Monday, December 2, 2013

Rocka Rolla

Judas Priest - Rocka Rolla - 1974

First riff of the album makes you think "Here Comes One Bad Motherfucker."  That theme continues throughout.

Rocka Rolla is the first album from speed metal heroes Judas Priest.  It's not what you expect if you've even listened to their hits.  This album is mostly not fast and more reminiscent of Black Sabbath than what lay down the road.  It has a general lack of the brag-and-swagger style of later material, a more introspective tone.

Lead song "One for the Road" has guitars that are jagged and crusty at the same time.  Similar to punching your fist through a pane of glass and what comes after.  The feel of this one is angular and steeped in funk.

Title track "Rocka Rolla" starts off promising enough with a dark, down-tuned, heavy guitar; yet another good lead-off riff.  Without the words it would be far less corny.  The musicianship has some nice twists and turns; it's catchy enough that you'll be humming it later in the week.  It's classic rock pumped up by Halford's power pipes.

"Winter" sounds like it leapt straight off of an early Soundgarden album (but in the time-continuum, the opposite is likely true).  Interestingly, this song is referred to as a "cover" as it was written and presumably recorded by the band's original leader/vocalist Al Atkins.  Penned before he left the band (they weren't making any money yet, he needed to support his young family so he decided to go get a job in the straight world) and replaced by operatic howler Rob Halford.  The song creeps in with a swirling low-end whisper of vocals that rockets into a grunged out Black Sabbath-y death-riff and Halford yelping towards the end of the world.  All promising and over far too quickly as drums take over and all alone set the somber rock tone for the remaining guitar flurry.  In comes Halford again belting line after line about the suffering of a seeming homeless wanderer.  It's over quickly and we're left with "Deep Freeze," which nicely circles back to the beginning echoey entrance of "Winter."  This section sounds like a slow motion buzz-saw fed through a blender.  It could easily be the guttural grunting and huffing of a savage beast.   Spent, it then leads to the cooler and more mellow "Winter Retreat" which would fit in easily on Pink Floyd's Meddle.  It's a brief repast that serves to heighten the skanky-metal touch of "Cheater," the last portion of this song suite which opens with yet another dark riff.  Hail Satan!!!  Ok, not really, but it sounds evil, so he might have been involved.  Halford doubles up here on muscular vocals and some keen harmonica.  Guitarist K.K. Downing does his level-best to throw in quick and nasty licks at just the right spots.  It's inspired blues metal of the highest order.

"We're never satisssFIED!"  Some juicy lyrics and a pummeling bass make "Never Satisfied" one of the strongest tracks on the album.  Very reminiscent of T. Rex's The Slider from two years prior.  It's a simple song that encapsulates the potential Judas Priest to come.  Coming soon to an arena near you.

The bluesy "Run of the Mill" sounds at times like a melancholy Floyd tune.  At 8:30 it is the longest track on the album and this is a good thing.  The patient unveiling of all the various tempo and instrumentational shifts is rewarding.  As it slowly churns on, it becomes more sad and evil.  The mournful cadence, searching guitars, and Halford's yearning vocals all come together beautifully.  Psychedelic guitars and bass interweave bringing you into a cathartic release of operatic yowling from Halford (these are not the proper words to do it justice).  You owe it to yourself to check it out as nobody makes sounds like this guy.  He is simply soul crushing as he hits those high notes; hits them through your skull.  And you will like it.

This can only be followed up by Halford doing something completely opposite than soul-crushing falsettos by dropping it down a few octaves in "Dying to Meet You."  Another dark and nasty one?  Yes.  The tune is pretty downbeat, but halfway through, the song seems to end.  Instead it busts out into a more speedy full on double-guitar riff.  This mid-point tempo shift makes it a very strange track with the beginning and end totally unrelated.

"Caviar and Meths" is brief and you have to wonder; where is the rest of it?  Apparently there is fifteen minutes more to hear, just not on this record.  One of several reasons that the band stated they were disappointed with how the record company handled this release.  Not knowing this stuff you might just shrug at the last song on the album.

Jury's out as to the connection between the bottle cap cover art and the actual music.  C'mon, it's not that clever a connection: Rocka-Rolla -- Coca-Cola.  Seems like the 1987 re-issue cover with an in-flight monster dropping bombs more appropriately fits the music. VVer #1 had a video game in the 90's with the same cover art.  Neat-o!

Reviews of this record have been pretty middle of the road, but both VVers could not disagree more.  Sure, it's not what they became to sound like and there are some moments that could stand some polish/remastering.  Ultimately though the musicianship and raw talent on display here far outweighs any of that poo-pooing.  Bravo.  Twelve stars.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The Magic Basement

The magic basement?  Here's how it went down.

In case you weren't in the know, the VVers make a highly arted-out, physical version of this here blog which you can acquire in person at several stores in the DC/Baltimore/Chicago area as well as the DC Conspiracy Distro.  It's why we trekked to Brooklyn for the second annual Brooklyn Zine Fest (hosted by the awesome Matt and Kseniya, makers of I Love Bad Movies and other fine zine type books you should be reading).  BZF was going well -- many zines were sold and much coveted record prize packs distributed.  VVer #1 had invited an old friend from the 'hood to come visit, however, by the afternoon, the venue was so crowded that she couldn't even get in!  Plans were made to meet up that night post fest.

It's fair to state that the VVers like Brooklyn Zine Fest for a myriad reasons, but one nice perk has been the close proximity of a bar with tasty cocktails mere steps from our seller table.  Been to a zine fest before?  Often they are held in non-alco venues like churches and community centers so this is a real switcheroo.  Tasty libation aided us through the day-long onslaught of quirky zinesters.  By the time we were set to meet my friend and her guy we were both a little wobbly.  That in no way stopped VVer #2 from ordering several stiff drinks that evening at Extra Fancy (hey, we were on vacation and flush with zine monies!).  As we chatted about this-and-that it slipped out that the owner of the bar my friend worked at was moving to the west coast next week and was ... wait for it ... selling off his entire vinyl collection.  How nice ... WHUT!!!???!!!  The rest of the evening was pleasant enough.  Honestly though, interest was 100% focused on making sure the VVers would get a crack at that stash.  Via text we arranged to meet up in the morning for a look at the goods.  The brownstone was not hard to get to and our record fella escorted us down into a stark white basement set up like a mini record store.  Slap a few posters on the wall and a sign out front and there you go.  About twenty rows of boxes on tables were arranged by category against one wall and he explained that he had already sold some, but was looking to part with much of the rest before his big move.  We chatted for a minute and then it was head first into the crates.  VVer #2 lasted about two minutes before she started to show greenish gills and politely escorted herself out to the fresh air.

With nobody around to chat with, I embarked on a full on crate dig.  I sifted through the many DJ-type records, hip hop and other oddball mish-mash.  I walked out with a pretty solid stack and our record fella gave me half off his sticker prices which were already pretty reasonable.  As we had come to NYC with our record-centric zines to sell, it seemed pretty appropriate to leave with a stash of vinyl to listen to and write about.

The best of the bunch has been Revised Quest for the Seasoned Traveler by A Tribe Called Quest.  This 1992 release of rare remixes is chock full of unusual re-dos and weird-o clubby arrangements.  Interestingly, many of the remixes are by ATCQ themselves and the quality shines brightly on those tracks.  One stand out is the "Vampire Mix" of "I Left My Wallet in El Segundo" with remix credits going to ATCQ, the Jungle Brothers and one Mr. Norman Cook (aka Fatboy Slim).  It's a head spinning, dubbed-out, Mexicali horns version that gives lots of breathing room to the goofy/alt lyrics.  Super catchy and a little evil.  Remixes of "Can I Kick It?" and "Scenario" -- classics in their original form -- are just as powerful here.  The "Young Nation Mix" of "Scenario" has an ominous bassline, horn bleats, ATCQ's usual flowing lyrics, and most importantly, Busta Rhymes' "oh-my-gosh-OH-MY-GOSH dungeon dragon" guest appearance.  Classy.  Not everything is funked-out though.  "Mr. Muhammad's Mix" of "Check the Rhime" is tinkly and very pretty sounding.  Not what you'd expect at all for this old school jam and somehow it works!  As a remix package it's lacking in the typical flow of a regular LP, but it's pretty tolerable in this regard.  This is a testament to the fact that ATCQ, unlike a lot of 90's hip hop, has really held up.  Even the mixes on here that are a little bit of a stretch sound great.  What a find!  Apparently VVer #2 in her impeccable state of mind looked at it and put it back.  Oooops!  Thank Brooklyn somebody was on point that morning and swooped this up.  Warning: the "Bonita Applebum - 12 inch Why? edit" that starts off the record has a lot going for it with 80's synths so you might not be prepared for the sex noises that close out the track.  Not for mixed company.

Other titles from that morning include Busta Rhymes and his unheralded crew Flipmode Squad The Imperial, GZA Liquid Swords, Star Wars Empire Strikes Back (not just the soundtrack, but the entire spoken movie crammed into one record...but not quite), The Goats Tricks of the Shade (since sold on Discogs), and some jazz record that VVer #2 insisted on getting before excusing herself and since can't remember what is was.

On the drive back to DC the VVers once again lamented the fact that we did not have an in-dash record player.  Bummer we didn't find that in the magic basement.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Manu Dibango - Soul Makossa - 1972

From the second the needle hits, till the last horn fades to nothing, it is awesome.  Maybe I feel this way because I had absolutely no background knowledge about the music or artist when I picked it up at Baltimore's quirky Own Guru Records.  I had been spending a lot of time spinning our small assortment of international records at home, and thought this could be a good addition.  What lured me in?  Reading the back cover tipped me off that the musicians were from Guadeloupe, the "River Congo," Cameroon, and France.  Interesting mix!  The back photo had something to it -- was it that the band was wearing bell-bottoms and playing in a tunnel?  I worked up the courage to ask the owner words of wisdom about this one to which he enthusiastically responded, "It's great, bring it over and I'll play it for you.  When I used to play this one at the clubs, it got everyone moving!"  The moment he got it spinning I understood why.

This album has all manors of percussion and rhythmic guitar.  The driving sound never lets up.  Frequent use of manic toumba (French for conga) action, echoing reverb, and low-tone chanted vocals is hypnotic.

The title track is noted for being one of the first "disco" records.  So if Mr. Dibango is from Cameroon, was disco born there?  More importantly, when disco was born, did baby angels weep glittery tears?  The title single is also credited as a direct influence for Kool and the Gang's "Jungle Boogie," "Funky Stuff," and "Hollywood Swinging."  Three huge hits!  The use of repeated horn riffs is probably the most obvious influence, as is the funky rhythm bass combo.  (The VVers own Kool and the Gang's album "Wild and Peaceful," but it never really saw much playtime.  Upon listening to it after the Soul Makossa, there is a new found appreciation and it has been stuck in our heads all weekend!)  Horns on "Soul Makossa" simply take it to another level.  Manu Dibango sounds like he is rapping a bit; sort of spitting ideas left and right.  He's just dancing and jive talking all over the place (Makossa means dance in the Duala language of Cameroon).  The "Soul Makossa" single has been sampled a LOT, notably by Michael Jackson on "Wanna be Startin Something" from Thriller.  The music is so good that it's easy to see why it's been sampled so much... I want to go sample it right now!  It's surprising to find out that songs you thought were so original growing up were in fact deeply indebted to earlier music.  These unexpected discoveries have led to an interesting backtracking education.  "Soul Makossa" has been covered/adapted/sampled since its heyday so frequently.  Apparently, the French '72 pressing was such a limited run that a disco hungry public could not get their hands on a copy.  Before the inevitable repressing, "Soul Makossa" was aped and copied many times out of that intense musical hunger.  The people needed their disco!  Thus this reissue of the LP says "The Original" on it.

"New Bell" is full of chirpy, wailing horns reminiscent of sirens.  While "Nights in Zeralda" is full of bongos and horns with a Middle Eastern snake-charmer vibe.  Much psychedelic echo is laced through tracks.  In most cases the tempo is up and jumping, but not all.  The track "Hibiscus" on the tail end of side A is anything but that.  It's a psychedelic, slow, contemplative track dripping with melancholy.  The cadence and feel brings up thoughts of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon, specifically "Time."  In fact the track so closely resembles some parts of that classic record that the VVers had to do a side by side comparison.  "Soul Makossa" came out one year prior... coincidence?  That's one of the best parts about discovering a record that influenced so many others.  Again, it's impossible not to notice other links to music you've known for years.

The VVers must admit that this has been a difficult-to-muster write-up.  The sounds and instruments have been challenging to describe,  probably because we just don't know enough world-music.  Perhaps you should just go listen to it yourself.  As the man accurately said "it got everyone moving."  Recently upon VVer #2 having surgery and the parents visiting, the men-folk of the house went out to run errands while the women were at home about to embark on their post-surgery, low-fi exercises (the mother also recovering from an unrelated surgery).  Exercises are always more enjoyable with music, right?  On went the recently purchased Soul Makossa!  It wasn't long before the women-folk threw out their ideas of stretches and reps and busted into an incredibly awkward dance party in the living room (mostly awkward because we were recovering from surgery, not because we are bad dancers (obviously!)).  It was so ridiculous that laughing led to more dancing and dancing to more laughing -- the music was so hip-shakin it was hard to stop!  Luckily the record side ended before the men walked in on the dance scene.  Quite a memorable mother-daughter moment -- brought to you by the Soul Makossa!

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Final Countdown

Europe - The Final Countdown - 1986

Picked up on the way out the door of the most recent edition of the DC Record Fair when VVer #2 jokingly coerced VVer #1 into buying it for the 80's box (to be explained in a later post...stay tuned).  "Come on ... it's got "The Final Countdown" on it!  One listen and get rid of it.  Plus just look at that cover!  For crying out loud, it's embossed!" ... Bwahahaha. Sucker.

Should the VVers not waste their time writing about any of the music on this one? Should you not waste your time reading this?  Enough with the doubting!  It really is easy to be won over by Europe and their antics once you take the plunge.  No surprises here; plenty of synths, fade-outs, and power ballads to match with their elegantly styled poufy coifs.  You get the gist.  Many "whoas" and "whoa-os" lace the upbeat tunes.  It is so much more than just the title track!  (kidding. maybe.)  Winding down the first side of this album is "Ninja" which might just be made for a little-known, crap-tastic movie from the 80s Miami Connection, which the VVers saw this summer at local theater, AFI Silver.  Curious?  Here's the plot:

A gang of motorcycle ninjas wreaking havoc across Orlando, Florida, Mark (writer/director and Tae Kwan Do master Y. K. Kim) and his rock band Dragon Sound decide to fight back. Roundhouse-kicking their way to justice, the band still finds time to chase beach bunnies and perform their hit song, "Against the Ninja."

Yes, it is ridiculous as it seems.  And you should watch it.  Kind of like listening to The Final Countdown on purpose.

Back to this masterpiece of an album... Most of side A, including the slow ballad "Carrie," are well put together.  It's a good listen.  Things go off the rails on side B where it seems the band throws everything at the wall with reckless abandon.  It hurts the ears.  Apparently one can only withstand a single side of the album before having a meltdown.  On a completely other week VVer #1 took the plunge into side B with some less pain inducing results.  First song "Cherokee" recalls the trail of tears and the plight of the American Indian, all set to the fist pumping rock of the 80's that Europe so effortlessly delivers to your spleen  Tis' mighty indeed.  "Hey VVer #1, I thought this blog was about this goofy album we own and we weren't actually going to write about the music!" [Apparently VVer #1 actually listened to the lyrics].  The remainder of the side is tolerable if you can manage it.  Final song "Love Chaser" is heavy and heavily dull.  The thunderous blare of lead guitar rockets in every which way proving that somebody at least plugged the thing in and went through the trouble of tuning it.  Still, there are more than a few moments of well intentioned riffage that remind us of Queen.  A good influence for a band that really lacks Freddie Mercury and could probably use a ton of Brian May.

So why write about this album?  As we have previously noted, we have a little, yappy dog that lives next door, that, whenever the neighbors leave, cries endlessly, which in turn, causes the VVer household to crank some music.  Upon playing The Final Countdown on a recent spin, the realization came, "Shhh! I think it put Fluffy to sleep!"  Total silence... excellent.  It must remain in our collection now... Bwahahahaa.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Rolling Record Store

Third Man Records' Rolling Record Store traveled to DC this past week and VVer #2 was lucky enough to visit it.  Not trying to over analyze this.  A record store on wheels.  SO COOL! Thank you Jack White, or whoever at your music label came up with this plan! What a great idea.

Third Man Records Truck conveniently parked next to the 9:30 Club in DC.
What exactly is a rolling record store?  Think food truck, but with records.  They even have a menu of the daily offerings!  VVer #2 was slick (and/or lucky) and asked for a record off the menu (gasp!) which they had.  The VVers have continually been haunted this past year by not being able to see the most recent Melvins tour.  First, they were in DC while the VVers were tying the knot, then they were in Baltimore for Deathfest while the VVers were also in Baltimore but not sure what they were doing, and lastly, they were back playing in DC while the VVers were traipsing around Milwaukee where again they were taunted by old concert posters of the tour stop in the beer-city a week prior.  Maybe the VVers should get their shit together...  Where is this going?  Well, it just so happens that the Melvins stopped at Third Man Records and recorded a direct-to-acetate show on May 30, 2013! As luck (or providence?) would have it, the rolling record store had the recording.  Score.  How is it?  Upon first and second listen: crushing and awesome.

Since the novelty of being at a record truck had not yet worn off (will it ever?), I also was quite easily talked into getting the new "record of the day" from Seasick Steve Hubcap Music.  Have I ever heard of him?  No.  My record truck cashier/driver man/boss dude in the window said that he sings the blues and is a guy that used to be homeless and made it huge in the UK.  Well, ok (truth or not), when else will I buying records from a truck in the near future?  Into the bag it went.  I must say that also after a first and second listen, the VVers are not disappointed.  There might have even been some head bobblin' and foot stompin' whilst spinning.  Up-tempo guitar and gnarly vocals give this a 80's metal meets The Black Keys kind of honky tonk country saloon vibe.  Credits go to Seasick Steve for "hollerin' and playing assorted junk string things."  Amongst other credits are an "old cast iron frying pan," "fretless gourd banjo," and Jack White III on a "stone cold solo guitar" on one of the tracks.  There's also some fella named John Paul Jones playing on a bunch of tracks.  You may have heard of him.  Other than the final tune which gets into a touch much gospel for this house, it's a winner.

Keep an eye for a yellow truck Rollin' n' Chooglin' through your city! Records!

Monday, September 16, 2013

Bootleg? Never again!

By Vagabond Apprentice

I would like to start this review by telling you how I became a disciple of Vagabond Brother Samuel (aka VVer #1).  One score ago (that's twenty years to the common folk) I found a flyer on a wall to hear Brother Samuel preach about music.  The announcement intrigued me, so I decided to check it out.  I listened to his first sermon, dedicated to those 90's whippersnapper rock gods Nirvana!  After the gospel was finished, I became a Nirvana addict!  With the help of Vagabond BS' teachings I bought dozens of CDs by the Seattle alt band -- concerts, as well as rarities discs.  Even though the band only had four official album releases at this point there were other ways for the faithful to get their hands on more music.  Back in the mid-90's the strip of impressive record and CD stores on Thayer Street in Providence, RI was jammed with all sorts of ear candy.

Fast forward to 2013, I still watch with an unwavering eye for any new Nirvana.  This brings me to the following musings.  My recent trip to California helped aid my vinyl obsession when I journeyed to the most famous record store west of Pecos: Amoeba Music!  If there is a vinyl heaven, this is it.  I raced into the massive LA store and started flipping through the alphabetical bins.  It was twenty years since first hearing Nirvana, but the thrill was still strong.  Back in the 90's we listened on CDs and now here I was looking at the possibility of hearing everything anew on vinyl format!  I excitedly reached for the "sacred" section.  I spotted a curious LP titled Nirvana: Almost All The BBC Sessions.  This was a record I had never before laid eyes on.  Giving it a once over, my gut had a funny feeling.  I was dead sure it was a bootleg.  You know, those products that are illicitly produced, distributed, and/or sold without the authorization of the band or record company.  What tipped me off? The cover was made of a thin cardboard, sort of resembling a brown paper bag.  It had an obscure illustration that Kurt Cobain had drawn for a past concert poster printed slapdash across the front.  The back indicated it was made in Italy.  No Geffen or even a Sub Pop logo graced the sleeve.  Very unusual!  The track listing had a few song titles that were not on any of there original albums; names such as "Here I Am," "Pretty Scary," and "Meltdown."  Due to a few prior bootleg CD experiences I knew that these titles were actually lyrics or nicknames to real songs.  Songs such as "Endless, Nameless," "Turnaround," and "Aneurysm" were at one point these work in progress titles.  It was also signed and numbered 79 out of 100.  Super limited Edition!  The price was $20 so I decided "What the hey" I'll buy it, how bad could it be ...

Guess what ... it was absolutely horrid!  First of all, it sounded like a cloudy CD.  The vinyl had no highs and lows to my ears.  Each song had an entirely different sound quality with no smooth progression between tracks.  I frequently had to adjust the volume up or down track to track.  On certain songs the vocals sounded in the forefront, sometimes it was the drums, but mostly the guitars sounded very mushy, and stale.  Unlike a CD bootleg where tracks are listed as being from separate times, places, and recording sessions, this release had bupkis.  Past bootlegs I have owned suffered from these same issues, but never to such an abysmal extent.  The sound problems here were a total disgrace to the vinyl format.  The only cool aspect being the dark, red color of the vinyl was in no way redeeming; this LP was a mess.  Shame on the people who put out this garbage!  It did not deserve to have a place in my record collection, so I sent it straight to vinyl hell: the trash can.  I hope I will have better luck next time, though it's possible that the Nirvana vaults have finally been exhausted.  Either way, I will be more suspect of oddball vinyl releases.

What say you, vinyl disciples?

Tuesday, September 3, 2013


The VVers made a quick pit stop a weekend past at local Georgia Avenue Thrift.  This seemed like a nice change of pace since as of late we've been busy with record fairs, traveling to record stores in other cities, and being gifted records.  It's a good idea to get back to thrift stores for a little treasure hunt.  Buying dollar records that might be great, might be awful is a roll of the dice, but few experiences compare.  Expectations for this particular endeavor were pretty low.  Georgia Avenue Thrift always has vinyl, but the condition and shelving for their goods is usually pretty weak.  This visit was no different.  Records were in a very low shelving unit and all stacked on top of one another.  Bad form.

While VVer #2 attempted to tackle a pile turning out to be all Christmas, classical, and country (separate categories here, but let's take a minute to imagine a merged classical country Christmas album section... YIKES! ), VVer #1 had more luck with his makeshift section.  Discs were hard to get at on the side-shelf.  Halfway through combing through a pile of records, a fellow customer came over to VVer #1 and handed over a pile of records he had already picked out.  He asked "look and see if these records are good" in an eastern European accent.  Ha, VVer #1 must have looked like he knew his stuff!  He had mostly classical; pretty standard stuff.  Hope he likes what he got.

A few take-aways for our efforts:

Walter Carlos Sonic Seasons
VVer #2 made VVer #1 buy this because it was on the Moog synthesizer and it has a beautiful woodblock-esque print for the cover.

Mistake?  Ummmm.  Well ... we now know that you can make seagull, wave, wind, and thunderstorm noises on the Moog.  This is not really what we expected here.  This does not sound like any Moog we are used to.  Maybe if we owned a spa and wanted to play really shitty music to faux-relax people we would pop this on.   Sheer curiosity leads us later on into a Wiki-hole.  The trouble is figuring out why the search for info on this album pulls up versions by Wendy Carlos, not Walter.  Apparently a sex-change explains that.  Upon further investigation, turns out he (pre-transition) is responsible for Switched-On Bach, the famous album introducing the world to the Moog synthesizer, as well as the soundtrack for A Clockwork Orange.  Props.  Alas, this ambient-sounds record doesn't make the cut to stay in the collection.  We're actually upset we wasted the record cleaner to play this one.

Also picked out of the pile to come home with us was Suzanne Vega Solitude Standing which includes her well-known "Tom's Diner" in a cappella.  Meh, probably going to pass this one along after one more listen.  Speaking of one-listens, we also picked up Sesame Street The Frog Prince, a recording of a theater style TV broadcast from 1971.  This "muppetized" version of the story is pretty adorable.  It has a few solid laughs and the story is done with aplomb.  Kermit constantly throws in silly banter the way only he can, which is a nice twist for this classic yarn.  A fun listen for an LP that will probably be gifted to one of our friends with kids (and a turntable).  VVer #1 might want to keep it though...

So all in all, not so much treasure had, but an experience nonetheless.

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Johnny Cash

Clearly vinyl records are cool.  Duh.  You know how we know this?  Because even the U.S. Postal Service gets it!  Check out this new one-sheet of Johnny Cash stamps, the second release from the USPS "Music Icons" series.  Front side:

He's looking pretty good, right?  Now the stamp side:

What's that pokin' up at the top of the sheet you ask?  It's a fake record!  They mocked a sheet of stamps into a 45 in a sleeve!  "Designed to suggest a vinyl disc sliding from its cover."  Respect.  Bet every philatelist is going to want to write about this.  What "music icon" should the VVers start a letter-writing campaign to the USPS for?  Devo?  Kurtis Blow?  The Ramones?  Ideas?

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Milwaukee: The Best Place? We're Vinyl Vagabonds?

Whilst visiting the fair city of Milwaukee, thou shalt imbibe large quantities of delicious local beer, huff down cheddar cheese, bike everywhere, and listen to piles of vinyl records.  Check. Check. Check. Check.  The last may be the more challenging of the activities seeing as beer and cheese are amazing, affordable, and available everywhere, and everyone bikes (this may not be the case during snowy wintertime, but that will be another trip).  Thanks to Pabst Best Place tavern, we were able to satisfy our last criteria. Miraculously, the VVers were able to enjoy an amazing all vinyl music night.

How did this amazing event happen you might ask?  While looking up things to do in Milwaukee in advance of the trip, we came across Best Place at historic Pabst brewery and just so happened to notice a "Retro Vinyl Night" the first Thursday of the month.  They had not yet scheduled the August events yet, but the spark had been lit!  Out of pure nothing-to-lose enthusiasm, VVer #2 emailed to request a vinyl night for our upcoming visit; letting them know we are in fact the Vinyl Vagabonds and we love Milwaukee.  Not only was the reply yes, but we got a choice of music that we wanted: albums from the 60's-80's or mostly 45s with a Motown vibe.  We opted to have Best Place arrange for either DJ that was available and let them know we would be sure not to miss out.  Basically, pick "the best one."  The VVers had a late arrival since we were busy catching up on free late-night art over at the incredible Milwaukee Art Museum, but we eventually made it to find quite a nice set-up.  Steve Kauth, our DJ, brought in all his handmade wooden crates of vinyl (maybe 15+) as well as two humongous movie theater-type speakers, stereo rig, lava lamps, and turntables.   He encouraged us to go up and rummage through the records and pick out some stuff that looked "interesting."  Steve was very welcoming and stated that he goes through all of this trouble (this was a huge amount of gear for one guy to lug) because "I enjoy it, sharing this with people."  After a short time he also asked "where are your people?" and seemed a little disappointed that we didn't bring in a crowd.  Apparently the Vinyl Vagabonds don't have much pull in Milwaukee just yet ... sorry Steve.

First record pulled out from the crates featured GODZILLA and KING GIDORAH on the cover!  AWESOME!

We ended up picking out a few interesting things and having a goofy/fun night. Unfortunately Steve refused to play the Godzilla record Slitherama (billed as teen trash from psychedelic Tokyo circa 1966-1969) and instead played these other vinyl guys' recent purchases.  It is worth mentioning that the other guys were well toasted and highly enthusiastic about their newly bought records so it seemed best to not interfere.  Who are we to harsh on people and their love of newly purchased vinyl?  Godzilla is the only one allowed to judge.

Oh, you want more stories about our record escapades in Milwaukee?  Ok, well we should mention that we also went and checked out No Bails and Static Eyes at Circle A.  This small, homey bar in a northern neighborhood was pretty much as close as you can get to being at a house show; literally in the living room of a house.  After the awesome show we picked up a Static Eyes/Drugs Dragons split single with a hand screened cover that also is the artwork for the 45.  Friggin a!  Haven't heard of Static Eyes?  The VVers randomly caught them at a Windian record label show in DC a while back and VVer #1 remembered they were from Milwaukee.  Garage punk sound; check them out.  Seeing them live is a psyched out experience, not for the meek.  From their Facebook description: "SNOTTY, FUZZ STOMP FROM THE MIDWEST! ROCK AND ROLL, STRAIGHT UP, NO FILLERS, NO SWEETENERS."

Too Much Mustard?!?
It's fair to say that while en route from Chicago to Milwaukee a stop in Madison (not exactly on the way) is worth your time.  The lakes, school campus, terraces, downtown, and National Mustard Museum are all amazing.  On the outskirts of the downtown is Strictly Discs.  Apart from having a stellar ground floor area well stocked with a plethora of new and used vinyl, they have a basement.  VVer #2 tried to warn VVer #1 not to go in the basement.   "You don't want to go in the basement!  Nothing to see here."  There was no way VVer #1 would heed the half kidding warnings.  Although hours could have easily been spent down there we made sure to set a reasonable time limit and then VVer #1 proceeded to ignore that.  The subterranean cellar was incredibly well organized and stocked with unusual discs.  We managed to pick up a copy of Urge Overkill Now that's the Barclords/What's this Generation Coming To? from the Sub Pop singles club circa 1991.  On transparent yellow vinyl, only 5,000 ever printed.  It's a neat-o find that happens to sound completely different than the LP release and happened to also fit easily into our luggage.  We also managed to find a cool vinyl wedding present which we cannot disclose any information about at this time, except that it also was luggage appropriate.  We'll let them post about it after our friends get hitched.

Are you catching the trend that the VVers are very conscientious about the weight of their luggage and seem to only pick up 45s while visiting other cities?  It's a great policy to follow.  They are portable, not going to set you back a whole lot, allow you to get a wide variety of music (usually local), and don't weigh as much as those damn 180-gram monstrosities.

Oh, by the way, Vinyl Vagabonds, who is us, now have issues 3 and 4 of our handcrafted zine on sale at Chicago's very own Quimby's (shout-out for them actually reading our zine and writing a mini-blurb about each issue!).  Haven't been?  It is a store.  It has books, comics, and zines.  You may like it.  Go now.   Browse books.  Crease comics.  Peruse and thumbprint zines.  Purchase the best ones.  Best!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Buddy Miles Live

Buddy Miles Live - 1971

Wowy.  This is some serious recording.
We picked this one up at the most recent incarnation of the DC Record Fair, knowing only that we already had A Message to the People from the same year which is a stellar funk-rock solo album from Mr. Miles: drummer, main vocalist, and band leader.  This self-produced, double-disc album was recorded while on tour in 1971 in Seattle, Santa Monica, and Bakersfield (where the...?).  The cover, donned in a psychedelic, blue-purple landscape accompanied by a flying, fiery heart (we're talking real heart here with veins, arteries and all), sealed the deal to give this record-set a new home.

Horn flourishes open up "Joe Tex" the funky crowd warm-up (probably served the purpose of making sure people made it to their seats for the good shit later to come).  This is a solid instrumental lead-in track which cleanly segues into the James Brown-esque "Take It Off Him and Put It On Me" full of whaaaoos, steady bass, and stellar riffs by lead guitarist Charlie Karp.  Karp tears it up in the second half here with the rest of the crew straining at full force to keep up.

Hello curve ball.  A song the VVers instantly raise a curious eyebrow to: Buddy Miles covering Neil Young's "Down by the River" to polish off the first record's A-side?  Yes, indeed.  It's got a bleating trumpet interlude, catchy horn riffs, and a lonely tuba.  The horntastic tooting on this majestic homage will get you going.  Wandering, esoteric, and jazzy horn solos give some respite in the mid-section of this tune.  Besides that, it is a true-to-form rendition with Miles sounding uncannily similar to Young.  It isn't until late in the performance where you can distinctly hear Miles' fiery baritone belt through.

A Batman-esque duddah duddah duddah dduahha duddah duddah duddah dduahha bass-line is heavily featured in the Isaac Hayes cover "Wrap It Up" which encompasses all of record one, side-B.  The hypnotizing bass riff combined with a dominant horn section carries through all the funkiness that is this epic track.  The lull in music could have you thinking the set is about to end, POW! the band pops right back to life, stronger than before to bring it. i.e., "the funk."

Side A of record two is "The Segment;" a 12-minute epic with so many slight returns it puts the concept to shame. The band is completely in sync and Buddy is in full-on crooner mode.  He goes from sweetly toned to snarling James Brown with little effort.  How is he making all this mayhem and drumming at the same time?  The horn section rolls with ominous tones that really help to set the drama and punch things up.  It all comes thundering down at the end with a mighty call and response jam out. POW!

Apparently James Hendrix Sr. was in the audience the night "Them Changes" was recorded, as Buddy gives a big shout-out to him and the accomplishments of his recently deceased son, Jimi.  Buddy then proceeds to call up the whole Hendrix family to the stage.  In case you didn't know, Buddy was a former member of Jimi's Band of Gypsys from 1969 to 1970.

These recordings are super jam-out sessions, completely loaded with chunky grooves and boogie.  Buddy shows a fierce earnestness in his delivery.  Really good stuff and apparently never released on CD.  Seek out that vinyl!

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Here's Ten Random Records...

Friend and VV contributor shows up in the CT for a VVer #2 summer family BBQ and he brought this stack with him.  Apparently his aunt unloaded this pile of goodness from her personal collection.  Assuming we are the bloggers and we know stuff (big assumption), he leaves them in our trusting hands to do what we want with them.  Is this a joke on us?

Oh. Dear. God.  In.No.Particular.Order.

1.  Peter Frampton I'm In You.  CREEPY.   Seriously, just look at the cover, the title, silken pantaloons, and foofy sleeved blouse/shirt!  Perhaps the record is good?  Problem is, before it even gets to the turntable, a pamphlet falls out.  What's in said pamphlet?  I think only pictures can tell... (Note: I'm In You Necklace)

And no, the pathetic cheese music in no way saves this one.

2.  Jo-Ann Kelly Self-Titled.  First reaction "Is this a guy?  I thought the name was Jo-Ann." Oh wait, the back cover will answer all our questions, "the first and only white blues singer of sufficiently awesome skills . . . Jo-Ann is young, British, and feminine.  Her sounds are brawny, black, and Southern."  Mmm hmm.  This must not have been written in English, definitely written in Estonian and the translation is just not carrying over.  No one talks or writes like this.

3.  Love Out Here is sort of psyched out at times and then also corny and boring at times.  It's  a double from 1969 so it's gonna need more attention.  The cover art painting of a lone seated blue flame figure is really what makes this one.  VVer #1 keeps trying to try to give it another try, but VVer #2 says, AAAAGGGGHHHHH!!!

4.  Joe Byrd and the Field Hippies The American Metaphysical Circus.  Side A interesting, possibly even better if extremely high.  Side B however turns into a family sing-along (literally; it's called the "The Sing-Along Song") prompting VVer #2's brother who hasn't gotten off the couch in nearly three hours, without warning, to finally get up to TURN OFF THIS RECORD.  This song makes him feel "Not Happy."  Even though VVer #1 said we are in the middle of a "happening" after reading about the "happening-producer" Joe Byrd.  Possibly the weirdest record ever.  Wait, there's a "Sing-Along Song Reprise"!!!

5.  Black Uhuru Anthem from 1983, a great year to be born, but not a great year for reggae albums as witnessed by the recent purchase of Jimmy Cliff's The Power and the Glory. But really not bad. Yet. 1983 also happens to be one year after Neil Young's techno-influenced, computer-voice heavy album Trans.  The influence is palpable on the good tracks.  Needs more Trans.

6.  The Copper Plated Integrated Circuit Plugged in Pop is "plugged in pop presented on the Moog synthesizer and other Electronic Instruments by Sear Electronic Music Productions, Inc."  Yeah, we gathered that from the title.   In fact, there are no names taking the credits in the liner notes except this Walter Sear fellow.   Was this the dawn of electronic music?  Mehhhh.  This is what VVer #2 playing the keyboard sounds like.  VVer #1 actually shouts from upstairs "Is that you playing?"  It's like one-fingered picking at a keyboard.  What a scam.

7.  Randy Newman Little Creatures best known by our 11 and 8 year old cousins (who were dancing around the basement till we put this one on) for being the guy who did the songs from the Toy Story soundtrack.  Sort of Bob Dylan, but no... not really.  In fact VVer #2 is so un-interested she is outside hula-hooping right now.

8.  Colosseum The Grass is Greener is probably the best of this bunch.  It's improvisational rock/jazz/blues/disco: a little Spirit, Peter Green era Fleetwood Mac, a little Allman Brothers.  Genre-shifting music.  The singing is at times atonal and often weighs things down.  The instrumentation is impressive though.  Horn sections, sax solos, jazz drums, and a potent guitar assault combine into a rich soundscape.  "Butty's Blues" would be one to check out.  The album cover art would fit right into the 90's alternative music scene.

9.  Juice Newton JUICE.  Hey, she wrote one song on this one.  Remember that one song?  What is this drek?  Oh, hey!  She wrote that other song also?  Wow... please turn it off.

10.  Commodores Natural High is pretty solid for what it is.  Disco, funk, and pop all rolled into a totally harmless but well crafted LP.  Thanks Motown.  "Three Times a Lady" has not aged well at all, but the rest really hits.  Lionel Richie and crew are at the peak of their powers, and looking at the back cover, pretty fly as well.  Possibly worth a spin or two if the stars were aligned just so.

[Disclosure: Some of these records were barely listened to by the VVers and some probably deserve another listen.  But not for this blog.]

Thursday, July 18, 2013

DC Zinefest

The Vinyl Vagabonds will be tabling for the second year at DC Zinefest in Mt. Pleasant.  We'll be sharing a table with Team KK and scarfing down vegan munchies all whilst hawking stickers, mini-comics, posters, greeting cards, and yes... you guessed it; ZINES.  Hand printed copies of Vinyl Vagabonds 1-4 and some other schwag as well (possibly records?!).  It will be delightful.

JULY 20, 2013
11 A.M. - 5 P.M.
FREE! KID-FRIENDLY! B.Y.O. SHARPIES! (what does this mean?)

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Lazy Record

Johnny Hodges and Wild Bill Davis - Blue Rabbit - 1964

What led the VVers to this album?  Honestly, it was the cover art.  The carrot dipped in blue ink and bunny foot prints leading off the edge is quite quaint.  Who doesn't love bunny tracks, and high contrast carrots?! The scripty header of the album is implied to have been written by the ink-dipped carrot.  Nice calligraphy skills bunny!  Secondly (and more importantly), it is on the renowned Verve Records - the label that recorded the most prominent jazz musicians of the 1940's to 60's.  To the VVers, the label is as good an indicator of the music inside as any.  Knowing nothing else about this record, except the aforementioned criteria, the VVers purchased it for a whopping $3 at local Joe's Record Paradise.  The price was right for testing out our buyer's instinct.

We have held onto this one a few months and given it quite a few spins, but the music didn't seem to be sticking.  Upon a recent spin we coined it "lazy jazz" and while writing this blog have also coined it "slouch-core."  The music that you first think of when you hear the term "lazy jazz" is exactly what this music sounds like.   Obviously, we are good at naming things.  On the vinyl, the players take a mighty stroll, set against the backdrop of Wild Bill's drawling organ.  Lolling tenderness in the guitar strumming, soft horn (soft porn?), and interplay of the organ gives these tunes a shuffling saunter.  Blue Rabbit is the cure for action.  Thank god there are no vocals.  Jazz vocals are the worst.  It seems that many of the songs are standards, but played in a slow, bluesy way.  The music is not bad or unlistenable, it just started to put VVers off.  This record would probably be good if you had a baby that you were trying to get to take a nap.

So what's the deal with the musicians who are recording this "lazy jazz"?  Are Johnny Hodges and Wild Bill Davis just some one-offs, or do they actually have a respectable musical resume?  Turns out the later.  Johnny Hodges, also known as "rabbit" (ah-ha, things make more sense now!) played alto sax in Duke Ellington's big band orchestra.  He learned from the legendary Sidney Bechet and joined Ellington's band in 1928.  By the 1930's he had become the lead soloist alto sax and was featured on a number of Ellington's small group recordings.  Hodges, who was known for his soulful, blues, is also known for performing "Jeep's Blues" with Ellington (his second nickname was "Jeep").  He later left and started his own band for a time, and re-joined Ellington's band before the legendary 1956 Newport Jazz Festival, putting Ellington back in the lime-light.  Hodges even got his oft-collaborator and organist, Wild Bill Davis, to join Ellington's band in the late 60's.  Davis, who often wrote arrangements for Ellington and Count Basie, may very well be the precursor of the popular organ sounds of Jimmy Smith and Booker T.

Seems these guys are the real deal.  VVer's personal view is that perhaps this album was recorded at just the time in jazz's history when big-band had transitioned out, Hodges' style of soul/sultry blues was fading in, and when combined with Davis' organ, creates "lazy jazz."  Learning about Hodges' style of jazz prompted us to pull out our Ellington records to see if he is on our other records.  In fact, he is given credits on three of our four albums.  Apparently we are super fans!  Just for fun we were prompted to listen to "Jeep's Blues" occurring on Ellington at Newport.  Revisiting this track, after listening to Blue Rabbit, really exemplifies Hodges' musical style, which is very apparent.  How 'bout that!

This write-up was intended to be a parting farewell to this record, but we wanted to learn just a little something about it before it hopped away to its next journey.  Instead however, we are now considering keeping it, as we have gained an appreciation for the musicians and we even learned something about other albums in our collection.  Maybe we're just a couple of "lazy" VVers after all.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Public Enemy - Yo! Bum Rush the Show - 1987

The vinyl of this album is so hard to find,
we had to photograph our own ratty-ass copy.
Chuck D, Flavor-Flav, Terminator X, and the Bomb Squad get things going in a nasty, nasty way on their debut LP.  Brought to you by the infamous Rick Rubin in his early producing days, Yo! Bum Rush the Show carries just as much bombast and bomb blasts as any album we've ever heard.  Similarities to Rubin's prior work with Run-DMC and the Beastie Boys are evident: there's the humor and swagger, the occasional guitar solo (Vernon Reid of Living Colour makes some nice contributions), and hard rock edge.   Still, Public Enemy is very much its own thing.  Plenty of echo, funk sampling, and vigorous verse punctuate nearly every track.  Yo! is replete with scratches, thumps, screeches, and explosions piled on over sirens and whining terror that drone and halt amongst the carnage.  It's surprisingly listenable, due to the dominant verbal stylings of Mr. Chuck D.  He gets in on the humor often and rhymes like a cocky, tough guy.  A lesser MC could easily doom the record, but Chuck comes off with power and a literary complexity that is well apart from his peers. "Suckers to the side I know you hate my 98!"  Flavor-Flav does his part as well, pitching in often clownish asides that help the listener to catch a breath in between screeds from Chuck D.  Flav is often referred to as "the hype man," but he more than holds his own on his verses here.  He flexes a style that is gritty and ridiculous, particularly on "Too Much Posse."  His voice sounds like he just ate a handful of gravel and nails.

"Megablast," an ode to horrors of the crack epidemic, is an ugly and rough-edged production that is in no way warm or inviting.  Flav and Chuck pass verses back and forth over the spare drum loop leading into a backwards verse and repeated chorus "Oh nigga nigga please, just give me one more hit."  The VVers are more familiar with its later incarnation: the track Tom Morello and Boots Riley (aka The Street Sweeper Social Club) did as a shout out.  Two totally different songs and both well worth your time.

Public Enemy Number One, One, One, One! samples our favorite wordsmith Kurtis Blow's "AJ Scratch" from Ego Trip on the namesake track (though, when listening to the two tunes back-to-back, we can't hear it, we tried).  Chuck brings fury and sick boasts one after the next.  It is relentlessly catchy.  You will be chanting "one, one, one, ONE!"

Check out "You're Gonna Get Yours" for some sweet underlying bass guitar in the hooks.  They even compare their 98 Oldsmobile to Green Hornet's Black Beauty:
  Smoke is comin' when I burn
  Rubber when my wheels turn
  Tinted windows--super bad
  Lookin' like the car the Green Hornet had
It's a pretty corny boasting and bravado track that could just as easily have been on a Sir-Mix-a-Lot album.  Why it holds up is due to Chuck D's flame-throwing interplay with Flav and the raw production.

The album is laced with lyrics that make you stop and think "Did I just hear that?" Take "Timebomb" where midway you hear, "I'll be the burger--you can be the bun, girl."  It's crass, but in no way mean-spirited. The album has a few lyrics that come off misogynistic, which can be a bit jarring. Thankfully they go by quickly. "Sophisticated Bitch" is the most obvious offender. It calls out uptight ladies that think they are all that, but are really closeted sex freaks. It's over the edge at times. If it's about a specific woman, then it's his personal view, but if it's a taken as a jab at women in general it's kind of ugly. The bulk of this album though is social commentary of urban life. Take this verse from "Rightstarter (Message to a Black Man)":
  I'm on a mission to set you straight
  Children-It's not too late
  Explain to the world when it's plain to see
  To be what the world doesn't want us to be
Chuck D has a knack for his verses sounding optimistic and menacing all at once.  He's all in for this debut.  As always the lyric sheet is useful for keeping up with the rapid flow, but it is fair to mention that often this sheet is way off.  Especially when things get going full force the typist just cannot keep up with Flav.

We picked this up at the Record Exchange that briefly existed in Takoma Park for two bucks; probably cheap due to the ratty condition of the sleeve.  We never see this record in stores and in trying to research anything about it, there is next to nothing to be found.  These VVers feel it just does not get the props it deserves.  And by the way, what's with "E" and "F" sides to the record?  Where's A, B, C, and D?  No one knows.  Last note: from the perspective of us vinyl lovers, the cover photo prominently features the members of the group reaching out for a turntable.  Flavor-Flav wants his vinyl!  

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Black Angels - Another Nice Pair/Indigo Meadow

Record Store Day from two years ago has worked its magic of introducing the VVers to a new band, The Black Angels.  Ka-Chunk! Records in Annapolis had a leftover 2011 RSD copy of Another Nice Pair sitting on the shelf waiting to be snatched up.  Although we had only heard of the band in passing, this was an easy purchase seeing as the cover art was attractive and the package not priced too high.  We really had no idea what to expect, but in the past two years this record has had frequent spinning action. The music is entrancing.  It will suck you into a vortex of methodical drum beats, guitar distortions, and ominous, yet catchy bass undertones.  This disc is actually a reissue of the band's first two EPs which apparently had not previously been released on vinyl.  Oh, and it's translucent red vinyl (yes, we are suckers for this).  Is Another Nice Pair named in homage to Pink Floyd's A Nice Pair where they also bundled-up and reissued their first two albums in one nice package?  Experiencing the psychedelic, retro vibe here...seems likely.

Great excitement hit the house of VV when we noticed The Black Angels were playing a show at the Black Cat, our local go-to venue.  We promptly snatched up tickets and convinced a bunch of friends to join along.  The show sounded stellar and was accompanied by a trippy light show.  We even found out they have a female drummer (the liner notes from the previous album are a bit sparse); regardless she killed it.  They brought along what was made out to be a mini-Moog or equivalent electronic, boxy device to emit waaa-waaaa-ing sounds.  Needless to say, we couldn't turn down buying their just-released LP Indigo Meadow.  The impressively hefty chunk of vinyl is accompanied by a song lyrics/picture book mounted in the cover, making for a nice little package.  Surprisingly, this LP features a more pop-friendly style, yet the band still manages a plethora of hazy guitar riffage and distorted vocals.  The vibe is more reminiscent of 60's surfer-rock than their previous stuff.  It is speckled with plenty of low-tuned chords, high pitched keyboards, and tambourines.  Many of the songs are heavy stompers with thundering rhythm sections and bass coming in hard at times.  The title track starts the album off with loud drums layered in with hypnotic, circular guitars, then semi-monotonal, fuzzy vocals which, when combined, create a very catchy, evil sounding tune.  "Black Isn't Black" channels Ray Manzarek on the keyboards to build up to a pulsing, yet menacing drone beat.  "Don't Play With Guns" is the first single from the album and it has one of those hooks that will stick with you.  It is unmistakably forward in sound even with all the retro touches.  "She lays down with her revolver.  She's so cold, my heat evolves her."  Black Angels lyrics are often vague, but we get a bit of hallucinogenic story telling here.  Vocalist Alex Maas has one of those old timey voices that haunts and occasionally warbles.  He tends to talk his songs which certainly helps for lyrical clarity.

Color runs throughout several songs on these records: Check out "Black Grease" and "Manipulation" from Another Nice Pair, and from Indigo Meadow the title track, "I Hear Colors," and "Black Isn't Black."  A truly visual listening experience (weird right?).  This isn't by accident.  The Black Angels make no bones about connecting to the LSD era of sonic exploration and make every effort to do it proud.  In their newest effort they keep their distinct sound found in their early work, but create a more concise format.  They are pulling from early Sabbath, Floyd, Doors, Jefferson Airplane, and early psych bands that we are yet to discover.  We would love to raid their record collection!  This VVer recommends that both albums should be played at escalated volumes to get the full experience.  But isn't that applicable to most records?  With such a high level of pounding fuzz you might be pissing off your neighbors (or perhaps the entire neighborhood), but it's worth it.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Rose-Colored Vinyl

A sampling of the colored vinyl from our collection.  Who knew we had so much flair in our stash!?

Should we care if a record is any color other than black?  Are flashy colors a gimmick to trick us into buying new vinyl?  "Hey, the new Mark Lanagan record is out; I heard it is supposed to be pretty good!  Should I buys it?  Meh.  Wait, wait, is that what I think it is?  Tie-dyed turquoise vinyl?  I wants the precious.  I WANTS IT!"

Everyone knows records are black.  It is the ubiquitous color.  Yet, more and more new vinyl is colored, especially first pressings and special releases.  Take Record Store Day 2013 -- these VVers purchased a fair chunk of records and the vast majority are on color or translucent vinyl.  These records look fantastic, especially when spinning, but does this have any effect on the sound quality?

The VVers have done a tiny shred of research on the subject.  Here's what we got:

Black.  Did you know vinyl does not start off black?  We sure didn't!  Since the majority of records are on black vinyl it just stood to reason.  It also happens to be wrong.  So, what color are records when they are born?  Only Godzilla knows.  Our research points to a carbon-black agent which is added to the vinyl before pressing.  This process homogenizes not only the color of the vinyl, but also is used to strengthen it, reduce noise, and smooth out sound.  The VVers approve of black; it makes dust and gunk show up easily and encourages good record hygiene.  I smell nice.  

Clear.  Clear/translucent vinyl is purported to have respectable audio quality, some even go as far as saying it is the best.  No clear evidence as to why.  Is it because it is what people consider "virgin vinyl" since it has no color additives and is not made from recycled material?  Or is it because as it is translucent, there are less chances for impurities?  If that's the case why don't they press all high fidelity records on transparent vinyl?  In the early age of pressing vinyl, quality standards may have been pretty low.  Is it possible that over the years vinyl quality has evolved to the point that it no longer needs this "black agent" added to it to extend the life of the record?  Is clear vinyl the way of the future?  These questions, and others, may never be answered.

Colored (including tie-dyed, opaque, speckled).  No real definitiveness on colored vinyl.  It's fun to look at.  It's attractive.  People want it...Especially when tie-dyed...And tie-dyed spinning on your turntable...Spin art?!  But, most folks (purists maybe?) consider colored vinyl to be of a lesser quality.  It has been suggested that the materials added to get that sweet color might hurt record durability.  What do the VVers think?  No opinion; too hard to tell.  

Just when we thought we were done with the blog,
we stumble into Jerry's Records
in Pittsburgh: a true vinyl mecca. 
Picture Discs. The Black Sheep. Common consensus is that picture discs are awful.  Although fancy to look at, sound quality is apparently inferior.  Seems there are two worlds of picture discs: the type where the actual playable surface is a laminate; and the other being thin, clear vinyl with a sheet of paper with the image sandwiched in between.  Basically these are made for ogling and as collectibles, not for their amazing sound quality.  VVer #1 pulled out his 12" (well this sounds rude!) picture disc copy of Nirvana Lithium.  The sound was great and frankly it was really cool to watch a spinning skeleton on the turntable.  Consider VVer #1 a sucker.

These VVers may have potatoes in their ears, but so far sound quality of our non-black vinyl has been groovy.

Bottom line here is that most of what we've said up to this point is moot if you take into account all the other important steps along the way.  The end product is only as good as the quality control, the people, and decisions made to bring it to the final release.  The mastering of the album has an enormous bearing on the final product.  The materials used to press the vinyl could be of poor quality or not mixed correctly.  The record company could put out an inferior run on fancy looking vinyl just to score a few quick dollars.  Also the amount of records per pressing makes a big difference.  For example, if it's a "limited edition" run, the record press may not have the time (or budget) to work out all the kinks before going into production.  Are you scared yet?  All this before you ever even get a listen.  If something goes flooey along the way your record will sound cruddy no matter how pretty it looks.  

BUT, how much fun is it to open a new record and pull it out of its sleeve to find out it is on tie-dyed green vinyl!?!  SURPRISE!  There are few things that compare with that feeling.  As mentioned, most purchases from this year's Record Store Day were on colored or translucent vinyl.  The favorite of the bunch is the aqua-transparent 10" Because the Night by Garbage/Screaming Females.  

The cover art (by Screaming Females leader Marissa Paternoster) is a creepy/cool ink illustration, but the vinyl within was the real treat.  In the right light it glows like one of those discs from Tron!  The single itself sounds incredible as well.  This crushing version is flush with deep vocals, an intense meter, and lean production.  Paternoster provides solid co-vocals with Shirley Manson and absolutely shreds on two lengthy guitar solos.  Two B-side remixes of recent Garbage songs round out this limited release.

It's fair to mention that VVer #1 has had a sweet translucent-pink copy of Nirvana Bleach since the beginning (my first ever vinyl purchase!) and it never ceases to impress.  Does it sound great?  Absolutely.  Does the 180 gram black vinyl version released last year sound better?  It's a possibility.  Is it worth it to upgrade?  Hell no!  Everyone loves the sight of that pink record bursting out of its black and silver sleeve in all its mystical glory.  Will we ruin the resale value of it when it gets worn out?  Probably.