Quick chorizo and potato 'stew'

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Serves 1 and 1/2. Time = 20-40 minutes.

1 onion
2 tomatoes
5 smalish new potatoes
Tomato puree
Black pepper

Quarter the potatoes and boil fast for ten minutes. Drain, saving half the water.

Chop the onion and tomato.

Fry onion until soft, then add tomato.

Slice chorizo.

Add to frying pan.

Add potatoes and some of the starched water.

Add big squeeze puree, pinch basil, pinch parsley, pinch ground black pepper.

Cover and simmer for however long you like, however fast you like, until the 'stew' has thickened / reduced.

Serve. If not lunchtime, wash down with gallons of rioja.



Sunday, July 29, 2007

The Records That Sent Me Mad

Friday, July 27, 2007

1. My CD player (well, one of them) is a temperamental sort; if it’s been turned off, as opposed to left on standby, it’ll only scan discs properly if it’s first fed the Fireworks EP by Embrace (or something of comparable or shorter length). Why this is, I’m not sure. After it’s scanned that, you can remove that disc and feed it anything else with no problem whatsoever, but from cold turn-on, nothing with anything else. It just scans and scans and scans, missing the disc and eventually claiming there’s no disc there.
2. That’s a lie about the Fireworks EP, btw, although only just; it’ll scan anything under about 17 minutes in length first time out.
3. Hearing something different every time.
4. My iPod, after a battery transplant, has died. It lasted 3 ½ years; not a bad lifespan given the warnings people doled out about it dying after 18 months.
5. Having a drum roll actually roll, as in move, as in from one place to another.
6. Paul compared Oasis to Spacemen 3 but was a little trepidatious; understandable, given the likely ‘wtf’ reaction to such a statement.
7. He’s not quite right, but he’s not far off.
8. I’d put a waveform here, but there’s no point.
9. Obv., like typing in Finnish (suomen kieli kuuluu uralilaiseen kielikuntaan, sen suomalais-ugrilaisen haaran itämerensuomalaisiin kieliin), you wont understand what that graphic would have meant if you don’t know the language, but if you do…
10. Contrary to popular belief, I don’t run songs through audio programmes and ‘look at the waveform’ very often to judge whether they’re compressed; I use my ears. As mentioned the other day, I don’t even have Audacity. (Although I’m thinking of looking into it.)
11. But if you know what a normal, uncompressed waveform looks like, then you know that the “Some Might Say” one looks like… noise.
12. Or, rather, looks like something incredibly consistent and repetitive and unchanging.
13. Here’s a waveform from a minute of a track from He Poos Clouds by Owen Pallet.
15. Oasis took shoegaze, trance, and added shoutable melodies over the top; it’s almost unstoppable. Or it was.
16. I doubt they did it deliberately.
17. “Clocks” by Coldplay got a trance remix. Not surprising. Because it’s monotonous, physically.
18. wtf is ‘trance’ anyway?!
19. Saw a guy with some Grado SR60s round his neck at the train station. Decent headphones, but they’re open-backed; surely you can’t hear ANYTHING with them on the train?
20. Perhaps that’s why they were round his neck.
21. I fixed my iPod, btw, seemingly by bleeding inside it.

Enough with the silly list. The selections of records that follow signify three things; the records that unsettled me, the records that reassured me, and the records that followed. Which is to say that those in the red corner are the obnoxiously loud ones that I wanted to like, or did like, but couldn’t bring myself to listen to as often as I thought I should, and didn’t know why. But I do now. And those in the blue corner are the records that I came across at about the same time that I could and did listen to loads, and loved, and that suggested to me that there was something intrinsically and quantifiably different between them and the other batch, something that was wrong with the other batch. And then those that came after are the records that I suspect, one way or another, or, in one case, know for sure, have followed my ‘work’, and got things right.

In the red corner

65daysofstatic – One Time For All Time

Embrace – This New Day

Bloc Party – Silent Alarm

Snow Patrol – Final Straw

Mouse On Mars – Radical Connector

Cocteau Twins – Heaven Or Las Vegas (Remastered)

Coldplay – X&Y

M83 – Before The Dawn Heals Us

The Flaming Lips – At War With The Mystics

Queens Of The Stone Age – Songs For The Deaf
Nathan Fake – Drowning In A Sea Of Love

In the blue corner

Guillemots – I Saw Such Things In My Sleep EP

Patrick Wolf – Wind In The Wires

Wilco – Yankee Hotel Foxtrot

Lambchop – Is A Woman

The Open - Statues

Elbow – Leaders Of The Free World

Kate Bush – Aerial

Morphine – Cure For Pain

And the records that have benefited
65daysofstatic – The Destruction of Small Ideas
LCD Soundsystem – Sound of Silver
Ulrich Schnauss – Goodbye
Ash – Twilight of the Innocents
Caribou - Andorra
Six.by Seven - If Symptoms Persist Kill Your Doctor

NB. As the author and God of this blog, I shall amend, update, add to and detract from these lists over the future hours, days, weeks, and months, as other records pop into my mind.

The way the patio door creaks and cracks in the morning when the sun hits it and the heat expands its constituent materials, plastic aching against glazing, metal bending into silicone.

Why does one write?

The nature of this blog may change over the next few months; I am not sure. Work, home, passion; all change.

I say "I've only got twelve months left in me" every year, and I'm still here. I don't think I can stop.

Fuck an Objectivity, part 2 is still planned out in my mind, at least. I’m aware that I often write part ones but that part twos either don’t materialise or else don’t do justice, though.

I don’t hate “nu rave”, btw; I just think the records have been shite so far.

I love a good pair of headphones.

Current listening? Wilderness Survival. Basquiat Strings. Caribou. Two Lone Swordsmen.

Songs of the 50s and early 60s. Oh wait a minute Mr Postman. Mr Sandman bring me a dream. Mr Postman bring me a CD.

A profound sentiment or sentence flitted through my head while I was writing that last bit but has gone now. Maybe I’ll remember it later.


Friday, July 27, 2007

Fuck an Objectivity, part 1

Monday, July 23, 2007

The comments boxes tailcoating Stylus reviews have raised some interesting ideas lately; specifically those for Ian Cohen’s recent Editors review, my New Young Pony Club and Simian Mobile Disco reviews, and Alfred’s Interpol review, all predominantly negative reviews of records that certain sections of Stylus’ readership evidently feel should have received positive reviews.

Firstly, I take direct issue with Stylus reviews “ALWAYS” being the most negative on Metacritic as one reader claimed – for a start this is simply not statistically true or even remotely close, but more importantly than this, if one looks at the relative grade curves for film scores and music scores on Metacritic one will notice very quickly that music scores are massively top-heavy, meaning that the majority of music reviews are far more positive than the majority of film reviews.

Now while I have a much greater interest in music than in film, both personally and professionally, and prefer it as an art form generally, I do not accept that music is a consistently better or more qualitatively effective art form than film – I think across most areas of the arts there is probably a similar distribution of brilliant, good, OK, poor and abominable work, whether that be literature, music, film, painting, sculpture or any other area you care to name. Obviously the subjective nature which governs how we judge art means that this is debatable at best and wildly incomprehensible at worst, but in the scheme of things I don’t think it’s too outrageous to posit that there are proportionally as many great albums as films, as many average albums as films, and as many rubbish albums as films.

If we accept this idea of distribution of quality, then obviously the grade curve for music reviews offered by Metacritic becomes problematic because it suggests that music critics aren’t actually critical, and that many of them are far too happy to praise mediocre or bad art for some reason. Why? Possibly because popular music has never experienced the kind of rigorous academic study which film has, meaning it is still viewed as mere entertainment rather than as art, and anything which entertains must necessarily be good because it is effective, no matter how it entertains. Does the subjectivity which governs our interface with music becomes, in the hands of some critics who strive towards objectivity, a projected solipsism which says “someone might like it, so it can’t be that bad”, rather than “I dislike it, so I shall explain why”?

Unfortunately the tools to really get to grips with a record seem to be hugely underdeveloped in many music writers, possibly because there’s such scant tradition of them being used due to the lack of a proper academic approach to pop music (not that that is the only or best approach); an awful lot of people don’t seem to know how or why a record is bad or good, don’t understand how or why they are reacting to a record the way they are, emotionally, aesthetically, culturally or physically. Sometimes this wrestling with uncertainty can read with great poetry and passion, which is a problem because the mythology that has built up around popular music automatically places emphasis on this approach being the right approach, and then everyone follows this lead regardless of their talent or insight. In most cases this seems to lead to asinine fence-sitting or directionless invective, as many music critics end up over-estimating that which they should be criticising, or else hurling abuse at straw men.

This is to say nothing of the insidious nature of the capitalist music industry, careerist writers, lazy writers, nepotism across the media industry as a whole, or any other of a whole slew of issues which can cause poor music writing. Many people are happy to rewrite a press release and call it a ‘review’, just as many people are happy to compose knee-jerk tirades or ad hominem attacks based on received wisdom, because it’s easier than actually engaging with and thinking about a record.

But let’s be honest; most readers of music reviews don’t want engaged thought anyway, or don’t think they want it. Music journalism is often little more than a glorified catalogue, and often a lot less than that too. Dwindling sales and folding magazines are commonplace on both sides of the Atlantic, and one consistent reaction to this is to cut word counts for reviews – how can one say anything more than “this is OK, if you like that sort of thing” in an 80-word capsule review?

People think they want shortcuts to stuff that they can buy or download that will say or do something about or for their lives. Tumbling sales of physical formats suggest that people aren’t willing to pay for these items and services though, which in turn suggests to me that the effectiveness of these items and services is unacceptable. Which is to say that people get burned by bad music and aren’t willing to take financial or emotional risks in the future in case they get burned again. If reviewers dislike, say, Kaiser Chiefs’ latest album and know they wont listen to it again once they’ve reviewed it, but give it a decent score nevertheless because it’s catchy, fits an aesthetic, and is expected to shift substantial units, and people buy it hoping for more than moronic third-hand tunes, bad production, uninspired arrangements and uncomfortably shouted choruses, then it stands to reason that the trust that a reader has in a writer, in a whole publication, and in the music industry in general, should be eroded.

Which is why I’m glad that Stylus reviews probably do average at a lower score than those of other publications, even if they’re not “ALWAYS” the lowest – I think that a lot of the time the writers here are just being more realistic than those elsewhere. I doubt Ian’s planning on putting on the Editors record for pleasure again anytime soon, anymore than I’m intending to play Yours Truly, Angry Mob or the Simian Mobile Disco album; I think they’re poor, even bad, records, and I got nothing positive from listening to them. In fact, knowing that I’ll never listen to Attack Decay Sustain Release or Kaiser Chiefs again actually suggests to me that I should have been harder on them, even if they do superficially fit some kind of remit of what’s acceptable to praise according to some music fans. (Interestingly, Ricky Wilson from Kaiser Chiefs is interviewed in this month’s GQ magazine and, when asked what the worst thing written about him in a review has been, seems to mention my review in a slightly forlorn manner.)

Which brings me to something else; the idea that Stylus approaches ‘pop’ in a different way to how it approaches ‘indie rock’, and further to that, the question of what ‘pop’ and ‘indie rock’ actually are and how they relate to each other, and further to that, the question of whether Stylus has a wider raison d'être or ulterior motive in its reviews policy.

To answer the last question first, because it’s most succinct; we don’t. We can’t afford one in terms of the time and effort involved in establishing one, as much as anything else.

To answer the other questions, I’m gonna need some more time to ruminate and write. And make curry.


Monday, July 23, 2007

The Thermometer's Guts

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Here’s the 2007 Mercury Music Prize shortlist, announced a couple of hours ago;

Arctic Monkeys – Favourite Worst Nightmare
Dizzee Rascal – Maths and English
The View – Hats Off to the Buskers
Maps – We Can Create
Bat For Lashes – Fur and Gold
Klaxons – Myths Of The Near Future
Jamie T – Panic Prevention
The Young Knives – Voices of Animals and Men
Fionn Regan – The End Of History
Basquiat Strings with Seb Rochford – Basquiat Strings
Amy Winehouse – Back To Black
New Young Pony Club – Fantastic Playroom

From the mouth of Simon Frith, Mercury Panel chair – “This year’s Nationwide Mercury Prize shortlist celebrates a remarkable range of artists who use their albums to tell stories, shape moods, explore emotions and lift the spirits. The list marks the emergence of a wealth of eclectic talent making music with great energy, excitement and personality.”

He’s talking piffle, of course. This year’s selection is as dreadful as any other Mercury shortlist, and actually worse than a fair few. Klaxons? The View? Maps? Jamie T? This interminable favouritism towards debut albums is wrongheaded in the extreme and in danger of making the MMP seem even more silly than it already does; few of the debut-nominated artists from the last five years have gone on to make follow-ups that expand on their debuts (unless we’re talking about literal physical sonic expansion generated by ‘getting Jacknife Lee in’ – hello Bloc Party, Editors), let alone show signs of having a rich, varied and rewarding career.

Interestingly, no one has ever won the Mercury Music Prize twice. A handful of artists have even been nominated two or more times, though, including The Streets, Primal Scream, PJ Harvey, Coldplay, Radiohead, Amy Winehouse and Blur. From that elite cadre only Polly Jean has actually won it, though. This year Arctic Monkeys are already joint favourites with Amy Winehouse according to William Hill, at 4/1; surely if they win twice in a row that fact functions as a damning indictment on the state of either British music in general or the Mercury Music Prize itself? I’m not sure how one could put a positive PR spin on that potential result which does anything other than obsequiously claim that Arctic Monkeys are the best British band ever, and thus deserve these plaudits.

For your delectation, here’s Sick Mouthy’s Alternative Mercury Music Prize Shortlist. (I only actually really like about the first eight or nine of these, by the way – the rest are just things I would have expected to be included. Except Ray Quinn. That’s a joke.)

1. Acoustic Ladyland – Skinny Grin
2. Patrick Wolf – The Magic Position
3. 65daysofstatic – The Destruction Of Small Ideas
4. Electrelane – No Shouts No Calls
5. The Tuss – Rushup Edge
6. The Clientele – God Save The Clientele
7. Two Lone Swordsmen – Wrong Meeting II
8. Working For A Nuclear Free City – WFANFC
9. Jarvis Cocker – Jarvis
10. The Good The Bad & The Queen – TGTB&TQ
11. Simian Mobile Disco – Attack Decay Sustain Release
12. Ray Quinn – Ray Quinn

For your reference, it was actually really hard coming up with even ten British albums from the last 12 months that I’ve liked – had I been able to go back eighteen months it’d have been much easier (Guillemots and Scott Walker would be shoe-ins). There’s probably stuff I’m forgetting without my actual CD collection to peruse, though.

And while I don’t posit my list as a serious host of “why are they excluded?!” records, I am utterly baffled by the absence of #s 1 and 2 in my list from the Mercury’s selection – Acoustic Ladyland in particular would have made a fantastic curveball winner that would end the accusations of ‘tokenistic’ genre picks, quite apart from it being, y’know, awesome.

But enough. There’ll be far too many blog pixels and column inches devoted to this faintly rubbish prize over the next couple of days, with another glut once again in September when the winner is announced.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Some Blue, If You Look Up

Monday, July 16, 2007

Rihanna has been at #1 in the singles chart for nine weeks now with “Umbrella”, equalling Gnarls Barkley’s record for longest #1 this decade when “Crazy” ruled the airwaves last spring. The interesting thing is that while I heard “Crazy” loads, I’ve not even heard “Umbrella” once, to the best of my knowledge.

Part of this may be down to the fact that we got a new car last August, which has both AM radio and a CD player – the car I drove before that had only FM and a cassette deck, which meant I listened to a lot of Radio 1 while driving. These days it’s FiveLive, or sometimes an album, and as a result my handle on what’s in the charts and on the radio at any given time has dissolved almost completely.

The sad thing, if you’re at all inclined to think that it may be sad, is that I don’t really care that my link to the nation’s airwaves has died. Perhaps it’s that this whole ‘war against compression’ has driven me underground, so to speak, in terms of my taste, or maybe it’s just that I’m getting older and being distracted by other matters and thus keeping current with the charts seems like less of a necessity than it used to; circa 2003/2004/2005 I was hiving the charts regularly, both in an effort to be up on everything that was happening musically and also, later on, in order to keep tabs on how Embrace were faring during their comeback, but now…

The last time I listened to Radio 1 was just over a month ago when a friend alerted me that they were going to feature the story about dynamic range compression on Newsbeat that I mentioned a few posts ago. Thinking back, the Newsbeat piece was a haemorrhaged opportunity. In their infinite wisdom, Radio 1 played two versions of an acoustic-based track by a singer-songwriter so memorable that I forget who it was; one compressed, one uncompressed. They sounded, of course, practically identical – either no one in the Newsbeat research team realised that Radio 1 applies insane levels of compression to all its signals pre-broadcast anyway, or they thought it simply didn’t matter. I’ve not tuned in since.

To digress (only not really) for a moment; Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga has been my first contact with Spoon, who despite their profile in the US are utterly anonymous over here, and I’ve enjoyed it thoroughly. Trying to couch why I like the record makes it sound unremarkable though, because it literally just comes down to it being a collection of interesting songs played well; good arrangements, good melodies, good lyrics. I have a slight sense of reservation about it, however, which is down to one thing – “mastered by Howie Weinberg”. Now Weinberg’s not a butcher exactly, but he is fond of making things loud and flat these days, probably mostly due to the requests of people he’s mastered for, who fit snugly for the most part into what one might call ‘leftfield mainstream’ – PJ Harvey, Modest Mouse, White Stripes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Gorillaz, Billy Corgan, Muse; all people with a vested interest in radio and TV rotation.

Now the Spoon album is interesting sonically, firstly because it’s incredibly well-engineered, with tones and timbres of instruments caught beautifully, and also because of the minimalist approach to many of the songs in terms of both composition and arrangement – much of it seems to be one guitar, one piano, bass, drums and a vocal, with occasional touches of brass and the odd overdub or multi-track. As such, you can pump up each of the elements reasonably far without them starting to obscure each other, especially given the way many of the constituent instrumental parts interlink, drums falling into holes left between guitar notes or chords, basslines existing in space between the two, etcetera. Also, there’s an amount of between-song studio chatter, adding to a sense of dynamics even if the songs themselves are mostly pretty consistent – saying that, “The Ghost of You Lingers” is just a piano & vocal arrangement, and is noticeably (and wisely) quieter than the preceding or following songs, adding intimacy. Because of these factors, the absolute volume and flatness thereof isn’t too much of an issue; still, though, the kickdrum occasionally gets lost in a wall of sound, which is disappointing. I hammered Repeater + 3 Songs by Fugazi on Sunday morning, and no matter how loud I pushed it nothing ever got obscured. Likewise the 65daysofstatic album, which grows in stature in my mind every time I play it, and which couldn’t ever be described as sounding out of date, which I imagine is a consideration for many people who pump things too loud at the mixing and mastering stage.

Almost everything I’ve just said about Spoon could also apply to The National, except that their arrangements are generally that bit busier, causing an ounce more disorientation at climactic moments. Boxer is a good record, but compared to Spoon or Menomena I’m not getting nearly as excited about it as everyone else seems to be.

Interestingly, I believe Weinberg mastered both Rid Of Me and Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea by PJ Harvey, some seven years apart. Playing them back-to-back it’s interesting noting the difference between the staggering, frightening dynamic leaps in the title track of the former, and the easy consistency of the latter, which for a long time I’d thought of as the ‘better’ record. Now I’m not so sure. How much did Polly change between 1993 and 2000? I need to investigate Uh Huh Her. I suspect Stories… was partly an exercise in seeing what was possible if Polly unwound and pout some slap on. It worked, clearly.

To get back on track, perhaps… if my tastes are turning away from the mainstream it’s not because I’m after some kind of obscurantist’s cache, not trying to bask in the ennui of elitism; I just want music that’s alive and musical and exciting, that doesn’t exist purely to… well I don’t know. Let’s talk positives rather than negatives. Music that exists for the sake of being music is what I’m after, perhaps; to see what can be done, and to be musical because music is wonderful. Major labels don’t seem to have a clue how to produce or market an album today (look at the Ash album), and neither do the major music retailers (look at HMV’s dwindling profits). Looking at the Prince farrago, artists don’t either – a new album in a tatty card sleeve given away free with a Sunday newspaper that has a reputation for knee-jerk conservative bigotry only marginally lesser than its weekly incarnation is hardly the best artistic move the purple one has ever made, even if it has made him a nice sum of money.

Which is why it’s good that Fopp might survive, or at the least be resurrected, and is why I think that, if the music business is going to make it through this currently unsettling time (look at the Happy Mondays review, linked right), then it’s not going to be the gigantic behemoths that are going to lead the way, but rather the minnows that can change direction and surf the tides. This is nothing that hasn’t been said before, of course, and countless times in countless places. Fopp’s business model, it’s ethos of being slightly left-of-centre, a touch discerning and specialist in its stock, probably bodes well because they’re not underestimating their audience’s intelligence (that much). I’m fed up of walking into HMV or Virgin and not being able to find… anything even slightly out of the ordinary. I’m not even talking esoteric, just simple stuff. If you have The Tuss’ album in stock and sell some, get the EP too. As well as a couple of copies of the new Spoon album, get one each of a smattering of their back catalogue in, in case anyone has their interest piqued to investigate further. Or you could keep dozens of copies of OK Computer in, just in case Q do another ‘100 best albums ever’ issue and any of their readers don’t already own it yet.

Speaking of which… there were two (mid-to-late) teenage boys on the train when I was going home from work the other day, and one of them had an HMV bag which looked to contain a lone compact disc. I had my walkman on so couldn’t hear them, but they were chatting (even though one of them had earphones in). Eventually the one with the HMV bag took out the contents to investigate the sleeve and peel off stickers. The album? OK Computer.


Monday, July 16, 2007

Record Shop Musings

Monday, July 02, 2007

I’ve been involved in a small handful of amusing incidents in record shops over the last week or so; normally I wouldn’t think they were worth writing about but it struck me this morning that actually there might not be many record shops soon, and that I should therefore record these moments for posterity, lest my future children, brainfucked on hypermedia till they have attention only for nanosecond bursts of white noise, ever ask me what it was like to communicate in public with another human being while purchasing music, rather than… whatever it is that they’ll be doing.

First up, I mistakenly bought two copies of the new Queens Of The Stone Age album – I ordered a copy via Amazon one lunchtime, had a phone call from the mortgage advisor shortly afterwards and had to clear out my bank account on surveyor’s fees or searches or suchlike at short notice, so cancelled the order. Or so I thought. The next day, after my dad transferred me some money he owed me, I picked up the QOTSA in HMV for a tenner. A few days later and the Amazon copy arrived.

So a few days further on I took the unplayed copy back to HMV with the receipt, and exchanged it for The Tuss. The assistant manager served me.

“I’d like to swap this for this, please. They’re the same price. I have my receipt.”

“Can I ask if there’s anything wrong with [the Queens Of The Stone Age album]?”

“Well there’s nothing wrong with it per se-”

“I’m not gonna argue with you…”

“- it’s just really badly produced-”

“Oh I agree totally.”

“- too compressed, and apart from a few tracks I can’t listen to it.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“Are you really called Spartacus?”



“I’m lying. I got fed-up on Saturday and wanted to be anonymous, so made myself a Spartacus nametag.”

I felt like asking him if he’d read any articles about compression on the internet, and if he’d heard of notorious internet music journalist and anti-compression campaigner Nick Southall, but, despite him being called Spartacus (however temporarily), I reasoned that he’d probably consider that kind of behaviour to be moderately insane.

Secondly, on Saturday I had some time to kill in town after a haircut (ideally I wanted a Victorinox ‘tomato knife’, but the kitchen shop didn’t have any) and popped into HMV. Despite my better judgement I had a quick look in the dance section to see if, by chance, they had the debut EP by The Tuss from earlier this year, enamoured as I am with the album proper. They didn’t obviously; record shops don’t stock records people want to buy anymore, which is why they’re going bust – more of that later, though.

There was a guy wistfully and worriedly handling a copy of Rushup Edge, obviously completely indecisive about whether to part with his hard-earned £9.95. Having just reviewed it (eyes right), I felt qualified to pass comment.

“That’s very good, by the way.”

“It is?”

“Oh yeah.”

“And is it… really Aphex Twin?”

“I certainly think so. Sounds like him. It’s his publisher and stuff.”

“Thanks. I think I might buy it.”

He seemed very worried about his potential purchase of The Tuss. Even if it isn’t Aphex Twin, Richard D. James isn’t going to come round your house and throw eggs at you and laugh. And besides, it’s good!

But the fact that it may or may not be Aphex Twin probably wasn’t the root cause of the guy’s trepidation. I get the feeling that for a lot of people buying a record in 2007 is a psychologically worrying thing, and I’m not sure why.

[Having been back in HMV today though, I’m pretty sure they had the same amount of copies left as they did on Saturday – suggesting that he didn’t buy it in the end.]

Perhaps (and this is serious wishful thinking) it’s because people suspect subliminally that they’re not going to enjoy their purchase as much as they might have enjoyed records in the past, and that the cause of this is hideous modern production trends.

But that’s not ever going to be the whole story. There’s something, some issue with private cultural investment. Debord would no doubt say something about spectacle, how it’s useless to listen to music unless people see you listening – i.e. with an iPod or at a gig – that people are loathe to invest capital on private cultural goods that work on a non-visual axis. Hence the popularity of DVDs, which people seem to buy as ornaments. The complete triumph of visual culture over… any other culture. Which means music. But how and why has this happened?

Let’s talk record shops again.

Exeter has one each of the two big chains, both on the High Street. Branson’s is due to move into a new shopping centre this autumn, I gather. The other desperately needs new premises, as it is small, cramped, and cannot hold enough stock. My brother used to work there. (Emma used to work in Branson’s.) I regularly play them off against each other for new releases, which I still prefer to get in a shop on day of release.

There is a smattering of independents, too. First up is Martian Records on Gandy Street; formerly second-hand only and a perpetual hangout for Goths and metallers, it now deals in cheap other-territory imports, a la CDWow, plus a huge array of minutely varied black hoodies with words like Rammstein across the chest, piles of cheap DVDs, and a leftover smattering of second hand stuff. I pop in occasionally but rarely pick anything up. The last thing I bought there was the Jarvis album.

Across the road and into the Guildhall centre is Solo. Fifteen months ago I detailed the start of its demise. Things have not got better since; sparse stock of new releases and no replenishment of back catalogue stock has been order of the day as the lower floor prepares for closure, which will just leave upstairs, which previously housed the ticket shop and ‘specialist’ (jazz, country, world, etc) sections. Whether they will become just a specialist shop is unclear; I just hope they lose the clothing, which they appeared to sell none of over the last year and a half, and which must have been a contributory nail to the coffin. In my late teens and early twenties this was my store of choice. The 3 for £20 section used to be terrific.
Somewhere in town (currently Fore Street) is Reckless and/or Reform Records, which changes name and premises often. I think it used to be a dance vinyl specialist; whether it is anymore, I don’t know. I may have bought one album in there, years ago, when it was by Timepiece; I honestly can’t remember.

And then there is MVC, which a year or so ago became Music Zone, and then a few weeks ago started becoming a Fopp – the sign above the door didn’t change, but the stock and all the point-of-sale and merchandising did; even the chip & pin reader said Fopp. Fopp has of course now gone bust, largely due to over-stretching itself in acquiring the bankrupt Music Zone’s stores. Staff were not paid for last month’s work. If the situation is the same at the rest of the chain’s stores, then they are standing unmanned and unlit, but full of stock.

Beyond these ‘dedicated’ record shops, there are or course the usual other places where you can buy the week’s big releases – WHSmith, Woolworths, Tesco, Sainsburys, etc.

I had a vague plan for where this was going, but I’ve lost my mental destination somewhat since I started writing this over the weekend. Essentially the future doesn’t look bright for physical record stores. Even Berwick Street in London has taken a heavy hit in recent months.

Anyway… In other news: I’ve been using earplugs at gigs for quite a while, specifically this kind of thing. Again, if I was as obsessed as I seem, I’d work in something about how everything is too loud, competing for attention, badly recorded, etc., and how if, say, Simian Mobile Disco records actually had real bass frequencies to start with, you wouldn’t need to turn them so loud in a club to get some kick into the bottom-end.

Also, Imogen Millais-Scott, in Ken Russell’s Salome’s Last Dance, looks just like Björk.


Monday, July 02, 2007

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Nick Southall was born in southwest England at the tail end of the 70s, and is the youngest of three brothers. He has a degree in popular culture and philosophy and has written about music for Stylus Magazine, The Guardian and Drowned In Sound, amongst others. He likes red wine, expensive headphones, spicy food, and the Hungarian national football team of the 1950s. His favourite record is the last one he listened to. You can contact him by email via sickmouthy @ gmail dot com should you so wish.

All material copyright Nick Southall 2006/2007/2008

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