Monday, December 31, 2007

Reviews:: Vee Maurice Different Places

This year has been a long, challenging one when it comes to the land of music blogs (*) and I'm finding it harder and harder to find music to write about. There are just so many blogs out there writing about the same stuff that it seems pointless to force another In Rainbows or Panda Bear review down your e-throats.

So instead, I find myself gravitating to artists that barely can afford to record and end up playing for 10 people. Sadly, that also means almost no one bother to listen. One such artist is Vee Maurice. Vee's not going to set the world on fire any time soon, and I would have never heard his music if he hadn't played banjo on Jon Jackson's record/cover, but his new EP is full of effort and heart (and aptly named for where I'm at these days).

Hopefully that doesn't make Vee out to be some sort of Rudy Ruettiger, because the EP is a musical time capsule full of little rewards. Vee's a full time musician, who is influenced by artists from years past and long since forgotten. Sure people drop names like Patsy Cline when trying to express positive words about Jenny Lewis, but I'm not sure the description fits. On Vee's new EP - Different Places - he wrote a track specifically wishing she could sing it and it sounds like it could have been lifted from her catalog.

Stay Tonight is a track you'd hear on some deep south AM radio station when you scan the frequencies for a song that fits your road trip mood. A song you'd hear on your pappy's old stereo. Vee's voice is extremely malleable, as he's able to channel the sounds of the classic country western troubadours and quickly change pace with a dirty blues Son House cover. Death Letter crackles with the gritty sounds Vee produces with his guitar.

I think the ambition of this project is what really impressed me most. Vee wanted each song to take on a different tone and feature a different instrument. The mandolin (note, this could be a different instrument, I have no idea) line that dances around Red Wine River helps Vee craft another classic sounding country track, but it completely contrasts the spacey acoustic sounds of Autumn Dawn; a song that showcases Vee exploring a more melodic, soothing tone.

I'm not going to over hype this EP. It's ambitious and I enjoyed it, but I know it's not for everyone. It is however, a great close to my year in music.
MP3:: Death Letter
MP3:: Autumn Dawn


(*)This is the last ounce of musical effort I can wring out of '07. It's been an interesting year to say the least. I was hoping a little Xmas break would recharge the batteries, but I’m not sure. We've essentially seen the death of music blogs as a credible source (which many people would say happened years ago), the death of record labels, and as a result the birth of a new way of distributing music to the masses. It's been a good year for herohill, but an exhausting one as well. Keeping up a post-a-day routine is a grind, especially when it's getting harder and harder to find music worth writing about.

In the past, music blogs were really a way for music nerds to share music and opinions with other people interested in the same bands. Then, something changed. When you are involved in a dying industry, I guess something has to. Promo companies started carpet bombing web sites with CDs, contests, concert tickets and leveraged a blogger's need for acceptance as a way to promote a band. If you send enough people MP3s, someone will be willing to gush about it, give a quote that can be added to a myspace page or a press release and get people talking.

Almost anyone would be lying when they say they blog purely for the love of music. It's too time consuming and the reward of getting an anonymous comment is too small. No, it's the free records and concert tickets and of course the chance to pocket a few bucks from ads that really drive the blogosphere and the labels and PR firms know it. For the cost of a few stamps and a promo record, honest critiques have been replaced with a sheep mentality. It's no secret we all get the same emails from the same companies, and to see the posts fly up within minutes stating the “new record hasn't left the Ipod for weeks” and “it's sure to show up on the year end list” is ridiculous. You can always argue the immediacy of a song, but albums take days, weeks, even months to really digest. Sadly, we no longer have that opportunity. Aggregators have replaced opinions and quantity has replaced quality. If you don't post on a record within hours of a leak, who’s going to bother reading it?

I know that blogs need hits to survive. PR companies need hype to get their bands noticed. A + B = C. The cost of a full page ad is roughly 5000 times the cost required to put a disc in a manila envelope and send it out. The cost associated with traditional advertising is no longer a viable option. The labels need blogs, so they cater to them. Online marketing departments foster the relationships, making us feel special. That’s why it’s so bizarre when they try to shut them down for doing exactly what they need us to do.

“Here's a disc full of MP3s but don't post any.”

It's like parents stocking the fridge full of beer and going away for the weekend and telling you as they rush out the door, "no parties ok?" I'm not trying to argue right or wrong here. Obviously they own the content and can do whatever they want, it just seems suspicious when someone threatens to shut you down, then turns around and promises to look away while you break the rules again. Obviously, the easy answer is post the legal MP3s, but labels don’t always offer one. So what then?

The funniest part of the whole equation is that blogs, on the whole, are poorly written and along with a wealth of shoddy writing, they have created a ridiculously high sense of entitlement. A blog post is usually nothing more than a few sentences full of grammatical errors describing a band 99% of the world doesn’t give two shits about (and trust me, I know we are no different), but for some reason bloggers seem to think we are owed something; free tickets, CDs, free reign over what content we can give away, respect.

In reality the lack of transparency of a blog actually means that we deserve none of those things. There are too many factors that influence how a blogger views an artist for the majority of the words to be considered honest. Did you find the band first? Did you get some passes to the show? The fact blogs survive as a result of a "you-scratch-my-back" relationship really undermines credibility and bloggers seem to think a positive review (helping the band) means it’s a-ok to give away whatever song they want.

"I wrote a great review, I should be allowed to put these leaked MP3s up whenever I want."

As a result, taste is now driven by the volume. Sure there are lots of terrific blogs unswayed by opinion (I Heart Music, Aquarium Drunkard and Songs Illinois for example), but they are few and far between. Now it's a few taste makers (I’m not talking about Pitchfork and Stereogum) and PR firms that push things forward. Sites like Gorilla vs. Bear, Chromewaves, I Am Fuel You Are Friends really dictate the success of a band. If a band is mentioned on any of these sites it will be all over countless smaller blogs a few days later.

To be clear, I have nothing against any of those sites or the influence they have. I read all of those sites daily and enjoy the writing. My music taste isn't usually in sync with theirs, but they work hard and are consistent in their tastes. They still get excited by new discoveries and old favorites and it shows in their writing. Chris consistently takes heat from readers about his music selections, but defends himself each and every time and his readers appreciate him for it. Frank loves 90's shoegaze bands and has always written about the genre, and Heather often gets more excited about bands that some would argue have seen their best days pass by (Pearl Jam, Superdrag) than she does unearthing new talent. You may disagree with their choices, but their identity has given them a niche (a multi million hit count niche) and more importantly, a trust from their readers. That's why they help drive taste.

No, it's the blogs that post every MP3, regardless of genre, style or talent that have changed it all. Posting every few hours and getting on top of the hype machine makes a blog more powerful than one with an identity. It’s made advertisers, bands, and labels change how they think. Ruby Isle is a perfect example. In a brilliant PR move, Ruby Isle is covering the most downloaded song on every week and releasing it for free. They started the project with a cover of a song from a record that hasn't even been released to the public but features a man considered God among the blogs (Dan Bejar). Covering the most popular musicians will surely get you noticed.

Eenie Meanie records re-released Division Day's record a year later, but gave bloggers and fans a slew of remixes and covers to get people talking about them again. Artists have even taken to doing "blog tours" to help promote their records. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to realize the music industry is changing and reaching out to a few music nerds is the best way to get good press. All of these approaches are innovative ways to capture a demographic and much more effective than putting all your eggs in “maybe this single will get radio play” basket.

The funny thing is that this new one-stop-shop for music mentality and having all this free music at my finger tips has actually reduced my love of music. I can waste hours toiling on web sites trying to find bands I like, but for some reason now, the over saturation of some bands actually makes me less excited to listen. Normally a record like Burial would instantly grab my attention, but everyone jumped all over so quickly, so why bother writing about it? All of a sudden, dub step was something every blogger was down with. Trying to find a new record to post about daily is hard. You need to have a back log of records to write about and sometimes the cupboard gets bare, so taking the time to digest a record is almost impossible. You have to weed through stacks of promos and myspace links, and make an almost instantaneous decision.

I know that is my hang up and not the music blog community’s, but when it comes to records like LCD Soundsystem, M.I.A., Radiohead or Panda Bear, I just couldn’t be bothered. I’m sure they are all great records but I don’t really want to spend the time to find out. When you see 400 posts on a band and a few OMGs minutes after the leak, what incentive is there to embrace it? Part of why we started this thing was to talk about new music we love that gets us excited (the other was to use MS Paint to put afros on our friends in like ’98 so we aren’t really all that credible). We want to talk about music, what makes a record or a band great and maybe turn a few people onto a something new in the process.

I feel caught in the middle. I want to find new bands, take the time with the music and write with passion, but a most of the bands I’m really excited about get the fewest hits. Just last week I wrote a review for Orillia Opry, a band that blew me away, on the same day I made mention of a 9 year old Belle and Sebastian song getting used in a movie. The Belle and Sebastian post got three times the traffic.

Even with all this, there were some really cool things that happened this year. Of course, the biggest decision of the year was made by Radiohead. Instead of trying to sign with a label or staying with EMI, the band gave fans a chance to grab the record for free. Pay what you think its worth. I realize being Radiohead makes the process easier, but giving fans a chance to pay what they want to pay for a purely digital copy of a record eliminates almost every associated cost and made finding a record label a minor inconvenience and set a great trend.

Now bands like the Glossary can give their record to the masses and see what people think. Link up as many MP3s as you want bloggers. We’ll even give you the 320kps versions, not the tinny 192. It's a fantastic way for bands to get their name out and a way to keep people buying records. For some reason, stealing a record that’s $15.99 on the shelf, but free on a torrent site doesn't seem wrong to people, but if you give music fans the chance to be apart of something, the community will band together to throw back a couple bucks to the band.

What is the point of this post? Not much really. It's really just a round up of my year in blogging, but it begs the question of what's the point of trying to write daily reviews when the bands are out of style by the time we get around to talking about them? I love to write, but wouldn't this time be better spent trying to get my next book finished? For the first time in the four years we’ve been doing this, I’m starting to wonder.

Posted at 12:13 PM by ack :: 7 comments

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At 2:19 PM, Anonymous matthew did sayeth:

Very well said.


At 9:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous did sayeth:

I enjoy your writing. Thanks for posting on Vee. (Two mindblowing tracks.)


At 12:03 AM, Anonymous mike did sayeth:

You touch on a lot of interesting points overall, reminding me of my own motivations about why I continue to maintain a music blog. I posted a few thoughts about it at my blog, but really I think all music bloggers NEED to read your post.


At 1:48 PM, Anonymous Paul did sayeth:

Wow. You hit the nail on the head there.

I've only been blogging since July and have already started questioning why I bother. Between bombardments from PR companies and the post-a-day mentality (an often forced attempt to keep up the latter is where I credit my blog's most glaring failures) I often forget that I started a blog in order to combine my enjoyment of music and writing.

Actually, I had a similar experience with Orillia Opry as well: My review of their latest album didn't get nearly as many hits as a nonsense post where I happened to mention Broken Social Scene.

In any event, great post.


At 3:58 PM, Anonymous Anonymous did sayeth:

It's depressing to think that I Heart Music is your primary citation for "blogs unswayed by opinion". I couldn't think of a blog MORE influenced by the blogger's relationship with the bands being written about - don't you remember that whole Jetplanes Of Abraham debacle? Go find his post on the "Top 10 Bands in Ottawa", which, when he was the band's manager, placed Jetplanes as #1 - but look at it now. He's no longer their manager and, surprise, surprise, they're no longer on the list.

The blogosphere is in a disturbing state. Thank goodness for honest Joes like Frank and similar dudes.


At 8:25 PM, Blogger Hero did sayeth:

I actually don't really know the ins and outs of the Jets of Abraham situation, and I'm certainly not trying to defend him. He can speak for himself.

My point was more that he only posts on music he wants. You don't see PR posts or countless posts on Pitchfork approved bands. You don't see ads. He may be swayed by his interaction with bands, but not as much by the common opinion.

I see the point you are making, but for me, when I read the site I just see a bunch of Canadian bands that very few people bother to talk about. That's the point I was trying to make.


At 2:47 PM, Anonymous matthew did sayeth:

I posted an explanation almost a year ago as to why Jetplanes were removed from my blog. If "Anonymous" wants to know what happened, (s)he can get in touch with me directly (unless, of course, he or she is a member of that band, and thus knows exactly how they ripped me off). I'm not in the business of airing dirty laundry in public, and I think it speaks pretty well of my track record in posting about as many unsung Canadian bands as I can that these sour grapes are the extent of any allegations about me being "influenced" by personal relationships with bands.

On top of that, I write about what I like, just like the 'Hill does (though not as well)...saying that personal opinion shouldn't enter into a music blog is basically supporting the very notion that this post is fighting against.


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