22 June 2007

SEVENS UP

As reported in The Guardian*, 7" singles are enjoying a bit of a resurgence in popularity recently. Of course, for some people, especially reggae obsessives, the format never went away - symbolic of the rich heritage of the Jamaican soundsystems, the humble 7" strikes a cultural chord that connects people from all walks of life. But what is significant here is that it's Indie/Rock groups like The White Stripes and Arctic Monkeys who are shifting big units right now. The share of the overall market is still minuscule, but despite the onslaught of download formats, the fact that 7" sales are on the increase does seem to defy logic. With cassettes already virtually extinct and CDs taking a hammering, why should this archaic format from the previous century still cling to life? With 12", you have that unbeatable warmth, bass-response and tactile ease of manipulation (when mixing) which digital has yet to fully achieve, so it's understandable that it remains the format of choice for many dance music lovers and djs, but why would your typical rock fan turn to the 7" in this day and age? Surely not for the fidelity alone? Maybe it's just because they look cute. I think they look pretty cute, myself. If nothing else, the 7" single is a design classic. And although it's hardly an antidote to file-sharing, it does at least slow the process down a little and may encourage the consumer to invest in an original, collectible edition.

It's a 'hard format' that can still inspire. I very rarely get excited when someone sends me an e-mail link to some promo MP3s they want me to review. Often I don't even bother to check the tunes. But every now and then the postman will turn up with a surprise 7" package and my attention is instantly captured. Last week I received not one, but two 7" singles from those nice people at Automation Records, all the way from Seattle in the US of A (see pic, above). Up to now, this little indie label has primarily released on CD format, but these are their first 7" products, sheathed in good quality card covers with full-colour artwork, proper white inner-bags and the whole package protected in a clear plastic outer-sleeve. It probably ain't gonna do much for the environment, but gosh don't they look lovely!

In terms of the actual music contained within, the first one is a split EP, with side 1 featuring three tracks from electro-mosh-punksters Abiku. I reviewed their album last year, and in truth not much has changed stylistically, although I will say that they work better in this format as a short, sharp dose of adrenalin. Side 2 is a couple of tracks from Kid Camaro, which veer closer to my orbit with pastoral 8-bit melodies over fidgety breakbeats. The sub-junglist contortions of "Dusk" hark back to the almost twee homespun drill 'n bass experiments of Aphex Twin circa "Hangable Autobulb", but with more of a vintage eighties computer game vibe. I wouldn't say I was seduced, but definitely charmed by it's advances.

The second EP, from Red Squirrels, is less easy to categorise. I guess it could be loosely allied to the latest 'Noise' movement currently bubbling under in the States (Wire readers will know what I'm on about) featuring several short impressionistic pieces, assembled from a patchwork of scrambled voices, muffled atmospherics, crumpled percussive loops and glancing instrumental moments. However, the opening track, called "The Painting", is a disarmingly direct song built soley from an almost painfully overdriven bluesy guitar riff with a strong guest vocal from Nichole. Go figure. The Squirrels have a Myspace page, if you want to make friends with them.

I must say I've enjoyed taking this latest little peek into the underbelly of American 'outsider' music, though if I'd been sent these over the 'net as MP3s, it's quite possible I would never have bothered listening to them. And cd-r promos could never match the tangible delights of these well-packaged 7" vinyl gifts. Perhaps it's a shallow thing to admit, but I felt inclined to like these records before I'd even heard a note, and that's got to be due to the format and presentation. Always judge a book by it's cover, right..?

* Guardian link spotted via this Dissensus thread.

1 comment:

  1. Gutter - are you aware of the Hard Format blog I run with 300dpi? 'Reaching for the sublime in music design' - check it out at: www.hardformat.org. If you're interested in contributing a couple of posts, let me know.

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