If one of your favorite bands released four albums in a year, would you buy them? This may be the best way to promote Justin Small‘s new subscription series: a track a week, a dollar a week, for one year. For fans of Do Make Say Think, it’s a no-brainer. One can hear the relation to the larger band in these tracks, but they also stretch in new directions, a response to those who have yearned to hear the Canadians stretch their wings. In this case, an old dog (or in this case, a middle-aged dog) can learn new tricks. This is a bold move – not without its kinks, but bold nonetheless – and we’re banking on its eventual success.
At first, it’s just a drumbeat, a heartbeat, an introduction to the artist and the project. But then the guitars enter, and “Slow Motion Hearts” earns its title. This is the languid, lovely sort of music we’ve come to expect from Small, yet more personal than the main project, a nod to the early, early years. One can picture the wheat shifting on the prairie. A backwards-masking moment leads to a soft acoustic breakdown, then a thicker electric segment like a distant dust storm. The first big questions have been answered: Will Small be playing only one instrument, and will this sound like a solo album? The emphatic answer is no: his opening piece is warm, full and impeccably mastered.
“The Warm Storm” is announced with a light surge of feedback before tumbling into a wobbling, tape-enhanced cross between post-rock ambience and hauntology. The subdued drums are the series’ first surprise; this is unlike anything we’ve come to expect. The glockenspiel tones are as sharp as the initial percussion is dull, creating a fine contrast. Another question has just been answered: Will Small pave his own way? The answer is yes.
“Just Passing Through” does exactly what it says. A breezy acoustic number with light enhanced vox, the piece drops by for a glass of lemonade and some pleasant conversation en route to its next stop. This is followed by the sweet sounds of “Waltzing Wife”, Small’s loving tribute to his soulmate. It’s hard to resist this sort of thing, love translated into art. The second half of the track bursts into bloom like the fullness of summer. With this soft transition June ends, paving the way for warmer days.
Veteran artists face numerous challenges in the new era. The old promotion engines are gone, and word-of-mouth is hard to generate. So when an artist wants to try something ambitious, the quickest method is to self-release. In so doing, an artist controls the vision, the rights, the timing and most of the proceeds. This leaves only three major barriers: the quality (in this case, high), user-friendliness (getting there) and promotion (slowly gaining steam). The initial rollout had some problems, but for the most part, they’ve been corrected. Here’s where the project stands now:
1. Subscribe for $1/week and receive one track a week; the options are as reasonable as a one-week subscription.
2. Wait until the end of each quarter (in this case, September 1) and buy the tracks one season at a time on Bandcamp.
3. Wait a year and purchase a box set (possibly vinyl) whose details are yet to be determined; first shot will likely go to subscribers.
How patient are you? Did you pass the marshmallow test? Our current recommendation is simple. Check out the samples below. If you like them, choose Option 1. If you’re not sure, choose Option 2. Those who enter at the ground level will be part of a grand experiment; being part of the project as it unfolds means participating in the excitement. We’ll check back in September and remind you when the first season is available, but if you can’t wait, join today! (Richard Allen)