Aylesbury four-piece Sweet Billy Pilgrim have decided to give away their most recent album for free, and many will be asking why. The album in question, Crown & Treaty, is only just a year old and has received almost universal critical acclaim, and the band themselves appear to have been on an upward trajectory ever since their previous effort – 2009's Twice Born Men – was nominated for a Mercury Music Prize.
Giving your music away completely gratis often smacks of desperation, and the real worry is that not only does it devalue the music of the band in question, but also devalues all music in the eyes of anyone who receives such a gift. Sweet Billy Pilgrim are not a new band, and are certainly not a bad band, and one suspects that even as little as ten years ago it would never have come to this. But what the band are is staunchly independent, and in an impassioned missive to their fanbase band leader Tim Elsenburg outlined the reasoning behind this new strategy.
First and foremost, it's worth noting that this is not just a stab in the dark; for this mega-LP-giveaway the band are in cahoots with major music magazine Mojo. They loved the album when it was released and gave it five stars and ‘instant classic’ status, and now they want to share the love further. In fact, it may very well have been Mojo who first turned me onto SBP in the first place. I first heard their track Stars Spill Out Of Cups on a cover mount from a magazine in 2005. That song was so very very very good that I ran out and bought the album, (the possibly aptly titled) We Just Did What Happened And No One Came. I never loved the LP as much as that one track, however, and soon lost touch with what the band were up to. I noticed when they were Mercury-nominated in 2009, but it wasn't until hearing about this latest giveaway that I actually engaged with any of their music.
So maybe their plan is working: they have a record they're obviously very proud of, but simply can't get enough people to hear it without spending ridiculous amounts of money on promotion. The answer, as they see it, is to get people listening who maybe (like me) wouldn't have paid for the album but may like what they hear enough to buy a ticket to a live show or even consider buying a more expensive vinyl. I'm considering it, but want to live with the record for a little while before making my mind up.
I'm pleased to report that this record is as good as everyone's saying it is. The sound is more accessible than their previous efforts (although still, mercifully, not populist), and it's almost everything that I like at the moment. Forceful without being overtly pushy, thoughtful without being too wishy-washy, acoustic enough to sound like what I think of as ‘real’ music, and electric enough to have some real punch to it. Elsenberg's voice is in similar terrain to that of Neil Hannon's, and the songs themselves have a literary bent that again puts one in the mind of Divine Comedy. I've still not heard anything on Crown & Treaty that's as good as Stars Spill..., but that was one of the very best tracks of 2005 (a good year for music, so quite an achievement), but there's a lot here that I think will grown on me in the next few weeks and months.
Follow the link included in the latest issue of Mojo and they'll send you a link to the album download. In exchange, at least think about pre-ordering the fancy vinyl version of the album and going to their show at the Lexington on the 17th June (tickets here).