The Best Store in America, Bar None

Best store in America

This is Padywacs – the best store in America, bar none.

(“Store” is an American word, meaning “shop”.)

Few would have thought that the best store in America would be found in South Lyon, a sleepy Michigan pumpkintown North West of Detroit. But having visited every single store in America, I can confirm that it doesn’t get any better than this.

Let’s take a look at what’s inside.

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What Is Art? I Have The Answer

What is art

I recently went to the Art Institute of Chicago, the best museum in the world.

There I received an answer to a question that’s probably been asked at least once a day for the past 35,000 years:

“But is it art?”

For that is what Kruk said to Kruk II the moment he had finished drawing animals on the wall of his cave. Bloody hell, Kruk.

But yes, hidden in plain view within the African wing of the best museum in the world was a simple answer to a complex question:

“What is art?”

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In Defence of the MP3

Apple have discontinued the iPod Classic. Therefore, the age of the MP3 is over.

Who’d have thought that the MP3 – that piddly little file format that was once thought to have the potential to destroy all music – would ever be in need of defending?

Yet here we are in 2015, and articles are being written about the demise of the MP3.

We stream now, you see. And because we stream our music, we no longer need to fill our hard drives and our DAPs with thousands upon thousands of files of varying quality and variable bit rate. We’re free! This is a Good Thing!

Or so they’d have us believe. Every article I’ve read on this subject – all two of them – has presented the MP3 years as a sort of fiddly dark age. Streaming sites such as Spotify and SoundCloud have liberated us from the inconvenience – the indignity – of having to micromanage our music.

Now, I love Spotify. I use it almost every day, mainly to stream epic Grateful Dead jams. But did I immediately delete my 20,000+ MP3s the second I registered? Did I my eye. Doing so would have been an even stupider move than binning all my records and CDs upon first getting a laptop and an MP3 player.

Here are five reasons why MP3s are still relevant in the age of Spotify, and here’s an epic Grateful Dead jam to which you can groove whilst you read – assuming that you’re a very slow reader.

Note – Even when citing specific examples, I use “Spotify” to refer to all streaming services, and “MP3” to refer to all file formats – WMA, MP3, FLAC etc. This isn’t so much “MP3 vs. Spotify” as “Files vs. Streaming”. Also, for the sake of brevity, and for the sake of avoiding hypocrisy, I will refrain from discussing artist royalties here. This post is all about the listener.

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Farewell, Edgar Froese

Edgar Froese

Edgar Froese died on January 20, 2015. That was the day before my birthday, so I didn’t find out until the following week.

Edgar Froese was a founding member of the German electronic pioneers Tangerine Dream. Between 1967 and 2015, he was the only constant member. In that time, the band released over 100 albums, of which I’ve only heard about nine. Though I’ve quite enjoyed each, of those nine, only one has ever truly stood out for me: 1974’s Phaedra.

Phaedra is a masterpiece. I cannot begin to describe the meanings I’ve come to attach to its unearthly sounds and its slow, sad, yawning melodies. There was a six month period about 10 years ago when I would put this album on repeat at a barely audible volume just before I went to sleep. It’s therefore safe to say that the music of Phaedra may very well have soundtracked my dreams.

To wake up to its alien soundscapes, bleary eyed and heady at four in the morning, is an indescribable experience. Phaedra sounds particularly incredible when you’re cold and lonely in the dark.

So farewell, Edgar Froese. He leaves behind an immense, timeless, and peerless body of work, but for me it’s all about Phaedra, and this track in particular:

Mysterious Semblance at the Strand of Nightmares. One of the most devastating pieces of music I’ve ever heard.

If that were the sum of his work, he could still be viewed as one of the finest, most influential musicians of the past century. That this song is but the visible tip of an unfathomable, ever-shifting iceberg is really quite incredible.

A live version from 2005:

Bloody hell.

10 Great 21st Century Christmas Songs

Justin Lee Collins. Nobody likes him, do they? Perhaps invoking his name isn’t the best way to kick off an article about festive cheer, but I have my reasons.

In 2005, Justin Lee Collins presented a show on Channel 4 called Bring Back The Christmas Number One. Fed up with Simon Cowell’s Christmas chart domination, Justin wanted to see a song with a Christmas theme take that coveted UK number one chart position on Christmas Day.

With the exception of the Live Aid remake, this still hasn’t been achieved since Cliff Richard topped the charts in 1990 with Saviour’s Day.

Now let us pause to listen to that song.

Jesus, I love that song.

Justin gathered the ghosts of Christmas past – Jona Lewie, David Essex, Showaddywaddy, and members of Mud and Slade – and got them to record a song called I’m Going Home. It didn’t make it to number one.

Never mind. But the thing is, though Justin was ostensibly motivated by his desire to topple the tower of SyCo, I seem to remember a bogus thread running through his program. Justin kept hinting that one of the main reasons why Christmas songs no longer make it to the Christmas number one spot, is because people simply no longer write good Christmas songs. They were a product of Justin’s childhood, which is why he gathered the heroes of 70s and 80s Christmas music for his brave attempt to set things right.

Well, balderdash. It’s still the case that bloody good Christmas songs are released every year. True, they no longer make it to number one, but since when has that been an indicator of quality?

Here’s a list of 10 great Christmas songs from the 21st century.

Now, before we begin, yes. I quite agree with you. To allude to a TV show presented by a disgraced “personality”, which nobody has seen in nine years, as a rambling introduction to a listicle…yes. Not my best moment. And oh my, I just used the word “listicle”. Less than 300 words in, and this post is already a disaster.

Never mind. Let’s go.

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The 7 Best Albums of 2014 That You May Not Have Heard

Everywhere’s doing their end of year lists. This is important, because how else will we know what the best album of 2014 was?

I used to do this myself, but I stopped when I realised a few things:

1. Nobody was reading my lists.

2. My lists were essentially identical to everyone else’s, just with the albums in a slightly different order.

3. My lists took weeks to compile and write, but they didn’t make the slightest bit of difference to anyone – apart from that time my girlfriend said that I should have rated Oceansize higher.

Though I no longer compile lists of my own, I still find it useful when others do. I’m finding it increasingly exhausting to seek out new music. Brand new, that is. Whilst it’s always an absolute pleasure to delve into the past, when it comes to new music, I no longer have the energy to listen to as much as I can, in the vague hope of finding something that works for me.

The likes of Spotify have certainly made things cheaper, but by no means have they made things any easier. Being able to stream every album that’s ever released, instantly, at the touch of a button, only serves to highlight just how much new music is released every single week of every single year.

End of year lists make me aware of things that I would otherwise have missed. When they’re compiled by sites like The Quietus and Tiny Mix Tapes, they invariably contain the sort of strange noises that I wouldn’t have heard even if it were still possible to stay up til 5AM every single night, tirelessly trawling the blogs. They champion the unchampioned, and their end of year lists have pointed me towards some truly incredible sounds:

But it’s not just the obscure stuff. Merchandise’s After The End has featured prominently in several year end lists. I simply would not have given it a go otherwise. This afternoon I did, and it was wonderful. I mean, really wonderful, as in, “full of wonder”; as in, it’s a genuine wonder that it’s still possible to make fresh sounds from such basic instruments.

It’s for this reason I thought I’d compile a very short list of my own. These aren’t the best albums of 2014. Rather, they’re albums I’ve really enjoyed in 2014, but which I’ve not seen featured in many other year end lists. Maybe you’ve heard them, maybe you haven’t. In any case, perhaps you’ll discover something new.

Oh. If you have heard these albums, don’t scream at me for having the audacity to suggest that you haven’t. Instead, let’s be friends.

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5 Songs That Were Stunning Right from the First Listen

I have a lot of favourite songs. Some songs are my favourite because they remind me of certain times, places, and people. Others are my favourites because, over time, they’ve sunk under my skin and revealed themselves to be glittering caverns of unfathomable wonder.

Some songs, though, are my favourite songs because, the first time I heard them, I was stunned. Jaw hitting the floor, shaking my head in awe, stunned. Floored, like Brian Wilson, who claims that the first time he heard Be My Baby by The Ronettes, he fell over.

Some songs tend to lose their lustre after a few thousand listens. Not these. For me, they were incredible on the first listen, and they remain favourites because they have never lost their power to stun.

Read on.

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