(feat. track – “Dig A Hole” [spotify] from Winds Will Change)
When William Beckett, late of The Academy Is… (whose Fast Times At Barrington High made my Top Ten list back in 2008), launched his solo project this past March, he opted for the unusual strategy of releasing a trio of EPs rather than an LP. The first EP, Walk The Talk, was accompanied by a something of a media blitz. Its reveal was also the announcement of the entire trilogy’s existence; alongside it came the announcement of Beckett’s first ever solo headline tour. The video for lead single “Compromising Me” was featured on MTV’s online properties; there were a bevy of articles and interviews surrounding the unveiling of the project.
The release of the second piece, Winds Will Change, was preceded by lyric drops and weekly videos of Beckett playing the as-yet-unheard tracks acoustic, publicity that felt a little more DIY and fan-targetted but still fairly substantial. But by the time final-third What Will Be was released, it felt as though the promotional efforts had largely fizzled out*. I’m not sure if Beckett was tapped out financially, or emotionally, or if it was merely his audience’s (read: my) attention that was spent. Or maybe it was just that Beckett and/or his team agreed with me that What Will Be feels a little slight in comparison to its predecessors, and decided to squeeze their budgets a touch in turn. Beckett was on the road still, but touring behind an EP, when you’ve already been grinding the asphault for the past six months behind your previous two EPs, has no chance of generating the buzz that a “first ever solo tour” does. It’s like a long airplane trip: eventually your ears adjust to the noise of the jet engines, until you’ve nearly forgotten their continual thrum. (There’s also less heat to be generated from a supporting-act gig like the ones Beckett moved on to opening for The Rocket Summer and Relient K, even though he was playing to much bigger crowds as an undercard than he was on his solo jaunts).
Of course, had Beckett opted for a more traditional LP release, and issued it back in April when Walk The Talk hit, it’s unlikely there would have been much chatter about the album six months later anyway, so perhaps even minimal PR over What Will Be was an improvement on the status quo. Then again, maybe a long-player would have benefited more greatly from the sort of end-of-year jabber I’m engaging in here – (great) singles and albums find a second life each December, but (and this could just be my own myopia) it doesn’t seem to me that EPs are often afforded that same consideration. The poptimist vanguard are all about the power of the single; the rockist massive still sees the great-and-mighty album as the height of the “meaningful” statement; perhaps the EP falls in the cracks between. And when you’ve issued three of them, it’s triple the mess.
(None of which is to say that music should be packaged to cater to reviewers rather than the mass audience. Except that, if you think tastemakers might help attract you an audience, maybe it should be?)
I don’t have answers to any of this. The questions are, to some degree, beginning to work themselves out in the Lab Of Real Life, as more and more artists experiment with less traditional release models: singles clubs, occasional LPs with frequent mixtape drops between, eight-song LP/EP hybrids, bonus track-laden “reissues” of relatively new albums. Beck released sheet music; Bjork released an app. Skrillex has climbed to the top of the Mt. MoveAny without having ever recorded a full length (his audience isn’t counting the screamo years and I’m not either).
Yet each artist, each piece of music, each audience is so different that I’m not sure that, even if there is a true ideal (debatable at best), we’ll ever find it – for all the experimentation happening, there isn’t, and can’t be, a control group. There may not be an answer forthcoming, just a whole lot of ideas that work for some people and not for others. I’m not even sure I can say whether releasing three EPs worked for William Beckett, and I’ve just spent paragraphs picking the strategy apart.
Of course, I wouldn’t have bothered to delve into any of this if I wasn’t looking for answers – not for “what works?” and “why” (though those are both interesting questions to me) but “what might have worked for William Beckett?” and “why didn’t it” and, ultimately, “how did this marvelous music by a relatively well-known, well-positioned guy merit so little lasting attention?” Because the audience is still out there, somewhere.
Beckett’s EPs display a ton of personal growth, but it’s all growth toward greater accessibility; of the twelve tracks between the three releases, there are probably seven that would have made for great singles in an earlier time, and probably in one shortly to come as well – if anything, we’re finally hitting the turnaround from a decade’s worth of shrinkage in the mainstream-music-played-on-guitars market, thanks to folks like Gotye and fun. and (for better or worse) Mumford. Maybe it’s just the dreaded Scene Stigma, but in this case it feels like there’s something more (or, rather, less) at work, and that’s really a shame. Some albums that make my Top Ten list do so because their idiosyncrasies pair well with my own, but Walk The Talk, Winds Will Change and What Will Be achieve greatness in the most broad-appeal way imaginable. I’m confident that there are plenty of ears that would fall for Beckett’s 2012 EPs, if only they had the chance to hear them.
*For what it’s worth, Beckett is now preparing for the release of an acoustic album featuring the songs from all three EPs, and that dynamo seems to be powering back up.
review of Walk The Talk (published 5/23/12)
review of Winds Will Change (published 7/17/12)
review of What Will Be (publication pending)