Lindsey Buckingham & Christine McVie Lindsey Buckingham / Christine McVie

 

 

Lindsey Buckingham / Christine McVie artwork

 

A Fleetwood Mac album in all but name, the two esteemed songwriters bring their signature tics and genius songwriting, though the rush wears thin as the album progresses.

A good chorus can put a whole lot of questions to bed—about a song, about a band, about a reason to get up in the morning, you name it. Fleetwood Mac, whose catalog is so festooned with world-bestriding hits that they can do a best-of reunion tour and leave “Sara” and “Hold Me” off the setlist, know this better than just about any other band. Their colossal pop collaborations kept them together through years of intense interpersonal turmoil and full decades of cordial détente. Like, in the grand scheme of things, is it really that big a deal if you left your bass-player husband for the light guy if the result is “You Make Loving Fun”?

Which brings us to the curious case of Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie, a Fleetwood Mac album in all but name—and the conspicuous absence of the third member of the band’s songwriting trinity. Ending what seemed like a permanent departure from the band, keyboardist and vocalist McVie returned to the fold in 2014 for a massive tour. After it wrapped, she and guitarist/vocalist/production whiz Buckingham headed back to the studio together for the first time in well over a decade, with drummer Mick Fleetwood and bassist John McVie joining them. As for Stevie Nicks, well: “What we do is go on the road, do a ton of shows and make lots of money. We have a lot of fun. Making a record isn’t all that much fun.”

Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie feels like a retort to Nicks’ statement. For McVie, the return to the band has been creatively invigorating as well as financially lucrative (Nicks herself gets that, facetiously describing McVie’s only other alternative to heading back to the studio: “‘Now I’m just gonna go back to London and sit in my castle for two years?’ She wanted to keep working”); Buckingham’s a born striver who kills time between tours by adding guitar texture to Nine Inch Nails records. Going on the road and making money is “what we do”? The pair’s collaboration feels like a “speak for yourself” in album form. To paraphrase a Rumours classic, they’ll make recording fun!

Their self-titled album is front-loaded with jams, with the kind of choruses that dissolve doubt on first listen. “Sleeping Around the Corner,” the album’s opener, sees Buckingham all but race through the first verse, just a couple of lines sung in an affected rasp, before unleashing a big and bouncy bass-driven chorus that springs into being like an inflatable castle at a kid’s birthday party. “Lord, I don’t wanna bring you down/No, I never meant to give you a frown” he and his multi-tracked army croon. Does it matter that he could have just sang “make you frown,” which is something that people actually say, instead of “give you a frown,” which is awkward and goofy and almost childlike? Yes, but only in the sense that it’s better this way. Keep in mind, this is a dude who kicked off his band’s bestselling record with a song that invited its subject to “lay me down in the tall grass and let me do my stuff.” His line, “We made sweet love over and over,” is refined to the point of esotericism by comparison.

McVie takes point on the following song, “Feel About You.” No songwriter in rock does infatuation better than McVie—“Feel” may not join that august company of her immortally swoony “Everywhere,” but it’s love-struck smiley fun nonetheless. Its crunchy beat and marimba hook that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Haim album, and its almost doo-woppy chorus is just a “tell me more, tell me more” away from Grease-level crowd-pleasing territory.

After the strong, finger-picked Buckingham solo feature of “In My World,” however, the rush of hearing these two pop-rock titans team up starts to wear off. You hate to play armchair-psychiatrist with a group dynamic as complex as this, but it’s hard to resist the suspicion that the easy-going, Nicks-free composition and recording process left ideas unsharpened or undeveloped. McVie’s piano ballad “Game of Pretend” opens with a gorgeous melody that evokes Roxy Music’s “Sunset,” but its lush build-up leads to a verbose chorus that lacks the economic punch and power of her own “Songbird.” Buckingham’s “On With the Show,” an ostensible paean to “stand[ing] with my band,” closes with the phrase “let’s get it on” repeated approximately 36 times in a minute and a half, making you wonder why you wouldn’t just sit back down. And Mick’s big drums on “Too Far Gone” can’t disguise the pro forma nature of its boogie-woogie rock-by-numbers. “Goin’ underground,” McVie sings in the chorus—to what, the wine cellar?

Granted, successful moments are sprinkled throughout the whole album. As writers and performers, Buckingham and McVie are simply too talented, too engaging, too endearing for it to be any other way. To be a Fleetwood Mac fan is to feel like you’ve received teary text messages from its vocalists, like estranged friends turning to you in their hour of need. The ache in McVie’s voice when she opens the mid-tempo mid-album “Red Sun” with, “I wonder where you are as I fall upon my bed” is as tangible as a late-night mattress. Buckingham concludes “Love Is Here to Stay” with a melodic cascade that’ll have you skipping down the nearest mountainside at your earliest convenience. Just hearing their vocal tics—the way McVie pronounces “night” as “nigh-eeet,” or the catlike meow vowel twist Buckingham adds everytime he sings the word “down”—is enough to delight. Lindsey Buckingham/Christine McVie really does make listening fun—just not fundamental.

Tame Impala “Eventually”

When Tame Impala released “Eventually”, the fourth single from the Currents, a caption on Instagram noted, “Last one before the album.” If that’s true, the track marks the end to a particularly masterful streak for the Kevin Parker-led Australian band, and the start of something else. After the dramatic gestures of the future-RAM epic “Let It Happen” and quiet-storm confessional “‘Cause I’m a Man”, followed by the chugging, sepia-tone miniature “Disciples”, this stately, finger-snapping synth ballad might, at least superficially, risk getting drowned out in the promotional noise. It’s too well-crafted for that fate, though.

“Last one before something else” might also describe the theme of “Eventually”. Like someone pulling the Band Aid right off to abbreviate the pain, or just following Robyn’s advice from “Call Your Girlfriend”, Parker is inflicting harsh emotional wounds as mercifully as his plainspoken narrator can manage: This might hurt a little bit, but it won’t be that way forever, right? It’s easily a breakup song, although as Parker told Under the Radar, it’s ambiguous enough to leave room for other interpretations. And anyway, here he’s less focused on what’s ending than what might later begin. “I know that I’ll be happier/ And I know you will, too,” he repeats in the soft-focus chorus, pausing just long enough before adding the title phrase. Eventually. It’s the hope the word contains, potentially false, that makes it devastating.

The song arrives at a time when Tame Impala find themselves in their own phase of transition. They’re kaleidoscoping outward after Lonerism‘s electronic-savvy expansion of 2010 debut Innerspeaker; they’re building on their covers of late-period Michael Jackson and late-period OutKast, as well as their frontman’s appearance on the latest Mark Ronson full-length. In a recent Reddit AMA, Parker singled out “Eventually” as a Tame Impala song that’s still “very moving” for him. If it’s a harbinger of what to expect from Currents‘ nine remaining unreleased tracks, I know that many of us will be happier, and that “eventually” means July 17. But for now, it’s enough to be moved, in motion, suspended in time.

Via Pitchfork

With vinyl sales on the rise, this startup lets anyone press their own LP

We often talk about the lost magic of owning a physical thing, whether that’s books, CDs, or the wondrous black slab of plastic that is the vinyl record. Holding that object in your hand, flicking through its dog-eared pages and admiring its intricately crafted artwork, imparts a sense of ownership that you just can’t replicate with a Kindle or a convenient subscription to Spotify. The trouble is, making physical objects is hard, not to mention expensive. That’s especially true of the vinyl record, where pressing plants aren’t exactly ten a penny. And yet, despite the high cost of manufacturing and end price to the consumer, vinyl sales are very much on the up.

According to Nielsen, vinyl album sales in the US have grown an impressive 260 percent since 2009, reaching 9.2 million units last year, while in the UK sales reached a 20-year high of 1.29 million in 2014. Of course, these numbers are but a tiny fraction of music sales as a whole, but—regardless of whether it’s customers chasing that creamy analogue sound, or there are just a lot more hipsters around these days—there’s a demand to be satisfied. But if you’re not a big record label with deep pockets, getting the capital together to produce a run of vinyl is tricky. Even if you do raise the cash, how do you decide how many to make? Too few and people are left wanting; too many and you’re left with stock you can’t sell.

It’s a problem that the recently launched Qrates is hoping to solve. Qrates is an intriguing mix of the old and the new, consisting of a vinyl pressing service, a crowdfunding system, and a digital store all rolled into one. Using the site’s online tool, you can upload your music, design the label and sleeve, choose your preferred playing speed (33 or 45), the weight and colour of the actual record, and how many you’d like (there’s currently a nice low minimum order of 100). Qrates gives you an estimated cost, and then works with a regional pressing plant to fulfil your order.

Enlarge / Qrates’ site makes designing your vinyl records a relatively easy process.

Instead of paying upfront for the pressing, the idea is to fund it with pre-orders directly from fans. Similar to other crowdfunding services like Kickstarter, Qrates’ projects are only pressed if the final funding goal is reached. Artists can upload songs for download and offer branded merchandise to fans to help push sales through the maximum 90-day funding period. Qrates can also be used as a regular vinyl pressing service by building a project and then simply fronting all the money yourself. The site says that it takes around six weeks for the records to be pressed, during which time you can tide fans over with digital downloads and updates.

While Qrates shares some similarities with Bandcamp, which also allows artists to push their wares directly to fans, the site’s vinyl manufacturing, and in particular the ease with which you can place an order, is a unique proposition. It fares pretty well on price versus going directly to a pressing plant too, and removes the much of the associated fuss in the process. That said, Qrates takes 15 percent of anything you fund or sell through it, and that’s without any form of distribution to actual record stores—or what’s left of them anyway. There’s also no indication that you’ll receive the level of same input into the mastering process that you would by going direct.

Mastering is particularly important when dealing when vinyl, due to its analogue nature. With digital, it’s far easier to push the extremes of treble and bass for a snappier sound, but with vinyl they have to be reigned in to avoid distortion and skips. The length of record also affects its sound, with shorter songs allowing for deeper grooves, and thus more volume. Back when vinyl was the format to listen to music on, great vinyl mastering engineers were extremely sought after, and you can often find their signatures etched into the record around where the label is placed. Thanks to the proliferation of digital music, there are simply less vinyl mastering engineers and decent lathes doing the rounds these days.

Still, Qrates’ attempt to commoditise a difficult-to-access segment of the music industry is an interesting development in what is, strangely, a growing market. The likes of Spotify and Tidal may be out there fighting for your digital dollars, but maybe the smart money for artists is in ignoring them completely and embracing a 100-year-old technology instead.