Vinyl Junkies – written from scratch (d’ya geddit?)

Eurgh. This weekend I have mostly been getting annoyed with lazy journalism. Cajun Dance Party are just finishing their A levels, apparently. They got the album finished and ready for release and then went back to school. Fair play to them. But does that really make it ok to then say that they’ll soon be ‘top of the class’? Is that really the best way to say that they’ve got plenty of potential (and a decent debut album, as it goes)? It’s like the reviewer was channeling the jokes of Jimmy Tarbuck in an attempt to avoid having to think of a single, original idea.

It’s not entirely the fault of these vacuous dullards that clutter up the reviews section of most of the (notional, if not actual) broadsheets. If you’re going to tell someone to review an album in 100 words or less you may as well have a rating system of just: Excellent, Good, Ok, A Bit Dull, Crap, Blunt. Why bother with the other words if, having deployed a subordinate clause, the review is pretty much over before its begun?

Today’s Madonna review in The Observer set of the crapulous bullshit alarm almost as quickly as the actual album being reviewed. Almost every time Gavin Henson plays in a rugby match at which his partner, Charlotte, is present,  the commentators will call him Mr Church at some point in the game. What the hell is that all about? Apart from the fact it means absolutely fuck all, it’s such a simplistic and dopey way of saying he happens to have a famous girlfriend. In a similar manner, today’s review of ‘Hard Candy’ mentioned a ‘Mr Ciccone’. When exactly did Guy Ritchie change his name by deed poll? I wasn’t aware he had time in between making gangster films according to the law of diminishing returns to do such a thing. I mean, for fuck’s sake, it doesn’t matter where that review had appeared; it’s shit journalism, and it’s meaningless space filling. I should know. Ahem.

I know I shouldn’t be getting worked up about this, but do any newspaper reviewers actually have anything to meaningful to say about the music they’re attempting to evaluate? Having spent a few years writing reviews for one of the monthlies, I can vouch for the fact that it’s bloody hard work, but that doesn’t mean you should just settle for the first draft to avoid getting stressed. A review needs to be an interesting piece of writing on its own, irrespective of what it’s about, otherwise why read it in the first place? 

I can’t actually remember what the review said about the album, but I’m willing to bet it’s every bit as desperate as the single that preceded it. Oh, and if you can spare a couple of quid, probably best send it to the ‘Clothes-that-aren’t-underwear for Madonna to wear in pictures and videos from now on fund’. Just Google it.

***

I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the tunes of The Field Mice and Trashcan Sinatras this weekend and, were I less worked up about trifling matters, I would happily tell you more. As it is, have a quick poke around the interweb. Emusic-ers can get a splendid compilation of pretty much all of the essential stuff by The Field Mice right now, while Trashcan novices can download slightly low quality audio files of much of their output here.

Oh, and the muxtape’s been updated to reflect some recent musical highlights.

I’s tunes

Recommending tunes was always meant to be the real reason for this blog existing, and I realised today that I’ve not done that for a bit. So…

A couple of weeks back, BBC 6Music‘s ‘Roundtable‘ played a track from the Bon Iver album, ‘For Emma, Forever Ago’ which ticked all of those completely subconscious boxes that simply cause your ears to tingle and your heart to race. I quickly purchased a copy of said album and was not disappointed. It’s hard to describe the quirky voice that ebbs and flows across the album’s nine tracks. If Elbow staged a coup of Arcade Fire, it might sound a bit like this. Or not. It’s lovely. Go here, and choose ‘Skinny Love’. Then go here and click ‘Add to Shopping Cart’. Or, if you’re an eMusicer then it’s here, with a bonus track.

Ever since I heard Mark Radcliffe play ‘Fat As A Fiddle’, I’ve been wanting to hear the new album by Chris Difford (you know, him out of Squeeze… no, the other one.) Rather brilliantly titled, ‘The Last Temptation of Chris’ is a beautiful little album full of melodic reflections on life from the other side of your fiftieth birthday. If you love Teenage Fanclub‘s ‘Songs From Northern Britain‘ then you should really treat yourself to this one.

Here is the aforementioned single (“Now I have tits, just like my mum”) while the album is knocking about with free delivery here.

The Sea and Cake are not exactly a groundbreaking discovery, but they’re new to me. I heard them on Gideon Coe‘s show last week and was smitten. They have a slightly jazzy, soulful but acoustic feel and clearly love a good pop melody. If you look them up on places like Allmusic then you’ll find that the members of the band were originally in lots of bands you’ve never heard of. Not that you need to now, as I’ve just told you. Anyway, I now own three of their albums and don’t intend stopping there. You can hear tracks from the most recent, and deeply charming, album ‘Everybodyhere. Part with cash here.

Finally, an extra mention for Malcolm Middleton, who I surely must have talked about in the past. Hmm, he’s not in the tags. How remiss of me. He’s ace, to put it simply. Because he’s a truly splendid man, you can listen to all of his latest stuff for free over at that there last.fm place. In particular, go for ‘Blue Plastic Bags’, a strikingly bleak, but ever-so-wry, take on British life. “The whole world’s going home with blue plastic bags. Six bottles of Stella, Jacob’s Creek and twenty fags.” This track’s just come out as a blue vinyl 7″, although you should treat yourself to the parent album, ‘Sleight Of Heart’.

An exclusive coalition?

Having wittered on about ‘Record Store Day‘ last week, I did a bit of internet pootlage and found out a little bit about the Coalition Of UK Indie Stores. This has, apparently, been set up to try and fight the corner of indie stores, across the length and breadth of the country. Apparently, there will be Coalition-only releases in order to curry favour with those who might shop elsewhere, along with future events and the like.

However, there are only twenty-three stores in the coalition. As there are more than twenty-three independent record stores in Britain (admittedly, not many more) how can this be a true coalition? So far, it’s been announced that the boss of Avalanche Records is in charge for the early months, and then leadership will pass to the supremo at Rough Trade East. Fair enough, you say, and so did I, until I read this.

Interesting post on the Norman Records blog. Click me!

A coalition of some indie stores then, and definitely not any of those excellent mail order only stores that offer a huge range of stock, fantastic customer service and tremendous reviews. The comment about the difference between Norman Records and Avalanche was what annoyed me most. What a twatty thing to say. And plain, bloody wrong.

I suspect that this particular blog post will make for an interesting read as it develops over the next few days.

Duffing is very much the anti-shabba

Attentive readers of the blog will have noticed the new clickable banner at the bottom of the page. It refers to Gideon Coe‘s quite brilliant radio show on BBC 6Music. I get nothing from doing this, naturally, I just love the show and think you might do so too. I was always rather fond of Mr Coe when he was in the mid-morning slot on the station, a gig he occupied from the station’s launch in 2002 until October of last year. At that point, a straight swap was made George Lamb, then-host of the station’s late show. I have to confess that I was actually quite pleased, as previously I’d had bugger all chance of hearing Gideon as I was in no position to listen to his daytime show at work. Catching his show when enjoying time off was always a delight, but it always seemed a shame that I couldn’t hear more of it.

Gideon has created a wonderful show in the 10pm-1am slot and I cannot think of another radio programme being broadcast anywhere in the world that I rate higher than this one. The music is absolutely spot on and the sense of community is right up there with the work of the late, great Peelie. With regard to the music; as a reader of this blog I’m guessing we have at least vaguely similar tastes in tunes and therefore I should utter some brief words of caution. Unless you can afford to dispense with a tenner a week as a result of hearing something great that you previously didn’t know existed, don’t tune in. Only last night, I sent $8, via Paypal, to Matinee Recordings for the debut EP by Northern Portrait as a result of hearing one of the tracks on Gid’s show.

The listener interaction makes for one of the most pleasant ends to a day I can think of, and it’s not just about inviting emails and texts. Far from it. In fact, it’s all about the topics he chooses to pursue and the quaint regular features such as ‘Paintbox Jury’ (famous-ish albums covers, re-done in Paint) and ‘Duffing’ (listeners’ emails in which they have a gentle moan about the world – all ages welcome.) On top of all of this, Gideon is, quite simply, a very witty man. At a time when silly little catchphrases and tales of getting drunk constitute ‘radio banter’, it’s a relief to listen to a show where it’s acceptable to:

a) give a shit about music

and

b) have at least a modicum of intelligence

It’s rarer than you’d think these days.

Were this blog a school playground, at least one person would now be shouting, ‘Why don’t you just marry him if you love him that much?’ such is my eulogising about the show. But it’s all perfectly sincere. It’s nice to hear a show that seems designed for you. If it was bollocks then I wouldn’t waste your precious time with it, but I genuinely believe you should have a listen. You may well like it muchly.

Gideon’s video manifesto for the late show

Last Night’s Show

Oh, and don’t, whatever you do, play the new Portishead 12″, ‘Machine Gun’, at 33 1/3 rpm. It’ll fair make you shit yourself.

I’m still working on factual AND funny…

Thanks to those who’ve been in touch about indie stores of note. Will be doing some researching over the next few days and will start to add names soon. One that pops up quite a lot, and one which I have experience of and there I’m able to write about with relative ease, is Selectadisc in Nottingham.

In the last couple of weeks, things have changed in store and everything’s been bunched up a bit. I’ve just tried describing this in words, but it didn’t work especially well, so here’s a visual aid.

Right then, the bit you can see some of on the left used to be the ‘specialist’ CD section but they’ve now put that up for rent and squidged the whole stock into the main bit you can see and the upstairs of said main shop. Confused? Good. Anyway, it’s now even more bonkers and cluttered than it was before, but I think I might actually like it better like this. For a start, it feels much more like your traditional indie store, with things shoved everywhere and quality stock piled high. Secondly, if this ensures the store a long and prosperous future then that can’t be a bad thing. 

Why’s it worthy of your time and money? Well, the internet is full of people bitching about arsey staff and the like but from my personal experience this is utter cobblers. Sure, they’re not the most talkative bunch but they’re some way from the snobbery of ‘High Fidelity’. In addition, as a result of Fopp opening in the city about over six years ago, prices altered. When Fopp’s popularity was at a peak in the city, Selectadisc figured that they could be a little bit more competitive and, from that moment on, they regained the title of ‘Best Record Shop in Nottingham’. Back catalogue is regularly no more than 8.99 on CD, with a lot of mid-price titles at 4.99 or less. New releases are very competitively priced and their vinyl stocks cannot be rivaled for many miles around. Where they stand out from many indie stores is their refusal to treat vinyl buyers as mugs and use scarcity as a reason to hike prices. They are regularly a couple of quid cheaper than any other sources on new vinyl and bloody quick at getting hold of import copies of select, splendid titles.

The main plus point for this lot is their excellent stock. Great prices, sensible organisation and atmosphere are added bonuses. Music fans who have lived in Nottingham at some point in their lives always seem to remember Selectadisc, and always seem to rave about it. You can count me in that group.

Did you find e̶v̶e̶r̶y ANYthing you were after?

I’ve ranted about this before, so stick with me on this, but the lack of decent music shops is alarming. Obviously it’s not alarming to many people otherwise we wouldn’t be in this situation in the first place, but for those of us who enjoy picking through obscure new releases and well-chosen back catalogue stock, the end is increasingly nigh. Last summer I found out about the demise of Derby’s last remaining indie store, Reveal Records, which closed its doors for a final time at the end of last year. The reports of record shops in London closing keep coming thick and fast and Left Legged Pineapple has shut up shop in Loughborough, Track has departed from York and Selectadisc has downsized its operation in Nottingham.

I had the misfortune to be in Northampton yesterday and I haven’t had such a poor record buying experience in a long time. I couldn’t find a traditional indie store to speak of, and judging by a search of the net that is indeed the case, and the one second hand store, Pied Piper, that has something of a reputation is some way into a depressing ‘closing down’ sale that consists of utter toss that you couldn’t pay me to take away. They will continue trading in a different manner, so I can only hope they’ve kept the decent stuff back for that venture. There’s Sidewinder, a very specialist dance shop but beyond that I could find nothing. What’s even worse is that HMV and Zavvi haven’t opted to capitalise on this. HMV appeared to have no vinyl whatsoever, while Zavvi – currently doing a wonderful job of filling their stores with vinyl nationwide – had a limited stock that appeared not to have been updated in months. The Last Shadow Puppets single, ‘The Age Of The Understatement’ was released yesterday on CD and 2×7″. I could not find either 7″ anywhere, which is a major surprise. Why, when they happily pile it up in other stores, aren’t Zavvi and HMV catering for music fans? Saying, “did you find everything you were after?” at the till counts for fuck all if it’s a token gesture and the answer is of no consequence. I was amazed that people living somewhere as big as Northampton have so little access to music. Now that HMV find music a dirty word, favouring DVDs, the stock is growing ever more conservative and the range is diminishing rapidly.

Now, there’s no point me issuing a rallying cry for people to go dashing off to their local indie store and purchase a record or three, as I suspect the game is already over and we’ve lost. In addition, if you’re reading this, the chances are you already frequent indie stores wherever possible. The thought that in the not too distant future I won’t be able to have a proper browse in an independent record store upsets me more than it probably should, but I won’t pretend otherwise.

Thankfully, a stop off at Leicester to visit Rockaboom restored my confidence in the indie store. Well-run, competitively-priced and sensibly-stocked, this small indie store is a flashback to the glory days. There’s a second-hand rack, a great back-catalogue with most essentials in stock at less than a fiver and new releases are shoved wherever possible, ensuring you get exposure to as much great music as possible. There’s a good selection of vinyl, local bands are covered and the traditional rail of metal T-shirts is there by the till. Both Last Shadow Puppets 7″s were duly purchased, along with the Jim Noir album which, to dispel one of the rumours about independent stores, was actually a quid cheaper than HMV or Zavvi. I don’t imagine you’ll go out of your way to visit, and they don’t have an online presence, but if you happen to be in the area, treat yourself.

All of this neatly links in with this weekend’s ‘big’ event, Record Store Day. We’ll just have to allow the Americans the word ‘store’ on this occasion, as it’s for a good cause. You’ll have noticed the logo for this in the top right of the blog for the last few days and by clicking on it you can read the philosophy behind the event. Worthy of your support, I would argue. Rough Trade East is having a whole day orgy of live music including the sublime Jason Molina (Magnolia Electric Co / Songs:Ohia), up and coming Glasgow band of note, Make Model and Billy Bragg. Full info here. Action Records in Preston will have live performances from 4pm – info here. Spillers in Cardiff are in the middle of organising something. Avalanche, in Glasgow and Edinburgh, are listed on the Record Store Day site, although I can’t find out what they’re doing. By visiting the RSD site you can access a list of all stores participating. It’s mainly US, but worth a look. If your local indie store’s not on there, ask them why not.

If you’ve got info on particularly lovely indie stores you know of, please let me know and I’ll bung it up on the site – the more promotion the better. If you have any Record Store Day news, then likewise, bung it in the comments.