Arts & Entertainment

Free Music: Hope for art in the Internet age


This began as a review of the new albums that were released today. However, as I scoured various upcoming releases lists to get a good sampling of noteworthy music, I came up short. Most everything I listened to was either generic or hideous.

Take for instance singer-songwriter Luke Roberts. Roberts’ latest sounds exactly like his first release — yet another Neil Young ripoff who can write but can’t play. He’s been getting flattering reviews from several critics, perhaps rendered tone deaf by the indie cred of his being on the ultra-indie Thrill Jockey Records.

There are no thrills here, though. Only embarrassingly bad lyrics and a limp guitar solo that sounds like a dying animal. Luke tries for Crazy Horse and gets strangling cat instead.

Incredibly frustrated, I assumed that I’d have to turn out yet another embittered review. In an interesting turn of events though, I was turned on to a young band who changed my outlook. More on that in a moment.

There are some truly talented bands lurking in Bandcamp's "free music" section, including Renaissance Sound.

The the Internet age has made it possible for anyone to record and distribute music. This over-democratization has led to a greater influx of mediocrity than ever before and the worst of it seems to get the most attention. The latest indie boom is chock full of forgettable music.

There is a silver lining, however.

It would seems that even though the music scene is extremely overpopulated, it has become a niche market thing. Pop radio is itself a niche with a specific demographic instead of the all-powerful entity with too much money and too loud a voice that it used to be. Sure, it’s still everywhere. But for the first time in history, the market saturation doesn’t really seem to be working. Anybody can find something they like now.

Sites like Bandcamp have taken full advantage of this, allowing artists to distribute music to fans directly. Bandcamp takes a small percentage to keep their service going. The big, ugly corporate record company middleman is cut out.

Free music is a frequent feature on Bandcamp. This free music section is hit and miss. The niche market model, as noted, doesn’t rule out mediocrity. But for diligent lovers of music, there are some real treasures here.

Take for instance Renaissance Sound. This is something truly unique. The band combines indie rock, folk and jazz in way that is both complex and accessible.

Renaissance Sound show off their talents at a North Illinois University master class.

It’s some truly beautiful music. The players all have tremendous chops. And best of all, their four song EP is completely free for download.

Composer Lee Brooks also has an album available. Using a “name your own price” model, Brooks’ album of 62 tracks provides an overview of his work. He’s worked with the Kronos Quartet and done film scores.

British band Crash of Rhinos makes some lovely punk music. They alternate mellow and distortion drenched sections and make frequent use of gritty gang vocals and interesting time signatures. They also have two bass players.

Crash of Rhinos – Gold On Red

The Britpop influenced sounds of The Tweeds are just plain lovely. The Philly band have psychedelic textures and killer vocal harmonies. They bear some resemblance to bands like Oasis, My Bloody Valentine and Spiritualized, but somehow manage to avoid the bland revivalism that has plagued many similar bands. The even got a nod from the AV Club.

There are numerous others. There’s good music out there. You just have to dig for it.

It’s really always been that way. We tend to look at previous decades in hindsight and see all the memorable music and think “what happened?” The fact of the matter is that we only remember what was really good. We forget (or were to young to remember) all the thoughtless junk.

Just remember: For every REM, there are 10 Deep Blue Somethings.

Nick Skiles is arts & entertainment editor for The Aviso AVW.

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