Wednesday 27 December 2017

20 new songs from 2017

All new songs, pretty much all new acts, in what used to be the annual compilation I made for friends who have more important things to spend their money on than new records, or just not enough time.

"Used to be" because I'm not making CDs of this one, unless you fulfil the unlikely criteria of wanting a CD, I used to give you an annual compilation and you're reading this. Really? Get in touch.

I'm making no claims on this compilation's authority - I know, brilliant records by The Stroppies, Suggested Friends, The Love-Birds and Swiftumz, for example, aren't included - but I'll brook no argument on its quality.

Mental Haven - Hater

Malibu Entropy - Rips

Heart Paste - RVG

Know Where to Go - Dag

What Time Is It In Portland? - Bonny Doon

Go On Down - Snails

The Isle Of Arran - Loyle Carner

Samantha - Dave & J Hus

Figure It Out - Sprinters

Stupid Things - Girl Ray

Oh Well - Wurld Series

My God Has A Telephone - The Flying Stars Of Brooklyn, NY

How Quickly Your Heart Mends - Courtney Marie Andrews

Big School - Mo Troper

Old Time Feeling - Mope Grooves

Washing Machine - Marble Gods

Say Sue Me - Good For Some Reason

Climate Change - Display Homes

Latent Teenage Fantasy - The Whooperups

Secret - Honey Harper

Sunday 17 December 2017

Honey Harper - Universal Country

In which William Fussell from Mood Rings and Promise Keeper packs up the keyboards, ditches the trance, waves goodbye to electropop and decides he wants to make music "that sounds like The Carpenters and Simon Garfunkel having a baby, and then Merle Haggard and Townes Van Zandt made a baby. Then those two babies grow up and get married in Texas."

It's an excellent decision. This music sounds like it was written during the morning's first glass of whiskey and recorded after the evening's last beer. It's country music at its most vulnerable and passionate, all drowsy and romantically resigned.

In a year where country has informed some of the best indie records - Dag's Benefits Of Solitude and Bonny Doon's debut, for starters - where Courtney Marie Andrews has made one of the best albums and where even Son Volt made a comeback, Honey Harper's earnest romanticism stands tall.

Thursday 14 December 2017

Mo Troper - Exposure & Response

Matthew Sweet said about powerpop: “Somebody who’s just discovered The Who, the Raspberries and The Kinks will make it sound new and organically interesting again. People ought to stop saying, ‘Rock is dead’.”

Powerpop supremo Mo Troper has a song, Big School, on his new album that I had to check isn’t a cover version. It’s got a pop perfection that suggests it’s always existed. If you get it, and surely you will, then it’ll probably be in your life forever.

Exposure & Response sets out its stall with Rock And Roll Will Change The World. I can’t dispute its optimism and can only revel in this album’s simple teenage beat of extreme emotions where either school’s just about to break for summer or your girl left you and you’re waiting by the telephone.

A final word for Dictator Out Of Work, which sounds like a lost Beulah song (man, I love Beulah), all trumpets, melancholy and sweet despair. I love this Mo Troper album, too. Rumours of rock’s death are greatly exaggerated.

Wednesday 13 December 2017

Whenyoung - Actor

Actor is sharply metallic, lean, punchy, sensual and in-your-face immediate. It sounds massive. If the charts still counted then this would be released in early January rather than mid-December so they could have a proper hit. It’s a hit all the same.

The references might be obvious - The Strokes and all their 70s NYC forebears, and they might have some Libertines and Ash records in their collection - but Actor transcends its influences.

Whenyoung could turn out to be just another rock band, they might rather unfortunately be named after The Killers’ When You Were Young, or they might be your new favourite band. None of that matters. It’s all about this one song now.

Tuesday 12 December 2017

First Base - Not That Bad

First Base stick to what they know - bubblegum punk - because they’re very good at it. If it sounds like they can dispense two-minute pop songs with ease - and it does, these songs are effortless, carefree and fun - then remember it’s taken them 4 years to follow their debut album and there have only been a handful of singles in twice that time.

If writing pop songs was as easy as First Base make it seem then everyone would be doing it. The template is pretty much unchanged since, well, whatever you think the golden age of rock’n’roll is. First Base’s template is early Beach Boys, Fresh by the Raspberries and the first 5 Ramones albums. 

So there are - of course there are - songs about girls (Judy, Sandra), but First Base really nail their aesthetic with a love song to a guitar (This Guitar Of Mine) declaring with utter devotion that “she sounds like trash but she’s always right by my side”. 

They even make a bid for Eurovision powerpop glory with Ding Dang Dong. Pop music doesn’t really get much more simple and joyous than this.

Tuesday 28 November 2017

C86 and all that by Neil Taylor

History is written by the victors and ebay vendors. So C86 has come to mean something the tape's compilers and contributors weren't aware of, because it didn't exist: a scene based around bands who played jangly guitars and were in thrall to the Buzzcocks, The Byrds, Orange Juice and the Velvet Underground's Loaded.

Neil Taylor's thorough study of the UK's underground guitar scene after post-punk - or C81 as it wasn't called - digs deep into the world of fanzines and micro scenes in small towns. It looks under the surface, in some cases several miles underground, to reveal what was going on when goth was happening overground.

The early 80s indie scenes were a punk rematch inasmuch as the acts had noted, as Taylor points out with reference to The Nightingales, "there was a credibility gap between what punk was meant to represent and what it actually was". Or, later, that The June Brides were "music that was punk rock but sought to speak to people rather than shout at them".

These scenes, though, weren't simply a correction to punk. Many acts were reacting to the mid-80s overtly glossy MTV pop. It was a fight they could never win, but the point was that it was worth fighting.

What Taylor does very well is introduce all the building blocks that created the scenes and then the scenes themselves. Taylor introduces links, but offers no overarching connection between the disparate scenes. The reader is invited to connect fanzines and labels and bands - some people were involved in all three creative outlets - and realise how the underground created its support networks of fans, club nights and gigs.

The reaction to C86 was swift in part, Taylor explains, because the NME's rival paper Melody Maker, attacked most of the bands on there and reduced the jangly ones to a simplistic, unpolitical, asexual mass.

A more astute observer would have noticed that 5 of the acts came from one label, Ron Johnson, so maybe angular, edgy, anti-pop was the real C86 sound. Or that there was no C86 sound, as The Servants' David Westlake explains:

"I was conscious of there being a scene centred on a number of disparate bands. There are precedents for different people on a scene or in a putative genre having a productive contrariety or antipathy to each other...That went to the heart of C86."

C86, then, was the last hurrah of indie's founding years before major labels signed up and spat out the most promising contenders, and Britain's youth decided that they'd much rather take ecstasy in a field than stand in the back room of a pub with a pint of snakebite and black.

What was that June Brides lyric? "We'll learn how to walk then to tumble/To swagger is worse than to stumble". What those Melody Maker critics missed was the anti-macho, anti-rockist, inclusive ideology of Britain's guitar underground.

Britain's indie scenes in the early to mid-80s could be adventurous and thrilling and open, but they could never rightly be pigeonholed.

Friday 24 November 2017

Felt: the first five albums

Crumbling The Antiseptic Beauty
The official Felt story is 10 albums, 10 singles, 10 years. The real Felt story starts in 1979 when Lawrence hastily recorded Index on a £15 Tandy (US viewers - that’s Radio Shack) tape recorder.

The official story sweeps Felt’s DIY punk past under the carpet so we start with Lawrence and Maurice Deebank trying to create a new kind of music that no one had heard before. This album isn’t far off that ambition, although it shares an atmospheric ideal with The Durutti Column. And confirms that Felt were named after Television’s use of “felt” (the past tense of feel) in Venus.

So it doesn’t quite exist on its own, but it still, today, has a unique destitute desolation.

The Splendour Of Fear
“The softest touch, the gentlest word.” God knows why the Cocteau Twins got all the, er, garlands. Another 6-song album, half of which had already been out on singles, but take this as an organised pattern of a unified whole.

The Optimist and the Poet is a solo Lawrence composition, suggesting if Deebank ever left he’d be okay composing 8-minute instrumentals on his own.

The Strange Idols Pattern and Other Short Stories
“You know those songs like Crystal Ball, Dismantled King? You know I love them all.” With you on that one, Lawrence. Felt had made many pop songs before - come on, Evergreen Dazed is a banger - but here are 10 in a row. Belle and Sebastian and The Clientele forged their early careers on this one record.

Somewhere in the Spanish foothills of the Pyrenees, whole villages dance to these songs at every festivity. I like to think Maurice Deebank is playing there, but apparently he’s moved back from Spain to live in a Birmingham monastery.

Ignite the Seven Cannons
The year before (1984) Felt demo’d Dismantled King Is Off The Throne and Sunlight Bathed The Golden Glow for Blanco Y Negro. They got turned down. Felt record Primitive Painters with Elizabeth Fraser and it becomes the biggest selling indie single of 1985 (according to Lawrence, who never let the truth get in the way of a good story). That single and this album was revenge, then.

Lawrence’s only regret about Felt’s catalogue is that Ignite the Seven Cannons is asymmetrical, 6 songs on one side, 5 on the other. That’s not this album’s biggest problem, though.

Aiming for big sales might have encouraged Lawrence to get the Cocteau Twins’ Robin Guthrie in as producer. It doesn’t really work. Or at least the feeling that these songs, fantastic though they are, are a bit murkier than they otherwise might be.

Let The Snakes Crinkle Their Heads To Death
The first Felt album without Deebank. Lawrence chooses not to write 8-minute Spanish guitar opuses, but lets Martin Duffy’s keyboards take the lead.

This is the first album to come with a guarantee of authenticity: “any similarity to songs already written is purely coincidental”. Maybe Lawrence was worried people would spot that Sapphire Mansions is pretty close to the Marine Girls’ Don’t Come Back (feel free to write in and tell me both songs rip off some old jazz number).

This album is being reissued as The Seventeenth Century. The current title lacks the poetry and mystique we’ve become used to.

Lawrence told Sounds in 1989: “I don’t like my name. It’s too long. I think my life would’ve been different if I’d been called Joe. I really believe that.” I don’t really believe changing this album’s title makes it much different or better.

The first 5 Felt albums are reissued on vinyl and CD by Cherry Red on 23 February 2018.

Tuesday 14 November 2017

The Flying Stars Of Brooklyn NY - My God Has A Telephone

In which Aaron Frazer steps up to the microphone and sings for his fucking life. My God Has A Telephone is as intense as soul gets - devotional gospel, faltering vocals, the sense of dramatic tragedy looming - set to a stealthy rhythm and skinny guitar.

If you keep watch on the soul revival you'll have devoured Durand Jones & the Indications' album last year. It's hard to pick a favourite from that modern deep soul classic - I can't separate Giving Up, Can't Keep My Cool and Is It Any Wonder?

Aaron's day job is in the Indications. He sings lead on Is It Any Wonder? You need that desperate pleading, too:

Sunday 5 November 2017

The Jonathan Richman story

People were asking: is this guy a genius or a madman?

"Jonathan wandered in with all these people who had acted in Warhol movies. He had the new Velvet Undergound album, Loaded, which I had not heard, and he was really excited by it."
Jerry Harrison

"I called up hospitals because I wanted to do something. I entertained these retarded 'children' - they were aged eight to sixty - and I realised they understood me far better than the so-called unretarded people. If they liked you, you knew they liked you. And I realised that I wanted to get away from the direction that my music was headed."

Edwyn Collins was also a fan, and adapted the title of Orange Juice's debut LP, You Can't Hide Your Love Forever, from on a line in Hi Dear on Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers."

"Live At The Longbranch Saloon...proves that the Modern Lovers were light years ahead of their US punk compatriots."

Wednesday 1 November 2017

Rips by Rips (RIP Faux Discx)

Faux Discx (2006 - 2017) is shutting up shop. Apparently there's only so many years a man can take of losing money and living among cardboard boxes of unsold stock.

That stock is on sale now. Really low prices for some truly great records. The last great record I bought from that label is the debut by Rips.

Rips sound like The Strokes - verse hook melodies - and Parquet Courts - fidgety post-punk and excessively lively songs. Austin Brown of Parquet Courts produced the album so that makes sense. I don't know why this album didn't turn on lights around the world. It must be tough putting out records this good and they don't sell out within a week.

There are other great records on Faux Disc going cheap (£3 to £5) that are looking for a home. Buy them. And buy the ones on labels that are still going because otherwise we'll lose those labels as well.

Wednesday 25 October 2017

RVG - A Quality Of Mercy

Well, *someone's* been listening to Liberty Belle and the Black Diamond Express. Heart Paste has the urgency of Spring Rain, the enigma of Palm Sunday and the same swim in the sound as Head Full Of Steam. It's easily one of my favourite songs of the year.

The band is RVG as in Romy Vager Group, which is a nod to the Patti Smith Group. I can hear that, but more obviously there's Echo and the Bunnymen and the patchouli-scented whiff of goth rock. That doesn't quite do it for me, but everyone else is losing their shit over the A Quality Of Mercy album.

Some songs I like a hell of a lot - Vincent Van Gogh hits the right spots, for example - but honestly it might just be that there's nothing nearly as good as Heart Paste. Yes, I could say that for most other albums this year.

This album came out in February and sold out in the blink of an eye. I bought the download a week later. A Quality Of Mercy has just been reissued on vinyl so you should give it a go. You might love all of it and I'm just precious and over-demanding.

Tuesday 24 October 2017

Last Leaves - Other Towns Than Ours

The Lucksmiths signed off 9 years ago with First Frost, singing "here's to who knows what" on South-East Coastal Rendezvous. The what, musically, was a shift towards noisier rusticism that looked more to the American underground than it did to their own indiepop ancestors.

If First Frost was only a partial shift - it includes a song called The National Mitten Registry, for fuck's sake - it closed the chapter called "The Lucksmiths" and suggested there was another story to be written.

Which is where the Last Leaves and Other Towns Than Ours comes in. It does what First Frost did - gets its hands dirty, edges backwoods Americana into the late evening sun, wonders what The Byrds might have done if Neil Young had joined instead of Gram Parsons - only better and with bigger riffs.

Old habits die hard - Something Falls is indistinguishable from The Lucksmiths (I'm definitely not complaining) - but this album has the freshness and vitality of a new band. I can imagine hearing these songs on the radio and seeing this band on a big festival's bill. The more I listen to this album the more I like it.

Saturday 14 October 2017

Early Riser - Currents

The cello is a much underused instrument in pop music. Welcome, then, Early Riser whose mixture of folk-punk and chamber pop features a lot of cello.

Currents is an album that strongly suggests that at a young age Early Riser found REM through Green and Out Of Time - frantic melodies, desperate romanticism and just the right side of goofiness - and then worked back to the Violent Femmes. There's some Suzanne Vega in here as well.

If you relate to acute awkwardness, magnified melodrama and hating your exes, or at least like hearing about those things set to battered guitars and, yes, cello, Currents is for you.

Friday 13 October 2017

Weed Hounds - Double Life

The American shoegaze revival spluttered to a halt a couple of years ago. Of course, the genre might be called something else now, but I can't find the tunes however hard I look.

Hang out the bunting, then, because Weed Hounds are back after a 3-year break from their debut album. That album didn't kick up the fuss its blissful noise should have done, but it'll be rediscovered by enough people that it's eventually known, rightly, as a classic.

Double Life is more immediate - crashing riffs and gigantic tunes you can hear right away even with the fuzz turned up to 11. It's a mystery why commercial radio has yet to playlist this. Radio directors who want to find out what Alvvays fans are listening to in their bedrooms, and anyone else who loves noisy pop, head this way:

Sunday 8 October 2017

It's The Mick Trouble EP

Jed Smith, an American musical mimic, has taken on a subject far too obscure for Weird Al Yankovic. This is a quite good impersonation of early Television Personalities, but it's very silly.

This prank record's official line is that Mick Trouble disappeared in the early 1980s, just before he was going to give pub rock's new wave kings Nick Lowe and Elvis Costello a run for their money.

Which is barely credible because this is nothing more than a Television Personalities pastiche. Smith's west London accent is pretty good, but would only fool anyone who thinks Dick Van Dyke's London accent wasn't all that bad.

The lyrics are untroubled by subtlety - take "snotrag in the loo" from a song called "Shut Your Bleeding Gob You Git". I ask you. Mainstream television comics likely did this kind of skit at the time. See Kenny Everett for reference.

The attention to detail is very good - from the trebly punk jangle to the spoken pay-off line at the end of "Shut Your Bleeding Gob You Git", which doffs its (railway driver's) cap to Where's Bill Grundy Now?

But if you really want a song that sends up London's punk scene in the late 70s, look no further than Part-Time Punks by the Television Personalities.

And if you really want a contemporary band that's very influenced by the Television Personalities, head straight to the Real Numbers, whose Wordless Wonder album last year is the real deal. It adds something to the original with its own wit and style. Panache, not pastiche, works.

Friday 29 September 2017

Mope Grooves - Joy

"The day after we finished Joy (Sept 25 2k16), I checked myself in to the loony bin...I hadn't been to the farm since I was 18 (I'm 27) and I was surprised to learn that I am in fact still mental."
Stevie Pohlman, Mope Grooves

There's been a succession of musical microgenres in the past decade, chillwave and its loose variants, where artists act out their childhoods, or even nostalgia for halcyon days that predate their own birth, using dream-like sounds, cheap electronic instruments and basic melodic impulses.

Which is where Joy by Mope Grooves fits in, but mostly doesn't. Not just because of the flakiness of those microgenres' boundaries - go back 25 years and you'll find bands with a stack of Beach Boys albums and thrift store fx pedals doing similar things - but because the songs on Joy aren't meant to fit in.

These vignettes - most clock in between 1 and 2 minutes - are intense recreations of someone's inner life. Like Guided By Voices, Mope Grooves try to distil The White Album into pure pop songs. Like The Pastels - a while ago now, you understand - they stumble as if that was the best way to get somewhere. And like Television Personalities, it really is the sound of a nervous breakdown.

Even so, I reckon Stevie Pohlman is mostly a fan of Todd Rundgren and all of the tunes on Rhino's DIY: Come Out And Play - American Power Pop compilation rather than any old indie or microgenre stuff.

If these songs are ever nostalgic, it's only because, as a character in Woody Allen's Midnight In Paris says, it's "the romantic imagination of those people who find it difficult to cope with the present”. The album finishes with Flip The Record. You can take it as an instruction, but you'll most likely do just that unbidden.

The sleevenotes are genius, too:
"What do LPs do? Most bands agree they are important, more than the tape or youtube video, but nobody can really justify how expensive and inefficient they are. Nobody asked us to spend 1.5k to wait 4 months to release a record we mastered in November but we did it anyway."

Yes, you could listen to it on YouTube, but you really should buy it. It's a mere $7:

Sunday 17 September 2017

Television Personalities - Beautiful Despair

In 1988 Television Personalities recorded Privilege. The backing tapes sat in a cupboard for 2 years gathering mould before they were cleaned up for release in 1990. It was their first album since 1984's The Painted Word and their first new material since 1986's How I Learned To Love The Bomb.

Dan Treacy told Melody Maker in March 1990 that he already had the next 2 TVPs albums written. 1992's double album Closer To God took care of that.

Most of the songs on Beautiful Despair are demos of Closer To God songs. Others are early versions of b-sides released later, with the added bonus of a vocal on the previously instrumental I Get Frightened Too.

Calling Beautiful Despair a "lost album" is exaggerating the situation just a little even if there are newly mined gems like the title track. Beautiful Despair is psychedelic angst through a budget synthesiser and can rub shoulders with the very best TVPs, but the pickings on this album are slim.

Beautiful Despair is for diehard fans only. Those fans who can join the dots between the album's other 'new' song, If You Fly Too High, based on a gig the TVPs played with the Lemonheads in 1989, and 1995's Evan Doesn't Ring Me Anymore.

The pricing is a little optimistic. It's £25 for a "Rough Trade exclusive" (coloured vinyl). Seeing how the TVPs reissues did on Record Store Day (not brilliantly) this album won't find new fans. It's charming enough to please current fans, like me - even if my pleasure is dimmed by the acknowledgement that there aren't any true quality TVPs recordings hiding in the vaults.

Tuesday 5 September 2017

The Surfing Magazines interview

The Surfing Magazines album is really very good. They say they like Bob Dylan and Neil Young. I think they've got some Creedence Clearwater Revival about them. We're both right.

And they've got a song, Goose Feather Bed, which uses the Bo Diddley beat. So there are questions. Seven questions, really. Dave Tattersall answered them.

What made you you think, "Man, the Wave Pictures are amazing, but if we got rid of Jonny and had half of Slow Club (Charles Watson) it would put it over the top"?

It can be difficult dealing with Jonny's moods day to day. Like many a great artist before him Jonny can be hard work. Those of you who have seen the Jackson Pollock movie with Ed Harris will know what I mean. For the sake of our mental health, Franic and I decided to take a short break from the fiery furnace of life with an unpredictable northern genius. Unfortunately it has transpired that Dom, who is drumming for The Surfing Magazines, is even more difficult to deal with than Jonny. We have replaced Jackson Pollock with a sort of hybrid of Mariah Carey and Idi Amin. And don't get me started on Charles Watson, who is so unpredictably northern that touring with him is like finding yourself in an episode of Last of the Summer Wine.      

I enjoyed your gig at All You Read Is Love recently. You play quite a few covers. There's Neil Young's Like A Hurricane...sorry, the American Pale Ale was very refreshing. What covers did you play?

Yes, we did Like A Hurricane. We did Vampire Blues, also by Neil Young. And You Ain't Goin' Nowhere by Bob Dylan. And Roll In My Sweet Baby's Arms, which is a bluegrass song that all the country boys used to do, I think Bill Monroe did it and Buck Owens did it... they all did it. And on the tour we have also covered The Man In Me, which is also by Bob Dylan. Mainly we like to cover Bob Dylan and Neil Young. We might throw in a Velvet Underground cover at some point. And Charles has floated the idea of us covering Albatross by Fleetwood Mac, which would be relaxing. 

You're named after The Go-Betweens song, but don't cover it. Any plans to?


Only one of The Beach Boys surfed. Which one of The Surfing Magazines reads surfing magazines?

None of us. Dom likes to read Viz, or at least look at the pictures. I'm partial to Classic Rock magazine myself. Franic likes Classic Trains magazine, your go-to read if you enjoy celebrating, as Franic does, the 'golden years of railroading' including the North American railroad scene from the late 1920s to the late 1970s. Charles is a Grazia man. 

Do you really think Bo Diddley eats pickled onion Monster Munch? I'm pretty sure that happened, but the American Pale Ale may have interfered with my memory.

If I had to guess, I'd say that Bo would have been a Roast Beef man.

Have you ever been somewhere so cold that your eyelashes froze?

I have not. I've never understood why anyone would go somewhere that cold. These so-called ''survival experts'' are really survival morons. A real expert would stay indoors.

Why do you keep calling me Big Dog?

It is your name.

I think that's quite enough hard-hitting investigative journalism for one day, don't you? So let's relax and enjoy New Day by The Surfing Magazines.

Monday 4 September 2017

Hand Habits - Yr Heart

A proper music scribe would encourage you to listen to this (very good) song and persuade you, correctly, that you needed to buy it using the following terms: "formerly Kevin Morby's guitarist", "following her excellent, enigmatic album on Woodsist earlier this year" and "warmly intimate".

Some cub reviewer with enthusiasm undimmed by the prospect of a life reproducing press releases as content may well have done just that. I didn't check, to be honest with you. This blog's research budget goes entirely on import vinyl - like this terrific single.

"They call it understanding, they call it vulnerability," Meg Duffy decides on this campfire mopefest. I love it, and you will too if you love the gently psychedelic folk records by Woods and Real Estate. You'll really love it if you're also a fan of Belle Adair and the first Avi Buffalo album.

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:

Tuesday 25 July 2017

Harkive: a day in the life of music listening

7,25am: I leap panther-like out of bed. There’s no time for the radio. There is time for a couple of songs on the walk to the swimming pool. My latest purchase on bandcamp is the new Shifters single. This is on a British label so it was much cheaper than their last single from the USA. They’re an Australian group. This may be the international pop underground in action or it may be the start of a bidding war.

The Shifters single cost £6 including postage. If it had been from the USA then it would have been 3 times more. Like their last single Creggan Shops was. That was worth it. This new one isn’t as good (most singles aren’t), so I’d have passed if it was £18.

Swimming pool to work. This walk is close to 4 miles. I give the Peter Perrett album another go. It’s light on bangers, isn’t it? As in absent. Apart from an ode to Kim Kardashian’s arse, it’s all love songs to his wife.

I make a mental note to play his last album, which was one of my favourite albums of 1996 (the others were Tigermilk and Denim On Ice since you ask, but there were probably others, it was 21 years ago after all).

This mental note will be forgotten during the day. They almost always are.

There’s still time before work to listen to the 2 advance tracks from Milk Teddy’s new album (which I bought 2 days ago). I must ration listens to these otherwise the album will be a disjointed listen by the time I get it. The songs are amazing though. If you think that XTC played by Roxy Music would be amazing. I do.

I have a quick look at the Twitters after my first meeting at work. There’s a link to an article about Felt’s Poem of the River, so I listen to the album. On YouTube.

I would have listened to this on my ipod, but that’s been out of action for 3 years. I used to digitise all my new 7” singles so I could listen to them out of the house. Now I listen to them if they’re on bandcamp or just not as much if they’re not.

So why buy 7” singles? Habit is the easy answer. The artefact is the more complex answer, which I don’t have the time to unpack here. Oh, there’s sound quality as well. But if you were familiar with some of the lo-fi shit I buy, you know that’s not the best weapon to bring to this fight.

Now I want to listen to Felt’s Goldmine Trash. There are some early singles on YouTube - VU treble, tribal drums - which remind me that 2 art students in Berlin are probably drunk on vodka and having sex to these right now.

Headphones off, because more meetings or interruptions.

Lunch: Conor Oberst’s Salutations. The albums I have on my phone are limited. I put the new ones on and keep them on there if I haven’t played them enough. If they have a download card, of course. I’m not going through that argument again.

Back to Twitter: I’m very pleased to see the Suggested Friends album is ready. I buy the vinyl on bandcamp and stream the 2 songs available now. They’ve been so much better live than on record. I’ve got high hopes. In my fantasy world Ric Ocasek has produced this record. One of these UK DIY bands - Suggested Friends. Muncie Girls, Personal Best - is going to make a powerpop record that goes gold in the USA.

Listening to I Don't Want To Be A Horcrux For Your Soul reminds me of hearing it live last year. I looked up ‘horcrux’ after the gig. It’s got something to do with the Harry Potters, but I forget what. I wonder if thinking of it as ‘whore crutch’ helps the listening experience. It doesn’t.

I check the spelling of horcrux - this blog is nothing if not thorough - on bandcamp and notice that the whole album’s now streaming. I’m going to listen to that.

1 hour and 50 minutes later: meetings got in the way. I console myself with the fact this is how I can afford to buy records. Or waste money on international postage. Something during the meeting reminds me there was a band called Hootie and the Blowfish. Or maybe that was in the toilet post-meeting. I don’t know what they sound like and I’m not going to find out. I suspect I wouldn’t enjoy them.

Right, that Suggested Friends album. Chicken is sort of an Only Ones banger, if I want to link things back to what I listened to this morning. I thought that when I heard it live last year. This isn’t a powerpop album after all. Ric Ocasek must have been busy.

It’s a soft rock album, sort of. Like Ay Carmela! (whatever did happen to them?) and maybe Sheer Mag. Or that’s what I want to think. Maybe they prefer 4 Non Blondes and Guns’n’Roses. We make our own connections as listeners.

*Googles Ay Carmela!* They had an album last year. I remember that now. I didn’t buy it. I must have had my reasons. I expect they weren’t very good reasons. Make mental note to listen to it again, but will probably forget.

I play the Suggested Friends album again. It’s quite short. It’s not light on bangers, is it? I may play this so often that I’m bored of it by the time I get the vinyl. We’re still not going to unpack that buying vinyl instead of downloads argument, but thanks for bringing it up again.

I’ll probably look up what ‘horcrux’ means again, though.

Tube home. I listen to the Sunset Dreams single from a month or two ago. I haven’t played it very much. Haven’t played it enough, it turns out.

Hi honey, I’m home! I stick on Watchout! by Martha and the Vandellas. This is the only 1 of the 5 albums I bought on Sunday that I haven’t played. I know it already as their best. This original cost £15. Every UK record fair has the same 2 or sometimes 3 Vandellas albums for £30-35. The same copies, I suspect. They never sell at that price. Watchout! Is never among them. Who in their right mind would get rid of this gem?

After emptying my bag post-work I find a download card for the forthcoming Mammoth Penguins album. John of the wiaiwya label had given it to me on Friday night. Why hadn’t I remembered? Because I got absolutely twatted. It had been a hard week. I expect this will be a very good album.

Aw, fuck. There are no song titles on the Mammoth Penguins album. I hate it when that happens. I’ll ask John for a refund. Or I would if I’d paid for it.

Anyway, back to Motown. I want to listen to California Soul by The Messengers, which takes me to the Motor City Grooves compilation. This features Barbara McNair’s Here I Am Baby, so it’s a result.

*Uploads Mammoth Penguins album to itunes* Oh, there are song titles. Sorry, John. I was going to make some up. Now I’ve had that idea, I might change all the song titles anyway. I’m playing it now.

Monorail alert me to the reissue of Event Horizons by The Necessaries. I stream it on YouTube. I like it, but I’m not sure if it’s a £22 album (plus postage) to be honest. Yeah, I know, I did mention earlier about sometimes paying £18 for new 7” singles. Using that kind of logic to justify record purchases is a one-way ticket to destitution.

I’ve stopped listening to The Necessaries. It’s not quite good enough.

And I’ve finished my book. I’ve gone back to work (I’m self-employed). This may be it for music listening today.

Saturday 8 July 2017

Ebay's 6 signs you should keep your record collection

Ebay's advertorial in today's Guardian tries to convince record owners that they should sell their record collection. Ebay are wrong on every count.

There are, apparently, "six signs it's time to sell your vinyl collection". Each of those 6 signs is easily dismantled and reversed. So I'm going to do just that.

1. They treat the place like a hotel
No they fucking don't. They're more than "an ornament to any living room". They're a life history, they tell stories, they're the past, present and future.

Ebay thinks that record collectors have "cardboard boxes strewn everywhere". No record collector does. This is a straw man argument.

 "Sell them for yourself. For the space, for the money, for the freedom." Mate, the only time I've sold records is to buy more records.

2. The generation gap is widening
No, ebay, not all record collectors are DJs. Don't tell me to sell "rave-worthy vinyl and replacing them with something more laid-back". Even if I were the person you think I am (I'm not), I'll decide when I want to move from the main dancefloor to the chill-out room.

Spoiler alert: record collectors have music crossing several genres. We play what we want according to mood, not your rather antiquated idea of age-appropriate genres.

"They need to be with people who understand them now." Yeah, the people who bought them and still enjoy them.

3. It’s like sharing the house with a stranger
The bullshit-ometer needle is really in the red now: "Because your record collection no longer represents your taste in music – it represents your past taste in music, plus a ton of stuff that you bought for reasons that you’ve long forgotten. When these records first came into your life, it was exciting."

Sometimes I play a record I haven't played in 20 years. I might fall in love with its 9-day wonder all over again. It might lead me to something else I haven't played in too long. It'll remind me of things and it'll join the dots with something new I'm listening to.

I'm certain I own records I'll never play again. But I'm equally certain I've no idea what those records are. I'm keeping them all, thanks very much.

4. Something is missing between you
According to ebay, I don't own a record player. Seriously, fuck off. And if you want me to buy records from your site, please don't get people who know fuck all about condition or grading and have got no record player to test them on to sell on your site. Because there's way too much of that already.

5.You’re not spending any time together
What started out as a flimsy proposition is falling apart like a cheap toy. On their fifth point, ebay rehash their second point. Mate, I'm a record lover. I can spot a crappy remix a mile away let alone a few paragraphs apart.

6. They’re spending all their time with younger people
Ebay have packed a lot of bullshit into their final point. I'll rightly unpack these points so they deflate like the balloon at a party no one's turned up to:

  • "Like so many music lovers, you found your tastes by leafing through your parents’ records." No I didn't. Not one.
  • "Some became the germ of your own collection, and now, to your delight, your children have taken a shine to some of your records." Even if the State Sponsored Sterilisation Scheme hadn't intervened and I had children, I'd have those pesky kids disinfected and issued with white cotton gloves before they went near them.
  • "Sell what remains on eBay – and your record player." Hang on, according to point 4 I don't own a record player. Make your fucking mind up.
I've made my fucking mind up. I'm not selling my records on your site, paying your costs, queuing up at the post office and then regretting everything.

Friday 7 July 2017

The Popguns C88 demos

These 1988 demos have been given a new lease of life. One label turned them down at the time because they were "too professional sounding".

It really was like that back then. Some of 1980s indie harboured the suspicion that not using biscuit tins for drums or hiding musical incompetence under gales of feedback meant wanting to be Dire Straits.

Medium Cool, the label that did sign them for 1989's Landslide single, had to persuade The Popguns their interest wasn't based on the band sharing a drummer with The Wedding Present.

I'm not sure why they were worried about that. 28 years later and I'm still not bored of listening to Landslide's crashing jangle. It sounds even fresher on this remix (where "remix" means the vocals are higher in the mix).

For your £2 on bandcamp you also get one of Landslide's b-sides (Leave It Alone, which always sounds like they'd listened quite closely to the House Of Love's Destroy The Heart), Where Do You Go? from their 1988 flexi (that's where the remix really helps out) and a previously unreleased song, Beat Me Up.

Two quid? Seriously, it's a bargain.

Thursday 22 June 2017

The Sprinters

You know those "RIYL" blurbs that bands or labels put on their releases? If they were all as accurate as The Sprinters' effort, you'd know exactly when to open your wallet. The Sprinters claim they're like these bands: Ariel Pink, Real Estate, Pavement, Mac DeMarco, Yo La Tengo, Kurt Vile, The Feelies.

And they are. This eponymous debut album is 90s American indie (Pavement's brutal melodies, Yo La Tengo's narcotic noise). It's 1970s radio-friendly hits warped in the California sun (Ariel Pink), post-punk jangle (The Feelies), woozily dazed (see Mac DeMarco) and, hold up, let me swap Kurt Vile for Neil Young. You get the idea.

The Sprinters are from Wigan. They write pop songs like the 1960s have just ended and they're not sure where they're going. 20 years ago this record would have been released by Elephant 6. Rejoice that it's freshly made.

Friday 16 June 2017

The Rain Parade - Emergency Third Rail Power Trip

The Rain Parade recorded Emergency Third Rail Power Trip in 1983 with the conviction that Eight Miles High, We Can Work It Out and Forever Changes were the 1960s’ most essential artefacts, and that punk’s true legacy was Marquee Moon. I expect they liked Pink Floyd as well, but I won’t hold that against them because this is a phenomenal record.

Bucketfull of Brains named it the best album of the 1980s. Alan McGee tried to licence it for Creation. To know this psychedelic masterpiece is to love it. Over 10 years ago I started working in a second-hand record shop in London. On my first day a woman asked for Emergency Third Rail Power Trip. We didn’t have it.

A colleague told me she came in every week to ask for it. The next week I promised I’d copy it for her. She was delighted. I brought the copy into the shop the next day. The woman never came back. The only explanation is that she’d found a copy in another shop. Her search for the holy grail of modern psychedelia was over.

Real Gone Music are reissuing it in August. You need this album. It includes the follow-up mini album, Explosions In A Glass Palace, which is very good but not quite in the same league. By this time founding member David Roback had left The Rain Parade. Opal and Mazzy Star came next, which you know all about. Or if you don’t, go into record shops every week until you find a copy of Opal’s Early Recordings.

Monday 5 June 2017

Bonny Doon

I'm not certain how some Detroit garage musicians came to make a brilliant alt-country lp, but l'm delighted they did. Bonny Doon channel Smog's world weariness, Wilco's rich gloom and Dylan's wild mercury sound. It complements 2017's other near-perfect albums, Dag's Benefits of Solitude and Courtney Marie Andrews' Honest Life, with a psych side order of Woods and Real Estate.

What Time Is It In Portland? might not seem like one of the big questions, but it's about lost friends and an ex-lover. Bonny Doon give the subject - romantic chaos and melancholy longing - the gravitas it merits.

They show their garage roots on Lost My Way, though they've opened the door and let the light pour in. They realise what they're doing on the even grubbier Maine Vision isn't quite right so cut that song just shy of a minute.

All the other songs are played at leisure (or more often despair) and given room to breathe. This album is a low-key minor classic.

Saturday 3 June 2017

Mr. Jukes feat. Charles Bradley "Grant Green"

This is possibly the biggest surprise since Sean Dickson claimed there'd always been a dance element to the Soup Dragons. Jack Steadman from Bombay Bicycle Club has gone to soul sampling and vocals from Charles Bradley with the storming Grant Green.

There's an album, God First, which has some songs as good (or almost) as Grant Green, and a few that mine the jazz catalogue too much for my taste. I expect Grant Green will get a 7" release at some point. It's what happens with the big soul cuts from albums (yep, album first, then 7" for "DJ demand" or maybe "record company bottom line").

Still, Mr Jukes stands up next to the Avalanches, Mr President and Hifi Sean. Stream it, I bet you'll find something you love.

Monday 29 May 2017

Lab Coast

Lab Coast are the Canadian wing of the Elephant 6 and Kindercore fan club. They make short psych-pop songs that stop when they're on top. They sound like they could be on a bill with Apples in Stereo, Elf Power and Masters of the Hemisphere.

If their name suggests experimentation - not just the lab, but the lab coats anagram - then that's about right. Samples, FX pedals, cello and, yes, banjo rub shoulders. Very possibly on the same song. Like Wurld Series in New Zealand, Lab Coast are picking up DIY music with an adventurous spirit and pure pop hearts.

This album is a sort of greatest hits, or misses, or songs only released on cassette. You see, Lab Coast have been going since 2008 and bewilderingly the world has yet to fall at their feet. They toured the UK last week and I only found out the day after their last gig. Still, this record, though.