Saturday 30 May 2015

Michael O: Really?

The bad pun Michael O's given his debut album belies the scrappy romance and tender twists of Really? The obvious touchstone is Jonathan Richman's Back In Your Life (spare, simple pop songs) and I'm So Confused (delicate with barely restrained sentimentality).

My first thought was 'US indie folk that City Slang was putting out about 15 years ago, Wheat and Kingsbury Manx'. But these miniature masterpieces suggest Michael O's been listening to The Church's cavernous anthems and working out a way to strip them down to something more human and touchable.

My second thought was 'this is on Fruits & Flowers, the USA's finest new record label, let me at it'. Fruits & Flowers remind me of the Make A Mess label who came racing out of the traps in 2008 with a stream of brilliant releases. F&F put out the Piano Movers 7" last year; they used to be Nodzzz, who were on Make A Mess. There's some sweet coincidence right there.

As long as there are records like Really? and labels like Fruits & Flowers I think everything's going to be alright.

Wednesday 27 May 2015

Bel Etage

Bel Etage is French for Pam Berry and Lupe Nunez-Fernandez. This is their first single and it's great.

Pam takes charge for Lonesome Heartache Constellation, all electric guitar, tambourine and tremulous vocals. It's simple and effective like Dolly Mixture and enigmatic like first album Mazzy Star.

Lupe's in control for Quiet Town, a trip through the back streets of 1970s English folk. It's understated and captivating like Mark Fry. There's some Broadcast analogue atmosphere in there as well.

Tuesday 26 May 2015

Vinyl isn't a limited edition

Eighteen months ago, this blog warned you that labels will "start pressing 7” singles in runs of 200 or even 100. The basic break-even price on that is about £6. Plus postage." And so it's come to pass.

You know how many copies there are of each Odd Box 100 Club release. One of my favourite singles of the year. Degustation by Point Being, is in a run of 130. The record label, Mystic Olympic, didn't advertise that because it's not a "limited edition". It's a realistic pressing of a debut single.

Any indie label advertising their releases as limited edition is being disingenuous. These 7" singles are products made for a small audience. "Limited edition of 300" for an indie is the same as Atlantic saying "limited edition of 1.5 million" for the next Ed Sheeran album. Both indies and majors press what they think they can sell. The only difference is a major can afford to lose money. Indies need to sell all their stock to pay for the next release.

Art Is Hard started their Hand Cut Record Club this year, making 25 lathe cuts and selling them for £6 each. I've no problem with this. That might be in part because I've been able to buy the releases I wanted. If either of the two I bought had sold out before I got my mitts on a copy, I'd be pretty pissed off. But not as pissed off if the label shut down after losing a shedload of money on pressing too many copies of a record.

I looked into the costs of making lathe cuts. Art Is Hard are making no money from this venture. So why do it? "It might be archaic but we want people to still care about owning music and to treasure and collect it." They said that about their Postcard Club (an MP3 sent to you on a postcard). It holds true for the lathe cuts and their Pizza Club.

A fortnight ago they tweeted after seeing the Sarah Records documentary and Q&A:
"I don't understand why anyone would ever release vinyl in 2015". Thanks to the founder of Sarah Records for a really inspirational Q&A. NOT.

I understand why Art Is Hard (and Odd Box and Mystic Olympic) are releasing vinyl in 2015 and they understand why we're buying it. The year's greatest song is surely Can't You Feel by Bruising. It's on a compilation tape. Art Is Hard did the next best thing and released two new Bruising songs on the 12" vinyl Family Portrait pt II ep. Because it looks great, it sounds even better and it's more real.

All record labels are figuring out ways to sell records without losing (too much) money. I'll keep on buying them. Just don't call them limited editions.

Tuesday 19 May 2015

Saun & Starr: Look Closer album

Heartbreak and joy visit Saun & Starr, with one of those emotions staying longer than the other. That's soul music and as long as quality soul music exists its emotional core will always be struck harder by heartbreak.

Look Closer is blindsided by misery and is all the sweeter for it. You might know Saun & Starr when they trade under The Dapettes as the backing vocalists for Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. This album, written by the Dap Kings, is suppler than Sharon Jones because it glides instead of sweats.

You can measure its tenor in skinny guitars, softly punching horns and romantic tragedy. If, like me, you've got their two singles, you'll have 4 of these 11 tracks. But how can I feel shortchanged with a record this enriching.

Sunday 17 May 2015

Record Store Day and the madness of internet shopping

Record Store Day's principled ethos is that it encourages shoppers to use independent record shops. The reality is that it encourages some people to make money by selling the records on ebay. I've got no problem with that; I do think, though, that the buyers are often the real problem.

One month on from Record Store Day, I visited my two local record shops to see what RSD stock was still available. That Frank Wilson 7" that's sold for £40 on ebay? Still available. The Jimi Goodwin and Pete Wiggs 7" that was selling for £20? Loads of copies. Paid £25 for the Dusty 7"? Should have waited. It's still in the shops a month later. Were you one of the people that bought A-ha's Take One Me picture disc for £50? Yep, that one's still in the shops.

You'll see on ebay's completed sales that the crazy prices happen on RSD itself or the day after. I understand buyers' panic - I've been there - but 2015 was the eighth RSD in the UK and you can always get most items in the days after and a lot of them a week later when shops can shift unsold stock online.

There are always some big ticket items each year - you'll never find this year's U2 release after 9am on RSD (yeah, I know, try to hide your disappointment) - but most heritage act reissues just aren't that popular. Sorry, Bob Dylan, there aren't 4,000 people that want The Night We Called It A Day on 7" even if it is on blue vinyl. Someone was prepared to pay £30 through ebay on RSD, but three days later it took £6. A month later, the shops are stuck with unsold stock.

RSD is a victim of its own publicity department. Record shops are a victim of the no returns policy. Shops buy a lot of stock to attract customers - they're not guaranteed to get what they order, so typically order a wide range of releases to fill up the racks - but can't return unsold records, which is how record shops usually work.

You see these unsold RSD releases sat forlornly in shops like deflated balloons after the party's over. Today I saw some unsold 2011 stock. Once the hype's over, it's very difficult to sell any RSD releases. Especially as they're marketed to people who go to record shops only on RSD and in the week before Christmas.

A North London second-hand record shop owner told me recently about one of his comrades in the suburbs whose shop joined in the RSD farrago last year. He lost £7,000. That's not helping an independent record shop survive. It's killing it. If RSD introduced a sale or return policy, you'd quickly find the 550+ releases would shrink to something more manageable that would minimise record labels' risk and, crucially, benefit shops.

I know that ebay is a different world - I shop there sometimes, but I wouldn't want to live there - and it has a culture of crazy prices. I checked prices on discogs. There weren't any RSD 2015 releases from my sample on sale.

While on discogs, I looked at the entry for the original Frank Wilson Do I Love You (Indeed I Do). Only 2 copies exist. One sold for £25,742 6 years ago. Yet 8 people claim to own a copy. This is why I have trust issues.

Wednesday 13 May 2015

Sukie + the Browns - If You Want Me

This sounds old. As in classic old. It's mid-tempo magic, 3 minutes of drama, passion and fist-clenching emotional pull.

But this is new. Its closest classic soul revival bedfellows might be Lack of Afro's My Groove Your Move album and any of those hits by The Bamboos with Kylie Auldist.

Tuesday 12 May 2015

Adult Books

*WARNING*This record will be delivered in a plain package emblazoned by an 'adult books' sticker if you buy it from the label and your friendly postie will then have a very different idea about what you're buying off the internet.

If you buy as many records as I do, then your mail carrier might consider you as having a very high interest in 'specialist literature'. But if you really did buy that many records, you'd probably already have this record on either its 2013 release or its 2014 Burger tape release. But that's because you're cooler than me.

Adult Books do two things, both very well:
1. The early 90s US post-punk thing with rollicking riffs that played fast and insanely catchy riffs. See Archers Of Loaf's Icky Mettle. Listen to In Love Again.
2. LA power pop. Hair in the breeze, fists in the air, the scent of sex. Wonderful stuff.

Buy the record from Box Bedroom Rebels. All these links are here so you don't have to search for "adult books".