Saturday, January 19, 2013

Day Nineteen Bonus Track(s): Bad Veins - "Falling Tide" b/w "The Lie"

Dovecote Records ■ DCR 0012/DCR 0011

Released: ??, 2007

Produced by Bad Veins, Justin Baily, Daron Hollowell and Jonathan Fuller
Engineered by Justin Bailey and Johnathan Fuller
Mastered by Steve Girton

  • Falling Tide
  • The Lie
On my previous blog, I had a single poll, really, and it was to narrow the direction of my planned listening, in a more general and randomized sense than the ones I kept here. I matched Wire, the Skids, Dinosaur Jr, Slade and Bad Veins--a pretty weird blend overall, even if all of them are or were rock in some form or other. Dinosaur Jr ended up winning, probably indicative of the people I know. Bad Veins did reasonably well, and I knew at least one person who put in a bote there. I knew the same for Slade, for that matter. I never got around to writing about any of them but Dinosaur Jr (who won)--I just felt too overwhelmed by the volume of material, especially as compared to what I felt like I knew.

As time has gone on, Bad Veins has remained the most "limited"--they've released 2 albums and not much more. They were floating around the "legitimately" indie scene (in the sense of limited distribution, low-fame, independent in actual senses of divorce from industry clout) even when I saw them live. They opened for We Were Promised Jetpacks, who I saw completely on a lark, having forgotten the show was even occurring at the time. I ended up having hard cider for the first time (on the recommendation of a friend--via text, no less), but wandered in for the latter half of Bad Veins' set. I normally show up at concerts at door time, or even sooner. This time, because it was so delayed (not to mention a venue I had never been to or even seen), I was a lot later though.

When I looked up at the stage, I saw two guys in pseudo-military dress with a podium and a reel-to-reel tape player, a rotary phone receiver attached to the microphone stand (leading to its base attached to the podium) and a covering of seeming wallpaper on that podium. One was manning drums, the other at the mic and playing guitar. It was an odd sight, to be sure. That this was the band opening for the post rock-inflected Scots who I knew as openers for The Twilight Sad (who I knew as openers for Mogwai) would have left me confused if the band who preceded We Were Promised Jetpacks when they opened for the Twilight Sad wasn't Brakes, the English pop/rock band. Still, these were Americans, so I was left a bit confused all the same.

It wasn't long before the strains of Bad Veins infected me at the show, though. It was catchy stuff, and the "gimmicks" didn't feel gimmicky so much as creative and vaguely quirky--the telephone was used to distort Benjamin Davis's vocals much like megaphones are used (and, indeed, he used one of those, too). Sebastien Schultz' drumming was solid, forceful rock drumming, too, and there was a nice weight to their songs--and the reel-to-reel (nicknamed Irene, I'd later find) gave a more full sound than the pair could have otherwise produced.

I snapped up the only thing they had with them at the show--a 7" of two songs, paired with a CD designated for the year's tour (2012) and a download code for their first album (home-typed and printed, clearly!). I had the pair sign it (as you can see) and went on my merry way. The CD was actually composed of songs from their then-forthcoming album, The Mess We've Made, while the single was actually a pair of songs from their self-titled first album, released in 2009.

"Dancing on TV" was probably the catchiest song from the show, as well as the lead song on that CD, but that means, of course, it wasn't on the single itself. The single is still in the same style the band sticks to, though: Schultz on drums and Davis on keys and guitar, singing, in a style that's unique and somewhat difficult to describe. It's very strongly enunciated, and quite exaggerated, and seems to carry a sort of hangdog happiness--strange though that may sound. It's as if he's drained of energy in a part of the sound, yet the range and modulation he puts into his voice betrays the lie of that notion. It gives them a bit of their own character, and it's a good and enjoyable character to have.

"Falling Tide" is the louder song, a simple drum machine (tape loop, I'm guessing!) intro that very quickly turns to a real drum and a rumbling bass as Davis sings in that style of his, defining the melody. The chorus throws a spray of keys back at us and kicks in the guitar, but, most important, lets us hear the best part of Davis: his choruses. "I never would have held it back if/I thought that we'd get through"--and it's that through, dragged through a sliding range of notes and three extra syllables. Absolute singalong in the best sense.

"The Lie" is the lighter companion. A ticking timer starts the track, and then in comes Davis' voice, extra clear and completely up front, right in front of you in the mix, and only a calm, quiet keyboard line follows him for the entire first verse. The second verse shifts the keys up an octave or so¹, and halfway through adds a looped pizzicato violin. And then we get the chorus: "'Cause sometimes, sometimes to get by/I believe in the lie". Davis again is happy to give a single word multiple notes, and Schultz enters, too, as does a bass. A flute section, and the rhythm section get to follow him into the second repetition of the verses, and we get to hear that great chorus again--and Davis finally lets loose the third time through, and you hear his voice at full energy, the entire song coming upward with a faux chorus. The final, long-held instance of the chorus is perhaps the most exciting, and fades to the somewhat hesitant sound of his voice seeming to realize what he's singing: he has just sung loudly of his habit of getting by by pretending. That little note of reality creeps in and the song falls to a stop.

You know, I'm not going to pretend that I'm in a space where there needs to be some kind of absolute ground-breaking, totally unique element--I've never demanded nor always appreciated that, it has to be done right. And so does a catchy song--and Bad Veins do it right, and have done. Given the right exposure they could--and should--get a lot more fans. If the engineer I know who has done sound for them (completely without my prior knowledge, mind you!) can appreciate them in his tendency toward the weirder, darker (and often more country or folk, but edged) kind of things, then that should say something, I think.

Most of the 7"s I have fit into the space one would expect a 7" to fit in: they are catchy singles that are readily digested and immediate, great to listen to and enjoy as much as you want--not necessarily shallow, but accessible. Bad Veins is no exception, and none of that should be taken as anything but endorsement.

While we're here, there's actually the video of "Dancing on TV" from the very show I attended, embedded here for your enjoyment:

¹Let's remember I'm not great at music theory, but that feels right? 

Day Nineteen: The Beach Boys - Pet Sounds

Brother Records/Reprise Records ■  2MS 2083

Released May 16, 1966
[This release: 1972]
Produced by Brian Wilson

"This recording is pressed in monophonic sound, the way Brian cut it."

Side One:Side Two:
  1. Wouldn't It Be Nice
  2. You Still Believe in Me
  3. That's Not Me
  4. Don't Talk (Put Your Head on My Shoulder)
  5. I'm Waiting for the Day
  6. Let's Go Away for a While
  7. Sloop John B
  1. God Only Knows
  2. I Know There's an Answer
  3. Here Today
  4. I Guess I Just Wasn't Made for These Times
  5. Pet Sounds
  6. Caroline, No
When I initially put the selection of Beach Boys records I own up to a vote(on vinyl, though the CD set is actually not much different), I debated listing this one as it physically presents itself. Those familiar with the album may notice (probably immediately) that the cover looks a bit strange. Truth is, this is actually a compiled double album, paired with Carl & the Passions - So Tough. It's a weird looking thing, and one I own as yet another of the doubled (in the case of Pet Sounds, I think tripled or more, really) records my dad let me take. I'd call it the "crown jewel" of that set, but there are albums I like more personally (including my other Beach Boys record, Surf's Up), but as something to blurt out at others it sounds more like it validates my taste and knowledge.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Day Eighteen: Mike Batt and Friends - Tarot Suite

Epic Records ■  NJE 36312

Released ??, 1979
Produced, Arranged, and Conducted by Mike Batt
Engineered by John Simon and Robbie Robertson

"This album is not a statement on the Tarot or the occult. It doesn't say anything new in intellectual terms; there are many books on the subject of Tarot which go into far more detail than is possible in forty minutes of music. I have used the 22 major arcana trump cards of the pack purely as inspiration for a set of pieces of music. Of course I have stuck to the generally accepted titles and meanings of the cards, but the basis for each piece is what each card itself suggests to me, rather than a rigid, detailed musical description of each symbol." -- from the liner notes, written by Mike Batt

Side One:Side Two:
  1. Introduction (The Journey of a Fool)
  2. Imbecile
  3. Plainsong
  4. Lady of the Dawn
  5. The Valley of Swords
  1. Losing Your Way in the Rain
  2. Tarota
  3. The Night of the Dead
  4. The Dead of the Night
  5. Run Like the Wind
Okay, this is the last album before I'm stuck covering, gulp, the Beach Boys. Followed by the Beatles. Curse you, alphabet.

When I talked about the Alan Parsons Project's I Robot, I mentioned the stack of doubled records (not double records, though there were some of those, too) that my dad had lying around for me to pilfer. Most of them were unknowns, with a few standout examples. There was a clutter of disco and disco singles (from Casablanca, the label that later held Kiss) from a friend of his--and a bunch of other albums that, my understandings of that friend's taste suggest also came from him. I tried going through them sort of carefully, using AllMusicGuide as a sort of starting point to determine whether I should bother with a record. There were too many--and I no longer lived at home--to listen one by one, so I wanted a quick and dirty way of getting through the stack. AMG rated this particular album 4½/5 stars, so I decided that was cause enough to drop it in my pile of takeaways. I may or may not have had a recommendation from my father on it as well (if so, he may chime in to that effect in the comments--or to correct that notion).

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Day Seventeen: Baroness - Yellow and Green

Relapse Records ■  RR1793

Released July 17, 2012
Produced by Baroness and John Congleton
Engineered and Mixed by John Congleton

Having just addressed an acknowledged classic, I'm getting a few days of brief reprieve before I have to return to more of that kind of pressure. That this album has been calling out to me since it arrived a few weeks back, left unlistened because it's the beginning of the alphabet and I knew it would have its place here, only helps to ease that transition and make it a happy one. Now, I was worried enough about the person I purchased it from that I crossed my fingers and gave them a great rating as a seller, but it appears I was not wrong (it was carefully slit but otherwise still in shrinkwrap, as it was described). Of course, when it did arrive, I fell down the stairs of my apartment running to catch the postal worker who had mistakenly gathered I was not home. That was a bad week in general.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Day Sixteen: The Band - The Band

Capitol Records ■  STAO-132

Released September 22, 1969
Produced by John Simon
Engineered by John Simon and Robbie Robertson
Mixed by Joe Zagarino and Tony May

Side One:Side Two:
  1. Across the Great Divide
  2. Rag Mama Rag
  3. The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
  4. When You Awake
  5. Up on Cripple Creek
  6. Whispering Pines
  1. Jemima Surrender
  2. Rockin' Chair
  3. Look Out Cleveland
  4. Jawbone
  5. The Unfaithful Servant
  6. King Harvest (Has Surely Come)
Well, I already had the unenviable task of attempting to talk about AC/DC's Highway to Hell to interrupt my plan to avoid the trap of exhaustive coverage of classic albums, but hard rock is a genre that, as a whole, receives less attention and writing anyway. It's sort of a niche market, in its way, even as it has achieved a huge level of mainstream, average-listener kind of success. It still hasn't really encouraged a bunch of writing or the kind of pontification that truly defines "Best Records Ever Recorded" lists and books (even if it shows up in them, it's not as often with loads of essays behind it). Now, I'm about to hit a slew of trouble, which begins today with being volunteered to discuss the 1969 sophomore effort from The Band, self-titled, and occasionally referred to (apparently!) as the Brown Album (not to be confused with all the other "Brown Albums"--some more 'official').

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Day Fifteen: Bad Brains - Bad Brains

Reachout International Records (ROIR) ■  RUSLP8223

Released ??, 1982¹

Recorded by Jay Dublee
Mixed by Jay Dublee and Bad Brains
Engineered by Wayne Vican [Mixing] and Stanley Moskowitz [Mastering]

Side One:Side Two:
  1. Sailin' On
  2. Don't Need It
  3. Attitude
  4. The Regulator
  5. Banned in D.C.
  6. Jah Calling
  7. Supertouch/Shitfit
  8. Leaving Babylon
  1. Fearless Vampire Killers
  2. I
  3. Big Take Over
  4. Pay to Cum
  5. Right Brigade
  6. I Luv I Jah
  7. Intro
While you can't (easily) read it, the sticker in the top left proclaims this "the best punk/hardcore album of all time" in the words of the late Adam Yauch (of the Beastie Boys). It also advertises the solo debut of bassist Darryl Jenifer. It's a bit weird, simultaneously having that attempt to get the attention of people who know nothing about the historical relevance of the album, while also encouraging (in familiar marketing techniques, but semi-reversed) additional purchases by association. Weird in that someone who is not familiar with the album would not, most likely, think to buy something that was created by a person involved in this unfamiliar release. While I can break it down, I may never truly understand advertising.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Day Fourteen, Bonus Track(s): !!! - "Heart of Hearts"

Warp Records ■ WAP 218

Released: February 19, 2007

Produced by Justin Van Volgen
Mixed by The Brothers and Justin Van Volgen

  • "Heart of Hearts"
  • [Silence]
I guess I don't need to tell you this is a picture disc, unless the sudden shock of colour completely blinded you. I picked this beauty up when I went to see !!! in 2007. And yes, if you haven't yet gathered, the name of this band is exactly what's printed on the A-Side up there: !!!. The pronunciation is technically any single syllabic non-verbal noise, and is typically written as "Chk chk chk"--and remember that, it's valuable information if you want to search for them.

In my alphabetical discovery phase, I went through eMusic's catalogue in, well, alphabetical order for a while. Back in 2000-2002, they had a very different selection. !!! began it, though, and did so with their debut album, the self-titled !!!. Considering some suggest the band actually broke up, went on hiatus, or otherwise disappeared shortly following its release, it's hardly a wonder they were such a pain to search for at the time. If all you know is their printed name, it's not any different now. Punctuation is generally ignored by most search engines, except where it is used as part of their own "lexicon" for clarifying searches. Unfortunately, using quotation marks is no different with Google. Having to use song titles is no way to search for any artist, but when it's the only way, it just makes you aware of how annoying it is. As such, while I still think of them as literally "!!!" and am disinclined to actually have a thought of them as "chk chk chk", it has been a boon to have a search term that actually works.

But, I digress.

The band has four albums under their belt now (!!!, Louden Up Now, Myth Takes, from which this comes, and Strange Weather, Isn't It?), and a smattering of singles and EPs. After the now-defunct Gold Standard Laboratories (responsible for releasing the early Mars Volta material, The Locust, De Facto, The Faint, and a variety of other bands that are familiar to me but only scattered few people I know) released that first album, the band jumped to Warp Records. Honestly, I found this weird. I identified Warp strongly with electronic music, as it was the label of Aphex Twin and Squarepusher. In my head, I'd categorized !!! as some variety of funk thanks to songs like "Kookooka Fuk-U" and my then-favourite, "Intensify" (let me just add: single word song titles were not helpful in my searches, nor were nonsense words that might be split up or punctuated in a variety of ways. Thanks, guys.). Of course, I didn't know much about funk, or post-punk, or the oddly titled genre "dance-punk" (aka "disco punk" and "punk funk"--so at least I wasn't too far away).

The band has, even if they are not "funk", always had a groove and a very funky sound--though I'm not sure how I mean "funky", to be honest. It has that visceral element of funk (like "groove") that encourages movement, but it's also kind of weird.

"Heart of Hearts" comes from midway through third album Myth Takes, and starts out with two palm-muted guitars, one consistent, though high and sharpened, the other intermittent and nervous. Low end seems to try to force its way in, a drum seeming to be pounded in the background, even as the hi-hat rhythm plays along in the foreground, gathering up to a consistent beat. The bottom end drops in suddenly and the entire song lets loose. Nic Offer's too-cool vocals (never sung without a sense of humour--he actually stopped the show I was at to question why no one was laughing at his knowingly terrible dancing, and seemingly taking it seriously instead of having fun). The bass line and the boom-bap drums are insistent and propulsive, while the guitars hide in the high end and add nervous energy, alongside the hi-hat that hisses just enough to tie them both together. Sharon Funchess appears as guest vocalist for the bridge, a touch that adds the feeling that the song is rooted in music from decades earlier. The song moves, the song grooves, the song makes you want to dance (even if, like Nic, you can't). Sharon chants "Heartof, heartof, heartof, heartof" and her breathing becomes more impatient and rises in volume until the entire song drops--you think it's over, but it comes right back, with the guitars now swirling and chasing each other around in the air, echoing and reverberating around, the rhythm section untouched. There's another brief break as the song seems to be forced through a funnel, leaving only odd electronic noises over steady bass kicks. And then the hi-hat rhythm comes back, but it's an open cymbal now, and the bass doesn't come back. The hat tightens and then the drop back appears and--the song immediately drops to zero volume and ends.

This was a great choice for a single, no question. Myth Takes may be my favourite !!! album anyway, (not to be missed, too, is the "Brothers Mix" of the song, which originally appeared on the bonus disc included with initial presses of the album on CD--which wouldn't have made a bad b-side here!). But the song exemplifies everything good and great about !!!, and it's even pressed on not only a super-pretty slab of vinyl, but one that manages to exactly fit the feel and beat of the song as it spins, the way the lines splay and imply movement in multiple directions as it spins adding to the experience in an unusual way. You can actually see a bit of what I mean (the differing directions, at least--implying the record is almost turning in opposing directions or being used to scratch) in this shot:

I'm going to close with one more annoyance: I actually can't tag this post with the band's name. The character is excluded from tag options. Dammit.

Intermission: The End of "A" (Part I)

Rather logically as I'm running in alphabetical order, we've hit the end of the "A"s (and the #s, though 86 was alone there) . What's somewhat interesting is that I covered all the artists under "A" and the numbers without an exception--my casual decision to drop in Barry Andrews's "Rossmore Road" single actually covered the ground I'd've otherwise left unmentioned. The above collage is composed of all of my records from the beginning of the alphabet, including those I did not review. You'll see a number of them with circular cover art, as many are without any "real cover art", if you will. that pink one is the At the Drive-In/Sunshine split, and most of them are actually the Analord series of EPs that Richard D. James released as AFX (nearly indiscernible, if pronounced, from his most famous pseudonym, Aphex Twin). Even the others remaining are primarily live albums (AC/DC's If You Want Blood You've Got It) and EPs (the aformentioned AFX ones, Atmosphere's The Lucy EP86's Minutes in a Day). Only a handful of albums are left, which I suppose I'll cover at a later time to avoid fatigue (on your part, dear reader, or mine) with single artists--thus this being only "Part I".

I don't really think this will happen again with another letter--certainly not with that ratio of remains being EPs and live albums--so, while I feel like marking this occasion anyway, it seems like a bit of fun in-and-of itself anyway.

Now, there is one title in there that I've not covered, nor anything else by that artist. I did just deal with a relatively short EP today, though, so I'm hoping to get into it later.

Still, it's a milestone! Hooray for milestones! And excuses to use the Picasa collage feature!

Day Fourteen: Autechre - Gantz_Graf

Warp Records ■ WAP 256

Released: August 6, 2002

Produced by Autechre (Sean Booth and Rob Brown)

Side a:
  1. Gantz Graf
  2. Dial.
Side e:
  1. Cap.IV
While my love for the work of Aphex Twin is well-known enough that more than a few people remember checking him out solely on my recommendation, I can't really pretend I know as much about electronic music as that kind of weight might indicate. Insofar as the more modern incarnations, I've stuck almost exclusively to about four artists, with smatterings of others occupying my collection over the years (2 Lone Swordsmen, Flunk, Lemon Jelly, Burial, Daft Punk, Boards of Canada, BT, Terminal Sound System, TRS-80) and haven't ever been serious (or at least accurate) in claiming anything like knowledge. Now, that aside, when it comes to Aphex Twin (and AFX, Caustic Window, Polygon Window, and his billion other pseudonyms), Autechre, Squarepusher and µ-Ziq, I tend to have something to say. They each occupy overlapping but distinct corners of the "intelligent dance music" (though I'm inclined to agree with Mr. James that that name is stupid and pretentious--with no other takers, I shruggingly accept his nomenclature of "braindance", as it also seems pretty accurate) and so I've followed each semi-consistently. RDJ in all his various identities occupies the greatest part of my collection (both physical and digital, and in physical both vinyl and CD), with Squarepusher coming in a close second, µ-Ziq at a strong third and Autechre at a semi-distant fourth.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Day Thirteen: Atmosphere - The Family Sign

Rhymesayers Entertainment ■ RSE0130-1

Released: April 12, 2011

Produced by Anthony "Ant" Davis

Side One:Side Two:
  1. My Key
  2. The Last to Say
  3. Became
  1. Just for Show
  2. She's Enough
  3. Bad Bad Daddy
  4. Millennium Dodo
Side Three:Side Four:
  1. Who I'll Never Be
  2. I Don't Need Brighter Days
  3. Ain't Nobody
  1. Your Name Here
  2. If You Can Save Me Now
  3. Something So
  4. My Notes
And now we hit on a genre that splits a lot of the people I know distinctly: rap/hip-hop. For the pedants--the genre is most accurately referred to as "rap music" or "hip-hop music", as "hip-hop" technically refers to the entire subculture (identified by the four primary components: graffiti, rapping, DJing, and breaking). I don't specify too much here, because there should be no confusion about the fact that I'm referring to music in the context of a blog about records that has "vinyl" in its title and pictures of records all over it. All that established, I know a fair number of people who carry the allergy that I usually see wandering the web in far more vitriolic forms. Admittedly, I cover most of the genres that you see appear under "I listen to all kinds of music, except..." with the possible exception of modern strains of popular country music. I come from the kind of background personally, musically, and so on that doesn't as often place me in contact with other listeners of rap music. I'm by no means alone, I know at least a few people who listen as I do, but we all tend to shy more toward the "indie" side of hip-hop, of which Atmosphere may well be the godfathers to some extent.

Day Twelve: At the Gates - Slaughter of the Soul

Earache Records ■  MOSH 143

Released November 14, 1995

Produced by Fredrik Nordstrom, Co-Produced by At the Gates

"We are blind to the worlds within us, waiting to be born..."

Side One:Side Two:
  1. Blinded by Fear
  2. Slaughter of the Soul
  3. Cold
  4. Under a Serpent Sun
  5. Into the Dead Sky
  1. Suicide Nation
  2. World of Lies
  3. Unto Others
  4. Nausea
  5. Need
  6. The Flames of the End
This is actually an interesting title to discuss, as it actually also puts me in the awkward place of talking about a classic album, which was something I intended to somewhat avoid by going through my own record collection instead of a set of albums pre-determined by history or anything of the kind. Naturally, I'm not defiant about classics and do own plenty (and far more if we look at my CD collection), but I'm occasionally peculiar about how I purchase vinyl in particular. 

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