Archive: December 2007

Warner Music Group dabbles in the DRM-free world

When Amazon launched its MP3 store, I waxed philosophic on how the most influential music of my youth was released on labels distributed by Warner, which has been holding out on providing DRM-free content to digital vendors. Until now.

Billboard.biz reports Warner Music Group has begun selling DRM-free content on Amazon. My initial reaction, of course, was glee, but then I read the article a bit more closely. There’s no mention of how many titles would be available — a fact trumpeted by Universal when the download store launched in September 2007 — only that a "range of digital products" would be available. Translation: not as much as you’d think, let alone wish.

My first few searches struck out. No Throwing Muses, the Smiths, Hüsker Dü or Replacements. I did find some Kronos Quartet, Bill Frisell and Steve Reich, as well as 10,000 Maniacs, Freedy Johnston and Missy Elliott. So it looks like the Elektra titles have some presence, perhaps more than Warner and Atlantic.

So using my recently-cataloged collection, I started searching for artists on particular labels. Enya (Reprise)? Nada. Everything But the Girl (Atlantic)? Two titles. The Flaming Lips (Warner)? A bunch of EPs but no real albums. The B-52’s (Warner)? Cosmic Thing and something on Rhino. Emmylou Harris? Her Nonesuch titles but nothing from her 20 some odd years on Warner Bros.

Some higher profile artists had better representation, of course. The big hit Warner albums by R.E.M., Out of Time and Automatic for the People, are available, but not the crufty stuff such as Monster or Up. Just about all the Missy Elliott albums are up there, as well as quite a number of Björk.

No Madonna, of course.

Nonetheless, it’s a first step, a test to see how well DRM-free content fares for the reluctant Warner Music Group. I hope it does well.

UPDATE, 01/01/08: I guess it took a few days for some updates to happen because now there are more titles by Throwing Muses, the Replacements, Everything But the Girl, Enya and the B-52’s. Still no Hüsker Dü nor the Smiths.

My favorite Christmas toy of 2007, or how the CueCat brought out my OCD tendencies

I’ve been meaning to get a modified CueCat for a while, and after I got my company profit-sharing check this year, I took the plunge. It arrived early last week, and when my holiday vacation started this weekend, I transformed into man possessed.

I use a music collection database software called, appropriately enough, Music Collector. I bought a license back in 2000, and back then, the program was pretty barebones. I just needed something to track artist, title, release year and label, and the integration with the formerly open CDDB (now Gracenote) was an added bonus. The features over the years piled on to incorporate more sources, and eventually, more recent entries in my database had much more content than earlier entries. At some point, I wanted flesh out those older entries.

I thought I was going to spread that task over a few months. I ended up eating the last four days on the project. All thanks to that damn CueCat.

More »

Furukawa Miki releases new single in February

Furukawa Miki releases a new single on Feb. 20, 2008 titled "Candy Girl," so says Bounce.com. The song is a collaboration with the Candy Stripper clothing brand, which will tie in with the single’s cover art. The article describes the song as having a catchy guitar riff with coquettish vocals by Furukawa. (I think that’s what it says.) Furukawa’s previous single, "Psycho America", was released in March 2007.

By the way, this photo of Furukawa? Really freaks me out.

How not to redesign a website: Nonesuch Records

Nonesuch Records announced the launch of a redesigned website. As heavily reliant on Flash as the initial design was, it wasn’t as excessively heavy-handed as it could have been. Well, the new site crosses that threshold.

I wonder how much cross-browser checking the designers of the new Nonesuch website performed, because the fixed height of the design can be a real problem for Firefox users. I have a few add-ons which adds new toolbars to my interface, and that makes the viewport slightly narrower. The Nonesuch site doesn’t offer a page scroll when said viewport falls short of its fixed height. Let me show you:

More »

Jean Sibelius thought he could organize freedom, how Scandinavian of him

The 50th anniversary of the death of Finnish composer Jean Sibelius happened back in Sept. 2007. I’d heard of Sibelius for years — I even own the music notation software bearing his name — but I hadn’t really listened to his music. Tom Service finally got me curious when he wrote an article for the Guardian positing why the composer wrote no major works in the final 30 years of his life. Even Alex Ross devoted an entire chapter of The Rest Is Noise to Sibelius, which also appeared as a stand-alone column in the New Yorker.

So I downloaded performances of Sibelius’ last major works from eMusic: the Symphones Nos. 6 and 7 and the Tapiola Suite. I usually don’t consciously listen to classical works, just so I can get a sense of a structure if it comes through in the background. With Sibelius, that structure came through immediately.

Sibelius is a figure displaced in time. He was born when Richard Wagner and Franz Listz were the top composers of the day, and he died just as rock ‘n’ roll established its foothold in the public consciousness. (Here’s a handy chart.) He stuck with Romantic-era conventions when other composers were deconstructing the very elements of music, and at one point, he was called "the worst composer in the world". Modern-day critics, however, find an undercurrent of radicalism in his works.

I’d wager to say part of that radicalism is the clarity and effortlessness of Sibelius’ music. It doesn’t take very many repeated listenings to get a sense of Sibelius. Lush as his orchestrations may be, they’re not dense, and the themes aren’t obfuscated by a lot of excess material. When other composers were seeking larger ensembles and more complex forms, Sibelius sought economy. The one-movement Seventh Symphony clocks in at 20 minutes, a quarter of the length of Gustav Mahler’s Seventh Symphony.

More »

Q: Is this not a store? A: It is aStore!

I’ve been experimenting with Amazon’s aStore off and on for the past few weeks, and I finally decided to link to it from here. It’s fairly easy to set up, so long as you’re not super picky about how it looks.

I spent a lot of time hacking the appearance of the Musicwhore.org aStore (and its Japanese counterpart), and despite my best efforts, I couldn’t quite get the Musicwhore.org template to integrate. Eh, close enough for government work.

Back in 2002, the affiliate tools offered by Amazon weren’t sophisticated enough for me, so I used the web services to create my own storefront. Neglect, however, put a kibbosh on that project, and I’ve long since decommissioned it. aStore is definitely a step in the right direction, and it achieves things I wish I had time to develop lo so many years ago. But it could go further.

The widget (see top right) randomizes between the first 10 items in the first category listed in the store. I added quite a number of products, so I’d like to feature them equally, especially titles mentioned in the Review Round-Up category.

I also wish the localization features of the Japanese store were also available. If you go to Amazon Japan directly, you can toggle most of the interface into English if you click on a link asking, "Would you like to see this page in English?" (You need to view a product page to do so.) The product information won’t localize, but the interface portions — add to shopping cart, add to wish list — do.

Also, aStore doesn’t offer a search box for stores with hand-picked inventory. Given the selective content on this site, I’ll bet the Josh Groban Christmas album would not find its target audience here. As a result, titles are strewn all over the place without a way to corral them.

Perhaps these features will be available in the future.

Most of the Musicwhore.org aStore lists CD titles, but I do include a section for MP3 downloads. A lot of these titles have overlap with eMusic, but I was surprised by the number of major label titles I could include. I guess I’m not totally a whore for WEA.

Did I mention I have some Dan Fogelberg singles?

I have a pair of Dan Fogelberg singles. They aren’t mine. They’re my brother’s.

When I moved to Austin in 1997, I took all the 7-inch singles in the house with me. Most of them were mine anyway, but a smattering were divided unevenly between my siblings. We collected them when we were kids, but then CDs eventually replaced vinyl. So no one was using the old turntable anymore. (It was busted anyway.)

Among those singles were two big Dan Fogelberg hits — "Leader of the Band" and "Same Old Lang Syne". I thought they were all right when I was a kid, but by the time I reached high school, they struck me as overly sentimental and way, way too commercial. (Burgeoning post-punk kid and all that.)

And yet, the news of Fogelberg’s passing caught me off-guard. I hadn’t thought about Fogelberg in years — maybe the last time was when I was sifting through those 7-inch singles — so to hear that news instantly transported me to that time and place when I couldn’t avoid his music. Namely, in my brother’s car with his mixed tape of slow songs on repeat. The driver always determined the playlist. You can imagine how taxing my turn behind the wheel must have been.

It’s not the same reaction as the news of Karlheinz Stockhausen’s death. Honestly, I’ve heard of Stockhausen but not from him. And for some reason, I keep getting him confused with Edgard Varèse. I don’t have a time or a place I can associate with Stockhausen’s music, although his name conjures up the feeling of exam time during college.

Tastewise, I’ll probably seek out Stockhausen’s music and leave the Fogelberg singles in storage. Stockhausen was, to me, this nebulous idea of a person, and my reaction to his passing is essentially intellectual. Fogelberg, on the other hand, was an ubiquitous presence in my youth, and his death makes that youth feel much more distant.

Duran Duran: Red Carpet Massacre

The first moment I heard a bass line fart on a Duran Duran album, I had to declare it "teh SUCK". In the first few minutes of listening to Red Carpet Massacre, I could barely recognize a band of whom I’m still an ardent fan (on some nebulous level.)

Yes, that was certainly Simon Le Bon’s voice coming out of the speakers, and yes, that was John Taylor’s singular fingering on the bass guitar there. Some hint of Nick Rhodes seemed to pop up occasionally with a glittery keyboard pad here and there. Roger Taylor? I think he got buried under a pile of drum machines.

Perhaps, yes, perhaps there is a Duran Duran album lurking somewhere beneath the hip-hop and R&B veneer of Red Carpet Massacre. Something in the chord progressions or the melodies, but wherever it is, producers Nate "Danja" Hills, Timbaland and Justin Timberlake sure couldn’t find it.

In the press, Duran Duran members have talked up a big game of wanting to remain relevant, while also disclaiming the historic pop trappings of the band as an accidental side effect. (We didn’t mean to become teen idols!) It sounds like they’re hedging their bets. They’re reassuring long-time fans who also perceive Duran Duran as an art project, while attempting to court the kids of the soccer moms who listened to them 20 years ago.

Good luck with that.

The result is a Duran Duran album that attempts to keep up instead of a Duran Duran album that establishes the pace.

More »

Mukai meets Imai (not Miki, though)

I spotted something a bit interesting when browsing my news feeds today. Mukai Shuutoku is working with a new singer named Leo Imai on his forthcoming single, "Metro", so says Bounce.com. The single arrives in stores on Jan. 30, 2008.

Imai’s major label debut, Fix Neon, follows on Feb. 27, 2008. Curious, I visited his web site and listened to a few of the audio samples. Not bad. He doesn’t have the nasal vocals of many Japanese male singers, and his sound is reminiscent of the more commercial late ’80s college rock. Imai’s music has been described as the bastard love child of Black Sabbath and Kylie Minogue, according to Bounce.

Given Mukai’s penchant for Led Zeppelin and new wave as of late — still haven’t gotten the new ZAZEN BOYS single yet — I’m curious to hear how "Metro" turns out.

U2: The Joshua Tree (20th Anniversary Edition)

Honestly, I’m not sure if the remastered sound is all that apparent, and I do love the convenience of having this album’s b-sides on one disc.

But the one thing for which I’m most thankful is the restoration of the cover art.

When The Joshua Tree was first released on CD in the late ’80s, it was housed in a longbox, which was well-suited to the odd panoramic shot of the American desert with the band off-center. It’s perhaps one of photographer Anton Corbijn’s most emblematic pictures of U2.

Back then, cover designers took liberties with the entire package — the image on the longbox wasn’t necessarily the cover shot in the jewel case. When longboxes were phased out in 1993, that totality was pretty much thrown out. As a result, the CD edition of The Joshua Tree featured a blurry facsimile of that classic photo.

It’s taken 14 years to correct that mistake. The 20th anniversary edition of The Joshua Tree presents the cover art as it should be.

Sure, but what about the rest of the reissue?

More »