2012 sales report: The Compact Disc is Alive and Well (for now); Icky Blossoms tour diary; sun sets on Sun Settings tonight…

Category: Column — Tags: , , — @ 1:54 pm January 10, 2013

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

My column in The Reader this week focuses on 2012 album sales and includes an interview with Mike Fratt who runs Homer’s Records. I typically don’t include my Reader column here at lazy-i.com, but make exceptions for music-focused commentary (such as this). You can also read the column online at thereader.com right here, or in print in this week’s issue (on stands now):

Over the Edge: The Compact Disc is Alive and Well (for now)

Billboard Magazine last week presented the final music sales numbers for 2012, and it appears to be filled with woe for the future of the compact disc.

The CD, which first became commercially available in 1982, has seen a steady decline first with the emergence of Napster (the first effective mp3 distribution device) in 1999 and then with the launch of Apple’s iTunes (and the invention of the iPod) in 2001 that made downloading digital music files “legitimate.”

But despite the constant heralding of its demise, the compact disc continues to survive, though its pulse weakens ever-so-slightly year after year. Case in point: Billboard reported that for the Year of Our Lord 2012, the sales of physical CDs (according to Nielsen SoundScan) were down a whopping 13 percent compared to 2011, reflecting a decline in U.S. album sales of 4 percent to 315.96 million from 330.57 million in 2011.

While CD sales continued to flounder, digital album downloads continued to increase their share of the overall album sales pie with a 14 percent gain to a record 117.68 million. Says Billboard, 37 percent of all albums sold in 2012 were downloads, up from 31 percent in 2011. For the first time in January 2012, digital surpassed physical with 50.3 percent of all music sales.

You might be scratching your head thinking, “Gee, 315 million albums seems like a lot to me.” Contrast that number with 2001, when Nielsen SoundScan reported CD album sales of 712 million. We’re talking a nearly 50 percent decline in album sales (of any format) in 11 years. It begs the question: Are people listening to less music or simply buying less music because they’re either 1) stealing it or 2) getting it from “free” sources, which could include anything from websites to free streaming services such as Pandora and Spotify?

For a local perspective, we turn (as we always do) to Mike Fratt, general manager and head buyer at Homer’s Records. Fratt said what’s driving the decline in sales over the past two years is the “huge reduction in (physical inventory) and square feet devoted to music retail at mass merchants” like Best Buy and Target.

“This is driving many people to online stores like Amazon,” Fratt said. “Non-traditional sales (online stores, non-music retail, non-mass merchant) biz was way up again this year. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to make up the difference, as many consumers think (record) labels have stopped making CDs. We heard that comment a lot this holiday season.”

In fact, there are no plans to abandon compact disc production before the end of this decade, Fratt said. NARM (not the North American Registry of Midwives but the National Association of Recording Merchants) and the record labels project that sales of compact discs will remain an important part of the total retail music business through the next five years.

The big box stores’ retreat from music sales would seem to be boon for stand-alone record shops. Unfortunately, the shift came too late for many. According to The Wall Street Journal, the number of physical record stores dropped 77 percent between 2000 and 2010 and is expected to decline another 11.6 percent by 2016. HMV, Tower Records, Sam Goody’s and Virgin have all gone the way of the dinosaur.

Meanwhile, there are still about 2,000 independent music stores like Homer’s, according to the Huffington Post. And their sales are growing. Fratt said Homer’s CD sales were up last year in both dollars and units.

“Being up in dollars is significant because the average price of a CD has fallen to nearly $10 as labels have radically reduced prices in the last two years,” Fratt said. “We now have a quarter of our CD inventory below $8 and a third below $10.”

Fratt said music lovers who want to buy an entire album’s worth of music still choose physical over digital 65 percent of the time. “New music (digital sales) is driven by songs,” Fratt said. “Very much like the ‘50s, ‘60s and early ‘70s when 45 rpm’s drove the business before albums took off.”

But the other life blood for independent record stores is vinyl — that’s right, those old-fashioned records that you play with a record player, the format that everyone shoveled dirt over when the CD emerged as the medium of choice in the ‘90s.

For the fifth consecutive year, more vinyl albums were sold than in any other year since SoundScan launched in 1991, reported Billboard. In 2012, 4.55 million vinyl LPs were sold — up 18 percent compared to 2011’s then-record haul of 3.87 million. And 67 percent of those vinyl albums were purchased at independent music stores.

“While some indies are reporting lower CD sales for 2012, everyone was up in vinyl again,” Fratt said, adding that vinyl was “huge at Christmas, but was up all year long.”

So with all this in mind, when was the last time you bought a CD or a vinyl album?

Maybe even more important: When was the last time you printed out a photo you took with your cell phone? When was the last time you printed a letter or clipped a newspaper article? When was the last time you burned a DVD of a home movie? These were all activities we used to do regularly when we felt we needed a physical backup of our digital memories for fear that our computer hard drives would crash and we’d lose it all.

Today we have backups of everything, and backups of backups that reside in the mystical “cloud.”  We’re becoming confident that our digital memories are secure (whether they are or not) and are throwing away the backups, clearing out the clutter, selling back our compact discs.

More than anything, it’s this new confidence in digital security that could kill off the compact disc once and for all as we begin to walk the digital tightrope without a net.


Some additional thoughts….

Fratt says that vinyl now represents almost 20 percent of Homer’s sales, and that they’re looking at building new fixtures to hold more vinyl product in the same space. As for labels going “digital only,” Fratt said a record label is more likely to go out of business before going that route. “There are still infrastructure costs associated with digital,” he said. “It is not cheaper to be digital-only.”

In addition to that, I’m not sure why a label would want to go “digital only.” I guess it would still control licensing and get a portion of the download revenue. But why would an artist want to be on a digital-only record label? The label maybe would pay for an album’s recording costs (studio time, producer) and help with promoting the album. The label also could help sell the artist’s publishing rights to television, movies and Madison Avenue. Certainly there’s cache to being associated with a brand like Saddle Creek, Sub Pop or Matador. Plus the artist could leverage the label’s connections for booking, tour management, etc.

Beyond that, I don’t know. These days a bands can record and release their own material digitally rather cheaply, but what good is having a record available for download if no one knows it exists?

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If you ever wondered what kind of hi-jinx bands get into on the road, read Icky Blossoms’ tour diary, written by the frontwoman Sarah Bohling, who proves if the rock and roll thing doesn’t work out she can always have a successful career as a writer (or strip club owner). The article is right here at Paste.com.

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Tonight at The House of Loom Chris Aponick presents Wintertime Beach Party with bands Sun Settings and Dads. This will be the last-ever performance by Sun Settings, according to the band’s Facebook page:

It has been decided that we took Sun Settings to an end. Over the last year we did some Big things and we would like to take the next step and do even bigger things. Since everybody has different opinions, the best thing we can do is disband and move on to form new ideas. Don’t worry though there will be NEW NEW NEW things from the members of sun setting…

Come bid them adieu tonight at House of Loom. The show starts at 9 p.m. and is absolutely free. More info here, including apparel suggestions.

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Lazy-i Best of 2012

Lazy-i Best of 2012

It’s winding down, folks. Only a few short days left to enter to win a copy of the Lazy-i Best of 2012 compilation CD. The collection includes songs by The Intelligence, Simon Joyner, Ladyfinger, Twin Shadow, Ember Schrag, Tame Impala, Paul Banks, Cat Power and a ton more.  The full track listing is here (scroll to the bottom). To enter the drawing send an email with your name and mailing address to tim.mcmahan@gmail.comHurry! Deadline is Jan. 15.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2013 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


2012 Year in Review, Pt. 3 — best live shows; Live Review: Little Brazil; Capgun Coup, Yuppies tonight; Jimmy Skaffa, Kite Pilot Saturday…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , — @ 4:40 pm December 28, 2012

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

I went to fewer shows this year than the past, what, 15 years? I typically go to 1.5 shows a week, which rounds out to around 75 shows a year. But this year I only went to around 50. One reason for my attendance decline was my busy schedule; another was my decision to quit seeing bands that I’ve already seen in the past six months. But the biggest reason was that there seemed to be fewer high-quality indie acts coming through town this year.

Still, there was plenty to see and hear in 2012. Here were my favorites:

Feb. 17, Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks at Slowdown — Live vs. recording, the Pavement frontman took short songs like “Tigers” and “Senators” and “Baby C’Mon” and stretched them into longer jams that leaned heavy on his own slinky guitar solo prowess.

March 1, Bleeding Rainbow at Slowdown Jr. — The set-up was simple: two guitars, drums and bass, with male/female vocalists creating flat-toned harmonies on songs that were jet-fueled by loud-as-fuck guitar riffs.

March 9, Icky Blossoms at The Waiting Room — The more I see them, the more they remind me of The B-52s and Public Image Ltd (PiL), with Derek Pressnall split between Fred Schneider and John Lydon.

April 27, Lambchop at Slowdown Jr. — Their sound was warm and subtle like sipping a glass of fine old scotch. Really beautiful stuff.

May 14, St. Vincent at Slowdown — Though her stage presence recalled Prince, her music had more in common with arch New Wave composers such as Brian Eno, Laurie Anderson and Talking Heads, while her voice was Joni and Aimee and Souxsie Sioux. But it was nothing compared to those hot-bitch guitar licks that could rattle your teeth with its staccato fists or pull you under the covers with waves of luscious, tonal phrasing.

Aug. 3, Simon Joyner and The Ghosts at The Sydney — Joyner’s seven-member drone-folk orchestra kept the vibe in a noisy haze throughout the night, filling every inch of dense space with waves of feedback, pedal steel, violin and cello, with two percussionists keeping beat for the tribe.

Aug. 12, The Maha Music Festival, Stinson Park — Despite the on-again off-again rain, the festival drew an impressive 4,300 for one of the most diverse line-ups that Omaha has ever seen. Can they top it in ’13?

Aug. 18, The Faint at Slowdown — Top of mind (at least to me) was how they would sound without Faint ex-pat Joel Petersen on bass. I doubt any of the bouncing sold-out crowd that turned the Slowdown’s dance floor into a giant trampoline noticed a difference.

Sept. 8, Twin Shadow at The Waiting Room — The crowd did the classic ’80s shoulder-shrug dance while frontman George Lewis pounded out chords on guitar. There was a macho drama to everything he did, more intense than fun, but fun nevertheless.

Sept. 14, Wild Nothing / DIIV at Sokol Underground — They reminded me of ’90s champions The Church and The Cure with bigger guitar riffs and vocals that you could actually understand.

Oct. 18, Judgement Day at O’Leaver’s — Driving, pounding, throbbing rock as intense as metal but without the pain. The Pantzer brothers played souring mini-orchestrations blending violin and cello atop a bed of drums.

Oct. 28, Cursive at Slowdown — When I Am Gemini came out at the beginning of the year, we all had our doubhts that it would fit in with the rest of the Cursive oeuvre. Those doubts were erased on stage that night…

Nov. 12, A Place to Bury Strangers at The Waiting Room — Standing next to the stage was like sitting at the foot of an airport runway watching jets fly overhead.

Nov. 21, Titus Andronicus at Sokol Underground — Patrick Stickles and company came on in a meat-and-potatoes fashion and barreled through a set that included the best off the new album.

Nov. 28, Digital Leather at Slowdown — Shawn Foree and Co. threw out a golden nugget I thought I’d never hear them play again — “Studs In Love,” the homo anthem from Blow Machine re-engineered from an electronic hump fable to a roaring, spitting metallic confession.

And then, last night at The Waiting Room, four bands to close out the year…

Little Brazil at The Waiting Room, Dec. 27, 2012

Little Brazil at The Waiting Room, Dec. 27, 2012

John Klemmensen is a big guy with a blue guitar, a golden voice and a broken heart who can capture more yearning with a single line than most bands can with an entire album. Mainly because you believe him; mainly because it’s (probably) all true and he doesn’t care who knows it. With his back-up band, The Party, he infuses his confessions with hooks that camouflage either anger or bitterness or just plain loneliness with lines that you would scoff at as self-flagellating BS if they came from anyone else but the guy standing/singing/rocking right in front of you. His only recordings are homemade. It’s time someone gets him into a formal studio and gets it all down on tape.

The Brigadiers debut was a cause celeb thanks to some heavy hitting vets not the least of which included drummer Clint Schnase of Cursive fame. On this project, Schnase rides the kit with a distinctively lighter touch backing songs that are folk rock bordering on Americana bordering on pure tunesmith-ing. I was reminded of Big Star. The guy next to me was thinking T. Rex, and if you can pull off those kinds of comparisons on your debut, you’re onto something.

The Sons of The Waiting Room (better known as The Sons of O’Leaver’s but recently known as The Sons of The Slowdown) saw their numbers grow by 33 percent with the addition of The Brothers Weber on pedal steel / electric guitar and keyboards. As one onlooker put it “Shit, they’ve got three of the best guitarists in Nebraska on that stage.” Indeed. The additional fire power did its job filling out their sound and (on some songs) adding a bit of southern twang. It felt more laid back than an O’Leaver’s set because it was. I prefer the harder stuff, like set-closing classic “We Need the Night” that any god fearing Replacements fan would love.

And then came Little Brazil. The line-up change mentioned a few weeks ago was done with little fanfare, and maybe that was for the best, though there wasn’t a fan in the crowd who wasn’t curious how the band would sound with beefy Matt Baum replacing the kinetic/frenetic Oliver Morgan behind the kit. The diff for me: Ollie loves his cymbals while Baum prefers his throaty toms. More lower end gave frontman Landon (a Bobby Brady alto) more room to roam on vocals, or so it seemed to me. Others said they didn’t notice a difference, and that may be true considering the a typical Little Brazil set is like sitting in a field adjacent to Cape Canaveral during a shuttle launch. Pow-ful stuff. Baum was introduced as “helping us out tonight.” So does that mean they’re still looking for a permanent drummer? With he and Landon headed to Europe and then the East Coast for a Desaparecidos tour, who knows where this lineup is headed…

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The holiday action continues with a four-friggin’-band bill tonight at the Sweatshop Gallery, located just south of The Barley Street Tavern. The line-up: Capgun Coup, Yuppies, Adult Films and Brooklyn band Parquet Courts, who’s song “Borrowed Time” was named a Pitchfork “Best New Track” this past November (take a listen here). $5, 9 p.m.

Tomorrow night, popular local ’90s ska band Jimmy Skaffa has a full-blown reunion at The Waiting Room. The Stick Figures open at 9 p.m., $7.

Meanwhile down the street at The Barley Street Tavern Saturday night, Kite Pilot headlines a show with High & Tight and Above the State. $5, 9 p.m.

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And don’t forget to enter the drawing for a copy of the Lazy-i Best of 2012 Sampler. The full track listing is here (scroll to the bottom of the entry). To enter, send your name and mailing address to tim.mcmahan@gmail.com. Hurry! Deadline is Jan. 15.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2012 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.


2012 Year in Review, Pt. 2: The Lists (top albums, top tracks); Little Brazil, Brigadiers (debut) tonight…

Category: Blog,Reviews — Tags: , , — @ 2:02 pm December 27, 2012
Lazy-i Best of 2012 Sampler

Lazy-i Best of 2012 Sampler

by Tim McMahan, Lazy-i.com

This was the hardest year that I can remember for pulling together a year-end top-10 list. Don’t get me wrong there was plenty of good music last year, but not very many good end-to-end albums. Case in point: It was much easier for me to pull together favorite tracks for the Lazy-i Best of 2012 compilation CD than it was choosing complete albums for the top-10 list. Is that a symptom of an era where people are buying more individual tracks than full albums? I don’t know. I don’t think so.

But interestingly, when I think about the most “complete” thematic albums from this past year, the ones that come to mind don’t have any individual tracks that stand out or that would make sense to include on a sampler. I’m talking about albums like Swans’ The Seer or Godspeed! You Black Emperor’s Allelujah! Don’t Bend! Ascend!, Scott Walker’s Bish Bosch or even Cursive’s I Am Gemini. These are challenging, sit-down records where each track depends on the others to maintain the overall atmosphere.

We all know about the rebirth of vinyl as a re-energized music format. If it really took off, then we’d see more of these thematic “whole” albums. But something tells me if vinyl sales haven’t peaked yet, they soon will. Part of the reason is the price. Those of us who were around before CDs remember paying between $6.99 and $8.99 for new single LPs — a bargain. Today, most new single LPs sell for between $18 and $22. That’s just too much for vinyl to become a truly viable option for anyone except collectors and audiophiles when kids can download the same albums for half as much or as little as $5 on Amazon (when they decide to pay for them at all).

But maybe even more disturbing than format or price is that attention spans have dwindled in this shuffle-mode world. Is it realistic to think that this generation — with all of its media distractions — has the time and patience to sit down and absorb an album like The Seer? I don’t know.

Anyway, with all that in mind, I did manage to pull together my top-10 favorite albums of 2012. Again, these are not the best albums of 2012, rather the ones that I’ve enjoyed the most and will continue to enjoy beyond this year. Here they are:

Icky Blossoms, self titled (Saddle Creek) — When word got out that they were running out to El Lay to record with TV on the Radio’s David Sitek we all knew something was up. The result was a sexy, sassy dance album that rivals The Faint’s finest moments.

Cat Power, Sun (Matador) — Chan Marshall put aside afternoon-light fragment pop for something more upbeat, trippy, tuneful and almost happy, until you listen to the words.

The Intelligence, Everybody’s Got It Easy But Me (In the Red) — The best under-the-radar indie rock collection that’s worth the effort of finding. Not so much garage as refined garage, with a nod toward yesteryear.

Twin Shadow, Confess (4AD) — A dizzying trip back to ’80s electro-pop with a sound that recalls everything from General Public to Fine Young Cannibals to New Order to Peter Gabriel. If you’re gonna steal a style, this is how to do it.

Bob Mould, Silver Age (Merge) — Of all the ’90s heritage acts that released material in ’12 (including Dinosaur Jr. and Sebadoh), Mould’s was the most well thought out, and the most satisfying.

Tilly and the Wall, Heavy Mood (Team Love) — After you get past the B-52′s-flavored opening tracks, it’s as good an (adult) indie rock album as you’re likely to find, with harmony-rich tracks like “Hey Rainbow” and “I Believe in You” that give Azure Ray a run for its money. Looks like our Tilly finally grew up.

PUJOL, Unites States of Being (Saddle Creek) — Proof that Saddle Creek still has a nose for finding new talent (even though Jack White found it first). All his earlier recordings have been leading up to this. Not anthemic, but epic nonetheless.

Simon Joyner, Ghosts (Sing! Eunuchs) — Four sides of pure prairie ennui. It’s not so much a collection of eulogies as much as elegies to his own life and the lives of friends now gone. Stark, dark and the best thing Joyner’s released since 2006’s Skeleton Blues.

Digital Leather, Modern Problems (FDH Record) — I could have just as easily listed DL’s Yes Please, Thank You (Southpaw Records) or Purple Fire, the self-released album by Shawn Foree’s other project, Mere Mortals, since all three came out in 2012, and all have the same electro-dread pop sensibility. Omaha’s best kept secret.

Paul Banks, Banks (Matador) – This solo outing from Interpol’s frontman buries his main gig’s last couple icy-cold albums because it sounds so… human.

Where are those aforementioned albums by Swans, Walker and Godspeed? Yeah, they’re good, but for me, they’re something I’ll likely only experience once and will never revisit, maybe ever again. Maybe they’re the best, but they’re not my favorites.

Now lets get to my favorite tracks that I’ve stumbled across during my tenure this year as music critic for The Reader and Lazy-i.com. As per usual, they’re included in my annual Best of 2012 Lazy-i sampler CD. Here’s the track listing:

1) Tame Impala, “Be Above It” (from the album Lonerism)
2) Ty Segall Band, “Tell Me What’s Inside Your Heart ” (from the album Slaughterhouse)
3) Pujol, “Made of Money” (from the album United States of Being)
4) Cat Power, “Manhattan” (from the album Sun)
5) Violens, “Sariza Springs” (from the album True)
6) First Aid Kit, “Emmylou” (from the album The Lion’s Roar)
7) Paul Banks, “The Base” (from the album Banks)
8) Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti, “Only In My Dreams” (from the album Mature Themes)
9) McCarthy Trenching, “2:47, July 18, 2011” (from the album Plays Piano)
10) Desaparecidos, “Backsell” (from the single “Marikkkopa b/w “Backsell”)
11) Mere Mortals, “B12” (from the album Purple Fire)
12) Icky Blossoms, “Chicas” (from the single “Babes” b/w “Chicas”)
13) Ember Schrag, “Your Words” (from the album The Sewing Room)
14) Millions of Boys, “Dudcats” (from the album Competing for Your Love)
15) Twin Shadow, “Run My Heart” (from the album Confess)
16) The Faint, “Take Me to the Hospital” (from the album Danse Macabre (Deluxe Edition))
17) The Intelligence, “Little Town Flirt” (from the album Everybody’s Got It Easy But Me)
18) Simon Joyner, “If I Left Tomorrow” (from the album Ghosts)
19) Gordon, “Anti-Romantic (Drunk Dialed)” (an unreleased demo)
20) Ladyfinger, “Galactic” (from the album Errant Forms)
21) Nicky Da B, “Xmas In the Room” (from the album Chopped and Scrooged)

At this point you’re thinking, “Tim, I’m not your brother, nephew or niece, nor an industry ‘insider’ nor a member of the Saddle Creek/O’Leaver’s Mafia. How can I possibly get a copy of this fantastic, highly collectable compilation?

Ah well, it’s simple really. All you have to do is send me an email (to tim.mcmahan@gmail.com) with your name and mailing address (where I can send it, duh) and you’ll be entered into a drawing for a copy! Hurry, drawing deadline is Jan. 15!

* * *

Tonight is one of the biggest shows of the holiday season. Little Brazil returns to The Waiting Room stage with Sons of The Waiting Room and the debut of The Brigadiers (Drummer Clint Schnase (ex-Cursive), guitarist/vocalist Shane Lamson, guitarist/vocalist Mark Weber (ex-Box), and bassist/vocalist Vic Padios (ex-Calico, ex-Gymnastics)). Opening is John Klemmensen and The Party. $7, 9 p.m. This could be huge.

Also tonight, Jake Bellows (of Neva Dinova fame) and his band plays at The Slowdown with Mal Madrigal and Our Fox. $8, 9 p.m.

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Read Tim McMahan’s blog daily at Lazy-i.com — an online music magazine that includes feature interviews, reviews and news. The focus is on the national indie music scene with a special emphasis on the best original bands in the Omaha area. Copyright © 2012 Tim McMahan. All rights reserved.