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In the year since EMI issued OK Go’s acclaimed third album, Of the Blue Colour of the Sky, the Los Angeles quartet has gone from being a rare young light on a major label to arguably the world’s most bleeding edge independent outfit. You probably know the bit about the treadmills by now (if not, you can read Ira Glass’s account below), but one can authoritatively say that those trusty treadmills shot the band into both better health and a technicolor zone beyond the hoary indie-versus-major debate.
Billboard called them “trailblazing,” the head of Apple’s marketing said they were “the first post-internet band, the first band to use the internet as a medium of art, not just commerce.” BusinessWeek praised their new model of “proactive creative types… looking beyond traditional parameters to get support for their work.” OK Go’s project is one of the modern age, of unlimited possibility, where infectious songs, inventive videos, surprising live shows, and an articulate, forward-thinking back-end combine into a total work by a defiantly do-it-yourself band without a shoestring budget. The band says they just like “making stuff.”
In a series of surprising partnerships, companies like State Farm, Samsung, Flip Camera, and Range Rover have stepped into the role that major labels once occupied: investing in the band’s berserker videos (like the 18-million-views-and-growing /UK-MVA-Best-Rock-Video-winning Rube Goldberg-esque masterpiece for “This Too Shall Pass”) and sold-out tours. Moreover, the band have emerged with an unprecedented level of independence, simultaneously bypassing a dying industry’s gate-keepers with creative aplomb and forging the kind of three-dimensional band/audience relationship only fantasized about by social networking consultants.
The band’s very public dispute with EMI about fans’ rights to embed the band’s videos landed them square in the crosshairs of contemporary culture. Kulash has penned editorials for The Times of London, The New York Times, and The Washington Post. “I’ve heard about nerdy being hip, but I’ve never known that just plain boring can be hip,” Stephen Colbert noted of the deal with the not-known-for-their-non-boringness State Farm, which funded the assuredly not boring “This Too Shall Pass” video. “This is a new level of hipness!” Colbert concluded.
As befitting any band that recently parted ways with a venerable multinational corporation with their master tapes intact, OK Go also recently launched their own imprint, Paracadute. Not surprisingly, there’s a new version of Blue Colour loaded with the expected demos, covers, live jams, and 12-track remix set, but also access to an online database where the band will continue to expand the album, still a breathing, growing entity.
Recorded with longtime Flaming Lips collaborator Dave Fridmann and named for a gorgeously quacky 19th century text, Of the Blue Colour of the Sky is not to be forgotten. Entertainment Weekly praised it as a ”sing-along for hipsters who remember how to party unironically” and The Onion’s AV Club called it “mature, compelling, and totally unexpected.” MTV’s Newsroom went as far as calling it the “best album of the year (so far).”
Nothing but blue ahead.