Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Music discovery Spoon fed, courtesy Daytrotter

Do you ever become utterly gripped by just one song? This one song becomes your adopted theme tune of choice, pushing aside all other songs in your current consciousness. More than that, the song seems to be a perfectly apt soundtrack – a response, to just about everything that happens to be going on in your life. You literally can’t get the song out of your head and don’t want to, necessarily.

That’s happened to me very occasionally and it happened all last week. The song is by Spoon and it’s called “The Ghost of You Lingers”. It’s from their last album Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga, though I only just came across it.

This track has infected me. There’s something strangely compelling about it – the way it pulses nervously, urgently along (the keyboard on the track is used as a rhythm instrument, which is a sound I have always been attracted to). It’s experimental in structure, but melodic too – nearly all of the melody supplied by the vocal. I don’t think I could ever get bored of listening to this track. It is however, a bit menacing – it’s an anxiety trip – especially with some weird interference sound buzzing towards the end (this is what first caught me ear with the track).

The lyrics and the music could not be any more together. And the lyrics are to a pop song what Pinter prose is to a play. There’s something mysterious going on with this song. The singer’s voice is concerned, reflective. The lyrics are a riddle:

Put on a clinic till we hit the wall
Just like a sailor with his wounds being salted
Come on
I had a nightmare nothing could be put back together
Would you settle the score?

If you were here
Would you calm me down?
The ghost of you lingers
It lingers
And I always think about it

A little detailed so far I know, but stay with me. A little cursory interweb research unveils the impact on the world of “Ghost of You Lingers” and it is not insignificant. A (what looks like an unofficial art) video for the track is approaching 111k views on YouTube. But on the band’s current Myspace page, the track clocks up over 635k plays – and has over 470k on Last.fm - so plenty of web activity around this track.

Daytrotter - new music, timeless values

But I didn’t discover the track on these titans of web music real estate. I found it on Daytrotter.com. And Daytrotter has amazed me these past few weeks I can tell you. I first came across it after reading about it in Chris Salmon’s ‘Click-to-Download’ column in the Guardian’s Music & Film supplement.

The concept is beautifully simple. Band’s drop by The Horseshack studios in Rock Island, Illinois (while passing through on US tours) and record a 4-5 track session – usually new or recent material – sometimes un-released songs. The session tracks are offered as free MP3 downloads and the site itself is funded through banner advertising (it wouldn’t be right somehow for audio ads to be part of this set up).

Now I’m pretty late to this party. Daytrotter has been going since 2006 and with the frequency of one band every day, has amassed an impressive session archive – all of which is still available for download. I have been like a kid let loose at the pick ‘n mix counter the past couple of weeks raiding this archive. It’s hard to distinguish which sessions are best – that depends on your tastes. But if it’s any help at all, I have listed below my favourite ten songs I’ve been living with lately from the Daytrotter sessions, including the Spoon song.

[Btw, you'll have finished with the YouTube Spoon clip now, so click on the Daytrotter radio player on the right to stream Lonely Dear - number 2 in my Daytrotter session top ten].

I don’t often gush about individual music services on the JB blog so now to the justification to do so with Daytrotter. Daytrotter isn’t just another music blog. It’s done with such care, and so nicely wrapped in its own indie music ethos, it’s immediately attractive for fans of this type of music. And it’s sticky as hell - I just can’t stop dropping by on the site to see who has recorded a new session. It’s marvellous for real, lasting discovery and connection – I’ve found Spoon, Ingrid Michaelson and The Local Natives on there and I suspect I will listen to a lot more by each of them and many others.

The sessions themselves are quite something. I’m not really one for live session content, but something about the setting or the atmosphere or something definitely rubs off on the artists who record for Daytrotter. They seem to put in real performances and the sessions sound great – warm and capturing plenty of subtleties in the music – credit to both the artists and to the studio's sound engineers. These are so much better than your run-of-the-mill promo-circuit radio show sessions where the artist just shows up and plays with half their usual players or equipment and then have to suffer the DJ concluding with a cringe-worthy “that was just fantastic” (awkward moment of radio silence follows).

In short, the recordings made here are well worth the effort in downloading, listening and keeping. I’ve talked a lot in this blog about how the music industry desperately needs new content brands – nicely curated, edited and presented – in a way we the fans come to know, love and trust. I can think of very few that have so far emerged in the digital music space so far.

I wrote about Lost Tunes last month (which won a Music Week award last week, congratulations). I’ve featured Calabash-Mondomix as well. Pitchfork certainly qualifies these days as do a number of the more established music blogs (though these lack a substantial archive). Such music editorial brands are so few and far between however.

But Daytrotter is my new favourite music brand. I can’t see me getting bored of something so lovingly put together and superbly well executed. It’s so simple. Not only is the music great, but the editorial features written by founder Sean Moeller are briefly diverting and fun to read. A strong voice that’s never dull, and sure does justice to its quirky and individual subjects. The other aspects to the site work fine too – a radio player, some video, a cartoon strip, a merch shop. And it’s all beautifully signatured by Johnie Cluney’s highly attractive artwork. Everything about it smacks of an effortless (and perhaps even accidental) focus.

And in this focus is a great model for all of the endless technology-driven music services that show up week in week out and mostly, depart quietly sometime later by the rear exit. Being a valid, lasting contributor to the changing face of music discovery doesn’t have to mean a gargantuan library with all the music ever made, or the latest whizz bang recommendation engine that can rip that library apart with an algorithm.

Put some thought into it. Think about your audience, think about your artists, and think about how you can add real value to their needs in connecting. Word of mouth will do much of the rest.

I’d love to see Daytrotter move up to a gallop, perhaps syndicating its content onto the bigger music or ISP platforms so desperate for character development. But the Daytrotter crew aren’t as consumed by ambition as I am. By e-mail I asked Sean Moeller what his longer-term ambitions for the service are. His response was “long term goals are just to continue doing what we're doing really”. Once again, focus.

My top ten digital tracks from the sizeable archive:

1. Spoon. “The Ghost of You Lingers”.
2. Lonely Dear. “I Was Only Going Out”. (embedded for your listening pleasure).
3. The Maccabees. “Precious Time”.
4. The Local Natives. “Airplanes”.
5. Aimee Mann. “Little Tornadoes”.
6. Spanish Prisoners. “Mantequilla”.
7. Ingrid Michaelson. “Breakable”.
8. Death Cab For Cutie. “Styrofoam Cup”.
9. Foals. “Jam (Figure#3)”.
10. Deerhunter. “Dr. Glass”.

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