Monday, December 14, 2015

Pssst Your Butt and Bravado Are Showing...

"Animal" as painted by
VVer #1
Heavy Breathing - Airtight - 2015
(Part 2 - After the Music)

In the VVers' world, very few instances exist where seeing a band live increases appreciation of their recorded work. Washington DC's Heavy Breathing is the exceptional exception.  When Heavy Breathing perform, they bring it.  "IT" = scintillating synths, make-the-audience-feel-awkward asides, all-out drumming, bravado guitars, and a whiz-bang light show.  Each member of this three-piece band has a distinct stage personality and is responsible for the above mentioned "IT"s.  It should also be noted that the band members madly grin through their entire show; they have serious fun.  This makes perfect sense as it is impossible not to dance gleefully during a Heavy Breathing set.  Was the faith of our humble VVers rewarded that the band could capture all of said je ne sais quoi on their brand new LP Airtight?  Absolutely rewarded.  The same joyful abandon--with a hint of very naughty--is etched in every single groove, so turn it loud!  Airtight is a laser light show on wax.  Live performance and recording complement each other just right with neither doing a disservice.

"Intro" perfectly fits the bill for a starter to this LP.  Heavy Breathing starts their live shows with aforementioned narratives which often make the audience look at each other nervously and think to themselves, "Did I come to the right show?  What have I gotten myself into?"  "Intro" begins with apropos heavy breathing noises in what sounds like a time warp or black hole.  "What record did I just buy?  This is weird!"  Weird is right, and it is great!  Highlight tracks, "Gimmie Mine" and  "Drop It" are staples of Heavy Breathing's live shows.  The recorded versions have a crisp sound that allows the layered samples and instruments to come through.  The energetic, manic drumming on "Gimmie Mine" is just as pronounced in the recording, granted it is more fun live (their drummer is Animal's doppelganger: flailing arms, bobbing body, giant smile; it is wonderful to watch).  "Drop It" has more of a relaxed tempo, but both tracks are also loaded with all sorts of indescribable weirdo noises and funky-fat riffs.  It is hard to pin-down exactly what Heavy Breathing's music sounds like because they really don't sound like anyone and no one sounds like them.  This is a fantastic problem.  Psychedelic heavy metal electronica?  Psych-rock disco?  Shredding cabbage?  Oddball house goth?  World-inspired weirdo-pop?  Sure, yes.  Heavy Breathing grew from former group, the Apes, keeping some of their similar sound, but ditching live vocals for repeated, distorted samples and dance oriented jams.  These vocal samples are just as confusing to describe, as they generally sound like gibberish, but in a surrealistically pleasing way.  It more than works; it helps the listener to focus on the music being pumped out, shredded, and blasted by the band. "Easy" has lovely vampiric organ flourishes leading into and out of a propulsive booty shaker.  Slow tempo tracks are scarce except for "Touch It" and "I No Luv"; the later is playful and allows for synths to really shine through.  Airtight has numerous twists and turns that are as stupefying as they are rewarding.  Each crescendo of darkness met with a mightier triumphant riff.  Epic is the right word.

Let's take a minute to reflect on the album art again, shall we?  Front cover naked guy (aka "Steve") looks like he is passed out after a night of hedonism.  Back cover lady also passed out on the ground, but at least she managed to keep her clothes on.  Too much Heavy Breathing or just the right amount?  No one knows.  Regardless, it's just the right visual cue that these cats have a relentless sound that will party you up until you drop.  What does that even mean?

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Doomed from the Cover or Psst, Your Butt is Showing

Part 1 (Before the music)

It has been a long standing policy in the House of VV to actively avoid any albums with naked butts on the cover, specifically male (the female behind TBD).  This rule was first enacted when the Yes album, Going for the One, entered the house and then just as quickly was going for the door.  It's been a long time since the VVers had this one, so remembering the music is nearly impossible, except for the consensus that it was entirely displeasing.  What is memorable is: butt cover = bad album.  Ironic in that famed album designers, Hipgnosis, designed and shot the cover for Going for the One.  This is the team that created the iconic album art for Dark Side of the Moon, Wish You Were Here, and Houses of the Holy amongst others.  While there is a legitimate history of famous album covers that feature nudity, the VVers have just said no.

"Topless is ok, bottomless no way."

After many years adhering to this rule, the VVers are confronted with an epic quandary: they are on the verge of possessing a record with a butt cover.  That's right, a naked butt-man.  In the House of VV.  Butt.  How could this happen?  Back in March, the VVers funded an Indiegogo campaign for always awesome DC band, Heavy Breathing, to press their new LP on vinyl.  What a great thing!  The band raises money and the VVers get a record, win-win!  No one was concerned about what the album art was going to look like at the time.  The VVers were merely excited to hear a new LP of Heavy Breathing's quirky synth/psych dance/rock electronica.  But now that very album might be too cheeky from the start!  Eeeeepp!  [Full disclosure: Based on past music and live shows, the VVers are optimistic this album is going to be killer.]  The new album, Airtight, was released today on favorite local label Electric Cowbell.  Hopefully it isn't doomed like the aforementioned, unclothed butt cover.  The VVers promise to remain objective and let their ears be the final judge.  Stay tuned for the full album review and if you are in DC catch them at the Black Cat on November 19th.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

It Came from the Garbage

Weird as it may sound, the VVers, on a seemingly annual basis, come across vinyl thrown in the garbage.  Usually there are only a few records, but occasionally there is an entire box.  Recently, the VVers were walking out of a local record store and just twenty steps up the road found a massive stack of records cascading out of a garbage can.  A lot of these were very clearly beyond hope.  Quite a few were water damaged and were starting to show signs of growage.  This is where the buck stops.  Sifting through the trash heap, at least three of James Brown's most sought after records were found in this condition.  Sad as the thought of that may be, this discarded bunch contained many of the sorts of records that deserve to be put out of their musical misery.  A few exceptions?  There was one 70's "Fat Albert" animated series record, which at first glance looked ok, but upon further inspection (mind you that the inspection was going on out on the sidewalk of a busy street with VVer #1 digging in a garbage can, awkward) the vinyl was badly warped.  Initially, an "All in the Family" TV soundtrack looked sharp, but then it turned out the record itself was missing.  Fear not dear reader.  Digging a bit deeper, a few things were salvaged.  Important to note, when these records entered the House of VV they received a thorough, double cleaning, inside and out.  Here are the three that were rescued:

Aretha Franklin - You - 1975

Unfortunately, this record survived.  Side one is slightly listenable, lead off track "Mr. D.J. (5 for the D.J.)" being one of the funkier numbers.  It's also the only track she wrote on this trashed LP.  The ballad, "I'm not Strong Enough to Love You" is pretty on target.  Not really the sort of thing that makes hearts happy in the House of VV, but not too painful.  The rest are just rough.  VVer #2 was very unsympathetic to Ms. Franklin's caterwauling so much so that most of the album was accompanied by a dying cat impersonation.  It's for the best.  The most entertaining quality for this one is the photograph on the cover.  The outfit, the glasses, the blowout 'do, the pose, the campy smile... it's a special kind of train wreck.

Mr. T - Mr. T's Commandments - 1984

Tougher-than-nails 80's superstar, Mr. T, raps, does spoken word, and tells it like it is, with his back-up singers keeping the tempo up.  The album is a total cluster, geared towards young-ins.  The synths and songwriting are horrendous.  The tempo-less Mr. T's voice is like a bag of gravel being rolled around on concrete.  Think Oscar the Grouch and you're almost there.  Granted, his message to kids is full of wisdom, "Don't Talk to Strangers," "No Dope, No Drugs," and the like.  The tunes that really fail hard though are the ones about himself, "Mr. T, Mr. T (He Was Made for Love)," "The Toughest Man in the World," and "The One and Only Mr. T."  Taking corny to an entirely other level of pain--way to go T.  Somehow they figured out how to take the tough out of the toughest.  Awful.  He wrote exactly zero percent of what's on here so let's at least hope he got paid.  Those gold chains don't pay for themselves!  Again, the album cover is probably the most entertaining thing here.  Mismatched tube socks, boots held together with duct tape, gold chains, feathered earrings, and of course the mohawk.   He's a true original, sort of a disco era fashion icon of rags to riches.  It's just one of those ridiculous 80's artifacts that have to be seen (and not heard) to be believed.

James Brown - Nothing but Soul - 1968

All instrumental, a little chaotic, kind of funky.  There is a chance the VVers hold on to this one for a little while.  The Godfather of Soul takes a break from shouting about Hot Pants and Soul Power to instead focus on "his increasing technical ability as an organist," says the back cover write-up.  Also, it describes the album as a "series of instrumentals that should find their way on the turn tables of disc jockies and home recording machines of millions of his fans."  Good luck arguing with that!   Rhythms and soulful swagger are here, especially on the all too short "Buddy-E."  Not too bad, but sometimes it flows into a blurting, wince-inducing, scat-clarinet territory.  It tortures the ears.

Of the three, no big winners here.  In doing a bit of reading on the interwebs it turns out that all three albums are out of print, which is interesting, and not entirely disappointing.  Also, there is a good chance the Mr. T album is worth a little chunk of change, somewhat justifying the effort.  Sometimes garbage is just garbage, but you'll never know until you give it a spin.  Dig it!

Friday, October 16, 2015

Does Your Fish Approve?

I like records too you know.
After a spin of the first Crocodiles 45, Neon Jesus, VVer #2 popped on Santurce, the first 45 of local DC band Shark Week.  She then turned to the fish tank, directly positioned next to the record player.  There sat Bella, the bushy-nosed plecostomus (basically a little sucker-mouthed catfish), out of her normal hiding area, at the front of the tank, and enthralled with the sonics infiltrating her water waves.  The VVers have no shame in the fact that they (mostly VVer #2) often talk to their fish.  VVer #2 loudly proclaimed, "Bella!  You like the Crocodiles?!" then realized, "I know it's a scary band name for a fish, but the music is good, right?..." then remembered, "Eeep, I'm playing Shark Week for you now; also a band name you probably don't like! ... Sorry!"  Bella definitely shook her tail to signal her disapproval of all this banter.  (Ok, it's possible that part didn't happen.)

Coincidentally, Crocodiles and Shark Week are tour buddies and both have new LPs out this year which are well worth your cash money.  Just don't tell your fish what music they are listening to and they will be happy as clams!

Translated from Fish to Human by VVer #2:

Crocodiles - Boys - 2015
This one will have you water-bobbing and fin-flipping in no time, especially with opening track "Crybaby Demon."  Continuing the Crocodiles' trend towards electrifried-rock over catchy beats, Boys skews more pop than their earlier LPs.  Less of an extended backstroke and more of a cannonball.  Songs tend to stick to under five minutes and are full of sing-a-long-able vocals.  The stylistic shift works well within Crocodiles' sound, but VVer #2 yearns for the loose, grungy format of their first LP, Summer of Hate (based on the ridiculous amount of times that record is played in the house).  [blurp, blurp, blurp] Other standout tracks from Boys include "Foolin' Around" which features what sounds like a digital yo-yo (with a sweet music video) and "Kool TV" with its punchy, samba-swing beat.  "Do the Void" is an awesomely cacophonous track with nasal, high-pitched vocals from Crocodile-wife Dee Dee of Dum Dum Girls.  "Blue" and "Don't Look Up" slow down the tempo to exude a tropical beat, that might be the product of recording this one in Mexico. [blurp, blurp, move it guppy, blurp]

Shark Week - Beach Fuzz - 2015
After pre-ordering Beach Fuzz, Shark Week's debut LP, (yes, fish use the inter-webs) the first listen was a bit surprising.  The A-side is what was expected sonically from the DC/Baltimore based group.  Think, retro 70s punk, with a hearty dash of soulful surf, a lavish display of confident vocals, and plenty of fluidity in tempo. [blub, it's got me swimming like crrazzyy, blup!]  Then on a flip of the record, "Honeybee" evokes a Freddie Mercury-esque performance that will make you think this is a strange album.  [blurp, ohhh algae, blurp]  Just keep listening to it repeatedly and that thought will be nullified by all the extremely catchy, fuzzy, riff-rock that ensues.  Every fish knows, strange albums actually the best, right?  The yelping in "Desire" works really well for this track as does the thunderous drumming, ominous bass, and double-time tambourine.  "Scratching Post" is a slow burn at its utmost; possibly the poetic lyrics of a relationship sinking into the abyss. [blup, or getting sucked into the filter, blurp, blup]  "Gone" is a harshly emotional song coming from the depths of the past.  [blub, blub, it's a real fin slap to the face, urp]  Somehow mid-song, you realize that the whining guitar solo evokes 80s hair metal ballads, then you laugh, because it is great.  "Play it as it Lays" is an epic seven-minute burner, full of echoing vocals, drawn-out instrumentals, extreme tempo shifts, and glistening maracas that close out the LP.  Relentless!  Floating around for a week in the shark tank and loving it!

Oh by the way, the people that feed me, clean my tank, and sometimes appear with their giant heads peering through my glass walls have seen both Crocodiles and Shark Week loads of times and say they put on a great show.  They're even talking about plans to see them on October 20th at Comet Ping Pong in DC.  Think they have a travel tank for me?

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Richmond Zine Fest '15

This weekend!  Come peruse and buy Vinyl Vagabonds zines!  Limited edition back-issues #3, #4, and #5, as well as the newest issue #6 (aka the food monster issue), will be available to purchase!  Check out the VVers mini-comics as well!

Be there
For the new zine!
It's going to be
It'll blow your socks off!
It's one of those things
Where Cookiezilla versus zine
Zine versus comic
Comic versus vinyl record
Be there!
Intergalactic zine battle
It's... instupituous!!

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Flash Gordon Soundtrack 1980

Science Fiction before CGI.  Comic Book movie before that was a thing.  Queen before Highlander.  Sam Jones before... well, Ted?

People hate on Flash Gordon so much it just isn't right.  Amidst its over the top style, there is much to savor.  Top-most of these being the greatness that is the original soundtrack by Queen.  Remember now, this is Queen before they were completely watered down by the pop-focused whirlpool of the 80's.  At this point, Queen was still straddling the greasy, hot line between experimental pop and excellent British heavy rock.

VVer #1 has listened to this soundtrack so often it's practically in his DNA.  For years, this was his only Queen LP.  Why?  Containing story elements of classic sci-fi, with the high-octane glaminess from Freddie/Brian/John/Roger, it plays like a concept album.  Instead of just a straight review, it seemed logical, as it is truly a part of the film, to review the album in the context of the film itself.  Here it goes:


Ming's evil laugh morphs into the iconic kickdrum/piano opening salvo.  The graphics of the opening credit sequence, comprised totally of imagery from the original comic strip, are perfectly timed to the Flash theme song.  This theme has all the Queen elements you love: four part harmonizing, nasty interstellar guitar leads, a driving rhythm section, and just the right heaping helping of pop.  After this mega-opening (FLASH!  AAAAHHHHHH, HE'LL SAVE EVERY ONE OF US!!!), is a long gap of plot and character introductions before we get into any more Queen.  It actually times out perfectly, lulling you to nearly forget that the world's greatest rock band is waiting in the wings.  When "pathetic earthlings," Flash, Dale Arden, and Dr. Hans Zarkov, launch into the psychedelic "Imperial Vortex" you find yourself immersed in droning, mystical, new-age soundscapes soon to be accompanied by entrancing drums.  Note all the laser beam and magnetic force field sounds--yes--done by Queen.

Into the throne room for some antics and a proper introduction to Ming, "Hail Ming Hail, Ruler of the Universe!  Hail Ming Hail, Emperor of the Galaxy!"  His theme music is ... truly evil.  It's a cross between a slow motion chainsaw riff and a therimin, distorted with a wahwah petal.  Even when Ming uses his magic ring to make Dale go all sexy/weird it's the same theme, just solo, slinky synth.  You only get a moment to digest this when Flash turns all Johnny football and tries to fight his way out, and in rocks Queen with a corny, upbeat, synth-funk jam.  Crashing drums and over the top guitar leads make your hair stand up straight.  Next, a goofy one-liner, "Are your men on the right pills?" and in crashes Brian May with some tasty licks that even get a little heavy for a hot second, but only a second, and then Flash gets knocked out cold... cue evil therimin.  The fight scene is entirely silly and is most likely just an excuse to have this massive jam.

It's worth noting the abundance of orchestral flourishes throughout the film.  Apparently these were arranged by somebody named Howard Blake.  You would never know this from watching the film, as his name barely exists in the credits.  Well, he does a fine assist for Queen who wrote everything you hear.  Together they create just the right amount of ambiance, embouyance, and umbeyonce (all three are right depending on context).  There are moments where you'll be saying "that's not Queen!" especially the (spoiler alert!) "death sequence," but you'll also be thinking "this is awesome."  How about some excellent, brooding, gothic orchestration which leads into a new-age, guitar-led, stoner flautist moment?  Cue the brass section and scene!  Super high drama, courtesy of Mr. Blake.

"Who's voice is that, Freddie Mercury?" asks VVer #1.  (Spoiler alert!)  Flash comes back to life to the sound of some sort of angelic oohing and ahhing.  That's just one you'll have to hear for yourself.  It's weird.

Here again we wait for quite a while as the earthlings begin to make their way towards a plan to stop Ming.  "Nothing can save me now," says Dale, tears streaming from her eyes.  That mesmerizing drum cadence returns for a solid five minutes of exposition.  In roars the entire drum set all at once (drummer Roger Taylor really sets the bar high on this LP) and into the galloping synths (nobody's playing synths like that anymore)!  It's high octane fun but what really kicks it up a few notches is the insane drum breakdown (sounds just like a speed bag in the gym) that unleashes May's absolute crushingness.  Add in laser beams everywhere!  Let's just say that the fight scene on Ajax battlecruiser is what Queen was born to write music for.  "Impetuous boy!"  When Queen brings it during the action sequences, wearing an adult diaper is highly recommended.  "Ah well, who wants to live forever!?!"

"I think all movie fight scenes should have Queen backing them."  Sage wisdom from VVer #2.

Consider for a moment other movies with soundtracks and scores composed by one band or musician.  There aren't many.  Not like this.  Much less comic book, action films by rock bands.  Shaft, from nine years prior, is really the only soundtrack on this scale that comes to mind.  Isaac Hayes pumps out the entire funky score along with the soundtrack.  No others touch this achievement.  Some folks come close, but no banana:  Superfly by Curtis Mayfield and Trouble Man by Marvin Gaye are in that alley, but don't really hold together as well; Magical Mystery Tour by and starring the Beatles could count, but is the movie any good?; Dead Man is mostly just Neil Young making improvisational feedback on a guitar, not up to scale; Ghost Dog from 1999 features mostly original music by RZA, but not exclusively.  Queen really is the first (and only) band to do a complete rock score on this level of mainstream film and for such a colorful one at that.  It's unparalleled.

Back to the record for a second (lest you forget, dear reader, this is a vinyl project), which is a near-perfect album (twelve stars out of five!).  It has amazing songs and a good portion of the orchestral score (apparently there is an entire other album out there of just Mr. Blake’s score). To boot it’s got loads of interspersed dialogue and sound effects.  When you listen to it end-to-end, it's just like getting the condensed version the film which, frankly, unless you're seeing it on the big screen, is just about the best way to experience Flash Gordon (but definitely see the movie first).

Ming takes his final bow while the band makes as much noise as possible... "FLASH!!!"
Final credits reprise the Ajax battle scene and knock what's left of your teeth out.  There's even lyrics now and more laser beams!

P.S.  The VVers used the Flash Gordon version of Wagner's wedding march for their actual wedding... and it was absolutely the right thing to do.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

A Cover-Up?

For your listening pleasure, the Vinyl Vagabonds will be playing an entire night of covers at their next listening party on Friday, October 2, from 7-9pm at Bump N' Grind.  Here's a sneak peek as to how the night may go...

Surfin' USA - Beach Boys (Chuck Berry)
This here blog is about cover songs, so why lead in with this one, not even a true cover?  Read: The foundation of the music is a cover of "Sweet Little Sixteen," but the Beach Boys do their own lyrics and significantly developed instrumentation.  Having not owned any other Beach Boys, it was surprising how it really got these swingin' VVers thinking about how artists pay tribute to other artists.  Berry obviously is a huge hero to the rockers of the 60s, so for the Beach Boys to have done a straight cover would have been perfectly cool, but for them to do this wildly different version is downright revolutionary.  At its peak, the Beach Boys' iconic, high pitched harmonizing gives way to an organ solo that quickly mashes into some lovely electric guitar.  Though it's partially a cover, there really is nothing else to compare it to, even now.

Had ta be Playin' on the Jukebox - Rage Against the Machine (Allen Ginsburg) 
Another untrue cover, but does it matter?  No.  RATM creates the riffing, but the lyrics are Ginsburg's on this flipside to People of the Sun EP.  The beat poetry slam on the absurdity in the aftermath of the Kennedy assassination makes perfect sense piped through the ballistic assault that is RATM.  Though this is in many ways a spoken word track, minus the hip-hop, it's completely relevant to the RATM catalogue in representing their political bent.  Also it's dope to hear Zack de la Rocha lacerating this poem over a psyched-out slow jam.  "WORKING TOGETHER IN CAHOOTS!"  You should listen to this.

Do You Love Me - Nirvana (Kiss) 
This is the only Nirvana song that bassist Krist Novaselic ever split vocal duties on.  He's not cut out for this type of singing, but that in no way stops him from completely going for it.  How does that pan out?  Well, it's kind of awesome in its raunchola.  Thankfully, Cobain helps it along in the right spots with his powerful vocals and the Nirvana rhythm section is furiously on point.  The fact that it's a cover of a Kiss song... Kiss sucks.  There, it's out there.  The VVers are not in the Kiss Army.  Something about Nirvana absolutely ruining a Kiss song just makes sense.

Balls to the Wall - Puscifer (Accept)
Not initially knowing it was a cover, VVer #2 thought "Balls to the Wall" was a strange, yet stand-out song included on Puscifer's Donkey Punch the Night EP.  After a chance listen to the early 80's original in the car one night, things started making more sense.  The original version by Accept has a completely metal approach while Puscifer offers two versions: "Pillow Fight Remix" or "Silent Servant El Guapo Mix" both sounding exactly as their remix description describes.  Pillow fight is a fluffy, yet still hard rendition, while the silent is, well, sans lyrics and techno-esque.  The pillow fight remix is the one to hear; the alt-goth take is confident, well produced, and f%$#*^$ing catchy!  Nice work Puscifer!

Strange Moon - APTBS (Dead Moon)
A Place To Bury Strangers takes the obscure Portland, OR band, Dead Moon, and makes it their own.  This EP is drenched in APTBS' full on, echoey, distortion while keeping the garagey sounds of Dead Moon.  What's interesting is that this entire EP is devoted to covering one band (one the VVers had never even heard of).  Usually you might get one cover on an album or an album of all covers, but of multiple artists.  Not here, APTBS crushes their tribute to these 80s/90s unknown punk heros.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Can Let You Go

Second song, "Can't Let You Go," on the 1983 Rainbow album Bent Out of Shape, leads in with nothing but pure, gothic organ (think Phantom of the Opera), then some minor distortion and out of left field comes this glossy, hair metal ballad.  There's no mistaking that 80's drum sound and overwrought vocal style for anything else.  You'll be fist-pumping in your fringed leather vest and jean cut-offs in no time!  Vocalist Joe Lynn Turner belts this one out with cornball bravado that just skims the edge of opera.  It's not that he sounds bad or anything--actually he's got an impressive voice--but the delivery is so dang pretty.  More to the point, Joe Lynn Turner has pretty hair.  You can (and should) check it out in this weird video.  Rainbow founder and leader, Ritchie Blackmore, throws in a nice little shredding solo which lends this cut a hint of metal cred.  Unfortunately the solo is a shorty.  Ultimately, the pop-oriented approach with sugary riffs makes this single, amongst others, entirely too catchy.  The rest of the album has a few flourishes here and there, two notable instrumental tracks might get your attention.  Keyboardist David Rosenthal manages to insert some proggy non-Christmastime sounding synths in there, which is no small feat.  For the most part though, the album is only mildly bearable.

Rainbow's Bent Out of Shape may or may not have been a beloved LP, so why do the Vinyl Vagabonds make particular mention of "Can't Let You Go"?  Apparently, the prior owner loved the song as they took the time and care to punch up the lyrics on a typewriter.  The original lyric sheet/sleeve that comes with the album is still intact so that owner ("Tracey Studios" is the signature on the hand typed sheet), must have typed this up for a party or some sort of homework assignment, maybe a karaoke night?  Perhaps she typed it up out of mega-devotion to Rainbow?  Was Miss Studios the world's biggest Rainbow fan?  Maybe Joe Lynn Turner's only stalker?  Either way, this is just the sort of oddball ephemera that tends to turn up when buying (or in this case finding abandoned on the side of the road) random used records.  As amusing as this is, the LP isn't exactly worth holding on to so the VVers can let this go.  Clutter the VVers shelves with your harmless hair metal no longer!

Don't have your own lyrics sheet?  Just sing what you hear.  That's what the VVers do.  For instance take "Desperate Heart," the break-up rocker that starts Bent Out of Shape side-B, where no one will miss a beat when you belt out: "You promised me there would be a food fight!" sung like you are in the band Europe [whoa-oh!].  {Actual lyrics "You promised me there would be no goodbye."}  Seriously, who wouldn't be heartbroken because of the lack of a food fight (or this record)?  Whoa-oh!  No lyric sheet, no problem!  Clearly the VVers need to get themselves a typewriter.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Have You Ever Danced with Prince in the Pale Moonlight?

By: The Vagabond Apprentice
I’ve always thought of movie soundtracks by pop musicians to be merely an element of support to the visual medium of film. On the odd occasion I listen to a soundtrack separated from its original purpose, it tends to have a weaker sound; more like an album of unfinished demo tracks or B-sides. I consider it not a normal part of an artist's discography because it rarely matches the experience of a traditional finished release.

This brings me to the Spring 2015 Brooklyn WFMU Record Fair. As I was expertly going through the rows of LPs, like a good vagabond should, I spotted a huge, cropped, solid-gold Batman logo’ed record cover.  I knew immediately it was Prince’s Batman soundtrack to the 1989 Tim Burton smash-hit film.  Don’t you just love those 80’s golden, gaudy colors? (yuck).  For all you young people out there, this film stars Michael Keaton, Kim Basinger, and Jack Nicholson (NOT Christian Bale!).  Staring at that record, I was immediately was transformed into my former fourteen year old geek self.

A few Bat-songs I remembered from the film were “Batdance,” “Partyman,” and “Trust.”  I recall thinking back then, that the soundtrack was just another piece of sell-able Bat-merch, along with a million other bat-things, action figures, keychains, mugs, underoos, etc., that Warner Bros. was hawking.   Warner Bros. studio, who produced the DC comic, the movie, and the Prince record, definitely wanted my hard earned paper-route money for the Bat-merch that Bat-summer.

Now, twenty-six years later, I realize how wrong I was.  While the 1989 Batman film has not aged well, the Batman Soundtrack has become a timeless Bat-sterpiece rivaling “Purple Rain.”  Prince went “POW,” “BAM,” and “BIF” on this one!  This album is loaded with those classic Prince deep beats, funky guitars, groovy bass lines, and synthesizer pulses.  For the most part, the songs really don’t have much to do with Batman, comic books, or the movie in general.  Doing some research, I found out that Prince was desperately in need of a hit album at the time, so Warner Bros. persuaded him to change a few lyrics, add a bunch of audio movie quotes clips, and slap on a “Batman” logo cover, so that the album related in some way to the movie.  You can tell though that Prince had fun being part of this Batman tidal wave.  He seems enthusiastic and uninhibited on the album and to this day, he still performs songs off this record at concerts.

Looking at the lyrics sheet, I noticed songs are pseudo-sung by Bruce Wayne, Joker, Vicki Vale, and Gemini.  Who is Gemini you ask?  Gemini is Prince’s alter ego for this record.  Huh?  And in all the marketing for this album, Prince wore a "Gemini" superhero costume that was split down the middle; it had a half Batman outfit and half Joker outfit, which also looked similar to Batman villain, Two-Face’s costume.  Is Prince trying to be a new Batman character?  Is he being conceptual and making a statement that no man can be all good or all evil?  Prince’s birth sign is Gemini (June 7th), does that have anything to do with it?  Your guess is as good as mine.

As with Prince records, the lyrical concepts throughout the LP are mostly about sex, women, love, and partying.  I mean, what does a “Lemon Crush” have to do with Batman?  Absolutely nothing, but it's an amazing, kick-ass song.  Another fascinating stand out is the slow, romantic duet “The Arms of Orion,” sung by Prince and the 80’s Grammy Award winner Sheena Easton.  Usually, Prince’s love songs sound like he’s on the prowl, lusting for a woman, like a tiger lusts for bloody, raw meat.  Not here.  In this song his tone is of true love and being content with his deep affection. It’s a top notch 80’s ballad.  Last but not least, I must talk about “Batdance.”  This bombastic, amazing track is a collage of music and audio movie quote clips that needs to be heard to be believed.  It's electrifying and manic.  Prince also does a guitar solo that rivals former Guns N’ Roses guitarist Slash on it.  (Don’t forget to check out the “Batdance” music video, Prince and his crew perform the movie in a seven minute interpretive dance.  It is bizarre and super funny.)  If you buy this record, I guarantee you will “Go, go, go with a smile!”

Saturday, August 1, 2015

DJ Night: The Flipside of Summer (because digital B-sides just don't cut it)

(It was too damn hot out to do a fancy logo.)

The Flipside of Summer
(because digital B-sides just don't cut it)

Friday, August 14th 7pm-9pm

Be seen with the Vinyl Vagabonds as they Baffle your Brain by Busting your summer quota of Beautiful B-sides.  Better not Be late! Beat the heat, Be cool, and listen to some lesser-knowns from the Best side of the platter.

This is a free, metro-walkable, all ages, cosmically-relevant music night at Silver Spring's newest (and only) record/coffee shop.  Also, they have an awesome staff, fine adult beverages, and delicious foods for eating.  YES!

Bump 'N Grind
1200 East West Highway,
Silver Spring, Maryland 20910

Be there!
  Stuff you probably already know:  
The Vinyl Vagabonds (who are Eric and Sara) is a music and art focused project inspired by the medium of vinyl records, going strong for over six years!  They like all kinds of music and are prone to play just about anything.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Killer Joe's International Discotheque

1965 was a great year for corny but capable dance albums.  The proof?  Welcome to the world of "Killer Joe" who manages to just mildly slay you with his virtuoso musical abilities.  Recorded gently and without a hint of malice by the "Killer Joe Orchestra."  A little research and the VVers discover that the entirety of the music was in fact done by Atlantic Records' serious session men and even more serious record execs of the day.  See, the "King of the Discotheque" isn't a musician at all, but instead a superstar for his skills with the boogie.  At least so says the back cover description.  His job?  Pick the tunes, order of songs, and set the tempo to elicit maximum dance.  Hang with Joe as he manages to not bore you through: the watusi, the monkey, the swim, the "cheek to cheek," the bossa nova, the merengue, the jerk, the cha cha watusi, the hully gully, the mlle (pronounced "millie"), the frug, the shake, the frug (twice with the frug!), and lastly, la bostella.  Yes, "all the new dances to be seen at the chic discotheques in New York, Paris, Washington, or London, where the smart people have fun" are featured here in one handy dandy collection.  Is that Ray Charles?  No, it's not.  It is however a handily done version of "What'd I Say" from the session crew.  Not too shabby, cats!  Pop this platter on and you'll be fruggin' in no time!  As well, "C'mon and Swim" is a tidy little cut for you to swim to - aka - aquatically shake a little of this and that.  You can tell these session pros are having a blast with this Sly Stone penned ditty.  Also, Mr. Joe loves to rock the third-person insertion into the lyrics "look at Killer Joe look at him go," "Killer Joe is one fancy pants, mojo whoa oh," "Go Joe, go and kill it, Joe, you are killin' it," and "she wants to dance with Killer Joe, Millie, she's silly, from Philly." Good luck trying to figure out which of those lyrics are real.

Killer Joe, also known as Frank Piro, winner of the national jitterbug competition of 1942, does it all!  He's got the right moves for every occasion.  However, those who should make the mistake of looking at pictures of Mr. Joe on this record will likely recoil in horror/amusement at his over the rainbow expressions and herky-jerkiness.  "The Jerk" indeed!  One look at this cornball and you will never want to look away.  You are now under his power!!!  Perhaps, at the discotheque, with the lights turned down a bit, it's not as blinding.

Mr. Joe apparently was doing a very important and respectable job of teaching people of a certain means the hip dances of the day as well as generally being a regular on the big-time club scene.  No harm, no foul.  These pics just have not aged well.

P.S. Also, what the hell does this high fidelity thing mean?  The VVers refuse to look this up.  The VVers refuse to learn fancy terminology for turntables.

P.P.S. The Cha Cha Watusi:
"My Girl Sloopy" really just sounds like "I want schmoopy" and in particular, Spanish ham soup, "I want schmoopy, schmoopy jamon."  Singing the wrong lyrics is so impossibly catchy to VVer #2 that there's no way this record is dancing its way out of the house anytime soon.  That is what VVer #1 gets for digging around thrift shops and picking up random, horribly covered albums as a joke.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Close But ... Not Even Close

Trying to complete a run of albums by a particular artist is a truly daunting endeavor.  You have to ask yourself a few questions before embarking on such a hazardous quest.  Is the artist still active?  Were albums ever released during a time when vinyl was scarce (early 90s to mid 2000s)?  Did the artist ever "jump the shark" and make music that stank mightily?  Some items to ponder while hunting for those final vinyl vagabonds.

Consider also that completing a collection by an artist can very easily dilute your listening experience.  Every artist has laid at least one egg in their career.  Remember that one?  You know the one.  Why add that mediocre fare to your collection?  As well, storage is most certainly an issue.  How important is it for you to make room for that last LP that you'll never listen to?  Be honest with yourself.

In favor of being a completest?  The concept of listening to an artist's entire catalog has its merits.  Experienced end-to-end it can be quite compelling; even listened to out of order you will gain amazing perspective on their career.  Unless they sober up.  Those albums are usually pretty bad.  Sorry, but it's true.  As well, artists can also get a little off-the-rails with the non-sobriety.  Watch out for those also.  Regardless of the reasons, you are bound to find peaks and valleys in even the most heralded musician's discography.

Where did they record the album?  Was it done on the cheap?  Who produced it and how quickly?  Was there a major label bigwig pressuring the them to do something novel or something they didn't want to do?  How about the final product?  Did the studio chiefs chop it to bits and shoehorn it into a pop-tacular package?  That final product might be arriving at your inner ear after a long, strange trip.  Don't worry, the Vinyl Vagabonds are here to help.

Several examples:

Faith No More - Completing the run of albums by FNM is an interesting idea, but actually getting most of the LPs will make a considerable dent in your wallet.  Each could easily set you back $30 and good luck finding an original pressing!  Why do it?  A back-to-back album listening session lets you hear how the band changed so dramatically along their career--mind blowing!  Totally different lead singer?  Yes.  Totally different sounding same singer?  Yes.  Complete change of guitar sound?  Yes.  Complete change of guitarists?  Yes.  The very first album, We Care A Lot from 1985, sounds as if it was recorded in the Stone Age compared to records from the 90s onward.  That's not a gripe, as the album is crushingly great, warts and all.  The very definition of completion is that if you love a band then the back catalog is must-listen material, no matter who plays on the album.

Kurtis Blow - For the VVers to finally complete this run was painfully difficult because Mr. Blow seriously ran out of creative juice along the way.  The purchase of his last album was something they put off for several years.  One VVer would see it in a store and tap the other on the shoulder, "Are we getting it?"  "I'm scared..."  "Me too."  Why they finally broke down is anybody's guess.  Still, it was an accomplishment and the VVers are willing to own being KB's #1 fans (even though they never listen to Back by Popular Demand--there was no popular demand Mr. Blow, none).

Peter Tosh - All studio albums plus one live album live on the VVer's shelf, spanning 1976's Legalize It to 1987's No Nuclear War.  Of course not all of these are created equal (Equal Rights being the superior, Wanted Dread and Alive, consider the title and draw your own conclusions), but there hasn't been a huge rush to break up the collection.  Still, the VVers should have probably quit while they were ahead.

DEVO - Haha, there are two later records that seem... not interesting.  Why hold off when those are fairly inexpensive and not too hard to come by?  The completest would buy them, but a crappy album can, and should, be avoided.  The VVers are trusting their instincts here.

Talking Heads - The VVers keep avoiding "Ape Face" album, also known as Naked.  All seven other records are accounted for, but not this one.  It could very well be the greatest LP of all, but something about that cover is just creepy.

The Clash - Although only six studio albums, the complete Clash discography will actually set you back some shelf space, Sandinista! is a triple and London Calling (both of which took some seeking-out and wallet-opening) is a double.  By some strange turn of events, the VVers already had the Clash's least exciting albums, Give 'Em Enough Rope and the horrifyingly dull Cut the Crap in their collection for quite some time.  Those should probably be jettisoned, especially the latter which apparently was made by the producer almost entirely without the actual band.  While the VVers were recently house cleaning and working on this here write-up, they decided to drop the needle on Cut the Crap since it has literally been years since it had seen any action.  The substantial layer of dust that needed to be cleaned off of the record proved that!  After a half-spin, the VVers decided the dust should remain so that this record doesn't get played again.  This blog is helping the VVers cut the crap, out of their collection.

Queen - Do not become a Queen completest.  Most of Queen's albums past the mid 70s are just too full of stadium/radio pop, goofy experiments, and over the top ballads.  Those albums just have way to many gaps.  The exception being the Flash Gordon Soundtrack which is mostly instrumental, just sayin'.

Creedence Clearwater Revival - Five out of seven, and only the good ones.  Missing the last two, does it matter?  No.  Done.  This just wrote itself.  Actually, it does matter.  Recently the VVers, against their better judgment, got carried away and picked up Mardi Gras at a local shop, CDepot in College Park.  At the time, it was thought that this was the last album to finish the CCR run.  For a measly $3.99, why not give it a spin?  The VVers will tell you why not: they cringed through about three tracks and decided it was way too country and way not-Fogerty-vocals enough to keep it.  The sly VVers slipped it into Vagabond Apprentice's record bag as he was packing up to head back to New York.  Goodbye bad record!  Banished to another state, hopefully never to be spoke of again.  Not only was it a disappointment that the album was lametastic, but they also discovered there is still one more album to check out, Pendulum.  Pheh, no thanks.

Neil Young - The idea of getting every album by Mr. Young will kill you.  He's recorded around thirty-eight studio LPs to date.  That is not a typo.  That's more shelf space than the entire VVers jazz section.  Don't even think about including his live albums, soundtracks, compilations, or band albums--Buffalo Springfield, CSNY--impossible.  Avoiding being a completest with Neil is actually not that hard.  Some of his LPs just do not appeal.  For example, he's done several straight country albums which are never going to enter the VVers inner sanctum (living room).  He's also been on a recent tear, putting out six albums since 2000.  The modern records (post 1990s) are in no way affordable.  No way!  Now the nice part about trying to track down records from Mr. Young has been seeking out the weirdo ones from the 80s that nobody seems to love.  Many of these albums came out at a time of vinyl abundance.  Therefore, these fun finds, Landing on Water being a strange standout, are very affordable.

Completalest in Summararium (that's Latin you know)

Molto Bene (that's actually Italian):
  • Get a full picture of the artist.
  • Bragging rights of owning every release (this actually might not be a good thing).
  • Satisfying your inner-completest-ness (curiosity).
Molto Male:
  • Find yourself buying records that are not good, diminishing love for that artist (can also be funny).
  • Take up precious real estate on the shelf.
  • No money left for snacks.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Lo-Fi DJ

The Vinyl Vagabonds wound up with some side projects this summer: Artist Nights and DJing.  When the two coincide, VVer #1 puts on his art pants (pantalones de arte) and VVer #2 puts on her DJ hat (sombrero de la musica) and comienza la fiesta de los vagabundos!  Here's the thing, the VVers don't have traditional DJ gear (yet), mainly because they have done DJ sets at an awesome coffee shop that has a permanent set-up (thanks Bump N' Grind!) and DJ gear takes up a lot of space (the VVers live small).  However, what our heroes do have are two, old, sweet, lo-fi, portable record players that perfectly fit the bill.  Player one is an early 70's Rheem Califone suitcase player that has decent sound thanks to a tune-up and recent needle upgrade.  Player two, also picked up at an estate sale, is a plastic "toy."  This Realistic brand plastic player doesn't have much for sound, but given the circumstances, it would work.  The first Artist Night, a gathering of locals sketching and working on their current projects, was hosted by VVer #1, aka DC Creeper, at the cozy back-bar of Olive Lounge in Takoma Park.  The small room is just right for the warm vinyl sound of a portable player.

Since it was an arty event hosted by VVer #1, he pitched in some ideas for the tunes of the night, one which stuck with Madam DJ Hat: play full sides of records as opposed to singles.  This would be more relaxing and help the creative juices flow.  A strategy was formed that sides of albums would be played in full on the larger player since it had better sound.  These would be buffered with 45s from the toy player.  Which records would and wouldn't sound good on these particular mini-players was an added restriction in choosing music for the night.  Records were picked and tested for optimal audio quality.  An example, the toy player couldn't handle vocals very well, the tinny sound distortion was just too much.  Another example, the larger player had a history of being too weak to turn those modern heavy records--the turntable was built pre-180-gram vinyl and those don't really play at speed--it's like the motor just poops out.  It's the saddest thing you will ever hear.  Little did VVer #2 know that the Califone also didn't like the thin, lightweight sounds of Dynaflex (cheap, floppy records that RCA was producing in the late 60s).  For the first album of the night she popped on Benny Goodman B.G., The Small Groups, for which the vinyl felt pretty flimsy (great, right?! total opposite of 180-gram).  Au contraire, after about three minutes playing VVer #2 was dragged down by the drunken slur of the sound.  Was the turntable dying before it could even get going for the night?  This left Madam DJ Hat mighty nervous.  She didn't want to just rely on the tinny toy player and the digital iPod set-up that she brought as plan-C.  Fortunately, a switch to a standard weight LP and everything was back to normal.

Tunes were flowing, the event got crowded, noise levels were on the rise, and volumes of the little players struggled to compete.  WARNING: Turning a lo-fi player up to its max just doesn't cut it and should only be done in emergency circumstances.  Total tin-iness.  Unless the visiting artists were super aware of the music or were sitting adjacent to the turntable, it could barely be heard.  Not that it mattered, those artists were having a great old time socializing, as was our heroic DJ.  By the close of the night (this was a Sunday, mind you), only a few friends and some stragglers were left so Madam DJ Hat played whatever the hell she wanted.  On went the full side of Isaac Hayes "Do Your Thing" from Shaft followed by the bluesy side-B of Judas Priest's debut album Rocka Rolla.  With the thinned out crowd, the suitcase player perfectly resonated through the confines of the small space.  In the immortal howling of our closing musician, Rob Halford, the lo-fi art event was fully satissssfiiiiieeeed!

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Your Album Cover is Scaring Everybody

Sam Harris - Self-Titled - 1984

VVer #1 picked this up at a Goodwill for its awful cover.  Funny right?  Deep regrets.  It seems possible that worse 80's Motown records have been made, but the VVers are willing to bet that this one is scarier than most.  How did this thing even end up on Motown?  A joke?  Maybe someone lost a bet?  A cry for help?  Was it the 80's that led to the once mighty Motown losing its clout, or this record?
Please, be frightened.
Let's examine the evidence:
Exhibit A:  The Back Cover (see above).  Scared yet?

Exhibit B:  The Music (the VVers have taken one for the team so you don't have to).  Bask in the maelstrom of 80's pop tropes (synths, canned percussion, ear-splitting histrionic singing) that worked moderately well for George Michael, Michael Jackson, Prince, and others... except in this case not nearly so listenable.  The second song on the LP, "Sugar Don't Bite" sounds so much like "Papa Don't Preach" that you'll likely just take this piece of garbage and toss it off your balcony and pop on True Blue instead.  Madonna's worst songs sound better than this cluster.  Turns out Mr. Harris recorded his tune two years prior, so Madonna must have been a fan.  Anything is possible.  From here, too many power ballads slow jam your face into infinity.  Is there more to say about these tunes?  One thing, the version he does of "Over the Rainbow" is without a doubt the most horrifying thing you will ever possibly hear.  Imagine Judy Garland spinning in her grave like a top.

Want to know why Sam Harris is singing "Over the Rainbow" on his debut LP?  Mr. Harris is in fact a product of reality television (not surprising at all) circa 1983 and that was his signature song.  He turns out to be the male vocalist champion of the very first year of Star Search.  Heard of Star Search?  No?  Think American Idol, but instead hosted by Ed McMahon and it's the 80's.  Sounds great, right?

Not to digress... but what about this album art?  Seriously, did nobody try and stop this from happening?  Who actually thought it was a good idea to dress up your singer in a horrifying suit made out of pieces of seven-inch gold and silver records?  Not to mention the silver glitter Converse All-Stars.  I mean, you've got to earn that level of bad Mr. Harris.  But you!  You just decided it was ok to go there.  How many people lost their jobs because of this album?  Think of the children!  Stop shouting!!!

Exhibit C:  The Front Cover.  He's got a tone arm attached to his lapel.  How many turntables were harmed to make this suit Mr. Harris?  HOW MANY!?!
Exhibit D:  The inner sleeve.
This f&@#(g guy.
Looks kind of cool in black and white, but the mullet...

Monday, June 8, 2015

Austin, TX and New Orleans, LA

WARNING: The Vinyl Vagabonds normally try to keep their blogs short and to the point, but here ahead of you lies a blast of mighty blather about two of the mightiest music cities in this here union of ours.  Proceed with caution and factor in at minimum one snack break.

Venture along with the Vinyl Vagabonds as they travel far from home in an attempt to conquer two storied musical hotbeds.  Interested?  Then you should know that the initial reason for the trip was to visit friends in Austin and to finally go to Austin Psych Fest (renamed this year to Levitation).  It seemed appropriate to throw in a few days in the not-so-nearby musical mecca of New Orleans while in that part of the world.  Right?

While the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Fest was not in any way the impetus for visiting New Orleans, the last day of the eight day mega-fest conveniently coincided with the first day of vacation.  Were they going to skip the opportunity to check out one of the highest regarded festivals in the world?  With tickets, hats, and sunscreen in-hand, the VVers ventured out to the enormous festival.  The VVers were also equipped with a slew of insider info (where the toilets with AC are located and thoroughly vetted music recommendations) from a friend with years of Jazz Fest under her belt.  But on to the music already!  First up was a stroll towards the guitar riffage of Anders Osborne for a muscular set, jammed with appreciators of that which is called rock n' roll.  Who the VVers really wanted to see though were funk originators, The Meters, mainly because they had "Cissy Strut" stuck in their heads since getting into NOLA.  The local New Orleans legends, who also played the very first Jazz Fest in 1970,  brought the real deal sounds along with a key guest spot from uncle, Cyril Neville, their top notch "hype-man."  Rounding out the afternoon was joyously on-point Kermit Ruffins' with a spot-on tribute to Louis Armstrong.  You've never seen so many smiles in your life!  Closing up shop was the unparalleled shredding of Buddy Guy, who, by the way, still shreds with complete mastery.  The VVers bow deeply to his superior crushingness.  In reflection, Jazz Fest is huge, with over ten stages built around an entire racetrack footprint.  The VVers caught bits and pieces of several other wild and wooly acts, not even coming close to covering all of that ground.  It's easy to see why New Orleans Jazz Fest might overwhelm you with its abundance of top notch culture, food, art, and spirit... not to mention the great music.  Wowzers.

Next up, NOLA records stores.  Thanks to The Vinyl District's app, Louisiana Music Factory and Skully'z were easily found in, and adjacent to, the French Quarter.  LMF on Frenchman Street has a monolithic selection of jazz and local music while the tiny Skully'z on a quiet section of Bourbon Street had a stellar hodge-podge of just about everything else.  Michael at Skully'z shot the breeze with VVer #1 about the music scene in NOLA and recommended a totally random local LP from garage rockers ... (Well this is embarrassing, but VVer #1 filed this hand-stenciled LP into the collection and has since misplaced it, not remembering the name of the group.  Is it possible the VVers have too many records?  Haha!  The devil with you!).  Easily the most impressive shop, however, was Euclid Records, which came recommended from the drummer of New Orleans band, Buck Biloxi and the F*cks, that VVer #1 happen to meet pre-travel.  Just a stitch up the river, Euclid Records is housed in a huge pink building that is as equally stocked to the gills, as it is well curated.  The upstairs is almost entirely devoted to 12" singles and 45s (organized by record label as opposed to alphabetically or by genre).   VVer #1 was able to pick up some recent limited edition Record Store Day releases such as the Live Harvest from Blitzen Trapper and one "REJECTED BY RECORD STORE DAY" (at least that's what the sticker said) by Jello Biafra and the New Orleans Raunch and Soul All-Stars.  You could easily spend a day in this amazing shop and not feel in the least bit guilty for the time well spent.

A word about Frenchman Street and the near constant street music scene in and around the French Quarter.  All the time, and without warning, musicians will just strike up a show in the middle of the street or a sidewalk.  While this is great it can also be very disorienting.  Many times the VVers were just strolling to and fro and a crowd would just form around a random marching band.  Blues singers, Americana trios, whatever and whenever.  Moral of the story: it is impossible to not hear impressive live music in NOLA; you cannot escape it!

[Intermission:  Go get a brew and some pretzels and mustard.]

The VVers embarked on the long road trip between NOLA and Austin.  The supposed seven-hour drive took closer to twelve as the VVers admired the lush bayou scenery and took in a leisurely lunch in Baton Rouge.  They even caught half a zydeco concert at the most decked-out visitor center ever, a short distance from the Atchafalaya National Wildlife Refuge, where they went in search of crocodiles.  Ironically, after this wildlife excursion and back on the road, VVer #2 snuck a Facebook check that suddenly gave reason to make haste to Austin.  Crocodiles, one of the VVers favorite bands, posted that they were playing at downtown club Holy Mountain.  WHAAA?  The VVers canceled plans to go to the Alamo Drafthouse Weird Wednesday, made a very short guest house check-in, and raced to the venue just in time to catch the band manning the merch table pre-show!  The VVers got to gush a bit, chat, find out the guitarist grew up not too far from VVer homebase, and buy new album BOYS on vinyl (and get it signed, SWEET).  Best of all, there was a personalized shout out to the VVers "from New Orleans" during the stellar set.  The VVers shout you out Crocodiles!!!

The next day the our travelers devoured some Torchy's breakfast taco's whilst en route to Antone's Record Shop just north of the University of Texas on Guadalupe (which is phonetically not pronounced an-twons on guad-a-loop-eh).  VVer #2 was in search of a Rolling Stone's cover of Chuck Berry song, "Around and Around" as material for an upcoming DJ set.  After confusion set in (probably from a week of constant live music and records), she got mixed-up with another Chuck Berry cover, "Come On" which turned up on the German import compilation record, Bravo.  She convinced herself that was the song she was searching for.  After a strong recommendation and some background education on the quality of German pressings from the extremely knowledgeable clerk (Antone?) about if this weirdo album was worth it, the record made its way into the VVer's luggage.  No regrets here, it's a great album with a few rare cuts on it.  One record, two records, three records... AH HA HAH.  Would it shock anyone to read that the VVers booked a house to stay in Austin mainly for the reason that there was a record player (and in close proximity to the renowned Waterloo Records)?   This should surprise no one.  The collection of vinyl was quickly on the up-tick.

Back to the original reason for the trip, Levitation (Austin Psych Fest) located on (muddy) Carson Creek Ranch along the Colorado River.  Started by local Austin heroes, the Black Angels, this year's line-up included enough amazing bands that the VVers made the right choice to go for at least two of the three days.  The three stages each served their purpose: the Reverberation Stage hosted main acts, the Levitation Tent got the heavier acts (and spectacle of live light show/art projections), and the Elevation Amphitheater got the chiller bands.  Even when there were conflicting acts (not many), the stages were arranged in such a way that you could easily catch the beginning of one and end of another with a short walk between.  All this on top of decorated trees and swings, incredible food trucks, traveling artisan's, and local merch vendors.  Need more vinyl?  VVer #1 managed to find WonderTwin Records, a vendor from Ohio selling tons of reasonably priced, old Sub Pop 45s for cheap.  EEEEEE!

Light projections in the Levitation Tent
Live, colored-dye stage projections
Enough distractions!  Highlights from Saturday, the second day of the fest: local band The Well; the girl-trio LA Witch; fuzzy-rockers Creepoid; tuneful Las Robertas; and seminal Scotish group The Jesus and Mary Chain.  After midnight, during The Jesus and Mary Chain set, the VVer #2 turned to #1 and whispered that "Just Like Honey" was the first song all day that she recognized!  This is the beauty of well-curated festivals; all-day music to check out unknowns and just get down with the experience.
Creeping Creepoid during their tent set

The Myrrors' mesmerizing set on the Elevation Amphitheater
Half of the bands for Sunday's line-up were more well known entities.  Of those that weren't, the semi-atonal Los Mundos hailing from Mexico; the emo-grunge Nothing; and German instrumentalists Samsara Blues Experiment, were stand-outs.  Up next were The Myrrors of Arizona.  A few months prior, VVer #1 won a copy of their second LP, Arena Negra, from The Vinyl District.  The record got frequent spins in the lead-up to the fest, so the VVers were eager to check them out live.  The Myrrors' set was a slow-burn of building evil instrumentation which completely entranced the crowd (maybe it was the drugs?).  Headliners the Black Angels put on their typical great show as the skies darkened.  The fifty-year reunion of the 13th Floor Elevators followed.  This was more than just an important slice of music history that deserves some extra attention.  The Elevators (the namesake of the festival) are fronted by musical mystery-man Roky Erikson who has been on the long road of recovery in living with mental illness.  He's put out a slew of very weird records over the years, but to see him kick it with his original band and to do it with gusto and at such a fest... mind melt.

APTBS crushing it
As if this wasn't enough, A Place to Bury Strangers absolutely annihilated the tent stage.  Literally, they were throwing guitars in the air (almost taking out their drummer) and smashing half their gear, all while their destructive reverberating sound continued.  Lead singer/guitarist Oliver Ackermann then managed to crowd surf to a hidden trove of other gear sneakily set up in the crowd to then play their encore from in the center of the swarm.  INSANITY!  A quick stroll over to Flaming Lips territory was all it took to realize it was time to call it quits as there is just no way to top that level of mayhem.

One last note from the fest is that artists and vendors were mingling through the crowd.  One such vendor offered to sell VVer #1 his hand-cut Flaming Lips limited edition three-holed EP for fifty bucks.  Haha, this thing looked insane and it actually drove VVer #1 temporarily insane so that he chewed the guy out for a minute about hawking overpriced merch.  As cooler heads prevailed, the kindly fellow (who happened to have his own record label, PIAPTK) broke out some cheaper crafts for the VVers to ogle.  One such craft was an "analog-digital hybrid" by local act, American Monoxide, that is a turntable friendly CD.  You read that right, the CD plays on both a turntable and in a traditional CD player.  Apparently it's magic.

Final Day of the Trip (still in Austin):
VV booster, "Mr. Dustin the Amazing" kindly took a half day at the office so he could take our twice-fested and weary travelers on a curated afternoon tour of Austin's best vinyl shops.  They first hit Piranha Records which was pretty far out into the north hinterlands.  The large shop had so many rows of all sorts of stuff (shoelaces, mix CDs, posters, etc.) that it took a while to even get to the rows of new and used vinyl.  Noteworthy purchases: Puscifer's What is... and Shocking Blue's self titled LP.  Next up was End of an Ear which vied for the title of best overall store on the entire trip.  This spot, a bit South of the river, had mountains of well organized and unusual vinyl to sift through and several nice listening stations.  The staff was easy going and made the extra effort where it counted.  Most of the psych band's merch was well sold out post-fest, but VVer #2 managed to get an EP by one of the standouts from Levitation, Los Mundos, Dios es Fuzz.  Breakaway Records was the last stop.  This place was really unique in that it heavily featured 45s and some incredibly rare stuff.  They did a fantastic job of noting on the little paper sleeves little things about some of the more obscure albums, such as "Houston garage rock oddity," so you had an iota of info about what you were holding.  While our heroes were going hog wild, Dustin the Amazing picked up a mirrored, embellished LP labeled Orion, Ryan Adam's heavy metal concept album.  Score for him!  As if these travelers didn't have enough weight in their bags, Amanda the Amazing threw in a record she found at a sale a few weeks prior: Ace of Base single Don't Turn Around, which was mostly an inside joke.  Never seen that on vinyl until that moment; add it to the bag.

Waiting in the airport for the flight home, the VVers took a last sip of freedom at a pub near their gate.  More music ensured as a singer/songwriter started up a set of originals and covers.  These Austin cats just do not kid around.

It is worth a mention that every record store visited in New Orleans and Austin was littered with people in the middle of the day, weekday, weekend, evening.  People supporting local stores in force.  That is refreshing.  Final vinyl tally for the trip was 14 LPs and 14 45s.  Well done!