Monsters of Folk at No. 15 on Billboard; Lincoln Calling Day 1 is tonight; Column 240 is a rehashed mashup…

Category: Blog — @ 6:23 pm September 30, 2009

The self-titled debut by Monsters of Folk sold 34,547 physical copies in its first week of sales, good enough to weigh in at No. 15 on the Billboard chart, according to Homer’s General Manager Mike Fratt. The album by the so-called indie supergroup that features Conor Oberst, M.Ward, Jim James and secret weapon Mike Mogis also sold 17,369 digital copies since it became available a few weeks prior to the physical release. That put Monsters of Folk at No. 7 on the digital sales charts.

Those aren’t bad first week numbers, but it’s no Bright Eyes. Fratt pointed out that of the three amigos releasing music on their own, Bright Eyes is the clear best seller, followed by M. Ward then My Morning Jacket. “Conor (as Bright Eyes) is a few thousand units away from gold (500k) with Wide Awake,” Fratt said. “Ash is around 250k, and Lifted is around 300k. M. Ward has nothing over 100k and MMJ’s biggest is in the mid-100k’s.”

Fratt added that Oberst’s solo CDs with Mystic Valley Band are at 100k for the debut and 40k for Outer South.

* * *

The sixth-annual Lincoln Calling Festival kicks off tonight with a full slate of shows. Tonight’s schedule and prices are below, or you can get details at the Lincoln Calling Facebook page.

Pricewise, the right answer is to get a $30 wristband that lets you into all the shows for the entire five days. It’s available from e-tix right here.

If I were heading to Lincoln tonight, I’d definitely be checking out the duo-stages at the Bourbon featuring SF glam act Sleepy Sun and Nebraska’s very own Eagle Seagull. Actually, I’d also scamper on over to the Zoo Bar for New York rock-folkies The Rosewood Thieves. And of course, I’d check out the streetcorner buskers (including the fetching Nicole LeClerc outside the Bourbon at 7:10).

Here’s the sched…

Wednesday, Sept 30

Bourbon Theatre — Doors at 8 p.m., $10 for 18+
9-9:45 Assemble Head in Sunburst Sound (main stage)
9:45-10:15 Gold Lions (front room)
10:20-11:20 Sleepy Sun (main stage)
11:25-11:55 Life of a Scarecrow (back of main room)
12-1 Eagle Seagull (main stage)

Duffy’s Tavern — doors at 9 p.m., $5 for 19+
9:30-10 Sundays Best
10-10:30 Diamond Kazzoo (beer garden)
10:30-11:15 The Wildbirds
11:30-12:30 The Amalgamators

Zoo Bar

early — doors at 6 p.m., $4 for 19+
6-6:45 Ember Schrag
7-7:45 Tsumi
8-8:30 Once a Pawn

late — doors at 9 p.m., $8 for 19+
9-9:30 Manny Coon
9:40-10:20 Outlaw Con Bandana
10:40-11:20 Dead Trees
11:40-12:40 The Rosewood Thieves

Bricktop — doors at 10 p.m., free for 21+
DJ Spence
Jim Reilly (bday DJ set)
Note: DJs will determine rotation

Duggans — doors 9 p.m., free for 21+
Open mic night; Rob from Duggan’s will facilitate

Songwriter Power Ranger street corner stomp — free (obviously)
6:30-7 Darren Keen (Bourbon)
7:20-7:50 Son of 76 (Duffy’s)
7:10-7:40 Nicole LeClerc (Bourbon)
7:30-8 Chanty Stovall (Duffy’s)

* * *

This week’s column is an opportunity to catch up on some of the news that has appeared in this-here blog over the past couple weeks. So if you’re a regular reader, you’ve already seen a version of this mashed-up commentary. I include it here for posterity’s sake (there have been a couple adds and edits).

Column 240: Ship Jumpers
But what price of fame?

A couple weeks ago, Tokyo Police Club announced that it had signed an exclusive U.S. recording deal with record label mom+pop, ending its relationship with Saddle Creek Records that began in July 2007. “The band is currently recording its second full length album, with an expected release projected for early 2010,” said the band’s PR folks.

Mom+pop was formed in 2008 by the owners of Qprime, “one of music’s most respected management firms, with a roster featuring the likes of Metallica, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Snow Patrol, Muse, Silversun Pickups and The Mars Volta,” the release said. The record label’s roster, however, is tiny, and includes Josha Radin and An Horse.

Not surprisingly, Saddle Creek Records was not mentioned in the press release. None of this made sense to me. Why would TPC jump ship? Did this have more to do with Qprime than mom+pop?

“The band wanted a label with the resources and willingness to put a large amount of money into a commercial radio campaign, and that’s not something that we as a label have traditionally bought into or were willing to do,” said Saddle Creek label executive Jason Kulbel, who runs the label with Robb Nansel.

So this tiny mom+pop has the cash for something like that, or are other deep pockets involved? “I would assume that being backed by Qprime would mean they have some money to spend and experience in the commercial radio world,” Kulbel said.

Conversely, I would assume that everyone at Saddle Creek was disappointed, considering that TPC’s 2008 effort, Elephant Shell, is one of the label’s best-selling recent releases.

“I can’t say that we are not disappointed,” Kulbel said. “You don’t really start working with a band to only do one record. That said, we were well aware of the situation. It’s not like we were blindsided or anything. We have been talking on and off for months, and when the band decided on a road to go down, we were made aware and they asked us if it was something we would be interested in doing.”

The answer was no. Incidentally, Kulbel said Saddle Creek got nothing (no buy-out or whatever) as a result of TPC going to mom+pop.

The whole thing is depressing. To some, TPC represented a new wave of powerhouse indie bands that would guide Saddle Creek into the next decade after the label lost two of its triple-crown acts — The Faint (who left to start their own label) and Bright Eyes, a band that Conor Oberst announced would be sunsetted after a final album on Saddle Creek sometime in the future. Oberst’s solo albums with Mystic Valley Band are released on Merge Records, and the new album by Monsters of Folk was released on LA’s Shangri-La Music, a label owned by millionaire/international playboy (I’m not kidding) Steve Bing, who I’ve been told made Oberst and his compatriots an offer they simply could not refuse.

As far as major earners go, that leaves Creek with the ever-faithful Cursive/The Good Life, and the upcoming Azure Ray album. And of course, there’s that extensive back catalog, which is probably enough to sustain them as another generation discovers The Faint and Bright Eyes (and Cursive). Creek has the luxury of owning these musicians’ best albums.

Still, it would be nice if even one of Saddle Creek’s recently signed acts — Old Canes, UUVVWWZ, Rural Alberta Advantage or Miles Benjamin Anthony Robinson — could ignite as brightly as TPC did out of the gate.

Speaking of Monsters of Folk, over the past couple of weeks dozens of reviews of their new album have been printed and posted. The only one that will be looked upon as “relevant” went live last week at Pitchfork. The undisputed king of tastemakers gave the album a 6.5 (out of 10) — a luke-warn rating that’s become standard-issue for all Omaha-affiliated indie rock releases.

Pitchfork (along with everyone else) compared the “super group” to The Traveling Wilburys — which is apt, right down to the production on some of the songs. I’ll play along. For me, Jim James, with his irresistible voice, is Roy Orbison. Oberst, who wrote the best songs on the album, is (of course) Dylan, which puts M.Ward in the George Harrison slot (some might say inappropriately, as James just released a sleepy Harrison tribute EP). That makes Mike Mogis a modern-day Jeff Lynne — in fact both produced their respective albums.

While Mogis’ production and the fact that the four members played all the instruments were efforts designed to “hold it all together,” the record still sounds like a collection of songs by the individual artists instead of a cohesive album by a singular band. The M.Ward songs sound like Hold Time rejects, the Conor songs could have come off a Mystic Valley album, and Jim James is Jim James. For fans of those records, this could be a real coup rather than a let-down.

For me, it’s all somewhat… predictable. “Say Please” — their “Handle with Care” — is the most radio friendly of the bunch. And since they decided to go with the millionaire (Shangri-La Music), efforts will be made to get the track shoved down radio programmers’ throats, and placed in “heavy rotation” in hopes of hypnotizing The Great Wad that needs to be told — over and over again — what to listen to. I guess that’s what these guys and TPC wanted after years of flourishing in indie obscurity.

Oh, but what price fame? TPC and the Monsters will find out soon enough. Because there’s one thing that Saddle Creek provided that money can never buy, something that has to do with the ability to look at yourself in the mirror.

–Got comments? Post ’em here.

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