I may have spent one too many drinks celebrating the Penguins victory at Wingharts before heading off to Millvale for Attic Records midnight opening. By the time I arrived the line snaked the length of the block and around the corner. A great indicator of the success of Record Store Day 2012 and relative disappointment because I feared I was destined to miss out on some of the best releases. While I lost a few near the top of my wish list, this encouraged me to stumble into a few records I wouldn’t have normally picked up. Here’s my haul.
Animal Collective, Transverse Temporal Gyrus
In 2010, Animal Collective and visual artist Danny Perez put on an installation called “Transverse Temporal Gyrus” at the Guggenheim Museum in New York City. The music on this 12″ is a mixture of the music recorded for the installation and live tracks recorded at the Guggenheim. It’s raw Animal Collective with broader creative liberties. RSD Exclusive.
Arcade Fire, Sprawl II / Ready to Start 12″
Remixes of two songs from The Suburbs. I’m not in love with the remix of “Ready to Start” because it feels like the original, just extended by some synth and beat, but the refashioned “Sprawl II” makes this one a keeper. RSD Exclusive. Here’s a video of the Sprawl II (Mountains Beyond Mountains) remix. Just a great track.
Live Leonard Cohen tracks are always a treat. Quite frankly I haven’t listened to this one yet because I’m sure it’s fantastic. I never promised cutting edge journalism here, folks.
Shabazz Palaces, Live at KEXP12″
Listened to all these tracks on KEXP. Shabazz is such a raw, innovative hip-hop act and these live recordings from KEXP distill their talent to the essentials. Highly recommended. RSD Exclusive. Video from the session. I’ve just been a huge fan of theirs since I first heard a stream of the record. And it just keeps getting better. They have a shot at becoming a Tribe Called Quest-type game-changer for the genre with a few more releases like their debut.
A great Donald Glover/Childish Gambino track (my favorite on the album at least) with some solid remixes on the B-side on some sweet red vinyl. I am a goddamn sucker for colored vinyl.
Of Monsters and Men, Into the Woods EP 10″
I’m a pretty big fan of these Icelanders… so an exclusive RSD yellow vinyl with a previously unreleased track made it an easy grab. Even better that unreleased track, a down tempo bit of melancholy, doesn’t seem out of place. Fans of the band should find copy. And/or listen here to your heart’s content.
Bill Evans, Live At Art D’Lugoff’s Top Of The Gate12″
This was the #1 want at the top of my RSD shopping list. I was quite relieved to find perhaps the last copy at Attic Records. My favorite jazz pianist. The tracks on this album were recorded in Greenwich Village in 1968. They were just recently discovered, digitally remastered and pressed on 180-gram blue vinyl. The full recordings will be released in a 3LP box set later this year. I found a nice video about the show on the label’s website.
Foster the People, “Broken Jaw” / “Ruby” 7″ and Jukebox the Ghost, “I Love You Always Forever” 7″
If you like Foster there’s little to dislike, though the tracks both just feel like excised cuts from their full-length that were lacking in some fashion. To cover up the weaknesses, they threw some synth into the mix. It’s kind of a catch all, really. Fix and ailing song? Add synth. Need to remix a track for a b-side? Add synth. I like synth so it’s a good rule.
I’d forgotten about this 7″ Jukebox single until I stumbled across it at the checkout. These are the oddities that really make me love Record Store Day. I’m not kidding. Jukebox covers the saccharine Donna Lewis pop song smash “I Love You Always Forever” and they take enough initiative to make it their own without shoehorning indie angst into the mix, you know, to make it edgy. The biggest surprise wasn’t that I thoroughly and guiltlessly enjoyed the Donna Lewis cover but on the b-side, Jukebox also includes their inspired cover of New Order’s “Temptation.” The track had been released previously on a limited edition version of Let Live & Let Ghosts so it’s not a new find, but merely a very pleasant surprise.
Afrika Bambaataa/MC5, “Kick Out the Jams” 7″ Mastodon/Flaming Lips, “A Spoonful Weighs a Ton” 7″ Run DMC/Carolina Chocolate Drops, “You Be Illin'” 7″
The Side by Side series of discs offer a coupling of covers. Some of them are new recordings, some old (as in the Afrika Bambaataa and MC5 disc). I was unable to snag a “Feistodon” (Feist covering Mastodon and Mastodon covering Feist), which was a bummer because it was really the only release of its kind. I was happy to find the southern fried cover of Run DMC’s “You Be Illin'” and impulse bought both the Mastodon/Flaming Lips (pink vinyl!) and the Afrika Bambaataa/MC5 (tie-died-looking vinyl!). And it would have been easy to give in to a few more of these.
The Pharcyde, Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde Singles Collection Box
The Pharcyde on vinyl is crucial enough. Then add unreleased remixes. Colored vinyl. A poster. A CD of those unreleased tracks and a puzzle. Oh… and it does this:
Reason #278 to buy vinyl: Rescuing misplaced treasures from a vinyl purgatory
For any open-minded, intrepid collector and music enthusiast, Reason #278 might be the best reason of all to support vinyl. The earliest lateral-cut discs (the precursor to vinyl as we know it) had been produced nearly a century before compact discs stomped all over its turf like Godzilla over Tokyo; therefore, it’s no surprise that the breadth and variety of available music for the turntable knows no equal.
Wander any decent second-hand record store and you’ll be treated to unorthodox genres long since forgotten. At some point in our consumer past, sellers/distributors shoehorned all genres into a select few. Rock/Pop. Jazz. Country. Classical. Rap/Hip-Hop. Am I missing any? Shop vinyl and you’ll find genres like Hawaiian. Banjo. Soul. Rockabilly. I am always compelled to linger over these genres even though my knowledge of the artists contained within could be found lacking. I want to pick one at random, just to give it a listen. If nothing else, experiments like these provide great fodder for the bl-g. But the number of potential targets overwhelms and ultimately I move on to more familiar pastures. Next time I’ll come armed with a Google search and a list of obscure artists in obscure genres and do some exploration. After all, $2 per adventure seems pretty damn cheap these days.
I am much more comfortable making decisions at the intersection of the familiar and random. And it turns out that the best place to discover the intersection of familiar and random is at shops that are not just music purveyors. Half-Price Books, for example. While they have vinyl, they are predominantly a seller of other used media. The vinyl that winds up in the wooden crates at Half-Price is generally of the omnipresent variety: Tom Jones, Roger Whitaker, Anne Murray, Kenny Rogers, Barbara Streisand, Huey Lewis, Kenny Loggins, Chicago and so on and so forth. These stores are a dumping ground for entire collections that no longer have value to their owners. Many are inherited. Some are just unwanted, replaced by space-saving digital media. But when people dump collections indiscriminately, collectors are often rewarded for taking the time to dig a little deeper.
Last week I brought my daughter into Half-Price to do a little browsing. On this occasion she’d been the one that had asked to go to the “record store.” And who am I to disagree? I’m so proud of her—the “record store” resides right next door to Toys R Us and she never thinks twice about her decision. I’ve been through the crates at this particular Half-Price enough to know that I’ve pretty much picked out anything that would have interested me. My daughter sits down at my feet and re-sorts the 45s. And by “re-sorts” I mean she finds one with a spacious paper sleeve and crams as many as she can fit into that sleeve. These records are generally in such bad condition (read: unplayable) that I don’t monitor her too closely. If I notice she’s getting a little too aggressive I pick her up and ask for her help flipping through the 33s. This is for her benefit only. If you’ve ever tried to read a book in a toddler’s hands you’ll know the impossibility of browsing records when they’re similarly in control. It’s not an ideal solution but she’s two years old, almost three—there are no ideal solutions for two year olds and vinyl shopping. This particular day I noticed that she’d gone a little too far with the 45 molestation, reaching a crop of unsullied records that deserved a better fate. I bent down to redirect her attention to the previously mauled items or the Disney Princess card game (she is content to merely dump this on the ground) but as I did so I noticed the boxed sets of vinyl stacked up behind the piles of 45s. They were situated in such a way that from my angle I could not have seen them unless I’d been kneeling on her level. There were some mail order classical music collections from anonymous orchestras but the boxes were curious enough and unusual enough that I felt compelled to pull them out and peruse their innards. As I descended into the abyss behind the 45s, beyond the mail-order classical, I found a couple of boxes much more to my liking.
The first was a generic, blue vinyl folder. The Half-Price sticker labeled the set: “$5.00 – Random.” I unsnapped the cover and flipped through the sleeves. The book had been filled with 7” 33rpm singles of various big bands of the 40s and 50s. Almost all were in great condition. Bing Crosby. Louis Prima. Kay Kyser. The history of this folio intrigued me. Someone had taken exquisite care of these records, most produced between 1945 and 1955, only to have them dumped here. The value isn’t the point however. They could be worthless, everyday coaster-fodder, but it wouldn’t matter. There’s a history here that’s beyond monetary measure. Old records smell like history. They have a weight, an importance—even when they came a dime a dozen at the time of their original distribution. I could take these home and one by one, place them on my turntable and discover something old and potentially meaningful that is again made brand new. People that do not buy vinyl just do not understand this. They don’t take much care in browsing a used CD rack for oddities and curios. Anything that is odd is probably not worth having. And if there is some perceived worth in compact discs, the worth is measured in nostalgia or kitsch but not adventure or discovery. Vinyl shopping is a treasure hunt. Used CD shopping is a force of habit.
Great Jazz Artists Pla the Music of Great Composers
My second discovery wasn’t so much an oddity but a welcome and immediately identified necessity. Though the box appeared worn, somewhat torn and tattered around the edges, the picture of the front screamed “BUY ME”—Nat and Cannonball Adderly beneath the title: GreatJazz Artists Play the Music of Great Composers. So I did. I bought that sucker and the “$5.00—Random” folio. Later, I looked up the label that released the set, Murray Hill, and found that they mostly reissued other catalogues. Sure enough, there on the back of the set:
“…these unsual LPs, drawn from the extensive catalogues of Riverside and its affiliated Jazzland label, bring you a fusing of some of the finest and most interesting examples of both elements. Here are many of the best and best-loved melodies of our greatest songwriters, as interpreted by varied lineups of modern jazz talent…”
Track listing for Great Jazz Artists Play the Music of Great Composers
And some further interweb browsing revealed that the set sells for as much as $50. Again, the potential resale value isn’t important. Interesting… but not important. The find, the search, the discovery, the hope of finding something sacred in a slushpile picked through by hundreds before me. Sacred means something different to everyone. For me, it was looking on the back of Great Jazz Artists to find Cole Porter songs played by the likes of Bill Evans, George Shearing, Wes Montgomery, Cannonball Adderly, Sonny Rollins and Johnny Griffin. Thelonius Monk playing Irving Berlin. Charlie Byrd and Billy Taylor doing Gershwin. These names are sacred to me. And after only one listen through Side 1 of Record 1 I knew I’d found something special. The recordings are clear and the vinyl in excellent condition. I can’t help but imagine this set’s prior owner and their connection to the records. Did they consider it a gem or merely part of the overwhelming burden of their old music collection? Judging by the condition of the box (worn and split along one seam) compared to the condition of the vinyl (superficial scratches, no skips)—I believe it must have been treasured just as I treasure it now. And this thought gives me great pleasure, that I’ve again given this music a good home, having rescued it from a vinyl purgatory. I haven’t yet listened to the entire set—there are 12 glorious discs that must be savored and brought back to life, but all in good time. Listening is only part of the joy. Shopping for vinyl—going, browsing, inspecting—forever offers new opportunities to strike gold, but if you’re not taking the time to search those darker corners of the second-hand stores and flea markets you’re going to find a lot of Anne Murray records but nothing particularly as precious or mysterious as “$5.00—Random.”
It’s been awhile since I posted some writing dedicated to vinyl. I though an easy way would be to start posting the results from my shopping trips. I rarely shop with any agenda; I just see what shows up. Last weekend I got sent on a solo Home Depot trip which meant that I can browse the racks at Half Price Books without a small whirling dervish at my feet. Two-year old daughters have a tendency to move/sort/pile anything within reach… thus my vinyl shopping trips often end when the fun of stacking 45s runs its course… usually somewhere in the M, N, O, P crates. If I have fewer records from bands in the later half of the alphabet, it’s not alpha-bias.
In my ultimate tribute to holiday-fueled nostalgia, I spun Christmas in the Stars: The Star Wars Christmas Album today. While not on the level of horrors that is the Star Wars Holiday Special, the Christmas album has its own set of charms. The only actual Star Wars voice talent that appears on the record is Anthony Daniels as C3PO. R2-D2 and Chewbacca bleep and blip and garble their way through their respective bit parts. Poor Anthony Daniels. The songs, Star Wars fouls notwithstanding, are rather enjoyable revisionist Christmas ditties, the most memorable being “What Can You Get a Wookiee for Christmas (When He Already Owns a Comb?)” and the title track “Christmas in the Stars.” There’s also the child-chorus atrocity “R2-D2 We Wish You a Merry Christmas” featuring the first recorded appearance of Jon Bon Jovi (credited as John Bongiovi, his birth name) and the bizarre refashioning of Twas the Night Before Christmas. Everyone has their own favorites, I suppose.
Released in 1980 and produced by Meco Monardo (the genius behind the Star Wars and Other Galactic Funk), Christmas in the Stars was planned to be the first in a string of yearly Star Wars holiday records. Which if you’d heard the record is pretty inconceivable. Kinda seems like they tapped whatever creative potential there may have been with this first one… which, truth be told, is very, very little. The follow-ups never happened because a lawsuit shut down the RSO label before another could be released. What a shame.
I’m not even going to bother detailing the logistical nightmares created by the Star Wars universe celebrating Christmas. It’s more fun to just go along with it… unless of course you hate Star Wars and if you hate Star Wars you might as well hate Christmas too, ya grinch.
No recent Internet time suck has sucked more time than Turntable.fm. And by sucked I mean consumed my idle and active click time. The beauty of the website/community is that it can provide a constant soundtrack to your day in the micro-genre of your choosing. At work. At home. Really whenever you’re at a computer (or soon an iPhone and iPad). You can be a zombie and just absorb the tunes or participate by chatting about music or stepping up to the decks to spin your own favorite tracks.
I will save this picture on the off chance that one day I can build my DREAM house and find this architect and this decorator and tell them to make me a dining room like this. I think it's one of the first formal dining rooms I've ever really liked.