* Ives: Sonatas for Violin and Piano (Zukofsky/Kalish) (Nonesuch 2LP)
* Ruggles: Complete Music (Buffalo Phil. et al./Tilson Thomas) (CBS Masterworks 2LP)
* Charlie Parker: Charlie Parker With Strings: The Master Takes (Verve CD)
* Sun Ra: Astro Black (Impulse!/iTunes MP3) †
* Joseph Jarman & Famoudou Don Moye: Egwu-Anwu (Sun Song) (India Navigation 2LP)
* Henry Threadgill Zooid: Jazz Gallery, NYC 2010-02-11 (AUD FLAC)
* Henry Threadgill Zooid: Village Vanguard, NYC 2014-07-31 (AUD FLAC)
* Henry Threadgill Zooid: Village Vanguard, NYC 2014-08-03 (AUD FLAC)
* Billy Cobham: Simplicity of Expression – Depth of Thought (Columbia LP)
* Eddie Henderson: Sunburst (Blue Note LP)
* Bobbi Humphrey: Blacks and Blues (Blue Note LP)
* Ronnie Laws: Friends and Strangers (United Artists LP)
* Jaco Pastorius: Modern American Music…Period! The Criteria Sessions (Omnivore LP+MP3) †
* Nils Petter Molvær: Khmer (ECM CD)
* Tim Berne: Snakeoil (ECM CD)
* Mary Halvorson Quintet/Septet: The Stone, NYC 2011-10-14 (AUD FLAC)
* Grateful Dead: Spring 1990 (The Other One) (selections) (GDP/Rhino 23HDCD)
* Goblin: Contamination OST (Cinevox LP)
* U2: Songs Of Innocence (iTunes MP3) †
* Sleep: The Clarity (Praise Iommi 12”) (†)
* Opeth: Pale Communion (Roadrunner 2LP)
* In Flames: Siren Charms (Sony CD)
* Triptykon: Melana Chasmata (Century Media 2LP)
* Black Tusk: Tend No Wounds (Relapse EP)
* Sòlstafir: Ótta (Season of Mist 2LP)
* Windhand: Soma (Relapse 2LP)
* Pallbearer: Foundations of Burden (Profound Lore 2LP) †
* Mortals: Cursed To See The Future (Relapse LP)
* Krakatau: Water Near A Bridge (Trouble In Mind LP)
I guess the big news this week is U2’s new album, Songs of Innocence, released for free on iTunes in conjunction with Apple's latest product announcement. What’s more interesting to me than the music is the reaction to it all.
Many people are incensed that U2 (and Bono in particular) have invaded their precious iTunes Library, forcing them have this (presumably) horrible album appear unbidden on their computer. Some are comparing the move to spam, the unwanted, useless data which clogs our inboxes everyday.
Well, my experience was a little different. I’m not a huge U2 fan, but I was curious to hear the album for free. Why not? I loaded up iTunes expecting to see it lurking there—but no. When I went to the iTunes Store, it stated that the item was “purchased” but not obviously downloadable. As a matter of fact, I had to do a bunch of research and change a bunch of settings before I finally got it to work. I rarely ever buy downloads and don’t use “The Cloud” to store my music, so perhaps I am not the most sophisticated iTunes user on the planet. But I certainly had to jump through some hoops to even see the damn thing, much less download it.
Others are annoyed with U2 for promoting the idea that music should be “free” and thereby devaluing the art form, etc., etc. Of course, U2 got paid (and big!)—but by Apple, not the end user. Songs of Innocence is really just part of Apple’s new advertising campaign, which I agree devalues the art form. But make no mistake: U2 made plenty of money, up front off this stunt. What bothers me is that a crummy 256kbps MP3 is so massively over-valued in this move.
Ever since the rise (and fall) of Napster, I have argued that lossy MP3 files are inherently worthless and should be given away as promotional items, in the same way that records used to be given away to radio stations and journalists by the thousands back in the music industry's heyday. With radio pretty much a closed door, it would have been smart of the labels to embrace Napster back in 2000 rather than suing their customers and fighting tooth and nail to preserve an obsolete business model. A 256kbps MP3 file is, sonically speaking, barely acceptable—but it’s perfect for a promotional tool.
So while I admire U2’s seeming willingness to “give away” an MP3 of their forthcoming album as a promo, it turns out that Songs of Innocence is not quite what it appears. It’s still all about money, leverage and rock-star power moves. Whether or not this stunt results in increased sales once the physical album arrives later this year remains to be seen.
As for the music, it’s…OK. Actually, better than I expected. But the reaction to its surprise pre-release has been far more intriguing. I hope such discussion will help reinvigorate the music industry—what’s left of it, anyway.