At one point in last year’s High Fidelity, John Cusack’s character, Rob Gordon, a record store owner, boasts that he’ll sell several copies of the new Beta Band CD just by playing it in the store. As soon as he puts it on, several customers’ heads start bobbing and inquiries fly forth as to who the band are. It’s a telling moment about Rob: He isn’t just spreading the good word about a new band; he’s satisfying his own ego by displaying just how in-the-know he is. I think to many viewers, the characters in High Fidelity were annoying, arrogant dweebs. But this is what the whole movie was about: the obsessive mentality of the music nerd.
Obviously, I relate to the Rob Gordons of the world, and many is the time I have arrogantly whipped out a record or CD to show off my good taste. I’ve also been that geek working in the record store. But while I may be a snob about what I listen to, I’ve never been a snob about what others can appreciate. Only a dedicated music fan is going to know about Mogwai or Alejandro Escovedo, but that doesn’t mean other people wouldn’t be able to appreciate them.
Fortunately, for those interested in being tipped to what’s out there beyond the FM dial and MTV, there’s a new way to get introduced to this year’s critics’ and fans’ favorites, thanks to the Inaugural Shortlist Prize for Artistic Achievement. This award will be given to an act whose record was released after July 1, 2000, and had sold fewer than 500,000 copies at the time of nomination. The artists were nominated by a panel comprised of music obsessives from different corners of the industry: musicians (Dave Grohl, Lucinda Williams, ?uestlove), producers (Steve Lillywhite, Ross Robinson), DJs (Nic Harcourt), and journalists (Touré, Steve Hochman). Each nominated five records from the past year, forming a list of 49 nominees that was whittled down last month to 10 finalists. A final winner will be announced Nov. 12. The selection process reflects the democracy of a film festival, as opposed to the popularity-driven concerns of an awards show. So unlike with the Grammys, the acts are nominated based on their overlooked musical merits rather than on their massive popular success.
The best part is that the winner may be ultimately irrelevant. If you go to www.shortlistofmusic.com, you can check out the complete list of nominees, which provides links to Web sites for each of the artists. There’s much for any music fan or neophyte to discover and dispute. Albums like The White Stripes’ White Blood Cells and Nikka Costa’s Everybody Got Their Something are some of the most heavily hyped records of the year. There are future tastemakers such as Pete Yorn, who is set to produce Liz Phair’s next record, and the latest new-soul wunderkind Bilal. It seems odd that a veteran artist like P.J. Harvey still can’t sell more than 500,000 copies of her new album, but if so, I celebrate any chance like this to promote it. How Afroman’s novelty record The Good Times got nominated is a mystery, but I’ll blame that one on the daft Macy Gray, a member of the nominating committee.
It’s also nice to see a music contest in which acts like Blind Boys of Alabama and Si Se don’t get shuttled off to lesser publicized categories like gospel or international. In this contest, all modern music is considered equally. And you just can’t beat an award that gives a nod to the schizophrenic and gynecologically obsessed Kool Keith’s Spankmaster. The Grammys think they were daring in nominating Eminem’s The Marshall Mathers LP. Please. Kool Keith would make those people’s hair curl. By the way, my own vote in this contest would go to the Icelandic group Sigur Rós, whose Agaetis Byrjun is mesmerizing.
In today’s corporate music climate, where creativity and originality have been stifled in the interest of reaching the widest possible audience, this overview of hidden treasures that may become the next Velvet Underground and Nico or Fun House couldn’t be more timely. The mainstream outlets where fans can discover adventurous new music keep dwindling. I wouldn’t get to find out about half the things I do if record labels didn’t send us promo CDs. The Short List is an admirable way to help foment a little artistic and commercial revolution.
The price is too high
Speaking of commercial revolutions, perhaps the reason you haven’t heard much new music lately is because, understandably, you don’t want to spend the money on it. What is the deal with CD prices? They’ve been high for years now, but with a sluggish economy and industry reports of dipping sales, you’d think the labels would provide consumers with some relief. I recently got a hankering to hear the Beatles song “Do You Want to Know a Secret?,” which I liked as a kid. It’s on the early album Please Please Me, which is a terse, 28-minute rock ’n’ roll blast.
So I strolled into Tower Records thinking it’d set me back an easy $13 or $15. Well, wrong song, ding-dongit was $18.99. With tax added, the cost topped $20. With all due respect to the Fab Four, why in the world would a store charge $20 for a 40-year-old record that isn’t even a half-hour long? Don’t get me wrong, that half-hour offers more pleasures than most 70-minute discs released this year, but is this kind of pricing fair? And it doesn’t even take into account the fact that I’m shelling out $20 for an inferior-sounding reissue.
Look, I’m no audiophile, and I do prefer the convenience of compact discs, but the truth is that the medium is cheaper and of more benefit to the industry than it is to the consumer. On that same trip to Tower, I noticed customers hovering like vultures over a bin of CDs marked down to $8.99. I wonder why. Look, people, it’s time to send the industry a message: We’re sick of being gouged. Hit them in the kneecaps by going to used CD stores. These days, there’s nothing worth buying the minute it comes out anyway. If you’re patient, you’ll find a copy in a couple of months in a used rack. And chances are that, right now, you can find your John, Paul, George and Ringo for a reasonable price.
Bands still running
If you’ve been reading this column all year, you’ll remember my fondness for the VH1 show Bands on the Run and the drunkards Flickerstick, who won the contest/documentary of the touring life. Well, the fruits of their abhorrence of labor pay off this Tuesday with the Epic release of their album Welcoming Home the Astronauts. This version of the record has been remixed for super-duper major label sound and will include the song “Smile”for which they’d made a video, but curiously didn’t include on the album’s original issue. Why would you make a video for a song you hadn’t released? Oh well, nobody said the Flickers were Mensa members.
On a related note, a co-worker who receives the news e-mails from Bands on the Run co-contestants Soulcracker (don’t ask me why) reports that Beastie has left the band. Moment of silence, please. The band’s site says they have parted on amicable terms. I lay down 50 bucks that says the guy starts popping up in crappy indie films soon. Believe me, there’s no rest for a true attention-hog.
“The sales climb high into the garbage pail sky like a giant dildo crushing the sun.”
Be the first to e-mail the origin of these words to poplife the shame of your name printed as the winner and some free useless crap from the Nashville Scene!
Previous week’s answer: “I used to bull’s-eye whomp rats in my T-16 back home. They’re not much bigger than two meters.”Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker in Star Wars.
Winner: Todd Wise.
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