Michael Toland: Rockin’ Is Ma Business Pt. 3

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And business is good, whether your thing is punk, power pop, garage rock, rockabilly, glam, action rock, and their various spinoffs and offshoots. Our guarantee to you: no Nickelback allowed. Go HERE to read Dr. Denim’s first installment of the series, and HERE for Pt. 2. Above: No, that’s not the Runaways ya dummy – it’s Heavy Tiger, gettin’ ready for some heavy pettin’. (FYI: links to key audio and video tracks follow the main text.)

BY MICHAEL “DENIM” TOLAND

Wyldlife-Digital-Cover

Wyldlife smartly has a boot in two camps. Based in NYC, the band has a firm grounding in the glammy proto punk and roughhewn power pop that emanated from its city back in the ‘70s. When it came time to record its second full-length, however, the group decamped to Atlanta, home of rising pop & roll saviors Biters and their brethren, and the joie de vivre of recording in a sympathetic environment certainly makes its impression. Out On Your Block (Wicked Cool) doesn’t so much veer from one stylistic variation to another so much as cram them together, powering the singalong choruses of “Keepsake” and “Bandita” with the reckless energy of a Mercer Arts Center freakout. The band zooms through the tracks like its members mistook amphetamines for sugar pills in their morning coffee, but never sound out of control – tight but loose in the grand rock & roll tradition. Sounding for all the world like a mind meld of the New York Dolls and the Plimsouls, Out On Your Block reeks with the pure joy of taking smartly crafted tunes and making a big-ass racket.

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Seattle’s Cheap Cassettes apply similar makeup to their boyish faces on their debut LP All Anxious, All the Time (Rum Bar). As leader of the long-gone Dimestore Haloes, frontguy Charles Matthews has a long history of banging out tuneful constructions with bullshit-free flair, and he continues his good work on pleasure-button mashing popsters “Get Low,” “Big Dumb Town” and “My Little Twin.” Maine-to-Spain transplant Kurt Baker adds a bit of Detroit power and L.A. flash to a similar recipe on Shot Through the Heart(Rum Bar), the first full-length from Bullet Proof Lovers. That doesn’t mean power pop hero Baker (joined here by various Spanish r’n’r luminaries) has suddenly gone hard ‘n’ heavy, but it does give “On Overdrive” and “Heart of Stone” a fist-pumping, lighter-waving rush and “All I Want” and “Take It or Leave It” a punky, street rock attack. Unusually for bands like this, the second half of the record is actually stronger than the first.

Heavy Tiger - Glitter - Artwork

With a sly grin and blazing attack, power trio Heavy Tiger blasts out of Stockholm with Glitter (Wild Kingdom). The colorful hooks of ‘70s glam rock entwine with the no-nonsense charge of mid-’70s hard rock, before being violated by late ‘70s punk. Riding Maja Linn’s gritty vocals (not unlike Muffs’ leader Kim Shattuck’s) as much as the big-ass guitars, “I Go For the Cheap Ones” and “Feline Feeling” deliver an irresistible opening one-two punch. But the band keeps the hits a-comin’, whether it’s more burning rockers like “Keeper of the Flame,” rousing glam rock like “Devil May Care” (written for the band by the Ark’s Ola Soma) or loud power pop a la “Starshaped Badge and Gun Shy.” The glitter in the album’s title dusts denim vests and ripped jeans.

ENUFF ZNUFF cl COVER HI

Back in the bad old days of the late ‘80s, glammed-up quartet Enuff Z’nuff got shoved into the hair metal ghetto, which might’ve been fine had the band gotten the same hits and success as its West Coast peers. (Indeed, it’s an association the band has never shunned.) Unlike its mousse-abused pals, though, the Chicago band fell more heavily on the Cheap Trick and Sweet side of the pop metal street than on the Aerosmith/Starz side. Clowns Lounge (Frontiers) has a few squealing guitar solos, but otherwise leans on vocal harmonies, glittery melodies and big power pop hooks. “Rockabye Dreamland” resembles Jellyfish more than Def Leppard, while “Back in Time” and “Radio” sound more like homeboys Urge Overkill than Aerosmith. It hearkens back to the band’s first couple of albums, which is no surprise, given that it consists of songs reworked from the days before EZ’s 1989 debut LP. That means most of the songs feature original vocalist Donnie Vie, which will set OG fans’ rods a-twirl. Then there’s “The Devil of Shakespeare,” which features, as guests, late Warrant singer Jani Lane, Styx guitarist James Young and – as a ringer? – 20/20 co-leader Ron Flynt. Go figure.

Connectioncover

Covers collections usually denote a lack of new material on an artist’s part, regardless of the official line. That said, the Connection has been awfully prolific the past few years and can be forgiven if the urge to hit the studio overtook the effort to write new songs. On Just For Fun! (Rum Bar), the Boston boppers bash through a batch of obvious influences (the Dictators’ “Stay With Me,” Cheap Trick’s “Southern Girls,” Gary Lewis & the Playboys’ “I Can Read Between the Lines,” Dave Edmunds’ “Other Guys Girls”) and left-fielders (George Thorogood’s “Get a Haircut,” the Rolling Stones’ “No Expectations,” Bob Seger’s “Get Out of Denver,” “Streets of Baltimore,” the Harlan Howard song recorded by Bobby Bare and Gram Parsons). The band’s reverence for pre-21st century pop reaches its effervescent apex on a faithfully executed take on Syl Sylvain’s timeless “Teenage News,” its ‘billy and bubblegum delirium right in the Connection’s wheelhouse. A stone hoot, Just For Fun! lives up to its title.

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The Jigsaw Seen draw from many of the same ‘60s and ‘70s touchstones as the Connection, though they’re filtered through such a personal vision that the L.A. act has always sounded unmoored from time itself. That applies even to For the Discriminating Completist (Burger), a collection of singles, EP tracks and alternate mixes of tunes from across the band’s nearly 30-year career. Echoes of the Who, the Creation, the Kinks and the Move resound, but on “Jim is the Devil,” “My Name is Tom” and “Celebrity Interview,” the Seen always sounds most like itself. That applies even to covers of the Bee Gees, Love, Henry Mancini and the Frank Sinatra/Tony Bennett standard “The Best is Yet to Come.”

Stoneage Hearts

The Stoneage Hearts take many of those same influences and beat them with a Nuggets stick, as found on Turn On With (Off the Hip), a reissue of the band’s 2002 debut. The Australian trio’s sugar ‘n’ spice mix of grinning power pop and rough-hewn R&B-flavored garage rock cuts any hint of crap in order to get down to the business of hooks, harmonies and tunes as good as “So Glad (That You’re Gone)” and “Stranded On a Dateless Night.”

LittleMurderscover

Australia’s Little Murders have prowled the Melbourne underground for nearly 30 years in various incarnations. The product of the longest-lived version, Hi-Fab! (Off the Hip) distills the quintet’s virtues – simple melodies, ragged harmonies, a nice mix of jangle and crunch – in 33 minutes of power pop rush. Still led by plainspoken singer/songwriter Rob Griffiths, the Murders sound comfortable and confident on the sprightly “She’s the Real Thing,” sweet “Merry Go Round” and driving “Out of Time.”

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Perth’s Manikins predated Little Murders, evolving out of the Cheap Nasties, one of Australia’s first punk outfits. (The Nasties also gave us international treasure Kim Salmon of the Scientists, Beasts of Bourbon and Surrealists fame.) From Broadway to Blazes (Manufactured Recordings) collects the band’s entire oeuvre, from demos to singles to self-released cassettes, on two slabs of vinyl, and it’s ninety minutes of power pop perfection. The quartet deftly beats the hell out of melodic sweetness like Bruce Lee fighting a cheerleader, making the winsome “Love at Second Sight” (in two versions), the raw “Street Treat,” the brittle “Losing Touch” and the blazing “Girl Friday” sharp lessons in how to do it right. Melbourne’s Baudelaires keep the Australian garage rock wave flowing with Musk Hill (Off the Hip), a psychedelicized take on three chords and a bunch of youthful angst. Alternating thumping rockers like “Scrapbooker” and “Foxglove” with trippier concoctions like “Whet Denim” and “Snapper Steve” (not to mention a quick dip into the surf music pool with “Life’s Too Short For Longboards”), the young quartet puts the roll back in psych rock.

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Manufactured has also taken it upon itself to rescue a couple more early power pop outfits from obscurity. Smart Remarks may have been the house band at the infamous City Gardens in the early ‘80s, but that was as far as the trio’s notoriety ever got. Too bad – the single and EP sides collected on Foreign Fields: 1982-1984 (Manufactured Recordings) are a delight for fans of the form. The band’s new wavey guitar pop reaches catchy potency on the sparkling “Falling Apart (As It Seems)” and “Mary’s Got Her Eye On Me.” New Jersey’s Modulators hail from the same time period, but let ‘60s/’70s roots like the Hollies and the Raspberries show through any new wave colorization on Tomorrow’s Coming (Manufactured Recordings). That 1984 platter was the trio’s sole LP, but here it’s augmented with a ton of demos, singles and unreleased tracks to grow into a 28-track monster of jangly pop glory.

Muffs HBtM

The Muffs’ first two albums are masterclasses on melodipunk, and, while not the runaway successes so many of their peers’ records were, still put the L.A. trio on the map. So what happened with Happy Birthday to Me (Omnivore), the band’s third album? Creatively, nothing – the record is, cut for cut, the Muffs’ strongest, a consistently catchy, beautifully recorded and enthusiastically performed set that should have been the apex of the band’s upward arc. Alas, its then-record company Reprise decided to put their resources elsewhere, and the Muffs were dropped right as the album came out. (Despite this, it has never fallen out of print.) Fortunately, it’s back, all the better to enjoy the spice cake rush of “That Awful Man,” “Outer Space” and “Honeymoon,” the winsome midtempo power pop of “The Best Time Around,” “Keep Holding Me” and “Upside Down,” the 6/8 mania of “All Blue Baby,” the raging snot rock of “Nothing” and the snide country rock (?!) of “Pennywhore.” Plus a rare cover of the Amps’ “Pacer,” a batch of demos and the bandmembers’ informative and entertaining liner notes, including leader Kim Shattuck’s song-by-song commentary.

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British guitarist John Hoyles has, to generally excellent results, toiled in the fields of Swedish rock, slinging strings for prog/doom outfit Witchcraft, boogieing spinoff Troubled Horse and glam/power rockers Spiders. For his solo LP Night Flight (Crusher), however, takes more inspiration from punk and pub rock, with no-nonsense songs and maximum production clarity. Outside of the acid folk of “In the Garden” and overtly psychedelic title track, tunes like “Talking About You,” “Before I Leave” and “Minefield” rock righteously and unselfconsciously. Bonus: a cover of former Pink Fairies guitarist Larry Wallis’ “Police Car” that makes Hoyles’ self-professed love of Stiff Records pretty blatant.

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Mark “Porkchop” Holder did time in both blues punk act Black Diamond Heavies (of which he was a founding member) and in the arms of addiction. Free of both, the singer/slide guitarist returns to his hometown of Chattanooga, TN, for Let It Slide (Alive Naturalsound), a set of rocking blues that could only come from someone who’s lived a life on the underside. As such Holder wastes no time with virtuosity or fancy production – he and his rhythm section just crank it up and get down to business with a clearly articulated focus a lot of cracker blues slingers could use. Holder’s lack of illusions about where he’s been and how he got there power the snarling choogle of “Disappearing” and menacing country rock of “Stranger” as much as his raw bottleneck work, and his plainspoken vocals sell every syllable. Rough-and-tumble rambles through “Stagger Lee” and “Baby Please Don’t Go” also prove Holder knows how irreverently to treat a couple of pieces of well-traveled (read: overused) classics without losing touch with their essential spirit. “I’ve got no one but myself to blame!” he shouts during the titanic “My Black Name,” the song most likely to be his “Jumping Jack Flash.” That lack of sentimentality gives Let It Slide the conviction to put it in a different category than the usual flash blues slop.

Evil Twin

Australia’s Evil Twin also uses the blues as a jumping off point on its debut Broken Blues (Off the Hip). No revivalists, this pair – nor do they pay homage, unintentional or not, to the White Stripes or the Black Keys. Instead guitarist Jared Mattern and drummer Chris Beechey blast off from the music’s 12-bar origins into loud, grungy rock that’s beholden more to bands Dan Auerbach and Jack White don’t listen to – nothing sounds like Zeppelin, in other words. Led more by Mattern’s measured singing than overwhelming instrumental bombast, dirty slide pound like “Look Into My Mind” and the title track, snarling boogie like “Motor City” and soulful power balladry (!) like “Slow Dance” sound fresh and exciting, the way new classic rock should.

POWER LP Jacket

Evil Twin’s country band Power might also argue that the blues is at the heart of its sound, but it’s difficult to tell under the punky crust and general mania on its debut Electric Glitter Boogie (In the Red, though originally released in Australia in 2015; the In The Red LP comes pressed on either red or black vinyl). A deliberate nod to Australia’s legendary hard rock acts Coloured Balls and the Aztecs (names not very familiar to Statesiders, though they might know Aztec leader Billy Thorpe’s later AOR hit “Children of the Sun”), the trio goes over the top with raging riffs, gonzo vocals and an air of barely-contained madness. These boys want to rawk, and when they fire up the wild-eyed boogiepunk of “Slimy’s Chains,” the title track or the band’s eponymous anthem, get with it or get the hell out of the way.

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Hailing from Birmingham, Alabama, Heath Green and the Makeshifters holler back to an earlier era, one when British bands like Humble Pie took soul music into harder rock realms than it was logically prepared for. Luckily, the quartet proves itself far less leadfooted than its predecessors on its self-titled debut LP (Alive Naturalsound). Without throwing any accusations of “authenticity” around, it really seems like coming from the American South gives Green a more natural feel for R&B, gospel and the blues, allowing him to fold his pan-seared shout into the Makeshifters’ hard-rocking crash without having to scream to be heard. The fierce pound of “Living On the Good Side,” chunky shuffle of “Secret Sisters” and sanctified soul of “Ain’t Got God” get the balance between tank and testify just right.

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Tom Baker and the Snakes have been one of Boston’s best-kept secrets for a few years now, but with Lookout Tower (Rum Bar), the quintet makes a national splash. Marrying the plainspoken songcraft of heartland rock, the high voltage power of the Motor City and the ramshackle grace of a party-all-night bar band, the Snakes bash out catchy tunes like “High n’ Tight,” “Make It Hurt” and “Needle in the Red” like the Replacements if they’d listened to more classic rock than punk. Three guitars keep the riffs, hooks and jangles churning, and Baker’s ragged-but-oh-so-right voice delivers the exact dose of vulnerable swagger. If you like your rock & roll to worry less about subgenres and more about just getting to the good stuff, Tom Baker is yer man, man.

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The combination of Detroit rock royalty Deniz Tek (Radio Birdman, the Visitors, his various solo bands) and James Williamson (the Stooges, of course) is so fraught with potential it would be almost impossible for it to live up to expectations. On its debut EP Acoustic K.O. (Leopard Lady), the pair neatly sidesteps the ambitions thrust upon them by delivering an acoustic EP of tunes associated with Williamson’s time with Iggy Pop. Tek’s gruff plainspokenness gives “I Need Somebody” and “Penetration” a note of gravitas, and the duo’s take on “No Sense of Crime” pulls out an obscurity that’s right in their wheelhouse. Oddly, though, the highlight is the Tek-less instrumental “Night Theme,” a mothballed tune that scans like the soundtrack to a crime-and-punishment TV show.

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Check out selected audio and video from the records discussed above:

 

Tom Baker & the Snakes – Lookout Tower Bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/lookout-tower

 

The Baudelaires – Musk Hill Bandcamp:

https://thebaudelaires.bandcamp.com/album/musk-hill

 

Bullet Proof Lovers – Shot Through the Heart Bandcamp:

https://bulletprooflovers.bandcamp.com/album/shot-through-the-heart

 

The Cheap Cassettes – All Anxious, All the Time Bandcamp:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/all-anxious-all-the-time

 

The Connection – Just For Fun:

https://rumbarrecords.bandcamp.com/album/just-for-fun

 

Enuff Z’Nuff – “Dog On a Bone”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wEQr0axc4lI

 

Evil Twin – Broken Blues Bandcamp:

https://eviltwinrock.bandcamp.com/album/broken-blues

 

Heath Green and the Makeshifters – “Ain’t It a Shame”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vo2CELBHB4s

 

Mark Porkchop Holder – “My Black Name”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YS6miti9XHA

 

John Hoyles – “Talking About You”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1_d6jcpFoRk

 

The Jigsaw Seen – “Jim is the Devil”:

https://soundcloud.com/burgerrecords/the-jigsaw-seen-jim-is-the-devil-single-version

 

Little Murders – Hi-Fab! Bandcamp:

https://littlemurders.bandcamp.com/album/hi-fab

 

The Manikins – From Broadway to Blazes Bandcamp:

https://manikinsaustralia.bandcamp.com/album/from-broadway-to-blazes

 

The Modulators – Tomorrow’s Coming Bandcamp:

https://themodulators.bandcamp.com/

 

The Muffs – “Outer Space” (live):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JY1vwFdKq5I

 

Power – “Electric Glitter Boogie”:

https://soundcloud.com/powower/electric-glitter-boogie-1

 

Smart Remarks – Foreign Fields: 1982-1984 Bandcamp:

https://smartremarks.bandcamp.com/

 

Deniz Tek & James Williamson – “Penetration”:

https://soundcloud.com/pavement-pr/penetration

 

Wyldlife – “Contraband”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V4T9BgwCdxU

 

 

THE BLURT JAZZ DESK: 7 Recent Archival Releases

Darin Mercer

For our latest installment, Prof. Kopp takes a look at titles from Omnivore Recordings, Real Gone Music, TCB Music, Resonance Records and Concord Bicycle Music. [Go HERE for previous installments of the Jazz Desk.]

BY BILL KOPP

Bobby Darin & Johnny Mercer – Two of a Kind (Omnivore Recordings)

Founded in 2010, Omnivore Recordings is a boutique label that quickly became renowned for its thoughtful and carefully-curated reissues and archival releases; the release schedule of the Grammy-winning label reflects the impeccable taste of its head, industry veteran Cheryl Pawelski. But this project is something of a left-turn, even for the reliably eclectic Omnivore. A 1961 collaboration between one of music’s top vocalists (Darin) and one of its finest songwriters (Mercer), Two of a Kind is a swingin’ big-band affair. The two men are clearly having the time of their lives as they trade vocal lines, backed by an explosive band conducted by the inimitable Billy May. The set list is dizzyingly varied, featuring originals (“Two of a Kind”), show tunes and jazz classics. In its character, Two of a Kind is not far removed from the camaraderie of Bob Hope/Bing Crosby projects, but with a couple of helluva-lot-better singers. Get yourself a bottle of rye, some sweet vermouth; mix up some Manhattans, and sit back and enjoy this seemingly effortless musical summit.

Babs Ellington

Alice Babs & Duke Ellington – Serenade to Sweden (Real Gone Music)

Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington wasn’t just one of the 20th century’s most important composers and bandleaders; he was one of the era’s most prolific artists. His big-band work is the best-known part of his catalog, but it represents a mere fraction of his prodigious output. This 1966 album finds Ellington conducting an orchestra while Alice Babs – Sweden’s most popular singer of that era – plays the part of siren. Her ability to tackle the highest notes without betraying the slightest trace of effort is a hallmark of her work, and her deliciously clear vocal enunciation is beguiling. Some of the tunes focus on a smaller instrumental ensemble, while others make full use of the big orchestra. But the focus is always squarely on Babs’ superbly nimble (but never showy) vocals. Until this, its first-ever CD-era reissue, Serenade to Sweden was among the rarest and hard-to-find items in the catalog of either artist; Real Gone Music’s reissue features flawless remastering from Aaron Kannowski, and informative liner notes form jazz authority Scott Yanow.

Rollins Silver

Sonny Rollins Trio & Horace Silver Quartet – Zurich 1959 (TCB Music)

The latest entry in TCB’s “Swiss Radio Days” Jazz Series, Zurich 1959 highlights one set each from Rollins’ trio (with Henry Grimes on bass, and drummer Pete La Roca) and pianist Silver’s quintet (Blue Mitchell on trumpet, tenor saxophonist Junior Cook, bassist Gene Taylor and the inimitable Louis Hayes on drums), recorded at Radio Studio Zurich on March 5, 1959. The sound is superb – those postwar Europeans demonstrated a keen skill at recording jazz – and it should go without saying that both bands perform beautifully. Rollins’ group turns in lovely, uptempo readings of standard including “I Remember You,” and Rollins’ original tune, “Oleo.” Silver’s quintet is exotic and assured on five originals from its bandleader. All the players are on fire, but Mitchell and Hayes are perhaps even a notch or two above their band mates on this blowing sessions.

Three Sounds

The Three Sounds – Groovin’ Hard: Live At The Penthouse 1964-1968 (Resonance Records)

The title of this set is perhaps a tad misleading: while Gene Harris, bassist Andy Simpkins and – depending on the track – Bill Dowdy, Kalil Madi or Carl Burnett on drums play with skill, finesse and power, this set leans more toward assured understatement than fiery soul-jazz readings. The Three Sounds were together 1956-73, and these archival recordings date from the middle-period (and arguably creative height) of the group, 1964-68. As was often the case, the trio’s sound was best documented live in front of an audience, and this collection – curated by Zev Feldman, perhaps current day’s most important jazz archivist – is no exception. The interplay between the players borders on the telepathic; the music is at once loose and free yet meticulously arranged. Without a doubt, the highlight of this stellar set is “Blue Genes,” with Harris’ deft piano work at its center.

Pepper

Art Pepper Presents “West Coast Sessions!” Volume 1: Sonny Stitt (Omnivore Recordings)

Art Pepper Presents “West Coast Sessions!” Volume 2: Pete Jolly (Omnivore Recordings)

The estate of alto and tenor saxophonist Art Pepper is responsible for bringing these long-unheard recordings back to light. Led by Pepper’s widow Laurie, and working with Omnivore, a series of the man’s sessions are receiving thoughtful reissue in the 21st century. These volumes are perhaps the most intriguing of what’s come out of the project so far: dates recorded in and around 1980, but featuring players from 1950s jazz. Happily, there’s absolutely nothing “80s” about these sessions other than their recording date. Because Pepper was under contract to Atlantic at the time, these recordings – originally issued on the small Atlas label – don’t feature him as official bandleader, but make no mistake: he’s in charge. The Stitt sessions are spread across two discs, and bring together recordings originally released on three separate albums, adding three previously unheard tracks. The Pete Jolly sessions are a single-disc set, and feature two alternate takes of Pepper’s original “Y.I. Blues.” Booklets include not only short essays from Laurie Pepper, but also diagrams depicting the studio instrument setup for the recordings. Both sets are essential for fans of 1950s jazz.

Evans

The Bill Evans Trio – On a Monday Evening (Concord Bicycle Music)

Bill Evans was one of the most distinctive pianists in all of music; his command of the keyboard was such that to the untrained listener, his sound seemed to be that of two different musicians. His left and right hand often seemed to operate completely separate from one another, yet they were always musically connected. The revered pianist was at his best in the context of a trio, and this 1976 recording captures him onstage with drummer Eliot Zigmund and longtime associate Eddie Gomez on upright bass. The monaural recording made at Madison, Wisconsin’s Union Theatre has never been bootlegged, so this vinyl (and CD, and digital) release marks its debut. Typical of an Evans set, the album is a mixture of originals and readings of contemporary tunes. The sound is superb, the performances are flawless, and the vinyl edition is pressed on 180g and comes in a sturdy gatefold sleeve.

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Bill Kopp is the Blurt Jazz Desk editor. You can bug him directly at his most excellent music blog, Musoscribe.

 

 

Tim Hinely: For The Love of Zines! (Pt.6)

Zines 1

This is what the world looked like before WordPress, punks. And it was a more vibrant, exuberantly tactile world, too. Our resident fanzine expert Tim “Dagger” Hinely weighs in.

BY TIM “DAGGER” HINELY

Print is still alive and well and here’s some rags to prove it! (See Part 5 of this series elsewhere on the Blurt site.) Fall is here, which mean that the baseball season is slowly coming to its conclusion, so with that in mind….

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8-Track Mind (#103.1) It had been a few years since San Franciscan (via Chicago) Russ Forster had slapped together a new ish of 8TM. It’s a half-sized rag that’s 40 pages, but it’s quality over quantity here, folks. This ish goes way back over 20 years where he’s writing about the salad days (“Echoes from the Glory Days” as the cover says). The So Wrong They’re Right tour (from 1995). Yeah, it’s a tour diary and instead of contributors he has a “names dropped” column. Pure genius! Get yours now from russelforster@hotmail.com

The Big Takeover (#79) If editor Jack Rabid hits issue one hundred I wanna be there for that party. Like clockwork, every June and December comes Jack’s long-running mag (not sure how many times I’ve called it “long running” but it’s a lot). This time around it’s Lush (cover stars…and unfortunately already broken up, again) Belly, Luna, The Descendents, Eagulls, Kid Congo (part 2), Cheetah Chrome and lots of more including short takes and a holy ton of reviews. For the real deal you need to subscribe. 146 pages. www.bigtakeover.com

Casting Couch (#5), Miranda Fisher just keeps cranking out her zine, Casting Couch out of her humble abode in Austin, TX. She’s up to her 5th issue and in this one are interviews with Counter Intuits, Wet Ones, Trampoline Team and Rik & the Pigs plus reviews and the usual much She’s even included a few pin ups this issue but I can’t tell you who they are (don’t wana spoil the surprise.All that and more and everything for you, dear reader. . castingcouchzine@gmail.com

Razorcake (#96) This long-running Los Angeles-based punk zine has been at it for a long time now, sorta picking up where Flipside left off. They’re staunchly independent and at $4 per issue you get lots of bang for your buck. This time around is Pedal Strike, Fur Coats, Sharkpact (ok, have not heard of those three band) plus a punks guide to rap music. In additon there’s plenty of columns and a bucketload of reviews too. Subscribe, it’s way worth it (in other words, dive in and don’t come back up unless you really need some air). www.razorcake.org

Ugly Things (#43) Nothing can slow Mike Stax and his staff down on pumping out issues of Ugly Things. And I mean nothing (hey, Mike’s even a dad). He also told me that they are now publishing three times per year (whoah!). In this latest issue are pieces on Crime (!!!!), Bent Wind, Things to Come, The Turtles, Music Machine and more plus reviews of all formats (records, cds, dvds, books etc.) and at 146 pages it equals that of the latest issue of the Big Takeover (see above). Thick. www.ugly-things.com

Vulcher (#2) Yes! Vulcher #2 came out and it rules more heavily than the debut (believe it). Eddie Flowers, Kelsey Simpson and “Sonic” Sam Murphy are still runing the show here with a mega long list of contributors (including yours truly). It’s a throwback to music mags of the 70’a with all kinda gunk crammed everywhere. Pieces on/by Coley, Meltzer, Bangs, Goner Records, Jan & Dean and way too much more. I said it last time and I’ll say it again, It’s packed to the gills and excellent. Write Eddie for a copy (or die tryin’) at slippytown@gmail.com

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Don’t forget Dagger zine, kids.

 

Michael Toland: Throwing Horns Pt.666.10

 

opeth

Hard rock! Stoner metal! Crustcore! Psychedelia! Grunge! Thrash! Skronk! Black metal! Trash punk! Bad boy boogie! (huh?) Smell the glove and make the sign of the umlaut, kids, it’s the seventh installment in our latest genre study, with Metallica, Opeth (pictured above), Helmet, Sodom, Wretch, Brain Tentacle, and more. Go here to read the first episode, Pt. 666.1, here for Pt. 666.2, here for Pt. 666.3, here for Pt. 666.4, here for Pt. 666.5, here for 666.6, here for 666.7 , here for 666.8 and here for 666.9—if you dare. Incidentally, following the album and band blurbs are links to audio and video, so check ’em out.

BY METAL MIKE TOLAND

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When Metallica releases an album – something that’s become an oddly rare occurrence in the past couple of decades – it’s an event. The San Fran band is such a major player in its genre – arguably the most important act in metal still in full flower – that the quality of the music is almost beside the point. Fortunately, Hardwired…to Self-Destruct (Blackened) finds the nearly 40-year-old band closer to its original mojo than it’s been since the early 90s – maybe even the late 80s. The quartet has made no secret of its desire to revisit the whipcrack thrash it pioneered in the mid-80s – members have filled interviews with assurances of a return to their original sound, and recent shows have relied almost solely on its Reagan-era repertoire. Unsurprisingly for an album with such high expectations, the results are mixed. Much of the record takes the heavier tracks on the massively successful and still controversial Black Album as core inspiration – anyone expecting Master of Puppets II will be disappointed. Plus a lot of the lyrics are seriously dire – the chorus of “Hardwired” (“We’re so fucked/Shit out of luck/Hardwired to self-destruct”) would embarrass a 12-year-old. And James Hetfield’s mighty voice is starting to sound thin on a few tracks – on “Dream No More,” he’s nearly unrecognizable. But when the band locks in on what it does best – the raised-fist power metal of “Atlas, Rise!,” the hatchet prog metal of “Confusion,” the neckbreaking attack of “Spit Out the Bone,” “Moth Into Flame” and even “Hardwired” – with all the power, precision and, most significantly, enthusiasm of their younger selves, all the carping falls away in a haze of headbanging and air guitar. Hardwired…to Self-Destruct may not be the new masterpiece most of us were hoping for, but it’s absolutely the best Metallica record in a quarter of a century. TRACK: Metallica – “Moth Into Flame”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tdKl-gTpZg

 

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Instrumental metal usually takes the form of either prog-like epics or shredfests designed to let the musicians show off. Philadelphia’s Dysrhythmia can certainly be accused of the latter, as the trio is made up of virtuoso technicians who can play nearly anything. But on The Veil of Control (Profound Lore), the band’s eighth LP, guitarist Kevin Hufnagel, bassist Colin Marston and drummer Jeff Eber use their powers for good. Taking cues from jazz in their interplay and punk rock in their elevation of intensity over technique, Dysrhythmia grab hold of riffs that are complex more in feel than in form and don’t let go, driving them to levels of power and tension that takes telepathic reciprocity and a lot of time in the practice space. Anyone looking for insanely complex solos worthy of Guitar Face may need to go elsewhere – Dysrhythmia’s compositional smarts and interwoven musicianship creates a space where solos aren’t needed to make the songs compelling. TRACK: Dysrhythmia – Veil of Control Bandcamp: https://profoundlorerecords.bandcamp.com/album/the-veil-of-control

 

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More overtly referencing jazz fusion than Dysrhythmia, Animals As Leaders takes similar influences to different places on The Madness of Many (Sumerian), the D.C. trio’s fourth album. Eight-string guitarists Tobin Abasi and Javier Reyes are quite capable of soloing with GIT-soaked abandon, but are more interested in textures than technique. The axemen’s string slashes – which contribute both bass and guitar tones – clash in a way that creates polyrhythms with drummer Matt Garstka, and a subtle funk undercurrent keeps the tracks percolating. TRACK: Animals As Leaders – “Inner Assassins”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LEYt2GtfQJk

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Drawing on different inspiration than its fellow trios, Russian Circles eschews solo-happy arrangements and just goes for the jugular on Guidance (Sargent House), the Chicago band’s sixth record. Guitarist Mike Sullivan, bassist Brian Cook and drummer Dave Turncrantz ride a fine line between doom metal and post rock, infusing the soaring dynamics of the latter with the power chord chug and thundering crunch of the former. TRACK: Sodom – “Caligula”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nI6GXnBPDuQ&feature=youtu.be

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Ottawa quartet The Night Watch adds prog rock sweep to its second record Boundaries (self-released). Guitarist Nathanael Larochette and violinist Evan Runge – both also of equally wordless experimental act Musk Ox – balance power chords and soaring string lines over the course of one 36-minute tune that never loses steam. TRACK: The Night Watch – Boundaries Bandcamp: https://thenightwatch.bandcamp.com/

 

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Veteran Seattle black metal duo Inquisition has endured its fair share of bad press lately, due to accusations of Nazism. (Which seems unlikely, given this decidedly non-Aryan act hails originally from Colombia.) While denying all charges, guitarist/vocalist Dagon and drummer Incubus spit out Bloodshed Across the Empyrean Altar Beyond the Celestial Zenith (Season of Mist). The title alone indicates more interest in high-falutin Luciferian fooferaw than National Socialism, and Dagon’s guttural rumble makes meaning hard to discern in any case. In truth, the band’s passion is for grinding but catchy riffs and blastbeat rhythms that conjure up that most rare of demons in black metal: a groove. (All the more impressive given the lack of bass.) “The Flames of Infinite Blackness Before Creation” and “Through the Divine Spirit of Satan a Glorious Universe is Known” don’t court controversy so much as headbanging glory. TRACK: Inquisition – “Power From the Center of the Cosmic Black Spiral”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5C-W3Tq-zgM

 

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Also no stranger to controversy, Norway’s legendary Darkthrone returns with its sixteenth LP Arctic Thunder (Peaceville). Singer/guitarist/bassist Nocturno Culto and drummer/lyricist Fenriz forgo the usual chaotic blast beats for a powerhouse marriage of blackened extreme metal and NWOBHM riffery. “Tundra Leech,” “Boreal Fiends” (which ends with a synth solo!) and “Deep Lae Trespass” sound, a quarter of a century after the band released its first album, less like black metal classicism and more like classic metal. TRACK: Darkthrone – “Tundra Leech”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lwz7gucE7x0

 

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German headbanger vet Sodom also make a big return with Decision Day (Steamhammer/SPV), the trio’s 15th record, released 30 years after its debut. The band’s blackened thrash is as teeth-gnashingly powerful as ever, blazing through ugly anthems “Rolling Thunder,” “Vaginal Born Evil” and “Caligula” with nasty (and faintly ridiculous) intent. What else would you expect from a group whose singer is called Tom Angelripper? TRACK: Sodom – “Caligula”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nI6GXnBPDuQ&feature=youtu.be

 

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Witchery keep the Satanic vibe rolling on In His Infernal Majesty’s Service (Century Media), the long-running Swedish ensemble’s sixth LP. The quintet has always blended its bloody black metal with other styles (particularly thrash and power metal) for an evil brew that appeals to more than just the corpsepainted crowd. The powerhouse whipcrack of “Netherworld Emperor” sidles up to the blastbeat explosion of “The Burning of Salem,” both of which contrast with the heads-down stampede of “Zoroast” and the straight-up anthemry of “Oath Breaker.” Good headbanging fodder whether you worship Lucifer or not. TRACK: Witchery- “Oath Breaker”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DMBynqpUzdE

 

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Norway’s In the Woods… never bothered with all that Satan stuff, finding its eerie weirdness inside its own collective head. Pure (Debemur Morti Productions), the innovative band’s first album in 17 years, keeps the menacing atmosphere of darkness, but skips most of the other BM signifiers. Exchanging blastbeats and vampire-on-crack singing for sweeping minor-key melodies and a gruff baritone, ItW uses its black metal roots as foundation for moody progressive anthems “Blue Oceans (Rise Like a War)” and the massive “Transmission KRS.” TRACK: In the Woods… – “Blue Oceans Rise (Like a War)”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iY0nBdumDr0

 

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The Gates of Slumber waved the flag for old-fashioned doom metal for over a decade, before the departure and subsequent death of bassist Jason McCash put a period on the end of that sentence. But guitarist/singer Karl Simon isn’t done laying down the thundering riffgroove just yet, picking up exactly where he left off with Wretch, named for TGoS’s final LP. The trio’s self-titled debut (Bad Omen) floweth over with deep sludgy grooves, lava-thick guitar waves and Simon’s plainspokenly gruff ruminations on “Grey Cast Mourning,” “Winter” and “Running Out of Days.” No psychedelic excursions, blackened atmospheres or noise dynamics here – just pure doom done well – better, possibly, than anyone else treading the boards not named Tony Iommi. Check out “Icebound” for a near-perfect encapsulation of everything doom is all about. TRACK: Wretch – s/t Bandcamp: https://badomenrecords.bandcamp.com/album/wretch

 

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Combining progressive rock melodics, death metal aggression and doom crunch, Vancouver’s Anciients blast to life on sophomore LP Voice of the Void (Season of Mist). Alternating carnivorous roars with keening croons, sweeping tunesmithery with thunderous riffology and soaring majesty with grimy brutality, the quartet lifts you up to heaven, only to drag you back through hell, usually within the same song. As such, the band is at its best on longer pieces where it can really flex its considerable muscle – “Worshipper” and “Ibex Eye” are particularly good examples. TRACK: Anciients – “Ibex Eye”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dFJaeVS8L00

 

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Veteran Swedes Dark Tranquility skip the doom part of the equation, but aren’t a million miles away from prog metal on eleventh LP Atoma (Century Media). The band’s sense of majestic melody informs tracks like “Neutrality,” “When the World Screams” and “Encircled” – it’s just one clean vocal away from a radio-ready anthem. TRACK: Dark Tranquility – “Forward Momentum”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=suhuQlYZwtE

 

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Pioneering avant metal act Neurosis lets enough years go between releases that any new album is a big deal. Fires Within Fires (Neurot), the influential Oakland quintet’s twelfth album and first in four years, serves as a thirtieth anniversary record, and a summing up of the group’s long career to date. Over the course of five long tracks, Neurosis takes a journey through noise and silence, chaos and order, alternating high volume and maximum crunch with delicate beauty and near-ambient intonation. Guitarists Scott Kelly and Steve Von Till interweave steely webs of thorny latticework before crashing into wall-shaking thunder; drummer Jason Roeder modulates the dynamics while still keeping to the crunge. Keyboardist Noah Landis and bassist Dave Edwardson fill out the sound without drawing attention. As vocalists, Kelly and Von Till evoke the album title in their performances, calling up a harsh passion undiminished in their three decades around the metal block. “A Shadow Memory” and “Fire is the End Lesson” present masterclasses in how to manipulate sturm und drang without becoming tiresome, while the awesome closing epic “Reach” is a summary of everything that makes Neurosis great. TRACK: Neurosis – Fires Within Fires Bandcamp: https://neurosis.bandcamp.com/album/fires-within-fires

 

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Every time we think NYC alt.metal icon Helmet has finally given up the ghost, we’re proven wrong. Since its reactivation in the early ‘aughts, Page Hamilton likes to take his time between records and tours, so the confusion is understandable. Six years since the underwhelming Seeing Eye Dog, Hamilton and co. return with Dead To the World (earMUSIC), Helmet’s eighth LP. The guitarist’s voice has gotten rougher over the years – indeed, he’s almost unrecognizable to his former mellifluous yet harsh singing self. Otherwise, though, the song remains the same – growling riffs, grungy melodies, noisy guitar breaks, the occasional unusual lick or chord progression to remind us of Hamilton’s jazz training. “Bad News,” “Life or Death” and “Expect the World” likely won’t change the minds of the unconverted, but fans will feel a familiar warm and steely buzz. TRACK: Helmet – “Bad News”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TkFMvststF0

 

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On their last album Clean., Whores. seemed just too angry and spiteful to live. But rage can keeps the blood pumping, as on the band’s follow-up Gold. (eOne). The Atlanta trio pummels its riffs with barbwire-wrapped baseball bats, while guitarist Christian Lembach rants and raves about whatever’s pissing him off at the moment. Same old same old, especially in the noise rawk world, but Whores. (spellcheck loves that period!) definitely possess that certain spark that elevates them above mere Unsane clonery. Maybe it’s because, like Unsane, Wrong and the other heads-above distortion mongers, Whores. writes real songs – “Baby Teeth,” “Mental Illness as Mating Ritual” and “Bloody Like the Day You Were Born” would hold up if they were being played by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Fortunately, they’re not. TRACK: Whores. – “Baby Teeth”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AqPVISe4jhI

 

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If metal musicians are playing, is the result still metal? Hard to say, given how many active headbangers like to make goth rock, postpunk, prog, noise rock and various electronic and ambient musics. Case in point: Brain Tentacles, the membership of which includes dudes from Municipal Waste, Keelhaul and Yakuza. The trio’s self-titled LP (Relapse) plays smash ‘n’ grab with elements of free jazz, riff punk, noise rock and thrash for a gleefully frenzied tornado of sonic ass-whuppery. Bruce Lamont’s growling sax leads the charge, dragging bass guitar, drums and occasional synth waves and vocal expulsions in its wake with a chain. Four-stringer Aaron Dallison sometimes challenges Lamont and even threatens to win, but ultimately goes back to his corner, while drummer Dave Witte just keeps his head down and bashes away. “Sleestack Lightning,” “Fruitcake” and “The Sadist” are exciting and goofy and overwrought and brilliant all at once. Exactly what you want from a band called Brain Tentacles. TRACK: Brain Tentacles – s/t Bandcamp: https://braintentacles.bandcamp.com/

 

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Opeth hasn’t really been metal in several years at this point, ever since excising its death metal side with 2011’s Heritage. While the Stockholm quintet still hasn’t rediscovered the magic that made Blackwater Park and Watershed so distinctive and compelling, it gets closer with every post-Watershed album, as latest Sorceress (Nuclear Blast) shows. “Era” and “Will O’ the Wisp” mix progressive rock and psychedelia like there’s no difference betwixt them (is there?), while the Middle Eastern melodies of “The Seventh Sojourn” give the album a different flavor. “Chrysalis” and the title track also remind that Opeth still knows how to rock when required. Sorceress is this metal royalty’s best non-metal album so far. TRACK: Opeth – “Sorceress”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LhqijfqecvA

 

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Opeth’s countrymen Witchcraft have followed a similar path from headbanging to headscratching, though starting from 70s doom rather than 80s death metal. Time (Nuclear Blast), Witchcraft leader Magnus Pelander’s first solo album, falls even further from the metal tree, its apple rolling off into fields of lite prog and acid folk. Given how stripped down these tracks are – mostly just acoustic guitar and voice – the nearly nine- and ten-minute lengths of “True Colour” and “Precious Swan” seem excessive. But Pelander’s melodic instincts serve him as well here as they do in his main band, keeping him out of trouble. TRACK: Pelander – “The Irony of Man”: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UXF7Y_QOV5g

 

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Similarly, Sweden never seems to tire of the heavy classic rock groove, as it spits out bands of that ilk like watermelon seeds. Örebros quartet Captain Crimson is the latest to cross over to domestic shores, via its third album Remind (Small Stone). The band sports a fairly traditional (if you can say that about this music) melodic blues rock sound – songs like “Money” and the title track sound familiar even if you’ve never heard them before. But singer Stefan Lillhager boasts a charismatic tenor and guitarist Andreas Eriksson knows when to let riff and when to let rip. “Black Rose” and “Drifting” score big on both counts. TRACK: Captain Crimson – Remind Bandcamp: https://smallstone.bandcamp.com/album/remind

 

Fred Mills: What’s So Funny ‘bout Peace, Love, and Overstreaming?

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Musicians hate the royalty structure of online streaming services, which are clearly reaping financial rewards while artists are being ripped off; meanwhile, fans, though potentially conflicted, love those services’ ability to deliver tunes, albums, and artists “on demand,” anytime, anyplace. Is there a middle ground?

BY FRED MILLS

Recently I was engaged in an online discussion about streaming music, and as a number of the respondents are musicians, you can imagine how more than a few of them came down on the side of the anti-Spotify crowd because the royalty rates for streaming plays are so miniscule. The discussion grew from quote by Pete Townshend that musician/label person Pat Thomas posted:

“I’m a user of Spotify,” admits Townshend, “so I feel like a complete hypocrite when I say ‘I think the guy that runs it is probably a f*cking crook’. Take me to court. I was reading about some artist who had 450,000 plays and he got a check for [almost nothing]. It doesn’t make any sense.” There’s also a recent article in The Guardian that adds some perspective to this, “Music Streaming Hailed as Industry’s Saviour as Labels Enjoy Profit Surge.”

Comments came fast and furious. Among them:

Steve Wynn: I love it as a music fan, hate it as a musician. But it makes sense to embrace the former over the latter, y’know?

Bill Janovitz: I’m with you Steve. I pay for premium Spotify but would be glad to play at least twice the $10 a month if I knew more was going to the artists. As an artist and an optimist, I subscribe to the notion that there will be more upside from streaming, each spin bringing at least some money, in perpetuity, as opposed to records, CDs, used ones in particular, being bought once. The real truth of the matter is few recording artists made royalties from sales of their records. If we were lucky, we got good enough advances that never recouped. Many times, this streaming discussion fails to take artist/label contracts into account.

Pat Thomas: As someone (me) who works for several different labels – I’m NOT seeing the upside to streaming at all. “Our” profits (indie-labels I’m speaking about) have gone down….

Paul Kimble : The streaming services are bad enough, but then you have Youtube, where you can listen to anything you want to, for free, instantly. It’s literally nothing more than institutionalized piracy. It’s only going to get worse with the incoming administration…if that’s even possible. GLB has over 10 million plays on Spotify alone, for only 10 songs, I’ve never seen a penny. /shrug. Heads on sticks times, I’m old and don’t have much to lose.

Stan Denski: I love Youtube and the instant availability of stuff. The major trend in the 21st Century is ACCESS over OWNERSHIP. Most of my younger friends don’t understand the idea of a CD or DVD “collection.” Ask them “What Kubrick films do you have?” and there’s a pause and then “…um… all of them?” And there’s nothing inherently evil about pressing a button on a phone or computer to play a film or song, and nothing righteous and “natural” about pushing a button on a CD or DVD player to play it. Personally I am tired of having “collections.” They are millstones carved in the shapes of albatross.

 Kristian Hoffman : You may be shocked that an absolute nobody like me has these numbers, but I have had over 1 million plays of songs I wrote on Youtube – that’s right – over one million. And have never been paid anything because I didn’t post them personally, and I don’t run around taking every single other post of my music down.

 Bob Martin : While I agree with the sentiment, I don’t think folks are looking at this the right way. 450,000 plays, when radio was actually the driving force, would be 450,000 listens. That’s one spin of the record in two major markets. Consider the number of ears. The difference now is that you can listen when you want instead of having to wait. AND you don’t have to listen to things you don’t want to hear.
Let’s do the math really quickly. A hit record in the 60s, for instance, might get played twice an hour all day long. So, that’s 48 plays a day. In a major market, that’d be, depending on size of market, that could be 100,000 people hearing it each time. So, that’s a possibility of 4.8 million listens in a single market… Considering that there are at least 20 major markets in the USA, that’s 96 million listens a day, just in major markets.
NOW… each time a radio station played the song, they owed, for lack of a better argument (but it was a lot less), ten cents to BMI/ASCAP, etc. From that, the record company got, say, nine cents. The artist got one or two cents. So, let’s be generous and say two cents. SO… for each radio station playing his record 48 times a day, the artist would get 96 cents. That’s 96 cents for 4.8 million potential listens. Or… 0.00000002 per listen, per radio station…
People tend to forget just how many ears got to hear music for a very small amount of money. Of course it added up over time, and then there were record sales on top of it. But, 450,000 plays isn’t even a day’s worth of listeners in a single city from the radio days….

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Those are just a small few who weighed in. As I responded myself: Streaming’s a topic that I’ve been interested in for some time, and I have to say, I tend to fall on the “music fan” side of the equation, as Steve Wynn put it, so some of what I’m going to say here may be taken as anti-artist. It’s not intended to be, however. I’m not a musician myself, so perhaps I’m not entitled to presume anything on musician’s parts. In addition to being a fan and collector, I’m also a writer who just “happens” to be the recipient of (cough) free music sent to me by labels, publicists, and fellow music heads. I don’t take any of it for granted, either, and when I want something I didn’t get in the mail, I go out and buy it. Particularly when we’re talking vinyl, I try to order direct from the artist or label if possible; for example, I ordered the Southern Culture on the Skids blue wax LP from the gang even though I had already received the CD as a promo. Like I said, though, I’m pretty damn blessed with all the gratis music, so either through my own (so-called) writing or by publishing my fellow scribes’ reviews at Blurt, I try to repay the generosity as much as possible by helping to get the word out about the artists and the records.

I’m also a lapsed taper of concerts, and I’m militantly pro-bootleg as well precisely because I am a music fan who wants to hear more from my favorite artists than just the official releases. You can probably guess that I subscribe to the theory that, rather than bootlegs cannibalizing sales, they help turn fans into superfans who will in turn go out to the shows, buy merch, etc. I should stress that, other than live shows, I was never a file sharer during the Napster era and I do believe that piracy – which is different from bootlegging – is wrong and that it rips off the artists. I can say truthfully that I have never uploaded an album to the internet other than to transfer digital files to one of my writers who wanted to write a review for us.

Now what does all that have to do with streaming? A lot, actually. Bill Janovitz hinted at one aspect of this – that at least streaming generates SOMETHING in the way of income, as opposed to illicit file-sharing – which is basically what the streaming model replaced because it’s way easier than downloading. Piracy not only generated no income for the artist, it theoretically took money away from artists when it meant someone was getting an album for free off the internet that he might otherwise have gone out and purchased. In fact, for me, streaming has become my go-to means of previewing some new music prior to purchasing it. Two perfect examples: I streamed the new A Tribe Called Quest album when it hit Spotify, and subsequently put in an order for the album that finally dropped last week. And just recently I streamed the new Run The Jewels album (could have downloaded it as well) and immediately went to their site and ordered the super-duper 4LP version; it will hit in the spring, so in the meantime I can enjoy RTJ via Spotify, while the band can bank my preorder dough.

You can see where I’m going with this: Spotify, YouTube, Soundcloud and their ilk ARE the new radio – a means by which to be exposed to new music, which typically I listen to at the office where I work and in the car, since I can play my CDs and LPs at home. I’ll add, too, that I am fortunate to be able to tap those audio resources and indirectly promote artists at the Blurt website by posting tracks to accompany our reviews and stories about those artists. Obviously there’s no metric to determine if my posting tracks translates into actual record sales, but I would like to think it has the potential to do so.

I can certainly sympathize with Kristian Hoffman and his YouTube plight here. Ditto all the artists who have seen the math and realized that they’re getting paid next to zip even after a zillion spins. The streaming royalty rates need to be adjusted because the artists are not being compensated adequately. (I will avoid touching on the other issue regarding streaming: whether or not the owners of streaming services are getting rich from them.) It’s all a matter of perspective, which is why I found Bob Martin’s calculations above – traditional radio plays versus streaming plays, and how many ears actually get to hear any given song – pretty enlightening, as it reinforces my contention that streaming is an excellent means by which an artist can get heard in an era where the chances of actually landing on radio are remote. Is it a fair tradeoff? By that I mean, is the knowledge that you are in fact reaching a listenership but still feel moderately ripped off sufficient to just grin and bear it and accept the new paradigm? Or should one stick to one’s guns and remain a purist while knowing that you are not going to be played on the actual radio (and therefore be heard by no one)? All debatable, but it’s definitely an aspect of the argument that must be considered.

And as I previously noted, once someone has been turned on to new music and becomes a fan of the artist, he or she can often turn into a superfan who feels very strongly about supporting the artist by purchasing records, merch, and concert tickets – or maybe even contributing to a Kickstarter campaign.

Ultimately, I think that if the argument is boiled down to intellectual property and the right of a musician to earn a decent living from that intellectual property, it oversimplifies or even ignores part of the dynamic, in that just because an artist has written a song he wants to be paid for performing, that doesn’t mean anyone is actually going to pay him (i.e., buy the album or the ticket). You have the right to create and own your music, but that right doesn’t guarantee that you will be able to turn that song into income. Most consumers want assurance up front that they are going to enjoy hearing that song, and in 2016, streaming seems to be the most efficient way of initially getting the tune in front of the public.

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Coda: Posting one final note was Rob Cullivan who detailed the following: “Giant Panda Guerrilla Dub Squad, which started out playing clubs in Rochester in the 1990s and then became one of the bigger reggae acts nationally, were asked how they survived, and their answer was simple. Never play for free (benefits excluded, of course). But too many bands undersell themselves at so many levels. I can see taking a few free gigs early, but once you’ve established your name, never play for free again. And paying someone else so you can tour with them? No way, that’s just silly. I get that musicians want to be heard through Spotify, but to me it just seems you get lost in a sea of other songs. I think it’s better to get 10,000 paying fans than one million listeners who don’t support you.”

I pondered Cullivan’s additional first person objection to – and valid extrapolation from similar arguments about – streaming services. To which I responded:  That’s a valid point, yeah. I guess what I’m thinking is, first you have to convert those 10,000 potential fans, and there’s so much white noise these days that you have to reach them through the media they use rather than just sit back and wait for them to find you. Let’s say I read about a new band, or perhaps hear the tail end of a song on the local college station: to be able to pop over to Spotify or YouTube instantly and listen to their record is incredibly gratifying and in the immediacy of that initial rush I may even be convinced I should go buy the record. It’s the digital equivalent of being turned on to a band while wandering around the record store. (Let it be known that I have worked in stores three times, early 80s, throughout the 90s, and from 2012-2015, so I am devoutly pro brick and mortar. But that doesn’t mean I don’t accept digital for what it represents to a lot of folks, and to ignore that is to lose a significant percentage of potential fans. I use similar logic when I tell bands they need to release on digital, cd AND vinyl if they can afford it.)

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In the week or so since this original discussion unfolded, I’ve seen several more of similar tenor. Working musicians, almost across the board, tend to fall into the anti-Spotify/streaming camp; I’d be interested to see actual royalty statements from a multiplicity of those folks, not only to give me a clearer picture of their objections, but to bolster the contention (which is also mine, do not mistake me here) that the powers that be need to take a hard look at what fair compensation for our artists should be. Historically, they have been ripped off to a ridiculous degree. I also feel, though, that in 2017, in a lot of instances, lower-radar artists are getting their music heard on a heretofore unprecedented level, with each fresh listen representing an opportunity for a new sale. Admittedly, that’s a bit of a crapshoot, but still… 1% of something is better than 0% of nothing. (Not trying to be facile here.)

I’d also like to see a broader understanding among the general public about what it means to be a fan, consumer, and collector of popular music. Because the music industry has ripped us off as well—just Google terms like “$10.98 list price,” “Napster,” “rootkit,” “RIAA lawsuits,” and my favorite, “Green Day sets list price for new CDs at $18.98,” among many—and it may be time for we fans and you artists to pool our resources and find a new way of doing business together going forward.

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Fred Mills is the editor of BLURT magazine and Blurtonline.com. He receives a shitload of music in the mail each month for free, and he also buys nearly as much each month because he believes in supporting his favorite artists. He has the record store receipts to prove it. What’s in YOUR wallet?

Tim Hinely: FOR THE LOVE OF ZINES! (PT. 5)

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This is what the world looked like before WordPress, punks. And it was a more vibrant, exuberantly tactile world, too. Our resident fanzine expert Tim “Dagger” Hinely weighs in.

BY TIM “DAGGER” HINELY

Print is still alive and well and here’s some rags to prove it! (See Part 4 of this series elsewhere on the Blurt site.) Fall is here, which mean that the baseball season is slowly coming to its conclusion, so with that in mind….

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Zisk (#27) I have to start off every review of Zisk by stating that it is “The baseball magazine for people who hate baseball magazines.” Mike and Steve will never quit. Ever (and we hope they never do). This ish includes Mighty Joe Young! The all-time World Series team, some serious hate for Roger Clemens and much more. Come on man, don’t we all hate Clemens? For that alone you need this. www.ziskmagazine.com

Vulcher (#1) Long-time Los Angeles based writer Eddie Flowers has dusted off his old mag and restarted it again. He and his pal Kelsey Simpson have gathered up a gang of folks to put a new spin on a classic old rag. You might not hear Eddie’s name in the same breath as Bangs or Meltzer but it should be: During his early days in Indianapolis, he was a member of now-legendary punk band The Gizmos and part of the creative team that gave the world the mighty fanzine and record label Gulcher—hence the ‘zine title here. He’s got a hard-working crew of writers (including yours truly) that rivals that of Bull Tongue (see below). It’s packed to the gills and excellent. Write Eddie for a copy at slippytown@gmail.com

The Big Takeover (#78) Speaking of someone who nevers quits (and we hope he doesn’t) is Jack Rabid, editor of this long-running mag. It started off 100 years ago as one piece of paper and now has grown into a nice, glossy mag covering the gamut of punk and indie rock. In this ish is Savages (cover stars) plus other interviews with John Doe, The Thermals, Tanya Donnelly, Kid Congo, Lemmy (RIP), Great Lakes, La Sera, and more interviews also hundreds of reviews and much more. Lotsa bang for your buck. 152 pages. www.bigtakeover.com

Bull Tongue Review (#5) Byron Coley and his motley crew of writers just keep on keeping on with this thick monster (close to 80 pages). You get reviews of whatever the writers feel like writing about and with a lineup like this you’ve gotta be tuning in: Gregg Turner, Tom Lax, Michael Hurley, Eddie Flowers, Thurston Moore, Bruce Russell, Richard Meltzer and too many others. Tune in, turn on and get intoxicated (on these writings). www.bulltonguereview.com

Casting Couch (#4), Miranda Fisher hails from Austin, TX, and seems to be soaking up all that fair city has to offer. Fuck the high rents and overpriced lattes, she’d rather head down to Beerland and catch a band then write about it (I’m assuming here). Casting Couch isn’t all Austin though. In here she’s got pieces on Lavender Flu, La Misma, Golden Pelicans, Crazy Spirit plus reviews and a lot more. The Golden Pelicans even pose for a color pinup on the back cover, hell, this is issue is worth it for that alone! castingcouchzine@gmail.com

Dynamite Hemorrhage (#3) San Franciscan Jay Hinman used to do the punk-garage zine Superdope. He then got married, had a kid and settled down, if just a bit. Well he came roarin’ back a few years ago with DH #1 and now he’s up to issue #3 and it’s spectacular. It’s a perfect mix of old and new, olde as the Velvet Underground are on the cover plus a piece on old San Fran band World of Pooh, but he also scribbles about new bands, too. White Fence, Unit 4, Sara Fancy and others. Plus there’s reviews, pics and it looks beautiful (bound with a full-color cover). www.dynamitehemorrhage.com

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Exploitation Retrospect (#52) Editor Dan Taylor used to do an awesome food zine called the Hungover Gourmet but I had no idea he’d been doing this rag on obscure films. I guess he’s been doing E.R for like thirty years or more, so it was a pleasant surprise to see this one. Anyway, this is a bound, digest-sized rag that calls itself “the journal of junk culture & fringe media.” Inside this ish is WAVE Productions, Nikkatsu Erotic Films, novels and movies featuring The Destroyer and plus reviews and a lot more. One issue and you’ll be hooked. www.dantenet.com

Fuckin’ Ziggurat (#1) This zine is put out by the folks behind the Emotional Response record label but mostly done by Stewart Anderson and this zine come with a 17-track cd as well. In this ish is Bobby Carlson, Ginnels, Primitive Calculators, Quaaludes and others plus no reviews but plenty o’ comics! It’s all bound up in a zine that slightly bigger than a half-sized one. On the cd are the names listed above plus Bing and Bob, Tangible Excitement, Croque Madame, Wanda Junes, etc. Dig into the zine, the CD and the label. Go! www.jenandstew.com

Incremental Decrepitude (#4) Done by Mr. Dave Brushback who is no stranger to the zine scene having previously done zines like Run It and Brushback as well as others. This one is pocket-sized and is all record, zine and live shows reviews except for the interview with Bonus McGinty. Dave only made a handful of these but write to him anyway and see if he has any left (if not he probably has a new zine in the works anyway). Rock_in_my_shoes@yahoo.com

 

HALLELUJAH: The Blurt Leonard Cohen Files

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Saying farewell to the Bard via a collection of our Cohen coverage from over the years.

By Fred Mills

With the passing of Leonard Cohen this week (Nov. 7, at the age of 82), the inevitable deluge of tributes followed. Which is as it should be, of course. Intriguingly, it was a story on Cohen published shortly before his death that has taken on a remarkable resonance: While promoting his recent album You Want It Darker (you can find a link listen to it here or on Spotify), Cohen did an interview with David Remnick of The New Yorker in which he commented, regarding how he was viewing life at the time, “The big change is the proximity to death. I’ve got some work to do… take care of business. I am ready to die. I hope it’s not too uncomfortable.”

Whether uncannily prescient or simply making an semi-oblique reference to some personal details he was already aware of, it’s a quote that I suspect will linger whenever people talk about the man, his life, his work, and of course his death.

As with most music magazines, BLURT has covered Leonard Cohen many times over the years (we’ve been around since mid-2008). So I thought it would be appropriate to compile some of the more relevant pieces here; included are reviews and meditations, plus a very special interview with Cohen that originally appeared in the pages of our predecessor, Harp. Check them out, and I hope you’ll honor the memory of Cohen as well.

***

lc-by-scott-weinerHOW THE LIGHT GETS IN, by A.D. Amorosi
(Photo from the Beacon concert by Scott Weiner.)

Ed. note: In 2005 Cohen sued his former manager for having misappropriated more than $5 million from him, and this eventually led the singer to start touring again in order to generate income. He did so fairly extensively between 2008 and 2010, and I was fortunate enough to see Cohen live in Asheville, NC, in 2009; it remains one of my brightest memories of my recent musical life. Cohen also performed on that tour in Manhattan for the first time since 1993, at the storied Beacon Theater. Contributing Editor A.D. Amorosi was fortunate enough to attend, and he penned a deeply insightful review of the concert for us.

“It was profound and religious, plain and simple,” wrote Amorosi. “We were watching him cradle his microphone while occasionally kneeling before a grand flamenco-folk-smooth-jazz ensemble and oddly-sunny background vocalists, all who played elegantly precise waves of wonder so that Cohen could croon-chat in a mummy-lizard-like voice his stories of sensually tempered interludes, un-flowered romance and crushed-ice apocalypses…”

Go HERE to read the complete review.

***

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THE BARD ON THE WIRE, by Steven Rosen

 Ed. note: With the newfound touring regimen also came a number of new and archival releases for Cohen, among them a trifecta of DVDs: Bird on the Wire (a 1972 world tour; released by MVD Visual), Songs From the Road (the 2008-2009 world tour; Columbia/Legacy), and Leonard Cohen’s Lonesome Heroes (a documentary-style examination of the songwriter’s influences featuring selected performances and interviews; Chrome Dreams). Contributing Editor Steven Rosen stepped up to the plate and concluded that, while each DVD took a different approach in its appreciation of Cohen, they all worked quite nicely together whether you’re a longtime fan or a novice to his oeuvre.

Wrote Rosen, “Taken altogether (but not quite as a de facto trilogy), these DVDs further establish Leonard Cohen as one of the preeminent bards of his generation. Not that anyone needed to be reminded of that fact, of course, but it’s reassuring to know that successive generations will also have these aural and visual documents available for consultation, edification and inspiration.”

Go HERE to read the complete review.

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THE COMPLETE STUDIO ALBUMS COLLECTION, by Ron Hart

Ed. note: In 2011, Columbia/Legacy released a limited edition 11-CD box set of remastered editions of Cohen’s 1968-2004 output: Songs of (1968), Songs from a Room (1969), Songs of Love & Hate (1971), New Skin for the Old Ceremony (1974), Death of a Ladies Man (1977), Recent Songs (1979), Various Positions (1984), I’m Your Man (1988), the Future (1992), Ten New Songs (2001) and Dear Heather (2004). Pretty irresistible, and the CDs were nicely packaged in mini-LP sleeves housed in a smartly-designed box. Contributor Ron Hart was impressed, to say the least:

“This exhaustive overhaul of his historic body of work, warts and all, is without question well worth the dive into the expansive artistic sprawl of North America’s premier ‘Chief Apocalyptist’ as he enjoys his 77th year on this planet.”

Go HERE to read the complete review.

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HOLY (WHOLLY) EXISTENTIAL SENSUALIST, by A.D. Amorosi

Ed. note: In January of 2012 Cohen, clearly energized from all the activity of the past few years, released his 12th studio album to huge acclaim; it even landed in the Billboard top 10 albums. A.D. Amorosi, our resident Cohen acolyte (well, technically, we all are), once again did the deed, tackling the record with his trademark passion, concluding that it was Cohen’s best album, period.

“Old Ideas,” he observed, “has a sort-of devilishness about it, in that it’s an exaltation and an assault on Cohen’s sacred/profane intellectualism. There is forgiveness. And then some… Vision – his old ideas, the best ideas – is what guides Cohen in matters of sexuality, decay and renewal, always has in what’s become a philosophical decretum. If a holy existential sensualist is required, Leonard Cohen alone fills that niche… Song for song, sound for sound, lyrical point for point, [it is also] most certainly the best album of 2012.”

Go HERE to read the complete review.

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EVERYBODY KNOWS, by Fred Mills

It’s fascinating to note that prior to Cohen’s latterday “comeback” there hadn’t been too many books published about him. That has certainly changed, with notable additions to any self-respecting Cohen fan’s bookshelf being Sylvie Simmons’ definitive 2013 bio I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen, Alan Light’s more narrow-focused book, also from 2013, The Holy or the Broken: Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and the Unlikely Ascent of “Hallelujah” , Liel Leibovitz’ 2015 musical analysis A Broken Hallelujah: Rock and Roll, Redemption, and the Life of Leonard Cohen, and a 2015 anthology, edited by Jeff Burger, called Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen: Interviews and Encounters (Musicians in Their Own Words)—not to mention several collections of Cohen’s poetry. Then there was Everybody Knows, published in late 2014 by esteemed music book publisher Backbeat and written by the equally esteemed journalist and author Harvey Kubernik. Rich in photos, many of them rare or previously unseen, and arranged as an oral history along an annotated time-line plus the author’s connective narrative, the coffeetable book is not only quite handsome, it’s a solid reference work. As I put it, “one could easily use this as a primary source when researching specific details and events of Cohen’s life.”

Of additional note: “Kubernik skillfully avoids the key pitfalls that plague most oral histories; his aforementioned connecting text includes notes on his respondents so the reader understands their significance and relevance, while the aforementioned time-line structure proves to be the book’s greatest strength in terms of providing a real sense of the arc of Cohen’s career.”

Go HERE to read the complete review.

***

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HE’S YOUR MAN, by Gillian G. Gaar

Ed. note: I have semi-saved the best for last, and technically, this isn’t even a Cohen piece published by BLURT. It did, however, appear in Harp magazine, in 2007, and I was responsible for assigning, coordinating, and editing it. (Harp essentially morphed into BLURT following the former’s abrupt demise and bankruptcy in 2008, with the main members of the Harp editorial staff resuming operations again within a few months. I retained copies of all editorial content I had overseen, as well as PDFs of pre-publication pages.) Since most of the magazine’s content has basically disappeared into the ether—the archives were lost after the Harp website was shut down—and there are not even any copyright owners, I just hope that all the individual writers have taken the initiative and archived their own material for posterity, because there was a lot a great writing in the publication.

Such as the one at hand, by Harp contributor (and occasional BLURT contributor) Gillian G. Gaar, a Seattle-based journalist and author of numerous books. “He’s Your Man” originally appeared in the June 2007 issue of Harp, and at the time it was one of only a handful of interviews Cohen was doing; we were pretty proud that he had approved our request, and I knew instinctively that Gaar would be perfect to do the interview. It was enthusiastically received, and we even had a number of inquiries from overseas about obtaining copies of the magazine—definitely one of the projects from my Harp tenure that I’m deeply proud to be associated with.

Gaar was able to subsequently republish the piece in the aforementioned Leonard Cohen on Leonard Cohen anthology of writings, and it’s one of the book’s standouts. Introducing her story for the book, Gaar recalled being contacted by yours truly and being offered the chance to be flown to L.A., squired around by the record label, and spending a good amount of time with Cohen and then-paramour Anjani Thomas to talk about his upcoming reissues and her Cohen-produced album.

There’s a telling passage in the article, one which essentially forecast the flurry of Cohen activity that would unexpectedly unfold starting the next year. Wrote Gaar, “Those anxious for Cohen to record his own work again should be pleased to learn that the film’s concert sequences have inspired him to consider touring in support of his next album, tentatively set for release later this year. ‘Yes, yes,’ he confirms. ‘I haven’t been out since ’93. The years went by and I thought ‘I’ll never go out again.’ But every so often you do have that itch. You’ve heard that saying in rock ‘n’ roll, they don’t pay you to sing, they pay you to travel. But you forget about that stuff. The actual concerts are always compelling. If you’ve got good musicians, and you’re playing, and people know the songs, and they want to hear them live, it is a wonderful thing. And so I’m drawn to that.’”

Indeed he was. And we, his public, have been all the richer for it.

Go HERE to read the entire original Harp interview.

 

Tim Hinely: 15 Questions For… Darla Records’ James Agren

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And… here’s the fifth installment in the BLURT series in which we profile cool independent record labels. What are the criteria for inclusion in the “cool” category? Hey, ’cos we say they are cool, that’s what! We’re making the rules around here, kids. Keep your eyes peeled for the next installment, coming soon, and meanwhile, go HERE for entry #1 (Slumberland Records), HERE for #2 (12XU), HERE for #3 (Saint Marie), HERE for #4 (Trouble In Mind), HERE for #5 (Fort Lowell), and HERE for #6 (Chunklet). (Below: 2008 photo of the Darla Recs staff; go HERE to read the Detour magazine article it originally appeared in.)

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BY TIM HINELY

On the web: http://darla.com/ / https://www.facebook.com/Darla-Records-58278349712/

When did the label form/ what was your original inspiration?

August, 1993 when I received a DAT tape master from Grifters. “Holmes” b/w “Junkie Blood” with cover art by Grifter, Trip Lamkins. I absolutely loved this band. Still do. I asked to do a 7″ single because they were unique and strong enough to stand apart. The single was released October, 1993. I’d intended to do my own label since 1985 (age 22) when a friend who worked at Virgin said, “Y’know what you should do? You love music so much. You should work in the music business.” A light bulb literally went on at that moment. Like duh. Of course. Before that it may have occurred to me abstractly but it was her suggestion that literally set me in motion. I just wanted to learn as many aspects of the business as I could first. So, I was the Energizer Bunny on the path then. KUSF, I-Beam, BMG, RCA, Geffen then Darla. I have always had my head immersed music and surfing. When I was 13 I’d skateboard around Laguna Beach garage sales on Saturday morning, buy records for .10 cent to .25 cents, then skate with an armload downtown to The Record Shed and trade in or sell (what I didn’t want to keep) for $1.00 or more. I started building my collection then and learning. On day the owner, Sam, asked me if I knew how to make change and left me with the cash register drawer open because we didn’t have time to learn me how to work it and split for lunch for more than a half hour. I worked for Sam at The Record Shed on weekends that Summer. What I do now is a natural extension of that first start. I should have been a professional surfer though!

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Who designed your logo? Do you only have one?

I did it myself – freehand with pen and ink. Appropriation was big in the early 90s y’know. The primary Darla logo has elements of two classic American labels from the golden age of stereo, lovingly appropriated. The spiky frame is from the Jubilee Records logo. The D is from the Dot Records logo. There’s a secondary logo, which we haven’t used as much in the past 10 years – the Darla girl in the little black dress dancing on a record. She’s appropriated from the Hula Records logo where she has on a grass skirt, lei and hibiscus. I just changed her clothes. I love classic record label logos.

What was your first release?

Grifters – “Holmes” b/w “Junkie Blood” 7″ (Darla: DRL001).

Were there any label(s) that inspired you to want to release records?

Oh yes. So, many. Capitol, RCA, Editions EG, Rough Trade, Beggars Banquet, 4AD, Factory, Creation, KLF Communications, Touch & Go, Sub Pop, Merge, Matador, TeenBeat, Simple Machines, Kranky, SST, Dangerhouse, Posh Boy, Frontier, Slash, Alternative Tentacles, GNP Crescendo. Endless list y’know.

If there is one band, current or present, you could release a record by who
would it be?

Neil Young. I’d love to work for soul daddy. The Beatles and Neil Young are my top two all-time favorites. Fela Kuti if he were still with us.

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What has been your best seller to date?

My Morning Jacket – At Dawn (Darla: DRL111) by miles, however, Darla does have a strong, active catalog of over 300 titles now.

Are you a recording/touring musician yourself, and if so, do you use your
label as an outlet for getting your stuff out to the public?

No, however, I do have a concept album in mind to make one day…

Does your label use and/or have a presence on any of the social media sites?

Oh yes. Every day. Required now y’know.

Is the Southern California/San Diego music community supportive of the
label?

Yes. Amoeba is good about stocking titles! Our #1 distribution partner AEC is in Irvine and they seriously are the best ever. Whenever I meet local music people they share stories about their favorite releases on the label & etc., however, we’ve always looked globally more than locally. We didn’t emerge with a roster of local talent exclusively. We are supported locally but California-wide as we began in San Francisco and still have strong ties there (Sweet Trip and MCM And The Monster), then moved to Sacramento where we have a ton of good friends we don’t see enough (Holiday Flyer, The California Oranges, The Sinking Ships, Avaleya and the Glitterhawks). And in LA: Lowlights, San Diego: Maquiladora, Tijuana: Static Discos, Fax. So, that’s the big picture locally speaking…

Have digital sales been significant or nominal?

Very, very significant. More significant since digital overtook physical by a hair in Spring, 2015. Digital sales have grown steadily since while physical sales continue to shrink, for everybody.

Has there actually been a vinyl resurgence the past few years?

Yes, however, we still see more CD sales by far. Mucho mas.

What is your personal favorite format to release music?

CD. Reasonable profit margin. Practical.

What new(er) labels these days have captured your attention?

Serein, Carpe Sonum, American Laundromat, Saint Marie, Elefant, Les Disques du Crepuscule, Orange Twin, Factory Benelux, Deep Space Recordings, Essence Music, Seksound, 12k, Aloha Got Soul… Always someone new.

Do you accept unsolicited demos?

Yes. Every day.

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What releases are upcoming?

Corky Carroll – Blue Mango CD/DD. Corky is my hero. The California sound with a core crew of stars in their own right who’ve been his band for decades. So stoked on this project.

MCM And The Monster 2xCD/DD. San Francisco’s ultimate party band (80s/90s) retrospective including the demos and an unreleased third album.

Peyton Pinkerton – Rapid Cycler CD/DD. Guitarist/songwriter from New Radiant Storm King, Pernice Brothers.

Momus – Scobberlotchers CD/DD. It’s actually on his own American Patchwork label manufactured and distributed by Darla. Nick Currie’s perspective/world view/filter is my absolute favorite of all artists today.

In closing…

The label is me and Chandra Tobey, my wife and partner of 26 years. I couldn’t do all that we do alone and it is A LOT. In addition to the label we provide physical and digital distribution service to over 150 labels. We manage a digital catalog of over 15,000 songs. We provide publishing administration for a small handful of Darla artists. Chandra does all the bookkeeping, accounting, receivables/payables. I do the creative and marketing. As physical distribution declines for all, I look forward to focusing more on the label as I enjoy that part most of all.

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Fred Mills: One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Pleasure

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Ye Olde Blurte Editore reflects on his 1987-92 musical romp across the Charlotte, NC, skyline…

BY FRED MILLS

Sweet memes are made of this: I recently met a fellow North Carolinian who, it turns out, was living in Charlotte during part of the same time I lived there. We apparently did not know each other, but we did have a mutual friend, photographer Don “Bongo” Swan, who passed away in 1995, so it was natural to share stories with one another. Don was loved by pretty much everybody in Charlotte, and I had the good fortune of working with him on numerous occasions in my capacity as Music Editor for alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. The conversation left me feeling more than a tad nostalgic, so I did a search online and found a story I wrote for the Loaf in 1997 to mark the paper’s 10th anniversary. Rereading it now, a lot of memories came back, including plenty of Don. He took the photo pictured above, in case you were wondering, of my editor John Grooms, the Domino’s pizza noid, and me as we took part in an attempt to land the Guinness Book record for “most guitarists playing ‘Louie Louie’ at the same time,” go figure. (Somewhere in my files I also have the original image that Don gave me. I need to get that framed.) So at the risk of seeming hopelessly self-indulgent, I thought I’d republish the article here for posterity. Let me just add – this one’s for you, Bongo.

***

Rock through the first five years

Charlotte music from 1987-1992

If, as historians advise us, eras have their defining moments, then so, too, do smaller periods contain their own seeds of identity and character.

Looking back at the first five years of Creative Loafing, during which I served as the paper’s music editor, I get the sense that there were a number of “defining moments.” Viewed as separate points on a time line or as linked incidents on a continuum that has now stretched to 10 years (and counting), these moments do seem to paint CL in a myriad of hues and shadings. Put metaphorically, if Charlotte’s daily newspaper is black and white (and, like the musty joke adds, “read all over”), then this city’s alternative weekly is as colorful and rich in depth as a Hockney painting. And at times, suitable for framing.

One such event that will always represent, to me at least, what CL — as an alternative to the mainstream — was all about transpired in January of 1990. For weeks Charlotte had been fudging its undies over Tom Cruise and the filming of Days Of Thunder at the Speedway. The Observer in particular was a lighter shade of brown at the time, logging the star’s real and imagined movements around town as if he were Mother Teresa touring local leprosy wards. Imagine the chagrin, then, of the daily paper when we reported from the front lines and even buttonholed Cruise for an exclusive interview.

Seems that the Belmont Playboys got the wrap party gig, and the band smuggled me in as their roadie. I duly reported the arrival of Robert Duvall, Johnny Cash, June Carter Cash, Waylon Jennings and Jessi Colter, not to mention the impromptu jam session involving the Playboys and the Duvall entourage (Cash was particularly smitten by the band’s version of his “Rock & Roll Ruby”). More importantly, and sensing my duty as a journalist, I engaged Tom Cruise for our “exclusive interview.” The entire interview went thusly: “What did you think of the Playboys, Tom?” “Man, they were rockin’!”

Yessir, Creative Loafing (not to mention its worldly music critic) had finally arrived into high society. Of course, we had to come through the back door with the servants and hired help, but still …

Damn. Time flies. Here it is, seven years later, and I’m browsing a Tucson record hole when I spot a CD called Wolf Patrol by none other than my ad hoc employer, the Belmont Playboys!

Even though talent naturally rises, it’s hard not to feel like CL had at least a small hand in boosting the band’s career. One of our prime directives from the git-go was “support local music.” Before our first issue was published in April of ’87, editor John Grooms and I had lengthy discussions over what role the paper should play with regards to the area’s music scene. It had always rubbed both of us the wrong way that the media powers-that-be (including Charlotte’s candy-ass radio stations) tended to treat local bands with the same kind of embarrassed condescension usually reserved for that eccentric, flamboyant relative who turns up tipsy and in a feather boa at the family reunion. To that end, we set out to champion our rock ‘n’ roll underground — what the hell, let’s crash the party and get drunk with the rest of the freaks! — and challenge the rest of the populace to keep up with us.

A poorly kept secret around the Loafing office is that Break, the entertainment tab started up in 1987 by the Observer in order to complete directly with CL for advertising revenue (let’s face it, it sure wasn’t for prestige), tried to hire me as a music writer. As the editrix schmoozed me over instant coffee and stale donuts, I inquired as to the level of music coverage Break had in mind.

“There’s a Billy Joel show coming next month to the Coliseum. I think our readers would enjoy a 750 word profile on the man.”

When I mentioned that Antiseen and Fetchin Bones had gigs coming up too, I was met with a blank look. ‘Nuff said.

I’ll admit it, we were as arrogant as we were hip. Case in point: taking it upon ourselves to paint Charlotte’s Springfest celebration in its true colors — a crashing bore or a yuppie circle jerk — we proceeded to muscle a local rock and blues stage into the annual goings-on for a couple of years. When Springfest organizers tried to water down our efforts, we opted out entirely and put on our own Nightfest (the name we judiciously picked over “Counterfest” and “Screw You Springfest”) in ’90, staging bands after sundown in three clubs during Springfest weekend. The idea seemed to fly despite some territorial pissing among competing club owners (don’t ask), so in ’91 we put the call out en masse and wound up with three nights, seven clubs and 27 local acts. The entire spectrum of Charlotte talent was showcased: folk, blues, heavy metal, alternative, punk, psychedelic, etc.

And whether or not any of the bands and performers went on to bigger and better things isn’t the point — what matters is that someone was taking local talent seriously, not as minor league players. (You want serious? Seven months later CL threw its weight behind striking members of the Charlotte Symphony Orchestra and helped put together a fundraiser for the out-of-work musicians. The sight of our beloved Spongetones onstage, backed by seven string and three horn players, as they played a dead-on set of Beatles songs was one of the best Christmas presents we ever received.)

Nowadays, of course, judging by the club ads and CL “Soundboard” listings, it seems that on any given night of the week you can catch a reasonably hot gig. But for those with short memories, let me assure you that there was a point in time when Charlotte’s idea of a thriving club scene meant folksingers doing Kenny Loggins and Eagles covers, blues bands who performed entire sets sitting down, and multiracial reggae-cum-fusion outfits listlessly jamming on Fridays after five on the watering holes’ outside decks.

Likewise, 10 years ago it was simply not an option for a local band to release a CD; I recall a Major Event being defined as so-and-so putting out a three-song demo cassette, and when a regional compilation like Statements Vol. 1 or Metal Mythos appeared in the stores, declaring a civic holiday was in order.

So even though the term “thriving” is relative (and probably cyclical as well), Charlotte would be a far poorer community had it not been for the efforts of a small but dedicated network of musicians, club bookers, fanzine editors, record store owners, independent label and recording studio heads, even the occasional radio visionaries (you may all turn in the direction of Spindale and genuflect). I’d like to think that CL helped transform the scene — oh, screw modesty, I know we did, as anyone who’s ever turned to the “Music Menu” or filled out a ballot for our annual “Best of Charlotte” knows.

Defining moments aren’t necessarily positive in nature. Sometimes they can be downright notorious. (Just ask people who attended the dung-flinging ’87 appearance at the Church of Musical Awareness by punk nihilist G.G. Allin.) No recounting of our first five years would be complete without mention of the Great GWAR Obscenity Bust in September 1990. The incident has long since passed into the realm of rock ‘n’ roll lore, and the band itself has even been immortalized in song and on video the night when Charlotte vice and ALE agents, acting on a “tip” provided by scanning the CL Music Menu concert preview, raided the 4808 Club and toted vocalist Oderus Urungus and his two-and-a-half foot long penis (in two separate paddy wagons) off to jail.

Not to romanticize the event unnecessarily, but a bit of local innocence was lost that night as well. 4808 had long gotten up the noses of local authorities anyway, staging all-ages punk and hard rock shows right in the heart of the downtown area. (Unlike the Milestone Club, which garnered some negative reactions over the years but was “lucky” enough to be located across town on the other side of the tracks, so to speak.) So hosting GWAR, with the show’s explicit, if cartoonish, sexual content, simply blew out the fuses, and when the dust cleared, 4808’s owner had been charged alongside the band with disseminating obscenity, ultimately getting his beer license revoked. The club closed, and Charlotte seemed just a little less friendly a place to be for working musicians. Maybe the arts community too; is it my imagination, or did a theater production have a similar clash with the prevailing Bible Belt mentality around here less than a year ago?

In my own arrogance, it was a rude awakening. I actually believed it was my duty to further the subversive agenda of latex-covered, heavy metal practitioners of sodomy and ritual disembowelment. Antiseen’s as well.

Ah well. In the words of CL‘s staff photog at the time, the late Don Swan, “Fuck ’em, man.”

People and personalities also defined the paper and its first five years. Too many to list here, including the bums who entertained us with their grunts and moans of alcoholic lust as they previewed skin magazines at the convenience store across the street from our South Boulevard location. Don Swan, though, was quite the bon vivant, and I was proud to have worked with him on assignments. In 1995, John Grooms called me with the news that Don had died and asked me to pen a brief remembrance for the paper’s farewell to him. The first thing that came to mind was of one night when Don and I were covering the Scorpions at the Coliseum. I made the observation that “there’s something kinda weird about a 40-year-old man dressed in spandex and wiggling his butt and making goofy faces.” Don thought for a second, then turned to me and stated matter-of-factly, “Yeah, but I bet he gets laid tonight.”

Now that was rock ‘n’ roll. I would end up naming a kitten I’d adopted around the time Don passed away Bongo, in his honor.

I could produce a laundry list the length of Oderus Urungus’ erstwhile member of moments sublime and surreal that stand out in my mind as significant during my tenure at Creative Loafing. Come to think of it, I already did, in the April 18, 1992, fifth anniversary issue.

But overall, what the experience meant to me was being able to treat music and music culture with the kind of respect, passion, and yeah, adolescent irreverence that I thought it deserved. I mean, what could be more pointless yet life-affirming than spending weeks debating behind closed doors with Grooms, then proudly writing a cover story called “The 100 Greatest Intro Guitar Riffs Of All Time”? Or heading south to the Gaffney Peachoid with Swan and Grooms, to help break the record for most people playing the three chords from “Louie Louie” over and over?

When I surrendered my duties at this paper in ’92 to move to Tucson I received two retirement gifts. One was a lifetime (theoretically) gratis subscription to Creative Loafing. Reading it from afar, I’m proud to have watched it grow in size, scope, and just plain huevos.

The other gift was a colorful T-shirt custom-designed by none other than Rene Escarcha, aka Renelvis, aka the only known Charlotte-based Filipino Elvis impersonator. Displayed on the back of the shirt is the music column I wrote in which CL “discovered” Renelvis during his residency as the floor show of a local Chinese eatery — clearly, in tone and texture, one of the paper’s singular defining moments.

I can’t think of a more appropriate way to sum up five years worth of rock ‘n’ roll memories. See the concert, get the T-shirt.

Stephen Judge: Nevermind the Bollocks, Here’s the Record Industry

LP

There’s unlimited supply
And there is no reason why
I tell you it was all a frame
They only did it ’cause of fame
(—The Sex Pistols, “EMI”)

BY STEPHEN JUDGE

Ed. Note: Stephen Judge, who owns BLURT, also owns Schoolkids Records, a small chain of North Carolina-based record stores; yours truly worked with him in one of those stores from 2012-15, and during that time we got to experience firsthand the latter-day vinyl explosion. From the groundswell of new releases, both major label and indie, that previously would have only been offered on CD, and the deluge of catalog reissues on vinyl; to the steadily-growing used vinyl business, and the broadening of the customer demographic to include every age group, including pre-teens just discovering vinyl for the first time as well as older music fans catching the bug again and finding a reason to return to their neighborhood record stores; it was by all measures a period of unprecedented growth for that sector of the music industry, one which saw the market share of vinyl growing by significant percentages practically every quarter. (You would’ve had to be living in a cave not to spot at least one hyperventilating “Vinyl is back!” report in the national and international media during that time as well, to the point that such reports started become hilariously redundant.)

Now, however, with the escalating price of new vinyl—for both new releases and reissues—hitting what some are calling dangerous levels from a consumer point of view, media coverage has gradually been turning negative, in some instances even prematurely sounding the death knell for vinyl. Last year there was a cautionary story published at Stereogum titled “Have We Reached Peak Vinyl?” which discussed, among other things, those rising prices, the problems small labels were having getting their records pressed with a limited number of actual pressing plants, and the perception among a lot of collectors that the annual Record Store Day—which arguably kick-started the whole latter-day vinyl revival—had become co-opted by the major labels and ultimately rendered near-meaningless. (That’s what a limited edition Justin Bieber record will do, eh?)

Then last week Stereogum published a follow-up story, “We’ve Passed Peak Vinyl—Here Comes the Collapse” in which writer Michael Nelson addressed all this, and more. Lively discussions about the Nelson article quickly followed across the interwebs, including one that Stephen and I found ourselves knee-deep in—we’re both extremely passionate about these matters, to say the least, and feel it’s a dialogue that needs to be ongoing. Plus, make no mistake, Stephen’s take (and mine too, even though I am no longer in Raleigh and working at Schoolkids) is that despite all the current issues, vinyl is decidedly NOT on the verge of extinction. There will always be collectors of and devotees to the analog format. Perhaps the headlines should instead read something along the lines of, “Hi, My Name is Vinyl: The Rumors of My Impending Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated.” What follows below, then, is his recap of our side of the conversation, plus elaboration, stemming from his experiences as a record store owner and as a well-known figure within the national independent record store community, both as a member of the Coalition of Independent Music Stores and a board member for the Music Biz Association (formerly NARM). Readers are encouraged to post their comments and reactions. Got all that? Okay, let’s rock. – FM

The Michael Nelson-penned Stereogum report referenced above may be viewed by some as “just another person belly-aching about the record industry and its mistakes.” However, from my perspective as a record store owner—I operate three Schoolkids Records businesses, in Raleigh, Durham, and Chapel Hill—it is all 100% accurate and an honest take on where things stand. (The comments that Stereogum readers posted following the piece are honest, too; they are all spot on.) Regular customers who shop at stores know. This is fluid and serious. Now, more than ever, support your local stores—they need you.

Furthermore, if people blow this off as just another person just complaining about the industry, major labels, etc., you are really missing the point. I am all for major labels, all for vinyl selling in chains, and am not an elitist and someone who never promotes or looks for negativity ever. But these statements Nelson is making are correct, minus the parts about Billy Fields, who I know personally and is 100% a champion of vinyl and record stores, one of our biggest cheerleaders and advocates in the industry. Everything Billy says in the story about Record Store Day and the industry itself is true as well: Yes, WEA recently announced they would stop selling to anyone who doesn’t meet a certain threshold of sales on an annual basis, but as much as I know that doesn’t help (and that it does hurt some small retailers), also realize that a lot of people were also taking advantage of the system, buying direct from WEA just so they could participate in Record Store Day while not buying and carrying vinyl year-round—which defeats the purpose. However, it is a policy that has been in place with WEA for years but was not enforced. And it is a concern, as it will hurt a lot of small, low volume stores and make it more difficult.

One thing I get really tired of is people blaming Record Store Day, such as in THIS article published earlier this year at TheVinylFactory.com about stores opting to drop out of RSD participation. To me, that’s the same short-mindedness as saying, “I don’t shop at a store that carries Led Zeppelin because that’s too mainstream…” Get over yourselves. Vanity is not a virtue that will yield long-term success in this business. Fields’ comments on RSD in the report are accurate. While it’s not untrue that the major labels have essentially taken over, as most of us know, it’s still a good day overall, sales-wise, and in terms of spreading awareness of indie record stores—which was the whole point of RSD in the first place. RSD

I have been on many panels with Record Store Day co-founder Carrie Colliton seen the venom coming her way, as if she has something to do with the onslaught of releases coming and the prices—as if she alone can 100% control it. The RSD folks do everything they can; they are a non-profit tiny operation where the day to day administrative aspects and policing of policies is run by one person. Yes, one. What’s corporate about that? What people fail to realize, is that some companies out there will do whatever they want: They defy our rules, our criteria, hell, even our way of life, and they will do it with someone else (like Amazon or Barnes & Noble) if we say no. They are already doing this. In Dublin, where I am at now writing this, local friends/colleagues were telling me about Tesco (UK company), a grocery store that is the third largest retailer in the world for Father’s Day, selling rare, limited edition colored vinyl from bands such as The Jam and The Clash.

Seriously? Do the labels not understand what they are doing to the format by doing promotions with large chains like this? Not to mention what this does to small indie record stores? It’s an insult to all of the work we stores have done; it’s now in the hands of those who do not respect what it is and will do anything to make an extra buck.

In addition to that, I also know, since she works in our Raleigh store every single year to help us with crowd control on RSD, what Carrie deals with on an annual basis. This includes record stores themselves breaking the explicit rules set up by RSD, such as gouging fans by putting limited LPs on eBay. Some things I will not mention here as it would create havoc for her, but let’s just say that there are some greedy people out there, and they are not all at labels—they are at stores as well.

Then where does that leave the stores that helped create this phenomenon and curated the format? Who never stopped selling vinyl for over 40 years? We build something up, make it work, make it successful, and then it leaves us to go elsewhere? Hello, LeBron James! They will just take “their talents elsewhere.”

Well, it’s time for the flirtations to end, time to take a pay cut and take one for the team, and time for you to do the right thing—and come home. If LeBron can do it (who was once the most hated athlete in the world for leaving Cleveland to go to Miami), why can’t you? You can win in Cleveland; you just have to assemble the right team.

Colored vinyl

Make no mistake: Vinyl is not dead, so don’t believe any headlines to that effect. It’s not in any danger of disappearing. But the pricing structure is deeply problematic. The real issue RSD has presented, and something that was not mentioned in the Stereogum article, is that because of its success, stores have become a line-item on the Income Statement for major labels, instead of just being in the “Misc” column. That is, RSD has made a significant enough impact (as vinyl sales have, overall, but this is largely led by RSD) industry-wide to prompt the “black-and-white/I-have-no-idea-why-people-buy-records” accountants working in the industry to start to dissect those line items. Those accountants then come to the conclusion that the labels are “not making enough margins” on their products. THIS is the reason for the price increases that Nelson outlined in his Stereogum report. It’s based on the generic analytics that accountants use to study what something should be priced, which incorporate manufacturing issues, volume, and the ridiculous overhead they have, what with the large buildings, offices, and expenses incurred for the elite few in an industry that is only a fraction of what it was before, during the peak years for the CD, volume- and cash flow-wise.

The latter point is worth restating, and I have said it before. It makes no sense for the majors to have these large offices in NYC or in extremely expensive real estate markets, when you can work from just about anywhere (depending on your actual job). You can save tremendous amounts of money having satellite offices and/or in cheaper markets. There are tons of empty buildings, for example, in Atlantic City from casinos that went out of business. In 2016, normal human beings are moving away from overpriced large cities like New York to more reasonably-price areas like Raleigh-Durham (my hometown). But the music industry, for some reason, feels it has to “keep up appearances” and stay in ridiculous situations. They therefore make the “business of music” almost impossible for these large corporations—the ones that waste money on such things—to have a realistic grasp of the “business” in terms of the prices that normal people are actually willing to pay and what this industry realistically can make in 2016 and into the foreseeable future. It all goes back to those margins, which become the problem, which in turn is due to the inflated overhead and unrealistic expectations.

In a sense, independent stores were better off when we did not show up on those accountants’ radars. RSD did generate press and hype; those large RSD sales figures and vinyl sales in general got noticed by the industry, and the numbers were then played with. And here we are: accountants in NYC making decisions that might work on paper in a short-term sense, but make no sense for the long-term life of the business. Anyone in the trenches or who actually buys records can tell you this; it is obvious. However, this is nothing new, that those decisions are being made by people who haven’t bought a record (or even music, for that matter) in years or decades and answer monthly to shareholders and look at everything as just “widgets.”

They simply do not understand the landscape and the customers—what they actually want, what their consumer habits are like, and what they are willing to pay for the products they buy. However black and white that is, it lacks complete common sense. As my late father, who was a highly respected CPA, used to say, “You can teach someone the numbers and the books, but you can’t teach someone common sense.” In this day and age, where people walk around like the zombie apocalypse playing a video game on their phone, is it any wonder why the stereotypical starched, white-collar accountant can’t look up from his desk for five minutes and see what is really going on? Of course not, but we all need to look up as we are missing a really beautiful world around us, all the while getting stuck in a fantasy world with numbers that don’t add up.

The indie labels understand this—most of them do try to keep their prices down, relatively speaking—but the majors control way too much catalog and therefore need to lead here. But the direction they are leading us in is down to the edge of a cliff once again, when people actually need to see the whole picture of what is happening. Success—the type that RSD did foster— shouldn’t necessarily be a problem. If managed properly, growth and success can work, but not if the people making the decisions don’t understand what exactly they are selling and who they are selling to and the basic common sense of it all.

stone-temple-pilots-yellow-colored-vinyl

At any rate, I have been saying for a year now that vinyl has reached a milestone and a peak, mainly because of the price and over-saturation of the marketplace, versus the demand and supply. The only reason vinyl sales are even up nationwide is because some places are only just now coming to the party, so it’s a false increase. I call it the “Bugs Bunny Effect,” when someone gets hit over the head with a hammer while running and they keep running for many frames until they realize someone hit them over the head and the big bump rises on the top of their head and it goes “ouch!” There is always a delayed reaction in the marketplace. It was the same when vinyl was going up; we saw it first at indie retail, and now we’re seeing the opposite.

With stores closing, prices staying high, too many sub-par reissues coming out, labels’ continued policies of vinyl being sold one-way/NON-returnable (unlike CDs, and unlike vinyl in decades’ past, once you buy a new LP for your store, it’s yours, and if it’s a stiff like the latest, and high-priced, Lana Del Rey album, you’ve essentially eaten your cost and can only pray you recoup after you’ve reduced the price and dumped it in your “sale” bins), and stores struggling to keep cash flow up for the traffic and turnover, this will ultimately start to trend downward. More stores will inevitably close, many will survive just like 15 years ago (when piracy had taken a huge toll on the independent store sector), but many markets will not be able to support a store, or multiple stores, especially if you are vinyl only.

At this rate and change we have seen over the last 12 months, there is going to be another purge. This is also inevitable, as everything is cyclical; but it could have been another 5-10 years before we saw this (and could have been more gradual) if the industry would just be more patient, let things build organically, and not overprice and make the same mistakes made in the ‘90s with the CD. (Remember when you’d pay an $18.98 for a single CD, not even a deluxe version, just to get the couple of songs you wanted?)

The stores with the higher rent are going first, which is why you are seeing it in NYC, where we all know rent is an issue. It will continue to trickle down into other markets unless the industry makes some major changes such as (1) moving street date from the current Friday back to Tuesday; (2) lowering the price of vinyl back to what the market can bear; and (3) also not allowing streaming services to have a record online and streaming on street date. The film industry doesn’t allow 99% of its movies to be rented concurrent with them opening in theaters, so why does the music industry allow new releases to be streaming—which is very analogous to renting— the same day they appear in stores? It makes no sense.

At my stores, I have seen double digit growth over the last four to five years—until last year, May 2015, when it just completely stopped. This trend started when the majors increased vinyl costs and list prices. Blurt editor Fred Mills was sitting right next to me, around April 2015 in my Raleigh store, when I opened the email from two of the major labels announcing the price hike. My immediate reaction was, “What are you idiots doing?!? You are making the same mistake you made in the ‘90s with high list prices for CDs, which directly fueled the downloading and piracy problem.”

Then the industry compounded matters with street dates changing to Friday, which has been an utter disaster and effectively killed weekday sales; weekends were already when customers were more likely to be out and shopping, so having Tuesday at a street date was a great way to get them into the stores during the week.

Many other factors were at play, too, but those were two huge ones. For example, we started off the first four months of 2015 up 22% from the same period in the year before, and we were on pace to have our best year in 10 years. Once those changes outlined above took place, however, the bottom fell out, and we finished down for the year.

I am seeing this nationwide. I deal with it every single day in my stores, as do the retail coalitions mentioned in the Stereogum article. I am a proud member of the Coalition of Independent Music Stores (CIMS) and also a board member for Music Biz (formerly NARM), so I am hearing stories from all over the country. Some are seeing it worse than others, but the common denominator is, everyone agrees, that we have a really serious problem.
CIMS

I noticed things dropping off a few months after Record Store Day 2015, by the time August rolled around, I knew something was seriously wrong and this was not just a lull and/or a slow summer. I have voiced my issues to my colleagues, and there have been some heated discussions. There are many higher-ups in the industry who are furious about this and are pushing every day for solutions, but it typically falls upon deaf ears among those people who should understand but cannot seem to do anything, as well as people who just don’t care. So I am back in my corner, building up my reserves as best I can for the winter and the freeze. It’s been a perfect storm of problems, and here we are.

Another point worth mentioning here is that there are too many places selling vinyl for the number of people actually buying. To restate what I said about about the UK grocery store Tesco selling vinyl, with the boom we also have chains such as Guitar Center, Barnes & Noble, Urban Outfitters and even some Whole Foods locations selling the wax. If you look at the statistics and sales numbers, they are not large enough to justify this amount of growth in the market place it’s all hyped-up fashion that has been sold to them by those who benefit from it, and it’s not healthy to the business in the long run—you don’t want to blow your wad before you have the romance, so to speak. Think of your retail partners, people. Think of the long-term effects of this. Can we really afford to not let this grow organically? Do you seriously not see the ramification of going to the altar too soon?

Many of these challenges were bound to happen, but in this day and age of social media, things change quickly. When we had a little bit of “good news” in the industry during the last ten years, such as all the “Vinyl Is Back!” stories in the media, well, of course everyone jumped on board. But it was too fast, too soon, too broad, too expensive.

Now those businesses that are more efficient, can manage their cash flow and inventory, have reasonable landlords and rent and good locations, experience a stable market, and diversify themselves enough to make higher margins off other items (such as online sales, second-hand vinyl, and accessories) are the ones most likely to survive. Lately I’ve been working more with shirts, books, and other items that have better margins, additionally trying to stockpile as much second-hand product as I can get my hands on, whatever the format.

When nearby stores do close, those stores that remain will certainly pick up some of the customers, but it’s all short-lived gains. Don’t forget that competition is good and more product in the marketplace is good—as long as it’s priced right and fits the market demand. This is the same thing that happened in the early 2000s, when stores were closing left and right. It’s about to happen again, and it’s sad because it could be different if it was managed better.

I am particularly worried about the small stores that are vinyl only and don’t have any room for error. Two of my stores are 50/50 CDs-to-vinyl, which is healthy. Another was 70% vinyl, but that is gradually starting to change now. Stores that sell only vinyl, that is a really tough thing to manage, and unlike my stores, they don’t necessarily have a 40+ year history of selling CDs and all genres. This gives us an advantage, not just in the shop itself but especially on-line, where secondhand sales do really well for us with CDs and LPs alike.

Regarding stores located in areas of high rent, they are the most vulnerable right now. As mentioned, I have three stores and I have a lot to fall back on. We are adjusting to these industry changes. It’s what I do and analyze every single day.

I also have an accounting degree and business management degree, and thanks to having smart store managers, I am not bogged down daily with running the stores. That frees me to spend all of my time running reports, analyzing sales, trends, and inventory levels. (Having a robust point-of-sale system that can manage inventory and cut down on the administrative labor is critical for a retail business, and that’s the best investment I’ve made in the last 6-12 months.) I also am constantly looking for more things to increase our business and to make us different—like having a bar and selling craft beer at my Raleigh location, for example—and to increase our brand, not just within NC but nationally and in Europe as well.

But many others do not have this luxury, and it’s those stores I worry about. Clearly the conversation about all this is now happening among the general public, and with customers, too, who are seeing it happen every day.

The question is, will they do anything to fix this? The record industry, that is. I am not counting on it. But I plan to survive regardless. Vinyl’s not dead; it’s a music format that has endured for longer than most of us have been alive, in fact. As a retailer, I certainly don’t plan to go down without a bloody fight—which makes it worth reminding you that in 2013, major label EMI was broken up as part of its acquisition by Universal. This renders those defiant, confrontational Sex Pistols lyrics quoted at the top of this article all the more timely, and meaningful:

Unlimited edition

With an unlimited supply

That was the only reason

We all had to say goodbye.

 

Stephen Judge

Above: Stephen Judge