My Personal 5-10-15-20 Journey

Pitchfork has a cool feature that seems to be alternately called “Music of His/Her Life” and “5-10-15-20”.  The basic premise is the subject talks about what music they were listening to and influenced by as their life progressed, using five year age intervals.  This got me thinking about my own personal 5-10-15-20, so I figured what the hell, I’ll put it out on the blog.  While I focus primarily on albums on Life in the Vinyl Lane, it’s as much about my relationship with music as it is about music itself, so why not.

5 (1976) – The Amazing Spider-Man

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I don’t have any memories of music being played in our Philadelphia townhouse.  That’s not to say there wasn’t any – I just don’t remember it.  We had one of those record player/cassette/8-track combos and the record player allowed you to stack multiple records on it at once.  It would play the side of the first one and when it hit the runout the arm would automatically pick up and move back to its resting position, then the next record hovering over it would drop on top of the first one, and the arm would move back over atodrop on the first track.  During the holidays mom would stack up Christmas records on that spindle, playing all the A sides, then flipping the entire stack over and playing all the B sides.  That was our holiday soundtrack for years and years.

As for me, I do remember having a few of these comic book / 7″ record combos that I’d play on a little portable record player in my room.  I think this Spider-Man was one that I had – it came out in 1974 so the time is right.  If I had any music, I don’t remember it.

10 (1981) – Neil Diamond – The Jazz Singer

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I was tempted to fudge a bit here and push this out to 1983, because that’s when I started actually choosing the music I wanted to listen to.  But I wasn’t there yet in 1981.  My dad was a big Neil Diamond fan though – and I mean big.  By 1981 he was just coming through a rough patch and Diamond’s music spoke to him.  We even saw Neil in concert in Columbia, South Carolina right around this time – I’m pretty sure it would have been 1981 or 1982, and it was the first concert I ever went to.  His connection with Diamond was something I didn’t get, and it wasn’t until I became much older and went through my own mid-life struggles that I came to understand the powerful way Diamond speaks to that experience.  I never got into him per se, but when I went back to vinyl I eventually picked up a copy of The Jazz Singer, and now I get it.

15 (1986) – Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin II

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By the mid-1980s my tastes were firmly entrenched in rock and hair metal, but it wasn’t until 1986 that I discovered that band that would become and remain my all-time favorite – Led Zeppelin.  I still recall the situation.  I was down in the “Sophomore Pit”, a section of the basement of my high school where all sophomores had their lockers.  I was talking to some friends about music, and I believe I was talking crap about some of their current favorites like U2 and Dire Straits.  At some point someone mentioned Zeppelin and I said I didn’t know them.  It was one of those needle scratching off the record moments and derailed the whole conversation.  Because these were my friends they cut me a little slack, but made it clear that I needed to rectify this situation immediately.

Our school at that time was located across the street from the big Bellevue Square Mall, so as soon as the day ended I headed over to Musicland and found a copy of Led Zeppelin I in one of those huge bins of discounted cassettes that used to be in the front of the store.  I liked it, didn’t love it, but I went back a few days later and picked up Led Zeppelin II from the same bin.  And my life changed forever.  That tape, and later a CD replacement, became the soundtrack of the next few years.  I ravenously consumed their entire catalog, and that led me deeper into the world of classic rock that came to define more and more of my musical life.

20 (1991) – Soundgarden – Badmotorfinger

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I’d been into Soundgarden since 1987s Screaming Life EP.  Being that I lived in the Seattle area I was lucky enough to be exposed to a ton of what later became the great grunge bands.  There was a lot of talk in the late 1980s that the Seattle scene was going to break nationally and among my friends there were three bands we figured to be the likely candidates – Mudhoney, Soundgarden, and Tad.  Honestly Nirvana was barely on my radar at that point, though I did have the “Sliver” 7″.  My personal favorite was Soundgarden.

When Badmotorfinger came out in 1991 I was blown away at how fantastic it was, and I’m not talking about “Outshined” and “Rusty Cage”, but instead songs like “Slaves & Bulldozers”, “Jesus Christ Pose”, and “Room A Thousand Years Wide”.  I even had a Soundgarden t-shirt that I practically wore out.  But.  It was also clear to me that this was the end of grunge, despite the fact that Nevermind came out the same year and finally brought the genre to the mainstream.  Badmotorfinger is many things, but grunge is not one of them.  But this style of darker rock held a strong appeal to me and shaped my appreciation for bands like Alice In Chains, White Zombie, and Godsmack.

25 (1996) – Sammy Davis Jr. – I’ve Gotta Be Me: The Best Of Sammy Davis Jr. On Reprise

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I wasn’t buying much music in the mid-1990s, but for whatever reason I told my dad I’d like some CDs for Christmas, specifically some of the old crooners that he was fond of.  One of those CDs he bought me was the newly released I’ve Gotta Be Me: The Best Of Sammy Davis Jr. On Reprise.  I played the hell out of that in my car as I drove around the Eastside doing sales calls. The first four tracks are pure magic – “Lush Life”, “A Stranger In Town”, “What Kind of Fool Am I”, and “Once In a Lifetime” – and I can probably still sing all four of them word-for-word.  I tried getting deeper into Sammy’s catalog, but I always found myself coming back to this CD.  I still play those first songs in the car sometimes and still get goose bumps at the smoothness of Sammy’s voice.

30 (2001) – Sugar Ray – Sugar Ray

sugarraysugarrayI’m still amazed at how much people will say they hate Sugar Ray.  They were like Nickelback before it was popular to hate Nickelback.  I got turned onto Floored (1997) and Holly and I both fell for the band, so much so that we’ve now seen them live a half dozen times in three different states.  In fact they are the first band that we traveled out of state specifically for the purpose of seeing them play, heading down to Lake Tahoe to catch both shows they did on back-to-back nights.  I was a big enough fan that I actually burned my own personal Best Of Sugar Ray CD for my car (remember kids, this was before iPods were a thing and smartphones were still something out of a sci-fi movie).  And you know what?  I still like them.  If they did a reunion show with the original band I’d strongly consider going to see them.  This was probably the start of me realizing that I didn’t need to care what people thought of the music I liked – I could like what I wanted and didn’t have to explain it to anyone.  That may sound obvious, but it was seriously liberating to someone like me who had come to define themselves by the kind of music I listened to and, just as importantly, didn’t listen to (even if I secretly liked it).

35 (2006) –  Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – So Far

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Much as my dad hit his tough patch and leaned on The Jazz Singer, I hit mine in my mid-30s and gravitated towards So Far.  It’s the one period in my life that when I look back on it I feel like I simply don’t even know the person that I was at the time.  Somehow I made it through without making any truly terrible decisions and with my relationships and career still intact. Frankly it could have gone either way.

There was something in the harmonizing of CSNY that drew me back to this album, one I’d probably owned since high school.  The songs are beautiful and heartfelt, and I suppose there’s an undercurrent of sadness that appealed to me at that time in my life as well.  I actually find it hard to listen to these songs now – as much as they helped me then, they’re too stark a reminder of a period I’d just assume not dwell on.

40 (2011) – Agent Fresco – A Long Time Listening

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I first experienced Agent Fresco at Iceland Airwaves in 2010 and was immediately a super-fan.  Their debut LP A Long Time Listening came out the same year an I played the hell out of it for the next couple of years. This was the start of my love affair with Icelandic music, and Agent Fresco were ground zero.

I’ve pointed a lot of people to this album over the years, and most of them took to it.  It’s a record of tremendous beauty, but also significant personal pain.  Sometimes it’s almost too hard to listen to, but it really depends on your frame of mind at the time.

45 (2016) – The Kills – Ash & Ice

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2016 was the year of the female artist.  Four of my top five albums were by women or female bands – The Kills, Dream Wife, Iiris, and Kælan Mikla.  It ushered in an era of appreciation for women in music that I’m still in today.

Alison Mosshart is a fantastic front-woman and I pretty much love every project she’s involved with – Discount, The Kills, The Dead Weather.  She owns the stage, and also has the capacity to show both unwavering confidence and vulnerability depending on the need of the song.  And as for Jamie Hince, there may not be a better guitarist out there today.

 

So there it is, a sort of musical life story.  It seems weird to think about it in this way, but it was also an interesting trip down memory lane, looking back to specific periods, both the good and the not-so-good.  What would your list look like?

“Record Records 10th Anniversary 2007-2017” Compilation (2017)

Normally things on Life in the Vinyl Lane take a hard turn to all things Icelandic in early November, generally running through the end of the year.  The reason, of course, is because that’s when we head to Reykjavik for Iceland Airwaves and return home with a bag full of amazing new (and not so new) albums to share with you.  But this year my record pusher dealer enabler collecting friend Ingvar came to Seattle for a visit and brought with him a big box of stuff that Reykjavik’s Lucky Records had on hold for me.  That means that my “To Listen To” shelf is full of Icelandic records (and a smattering of tapes), so we’ll be getting an early start on Airwaves this year.  Don’t fret though, because Ingvar and I did a fair amount of record shopping here in Seattle during his visit too, picking up a lot of interesting non-Icelandic stuff and meaning I have so much “To Listen To” stuff right now that it’s actually causing me anxiety.

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So without further ado, I’m dropping the needle on the beautiful 2XLP Icelandic label comp Record Records 10th Anniversary 2007-2017.  I was lucky enough to get the red vinyl version, which is limited to 100 copies and comes in simple and elegant gatefold

The Record Records roster is deep – Of Monsters and Men, Retro Stefson, Agent Fresco, Mammút, Vök… it’s an Icelandophile’s dream.  Of the 15 bands on the album there’s only one that I haven’t heard of – Ensími; and I’ve managed to see about 2/3 of them live over the years.  You don’t really need me to tell you much about a label comp that’s this deep – these are great bands, and while I may personally have made a few different song selections, they definitely go this one right. (♠)  Most of the tracks are from the second half of the label’s lifetime, including some new 2017 tunes like Mammút’s “The Moon Will Never Turn On Me” and Moses Hightower’s “Mjóddin”, giving the whole thing a more contemporary feel.

Is Record Records 10th Anniversary 2007-2017 a good Icelandic music primer?  Yes… but with caveats.  Record Records has a certain style, so while there’s rock, reggae, and singer-songwriter stuff, you won’t hear any punk or metal or electronica.  What you will get though is a broader sample of the type of stuff that you may catch of whiff of on the radio, and there are some beautiful performances here such as Vök’s “BTO” and “Jolly Good” by Ojba Rasta.  I know one thing for sure though, and that’s that this record is getting me hyped for Iceland Airwaves 2017!

(♠) OK… I definitely would have included a song by Bloodgroup… but given that they’re no longer active, I can understand their exclusion.

Emmsjé Gauti – “Vagg & Velta” (2016)

We first encountered Emmsjé Gauti on the main stage during the closing night of Iceland Airwaves 2015.  The thing I remember most about his set was being surprised that he had 3/4 of Agent Fresco as his backing band – it was unusual to see a hip hop artist with an actual band behind him.

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Fast forward to 2016 and Gauti has a new double album out, Vagg & Velta.  His style is more on the R&B side of hip hop – the songs are very musical and not as beat-driven as the less poppy forms of the genre, and Gauti’s delivery doesn’t give you the impression that he’d like to cave your face in.  In fact I’d go so far as to say that Vagg & Velta is more music for the bedroom than for the street; his swagger is more of a player than that of a tough guy.  The hardest song on the album is “15.000,” and perhaps tellingly it features his fellow hip hop countrymen Úlfur Úlfur spitting rhymes.

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Lest you think I’m dissing this record, let me be clear – I’m not.  Gauti might not be in uncharted waters as far as the Icelandic scene goes… but he’s probably pretty far from shore with his style.  There’s still plenty of F bombs on Vagg & Velta (pretty much the only English words I can hear in his Icelandic rhymes), but he still keeps it sounding pretty sweet most of the time.

 

 

Definitely the kind of record to put on when you’re just chillin’ with that special someone.

Iceland Airwaves 2015 – Day 5

This will probably be a bit briefer than I’d like it to be, but today we leave Reykjavik and head back home, so that means last minute packing and goodbyes with not enough time and not enough sleep.

The Sunday schedule is pretty limited with only a handful of off-venues going during the day.  We saw two acts at Lucky Records, singer-songwriter Man in Between and the punk/noise duo Döpur, a project by Krummi of Legend, Esja, and Minus fame.  I missed Döpur last year so I was glad to be able to catch them this time around, and they had Lucky almost complete full for their noise/drone set.

We headed over to Vodafone Hall for the main on-venue program, arriving probably 30 minutes after the first performer was scheduled to start only to find a long and growing line outside.  We were afraid this was going to be a repeat of Saturday’s attempt to see Beach House, since the capacity of Vodafone is quite a bit lower than the number of festival passes sold.  After about 15 minutes a staff member came out and let everyone know there were some delays and that they’d be opening the doors soon.  <phew>  At least it wasn’t raining.

The line-up at Vodaphone was strong, though the first four or five performers all shortened their sets a bit to try to get things back on schedule.  Vök opened, the second time we’d seen them on the trip, and they put together another great set.  I made a point of picking up their CD at Lucky earlier in the day.  Next was an interesting run of three performances, all of which saw the instrument playing band members of Agent Fresco performing.  First they backed hip hop artist Emmsjé Gauti, then they did their own five song set as Agent Fresco which featured my favorite song of theirs, “Eyes of a Cloud Catcher” off of A Long Time Listening, and concluding as the backing band for the hip hop duo Úlfur Úlfur, who I really enjoy.  Next up was the UK hip hop duo Sleaford Mods, with their more cadenced storytelling delivery who were interesting to listen to but not terribly compelling to actually watch.

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That all led up to the two main performances, beginning with a roughly hour long set by the electronics group Hot Chip, who put on a great show both musically and visually and seemed to surprise the crowd with an electro cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark.”  The crew at Vodafone turned the stage surprisingly quickly following that set and the world’s greatest party band, FM Belfast, hit the stage and took it home.  I’m convinced that every Airwaves should end with an FM Belfast set – it’s simply the perfect way to conclude your festival on a high energy high note.

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It’s hard to believe it’s all over… sad, but we’re all so tired that bringing some sense of normalcy back to our lives will probably be a bit of a relief too.  Takk to all our friends we got to see this year, old and new, and we hope you’ll all be coming to Iceland again next year for Iceland Airwaves 2016 from November 2-6.  Early bird tickets go on sale November 16…!

Iceland Airwaves 2015 – Day 3

How did we get to Day 3 already?

We’ve been away from home for a little over a week now, and I have to say that other than missing our dog, I have not missed the day-to-day of being there one little bit.  This isn’t some boo-hoo complaint about my life – far from it.  I have a pretty outstanding life full of amazing people, and I get to do things like travel to Iceland to go to music festivals. But a week or so of not going to or thinking about work, paying bills, cleaning clogged gutters, and trying to figure out if the milk in the fridge is safe enough for one more bowl of cereal, well… travel has its benefits.

The weather has turned from mostly dry to mostly hit-and-miss, but that won’t keep us inside.  We wandered town a bit before I caught up with Life in the Vinyl Lane reader and someone I email with regularly, Arni, who was down the street at Reykjavik Record Store.  We hung out with shop owner Reynir for a bit and talked about music and records and their mutual disbelief that I still don’t own any Sigur Rós records.  It was great to finally meet him in person.

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Copyright Life in the Vinyl Lane 2015

From there Norberto and I headed down to KEX Hostel to see one of my favorite all-time Icelandic bands (and frankly just bands period) Agent Fresco (above).  I reviewed their new album Destrier a few months ago and have been loving it.  We got there about 45 minutes before show time, which was good enough to secure spots in the second “row” of standing fans – which if you’ve never been to KEX means we were maybe six feet front the band.  Being close to the action is important at KEX since there is no stage and the performers are at floor level, and I wanted to make sure I could get a few pictures, so an early arrival was a must.  As expected, they killed it with their emotional, high-energy six-song set, which I’m almost certain was all drawn from the new album.  After 25 minutes they were all soaked in sweat and the crowd was hoarse from cheering.  While Holly opted not to join us (the room at KEX can get packed to the point where it’s a bit uncomfortable at times), she followed along online because Seattle’s KEXP radio station broadcast the entire thing live.  The video of the performance will likely be out in the next month or two, so keep your eyes open for it on YouTube!.

We headed back to the apartment, picked up Holly, and then it was a dash two blocks down the street to the Geysir clothing store to see another of our Icelandic favorites, Berndsen, who performed a happy, smiling set of electro-pop.  The store was already packed when we arrived, but eventually we managed to wiggle our way inside so we could get a bit closer and hear the sound better.  Most of Berndsen’s act was drawn from his most recent album Planet Earth, but he also reached back to his debut Lover in the Dark to play my favorite of his songs, “Supertime.”  And, as always, by the end he ended up shirtless and touching people’s faces in the crowd.  “It’s ten Euro to touch my body… or you can buy one of our CDs instead,” he told us at the end of the show.  Love that guy. But I think I’ll stick with the CD.  Thanks.

Our last off-venue show of the day involved a trip back to KEX to see the Japanese acid punk band Bo Ningen (I believe this is pronounced “bo-nin-yin”).  I was intrigued by the clips of their music I heard prior to the trip, and when we’d been at KEX earlier in the day our friend Jim from KEXP told us they were expecting a big turnout for the show.  And Jim was right – we were about four or five people deep in the crowd when we arrived 30 minutes before show time.

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And (un)holy hell, what a show!  This was one of those moments you live for as a music fan, when you go into a show with minimal expectations and something incredible happens.  Because Bo Ningen brings it in a way I’ve never seen anyone bring it before, and when they kicked into gear it’s like they had battery acid burning through their veins and were flailing about trying to get it out.  Taigen (above) was like a possessed cult leader on bass and vocals, summoning demonic spirits to come up to KEX and fry our minds with a sheer wall of noise.  Taigen played the bass behind the back… over the head… upside down… holding it out like a gun… and almost decapitated the camera man not once but twice, and when the guitarist started windmilling his guitar (not his arm in the act of playing it… swinging the entire guitar in circles) in that confined space I was fairly certain someone was going to end up with a concussion.  But it held together until the end, and the cheering that erupted from the crowd at the conclusion of the set was the loudest I’ve ever, ever heard at KEX.  Bo Ningen.  I’ll be buying some of your music as soon as I get home.

For the evening on-venue program we visited Harpa and caught the folk band Árstíðir, the sort of adult contemporary-ish Hjaltalín, and finally Seattle’s own Perfume Genius.  After nearly three long days of festival going we were all a bit tired, though, and the quiet music played by these three performers didn’t do much to help our flagging energy levels, so we walked up the street, got a few slices of pizza, and called it a night.

We’re past the half way point of Iceland Airwaves 2015 now, and it seems like we just got here.  With the normally sparse off-venue on Sunday, and the big blow-out already planned for Sunday night, that leaves us with just one more day to truly pick and choose.  I hope we choose wisely…