Musings on music, old, new, popular and obscure. Post punk, metal, hip-hop, funk, and rock in general. A music fan with a desire to lose boundaries on what should and should not be listened to writes about experience in music from a listener's perspective, hopefully unhindered by prior expectation.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Oh Man, Wonder If He'll Ever Know...

I've been distracted, quite happily, by the release of Mass Effect 3 for the past few days, but this is a music blog, not a gaming blog, so let me set that all in order here. It only makes sense, in a way, considering I spent most of that release day not playing that game but dealing with music.

Early in the day, Facebook led me to local (primarily used) record (all vinyl!) store Hunky Dory (they also sell glass, if you're into that sort of thing), and the probable need to abandon my plan to make music stores in the area something like a weekly feature, as the experience was so very positive and so thoroughly reinforced my view of the store that pausing on arbitrary and non-established bases seemed wrong.

What happened was this:
Owner Michael Bell posted one of his regular "Album of the Day" posts to announce new arrivals, and Tuesday it was The Jesus and Mary Chain's Psychocandy. I'd just been asking Brian at CD Alley about the CD reissues of all their albums, so it seemed almost fated. I asked quickly through Facebook for a price, got one almost instantly and went out to pick it up. Indeed, Hunky Dory has been good to me in this respect before: I'd made no planned purchases before, but when I go out on a spree and collect something like the New Order reissues, I am often somewhat knowingly overwhelming myself. What album do I start with? How do I get a "feel" for a band when I'm plowing through multiple albums and various b-sides¹ and errata? For some, the best approach is to pick up a compilation, like a generic Greatest Hits (which occasionally is part or even mostly miss), or even a quality one, or maybe a strange obscure one.

When I take up a new band, especially a previously established one, I don't like to be so limited that my expectations are skewed, so a single album is the best focusing point for me. B-sides could be awful junk, experimental oddity or just what b-sides were half-intended to be: another song to have on a single. Hits are often not representative for various reasons, from being pushed by labels to hitting only the uptempo moments, as well as removing the artistry occasionally intended in the formatting of an album. To say nothing of the fact that more "interesting" tracks are often lost to the familiar and catchy strains of the songs chosen as singles. Indeed, "I don't hear a single," has often been a near (or complete) death knell for albums' wide release.

Now I had my copy of Power, Corruption and Lies in its Collector's CD form, but I wondered if it was a wild exception. It is, after all, a relatively early album,shortly after the conversion from Joy Division. Once I got around to "Blue Monday," the 12" non-album single released in that time frame (and packaged in that aforementioned Collector's Edition), I wondered (and, honestly, worried) a bit more. I'd stuck in that second disc while riding around with my father and he commented that it didn't sound like there was an actual band anywhere. I wasn't sure what to think myself--I'd played "Age of Consent" for him and he said it sounded unlike what he'd heard or thought of New Order as, which is often the case with independent bands and his experience of them (see also: a lot of punk, The Smiths, Joy Division, The Replacements...). Did they turn into some extremely electronic band that I wouldn't want to listen to the rest of? What was the rest of their work like?

And here came Hunky Dory to the rescue. I was out on Ninth Street in Durham, and Mr. Bell had posted an announcement about a large purchase he'd made recently for sale in the store, which included some Cure originals. So far, they had not yet appeared priced and ready, so I browsed through the new releases, because the idea of finding most any exciting and important independent band from the 80s or late 70s is the thrill of vinyl right now--it's a piece of history, and a thing one does not run across as regularly as some other albums, no matter how great they may be. There, in the midst of them, was a peculiar cover:
This is New Order's Brotherhood, though the (expectedly) clever and interesting--and minimalist--Peter Saville cover does not make this obvious or even clear. I had to check it to make sure I wasn't imagining it, but there it was, and $10 to boot. There was some ringwear on the cover, but it fit with the titanium-zinc alloy sheet photographed for it, and the grooves inside were clean as a whistle ("Beauty!" noted the Hunky Dory sticker, underneath the price). Thankfully, I was not the only one who had to check/affirm what the release was, I found upon bringing it to the register.

I asked about the Cure and was told they'd start coming out around two days later. Of course these are what I was looking for, but what first came around was Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me, an album I've yet to listen to (the last, in fact, pre-Disintegration for me to listen to), but, more importantly, one seemingly not intended at its 1987 release as a vinyl release. Though even the CD was originally cut short ("Hey You!" was omitted due to the early limitations of the "Redbook" audio CD standards), the double LP was even shorter, and was first released in a limited form with a third 12" that contained the otherwise missing 6 tracks.

When I finally came in Tuesday, I snagged Psychocandy from the front window and brought it up. We chatted briefly, and I noted that it was, excitingly, my introduction to the band, in almost complete ignorance (he had posted the video for "Just Like Honey," but I treated it like the back of a book or movie case--I wanted to be surprised, so I let it be). He told me it was an excellent album, and that he had some trouble letting it go, being a big fan himself--but in the most wonderfully sincere sort of way, rather than as a gimmick to push a purchase. This kind of enthusiasm and geniality is the kind of thing I appreciate in a music store, as it can be easy to mistake me for someone who knows nothing about music, considering I'm most often wandering about in shirts and hoodies for more popular and modern bands.²

As I was leaving, Mr. Bell confirmed that I was the one who had asked for a price for Psychocandy on Facebook, friended me and said he'd keep me in mind when doling out the Cure album prices, especially a copy of Pornography waiting in the wings. An extra touch that was greatly appreciated.

It wasn't a first, either, everyone working there has always been kind and cheerful and non-judgmental, generally laid-back and great. I was party to a conversation about The Rolling Stones' Their Satanic Majesties Request, wherein a fellow browser noted finding a copy recently that had an asking price in the range of "high, near to absurd," and Mr. Bell commented that it was not the policy of Hunky Dory to charge unattainable sorts of prices, though it should be noted that it's not a generic used record store, and the love and appreciation shows in recognizing albums that can justify a higher asking price. But it's just that: justified.

My first purchase there was Tangerine Dream's Rubycon, which was a nice find and a nice $7, which is a great price for that disc. I found that one while perusing for Gabriel-era Genesis, which I sadly did not find at the time, but is sure to wander through at some point. But hey, even with that, it's fun to watch stores specialize in particular areas, and the classics Mr. Bell chooses and advertises always get a thumbs up from me when I know them. I can't ever knock someone who will feature both The Jesus and Mary Chain and INXS--an unhealthy-level-of-obsession favourite of mine.

As far as The Jesus and Mary Chain? I'd always heard things like "nearly unlistenable" and "abrasive" (indeed, the probable-NPOV/NOR-violation third sentence of the album's Wiki Article refers to the band "mov[ing] away from its abrasive sound" on following albums). Perhaps my wide-ranging taste's inclusion of things like black metal and the Blood Brothers means "abrasive" and "nearly unlistenable" are nigh on to unobtainable for me.³ I was confused enough when that Wiki article managed to refer to it as helping to start shoegazer music, as that has never been an unpleasant and uncomfortable genre for me.

So, when I dropped the needle, I was a bit taken aback. Yeah, it's got some insane distortion, and sometimes the distortion tweaks those vaguely painful moments, but it's actually quite pleasant and engaging, and I really, really like it. It does show itself as bearing the roots of bands like My Bloody Valentine, but is almost more like expected song formats twisted by reverbed vocals and disproportionate guitar distortion. It's an unusual sound, one I could indeed see plenty of people disliking, but not so harsh as I'd been led to believe. Here's the album opener, the video that I skipped over for surprise value, because I know I'm weird and most people wouldn't want to do that, and encouragement to look into this album is something I will stand behind.

Also, it proves that exploding dark hair was not reserved for The Cure in the 1980s.

¹I typed "b-sides" and remembered I've had to explain that term before, so let me go ahead and do that here. 7" 45rpm singles were the first huge thrust of recorded popular music, the origin of the idea of a "single," "one hit wonders" and a lot of other pop-oriented terms. They weren't the first records, nor were they the exclusive format in their heyday. But they were intended to promote a band distinctly, to appear in jukeboxes and generally have the songs everybody was hearing on the radio. Those singles were "A-Sides," so named because they appeared on Side A of a single. B-sides were then the flip, of course. I'll take more about these later, because I love b-sides down to the very concept of them.

²Most commonly, Coheed and Cambria. Yeah, we'll get there.

³Known exceptions: Excesses of Guitar Wolf, Emperor's Wrath of the Tyrant which is an officially released demo tape, Merzbow, and the loathsome, self-titled first Black Dice album. But then, I was pondering Negativland's Deathsentences of the Polished and Structurally Weak, so maybe even those might make me feel differently now. Except for Black Dice, which is truly crap. Sorry, uploader, deconstructive hardcore is utter nonsense.

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