Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Stylus Magazine is closing!

Just a quick note that my favourite music review website, Stylus Magazine, is ceasing publishing from today (31st October 2007).

This is a very sad day for me. I am an avid reader of online music publications, and Stylus Magazine has always stood out from the crowd. Their website had a real sense of community about it, with the comments section (for each article) allowing everyone to have their say. While this was sometimes to the detriment of the site when some flame wars were flared up (sometimes amusingly), it always separated them from their peers like Pitchfork Media.

But it was probably their features sections which made them my website of choice. Staff Top Ten, Playing God, On First Listen, On Second Thought...these sections were Stylus inventions and they always made fascinating reads. Stylus Magazine has been one of the major reasons why I have such a passion for music, and was also probably the biggest influence on this blog (which I'll admit has been kind've quiet lately).

I'll miss you guys! I'm looking forward to a great spinoff website from some of your very talented writers (my favourite being the fascinating Nick Southall, but I'm also a fan of Ian Mathers' work). I'm hoping all of the great Stylus articles are archived somewhere for prosperity, but we can always resort to the Internet Archive I guess.

And just to show that I'm not just jumping on the Stylus Magazine bandwagon now that they are closing down, here's a blog post from over 3 years ago where I named them as one of my favourite music websites.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Radiohead - "In Rainbows"

Got hold of the new album In rainbows last night. This is a huge musical event -- the internet is buzzing with excitement that only a band like Radiohead can generate. Do a blog search for the album name, and you'll see blog posts and comments pouring in from all around the globe.

One listen through and it sounds very promising. It's hard to pick standout tracks at this stage, and I'm sure it will need about 3-4 listens before I can comment on the album as a whole. I guess the track which stood out for me on first listen was the haunting ballad Faust arp, which has a great cello (I think?) part throughout. Despite sounding like a cousin to I will (from 2003's Hail to the thief), it also sounds unlike anything they have ever released.

The album starts out with an Amnesiac-esque burst of electronica, which I'll admit did get me a little worried; I can now safely say this is probably their least electronic album since OK computer. Not to say it's a retread to more guitar-based territory, just that the experiments of the last few albums (Backdrifts, The gloaming, Pulk/pull revolving doors) seem to have been toned down in favour of actual songs.

I must admit that I cheated a little bit with the album - last week I previewed live versions of these songs which were available on this website. I was in two minds about doing this; I didn't want to ruin the experience of hearing these tracks for the first time, but at the same time I just had to hear them. I can now say (after listening through In rainbows once) that they really fleshed out these songs in the studio, and my first listen of the album proper wasn't tarnished at all by previewing the live versions first.

A lot of people are complaining that the pre-release (digital) version of the album was available only in 160kbps (albeit DRM-free) MP3. This doesn't bother me one bit, as this is the bitrate that I rip my music at anyway. It's also much better than the 128kbps DRM versions that you get on iTunes.

Oh, and how much did I pay? Knowing full well that I will purchase the official CD when it becomes available (tentatively scheduled for January 2008), I paid £1 for the pre-release digital version of the album. With the 45p transaction fee, this added up to $3.41 AUD. I don't feel guilty about this at all; I will purchase this album when it comes out on CD, as I always do. I am generally against paying for digital downloads; I like having the artwork and I also like having something tangible, which also works well if I decide I don't like something and want to sell it on eBay. Paying $16 (or whatever you pay on iTunes thesedays) for a digital version of an album is just ridiculous when I can usually buy the real CD, DRM-free and with artwork, for about the same price (or cheaper). And for an album that's been out for longer than 6 months, I can almost always find it on eBay for around the $10 mark.

Monday, 1 October 2007

New Radiohead album!

Many music fans (myself included) were punk'd on the weekend when this website featured a ticking clock countdown, hinting that Radiohead LP7 was being released after the time expired (sometime on Sunday here in Australia). Salivating fans who visited this site quickly learned that it was, sadly, a hoax.

But now, in a new twist, Jonny Greenwood posted this on the official Radiohead blog. It looks like this one is for real!

They are releasing the album (called In rainbows) as a digital download on October 10th, where you get to pre-order it and specify the price you'd like to pay for it. Let me repeat that. You name the price you are willing to pay. For old-fashioned types (like me) who want the real CD, it's being released in December.

These guys are freakin' legends. Every album that have released since OK computer has been an exciting event, and they have really outdone themselves here. What they have done here is spit in the face of the corporate money-grabbing record labels, and in true genius have also helped to deal with illegal BitTorrent leaks by essentially releasing it for free anyway. They have brought the black market into the mainstream. Sure, there will be a minority who will put down $0 as the price they would like to pay, but they have such a dedicated fanbase, that this is a move that will surely pay off for them.

Radiohead truly are the Beatles of our generation, not only in their immense talent, but in their ability to drum up excitement with every album release. I'm sure being alive in 1967 when Sgt Peppers came out would have been very exciting, but in my life, Radiohead will have to play that part for me.

Let's hope the music lives up to the great marketing and PR job ;-)