So 2011 is the year of telling no one you're releasing an album and then doing it anyway. Radiohead gave us the musical equivalent of buying a new frock, not mentioning it and then going 'Oh what, this? Yeah it is new actually…' with 'The King Of Limbs' in February and now Kaiser Chiefs have followed suit, releasing 'The Future Is Medieval' this morning (June 3).
However the Leeds quintet have not just joined Thom and co in panicking us music hacks (must blog faster!), they've also had a crack at this revolutionising the music industry lark… and to be fair to Wilson, Hodgson, Whitey, Peanut and Rix they might have created something more concrete than a mere 'buy our record' gimmick.
Firstly credit should be given to the band and Fiction Records who are distributing the album, for not shipping the record en masse to your local supermarket, particularly as they've employed Laura Marling producer Ethan Johns, Bowie collaborator Toni Visconti and Oasis Mad Max mastermind Owen Morris to record the album, and they don't come cheap.
However the real jewel with this surprise online release via www.kaiserchiefs.com is it's a genuine attempt to distribute music differently.
The band have recorded twenty songs which are available via their website and from that fans can pick any ten for ₤7.50. Essentially you're the A&R (or at very least the mastering engineer) as you get to decide what makes the cut from one minute samples, what order it runs in, and you even get to design the artwork. Or not – you can skip all that and just be served up ten random tracks, artwork, etc. It's as interactive as you want it.
What stops this being a mere gimmick though is once you've made your version of 'The Future Is Medieval' – you can check out mine at www.kaiserchiefs.com/stokesie, it's a serious mix, if sadly a little 'woah' free – you can post it wherever you want with a unique URL, so in theory it should get fans chatting about all 20 songs as a bit of 'I'll show you mine, if you show me yours' goes on.
Better still, if anyone likes your tracklisting or artwork so much they can just purchase your version of the Kaisers' album and you will get given a pound via your Palpal account. In theory this means, if your mix is the best (or if your name is Ricky Wilson) you could actually end up making money.
What I think is particularly interesting about this – and why Kaiser Chiefs should be applauded – is following free taster tracks, dodgy torrents and pay-what-you-want releases, this system seems to restore some value to music. Not only are you buying a full album for a relatively reasonable price (16 quid for a small plastic box? No thanks) but ownership of music could actually earn you something.
Additionally, my fears that this release could undermine the album format as an artform (and admittedly a physical, band selected release is planned for later this summer) seem unfounded. When I made my version of the album – and let me gently remind you of that URL www.kaiserchiefs.com/stokesie! - I found myself getting sucked into sequencing it, trying to work out what would go well together to give the album a certain feel. So in a way it actually made me engage with the album more than the average release. So much so, I'd actually advise you to forget my version and make your own.
Obviously this release of 'The Future Is Medieval' won't change download culture overnight, but it's a start and the potential for using this system again, as opposed to the one-off nature of the 'In Rainbows' release, seems huge. Imagine this software, which the band actually had to commission and build from scratch, being applied to the Best Of an act with a huge catalogue or the rarities collection of a band with a switched on fanbase like Muse?
And let's also give credit to Kaiser Chiefs for thinking it up over a fish supper in Cornwall (apparently) and actually doing it.
They are a band that seriously divide opinion. On one hand they can fill stadiums but also get a royal kicking – not just the standard indifference – from people who hate their music.
From both ends of that spectrum you can see the potential for more upset and abuse via this release, so whatever the wider impact of 'The Future Is Medieval''s surprise release, at the very least Kaiser Chiefs should be saluted for daring to do different.