Saturday, 14 July 2018

The Draft - In A Million Pieces

I listen to this album quite a lot, but haven't got very much to say about it. That sounds mean - it's a really good album, but I just have no interesting stories about it. If this blog were more about music reviews than it is me reminiscing about music then I might be able to comment on the things that make it a record I like to play a lot, but it's not.

The Draft were the band that guys in Hot Water Music who aren't Chuck Ragan formed after he left the band. I heard about them around the end of university, as a friend's band got a spot supporting them in Cardiff, or possibly Newport or Swansea; South Wales for sure. They were pretty excited, all being big HWM fans. The comparisons to HWM are easy to make, but I'd say it's a much easier listen than a lot of HWM records - there are big choruses and hooks and I know what they're singing some of the time. New Eyes Open is a huge way to start the album, and Alive or DeadBordering and Longshot are all brilliantly catchy. The highlight for me is Wired with the horn section lifting the chorus even further. Days after listening to In A Million Pieces, I find the chorus of Wired in my head, but that's never a bad thing. All We Can Count On is a strangely positive and upbeat song given that the chorus is "All we can all count on is death". There are great songs throughout, which is probably why I turn to it so often. I have no idea if it has as high a standing in the punk community in general as it does within my record collection.

I picked this copy up in Damaged Record in March of 2008, the second in my monthly-record-from-Damaged year (I didn't start it until February it seems). At £9 it was a bargain then and even moreso now. The vinyl is a purple-ish marble, which doesn't remotely narrow down which pressing it's from, not that it really matters.

I got a chance to see The Draft at Fest in 2013 which was great fun. I'd been listening to these songs for five years at that point and I really enjoyed jumping around to them. We'd already watched Lemuria, Paul Baribeau and The Underground Railroad to Candyland, and afterwards watched Obits, Toys That Kill and The Bouncing Souls. It was quite a day.

Format: 12", A3 insert
Tracks: 12
Cost: £9 new
Bought: Damaged Records, Cardiff
When: 01/03/08
Colour: Purple marble
Etching: Side A: "Welcome to the zoo" Side B: "The zoo needs you"
mp3s: no

Tuesday, 10 July 2018

Le Peuple De L'Herbe - Triple Zero + [Promo]

Le Peuple De L'Herbe are a French hip-hop band that my friend Steve got into when he was living in France on his gap year. I remember him raving about them on his return and having a t-shirt of theirs, quite possibly featuring the art in the top corner of this sleeve.

Roll on three years or so, and I found this record in a charity on Albany Road in Cardiff that often had some interesting things - lots of promos that someone was routinely dropping off. I figured it was worth a £3 punt; it's worth dwelling on mine and Steve's musical tastes for a moment - there are bands and musicians that Steve and I have agreed on in the past, and some of them are amongst my all-time favourites (Jason Molina sits at the top of that list, but we've also both enjoyed Pavement and Pavement-a-likes, Car Seat Headrest). However, the vast, vast majority of stuff we don't actually agree on - he hates a lot of the bands I like and a lot of the ones he really loves do less than little for me. Here, I was willing to take his praise as recommendation but it was certainly not going to be a sure fire bet.

Le Peuple De L'Herbe is not really for me. As the name (and leaf on the sleeve) suggests, the band spend a lot of their time Very High. I imagine if you are Very High that this might be interesting music. But sat here, sober and in my thirties it's really pretty dull. I've never got very much from it and it's spent almost all of its life sat in my record collection, unloved. Herbman Skank has a fun beat for a while, but quickly descends into something unlistenable with a flat, programmed drum beat and a guy saying "Give me the weed". There are only four songs here, but their obsession with weed wears thin very fast (Electric Wiazrd's Dopethrone is a great example of a record obsessed with weed that doesn't make you wish they could sing about literally anything else, but it's very likely I'm saying that because I like doom-metal and not whatever genre of hip-hop this belongs to).

I'd go so far as to say that Le Peuple De L'Herbe are really quite terrible. I wonder if Steve's enjoyment came out of the rare intersection of the Venn diagram featuring hip-hop, French musicians and cannabis.

Format: 12", promo insert
Tracks: 4
Cost: £3 second hand
Bought: Albany Road Charity Shop
When: 09/10/07
Colour: Black
Etching: none
mp3s: None

Monday, 9 July 2018

Various Artists - First Kiss

This record came out on Record Store Day in 2013, but I didn't buy a copy until over a year later. I can't remember why it was that I didn't buy a copy in 2013, but it would have been for one of three reasons: Banquet hadn't got any copies in stock; it was in stock but all gone by the time I got into the shop; or I simply forgot to pick up a copy. Given how much stock Banquet get in, it's likely not the first reason and I know what I'm like, so it's quite likely the last.

The main reason I was keen to get a copy was that my friend Matt's band, Among Brothers, was on the compilation and I really like their music. Their EP Homes is the only thing of theirs I have mp3s of, but still gets pretty heavy rotation. The other nine songs were mostly bands I hadn't heard of, or only knew the names because Matt knew them (particularly in the cases of Samoans and Without Maps). At the time I thought I was fairly in touch with a lot of what was going on in the British music scene, but this compilation is proof that I really wasn't - or at least the scenes I knew about were existing in entirely non-overlapping circles with these bands. I'd moved out of Cardiff a few years before this compilation and, I assume, before a lot of these bands had their Cardiff connections, so I moved away assuming the punk scene was all there was.

The compilation is ten songs from ten bands who made up the first ten releases on Jen Long's label, Kissability. It open with one of the weaker songs in my opinion - DZ Deathrays' The Mess Up which doesn't do as much as I keep thinking it's going to. Cut Ribbons compare themselves to Deftones, which nearly comes through in the guitars, but Mew is a much more obvious comparison in my mind. It's nice and I imagine they'd be good to watch live. The Among Brothers song, Keep, is unmistakably them, but sounds quite different - as ever, they fit a lot into a short song. It lacks any central theme to hold it together, which was also my criticism of the 7" they released. They're followed by Without Maps, whose math-rock is much more to my liking, and reminds me of a lot of bands I've enjoyed over the years, including Grown Ups, a band Matt got me into. Thumpers close the record out nicely with Velveteen - apparently they released an album on Sub Pop, which is pretty impressive.

Anyway, a year after RSD13 this record did find it's way into my collection. I was in Manchester to see Neutral Milk Hotel with my friend Aled and went record shopping during the day. Piccadilly Records (a great record shop with some really interesting stock) still had at least one copy in their shelves, and had been sat there for over a year. I was pleased to finally add it my collection, so included it in the armful of records I was buying that day (as an added bonus, it was reduced to £5). The sleeve is numbered (#22/100) and has what I think might be an actual lipstick kiss in the corner. The insert looks like it was supposed to chopped about an inch shorter in each direction, or it's possibly intentional that all the print/layout stuff is left around the edge. It didn't come with a download code, so it's not had very many plays at all, which is a shame. I'm not sure I would have become a huge fan of any of the bands had I listened to the songs many more times, but it would have been nice to feel more in touch with a clearly active part of the UK music scene.

Format: 12" white label, insert, numbered 22/100
Tracks: 10
Cost: £5 new
Bought: Piccadilly Records, Manchester
When: 18/05/14
Colour: Black
Etching: none
mp3s: None

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Explosions in the Sky & David Wingo - Prince Avalanche OST

This record has the interesting accolade as the first record we listened to after my wife and I got engaged. I proposed one Saturday in our living room, and after the excitement, I thought this would be a nice record to play as we phoned our various friends and relatives to tell them the news. Vicky had enjoyed it when I'd played it before (which can't be said for many of my records), so that was one of the reasons for choosing it. It's also an incredibly calm but positive album. There's some elements of classic EITS in there, but they're not the majority; it sits both within my EITS collection, but also outside it.

I've not seen the film Prince Avalanche, nor do I really know anything about it. I do know that I ordered it into Banquet as soon as they announced the pre-order because I'm a big Explosions fan. That was before I'd really found my feet with soundtracks-as-albums, so it was perhaps a gateway drug into that world. I also know next-to-nothing about David Wingo, but I assume it's his influence that makes this sound very different from EITS's regular albums. That, along with the nature of writing a soundtrack I suppose.

The other unusual thing here is that the song lengths are a fraction of what we've come to expect from the band (although recent albums have seen shorter songs and, as a result, more songs). That then draws the attention to the few longer songs (all still sub-five minutes) as you realise that they've had more time to build and do things - the pair on the first side, Alone Time and Hello, Is This Your House? really shine, as does the closer Send Off.

Like so many of the albums I have soundtracks for, I do hope to one day see the film they were written for. It's always a slightly strange experience. For now, I still get plenty of enjoyment from this as an album and all the nice memories I have associated with it. My only complaint is that the labels aren't stuck on the exact centre of the vinyl, so it makes a god-awful noise when it ends.

Format: 12", gatefold sleeve, picture sleeve
Tracks: 15
Cost: £14 new
Bought: Banquet Records, Kingston
When: 07/09/13
Colour: Black
Etching: none
mp3s: Download code

Thursday, 5 July 2018

Boards of Canada - Trans Canada Highway

I've bought many records from many places over the years, but this is one of two records I've bought in a garden centre (the other was at the same time). Near where I live there is a large garden centre which possibly does better business from selling the many things there that aren't garden related than those that are. Inside the strangely large building is an antiques market with hundreds of things of wildly inconsistent quality and equally inconsistent ideas of a fair price. Some days we find nothing of any interest at all, other days you find the perfect piece of furniture for nothing. One day I found this sealed Boards of Canada EP, and the massively over-hyped Cosmogramma by Flying Lotus for £5 each (more on that second one another time). On that particular stall there were only a handful of records, the rest unsealed and slightly dog-eared. How these two sealed records came to be there I'll never know.

I've not got any other Boards of Canada music, but they're a band I've known about since I started going to All Tomorrow's Parties and learning about the various bands who existed in those circles. A guy I used to work with who I had some very interesting conversations about music with used to wear a Boards of Canada t-shirt, so that was another stamp of approval. I've also heard people rave about their album Music Has the Right to Children, which has one of the greatest album titles I've ever heard.

However, I long suspected they weren't a band for me. I had a song on an ATP compilation cd that didn't do much for me, and the descriptions of their music always contained some words that were off-putting. I'm sure I must have tried streaming some songs at some point as well, concluding that it wasn't going to be my thing. Then, confronted with a sealed 12" for £5 in a place that had no business selling such records, I thought it'd be rude not to, and so Trans Canada Highway entered my collection.

I can appreciate the record for what it is, but it hasn't set my world on fire. The songs are nice, but I've come to like more drama from my instrumental music - many of the many post-rock bands I love play off the quiet moments against the loud, and that's what I really love about them; Boards of Canada make beautiful quiet, contemplative music, but I rarely want that. A classic case of "it's not you, it's me".

The only other thing left to say about this EP is that I definitely played it on holiday a few years ago whilst driving along the Trans Canada Highway; you almost have to. It's a long road (as you might expect) so there was plenty of time. I also played Trans Canada by Constantines, which I took far more enjoyment from.

Format: 12", picture sleeve
Tracks: 6
Cost: £5 new
Bought: Antiques Market, Yarnton
When: 20/09/15
Colour: Black
Etching: none
mp3s: Download code

Wednesday, 4 July 2018

Small Brown Bike - The River Bed

Through no fault of its own, The River Bed is the Small Brown Bike record I listen to the least. The main reason for that is that it didn't come with a download code; it misses out on all those times when I'm out and about and have a craving for SBB and has meant that I've found myself listening to the other records much more.

On top of that, I bought it in a flurry of SBB purchases that, in hindsight, I should have spread out better. In 2008 I got Dead Reckoning on cd and listened to it a lot. Three years later I bought their comeback album Fell & Found, which I got into pretty well. Then, just two months later I bought their debut, Our Own Wars and then another two months later this album and the Nail Yourself to the Ground EP at the same time. I got these two at Fest, two days after seeing them play an incredible set in the Florida Theatre (the very first set we saw at Fest); I was on a SBB high and wanted to complete my collection. The downside was that I also bought 14 other records in three days and couldn't play any of them until I got back to the UK. Between that and the lack of mp3s, it was a perfect storm of neglect.

It's a shame because The River Bed is an excellent album. It doesn't hit as hard as Dead Reckoning does (that's a very high standard to reach), but is a strong album. Deconstruct / RebuildSafe in Sound and A Declaration of Sorts all have huge choruses, which is unexpected after an album with no choruses at all - they make a great way to open the album. Sincerely Yours is another great song and The Outline of Your Hand Still Remains on My Hand is an unusually slow number that works surprisingly well. I feel that this album and the first have the most in common of all their albums (or maybe it's just that Dead Reckoning and Fell & Found are the only ones I got into well enough to truly tell apart).

This appears to be the black vinyl from the first pressing, but it seems unlikely that No Idea would still have copies of the original run eight years after it came out, so perhaps the Discogs listing has incorrect data. Either way, it's on black vinyl and pre-dates the 150g reissue in 2015. Also, they all list Tragically Ending as the first song on Side B, but here it closes Side A, so maybe it's all wrong on there. Doesn't really matter I suppose. No Idea used to keep a really detailed list of their pressing runs, but that appears to have fallen off the internet, which is a shame.

Format: 12", insert
Tracks: 10
Cost: £4.96 new
Bought: Fest
When: 30/10/11
Colour: Black
Etching: Side A: "When in doubt, floss" Side B: "Quadruple the garlic"
mp3s: None

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Max Richter - Recomposed: Vivaldi - The Four Seasons

This, on the surface, might seem like an odd record in my collection, but in the same way Max Richter isn't your average classical composer, nor is his re-imagination of Vivaldi's Four Seasons your average classical album. Needless to say, I know very little about classical music - my parents grew up listening to Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, and therefore, so did I (my wife on the other hand has been around classical music since the day she was born, and is routinely embarrassed by my lack of knowledge) - but I know of Vivaldi and his Four Seasons; I think that is one of the basic bits of knowledge that everyone gets for free.

I was introduced to Max Richter's work by Infra, an album I have a huge amount of time for. I bought a copy after seeing him play it live at Cadogan Hall in London in 2010 and loved it. I bought a few more albums as and when I found them, discovering a new genre along the way ("neo-classical", my local record shop likes to call it). I heard he was releasing an album of a "re-imagination" of Vivaldi's Four Seasons (a world apart from Dirty Projectors' re-imagination of Black Flag's Damaged, in case anyone was curious if the comparison made sense). In 2012 he played said album in the Barbican and I got tickets to go with Matt (who partly got me into Infra) and Rich, who loves anything in the Barbican. We had pretty decent tickets on the first row of the balcony (the night before we'd watched Efterklang from the front row, as Rich was a massive fan and bought eight tickets straight away - I also saw Max Richter play a brief set in the Apple Store immediately before that show, which was great).

I'd made a note to listen to a more traditional performance of Four Seasons ahead of time, but obviously forgot. Like the noob I was (and am), I recognised bits of Summer and Winter - the ones everyone knows (if you're curious about which bit you know, you definitely know Winter I). That evening in the Barbican, with Daniel Hope frantically playing the violin, it sounded incredible, as it does on the record. I still haven't listened to a traditional recording for Four Seasons, so this is the version I know and love. I couldn't possibly comment on the "Recomposed" nature of it - even if I had listened to other recordings, I wouldn't have the technical ability to say what was different (I'm usually bluffing when I talk about parts of punk songs, let alone anything that doesn't go verse-chorus-verse). It's safe to say that anything electronic wasn't there on the original.

Two years later, I found this copy in Truck Store, not long after we moved to Oxford. I was very pleased to add it to my collection, but also that Truck stocked such music. I've since bought a good number of Max Richter's countless releases there. The pressing is lovely - 180 gram vinyl which sounds brilliantly both quietly and turned up loud; the sleeve is die cut so the four coloured bands of the picture sleeves change as you pull them out (like seasons...). I'm not sure why it took me two years to buy a copy, but it's likely that I just never found it anyway before that point.

The second disc is all additional material, which on paper might not appeal to most classical fans, but demonstrates Max's modern take on the genre - Side C is "electronic soundscapes" - the electronic moments from the album in a concise format - and Side D is remixes, which mark the biggest departure in style - the Robot Koch remix of Summer 3 features a sample of someone saying "yeah" a few times and the Fear of Tigers remix of Autumn 3 suddenly breaks from a fairly tame remix into something more akin to a dance song sampling a few bars of violin. Not my thing exactly, but it's nice to hear what people can do when they're remixing something so traditional.

Also in the pictures is the program distributed around the Barbican that night, which I kept in with another of his records until I got round to buying this. I was lucky enough to see him play it again in Blenheim Palace, which is just around the corner from where I live. The seats we had that night weren't so good, but it was a lovely way to spend a summer evening.

Format: 12"
Tracks: 22
Cost: £23 new
Bought: Truck Store, Oxford
When: 07/06/14
Colour: Black
Etching: none
mp3s: Download code