Wolf Alice win the Mercury Prize – thank God!

•September 21, 2018 • Leave a Comment

Wolf Alice have won the Mercury Music Prize for the album “Visions of Alice” – thank God, the shortlist was atrocious. Unfortunately, for the time being, Rock music seems to be dying – and what is left is full on Retromania. What is startling is that Rap is nearly 40 years old, and remains particularly popular – despite it’s obvious limitation. Anyway the autumn has been more productive: Paul Weller has released another excellent album that I listened to, enjoyed and forgot. Suede have, today released “The Blue Hour” (I’m listening to it now): they have gone full on prog – and this is great – for longivity their recent albums have all been derivative of “Dog Man Star” – and certainly they should now be considered one of the great all time rock bands. I am also really enjoying Jonathan Jeremiah’s new album – it is great (as are all of his records) – I seem to be his only fan in this part of the world (I had to get the album in from Germany – including a CD (first time in ages)).

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Is this the worst music year ever?

•July 31, 2018 • Leave a Comment

By this time each year, most years, I would have posted my “albums of the year – so far” list. But not this year – I couldn’t be bothered – the selection of records released is atrocious and I have all but given up buying Mojo and Uncut magazines (after about 30 and 20 years respectively) as there is – nothing new.

I have bought a few records – some of which (Arctic Monkeys) have yet to bite. Here are a few that I have enjoyed – I admit that there is a strong whiff of dad rock:

Neil Young (Promise of real) – The Visitor
Jonathan Wilson – Rare Birds
Ash – Islands
Field Music – Open Here
Franz Ferdinand – Always Ascending
John Bramwell – Leave Alone The Empty Spaces
Charles Lloyd & The Marvels + Lucinda Williams – Vanished Gardens
Andy Sheppard Quartet – Romaria
Kamasi Washington – Heaven And Earth
Ry Cooder – The Prodigal Son

In any case – the reason for my rant is the list of Mercury Prize nominees is out – and, frankly, it’s ghastly.

Here’s the list – mostly ok albums from artists that have done better in the past (in particular Sons of Kemet). My vote is for Wolf Alice.

2018 Mercury Music Prize Nominees

Arctic Monkeys – ‘Tranquility Base Hotel & Casino’

Everything Everything – ‘A Fever Dream’

Everything Is Recorded – ‘Everything Is Recorded’

Florence And The Machine – ‘High As Hope’

Jorja Smith’s – ‘Lost & Found’

King Krule – ‘The Ooz’

Lily Allen – ‘No Shame’

Nadine Shah – ‘Holiday Destination’

Noel Gallagher – ‘Who Built The Moon?’

Novelist – ‘Novelist Guy’

Sons Of Kemet – ‘Your Queen Is A Reptile’

Wolf Alice – ‘Visions Of A Life’

It is worth having a look at the prize nominees from 20 years ago – the 1998 Mercury Music prize (don’t know what happened to 4hero – some great records here – Gomez won – I still listen to it):

1998 Mercury Music Prize Nominees

Asian Dub Foundation – Rafi’s Revenge

Eliza Carthy – Red Rice

Catatonia – International Velvet

Cornershop – When I Was Born for the Seventh Time

4hero – Two Pages

Gomez – Bring it On

Massive Attack – Mezzanine

Propellerheads – Decksandrumsandrockandroll

Pulp – This is Hardcore

John Surman – Proverbs and Songs

The Verve – Urban Hymns

Robbie Williams – Life Thru a Lens

The 2008 list was pretty good also (Elbow won):

2008 Mercury Music Prize Nominees

Adele – 19

British Sea Power – Do You Like Rock Music?

Burial – Untrue

Elbow – The Seldom Seen Kid

Estelle – Shine

Laura Marling – Alas I Cannot Swim

Neon Neon – Stainless Style

Portico Quartet – Knee-Deep in the North Sea

Rachel Unthank & The Winterset – The Bairns

Radiohead – In Rainbows

Robert Plant & Alison Krauss – Raising Sand

The Last Shadow Puppets – The Age of the Understatement

Note that the prize is for the UK and Ireland – in the above lists for 3 separate years – not a single Irish artist listed. Apalling and sad.

Stampers, Numbers & Quality

•January 12, 2018 • Leave a Comment

nightfly ultradiscI couldn’t resist it – the email from music direct that announced the release of “The Nightfly” from Mobile Fidelity – using UltraDisc One Step. The ultimate luxury edition – even though I can’t stand 45rpm records (they sound great – but you no sooner sit down than you’re up again flipping the record). Bear in mind that I already have 2 vinyl versions (my original 80s record that still sounds great and a newer reissue that I received as a gift and haven’t played yet), 2 DVDA versions, 2 CDs and another vinyl copy in the “Cheap X-Mas” box set. It sounds good – (and I’ll talk about the one step process in a different post) yes – but that is not the point of my post.

Amofis I eagerly awaited my copy of “The Nightfly”, I pondered how low a number I would get – surely below 1000, hopefully lower than 500. In fact, my copy is number 35xx – about as “collectable” as any random vinyl release (which probably number less than 5000). In early December I went to my local record shop and picked up a copy of U2’s “Songs of Experience” – superdeluxe box – numbered 12,xxx. A few minutes later, I went into the other, now closed, store – and there was a copy on the shelf – numbered 9xxx. Arrragh – that was 3000 copies later. For a moment, I pondered a return of the one I bought – and then realized how ridiculous the whole situation actually was. Firstly, if you believe in this numbered mumbo jumbo – only the first couple of hundred would be in any wall collectable – the lower the better. Second – what the heck does the number actually mean?

soe sdI have no idea how many copies of Super Deluxe Songs of Experience were produced – maybe 30 or 40K (maybe 13K!) – but the numbering must be specific to the box. There is no difference in boxing from one box to another, nor presumably anything inside the box except the vinyl records. So, if the numbering was to matter, then there would have to be a correlation between the number and the quality of the record. Does anybody really believe that box number 875 contains the 875th record pressed? Absolutely not – for all we know it was the 1875th record pressed – presuming the pressing plant(s) pressed up all of the albums in one large batch. The boxes were likely made and numbered elsewhere. Also, presuming that the stampers punch out fewer than 1000 albums each (maybe 500 or 600), even if they were sequential in pressing order, clearly album 1375 would be a fresher pressing than number 575. But, of course, if you believe in the whole “hot stamper” thing, then there is a massive difference in the quality of pressing from one to the next. So the number means NOTHING. I seem to be incapable of getting hold of any record with a low number – but I have a few Mobile Fidelity records that are numbered below 1000 and below 500 (Tom Waits and Crystal Gayle, Elvis Costello), some in the 1000s (Lynyrd Skyynrd, Allman Bros, Miles Davis) and some in the 10,000s (Bob Dylan – Blood On The Tracks). The lower numbered pressings don’t sound appreciably better to me. Moreover, I have records from the 1970s and 1980s that I bought back then, on 120g or 140g that sound significantly better than the modern 180g virgin vinyl (presumably digitally sourced) re-issue – where the number pressed would be fewer and the stampers more limited.

In conclusion, I think that the numbering of records (and don’t start me on SACDs) is a distraction that is of close to no significance with regard to the quality of the pressing and the sound of the album. Of course, if I ever get a MOFI with number 5 or 15 or 50, I might think otherwise…..

The Great Vinyl Resurgence Myth

•January 11, 2018 • Leave a Comment

vinylThere has been a solid increase in vinyl records sales, year on year, since 2007. So, the “vinyl resurgence” has been going on for a decade. Every week, during that period, I have come across an article in a newspaper, magazine or on-line about how vinyl is saving the music industry. This is nonsense. The vinyl resurgence will plateau and then fade out, gradually. To understand this, you need to know just who buys vinyl records.

Vinyl record buyers (mostly men) fall into the following categories: record collectors, audiophiles, physical music enthusiasts, music “fans”, middle age nostalgia hunters and hipsters.

Record collectors are serious people. They are of close to no value to the music industry because they are principally interested in historic recordings – records that hold significant value – such as mint early pressings of the Beatles or Stones. They purchase in secondary markets from one another. While record collectors might bother with occasional limited edition box sets or record store day exclusives, they have close to no interest in new music – the motor of the industry.

Music enthusiasts (myself included) like physical products and typically have large collections of records, tapes and CDs. They are major players in the vinyl resurgence as, typically, they spend a lot of money at once for records – old and new. However, after 10 years, presumably, the enthusiast has already purchased most of the historic recordings that they would have wished for (including rare copies on discogs or ebay) and so are limited to new releases (every year the quality of new popular music declines) and gimmicks – such as box sets, re-issues etc. Sooner or later enthusiasts will run out of product to buy and, more importantly, space to store their records (which was why we all liked CDs and MP3s in the first place. Also, they are getting old……

Music “fans” are individuals who love specific bands/artists and wish to have memorabilia by them. If you love Ed Sheeran or Queens of the Stone Age, sure – that vinyl record that will never be played is a nice item – but these folks are not long term vinyl buyers. In fact, the industry’s failure to invest in anything but bubblegum pop for the last 15 years has resulted in a dearth of bands for teenagers and young adults to follow and become passionate about. Who will be filling arenas in 10 years time – 80+ year old Rolling Stones and U2?

Nostalgia hunters are typically middle aged people who got rid of their records 30 years ago and bought CDs, and then came back and bought the same records again. This appears to me to be the major motor of the vinyl resurgence (see below) – and it will not last. There is only so many copies of Sgt Pepper and the Dark Side of the Moon that you can own, really. Nostalgia hunters are only interested in buying records that they liked when they were 13 or so – not what is being released now (and frankly, given the state of retromania – who can blame them?). What is particularly frightening is the prospect of the current group of teens and young adults when they reach nostalgia age – there are so few bands and so few great records out there – what will they buy? 1990s era reissues are great – and will continue to sell – but 2005 to 2017 – not great music years.

Hipsters – they move on to the next cool thing.

Below is a list of the top 20 selling vinyl albums in the UK in 2017. I have highlighted in red the original 2017 releases – literally only 1 – Rag’n bone Man is a “new artist”. It looks like Oasis fans are holding the whole thing together.

1 ÷ Ed Sheeran
2 As You Were Liam Gallagher
3 Rumours Fleetwood Mac
4 Guardians Of The Galaxy – Awesome Mix 1 Original Soundtrack
5 Back To Black Amy Winehouse
6 Human Rag’n’bone Man
7 The Dark Side Of The Moon Pink Floyd
8 Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band Beatles
9 What’s The Story Morning Glory Oasis
10 Legacy David Bowie
11 Ok Computer Radiohead
12 Legend Bob Marley & The Wailers
13 Who Built The Moon Noel Gallagher’s High Flying
14 The Stone Roses Stone Roses
15 Nevermind Nirvana
16 Abbey Road Beatles
17 Greatest Hits Queen
18 Unplugged In New York Nirvana
19 Guardians Of The Galaxy – Awesome Mix 2 Original Soundtrack
20 The Rise And Fall Of Ziggy Stardust David Bowie

Below is a list of the top selling vinyl albums in the US in 2017. What is frightening here is the fact that the largest selling vinyl album of 2017 was released 50 years ago. Of course, Sam Smith, Taylor Swift, Kendrick Lamar, Chris Stapleton and Eminem are not listed here – which proves my point. I would like someone to explain to me the (frankly) unbelievable popularity of “Back to Black” by Amy Winehouse – a fine album to be sure – on CD – it is almost certainly the WORST modern vinyl pressing that I own. Moreover, despite nearly all of the recordings below originating from the analogue era – each one of these records was digitally sourced (i.e. unlikely to be better than CD). The Guardians of the Galaxy soundtrack was great fun – but really – a Spotify playlist on vinyl?

TOP 10 SELLING VINYL ALBUMS OF 2017 IN U.S.
Rank Artist, Title  Sales
1 The Beatles Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band  72000
2 The Beatles Abbey Road  66000
3 Soundtrack Guardians of the Galaxy: Awesome Mix Vol. 1  62000
4 Ed Sheeran, ÷ (Divide)  62000
5 Amy Winehouse Back to Black  58000
6 Prince Purple Rain (Soundtrack)  58000
7 Bob Marley Legend: The Best Of…  49000
8 Pink Floyd The Dark Side of the Moon  54000
9 Soundtrack La La Land  49000
10 Michael Jackson, Thriller  49000
Source: Nielsen Music, for the tracking period Dec. 30, 2016 through Dec. 28, 2017.

Head Records Closes

•January 11, 2018 • Leave a Comment

headI confess, I have become fatalistic about record shops. A new one, Head Records, opened in Galway during the autumn, in a mediocre shopping center location. I am familiar to the brand – they had an excellent store in Belfast, and two ok stores in Dublin. The Galway outlet was bigger and they had an excellent range of CDs and vinyl – it really was a good store for those getting into vinyl. However, I found the place quite expensive, with very standard fare – no audiophile stuff, very limited Jazz etc – and my back catalogue is pretty full. I didn’t think that the store would last.

Just after Christmas, I dropped by and there was a 20% off sale (i.e. prices now comparable with the internet). I bought a few records. I came by the next day and the sale was over. I came by two days later and the shop was closed. As usual, when record shops close, I go into mourning. However, I figured that this was a cynical Christmas “pop up” shop, that closed after the holidays. I was wrong. The whole chain collapsed and went into liquidation – the employees were given no notice. This is devastating for anyone interested in owning physical product.

The music retail industry is on its knees – forget the vinyl revolution bump – I’ll address this myth in my next blog – if there is nowhere to flick through a vinyl rack – or impulsively buy a CD from the rack, physical product sales will plummet and die. Even if it is in a neglected corner of FNAC or Urban Outfitters, there has to be somewhere for us to buy records.

head

Head Records – Galway October 2017 (note – scarily empty of customers).

Albums of the Year 2017

•January 11, 2018 • Leave a Comment

oops – forgot to post this in December.

NEW ALBUMS OF THE YEAR

Ok – so here is my list of albums of the year. Not a vintage year by any stretch and I am not sure that any of the albums listed below represents the best work by the artist. I accept that there is very little urban music – mostly because, with the exception of Kenrick Lamar, none of it interests me.  In the jazz section, I can only list what I have listened to – there are lots of well reviewed jazz albums that I haven’t gotten around to yet. Sorry, I didn’t like the St. Vincent album – but will try it again in a few months.

  1. Molly Burch – Please Be Mine
  2. Jesca Hoop – Memories Are Now
  3. LCD Soundsystem – American Dream
  4. Father John Misty – Pure Comedy
  5. Beck – Colors
  6. Wolf Alice – Visions Of A Life
  7. The War On Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
  8. Jason Isbell And The 400 Unit – The Nashville Sound
  9. Ron Sexsmith – The Last Rider
  10. Japandroids – Near To The Wild Heart Of Life

THE REST

  • Angaleena Presley – Wrangled
  • The New Pornographers – Whiteout Conditions
  • The Deslondes – Hurry Home
  • Royal Blood – How Did We Get So Dark?
  • Paul Weller – A Kind Revolution
  • Margo Price – All American Made
  • The Waterboys – Out of All this Blue
  • The Weather Station – The Weather Station
  • Morrissey – Low in High School
  • Slowdive – Slowdive
  • Liam Gallagher – As You Were
  • Courtney Barnett And Kurt Vile – Lotta Sea Lice
  • U2 – Songs of experience
  • Foo Fighters – Concrete And Gold
  • Grizzly Bear – Painted Ruins
  • John Murry – A Short History Of Decay
  • Queens Of The Stone Age – Villains
  • Arcade Fire – Everything Now
  • Kevin Morby – City Music
  • Floating Points – Reflections – Mojave Desert
  • Roger Waters – Is This The Life We Really Want?
  • Fleet Foxes – Crack-Up
  • Richard Dawson – Peasant
  • Alt-J – Relaxer
  • Steve Earle & The Dukes – So You Wannabe An Outlaw
  • Dan Auerbach – Waiting On A Song
  • Evan Dando – Baby I’m Bored
  • Mark Lanegan Band – Gargoyle
  • Feist – Pleasure
  • Kasabian – For Crying Out Loud
  • Thundercat – Drunk
  • Robyn Hitchcock – Robyn Hitchcock
  • The Felice Brothers – Tonight At The Arizona
  • Bob Dylan – Triplicate
  • British Sea Power – Let The Dancers Inherit The Party
  • Amee Mann – Mental Illness
  • Spoon – Hot Thoughts
  • Hurray For The Riff Raff – The Navigator
  • Ron Gallo – Heavy Meta
  • The Shins – Heartworms
  • Alison Krauss – Windy City
  • Temples – Volcano
  • Grandaddy – Last Place
  • Son Volt – Notes Of Blue
  • The Dears – Times Infinity Volume One
  • Rhiannon Giddens – Freedom Highway
  • Chuck Prophet – Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins
  • Ryan Adams – Prisoner
  • Kendrick Lamar – Damn
  • Duke Garwood – Garden Of Ashes
  • The XX – I See You
  • Elbow – Little Fictions
  • Brian Eno – Reflection
  • Flaming Lips – Oczy Mlody
  • Paul Heaton & Jaqui Abbott – Crooked Calypso
  • Robert Plant – Carry Fire
  • Sparks – Hippopotamus
  • Steven Wilson – To The Bone
  • The Horrors – V
  • The National – Sleep Well Beast
  • Lana Del Rey – Lust for Life
  • Laura Marling – Sempa Femina
  • Chris Stapleton – From a room vol 1
  • Iron & Wine – Beast epic

NEW JAZZ

  • Vijay Iver – Far from over
  • Charles Lloyd New Quartet – Passin Thru
  • Ahmad Jamal – Marseille
  • Anouar Brahem – Blue Maqams
  • Kamasi Washington – Harmony Of Difference
  • Charles Lloyd – Wild Man Dance
  • John Abercrombie Quartet – Up And Coming
  • Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau – Chris Thile & Brad Mehldau
  • Avishai Cohen- Cross My Palm With Silver
  • Jan Garbarek – Places
  • Dejohnette, Grenadier, Medeski, Schofield – Hudson
  • Chris Potter – The Dreamer is the Dream

REISSUES

  • David Bowie – A New Career In A New Town [1977-1982]
  • Radiohead – OK Computer OKNOTOK 1997 2017
  • Dennis Wilson – Bambu (The Caribou Sessions)
  • Lift To Experience – The Texas-Jerusalem Crossroads (vinyl)
  • U2 – The Joshua Tree – 30th
  • The Beatles – Sgt Pepper – 50th
  • Interpol – Our Love to Admire
  • Neil Young – Hitchhiker
  • REM – Automatic For the People (box set)
  • Brian Eno – ½ Speed Remasters (Abbey Road Viny)
  • The Smiths – The Queen is Dead (boxset)
  • Sex Pistols – Never Mind the Bollocks (reissue of reissue)
  • Donald Fagen – XMas Box (vinyl)

JAZZ REISSUES

  • ECM vinyl reissues:
    • Circle – Paris – Concert
    • Keith Jarrett – The Survivors’ Suite
    • Gary Burton / Chick Corea – Crystal Silence
    • David Holland Quartet – Conference Of The Birds
  • Music Matters vinyl reissues (all extremely good)
  • Analogue Production – Prestige Vinyl Reissues (particularly Eric Dolphy)
  • The Bill Evans Trio – On A Monday Evening
  • Thelonius Monk – Les Liaisons Dangereuses

 

Neil Young – Jones Beach – June 14th 1989

•August 25, 2017 • Leave a Comment

I see that “Hitchiker” will be finally be released by Neil Young on September 8th. I never knew about the album until recently – how about Chrome Dreams Neil? Anyhow, I will buy it immediately on release. 1970s Neil Young is irresistible. The 1980s were another story….that was until the glorious summer of 1989. That year Neil released “Eldorado” – a Japan only EP (easy to obtain on Amazon these days) and the “Freedom” – my personal favorite from his canon – and one of my favorite records of all time. I’m not sure why this record resonates so well with me – I clearly remember the first time I heard it was in the Coffee Inn (long gone) in Dublin. Mostly the record, famous for “Rocking in the Free World,” is a rag-tag collection of leftovers and an extraordinary cover of “On Broadway.” But everything fits together perfectly and unexpectedly.

freedom vhsAbout a year after the release of Freedom – a VHS tape appeared under the same name. This was Neil playing live and solo at Jones Beach – a fantastic concert – but only 7 tracks. WTF? Many years later, I obtained a bootleg DVD (there is also a soundboard CD circulating), with perfect sound and really poor video. For the most part, this is 90 minutes of Neil, with his guitar and harmonica playing solo – an unbelievable setlist (?his greatest ever). Accompanied only by Ben Keith and Frank Sambedro, the great surprise is saved till last – a duet rendition of “Down by the river” with Bruce Springsteen. It is a fantastic concert. Hopefully, some day, anyday, we will get a nice high res audio-video release of this 5 star concert.

NEIL YOUNG JONES BEACH JUNE 14TH 1989 SETLIST

  1. My my hey hey (Out of the blue)
  2. Rockin’ in the free world
  3. Comes a time
  4. Sugar mountain
  5. Pocahontas
  6. Helpless
  7. Crime in the city
  8. For the turnstiles
  9. This old house
  10. Roll another number
  11. Too far gone
  12. This notes for you
  13. The needle and the damage done
  14. No more
  15. After the goldrush
  16. Heart of gold
  17. Ohio
  18. Rockin’ in the free world
  19. Powderfinger
  20. Down by the River (with Bruce Springsteen)