Wednesday 23 April 2014

Record Store Day – winners and losers

There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness. ― Friedrich Nietzsche
There’s been even more grumbling about Record Store Day this year than in previous years. It’s easy to see why if you just look at the hysterical grab for the limited edition releases by heritage acts. But the economics and politics of Record Store Day are more complex than that. Let’s look at the big talking points and find some reason in this madness.

It’s not indie
It’s not meant to be. You’ve got the Independent Label Market for that. You’ll most likely have been in a record shop the week before if you’re that indie. I was the day before RSD. I go to buy things I don’t know I want as much as for what I know I want.

On Friday last week I got a copy of I Never Knew by The Avocados. A box of unplayed copies of this 1981 single turned up. £10, thank you very much – it normally trades second hand for £30. I got a 7” in the post the first day after the bank holiday weekend. You’d struggle to find that record in any shop.

No one goes to a record shop on RSD for something they don’t know about. You know the score.

Ebay mark ups
A lot of RSD stock immediately goes up on ebay. Of course it does. I’m not certain who these “ebay touts” that people talk about are. They might be the unemployed, low-waged or students – people who can’t get a job but have found an easy way to make a quick buck. Fine. I’m not going to queue outside Sister Ray from 3am.

Shops don’t care about touts
They’re not meant to. They’re allowed to sell one copy of each record to any customer and they can’t reserve records. I’ve not heard reports of anything different happening.

Major labels don’t care about touts
Don’t be so na├»ve. You know all those posters for new releases and gigs you see in London? Criminal gangs operate that trade. There’s more than one gang. Each controls its patch. I don’t know how the labels account for that, but maybe it's fruit and flowers.

You know never to argue with ticket touts, right? Good, because some of those touts are part of criminal gangs. You really don’t want to get on the wrong side of them.

Touts don’t care about music
I think some of them do. You remember 8 to 10 years ago when there were so many good indie releases in limited runs coming from the USA? A lot of people bought 2 copies – 1 for themselves and the other to flip on ebay at least twice the price, so they basically got their record for nothing.

You can’t blame the labels for not policing that – it would’ve been impossible. But you can blame their lack of ambition in pressing 500 copies when they could’ve sold 1,000. Yeah, I know about ‘buzz’ and ‘marketing’ but, really, sell more records to fans and forget about the intro to your next press release.

RSD releases were on ebay the day before RSD
I noticed that, too. That won’t be the shop owners, it’ll be the odd member of staff. I used to work in one of those RSD shops (before RSD started). The pay was less than the minimum wage. You’d take the occasional record or two as a perk of the job. The boss knew about this. He’d done the same before he opened his own shop.

You know who also might be selling RSD stock on ebay early? Label staff. Their wages aren’t always that good, I understand. I draw no conclusions on their moral fibre based on the labels they work for.

They’re too expensive
Yep, they are. But the mark up isn’t as extravagant as you might think – the labels are selling them to shops at a high dealer price. Introducing a sale or return policy might make the labels think a bit harder about what they release and their wholesale price.

There are too many RSD releases
Agreed. What started as windfall for record shops is now a cash cow for labels. I shouldn’t begrudge one of my all-time favourite labels, Flying Nun, for this as I know they need the money, but £20 for the Bored Games ep was a bit high. It’s still widely available at RSD shops. As was the £17 Snapper ep last year for a few months after RSD. Oh, £37 for the Dunedin Double? Really?

Plant delays
The Fear Of Men flexi disc (£5) was due out on April 7. It’s still not out because of RSD. The flexi track, Luna, is on the new album, which was itself released on red vinyl for RSD. Or on black vinyl if you, like me, pre-ordered it at the start of February as part of immediately buying the new album by a band you love.

Maybe some of the UK vinyl pressing plants could increase their capacity. I hear there are people looking for work. Or maybe every label shouldn't go to the same plant in the Czech Republic.

It’s Christmas twice a year
A friend in the pub on Sunday suggested RSD is now like the UK car registration system, which sees a massive peak in purchases when the new registration number is introduced. The registration system is since 1999 twice yearly to spread the motor trade’s business more evenly.

RSD means that there are 2 peaks to record shops’ trade. Yes, a record is not just for Christmas, it’s for Record Store Day, too.

I’ll never be able to find or afford the record I really want
Relax, in most cases you’ll get it. The hysteria passes into low-level madness after the first 24 hours; by the end of the week, records will settle at their true value.

I really wanted the Mazzy Star single. I’m confident I’ll get it for its RSD price of £8. Don’t buy (literally) into some buyers’ panic. The last Mazzy Star single, Seasons Of Your Day/Sparrow (two tracks from last year’s album), was released 6 months ago through Rough Trade shops only ("this will sell out on pre-sale"?!). There are just 300 copies of those. There were at least 20 in the racks on Friday in Rough Trade at £3.99. Same price on their website.

Yet some people have paid way over that – up to £25 online, even though it was available for £3.99 on Rough Trade's site. There are 3,000 copies - 10 times more - of this Mazzy Star RSD release. So you can see why I’m not panicking. Neither should you.

UPDATE: I got a copy of the Mazzy Star single exactly one week after RSD, for £7.

Saturday 19 April 2014

Heathers - Fear

You can, sometimes, judge a band by its record covers. Heathers' two 7" sleeves share an aesthetic with The Smiths and Belle and Sebastian that suggests, like those bands, they have an affinity with a certain louche glamour.

The incandescent Fear is brutally beautiful, perhaps closer to that early run of Wedding Present singles than anything. The b-side Life Is Elsewhere slows the pace, adds female backing vocals and builds the guitars into a frenzied squall for even greater punch.

The pay-off line "you're the only girl part of me" is up there with "the radio sucks balls" on Stanley Brinks and The Wave Pictures' Orange Juice as 2014's best.

Heathers start their UK tour tomorrow (Sunday, 20 April). I'll see you down the front. And then when they play an acoustic tribute to Grant McLennan on May 4.

EDIT: I spoke to Michael of the Heathers band tonight at their first UK gig:
M: "Good write up, but that's a man singing."
DNC: "OK, high voice. APOLS."
M: "Also, it's not "girl" it's "good".
DNC: "'You're the only good part of me'? That works, too. I like it either way. Lyrically, you understand. Anyway, did I get anything right?"
M: "The Smiths. And The Wedding Present."

Friday 18 April 2014

The Lucksmiths - Warmer Corners vinyl issue

The opening line “The start is the hardest part” is a tacit nod that 2005’s Warmer Corners is the real follow up to the orchestrated pop, maudlin melody and straight-up pop hits of 2001’s Why That Doesn’t Surprise Me.

Between those 2 albums, Naturaliste found a harder and darker path. There’s no good reason to expect a band to make the same album twice, but what The Lucksmiths had done with Why That Doesn’t Surprise Me is write better songs, have better production and a bigger scope. It wasn’t unreasonable to expect Naturaliste to build on that.

Warmer Corners is The Lucksmiths returning to their UK influences – The Housemartins, Aztec Camera, The Wedding Present, Belle and Sebastian – and making an album of 10 (soaring, immense, searing, intense) pop songs and 2 ballads.

A musician on Twitter suggested to me that The Lucksmiths got worse when they ‘opened out’ the songwriting. I disagreed. Some of the best songs here aren’t by main songwriter Marty Donald. There’s Tali White’s Sunlight In A Jar which is knocked into shape by new member Louis Richter’s chiming Rickenbacker.

Louis is the Red Adair of the Melbourne indie scene. He drops into band line ups and gives them direction and musical flourish. The Lucksmiths didn’t need that – bassist Mark Monnone is widely regarded as the band’s best musician, not least by Louis – but the pace of Marty’s Putting It Off and Putting It Off is driven and then embellished by that Rickenbacker.

Warmer Corners is an album by a band of stars rather than a star and supporting cast. It’s hard to find fault with it, so I won’t try. It’s record store day tomorrow. The vinyl issue of Warmer Corners isn’t part of it. But it’s a bloody good reason to go to a record shop.

Wednesday 16 April 2014

West Coast Hip Hop is Not for Me

This song is a rite of passage about discovering Hefner at the Reading Festival in 2001. It's sweetly sardonic - "I wanted to hear I Took Her Love For Granted/Not some genre that I hadn't grasped yet" - with a country swing and a hit single's heartbeat.

I saw The Man Who Loves You (well, I booked them, on Darren Hayman's suggestion) at the Hangover Lounge 3 years ago. West Coast Hip Hop was obviously their (or him, as it was then) best song. It's even better now, bigger and fuller and richer, with a full band.

There's an album which proclaims its influences in its titles (Edwyn and Baby, You're A Richman) but the namecheck of Hayman, Watkins, Trout & Lee in the bluegrass-tinged Walking Song is more telling.

They might lean heavily on their influences at times - they do take their name from a Wilco song - but there's a lot here of their own, not least one of the year's best pop songs, to love.

Thursday 10 April 2014

Jonathan Richman in the 21st century

The new Jonathan Richman compilation No Me Quejo De Mi Estrella takes songs from his last 5 albums, mostly live favourites. Many of the ones my friend asked me if they were new songs at Jonathan's last London gig 2 years ago.

So this compilation is good for Jonathan fans who haven't bought any of his new albums this century. The new songs Jonathan has played in the past few years suggest his next album - and let's hope it comes soon - will be a belter.

The record label says "you could pick sixteen different titles and still come up with an equally solid album". I'm not going to take that as a challenge. But 5 of the 16 songs are from Her Mystery Not Of High Heels and Eye Shadow, the best of those 5 albums and a record that you must hunt down. It's one of his best ever.

Yes, you could pick 16 different songs, but you could buy the 5 albums. They don't disappoint. As a taster, here are some of what I reckon are the more glaring omissions from this compilation:

Tuesday 8 April 2014

2541 by Grant Hart with Robert Forster

The answer to 'favourite Grant Hart solo song' comes quickly and easily: 2541. Robert Forster covered it on the I Had A New York Girlfriend album. It's the one Forster album I don't own. I thought it unnecessarily defeatist that Forster made an album of covers as if to associate himself with the greats. He was - and remains - one of the greats.

His next album, Warm Nights, produced by Edwyn Collins, is warm and rich and dramatically intimate. I wonder if its sumptuous grandeur and quiet triumph suggested to Forster that the only way to improve was to reunite with Grant McLennan. Which is what happened.

I hope that Forster makes another solo album, although I was told he's not interested. Maybe when he's completed his book, Grant and I, and it's been published and he's done the promo...maybe then he'll find the time and passions will be rekindled.

The answer to 'favourite Grant Hart Husker Du song' is less simple. By instinct I'd go for Don't Want To Know If You Are Lonely. But I can't overlook The Girl Who Lives On Heaven Hill or Pink Turns To Blue. And it would be remiss to ignore Diane. I'll leave Scott Miller to describe that. If you like music criticism written with a fan's heart and a musician's insight, then you must buy Music: What Happened?

Oh, and this acoustic version of 2541 is quite something, too:

Grant McLennan tribute gig May 4 2014

Some words - wise words, bon mots, reflections, insights - from Grant McLennan:
I know that our dear friend Roddy Frame called his last LP Love, but I maintain that the Go-Betweens write about love better than anybody else in the world.

I don't think they [The Smiths] ever made a whole good album, but they made their fans think they could never happen again…they are not any better than the Go-Betweens or Belle and Sebastian.

We wanted to use Joe Boyd (Fairport Convention, Richard Thompson, REM) for Before Hollywood in 1982 when we were on Rough Trade, but at that stage he wasn’t making rock records. We wanted to work with John Cale for Spring Hill Fair but he was too expensive.

As an album [Before Hollywood] that really got close to a definitive sound for a certain period. It’s great because there’s very few records that do that. I’m not comparing the album, but Marquee Moon by Television does that; a statement of a band, of intent, an unmistakable mood. Like Highway 61, early Creedence records, The Doors’ first album, Revolver. They’re albums which come close to defining [something].

Describe to me the typical Go-Betweens fan
Female, heavily into Sylvia Plath, could have played hockey with the Australian Olympic squad but gave it up. And called Mirabelle.

Looking back and seeing that none of it is charted, a lot of people would say that's unsuccessful. But 'Marquee Moon' sold nothing, and I know much I still enjoy listening to Television. It doesn't really matter. To me the things I like, and that a lot of my friends like, are the things that maybe have fallen under the floorboards a bit. Our music was never connected with any kind of movement. There's a guilelessness to our music which I'm happy with.

We all love Wired for Sound by Cliff Richard. It’s just such a happy song.

What's your favourite Robert Forster song?
There are so many! I'll just say at the moment — 'Rock & Roll Friend'. But then I could go back to 'People Say', the second single, which is a fantastic piece of pop music, or 'Karen' — a great individual slice of liberation of R&B. Then I could go through every album...I enjoy all his songs.

Some words from Robert on his favourite Grant song
I really like 'Love Goes On!'. There's nine chords in a row, which he doesn't repeat. It's so him. A lot of his best songs are on '16 Lovers Lane'. And 'Cattle & Cane' is a really good song. It was like 'Love Will Tear Us Apart' or something — a quantum leap, a break-through song.

Last year, David Westlake, Elizabeth Morris of Allo Darlin' and The Mexican Postcards all played Love Goes On! for that very reason. This year, we don't know what songs David Westlake, Heathers and the Very Special Guest will play. Come along and find out. Doors open at 2pm. Music starts at 3pm. Entrance is free.

You'll find out who the Very Special Guest is on the day. A reminder of last year's extraordinary special guest's turn:

Tuesday 1 April 2014

Cold Power: The Hippy Strutt

This one's a bit of a mystery - I'm unsure what it's "been an inner circle soul club power play for a while off dubplate" means exactly, but let's say it's new. And it's excellent. And it's got the direct funk snap and soul pop of Archie Bell and the Drells' Tighten Up (the riff's not a million miles away). You could play this after Stop Hurting Me Baby by Purple Mundi but you'll come back to The Hippy Strutt's freshness straight away. And then dig out some Drells.

This is the cheapest place to get a copy while they last.