04 April 2011
'Maudlin Northern-ness'Buenos Aires. Day off.
The afternoon of the day I boarded the aeroplane to Chile, I did something I haven't done in decades - come to think of it I don’t think I've ever done before - which is to buy six new albums at the same time. Even more extraordinarily in these times, I bought them form an actual record shop. Just as the monetary value of recorded music was entering its tail-spin, an enterprising Scot set up a store called 'Fopp' selling CDs & DVDs at budget prices. After a near-disastrous attempt at over-expansion, Fopp has settled into being a small chain with just a handful of stores in the UK, one of which is happily close to where I live. I'm not quite sure how it works, whether they buy up over-stock items or job lots, but classic pop & rock CDs sell for £5 (€6 / $7), jazz for even less and books for next to nothing. DVDs start at two or three pounds and often there'll be, say, the whole of Woody Allen's work or all the Hitchcock movies in stock for a while. They do also stock current releases at prices closer regular retail, but suddenly buying music in a ‘record shop’ feels like a bargain again. Plus of course you get that great experience of browsing - I'd really almost forgotten what it feels like to mooch about a real record store, carry things round for a while, put them back, pick up something else.
Being about to head into the wild blue yonder on some very long flights I felt in need of some new music so had a look in and ended up taking six albums home with me (perhaps I’m now coming to understand the Fopp business model). I picked up the debut from The Vaccines, Elbow's latest, and the new R.E.M. for old time's sake. I was surprised and delighted to see that Buffalo Tom have something new out, there was the album that Marianne Faithfull made with Hal Wilner a little while ago and the new(ish) EP by We Were Promised Jetpacks. Whilst I was in the mood, on arrival home I downloaded the new Radiohead too, and still had change from a groat, your honour. Into iTunes they all went and off I went to catch my plane.
Since then (especially now I’ve got my ‘ears’) I have been taking the opportunity to disappear into parallel universes when traveling. I don’t always find it easy to get into the right kind of head-space for new information when in the middle of tour blur, but the one upside of the brutal commute to La Plata was that I could plug in and listen through an entire album on each journey. I haven't given all of them my full attention as yet, but was straight in with the Vaccines. I thought they were Australian as I first heard them on a car radio in Sydney at Christmas, but it turns out they’re from London. It’s three-chord-wonder, post-punk joy, with clever lyrics and all the urgency you can eat (the single Wrecking Bar is precisely 82 seconds long). People say they’re channelling the Ramones, but I’m getting Eddie & the Hotrods. Elbow’s Build a Rocket Boys! has become an early favourite. It really is a beautiful record (melancholic almost to caricature proportions, but I grew up on The Smiths so you can’t scare me with your maudlin Northern-ness). We Were Promised Jetpacks do melancholic punk their own way (dour & Scottish) but they have something that I seem to keep coming back to. Marianne Faithfull wrote the book on forlorn life lessons and listening to her sing is listening to the sound of experience. Then there’s Radiohead, the kings of glum... am I detecting a theme here? Perhaps a person’s CD choice is inadvertently revealing, like modern tarot ('I see you have chosen the discs of noise and melancholy...”). I haven’t got to R.E.M. or Buffalo Tom yet, but I wouldn't be entirely surprised if the motif continues.