The old in-stores they ain’t what they used to be, ain’t what they used to be, no they ain’t what they used to be!
The first ever in-store I went to was in HMV, we trekked up from sleepy Wiltshire to see Idlewild in that there London. It was before the internet made everything so wonderfully (or in some eyes, too easily) accessible. Just going to a record store as well stocked as HMV’s Oxford Street branch was a treat in its own right. I remember we picked up a copy of The Cooper Temple Clause’s double EP The Hardware / The Warfare, at the time it seemed the most obscure and wonderful record in the entire world.
Fans gradually arrived en mass; there were people from all over the place, clutching their entire collection of Idlewild oddities to their chests. We got shuffled into a pen to watch the band by a collection of burly security guards. We were marched around like we were bound to break into mass hysteria, or perhaps mass shop lifting at any second. From our viewpoint in the pen, we saw bassist Bob flicking through magazines, Roddy perusing records. Then eventually they came on, roared through a few tracks and took up their seats at the end of a very long queue of people wanting signatures.
By the time we’d suffered excitedly in the queue for a good 45 minutes we finally made it up to meet our heroes. By now they were incredibly bored, tired and a bit pissed off. They’d probably been doing these things for days, it was entirely understandable. They put brave faces on, pen to paper and one or two even managed a couple of words. It is no surprise that most bands opt out of the mass signings, now as an adult with a day job I see just how tedious they must have been.
In-stores, once the exclusive of large multi-national record stores, have now moved to smaller independent shops. Where once they were formal events, with high-security, hard to get hold of exclusive wrist bands and really big bands, they’re now a lot more fun. I attended the Honeyblood show this week, I’d pre-ordered the album online, I strolled in at seven in the evening, watched them thrash through 6 or 7 excellent songs and left without a signature or a chit-chat… it was a lot more fun!
The modern world we live in has made artists so much more accessible, if I want to speak to my heroes I tweet them, I leave messages on their instagram, I send them an email. No longer does a fan prize meeting their heroes, they’ve got them on tap 24/7.
There’s also a darker side to the changes of in-stores. Edinburgh’s Avalanche Records wrote a very interesting blog on the matter (for anyone who doesn’t read Avalanche’s Blog it’s a delightfully crotchety affair about the real life struggles of a record shop owner, it’s as if Ken Loach made a re-make of High Fidelity!) In the blog post mentioned, they discussed the dying revenue streams produced by in-stores. Unlike many stores Avalanche doesn’t insist on a purchase to access the show, and in a world where downloads and increasingly streaming are becoming king, they’re making less and less money out of in-stores. As much as they’re for fans, and bands, one of the major reasons for in-stores is to keep our wonderful independent record stores alive, they need all the help they can get. So next time you’re at an in-store, pick up a record, buy a t-shirt, whatever you like, as Idlewild put it “support your local poet” and more so support your local record store!
HONEYBLOOD – HONEYBLOOD
There will be few more apt names for a band than Honeyblood; for there is the delightful middle ground of honey dripped vocals and barbed lyrics, gorgeous melodies and walls of crushing, scuzz laden, overdriven sound. They draw you in with a hook and then batter your ears with primal, crashing, rock music. In the complex melting pot of this album I can hear both the influence of The Ronettes and The Stooges, and couldn’t tell you which was more prevalent.
Take opening track, Fall Forever, it opens with a loud blast of over-driven guitar chords, the sound levels here pushed to an arrestingly loud volume. As the drums pound in it wouldn’t sound out of place on their label mates The Twilight Sad’s early work, but then the vocal comes in, a stunning transatlantic drawl, recalling Jenny Lewis or perhaps Emily Haines. It’s not that Stina’s vocal lacks any intensity, it’s just in it’s natural tendency towards melody and pop’s inner sanctum it’s at complete contrast to the intensity of the music behind it. Throughout the album there’s a stunning juxtaposition between music and vocal. The lyrics too float effortlessly from romanticism (“fall forever, every rose tinted sky, reminds me of you and I”) to the dark cynicism of a wounded heart (“lamb to the slaughter, I bled my own blood bath”)
The opening salvo of tracks here is one of the most impressive openings to a debut record I’ve heard in a long time. Their new single Super Rat starts of with a low-slung, grunge inspired guitar line, almost lazily strummed, before it builds towards the chorus. It’s the pure bile in the crisply enunciated chorus that’s the best bit here “I will hate you forever” they cry and you don’t doubt it, they break out into an almost playground chant along of “Scum Bag, Sleaze, Slime Ball, Grease” each word punctuated with pure anger, it’s delightfully angsty, but even within the track there’s a sense there’s more to Stina’s lyrics than just vitriol, her way with words spins out lines as good as “you are the smartest rat in the sewer, you know all the nooks and cracks to allure, unsuspecting mice, they don’t have to think twice”.
Anywhere But Here is a more mature number the Scottish duo’s take on the whistful shoe-gaze of Warpaint, with a lyrical back drop of a man you’d leave the “smog and the soot” of the city for, if you could just be sure they’d be waiting for you when you got there. Previous single Bud is re-recorded here as an acoustic, Americana-tinged number, adding a delightful layer of Autumnal shade to proceedings, it’s brilliantly produced, and the presence of Interpol and The National producer Peter Katis should not be underestimated. As with his previous work, he seems to be a master of drawing out the tones and textures of a song whilst retaining the rawness within. Bud also shows off some impressive horticultural knowledge as they play out poetry’s oldest metaphor of a girl as a flower.
There’s a sense of a band trying to be literate without being alienating throughout. Most obviously on Biro, where over clanging chords and the albums best drum beat, we find our protagonist, nothing that “everyone is an author with something to say” before settling into a chorus that surely every heartbroken teen could relate to “all the pain you’ve been through, will be the making of you, tear the heart in two, it will be the making of you”. Idlewild once asked who will be the queen of the troubled teens? Well we might just have found her Roddy! Musically it’s one of the strongest song here, there’s a stunning moment when it all breaks down to a stopmy-grunge moment, the guitar all low-bassy slides, and then as the drums kicks back in they lift the track with a stunning ferocity for one more run through of that wonderful chorus, a thrilling moment on the albums best song.
The flip-side of launching your debut album with a barrage of brilliant songs, is that maintaining that momentum is incredibly difficult, so it’s perhaps no surprise that at times it looses it’s way a little, but even the lull there’s good moments. The beautiful vocal duelling on Choker, the motown influenced chorus of Fortune Cookie, the outro of Joey that sounds like Eels. There’s nothing disastrous here, even the albums low point All Dragged Up, which veers dangerously close to sounding like The Automatic, has a wonderfully catchy, shout along pop chorus.
They find time for one more brilliant moment, in the haunting closing track Braid Burn, after all the intensity that came before, it’s a rare moment where anger gives way to other emotions, and it all gets a bit sad. It starts off live all gently strummed acoustic, as they give the vocal a rare moment of space to gently carry an utterly gorgeous melody. The drums arrive with a gentle waltz beat, it’s non-intrusive and doesn’t detract from the intimate feel of the track. It’s only as the story unwinds and the anger begins to spill out that the production follows, the guitar line, following the intensity of the vocal, as she repeats the line “another fucking bruise, and this one looks just like a rose” it’s a real hairs on the back of the neck moment. The hidden track, a delightfully under-produced piano ballad, serves as a nice light at the end of the tunnel moment after the albums darkest moment before it.
In a world where bands are so exposed so soon in their careers, it’s hard to expect anything less than brilliant debut albums, and for the most part this lives up to all the hype. That it’s not perfect is expected, and certainly forgivable when you consider just how thrilling other parts are. Few albums hint at such potential, and for that reason alone it’s one of the most exciting records of the year.
Honeyblood is out now on FatCat Records. Honeyblood tour the country in September.