Not quite just played, but recently

It’s been a while since I did a rambling ‘things-I’ve-been-listening-to-and-quite-like’ type post, so this be one of them.  While plenty of new stuff has crept in, this week has involved a lot of Manics. I’ve been suckered in by the Mini-LP, 2CD Japanese reissues of their studio albums prior to ‘Journal For Plague Lovers’, despite owning all of them and most of the accompanying b-sides. They are utterly lovely though and it has resulted in me realising a couple of things. Firstly, I know the b-sides from the ‘Everything Must Go’ and ‘This Is My Truth’ like they are unofficial national anthems, something that’s not replicated with the more recent albums, suggesting that as I’ve got older, I’ve spent less time with b-sides, despite rabidly gathering them all up. Secondly, as a direct consequence of the last point, the bonus tracks on ‘Lifeblood’, in particular, took me aback. They’re really very, very good and the consistency was still there, even if my attention wasn’t. Oh, and it was another excuse to listen to their gloriously bombastic version of ‘Umbrella’. I love the idea of bonus disc reissues and the notion of an alternative history being offered up by those lesser-known songs. Sadly, very few reissues offer much of any real merit, but these are wonderful collections and this allows me to now say that I didn’t just buy them because they’re shiny and nice. I also bought them to reevaluate a musical legacy. Albeit one in shiny packaging.

I bought The Low Anthem album, ‘Oh My God, Charlie Darwin’, whilst down in London for a bit of real life, over the counter, music you can touch, record shopping back in April. Back then, it was proudly described as a ‘Rough Trade Exclusive’ and it came in a blue card, hand stamped sleeve. It struck me as a marvellous but curious little record and certain tracks got pretty regular plays. I now find it quite surprising to see it receiving a sizeable media focus; it seemed such a tiny, niche release only a few months back. Anyway, because I’m a sad obsessive, I ended up purchasing the vinyl pressing of the new Bella Union release of this wonderful album this week and it sounds absolutely magnificent. It turns out that I haven’t actually bought exactly the same thing twice. Apparently, the album’s been remastered in the interim and resequenced for some reason. I can’t say I really noticed all the much in the way of sonic difference, but then people say that their debut album, ‘What The Crow Brings’, is poorly recorded and I think that sounds rather lovely too. What I can recommend is the pressing quality of this vinyl edition and also that aforementioned debut album which you can buy from their site as a CD preorder (they’re making some more copies – hand stamped and all that malarky) along with a free, instant download to be getting on with. It’s worth also noting that this is yet another solid gold release by Bella Union, a label seemingly unable to do any wrong. Peruse their site, click buy next to pretty much anything and you’ll not be disappointed.

The latest Ohbijou record, ‘Beacons’, is getting played rather a lot round these parts. Ethereal is probably the best word for it and, frankly, it’s more eloquent than sodding marvellous which is the only other way I’ve got for describing it. Pick any track at random, have a listen and I defy you to not fall in love with it. Seriously. Did I mention that it’s on Bella Union?

The new album by The Rumble Strips arrived this week and my first impressions were not great. Apparently, it’s a big step on from the last album, it’s less like Dexy’s and it had added Mark Ronson. Hmm. It’s not a huge success. Firstly, they still sound very like Dexy’s at times, just not as well as they did on the first album and thus it is less enjoyable. Secondly, the sense of fun that made me really rather warm to their debut (‘Girls And Boys In Love’, in particular) doesn’t seem to be there. Now, this is fine in itself, but not when it hasn’t really been replaced with anything else. I’ll give it time, but I think the attempted reinvention may not have been necessary after all.

Plenty of time has been spent picking over all of the b-sides and remixes offered up by the luxurious and really rather shiny (spot the pattern?) Girls Aloud singles collection box set. It’s not hugely revelatory – I knew they were great beforehand, but it’s thoroughly enjoyable stuff for dipping in and out of. The musical equivalent of a ‘toilet book’, I suppose. For example, the weird vocoder effects used on the single mix of ‘Untouchable’ didn’t warrant an additional purchase after buying the album, but it makes for an enjoyable listen when offered up as part of as massive collection of top-notch pop.

I continue to delight in the majesty of the self-titled album by The Duckworth Lewis Method, such is its summery splendour. They recently performed ‘Test Match Special’ on Test Match Special. Arf, arf! What larks. Still, a suitable way to celebrate a decent performance by England this weekend. Alternatively, celebrate shite boats and being pissed by downloading the bonus track, ‘Pedalo’, from iTunes. It was one of the first albums I reviewed for my new glossy-paged home and this leads me nicely to talking about one of the other records from that first batch: Magnolia Electric Co‘s ‘Josephine’, which is Jason Molina‘s finest record in absolutely yonks. And that’s taking as given that the last few have been of a high quality nevertheless. In entirely predictable fashion, I bought the vinyl to accompany my promo CD and it is a fantastic pressing. This is all the more impressive as I’ve found Secretly Canadian vinyl to be of a varying standard in the past and this record truly deserved a decent outing on wax. And so it is. It’s soulful, it’s warm and yet still oddly bleak. Such is Molina’s way with a guitar. If neither Magnolia Electric Co nor his earlier outings as Songs : Ohia aren’t in your record collection you really should set about correcting that criminal oversight.

The quite simply bloody lovely new record by Wilco arrived from the delightfully mispriced (£8.98, free delivery!) Amazon this week and it does not disappoint. Although it seems to be getting some revisionist slagging, I loved ‘Sky Blue Sky’ and so already had high hopes for the appallingly titled, ‘Wilco (The Album)’. The vinyl pressing (What do you expect? It matters!!) is exceptional and the music’s not far behind. At times gently chugging, at times more upbeat and almost poppy than Wilco have been for some time, it’s a concise, summery record that you need to get now so it can soundtrack any remaining nice weather before the end of August. Or you could just wait until the inevitable reissue with a bonus disc that seems to have been the norm for the last few records. Tracks like ‘The Thanks I Get’ were simply tossed out as ‘bonus material’, despite being of album-worthy standard. Here’s hoping for more suitably spiffing bonus stuff this time out.

Having mentioned during the Glastonbury weekend blog overload that I was rather taken with The Hot 8 Brass Band, I’ve been giving their album a few listens of late and, while it’s not one I’ll play from start to finish all that often, it’s does have some truly inspired moments. The take on ‘What’s My Name’ by Snoop Doggy Dogg is reason enough to buy the record, before you even get to the charming interpretation of ‘Sexual Healing’. Suitably bargainous price and copies in stock here.

I’ll conclude with my current favourite pop nuggets. I recently mentioned that I’ve come round to the idea that La Roux, despite looking like an aggressive baby, has released one of the songs of the year with ‘Bulletproof’ and I can’t really see what might actually better it right now. I’m quite taken with the Freemasons single with Sophie Ellis-Bextor, even if she does sing “Heartbreak, make me a darn-ser.” It niggles away at your head that one and it’s hard to shake off. ‘New In Town’ by Little Boots is rather charming but I don’t imagine it has much staying power. The whole of the latest Pet Shop Boys album is still satisfying the vast majority of my pop needs. Feel free to recommend me any great new pop you can think of below.

Right then, suitably rambling as always but with a twist this time. The good folks at both teatunes and Jo-Whiley-hating* The Word magazine regularly share Spotify playlists relating to what they’re banging on about. So, I thought I’d shamelessly steal the idea and try it myself. It doesn’t cover everything listed here – Magnolia Electric Co’s new album’s not on there yet, neither are the Wilco album or La Roux – but it’ll give you a nice idea. Try it by clicking here.

 

*T’was them that made us have Fearne Cotton on daytimes. They killed her.

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I even went to Port Talbot for them

Last week, I attended my thirteenth Manics concert. Even I had started to wonder if I might actually get bored of them at some point and yet they proved once again why I adore them quite so much. The three of them truly love being in that band. They love being on stage with each other, they love playing those songs for these people and James seems to have really grown into the role of all-conquering showman. On this recent tour, they played the whole of the new album, ‘Journal For Plague Lovers’, took a ten minute break and then belted out an hour of classics. It’s hard to pick fault with a second of it.

‘JFPL’ is a monstrously great rock album. It’s been called The Holy Bible’s second coming and, to be fair, there are some similarities but I’m still not sure that that’s the best way to approach this album. If anything, it’s the perfect blend of the Manics just prior to Richey’s disappearance and the Manics not long thereafter. The quite beautiful arrangements on ‘This Joke Sport Severed’ and ‘William’s Last Words’ are pure ‘late period Manics’, while the splendidly shouty chorus of ‘All Is Vanity’ and  the terrifying propulsion of ‘She Bathed Herself In A Bath Of Bleach’ come straight from the military era of 1994. It’s a truly fabulous album and a likely contender for my album of the year. That said, if you’ve never liked the Manics, this isn’t going to change your mind.

The rapturous response to pretty much every song in the classics set further reinforced my belief that I will never tire of this band. ‘Motorcycle Emptiness’ is one of the best songs of all time to witness live and the ferocity of this latest rendition was probably the best performance of it I’ve ever witnessed. Even early b-side, ‘Sorrow 16’ (great chorus, forgettable verse), prompted plenty of cheers and by the time we were all haplessly singing along to ‘A Design For Life’ the world had been put to rights and James, Nicky and Sean had triumphed once again. God, I love this band.

I spent much of last night gazing out of the window at perpetual drizzle whilst listening to a selection of Manics b-sides from across the years, although I seemed to alight on the ‘Everything Must Go’ era. (Yes, I am sad enough to have all of the b-sides categorised by album on the iPod.) Now, I know that my love of these tracks come from my fanboy-ish desire to hoover up every last note whenever possible and thus, with familiarity, so often a liking grows, but I genuinely believe that there is some outrageously good songwriting tucked away on numerous Manics b-sides. If I were to pick three, just from that era, for you to track down, I’d send you off to hear ‘No One Knows What It Feels Like To Be Me’, ‘Mr Carbohydrate‘ and ‘First Republic’. Go on, treat yourself. And if you can’t, there’s an email address in the previous post, get in touch and I’ll see if I can help you, er, find the songs.

***

As for albums of the year, if I had to pick my top 5 right now, it’d be these…

5. Super Furry AnimalsDark Days / Light Years

4. Trashcan SinatrasIn The Music

3. Graham CoxonThe Spinning Top

2. Manic Street PreachersJournal For Plague Lovers

1. DovesKingdom Of Rust

It’ll all change, of course, but there have been some truly wonderful albums already this year. Bubbling under for that list are Grizzly Bear, Lily Allen, Jarvis, Madness, Duckworth Lewis Method, Moz and the new Magnolia Electric Co album, ‘Josephine‘, which is the best thing Jason Molina’s ever done. I’ve not had it that long, so it’s not in the top 5 just yet, but I suspect it may get there.

It will make you spend more. Be advised.

Long time readers of this blog will remember how I used to get ever so slightly too excited about Bank Holiday Monday trips to my local indie emporium when, with literally no logic to back this up, I used to spend with impunity, somehow convincing myself that money spent on a bank holiday doesn’t count. Actually, now I think about it, what with it being a day when banks have a holiday, that’s not quite such an idiotic idea. Still quite an idiotic idea, mind.

Anyway, said days are long since gone, what with most of the record stores in the whole world having closed down. I’m now left to take my chances with whatever I can find. And so I found myself in a hotel in Derby this morning, flicking through boxes of mainly second-hand vinyl. Most of it, it must be said, was toss. If you ever need a battered copy of any Tina Turner album, a record fair’s the place for you. In fact, if you ever need seventeen battered copies of any Tina Turner album, a record fair’s the place for you. Sadly, it also appears to be the place for people who get so lost in the supermarket that they never quite find the aisles for soap and deodorant. Sadly, despite the late, great Joe’s claim, they can still shop happily. Still, there should be a little corner of the world for everybody and, just like the New Year Sale in HMV is the place for the chronically flatulent, record fairs seem to be the place for the slightly unwashed.

Not me, I hasten to add. I smell perfectly fine, thanks. Anyway, after flicking through the aforementioned tat, I alighted upon a stall selling new stuff. It dawned on me how infrequently I actually get to physically hand over the cash for vinyl these days. The charming bloke I ended up buying a few records from, whose name I can’t remember – something like Dave, told me that the record-selling business is so shit these days that he’s just resorted to record fairs and “my Vauxhall Cavalier.” As a result of these circumstances, most of my record buying occurs online. Not through choice, so much as lack of options.

This neatly dovetails with a request from a rather splendid chap (who has recently directed people to this site from his own rather fine corner of the interweb) for a general guide to picking up vinyl at decent prices. So, provided you don’t all start buying everything I want before I can get it, I present:

The Just Played guide to buying vinyl

I know, imaginative title, eh?

1. Indie stores online

First and foremost, if you’re after new release vinyl that isn’t just the latest overly-loud, overly-pompous and overly… well, shit, U2 album then you’ll need to identify a few indie retailers who cater for tastes similar to yours.

My chosen benefactors are the splendid people at Norman Records, who I’ve mentioned previously.

normanrecords-logo-white

They stock pretty much all the new release stuff you could wish for and, almost always, at the best price you’ll find online. They ship the items in very sturdy packaging and turn around orders pronto. Their communication is second to none and often rather amusing. Decent sized orders tend to come with a few sweet – works for me – and they publish weekly reviews of an irreverent nature which carry the following advisory message:

Warning: stay away if you’re going to be all offended by us slagging off your favourite artist. We reserve the right to hold an opinion!

The one thing to bear in mind is postage. Vinyl is heavy and bulky and will always require a few quid bunged on top of your order. That said, order more than £50 worth in one go and shipping is free!

There are a few other indie retailers I frequent:

action

Action Records – The shop in Preston is lovely, the web service is quick and pretty competitively priced. I use them for reasonably recent back catalogue stuff. If you’re after something from the last five years, and it’s not already super-rare, Action are a good bet.

what

What Records – Now online only. Vast stock, lots of upfront listings in order to ensure you can get hold of very limited pressings and very secure shipping. Neither particularly keen on obscure stuff nor the cheapest, What is pretty dependable for the rare stuff.

boomkat_logo

Leaning more towards electronic music than Norm, but covering similar ground, Boomkat is another place to go to for the very limited indie store only pressings and it also does a nice line in flac downloads – not that that’s what this post is meant to promote!

2. Catching the big boys getting it wrong

I do so love benefiting from a mis-price by Amazon or HMV. It’s double satisfying: knowing you get a bargain and that bargain is directly linked to one of the indie-slayers not making so much money. As a technique, it only really works on pre-orders and you’ll need to get in early. Online retailers, or etailers if you will, try to outdo each other in terms of getting things listed first in a bid to get extra sales. As a result, this doesn’t always lead to entirely accurate listings. HMV listed the Oasis vinyl box set for ‘Stop The Clocks’ as a single vinyl at £12.99 delivered for a month. Amazon were gladly flogging the recent Aidan Moffat and the Best Ofs vinyl/CD/bonus CD/7″/Valentine’s Card/board game box set as a piece of single vinyl at £13.69 delivered. Peter Doherty‘s ‘Grace/Wastelands‘ vinyl pressing was £7.98, the same as the CD, delivered for a month. It’s all about luck and it’s not a guaranteed route to bargains, but it throws up some decent stuff.

3. Caiman on Amazon Marketplace

If it’s an album that’s getting a release in the US, then a good source of cheap, new vinyl is Caiman USA, Caiman Zone, Caiman Bargain or whatever they’re calling themselves at the exact moment when you order. Often charging £8-9 per item, with the stock £1.24 postage on top of that, you can get some real bargains. They tend not to list items until a week or two after release, and those prices don’t stay around for long, but they’re worth checking for on most new releases.

As for second hand stuff, I can’t really offer much more than you already know. Track down your nearest second-hand retailer, keep an eye on eBay auctions that finish in less ‘busy’ times and search via places like Gemm and Musicstack. That said, car boot sales and record fairs remain the best places to pick up second-hand bargains.

Feel free to leave a comment correcting me, adding extra info or simply sharing your experiences. I enjoy reading about this sort of stuff, honest!

Oh, one last thing. I write a reasonably well-followed blog (which has already been visited by the rather splendid Thomas Pugwash) and yet I’ve not been sent a promo of The Duckworth Lewis Method‘s new album to review. I’m quite hurt. That said, a rather positive review will be appearing at the aforementioned splendid chap’s aforementioned site shortly.