Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Emancipation of Music in the Internet Age: A Half-Assed Review

Perhaps more than any other industry, music has been revolutionized by the Internet. Sure, online shopping has changed the way we think about acquiring goods, but it's not like you see your local supermarket or hardware store going out of business. And yes, the accessibility of visual media—feature films, TV shows, documentaries—on the world wide web is just a Google search away, but the cinema down the street and the 1000+ channels available on satellite TV are still very much alive and kicking. But the music industry, on the other hand, is nothing like it was in 1992 when Al Gore invented the Interwebs (or was that Ted Stevens?). Remember that Virgin Records where you got your first CD as a child? It's gone. Remember what it was like to struggle to tear off the cellophane around that CD? Or what it was like to read the liner notes on that glossy insert? Hell, do you even remember CDs?

And it's not just CDs; it's even buying music at all. Even if you decide against purchasing the physical copy of an album and instead opt to download it digitally off iTunes, you're still in the minority. I'm going to share a little trick with you: Think of the first song that pops into your head. Now, type the name of that song and its artist into Google, tacking on 'mp3', 'mediafire', or 'rapidshare' to the end of the query. I'd venture to say that 90% of you are able to find a downloadable copy of that song on the first page of results. Right?

Now, it's not all bad. For every horror story of the RIAA punting babies whose parents downloaded the latest Justin Bieber single (just joshin'), there's a story of a bedroom producer or local upstart band or some other musically-inclined starving artist who's been able to get their stuff out there with MySpace Music or bandcamp or Soundcloud. Doug Appling falls into the latter category, but not only did Appling—or, as he's better known, Emancipator—got his stuff out there, he became Internet famous. Exposed to the masses primarily via pirating communities and the blogosphere, Emancipator's instrumental hip hop has found quite the following by way of Internet word-of-type. So much so, in fact, that the one-man act Emancipator finds himself opening for BoomBox in venues across the country. Lucky for me, one of those venues happened to be Charlotte's Neighborhood Theater.

So, last Friday night, I headed up to NoDa and paid my hard-earned cash to see these two acts perform. When Emancipator finally took the stage, I actually mistook him for a roadie—his unassuming dress and demeanor caught me off guard. Perhaps this should have been a sign, a sign that a performer—no less good music—was not on the docket that night. What ensued for the following sixty minutes was some of the most uninspired music I've heard in quite some time. From the mundane, tired rhythms undergirding the pieces to their irritatingly predictable turns and melodies, I quickly found myself wondering what the hype was all about. Aside from "Greenland," the opening track from Emacipator's sophomore release, Safe in the Steep Cliffs, the rest of the overlong set was utterly snore-inducing.

Allow me to elaborate: In my estimation, the appeal of "Greenland" lies in its unabashed indebtedness to video game music. The nearly 8-bit line that begins the piece to ethereal synths to the driving boom-boom-clap to the heartrending violin sample—it all screams Halo to me. It's geeky cool like an acne-faced pothead hipster version of DragonForce. And that's fine. It's fine because it's Emancipator forging himself a new niche in the genre, rather than retracing steps on the same well-trod ground that Dilla, Shadow, and RJD2 conquered years ago. Except this is the only evidence of hypeworthiness that he showed all night.

The rest of the sound Emancipator produced with his laptop, sequencer, and Squier guitar (I shit you not) ranged from half-baked renditions of Pretty Lights to the music you'd hear on the Weather Channel in the room of an upscale island resort. And all of it sounded like it was produced on GarageBand with the default loops and samples that came with the pre-installed iLife package. For fuck's sake, pirate some upgrade packs. And as for the samples, I swear they were all 128 kbps Dirpy rips. To add insult to injury, not only were the samples low quality, but they all succeeded in butchering what made the originals great. Pink Floyd, The Fugees, Sigur Ros—they all were criminally defiled. To top it off, the man missed several blatant opportunities to kick up the tempo, drop the beat, and create danceable pieces of music like the crowd wanted. I mean, I understand you're supposed to be a "trip-hop" act, but that doesn't mean who can't give the average concertgoer what he/she wants, just for shits and giggles...

And the funniest thing is that, despite all my criticisms, I respect the guy. Emancipator is living the dream: a 19-year-old making a living off of music. Maybe he's just getting a handle on the rudiments of live performance. Maybe I was charmed by his meek request that concertgoers buy some of his merch. Or maybe I'm just a softie and should continue ripping on an unsuspecting musician. I won't, though. Instead, I applaud Doug Appling for seizing the opportunities presented by the Internet and wish him the best luck moving forward as he hones his craft.

...oh, and as for BoomBox: don't waste your money. Unless you've dosed yourself with enough MDMA to tranquilize a horse or are tripping on so much acid you swear that light fixture just honked its clown nose at you, you're going to be bored shitless. Save singer Zion Godchaux's god-awful vocal interludes, you'll be hearing the same arpeggiated chords and fatiguing electronic basslines for an hour and a half. Instead, save up your money and go see Phish. Period.

Greenland [alt]
Shook (Mobb Deep vs. Sigur Ros) [alt] | Listen for "Vaka" sample
All Through the Night [alt] | Listen for "Hey You" sample

Midnight on the Run [alt]


Anonymous said...

The windows gen is SO stupid!

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