mism is necessary for survival.” There has been reason for hope in recent years. LP sales rose for the 14th consecutive year in 2019, per Nielsen Music. Store and label reps tell EW that vinyl’s upward trajectory was expected to continue in 2020. Yet the industry already faced extensive distribution issues, and a February fire destroyed California’s Apollo Masters plant, which produced an estimated 75 to 80 percent of the world’s supply of lacquer discs (the blank canvases, essentially, needed to press new records). Then came the pandemic, which pushed these not insignificant problems almost out of mind. Tours, a large source of record sales for artists and labels, were canceled. New albums were postponed. Pressing plants shut down, or found themselves with nothing to press. “Ninety percent of our business went away overnight,” says Dustin Blocker, of Dallas-based label and pressing company Hand Drawn Records, though he notes it has recovered slightly. “We’re pretty hopeful that it’s starting to make a turnaround, but we just don’t know yet.” It was a similar one-two punch for record retailers: A slowing of vinyl to their stores due to the loss of pressing plants was problematic for their bottom line, and then they were forced to close due to the pandemic. Owners had to quickly spring into action to address both issues. “After we shut down, we rifled through our ‘rainy day’ stacks and hit selling directly through Instagram,” says Cory Feierman, a buyer for New York City’s Academy Records. Though online purchases could be enough to sustain stores temporarily, they provide just a fraction of what retailers typically do. In March, weekly physical album sales had fallen below 1 million units, estimated to be the lowest in almost 60 years, per At least one prominent store, Seattle’s Bop Street Records, has already announced it will close for good. However, the tight-knit music community has mobilized to help. After initially postponing Record Store Day 2020, the organizers spread the event over three dates (Aug. 29, Sept. 26, and Oct. 24). Labels have offered to help amid their own struggles, as have artists (for one, Jason Isbell released his new album to indie stores a week early). Slowly, a semblance of normalcy is returning, with a steady stream of new releases. Jack White’s Third Man Records reopened its Detroit pressing plant in mid-May after a two-month shutdown, with new safety measures in place. “Prior to all of this, everyone was pretty much trained in everything,” Third Man cofounder Ben Blackwell says. “You could ping-pong between different stations,” like operating the actual press, or checking records for defects. But employees are now currently restricted to a single station, must wear face masks, and have to eat lunch in their cars. CHLOE X HALLE ALBUM LABEL GENRE UNGODLY HOUR PARKWOOD POP/R&B WHEN THE QUEEN COSIGNS, PEOPLE tend to listen. In the five years since Beyoncé first plucked thenadolescent sisters Chloe and Halle Bailey from the hype cloud of the internet and brought them to her Parkwood imprint, the duo have served as her opening act on two tours, earned a pair of Grammy nods (including Best New Artist) for their 2018 debut, and sung at a Super Bowl. It’s the kind of pop-star most aspiring young artists can only dream of—though fame by association, it turns out, is no sure thing; most of the siblings’ singles have so far failed to crack the Hot 100. seems unlikely to change that, but it’s undeniably pretty: stacked with the kind of clean harmonies and gently syncopated R&B that doesn’t so much demand ear space as sidle up to it, unassumingly. “Forgive Me” comes on with a crisp stutterstep and a sly requiem for a less-than-honest lover; the spunsugar “Tipsy” bends and sways, drunk on mad romance; slow-rolling YOLO anthem “Rest of Your Life” rides a heady dance-floor gospel high. Another kind of notoriety undoubtedly awaits Halle when she stars in Disney’s live-action reboot, slated for release next year. Until then, the sisters can claim a softer spotlight, moving to their own sweet melody. IN THE INDEPENDENT WORLD, THE ODDS ARE STACKED AGAINST YOU.” MELANIE SHEEHAN OF ROUGH TRADE RECORDS ex machina As shutdown orders have begun to ease up, more stores are exploring ways to allow people back in. Yet it’s still unclear how long sheltering in place will stay in effect, and medical experts have repeatedly warned that reopening too soon will set off a new wave of infections. Even if that crisis is averted, the experience of browsing a store may never be the same. “I wouldn’t usually begrudge someone who spends a few hours in the shop and only buys three $1 records, but I don’t know if that would be feasible,” says Feierman. Still, he hopes the industry can one day do inperson business again. “Anyone could just grab a stack of records and list them on Discogs or eBay, but it’s so passionless!” he says. “That’s such a dark path for something as special and taste-driven as a record store can be.” Ungodly Hour ONE VINYL THAT DID NOT SURVIVE LONG Billboard. The Martin Scorsese-produced, Bobby Cannavalestarring recordindustry drama which HBO canceled after 10 episodes Little Mermaid Vinyl, B+ —LEAH GREENBLATT JULY 2019 EW ● COM 73
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