Record Store Day 2011

Yesterday was Record Store Day 2011, an annual international event started in the US to celebrate the unique culture of independent record stores. This year’s UK event was huge, with hundreds of stores participating, live music performances for free and Scottish band The View providing this year’s signature tune ‘I Need That Record’. But most important of all it was also the very first time I was able to get down to my local record stores in Nottingham to be part of the event myself.
Out of bed an hour and a half before my local record stores, Music Exchange and Heavy Sound, opened I was in high spirits at the thought of getting my hands on some newly released vinyl and soaking up the excitement of the day. I took my time getting ready, and even got a tweet about me skipping dissertation revision for RSD read out on BBC 6 Music by Nemone. So having had my fill of toast and tea, I left my flat around 9.40am – only 20 minutes before the stores were due to open, really silly in hindsight. I wasn’t worried one jolt though as I made my way toward Trent’s city campus with the Arboretum trees’ first green leaves creating a promenade of shade on what was already a beautiful spring day. I couldn’t have been happier at that moment, as my ears were filled with the mellow guitar intro to ‘Hillbilly Man’ on The Fall, the vinyl edition of which was at the top of my record wishlist for the day.
When I finally arrived at the record stores, both located opposite one another inside Nottingham’s fading West End Arcade, about 10 minutes before they opened, I was hit with a gut-wrenching smash of surprise. The queues for both stores stretched almost all the way to the street entrance. And especially because RSD releases are limited to one or two per store, I knew this was bad news. With a slightly beaten feeling I started down the line towards the back, only to run into Andy Trendell, ex-Platform section editor and current Gainsborough Standard hack. Andy and I have had our differences during my time in Nottingham, but music has been the subject we’ve found common ground on, so it was a relief to see him there. I got in line further down and the more people filed in behind me. As I waited, even people closer than me became agitated, and the possibility of waiting only to be disappointed is certain something which I saw lots of. Things were made worse still by a trio of local drunkards, who clearly took pleasure in not showering, ambled around to disturb the peace. I’ve never seen smartphones disappear into pockets and purses so quickly.
Up until now the feeling of being united with fellow record lovers and the satisfaction of supporting independent record stores had eluded me. Suddenly I knew how it feels to be in the back half of a console launch queue when demand outstrips supply. But having anticipated this day for several weeks I wasn’t able to let it be a complete washout. Thanks to my usual chatty nature, I got a conversation started with the guy behind me – he’d been dragged along by his son, who had his eye on Nirvana. While I was talking to this gent I kept getting the feeling that I recognised the girl who was immediately in front of me. At the risk of appearing a little foolish, I shifted my position so I could peer passed her swish of auburn hair… yes, it was Kim Neve! All this time we’d been right next to each and not noticed. Kim handles band interviews and promotes new music on Fly FM. At this point the mood had really changed as we passed the time talking and were finally nearing the store entrance. (And right now I’m kicking myself for not grabbing some photos of the queue and other RSD related stuff.)
Inside the Music Exchange at last Kim and I took the opportunity to get whatever we could. She was after Miles Kane and as for me it was Gorillaz’ The Fall. Both were gone already (as was the limited edition 6 Music vinyl for the first six visitors). Our primary choices may have been gone, but we took the time to see what remained. I ended up getting the Clash’s debut album US rerelease (non-RSD) and a Tinie Tempah – ‘Wonderman’ 7” pressed to look like the classic Parlophone vinyl (see below). Determined to seek out any other vinyl-collecting opportunities within walking distance, Kim wisely asked one of the store owners if any other local stores were getting RSD vinyl. He tipped us off that That’s Entertainment was giving away some of the 6 Music vinyl, but we’d have to be quick. Andy was waiting for us outside, and together we headed out of the Arcade towards Victoria Shopping centre.
It was the presence of my two fellow record lovers and the friendliness from the people who ran Music Exchange that really made me feel the spirit of Record Store Day. Andy, Kim and I arrived at That’s Entertainment to find only two of the 6 Music vinyl remaining. The shop assistants kindly gave them both to us, but it was up to a game of rock, paper, scissors between Andy and I to decide who would get one of the rare finds. From best of three to best of five, I was fortunate to win the vinyl.
Having been born at a time when records were already starting to be considered only for the dedicated music fan, I honestly wanted to live a little bit of that excitement to line up outside a record store in anticipation of a new release and meet fellow music lovers. Record Store Day fulfilled this and I’m already looking forward the 2012 date. Perhaps my fellow vinyl collectors and I will be able to co-ordinate our efforts next time too.
Culture, Music

Best albums of 2010

Gorillaz, Phase Three, press image 01I’ve been enthralled and captivated by so much music this year. Below are five of the newly released albums that have stayed will me this year. The one and only Gorillaz top my list. But, really, who else was going to, mmm?


In The Fall

You know you’re getting old when suddenly you’re content with clothes, cooking products and the odd DVD box set for Christmas. Unbelievable.

It’s shocking to think I’ve changed that much. I am supremely thankful for all of the generous gifts sent to me by friends and family. There was zero ruckus in the house, so I had a profoundly enjoyable day with the family.

This Christmas did hold something special for me on the music front. After an eventful year of Gorillaz events, the band had one last surprise in sort for fans: A musical diary recorded during their North American tour, released as an original 15-track album.

Damon Albarn, the musical auteur and co-creator of Gorillaz, recorded the music during spare time while on the road: “I did it because there’s a lot of time that you just spend staring at walls essentially. And it was a fantastic way of doing it.”

“I found working in the day, whether it’s in the hotel or in the venue, it was a brilliant way of keeping myself well.”

All of the music was recorded using Albarn’s iPad as the band travelled from Montreal to Vancouver via Seattle, Texas and Toronto.

“I literally wrote everything on the day in each place and there’s a strange sort of sound of America and its musical traditions that comes through. It feels like a journey through America.”

The Fall is its name, and though fan sites and web databases are classifying it as a studio album, this is an experimental collection through and through. It’s has been given away free to Sub Division members, and I’ve listen to my copy a few times since downloading it yesterday.

As with my Plastic Beach post back in March, these are initial impressions. How you feel about a song, especially as part of a whole album, changes according to your mood and whether it speaks to you. That said, few would argue that this album is almost strictly for fans. There are some vocal tracks, some instrumentals, solos and ensembles. As so few of the tracks jumped out at me, it feels like a B-sides album (though that sounds negative, their last B-sides album, D-sides contains some of their best work). I wasn’t expecting it to knock my headphones off – Plastic Beach did that already and I’ve learnt that magic that special takes time – yet as an experimental album written on the road it’s just the kind of innovation I love seeing from Gorillaz, and these tracks are by no means ‘throwaway’. In fact, a full album of this quality has to be the best holiday gift ever from any band I know.

Opening track ‘Phoner to Arizona’ is typical Gorillaz, a brooding chord that soon burgeons into a subconscious mind-seed – the kind of track I shun, then find myself oddly warming to after coming to some sort of mental clarity without realising it. ‘Revolving Doors’, with its curious lyrics and melodious beat, is as easy to get caught up in as its namesake. The low nautical tingle to ‘Shy-town’ and ‘Little Pink Plastic Bags’ feel like ever so gentle arrivals or exits, and resonate the same city-like vibe as ‘68 State’. ‘Amarillo’ is a laying out under the stars kind of song, like you’ve got all the time in the world. Bobby Womack also manages a heart-tugging camp fire solo, singing “let’s talk about feelings” in a way that somehow manages to be romantic. The spun gold of synth scales and piano melody in ‘Aspen Forest’ have warmed me most of all, though. It’s like being dropped into a leafy green labyrinth for two wonderful minutes before emerging from the forest canopy.

The Fall is available to stream now from Gorillaz.com and will be on general release in 2011. Have a listen for yourself and see what you take away from this musical journey through North America.

Hypnotic Rhythms in my Mind

This year I’ve treated myself to a lot of music. And in the past three months alone I’ve picked up nine new albums. Now, this would immediately strike anyone who knows me well as odd, because, while I love to listen to all kinds of music, I suppose I’ve been quite conservative when it comes to investing in whole albums by artists I’ve only heard a single track from.

While a two of them were second albums from artists already in my music collection, the rest were chances I took based on being hugely impressed by a single track (Aloe Blacc and Eliza Doolittle) or, in the case of Kano and Little Dragon, and not for the first time, recommendations from my favourite band, Gorillaz.

I’ve been aware of Little Dragon since hearing they would guest feature on Gorillaz third album. The tranquil melody of ‘Empire Ants’ and ‘To Binge’ both feature the transient touch of Yukimi Nagano’s feather-light vocals. But it was when I saw, and heard, them playing live at The O2 that I realised this was a band I needed in my life.

This Swedish four-piece are lead by Yukimi Nagano, who is of Japanese descent. Listening to their self-titled debut album I’ve become fixed with Little Dragon’s effortless blend of smoky percussion, organic electro and lithe vocals that make you feel lighter than air. The infallible ‘Constant Surprises’ on their debut album was an immediate hook. With its hypnotic two-step beat and Nagano cooing lyrics “I was walking home looking at the trees, Got the feeling that they were looking back at me” and in the chorus itself “Constant surprises, Coming my way, Some call it coincidence, I like to call it fate” this song exudes exactly the kind of pensive, otherworldly matter I dig.

All Played Out

[NB: published on 22/12/10 as I was majorly busy during this time]

The title sounds like the codename for a Russian covert mission, but it’s actually Gorillaz’ latest single and a darn good pop song.

As I pointed out in previous posts, Gorillaz’ Phase Three singles have received very little radio play and none have even made it into the top 10 charts (I did have high hopes for this single, but unfortunately it only achieved #37).

‘Doncamatic’ is not part of the original tracklist for the band’s third LP. It was recorded earlier this autumn and features Manicunian Daley. To think that this young white northern with a wave of candyfloss hair has such as soulful voice is uncanny.
It’s genre-bending masterpiece from Damon and this newfound talent who could well be a prodigy of sorts.

In addition to download releases, ‘Doncamatic’ is the only single during this phase to be released physically as well, on CD and 7” picture disc with illustrates of the Korg Doncamatic instrument and a spindly-legged ant by Jamie Hewlett. Original B-sides remain elusive as ever though, with yet more remixes taking they’re place.

The promo video for the single is live action and follows Daley as he pilots a one-man submersible through the ocean depths to Plastic Beach. It’s one of the more serene videos Gorillaz’ have produced and suits the mood of the song well I think.

With ‘Doncamatic’ receiving more attention, the planned release of ‘Rhinestone Eyes’ and its promo video has been cancelled by EMI. This is a terrible shame as each video is part of a wider story this phase and I would really like to see the whole thing as the creators intended. We’ll just have to see where things go next year.
Culture, Music

Gorillaz @ London O2 Arena

[NB: published on 22/12/10 as I was majorly busy during this time]

Did this really happen? Looking back I can’t quite believe it. It was the night I’d been waiting for all year: to see Gorillaz, and their many guest artists, live on tour.

Following my blissful first time seeing the band play live at the Camden Roundhouse back in April, I immediately jumped at the chance to see them again when they announce their first ever world tour. I snapped up tickets for one of two dates at the London O2 Arena. Originally scheduled for September, the concert itself was switched to November 16 to fit in with the rest of the Escape to Plastic Beach World Tour.

Contrary to having to rush down from Nottingham, it was reading week at my uni so I’d already come down for the week to find the tickets waiting for me (and would you believe it, I received ticket numbers 33 and 34). I had planned to take my brother to see the band this time, but literally and hour before we were due to leave he said he was feeling ill, so I had to ring my main man, Dee, to take his place.

Though I’ve driven past it on many occasions I’d never actually been inside The O2 (or Millennium Dome as it was originally called) until now. Making our way toward the gargantuan structure from North Greenwich tube station its 12 yellow support arms dazzled against the night sky, illuminating the oversized marquee like a spaceship that had landed right in the centre of the city. Inside the thing itself was a myriad of restaurants, cafés, bars and entertainment venues all packed together in one of the most inventive architectural feats I’ve ever seen.

During our exploring, Dee and I ran into two fellow Gorillaz fans, and their friends, that we’d met back at the Roundhouse in April. When the time came to make our way into the arena, we had to pass through no less than three ticket and security checks only to find that there was no cloakroom for standing audience members to dump their bags. On to the music…

Gorillaz in the Midst

Or not quite, as we had to wait nearly two hours before Gorillaz took the stage. Fortunately, support act Little Dragon (who appear on two tracks on Plastic Beach) energised the crowd with a number of hypnotic tunes. Frontwoman Yukimi Nagano was rocking a long oriental two-piece dress and twisted and danced her way across the stage like she was summoning some mystic bird from beyond the sea.

Speaking of which, when the accompanying orchestra played the band in during the island intro the whole place erupted with excitement. I’d brought my compact camera along to get a few shots, but I decided early that I wanted to enjoy this experience to the full and not spend half of it viewing the magic from behind a digital display – the shots you see here are the best of the small amount I took.

For the second time this year, it was a buzz to feel the presence of Damon Albarn and the rest of the musicians standing some five metres above me on stage. The band had played at The O2 just two days ago, but had to fly to Amsterdam the day after. Honestly, it felt so rewarding to hear Damon expressing his relief and gratitude that his home fans had come to show their support. It was by no means a sell-out gig. Why more people don’t feel the magic I feel from this band, and its many associates, is something I will never know.

That night I was treated to a rapturous harmony of music from all corners of the globe, from the Lebanese National Orchestra for Arabic Music to De La Soul. Music from all three of the band’s studio albums – Gorillaz, Demon Days and Plastic Beach – was played, including some favourites I witnessed live for the first time, ‘19-2000’, ‘Tomorrow Comes Today’ and ‘Demon Days’.

And as if seeing the core band – Paul Simonon, Cass Brown, Mike Smith and the rest – wasn’t enough, the sheer number of guest artists left me delirious with happiness: Bootie Brown, De La Soul, Neneh Cherry, Roses Gabor (who kindly signed my tour book after the gig), Kano, Bashy, Yukimi Nagano, Hypnotic Brass and the legendary Bobby Womack. What’s more a special appearance by none other than MF Doom during ‘Clint Eastwood’ was a real shock. They should have brought him on to do ‘November Has Come’ live. Daley, too, was in the house to perform newfound pop gem ‘Doncamatic’, and I have to say that boy has some pipes.

Veikko’s Blur Page has a rundown of the setlist, as well as all the other live dates from the Escape to Plastic Beach World Tour.

Seeing Gorillaz and their guest crew live, for the second time this year, was a tremendous experience that will stay with me long after these years are behind me. EMI could help though by putting out a tour DVD so I can relive the memories of this gig in crisp AV quality.

Melancholy Cruise

The only thing to be melancholy about is the fact that record companies are releasing music as download-only singles. Gorillaz second true single (‘Superfast Jellyfish’ has been postponed) to promote Plastic Beach, ‘On Melancholy Hill’, was released on July 25. While Phase Three is turning out to be a bit of a disappointment in terms of B-sides and physical discs to add to my collection, Gorillaz latest multimedia foray has made indulging in their world all the easier. There’s been no shortage of website content, YouTube videos and they’ve even released a game for the web/iPhone/iPad (created by Matmi using Unity and Flash).

It’s back to Jamie Hewlett’s classic 2D characters for the ‘On Melancholy Hill’ promo video. Following the spectacular CG versions of the band in the ‘Stylo’ video that had me doing a double take, I hoped that Passion Pictures (the studio behind the digital tech for Gorillaz’ videos) would be doing the same for all of their coming promos. Mixing 2D drawings, 3D models and CG animation in one pot, this video has the distinct feel that it was a bit too ambitious and less costly methods had to be employed to finish it in time. Still, it’s the first reappearance of the real Noodle after ‘El Mañana’, so here’s to that. Cyborg Noodle is too creepy.

Something that’s neither creepy nor disappointing, in fact quite the opposite, is the band’s smuggler’s run of live dates. The Escape to Plastic Beach World Tour begins in North America this October. I’ve forked out once again to see them on the European leg of their tour, this time at the London O2 Arena. The date was originally set for September 15, but it was rescheduled to November 16 to coincide with the other tour dates. Lots to looked forward then as Gorillaz’ third phase continues.


Jellyfish in a Microwavable Bottle

It’s now been two months since the long-awaited release of Gorillaz’ Plastic Beach album. I’ve been playing it through track-by-track almost every day without fail. Since my premier listen, many of the tracks have begun to impart the layers of depth and diversity I was so hopeful of. ‘Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach’, featuring Snoop Dogg and Hypnotic Brass, is one such example of a track that pricked my ears up when I first heard it, but has now moved into the realm of instant-body-shaker. The moment the trippy double-double starts in the second half, I can’t help but bop along to it like a hyperactive woodpecker.

I went to see Gorillaz live at the Camden Roundhouse less than two weeks ago, and that, too, was a gravity-defying night of elation.

Today ‘Superfast Jellyfish’ was the second single from the album to be released for digital download. This track became one of my immediate favourites. De La Soul provide the comedic rap (the lyrics ‘we be the colours of the mad and the wicked, we be bad when we brick it’ are now totally ingrained in my musical cortex) and the Fallout 3-like, retro opener is actually sampled from an advert for Swanson’s microwavable frozen breakfast sandwiches. It’s great to see the track out for single release. I will, of course, be supporting it, but I do wish the band would release the official remixes and some new B-sides along with it. Perhaps I’ll talk more about the Phase Three B-sides and remixes in a future post. In the meantime, I think you’ve got time for a hot, home-cooked breakfast…