Friday, April 20, 2007

There is That Dark Side to Music Piracy

After the Junior Boys concluded their Tuesday night KC show with a lush, 7-minute stunner, my friend and fellow blogger SonicRyan said, “Wow, I’ve got to listen more to their first album.” I assured him this song could not have come from the band’s 2004 full-length debut Last Exit. My comment was partially true – it couldn’t have come from the version of the album I had heard.

After the dark, trance-like “Count Souvenirs” led me to 2006’s So This is Goodbye last fall, I wanted more. Naturally I looked to Last Exit. This album, or the incarnation that I downloaded, was to my ears Junior-Boys-lite – or worse, Junior-Boys-lost. The first track “More Than Real” featured, after an opening verse, nearly five minutes of Jeremy Greenspan repeating, “I finally got your number, I even know your street” over a similarly mind-numbing, albeit entrancing beat. The remainder of the album staked similar territory.

Maybe I just didn’t get it, I thought. Astonishingly, All Music Guide had selected Last Exit over So This is Goodbye as its Editor’s Pick for the band’s top album. Pitchfork Media’s review of Last Exit awarded the album an 8.9, a mere 0.1 below its spectacular follow-up. My confusion compounded upon reading the reviewer’s comments regarding the band’s use of “deceptively simple” tracks and “monochromatic” sound.

The day after the show I tried on Last Exit once more, looking for the spark I had heard in concert the night before. Again I was disappointed. "Under the Sun," which I recognized as the band's incredible closer, didn't sound as complex or lavish as it had in concert. My husband had his own explanation for the inconsistency in quality. “That track’s looped,” he said. I told him he didn't understand. This album was simplistic, monochromatic. “Because it’s looped,” he reiterated. After securing an album track list, I was simultaneously horrified and relieved to see that the tracks I had been listening to did not match those on the album.

Who would go to such lengths? Who would meld the looped segments so flawlessly, ultimately leaving the listener unsure where the Junior Boys ended and someone with a mixer and a mission began? Furthermore, why this album and not So This is Goodbye, the album that put the Junior Boys under the radar? These questions, I realized, were beside the point. The point is that in this age of rampant music downloading, music lovers cannot be sure if what they are downloading is authentic. I decided to chronicle some of my more egregious run-ins with mp3 downloading, so others might learn from the sad tales they tell.

Interpol, Turn on the Bright Lights: For far too long demo versions of “Roland,” “Obstacle #2,” and “PDA” appeared on my copy of this album (a problem in part due to the fact that the album version of “Stella Was a Diver…” includes Paul Banks’ dialogue in the intro, a decidedly demo-like quality.)

Flaming Lips, Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots: Track #6 on my version was not the amazing “Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell,” but an as-yet-unidentified, nonetheless enjoyable track that my husband and I have dubbed “Fake Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell.”

Built to Spill, You in Reverse: Upon my initial listening of this album, I was convinced that Doug and company had collaborated with rapper Mike Jones. This was until I realized that “Who is Mike Jones?” was carefully edited into all ten of the album’s tracks.

Yo La Tengo, I Am Not Afraid of You and I Will Beat Your Ass: For some time I listened to this album, frustrated that many of the tracks trailed off into nothingness at often the most compelling points in the songs. What I had assumed to be a poorly conceived stylistic choice was actually someone fading out each track at the 1:00 mark.

There are also the songs plagued by annoying warbling (See “Dr. Strangeluv” from Blonde Redhead’s latest 23) or uncharacteristically low-fi renderings (See “Black Waves, Bad Vibrations” from the Arcade Fire’s Neon Bible) or the case of the wrong track (See “Ego Tripping” above or the appearance of “Maddening Cloud” twice on Blonde Redhead’s 2004 release Misery is a Butterfly. That Blonde Redhead crew sure has their bases covered, don't they?). Any frequent downloader knows these headaches and a host of others will eventually crop up.

The obvious solution to this problem is for people to stop downloading music, right? These tracks have been doctored as a means to discourage music piracy, after all. Unfortunately in the case of the Junior Boys’ Last Exit, the looping in my copy didn’t make me dismiss the album as a fake – especially considering Junior Boys’ electro-pop style, in which beats are repetitious by nature. Instead of discouraging people from downloading and encouraging them to buy the album, this loop-job may shy listeners from the band or album simply because the music is a disappointment, or worse, a frustration.

Chronic downloaders like me will continue to tolerate the unpleasant side effects of mp3 downloading as long as we can still get our fix. And with so much music out there – and the large portion of it un-tampered with – the downloading trend will continue. Unfortunately, as in the unregulated world of illegal drugs, there’s no guarantee those downloads will be pure.

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