10:35 AM GMT 25/04/2013
IT MAY HAVE SLIPPED your mind in all this post-election excitement but Parenthetical Girls, Portland's foremost lofty, orchestral pop quintet, are set to release their next album as five separate 12" singles over the course of a year. Each will be pressed in spectacularly limited quantities (obviously) and signed in the blood of a member of the band (obviously). To top off the proud pomposity, the band have decided this haematic collection will bypass regular retail channels and only be available via mail-order. My copy is yet to arrive, and with no dispatch emails or tracking services - this being lo-fi label life - I'm not entirely sure if it will even leave Oregon this month. Perhaps it's not coming at all. But this time of no reply - between the order and the delivery - is the great thrill in pack-and-post music collecting.
In the build-up to last month's Record Shop Day, the broadsheets took another chance to talk to "real music fans", compare all of our favourite second-hand dealers to Championship from High Fidelity, and promise that vinyl is coming back!". Again. There is obviously nothing wrong with this, and whatever column inches can be pried back toward the independent music plight, the better. However, as much as I can romanticise my time spent on both sides of the counter in Berwick Street's finest, I have equally strong feelings for my time, at home, as a mail-order junkie.
When I was 15, I became enamoured with the DIY indie-folk that shy geniuses on the American West Coast seem to specialise in. Placing weekly orders with labels such as K, Marriage, http://www.marriagerecs.com and Kill Rock Stars, I began to feel a strangely personal relationship with my regular distributors. Oftentimes the most exciting part of tearing open the cardboard mailers was not pulling out the records, but the extra items thrown in for that home-grown experience - like prizes in a cereal box. I built up a substantial collection of souvenirs: packets of Kool-Aid, lollipops, calendars, tickets to long-gone festivals, demos of local bands, tenacious xerox 'zines and, once, a double-sided letter of thanks. It came slipped inside a 7" sleeve, the envelope decorated with bear stickers and a strawberry border. Inside, 'Nicole' from Rococo Records, Chicago filled up two sides of A5 with hand-written band recommendations ("...if you like spastic no no no no wave there's my brother's band KK Rampage... Their shows are all broken bottles, vomit and attempted stabbings - they really give it 500%"), assurances that I had made a good purchase ("The cover of 'Graceland' is fantastic and I hope that you feel FEELINGS when you listen to it") and a post-script asking me to let her know if I liked it.
To my own shame I never followed it up, but it's the shining example of why I adore mail order. Aside from my 1999 enrolment in Slipknot's Maggot Corps, getting my big brown boxes from little Portland labels is the closest I have come to feeling like part of a fan club (or, failing that, like those women who buy porcelain dolls through the Radio Times). There may be no finer experience than when the Wednesday morning post surprises you with something handmade and stamped with international customs stickers. Then you open it up to find not only an album that you'd completely forgot you'd ordered but a folded poster and glow in the dark flag. It's not the type of experience one will find at, say, Fopp, and certainly not something to be replicated in the treacherous bowels of digital music.
The internet now weighs heavy with MP3 blogs offering almost every new indie album - free - months before release, to be downloaded in an orderly digital queue, in the time it takes for a kettle to boil. It is music as a commodity, and despite the "social" aspect of comment boxes and forum backslapping, it's destructive of music as community. The whole experience is missing the tremendous satisfaction of anticipation, and participation.
The exciting and frustrating feeling that you are waiting for something worthwhile makes you want to enjoy it more. When it arrives after three weeks, you want to play it inside-out, so you know your time wasn't wasted. It's something sent to you by an artist, by a label, or by another fan. Your correspondent wants you to enjoy the music as much as they do, and you become part of the cycle.
This is something organic - even humane - when compared the cold, dead-end final product offered by iTunes or The Pirate Bay. It is about keeping artifactual evidence of artistic output alive. And it makes me FEEL feelings.
Posted by Ross_Bennett at 4:29 PM GMT 18/05/2010