Indulge me for a minute.
When I first started buying music, it involved scouring the back pages of the music press (now largely gone), selecting a likely Record Shop (now largely gone too), sending them a stamped, self-addressed envelope for a list of stock, waiting, selecting from said stock list, posting off a Postal Order (remember those?), and yet more waiting while praying that the object of desire was still available by the time the process was complete. Not ideal. When I moved to Brighton and then London, I was able to take part in the Saturday ritual of doing the rounds of the record stores, and checking out the new releases, white labels, imports and mix-tapes in person. I became a massive crate-digger.
Then the internet happened. Downloading, legal and illegal, spread like mad. Even the specialist retailers suffered. Communities that had grown up around the record shops moved online.
Not necessarily a bad thing. It became easier to plough your own furrow, to find the music that didn’t necessarily fit. Releasing music became easier too. In many ways the internet is a massively GOOD THING.
But I missed the physical nature of music. The vinyl, the cassettes, even the CDs (once the devil incarnate,) provided an enjoyable tactile edge to the experience.
But it’s all about the music, right? So I shut up and downloaded when I had too.
However, there have always been those out there who think there is more to it than just an MP3, especially in what might be called specialist or marginal fields. Jazz has always had a love affair with vinyl; some of the most gorgeous things I own are beautiful editions of Blue Note classics on super, heavy-weight vinyl with glassine inner-sleeves. Over the last few years an increasing number of independent music-makers and small labels working in what might be loosely called the experimental-ambient-classical axis have turned their talents to producing physical manifestations of their music. Hourrah! Vinyl, cassettes and even the more utilitarian CD are once again here to be cherished.
Take a look at Bandcamp, an invaluable source for anyone who is interested in new music and particularly so in my favoured field. Alongside the downloads, many artists offer limited runs of vinyl, (mastered to perfection,) cassettes (a little wilfully obtuse but who doesn’t like tape decay?) and hand-stamped CDs. Nice.
And then there are those that go one step further and produce what can only be described as something truly special. One such label is Fluid Audio. A visit to their website is simultaneously a joy and a source of anguish. Beautifully bespoke packaged CDs, enticingly presented and all SOLD OUT. Work of this level can only be managed in limited runs and once they are gone, well, they are gone.
But, didn’t I say it was all about the music? And so it is, and this is why outfits like Fluid score. The same eye for producing incredible objects of desire is also, er, an ear for exceptional music too. These releases really are the real deal and the packaging supports the music. Without the music, the packaging, as awesome and as lovingly assembled as it is, is ultimately just stuff. Yet, listen to the music while examining the packaging and the ‘stuff’ comes to life, it becomes an experience to repeatedly savour. But if you miss out on the physical release (and when you do it is immensely disappointing) you can rest assured that downloading from the artists themselves will always be worth it.
This week’s Coffee & Flapjacks moment comes from an artist who released his Near Dark album last year on Fluid, Gideon Wolf. I have spent enough time today bigging up Fluid’s consummate packaging and presentation so you can take it as read that the physical release is an awesome thing. Since it came out in autumn of last year, this album has slowly been racking up a rather large number of plays at C&F Manors. It’s a body of work that worms its way into your subconscious, demanding further listening.
Near Dark is a tricky album to talk about. It’s not an album of songs, but it has distinctive and memorably effective vocals. It’s not a drone opus but the drones loom large. There are strings and piano but it’s not classical (whatever that might be.) Insistent rhythms come and go. It’s got many a dark, dark moment, but with glimmers of light, it is well titled. It feels of the Edge-lands, the spaces where ordered industrial estates meet the chaos of nature, where urban sprawl breaks into treacherous tracts of bramble and barbed-wire; pools of stickle-backs, tadpoles, car-tires and refrigerators. Transformers hum, taut wires tremble, neon-signs flicker, trees creak and undergrowth rustles. It is a sound simultaneously urban, pastoral, soothing, unsettling, lonely and beautiful. All at once and to devastating effect.
It is impossible for me to put into words how fantastic this unclassifiable album is. So, was it my album of the year 2015? Hell no. Quite simply, it’s better than that.
Physical release from Fluid Audio SOLD OUT
Handmade limited edition of 200:
– Letter-pressed CD covers
– 20 prints on luxury thick card that rest in glassine bags
– Vintage photo slides (1930’s-70’s)
– Vintage 1920’s explorers notes / maps
– Dried leaves
– Hand typed messages
– Hand numbered
– All sealed tight in oversized glassine bags
– Download code, plus exclusive 16 minute live bonus track
Download it NOW from Gideon Wolfs Soundcloud.
In a break from tradition, Near Dark was enjoyed accompanied by Bredele from Alsace, handmade by my friend Marie (merci Marie! X), and a Monsooned Malabar from HR Higgins.