Records leak all the time. As a band, you record your new album, get it mixed, get the cover work done, get the damn thing pressed (people still buy CD’s, you know, no matter what the New Meedja Mandarins try and tell you), and send out lots of hard-working pixies out into the world to make sure reviews get done, people’s attention piqued, all to sell as many copies of your new meisterwerk as humanly possible.
Problem is, these days, is that you only need one person involved in this chain to rip the CD (or just get the mp3’s, of course), punt them onto a file-sharing site and Bob’s Your Uncle, the record’s leaked. Lots of slavering fans take whatever morals they may have about filesharing, throw them in the bin, then go and download it, just so they can hear self-same meisterwerk in all its 192kbps glory. If the band is lucky, the fans will buy a physical copy when it’s finally released, go to the gigs, buy the t-shirts, and everything else. If not, well, the band’s out of pocket and that work has been for nothing.
The only easy way out of this is the New Radiohead Model, which is just to go “Hey, we’ve got a new record out on Saturday!”. And then release it early, just for a giggle. Problem is that this can make purveyors of print meedja a little bit annoyed as they don’t get a chance to properly listen to the record before publishing review. The Word magazine’s recent review of “The King Of Limbs” pretty much read “We had no time to listen to this. It’s a bit crap though, innit?”. Which is correct, of course, though an extra week or so with this not-so-welcoming record might help write with more authority. And write “We had a week to listen to this. It’s a bit crap, innit?”.
So, try and play the usual game and get your record leaked, which likely removes a big chunk of revenue, or play the new game and annoy the press, who might end up not bothering to review your record, removing a big chunk of revenue1.
All of which brings me to Fleet Foxes’s new album, out on May 2nd. Now, this leaked a good few weeks back (possibly longer). I’ve a great deal of time for Fleet Foxes. They produced a fine debut LP, which was surprisingly successful (something like a million sales, including more in the UK than US, which is some feat), followed it up with some great live shows, and have come across as a lovely bunch of gents. They’ve even done the thing that makes an old git like me very happy – free downloads of tracks. Good tracks, too. So I feel rather awful that it’s leaked, because a good number of people who’d have rushed out of their local friendly record-store on the first day clutching the cling-wrapped copy to their heaving chest have probably gone and downloaded it, and will, come May 2nd, totally forget to buy it.
Me? I wouldn’t do such a thing. I’m holding off from listening to it, of course. Which is why I can’t tell you that it’s a far more even record than their debut, and though it lacks in peaks like “White Winter Hymnal”, as a whole, the record works much better. I can’t tell you that Helplessness Blues is to Fleet Foxes as Wowee Zowee was to Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain. I can’t tell you how songs like “Lorelei” glisten and shine like a pebble at the bottom of a mountain stream, lit by sun breaking through clouds. I can’t tell you what a relief it is that this is, by and large, a welcoming and pleasurable listen, unlike Midlake’s last (which again, had a lot to live up to). And I certainly can’t tell you that, with a few more listens, it might even settle in alongside PJ Harvey and Cotton Jones as one of the better albums of the year so far.
I wouldn’t be able to tell you that at all. Best wait for May 2nd.
1 A quick caveat here. This only really applies to a band that’s reasonably well-known. You know, third-on-the-bill-at-Glastonbury well know. No-one gives a toss about lesser known bands, except the bands, friends and family, and devoted fans. In the case of bands like Cotton Jones or Kingsbury Manx, this is a tragedy. So it goes.