Tuesday, 18 December 2018

EMA - Marked

I've got a huge amount of time for Marked. It was the highlight of the Gowns Latitude session record and a big part of the reason I checked out EMA's solo work. I was disappointed to find that the studio recording wasn't on Gowns' Red State album, so was pleased to hear it on her first solo LP, Past life Martyred Saints. This is the same version that appeared there. I definitely prefer the live Gowns recording, but as I mentioned before, this tells the same story in a different way.

There were a bunch of reasons why I bought this 7", but one of them was just that Marked is such a great song I felt bad that this 7" was languishing in Norman Records' reduced record bin. Another reason was that it was languishing in Norman Records' reduced records bin and £1.80 is a bargain. It was one of their periodic massive online sales and I was buying a bunch of other records - it was a happy addition to my basket. Finally, there was a b-side I hadn't heard and thought would be worth a listen. There's a verse in Angelo rapped by a musician named MZ Gorjis, which came as a surprise. When Erika sings at the same time it really work (or works as a b-side - I think it would have sounded out of place on any of her albums). It's got very 80's sounding synths and is quite fun. Definitely worth the £1.80.

Format: 7", diecut sleeve
Tracks: 2
Cost: £1.80 new
Bought: Norman records
When: 13/04/17
Colour: Black
Etching: none
mp3s: None

Quicksand - Quicksand

I bought this record a long time after I probably should have. There was a RSD pressing of it some time before which I didn't buy at the time - RSD 7" records were getting pricey and I was already spending way too much. I suspect it was £7, which is what I ended up paying for this record a few years later. I understand inflation, but have such fond memories of 7"s costing £1 or £2 that it's hard to bring myself to pay £7 for a 7".

All that said, Quicksand are a band worth spending £7 on, and I'm glad I finally bought a copy of this 7". The versions of Omission and Unfulfilled are both fun and sufficiently different to the versions on Slip - it sounds like Walter is having fun with his vocals and hasn't always decided how he's going to sing it before it comes out. Clean Slate is a classic chuggy Quicksand song and Hypno Jam with Dan is a short but interesting instrumental with a very unexpected (but very welcome) trumpet.

I don't know why I finally bought this last March. I'd been in London for an interview that had been long and draining and slightly soul-destroying, but conveniently near All Ages. I don't get to shop there as often as I'd like, so it was nice to get to spend some good time in there. They have so many 7"s that it's a little daunting to start browsing - maybe that was why I bought it - I'd invested so much time in browsing all the 7"s that I felt like I had to buy something in there.

Anyway, an essential purchase for any Quicksand fan and one I should have bought years ago.

Format: 7", insert
Tracks: 4
Cost: £7 new
Bought: All Ages Records, London
When: 24/03/17
Colour: Red
Etching: Side A: "On a secret mission" Side B: "To cstraat"
mp3s: None

Thursday, 29 November 2018

Jason Molina - The Townes Van Zandt Covers

I have two copies of this record, a situation I entered into somewhat willingly. A good number of years ago, a Kickstarter appeared for a project about a carousel (I think) that I normally would have not even given a second thought about (as you can tell by the fact I'm not entirely sure it was even a carousel), except that one of the backer rewards was a Jason Molina record featuring some unreleased songs. My Molina collection was in its infancy, but I was keen to pick up what ever I could, so pledged for that reward. I think it was about £30 in the end, which was a lot; it wasn't clear that the record was only a two-song 7" at the time.

As is so often the case with crowdfunding, the project fell through and the money all sort of disappeared. There'd been a while where I was periodically checking for updates and getting concerned that nothing concrete had appeared - I can't remember how long that period was, but I remember having to dig through emails to figure out when the money first came out. Eventually, it all fell apart and I remember emails blaming various people - things look like they got ugly.

Secretly Canadian, the record label who released most of Jason Molina's music announced two things in 2016 - they'd be releasing those songs as a Record Store Day 7" and that they'd be sending out free copies to anyone who backed the campaign. I thought that was incredibly good of them - I imagine a lot of people lost a lot of money in that project (my £30 would seem negligible) but they had no obligation other than a desire to help the fans who had lost money; it was a great gesture. I had to prove that I had backed the campaign, so I sent off the screenshots.

I can't remember exactly when that was (I could look it up I suppose, but it seems clear I'm not going to - perhaps I'm too worried I'll see exactly how much I paid to that project and get annoyed all over again), but before the record arrived, Record Store Day came around. I think part of me was worried that the record wouldn't actually turn up, or there'd be some material difference between the two, so I decided to buy a copy on RSD anyway (what's another £8 on a day of expensive records!?). Plus, I was eager to hear the songs.

The two songs on the 7" were covers of Townes Van Zandt, a musician I'd never really heard much about, let alone consciously listened to. In the years since, I've always thought I should check out more of his music, but I still haven't; I probably will one day. I'll Be Here in the Morning is a lovely warm, live recording of a song that sounds more Magnolia Electric Co than it does Songs: Ohia, despite consisting of just guitar and voice. It's a nice song. Tower Song is a slower, sweet song. Both tend slightly more towards Americana than Jason normally does, but I guess that's the nature of the songs. Definitely worth a listen.

Anyway, as expected, a second copy appeared in the post a few weeks later. They are identical, except my free copy got damaged in the post and has the slight crease you can see in the top picture. I say "free", I technically paid about £30 for that second copy, but I didn't record it that way - in my mind I lost £30 to a crowdfunding folly and learnt an important lesson; I also got a free record - the two are related, but I drew a line under that £30 and decided not to be annoyed by it. Sometimes you just have to let things go - it makes life easier sometimes. I have no intention of selling either copy - like most RSD releases you can still pick up a copy for not too far from the original asking price (of course, it's hard to know which records will end up being worth much more vs those that are ten-a-penny after RSD). As it is, I have two copies to remind me of the dangers of crowdfunding.

Format: 7"
Tracks: 2
Cost: £8 new / free new
Bought: Truck Store Oxford / Secretly Canadian Records
When: 16/04/16 / 19/05/16
Colour: Black
Etching: none
mp3s: no

Jason Molina - The Black Sabbath Covers

Jason Molina released a huge number of records in his lifetime and, evidently, recorded enough for countless more. This is something to pleased about because I've nearly heard everything he released whilst he was alive, and I'm not ready to stop hearing new songs just yet.

When Secretly Canadian announced that they were putting out a 7" of him covering two Black Sabbath songs I ordered one straight away. It's hard to know with his releases whether they're going to be plentiful and readily available everywhere, or super-rare. I've erred on the side of caution recently and it mostly hasn't been necessary. In this case, that caution came at a price; namely the customs due on packages sent from the US (I've never really understood why some parcels do and some don't get charged extra, but it is a constant pain in the arse when buying from the States - between the shitty exchange rate, postage costs and customs charges it really is becoming expensive). I added a couple of other Molina albums to the order (What Comes After the Blues and Molina & Johnson LPs), so in my mind, the cost could be spread across the three. The LPs were still a bargain (I think they were on sale at the time), but this 7" was effectively £13, which is a lot for two songs.

It's even more for two songs when you discover that the songs together total only three-and-a-half minutes. Still, every extra minute we get to hear Jason sing is a minute worth paying for (and had I bought it more locally for £7 it'd still have been expensive and short). Those three-and-a-half minutes are, of course, lovely. Solitude works perfectly - it's slower than Molina’s usual “simple” songs, but with his gravelly voice it is every bit as dark as a Sabbath song should be. His voice struggles a bit on “crying” (which isn't a particularly difficult Ozzy-note in the original) but it's otherwise flawless. The cracks and hisses add to the warmth in true fashion. Snowblind is a bit more upbeat in the guitar-playing and a much more “rock” song for Jason. It is brutally short (a statement true of the song - 1:14, the single - 3:27, and Jason’s life in general).

The idea of Jason covering Black Sabbath excited me greatly - I knew of his early metal-years and wanted to hear how he'd approach songs by one of the first and finest metal bands. I was hoping he'd choose Sabbath songs I knew better (that is, from the first two albums) but these are wonderful and likely better than if he'd covered Iron Man or Paranoid. The b-side is etched with the ram's head from the cover (poorly photographed below) and the artwork is another excellent William Schaff drawing, the masking-tape cross a nice Black Sabbath reference.

Format: 7"
Tracks: 2
Cost: £13.45 new
Bought: Secretly Canadian Records
When: 09/12/17
Colour: Black
Etching: Image of a ram's head on b-side
mp3s: no

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Manic Street Preachers - Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of Manic Street Preachers

When the Manics released Lipstick Traces in 2003 I rushed out to buy a copy. I remember chatting to the guy in HMV that Monday morning about it - the staff had been listening to it before the store opened. He thought the cover of Last Christmas was unnecessary, but I was too much of a fan to question any of their choices. I quickly changed the topic to how excited I was to hear them take on Nirvana, one of the few bands they covered that I was also a fan of. In reality I was, of course, just desperate to hear all of it. I had a reasonable MSP collection by that point (70 or so releases) but still more gaps than gaps-filled, and hearing old Manics b-sides had become a passion of mine.

I won't bore you with the details again, but that all grew from finding a 7" of Motorcycle Emptiness and hearing Bored Out of My Mind on the b-side. I can't emphasise enough what a significant event in my life finding that record was. I can still remember vividly the amazement of hearing this other side of a band whose albums I'd already played to death - to think of Bored Out of My Mind being written around the same time as Generation Terrorists never fails to confuse and amaze me. They did have a secret history, and I wanted to hear all of it. I still do. (Every now and again I wonder where my life would be had I heard Suicide Alley on the b-side to Little Baby Nothing or the New Art Riot EP first and heard their scrappy beginnings instead of that strange little ballad. Best not to think too much about it).

I my teens I'd read Mick Middles' biography of the band, which dwelled on a particular b-side for so long I knew I had to hear it. I bought a copy of the If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next single a short while before this compilation came out and agreed that Prologue to History was a fascinating song. It opens this compilation in excellent style - racing out of the gate with keyboards blaring and lyrics firmly wedged in the 90's, along with not-so-subtle references to Richey. It dominates your attention so much so I had to stop typing this whilst it was playing. Over the years, it has proven such a hit that "opening the b-sides album" is no longer praise enough - the forthcoming reissue of This is My Truth Tell Me Yours has controversially promoted it to album-track, bumping off Nobody Loved You, a song that was a single in Japan. I'll talk more about this revisionist approach to reissues at a later date, I'm sure, but I'm certainly unsure about it; not just because I'm not sure that's what it means to reissue an album, but because if you're putting Prologue to History on an album you can't just squeeze it in near the end, it practically defines the album and need to be considered amongst those huge singles.

I'm pretty sure every Manics fan would have a different ideal track-listing for this album in terms of what was included and excluded. Had they left off Bored Out of My Mind, I'd have been terrified (which sounds so much nicer on deep 12" grooves than the flimsy 7" I've over-played for years). I think Montana/Autumn/78, the other b-side from If You Tolerate This... could easily have made the album. Black Garden and Black Holes for the Young would have been quite nice too (This is My Truth was quite an era for b-sides). Sculpture of Man was always a favourite and one I'm glad they included - one of their most traditional punk songs, and a style I'd love to have seen them try more (I used to put it on mixtapes as if to say "the Manics aren't the band you think they are"). The closing trio of Close My EyesValley Boy and We Her Majesty's Prisoners is a strong way to close out the album.

The album doesn't remotely hold together as an album, but that all the more emphasises the "secret history" part of it - the b-sides were so varied and showed so many different sides of their song-writing. Most of these wouldn't have worked on the albums they belonged to (in the broadest sense) but at the same time fit neatly into their distinct eras. How would Everything Must Go have felt with the instrument interlude of Horses Under Starlight included (and it would have been fully relegated to "interlude"-status had it been on the album)? Or can you imagine Too Cold Here on The Holy Bible? 4 Ever Delayed straddles eras as you might expect - the guitars sound straight off Know Your Enemy, but has the ferocity of their youth.

The last track of the second LP and the third LP are dedicated to the covers that made their way onto the second cd. They're a strange bunch of songs, some of which I still don't know the originals of - something much more easy to remedy these days than it was back in 2003. A review passed comment on the decision to include a disc of covers on the compilation (deeming it money-grabbing), but they fit the title of a "secret history" almost equally well; where Forever Delayed was the best-of for the masses (with a bonus disc of remixes to appeal to an even wider audience) it's a treat for the fans that the b-sides album goes even more obscure with the covers. If they'd tacked the b-sides onto the best-of, as is sometimes done, they'd have missed the mark entirely.

A lot of the covers I already knew as b-sides, although there were a handful of new ones. We Are All Bourgeois Now is a nice addition since I rarely had the patience to fast-forward to it at the end of Know Your Enemy and it's a great cover; I imagine a lot of people knew that one and Rock 'N' Roll Music as I'm sure every Manics fan had Know Your Enemy and The Masses Against the Classes. It's So Easy is a welcome blast back in time (I'd love to see them cover GNR these days). The Nirvana cover went in a different direction to what I was expecting, but it works (the juxtaposition between that and the spangly Out of Time, however, doesn't). Raindrops and Can't Take My Eyes Off You are another pair very familiar to most Manics fans and Last Christmas works much better than the guy in HMV that morning implied it would.

Around the time it was released, they also announced the album was also coming out on triple vinyl and I ordered one straight away. I think they made 1000 copies. The sleeve is a textured leopard print, made with those classic-era fans firmly in mind. I don't remember it selling out straight away, and I saw copies on eBay for around £45 not long afterwards. It's worth noting that £29 was an awful lot for a new record back then, and I nearly had second thoughts about buying it (something I'm very glad I didn't change my mind on). Of course, in 2018, the idea of getting a triple-LP for £29 (including postage!) is hilarious.

For years I didn't think a great deal about the vinyl other than how nice it looked next to my other Manics records - I had the cd copy I'd bought that morning in HMV so that got most of the plays (for reasons I can't remember, this record turned up about two months after the cd came out). Every now and again I'd see comments about how much people wanted a copy and eventually looked on Discogs where the only copy currently available would set you back £350 (although the highest sold price of £260 seems like a more reasonable benchmark)! This makes my Hum record look very cheap indeed. I've been looking at this record in a very different light ever since then; it is increasingly becoming the most valuable record in my collection.

I suspect for some people, part of that desire would be to hear Prologue to History on vinyl, which will soon be easily available. I imagine the vast majority though are, like me, trying in vain to have a reasonably complete Manics collection. There are gaps in my Manics collection of records I regret not buying, and records I'll almost certainly never have the chance to see let alone buy (unless I win the lottery), but I'm pleased this isn't one of them. Manics b-sides are a huge part of the reason I'm sat in a room surrounded by vinyl, so it's only natural that this LP is here with me.

Format: Triple 12", textured leopard print sleeve
Tracks: 35
Cost: £29 new
Bought: Website
When: 16/09/03
Colour: Black
Etching: none
mp3s: None

Sunday, 18 November 2018

Modest Mouse - Everywhere and His Nasty Parlour Tricks

In 2004 I made a very long journey from Lancaster, where I was studying at university, to Winchester and then even further south to Portsmouth to see Pitchshifter play in the Pyramids Centre. They were a band that we'd all loved throughout school and college, so it was nice to return to see them in a venue we'd seen them in before (on a date we'd seen them play there too) with some old friends. They were so important to us, that I took a five-hour train ride on a Wednesday after my classes finished, watched the band, stayed at my parents' house (for the last time in the house I'd grown up in - they moved a month later) and got a train back the next morning. I'm not sure I'd be quite so committed again.

Pre-booking the train meant I could travel for very little, but also meant a transfer across London. They always gave you an hour to do this, but I knew it only took about 15 minutes, so I jumped out in the middle and went to Selectadisc in Soho for a very quick shopping trip (my ticket didn't technically allow a break, so I had to plead ignorance with the guards at the gates on the tube). It was rushed, but I found some cool records, including this and Silverchair's excellent Neon Ballroom (for a stupidly cheap £6).

I'd been given the mp3s of The Moon and Antarctica by a guy called Andy in the first year of university and enjoyed them. I think the tracklisting was all twisted and I didn't get an actual copy and hear it in the right order until the Christmas after I bought this. The summer before, however, Float On had come out and I was in love with it (the fact that the 7" had a remix by John Congleton of The Paper Chase had endeared them to me further).

All that means that this record was at the start of peak-Modest Mouse fandom, an era that continued throughout university and a little into the Cardiff days. Their set at ATP was slightly disappointing - Isaac was sick and they played a set heavy in songs I don't care about (before they played I commented on how easily they could play a set of unbelievably huge songs, or they could take the 75% of album tracks that are just ok and be underwhelming; they went for the latter). At the end of The Melvins' set immediately before Modest Mouse, they wheeled out the two Modest Mouse drummers to join the two Melvins drummers for the last song, which blew all our minds - it was going to be a tough act to follow and they couldn't in my mind. That was probably the beginning of the end for me.

I enjoy this record, but it is in no way essential for the casual fan. Night on the Sun is the highlight and the reason the record exists really - it was a way of getting the Japanese-only EP out globally, along with some extra songs. It starts slowly (which makes the slow opener Willful Suspension of Disbelief feel a bit unnecessary) but Isaac's singing and the drums get it moving. There's a great almost-call-and-response moment with Isaac shouting "Well there's one thing you should no about this town" followed by a softer reply. It's a long song, but they squeeze in a lot. There are some filler tracks like the opener and The Air, but You're the Good Things is interesting and speeds up in a great way, and I Came as a Rat (Long Walk Off a Short Dock) is a welcome closer - not sure I could accurately say what the difference between it and the album version is. So Much Beauty in Dirt is a nice little song too, packing a lot of lyrics into a minute-and-a-half.

I played this record a fair amount back in the day, but not so much anymore - if I'm wanting to hear some Modest Mouse I tend to reach for The Moon and Antarctica or The Lonesome Crowded West (or even Baron Von Bullshit Rides Again, the live album which I found in the huge Virgin Megastore January sale in Lyon, France). I periodically think I should fill the gaps in my Modest Mouse collection, but I wonder if the moment has passed.

Format: 12", picture sleeve
Tracks: 8
Cost: £9 new
Bought: Selectadisc, London
When: 06/10/04
Colour: Black
Etching: none
mp3s: None

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Cloakroom - Further Out

I saw Cloakroom supporting Russian Circles last March. I'd never heard of them before the show, but we got down early to check them out. When I saw they were supporting, I commented to Sarah that they had a shit name, a comment I stand by.

Over the course of their half-an-hour set I became a fan, despite the name. At first I wasn't sure what to make of the mixture of doom with upbeat riffs and incredibly clean vocals. After a few songs I'd decided that they sounded like a cross between the Smashing Pumpkins and Electric Wizard, two bands I absolutely adore. The more I thought about this, the more I realised that a combination of those two bands was surely the most "me" music there could be. As they started their final song, I realised there was one box left to tick, and they were firmly ticking it by playing Farewell Transmission - a doom metal Pumpkins playing Molina songs - that's the most "me" music. As they playing those opening few notes that I've listened to so many times, I looked around in disbelief that they were about to cover Songs: Ohia to a metal crowd and spent the next six minutes just absorbing how happy that combination made me feel. There were a handful of other people in the room also loving it and had we been stood closer I would have loved to have spoken to them - I suspect we'd have a lot in common.

I didn't buy this album that night though. The weather was foul and I'd have to get a record home in the pissing March rain. On top of that, I was worried that I might not like them on record - I wasn't sure how such a sound would work in the studio. The gig was a Sunday, and the Monday morning the first thing I did when I got into the office was open up their Bandcamp and give the album a play. I think within the first few seconds of Paper Weight I was sold - there's a huge riff hidden in fuzz that clears to some soaring vocals and I love it. I spent the morning telling the small handful of people I knew who liked heavy music (and my two Molina friends) that I'd found a doom-Pumpkins who covered Molina and they should all check them out. I don't know if anyone got into them, but I guess that's always going to be unlikely when a band is so very your niche.

As an aside, I heard someone once describe them as a doom-metal Hum, which I can totally see as well, and is a further reason I think this band is just working with all my favourite influences. I also just noticed that the album was recorded at Earth Analog, Matt from Hum provides extra vocals and guitars and that they have a b-side with Matt singing on it, which is something I need to check out in earnest. The etching on the run-off groove of sides A and D say "Welcome to 1979", which I sincerely hope is a Pumpkins reference.

I quickly went online and ordered a copy from the Run For Cover Records webstore. The opener is huge, and Moon Funeral is pure doom with vocals so slow you wonder if it's meant to be played at 45rpm (except they wouldn't sound that clear if it was). Strangely, Clean Moon follows a few songs later, which is the simple acoustic version of the same song (why not have both versions on the album?). Asymmetrical is great too, and a slower song that builds to a tastefully and appropriately muted peak. Deep Sea Station is brilliant and the drums are crisp and just right in the mix to carry the song. Side D is an unlisted song (Discogs refers to it as the infinity symbol, not to be confused with the EP they released called Infinity, I assume) and is a fairly mesmerising riff that repeats for a good while (and sounds familiar - is it from one of the songs? I should really be able to tell). It ends with a locked groove of the riff, but it's not as well timed as Cntrl-Alt_Delete-U where the length of the locked groove and music match perfectly.

I'm glad I stumbled across this band when I did. I'm not sure they would have crossed my path again in the year-and-a-half that's passed since and I would have been missing out for sure.

Format: Double 12", picture sleeves, die-cut sleeve
Tracks: 10
Cost: £22 new
Bought: Run For Cover website
When: 03/04/17
Colour: Translucent green
Etching: Side A: "Welcome to 1979", Side B: "Get sprayed", Side C: "Through the Sarsen door", Side D: "Welcome to 1979", "X * Y"
mp3s: Download code