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Saturday, April 16, 2011

Record Store Day Thoughts

Record Store Day is a bit of a scam. There. I said it.

At the same time, there I was, lined up before opening with all the other hipsters and record collector scum, waiting to spend, spend, spend!


Well, I had a ton of in-store credit burning a hole in my pocket. And, at the same time, I'm enough of a sucker that there was some stuff I actually wanted to buy this year. Sigh. Hook, line and sinker.

But first, let me reel off a quote from the excellent Numero Group which kind of sums up a lot of how I feel about this retail holiday:

For openers, most Record Store Day records are trashy cash-ins. Bogus 7″ repros, expensive and needless live LPs, and perhaps the worst culprit of all, records that aren’t actually limited but are marketed as such (We’re looking at you Flaming Lips Dark Side Of the Moon)

Of course, they then go on to pimp their own Record Store Day special, available in the oh-so-trendy and completely worthless cassette format. Waddayagonnado?

Speaking of worthless, how about that Beach Boys double 78rpm set? How many of those do you think will ever get played? How many people even have something to play 78s? I don't and yet, here I sit looking at #3794 of however many thousands they cranked out, unwrapped and on my table.

The one item I was actually out for, the Big Star Third "test pressing" set, is pretty cool, even the cynic in me must say. But, it's still a fetish item. I had the music already. There's nothing new there. But I still had to have it, for some reason.

Ditto a few "bogus 7" repros", though I stayed away from the live stuff. And I did actually get around to buying some Black Angels stuff I didn't have. So there was that.

But really, at the end of the day, it's all kind of silly. The false scarcity and silly collector's editions and whatnot are, in my not so humble opinion, some of the worst aspects of the music biz. They do nothing other than trivialize the music, which is what it is supposed to be about, I think.

Let me tell you though what I do like about Record Store Day: seeing the stores packed. Sure, it's a herd of folks grabbing at those exclusives, but ultimately, they are putting money in the cash drawers at some of the few record stores we have left. Who knows? Maybe this one day could mean the difference between paying bills and getting evicted for a store?

But it also kind of gives me pause. If they have to go to all this hype and gimmick to get people in, are record stores still relevant in today's world? I know I've moved a lot of my purchasing to on-line and digital sources for reasons of both price and convenience. Yet I still find myself at the record store, every now and again. I don't think I could imagine life without them completely.

And apparently a lot of other people feel the same way. Both of the stores I went to were packed, and I can't believe they were all eBay scalpers. People weren't just buying the exclusives. There must be something to it that people would stand in the kind of lines I stood in for pieces of plastic with music on them.

So I still think Record Store Day is a bit of a scam, as I do any retail holiday, but at the same time, it does make me appreciate living in a town that can support three independent record stores. Though I don't frequent them as much as I used to, I'm glad they're still around. And, even though it's kind of ridiculous, I'm glad to have this Big Star set sitting in front of me.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

A Secret Stash of Fake(?) Funk

Recently, I've picked up some releases on a label called Secret Stash. The albums seemed right up my alley, claiming to be lost porn and blaxploitation soundtracks, funk from Russia and a reggae version of Kind of Blue. However, something about these albums just didn't seem quite right.

Each one of these records is kind of mysterious, which already set alarms off with me. Absolute minimal credits and a suspiciously perfect backstory accompany each record. Me being me, I wanted more info about what I was listening to. If the recordings were really as obscure as they claimed, not knowing the musicians who played wasn't out of the question. But, I figured there should be some reference somewhere to some of the movies the tracks from Porno Grooves are from. Or surely someone is looking for that lost blaxploitation film Mad Dog's Hustle.

Suspiciously, all the information I found about the Porn Groove and Mad Dog's Hustle albums either linked back to those albums or a source which took Secret Stash's promo material verbatim. In other words, outside the scope of these albums, these movies don't seem to exist.

Regarding the Soviet Funk albums, they sure smell fishy, if they aren't out right fakes. This blog post, was one of the first I found and it led me to this message board thread. Pretty damning stuff.

Now I'm not going to say that these releases are fake just because there's no information about the movies or any of the people connected to them out there. And just because there are some wonky Russian titles doesn't necessarly mean it's a fake either. But the evidence sure casts a heap of doubt on the authenticity of these records.

But does it matter? If the music is good, does it really matter where it came from? Well, I kind of think in this case it does. If you're selling something as vintage Russian funk, it's kind of shady to have some guys from the local throw it together for you. I took an interest in these records because of what I thought they were and yeah, I feel a little ripped off that they appear to be fakes.

So how is the music anyway? Well, the one record I haven't mentioned, the Reggae Interpertation of Kind of Blue is very good, though the dub versions on the B side are lacking. The Porno Groove and Mad Dog's Hustle albums are pretty much standard library sounding tracks. Mad Dog leans a little heavier in a blaxplotation groove. Not too bad, but neither is essential.

However, when it comes to the Soviet Funk albums, the origin and back story on the records isn't the only bit of questionable labeling. To be generous, one could call these Jazz-Funk records, but really they are more in an early 70s fusion bag than anything like funk. Aside from not being what I expected, there really wasn't anything that grabbed me on the records. That could be because I was expecting Meters and James Brown and got Return to Forever and Weather Report.

If I'm wrong about these releases being fake, I'd be the first to admit it. I'd also be very suprized. It seems to me like Secret Stash has wrapped some pretty average music in an interesting, but phony, back story and put it out there. Oh well, at least the colored vinyl is nice.