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Mars Attacks!

Soundbites: Mars Attacks!, BiteTorrent


Published April 28, 2010 at 8:38 a.m.

Good morning, class. Welcome to yet another session of Band Promotions 101. In today’s lecture, we will be discussing the finer points of grassroots PR efforts, including web-based promotions and social-media networking. Also, we will specifically focus on an underutilized but nonetheless effective marketing tool. In fact, it may be the greatest marketing tool humankind has ever created: beer.

Last week, I was sitting at my desk engaging in my usual music editor-ly activities. These comprise what you might imagine they would: compiling club listings, listening to music, playing Farkle on Facebook, checking my fantasy baseball team, inventing derogatory synonyms for “hippie jam band,” etc. Seemingly out of nowhere — and just as I “farkled” on a 3000-point hand — a sizable cardboard box addressed to me appeared on my desk.

It seemed to have materialized out of the ether. The only identifying marks on the box were the words “Mars Pyramid.” Aside from that it was utterly unremarkable, save for its size and weight.

Now, as the 7D “music guy,” I’ve received some pretty strange packages from bands and labels trying to stand out from the fray. My favorite example: an out-of-town band whose press kit consisted of — I am not making this up — a rock. It worked. I wrote about them. Although for the life of me I can’t remember who they were. I hope they were good.

Anyway, I opened the box to find an introductory letter, three CDs and — here’s the kicker — a six-pack of beer. Specifically, Chaos Reigns, a home-brewed espresso stout. My favorite Style. Whoever is behind Mars Pyramid clearly understands the most basic marketing lesson there is: Know your audience.

Before the utterly humorless among you get all bent out of shape and suggest I could be bought for a mere six-pack of beer, allow me to assuage your fears. That’s wholly absurd. It would take at least a case. Maybe two. Moving on.

It turns out that Mars Pyramid is a Burlington-based microlabel helmed by local experimental musician Jay Blanchard, formerly of Burlington label and website Aether Everywhere. According to his letter, the label will release music from a variety of genres within the ever-nebulous family of “experimental” music from around the globe. Its efforts will bleed into other arenas of experimental art as well, including multimedia work and, apparently, microbrewing. Or, as Blanchard puts it, “Music knows no limitations or boundaries, so this label will not shy away from an esoteric approach, either!”

Blanchard included MP’s first three releases in the package, and each bears out that philosophy.

The first release, Twilight Visions, is, in fact, Blanchard’s own, recorded under the pseudonym VIKOMT. Perhaps you’ve seen the trailer for the upcoming Tron sequel? If not, Google it, ’cuz it looks totally rad. Back to the point, if there are any Disney execs reading this — and the chances are good, since Disney secretly controls the universe — allow me to suggest you hire Vikomt to compose the soundtrack. The stark, mechanical sounds Blanchard wields would be the perfect complement to the film’s desolate electronic aesthetic. And, yes, I recently rewatched Tron for about the 4000th time.

The second release, Wormwood Star, comes from Kentucky artist Alma Daaé and is really, really freakin’ creepy. The three tracks here make up a nerve-wracking collection of inky, ambient drone with subtle hints of industrial mayhem. Blanchard suggests the album should be listened to “with the lights out.” I respectfully disagree. Listen during the day. Noon, ideally. And turn on as many lights as you can.

The third release, Tone Cloud, is from Lendway bassist Kevin Lynam. It is, well, pretty much what the title suggests. Clouds of tone. In the liner notes, Lynam writes that the three-track, 42-minute album represents “the dark and cold months of the winter season in northern Vermont.” He then advises the listener to “enjoy with headphones in a cool, dark place.” And maybe a sweater.

Lynam’s record truly does evoke the icy depths of winter. Or at least it would if we still had, you know, real winters. Dark, foreboding tones shift with a chilling hollowness on the opening title cut. By the third track, “Solar Winds (Sister),” listeners may well find themselves disoriented, blinded by the bleak sonic shimmer. Or maybe that was the beer.

Actually, Blanchard writes that Mars Pyramid’s beer and music were meant to be experienced together. So there. Plying me with stout wasn’t merely a brilliant marketing move after all. OK, it was. But it was also part of the experience. And one I recommend.

Mars Pyramid celebrates its winter catalog with a release party at Radio Bean this Friday. Expect performances from Vikomt and Lynam, as well as a collaboration between the two they’re calling Antaeus. Also on the bill are Aether Everywhere artists Yellowknife and Ghost Weapons. Sadly, I assume Chaos Reigns won’t be available thanks to Vermont’s puritanical blue laws. But I’ll go out on a limb and suggest that a Five Dollar Shake would get the job done just as well.


  • Speaking of the magnificent marriage of booze and music, Shelburne Vineyard debuts a new monthly series this week called Acoustic Music in the Loft. The free series happens on the last Thursday of every month and will feature some of Vermont’s better-known up-and-coming songwriting talents including, Jen Crowell (April), Lowell Thompson (May), and Steve Hartmann (June).
  • If all that winter talk in the opening bit gave you chills, consider that this issue features our first Discover Jazz Fest spotlight of 2010 Sonny Rollins. Spring has sprung.
  • If you’re a regular reader, you know that I absolutely love it when local bands score opening slots with bigger acts, especially at Higher Ground. Simply put, the exposure is invaluable. This week, the club has outdone itself in lining up local openers. Thursday’s Rubblebucket show in the Ballroom features two Burlington acts (Villanelles and tooth ache.). Saturday, iLL iNTELLEKS warm up the stage for hip-hop hybrid K-OS. Sunday, Lendway support Athens indie sensations The Whigs in the Showcase Lounge, while Rubblebucket make an encore appearance in support of Ozomatli. And that’s to say nothing of Dead Sessions raising the, um, Dead with their own Ballroom show on Friday. If you’re going to any of those shows, get there early and support local music.
  • Have you seen the video for The Allen Jokers song “Midd Kid”? Since it has nearly 400,000 YouTube hits, I’ll go out on a limb and guess that you have. Or that you’ve at least heard about the video, which deliciously parodies campus life at Vermont’s only Little Ivy. In any event, one of that song’s architects, Sam Robinson, will be performing at 51 Main in — where else? — Middlebury on Wednesday, April 28. He’ll be joined by fellow Midd Kid Ben Stilton.
  • Last but not least, yet another local literary mag emerges this week as The Salon throws itself a party at Burlington’s Firehouse Gallery on Thursday. The inaugural issue features poetry and fiction contributions from a number of Vermont musicians including Cccome?’s Lee Anderson, Mickey Western and Anaïs Mitchell.