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Monday, 23 September 2013

Renaissance of Vinyl Continues

Like America, Australia is falling in love with records again. According to this article published on the ABC website, vinyl sales in Australia have increased by more than 70% in the last year. One of the great things I've noticed over recent years is the amount of twenty-somethings out and about crate digging. The ABC article notes that Gen-Y's attraction to vinyl appears to be a serious trend and that also means that there will be more records pressed and more to be passed onto future generations.

Personally I agree and do not believe that this is merely a hipster fad and that sales will increase exponentially. Also the trend towards providing free downloads in recent years with vinyl records is a winner and means that you can have the best of both worlds. I predict that this will become standard practice and make the market for vinyl even stronger. All of of this gladdens the heart of this forty something Gen-X vinyl lover. My only problem now is having to buy more shelving  - which I'm beginning to suspect will not be enough already. Still, it's a nice problem to have isn't it?

Oh, and you can check out some vision too.

Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Op-shop Curios

Recently I've lucked upon some unusual records during my travels around Perth and in the countryside, both north and south. Quite often op-shops mainly yield bad 60's and 70's crooners (in particular Kamahl, the biggest op-shop artist ever - sorry Kamahl) and classical records that are in poor shape. But sometimes you strike gold and it's quite a special feeling when you do. Around Perth op-shop records have risen to the heady prices of two to four dollars, but when I found The Pink Family album in an op-shop in Northhampton just north of Geraldton the women behind the counter initially told me that the records were free! (kind of defeats the purpose of an op-shop...), but when I expressed surprise they conferred and then charged me twenty cents. Thanks op-shop gals! Today I finally cleaned these records and I'm going to give them a listen, see if there are any lost classics amongst them.

A Kiwi Christian family from the 70's - disco for Jesus!

How could you resist these guys?

A Philippines record from 1976 - it was still sealed by shrink wrap after 37 years!

The guy sitting is a real dude.

He's Spanish - that's all I know

The Italian Buddy Holly apparently - this LP is from 73'.

A Philippines record of Latin music.

A record from Argentina - 1969.

An Australian believe it or not.

Speaks for itself!

Friday, 21 June 2013

Leave Them All Behind 12 inch single – Ride (1992)

Way back in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s Ride could do no wrong, releasing a series of EP’s and albums that astounded with a blend of My Bloody Valentine intensity, deft arrangements and Byrdsian melodies that avoided the retro tag. That they were on the Creation label gave them an even greater luminous air. By 1992’s album Going Blank Again Ride reached their apogee and this single represented all that was great about the Oxford four-piece.

Leave Them All Behind begins with an electronic pulse reminiscent of The Who’s Baba O’Riley; then the guitars crash in with intersecting counterpoints. It’s powerful and melodically dreamy at the same time, perfectly summing up Ride’s shoegazing sound. The track slowly increases in intensity across its eight minutes and at the end it’s all guitar noise. I must have played this track hundreds of times when it came out – I was totally addicted to the intense flow and pulse of the song. One drunken night ended with the police at the door, called because of a complaint, but we didn’t hear them because we were playing this track.

Detail of back cover with totally cool font

I saw Ride live at the time of this song’s release and they opened with Leave Them All Behind. That was 21 years ago but I can still remember the audience’s reaction – opened mouthed awe (or were they just necking their drugs?). The bass player blew up his AMP and we had wait around after the song for it to be replaced. I remember thinking that I would need my brain replaced by the end of the gig (this turned out to be partially true).

Leave Them All Behind is backed with an alternate version of Chrome Waves, which I believe is slightly superior to the album version. But the real bonus here is the monumental B-side Grasshopper, a 10-minute riff heavy meandering instrumental that is indulgently entertaining – a true B-side.

The band loved the circus

It’s a pity that Ride faltered after this when they became one of the first British bands of that era to consciously go down the retro path with their next album Carnival of Light (1994). They lost much of what made them great and they only partially recovered with their last album, the underrated Tarantula (1996). By then they’d been overrun by Oasis and the multitude of Britpop bands who defined that era. But for anyone interested in Ride, all of their EPs and albums up to and including the Going Blank Again era are essential.

"This article says that we'll do a shit retro album next! WTF!"

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Democrazy – Damon Albarn (2003)

I pulled this one out whilst looking through my 10” singles and realized that it was now 10 years old. It’s hardly a lost classic though, but it is notable for the fact that one of the tracks – I Need a Gun, became the Gorillaz song Dirty Harry. Democrazy is a bunch of demos recorded by Albarn on the Blur tour of the U.S. after the release of the awesome Think Tank (2003) album. Released on Albarn’s own Honest Jons (sic) label, it’s a bit of a vanity project but in hindsight it can be seen as a record store day release years before the concept was born. Only 5000 copies were made of this double 10” coloured vinyl record – total RSD fodder.

All the tracks are totally low-fi and sound like they were recorded late at night in hotel rooms after Albarn retired from the bar. I Need a Gun is Gorillaz style Casio funk – you can hear why it developed into Dirty Harry. Reedz is an atmospheric keyboard instrumental. Half a Song is one of the most fully formed tracks, with plaintive double tracked vocals over acoustic guitar. Five Star Life is a meditation on the pressures of modern pop life complete with a doorbell rhythm and funky bass line.

The rest of the album follows the same path – short woozy demos using minimal instrumentation. Albarn gets his harmonium out for Sub Species, in which he sings “Drunken in the evening, running during the day.” It sounds like it! The last track – End of Democrazy, has saucepan like percussion sounds as he laments “I stay up every night singing when I should be sleeping.”  There are a few of these lyrical insights into Albarn’s on tour state of mind. No doubt he was still sad about the departure of Graham Coxon, making Democrazy a kind of sketchy and frazzled tour diary. If you think of it like that then it makes more sense, otherwise the album comes across as a little self – indulgent.

I don’t believe that Albarn had meant to make some great artistic statement with Democrazy. It comes across as a deliberately made collectable curio that gives some insight into the creative process and Blur/Albarn fans something to lust after. The packaging is really something, with a cutout cover that folds around from the back. The artwork looks like it’s by Albarn's own hand. Inside he references the great Fela Kuti – “Democrazy is a Fela Kuti concept,” which makes me think that the album title is a play on the word democracy. Housed inside are the two 10” records, one white vinyl and the other a picture-disc featuring a peace dinosaur. Makes sense to me. If you want one of these then you can still buy it on Amazon for about 45 pounds. I’m sure there’s some on E-bay, but I can’t look – I’ve banned myself due to the risk of spending too much money!

You can listen to the entire album here.

Friday, 3 May 2013

Zaireeka Listening Party - Planet Music Mt Lawley

Zaireeka vinyl fun at Planet

Last night I went to Planet Music’s Zaireeka listening party, lured by the promise of hearing this album for only the second time in a decade. I first heard Zaireeka about eight years ago in my own lounge-room via the 4 CD version owned by a friend of mine. Due to my condition that night I can’t remember much about it, except that it was a great Flaming Lips album and that the last track was about Coyne’s dogs. My vague memories of Zaireeka being a great album were confirmed last night when my friends and I were joined by 30 odd other Lips freaks to hear the four disc vinyl version of the album.

Zaireeka is now perhaps the ultimate vinyl fetish object – four records of different colours designed to be played simultaneously. The album is beautiful woozy psychedelia, full of their typical heavy melodic playfulness. Over the years I’ve resisted listening to one source versions on Youtube recorded at listening parties, primarily to keep the concept of the album pure. It’s meant to be listened to by a group of people using all four discs in order to foster togetherness. Also each time the experience is unique due to human error and equipment variation, something that would be lost using one source.

I was tempted to spend $120 on the vinyl version but I doubt I’d ever play it; I’d just look at it occasionally. I have a feeling that my friends and I will be setting up four compact disc players soon enough, much easier than four turntables. Thanks to Planet Music for hosting the event and apologies for stealing your photo – stupidly I neglected to take any photos of my own!

Monday, 29 April 2013

Live in Bremen ’78 – David Bowie (1980)

With 2013 being the year of Bowie I thought I’d unearth this fantastic bootleg from 1980. This is a recording of a German TV special made on a show called Musikladen Extra. In terms of Bowie bootlegs it’s one of the best out there due to both the quality of the recording and the excellent musicianship by Bowie and his band. The version of “Heroes” is the best live rendition I’ve ever heard and if you don’t believe me check it out here. It’s full of power and verve, capturing the melodramatic essence of the song totally.

The rear cover lists the opening track as Intro but it is actually the bleak beauty of Sense of Doubt. TVC 15 is listed as Transmission/TVL – 15, which does make you wonder about the familiarity of the bootleggers with Bowie’s music. They also subtitle the album on the rear cover as The Man Who Sold the World TV – Special, which is just bollocks. No doubt they just saw Bowie as a bankable name that could get them some black market dollars. Still I don’t care – I totally love vinyl bootlegs, even the ones with dodgy sound quality.

At least they got the names of one of Bowie's greatest ever bands right

I bought Live in Bremen in Sydney in 1987 when I was there checking out the much maligned Glass Spider Tour. It was my second Bowie live experience after my sister took 13 year old me to see Bowie in Perth in 1983. That was when my Bowie fandom really began. Little did I know that four years later I’d meet him the very next day after buying this bootleg, but that’s another story.

In 1989 I stupidly left this record on the train whilst on the way to work. I was intending to tape it for a friend after work at my parent’s house. It was one of those terrible moments of realization as I watched he train pull away from the station. Unbelievably I was reunited with the record three days later at the lost property office at the Perth train station. I can’t imagine who might have found the record, but obviously he or she wasn’t a Bowie fan, otherwise they surely would have kept it for themselves (as much as I’d hate to admit it, I would have).

Chamaleon records were minimalists

Every few years I play this bootleg and connect with both the superb music and the memory of the relief of getting it back after the train took it away from me. There are other copies out there of course; including copies pressed onto marbled brown and clear vinyl, but mine is plain old black. The TV show has a date of 30/05/1978 and the record was released on the ‘world renowned’ Chamaleon (sic) Records – thanks guys.

The broadcast itself is available on Youtube and is totally brilliant. If you are a Bowie fan then check I out, if not then at least watch “Heroes” and then for a lesson on the correct procedure for melodramatic crooning watch the sublime Alabama Song

Bowie having a rest after singing Alabama song

Tuesday, 26 March 2013

Vinyl Rumours

Detail of Rumours -  who were Anne and Lynne?

Has the so-called vinyl revival gone too far? Is vinyl fetishized too much? Is there such a thing as too much when it comes to vinyl? Jason Heller at the A.V Club website certainly thinks so. He fingered the example of the upcoming release of Kenny Rogers’ 1977 album The Gambler on deluxe 180gram vinyl. Heller opines that because there are literally millions of cheap copies of this album floating around in second hand shops, then why do we need a deluxe version? Heller also indicates that the quality difference between vinyl and MP3’s is simply not worth the effort of hunting down and hoarding thousands of records when the music can be readily accessed in a more convenient manner.

To be fair Heller does have a point, however I believe that it is a little churlish to bemoan the release of pristine versions of big selling albums. There may well be surplus copies of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours waiting to be picked up for a pittance. But what kind of condition are they in and even if you can find a second hand copy in fair condition then what’s wrong with having a new copy? Second hand or thrift shop copies of albums are an ideal way to discover an album or artist that you may not have taken seriously enough to shell out for a brand new copy. Rumours is a perfect case in point. Back when I was in my indie ghetto in the 1990’s, listening to bands like Fleetwood Mac was simply unthinkable. But then I picked up a cheap copy at an op-shop and when I played it I had one of those “what the fuck was I thinking” moments. Because of second hand vinyl I’ve discovered hundreds of albums and bands in similar circumstances and my musical horizons have expanded significantly.

So if there are all these cheap copies of albums sitting around why bother with new deluxe versions? I discovered that I loved Rumours but my copy is pretty shitty really. It plays well enough, with only a few pops and crackles, but the cover has been defaced by two names and it’s pretty tatty. Rumours has just been re-released and I’m going to buy a new copy because it’s worth having both pristine sound and artwork. Records are, like the rest of the universe, subject to entropy and drunken mishandling. So sure there are millions of prior copies out there, but there are plenty of people who would like a nice new copy for quality’s sake.

Are records worth searching out for their sound quality and are they really “holy objects” that are fetishized too much? Well, of course they are not holy objects, but they are great cultural artifacts. Records are musical time capsules from other eras in a way that downloads can never be. But records also offer, in most cases, a superior sound, but more importantly a certain kind of sound. These days CDs can sound fantastic and offer a totally acceptable version of your favourite album. But vinyl offers all those dirty frequencies that digital sampling can’t capture, resulting in deep and warm sounds, in particular from the bass and drums. Vinyl sounds like you are there with the band in the room, whilst CDs sound like a reproduction of what was recorded.

Heller points out that one of the reasons he stopped collecting vinyl was that he realized that he wasn’t an audiophile and that the small difference he could detect wasn’t worth it (that and the fact he couldn’t pay his rent!). Without going into it too much, with vinyl comes the need for quality amps, speakers and turntables – without quality gear you are only getting half the story. So my advice is if you want the vinyl and the stereo gear but you don’t have much money, then go to garage sales and second hand stores and pick up some vintage equipment. Then you’ll be able to enjoy that deluxe version of The Gambler to its fullest extent.

I do, however, have to agree with Heller regarding “strip-mining the fans” and the creation of engineered scarcity. They really see us coming and it sucks when, for example, a release like Can’s The Lost Tapes is put out as a CD box set with no indication of any vinyl release and then six months later out comes the vinyl version. Record companies know that many fans will be tempted to shell out again just to get the vinyl, I know I’ve considered picking it up before it disappears. What’s a vinyl junky to do? And Heller, if you want to offload some of those six thousand records you collected then just let me know!