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!