Blues, rock and country – they’re labels so simultaneously vague yet culturally ingrained that sometimes they seem to have lost all meaning. Pretty much any guitar based album in existence – and, to some extent, a number of genre-fusing hip-hop and electronic projects too – carry elements of this all-American heritage, be they proudly displayed as centerpiece artistic choices or tucked away as subtle undercurrents. Whether it’s sound, attitude, aesthetic, or a combination of all three … there are certain touchstones guitar music will always have to adhere to. Its just part of the deal, folks.
With this in mind, it’s easy to come to a natural conclusion: that to define a band as ‘blues-rock’ with hints of ‘country’ is to render them somewhat unremarkable. A drop in the ocean. A thumbprint on a skyscraper. In some cases (hell, let’s say in most cases) this wouldn’t be too far from the truth. In the case of California’s foot-stomping avengers The Stone Foxes, however, listeners can rest assured that their sound – while steeped in the vast, winding heritage mentioned above – is far from generic. Let’s put it bluntly: a rock to the head has always been a rock to the head since the first brawl between two cavemen. That doesn’t mean a perfectly-placed rock to the head in 2012 doesn’t carry with it a real fucking impact. Some things just don’t seem to mellow with age.
The Stone Foxes throw out rock with a capital R, blues with a capital B, and country with … well, maybe an odd smattering of uppercase font. Put it all together, and you’ll no longer be interested in literary deconstruction anyway – you’ll be too busy (in the time-honoured fashion of another American tradition) throwing your hands in the air like you just don’t care.
The phrase ‘Big in Japan’ has always been a bit condescending. Being successful there is supposed to be easy, because of the island’s famed love for anything different and western. The stock description has also been used to imply the artist in question just isn’t very good. But we hear it less and less, as the so-called borderless internet makes it impossible for stars to moonlight as rubber duck pedlars and credible musicians (check the two shameful examples below).
Are the musicians who only become successful abroad actually less cool? Is it just harder to get a successful career off the ground in the diminished pop markets of the US and the UK? And does it even matter anymore where you’re successful, when the music industry is in such a fragile state?
‘Get down, stay down’ may sound like a direct command (imagine your clichéd ‘give me fifty’ drill instructor barking it in your ear) – but such straightforward bludgeoning really isn’t the style of Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, the San Francisco act who just happen to be BAMM.tv’s new Artist Of The Month.
This isn’t to say that there’s no immediacy to their music. Thao Nyugen and her mainstay cohort Adam Thompson (the band members have previous included Frank Stewart and Willis Thompson) have crafted a body of work which – while loosely fitting within umbrella terms like alt-rock and folk-rock – opens up with multiple listens to reveal rewarding intricacies, unique vocal and musical flourishes, and melodies within melodies.
You may think you’re getting everything with a surface listen – and an enjoyable surface listen it definitely is – but sentiments like ‘you are a dead man/I just have to shoot the gun’ (‘Body’) and ‘I come back because the punches always hit the same’ (‘Trouble Was For’) show off a beguiling complexity. Think of similar creative multi-taskers like Broken Social Scene, Jim Ward, Cat Power, Fiona Apple and Feist – not a bad line-up to be mentioned alongside – and you’ll be close.
Or, y’know, just listen to them. (click ‘more’ to continue)
Here’s another of our in-depth articles from our London-based correspondent Zakia Uddin. This time, she looks at the increasingly prevalent modern phenomenon of the comeback artist …
Justin Timberlake announced his comeback this year – yes, JT. Put it this way, the 32-year-old’s first release was back when Dubya had been in power for less than a year and the first dot com bubble had just exploded (‘Like I Love You’, below).
The comeback has always occupied a special place in the world of music. Unlike political comebacks, musical ones rarely the same renewed vigor. You don’t humour a politician (or at least we don’t think we do) but the force of nostalgia is enough to get people excited about a singer or band’s return. We’re never quite sure whether to take it seriously – arguably, we’re even more cynical about musicians’ abilities than we are about those of politicians. Will they be as passionate as they used to be? What if they aren’t as good as we remember? What does that say about us? Worst of all, they remind of us how old we’re getting.
There was a more (or less) cynical time – depending on your point of view – when making a comeback was like doing an encore. Or comebacks were only for the kind of musicians who did encores, who couldn’t get enough, and were willing to spin out the old hits for an unimaginative audience. So what’s changed? It’s a real truism that touring is the only way to generate money – correspondingly many bands have sucked it up and gone touring together, including legendary fall-outs like the Stone Roses (below).
Generally, rock music comebacks have always seemed more dignified. It involves a different kind of struggle, as though they just didn’t want to come back until they were truly inspired. Click on ‘more’ to continue!
Time for another BAMM.tv Artist Of The Month feature: a selection of great music, exclusive articles and prize giveaways (among other things) from one of our favorite up-and-coming artists. This month we put San Francisco singer-songwriter Diana Gameros under the spotlight …
Soulfulness is a hard thing to quantify. People are a varied breed, and experience tells us it would be foolish to go all-out and categorise emotional response – music that leaves one listener cold may well prove to save the life of another. Music may be universal but the gamut of reactions works on a far more personal level – an innate form of relativism that both unites and separates us all.
Sometimes, though … sometimes you just have to appreciate the resonance of an artist. Opera may not do it for you, but you can’t help but quiver at the bombastic authority of a tenor or soprano. Heavy rock could well be the last thing you’d listen to, but you’ve have to be a cultural zero-mark not to marvel at a virtuoso guitar solo. As for emotive, Latin-tinged, classical acoustic songwriting? That might be outside your sphere altogether, but – frankly – if you’re not massively moved by the heart-stopping performances of Diana Gameros, then you might as well nail that coffin lid down now.
Luckily – here at BAMM.TV – we are big fans of emotive, Latin-tinged, classical acoustic songwriting. And we’re even bigger fans of the heart-stopping performances of Diana Gameros.
Does one novelty pop song herald a musical revolution? When “Gangam Style” whinnied into the charts and a billion YouTube views at the end of 2012, music from South Korea, and “K-pop” in particular looked as though it was on the verge of a lasting breakthrough. Before PSY’s arrival, despite its straightforward charms and regional appeal, beyond the East Asian context, it was always the bridesmaid, never the bride.
Trans-Atlantic music journalists momentarily praised the song’s global domination—and in usual fashion, the same sources seemingly moved swiftly on to herald its imminent death a few trends later. Is the excitement about global music generated by K-pop’s success just a flash in a pan? Freya Bigg, co-founder of United K-Pop, told BAMM.tv: “PSY isn’t typical of K-pop, so I don’t know if he is really is a good representative of the genre, but he has definitely opened minds to the Korean language at least. If anything changes, it might be that people are less hesitant to try listening to K-pop when introduced, because they’ve already had experience of it, despite it not being typical.”
So, have Western conceptions of Eastern pop radically changed? And does it even really matter, when domestic markets in East Asia and other regions are growing bigger by the minute?
這首歌能在世界上得到認可，就連大西洋音樂記者現在都稱讚,記者們平時在一首歌熱墦的時候會討論一段時間,但很快便慢慢淡忘,很多人對這首歌這樣興奮,k-pop成功是否短期成功?Freya Bigg, United K-Pop的含夥人向BAMM.TV說:”PSY不知是否一個k-pop典型的代表,但是至少會令人們願意接受韓語歌,若流行音樂世界再有韓語歌,人們會更加快接觸韓語歌.因為之前巳有收聽韓語歌的經驗.”
Introducing BAMM.tv’s Artist Of The Month feature: a selection of great music, exclusive articles and prize giveaways (among other things) from one of our favorite up-and-coming artists. This month we put San Francisco three-piece Geographer under the spotlight …
Crack open the dictionary for a second. There’s something interesting about the definition of the word Geographer – “one who partakes in the study of the earth and its features and of the distribution of life on the earth, including human life”, and also charts an “ordered arrangement of constituent elements.”
Now, we’re not going to pretend that this definition is news to you (we hope you’ve proven yourself to be something of a smartypants by downloading the BAMM.tv app anyway, so we’re sure your literary skills are up to scratch). But think about it. Or – to be more specific – take a listen to Geographer’s music, then think about it.
Ordered arrangement? Yep – carefully crafted ciphers through which all sorts of melodic twists emerge. Constituent elements? Yep – an amalgamation of different sounds, instruments and genres fused to a cohesive and gripping whole. Human life? Oh yeah – like all great music, there’s a helluva lot of universal soul in there.
Not that they’d be so analytical about it. “We want to make good-sounding records,” they state, “and we want to play for people.”
So: are you one of those people yet? And if not, why not?
Geographically speaking (see what we did there?), Geographer’s roots can be whittled down to a New Jersey / San Francisco hybrid. If it helps, just imagine Tony Soprano’s drive round the NJ Turnpike soundtracked to The Grateful Dead … or maybe not. Locations and logistics aside, let’s get to the heart of the matter: and it’s a great big pulsating heart that beats at the core of Geographer.
Sometimes – not always, but sometimes – great art can emerge from terrible loss. It’s a redemptive fact of life that Geographer founder Mike Deni knows all too well. Mike moved to San Francisco from New Jersey following the tragic death of his father and sister, and began to channel his distraught emotions into the amazing musical soundscapes we hear today.
When he conscripted fellow band members Nathan Blaz (cello, electronics) and Brian Ostreicher (drums, vocals), this creative prowess only began to spiral. “When I first moved to SF I went to the Hotel Utah open mic every week to perform,” Mike remembers. While at the Utah – a 100-year old institution of local legend, whose 7-day-a-week live music showcases are invaluable to exposing upcoming artists – he “met Kacey Johansing, and she introduced me to Nate and Brian, who all knew each other from Berklee College of Music in Boston.”
Mike already had a roster of deeply personal songs written, and the Geographer line-up gelled so well that little revision was needed. Kacey would be present for the recording of the first album, but would then depart the band, leaving them to function as an even-tighter three piece. “We all come from different musical backgrounds, with different backgrounds that sometimes bump heads and always push the songs past where they were originally intended to go.”
It’s this unity that has seen the band develop their sound over the years. “Over the course of our three recordings,” Mike explains, “we learned what it means to be in a band, and we learned what we are each capable of as musicians, and more importantly, what we each want to be capable of as musicians. I think we also feel a little bit of comfort from the support we’ve gotten from San Francisco and the west coast, that gives us the strength to make risky decisions and try new things.”
As for the recordings themselves? Well … let’s take a closer listen, shall we?
Geographer’s first album release came in August 2008 – the enigmatically-titled ‘Innocent Ghosts’, a name which perfectly reflects the hazy, unpredictable and heartfelt content within. It wasn’t, say, the breakout debut smash of a ‘Funeral’ or ‘Oh, Inverted World’, but to the kids in the know that didn’t matter – they’d just discovered their new favorite band, and they got there before anyone else.
And – let’s face it – when you’re making steely-eyed journalists get emotional, you know that you’re onto something. “Singer Michael Deni explores themes of love and loss with his soupy, trustworthy coo,” enthused Liz Levine at The Owl. “Softly delivered and yet with a strong conviction, he seems empowered by the lessons and experiences the lyrics suggest, so that he quickly becomes a trustworthy narrator.” She wasn’t alone in her enthusiasm – Toronto’s AWMusic lavished five stars on the debut album, claiming that “some songs just come to a slow start … but are worth this adventure this album puts you on.”
It was in October 2008, however, that more high-profile attention beckoned. Long-running music monthly Spin Magazine listed the lads as being ‘one of the three undiscovered bands you need to hear now’ – alongside Canada’s Library Voices and Los Angeles’ Thailand. While new media acolytes may take umbrage with the term ‘undiscovered’ – what exactly does that mean, in this age of fractured exposure and streamlined, individualized cultural consumption? – there was no denying: people were starting to sit up and take notice.
Two years would pass before their return – which, given the intricate and carefully thought-out nature of Geographer’s music, is practically a speedrun in creative terms. 6-song EP ‘Animal Shapes’ would be released in 2010. Expanding on their sound – heavier synth, faster rhythms – it also gathered great reviews, with Music Under Fire labeling it a ‘fantastic effort’, and Pinpoint Music reflecting that the “tight and almost flawless approach to presenting six songs is stunning”.
The most noticeable thing about the reaction to the E.P? E.Ps just don’t get that level of attention, artistic seriousness and fan devotion anymore (maybe with a few exceptions: Animal Collective are usually happy to release short collections every now and then, which are lapped up by an eager following). The fact that ‘Animal Shapes’ was being – and still is – analysed and cherished with the same vigour as a full-length album is very telling: Geographer are a band that matter.
2012 would see them matter even more. Myth – their second full-length album, and highest-profile release to date – emerged to much anticipation, and carried with it the most complex backstory yet. “The album deals with the many ways myths play into our modern lives,” the band explained, in an exclusive video interview with BAMM.TV. ‘I think people think that we live in a mythless society, because we have science and education, but I think that we still live according to a lot of myths which are designed to be instructive … but which people take a little too far. A myth is a story that helps you learn how to live. But I think a lot of times, people take myths as reality.’
If this makes Myth sound like that most precarious of propositions – the overblown concept album – fear not. It’s Geographer’s best work yet – simultaneously their most accessible yet creatively defining. Less ‘carefree’ (if that term can realistically be applied to the band) than the preceding E.P, it delivers a solid one-two punch on both sonic and emotional fronts.
Such a diverse body of work, of course, suggests a unique and experimental artistic approach. How exactly do the Geographer boys create their sound?
‘We’re obsessed with finding the perfect sound,’ Mike says, ‘whether it’s with a synth patch or effects pedals.’
‘When we write music it happens one of two ways. One is really acoustic and one is really electronic. A lot of songs start from a sound – I’ll be chasing something I want to hear or just messing around – and then I’ll build the song out from there. Then sometimes I’ll just be at home playing chords, singing along.’
‘A lot of the time I’ll try to write a certain kind of song, but that never works. You just have to get free and enjoy playing your instruments. Then something will come out of that and I’ll show it to the others.’
‘Usually it starts sonically. And then that informs the subject matter. I’ve only started with lyrics once, they usually come last and it usually takes me a while to write them. I’ll usually just be songwriting in a stream-of-consciousness way, then some hook or some line will come out of that.’
Hmmm. He makes it all sound so (relatively) easy, doesn’t he? This is one of the most surprising things about Geographer overall: despite the complex beauty of the music they craft, it’s as if – like all great artists – it seems to come from a pure and simple place. Here at BAMM.tv, we’ve been lucky enough to witness this remarkable dichotomoy on a number of occasions. We recorded the guys when they unleashed their full-on electronic sound to a sell-out crowd at SF venue The Independent (“our proudest moment to date was selling out the Independent for the first time … we had no idea that many people were listening to our music”) and also when they performed an intimate, haunting acoustic set at the Engine Works venue (“that night at Engine Works was a truly amazing experience for us”).
Despite this variance, deconstructing the Geographer sound(s) is a task they’d rather not undertake – like performing an autopsy on Santa Claus, or catching sight of the sweaty puppeteers who bring Kermit and Gonzo to life. In the end: what’s the benefit? “I just say [we sound like] indie rock with cello and synths,” Mike shrugs, “because it’s impossible to describe music. No one ever hears what they expect to. Like: how do you describe Oasis? Heavy guitars with a whiny vocalist. Or Paul Simon? Good music.”
‘Good music’. As mission statements go, it’s hard to argue with that. And even harder to argue with a second mission statement – one which the band fire up each and every time they take to the stage. “Put all your delusions of grandeur aside,” they say, “and give the crowd the best show you’ve ever played.”
Who knows? The best show they’ve ever played might just result in the best show the crowd has ever seen. And then – geography be damned – pretty much everyone is exactly where they need to be.
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There are major shifts waiting to happen this year in how we consume music. 2013 is likely to see the expansion of trends from last year – the shift towards streaming, the rise of social television, and increasing use of video content online.
But the impact of all of these factors means the shape of the digital music landscape will dramatically change before the year is out. Will personal music collections be entirely displaced by portable libraries? Will crowd-funding become a standard procedure for tours? We consider these possibilities and more in a roundup of this year’s expected trends.
Ownership versus accessibility
This year sees big developments in the streaming subscription market with the arrival of Google, Microsoft and Apple’s new loan services. They are all keen to take on the growing might of Spotify, which has so far managed to take the largest share of the market via its partnership with Facebook. Owning music could become secondary to portability and accessibility across multiple devices. Arguably, ownership might even be seen as a burden given syncing and copyright issues.
What does this mean for musicians, given the negligible rates given by streaming services? Last year, Damon Krukowski of Galaxie 500 highlighted how 680,462 plays of his record ‘Tugboat’ (above) garnered only a soul-destroying $9.99. It’s unlikely the margins will grow – though some might argue a bigger market with more competitors will create more revenue for everyone. However, it could also make it harder for musicians to claim fees as companies compete to keep subscription charges low. Pandora is currently contesting the fee paid out to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers for digital radio plays of artists. It is likely only the biggest artists will benefit from keeping their music away from streaming services – as shown by the high sales enjoyed by Adele and Coldplay.
It’ll be interesting to see how many major musicians make their music available and the correlation between sales and their music’s availability on the streaming services. Either way, the year will mark the decisive break with the ownership culture as the biggest technology creators become effectively lending libraries of content.
The first ever fully-sponsored album?
Here on BAMM we’ve previously discussed the increasingly close relationship between brands and bands. Even the most credible of musicians have lent themselves to one-off projects by companies. One of the weirdest collaborations this year has been ‘Gatwick: The Departure Lounge Sessions’, which featured a 30-minute track by Benga which corresponded to the 30-minute journey between Gatwick and London Victoria.
Could we see an extension of that trend so that musicians end up writing whole entire albums themed or inspired by brands? What’s certain is that it’s not just the obvious suspects who would be up for doing product placement. At the moment, it may be musicians who are getting the best end of the deal. Working with brands guarantees a payout at a time when sales are so low. Brands are also stepping in to nurture and develop musicians from the outset, creating long-term relationships in order to tap into younger audiences. Conversely, consumers may take to personalising brands in ways that make image control near-obsolete. Given the power of social media and Facebook, even the coolest brands may have to roll with the punches.
The return of MySpace
MySpace’s acknowledged strengths were always its music sharing and DIY aspects. For many bands, trying to cut out the noise of Facebook activity to get a few ‘likes’ is too difficult. New MySpace has had mixed reviews but its music functionality is better than ever. The new site (as trailed below) is clearly aimed at a younger ‘creative’ demographic – which is ideal for bands who want to take a hands-on approach to their promotion.
Focusing on sound
The rise of the visual is unquestionable – we have ever bigger screens on all our devices to accommodate more video content and visual information. But sound-only platforms have a role to play. Soundcloud has enjoyed its biggest year yet with more exclusives and streaming from performers like Snoop Dogg and 50 Cent. One of the major appeals for musicians is the convenience of uploading a track, without the faff of a big launch or shoot. Given low marketing budgets, more musicians could start using sound-only platforms to reach out directly to fans and reward them with special cuts and additional work.
More ethical models
The fightback has begun already. BAMM leads on the way on this trend, giving artists a fair rate for their tracks. Some sites such as Bandcamp are giving bands the chance to sell their music and merchandise directly to fans, taking a much smaller cut of the proceeds than sites such as iTunes.
Digital radio and personalised radio
BAMM was in on this early with its Open Thread radio. The internet has breathed new life into the radio medium. The trend will explode in 2013 with the development of multiple streams, podcasts, and local digital radio stations redefining the relationship between the global and the local. Radio is also relatively low-tech, opening it up to more DIY producers and labels. Personalised radio will continue to grow, but there should be platforms designed entirely for sharing carefully compiled and curated tracks with friends.
While platforms like Pandora and Last FM are dominated by more hardcore fans of music, sites such as Turntable FM (above) which combine gaming and social networking could bring together new audiences. In short, personalised radio platforms could appeal to the entire music-buying community, by offering the chance to discover and customise in easy ways.
More sophisticated music discovery and curation
Music discovery apps, including BAMMs, will become ever more complex and vital to get through the sheer volume of material online. The FOMO (fear of missing out) syndrome is the web’s newest disease, and the best way to tackle it is to call in the curators. Music discovery apps will not only select the best material, they will also order it for you, so that you don’t have to wade through numerous disorganised links.
Apps will have to be able to configure music in different ways – for example, adopting mood-based curation as well as genre and decade. They could also take the place of traditional tastemakers such as magazine websites. Expect a lot of morphing between the two formats.
The rise and rise of video
Despite Youtube’s success, few media outlets have really gone for exclusive video. This could change massively in 2013 with predictions from Cisco that video will grow to drive 80 per cent of traffic across the internet. Music will play a major part of this, given that most songs neatly fit the three to four minute limit for a standard online video. Services like XBox Music (below) have also made playing music, watching video and gaming on one device manageable for even the biggest technophobe.
No barriers cosmopolitan music trends
Gangnam Style (below) has become the most popular Youtube video ever uploaded (please let’s not talk about Ai Wei Wei and the Anish Kapoor versions). While Psy has been dismissed as unrepresentative of Korean music or a novelty act, the music has actually seen a wave of interest in non-Western pop.
More specialised crowdfunding
There are already dedicated music crowdfunding platforms, but none which specialise in concert funding yet. Touring is still a tried and trusted way to build up a fanbase. The ideal platform could enable networks of fans to chip in together to bring musicians over, making more bands perform off the traditional tour route.
Outlier trends: The hologram trend
The biggest comeback of 2012 was also the least expected. Tupac appeared at last year’s Coachella, giving rap a genuinely hair-raising edge. The most astonishing thing was that the company Digital Domain Media Group animated the entire performance, rather than pulling it from an archive. Could this be the beginnings of a niche industry, devoted to reanimating and choreographing holograms for old fans and newcomers? You can’t buy charisma but you sure as hell can try to project it.
Tupac (above) was an obvious candidate for revival – in fact, the hologram (when first spoken about) appeared to be a smart joke about the fact that the late rapper sold more after his death than he did before it. The music industry is pretty unconscionable when it comes to making money off the back of its deceased stars, so who knows how far the trend will go?
The deluxe album
The trend for artisan goods shows no sign of abating. Like the similar trend for slow food and slow living, the deluxe album signals leisure time. The box set used to be something to buy the fangirl or fanboy in your life for Christmas. Now almost every physical release aims to be special, limited and good enough to put on your minimalist bookshelves. The physical album has almost become a statement. Beck released his album ‘Song Reader’ as sheet-music only (above) , reminding us that the format is only a vessel for the real work.
We’re almost at the end of our 12 day countdown to Christmas, and we hope you’ve been enjoying our look back at our 2012 highlights as much as we have. Today we’re showcasing one of the most ambitious projects in our catalog – the awesome ‘Hidden’, a documentary which follows the incredible young Amsterdam band Jungle By Night as they prepare to unleash their unique Afrobeat sound on the world with their debut album release. Perfect viewing for a lazy Saturday – check it out above.