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Tuxedomoon July 3, 2009

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Tuxedomoon: A Thousand Lives by Picture

Tuxedomoon: A Thousand Lives by Picture

Ever notice you’ve got ten albums by a band and hardly ever listen to them? Well, today I’m listening to Tuxedomoon.

I first heard of Tuxedomoon back around 1980, probably in Lou Stathis’s column for Heavy Metal. He profiled them in the September 1980 issue, and made them sound pretty interesting — a band that used electronics, horns, and strings along with the occasional more standard rock band instruments, one that went through a phase of sounding like Ultravox, one for whom art rock was not the right term because they were more art than rock… well, it took a year or three, but I eventually found a Tuxedomoon compilation album, A Thousand Lives by Picture.

Tuxedomoon, it turned out, didn’t sound quite like I expected. A lot of the songs were sparse and stripped down in an un-rock kind of way, the vocals were not exactly good conventional singing, and there was less synth than I expected… but there was a lot of atmosphere, and a few songs I loved from the beginning, while the rest took time to work their charms. The compilation was mainly made up of songs from two albums, Half Mute and Desire, and a couple of singles tracks. It was the latter two I liked best, and they’re closest to a conventional new wave sound: “Dark Companion” and “Crash.” The former is the most rocklike, with electric guitars, feedback, and vocals along with the keyboards, bass, and drum machine; it’s a driving and ominous song with nearly flat occasional vocals. The latter is also dark-sounding and propulsive, but it’s an instrumental led by a piano line and a distorted electric guitar. It’s so good that Soren “Scraps” de Selby did a great blog entry about that one song.

Anyway, given that their sound varied quite a bit and their records weren’t too easy to find, I didn’t get around to buying any others for a long, long time. Then a few years ago I found a remaindered copy of Divine, a 1990 CD of music produced in 1981 for a ballet inspired by Greta Garbo films. Again, on first listening it was a bit of a mixed bag. But then eMusic started putting up a bunch of Tuxedomoon and related albums online… and I got a bunch of them. And listened to them a couple of times each and moved on to the next thing.

Well, I’m making myself listen to them again, and I’m discovering how good The Ghost Sonata and Holy Wars, among others, are. And playing “Crash” repeatedly. I may have had to force myself to remember and rediscover this music, but I’m having a good time. The music on these albums ranges from spazzy Devo-ish blurts to sort of lo-fi Bowie/Roxy/Ultravox stuff to pretentious art rock/jazz that sounds like the soundtrack to some artsy European neo-noir film to the kind of instrumental electronically influenced neo-classical music that a lot of blogs would go crazy for it was by someone young and recording for the right label. And occasional self-indulgent twaddle. But you can’t really be sure what you’re going to get from them, which keeps them interesting.

There are several more Tuxedomoon and related albums on eMusic. I’m tempted in this little moment of enthusiasm to download more, But for now, I think it would make more sense to work on digesting all the stuff I already have…

And speaking of eMusic… July 2, 2009

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emusicAs of yesterday, what was once the subscription-based indie alternative to Itunes is now an Itunes wannabe crossed with a subscription service. In the USA, at least, where the Sony catalogue has been added, prices hiked up, subscription terms drastically changed, and per track charges replaced on a lot of albums by a standard 12 track charge, often in cases of albums with fewer tracks, less often in cases of albums with more.

It’s the worst of both worlds, judging by the reactions of American users. There’s a lot less selection than there is at Itunes or Amazon’s mp3 store; the prices are no longer a lot better than theirs; and you’re still locked into a subscription model rather than being able to just buy a few things. A lot of albums can now only be downloaded as album downloads, so forget just buying that one song you like.

The selling point of eMusic to its most fervent supporters was that its low cost and indie nature, combined with the subscription model (with more monthly downloads than now), made it easy to expand your musical horizons, taking a risk on unknown artists or trying out new genres of music at low cost, even if only to use up all those monthly download credits. Some users not only used every download every month but bought second subscriptions or booster packs, which allow a few more downloads at a somewhat higher per track cost. On the flipside, a lot of users didn’t bother to use up all their downloads every month. That was reportedly a significant amount of income for eMusic, because you pay whether you download anything or not, and your unused June downloads disappear when July begins.

For eMusic users in most countries outside the USA, things are really bad. They use the US service, which means they’re now paying a lot more and getting a lot less. and they don’t have access to the Sony catalogue, the main reason for those changes. For users in Canada and the UK, which have localized versions of eMusic, things are better. My plan hasn’t changed; I’m getting the same number of downloads for the same price. But that’s because we don’t have access to the Sony catalogue yet. When we do, and it’s coming eventually, we’ll be faced with the same changes that have led a lot of longtime eMusic users to quit the service.

Personally, I’ll have to wait and see, but even if I stick with it, my relationship with eMusic will be very different. As a lot of other users have said, there’ll be a lot less experimenting, more sticking with sure things. That’s not great for me. It’s not great for a lot of obscure artists and labels, either.

It’s the end of a wonderful thing. It won’t satisfy the average music consumer, who may have issues with the subscription model and who won’t understand why the other major labels aren’t represented, and it certainly hasn’t pleased the people who were happy with eMusic before. Some day, business students may study this move as a classic case of fuckuppery, both for how it was done and for how it was communicated to the user base.

June’s eMusic downloads July 2, 2009

Posted by sjroby in Canadian content, Music.
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Nosaj Thing: Drift

Nosaj Thing: Drift

More dubstep/wonky/whatever singles: King Midas Sound (Dub Heavy – Hearts and Ghosts EP), Cooly G (Narst/Love Dub), Joker & Rustie (Play Doe), Joker (Hollybrook Park, Do It/Psychedelic Runway), Joker & Ginz (Purple City/Re-Up), D1 (D1:V2, D1:V3, Degrees).

Peter Broderick: Music for Falling From Trees. More of that home listening/modern classical/ambient style piano and strings.

Mos Def: The Ecstatic. His debut album, Black on Both Sides, was a  great hiphop album, but his last couple of albums were reportedly weak and uninspired. Reviews said this was his best album since Black on Both Sides, so I figured it’d be worth a shot. Not bad so far.

Nosaj Thing: Drift. Instrumental, beat-oriented, electronic music. Not dubstep, though. It’s getting labelled as instrumental hiphop. But it keeps your attention, and it’s one of the two great finds of the month.

Dubterror: Dubterror. Dub, reggae, dub techno, and dubstep.

A Storm of Light and Nadja: Primitive North. A couple of experimental metal bands, one of which (Nadja, from Canada) I’ve been listening to for some time. I think each band does a song or two and then remixes a song by the other, rather than any more direct collaboration. This isn’t really going to make me want to go find any more music by A Storm of Light; there are some interesting moments, but also some dull ordinary metal moments.

Loden: Valeen Hope. This is the other catch of the month, a really good example of the kind of melodic techno/shoegazer crossover that Ulrich Schnauss and M83 do.

Pulshar: Babylon Fall Collection. Minimal dub techno with occasional vocals.

Canada Day listening July 2, 2009

Posted by sjroby in Canadian content, Life in general, Music.
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mapleleafSo, yesterday was Canada Day. And, as usual, I listened to some Canadian music. This time around:

Vancougar: Canadian Tuxedo

Metric: Live It Out

Cadence Weapon: Breaking Kayfabe

Nadja: When I See the Sun Always Shines on TV

Caribou: Andorra

One of the first times I thought about music in terms of where it was from was probably when we got the K-Tel compilation album Canadian Mint back in the early ’70s. There were some big hits and a few names that, looking at the track listing now, bring back no memories at all, from that album or anywhere else.

It kind of became important when I got into punk and new wave. It was cool and exciting that bands like D.O.A. and the Pointed Sticks were not only Canadian bands making vital new music, they were doing it on small Canadian labels. Hell, some of my friends in high school did the same thing (the Malibu Kens, some of whom went on to become Jr Gone Wild).

And in my show-going days, I preferred going to clubs to see bands, which often meant local or Canadian indie bands, though I saw a few on campus at university, too. Bands I’ve seen that other Canadian indie fans might recognize would include Teenage Head, Blue Peter, Skinny Puppy, Grapes of Wrath, Moev, the 39 Steps, Jerry Jerry and the Sons of Rhythm Orchestra, D.O.A., the Asexuals, SNFU, Lava Hay, Rose Chronicles, Sarah McLachlan, Jale, the Darkest of the Hillside Thickets, the Real McKenzies, etc.

And I still love Canadian music. The albums mentioned above are all recent. Canadian content controversies aside, in a country of 30 million people, it shouldn’t be surprising that there are a lot of worthwhile musicians and bands.