Sunday, January 27, 2013


Spirit - 1968

The psychedelic era has, up until recently, just meant to me early Pink Floyd.  In college I was overexposed to The Wall and Wish You Were Here.  It's good music; but not really indicative of the rich tapestry of the early waves of psychedelia.  At the time I didn't know that.  I thought watching Wizard of Oz while listening to Dark Side of the Moon was "psychedelic."  I guess it is, but I am heartened to know that there is plentiful history that predates.

Spirit had never even been on my radar until one VVer, in the interest of buying random books from local bookstore Politics and Prose, and broadening her musical horizons, brought home "1000 Albums You Need to Hear Before You Die."  While not exactly the definitive authority on musical quality, this tome has provided some interesting direction. In the pages of said paperweight exists a write up of Spirit's 1972 album Twelve Dreams of Dr. Sardonicus.  Why the review piqued my curiosity is hard to say... it just looked strange.

So anyways, Sardonicus is a phenomenal album and it got me to keep an eye for other releases by Spirit.  I have no idea where we came across this copy of Spirit's debut; it's been sitting in our collection for the past few years with nary a play.  We liked it from the outset, but for some reason it sat mostly unspun.  Not sure why.  Perhaps it was the odd sleeve cover?  The collage of the mostly goofy looking members made goofier by their assemblage (it totally reminds me of the Feistadon cover mentioned in our 2012 year in review) and being almost life size staring right at you, is off-putting to say the least.  Get out of here you damn hippies!  Seriously though it's goofy and playful.  The photo of the guys, who all seemingly have their own look, strikes me as very contemporary.

Like Sardonicus, the debut LP is suffused with jazzy tempo shifts and meanderings.  The variety of musical instrumentation shows how much talent is here; organs, sitars, deeply fuzzed out electric guitar, stand-up bass, flutes, horns, and all manner of percussives.  Vocals are often more chants and hummings than full throated rocker moments.  Harmonies evoke a warm sing along in the shed out back kind of prettiness.  It's often a blissed out affair with traces of Zappa weird-osity in the lyrics and matter-of-fact 50's rock and roll.  Much like Zappa it works because that's not the focal point of the music, but just one trick in the many that the members of Spirit have up their sleeves (hippies have huge sleeves).  Songs venture often into acid jazz and even some lengthy moments of piano jazz solos.  It's a dog pile at times, but only atonal once or twice.  Production from 2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Lou Adler, keeps it all sounding crisp despite all the ad-lib.  Even with a fairly experimental feel, many songs have clear structure and would make quality A-sides.  You will hear traces of The Doors and other California spaced out harmoniousness.  "Fresh Garbage" is a wry poke at wasteful consumerism. Catchy too.

Well look beneath your lid some morning,
See those things you didn't quite consume
The world's a can for
Your fresh garbage.

The final track "Elijah" is a perfect example of all that Spirit has to offer; all instrumental, lots of jazz and percussion.  There's a good deal of playful back and forth for much of the ten minute song and you could easily get lulled into thinking that they were just goofing off in between takes.  Present are several false endings and slight dodges.  I had to question if the guys had any plan at all.  That is until lead axe man Randy California blows the doors off with a wailing high pitched guitar tirade finale.  The tune is really the sum of its parts and a fitting finish to this first slab.

You will definitely here traces of The Doors, Sgt. Pepper era Beatles, CSN, and The Mamas and the Papas in here.  The song "Taurus" has a riff that predates Led Zeppelin's "Stairway to Heaven" by at least two years.  Apparently the Led opened for Spirit on tour in support of this album.  How convenient.

I've gotten a lot of pleasure from reading about Spirit in researching for this write-up.  Although they only managed to record four albums with this set of members, those albums are all incredibly influential and ahead of their time.  I highly recommend you seek one out.  I see them around a bunch and usually for cheap.  Happy hunting.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Best of 2012

Best New Vinyl: Puscifer Conditions of My Parole
Honorable Mention: Jack White Blunderbuss

This was a tough call between two heavyweights:  Jack White vs. Maynard James Keenen (Puscifer; also you may have heard of his other bands: TOOL and A Perfect Circle).

Conditions of My Parole is our album of the year.  Without question.  It gets a lot of table time.  As a complete, cohesive album, it has a good variety of tones, tempo, and lyrical experimentation.  Each and every track is sonically pleasing.  In fact, there will be a full blog post about this one soon.  Only major drawback is the 2 LP format which may indeed provide great sound, but leads to many record flips. Just when it's really getting going you got to get up and flip it.  Thanks for the extra cardio Maynard!

Props to Jack White for keeping his amazing debut solo album Blunderbuss to one single record; for new vinyl that is more of a rarity these days, and the VVers appreciate it.  We even played his rendition of "I'm Shakin'" at our wedding this year.  Quite a hit on the dance floor.

Best Used Vinyl: Fleetwood Mac Vintage Years
Honorable Mentions: Sir Shina Adewale and the Super Stars International Verse 7, King Oliver and His Dixie Syncopators

Weird to be writing about Fleetwood Mac, as they are not really a band that has never done much for me.  Going into a quality record store will learn you something for sure.  We happened upon an interest in the Mac whilst browsing at the small but well stocked El Suprimo! in Baltimore.  The store owner was blaring some sick blues and blew our minds when he told us it was early Fleetwood.  The vinyl itself was not ours to have until a month or so later when we picked it up at Joe's Record Paradise in Silver Spring.  Every tune on this two LP set is from "the vintage years" which means what exactly?  The sleeve has no insight on this kind of important info; just a goofy essay from the music producer about the band first getting together.  Having spoken with people in-the-know, we find that the tunes are all late 60s; or in terms of musicians rotating in and out of this band - the years of Peter Green, John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, and Jeremy Spencer and recorded on the Blue Horizon label.  Apparently these fellows were deeply into Chicago blues and that was the focus of this era of Fleetwood Mac.  Unfortunately, lead man Peter Green got to be a bit mentally unstable and had to depart the band in 1970 which led to the pop dreck and double pop dreck eras.

Best 45/12": The Faint 2012 Tour 12"
Honorable Mentions: Feistodon, Gary Clark Jr. Presents HWUL Raw Cuts Vol. 1, Lenorable The Prince

VV1: What's our best 45 this year?
VV2: Definitely The Faint 12"
VV1: You just got it, how do you know it's that good?
VV2: Well I've listened to it 12 times, one for every inch!

...which is entirely possible because this EP is full of heavy bass, psychedelic guitar flourishes, computer blippity bloops, "bouch bouch bouch," and chanting lyrics that can put you in a trance and find a way to replay itself in your head after just the first listen.  Only tiny drawback is no artwork.  This one looks as raw as possible with only the crudely stamped info on the all white label.  C'mon The Faint!  Hook me up with a glam cover!

Our honorable mention in this category features a mash-up of Feist playing Mastodon and Mastodon covering Feist.  They've done a sharp job of swapping tunes for this little 45er.  An interesting combination of genres along with a eye-popping collage cover.

Best Concert: Puscifer at the Lyric Opera House, Baltimore; Neil Young at the Patriot Center, VA; The Faint at 9:30 Club, D.C.

Three way tie?  Is that a cop out?  Each one was so good in its own way.  Musicians well into their careers, playing with carefree abandon to a sea of appreciative fans.  Good show(s)!

Best Record That's So Good We Bought It Twice:  Fat Boys (click for full review)
Honorable Mention: Queen II (click for full review)

Yes, there are now two copies of Queen II on our shelf.  I bought the duplicate in hopes that it would sound a bit less distorted than the first copy.  While the sounds are quite similar and I may have wasted my money, I have quelled my curiosity.  The record must have been recorded and pressed that way, and it's not that my copy is grungy.  Fingers crossed for a someday fully remastered version!  Not only will it probably sound and look amazing, but it will also fit nicely into next year's "Best Record That's So Good We Bought It Thrice" category.  2013 is the 40th anniversary of the first Queen album release... c'mon guys, do not let the VVers down!

Our clear winner in this category has to be the 2012 re-issue of Record Store Day and while not seeking it out specifically, it was on our mind to buy since our original copy has seen better days.  While at Joe's Record Paradise, I picked up their last copy merely to ogle the utter silliness of it.  As I stood there wavering over buying it (my self-imposed limit to spend on it was $30, and here it was marked for $29.99) in walks a guy who asked the clerk if they still had the copy that he called about earlier in the day.  Both sets of eyes turn to me in tandem.  PANIC - now I definitely should buy it.  IT'S MINE!  I did feel bad for the other customer, but I got my grubby paws on it first.  And that is the story of how the pizza box came to live in our record collection.  Did I mention that it sounds a million times better than our original copy?  Happiness.
the Fat Boys self titled album.  This re-issue is not only beautifully remastered, but is on 180 gram vinyl (who cares how heavy the vinyl is?  what am I trying to do arm reps with it!?!).  It's also a stunning picture disc of a pizza (pepperoni on the A side and crust on the B, mind you), with bonus tracks and a plush book.  This would have sold us; no problem.  Did I mention that it's all packaged up in a pizza box.  Yes, it is quite deluxe and also takes up a deluxe space in our record collection.  This savory little gem came out for Black Friday

Best Record That Was Not Meant to Be: Neil Young Psychedelic Pill
Ok Neil, we love you, but what the heck is with the insanely expensive vinyl?  Your latest (a triple record) is priced at $75 and even priced at a whopping $80 at the concert.  Now I get that this is a heavy record and that you don't skimp on the sound quality, but this is plainly prohibitive to vinyl junkies who happen to not be wealthy.  Please Mr. Young: stop being mean to us.  I take no pride in having a ripped version of this.

Best Gift Vinyl: A Place to Bury Strangers Exploding Head
Honorable Mentions:  Nirvana Nevermind, Orion Rockabilly

Exploding Head wins this one thanks to my brother picking this up for a random holiday present.  It's totally loud and distorted, but all done with a driving musicality.  Pressed on clear vinyl, which obviously matters, it's the kind of record that is so interesting that we'll need some more time to soak it in before the full review comes.

Rockabilly gets an honorable mention only because we would probably never have the cojones to buy it ourselves.  It showed up as a wedding gift which is pretty stellar.  People must know us or something to be buying us vinyl for our wedding! Did I mention the golden translucent yellow vinyl? Ha.

How about Nevermind for crying out loud!?!  Great record that really sums up my musical leanings for most of the last two decades.  The pressing is on blue vinyl and sounds sharp as ever.

Most Painful Gift Vinyl aka "The Levitated Stylus Award": Isaac Hayes And Once Again,
Honorable Mention: Orion Reborn

To accompany the best vinyl gift of the year, my brother also purchased me Isaac Hayes And Once Again because he "liked the cover."  Haven't we learned anything about buying records just because you like the cover?  This also suffers from the extremely dangerous "Naked Man on the Cover" syndrome.  Is there anything to say about this album?  "TURN IT OFF NOW!!!"

Orion Reborn wins the consolation prize.  It's bad in a way that just defies so much.  Funny that this showed up along with one of our better vinyl gifts, Orion's Rockabilly (thanks Dustin!).  Unlike that fun and light hearted album, Reborn sounds like "Schmaltzy Elvis Shit" - you know that 70's barf inducing type.  I've got nothing to say about the party masks and the shiny jumpsuits.  It was the 70's; I'm willing to forgive.  Pressed on golden translucent vinyl; like putting make-up on a pig.  It does help somewhat to listen to it at 45 speed.  Not enough to salvage anything.  Do not lower that stylus!