Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Fucked Up - Year of the Tiger

When I was getting into Fucked Up I was "warned" about their Chinese Zodiac series. I can't remember who it was that told me about them (it was someone I knew in South Wales), but they said that they were too weird and not a patch on the albums. Whilst they're very different to the songs they put on their albums, I think the Zodiac songs I've heard have been great and I love seeing what they do when they let themselves play on for 15-20 minutes. It's like they're two different bands, and I enjoy both in different ways.

Year of the Tiger was the first of the series I heard, finding a copy in Banquet around the time it came out in 2012. Between getting into them in 2008 and buying this 12", I'd seen the band a bunch of times and fallen in love with David Comes to Life, my album of the year in 2011. Whilst I might not have been in the right place to get into such a record four years earlier in South Wales, I was fully on board with Year of the Tiger from the off. For a hardcore band, they seem to have taken to writing very long songs well - Year of the Tiger holds my attention from the start and never feels boring or relies on repetition to pad it out. The mixture of the vocals and the piano hiding in the background add so much. It's a great song and I play it quite often. Onno (Excerpt) isn't as enjoyable on it's own - it floats through some interesting moments over its 22-minutes but does so very gradually, instrumentally and kind of hypnotically. When I was warned about the series, I thought it could be more like this, which might justify such a warning. However, with Year of the Tiger on the a-side, it's a 100% recommendation instead.

I've been meaning to buy more of the series, but I don't often find them in my local record shops - so far I only have the Japanese 7" of Year of the Pig and Year of the Snake. Part of the problem is that I have a terrible memory for which ones I have, but that's more a reflection on my bad memory than it is a comment about the series itself. I'm looking forward to hearing more of them as and when I find them.

Format: 12", insert
Tracks: 2
Cost: £4.65 new
Bought: Banquet Records, Kingston
When: 08/02/12
Colour: Black
Etching: none
mp3s: Download code

Saturday, 11 August 2018

MewithoutYou - [A -> B] Life

In 2007, my last year of university, my friend Hugh posted me a mix cd featuring a load of stuff he'd been listening to at the time (and, for some reason, The Stone Roses). It was a mixture of South Wales bands he was starting to listen to, like Taint and Gunrack?, new discoveries like William Elliott Whitmore, and The Smashing Pumpkins, a band he'd finally conceded were actually very good. Another particular highlight was a band called mewithoutYou - he'd included the song Torches Together from their second album, Catch For Us the Foxes, and I was enjoying it greatly. There were some strong moments on that cd, and the demo of Young Hearts by Gunrack? remains the only version of that song I have, despite it being a truly excellent song. We'd go on to live with Nicky, the singer of Gunrack?, for a year, see Taint more times than I care to count and watch William Elliott Whitmore play an incredible, sold-out 2-hour set in The Globe on a crazy-hot night with pretty much everyone we new in South Wales under the same roof. The cd was strangely precedent of the music that would shape the next two years that I spent living in Cardiff.

In October that year, we were settled in Cardiff and I'd just started my new job. Finally with enough money to start buying music again (it'd been a tight couple of months) I went to Kelly's Records in the market to see what they had that I might like. They had on their perpetual sale of three cds for £15 - not matter what season it was, the same sale existed but with a different season-related name. I was pleased to find a bunch of albums that you wouldn't normally find in record stores (including Fantastic Damage by El-P, which for some reason I agreed to let Hugh have, a decision I still regret). Finally getting to the point, they had a cd copy of [A->B] Life by mewithoutYou, and I was very excited to finally play it.

I'd been keen to check them out more since hearing Torches Together but not had a chance. Their name came up again that summer in an entirely unrelated manner - I was on holiday with some friends and got bored of the book I was reading, so started reading the ones Nadine had brought with her - she was taking a course about time travel in literature, so had copies of Slaughterhouse Five and The Time Traveller's WifeSlaughterhouse Five gripped me and [Spoiler alert] I was amazed to turn the page to see the words "Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt" in giant letters at a key point in the book (if you've not read it and ignored my warning, I'm sorry for spoiling that part for you). I can remember it vividly, sat on this pristine white-sand beach in Croatia reading about horrible details of WWII. I spent a lot of time on the rest of the trip thinking about that book and that phrase in particular. When I got back I googled it and saw that it was also the name of a song by mewithoutYou from their first album. I was even more keen to check them out to hear that song. Of the six cds I bought that day in Kelly's, this one was at the top of my listening pile.

The song itself is an anomaly on the album, it starts quietly with sung vocals and swiftly moves into a wall of noise with the song title signally the break. The vocals remain in the background with the rest of the band dominating the sound over the top, unlike anything else they've ever recorded. Initially I was a bit disappointed that a song with such a strong title would sound so different to what I was expecting given the other songs I'd heard, but now I love it for the oddity it is. The rest of the album provides countless examples of the brilliant shouty hardcore I'd come to expect from the song I'd heard beforehand. I’ve always enjoyed bands with unique takes on vocals, and was listening to a lot of post-hardcore and screamo bands (as much as I hate that term, it is appropriate), so was in the perfect place for mewithoutYou. Bullet to Binary was a perfect opener and Nice and Blue, Gentlemen and Silencer are incredible songs (the first of the three with the excellent line "I'm not the boy I once was, but I'm not the man that I'll be"). The Ghost panicked me at first with it's sung-vocals at the start - I was worried that the spoken-word style was a rare treat and actually they sung most of the songs, I was pleased to be proven wrong by the time the chorus hit.

Recently, the band have been touring playing this album and I was a bit gutted I didn't get to see them play it. As it was my entry point to the band, I'd have loved to have made it to one of the shows. I gradually bought all their other albums over the years, mostly on vinyl and had been thinking about completing the collection eventually. I was pleased to see that they reissued this one and picked it up along with the reissue of their debut EP I Never Said I was Brave (featuring far heavier versions of a couple of songs from here). I got screwed on customs fees by the post office, so they ended up costing me way more than I was expecting - it went from "on the pricey side of reasonable" to "expensive". I need to find a better way of getting records from the US. The colour of the vinyl looks absolutely lovely, which made up for the customs blow. As a nice bonus, the acoustic version of I Never Said I was Brave from the end of the cd is included (without the long, silent wait!).

Format: 12", picture sleeve, insert
Tracks: 13
Cost: £31.70 new
Bought: Band's webstore
When: 27/01/18
Colour: Half gold / half black
Etching: none
mp3s: Download code

Thursday, 9 August 2018

Manic Street Preachers - Know Your Enemy

Know Your Enemy is 16 songs and over an hour long, but somehow they managed to squeeze it onto one piece of vinyl. It was released in 2001, which was probably the lowest point in vinyl's popularity, so it was presumably something of an afterthought. I stumbled across this copy in Selectadisc in Nottingham three years later, where it had been sat neglected all that time, for an incredible £4 (vinyl still wasn't that popular in 2004 either, it seems). It was in perfect condition and I was very pleased to add it to my collection, especially at that price. It has since been reissued on 180-gram vinyl, but I can't help but wonder if that adds nothing when the songs are so tightly packed; the grooves have to be so shallow to accommodate the runtime. Ideally I'd say it needs a double LP reissue - fingers crossed. The cover of McCarthy's We Are All Bourgeois Now is sadly, but understandably, omitted. It's a shame, because it's a great bonus track.

Know Your Enemy was the first album that came out after I became a huge Manics fan - the previous album being the one that got me into them. I was a pretty nerdy teen, so wanted to hear the album as a complete album on the day it came out - I'd daydreamed about how cool it would have been to sit down and play Generation Terrorists or The Holy Bible in whole the day they came out and wanted that for this album at least (I can't say I've done the same for every album since, but most). I walked into town after after school on Monday 19th March 2001 and bought my copy on cd for £12.99. Somewhere I still have the receipt. I paid in exact change, because I somehow thought that was important. Like I said, nerdy teen. I then got the bus home, went up to my room, lay on the bed and placed the left speaker of my hifi next to my left ear, the right next to my right and hit play.

I'd made a point of not hearing the singles Found That Soul and So Why So Sad before the album came out. There was a small piece in Kerrang! Magazine about the album that I purposely didn't read until I'd heard the album. I wanted nothing to possibly alter my enjoyment of the record as a complete work. Friends had heard the new singles and had the fairly-standard opinions that Found That Soul was great and So Why So Sad wasn't, but I couldn't really avoid hearing something about it.

At the time, I enjoyed it. I remember hearing songs I thought were really good, and the band showing more sides to their songwriting style than they had previously. I wasn't blown away, which in itself was something of a let down. Perhaps I'd built up too much anticipation for it - it's worth noting that White Pony came out the year before so had given me the excitement of the first new album from a band I loved that had proved to be seminal. Given how strong The Masses Against the Classes had been, I think I was justified in hyping it up so much. The influence of that song was strong throughout - the album had far more fuzz than they'd ever used and it was a world away from the clean production of This is My Truth Tell Me Yours, probably intentionally. I suspect that change wrecked havoc with their career, at least in the eyes of the record label; a slick, clean follow-up would have been so easy, but so un-Manics.

17 years later, I can't say it's gone down in history as one of their greats. There are some really strong songs (Found That Soul, Wattsville Blues, Freedom of Speech Won't Save My Children - seems that I love the songs where they found their inner grunge band), but none that have become absolute classics in my opinion; when I see the band and they don't play anything from this album, I don't walk away wishing they had. There are some singles that did little for me initially but have become songs I do really enjoy (Ocean Spray, Let Robeson Sing) and some oddities that I quite enjoy (Royal Correspondent). There are also a lot of other songs - I'd struggle to even say whether there was a Manics song called Dead Martyrs or The Convalescent let alone tell you they were album songs and not b-sides. The funny thing is that Dead Martyrs has a huge chorus that I'd completely forgotten about.

I don't think culling any songs would have saved it. It's probably the most inconsistent Manics album (Nicky and the fuzzed-up Wattsville Blues being followed by the faux-70's Miss Europa Disco Dancer might be one of the strangest pairing of songs on any album). Over the years that followed, they tried being a few different bands but the albums stuck to those individual themes more consistently. I feel Resistance is Futile might by the first time in the 20th century that they've fully committed to doing what they do best without trying to do/be anything else (and it works - more on that another time). This album is the polar opposite of that.

A lot of this sounds negative, but I do like this album. I don't play it often, but it's an interesting moment in their history. 

Format: 12", picture sleeve
Tracks: 16
Cost: £4 new
Bought: Selectadisc, Nottingham
When: 15/03/04
Colour: Black
Etching: none
mp3s: no

Sunday, 29 July 2018

Songs: Ohia - Ghost Tropic

Ghost Tropic has long been one of the Jason Molina albums I've struggled with the most. I found a copy on cd in Amoeba Records in San Francisco in 2015 having been on a huge Molina-trip for a couple of years. It was great and I was finding gem after gem in his back-catalogue. I think Ghost Tropic threw me off because I wasn't instantly floored by it. Years later, I still play it the least often.

Ghost Tropic represents a side of Molina that appears occasionally - playing very sparse, long songs. A few such songs have appeared on splits or singles, but Ghost Tropic is the only album where that is the theme. Whereas Magnolia Electric Co. were the very full-band side of his songwriting, most of the Songs: Ohia work was folky but still busy - there are great songs where he races through lyrics with only an acoustic guitar and some accompaniment, and that speed was one of the things I enjoyed the most.

The effect of the slow pace of Ghost Tropic has it's pros and cons. Every single word, guitar strum, or note from any instrument sounds intensely deliberate. Turn it up loud enough and you find yourself thinking about each individual note, hit or pluck; you can picture the various musicians very carefully and thoughtfully striking each moment. More than on a lot of his albums, this one to me conjures the images of the four of them in the studio, crafting the songs with great precision. In that respect, it's an incredible album, unique in what it makes you feel.

The problem however was that I wasn't ready for that experience and, as interesting as it is, it doesn't result in anything that I'd consider a highlight. It's only really a small step away from some other Molina work - you'd still broadly categorise them in the same way - but it's far enough to throw the listener off. When I got back from SF it was at the top of my pile of music to listen to and I remember being baffled. I distinctly remember being surprised by how little happened and how long it seemed to go on for. The second half comprises two 11-minute plus songs - I recall glancing at the cd player and being amazed by digital readout of how long the song had been playing. It could have been during either of Not Just a Ghost's Heart or Incantation.

The first half prepares you for those songs in their sparsity, but not quite their duration. Lightning Risked It All feels like it's building to something but never does. The lyrics get increasingly spread out until they eventually stop; the song continues for a bit then also ends rather unceremoniously. The Body Burned Away broods in a similar way, but reaches more of a conclusion. In a lot of ways, there are comparisons to Low, a band I wouldn't normally consider as having much in common with Molina's work - their albums are often full of songs that feel like they're intentionally not going where you want them to.

I found this copy online recently and picked it up along with a few other bits. I'm trying to flesh out my Molina collection and I'd certainly like to have them all on vinyl. I was pleased to get a copy, but knew I'd never play it as much as Magnolia Electric Co., Let Me Go or Josephine (or any of the others really - it's hard to name the highlights when there are so many). Strangely the labels are on the wrong sides of the record, but it's instantly obvious as side B has two very large chunks of uninterrupted groove. What's more confusing is the that information etched in the run-out groove implies that side B is in fact side A, so the error must go back as far as the masters. The artwork is as bare as the cd - just the title in white in the top right corner. People often refer to the first, self-titled album as "The Black Album", but in artwork, theme and sound, this album is almost certainly the more deserving of such a definitive title.

Format: 12", insert
Tracks: 8
Cost: £15 new
Bought: Norman Records
When: 07/03/18
Colour: Black
Etching: none
mp3s: Download code

Saturday, 28 July 2018

Manic Street Preachers - No Surface All Feeling

So here it is, the new holder of the dubious accolade Most Expensive Record in My Collection. Previous holders have included Radiohead's Ok Computer boxset and The Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie on triple vinyl. Both of those were albums (landmark ones at that) and contained a large number of songs; this is a 7" with just one song on it. One song that I already have on three cds, cassette, a minidisc (yes, really) and two LPs.

On the other hand, there exist only 100 of these in the world, and each has a different sleeve, so it is unique - along with being the most expensive I think it's also the rarest record I own, so the price should be starting to make (some) sense.

Each year, seven songs are pressed onto vinyl and each given unique sleeves drawn by artists who submit their work to be involved for Secret 7's. The resulting records are then sold with the money going to charity - this year to Mind, a mental health charity, and a cause I can get behind. I've been aware of the project for a couple of years (Max Richter had a 7" of a song from Sleep a year or two ago) and always thought it was cool. This year it was announced that one of the songs would be No Surface All Feeling by the Manics, the closer from Everything Must Go, and a song that has had a bit of a resurgence since the 20th anniversary shows and made it back into regular setlists.

Just to dwell on that for a moment - I'm really pleased that No Surface All Feeling is finally getting the respect that it deserves. I've always had a lot of time for it and thought it was neglected being tucked away at the end of an album that is quite front-loaded (but the positioning of A Design For Life is always going to weight things unfairly). I feel that, unlike a lot of bands, the Manics aren't known for their grand closing statements on albums (feel free to tell me I'm wrong) - they've always written such huge singles that the albums tend to focus around them. That is to say, I don't think the song was positioned last because they necessarily wanted the album to finish with it, or wrote it as a closer; it was just the best place for it. Both times I've seen them play this year, not only did they play it, they played it third, right after Motorcycle Emptiness. That's quite a promotion to go from "last track on the album" to "played amongst the biggest singles". I'm pleased for it, if that isn't a ridiculous thing to say. I always thought it was a great song, and it's nice to know I'm not alone.

Back to the 7". My Manics collection has had it's ups and downs over the years. For a while, I stopped altogether, but in recent years have fallen back in love with the band, and rekindled my love for eBay too, meaning I've been chipping away at parts of the collection here and there. But I've long known my collection will never be complete; I just can't see any scenarios where I have enough disposable income to buy an original Suicide Alley or those excellent looking limited edition Japanese reissues (although I hope I do!). So I was a bit unsure what to do when the news of this 7" came out - I could admit that I was never going to complete my collection and let this be a hole in it, or I could commit to doing the best job possible and buy it. I very much doubt I'll ever have the chance to buy one of these again, and I shudder to think how much it would go for then. This was my best and probably only chance, so I went for it.

However, I didn't go for it to the extent that I travelled to London to buy one when they were exhibited. We were going to a wedding that day, but even if we weren't, I wasn't going to get the train all the way to London for it (plus, I don't think my wife would agree that it's a valid excuse to leave her with the baby for the day). I hoped that all 100 wouldn't sell out on the day and, to my luck, they didn't - 38 were to be auctioned on eBay the following week. The £50 selling price and the £30 train ticket would have put it near the most expensive record anyway.

By some brilliant coincidence, the eBay auctions all finished during the hour in the evening in which I was going to be on the train to London for a gig anyway. Had they finished any other time or day, I might not have been able to stalk the auctions and get an understanding for the market/going-price (this, I think, was key). Had I not been going to that gig, they'd have finished whilst I was bathing and putting the baby to bed, a set of activities that aren't easily done with eBay in the other hand. It was too good a coincidence.

So I sat there on the train (with wifi) and watched the first 7" finish - it was one of the sleeves I liked the most and sold for an impressive £127. The next few had some of the worst artwork in my opinion and all went for about £100. At this point I assumed that maybe the going-price would drop as potential buyers became owners, but I was wrong. Clearly there are more than 38 Manics collectors out there and I suspect some people were buying multiple copies. Prices started to rise to around £110. The next ones I really had my eye on (all with interesting geometric designs) were quite a few auctions away and I was worried by then the prices would be even higher. The bidding was always happening in the last few seconds - classic eBay - luckily I have many years experience of sniping auctions in the dying seconds so was prepared for this.

The next one that came up with artwork I thought was good was the one in the picture above. As the final few seconds rolled around I snuck in with a bid that was a bit higher then the last few had gone for (along with the usual £1.53 I add on top, just to outbid the people who think an extra £1.50, or £1.51, or even £1.52 will clinch it over the people who foolishly bid in round numbers - I'm yet to lose an auction to a person bidding £1.54 extra, but have pipped a few people to the post by just a penny or two). The auction ended a few seconds later and I had won, at an eye-watering £115. I kept an eye on the auctions that followed and prices rose a bit further, but not hugely so; the ones with geometric designs I'd been eyeing up sold for more, which validated my plan.

I think we can all agree that £115 for a 7" is a ridiculous price to pay. Luckily, the proceeds are going to charity, which allows me a pleasing get-out: in my mind, I didn't pay £115 for a 7", but instead gave £115 to charity (the postage was a similarly expensive £7.50, so that was the cost of the 7" in this excuse (which is still pretty pricey for a 7"!)). I try to give to charities from time-to-time, but I'm aware that I don't give often enough and could give more. If a friend does a charity run/cycle/whatever, I try to make sure I donate a decent sum. This 7" is the equivalent of, say, three friends doing a charity activity, but the best part is that no one had to run 26 miles and I got a 7" out of it. I can definitely get on board with record collecting for charity.

Format: 7", insert, unique artwork, single-sided
Tracks: 1
Cost: £122.50 new
Bought: eBay
When: 12/07/18
Colour: Black
Etching: none
mp3s: no

Friday, 27 July 2018

The Cat Empire - The Cat Empire

A few months after returning from Australia, I was pleased to find a copy of The Cat Empire's debut album on cd in the excellent Resident Records in Brighton. I'd got into the band when I was living in Canberra (or, more specifically, somewhere between Darwin and Adelaide on an epic road trip) and picked up a second hand copy of Two Shoes in my local second hand cd shop a few months later. Their albums were easily found over there, and they'd just released Cities (a Cat Empire "project"; I still don't have a copy so don't really know what they meant by that) so it was easy pickings. As is often the way, this resulting in me not buying their other albums whilst abroad and finding them much harder to come by in the UK. (I was also running low on funds and had, perhaps foolishly, planned to go to Roskilde Festival immediately after returning to the UK, meaning my student loan had to stretch even further.)

I was pleased to find a copy that day in Brighton, but knew these songs well from being in Australia. As debuts go, they don't mess around in introducing everyone to the already well-established Cat Empire sound - How To Explain is a quintessential Cat Empire song and lets the listener know exactly what to expect from the next hour. Days Like These could have equally started the album for the same rasons. Track four on an album was always the traditional spot for the biggest single, and The Chariot fits that role perfectly - a song about how great music and friends are, and the most triumphant trumpet solo - it's got song-for-a-mixtape written all over it. Hello and One Four Five are both instant crowd pleasers, although in subtly different ways and The Rhythm rounds of side B with some more excellent trumpet and piano. The Wine Song, however, is the unlikely highlight - there's almost something circus-esque to it, and the way it builds up is kinda cheesy, but brilliantly fun at the same time; I challenge you to not take some enjoyment from it. I think they've played it live every time I've seen them and it's always the one that gets everybody moving. Even though it's the slowest song on the album (perhaps because of it), I've always had a real soft-spot for The Crowd - the extra vocals in the chorus are perfect and the chorus eventually explodes in an almost post-rock way. Finally, the horns at the very end of All That Talking are brilliantly filthy sounding. 

I bought this vinyl reissue the same time as I bought Two Shoes in Truck in Oxford. I've seen the band play in Oxford twice, which is more than pretty much any other band (bands rarely come to Oxford it seems, and less so twice!), so I guess someone in the record shop has a particular fondness for them. I just noticed that it was nearly exactly ten years after buying the cd that I bought this LP, which I would have timed better had I known in advance (and could have relied on the records not being bought by someone else in the intervening two weeks).

Format: Double 12", gatefold sleeve, picture sleeves
Tracks: 13
Cost: £21 new
Bought: Truck Store, Oxford
When: 07/11/16
Colour: Black
Etching: none
mp3s: no

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Gnarwolves - The Chronicles of Gnarnia

The title of this record deserves a special mention for being an excellent pun; if they'd released it under any other name, you can guarantee someone would have suggested it later and they'd have been kicking themselves.

As the title suggests, this record chronicles Gnarwolves' first three EPs onto one handy LP. I have a copy of the 2x7" reissue of Fun Club and wrote about that here - Decay and Reaper are still huge songs. The Cru EP was released sometime between Fun Club and Fun Club being reissued, so it was long sold out by the time I got that 7". Actually, I vaguely remember it coming out, thinking I should get a copy only to be surprised that it sold out so quickly. That was the first clue that the band were gaining a lot of popularity. History is Bunk and Community, Stability, Identity are the highlights there, the latter reaching new levels of slow/doom for the band. I don't really remember Funemployed coming out, but I think Melody Has Big Plans was a single (in some sense) - the title certainly sounds familiar for some reason. It's a strong song.

I picked this up in Banquet not long after it came out. I'd had that slight urge to get the other EPs at some point, but getting this record quenched that particular thirst - there was already such a lot of hype about the band by that point that I didn't fancy paying the going price for the original releases, not to mention the countless colour-variants that they put out (speaking of which, this is the green/blue/purple mix, although it's mostly green until you hold it up into the light). The songs all work together well as an album, although the production on Funemployed is notably different and doesn't sound as rich as the other two.

Format: 12", insert
Tracks: 15
Cost: £15 new
Bought: Banquet Records, Kingston
When: 22/03/14
Colour: Green/blue/purple mix
Etching: none
mp3s: Download code