Continuous Hit Music – a weekly exploration of vinyl finds in 2012. Read ‘em all here
Artist: Silver Jews Title: American Water Original Release: 1998 Label: Drag City Store: Big Star Records, 160 Magil Rd, Norwood, Adelaide Price: $15.00
Big Star records is an Adelaide institution. Every major city in Australia had their premiere indie record shop. Adelaide’s was Big Star. It is, of course, named after the the great rock band (before that rock band got quite famous), and they would sell t-shirts and have stickers that recreated the logo from Big Star’s #1 Record. I would wear my short overseas and people would think it’s the band.
In the last 10 years, CD and physical retail has taken a blow, and taken many of this country’s great record shops with them. Big Star in Adelaide closed their city store. However, the original store in Norwood, a little corner shop really, still exists. It’s not far from the city, and Norwood is a pretty cool hub these days.
There’s not a huge selection, but there’s plenty of new indie CDs and box sets, etc. Whereas a shop like Canberra’s Landspeed has expanded to t-shirts and merch, Big Star is all about – or just about – the music. There are small new and used vinyl collection – with some collectables. There wasn’t much, but I assume with the record fair and so many tourists in town, maybe the shelves were cleared before I got there.
What was on the shelf was a new copy of American Water by the Silver Jews. Quick check on the Drag City website shows it’s currently in print. I assume this is just evergreen stock for Big Star. This record, I assume, was one of their biggest sellers at a time. This almost totally forgotten record.
This album was pretty big news when it came out. It was the Pavement angle – Stephen Malkmus plays on this record, and with other members of Pavement on previous Silver Jews albums. The last Pavement album, Brighten the Corners, was so good, that people bought whatever Malkmus did next. I certainly did. I just wanted to head back into the world that Brighten the Corners had brought me into. With some added David Berman.
It seemed like, for a whole year, everyone listened to this album. Both Youth Group’s Toby Martin and Soap Star Joe covered songs from it immediately (Random Rules and Honk If You’re Lonely Tonight respectively). Pitchfork gave it 10 out of 10. In a couple of years, the whole idea of what indie music was would change overnight. Until that day, this was one of the most loved and popular American indie records of the 90s.
The vinyl package doesn’t bring much to the party. A lyric sheet insert and a label that recreates the disc art. It was never a album with a great package anyway. But it’s a lovely vinyl record. It’s short and sweet and full of ideas. It’s a very lovable little album.
And I love it too. It’s one of those albums I know by heart. The weird lyrical asides, the catchy and dissonant guitars that slink over the songs. Then there was Berman, part hopeless romantic, part beat poet, with that deep Stephen Merritt voice. You’d think that this album would have propelled them to the next level, but Berman wasn’t really a star. Three more albums followed, but his method of indie rock fell out of style. Silver Jews broke up in 2009.
Disturbing numbers coming out of Hollywood. There will be a record for sequels this year – a whopping 28. It’s a figure that has rising steadily in the past few years. More disturbingly, things like Harry Potter 7b (essentially an 8), Fast Five, X-Men First Class (essentially another 5), etc makes the average sequel number 3.7.
How did we get here? Franchises seem to live forever these days. And maybe it has to do with digital technology making everything available. It’s never been easier to catch up one something.
Take reunions. With a band like Pulp in the CD era, people would have put away their CD copies of Different Class, occasionally bringing it out for nostalgia. In the era of iPods, many lapsed Pulp fans can carry around Pulp songs in their pockets every single day.
Every band in history is on equal footing. Every album ever made might as well be a new release. They are all equally easy to find. No wonder there is so much money in reunion shows. I’m not sure if bands can even break up anymore. Looks at artists like Pavement or the Pixies. Despite disappearing, their popularity never waned. They reunited to equal, if not bigger, audiences than ever.
Stock issues are disappearing. The idea that a record can fall out of print is outdated. In the 90s and the 00s, it was kinda hard to get Pixies albums in Australia (compared to say Britney).
There are a bunch of golden albums that used to never go out of print, and would be discovered by every generation. Be it Tapestry for thoughtful young women, or the first Violent Femmes album for nerdy young boys. And even the smallest CD store would stock them. Now there is no such thing. Every album is a golden album ripe for rediscovery.
I used to carry CDs in my school bag. I’d fill it with anything I might want to listen to. But no school bag can fit as much as an iPod. And soon those iPods will be streaming from an infinite harddrive in a cloudy sky.
The same used to apply to old movies. From hoping something would be re-run on TV to searching for a DVD at a shop. There was always limits. But no more. There is an infinite database of films online.
Which is why sequels work better than ever. I have friends who have just caught up on all seven Harry Potter films in just the weeks leading up to the 8th. It is the reason films like Fast Five can exist. Because Fast One to Four are so easy to get.
It goes on. Look at reboots. The first Scream movie never fell into an oldies film. Freddie Krueger never died. Even Wall Street was given a sequel 23 years later. Why invent a new brand to discuss the financial crisis? Just use the one that everyone still talks about.
Then there’s good old “nerdstalgia”. Transformers used to be so 80s. Now it’s the biggest franchise there is today. This year, both the Muppets and the Smurfs are back on the big screen. Nothing ever dies.
TV Shows of course fall into the same category. Although huge gaps exist, so many TV shows live online. Most are at unreasonable prices, but hey, that’s how you give birth to a piracy market.
You can always catch up to the story. Season 4 of Breaking Bad is out and you’ve not seen the first 3? It’s really not a problem anymore. Hell, you could have been waiting to be born when the first Harry Potter film came out and you’re probably the target audience for the new one.
Slightly ironic that the very first physical format – print – is the last to drag itself into the digital world. But you can see it going the same way as it’s louder and brighter cousins. Books will never go out of print. They will be instantly accessible to anyone who wants them. The stories will never get old.
This new world brings with it some new concerns. Making something that’s timeless pays off. Flash in the pan also never dies, but who’s going to be looking for it? You don’t need to go back at watch some shit network sitcom because they still make those. But the Sopranos will remain timeless.
What happens to plot twists. I don’t know how it would feel to try and watch Lost now. I think it’s widely known that the ending was a let down. With a show so structured towards an ending, does it lose something?
Then there is the big fight over copyright issues, and when things fall into the public domain. When the UK write copyright rules that allowed people to own their music for 50 years, no one thought Paul McCartney would be one year away from losing the rights to Love Me Do. Or, indeed that ANYTHING 50 years old would have any value.
Public Domain is a funny thing. And I think, on the whole, if something falls into Public Domain, it is terrible for that thing. Because the old arguments about it being free and easy to access are gone. We have solved the access issue. And it just means anyone can make money off someone’s work. No one is going to give it to you for free.
(One of my favourite movies ever – Charade – is one of the more interesting copyright cases around. Many cheap DVDs are no better than people filming shaky cameras in a theatre. But it’s legal to sell that. Proper prints with decent quality are hard to find because they are hard for anyone to sell any.)
The UK are seeking an extension to be in line with the US – 100 years (or so). There needs to be a worldwide consensus because we are dealing with the worldwide web. There is an argument that those rules need to be more lax (in regards to thing like sampling). But really – do they not imagine another Muppets movie in 50 years time? Maybe 100 is not enough.
Are we ever going to forget anything again?
Reboots have become part of our popular culture now. I think the idea was perfected in the comic book world. Bit reboots are getting sooner and sooner. Including the upcoming Avengers film, there will be three Hulks in ten years. Each one a reboot to some degree.
I find it interesting that people can just decide that OK, we are now starting again. Forget the past. This is a new Star Trek. This is a new Spiderman. Is anything sacred?
Franchises are worth more and more. Bands reform to take advantage of it. What happens when HBO realises that another generation has discovered the Sopranos? Will they remake that too?
It’s all up for grabs. Nothing ever dies. The idea that they could recast Star Trek means that they can recast anything. Imagine Star Wars movies picking up after Return Of the Jedi. Why not? We are getting new Spidermen, Supermen and Hulks. The next Batman movie is not even out and they have already announced a reboot to follow. Anything to keep the brand alive.
Try to imagine a situation where they would cancel the Simpsons. They could replace the voices. Get in a whole team of new young writers and producers. Reinvent the show for a new current audience. Use technology to make it cheaper to make. Really, maybe that show will outlive me. And all of us.
With so much information out there, the problem is not finding entertainment. It’s finding something you like. Filters will be the next big thing.
What do my friends recommend. What lists tell me what the greatest movies are. What the hell should I watch next?
It is the next big question in our cultural lives.
Welcome back to Tuesday Tunes! We try to focus on new music, but we could not let Pavement pass. Last year they announced they were reuniting for a big world tour, and will be releasing a the first ever Pavement compilation to celebrate. Finally we have some details – but you can make up the rest.
The compilation is called Quarantine the Past, and it will feature 23 tracks, according to their label Matador. It will open with the fantastic Gold Soundz, from their Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain album, but after that – they aren’t telling us.
But you can guess, and win. Matador are running a competition to guess the other 22 tracks. Full details are on their site, but cooler still is there is an award for ‘most creative’ tracklisting’. And they will even print up copies of the creative version for the next Record Store Day.
A whole lot of reunion shows and this compilation is going to make for a big year for Pavement. But right now, Matador are also offering that opening track, Gold Soundz, as a free download (halfway down the page here).