Pure genius

Some indie labels embrace the new technology
By BRUCE COHEN  |  June 25, 2007
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INDIE PIONEER: Jens Lekman
Amid all the hysteria about Internet music downloading, major labels are still trying to hold on to a paradigm that no longer exists. Like it or not, a shitload of song files gets snagged for free every day, legally and otherwise. But while the big boys are gnashing their teeth and suing their customer base, some indie labels are embracing the new technology. Secretly Canadian, which is based in Bloomington, Indiana, offers some 70 MP3s on its Web site, including choice cuts from an eclectic roster of artists. It operates on the revolutionary theory that if you download a few songs and dig them, you’ll tell your friends and maybe even – gasp! — buy the CD. Pure genius. Here’s a selection of what SC’s got . . .

Jens Lekman, “Black Cab”
“Black Cab” comes from the Swedish Pop sensation’s You’re So Silent Jens album. If Jonathan Richman sang lead for the Left Banke, it would sound like this. The song has witty lyrics, a wry, understated vocal delivery, and vintage late-’60s baroque pop touches in its guitar sounds, electric harpsichord, and string arrangements.

Swell Maps,“Midget Submarine”
Often name-dropped, rarely heard, this seminal post-punk band were originally on Rough Trade. But Secretly Canadian is reissuing their albums, among them 1979’s A Trip to Marineville, which is where this track originates. It’s discordantly beautiful, with its jagged propulsive guitar lines and hypnotic squalls of sound teetering on the edge of chaos. You can picture the lightbulb popping in a young Thurston Moore’s head.

David Vandervelde, “Nothin’ No”
At the tender age of 22, this Chicago wunderkind seems to have arrived fully formed in the pop firmament. Nice Mick Ronson crunch on the guitar, with a cool George Harrison–esque raga drone buzzing in the mix, and the vocal style suggests Marc Bolan, with perhaps a soupçon of Getty Lee. Recorded at former Wilco multi-instrumentalist Jay Bennett’s studio in Chicago, this track was has a rich glam burnish that evokes Electric Warrior–era T. Rex and early-’70s Bowie.

Antony and the Johnsons, “Hope There’s Someone”
Antony and the Johnsons’ sophomore release, I Am a Bird Now, made many critics’ best-of lists in 2005. “Hope There’s Someone” is the lead track, and I’m sorry but I don’t get it. Although the androgynous Antony gets points for originality, his Nina-Simone-meets-Tiny-Tim vocals, coupled with aimless piano noodling and whiny lyrics, still drive me friggin’ nuts. Oh, and the crescendo of multi-tracked vocals and sped-up minor chords at the end are downright creepy — but not in a good way.
Related: Clearly Canadian, Heavenly host, Boston music news: October 6, 2006, More more >
  Topics: Download , Wilco, George Harrison, Marc Bolan,  More more >
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