The Swedish folk band John Moose is taking the concept of bizarre album releases to a new realm: the woods. The band pre-released their debut album via a mobile app that played only if the GPS determined the listener was in a forest.
While the album saw release on April 24th, the app — which was created by the band’s drummer, Tobias Norén — still works and is available for iOS and Android. As the band explained to Rolling Stone in an e-mail, “The app uses Google Maps where forests have a specific green color. GPS coordinates are sent from the smartphone to a web service which scans the map through Google Maps Static API and uses a specific algorithm to determine if the user is in the woods ‘enough.'”
The album is centered around the story of a man — the band’s alter-ego, John Moose — who ditches society and makes a life for himself in the forest. While escapism and humanity’s relationship with nature and civilization are key themes, the character’s story does not play out like Thoreau’s Walden.
“Throughout his journey something grows, an anxiety stronger than he has ever known before,” the band explains. “He becomes obsessed and senseless. He violates nature and believes he owns everything that crosses his path. He gives up and is nurtured by the earth he has tortured. It seals his body and shatters his dream.”
While such release gambits, like the John Moose app, have become an increasing part of contemporary album cycles, the band seem less interested in creating a viral stir than promoting a unique listening experience tied directly to questions and ideas raised in their music.
Still, their geo-specific album contains elements of various release strategies designed to foster the communal experience the Internet has both expedited and hindered in its fracturing of the monoculture.
It’s free, in the vein of pre-release streams or the pay-what-you-want model made famous by Radiohead’s In Rainbows, and still used regularly by independent acts on sites like Bandcamp. Its availability is democratic, like the Beyoncé-spurred “surprise” method where an LP is made available to critics and fans alike at the same moment (or, in John Moose’s case, at the same, or similar, locations). But it also carries elements of exclusivity — not everyone lives near, or can easily access, the woods — like the kind Jay Z engendered when he released Magna Carta Holy Grail via an app for Samsung customers.
“We want people to think about nature – what it is and how we should relate to it,” the band says. “So the best way, we thought, is to force people into the woods.”