Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Reissues Issue ... Tissue?

Vinyl Vagabonds are not well-to-do, glutinous, gilded fatcats (not yet at least).  They scrimp and save in the effort to acquire "the good stuff," and are always looking for a deal (We are Vinyl Vagabonds: Just give us your records).  However, some records are just never ever going to enter into affordability.  Why is this?

For starters, coveted albums are often "known," meaning that other lovable record slobs aren't letting them go.  Another reason is that super sought after albums are from early parts of the artists career before big labels and even bigger pressings.  What this primarily means is that there are just not as many of those records in existence for everybody to have an original copy.  Especially for musicians working outside the studio system, you should expect that original copies are not easy to come by.  But why doesn't the record label just make more when they have a hit on their hands (aka supply and demand)?  Well, in some cases this does happen, but the law of diminishing returns applies.  This law states (does it?) that the more times things get repressed, the lower the quality will be (really?).  Possibly.  Also, in this day and age, you may very well be seeking out a record made in the time of vinyl scarcity, aka 1988 to 2004, or something like that.  Lastly, back to the rare, original record: it may very well be played out.  Those tiny grooves do have a limited number of spins you know.  Why not just go the safe route and pick up a repressing on heavy vinyl so you can spin that sucker any time you feel like it?  For affordability, sound quality, and playability--a repressing is the only answer.

Repressing vs. Reissue:  Repressing usually involves the record label realizing it's got a hit on its hands and just making more.  As this happens (usually shortly after the initial release), quality has a way of declining as attention to detail in the pressing process tends to wander.  Therefore, repressing can have a bad connotation; in the past, these were done on the cheap using low quality vinyl, poor master tapes, crummy mastering, or weak quality control.  This still happens today, mostly bigger record labels trying to squeeze a quick buck off of a back catalogue.  They might tout heavy vinyl or color or even a picture disc.  None of that means squat if the process isn't done with care.

A reissue involves some sort of upgrade to the quality, heavier vinyl, deluxe/enhanced packaging, extra music, remastered tunes, etc.  Color vinyl and picture discs count as well, but they don't necessarily improve the quality.  Sometimes this extra fluff just enhances the price.  The VVers are looking for sound and value in a nice, clean package.  Nuff Said.

A recent positive example from the VVers own collection is a reissue of The Misfits' first LP from 1982, Walk Among Us.  Take a look on Discogs or Ebay to see what an original copy will run you, $350 bones!  With something that expensive you might be afraid to even play the thing.  The reissue, purchased for around $20 at Smash Records in DC, was and is the right choice.  It's on heavy black vinyl, how heavy?  "Where's the gram scale?"  Vinyl Vagabonds get to listen to it all of the time, it looks and sounds fantastic, and so what if it isn't the original!?!  Since it is a new pressing, it sounds crisp (something a secondhand copy of the original probably wouldn't at this point) and the sleeve is perfect with all of the original artwork intact.  Most times you find something used and parts are either damaged, missing, or covered with a half torn sales sticker that mars the artwork.

In some cases, reissues are something to really get excited about.  In 2014, Blue Note began to reissue hundreds of their remastered jazz icons titles for their 75th anniversary.  Many of these records (and recordings for that matter) are pretty old; this is a perfect way to preserve milestone recordings.  Blue Note proclaims, this initiative is "dedicated to the proposition that our catalog should  be readily available at a low cost, featuring high quality pressings and authentic reproductions of Blue Note's iconic packaging."  Isn't that everything you want out of a reissue?  Bravo Blue Note.  Even independent record stores are "Blue Note Authorized Dealers" to give shoppers extra incentive to go out and support them.  The Sound Garden in Baltimore, Gerosa Records in Connecticut, Bull Moose in Maine, and Everyday Music in Portland, OR have all been the recipients of the VVers' cash for some of these records.   Of the standout purchases, Dexter Gordon Our Man in Paris, from 1963, is one of the best.  Though playing all standards, Gordon, by no accident, teamed up with the Three Bosses (Bud Powell, Pierre Michelot, and Kenny Clarke) to record this session in Paris.  Mostly high tempo, featuring stellar solos, and narrated by Gordon's impeccable tenor sax, this is an excellent recording that deserves a new audience welcomed by Blue Note's reissue series.

Even though you are buying a reissue, do not assume to buy it online.  Go to your local record store and see if they have it in stock or if they can order it for you.  Case-in-point, the VVers recently decided that they should own Rage Against the Machine's 1996 epic Evil Empire on record to crank so their neighbors give them dirty looks.  The original is barely in circulation (it was the 90s!), so the reissue is the way to go.  The Record Exchange in Silver Spring easily ordered the "Music on Vinyl" version from Germany, based on the owner's advice that their stuff is quite good.  The record swiftly showed up at the store for pick-up and the VVers don't feel guilty giving the pristine vinyl many spins!  The store gets a profit while the VVers save on shipping and get a punch on their frequent buyers card.  Quick, run to reissues!

On the flip-side, for diggers scouring shops for original vinyl, it is super satisfying when you come across an original pressing of something from your wantlist.  Hooray!  Whereas, coming across a reissue in the stacks of records lacks a certain je ne sais qua.  Do you buy it so you have it and can enjoy the music, or do you keep searching?  Scenario: VVer #2 was looking for Nina Simone's Pastel Blues from1965 while traveling to the Pacific Northwest (write-up to come soon); nary a sighting, she came across the Music on Vinyl reissue at Easy Street Records in West Seattle.  Well, shoot.  Hold out for the original, which is nowhere to be found, or splurge for the reissue (on a well respected label) to hear the hypnotic sounds of "Sinnerman" play from the turntable?  After some consultation with the store owner (who validated Music on Vinyl's reputation, and added in that he was thinking of taking that copy home with him), the reissue entered the luggage of VV.  The right decision?  Yes, the sound is crisp and the price was about half what the original would have cost.

Rule of thumb for a reissue, make sure it's on a good label!  The VVers do not encourage going out and buying any old reissue.  Seek advice from your record store clerk or the back of the sleeve for information on how the reissue came to be.  Seeing as you are reading this here blog, it is implied that you are a smart person and the VVers know that you wouldn't go out and buy a $20 reissue of Blue Oyster Cult Fire of Unknown Origin or Madonna Like a Virgin that can be found in the dollar bin of nearly every record store in the US of A.  This is just the tip of the iceberg that is the reissue discussion.  Be discerning with your reissue purchases otherwise you'll need a tissue for your nozzle!

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Zine Release Party - Seventh Edition

Join the Vinyl Vagabonds to celebrate the release of their brand spankin' new zine! This intergalactic premiere features music musings, record reviews, and awe-inspiring artwork (not on the blog!). Come pick up your new copy of issue #7 and hear the VVers spin records featured in their past year's zine.

Saturday, April 2


Bump 'n Grind
1200 East West Highway
Silver Spring, MD 20910

Be there!

Sunday, March 20, 2016

"Build Me a Record Shelf"

How it went down:
VVer #2 attends a DC record fair.  As she is leaving, she spots a pamphlet on the table near the door.  The lushly photographed tri-fold advertising custom built, wooden record shelves priced upwards of $500.  She snagged the pamphlet and half-way jokingly, sent it to her dad with a note "Build this for me."  Exactly one year later, the dad-built shelf appeared in the House of VV.

Some background:
Dad-VVer loves building things, mainly wooden type things.  A treehouse, benches, aquatic animal carvings, wind art, yard crocodiles, you name it.  Call it a full time hobby.  Therefore, it was not an unusual request to send a random project his way.  In fact, over the years, the House of VV has quickly turned into a Dad-VVer furniture showroom; the refurbished Singer sewing table, refinished spiral-legged table with the swing-out sides, wine bottle plant potters, and the newest edition, a bench made from the recycled wood of a baby crib.  Building a shelving unit from a picture would be a very do-able challenge for Dad-VVer to take on.  And he did.  After volunteering at an estate sale, he got first dibs on several old doors and a pine ladder, the perfect wood to be up-cycled into the shelf.  According to Dad-VVer, the major difficulty in putting the project together was in the early stages.  He had to figure out how to assemble the flat door pieces and the ladder parts as simply as possible so as not to alter the look of the original parts.  After testing the design with a handful of his own records, a deep stain coat went on, and it was finished.  Total cost: under $40 minus design and man-hours, of course.

On design:
Apart from the increased capacity and sharp looks, the new shelf has a few quirks.  For one, the VVers are still trying to sort out is whether or not the design has a flaw.  When fully loaded, the LPs put considerable weight against the back ladder spoke, but more importantly, the record at the back of the row.  Will these records warp over time?  The solution at this point has been to use some stray flat wood, hidden inside some funny records sleeves (old Bangles records?) to more evenly distribute the weight and protect that back section.  Another thing the VVers noticed when determining where to put the shelf is that it cannot be wedged in the corner because it would be virtually impossible to access records in the bottom row.  For this design, side-access is crucial.  Also, as an object, it just looks more interesting when you can see the entire thing.  Which led the VVers to ask "Now where do we put this thing?!"  Even Dad-VVer has said if were he to do it again, he would probably make it smaller.  After some major rearranging, the ladder-shelf found a good home in a central spot for quality access and ogling.

More records:
Now that there is more storage space, records can start accumulating again!  Wait, maybe not a great idea to rush it.  Besides, the shelf arrived pre-loaded with a handful of cast off records from a family friend's personal collection.  The best of these include a Bob Dylan Greatest Hits, two Ali Akbar Khan recordings, and a Ravi Shankar record.  Interestingly enough, the Ravi Shankar record was previously in the House of VV but purged because of its inferior pressing.  This one plays much better and the VVers are happy to have it.  One record that didn't fit into the collection: Faster Than the Speed of Night by Welsh singer Bonnie Tyler which includes "Total Eclipse of the Heart."  Yeah, that song.  What's important to remember here is that just because you get a new shelf doesn't mean you have to go bonkers filling it.  Time will take care of that.

Storage matters:
Why spend time on this subject?  Caring for your vinyl is no small task (as opposed to throwing them in a heap next to the record player).  They are delicate and deserve your care.  To get the most out of your investment, you'll want maximum access to your collection, an effective way display these pieces of art (aka album covers), and an unobtrusive way to preserve your records from wear and tear.  As well, spacious shelving leads to better organization, which in turn allows you to quickly locate a record and get that thing spinning!

For the VVers, the new record shelf is one of a kind and made from recycled materials; a nice balance to the typical, but useful, Ikea bookshelf.  Since its inclusion, clutter has gone down and overall organization has improved exponentially.  The real question remains, will there be another shelf and how much will it take to bribe Dad-VVer to make it?

Sunday, February 7, 2016

A Spin on Relationships

Think that your record collection can just share space with a spouse, close family member, roommate, the neighbor's dog?  Think again!  Even if your significant other is into vinyl (if not, you have chosen poorly), getting to a healthy balance of packed shelves takes work, patience, and at times a thick skin.  You can't just assume that the other party is interested in having your super-amazing vinyl co-habitate with their substandard fare.  More to the point, the other party may not feel your super-amazing vinyl is so super-amazing and vice-versa.  It's ok not to agree on everything.  What to do?

In a significant number of musical arenas, VVer #1 and VVer #2 have melded minds on taste.  That's probably 60% of the time.  30% is "live and let live."  The other 10% is a knock down, drag out, carnage fest of warrior rage that goes something like this:
VVer #1 arrives home from work, pops on (insert great 90's alternative album here) and begins to cook dinner.  Just as he starts to hit a thrashing groove musically (as well as rocking it in the kitchen).
VVer #2 arrives home from work.  "WARRRRMMMM.  WHAT is this awful NOISE?  Aghuughhhh!"
VVer #1 "You can put something else on if you like."
VVer #2 "Aghhuuughagh!!!  Off!"

As wholesome as this back and forth must sound, the VVers are hoping to minimize bloodshed in their home and, in turn, help others out there who may be having similar dilemmas.  How to get along?  Here are a few questions to help you with those areas of avoidable misery:

  1.  When does the record come from?  If it's from an era that you grew up in, say the late 80s and not of your significant other, say the late 90s, there could be some conflict.  You may even be labeled as "living in the past."  Horrifying, right?  What can you do?  Try and show interest in the significant other's era.  Don't pigeonhole yourself by being a completest on every band from your favored era.  Be selective.  You don't need every single release from that indie label that came out between 1988 and 1991.  No, you don't.

  2.  Where did the record come from?  If it was purchased in a dusty estate sale or thrift spot, be mindful of what level of dust, scuzz, and fuzz you might be introducing to your home.  The quickest way to sour an impression on a purchase is if you disrespect the home (and more importantly the turntable) with a filthy record.  Take a few moments to inspect your purchase before it crosses the threshold.  Clean it outside if needed.  Do not force the issue.  Certain lines should not be crossed.

  3.  How much?  If you plunked down some hefty dough on a record or two, you better be able to back that up with some earnings, some solid playtime, or both.

  4.  How long?  Did you spend hours in a dumpy thrift store sifting through their Barbara Streisand albums looking for treasure?  Were you scouring the internet for rare platters?  Did you spend half your weekend driving to random and far flung yard sales hoping to find something special?  Digging for albums may be fun at times, but remember that the Pinocchio picture disc you found may be worthless compared to the time you spent in discovering it.

  5.  How many?  Any time you dedicate real estate to new arrivals you have to be very clear about your plans.  "I am going to listen to this once because I am curious and then I am going to donate this to (insert charitable thrift shop here)," or perhaps, "I am going to listen to this record all of the time and probably blog/DJ/make it my new favorite/wear it like a hat."  Stacking them up by the player and in front of the stereo, and next to the fish tank, and in front of the closet door, and in the closet, and (things can get out of hand very quickly) -- this is a losing proposition.

  6.  When are you playing it?  "When I get home it's not necessarily that the music is bad it's that I'm home and I need some peace and quiet and it BLARGH AGH CRASH RRRAAAAGHHH!!!"  This is very relevant.  Everyone has a comfort zone and if you're not paying attention to this, it doesn't matter what the record is in the slightest because you are going to lose that fight every time.  Sometimes music with too much multi-tonal activity is too much for the morning.  Sometimes jazz flute is a little too much like Christmas.  Sometimes you should just not play that record around the other person.  It's not worth the hassle and you are not going to convince your flatmate to like that album by bludgeoning it into their skull.

A smidge of advice:
  1.  Pay attention, dumbass.  Does this one really need an explanation?  If so then this entire write up isn't going to help you.  Dumbass.
  2.  Be respectful.  Timing matters.
VVer #1 "Would you like to hear record?"
VVer #2 "Yes"
VVer #1 "Is there something you would like me to play?"
VVer #2 "Play something I like."

Makes sense.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

2015 Year in Review: Concert Edition

Your ever so humble VVers spent a good chunk of 2015 at some ridiculous concerts.   Many of these shows had vinyl treasures worthy of a chronological year in review write-up.  Here are the best of the best in the "Concerts of Goodness that Yielded Vinyl of Greatness" category:

APTBS and Black Clouds
The February cold brought these VVers to Metro Gallery in Baltimore to catch A Place to Bury Strangers.  The VVers own quite a few of APTBS records, but had never had a chance to see them live.  Should you get a chance, you're going to want to bring earplugs.  From the merch table was snagged a metal "trivet" sleeved 45 that can also double as a weapon.  Read more on that here.  The 45 is super-fantastic, also extremely heavy (in both the physical and auditory sense).  In addition, all instrumental act Black Clouds played a strong opening set for APTBS and VVer #1 picked up their LP, Dreamcation.  This transparent vinyl is housed in a transparent printed sleeve with a full size booklet of semi-transparent, grayscaled photographs of haze filled ruinous landscapes.  Bleakly beautiful, and impressibly see-through.  Their album is melodic, atmospheric, and just the right amount of thrashy.  But it's the sleeve and design that keeps haunting.  Hey guys, nice package!

Big Business
April at Ottobar brought VVer #2's first time being exposed to the Biz (and VVer #1's fifth).  Survey says?  Hell yes.  The band was playing in its classic two man line-up which really emphasizes how much they can make the fur fly.  Holy smokes!  Throbbing bass lines, insanity invoking drumming, and barely audible droning vocals.  "Yeowww my head."  Big Biz merch also never fails to impress.  Home came the hand-screened "quadruple single" and gold-on-black screened beer coozies that came with a free download of their new single (while not vinyl, a very nice touch).

You know what really takes the cake?  Finding out one of your favorite bands is playing in a few hours in the city you are heading to in your tiny rental car.  Totally unplanned and half-way into a leisurely, twelve-hour cross-country drive, these VVers put the pedal to the metal to catch Crocodiles play a stellar set in Austin, TX at Holy Mountain.  Not only was there a new LP, Boys, to be bought (ahead of its actual release date) and signed, the VVers got an entire show of new music plus a few "classics" to jump around to, ending with "I Wanna Kill."  It was lovely and loud, and the VVers got a shout-out mid-show.  Heart.

Levitation (aka Austin Psych Fest)
Los Mundos Dios es Fuzz
Album avoided: Flaming Lips, Good Vibrations.  Hand-carved and multi punctured.  Fifty bucks... Just couldn't do it.  The VVers did come home with some stellar vinyl, inspired from Levitation (purchased in Austin record stores).  Two standouts are the Well's  six-track LP, Samsara, full of churning, bluesy heavy metal, and Los Mundos' EP, Dios es Fuzz, with crazy, Spanish-sung, psychedelic drone rock.  Read more about the entire experience here.

Melvins/Le Butcherettes
Though the VVers and friends went to this show at Ottobar on July 4th weekend to have the Melvins melt their faces, VVer #1 had inside knowledge that Mexican opening act, Le Butcherettes, should not be missed.  He had seen them open for Faith No More at Webster Hall earlier in the year.  Teri Gender Bender, the female lead of Le Butcherettes, put on quite an enamoring and hypnotizing show, so much so that VVer #2 requested that their most recent record (at the time), Cry Is for the Flies, be purchased from the merch table.  The LP is filled with guttural, poetic, power vocals, and a spoken-word track from Mr. Henry Rollins.  On repeat listens the catchiness of this album has burgeoned to the surface and is getting repeat spins.

Flowers of Evil
Yes, the VVers bought a record
directly from this dude.
Sometime in late summer our VVers somehow found out about a house show in DC featuring some of their favorite bands in different line-ups.  Local and awesome Shark Week was headlining, but the big draw was Flowers of Evil, a mysterious punk side project of Crocodiles, APTBS, Young Boys, and SISU.  What a sick basement show!  Not only did the VVers get to rub elbows (and share beers) with some of the band members, but they also got to whoop it up at a really unique performance space (basically a basement laundry room).  The VVers don't usually go in for all this hobnobbing... but could really get used to it!  At the close of the night, out came the debut Flowers of Evil record for purchasing directly from the band.  "Keep the change you bastards!"  The album is eleven songs of 45-speed snarling punk with a hint of psych.  Not only is it a great listen, but VVers are dead certain the names of those involved on the LP are all fake... Donny Desade?  Will Killingsworth (actually a real person)?  Legs McDaniel?

Dilly Dally
These Toronto indie punks played a scintillating gig at DC9 that had VVer #1 all a sorts of happy.  This band will immediately bring you back to 1990 with their raw blend of head-crunching riffage and yowling vocals.  The sloppy vibe put on by the disheveled band members says nothing about their professional chops.  Tight sound all around, especially from guitarist Liz Ball (sonic sorceress) and vocalist/guitarist Katie Monks (destruction arteest).  They heartily earned VVer #1's greenbacks (and high fives) for their debut LP, Sore.  The album captures much of that live vibe and adds to the mix haunting production, shimmering guitars, and one of the grossest album covers ever.  Bravo.

Honorable Mentions
The 2015 honorable mentions go to the bands the VVers saw live this year, but pre-ordered their vinyl instead of buying it at the show.  These include: Shark Week Beach Fuzz, Faith No More Sol Invictus, Heavy Breathing Airtight, and Puscifer Money Shot.  All great and unique concerts with vinyl to match (still waiting on that Puscifer).

Year in Review in review:  Buying vinyl is all fine and good, but buying it at a concert?  That comes with bragging rights.  Seriously, to hand money directly to the artist on the road is something special.  Odds are the band is getting a bigger cut of the merch sale.  You might get a signed album and get to chat up the band a bit.  Unique or limited edition schwag is fairly common on the road.  Overall, what's really important is being able to directly show your appreciation for the band.  To get a keepsake from a great show is icing on the turntable.  Your record comes with a memory.  How sweet.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Hellraising Vinyl

By The Vinyl Apprentice

Some time ago, the Vinyl Vagabonds wrote an article about different kinds of interesting vinyl sleeves. I immediately thought of a single that a buddy of mine let me borrow once. The single was “Hooch,” a 45 by the Seattle grunge-metal rockers the Melvins, and it was a beast! Feeling in the spirit this most recent Halloween, I was summoned to “Vinyl Vagabond” it; any record this strange deserves writing about. What makes this particular one so special? To start, it is housed in an impossible to open Hellraiser "puzzle box” type multi-fold out sleeve (it's actually copyrighted as a "Hard to Open Package," so you know it's good). To get it open you actually have to bend the sleeve paper in such a way that you will feel you are going to tear it to get to the 45. Hence, once you have opened this unusual packaging, the cover automatically becomes damaged. ARRRGGH! And why ARRGH? This is a hand screened, 1,000-copy limited edition single, with the cover by none other than renowned California artist Frank Kozik. Kozik is famous for his raunchy, Day-Glo concert posters that he started making in the early 1990s. He also ran a record label for a time called Man’s Ruin Records that put out records by the Sex Pistols, Queens of the Stone Age, and many other primarily stoner metal bands. Today, Kozik is an institution in “lowbrow” art. True to his style, this particular monstrosity has devilish visuals plastered all over it. To start, the front cover has a Disney-esque Satan on it. The back cover art is creepy on a whole other level and completely different in style. It looks like a 16th century wood cut of the birth of baby Beelzebub himself. Not for the meek. Eeekkk, it is chilling to the bone. Inside the sleeve of evil, is a nasty two sided Kozik picture disc. The A side has an illustration of a cigarette smoking, mustached Diablo dad chuckling away. Side B has a green haired, red skinned, monster mommy also puffing away on a cancer stick.

But wait, there’s more to this vinyl vulgarity. Both of these tracks are from the Melvins 1993 major label debut LP, Houdini, which was partially produced by none other than, Kurt Cobain. Not only did the late Nirvana frontman produce these two songs on the 45, he also contributed with guitar work on the side B song “Sky Pup.” Now I know what you are thinking, does whatever music in those grooves live up to the collected talent involved here? I’m not sure. You see, the Melvins are one of the more experimental, noisy, punk bands. They have never created a radio hit in their lives, nor will they. It's just not in their nature. Also, while singer/guitarist Buzz Osborne’s voice is strong and interesting, it's substandard. He has zero range, he was born grotesque in this category. But wait … Kurt Cobain!?!? Surely his magic and genius would make these songs shine, and transcend the Melvins to greater heights? Wrong. Unfortunately, he was fired half way through the production of Houdini as Buzz has stated Kurt was "too out of control" with his drug problems at the time to continue producing it. If there is an ounce of Kurt on these tracks, I can’t find it.

But enough of that, let me talk about the songs themselves. The first song, “Hooch” has all the right notes to make it a classic Melvins track. It is loud and thrashy with a nice dirge-like hook and Dale Crover delivers a deep, bombastic drum beat. While the song does drone, it is a head banging, hideous tune, and I enjoy it. Side B is a different story. “Sky Pup” is a mysterious enigma. It sounds more like a song from psychedelic space rockers, the Flaming Lips than it does the Melvins. While it is kind of groovy and has a magnetic bass line, it is not very memorable. Drummer Dale sings on this track, which really sounds more like him just talking. His voice is frightful, and practically inaudible. In fact, the whole track sounds very quiet, and puts me to sleep. Snore. This song is a goofy head scratcher.

Contrary to how my review sounds, I really like the Melvins, and recommend spending your time and money getting to know them. And this single? The packaging alone is sick, and the music is decidedly weird. Pinhead would be proud. It's classic Melvins. Looking and listening to this creepy conundrum will definitely keep me up at night for years to come….

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Urgent News Bulletin: Vinyl Vagabonds DJ Set

Ladies and gentlemen, can I please have your attention.  I've just been handed an urgent and horrifying news story.  I need all of you to stop what you're doing and listen.  

Listen to the Vinyl Vagabonds play records at Bump 'n Grind in Silver Spring on
Friday, January 15th 7-9pm 

Don't act like you're not impressed.

Monday, December 14, 2015

Pssst Your Butt and Bravado Are Showing...

"Animal" as painted by
VVer #1
Heavy Breathing - Airtight - 2015
(Part 2 - After the Music)

In the VVers' world, very few instances exist where seeing a band live increases appreciation of their recorded work. Washington DC's Heavy Breathing is the exceptional exception.  When Heavy Breathing perform, they bring it.  "IT" = scintillating synths, make-the-audience-feel-awkward asides, all-out drumming, bravado guitars, and a whiz-bang light show.  Each member of this three-piece band has a distinct stage personality and is responsible for the above mentioned "IT"s.  It should also be noted that the band members madly grin through their entire show; they have serious fun.  This makes perfect sense as it is impossible not to dance gleefully during a Heavy Breathing set.  Was the faith of our humble VVers rewarded that the band could capture all of said je ne sais quoi on their brand new LP Airtight?  Absolutely rewarded.  The same joyful abandon--with a hint of very naughty--is etched in every single groove, so turn it loud!  Airtight is a laser light show on wax.  Live performance and recording complement each other just right with neither doing a disservice.

"Intro" perfectly fits the bill for a starter to this LP.  Heavy Breathing starts their live shows with aforementioned narratives which often make the audience look at each other nervously and think to themselves, "Did I come to the right show?  What have I gotten myself into?"  "Intro" begins with apropos heavy breathing noises in what sounds like a time warp or black hole.  "What record did I just buy?  This is weird!"  Weird is right, and it is great!  Highlight tracks, "Gimmie Mine" and  "Drop It" are staples of Heavy Breathing's live shows.  The recorded versions have a crisp sound that allows the layered samples and instruments to come through.  The energetic, manic drumming on "Gimmie Mine" is just as pronounced in the recording, granted it is more fun live (their drummer is Animal's doppelganger: flailing arms, bobbing body, giant smile; it is wonderful to watch).  "Drop It" has more of a relaxed tempo, but both tracks are also loaded with all sorts of indescribable weirdo noises and funky-fat riffs.  It is hard to pin-down exactly what Heavy Breathing's music sounds like because they really don't sound like anyone and no one sounds like them.  This is a fantastic problem.  Psychedelic heavy metal electronica?  Psych-rock disco?  Shredding cabbage?  Oddball house goth?  World-inspired weirdo-pop?  Sure, yes.  Heavy Breathing grew from former group, the Apes, keeping some of their similar sound, but ditching live vocals for repeated, distorted samples and dance oriented jams.  These vocal samples are just as confusing to describe, as they generally sound like gibberish, but in a surrealistically pleasing way.  It more than works; it helps the listener to focus on the music being pumped out, shredded, and blasted by the band. "Easy" has lovely vampiric organ flourishes leading into and out of a propulsive booty shaker.  Slow tempo tracks are scarce except for "Touch It" and "I No Luv"; the later is playful and allows for synths to really shine through.  Airtight has numerous twists and turns that are as stupefying as they are rewarding.  Each crescendo of darkness met with a mightier triumphant riff.  Epic is the right word.

Let's take a minute to reflect on the album art again, shall we?  Front cover naked guy (aka "Steve") looks like he is passed out after a night of hedonism.  Back cover lady also passed out on the ground, but at least she managed to keep her clothes on.  Too much Heavy Breathing or just the right amount?  No one knows.  Regardless, it's just the right visual cue that these cats have a relentless sound that will party you up until you drop.  What does that even mean?

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Doomed from the Cover or Psst, Your Butt is Showing

Part 1 (Before the music)

It has been a long standing policy in the House of VV to actively avoid any albums with naked butts on the cover, specifically male (the female behind TBD).  This rule was first enacted when the Yes album, Going for the One, entered the house and then just as quickly was going for the door.  It's been a long time since the VVers had this one, so remembering the music is nearly impossible, except for the consensus that it was entirely displeasing.  What is memorable is: butt cover = bad album.  Ironic in that famed album designers, Hipgnosis, designed and shot the cover for Going for the One.  This is the team that created the iconic album art for Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, and Houses of the Holy amongst others.  While there is a legitimate history of famous album covers that feature nudity, the VVers have just said no.

"Topless is ok, bottomless no way."

After many years adhering to this rule, the VVers are confronted with an epic quandary: they are on the verge of possessing a record with a butt cover.  That's right, a naked butt-man.  In the House of VV.  Butt.  How could this happen?  Back in March, the VVers funded an Indiegogo campaign for always awesome DC band, Heavy Breathing, to press their new LP on vinyl.  What a great thing!  The band raises money and the VVers get a record, win-win!  No one was concerned about what the album art was going to look like at the time.  The VVers were merely excited to hear a new LP of Heavy Breathing's quirky synth/psych dance/rock electronica.  But now that very album might be too cheeky from the start!  Eeeeepp!  [Full disclosure: Based on past music and live shows, the VVers are optimistic this album is going to be killer.]  The new album, Airtight, was released today on favorite local label Electric Cowbell.  Hopefully it isn't doomed like the aforementioned, unclothed butt cover.  The VVers promise to remain objective and let their ears be the final judge.  Stay tuned for the full album review and if you are in DC catch them at the Black Cat on November 19th.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

It Came from the Garbage

Weird as it may sound, the VVers, on a seemingly annual basis, come across vinyl thrown in the garbage.  Usually there are only a few records, but occasionally there is an entire box.  Recently, the VVers were walking out of a local record store and just twenty steps up the road found a massive stack of records cascading out of a garbage can.  A lot of these were very clearly beyond hope.  Quite a few were water damaged and were starting to show signs of growage.  This is where the buck stops.  Sifting through the trash heap, at least three of James Brown's most sought after records were found in this condition.  Sad as the thought of that may be, this discarded bunch contained many of the sorts of records that deserve to be put out of their musical misery.  A few exceptions?  There was one 70's "Fat Albert" animated series record, which at first glance looked ok, but upon further inspection (mind you that the inspection was going on out on the sidewalk of a busy street with VVer #1 digging in a garbage can, awkward) the vinyl was badly warped.  Initially, an "All in the Family" TV soundtrack looked sharp, but then it turned out the record itself was missing.  Fear not dear reader.  Digging a bit deeper, a few things were salvaged.  Important to note, when these records entered the House of VV they received a thorough, double cleaning, inside and out.  Here are the three that were rescued:

Aretha Franklin - You - 1975

Unfortunately, this record survived.  Side one is slightly listenable, lead off track "Mr. D.J. (5 for the D.J.)" being one of the funkier numbers.  It's also the only track she wrote on this trashed LP.  The ballad, "I'm not Strong Enough to Love You" is pretty on target.  Not really the sort of thing that makes hearts happy in the House of VV, but not too painful.  The rest are just rough.  VVer #2 was very unsympathetic to Ms. Franklin's caterwauling so much so that most of the album was accompanied by a dying cat impersonation.  It's for the best.  The most entertaining quality for this one is the photograph on the cover.  The outfit, the glasses, the blowout 'do, the pose, the campy smile... it's a special kind of train wreck.

Mr. T - Mr. T's Commandments - 1984

Tougher-than-nails 80's superstar, Mr. T, raps, does spoken word, and tells it like it is, with his back-up singers keeping the tempo up.  The album is a total cluster, geared towards young-ins.  The synths and songwriting are horrendous.  The tempo-less Mr. T's voice is like a bag of gravel being rolled around on concrete.  Think Oscar the Grouch and you're almost there.  Granted, his message to kids is full of wisdom, "Don't Talk to Strangers," "No Dope, No Drugs," and the like.  The tunes that really fail hard though are the ones about himself, "Mr. T, Mr. T (He Was Made for Love)," "The Toughest Man in the World," and "The One and Only Mr. T."  Taking corny to an entirely other level of pain--way to go T.  Somehow they figured out how to take the tough out of the toughest.  Awful.  He wrote exactly zero percent of what's on here so let's at least hope he got paid.  Those gold chains don't pay for themselves!  Again, the album cover is probably the most entertaining thing here.  Mismatched tube socks, boots held together with duct tape, gold chains, feathered earrings, and of course the mohawk.   He's a true original, sort of a disco era fashion icon of rags to riches.  It's just one of those ridiculous 80's artifacts that have to be seen (and not heard) to be believed.

James Brown - Nothing but Soul - 1968

All instrumental, a little chaotic, kind of funky.  There is a chance the VVers hold on to this one for a little while.  The Godfather of Soul takes a break from shouting about Hot Pants and Soul Power to instead focus on "his increasing technical ability as an organist," says the back cover write-up.  Also, it describes the album as a "series of instrumentals that should find their way on the turn tables of disc jockies and home recording machines of millions of his fans."  Good luck arguing with that!   Rhythms and soulful swagger are here, especially on the all too short "Buddy-E."  Not too bad, but sometimes it flows into a blurting, wince-inducing, scat-clarinet territory.  It tortures the ears.

Of the three, no big winners here.  In doing a bit of reading on the interwebs it turns out that all three albums are out of print, which is interesting, and not entirely disappointing.  Also, there is a good chance the Mr. T album is worth a little chunk of change, somewhat justifying the effort.  Sometimes garbage is just garbage, but you'll never know until you give it a spin.  Dig it!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Does Your Fish Approve?

I like records too you know.
After a spin of the first Crocodiles 45, Neon Jesus, VVer #2 popped on Santurce, the first 45 of local DC band Shark Week.  She then turned to the fish tank, directly positioned next to the record player.  There sat Bella, the bushy-nosed plecostomus (basically a little sucker-mouthed catfish), out of her normal hiding area, at the front of the tank, and enthralled with the sonics infiltrating her water waves.  The VVers have no shame in the fact that they (mostly VVer #2) often talk to their fish.  VVer #2 loudly proclaimed, "Bella!  You like the Crocodiles?!" then realized, "I know it's a scary band name for a fish, but the music is good, right?..." then remembered, "Eeep, I'm playing Shark Week for you now; also a band name you probably don't like! ... Sorry!"  Bella definitely shook her tail to signal her disapproval of all this banter.  (Ok, it's possible that part didn't happen.)

Coincidentally, Crocodiles and Shark Week are tour buddies and both have new LPs out this year which are well worth your cash money.  Just don't tell your fish what music they are listening to and they will be happy as clams!

Translated from Fish to Human by VVer #2:

Crocodiles - Boys - 2015
This one will have you water-bobbing and fin-flipping in no time, especially with opening track "Crybaby Demon."  Continuing the Crocodiles' trend towards electrifried-rock over catchy beats, Boys skews more pop than their earlier LPs.  Less of an extended backstroke and more of a cannonball.  Songs tend to stick to under five minutes and are full of sing-a-long-able vocals.  The stylistic shift works well within Crocodiles' sound, but VVer #2 yearns for the loose, grungy format of their first LP, Summer of Hate (based on the ridiculous amount of times that record is played in the house).  [blurp, blurp, blurp] Other standout tracks from Boys include "Foolin' Around" which features what sounds like a digital yo-yo (with a sweet music video) and "Kool TV" with its punchy, samba-swing beat.  "Do the Void" is an awesomely cacophonous track with nasal, high-pitched vocals from Crocodile-wife Dee Dee of Dum Dum Girls.  "Blue" and "Don't Look Up" slow down the tempo to exude a tropical beat, that might be the product of recording this one in Mexico. [blurp, blurp, move it guppy, blurp]

Shark Week - Beach Fuzz - 2015
After pre-ordering Beach Fuzz, Shark Week's debut LP, (yes, fish use the inter-webs) the first listen was a bit surprising.  The A-side is what was expected sonically from the DC/Baltimore based group.  Think, retro 70s punk, with a hearty dash of soulful surf, a lavish display of confident vocals, and plenty of fluidity in tempo. [blub, it's got me swimming like crrazzyy, blup!]  Then on a flip of the record, "Honeybee" evokes a Freddie Mercury-esque performance that will make you think this is a strange album.  [blurp, ohhh algae, blurp]  Just keep listening to it repeatedly and that thought will be nullified by all the extremely catchy, fuzzy, riff-rock that ensues.  Every fish knows, strange albums actually the best, right?  The yelping in "Desire" works really well for this track as does the thunderous drumming, ominous bass, and double-time tambourine.  "Scratching Post" is a slow burn at its utmost; possibly the poetic lyrics of a relationship sinking into the abyss. [blup, or getting sucked into the filter, blurp, blup]  "Gone" is a harshly emotional song coming from the depths of the past.  [blub, blub, it's a real fin slap to the face, urp]  Somehow mid-song, you realize that the whining guitar solo evokes 80s hair metal ballads, then you laugh, because it is great.  "Play it as it Lays" is an epic seven-minute burner, full of echoing vocals, drawn-out instrumentals, extreme tempo shifts, and glistening maracas that close out the LP.  Relentless!  Floating around for a week in the shark tank and loving it!

Oh by the way, the people that feed me, clean my tank, and sometimes appear with their giant heads peering through my glass walls have seen both Crocodiles and Shark Week loads of times and say they put on a great show.  They're even talking about plans to see them on October 20th at Comet Ping Pong in DC.  Think they have a travel tank for me?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Richmond Zine Fest '15

This weekend!  Come peruse and buy Vinyl Vagabonds zines!  Limited edition back-issues #3, #4, and #5, as well as the newest issue #6 (aka the food monster issue), will be available to purchase!  Check out the VVers mini-comics as well!

Be there
For the new zine!
It's going to be
It'll blow your socks off!
It's one of those things
Where Cookiezilla versus zine
Zine versus comic
Comic versus vinyl record
Be there!
Intergalactic zine battle
It's... instupituous!!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Flash Gordon Soundtrack 1980

Science Fiction before CGI.  Comic Book movie before that was a thing.  Queen before Highlander.  Sam Jones before... well, Ted?

People hate on Flash Gordon so much it just isn't right.  Amidst its over the top style, there is much to savor.  Top-most of these being the greatness that is the original soundtrack by Queen.  Remember now, this is Queen before they were completely watered down by the pop-focused whirlpool of the 80's.  At this point, Queen was still straddling the greasy, hot line between experimental pop and excellent British heavy rock.

VVer #1 has listened to this soundtrack so often it's practically in his DNA.  For years, this was his only Queen LP.  Why?  Containing story elements of classic sci-fi, with the high-octane glaminess from Freddie/Brian/John/Roger, it plays like a concept album.  Instead of just a straight review, it seemed logical, as it is truly a part of the film, to review the album in the context of the film itself.  Here it goes:


Ming's evil laugh morphs into the iconic kickdrum/piano opening salvo.  The graphics of the opening credit sequence, comprised totally of imagery from the original comic strip, are perfectly timed to the Flash theme song.  This theme has all the Queen elements you love: four part harmonizing, nasty interstellar guitar leads, a driving rhythm section, and just the right heaping helping of pop.  After this mega-opening (FLASH!  AAAAHHHHHH, HE'LL SAVE EVERY ONE OF US!!!), is a long gap of plot and character introductions before we get into any more Queen.  It actually times out perfectly, lulling you to nearly forget that the world's greatest rock band is waiting in the wings.  When "pathetic earthlings," Flash, Dale Arden, and Dr. Hans Zarkov, launch into the psychedelic "Imperial Vortex" you find yourself immersed in droning, mystical, new-age soundscapes soon to be accompanied by entrancing drums.  Note all the laser beam and magnetic force field sounds--yes--done by Queen.

Into the throne room for some antics and a proper introduction to Ming, "Hail Ming Hail, Ruler of the Universe!  Hail Ming Hail, Emperor of the Galaxy!"  His theme music is ... truly evil.  It's a cross between a slow motion chainsaw riff and a therimin, distorted with a wahwah petal.  Even when Ming uses his magic ring to make Dale go all sexy/weird it's the same theme, just solo, slinky synth.  You only get a moment to digest this when Flash turns all Johnny football and tries to fight his way out, and in rocks Queen with a corny, upbeat, synth-funk jam.  Crashing drums and over the top guitar leads make your hair stand up straight.  Next, a goofy one-liner, "Are your men on the right pills?" and in crashes Brian May with some tasty licks that even get a little heavy for a hot second, but only a second, and then Flash gets knocked out cold... cue evil therimin.  The fight scene is entirely silly and is most likely just an excuse to have this massive jam.

It's worth noting the abundance of orchestral flourishes throughout the film.  Apparently these were arranged by somebody named Howard Blake.  You would never know this from watching the film, as his name barely exists in the credits.  Well, he does a fine assist for Queen who wrote everything you hear.  Together they create just the right amount of ambiance, embouyance, and umbeyonce (all three are right depending on context).  There are moments where you'll be saying "that's not Queen!" especially the (spoiler alert!) "death sequence," but you'll also be thinking "this is awesome."  How about some excellent, brooding, gothic orchestration which leads into a new-age, guitar-led, stoner flautist moment?  Cue the brass section and scene!  Super high drama, courtesy of Mr. Blake.

"Who's voice is that, Freddie Mercury?" asks VVer #1.  (Spoiler alert!)  Flash comes back to life to the sound of some sort of angelic oohing and ahhing.  That's just one you'll have to hear for yourself.  It's weird.

Here again we wait for quite a while as the earthlings begin to make their way towards a plan to stop Ming.  "Nothing can save me now," says Dale, tears streaming from her eyes.  That mesmerizing drum cadence returns for a solid five minutes of exposition.  In roars the entire drum set all at once (drummer Roger Taylor really sets the bar high on this LP) and into the galloping synths (nobody's playing synths like that anymore)!  It's high octane fun but what really kicks it up a few notches is the insane drum breakdown (sounds just like a speed bag in the gym) that unleashes May's absolute crushingness.  Add in laser beams everywhere!  Let's just say that the fight scene on Ajax battlecruiser is what Queen was born to write music for.  "Impetuous boy!"  When Queen brings it during the action sequences, wearing an adult diaper is highly recommended.  "Ah well, who wants to live forever!?!"

"I think all movie fight scenes should have Queen backing them."  Sage wisdom from VVer #2.

Consider for a moment other movies with soundtracks and scores composed by one band or musician.  There aren't many.  Not like this.  Much less comic book, action films by rock bands.  Shaft, from nine years prior, is really the only soundtrack on this scale that comes to mind.  Isaac Hayes pumps out the entire funky score along with the soundtrack.  No others touch this achievement.  Some folks come close, but no banana:  Superfly by Curtis Mayfield and Trouble Man by Marvin Gaye are in that alley, but don't really hold together as well; Magical Mystery Tour by and starring the Beatles could count, but is the movie any good?; Dead Man is mostly just Neil Young making improvisational feedback on a guitar, not up to scale; Ghost Dog from 1999 features mostly original music by RZA, but not exclusively.  Queen really is the first (and only) band to do a complete rock score on this level of mainstream film and for such a colorful one at that.  It's unparalleled.

Back to the record for a second (lest you forget, dear reader, this is a vinyl project), which is a near-perfect album (twelve stars out of five!).  It has amazing songs and a good portion of the orchestral score (apparently there is an entire other album out there of just Mr. Blake’s score). To boot it’s got loads of interspersed dialogue and sound effects.  When you listen to it end-to-end, it's just like getting the condensed version the film which, frankly, unless you're seeing it on the big screen, is just about the best way to experience Flash Gordon (but definitely see the movie first).

Ming takes his final bow while the band makes as much noise as possible... "FLASH!!!"
Final credits reprise the Ajax battle scene and knock what's left of your teeth out.  There's even lyrics now and more laser beams!

P.S.  The VVers used the Flash Gordon version of Wagner's wedding march for their actual wedding... and it was absolutely the right thing to do.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

A Cover-Up?

For your listening pleasure, the Vinyl Vagabonds will be playing an entire night of covers at their next listening party on Friday, October 2, from 7-9pm at Bump N' Grind.  Here's a sneak peek as to how the night may go...

Surfin' USA - Beach Boys (Chuck Berry)
This here blog is about cover songs, so why lead in with this one, not even a true cover?  Read: The foundation of the music is a cover of "Sweet Little Sixteen," but the Beach Boys do their own lyrics and significantly developed instrumentation.  Having not owned any other Beach Boys, it was surprising how it really got these swingin' VVers thinking about how artists pay tribute to other artists.  Berry obviously is a huge hero to the rockers of the 60s, so for the Beach Boys to have done a straight cover would have been perfectly cool, but for them to do this wildly different version is downright revolutionary.  At its peak, the Beach Boys' iconic, high pitched harmonizing gives way to an organ solo that quickly mashes into some lovely electric guitar.  Though it's partially a cover, there really is nothing else to compare it to, even now.

Had ta be Playin' on the Jukebox - Rage Against the Machine (Allen Ginsburg) 
Another untrue cover, but does it matter?  No.  RATM creates the riffing, but the lyrics are Ginsburg's on this flipside to People of the Sun EP.  The beat poetry slam on the absurdity in the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination makes perfect sense piped through the ballistic assault that is RATM.  Though this is in many ways a spoken word track, minus the hip-hop, it's completely relevant to the RATM catalogue in representing their political bent.  Also it's dope to hear Zack de la Rocha lacerating this poem over a psyched-out slow jam.  "WORKING TOGETHER IN CAHOOTS!"  You should listen to this.

Do You Love Me - Nirvana (Kiss) 
This is the only Nirvana song that bassist Krist Novaselic ever split vocal duties on.  He's not cut out for this type of singing, but that in no way stops him from completely going for it.  How does that pan out?  Well, it's kind of awesome in its raunchola.  Thankfully, Cobain helps it along in the right spots with his powerful vocals and the Nirvana rhythm section is furiously on point.  The fact that it's a cover of a Kiss song... Kiss sucks.  There, it's out there.  The VVers are not in the Kiss Army.  Something about Nirvana absolutely ruining a Kiss song just makes sense.

Balls to the Wall - Puscifer (Accept)
Not initially knowing it was a cover, VVer #2 thought "Balls to the Wall" was a strange, yet stand-out song included on Puscifer's Donkey Punch the Night EP.  After a chance listen to the early 80's original in the car one night, things started making more sense.  The original version by Accept has a completely metal approach while Puscifer offers two versions: "Pillow Fight Remix" or "Silent Servant El Guapo Mix" both sounding exactly as their remix description describes.  Pillow fight is a fluffy, yet still hard rendition, while the silent is, well, sans lyrics and techno-esque.  The pillow fight remix is the one to hear; the alt-goth take is confident, well produced, and f%$#*^$ing catchy!  Nice work Puscifer!

Strange Moon - APTBS (Dead Moon)
A Place To Bury Strangers takes the obscure Portland, OR band, Dead Moon, and makes it their own.  This EP is drenched in APTBS' full on, echoey, distortion while keeping the garagey sounds of Dead Moon.  What's interesting is that this entire EP is devoted to covering one band (one the VVers had never even heard of).  Usually you might get one cover on an album or an album of all covers, but of multiple artists.  Not here, APTBS crushes their tribute to these 80s/90s unknown punk heros.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Can Let You Go

Second song, "Can't Let You Go," on the 1983 Rainbow album Bent Out of Shape, leads in with nothing but pure, gothic organ (think Phantom of the Opera), then some minor distortion and out of left field comes this glossy, hair metal ballad.  There's no mistaking that 80's drum sound and overwrought vocal style for anything else.  You'll be fist-pumping in your fringed leather vest and jean cut-offs in no time!  Vocalist Joe Lynn Turner belts this one out with cornball bravado that just skims the edge of opera.  It's not that he sounds bad or anything--actually he's got an impressive voice--but the delivery is so dang pretty.  More to the point, Joe Lynn Turner has pretty hair.  You can (and should) check it out in this weird video.  Rainbow founder and leader, Ritchie Blackmore, throws in a nice little shredding solo which lends this cut a hint of metal cred.  Unfortunately the solo is a shorty.  Ultimately, the pop-oriented approach with sugary riffs makes this single, amongst others, entirely too catchy.  The rest of the album has a few flourishes here and there, two notable instrumental tracks might get your attention.  Keyboardist David Rosenthal manages to insert some proggy non-Christmastime sounding synths in there, which is no small feat.  For the most part though, the album is only mildly bearable.

Rainbow's Bent Out of Shape may or may not have been a beloved LP, so why do the Vinyl Vagabonds make particular mention of "Can't Let You Go"?  Apparently, the prior owner loved the song as they took the time and care to punch up the lyrics on a typewriter.  The original lyric sheet/sleeve that comes with the album is still intact so that owner ("Tracey Studios" is the signature on the hand typed sheet), must have typed this up for a party or some sort of homework assignment, maybe a karaoke night?  Perhaps she typed it up out of mega-devotion to Rainbow?  Was Miss Studios the world's biggest Rainbow fan?  Maybe Joe Lynn Turner's only stalker?  Either way, this is just the sort of oddball ephemera that tends to turn up when buying (or in this case finding abandoned on the side of the road) random used records.  As amusing as this is, the LP isn't exactly worth holding on to so the VVers can let this go.  Clutter the VVers shelves with your harmless hair metal no longer!

Don't have your own lyrics sheet?  Just sing what you hear.  That's what the VVers do.  For instance take "Desperate Heart," the break-up rocker that starts Bent Out of Shape side-B, where no one will miss a beat when you belt out: "You promised me there would be a food fight!" sung like you are in the band Europe [whoa-oh!].  {Actual lyrics "You promised me there would be no goodbye."}  Seriously, who wouldn't be heartbroken because of the lack of a food fight (or this record)?  Whoa-oh!  No lyric sheet, no problem!  Clearly the VVers need to get themselves a typewriter.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Have You Ever Danced with Prince in the Pale Moonlight?

By: The Vagabond Apprentice
I’ve always thought of movie soundtracks by pop musicians to be merely an element of support to the visual medium of film. On the odd occasion I listen to a soundtrack separated from its original purpose, it tends to have a weaker sound; more like an album of unfinished demo tracks or B-sides. I consider it not a normal part of an artist's discography because it rarely matches the experience of a traditional finished release.

This brings me to the Spring 2015 Brooklyn WFMU Record Fair. As I was expertly going through the rows of LPs, like a good vagabond should, I spotted a huge, cropped, solid-gold Batman logo’ed record cover.  I knew immediately it was Prince’s Batman soundtrack to the 1989 Tim Burton smash-hit film.  Don’t you just love those 80’s golden, gaudy colors? (yuck).  For all you young people out there, this film stars Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, and Jack Nicholson (NOT Christian Bale!).  Staring at that record, I was immediately was transformed into my former fourteen year old geek self.

A few Bat-songs I remembered from the film were “Batdance,” “Partyman,” and “Trust.”  I recall thinking back then, that the soundtrack was just another piece of sell-able Bat-merch, along with a million other bat-things, action figures, keychains, mugs, underoos, etc., that Warner Bros. was hawking.   Warner Bros. studio, who produced the DC comic, the movie, and the Prince record, definitely wanted my hard earned paper-route money for the Bat-merch that Bat-summer.

Now, twenty-six years later, I realize how wrong I was.  While the 1989 Batman film has not aged well, the Batman Soundtrack has become a timeless Bat-sterpiece rivaling “Purple Rain.”  Prince went “POW,” “BAM,” and “BIF” on this one!  This album is loaded with those classic Prince deep beats, funky guitars, groovy bass lines, and synthesizer pulses.  For the most part, the songs really don’t have much to do with Batman, comic books, or the movie in general.  Doing some research, I found out that Prince was desperately in need of a hit album at the time, so Warner Bros. persuaded him to change a few lyrics, add a bunch of audio movie quotes clips, and slap on a “Batman” logo cover, so that the album related in some way to the movie.  You can tell though that Prince had fun being part of this Batman tidal wave.  He seems enthusiastic and uninhibited on the album and to this day, he still performs songs off this record at concerts.

Looking at the lyrics sheet, I noticed songs are pseudo-sung by Bruce Wayne, Joker, Vicki Vale, and Gemini.  Who is Gemini you ask?  Gemini is Prince’s alter ego for this record.  Huh?  And in all the marketing for this album, Prince wore a "Gemini" superhero costume that was split down the middle; it had a half Batman outfit and half Joker outfit, which also looked similar to Batman villain, Two-Face’s costume.  Is Prince trying to be a new Batman character?  Is he being conceptual and making a statement that no man can be all good or all evil?  Prince’s birth sign is Gemini (June 7th), does that have anything to do with it?  Your guess is as good as mine.

As with Prince records, the lyrical concepts throughout the LP are mostly about sex, women, love, and partying.  I mean, what does a “Lemon Crush” have to do with Batman?  Absolutely nothing, but it's an amazing, kick-ass song.  Another fascinating stand out is the slow, romantic duet “The Arms of Orion,” sung by Prince and the 80’s Grammy Award winner Sheena Easton.  Usually, Prince’s love songs sound like he’s on the prowl, lusting for a woman, like a tiger lusts for bloody, raw meat.  Not here.  In this song his tone is of true love and being content with his deep affection. It’s a top notch 80’s ballad.  Last but not least, I must talk about “Batdance.”  This bombastic, amazing track is a collage of music and audio movie quote clips that needs to be heard to be believed.  It's electrifying and manic.  Prince also does a guitar solo that rivals former Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash on it.  (Don’t forget to check out the “Batdance” music video, Prince and his crew perform the movie in a seven minute interpretive dance.  It is bizarre and super funny.)  If you buy this record, I guarantee you will “Go, go, go with a smile!”