Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Marble Gods

Marble Gods’ first 4 songs are forged from gale-force riffs and solid gold pop hooks. They sound best played very loud. The band, almost inevitably, are from Scotland.

They might have taken their name from a Sad Day For Puppets song, but I’d have them as bigger fans of the Lemonheads, Sports, Belly, the Pains of Being Pure At Heart and Dinosaur Jr.

And if I had a club night, I’d have them on a dream bill with their most obvious contemporary sparring partners, Shunkan, Diet Cig and Bruising.

If anything, I expect Marble Gods will get noisier. I expect, too, that they’ll get even better. This is a very impressive start. Ones to watch for sure.

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: