This is the weekly installment where we recap what we’ve been spinning at The Synthesizer Book headquarters during the week. If it’s on this list, it got played more than once!
Last Tuesday I took a day trip to Seattle. It’s become a tradition of mine to visit some of my favorite record shops whenever I do. While the women in my life visit Macy’s or Nordstrom’s, I find solace in the many record shops you can find in Seattle.
Maybe Napster, Justin Timberlake and Pier 2 Pier/Torrent sites have crippled the record industry. Maybe the record industry deserved it! Its arrogance and ability to not change with technology advancements have definitely caused some of its demise.
I think it’s the record shops that have paid the biggest price though. Much like the local gas stations have paid the price for the high price of oil.
In recent years there has been a huge shift from the pricing of digital copies vs. the physical copy of an album. That motivation is the subject of several books you can find on Amazon.com. The cost of downloads still don’t seem to add up for me for what you get in the grand scheme of things.
Let me be clear, I am not against the digital download. I am not against iTunes, Beatport or any of those mediums. In fact, nothing beats the instant gratification of being able to download most any album from these type of sites. One of the purchases I made this week was from iTunes and it was nice to download it and play it while I was on the go.
So, what follows is a brief case for the record, the CD and the record shops that sell them. Maybe it’s nostalgia in part. I have dozens of friends that own hardly a single physical copy of any music anymore. Their music now resides on their macs and mobile devices. They would argue that it’s about the music and ultimately I would too. Though, most of what they get is downloaded for free, lets be real.
I purchased 8 albums between Easy Street Records and Silver Platters. I had some interactions with the staff and was even tempted to purchase half a dozen more just based on impulse and interest. The experience of walking into a record shop alone is worth consideration. This is a habit I still refuse to give up!
We will assume the obvious. Nothing beats the liner-notes found in record sleeves or CD’s yet. That argument has been used by everyone from record companies to the artist themselves. Therefore, I will not focus on that entirely, although it is still a very important point to consider. With some focus, in terms of pricing below, it’s about only few differentiators.
The experience surrounding my recent purchases is the important outcome I wish to convey herein. The price comparison to be found next to the album titles.
For Christmas I received a brand new Macbook Pro. I was perfectly content with my 4 year old Macbook, but my wife took it upon herself to give me this wonderful gift. I am not complaining about that. Over the past few weeks I noticed something that was quite irritating. Never mind the software licensing and updates, etc I needed. iTunes allows for 5 devices for your purchases. Sounds like a lot when you first think about it. However, what I discovered has become a gripe I encounter every time a new generation of Apple devices makes its way into our home.
My son has a broken iPod. The home button stopped working (a design flaw). So, any downloads made on that device count as one. The purchases I made on my Macbook are another. My iPod, family iPad, my old Powerbook,..yep, counted as one more toward that total.
One day this week I was talking to a friend about Adem and his album Homesongs. I tried playing it on my new Macbook Pro and was annoyed to find out I had exceeded my limit of devices I could play it on. I paid for a purchase and no longer have the convenience of listening to it on my new laptop. I authorized a few devices, and now I can’t play it. There are workarounds, its true. Still, why must I go through this annoyance for a digital download? Had I purchased the CD, I wouldn’t have this issue. Now I am left with extra time to get my purchased content on new devices. The Mac is starting to feel like a PC!
Don’t get me started on the fiascoes that are design flaws on the Macbook and iPod Touch. Things that I now have to pay for or boycott the products altogether.
For the sake of this though, lets focus on the limitations of a download and see if the headaches of “workarounds” are worth their weight in gold. In some cases it was economics. In some, it was bang for the buck. Overall though, its the idea that when I buy that CD, it’s mine to do with it what I want. I won’t have someone telling me I can’t play it on my new device. This is perhaps the greatest irritant, I believe.
Easy Street Records
1.Belle And Sebastian-Tigermilk Record Shop Price: $8.99 | iTunes Price:$9.99
I purchased this back in 1999 or 2000. I think my original purchase was a bootleg, come to think of it. It went missing either way. People were still talking about indie pop like the Hipster today talks about a Korg MicroKorg synthesizer and the local community coffee shop that uses recycled paper cups.
It’s a great recording. That this was done for a school project makes it even more appealing a decade later. The State I Am In, She’s Losing It, Electronic Renaissance, Expectations, and We Rule The School are clear standouts. iTunes has some good notes on the album. However, with the CD you get lyrics, and that clever little anecdote about how Sebastian met Isabelle outside the Hillhead Underground Station in Glasgow. Also, who wouldn’t want to hold a copy of that cover of woman and Tiger?!
2.Bauhaus-Mask Record Shop Price: $7.99 | iTunes Price:$9.99
The Bauhaus brought us Love & Rockets, Peter Murphy and the great fretless bass playing of Daniel Ash. This is one of the few Bauhas LP’s I have not owned. For no reason really. I’ve listened to it so many times. I just never owned it. This is the sound of post punk that I adore. The pulsing tom-tom drums and the gated snare just make me smile. There is even a little bit of a Ska influence throughout this and even a little bit of drum machine. Peter Murphy has that unmistakable voice that brings me back to a period of time I hold in high regard still. The sleeve notes say Daniel Ash did the cover art for this. Fantastic.
3.Trent Reznor And Atticus Ross-The Social Network (Soundtrack) Record Shop Price: $7.99 | iTunes Price:$7.99
I saw this movie a couple of weeks ago. I didn’t know Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross did the soundtrack. I enjoyed the movie. I thought the soundtrack was perfect for the movie and that motif that opens the film is exactly what the film needed to set the mood. I know that Trent and Atticus are working on the upcoming LP for How To Destroy Angels. I can’t wait to hear that. Check out my profile of their in studio tour here. They earned a Golden Globe for this soundtrack. Don’t miss it and at that price, you can’t go wrong.
4.Morrissey-Viva Hate Record Shop Price: $8.99 | iTunes Price:$9.99
According to the liner notes, this was recorded in the Winter of 1987. I played this album endlessly. The Smiths, as I’ve mentioned before, were a significant part of my teenage years. I remember this got played quite a bit. It was produced by the famous Stephen Street. It features none other than Vini Reilly aka Durutti Column on guitar and keyboards and that’s why it got me thinking about it again. I’ve been playing a bunch of Durutti Column and this album was on the list. I saw it in the store and wanted to own a copy again.
5.The Clash-The Clash(US) Record Shop Price: $8.99 | iTunes Price:$9.99
The pricing is about the same. This happens to be their first US release. You can probably download it in seconds for free, from somewhere. I had this on vinyl once and I wanted to own it again. In the liner notes it says that this album featured 2 drummers. Tory Crimes and Nicky Headon handled the beats. I never knew this. I won’t tell you how significant of an album this was for many. It was and you know it. Sadly, I haven’t owned this for a long time and now I do…and all for the low, low price of $8.99.
6.Broadcast and The Focus Group Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age Record Shop Price: $11.99 | iTunes Price:$7.99
I’ve been writing about Trish Keenan and James Cargill. Her sudden death was surprising and like most people do, you start to listen to music of people who you know will no longer be around to make new music. I was actually listening to this on my iPod while I drove down to Seattle. I downloaded it a day before. I had read a good track by track review in The Wire and was inpsired for this purchase. It looks like it’s a better deal on iTunes. One thing that struck me was the conversation I had with the clerk at the counter. He brought up her passing and commented that he had e-mailed Warp Records to release a complete box set of all Trish Keenan’s recordings and Broadcast. I agreed and hope they add a video with some Trish Keenan footage as she will be greatly missed.
7.Alison Moyet-Singles Record Shop Price: $5.99 | iTunes Price:$9.99
I like all things Yaz – Vince Clarke, Erasure, Mute Records and most of all, Alison Moyet. I loved the cover of this singles compilation. She looks magnificent. Before this the only solo album of hers that I owned was Hoodoo. Although she will more than likely always be remembered for her work with Yaz (rightfully so!) she is also a soul and a voice not to be overlooked. It was a great price and it also has my favorite track from Hoodoo-This House. This track could rival some of the soul and passion of Nina Simone.
8.The Velvet Underground-The Velvet Underground & Nico Record Shop Price: $8.99 | iTunes Price:$5.99
I haven’t listened to this LP since a girlfriend of mine threw it out the window back in the early 1990’s in a rage. The record was shattered and so was the brief relationship between us. This record is often called the banana album. I call it the one with Nico & Andy Warhol as producer. Either way it’s a must for any record collection and if I can find a Mono copy of the original, I will do so again.
Look, I think she is sexy. She has a great voice. She likes and plays synthesizers. Her bedroom versions of Stuck On Repeat and Meddle are a definite “Must See TV.” She has become synonymous with the Yamaha Tenori-On. Look out for a write-up in the Girl With Synthesizers section, coming soon. Hands is a good pop album and I hope I get to see her perform soon.
10.Hype Williams-Find Out What Happens When People Stop Being Polite And Start Gettin’ Reel| iTunes Price: $9.90
Critics have been talking about this album for a while. I put off buying it because sometimes the hype doesn’t live up to the expectation. This was that download I purchased from iTunes. I listened to this a few times. It reminds me of MTV’s Real World (like the title) on a hazy REM cycle gone good, bad or something like that. Or Neo’s dreaming in The Matrix right before he finds out the truth about his life. It’s got some good elements throughout. I enjoyed Blue Dream, The Throning and overall, this is a good album. If you’re going to use some elements of pop songs past, then at least twist it and make us scratch our heads in wonder. That’s what Hype Williams have done. I’d recommend this album for the more left-field minded listeners out there.
The truth about all of this is that the pricing is not always the most important contrast between download and physical copies. Still, the experience of going to the record shop, browsing through the racks, and interacting with other audiophiles won’t compare to a download. Maybe blogs like this will take its place in part, but somehow it’s just not the same. Record shops must be kept open. We must continue to support our local record shops. I will continue to frequent them for as long as they remain in business. So should you. That’s right,…do as I say! If you’ve read this far, thank you.
Silver Platters (Queen Anne)