The Best of 2018

Where did the year go?  In my case, most of it seemingly went to work.  It was a busy year professionally, with a major work project consuming most of it and even keeping us from attending Iceland Airwaves, our first absence from that festival in a decade.  But the good news is that the product launch was pretty successful, so things should return to normal next year.  And to make sure we already bought our tickets for Iceland Airwaves 2019, so hopefully we’ll see you in Reykjavik in November.

It wasn’t all work in 2018, even though sometimes it felt that way.  We took a great trip to Japan and Korea in the Spring and enjoyed long weekends in Portland, Denver, and New York City, all of which involved record shopping.  The blog suffered a bit, however.  This was my lightest year of posting since Life in the Vinyl Lane started back in 2012.  I’ll finish the year somewhere just north of 180 posts, which is a lot, though not even close to the 222 I wrote the year before (and that’s even less than the years before).  Trust me – the reason had nothing to do with not having enough great music to write about.  It was just a matter of time.

Whether you’re a regular reader of Life in the Vinyl Lane or just pop by from time to time, I’d like to thank you.  Feel free to drop me a note any time and let me know what you think, or what I need to listen to, because I love hearing from you.

So with all that being said, here’s Life in the Vinyl Lane’s Best of 2018!  Keep it punk.

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Top 5 New Releases In 2018

  1. Lies Are More Flexible – Gusgus (Iceland)
  2. Electrostatic – Individual Totem (Germany)
  3. Death Is A True Prophet – ERZH (Iceland)
  4. Bring Down The House Lights – Dirty Sidewalks (US)
  5. Digital Garbage – Mudhoney (US)

2018 was a truly outstanding year for music, both generally and for me personally – quite a few of my favorite artists put out releases.  In fact, of the 24 different performers who have graced my Top 5 New Releases lists since 2012, 10 of them put out new albums this year, including three who held down the #1 spot on a previous list.  To get to the Top 5 this year we started with about 60 albums, whittled that down to the final 20. and then listened to those again over the last few weeks.  Arriving at the final seven was easy, but trimming that down to five… man, it was tough.

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The top spot, however, was a pretty easy choice for me.  I’m a huge fan of Gusgus and have been through their various iterations and changing styles.  Their latest release, Lies Are More Flexible, found the group down to just two core members and moving in a more heavily musical direction with outstanding results.  I know not everyone is sold – most of my friends who are also Gusgus fans lean towards either the instrumental or the vocal tracks on the album, loving half of it and not caring as much for the other.  But to my ears it’s all outstanding.

The next two albums weren’t released on vinyl, but that wasn’t going to keep them off the list.  I was a latecomer to the world of Individual Totem, but their new CD creates a dark electro buzz in my brain that has me wanting to explore their back catalog. ERZH’s Death Is A True Prophet is the third heavily electronic album on the list, one physically released only via cassette from Iceland’s FALK label, which continues to pump out infatuating albums by little-known hyper-talented artists.  The Top 5 rounds out with a pair of Seattle-based bands, newcomer psych-stars Dirty Sidewalks and grunge/punk veterans Mudhoney.  Mudhoney edged out a few other challengers (most notably Fufanu) for the #5 spot primarily on the strength of Digital Garbage‘s lyrics, a combination of snark and venom aimed at the direction things are taking in American society these days, which I found to be poignant.

Top 5 “New to Me” Bands/Performers

  1. Rammstein (Germany)
  2. Executive Slacks (US)
  3. Chinas Comidas (US)
  4. GRÓA (Iceland)
  5. Holz (US)

Oddly enough the top artist on this list is one I’ve never written about, nor do I have any of their albums on vinyl, even though they’ve been around forever.  I decided to finally check out Rammstein after, believe it or not, seeing the opening scene to the original xXx movie which featured the Germans playing the song “Feuer Frei!” in a club.  Within a few weeks we had about half a dozen Rammstein CDs and were playing them constantly on our iPods.

Top 5 Vinyl Purchases

  1. Medical Records Catalog
  2. Unholy Death – N.M.E.
  3. Ork Records: New York, New York
  4. Korean Metal
  5. Ravno Do Dna – Azra

medicalrecordslogo

Over one of the holiday weekends earlier this year, Seattle’s Medical Records label posted on their Facebook page that everything on their Bandcamp page was something like 30% off.  I shot them a quick note asking if that included the package deal they offer whereby you can order one copy of every single release they still have in stock, figuring there was no way they’d say yes.  And they said yes.  I did the mental math, factoring in how many duplicates this would mean for me based on stuff I already had, and pulled the trigger.  In just a few days two massive boxes showed up on my front porch.  The final count was just over 50 assorted LPs and 12″ vinyl, plus a few 7″ records and even a cassette.  I still haven’t managed to get through all of this synthy goodness, but everything I’ve pulled off the shelf so far has been awesome.

Unholy Death has a local tie and led to Holly and I taking a field trip, which you can read about if you click the link above.  I got a screaming deal on a used copy of the Ork Records: New York, New York box set, and was excited to find that the unused download card were still inside.  Buying 1980s Korean metal in an (literally) underground market area that included a half dozen stores made for a fun afternoon in Seoul, and the copy of Ravno Do Dna had a surprise inside, three old postcards from Yugoslavia, which was kind of cool.

None of this stuff was particularly valuable or ultra-rare, but instead things that resonated with me.  The money is just a means to get more music!

Top 5 Live Shows

  1. Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Roseland Theater, Portland
  2. Henry Rollins – Neptune Theater, Seattle
  3. Dream Wife – Barboza, Seattle
  4. Mudhoney – Neptune Theater, Seattle
  5. Devil Makes Three – Red Rocks Ampitheater, Colorado

brmcportland

We only saw five shows in 2018.  Given that we didn’t make it to Airwaves, that’s probably about typical, though.  This year’s clear winner was Black Rebel Motorcycle Club (right).  We first saw them a few years back at an outdoor show in Salt Lake City, which was fun, but BRMC are a band that feels like it belongs in a dark club somewhere.  And while the Rosalind isn’t a club, it’s pretty intimate and plenty dark inside, and the band sounded incredible.

I wasn’t sure if Henry Rollins qualified for the list, since we saw his spoken word travel photography show.  But he’s a musician, and it’s my blog, so I guess I can do what I want.  Henry talked at 100 mph for 2.5 hours straight, never once stopping for a break, sitting down, or even taking a single sip of water.  And I’m not exaggerating.  Henry has more energy than should be humanly possible.

It was exciting to see Dream Wife outside of Reykjavik, even more so since I’d just done a 30 minute phone interview with lead singer Rakel a few weeks prior for the newly released issue of Reykjavik On Stage.  For Mudhoney, this was our second time seeing them do a record release show, having gone to the one for Vanishing Point as well, and the mosh pit was off the charts.  The list rounds out with our second time seeing Devil Makes Three at Red Rocks.  They’re alway outstanding – this was either my 6th or 7th time experiencing them live and they never disappoint.

Top 5 Places to Buy Records

North America (excluding the greater Seattle area)

  1. 1709 Records, Vancouver (WA)
  2. Green Noise Records, Portland
  3. Twist & Shout Records, Denver
  4. Academy Records Annex, Brooklyn
  5. Mississippi Records, Portland

The Rest of the World

  1. Time Bomb Records, Osaka
  2. Stereo Records, Hiroshima
  3. Seoul Record Mall, Seoul
  4. Compufunk Records, Osaka
  5. Jet Set Records, Kyoto

I decided to not include any Seattle-area shops this year.  After all, Easy Street Records, which just got named to Rolling Stone‘s top 10 record stores in the US, will probably be #1 on my North America list from now until forever, and there are a number of other local shops I love too.  Plus we traveled enough in the US this year to easily come up with a list of five stores that I want to get back to again someday.

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1709 Records was a very pleasant surprise when I found myself with a few hours to kill on a business trip to Vancouver, Washington, and I came away with some cool Green River and Scratch Acid vinyl.  Portland’s Green Noise has been around for a while, though this was the first time we’d ever stopped by.  It just moved to a location a few blocks from another perennial Top 5 favorite, Mississippi Records (#5 this year, and remember kids – always bring cash, because they don’t take plastic!), so I’m sure it’ll be a regular stop on future visits to Rip City.

timebombosaka1As for the rest of the world, this is the first time no stores in Reykjavik made the list, which gave me more space for other stuff.  Osaka’s Time Bomb was perfectly laid out and organized, and every single record accurately graded.  I could have spent hours there.  Stereo Records wasn’t even on our list of shops to visit in Hiroshima – we found it because it was across the street from a shop we were actually looking for, and it offered a deep selection of excellent condition titles.  I almost included the Osaka branch of Tower Records, and not just for nostalgia reasons – the CD selection was of course filled with Japanese releases, both artists as well as special editions, plus I got a cool old-school Tower t-shirt that always elicits comments when I wear it.  Bonus points to Compufunk for also being a club, a fully stocked bar, and an amazing view of the river in Osaka.

Top 5 Music Books

  1. Beastie Boys Book, by Michael Diamond and Adam Horovitz
  2. Sticky Fingers:  The Life and Times of Jann Wenner and Rolling Stone Magazine, by Joe Hagan
  3. The Mudd Club, by Richard Boch
  4. Zounds Demystified, by Steve Lake
  5. Factory, by Mick Middles

beastieboysbook

I should confess that I only managed to read six music-related books in 2018, so this wasn’t too tough to put together.  The Beastie Boys Book is a great journey through the lives of Mike and the two Adams, with tons of pictures and commentary from assorted friends and fellow artists.  I also enjoyed Sticky Fingers, an in depth biography of Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner.  Wenner is extraordinarily driven, and while at times Hagan’s portrait of him is less than flattering there is no denying Wenner’s ambition and confidence (and the one-time magnitude of his cocaine habit). Richard Boch’s memoir of his time as the doorman of NYC’s infamous Mudd Club is a seemingly honest portrayal of the grittiness of the city in the late 1970s, a city populated by young people who were simply surviving day by day in a dystopian urban environment that offered little in the way of a future and plenty of drugs.  Zounds Demystified is a stream-of-consciousness  history of the post-punk band Zounds written by a former member, and Factory tells the story of the infamous and influential Factory Records label.

 

It’s hard to believe 2018 is already in the books.  Mind you, I think I say that every year – the older I get, the shorter the years seem to be.  I’m excited for a fresh start in 2019 and can’t wait to see what it has in store for us!

Pete Bernhard – “Straight Line” (2009)

Pete Bernhard is best known as a member of the folk-punk trio Devil Makes Three, where he is the lead vocalist and also plays both guitar and banjo.  They happen to be one of my favorite bands, and one we’ve seen live probably five or six times over the years.  Their shows are high intensity, both on the stage and in the crowd, and their songs are populated by outcasts and misfits whose stories the band tells in very non-judgemental and matter-of-fact ways.  They’re a slice of modern Americana.

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Bernhard put out a solo album in 2009 called Straight Line, which I believe is only available on CD/digital (no vinyl).  Interestingly, this same album was more or less released independently earlier the same year under the title 8th Ave and Main (also on CD format).  I picked up a copy of the first version, with it’s simple fold-over cardboard sleeve, at a Devil Makes Three show in Seattle that year, and when I compared the track list to Straight Line I saw that the two were identical, with the notable exception of the title track “Straight Line,” which didn’t make the self-released version.

petebernhardstraightline

On Straight Line Bernhard sticks with the themes he’s known for in Devil Makes Three – people trying to make it through life, the lovers and the losers, those living their lives the best they can.  Musically I find the songs on the album more internally consistent that what I’m used to on the Devil Makes Three records, most of the tracks settling into a steady pace that showcases Bernhard’s voice and lyrics.  I won’t lie – there are times that I miss the harmonizing that I’m used to hearing from his bandmates Cooper McBean and Lucia Turino, but these are songs of a slightly different type.  A bit slower, a bit sadder perhaps.  And the single voice creates a level of heightened intimacy that allows Bernhard to connect both with his stories and the listener.

Called up a friend the other day,
Just to see what kind of words he’d say,

He said “I just met a man down here whose girlfriend don’t like you.”

Said, “Well gimme a number and her address,
And I’ll sincerely do my best
To avoid her the next time I’m passin’ through.”
— “Orphan”

So as near as I can tell, the same versions of all nine songs on 8th Ave and Main appear on Straight Line, with the addition of the tenth track, “Straight Line.”  What’s interesting is that particular song, which is also one of the two best on the album (along with “Sugar Cane”), is actually a re-done version of the song “straightline” that appeared on Bernhard’s 2006 solo release Things I Left Behind.  I discovered this by accident – the two versions share the same lyrics and underlying rhythm, though the original version remains slow and minimal throughout while the 2009 version has a quicker pace, especially in the chorus which has a more desperate feel to it.  I’m glad “Straight Line” got re-worked because I prefer the faster tempo version, but it’s still an interesting choice to take an older track, give it an overhaul, and make it the title track on a new album.

Lookin’ back now I always preferred, child,
My enemies to my friends,
It always just seemed logical to have something constant,
On which you could depend.
— “Straight Line”

“Sugar Cane” is the strongest song on Straight Line, with it’s minimal guitar playing and the sticky molasses sweetness of Bernhard’s voice.  It’s a love song, one of love lost but not forgotten, one that carries the feeling of continued longing and hope that one day it will be rekindled.  It’s the perfect song for Bernhard.

Do you ever get lonesome,
With what’s-his-name?
I’ll be back
This way again.

We were burnin’ hotter than the fallen angels that night,
And it was all over by the mornin’ light,
It was bitter like the blues
But it was sweeter than the sugar cane.
— “Sugar Cane”

Bernhard is a tremendous talented lyricist and vocalist.  Straight Line is available on iTunes, and I highly recommend it for anyone into singer-songwriter stuff, country, or folk, so go give the clips a listen and see what you think.

The Devil Makes Three – “I’m A Stranger Here”

I knew I was going to by a copy of I’m A Stranger Here at the exact same moment I knew that The Devil Makes Three were releasing a new album, and it was going to be called I’m A Stranger Here.

There are any number of reasons why I’ll buy an album.  In my younger days I’d often buy a record or CD on the strength of one song.  Sometimes I won, like when I got Van Halen’s 1984 when “Jump” came out (which, for the record, is maybe the third best song on that album).  Sometimes this strategy failed me, as was evidenced by my copy of Winger’s 1988 eponymous debut purchased strictly on the disturbing “Seventeen,” a song that didn’t sound nearly as bad when I was still in high school.  Today many of my more shot-in-the-dark purchases are based on liking bands similar to the one I’m considering.  But then there are bands like The Devil Makes Three.  Bands who have earned my loyalty and who will automatically get my hard earned cash when they release something new, and who will probably have to put out two consecutive crappy albums before I’d stop buying their stuff.

Holly and I have see The Devil Makes Three live in at least four different venues in Seattle (The Crocodile, Neumos, Shobox Market, and El Corozon)… and they’re not even from here.  In fact they’re playing Shobox Sodo in February, and I think we’ll be going to that show too.  Plus we’ve seen singer Pete Bernhard play a solo set at The Tractor.  Needless to say, we love us some Devil Makes Three, so don’t expect an unbiased review.  You’ve been warned.

The Devil Makes Three describe themselves as “Bluegrass, Folk, Country” on their Facebook page, and I’ve also seen them labelled as alt-country.  Hell, maybe they’re cow punk.  Who cares?  What they are for sure are three musicians with a stand-up bass and some combination of zero, one, or two guitars and/or banjos, depending on the song.  Sometimes they have a guest fiddle player, and I think on I’m A Stranger Here they enlist the services of a drummer at times (something they don’t do live).  Regardless, what you get is some high energy, down-home-country Americana.  When you see them live the crowd includes men wearing kilts unironically, people drinking tallboys, and lots of tattoos.  It will be fun.

It wouldn’t be fair to call I’m A Stranger Here a departure from the band’s sound on their previous albums, but there is something different going on here.  It feels like the trio got deeper into roots music, making a record that is more closely tied to the original source material than a sort of punked up version of it.

Hallelu Hallelu, praise the lord and pass the ammunition too,
They say Jesus is comin’, he must be walkin’ he sure ain’t runnin’,
Who can blame him, look how we done him, Hallelu!
— “Hallelu”

This music is irreverent.  It’s about hard people and hard times.  Religion and loss and violence bubble up under the surface as the band introduces you to determined and flawed people who live life according to their own code.

I need you and I want you ’cause I know you from before,
I hate you and I fear you but I hold open the door,

I see you and you see me and we know what must be done,
So we draw knives and lock eyes ’cause it does no good to run.
— “Goodbye Old Friend”

I’ve listened to this record five times already and I’m still having a hard time pinning it down.  I know that the best “single” is probably the second song, “Worse or Better,” but also that I like side B way better than side A, with “Hallelu” and “Hand Back Down” getting my attention and feet moving.  It may or may not be the band’s best album (only time will tell…), but it does sound like the most authentic as The Devil Makes Three truly captures the southern, working class sound that is the essence of their material.  It might not have been intended as a tribute to those roots, and it may only represent a simulacrum of what we envision music from that era was actually like, but it still beautifully captures a moment and place in time, and the people who populate it.

The Best of 2012

I figured I’d wrap up 2012 with a series of Top 5 lists to share the different ways I enjoyed music over the course of the last year, probably in part because I just finished re-reading Nick Hornby’s novel High Fidelity which, like the movie, has lots of Top 5 lists created by Rob, Dick, and Barry.  All of this is, of course, purely subjective… I don’t pretend to have been exposed to a broad array of music, so I’m sure there’s some amazing stuff out there that not only does not appear on my lists, but that I’ve never even heard of.  But such is life.  So with that…. on to the lists!

Top 5 New Releases in 2012

1.  Fearless – Legend
2.  Live at Gamla Bíó – Agent Fresco
3.  Division of Culture & Tourism – Ghostigital
4.  K2R – Halleluwah
5.  Börn Loka – Skálmöld

I feel like this list might seem a bit pretentious, since all these bands are from Iceland… and I am not.  However, with Iceland Airwaves being the biggest week each year on my calendar, and considering how many bands I saw there this year (36), it kind of makes sense.  Ironically the only one of these I have on vinyl is K2R, though I do have the limited edition vinyl release of Ghostigital on order.  And unintentionally this is a pretty good mix of genres – goth/electronic (Legend), alt (Agent Fresco), industrial (Ghostigital), hip hop (Halleluwah), and hard core metal (Skálmöld).

Top 5 “New to Me” Bands

1.  Legend (Iceland)
2.  Lama (Finland)
3.  Ghostland Observatory (Texas)
4.  Skálmöld (Iceland)
5.  Shabazz Palaces (Seattle)

Most of these bands, other than maybe Legend, are not new.  But they were new to me in 2012 – I’d never heard of them before.  I also had the opportunity to see all of them except Lama live over the course of the year, which certainly increased my interest and appreciation in them.  Check them out.  You won’t be disappointed.

Top 5 Vinyl Purchases

1.  Miranda – Tappi Tikarrass
2.  Rokk Í Reykjavík
3.  The Fourth Reich
– Þeyr
4.  Seattle Syndrome, Vols. 1-2
5.  Mistakes 7″ – Gruppo Sportivo

The top two on this list came from an unexpected source – the flea market in downtown Reykjavik.  I figured I was already done with all my vinyl buying when we walked in, but there was a seller with tons of vinyl including these hard to find gems.  They weren’t cheap, but both were on my short list of things I wanted to find while I was in Iceland, so I was happy to pay the price.  The Fourth Reich was a surprise find at Trash Palace in Stockholm.  The Seattle Syndrome records came to me a day apart, and from different sources, and are a great snapshot of the early 1980s Seattle music scene.  The Gruppo Sportivo 7″ I ran across in someone’s garage, and it sort of opened my mind to taking a chance on stuff that I wasn’t familiar with.

Top 5 Live Shows

1.  Agent Fresco (acoustic) – Nordic House, Reykjavik
2.  Legend – Gamli Gaukurinn, Reykjavik
3.  Ghostigital – KEX Hostel, Reykjavik
4.  Devil Makes Three – Showbox Market, Seattle
5.  Ghostland Observatory – Showbox SODO, Seattle

I could have easily gone strictly with shows we saw at Airwaves, but the two Seattle entries were both strong and featured bands I really like a lot.  The Agent Fresco show was the best, hands down, as the intimacy of the tiny Nordic House venue and the emotional power of the show was almost overwhelming.

Top 5 Favorite Places to Buy Records

1.  Lucky Records, Reykjavik
2.  Easy Street Records, Seattle
3.  Trash Palace, Stockholm
4.  Jive Time, Seattle
5.  Amoeba Records, Los Angeles

I found great stuff in all these places in 2012, and hope to shop at four of them again in 2013 (unfortunately I have no plans to go back to Sweden…).  They all have great selections and are well organized, and I could spend hours flipping through their inventories.

Top 5 Websites

1.  Dust & Grooves – Record collector profiles and photos
2.  Vinyl Noize – Blurbs on rare punk and metal vinyl for sale on eBay
3.  Discogs – THE place to research artists and records
4.  I Love Icelandic Music Blog – No longer getting new posts, but still great
5.  Wikipedia – It has it’s limitations, but a good place to get basic info on bands

Top 5 Music Books

1.  Stuð vors lands by Dr. Gunni
2.  Rip It Up and Start Again by Simon Reynolds
3.  Everybody Loves Our Town by Mark Yarm
4.  Iggy Pop – Open Up and Bleed by Paul Trynka
5.  How Music Works by David Byrne

All in all it was a great year, musically speaking (and in lots of other ways as well, to be sure).  My vinyl library grew considerably (see photo) – I’m not sure how many new discs I added, but in all honesty it has to be somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 or so.  I suspect that will slow down a bit in 2013… but then again, we’re hoping to go to Iceland twice next year (fingers crossed), and we’re planning to hit up Tokyo as well… so time will tell.

I can’t wait to see what 2013 brings!

The Devil Makes Three – “The Devil Makes Three”

This is, without a doubt, one of the greatest albums I’ve ever heard.  Holly heard about the band through an article somewhere… probably Seattle Weekly… and picked up this CD.  As soon as I heard the song “Graveyard” for the first time I knew this was something different, something way outside the types of music I normally listen to, but absolutely amazing.

 

Just a leanin’ on my shovel
In this graveyard of dreams,
Yeah that’s me

I picked up this vinyl re-release a few months back even though we already had the CD, in part because I want to support the band and also because there were four live bonus tracks included that we didn’t have.  I’m not sure if the new version of the CD also has the live tracks, but you can check it out on the band’s website.

So what kind of music does The Devil Makes Three create?  They don’t fit neatly into a genre, which is probably a good sign.  They’re a three piece with no drums – two guitarists (often with at least one of them playing banjo) and a stand up bass.  There’s bluegrass here, and blues, some country, and a healthy dose of punk.  The stripped down sound really helps them create the mood that fits their songs, many of which are about people that seem to fall outside of the societal mainstream – people struggling to get by, boozers, badasses and criminals… but telling their stories in ways that emphasize their humanity.

But I don’t come round here to meet nice people anyway,
And what the hell am I doin’ drunk in the middle of the day,
And I can feel the departure of all my hard earned pay,
But with the shades drawn everything just drifts away.

The band paces their songs well to establish the appropriate mood, with many of the tracks on The Devil Makes Three slow, steady, and deep – the trio really know how to get the most out of their instruments.  Pete Bernhard’s vocals are rich and emotional, and while Cooper McBean doesn’t have any vocal leads on this particular album, his voice is a really great contrast to Bernhard’s, with a much more gravely old school country sound.  Bassist Lucia Turino sings backing on a number of tracks while also helping the band keep time, and there’s a desperation in her voice much of the time that really plays well off of her bandmates.  The way the three of them come together vocally on Dynamite is particularly notable.

And I will rob till my fingers they are down to the bone,
Wander till I can’t remember my own home,
Drink till I don’t know the meanin’ of alone,
Until that bullet flies to carry me home.

Holly and I have seen The Devil Makes Three live probably five or six times in Seattle, and we’re going to catch them again at The Showbox in November.  Their live shows have an amazing energy – they’re pacing is often much faster than on their albums, and the crowd is really active with a sort of dance-mosh that often breaks out in front of the stage.  The two songs that consistently get the biggest rise out of the crowd are “Old Number Seven”, with the entire crowd chiming in for the chorus, “Thank you Jack Daniels / Old Number Seven / Tennessee whiskey got me drinkin’ in heaven”, and “The Bullet”, which the audience sings at full volume in it’s entirety.

You really need to do yourself a favor and check out The Devil Makes Three, and this self-titled album is the perfect introduction.