2011′s Top 5 Vinyls and Parisian Record Stores

News - Published: 29 December 2011

Paris Undercovers director and “black crack” junkie Josh Vardey picks out his top vinyls and sellers.

Wild Beasts – Smother  

Best Records of 2011Wild Beasts are definitely the band of the hour, but my money’s on these chaps sticking around. Live, they’re a force of nature but even on record their grooves remain strong. ‘Smother’ takes a more stripped-back, inward-looking approach than the all-British sleaze of Two Dancers and comes across as a more coherent album as a result. The balance of  Hayden Thorpe’s falsetto and Tom Thorpe’s growl is just perfect here. Sex music for self-loathing English lads.

Where: Ground Zero (23 Rue Sainte-Marthe 75010)

If Pitchfork reviews it, or local French bands play it, Ground Zero will stock it. Up to date releases, 90s re-releases and boxes of obscure indie secondhand vinyl fill the pleasantly cluttered front rooms. There’s a cave of dance music downstairs and a varied soul, r’n’b and African rack too.

Grouper  – AIA Alien Observer

Gigs in Paris albums of 2011

Liz Harris’s work as Grouper eschews any form of loudness or definition, finding the most effective arrangements lie among the notes between notes; her music is so barely there it’s almost ambient. It could get tired quickly in the wrong hands, but the pure strength of Harris’ melodies and vocals make this sleepy music addictive. AIA Alien Observer is one half of the AIA project, but  I much prefer this one over AIA Dream Loss, which pushes the ambient gauze boat out a little too far. If 2008’s stunning ‘Dragging a Dead Deer Up a Hill’ splashed about in swamps and watery graves, Alien Observer skims through clouds and floats among the stars. Enchanting.

Where: Gibert Joseph (34 Boulevard St Michel 75006)

Occupying a large chunk of Boulevard St Michel, the Gibert Joseph chain is like a cultural supermarket. The disquaire branch sits at the top of the hill and what it lacks in ambience it makes up in selection. Petty much every form of music is catered for; from Coldplay to Current 93, Gainsbourg to gansta rap. Good for underground experimental US labels, but can be on the pricey side.

Colin Stetson – New History Warfare vol. 2: Judges

Gigs in Paris Top Five RecordsA late entry to the list here – it was going to be Alexander Tucker’s Dorwytch in this slot but Colin Stetson dropped on the doormat as I was writing this. Just one man and his saxophone… how? By using some sort of crazy circular breathing technique apparently. Colin manages to squeeze sounds out of a woodwind instrument that just don’t seem legal. I don’t even like saxophone; but that’s by-the-by. You can’t tell this is a saxophone. The mixture of strange drones and skittering blips are unsettling and yet blissful at the same time. Hypnotic monologues and otherworldly singing from Laurie Anderson keep things varied and at no point does this record feel like a gimic, just a new way of playing and creating music.

Where: Souffle Continu  (22 Rue Gerbier 75011)

Where to begin? Experimental, drone, American primitivism, psychedelic folk, krautrock, metal, industrial, indie, sixties reissues, obscure world music vinyls…it’s all here. Friendly owners and a pleasant atmosphere, not to mention the immaculately-curated boxes and shelves easily make the place a contender for Parisian record store of the year.

Gigs in Paris top record stores, 2011

Wolves in the Throne Room – Celestial Lineage

Gigs in Paris top records for 2011Black Metal for people who don’t know they like Black Metal, but don’t let that put you off. Celestial Lineage is the work of two eco-friendly brothers who live on a farm in Washington State. Their output as Wolves in the Throne Room deals mainly with the awesome power of nature, isolation and the threat of apocalypse. If you can get past the black metal tropes, which includes the screeching vocals but excludes the corpse paint, their latest sees an impressive expansion of their wonderful, devastating sound. Perfect for dark winter nights, by a fire, with a horn of mead.

Where: Music Fear Satan (28 Rue Rodier 75009)

Small but well-stocked shop for all things rock. Music Fear Satan’s knowledgeable and helpful owners are happy to guide you through the sludge-metal.

Tomutonttu -  Elevana Planeetalla EP

Gigs in Paris albums of 2011Beguiling madness from Finland freak-flag flyer Jan Anderzén, better known as the mastermind behind Kemialliset Ystävät. Anderzén’s Tomutonttu project seems to be a more accessible, organic version of his previous efforts on Fonal. Anyone familiar with Kemialliset Ystävät will probably know what to expect- discordant sounds piled on top of each other like a crazy jigsaw puzzle. It’s wild but somehow, it works. The Elevana Planeetalla ep, released on Matt Mondanile’s (Ducktails) New Images label, takes the jigsaw as a basis but allows melodic grooves to bloom out of the chaos. File under ‘gnome disco.’

Where: Bimbo Tower (5 Passage St Antoine 75011)

Bimbo Tower is without doubt the best place in Paris to scratch the surface of the world and reveal it as an incredibly weird, confusing place. Hidden down a tiny side-street near Bastille and with no discernible shop-front, this is truly the church of obscurity and can be slightly hard to find. It’s worth the effort though just to browse their exhaustive range of experimental music and art-books of all shapes, sizes and sounds.

Gigs in Paris top record stores of 2011

Thurston Moore – Demolished Thoughts

Gigs in Paris records of 2011Ageing punk makes folky strings and whistles record? Sounds like a four four beat towards disaster, but fortunately ex-Sonic Youth man Thurston Moore not only pulls it off but kills it, bringing his trademark unconventional tunings to gentle violin and harp-backed acoustic reveries that sometimes develop into full-on noise. Kind of like a Nick Drake with balls, Demolished Thoughts is at once gently psychedelic and infinitely listenable with a tension that’s kept up right to the end. Beautiful middle-age riot, and my favourite record of the year.

 Where: Le Silence de la Rue (39, rue Faidherbe 75011)

Le Silence de la Rue has a good spread of newly-released indies sitting alongside vast garage rock and sixties-to-eighties rock sections. Nice variety of hip-hop, jazz, reggae, soul and world too. Excellent for digging up hard-to-find boxsets.

Gigs in Paris 2011 Record Stores of the year