Led Zeppelin – “214”

It’s been quiet, to say the least, on the Life in the Vinyl Lane front in 2022. There are a few reasons for that, and maybe at some point I’ll write about them. But for now let’s just say that, well, I haven’t felt like I had much to say. I’ve listened to a ton of new music, and caught up on even more older albums that previously eluded me, but nothing has compelled me to sit down at the keyboard.

Until this morning.

By way of some quick backstory, earlier this year I came into a large collection of live Led Zeppelin vinyl. Until that point I had successfully avoided going down any Led Zeppelin rabbit holes, something that required considerable effort considering how long I have loved the band. I have a few of the recent special edition re-releases, including the 2XLP version of Led Zeppelin III and the Led Zeppelin IV box set, but those came to me as gifts (for which I was grateful!), and generally speaking I’d resisted the urge to buy Zep vinyl primarily because I already had the entire catalogue on CD. But this group of live recordings was too hard to pass up.

Truth be told, the recording quality was pretty lackluster across most of the 16 live records. They’re more curiosities than things I’ll likely play repeatedly. Songs split across two sides… songs that sometimes simply cut off… bad balance… too heavy on the bass… sometimes all of the above brought together into one aural mudball. Still, I had fun working my way through them.

The real problem, however, wasn’t the recording quality. It was that I’d now opened Pandora’s Box. And when I looked inside that box I saw a rabbit hole. A Led Zeppelin rabbit hole that tugged on me like the gravity of a singularity, bending the space-time continuum around my credit card and Paypal account. Before I knew it I was buying. The 2XLP re-release of Led Zeppelin I with the second live record? Yes please. Other live pressings? Clearly I need these! Icelandic pressings? I’m an Icelandophile, so of course! All kinds of stuff. Which is how I came to pull the trigger on a copy of 214 on eBay.

I already had two live performances from my hometown of Seattle – the 5XLP/3XCD boxset Seattle Graffiti from the March 17, 1975 show and the 2XLP V 1/2 Performed Live In Seattle from July 17, 1973. Graffiti is pretty decent, while V 1/2 is a bit meh. Still, it’s cool to have stuff from local concerts. There are, of course, others, including different versions from these same dates – one thing about the world of unofficial live recordings is that they’ve been pressed and re-pressed, with unauthorized second generation copies being made from the original unauthorized version, etc. If you want to be a completist, you better have deep pockets.

For years and years, though, I’ve had my eye on 214, a 2XLP from the March 21, 1975 Seattle show. I’m not going to lie – this was partially because I thought the cover looked cool. But now that I had a burgeoning collection of live Zep records it only took a few Jack Daniels to convince me that I probably needed this show as well, and last week a copy arrived in the mail. I went into it with low expectations, but this morning was pleasantly surprised, nay almost shocked, when I dropped the needle (inadvertently starting on side C, since both records are labeled as A/B) – this sounds good. Really good. Really, really good. And what is this, Robert Plant pivoting in the midst of a rambling “Dazed and Confused” guitar solo and singing the Buffalo Springfield song “For What It’s Worth”? Fantastic!

This record also came with an unexpected bonus. Hidden inside was a small square snapshot, the flash lighting up the closest people and leaving those further back in the shadows, the colors slightly faded, but… is that John Bonham behind the drum kit??? It sure looks like the kit show on the album’s back jacket, and that hair and mustache… Flipping over the pic, hand-written on the back is “Led Zeppelin”. Was this taken by the previous owner at the show? I’ve never head any reference to any inserts with this record, so I can only assume so. Super cool!

Discogs lists 21 different versions of the March 21, 1975 show. Of these, only two are on vinyl – this one and one entitled 207.19, which includes different songs from this set plus some songs from a show in Boston (a copy of which is currently listed on eBay for $273… which is a lot more than I spent on 214). Some of the CD versions refer to being “soundboard recordings”, which may explain why this one sounds so much better than most of the other live records. Regardless, if you are interested in testing live Led Zep waters, 214 is probably as good as anything you’re going to find in terms of vintage pressings, so buy with confidence! And don’t say I didn’t warn you if you find yourself staring down that rabbit hole…

The Best of 2021

And so we reach the end of another year. The older I get the faster they fly by, the monotonous routine of COVID living adding to the Groundhog Day feel that is sometimes more like existing than living. Fortunately things are opening up a bit so we’ve been able to get out and enjoy some events like Seattle Kraken hockey games and meals with friends. A weekly Dungeons & Dragons game on Zoom gives us something to look forward to every week and our dog Evie won’t let us get too lazy, insisting on her morning walks and play sessions in the yard. Plus there’s the music. The music is always there, a way to be transported away for a while. There’s never enough time to listen to all the music I want to hear.

I didn’t blog much in 2021, only seven posts prior to today, and I’m not sure what the future holds for Life in the Vinyl Lane. We’ll just have to wait and see. Regardless, I listened to a ton of great music this year, and hopefully these lists may point you toward a band or artist that you will fall in love with.

Top 5 New Releases In 2021

1. Generation Loss – Steve Summers (US)
2. Mobile Home – GusGus (Iceland)
3. Ashamed – Mad Foxes (France)
4. Music Library 02 – Hvörf (Iceland)
5. Nightshade – NAOS (Iceland)

If you’ asked me at the start of December which album would top this list, I’d have said Mobile Home. But then a box of records I bought on a Bandcamp Friday from the L.I.E.S. label arrived and Steve Summers blew my mind. I’m not sure I can explain precisely why I love Generation Loss. I just know that when I put it on, I enjoy every single thing I hear, and if I play it on Spotify I also like almost everything the algorithm throws at me once the album is over. I suspect in 2022 I’ll be digging into his catalog and grabbing some of his earlier 12″ singles.

GusGus is one of my all-time favorite groups, and Mobile Home did not disappoint, the duo of Biggi and Daniél adding Vök vocalist Margrét Rán to the lineup to give an ethereal quality to the new album. This is the first time since I started doing these year-end lists that GusGus put out a new album and didn’t take the top spot on my Top 5. Don’t let that fool you – they’re hardly slipping, and GusGus remains a group I go back to time after time after time.

I first heard about Mad Foxes thanks to Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane, who texted me when she heard one of their songs on KEXP and said I needed to check them out. By the time she got home a few hours later I had already ordered their new album Ashamed as well as their 2018 CD Desert Island Wish. A bit punk-ish, a bit post-punkish, their sound orbits a lot of styles and bands I like. Hvörf made my Top 5 “New To Me” list in 2019, and their electro-library music is great for just chilling out. NAOS rounds out the list with his edgy, techno Nightshade cassette. This one is tough to find, and I don’t think any of his stuff is on Spotify either, but it’s worth the effort to track down.

Top 5 “New to Me” Bands/Performers

1. Jeno Void
2. Algebra Suicide
3. The Ruts
4. Hoodoo Fushimi
5. Laserdance

I could have easily included three artists from my Top 5 New Releases list here, but that seemed a bit too obvious.

I first heard about Jeno Void from, of all places, Instagram, when Seattle’s Selector Records posted about some old school Jeno cassettes that had just come in. I managed to snag three of these by mail, and later a fourth at the shop, and I have to say that I could play these sets over and over and over again. it’s like having a rave in your living room. Hoodoo Fushimi also came to me via Selector with the re-release of the funky ケンカおやじ.

I can’t remember how I learned about Algebra Suicide, but I got hooked on their quirky indie/post-punk/no wave weirdness. The Ruts came to my attention thanks to Henry Rollins’ Stay Fanatic books – with how much he raved about the band I figured I needed to check them out, and I’m glad I did. Laserdance was a shot in the dark – a rewards program at work was shutting down and I converted those points into an Amazon gift card, so I decided to look at some box sets. One that caught my eye was Laserdance’s The Ultimate Fan Box, because who doesn’t want some 1980s Euro synth-pop? I know I do. So I did. And it’s pretty great.

Top 5 Purchases/Acquisitions

1. B.Q. Wave – Vector
2. Realm of Chaos – Blot Thrower
3. Jeno Void Cassettes
4. L.I.E.S. Records
5. V 1/2 Performed Live In Seattle – Led Zeppelin

Vector’s B.Q. Wave was actually the least expensive item on this list, but it will always hold a special place in my collection as it was the 1,000th Icelandic release (across all formats) I acquired. Funny that it came to me not from Iceland, but instead from Seattle’s own Selector Records. It’s hard to believe I’ve amassed that many items from Iceland. And in case you’re wondering, I didn’t slow down with my Icelandic purchases after picking this up – the count currently stands at 1,058 releases, with more already in the mail.

Bolt Thrower’s Realm of Chaos has been in constant rotation on Spotify since I came upon it for the first time last year. Plus as a fan of Warhammer 40,000 fiction the idea of a Warhammer concept death metal album appeals to me. It also has quite an odd backstory. Games Workshop originally allowed the band to use the painting on the cover, but when the label approached GW about a later re-issue the company and it’s IP had grown much bigger and more valuable, meaning there were more lawyers, and ultimately they refused to extend the license. The band did not want the album re-released with a different cover, but the label went ahead and commissioned the same artist who did the original to do a similar-but-not-too-similar new work, which was then used on later releases, much to the disgust of Bolt Thrower who have told fans not to buy it. I’ve coveted copies with the original artwork, and I finally broke down and bought a gatefold original pressing.

Jeno Void and the L.I.E.S. label came into my orbit thanks to Sherman at Selector. Since then I’ve picked up 4-5 Jeno cassettes and at least a dozen L.I.E.S. releases, including my pick for the top album of 2021, Steve Summers’ Generation Loss. As for the live Led Zep, I love the band and have always had an interest in any of their stuff live from Seattle, so when I ran across this at a location that shall remain nameless I just had to pick it up. The sound quality isn’t the best, but it’s still a cool artifact.

Top 5 Live Shows

1.
2.
3.
4.
5.

For the second consecutive year we didn’t see a single live show. Which sucks immeasurably. On a positive note, we have been to a few larger events, most notably a handful of NHL games to cheer on our new team, the Seattle Kraken, so at least we’re starting to feel comfortable enough to go out in group settings. We’re moderately optimistic about 2022, enough so that we already have tickets for the Swedish House Mafia show here in Seattle later in the year. Fingers crossed.

Top 5 Artists on Spotify

1. GusGus
2. The Ruts
3. Beastie Boys
4. F-Rontal
5. Space 92

A lot of folks post on Facebook and Instagram when Spotify produces its year-end listening summaries to each user. And like last year, there were a few surprises fon mine. First and foremost was the sheer amount of time Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane and I spent streaming – 134,469 minutes, which equates to 2,241 hours or 93.4 full days. With both of us working from home and streaming individually in different rooms, this kind of makes sense – a typical work day could involve 20+ hours of streaming. But it’s still a lot of listening.

As for the artists themselves, there were a few surprises. GusGus in the top spot was to be expected, especially with them releasing a new album in 2021. The Ruts raised an eyebrow, though I went through a pretty big Ruts phase earlier in the year. The Beastie Boys are an all-time favorite and never disappoint, so that makes sense. The last two artists, well… I don’t know that I could have named them prior to seeing them on this list. It turns out that both have tracks on a playlist called Techno Bunker that we listen to A LOT, so that’s clearly how they cracked into the Top 5.

Top 5 Places to Buy Records

1. Bandcamp
2. Selector Records – Seattle
3. Lucky Records – Reykjavik
4. Easy Street Records – Seattle
5. Discogs

I tried to shop on as many Bandcamp Fridays as I could – I appreciate the platform’s commitment to artists, and knowing that the artists would receive all the proceeds from purchases on those days got me onto the site just looking for stuff. I ended up making a few decent sized purchases, most notably from the L.I.E.S. and Intellitronic Bubble. Discogs, as always, was also a great online source.

As for bricks-and-mortar, this year I “discovered” one of Seattle’s newer record ships, Selector Records. Selector specializes in electronic and DJ music and my man Sherman has curated a great inventory of labels, genres, and artists into a relatively small space. I don’t think I’ve walked out of there with less than 10 records (and a few tapes) in my bag after any of my visits this year. Easy Street continues to be a local favorite as well, though the closure of the West Seattle Bridge made it harder to get to. And while we didn’t travel to Iceland this year, I believe I had three boxes arrive from Reykjavik courtesy of my friends at Lucky Records, with another box being assembled for January shipment.

I bought a metric ton of music in 2021, and while space is stating to become an issue, I don’t expect to slow down in 2022.

Top 5 Music Books Read

1. Avant-Garde From Below: Transgressive Performance from Iggy Pop to Joe Coleman and GG Allin by Clemens Marschall
2. Once Upon a Time in Shaolin: The Untold Story of the Wu-Tang Clan’s Million-Dollar Secret Album, the Devaluation of Music, and America’s New Public Enemy No. 1 by Cyrus Bozorgmehr
3. Love In Vain – The Story Of The Ruts & Ruts D.C. by Roland Link
4. GusGus 25 Ára
5. A Pig’s Tale: The Underground Story of the Legendary Bootleg Record Label by Ralph Sutherland and Harold Sherrick

Only two of these books were newly released in 2021, but no matter. Avant-Garde From Below profiled a small number of musicians and performance artists and forced me to think a bit about the question of “what is art”. And now that I think about it, so too did Once Upon a Time In Shaolin; I always saw that one-off Wu-Tang album as a bit of a stunt, but it was actually much more than that, it was an artistic statement. Honorable mention to the crowdfunded GusGus 25 Ára photo book, an exquisite piece of publishing if there ever was one.

And that’s a wrap, folks. Hope to catch you here again in 2022.

MAMMÚT – “Ride the Fire” (2020)

Greetings again, dear reader. It’s been a while. In looking back I see this is only my third post in November in what has been a year of sporadic updates. I don’t think the saga that has been 2020 is entirely to blame, thought it has certainly contributed. The ironic thing is I feel like I’ve probably spent more time listening to music this year than I have in a very long time, and maybe ever since I can have it on while I’m working at home. And even though the three trips we had planned for this year all got cancelled, along with the record shopping that would have accompanied them, I’ve continued to buy music at a fairly steady pace. In fact I’m expecting one more shipment from my friends at Reykjavik’s Lucky Record right before Christmas, chock full of new releases.

So why the slowing of the blog? I don’t know. I started to feel like I was writing the same thing over and over. I’ve heard Henry Rollins describe the end of his music career by saying he basically woke up one morning, realized he had no more lyrics, and knew he’d never write a song again. For me it wasn’t quite that harsh, but there is definitely a feeling of not having much new to say, at least not unless an album is particularly compelling.

It’s a gray, damp morning here in the Seattle area. It’s also Thanksgiving, which is an important day here in the US. But of course COVID had other plans. We’ve only had two people inside our house, besides us, since March, and it’ll be just the two of us for Thanksgiving dinner. But we still have so much to be thankful for, even in this crazy year. Neither of us have contracted COVID (as far as we know) and our families and friends are healthy. We’re both still working. We lost a dog, but added a new pup to the household. And even with all this time together in the house, both working from home, we’re still happy to be with each other.

Ride the Fire is the perfect soundtrack for a reflective morning like this one, its sense of wistfulness sandwiched between a light layer of sadness and another of hope. It’s hard to believe this is the same group we saw for the first time back in 2010. Is this really the same band that put out Karkari back in 2008? It’s hard to reconcile but also makes perfect sense. It’s as if you can feel how the members of Mammút have matured over the years, both in becoming more talented musicians but also, just as importantly, adults. The members were young teens when the band started in 2003, meaning they’re probably all in their early 30s now. Some of them have children of their own. There are jobs and bills to pay and responsibilities. Relationships have come and gone. Life happened. And that’s reflected in their music.

Ride the Fire has been getting a lot of play here over the last few weeks, and I suspect it will be getting plenty more. You should definitely go give it a listen yourself at Bandcamp HERE, and maybe pick up a copy on red vinyl while you’re at it.

The Fall – “[Austurbæjarbíó] – Reykjavík Live 1983” (2001 / 2020)

I’m fascinated that this show was recorded, and done so well enough to be released as a live album. I mean, it’s not like in 1983 people were saying, “you know where would be a killer place to do a live album? Reykjavik.” For most of us, at least in the US, about the only thing Reykjavik was known for, if it was known at all, was the 1972 World Chess Championship when Bobby Fischer defeated the Russian Boris Spassky, a feat that actually got him on the cover of Sports Illustrated. But here it is, and it sounds pretty damn good, too.

I’m not a big fan of The Fall, though I respect their achievements and music and role. If I’m being 100% honest, what turned me on to this album was the fact it was recorded in Reykjavik. Who was in the audience for this show? The guys from Þeyr? Purrkur Pillnikk? Were the kids from Tappi Tíkarrass there, including their young lead singer Björk Guðmundsdóttir? I feel like there’s a good chance most if not all the who’s who in the first generation Icelandic punk scene may have been there. Does it matter? Maybe kinda sorta, but not really. Except to me and some people in Iceland, probably. And maybe my friend Bryan in Boston.

As I mentioned above, this actually sounds pretty great. Originally released in 2001, this got the Record Store Day treatment in 2020 in a limited 2XLP edition of 1,000 copies. Is it rock, or punk, or post punk? Who cares. Put the genre labels to the side, pour yourself a whiskey, and drop the needle on this sucker.

Velvet Villain – “Velvet Villain” (2020)

Velvet Villain are a hard rocking duo from Reykjavik, Iceland featuring Jón Gauti and Jóni Sölku . That’s basically as much as I’ve been able to find about them online. But really, what more do you need?

This seven-song record came out in July in a ridiculously limited pressing of 10 copies. It’s on clear vinyl and the jacket reverse is numbered with a sticker. A monthly later Velvet Villain put out their debut album Dead By Midnight on various streaming services. It doesn’t appear that the two releases are identical, at least not in comparing song titles. Five tracks on both versions, with the vinyl having two that don’t appear on streaming (“12:59” and “Maístjarnan”), while the Spotify’s Dead By Midnight includes three tracks not on the vinyl (“Wicked Love”, “Out of Sight”, and “Here Comes the Rain”).

Stylistically Velvet Villain is somewhere in the intersection of hard rock, post-punk, and metal. There’s a layer of angst in the vocals, given even more weight by the tuned down guitar. For my money I recommend “Life In a Fishbowl” and “I Wanna Know”, the latter being the heaviest thing on the record, slow and sludgy.