Wednesday, March 4, 2015

"The World's Gonna Spin With or Without Me"

Recently electronic music auteur Richards James (aka Aphex Twin) posted over 170 (so far!) free unreleased songs on Soundcloud. Some are snippets and ideas but most are fully formed tracks. From an artist that was minimally visible for almost a decade this wealth of material  is like a godsend to fans. His decision to post under a generic pseudonym (user487363530001) isn't that surprising if you know how he operates

(Update: The User487363530001 soundcloud page  has been removed: WATMM has archived the tracks for download here: )

What is a bit more curious is why now and why post so many things for free all at once? Given the Aphex MO these questions will most likely never be answered but in the meantime fans and new listeners alike can share this work that once was hidden and now is out there for all to enjoy.

I recently discovered another artist had a new album out in 2014 and am kind of kicking myself that I didn't know it sooner. I caught up when I heard her distinctive voice on a TV show of all things and then went to check out if she had released any new material. Sure enough a double album set of 20 new songs has been out since last September. Lucinda Williams is a singer/songwriter versed in blues, country, and rock and roll and not an electronic music pioneer but after poking around I found some data points that stuck me as similar in my experience of finding both sets of recordings.

First and foremost while hungry for more information on her new album I came across this article declaring her one of 2014's most Overlooked Artists. Guilty as charged I thought - I'm a fan and didn't even know she had new material let alone 20 new songs. Turns out she was promoting on everything from the Tonight show to this tasty stripped down set at NPR's Tiny Desk Concert series: 

In his writing Old, But Not in a New Way author Grayson Currin  hits upon this insight:

"When we’re all trying to keep up with the best new Ableton users on Soundcloud or hunt for the best lo-fi uploads to Bandcamp, who has the time and attention to sit down with a 20-song set from a 61-year-old songwriter and parse just how thoughtful and articulate it is? I didn’t. She’ll likely release another record not long after we have a new president, anyway?"


On electronic music forums and mailing lists the Aphex Twin "Soundcloud dumps" (as they been called) have certainly got a lot of attention. But equally it seems some listeners are blinking, retweeting, and moving on the the NEXT(tm) thing. One post I saw recently seemed to miss the point entirely by saying (and I'm paraphrasing) "I really like the outtakes, I wish he'd release another ambient album". This after he just released well over NINE HOURS of just that. 

Are we not paying attention? Are we so spoiled with amazing work that as soon as something brilliant comes out we shrug, tag it, and shove it in a folder on our phones or computers or shelves looking for more without even digesting it? And if it's any of the above or even a combination of those or other reasons what does this say about those who do create music? Are we simply shoveling new recordings together in a collection, tossing it into the electronic aether, and moving on ourselves?

Currin goes on to add:

"This isn’t mere information overload, where folks are flooded with so many sources of online sound that they never give anything a proper spin...  Instead, Spirit and many records like it seem to go unnoticed because, in that new church of overwhelming data and choices, we’re looking to latch onto a narrative hook or the simple feeling of newness that we can share. The appeal of something you’ve never heard (and especially something you suspect very few others have heard) dovetails perfectly with our new sharing infrastructure: This is mine, and by showing it to you, I’ve upped the level of my imprimatur."

I don't have the answers and openly admit I'm guilty of this as well. There are only so many hours in a week for my ears and mind to dig music and that's even less when you are making it yourself. But as listeners or artists we owe it to ourselves - and others - to be vigilant about the fatigue that can set in in this day and age of electronic distribution and promotion. Not all music is created equal and while no one can tell you what you like it behooves us to pay attention and give what we do recognize as great music and art a fighting chance. 

I found the new album "Down Where the Spirit Meets the Bone" in passing. In listening to the song "Protection" over and over I found these lyrics and blinked:

You know people be grinnin' and talkin' about me
Make me throw up my hands and call out cryin'
But the world's gonna spin with or without me
So I still get up and I keep on tryin' 

I've always been an advocate of artists having to please themselves first and then share second. it might sound pretentious or arrogant but the reality is sending your notes and words out into the universe is a delicate balance. It's impossible to guess what someone else will like or being happy with if you don't have the foundation of being satisfied with your work first. What she sings so seemingly effortlessly in the lyrics above might be the blueprint for us as consumers and more importantly, fans, to use to make sense of what we see and hear on a daily basis and maybe, just maybe, separate the signal from the noise.