What A Haul!
What was otherwise a bland week turned into something special when I discovered that a brand new full-length album was available for download absolutely free. What’s more it was a totally legal download. The album, Dig Deep, by the band, The Motet, is up on various websites, including several mp3 blogs, and it made me revisit music by this mainly instrumental band who play their own brand of jazz, funk and afrobeat influenced music.
I’d first heard The Motet a few years back on an internet radio’s stream and was struck by their genre-defying blend that had elements of funk, electronica and jazz. Their name too seemed like an oddity (in that respect they aren’t singular; many bands today have strange names) when I discovered that the word ‘motet’, which has roots in Middle English and French, actually means a religious song composed for a choir of different voices that is usually unaccompanied by musical instruments. The Motet’s music couldn’t be more different. There’s no a capella renditions on their albums. In fact, vocals are minimally used and it is rich layers of instruments that dominate.
The Motet are led by drummer Dave Watts and date back to 1998 when they were formed in Colorado, US. Like many jazz groups, improvisation is their hallmark and, in recent years, they’ve found a rapidly growing following from fans who love jam bands. That probably explains why The Motet find themselves in the line-up for many festivals where jam bands play.
Their music is spontaneous and vibrant. There is interplay between saxophones and horns, thick basslines and well-crafted drum rhythms all knit together with an electronic overlay. Watts is an exceptional drummer and composer and, as band-leader, the driving force behind the band. Dig Deep is an example of how versatile the band can be too. There are familiar tracks on the album too, like a version of Fela Kuti’s Kalakuta Show where singer Beth Quist does a majestic appearance. I particularly like the track called Guru, which probably showcases the band’s versatility the best. On Dig Deep, there are pure funky tracks; heavy jazz tunes; and nice, euphoric afro-beat numbers that can urge you to sway or stomp along. Besides Dig Deep, The Motet have released six or seven albums since their formation and like many new bands, they have many tracks available for free on their website..
I hadn’t quite got over the joy of getting a free album when I routinely logged on to my account on emusic. I’ve been a member of emusic since December 2006 and have been buying music—mainly by indie bands, but also by mainstream artists—ever since. On emusic, you can subscribe to various plans and, depending on each of them, get a fixed number of downloads (i.e. number of songs or tracks) every month. Well, I logged on last week and out popped a window saying they’ve given me a ‘loyalty bonus’ of an additional 50 tracks of my choice this month! Free!
I quickly downloaded a new album that I had been eyeing but wasn’t sure whether I should buy: Grizzly Bear’s Veckatimest. Grizzly Bear are a Brooklyn, New York, band who produce experimental music of the kind that grows on you. I’d heard their first album Horn of Plenty and though it had plenty to offer—lo-fi compositions with lots of noise overlays and very ambitious vocals—I’d never got to like it very much. But all of this year, ever since Veckatimest came out (it’s their third full-length; the second one was Yellow House, which I haven’t yet heard), the reviews have been effusive. Indeed, the snooty Pitchforkmedia gave the album a score of 9. That’s very rare for Pitchfork, which dismisses many great bands with the least of qualms.
So, armed with a fistful of free downloads from emusic, I went for it. It’s been on my playlist since. Grizzly Bear uses mainly acoustic instruments and complex vocal harmonies. They began as band-leader Edward Droste’s pet project but have wowed the critics ever since they released Horn of Plenty. Veckatimest is possibly their most accessible album and, I think, a good place to begin tasting them before going backward to their earlier albums. They’ve been compared to Iceland’s Sigur Ros as well as Animal Collective, two bands that I really like and last year, they opened for Radiohead on their US tour and won many accolades.
Amazingly, last week’s free haul of music continued. On the mp3 blog, The Rawking Refuses to Stop! I found five free tracks of the British singer-songwriter Nick Drake, who died in 1974 when he was just 26. Drake was a genius who was nearly passed over while he was alive but has carved out a cult following after his death for his somber, yet hauntingly brilliant songs. The Rawking, an excellent blog to follow, had five songs for download—Cello Song from Five Leaves Left, Northern Sky from Bryter Layter, Which Will from Pink Moon and Clothes Of Sand from the Time of No Rreply compilation; the fifth was Blues Run The Game, which I hadn’t heard before.
All said, last week was good for a music freeloader, I think! By the way, on emusic, I still have 38 free tracks to download (Veckatimest took up only 12). So this week’s not going to be entirely bland, either.
Listen to ‘virtual’ tracks: