Tuesday, 16 September 2014



Time Warp: Feeling Groovy


Blackbyrd, an indie shop on Whyte Avenue, is where we browse and usually buy our music. We dropped in late last week on the heels of time out of town to pick up the new Robert Plant release and one of the various packaging formats of ‘CSNY 1974.’ The deep and narrow space had been transformed. The vinyl inventory had expanded like Star Trek tribbles and had all been shifted to the front of the store. ‘Wow,’ I said to the owner, ‘you’re betting the house.’ ‘This is where it’s at,’ he replied, his revenue, his future.


Bob Dylan, Keith Richards and Neil Young are all on record croaking or mewing the same song: MP3 files suck. Those guys know a thing or two about sound. According to last Thursday’s Globe and Mail digital album sales have declined by 12-per-cent during the first six months of 2014 alone. Forty-eight hours earlier U2 foisted their new album on 800 million iTunes subscribers, many of whom were annoyed by the virtual intrusion of an insistent gift which kept on giving even as their average monthly spend is down to a meagre $1.10 (US).


There’s something happening here/What it is ain’t exactly clear


In recent years there’s been an intriguing debate regarding the fate of the novel as our most popular art form. Have long form cable television series like ‘The Wire’ or ‘The Sopranos’ doomed popular prose? The book versus script smack-down has a fighter in each corner, a contender.


Is the record album dead? CD sales have been declining for years. Digital piracy has chomped more bytes and bits out of the music industry than home taping ever did in the 80s. Defecting iTuners are migrating toward glorified radio, music streamers like Spotify or Rdio (what is it about digital companies and vowels, there’s always too many or never enough). And yet there’s no pending immediate and viable alternative to the LP and its basic menu of three hits and filler.


Somehow the good old ways survive, the products produced with craftsmanship and uncut corners. Sales of vinyl in Canada alone have bulleted by over 50-per-cent compared to last year. Still, this huge, promising gain is relatively little in a fluxed, flummoxed sector of the recording industry; the very idea of multi-platinum album sales seems as quaint as shellac 78s and sheet music from the Brill Building. If you’re of a certain vintage, today’s vinyl prices are hideously shocking, but at least you can make out the liner notes; if you don’t know any better a great disc of black plastic inserted into big art is a remarkably cool innovation for discerning ears.

Another indicator of the modest health of the LP’s vital signs is competition. Blackbyrd has staked out its niche. As has Permanent Records, another indie shop, just a few blocks away. There’s a third record store a little farther along the avenue just across the CPR tracks. A remarkable trio in a city the size of Edmonton and in a neighbourhood the size of Old Strathcona. Obviously these three businesses all figure they can make a healthy go of it which means there’s hope for music fans and artists alike.

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