Let’s not go way back. Let’s go back into time only by a few years. Remember walking into your local music store looking for your favourite artist’s cassette? Or the album containing that song you heard on the radio or TV, when channels used to play music that is! Music lovers would certainly reminisce the days when they used to flip open tapes and spend some minutes analysing content in booklets and liner notes. Ditto for compact discs (CDs). Hardcore fans used to love the smell of the freshly exposed booklet within the CD case containing the album lyrics and credits. Those days are almost history!
As we all know, today is the age of digital music, of course which has its own pros and cons. As a music enthusiast and critic, one would say pros overshadow the cons. But then from the point of view of an artist, that argument may seem inappropriate because of both acoustic as well as financial reasons.
The mp3 format, which originated almost two decades ago, allowing digital quality sound compressed into small, easily transferrable files is clearly the most popular mode of listening to music among fans today. And why not? An mp3 file can be shared with peers within seconds and duplicated into as many copies one likes and onto various devices like mp3 players, phones, CDs, USB drives, memory cards. The list goes on. The iPod and other mp3 players started to gain popularity worldwide around 2002, which also gave birth to a whole new issue of piracy and unauthorised distribution of copyrighted material. The mp3 player got even more revolutionised when mobile phone companies started incorporating the technology within handsets. That meant you did not have to carry two separate devices in your pocket anymore — your music player and your phone. With this, listening to music or radio also became a more personal experience than a shared one.
Today, people prefer listening to music on their headphones over playing the same loudly in their homes. One of the factors also is that due to varied tastes in music between generations, it’s rare these days that people living under the same roof would have the same taste in music, so we would like listening to own choice of music within individual spaces to avoid disturbing others. With today’s lifestyles demanding more travel than ever before, it’s most convenient to catch up with your favourite music while on the go. All you need is an mp3-enabled mobile device along with a pair of headphones and you’re good to go. There was a time when “video coaches” became a popular phenomenon in our country with most private and public bus services offering the experience of a movie or two during the trip. That trend has started to fade away since more and more people now choose to listen to their preferred music on their devices and some also having the luxury to watch videos and movies on phones, pads or laptops. Pads and notebooks becoming more affordable has also contributed to this shift in trend.
With mp3 files easy to find on the internet with a simple search, there has been much debate about the disadvantages of easily available digital music with respect to artist and music companies’ rights. Most of us know the case of peer-to-peer file sharing network Napster, which gained popularity in early 2000s where users could share mp3 files with each other at no cost. The network ran into major legal problems with music labels and artists due to copyrighted material being circulated and was ultimately shut down and acquired by another electronics giant in 2008.
With music becoming more and more personal around middle of the last decade and the explosion of digital music becoming unstoppable, music companies started focussing on curbing piracy by promoting the use of mp3 players and retailing digital music on the internet. As the years went by, purchase of digital music became the new way of accessing music legally on the internet. In 2011, digital downloads accounted for a record-breaking 50.3 per cent of the total music sales, thus surpassing physical sales for the first time ever. Less people are now flocking stores to buy CDs, and understandably so. Picture this: would you travel all the way to the music store to buy a CD only to then convert the same into mp3 format to make it compatible for your mp3 player, or rather purchase the same album sitting on your couch in your house and transfer it directly from your computer to your device, at a lesser price? For an average music fan, the latter seems to be the obvious choice and artists/music companies have been smart enough to realise it. This has given rise to online music stores like “Flyte” from e-commerce retailer Flipkart, which has already become a popular destination for music fans to purchase authorised digital music. Because of the demand from music listeners to have their desired music on phones, there has also been a boom in the number of music streaming sites. Most of these sites offer free streaming of popular music, mostly Bollywood,
on their websites which can be accessed directly or via an application on internet-enabled phones. With the urban Indian population growing by the day and internet making the world shrink, the popularity of international music has reached new heights. And as supply meets demand when it comes to technological advances, a number of apps offering international music of all genres and even live radio from the US have begun to surface, which is a tremendous development for fans. How far have we come from purchasing cassettes of our favourite artistes, which used to arrive in stores here months after their release in the US market.
Memory Tapes — Grace/Confusion
Ex-Hail Social member, Davye Hawk has releases his third album Grace/Confusion, offering the chill wave sound that Hawk is known for but with a fuller, crisper and more melodic take. Six-minute opener Neighborhood Watch is a continual surprise, setting the pace with sweet pop melodies that grow and bend with increasing adrenaline. With six tracks clocking in at more than 39 minutes, the album is a pleasing change of pace for Memory Tapes, freeing Hawk to weave together songs from scrappy hooks, snatches of melodies and bombasts of instrumentals. Let Me Be is a low-tempo offering that balances the album, however the soft vibe doesn’t last for long, as Hawk follows this up with a very Hall And Oates-like track, Sheila, in which Hawk sings of love atop a fun electronic beat with 1980s undertones. The cheerful Thru the Field swerves dreamily between the explorations of Bear in Heaven and the excavations of Boards of Canada, then literally leaving the path to run off into the rain. Hawk doesn’t just move between textures and sounds, he merges and layers them. Follow Me, suitably concludes the album. It’s a blend of beguiling electro melodies that characterised Seek Magic, but it exudes more ripeness and control, floating above interweaving harmonies.
Best track: Sheila
Scott Walker — Bish Bosch
Best track: Epizootics!
Ty Segall — Twins
Best track: The Hill
Big Boi — Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumors (Def Jam)
Outkast’s Antwan Patton’s 2010 solo debut Sir Lucious Left Foot: The Son of Chico Dusty saw the rapper establish himself as a critically acclaimed artist, free from the shadow of André 3000. Better known as Big Boi, the rapper is back with the highly anticipated follow-up album Vicious Lies and Dangerous Rumours. Along with producers from the Outkast stable, the album features fresh collaborators like the punky rock band Waves, who rev up Shoes for Running, a song about class warfare and the inevitability of death. Patton’s palette is simply astounding, and his skill to orchestrate the whole show is impressive, especially when drawing upon so many different influences. The only disappointment that makes it all a bit tougher than it should have been is the bewildering sequencing, which leaves a lot to be desired. Apple of My Eye is the kind of song that pretty much anyone could identify with, a personal anthem for all of us when relationships turn rough and smooth. Many of the rhymes are dedicated to love and loss, with She Hates Me hinting at his own domestic friction in a manner we haven’t heard since Outkast’s Ms. Jackson. Recalling The Love Below’s acoustic guitar songs, Descending, one of several tracks here to feature Little Dragon, is bliss, but it’s the Phantogram collaborations that really impress. Tremendous Damage is particularly personal as he really digs into himself at points while flexing his ego at others, but it’s all on a simple piano loop and some bass guitar while Bosko sounds fairly like Eliot Sloan. It showcases Ludacris and T.I. at their most charismatic and ferocious in years.
Best track: Shoes for Running