Elisa Bray: Caught in the Net

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The Independent Culture

Increasingly, artists are offering a "try before you buy" approach to their new albums on the web. REM and Michael Stipe previewed their 14th studio album Accelerate online a week before its release via the iLike application on Facebook earlier this month, and it went straight to No 1. Portishead no doubt hope for the same result as they preview Third – their first album in 10 years – a week before its official release, via the social music site Last.fm. From this Monday, you'll be able to hear all 11 tracks at www.last.fm/music/portishead/third. This is the first time Last.fm has collaborated with an artist to premiere an entire album exclusively.

The trip-hop pioneers Portishead, whose debut Dummy won the Mercury Prize in 1995, are a good choice to lead off a series of exclusive album previews on the site, as they were the first artist Last.fm ever uploaded – "Cowboys", from their second album, was the first track played when the site went live in 2002. Portishead's two previous studio albums are also available to stream in full for free at Last.fm/music/portishead.

The chance to listen to an album early and in full might remove the anticipation of buying it (in digi format or hard copy), but it does mean that it's not just illegal file-sharing sites offering the chance to hear the music before its release. And, when the week's free previewing is up, fans are directed to paid-for downloads on the site.

As for music made for digital release only, the team behind the teen film Juno are cashing in on the success of the original soundtrack, which hit No 1 in the American Billboard 200 and made Moldy Peaches' Adam Green and Kimya Dawson stars. The director Jason Reitman has put together a second compilation of songs apparently intended for but not used in the film. Featuring Yo La Tengo, Belle and Sebastian, Astrud Gilberto, Buddy Holly and two new tracks by Kimya Dawson, the 15-track album Juno B-Sides: Almost Adopted Songs is available to buy digitally, through iTunes now and via other online retailers from 13 May. You can preview some tracks, including Juno star Ellen Page's performance of "Zub Zub", at http://www.rhino.com/juno/. Compilations work well digitally; they're ready-made playlists. But with albums, there's nothing like the finished product – especially if you've waited 10 years for it.

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