Saturday, 3 November 2007

The inevitable rise and liberation of legal MP3s

As us format elitists are seething about Radiohead only releasing their album in 160kbps, two major events have happened recently on this front. OiNK has been shut down, and Trent Reznor has made good on his word by helping Saul Williams release their collaboration on the Internet - in the format of choosing and for only $5 US (or free if you choose)

First off, a quick word about the Radiohead album. Yes I did purchase it, I paid 4 pounds ($10AUD), and I really did enjoy the album. Personally I think its their best since OK Computer. Though I am disappointed in the sense that I "bought" the album in such a low quality. 160kbps might have been okay back on dial-up days, but in the days of Cable and high-speed broadband, I don't get the logic behind it. Especially as the audience they are aiming at are those who can tell the difference and want something more... and this leads me directly to Oink

1. The OiNK Affair
This article sums it all up tbh, its a long but very engaging read, a rant that anyone would be proud of. Oink was great for someone like me, it allowed me to get music I wouldn't normally even dream of hearing at the format of my choosing, there are so many bands that because of OiNK I've gotten into then went and saw them live. Without it, I'm lost when people recommend me new stuff.

Its not that I want to rip artists off, I don't. Though I won't deny the convenience of it all. Every time I buy a CD these days, all I do is rip it and play it through my computer or MP3 device. MP3 may not have the sound quality of CD, but MP3s are far too damn convenient. I have a huge library available at a click of a mouse button. Compared to that CDs seem bulky, archaic devices whose only real purpose anymore seems to be for the car (and even then, MP3 players are fast becoming the standard) and as a collectors item. In a wireless media world, it seems such a waste to take up precious space with CD cases, where a HDD can store thousands upon thousands of albums and be conveniently accessed.

OiNK brought something to the music industry that companies have tried to suppress: choice. It wasn't a collection of overpriced shitty pop discs like most record stores, pretty much anything you wanted was there to grab. Albums that are out of print, rare and esoteric bands that it would cost more in shipping than the album itself to get here. It was all there and at a bitrate that does as much justice as possible to the original release. And the reason all this worked so well is that it was consumer driven - the music fans sharing music with other music fans, who wouldn't want to be a part of that. The product? great music. The currency? sharing with others. But somehow the anti-piracy groups thought people were making a profit out of it and shut it down. But in truth the people who make money out of file sharing are... THE ARTISTS!

That's right, the artists make money out of file sharing. Not directly of course, but as a result of increased concert ticket revenue and merchandise sales. The great thing about filesharing is that it has taken the focus away from creating CDs (then touring in support) back to the performance aspect. While it may not be ideal for the bands themselves, its a huge win for the music loving consumers. This year alone I have seen: Tool, Muse, The Killers, Isis, These Arms Are Snakes, NoFX, Mastodon, Slayer, The Cure, Nine Inch Nails and many more. Most of which I would have never heard if I hadn't had people there to recommend me the music. And there are so many more like me that instead of paying $30 for an artist they haven't heard, they have downloaded the music, then gone and saw the band live and bought the CDs in the end.

Its the corporate entities that have built up their whole business model, the ones who are responsible for frivolous lawsuits against music fans, the ones who populate music stores with that shitty pop and generic metal, they are the ones who lose out. Their whole system is built around the CD. They have the artists tied to insane contracts. Its not about the music for them, its about the profit. And unless they understand the needs of the consumer and the artists and adapt to the global market brought on by the Internet, they will crash and burn... and I'm sure sue a few more music fans for several hundred thousand dollars in the process. Companies suing Youtube and Myspace because they are no longer in control of their product. The reason they aren't in control... CONSUMERS FINALLY HAVE A SAY

Thanks to this global distribution system, us in Australia are realising how much we are being ripped off. Our dollar is good, yet we pay $30 instead of $17 for CDs. We pay $100 instead of $50 for games. TV shows come out here months after they are screened in the US, sometimes put on at ungodly hours or aren't even shown on free-to-air TV. No wonder people in Australia feel cheated by the system. The system expects us to pay more and wait longer for a product thanks to this archaic distribution system. Well fuck that! This is the age of decentralised information. We get the news immediately, newspapers have had to adapt and move to posting articles online. As have magazines, they have become quite irrelevant with most of their content coming out online well before they are published and distributed. The system is moving forward. And now when we are all citizens of a global village, why the regional solutions still stay is beyond me. We didn't even get half of Grindhouse released here before the DVD came out in the US. No Aqua Teen Hunger Force movie period. Location shouldn't be a problem, and the Internet makes it more irrelevant as technology increases.

So bring back Oink. Throw fees on it if need be to help pay the artists who have their music replicated. The consumers now know they can get something better than the shitty pop music that fills record stores, and they can get it so much more conveniently. Adapt or be destroyed.

2. The Inevitable Rise And Liberation Of Niggy Tardust
Normally I'm not a fan of hip-hop, the genre shits me (for lack of a better word), especially the crap on the charts. Saul Williams is an exception to that. And with my all time favourite artist, Trent Reznor, at the helm I was very excited to get my hands on this release.

I've got to say almost everything about this release is great. Saul's lyrics and vocal style are sublime as usual and and the music fits almost perfectly in the background. There are times when the sound drifts towards that of NIN (especially the sounds of Year Zero), but mostly the Reznoreque elements are subtlety interlaced behind the main riffs. A good example is the piano on Convict Colony. There is a big "what the fuck" to the cover of Sunday Bloody Sunday. Not that it sounds terrible, it just doesn't fit with the rest of the album. The first half of the album overall is solid, though a bit unspectacular. Unfortunately some of the time it sounds like Saul is doing an impersonation of Trent when singing, though it's not surprising given the same thing happened on Year Zero. Niggy Tardust has vocals like this, though of the whole album it has my favourite lyrics.

The highlight track for me is WTF! As a song it just fits together so well, great lyrics, fitting music, catchy chorus, and the most complex song structurally on the album. Absolutely love the outro. As the album wears on, the tracks get more and more diverse. Scared Money has a very retro funk feel while Raw is, oddly as the title suggests, stripped back to the bare minimum that constitutes a song. Skin Of A Drum is at times an Industrial Music outcast yet still carries the human touch. The last 30 minutes is a journey through different moods, points and counterpoints, lyrical brilliance coupled with pronounced accompaniment. And it all finishes so strongly with The Ritual.

Its great to see an album that gets better at it goes on, most albums put the best tracks first then descend as more and more filler songs pad out what would have been a killer EP into an average LP. But as it is with almost every single NIN album, the strongest tracks are saved until the end. Albums like this are the reason to listen from start to finish, not to take each track individually but rate it as a whole. There must be a lot of hip hop producers out there right now listening to this and feeling quite green that an Industrial musician has managed to produce a hip hop album of this quality.

In the end, this album has showed the abilities and versatility of both Saul Williams And Trent Reznor. It makes me wonder how good the Zack De La Rocha / Trent Reznor album would have sounded. And like the Tapeworm project, I guess only a few people will ever know, though I have a faint glimmer of hope that NIN leaving Interscope will clear up the contractual problems and we'll see an Internet release. After all, there is a huge legion of fans who have showed they are willing to support Internet downloads... provided its not the terrible crap available on iTunes.

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