Record Store Day 2018

Hello! So, did you venture out to your favourite independent record store on Saturday morning to hunt for some highly-coveted limited releases? How did your experience go? I spent my lunchtime today reading field reports from other intrepid record collectors across North America and Europe. Their stories ran the gamut from ‘zen’ to ‘zany’, from ‘chill’ to ‘chaotic’. Thought I would come here to share my thoughts.

My experience was just fine, actually – even for a Grade ‘A’ Introvert like myself. I got in line at the largest indie record store in town; it’s my usual Friday afternoon haunt and the place most likely to have the objects of my affection. I arrived around 30 minutes before opening, and ended up roughly 100th in line. I met some cool people in line too, from all walks of life. 95% male, of course, and more bad beards, pony tails, and flannel than should be legally permitted to congregate. But that’s the vinyl renaissance in a nutshell…

My local store has their RSD routine down to a science – they limit the rate at which patrons can enter, there’s lots of staff on hand, there’s door prizes, great music is playing, and the records are clearly racked and marked. We’re told that no RSD stock gets set aside or reserved – it’s strictly first-come, first-served – and I’m inclined to believe them.

I’m pleased to report that I managed to find most of what I was after, plus I took advantage of some good sales on other in-stock records. At the first store I visited, I picked up the new Wilco live record from 1996, an LP of early Uncle Tupelo rarities (it was a Tweedy kind of day), and a copy of The National’s performance of their seminal Boxer album, recorded last year in Brussels. I mined some crates and found a special issue of a Jason Isbell live album from 2007. I didn’t know many of the songs, having been a recent convert to this brilliant songwriter, but what the hell, right? The record-buying contagion within me was strong. And, as a special thank-you to the early-birds, the shop threw in a free copy of a Johnny Cash early singles LP. So far so good!

Over the next couple of hours, I dropped by three other record shops around town, finding something collectible at each. It’s always kind of entertaining to see which stores get which stock on RSD. There was much grumbling amongst the kale & quinoa crowd at the first store when every copy of Arcade Fire’s debut EP were sold in a flash. Well, I moseyed into a slightly-corporate store across town twenty minutes later and bought one of their five copies on display – no hipsters, no lineups! Blue vinyl, too – an unexpected surprise. I even unearthed a copy of the new Eels album – on twin 10″ yellow platters – for a decent price.

Further spelunking added a red & blue vinyl copy of The Who’s The Kids Are Alright, a 2LP re-release of U2’s oft-maligned Pop album (I happen to think it’s the last interesting album they’ve made), and the new Lord Huron record to my collection. But the pièce du resistance came at my fourth and final store. Their RSD titles were pretty picked over by 1 pm, but I must have been the biggest (only?) modern-prog nerd to walk in that day, because I waltzed out with the new Steven Wilson 12″ EP, How Big The Space. And with that elusive gem in my grubby hands, I was on my merry way home for a listening party 🙂

The only record I couldn’t find was the new version of Pink Floyd’s debut album, Piper at the Gates of Dawn. It’s been remastered from the master tapes and re-released in all of its original monaural glory, with special packaging and bonus tracks. I’m very partial to that album, having discovered it (on cassette tape!) back in my high school days. It opened a lot of doors in my brain about what a rock album could sound like. It’s a little disheartening that I’ve missed my chance to hear it in mono, the way “proper recordings” were still being mixed back in 1967. If you happen to see a copy for sale online at a less-than-extortionate price, please let me know.

Let’s do this all again in November for the Black Friday sale!

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Five Songs for Fall

I’m fortunate to live in a part of the world where we experience four distinct seasons.  Summers are comfortable – the sixteen hours of daylight is usually warm without being stifling, so you can still get to sleep at night.  Winters are fine – aside from a few nasty arctic outbreaks, the sub-zero temperatures and occasional snows are completely manageable.  Spring is awful – the pot-holed streets look like downtown Beirut, there’s garbage and dog turds poking out of snowbanks everywhere you look, and the few outdoor surfaces that happen to rise above the slimy meltwater are probably covered with snow mould.  That said, my favourite season has always been fall.

Part of the appeal of fall is that it’s like summer with less potential nuisances.  After the Labour Day long weekend, humidity is unheard of.  All it takes is a few cool nights to freeze off all the mosquitos.  Sure, it can be ten or fifteen degrees cooler than mid-July, but that’s what jackets are for.  The parks are less crowded, while the highways aren’t so jammed with broken heroes on a last-chance power drive.

Another thing that makes fall intriguing is that you’re never quite sure how long it’s going to last.  At my 53-degree latitude, fall typically lasts from the first light frost (usually in early September) until the first big snowfall (usually around Hallowe’en).  But lovely double-digit days aren’t unheard of in November… and neither is waking up to 10 cm of snow in the first week of September.  Fall is usually about eight weeks long, but any nice days after mid-October feel like gambling with house money.

Fall is probably the best season for strolling around the neighbourhood.  There’s essentially no need for sunscreen or bug spray.  Dehydration is rarely a problem, so you don’t have to lug a water bottle around with you.  On top of that, the scenery is wonderful.  Every time you set out on a walk, you’ll find that some of the foliage has changed from just a few days before.  There’s something soul-restoring about walking the trails with the muted crunch of fallen leaves underfoot and the unmistakable smell of decomposing leaves in your nostrils.

I set out for a quick spin around the neighbourhood today to test some new trail shoes I picked up in Denver.  I meant to hike briskly for an hour, but ended up clicking off 13.3 km in a little over two hours instead.  I think it was the autumnal songs that kept popping up on my iPod playlist – I was so immersed in the music that time ceased to be all that important.

To celebrate the season, here are five songs that are tailor-made for walkabouts in fall.

The Autumn Defense – “Once Around”

Frankly, pretty much anything by the Autumn Defense would make a great soundtrack for a walk in September or October.  This is the side band that was put together by John Stirratt and Pat Sansone to explore a different 1970s singer-songwriter vibe than their regular gig in the alternative rock band Wilco.  Layers of acoustic guitars and pensive vocals build up to cathartic releases of energy, before dissolving back into a laid-back groove.  You can pretty much feel the late-day sunshine filtering through the amber-hued trees as this song unfurls in your headphones.

Larch Valley, Banff National Park

Fleet Foxes – “Mykonos”

Another mid-tempo number propelled by acoustic guitars and choral vocals.  Perhaps this is the type of song that the adjective “autumnal” was coined for.  “Mykonos” is the high point of the Seattle band’s Sun Giant EP, and sounds like a lost transmission from the early 1970s.  The galloping beat and intertwining layers of voices make you feel like you could zip your fleece jacket up to your chin and keep strolling all the way to Greece.

Wood Bison Trail, Elk Island National Park

The Grapes of Wrath – “All The Things I Wasn’t”

This short little number always transports me back in time to high school.  The Grapes of Wrath were better known as Canadian purveyors of upbeat psychedelic jangle rock, something of a cross between R.E.M. and Syd Barrett era Pink Floyd.  The wistful and acoustic “All The Things I Wasn’t” plays against type, painting a tapestry of golds and reds in an all-too-brief two minutes and eighteen seconds of yearning and regret.

Spruce Grouse Hen – Strathcona Wilderness Centre

Bon Iver – “Holocene”

While the name that Justin Vernon chose for his band cheekily references winter, I always think of fall when I hear “Holocene”.  Maybe it’s partly because the abstract lyric mentions “laying waste to Hallowe’en”.  Like the other songs on this playlist, “Holocene” unfolds in waves of acoustic guitars and wistful vocals.  I think I’m drawn to the melancholy tones of Bon Iver’s music for the same reason that I like the fall; the fear and uncertainty in the music tidily parallels the tenebrific approach of another harsh winter.

City of Edmonton Skyline and the North Saskatchewan River Valley

R.E.M. – “Drive”

I gave up trying to understand Michael Stipe’s lyrics years ago.  From what I’ve read, he often relies on his subconscious to pull words out of the ether.  I suspect that even Stipe can’t pin down what “Drive” is all about.  There’s certainly a sense of middle-aged malaise, of dissatisfaction with the status quo, of not knowing where to go next.  But exactly how all this existential angst is supposed to congeal into coherent thoughts is anyone’s guess.  From a musical perspective, “Drive” is about as stately and autumnal as R.E.M. ever got.  Peter Buck’s looping acoustic guitar motif is overdubbed by searing electric lead lines.   Bill Berry’s sparse drums and Mike Mills’ accordion drop in and out of the arrangement at precisely the right times.  It all creates a melancholy atmosphere as thick as Brunswick stew, and is the perfect soundtrack for wistfully kicking aspen leaves along the trail.

Fern Lake Trailhead, Rocky Mountain National Park

Zeroes and Ones

Have you ever stopped to wonder why our society puts so much value on big, round numbers?  Especially when we’re talking about the passage of time?

The length of a day is set at how long it takes for the planet to spin about its longitudinal axis.  The length of a year is set at how long it takes for the planet to make one revolution around the Sun (give or take a leap day).  Most cultures have arbitrarily defined a “day” as 24 hours, even though we could have said there are five or ten or a thousand hours in a  day just as easily.  A year takes something like 365 and a quarter diurnal periods, give or take some leap-seconds.  Months can have 28, 29, 30, or 31 days.  Meanwhile, there’s 12 inches in a foot, 3 feet in a yard, 5280 feet in a mile, 16 ounces in a pound, 2 pints in a quart, and 4 quarts in a gallon. It’s all pretty arbitrary.  Thankfully, the metric system is based on far more sensible, less esoteric base-10 mathematics.  But we could have just as easily standardized on base-2 or base-16 or some other numerology.

Just like the metric system, our society puts a lot of emphasis on 10th anniversaries and 100-year centennials and 1000-year epochs.  There’s something about big round numbers that appeals to us, even though time scales are largely an arbitrary human construct.  It even carries over to our fascination with automobile odometers, thousands of dollars, millionth online customers, and so on.

A few events have transpired in the Craven Hermit household lately that rolled over the digits on various virtual odometers.  Previously I’ve bored you to death with details from various hikes around town.  Today’s 20.00 km walk (yes, I watched the odometer roll over on the way up the driveway) was fairly unexceptional, except to say that according to my Nike+ app I’ve now surpassed the 1000 km cumulative mark.  I picked up my Bluetooth token about 20 months ago, and I don’t always use it for every walk or hike, but there’s still something kind of neat about rolling over into quadruple digits.  When I finished my walk today, Paula Radcliffe even appeared in my headphones to congratulate me on my (dubious) achievement.  Which is nice, I guess, despite having only a vague idea who Paula Radcliffe is.

Well I know we should take a walk
But you’re such a fast walker, oh-whoa, well all right
I know where I’ll be tonight, all right
Outta mind, outta site

– Wilco, “Outtasite (Outta Mind)”, 1996

Today was a good opportunity to test out my new headphones.  I finally retired my trusty Sony in-ear buds; they survived an accidental ‘journey of discovery’ through my washing machine, but they don’t sound quite right anymore.  I picked up some new Klipsch s4i headphones on sale yesterday, and they sound really nice.  The bass is subtle but tighter than my Sony’s ever were, the midrange is clear, and the highs are crisp and precise.  With these new ‘phones, the acoustic guitar on The Shins’ “New Slang” actually sounded like a resonant wooden instrument.  The staccato guitar and percussion on Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie On Reggae Woman” seemed to be coming from right inside my head.  Even the bleeps and bloops on Kraftwerk’s “Pocket Calculator” were beautifully synthetic, just like Ralf and Florian would have wanted.  Not bad for $80.

Meanwhile down at the local wetlands, the pelicans were having a field day chasing around a school of minnows.  So it was a good day for people and our feathered friends alike.

This blog has also experienced a milestone of sorts.  Early yesterday, the Craven Hermit blog experienced its 2000th unique hit.  This is pretty remarkable, considering that I have never really publicized this blog anywhere.  I sent a link to a half dozen friends of mine, people that I thought might be bored enough to occasionally spelunk the inner machinations of my musically-wired mind.  Other than an email here or there, this page was designed to lurk quietly in the shadows (much like its curator).

The vast majority of visitors to the Craven Hermit blog arrive via Google search.  Based on the spam I get, a fair number of my site’s visitors are mainly looking for opportunities to market boner pills to dysfunctional fifty-five year olds.  I think of these interlopers as the ‘One-and-Done’ crowd, because they must realize pretty quickly that this blog is actually about popular music.

Thankfully, a good number of the people that stumble across this site take a few minutes to poke around and see what’s up.  A few brave souls have even signed up to receive regular updates from my blog, which is pretty cool and really gratifying.  This form of communication sure beats shouting into a gale-force wind, which is kind of how real life feels for me sometimes.

In February, WordPress rolled out a new feature that shows which countries your visitors are arriving from.  Not surprisingly, Canada and the USA dominate the charts.  But in amongst the usual suspects, there have been visitors from exotic locales like Libya, Greenland, Cambodia, Sudan, Fiji, Belarus, and Djibouti.  Not to mention pretty much every country in the western hemisphere.  They come from many places where English isn’t even the predominant language and where popular music is a completely different kettle of fish than my local airwaves.  It makes the world seem like a much smaller place.

There’s no one rhyme or reason for why people check out my blog.  One of the most popular features is my monthly preview of upcoming releases.  The Charlie Brown themed blog seems to attract a lot of attention, mainly for the cartoon image.  My feature on Roger Waters’ tour for The Wall got a lot of hits from all over the world, which was fun.  Even those photos of my vinyl records bring people to the site.  If you ever have any suggestions or ideas for future blogs, please let me know.

Whatever set of circumstances led you to this site – thank you for taking the time to read what I have to say.  As I laid out in my original mission statement last October, I’ve tried to make this blog informative and entertaining and honest.  Hopefully that comes across in the words on your screen.

Oh, right, one last thing.  This is my 100th post!  Yet more arbitrary zeroes and ones to celebrate.

The Spin Cycle

I love this cartoon:

I feel like Charlie Brown’s kindred spirit at the best of times (premature chrome-dome, no fashion sense, unrequited love for the little red-haired girl).  This cartoon just cements it – tomorrow I go shopping for zig-zag shirts.

Mr. Schulz has posed a question for the ages.  Does listening to depressing music make you sad, or do depressed people simply choose to listen to melancholy music?

Here’s my two cents worth on the matter.  From my perspective (and I swear this isn’t meant to be a cop-out), it’s a bit of both.

I have always had a symbiotic relationship with my record collection.  In many ways, it is my best friend.  I’ve been told that I tend to put a noticeable distance between myself and other people, even my closest friends.  I doubt that anyone knows my favourite colour (cobalt blue), or what I want to do when I retire (putter around a cabin in the mountains, watching wild creatures wander through the yard), or even what I find most attractive about a woman (her voice and what she has to say).  The metaphorical wall I’ve erected around myself has been remarkably effective at limiting the number of emotional relationships I’ve shared with people.

But despite the impenetrable Fortress of Solitude, music is always right there at the centre of my soul.

My music is there when I’m out for a three-hour walk through aspen parkland.  My music is there when I’ve had a particularly good day at work or a good night at hockey.  My music is there as I sit around the campfire, summit a new pass on a hike, or wait in a departure lounge for a plane.

And, yes, music is there when I’m feeling blue.  It waits for me with open arms and a reassuring embrace.  It doesn’t judge.  It doesn’t mock.  It simply understands that not every day is going to be euphoria.  It knows that someone who has to work so hard to suppress his roller-coaster of emotions just to stay on an even keel is going to melt down from time to time.

Today is an odd day.  The calendar says it is springtime, but it’s been snowing since 4 a.m.  The pavement is wet, while big wet flakes continue to accumulate on my back lawn, now 4″ thick.  Maybe it’s the strange weather that is lending everything a sense of disorder.  Something just seems off-kilter, out of balance, incomplete.  I want to be somewhere else, anywhere else.  There’s an emptiness, a void; a yearning and a burning that can’t be extinguished.  Like the wise man once said:

I have climbed the highest mountains
I have run through the fields…
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for

Right after I post this meandering collection of words, I’m going to take the fourteen steps down to my basement, cue up the stereo, and re-establish my usual dent on the sofa.  At times like these, my record collection is my salvation.

I can’t speak for everyone.  But I know that when I’m feeling dislocated and disjointed, music helps to ground me.  I don’t think it’s as simple as saying that depressed people listen to sad music, or the act of listening to sad music will depress someone.  Reality is more complicated than simple cause and effect.  I do think that there is something incredibly powerful about music, something that taps into our humanity.  Something that makes us feel a little less lonely on a snowy Saturday night in April.  Something that defies a proper explanation, but is still very real and profound.  I think people in a certain mood are always going to gravitate toward a certain kind of music, just to remind themselves that someone else out there feels the same way.  The music doesn’t depress them – it offers them a refuge.  An arm around their torso and a head on their shoulder.

A quick check of iTunes will reveal the tracks you listen to the most.  Apparently, the top of the Craven Hermit charts goes something like this:

  • “England” by The National
  • “Undisclosed Desires” by Muse
  • “Lucky” by Radiohead
  • “Adventures in Solitude” by the New Pornographers
  • “How to Fight Loneliness” by Wilco
  • “Mess” by Ben Folds Five
  • “Transatlanticism” by Death Cab for Cutie
  • “What I Have To Offer” by Eels
  • “The Scientist” by Coldplay
  • “Naked As We Came” by Iron & Wine
  • “Both Sides Are Even” by The Boxer Rebellion
  • “Drive” by R.E.M.

So, not exactly AC/DC’s greatest hits then!  But there’s very few things in this world that I would take in trade for my relationship with these tunes.

I wonder if Charlie Brown ever managed to find a copy of Transatlanticism on vinyl.  I bet he’d love it.

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 – I already have it! But the limited-edition turntable slip-mat looks pretty cool.