Tag Archives: indie

Cassettes and Vinyl: Who Benefits?

It’s Record Store Day, and like others I feel a need to share my thoughts on one particular matter. I will probably repeat what others have said on the topic, but I don’t really express my opinion on these issues. I think we’re all aware of the intention of the day: to support local record stores and the last bastions of purchasing physical copies of music. I don’t think anyone will deny the good intentions behind this. For some indie and local musicians this one of few ways to get their music out there. In an effort to continue to support music stores it feels noble, but I also feel it’s somewhat misguided, namely in supporting local artists by purchasing outmoded forms of music.

One of the arguments I hear is how something like vinyl has overall a better sound quality when compared to something like an mp4 format. I don’t understand the demonizing of newer formats when the evidence is not strong for the comparison. What’s more is these same people will buy an album that was recorded digitally for people to buy as mp4’s. I feel like the chances of the album being of the sound quality those blessed with golden ears ramble about is compromised by the recording process. I also love to point out that when they purchase a re-release of an older album it was most likely digitally restored to bring back that crisp sound they love to describe. Moreover record formats, even for retro formats, isn’t the best way to listen to music. It only beat out hard plastic cylinders –a format which is equal and possible superior to record sound quality –due to better marketing and storage capabilities. I don’t think I’ll see a revival in hard plastic cylinders anytime soon, though, even if it would benefit possibly digitally archiving music from the earlier part of the 20th century.

Then again, the revival of older formats has surprised me and demonstrated how it’s not about the actual sound quality, but the perceived quality. I’m talking about the revival of cassette tapes. When I was younger I did prefer them over CD’s. Now that I’m older and had the pleasure of experiencing different formats I understand why its obsolescence was imminent since its inception. Like wax cylinders it was difficult to store without compromising the quality of the sound, it was easily destroyed, you could record over it without too much difficulty, the listening experience was limited to the quality of the player and quality of the musical product itself. Anyone who dealt with trying to listen to a cassette with a damaged tape knows what I mean. Nonetheless indie artists are selling cassettes of their music. Even some of my former bandmates sell their music on cassette. The fact it’s seeing a revival indicates it’s met with some welcome reception.

In some ways having a hard copy of an independent artist’s work is still helping. For some it’s still a viable way of getting their music out to world and fund their tour or future work. I often see out of town musicians selling CD’s and the occasional cassette. People do buy them at the shows. They’re selling, even if I don’t know to what extent. It’s supporting indie artists in some way.

I believe this is the pivotal issue of stuff like Record Store Day. When I started off in the mid 00’s reviewing music there was a revival in vinyl records. At the time it was hard to find a record player, especially one that worked and was affordable. Folks still purchased the albums with the same dubious arguments of sound quality were made. Those who purchased were supporting indie artists. As the revival continued mainstream labels re-released albums previously on vinyl or they converted previously CD-only formats to vinyl. There was a resurgence is producing record players, but I saw where folks were purchasing more vinyl by mainstream artists than indie ones. Now I’m more likely to see vinyl albums by mainstream artists than indie ones. I’m sure there are other reasons, especially with the cost of producing a hard copy of an album involved. I think, though, if we are buying records to support local record stores we need to also consider buying vinyl of local and indie music. If we’re so willing to support a physical format to create a day for it, we need to also remember the artists who support them.

A bit of an epilogue: in case anyone was wondering I now own a record player. It also has a cassette deck and an 8-track player. You know, just in case.

Album Review: “Schemata” by Ideamen

Ideamen got a hold of me recently and asked if I wanted to review their upcoming album. Having never reviewed an album I’ve wanted to go that direction, though admittedly I wanted to have a better understanding of music production before I tried. I decided to take a crack at it anyway. My knuckles are cracked, my brain is semi-activated, and I have matcha ready. Let’s do this.

ideamenschemata

Ideamen’s second album “Schemata” is a mix of jazzy swings mixed with the carefree demeanor of radio rock with hints of progressive elements throughout. The album at times is satirical, commentary, free-spirited, but always cohesive about conflict inherent to the human condition. Though at times some of these elements serve to be rather cacophonous and disadvantageous aesthetically, the catchiness at times makes up for it. I’ll break it down with each song to demonstrate what I mean.

 

The album starts off with “Prologue” and “Red in the Sky”. The listener is offered an interesting introduction that mixes the sound of space-age effects, dark tones, and with little warning into a light, alternative style. I feel in many ways “Prologue” certainly does its job an not only an introduction but as an overture. For the rest of the track the tone switches from the light, faced paced to the dark, slower, somber tones albeit with little transition between the styles. I’m not sure why this is, though I suspect it’s to serve as something of dualistic themes or at least alludes to some conflict where transitions could muck up some of the expression of said conflict. The reason I think the latter has to do with some of the dissonant chords used throughout the second song. Regardless it doesn’t lend much to the pieces other than a sense of clunky songwriting.

 

The third song “Momenta” is a contrast to the possible themes in the previous two songs. I found it lyrically lacking, as I felt it resorted to some cliché expressions offset with phrases seemingly social commentary in nature that don’t quite fit together. I could overlook the lyrics as everything else made it catchy and entertaining. It starts off as well with the same space-age effects but then breaks into driving beats and bright toned chord progressions. Unlike the previous two songs there are more transitions and the space music effect progresses as both a theme and as a transition at times. It gives the impression one is moving towards something (which I suspect is what the song was trying to do given its title).

 

I personally felt “Running Home” was the song that showcases the styles where this band feels most at home. The song starts off with an easy jazz riff that, while continued as a theme through the song, didn’t feel too contrived or forced. Other themes such as the distortions were well placed to add to the song and overall feel of the album. It felt like more of the space-age effects were more purposeful rather than arbitrary placed for how cool it sounds. In fact, more with this song felt purposeful: there were drum beats to draw emphasis to certain phrases sung; the transitions were less abrupt and awkward; the guitar distortions even compliment the space-age effects; and while the lyrics were cheesy at times they were catchy. If there was any song from the album that would get radio air play it would be this one.

 

In a way “Bad Apple” feels like a song meant to compliment “Momenta”, and I’m not sure how I feel about it. It has the similar genres blended, they have a similar tempo, similar elements of combining cliché lyrics with something slightly more, similar stylistic changes in the middle of the song, all of which gives it the same feel. Even though I noticed these elements there are some major differences. The time signature is more complex (or at least more noticeably complex) than “Momenta” seems to have. It also, to me, evokes the earlier theme of conflicting ideas. I see this with the opening bell in the beginning of the song, not to mention the increasing tempo in the song whenever the lyrics take an aggressive tone. To me it evokes more of the idea of conflict with how chaotic the song gets towards the end, which is something I really enjoy.

 

While the other songs left some impression on me I’m kinda disappointed with “Two Complaints”. Everything that the song seems to have going on with it should leave me more satisfied that what I am objectively, even though I enjoy it on a personal level. I do like that something more is developing with the conflict of two ideas, which to me seems like it’s about freedom versus “order”, dreams versus reality (at least that’s what I’m thinking. I’ve been wrong before, and this would be no exception) type of stuff. Beyond that I did like how the sense of resolve in the song is complimented with power chords. I also enjoyed the bookending, though I’m not sure what purpose it serves within the song. I guess a few more listens on my part will make things come together…

 

Where “Two Complaints” was lacking “Off Is A Crime” makes up for it. The first thing I noticed and loved are the complex rhythm and time structures of the song to emphasize how things are “off”. I also enjoyed how the song bookends the phrase, “Do what you want, I’ll be watching.” It’s done quite well and changes meaning compared to when it’s used in the beginning. There was something that I’m iffy about with this song. I’m not sure what the tons of sociopolitical commentary was supposed to do, other than denounce the current pop culture. Admittedly while fun to criticize it’s overdone. I do appreciate, though, how they comment on how it’s not easy to break free from the everyday trappings used to distract us. Regardless the elements of progressive rock combined with sociopolitical commentary lend a bit of a Frank Zappa feel to the song.

 

In continuing the repetition of themes “Brainchild” is an elaboration of the “Prologue”, only now the listener has a stronger understanding of what’s going on musically and through storytelling. I’m not sure there is much to add to this song as I pretty much covered some of it already. I will say it does expand quite a bit with the synthesizer and space-age effects. It also takes this opportunity to inform the listener the exact nature of the Brainchild and the role it plays in the dystopia where the aforementioned musical effects emphasize. In this way it comes off like “A Night at the Opera” and “The Epic of Zektbach”, which is effective for this song. By doing so the song is expanded into a rhapsody and ties together storytelling with the musical concepts bouncing around the album. In this respect the song fully captures the heart of the album.

 

It seems the album takes a creative turn and deviates almost completely from the themes presented. The song “Downtown Crier” takes on a radio alternative feel but with stronger vocal harmonies and more focus on chord progressions. The darker melodic tones of this song really convey the sense of confusion and angst in the lyrics. The song otherwise keeps it relatively simple which works very well given how complex the previous song was. It gives the listener a chance to appreciate the song for what it is.

 

The off-key moments followed by a return to harmony sums up “This Dog Rolled Over and Died” as the album returns to some of the original themes of conflict. Added to this litany of themes is the constant reminder of the ease of surrendering, as well as how easily things end. The dissonance of chords, harmonies, and themes result in an overload of cacophonous sounds. Ultimately this creates a feel of disconnect and inertness with bouncy interludes, which makes the song catchy and enjoyable.

 

Minor keys and funk converge and create an interesting song called “Into the Sunrise”. That’s not the only thing this song offers to make it interesting and layered. Melodic and exotic tones compliment the funk and alternative influences in this song. This is another song which I would expect to hear on the radio, though not as likely as “Running Home”. In a lot of ways this song compliments the aforementioned song topically, especially in the ways how the lyrics mention experiencing life rather than living vicariously.

 

Ending the album is “Dead Utopia”. The listener is treated to grandiose movements tempered with alternative melodies and experimental sounds. The album wraps up things in a way which allows the listener to effectively figure out how everything resolves in a grand, yet subdued (compared to the rest of the album anyway), finale. While it does convey the nature of the song’s quiet, casual resolution I’m not sure if that’s really how the album should end. On one hand the opposing idea of grandiose movements and at times suppressed volume capture the sentiment of surrendering to the outcome well. It’s as if the speaker is coming to terms with things, if only with himself. It doesn’t come off as quite a monologue nor a soliloquy given the way the music builds up in movements and at times volume. On the other hand I think there are too many dualistic ideas going on where such endings deserve a stronger statement aesthetically. I’m not sure all the themes were properly resolved in this manner. If that’s intentional, then I think it needs to be more pronounced in the lack of resolution. Otherwise the album ends softly and almost in a dissatisfying manner.

 

The album “Schemata” combines styles one expects to hear on the radio and less conventional forms of music adding sometimes tongue-in-cheek social commentary. The repetition of themes and musical forms reflect on the current issues of – as I see it – dependency on technology and social media while ironically building an album around the very things denounced. In this way the album comes off as self-aware as well as aware of social issues of disconnect. Unfortunately in trying to convey these very issues through at times disjointed transitions and bombarding the listener with these concepts repeatedly it grows tiresome and at times unclear in its message, especially in the beginning. If this is the desired result then Ideamen accomplished this well. Otherwise listeners who don’t put much stock into what some no-bit music critic thinks will enjoy it for its social commentary and experimental elements. The sometimes awkward dissonance on multiple levels throughout the album provides its own charm that most listeners can enjoy.

 

 

Rating: 3.25/4

 

 

You can find “Schemata” and other tidbits by Ideamen on their website, facebook, twitter, and other sites.