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Drop the Needle

The vinyl industry didn’t need another piece of bad news, after the delay of Record Store Day, and the fire at one of the two lacquer manufacturing plants. The latest blow is that Amazon will stop stocking records in order to retain shelf space for more critical products during the Coronavirus pandemic.

“We are seeing increased online shopping, and as a result some products such as household staples and medical supplies are out of stock,” Amazon said in a statement to third-party sellers this week (via Variety ). “With this in mind, we are temporarily prioritizing household staples, medical supplies, and other high-demand products coming into our fulfillment centers so that we can more quickly receive, restock, and deliver these products to customers. For products other than these, we have temporarily disabled shipment creation. … We understand this is a change for our selling partners and appreciate their understanding as we temporarily prioritize these products for customers.”

Amazon sells a quarter of the records purchased in the U.S. Vinyl sales were up 19% in 2019. In addition to the Amazon decision, with people venturing out less to physical retailers, the overall sale of records is likely to drop quite a bit this year.

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Ghost of a Song

I’m not sure I’ve ever heard a song firmly in the classic shoegaze genre start out with such a lofi stripped down demo feel. One might even suggest the beginning of the song feels sort of haunting. The intro serves as a stark contrast to the blast of fuzz and reverb that adorn the wandering guitars when the song kicks in, though. Laveda has a full-length record coming out in the early part of this year and “Ghost” is a strong enticement to wait for its release.

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Good times, great oldies.

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Vinyl Me Please

Dinosaur Jr. – Green Mind

Us old dudes are suckers for reissues of our favorite records. I’ve owned Green Mind by Dinosaur Jr. on cassette, compact disc and vinyl. Still, when I saw another colored vinyl version newly available for sale, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t tempted to make a purchase. It’s especially hard to resist that kind of acquisition when you believe that, after the apocalypse, the only currency worth anything will be vinyl records.

The limited edition vinyl game is not for the faint of heart nor the easily discouraged. A rare bundle of reissues came up recently for another one of my favorite indie rock bands, and before I even knew about the bundle, it was sold out.

The most frustrating thing about this sort of “you snooze, you lose” situation is that being off Instagram for a few days was what ultimately prevented me from getting the bundle of LP’s. Now that the three LP bundle is unavailable, the only way to get the third record is to buy it off of Discogs for a cool $100. This wouldn’t irritate me as much as it does if it wasn’t a case of a legendary independent record label like Merge Records using a corporate silo owned by Facebook exclusively to advertise their new hotness. There is a news section on the label’s website, but it doesn’t appear to have an RSS feed.

The founders of Merge records are famous for their progressive political activism. However, not even they consider the role that Facebook has played in undermining our democracy. That is a role to which even executives at the company now admit. It doesn’t seem like Facebook is a company a fiercely independent label would want to help strengthen. Merge shouldn’t force their fans onto a Facebook platform to keep up with new releases.

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Treatment

Once you’ve popped that VHS copy of Cocktail out of the VCR and it’s safely in the rewinder, take the time to watch this video from Treatment.

It may be a bit trite at this point to overemphasize the 80’s feel of the disciples of Prefab Sprout, but if the shoe fits, and fits well…

I wrote a couple of months ago that without any new sounds from bands like Roman à Clef and the Ice Choir in years, I have been starved for more good modern sophistipop. Thankfully, Treatment has come to the rescue, with their new full-length, Pond Life. While the above single, Solitary, is a strong introduction to the album, I think I prefer the below track, “Slight Infatuation.”

The sophistipop sound dominates the album. The male vocals with tight harmonies from female backing vocals abound. Warm bass tones with a slight bit of funk anchor many of the songs. Tasteful saxophone makes appearances throughout. There are other influences, as well, though. “Feel It Out” sounds so much like New Edition, you would think Maurice Starr hand-picked the members of Treatment, wrote them a song and loaned them a drum machine.

This is a strong collection of songs. I have a feeling record will make it into my top ten of 2019 and fill a distinctive hole there.

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Movember Starlings

(Polvo, without Eddie on drums, by Edward on Flickr)

I saw my first show at a club in 1993, at the venerable Local 506, on Franklin St. in Chapel Hill. The venue is still there, nestled snugly between two Indian restaurants. Now I typically go to see a band there every couple of years or so. At that initial show, I saw Polvo, with the classic lineup of Ash Bowie, Dave Brylawski, Steve Popson and Eddie Watkins. My first rock show was supposed to be seeing Mudhoney the previous year, at the 9:30 Club in DC, where my cousin worked. However, my dad strongly objected to me going to what he just thought of as a bar to see a grunge band. He was intransigent on the subject, and it was out of my hands. I had to wait a bit longer to experience eardrum pounding indie rock in the dark confines of a club.

Polvo was brilliant and raw that night, and left me with a taste for move live music. Polvo remained on of my favorite bands through the 90’s (I also love their more recent records), though drummer Eddie Watkins left the group after the 1996 Exploded Drawing double-LP. That record is considered by many to be the best math rock album ever made. Exploded Drawing effectively showcased the many different sides of Polvo, from the Eastern influences, to the unusual time signatures and unpredictable song structures in an almost grinding journey through the essence of the band. It was certainly a fitting last act with the group for an unusually gifted drummer.

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🎵 Tennis – Runner: Folks, I would really like to checkout The Mandolorian. However, that would require two things:

  • That I setup a Disney+ subscription. This shouldn’t be too hard.
  • That I stop watching the new Tennis video on repeat. That one is going to be tougher.

The husband and wife duo that comprise Tennis wrote this song while living on a boat, anchored in a fisherman’s cove, armed only with an acoustic guitar and a drum sequencer. The recorded version, however, is fully fleshed out and bubbling with synthesizers. The video is simply hypnotic. This is a trance from which I never want to return.

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🎵 Frankie Cosmos – Jesse: A conservative estimate would be that I’ve listened to this song somewhere around a million times in the past year.

I didn’t know, however, that the force behind Frankie Cosmos, Greta Kline, is the daughter of married couple Kevin Kline and Phoebe Cates. There is something so gratifying about the daughter of two film celebrities making music this wonderfully understated.

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🎵 The patron saints of indie pop, The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, have broken up. I can’t pretend that I’m not bummed out by this news. I enjoyed all of their records, right up to, and including, the full-length cover of Tom Petty’s Full Moon Fever. I had hoped they would have a couple more albums in them before unplugging the guitar cables for good. A more derivative band I don’t think I can honestly name, but what was it that was said about “great artists steal?” The Pains combined their many influences into a pure indie pop sound that you don’t hear much anymore.

Kip Berman, the band’s principal, made the announcement via Instagram.

View this post on Instagram

Kip here. My life has changed radically from the time I started Pains with Peggy, Alex and (soon after) Kurt in 2007, and I’ve decided to focus on a new project @the_natvral. Pains was a distinct moment in my life. I started the group when I first moved to New York and completed our last record, “The Echo of Pleasure,” shortly before my daughter was born and I moved to Princeton, NJ. From that time forward, I never really felt the same – and the music I was creating didn’t feel the same either. But this is good, both for my heart and my music. I know some of you equate “PAINS” with a particular lineup of people, but I’ve always felt that whoever I collaborated with has been “the real band,” because what animated the music was so consistent. But now, that strange something that inspired what we were able to create is absent. What has taken its place feels very different, and I have to express it in a different way. I’ve spent this past year making a new record, and hope to share it sometime next year. In the meantime, you can hear a cover I did of one of my heroes, Dear Nora, in the bio. If you are curious as to what other PAINS people are now up to: Kip: @the_natvral Alex: @massagetheband Peggy: @store_front_nyc Kurt: @kurt_feldman The Ice Choir Tenser Timpani Christoph: @ablebody + live w/ @jerrypaper_reality Jacob: @the_natvral @jeanines Dream Diary (?!) Drew: @wearebeverly @publicpractice Anton: @beachfossilsnyc Connor: @dondadi Jen: Showtime Goma @jengoma Jess Weiss: @fearofmen Elspeth: @shopnoctiluca Jess Krichelle Rojas: @JessKrichelle Chris: @archofloveband Brian: @peeldreammagazine @lunaretteny @the_natvral Photo: Pavla Kopecna

A post shared by THE PAINS OF BEING PURE AT 🤍 (@thepainsofbeingpureatheart) on

Since the rotating cast of characters ended up in so many other great bands, it was cool to see Kip call them out in “what are they up to now?” style.

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🎵 Sambassadeur – Foot of Afrikka: This song, which evokes imagery of the burning sun of Africa, goes as well with summer as walking bare foot in freshly cut grass while drinking a glass of lemonade. Sambassadeur’s Swedish indie pop has a kind of gentle forcefulness to it. On this track, the clean guitar tones breeze things along, eventually giving way to a jazzy saxophone part that serves as a fitting outro.

RIYL Belle and Sebastian, Camera Obscura, etc.