Photo

Had a great first visit to Turntable Tuesdays, a monthly event hosted by Rich Wagner - pictured with me in the lower left corner; owner of Elgin, IL’s Rediscover Records - and Side Street Studio Arts. It was a completely casual environment where strangers could shake hands, discuss music, enjoy complimentary beer or soda, and play some album sides for one another. If you’re in the western Chicago suburbs, definitely mark your calendar for the final Tuesday of each month — I highly recommend you make it out. The nights run from 6-9pm and are located at 15 Ziegler Court in Elgin.

Text

Some mainstays in our CD collections have never seen the light of day on vinyl. These might include iconic, Billboard chart-busting monuments to rock or barely-known oddities that sold so few on compact disc that a vinyl release seemed at the time (or even in the present tense) like a financial loss before it even made it to the pressing plant. After recently learning from the nowxspinning podcast with Derek, Gene and Blake from sharingneedleswithfriends that part of Metallica’s contract gave them full ownership of their own catalog only after their 12th album (!!??), I began to wonder again why certain albums have yet to get the 12” treatment. Maybe it’s licensing, maybe the album didn’t have much label support to begin with, or maybe it’s just too damn expensive for the artist - if they own their own catalog - to invest in a pressing, even when Kickstarter, Indiegogo or other methods of crowdsourcing could help cover costs. So I thought from time to time here, I’d group up a few of these releases and give some short thoughts on what should be long players.

—-

Fiona Apple - Tidal (Epic/Clean Slate/Work; 1996)

Whenever I’m asked what albums I’d like to see on vinyl that aren’t already, this is at the top of the list. For all its breathy torch songs, deep piano tones and the empty space between them, Tidal plays like the perennial make-out album of the 90’s. Aside from the mega-hit “Criminal,” every other track here plays like a jazz standard accented by woozy strings, Apple’s lyrical battles between lovelorn sweetheart and contentious opponent, and hints of experimental percussion. I recall reading a quote from Apple sometime this year, alluding to her feeling in retrospect that she should’ve never signed a record contract when she did, so maybe in her eyes, Tidal should’ve never existed - either as it stands or it at least could’ve been delayed - so this could point to why it (and her follow-up, When The Pawn…) haven’t seen a vinyl release. But whatever it is, my hope is that when it does, it gets the proper treatment it deserves; maybe even a Mobile Fidelity pressing. A rush job a la Plain Recordings on Tidal would be heartbreaking. HEAR: "Slow Like Honey"

Rainer Maria - Catastrophe Keeps Us Together (Grunion; 2006)

This NYC-via-Madison, WI trio’s swan song was arguably their finest hour. Previous albums like Look Now, Look Again and A Better Version of Me drafted the 90’s co-ed emo blueprint, but Catastrophe turned on the electricity in the damn place. Rainer Maria caught flack in some circles during their tenure for off-key vocals (puzzlingly, more so than some of their far-worse contemporaries at the time), but when bassist/vocalist Caithlin de Marrais’ voice cracks slightly on propulsive cuts like “I’ll Make You Mine” or “Bottle,” the imperfections come off as charming and completely in-the-moment. Since the band split up later this same year, it’s easy to understand why a vinyl push wouldn’t have been feasible. Plus, this is the band’s only full-length that wasn’t released by indie touchstone Polyvinyl, who have consistently done LP’s for their entire existence, while the mysterious Grunion has only released two CD’s total currently. But Catastrophe is the band sounding major-label ready, while keeping their emotions ever present. Even the closing 14-minute (!) Bob Dylan cover of “I’ll Keep It With Mine” doesn’t steer this ship into danger. HEAR: "Catastrophe"

Various Artists - DGC Rarities, Vol. 1 (DGC; 1994)

In the 90’s, compilations and soundtracks were a major introduction to new artists. Benefit discs like No Alternative and movie tie-ins likeThe Crow, Singles or Judgement Night were some of the biggest albums of the decade. So in the first post-Nirvana era of alt-rock, their label DGC gathered a slew of b-sides from their roster and released this must-have hodge-podge of never-before-released jangle-pop (Counting Crows, The Sundays, Murray Attaway), blistering noisemakers (Hole, Nirvana, that dog.) and some of what would be come staples for fans of Weezer (with their contribution being often regarded as one of their best works) and Beck (the meandering but hilariously off-the-cuff “Bogusflow”). The funny thing with this release is that the UK version of the album - titled Geffen Rarities, which oddly exchanges Scotland’s Teenage Fanclub for the States’ Urge Overkill, and nixes some tracks altogether - actually did get a vinyl pressing upon its original release! So with No Alternative getting the 2LP treatment last year on Record Store Day, it’d be stellar to see a U.S. pressing of this Mt. Rushmore of mid-90’s gems. HEAR: Weezer - “Jamie”

Shiner - Lula Divinia (HitIt!; 1997)

A first-time-on-vinyl version of the Kansas City, MO shoegaze/math-rock masters final album (2001’s brilliant The Egg) came in 2012, coupled with some reunion shows, and if small online hints can be believed, a repress of 2000’s Starless is imminent. But for me, the band’s sprawling sophomore album is prime rib for your turntable. Though later albums would be richer and more honed in, Lula was the first album that got me into these guys, since my first time seeing them open for Hum on the Marquette University campus in Milwaukee — a show I was definitely not of age to attend. Sssshhhhh. To this day, cuts like “Third Gear Scratch” and “Christ-Sized Shoes” absolutely slay me in their corrosive vision and exasperating delivery. You connect those to a warm-sounding receiver and you have a must-own piece of dark, twisted almost-metal. HEAR: "My Life as a Housewife"

——

What records do you think need to be pressed on vinyl for the first time? Tweet me: @jimhanke.

Video

I had mentioned the YouTube Vinyl Community in a recent post, so I wanted to share this video of our Chicago-area record store crawl earlier this summer, created by my pal Rob Clark.

Members of the VC traveled from Cincinnati, St. Louis and elsewhere to come dig with others they’ve only commented with online, and as Rob will let you know, there was no awkwardness whatsoever. We encouraged each other’s pick-ups, talked about music and generally enjoyed each other’s company.

We had a great lunch at Piece about midway through, and made some great scores at Dusty Groove, Permanent, Reckless and Logan Hardware. Enjoy the recap video above… I make a few brief appearances, looking completely disheveled for some reason. I guess six hours of record shopping will do that to you!

Source: youtube.com
Text

image

About 12 years since its release - and nearly fifteen since the first tracks were laid down - one can let the line-in-the-sand statement that was Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, Wilco’s fourth and masterful bruise of a record, blur everything that came after it. YHF, and to a deeper extent, 2004’s A Ghost Is Born, set a new path for the group but when revisiting both albums, they seem just as jarring when placed against later releases such as Wilco (The Album) and Sky Blue Sky as they do against A.M., the band’s 1995 debut of fiery, yet sweet honky-tonk.

But the groundwork for YHF's now-legendary sonic grandeur was laid as early as Being There, released just a year-and-a-half after A.M. When you revisit the sprawling depression of tracks like "Misunderstood" and "Sunken Treasure," they flat-out belong next to latter-day live staples like "I Am Trying to Break Your Heart" or "At Least That’s What You Said." Summerteeth only extended this, with bursts of noise or discordant meanderings not just peaking through, but given a spotlight on "A Shot In The Arm" and "Via Chicago." If you’ve seen Sam Jones’ documentary, even some in Wilco’s circle thought the sounds of YHF were that of deconstruction at the time - one fan awkwardly asks frontman Jeff Tweedy if Courtney Love is involved with the album after he states that there are a lot of holes throughout the record, while another (perhaps more awkwardly) asks if the record will have a trip-hop vibe when Tweedy explains percussion loops - but given the distance of time, it’s clearly a new starting point.

From YHF on out, a lot of what you could categorize as Wilco “rock” songs ("Heavy Metal Drummer," "The Late Greats," "Art of Almost") have sported a very reigned-in snare sound. Percussionist Glenn Kotche is a master of his field, and when he lets loose, it’s a sight (sound?) to behold. I’m unsure why or how the this archetype was created (it’s almost as if the band doesn’t want to that snare to wake the neighbors) but what it lacks in wallop is made up for when the band as a whole fully goes for it, often later within the same song. So here on YHF, we’re given our first taste of this reserved, but still driving rhythm on cuts like "Kamera," "Pot Kettle Black" and those unforgettable verses of “HMD.” On wax, Kotche’s drums sound a lot more human and present in those moments rather than just a backdrop for Tweedy’s vocals or the rest of the instrumentation.
And while that snare may have an audible ceiling, the rest of YHF on vinyl aims for the rafters. Even the high-pitched squeal that wraps up “Break Your Heart” or the massive swirling end of "Poor Places" come through with enough oomph that it’s like you’re hearing them for the first time. They sound ridiculous and uncomfortable all over again in the best possible way, rather than just a part of the album you remember and expect. For as much experimentation as I knew existed on this incredible record before, hearing it on vinyl - for real, how did I never own this before? - broke new ground for me. There’s so much more going on than I originally assumed.

The only real downside is the interruption of the flow between "Ashes of American Flags" and “HMD” (the former being the last song on Side B of LP1, and the latter beginning LP2). As one cohesive listen, the changeover is one of YHF's many highlights - as well as a crux within the aforementioned documentary - but re-doing the track order on vinyl simply for that purpose may have altered the album entirely, too. It’s just one of those choices that needs to be made when spreading an album across 2 LP’s. It’s a missing piece, but with a sound this grandiose, it’s a small sacrifice.

Down to the detailed plucks of "Jesus, Etc.," this pressing of YHF is a pristine mess of hope and loneliness made all the more richer by design. One of the gatefold photos acts as a great summation of the album itself: A finely-crafted building is meant to be the focus, yet one can’t ignore the slight appearance of something else almost off-frame, to the right. Is it a smudge? Is it there by mistake? And if not, what is it and why was it chosen to stay in? It’s that kind of weird oddity that will have you scratching your head, wondering if it’s all on purpose or accidental. But truthfully, can’t they be a little of both? It’s that same, sometimes ugly curiosity amongst already beautiful song structures that makes Yankee Hotel Foxtrot one of the most important and gorgeous albums of the last twenty years, if not ever. 

PS: Full disclosure, I’ve been a gigantic fan of the group since A.M. so it was a major thrill for me to be picked out by renowned photographer Autumn de Wilde, while standing in line for the band’s show in 2009 at the Pabst Theater in Milwaukee, for some shots of me holding and running with the cake from the Wilco (The Album) cover. None of them made the final cut, but my wife snapped this shot of my sheer glee below. Though I’m sure those shots are long gone, one of my three wishes - we all get those right? - would be an actual shot she took of me that I could frame. Because it’s something she didn’t end up using, I would never think to spread it around; it’d be a keepsake I’d treasure for the rest of my life. But even without the real thing, to think I had something worthy of her lens at all, for even a few minutes, is remarkable.

 

image
Text

image

Having used the Audio-Technica LP60 for the last couple of years, I felt it was time for a change. It’s a reliable and cost-effective starter table, but I felt I wanted something that plugged in more to my passion for playing and appreciating records. Around this time two years ago, I started hearing rumblings about the Orbit by U-Turn and everything about its creation and potential intrigued me.

There have been many articles and interviews regarding U-Turn so I’ll refrain from giving you another version of the long backstory. The point is that Kickstarter funding for U-Turn to build and distribute even just their bare-bones model Orbit Basic - selling currently at $179, though early donators received a discount I believe - went through the roof, nearly cracking the 400% mark in reaching the original goal of $60k, which now, seems incredibly modest. What that told the industry, as well as U-Turn’s founders, was that not only were people seeking a high-quality listening experience for an affordable price, but that more shockingly, they were willing to take a chance on an upstart in a medium with nearly 100 years of history in the public marketplace. Ask your usual audiophile and they’ll tell you that brand and record label loyalty is concrete to their shopping and listening enjoyment. Maybe those with money to burn and a few turntables already at their disposal threw U-Turn some money just to check it out, but it’s clear that few held off entirely, which is encouraging for future creators of vinyl technology or product.

My wife purchased the Orbit Plus from U-Turn’s site for my birthday in early August - which differs from the Basic as it comes with an acrylic platter and higher quality stylus/cartridge - at $299. Obviously a bit more of an investment on a product that you can’t physically try hands-on before buying, but the majority of the reviews and testimonials had me sold. Like most entertainment and art, sound is completely subjective and you can spend literally thousands of dollars (and waste millions of brain cells) on just a turntable. Comedian and WTF podcast host Marc Maron has a completely relatable experience about the trials of upgrading your listening environment on both his most recent stand-up album (available on vinyl) and TV series. Admittedly, anyone with a passion for music and vinyl in particular will be chasing that ultimate high where we’ll be able to declare "Yes! I have found the premier listening experience! Kneel before its greatness! You can now hear Jimmy Page exhale midway through ‘When the Levee Breaks,’ damn it!" but we’ll never, ever get there and that’s hard to swallow. In my eyes, as long as your new acquisition - a turntable, a stylus/cartridge, a pre-amp - sounds better than your last, isn’t that all that matters? If you can spend a few hundred dollars on something you know sounds great to your ears, or $14,000 on an item that causes you to constantly question its brilliance… Oh, who am I kidding? I would love a McIntosh tube amp. (For those curious, I’m currently using a Sony STR-AV500 for my receiver: A very easy 80’s/90’s find at a thrift shop or Goodwill probably, so definitely not fancy, but does well).

There were eventual shipping delays with U-Turn units thanks to the overwhelming response and a rumored warehouse fire, but from order date to delivery I received mine in less than 30 days. Remember, these are made to order and not just already boxed in an Amazon facility, so since I had read about a two-to-three month wait time, I counted myself lucky when I got the UPS alert that it had shipped out Labor Day week.

Upon opening the box, the first item is the acrylic platter. Smooth and sleek, this is not only a gorgeous thing to see on the table but it helps with speed consistency (more on the Orbit Plus’ belt-driven anatomy later) and tighter bass. They include a felt slipmat, and I toyed with the idea of transferring my cork mat from the LP60 to the Orbit Plus, but the former isn’t great for static build-up, the latter seemed like overkill for deeper tones according to what I’d read, and both took away from the stunning visual of a clear platter against the blue color that I went with.

After the slipmat came instructions along with the belt, audio cables and a nice U-Turn sticker. The instructions were easy to follow even for someone just getting into record collecting, though one unboxing video on YouTube made a good point that some direction as to removing the stylus guard out or down might be helpful. Not ruining the Grado Black1 before it even touched a groove was a fever nightmare of mine, if even for a few seconds.

Another worry I had was installing the belt, but this proved to be much easier than anticipated. About as easy as their set-up video made it look, in fact. It may appear not exactly in the middle of your platter’s edges, since there’s no groove there to hold it in place, but the belt usually straightens itself out once you flip the turntable on. I’ve so far found that switching between 33 1/3 and 45 speeds is pretty error proof. 

There were just a few things to get accustomed to, such as physically laying the needle down (versus the LP60’s push-button needle drop) which is a beautiful process within the act of playing a record. The tonearm arrives perfectly and properly weighed, but it still is very light so it could be tricky for those new to laying down the arm to grasp this right off the bat. But due to the slanted ceilings in my record space, I’ve found that crouching down assists me in both not bumping my head when done, as well as laying the needle down perfectly. There isn’t an auto-return on the U-Turn either (something that was built in with the LP60) and with some albums not allowing the needle to run ad nauseam within the deadwax, users will need to be alert as to turning the table off to avoid the needle potentially running into the label. U-Turn does offer the Q Up on their site for those looking to have the tonearm lifted upon the end of a record (which can be added without tools to any U-Turn) and they aim to have a cue lever for rising and lowering the arm for album playback later this fall.

Like the slipmat, I also ditched the dust cover. I had heard a few complaints about the quality of it, as well as the plastic black hinges that it attaches to, but I’ve so far found that removing the hinges with a Phillips-head screwdriver and only using the dust cover when the turntable isn’t being used works for me. Not only was this an aesthetic choice, but the area of my home where my records are is a finished attic with a very low, slanted ceiling and walls, so the up/down of the dust cover on hinges didn’t fully work with the turntable being near an outlet. (And before you say it, don’t worry: the attic has a nice and powerful A/C unit so that I won’t come home to a pool of melted records some hot, August day).

The first to take the maiden voyage on my U-Turn Orbit Plus was side C of Death Cab for Cutie’s Transatlanticism. This is the 2003 German release on Grand Hotel van Cleef, and most sites confirm it was pressed at RTI. Though this record sounded brilliant already on the LP60 when I originally got it, the Orbit Plus took it to a whole other world. What sounds like a den-den daiko appears late in the title track, and here the instrument is given an incredible amount of depth and distance, almost as if the sound is arching from the left speaker to the right, and echoing throughout a large indoor (but water-bound) space, like Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean ride. Elsewhere on Transatlaticism, Nick Harmer’s bass sounds incredibly more active and driving throughout, and Ben Gibbard’s vocals come across as if he’s sitting right beside you singing “Passenger Seat” or “A Lack of Color.” Maybe the coolest surprise was “Title and Registration” sounding incredibly fresh with acoustic plucks and xylophone hits where you can actually feel the pressure or force of those acts being done. You don’t just hear the notes; it feels like someone’s playing them in front of you.

Though not as crazy obsessive about vinyl as I am, my wife has always been incredibly supportive of my hobby and has a great ear for differences in vinyl pressings vs. digital, so it was comforting to watch her fully enjoy Suede’s self-titled debut (reissued by Demon Records this year, which we picked up on our last trip to England). She too heard new sounds and at one point, laid on the floor to let everything soak in. If that’s not a rave review, I don’t know what is!

Granted, just because something is on vinyl doesn’t mean it automatically sounds better than digital. Depending on the method of recording, how it was pressed and a bunch of other factors, a record can still sound like a dud on a $3,000 table as much as it does on a $99 one. But just two weeks in, I can honestly say the U-Turn Orbit Plus gives me everything I was hoping for and more. Good ol’ American ingenuity is a live and well here, and it’ll be astounding to watch U-Turn grow over the next few years, whether that means further improvements to the table itself or how they’ll meet music fans’ thriving interest in vinyl year by year.

I’m dropping my Sansui 5000X off at a local electronics fix-it shop shortly in order to get the left channel working (I picked up this unit over the summer but have yet to actually use it), so I’m expecting the sound to only get better. My hope is that you’ll learn along with me, as I examine present and past records for all their gems, flaws and secrets. That’s the high that I want to chase, and hopefully it’s yours, too.

Text

My wife and I recently moved into a new home with a finished attic upstairs. Even before I could think it, Jen declared it my record room, so I’m beyond excited to have an area of the house dedicated for audio enjoyment. There’s a great window A/C unit as well, so the records aren’t baking or anything. Without that unit though, it does get pretty toasty up there.

Anyway, this was a picture I took on Sunday afternoon 8/24 as I was re-alphabetizing everything after the move and filling up the Expedits. I look forward to putting up my autographed stuff, framed gig posters, baseball bobbleheads, etc. as well soon. Very much on pins and needles for the Orbit+ to arrive and getting the Sansui fixed (as I mentioned in my last post), so the entire room starts to feel permanent. 

Text

Testing… Check. Check. Check 1. Sibilance. Sibilance.

Despite not giving you much to read here in the near year-and-a-half since my last update, I’ve been able to share my passion for vinyl with others across the country and the globe in a myriad of ways, outside of this site: I do my best to post record-related pics daily via Instagram; I’ll tweet up a storm with anxious abandon regarding what’s coming out soon; And most notably, I stumbled upon the YouTube Vinyl Community, a loose collective of folks all over the world making short videos about their recent pick-ups, grails they hope to find one day or other general vinyl talk. So what sometimes I would’ve talked about at length here on Tumblr - and taken me probably several hours to type up exactly how I wanted - actually went on my YouTube channel instead. 

It was through the VC that I ended up meeting several strangers who would come to be friends. A Chicago-area record store crawl was organized this past June, where folks came from as far as Cincinnati and St. Louis to dig at four area stores, have lunch and generally get to know each other outside of a keyboard or smartphone. (The above photo of me was taken by Rob Clark - who was my intro into the VC and has since become a good friend both online and off - during said crawl, and the current banner photo on the VC Facebook page is one I actually took, too).

For the last two years, I’ve devoted a significant chunk of my free-time to writing press releases and doing PR for area bands, and while that’s rewarding as a side-job, it’s made the thought of typing out my thoughts on records - after spending several hours on one band bio - unappealing over that same time period. Hence, why not film myself for 10 minutes and toss it up for viewing, where more of my personality can come through?

There aren’t as many shows or releases towards the end of each year, so that’s why this is a great time to begin shifting my writing back towards the blog. The truth is, I loved writing ever since I was a kid, and to a larger extent, just telling people what I thought of stuff. Watching Reading Rainbow or At the Movies as a kid, it blew me away that people could talk about whether they liked or disliked something, and that other people would care. My mom recently told me a story of how I was up all night one time in fourth grade, too excited to sleep because I had a book report the next day. Mom thought I was nervous, but on the contrary, I was way too psyched to go to school the next day and talk about whatever book that was.

From a talking-about-vinyl standpoint, part of me misses being proud of something I wrote, and not just saying “This is amazing!” 17 times into a camera. Chances are I’ll still do that from time to time, and do a better job of sharing those moments here on the blog.

From a writing standpoint, I’m looking forward to posting at least once a week, as opposed to under a slew of conflicting deadlines that come up in the PR world. There are few thrills in that industry bigger than scoring a young group their first actual interview, which I’ve been lucky enough to do several times over. Writing for bands and musicians is a fantastic exercise in speaking on behalf of someone and interpret their own work in a few paragraphs, which will hopefully lead to press folks wanting to share that work with their readers, followers, listeners, etc. But I guess what I’m saying is that I’m interested less in the exercise portion of that. If anything, I’d like to increase my actual exercise these days!

So what’s coming on the blog? I’ll begin to cover items of my own collection that I’ve been wanting to discuss, and I also hope that keeping the blog more current will lead to bands, labels, etc. sending me their records as well for coverage here, as they did in the past. (FYI - my address has been updated on the Contact page, so visit there for where to send things if you care to). I’m also incredibly excited to be upgrading both my turntable and amp: My wife was kind enough to order me a U-Turn Orbit+ for my birthday this week, and I was able to pick-up a Sansui 5000X earlier this summer (only one channel works currently, so I plan on getting that fixed), so there’ll definitely be posts regarding those. PLUS, the finished attic in my wife and I’s new house as of 9/1/14 will be a dedicated record room, so I’m very happy to have a listening area and space for autographed LP covers, baseball memorabilia and all my other crazy stuff to go. I feel the change of scenery and the gear upgrade will do wonders for both my enjoyment of my collection, and your enjoyment of the blog.

So, stick with me. Thanks for your patience and hope to see you here again very soon!

Text

(NOTE: If you wish to copy this post for your own blog, forum or social media, please provide a link and give credit. Use Twitter handles @jimhanke or @rythvinyl. Thank you.)

image

I chatted with Steve Warrenfeltz, the owner of my local record store Kiss The Sky in Batavia, IL, the other day. They had moved to their new location last summer and being that the store is about three blocks from my front door, I informed him I was excited to be able to walk to his location for Record Store Day, even late at night for their usual midnight sale. “No midnight sale this year,” Steve replied. He explained that it was part of each store’s pledge (an agreement made with RSD in order to participate and carry several RSD-sanctioned releases), and that although he disagreed with the policy, Kiss The Sky would not be a participating RSD store if they didn’t oblige. 

Having interviewed Carrie myself for a podcast last year prior to RSD 2012, I reached out to her via a message on Facebook, wanting to refrain from posting my questions as comments, which I felt would lead to a long back-and-forth between commenters (or even between commenters and Carrie) and I didn’t feel it was my business to “announce” this change publicly before RSD did, if they choose to.

RSD has its detractors, especially from those who actively shop in physical record stores every day of the year. The complaints are often same (limited releases create over-crowding and scalpers; “I don’t need a special day to support my local store”) but for me, I use a probably somewhat-broken analogy of attending a sporting event: Scalpers may take the best tickets and hike up the prices, but I still am going to buy a ticket to the game. I still want to participate. I just don’t let it ruin my outlook. Unless they’re doing something illegal or that could be perceived as soulless, attempting to get more bodies in record stores is something I can always get behind.

Despite all the work that goes into organizing a national event like RSD, Carrie found time to reply - something she didn’t have to do - and her points are well-made. Here’s what I said about the experience of midnight sales in my recap of RSD 2012:

The last album I can remember standing in line for is Radiohead’s seminal Kid A, and it was a neat experience being there: You’d talk with folks in line about what you heard the album might sound like, then you’d walk in and hear it being played overhead. You’d rush to your car after purchasing it and play it the whole way home, and probably one more time all the way through before bed to soak it all in. So as romantic as it is to stand in line at a record store now - and it’s great for RSD to give folks a reason to, who wouldn’t normally - it’s sad that those record release lines are a thing of the past. (An argument could be made that Radiohead themselves have been the primary champions of the communal listening experience in the Internet age: They’ve avoided leaks for their last two records by quietly releasing both In Rainbows and The King of Limbs seemingly overnight digitally, therefore forcing millions fans to hear the album at the precisely the same time. It’s a nice, welcome strategy in the 2000’s, when release dates don’t mean much to your average music consumer.)

Even without midnight sales, RSD is pretty much the only time you’ll stand in line to purchase music these days. With the digital revolution, there is a severe lack of chances for people to await similar, or the same, releases in the flesh at one time. I enjoy pretty much everything about RSD, from the lines to the new releases to the general joy everyone seems to exude in a store that day. And this year in particular, they’ve made a perfect choice in Jack White as their ambassador, inarguably the biggest artist doing the most to keep physical vinyl media alive. But I wanted to know the reasoning behind this change, and why stores that want to open early, like Kiss The Sky, can no longer do so without breaking the RSD pledge.

Here is Carrie’s reply to me, which she has given me permission to post:

"We did ask the stores to refrain from midnight sales, and there are several reasons why. It’s also not the only thing we asked of them. It was part of our revamped Pledge, which was revamped after reading through and taking into consideration every compliment and complaint from customers and stores in the past year. We actually received quite a bit of feedback about midnight sales, and we put a lot of thought into our request to the stores. It basically broke down into three reasons:

1. CUSTOMERS: One of the things RSD does is bring NEW people into record stores. I have said or typed the phrase “find a store near you” so many times, I probably say it in my sleep. But customers are finding stores near them. And going to them, the morning of Record Store Day, to find that all the releases were sold by 12:15 AM. And they are not pleased. No matter how good a store’s promotion is, no matter how complete their email list, or full their Facebook page, they are never going to get the word of a midnight sale out to all their customers, and that leaves them feeling frustrated and angry. We heard from quite a few of these.

2. FELLOW STORES: Midnight sales were originally created as a way to let folks be the first to get a release — before they could go to a big box store or some other place and get it. These are releases where the competition was those big box stores and midnight sales were a way to turn it into an event. Well, RSD releases are ONLY at record stores, the only competition is your fellow indie record store, if you have one in town. And I hope I don’t sound immodest when I say that RSD is the biggest event a store can have — bigger than any midnight sale. RSD is the one day of the year when a store can open their doors at any time they choose and still have a line of people out the door. But you’re right that when one store in a market opens, the other stores feel they have to as well. And that isn’t always wise or fair. And it also, to be honest, starts leading to a sort of “Black Friday” creep — with more and more focus on the releases, and less on the idea of the day itself — a celebration of the stores.

3. THE INTERNET FLIPPERS: Finally, there’s this. People who buy items and flip them are the bane of our existence. Of course, we do whatever we can to control this if it’s a store employee doing it, but when a customer walks out of a store with a piece, they are free to put it on the internet. And they do. Lots of them. And if someone on the East Coast buys a piece at midnight and immediately puts it on eBay, it’s still 9 PM on the West Coast, and it actually begins to effect whether people will go out to the stores on the West Coast to buy what they’re looking for. There’s a big difference between buying something on eBay at 9 PM the night before, and buying something on eBay at 5 AM the morning of.

As I’ve explained to a few stores upset with our decision, and maybe even to the owner of your store, we don’t have a lot of rules or regulations for the stores. In fact I think most people would be surprised at how few we do have. But when we do implement something like this, it’s after we’ve listened to and weighed a lot of feedback and think it’s best for Record Store Day, the stores, and the customers, taken as a whole.”

I can see the points made about “new” customers, but like anything, it’s a shame that a few bad apples - primarly folks snatching up releases only to sell them immediately for inflated prices - had to spoil an aspect of record shopping that others look forward to. Luckily, it’s just an aspect, and I’ll still be shopping on RSD, and every other day of the year.

Record Store Day is Saturday, April 20, 2013. You can find your participating stores via the RSD website, and follow them on Facebook and Twitter. You can listen to my interview with Carrie prior to RSD 2012 here.

Text

image

10. Nick Waterhouse - Time’s All Gone (Innovative Leisure) // An unassuming 20-something using all analog equipment and blasting classic sounds of 1950’s R&B. No frills, just great songs with astute attention to detail and an honest desire to match. I caught him at Lincoln Hall in Chicago this year, and went in with the expectation that he’d be good. What I got was one of the best performances I had seen in 2012. // WATCH: “Some Place”

—-

image
09. The Tallest Man on Earth - There’s No Leaving Now (Dead Oceans) // It might not be my favorite full-length from Swedish singer-songwriter Kristian Matsson, but the title track alone (where he takes to the piano instead of his normal nimble guitar playing) is easily one of his best. A unique, humble voice that gives me chills nearly any time I listen. // HEAR: “There’s No Leaving Now”
—-
image
08. Run, Forever - Settling (Tiny Engines) // Having the feel of a concept record but without a weighty subplot, Settling sounds at once both powerful and nervous. Much like the Thermals’ modern classic The Body, The Blood, The Machine, these songs from the Pittsburgh-area trio deal with a singular topic  (the Thermals focused on religion, while Run, Forever sings of connections with people) but with 1,000 routes to get there: franticness, humility, disappointment, pride… They may all be off the map, but they’re all the right way. // HEAR: “Maritime States”
—-
image
07. Glen Hansard - Rhythm & Repose (ANTI-) // His first solo album without The Frames of The Swell Season, Hansard is still one of today’s best singer-songwriters. His voice is equally amazing at a whisper or a scream, and this record - though maybe his most quiet overall in his career - stands toe-to-toe with his previous output. // HEAR: “Maybe Not Tonight”
—-
06. Expatriate - Expatriate (self-released) // A pal of mine from my Milwaukee days relocated to Minnesota, and now plays some reverential Americana tunes with help from Cindy Cashdollar of Ryan Adams & The Cardinals. Outstanding stuff.  For a limited time, you can download the entire record via Mediafire (band-approved). // HEAR: “Scott Walker Blues”
—-
image
06. Bob Mould - Silver Age (Merge) // This had made several Best of 2012 lists, so I won’t bore you. This is just blissful, aggressive indie-rock at its best, from one of the best there is. // HEAR: “First Time Joy”
—-
image
05. Rocky Votolato - Television of Saints (Undertow/Second Nature) // The only Kickstarter-funded album on my list, this is Rocky’s best since 2006’s Makers. Enlisting his brothers Cody and Sonny on several tracks, there’s something about Television that feels a bit more honed-in than some of his Barsuk releases, which arguably saw a bigger audience. He’s still done the best cover of The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” I’ve ever heard. // HEAR: “Little Spring”
—-

04. Geronimo! - Exanimate (self-released) // Full disclosure: These are three friends of mine from Chicago making gigantic, fuzzy rock that proudly bows to bands like Dinosaur Jr. and the Meat Puppets. For a band without a bassist, somehow their sound makes you think they have two. Nasty and propulsive all the way through, aside from the gorgeous, Pet Sounds-esque “Please Come Over,” which was inspired by a Twin Peaks episode. How 90’s! // WATCH: “Into The Sun”
—-
image
03. Sharon Van Etten - Tramp (Jagjaguwar) // Another one that’ll appear on some of the big blogs’ year-end lists. She’s also responsible for my favorite A.V. Undercover performance this year, partnering up with Shearwater for a blistering rendition of the Tom Petty/Stevie Nicks duet “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around.” // HEAR: “Give Out”
—-
image
02. John K. Samson - Provincial (ANTI-) // The Weakerthans’ poetic leader creates a solo record that tugs on the heartstrings as much as any previous release. Though his lyrical references are weirdly a bit more generic (wanting to borrow the car; unrequited love), modern (the Call of Duty video game series; html coding) and sports-related this time, Provincial is no less effecting. Even the boredom of a one-note small town is presented in some hard-hitting verbiage: “This city’s some cheap EQ / with the mids pushed up / in the one long note of wheat”). Musicians and non-musicians can equally relate. // WATCH: “Longitudinal Centre”
—-
image
01. Father John Misty - Fear Fun (Sub Pop) // There aren’t many words that truly encapsulate the metamorphosis that Josh Tillman underwent this year, ditching his abbreviated birthname of J. Tillman, as well as his solo minimalist, home-recorded weariness and the household-name folk of Fleet Foxes, for whom he drummed. If his stark and achingly beautiful albums like Cancer & Delirium were black-and-white silent pictures, Fear Fun is The Big Lebowski. That sounds like a weird comparison, but it fits: Rumored to have been inspired by a drug-induced road trip, this album plays like a greatest-hits of a west coast band from the 70’s you’ve never heard, but the songs are timeless and immediately recognizable. From the addictive and mysterious stomp of “Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings” (with a partnering video starring Parks & Recreation's Aubrey Plaza) to the oddly Schoolhouse Rock-esque “Well, You Can Do It Without Me” to “Only Son of the Ladiesman” (which had one of late-night TV’s strongest performances of 2012), every song sports some sort of dark humor about sex, drugs, music or other worldly conquests, while keeping harmonious vocals and outstanding musicianship at the center. The opening "Funtimes in Babylon" is far and away my favorite track of the year, a campfire ditty with gospel undertones where Tillman seems to be looking back at a fulfilled (if not hazardous) life, hoping to “ride around the wreckage on a horse, knee-deep in blood.” He plays the cocksure yet charming guy everyone wants to talk to at a party to a T. It’s like Rufus Wainwright’s pomp and elaborate songwriting dressed down, in a beat-up Army jacket. Watch some interviews with him on YouTube and his dead-pan amusement at the entire process is intriguing and hilarious. He’s still a mysterious dude, but Fear Fun is possibly the brightest record from one of those in a while.
Text

I was in my local Target store this weekend when I spotted something eerie: A t-shirt for sale that resembles - although awkwardly - the cover for Best Coast’s latest record The Only Place. I snapped the photo on the left, and the album cover is obviously on the right.

Although I can’t think of anything specific offhand, I feel like this is far from the first time I’ve seen something like this. Pretty recently, Disney had used infused the trademark Mickey head and ears in with the iconic art of Joy Division’s Unknown Pleasures album, and while this is clearly less deliberate, there are too many similarities to just write it off as a coincidence.

If you’ve seen this similarity posted elsewhere online, let me know. I came up empty on the Googling that I’ve done on it, only finding that Best Coast did a Christmas song for Target in 2010. Maybe there’s some other explanation out there, but on first glance, it seems like a clear stab at The Only Place, one that has merit for a possible lawsuit if this is news to the band.

Text

Being a music enthusiast and not living in or near a major city must be heartbreaking. I’ve resided about an hour west of Chicago for almost five years - after spending most of my life in Milwaukee, where legendary Atomic Records did wonders for my growing up - and my location is definitely on the far left end of the area’s record store map. But I’m lucky enough to have some good spots relatively close by: I can easily kill an afternoon at Rediscover Records in Elgin or Kiss The Sky of Geneva, and even Bloomingdale’s Half Price Books offers some choice finds for cheap. With my wife and I sharing a car, heading into the city for a proper attack of several stores takes a bit more planning, and I have some favorites there as well: Logan Hardware ingeniously will let you play arcade games of your youth for free in their back room with any purchase, and between their three locations, Reckless Records usually has what I’m looking for (I also appreciate being able to search their inventory online beforehand). There are plenty more - Saki and Laurie’s Planet of Sound, for starters - that I’ve been meaning to hit as well, but in Illinois alone, what is someone to do if they live west of me? A quick Google Maps search leads to nearly zero record stores in the state’s northwestern corner and this is in the age where more stores are closing than ever. I know it’s small potatoes in a world rife with war and disease, but I seriously feel awful for the kid unable to walk into an independent retailer and hold a vinyl record before they buy it.

So although I frequent my local stores as much as I can, I feel Record Store Day is a great chance to remember why we appreciate them in the first place. True, it can be a madhouse when participating stores open, due to an overwhelming list of limited releases for sale that day. Several folks on Twitter went as far as to compare RSD to St. Patrick’s Day, in its ability to bring out the amateurs in full force. It’s a cute joke, but shortsighted; at the going rate, are we really going to start calling out fairweather fans of a dying business model? I just feel I need to be there early to participate, not elbow my fellow man for a box set. The world is weird, and I could be living in nowheresville with 17 cats in an apartment straight out of Hoarders, so even if I’m spending just $5.00, it’s a tiny thank-you to those that are still open to serve me. I greatly appreciate them sticking it out in this current financial climate, because they give me something rare when I spend money: A thrill. I can’t say I feel the same grocery shopping, you know?

So here’s a rundown of what I did on Record Store Day. Although I went to just two stores, I wanted to showcase how differently things were handled at both. Feel free to share your stories, purchases and more with me via email - ratheryouthanher(at)gmail(dot)com - or on Twitter: @rythvinyl.

Read More

Text

I don’t offer a whole lot of debate on the blog, but in the few hours we have left up until Record Store Day, I’d like to present the following piece and you can feel free to share, comment or whathaveyou.

The heart of the story is that the Chicago-based Numero Group - responsible for releasing countless great soul/R&B nuggets, usually from artists far underneath the radar - will be opening a pop-up store on Record Store Day for the second consecutive year, meaning it will only exist for one day (this year it’ll reside inside the Empty Bottle, a renowned Chicago venue that I’ve had the pleasure of performing at). Many Chicago record retailers have taken umbrage with this, including Patrick Monaghan of Saki.

In a detailed posting on the store’s blog, Patrick runs down his many arguments politely and thoughtfully. He gives a point-by-point breakdown on why he disagrees with Numero’s decision - mentioning that The Metro is also doing a similar pop-up this year - and it’s a worthwhile read.

What are your thoughts? Should labels not be able to set-up a pop-up store, or maybe just avoid it on Record Store Day? Or do Numero and other labels have just as much right as brick-and-mortar retailers, to showcase their stuff by any means necessary?

Feel free to comment or get at me on Twitter. And in case you missed it, please stream or download my chat with Record Store Day’s Director of Marketing Carrie Colliton here.

Text

Record Store Day, the five-year-old nationally-organized event intended to celebrate brick-and-mortar retail outlets, is coming soon and it’s one of my favorite days of the year. To help shine a light on the neighborhood shops where we’ve all gone to discuss and discover new and classic albums, some of the biggest names in music put out limited-edition releases, perform in-stores or set up autograph signings. None of us should need a gigantic promotional push to get out of the house and visit our favorite record store - let alone on one day - but in the age of the download, it’s encouraging to see RSD grow year after year, getting more and more folks who haven’t set foot in a record store in years - or ever - through the doors.

I recently had the pleasure of hopping back on the Sock Monkey Sound podcast - based out of Rockford, IL - to chat with Carrie Colliton, co-founder and director of marketing for Record Store Day. We talked about the history of the event, how social media assists in getting the word out, and how artists get involved in putting out a special release that day. Listen to the podcast here, and please share it as we ramp up to Record Store Day on Saturday, April 21!

Make sure to also follow RSD via Facebook, Twitter, and this PDF of all the official releases that day.

You can also hear some other appearances of mine on Sock Monkey Sound here, including other podcast interviews with Maritime and The Dismemberment Plan.

Text

image

Some folks have asked me to share my audio set-up, so I thought I’d post that today. I’m not much of a gearhead, but in talking with friends who are thinking about improving their current set-up or starting from scratch, it’s discouraging that many make the assumption that a ton of money is needed for a quality listening experience with vinyl.

You really have to decide what kind of listener you are, or that you think you’re going to be. For me, I absolutely do sit and listen to records and I’m able pick out distinct differences between the vinyl and an MP3 or CD version of the same record. However, I also just want to have something on in the house when people come over, or crank a side while I do dishes. If you feel you’re going to be more focused when listening, maybe you do want to invest in a $300 turntable or $600 speakers, and no one can fault you for that. But what I have currently works for me on so many levels - affordability, compactness, overall sound - that I thought I’d try to let folks know just how easy it is to sniff out something that also works for you.

TURNTABLE: Audio-Technica AT-LP60 (My cost: $95) // This is a pretty no-frills machine: Minimal installation is required and it plays like a dream. I opted to not go for one that can convert vinyl to MP3 because that’s not really my goal. I just wanted something that would play perfectly and this guy does. I had eyed them at Kiss The Sky, my local store here in the western Chicago suburbs, and did a lot of YouTube research on it before I invested. It finally took a recommendation from my lawyer/blogger pal Steve Rogovin to push it over the top for me.

RECEIVER: Sony STR-D615 (My cost: $50) // Yes, it’s a heavy, clunky receiver, but freelance writer/musician/friend Jeff Elbel had one just sitting in his garage, so I lucked out. I always run the setting on phono, even though the turntable as a line level switch that would allow you to run off the turntable’s own pre-amp. Despite the size, it fits nicely on my shelving right next to the turntable and for an older unit, it doesn’t overheat and I find myself getting the volume I need by keeping it at 3 or under. I always get a quality sound without any distortion.

SPEAKERS: Pioneer CS-G201WA II (My cost: $15) // I credit my wife for spotting these at Goodwill. For the price, I couldn’t go wrong because if I got them home and they didn’t work or even just performed less than I was hoping, I didn’t blow my paycheck. Yes, they have the fake wood paneling, but I was super happy plugging these guys in. They’re 100 watts and each has a 10” woofer, 4” midrange and a 2.5” tweeter. All of the above, partnered with the IKEA 2x2 Expedit for storage, make this portion of our living room my favorite part of the house, and I was able to do it all for under $200.

Text

If you’re like me, you’ve probably been waiting for the official release list from the good folks of Record Store Day to come out.

Some things you’ll personally have to fight me for include the Ryan Adams live 7” of Bob Mould covers, the Civil Wars’ Billy Jean 7”, Cursive’s vinyl Burst & Bloom reissue (pictured above), and The Tallest Man On Earth’s King of Spain 12” (featuring a cover of Paul Simon’s “Graceland”).

Here’s a PDF of the entire list, and you can find more information at www.recordstoreday.com.