Song, by Toad

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Five Years of Audio Antihero

audioantihero Running a record label can be a little like being in Monty Python’s Spanish Inquisition at times, in that I lose count of the times I get into conversations which start with ‘The toughest thing about running a record label… wait, wait, the two toughest thi… actually the THREE toughest things about running a record label are…’ and so on and so forth.

It’s not the same as being in a band, but it’s close. I don’t think maintaining a level head amongst near constant rejection and occasional hyperbolic adulation is quite as personal a challenge when you’re one step removed from the actual making of the music. But there is what can only be described as a crushing sense of responsibility to the people who choose you to be the one to do your best with their life’s work, and make sure it gets out in the world properly, particularly if you are small and tend to work with friends and people who personally trust you.

A pal of mine who I have known since very near the beginning of the label is Jamie from Audio Antihero. You’ve heard about Benjamin Shaw, Jack Hayter, Nosferatu D2 and Superman Revenge Squad on the blog before, but more or less everything the label releases is good. And he has the best label motto of all time: “Specialists in commercial suicide.” I wish I’d thought of that first.

If you don’t trust me on that one, well there is a very simple remedy. To celebrate their first five years of existence they are offering up a free sampler – well pay-what-you-like, which is NOT THE SAME THING! – which you can get from their Bandcamp page here.

If you want a clear indication of why I like this label so much, I think it is summed up in their press release which contains maybe even more sarcasm and bitter cynicism than even these pages:

“It’s our “Birthday” – Audio Antihero has been a label for five long years. It could have gone worse, I suppose. I hope you’ve enjoyed some of it. Thanks for supporting.

50% OFF:
Get 50% off anything from our Bandcamp for the next 48 hours (expires Friday) with the discount code “fuckthisshit” (after that, it’ll switch to a 15% off code). Valid on anything (CD/Digital/Cassette/Stress Ball).”

Kindred spirits, clearly. Anyhow, go and buy things. Or least listen to them closely, to make up for the fact that I didn’t write about the Cloud album when I actually rather liked it. Sorry Jamie. Here’s to the next five years old chap!

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An Orgy of (sort of) Exploitative Vinyl Re-issues

Frozen So many vinyl-reissues and only so much cash. I fucking hate this kind of choice, and I can’t help but feel a bit ripped off, but the truth of the matter is that for all it seems a bit cheeky, I still really, really want these immaculate new vinyl versions of old albums I love.

Part of Guy Hands’ comically disastrous purchase of EMI a few years ago was the anticipation of mining the back catalogue of the label for infinite re-packaging and re-release. It was supposed to be a viable new model, and for all it failed completely, the idea was clearly not crazy because a lot of people are enthusiastically embracing large aspects of it today.

For example Mute have just sold their back catalogue to BMG, and one of the first things that they did was to decide upon an immediate re-release of most of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ back catalogue. As a massive Nick Cave fan, of course this is thrilling news for me, albeit in a slightly wary sort of way.

But really, given I have already bought a lot of these albums a couple of times already (the old vinyl -> tape -> CD -> etc… milking process) there is a perfectly reasonable argument to make that this is basically just ripping off an existing fanbase, exploiting their nostalgia and love for the bands to get your hands in their now well-stuffed middle aged pockets. It can feel, no matter how much I love a lot of the music, pretty grubby.

This isn’t a new thought to be considering, of course, but at this point in time there are three series of these reissues which all seem to be approaching it a little differently, and I think it sort of highlights where I start to feel exploited, and where I think that it feels less like back-catalogue-flogging and more like fan-boy completism.

Bob Dylan Bootleg Series

It feels fair to say that pretty much no-one has exploited their back catalogue more (or indeed better) than Bob Dylan. Live show reissues, rarities, early demos, encyclopaedic album sessions… you name it, if he’s recorded it, someone has remastered it, stuck it on vinyl and flogged it to idiots like me.

For all I feel that my weakness for Bob Dylan has been identified and exploited, though, I am not sure I would really call the Bootleg Series exploitative. It’s a bit merciless, I guess – I mean, holy fuck, how many hundreds and hundreds of pounds have they managed to prise out of me since this series first started, but holy hell it’s good. The records are beautifully packaged and accompanied by gorgeous design and extensive writing and photography, and this really helps emphasise the raison d’être of the collection, as well as making it a wonderful thing to own in and of itself.

Some of it’s a bit obscure and weird, but for the most part this is all new material as well, things which existing über-fans and regular passive fans can enjoy equally. As an example, the 1966 Royal Albert Hall recording is arguably the greatest live album of all time. For a casual Bob Dylan fan, this contains some of the most ferocious and vital recordings of his music – it’s not just scratchy shit, played and recorded less well than the album the songs were released on, these are actually the best versions ever captured of many of these tunes. On the other hand my parents are huge Dylan fans – my mum was actually at the Manchester Free Trade Hall show which gets surreptitiously spliced into the recording part of the way through. They were, in fact, amongst the outraged folkies who howled in dismay as their hero went electric.

When I bought this for my folks I said ‘I know you’ll love the acoustic half of this, but just listen to the full band side – it’s one of the most electric (ha ha), confrontational performances I have ever heard’. Predictably, after a few weeks they got back to me saying ‘well yes, but the acoustic side really is incredible. It’s Dylan at his best really.’ But what surprised me was my dad taking the time, almost a year later, to agree that the second album, the plugged-in part, really was incredible – that it really was the highlight of the album.

So it works for casual fans, it works for lifelong fans, and for someone like myself it made me understand just how intense the betrayal when Dylan went electric really was for his fans, even to a degree for society itself, something I could never have understood from simply reading about it. This may be the pinnacle of Dylan’s Bootleg Series and an exceptional moment in music history, but if you are going to mercilessly mine a back catalogue for things to sell to people, this is how you do it.

The Wedding Present Reissues

The other vinyl reissues I wanted to discuss are a little different from the Dylan Bootleg Series, in that they aren’t releases of material people haven’t necessarily heard before, they are simply plain old reissues of old albums to an established fanbase. This is where things start to feel a little more dubious. ‘Hey, people who already bought this the first time, how about buying it AGAIN? This time for TWICE THE PRICE because it’s a deluxe reissue on heavy vinyl.’ You know what I mean.

Where these reissues make sense, however, is that The Wedding Present were at their most prominent during the nineties nadir of vinyl manufacture. A lot of their stuff was pressed, if at all, in runs so tiny that getting hold of the bastard things is a serious challenge. I know. I have tried. Bizarro and Seamonsters can be tracked down, but the likes of Watusi and Saturnalia represent a bit more of a challenge and can be rather expensive. So for all I kind of resent paying once again for albums I have already bought on CD, well, I still sort of get it, and really it’s my own stupid choice.

Plus, once again, the artwork may not be new but they have taken care with the re-packaging and included single b-sides and EP released around the time of the album as well, and the Wedding Present are a very good b-side band. I still am sulking about it a bit, I must confess. I have successfully tracked down Bizarro and Seamonsters second hand, and I am now looking at these re-releases wondering if I really, really think it’s worth it but… oh, I don’t know. It’s tricky. There’s good stuff here, but it does feel a bit like I am being tricked into paying for the same damn thing over and over again.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds Reissues

This is actually today’s announcement: full vinyl reissues of more or less every fucking Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds album. This was a proper fucking forehead palm-smack moment for me, because I have put a fair bit of time into finding these recently, and to own slightly tatty old copies when new, heavy, shiny ones will be available so soon is hugely galling.

Beyond just plain bad luck with timing, however, there are a couple of aspects of this which really do smell rather strongly of fish. The first and most obvious one is that this series of reissues includes fucking Dig Lazarus Dig, which was only released in 2008 in the first place.  Come on, lads, there’s surely no fucking way that merits a reissue already.

The second, and one which perhaps annoys me the most, is this: for all these are all being remastered the actual quote from the press release about the artwork is this: “Each album has been crafted to reflect the original release from the cover to the printed inner sleeves”. Now, I may be being unreasonably cynical, but to me that reads like they haven’t really done anything to the artwork at all. It’s possible that the original recordings were over-compressed in the mastering stage, because that’s what people did back then, but unless they are remastering the original mixes there’s not much that tweaking an over-compressed master can really do, so even that causes me to raise my eyebrows a little.

I suppose it’s also arguable that a lot of these were originally released on shitty 80s vinyl pressings where the record itself was wafer thin and the liner notes were minimal, so maybe these will just be slightly better quality, but these records are out there so for the most part their scarcity is debatable, with the exception of a couple.

The final product may prove me wrong here, but what this whole enterprise smells of to me is someone realising that the market for second-hand Nick Cave vinyl is strong, there is no in-house stock, and dammit that money should be ours. And that’s actually fair enough, I guess. If people are buying Nick Cave records, they should be buying them from Nick Cave.  But once again, I find myself in a position where I have paid for these damn albums so many times I am really starting to resent it. I love the music, I go to the shows, but if I am going to cough up for something like my third fucking version of Henry’s Dream then at least give me something new so that I don’t just feel like you’re taking the piss.

Conclusions

Well, simple, really. I assume that most of these records are being sold to existing fans. It’s possible that this is considered as a chance to gain new press for old material and perhaps address an emerging fan base who might be more likely to buy vinyl than they were ten or fifteen years ago, but in general this stuff is being sold to people like me: people in their 30s and 40s with slightly deeper pockets than we once had and an enduring love for the bands in question. So really, as much as I moan, I really do want these products.

I am delighted about the chance to hear Bob Dylan scare the shit out of his audience for having an electric guitarist and a drummer in his band. I’m actually quite excited about being able to get the three 10″ vinyl reissue of Seamonsters with all the accompanying b-sides and EP tracks. And actually, I hadn’t thought about how good an album No More Shall We Part is for ages, so I am pretty chuffed about it being available on vinyl as well. But please give me something. If you are going to come back for my money again and again for the same material, at least put effort into the artwork, the context provided by the accompanying material, the historical significance for dedicated fans of the band of the unheard material you include, and.. well pretty much anything that makes this more than just a clean, new duplicate of an album I already own, and probably also bought on CD in the 90s too.

It needs to be a bit more than that, because one side is giving dedicated fans something of depth, interest which strengthens their relationship with the band, and on the other is simply ripping people off because vinyl is back again and you know you can get yet another payday for the same damn material. So it’s a very fine line, but not one you want to fall on the wrong side of.

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The Wytches – Annabel Dream Reader

wytches I’ve played these guys on the podcast a couple of times already, and I’ve had the album for a while, but it seems to be one of these records where what I think of it yo-yos back and forth every time I listen to it. Sometimes I think it’s fearsomely fantastic, sometimes a bit chuggy and samey, and it doesn’t seem to depend on anything consistent I have been able to notice besides mere whim. Which I don’t like. I prefer to know what my opinions are and why I have them.

Gravedweller, for instance, has a baseline which could easily enough be straight out of Love Buzz. Get me in the right mood and I think ‘fucking brilliant, what a fantastic baseline’. The wrong mood and the similarity bugs me a little.

Generally I love the thumping intensity of this album. It’s psyche-rock (not in the way everything these days is fucking psyche-rock, this is actual psyche-rock) but it’s dark and heavy, and you just can’t really imagine them playing this at anything other than full pelt. There’s something about that heaviness which is a real gut-grabber, too. It makes you screw up your face and bunch fists and do a really aggressive pigeon-peck with your head.

I don’t mean to keep coming back to Bleach again, but there’s loads of it in here, meaning that more than a lot of the other psyche revivalists out there, but the result is that instead of just being a knock-off band with (in some cases admittedly) great tunes, these guys feel really fresh.

I fucking hate that word, particularly when used to describe new music; in fact I really hate it. But there’s life and sparkle to this which belies its relatively familiar recipe. There’s nothing new here really, and it can get a bit chuggy, so when I am in the wrong mood that bugs me a bit. But generally it’s just awesome.

I mean, as thrillingly wild songs go, the rest of the world is going to have to go some way to match Wire Frame Mattress this year. The other single Burn Out the Bruise has possibly had more radio play I think, and is a cracking song in its own right, but Mattress is just fucking great.

Again, the recipe is relatively simple – guitar, bass and drums with some pretty familiar effects pedals – but it’s all played with purpose and energy. There’s a sort of reckless abandon here which is utterly absent from pretty much any band who are described as ‘bringing back guitar music’.

Royal Blood, for example, when they hear this, should give pretty serious consideration to retiring immediately out of sheer embarrassment. Not every tune here is brilliant, but ‘guitar revival’ bands seem to all sound so leaden, whereas this is loose, brilliant fun and played with gleeful malevolence.

Also, if anyone buys one from Heavenly, which you can do here, can you please let me know where to go to validate my download code. I bought the damn thing in a shop and got a card with a code, but no clue as to where to redeem it.

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Looking Forward to 2015

future What, seriously, already? Actually, as much as Christmas being in the shops already annoys me, and as much as online List Season starting in November also annoys me, at a record label where manufacturing lead times are now measured in months rather than weeks, and where a PR campaign takes four months to execute, 2015 has actually been on my radar for some time.

The thing is, we’re going to be sort of different next year, I think. Our two biggest-selling bands aren’t going to be releasing anything for a while, if at all.  Sparrow and the Workshop are in double-baby meltdown/heaven (delete as appropriate) and Meursault are officially no more.

In terms of our more established bands, Adam Stafford is working on a new album, which should be reaching completion near the end of the year, David Thomas Broughton has a mental but brilliant transcontinental project planned, Meursault has become Neil Pennycook who has become Supermoon, and Rob St. John is also working on new recordings. And I haven’t heard much from The Leg recently either, which tends to mean a new album is somewhere in the future.

Before all of this, however, we’re likely to be releasing something like four debut albums, and these can be weird, mostly because they are so unpredictable. The Plastic Animals one is being mixed as we speak, Numbers Are Futile have finished theirs, Ian Turnbull from Broken Records has made a beautiful instrumental album which has just gone for mastering and there is something very rocky and boisterous which we are likely to be releasing but I can’t really announce just yet as I haven’t actually heard the record – tonight, apparently!

The upshot of all this is twofold. Firstly, we could look like a very different label by the middle of next year. All the new bands will give it a very different flavour, I think, and the music is a wee bit different from what we normally release, which is rather nice.

Also – and this is the part which gives me the most thought – a lot of the stuff we’ll be doing will be short-run, either because that’s the safest way to deal with debut albums or just because it is the nature of the project itself. We’re also going to start releasing some stuff on tape too, and these are short run pretty much by definition and should allow us to do a lot more spontaneous, informal recording in our new warehouse space.

Consequently, instead of not having anything by our two biggest-selling artists being a drawback, I actually think it could be turned into a real advantage in a way. I won’t be worrying as much about managing big PR and distribution campaigns, and I think by far the best way to make a virtue out of a necessarily short run is to make each one really quite different. Not that we didn’t put a lot of thought into our releases before, but it simply isn’t practical to give each artefact individual care and attention when you are making thousands of them, whereas with hundreds you can do something a bit more special.

I would like to work a lot closer with local artists and illustrators too, and maybe get them and the bands into the warehouse together and make the release more of a collaboration, get a printing station set up and do our own screen-printing, try and find really nice things to add to our releases beyond just giving people a record, be it art, photography, writing… anything which makes sense with the band and the music and which just makes each release that little bit more personal and that little bit more of a treat.

I don’t know quite how these changes will affect our reputation or the image this label has in the public eye, but it does go back to what we intended to do when we started out, which is to make short, DIY runs of interesting music that might not be obviously commercial, and not worry too much about being a junior version of a traditional record label, which frankly the world has more than enough of already.

So it’ll be different. But I think it’ll be ace – I’m really looking forward to it.

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Toadcast #306 – The Crumbscast

tag This is called the Crumbscast for no better reasons than that I like the name and that it starts with a song called Crumbs, the new single by Jonnie Common. Given I’ve had to try and think up unique names for all of these bastard things anything which sounds good and has at least a tenuous link to the topic at hand will do.

I’ve not done a podcast for ages actually, but the last one was the one just before the independence referendum, and I still feel so utterly let down and disappointed with how that went that I’ve been unable to really talk about it since. On you go, Westminster, you’re doing a decent enough job really – at least a better one than we could ever hope to do on our own. Is that really the message we just delivered to the world? Yes, yes I think it is, at least to some degree. How sad.

So you see, probably a good thing that I waited at least a couple of weeks for the worst of the depressed bitterness to wear off. I almost get dragged into it at the start of the podcast, but like a champ I manage to break free and deliver an hour (and a little bit) of the usual awesome music that no-one’s really heard of because the world is WRONG about music. Sorry.

Toadcast #306 – The Crumbscast by Song, By Toad on Mixcloud

Direct download: Toadcast #306 – The Crumbcast

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01. Jonnie Common – Crumbs (00.22)
02. Tired Tape Machine – Your Ghost (07.30)
03. Passion Pusher – BLT (17.18)
04. Allison Crutchfield – Supermoon (22.22)
05. Sun Kil Moon – War On Drugs (31.01)
06. Velvet Morning – Green Whale (40.31)
07. 808s and Greatest Hits – Great Western featuring A. Fantastic Reprise (48.44)
08. Memory in Plant – Rainy Veins (54.09)
09. H. Hawkline – Black Domino Box (58.01)
10. Wallflower – Ambien (1.03.02)

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Eaten By Television – Psychotic Wish Fulfilment

ebt This is cracking. The email I was sent tipped a hat to Roy Orbison and Bryan Ferry, but there’s plenty of wonky lo-fi arty style to this as well. And cracking tunes.

The weird juxtaposition of louche croonery and sketchy, dreaminess isn’t exactly new, I suppose. Mac DeMarco was the first band I heard to crack something like the mainstream with some vaguely similar concoction, but I wouldn’t really compare this stuff. Just that it has a similar sense of something ultra-stylish accidentally turning up on a deserted suburban subway station in the middle of the night.

It’s arch, for sure. Songs like Katy Perry Dream Trip and That Creepy Face is Only For You hint more than a little at a kind of knowingly-raised eyebrow, but that kind of deliberate smart-arsery is entirely forgivable if the band aren’t trying to mask incompetence or basic laziness behind a mask of cool unconcern, which these guys do not seem to be doing.

The riffs can be Orbisony, and the vocal delivery has the aforementioned Orbison/Ferry stuff in there, and that’s most evident on opener To Emma, but the rest of this is a swirling miasma of guitars, groggy atmospherics and clacking drum machines. It may not do pop hooks or obviously melody lines all that much, but if you have a couple of listens it starts to stick with you pretty immediately.

The whole EP can be heard (and purchased) on their Bandcamp page, along with older material I have yet to really delve into, so I suggest you pop over there and have a poke around.

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Crumbs: New Jonnie Common Single

Crumbs - RGB 2000px

It is indeed New Jonnie Common Single Day here at Song, by Toad Records, with the second song from his belting new album Trapped in Amber now being officially set loose upon the internet. The album is being released on Halloween this year, and we’ll be doing a small run of launch shows in Aberdeen, Edinburgh and Glasgow on the 13th-15th November and are looking at a label Christmas Party down in London in early December as well.

You can pre-order the album on vinyl or CD here. The CD version comes with an entire alternate version of the album, and if you pre-order the vinyl you’ll get a download card for this version as well.

This tune is a classic example of Jonnie’s way with a lyric: even though not all of it makes immediate sense, there’s a sort of playful warmth there. The Books were actually cited as a possible comparison on CMU the other day, and I have to confess that although I had never really thought of it, the similarity is definitely there. Which is ace, because I fucking love The Books.

Anyhow, I think think we’ve now served up the most obviously cheerful pop moments on the album, so be aware that the rest of it is both melancholy and downright weird at times, but if this and Shark can’t tempt you to buy this record, frankly nothing will. Great songs, the pair of ‘em.

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Water World – WWII

ww2 I’ve  been a while waiting to review this album, and I think part of that is a lack of access to the medium which allowed me to get so thoroughly into the band’s previous, brilliant album Water Bird.

The tape player in my car is broken, so unlike the last album, which seemed to spend an age going round and round and round on the way to work, this one is forever getting played while I’m sitting at my desk working. And I tend to lost concentration.

You could call that a criticism of the album, I suppose, and suggest that a great record would cut through whatever you were doing, but it really isn’t the case. Working is great for casual listening, but not for actually figuring out it something is good or not.

Having said that, over weeks of listening to this regularly when I got the chance, an album which didn’t really grab me at first has slowly filtered in and I am now really enjoying this.

As with the last one, I am genuinely unsure quite what makes this stand out from all the lo-fi guitar pop out there, but it does, once it’s sunk in properly. And I suppose it goes back to the old friends of riffs and melody. This is just pop music, and despite a rather scruffy exterior, it’s really good.

Cream Soda, the instrumental Sneaky Pete, Enough… there are loads of songs on here I just find myself humming along to, and with a pop record that’s about as much as you can ask for. Another great release by Life Dunk International – get it on CD, tape or download here.

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Emily Edrosa – Animal

I have to confess that when I first saw the subject line of this email I thought ‘oh fuck, another tediously earnest singer-songwriter’ and very nearly just deleted it unread. Still, no matter how judgemental I am, I do have a policy of trying to listen to absolutely everything which gets sent through, so I clicked on the video link despite my misgivings and figured I’d give it a go.

At first I thought it must be playing too fast, I have to confess. The rhythm is just weird, and stays weird throughout the song actually, never really seeming to fit with the rest of the tune. It’s great though, pacy and reckless and that mismatch between the rhythm section and the relatively laconic delivery of the vocals is absolutely brilliant when you get your head round it.

This is part of an EP, apparently, so we can look forward to more in the very near future I would hope. And this is why I try and listen to everything, no matter what I think of the email: my tendency to make snap judgements may be vigorous, but it clearly isn’t very accurate.

Bandcamp page is here.

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11th October: Independent Label Market Edinburgh

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The Indepdendent Label Market comes to Edinburgh next week as part of the Pleasance Sessions, a week long celebration of music and fine beer and various other good things (are there any other good things, beyond those two?) which takes place at the Pleasance.

The Label Market will be taking place in the Cabaret Bar, the Och!toberfest in the Courtyard and the music upstairs in the Pleasance Theatre.

I love the Pleasance Sessions, actually, because one of my biggest grouses about music in Edinburgh is how easy it is to find all these amazing venues in August for the fucking Festival, but somehow when the actual living Edinburgh arts community need them during the rest of the year, that goodwill vanishes into thin air and we’re left relying on one or two stalwart heroes to give us a place to play.

Well Rae and her team have done a great job of opening up the various Edinburgh University spaces for use as venues for the rest of the population to enjoy, and I think that’s an absolutely fantastic thing. So come along to the Pleasance Sessions and the label market and encourage this sort of thing to continue to happen.

Because you know what Edinburgh’s like: we complain, someone tries something, we only half-heartedly pay attention, and then we lose it. So we complain. And thus the cycle continues.

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