Wincing The Night Away, the new album from The Shins was leaked a few weeks ago.
Some reports say this is not the final mix of the album. The album is a big change sonically for the Shins, and it may take some getting used to for new fans. I'll save the review of this album for another time, right now, I just want to talk about leaked albums.
I have mixed feelings about albums leaking. On one hand, as a fan I love to get my hands on albums as soon as I can. I 'm eager to hear new music, especially from a band I love. Once in a while, things happen with bands and producers and record labels, and music gets leaked that you would have never heard otherwise.
Sometimes, a leaked album ends up being totally different from the commercial version, if it is leaked before the final mix is done. For fanatics and completists, these are the things that can make the world go round. One example is Whiskeytown's final album Pneumonia. The Ryan Adams led band recorded the album for Outpost records, and the label dissolved when Polygram was acquired by Universal. The album ended up in limbo for quite some time. It was leaked on the net, and fans were able to hear an album that might never be released commercially. The album made the rounds for over a year, and was finally released by Lost Highway records with a completely different mix, and a different track listing. Two songs on the bootleg version are not on the final release. The leaked version was so widespread, that one of the tracks, Barlights, which is not on the final version, was covered and released by the band Minibar before Pneumonia was released. I have both versions of this album, and I love them both a lot, but for different reasons. This is a case where I am certainly happy the bootleg exists.
Another example is the famous case of WILCO and their album Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, detailed in depth in their documentary "I am Trying to Break Your Heart". This album changed the perception of leaked albums and their effect on sales. Without the album being leaked, it may have never been released. Its free distribution on the net generated so much hype, that it outsold all of their previous albums many times over.
Sometimes though, I wish albums didn't leak. If you download an album, and you are anything like me, the first listen isn't a "real listen". You may be skipping through tracks to make sure all of the files work, or you are just listening through a crappy pair of computer speakers. For a real music fan, there is nothing better than taking the wrapper off of that CD you just bought for the first time, and sitting down and listening to a new album on a good pair of speakers, with nothing between you and the music. Sometimes, it feels like knowing what you are getting for Christmas. The element of surprise, and the belief that "good things come to those who wait" is taken away. So for those reasons, I consider the leak of the new Shins album a blessing and a curse.