottle of Smoke", track 3 (out of 23) for the 1988 mixtape; now I've finished track 10, the Cowboy Junkies' "Misguided Angel", and that entry was posted way back in May.

So now I think I'm actually farther behind than I was when I started the project, but I'm still going to hack away at it occasionally. Maybe I can get to the 1990s before this site turns ten...

I've purchased a lot of good CDs recently, but honestly, my current playlist could contain nothing more than Radiohead and Jens Lekman and I'd be happy.

In Rainbows is becoming my favorite album by Radiohead, and I have serious affection for OK Computer and Kid A. While my other favorite band of the last 10 years, Modest Mouse, seems to have lost their way a bit since finding commercial success, Radiohead continue to shine, delivering their warmest and most straightforward effort to date. This record might be historically remembered for the way that they fucked with the record industry by releasing it digitally themselves, but when it comes down to it, the music is far more important than the statement their trying to make. The release stunt is not a cover for a mediocre record; there's no doubt in my mind that this could have been their biggest seller if they had released it through a traditional music label with its attendant marketing and packaging.

Overall, Modest Mouse's catalog still has the edge in terms of overall listenability, but right at this moment, Radiohead are closer to my heart, and I've already listened to In Rainbows more in a week than I have We Were Dead Before the Ship Even Sank in the many months since its release. Now I'm seriously tempted to spring for the box set, because if the b-sides are half as good as the primary tracks, there's likely lots more new Radiohead to enjoy from these recording sessions.

I swear, every time I hear "Comes & Goes" by Les Savy Fav, I think it's a track off the New Pornographers' Challengers. I've never gotten those two bands confused before. The female vocalist doesn't help, but the whole tone of the song and the guitar work in particular is very different from Les Savy Fav's typical sound.

"Colder", the first song on Throwing Muses' House Tornado, has always been one of my favorite songs off that album, which is one of my all-time favorite albums. Even when I was 17, lines like "I am losing my friends and my young dreams" and "I'm not loving and I'm not hating and I'm not creating" had real resonance for me; the losses I was experiencing at that time still sting today (as they do for most people, I guess).

A line that didn't really make sense for me then except in an abstract, non sequitor-ish kind of way was "I feel like an alarm clock". But on those days where it feels like you're facing the same old shit you faced yesterday, and the same old shit you're going to face tomorrow, and no matter what you do it's still going to be there, I know exactly what that line means.

Most days, good or bad, have some sort of music that goes well with them, that enhances your happiness or tempers your sadness. But for some days, there just isn't any music that seems to fit. Those are the worst days of all.

Today's appropriate music: Tom Waits' "All the World Is Green".

Song of the day: Modest Mouse's "Interstate 8".

I won't do this for much longer, but words just aren't working for me these days.

I bet the Shout Out Louds' Our Ill Wills is going to get overlooked on a lot of year-end lists, but it really shouldn't. Just as charming as their last album, with noticeable growth in songcraft and subject matter. You really couldn't have asked for more from them on this outing.

You know we're entering the holiday deadzone for releases when the lead review on Pitchfork is for remastered versions of Joy Division albums that are a quarter century old and firmly entrenched as masterpieces from the postpunk era. Bonus fact from the Pitchfork front page that I didn't need to know: Debbie Harry is now 63 years old.

I'm digging the Christmas labbit accessories, but a new version with a different paint job for Halloween would have been pretty cool (true, there is a Halloween-themed mini labbit from the recently released series 3, but a 5 or 10 inch version would have been better).

And I'm allowed to talk about Frank Kozik toys on this site because he made his name as an artist creating concert posters and he used to run a record label (Man's Ruin). A label that was briefly home to the Melvins. So suck it.