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January 2013

Night Of The Living Dog: HMV's Ongoing Apocalypse

Thursday, 31 January 2013 Category : , , 0

Two articles on the on-going strife at the biggest music retailer on the high street in just over two weeks might seem a little excessive. But since the eventual fate of the company will have huge ramifications for the future of the music industry in this country - and since there's been some shocking developments since - an update at this juncture hardly seems hysteric.

So, as I pointed out last time, a lot of HMV's woes are essentially self-made, its slump into administration a sadly inevitable result of years of mis-management and bad decision that have pushed it ever further from its raison d'etre, and thus further from anyone who might actually want to spend any money in the place.

Even with the incompetence of their upper management fully in mind though, it's hard to comprehend the colossal fuck-ups of the last few weeks. Almost as soon as the administrators were called in, all Irish branches of HMV were shut without warning (presumably the first bit of 'pruning' to get it to a reduced, easier to sell state), and staff left without pay. The subsequent - and, thankfully, successful - sit-in protests by staff in Limerick highlighted how many hard-working members of staff were suddenly being consigned to the trash can, and demonstrated the callous and careless nature of the suits upstairs. This wasn't to be an isolated case.

Until yet more acres of bad PR were flung their way, consumers were also hit by the firm's refusal to honour gift cards - cards they had, of course, been more than happy to sell right up until the day before the firm filed for administration, presumably aware of just how dire the situation was. Although this position was eventually reversed, along the way HMV had managed to burn out some of the good will thrown their way when the administration was announced. Then, earlier this afternoon, the mass firing of sixty employees became public when one of the shocked very-recently-employees took to the official HMV Twitter account to berate the firm and air some dirty laundry. Once again, the majority of engaged employees trying to help save the firm are being suffocated by a leadership that seems determined to kill the firm off once and for all.


At this point, the management team of HMV seem to be more engaged in a strange kind of denouncement of Randian Objectivism. These John Galts, these mighty captains of industry leading the path in turning household names into little more than rubble (something current and former chied executives Trevor Moore and Simon Fox have a fair amount of experience in), refuse to down tools and stop their entirely worthless efforts. Instead, they keep working, and with their remarkable indiviualistic visions - turning record shops into places that sell Angry Birds toys and cheap biographies of gangsters, taking DVD stores and trying to convince their film-loving customers that, actually, wouldn't they much rather buy some over-priced jeans and checked shirts instead? - grind everything in their path into submission. If only they would go on strike, the company might stand a chance.

Let's be clear about this: the music and film industries are desperate for HMV to survive. They need somewhere to sell their goods, and if this goes under, it just gives more power to Amazon and the supermarkets to limit stock and cut margins. It's only through giving HMV increasingly favourable terms that they've clung on for this one. Hilco are in the running to purchase the company to prop up a reduced chain, with full backing of record and film companies, while Game are also sizing up a share of stores for purchase. If it's given a chance to do what the shops and staff are there to do and actually focus on music, DVDs and games, HMV can recover. It's just a shame that the people running the show seem so determined to stop any chance of survival.

Festival Fatigue: Why 2013 is where festivals go to die

Wednesday, 30 January 2013 Category : , , , , , , , , , , 0

 
Festival season seems to start earlier and earlier, doesn't it? Just like Christmas adverts or whatever cliche you want to substitute in its stead, where once the rumour mill barely got going until March, we're leaving January with the line-ups for many major festivals already out in the open. Desperate to soak up an ever-diminishing supply of punters and money, announcements are getting earlier and earlier to try and prop up the profit in the face of consumer indifference.

A few, in fairness, have managed a certain 'wow' factor: Primavera, as usual, have dished up the goods, End of the Road managed two genuine surprises in getting Sigur Ros and Belle & Sebastian to headline a festival far smaller than their usual pulling power and Download, while hardly to this blogger's taste, stands out as one of the very few festival line-ups that at least makes sense for their niche.

Largely though, this year it seems to be about getting the dissapointment out of the way early. Mumford & Sons headlining T in the Park? Red Hot Chili Peppers playing the prestigious 'fuck, the Rolling Stones won't do it and we go to press in an hour' slot at Coachella? The varied 'will-this-do' isms pervading from the big guns of Reading/Leeds right down to Beacons Festival? Christ. Even Bestival are now relying on the fact that people's sense of irony is now so confused and crippingly imbedded that they have honestly lost any sense of basic fucking decency whatsoever and will accept any old shit that's shoved in front of them as long as they've done enough ketamine to render the entire North Korean army unconscious for a month first.


For the last few years, there's been plenty of talk of the festival bubble that emerged in the mid noughties - a time when you could sell out Leeds Festival in seconds with the promise of some band the ginger one from Fall Out Boy once said were kind of okay somewhere and Pete Doherty promising to do his best not to turn up in anything like a viable state - was about to pop. And there's certainly been signs of struggle: the cancellation of big names like The Big Chill and Sonisphere (who, in fairness, went out into battle last year with a bill scribbled on the back of a napkin by a madman from the eighties) clocked up a fair amount of press, while Vince Power's collapse into impotence after Phoenix's failure to rise from the ashes and the ongoing failure of Hop Farm to attract anything approaching enough numbers to break even made it evident that even old hands to the game were struggling.

What marks 2013 out as a real worry for any self-respecting promoter though is the sense that the jig really is up this time, that greed and the bottom line have taken over any other priorities for good. Over the last few years, there's been too many travesties and rip-offs for them to be written off as one-offs. From the mind-boggiling comedy greed that sent Zoo8 to its ignomious fate (as this remarkable thread from Drowned in Sound outlined), the dodgy-as-you-like collapse of Newcastle's Ignition Festival days before the event and the now notorious travesty of Bloc 2012, where a combination of organisers far out of their depth, a venue clearly not fit for purpose and far too many tickets sold resulted in queues, crushes and the cancellation of the festival on the first night (check out FACT for the immediate aftermath and The Quietus on the shocking state of the venue for more details). That there have been recent signs that Bloc is now attempting to return as Bloc London shows the rather tawdry, desperate state of the festival circuit as we enter the new season.

The problems are obvious, yet nobody seems willing to address them. With too few acts to go around too many festivals, it's inevitable that not every bill that's advertised will be in a position to go ahead. And, as with the exampled above, a few will probably go ahead that really shouldn't have. The established names and the cult names that have already established a reputation for excellence are likely to survive, but unless a festival can offer something genuinely unique - and, unlike Bloc 2012, deliver on the ideal that's sold - people aren't going to want to go. The trickle of crowds away from British festivals towards European festivals with similar line-ups but a friendlier infrastructure and a greater sense of novelty will continue, the pool of headliners for the major festivals will become narrower and narrower, and with higher costs and fewer paying customers, corners are bound to be cut even further.

I'm not writing festivals off - hell, I'm hoping to make it to one or two this summer for certain. But the current system and way of doing things has clearly eached the point of exhaustion. Avoding the big hitters is one thing, but when even the 'alternative' festivals either die out like The Big Chill, stagger into disaster like Bloc 2012 or continue to be as mis-managed as Field Day, the options for the discerning festival-goer who doesn't want to go to an indie pop fest full of bands in cardigans that all sound exactly the bloody same are growing thinner and thinner. Unless something dramatically changes the way festivals are currently promoted and managed, crowd apathy is only going to grow and push people away, harming the industry yet further. And then? Well, we'll be stuck with The Killers, Mumford & Sons and the Red Hot fucking Chili Peppers as our headline acts, until the Earth itself yawns itself towards the apocalypse.

Bloody Hell! Is the new MBV LP days away?

Monday, 28 January 2013 Category : , , , , 0


Chinese Democracy finally limped its way out the studio in 2008. SMiLE? Pff, that one's now come out twice. But that other white whale of the musical world, a third full-length from My Bloody Valentine, has always remained a distant dream. After signing to Island and promptly sputtering to a halt in 1993, transmissions from planet MBV have been rare and guarded - aside from the dug-up demoes and bootlegs that finally found an official release on the EPs 1988-1991 compilation, the only 'new' track released by the band in all this time is a cover of Wire's Map Ref. 41N 93W for the Whore tribute album in 1996.

But slowly, there have been signs of life from the slumbering behemoth. There were Kevin Shield's contributions to the Lost In Translation soundtrack (including the under-stated gem City Girl), his collaboration with Patti Smith on The Coral Sea, his work and touring with Primal Scream, and most notable 2008's remarkable reunion tour. These dates, their first in sixteen years, saw the band re-affirm the staggering achievement of their work to date, a deafening explosion of psychedelic beauty and ragged glory that dealt with accusations of money grabbing and nostalgia through the brilliance of its execution. 

Since then, Kevin Shields has slowly been stoking the fires of anticipation for a third album, the much-delayed completition of tracks begun in the mid-nineties. Mooted release dates have, unsurprisingly, come and gone without so much as a note of music to go on. Not only was he already indie rock's greatest procrastinator, he was now in danger of becoming a pure fantasist. Yet over the last year, the wheels finally seem to have spun into action. Throughout the year, occasional interviews suggested that the album might finally be staggering across the finish line, until on the 24th December, they finally commented that mastering had been completed on the record on the 21st.

Once more, it's been back to the rumours and gossip well known to the eternally frustrated MBV fanbase. Yet this time...well, hadn't they actually finally gone and done the sodding thing? With tour dates across Japan, Australia and Europe looming from February onwards and still no further update, it seemed like there might have been another roadblock on the way preventing the album from happening. Perhaps the band had got cold feet about the prospect of following up a record as totemic as Loveless - one of the main reasons sessions had originally collapsed back in the mid-nineties.

Last night at a warm-up gig for this fresh round of touring in Brixton though, something rather nexpected happened. They played a new song. The recordings of it are rough, and the poor sound many attendees complained of is certainly evident in the sound of the PA struggling to cope with the MBV live sound. But here it was: new material. 


Listed on the set as 'Rough Song' and played first, while there's still many questions left to be answered - how on earth is it actually going to sound on record, how come after twenty years there's still no song title, and where on earth is the rest of the new material? - at last, the drought is over. There is new My Bloody Valentine, and on the basis of the rough live bootlegs, they've done themselves proud. A hazy, surprisingly optimistic chord progression and a beautiful synth line that nods back at electronic acts like Boards of Canada who took so much influence from the band the first time around forms the bedrock for (when you can hear it) a typically seductive, elusive Billinda Butcher vocal. It's pure My Bloody Valentine, without resorting to cliche or old moves., and suggested that whatever comes next will show a genuine songwriting progression.

If Kevin Shields is to be believed (ha), the full album might be with us in just a few days. Certainly, there now seem to be plenty of buzz around an internet release in the coming days or weeks to coincide with their new tour - their first tour in support of new material, perhaps, since 1991. Whether it's this week or not, the recorded return of one of the most inventine and powerful bands of all time is now seemingly imminent. Loveless II:Electric Boogaloo or whatever it's called is just sat there, waiting for us. Expect to read more on Endless Window as and when it finally, finally, really does happen this time...

Introducing: Our Imaginary Friends

Tuesday, 22 January 2013 Category : , 0

Hailing from various locales but calling Newcastle home, the charming men of Our Imaginary Friends have been around in various formations since 2005, when vocalist/guitarist Ben Lowes-Smith, guitarist/keyboardist Paul Gardner and clarinetist/keyboardist Gary Cameron first came together. Since 2010 though, it's been their five-piece line-up including Sam Sheppard on bass and John Egdell on drums and additional guitar that's slowly been garnering attention and praise in the region for their subtly infectious songs.

Mixing short, sharp indie pop hooks with witty, melancholy lyrics and lulling baritone vocals, their sound finds an intriguing and delightful middle ground between ramshackle thrills and a more complex, mature outlook than most 'indie' bands today. Over-lapping guitar lines tossle for space with soaring woodwind and strident keyboard lines in each compact, ultra-melodic piece, while the lyrics directly address the growing pains of the not-so-young adult: drunken bravado, lovelorn isolation and a sense of distance from the mores of the day. On ballads like Hesitation and Crimson and Fur in particular, they excel in a minutae-driven, downbeat charm with a hint of 13-era Blur to it.

Although there's been a few higher-profile gigs recently - such as a slot supporting The Cornshed Sisters for The Star & Shadow Cinema's Christmas all-dayer - of late they've been locked away in the recording studio, slowly piecing together their debut album The Frost and The Concrete, set for release later this year. It's a record that looks set to deliver on the promise of their live set whilst also pushing Our Imaginary Friends into new directions.

The two tracks released from the record so far show the two opposites of the band's sound: there's the fuzzy, full-band The Chaos, whose lyrics relay "the states I get into night after night" and which boasts a superb Blow Up referencing video (as found below), whilst on the other end there's the subtle, aching Confetti, whose ambigious lyric folds in nicely with the ambient wintery chill of the music (and which can currently be streamed from their Soundcloud page).

 
Our Imaginary Friends - The Chaos

2013's looking set to be an important year for Our Imaginary Friends, with plans in motion for gigs and touring to accompany the album release. Their homespun but delicate songwriting is instantly catchy and heartwarming in a way not many bands can manage, aiming for the heart and mind more than the eardrums. Make sure you look out for more to come from them as the year progresses.  

Art, Rock - Why Album Art Still Matters

Monday, 21 January 2013 Category : , , , , , , 0

 
In the wake of the potentially fatal problems facing HMV, talk amongst some has turned to the obvious point: how do we get the buggers to pay up? In an age when you torrent new releases before your local cinema has them, or download a band's discography in minutes, convinving people to pay up for the physical product is proving tricky. Hence, less sales, hence, less shops.

But while it may not be what it was, there is still palpably a market out there willing and happy to purchase. The issue then is how we turn things around to match the needs of this audience. Well, one of the ways to do so is to make the proposition of purchase an attractive one. And how do you do that? Make the product attractive.

Rather than being in decline, or as Peter Saville suggested in 2008, dead, for the audience of music fans and afficionados who appreciate it as art (i.e. the people who are still buying records), album art has become more important than ever in deciding whether to buy something or not. If you've got enough money left for one £10 CD or a £15-18 vinyl purchase and have to choose between several albums you want - well, you go for the one that's going to look nice on your shelf, of course.



An example of how to do packaging right in 2013 comes with the new Yo La Tengo record, Fade. For a long-standing cult band both of and for music geeks, that they should put some thought into how their releases come out. Even so though, it's a stunning product - both the CD and vinyl come in a beautiful, shiny foil cover, while the vinyl comes with a bonus 7" of cover songs and links to the whole lot on MP3 alongside an extra ambient track for your trouble. None of this would matter if Fade wasn't such a good album - which it really is, by the way - but if you want to persuade your fanbase to pick up a copy, well, that's how to do it.

Going against Saville's pessimism even further, the las few years have seen a variety of acts experimenting with their packaging. Of Montreal released Skeletal Lamping in a range of odd formats - T-shirts, badges and even a paper latern - whilst the CD version was produced as a bizzare fold-out artwork that required its own instruction video. Kevin Barnes elaborated on the reasoning in an interview with Pitchfork in 2008, claiming:

It goes back to this thought that we had, that it would be so cool if that becomes the norm and no one is creating just jewel cases anymore. Everyone has to create an interesting object and something that's singular from other objects. So you go to a record store, and it's filled with these totally bizarre art objects. It's like, "Hey, I'm looking for the new Panda Bear record, what is it?" "Oh, it's this bonsai tree."

The last few years have also seen Clinic release their recent Free Reign album as a UFO (that's a frisbee to you or I), a limited edition of Matthew Dear's Black City came out as a totem, while The Flaming Lips tried to hide a series of increasingly dissapointing and time-wasting releases in increasingly outlandish packaging. Radiohead too have been in on the act, using their clout and reputation to put out a DIY CD for In Rainbows and a newspaper special edition of The King of Limbs.



It's also interesting to speculate on the harm that can be done by an album's artwork if it isn't seen to be up to scratch. The relative commerical failure of Animal Collective's Centipede Hz can be put down to a few reasons - a lengthy between-albums absence, increased piracy, a far-reduced PR drive compared to Merriweather Post Pavillion, not measuring up to its predecessor in the critical consensus - but then you actually look at the garish nightmare they doled it out to the world in, and it's hard not to wonder who the hell would actually want that thing in their house. (In fact, there was an even more off-putting first draft originally released, presumably before their record labels starting crying that they were about to be put out of business.)

There's no single way to save music shops and to prop up the industry, but one piece of advice cannot be ignored. If it looks good, people will want it - and if it doesn't, they won't. If they are to survive, artists and labels must become the purveyors of beautiful objects, items whose aesthetic force will draw people into whatever lies within. If you care about albums, you have to care about album art as well.

Delia Derbyshire is Alive and Well and Living inside our Heads

Thursday, 17 January 2013 Category : , , 0



23rd November 1963 is historically fascinating for numerous reasons. It is the day after the assasination of John F Kennedy, a seismic moment whose shockwaves were just beginning to be felt around the world. In six days time, I Want to Hold Your Hand by The Beatles is about to take a British pop sensation to the world stage. It is also the day a cult, much-loved television programme  called Doctor Who first airs.

What I'm most interested in 23rd November 1963 for is the two minutes of music that opened that broadcast - two minutes possibly more influential that even the afore-mentioned Beatles, two minutes that represented one of the most audacious breakouts of the avant-garde into mass culture of all time.

The theme tune for Doctor Who, composed by Ron Grainer, was transformed into a daring, truly alien work by the technological brilliance of arranger Delia Derbyshire. As part of the BBC's Radiophonic Workshop, their in-house sound effect and music department, she pioneered techniques of utilising white noise, cutting tape, oscillator wave tones and otherwise pushing the boundaries of sound production, opening the doors for generations of musicians, producers and engineers after her to continue her legacy. Not only had she perfectly evoke the themes of time-travel and science-fiction of the show she had been assigned to work on: in the track's wo minutes, she broke new ground and made sounds that had never been heard before for. And millions of households around the country were to be exposed to this cutting edge genius.

 

For the incredible audience it reached, the sheer amount of new techniques packed into its short duration and for the enduring power of the piece, the theme has become Delia Derbyshire's greatest legacy. (It's interesting to note, as a side point, how later versions of the same theme would always sound more dated.) Listening to the recent Tim Hecker & Daniel Lopatin collaboration Instrumental Tourist before writing this - two artists commonly regarding as being the apex of current drone/electronic composition - only underscored how even now, her work then remains the sound of tomorrow. Technology and methodology may have progressed, but the waves of sound produced still have their roots in music from fifty years ago.

It is, however, far from being her only significant work. There's her stunning work on Sea, where the provides a subtle, sinister ambient backdrop to interview edited by Barry Bermage far before Brian Eno started to not write any tunes. There's also the giddily bizzare White Noise album An Electric Storm on which she was a collaborator, where sixites psychedelia and mores met the dark laboratory sounds Derbyshire was continuing to evolve, resulting in a hybrid sound that's equal parts whimsy and nightmare. There's plenty more to dig around in the archives of the net, from the offical-ish http://www.delia-derbyshire.org/ to the fans running http://fuckyeahdeliaderbyshire.tumblr.com/.







Such is the lasting legacy of Delia Derbyshire's work that there are artists, bands, labels, even sub-genres dedicated to replicating and continuing her vision. The oddball, pastoral-via-horror-movie electronic nostalgia of the artists on the Ghost Box label  - just listen to Belbury Poly or The Focus Group to hear her sounds spun into new shapes. Acclaimed acts from Broadcast right up to Radiohead (just check out those edits at the start of Like Spinning Plates!) have used her influence to create stunning, advanced pop music.

Although disillusionment led her to largely cease musical activity from the mid '70s until her passing away in 2001, today her influence and fanbase continues to grow and grow. She's been the subject of one documentary already, Sculptress of Sound, and recently a short film about her life, work and influence called The Delian Mode has emerged as well. Indeed, my spur to writing this piece is a screening of that film, alongside live performance from artists inspired by her work taking place at The Star and Shadow Cinema in Newcastle on Sunday 20th January. It's just one more sign of the continuing, all-pervading influence of her achivements.

Delia Derbyshire was a hero of British sound, someone whose remarkable creative leaps hit millions of listeners and viewers and inspired almost all electronic music that has followed in her wake. She may not be a household name, but everyday we hear traces and echoes of her work as the sound of a future we're still trying to catch up with.


Therunningchelsea - 'In The Future, We Shall Spinn'

Wednesday, 16 January 2013 Category : , , , 1

And next up here on Endless Window, it's the weather, followed by the meaning of life and the lottery numbers. But until then, here's a new transmission for you...

Therunningchelsea, recording and performing nom de plume of a man named Tom Hollingworth, has been making his way through the undergrowth the last few years. Left behind have been plate-spinning solo gigs that use loop pedals, effects and musical virtuosity to pilot folk forward to the twenty-first century and several recordings that incorporate further instruments and sonic ideas into the brew to take you on some very strange journeys indeed (with previous album The Moonstruck Confederate especially commended on these grounds.)

Now though it's the turn of his new full-length In The Future, We Shall Spinn, set for online release on 17th January via Bandcamp (with the proceeds going to the youth suicide-prevention charity Papyrus). The mangled spelling (and, may we confess, in-joke) of the title points at the direction taken here: the mood here is drunken, slurred and set constantly towards some unknown chaos.

Opener The Smoking Skull sets the tone of fragmented lucidity and fever dream free association with its stoners chant turned wail from the depths - "Golden? Dooberstein! Golden? Dooberstein!"- tumbling into some lurching drums and fucked-up funk bass before the song finally rises up from the mist, equal parts vengeful and playful. There's something of the Lord of Misrule to these dark rituals, that's for sure.

From here on, it's equal parts altered state triumph and hungover disgust. For all the darkness and squalor on display here - and between the Aidan Moffat-esque narrative of Le Petite Mort and the paranoid burnout of This Fucking Enigma, there's plenty of that - there's still a small, vital hope beating amongst all the chaos. On the driving crest and wave of Flick! We Go On, there's a message of endurance and perseverance, while the hipster-baiting LDN Doesn't Exist and The Levels contain the wit necessary to balance out the album's darkest outpourings.

As befits the lyrical content then, this is a suitably topsy-turvy, schizophrenic beast musically. Much of the album is more intense and rythmically focused than previous Therunningchelsea work, with distorted bass forming the back-bone of many tracks here, while Mirror's bizzaro hip-hop synth meets slide-whistle sound is a truly unique concoction. There's still plenty of showcases through for Hollingworth's superb guitar playing, and brief moments of clam such as Ground Zero's beautiful acapella arrangement, but this record unmistakeably pushes Therunningchelsea in a new direction: singer-songwriter folk and half-remembered alternative hip-hop from the night before interbred to create an Anglo-Saxon answer to Why? and the Anticon roster.

In The Future, We Will Spinn is an album whose distinct identity and bold musical choices mark a new chapter in the ongoing evolution of Therunningchelsea. Ignoring considerations of live performance almost entirely for a new soundscape, the album stands as a representation of frenzied youth, dazed consumption and madness up there with Malcolm Lowry's modernist classic Under the Volcano in its vivid depiction and ambition. Don't let a release this good get ignored.

Listen to Building 7 from In The Future, We Will Spinn below:


His Master's Fucked: The End Game of Music on the High Street

Monday, 14 January 2013 Category : , 0

 (picture from www.littleyellowduck.co.uk)




With the announcement of HMV's Blue Cross Sale on Friday (25% off the vast majority of in-store products until the end of January - assuming of course the stores last that long) and rumours that the company is set to appoint administrators on Tuesday morning, the final collapse of the HMV, already much beleaguered in recent years, just got much closer.

There's a few out there making the most of this opportunity to bask in schraudenfreude. Edinburgh indie icon Avalanche Records have been quick to comment, while ITV's Laura Kuenssberg used it to state the bleeding obvious. In Avalanche's case, there may be a point given how the HMV owned Fopp chain (who itself went under 2007 but were bought out by HMV to re-open eight of its stores) have been eating into the same fragile market supply as Avalanche. Certainly, it's understandable if some independents might be breathing a sigh of relief at seeing one of the main points of competition go under.

We have, of course, also been here before in recent years, with the demise of Virgin Megastores - sorry, Zavvi - in 2008. As with HMV, it was pushed to the brink not just by the ailments afflicting all arms of the industry (namely downloading, cheaper online alternatives and general apathy) but also by some utterly bewildering decisions by management that seemed to view the nature of the shop as somewhere that sold media products as an inconvenience and tried to steer it as far away from its roots (and, as became evident, what their customers wanted) as they could. Although to give the HMV managements the smallest compliment possible, at least they haven't proven dim-witted enough to think Zavvi is in any way an acceptable name for a shop.

For the health of music in Britain as a whole though, the now seemingly inevitable closure of HMV at some point this year is a dire state of affairs. Mourning the death of a Goliath while David lives on might seem contrarian to a point where even a New Statesman writer might feel a rush of blood to the head, but hear this one out.

When Virgin  Megastores - sorry, Zavvi - went under, it was disappointing (and obviously terrible news for all their employees), but if you were happy enough in your role as a vulture, it was possible to enjoy its closing down sale and write off a bad business plan. I mean, the high street wasn't in that much danger: we now had a virtually competition-free HMV, right?

Unfortunately, with a mixture of music and DVD sales continuing to fall and remarkable managerial incompetence, it seems HMV managed to bungle its way into a coma. Looking around one of their stores now, and the failure is obvious: half the store has been taken over by over-priced and notably un-purchased technology, reducing the amount of film and music - you know, the reason why you went in there - that's actually there. Then there's HMV always baffling pricing structure, which somehow allowed a vinyl copy of Beach House's Teen Dream to sit around collecting dust with an absurd price tag of £52 in their Newcastle branch, or for CDs by small-scale indie acts that, if not exactly unit-shifters, still maintain a demographic that might actually buy albums occasionally (e.g. Bill Callahan) to be five pound more expensive than the same album in the small independent shop down ten minute’s walk way.

It's not the fault of HMV's staff, who on the whole have always been a knowledgeable lot trying to work their way around idiotic decisions from on high. It's not the fault of your average consumer either - if you want to pick up an album or find a film, you shouldn't have to try and fight through cuddly Angry Birds dolls or comically expensive Dr Dre headphones to try and find them in what was, theoretically at least, a music and film shop.

But this isn't just the demise of a shop. Without HMV, a major avenue for people of all ages to seek out and get access to art and culture they weren't aware of is now lost. Many large towns and cities are now to be left without any kind of record shop at all. (On a personal note, this music geek would have been in quite a pickle without the small but superbly staffed HMV in Wakefield during his teenage years.) It's also a major source of income and promotion deprived for the music industry at a time when there's less and less money to go around and the chances of successfully 'breaking' a new act are getting smaller and smaller. Now that the only high-street stores to sell CDs will be supermarkets or Urban Outfitters, the ramifications on this on what we hear and what gets chosen for the big push are huge and horrifying. Thought the mainstream was getting homogenous and bland before? Babe, you've seen nothing yet.

Already on Twitter, there's much discussion about the possibility of a closing-down sale and picking up a few final bargains as the useless captains of the HMV ship steer it into the climatic stages of its suicidal death-wank into oblivion. I can't complain too much - if there is one, I'm as likely as anyone to be giving it the once-over. This once though, maybe we should hold the sneering and the bargain hunting just a second. If HMV really is going under, it's going to be taking a sizeable amount of British music culture past, present and future down with it.


SCOTT/WALKER

Wednesday, 9 January 2013 Category : , 0

To celebrate the seventieth birthday of Noel Scott Engel - the enigmatic teen idol turned avant-pop cult hero known better known as Scott Walker - I've prepared two playlists dedicated to his work, both about the length of a fully-used CD-R, to help any newcomers start their journey through this most unusual of discographies.


The first, 'SCOTT', concerns his classic work from his time with The Walker Brothers to the four classic solo albums he recorded in the late 1960s, also included one or two rarer tracks from the period (such as b-side The Plague and tracks from his flawed but still intriguing - and currently out of print -  1970 offering 'Til The Band Comes In).There's some old-school pop crooning from the Bacharach songbook, a few pieces from Scott's beloved Jacques Brel and, naturally, plenty of material from the astonishingly precocious output of Scott himself.

On the second, 'WALKER', we plunge into the increasingly abstract and singular work he produced following his return to songwriting on the final album from the reformed The Walker Brothers, 1978's Nite Flights to the sporadic but stunning solo work he's embarked on since, right up to recent opus Bish Bosch. This playlist showcases sounds far more difficult and challenging than this early work, but in incorporating the developments of modernist poetry, contemporary composition and in-depth historical and cultural research, here you can get a taste of what has become one of the most complex, intricate and incomparable songwriting styles of all time.

These two playlists showcase two very different sides to the man, but it's the remarkable achievements of both sides of his output that have made him such an icon into the present day.

Click below for tracklistings and Spotify links.


Top 12 of 2012

Tuesday, 8 January 2013 Category : , , , , , , , , , , , , , 0

To start things off then, here's a quick run-down of 12 of my favourite tracks of 2012. An arbitary number, sure, but then aren't these lists always arbitary anyway? Just to make clear: this isn't the same as my favourite artists or albums (although inevitably, there is a certain overlap), and they aren't presented in any order than one that made sense to me as a playlist. This is just a look at some of my favourite songs from the last year. Click below to see what made it and for a link to a playlist.

Welcome to Endless Window

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Hello reader,

This is intended as a new online home for various pieces of music writing of mine - some might be re-edits/re-postings of work written for local media outlets, but the majority of the content is intended as original artciles specifically for this website.

We'll be starting with a look back on the year just gone - articles on the best tracks and the best albums of 2012 will be forthcoming, before I turn my eye forward to what else is out there.

Although this is a music-centric blog, music can only truly be appreciated in a holistic sense. If the blog strays in other directions from time to time, this is as it should be.

I hope some of the words, thoughts and sounds here find favour with you.

MCL

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