August 1, 2015

Best of 2002

As I look back on my life and the influence that music had on it, there are a few transition years that stand out. 1995 was the biggest one, and then 2002 is probably next; 2004 and 2014 are also important. Each of these years are marked by major moves and changes in my life.

One of the first digital photos I ever took; Heathrow Airport, London, UK, 11/2002
In 2002 specifically the geographical and cultural transitions I experienced were massive. I lived in Birmingham, AL during the months of January and February, then moved to Orlando, FL in March. In August I moved all my stuff back to my parents' house in Franklin, TN for the first time in seven years. I spent the months of September and October in Richmond, VA, and then finally in November moved across the Atlantic to Lusaka, Zambia. So yeah, quite a whirlwind year.

I met tons of new people, made close friends, lost contact with old friends, heard a ton of new music, and went to an insane amount of concerts. 2002 was really the last of my crazy concert years that began in 1995. In addition to commenting on each album below, I am also going to list when and where I first heard the album, and if I saw the artist in concert in 2002.

This list also brings my blog full circle, in a way. I began this blog in December of 2003, and the first "best of" list I posted was the top albums of 2003. That was before I started fleshing out the lists though, which I started in 2006. So my next posts like this will be new versions of 2003, 2004, and 2005, which will include comments for the first time instead of the simple lists they are currently. That will give me detailed lists from 1991 to the present. Then maybe I'll go back to 1990 and work my way into the past. (By the time I'm 70 maybe I'll actually be able to write a best of list for the year 1970!)

Top 20 albums of 2002:

1. The Gloria Record- Start Here
First heard album:  Summer 2002  in Orlando, FL
Saw in concert in 2002? Spring in Nashville, TN at the End

I ranked this my number one album of the decade for the 00's, and I still feel that way. I am a huge fan of everything Chris Simpson has ever done--Mineral's The Power of Failing is probably my favorite of his lyrically--but sonically this album is perfect. (For years I actually daydreamed of what it would be like for The Power of Failing to be re-recorded in this style; silly yes I know.)

Two or three of these songs I heard in advance as demos were circulating online (I found them using Audiogalaxy, not Napster). But nothing could have prepared me for how mind-blowing the album would be as a whole, and I have vivid memories of listening to it as I drove around Orlando that summer. Sadly, this was it for The Gloria Record, and this was it for Chris Simpson's rock career (In my interview with him a few years ago he calls his Zookeeper project "rock", but it's not to me--I call it folk).

There is an unfinished Gloria Record album out there; based on interviews with Chris and other band members, the music is 99% finished, Chris just never finished the lyrics and vocals (Read about it these two 2014 interviews here and here). With the Mineral reunion (that is still going on!), I once again have hope that maybe they'll revisit it. And even if that album remains unfinished, I will now hope for new Mineral or new Gloria Record music. And worse case scenario, if none of those things happen, Chris told me personally when I saw Mineral in Italy in January that the reunion shows have reignited his love for electric guitar. He hadn't owned one in more than five years!

2. Pedro the Lion- Control
First heard album: Spring 2002 in Orlando, FL
Saw in concert in 2002? Summer in Orlando, FL at The Social, and July at Cornerstone Festival.

In March I wrote a pretty detailed post about my love/hate relationship for David Bazan over the last 15+ years. Thankfully the hate part of that relationship has ceased to exist. Now I will call it more of a love/confused relationship.

Simply, Control is Bazan at his best. Musically aggressive and experimental, and lyrically never more challenging and thought-provoking. I recently learned on a podcast that he wrote the drum part for the song "Magazine", which is my favorite Pedro the Lion song of all time. I of course knew he wrote the song, but I didn't consider how much of the music he also composed (all?). He was a drummer of course for years before he started his own songwriting.

3. Poor Old Lu- The Waiting Room
First heard album:  Fall 2002 in Richmond, VA
Saw in concert in 2002? Multiple times in and around Cornerstone Festival in July.

Poor Old Lu is my favorite band of all time. Obviously there are plenty of other great bands I love, but the thing that sets Poor Old Lu apart is that 100% of their output is awesome. There are no throw-away tracks, no missteps. They are faithful to their one and only line-up: Scott Hunter, Aaron Sprinkle, Nick Barber, and Jesse Sprinkle. Every Poor Old Lu song ever is a collaboration of these four guys, which is important considering every one of these guys writes songs, sings, and plays guitar.

This, unfortunately, was the final Poor Old Lu album. They have released two "singles" since (The Great Unwound in 2013 and The Brightest Star in 2014), and all four of these guys have been very active in music for going on 25 years. While I love most all the music they have released individually since, they reach another level when they record together.

4. Sixpence None the Richer- Divine Discontent
First heard album: Fall 2002 in Richmond, VA
Saw in concert in 2002? At Cornerstone Festival in July, and possibly/probably one other time in Atlanta (I saw them at the Cotton Club I just can't remember when)

I have written so much about Sixpence this year it is hard to know where to begin. Probably the most important thing to share about this album is that there are two radically different versions of it. What I call Original Divine Discontent was mastered in October of 2001. Here is a screenshot from my iTunes:

I'll do the math so you don't have to: The original version of this album had 14 songs, and the final version that was officially released in 2002 had 13. But there are only 8 songs that appear on both albums. That means there were 5 new tracks on the publi release, and 6 mostly unreleased songs (some became B-sides on singles) from the original (19 total songs for this release if you combine). If you have never heard the following songs and are a fan of this band, please hunt them down. They are among some of the best songs the band ever recorded: "Deeper", "Don't Pass Me By", "Loser Like Me", "Northern Lights", "Too Far Gone", and "Us".

5. Blindside- Silence
First heard album: Fall 2002 in Richmond, VA
Saw in concert in 2002? Before the album was released I saw them in a super-tiny, super-sweaty club with a very low ceiling in Orlando. Conditions were miserable but band was amazing.

This is the album that put Blindside on the map, and for good reason. They expanded upon their sound greatly, and added a ton of melody and hooks while not sacrificing their intensity. I prefer A Thought Crushed My Mind because of its originality, but there is no Blindside album I have listened to as much as Silence. Just this month the band announced a 10th anniversary show in NYC in which they will play the album in full...

6. Thrice- The Illusion of Safety
First heard album: Summer 2002 in Orlando, FL
Saw in concert in 2002? Did not see until Thrice until 2007.

In August I will see Thrice for the fourth time. The first three times were in Atlanta, and this time it will be in a radically different setting: at Hevy Fest in the UK. It's pretty funny to think back on the summer of 2002 and listening to this album driving around Orlando. I really enjoyed it, but I could have never comprehended or imagined the band that Thrice would evolve in to. Of any band that released their first album 2000 or later, Thrice is my #1.

7. The Anniversary- Your Majesty
First heard album: January 2002 in Birmingham, AL
Saw in concert in 2002? No, but in 2001 at 40 Watt in Athens, GA.

This album was a big departure from Designing a Nervous Breakdown, and took me awhile to grow into it. In fact, if this album had been released in today's music climate, I probably would have never given it the time to grow. One of my main oppositions to streaming music is that one has access to so much one never takes the time to truly invest in an album. Buying an album, especially in physical form, is an investment that commits one to listening to it much more, allowing it to grow, and becoming much more attached. That is what I had to do with this album. Upon initial listen I was disappointed it was not as melodic and energetic as the band's debut. But a few months later I developed love for it.

8. Rilo Kiley- The Execution of All Things
First heard album: 2014! Can't believe I waited so long.
Saw in concert in 2002? Never seen

One of the most notable things about this album is that I didn't buy it until last year. I was aware of Rilo Kiley in the early part of the 2000's, but for some reason never heard much. That was definitely my loss, as this album is fantastic and my favorite thing Jenny Lewis has ever been involved in. Here is a YouTube video I just discovered of the band playing my favorite song from the album, "Spectacular Views". There are better sounding live versions of this song on YouTube, but they are all from 2007; this one is actually from 2002:

9. Logh- Every Time a Bell Rings an Angel Gets its Wings
First heard album: Unsure, but in 2002. It was included as a "freebie" with an order I placed from Deep Elm Records. Had never even heard of the band.
Saw in concert in 2002? Never seen

I know almost nothing about Logh except that they are from Sweden. I got their next two albums after this, but neither had the vibe or intimacy that this one did. The album is haunting in a way--minimalistic, atmospheric rock music--which is very different from everything else I ever heard from Deep Elm.

10. The Flaming Lips- Yoshimi Battles The Pink Robots
First heard album: 2003?
Saw in concert in 2002? Never seen

While living in Zambia thankfully I had friends send me mp3s of music I had never heard before. This was one of those bands; while the Flaming Lips had been around forever, I had never heard more than one song at a time. Needless to say this full album blew me away. I am a mild Flaming Lips fan, I have four albums, and this one is my second favorite behind The Soft Bulletin.

11. Brandtson- Dial In Sounds
First heard album: Early 2002, Birmingham, AL
Saw in concert in 2002? Early 2002 in Birmingham, and then the last concert I saw in November (at The End in Nashville) before moving to Zambia.

"I'll call you on the phone (!)
And probably hang up before you say hello
Goodbye. I won't speak to you for days
Unless you pretend that it's all okay
Don't talk to me that way"

I saw Brandtson SO MANY times in concert from 2000-2002; maybe even as much as a dozen in those three years. I don't know how that was possible, but they were always on tour, always played in the towns I lived in, and I really, really liked them. The song "Guest List" (lyrics above) they played at least a year in advance of this album coming out, and I knew it backwards and forwards well before I heard the recorded version. While this was Brandtson's fourth release (two LP's and one EP prior), it was the first time Brandtson's sound and style was captured in the studio correctly.

12. The Beautiful Mistake- Light a Match for I Deserve to Burn
First heard album: Fall 2002 in Richmond, VA
Saw in concert in 2002? Never seen

This band was short-lived and this their debut album was the highlight of their career. I initially discovered them through a bunch of demos they posted free online (, and I enjoyed those enough to order this CD a year later. The album far exceeded my expectations though-- it is a diverse, interesting mesh of hardcore and rock. The artwork is spectacular, and there is also a gorgeous vinyl release on orange vinyl.

Interesting story I just remembered after writing about Brandtson and The Beautiful Mistake back-to-back here... In August of 2003 I saw Brandtson play in a tiny pub in Frankfurt, Germany. Jared Jolley (drummer, co-lead singer-songwriter) was sitting at the bar and I sat down beside him and introduced myself. We talked about all kinds of things, and somehow the conversation led to Brandtson's contract ending with Deep Elm. Jared told me that they had decided to sign with the Militia Group, a label I don't think I was familiar with at the time. The reason they decided to go with that label is because of what a great job the Militia Group did on this, the debut album for the Beautiful Mistake. Jared quoted some absurd number of records they had sold. I don't know how many albums Brandtson sold for the Militia Group--and I am guessing not many--but at least the union did result in Send Us a Signal, my number one album of 2004.

13. Mates of State- Our Constant Concern
First heard album: Summer 2002 in Orlando, FL
Saw in concert in 2002? Saw for the first time in Paris in August of 2003.

This album was my introduction to Mates of State, and I heard it around the time it was released. I was immediately intrigued as the instrumentation was so simple and radically different than all the other music I listened to (no guitars). They have been one of my favorite bands ever since, and my kids have also really gotten into them. My 7-year-old son just two days ago asked to listen to the new Mates of State EP, You're Going to Make It.

If you haven't watched this video yet, I HIGHLY recommend it, as it discusses the band's primary instrument, the Yahama Electone, and how Kori and Jason built a career around it:

14. Demon Hunter- Demon Hunter
First heard album: Late 2002, Lusaka, Zambia
Saw in concert in 2002? Never seen

It was the first of these...

15. GRITS- The Art of Translation
First heard album: Late 2002, Lusaka, Zambia
Saw in concert in 2002? Never seen

This is the only hip-hop/rap album you'll find any any of my lists for the last 25 years. Definitely not my genre of music, but this is probably my number one hip-hop album ever. I love the melodies and hooks. Just last week I actually bought my first hip-hop album in about a decade, Lecrae- Anomaly. Haven't listened to it enough yet to really have an opinion, but my wife is very excited.

Albums ranked 14, 15, and 16 here are three of the first CD's I got after moving to Zambia. I don't know if I bought them new before I left, or had someone ship them to me, but my first memories related to listening to Demon Hunter, GRITS, and Coldplay (how's that for diversity!) were sitting in my first apartment in Lusaka.

16. Coldplay- A Rush of Blood to the Head
First heard album: Late 2002, Lusaka, Zambia
Saw in concert in 2002? Never seen

I did not like Coldplay at all when they hit the radio waves. The only song I knew for at least a year was "Yellow", and it drove me nuts (I actually enjoy the song now). I never gave Parachutes a chance, and it wasn't until all the positive reviews of this, their second album, that I decided to truly check out Coldplay and listen to a full album straight through. I loved it.  Not really much else to say about Coldplay except that I enjoy every album they have ever released, and are one of my favorite mainstream bands.

17. Wilco- Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
First heard album: Late 2001, as Wilco streamed it free on their website months before it was officially released in April 2002.
Saw in concert in 2002? 2004 I think? It was a free outdoor show in Nashville, TN. I can't really remember when or who I went with. It was near here, and if anyone has a clue when this show was I would appreciate it.

This was not planned, but as I scrolled down to this album today to write something about it I happened to be listening to Wilco's new album Star Wars. They released it free a couple weeks ago, and is now only the second full Wilco album I have. I am enjoying it, but it pales in comparison to YHF, which is masterpiece. So you might be thinking, if this album is a masterpiece, why is it ranked #17? Mainly because Wilco just isn't my style. Final comment: I was so happy when I saw the Marina City Towers for the first time (album cover photo) in mid-2002 during a visit to Chicago.

18. Chevelle- Wonder What's Next
First heard album: Fall in Richmond, VA
Saw in concert in 2002? Never seen

Chevelle has seven full length albums. That is crazy to me. The first time I heard them was on a Christian underground radio show in Birmingham (not my own show as it had sadly ended a year earlier), and I heard this band that sounded like Tool. I remember even calling up the show and requesting: "play the band that sounds like Tool!" That song was "Point #1", the title track from their 1999 debut, and the video is amazing. I don't expect you to watch all four minutes, but please at least check out the last 20 seconds of the song and video:

Chevelle hit their peak of creativity and originality with their second album, Wonder What's Next. Unfortunately the last 5 albums all sound almost exactly the same to me; but I'll admit I've never really given any of them the time they deserve. I am impressed Chevelle has continued as band for now 17 years.

As you can see on the cover of the album there is a glass shattering. That image points to my favorite few seconds of this album; listen to the last 40 seconds of the song "Closure" and you'll know what I am talking about. For the first year this album was out I listened to it at least once a week. The first month it was out I probably listened to it 3 times a week, and I know it backwards and forwards.

19. Pearl Jam- Riot Act
First heard album: 2013!
Saw in concert? Never seen

As I have mentioned a few times recently on this blog, I never took the time to explore Pearl Jam's body of work as a whole until the last couple years. One of the prompts for doing this was Cameron Crowe's outstanding documentary on the band. And then I was able to get every album in their discography for about $2 each on CD.

As most people already knew, the band is incredible and has stayed consistently creative and innovative their entire career. This is one of the albums I need to spend more time with. I really wish that I would have followed Pearl Jam closely since the first time I heard them in the early nineties, but for about 15 years I sort of forgot the band existed.

20. Patty Griffin- 1000 Kisses
First heard album: 2005
Saw in concert in 2002? Never seen

My wife and I had a friend that lived in the same building as us in 2005 that loaned us some CD's; the primary two artists we were introduced to were Patty Griffin and Sandra McCracken. We have gone on to follow both artists very closely in the decade since and own nearly all of their releases. I prefer Griffin, and she is at her best when her songs have simple, acoustic instrumentation. She is a great storyteller, and this album opens with one of my favorites from her, "Rain."

I have to mention...
Nada Surf- Let Go 
Until researching this post, I could have sworn this album was released in 2003. It was released in the USA that year (February 4, 2003), but turns out it was released on September 17, 2002 in Europe. I was in Zambia, which has no release dates, and had it shipped to me mid-2003 I am going to leave it as a 2003 release for now, and it is in my top 5 for that year. The fact that I could have theoretically heard it in 2002 is really messing with my mind; and I just can't accept it!

Moss Eisley- EP2
2002 is the year EPs began a more rapid decline, and to this day EPs are way less common than they were in the 80's and 90's. Rather than make a list of EPs like I have for other years, I just want to point out one: Moss Eisley's EP2. Eisley originally had "Moss" at the beginning of their name, but Lucasfilm got upset (despite the intentional misspelling), and the band briefly changed their name to Neverland in early 2003 before settling on just Eisley. They released EP1 in 2001, and EP2 in 2002, which I bought at Cornerstone that year (both were band-produced CD-Rs). I sold both of these CDs for about $70 before moving to Germany last year. EP2 contains my favorite Eisley song ever recorded--"Mister Pine"--and the entire EP is spectacular.

Other 2002 albums I own and enjoy:

All Things Bright And Beautiful- Lamentations
Arcade Fire- Arcade Fire EP
Avril Lavigne- Let Go (crazy to think about it now, but I honestly liked her first two albums)
Bright Eyes- Lifted Or The Story Is In The Soil, Keep Your Ear To The Ground
Camber- Wake Up And Be Happy
Counting Crows- Hard Candy
Cush- Spiritual EP - One
Denali- Denali
Desaparecidos- Read Music/Speak Spanish (just now bought in 2015!)
Donnie Darko Score and Soundtrack
Halo Friendlies- Get Real
Havalina Rail Co.- Space, Love & Bullfighting
Holiday Runner (Jesse Sprinkle & Ryan Beatty of Serene)
Juggernautz (Weird side project from Jyro)
Lovedrug- Lovedrug EP
mewithoutYou A to B Life
Morella's Forest- Tiny Lights of Heaven
Mortal- Nu-En-Jin
Neko Case- Blacklisted
Nickel Creek- This Side
No Doubt Rock Steady
No Knife- Riot For Romance!
Norah Jones- Come Away With Me
Over the Rhine- The Cutting Room Floor
Rainer Maria- Ears Ring EP
Rocking Horse Winner- Horizon
Rufus Wainwright- Poses
Serene- Serene
Spoon- Kill the Moonlight
Starflyer 59- Can't Stop Eating EP
Stavesacre- Stavesacre
Superdrag- Last Call for Vitriol
The Blamed- Give Us Barrabbas
The Reputation- The Reputation
The Spirit That Guides Us- 24 Winters EP

2002 albums I don't own but wish I did:

Beck- Sea Change 
Isis- Oceanic (I bet this band wishes they could change their name now)
Sleater-Kinney- One Beat
And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead- Source Tags & Codes 
Low- Trust

July 25, 2015

Hevy Fest preview: Baby Godzilla is now Heck

The first "new" band that I have discovered through my Hevy Fest poll is Baby Godzilla. But at some point in the last month they were forced to change their name, and are now called Heck. This made discovering anything about the band fairly challenging, as less than a week ago the band was still listed as Baby Godzilla on the Hevy Fest website (has now been changed). I don't listen to metal or hardcore that often, but I do like watching bands like this perform live, so in that regard Hevy Fest will be the perfect place to do that.

Here are some comments I have been given so far about the band: "Baby Godzilla are nuts. No other way to describe them and make photographing them ridiculously fun (if not at times dangerous)."

"Make sure to check out Baby Godzilla for sure. You won't regret it."

And from my own reading about the band (once again, now called Heck), they definitely seem to be a band to watch and experience, not just listen to. Here is a great example...

So you can count on me being at the Heck show with camera in hand! Finally, you can get their EP "Knockout Machine" free on their website:

July 21, 2015

Hevy Fest survey; need input!

I just learned yesterday my press pass application for Hevy Fest was accepted! I am so excited to be able to go to these festival in the UK in August. As I wrote a couple months ago, I discovered the festival because of Thrice. Here is a photo I took from the last time I saw Thrice, in 2011...

100911 THRICE 052
In addition to Thrice, I plan to cover the Get Up Kids, Coheed & Cambria, The Fall of Troy, and The Dillenger Escape Plan. The rest of the festival bands are unknowns to me. Would you mind helping and let me know who else I should take photos of and write stories about?
Create your own user feedback survey

July 17, 2015

Medium and "Chrindie '95"

I have mentioned this a few times, but I am writing quite a bit on Medium, primarily as a part of the Chrindie '95 publication. I highly recommend the publication as it now has more than a dozen different stories on albums celebrating 20th anniversaries.
Alan Parish
Chrindie ‘95

July 15, 2015

Cush/The Prayer Chain live performance

Cush, June 2015
When the Prayer Chain broke up at the end of 1995, guitarist Andy Prickett, bass player Eric Campuzano, and drummer Wayne Everett eventually formed the collective Cush (as they were joined by a rotating cast of other musicians--most notably original vocalist Mike Knott). The only member of the Prayer Chain that wasn't a full member of Cush at any point was Prayer Chain vocalist Tim Taber. Taber did sing one line on the debut Cush LP in 2000, and also sang on a Cush b-side that was released eventually on a live album.

Cush is primarily a collaboration of Prickett and Campuzano, and is Prickett's primary outlet for songwriting (he has played guitar for dozens of bands over the years and done lots of production and engineering work; but unfortunately rarely writes). Campuzano's primary songwriting outlet for the longest time was the Lassie Foundation, but is now Stranger Kings (with Holly Nelson on lead vocals, debut album released in 2014).

Cush has played with countless line-ups and lead singers over the last 15 years, but for the majority of those shows the backbone of Prickett-Campuzano-Everett was present. I was fortunate enough to attend the primary exception--in the Netherlands at Flevo Festival 2003--when Cush performed with only Prickett, joined by a collective of Dutch musicians (who had never performed with Cush previously, and never did again).

I give all this background because last month Cush performed a show for the first time ever with Tim Taber on lead vocals. Everett was unfortunately not behind the drum-set, but otherwise it was practically a Prayer Chain reunion show, as Cush even performed two Prayer Chain songs. As this show was in California and I am in Germany, I wasn't able to be there, but thankfully the band recorded all seven songs in HD Video and can be watched on YouTube. The performance is outstanding, and the video is also really high quality (the camera is positioned poorly for the first song, but the angle is corrected in the middle of the second).

Cush at the Constellation Room, June 9, 2015
1. The Drug That You Can Never Take (SP3, 2014)
2. Heaven Sent (Cush, 2000)
3. All My Eyes Knew (SP3, 2014)
4. God Help Me (SP2, 2003)
5. Mercury (Humb 1994, Mercury 1995)
6. The Bomb Was Brighter Than the Stars (Cush, 2000)
7. Chalk (Humb 1994, Antarctica 1996)

If you are a Prayer Chain fan unfamiliar with Humb, it was the original 12-track version of Mercury that was rejected by the record label. It was put on Bandcamp a few years ago along with the backstory.  All of Cush's and the Prayer Chain's music is now on Bandcamp and can be streamed for free and purchased at low prices. The most recent Cush EP came out just about a year ago and is outstanding:

Also, 2015 is the 20th Anniversary of Mercury, which resulted in a Kickstarter that funded the upcoming release of the album on vinyl. I am highly anticipating the delivery of my copy:

July 12, 2015

Wolf Alice

I have written at length this year about my love for female-fronted rock bands. Well, I have been away from the blog for a few weeks but in that time period I discovered a new band that has released my favorite album of the year--Wolf Alice. They are British and one of the most original bands I have heard in some time. I won't even try to describe their sound, instead you can listen for yourself.

From left to right: Joff Oddie, Ellie Rowsell, Theo Ellis, and Joel Amey – Photo by Jordan Curtis Hughes
"My Love is Cool", Wolf Alice's debut album was released on June 22. I heard it a week earlier on NPR's "First Listen" and streamed it non-stop.

I ordered the vinyl and when I got my MP3 download on release day my love for the band continued to rise.
I then bought their first two EP's on Amazon, which are also incredible. Wolf Alice also has a number of otherwise unreleased tracks on Soundcloud that I just discovered this morning. This is the first band I have discovered in awhile that I am putting great effort into finding EVERY song they have ever released (while this is their debut album, they have been playing for almost 5 years). You can preview all of the band's releases on their Soundcloud page, and this is the single song I think that best displays the band's sound:

And then here is my favorite song from the band, "Your Love's Whore", as a part of their Glastonbury Festival appearance last month:

June 22, 2015

Taylor Swift uses her power for the good of musicians everywhere, but the fans have to act if real change is to take place

By now I am sure you heard yesterday Taylor Swift posted an "open letter" to Apple about their upcoming streaming music service. In summary, Apple Music will rival Spotify and for around $10 a month you will get unlimited streaming access to most of the popular music in the Western world. Apple Music supposedly will give artists a little bit more per stream than Spotify does, but this compensation will still really only be pennies (or fractions of pennies). I have said before I think Spotify is the devil, but maybe all streaming music is the devil?

Screenshot of Taylor Swift's Tumblr

One of the promotions Apple was going to offer was that their new service would be free for three months. Which meant that for three months the artists whose music was being streamed would not be compensated. This would be especially damaging to any artist that was releasing new music during that three month time period.

This sickened me, and thankfully Taylor Swift had the same reaction. But Taylor Swift actually has a voice because she is the most popular musician in the world right now. So unlike the 100 people that will read this post, thousands read her letter (edit: a few hundred people have read this now).

Swift does not allow her music on Spotify, which is a decision I have praised previously. Essentially what that means is that you have to buy her albums in full, either on iTunes, Amazon, etc. and either as digital downloads or in physical format. I actually bought 1989 as both a digital download (pre-ordered), and then later I bought it again on vinyl because the album is that good.

In her Father's Day letter Swift told Apple that if they did not compensate artists during that three month period, she would not allow her music on their new service. Well, Taylor is queen, and so less than 24 hours later Apple responded. Apparently the three month free trial will continue, but now Apple will compensate artists for streams (here is Apple's official response). Once again, this compensation is negligible and in no way would allow a musician to make a living off their art unless they are Taylor Swift. (Even Swift explained in her letter that her primary income is from touring, not from album sales. But even with her sales I am sure she would be very wealthy.)

Now I assume Swift plans to allow her music on Apple Music, yet still not on Spotify. Unless Apple's artist compensation model is MUCH better than Spotify's, this seems hypocritical to me. If Swift really opposes streaming music services (with negligible artist-payout models), then she should boycott ALL of them. Swift and I see eye to eye on Spotify being the devil, but does she share my new expanded music that all streaming music is the devil?

(To try and understand how much artists make on streams, start here. I put up this chart on my blog in 2011 to help explain, and a new version of the chart was published in April and can be seen on the left below. To see the full size version follow the link to the original website.)

Swift is not the only popular artist who has boycotted Spotify. Radiohead has also kept some of their music (All of their music? I don't even know because I refuse to create a Spotify account) off the service for the same reasons. Not only do they object to the model industry-wide, they want fans to buy their music directly from them. This is the band that self-released an album online and you could literally pay whatever you wanted to the band to download it in 2007. They made millions of dollars off this model and got 100% of the profits. Of course, it was their 7th album and they were arguably the most popular rock band in the world when they pulled off this experiment.

Now, part of me wants Taylor Swift, Radiohead, and all of the popular artists in the world to boycott all streaming music. Like has been discussed, this is not how these artists are making their living, and their is no reason for them to use these extra services. If Taylor Swift were to only sell her music on her website, everyone would go there to get it. If hundreds of artists pulled their music from Spotify and Apple Music, eventually these services would no longer exist because consumers wouldn't subscribe. However, there is a much better solution to this problem.

The problem is not with the musicians; it is with us: the fans and consumers. We are lazy and cheap. What is music worth? What is one song worth? What is an album of 10 songs worth? Those questions have been answered for decades by record labels and the industry, and if we allow those entities to continue to determine the value of music, it is going to be worth less and less because the labels and industry are pouring all their resources into streaming services.

Now, here is where the problem starts. We are cheap, so we want cheap music. If we can pay $5-10 a month to a streaming service and have access to everything we want to listen to, we do it. But, we have to stop. Because if we don't start paying the artists more (or any) money, eventually there will no longer be very many artists around to give money to. (And actually, I know plenty of people that listen just about all the music in the world on a free streaming music service. What free streaming music service? It's called YouTube and is that really large pink circle at the bottom of the infographic to the left.)

When you pay a monthly subscription fee to a streaming service, you are paying for the convenience, not for the music. It is simple for you and all the music is in the same place. But you are not paying for the art, as there are many other ways to listen to that same music. The money you pay, for the most part, is going to the service or a record label.

99.99% of your subscription fee is going to a corporation of some kind. And the minuscule percentage that is left over is so small that some artists would rather you steal the music or just use YouTube to listen because that way at least the corporations aren't getting the bulk of your money. Derek Webb, musician and founder/owner of NoiseTrade, has publicly stated he would rather you illegally download his music for free than subscribe to Spotify.

NoiseTrade is an interesting model because you can legally download music for free by providing your ZIP code and email address. You have the option to "pay what you want", and this money goes almost entirely to the artist or to a charity they have chosen. However, as Derek Webb has explained, you should not feel guilty for entering a "0" in the donation box because your location and contact information is very valuable to the artist. Derek Webb, like Taylor Swift, makes most of his money off touring and playing his songs live, not selling albums.

However, artists can make money off selling albums. But they key is us fans and consumers buying, not streaming, the albums in full. There are lots of ways to do this. The best way out there right now--for both fans and musicians-- is Bandcamp.

Bandcamp provides a variety of services to artists, but essentially it is a store front for buying music. Primarily it is a way to buy digital music, but artists can also sell their physical music on the site, such as vinyl or CD's. But, what makes it special, is that it also provides streaming services based on the artists' preference. Meaning that each musician on Bandcamp can select how many of their songs you can stream (sometimes maybe 3 of the 10 tracks), and they can select how many streams you get. For example, recently I discovered a new band on Bandcamp and I was able to stream the album three times for free and then I either had to stop, or pay for it as a digital download. I payed the $8 and downloaded the music.

Why is this all so important to me? Because most of the music I listen to is not Taylor Swift or Radiohead. While I like both those artists and own digital downloads, CDs, and vinyl records from both Swift and Radiohead, most of the musicians I listen to are indie or underground. I buy albums from musicians I like because I want them to make more music. If an independent artist had to rely on streaming services to make money, they wouldn't. And then they would stop making music. (Recently one of my favorite bands of all time made a 5th album ONLY because 250 fans gave them money to do so; and this is not an isolated incident.)

Why else do I care? Because I love music and I find great value in it. I think a great song is worth at least one dollar. I think a great album is worth at least ten. If an album really connects with me, I have no problem paying $20 or more for the vinyl release because it is WORTH it.

We as fans and consumers have the ability determine the value of music, not the corporations. If music is worth nothing to you, then continue to use a streaming service. If do you think it has value, and if you do think a musician deserves to make some money off their art, start here:

1. Cancel your Spotify subscription. After all, Spotify is the devil.

2. Don't subscribe to Apple Music (and don't use the free trial). (There is an opposing view that Apple Music will be good for indie artists. However, most are recommending indie artists not sign up for it.).

3. Use YouTube and Pandora only to sample music, not as your primary methods of listening. Honestly I wish YouTube would just stay a VIDEO service and remove all the music on their site that isn't from live videos from concerts or music videos. I haven't even really mentioned Pandora here, because you can't stream full albums thankfully. But the same rule applies: if you like something you hear, find a way to pay the artist directly...

4. Start using Bandcamp and figure out which artists you like are on it. If they artist isn't on Bandcamp head over to Soundcloud because at least there you can preview full songs rather than the clips on iTunes or Amazon.

5. After you discover music you like, commit to buy the WHOLE ALBUM. Bandcamp or the artist's website is preferred, because they get most all the profit.

6. If the methods in step 6 don't work, use a larger retailer like Amazon or iTunes, and buy the full album; either as a digital download, CD (sometimes the same price as the digital download, plus you get the artwork, which is hopefully great) or vinyl.

7. Go back in time (pre-2000) and go to an awesome record store and buy CDs, cassettes, or vinyl records. Actually, stores like this still exist! Here is the best one I am aware of.

8. Go to a concert and buy merch! This is by far the best way to support an artist. I discuss this in much more detail here.

July 23 update: After discussing this post with many, I do think there is one way Spotify, Apple Music, etc. could work. I mentioned it briefly when describing Bandcamp; the key is for those services to limit the number of streams per song. For example, after you have streamed a song 2-3 times, I think it should be "blocked", meaning the only way to listen to the song again would be to buy it. These services of course aren't going to do that, so how about you try it yourself? If you use Spotify or Apple Music, and if you listen to a song or album twice or more and enjoy it, take this challenge: BUY IT!

June 10, 2015

New Mates of State EP, "You're Going to Make It", streaming in full

No surprise, the EP is excellent, but it leaves me yearning for more. Mates of State made a statement a few months ago that they would only be doing EPs for the rest of their career, which is a TERRIBLE idea. Honestly I would rather wait another year or two for an LP, than have EPs more frequently. Thankfully, Rumperbutts, the Mates of State feature film was just released, and can be watched on iTunes or Amazon. I haven't seen it yet, but plan to rent or buy it soon. The soundtrack is 12 tracks, most of which are new, original Mates of State tunes, releases on July 10 and can also be found on iTunes and Amazon for $8.99.

June 2, 2015

Bully; and thoughts on female-fronted rock bands

I briefly mentioned the band Bully in February as a part of a post about all the great female-fronted rock bands I have discovered in 2015. I read an interesting article about Bully this morning, and as their debut album approaches on June 23, here is a video about their band:

I have read in countless interviews that female musicians hate to be classified by their gender, and that is understandable. However, I can't help it.  I LOVE the sound of female vocals, and I personally classify female vocals as genre in my head and have done so for decades (despite the diversity of styles and sounds within that grouping). My February blog post got me thinking, and I eventually created three mixes, all with female vocals: the 90's, the 00's, and the 10's. It resulted in 65 total songs.

I listened to all three mixes in one day as I drove from Kandern to Frankfurt and back. I made some fascinating discoveries, and I apologize in advance if these are over-generalizations (some definitely are). Number one, there was an aggression found in female-fronted rock in the early 90's that was lost for almost 15 years. It wasn't until the past couple years that aggression and intensity returned, and Bully is a perfect example. Other recent examples are Speedy Ortiz and Cayetana.

Another discovery is that 90's bands with female vocals were primarily a bunch of guys with a girl singer. There are exceptions of course (Veruca Salt, That Dog), but SO many of those 90's bands (Sixpence None the Richer, Dakoda Motor Co.) the girls just sang. I have no problem with that, because I love their music no matter what the roles of the band members are. I recently wrote an article about two female-fronted rock bands that had a huge impact on me in the 90's:

Fleming & John’s ‘Delusions of Grandeur’ and Hoi Polloi’s ‘Happy Ever After’

In the 00's women seemingly began fronting bands more often--meaning not only did they sing--they wrote the songs, played guitar, etc. (Tegan & Sara, Eisley, Rilo Kiley). But as I mentioned, these bands were "clean" and "slick." Once again, I don't have a problem with that, as I love their music and the "prettiness" of some female-fronted music is undeniable and awesome. And a lot of this was just the style of the decade.

But now in the 10's we have both the aggression, intensity, and female leadership. Alicia Bognanno (Bully), Sadie Dupuis (Speedy Ortiz), and Augusta Koch (Cayetana) write the songs, play the guitar, sing lead vocals, and sometimes produce and record the music itself- and it is INTENSE:

Finally, using my iTunes as a database, I created a playlist of 70 female-fronted (or solo) rock artists that I love, and that I am forming my opinions with. So when I talk about loving female vocals, this is my point of reference. There is at least one album from every year from 1991 to the present, and no artist is listed more than once. (Sorry about the formatting; struggling to find the best way of getting the data out of iTunes into a post.)

If you have any recommendations on artists I am missing and unaware of, please comment!

My Bloody Valentine Loveless Blown A Wish 1991
Curve Doppelgänger Wish You Dead 1992
The Cranberries Everybody Else Is Doing It So Why Can't We? Dreams 1993
Dakoda Motor Co. Welcome Race Fans Alive 1994
Letters To Cleo Aurora Gory Alice Here & Now 1994
Veruca Salt American Thighs Seether 1994
Fleming & John Delusions Of Grandeur I'm Not Afraid 1995
Hoi Polloi Happy Ever After Tiptoe 1995
The Innocence Mission Glow Speak Our Minds 1995
No Doubt Tragic Kingdom Sunday Morning 1995
Raspberry Jam Oceanic Can I 1995
Sixpence None the Richer This Beautiful Mess Love, Salvation, The Fear Of Death 1995
Tess Wiley Splendora- Bootleg Pre-Release Version Skinny Little Line 1995
Aleixa Honey Lake Whirling Within 1996
Morella's Forest Ultraphonic Hiss Silver Syrup 1996
Jejune Junk Radical Firepower 1997
Jill Sobule Happy Town Bitter 1997
That Dog Retreat From The Sun (GBG Deluxe Edition) Never Say Never 1997
Velour 100 Of Color Bright Clouds 1997
The Cardigans Gran Turismo Hanging Around 1998
Hole Celebrity Skin Awful 1998
K's Choice Cocoon Crash Believe 1998
Plumb Candycoatedwaterdrops Damaged 1999
Ashen No Other Comfort Autopilot 2000
Over the Rhine Films For Radio Give Me Strength 2001
The Anniversary Your Majesty Devil On My Side 2002
Halo Friendlies Get Real Milwaukee 2002
Mates of State Our Constant Concern 10 Years Later 2002
The Reputation The Reputation The Stars Of Amateur Hour 2002
Rilo Kiley The Execution Of All Things Spectacular Views 2002
Rocking Horse Winner Horizon Orange Blossom 2002
Brown Feather Sparrow Wide Awakens Everything A Box Of Spring 2003
Cat Power You Are Free Free 2003
Evanescence Fallen Imaginary 2003
The New Pornographers Electric Version All For Swinging You Around 2003
Pretty Girls Make Graves The New Romance Something Bigger, Something Brighter 2003
Tegan & Sara So Jealous Speak Slow 2004
Cruiserweight Sweet Weaponry Goodbye Daily Sadness 2005
Sarah Hepburn Stars and Haze Hey…OK! 2005
Sleater-Kinney The Woods Entertain 2005
Headlights Kill Them With Kindness Put Us Back Together Right 2006
Rainer Maria Catastrophe Keeps Us Together Life of Leisure 2006
Great Northern Trading Twilight for Daylight Our Bleeding Hearts 2007
Via Audio Say Something Say Something Say Something We Can Be Good 2007
The Bridges Limits of the sky Pieces 2008
Juliana Hatfield How to Walk Away The Fact Remains 2008
Thao We Brave Bee Stings and All Swimming Pools 2008
Camera Obscura My Maudlin Career French Navy 2009
Best Coast Crazy For You Boyfriend 2010
Eisley The Valley Watch It Die 2011
Gemma Hayes Let It Break There's Only Love 2012
Hospitality Hospitality Friends Of Friends 2012
Lana Del Rey Born To Die Off To The Races 2012
Metric Synthetica Youth Without Youth 2012
Sarah Jaffe The Body Wins Glorified High 2012
Sleigh Bells Reign of Terror Crush 2012
CHVRCHES The Bones Of What You Believe Gun 2013
Echosmith Talking Dreams Come With Me 2013
Haim Days Are Gone If I Could Change Your Mind 2013
Alvvays Alvvays Archie, Marry Me 2014
The Casket Girls True Love Kills the Fairy Tale Ashes & Embers 2014
Cayetana Nervous Like Me Serious Things Are Stupid 2014
Haley Bonar Last War Bad Reputation 2014
Stars No One Is Lost Are You OK? 2014
Stranger Kings Stranger Kings All Of Everything 2014
Vekora Vekora Back For Lapse 2014
Bandit Of Life Losing In A Sense 2015
Bully Feels Like I Remember 2015
Football, etc. Disappear 7" Sunday 2015
Speedy Ortiz Foil Deer Puffer 2015

June 1, 2015

Thrice coming to the UK

So I'm still pretty pumped about Thrice's return, and even though I have seen them live 3 times, I can't stop watching YouTube videos of recent performances. Here is a great one...


I listened to the Alchemy Index recently, and while it has always been my #1 Thrice release because of it's diversity and length (24 songs!) it never quite hit me that the songs on the Fire EP are definitively the heaviest, most brutal songs Thrice has ever recorded. My hope and dream is that when Thrice gets in the studio again they record the hardest album they have ever done. Dustin has his solo career to do the more melodic stuff, so maybe he can release some angst and aggression through Thrice. I am sure his bandmates wouldn't mind.

This morning I began researching Hevy Fest, which is in the UK in August. There are a number of other bands I would also like to see, and I haven't been to a festival of any kind since 2007.

It is only about an 8 hour drive from my corner of Germany, but it would be significantly cheaper to fly. I found flights through Ryan Air and EasyJet for less than $60 round-trip, while that is what it costs to send my car through the Chunnel ONE WAY. So if I go, flying will definitely be the best route. Anyway, fun to think about, and maybe I'll be able to see Thrice again in 2 months.