Thursday, November 24, 2016

Download Card Conundrum

The Download Card: You love it and you hate it!  Well, which one is it?

You buy a new record, rip off the shrink wrap, pull out the record sleeve, and one of three things might happen: (1) a little card comes floating out onto the floor, inconspicuously never to be seen again, you don't even care because you are so focused on your new vinyl; (2) a little card comes floating out onto the floor, you pick it up, you are happy, you return to be focused on your new vinyl; or (3) you shake the record sleeve in disappointment looking for that little flimsy slip of paper, but alas there is none.  In the last scenario, you panic.  Wait, maybe it fell out when you took out the record?  Where is it!?!   In actuality, most new vinyl will advertise this special bonus with a sticker on the front.  Some artists (for example, Puscifer) never include them.  Is this a problem?  A statement?  Are they just lazy?  Where is that little f^%@ing card!?!  Have the VVers spent too much time thinking about this?  Clearly.

Room for Debate: Why include the download card?

Portability.   The "free download" included with many newly pressed records is a nice gesture, a little extra incentive that appeals to those that want their music to travel with them.  Once you've got your greasy little mitts on those little ones and zeros (00101101011101001111) you can get more familiar with them anywhere and on any device!  The sound is often wildly different based on the media, but whatever, right?  The VVers have found that digital versions tend to sound faster compared to the vinyl version; it's also possible the VVers need a new turntable.  More importantly, why shell out for music on vinyl if you are going to spend most of your time listening to those digitized and compressed tunes on lackluster earbuds that sound awful?  This is a surefire way to make you forget how good the music is.  Isn't this the main point to your vinyl devotion?  Good acoustics and nice plush cover art.  You aren't seeing that from a download card or on the screen of your mini device.  Music in the car does have its merits...  Music on the go has its merits...  But is this really why you bought the vinyl?  With the advent of smart phones, streaming music, and cloud-based systems, music is everywhere at all times.  You bought the vinyl because you care about something more.  Nice job.

Familiarity.  If you listen to an album so much digitally because you love the music, you may forget to listen to it on record, so what is the point of having the record?  This happens to VVer #2 often.  She will listen to those albums she loves that are in the vinyl collection that also have a download: Jack White Blunderbuss, Crocodiles Crimes of Passion, The Faint Doom Abuse.  The VVers are glad that they reside on an iPod to jam out to when on the train/bus/walking, but sometimes feel it takes away from how much time is spent appreciating the vinyl itself.  It is actually a treat to listen to these records on vinyl, they really do sound different.  Not having a download card will force you to listen to the album on vinyl.  Not the worst thing.  Not at all.

Source Material.  If the album was recorded digitally anyway, ok, include the download.  But then ask yourself why you are buying the vinyl in the first place?  There better be some damn good art work, plush packaging, or snazzy colored wax.  A download card included with an analog recorded record makes less sense.  Unless you are getting access to high fidelity versions of the digital, you're basically getting garbage.  Record labels give you low bit versions of digital on purpose so there remains more than just a lingering incentive to get the physical media.  Shop wisely.

Lasting Value.  When re-selling vinyl online, on Discogs for example, people want the download card that came with the album.  This is silly in the VVers' view for three reasons: (1) it's damn hard to keep track of those cards and they are often lost or recycled years after the record is bought; (2) the download codes often times expire either after a period of time or after a certain amount of downloads; and (3) are you paying for the vinyl or the digital?  The download card itself is usually a scrap of paper with not much going on.  There are some exceptions that are slightly artful, and even occasionally a bit exciting.  Still... more than the vinyl itself?  Never.

Example.  The VVers are big The Faint fans.  They recently went to see them and danse at 9:30 Club.  Spectacular.  The Faint has a new(ish) album just released, CAPSULE: 1999-2015, which is essentially a greatest hits, plus one new track and a bonus 45 of two additional new songs.  Why not buy it?  Score! VVer #2 found a little download card floating out and took the initiative to download it; ever since, it has been on constant repeat on the iPod getting to and from work.  Songs are oh so addictive and must be listened to again and again.  What is nice is that some songs were familiar, but VVer #2 has developed a newfound appreciation for them.  This sparked an interest in listening to the older vinyl from whence the songs came.  For example, "Paranoiattack," "I Disappear," and "Southern Belles in London Sing" are constantly stuck in her head, and all happen to be from the album Wet From Birth, which the VVers have on their record shelf, but are not entirely familiar with.  Upon revisiting, not only are these particular songs great, but the rest of the album has a newfound fantastic-ness.  Wet From Birth still has The Faint's electronic sounds, but also strings and orchestra instruments throughout.  What should be taken from this?  Sometimes digital is good for a re-invigorated interest in all of that other vinyl sitting on the shelf.

Words of Wisdom: If the digital version is so important for you to have, just buy it digitally.

For the VVers, there is no conundrum.  The vinyl is what they want and if there is also a download, that's ok.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Bad Brains for Breakfast? Better ask Bella!

Another in a long-running series in which the Vinyl Vagabonds attempt to determine what record to play based on the opinion of a pet, house plant, or inanimate object.

As we all know, breakfast record selection can be tricky.   The Vinyl Vagabonds sympathize with you.  While VVer #1 typically goes with any old platter, VVer #2 has far less tolerance in the wee hours of the morning.  This aural sensitivity may very well be the product of the actions of the prior night.  Out late?  One cocktail too many?  Too energized to sleep?  Insomnia?  Up early and ready to conquer the day?  Ok, the last one rarely occurs.

This is how the VVers have come to trust Bella, their fish (a Bushy Nose Plecostomus), for her record selecting acumen.  She serves as a neutral party, blessed with stellar musical taste (and impeccable taste buds).  On a recent morning while sprinkling flakes in for the guppies, VVer #2 almost certainly heard Bella bubbling over the gurgling filter, "blurp blurp, Bad, blurp, Brains."  What, what, huh?  Bella wants to hear Bad Brains Rock for Light over breakfast?!  The VVers usually don't take requests... but... why the heck not?  Ok!

Luckily, the fishy-face knows a thing or two!  She knows that VVer #2 does enjoy crazy, loud punk with her hand-ground coffee.  Slow down for a second though, aren't intense vocals in the morning a bit rough?  What helps is that those vocals are screamed so you can barely decipher them; that's a different story.  Bella also knows that this particular Bad Brains album has a few calmer reggae tracks to balance the start of the day.  Nice choice fishy!  Now if the VVers could just train you to help flip the record...

Rock for Light is Bad Brains second full-length album.  The Washington D.C. band has a fairly tumultuous reputation for highs and lows but this album came at a time (1983) of experimentation and transition that worked very much in their favor.  Each and every hardcore, proto-metal, and reggae track on Rock for Light seems totally unencumbered by thoughts of what the outside world might care for.  Bella knows this and makes sure the VVers are aware it's her fave.  She loves the soulful flow of "I + I Survive" just as much as she gets her flippers flipping for the frenetic "Banned in D.C."  Who could blame her?  Tracks blend seamlessly from genre to genre in total sonic precision.  The LP was produced by Ric Ocasek of pop act The Cars, lending it a crispness that is often lacking from low budget punk recordings.  Bad Brains are masters of the mixed genre.  No band handles punk and reggae so equally well--The Clash, of course, being a close second.  When the first calm track, the (comparatively) lengthy "Rally Around Jah Throne" morphs effortlessly into the riotous "Right Brigade," which features three distinct tempo sections, you start to get an idea of what these guys are capable of.  Starting off with a riff that would easily be the envy of any grunge band, going into full-on shit-kicking punk, and ending with earworming guitar solos.  All showered with the growls, yowls, and belted yelps of H.R. totally losing his mind.  Beautiful.

This album has enough churning guitars to pulp your juice, tempo-shifting drums to get you chugging your coffee, and multiple personality vocals from H.R. to jam your toast.  It's "got that attitude" to get you amped up for your day.  Every good fish knows it.