Saturday, 26 March 2016

Losing The Knack

There is a definite art and skill to flipping through records, whether it be in a shop, at a Record Fair or at a Jumble Sale/Car Boot Sale.
Similar techniques are employed, and it is a skill that takes time to hone and refine. There needs to be an active connection between the flicking fingers, the eyes and the brain. Anyone can flick through a stack of albums, but it needs the “skill” to recognise, register and decide (often it’s a simple “Got, got, need, look at that later, hmmm … interesting, import version, laugh out loud, got, need” etc reflex).
The fist act is to choose a starting point (sensibly you should start at 'A', but it could be anywhere, as you will cycle through the alphabet to ensure all stock is covered), place feet slightly apart for comfort and balance, grip the top of the front record and "flick away".
My own particular style has always been that of a "two handed flicker". Thumbs resting on the edge of the front album, and then index and middle fingers walking like Steve Harris in a Yellow Pages advert. However, as a result of losing weight and now having thinner fingers, my ring is a lot looser than it once was (note: I am referring to my wedding ring, before all you filthy minded double-entendre merchants start sniggering).
A loose ring (stop it!) can be particularly annoying, as it works its way free of your finger and falls in a crate - valuable flicking time is lost as you delve in trying to retrieve run-away jewellery.
The solution? Jam the ring finger of the left hand into the palm, or revert to one-handed flicking (slower, but effective).

The two handed, or one-handed flicking method works with CDs too (albeit in a scaled down version), and is also accompanied by a gratifying clunk as the jewel cases rattle against each other.  However, my local music emporium of choice (purveyors of New and Used CDs, Vinyl and various other music related ephemera) have taken to organising CDs upright with spines showing so all one has to do is scan the boxes - effective, but not as interesting.

Now, a combination of this form of CD organisation and not visiting too many Record Shops recently has left me out of practice.  The problem here is once you're out of flipping practice it takes time to achieve previous levels of competence.

So obviously some sort of Training Programme needs to be developed (obviously accompanied by the Training Theme from Rocky)
I think I will need to visit at least weekly, and should also try and hone the skills in a variety of locations.  It's a tough job, but someone has to do it.

In other news, the standard joke of ubiquitous records (ie Abba's Greatest Hits, Saturday Night Fever, Bee Gees - Spirits Having Flown, Boney M - Night Flight To Venus to name but 4) whilst having plenty of substance was, I thought, more apocryphal than reality.  Oh no - on todays Record Shop visit I found 26 copies (!) of Paul Young's No Parlez.  (I wasn't tempted to buy one because I've got 4 copies already)

Saturday, 12 March 2016

Steve Mason - Meet The Humans

The Beta Band, save for an appearance in High Fidelity with the song "Dry The Rain", were somewhat ignored during their lifetime.
Maybe they were just a little too different, not as direct or immediate as many of their contemporaries.  They do take a bit of listening, but ultimately it proves a worthwhile experience.
Since their demise, half the band re-grouped as The Aliens and have produced 2 fine albums, which in true Beta Band style have sold in relatively small numbers to "those who know", and lead singer/guitarist Steve Mason has also released a couple of albums, one of which someone not a million miles away got very excited about a couple of years ago (Monkey Minds In The Devils Time).
So after hearing lead single "Planet Sizes" I was eagerly anticipating the release of the parent album.

Were my expectations fulfilled?  Yes they were.
OK, it has taken 3 listens for it to seep into my brain, but in summary - this is fantastic, there is not a duff track here.
On previous releases, there was a noticeable dark, almost raw and confrontational, edge to the music.
This album starts on a positive and maintains that relaxed, joyous and confident tone throughout.

Album opener "Water Bored " has a relentless piano riff coupled to a withdrawn, almost melancholic vocal, yet the song remains bright, joyous and uplifting.
"Alive" continues the uplifting mode, and is probably the best track of the album (admittedly there is some stiff competition, but this one wins it for me at the moment).
"Alright", "Another Day" and "Run Away" all employ similar tricks of starting in almost claustorphobic territory and gradually rising, with strings or brass deployed to add to the layered vocal harmonies.
"To A Door" has an air of Belle and Sebastian jauntiness about it, and also has the introduction of an additional voice courtesy of Kristina Train.  The claustrophobia returns, coupled with a sense definite sense of loss on "Hardly Go Through"- this is lifted by a glorious chorus and the general arrangement.
The sheer sparseness of "Through My Window" makes it almost hypnotic.  There are moments when you can almost feel his voice breaking/straining.
All hypnotism is suspended as the acoustic guitar riff for "Planet Sizes" begins, and the song gradually rises to a fuller sound.  Whilst it may be a simplistic comparison, much of the album has a touch of Elbow going on (hardly surprising when you consider that it was produced by Craig Potter), and this track is perhaps the most Elbow-esque.
"Like Water" is the fullest sounding of all the tracks on offer and the vocal is a lot higher in the mix.  There is almost an Indie/Madchester vibe about it.
Closing track "Words In My Head" takes the Madchester vibe and adds New Order, a soupcon of Depeche Mode and hip hop/dance beats to the mix.  This track is a different tempo to the rest of the album and just feels more urgent and insistent.

The presence of Craig Potter makes comparisons to Elbow inevitable, but there is more going on here.  There is an anthemic indie quality about it, coupled with a melancholy navel gazing all lifted by the employment of varied and often joyous and glorious instrumentation and arrangements.  It is both recognisable, comfortable and accessible, whilst also remaining unique and insularly personal.
We're nearly at the end of Quarter 1 2016, and I think I've found the first real contender (for me) for Album Of The Year


To A Door