OnlineRock Blog

31 December 2011

Madonna Cracks Down on Music Piracy

By Tomi Mendel

For multi-platinum pop idol Madonna, music piracy is no laughing matter. Back in November, a song called “Gimme All Your Love” was leaked on the Internet, several months before its intended official release on Madonna’s latest album. In response, her manager Guy Oseary took to social media, tweeting, “madonna told me this morning 'my true fans wouldn't do this'... whoever is responsible for this leak, we ask that you please stop!" However, anyone who thought Madonna would stop at twitter was sorely mistaken. She and her team of lawyers launched an investigation known as “Operation Madonnaleaks,” which eventually resulted in the December 21 arrest of a thirty-one year old man living in Zaragoza, Spain. This self-proclaimed “big Madonna fan” was charged for the illegal Internet distribution of the song, copies of which the local police found among his belongings. 

Madonna: not a fan of your illegal behavior.

While the act of piracy is, of course, illegal, the punishment seems extreme because of how frequently albums and songs leak to the Web before their official release date. Rarely do artists pursue the culprits with such vigor. In addition, tech-savvy music fans have been spoiled in recent years by a fair number of reasonably sympathetic artists. For instance, dubstep producer Skrillex recently tweeted to his followers, regarding his latest E.P., “"just like i always say, go pirate it if you don't have the money... i just want you to have it...or you can buy it here..either way i’ll love you.”

He sees you downloading and he approves.

There have long been artists on both side of this issue. A decade ago, in the heyday of Napster, heavy metal legends Metallica famously sued after discovering their entire catalogue available for free via the peer-to-peer file sharing service. They became the most famous and vocal opponents of the revolutionary music technology, recruiting many other artists and all the major record labels to their side. Some artists, like Prince, have been even more extreme. The visionary musician elected to release his 2010 album 20Ten via newspaper after bluntly declaring the Internet to be “completely over.” Furthermore, in recent years he has ruthlessly cracked down on any and all non-official sources of his music, including, infamously, attempting to remove a thirty-second Youtube video of a toddler dancing to “Let’s Go Crazy.”

Holden Lenz drew the wrath of Prince and Universal Music Group with this cute video.

However, not every musician was on board with this type of message. Around the same time as the Metallica controversy, the Dave Matthews Band boldly uploaded their single “I Did It” on Napster in advance of a traditional CD release. "I don't see the sense in fighting something that is the future,” said Matthews at the time, “I don't feel that I'm in the position to say I'm being ripped off by Napster in any way." Other artists such as Chuck D of Public Enemy also spoke in favor of the service. Ultimately the support made little difference for Napster and the big-name services which followed, most of which eventually shut down due to government pressure or became legal pay-based websites. On the other hand, one could easily say they won the war in this case, as torrenting and file-sharing remains a huge problem for the music industry.
Metallica’s song “I Disappear” suspiciously started getting radio play before they released it.

Even if other artists choose to follow Madonna’s lead and put money and authority behind uncovering those men and women behind these illegal leaks, it’s hard to say if there will be any change in the situation. As Dave Matthews astutely observed back in 2001, it is rather difficult to stop the future from arriving. At the moment, even though some have paid exorbitant fines for uploading or downloading music, punishment overall is capricious, inconsistent, and difficult to enforce. Few people live in fear of being caught for these acts. However, if musicians somehow start to more consistently and harshly prosecute song pirates in this fashion, it could likely prove effective in scaring off at least some of the unwanted file sharing activity. Meanwhile, artists like Madonna will have to try and shake the image of being serious downloading buzz-kills, even if they do have the law on their side.

30 December 2011

Free Music Friday - December 30, 2011

What better way to close out the old year and bring in the new than with Lykke Li, The xx, Big Troubles and Lowry? Naught that I can think of. Except maybe getting blasted with confetti and dancing the night away. But hey, maybe these tunes will help kick you into the mood to ring in the new year right. See you in 2012!

-Nancy Woo

(click to download)

Special 3-Song Collection

Swedish pop singer Lykke Li has rapidly risen to indie pop stardom this past year with her sophomore album, Wounded Rhymes, which was released in March. And as catchy as her songs are, if you've been listening to them for the past nine months, chances are that maybe you'd welcome a different take on them. On Lykke Li's website, you can download a free copy of The Lost Sessions Vol. 1, featuring alternate takes for Wounded Rhymes

The first volume of The Lost Sessions includes "I Follow Rivers," "Jerome," and "Youth Knows No Pain." On her site, Lykke writes by way of introduction, "I'd thought I'd give you this to put in your little players, either stick it in your ears or play it loud when the lights are low, mind weary and days rainy." These takes are definitely more subdued than the versions that ended up on the album, slowed down and stripped down for a more lo-fi, acoustic sound. If you like this version of Lykke, she invites you to "maybe send it like a little gift or a kindly flu filled kiss." Because her music is infectious? Clever.

2. The xx - "Open Eyes (Demo)"
(free download from artist website)

Special Demo

Way back when in 2010, I played The xx's debut album so much that I had to put away the album for fear of melting the CD. Thankfully, for fans as zealous as myself, a new xx album is just around the corner. "Open Eyes" is our first taste of what will be the band's sophomore effort. This new demo is extremely minimal and bare but just as intimate as their previous work. The xx's untitled second album is slated to be released sometime in 2012.
3. Big Troubles - "She Smiles for Pictures"
(free download from Soundcloud)

LP: Romantic Comedy

Alex Craig and Ian Drennan make up Big Troubles, the duo who have concocted the messy fun of "She Smiles for Pictures." Their garage-y power-pop blended with breathy, harmonized vocals takes you back to the excitement of the mid-1990s alternative scene. At moments they sound like poppy Olivia Tremor Control or a more energetic Elliott Smith, bright enough to be radio-ready but also intricate enough for the more dedicated music lovers. "She Smiles for Pictures" is the second single from their album Romantic Comedy. Learn more here!

4. Lowry - Emporia
(free download from artist website with email)

LP: Emporia

Lowry's new album Emporia is available for free on their website. This is their first since 2008's Love Is Dead. In those three years, their sound has become more mature and they've produced a stronger album. Radiohead-like arrangements are met with rootsy instrumentation in songs that remind me a little of The Long Winters and The Arcade Fire, but mostly Lowry. They're coming into their own on this album and it's all yours for a mere email address.

28 December 2011

The xx Release New Demo From Forthcoming Album

By Ana Diaz

The xx, a London based minimalist indie rock band, have released a demo of a new track from their upcoming album. “Open Eyes” was posted on the band’s blog this past Christmas Day. Listen to the band’s holiday gift to fans below.

"Open Eyes," a demo from their upcoming album.

“Open Eyes” is the first new work from the band since they released their highly acclaimed 2009 debut, xx. Their debut album was characterized by minimal layers and has evidence of R&B and electronic influences. Another mainstay of the band are the singer’s, Oliver Sim and Romy Crofts, crooning vocals. Since there are two main vocalists, many of the tracks in their debut album have back-and-forth approach to the lyrics' delivery, almost like listening to a conversation. It creates a private atmosphere within the songs and the listener almost feels like a voyeur. Regardless, the intimacy created, which is amplified by the minimalist music, makes The xx one of those bands that just draws you in. They’ve drawn in so many fans that in 2010, they went on to win a highly coveted British music award, The Barclaycard Mercury Prize.

“Crystalized” was easily the biggest hit off their debut album.

Since the release of xx, The xx haven’t released any new material and mainly focused their collaborative efforts on touring. Producer Jamie Smith, more popularly known as Jaime xx, did have a slew of remix hits during the band’s down time. He even remixed the late Gil Scott-Heron final album into a creative piece that eloquently rearranged Heron’s narratives to coincide with electronic and dubstep textures.

We’re New Here, Jamie xx and Gil Scott-Heron’s remix album.

“Open Eyes” keeps true to the bands minimalist yet visceral sound created in the previous album. Romy Croft’s smoky voice envelopes the song and a simple guitar line gently moves it along. It’s a very bare and vulnerable sound. Noticeably absent from this endeavor are Oliver Sim’s husky voice and hollow bass as well as Jamie xx’s meticulous beats. For those fans out there that are thinking that this song is almost too minimal, don’t worry! It’s only a demo. According to Jamie xx, the band’s beat maker and producer, the new album will be influenced by club music. Although club music is far more energetic than anything The xx have done as a band thus far, their debut album and subsequent remixes have shown that these three young musicians are more than capable of the hard work and talent required to create a catchy yet alluring work.

The xx, dressed in black as usual.

27 December 2011

Captain Beefheart's "Bat Chain Puller" To Be Officially Released After 35 Years

By Tomi Mendel

Frank Zappa’s estate has announced the forthcoming release of Bat Chain Puller, a 1976 work by Captain Beefheart. The long-awaited album has been frequently bootlegged throughout the last thirty-five years, remaining unreleased as a result of an alleged dispute between producer Frank Zappa and his former manager, Herb Cohen. Zappa Records has decided to release the album on January 15th, despite the fact that Captain Beefheart, who passed away in December of 2010, had been reluctant to make it available during his lifetime. As with the Beach Boys’ SMiLE, which received a special release last month, many songs from the Bat Chain Puller sessions showed up in re-recorded versions on later Beefheart albums, including Doc at the Radar Station and Shiny Beast. However, fans will be excited to finally hear an official version of the record from the legendary avant-garde rocker.

Captain Beefheart (left), hanging with his frenemy Frank Zappa.

Beefheart, also known as Don Van Vliet, was a true original, best known for Trout Mask Replica, a sprawling 1969 album that stands as one of the most thoroughly unique and challenging works in recorded music history. Gaining notoriety as one of Frank Zappa’s cohorts in the late 1960s (they were high school friends), Beefheart quickly made a name for himself with his innovative style. His gruff singing voice mixed with an off-kilter combination of blues, rock and free jazz, made for a wacky, often totally noncommercial type of music that had an immeasurable influence on avant-garde and underground artists. “Sugar 'n Spikes” from Trout Mask Replica is a good example of his weirdness - a rollicking drumbeat loosely meets a jagged guitar while Beefheart barks abstract lyrics on top. What sounds like an improvised jam was actually carefully composed, just like the rest of the tunes on the album, which is a testament to Captain Beefheart’s untrained, idiosyncratic musical genius. Music critic Piero Scaruffi said of Trout Mask Replica, “The work is so innovative and complex as to be nearly indecipherable. The rhythm section sounds so polyrhythmic that all rhythm is lost. The singing, vaguely interested in music, travels within alien universes...The album is by all accounts an anthology of chaos in all its musical forms.” 

Probably one of the more accessible songs on the album!

While he took an ill-advised stab at commercial success in the mid-1970s with albums like Unconditionally Guaranteed, Van Vliet could never entirely suppress his eccentricity, which especially shines through in his distinctive singing. Luckily for his cult fan base, Beefheart’s final three albums marked a return to form, and built upon the promise of the early records. This creative renaissance, which ended in 1982 with Ice Cream for Crow, his final album, all began with the Bat Chain Puller recordings. This certainly explains the excitement of fans when it comes to the unreleased work. Unfortunately, this second golden period screeched to a halt when Mr. Van Vliet decided to quit the music business in the early 1980s, opting to pursue his equally-acclaimed career in painting. Sadly, he stuck to this decision, and recorded no new music in the twenty-eight years between Ice Cream for Crow and his death due to multiple sclerosis at the age of sixty-nine. In doing so, he denied countless adventurous music fans of a one-of-a-kind hero. As a result, any new material is highly welcome, and despite Beefheart’s own misgivings about putting the album out, this new release of Bat Chain Puller should be a wonderful treat that provides a look at the creative re-ignition of a true musical maverick.

A live performance of “Bat Chain Puller” from 1980.

23 December 2011

Free Music Friday - December 23, 2011

Happy ho-ho-holidays, music lovers. Looks like you've been good this year because the Free Music Friday Santa has dropped by with some special presents for you, five in fact, of some seriously awesome indie bands. Cold War Kids have prepared a holiday special, along with a really well done cover from The Twilight Sad. Real Estate is one of those top bands of 2011 and they've got a free sampler for you here, plus a favorite of ours, Miracles of Modern Science, who rock out on the violin. And finally, a band to obsess over, Caveman. All five of these unique, interesting bands have been Santa approved for all, and you don't even have to leave out any cookies.

Whatever holidays you celebrate, here's a bountiful gift from Online Rock to you!

-Nancy Woo

(free download from artist website) 

Special Single

Long Beach natives Cold War Kids are gifting this holiday song to all their listeners. Combining just enough twinkly traditional Christmas synth with the now renowned sound of the Cold War Kids, featuring nostalgic and slightly controversial lyrics, that unique crooning voice and the indie-pop instrumentation of singing keyboards and slight drums, it's a great modern take on an old theme. How nice of them to give it out for free, no email even required.

-Nancy Woo

2. The Twilight Sad - "Never Tear Us Apart (INX cover)"
 (free download with email)

 Special Single

This week, Scotland-based shoegaze band The Twilight Sad are celebrating the holidays with a free music download! Their Free Christmas Single is actually a cover of an 80s classic, INXS's "Never Tear Us Apart." While the original is very 80s, complete with swelling synths, and strings, and a saxophone solo (gotta love that decade!), The Twilight Sad's version is a lot more toned-down, and they've added the requisite amount of drone and fuzz. Also, The Twilight Sad's singer, James Graham, has a thick Scottish accent that really comes out on certain parts of the song. It's an odd choice of song to cover for a Christmas single since "Never Tear Us Apart" is hardly a seasonal favorite, but you'll be able to listen to this one all year round.

(Note: It's not actually necessary to enter any friends' email addresses if you don't want to send the card to anyone and you just want to download it yourself)

-Elaine Mao

3. Real Estate - "Green Aisles" 
(free download from Soundcloud)

LP: Days

From Real Estate's Days, a highly acclaimed album this year, comes the irresistible jangle-pop of "Green Aisles." Propelled by a sluggish rhythm and laid-back vocals, this is a song that really takes its time - in a good way. The multiple lilting, intertwining guitar lines are truly beautiful and put the listener in a reflective mood.  It's airy like a wisp of a cloud floating by, but with enough melody to leave a serious mark. Learn more about Real Estate here! 

-Tomi Mendel

4. Miracles of Modern Science - "Eating Me Alive"
(free download from Soundcloud)

LP: Dog Year

I'm a sucker for string instruments of the violin or cello variety, so naturally I had to include Miracles of Modern Science in this week's compilation. This band manages to create a catchy rock/pop sound with an array of instruments usually reserved for symphonies and orchestras. "Eating Me Alive" is fast paced, fun, and somewhat humorous love song that will have you asking "did I just really rock out to a violin?" Their debut album, Dog Year, is out now.

-Ana Diaz

5. Caveman - "Thankful"
(free download with email)

LP: CoCo Beware

To close out the set, I'd like to share a song from a recent favorite, Caveman. I must have listened to their new album, CoCo Beware at least a dozen times already, and I'm still craving more. (Not to mention, previous albums take a stylistic turn in a drastically different direction, showing their penchant for experimentation.) This band has been getting a lot of buzz lately, and since my recent obsession started a few weeks ago, it's easy to see why. They've got the wistful indie pop recipe of swirling melodies, aching synth, down-tuned instrumentation and slightly reverbing vocals that dream up to the heavens and drop back down with sincerity, plus lyrics that wrap the song in thought - and it's a recipe they've perfected. Throwing in a pinch of layered harmonies here, tambourines there and what really sets them apart - double drums with just the right amount of tribal flair - the end result is a winning combination of elements that just impresses. Definitely a band to watch.

-Nancy Woo


20 December 2011

Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real Plays in Malibu, CA

By Joseph Christ
Photos by Kristin Clemons

Along the Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu resides a little gem of a venue called The Malibu Inn. It's essentially an over-sized bar/restaurant with a stage and dance floor, sitting right along the highway, overlooking the beach - and with decent parking! The interior of the venue has an old fashioned vibe to it and was quite fitting for an evening of great rock and roll music. I use the term “rock and roll” because, contrary to what some people think, rock and roll is not dead. It might not be as prevalent as it used to be, but there are still some decent bands of the genre around today. A prime example would be Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real, who played at the Malibu Inn last Friday.

Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real.

One of the shows' opening acts, Revoltaire, was terrific. They played great and their sound of hard rock mixed with a dominant B3 organ complemented the headlining act really well. The lead singer Ruby Stewart, daughter of Rod Stewart, was exceptional. She has an incredibly powerful voice with a presence to be reckoned with. I had the pleasure of seeing them play at the Troubadour back in August and they have seemed to have grown a lot tighter as a band. I highly suggest checking them out. 


Finally, at around 11:00 p.m., Lukas and the band took the stage to begin their set. This show was my 6th time seeing the band live and unfortunately, one of their least memorable performances. Don't get me wrong, the show itself was not bad at all. The band sounded and played great. But it just was not as good as other performances that I have seen by them. Their set opened with a new song that I assume will be on their new album, called “Wasted.” It's a solid, up-tempo, bluesy-rock song about getting wasted, something that I am sure a lot of us can relate to. 

 Lead singer/guitarist Lukas Nelson.

After a brief preview of their new material, the band played some of their better known material and a few covers from Neil Young, Jimi Hendrix and the Rolling Stones. After a handful songs into the set, I started to notice one thing that started to irritate me. After every song, they did something I like to call the “circus jump.” The circus jump is when the band is getting ready to end a song, and they build up to the last chord and the band members jump (sometimes multiple times), in unison, to execute the song. In my opinion, not all bands can pull this off successfully. In the past, the band seemed only to do this sparingly, at the right moment and for the right songs. I also thought it was done tastefully. But now, it seems to lose the effect when repeated every other song.

Drummer Anthony LoGerfo.

Something else that occurred to me about halfway through the show was that whenever the band played their new material, they had lots of fire and energy. But when it came time to play some of their older material, they seemed a little too comfortable. I spoke with a few other people who attended that show and they confirmed my observation. This is something that I am sure a lot of artists struggle with, so I tried to not let it bother me too much. The new material, however, sounded really good. If those songs are any indication of their forthcoming album, we are in a for a real treat!

 Debut self-titled album.

The high points of the evening were bassist Rick Rosas guesting on the song “Cortez the Killer.” For those who don't know who Rick is, he is a legendary bass player with a style and sound to match. Having played with Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills, Nash, And Young, Joe Walsh and countless others, he is a veteran of the rock and roll scene and he played really well with the band that night. 

 Rick Rosas.

Another high point of the show was the performance of my personal favorite song, “2012: The Happy Ending.” I don't know what it is about that song, but I just love it. If I had to recommend one song by this band for someone to listen to, it would be that one. All in all, it was a great night, petty observations aside. Even though this was not the best performance by the band that I have seen, they still played well and sounded good. I have yet to see a “bad” show by this band. I just hope next time I see them, the energy between songs is a little more consistent. I still recommend seeing them to anyone who has an affinity for any genre of music, as this band usually delivers a highly enjoyable and energetic live experience.

17 December 2011

"Glee" Copies a Cover Song: Where Is Credit Due?

By Tomi Mendel

Singer-songwriter Greg Laswell has a bone to pick with Fox’s hit show Glee after seeing a cover of “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun” on their November 29th episode. “I think they have enough talent over there that they shouldn’t need to go rummaging through other artists’ work,” he opined after hearing their “note-for-note rendition” of his own remake of Cyndi Lauper’s 1980’s classic. Laswell’s version, recorded in 2007 for the soundtrack to Confessions of a Shopaholic, was notable for stripping down the upbeat, synthy original and dramatically changing it into a poignant piano ballad sung by a man. Glee followed this formula extremely closely, churning out what is essentially a carbon-copy performed by Cory Monteith, who plays the character of “Finn Hudson” on the show. Unfortunately for Laswell, the team behind Glee has not given him his proper due for this use of his arrangement. Although surely a songwriting credit and a share of royalties would be most fair, Laswell is only asking for a name-drop at this point, noting, “Public acknowledgement...would have gone a long way.” 

Gregs just wanna have credit

This is not the first time Glee has capitalized on a buzz-worthy cover done by another artist. They adopted Nouvelle Vague’s laid-back rendition of Billy Idol’s “Dancing With Myself” in their first season, and they were accused of cribbing their arrangement for Usher’s “Yeah!” from a University of Oregon a capella group known as Divisi. The phenomenon is not limited to Glee either. For example, American Idol contestant David Archuleta garnered controversy in 2008 with a performance of John Lennon’s “Imagine” that was praised as “original” by the judges, though it owed a significant debt to an earlier rendition by Eva Cassidy. Going back several decades, Simon & Garfunkel had a big hit with a version of the traditional tune “Scarborough Fair” that was based on an arrangement by folk artist Martin Carthy. The song’s copyright neglected to credit either Carthy or the traditional sources.

Nouvelle Vague is known for their coffee-house covers of songs from the 80’s

All of these instances are a part of a larger issue of rights controversies for writers and performers. Who makes the most important contribution to a song? There appears to be little consistency as to the credit given when it comes to the so-called “court of public opinion.” In many notable instances, we tend to think of a song’s writer even when a more famous interpretation exists. This is certainly true of Bob Dylan’s “Mr. Tambourine Man,” or Bob Marley’s “I Shot The Sheriff.” On the other hand, in the case of songs like Ray Charles’ “Georgia on My Mind,” Gary Jules’ “Mad World” or Johnny Cash’s “Hurt,” the performances are so memorable that original writers/performers are lost in the shuffle (Hoagy Carmichael, Tears for Fears and Nine Inch Nails, respectively). This is also true of almost any song heard on top-40 radio, usually crafted by anonymous songwriting teams with little help from the performing artist. 

Tears for Fears singer Curt Smith performs “Mad World” with Gary Jules 

Of course, in the actual court of law, it is the original songwriters who claim the right to ownership of the tune. However, there is definitely an argument to be made for performers in the many cases where the particular rendition of a song is what precisely makes it so well-known. Anyone who listens to multiple covers of a popular tune can attest to the major ways in which a song can transform by simply changing the artist who is performing it. In such instances, the interpretation, rather than the composition, is arguably more important to a song’s character and its success. However, according to the United States Copyright Office, the song’s owner is the only person who can legally copyright a new arrangement of a tune. This means that unless a performer has explicit authorization from a songwriter to create a new arrangement, he or she has no right to ownership of the song.

There’s a lot of power in that “C”

In other words, inventive performers like Divisi and Nouvelle Vague have no legal means of protecting their arrangements from being pilfered by other artists or programs like Glee. Especially when a cover song is so distinctive and different from the original as to make everyone forget that there was ever another version, as with Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” or Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah,” it can be difficult to understand why those artists do not earn some type of a writing credit. It’s hard to believe that Soft Cell would receive no royalties if Glee were to release an exact remake of their version of “Tainted Love” (originally written by Ed Cobb and performed by Gloria Jones). However, that is exactly what would happen according to copyright law. 

Gloria Jones’ “Tainted Love” was a big hit in Northern Soul clubs in the U.K.

While the current rules are not particularly fair for performers who like to be creative and original in their interpretations of songs, it is a complicated issue with no simple solution. However, shows like Glee should work hard to credit both the writers and the interpreters who inspire their performances. No law prevents public acknowledgement of these artists, and failing to compensate or at least to mention the source of inspiration only serves to give the impression of stealing for one’s own benefit. It’s akin to a college student re-using his friend’s term paper and claiming it as his own. Nothing is sadder than the idea of a huge, corporate endeavor like Glee making millions by exploiting clever and creative independent artists, and one would hope that these types of shows can start to do a better job of helping, rather than hurting, others in the music community. For the time being, Greg Laswell will have to hope that the controversy about the issue will indirectly help in sending a few more listeners his way.