I was in town today and found myself with an hour to kill before the next bus home. I have an established routine for such situations… firstly a trip to Hodges & Figgis on Dawson Street, Ireland’s largest bookstore (famously mentioned in Ulysses) where I’m more than happy to spend a whole afternoon in sedate browsing. Despite having been absorbed by the massive HMV group, the shop still retains a quiet charm and a real sense of history.
Even though it’s possible to spend several hours in Hodges & Figgis, I like to leave 20 minutes before the bus so I can spend a little while wandering around Tower Records on Wicklow Street, a shop that completely transcends its ‘franchise’ nature and contains one of the best selections of non-mainstream music in the city. As I approached the record shop I could hear music emerging through the open door. “Could that possibly be a Joy Division track I’ve not heard?” was my initial thought.
Unlikely. I’ve got all their albums (including the 4-disc Heart & Soul boxset) and I’m pretty damn familiar with them all.
As I crossed the Tower threshold, the music became clearer and it was fairly obvious that it wasn’t Joy Division. Instead it sounded for all the world like what The Jesus and Mary Chain would sound like if they reformed as a Joy Division tribute band. But in a very good way.
I’d no idea who it was, but I was really digging them as I browsed the usual places… no, still no Legendary Pink Dots since I’d bought the last two albums they’d stocked. But at least they had one of those plastic dividers with “LEGENDARY PINK DOTS” typed across the top. A silent promise. Nor could I find the new Peter Gabriel album which contains an amazing cover of the Talking Heads classic “Listening Wind”, which was good enough to make me resolve to buy the album when I see it.
I continued to browse (got tempted to buy the CD/DVD package to Bowie’s Reality Tour) and continued to enjoy the music playing at a pleasing volume over the P.A. system. David Byrne’s latest project (the soundtrack to a musical he wrote about the life of Imelda Marcos; the music a collaboration with Fat Boy Slim) positively demanded I buy it, but my resolve to not spend more than €30 on this visit meant that I had to be careful with the decision. And I found myself — almost without noticing — carrying the recent CD reissue of “Tracks and Traces” (a 1976 collaboration between Brian Eno and Harmonia) around the shop with me. It soon became apparent that part of me was not going to permit the rest of me to leave the shop without it.
So that was one.
I briefly toyed with buying the new Gorillaz album. But it was a very brief flirtation. I have a fair amount of time for Damon Albarn these days and dug the first Gorillaz album a lot. The b-sides and remix album from the same period was also pretty excellent, though the second studio record was a bit of a let down.
And all the while, the Joy Division vs The Jesus and Mary Chain groove had me nodding my head as I wandered the aisles. I still had no idea who it was, but by now the faint twang of Americana had me fairly convinced that I was listening to something from the US East Coast rather than Manchester or Scotland. Eventually a track came on (which I later discovered was called “The Sinking”) which gave me little choice but to walk to the counter and find out who I was listening to.
Approaching the desk, still clutching “Tracks and Traces”, I asked the girl at the till who we were listening to. She grabbed a CD from behind the desk and I saw an unfamiliar cover and a name I didn’t recognise. The album was called “Alight of Night” by New York band Crystal Stilts, released in 2008. Much to my amusement and delight, the shop assistant had put a sticker on the front of the jewel case. “Recommended for fans of Joy Division and The Jesus and Mary Chain”, it read.
I couldn’t not buy it. The last one in the shop (I wasn’t the first person to buy it on the strength of hearing it in-store apparently). Which is how for a total of €29.98 I emerged from Tower Records with the Eno & Harmonia reissue and an album I didn’t even know existed 30 minutes earlier.
I only just made my bus.