Excerpted from PJ Lifestyle — to read the entire article, click here— I highlight the best of new album and DVD / Blu-Ray releases, as well as interesting tech finds. It’s my weekly column, “Tuesday New Releases,” every week at PJ Lifestyle.
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As if one needed further proof of a downward-trending music industry, Adele’s 21 became the first album of the Soundscan era to lead all album sales two years running. In other words, nothing released during all of 2012 could unseat an album released in the first month of 2011. All that with Adele sidelined by vocal-chord issues and her pending pregnancy.
Taylor Swift tried and failed to block that path, with Red falling 1.3 million from 21 despite having four top ten hits, none of which ranked inside the year’s top ten overall. The year’s big winners — Gotye, Carly Rae Jepsen and Fun — dominated single sales with their first Hot 100 releases. No one knew their names when the year began, and it remains questionable whether either can follow it up.
With the fresh start a new year brings, we need to face facts: LPs no longer draw long-term interest from fans, who prefer the instant gratification of a viral hit single. And no matter how many singles get parceled out to radio stations month after month, an artist lives or dies by the success of the last one.
Singles don’t drive album sales — they simply drive demand for more singles.
Having sacrificed the long-term stability inherent in developing artists over the long term, labels must now watch as newcomers either instantly dominate or free-fall. Veteran acts, meanwhile, either find ways to continually churn out successful singles to dying radio while courting fickle audiences online or they cling to the hope that their next album will prove different. Just ask Aerosmith how that worked for them.
Welcome to the new industry normal. Observing which bands find ways to use these trends to their advantage will provide the real fun of chart-watching in 2013.
You can't go wrong hearing this little bird sing ...
So I picked up my copy of Rolling Stone this afternoon from the mailbox, and I see a two star review of Birdy’s self-titled debut, and it was surprisingly scathing considering in the end they seem to merely be accusing her of having taste too refined for her age:
The songs stick to a formula: tolling piano chords, an “atmospheric” beat and Birdy’ s mewling. The result is the most boring music ever recorded bya teenager. No one so young should have such flawless taste in Quality Indie Rock, or sound this bummed out.
Her taste, whatever you think of her choice in covers, is impeccable. Birdy is an album which sticks to a theme, and the choices she makes in the arrangments of others’ songs are definitely interesting. Take her version of The Naked and Famous’s “Young Blood,” which she slows down from its originally dense synth arrangment (a la the likes of The Knife’s “Heartbeats”), accentuating the melody of the song and making room for her exeptional vocals. When she sings “I’ll fall back in love eventually,” it’s hard not to melt between the headphones. She may only be 15 years old and still finding her own voice, but what we find here on her debut bodes well for the future. I’d put her high on the list of artists worthy to follow in Adele’s footsteps in the coming years.
Austin Massirman, of the All Ways
If you think there aren’t guys out there who can handle Adele’s powerful “Rolling In The Deep” with equal aplomb, I submit for your consideration this cover by New York rockers The All Ways. This isn’t a dramatic reworking of the song, by any means, but the band definitely has put their stamp on it. And Austin Massirman has some serious pipes, and the vocal control to handle this mighty song.
The band’s got a number of solid covers up on YouTube, but the jury’s still out on whether they’ve got enough material of their own to be more than just a solid cover band. With a voice like that, Massirman and company need to find material worthy of the voice, and they could go places.
Year of the Album — #039
Stornoway – “Beachcomber’s Windowsill” (2010, 4AD Records)
British alternative band Stornoway is more than just the next Mumford and Sons, as they are often dubbed conveniently in America. They’re more than a simple comparison. Yes, there are the Mumford similarities if you’re not willing to look below the surface, but just even a cursory examination of “Zorbing,” the opening track from Beachcomber’s Windowsill, showcases the band’s incredibly dextrous, multi-layered arrangement, a mindblowing combination of subtle folk and alternative influences that is purely unlike anything else I’ve encountered in pop music in recent years.
The band gained notoriety in the UK when they became the first unsigned act to get the opportunity to perform live on venerable TV program Later … with Jools Holland, and this album’s become a success there without really gaining much traction in the US. And though American tastes frequently diverge from those from across the pond, Beachcomber’s Windowsill is a rare album, as richly deserving of Stateside praise as Adele’s 21, which has become one of the biggest albums of the year pretty much everywhere.
The biggest thing that sets these songs apart, aside from the layered melodies which refuse to cater to conformist tastes, is the band’s production ability; these arrangements frequently feature instumentation which plays in one ear counter to the music we’re hearing in stereo. The round-styled vocals on “I Saw You Blink” are so unique to the current pop landscape, they’re likely to throw a listener completely for a loop before the pure perfection of the concept sinks in and demands repeated close listening.
Stornoway, to put it simply, has stumbled on musical constructs which set their music apart from pretty much everyone else recording pop music in the UK, America or elsewhere. With singles like “Fuel Up” that conjure up the easy comparions to Mumford and Sons, they’re going to have a hard time dodging those close-eared critics who might like to stereotype them. Avoid that with a passion! This is some of the most inventive pop music you’re going to hear all year, if you haven’t been lucky enough to hear it already. There’s nothing quite like this music out there elsewhere, and that’s the best thing I’ve been able to write in a good long while.
Hear it now, hear it often!