Thursday, 30 November 2017

Snapcase - Lookinglasself

This year, for the first time in eight years, I didn't go to a record shop on Record Store Day. Around that time every year, there's a lot of chat about RSD - some positive, some negative - and I won't be drawn to one side or the other; I can see the arguments on both sides.

I had planned to go to Truck Store at an ungodly hour on the Saturday morning. I'd even bought breakfast supplies on my lunch break. But as the Friday went on, I found myself increasingly not looking forward to sitting outside my local record shop for four hours, cold and bored. I'd described it to a friend earlier that day as a "self-inflicted torture", and the more I thought about it, the more I realised that it wasn't/isn't a pleasant experience and that I really didn't want to do it. So I decided not to; I slept in and it was lovely.

There are a few reasons why I decided against going: Firstly, I always feel like the odd-one-out in that queue - everyone else has a huge list of records they're excited about buying, whereas I had three records I wanted. Furthermore, the records I'm after are rarely the ones that sell out straight away. Very few of the ones I've bought in the past have been difficult to find in the coming weeks (and sometime end up reduced later in the year). Everybody else in the queue would be excited about Bowie and Prince and The Smiths and I'd be that guy who got up early to buy The Dirty Three and Snapcase. The more I thought about it, the more I realised I'm not who this event is aimed at and that's ok.

JT from Banquet had been on the news a few days beforehand talking about the importance of RSD, saying how it's great that it gets people in who wouldn't normally visit a record shop, and that is really great. I spend a lot of time and money in record shops and I'm in favour of anything that means they stay open. But as a result of that, RSD isn't tailored around people like me. The list of releases this year (and last year, to an extent) had very little for me on. There are always a few "that could be interesting" releases, but RSD isn't a day to buy a record by a band you don't know well - it's too expensive for that. This year there were three releases I really wanted in my record collection and, in the case of this record, I was pretty sure I'd be the only person who'd be interested in buying it (and right I was - on the Monday it was still sat there in the racks).

I'm a huge fan of Snapcase and Lookinglasself was the first album of theirs I owned (although I was introduced to them through the much more accessible, and excellent, End Transmission). I found the cd 14 years ago in a second-hand record shop in Bristol that definitely no longer exists - it was underneath a roundabout junction and I only found it because they were blasting out metal from some speakers. I was in town for a university open day and was going to buy more in there, but it was the day before I got paid and I hit the bottom of my bank account (they had a Cave In record I picked up for my friend Hugh, but did mean I couldn't buy the Nine Inch Nails 12" singles they had - I'm a good friend). However, I did get that first Snapcase album.

Lookinglasself is a much harder listen than End Transmission, but so are their other two proper albums. It's a great album though - short but has no messing around and surprisingly long songs for a short hardcore album. It was a shock on first listen, but I was glad to push through with it. Of the first three, I consider Lookinglasself to be my favourite, but then End Transmission sits far above it. When I saw that it was being reissued on vinyl for RSD, I wanted a copy more for nostalgia than anything else. If I want to listen to Snapcase, I almost always go for End Transmission, and I suspect I always will do. But it's nice to have an album I'm very fond of on vinyl too. Plus, I feel if no one buys the heavy and obscure records on RSD then it will eventually tend entirely towards mainstream music.

I'm not anti-RSD. In fact, I thoroughly support the idea, but I support it it as a person who shops in independent record shops more than as a person who collects records (which of course I am, but there is a distinction there). I have many records I've bought on previous RSDs - some of them are my most prized-possessions (and others are ones I regretted almost straight away) - and most crucially, I will definitely queue up any year where there are records I feel it is worth losing sleep over. This year, however, was not one of those years.

It's hard to break traditions - me going to a record shop on RSD predates RSD even being a thing in the UK - but it's important to do so, otherwise they become even harder to break. I've broken the spell RSD had over me, which is great because now I can dip in as casually as I like.

Format: 12", insert
Tracks: 9
Cost: £29 new
Bought: Truck Store, Oxford
When: 24/04/17
Colour: Blue
Etching: none
mp3s: Download code

Thursday, 16 November 2017

Fugazi - Repeater

Repeater was my second Fugazi purchase, having bought the self-titled mini-album a few months beforehand. As much as I love the first one, I've always considered Repeater my favourite. There are a few moments in particular where the songs are so perfect in a way that I don't see as much on the other records. I think they all have some real highlights, but the highs here are huge and plentiful.

Three of my favourite Fugazi songs are on this record - Repeater (with the count-off in the chorus), Blueprint (with the huge outro) and Shut the Door (which broods like no other song they'd written before). On top of that, there are just little flicks of brilliance throughout - the transition between the speed of Greed into the riff in Two Beats Off, for example, is lovely.

I bought this record second hand in the market that used to be set up in the square at university every so often. I also bought a Pop Will Eat Itself record, making quite the strange pairing. The sleeve is in very good condition for a second hand record, except a few fingerprints on the picture sleeve, and a tiny knifed edge to it. I played the album a lot back in the day, so much so, I asked for a copy of the cd one Christmas as I wanted to have a digital copy too (plus, three extra songs - although I usually stop it on Shut the Door).

Just to dwell on Shut the Door for a moment - I don't remember it catching my ear as quickly as Repeater or Blueprint did, but eventually it bowled me over, almost in reverse - the outro caught my attention first, but I came to love the verses and chorus too - the simplicity of the verses contrasted so well against the thrashy chorus. Ian sings in a way I'd not heard before - really sung like a regular singer, not just a punk singer (if you'll excuse the distinction). The verses are also so brief that you want more of them, much like you'd normally feel about the chorus. They could have easily finished it on the bass line towards the end, but then they bring back the chorus riff with those perfect lines "Shut the door so I can leave / Shut the door". What a great way to end the record.

Format: 12", picture sleeve, insert
Tracks: 11
Cost: £6 second hand
Bought: Lancaster University Square
When: 12/02/04
Colour: Black
Etching: none
mp3s: no

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

The Twilight Sad - Fourteen Autumns and Fifteen Winters

I've been listening to The Twilight Sad for nearly ten years, and I still don't feel like I know their albums that well. I love their albums, but they're so dense and difficult that I've found that I've never really broken my way into any of them. That's not a criticism; in fact I think it's actually a part of their charm. I've seen them play this album in full, and I still don't feel I know it that well.

I was introduced to the band by my old housemate Nicky, but then bought the Here, It Never Snowed. Afterwards It Did EP which contained reworked versions of nearly half these songs. I then bought the limited Killed My Parents and Hit the Road cd, which featured live versions of some of these songs (and a cover of Modern Romance by the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, which works incredibly well). I eventually got the album on a trip to Avalance Records in Edinburgh the Monday after a stag weekend. Despite knowing versions of a lot of the songs, I was still treated to a heavy wall of dense sound; at times both welcoming and unwelcoming. There are a couple of definite highlights, but I can never really remember which songs they actually are. Looking at the lyrics online, I think Cold Days From the Birdhouse and Mapped By What Surrounded Them are the ones I always really look forward to on this album.

The first time I saw the band was quite an experience - they were supporting Mogwai in Brixton Academy and the singer paced the stage side-on to the crowd the whole time, almost entranced by his own microphone. I thought they were great; Sarah was unimpressed and has never become a fan. I think there's something about their particular style of shoegaze that people either love or hate.

In 2014, the debut album was reissued on vinyl for Record Store Day, along with a bonus disc of demos from the time. I'd bought the first two albums on cd for some reason, so was pleased to get this one on vinyl, and the demos were a great addition. That was my first RSD at Truck Store, having moved to Oxford a week beforehand, and it was a particularly strong year - there were a bunch of must-haves and this was definitely one of them for a lot of people.

The package is nice, with the second LP in a separate sleeve kept together in a plastic wallet and with an appropriately stripped down version of the artwork. The songs all have obtuse titles, much like on the split demo cassette with Frightened Rabbit from three years beforehand. They're great to hear and most of these demos are non-album songs, which is nice. Untitled #4 and 2d are particularly good songs.

Format: Double 12", two sleeves, picture sleeve, 24"x24" poster
Tracks: 17
Cost: £27 new
Bought: Truck Store, Oxford
When: 19/04/14
Colour: Black
Etching: none
mp3s: Download code

Monday, 13 November 2017

Hundred Reasons - Ideas Above Our Station [10 Year Anniversary]

Time has proved that Ideas Above Our Station is the classic album we all thought it was back in 2002. 15 years later, I still get excited when I hear those guitars at the start of I'll Find You and the whole album is great. The singles were huge - we knew that before the album even came out - but the other songs are all excellent too. In 2012, it seemed the world agreed that it was a classic album, so the band toured playing it in full, and Banquet put together this lovingly-extended 10-year anniversary edition. Needless to say, I ordered it as soon as it was announced.

Five years ago, I wrote a blog post about the album, having bought a copy on vinyl in 2005 for an ridiculously-cheap £1. At the time, I was looking forward to seeing them play the album that summer, and I was lucky enough to see them play it again that December with Hell Is For Heroes playing their equally-classic album, The Neon Handshake. I had a great time at both shows (and realised that despite listening to both albums excessively over the previous 10-years, I had no idea what any of the words really were).

Various delays hit this release, and it eventually showed up in December 2013. I was more than happy to forgive Banquet for the delay as I was just very pleased to have all the extra songs. The album itself takes up the first disc, but then we are treated to two more LPs of other songs from that era. It was billed as being all the early songs, but Different, the song we all fell in love with a demo of, was missing (as well as EP One and some others from compilations and splits early in their career, so maybe it was more strictly "all the songs from that era"). The lack of Different aside, it is an excellent set of additional material, featuring early b-sides and demos. I wasn't at all of aware of their "Singles Club" releases back in the day, so I'd thoroughly missed out on those.

A few of these songs I already have on 7"s, most notably the incredible Remmus from EP Two and No. 5, a b-side to If I Could, and a song I've loved since seeing them play it in Southampton Guildhall many, many years ago. Because I only had those early singles on 7", I'd missed out on the extra b-sides in nearly every case (the exception being If I Could which I ended up with a copy of cd1 of through a strangely bad deal with Hugh - I'd bought a copy of Pitchshifter's newest single, Eight Days, for a surprisingly expensive £5 - he really wanted it, and I thought the b-side was a bit rubbish, so agreed to swap it for the If I Could cd single, effectively paying £5 for it. Neither were really worth £5, but I do love No. 5).

Remmus was such a huge song and such a success (at least in the circles I moved in) that it always seemed like a shame it wasn't on the album - they could easily have included it and no one would have complained (sometimes relying too heavily on early EPs is sign of a weak album, but that clearly isn't the case - in a lot of ways, it's a ballsy move to not include it). I played that 7" a lot back in the day, so those guitars at the start almost mean as much to me as the ones at the start of If I Could. The chorus was such good fun to throw yourself around to at their shows. Soap Box Rally was a huge song too. The original recording of Shine isn't hugely different to the version that ended up on the album, at least to my ears.

Check Before Leaving and Lamps Collapsing are from the Singles Club series and both are good - the first is strong with interesting guitars, and the second at the heavier end of HR, like EP One or some of the songs that would appear later on. Sunny and Slow Motion are from EP Three, the first of which I know well from the 7". Slow Motion would have made a fine album track.

If I Could had four b-sides across its three formats, and make up the rest of Side D. I've raved about No. 5 before; I still think it's a great song, and the most experimental thing they did. I love Hundred Reasons as a rock band, but I'd to have heard more of what they could have done if they'd experimented in more things like this. Given the situation they were in, I can see why it never happened, at least not on the albums. I didn't buy any of the versions of the Silver single, so all four of those b-sides were new to me here, although Aerogramme strikes me as familiar for some reason, and Rush In is possibly the closest to No. 5 in how it differs from a usual Hundred Reasons song; I like it.

Safe Distance was the only b-side from the Falter single I knew, as it was on the 7", however I was very familiar with Introduction to Pop from the electric version, re-titled Pop on Shatterproof Is Not A Challenge. I like this version a lot. Little Toys and Your Day are heavier songs, but in different ways to each other. The demos at the end are nice to hear. Usually reissues are littered with demos rather than actually different songs, but in this case I could have happily gone for some more demos too.

Anyway, that's a lot of words, but on a deserving album. The reissue is great, and the first run sold out, so I doubt I'm the only person who thinks that. The extra songs are all included on a cd too (assuming that anyone who bought the reissue already has the original album on cd, which I'm sure is the case, because I swear everyone owned a copy of this album).

Format: Triple 12", gatefold sleeve
Tracks: 30
Cost: £33 new
Bought: Banquet Records
When: 01/12/13
Colour: Silver, dark blue and blue
Etching: none
mp3s: cd included

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Manic Street Preachers - The Holy Bible [US RSD picture disc]

The first time I heard The Holy Bible was on a cassette a friend had made from his brother's cd copy. I'd borrowed it and, for reasons I can't remember, his walkman too and played it for the first time on a bus for a school trip. I can't remember where we were going, but I distinctly remember pressing play as we sat on the bus just outside the school gates.

Cassettes are a horrible medium. I've always associated them with murky, inaccessible music. The two main reasons for that are this album, and Bleach by Nirvana - both albums I listened to on cassette and found initially impenetrable. One of the many problems with the format is that the only way to know what song you're listening to is keep counting and compare to the tracklisting. In this case, someone had messed up the recording of the cassette, so I had the full tracklisting but was missing two songs from the latter half of the album - Faster and This Is Yesterday. In a lot of ways, it's not a great way to hear an album for this first time, but appropriately difficult for such a difficult album.

I can't remember exactly when that school trip was, but I think The Holy Bible would have been the second Manics album I heard, after becoming a fan on This Is My Truth Tell Me Yours. I say this, because I got Generation Terrorists a full year later, and my own copy of The Holy Bible two months after that. I have a strong memory of listening to that same taped copy in a tent in my friend's back garden, discussing the songs, and that can't have been between October and December as that would have been too cold. I had been wanting to dig into their back-catalogue for a while, and I suspect it was the classic "this album is their best, try this one". Interestingly, when I finally bought my copy of Generation Terrorists, the girl at the counter said that Gold Against the Soul was her favourite even though no one else agreed. I love that album now, and probably play it the most these days.

A few of my initial thoughts of the album have stuck with me: I was amazed that there was nothing I'd consider a "single" (which possibly helped with that murky, impenetrable feeling - had my cassette included Faster I suspect I'd still have thought this); 4st 7lbs was haunting; the bass on Archives of Pain was excellent; the opening duo of Yes and Ifwhiteamerica... said so much about the band and the fact that this wasn't a pop album; PCP felt much more accessible somehow, and was a strangely light and upbeat (musically) way to finish such a dark album. I remember feeling distinctly uneasy at the lines "Conservative say: there ain't enough black in the Union Jack / Democrat say: there ain't enough white in the Stars and Stripes" having not quite heard the start of each line. They let themselves off the hook a minute or so later when they reverse the sentiment and start them with "And we say", but for a short while I did panic that my new favourite band were openly racist. Of course now I know that thought to be ridiculous, but the fear of that stayed with me and I think of it nearly every time I hear the song.

23 years have now passed since The Holy Bible came out, and over the years it has been held up as a classic, which it is. For me, it still holds some of that early inaccessibility, probably by design. It is a classic, but for reasons entirely different to the ways in which I consider the others classic - Generation Terrorists has the bold arrogance and timeless songs, Gold Against the Soul is the forgotten gem, Everything Must Go is the huge comeback, and TIMTTMY was the pop breakthrough; The Holy Bible on the other hand, was a treat for the fans who wanted the band to exorcise their darkest corners, which they did (arguably far too well). It is so vastly different to the other albums, that it's hard to compare it in the same light. I enjoyed reading all the fanfare around the 20th anniversary, and it's impossible to not agree with it all.

For Record Store Day 2015, the US version of the album was pressed onto vinyl for the first time and available in record shops in the UK. The US, however, got the original version on a picture disc with the original artwork. The album was available as a picture disc when it was first released, but I'd never bothered to pick one up - they always seemed readily available on eBay. The US RSD version differs as it has "20" after the title, and "original mix" at the bottom. Last year I was in Boston and found this copy in the Harvard branch of Newbury Comics, a shop I'd fallen in love with in my early teens. The exchange rate is appalling these days, so I only bought this record, which had luckily been reduced to half-price - $14 from $28 - probably as it had been sat on their shelves for a year and a half. I was very pleased to add it to my collection.

Format: 12", picture disc
Tracks: 13
Cost: £12.20 new
Bought: Newbury Comics, Boston
When: 14/10/16
Colour: picture disc
Etching: none
mp3s: no

Thursday, 2 November 2017

U2 - The Joshua Tree

For reasons I've never really been all that sure about, I own a U2 album. There was a day, at one point in the past - Friday 14th November 2003, to be exact - when I thought "yes, today I'm going to buy this U2 album". I don't remember there being much build-up; I don't think I spent much time thinking "U2 are a band I might want to get into". I think I was starved of good music in Lancaster a bit, but that doesn't make sense - just weeks beforehand I'd gotten into Far and Bad Brains for the first time, and the next day I bought a Fugazi record. It was, evidently, a very confusing time.

I found this in the Oxfam books and records shop in Lancaster - not long beforehand I'd picked up a water-damaged copy of the Lull EP by the Pumpkins and a while later I found a Centro-matic album; it was a mixed bag. Given that the town was heavily influenced by the university, not a lot of good stuff ended in Oxfam. I think every time I'd been in there in the two months I'd been at university, they'd had at least one copy of The Joshua Tree on vinyl - maybe I just got subliminally convinced into buying it (although the repeated notion that people are keen to give copies away is hardly a great selling point).

If you're going to own any U2 albums, surely The Joshua Tree is the only one to own? The thing plays like a Best Of album - can you imagine squeezing Where The Streets Have No Name, I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For, With Or Without You and Bullet the Blue Sky all on one side of vinyl? Running to Stand Still stands no chance next to those four, but then they come back on side 2 with Red Hill Mining Town. Regardless what you think about U2, that's incredible. The back end of the album is a bit weak, but Exit is way heavier than I remembered. Mothers of the Disappeared is definitely an anti-climatic end though - I doubt in 1982 they weren't thinking that one day they'd be playing the album straight through, and having to end on that song.

Listening to it now, I'm wondering if I'm even that ashamed of owning this. I know Bono is clearly a twat but these are, without doubt, huge pop songs. It also sounds lovely, way nicer than I remember it sounding. I've cranked the volume far louder than one really should when listening to U2, but it is produced (by Eno, no less) brilliantly. I've also just noticed it was recorded by Flood, who produced Mellon Collie. I've not listened to this album in years - possibly more than 10 - but I'm thinking about giving it a spin again now. There are albums I've bought that I've still not played yet, but I'm considering bumping them to play U2 for the second time in one evening. What's happened to me?

I was in Spain recently, sat on a rooftop bar overlooking Madrid and, for reasons none of us could figure out, they were playing exclusively U2 for hours. Despite our obvious feelings towards U2, we couldn't help but enjoy it. It's very strange.

Format: 12", gatefold sleeve, 12"x24" insert
Tracks: 11
Cost: £4 second hand
Bought: Oxfam, Lancaster
When: 14/11/03
Colour: Black
Etching: none
mp3s: no

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Jack Johnson - On and On

For a thankfully-short while, Jack Johnson was very cool. I came back from university for the summer after the first year and all my friends had started listening to him - I don't know how they came across him, but I strongly suspect he had some songs on a surf video that a friend had. That summer, we listened to him a lot - I mean pretty much every car journey, and every time we sat around at someone's house. It was strong summer music.

At the end of the summer, I found this copy of his second album in a shop in Southampton and snapped it up. Of the two we'd been listening to, I preferred On and On - both had some great songs, but there were a few less-poppy ones on this album, and I felt that gave it an edge over the other. I eventually got a copy of his other album at the time, Brushfire Fairytales and picked up his newest, In Between Dreams, not long after it came out, at the end of the second year of university (using an HMV voucher I'd got for taking part in a survey, strangely). Essentially, there was a year when Jack Johnson was a big deal, but my next year in Australia taught me more about this sort of laid back indie-pop and the moment passed.

In the years since then, I've rarely listened to Jack Johnson; like all good summer memories, it was best left as a memory. Occasionally, my wife has suggested playing his albums, and they're pleasant reminders, but not what I'd consider "good" music. All three albums have some good songs, but I can't help but imagine I would find Jack incredibly annoying if I met him in person. I've met people who I imagine would get along with him brilliantly, and they all pissed me off.

But, like I said, On and On isn't a terrible album - the moments that aren't pop are good and make you think he could have had a different but interesting career had he avoided pop a little harder. Taylor and Cookie Jar have something a little dark about them. I like it. When I say "dark", I mean relatively - this is a surfer-dude singing songs on a beach, it's never going to get that dark. There are a few little, short, throwaway songs that I could do without - 16 songs is too many by a long stretch. Taylor, Holes to Heaven and Cocoon were always the highlights.

All that said, when I see this spine in my record collection I never feel the urge to play it, but it reminds me fondly of that summer in 2004, and I like it for that.

Format: 12", gatefold sleeve
Tracks: 16
Cost: £11 new
Bought: FM Music
When: 23/09/04
Colour: Black
Etching: none
mp3s: no