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 🙂

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 – my 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.

Upcoming Music Releases – March 2012

March 2012 has been a pretty quiet month for new releases.  Here are a few notable releases that you can expect to see in the shops soon.

6-March-2012:

UK’s Kaiser Chiefs return with new album Start The Revolution Without Me.  I adored 2008’s Off With Their Heads, with its ridiculous bounty of jaw-dropping tunes.  By contrast, last year’s The Future Is Medieval was completely underwhelming.   For those of us waiting for the Chiefs to bravely return to form, the early reviews of the new album are almost universally negative.  That’s never a good sign.  If this album stiffs, it could be the end of the band.  (Post-Script:  it turns out that this ‘new’ album is really just a rehashed USA version of last year’s UK-edition of The Future Is Medieval with a few tracks swapped out, which makes it even more pointless than I feared).

Kelowna, BC’s Yukon Blonde return with their second full-length LP.  I’ve only heard some brief snippets of Tiger Talk online, but it definitely seems like a change of direction for the band.  The new album amps up the Sloan-y hook-laden pop-rock of their fine debut LP with new, punkier textures.  What it lacks in immediacy, it more than makes up for in energy.

13-March-2012:

The Decemberists are about to embark on an indefinite hiatus.  The band is not breaking up, but rumour has it that they could be taking a five-year break from recording and touring.  To help tide us over, The Decemberists are releasing a double-CD (or triple-vinyl) live album called We All Raise Our Voices To The Air.  It was assembled from the best performances on their well-received 2011 concert tour.

20-March-2012:

The Shins are back with new album Port of Morrow.  As previously discussed on this blog and others, it should be interesting to hear what kind of sound the newly-reconstituted Shins are going for.  Just a head’s up – I inquired about the vinyl version of Port of Morrow at my local record shop yesterday.  While the shop has some CD copies in the back and ready to sell, it sounds like there have been some distribution issues with the vinyl version and it might not be on the shelves until the end of March.

Spiritualized also return with a new album called Sweet Heart Sweet Light (technically released on 19-March-2012, since Monday is the traditional UK new release date).

27-March-2012:

The Mars Volta are back with new album Noctourniquet.  After staking out their territory with a succession of dense, frantic, hyper-hyphenated (progressive-jazz-psychedelic-thrash-metal-alt-rock) records, they broke their own mould with 2009’s relatively restrained Octahedron.  Time will tell if the new sonics explored on that record have set the stage for this new one.

Future Note:

Record Store Days is coming up on Saturday, April 21st.  Expect to see a rush of special releases in time for RSD 2012.  With summer just around the corner and Coachella’s kickoff to the festival season, April should be a fun month for new records.

Bucket List Bands

Here’s a new challenge.  List ten bands that you have never seen in concert but, given the chance, you would go see in a heartbeat.  A few ground rules:

  • You have never seen the band (or artist) live in concert before, not even as an act opening for someone else.
  • The band (or artist) has to be touring semi-regularly, so defunct bands like R.E.M. don’t count (that’s a different challenge).
  • The band (or artist) has to be alive, so the Jimi Hendrix Experience doesn’t qualify (that’s a different challenge).

I’ve had the good fortune to see a lot of great bands over the years, so I don’t have to put legendary acts like R.E.M., Radiohead, Wilco, Muse, Arcade Fire, Pink Floyd, The Police, Rush, Smashing Pumpkins, Neil Young, David Bowie, Elvis Costello, Willie Nelson, Bruce Springsteen or Eric Clapton on my list.  However, there are still dozens of acts that I would love to see in concert for the first time.

Here’s my ‘bucket list’ of acts I’d like to see at least once in my lifetime, in alphabetical order:

  1. Beck
  2. The Decemberists
  3. Eels
  4. Fleet Foxes
  5. Fountains of Wayne
  6. Peter Gabriel
  7. Guster
  8. Kraftwerk
  9. My Morning Jacket
  10. Secret Machines
  11. The Soundtrack Of Our Lives
  12. Spoon
  13. The Stone Roses
  14. Teenage Fanclub
  15. The Zombies

Okay, so I couldn’t whittle it down to ten bands.  I would go see any act on this list if they played anywhere near my hometown.  A few of them I’d even cross the country to check out.  Road trips rock.

I would love to see The National headline their own show, but I saw them open for R.E.M. in Burnaby a few years ago so they aren’t eligible for this challenge.  Still, I wish I’d noticed The National were playing the Orpheum in Vancouver last November a little sooner, because I would have jumped on a plane for sure.  Maybe later we’ll do an Opening Acts You’d Like To See As Headliners challenge.  Today’s challenge is all about bands you’ve never seen.

Surely you have your own bucket list of bands – just click “Reply” to post them!

#9 – The King Is Dead by The Decemberists

Label:  Rough Trade / Capitol

Released:  17-Jan-2011

Artist’s Website:  www.decemberists.com

Portland, Oregon’s most literate tunesmiths embrace their inner R.E.M.

Over the past decade, The Decemberists have established themselves as fine purveyors of lush pop music with a literary twist.  Principal songwriter and lead singer Colin Meloy exploits every inch of his creative writing degree, crafting whimsical stories about subjects as varied as monarchs, gypsies, and shape-shifters.  Having grown up a Smiths fan in Montana, he’s had a lifetime to explore the local library and his vivid imagination (and develop a thick skin in the process).  The band has even crafted an entire record around a Japanese folk tale about a mystic crane.  Not for them are stories about loose women and fast cars.

The Decemberists garnered a significant amount of college radio cred with their early recordings and the 2005 album Picaresque, before making the leap of faith from indie darlings to major-label artists for 2006’s The Crane Wife.  With the leap came a step change in production values, expanding the breadth of their musical palate into more unusual instruments and ornate arrangements.  The songwriting shifted as well; The Crane Wife unexpectedly drew on progressive rock influences as much as the usual Decemberist touchstones (sea shanties and ‘60s UK folk rockers like Fairport Convention and Bert Jansch).

In retrospect, 2008’s 14-track concept album The Hazards of Love seems like a miscalculation, perhaps too clever by half.  While it would have been nearly impossible to out-weird a folky prog-rock suite about a magic crane, the new direction charted on Hazards of Love seemed more Bermuda triangle than Pacific paradise.

Which brings us to this year’s comeback album.  The King Is Dead finally sloughs off most of the bookish Anglophile baggage of previous releases, choosing instead to explore the country and pop flavours of American indie college rock.  Consequently the songs are shorter (only one clocks in over five minutes), more direct, and ultimately more enjoyable in a wider variety of listening situations.  Instead of rivaling the intensity of a furrowed-brow poetry reading, The King Is Dead works well as an indie rock party record, a ‘driving in the car’ record, or even a ‘strolling down the avenue to fetch a latte and some new vinyl’ record.

The opening song “Don’t Carry It All” is a harbinger of things to come, sounding like a tighter and slightly drier take on Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Know How It Feels”.  Fans of R.E.M.’s Murmur and Reckoning albums will smile and nod when they hear jangle-pop echoes of their college rock heroes in “Calamity Song” and “This Is Why We Fight”“Down By The Water” even goes so far as to nick the rhythm and arpeggio guitars of “The One I Love”, but thankfully it feels more like a tribute than a shameless rip-off.  Perhaps chalk that up to a guest appearance by Peter Buck, who contributes guitar stylings to three of these songs.

Elsewhere, “Rox In The Box” cross-pollinates an infectious melody with breezy accordion and violin while mid-tempo ballads “Rise to Me” and “June Hymn” contrast Meloy’s clear nasal voice with female harmony vocals, pedal steel, and harmonica.

Meloy & Co. followed up this album with the Long Live The King EP in November.  The EP sounds a bit like the out-takes of The King is Dead, but does feature the gorgeous acoustic murder ballad “E. Watson” and the upbeat stomp of “I 4 U & U 4 Me”.  At this point, the indie-prog fans they picked up with The Crane Wife might be itching to jump overboard and swim for shore.  But while it’s hard to say which far-off land The Decemberists will set sail for next, it should prove to be an interesting voyage.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xJpfK7l404I