Wednesday, 10 December 2014

This is not a 2014 year-end list

I know what you're thinking: "how can you possibly make a best of 2014 when you haven't even got the Chook Race album yet?" This isn't a best of 2014. True, it has got some of 2014's best songs, but this is a compilation for friends - the captains of industry and parents who don't have time to scour the dustiest boxes in the dirtiest record shops and the darkest corners of the internet to find the world's finest new musical treats.

True, a best of 2014 might be Withered Hand's New Gods plus some bonus tracks. But there's no Withered Hand on this compilation because if you haven't got New Gods, there's really no fucking hope for you.

Yes, there are some identifiable themes in 2014, thanks for asking. Melbourne, Dunedin and Philadelphia have the most exciting scenes happening. The shoegaze revival is turning into a musical maelstrom that's surpassing the original scene. No, I wasn't much of a fan of it the first time around, but there are some brilliant records coming out in that - admittedly rather loosely affiliated - scene.

Anti-folk is coming back, too, with predictably mixed results but some ace offerings if you dig deep enough.

Encouraging news reached me recently about last year's compilation. A friend heard it at - I kid you not - a dinner party. He was so impressed by the Prophet Hens he bought the album.

You ask this every year, but this is a CD compilation for friends, not a free download. A mate of mine who runs a small record label told me last year: "I do mind that blogs give away my records for download - when it's one song from a 2-track single, I lose sales." Yes, I know that giving away new music would make my blog much more popular, but if I wanted popularity I wouldn't be listening to this (wonderful, life-affirming) indie crap.

Anyway, the track listing:

Alvvays - Archie, Marry Me
Radiator Hospital - Venus Of The Avenue
Wildhoney - Soft Bats
Strand of Oaks - Goshen '97
Curtis Harding - Keep On Shining
Dream Boys - Positive Arguments
Tops - Change of Heart
Hello Saferide - I Was Jesus
Eyelids - Seagulls Into Submission
Cayetana - Dirty Laundry
Trick Mammoth - Baltimore
Lunchbox - Everybody Knows
Dora Maar - Jessica Says
Contrast - Less Than Zero
Deers - Castigadas En El Granero
Twerps - Always Waiting
Piano Movers - Girlfriend’s Lover
Posse - Jon
Tennis - 100 Lovers
Meenk - Reasons
Alphabetical Order Orchestra - The Corrections
Ciggie Witch - Midday Movie

Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Piano Movers: Girlfriend's Lover

So that's what happened to Nodzzz. You remember them, they played garage rock fast and fun. They sang I Don’t Wanna (Smoke Marijuana) because - I thought - they were drinkers. But Piano Movers sound like they're ingesting neither of those drugs.

They sound instead like they've been listening to the offbeat moroseness of They Might Be Giants and the lonely, doomed romanticism of Daniel Johnston. There's some Feelies in there, too. It's a brilliant start. Let's hope there's more to come.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Contrast: Less Than Zero

Melbourne's pop explosion of the last 3 years has largely sidestepped the shoegaze revival. Sure, you've got the spectral atmos of Bored Nothing and Glaciers, but there's definitely been nothing as full-blooded as Contrast.

The Less Than Zero ep is walls of noise, banks of fx pedals, throbbing bass, scattered rhythms and the sort of disaffected ennui that sullenly casts lines like "you're so boring I'd rather be dead than here".

Contrast's record collection might not span much more than Ride, Chapterhouse and Lush, but they've certainly built their sonic adventures from the pick of that range.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

The vinyl revival myth

This week’s announcement that vinyl sales in the UK have passed 1 million copies for the first time since 1996 is based on flawed data.

Only a tiny amount of the 250 records I’ve bought this year, for example, will have been registered by the BPI. I bought most of them in shops the BPI doesn’t monitor, gigs they don’t know about, cottage industry mail order outlets that fly under the BPI's radar, and directly from labels in the UK and abroad.

Some of the criticism about vinyl’s increased popularity is that it’s either mainly releases by heritage acts or reissues of albums bought mostly by people who already own the music on CD.

So when Pink Floyd, the seventh biggest-selling artist of all time (250 million), get the fastest-selling vinyl LP of the century with 6,000 sales priced at around £30 each, we get some perspective about this vinyl revival.

Pink Floyd buyers are older and richer than the idealistic view of teenagers spending their pocket money on records. The BPI’s data is for albums only. Teenagers might be spending their pocket money on 7” singles, but the BPI will never know.

Damon Krukowski made a valid point about record pricing and illegal downloads last year: “I believe that the relationship [between music buyers and artists] is relatively undisturbed by the internet — that’s why limited editions, from lavish box sets to underground cassettes, seem to be humming along fine right now. Those are products made for a specific audience, which appreciates their agreed-upon value.”

Record labels, then, have entered into an unspoken pact whereby they’ll sell over-priced vinyl to a relatively well-off demographic.

The BPI’s figures reflect the buying habits of a small number of classic rock fans. This is nothing new. In the early 90s, a popular bhangra act could sell 30,000 tapes. In his essay Cultural Production in the British Bhangra Music Industry, Rajinder Kumar Dudrah makes a similar point to Krukowski when he explains bhangra’s pricing policy in 2002: “An eight-track bhangra album on cassette sells for £3 - £5 compared to British pop albums on cassette and CD priced around £13 and above. This difference between the two music industries has to do with the pricing of bhangra music by its retailers and distributors who have found that Asian audiences are unwilling to pay higher prices in line with mainstream music.”

In the same year, 2002, how many thousands of grime 12”s were sold in Bow? I don’t know and nor does the BPI.

A lot of the underground indie scene has moved back to making tapes in the past 3 years. They’re cheaper to make, there are no delays at pressing plants (want to press 300 7”s? Get in line behind the majors and don’t try to do anything in the 4 months before Record Store Day) and they’re much cheaper to post.

Massive postage increases, principally for the US and UK post offices to cash in on Amazon deliveries, have hit indie labels self-distributing vinyl.

Eventually, some of those tapes do get pressed on vinyl. Girlpool’s tape from early this year has just been released on coloured vinyl by Wichita. Will I be buying it at the Independent Label Market today? Will I fuck.

I’m not calling out Wichita here. Quite simply, there aren’t many of those tapes. The songs deserve a wider audience and I hope they get them. But I won’t be buying them again. That tactic works with major labels and classic rock. It doesn’t work with music fans searching for something new and fresh every week.

Just as the BPI’s sales figures don’t work because they don't count the records bought by music fans searching for something new and fresh every week.

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

Tomorrows Tulips: When

It never rains in California, where Tomorrows Tulips are based, but it pours. The type of Caledonian rain The Jesus and Mary Chain specialised in - basic pop songs turned messy, magnetic and fuzzed up with guitars.

When really is, for the most part, that basic. It's Ultra Vivid Scene without the art and simplicity itself like Beat Happening's Black Candy. Copying Joy Division's Closer for one song is a bad move, but the rest of When is smart enough to find its own light in the dark.

Listen to Baby. If you don't get it straight off, move along, it's not for you. If you like it, then get the album and go to the checkout.

Thursday, 6 November 2014

Weed Hounds

Clattering percussion, furious feedback and ethereal femme vocals - so far, the bog-standard fare of any record in the US shoegaze revival.

But Weed Hounds’ debut album is more adventurous than that. Gales of noise skittle riffs from their moorings, unhinged melodies demand you follow them and disturbing, fragmented rhythms punch unexpectedly.

I took 3 or 4 plays before I realised how good this record is. Give each song a few listens and let their constituent parts unpack themselves. You’ll hear songs that break rules and bend ears. And you’ll be hooked and hypnotised.

If you don’t like adventurous guitar music, there are plenty of other bands to amuse you. But if you like Weekend and Wildhoney and Sweet Bulbs - intense, uncompromising, hard-won pleasures - then you’ll find every answer to your music wish list in Weed Hounds.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

James Brown's best song titles

James Brown - godfather of soul and the hardest working man in show business - had a gift for song titles. Asking Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles if they saw "those cakes" in a hymn to butts mightn't have been his finest moment, but what a song.

For Goodness Sakes, Look At Those Cakes
I Got Ants In My Pants (And I Want To Dance)
I Don't Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing (Open Up the Door, I'll Get It Myself)
Hot Pants (She Got To Use What She Got To Get What She Wants)
It's A New Day So Let A Man Come In And Do The Popcorn
Just Won't Do Right (I Stay In The Chapel Every Night)
Santa Claus Gave Me A Brand New Start
Don't Tell A Lie About Me And I Won't Tell The Truth On You
Get Up I Feel Like Being Like A Sex Machine
Turn On The Heat And Build Some Fire

Warning: if you play all of these songs it'll get "too funky in here, so open up the window and gimme some air".