Tuesday, 22 August 2017

Vinyl is too expensive

Many records cost too much. It's the fault of record labels. Next year, why not rename Record Store Day "Record Label Day"? Some of the "limited" releases like Neil Young's Decade and The Cure's Acoustic Hits went on general release after the event at much cheaper prices.

That's after the labels, and some ebay touts, had made a ton of money. This week, Sandra Wright's Wounded Woman went on sale at £12. That's unsold stock from RSD 2015. What took them so long? Embarrassment, probably. Or hoping that buyers would forget they were trying to flog it for £22.

Don't believe any of the headlines about vinyl's revival. You may remember "Vinyl albums just outsold digital for the first time ever" last December. They didn't. They sold for more money (£2.4m v £2.1m) in one week only but they didn't sell more.

Most of that £2.4m was special purchases for Christmas presents. If you got a box set that you don't want, good luck selling it on. I was in a second-hand record shop on Saturday and the boss was complaining how hard it was to sell box sets. 

One of the biggest selling 7" singles of 2017 is Domino's reissue of Buzzcocks' Spiral Scratch. That's a pressing of 300. Its original release 40 years ago sold 16,000 copies.

You could pay £6.99 for the reissue or get a 40-year-old copy in VG+ condition for the same price. 

All vinyl is limited. There just isn't the market for it to be anything other than limited. Sure, low-run pressings put up the unit price, but some labels are taking the piss.

I yield to no-one in my love for The Orielles but Heavenly pressing 100 copies each of Sugar Tastes Like Salt on 7" and 12" and selling them for £15 is a cunt's trick. It's not as if their previous singles on other labels sold much more than that. 

I know Heavenly hasn't got EMI's money these days, but I'd rather it didn't try to take mine by creating fake demand with overpriced limited editions. 

Most indie labels run at a loss. It's a labour of love. I've got no complaint about their prices. 30 years ago Our Price sold all 7" singles at £1.79. That's £4.62 in today's money. Given that pressings in 2017 are in much lower quantities now than in 1987, each record costs more. But a 7" costs about £5 today. That's good for me, even if it leaves honest indie labels struggling. 

Which is no different a situation for labels - breaking even in 1987 was an achievement then as it is today.

The music business - the bigger labels, really - have got to stop marketing records as a luxury purchase. Otherwise they'll only sell records on Record Store Day and at Christmas to a richer, older demographic. And no kids will buy them. Of course, they're not looking long-term. 

The future is with the small indies who know the value of getting fans buying their records isn't the bottom line - it's to share the joy of music they love and celebrate that excitement by pressing it on vinyl.


Sunday, 20 August 2017

The cassette comeback is over (for me)

Perhaps the logical conclusion of the punk idea in recording was reached in the sphere of 'do-it-yourself' cassette tapes. During 1980, the music press began to publish details of a system whereby for the price of a blank cassette, a reader would be sent a copy of a set of songs or piece of music directly from the performers themselves. Many of these recordings were themselves made at home with only the aid of a single track tape recorder. DIY tapes represented the punk ideal of 'Xerox rock' in its purest form, by utilising technology that was available to, and manipulable by, almost anyone.
Dave Laing, One Chord Wonders
Can we stop pretending that, in all cases, labels and bands are releasing cassettes for non-commercial reasons? The launch in 2013 of Cassette Store Day buried that romantic idea.

Let me be clear: I'm not begrudging any label or band releasing cassettes and making money off them. They've got production and recording costs to cover. And they probably lost a ton of money at their last gig or are sitting on 200 unsold 7" singles.

I'm done with cassettes because I never play them. I was buying them for the artefact and just playing the downloads. And, yes, I do have a tape player. I don't have any romantic attachment for cassettes as a format, unless we're talking about them being the only way to hear music by underground bands. That was the case in the 1980s. It's not now.

I get that cassettes are for some fans the cheapest way for them to have a physical release by a band they love. I'm not knocking that. I'm still buying the downloads, just not the cassettes. In most cases, the cassettes are affordable, but international postage isn't.

Postage rates are hitting all labels regardless of format. Yes, I do have a romantic idea of vinyl, but anyone running a label or in a band making music who doesn't share that romance isn't going to release vinyl. The financial risk is too high. Again, I'm cool with that.

We're seeing the original DIY tape culture explained by Dave Laing embodied in today's DIY underground. Cassettes are cheap and easy, so go and do it.

I did, though, get a little weary of buying a cassette only for it to get a vinyl release down the line. It happened with many of the really good ones. This is a relatively small complaint - I'm genuinely happy that so many bands and labels are making and releasing great music.

Like I said, I'm still buying it, just not on cassette format. I stopped buying CDs years ago - I was a late adopter and never bought many. But I'm holding on to the ones I own. There will be a CD revival in the future. Of that I'm absolutely certain.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

Brenton Wood

I'm going to list my top ten 60s soul albums:

This Is My Country - The Impressions
The Four Tops - Second Album
Brenton Wood - Gimme Little Sign

I'll stop there. The list will change any day I write it, but those 3 albums will always be in it. Even if you don't know those Impressions and Four Tops albums inside out, you know many of their songs. Brenton Wood, though, seems to have fallen through the cracks.

This is an error which history really should correct. The title tracks (in the USA this album was released as Oogum Boogum) are both classics, but the album is bursting full of greatness.

There are eleven originals - skinny R&B guitar, footstompers, soft shoe ballads, woozy keyboard - all written or co-written by Wood. Then there's a cover of Psychotic Reaction by Double Shot labelmates The Count Five which confirms Brenton Wood was making a world-first attempt at psychedelic soul on this album.

This album and the follow-up, Baby You Got It, have just been reissued on vinyl. That also features Gimme Little Sign, possibly in the entirely correct belief that it's one of the greatest ever songs and all albums are improved by its inclusion.

They're retailing at the thick end of £30. You could get an original Gimme Little Sign for that (but not Baby You Got It). Put them on your wants list and if you can only ever afford one, get the first.






Friday, 11 August 2017

Display Homes

The only thing missing from Australia's leading role in the international pop underground these past 5 years is a band influenced by Life Without Buildings.

You see, I think that Life Without Buildings' gig at Sydney's Annandale Hotel in 2002 must have lit several fuses. It's that blind devotion to their genius that convinces me they influenced every band (yes, every single band) that was a bit post-punk in the 21st century. 

But apart from a few of Per Purpose's early singles - and even that's a bit of a stretch - those fuses remained unlit in Australia.

I'll suggest that Display Homes have some of Life Without Buildings' chaotic rumble. They certainly share influences - the rubbery bass from the first two Go-Betweens albums, The Raincoats' art-school punk. 

Of course, Display Homes may have only ever heard early Fall records. These things don't matter. This song does. Listen to it:


Tuesday, 25 July 2017

Harkive: a day in the life of music listening

7,25am: I leap panther-like out of bed. There’s no time for the radio. There is time for a couple of songs on the walk to the swimming pool. My latest purchase on bandcamp is the new Shifters single. This is on a British label so it was much cheaper than their last single from the USA. They’re an Australian group. This may be the international pop underground in action or it may be the start of a bidding war.

The Shifters single cost £6 including postage. If it had been from the USA then it would have been 3 times more. Like their last single Creggan Shops was. That was worth it. This new one isn’t as good (most singles aren’t), so I’d have passed if it was £18.

Swimming pool to work. This walk is close to 4 miles. I give the Peter Perrett album another go. It’s light on bangers, isn’t it? As in absent. Apart from an ode to Kim Kardashian’s arse, it’s all love songs to his wife.

I make a mental note to play his last album, which was one of my favourite albums of 1996 (the others were Tigermilk and Denim On Ice since you ask, but there were probably others, it was 21 years ago after all).

This mental note will be forgotten during the day. They almost always are.

There’s still time before work to listen to the 2 advance tracks from Milk Teddy’s new album (which I bought 2 days ago). I must ration listens to these otherwise the album will be a disjointed listen by the time I get it. The songs are amazing though. If you think that XTC played by Roxy Music would be amazing. I do.

I have a quick look at the Twitters after my first meeting at work. There’s a link to an article about Felt’s Poem of the River, so I listen to the album. On YouTube.

I would have listened to this on my ipod, but that’s been out of action for 3 years. I used to digitise all my new 7” singles so I could listen to them out of the house. Now I listen to them if they’re on bandcamp or just not as much if they’re not.

So why buy 7” singles? Habit is the easy answer. The artefact is the more complex answer, which I don’t have the time to unpack here. Oh, there’s sound quality as well. But if you were familiar with some of the lo-fi shit I buy, you know that’s not the best weapon to bring to this fight.

Now I want to listen to Felt’s Goldmine Trash. There are some early singles on YouTube - VU treble, tribal drums - which remind me that 2 art students in Berlin are probably drunk on vodka and having sex to these right now.

Headphones off, because more meetings or interruptions.

Lunch: Conor Oberst’s Salutations. The albums I have on my phone are limited. I put the new ones on and keep them on there if I haven’t played them enough. If they have a download card, of course. I’m not going through that argument again.

Back to Twitter: I’m very pleased to see the Suggested Friends album is ready. I buy the vinyl on bandcamp and stream the 2 songs available now. They’ve been so much better live than on record. I’ve got high hopes. In my fantasy world Ric Ocasek has produced this record. One of these UK DIY bands - Suggested Friends. Muncie Girls, Personal Best - is going to make a powerpop record that goes gold in the USA.

Listening to I Don't Want To Be A Horcrux For Your Soul reminds me of hearing it live last year. I looked up ‘horcrux’ after the gig. It’s got something to do with the Harry Potters, but I forget what. I wonder if thinking of it as ‘whore crutch’ helps the listening experience. It doesn’t.

I check the spelling of horcrux - this blog is nothing if not thorough - on bandcamp and notice that the whole album’s now streaming. I’m going to listen to that.

1 hour and 50 minutes later: meetings got in the way. I console myself with the fact this is how I can afford to buy records. Or waste money on international postage. Something during the meeting reminds me there was a band called Hootie and the Blowfish. Or maybe that was in the toilet post-meeting. I don’t know what they sound like and I’m not going to find out. I suspect I wouldn’t enjoy them.

Right, that Suggested Friends album. Chicken is sort of an Only Ones banger, if I want to link things back to what I listened to this morning. I thought that when I heard it live last year. This isn’t a powerpop album after all. Ric Ocasek must have been busy.

It’s a soft rock album, sort of. Like Ay Carmela! (whatever did happen to them?) and maybe Sheer Mag. Or that’s what I want to think. Maybe they prefer 4 Non Blondes and Guns’n’Roses. We make our own connections as listeners.

*Googles Ay Carmela!* They had an album last year. I remember that now. I didn’t buy it. I must have had my reasons. I expect they weren’t very good reasons. Make mental note to listen to it again, but will probably forget.

I play the Suggested Friends album again. It’s quite short. It’s not light on bangers, is it? I may play this so often that I’m bored of it by the time I get the vinyl. We’re still not going to unpack that buying vinyl instead of downloads argument, but thanks for bringing it up again.

I’ll probably look up what ‘horcrux’ means again, though.

Tube home. I listen to the Sunset Dreams single from a month or two ago. I haven’t played it very much. Haven’t played it enough, it turns out.

Hi honey, I’m home! I stick on Watchout! by Martha and the Vandellas. This is the only 1 of the 5 albums I bought on Sunday that I haven’t played. I know it already as their best. This original cost £15. Every UK record fair has the same 2 or sometimes 3 Vandellas albums for £30-35. The same copies, I suspect. They never sell at that price. Watchout! Is never among them. Who in their right mind would get rid of this gem?

After emptying my bag post-work I find a download card for the forthcoming Mammoth Penguins album. John of the wiaiwya label had given it to me on Friday night. Why hadn’t I remembered? Because I got absolutely twatted. It had been a hard week. I expect this will be a very good album.

Aw, fuck. There are no song titles on the Mammoth Penguins album. I hate it when that happens. I’ll ask John for a refund. Or I would if I’d paid for it.

Anyway, back to Motown. I want to listen to California Soul by The Messengers, which takes me to the Motor City Grooves compilation. This features Barbara McNair’s Here I Am Baby, so it’s a result.

*Uploads Mammoth Penguins album to itunes* Oh, there are song titles. Sorry, John. I was going to make some up. Now I’ve had that idea, I might change all the song titles anyway. I’m playing it now.

Monorail alert me to the reissue of Event Horizons by The Necessaries. I stream it on YouTube. I like it, but I’m not sure if it’s a £22 album (plus postage) to be honest. Yeah, I know, I did mention earlier about sometimes paying £18 for new 7” singles. Using that kind of logic to justify record purchases is a one-way ticket to destitution.

I’ve stopped listening to The Necessaries. It’s not quite good enough.

And I’ve finished my book. I’ve gone back to work (I’m self-employed). This may be it for music listening today.






Saturday, 8 July 2017

Ebay's 6 signs you should keep your record collection

Ebay's advertorial in today's Guardian tries to convince record owners that they should sell their record collection. Ebay are wrong on every count.

There are, apparently, "six signs it's time to sell your vinyl collection". Each of those 6 signs is easily dismantled and reversed. So I'm going to do just that.

1. They treat the place like a hotel
No they fucking don't. They're more than "an ornament to any living room". They're a life history, they tell stories, they're the past, present and future.

Ebay thinks that record collectors have "cardboard boxes strewn everywhere". No record collector does. This is a straw man argument.

 "Sell them for yourself. For the space, for the money, for the freedom." Mate, the only time I've sold records is to buy more records.

2. The generation gap is widening
No, ebay, not all record collectors are DJs. Don't tell me to sell "rave-worthy vinyl and replacing them with something more laid-back". Even if I were the person you think I am (I'm not), I'll decide when I want to move from the main dancefloor to the chill-out room.

Spoiler alert: record collectors have music crossing several genres. We play what we want according to mood, not your rather antiquated idea of age-appropriate genres.

"They need to be with people who understand them now." Yeah, the people who bought them and still enjoy them.

3. It’s like sharing the house with a stranger
The bullshit-ometer needle is really in the red now: "Because your record collection no longer represents your taste in music – it represents your past taste in music, plus a ton of stuff that you bought for reasons that you’ve long forgotten. When these records first came into your life, it was exciting."

Sometimes I play a record I haven't played in 20 years. I might fall in love with its 9-day wonder all over again. It might lead me to something else I haven't played in too long. It'll remind me of things and it'll join the dots with something new I'm listening to.

I'm certain I own records I'll never play again. But I'm equally certain I've no idea what those records are. I'm keeping them all, thanks very much.

4. Something is missing between you
According to ebay, I don't own a record player. Seriously, fuck off. And if you want me to buy records from your site, please don't get people who know fuck all about condition or grading and have got no record player to test them on to sell on your site. Because there's way too much of that already.

5.You’re not spending any time together
What started out as a flimsy proposition is falling apart like a cheap toy. On their fifth point, ebay rehash their second point. Mate, I'm a record lover. I can spot a crappy remix a mile away let alone a few paragraphs apart.

6. They’re spending all their time with younger people
Ebay have packed a lot of bullshit into their final point. I'll rightly unpack these points so they deflate like the balloon at a party no one's turned up to:


  • "Like so many music lovers, you found your tastes by leafing through your parents’ records." No I didn't. Not one.
  • "Some became the germ of your own collection, and now, to your delight, your children have taken a shine to some of your records." Even if the State Sponsored Sterilisation Scheme hadn't intervened and I had children, I'd have those pesky kids disinfected and issued with white cotton gloves before they went near them.
  • "Sell what remains on eBay – and your record player." Hang on, according to point 4 I don't own a record player. Make your fucking mind up.
I've made my fucking mind up. I'm not selling my records on your site, paying your costs, queuing up at the post office and then regretting everything.


Friday, 7 July 2017

The Popguns C88 demos

These 1988 demos have been given a new lease of life. One label turned them down at the time because they were "too professional sounding".

It really was like that back then. Some of 1980s indie harboured the suspicion that not using biscuit tins for drums or hiding musical incompetence under gales of feedback meant wanting to be Dire Straits.

Medium Cool, the label that did sign them for 1989's Landslide single, had to persuade The Popguns their interest wasn't based on the band sharing a drummer with The Wedding Present.

I'm not sure why they were worried about that. 28 years later and I'm still not bored of listening to Landslide's crashing jangle. It sounds even fresher on this remix (where "remix" means the vocals are higher in the mix).

For your £2 on bandcamp you also get one of Landslide's b-sides (Leave It Alone, which always sounds like they'd listened quite closely to the House Of Love's Destroy The Heart), Where Do You Go? from their 1988 flexi (that's where the remix really helps out) and a previously unreleased song, Beat Me Up.

Two quid? Seriously, it's a bargain.