Keeping you up to date on the Web's most intriguing music-related happenings and destinations. This week: Wilco's free EP, Norah Jones' online music archive, and Blur's early listen to "Think Tank."
STREAMS UNDER THE BRIDGE: Wilco fans who purchased the band's latest album, "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" (Nonesuch), now have the opportunity to stream or download a free grab-bag EP from the group's Web site. The files became available last week, and the EP was streamed nearly 12,000 times during its first 24 hours online, according to a band spokesperson. As of 7 p.m. Friday (April 25), the site had registered 33,485 successful MP3 downloads as well.
The EP comprises six songs: an alternate version of the "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" track "Kamera"; outtake "A Magazine Called Sunset"; older unreleased track "Bob Dylan's 49th Beard"; and three newly recorded songs, "Handshake Drugs," "Woodgrain," and "More Like the Moon."
The EP was released earlier this year as a bonus disc packaged with "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" in Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, when the band embarked on its first-ever tour of those territories. But when it came time to consider release in other countries, according to the spokesperson, the band decided it wouldn't want to make fans who had already purchased the full-length album buy another one just to get the EP. However, to release it on its own would make the odds-and-ends collection seem like an all-new release.
Instead, the band is offering it via the Web site, complete with three optional artwork packages available for printing. The artwork alternately gives the EP's title as "More Like the Moon," "Australian EP," or "The Bridge." Fans who own a copy of "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" can use the disc, inserted into a computer's CD-ROM drive, to access a Web site through which they can listen to the EP in streaming MPEG-4 audio and download it as MP3 files.
While some labels or artists might scoff at the idea of giving away unreleased music rather than affording it a commercial release, the strategy has worked for Wilco in the past. In the fall of 2001, when "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" was caught in record-industry limbo after a falling out between the band and former label Reprise, Wilco made the finished record available on its site as a RealAudio stream. While files culled from the stream did end up making the rounds on peer-to-peer sites such as KaZaA, it didn't appear to hurt subsequent album sales. When "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot" was released in May of last year, it debuted at No. 13 on The Billboard 200, and has sold 371,000 copies in the U.S., according to Nielsen SoundScan, making it the band's most successful album to date.
COME AWAY WITH MP3: Norah Jones has gained legions of fans in the past year, having swept the Grammys and sold 5.5 million copies of her debut album "Come Away With Me," according to Nielsen SoundScan. But with her released output still limited to that one album, hungry fans anxious for more can check out her official Web site, where she hosts a multitude of rare and live tracks.
Among the 19 streaming RealAudio files are a number of songs from an April 16, 2002, live performance at Chicago's House Of Blues. Also available in video form -- via RealMedia, Quicktime, or Windows Media -- are a performance of "Nightingale" from San Francisco's Fillmore last year and Jones' first performance on "The Late Late Show With Craig Kilborn," playing "Come Away With Me."
Additionally, the site offers 12 MP3 files for free download, including tracks from the aforementioned Chicago House of Blues show and two performed live in March 2003 on WFUV, the campus radio station of Fordham University in the Bronx, N.Y.
THINK HARD: U.K. beat-pop band Blur is set to release its seventh studio album -- and first since the departure last year of founding guitarist Graham Coxon. The album, "Think Tank," which is due May 6 via Virgin, features a decidedly different sound for Blur, partially inspired by frontman Damon Albarn's recent experiments with side project Gorillaz and the cross-cultural album "Mali Music" he released on his own Honest Jon's label last year.
For those who just can't wait, the band is streaming a version of "Think Tank" via its official Web site. Fans who sign up for the site's free members area get access to a special Macromedia Flash player that streams the album and provides a chat room for listeners to discuss the work with each other in their own "think tank."