I don’t get Record Store day, but here are 3 Indie Records you should buy

I don’t get record store day.

First there are the words in the title. To my English ears the word ‘shop’ is more appropriate than ‘store’, and I have no love of vinyl and no desire to own a record when good quality audio files are an option.

What? You think those are shallow points, hardly worth making? Well it’s my blog and I shall say what I want.

I am all for supporting independent artists. I’m currently getting ready to move house, and in doing so I’ve got rid of a lot of CDs. The ones I’ve kept are, by and large, independent albums. I’ve kept these not because I ever listen to the physical CD – they were all ripped to hard drive once I bought them – but because I value the transaction and the opportunity to support an artist I like.

But shops? Bricks and mortar shops? I can’t stand the things. I have no desire to go out to a special place just to buy things, I have no desire to have to queue up with others, to take the risk that what I want isn’t in stock, to be inconvenienced by those who take up space ‘browsing’ rather than having a definite idea of what they’re going to purchase so they can get in and out very quickly. In short, shops bemuse and annoy me, and just because some of them sell music doesn’t suddenly make them worthwhile.

If you like them, go ahead, no problem, I’m not suggesting we get rid of shops, but I don’t want to bother with them.

Don’t you think that’s needlessly negative? Lots of people do value the chance to browse in a physical space. Lots of people want to support their friendly independent record shop and browse its shelves for interesting and obscure vinyl releases…

Fine, lovely, let them do it, I’m not interested, it seems needlessly out of date and a waste of time to me. Also this obsession with physical things seems a little weird, and there’s just a self-satisfied, pretentious feel to a lot of it. Like people who go to farmers’ markets or buy organic food because they think they’re making an ethical choice rather than trying to say something about their status and class.

Blimey, attacking organic food and farmers markets as well? As if you’re not pretty middle class yourself, with your Guardian and your fluffy liberal views

Shut up. You are essentially me, and I’m buggered if I’m going to spoil another blog post with a mock argument with myself in a lame attempt to be funny. It’s bad enough I just wrote that sentence to preempt any accusations of not being funny. Let’s just get on with something worthwhile…

Right, here are some good indie records:

Let’s Build An Airport – Matt Blick

This Ep, by Matt Blick, is really rather spiffing. He writes a blog on the Beatles and you can really hear the influence here. In a good way. Highlights: [Everything is] Broken with it’s 7/4 rhythm, interesting instrumentation and fantastic chorus and Let’s Build an Airport which is a perfect little pop song.

Ghost – Matt Stevens

This has just been reprinted, so you can go buy it and own it and hold it, which I assume will assuage your weird record fetish. Oddball that you are. I recently described it thus:

‘Ghost used to be my go to album for washing up and visiting the gym, now it’s more likely to accompany me as I fall asleep on trains in the morning. It’s that good (Sorry Matt, that was supposed to sound like an endorsement. It came out kinda mildy sarcastic). Look, buy the album, it’s good. I am being serious.’

Nick Tann – The Vinyl Project

Yeah he’s into vinyl, which as we’ve established, is weird. But 3am is a bloody good song with a chorus that will not leave your head, and the rest of the songs are great too. Well worth it, even if he does like vinyl.

So there are 3 indie records you could/should buy. But don’t go to shops. Shops are full of people, and we all know people are overrated.

Song of the Month – Lines Overheard at a Séance

I thought I’d start highlighting some of my old songs, just to highlight some of the stuff I’m proud of that you might not have heard.

Lines Overheard at a Séance is from my first solo album, Spinning the Compass. I composed it for FAWM 2009 and it was almost entirely improvised, pretty much as you hear it now.

The basic chords, melody and lyrics were written in perhaps twenty minutes. I sat down at the keyboard, chose a suitablyodd chord to begin with, then just started playing.

Lyrically what came to mind as I played – although I subsequently tidied things up for the final version.

Thankfully, when I realised what the title should be, it all made sense.   The words hint at murder and corpses buried in secret, but never spell out exactly what they mean.

I am rather fond of it. And you can download it for free, should you choose.

In Praise of the Album

This is a repost of something I wrote for Comraderobot.com a while ago. I still like albums, so I thought I’d rewrite it and post it here. 

A lot of people have declared the death of the album. So many, there’s even an article on the subject in the Christian Science Monitor (Christians and science? What?).

Personally, I find this distressing because I listen to albums, as albums. I like them! Pearl Jam’s Ten, Mansun’s Six, Bowie’s Outside, Dream Theater’s Awake, Metallica’s Master of Puppets, King Crimson’s Red all of these are amongst my favourite albums, and I have always listened to them as a complete work.

My favourite works of popular music all fit together as roughly forty minutes to an hour’s worth of coherent music. I like them that way, and as an artistic statement, I don’t see that anything’s changed.

Business Case?

I don’t know about the business case, though it seems to me that there are differing views on this. Scott Perry of the New Music Tipsheet says they make financial sense, Bob Lefsetz says they don’t.

But I’m a fan!

What I do know is that there are plenty of us out there, the real music fans, who don’t just listen to the hits. I’ve never listened to music radio, I don’t see what it’s for at all. First you have DJs, as if the concept of someone stupider than me babbling crap between songs could be entertaining, but worst of all you only get the latest single or biggest hit from any given band, invariable with the beginning and ending cut off.

Useless. Pointless. You hear the hook, but it doesn’t hook you in, because we’ve changed to the next song.

The point of the hook is to get you interested enough to put the effort in and discover the larger work. Having a random pop hook stuck in your head, knowing forty such random hooks, is not what being a fan is about. The fan is the person who puts on their headphones, lays on their bed and listening to every note beginning to end, losing themselves in the music. The fan is the person who lets go of seconds and minutes in favour of beats and bars, so that an hour of their time isn’t an hour at all, but a space of time and emotion totally dictated by the music.

I don’t want to do that for a catchy riff and three goes round the chorus. I want the mix of pace, the build, the development of a larger work.

Something very similar happens with the live set. Any musican will tell you that playing live is less about the individual songs and more about the mixture of pace, key and emotion to create a space in time. Albums do that too. I don’t want to lose it, and I don’t see why we should.

Organising principles.

Steven Hodson tells me ‘the majority of musicians still only produce one or two good songs per CD’. CDs have always been full of filler, with countless bands managing a decent single or two, and then hours of crap. Does that invalidate the album as an artistic concept? No more than a bad tv series invalidates the notion of a tv season as an artistic statement. Sure, there are crap albums, I own shelves of them, but I don’t see what that has to do with the artistic merits of the form.

To be fair, the first article I read on the subject only said albums might end as an organising princple, and Steven Hodson in the above article says albums will stay if ‘musicians provide enough value for fans so that they are willing to pay for an album’.

Albums were never the only organising principle. The live concert is an organising principle, as are listener generated ideas like the mixtape and the playlist. I will even grudingly admit that playlists chosen by DJs might be acceptable to some people. And yes, the internet is opening up new possibilities in terms of regular updates, more frequent smaller collections. Even singles have a place for those that like them, though I never have.

Just don’t tell me albums are dead, because I love them, and I’d rather a few more were made.