Go get yourself some. Blur review coming soon.
Go get yourself some. Blur review coming soon.
Saturday is the second fully blown UK version of Record Store Day and this time around it seems to be considerably more high profile. As much as I still cherish my Rough Trade tape, signed Lucky Soul LP, Graham Coxon 10” and Magnolia Electric Co 7” from last year, the avalanche of splendour on offer from 9am on April 17th is quite something to behold.
I was a little dismayed to see the NME taking a sneery pot-shot at independent record shop staff in amongst their otherwise fairly sizeable mentions of this important day. I refuse to believe that there are that many record shops left full of surly, elitist staff with meticulously crafted enormo-hair. Yes, they still exist and, yes, you may occasionally encounter them, but with the dramatic decline in record shops in the UK, few establishments are so carefree with their clientele. Every bit of footfall, every physical visitor is crucial and those of us who still value the unique service provided by actual record shops can tell of many, many positive experiences in the nation’s musical emporiums. Emporia. Emporiums. Oh, sod it.
I’ve previously written about numerous wonderful record shops that you’d be well advised to visit this Saturday and this seems a convenient time to remind you of those pieces.
Rough Trade East – The Record Store Day hub and a vast pleasuredome, the likes of which were the reason for the invention of credit cards. You will enjoy yourself, you will buy loads and you will spot loads of albums you’ve already bought with frustrating ‘free bonus discs’ available.
Action Records – An online presence to be proud of, but also a marvellous shop in the great tradition of record stores, situated in Preston. Stuff piled everywhere, racks creaking with superb stock and staff who can answer pretty much any question you put to them, They take vinyl seriously and their prices are very competitive.
Rockaboom – There’s no website for this cracking little shop in Leicester. Carl, the one man music dispensing machine, is a laid back chap with a shop full of wonderful music. His increased leaning towards vinyl is helping matters for him, while his CD prices easily match or often outclass local rivals, HMV and Powerplay. He is as obsessed with music as you are and I’ve enjoyed numerous conversations with him about all sorts of records, most recently the illustrious Tindersticks back catalogue and the splendid Galaxie 500 reissues.
Resident – Probably my favourite out of a number of wonderful record shops in Brighton, Resident was mentioned as part of FUTUREMUSIC 09’s exploration of how we purchase music. It uses staff-written labels to recommend records to you, it’s priced competitively, has a good stash of vinyl and genuinely seems to be run by people who likely blow almost all of their wages before they even leave work. It’s one of those shops I wish I lived near enough to that I could visit regularly.
RPM / Reflex – Newcastle, like Edinburgh and Glasgow (more on both soon), is a city that still has a reasonably healthy record shopping climate. Windows, Steel Wheels, Reflex and RPM are all well worth a visit. RPM tickled me most, looking as it does like a truly old-school record shop. Posters everywhere, old plastic racks on the wall, plain price stickers and stock in every available space. The music was not only up nice and loud but also bloody decent. As I said in that original piece, it smells like a proper record shop. Would love to revisit it some time soon.
Spillers – I don’t appear to have ever written a full piece about this most spellbinding of shops in Cardiff and, apparently, the oldest record shop in the world. However you want to describe it, it is a veritable treasure trove, with the available space used to great effect thanks to their notorious ‘photocopied sleeves on a bit of plastic’ display technique. Prices are great, stock is wide and with a great depth – the era of the back catalogue being easily available may have been stabbed by the HMV bosses, but Spillers provides the life-support machine. The vinyl range is far from comprehensive, but suitably quirky and curious and always worth a browse. And, inevitably, about £20. The display of box sets at the counter is an age old tricks, but there’s a something about the way this lot do it that makes it harder to resist than in most shops. Add to all of this their wonderful, wonderful staff and their delightful t-shirts, including one I have from last year which actually marked Record Store Day and you’re on to a winner. I’ve had conversations at the till not just about my purchases, but also a three-way chit-chat about what the person next to me was buying. They are part therapists, part feeders, but they’re bloody good.
Jumbo – Not the cheapest, by any stretch, but you can feel the record shop heritage hit you in the face as you enter the fabulously timeless Jumbo in Leeds. Nearby fellow indie Crash is well worth a visit too, although Jumbo’s size and thus variety of stock makes for a more satisfying browse. The simple window displays using LP sleeves are tantalising and the vinyl selection is pretty bloody substantial. It may not be the cheapest price in the country, but if you want it, there’s a fair chance they’ve got it.
Avalanche – Now, my experience of both Avalanche stores is pretty recent, having been up in Scotland only last week. I have to say, I’m a Glasgow shop man, myself, but they’re both decent places to buy your music. I got the impression that the Glasgow shop is thriving rather more and a little more on top of the new releases. While there wasn’t masses of vinyl, what they had was very good. Very knowledgeable staff, with whom I discussed Record Store Day and, in particular, the special Blur release. Regular readers will remember how I used to always budget an extra £10 when I went to the now deceased Reveal Records of Derby because I knew I’d end up buying whatever was playing in store. And so, in Glasgow, I ended up adding King Creosote’s ‘Rocket D.I.Y.’ to my bundle of purchases as a result of thoroughly enjoying it whilst browsing.
Monorail – Another Glasgow based palace of delights, this one. Situated in the Mono cafe, Monorail is the most esoteric shop on this list and the one least likely to be able to furnish you with the indie chart smash you’re trying to track down. No bad thing. The enormous quantity of vinyl available provides a dangerous thrill and the staff are friendly, knowledgeable and, as with a few examples I’ve already mentioned, clearly as obsessed with it all as much as their customers. Whether it’s Mazzy Star vinyl reissues you’re after, vintage Four Tet 12”s or the vinyl box set of Tom Waits’ ‘Orphans’, they’re all there waiting for you, along with piles and piles of other great stuff. The really noteworthy point is how decent their prices are – clearly, there’s a market for a shop dealing only in the more cult side of alternative music, and it’s a market that’s sufficiently successful that the customers don’t need to pay a little extra to keep it afloat. Works for me.
Obviously, there are bloody loads of brilliant independent record shops that I’ve missed off this list. Please, feel free to comment and post about your favourites. The more positive comment about physical record shops, the better. Few music fans have not had a positive experience of one kind or another, and it’s a great shame to think that there might be future generations coming through soon for whom the whole concept of record shopping may mean nothing. All of the shops participating in Saturday’s festivities can be found by clicking here whilst a reasonably comprehensive list of the special releases for the day can be found here. Just loading that list of shops to get the link has reminded me of wonderful places like Diverse in Newport, Badlands in Cheltenham, Polar Bear in Birmingham and Head in Leamington Spa. While we don’t have many independent record shops left now, so many of the survivors are truly great. Please, give them your custom on Saturday and mark Record Story Day with your fellow music obsessives.
Just make sure I get a Blur single, ok?
After declining sales and declining standards with Conor McNicholas at the helm, the NME has undergone a major facelift and an editorial repositioning under the direction of Krissi Murison. The new editor of one of the music world’s legendary publications certainly talks the talk, as evidenced by a great interview in Monday’s Guardian, but can the redesigned magazine walk the walk?
It’s certainly a striking new look, whichever of the ten covers you happen to end up with, even if Laura Marling‘s drooping fag isn’t the greatest stylistic decision I’ve ever seen. Most of the ten are worthy cover stars (Kasabian can piss off though) even if I’d have been a little more impressed if someone like Marling had got the cover in a normal week. Everywhere I went today, there were plenty of Florence, Jack White and Kasabian covers but less of the others. To continue to use Marling as our example, I saw one copy across a massive city. Still, I’m being picky.
The new main font is best described as ‘serious’ and, whisper it, it does bring back a few memories of the ill-advised and short-lived Q redesign from eighteen months ago. In Monday’s Guardian piece, Murison talked of focus groups wanting the NME to be "heavyweight." I can’t help wondering if that, rather simplistically, played into the font choice. That said, I think it looks rather nice, if not especially urgent. Pages seem simultaneously airy and ‘busy’, deliberate space contrasting with little fact sections and overspilling reviews. The idea seems splendid, even if the initial execution is a little cluttered. The format for the ten features for the ‘State of Music Today‘ piece is excellent: simple, clear and easy to read. It looks authoritative, informative and, unusually for the NME, like it’s designed with a slightly older reader in mind.
Praise be for the continued presence of the muso-baiting Peter Robinson and the reintroduction of a singles review. The redesigned news section is perfectly satisfactory, although the notion of a big piece on the big story, entitled ‘The Main Event’, is spoiled by it being yet another puff piece about The Libertines. Album reviews are now considerably less garish, though little else appears to have changed. ‘On The Road with…’ looks promising, a little like the main live review in Q where the journo has spent time with the act prior to the gig in question. All jolly entertaining stuff.
However, while much of the effort seems to have been concerned with making NME a publication to take seriously, the letters page is a bit like Jonathan Ross‘ appearance at the Brits. For a start, it is trying far too bloody hard to be cool and, secondly, it might think it looks good, but it appears to have got dressed in the dark. We just want largely inane missives being ripped apart and mocked by a rotating collection of NME staffers. Putting ‘From’ and ‘To’ before each letter AND reply, is just rampant twattery. Oh, and just call it ‘Letters’ again, please. Sadly, nothing from Kinross in this week’s mailbag.
‘We Want Answers’ is now ‘Speed Dial’, which is a marginal improvement in name despite there being no discernable change in content. The usual ‘music that matters to me’ page is now called ‘Pieces Of Me’, while the ‘Talking Heads’ bit is basically the old section they got rid of that used to have a regular column by Mark Beaumont in it. Only without Mark Beaumont in it, sadly. But with Kate Nash guest writing this week, even more sadly. ‘What Rock’n'Roll Has Taught Me’ has been binned in favour of entertaining quiz feature, ‘Does Rock’n'Roll Kill Brain Cells?‘ Johnny Marr is a fine first contestant and this does have the potential to dig up some cracking anecdotes from music royalty.
In conclusion, it looks largely lovely and I genuinely believe that Krissi Murison is capable of great things as NME editor, having already improved things greatly in recent months. The change is not as massive as you might be expecting and a lot of it seems to hinge on a typographical shift, but it’s nice to see someone aiming high. How many of these changes will still be in place in six months? Who knows, but there’s plenty there to enjoy and if you’ve not purchased for a while, now might be the time.
From: Just Played
Good work. But, next time you put Laura Marling on the cover, wait till she’s finished her cigarette.
It all sounds rather tinny these days. Still absolutely fucking glorious, but pretty tinny. At the time it sounded vital: stirring music for indie outsiders, the length and breadth of the country. ‘Coming Up’ can never match ‘Suede’ or ‘Dog Man Star’ for atmosphere, songcraft and so many other things but then those two records can’t match ‘Coming Up’ for its thoroughly dirty, unashamedly trashy fixation with decadent living in the nineties. It celebrates not fitting in, not doing the right thing and not giving a shit. It is one of the most confident sounding records I own and it couldn’t really have been released at any other time than the summer of 1996.
Suede are back now and garnering the rave reviews that pretty much nobody was willing to give them around the time they originally decided to pack it all in, back in 2003. The only time I’ve ever actually seen them live was the tour supporting their last album, ‘A New Morning’, which represented the death throes of a once great band. Having developed a monumental crush on Gemma Hayes, across the duration of her all-too-brief support set, I was even less receptive than I may have otherwise been to Brett Anderson’s dispiriting angry, bitter man routine. I’ve never seen a frontman so completely propelled by seeming disgust and it only served to set the tone for the night.
Despite all of this, I actually rather liked their final outing, and had bought tickets off the back of it, rather than hoping for a nostalgia trip. And yet, left baffled by an almost self-parodying performance it was the irresistible high of ‘Beautiful Ones’ which really connected that night and brought back memories of buying both CD singles so as to complete my ‘collector’s wallet’, right off the back of the CD single of ‘Trash’ having contained a poster of Brett’s handwritten lyrics to that enormous track. Indeed, while subject of much mirth and fairly constant ridicule, it’s Anderson’s lyrics that provided my route back to Suede recently with the publication of ‘The Words Of Brett Anderson’, a signed, miniature hardback book collecting the vast majority of his lyrics from the past eighteen years. It’s a delightful little title and, while there are still moments that make you want to stab your own eyes out to spare your brain any further suffering (“And she’s as similar as you can get, to the shape of a cigarette” anyone?) there are plenty of examples to evoke genuinely fond memories of Anderson and Suede in their pomp. I’ve always adored the heartfelt simplicity of the closing track on ‘Coming Up’, ‘Saturday Night’. “Tonight, we’ll go drinking, we’ll do silly things, and never let the winter in. And it’ll be okay, like everyone says, it’ll be alright and ever so nice.” While hardly groundbreaking, it paints a pretty vivid picture for me and, coupled with a perfectly measured musical backdrop, it is one of my very favourite songs by this quite spectacular band.
The nineties indie-glam swagger of tracks like ‘Filmstar’, ‘Trash’ and ‘She’ are neatly counterbalanced by the epic crooners like ‘Picnic By The Motorway’, ‘The Chemistry Between Us’ and the aforementioned ‘Saturday Night’. One of the band’s best b-sides also dates from the ‘Coming Up’ era. ‘Another No One’, which appeared as back up to ‘Trash’ but which has since become more readily available via the compilation, ‘Sci-Fi Lullabies’, is a stark, stirring and pretty pissed off account of the end of a relationship. If you’ve never had the pleasure, allow me…
Listening back to ‘Coming Up’ now, it sounds very much of a time, without sounding particularly dated. Though that may sound contradictory, I would argue that although it richly evokes a particular moment in time, bringing back vivid cultural and personal memories, it hasn’t become jaded by that association. It doesn’t sound like it’s not fit for purpose in 2010. The reviews that have greeted their recent live comeback would seem to suggest that they’ve all still got it, even if the record buying public decreed eight years ago that that wasn’t actually the case. Spend a little time revisiting whatever Suede you have in your collection and see if their charm is still alive for you; it’s been a strangely invigorating experience for me.
Below can be found the latest instalment of what has become a regular feature. These are the six reviews of April releases I wrote for Clash Magazine which can be found in the print edition that should have just about hit the shelves as you read this. Some very good records in amongst this lot, including a splendid Doves career retrospective and the increasingly marvellous sounding debut from ex-Czars man, John Grant.
RUFUS WAINWRIGHT - ‘All Days Are Nights: Songs For Lulu’ (UNIVERSAL)
Never one to hide his emotions previously, Rufus Wainwright offers a sparse but staggeringly heartfelt collection of songs for voice and piano, influenced, at least in part, by the long-term illness and recent passing of his mother. After the suffocating arrangements that dogged parts of his last album, the relative simplicity is welcome. While three Shakespearean sonnets set to music are successful without being showy, Wainwright saves the very best till last. Lyrically, album closer ‘Zebulon’ is endearingly direct, “my mother’s in the hospital, my sister’s at the opera, I’m in love, but let’s not talk about it,” and home to his best vocal performance to date. 8/10
I think I’ve briefly mentioned this record here before, but it’s worth restating how much of a breath of fresh air this is after the overcooked swamp of a record that was ‘Release The Stars’. New converts will not be found, but those who’ve been in love before will be in love again.
DOVES – ‘The Places Between: The Best of Doves’ (HEAVENLY / VIRGIN)
Quietly labouring away for some twelve years, Doves have amassed an outstanding catalogue of work. As a result, the deluxe edition is an essential purchase, with a second disc of b-sides, rarities and the odd album track too good to leave off. Sequenced by the band, both discs are remarkably cohesive; ‘Black And White Town’ and ‘Pounding’ nestle alongside atmospheric monster ‘The Cedar Room’ and new single ‘Andalucia’. The finest of the three new songs, ‘Blue Water’, kicks off disc two in style, deploying the same hiccupping drum pattern that served early single ‘Here It Comes’ so well. ‘The Places Between’ is a beguiling celebration of truly excellent music. 9/10
The new tracks on this make it well worth seeking out as it is, but the second disc is a tour de force in showing what Doves are really capable of. Stitching together b-sides, album tracks, session recordings and a few unreleased moments, it is a quite staggering listen and proof if it be needed that they are one of our great bands of the last ten years or so. If you have one of their previous albums on CD, click here to get £2 off the special edition.
JOHN GRANT- ‘Queen Of Denmark’ (BELLA UNION)
There’s a chugging seventies soft-rock quality to this record, giving it a warmth that’s hard to resist. The entire album’s beautifully measured musical backdrop is especially noteworthy, provided as it is by Midlake and, yes, that makes it as good as you might expect. ‘Queen Of Denmark’ is a luxurious sounding collection but what sets it apart from so many decent sounding folk-rock albums is the rich drawl of Grant’s baritone voice. Sweeping, epic ballads are his forte, but there’s something ludicrously charming about the skulking ‘Chicken Bones’, which sounds like a Scissor Sisters track played at half-speed. Odd though it seems, that’s a good thing. 7/10
An example of an album continuing to grow on me after reviewing, this one. I’d already sussed that it’s a good ‘un, but I’ve kept coming back to this and would now be tempted to budge it up to at least an 8. Nagging melodies and beautiful musicianship make this an absolute must. Simon at Bella Union reckons the vinyl edition will be something pretty special too.
SHE & HIM – ‘Volume Two’ (DOUBLE SIX)
Sometimes it’s nice to find music that doesn’t require five listens before a tune emerges, to hear songs that capture a rapturous love of music and to spend the entire duration of an album grinning like an arse. Ludicrously talented pairing Zooey Deschanel and M. Ward have kept everything that made their debut great and added a little more jangle and some absolutely beautiful vocal effects for this second outing. While Ward is responsible for the arrangements and production, it’s Deschanel who can take all the credit for writing these timeless, sun-kissed pop hugs. ‘In The Sun’ is the masterpiece, but you’ll keep coming back to it all. 9/10
It’s albums like this that make you rue your absolutely miniscule word count. I could have happily rhapsodised about this one for several pages – and may still do at some point. Building on the greatness of the debut, this one is meticulously produced and perfectly suited to the six days of sunshine we’ll get between now and Christmas.
LUCKY SOUL - ‘A Coming Of Age’ (RUFFA LANE)
Marrying bittersweet lyrics with unashamed killer pop hooks is a tricky business. The Smiths were masters of the art form and, while they may not sound especially alike, Lucky Soul share a similar knack for musical alchemy. Singer Ali Howard possesses an absolutely adorable voice, knowing exactly when to go through the gears and when to rein herself in, and The Smiths comparison holds up with such lyrical delights as ‘some say I’m schizophrenic, but I walk in single file’. Part pop, part soul, part country and with a sprinkle of the classic girl-group sound, Lucky Soul make music to soundtrack the good times. 8/10
If you haven’t already figured out that I love this one, then you need to do some reading. Click here for the FUTUREMUSIC piece from earlier this year.
PEARLY GATE MUSIC – ‘Pearly Gate Music’ (BELLA UNION)
Brother of Fleet Fox and fully-fledged solo artist J. Tillman, Zach Tillman opted for a more atmospheric stage name before foisting his recordings upon the listening public. The moniker serves this record well, for it’s an often gravelly, proudly lo-fi collection of beat-up folk. There’s plenty here to suggest that a few albums down the line Tillman could be responsible for something genuinely special, but even this wilfully shambolic collection has its moments. ‘I Was A River’ is a beautiful meditation on love lost while ‘Golden Funeral’ is an opening track so hymnal and atmospheric that it makes it difficult for anything else to come close. 6/10
I suspect that this one could have long-term appeal. The sort of record that after living with it for six months, it all clicks into place. There are moments of beauty to be found, even on the first play, but it’s not as consistent as most records bearing that reliable Bella Union moniker. On that note, the new album by The Acorn, ‘No Ghost’, is bloody marvellous and due in June.