KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

2014 columns, Music

Drips, leaks, and spurts

by Chad Parkhill , March 26, 20141 Comment

I’ve spent the last two weeks in a state of perpetual excitement – musically speaking, that is. First came tUnE-yArDs’ new song, ‘Water Fountain’, a joyous, riotous explosion of colour and movement. Then Swans released ‘A Little God in My Hands’, a seven-minute epic of a track that chases a noisy, transcendent ecstasy. Finally, Todd Terje released his collaboration with Bryan Ferry: a cover of Robert Palmer’s ‘Johnny and Mary’ that ramps up the latent sadness of the original into something surprisingly moving.

All of these tracks are freely available to stream or download online, but they’re not exactly being given away. Instead, they are sorties in a perpetual struggle for what technologists are calling ‘mental bandwidth’ or ‘the attention economy’ – essentially, the struggle to get an audience to care about something for more than three minutes. In the case of each of the three aforementioned songs, that attention is being channelled towards forthcoming album releases: tUnE-yArDs’ Nikki Nack (due May 5), Swans’ To Be Kind (due May 13), and Todd Terje’s It’s Album Time (due April 8).

Each of these albums promises to be excellent – all indications thus far point to each album furthering their creators’ idiosyncratic aesthetics. And there have been a lot of indications thus far: ‘Water Fountain’ was preceded by a ‘megamix’ of snippets from Nikki Nack; To Be Kind was preceded by a live album, Not Here/Not Now, that contains many of the same songs; and ‘Johnny and Mary’ is the sixth song of twelve from It’s Album Time that has seen some form of prior release. Those promoting these albums run the risk that their audiences will have practically heard the album before actually being able to listen to it.

This is a risk that music consumers themselves are complicit in. The music industry has been particularly stricken by the bad consumption habits that the hyperlinked, hyperactive nature of the internet has engendered; consumers are no longer willing to wait to hear an album once they know it’s on the way, and if they can’t get it legitimately then an enterprising leaker will almost certainly oblige. The steady drip-feed of new music seeks to circumvent the market mechanism that tempts the engaged music consumer to pre-release piracy – the theory is that promotion teams should give consumers enough for free to sate their appetite for novelty and instant gratification while withholding enough to whet an appetite for the finished product.

Of course, piracy and leaking was a pre-internet phenomenon – just ask Warner Brothers, who laid the blame for the commercial failure of Fleetwood Mac’s Tusk on the fact that seven RKO radio stations broadcast an unauthorised advance copy in full, much to the delight of home tapers. And while record companies have always drip-fed new music to distribution networks – singles going to radio stations, for example – the sheer amount of material released before an album hit the shelves and the ease of accessing that material via the internet threatens to reconfigure the way we listen to anticipated albums.

For example, St. Vincent’s recent self-titled (and rather brilliant) album contained only three songs (out of a total of eleven) that hadn’t seen some form of prior release. Listening to an album when three quarters of it has already appeared for free feels less like a considered engagement than a filling-in of the gaps; it takes our attention away from the work as a whole in favour of a meaner, more parsimonious engagement with only those songs with which we’re not already familiar.

As long as music consumers display this kind of impatience, though, it’s highly unlikely that these drip-feed campaigns will cease. A small number of artists may have the resources and clout required to release an album by surprise, with no pre-release publicity – as Beyoncé famously did last year, and Jack White’s band the Raconteurs did a few years prior – but like Radiohead’s name-your-own-pricing experiment for In Rainbows, this not a sustainable tactic.

I’ll happily go out and buy copies of Nikki Nack, To Be Kind, and It’s Album Time when they are released, but I won’t be so happy about the fact that those albums will have lost some of their magic before I can even listen to them – and I won’t be happy knowing that I’m as much to blame for this as the artists and their PR teams.

Chad Parkhill is a Melbourne-based writer and editor whose work has appeared in The Australian, Killings, The Lifted BrowMeanjin, and The Quietus, amongst others.

ACO logo




Frances Abbott

David Donaldson

Why #whitehousegate matters

A few days after the release of the budget, in which the Coalition government announced it was spreading the burden by increasing university fees, cutting school funding, and cutting welfare for young people comes a story that confirms what many already suspect to be the nature of opportunity: it’s much easier to come by if you’re born into privilege. Read more »

money

David Donaldson

When does lobbying become corruption?

Whether it’s Clive Palmer buying his way into parliament, the recent, varied ICAC revelations of dodgy fundraising in the NSW Liberal party, or the refusal or inability of successive governments to effectively tackle powerful corporate interests in industries like gambling, mining, media, and junk food, there is a feeling among many Australians that democracy is up for sale. Read more »

cluster munition

David Donaldson

How to make treaties and influence people

In an era when Russia can annex Ukrainian territory, when the Refugee Convention is regularly flouted, and when nobody seems to be able to do anything to stop the carnage in Syria, it can be tempting to ask: what can international law actually achieve? Read more »

1560682_10153899026420591_499501666_n

Eli Glasman

Just a number: The literary world’s obsession with age

I used to be obsessed about what age I would be when I had my first novel published. I’d go on the Wikipedia pages of every famous writer I could think of to check how old they were when their first book came out. Read more »

winterson

Carody Culver

Jeanette Winterson’s sacred and secular space

It seems that people either love her or hate Jeanette Winterson, and sometimes that has less to do with her writing and more to do with the occasional controversies she’s regularly sparked since 1985. Read more »

Untitled

Veronica Sullivan

Adventures in reality with Oliver Mol

One of Mol’s recent pieces contains the line: ‘I want to put my bare ass on the cover of my book because not only will it make good promo but it speaks honestly about who I am.’ Read more »

The Tunnel TV review

Julia Tulloh

The Tunnel vs The Bridge: The ethics of TV remakes

A body is found in the Eurotunnel, neatly laid across the border between France and England. When police attempt to move the body, it splits in two with the top half in France and lower half in England. Read more »

1398878478_lea-michele-brunette-ambition-zoom

Julia Tulloh

How to be beautiful, according to Lea Michele

Lea Michele’s new book, Brunette Ambition, is what you might expect from a fairly young television and musical theatre star. Read more »

Mariah Carey

Julia Tulloh

Is she Mariah, the ‘elusive’ chanteuse?

Two weeks ago, Mariah Carey launched her fourteenth studio album, Me. I am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse. Yes, that’s the real name, and it’s hilarious not only because the title is so long and happily shameless but because Mariah has long styled herself as one of the least elusive pop stars in the pop music galaxy. Read more »

lead_large

Rochelle Siemienowicz

On Boyhood, parenting and the passing of time

Since its premiere in January at the Sundance Film Festival, film critics have been falling over themselves to lavish love upon Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. Read more »

wetlands_poster

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Lucky Dip Diving: an approach to film festivals

I wanted to let go of the grasping desire to watch everything and be part of every conversation. But with the Melbourne International Film Festival in full swing, anxieties arise again. Read more »

Happy Christmas

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Joe Swanberg’s Real Women

In Happy Christmas, the female characters are a pleasure to watch, largely because they’re so familiar in life and so rarely depicted on screen. Read more »

owl1

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Speaking with pixels

On the Facebook Newsfeed, it’s now possible to click a tiny smiley face inside almost any textbox to bring up a series of thumbnail images: an alligator bawling into a tissue, say, or a whistling fox dropping a turd, or a green owl vomiting rainbows. Read more »

hbo-silicon-valley

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Silicon Valley will eat itself

At a certain point in the lifespan of any subculture, fiction and reality start to blur. Members of the subculture begin to model their character and appearance on the idealised representations of themselves they read about or see on screen. Read more »

inbox

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Death to the Inbox

The primary source of our ‘email problem’ seems to lie in our belief that email is a vastly richer and more capable medium than it is. Read more »

Untitled

Danielle Binks

How to buy books for young adults

‘Excuse me, where are the boys’ books? I’m looking to buy for a 16-year-old.’ When I overheard this question while browsing in a bookshop recently, I felt insta-rage. Read more »

detail

Danielle Binks

Fan-Girling Over Super Heroines

The testosterone-fuelled BIFF! BANG! KAPOW! of classic comics can seem uninviting, filled with spandex-clad men and swooning damsels who hold limited appeal outside the stereotypical 18-35 year-old male demographic. But things are changing in the world of comics. Read more »

9780143305323

Danielle Binks

Australia Needs Diverse Books

The ‘We Need Diverse Books’ team is made up of authors, editors and publishers from North America, but the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag and campaign has reverberated in youth literature communities worldwide. Read more »

Jabberwocky1

Chad Parkhill

The carnival is over

Jabberwocky, scheduled to take place last weekend, was the kind of festival that wasn’t supposed to fail. Read more »

Robin Thicke

Chad Parkhill

Why has Robin Thicke’s Paula flopped?

What, exactly, has caused Paula to sell so poorly that it has already positioned itself as this year’s most memorable flop? Read more »

splash

Chad Parkhill

Queering the Power: The Soft Pink Truth’s Why Do the Heathen Rage?

The Soft Pink Truth’s new album ‘Why Do the Heathen Rage’ demonstrates that despite their superficial differences, dance music and black metal have a lot in common. Read more »

2014-07-03-theleftovers

Stephanie Van Schilt

TV pilots: The good, the bad and The Leftovers

With the wealth of shows on offer, committing to a new TV series can feel like a big deal. It’s often during a pilot episode that audiences determine whether the program is appealing enough to stick with for the long haul. Read more »

Alg-90210-jpg

Stephanie Van Schilt

Sick-Person TV

The only upside to getting sick was the many afternoons I spent curled up on the couch at home, watching daytime TV. I inhaled the drama of pre-recorded episodes of Beverley Hills 90210 while playing with my Brandon and Dylan sticker collection (interspersed with sporadic vomiting). Read more »

The_Million_Dollar_Drop_logo

Nicholas J Johnson

Highbrow vs Lowbrow: Nicholas J Johnson defends Lowbrow TV

I can’t stop looking at Eddie McGuire’s smug, stupid face. It’s not my fault. It’s just I’ve never been this close to the man before, and it’s not until now that I’ve realised how oddly smooth and tanned his skin is. As if someone has stretched the orange bladder from a football over a slab of marble. Read more »