We’ve heard lots of ideas for alternative musical distribution in the digital age, but this has to be a less popular idea:

How about “releasing” your album as a blank, recordable CD-R?

If you think about it, it’s the natural evolution of CDs. After all, in the age of widespread digital download stores and file sharing, if you bother to buy a physical CD, aren’t you really buying it just for that jewel box and liner notes and packaging, for that satisfying snap as the disc hits the plastic spindle? Aren’t you just doing it to flirt with the CD shop girl … erm, or to look into the morose, cynical eyes of that guy who knows way more than you do?

In this case, though, the blank CD has a simple function: it’s the only way to get around legal troubles with record label EMI.

New Danger Mouse CD Released As A Blank CD-R Due To Legal Fight With EMI [techdirt, via atariboy on Twitter]

Danger Mouse and Sparklehorse unveil new album – a blank CD-R! [guardian.co.uk]

Danger Mouse has flirted with legal troubles before, with the landmark Jay-Z – Beatles Black Album / White Album mash-up, and has flirted with success as Gnarls Barkley with Cee-Lo Green. The new album is a departure, an audiovisual experience that adds photography by David Lynch inspired by the music. Yes, that’s the David Lynch, he of Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet and Eraserhead.  Danger Mouse works with Mark Linkous of Sparklehorse and a host of guest vocalists.

Update: Whoops. Danger Mouse just isn’t as ground-breaking as The Residents, who tried Internet distribution with accompanying blank CDRs way back in 2006 on “The River of Crime! Episodes 1-5.” (And I imagine there may be other cases of this, too.) Of course, The Residents were just being creative – they didn’t have an unspecified legal battle with EMI. From Discogs:

This 2-CDR set was released as blank media, to be burned as eventual hard copies and packaging for the River Of Crime tracks, that were distributed via the internet, in a subscription series, each “CrimeCast” episode being released every two weeks, over a 10-week period. These subscription downloads also included exclusive material, including scripts, icons and CRT wallpaper, as well as unrelated bonus tracks. The track marked * was not released on the “standard” release (CDL38).

Thanks to B.C. Thunderthud for the tip (and I see a Boing Boing reader caught the same thing).

The news came over our Twitter feed via Jaymis, which also prompted a discussion of how to get and decompress the tracks.

No stranger to legal issues and the resulting release challenges, here’s one way you could “release” Danger Mouse’s previous work. (Got your inkjet printer warmed up?) Photo (CC) miskan.

On vocals: Frank Black (The Pixies) Wayne Coyne, Gruff Rhys, Jason Lytle (Grandaddy), Julian Casablancas (The Strokes), Black Francis, Iggy Pop, James Mercer (The Shins), Nina Persson (The Cardigans), Suzanne Vega, and Vic Chesnutt. On a first listen, it sounds oddly like a soundtrack for a set of David Lynch photographs, a moody and quirky set of tunes, in beautiful, rusting pop. It’s a set of familiar voices from the last decade or so, blended into reflective cuts. Sometimes the production feels a little overcrowded, and there is a sameness to bits of the album, but the whole thing is heartfelt and the vocal personalities and rich set of ideas carry the day.

You do get something if you buy the full CD – just not music. Lynch’s photographs will be printed in a 100+-page book which the artist promises will be limited edition and hand-numbered. The CD itself will be a blank, recordable CD-R labeled ‘For Legal Reasons, enclosed CD-R contains no music. Use it as you will.’ It isn’t cheap: US$50 for the whole release. You can pre-order now.

Dark Night of The Soul Official Album Page

So far, there’s no word as to what this legal dispute actually is. But to me, the ultimate irony is that, while EMI and Danger Mouse have whatever legal battle they’re having, the distribution idea itself may be really brilliant. By its absence, the music – now available easily via file sharing networks – almost suggests that you should buy the object. In an age when we don’t sit down and listen to almost anything, it really does suggest sitting on the couch with a loved one, paging through David Lynch photos and letting music wash over you. (The stills so far look just like you’d hope from David Lynch, like movie stills you could stare at for an entire song.) I think that’s a more important story than the usual legal snideness.

David Lynch, director and photographer, in Brazil. Photo (CC.Vini

Now, how about getting the actual music, since it apparently won’t be available for sale? So far, you can find it via two routes:

The legal way: NPR (US National Public Radio) is hosting an authorized stream of the music online, for some unspecified period of time.

Exclusive First Listen: Danger Mouse And Sparklehorse Team Up With David Lynch

The physical object is due out in summer.

The illegal way: Given that I suspect quite a few of you will go buy this $50 book, I’ll do something I usually don’t and point out that, yes, you can pirate this album (and, indeed, may have to if this isn’t resolved). I’ve already seen a filedropper link, which is still working for me. Your favorite filesharing service should also do the trick.

If you do happen across (cough) an RAR file, try 7-zip on Windows (also recently ported to Linux, I think), WinRAR/RAR for Windows/Linux, or The Unarchiver for Mac.

It’ll be interesting to see if the press gets EMI to find a quick resolution and a commercial release. Given the success of Internet buzz for previous outings, this may wind up being great news for sales of a normal release. Stay tuned.

  • Frank Black AND Black Francis? Together at last! 🙂

  • B.C. Thunderthud

    Nifty idea, not a new one. The Residents did this a few years ago.

  • CD buyers do claim to like the packaging.

  • UTM

    Also a couple years ago The New Pornographers sold several printed blank CD-Rs with their Challengers Executive Edition that you could burn with material you would download.

  • It all begs the question: Why would DM tangle with EMI in the first place? Seems like the last label he'd want to have releasing his music. It's a pretty calculated move it seems to me. I mean EMI is going to actually release it later in the summer so DM's beef is what? It's not soon enough? It smacks of a meeting with the marketing guys at EMI. Does a release by Danger Mouse have to be controversial to be successful?

  • Well, it could well just be that DM is a difficult personality here. 😉 No idea, since there's no word on what has actually happened. Maybe EMI is in the wrong, maybe not — we just know there was some "dispute."

  • Adrian Anders

    The issue is with Sparklehorse. First of all, EMI HATES Danger Mouse after the whole Grey Album fiasco. Secondly, Sparklehorse is signed to Astralwerks/Virgin/EMI… and this collab wasn't going to be released on an EMI label (unlike the last Sparklehorse album which Danger Mouse produced). I'm betting somewhere the negotiations got snagged, and tempers were lost on one or both sides.

    It's the same old story: EMI are being dicks in negotiations, and Danger Mouse is being…well Danger Mouse. Bless his little rodent heart 😉

    Techdirt has a good write up on the story as well:

  • Chad

    Adrian, this is an easy mistake to make, but Sparklehorse had parted ways with Astralwerks already.

    – c

  • Michael

    Does anyone like CD's because they contain 720 KPS music as opposed to 128KPS or 256KPS downloads? I don't really care about the jewel case, but having the music backed up on a CD at a higher bit rate encoding does appeal to me. Maybe it's because I'm old?

  • Adrian Anders

    @ Chad

    Oh Word?

    Good to know. Thanks for the correction.

  • Chad


    Well, the thing is you're probably right in another, even more sinister way.

    Here's one possible scenario (PURE SPECULATION ON MY PART): Astralwerks drops Sparklehorse after disappointing sales and then he turns around and does a very exciting, media-sexy move like this project and they regret it. They then go and look for some possible clause in the contract that allows them to lay claim to the work.

    I mean, let's say you're an EMI lawyer (and God help you if you are) and you're trying to grab a hold of this project. One of your money-losing artists goes and makes their hit AFTER they've left your label and you want some kind of profit on the deal.

    Couldn't you say "We own the rights to this project because we believe the creative work happened while Sparklehorse was still under contract to Astralwerks."

    I mean, it's worth a try, right?

    'Cause this record's gonna SELL, lemme tell you.


    – c

  • TechLo

    Well, the record companies can suck it. Sparklehorse/Mark is and always has been a brilliant artist.

  • nkem

    Haha… 160kbps files. This is a f*cking joke. Tired of this "viral marketing" bullsh*t.

    You've been had or are clueless. Either way, you lose.

    Go music industry!

  • @nkem: Well, that's just what we've seen leak out so far. It's possible that something else will happen. The blank CD isn't even out yet.

  • Birds Use Stars

    I am an overly paranoid guy, this is true, but my theory is that DM records sell Much better when there is an illigal art mytique about them. Mabye their is no legal concern, and this is just a stunt?

    @nkem this isnt viral marketing, this is the regular kind.

  • nkem

    @BUS – Fair enough. Tired of this style of marketing 🙂

    @Peter, you're right, we don't know, but I have a strong suspicion. My distrust of the majors is complete. We wouldn't be here bs'ing if it wasn't for the story of this release… the music/art isn't what's carrying this story so far.

  • nkem

    and how many people are going to download it just because it's "forbidden". meh, whatever works, still think it's weak.

  • No, definitely, don't download it because it's forbidden. I really like the concept of the photographs, not having seen them, but it is this pretty amazing assemblage of collaborators. Even if they fail, it's going to be interesting.

    And I think there is a real question behind all of this. What is the role of an object in music now? How can it be meaningful? The CD isn't really essential as distribution mechanism any more, but then, what's around it?

  • And PS, didn't intend this to be the only story today — got busy! 😉

  • velocipede

    Yes, and I am willing to pay a few more bucks for CDs of some music.

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  • about prior art, back in 2005, Kagami (collaborates with Denki Groove) handed me a professional looking printed CD called Kagami-Bootleg that turned out to be a blank CD-R

  • Jonathan

    Controversy and novelty aside, I've been streaming this from NPR.org all morning and it's a great record! DM has always been hit or miss for me but the caliber of vocalists on this is amazing. I hadn't heard Jason Lytle's voice since the dissolution of Grandaddy. I missed it.

  • Or you could download from NPR. Yes I said download, not stream! See my page for details.

  • solipsistnation

    There's sure a lot of Optigan on this album. The church bells from "Grim Augury," for sure, possibly the organ on the same track, and I recognized some other loops earlier, too.

  • solipsistnation

    Oh, definitely the rhythm loop and slow crackly piano there, too.

  • Johan Hellgren

    Sparklehorse is one of my all time favorite artists. Excellent album, especially the parts with Jason Lytle and Nina Persson. Lovely Mellotron and Optigan sounds. I'm placing an order.

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  • Those who think this project would only get attention through this sort of controversy I think must not have heard the album yet. It is top notch and I honestly feel that it wouldn't need hype like this to sell. I think it would even be too risky to try to pull a stunt like this if it wasn't based in some real issue. It just wouldn't make sense given the quality and overall marketability of the album itself.

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  • dwbl

    found this album on the p2ps in late 2009, and after listening to it, not knowing the story, found it to be one of the best albums of the year. if not best, at least one of the most surprising, because I had never heard of Sparklehorse (disgrace, i know), and did not know what to expect from a Dangermouse collaboration with him.

    I am very glad to have found this and been turned onto these names.

    Little Girl and Pain are solid solid tracks.

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