NO FOPP, NO BROWSE

FEBRUARY REWIND: INTENSE AMBIENCE AND U-BAHN PSYCHE FROM GERMANY … BUT NO FUTURE FOR FOPP

This time last year it was the beast from the east that struck us cold. This year, it’s … the loss of Fopp in Oxford.

HMV was saved by a buyout which keeps the name and livelihoods alive, but there were always going to be casualties. The flagship HMV store on London’s Oxford Street was one. Fopp stores were another. And, of those, Fopp in Oxford went.

This looks like the end of high street music retail in this place. Fopp’s compact nature meant that, in a post-megastore world, it was the only chain contender for city centre presence, but this is the second time it’s closed down now. Sad days. Independent shops are always number 1, but of the big names, HMV has been a long-time favourite and I bet it’s the same for a lot of music buyers. HMV’s massive divergence into entertainment felt wrong for those of us not seduced by accessories, games and tech, but in the better shops the music section was still pretty good. Oxford’s HMV had a small basement. Down there, at its best, it felt like a high street haven.

And Fopp was even better. Was it a threat to a local independent like Truck Store? I don’t think so. To keep physical-format music shops alive, you need both a high street presence and an independent presence. Where they once competed, they now complement. You gotta support the bigger thing: music. To buy. In shops.

Where Fopp really excelled, though, was back catalogue titles and the volume of choice within genres. The week before it shut, I had a Thin Lizzy compulsion. I worked out what I was after, knowing that Fopp had a fair few Lizzy items in stock. Of course, I couldn’t get them. Fopp closed in haste, four days after my previous visit and three days before the planned Lizzy binge. But my purchase wasn’t transferred to Truck Store – it went online. Sorry? No, not for that. Truck doesn’t hold a lot of back catalogue and it didn’t have any of my Lizzy most-wanteds anyway. For all its brilliance, Truck Store’s increased emphasis on vinyl pushes CD buyers elsewhere for some things. And Truck’s metal section is non-existent these days, down to just two CD widths on the racks.

This is why Fopp scored big points: browsability. It also had some great promos where you could sample stuff for a bargain, like last year’s Rocket Recordings special. That one got some Gnod, Teeth of the Sea and Hey Colossus albums into my hands and ears. Gold.

So yeah, gutted to see Fopp go. It was the best of the high street groups/chains from recent years. Best of luck to the staff who kept it going.

FEBRUARY NEW RELEASES

Apart from a late-80s Black Sabbath fixation and, sadly, an unexpected Talk Talk rewind – RIP Mark Hollis – what’s caught the ear of late? Here’s a trio of new tunes that made a mark.

BLACK TO COMM – Lethe

Grainy ambience, looped on a glitch. Part of this rolling instrumental sounds backwards, the rest of it is a persistent rumble. Stop-motion storm clouds churning over an abandoned industrial estate. Got rhythm but no dance. Check it here, file under dark intrigue.

GUNTER SCHICKERT – Ceiling

Schickert has just released a new solo album, Nachtfalter, 40-odd years after his first. I didn’t know that. Then I again, I don’t know this guy. It’s why I stole that fact. You can get his kosmische credentials and his role in Germany’s music scene from people who know their stuff, but this track, Ceiling? To a Schickert newcomer like wot I is, it makes a hypnotic pull. With the kind of ultra simple backbeat that informs many a Julian Cope Rite project, Schickert lays guitars that pass like underground trains, vanishing round bends. Extra percussion ticks away. Clock work. Seven minutes of subterranean movement.

MOTORPSYCHO – Psychotzar

From the tiny DAB radio in the kitchen, Psychotzar‘s opening riff channeled prime time non-downer Sabbath … who the holy Iommi is this???? Aaaaaah yes, the non-psycho’s psycho. Delicious. And not too Sabbath really, because Motorpsycho really really aren’t, but Psychotzar rocks its prog-ness with a hard 70s crunch. New album The Crucible is out now on Rune Grammofon.

’til next time!

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind

amplifier wordsmith: the monthly rewind

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