Friday, July 27, 2012

This Forest and the Sea

Scott Key - This Forest and The Sea 1976

Picked up this obscure guitar record for fifty cents at the Montgomery County Thrift Shop.  I was initially drawn to the black and white cover art.  The lone nerdish looking hippie sitting with his guitar in a remote western landscape has a silverish tint to it.  The feel of the print is like something from the turn of the century and would still seem that way if not for Mr. Key's 70's jeans, thick modish glasses, and hang glider collared shirt.  Back cover is also in black and white; a white line drawing (or maybe it's a woodcut?) of a Japanese looking pine tree on the edge of a hillside.  This was all eye catching, but what really sold me (and at fifty cents it usually doesn't take much) was the odd poem/story at the end of the track listing.

Elroy snuck into the zoo one night and abducted a baby
antelope from its cell.  Whereupon, he proceeded to strangle
it to death and stalk away into the darkness dragging the
carcass behind him.  A few days later, the police came to
Elroy's apartment and soon discovered the deceased critter
cut up into bite-size pieces and stuffed inside a few lidless
jars in his cupboard.

Menacing enough for you?  Mind you, the poem seems not to be related to any specific track. When the needle gets to work I hear much of the same menace lurking through the spare minor chords.  Just the loner and his guitar.  He doesn't strike me as evil, more so intensely purposeful and introspective.  Tuned down with cycling chord progressions, most tracks take on the feeling of an Indian mantra or some sort of spiritual ceremony.  There are slow blurry string bends, playful chuckling strums, bottleneck slides, and plenty of tempo shifts.  "Goon Lagoon" has all of these jammed into under three minutes.  It's a standout track on an album full of bold and compulsively energetic tales.  I can't quite put my finger on how to classify the sound here.  It has moments that remind me of early Pink Floyd and others that remind me of the soundtrack to a trippy western.  He tends to keep it acoustic but when he plugs in it is seamless.  Parts of tracks have a sound like proto-alternative circa 1989.  Dark and looming moments in "Buzzard Blues" have a slacker charm that can be just a little spooky.

Key sings on just three tracks on the record.  His voice is somewhat atonal and the tunes suit a certain dark mood. Lyrics seem to be ruminations about alienation from the ways of the modern world of football players and politicians.  "It's a stone's throw away, today.  And it may just be your last."  Doom with a hint of optimism that better days must be a ahead.  Sounds like the 70's to me.

I've only found just a couple of mentions of this record on the internets.  A few bidding sites describe it as "Psychaedelic Folk" and I've seen one listing of a proposed rerelease.  I've asked the local record store guys as well as a gentleman who helps organize the massive collection of a local thrift store and nobody has ever heard of Mr. Key.  It seems that most of the world outside of Colorado never noticed the man, but those lucky enough to get a listen seem to be quite smitten.  I'd put myself in the category.  It's spare and perfect for contemplative days.

P.S. in the liner notes "Guitars recorded in Rush's sauna and elsewhere".

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Case for Vinyl

I find myself riding on the Metro on the way home from work listening to music on my iPhone. Playing is Streetsweeper Social Club, "Shock You Again" (full disclosure: not a great song) and thinking that maybe this is Tom Morello singing/shouting instead of normal lyricist Boots Riley on this duo's album. The voice on this track seems lower pitched and not rhythmic like Boots. Problem is, I have no way of knowing because there are no liner notes with digital music (or at least they remain on your computer not on mobile devices). Really, the point is that no one looks at digital liner notes. I immediately wish I had this album on vinyl so I could go home and look at the credits. And no, sadly, Wikipedia cannot tell you everything you want to know.

Would I have known that Peter Tosh's Bush Doctor was released on the Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers label without looking at the record's liner notes? Possibly, but I bet I wouldn't have known that Mick Jagger provides vocal accompaniment on "(You Gotta Walk) Don't Look Back" and that fellow Stone Keith Richards appears on guitar on several key tracks. Moreover, would these VVers have known that Cat Mother's The Street Giveth and the Street Taketh Away was produced by Jimi Hendrix? I'm pretty sure that is the reason we bought that album in the first place, it seems a little risky to just buy a random Cat Mother album without knowing anything about it. A record sleeve with liner notes is the tree of knowledge for music enthusiasts and the curious listener. It is also a source of entertainment - as previously reviewed, Men at Work credits one of the band members, "Russell Deppeler, on the telephone and calculator" on their liner notes for the album Business as Usual.

Do you think some of today's newer artists even have anything to write on the sleeve of an album? Do people even play music on instruments anymore? "Instrument and musician credits to my computer, who I've named Steve." At the risk of being too harsh, who wants to even read that? Unless you are programming your own music it's mostly a waste.

Album artwork is an often superior feature on vinyl than any other format. Why even bother having anything cool on your cover when people are only going to view it on a tiny little i-device shrunken down to 1/16th or less the size of the real deal? You see it once and then move on because it looks like a shiny matchbook. A great example of something that just does not translate to other formats, the Devo album Oh No! It's Devo has a cardboard die cut fold out so you can prop the album art up on a table like a picture frame! Classy. Let's face it. Musicians are often trying to create art, in sound, but often visually too. Many of these musicians play music in person and the visual element just shouldn't disappear because an mp3 is cheap. Having a large image to enjoy is simply fantastic part of the vinyl experience.

Lastly, no one cares how many megabytes of mp3s you have downloaded on your computer. But a record collection! ... now that comes with bragging rights. No one can even tell what type of music you like via digital - unless you set up some sort of share network, but that often comes with having to share that music list with the entire world. I have friends that I know zero about when it comes to musical tastes, and if it weren't for concerts, I would still be in the dark. I love visiting friends and checking out what's on the shelf, not sitting at their console and clicking through the flat colorless playlist. Record sleeves spark music conversations, just like the tangible nature of books.

To be fair, here's a problem with records once they get too old...

Ravel's Bolero almost bought from an estate sale until the bottom half of it crumbled in my hands while pulling it out of its old packaging. Sadness.

All these reasons to appreciate vinyl and not even a mention of the sound of the actual music ... let's leave that for another discussion.