Monday, January 26, 2015

Vison Quest Motion Picture Soundtrack

VVer #1 hit the Wheaton Library Bookstore to run through their tattered collection.  Never heard of this awesome place?  Go figure.  The most info you'll find is on the county library webpage, buried at the bottom:
"The Friends of the Library, Montgomery County, MD also sells books and other materials at its bookstores in Rockville and Wheaton.  The bookstores sell both donated materials and materials that have been deaccessioned from the library collection."  What an understatement!  Those librarians were probably just psyched to use the word deaccessioned in a sentence (as are the VVers).  This enormous store is a treasure trove of Linda Rondstadt, Barbara Streisand, Dan Fogleberg, Joan Armstrong, and piles (literally) of classical.  Had one the notion to do so, they could easily clean house on the entire discography of Neil Diamond.  This VVer on the other hand had more elusive prey in mind.  If you're willing to sift through it, there are gems and other interesting oddballs to be discovered.  For just one dollar a slab it is the perfect place to spend freshly minted unemployment money.  Hence the Vision Quest Motion Picture Soundtrack review you are about to read was born.  Is it a gem or just some dull pebble?  The VVers had never even heard of this movie before, but it has two Madonna songs on it so how bad could it be (cringe)?

Journey "Only the Young"
The VVers are both retired bartenders so even the thought of listening to Journey is forever tainted by hearing that one song (you know the one) over and over sung by drunken idiots in the early AM hours.  That put, "Only the Young" is only mildly painful.  It might encourage you to take a cat nap.  Call it "pleasantly harmless."  The guitar solo ever so briefly enters territory resembling hair metal, but the rest is just tepid.  Something about wildfires, blah blah blah.  Fade=lame.

John Waite "Change"
This almost rocks for a second or two.  Strong female back-up singers "Change!" and  some decent drumming.  The guitarists work here is shameful.  They do nothing.

The Style Council "Shout to the Top"
Liberace and Tom Jones had a baby.  Nobody loved that baby.  Some tempo changes in here are interesting for a laugh.  Nope, it is really just awful and the fade-out can't come quickly enough!

Madonna "Gambler"
Hey, nice high voltage bipidipidipa pop!  Other than an appearance on the VQ soundtrack, this dance single was never released in the US or on any of her LPs.  Oddly it made it into the top ten abroad.  This is a fast paced dance song but ... VVer #2 disputes that: "It did not make me want to get up and dance."  A little pedestrian for Madonna, but not entirely displeasing to the ears.  When cranked it briefly enters the fun zone, but it needs something more interesting to happen and the weird whistling fade-out isn't it.

Don Henley "She's on the Zoom"
Not bad.  This former Eagle is a decent musician and it's clear he knows how to craft a pop rock hook.  Too bad this song is buried on this soundtrack.  It's alright and would easily be the highlight on a Huey Lewis and the News b-sides compilation.  The track has funny female back-up vocals and fairly amusing lyrics about going to home economics class and cooking "chicken a la king."  By the way, what does "on the zoom" mean?  Is that 80's slang that never caught on?  Does it mean another fade-out song?  Ugh.  Too much of that on this soundtrack.  VVer #2: "Can we... uh, listen to some good music?"

Dio "Hungry for Heaven"
The riff totally rips off "Baba O'Riley" by The Who, but hot damn does this song RULE!  No wonder it starts with the sound of angels singing!  But seriously, what a total rip off.  The majority of this song is great, but the chorus is just stupid.  Ok, it's so obvious now that it has to be an homage.  Oh, who cares? Listen to that guitar solo!  The tune ends with an impossibly long, overly drawn out fade-out.  It's as if they are rubbing it in.  MEGA-FADE!

Red Rider "Lunatic Fringe"
Hey, not bad!  This has a nice Pink Floyd a la The Wall vibe.  Nice "whoa ah oh oh" breakdown sing-a-long portion too.  Good one.  Oh... unnecessary sirens in the final synth metal segment.  Oh well.  At least no fade-out.  The VVers have never heard of these guys before and might just be on the lookout for an LP.  Nice surprise here.

Sammy Hagar "I'll Never Fall in Love Again"
This stinks.  Maybe for the purpose of a musical montage in the film it works, but... really this is dull.  Is anybody here even trying?  Oh crap, there goes the fade-out.

Foreigner "Hot Blooded"
Nobody really likes this song.  Maybe it would be cool at a strip club or something, but you would have to be absolutely hammered and it would have to be the 80's.  This is such an obvious half-hearted AC/DC rip.  The lyrics are just a joke.  "Are you old enough?  Will you be ready when I call your bluff?"  Dear lord, and fade-out.

Madonna "Crazy for You"
This is sort of a cute single.  Not Madonna's best and not really typical of her cannon of ballads.  Something about the corny instrumentation is so very 80's so it gets a bit of a pass.  At one point it sort of sounds like the theme to that Gummy Bears cartoon, and that's not a bad thing.  It's got a little bit of fun stuff from the backup singers during the chorus "bup bup bup bup ahhhh."  Nice directness where Madonna stops singing too and just plainly says "I'm crazy for you."  It's like she's talking directly to you.  That's kind of hot.  Here a fade-out sort of makes sense although really, it's a cheap shortcut and we all know this.  It must be STOPPED!

Final verdict for the Vision Quest Motion Picture Soundtrack?  Fade out of the collection.  Remove movie from Netflix queue.  Avoid associations with all parties involved.  Learn to live with feelings of shame.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

2014 in Vinyl

Best New Vinyl
The Faint Doom Abuse
Doom Abuse is packed with ear worms galore.  It doesn't hurt that the VVers also got to see them crushing it in concert this year where they 100% delivered the goods.  No small potatoes for a band just shy of twenty years into their career.  Read the entire review here.
Ex-Hex Rips
Crocodiles Crimes of Passion

Worst Purchase for Completing a Musician's Run?
Kurtis Blow Back By Popular Demand 
There was really no reason to buy this album except for the sheer, demented, curiosity of the VVers to hear how bad it actually would sound, oh, and to complete the collection of all Kurtis Blow albums on vinyl.  Quite a feat, by the VVers, not KB.  He's really lowballing it here.  It's a shame because you can tell he still has skills... just zero things that are relevant to rap about.

This just doesn't look right. 
Most Confounding Cover
The Gauntlet Soundtrack
This painted cover by renowned fantasy artist Frank Frazetta is stunning.  If it wasn't Clint's squinty face attached to somebody else's over-muscled bod it could be a masterpiece.  As a crate digger this VVer never expected to find this soundtrack and sort of wishes it could be unfound.  Good luck trying to unsee it.  However, the bleating-horn jazz on the album is not what is expected from this cover; it's actually not bad.

Best Live Recording
Queen Live at the Rainbow '74
Early Queen is the best and anything involving Queen II has this VVer's attention.  These previously unreleased recordings meld Sheer Heart Attack with Queen II:  think a "Stone Cold Crazy" "Ogre Battle" with off-the-rails, exploratory guitar riffing jams!  It helps that the recordings are spectacular and allow the instrumentation to really come through.  The stage banter from Freddie Mercury is suitably ridiculous.  And it came with a free purple tote bag!

Biggest Vinyl Record (Literally)/Best Justification for Having a Back-Up Player
The Jazz Messengers at the Cafe Bohemia Vol. 2
VVer #2 was checking this out at Gerosa Records in CT, and noticed the record was hard to get out of the inner sleeve and hard to get back in after.  The vinyl was in good shape, so not much was thought of the packaging difficulties.  Regardless, it came home with the VVers and was taken out to play.  The LP wouldn't spin cleanly on the turntable and there was a weird scraping sound.  What was happening?  Oh, the outer area of the record was just cut too large and hitting on the base of the needle arm when turning.  How bizarre!  Out came the portable record player on which it spun with ease.  GIANT RECORD!!!
Photos this size don't do this sleeve justice!

Best Package (Art and Vinyl) {haha, best package, haha}
Big Business Battlefields Forever
This album has the most beautiful cut paper (and glitter!) assembled cover and a crazy looking inner sleeve to boot.  The vinyl itself is a sludgy, dark green tie-die looking splotch.  Totally suits the sound of this monster album.
Black Angels Clear Lake Forest
Upon a quick glance at the cover..."Ut, I just got high."  Swirly spinning record is pretty colors that you can taste with your eyes.

Best New Vinyl with Bells and Whistles
Jack White Lazaretto
Did you know there can be a hologram in a spinning record?  Did you know that depending on where the needle drops there can be two different openings, one acoustic, one plugged-in, for a track?  Who would have thought of a lock track at the end of a side of a record to actually MAKE you get up to flip it?  Mr. Jack White.  The VVers applaud your unparalleled use of bells and whistles to create a gem of a record.

Best Vinyl Not Purchased for $100
At the last DC Record Fair, VVer #2 was eying Mingus Ah Um from a vendor who had it in their rare section and said he would knock $20 off it and sell for just under $100... ah um, no thanks.  Instead a shiny reissue was found at the Sound Garden in Baltimore for around $20, the going-rate for new vinyl.  The music includes familiar tunes that you can't pinpoint where you know them from.  Spiffy arrangements and bass lines from Mingus.  The VVers aren't too sure why all the original copies of this recording are selling for astronomical prices (maybe they are just rare), but the music is certainly worth it and the VVers are happy they can listen to it on their favorite format without having to empty your pasta sauce jar.  Hooray for reissues!

Best Gift Vinyl
Neil Young + Crazy Horse Ragged Glory
(The LP was wrapped and then hidden beneath the fake cover for Milli Vanilli Girl You Know It's True, with an even faker sticker "Test Pressing - Brown Vinyl."  Genius.).
It would be hard to put into the words the shock of receiving a Milli Vanilli album as a gift and then the added happier shock of it actually being this hard to come by 90's era Neil + the Horse album.  Let's say it made for a relieved laugh.
A lot could be made of how great this album is; easily enough to fill a separate write-up.  For the sake of this "Best of" let's just focus on the song "Love and Only Love," a ten plus minute garage rock masterpiece of blissful guitar bluster stippled with the purest lyrical call to arms.  "Love and only love will endure.  Hate is everything you think it is.  Love and only love will break it down."  The rest of the album is great, but wowie-zowie ... this song has some mighty legs on it.  Frank Sampedro's guitar leads are the sort of crunchy goodness that must be heard to be believed.  Bravo!  If not for the rest of this fine LP you'd wish it was a twenty minute song.
Faith No More The Real Thing

Best Used Vinyl
Creedence Clearwater Revival
People don't really shine-on about their debut album, but it's got the goods.  Well worth adding to your collection.  Funny, the back cover has a massive write-up from a Rolling Stone editor about how San Francisco was the center of the popular music universe at the time.  The write-up contains exactly one sentence about the band.  Well, allow this VVer to shine-on for a second and state that this slab is a prime example of early heavy blues Americana.  Originals and covers duel for supremacy here with classic cover "Suzie Q" being the winner by a hair over original "Walk on Water."  Tough call.
Them Roots of Rock

Most Triangluar Record
Neil Young Re-act-or single
Eyeballed at Long in the Tooth in Philadelphia, this triangular shaped record sleeve was hanging on the wall.  "What is that!?!"  VVer #2 needed to know if the vinyl inside was in fact triangular and how much this crazy thing would set her back.  The price was right and the  translucent red, triple-pointed slab of vinyl in the sleeve was in nice condition, thus the whole pointy package got to come home to the House of VV.  The innovative sleeve assembles into a pyramid shape when fastened correctly.  Not sure what the purpose of this is... Neil?  Although the tracks are from Re-act-or which the VVers already have, this was a great one to add to the collection.  It's gorgeously weird.

Best Concert
DEVO (Hardcore Tour) - Rams Head Live
The concert that should have been ho-hum turned out to be yum yum!  Not only is this band well into their grey years (too much?), but they are down two members (this mini-tour was actually meant as a fundraiser of sorts for the family of recently deceased Bob 2) and they were playing a venue that generally has been sour for these VVers.  Top this off with the fact that the band played almost entirely their pre-"Whip-It" back catalog of songs that are just as weird as ever.  Songs such as "She Didn't Know I Was a Midget," "Mechanical Man," and "Soo Bawls" interspersed with a few well know hits like "Uncontrollable Urge," "Mongoloid," and crushing early single "Be Stiff."  Well guess what?  DEVO are super professional and have chops for miles.  Playing as a four piece, the band sounded lean and full of energy.  Not only that, but the crowd was totally engaged and a lot of folks seemed completely stupefied by how strange it was.  This was the second time the VVers have had the good fortune to see DEVO and they are an enigma.  The second concert was just as creative and entertaining as the first; these guys are outliers in that regard.
Crocodiles/Sisu/Shark Week - Comet Ping Pong
Queens of the Stone Age/St. Vincent/Brody Dalle - Merriweather Post Pavilion
The Faint - 9:30 Club
As you can see, it was a great year for live music.

Best New 45
Shark Week Santurce
This local band hasn't put out a ton of music yet.  The two impeccably catchy tunes on this 45 have these VVers salivating for a full LP release, which should be coming in 2015.  Santurce is a blissful blast of surfer rock played with swagger and abandon.  "Go West" from the A-side (oh wait, double A-side 45) is full of snakey tempo shifts and kick-ass drum work.  The VVers are going to burn this one out!

Most Relevant Development in the Filing Department
Moving the 10" records to their own section makes them easier to find.  The VVers discriminate by size.

Best Used 45
The White Stripes Conquest
Picked up at True Vine in Baltimore, this little disc packs a punch from Jack and Meg, with the help of some triumphant trumpeteering.  Beck (along with his living room) take credit on the B-side for the amusing ditty, "It's My Fault for Being Famous."

Artist Most Responsible for an Overcrowded Section of Storage and Depleted Funds
Mr. Neil Young
Almost an entire "cube" of the record shelf is devoted to a multi-sized collection of Neil Young vinyl: some flimsy 80's pressings and some giant, well packaged, triple-disc recordings (likely culprit of the depleted funds).

Most Divisive Record
Faith No More Motherfucker
VVer #2 does not want to hear this again in the house and very much dislikes the snarling wolf on the cover.
VVer #1 listens to it all the time when VVer #2 isn't home.  Granted, it is heavy, evil, and weird which is probably why VVer #2 enjoys it.

Upon reviewing the haul of 2014, the VVers realized that they have in fact done less vagabonding (aka crate-digging) and more new record purchasing over the past year.  This might just be a sign of the times; vinyl is back as a format and being pressed at such a rate that the few remaining record pressing factories can barely keep up.  While happy about the superior music format trending upwards the VVers have a budget to maintain; new vinyl isn't exactly cheap.  In the interests of getting back to basics, the VVers are going to try to concentrate on the pursuit of buried treasure in 2015.  Happy vagabonding!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

A Vinyl Bu$hleaguer

By The Vagabond Apprentice

As you know, I've been continually preaching that vinyl records are the absolute best way to hear music.  All other music formats sound flat, sterile, and dead.  Vinyl is "Alive!"  Which brings me to the reason I wrote this article.  Recently on eBay, I saw one of my all time favorite records for sale: Pearl Jam’s Live at Benaroya Hall limited edition, quadruple vinyl box set.  Only 2,000 were pressed, each individually numbered by hand.  The four LPs are a "Deep" "Blood" "Red Mosquito" color.  This record is the Holy Grail for Pearl Jam collectors.  The auction said it was "mint" and in "great condition."  Wow!  That grading was music to my ears.  I had been saving up money for many months, so I felt comfortable typing in my highest bid, and rolling "God's Dice."  Let me state, eBay has been my main avenue for buying hard-to-find records over the past several years.  I never had a single problem buying LPs on eBay, so I assumed this auction listing would be no different. While I was staring and salivating like an "Animal" at the eBay item photo, I had an audio epiphany:  Can a vinyl LP record ever be in "mint" and "great condition"?  Vinyl is a delicate, thin material.  When handling an LP, the slightest miss touch can scratch a record.  LPs also have static, which attracts dust and smoke particles, that can cause crackles, pops, and distortion in the fine grooves.  This is especially true of new vinyl which seems to be so full of static that it tends to attract factory and packaging scuzz (ewww!).  The way the vinyl is packaged when it is slipped into its inner sleeve also has occasionally left what looks like brush smudges on the record.  Hell, every time you play a record, it can wear down.  Why can't something so great last forever?  Ugh! My head is revolving like a 45 even thinking about all of this!

So back to the story:  "Hail, Hail!"  I did indeed win the eBay auction, and received the set in the mail days later.  Unfortunately, my disappointment hit me like a "Surprise Left."  Two of the eight sides of the LPs were scratched up, and you could hear the defects.  It kept going "Krickle, Krackle," and was lacking an “Even Flow” of sound as it should have.  Listen, I’m not some sort of whiner who is normally “Given to Fly” off the handle about a slight scratch, but this record was damaged!  "Rats!"  The vinyl was also missing the poster insert and smelled like tobacco smoke.  The grade I would give this LP set is “C - Average.”  Since I had a legitimate “Grievance,” I was able to send the records back for a full refund.  This Vinyl Vagabond wasn’t going to be treated like some “Jeremy”!  A better copy will have to remain on my “Wishlist.”

In conclusion, I don’t think a vinyl record could ever be in mint condition, or close to it.  Every time I look in the “Rearviewmirror” I realize that music perfection may be just an unreachable dream.  All audio formats have their downsides, but as a total experience, vinyl is still my favorite.  Like all the audiophile elites out there, I will never stop spinning that “Black Circle.”

P.S.  Just as soon as the seller got his record back and I got my refund, "Off He Goes" and offers to sell it back to me for half the price.  Not that I wasn't tempted, but having seen/played his copy in the condition it's in I know it's not even worth half the price.  I'm not an "Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town," or her "Daughter."  I'm going to be the "Better Man" and hold off till I find the copy that is right, but this an experience this Vagabond won't "Soon Forget."

Friday, January 2, 2015

Portland Vagabonds

Maine is full of vinyl records, it is true.  The VVers recently spent a long weekend in "The Pine Tree State" and for once, didn't put more than a token effort into seeking out record stores.  Even though our heroes were just there for the scenery and relaxation, in Portland the stores just seemed to magically appear everywhere!  Yeeeee!!!

It's a moose popping out of a record!
The trip began up the coast in Bar Harbor where Acadia National Park is located.  Not much up there in the vinyl department, but along the drive down Route 1, there was a strategic stop made in Brunswick where the VVers descended upon Bull Moose, one of several stores in this fantastic local chain.  They feature tons of new and used vinyl at really good prices and seeing as they are a  Blue Note 75th Anniversary authorized dealer, the VVers were compelled to buy a reissue, amongst other things.  Herbie Hancock's Maiden Voyage seemed like a good choice.  After a few listens, not much to say about the music other than "it's jazz alright!" 

While not technically vinyl, the air waves of Maine were also humming with good vibes.  On the drive back down Route 1 towards Portland, the VVers found WERU Community Radio which was playing fantastic reggae that morphed into some pretty interesting bluegrass.  Nice!

When the VVers made it to Portland, they checked out some live music at Blue which is on the main drag of Congress Street.  Whilst enjoying a night-cap they noticed a flyer for the bar's Sunday Vinyl Hour (actually it was their first ever Vinyl Hour).  Perfect; Sunday plans made.  The VVers found all sorts of other activities for the day and just made it to the tail end of the time.  Unfortunately, nobody but the VVers were there to groove to the tune-fest (the weather was quite nice; perhaps Portlanders [Portlandy-ites?] like to take advantage of that sort of thing?).  Luckily Blue's friendly bartender was into vinyl and not just a keen hand behind the bar.  With a dash of pride she was more than happy to share her eclectic vinyl collection with us while assisting in helping to slake the weary traveler thirst.  There was a distinct point during the conversation where she may have believed that the VVers made the trip to Portland for the sole purpose of seeking and writing about vinyl.  Yes, the VVers will write-off this trip as a business expense!

The Outfits - Just the Toe - 2013
While strolling along the edge of the historic Old Port district, this record was found at quirky local gift shop Pinecone + Chickadee.  Glow in the dark sleeve seven inch from a local band on translucent yellow/green vinyl?  Sure, what the hell.  The woman behind the counter couldn't really describe what it sounded like even though she said it was by her old band.  Real conversation went something like this:

  VVer #1 - Is it punk?
  Nice store lady - Wellllll...
  VV - Is it screaming at me or with me?
  NSL - Ummmmm...
  VV - Is it good?
  NSL - Sure, I guess.

Having given it the three minimum listens the VVers will concur that it is in fact music.  Giving it a fourth and fifth listen (for the purposes of the review) it can honestly be said that The Outfit sound somewhat like Patsy Cline being force-fed gravel by L7 recorded on scrappy gear.  Yay!

Last stop before zipping out of town was at a tiny basement bar, Maps, on the edge of the shopping district.  Really, the VVers didn't want their vacation to end and just wanted a happy hour drink before their flight home.  This bar (which was listed as a dive on some social media app, but was far from it) prominently featured records and a stellar turntable behind the bar.  Was this bar secretly modeled on the VVer's super-top-secret super-record-bar design?  Probably, since in addition there was a beautiful jukebox, warm atmosphere, great beverages, and a friendly tender of the bar.  After realizing what time it was and that there was a flight to catch, the VVers had to leave, but not before at least one send off song was played on the jukebox, as encouraged by the bartender.

A good way to end an unsuspecting "business" trip!