Thursday, March 6, 2014

The Battle of Hastings

Have you ever heard of Hastings? I'm not talking about the battle that took place between the Normans and the Anglo-Saxons in the year 1066, but the chain of video, music and book stores that are spread lightly throughout the middle of the United States. We had them in Texas, but I never stepped foot in one the entire four years I was there. We do have one here in Montrose, just a few blocks away from my house, and I have been in that one several times. Until last night, I was batting .000 when it came to leaving that store with a DVD, CD or book in my hands. When Scottish writer Iain Banks died last year, I wanted to find a copy of The Wasp Factory. No dice. When I wanted to buy Janelle Monae's The Electric Lady and Neko Case's The More I Fight... on CD, they didn't have either despite the fact that they both entered the Billboard 100 the week they were released. When I wanted a great price on three specific DVDs I needed for a birthday gift--The Descendants, Life of Pi and Silver Linings Playbook, they didn't even have one of them--and all have been released in the last two years. I had to go to Amazon, instead of giving my money to a local business.

Hastings, for better or worse, isn't the type of store I'd normally patronize. It's sort of a mess, the Ross of home entertainment stores--although if you're into Frisbee Golf, this appears to be the place to stock up on those kind of discs. I'd pretty much given up on Hastings as a source for CDs, DVDs or books until I found myself there last night, looking for something in particular with unusually low expectations. That's when I discovered their LP section.

At first I found three LPs--new pressings of the latest Vampire Weekend, Arctic Monkeys and some remix compilation--on a single shelf above the new CD releases. (Even the new CD section is pretty spartan, unless you like new country.) I toyed with getting something, just to say I did it, just so that the buyer for Hastings could say, "Hey, LP sales are suddenly hot--we should get some more!" Fortunately I browsed through the music section and found an addition bin toward the back of the store. Where else, after all, would new LPs be merchandised in 2014? I found everything from a copy of Sgt. Pepper's, one of those recently remastered LPs that came out about a year ago, to some strange 10" Jimi Hendrix pressing I'd never seen before, to a smattering of cool jazz and easy listening titles. What I did find, much to my surprise, was a Sundazed pressing of The Left Banke's Walk Away Renee/Pretty Ballerina for $15. The last time I surfed the Sundazed site, I almost bought this. A friend of mine recently told me about rediscovering the Left Banke, and how he felt they were just like Love, only better. I promised him I would check it day.

I've written about this subject before in a Vinyl Anachronist column for Perfect Sound Forever. I had found a pretty decent little LP section in Fred Meyer, my local grocery store, and thought it was convincing proof that the Vinyl Renaissance was in full swing. After a few months, however, the section vanished and I thought, oh well, so much for that. But I still continue to be amazed at how many retailers are putting LPs out on the sales floor just to see what happens.

The bad news is that this album is simply horrible sound-wise. I've always enjoyed the Sundazed reissues--the prices are usually under $20 per disc and they have great taste in music, but in most cases they're more interested in remastering LPs until they're merely listenable, as opposed to creating a new catalog of audiophile reference discs. This Left Banke album is a clean pressing with almost no surface noise, but it sounds like it was remastered from an old cassette that was left in someone's pickup truck for a few years. It sounds tinny, compressed and small, like someone hooked a cheap transistor radio to a pair of old Klipsch Cornwalls.

Oh well, you can't win them all. I haven't lost the faith, however--I plan on buying a few more LPs from my local Hastings and totally messing with the store manager. "I don't know what it is, boss, but Montrose seems to be a sudden hotspot for LP sales!" Nope, it's not really a hotspot, but the Vinyl Anachronist did move in a few blocks away. Make him happy and buy some more.

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