Yeesh‘s No Problem is the fantastic result of 40 years of rock experimentation. If you scour through the impressive sonic melange of tracks like “Slip,” “Linda Lee,” and “Genesis Pt. 1,” you’ll find traces of (deep breath) Black Flag, the Minutemen, various grunge howlers, Blur, Modest Mouse, The Strokes, The Vaccines, The Pixies, Hot Water Music, The Menzingers, countless unnamed punk bands, and post-rock bands that emphasize the rock. What’s not included might be easier to list than what is. (No reggae or folk, for example.)
This level of sonic re-appropriation and pastiche makes it difficult to review; each song is its own distinct head trip. “Friends/Shadows” is the most frantic Menzingers song never recorded, with a math-rock breakdown for the heck of it. “Different Light” is a mid-tempo singalong made unusual by atypical reverb settings on the guitar; the propulsive “Watch Yr Step” lives on the boundary of punk and post-hardcore. “Zakk Radburn Teenage Detective” starts out with chiming guitars reminiscent of early ’00s indie-pop, then layers the most brutal guitar noise of the entire album on top of it. They never resolve the tension there, instead using it to power some start/stop acrobatics.
Listening to all of No Problem is a mind-bending experience. Yeesh doesn’t see any contradiction in having soaring guitar lines compete with gnarly low-end rhythm guitar (closer “Shock” most prominently, but it’s everywhere); they don’t see any problem in mixing poppy melodies, brute force guitars, polyrhythmic rhythm section, and artistic guitar effects. This kitchen sink approach to songwriting results in something truly inventive and creative: a set of ten songs that kept me guessing the entire time. If you think that complex arrangements can and should be set in the service of pummeling eardrums, No Problem may be high on your year-end list.
I am not very often a commentator on “the music industry,” and it is even rarer that I dedicate space to negative trends. However, Spotify is an incredibly dangerous program that has distressing potential impact on not just independent music, but music in general.
For ten bucks a month, you can essentially stream any music, anywhere, anywhen. Spotify has 15 million tracks at its disposal, both new releases and old: it pretty much dumps all the popular music that’s ever existed into one big jukebox. (Remember EMF? Falco? Smalltown Poets? Before Braille?)
But because it’s streaming, it’s a pay-for-play system and not a purchasing system. Bands get paid $0.00029 per track streamed, or approximately 1/34th of a cent (based on 2010’s British information, because they’re hiding the new info). If Before Braille somehow managed to get 34,000 plays, (maybe) they’d get ten bucks. Before Braille’s “Red Tape” is 3:00; to get ten bucks off the song, it would have to be played for 102,000 minutes/1700 hours/70.8 days/10 weeks/2.5 months. I could put a song on repeat and leave it for almost a quarter of a year continuously before the band makes the same amount it can make selling one CD at a show.
Even the 12-second “I’m So Sad, So Very, Very Sad” from Scott Pilgrim vs. The World would have to be played on repeat for 6800 minutes/113.33 hours/4.7 days before gaining $10. It’s not even worth it to game the system.
Record labels have been brought on board as part owners in the company in addition to royalty owners, most likely in an attempt to get them pushing the service too. If Spotify tries hard enough, they may shore up their own finances as well as the record labels’ – all while totally ignoring the finances of the people playing the instruments. And if you think major labels compensate artists fairly, apparently you haven’t been paying attention over the past twenty years.
But even more distressing than the fact that Spotify is very nearly legal piracy is the effect it will have on consumers of music. With Spotify set up to automatically withdraw money from subscribing users and considering how Americans carelessly spend money, people will not even realize they are paying for Spotify, and by extension, music. People will become accustomed to logging in to their computer and getting whatever music they want, guiltlessly, for “free.” I wouldn’t want to buy what’s available for free, either.
Even if Spotify crashes due to its unsustainable business plan, they may have fundamentally changed how people view music. People may have moved from seeing artists as creators that should be fairly compensated for their work to “MUSIC EXISTS EVERYWHERE OH WOW OH WOW IT’S FREE LET’S DAAAAANCE!!!”
So let’s recap. Spotify undermines artists on two levels: first by making sure that they can’t get paid fairly for streams of their music, and second by disinclining listeners to buy physical music instead of streaming. Artists only have two main streams of revenue: selling music and playing shows. If they make no money selling music, then the cost of shows will go up, because the costs associated with touring will be the same and artists will have to bankroll their next album off the tour money, because they can’t make money off their CD sales (ask a member of a low-level touring band how much money they make off the merch that isn’t CDs).
This is already taking into account that most artists have day jobs when they’re not on tour.
So if the cost of shows goes up (say, from $7 to $15, from $15 to $25, all the way up), that’s equals out to a cutting of the number of concerts that the average person can go to almost in half, without changing a budget. Even if a person still wants to support music, they’re going to have to be more stingy with the concerts they see. I shelled out $70 to go see Coldplay and then $10 to go see three local shows in one month; if the Coldplay ticket would have been $100, I would have either not bought the Coldplay ticket or not gone to three local shows. Either way, artists lose that fight.
Then it’s just a race to the finish at that point; as less people go to shows, ticket prices have to increase to keep bands on tour, making even fewer shows a reality for people. And with people listening to more music for free, how will they have a connection with anything enough to want to go to a show? Investing money in something causes a deeper appreciation for it; something that’s free and disposable isn’t treasured or valued as much as something we spend $10 or $20 to purchase.
I know this sounds dire, but how many albums have you listened to this year more than ten times? More than twenty? If people decrease their attachment level to bands because they’re getting the music for free, plus it’s expensive to go to shows, people will be very sparing with the shows on which they spend cash.
It’s already difficult for bands that aren’t huge to tour; this could kill mid-level touring (somewhere, the ghost of Black Flag is cursing loudly and punching things). And if bands can’t go on tour, how will they get discovered? Through the Internet?
If you place even more of a premium on blogs and other tastemaker discovery devices, yet don’t pay people who work them (RIP Paste magazine), you can’t count on good music to be discovered. I can attest that as a blogger, I get around a dozen of e-mails a day from bands seeking coverage. That’s already more than one man can listen to and analyze, and that number would only go up. It would be harder for me to find good music to tell people about because it would take more time to get through everything. Also, my real life would suffer if I committed that much time to a non-money-making entity. Most likely the blog would suffer from the overload, not my social life.
So Spotify has the potential to crush music sales, create even worse slumlords out of record labels, raise ticket prices at concerts, make it even harder to tour, overwork blogs and make it harder to build up a fan base (the modern-day equivalent of ‘getting discovered’). And while the absolutely brilliant Kickstarter (and similar projects Feed the Muse and Fiverr) is the antidote to many of these problems (need to record an album? Run a campaign! Need to go on tour? Run a campaign! Need to buy a van? Run a campaign!), you need a fan base to make those campaigns work.
If Spotify makes it impossible to get a fan base, because no one’s heard of you, because you can’t get covered in blogs, because they’re overworked, because they’re being depended on even more highly to help create a fan base, because no one will spend money on bands they haven’t heard of live, because the cost of attending live music is prohibitive, because the ticket has to be that high to offset the fact that no one buys music anymore, the music world is going to have a really rough time.
And, honestly, it’s not just Spotify’s fault. There are many streaming music services contributing. But Spotify is the Google of them. It’s not going to be easy to avoid this catastrophe, but the answer is really simple:
Buy your music. Don’t stream it.
That’s all there is to it. Yes, it costs more. But the long-range costs are far, far worse than an extra twenty dollar billar to your local record store, iTunes or Amazon.
“Punk lifer” is an increasingly common phrase, as musicians from the first (’70s), second (’80s) and third waves (’90s) of punk keep putting out the music that they love in bands new and old. Osaka Popstar is composed of lifers Marky Ramone (The Ramones), Jerry Only (The Misfits), Dez Cadena (Black Flag) and relative young’un John Cafiero. Straight-ahead pop-punk, like a more sophisticated Ramones or a less self-absorbed early Green Day, is their bag, and they do it up right. Fans of Cadena’s Black Flag work may be confused, but fans of the other two previous bands will get the sound of on “Where’s the Cap’n?”, which is an ode to Captain Crunch cereal. Punk hasn’t meant anti-capitalist anarchism in a long time, I suppose. Grab the tune, and here’s the vid.
Good bands write songs that people like and perform them well. Great bands write songs that people love and perform them excellently. The best bands write songs and perform in such a way that when a listener has finished watching or hearing, that listener feels the only appropriate thing to do is join the band and be awesome with them or — barring that Black Flag-esque experience — form their own band that is exactly like the band in question.
To start: in them there is no guile. The three members of the band are earnest beyond anything I’ve ever seen on stage. Whether it’s playing with a werewolf hat/puppet, telling dragon stories, delicately stagediving, dressing the part, cracking jokes or (oh yeah) performing their music, all is done with an absolute belief that “this is totally cool and fun.”
Many bands, when pulling off antics similar to BOB’s, would infuse the proceedings with a sense of irony, just as a protective device: The band still must be taken seriously, you know. Not so with these three. Their childish wonder and goofy stage antics are the serious part. And when the audience realized this on Thursday, Nov. 4, that’s when things got interesting.
“Dog Walkers of the New Age” kicked off the set, but the crowd was standoffish and confused at the fist-pumps in the otherwise mellow tune. It wasn’t until Micah donned a camail and started telling the story that precedes “Dragon” that people really got into it. Micah, Andrea and Trevor encouraged the audience to participate by giving them parts to clap and melodies to sing, which the audience (having caught on that the earnestness wasn’t a trick) enthusiastically obliged.
From then on, the audience was hooked, enjoying antics with the aforementioned werewolf hat, goofy dances and general glee. The stage show was enough to endear an attendee, but the fact that they played knockout tunes made the set impossible to not love. From “Own Stunts” to “Swimming” to “Board Games,” they blew through their tunes with perfection. The vocals were spot-on, the instruments sounded perfect, and the timing was precise. The band did not let their gleeful antics get in the way of their musicianship at all.
Instead, it seemed that the antics were an overflow of their musicianship; they just played that way. On “Board Games,” Andrea set up a tom and a snare, which she walloped with bouncy exuberance. When she played her cello, she did so with finesse and excitement. Micah, although not exuberant in his motions, played the whole set with a dry wit that kept the crowd in stitches. Trevor, unfortunately, was back in the shadows most of the time, but he did provide “ooo”s for the “spirit of the werewolf,” when it “flew” off Andrea’s head at the end of the song. I use quotation marks only because I know no other way to convey the ideas.
In short, Breathe Owl Breathe’s quiet, introspective folk songs translated into glorious, gleeful spectacles live. It was impossible to dislike the set, mostly because BOB was having so much fun doing what they were doing. Their energy was infectious, and it made for one of the most memorable sets I’ve ever seen. I’m sad I didn’t bring my camera. I’m sad I didn’t bring all my friends. These errors will be corrected next time.
Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.