Archive for November, 2011

Why is our chart based on sales ?

I have been asked several times why the Avalanche chart is based on sales. I admit most charts are used as promotional tools, to brown nose labels and bands and generally look “cool” but to me it seems obvious that we should publish what our customers buy as the Avalanche chart otherwise we would be saying this is what our customers buy but actually we know better and this is what the chart should look like. Some shops have staff picks which of course is another way of doing it. As it happens our top two albums are my favourite two albums of the year and I would find it hard to split them so I’m glad my customers did it for me. 

We have had over a thousand people look at the chart already in less than 24 hours and I’m happy that the chart gives profile and publicity to bands who probably won’t feature in many or any other charts but also I think it is fair to say the chart is well respected for avoiding tokenism and these bands have earned their place.

I had dozens of media enquiries after Kid Canaveral had our best selling album last year and hopefully Star Wheel Press will benefit in the coming months but they have got there on their own merit with a great album and a fantastic sleeve. When Ryan phoned me to say Lauren Laverne had just played one of their songs on the radio and would I stock their album it was just one of hundreds of similar calls I get in a year. I had no idea it would turn out to be such a cracking album. More than ever now it is clear that who you know is more important than how good you are and I hope that at Avalanche we give people that level playing field that gives them a chance. 

As for the Aidan Moffat and Bill Wells album it is simply a stunning piece of work and why it doesn’t appear in every shops’ top 20 never mind top 100 is a mystery to me. Clearly it is not avant-kraut hypno-dub psych-pop enough !  

Avalanche Top 20 Albums 2011

Here is the predicted chart placings. They will of course be adjusted  later allowing for December’s sales but I doubt they will change much.

1.  Star Wheel Press – Life Cycle Of A Falling Bird

2.  Bill Wells & Aidan Moffat – Everything’s Getting Older

3.  King Creosote and Jon Hopkins – Diamond Mine

4.  PJ Harvey – Let England Shake

5.  Bon Iver – Bon Iver

6.  Bwani Junction – Fully Cocked

7.  Mogwai – Hardcore Will Never Die, But You Will

8.  Conquering Animal Sound – Kammerspiel

9.  Explosions In The Sky – Take Care Take Care Take Care

10. Edinburgh School for the Deaf – New Youth Bible

11. Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues

12. Second Hand Marching Band – Compendium

13. Tom Waits – Bad As Me

14. Beirut – The Rip Tide 

15. Found – Factorycraft

16. We Were Promised Jetpacks – In The Pit Of The Stomach

17. The Moth & The Mirror – Honestly, This World 

18. David Thomas Broughton – Outbreeding

19. Farewell Poetry – Hoping For The Invisible To Ignite 

20. The Son(s) – The Son(s)

Worryingly all the big albums came out in the first 6 moths of the year and only Bwani Junction helped by their album launch in-store have made the top 10 from the second half of the year. I’ll comment more later but certainly Rob St John would have possibly featured had his album been available on CD as well as vinyl.  

In an iTunes age, do we need the record store?

As CD sales plummet and famed shops close, brave entrepreneurs are trying to reinvent the model. Is it too late?

On Wednesday night, hundreds of people passed through the doors of Other Music, one of New York City’s last remaining record stores. Yes, there was free booze. But the young, plugged-in crowd came to celebrate, not necessarily to buy. “The World’s First Perfect Zine,” a new print publication from the author of a well-known blog devoted to reviews of album reviews, was holding a release party. Along with a contribution by the novelist Tao Lin, the zine includes writing by members of the groups Vampire Weekend, Das Racist and jj, among others.

In what could be an intriguing — or depressing — glimpse into the future of record stores, all those extra bodies in the room didn’t necessarily translate into extra business. “There was a remarkably low number of kids who came in there and said, ‘I haven’t seen this, I’ll pick it up,’” observed Other Music co-owner Josh Madell, a day after the event. The zine’s editor, pseudonymous Pitchfork reviews blogger David Shapiro, didn’t dispute the point. “Part of the reason was that the store was so packed that browsing for CDs and records wasn’t really physically possible,” he explained, in an email response to questions. “But beyond that, of course, people don’t really buy records that much anymore — especially people in a small, hyper-Internet-savvy subset of young New Yorkers.”

The episode neatly illustrates a fundamental paradox facing record store owners in 2011. Many music fans romanticize the record store as a source of both hard-to-find culture and local community. “It was a library and a clubhouse,” as director Cameron Crowe, one of the ultimate nostalgists, told the authors of the 2009 book “Record Store Days.” At the same time, however, record stores are just that — stores — and ever-fewer consumers are choosing to buy the little pieces of plastic they sell. For record stores overall, then, the outlook appears bleak.

I would recommend you read the rest of the article here

It is just the latest article about whether record shops can survive and an interesting read but most of it has of course been said before. What is irritating is some of the “solutions” have been said before and will be said again while being patently untrue in the “real world”. The article itself confirms this. Top of the list is being told that putting on interesting events and being at the heart of the artistic and wider community is what is needed. Events (mainly in-stores) will not lead to many sales if well attended and may easily not be well attended if at all. No matter how much a shop supports local artists they will always for most be at the fringes as artists look to sell on bandcamp and at gigs. Avalanche is luckier than most I suspect in the support it does receive and only last week the Bwani Junction in-store was a big success on all levels and the album has continued to sell both in the shop and online. Meanwhile only two days later the much lauded Monoganon played to 9 people comprising of friends, a couple of customers and a couple of tourists. The tourists bought a CD from the band for £2.

This year we had a new phenomenon with young kids coming in to buy Avalanche t-shirts before they went away to university. I certainly recognised some of them and many bought posters to take away with them too. Virtually all commented that it was a matter of pride their hometown had such a cool record shop but few had actually ever bought music from me. Most had been in before for posters. Now that is an important part of what we do now so I am not complaining but it shows the shift of emphasis. Similarly our online sales have increased recently helped by the Frightened Rabbit sales but certainly not just that. The most notable increase is people from Edinburgh ordering online. These are strange times indeed !

We have just had three very busy days in the shop and exactly 50% of the sales were second hand vinyl. The big collection has helped but we had a lot of good vinyl already. We sold none of the Snow Patrol album. I still believe there is a way forward just not the one most often put forward.  

The end of the article sums things up nicely.

Shapiro, “The World’s First Perfect Zine” editor, aptly summed up the conundrum. ”The way I feel about patronizing record stores,” he wrote in an email, “is probably the way everyone feels about things they know they should be doing but don’t actually do enough: heading to Occupy Wall Street after work, doing the pile of dishes in the sink and sparing their roommates, leftists not shopping at liberal-seeming megachains (Urban Outfitters, Whole Foods) whose owners hold beliefs and donate money to politicians that are inimical to leftism. I’m glad there are people who do these things, and if I had the constitution to do what I believed in 100 percent of the time I would buy all of my music at record stores, but alas … ” Unfortunately for record-store enthusiasts, it’s not a perfect world.

Monoganon in-store 4.45pm Wednesday 16th November

Who the hell are Monoganon?!  Well, they are the songs and sounds of Fence Home Game / Hallowe’en favourite, Mr John B McKenna – ably assisted by a bunch of his pals.

Debut LP, Songs To Swim To, is a collection of seven dreamy fuzz-folk laments.  John B’s lyrics dive in and out of a sea of consciousness (like a sublime mixture of Syd Barrett, Elliott Smith and Jeff Mangum), with shifting acoustic guitar patterns keeping everything afloat.  A plaintively progressive and thoroughly melodic album – this is a true gem.  courtesy of Fence


That’s right they mentioned Jeff Mangum so absolutely no pressure at all !

Tip No.1 – Don’t release your album on cassette

As expected my tweet about not releasing albums on cassette got an immediate response from others extolling its virtues. I don’t know anybody who remembers cassettes first time round that looks back on them fondly. From the quality of the sound to the rather limited artwork cassettes had nothing going for them except the convenience of their size. No point saying any more so let’s fast forward to the present. Cassettes are cheap and easy to produce for anybody with next to no budget but then so are CDRs and put in the right packaging they can look great. Even the CDRs themselves now look good. More importantly assuming artists are hoping people may actually want to pay for their music nobody outside of musicians, labels, some bloggers and all their closest friends think the cassette is a format with any merit at all. Now clearly as a vanity project artists and labels are free to do as they wish but in the real world of trying to promote and sell music to those left still wishing to invest in physical product cassettes are simply a daft way to go about it.

Others have compared the resurgence of cassette with the resurgence of vinyl. However there are at least two important differences. Firstly vinyl is a hugely superior format to listen to music on than cassette and many would indeed say the best of all the available formats. Secondly while its popularity waned it was still a viable format while cassettes became obsolete. Even now if an artist is only going to release one format then the advice I would have to give would be to do so on CD. I would never advise against vinyl except on the financial basis that the label/artist might lose a lot of money.

I have to work on the premise that artists and labels are looking to maximise the number of customers who buy their releases. If that is the case then the best possible combination of physical releases is a vinyl with a free CD and a CD available to buy separately. The added advantage to this is that if you are pressing 500 vinyl and CDs then the extra 200/300 CDs (assuming you are confident buyers will mainly want vinyl) aren’t a big extra cost. A vinyl with a download cuts out all the customers that just want a CD and a vinyl with CD combination only leaves the customers choosing between paying more than they would wish for a CD (and having a vinyl they have no use for) or not buying it at all. There isn’t an artist Avalanche sells that I would be confident was more popular on vinyl so a label would need to be sure of strong vinyl sales elsewhere to press say 500 vinyl and 800 CDs.

So if all you can afford is to make up a few CDs there is at least the consolation that you will still be appealing to the largest part of the market. Your peers may not approve but the customers will !

Bwani Junction in-store today

Thanks to everybody who came along to the Bwani Junction album launch today

Farewell Poetry at The Third Door Monday 14th November

Avalanche favourites Farewell Poetry are playing at The Third Door on Lothian Street along with Matthew Collings, Hiva Oa and Opul this Monday starting at 7pm.

A collective comprised of Parisian musicians and an Anglo-saxon poet and filmmaker, FareWell Poetry is a bold and electrifying project that combines performance film, musical experimentation (drone, post-rock, orchestrated minimalism) and spoken word poetry.

Situated somewhere between a sleep-starved Man Ray, the musical ventures of the Beat Generation poets, the visually flamboyant performances of Throbbing Gristle or the Velvet Underground and the feverous instrumental intensity of Constellation’s first releases, FareWell Poetry draws creative inspiration from a trance-like state and hungers for new boundaries to push back, new doors to open.

Up there with Thin Lizzy by Ian Rankin

‘Better than Josh Pearson!’

That was what it said on the hand-printed sticker. The sticker was attached to an odd-looking CD in the new releases section of the Edinburgh record shop, Avalanche. The shop’s proprietor, Kevin Buckle, was the man behind the claim. I asked him about the album. It was by an Aberfeldy-based group called Star Wheel Press. Their singer also ran a gallery and made his own woodcuts. He had just delivered the albums that morning. If I cared to open the cellophane wrapper, I would smell fresh ink. ‘And the music’s pretty good, too,’ Kevin added.

Reader, I took the CD home with me. The cardboard sleeve was still damp to the touch. The artist, Ryan Hannigan, had signed, numbered and dated each copy. Mine was 101. And, when I got round to playing it, a smile spread across my face. It was fine stuff, witty and wise, with solid tunes and a playful tone leavened by occasional nostalgia.

I said as much on Twitter, then bumped into Ryan at a craft fair in Edinburgh, after which we started to correspond. By summer, he was asking me if I fancied curating a music festival in Aberfeldy.

‘How much work would it be?’

‘You just need to pick the bands; we’ll do the rest.’


But which bands? Who would be available and willing? I think my original wish-list had ten names on it, but only six would be needed (three gigs per night over the weekend). The first six we asked all said yes. And that’s why I found myself driving up to misty Perthshire a week or so ago. The town hall was the venue. Hot food and cold drinks could be had. The sound engineer was, I was told, a genius. Everyone was going to sound great.

An hour before kick-off, people started arriving. The buzz was palpable. First on stage was John Hunt, a blues musician with a Tuesday-night Edinburgh residency at the Jazz Bar. I’d seen him play a few times and knew he’d get the place going. John built his own guitar from bits of a table and an in-car stereo. I once called him ‘Seasick Steve in a science lab’ and I stick by that.

He played a great 30-minute set, and was followed by local heroes Star Wheel Press, who had the audience eating out of their hands. Indeed, an encore was demanded. Having no songs left in their repertoire, an old favourite was played for a second time that night. No pressure on headline act James Yorkston.

But James had an ace up his sleeve. He had brought an Indian musician with him, the two playing together for only the second or third time. They concocted a heady, spacey sound which swirled around the hall, taking the audience to other, mystical places, entrancing and surprising us in the process. Exiting the hall at midnight, into streets fogged with street-lamp yellow, I felt I’d seen something pretty special.

On the second day, the tension had evaporated. The bands and audiences were enjoying themselves, sound checks had been a breeze, the sun was shining in memory of Guy Fawkes, and a covers band in the town square belted out Deep Purple and Steely Dan as locals shopped for preserves and kindling.

I visited Ryan’s gallery and saw the woodcuts he used for the album sleeves, along with the actual press after which his band is named.

‘Ready for tonight?’ I asked.

‘Oh, yes.’

That first night, backstage had played host to a grand total of eight musicians, but now things were a lot more crowded. The three-piece power pop of Ballboy kicked things off. People in the audience had come from as far afield as Skye and Kendal. They were out to have a good time and Ballboy got them in the mood.

Meantime I was standing off to one side, wondering why my patter was so poor. I’d gone onstage at the start of the night and told the crowd ‘There might be fireworks outside, but we’ll have plenty here, too, at least musically.’ Hopeless. And all captured by two camera crews — one covering the whole weekend for festival sponsor Dewar’s Whisky, the other from the BBC, filming me for a documentary.

When each band came off the stage, I did impromptu interviews with them for these cameras. ‘How was that for you? First time in Aberfeldy?’ Hopeless squared.

So praise be for the music. A Band Called Quinn put on quite a show, singer Louise Quinn in sequins, with film-clips projected on to the curtain behind her. I asked her where the band’s keyboard-player was. ‘Barcelona,’ she explained. ‘He’s touring with Aidan Moffat.’ A pause. ‘He did say he’d come back for one night if we really needed him. We told him not to be daft.’

After another slick changeover, Admiral Fallow took charge. Sections of the crowd had become boisterous, but the band gave as good as they got, and when they lined up at the front of the stage to sing one number a cappella you could hear a pin drop. Their set lasted a crisp, filler-free hour, and ended with a tremendous encore of Paul Simon’s ‘You Can Call Me Al’.

And who was that, chuckling inanely as he cut some shapes off to one side of the stage? Yes, it was me. The weekend had been glorious from start to finish. ‘Best gig in Aberfeldy since Thin Lizzy,’ one local told me. Praise indeed.

Here’s to next year.

A King Kurt in-store would have been just too good to be true

I did think of trying to get a King Kurt in-store for Friday. However there was no way of saying this week is Big Cock week at Avalanche without sounding …………. 

Monoganon in-store 4.45pm Wednesday 16th November

Who the hell are Monoganon?!  Well, they are the songs and sounds of Fence Home Game / Hallowe’en favourite, Mr John B McKenna – ably assisted by a bunch of his pals.

Debut LP, Songs To Swim To, is a collection of seven dreamy fuzz-folk laments.  John B’s lyrics dive in and out of a sea of consciousness (like a sublime mixture of Syd Barrett, Elliott Smith and Jeff Mangum), with shifting acoustic guitar patterns keeping everything afloat.  A plaintively progressive and thoroughly melodic album – this is a true gem.  courtesy of Fence


That’s right they mentioned Jeff Mangum so absolutely no pressure at all !

Monoganon – Songs To Swim To by monoganon