Xtra Mile celebrates National Music Day 2018
- 13/10/2018 -
National Album Day, an initiative by ERM (Entertainment Retailers’ Association - so we know their intentions are pure) and BPI (British Phonographic Industry) and supported by BBC Music, takes place Saturday 13 October 2018. It celebrates the “format of the album”, with various events taking place including gigs and album playbacks, with a nationwide mass album play taking place at 3.33pm (it’s a vinyl reference, natch). Of course, we’re supporters at Xtra Mile - being fine purveyors of albums for well over a decade – so we’ve gathered some words and musings from fans, artists and label peeps. We are also celebrating with 20% off back catalogue albums for the day. Go to our shop and type ‘album’ into the discount code at checkout.
Also, if you want to listen to every album (and EP / single etc.) that Xtra Mile has released this year, check out this Spotify playlist that Brad put together. Perhaps you’ll want to play a few albums from it to celebrate!
Valerie Gritsch (XMR, scholar, writer and thought-leader)
According to the Grove Music Online, the term ‘album’ “was first applied to a collection of 78 RPM discs used to record a long work, such as a symphony, that would not fit onto a single disc; these collections were presented in a format resembling a family album, although containing sleeves for discs rather than pages for photographs. The term was later adopted for long-playing records of over 30 minutes of music, and later again also denoted the aesthetic qualities of the music contained within,” (Buckley, 2001).
What this article doesn’t account for is what the album can do to us, the listener. The right album heard at the right time can change your life. A series of albums can define an era. Both instances can make returning to the sacred object of an album feel like returning home, with familiar melodies and lyrics there to welcome you with open arms and warmth. There is beauty in the ritual of selecting your favorite album off a shelf, staring at the album artwork that you’ve likely burned into your memory, and carefully positioning the needle on a record, or pressing play on a stereo. With the rise of mobile technology and streaming, it is so comforting to know that whenever you may need that long-lost friend, you can pull it out of the Cloud and instantly you are not alone.
Beyond an album feeling like home, it can be a magic door that transports me back to various points in my life. I can put on Jim Lockey’s Death and I’m back in the first row of the Barfly in Camden 2012, watching them perform in awe for the first time. I can put on Oxygen Thief’s The Half-Life of Facts and suddenly I’m in various homes around America’s north east watching Barry perform during our skiffle tour of 2014. Will Varley’s Postcards From Ursa Minor brings me back to a cruise ship sailing around the Caribbean, wandering from cabin to cabin watching him perform for salty dogs. Skinny Lister’s Down On Deptford Broadway brings me to non-descript venues around America and the UK, where I’m buzzed and waltzing with strangers, and sometimes Lorna herself.
An album that changed my life is Frank Turner’s Love Ire & Song. I first heard it in the springtime of 2009, and when I finally saw him perform the songs from it live at Roseland Ballroom (RIP) in New York City the following July, I was hooked. Through loving that album, and that artist, I discovered the world of Xtra Mile Recordings which allowed me to find many more albums I would soon grow to love. I would not be where I am, who I am, doing what I do right now if not for that album reaching my ears almost a decade ago. In May 2018, Frank treated audiences to a full album show during Lost Evenings festival. As I sat far up in the balcony of the Roundhouse, in a row with some dear friends next to me, I was moved to tears during Frank’s performance of ‘I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous’. As I sang along the weight of the song and the evening and the past nine years hit me like a ton of bricks. How else was I supposed to react when the crowd was so loud it muted Frank, coupled with the fog and lights scanning the room? Screaming along to “we won’t change our ways, we will proud remain when the glory fades, when the glory fades” made the following words catch in my throat. I was simultaneously at home, back in 2009, in my room alone listening to this song – the opening track of Love Ire & Song – unaware of how much it would change everything and also there in the present, at the Roundhouse, with people I loved who loved the music just as much as I did, who would also remain if the glory ever faded. It was too much to handle in the moment and still, in hindsight, is a bit too much to think about. It forms a lump in my throat even now thinking about it.
It is so fitting that the modern album as we know it got that name because it physically resembled a photo album. Albums are everything I have already said they are, but they are snapshots, too. My record collection is a walk through my past, and it doesn’t matter if I’m scrolling through saved albums on Spotify or physically flicking through my vinyl, what matters is I can see and touch my past in a way that requires no video or photos. I just need to hear those songs and I’m already there.
Buckley, David. “Album.” Grove Music Online. 20 Jan. 2001. Oxford University Press, Accessed 12 Oct. 2018.
Brad Barrett (XMR - writer and editor)
My love of the album is a deep, dark ring like on an ever-expanding oak tree. While I’m nowhere near as majestic, you can trace my age by the things that mean everything to me and albums are extremely important. If you were to check someone a decade younger, say, the ring might tell you that they love mixtapes, playlists or ‘bangers’. And that’s excellent, of course; popular music will always hold a huge place in the hearts of young people. But albums? Well ever since the decline of physical media and the rise of digital downloads and streaming, though their ubiquity and popularity has fallen drastically (with actual sales dropping to 30% of the market), they’ve been clung to by the music industry and by artists who grew up believing that was the best way to compile and sell their medium of expression.
Too right. Albums hold the listener in place for more than 20 minutes (the amount of time it can take for a video game, book or film to get boring) all the while captivating for its runtime. They are an anthology of moods, tales and lyrical or melodic poetry. They can be a focal point for an entire world or one specific moment in time. Albums aren’t linear like standard storytelling mediums, instead holding myriad strands of emotion at once. Sometimes they are entwined into an iron fist while others sprout innumerable capillaries. And it really is up to you whether you repeat a song, skip back or jump forward, to sculpt it how you like. My favourite artists seemed to make albums to be listened top to bottom and then straight back to the beginning to do it again. Albums were rarely prisons for great songs surrounded by faded facsimiles. If they were, I’d identify them very quickly.
It’s easy to get lost in an album. The singular vision can immerse like the best of any medium while also being short enough for endless repeat, thorough listens. Of course, there was very little you could do to be sure that an album would help you reach that absorbed and adrenalised state we all desire. You had to take a chance, pick based on whatever knowledge you, your friends and the record shop employee had, perhaps based on some reviews you had read and any songs from it you’d heard on the radio, or seen on TV or heard at shows (though I wasn’t going to shows until my mid-teens). You had to hope that this potential new favourite band had put together a collection you would want to play in its entirety for weeks. Because that was how I listened to music, and so did my peers. I have a lot of emotions about albums. I once interviewed an album I was reviewing, which is inspired idiocy, but that’s what albums can do to you. Don’t think you’re immune.
The excitement of choosing or waiting on the release date of a band’s next album is difficult to replicate now. Each time Xtra Mile releases two or three tracks from the album before it appears in the shops, it comes close to that, but you can (and should!) listen to them upon release day via Spotify. While that’s undreamed of convenience for someone of my generation, there’s no encouragement to listen to it in an entire block. You can shuffle the songs, it might get interrupted by adverts if you’re on a free account, and you can dip in and out by weaving the songs into a playlist. The rigid but satisfying feel of having a physical record on plastic, metal or magnetic tape meant that you had to press stop, or rewind, or fast forward (I think iTunes and Spotify calls these latter two ‘scrubbing’ these days) or remove it from your stereo or portable device (Walkman, Discman, MiniDisc player) before putting in something else. Somehow, even without this, the album format has persisted. Artists release albums of varying length, perhaps meant to be played in an order still but with the understanding that this may not be how people approach music anymore.
If you’re one of these people, try it out. There’s a wealth of incredible songs being missed because without the context of the album they don’t necessarily have the impact they might have once had. There is definitely a good case to be made for songs needing to stand out on their own, but then we may not have had definitive closing songs (for example) the likes of which a band like Idlewild excel at. If you know an album is coming to an end, and a song like ‘Finished It Remains’ leads you home, it’s skin-tingling. When walking along to it, I slow motion lip sync to the lyrics while the guitar solo screams across the harmonised backing vocals. What would the world be like without ‘In Remote Part / Scottish Fiction’? Certainly mine would be poorer. Iit probably wouldn’t have been written without the album format as its potency is in closing an album that marks a songwriting triumph across 12 tracks, hinting at the noisier aspects of Idlewild’s past while sadly-passed Scottish poet Edwin Morgan speaks haunting rhyme across it. I find it hard to believe this emotive blow would exist without an album to close; it’s too grandiose, too obscure, too isolating without its trackmates. For an artist closer to home, do you think ‘Broken Piano’ would exist without Tape Deck Heart? That’s a thrilling song to miss out on because albums are too much for you. It’s the more experimental middle and bookending tracks that tend to stretch the songwriting muscles. Same as the death of the B-side has meant we miss out on interesting and exciting experiments, so the decline of albums might eventually discourage storytelling in this way. We would also lose a lot of dead wood and filler of course, and that would be just fine by me. Some bands will strive to create the best single song they can and the album format is actually restrictive for them, making them pour effort into filling the blank space on a vinyl, cassette or CD. Others thrive on having the space to expand outwards – conceptual, lengthy soundscapes, or a half hour or more of pure pop brilliance.
Overall, the album isn’t dead but the way we listen to them has changed. They aren’t as popular as once they were, and perhaps they mean less to more people, or are listened to by less people, but have the power to still mean more to the few who still cherish them. It remains my preferred way to listen, and I can’t see that changing. Reading everyone’s memories, associations and excitement about albums that are being released now, not just then, is inspiring and Val’s beautiful connection to time and place is absolutely vital to understanding why this format has continued to exist, if not thrive in the face of disposable content. It remains that that the tell-tale signs in my lifetime show a huge, thundering impact on me that will rarely be equalled and, more, has helped me grow, strrengthen my spirit and .
Finally, though there are many albums which taught me how to love them, here are just five examples of albums that showed me how an album could be transformative as an experience.
Converge – Jane Doe
The Jimi Hendrix Experience – Electric Ladyland
Stevie Wonder – Innervisions
The Appleseed Cast – Mare Vitalis
Mineral – Endserenading
The Retrospective Soundtrack Players – It’s a Wonderful Christmas Carol
There are certain signs which mark the official start of the festive season: a chill in the air, a cinnamon explosion on the Starbucks menu . . . and the opening chords of this 2014 classic by the absurdly talented Retrospective Soundtrack Players. Skilfully blending the cinematic and literary themes of It’s a Wonderful Life and A Christmas Carol, the RSP take you on a journey of disillusionment, despair, intervention and ultimate redemption with more festive spirit than you can throw a tinsel-covered reindeer at. It’s a true XMR Family celebration, with the vocal talents of Messrs. T-T, Turner and Marwood guesting in spectacular style as the Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Yet To Come. With a poignant story, smart lyrics and songs which range from haunting piano ballads to air-punching anthems, this album can’t help but melt the coldest of wintery hearts. No festive home is complete without it. Buy it here!
Frank Turner – Love Ire & Song
I won’t be alone in this, but truly an album which changed my life. A friend had been wanging on about Frank for a while and I’d (foolishly) paid no attention . . . but eventually decided I’d shut him up by relenting and buying Love Ire & Song without having heard a single track on it. I listened to nothing else – literally nothing else – for a full month. I was a goner. From the life-affirming optimism of ‘Reasons Not to Be an Idiot’ and ‘Photosynthesis’ to the lovelorn desperation of ‘Substitute’ and ‘Better Half’ from the self-destruction of ‘Imperfect Tense’ to the wistful mourning of ‘A Love Worth Keeping’, it was as though someone had surreptitiously crept into my mind and set it to music.
And what music. Rousing anthems, sensitive acoustic reflections and catchy choruses, all forming the backdrop to some of the most intelligent and considered lyrics I’d heard in a generation. Ten years and almost forty FT shows later, hearing the album played in full at Lost Evenings II in May 2018 remains one of the best gig experiences I’ve ever had – with Frank and the Souls or, indeed, anyone else. It’s the mark of a truly classic album that it doesn’t age or sound dated over time, and the sobbing, cheering, emotional mess that I was by the end of the evening is a testament to the power it has to this day. I really should listen to my friends more often.
Barry Dolan (Oxygen Thief/Non Canon)
My favourite album of all time, amongst stiff competition* has to be Manic Street Preachers - The Holy Bible. I bought CDs of this and Foo Fighters - The Colour and The Shape, at the end of a school exchange trip to Germany when I was about 15. I already had Everything Must Go and was a little bit scared of what music magazines would always refer to as being "almost unlistenable" or "one of the darkest albums ever" but it was a special edition picture CD so I thought I'd give it a whirl. I borrowed someone's Discman** on the coach trip home so I could listen to both. I really enjoyed TCATS but The Holy Bible completely blew my mind; I'd never heard anything so raw, or powerful, and where the lyrics dominated the music so completely, so I listened to it over and over again, wiping out a few sets of batteries while the Discman's owner slept. 20 years(!) on it still gives me goosebumps even thinking about the songs, let alone listening to them, which I'm going to go and do now.
*Also scoring super-high would be: Thrice - The Illusion of Safety, Cursive - The Ugly Organ, Placebo - Placebo, Carrie - Fear of Sound, and (judging by the number of times I've listened to it in the last 18 months) Charly Bliss - Guppy.
**For younger readers, a Discman was like an iPod, but for CDs. You had to hold them really still to make sure the music didn't skip and they pretty much used 2xAA batteries per hour. The good*** old days.
Taylor Johnson (Brand New Friend)
Critically and personally thrown into the dustbin of albums time forgot, my favourite record of all time is the soaring late 90’s extravaganza Be Here Now by Oasis. The self-belief and unbridled joy of the working class Mancunians spoke to me like no band had done before and it was on a long solitary beach walk that I was first brave enough to listen to the album tasked with following What’s The Story (Morning Glory) and Definitely Maybe. I had always avoided it, fearing it couldn’t match the heights of the masterpieces before it. How wrong I was. That record has some of my favourite songs ever on it, full of verve, emotion, passion and beautifully soul-searching lyrics (‘Stand By Me’, ‘All Around The World’ and ‘It’s Getting Better (Man)!’ all get special mentions here). Critics called it too long, but my young ears were desperate for it to be longer, as every instrument fought to be heard over the life-affirming noise coming out of the speakers. Amidst the joy, there was a sadness too, a recognition that a golden era was coming to a close. You hear it in Liam’s voice, in Bonehead’s thrashing power chords, in Noel’s words; and so it proved, as two of their founding members left just after the subsequent tour. For the original Burnage four, this really was the end. Be Here Now has its blips, but what was it Noel Gallagher himself once sang? True perfection has to be imperfect...
I remember it was quite dark. I think we were probably in Will's garage, or maybe a garden shed, hiding from the rain.
I guess at that age it was still the kind of thing that we only really got away with if we were a little bit sneaky; our parents almost definitely knew it was going on and half of them probably did it themselves, at least when they were younger, but as long as we were surreptitious, not too brazen and not too loud about it then it seemed to be tolerated. So it was normally in the car after college, or at a free house.
Most of the guys there did it a lot. They were quite into the scene, evenings and weekends, even before college. But I was still kind of...on the periphery of it. And a little nervous, I guess.
Will had said this was some of the good stuff, the heavy stuff the second years had in the smoking area and the newspapers still panicked about (even now, decades after the Summer of Love). He had got it from his brother (who was older and in a semi-successful band), so the bragging came with some credence.
George finished rolling. "Ready?", Will asked, eager to get the evening started. I nodded.
There was a click, followed by a humming noise that was almost like static, a fuse burning. Then staccato drums. Then guitar. Then screaming.
Anyway, that's how I remember hearing Reuben for the first time. It might be a bit embellished. We were pretty stoned.
Casual Labour from PD Liddle is the album you didn’t know you were waiting for! I have been listening to it on repeat since it came out a few months ago. It is one of those rare albums that you love at the first listen but that just keeps getting better over time. The lyrics are beautiful, honest and even funny at times and are accompanied by melodies both frail and grand at the same time. If you haven’t listened to it, you are missing out!
Alamort by Ducking Punches....what an album!
I had been so excited for the release of this album after getting to hear ‘I Ruin Everything’ live at Surya, London. This album has helped me with some issues I’ve had over the last few years, and I don’t think I have ever been so grateful for an album in my life. They write songs that really speak to people and I love how honest the lyrics are. There’s isn’t a song on this album that I don’t love it and to me it is perfect.
When the album was released, I went to the London album release show at the Lexington. I had actually been unwell that day but I just couldn’t miss the show, and I am so, so glad that I went! Seeing Ducking Punches celebrate the release was very special to witness. That album release show also caused me to gain a new friend, and for that, I thank Ducking Punches. I expect that the next DP album will also hit me in all the feels, and I wish the band all the success in the world!
It's National Album Day and a chance for people to revel in all the great music that's out there.
I started obsessing about music when in my teens, Michael Jackson was one of the first (Thriller was a massive album that year) and even though it included about six singles, it worked as an album. This was where I started moving away from just buying singles (7" at the time!) to investing in whole albums.
Next came Prince and Purple Rain. Here was an album that soundtracked an incredible film and launched his talent on the UK in a big way. I poured over the sleeve notes and couldn't believe that three tracks on the album were recorded live. This was where I started to devour sleeve notes to find out more about the artists and their influences. Through this, I discovered a wealth of artists and genres as one find led onto another – George Clinton as a prime example, Joni Mitchell for another.
This has carried on throughout the rest of my listening days which is where we come to the amazing Xtra Mile.
Like most people, my introduction to the label came via hearing the one and only Frank Turner. I first heard him on Radio 1, around the time 'Long Live the Queen' was released. This coincided with events in my life very similar to the subject of the song and it struck a real chord with me. I had a few friends who'd been talking about him so decided to take a punt on the Love Ire & Song album and download it.
It was an instant winner. It was on constant rotation for many months when it came out and really helped me through some tough times
This was the year, 2010, that Frank would headline 2000trees festival and I was lucky enough to win a ticket to this wonderful place in a competition. Once there, I discovered a whole load of new music I'd not heard before. I also found that some of the acts playing were on Frank's label so when I got back I started investigating these artists. I also started regularly attending more gigs than I had done for the past few years, many centered around Frank. That was how I discovered Ben Marwood, Beans on Toast, Will Varley, the Retrospective Soundtrack Players, Against Me!, Seán McGowan, Emily Barker, Crazy Arm and many, many more. Special mention also for Jim Lockey & the Solemn Sun, lads from my hometown who released an absolute classic of an album in Death, again on XMR.
Taking the chance to buy an album on a whim has opened my life in so many different ways. Not only has it enriched my listening choices but it opened up my entire life. I've met so many people who share my same likes, I can now happily attend gigs and festivals on my own knowing that I'll always meet like-minded souls.
In these days of streaming it's very easy to dismiss the whole album thing but to me that's doing it a major disservice. Some albums can only be listened to as complete packages. Could you imagine listening to Dark Side Of The Moon on shuffle play? What about Quadrophenia? It just doesn't work.
So what I say is this: take the time to listen to a whole album. Don't get sidetracked. Let the whole album wash over you, infuse you. Take the time to discover what influenced that album then treat them with the same respect. Go and see the artist live, support your local music scene. Make sure to get there early and catch the support act, you might just discover the next big thing or at least your new favourite act. Tell all your friends what you're listening too, get them to listen as well. If you like a track you hear, go and investigate the whole album – you might be missing out a whole load of amazing music
England Keep My Bones was a pivotal album for me. So much in my life has changed for the better since I discovered the brilliance of that record by Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls. Thanks to a couple co-workers talking about this British guy who’s a great musician and fucking AMAZING live, my interest was piqued. I went home, found him on Spotify and that was it. I knew from the first listening of EKMB that this was something special I had just found. Some of my all-time favorite songs of Frank’s are all on that album. ‘I Am Disappeared’, ‘One Foot Before The Other’, ‘I Still Believe’ (which I loved the sentiment behind so much that I got it tattooed on me in Frank’s handwriting), ‘Peggy Sang The Blues’, ‘Redemption’, ‘Rivers’ – every single one of these tracks to this day, even after thousands of plays, make me gasp and utter “oh God, I LOVE this one” whenever I hear them come on.
But more than just how much I love the album and music, it was a gateway of sorts. Seeing Frank tour that album as well as the follow up Tape Deck Heart, I discovered Skinny Lister and fell in love with the all-out shanty steamroller that is Down On Deptford Broadway. Will Varley and his stunningly beautiful Postcards From Ursa Minor – that album can move you to your core and there are days my soul absolutely craves a listen.
Then Frank released Positive Songs For Negative People. That tour I discovered, and was welcomed wholeheartedly into, the XMR family. I went to my first solo gig. The Souls tweeted out my post and said someone needed to find me there and make sure I made some gig buddies. Mission accomplished! I met so many wonderful people who have become my family over the past few years. I loved the community and artists on Xtra Mile so much I became a Market Rep for them so I could introduce and welcome others to this amazing world, the way I had been. And I still believe it’s all because I went home from work that day and put on England Keep My Bones.
“Son of the Smith is still getting blasted daily in my house. Every song is relatable and speaks volumes for so many people in our country right now. 10/10 to Mr. Sean McGowan” - @ScrumpyPipUK
“Casual Labor by PD Liddle has been on repeat since it came out and its beyond amazing! I wish I could see a full album show whenever that would be possible!” - @shirin_ilk
“England Keep My Bones - I was aware of Frank Turner before this but hearing a couple of tracks on Absolute (Radio) and then seeing that amazing performance at the London 2010 (Olympics) opening had me hooked. I got to the tour and it opened up a new phase of attending smaller gigs and seeing new bands” - @Penguiain