Craven Hermit Blows His Wad on Records

Relax, the title of this blog post is a metaphor, and an homage to some of the deliberately unsettling chyrons they use on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. ¬†Believe me, you DON’T want to know what other titles were under consideration ūüôā

Today is Record Store Day 2012.  I moseyed down to my favourite local indie record shop this morning to see what they had on offer.  I originally planned to get there right when they opened (10 am) but some under-publicized road construction sent me on an impromptu detour.

I walked in the doors of Blackbyrd Myoozik at 10:15 am to find the place jam-packed with hipsters, enough to surely test the maximum occupancy limits in our local fire code. ¬†Usually on my Friday afternoon sojourns to the store I’m the only customer. ¬†But on this day, by the time I got there the store was overrun by people with WAY more facial and/or cranial hair than me. ¬†And the ubiquitous music-nerd glasses too. ¬†I would estimate that there were 30 to 40 people in the store by 30 minutes after opening this morning. ¬† Everyone behaved in an orderly fashion, and it did the Craven Hermit’s soul good to see so many people with armfuls of albums waiting in the check-out line, even if the line-up effectively filled the entire store. ¬†The shopkeepers’ choice of spinning the new Spiritualized record as a backdrop to the mayhem likely helped maintain some semblance of decorum. ¬†It could have gotten really ugly if they’d played the new Lou Reed / Metallica album instead.

Not only were there many Record Store Days special promotions available, but they put all the new vinyl on sale 20% off, and all used vinyl was 50% off. ¬†This proved to be a popular move. ¬†Maybe RSD cuts into Blackbyrd’s profit margin a little bit, but they more than made up for it in volume today. ¬†Good for them.

Your faithful correspondent went on a bit of a spending spree today (hence the wad-blowing title of this post). ¬†I’ve accumulated some overtime at work lately, getting the next phase of my latest project set up for my team. ¬†So today was a reward for keeping my nose to the grindstone. ¬†I decided to focus my weekend on what makes me happy, so that meant adding new records to my collection. ¬†I managed to get there early enough to come away with these RSD exclusives:

  • Pete Townshend – Quadrophenia Demos 2 (10″ vinyl)
  • Uncle Tupelo – March 16-20, 1992 (on 180-gram 12″ vinyl)
  • Blitzen Trapper – Hey Joe (7″ on yellow vinyl)

As I mentioned earlier, in-stock vinyl was also on sale today so I picked up a number of titles that I’ve seen on the shelves but just never pulled the trigger on until now.

I was really hoping to find a copy of the Decemberists’ new live record, but they didn’t have it in stock. ¬†I consoled myself with a copy of last year’s most excellent The King Is Dead on 180g. ¬†Peter Buck is about as close to a hero as I have, and his influence is all over this record like stink on a monkey.

I also helped myself to a copy of the Fleet Foxes debut album. ¬†Nice thing about this one is it comes with a copy of the excellent¬†Sun Giant EP. ¬†Two birds, one stone. ¬†Very nice. ¬†Can’t wait to hear “Tiger Mountain Peasant Song” the way it was meant to be heard, rotating rotisserie-style at 33-1/3 rpm.

I saw a copy of The Clash’s debut album on 180g and had to have it. ¬†I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard the slashing strains of “Career Opportunities” in my tape-recorder brain while having a bad day at work. ¬†That’ll be my go-to record the next time I get wound up (so… Tuesday, at the latest).

I’ve also been looking for a copy of Spoon’s Gimme Fiction album for awhile now. ¬†There is something magical about the carefully crafted sparseness of songs like “The Beast and Dragon, Adored” and “My Mathematical Mind” that really gets to me. ¬†Can’t wait to drop the needle on this one.

M. Ward’s new album A Wasteland Companion¬†was in stock, so I helped myself to a copy. ¬†The early reviews sound very promising; I’ll let you know what I think after I’ve had time to give it a proper listen.

One of my favourite bands is UK rock act Muse. ¬†What I love about this band is how fearless they are. ¬†Prog rock is decidedly uncool these days, yet Muse find a way to make interstellar paranoia and balls-to-the-wall compound time signatures sound relevant and topical. ¬†My favourite live gig in 2010 was Muse’s tour in support of The Resistance, so I finally picked it up on LP today. ¬†I’m still not 100% sold on the symphonic ambitions of Side 4, but the brilliance of rock songs like “Resistance” and “Undisclosed Desires”¬†simply can’t be denied.

Yours truly was privileged to be in attendance this week when the Joel Plaskett Emergency blazed through town. ¬†Their new album still isn’t available on vinyl, but I broke down and picked up Plaskett’s best ‘solo’ record Ashtray Rock today. ¬†There is just something unmistakable about Plaskett’s musical talents that really comes through on this record; it captures the essence of being 18 years old and stupid (yet cool) all over again.

At this point, with ten pieces of new vinyl in hand, I remembered that discretion was the better part of valour and headed for the cashier.  The store was so grateful for my (over)consumption that they offered me a very nice complimentary tote bag to transport my new purchases home.

I got home just before lunch, and felt suitably inspired by what had just transpired on Record Store Day to set out across the neighbourhood for a long walk.  I picked up a new pair of cross-trainers in Georgia while on a slurry pump training course last month.  Since the weather has been nice lately and the trails are mainly dry, I decided to break in the new shoes today.  It was like walking on a mattress Рmy new Air Pegasus trainers have beautiful bounce and traction.

When I returned home 3 hours and 6 minutes later, I was expecting to see that I had traveled 15 to 16 kilometres. ¬†Instead, my trusty app tells me I clicked off exactly 18 km over those three hours, which is a very good pace by my standards (10’20” per km). ¬†It must have been the new shoes.

Today’s walk has inspired me to go downstairs, rip the packaging off of some new top-notch music, and set up shop in front of my turntable. ¬†Tonight has been a long time coming, and while I may have the absence of a couple of people hanging heavy on my mind, I can still take refuge in the age-old thrill of spinning some excellent new recordings for the first time.

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Upcoming Music Releases – April 2012

3-April-2012:

Great Lake Swimmers return with a new album entitled New Wild Everywhere. ¬†This record, like all of GLS’s albums, should hit the spot as you’re sitting around a campfire roasting some wieners this summer. ¬†Like a less-choral Fleet Foxes or a less-weird Bon Iver, GLS write songs that are wistful and windswept but still tuneful and interesting. ¬†Here’s hoping that New Wild Everywhere builds on the residual momentum of 2009’s excellent Lost Channels.

10-April-2012:

Malian musicians Amadou & Mariam return with a new album called Folila. ¬†Their infectiously melodic music has crossed over into wider circles thanks to Western pop benefactors like Damon Albarn.¬†Folila reportedly began as two separate albums – one with more traditional African guests and one with a selection of their new Western friends. ¬†But instead of splitting the finished songs into two separate albums, Amadou & Mariam bravely elected to pick the best results from all of the recordings and combined them into a single release. ¬†Guests like TV on the Radio, Santigold, and Jake Shears (of Scissor Sisters) made the cut, and the results should be interesting to hear. ¬†Integrating ‘world music’ with Western pop can be a treacherous path, but when executed properly (think Paul Simon or Peter Gabriel) the results can be greater than the sum of the parts.

Portland’s M. Ward follows up 2009’s well-received Hold Time with a new album called A Wasteland Companion. ¬†Like Amadou & Mariam, this album was recorded with a laundry list of musicians (including frequent collaborator Zooey Deschanel), but that’s likely where the comparisons end. ¬†M. Ward’s music tends to be rooted in a certain kind of Americana, one where shapes and textures are just as important as melodies and rhythms.

17-April-2012:

The new Spiritualized album, Sweet Heart Sweet Light, which was released in the UK back in March gets a North American release. ¬†Although if you’re internet-savvy and a fan of J. Spaceman’s alternative, reflective, interstellar dream-pop, you’ve probably found a way to acquire this record by now.

24-April-2012:

Jack White finally cuts the cords to his various other projects (White Stripes, Raconteurs, Dead Weather) and puts out an album under his own nom de plume.  Hopefully White takes some chances with Blunderbuss and pushes himself in new musical directions.  It would be cool if some twisted echoes of his Nashville neighbours made it into the mix.  But if the songs skew more toward the fully-formed melodic rock of The Raconteurs instead of the hyperactive riffs and underdeveloped musical ideas of a White Stripes record, so much the better.

The Dandy Warhols continue to try to undo the damage done to their careers by 2008’s uneven Earth to the Dandy Warhols and 2005’s frankly terrible Odditorium or Warlords of Mars. ¬†Early word is that This Machine is a somewhat schizophrenic affair, flirting with the Dandy’s usual touchstones (psychedelic rock, grungey alt-rock) and new textures (electronic music). ¬†Could be brilliant, or could be crap. ¬†As a wise man once said, “It’s a fine line between stupid and clever”.

Record Store Day!

On Saturday, April 21st, the fifth annual Record Store Day will finally be upon us!  Get out and support your local merchant, whose business is more than likely hanging on by its fingernails these days.  Without local record shops catering to music fans that like something a little different, your brick & mortar music consumerism would be reduced to choosing between Rihanna and Maroon 5 down at the ever-shrinking Best Buy CD rack.

Many prominent musical acts are helping to promote RSD 2012 with a bevy of new releases.  On Saturday the 21st, look for limited quantities of these gems in your local shop:

Arcade Fire – Sprawl II (12″)
Brendan Benson – What Kind of World (7″)
The Black Keys – El Camino (2 x 45 rpm 12″)
Blitzen Trapper – Hey Joe (7″)
The Civil Wars – Billie Jean (7″)
The Clash – London Calling 2012 (7″)
Coldplay – Up With The Birds / UFO (7″)
Fun. – The Ghost That You Are To Me (10″ gold gear-shaped picture disc)
The Hives – Go Right Ahead (7″)
Paul Simon – Graceland re-release (12″)
Pete Townshend – Quadrophenia Demos part 2 (10″)
Uncle Tupelo – the seven-inch singles¬†box set (4 x 7″)
Uncle Tupelo – No Depression, Still Feel Gone, and March 16-20 1992 re-releases (12″)

As usual, Wilco are getting into the act with a very limited release of a deluxe LP box set for The Whole Love.  Big deal РI already have it! But the limited-edition turntable slip-mat looks pretty cool.

Fond But Not In Love (part one)

keep in contact with old friends
(enjoy a drink now and then)
will frequently check credit at (moral) bank (hole in wall)
favours for favours
fond but not in love

– excerpt from “Fitter Happier” by Radiohead, 1997

2011 was a very good year for music. ¬†I hope you enjoyed the Top Ten list of my favourites that I completed on New Year’s Eve. ¬†One cool side-effect of those posts is that I actually enjoy those albums more, now that I’ve had to take a step back to constructively describe what I liked about them.

There were a number of records that were in the running but just missed out making my list. ¬†Over the next few blog posts I’ll talk a little bit about the albums from 2011 that I liked a lot but just never quite grew to love. ¬†They are still really good albums, and I plan to enjoy them for years to come, but maybe one or two missing elements prevented them from being great.

Beirut – The Rip Tide

Beirut make interesting records that tend to start with an orchestral pop blueprint and then jump off on various tangents from there. ¬†For The Rip Tide, Beirut revisit some of their usual touchstones (Eastern European melodies, indie rock sensibilities) and toss in some new-found Mexican grooves for good measure. ¬†“Santa Fe” and “Port of Call” are wonderful singles, but more than a few tracks on this record failed to engage me. ¬†It’s an undeniably good record, but is missing something. ¬†It’s pretty without being sexy, if that makes any sense.

Blitzen Trapper – American Goldwing

On their new record, Blitzen Trapper consciously drift away from their woodsy, folksy alt-rock past and seem to be aiming for a more mainstream country-rock vibe. ¬†American Goldwing is a great road-trip record. ¬†Rocking songs like “Might Find It Cheap” and “Your Crying Eyes” are augmented with enjoyable Jayhawks-style mid-tempo country-soul tunes like “Love The Way You Walk Away” and “Taking It Easy Too Long”. ¬†“Astronaut” is a nice throwback to the sound Blitzen Trapper mastered on their breakout album Furr. ¬†All very enjoyable, but based on the band’s track record I expected something more from American Goldwing. ¬†Maybe it plays things a little too safe; a few diversions to the ditches would make it feel less middle-of-the-road.

The Boxer Rebellion – The Cold Still

The Boxer Rebellion make records that harken back to the glory days of Radiohead, with a similar moody atmosphere and melancholic undertow. ¬†Slow-burning songs like “No Harm” and “Locked In The Basement” will appeal to just about anyone who was engrossed by Radiohead songs like “Street Spirit” or “Let Down”. ¬†“Step Out Of The Car” and “Organ Song” are more upbeat, with memorable melodies. ¬†“The Runner” might be the best single that nobody heard in 2011, and the simply gorgeous “Both Sides Are Even” should be gracing the closing credits of a brilliant indie film any day now, if it hasn’t already. ¬†The Cold Still just missed out on my top ten by a whisker.

Cut Copy – Zonoscope

Aussie danceable-indie-rock group Cut Copy released a very fun record in 2011, infused with sunshine and optimism. ¬†Zonoscope features tunes and ear-candy rhythms galore, as evidenced by songs like “Need You Now”, “Pharaohs and Pyramids”, and the riotous fifteen-minute closer “Sun God”. ¬†“Take Me Over” even nods to the unmistakable “Down Under” rhythms and melodies of fellow countrymen Men at Work. ¬†Zonoscope is unmistakably front-loaded, and tends to linger in ‘Air-without-the-Parisian-mystique’ territory over its second half. ¬†An uneven record, but still enjoyable.

Death Cab for Cutie – Codes and Keys

The unfortunately-named Death Cab For Cutie were on a wonderful roll. ¬†Plans and Narrow Stairs built on the momentum generated by breakout album Transatlanticism, and the band carved out a niche for itself with catchy indie pop songs that weren’t quite as muscular as modern rock but not quite as treacly as emo. ¬†Codes and Keys features a few excellent songs, namely “Home Is A Fire”, “You Are A Tourist”, and “St. Peter’s Cathedral”. ¬†Bouncy single “Stay Young, Go Dancing” is also enjoyable in its own way. ¬†But overall, the album seems to be missing the sense of heartbroken misery and post-modern isolation that made previous Death Cab albums so compelling.