Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Dead Moon - Unknown Passage - 1989

Strange Dead Moon: A Backwards Discovery

Many a Record Store Day ago (actually 2013 in NYC), the VVers picked up a copy of Strange Moon by A Place to Bury Strangers, not knowing much about what it was except that: (1) they like APTBS; (2) the EP was on bright yellow vinyl; and (3) the songs were all covers of some band called Dead Moon.  As it turned out, Strange Moon is a lovely, loud album full of fuzzy reverb energy.  A+!  This can stand alone as a fantastic EP, however, it thrilled the VVers so much they became curious to listen to the original versions.  Surprisingly, this EP isn't a cover of just one of Dead Moon's albums, but what could be considered more of a favorites collection for APTBS.  How apropos that a three-member band from Brooklyn is covering an obscure, three-member band from Portland, OR.  The VVers are intrigued.... they need to find some Dead Moon records.

While occasionally perusing record bins, as the VVers do, they procured a later career album, Crack in System, from End of an Ear in Austin.  Several tracks have repeating bonehead riffs a la early Beastie Boys while others have a decidedly lo-fi Neil Young and Crazy Horse vibe.  Although good (and strange), VVer #2 really wanted to hear the original songs that APTBS covered, none of which were on this LP.  While the VVers cannot for the life of them remember where they found it, Unknown Passage is the album from 1989 that has the majority of the APTBS-covered titles on it.  It was bought, listened to, and squeezed into the record shelf for another day.  Not a recollection of its first listen, other than a "hmm" APTBS did straight covers, more or less, adding a touch of their own particular sound.  Looking back, it's hard to say what the VVers expected from the original.  It's not like APTBS was remaking something far afield like a Peggy Lee or James Brown song or something; both bands have a similar sound palate.  Regardless, this record was ignored for a few months.  Upon a recent re-discovery, the VVers realized just what captured APTBS' imagination.

Outstanding originals that were covered on Strange Moon include "Dead Moon Night" and "54/40 or Fight."  Opening track "Dead Moon Night" is full of Fred Cole's fierce, warbling, grating voice over churning guitar crescendos mid-track that give way to an ominous close out.  "54/40" is a speedy, garage-punk track that is the real deal.  It's raw and energetic, but oh those little extra drums are a nice touch.  "ALLLLLLLRRRIGHTTT!"

The only track out of the few on Unknown Passage that is outdone by its cover is "I'm Wise."  Dead Moon's has a much more melancholy tone created by angsty vocals where APTBS comes off much more creepy, menacing, and threatening.  APTBS add a bit of their typical reverb to pay homage in the best way on this one.

Side B of Unknown Passage comprises outstanding tracks, none of which were covered on Strange Moon.  The intense "Time has Come Today" is super raw and loud.  It all breaks down a few minutes in to just a clock-like tick, then echoing this beat, a sludgy guitar re-enters to morph back into the original song.  "On my Own" closes out the album with a shambling, lo-fi Stooges vibe.

This is the sort of music that feels like it comes from the edge of forgotten places from people who do not care in the slightest about what you might think about it.  Every song has enough honest and raw fury to capture curiosity and then smash it to little itty bits.  Even the calmer tunes feel desolate enough to make your palms a little sweaty.  This self-recorded and self-produced second album makes the most of Dead Moon's sparse sound.  Their DIY ethos is displayed in every facet of the the music on this record.  Originally released on Fred and Toody Cole's own label, Tombstone Records, this mono recording has been long out of print.  Thankfully, fellow Portland label, Mississippi Records reissued and remastered this one from the original tapes.  A perfect candidate for reissue.  Thank you Mississippi Records and APTBS for leading the VVers down an unknown passage to rediscover some great music.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Baltimore and Washington DC Zine Premiere

The VVers have triumphantly finished issue #8 of their zine.  You could call issue #8 the "Baltimore Edition" and still maintain your integrity -- the cover was screenprinted at Baltimore Print Studios and the zine features write-ups on the VVer's favorite Baltimore record shops.

Find the VVers pedaling their new zine and lots of newly acquired vinyl for you to buy at...

BALTIMORE RECORD BAZAAR
Sunday - June 25, 2017
12pm-6pm @ The Windup Space
Baltimore, 12 W North Ave, Baltimore, MD 21201

and just a few miles down the road and a several weeks later...



DC ZINEFEST
Saturday - July 15th, 2017
10am-4:30pm @ St. Stephen and the Incarnation Church
1525 Newton St NW, Washington DC 20010

DC Zinefest 2017 will feature 50+ zine vendors from the DC area and from afar!  Bring $$$ to buy zines, mini comics, prints, pins, and more!

Monday, April 3, 2017

Upcoming Record Fair Happenings

Vinyl Vagabonds want you to buy their records!
You have two chances to catch up with the VVers at Baltimore Record Bazaar:

April 9, 2017, and June 25, 2017
12pm-6pm @ The Windup Space
Baltimore, 12 W North Ave, Baltimore, MD 21201

The VVers will be there slinging records and zines.  Word on the street is that there could be a new issue of Vinyl Vagabonds zine out by the June date!  Stay tuned.


Tuesday, March 21, 2017

How to Justify Buying Records When You Don't Need Them

When a single reason to buy a record exists, you buy it, even if you don't need it.  Need of course is relative.   Who really needs records (the VVers obviously)?  Isn't it nice to have a little extra push when it comes to trying out new music?  Even better is a trifecta of reasons.

In this case, two weeks out from Inauguration this past January, the VVers were feeling pretty down about the state of the world.  In response to the White House travel ban, online music community Bandcamp, announced they were donating 100% of their proceeds to the American Civil Liberties Union to support its work for immigrants and refugees.  [Reason #1: Your money goes to a good cause.]

While using Bandcamp rather frequently (usually to stream albums from new artists), the VVers recently noticed that you can actually buy vinyl from them (WHOA!).  In the meantime on social media, Savannah's Graveface Records & Curiosities also posted about the Bancamp/ACLU event.  This got VVer #2 thinking that there was new music on Graveface's label that looked interesting.  Since going to the label tour last year, the VVers have followed Graveface a bit.  They are a plucky little label that not only puts out interesting music, but also oddball horror soundtracks from yesteryear, and even the occasional zine.  [Reason #2: Supporting a small, indie label.] 

Coincidentally, Closeness, which is a collaboration of Todd Fink (The Faint) and his wife Orenda Fink (Azure Ray) released their debut EP, Personality Therapy, this month on Graveface.  With no idea what they sound like, what risk is there when you are sure that you like half a band's music (The Faint)?  In this case, the 50/50 chance paid off.  Personality Therapy is a strong, six-song set of driving, well-produced tunes.  The EP has a nice blend of romance, darkness, and even a hopeful streak.  There is a very atmospheric quality running throughout several tracks.  "End of the Maze" is a standout that mixes the duo's futuristic, distorted harmonies and pairs them with doomsday synths.  [Reason #3: Familiarity with half the band.]

Boom! Added bonus, it's a limited edition color 12", buttttt .... this one nearly breaks the Naked Butt Rule in the House of VV.  You see, there is an awesomely horrific cover to this EP, which is not full-on butt nakedness, but comes damn close.   This VVer heroically overlooked this arbitrary rule to support a few good causes (and the vinyl is good stuff too)!  "Need" fulfilled.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Community Service vs Self Service

VVer #1 spent a recent Sunday doing a solid for local community radio WOWD-LP 94.3fm in Takoma Park by helping the new, nonprofit station organize piles of donated vinyl.  With friend and fellow enthusiast along for the ride, VVer #1 culled through the mountain (not an exaggeration), throwing away the moldy stuff (more than you want to know), and cleaning anything salvageable.  The goal was to make a pile of "the good stuff," so the station could make some bank at their next fundraiser.

Here are four that looked interesting enough to "borrow" and write about:

Elton John S/T 1970
This uncharacteristic looking album, his second LP, immediately stood out from the crates.  First of all, Elton is serious, dark, moody...   Knowing him mostly from his more flamboyant 70s' persona and the modern, more refined bloke, this appeared very different.  It sounds different as well, hedging closer to James Taylor (most of the album) or Leonard Cohen ("First Episode at Hienton") in tone, with a few pop numbers and a pretty spot on Rolling Stones sounding number ("No Shoe Strings on Louise").  Some tracks even call Led Zeppelin to mind ("Sixty Years On"), minus the ripping guitars of course.  Heavy?  Yeah, Elton gets heavy.  Side B has a few clunkers, but nothing that will make you poke your own ears out.  Thankfully the final track is strong and encourages a bit of repeat listening.

The Sprouts of Grass Ring the Bells for the Federals, Washington Federals Official Bluegrass Fight Song 7" 1984
Yes, there was a time when the Washington D.C. area had two professional football teams.  The USFL Washington Federals played for two pathetic seasons, 1983-84.  Apparently somebody actually was excited enough about this and decided to spread that excitement using the power of bluegrass.  And... it's awesome.  A straight ripping tune, singing the praises of the new team.  It's a dark sound with lyrics far too optimistic for how bad the team actually was.  It shouldn't work, but dagnabit it does!  This VVer likes it, he does!  Fun fact, the USFL lasted only three years and was more or less destroyed by the overzealous business acumen of President Orange-head McDipshit.  "There's a new force a risin' on DC's horizon!"  One lyric you'll wince at: "Hurrah for the Feds, fly their banners overhead!"

Adding to the appeal of this curio is the quick pickin' second song, "East West Highway Blues."   These VVers have been living on or near East West Hwy for years and years.   This ode is a nice little ditty about a cabbie just barely scraping by running fares up and down "Montgomery to Prince George's, just to pay this taxi's dues."  It gets a little surreal at the end, but that's probably just the driver being tired from a long shift. 

Of the four-song 7" three of the tracks are pretty sharp.  The final song, "Winter Storm" is dark and resonant with beautiful instrumentation and some delicate banjo pluckage.  There is something the VVers never have typed before.

Michael Jackson Dirty Diana 12" 1987
Laser beams!!!  Really not much needs to be written about this song.  Michael yelps through it and the production values are a little ridiculously of the era.  At least the back cover picture gives us something special.  Wow!

The Fugs S/T 1966
Weirdo freakshow music from people that need a bath!  This is the sound of the counterculture in full on revolt against USA hypocrisy of the 60s.  Most of the album is not the sort you would ever enjoy to hear, except "Kill for Peace," a pleasant hippie hootenanny about Vietnam, replete with racial slurs and a gun-riddled finale.  Things get even more un-groovy during the eleven minute album closer, which definitely inspired "The End" by the Doors except that this is entirely unlistenable.  Says VVer #2, "I'll be totally fine not hearing that last song again."  The liner notes on the back of the sleeve are by Allen Ginsburg; so there's that.  There is also a note on the back cover written in Esperanto to send $5.98 for a copy of the record.  This is confusing and made even more confusing by the fact that it is in Esperanto.  Apparently the record label, ESP-Disk, was primarily a label supporting Esperanto music.  So now you know that.

Looking forward for another opportunity to dig through a mountain of totally random vinyl (for a good cause of course).  

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Clash - Sandinista! - 1980

When a band goes into the studio and records whatever they want, it can sometimes freak-out their fans.  Trying out a new sound!  Total creative diversion!  Panic!!!  Welcome to the epic-in-scale, Sandinista!  Three records, thirty-six tracks.  Six sides of sonics from the Clash.  All written in a year and self-produced.  Some of the tracks are great, classics even.  Some are too much to handle, practically horrific, many leaning towards a painful all band sing-along.  Writing about every song would be droll and demand many repeated listens ... wait, that just happened.  A run down of some of the best, worst, and strangest:

Best:
"Magnificent Seven" takes the lead as the stellar opening track.  (If you don't know this song, then shame on you, you are not magnificent.)  VVer #2 is more familiar with the Live at Shea Stadium extended mix, which is hard to top, so it is nice to hear the studio track.  Most excitingly, and to her gracious surprise, the shout-out to "Cheesebouger!" mid-track is on both versions.  This track seems to make a comeback on Side 3's "Lightning Strikes (Not Once but Twice)."  The two songs couldn't be more similar.  Same beat and tempo makes you think you will hear "MAGNIFICENT!" shouted out in the middle of the former track.

"Junco Partner" from Side 1 is a reinterpretation of an American blues tune by the same name and makes for a classic Clash reggae track.  It's full of blurted, incomprehensible lyrics and whacky sound effects.  This is mirrored in the dub version, "Version Pardner," on Side 6 which is laden with experimental noises.  Nice balance; only a six-sided concept album could include both!

Further pursuing Side 6 (possibly the most consistent side of the six, if one must choose), a distorted talking track fades into "Version City" to reveal catchy, yet structured, flatly-tuned stanzas backed by a bluesy harmonica.  It's droning, yet optimistic.

The xylophone on "Silicone on Sapphire" hints that this track is a reprise of the state-of-the-world commentary track "Washington Bullets."  The dubby, calypso version on "Silicone on Sapphire" lacks any structured singing found in the former, and instead loops futuristic, computeresque program talking.  It is novel and it totally works.

Best Honorable Mentions:
"Crooked Beat," "One More Time," "One More Time Dub," "Police on My Back," "The Equaliser," "Living in Fame"

Worst:
"Hitsville U.K." is certainly music, but the sing-along, high-range harmonization and chimes aren't too appealing.

"Lose the Skin" isn't that bad, isn't good, but so memorable.  It barely sounds like a Clash song; that's because it was written and performed by Tymon Dogg, a Strummer collaborator.  This is common on Sandinista! as there are more than a handful of guests appearing (sometimes multiple times) on this triple.  The only Clashy thing about "Lose the Skin" are the drums, otherwise you get an oddly, high-pitched voice over fiddling strings.  Please no.

"Career Opportunities" is unfortunately re-imagined from their first album at the end of Sandanista! to really provide no added benefit to this album.  Another instance of children singing gone awry.  The message in the song is there, but the VVers don't want to listen to the musicality of this message.  

Strangest:
"Ivan Meets G.I. Joe" might be played at what you would call a discotheque.  Not sure what is happening here, but there are plenty of lasers to go along with the political lyrics.  Most importantly, are Ivan and G.I. Joe figurine size?  People want to know.

"Look Here" channels some zoot suit dancing with good use of a xylophone.  Odd, but not horrendous.  This might be evened out by the similarly-paced, rockabilly tune "Midnight Log."

"Mensforth Hill" is an instrumental cacophony with overdubs gluing it together.  Apparently the forgettable "Something About England" from the first side of the album is recycled backwards to help with the chaos.  Turns out "Something About England" actually sounds better backwards.

If you've heard Hardcore DEVO, which coincidentally was recorded several years before Sandinista!, you can't help but make the obvious connection to "Junkie Slip" on Side 5.  It is sparse, has oddball chanting, and bloopy instrumentation.

Strangest Honorable Mentions:
All of Side 3 except "Lightning Strikes (Not Once but Twice)"

Somehow, this is a weirdly cohesive album.  After multiple, multiple listens, many of the tracks are exceptional, and are re-imagined versions of other tracks on the album.  The Clash embrace a recycling of sounds that make this massive production circularly connected.  Like most albums, this one is better when you fully immerse yourself in its sonic experimentation.  Sandanista! rewards the patient listener.  For the VVers, it has aged well over multiple spins, where at first the album just sounded like disjointed cacophony.  It is politically aware, yet subtly brilliant.  The tracks not listed here are still interesting in their own way, but outdone by others on the album.  There is so much music, how is it all crammed into this one project?  Perhaps it is the sheer quantity of music that makes this an under-appreciated triple, despite its compelling complexities.

Monday, January 9, 2017

Portion Control vs Full-On Lunchin'

Some albums have exactly the right balance of pop and weird.  A magical convergence of diverse sounds and lyrics, True Love Kills the Fairy Tale by the Casket Girls is just that sort of album.  The LP is a lush assortment of bright pop synths with a somber gothic tone, highlighted by twin female lead vocals that shudder in their synchronicity.  Think 60s' girl groups, pulsing along with a nice dollop of retro self-awareness.  The production is very sharp and often loaded with scuzzy keyboards.  A dichotomy, crisp and dirty at the same time.  Even the lyrics try to be in two places at once: "We are the preacher, we are the choir, nobody is getting any higher" from the mesmerizing opening track, "Same Side."  Also, "You and I are like water and fire.  Opposites only exist with each other," from the standout track "Chemical Dizzy."

While some people don't give a damn about packaging and album art, every time this LP comes off of the shelf it's a joy to experience, as the packaging of is absolutely gorgeous.  It's wowy!  The outer sleeve is a starry sky-scape, with an O'Keefe palate and central to this is a gigantic white symbol, like an ancient math formula.  The inner sleeve is just black paper which perfectly sets up to reveal the LP, on tie-die pale blue/lime green.  This thing glows in light in the most eerie way.  A lovely font adorns the entire package.  You will want to stare.

These VVers were fortunate to pick this up at a Graveface Records Label Tour.  The concert at Songbyrd Music House and Record Cafe (yes, such a place exists) featured choreographed dance moves, a legit light show, matching outfits for the band, masks, wigs, the whole nine.  For a small venue it's fantastic to be that up close and personal with that level of performance.  After the show, VVer #1 went to chat with Mr. Graveface (also the keyboardist/co-songwriter in Casket Girls) about the vinyl and other offerings, of which were many.  A friend had already purchased the newest LP, so VVer #1 got a recommendation on what was "the best one" and home came this album.  Also picked up a split Casket Girls/Stardeath White Dwarf (co-headliners of the tour) because, well, duh.

One very noticeable thing about the music on True Love Kills the Fairy Tale is just how much fuzz there is.  Too much distortion?  Is that possible?  Is this a symptom of digital recording transferred to analog vinyl production?  Is this just what the band sounds like (live, they indeed bring the fuzz, but in a good way)?  At times it's like the band is surrounded in a cocoon.  After a few spins the VVers realized that their ears were exhausted by a few specific spots on the record.  What is going on here?  Upon a tiny shred of research, a new term appeared: Inner Groove Distortion.  It's hard to explain without getting overly technical, but the gist is that the center grooves on a platter (figure the last tracks on each side of a typical LP) play with less clarity.  The inference is that because the rings at the center have less diameter, the needle has more work to do to track the grooves correctly.  This can become more of an issue if the songs have a lot going on (lots of instrumentation, high loudness, excess bass) and can lead to things sounding worse off.  What other record comes to mind when thinking about distorted fuzzed out tracks towards the end of a record but Queen II.  Is this the answer to why "The Seven Seas of Rhye" makes VVer #2 run screaming to turn off the record on both her pressings of this album?!  Does this offer an explanation for why sound-conscious artists are more into the practice of putting out double LPs?  Possibly, and the VVers will look at those in a new light instead of immediately dismissing them as taking up too much room on the record shelf.  Music with this much layering in it suffers unless you happen to be in possession of a top of the line needle/cartridge/turntable set-up.  In the case of True Love Kills the Fairy Tale it's not unbearable, but it does encourage the listener to take breaks in between side A and B, otherwise you might get fuzzy bummed.  That is a real term.  For this LP, take a little break between sides, like waiting twenty minutes after the meal to have dessert, you'll be glad you did.

Much of True Love Kills the Fairy Tale is like a chaotic dream; wave after wave shimmering back and forth over voices in steady decomposition.  It can be a lot for the ears to take at times.  This is not an excuse to stay away.  This is a warning that the rewards of the album take some patience.  Dive in all at once at your own peril.