Saturday, 18 July 2009

Record Companies Are Fuckwits

I know – you're still reeling from the headline, aren't you? You're thinking, 'Whoa, hold on there, Heavy Soil! Hold on ONE MINUTE! I love record companies. They've done nothing but good in this world, and I personally owe them a great debt of gratitude. What's more, they are run by people with unimpeachable ethics, boundless altruism and Solomon-esque wisdom. So WHAT THE FUCK ARE YOU SAYING?'

So, yes. Okay. Record companies aren't exactly a difficult target. And plenty of people have written about exactly how stupid have been their strategies over the past decade or so.

Y'know. Suing fans, that kind of thing.

So what I'm saying isn't new.

It isn't scythingly iconoclastic. But I'm a bit pissed off, so indulge me, won't you?

If you're a frequentish visitor, you may remember that we rather liked Jarvis Cocker's latest album. Not, perhaps, to the point of pant-soiling paroxysms – but at least to the point of overenthusiastic nods and weird approbatory throat noises.

(Which is a good bit more than some get, I might add.)

Anyhow, we ran up to our review of ol' Jarv's new release with a post about its lead single, the fabulous 'Angela'. We were unequivocally positive. Our prose practically dripped with admiration (which looks a little like treacle, incidentally).

But we made a terrible, terrible mistake.

We included a downloadable mp3 of 'Angela'.

Now, let's set aside the fact that, as a single released in advance of the album, the prime purpose of Angela was to promote Further Complications. Let's set aside the fact that it's now downloadable on ANY torrent site you'd care to mention. Let's set aside the fact that THE MP3 ITSELF WAS DISTRIBUTED FREE OF CHARGE BY COCKER'S RECORD LABEL.

Yes, let's set all those things aside, shall we? Shove 'em into a cupboard and lean on the bulging door til it's forced shut. Because, yeh, fair enough: it's not my music. And, as a music-maker myself (though, I might add, one not so fortunate as to receive a salary for my makings) I respect the owners of creative works. For the most part, I don't like illegal downloading (though I don't see any sensible means by which to prevent it).

So, had Jarv's record company contacted me with a request to take down the mp3, I'd have done so. I'd still have thought they were bloody stupid, mind, because WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF A SINGLE (especially one you have GIVEN AWAY FREE) IF NOT TO DRIVE ALBUM SALES? But I'd have respected their request and carried it out immediately.

Instead, I received a legal notice – in confoundingly difficult language – informing me that my post infringed copyright. Fair doos. It also informed me that my post had been removed by Blogger, the service on which this blog is hosted (for the moment).

And, sure enough, it has totally gone. It's not been 'unpublished' and left as a draft for me to review and amend. It's not had the mp3 removed. It's been destroyed. Eliminated. Exterminated.

Nothing remains.

Considering the fact that the sentiments of the piece were so glowing, and that its gist was clearly 'this is a great track, let's all get excited about the album', it seems pretty fucking churlish (AND BRAIN-WOBBLINGLY, TONGUE-LOLLINGLY STUPID) to crack down on it as if it were a 5-part instruction manual on DIY biological terrorism.

Record companies, if you're listening (you're so, so clearly not, are you? You still read fucking NME, I imagine): wise up. You are dying. And, as you die, I – and legions of bloggers like me – are laughing at your spasmodic thrashings.

It could have been so different.

Monday, 6 July 2009

The Ben Folds Bastard Effect

1 solemn face.

After a week of having my ears assailed by monstrous amounts of compression (and not for the first time), I thought a sonic palate-cleanser would be in order.

You see, when I review a record for Heavy Soil, I listen to it a lot. I listen to it on my iPod – on trains and pavements and (occasionally) in my workplace, in a vain attempt to insulate myself from the hubbub of competing telephone conversations in a too-small office. I listen to it hoofing out of my Denon stereo. And, best of all, I listen to it on ludicrously (to some) expensive headphones, lying in bed, the only illumination the cyan of my alarm-clock radio (which, incidentally, has FUCKING STOPPED WORKING AFTER ONLY 6 MONTHS.)

... And, by the time I come to write the review, my spongey brain is sopping. Pretty much saturated with the music in question. Sometimes, it's like being saturated with Champagne. Others, like being saturated with less pleasant liquid.

And perhaps that's why the posts on Heavy Soil always end up so goddamn long. Because I'm trying to wring my brain dry of all that music.

Sometimes, I almost hate writing reviews. I know: weep for me.

Why in the name of Beelzebub are you telling me all this?

Fair question. I suppose in an attempt to convey the degree to which posting an album review on Heavy Soil is like bursting from a dank and fetid tunnel into glorious, airy, sunlit countryside. All of a sudden, I am free to listen to whatever I like.

And what I liked was this:

Ah – Mr Folds ...

You may remember that Heavy Soil was no admirer of Ben Folds' latest solo album, the childishly narcissistic and spitefully misogynous Way To Normal.

It was, therefore, a palate cleanser in more ways than one to return to Whatever & Ever Amen – released in 1997, back when Ben Folds was still plural. 'One Angry Dwarf' is definitely one of my favourite songs on the album (alongside the fantastic 'Kate') – and what an album opener. It grabs, dear reader, it grabs. It holds. It shakes.

It's also refreshingly unproduced. The album was recorded in a house rented by Folds, and is free of studio-induced ubercompression and innumerable overdubs.

Anyhow, it got me thinking

Specifically, thinking about musicians' perceived personality. You see, before listening to Way To Normal, I'd tended to assume that Ben Folds was a pretty decent sort of chap. Perhaps a touch irritating at times – but extremely likable. Way To Normal radically changed that perception. It left me thinking that, actually, Mr Folds might just be a bit of a twat. And an unpleasant one, at that.

And, since then, I haven't fancied listening to Ben Folds (Five) once. Until now. So that's 9-10 months of abstinence from a band/artist to which I'd previous listened frequently.

That's a pretty considerable effect.

I can't imagine that an album that was simply bad would've had this kind of effect. Sure, there'd've been disappointment; maybe a touch of disillusionment, were the artist in question to be one I'd hallowed as reliable. But not wholesale avoidance.

It seems pretty clear, then, that there's a degree to which my liking for an artist is connected to my conception of his or her personality.

I don't actually think this should be the case, from the perspective of critical integrity. It's my view that one should review product, not producer. But I'm pretty sure it is the case, nevertheless.

I should add: this doesn't mean that I must like an artist's personality before liking their music. There're plenty of musicians whom I either know or suspect to suffer from various character flaws, and this doesn't necessarily affect my opinion of their music.

Instead, it seems to have something to do with betrayal. Because I'd previously extrapolated a personality for Ben Folds on the evidence of his work pre-Way To Normal, the sudden revelation of misanthropic-Folds was deeply disconcerting and repellent.

Whereas if I'd thought from the beginning that the guy was a bastard, I reckon I'd just have thought, 'That was a pretty crap album' and had done with it.

What do you reckon, then, soilers? Am I a weirdo? Or have you experienced similar feelings yourselves? Oh com[m]e[nt], all ye faithful.

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