A little less than a year ago my younger cousin Charles made an interesting assessment during the course of a fairly weighty, late-night ale-fueled conversation. He is twenty-five:
“My age group is going to be the last one to associate music with something tactile.”
This is, when you stop to think about it, fairly obvious. But one thing I have definitely learned during my time here on Earth is that the obvious is sometimes the hardest element of social progression to pin down and recognize. This is why the future sneaks into our lives in such seemingly banal and non-spectacular ways – twenty years ago if you had told your average citizen on the street that not only would we soon be carrying our phones with us in our pockets, but that those same small electronic devices would also be what we listen to our music on, take photos and video with and we would be able to send any of those things instantly (well, mostly instantly) to almost any point around the globe, they would have thought you’d been reading too much William Gibson.
Low and behold, eh Mr. Citizen?
Anyway, what I want to get back to is that idea of music as a tangible thing. If my cousin’s age group is the last to equate the word album with a compact disc whose experience extends to an inner sleeve complete with artwork and type tidbits, then my own age group (I turned 34 yesterday thankyouverymuch) is forever steeped in the experience of having to be dropped off at the mall in order to buy the newest Anthrax CD or going on dates to Tower music where you pick one another’s purchases out, physically combing through the massive browsers of CD’s with the constant CLIK CLAK of keepers* as you rife through the selections looking for that one album, that one physical gift that, once placed in the other person’s hands, will endear you to them forever**. And as the younger generations become more and more accustomed to downloading everything, with album art existing as nothing more than a 2-D image on a computer screen, I find myself slowly pulled into areas of new experience.
I do not mean to suggest that downloading is ‘bad’. The great thing about it is downloading has enabled me to find sooooo many new bands and artists that really, there is hardly enough time in the day to peruse them all. This is great for bands who are totally independent from any distribution help. I know, I’m one of them. I can produce a track, load that sucker up onto Reverbnation, Fairtilizer or Itunes and BOOM! Gregson Bob in Camden can download it three minutes later. However, of course with any push there is a pull and here that pull is that with this kind of emerging artist immediacy a void is created – when there is too much to choose from often no choice is made at all. This is a self-perpetuating trap and the reason why, until an unforeseen variable enters the equation, the recording industry truly has gone back to a time of staunch immobilization. The biz now much more resembles the biz of the 50’s, where labels (what few are left) build a small stable of artists who have broad appeal (and because of this often have no inherent value as anything other than jingle makers – I’m looking at you green day) and that’s all they are interested in. It’s the advertising dollar at stake, not the idea of honoring the talented. So if you want to find a new artist you have to scope out their website or a distribution channel they use online and download it. But the more you do, even though you’re ‘helping’ that artist directly you are also hurting them. I’ve mentioned before that Queens of the Stone Age were probably the last band to make it onto the sinking life raft of the major label, stadium-sized act and if you don’t believe me you need only look to the concert world. Why else do you think all these old bands are out touring classic albums more and more? Who else would be playing those national-sized venues if they weren’t? Certainly not The Horrors, or Frank Black. But if it’s Black touring with The Pixies doing Doolittle in its entirety, well yeah, chances are they’ve earned a spot at the United Center**
So I try to split the difference. A band I like releases an album, I buy it, even if that means waiting for a trip to Amoeba or ordering it online. And when I’m in a cruising mood I surf around to Hype Machine, Fairtilizer, wherever, and scour the contents for new music to make my brain sparkle.
And recently I’ve found A LOT of new, completely independent stuff that way. Only problem is, to get some of this stuff at all I have to buy it from the artist’s site as a digital download – which relegates it to a 2-D experience even when, in many cases, there could/should be soooo much more.
In the end I don’t mind this transition – I’d sure as hell prefer (and feel that the artists would probably agree) to spend the money, get the album and a little piece of physicality to accent and accompany it – but if I’m giving my money directly to two guys in Glasgow for the killer tracks they’ve made, then so be it.
Here’s some examples of what I’ve found recently:
THE EATERS – Scottish rap duo who have blown me away thus far while scoping tracks on their myspace page.
Quadron – Smooth, atmospheric electro-soul from Denmark. If you are like me and have longed for someone to combine the elegant 70’s dim light smoking den music with the electronic textures of Massive Attack this is it.
Two Step Horror – Like the Ravenonettes on qualudes, performing in a dark corridor.
Surf, enjoy and support those who tune your soul.
* For those of you not in the retail know, those big plastic monstrosities used to prevent the criminally minded from sticking albums down the front of their pants.
** My wife did this to me very early on by picking out Add N to X’s Loud Like Nature, Suicide’s first album and Ryan Adam’s Gold.
*** Maybe, as someone recently pointed out here I do tend to think of The
Pixies as being bigger than they are. Still, exaggeration or not, I’m
not that far off.