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.