The Last Drop

Reviews and Clues on Music That Matters (to me)

Archive for September, 2007

Can Freaks explain the Music Industry?

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Stephen Dubner and the rest of the Freakonomics crew have an ongoing blog “quorum” on pressing social issues (much of which can be asked for by the readers) and attempt to assemble a panel to give their assessment. In a recent quorum, they addressed the downfall of the major record label and the future (if there is one) by compiling a 5 guest panel of music industry professionals/theorists. The lead response by all panelists is that the music industry is in shambles (the main culprit – free downloading) and adapting to the changing technology needs to occur if money is still to be made my record labels One lone economist posed a disputing argument against the slide of sales at the hands of rogue downloaders and actually showed some data in support – the first in my knowledge of anyone really trying to get a grasp at the actual behavior behind the consumer purchase shift. However, all panelists failed to give any conclusive insights on what exactly record labels can do to extend their longevity. Surprisingly, most of the salient comments on what needed to happen next were found in the…uh, comments. And in that, a mindblowing nirvana moment – consumers actually know more about what they want than record labels. Even on a distinguished forum of music insiders, they still have no clue as to any ideas to restore the very industry they have dedicated their lives to.

The article had me shocked and appalled – an esteemed panel of “smart people” posed few concrete examples for the current state of the industry and (even worse) provided no solutions to a growing problem that has been affecting the industry for several years now. George Drakoulias, an A&R exec at American Recordings and former member of Def Jam, blatantly stated that he had no clue on how to fix the industry – “Hopefully, someone smarter than I am will come up with the right formula to get music to consumers in the way that they want it, and to collect fees that are distributed accordingly. I hope that person shows up soon.” Really???? Not even a hint at what you THINK needs to be done. This type of thinking has paralyzed major record labels and it will keep it in a free fall for several more years. Who knows what will be left at the bottom of it all. I used to feel some sentiment of victimization for the labels and would make up for it by continuing to purchase good old fashioned CDS to make up for the zillions of college students that simply don’t care about “supporting the artist”. I can’t say I have the same respect as I once did. I still love music, just not gross apathy.

On a positive note, I did find a slew of user posted articles/blogs in the comments that helped me restore some faith that there are people out there that care AND have ideas.

The original posting on the Freakonomics blog – do read the comments as they are much more insightful.

Mediafuturist, Gerd Leonhard – Decent speech on what record labels need to do to survive in Music 2.0 land

A Former Monkee talks about music, the internet, and the new economy

Written by TopDrop

September 30th, 2007 at 1:22 pm

New Issue: The Rumble Strips

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The Rumble Strips, Girls & Weather – Ah, the brisk and bracing air of Brighton brings bountiful beauty and bouncing beats. On the heals of The Go Team’s anthemic pop comes anthemic rock. With horns! But these anthems are a mix of nautical themes (there from the beach, right) and heartache. All with the pleasantries of horns! Ok, ok. Again, here comes my bias. There are three things that automatically make a great song for me – horns (check), hand claps (check), and stuttering (not yet, Junior Senior’s “Move Your Feet” if you need an example). Thus I’m obliged to love a song like “Girls and Boys in Love”. The rest of the album just continues on this path of larger than life pop. Charlie Waller’s voice is on a crash course to overtake Bono for consistent grandiose stylings. But I don’t feel the need to by a red t-shirt in support. And the entire album is one big burst of pop energy from start to finish. No need to read into any deeper meanings. For better or for worse. It seems to capture the feeling of Brighton very well – a little over the top and romantic. All for the better. Give me more I say! And a motorcycle to ride out on (if only it could fly…).

Written by TopDrop

September 27th, 2007 at 10:33 pm

New Issue: Stars

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Stars, In Our Bedrooms, After the War – Oh Canada! And men (or a man)! It was bound to happen, and I’ve finally moved on to groups with mixed genders. And a well known one at that. In Our Bedrooms, After the War follows in similar footsteps as the previous album Set Yourself on Fire. However, the group has taken a solid step towards a mainstream sound with this album. Which may be it’s greatest downfall. Much of the album’s sound seems poised for an adult contemporary station (insert any Lite FM name here – I particularly like Sunny 109). They are already a softer rocking band due to the strong association of lyrics surrounding relationships and the actual singers preferring a more subdued delivery. Still, I wanted them to really rock at one point and I don’t think it ever got there. Plenty of builds and tension abound. Just not enough rockin’. Further, on ” The Ghost of Genova Heights”, Torquill Campbell follows the road of Justin Timberlake and Robin Thicke into white boy falsetto soul. Only it comes of more cheesy than inventive. If only Timbaland gave them a track…sexy could be brought back from Canada. “Personal” also used a strong theme that ended up sounding flat in the performance. Too much of the album fell into the dangerous middle ground which is surprising given the rich music scene currently found in Toronto (particularly from their alma mater Broken Social Scene). I know this band is talented and I wanted to see more of that talent displayed in this recording. I do applaud them for “leaking” their album early online in the face of ever growing illegal downloading. Hopefully they will employ this same inventiveness in future recordings.

Written by TopDrop

September 27th, 2007 at 10:04 pm

New Issue: St. Vincent

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St. Vincent, Marry MeThe last of my all female run, I promise. And the best was saved for it. Having been a stable backing member for other bands/artists that I really appreciate (Polyphonic Spree, Sufjan Stephens), I was happily awaiting Annie Clark’s work but didn’t know what to expect. She seems well versed in many genres so she had a lot of options. She chose the electronic/folk route (ala Imogen Heap and such). Which definitely works. Her voice is void of the over-processed sound generally attributed to other well known female electronic artists, but she still uses protools to fill out her sound. Lots of layering, but not cluttered. The overall feel is honest, sincere, and slighlty self conscious. All charming. With a title like Marry Me, it could have gone the route of desperation. But she steers clear of pleading and relies much more on poignant insights on relationships.The first half focuses on her skills as multi-instrumentalist and social commentary on current events while the second half showcases her simple songwriting ability. I must say I favor the latter half moreso since it showcases her vocal vulnerability. It’s a great foil for her evident talent of playing any and all instruments. So many songs just find a way to be touching in a genuine way. A great sign of solid songwriting and great delivery.

Written by TopDrop

September 27th, 2007 at 9:36 pm

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New Issue: Tegan and Sara

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Tegan and Sara, The Con – More and more women. Tis the season for estrogen. And Tegan and Sara have no problems delivering women friendly pop. In fact, I expected a more upbeat, radio friendly offering for their latest release. So Jealous was such a pleasing, easy on the ears album – why not give us more (similar to Spoon’s pop driven follow up to Gimme Fiction). Instead, they went back to their roots and stuck to a fuller guitar sound. Initially, I was fine with the rock edge. But the lack of bright pop filler exposes the reckless song lyrics. You can chalk up a few songs to raw anger and hurt, but at some point, you have to filter the pain into a tangible insight. Or at least put your best effort towards that end. The lead single, “Back in Your Head”, is a short trip back to what made Tegan and Sara worthwhile – an extremely catchy hook and with brain-numbingly easy lyrics that will stick in anyone’s mind. However, the rest of the album doesn’t seem to find the same groove. In spite of the groove leaving, there are still some interesting melodies that make the album worth a spin, especially when you are in the mood for heartbreak. Just skip over the middle school lyrics.

Written by TopDrop

September 18th, 2007 at 7:45 pm

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New Issue: New Young Pony Club

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New Young Pony Club, Fantastic Playroom – From one Brit fan favorite to the next. And I’m listening to a lot of girls. Who knew? At least this female lead singer (and her band) were nominated for the Mercury Award for album of the year. And they have a pony in their name. I like ponies 😉

Back when I heard the latest Intel commercial featuring women in tight leather clad skirts and a sultry yet monotone voice saying “I can give you what you want/I can give you what you need”, I was a little scared and turned on by the possibilities of NYPC. They could either be edgy and sexy in that ’80s synth Blondie way or they could just be lazy and choose speaking over singing since they don’t have the chops. Luckily, Tahita Bulmer and crew have the new wave sound down to a science. So much so that it may be their Achille’s heal.

First off, it is great to see a woman getting away with not singing. Men seem to find a way in almost every genre, yet there are very few women who can be recognized for their talent as a lead singer but not actually be a singer. Tahita’s pseudo-disinterested slur is a great foil for the slick new wave dance rock that NYPC creates. Even the non-sequitor lyrics make sense against the bass driven funk laced with retro synths. Converse to The Gossip, Fantastic Playroom almost seems too produced – everything fits into it’s niche so snuggly that you wonder if the band could really let loose. Furthermore, the album is front loaded with all of their best and most interesting songs. By the end, you’ve figured out their sound and can almost predict what you’ll hear next. This is not to say that the songs are bad, they just get a bit predictable. Still fun to dance to in that hipster, locked knees, “I’m too cool to actually move my entire body” sway. But less inventive than the overtly sexy “Ice Cream” and easy groove “The Bomb”. Nevertheless, this is a solid album from a promising band that is sure to put on a great shake your booty show.

Written by TopDrop

September 17th, 2007 at 3:48 pm

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New Issue: The Gossip

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The Gossip, Standing in the Way of Control – Warning – I bought this album at The Gossip’s show last week. I almost never succumb to the pressure due to the undeniable letdown that occurs from trying to translate great live energy into a good studio track. However, I bought the album out of curiosity rather than reverence. Beth Ditto’s Janice Joplin by way of Katie O vocal style is absolutely killer live and I had to know how they could possibly bottle it up in a studio. Furthermore, the 3 person minimalist sound was actually magnanimous live leading me to wonder if The Gossip had stumbled on a formula similar to The White Stripes or The Yeah Yeah Yeahs – growly, lo-fi melodies that are sharp, yet full. Standing in the Way of Control doesn’t deliver on these measures and confuses you as to how they bubbled to the top of NME’s Cool List for 2006 (Ditto that is).

The main suspect on the album’s poor sound is the sound itself. In an attempt to keep the sound raw and punk, the band uses little or no production to form a cohesive song. Not one bit of mixing to layer in the vocal with the any of the instruments makes Beth sound small and rather “unpunk”. Pretty hard to do since her live shows literally blow you away with her intensity and range. The drums sound garagy, in a bad way – tinny, shallow, and contained. Brace’s bass/guitar does it’s best to be the glue, but there is too much missing to hold it all together. Even during the show, I kept on wanting more meat to the band (no pun intended) – more guitars, maybe a keyboard, anything to help support Ditto’s bluesy wail.

The other problem with the disc is that The Gossip doesn’t know which band it wants to be yet. Most of the album is an attempt at riot grrl punk with pretty awful angry lesbian lyrics that nod more to high school emo than the weight they want (again, no pun intended). Their hits (“Standing in the Way of Control”, “Listen Up”) are better forms of post punk disco that actually stand a chance at being real songs. The remaining slow songs are a brief glimpse at Ditto’s blues range and could have been better if the band knew how to play or record anything but punk. The album itself starts off slow but gains momentum and ends with the best two tracks – remixes of their two singles “Standing in the Way of Control” and “Listen Up”. The remixes shed light into what the band could be with actual production and shaping to their songs. Now that they are signed to a Columbia subsidiary, I hope Rick Rubin will provide this shaping. If so, The Gossip could easily become the indie rock darlings of America that they have worked so hard to be for the UK.

Written by TopDrop

September 17th, 2007 at 3:02 pm

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Music Industry Savior

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If there were anyone in the music industry I would want to be right now, Rick Rubin would be it. So respected is his ear for music that Sony wants to take a chance on him running the hallowed Columbia Records. This, after Sony’s famed copyright protection debacle and general lackluster sales skewed towards pushing crap records from unworthy artists. The New York Times makes a great case for why Rubin could be the shaman for a new era in the industry, particularly as a business leader who has no formal training and no technical expertise. Bringing art back into music is a gamble.

I, for one, am thrilled to see that there are a few in the upper echelon of the industry that are willing to take a chance on reverting music from a commodity back to an artform. Sad that it took them this long to do something about it. The executive suite must have been pretty well insulated from the sales declines for the last 10 years to have waited this long. Rick seems ready to take on the task, albeit it in the most unorthodox (no pun intended) and decidedly artist directed manner. He’ll have a ton of artists in support, which he will most likely need. I will be eagerly following Columbia’s progress under his helm.

New York Times article on Rick Rubin


Fader article from 2004 on Rubin

Written by TopDrop

September 5th, 2007 at 12:47 pm

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The Stockpile: Cam’ron

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Cam’ron, Purple HazeIn my continuing trend of being behind on critically acclaimed hip hop, I delve back even further. 2005’s Purple Haze is Cam’ron’s supposed farewell opus on Roc-a-fella records, prior to Jay Z’s hostile takeover (oh Damon Dash, what are you up to these days) and subsequent exclusion of the Diplomat Set. Could Harlem survive? Was Brooklyn poised and strong enough to hold the hip hop crown? Based off of Purple Haze, uptown has still got it.

Given my previous reaction towards coke infused hip hop, I was expecting very little from Cam’ron. Furthermore, his pension for flashy colored clothing spoke towards a potential model of image over substance that was fast making me yawn. Yet, during my midday amble around Hoxton, I found myself happily bouncing to the brightness of the beats and charmed by his word play. Less grime and dark dealings, more playful and light insight. Even the blatant misogyny had me saying, “Cam, you so crazy! :)” A key to this winning formula is the well timed, but sparse use of guest performers. Most rappers that belong to a crew use their albums as a base platform to sell their crew vs. creating a cohesive sound (50 Cent, Nelly, T.I., etc.). And the crew is NEVER as good as the lead artist (ex Wu Tang) leaving you saddled with a few good songs and a bunch full of no names that sound like no names. Much of this leads to the issue of people illegally downloading to save time and money on the diluted album. But I digress. Cam’ron has every reason to promote the hell out of the Diplomat Set (namely 22 reasons), but keeps the collaborations few, far between, and tight. Much care was taken into finding the best verses for each guest appearance and editing them to ensure a cohesive sound. The song featuring Kanye relegates Mr. West to the chorus only and it works. Very well. I can easily listen to the album on repeat because I don’t have to sift through the myriad of nonsense generally associated with contemporary hip hop albums. There are a few skits (he did give you 22 tracks), but I find them charming if not generally amusing.

It is a shame that Purple Haze fell into so much promotional trouble to stunt it’s sales growth. Given the premium production quality and broad appeal, this should have been his best selling record to date. Instead, it has fallen through the cracks and even I must wait 2 years post release to get a taste.

Written by TopDrop

September 2nd, 2007 at 10:52 am

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Top Drops: August

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M.I.A. – Not a surprise, but I can’t stop gushing on how good this album is. I need more of this in my life.

Justice – House/ Drum & Bass never sounded so real. Gone is the never ending thud of a droning, deafening bass drum. Add the energy of rock and a few school kids to sing a chorus and you have a stellar dance album. Sadly, their show is sold out for Friday night in London. But, they shall return later. I can see the large, neon cross now…

Junior Senior – To know me is to know my love affair for pointless, uplifting pop. Sometimes you just need to smile. And shake your booty. When the calling comes, pump up Hey, Hey, My, My, Yo, Yo and let the happiness ensue. Just look at the cover art if you need any guidance

Miss Teen USA contestant from South Carolina – This is why I am so adamant about the differences between North and South Carolina.

Written by TopDrop

September 2nd, 2007 at 10:51 am

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