As I’ve explained in my recent (if infrequent) posts to this blog, I’ve somewhat recently become obsessed with the collection of music. I’ve always had a passion for music as well as a passion for collecting; that’s all been discussed before. But during my quest to collect the entire back catalogues of my favourite bands and musicians, I’ve noticed a lot of differences between releases on different labels—especially with reference to quality control.
With CD releases by different labels there will be slight differences and variations in the packaging, liner notes, and artwork but there’s usually no difference sonically speaking. A CD is a CD is a CD, unless it’s a SACD, or a SHM-CD pressed in Japan, in which case some would argue that it’s better.
When it comes to records, however, I have found that the record label you choose to source your music from can mean the difference between hearing a beautiful melody, or hearing a cacophony of crack- and pop-laden disharmony and surface noise. The best example of this that I can offer would be the various releases I own by Belle and Sebastian. I have all of their albums and quite a few singles, albeit not all from the same label or pressing plant, and I have noticed some major recurring issues with anything released by one of the labels charged with distributing their music.
As far as my collection is concerned, I own 8 releases by Matador Records, 5 by Jeepster Recordings and 12 by Rough Trade. By far I have had the best experience with releases manufactured in the United Kingdom, and especially those released by Rough Trade, who have become my go-to label for B&S releases. Not only is the quality of their record pressings high (no surface noise, no skips or pops, no issues whatsoever) but their LP jackets and liner notes are printed on high quality card-stock and paper, and never feature misprints or errors.
I would pay Jeepster releases similar praise; I’ve had no sonic issues with them—other than some secondhand ones, but I blame that on the previous owners—although the quality of their LP jackets is somewhat lower. One of their releases that I own—”The BBC Sessions” (JPRLP018)—actually has the centre labels on each record on the opposite side,1 but that’s ultimately a small issue and one that doesn’t affect playback too adversely. Many Jeepster releases are older—they’re a smaller company, and they were released during a period of time wherein records weren’t popular. Considering this, I can’t really fault them for not having splurged on high quality card-stock and heavyweight vinyl.
Matador releases, however, are troublingly circumspect in quality. The first release of theirs I bought was “The Boy with the Arab Strap” (OLE 311-1), which came with tonnes of surface noise, visible scratches and scuffing across the entirety of Side A, and an annoying skip right at the beginning of the record that interrupts and ruins the intro.2 I first blamed this on the company that sold me the record, and decided that if I had further issues with them I’d simply do business somewhere else.
Subsequent records I purchased from that distributor were fine, however, and after buying a few more Matador releases from other sources I realised that this wasn’t a one time problem, but was entirely common amongst their 120g vinyl releases. I’ve not had the opportunity to listen to one they’ve released on 180g vinyl, so it’s entirely possible that they may take greater care with their more expensive releases. “Tigermilk” (OLE 361-0) suffers from similar scuffing across both sides of the disk, but is largely free of surface noise, there’s no skipping, and it suffers from few pops.
“Storytelling” (OLE 512-1) has a mis-aligned centre label that affects playback on one side, where a track has a loud pop which causes the needle to skip every time it’s played, and will slowly have an adverse effect on the rest of Side A. “Belle and Sebastian Write about Love” (OLE-944-1) came warped in the packaging, though I’ve been able to get it to flatten back out over time and it seems to play fine these days. The LP jacket of that release isn’t to the same quality as the Rough Trade release, though, which disappoints me.
“Last Trip/Suicide Girl” (OLE-950-7) is a surface noise mess, with crackles and pops to such an extent that I never bother listening to it. No amount of cleaning has done anything to remedy this, and I’ve come to the conclusion it must just be an awful pressing. Matador’s release of “God Help the Girl” (OLE 866-1)3 is actually fantastic, and lives up to Rough Trade standards, but this shouldn’t be cause for celebration—it should be standard faire.
When faced with the option of pre-ordering Belle and Sebastian’s latest compilation album, “The Third Eye Centre” (OLE-1038-0 / RTRADLP670), I opted to do so through Rough Trade’s webstore and wait for it to arrive from the UK because I didn’t trust the quality of Matador’s release. A consumer really shouldn’t have to worry about that sort of thing, especially considering the fact that Matador and Rough Trade—along with labels 4AD and XL Recordings—are owned by the same company, Beggars Group. This should place each label on an equal footing, and leaves no reason for such a difference in quality output by each of Beggars’ sub-labels.
Rough Trade, 4AD, and XL Recordings are all based in the UK (as is Beggars Group itself), with Matador being the only label operating in the United States. While I don’t own any releases by XL Recordings, the one 4AD release I own—Camera Obscura’s “Desire Lines” (CAD3314)—is somewhere between Matador and Rough Trade quality, featuring a few scuffs across the record but playing without issue or surface noise, and with high-quality LP jacket and inserts.
So then the blame must either fall to the manufacturing plant or company charged with pressing the records and printing the jackets for Matador, or remain with Matador for choosing to source their albums from a company with low quality output. I’ve bought many records pressed in North America that have had no issues—or at least nowhere near the issues of I’ve faced with Matador’s B&S releases—and the only Matador release that met the standards of other North American releases was the previously-mentioned “God Help the Girl”.4
One solution to Matador’s quality control problem has already presented itself; God Help the Girl’s “Stills” EP (RTRADST512) is a Rough Trade release, but was distributed in North America by Matador. They simply took the LP jacket from the UK release, and stuck a Matador logo sticker over the Rough Trade one. There’s no Matador catalogue number to be seen, and the centre label on the disk itself features the Rough Trade logo. This release—though in thinner than usual packaging, as it’s a 10″ EP and not a full LP release—fully lives up to Rough Trade standards, and is a pleasure to both listen to, and to behold.
Matador is undoubtedly unwilling to just re-label and redistribute Rough Trade releases in North America, but it would do them a world of good to raise the quality of their releases, especially in a day and age where vinyl records are making such a resurgence. Their customer base won’t abide low quality releases if they can get better ones for a slightly higher price.
Belle and Sebastian recently signed a recording contract with Matador Records, and I’m unsure of what this means with regard to future releases through Rough Trade. Up until this point they’ve released albums on Rough Trade in the UK and Matador handled the North American releases, but I’ve always assumed this was due to the companies being owned by the same parent label. If they’ve signed exclusively with Matador, there’s always the chance that Rough Trade will handle the release of future albums in the UK. If release and distribution of Belle and Sebastian’s catalogue is taken over by Matador’s UK branch, however, one can only hope they learn a thing or two from their sister-label and strive for the high quality releases the band is known for.
So Side A is B, C is D, etc. ↩
I’ve finally been able to remedy this with my 8th deep cleaning of the record’s grooves, but it still has the surface noise and crackling issues. ↩
Yes, this is not strictly Belle and Sebastian, but 85% of the performers on the record are members of B&S, and the songs are all written by Stuart Murdoch so I’ve lumped it in with their music on my shelf and in my collection. ↩
Interestingly, that release features the line “Manufactured in the USA and Canada under exclusive licence from Rough Trade Records, Ltd.” whereas other releases I have from Matador say nothing of being produced in multiple countries. Perhaps they farmed out the jacket construction to another company for that release. Or perhaps they were told to emulate the Rough Trade release if they wanted distribution rights, as 2004′s “Dear Catastrophe Waitress” was released in the US and UK on Rough Trade, and not on Matador at all. ↩
I am well aware that I never update this blog. I never really post anything to Twitter or Tumblr these days, either. Heck, I barely upvote anything on Reddit or Digg anything. I also hardly use Facebook, Google+, any social networks really. It’s not that I’m not active online, it’s moreso that my online efforts have been focused elsewhere.
The only places I have any activity these days are Last.fm and Instagram, and even then on Instagram I just post photos of new musical acquisitions, or whatever I happen to be listening to. I’m also pretty active on Discogs, adding releases that aren’t already there, or taking photos of those missing a photo that I happen to have in my collection.
So, really, if you’re wondering where I am online, or what I’m up to… it’s all musical. And not the creation of music, just the collection thereof. (Though there was quite a long period where I was attending a local bi-monthly karaoke night… these days the turnout is pretty sad and I’m busy with other things on the same day, so I stopped attending. That’s like creating music, right?)
As far as my music collecting is concerned, in 2012 I acquired a ridiculous amount of CDs. (113 albums/EPs/singles, the physical amount of CDs is closer to 200, some were two-disc albums, etc.) Throughout 2013 I’ve collected a good 50 or so additional CDs and have also started collecting vinyl records. Before you think I’m hopping upon some passing analogue bandwagon, I’ve always had records, cassettes, CDs, etc in my household. My parents owned multiple turntables, a full stereo system and quite an expansive record collection, so I was no stranger to “dropping the needle” (as kids like to call it these days) while growing up.
I have been fighting the urge to start collecting records since… 2010/11. Between 2008 and 2010 I was obsessed with purchasing all my music digitally, and couldn’t see the point in buying physical copies that I would then just have to rip and import into my iTunes library, and copy to my iPod. I was completely swept up in the instant gratification side of the enjoyment of music.
Before 2008 I hadn’t purchased a CD since 2006, when I purchased a copy of the Cirque du Soleil/Beatles album “Love” and a Barenaked Ladies album that I didn’t bother listening to until 2012 (“Barenaked Ladies Are Me/Men”), and before 2006 I think the last new album I purchased was Apoptygma Berzerk’s “Harmonizer” album in 2004, which I painstakingly imported from Germany through Amazon.de many moons ago.
(So how did I procure new music between 2004 and 2008? Well, considering I didn’t really possess the financial means to purchase any music, I resorted to piracy. I’ve since gone back and bought all the albums I was enjoying illegally though, so… karma restored.)
Anyway, in 2010 my parents replaced their standard CRT TV plugged into a Hi-Fi system with an “out-of-the-box” Home Theatre, and promptly put all their CDs and records (as well as the implements with which to play them) into storage, with little interest in ever retrieving them again. At that point in time I was very tempted to set up the Hi-Fi and take their music collection for myself, but it never really happened. Part of it was the fact that I didn’t want to seem like any more of a hipster than I already did, so I kiboshed my vinyl plans at that point in time.
In 2011 I started to collect way more music than ever before, but it was all digital, and it wasn’t until late 2011 that I considered purchasing some CDs… a plan which I went through with in early/mid 2012. I ended up collecting every CD Apoptygma Berzerk have ever released, as well as a multitude of other CDs of albums I had been enjoying for years digitally/illegally. The main push behind this was my interest in the album art and liner notes of albums–I noticed one day when re-ripping one of my first Apoptygma Berzerk CDs (titled “7″) that I had not bothered looking at the liner notes/extra artwork that came with the CD since I first bought it in 2004, and I was immediately overcome with nostalgia and memories of my life when I first got the album.
I remembered everything about the music, every note, every lyric, every subtle nuance to each track, as I had absorbed them many times throughout my 7 years of owning it, but I hadn’t really bothered to pick it up since I first ripped it (in dismal 192k CBR quality) after I first got it. Around that time I was re-ripping all my CDs in 256k AAC (I wouldn’t make the jump to lossless for a few more months) and something struck me about holding the album. The physical medium–the case, the liner notes, the CD, even the rear cover of the album all held strong memories. Perhaps those memories are associated with the imagery and the feeling of holding the object, but there was something there that I hadn’t felt since I first bought the album.
So that started a bit of a renaissance wherein I went and picked up all my old CDs, DVDs, video games, et al. and tried to dredge back up the memories of when I had first gotten each item in question. For instance, my main memories associated with “7″ were ordering the CDs from Amazon.de and having no clue if/when they’d arrive, opening them and being stunned and awed by the packaging before I had even heard more than “Non-Stop Violence”, arguably the most popular single from “7″. And the feeling of sitting on a bus one morning, with my old Rio One MP3 player and a pair of cruddy earbuds, listening to the album on the way to school. I felt isolated, distant, detached from my surroundings. I hadn’t made any friends, I hadn’t forged any connections with anyone and had only lived on the Sunshine Coast for a year. The only solace I found was in music and literature (and of course in conversations with online friends on IRC) and the lyrics of many of the songs on “7″ and “Harmonizer” really resonated with me then.
These days I have plenty of friends, plenty of acquaintances, I’ve lived here for a decade, know far too many people and generally don’t feel that way anymore. But sometimes, if I pick up the CD for “7″ or “Harmonizer” (and only the original ones I bought back in 2004, not any of the other versions of the album I’ve picked up in my quest to have the complete collected works of APB) I can get in touch with that memory and those feelings again, in a reminiscent way, and realise how much my life has changed since then. It’s a real eye-opener.
So with that in mind, I opted to expand my physical music collection. The concept of lossless audio also greatly intrigued me, as when I listened to music on headphones I could definitely tell the difference, and now that I have some quality speakers, I can’t stand anything bought off of the iTunes store or found elsewhere online unless it’s lossless. The main reason for my acquisitions was not only the album art and liner notes, but also forging new memories that have a physical and more tangible basis. There’s something special about holding an object that contains music that to which you’ve had so many memories and experiences, especially when it’s one you’ve owned for quite some time. Consider it a sort of soundtrack to your life. I wanted to make more of those sorts of memories so that in the future I could peer back into my past, just by picking up an album and hitting Play.
But I stuck solely to CDs. They were easy to rip, had high-quality audio on them, took up next to no space, and required no investment in new equipment to play them. In mid-2012 though, after amassing some CDs and while amassing even more, I did something that made me see the positive side to collecting records. I purchased a bunch of posters with album art from my favourite Belle and Sebastian albums (well, technically I don’t have a poster from my favourite B&S album, but I don’t need it) and affixed them all over my walls. I loved B&S’ music, but I loved their artwork and the typography and design that went into their albums even more. In my quest to emblazon their work across my living space I wished I could do so with all my favourite albums from all my favourite artists, I would love to have a larger version of the artwork and liner notes that accompanied the music… and then it struck me that records would allow me to do exactly that.
But I decided it would be too costly, records were too fragile, too expensive, I would need a new turntable, and I would stick with the B&S posters, and maybe grab an Apoptygma Berzerk and -M- poster as well. Time passed, I collected even more CDs, but still the nagging urge to have larger versions of the artwork was stuck in the back of my mind. One day while rooting through a storage room in the basement to find something, I found my grandparents’ turntable, it was small, light (in hindsight it’s of extremely poor quality and probably cost them all of $50) and I figured I would hook it up for nostalgia’s sake. There was a record left in it from the last time someone played it (I don’t actually have the jacket for that record, as it wasn’t among the rest of their things) so I dropped the needle, and sat back to listen to it and see what it was.
The record in question was Elvis’ “G.I. Blues”, the soundtrack from a film of the same name which I haven’t gotten around to watching yet, but I will tell you this, I fell in love with the music I was hearing. I had never bothered listening to Elvis before that (and still am not a fan of his overall body of work) but there is something about “G.I. Blues” that resonates with me. I left the turntable hooked up to a small stereo system I had set up in my hobby room (now more of a music room) and went about my day again, but every so often I kept wandering back into the room to listen to that same record again. Rather than download it digitally or try recording it to a .WAV file or something, I kept playing the record, as there was something special about sitting down and actually paying attention to the music I was enjoying, rather than putting it on and forgetting about it.
Since then I’ve obtained a digital copy as well for listening while I’m out and about, especially if a particularly catchy song gets stuck in my head and I just have to hear it, but other than that I only ever listen to it by sitting down, dropping the needle, and paying it my full attention. After that I started rooting through my grandparents’ record collection, as well as my parents’ record collection, and pulled out my favourites that they owned. Pretty quickly I switched that table out for the turntable I grew up with (a Realistic LAB-440) because it was of much higher quality, and it itself was rife with nostalgia.
I started digging through the records I had amassed from the two collections, when I stumbled upon one I had loved as a child, but had not heard for over 14 years–Neil Diamond’s “I’m Glad You’re Here With Me Tonight”. There were two specific songs I was in love with as a child that I had forgotten about completely, “Free Man in Paris” (a Joni Mitchell cover) and “Lament in D Minor/Dance of the Sabres”, by far my favourite Neil Diamond song. The first time I heard it was on a cassette tape in 1998 when my father was giving me a ride home from the ferry terminal at Saltry Bay in Powell River (I had just returned from visiting a friend of mine on Vancouver Island, which incidentally was my first time being apart from my parents for over 24 hours).
In the car we were having a fast-paced conversation all about my trip, all the things I had done and seen, and what my parents had been up to while I was away, etc., just catching up… when “Lament in D Minor/Dance of the Sabres” began to play, and both my father and I went quiet, and just listened to the song unfold. It was a very special moment for me, and is a very vivid memory. Every time I hear the song I have the same reaction: stunned silence and awe. It’s just a beautiful piece of music. My dad had forgotten it was on the cassette tape we were listening to, it was some mix-tape he had made years prior, and as soon as the song was over I asked him what it was, and why I hadn’t heard it before. We were a Neil Diamond family (and still are), we all agreed that his music was fantastic, and my parents had introduced me to all of his greatest hits, and all of their favourites… except that one.
My dad told me it was on a record that he never listened to anymore, and the next day I promptly set about searching for it. I had seen my parents play records before and had even done so once or twice myself, but nothing compares to the feeling I got when dropping that needle and I heard the song burst forth from the Hi-Fi speakers we had set up in our living room. I can still close my eyes and remember it perfectly, the feeling of the sunshine beaming through the windows, my reflection in the mirror beside me, the smell of the air, the feeling of my cat brushing against my leg during the song, what the album’s jacket felt like in my hands while I listened, and the silence that filled the house after the song ended.
Fast-forward to 2013, and my rediscovery of that song, and all those feelings came back. Even though it was only earlier this year, I still remember the feeling of rediscovering a part of myself I had lost. It was an intense and important moment. After that I was hooked, and I tried my best to put off purchasing any records or a new turntable, but finally gave up just before my birthday, and ordered myself a new turntable and a few records. The first record I bought was a 7″ single by Belle and Sebastian–”The Blues are Still Blue”, of which the B-Side is “Whisky in the Jar”, which is now one of my favourite B&S songs, even though it’s a cover of a cover of a classic Scottish folk song. The second record was another 7″ single by B&S, “Last Trip/Suicide Girl”, bonus tracks off of “Belle and Sebastian Write about Love”, an album I adore (and incidentally the first album I bought on vinyl). The same day I purchased a third record, this time 12″ but still a single/EP, “Come on Sister” again by B&S, solely for one track: “Blue Eyes of a Millionaire”, one of my favourite B&S songs which has a huge emotional connotation for me and several memories attached to it as well.
After that I was hooked, and I started to collect way more records than CDs. These days if I go to purchase a physical copy of an album, I do so on vinyl if it’s available, mostly for the giant artwork, but also for the experience of sitting down and paying attention to an album, as well as the difference in sound between a record and a CD–there’s something warmer about vinyl, but maybe that’s just in my imagination. Since I bought that first record I’ve only bought 8 CDs–most of which were never released on vinyl, some of which came packaged with an LP, and some of which were just ludicrously cheap so I couldn’t resist. These days I own a tonne of records and I absolutely love them. Just don’t call me a hipster if you see them, as I will point you in the direction of this treatise on why I shouldn’t be labeled as such, and it seems somewhat cruel to force the reading of it upon someone, as it’s so very, very lengthly.
This has been one of my favourite songs for quite some time now (read: 3-4 months) but I had no idea there was a video until extremely recently. As such, here it is! Y’all need to watch it.
Today, after scrobbling some tracks to Last.fm I decided to check my profile thereon, and see how my list of top 10 artists looked.
The first two didn’t phase me; I knew they’d be Apoptygma Berzerk and Belle & Sebastian, two of my absolute favourite bands. What did surprise me, however, was that -M- was in third place, albeit only by one song. I’ve only been listening to -M- for a few months (since June roughly, so 5 months now?) whereas I’ve been listening to the previous holder of third place–The Beatles–for about as long as you might expect anyone to have been doing so.
I decided to look at how many songs I owned by -M-, and how long it’d take to listen to them all (since iTunes readily offers that information up) and was astounded that I owned over 8 hours of his music. (I still haven’t collected all of his albums; I’m missing two live ones and the one that will be released in just under two weeks.)
After that I decided to compare the amount of music I had of each of the artists in first, second and third place, just for curiosity’s sake. (I was wondering if perhaps the only reason any given artist had a higher play count was because I had more songs by them.) 3rd place (-M-) was posted above.
Here’s 2nd place (Belle & Sebastian):
If you’re wondering about the difference in file size (you probably aren’t) the reason that more B&S songs take up less space is because all my -M- songs are ripped from CDs in Apple Lossless format, whereas my B&S songs are bought on the iTunes Store. I plan to eventually purchase all the B&S albums on CD, but… I just have yet to get around to it.
Next is 1st place (Apoptygma Berzerk):
A whopping 1.5 days worth of music, 15.46 GBs — Now to be fair, a lot of these are duplicate songs, whereas only two of the -M- songs are duplicates, and none of the B&S ones are. The reason for the duplicates is that I … got kind of stuck on APB for a while, and ended up purchasing every album and single they’ve released. I then decided it was a great idea to rip all of those, and put them in my iTunes library. I own 4 copies of their album “7″, because there was the first Norwegian release, the subsequent US release, the US re-release, and the German re-release. They all have slightly different tracklists and some feature bonus tracks, some have had the tracks changed due to copyright reason… it’s a very long story.
Anyway, let’s get “Back on Track” again (that’s an APB joke, don’t worry about it).
I looked further into the matter, and realized that the top 10 standings on Last.fm have more to do with my scrobbling habits than my lifetime listens; I somehow sort of forgot that I’ve listened to The Beatles way more than 801 times; I’ve simply only listened to them for 801 times since I started using Last.fm again in 2010/2011. (I signed up for it in 2004 when it was Audioscrobbler, used it, quit it, started again in 2008, stopped again, started late 2010/early 2011, and have been going strong ever since.)
For completion’s sake, here’s the totals of the rest of the top 10 artists I’ve listened to (in order, yay!):
- The Beatles – 265 items, 12.3 hours, 2.01 GB: 801 Scrobbles
- Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers - 169 items, 10.4 hours, 4.21 GB: 503 Scrobbles
- The Waking Eyes – 35 items, 2.1 hours, 907.1 MB: 488 Scrobbles
- Neil Diamond – 119 items, 7.2 hours, 2.22 GB: 394 Scrobbles
- Sean Lennon – 15 items, 55.3 minutes, 353.3 MB: 284 Scrobbles
- Justin Timberlake – 14 items, 1.2 hours, 500.8 MB: 264 Scrobbles
- Paul McCartney – 18 items, 1 hour, 301.5 MB: 247 Scrobbles
I wanted to listen to -M-’s "La bonne étoile", but didn’t feel like typing on my iPhone’s on-screen keyboard, so… I opted to use Siri. I picked up my iPhone, pressed the home button for 3 seconds to launch Siri and said: "Play La bonne étoile." Siri thought about it for a moment, and then said: "Sorry, I can’t find ‘bonnet wall.’"
It was at this point I realized that Siri set to "English (Canada)" obviously couldn’t search for music with French titles, and I still didn’t want to type "bonne" into Spotlight to launch the Music app, so I decided to open Settings, choose General, choose Siri, and set the language to French (Canada) and see if my pronunciation of "Jouer La bonne étoile" was close enough for it to properly search for, and play the song.
It turns out my "la"s sound like "le"s (but then again, Siri has trouble understanding me in English sometimes, so… maybe I can attribute it to the voice recognition) but it was still able to understand that I wanted to listen to "La bonne étoile"! So it played it, and at the end of the song I decided to thank it, to see what it would say. (Usually in English Siri replies with a slightly off-putting "I live to serve." That creeps me out.)
Siri then responded with the most flattering thing a phone has ever said to me: "Your smile is the most beautiful of rewards." I am also slightly concerned that Siri might be watching me through the front-facing camera on my iPhone, now. o.o
(Also, in my attempt to not have to type "bonne" once, I spent a minute messing with Siri’s settings to get it to play the song, had to switch it back afterward, and then typed "bonne" 8 times while writing this summation of events. I did not save any effort whatsoever.)
- Retrato Em Branco E Preto
2 hours and 15 minutes ago
- If I Needed Someone
2 hours and 18 minutes ago
- Don't Write Me Off
2 hours and 20 minutes ago
- Nostalgic Du Cool
2 hours and 24 minutes ago
- Psyko Bug
2 hours and 29 minutes ago
- Comic Strip
The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger
2 hours and 32 minutes ago
Registered : March 7, 2004, 12:27 am
Tracks Played : 36230
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