Cracking the Code of Rock Record Write-Ups
Jun 12 2012
Record shopping? Unless you’re a total internet nerd who already knows what everything sounds like, or if you’re not an anachronistic sad sack who never goes for anything more adventurous than Pixies B-sides because that’s all you know or want to know, or if you’re just not the type whose record-buying regimen involves camping out at the preview turntable like some kind of self-serious amateur scholar, you’re gonna find yourself buying things you don’t actually like every once in a while. That’s the breaks. But it’s a bummer when you get home, flush with new tunes, two pounds lighter from a thinner wallet and the road dump you took because record shopping somehow always makes you shit, and then you put one of these new curios on your turntable and it makes you :(
Insider tip: record stores actively tempt you to buy as much shit as you possibly can, and they don’t particularly care how much you like it. Don’t get us wrong, record stores are not scam artists. They would all prefer that you like everything you buy from them, but taste is a tricky thing, nobody’s perfect, and they are a business not a friendness.
The good news for them is if you don’t like something, hey, caveat emptor, and also they can make a much bigger profit margin on used records than they can on the new stuff they sell, so it's a nice double dip if they can sell something twice. Not that your average friendly neighborhood clerks are conscious of that, or anything else for that matter. Their drug-addled brains are usually too busy giving what’s left of their full concentration to things like, “Ok, gotta check in the Matador order, then clean the bathroom, then write three bullshit sentences about why anybody on earth should buy the new Xiu Xiu album, then eat lunch…”
Record store clerks A) are generally more subtle than regular pushy expensive jeans store retail sales people because they actually like their shitty low-paying job enough to want the business to succeed, so while they don't want to steer you wrong, they’re also probably going to stop short of telling you “don’t buy that, it sucks,” and B) are bombarded by every single record ever, all the fucking time, like 40 hours a week, which is enough to make anybody kind of dislike what most of us refer to as “music,” so for them to perk up and notice anything means that it’s probably going to be some kind of confrontational anti-music scree with arrhythmic non-English screaming and moaning and third-grade quality guitar playing. Relying on these people for help can be hairy territory. They don’t anti-recommend anything, and the stuff they’re actually psyched about can turn your living room into Bad Vibes Town, USA.
And that’s just if you talk to them. The shit they write down on those little “why you should buy this” abstracts you find attached to the actual records is even more devious, because they had some time to think about it. The good news is, there’s a code to those, and we can break it for you.
Actual definition: Either the person who put this out really likes the way this record sounds or they are trying to trick you into paying too much money for a reissue of something you can get for $5 used, and the only way to know the difference is if it says “Billy Joel” somewhere on it.
Actual definition: RUN AWAY.
Actual definition: This record costs $3.99 and it will make you chuckle one time.
“[band’s name] is back!”
Actual definition: This record does not need to exist.
Actual definition: Brutal.
“…composition…” or “…song structure…”
Actual definition: You should buy this if you are pretentious, and then you can talk about its “composition” and “song structure” to your other pretentious friends.
Actual definition: If you don't like the image you're looking at enough to pay $12 to own it, don't buy this.
Actual definition: It’s like music but for people who hate music.
Actual definition: We already own this, and we want to feel good about ourselves for spending our entire lives buying everything vinyl that’s been smushed between two plates instead of doing something else with our time, like, you know, helping people or something.
Actual definition: Same price as any of these other records, but for less music.
“…featuring members of…”
Actual definition: This is a less good band than other previous bands whose records we do not currently have in stock because they all sold out six years ago.
Actual definition: All of us who work here always wanted this record back when we couldn’t get it, and now that we have it we’ll be over it soon.
“…from 1972…” or “…back in 1965!”
Actual definition: This record is not necessarily timeless, but it does sound like something that could have happened 5 years later than it did, so if you like to think of yourself as a “rock historian,” you can one-up your pretentious friends by saying “…composition? I have a record by a band that was doing the same thing in 1972!”
Actual definition: Just buy this fucking thing, you plaid-shirted, Tom’s shoes wearing, predictable, simpering clod of a human ATM machine. It’s not like you don’t have the money from your lucrative but soulless graphic design and/or advertising job.
Actual definition: If this record is not actually one of the 17 million “Killed By Death” punk compilations, then it probably sounds like one of the 17 million “Killed By Death” punk compilations.
“…KILLER [all caps]…”
Actual definition: We really think it's good. "KILLER" is like the holy grail of words to us.
Actual definition: Friendly reminder to go to the Can section and buy every record in it if you haven’t already. Then go to the Neu! section. Then Faust. Then the first two Amon Düül II albums. Then if you’re not done yet, download a copy of Julian Cope’s “Krautrocksampler.” Pick and choose from the remainder of his recommendations. After following these instructions and overdoing it to the point where you kind of hate Krautrock, allow enough time to elapse (four years should do the trick) for you to look back on your Krautrock phase with nostalgia. Then come check out the record you are currently holding if you want a less good version of all that stuff that is at least still better than Tangerine Dream. Or else you could not do any of that.
“…limited to 200 on purple wax…”
Actual definition: Even if you don’t like this, you can probably sell it on Ebay later for more than you’re paying for it now, so it’s like an investment. And if you buy it and it actually is good, then it will probably be reissued, but you’ll be one of the 200 “cool” people on the whole planet who have this version, and it’ll be worth even more on Ebay because some obsessive Japanese guy will want to feel the “I was there” rush that can only come from owning the purple wax. The black vinyl version has the exact same music on it, and it’ll hold up slightly better. But if you want a chance at that Japanese guy Ebay money and/or purple-vinyl “cool” factor, you have to decide RIGHT NOW.
Actual definition: Horrible-sounding recordings.
“…lysergic…on speed…on cough syrup…on tainted weed…on mushrooms…on moonshine…on MDMA…on crack…”
Actual definition: I wish I was high on LSD, speed, cough syrup, tainted weed, mushrooms, moonshine, MDMA, and/or crack instead of being stone cold sober and stuck at this record store job listening to this shitty record.
“…[mention of band’s previous releases and indication that band is improving]…”
Actual definition: This band doesn’t suck as much as it used to, so if they ever reach full-blown “non suck” status, you might be able to sell this record for big bucks on Ebay. Just FYI.
“…[mention of band’s previous releases and indication that current release is going in]…more of a pop direction…”
Actual definition: This band previously didn’t suck, but it sucks now. Their earlier records might be worth something on Ebay during the nanosecond-timed window a band has in the internet era where it is considered “hot.”
Actual definition: I had to piss like a motherfucker when I wrote this.
Actual definition: More weird-sounding than actually good.
“[other band you don’t like]”
Actual definition: This is a BRAND NEW band you don’t like.
Actual definition: Sucker bait.
Actual definition: Unless this costs more than $100, it is not good.
“[band you’ve never heard of] produced by [person you’ve heard of]”
Actual definition: This as unshitty as this shitty band can possibly sound.
Actual definition: More expensive than necessary.
“…[record label] is back with a…”
Actual definition: If you already own one release on this record label, you probably don’t need another one unless you LOVED that other one.
“…recommended if you like (RIYL)…”
Actual definition: I don’t like this, but I also don’t like the following examples of other things that are like this but better, so what the fuck do I know, okay? I’m going on break.
“…reissue of this RARE…”
Actual definition: This used to be more expensive, so buying it for $25 now is like it’s on sale for “not $300,” rather than “costs $25,” right? Just imagine the thrill of not spending $300 on this.
“…sounds like a mix between…[popular/seminal bands like Velvet Underground, Ramones, Spacemen 3, Jesus & Mary Chain, Wire, Wipers, My Bloody Valentine, Hawkwind, etc.]”
Actual definition: Go buy some Velvet Underground, Ramones, Spacemen 3, Jesus & Mary Chain, Wire, Wipers, My Bloody Valentine, and Hawkwind records.
Actual definition: If you buy this record, you can feel like you’re participating in and supporting a larger process of discovery that will make you feel a little better about the fact that you just spent $15 for a compilation of mediocre 80’s punk from Little Rock, Arkansas.
So there you have it. A handy guide to making sure you never don’t like something ever again. Except you still sometimes won’t. In fact, if you read this whole thing, chances are you’re already fucked, just like we are. Which means you should probably start writing some of these things yourself because we’re super burnt out on it and can’t think of anything honest to say except “at any given time there is both too much good music to possibly keep track of and no such thing as good music anywhere in the world, and it all depends on your mood.” Go ahead. Today’s just one of those days when we’d rather vacuum the floor mats and go alphabetize the DVDs and not deal with any of this shit.
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