Tag Archives: Itunes

Is The Album Cover-Art a Dying Art Form?

 

I recently read an article in the New York Times that discussed the shrinking of album artwork. The piece argued that elaborate cover art seems to be out of fashion, and its in place artists are opting for simple designs that can be fully seen on computers and iPods. The close-up of Lady Gaga’s face for Born This Way, and the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s fly on a pill for I’m With You were cited as examples.

While cover-art certainly isn’t indicative of what the music is like, it does seem to be a lost art form. Has there been an album cover released in the past few years that has already become iconic? Pearl Jam’s cover for 2009’s Backspacer was pretty nifty with 9 different images from cartoonist Tom Tomorrow, but it didn’t seem to represent the music that was on the actual disc. The childhood portrait of Lil Wayne on the cover Tha Carter III is visually intriguing and tells an interesting story, but I always felt the typography seemed a bit off.  The Foo Fighters’ Wasting Light seems too much like a throwback with its collage of portraits highlighted in different colors.

Perhaps the music industry and musicians themselves think that no one really cares, and they will only view it on their iPod (or perhaps not at all.) I’m not certain about anyone else, but I find it hard to listen to songs either on my computer (or iPod) if there is accompanying artwork to go with it. I recently started downloading the cover-art of albums whose covers I don’t have and then trying to import them into iTunes. It’s a long, laborious project and so far I’m only up to letter K.  I feel much better listening to The Beatles on my computer if I can actually see the cover for Revolver.

Still, graphic designers might set some of the blame on simpler cover-art. As a former student in Graphic Design, clean and simple design with lots of white space tend to gain more favor by professors and those in the actual field. While the cover of Sgt. Pepper is certainly iconic, I’m not entirely sure it would be looked on as the artistic achievement it is, if it were released now. I can also most hear somebody suggest that, “there is too much going on, your eye doesn’t know where to focus!”

As a kid, I was totally transfixed by the cover-art of certain albums. It could sometimes defined the way I listened to particular albums. I bought The Clash’s “London Calling” after reading how great it was in a British Magazine in high school. The image of Paul Simonon smashing his bass and the Elvis Presley reference in the typography was one of the coolest things I ever seen. When it came time to listen to the disc I was slightly disappointed that the music didn’t match Simonon’s anger and frustration. What was this reggae shit? It’s supposed to be punk!  (For the record, London Calling is one of my favorite albums of all time).

If album cover-art keeps “shrinking” as the Times referred to it, a valuable part of music will be lost. It’s just another casualty of the presence of digital music and furthers confirms my theory that music is becoming more and more of something to listen to in the background rather than actively listening to it for its own merits.

 

 

 

 

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Spotify Indulges My Guilty Pleasures

Has anyone used Spotify yet?  I downloaded it last weekend (right before the Hurricane) and with the exception of Saturday afternoon, haven’t used it much. I’m not quite sure why. Perhaps, due to the free version I’ve downloaded I decided to indulge in guilty pleasures instead of songs that I actually like.

The same thing happened when I discovered Napster in High School. It was a gate-way to terrible songs that I never in my life pay for. With Napster, I could convince myself that I was justified in downloading some of these songs because I never paid for them. In my mind, if I paid for it that meant I either legitimately liked the song.

For instance, my Spotify playlist contains “Disco Inferno”. By all rights, I should be ashamed to admit that I even like that song let alone decide to put it on a playlist. Yet, “Disco Inferno” remains partly due to its inclusion in “Ghostbusters”.  Ten there’s Lenny Kravitz’ “Fly Away”. For some reason this song always made me laugh, hence its inclusion. Kravitz wants a party-vibe (the bass is especially funky) on this track, but over-all he sounds a little too sincere. “Girl, I gotta get away!” He shouts as the song draws to its conclusion. Dude, if you really feel that feel maybe a party isn’t the place to be.

Another song I threw on the playlist was The Mighty Mighty Bosstones “The Impression That I Get”. I’ve mentioned this song before (back when no one was actually reading the blog) as permanently stuck in 1997. For me, this song will always exist in the back of my Chevy Cavalier driving on the highway at 16 to get sour cream (or was it cream cheese?) for my mother. The blasting rhythms and saxophones perfectly captured my new-found freedom that came with my driver’s license.

Maybe this weekend, I will actually use Spotify to download some more appropriate tracks. But for now, I’m perfectly fine with using it to listen to songs which I should have no right really liking.

 

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Is The Live Album Dead?

I love live albums. There’s something about hearing the roar of the crowd from the speakers, an the artist reacting to it. A good live album is a good indicator of an artist. They either push themselves to the limit, or fall or their feet. The best live albums not only capture the energy of magic of the live experience, but can also change your perception of artist.

Sam Cooke’s Live at the Harlem Square Club shows Cooke racing through classics such as “Twisting the Night Away” and “Chain Gang” with an energy and reckless abandon that is not apparent on his studio work. The Who’s Live at Leeds is a tour e force of hard rock. Jimi Hendrix’ Band of Gypseys finds Hendrix exploring jazz elements, and perhaps the finest performance of an electric guitar with “Machine Gun”.  Peter Frampton has spent his entire career trying to live up to the success of the massive Frampton Comes Alive!  Nirvana’s Unplugged showed that the band that changed the world with their punk anthems could turn it down and still retain their power.

These are albums that add to the story of legends.

Unfortunately, most of the live albums that have had any impact were released years ago. Live albums are no considered to be part of an artist catalog, but rather an asterisk. They still exist but they are almost always tacked onto another set, whether its the infamous Live DVD or a re-issue of an older album. Seldom do you see a newer band release a single live album as its own entity. And those artist that release live albums exclusively – like Pearl Jam and Dave Matthew Band – seemingly release every single show they’ve ever recorded.

U2 – a band who I love – is one of the worst offenders in this area. The band remains one of the best live acts around, but they haven’t released a “proper” live album since 1983 instead opting for a live video for every single tour. And the  “live bonus CD” while nice, too often seems like an afterthought and a cash-grab for re-issues. Thankfully, Elvis Costello reversed this trend by releasing proper Live Albums of live tracks he had been sticking on re-issues for years.

Itunes also shares some of the blame for the decline of the live album as well. If you ever log onto iTunes the front page is loaded with artists who record exclusive “Live EPs” for the digital store. While I can appreciate it as a fan of live music, I also can’t help the feeling that these bands are contractually obligated with iTunes to play these shows and then have them released.

The good news for fans is that more live music is probably being released than ever before. But if artists see their live show as their bread and butter as albums sales decline, perhaps they should give its release the same reverence.

 

 

 

 

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Embarrassing Itunes Purchases

I put my Itunes on shuffle this morning and was shocked (shocked!) to discover that I was suddenly listening to Neil Diamond’s “America” on my headphones.  Where the hell did this come from?   I hate Neil Diamond.  Granted, I do have nostalgia for “America” from it being in an episode of Reading Rainbow….

Oh now I get it.  

I must have somehow decided it was a good idea to purchase “America” when I was feeling nostalgic.  (It wasn’t – the play-count is listed as 3 including this morning.)  After pumping my fist to Neil Diamond shout out “they’re coming to America!  TODAY!” I decided to look at other embarrassing purchases I made when not exactly in the right state of mind.  And music snob that I am, even I make mistakes sometimes.  Today I am going to air my terrible purchase laundry with the public. 

Among the terrible purchases:

The entire Dark Knight soundtrack: Great movie without a doubt. Not so much the soundtrack.  When it came out, I must have had Batman fever.  I forgot that I had it until now.  I do recall waking up one morning and thinking, “Why do I have the Dark Knight soundtrack?”

Counting Crows – Rain King.  Perhaps I wanted to feel 13 again?

The Cranberries – Zombie, Linger and Ode to My Family.  These are all terrible, terrible songs.  Zombie is a trite attempt at protest.  How can anyone take it seriously?  Linger is probably the best, but Ode to My Family is the musical equivalent of a movie like The Notebook or Dear John.  

DMX – What These Bitches Want.  I actually stand by this one for hilarity value.  A entire verse where DMX lists every single girl he’s been by name and a cameo by Sisqo? Perfection.

Fastball – The Way.  A sour attempt at writing a Springsteen-esque song about getting away.  Apparently I downloaded it from The Best of Fastball.  They had more songs?!

Jose Feliciano – Feliz Navidad.  I once made the statement that this dude has made the most out of doing the bare minimum in the music business.  It’s the same fucking words repeated four or five times in a row and it’s played all the time at Christmas.  

LL Cool DJ – Mama Said Knock You Out.  I thought this song was great when I was about 15.  Either I’ve aged, or this song has aged badly.  The verdict is still out.

Thin Lizzy – Whiskey in the Jar.  This one is interesting.  Sometimes it is the greatest export from Ireland even over Guinness.  Of course it might take about 6 Guinness for me to think that…

I’ve since toned down my terrible purchases from Itunes, but as you can see the damage has already been done.

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