Wednesday, 17 July 2019

Oroskällan ‎– Oroskällans musikaliska resa i tro, missmod och fantasi

Imagine The Wicker Man soundtrack played by the inpatients of One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest after they've flung themselves down Alice's rabbit hole to chase impossible dreams. I don't know if I'm frightened by it or enchanted by its wyrdness. Either way I'm held hostage by its dark powers.

Oroskällan are an acid folk band from Gothenburg. If any of them have day jobs, I'm absolutely certain they'd fail every random drugs test. Their music is hypnotic and cryptic and spellbinding. Maybe there's a 1970s Swedish children's animation where all the kids are kidnapped by a religious cult then sacrificed to a pagan god. And this is the soundtrack.

Part horror noir, part disturbing fairy tale and full-time mind-fuck on psychedelia's fried fringes, this is the sort of album that cratediggers can only dream about disinterring from the private pressing graveyard. But it's brand new.

Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Jeanines album

This is a story about pop music and its essence. Last Friday, the record shop had 4 albums fresh out the box I was interested in: Bruce Springsteen, Bill Callahan, Neil Young and Jeanines. Reader, I bought just the Jeanines.

The others were all £25. Jeanines was half that price. There was a thing in the 1980s about 7” singles being the pop music ideal and 12” singles were a rip off. This was obviously an indie-centric argument - the public demand for Public Enemy and A Guy Called Gerald singles on 7” was low.

The vinyl size format argument was lost, or its importance diminished, because tapes in the mid 80s outsold vinyl on album, then CDs by 1989 outsold vinyl and tapes together on album. Singles weren’t that important to the industry, even though they remained crucial to indie labels and bands as often the only format they’d release. And that would be on vinyl.

CDs were phenomenally expensive. Now vinyl is. The market for CD albums in the late 80s is the same as for vinyl now: wealthier adults. And the commercial impulse from big labels is the same: raise the margins on heritage music acts’ releases by marketing it as a status product. A London record shop owner told me recently that the high price on new releases he stocks is down to labels raising the dealer price. Pure profiteering.

The 1980s argument for 7” singles largely centred on the tenets of pop music being cheap and disposable, the thrills renewed every week with a new purchase.

Jeanines make exactly that kind of thrilling, disposable pop music. I’m uncertain if I’ll be playing this excellent album in two weeks’ time, but I’ll remember it fondly. Will there be something as good to replace it? I can only dream.

It sounds like 1980s indiepop (The Siddeleys cover isn’t an accident), and slightly later acts, particularly Go Sailor and Heavenly: route one jangle, sharp, simple and effective with inventive, playful basslines. It’s bright and immediate enough to win over fans from outside the indiepop scene.

I don’t know how many pop fans have bought this on vinyl. The label Slumberland has done everything it can - a coloured vinyl import for £12.50? Don’t expect there’ll be a profit there. It’ll be even cheaper in the US.

The romance of this release is that it’s a musical throwback that sounds fresh and is priced affordably. Many of the 16 songs complete their business in 90 seconds and some wrap up everything in under a minute. Its built-in obsolescence is at odds with Springsteen’s expensive string arrangements, a record that sounds like it was made to last or, possibly, not be laughed at.

Albums by heritage rock artists are released on vinyl to make hefty profits and for people to take seriously. They’re really making a case for the CD revival. This Jeanines record has been released to make people happy. Job done.

Saturday, 8 June 2019

Peter Perrett interview

Last time Halley's Comet came whizzing down from the heavens, Perrett was sitting on it.
NME, 8 February 1992

Johnny Thunders said to me, 'If you fitted in more then you could make it easy.' But I've never liked conforming to anything.

By the time I was 5 I could do simple algebra which meant I knew more than the teacher. I used to correct the teacher.

Tuesday, 28 May 2019

Rose City Band

The soundtrack to long, lazy summer nights. There’s whistling on album opener like Miniature Birds by Grand Archives (whatever did happen to them?) with whom they share DNA of backwoods folk, careworn harmonies and roots-based Americana.

Rose City Band put the slowcore into alt-country, all dusky desolation like Georgiana Starlington (whatever did happen to them?). If you want older, classic reference points, it’s hard to look past Hums of the Lovin’ Spoonful (tunes), Michael Nesmith & the First National Band (country gets wobbly electronics), and Neil Young (stoned to say the least).

You’ll be even more easily convinced by listening to their blend of folk balladry, psychedelic flights and country overtones. And if they keep on making records this good, no one’s going to be asking ‘whatever happened to Rose City Band’:

Friday, 26 April 2019

How to improve Record Store Day

1. Make the prices the same at every shop.
I know one of the main points of RSD is for record shops to make money, but the mark ups some shops put on releases would shame even the most cynical eBay scalper.

2. Sale or return
Somewhere in the spreadsheets, the accountants have forgotten that the day is about shops (‘stores’) not labels. So labels are chucking out what I can most politely describe as any old crap in a limited splattered edition. It doesn’t matter to the labels if it doesn’t sell. It should. Because shops are stuck with those records for years. I see ancient RSD releases in the racks every week. They’re as attractive as the can of beer and backwash the morning after the party.

If labels had to take back what doesn’t sell, they’d focus on quality output.

3. Dead pop stars stop bouncing after a year
Did anyone really want 5 (FIVE) live Fall albums? And a 7” box set? And two other Fall albums? Yours for £225. Most of them still yours for £25 per album. Death is a good career move for some artists, but not 16 months on.

4. One release per artist
David Bowie’s RSD popularity peaked in 2012 when he was alive. The Starman picture disc (2,000 copies) sells for around £200. 2019’s Pin Ups picture disc (4,000) copies is still not selling in a record shop near you. Along with the other Bowie 2019 RSD releases.

5. Get rid of Black Friday
Or the half-hearted RSD. This is timed for Christmas purchases. But record labels already spend much of the year planning Christmas and save the box sets and special issues for that market. Black Friday is for the stuff not good enough for a Christmas present.

6. Deadline for releases
Also known as stop blocking up pressing plants. Let’s say 90% of RSD releases are planned and agreed by August. Plenty of time to press them for April, especially if there’s no Black Friday. The other 10% can be for newly dead pop stars’ reissues and Courtney Barnett’s annual RSD release (there are other culprits). Crucially, other releases can come out on time. It's all very well saving record shops on one day, but postponing an indie band's album release so they have to cancel a tour or go bankrupt isn't helping the future of record shops.

7. Manage stock levels in real time
How hard can it be to have an online central database where buyers can see the stock in each shop? Not hard at all. Then the weary punter knows which shop to go to after their local has sold out instead of travelling for an hour to a different shop and queueing up for just as long only to be told, “Sorry the Otis Redding has sold out. Can I interest you in a live Fall lp?”

8. Gigs outside shops
Because it’s hard enough to get into a shop without 200 people crowding round the entrance to see Pete Doherty play his poundland Kinks songs.

9. Get rid of Cassette Store Day

Exercise in brand dilution.

Thursday, 11 April 2019

Cowgirl in Sweden

This private press issue from the Manchester underground takes Lee Hazlewood’s Cowboy in Sweden as its starting point. If this record isn’t the Whyte Horses trading under another name, I’ll eat my socks.

Cowboy in Sweden - saloon bar baroque, cavernous echo, cinematically psychedelic - was one of the major influences on the Whyte Horses’ debut, Pop Or Not. And so it is here, as the title obviously signposts. Only this is stripped back, without Pop or Not's orchestral flourish. At times, it suggests what Spector would sound like outside the Gold Star Studios and set up to record in a desert shack.

There’s a cover version of the West Coast Pop Art Experimental Band’s Here’s Where You Belong - neat in itself, but raises the possibility that the whole album is a collection of obscure cover versions. They're that good.

But really these are songs forged in the same febrile atmosphere as the first three Bee Gees albums, Susan Christie’s folk-psych and any number of soft pop nuggets. Only Don Thomas, unlike Lee Mavers, found a vintage mixing desk with original Sixties dust on it.

Buy it before it starts trading hands for silly money.

Wednesday, 10 April 2019

Possible Humans - Everybody Split

Everybody Split is 2019’s first classic - the record you know will define at least part of the year and you’ll be coming back to fondly in a decade’s time.

There’s a lot going on here. The lyric "King Crimson covering Nirvana" on Absent Swimmer probably isn't them declaring their inspiration. There is, though, in Orbiting Luigi a pop song with taut folk rock rhythms (maybe they played Before Hollywood before going into the studio). Then there’s the desperate torch ballad Meredith which combines Mope City’s fury with The Twerps' jangle.

Most of all they remind me of Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, only better.

The real engine of the album's brilliance, though, is the 10-minute epic Born Stoned, which is the greatest song Neil Young didn’t write. It builds and builds and builds, always threatening fireworks, then stops dead before it can collapse.

I don't really know what these songs are about. They most likely might be about loss and desolation and destruction, because that's what they sound like. I reckon I’ll still be thinking about them years into the future.