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Artist Spotlight: baum

NOTE: this album may no longer be available for free, depending on where you live, since We7 changed their free download policy.

Last month, I made a post about We7, a unique site that provides free music with short ads attached to the beginning of each file. Since then, I have downloaded more albums from the site than I had initially anticipated. Since We7 makes it possible to download ad-free versions of 20 tracks per month, I have been recently been faced with having to decide which tracks I want to have ad-free versions of. One album that I didn't even have to hesitate about is Live at Kongresshaus Zurich by baum, which also happened to be the very first album I downloaded from the site.

Information about baum is pretty scarce, but from what I have been able to gather, he is a Swiss musician who used to be in a band called Outland, and for the last few years he has been performing and writing his own solo material. Live at Kongresshaus Zurich is the only release currently available from him, although he is currently at work on his debut album.

Live at Kongresshaus Zurich is a 7-song EP that was recorded when baum was opening for Van Morrison. The performances are absolutely riveting, and are a great example of just how powerful and dynamic music can be when it consists of nothing but acoustic guitar and vocals. "Valentine's Day", for example, starts off with quiet, subued verses, builds up into a powerful and uplifting chorus, and ends with a flourish that showcases baum's guitar skills. Those guitar skills are also on fine display in "Neverland", in which he manages to play a couple of complementary melodies simultaneously, all while singing over the top of it. "Center of Town" is another highlight, reminiscent of Eddie Vedder's solo material and featuring a great bridge. Finally, the bouncy, upbeat "Crow" allows baum a chance to show off his charisma as he manages to get the audience of 3000 people clapping along.

If Live at Kongresshaus Zurich is any indication, baum's upcoming debut album will definitely be one of the year's highlights. I don't know if any of these songs will be on it (I hope they will, as full-band versions would likely sound incredible), but I am very much looking forward to it. Please go download this EP (or at least listen to it on the site) and let me know what you think of this promising artist. Happy listening!

Note: in order to download Live at Kongresshaus Zurich, you will need to have a We7 account. In case you don't already have one, you may like to know that registration at We7 is completely free and enables you to download as much music as you want, as well as create your own playlist on the site. I also plan to feature more music from We7 in the near future, so if you are a regular reader of this blog and you generally like the music I feature here, I would highly recommend having your own We7 account.



Artist Spotlight: Marillion

Today I would like to feature a band that has been one of my favourites for more than ten years, and that has been around for much longer than that. Marillion got their start in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, England in 1979. Through a few lineup changes (the most high-profile of which was the departure of original vocalist Fish in 1988 after 4 studio albums, with Steve Hogarth stepping on board to take over lead vocal duties), they have released 14 studio albums, numerous live albums, and are currently at work on their next studio album.

In Marillion's early years, their music was primarily progressive rock-based, drawing influence from bands like Genesis and Yes. With Hogarth, the band has managed to retain this core sound while also incorporating a more contemporary sound into their music, drawing comparisons to bands like Radiohead and Coldplay. No matter which album I listen to, I always find their music very melodic and emotional. Perhaps more than any other artist I know of, the words and music of Marillion are woven seamlessly together; a change in the dynamics of the music is reflected by a change in the tone of the lyrics, and vice versa.

The individual band members are all very talented at what they do. Steven Rothery is an exceptionally gifted guitarist with the ability to make his guitar sing, not unlike Pink Floyd's David Gilmour. Bassist Pete Trewavas and drummer Ian Mosley form an incredibly tight rhythm section, with the bass and drums often locked perfectly in time with each other. Keyboardist Mark Kelly is equally at home adding lush textures to songs and also taking the lead with virtuoso solos. And Fish and Hogarth, though like night and day compared to each other, have always provided emotional performances of thought-provoking lyrics. Taken all together, they are able to take listeners on an epic, emotional journey.

As far as free music is concerned, you won't find any complete albums available from Marillion like many of the other artists I feature on this blog. However, if you know where to look, then you can find a good sampling of their current music available for download, as well as a free sampler CD (as long as certain conditions are met - more on that in a bit). In this post, I've done most of the work for you and compiled links to a few sources for some great, free Marillion music.
  • First of all, take a look at the band's official MySpace page, where you can currently find a pair of tracks from each of their two latest albums: "Somewhere Else" and "Thankyou Whoever You Are" from 2007's Somewhere Else, and "You're Gone" and "Neverland" from 2004's Marbles.
  • Marillion's official website has a downloads page where you can download a couple of radio performances, which include acoustic versions of both older and newer songs.
  • currently hosts another handful of free Marillion tracks. These tracks come from a compilation called Crash Course, which is updated periodically with new tracks as the band releases new material. In addition to the songs listed above, Crash Course currently also contains "The Great Escape" (from 1994's concept album Brave), "Afraid of Sunlight" (the title track from their 1995 album), "Estonia" (an extremely emotional track from 1996's This Strange Engine, inspired by the sinking of the Estonia passenger ferry in 1994, a disaster which claimed 852 lives), "Fantastic Place" (from Marbles), and "Faith" (from Somewhere Else). You can also check the band's page to see if anything else is available (look for the words "full track" next to a song title).  (NOTE: the Crash Course download seems to have been moved to iLike)
  • Finally, if you are completely new to Marillion, then you may qualify for a free CD version of Crash Course. Just check out the Crash Course page on the official site, read the terms and conditions, and if you're able to receive one, just sign up for it. I've already received several things from Marillion's website, so I don't qualify for Crash Course, but it looks like it would be a good introduction to the band's newer material.

As great as these songs are, they really only scratch the surface of the world of Marillion. Like a lot of great bands, Marillion's music is best experienced in its original format, i.e. as complete albums, especially since many of their albums are conceptual in nature. If you like what you hear, I would highly suggest checking out an album or two. If you want some recommendations as to where to start, please leave a comment and I would be more than happy to help you out.

Happy listening!

URLs: (no longer free - try instead)


Artist Spotlight: The Kazoo Funk Orchestra

Today's featured artist is one that absolutely defies categorization. Seriously, I lack the vocabulary to even begin describing this band; a band that describes themselves (via the Genre tags in their MP3s) as Magical Lofi Pop Rock, Old School Hip Pop, Alt Pop, Boomshop Pop, Carnivale, Other, Half Assed Funk, Sushi Time Pop, Scuffle Rock, Dixie Yodel Pop, Moon Jazz Rock, Sodium Pop, Semi Circular Interchangable Improvisational Pop, Retro Moves, Melodica-Go-Go, Acousto Pop, Hump Rock, Hangman Pop, Old School Pop, Slap Dash, Melodic Plop, and Scotch & Frost Polka.

The band I'm talking about is called The Kazoo Funk Orchestra, and, as is likely already apparent, they are no ordinary band. Formed in 2005 in Glasgow, Scotland during a finger painting session attended by the group's chief songwriters (known as Little Beard and Big Beard), The Kazoo Funk Orchestra has been churning out a delightfully wacky blend of Beatles-like psychedelia, Beastie Boys-like hip hop, Iggy Pop-like punk, and Beck-like general insanity (all with more kazoos than one would have thought legally possible) ever since.

To date, they have released an album (Midnight Finger Painter) and an EP (Adventures in Fuzzy Felt Land), and are in the process of releasing their second full-length album, This Album is Self-Titled. The first two releases are available from their own website and also from Jamendo. The latter album is being released in a rather unique way: one song is made available for download every week; currently there are 21 songs available, with spaces for another 20 on the Music page. And in case you've been wondering, the songs on the new album are the source of most of those genres listed above; so far, each of the new songs has its own unique genre in its MP3 tag.

If I had to describe The Kazoo Funk Orchestra in one word, it would be "fun". Whenever I listen to them, I can usually be found with a big grin on my face. It's not often that one comes across music that is such a joy to listen to - which is why I'm going to end this post here so that you can head on over to the band's website and begin experiencing their music for yourself. Happy listening!

Special thanks to Ray for recommending The Kazoo Funk Orchestra to me in the first place.



Free your mind: the legality of free music

There is a scene in The Matrix where Neo, skeptical of Morpheus' attempts to teach him about the ways of the Matrix, says "I know what you're trying to do." Morpheus responds, "I am trying to free your mind, but I can only show you the door. You're the one that has to walk through it." Moments later, both men are standing on top of a tall building, and Morpheus turns to Neo and says "You have to let it all go, Neo. Fear, doubt, and disbelief. Free your mind." With that, he takes off running and leaps into the air, landing neatly on top of the building across the street.

I've been spending some time on Yahoo! Answers lately, answering questions about free music and where and how to download it. I figure that with all the free music I have been able to find, I should be able to help others find it as well. After all, that is the purpose of this blog, but not everyone knows about this blog yet. I was also hoping that I might be able to find links to more free music resources that have been posted by others. What I found instead was shocking, sad, and more than a little disturbing.

In short, there are people who believe that downloading music for free is 100%, absolutely, unconditionally illegal. Not just a few people, either - there are a lot of people posting the same basic sentiment there. At first I just chalked this attitude up to ignorance. After all, all the websites I link to on this blog were found either through my own deliberate searching, recommendations from friends, family members, and kind strangers, or in chance posts and articles that I managed to happen across in my daily internet browsing; in short, I either had to work to find them, or they were brought to me by mere happenstance. If a person doesn't deliberately go out in search of free music, or if they're not lucky enough to have it recommended to them somehow, they're not going to know about it.

Then I started thinking about this a little more deeply. Sure, it is ignorance that would cause someone to say something like that; fortunately, ignorance is something that is easily cured by education. But what is the root cause of such ignorance? After thinking about it, I am left with two unfortunate conclusions:

1. Some or all of these people have been scared by the RIAA's campaigns of misinformation and are trying to help others not to make the "mistake" of downloading music for free and therefore running the risk of being prosecuted.
2. Some or all of these people are members of the RIAA, just doing their best to spread misinformation.

Okay. RIAA, misinformation, prosecution? At this point, I think it's a safe bet that you fall into one of two camps: either you are nodding your head (literally or figuratively) in agreement, or you are thinking something along the lines of "This guy just lost me. What is he talking about?" In either case, I hope you will keep reading and bear with me.

First of all, the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA). According to its website (which I will not link to here, as you won't find any free music there), it is the trade group that represents the U.S. recording industry. Its members are the record companies that create, manufacture and/or distribute approximately 90% of all legitimate sound recordings produced and sold in the United States. Unfortunately for the RIAA, the growth of the Internet over the last decade and a bit has made the RIAA increasingly irrelevant as people have found easier ways to obtain music and artists have found easier ways to distribute their music. Unfortunately for everyone else, the RIAA has responded to this paradigm shift not by changing their business model and trying to adapt to a changing marketplace, but by burying its head in the sand and pretending that nothing has changed... oh yeah, and filing lawsuits against individuals that download and share music. Looking at the FAQ on their website sickened me, as they really seem to believe that the way forward is by going back, and, of course, by filing lawsuits against people.

Naturally, some people are going to become scared by such actions. If they hear of other people like them getting sued, then what's to prevent the RIAA for coming after them as well? Downloading music must therefore be wrong, and everyone needs to be informed of this; a site like Yahoo! Answers would be a great place to let people know about the trouble they can get into by downloading music. That covers my first conclusion above.

As for the second conclusion, like I said, the RIAA's website is pretty sickening. We are dealing with an organization here who feels that the best way to prevent illegal sharing of copyrighted material is to sue the very people who could otherwise provide them with free publicity by spreading the word about the artists that they claim to represent. Is it really much of a stretch to think that they have employees whose sole job is to go online and spread misinformation in order to scare people into doing the right thing (with "right" being defined as whatever can bring them the most money)? I don't think so.

Wow, I think I am beginning to sound a little paranoid here. But remember, just because you aren't paranoid doesn't mean that they aren't out to get you. Also, I think I should perhaps clarify my stance a little here. I'm not saying that I think it's okay to freely distribute music that ought to be paid for. That's not something that I do myself, and I would not encourage anyone else to do it. But I also realize that there is nothing inherently illegal about downloading music for free, and until recently, I thought that something like this was common knowledge; it's just that one has to be careful about what they are downloading and ask themselves why it is free. Has anyone involved in the creation of said music authorized it to be downloaded for free? If so, then download away and tell everyone you know about it; if not, then perhaps it's not meant to be downloaded for free. Such a question is not always easily answered, and that is exactly where this blog comes in - any music that I link to from this blog is legally available for free because the artists who created the music have chosen to release it that way.

So go to Jamendo. Go to We7. Go to the Internet Archive. Check out the rest of the posts in this blog. Download some free music. Listen to it. If you like what you hear, support the artist in your own way: buy their CDs, buy some of their merchandise, make a donation to them, tell your friends, family, and anyone else about them, buy a ticket to their concert the next time they are playing near you; in short, do whatever you feel is appropriate and within your own budget to support deserving artists. But don't ever let anyone tell you that you can't get music for free, or that doing so is unconditionally wrong.

Ignorance may be bliss, but knowledge is power. Fight ignorance with knowledge. Free your mind. I've shown you the door, and I've even gone a step further and opened it for you. Whether you walk through it or not is up to you. I'm already on the other side, and I like the way it sounds over here.

URLs: (may no longer have free downloads depending on where you live) (Live Music Archive) (Netlabels)


Artist Spotlight: Steve ALLEN (Robert Pieculewicz)

I have a treat for fans of instrumental guitar rock today. Robert Pieculewicz, a guitarist from Poland, has recently made a couple of his albums available for free from Jamendo (where he is listed as Steve ALLEN (Robert Pieculewicz)). In case you are unfamiliar with the genre of instrumental guitar rock, I'll try to give a brief description of it here. It is literally an instrumental version of standard rock music; the verses, choruses, and bridges are all in the same places that they would be in a normal rock song, and all the instrumentation is the same, with one exception: lead guitar takes the place of the vocals. Often, this lead guitar is very melodic, leading to songs that can be sung or hummed along with.

Pieculewicz's music is very similar in style to that of Joe Satriani. If you like Joe Satriani, I would say that the chances that you will like Robert Pieculewicz are very high. And if you haven't heard any Joe Satriani, listening to Pieculewicz will give you a very good idea of what he sounds like. He has managed to emulate Satriani's style very closely, and yet still come up with material that is completely original and beautiful, especially in the case of songs like "Fly Free" and "Rain Ballad".

The albums that are available from Jamendo are Fly Free and Speed Limit, which were originally released in 1996 and 1998, respectively. A quick check of Pieculewicz's website shows that these are not the full versions of either album, but what they lack in quantity they more than make up for in quality. This man really knows his way around a fretboard, and seems equally at home playing blazing fast licks in songs like "Running with the Wind", and slower ballads like "Rain Ballad" and "Desert Rose".

I'm going to try something new with this post: Jamendo has the option to include a little album player widget so that an album can be listened to on any web page. At the bottom of this post are players for both of Robert Pieculewicz's albums. They should work if you have Flash installed; if for any reason they don't work, or if you really like or dislike this idea, please let me know by leaving a comment. I hope you enjoy this music, and I'll be back with more soon. Happy listening!

URLs: (Speed Limit) (Fly Free)



Free Music Resource: Jamendo

Jamendo is a site that offers free access to music that has been published with Creative Commons licences. For more information on Creative Commons (since it's really beyond the scope of this blog), please see the Creative Commons website; for the purpose of Jamendo, all you really need to know is that it allows you to download as much music as you want, freely and legally.

I find the entire interface and design of the Jamendo website to be very intuitive and user-friendly. Clicking on the Music tab yields a list of albums with thumbnails of the cover art; these albums can be sorted in a variety of ways, including popularity (overall, monthly, or weekly), latest releases, most downloaded, most listened to, and others. A list of tags on the right can be used to narrow down the list of albums; you can also search for tags if you don't see what you're looking for in the list. A general-purpose search box is also available; this will search through just about any text associated with an artist, album, or song and can be very useful if you are otherwise unable to find what you are looking for. Finally, a music player is available to listen to songs directly on the web page without having to download anything; I have found myself using the player to preview a track or 2 from an album, and if I like what I hear I just download the whole album. The entire website is also available in both French and English.

Everything I have described in the last paragraph should be availalble to anyone who visits Jamendo. Those who choose to register (for free) will also receive some additional benefits, including the ability to create playlists and select their favourite albums. The FAQ also makes mention of "additional services" for members, which will be announced in the coming weeks.

I have been actively using Jamendo for about a week now and have already been able to discover a ton of great music, which I will certainly be featuring on this blog as soon as I can find some words to write about it. In the meantime, why not head on over to Jamendo and begin discovering what it has to offer. If you come across any really great finds, please leave a comment here so that all of this blog's readers can check them out too.

Happy listening!