Has anyone seen my package?
Record labels are making it so tough to listen to their promos, it’s a wonder anything gets reviewed. I say return the good old Package.
By Robert Bound
In these days of internet piracy (harr!) you can always tell when a big record label thinks a new album is really good because it’s practically impossible to listen to it. As a reviewer, I mean; before it’s hit the shops; before everyone else has heard it; before it’s dropped (that’s in italics because that sort of cool-speak isn’t really the Monocle way – as if the foreign editor, say, will go, “Hey man, has the new Chemical Brothers remix dropped yet?” To which I reply, “Totals bi-atch – it’s safe – hey, has Ban Ki-moon’s address to the UN dropped on CNN yet?”).
Slang aside, it’s tough. Illegal file sharing’s made big record companies paranoid to the point that they’re protecting their “product” to the detriment of its success. The process of getting records to reviewers has changed to stop people like me illegally uploading albums onto the high seas of the internet a) before the release date and b) ever. The ways of ensuring no sharing vary from supplying watermarked or encoded CDs to emailing a link from which a reviewer can stream or download tracks. Urgh, though: they’ve made the safety mix too strong.
There would have been a review of one of my favourite groups, Goldfrapp, in the last issue but by the time I’d posted (posted!) my signed declaration that I wouldn’t talk to anyone about it and then failed to be sent a link to it, our pages had gone to press. Two other greats – The Flaming Lips and Devendra Banhart – had their music sent in such encoded form (thanks to Warner Music) that each track had to be streamed separately after neither of the encoded CDs would spin. This is doing the artists more of a disservice than a favour. Forget about file-sharing and letting the cat out the bag; it’s the brand of a band that’s affected by their heavy-handed promoters. Devendra Banhart is folk-rock’s hippy-in-chief and his lovably mussed-up, home-made charm begins to get genuinely tattered when his new record requires the resurrection of Alan Turing to help crack the codes.
Pre-harr! it used to be the case that pre-drop, labels would send out The Package, which contained a couple of CDs, the lead single, some promo postcards of the artwork and a pleasant, slightly flirty, handwritten note on what still seemed to be the impressively logo-ed compliments slip. Thanks to Nonesuch and Bella Union and 4AD for continuing to send something they realise is an extension of their artists’ efforts.
In a way, it’s just the madness of the music-biz and it reminds me of Spinal Tap’s Nigel Tufnel showing Rob Reiner his favourite guitar. “Don’t touch it, don’t even point at it; it can’t be played.”
“Can I look at it?”
“No, you’ve seen enough of that one.”
Listen up, labels – and let us hear your wares.
Broken Social Scene
Forgiveness Rock Record
These Torontonians are a bit of a collective; which normally means two blokes with guitars inviting their art-school exes round to ruin everything with sitars, bongos and wailing. Not these cats, though: the rock template lies beneath this ambitious and intimate, epic and heartfelt record that succeeds as the sound of the sum of its collaborative parts.
They’ve been ploughing a furrow not far from the last field, but these Parisians’ knack of mixing and matching vivacious Argentine tango, sultry Montmartre chanson and Turkish dervish is still beguiling – best pulled off by those that invented it not every Tom, Dick and Jean-Francois who’ve jumped on their bandwagon. This is another directionless delight, gelled with a little genius.
Las Venus Resort Palace Hotel
Which planet is she on? This one, they say – playing the cabaret singer propping up the last bar on Earth. The itinerant Brazilian star (now based in sunny east London) has invented a technicolor, tropicalia-tinted world of gypsy disco, mariachi psychedelia and smoky serenades that’s disarming and charming because, unlike a few recent “kooky” divas, she means it.
David Byrne & Fatboy Slim
As David Byrne asks himself in the illuminating book that accompanies the record, What is this? Why am I interested in this? It’s simple, really: a double-CD concept album about Imelda Marcos, her president husband and her childhood servant Estrella Cumpas, performed as late-1970s New York disco (of which Imelda was very fond). While Fatboy Slim supplies the infectious beats, Byrne’s songs soar with Martha Wainwright, Cyndi Lauper, Santigold and Steve Earle at the mic. What is this? Somehow, it’s brilliant.
American: The Bill Hicks Story
Directors: Matt Harlock, Paul Thomas
This bittersweet life story of American stand-up Bill Hicks begins with a precocious joker on the stages of Houston and charts his mid-career zeal for class As and booze, his recovery and his final downfall with pancreatic cancer. This at times side-splitting film is affectionately narrated by Hicks’s nearest and dearest and told with animated photographs.
Eyes Wide Open
Director: Haim Tabakman
Few things manage to genuinely shock, but the sight of two male Orthodox Jews lustfully ripping each other’s kippahs off in a butcher’s will probably get your jaw dropping. This debut feature tells the story of respectable mensch Aaron, a married butcher who falls in love with Ezri, a 22- year-old drifter. What ensues sends shockwaves through conservative Jerusalem society.
Director: Yojiro Takita
Cellist Daigo Kobayashi, inadvertently, and to the disdain of his peers, finds himself working as a “Nokanshi”, performing the cleansing rituals on corpses as they pass into the afterlife. With some harrowing and hilarious observations of mourning, the film offers an eye-opening insight into Japanese culture. Despite a sloppy ending and the 1980s soap opera music, it’s a brilliant watch.
Deserted streets, verdant meadows, Modernist nooks, occluded snowscapes; Davos sparkles strangely under the gaze of Tettamanti’s lens, which is point- ed a million miles away from the busy-ness of the World Economic Forum and the ski season.
The Life and Opinions of Maf the dog and of his friend Marilyn Monroe
Narrated by Marilyn Monroe’s Maltese poodle, O’Hagan’s new novel provides an entertaining yet poignant romp through the turbulence of the superstar’s last years in an age of abandon charged by the looming shadows of nuclear war.
The Sunset Limited
In a New York slum two characters, Black and White, one a suicidal professor, the other a reformed killer, discuss death, God and the failure of culture. In this novel McCarthy strips away his lyrical flourishes to lay bare the spiritual indigence of modern life.
Memoirs of My Writer’s Block
When not making-up half of one of the YBA’s most disturbing duos, Chapman continues to create a dark and subtly unsettling literary world where Christabel Ludd, a struggling and mentally unstable first-time novelist, turns to online ghostwriters to get her story finished.
MyOwnBusinessCard, curated by French-Italian designer Marc Praquin, is sure to invoke an inferiority complex, with more than 200 examples of business cards crafted by designers.
This A3-sized broadsheet culture bi-annual features fashion, cultural and philosophical essays and original artworks. This issue, “I Love We”, printed on gloss and matt paper, features a witty African print featuring banknotes and Naked Lunch suitcases. The medium is the message. “There’s still so much to be explored in print and on paper,” says editor-in-chief Olu Odukoya.