HighDesertHymnsMusic creation isn't the same as music production. The latter part presupposes the former part. For some people music creation is a painful process, while for others inspiration comes naturally and in abundance. Palodine has always written a lot of songs to each album. While music creation is more or less unproblematic, music production is often unpredictable and surrounded by difficulties. It's hard to put out an album even if you have lot of good material. Palodine is a good example of that. Over five years elapsed between the second and the third album. The explanation was brutal structural rationalization in the music industry. Both record labels they were involved with closed down and they didn't have the funds to release the third album themselves. Thanks to a patron they could release "All the Pretty Wolves" in December 2013. Now Palodine are back with their fourth album "High Desert Hymns". According to Palodine: "This record is not as heavy as some of our past work. There is some more delicate, layered songs in the mix this time". Normally, this kind of statement is extremely worrisome. In another context this is an euphemism for not as good as previous work. Many thoughts ran through my head. Have they "matured" and become a husband-and-wife soft duo? It can't really be that bad, can it? Palodine is one of the hardest bands in the gothic americana genre, so how gentle and subdued can it get?  The questions will be answered in the end of this review. The new album "High Desert Hymns" is approximately 45 minutes long and contains ten songs. The album artwork is, like previous albums, designed by Katrina Whitney. According to the press release: "Themes of hypocrisy, enlightenment, violence, spirits, redemption and death still permeate, while short story narratives laden with desert imagery are introduced." You can buy the album in the format of your choice, just click on one of the icons (bottom left). Physical cds will be available through cdbaby.

 

Padodine HDH1I will now quickly walk you through the album. The first song is "Holy Roller", which is a disparaging term for spiritual fervor expressed by shouts and violent body movements. The song starts off with lonesome banjo playing, pounding drums and suggestive choir. The lyrics are ironic "Shake the Holy Roller/Shake a little harder". The song has all the typical trademarks of Palodine. There's no sign of "not as heavy as some of our past work" in this song. The second song is "Lay the Crossbow Down". It's not as heavy, but has a distinct rhythmic beat and, last but not least, a very beautiful vocal part that starts 1,55 and ends 2,35 minutes in the song. The third song "The Hunter" is dreamy and naturalistic. The song is built up around the vocals, sparingly orchestrated and ends abrubtly after some guitar playing. It isn't a bad song, but it doesn't reach the same level as other songs on the album. The fourth song "Animal Eyes" is a complex and varied song with many tempo changes or, in other words, songs in the song. It doesn't have the same characteristics as other Palodine songs. The fifth song "Light Above the World" is without any doubt the best song on the album. You immediately realize the greatness of the song. The song unfolds slowly and majestically for four and half minutes. The instrumentation and vocals are exquisite. If there against all odds where such a thing as a hit in the gothic americana genre, this would be it.

   

Padodine HDH2

The sixth song "High Horse" is the weakest track on the album. It's not a bad song as such. In fact, I like the structure, but I think the rhythm in the refrain is too jerky to fit in the song. Besides, I need to find something to complain about. The four last songs on the album are all very good. And that's really good news. I find it very disappointing when too little effort have been put in to maintain the level of quality throughout an album. I'm very pleased with the completion of this album. The seventh song "Abraham" starts with the familiar sound of vinyl crackle before a slow banjo- and guitardriven accompaniment takes over. The lyrics are predictive: "When Abraham came down the mountain/No one could see it coming". You don't hear concert bells too often in the gothic americana genre, but here is one good opportunity. The eight song "Amargosa" is a slow, elevated and dreamy song with beautiful vocals. The song is perfectly arranged and calibrated. The ninth song "Eagle and the Serpent" is enigmatic, dark and brooding. It's a long song, almost six minutes. It's also a complex and varied song with many tempo changes. The refrain is very evocative. The tenth and last song "High Desert Hymns" is seven and half minutes long. There's a distinct tempo shift after 4,50 minutes in the song. The last song on an album can't be a filler. The last song concludes what the artists want to say with the album. The song "High Desert Hymns" meets these high standards.  

And finally, the overall assessment: The album is set out to be not as heavy as some of their past work. I completely agree with this assessment. The new album is more subdued and definitely more polished. But, the difference shouldn't be exaggerated. This is still hard stuff, only with a slightly lighter touch. My concerns about "not as good as previous work" are unfounded. However, I prefer their harder sound. Palodine knows how to produce an album and the new album is no exception. Their trademark is a full-bodied soundscape with many instruments, care in details and entirety. The new album stands up well in comparison with their previous albums. There's more music from Palodine on its way. A new album will be released in January 2016. They will be back with a harder sound on this album.

    

If you click on the icons below they will open in a new window, from left to right: Palodine's Facebook page, Palodine's Bandcamp page, Palodine's CD Baby page and press kit for "High Desert Hymns".

 

facebook-icon Bandcamp logo

cdbaby logo

Slackeyeslim 3 presskit 

 

 

Spotify logoSpotify is the most cherished swedish innovation since ball bearing. While ball bearing have proved itself very useful and lasting, Spotify hasn't really proved anything. The heading for this blog entry is "10 Things I Hate About Spotify". Hate is a strong word and should be used in moderation. The word "about" is put there to have a damping function. However, I do believe hard words are justified in this case, since Spotify despite their motto "Music for everyone" little bearing on music. The unbearable smugness and strive for world dominance are no mitigating circumstances. There are, of course, more than ten things to hate. The list below (no ranking) consists of things that really irritates me. I don't expect people to agree with me. But as Oscar Wilde elegantly put it: “Whenever people agree with me, I always feel I must be wrong.” No comparison in general intended.

1. The business model

The compensation to artists is unfair. This is really nothing new, since it always been unfair. Only a small fraction of the sales price of a vinyl, cd or download ends in the pockets of the artist. But revenues from streaming is not even fractions, it's fractions of fractions. The pot should not call the kettle black. Compensation for vinyl, cd or download are paid (almost) directly, while streaming is compensation now and (at least theoretically) in the future. But, the last time I checked we live and pay our bills in the present and not in an unknown future. One simple question: how many streamings are needed to generate the same revenue as from a sale of a vinyl, cd or download? As an educational example you should do the math yourself. A rule of thumb is that 5 000 streamings means $20. Well, thank you Spotify. If you think you're supporting your artist by streaming, well read this article (opens in a new window).

2. The design

This is the ugliest music streaming service ever. Spotify looks like a failed school project. The company brag about how they are recruiting the best and brightest. But aesthetic disposition was obviously not requested. Not only does Spotify have a hideous appearance, the design have many flaws like the tedious navigation and the undeveloped search function. But, the ugliest part is the logotype. Looks like an ecstasy pill, but it's nothing to get ecstatic over.

3. The freemium strategy

You could either pay (premium) or use it for free (freemium). The freemium strategy is also a form of cut-throat pricing strategy to get rid of competition. When something is "free", you should ask yourself: who is paying? It’s the artists that are paying. You may object that nobody held a gun to their heads, but the business deal was close to a deadly threat. Both record companies and artists were caught off guard by illegal downloading and free fall in sales so they signed a bad deal. The business model is based on conversion theory (by providing freemium, users will upgrade to premium). There’s not much support of that. In 2014 there were 40 million users of which 10 million were paying users. In 2015 there were 60 million users of which 15 million were paying users. The ratio of premium/freemium users is the same. Only one out of four is a paying user. Spotify have introduced several limitations in the conditions to push users over to premium. This strategy have failed. The genie is out of the bottle and have no plans of going back. Not even the most degrading, infantile and intrusive advertisment seems to push people over to premium. The freemium model is particularly negative for artists that are more or less unknown and don't sell much. With freemium they sell even less. The thing that upsets me the most is by providing something for ”free” we deprecate all the work of artists. It's basic economic psychology, where "free" means "not worth anything". If you want to read more about this, check out my blog entry (opens in a new window).

4. The paradigm shift

The battle is sometimes labeled the ownership model versus the access model. The old paradigm (ownership model) is based on buying (and owning) physical and digital music. The new paradigm (access model) is based of having access to music (paying or not paying). I don’t see the new paradigm as a progress for humanity. There's little logic in paying for having access to 99.5 percent of the music you don’t have the slightest interest in, instead of paying (and owning) 0.5 percent of the music you have an interest in. Access model is cyber bulimia (see also number 8 on the list). If you want to read more about this, check out my blog entry (opens in a new window).

5. The blind spot(ify)

Despite the pompous company motto "Music for everyone", Spotify doesn't meet the expectations for a music streaming service. The mix ups and confusions of artists and albums are frequent. Spotify obviously lacks a functional database and identifiers. This is compounded by the staff members lack of knowledge of the matter. Knowledge of music was obviously not a requirement in the job description. There’s no shortage of marketers, accountants and programmers. Is it too much to ask for to employ at least one fact-freak? I like to paraphrase a popular assessment: ”Overstaffed, overpaid, over there”.

6. The sound quality

Spotify stream music compressed in 320 kbit/s for (premium) and 160 kbit/s (freemium). Why not offer lossless streaming? Spotify can't blame the bandwidth anymore. For example, both Tidal and WiMP offers lossless streaming. If you want to read more about sound quality, check out my blog entry (opens in a new window) or read about new hi-fi devices in this blog entry (opens in a new window).

7. The absence of interaction

There’s no interaction between artists and users. You can follow an artist or another user, that’s it. Whatever the initial idea of a social network (if there even existed one), this is a failure of biblical proportions. This seems also to be a very sensitive subject for Spotify. It's really the worst of worlds, since Spotify is neither a source of information for users or a promotional platform for artists.

8. The obesity

A good friend of mine (as well as site architect and advisor) recently delivered a nice metaphor. As a Spotify user you get to pick as much candy you want. You’re euphoric in the beginning facing an almost unlimited supply, but after a short while you will only eat the candy you really like even though you have filled your bag with several kilos of candy. The charm of putting together your Saturday candy bag is gone. I like to draw this metaphor a little bit further. In fact, all this candy will make you obese, jaded and also make you feel sick. Spotify encourages shuffle-mode listening. So many playlists, so little thought. Maybe I’m a dying breed, but I think an album should be enjoyed in the way the artist intended.

9. The unsupportive attitude

Some acquaintances who are not familiar with the fact that I hate streaming very deep and intensely (especially Spotify) say ”You can find everything on Spotify”. First, this is not true. They can find everything they want, but a lot of the music that I'm interested in is not available. For the sake of clarity, this is only an observation and not a wish for. Second, I don’t regard Spotify as ”gothic-friendly” or a service for introducing and supporting new artists and bands. The guiding principle is might makes right. The injustices in the "gothic country" genre are numerous, extensive and outrageous. Why should Spotify be an exception? It isn't.

10. The hoax?

Spotify isn't profitable. The economic result is a catastrophe. Minus 182 million dollar in 2014, compared with minus 100 million dollar in 2013. In any other industry this would mean cut-down or shut-down. But, not in this industry which is characterized by boomtown optimism and unbridled expansion. A company which give priority to expansion often meet losses, and if Spotify wouldn’t give priority to expansion there wouldn't be any chance of survival. The battle of streamed music is raging and there will be blood. It's either expand or die. The turnover increased to 1 213 million dollars in 2014, compared with 824 million dollars in 2013. Spotify is estimated to be worth approximately 8 400 million dollars. The revenues are actually increasing, but so also costs. The venture capitalists keep on pumping in money, despite the discouraging figures. The underlying assumption is that Spotify will become very profitable and give them return on investment. However, analysts believe that a business built on freemium can never be profitable. The success factor solely depends on the conversion of freemium users to premium users. But the stagnant conversion rate should cause fear-induced hiccup, when only one out of four is a paying user. Profitability doesn't seem to be just around the corner. What will happen if, and when, the patience of venture capitalists is starting to run out? Spotify could very well then be a new name to add to the list of greatest defunct websites and dotcom disasters.  

 

 

BlogX vinyl generellNearly two years ago a long-time friend of mine and his wife-to-be decided to make some drastic changes in their life. They sold their respective house and moved to a condominium in order to future-proofing themselves (and yes, a future rollator can easily fit in the lift). My friend started to throw away things in an instrumental and unsentimental manner and told me by the way that he considered to drive to the dump with his vinyl collection (of which some had previously belonged to me) due to limited future storage facilities. In these situations you don't think, instinct takes over. I realized that I had to intervene. Without much thought I offered to take care of the disposal of the record collection and sell them. My friend gladly accepted. The first step was to pick up the records. There were a couple of hundreds of LPs, EPs and 12" maxi records in different conditions stored in cardboard boxes (unsorted, of course). The vinyl records had been stored away for many years. The first step was sort them and identify the correct version by identifiers like catalogue number (by using Discogs). This was like paleontology. I made a long list with all information. A record collection says something about a person, see link (opens in a new window) but also how a person progress (or regress) over the years. There were classical, rock, pop, reggae, ska, synth, blues, punk, new wave, funk, soul and even disco records (from my friend's fifteen minutes of fame as a young and aspiring DJ in the late 1970s), but almost no country albums at all. Well, country music is an acquired taste and at the top of the food chain. Some people don't get that far. I have an evidence-based and fact-oriented disposition. I started to read websites and forum threads on the internet for how to proceed. This blog entry is about what I found out, what I have learned, and last but not least, my semi-acid observations from the rabid world of vinyl. The steps for how to proceed can be divided in sorting and stocktaking, cleaning, grading, selling, packaging and shipping. The blog entry (or maybe it's more of a lecture) will end with some concluding remarks. The first step, sorting and stocktaking, has already been described above.    

 

blogx RCMThe second step is cleaning. Before this sales project started I had only cleaned a vinyl record once or twice and then it was very severe cases. If you're going to sell vinyl through some high-profiled sites they will have to be clean, squeaky clean that is. There are two competing schools fighting each other ruthlessly. One school argues that the whole cleaning issue is nonsense. Some lukewarm tap water and mild soap and then air dry naturally will do the trick. The other school is appauled by this. The tap water, although fresh and perfectly good for drinking, is undistilled and contains particles that will affect your vinyls in a negative way. The above-mentioned cleaning method will press grease and dirt into the spiral grooves and in addition it will cause static electricity. The latter school argues that the vinyl must be cleaned with the proper liquides and with the right techniques. There are different cleaning methods, but I chose the often used method which includes diluted 99,5 percent Isopropanol (very flammable), distilled water and micro fiber cloths. When you clean the vinyls, you will have to move the cloth very gently and always in the same direction as the spriral grooves. This methods will effectively clean your vinyl no matter what the other school claim. For once, the manic cleaners seems to be right. The only thing the competing schools agree about is the superior air dry method and avoiding liquid on the label. If you want industrial strength for your cleaning you should consider to obtain a record cleaning machine (RCM), like the VPI Industries H-16.5 (see picture left) which operates with fluid, vacuum suction and brushes. The price of this old model was $450 in 2007. However, there's an influential countermovement and a rise against the machines. The opponents best argument is that nothing beats a human touch.          

 

grading altThe third step is grading. Grading plays an important role when it comes to creating a common framework. The term "very good shape" namely has a quite different meaning for different people. Both vinyls and cds can be graded. It may seem a bit odd to grade cds. I can understand the grading of media condition, the condition of album cover, booklet and back cover. Jewel cases and trays tend to break, but are easily replaced. But some hard-core collectors are only interested in cds with the original cases and trays. And, believe me, they know the difference between original and replaced plastic. This is “authenticity fetishism” at its finest. But now back to the main issue. There are two schools of grading, visual grading and play grading. It's pretty clear from the terms what they mean: visually inspection respective play assessment. The latter method appears to be superior. However, even the play grading varies since source, amplifier and loud speakers vary. I don't have a turntable anymore (the last one was a Thorens) so the choice of grading method was easy. The guiding principle for grading is "The Goldmine Grading System", see link (opens in a new window). The scale from high to low is Mint (M), Near Mint (NM), Very Good Plus (VG+), Very Good (VG), Good Plus (G+), Good (G), Fair (F) and Poor (P). M should be used sparingly as a grade, if at all. NM is the highest price listed in all Goldmine price guides. VG+ is worth 50 percent of the NM value, while F or P is worth 0-5 percent of the NM value. Alongside "The Goldmine Grading System" abbrevations for every possible combination of defects (creases, folds, seam splits, ring wear and sticker residues) have developed. Grading takes about a minute to learn, but a lifetime to fully master. Some purists take pride in declaring their grading as "conservative grading". The effects of grading are simple. If your grading is "correct" or "conservative" in the eyes of the vinyl tribunal you will get positive feedback. If not, you will burn in Hell. There are really no boundaries for the insults, contempt and scorn for an overgrading seller.         

 

BlogX Auction-300x300The fourth step is selling. Selling hundreds of LPs, EPs and 12" maxi records separetely would maximize revenues, but would be very time-consuming. After debating myself, I decided to make a compromise. I identified and picked out the most valuable records (LPs, EPs and 12") to be sold separetely in one stack. The rest of the vinyl were then divided into small packages of ten. The divison was based on genre, artists or similar style and included both common albums and rarities. The sorting procedure goes to show of how little you know about the value of vinyl. My conception of the world was turned upside down, since I initially was convinced of that some of the vinyl were really valuable, for example some rare funk albums from the 1970s. However, the market for this genre was non-existent and the value of the albums very low (next to nothing). Other vinyl records, like obscure swedish punk and new wave, were to my surprise priced very high. The next question was where to sell. The largest market is Discogs, but the high shipping cost will deter all but very determined collectors with buying power. Selling on Tradera (swedish Ebay) would lower the shipping cost, but the number of buyers shrinks significantly. After another debate, I decided to make a compromise. Some of the most valuable records were listed for sale on Discogs. Then unsold records on Discogs were listed for sale on Tradera together with all other vinyl. No matter how much time and effort you put in as a seller on detailed descriptions and pictures there will be questions about your items. There are two kinds of questioner. Those who are very interested and eager to buy and those who are very interested, but have no plans whatsoever of buying anything. The buyer-questioner personality is easy to understand. It's not strange or weird to ask additional questions or ask for detailed pictures if you're contemplating to pay top dollar for a rare record. The chatter-questioner personality is harder to understand. The answer to this paradox is that questions and follow-up questions, in addition to the information value, have an important social function. I think everyone who have ever sold anything on internet knows what I'm talking about. 

 

BlogX kartongThe fifth step is packaging and shipping. How hard can it be? In fact, it can be very hard if you strive to pack and ship in an inobjectionally manner. Unlike the cd format, vinyls are both fragile and have bulky size, which makes packaging almost an art form. The first rule is to always take out the record placed in its protective sleeve and place it upon the album cover and then pack them together. The reason for this is to avoid ring wear or seam split under transport. The simpliest way to pack is to use two bits of cardboard with slightly larger dimensions than the album sleeve. Then you place the album sleeve in the middle and use packing tape to press each side together, so that the vinyl remains fixed in the package. An experienced packer knows that you should turn one side a quarter vis-a-vis the direction of fibers on the cardboard on the opposite side. The stability of the package hereby increases. You can also use thin bubble wrap, but there are different opinions of the possible benefits of it. The EPs are treated in a similar manner, but shipped in their album cover (since normally there are no protective inner sleeves). Of course, the high priests of vinyl packaging don't use simple cardboard pieces. It's really beneath their dignity. Instead they use German quality cartons from Protected, see picture (right) and a link here (opens in a new window). Despite the high quality the cartons are very affordable. The company Protected offers everything that can be imagined when it comes to taking care of and protecting your music. Shipping is the easy part. Calculate the shipping cost and set the cost. Shipping is quite expensive. In my opinion postal service is a public good and its price should be held at a minimum to promote trade, prosperity and building up record collections. Shipping is also very time-consuming with many recurring visits to the postal outlets. The swedish postal service is very reliable and there were no hitches. I also offered the buyers a pickup alternative. This worked well since most people are reliable.       

   

Closing-presentation-remarksAnd now some concluding remarks. First of all, I thought I had a pretty good knowledge of the market. But after the sorting and stocktaking procedure was completed, I realized that I didn't know much. The prices are mainly determined by the exact release (from almost priceless to almost no prize). I also found out that the records you might think are valuable often have no value, while some obscure albums can generate a high prize (depending on the release). Second, cleaning is highly underrated. Not only will the vinyl look better, the sound quality will improve significantly (at least this is what I have read). Third, the grading procedure was a painful reminder of that I have mistreated vinyl in the past. I was aware of this fact, but the full extent wasn't clear until I read the websites and forum threads. For example, piling them upon each other and torturing them with wrong weights on pick-ups, worn-out needles, cheap synthetical brushes etcetera. You should, of course, take good care of your vinyl. The prices are besides the exact release determined by its grading. The grading system is a good thing taken in moderation, but for some vinylists the grading rituals tend to go out of control. They are totally focused on the paper and vinyl quality, and have very little interest the music. This behavior have similarities with audiophilea, see link (opens in a new window) and is close to the second and anal stage in Sigmund Freud's theory of psychosexual development. A friend of mine objected to this comparison and argued that this seemingly obsession could be explained by a simple desire to resell them at a good price. I doubt this. The hard-core vinyl people - like the study objects of Freud - are very reluctant to give up and give away anything. If you have some basic insights in psychology you will understand this ambigious remark. Fourth, the selling part is quite fun. I never had any plans to become a day-trader of vinyls. But I can see the fascination and allure in buying cheap and selling dear. However, this requires both special knowledge and time. I have neither. Fifth, the packaging and shipping part is just tedious and time-consuming. One good thing, however, is that you get pretty good at postal rate tables, spatial thinking applied to cardboard pieces and to assess tape consumption. The bottom line from this project is that I earned a considerable sum on behalf of my friend. But would I do it again? Hardly. All the work blew all time frames by a wide margin. Three months passed between the shipment of the first and the last album. The music always comes first for me. Readers of the article series on the site may also have noted that cd is my preferred format. Many years ago I ditched all my vinyl and went for cd. I'm not going to change format again and certainly not to vinyl. Some people praise vinyl. I'm not one of them. For me vinyl is just too unwieldy and a nostalgic keepsake. It's like bell bottom jeans. You're not interested in them, if you were forced to wear them the first time they were around. The only thing I miss with vinyl is the elaborate album covers, especially the gatefold covers. I can't see there will be anything like this in the future.   

  

   

TMAEThe Mountain Apple Epidemic a.k.a. Todd Sampson has really performed a cultural act when he decided to reissue his long out-of-print album “Thin & Pale”. The album was recently listed as number 4 on my list of 10 essential gothic americana albums, see link (opens in a new window). And very rightly so, if I may say so. The album “Thin & Pale”, with its very dark streaks, seems to somehow especially appeal to Europeans. The album cover depicts the "Adam and Eve" cylinder seal at the British Museum in London just slightly altered (a small fire in the hand of the male figure). The album title is written across the cover, but is just barely visible. The album was originally released in 2009 on legendary but now defunct Devil's Ruin Records, see link (opens in a new window). The original release is extremely hard to find. I have never seen it for sale, new or used. I’m still interested in the original release, but the reissue fill an urgent need in me since I prefer a physical cd before despicable downloads or streaming. Devil’s Ruin Records or not. This is a must have album. The reissue is identical to the 2009 Devil's Ruin release with one addition: a 12 page booklet (the original contained a 2-page insert). The reissue is, by any standards, very affordable and only $15 including free shipping (!). To order the album, see link (opens in a new window). 

   

Johnny Dowd"Be content with your life, it may not get any better". These perceptive words from Johnny Dowd is taken from his song "Thanksgiving Day" from the debut album "Wrong Side of Memphis". The man was born in 1948, so I think he knows what he's talking about. "Be content with your life, it may not get any better"At last, an attitude to life that I can live by. I find these lines very comforting, since peer and social pressure imply the reverse. There's always some improvements to be made in your working life, some fine-tune calibrating to adjust in your private life, some new training methods to explore or some personal projects to begin with in order to fulfill yourself as a human being. A nice feature that comes with age is that you don't worry too much about your hip factor. Don't get me wrong. Of course you should make all the necessary changes if something is major wrong in your life. But the pursuit for perfection seems to be both endless and futile. The phenomenon has been investigated by psychologists and its characterized by a person's striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high performance standards, accompanied by overly critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others' evaluations. Obviously, now is the winter of our discontent. Personally, I feel content when connecting with artists in the genre, when I find a rare cd on internet and it makes its way over the Atlantic Ocean (always non-assured), writing a blog entry about some obscure topic and listening to music on my old high-end Linn-system. Maybe life can get better, but it can definitely get worse.

 

   

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