Why listen to shitty-sounding streaming music on Spotify for free when you can pay for the privilege and have something to show for it?
BY FRED MILLS
This week, as June turned into July, in between the Health Care Follies revue, bleeding facelifts, and a preview of looming voter fraud/suppression tussles, we still received some happy #vinylporn news, that the Sony Music record pressing plant in Japan was getting its turbines cleaned up and dusted off in anticipation of cranking out the wax once again. Most of the media coverage, though welcome, was pretty matter of fact and superficial, to be honest, with reports simply pulling out a few lazy statistics about the contemporary “vinyl resurgence” (I officially proclaim that term to be a cliche now – if something has been “resurging” for more than 5 years, I think it’s officially an “ongoing trend”) and quoting some random hipster journalist. (Yes, NPR, I am available for comment. Call me.)
However,Britain’s The Guardian did a pretty decent job with their report “Records come round again: Sony to open vinyl factory in Japan” – check it out HERE – and also dig the photo of a Japanese pressing of Let It Be, since that is literally the only genuinely relevant, context-wise, photo I’ve spotted in all the Sony Japan coverage.
The one thing that all the reports overlooked, or at least could have mentioned as an intriguing and relevant sidelight, is that back in the day, Japanese pressings were considered the gold standard by many, if not most, collectors. After a certain point you could certainly get audiophile reissue pressings from Mobile Fidelity and a couple other Stateside labels catering to a niche market (typically jazz and classical), but Japanese releases still had a certain allure and cachet, both for their reissues and new releases – and, sometimes, for their exclusive nature.
For example, there was the stunning live-in-Japan Miles Davis release Agharta, and Santana’s classic live rec Moonflower, both of which I put considerable energy into tracking down. They weren’t cheap, either. A lot of folks probably forget that Cheap Trick’s Budokan album gained traction initially as a white-hot import-only release – that was the only way you could hear it. I would venture to say that folks prized Japanese pressings for their heavy-weight/virgin vinyl provenance (something that US labels abandoned early on – RCA and Dynaflex pressings, I’m lookin’ at YOU for making all that possible long before the oil shortage affected the record industry), the ongoing use of heavy-stock tip-on sleeves and poly-lined inner sleeves (ditto), and not-essential-but-still-cool extras like outer OBI strips and liner notes or lyrics not included in other countries’ pressings. Gee – it’s almost like in 2017, labels that really care about releasing a quality product with classic touches like 180gm and/or colored vinyl pressings and thick-stock gatefold sleeves, are taking their cues from the heyday of Japanese vinyl… you could even propose that Japan, often a pioneer in technological trends back in the day, pioneered the art of… wait for it… #vinylporn.
As long as we are on the #vinylporn topic, I noticed this week that Atomic Disc in Oregon is having a sale on pressing records. I have no idea what the going rate is at other plants or what a “good rate” might be, but currently, 300 copies of an LP on black vinyl will cost you $1750, which comes out to only about $6 a platter. The price is only $3.20 per copy if you get 1000 copies. (Yeah, do that math quickly, and then think about that $29.98 list price major label LP you bought last week.) A download card included will cost an extra $100, and if you want colored wax (of course you do) it will be $2149.
As you might imagine, my punk band Bo Oswald & the Biohazard Boys and I plan to press our debut, Binky The Troll – a Rock Opera, on splatter vinyl. That bumps the cost of 300 copies up to $2689, but hey, we care about YOU, our fans, so no price is too great… see ya in the record bins.
And… here’s the fourth 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), and HERE for #4 (Trouble In Mind). Coming soon: Chunklet. [Pictured above: James Tritten and Tracy Shedd, presumably in earlier days…]
BY FRED MILLS
As the editor of this fine publication and website, I am frequently surprised and delighted by the gems — obviously gleaming and in the rough — that my crew of contributors unearth for us. Longtime writer Tim Hinely, also a blogger for us, has frequently been the source of such riches, and his ongoing “15 Questions For…” indie label feature has yielded more than its share. Around the time he launched the series I met James Tritten of the Fort Lowell Records label; James and his wife, musician Tracy Shedd, had recently moved from Tucson, Arizona, to Raleigh, North Carolina, where, coincidentally, I was living and working (in addition to doing BLURT) at indie record store Schoolkids Records. We hit it off — not the least of reasons being that I had lived for 10 years in Tucson myself during the ‘90s and we had a number of friends and plenty of landmarks in common — and I always looked forward to our in-depth music conferences whenever he and Tracy would drop by the store to put Fort Lowell items in the bins or just yak about stuff.
(As an aside: My abiding love and respect for indie labels runs deep, as I’ve been writing about their bands and their releases pretty much all of my adult life, at least since the late ‘70s when I was doing my own series of indie rock magazines. I also used to contribute to Magnet magazine’s monthly feature in which an indie label was profiled via a template of more-or-less stock questions that served to get the word out about the label and also to give the readers and consumers a sense of who was actually working behind the scenes to get the label up and running — and of course ongoing. That, then, has gone into what Tim Hinely and I are trying to accomplish with our own series here at BLURT.)
I’m also pretty damn chuffed about his and Tracy’s new collaboration, Band & The Beat (they’ll be touring in January; dates started in Charlotte on Jan. 9 HERE or after the main text), so in a final flourish of pure unbridled subjectivity, I’d like to kick off the feature with their new single. Enjoy…
BLURT: When did the label form / what was your original inspiration?
JAMES: It was November 2009 in Tucson, AZ, when the idea popped in my head to start up a record label. I was home sick with a Man Cold, sleeping on the couch next to our record collection. The 7inches caught my attention, and I took a sharp turn onto Memory Lane, listening to all of the old singles from my youth of growing up on the East Coast; bands like Common Threat, Greensect, Gizzard, The Raymond Brake, Mercury Birds, #1 Family Mover, Jennyanykind, etc.
Back in the ’90s, everyone released 7inch singles because it was cheap and easy, and it’s just what you did. You’d swap them with other bands on the road like business cards. I remember it costing close to about $1.50 a record to produce, and most of us just recorded the music in our homes. Black and white photocopied covers usually manufactured at your place of employment without your boss knowing; the whole project was very low-fi, and those records are some of my favorite to date.
When my wife Tracy Tritten, otherwise known as singer-songwriter Tracy Shedd (who has released albums with Teen-Beat, Devil In The Woods, Eskimo Kiss Records, and New Granada Records), and I moved to Tucson in 2006, we noticed that not many of the younger local bands were releasing their music on vinyl. Usually they would have a CD-R at best, but most would just tell you to download their music… for free, off of their website. (Music for free?)
It’s not to say no one in Tucson was releasing vinyl. Golden Boots was probably putting out some of the best packaged records, along with Naïm Amor. And yes, of course, Howe Gelb, Giant Sand, and Calexico releases were coming out on vinyl. But the kids, the new bands in town, playing at The Red Room (RIP) or The HangArt were not quite there yet (the whole indie / punk tape craze hadn’t even happened yet).
At that same time, I was coming up on a year anniversary for me driving a Vespa scooter to and from work each day. I had bought a 1976 CJ-5 Jeep with 35″ tires and a 4″ lift a few years earlier when we first moved to Tucson (featured here in Tracy Shedd’s video for “Whatever It Takes”). It was a real “Rock Crawler”: something to do for fun on the weekends. However, with only about 8-miles to the gallon for gas usage, driving that beast to work every day was not the most economically sound choice, so I bought a scooter to handle that daily trek and save some money.
One day as I passed the Jeep that had been parked, unused, for countless weeks, I had a vision of selling the Jeep and putting the money to better use: starting up a record label. I remember standing next to that Jeep and calling Zach Toporek from Young Mothers to pitch the idea of releasing his band as our first record. He said yes, and the Jeep went on the market immediately. The rest is history, as they say.
Who designed your logo? Do you only have one?
The only Fort Lowell Records logo is actually a silhouette of the statue that stands in Fort Lowell Park in Tucson AZ. Fort Lowell was the neighborhood that I lived in while in Tucson, so for me (personally) it made sense to call the record label Fort Lowell Records, to mark that time in my life. I also knew that there was only one Fort Lowell in the world, in Tucson, and I wanted something the city itself could own: a record label that was obviously tied to Tucson (and I believe Cactus Records was already taken).
I felt the label’s logo had to represent the area of town, and there is nothing more iconic that the statue that stands on Craycroft Road. So, I walked outside my house down to the park and snapped a picture of the statue. Then, got onto Photoshop to make it what it is.
It also reminded me of Vanguard Records’ logo, and I am huge fan of Vanguard. Not sure if anyone else knows this, but the band Stereolab actually got a lot of their artistic design for their earlier releases from old Vanguard records. In fact, I am pretty sure that name itself was a term Vanguard used, much like RCA Records’ “Living Stereo” series.
What was your first release?
It was a 7-inch record for Young Mothers, for a song called “Come On, The Cross.” The B-side features what is still quite possibly my personal favorite song that Fort Lowell Records has released: a track called “Good Sword.” I’ll drop the needle on “Good Sword” from time to time, and I swear life just stands still, it is so captivating. Have you ever heard a song like that; one that just takes over everything within you and around you? Zach Toporek nailed it with that song. He’s even got some twelve-part harmony in there; it’s breathtaking.
I knew Young Mothers were going to be our first release from the first time I saw them. Tracy Shedd (who I play guitar with) was booked with Young Mothers at The Living Room in Tucson. Zach did not know us, and we had never met him. Within the first few strums of his guitar and belts of his huge live vocals, we were hooked. At the time, the music reminded us of our old friends from Austin TX, Silver Scooter; just good old American indie-pop (pure and fun).
The music made me get up and dance. At that moment, they were the best band in the world to me. So when the idea of Fort Lowell Records came about, I knew exactly who I wanted to call first. I think that is how it should be for a label owner: you should be that ‘freak fan’ that just can’t get enough of the band you are releasing. And that’s what a band should want from their label: an overabundance of enthusiastic support.
Were there any label(s) that inspired you to want to release records?
Sarah Records, Teen-Beat, Pop-Narcotic, Decoder Ring Records, Magic Eye Singles, as well as the band from Boston – Charlene – and their self-released singles on their own label, SharkAttack!. At the time, it was all about the 7inches, and these labels had it down, especially Sarah Records. Studying their releases really helped me be creative with presenting a professional design for each record, but keeping costs down and staying under or within budget. I spent months researching various options and ideas, yet insuring that quality was never compromised. I’d like to think we were successful with this challenge; I’m very proud of the records we’ve released.
If there is one band, current or present, you could release a record by who would it be?
Two bands… Schooner and Gross Ghost; both bands from North Carolina. We’ve been fans of each band before ever moving here; we have actually played shows with Schooner in the past when touring through North Carolina. In fact, when we did a show at Slim’s Downtown with Schooner back in 2011, we made a promise to them that if we moved to North Carolina, we’d release a record for them. The delay is totally my own fault, and I am hoping someday to live up to that promise. [Count the BLURT braintrust among the fans of those two bands, James! –Tarheel Ed.]
Both bands are simply amazing and very much underappreciated; more people need to know about these guys. Their music is pure, honest, and simply great. The songwriting is there, the live performance is there. I would love to have an opportunity to record a record with each of them, and welcome them to the Fort Lowell Records family.
What has been your best seller to date?
Hands down, Howe Gelb’s 7-inch record that was part of Record Store Day 2011. It was actually a split release between two of his own projects: ‘Sno Angel, which features a choir from Canada, and Melted Wires, which is a jazz quartet made up of members from Giant Sand and Calexico. Neither track on the 7inch had been released on vinyl before, and they are both simply stunning. “Spiral” is the ‘Sno Angel track, while “Cordoba In Slow Motion” – the Melted Wires song – really showcases Gelb’s Thelonious Monk influence. We technically sold out of the record in three weeks, but then about a year later we had some returns from our distributor. I was actually very thankful to have a few records sent back to us, since there were so many people that missed out on it the first time. Now I’ve seen that record go for up to $40.00 on eBay, which I find somewhat flattering (in a weird way). I’ve bought my fair share of over-priced hard-to-find records on eBay, just because I had to have it.
Honorable mentions for best-selling records go to Young Mothers….music video?, our split between Wet & Reckless and Tracy Shedd, and the Luz de Vida Compilation, all of which have also sold out (from our inventory) over time. (That reminds me, I need to update our website and take some of those down.)
Who is the most famous artist on your label, and why do you think that is?
With the exception of Howe Gelb, which is the obvious answer, there are three artists that share the limelight:
Tracy Shedd has had a lucrative career all on her own, without any influence from Fort Lowell Records. Tracy has a number of albums out with Teen-Beat, as well as a few individual releases with Devil In The Woods, Eskimo Kiss Records, and most recently New Granada Records. She has been featured on TV shows such as Dawson’s Creek and One Tree Hill, as well as had her music in one of Catherine Zeta-Jones’ movies. Having Tracy as a part of the Fort Lowell Records’ roster has definitely helped with developing an audience for the label, which we are very thankful for. Tracy is also sharing her latest project with Fort Lowell Records: a duo dream-pop / synth-pop project called Band & The Beat, and their debut release “21 [Digital 45]” is Fort Lowell Records’ latest release.
Next would be La Cerca. I learned about La Cerca back in 2001 when Tracy Shedd released her first track on a compilation from The Unlike Label which also featured La Cerca. During the time I lived in Tucson, I would often go on record stating that Andrew Gardner from La Cerca was one of the most under-appreciated songwriters in Tucson. [Amen. –Old Pueblo Ed.] I was over the moon when the opportunity came up for Fort Lowell to release La Cerca’s latest album ‘Sunrise For Everyone.‘ [Go HERE to read the Blurt review of the album.] So the day Andrew called me to tell me that Xemu Records wanted to sign his band and re-release their album, I knew Andrew had finally receive the recognition that he deserved. In no way was I upset; I was simply proud of Andrew, and extremely happy for La Cerca. Being picked up by another label to help grow your career, I feel, is a sign of success. I would never want to hold anyone back from that.
Recently, the Good Graces experienced every band’s dream: having a national artist ask to take you on the road as their opening act, giving you exposure to thousands of people, and not mention an amazing experience altogether. ‘Close to the Sun,’ the Good Graces’ latest album, just happened to get into the hands of The Indigo Girls, who fell in love with their music and asked the Good Graces to join them on the road for their summer tour. The Good Graces had an awesome time, and gained a lot of attention from the opportunity. Since the tour with The Indigo Girls, the Good Graces have been featured on Daytrotter, had a few live television appearances, and are now heading out for a West Coast Tour in 2016. We are looking forward to share more of their successes in the coming years ahead. [Go HERE to read the Blurt review of the album.]
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?
As stated before, my wife is Tracy Shedd, whom I have been playing guitar with since high school, so I was on her 7inch and Luz de Vida track with Fort Lowell Records. I am also the other half to Tracy’s new duo project, Band & The Beat, which is the newest release for Fort Lowell. Band & The Beat is meant to be a “husband / wife” project, while Tracy Shedd was specifically Tracy’s own songwriting. With Band & The Beat, it is the very first time that I am playing keyboards / synthesizers. We started the project back in June of this year, and I have been diligently learning the ivories ever since. I would not object to partnering with another record label for future Band & The Beat projects, if it made sense. We were simply so excited about Band & The Beat, and the first two recordings: “21” and “Buoy,” we just wanted to get the music out right away to the public.
Regarding social media, which have you used and what to you are the pros and cons of using it?
For social media, I have used it all. From Friendster, to MySpace, to everything that people can’t live without today. It was four years ago when I stopped using Facebook and Instagram with Fort Lowell Records. I decided I was going to only use Twitter to promote the record label. Then, on January 1, 2015, I dropped Twitter as well (I stopped using it, but still have not deleted the account). On the internet, Fort Lowell Records only exists as our website: http://fortlowell.blogspot.com. The website is a blogsite, because I like the format of it. I post things on there, the same way others might do so with social media, and I’ve been much happier; much more focused on what is important.
Is the local music community supportive of the label?
Fort Lowell Records’ success has been the support of the local music communities (note: “communities” being plural). Tucson is where Fort Lowell Records was born, but Tucson is not where we are personally from. Tracy and I are from Jacksonville, FL, but now we are making roots in Raleigh, NC. The local communities of all three areas have actually been extremely supportive of Fort Lowell Records. Tucson will always be home to Fort Lowell Records, and that is what I would want for the label; that is why I gave it an indigenous name. I want to continue to support artists from Tucson, and be involved as best as we can. With the recent release of two bands from Jacksonville, moyamoya and Hey Mandible, the Bold New City of the South has embraced the label with open arms. We recently hosted a label showcase with moyamoya, the Good Graces, Hey Mandible, and the debut of our new project Band & The Beat; the show was billed as Tracy Shedd, but we performed as Band & The Beat. All of the record stores in the Triangle Area (as well as all over the state) of North Carolina have shown great supportof Fort Lowell Records with record sales. Schoolkids Records in Raleigh NC has sold the most copies of La Cerca’s ‘Sunrise For Everyone.’ I think once we get into releasing more North Carolina bands, Band & The Beat being the first, we will start hosting more live performance with label-mates in the region. [Below: La Cerca]
Have digital sales been significant or nominal?
I would have to report the digital sales have been a good continuous revenue stream for Fort Lowell Records. We partner with both The Orchard as our main digital distributor, and we use our own Bandcamp page (which gives direct sales to Fort Lowell Records). Having the digital outlets seems to work well for the out-of-print records too, or for fans overseas; giving people an economical choice. I find having the digital option does not hurt us in any way, which is why I have always made it available. Personally, I don’t buy my music to listen to digitally, but I do understand that there are customers that prefer this service, and I don’t feel we should limit our outlets when it honestly costs our label no extra money to have the digital option available.
For Band & The Beat [pictured below] the release is currently only available as a Digital 45 (or what I like to call a “Virtual 7inch”). This decision was made simply because of the “speed to market”: the track “21” was written, recorded, mixed, mastered, and released all within the month of October (in less than four weeks’ time). Band & The Beat was heading out on tour, and we wanted to have a release out for people to enjoy. I can see doing more Digital 45s with Fort Lowell Records, especially to help bands in similar situations.
What are your thoughts on the current vinyl resurgence?
I think it is a fantastic thing, although I am also one of those guys (there are a few of us) that find it hard to call a “resurgence;” I believe vinyl never went away. But I get it; no, Barnes & Noble and Best Buy were not carrying vinyl records 5-10 years ago, and now they are, which, again, I think is great. I’ve been buying music on vinyl ever since I was a kid, and I am happy that is so much easier to find vinyl records in almost any store; heck, Guitar Center is carrying them now.
It is a fact that this resurgence, or increase in demand, with vinyl has caused a shift with the manufacturing timeline of the records themselves. This is evolution at its finest; those who will survive will be those that can evolve. You now see a lot of labels going from standard vinyl releases to limited lathe cut releases, simply because they can get a lathe cut record out faster. Cassettes tapes are also receiving a lot of attention and support these days. I attribute this to the longer production times (and increasing costs) for vinyl records; again, evolution. A cassette tape can be manufactured and released much faster, and cheaper (overall). And if the kids are buying it, and they have the tape decks or Walkman units to listen to the music, then evolution is a success, and this vinyl “resurgence” is driving creativity; survival of the fittest. For Fort Lowell Records, you are seeing our very first digital-only release for Band & The Beat, as well a sign of the times.
What is your personal favorite format to release music? Thoughts on other formats?
I like releasing vinyl records, as well as making music available for radio airplay. At our house, this is how we listen to music. There is only a record player hooked up to an amplifier that has a built-in receiver. If we are not listening to an album on wax, we are tuning in the airwaves. We are extremely lucky to live in Raleigh, as Raleigh has what I feel is the best “Indie Rock” radio station in the country: WKNC 88.1FM. Now, let me add, I believe KXCI 91.3FM in Tucson is the best “overall” radio station in America; they are a publicly supported radio station, as opposed to one that is part of a school, college, or university. KXCI is very diverse, and open and supportive to all aspects of their community; KXCI is a major part of the spirit of Tucson AZ. But when it comes to my own personal taste in music, WKNC here in Raleigh, hands-down, spins some of the best new, fresh, solid Indie Rock, Indie Pop, Dream Pop, etc., as well as Hip-Hop, I have ever heard. Every one of my favorite new bands has come from listening to WKNC via the airwaves. I am always happy letting the needle rest and dialing into 88.1FM.
So, when I am not listening to WKNC for new music, I am enjoying music on my turntable; there is nothing else like it. That is my favorite format to use when releasing new music. I’ve been collecting records ever since I was turned onto Echo & The Bunnymen in 6th grade. But it wasn’t until purchasing Stereolab’s “Ping Pong” 7inch back in the early ‘90s that I actually understood the difference. I had already owned their ‘Mars Audiac Quintet’ album on CD at the time, and the 7inch was given to me as a promo. When I got home and heard the single, I noticed that there were elements of the music that I did not recognize with the CD version. I turned around, went back to Now Hear This (record store in Jacksonville, FL; RIP) and bought every Stereolab album on vinyl, and have been purchasing all music on vinyl ever since.
I’ve succumbed to the convenience of MP3s. With Fort Lowell Records, we do offer a digital download with all of the vinyl records, and as a customer, I too enjoying having this added benefit. I keep my latest favorite albums on my phone, and plug in where ever I am, without having to carry around a CD or cassette case filled with albums. I get it; it is much easier to take MP3s with you than CDs or cassettes. Because of this, I’ve dropped all CDs and Cassettes for my personal collection. I do understand that there are customers that still purchase these formats, so I can’t say Fort Lowell Records will never release either. But I have stuck to vinyl and digital formats, along with getting music on the radio, for Fort Lowell Records simply because that is how I personally listen to music.
What new(er) labels these days have captured your attention?
I’ve been a big fan of People In A Position To Know (PIAPTK), Captured Tracks, Burger Records, and Trouble In Mind (TIM). I love everything that all of these labels are doing. PIAPTK has been releasing limited edition lathe cut records before anyone even knew how to pronounce the word “lathe.” Their releases are some of the most innovative records cut; I promise you Jack White’s Third Man Records has been taking cues from PIAPTK for years. Captured Tracks simply can’t go wrong with whatever band / artist they release; their taste in music is impeccable. Burger Records is changing the game for everyone, and I love it; they are at the forefront of this evolutionary change that we are all witnessing, and they will be the first to survive. I always admired Trouble In Mind’s direct approach, especially when they first launched their label. TIM would drop a stack of new releases (7inches) for various amazing new unheard-of bands, with no artwork, just TIM’s standard low-fi produced label sleeve ,and each record would blow your mind. Out of nowhere, “BAM!,” TIM was on the scene, killing it. All four of these record labels continue to force feed the world with some of the greatest new music and freshest ideas available.
Do you accept unsolicited demos?
[Pictured below: Fort Lowell LP by Tucson’s Saint Maybe, featuring Winston Watson and ex-Patti Smith Group guitarist Oliver Ray. The band was profiled at BLURT in 2013.]
Thanks to ill-informed dialogue from Kim Komando and other consumer tech gurus, any monkey with a typewriter, er, box of moldy old LPs thinks he/she is on the eBay road to riches. Guess what? You’ve been duped. BLURT’s helpful hint: check “completed listings.”
BY FRED MILLS
It’s a familiar scenario these days: some mainstream media outlet publishes yet another article about the current resurgence—“explosion” is the occasional term, and not without total merit; see below—of vinyl, and suddenly the hinterlands are alive with the sound of (vinyl-borne) music, wherein every Johnny, Judy and Aunt Marge within earshot gets the proverbial dollar signs in their peepers because they just remembered that somewhere in their basement, attic, tool shed or rent-in-arrears storage unit they’ve got a dusty, beat-up, poorly-packed, climate-challenged box of Johnny Mathis, Mitch Miller and Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass LPs they’d totally forgotten about.
Here’s a preemptive tip, folks: run, don’t walk, to the nearest trash bin with that load. (Emphasis load.) I’ve done it plenty of times, particularly over the course of the past 3 years while I toiled at a small but successful North Carolina independent record store. I mean, seriously: who are you gonna believe, someone who’s actually in the business of buying and selling a commercial product who willingly dumpstered hundreds of pieces of that product, or some self-styled personal tech maven with a radio show who claims she’s got the inside track on how to turn those dust-gathering antiques into cold hard cash?
Sigh. I should have guessed which one you’d pick. But hopefully you are at a stop light, reading this on your smartphone, and will see the light before THE light changes, then turn around, go back home, and put that box of LPs out by the curb. Or drop by the Goodwill store if it’s on your route.
Now, I have nothing against radio personality Kim Komando (not a made up name, although that bleached ‘do is remarkably Real Housewives-esque), who is billed as “host of an American talk radio program based on the popularity of smartphones, televisions, tablets, personal computers, the use of the Internet, and the complexities of buying and using all forms of consumer electronics.” Fair enough. We probably need more tutorials in the media, not less, given how dense the average consumer tends to be. Still, that old saying stick with what you know does come to mind from time to time when listening to her or reading her editorials in the print and online media. Because when she doesn’t stick with what she knows and ventures into foreign territory, the fact that she has a pretty significant audience that’s earnest but naïve means that she can create a monster in the space of a single missive. Which means, in turn, that she can also create a ton of problems for those of us out here in analog land.
Such is the case with a recent, and borderline klueless, Komando kolumn, “Old items collecting dust could net eBay cash,” published in USA Today this past week. In it, she returns to a topic beloved by all, the value of your old crap at eBay. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, although with eBay now 20 years old and counting one supposes that anybody who is just now discovering the online marketplace has been living in a cave with a dial-up modem and a clock-flashing Betamax for company. Those old Beanie Babies your granddaughter forgot about and left at your house some time ago? Dang, Marge, they just might be worth their weight in plastic pellets nowadays, so get off that telephone so’s we can plug our computer in and get online to check them out!
In the USA Today column (recycled from her online posting earlier in the month, by the way; the daily newspaper is rarely ahead of the curve when it comes to popular culture), Komando proposes you peruse your old stash of videotapes, iPods and vinyl records because there just might be gold in them there boxes. Of the first, well, that’s probably a judgment call. True, a lot of out-of-print material still has yet to be released on DVD or Blu-ray, but one supposes that the first line of attack might be to scare up an old VHS deck that’s in good working condition in order to determine whether or not that Black Diamond Edition of The Little Mermaid you hung onto will still actually play. There’s a pretty good chance it won’t, given the finite lifespan of videotapes, a little factoid that Komando konveniently forgot to mention in her column. “Prices… vary wildly based on condition, version and how many you’re offering,” she adds, almost as an afterthought. Now I’m not saying that a “rare” VHS tape can’t have glitches repaired, but the bottom line is that if the magnetic tape is stretched, flaking and otherwise just worn out, it’s worthless. (Nobody “bakes” VHS tapes to restore them. The Little Mermaid is not a Jimi Hendrix outtakes reel.)
Regarding iPods, well, there are so many for sale on eBay right now, of every possible generation/iteration and of varying conditions (some have original boxes, earbuds, USB connectors, etc.; some are loose and scratched), that it’s impossible to get a reading on precise values. This is a common experience on eBay, of course, and speaking as someone who has bought and sold on eBay for about 15 years now, all I can tell you is that (1) do your research before buying OR selling on eBay; (2) always check the “completed listings” function rather than what people are trying to get for their swag, because if one guy wants 50 bucks for an item but the same one has routinely been selling for 20, then that item is only worth 20 bucks, capice?; and (3) check thesellers’ ratings to get a sense of whether or not they actually know what they are doing and will treat you, the customer, with respect.
(Aside: after reading Komando’s iPod screed I did momentarily see dollar signs in my eyes over my kid’s old iPod Shuffle (silver; 2009 3rd gen; 4gb capacity; original box, earbuds and USB connector). Then I saw that it is currently changing hands for between $17 and $22, which in all honesty just ain’t worth the hassle of listing, selling and shipping. I’ll keep it instead, fully charged, in case the apocalypse hits and I want to spend my last 18 hours listening to a bunch of Clash and Springsteen live bootlegs on “random.”)
But Komando’s “informed” tutorial on vinyl records is what simultaneously angered and alarmed me. Go HERE to read her original column at her Komando.com website. In it she pretty much tells Grandma Marge, Uncle Lester and Feebleminded Cousin Ralph that they are on the verge of hitting the lottery if they’ll only drag that box out of the attic and brush a little of the dust off:
“Depending on the record or collection, you can make some serious money. User “albertjukebox” is selling his collection of 13,000 high-quality records for $278,000. Of course, you probably don’t have a collection quite that large, and he’s probably not going to get that price.
“Still, if you have a rare early record, say from the ’30s or ’40s, you can list it for $10,000 or more. An original or otherwise noteworthy record of a famous artist like Nirvana, Pink Floyd, or the Beatles, can list for several thousand. You might have a set of albums from Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones or someone other artist that together could be worth a bundle. Even if you don’t think an album or collection is worth anything, it’s still not a bad idea to post them.
“Just glancing down the list of high-priced albums for sale, there are plenty from obscure artists and genres you wouldn’t expect would sell. You never know what some collector or fan might be dying to get their hands on.”
Oh sweet jeezus. Hey Kim, guess what? You had them at “list it for $10,000.” And that’s ALL they heard. After that, it was just white noise buzzing in their ears as they mentally tallied their future bank balances.
While I am no longer at the record store due to having recently moved across the state, I am still active on eBay and buying private record collections on occasion. In addition, I am in regular contact with fellow dealers and a number of record store owners and employees, and the near-unanimous consensus is that articles like Komando’s do NOT help at all—in fact, they undermine our collective business by reducing it to a simple old = valuable formula, which as any dealer of antiques or vintage cars will tell you is a recipe for disaster if that’s your only guideline.
Don’t worry, this isn’t a tutorial on how to buy and sell used vinyl. Smarter and more experienced guys than me have written entire books on the subject. And in all fairness to Komando, she did include one caveat at the end of her vinyl screed, my point #(1): “Just be sure you do a little research first.” Indeed, that should be your mantra if you decide to get into the used wax business. Wait, I didn’t copy her entire sentence: she also wrote “so you don’t charge too little.” Oh gawd. Too little. “Okay, Marge, let’s see if we can get $10,999 for that Blind Melon Chitlin’ rekkird from 1932 over there in that box… did you ever find the cover for it?”
Here’s what happens when well-meaning-but-clueless consumer gurus put a bunch of poorly-phrased information out to the public: that public in turn responds with a bunch of clueless, poorly-executed actions. I absolutely, positively, 100% guarantee you that the very morning the September 16 issue of USA Today hit newsstands and mailboxes, within an hour independent record stores across America started getting phonecalls from Marge, Lester and Ralph—or, perhaps, their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters and caretakers—inquiring about their desire to turn those boxes of battered LPs into cold hard cash. Here’s the phonecall that every record retailer dreads:
Them: “I’ve got a box of old records that I found after cleaning out my late Grandma Marge’s attic…”
Us: “What kind of records do you have?”
Them [eagerly]:“Well, they are REALLY old!”
Us [hesitantly]: “Uhh, um… what are some of the records you have?”
Them [triumphantly]: “Well, it’s a LOT of records. They are really old. I read in USA Today that old records are really selling well again. Your store buys old records, right?”
Us [trapped]: “Ahhhhh… yes. It depends. Could you tell me just a few of the records you have?”
Them [bothered]: “I’ll have to go get the box. Hold on a minute, this phone cord won’t stretch that far… [long pause, sound of a box being pushed across the floor] Okay, umm, here is a Johnny Mathis, love that young man! Also Perry Como, Barbra Streisand… and, oh yes, Herb Albert and his Tee-ju-wanna Brass…”
Us [hopefully]: “For Herb Al-PERT, do you have “Whipped Cream and Other Delights?”
Them [confused]: “What was that?”
Us: “Never mind.Do you have any first generation iPods you want to get rid of?”
I rest my case. Honestly, Kim, while I know you are populist to a fault, every time a vinyl-related article like yours is published, it simultaneously distorts the realities of the record market (which in turn, sets unduly high expectations among the public) and makes the jobs of the folks who actually have a stake in keeping the market stable and prosperous more difficult.
Put another way, in language you might understand: yes, there is a vinyl explosion currently going on, but with pie-in-the-sky reports and loaded lingo such as yours, there is also a bubble being created. Everyone knows what happens with bubbles: they pop. (If you need to, refer to “tech” and “housing” from years gone by, just to refresh yourself.) But it’s unnecessary. We collectors, fans, dealers and just plain maniacs have been doing great all along, and everyone has been pretty happy, whether we traffic on eBay, Discogs, GEMM or the so-called “dark web” (that’s where you can find Prince and Jeff Buckley bootlegs, FYI).
To summarize: Please. Stop. Now.
Admittedly, once in awhile a retailer or dealer does indeed unearth a genuine nugget, so the general rule of thumb is to at least take a quick look at the person’s box of junk. Coming a copy of the Beatles’ Yesterday and Today with the butcher cover is the exception rather than the rule, however. The screening process on the phone outlined above—if during the conversation they don’t can’t a single artist that has value, you gently inform them that the collection is probably not going to net them anything—has proven to be pretty effective, saving the retailer time and saving the customer the hassle of hauling the box down to the store. It’s worth noting that if they come away thinking they’ve wasted their time and energy, they blame the retailer and figure that he really doesn’t know jack about records after all. You don’t want to insult a customer, even unintentionally, because they will go home, get on Yelp, and complain about how rude and ignorant you are.
Of course, some folks simply refuse to believe you when you tell them that every pre-‘70s collection is going to have Johnny Mathis and Herb Alpert in it, or (if you’re feeling kinda sadistic that day) that anybody who might have wanted a Perry Como album is probably dead by now. Sometimes you also have to tell them that while they have a few nice pieces in the collection they are just too beat up to sell, which generates a response bordering in incredulity: “But it’s a BEATLES record! Beatles records are VALUABLE!” “Um, sorry ma’am, but that Sgt. Pepper’s you have there is missing the inserts, the spine has been shredded by cats, and the actual record looks like it was used as practice for a pumpkin carving contest.” Translation: they still don’t believe you, they still decide you’re a dummy, and they still get on Yelp. You can’t win.
Now let’s be clear: we are in the middle of what most folks will agree is an unprecedented vinyl revival. Some speculate that the same thing has happened or will happen with cassettes, but that’s confusing a retro/hipster fad with an actual trend. Cassettes are an inferior audio format—more so than even VHS tapes. (Don’t even get me started on the so-called 8-Track Revival.) Whereas vinyl was never truly supplanted by each new format iteration, and it never actually lost its audience. The reason no one was buying new LPs was because they weren’t being manufactured, so of course they weren’t shopping in record stores any more. Dealers in used vinyl continued to do decent business because there were still tons of collectors out there. Granted, it wasn’t always enough to justify staying in business, which in addition to the disappearance of new wax is why a lot of retailers closed up shop in the ‘90s and ‘00s.
But vinyl never went away, and in fact it did continue to be made by specialty labels and never-say-die indies. It’s just that now all the labels, including the mega-monoliths like Universal, Sony and WEA, have realized that for some bizarre reason, people want new vinyl again, both as new releases and as reissues. So naturally they are going to jump back into the game, hoping to recoup at least partially in the face of the dip in revenue wrought by digital streaming, in the process jacking up prices, which has had the ancillary effect of causing the prices of used records to rise, and… can you spell B-U-B-B-L-E?
Aw hell, vinyl also never lost its charm—it’s a lotta fun to collect, to sell, to trade, to covet. The current explosion may have been kickstarted (term used metaphorically) by hipsters, but it was bolstered by longtime fans who’d previously been frustrated they couldn’t find anything except at inflated eBay prices and who now are thrilled they can make that weekly trek down to the record store and resume their hunting. Things will crest and plateau off, and there will be an inevitable “correction” in the market (to use an Economics term) and a decline of some sort, but as vinyl has endured all these years, so too will it continue to endure. Viva le wax!
But please, Kim Komando & Co., no more stories about $10,000 records being discovered in the attic. You’re just fucking things up.
That would indeed be Mr. Judge above, pictured in a particularly weak moment with Killer Mike of Run the Jewels during one of our in-stores at Schoolkids.
By Fred Mills
While I am not necessarily one to blow our own horn here — I usually let others do that for us, although come to think of it, those testimonials tend to be along the lines of “You guys blow!”… but I digress… — once in awhile it’s entirely appropriate, so allow me to get personal for just a moment and do just that.
About a week ago the Music Business Association announced that that the owners of a pair of respected independent record stores had been named to their official Board of Directors. And one of those owners is our own Stephen Judge, who operates Schoolkids Records in Raleigh, NC—that would be the same Stephen Judge who owns this very website as well as BLURT magazine, as well as Second Motion Records, which has released acclaimed titles from the likes of Tommy Keene, the Church, Bettie Serveert and the Parson Red Heads. Sharp-eyed readers will also recall that since early 2012 yours truly also worked at Schoolkids while simultaneously overseeing BLURT, and while I have just recently left the former due to relocating from Raleigh back to Asheville, that three years spent in the trenches with Stephen (plus, let’s share the wealth here, Matti, Dave, Tommy, Mary Frances and Kyle) have given me some of the best memories of my adult life.
I mean, how cool is it when the two of us can say we got to hang out with fuckin’ Killer Mike?!? And that’s just one of the many in-stores appearances and performances Stephen arranged for us. To say nothing of shepherding the semi-controlled chaos that has been Record Store Day, and helping steer the ascendancy of vinyl records back to their appropriate place of prominence in the hearts, minds and sweaty paws of music lovers. (Go HERE to the photos collection on the store’s Facebook page for some cheap thrills.)
At any rate, Stephen has busted his ass to make the store a success, so much so that he was able to open a second Schoolkids location earlier this year in nearby Durham. Being named to the Music Biz board, therefore, is not only a huge honor for him, it simply makes sense because he’s been involved in the music business for a lot longer than that. He’s joined by Bryan Burkert, owner of The Sound Garden, and as the Music Biz press release announcing their appointments, points out, between the two of them they “will bring nearly four decades of combined experience to the Board, providing key insights on issues facing the music industry.”
“We are thrilled to welcome two such experienced and versatile music industry professionals to our Board,” continued James Donio, President of Music Biz, in the release. “Stephen and Bryan have blazed their own trails through many different facets of the business at indie retail, record labels, artist management companies, music distribution companies, concert venues, and nightclubs, giving them a well-rounded and unique viewpoint on the issues of the day. We look forward to working with them as Music Biz continues to help build the future of music commerce.”
“I am honored to join the Music Biz Board and see this as the culmination of all the experience I have gained over the last 25 years,” said Judge. “In addition to running a retail store, I have years of experience in artist management, distribution, marketing, publishing, label management, A&R, contract negotiations, and finance. I’m looking forward to listening and learning from my fellow Board members while contributing in a meaningful way with my diverse experience.”
For my part, I’ve known Stephen in a number of capacities for a good deal longer than just my three years at Schoolkids. And his background is pretty impressive, including time spent working as a buyer and manager for Schoolkids back in the ‘90s, later working at Black Park Management and Redeye Distribution, and managing bands both prior to and after he started up Second Motion. He also bought BLURT in 2010, and sadly, it was downhill after that… just kiddin’, bro!
In short, it’s been a privilege— and a fuck of a bunch of fun! ask me about those day parties in Austin during SXSW each year—to know him, and I felt like the rest of the BLURT universe should know about this Music Biz honor. Those of us here at the BLURT penthouse suite are proud of the dude. Salute!
Blow our own horn? You’re goddam right we can. And should.
Fred Mills is the editor of Blurt. He loves vinyl even though he’s no longer working in a record store. Keep sending it to him.
File under “rock with guitars.” LOTS of guitars. Oh, and lots of colored wax, to boot. Vinyl? Yeah, we’ve had a few… Above: Hulaboy
BY TIM HINELY
You did it…you people dared me. You never thought I’d turn it up to 11, did you (on the 10th singles column, no less)? Every other column I’d reviewed 10 singles and this time I upped it to 11. And then the editor upped it even more with a couple of picks of his own. You people know better than to dare me. (Or us.) If you say I can’t or won’t do it, trust me, I will. This column is for every one of you (and you all owe me dinner, by the way).
I loved this band’s full-length (former members of Baby Grand, woot woot!) and now here’s two more songs to scratch that pop itch that rarely gets scratched these days. “Weekend” is damn near perfect, all cooing and sighing while “Over You” adds a little bit more grit to the proceedings, but not too much. Buy, Buy BUY.
Just when you think that Stew and Jen have retired Boyracer for good they come roaring back with 4 more songs that were recorded in locales such as Arizona, Sweden and the UK. This 7” starts off with a song called “Pete Shelley” (you can never go wrong with that name) and ends with the Jen-written “Jump” (not a Van Halen cover, you freaks) and two more cuts that are worthy of your time. Don’t pull a hamstring listening.
I’m not trying to trump any of Dr. Hinely’s “8” and “9” star ratings by deploying an unheard-of “10” here—the record’s genuinely that awesome. It’s everything a classic single should be: blazingly powerful and straight to the point, boasting irresistible hooks and both sides clocking in at under 2 ½ minutes. Indeed, the legendary Australian skronk/blues trio is unleashing its first new studio material in two decades, having gotten back together in 2012 to promote their Aberrant Years retrospective. With a slide-guit-powered A-side that is pure f-time blooze-punk (like they walked out the door and then walked right back), and a 1-chord locomotive raveup for the B-side, the single’s a no-brainer to be on year-end best-of lists. And it’s only friggin’ February! Time for an album, lads. Download code included. —Fred Mills
Apparently this Australian quartet’s first album (they have three) was recorded in one day, and released three days later in a vomit bag (and you thought you were punk rawk). I hadn’t heard a note of their music but the four songs are like a punch in the face that you keep asking for. My pick to click is the first tune, ‘St. Vincent’s” but all four are righteous. File under: rock with guitars. Lots of guitars.
“Skinheads Home for Christmas” b/w “Yesterdays Hero” (8)
(Future Perfect Records)
This seems to be that perfect melding of The Ramones, Skrewdriver (minus the racist lyrics), Sham, 69 and the Bay City Rollers. Gravelly-voiced doesn’t even being to describe the singer while the guitars are whispering sweet nothings in my ears. Both songs are ace. Yeah, ace so the red vinyl isn’t the only reason to get this….DAMMIT, IT’S GOOD.
Back before Stew Boyracer became a husband, dad and a ranch hand he used to record every waking second (no, really). In addition to Boyracer he had another project going, Hulaboy (with his pal Eric from the band Hula Hoop), that had some singles and comp tracks. Good to see he’s revived that band with three more tunes. “Kids Under Stars” is roaring and ferocious while the two songs on the flip were slower, darker and had some cool keyboards. Purrrrrfect purple vinyl. (photo is at the top of the page)
Had not heard of the label before but with this release and others, seems like it’ll be a force to be reckoned with. Anywho, these two songs would be requested over and over again if this trio played your next frat party. Or house party. Or whatever. Vocalist/bassist Dave makes all the girls swoon (but drummer Jeremy gets ’em in the door in the first place). I/we need a full-length from this band. Terrific stuff and yes, boo boo blue vinyl.
When you look like these guys do and hang out in graveyards you’re inevitably going to get Black Sabbath comparisons. These guys do sound a little like Ozzy’s old band, being played at 45, that is. “Hit and Run” is what these guys do for a living so you’d better stay on the sidewalk while the flipside, “45 Minutes”, kicks it up a notch. And forget Sabbath, this is more Dead Boys/Electric Frankenstein kinda rawk. Red vinyl.
Quitty & the Don’ts
“Running out of Time” b/w “(She’s Gonna) Break Your Heart” (8)
I dunno a dern thing about this band but I like the name and after playing it I wanna hear more. Two near-perfect slices of pure ‘60s garage pop from the Hidden Volume label (see Improbables review above) complete with tambourine and melodies to die for. Think Dave Clark 5 here people and for those of us who are colored-vinyl freaks the red on here looked righteous. These guys need to record again and again.
Given that MM has delayed their new Strangers to Ourselves album again—as of this writing it was slated for March 17—this single will have to do for hungry fans. It’s technically a freebie that indie record stores received to use as giveaways for customers who purchased the full length (or, now, who preorder it). But it’s probably easy to find for sale, and the two tracks, along with teaser tune “The Best Room,” are also already available at iTunes. Whattaya get? A weird kind of polka-fueled punk rock ditty on one side, a luminous waltz-time pop nugget on the other, neither of which is exactly essential listening but still hold up to repeated spins. We’ll have to wait for the full album to see if Isaac Brock’s mojo is still intact, though. —Fred Mills
The Safe Distance is Stew (as if this guy wasn’t in enough bands, see Boyracer, Hulaboy and Hard Left on this page) plus Crayola and David. Like the latest Boyracer 7”, record in the US of A, Australia and England (they’re got lots of frequent flyer miles). This is all over the map and reminded me of someone switching between AM radio stations (plus some college radio throw in there, too). Like if “Boris the Spider’ was written by the guy from the Monochrome Set. Rude red vinyl.
This band hails from Baltimore and its members were probably extras on The Wire. Only two songs on this here big-hole, black vinyl 7” but both are winners, that is if you think The Germs “Forming” 7” is one of the greatest pieces of wax ever. I do. Lyrics to “Beat on Beat” go like this, “Eyes together, hands together, heads together beat on beat.” Yeah!
Hard Left/ Bad Daddies (SPLIT)
Hard Left Side- “Stay True’ and “It’s Not You” b/w Bad Daddies side- “War,” “Festering Brine” and “We Never Will” (9)
Hard Left are making an impression and taking a stand. You read my review up above and these two songs, “Stay True” and “It’s Not You” are no different. Join the Hard Left Barmy Army or be lonely forever. Bad Daddies, who I’d never heard of before, crank out three gold-plated nuggets of sped-up punk complete with Poly Styrene-ish vocals and a layer of some of the sweetest fuzz around. This particular blue vinyl looked almost good enough to eat (I’m hungry).
Tim “45 Adapter” Hinely spins backwards when he reviews Australian records, but don’t let that throw you off balance. Check out his most excellent rock mag Dagger at www.daggerzine as well as his 9th installment of The Singles Scene (here at BLURT), or the 8th (here ) or the 7th (here), the 6th (here) and the 5th (here).
“You’ve come a long way baby”: while we rightfully applaud Title IX and all the advances that the fairer sex has made, when you’re talking the IX installment of our indie singles column, those six words are what come to mind…
BY TIM HINELY
You people have given me a new lease on life. Yes, YOU. I asked and you people spoke. You let me know you were tired, tired of all of the hype bands. Flaming Lips (saw ‘em in ’87), Arcade Fire (saw them when they were good), Miley Cyrus (who?). You said you wanted the real deal and that with my column, you got it. The folks with their Charles Dickens clothing riding tall bicycles while growing their beards and eating chutney, they can stay on the other side of the room. We’ll be over here living our lives (and playing records). Seem like a plan? [Yep! -Strategy Ed.]
“Molten Gold” b/w “Pink Frost” (9 out of 10 stars)
Ok, so I’m a little biased as I think Chills’ leader Martin Phillipps is one of the world’s greatest living songwriters (you know I’m right). He’s been laying low these past several years but with these new recordings and some recent gigs in the U) it seems like the volcano is ready to blow (in the best way possible). “Molten Gold” is a lovely, bouncy tune while the flip redoes one of the band’s greatest moments. As good as the original? Nah but still pretty damn good.
Wait, the Close Lobsters are back? Oh hell yes! I loved this UK band back in the day (one of the original C86 bands) and here they are, back with two new songs, their first new ones since ’89. The A-side, “Now Time”, is dreamy, even a bit spacey, but the magic continues. Meanwhile, the flip, “New York City in Space” is mid-tempo and janglier. All this and very thick, reddish vinyl. I’m all in. Shelflife’s winning streak continues.
No, not that “Crossroads,” although l’il Robby Johnson would still approve; instead, it’s an original from the Radio Birdman geetarzan, and a smokin’ slab of straight up garage slop it be. But yes, that “Oh Well”—specifically, the hi-nrg raveup Pt. 1 of the Peter Green/Fleetwood Mac classic, and I’d reckon that it puts to shame pretty much every other version of you’ve heard over the years with the exception of the original. Pressed on lurid purple wax, and hats off to the Career label (co-helmed by Tek and his buddy Ron Sanchez, of Donovan’s Brain) for their subtle appropriation of the old Atlantic Records promo logo for their label art. (—Fred Mills)
Look, everyone’s busy these day and no one has a lot of time. The Ghetto Ghouls understand that, which is why they offer up two short cuts on their latest 7”. “Plastic Violence” rumbles and grumbles for a few minutes (maybe) while “Things” has a drummer who’s breaking cymbals all over the place. I normally compare a band like this to a more famous band but I got nothin’: these guys are pretty damn unique.
In this column am I reviewing either the fairest of pop of the most slogged-out, gut-bucket noise? Pretty much… but hey, it’s my column and I can do what I want. This fairly new NYC bunch might remind you initially of Pains of Being Pure at Heart which is fine by me. The songs are all “pure ear candy” (as President Obama said). If they were around in the 90’s they’d been the cream of the crop of indie pop and even now, in 2014, I’d say the same. Four songs, no filler.
Following up his latest solo album (as well as last year’s Planet Of The Apes single, which we reviewed back in Dr. Hinely’s “Singles Scene VI” report), that-guy-who-useta-be-in-some-famous-band teams up, once again, with Scott McCaughey and several partners-in-crime for a 4-songer. Just the pounding Charlie Pickett & the Eggs cover alone (“If This Is Love…”) is worth the price of admission, but you also don’t wanna miss the fuzz-garagey “Portrait Of A Sorry Man” for the series of inside-joke lyrical bon mots (among them: “I’m sorry I invented indie rock… the whole thing started out so well, how was I to know?”). A pair of uncharacteristic acoustic aces on the flip, notably the strummy/jangly “Welcome to the Party,” join the aforementioned joker and king, giving Mr. Buck a pretty strong hand in this game. (—FM)
First new Moles material in over two decades has Australian Richard Davies (though he’s been living in Massachusetts for several years now) joining forces with a band called Free Time (w/members of Real Estate and Scott & Charlene’s Wedding). The a-side is a 2-minute-plus gem, all pristine jangle, while the flip, “Chills,” is a tribute to legendary New Zealand band The Chills (see above) and is nearly as good. And a new album due out later this year. Huzzah!
This is Mr. Mike Janson who was formerly in Matador Records heroes the Lynnfield Pioneers. I thought he fell off the face of the earth. OK, so maybe he did, but he re-emerged in Brooklyn (where all indie rockers go to eat pie) and has this new terrific combo. “Scene of the Crime” spits n’ snarls (whistles, too) while “Barf in the Tube” upchucks enough melody for all of us. On the flip both “No Dime” and “Beehive” get to the finish line before you. Fans of Connections (or simply good music) will dig this.
Is that a drawing of Will Oldham on the cover? This is a few guys in the bedroom (Vulgar of Human Eye/Clone Defects/Timmy’s Organism fame), playing the banjo, drunk off their asses. No song titles, magic marker scrawl on the label (it just says Timmy 45). I tried to play the flip but no songs on there; great, so Timmy is fuckin’ with us! I know one thing from all of this, Timmy wants whiskey and well, I’ll bring him some damn whiskey—you crazy, I’m not saying no to that lunatic. Hiccup.
There’s a couple of things you’ll learn from this record. The band is a trio from Austin, TX (and Little Steven thinks trios are worthless… dumbass) and no synthesizers were used in the making of the record—and I’ve gotta put another mouse trap out tonight ‘cos we’ve got them in the house. “The Silence” uses drill-bit guitar to drive the point home while “The Knife” reminded me of the best Marked Men songs. I’ll be waiting on the front steps of the 12XU office for their forthcoming LP (can someone bring me some saltines, please?)
Following up last year’s stylin’ EP, this Portland, OR, ‘60s garage-worshiping trio—Blind Baron, Viking and The Baroness on guitar, bass and drums respectively—goes all-instro for a change, serving up a pair of primal-gunk tunes so lunkheadedly perfect you’d swear the bandmembers were the unholy spawn of the Sonics, the Kingsmen and Link Wray. “Palm Reader” in particular is a sprawling melange of fuzz/tremolo and busted-cone bass, and that Keith Moon-worthy drumming isn’t necessarily gonna save anybody in the group from a life sentence breaking rocks. (—FM)
The latest in Kept’s so-far-unblemished series of funk-centric wax finds eight-piece Canadian combo Freak Motif getting’ gritty with a slice of JB’s-inspired fonk, heavy on the trancelike groove while a blazing horn section takes everything to the bank. Or the bridge, if you insist. The instro version of “Killin’ Me” has swagger a-plenty, but when guest vocalist Lady C takes the mic on the A-side things get saucier and sexier by the bar. Hell yeah. (—FM)
Tim “45 Adapter” Hinely spins backwards when he reviews Australian records, but don’t let that throw you off balance. Check out his most excellent rock mag Dagger at www.daggerzine as well as his 8th installment of The Singles Scene (here at BLURT, or the 7th (here), the 6th (here) and the 5th (here).
Hard wax makes a 52% increase, notches 6% of all album receipts, and officially becomes the trend du jour of hipsters across the land.
By Uncle Blurt
Everybody around here knows that yer ol’ Uncle is kinda nutty for vinyl, having grown up with it; I can report in all candor that I have never owned an MP3 player of any sort and that while I do download occasionally, it is almost always live recordings and bootlegs. So it cheered my greying grey matter to learn that Nielsen SoundScan data for 2014 arrived earlier this week, and amidst all the hoo-hah over the seventy billion copies of 1989 that Taylor Swift sold plus accompanying media over-scrutiny of Sam Smith (who?), the Frozen soundtrack and Pharrell Williams’ best-selling song “Sappy,” er, I mean “Happy,” that vinyl records topped the 9.2 million mark in U.S. sales, which represents a 52% increase over last year.
According to the Wall Street Journal, that in turn represents 6% of total album sales. That may not seem like a whopping amount, but placed in the immediate context of shifting consumer habits and the gradual return of indie record stores to the national retail mix, it’s huge.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that vinyl will ever regain its prominence, sales-wise, that it enjoyed back in the ‘70s and ‘80s (think: Frampton Comes Alive, Saturday Night Fever and Thriller). Nor does it suggest, as some cynics would have it, that we’re currently in a vinyl bubble of sorts; vinyl never really went away, even at the height of MP3 and earbud mania, it just went underground, and out of all those teens who have just discovered vinyl, thereby making it the hipster trend du jour, we’re guaranteed that a hefty percentage will continue to prize vinyl long after a lot of their peers have moved on to, I dunno, collecting old Betamax tapes or something.
Meanwhile, good news for streaming services such as Spotify and bad news for retailers in the download business: downloads dropped a little, from 1.26 billion hits in 2013 to 1.1 billion in 2014, while streaming jumped even more than vinyl, from 106 billion individual track streams in 2013 to a whopping 164 billion in 2014 — a 54% surge. Buh-bye, shitty-sounding li’l compressed MP3s.
1. The convenience and portability of streaming is going to ensure that it’s here to stay and will probably continue to rise. What this means for the iPod and higher-end digital players like Neil Young’s much-heralded Pono player (pictured above) I don’t know. But you haven’t heard much about Pono lately, now, have you? Other than the news that it will finally hit stores next week, and that the Pono Store has officially launched for folks who want to pay an arm and a leg for a digital download. (Ever notice how much “pono” looks like “porno” if you are skimming the text on a website?)
The only people regularly talking about digital players are audiophile magazines and websites catering to those who are willing to plop down a thousand clams or more for a player that provides truly hi-res digital audio quality. It actually may be too early to get into a conversation about that new $1,119.00 digital iteration of Sony’s Walkman ZX2 (pictured below) just announced this week. I will say, though, that I still own a Walkman pro, the same cassette deck that I used to bootleg concerts with back in the day, so I am willing to entertain offers from people looking to get on the Walkman bandwagon and grab a genuine museum piece…)
2. Vinyl sales – accompanied by audio gear sales, especially turntables, ‘cos ya gotta have the hardware to play the software – will continue to rise for a spell, eventually plateau, then settle in as a comfortable, attractive and, yes, profitable music format and delivery systems. We’ll also see more and more cool gimmicks like colored vinyl and shaped picture discs just like in the late ‘70s, all aimed at the collector geeks and hardcore fans out there, along with more and more reissues of classic wax and maybe even the mainstreaming of deluxe – and way expensive – vinyl box sets.
3. I will continue to geek out on vinyl. Hell, just yesterday I freaked out at the news of that colored vinyl, limited-to-500 copies, of Guided By Voices’ Bee Thousand. I pre-ordered my copy just as the door was slamming shut and the damn thing was sold out. Whew…
Postscript: you can toss all those CDs now, kids. Nobody’s gonna want them in a few years, not even you – in fact, a lot of music stores have already stopped taking them in trade. See below for the pile of unloved promos we have accumulated over the past couple of years: it’s a photo of our back office (known otherwise as “the dumpster”).
In which ye old Blurt editor fantasizes about 12″ vinyl records and the sweet young things who covet them….
June 9, 2014
Dear Bob – It’s your buddy Fred again. How goes it? In your latest “Lefsetz Letter” post (“David Carr’s Article,” June 9, about NYT writer Carr’s “Free Music, At Least While It Lasts” story and “the outbreak of free”), you very astutely summarize where we’ve been and where we are; no arguments on my part there. But near the end, when you namecheck some of today’s dinosaurs (printers, travel agents, etc.) you take what I feel is a somewhat gratuitous—and ill-informed—swipe at record stores writing, sarcastically, “While we’re at it, let’s bring back record stores.”
I’m going to go out on a limb here and presume that while you’re a staunch anti-nostalgist you still harbor fond memories of hanging out in and shopping at record stores back in the day, back when a lot of your boomer-fave bands like the Eagles were making vinyl LPs and a young Bob Lefsetz could be found flipping through the bins in the aisles of a favorite local shop while those timeless chords of “Take It Easy” blasted from the store’s stereo… and out of the corner of your eye you spotted a pretty girl over in the other aisle also flipping through the bins and also grooving to the tune so you screwed up your courage to wander over to her and, using the mutual musical connection as an ice breaker, asked her what her name was.
Wait—don’t hit “delete” just yet, Bob. I’m also going to go out on a limb here and presume that you and I are pretty close to the same age (I’m 56), and since the above scenario, or a similar one, probably unfolded for me a few times back in the day as well, we’ve got a few shared experiences that might make for an interesting conversation someday. (I am what you’d call an “occasional nostalgist” but don’t hold that against me. I’ve also got a 13-year old kid so part of my job as a parent is to make sure I don’t forget what it was like to be young.)
Back to the record store thing. Putting the stores into the dinosaur category is, I think, to consciously avoid actually going into one in 2014 to check out the dynamic therein. A lot of them have disappeared over the past two decades, and they ain’t coming back. Quite a few, though, hung in there, some of them literally by the proverbial skin of their… you know. As I may have noted in past emails, I’ve been working at an independent record store (Schoolkids Records, Raleigh NC – about to celebrate its 40th anniversary, in fact) for the past two years, and while no one here harbors any illusions about things returning to anything remotely resembling the Nineties Normal of the pre-download era goldrush (although the raging success of the annual Record Store Day vinyl-centric event is, in fact, encouraging) there is a definite sense here that everything old is becoming new again.
Our store (and for the most part all of the other stores in the US who are part of our Coalition of Independent Music Stores, which has been in place for years now) doesn’t exactly operate from a position of nostalgia, but what we ARE trying to do is restore the notion of a record store being a place to come and hang out, meet friends, hell, bring the whole family (it happens), geek out on this or that band/record (and I do mean records: new and used vinyl comprised nearly 80% of our sales), get your OWN band’s record/CD/tape placed in the bins via consignment, and yeah, maybe even screw up the courage to wander over to that pretty girl in the other aisle and make a comment about the music that’s playing over the store stereo. I mean, some things are eternal and don’t need fixin’, you know?
As a semi-relevant aside: at least once a day I see my teenage self in the store. It’s uncanny, Bob; here’s this geeky kid, might be a guy or it might be a girl, and they definitely look like 2014 kids, but it’s still ME some four decades hence, out there in the bins, feeding what’s potentially going to turn into a lifelong obsession with music. That’s me, in the early ‘70s, discovering my first used record store, or a store with a huge stash of UK imports and a box of bootlegs under the counter, or even a store where one of the employees stops what he’s doing to patiently help me find some weird-ass obscure band and doesn’t treat me like I’m some weird-ass geeky kid.
At our store we have tried to modernize within reason, of course. To that end we have free Wi-Fi so you can check your email, a big stuffed couch and a few chairs for lounging, a centrally-placed stage where we host live shows every early Friday and Saturday evening, and even a bar with 6 local drafts on tap (soft drinks and agua as well). We also jettisoned the “cranky old burned-out clerk behind the counter” model in favor of… well, since I’m the resident “old clerk” we actually just jettisoned the “cranky” and “burned out” components ‘cos I really enjoy being the clerk behind the counter, honest. Hell, I make it my mission to go up to every kid under 10 who comes in with a parent and hand him or her one of our store stickers (it’s a kind of demented fish logo, go figure), because I’ve never met a kid under 10 who does NOT like getting a free sticker and because I’ve never met a parent anywhere who does NOT like seeing a smile on their kid’s face. We are all about making people feel welcome here at our store and, oh by the way, we are all about giving a little kid a good feeling about our store because that’s gonna be a regular customer here in 5-10 years’ time.
My rather long-winded point is this: nobody’s trying to “bring back” record stores or trying to cling to some outdated or dead business model. We’re just trying to show people that they have an option they might not have realized has been here (at least in some cities) all along, right under their noses. A record store is — I risk sounding like the gone-native proselytizer here, but bear with me — way more than just a place to spend your money on music. If that was all a record store is, everyone would be happy just going to Best Buy. (Whoops, Best Buy has shifted all their music floor space to smartphones now. Never mind.) It’s a gathering spot, a public square, a nexus of interactions and social transactions and even the occasional teenage mating dance. Some folks stick around for a couple of hours or more. Everyone is welcome, and everyone has a good time.
It’s a beautiful thing Bob, and I would like to personally invite you to swing by some Saturday afternoon if you are ever in the vicinity and — not to get all hippie on you — enjoy the vibe. The first Bell’s Ale is on the house.
UPDATE 6/10: Apropos of nothing – okay, okay, I’m being disingenuous; it’s fucking apropos – the Autumn Defense and Yep Roc filmed a series of testimonials about records and record stores last fall at Schoolkids (our old location, prior to moving). Watch a clip, below, or check it out over at YouTube.
The clock strikes analog, and once again, you’re outta time unless you’re hip to the wax, Jack…
BY TIM “45 ADAPTER” HINELY
Wha…? You talkin’ to me?Don’t look at me like that. What’d I do to you? You know what? The only crime I’ve ever committed is to try and write about some 7” singles here and folks are holding it against me. Fine, ridicule because I don’t have an Ipod and don’t know how to download something, but you know what? When push comes to shove and the deity of your choice is bringing folks up to heaven who do you think he’s gonna take, me or you? The answer is ME because even God has a turntable! That’s right, you’ll be waiting by the pearly gates with your broken Ipod why me and the big man and spinnin’ these 7” records. So long. Continue reading →