Tuesday, March 30, 2010

YouTube Tuesday: PS22

This New York Public School has become an Internet sensation. There really is nothing like a children's chorus rendition of a pop song to tug at the heartstrings and the way these kids throw themselves into these songs with such earnestness is quite moving.

I first heard their sweet tones in their cover of Phoenix's Lisztomania which provides a more sweeping and grand take than the high energy original. The looks on the kids' faces as they sing is transformative. Watching their slick moves during Lady Gaga's Just Dance never fails to bring a smile to my face and watching this grainy rendition of Aretha Franklin's Respect always drops my jaw.

Picking a favorite of them all isn't easy, but in the end it comes down to two:

Part of the popularity of these videos is probably due to the novelty of watching children sing these radio songs. But on top of that these young performers add a sense of wonder and innocence to everything they sing. There's an inspired and inspiring purity in these arrangements that's infinitely compelling.

Hat's off to the PS22 chorus and to their amazing choir leader for tapping something magical in these kids and for sharing it with all of us.

Check out the chorus' YouTube channel for more videos.

Monday, March 22, 2010

With Congratulations MGMT Makes Strides in Distribution of Music, If Not in Music Itself

These days whenever an album leaks it's usually amid concerns of an impending lawsuit from the RIAA or a DMCA take-down notice. The modern (major label) music industry hasn't been all that accepting of new media in recent years, evidenced by EMI curtailing the distribution of music videos online or the label's repeated litigation against Dangermouse. It comes as a pleasant surprise, then, that when MGMT - signed to Columbia/Sony - found out the new album leaked the band decided to stream the entire thing.

The statement on the Web site reads:
Hey everybody, the album leaked, and we wanted you to be able to hear it from us. We wanted to offer it as a free download but that didn't make sense to anyone but us.

While it may not be surprising that a young band "gets" internet distribution of music, this represents quite a step forward at the very least. The phrase "that didn't make sense to anyone but us" implies that the band actually took this idea to its label and that the label agreed, at least to the idea of the free stream. For a major to agree to free streaming of an album before the official release date is a very promising baby step towards a realization of how promising online channels can be.

Radiohead and NIN had to release their albums on their own to experiment with online marketing and though indie labels have been testing these waters for years the majors haven't shown very many signs of budging. With EMI, one of the slowest to adapt to the new digital marketplace, mortgaging its back catalog its about time the other labels looked to harness the internet's potential instead of trying to close Pandora's Box.

The album itself is mostly unremarkable. Most of the tracks are mid-tempo and aimless, without any real energy or drive. The majority of the album plays like really good background music that sounds nice but doesn't have much behind its pleasant, shiny exterior. The two exceptions are fourth track - and album standout - "Flash Delirium" and the record's finishing title track. The former begins with quite a hip electronic intro before kicking into the dance-friendly hard beats that made the band famous. The song has the heartfelt exuberance that made "Kids" one of the best songs of 2007. "Congratulations" backs off from the aloof affect that possesses much of the rest of the record. The warm acoustic guitar is soft and inviting and the spare arrangements of the track provide a touching end to an album that otherwise keeps the listener at arms length.

Though the end product may not have been stellar, Congratulations represents a brighter future for the music industry. If the Big Four (soon to be Big Three?) can build on this they might just survive this new millennium after all.