BEST OF 2012: 5. David Byrne & St Vincent – Love This Giant

I’m not entirely sure what I was expecting when it was announced that David Byrne and St Vincent were working together, but a smart, swaggering and downright joyous collection of wonky pop tunes (and I don’t mean that in a Hoosiers kind of way – let us never speak of them again) was not it. It may not have the beautiful harmonies of ‘The Lion’s Roar‘, the perfectly balanced textures of ‘Tramp‘ or the raw emotion of ‘The Lovers‘, but it has balls. Enormous ones. Big, brassy ones. You can only begin to imagine the grins on the faces of Byrne and Annie Clark when some of these songs were played back in the studio.

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From the first sight of the double-take artwork, to the final note of ‘Outside Of Space and Time‘, it is clear you are in the presence of something special. Whether it’s the simple charms of the vocal melody on ‘I Am An Ape’ or the unexpectedly perfect way in which Clark’s vocal blends with Byrne’s unmistakeable yelp, there are plenty of slack-jawed, repeat-play moments to be found. The two have said that ‘Love This Giant’ ended up sounding completely different to what they had anticipated themselves and any sense of arty pretension soon evaporates.

The plentiful use of deft horn stabs lends a certain vintage quality to a lot of these tunes, as swirling programmed drums rise and fall around these two distinctive voices. ‘The Forest Awakes‘ skips along, driven by Clark’s breathy vocal to be followed the clamourous racket of ‘I Should Watch TV‘, with Byrne’s excitable yelp at the fore. But this album is at its best when the two fully intertwine, as on ‘Lazarus‘ with its irresistlable swagger. It is this pure pop momentum that so many of this songs possess that makes it quite such fine release. It’s peculiar, hard to define, tricky to describe and even difficult to look at. It is wilfully awkward, cheerily playful and unlike anything either of them have previously created. And for all of these reasons and more Love This Giant‘ stands tall as an incomparable record and one which has held its own in a very strong year for new music. It has, however, split opinion amongst people who judgement I trust and so, out of all thirty of the recommendations in this list, this is perhaps the one most needing of trial listen before stumping up your hard earned. I’d love to know your thoughts.

A logo written in toothpaste

Mmmm. Another record shopping-based outing today. A small, but splendid, pile of records are being aired as I type. Currently, it’s the new Stereolab, which is better than I’d expected after reading some mixed reviews on the net. The limited edition Japanese-style CD is rather fun too. Anyhoo, said record shopping expedition leads me to my (main) two topics for today.

Firstly, the Coalition of Independent Record Stores and secondly, the changing ways people purchase music, with a particular focus on those young rapscallions, Bloc Party.

I’ve mentioned the ‘Coalition’ a few times already and I’m still not convinced that it actually counts for anything. I’ve previously expressed my misgivings about the elitist approach it’s taking and this has been underlined by my experiences over the past couple of weeks. As is my tendency at this time of year, I’ve been working my way round many of the independent record stores of the UK and, not being an especially shy chap, I’ve taken to engaging the staff (generally the owners, it must be said) of these stores in conversation about how business is going, which has, inevitably, brought us round to the topic of the Coalition.

When I first mentioned this idea it was alongside a blog post by the good folk at Norman Records that didn’t paint the project in an especially pretty light. It would seem that the initial fears have proved absolutely correct. One of the main reasons quoted to Norm as to why they wouldn’t be allowed into the Coalition was that this initiative is all about driving people back in to actual record shops rather than simply adding to online sales. As Norm pointed out at the time, many of the shops allowed in to the Coalition actually do a brisk trade online. Thus, it came as no surprise to me today to find that, upon visiting one of the Coalition stores – I’ll not mention which one to avoid any assumptions about who said what – the Brett Anderson album, ‘Wilderness‘, that is, apparently, exclusively available in Coalition stores in August ahead of its main release in September, had yet to arrive. It was officially released to these stores last Monday and yet this store had had none, and had no idea when they would actually arrive. However, Avalanche Records, who, if you remember, are the initial torch-holders for this endeavour, had plenty in stock from the off and have been merrily flogging them to anyone who wants them…via eBay! I know, just sit back and bask in the insane hypocrisy of that for a moment.

During the numerous chats I’ve had with Coalition members of late, it has been noted that a Brett Anderson album is hardly going to set the charts alight or keep the tills ringing for weeks on end. Surely, you don’t release an album in a limited edition of 1900 if you think you can flog 1901, or more, copies of that title? That said, not even a handful of those 1900 copies had made it to at least one of the Coalition stores by this morning. When I last checked, Avalanche’s eBay shop had put up 50 copies, and already sold 21 of them. Still, at least Avalanche aren’t letting their position as ‘head honcho’ distort things in their favour. Oh, hang on. For fuck’s sake, you’re either trying to help out all of the people in the same, dire position or you’re not.

Apparently, during the heated meetings that occur from time to time between representatives from the Coalition member stores one of the most recent (and I think you’ll agree, brilliant) ideas was to have exclusive Coalition T-shirts that can only be bought from Coalition stores. Have you seen the Coalition logo? It’s over to the right in amongst the links to independent record stores. It’s truly appalling! The title of today’s post is the best description I’ve been given of what the T-shirts look like. The most important point that’s been raised, however, is who the bloody hell would actually wear one of these things, let along buy it? Furthermore, who even knows that the Coalition exists apart from over-keen people like my good self and you, my loyal readers? It seems like an exercise in dithering thus far. A Brett Anderson album that you couldn’t pay most people to take away is exclusively available from Coalition stores – unless it’s not of course. It’s intended to provide an incentive to shop in a bricks and mortar record shop, and yet it’s doing steady business on a world-famous, online – and let’s be pretty fucking aware – corporate auction site. Mission accomplished.

Some readers may remember the joyous days of the ‘Chain With No Name’, regularly labelled as CWNN on adverts in the music press. Regular pages would tell you what the latest indie releases were and then, at the bottom of the ad, you could find out where to buy them from. CWNN occasionally led to little perks like bonus discs or posters you couldn’t get elsewhere. Not CWNN T-shirts, you’ll notice.

Some questions remain about the Coalition:

1. Who’s it really for? Does the consumer really benefit when there’s bugger all advertising, the stock isn’t actually in the shops that it’s supposed to be in and those in charge don’t appear to care too much about other shops.

2. What’s it really for? If it doesn’t actually alter the record-buying experience, how will it have an impact? Is anyone going to think, “Balls to buying that CD on play.com for £6.99, I’m going in to town, to my local indie so I can get it for £9.99, but at least I’ll have the chance to buy one of those lovely T-shirts?” I suspect – and I’d so dearly loved to be proved wrong on this – that the answer is no.

3. Does it actually have any meaningful principles? If web-only indie stores aren’t going to be allowed in on the grounds that they don’t cause people to tend towards independent stores on the high street, shouldn’t all Coalition exclusives be store sales only? Isn’t it a really shitty tactic to ostracise online-only dealers and then fill your pockets with eBay funded cash?

As virtually nobody knows about the Coalition and even fewer care, I think that’ll have to be my last word on it for the time being. I’m sure I’ll be whining about it again by this time next week.

And so, eventually, we come to the other topic of note. Bloc Party‘s new album, ‘Intimacy‘, is out on Thursday, at 9am. No, really. Out of nowhere, they’ve come up with the idea of announcing an almost immediate download of an album, with a CD version to follow. It’s revolutionary, I tell thee. To be fair, the manner in which they’ve done it is quite neat. It was only announced last night and yet, in a couple of days time, the album will be all over file-sharing networks the world over. And a few people will pay for it, I’m sure. However, it continues the logic I was touching on yesterday with my post about boxsets. The bands and record industries are desperately looking for anything that will give the business a quick cash injection. Using upfront, and unexpected, paid for downloads is a very simple way of avoiding the ‘leak’ issue that can cause untold damage to physical sales, as everybody illegally downloaded the album six weeks before it came out for real. Not the case with this. However, if you look at the new David Byrne and Brian Eno release, ‘Everything That Happens Will Happen Today’, which went on sale digitally yesterday. A CD will follow, if you took that option on purchase, but for now you’ve got the MP3 or flac files to play with. However, disproving the theory that this makes leaks less of an issue, within an hour of the webshop going live, the album was available for illegal download all over the internet. I’d recommend the Flac + CD option, personally, but the point remains that plenty of people don’t expect to have to pay anything and giving them a good deal does nothing to change their minds.

Oh, and if ‘Mercury‘ is anything to go by, it’ll be a big bag of arse anyway. That said, I’m sure they’ll get my tenner and I’ll have a grumble about it on here at the end of the week.

That’ll do for now, eh?