Tuesday, May 27, 2014

How To: Downsize

Ever pick up a box full of records?  Did you pull a muscle?  Are you still wincing in pain?  Do you have insurance?
Vinyl Vagabonds are clearly the first ever to acknowledge that vinyl records pose a very real threat to your health. These seemingly innocent platters can stack up and, in quantity, they are HEAVY.
The VVers actively had to confront this demon when the move to a new condo loomed.

VVer #2 "Holy !@$($#&^ we have a #$^&%(^ ton of records"
VVer #1 "Yeah!  Isn't it great!"
VVer #2 "Holy #$(%$&^ we're gonna have to move all this $#)^*%$%^*)"
VVer #1 "Ohh... ($#&%)$@%("

After letting this concept settle in for a day or two or ten, the VVers engaged in a carefully orchestrated plan to cull the chaff from the wheat (WHAT?).

The slightly less loaded Expedit.
A system was chosen that was relatively straight-forward.  Each VVer picked a section or cube (surely you have stumbled upon the lucky coincidence that IKEA's Expedit is perfectly made to fit vinyl records) and pulled out records that either have not been listened to in over six months or that the VVer actively despises, attempting to take into account the alternate VVer's tastes as to not offend too much (haha, not really).  In doing this, some pretty obvious stinkers have been jettisoned.  These seemingly harmless platters have worn out their welcome in the House of VV!  A few needed multiple spins to make absolutely sure an informed decision was made: example, Dusty Springfield Stay Awhile - I Only Want To Be With You and Big Brother and the Holding Company self-titled.  Both not bad, but would they ever be sought out for another listen?  Doubtful and goodbye.

One record that had kept getting passed over that got some well needed attention during this culling was Ray Manzarek The Golden Scarab.  Do you know Ray?  Of course you do!  The VVers have written about his solo music before: good and bad.  He was kind of a big deal; the keyboardist from the Doors.  Ray also happened to be a genius musician who, when left to his own devices, went hog wild in the studio.  The sound on The Golden Scarab bounces joyously between disparate styles.  Samba, heavy rock, salsa, lounge, folk, electronica, psych; for better and for worse it's all here.  Ray's voice is somewhat similar to Jim Morrison's in style and tone.  He doesn't have the depth of the Lizard King and often his cadence makes him sound sort of like a swaggering Elvis. If Ray is trying to convey some type of message about the meaning of life in Golden Scarab's lyrics, it's hard to take him seriously with his show-boaty, lounge-singer vibe.  The swinging tempo mixed with the introspective, poetic jib-jab is certainly unique.  Take for example opening track "He Can't Come Today," where he sounds like a game show host set against a marimba rhythm.  "What is your question? What will you ask him? What will you want from the truth? ... Where did we come from?  Where are we going? What are we all doing here?"  Why am I listening to this song? Why do I own it? Will it stay in the collection? 

The album's weirdness continues on a tremendous instrumental called "The Moorish Idol."  This nearly six minute spaced-out jam undulates with laser beams, propulsive percussion, and a galloping bass line.  Massive amounts of Ray's deft keyboarding create this amazingly futuristic sound.  Don't be afraid, the whole album isn't this unconventional, there are plenty of highly listenable tracks; "Downbound Train" is a powerful bluesy/evil sounding take on a Chuck Berry tune.  On a few songs Ray does some spoken word poetic scatting and shouts out various Egyptian gods and goddesses, which probably seemed like a good idea at the time.

Not sure why this LP  kept getting ignored.  Maybe the cover has something to do with it.  He just looks... awkward.  Maybe a little too much LSD led to him having this cosmic Egyptian freakout?  Look at that back cover.  He should have named the album The Golden Sideburns!  FREAK OUT!

Monday, May 12, 2014

Do Not Judge a Record by Its Cover; Especially if It's by HR Giger

His artwork is incredible!  Tell me more VVers, tell me more.

Magma - Attahk - 1978

Guy at the store when VVer #1 was looking at this thing: "Yeah, that one is pretty out there.  The main guy is like a savant of prog jazz.  All the songs are in his own invented language."  Joe's Record Paradise was having a one day sale of half off all the records in their rare section.  Figured why not?  Now the VVers know why not.

Orgo and Borgo on the cover look suitably sweaty and gross.  They resemble characters from Giger's early work on production art for the Dune film that David Lynch eventually made.  More examples of that sort of thing are here.

The sound on this thing is just ape-shit crazy.  Chrisitan Vander, the French fellow behind the making of this thing, is a fine drummer and composer.  As the guy at Joe's warned that all of the songs are sung in the invented "Kobaian" language which sounds like some sort of German and African conversation gone wrong.  A ton of musical expertise is on display here and it's too bad the resulting effort is mostly a cacophony.  A few songs sound a bit like early Devo and are just barely listenable.  Most resemble some sort of funked-up, disco-scatting fitness music from the land of Christmas.  The tempo is crazed to the point that if you are doing something else while listening, for instance cleaning the bathroom, you will be scrubbing that shower fast fast fast!  Scrubbing and listening; a little tortuous on both ends.  Impressive amounts of falsetto are on this thing; it's gotta be some sort of a world record.  Final track on the album "Nono" sounds like what would happen if the Muppet's remade that victory music for the finale of Return of the Jedi.  Not really understanding how the music and the album art mesh here... not at all.  Goodbye.

Debbie Harry - Koo Koo - 1981

For her solo debut, while on break from Blondie, Harry makes some pretty unconventional choices.  First and foremost the album is produced by Nile Rodgers and Bernard Edwards of 70's disco group Chic.  Backup vocals are handled by two members of Devo.  And of course there is the album cover to discuss.  Giger presents a torture/porn image of Harry stabbed with strange, super nails from forehead to neck.  If this is acupuncture, then no thanks.  Still, it's an interesting visual and has a rather Egyptian mystical thing going on.  The inner sleeve version is a more eviled up version of the cover, but with a subtle Alien-esque skin layer superimposed onto her face.  Half of the image is also under a layer of what looks like film strips of a microchip.  It's the far more striking image, but perhaps a little too freaky for the cover.

Surprising about this album is that the music is not really that weird.  It's pop, hip-hop, and disco with just a whiff of Blondie swagger.  Not much that this evil artwork would prepare you for.  A fun album that just barely matches up with its art.  She's a professed fan of his work so it's understandable why she wanted the Giger images.  It would have been cooler for her to have made music that matched up with it more-so.  Now just imagine what that would have sounded like!  For those into YouTube, there are two videos that Giger did with Harry for this album.  The video for "Backfired" is a great example of this strange mix of disco, sci-fi, and darkness.  "Now I Know You Know" is a little more evil sounding to match the goth style of the artwork, but still....  Both pretty fun, here and here.

ELP - Brain Salad Surgery - 1973

"I want to get it, frame it, put it on the wall, but god forbid anybody ever think I listen to it."
Bee boo boo bee boo boo bahhhhhh. Zee boo boo bee zee zoo zahhhh!  Recently acquired at El Suprimo! in Baltimore, the VVers picked this one up strictly to contribute to this write-up and to ogle the cover a bit.  There were really no intentions of listening to it and in fact, tried not to, but couldn't resist.  A short way into the spin, for sake of sanity, the VVers removed the needle from doing any more damage to the ears!  Funny that Attahk got played twice, but not Brain Salad Surgery.

Ok, so VVer #1 again takes one for the team and listens to the entire album.  Imagine evil Christmas with some aimless organ music.  Hark!  For about two minutes on side one an actual song happens.  Not bad.  The rest is laughably awful.  Why did Giger contribute this stunningly beautiful artwork to such a pile of drek?  It boggles the mind.  Understandably prog used to be more popular, but really?  The artwork is phenomenal.  Not only is it beautiful, but the production values for this package are what takes Brain Salad Surgery to the next level.  Gatefold front with a giant fold out inner booklet.  Primo stuff until you look at the glamour shots of the band.  Ugh.  Goodbye.

Danzig - III How the Gods Kill - 1992

"How do I not own this album anymore?  It is awesome!!!"  VVer #1 used to have this on CD, but has no idea what he did with it.  Pretty gnarly and the art actually makes sense with the music here.  What a concept, Giger!  You figured it out!  Never seen the vinyl out there in the world.  According to Discogs it has never been released on vinyl in the US.  Maybe this is the one to track down! 

You can check out other album covers by Giger at this link.