First of all, a belated happy new year to you all! We’re just emerging from our festive slumber, but normal posting will resume from this point on.
I’ve wistfully eulogised bricks-and-mortar indie record shops here a couple of times, but lately it’s been hard to justify spending £15 on an American import in Birmingham’s Tempest Records. eMusic seems like the logical, recession defying, alternative. Its subscription model means that you won’t find any major labels on there, but it has a strong roster of indies, including 4AD, Merge, Anticon, XL, Jagjaguwar, Secretly Canadian and many more. For the price of a couple of CDs you can download 75 tracks per month.
Songs are delivered in high quality, DRM-free MP3 format, which should please all but the most hardcore audiophile and is far more reliable (and ethical) than SoulSeek and the like. The site is designed with enough information, lists and articles visible that looking up one artist quickly leads you to another. Sure, the experience isn’t the same as buying a physical release, but the convenience is great and it’s a fantastic way to check out artists with limited distribution or to pick up back catalogue releases.
They’ve recently doubled the number of free tracks in their trial to 50, so why not give it a go?*
Here are some of my favourite finds so far:
Ten slow-burning, minimal instrumentals that make for perfect headphones listening as you pick up on the subtle atmospherics and analogue crackles that form the background to creeping, sinister guitars that envelop you like a chilly evening in their native Finland.
Seven-piece Icelandic outfit manage to stay on the right side of twee with lovely songs filled with hushed vocals, breathy harmonies, glockenspiels and melancholy strings. It’s delicate enough to make Kings of Convenience seem harsh and emotionally closed off.
This record marked a transition in Jason Molina’s prolific output (from Songs: Ohia to Magnolia Electric Co.) and features some of the most stirring Americana of the decade. Tender and damaged yet possessing a quiet determination, songs like seven-minute opener ‘Farewell Transmission’ and ‘I’ve Been Riding With the Ghost’ feel familiar but thrillingly strange.
Why? – Sanddollars EP (2005, Anticon)
Sanddollars saw Why? move into poppier territory than Oaklandazuasylum’s fusion of hip hop and anti-folk, setting Yoni Wolf’s bizarre observations in genuinely catchy compositions. Full of classic Wolfian meditations on hipsterism, image, anxiety and whether he’s sick to think he looks good under fluorescent light.
M. Ward – The End of Amnesia (2001, Future Farmer)
If Ward’s Transistor Radio and Post-War are rich tapestries woven from American musical tradition, then The End of Amnesia is the finely sketched starting point. In this altogether more lo-fi setting, his velvetine vocals and sumptuous guitar playing create a sleepier tone, making it the perfect soundtrack to Sunday slumber.
You can also find a fair few of the releases that featured in the pretty homogeneous best of 2008 lists, including TV on the Radio, Bon Iver and Vampire Weekend.
*I promise you I was not paid to write this post (although it would have been nice).