The Opposite Of Hallelujah – Jens Lekman
After the success of ‘Your Arms Around Me’ it really comes as no surprise that Jens Lekman has released an album full of nicely polished pop gems. The lyrics can occasionally get a little awkward, but this is always made up for in pure sweetness.
123456 (Pardon Us) – Aleks and The Ramps
Speaking of lyrics, this song has some rather interesting ones. I bought Aleks and The Rams’ debut album on the back of some rather impressive reviews and I must admit, I was a little disappointed. It’s undoubtedly good and certainly different, but it just failed to grab me. Then again, I’m yet to see them live which could turn things around.
Love Goes On! – The Go-Betweens
How unAustralian of me, that I’ve only just got into The Go-Betweens. It hasn’t taken much, though and I’m now beginning to realise just how great they are. That signature acoustic sound of theirs never fails to deliver. If you’re yet to be convinced, it will only take one listen of 16 Lovers Lane to turn you around.
While We Go Dancing – The White Rabbits
I’m not quite sure how I ended up with The White Rabbits’ album, but all of a sudden I found myself listening to a band I’d never heard of before, with no idea what to expect. It didn’t come immediately, but I’m really coming to appreciate their music.
They Made Frogs Smoke Til They Exploded – Mum
Mum are another band out of Iceland making some really unique music. It’s incredibly weird at times, and I’m surprised that I actually like it. This song probably isn’t the best, but I wanted to include it for the cool video they’ve made for it.
The Opposite Of Hallelujah – Jens Lekman
I’ve always been one who sees the allure of vinyls, indulge yet I’ve also done my best to avoid getting swept up by them. I do this because I know that it is neither practical nor affordable to listen to everything on vinyl, no matter how much better it sounds. Yet in recent times, my standards have been slipping a little and I’ve been indulging myself. The most striking thing I’ve noticed is how different the listening process is. The fact that you have to physically turn the record over, just to get through an album, means it is generally more involving. You’re far more likely to pay attention to the music coming out of your turntable, than the queued up mp3s on your computer. The reason this was so striking was that it made me realise how little attention I pay to the music I listen to. I consider myself devoted to music because I listen to it all the time, but in actual fact, I’m hardly listening at all. It is merely sitting in the background, failing to register as I attend to whatever else I’m doing. And I wonder why it takes me so long to decide whether I like something or not. I need at least three of these half-hearted attempts before an image of the song begins to form in my brain. I know most people out there probably don’t offend as badly as I do, but every now and then, I recommend you try actually LISTENING to your music. You’ll find it to be much more enjoyable, even if you do lose all that time that could have been spent multitasking.
Now all this might seem irrelevant, but it partly thanks to The Octopus Project and their latest album, Hello, Avalanche that I came to this revolutionary conclusion. I was at my computer, doing the motions, listening to their album for probably the third time. However, after a 3am session of listening to the White Album and playing Uno the night before, I was getting rather tired. I decided to leave the album going as I gave my eyes a rest. It was here I discovered just how great it is. Being a (largely) instrumental band, it makes sense that The Octopus Project pay a fair amount of attention to detail. So as I lay there, concentrating on nothing but, I was able to experience this in all its glory. Each song is delicately crafted, gradually layering one riff on top of other until it builds into a spectacular climax, or else floats off in another direction. It really is quite a special album and this is coming from someone who usually shies away from instrumental music. There really isn’t any stand out tracks because each just carries on perfectly from the last. I must admit, I picked a nice album to lie back and relax to.
An Evening With Rthrtha – Then again, after listening to this song, you’ll probably wonder how I could ever call the album relaxing. But as you pay close attention, hearing the changes as they evolve, it does end up rather peaceful.
I Saw The Bright Shinies – This song impressed me so much, it made want to copy it. The patch they use does a brilliant job of replicating haunting vocals, especially how each notes peaks just after you’d expect it to.
The Forms caught my attention very early, but they almost got lost amongst a sea of new music. If anything, I'm writing this to prevent myself from forgetting about them again. The self-titled album which they have recently released is actually their second, though it's the first I've heard. Their sound is an interesting one, which concentrates on building layers of smooth, washy harmonies rather than defined, crisp melodies. It works quite well for them and often evokes memories of TV On The Radio. If I had one criticism, it would probably be that many of the songs sound too alike, failing to really define themselves. All in all, this album is certainly worth a look if you enjoy the song below.
Knowledge In Hand
There are tons of music downloads services out there, so obviously I can’t try them all. However, here’s a few more that have caught my eye.
7 Digital / Indiestore
7 Digital is a digital music store operating out of the UK. I’ve only just come across them, but they definitely seem like one to watch. For starters, most of their content is available in multiple formats including WMA and FLAC, as well as high and low quality versions of MP3 and AAC. Once you buy a song, it is kept in your ‘locker’, which can be accessed from anywhere, and downloaded in any of the available formats. It’s good to see this sort of flexibility in a market characterised by restrictions.
The range at the 7digital store is a mix of mainstream and ‘mainstream indie’ and while it doesn’t compare to iTunes, it’s decent. This range is expanded by the inclusion of the Indiestore, which is attached to the regular store and is a place where smaller artists can upload and sell their material. This is still in its early stages and I didn’t really see any artists I recognised, but hopefully it will grow and it’s good to see them doing it.
I bought a single with this service and it was ridiculously easy. The inclusion Paypal made payment simple and whole process was nice and straightforward. Seeing as I haven’t used it more, I can’t really offer a detailed opinion, but on first glance, it seems worth a try.
Telstra’s BigPond service is as close as we have to a complete entertainment solution in Australia. On top of your mobile phone and broadband, you can now get music, videos and games. However, this is hardly anything to get excited about. While they do have a large range, it’s nothing you can’t find elsewhere and unfortunately it’s all sold as protected WMAs. I can only really recommend it to existing BigPond customers (who get discounts), but in truth, I think you’d be better off bypassing Telstra all together.
CD Baby is an online store doing great things for independent artists wanting to sell their own music. Many of the albums are now available as MP3s
Amazon have put a lot of time and money into taking on iTunes with their MP3 store and on first glance it seems pretty impressive. Unfortunately it’s only available to US customers so I guess we’ll have to wait.
Next: Music Discovery
I Get Around – The Beach Boys
Last week I had the pleasure of seeing Brian Wilson. Despite him missing many of his lines, barely touching his keyboard and just generally being out of it, it was an incredible show. It really is testimony to his genius and the strength of the Beach Boys material. His band were also excellent, especially Jeff Foskett who really carried the performance. Don’t ever let anyone put you down for listening to a bunch of men singing falsetto harmonies. It’s heavenly.
From Little Things, Big Things Grow – Paul Kelly
Also playing at this show was Paul Kelly. It must have been over 5 years since I’d listened to his music, but it was still fresh in my mind. This song at the end was a highlight. It was also amusing to see a guy up the back, jumping up and down the whole time yelling “we’re so lucky!”. Either he REALLY likes Paul Kelly, or he got lost on his way to the Fuzzy party.
Oregon Girl – Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin
I’m in the very early stages of listening to this band, but so far I like what I hear. This song has a very Weezer feel to it, but it’s just one of the many different styles they produce. I’m really not sure why they’re not better known. Perhaps they went a little TOO far with the weird name thing.
Your Name – Oh! Custer
The latest trend I’ve been noticing is the emergence of labels that regularly put out 3 inch CDs by various bands. I’m not sure if any labels here in Australia are doing it, but I know a couple of Aussie bands have been involved, including two that I mentioned in my last post. Perhaps the most prominent of these labels is Cloudberry Records, who have been pumping out three of these CDs per month. The folks at Skatterbrain and IndieMP3 have been kind enough to compile their top ten, which you can download as an album. Get them while they last.
Parachute – Shugo Tokumaru
Keeping with the theme of plugging other blogs’ lists, Off The Record, have put out some rather interesting Best of 2007 ones. I was rather surprised to see so many releases I didn’t recognise, as well as a number of international albums. It’s a refreshing change to the more or less identical lists that seem to be popping up elsewhere.
The Zebras - You Look Ready
Summer Cats - Discotheque
The Motifs - Backwards
Sydney band, Our Monk, will also be opening on the night.
More details here
JB Hi-fi’s music download service is one of many run by Destra. Destra don’t have a store of their own, however they provide the catalogue and back-end for anyone else wanting to set one up. Their customers include other big stores such as Harvey Norman’s and ABC’s. It’s quite an intelligent business model because it allows them to build off the brand names of other franchises. One downside of this is that other than the interface, all the Destra stores are pretty much identical. So while we appear to have some choice in this market, we don’t.
There’s no denying that JB Hi-fi shops have become a great place to find music. They’ve got a huge range, consistently lower prices and these days there’s always one nearby. Not only this, but they are beginning to rival smaller, independent retailers by stocking more obscure releases.
Sadly, however, anyone thinking they’ll have access to this expansive catalogue in digital format will be disappointed. You see, other than the name, this digital store holds no relation to JB Hi-fi stores. The range, while large, is mostly mainstream and ‘Top 40’ stuff. For anyone who’s become used to JB Hi-fi’s reputation, this is a bit of a let down. Still, its not all bad. You should be able find any artist who is relatively popular and the occasion smaller local release will also pop up.
I’m not 100% of this, but I think you can buy vouchers, similar to iTunes ones in JB Hi-fi stores. Otherwise, you can always buy online. Thankfully, they have included Paypal, which makes paying a breeze for those who aren’t fans of using their credit cards. You can either buy an online voucher or pay for each item directly. Be sure to do the latter or you may end up with $1.50 useless credit like I did.
Like all digital download stores, JB Hi-fi has a rather rigid price structure, with standard prices for tracks and flat rates for albums. However, whereas other stores might offer the occasional variation, JB Hi-fi is rock solid. Each track is $1.69 and any album with ten or more tracks is $16.99. No exceptions (that I saw). This is great news for fans of Explosions in the Sky, wishing to pick up an album for under $10, but to me it seems lazy. Either they don’t care or haven’t put any thought into it, neither of which instils much confidence.
For the most part, JB Hi-fi sells their songs in Microsoft’s protected WMA format. This is the most common way of doing things and also the most controversial. The idea of being restricted to Window’s Media Player, required to download licenses and limited in how I used the files certainly didn’t appeal to me. I joined the masses in demanding its demise. But maybe, just maybe, I was complaining about nothing. Maybe things would all go nice and smoothly. Ha!
I downloaded one song as a test. Getting it was easy enough, listening to it was another matter. First I had to acquire a license. This failed. I was then told I needed a security upgrade. Which I got. Then I reloaded the song and was told the license for this song had already been issued and I’d have to do it again. These messages just kept on coming and kept on failing. I even tried redownloading it as well as using another computer, all to no avail. In the end I gave up. I had paid $1.69 for a useless piece of code. I couldn’t help but laugh at how dismally it had gone. Imagine how disappointing it would have been for someone who was actually eager to hear their newly PURCHASED music.
But the woes didn’t end there. JB Hi-fi also sells some music as unprotected mp3’s (though they are fingerprinted so they can track who spreads them – scary). This is a good sign and it seems as if they are trying to move more of their collection to this format. I bought an EP worth of mp3s and everything seemed to go fine. That was until I got to the last track and found it was corrupted. In other words, unlistenable. I sent an email to support, but got no reply. I gave up. JB Hi-fi sure weren’t making a very good impression on me.
Yet another problem with JB Hi-fi is that after you’ve bought your files, actually downloading them can be quite a hassle. They are all collected nicely in the ‘My Media’ section, allowing you to easily see and reacquire them, however, you must download each individually. When you have a number of files (like an album), this can get annoyingly tedious, especially since the page reloads each time you click one. It really makes you appreciate the ease of the eMusic and iTunes download managers.
I almost feel sorry for JB Hi-fi’s music store. The problems I encountered are probably incredibly rare, and in the case of the WMA file, possibly my fault, but it’s a painful reminder of the potential hassles associated with buying songs online. Three weeks later I managed to get my song playing and the corrupted file had been fixed, but it doesn’t change the fact that they messed up in the first place. The only really positive feature of this store is the inclusion of Paypal, which while handy, is always bypassable and isn’t really a unique feature. Sadly, I can’t recommend this service, other than as a last resort.
Next: The rest