Photo by: Jeff Bierk
It wasn't all that long ago that every new record release suddenly came accompanied by a premiere stream, usually a week in advance, on NPR or Pitchfork or CBC. And, while we were all getting used to that, that model was destabilized by streaming services — is it an Apple exclusive, or does it belong to Tidal? Is it a "surprise" release? Have you tweeted about it yet?
This supposed new paradigm has come accompanied by a slate of thinkpieces praising the communal listening experience of "event" releases like Lemonade or The Life of Pablo or A Moon Shaped Pool or Views, but this forgets the communal listening experience that has existed for decades and continues to exist. So Toronto country psych band The Highest Order are premiering their new album Still Holding for the first time that old fashioned way: on college and community radio.
The album will play on a number of live broadcasts on stations across Canada. There's a partial list in the poster below, but since they've put this out there other stations have been approaching the band and they've continued to update.
In addition to the broadcasts listed above, they've added the following:
Montreal, QC - CKUT FM 90.3 - Monday May 23, 9pm
Guelph - CFRU FM 93.3 Tuesday at 2pm
When Still Holding plays on CJRU in Toronto on the Wednesday, May 25 episode of The Night Shift with Luca Capone (info in the poster), The Federal restaurant will act as a dedicated, physical, hub. A listening party in real space. Remember those?
I spoke to drummer Simone TB and singer/songwriter Simone Schmidt about their decision to premiere the record this way and why campus radio still matters.
"Hearing music on the radio is to me one of the old school pleasures left," says drummer Simone TB. "The crackle of the dial, the uncertainty of whether you have it on the right station, the commitment of staying with a song instead of flipping the next one."
"The radio is for everyone — from the person buying their groceries, the person bored at work, the person getting stoned on their bed wondering whats coming next, the ramblers riding the world with the volume up, for the kids who are trying to find something to relate to by spinning the dial, to the person who just doesn't want their house to feel empty. It's important."
That might seem old-fashioned, but like Simone Schmidt's songs in The Highest Order and Fiver, it hearkens back to a pre-digital tradition but with a contemporary, and pointedly political, point of view. Still Holding pays close attention to the mix, the sequencing, the lyrics sheet. And for all the promise of simultaneity of "event" releases, they're still just another piece of content to click, consume, and then keep scrolling.
"To me, the internet has become a place of restlessness, of skittishness, and I have to actively guard my attention span against erosion by the perpetual scroll," says Schmidt. "When I stream an album sometimes my hand behaves autonomously and it skips through parts of records I find challenging or boring. I wanted to give Still Holding a chance outside of that context."
When it comes down to it, both Simones agree, the "community" offered by the internet just doesn't feel like a community.
"The internet supposedly gives a sense of community but I just don't feel it," TB argues. "The knowledge that an uncertain number of mysterious strangers (maybe even people you know) are listening to the same warm music coming through a crackly speaker still gives me that sense."
"Community radio, for what it allows in the way of subculture, is a real place," Schmidt follows. "It's home to discerning and attentive DJ's, not click bait and payola and monoculture's heavy hand. Radio is free and simultaneous for anyone within a certain region in possession of a radio, so the potential to tune in with intention, whether alone or together, seems like a sweet and particular possibility. Reclaim long form listening, reclaim the air wave, you know?"