Sounds from Osaka is our first article in a series highlighting local scenes in multiple ‘postcard length’ album reviews. We’re looking to do more of these scene focused articles in the future! Go to our contact page and let us know about your local scene and we may just cover it. Till then, consider this article ‘postmarked’ March 27th, 2022!
That said, is this list looking a little incomplete? Because we’re sure it is. There may be more pivotal bands in the Osaka scene, but we’ve decided to go with what stuck out to us via Bandcamp, recommendations, and liner note skimming, so Skate Punk bands like The Skippers or Manchester School (M.A. School) won’t be on this list. Consider this a small round up of Punk, Indie and Alternative bands from Osaka, Japan.
Diskover – The End Has No End (2018)
Noisy and nasally Pop Punk, The End Has No End is a lilting and lo-fi record worth a listen. The 3-track EP by Diskover has all the melancholic emotional weight one could hope for from Pop Punk and Power Pop. There isn’t much readily known about them, but they’ve had one release since: a self-titled 7” EP available through nearly a dozen smaller record outlets. You can also find it through the Punk & Destroy record shop and distro, located in Osaka.
Argue Damnation – The Situation In Society Is Worse Than Before, It Is Getting Worse. Direct Action Now Demo (2021)
The medium is the message- and so too, in this case, is the album title. Not ones’ to waste space, Argue Damnation’s ‘The Situation…’ is a collection of demos for what was their third and final album Direct Action Now, recorded and released in 2000. Tracks like Direct Action Now, Number People, and 反新安保 (‘Anti-New Security’) break out of the tight mold of D-Beat and Crust for something more expressive than many of their contemporaries, while Up The Punx gets as close to ‘punk anthem’ material as possible without getting too corny.
Argue Damnation were active from 1994 to 2003, but their music still resonates.
Shonen Knife – Pop Tune (2012)
While I never promised a comprehensive list, I would feel remiss for not including Shonen Knife. Take it from their Bandcamp artist-bio:
“Shonen Knife was formed in 1981 by Naoko Yamano, her friend Michie and sister Atsuko. 35 Years, 19 albums and well over 1000 gigs later the band is as strong, fun and original as ever…”
For this list I’m pulling their 2012 album Pop Tune, whose titular track is so satisfyingly bubbly and fun. People more in tune with the D-Beat and Crust bands on this list may roll their eyes, but Shonen Knife’s Phil Spector and Ramones inspired Alternative Rock’n’Roll sound is a delightful and uplifting force in the cross-cultural milieu of our ever increasingly interconnected lives.
Junky58% – おい、ミルクじゃなくて酒よこせバブー (2020)
おい、ミルクじゃなくて酒よこせバブー, or Don’t Milk, I Want to Alcohol (Google translated to ‘Hey, Give Me Sake, Not Milk.’) is a pumped up Pop Punk EP by Osaka’s Junky58%. Their early Green Day influence might be most noticeable on midway track Junky Band, but flows through the album’s joyous celebration of alcoholic shenanigans (and chocolate cookies?); a high-spirited step away from some of their more melancholy-tinted peers. As someone generally uninterested with alcohol-centric Punk and Rock music, I still found ‘Don’t Milk,…’ a worthwhile and fun record, going near the top of my wishlist.
OXZ – Along Ago: 1981-1989 (2020)
OXZ (pronounced ‘awk-zed’) are in a Post-Punk vein of their own creation, but could be roughly triangulated with bands like Suburban Lawns, Ausgang, and The Passions. OXZ weren’t afraid to include big spacial synthesizers on otherwise dry recordings. This makes for a rare listening experience, especially in the midst of the slog of ‘Post-Punk’ and ‘Goth’ worship bands coming out of the Anglosphere currently.
The compilation, released by the NYC independent label Captured Tracks, shows OXZ’s artistic progression across the band’s 3 EPs and single released during their band’s original run. It’s incredibly satisfying hearing where they took things as their song writing grew stronger and stronger. Personal favorite tracks from Along Ago: 1981-1989 include Vivian, Boy Boy, and Is Life.
Framtid – Under The Ashes (2002)
Crust is universal, so it seems. So I’m not surprised to find heavy hitters Framtid among the crowd. The band’s 2002 release Under The Ashes features members Makino (vocals), Takayama (drums), Ryota “Jacky” Watanabe (guitar), Ina (bass) and Chuma on bass for tracks 12-21. Under The Ashes is unrelenting. With each track fading into the next one, the chaos never stops. I definitely recommend Framtid to fans of Crucifix and Napalm Death.
Kung-Fu Girl – Cassette Tapes Series Vol.1 (2021)
Cassette Tapes Series Vol.1 is a single release by the lo-fi Pop Punk band Kung-Fu Girl. A-side Rabuka might be my favorite, as it stood out to me immediately with its melancholic bubbliness. It’s absolutely something for fans of Full of Fancy or Bluffing. But b-side Ghost Girlfriend incorporates Power Pop sensibilities with raw Punk energy. It’s incredible, and a fun break from more D-Beat oriented bands.
Potato Headz – Potato Headz (2018)
Seeing “POTATO HEADZ” in a varsity font on a black and white concert pic, I wouldn’t have expected something so sonically interesting. Through and through, it’s your ‘classic hXc’ style beatdown Hardcore, but with just enough off-kilter weirdness and goofball energy to make it an incredibly fun album.
The riffs: chunky. The drums: hunky.
I’m all into it.
The Harriets – The Harriets 1st Demo (2019)
The laid back Indie jams of The Harriets’ 2019 self-titled first demo are easy on the ears, but don’t take that to mean ‘light listening’. The Harriets are made up of members Milk (guitar), Nana (drums), and Fumi (bass) with all 3 members contributing vocals. This relax-adaisical demo single features the a-side track Last Night backed with the fuzzed out I Don’t Care.
There’s an element to The Harriets that might make them an easy shoe-in for fans of bands like Slant 6 or Apocalypse Meow. The songs are minimal and well written, invoking an easy going feeling while keeping sonic vitality.
I would like to note The Harriets and the American band Frankie Cosmos as an ‘ideal’ double-billing for a tour. Seriously, can we make that happen?
Beverly Hills Ketsukon Hactyo is a compilation released by Centralscum in 2004 celebrating the marriage of WonWons bassist Mami and Haruo Ishihara (owner of Lost Frog Productions, “the oldest Japanese netlabel in existence”).
Beverly Hills Ketsukon Hactyo is a short but stylistically mixed bag. The lo-fi indie jam and titular track Beverly Hills Ketsukon Hactyo by Morino Jun (Moaco) is a fun and sloppy melancholic song in the style of Magnetic Fields. The album is balanced out with off-kilter Indie Electronic in a style similar to the UK group The Sons of Silence.
But by far, Loggins Alive by Izumi Headache of UltraFuckers is an immediate favorite. Thumping drum machines pound away under the clatter of metallic guitar noise and pitched and processed vocals that sound like the Max Headroom Incident. It’s a hair too wacky to be considered a Big Black tribute, but likely ‘just right’ for Men’s Recovery Project fans.
Keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming +Brief Thoughts article with a follow up to Beverly Hills Ketsukon Hactyo as well as Shock Rock in Japan and the USA.
In the Resident Sound series Audio. Visual., join Lubert Das as they attempt to become a music sommelier of sorts; serving cross-medium recommendations and top-choice pairings of music and other cultural works. Will Lubert serve you up a new favorite song? Something to flesh out your viewing-party playlist? Or the worst trash you’ve ever heard?! These are, simply put, 5 songs you might enjoy if you enjoyed the TV-show Broadchurch.
Part police procedural, part grief-laden small town drama, Broadchurch was a moody British crime show which starred David Tennant, Olivia Colman, and Jodie Whittaker to name a few. Whether it was the desolate downtown strip or struggling hillside church, the fictional town of Broadchurch often acted as the most important character throughout the entire series.
Like many of the show’s characters, you too may feel stuck in the vortex that is Broadchurch. The series’ third and finale installment may have ended in 2017, but there’s no need to fear! To hold you over just a little bit longer, here’s 5 songs you might like if you love Broadchurch.
Richard Hawley – The Ocean
What is there to say about grief? A lot, probably. But sometimes it’s just better to let it wash over you. If you find yourself getting drawn into the emotional swells of this fictional sea-side town, perhaps consider checking out Richard Hawley’s song The Ocean from his 2005 album Cole’s Corner.
John Murphy – In A House – In A Heartbeat
Me? I don’t need to explain anything! It’s YOU that needs to watch the opening of the series premiere of Broadchurch, then you’ll understand!
…Okay, maybe I need to explain that Broadchurch isn’t a zombie film, as In A House – In A Heartbeat is perhaps most recognizable as part of composer John Murphy’s score to 28 Days Later, and later used in 28 Weeks Later and plethora of other outlets. It’s a great song, and whether you’re currently watching or looking back fondly, you might enjoy this classic Post-Rock track.
Susumu Yokota – Long Long Silk Bridge
Arguably most in line with the original score for Broadchurch, multiple tracks from Japanese Electronic composer Susumu Yokota’s 2005 Ambient masterpiece Symbol could easily be substituted in for the show’s original score. Maybe now is a good time to admit I didn’t care too much for composer Ólafur Arnalds’s score for Broadchurch. It came across a bit hammy, a bit expected for a European murder mystery series.
Even with the use of somewhat ‘obvious’ orchestral samples- a jab I’ve seen lobbed at Yokota and plenty of other artists, and one that I take issue with- Yokota’s work feels more emotionally dense, more emotionally nuanced. Its lush beauty and slightly off-kilter delivery feels like birds of a feather with Broadchurch’s scene-establishing shots of a gloomy, sometimes desolate seaside town.
Seemingly the exception to Christian Rock, Starflyer 59’s Shoegaze era is full of songs to set adrift to. It’s got the dense waves of guitar you’d expect from Shoegaze and an abstracted sense of forlorn longing that matches right up with the atmosphere of Broadchurch.
Red Lorry Yellow Lorry – Strange Dream
This might be a strange addition to this list but if I wanna do this right I’m going to need to make some bold choices. For the more restless Broadchurch fans, I wanna recommend the song Strange Dream from Red Lorry Yellow Lorry’s first full length record Talk About The Weather (1985). The first minute and fifteen seconds of Strange Dream sounds like something out of some darkened Euro thriller/crime show, so what more could you want?
Under pummeling drum machine rhythms, the song’s “alone he ran” mantra and its hazy layers of guitar fit Broadchurch‘s lead detective Alex Hardy (David Tennant) and the case that still haunts him (season 2, baby!).
Founded in 2008 in Oakland, Bandcamp has long been the go-to for independent musicians, bands, and small labels to sell directly to their audience as well as those looking for new music. But as many of us found out yesterday morning, Bandcamp has now been sold to Epic Games, the creators of Fortnite and Unreal Engine.
From the Epic Games’ website,“Today, we are thrilled to announce that Bandcamp will become part of Epic Games. Bandcamp is an online music store and community where fans can discover, connect with, and directly support the independent musicians they love.
Fair and open platforms are critical to the future of the creator economy. Epic and Bandcamp share a mission of building the most artist friendly platform that enables creators to keep the majority of their hard-earned money. Bandcamp will play an important role in Epic’s vision to build out a creator marketplace ecosystem for content, technology, games, art, music and more.”
But what else lies in Epic’s vision?
The understandable distrust in giant companies like Epic Games is only part of the outrage and wild speculation in the current discourse surrounding Bandcamp. Surely none of us can be certain of the future to come, but if we examine the attitudes and competing narratives perhaps the bigger issues will make themselves clear.
At the root of much of the backlash to this news is the disenchantment of Bandcamp’s anti-corporate user base. Whether it’s distaste in streaming models, the predatory track records of major labels, or simply the ‘sticking it to the man’ spirit of rock’n’roll, many have lauded Bandcamp’s efforts as an ‘independent’ venture. The company has championed artistic independence, direct payment to artists, and music scene’s sense of community.
But isn’t selling out to a major private entity, especially one backed by a multinational conglomerate, somewhat contradictory?
Distrust: ‘Microtransact Your Nuts Off’
Bandcamp is a low- perhaps the lowest- cost of entry into selling one’s own music. Even the notoriously cheap cassette tape costs about 250 USD for a run of 100 cassettes, and this is just acquiring the product. With Bandcamp, the product is digital. What it costs to produce is the time you the artist put into it, and perhaps 15 minutes to upload and label all your track files (assuming your internet is slow).
But much like your local greasy spoon getting new, yuppier owners, many are starting to worry we’ll see cost of entry inflation from the nickel-and-diming at the heart of the ‘video games as service’ model adopted by Epic Games in the 2012.
Could artists be charged per track upload? Will Bandcamp and third-party revenue shares increase? There’s a thousand and one ways these microtransactions could take place.
Bandcamp Daily, the site’s daily roundup of music from all corners of the site’s marketplace (and currently staffed by some of my favorite music journalists), has proved a semi-lucrative land for any band to make- the closest to ‘front page coverage’ many of us could ever dream of.
But under a microtransactional system BCD could be targeted for payola, given a SubmitHub-esque ‘pay to play’ entry, or even require a paid subscription to read. But all of this is currently wild speculation. None of these things are known.
Regardless, none of the BCD writers or editorial staff deserve the flak and harassment they’ve received since the news first broke. It seems fairly safe to assume that their opinions in the sale of the company, whether for or against, would have had little to no effect on upper management’s decision to pursue selling off the company. And that’s assuming they even knew about it before it happened!
Wild speculation is simply that. We have absolutely no certainty of what the future will hold, but we can look at a Epic’s trajectory…
Disintegration: Bedfellows of A Metaverse
The past few years has shown Epic Games making a series of funding rounds and acquisitions, the latter of which predominantly being video game developers and digital tool makers.
From a post on the Epic Games website, April 13th, 2021, “Today Epic Games announced that it completed a $1 billion round of funding, which will allow the company to support future growth opportunities. Epic’s equity valuation is now $28.7 billion.
This round includes an additional $200M strategic investment from Sony Group Corporation, which builds on the already close relationship between the two companies and reinforces their shared mission to advance the state of the art in technology, entertainment, and socially-connected online services…”
The article goes on to state founder and CEO Tim Sweeney is still the controlling shareholder of Epic, and includes the following statement from Sweeney himself:
It’s hard to see the acquisition of Bandcamp as anything but an extension of Epic’s metaverse aspirations. But how would Bandcamp fit within a privately-owned domain such as a metaverse?
Sony Group Corporation is only one unnerving bedfellow of Epic Games. The Shenzhen, China-based multinational conglomerate Tencent Holdings Ltd has owned a 40% stake in Epic Games since 2012, and was a guiding force in Epic’s move to a ‘games as service’ business model. Putting some Bandcamp users’ xenophobia aside, in an article written by Tim Ingham for Music Business Worldwide reported that “Tencent now controls 10% of [Universal Music Group], 9% of Spotify… and Nearly 2% of Warner Music Group”.
It’s this selling out, albeit indirectly, to the very behemoths of the music industry which feels like such a betrayal. That these music industry giants are some of the main bread-winners of the currently dominant streaming model, a platform in which the artist disproportionately suffers, only brings that uneasy feeling of a death knell.
There was a strain of online discourse encouraging Bandcamp to enhance streaming function on its mobile app during the most recent Spotifallout: a debate over better pay and the ethics of streaming drowned out by a Neal Young-leveled ultimatum over vaccine misinformation on the Spotify-backed Joe Rogan podcast. But others have warned over losing focus on Bandcamp’s core-function as a direct B2C (business-to-consumer) e-commerce marketplace.
Would a corporation as big as Epic Games, backed by a multinational conglomerate and having multiple ties to streaming-platform breadwinners, stay true to their claim of “building the most artist friendly platform that enables creators to keep the majority of their hard-earned money”?
The wool may not be pulled over people’s eyes, that doesn’t mean the rug won’t be pulled out from under them.
The long-lost genre of tropical ersatz haunts on in the reverberations of the past. Exotica’s problematic past, a colonialist fantasy involving ‘savages’ and drenched in Orientalism, have permanently marred it. But while Exotica and its racist overtones have long given way to (what I would like to think of as) societal progress, the Hollywood-esque cinema of the mind echoes on in both eerie and campy appeal.
Post-Exotica is this very aesthetic reverberation intertwined with contemporary societal attitudes, recording techniques, and accessibility afforded to us by the internet. Post-Exotica, as an aesthetic mode within music, lacks any unifying subculture or definitive sonic palette.
Records of the ‘post-exotic’ can range from exploring the sociopolitical to the existential, the atavistic to the alchemical, or simply act as a pining for ye olden days of ‘classy’ Hi-Fi bachelor pad music.
Without further hesitation, let’s explore these selected offerings from a genre even Bandcamp has yet to recognize. This is Resident Sound’s Guide to Post-Exotica…
Early Rumblings: JG Thirlwell, Steroid Maximus, and the post-Post-Punk of The 1990s
Around the mid-1990s, revived interest in Lounge, Surf, and Exotica music were in full swing. But it wasn’t all CD reissues and copies of the Swingers soundtrack. Artists like Southern Culture on The Skids and (dare I say…) Richard Cheese were creating new work upon recently old genres. So it’s not surprising we can look back to the 1990s as some of the earliest examples of Exotica music re-envisioned. And while retro acts made Exotica’s contemporary scene, no one else embodied the ‘re-envisioning’ aspect of Post-Exotica music better than JG Thirlwell.
You may not know him by name, but there’s a good chance you’ve heard his music. He’s the composer for famed adult animated shows Venture Bros and Archer (since Season 5), has worked with Marc Almond, Lydia Lunch, Nurse With Wound, Zola Jesus and more, and has released nearly a dozen full length studio albums under his most infamous project: Foetus.
That in mind, it’s not too surprising that his name (or one of dozens of pseudonyms) would show up on a list like this.
By the end of the 80s and into the early 90s, the more ‘artistically-inclined’ members of the Punk and Post-Punk movements were looking to expand past their genre’s established sonic templates. It’s around this time we see the formation of Virginia’s experimental Hardcore outfit Men’s Recovery Project, Germany’s Doom Jazz godfathers Bohren & der Club of Gore, and JG Thirlwell’s expansion into more cinematic, Big Band and Exotica influenced compositions with his project Steroid Maximus.
“…by 1990 I felt that I needed to shift gears and do something that was a little more challenging to me and that’s how I started Steroid Maximus, to create instrumental music that was cinematic and all the sources hadn’t been in my music before. … Since then, I explored doing large scale groups like an 18-piece version of Steroid Maximus which I’ve done in Europe and New York.”
The first Steroid Maximus album ¡Quilombo! was released in 1991 and breaks all conventions. There is no pastiche, only impressions of a former sonic era. The easiest way to describe ¡Quilombo! is to make comparisons to the varied works of Jerry Van Rooyen, Raymond Scott, and Robert Drasnin, though no singular example is particularly accurate. Often lauded for his more violent overtones, Thirlwell achieves work of a greater depth, utilizing the many exotic shades of darkness often overlooked for pure black.
It’s a record that needs to be heard to understand the distance a Post-Exotica record can go. So before you go, I recommend spending a little time ¡Quilombo!
Kava Kon – Virgin Lava (2016)
At times coming across more pastiche than ‘Post’, Kava Kon’s 2016 EP release Virgin Lava is a dark and divine dive into the sonic palette of Exotica music. Not letting 50+ years of audio engineering developments go to waste, Kava Kon have brought the sultry sounds of Exotica into the days of DAW.
When asked about overlooked elements in an interview for Gravedigger’s Local 16, Kava Kon’s Nels Truesdell said:
“A lot of the percussion done on the albums Departure Exotica and Tiki for the Atomic Age was beatboxing. For example 90% of all güiro sounds were done by my mouth. Then we processed it using EQs and compressors on the recordings to give them a more realistic tone. There are so many more examples of unconventional recording techniques used on our albums.”
Featuring two remixes of Doom Jazz icons The Kilimanjaro Darkjazz Ensemble, Virgin Lava touches on the parallels of hyper-aestheticized niche genres, namely that of Post-Exotica and Doom Jazz.
Similarities include an exemplification of Hollywood cinematic themes, ‘extreme’ music genre traits (such as doom metal or noise) crossed with mid-century adult music genres, and nostalgia for periods outside of living memory. But while retro is inherently regressive, both Post-Exotica and Doom Jazz carry with them innovation, distinct sonic palettes, stylistic variants, and great potential.
Iosu Vakerizzo – Forbidden Island (2020)
Iosu Vakerizzo’s Forbidden Island is an excellent work of would-be film score. Hearkening back to pop Exotica’s ornamental novelty, Forbidden Island‘s use of sampling creates sonic depictions of a sea-side land while the album’s minimalist instrumentation creates eerie impressions of an outside world.
The site HipWax described the pop Exotica of the 1950s as “[filling] a niche curiously left open by Afro-Cuban, Hawaiian, and other related music. It is the mood music of place, but no place familiar. …One conjures a torrential rain in the tropics, a jungle safari, or the desert at night. And that is precisely the stuff of exotica: an odd combination of the soothing and stimulating, like nature itself.”
The Post-Exotica work of Iosu Vakerizzo delivers both the stimulating and soothing effect given to us by 1950s Exotica, while building off of its predecessor with the possibilities afforded by Dark Ambient music.
Resident Sound’s first view into the world of Post-Exotica was a review of Iosu Vakerizzo’s previous album The Temple. If you like Forbidden Island, we highly recommend checking out his other work here.
Strange Cousin – Knifes And Smothers (2021)
Released in February of 2021 by American music artist Strange Cousin, the single Knifes And Smothers and its b-side track Houdini Whodon’t’he are a dual approach to Post-Exotica’s sonic possibilities. The titular Knifes And Smothers is a melancholic Dark Ambient work consisting of reversed piano chords and news coverage of an unsolved 1997 homicide. Countering Knifes And Smothers is b-side track Houdini Whodon’t’he, a pummeling cinematic horror show of double kick triplets and wailing horn sections. Real ‘run through the jungle’ energy, an unsettling churning sensation.
German Army – Animals Remember Human (2020)
Animals Remember Human is one of five releases in the year 2020 by the hyper-prolific project Germany Army. GeAr, as they’re sometimes known, is the musique concrete project of Peter Kris and collaborator Norm Heston.
Inspired by the works of Paulo Freire and Sydney Possuelo, the Post-Exotica work of GeAr confronts the colonialist lens of 1950s pop Exotica which we are well familiar with.
When asked about the name German Army in an interview with Stereo Embers Magazine, Peter Kris said:
“I figured it was perfect because one can’t help but notice that at the time there seemed to be a rise in intolerance across the globe. I thought it would be a good name to take and use to actually document language and cultural extinction. Further, I wanted to critique all nationalism and focus on the actions of U.S. imperialism. You could just not bother to pay attention to the name or the message, but if you do, it is very clearly one of anti-imperialism, pro-ecology and for the cultural preservation of those disappeared or who presently have a vanishing language, culture, flora and fauna.”
If Post-Exotica were ever to develop into a fully fledged school of work, we ought to expect the hauntological humanitarian attitudes set forth by German Army to become prototypical.
Chick Vekters – Silicon Island (2021)
Perhaps now the go-to medium of escapist fantasy, video games allow us to fully immerse ourselves in a foreign world. What’s more exotic than that?
Using the retro video game aesthetic genre of Chiptune, Chick Vekters’s 2021 release Silicon Island is rightfully self-described as “an eclectic cocktail of aural adventures!” Heavily rooted in the Chiptune’s 8-bit sound, Silicon Island still delivers the escapist fantasy of island adventure, albeit just a wee bit pixelated.
With songs like Bionic Garden, Neon Forest, and Cathode Ray Reef, Silicon Island plays to the spirit of 1950s pop Exotica, while moving past Exotica’s colonialist past.
A E S T H E T I C S: Post-Exotica, Vaporwave and Aesthetic Niches
‘Post-Exotica’ is a term that has made brief appearances in the Vaporwave world over the past decade, but is Vaporwave the missing link to the development of Post-Exotica?
Vaporwave itself is a genre heavily invested in aesthetic offshoots. From iconic aesthetic-concept albums such as Frasierwave, to the more or less visual genre Simpsonswave. While built across the internet as opposed to regionally, Vaporwave, unlike Post-Exotica has managed to establish a shared set of artifacts, sonic and aesthetic identifiers, and language norms (albeit meme oriented) associated with subcultures.
Both the ability to retrofetishize and simultaneously criticize glory days of existing power structures are traits of both genres, but as a dual mode only particularly integral to Vaporwave.
Vaporwave has shown us that both the micro-genre and aesthetic genre is a place of sonic exploration, even if just as a brief layover on an artist’s greater developmental journey. Will Post-Exotica ever bridge this gap and become a fully fledged subculture and genre? Only time will tell.
For both clarity and legal reasons it should be stated upfront that the entities and individuals discussed in this article are not scams or inherently fraudulent. The Damian Keyes Music Business Academy, for one, claims to be “the World’s Number 1 Online Music Academy for Independent Artists, so you’re in safe hands.” I have no proof this isn’t the case, nor do I feel a need to create any. For more, read Resident Sound’s disclaimer page.
Look! A Dollar
1998, The American Way of Death Revisited, author Jessica Mitford’s follow-up to her 1963 exposé on the American funeral industry and written shortly before her own passing, details the abusive practices common within the American funeral industry. A sort of “Consumer Reports of death” as described by author Bess Lovejoy.The American Way of Death Revisited was the first instance in my life of an approachable, open door to American cultural critique.
“The undertaker, who pockets slightly more than half of the funeral dollar, has generally drawn the spotlight upon himself when the high cost of dying has come under scrutiny. But he is not the whole show. Behind the scenes, waiting for their cue, are the cemeteries, florists, monument makers, vault manufacturers. The casket-manufacturing companies, to whom the undertakers are perennially and heavily in debt, are often lurking in the wings like ambitious understudies waiting to move in and assume control of the funeral establishments should financial disaster strike.
The cast in this drama is not always one big happy family. There are the usual backstage displays of irritation, pique, jealousy, a certain vying and jockeying for position. There are lawsuits and scathing denunciations which arise because of the stiff competition. These can be submerged in the interests of a common endeavor, for the show must go on, and the common goal must be served: that of extracting the maximum admission fee from the paying audience.”
Mitford calls these adjacent businesses “allied industries;” businesses more or less reliant upon each other to extract as much money as possible from their targeted demographic. We see a similar albeit different practice in the music industry.
The immense world of music is not so united in its efforts. While the “big 3” of the casket making industry, Batesville, Aurora, and York, rely on their allied industries to push profits, the music industry’s big 3, Universal Music Group, Warner Music Group and Sony BMG don’t rely so much on their industrial underlings. These juggernauts of the recorded music world have little to no interest with the well-being of instrument manufacturers, road crews, small or independent efforts, the like, and have most recently disregarded the entire realm of physical media. But the revolving door of talent needs only so many bodies each cycle; With so many rockstar hopefuls left commercially unfulfilled, who is to profit from the array of musicians left over?
Those damn vultures, that’s who. Those who aren’t above taking a musician’s hard earned money can turn to the scrapheap of hopefuls who, in the eyes of snake oil salesmen, are waiting to be exploited.
Irrelevant to the top of the commercial music food chain, these business entities instead constitute a vulture industry, coming behind and scavenging missed dollars in the pockets of musicians and creators too useless or irrelevant to the larger music industry’s business, all under the guise of helping these musicians become a relative success.
We may see the hard work that goes into running a business and try to be forgiving, but at the end of the day these practices rival that of snake oil salesmen: hustlers selling the idea of hustling and profiting from the insecurities imposed on their market demographic.
Countless Backs of Sad Losers…
If you haven’t seen them, a quick search of the word “Spotify” on Youtube shows results such as How To Get Onto Spotify Playlists For Free (Andrew Southworth, Apr 24, 2020), THE END OF SPOTIFY: What Next (Damian Keyes, Nov 12, 2020), How To Grow More Spotify Streams! Release Radar & Discover Weekly (Boost Collective, May 23, 2020), and many other clickbait titles.
These business entities come in many forms, of which Boost Collective’s might be the most direct. Providing the “power of an agency in your hands,” Boost Collective offers a list of services that can be purchased with “Boost Credits” ($39.99 will get you 25 credits) and range from “Spotify Promo” to “Song Improvement.”
Andrew Southworth, on the other hand, is “an independent, very DIY minded, music creator.” A down-to-earth everyman, connected to your mindset, and currently selling a $97 an hour video consultation service.
While courses, services, and consultations are how many of these entities may make their money, they’re actually the up-sell to something much more detrimental. Yes, before you can even think of saying ‘mom’s credit card’ these entities have already sold you on the anxiety inducing mindset of success versus failure.
A good example of this is music business teacher Damian Keyes’s personal site; a gaudy display of career accreditation and indoctrinating affirmations. It’s good business, if not a bit tasteless.
“Everything you need to make a success of your music is right here.”
No guarantees. The ball is in your court, you don’t want to be a failure, right?
“…I wanted to establish a community where musicians can have more access to me & my training.”
Anyone can say they care, but only some of us can create artificial scarcity.
“Building in the music industry isn’t easy, you don’t want to do it alone.”
Edward Bernays would be proud.
The Damian Keyes Music Business Academy is former session musician and music industry guru Damian Keyes’s outlet for his courses in music business strategy. For $24 monthly, or the “pro” plan at $199 yearly, a customer of the DKMBA can have access to various video courses as well as live streams and other perks.
Outside the DKMBA, Damian Keyes offers private consultation. The Mentorship Plan, at a measly $1,495 “every month,” comes with enlightening perks, all described with legally vague terms, such as “accountability and support,” “super priority for music promotion…” and “super priority for working with Damian on YouTube challenge videos.” If paying a little more than the average monthly cost of rent for a single bedroom apartment is concerning to potential customers, they can purchase the Single Consultation Package: a “1 hour Skype consultation with Damian Keyes to discuss your goals, career & strategy” for $495. That must make Southworth’s consultation a steal.
But a different form of vulture-practice, and perhaps more egregious than faux-managerial support, is perfectly exemplified in the overabundance of alleged-scam record labels on sites like Soundcloud and Instagram. Let’s look at Beige Records, as detailed in youtuber and producer Trakk Sounds’ video Fake Music Gurus & Record Labels?! (Beige Records) (Trakk Sounds, Apr 27, 2021).
Beige Records grew in notoriety for its extensive cold outreach to SoundCloud accounts informing users that Beige Records was looking to add new artists to their roster, going as far as offering to sign SoundCloud users who hadn’t uploaded any music. Due in part to this, many have raised concerns over Beige Records’ perceived ‘scam’ practices, from charging €70 music uploading fees to accusations of bot-plays on streaming services.
“What is wild about this, and what’s an obvious, obvious sign it’s a fake playlist [using bots to generate plays] is you get automatic placement. You could probably send them a song of you singing ‘back that ass up’ in the most opera style you could, and without a doubt it’ll get placed on the hip-hop playlist with 25,000+ reach. If a Spotify playlist guarantees you placement, it is 100% false. I couldn’t even find these playlists [on Spotify]. I tried to research to see which ones they were, I couldn’t even figure out which playlists they were because they hide it so much.”
But isn’t Trakk Sounds, in a way, just another vulture of small music culture? Trakk Sounds is undoubtedly selling something. His videos, many about music business and directed at the small music community, earn royalties through Youtube’s paid-partnership program and are a direct ‘sell’ to the small musicians trying to make it (the ‘sell’ being one’s attention to advertisers). [Upon further investigation, Trakk Sounds does link to his Beatstars account, “a digital production marketplace that allows music producers to license, sell, and giveaway free beats.” But nowhere did I see any commercial copy suggesting Trakk Sounds’ production work would free you from working a day job or give you the ‘tools to success.’]
How do we differentiate someone like Trakk Sounds, whose content targets the same demographic and who carries a degree of perceived authority and public sway, from the vultures?
Gates of Steel
It would be hypocritical and perhaps a bit cynical to accuse Trakk Sounds of the crime of vying for your time and attention. We’re all doing it, be it a youtuber, a blogger (such as myself), or the very musicians which this conversation surrounds. Many of us are unsatisfied with our day jobs and would love to work on what we’re passionate about or at least something adjacent to our passions, much like Trakk Sounds, Oliver Kemp, or Anthony Fantano. So when things get difficult, when the money is out of reach, would you not turn to someone who may have the answers?
Enter video essayist and cultural commentator Big Joel. On May 11th, 2019 Big Joel released the video Small Youtube Culture as an exploration and comment on Youtube user Avrona’s floundering attempts at success and negative relations with various Youtube-success forums.
“…these forums were always a very anxious place. By their nature they’re filled with people who don’t want to be there, who want subs and aren’t getting them, and who don’t know what to do.
…I mean, I don’t want to graft my personality flaws onto everybody in this community, I don’t know if they’re all as motivated by external validation and attention as I am, but I have to imagine that a lot of them are, and that can be very painful.”
We see this same thing happening within small music. And seeing a vulnerable demographic, a vulture industry will swoop in to exploit it.
Hobbyists and dedicated artists alike are encouraged to game the algorithm, molded under an intoxicating bombardment of hustle culture aspirationalism and fear of failure by these business entities. It’s an ever revolving cycle that up-sells itself with each rotation. Watch the video, buy the class, sign up for the paid newsletter, ad nauseum with the promise of giving you the tools to succeed.
So what separates the hustlers and helpers from the gurus and vultures? What is in good faith, and who is there to solely make money? There are some things we can do; For one, gauge if what they’re saying is even true. Do they state a certain dichotomy is definitive, and if so what does it mean to go with either side? Are they completely dismissive of those who disagree with them? Do they talk down those who don’t put money before their craft? Do they support musicians outside of their own image? Does Damian Keyes buy music?
Where small music culture differs from small Youtube culture is in the latter’s disguise of craft. As Big Joel says, “Youtube, as a medium, tends to disguise its nature as art. Vloggers, commentary channels, ‘let’s plays,’ all the most important stuff tends to feel like a guy just pressed record and acted like himself. And sure, you can kinda learn to be like that, take an improv class or learn public speaking. But Jacksepticeye is not good at improv, Markiplier isn’t. They’re just goofy, heartfelt boys with faces you kinda wanna squeeze. Their talent feels unnameable, effortless and organic. And that is a shitty thing for a new creator. Because if you wanna do what these guys do, the name of the game isn’t ‘get better at the craft;’ There is no clear craft to get better at. Instead, you’re left talking about what strikes me as window dressing: Trying to improve your audio, releasing the optimal number of videos, making eye-catching thumbnails and descriptions with good keywords. You’re left running on this treadmill hoping that someday something will maybe take off but all the while the substance of your work remains roughly the same.”
As one of the oldest art forms, there is undoubtedly a craft to music. But under the pressure of vulture industries, what we see happening to the craft of music, with centuries of input in the forms of theory, philosophy, and cultural dialogue, is quickly forgotten for these “window dressing” solutions.
A predatory entity will perpetuate a ‘success vs failure’ dichotomy that induces a fear-based approach to crafting music that can then be manipulated into creating further engagement and sales with the entity’s own brand. Being signed to a ‘label’ that doesn’t actually help you, getting on a playlist with some slick or flashy name, having the right content to post; You’ve been convinced you need these to succeed, but what you consider success was sold to you by those who stand to make a profit off your mindset.
Maggie Nelson said in her book The Art of Cruelty that any dichotomy irrelevant to the next generation is disregarded by that generation. What is success in music- in art? How do we avoid ‘success posturing’ and how do we stick to genuine artistic expression, creation because the work must be created? In our age of virtual space, with our curated identities and multifaceted motivations, is a dichotomy involving authenticity irrelevant? More importantly, how does a dichotomy that gauges success and failure by commercial means become irrelevant?
Perhaps now the question should be ‘how do we differentiate art for art/artist/audience’s sake from art made for capital’s sake?’ Because art made solely in the hopes of making capital (be it financial or social) is about as fulfilling as being a dishwasher, but is dishonorable in its contribution to cheap cultural runoff and general uselessness.
What does our collective culture get out of your work? What do you hope to get out of it? If the answer to the latter is solely money, your choice to make music was the worst business decision you’ve made so far.
It is more than okay to search for help in the arts and in the business side of art, but remember that they cannot sell the success they describe. There are no guarantees, and it is this very uncertainty that vulture industries use to manipulate your buying habits. It’s important to find the desire or joy to create music from outside financial or social capital. Your work may be the only thing you’ll ever get from it, and that is a reward no one else can give you.
Again, from Small Youtube Culture, Big Joel states:
“The joy I got in learning to make better video essays, in improving my writing, in finding out what I really like to talk about, it’s just a lot harder to get that, when it feels like the bulk of your job (the difference between your channel and a successful one) has nothing to do with your art.”
“It can be pleasant to think that Youtube is… Not governed by mysterious forces, rational, coherent, tangible. But, it’s not really like that. It’s not ever really like that. …It helps me now to just try to make whatever I want, because if I didn’t I’d just be confused and worried all the time. …Maybe the algorithm, this odd and metaphysical feeling thing, is kinda cursed. Maybe we all have a lemon tree growing in our backyard and sometimes it blooms and sometimes it doesn’t and nobody knows why. And maybe anyone telling you otherwise is trying to sell something, to you or to themself.”
Southern Gothic is, first and foremost, a literary genre that seemingly no one can define; a series of broad themes, stereotypes, and general ‘vibes’ often interpreted through the lens of the untrue many, regurgitated back into a self-affirming echo chamber of aesthetic cheesiness. In many ways, what people view to be southern gothic music is more of the steampunk approach to being poor wHite (with a capital “H”) country folk with an alcohol problem. So take it from a southerner who’s seen their fair share of weird occurrences; that ain’t southern gothic.
Here to correct course, flesh out your southern gothic music knowledge or at least your spooky Halloween playlist, here’s Resident Sound’s Guide to Southern Gothic Music.
Bill Frisell – Tales from The Far Side
Originally the theme for the hard to find Gary Larson’s Tales from The Far Side 1994 TV Halloween special, The Bill Frisell Quartet’s lengthy opening statement takes cartoon oddity to a macabre and haunting place. The song’s eerie and haunting motif is slowly twisted and transformed into a grotesque and wild semblance of its origin, giving Tales from The Far Side more bite than its ‘Denver sound’ contemporaries.
Porter Wagoner – The Rubber Room
From Porter Wagoner’s vaguely uneasy What Ain’t to Be, Just Might Happen (1972), The Rubber Room is the oft overlooked and much needed addition to any southern gothic or spooky country playlist. On the non-cinematic side of additions to this list, Rubber Room sings the malady of the minds and the confinement and isolation imposed on the mentally ill, all located in “a building tall, with a stone wall around.” The whole song could’ve started with ‘on a dark and stormy night’ for all I’m concerned…
Rowland S. Howard – Dead Radio
What’s more southern than the southern hemisphere? Okay, that’s a copout, but Australia has given us The Birthday Party, and with it the solo careers of Nick Cave, Mick Harvey, and my personal favorite Rowland S Howard. Rowland is the Lee Hazlewood of goth music, and in turn Hazlewood’s southern gothic counterpart. While his earlier work alongside Nick Cave in The Birthday Party may have embraced southern gothicism to a T, Rowland S Howard’s solo record Teenage Snuff Film (1999) is a must for anyone looking to dive right in.
Hank Thompson – I Cast A Lonesome Shadow
Let’s get it straight: the best version of this song is on Hank Thompson at The State Fair of Texas (1963) bar none. The spacious feel of its environment only sneaks into mind all the negative tropes of carnies and fair. Besides that, Hank Thompson at The State Fair of Texas offers a more uptempo version to the song’s slower single release from the year prior.
Foetus – Spit on The Griddle (The Drowning of G. Walhof)
The lush orchestral arrangement from composer J.G. Thirlwell more or less speaks for itself. Thirlwell’s high anxiety sound lends itself perfectly to the dark edges of perception. Perfect for night drives in the backwoods or stumbling upon a mutilated dead body. Looking for more? Try the Foetus track Rattlesnake Insurance.
Reverend Horton Heat – It’s A Dark Day
Perhaps the only person using ‘reverend’ in their band name that I don’t hold disdain for, Jim ‘Reverend Horton Heat’ Heath and crew usually deliver at least one fairly dark gem per record. 1990’s Smoke ‘Em If You Got ‘Em may have the beloved hit Psychobilly Freakout, but It’s A Dark Day, a perfectly somber song drudging through the depths of depression and heartbreak, is our takeaway.
These Immortal Souls – These Immortal Souls
These Immortal Souls was the brief side-project of Rowland S. Howard. A split from his work in Crime & The City Solution, These Immortal Souls may be the most interesting and overlooked branch in The Birthday Party lineage (to echo sentiment from Charles Spano). Rowland S Howard’s work may be the most consistently southern gothic while never falling to the try-hard cheese of dedicated ‘southern gothic’ music acts.
Mario Batkovic – Quatere
It would be remiss to go straight to the Red Dead Redemption soundtrack in a guide hoping to change your perception on southern gothic music, but Red Dead Redemption go-to-ers get some things right. We went with score contributor Mario Batkovic’s cinematic solo accordion work and, I guess, ‘hit’ Quatere.
Patsy Cline – Crazy
C’mon. Do I need to explain this? If you still don’t hear it, go back to Tumblr fanfic or harassing children on the internet or whatever it is you do with your life. …Still here? Great. Try throwing a little extra reverb or delay on this song if you really want to trip out. I highly recommend it.
Eddie Noack – Psycho
Of course this song is on our list. What’s wrong with you? While plenty of murder country music should be left to the grave, Eddie Noack’s single Psycho is a bonafide classic in our ears. Sometimes put in comparison to the later serial killer Ed Kemper, Psycho is a twisted tale of black outs, murder and mommy issues. What more could you ask for?
Grass Jaw is the solo recording project of musician and father Brendan Kuntz. The project’s 4th album Anticipation will be out November 5th, 2021 on vinyl and via digital download. Written and recorded while moving from Jersey City, NJ to Ithaca, NY, Anticipation blends elements of slowcore, alt-country and garage rock. The songs on this record reflect the tumult that happens during such a transition, covering depression, self-awareness, and super-anxiety that goes with parenting.
The following interview with Kuntz took place over email in September 2021.
You reached out to me through Resident Sound’s contact page, as occasionally happens with folks, and we started talking. Being an independent solo project you take on all artistic and business responsibilities yourself. What do you find to be the biggest struggle with getting through to people, be it artistically or promotionally, and where have you found success in this struggle?
Building an audience is something that took me a painfully long time to figure out. I played in a band in NYC from 2005 – 2015 and we didn’t play many shows (especially after the first few years) because shows usually were sparsely attended and seemed not worth the trouble. We all worked 9-5 jobs and had a hard time justifying being out until 4 to play to 5 or fewer people. After a while we mostly stopped trying, and would basically play only when invited by friends, which ended up happening more frequently out of town. During much of this time I was also in the process of trying to figure out how to function socially without alcohol, and it was very rare for me to go out and see other local bands, because it was uncomfortable to go out. In general, as a band, we weren’t really connecting with other people (and especially musicians) locally, so it makes sense that we didn’t have an audience.
Around 5 years ago, after my youngest son was born, I felt a strong need to get out of the house occasionally, and started seeing more live music. Going to a show, I would find I liked the opening band, or I would meet someone in the audience who played in a band or even just liked the same bands, and after a while it became shockingly clear what I had missed out on by not connecting with music people during that time. At first I felt a ton of anxiety about being the weird old guy at shows (especially basement shows!), but after a while it subsided. I lived in such a great music town, but for years didn’t really know or value local bands. It’s a little embarrassing. The other side of it is that eventually I did start going out more and more (of course still limited with a day job, 2 kids, and a wife who has her own interests) and meet a lot of people. Many of those people have been so supportive as I’ve started making my own music. I’m very appreciative of having music friends who share their own music with me, and will also listen to what I make. For family reasons I am not in a place to play live much or tour, and I know that’s an impediment to growing an audience much beyond where it’s at today, but I’m at peace with that (although I do hope to tour again someday when my kids are older, just to make more of those friendships in different places.)
Smaller musicians usually don’t receive the luxury (or burden) of having their entire catalog over-analyzed and ‘made straight’ by fans and journalists. What is the Brendan Kuntz / Grass Jaw narrative thus far? How did Grass Jaw come to be where it is now?
I’ve played drums for most of my life now (almost 30 years at this point.) I started playing with some kids in 8th grade in a band, and have basically played in some iteration of that band on and off since 1992 I think. I went to school for recording and after college moved to the city to work in a recording studio. I thought working in a studio like that was my dream job, but it ended up being one of the worst jobs I’ve ever had. It left no time for playing music (or anything else) and also didn’t pay near enough to live on – it seemed like most of the people who were doing ok there had some other source of income or support. After a while I gave up on it and found another job outside of music, and also started playing in a band again.
I love the group of people in this band, and love playing with them, but at different times in my life have felt like I wanted to have more of a voice than is typically afforded to the drummer. Around five years ago I saw a show (it was Bad History Month) and the one guy in the band was singing, playing guitar and doing kind of a one man band thing on drums at the same time. He’s one of my favorite artists and I was so excited to see him, but it was also kind of a realization that I could make music on my own and didn’t need to wait around or rely on any other people. So I basically just started writing some songs, and worked on recording them at home until I had an album’s worth. I asked for feedback on that first record from a trusted friend / bandmate and asked him to be brutally honest, and he helped me think about things like editing and crafting in a way that I hadn’t thought too much about as a drummer (like why am I bringing this part back, or what purpose does this section serve).
Listening back to that album now there are definitely some rough edges that can be hard for me to listen to, but I’m also proud of it as something that I set out to do and finished. It reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend about tattoos a long time ago – I was asking him if he still liked all of his tattoos, and he basically said he would probably make different choices if he were to do it over today, but he’s glad he has them to remember where he was at. On that first record I was really just figuring out how to do things. I made another one a year later that felt like it came bubbling out of me, like those songs just had to get out and I just needed to figure out how to translate them. And with each record I’ve made (this is my fourth) the process feels a bit more natural, and capturing sounds feels more natural, and it’s just amazing how things come together when compared with that first album where it felt like I was pushing a truck uphill.
Many musicians have credited their environment (landscape, weather, crime rate, etc.) with influencing their sound. Do you find this to be the case with your music, and if so, how has the move from New Jersey to New York state changed your approach?
I grew up near where I live now and I’ve always had a bit of a country streak in me musically, so it’s hard to say when it comes out how much is from my current environment, and how much is just ingrained, but it is there. I think one of the biggest things that’s pretty easy to hear in the newest record (after the move) is the effect this past winter had on me. It was probably the bleakest winter I’ve ever experienced, and it affected my mood and songwriting deeply. There was one stretch of about a month where I was literally shoveling every day, often 2-3 times a day just to keep up, and it seemed like it was never going to relent. I was in a cold dark place physically and emotionally, and I think it’s pretty apparent when listening to it.
For you, what has your identity in being a musician given you that you don’t find else where? How do you approach the dissonance of daily life (responsibilities) and the art life?
I remember being in middle school and feeling deeply unhappy and lonely, just feeling like I didn’t know where I fit in, and hating going to school and being ignored (at best) or bullied. Towards the end of middle school grunge became a thing, and there was a lot of rock music on the radio and on MTV, and I would come home every day after school and play (drums) along to some of those albums. After a couple months I heard about some other kids that were trying to start a band, so I asked if I could try out. The next year as a freshman in high school was so much better, because there was a thing I was good at and I had some friends who liked some of the same things and could spend time with. I still had a pretty typical high school experience with bullying and struggling to fit in, but it was light years better than it had been before I found music. To this day, almost all of my closest relationships have some connection to music, and I’m very thankful to have found it.
Around the time when my wife and I were expecting our second child we decided we needed more space to raise a family, and we decided to do some renovations to our apartment. We were fortunate enough to be able to also add some extra space for a music room. For the first time in my adult life I had a drum set and other music gear in my home and could play without having to travel an hour and a half to the practice space we’d been renting for years. Ironically, having a space to make music at home came just as our 2nd child was born and all of a sudden it became harder than ever to find the time to make music. That said, my wife and I have always been really good at giving each other the space to pursue individual interests and maintain friendships. Up until last year we both have tried to give each other a free weekend 3-4 times a year. I also work remotely, and have been fortunate over the years to be able to sometimes (when my schedule allows) spend my lunch hour working on a new song. But of course it’s hard trying to fit inspiration into those little windows. There have been lots of times when a melody or lyric idea will come to me when I’m with the kids or working, and if I can manage it I’ll pull out my phone and quickly record it into voice notes and hope it translates later on. Or sometimes there’s just too much else happening and it’s lost, and I have to just trust that more ideas will come.
You’re far from the first parent musician, but maybe that’s a journey one takes alone. Do you see your struggles and stresses in the work of past musicians? How has becoming a parent shaped your view of your own artistic work?
I honestly haven’t put too much thought into this, but I’m having a hard time coming up with many artists where there’s a clear connection between parenting and the music. I know there are lots of great musicians who had kids – one that comes to mind is Neil Young, I know his son had special needs that took a huge amount of focus and dedication, and it’s amazing that he was able to make any music for all of those years, but he was putting a record out almost every year, for decades. I think he comes to mind first because we both had kids with special needs. It’s something that can take over your life, and it can be hard to maintain perspective.
One thing that is surprising to me is that I can’t think of much music that directly focuses on the feeling of being a bad parent, which I think is strange because it’s an extremely strong feeling that I think most parents experience. Or maybe it’s not being a bad parent, but not the right parent for your kid and working through that and trying to do better. It’s complicated, and it’s hard and it seems like a shared experience that could help other people with kids.
On a related note, I struggle with how much I should share about my own personal life, especially when it relates to my kids. How are they going to feel about some of these songs when they’re older that are obviously about them, or about our relationship? In a lot of ways, songwriting is a form of therapy for me. When I’m writing music, it helps me process and think about what I’m feeling, what’s bothering me, what I want to change. Sometimes it just helps me get a bad day out of my system. I worry about how my kids might take those songs when they’re older, but I also want to be open and honest with them, because I want that kind of relationship with them.
A little question for people to nerd out on. What are you listening to? No cool answers!
Hmm, this is probably a “cool answer” but I am such a big fan of Exploding in Sound, and love almost everything they put out. It’s just automatic at this point that I buy every single thing they release. The records they put out this year from Floatie, Thirdface, and Stuck have been in heavy rotation. Last year it was Shell of a Shell, Dig Nitty and Knot. And the year before that there were records by Human People and Maneka that were amazing.
Non EIS records I love, Thalia Zedek – Perfect Vision, Squitch – Learn to be Alone, The Chives – THE CHIVES, Writhing Squares – Chart for the Solution, Frank & The Hurricanes – S/T
Regarding less cool stuff – lately almost everything I listen to is “new”, so it’s hard to say. I’m in my 40s, I don’t know what’s cool 🙂 As far as older stuff I just started to get back into Q and Not U. I always loved that first record but never really connected with the follow ups. A month or two ago someone suggested I go back and give the other albums another chance, and it’s just crazy how I missed it. I love it, especially Different Damage. As far as really old stuff, I can put on Thin Lizzy just about anytime and it’s an instant mood enhancer.
Hmm, what else? There was this one track thing a few years ago that I hope more people will listen to, it’s on Bandcamp, the artist is “Debbie” who I think is the primary singer / writer from Human People. I love just clicking through Bandcamp and finding new stuff. It’s funny how many times I’ve wasted an hour scrolling through Netflix or whatever service looking for something to watch before bed. If I decide to instead spend that hour clicking / scrolling through Bandcamp, it is almost always a better use of that time. I also remember getting weirdly into Hawaiian teenage pop-punk around the time I turned 40. There was a band called Aura Bora that had one amazing record.
Last thing – my kids also love Weird Al (I’ve always had a soft spot for him as well) and it’s super fun to put on some of those records and just have fun with them and they are so catchy cause they’re based on radio hits that of course have great melodies, etc… I think one of my favorite lyrics of all time is actually from Weird Al’s I Think I’m A Clone Now; “I can be my own best friend and I can send myself for pizza” is hilarious but also kind of strangely dark and unsettling.
Last but not least, run what ya brung! Tell the people about your latest record Anticipation and where they can find it!
Thanks! Yeah, I am so excited about this record. This is the first one I’ve done where every song is extremely personal, every song is part of my story, there’s no fiction or even really exaggeration. This all happened to me. There’s a lot of dark stuff on this record, but it does end on a hopeful note, and anyway, what kind of psychopath would be making a happy record after the last 18 months (or the last 20 years)?
It’s coming out on Nov 5th in all the usual streaming places, it’s also on Bandcamp and there is vinyl available as well for those who would like it. I’m hoping to have a couple more features / premieres before the official release, and I will usually post that kind of thing on Twitter (@brendankuntz)
You can find Grass Jaw over at their Bandcamp, or find Brendan Kuntz on Twitter here.
15 years into Spotify’s reign of terror the need to take control of one’s own cultural influence has never been greater. There’s never been a better time to invest in yourself, so why not get started on the thing that brought you to this site in the first place: your love of music.
Own, Don’t Owe
To pull a quote from Joe Steinhardt’s 2021 pamphletWhy To Resist Streaming Music & How, “They say streaming is a ‘don’t own anything’ paradigm, but it’s actually a ‘you’re always buying things’ paradigm. Spotify uses the same predatory business model as a store like Rent-A-Center to ensure you are paying to rent something for life that you used to be able to just buy once for a much lower overall cost.”
It wasn’t cheap convincing people to rent for life, but that’s how they’re going to make their money back.
Paid streaming subscriptions for music and movies are a hostage negotiation that only ends when you stop paying. Album taken down for any reason? Too bad. Album get’s altered after its release? Too bad. And let’s not get started on the reinvention of cable TV.
When you buy a record or movie, be it digital or physical, it is yours for life. Play it forwards, backwards, upside down. It’s your copy and it will always be there for you. Spending 10-20 dollars a month on Bandcamp or at a mom-and-pop record shop puts the money in the hands of your community and the artists you patronize, and out of the hands of problematic megastars skimming off pro-rata payment systems used by Spotify and other music streaming distributors.
Step away from endless playlists
I, for one, would argue that a 23+ hour ‘exotica essentials’ playlist has a lot of fat to be trimmed. It makes sense to be hesitant to switch to a so-called ‘limited’ listening model like owning your own music. But what’s more important: access to ‘everything’ or embracing what matters?
You’ll never come to fully embrace good work if you’re slogging through a sea of soundalikes. Sit down with an album, an EP, or a singular song and let it tell you its worth. Step away from the mindless streaming of soundalike tracks and embrace your own curated world tailor-fit for you, by you.
Don’t be afraid of albums
Knowing a little about a lot is a great way to explore culture and tastes, but don’t be afraid to commit to buying albums. In the digital age, every song is now a single. No longer encumbered by needle dropping or blindly winding tape, we have a world of b-sides and gems hidden across massive discographies that are ready to be unearthed. Yet many of us never listen to the full album.
Maybe the idea of spending 7 to 10 bucks on a singular album is daunting. What if the album isn’t all that worth it? While sites like Youtube are a great way to discover and decide if you like an album before buying it, they’re not an ethical substitute for owning music. Aside from an onslaught of ads interrupting the music, the streaming royalties through Youtube will never reasonably be enough to support the artists whose work you enjoy.
The truth is many releases aren’t worth the money for the full album. That’s why we leave reviews, share with friends, and read blogs. But I say where there’s smoke, there’s fire. If you’re a deep fan of a select few songs on the album, you’re most likely going to enjoy the rest. So instead of checking out another bloated playlist, try revisiting albums which you already enjoy a few songs from.
Really enjoying 3 songs off Kimono My House? Trust me, buy the album. Only heard 2 of 5 songs on the EP but you enjoyed them? Trust me, buy the album. You don’t need to know the artist’s full discography, a good album stands on its own.
Consider an external disc drive
While Steinhardt’s accusation of Apple phasing out disc drives to force people into supporting a streaming model is seemingly unsubstantiated, the likelihood of computer manufacturers bringing them back any time soon is slim.
CDs are incredibly cheap for any artist to produce, and with a massive (and inexpensive) second hand market CDs are financially accessible for many people. Many albums have only ever existed in their initial release, and while the vinyl resurgence is allowing hidden gems to be re-discovered, there’s still many albums only accessible in their original compact-disc release.
Why let ‘the man’ hold you back? Invest in a $20 disc drive and open the door back to an entire world of media.
Find what you really care about
Finding the music you really care about takes time. In our culture of fast fashion, Instagram posturing and trend following, taking time to cut through to what you truly care about is an important investment in yourself. Learning to be adaptable and open to new things allows us to become our best selves over time, but we need to learn how to do so in spite of fast-fashion trends: be it clothes, music, attitude, or the all encompassing ‘subculture revival’ trends.
Enrich your life by investing time and money in the music that suits you best. What songs do you get the most out of? Feel it through and accept no substitutes. Artists, albums, and songs that resonate with you shouldn’t be sloshed about in a sea of imitations, knock-offs, and general ‘sound-a-likes.’ Reel ‘em into your life, and keep on fishin’.
In yesterday’s review of Wun Two – The Fat EP (2012), I bemoaned the proliferation and stagnation of the synthetic lofi “hip-hop meets ambient” genre of Chillhop. I only ever referred to it as ‘lofi beat’ style as I didn’t fully grasp the degree of interchangeability of the two terms. They’re ultimately synonymous, with chillhop only acting as a more popular genre title.
In a recent post to the r/letstalkaboutmusic subreddit, u/zinko101 brought up the topic of stagnation within hip-hop. While I hadn’t mentioned it in the review, I had contemplated how music hobbyists fit within the playing field in our current age of music. After leaving a rambling comment I decided to take what I had written and bring it home to Resident Sound.
It’s Loud in Here
There’s countless reasons why music democratization is great. Nearly anyone can acquire a cheap computer and start making art. But that puts a lot of pressure on people. Hobbyists of any field are now tempted to ‘make it’ while artistic or career aspiring musicians have to fight tooth and nail to be noticed, baited to use unnecessary promotional services.
Meanwhile, the music industry has long been just that, an industry. Gatekeeping, bigotry, and artistic stagnation have been common place since before day 1. We live in the most democratized era of music and reap many of those benefits, yet our culture still remains victim to artistic stagnation.
What gives? No, I understand it’s easy to point at the now and say ‘it used to be better.’ It has never been better. Every era of audibly recorded music exists right now. Thanks to the internet, we live in an era of 80s hardcore,90s tv, and 1910s Turkish ballads.
But on the other hand, the proliferation of cheap music tech and the cultural takeover of acousmatic music has created a mass wave of hobbyists flooding the recorded music market. Anywhere you can stream music, talk about music, promote music, is now the shared floor of every single person to make a sound.
In The Lab? Play-Doh Fun Factory effect
The demographic of music hobbyists has always existed, but only recently has it gone from playing the family piano or making a private pressing to being solely about the recording. Truly, we live in an age of acousmatic music.
These people have never had intentions of pushing artistic boundaries, and that’s okay. We see this in all genres, ironically so in ‘experimental’ music in which so-called ‘experimenting’ is about as experimental as those slime and magnet kits one would get as a kid. Much like a Play-Doh Fun Factory, we get the same sonic shapes and colors over and over again (great for Play-Doh, not music).
People (rightfully so) imitate or try to full on replicate the things they like. All musicians do this. While many career-aspiring artists don’t aim high for artistic innovation, the few artists who do break free from the mold.
On the other hand, hobbyists have no reason to give themselves a high bar of artistic innovation. It’s a hobby, the thinking being; ‘hey, maybe I’ll get some likes, some up-votes, and maybe get shared on a playlist.’ Even for the hobbyist, there’s social capital to be gained in being a musician. Not only is it an identity, but it’s a content generating one as well.
A Sucker Born Every Minute
So why not separate the 2 groups when discussing music? Well, we all know dichotomies within music are a mess. Considering a musician’s artistic merit, genuine intentions, and commercial drive would only make such a dichotomy impossible to approach. The inaccuracy of dichotomies makes it impossible to definitively state they’re not artists.
Hobbyists aren’t malicious, they’re not even that different. Just like every small time musician looking to ‘make it,’ hobbyists are the target of an entire vulture industry that preys on hopes of financial independence and life achievement.
Why enjoy life when you can capitalize off of it? We’ve all been sold this story. It was just some kid making Youtube videos or streaming a video game. The next thing you know they’ve achieved the modern American dream: being a ‘winner.’
When major labels market the authenticity of their new star, it leaves success feeling just out of reach. We pressure anyone with a laptop to be the next star in digital music. There’s software to be sold, promotional services to serve all our egos, and the ad space on a million ‘how to’ videos to make your tracks sound just like everyone else’s.
10 years ago, interest in true crime was still somewhat taboo, podcasts seemed like a novelty, and no one had yet seen the full potential the medium had to offer. But things have changed. Now you can listen to some of the most intriguing mysteries to have ever occurred. All of this spurred on by the medium’s high-accessibility, mass free listening, and social media sharing.
The number of true crime podcasts have boomed. Along with a cesspool of edgy cash grabs and ego based hosts, the true crime genre has spawned some of the greatest podcasts of the early years of podcasting. With so much to choose from, Resident Sound has picked our top 5 true crime podcasts worth your time.
The Doorstep Murder
Alistair Wilson was shot to death on his doorstep in Nairn, Scotland on November 28th, 2004. But now questions remain. Who did this, and why? Host Fiona Walker walks us through the fatal night in question connecting a family in mourning, community fears, and a mysterious blue envelope addressed to an unknown “Paul.”
Originally uploaded as a 6 part series in 2018, The Doorstep Murder received a follow up episode in 2020 when Alistair Wilson’s son appealed for more information regarding his father’s case.
You can check out the show over at BBC Scotland or find The Doorstep Murder where ever you listen to podcasts.
As their Apple podcast bio states, “Criminal is a podcast about crime. Not so much the ‘if it bleeds, it leads,’ kind of crime. Something a little more complex. Stories of people who’ve done wrong, been wronged, and/or gotten caught somewhere in the middle.” It does what it says on the tin, folks! But it also does so much more.
“I’ve always thought that a real true crime fan listening to Criminal might be a little bit disappointed… …It is a true crime show but it’s also just a show about the human experience,” said Phoebe Judge in an interview with the CBC.
Host and co-creator Phoebe Judge and co-creator Lauren Spohrer craft human stories; stories of antiquarian book thievery, community gambling, and of stopping crime with a concrete Buddha statue. Some episodes more serious (and darker) than others, Criminal is a low-commitment, high-quality podcast with at least a dozen episodes for anybody.
You can check out Criminal at their site, This Is Criminal or find their podcasts where ever you listen to podcasts.
Devil’s Teeth is an ongoing investigative true crime podcast searching for answers in the 1972 death of 16 year-old Jeannette DePalma in Springfield Township, New Jersey. While allegations of occult activity, drug overdosing, and suspiciously missing case files weave in an out, certain episodes are dedicated to some of the area’s tales of tragedy and how they bear similarities to Jeannette DePalma’s case.
While earlier episodes slightly suffer from mixing and varying audio quality it should be considered that this was only a year after the massive success of true crime podcast phenom Serial. 3 years prior, most people I had talked to didn’t know what a podcast was, let alone the appeal of the medium. Likewise, prior to Serial the whole true crime genre was considered taboo; an interest of flippant degenerates and ‘columbiners’ alike. Since then, Devil’s Teeth has drastically improved with each episode being a step up in audio and production quality.
Sometimes the best of investigative true crime podcasts have less to do with the crime and more to do with the story told along the way; the self-insertion of the investigator within the greater narrative. Clues and connections are made, and unfold upon the investigator. Not to invoke an image of Hunter S Thompson or ‘gonzo’ journalism. True crime involves a degree of tact, empathy, and professionalism that many true crime podcasts such as My Favorite Murder can’t be bothered by.
Lost Hills podcast is created and hosted by Dana Goodyear, a staff writer at The New Yorker among many other things. Goodyear explores Malibu in the aftermath of a murder. In 2018, 35 year-old scientist Tristan Beaudette is killed while camping in Malibu Creek State Park. What unfolds is a web of cover-ups, unsolved shootings, and mental illness amongst a cast of Californians at the crossroads of life, loss, and corruption.
You can check out Lost Hills at Pushkin Industries, or find their podcasts where ever you listen to podcasts.
Death In Ice Valley
The unidentified body of the Isdal Woman remains one of the most intriguing mysteries of the Cold War era. Who was this mysterious woman, and what was she doing in the foothills of Bergen, Norway when she died?
Debuting in 2018, NRK host Marit Higraff and BBC host Neil McCarthy guide the listener through a cold and rainy landscape to try to identify the Isdal Woman, her occupation and whereabouts leading up to her death. Death in Ice Valley’s sound design is simultaneously subtle and engulfing. When the hosts are out in the rain, you feel it. When the podcast let’s you back inside, the eerie sense of the mystery and Cold War paranoia sticks with you.
Death in Ice Valley is one of the best true crime and mystery podcasts to ever exist. If you were to listen to all of these, listen to Death in Ice Valley last as you will be spoiled by its high-quality, long arching story. Follow up episodes are made along with updates in the case. This lead to the 2019 episode Turning Detective – Live, in which Higraff and McCarthy comb through listeners’ leads and theories.
You can check out Death in Ice Valley over at the BBC or find their podcasts where ever you listen to podcasts.