The Best of 2017

Unlike many Life in the Vinyl Lane blogs, I’m writing this one on the same day I’m posting it.  It’s Christmas morning, and out my living room window I can see the rare Seattle white Christmas in effect as we got about three inches of snow last night, which is a nice touch (it’ll be even nicer if it’s all melted off the roads by time I have to leave for work on Wednesday morning…).  But since we don’t have kids and both of us have very small immediate families, this morning is much like any other winter-time weekend, only with different holiday-themed coffee cups.

Going into 2017 I decided to start keeping a log to help me with my year-end lists, and while I wasn’t as diligent as I’d have liked it still was a big help, especially in the area of new releases.  There was a lot of great new music this year!  In fact, there was so much that the choices weren’t all that easy to make.  Since Holly and I both have project management backgrounds, though, we were able to come up with a solution – we created a scrum board of our favorite 16 releases of 2017 and then used a random number generator to select which one we would play every night as we worked our way through them.  And I’m glad we did, because there were some albums from earlier in the year that had fallen off our radars a bit, and man they sounded great when we came back around to them.

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In preparation I also spent a few hours combing through the top albums lists of various major (and minor) publications and blogs.  Perhaps even more so in years past I was struck by two things.  The first is how few of the albums on other lists I’ve heard.  In fact, when it came to the major pubs (think Rolling Stone, SPIN, NME…) I literally had only heard ONE album on any of these lists – Songhoy Blues’ Résistance, which appeared at #31 on the Rolling Stone list, though nowhere else.  The only other one I found was in The Quietus‘ top metal albums list, having heard and reviewed Sólstafir’s Berdreyminn.    So at least there’s that.  Only Dr. Rok’s list of Top 20 Icelandic releases yielded any common ground – I’ve heard 14 of these, which probably is indicative of the real issue here, which is that I listen to a lot of Icelandic music, and that stuff doesn’t generally make the year-end lists with a few exceptions.  And that brings me to my second observation.  I’m surprised how many of the bands on these lists I have never even heard of.  In fact, on most lists I’m lucky to have heard of maybe a quarter of the artists, sometimes less.  For a guy who writes a music blog, I sure don’t seem to know much about what’s happening in music.

All that being said, the scrum board has been taken down and the votes tallied.  So without further ado…

Top 5 New Releases In 2017

  1. Neysluvara – Hatari (Iceland)
  2. Midnight Champion – Legend (Iceland)
  3. Suero – Farmacia (Argentina)
  4. Space Cadaver – Space Cadaver (US – New Orleans)
  5. Sports – Fufanu (Iceland)

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There were two albums I knew were going to be in my Top 5 even before the scrum board experiment – Neysluvara and Midnight Champion.  They were clearly head-and-shoulders above all comers in 2017.  While Legend held an edge over Hatari by virtue of the fact that they put out a full album while their island-mates only gave us a four-song EP (and one that was only on CD to boot!), we were both simply blown away by Hatari.  Neysluvara‘s brand of IDM has been pumping out of my iPod almost non-stop over the last two months and it doesn’t get old.  If I’m being honest Hatari probably gets a little extra lift by the fact that we saw them live this year and they blew us away.  I get that that shouldn’t impact a top album kind of thing, but as Holly pointed out, this is a blog and music is a personal experience, and it’s hard to separate out those personal experiences from the music itself.  So as much as I love Midnight Champion, both musically and lyrically, I’m giving the top spot by Hatari.

Suero had fallen off the radar for a while and revisiting it reminded me of just how good it is.  If there’s one thing that separates it from Space Cadaver and Sports, it’s the sonic experimentation the Argentinian’s do.  Sure, it’s all electronic music; but it’s all over the board, from pure dance numbers to crazy experiments.  And I’d be lying if the personal connection we made with the Sima brothers earlier this year on our visit to Buenos Aires didn’t have an impact on my feelings about this album.  Space Cadaver is unquestionably my favorite metal album of 2017, and while I think it’s only available on cassette you owe it to yourself to get a copy and go buy a cheap boom box at the pawn shop so you can listen to it (or, of course, simply buy a download, you know, if you’re lazy like that), and Fufanu hit it out of the post-punk park with Sports.  From a genre standpoint I’m very happy with this Top 5 list as there’s great stuff here for people of almost any musical taste.

Top 5 “New to Me” Bands/Performers

  1. Hatari (Iceland)
  2. Farmacia (Argentina)
  3. Kuldaboli (Iceland)
  4. Revenge of Calculon (UK)
  5. Egyptian Lover (US)

I’ve already touched on the top two bands on this list, so let me move on to the next three.  Kuldaboli’s Vafasamur Lífsstíll 2015-2016 came out at the very end of 2016, and if I’d heard it then instead of early this year it probably would have made my top five new releases list last year – it’s that good.  I got to see him perform live at Lucky Records during Airwaves this years as well as chat with him for a few minutes – good dude.  We caught Revenge of Calculon live in the cramped, damp confines of Dillon on the last day of Airwaves and they killed it with their brand of electro-movie-horror-funk and since then I’ve picked up all four of their 7″ records.  As for Egyptian Lover… how had I gone this long without ever having heard the Lover before??  I can thank our friend Ingvar for this one.  We were chatting about music over dinner when he visited Seattle and was dumbfounded by my lack of Egyptian experience.  The next day at Silver Platters he walked up to me with a box set, pressed it in my hands, and said “you need to buy this”.  And he was right. Takk, Ingvar!

Top 5 Vinyl Purchases

  1. “Tug of War” b/w “Give Me the Knife” – Connections
  2. Driving the Bats Thru Jerusalem – Bonemen of Barumba
  3. 20 Jazz Funk Greats – Throbbing Gristle
  4. Special Offer – Sensational
  5. Suero – Farmacia

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Four of the five items on this list have some kind of personal connection, actually resulting in me becoming connected with the artists.  The totally random pick-up of the Connections 7″ led me to former member Nolan Anderson and his lovely wife Catherine, who today perform as the Mad Andersons.  I was able to provide a ripped copy of the songs to Nolan, which he hadn’t heard in decades, and that made me feel really good.

My post on Bonemen of Barumba somehow found its way to former founding member Mark Panick, who stunned me when he posted on Facebook that he liked the fact that I obviously “got it” in terms of what the band was doing.  We later connected online, only to come to find out that we have a friend in common – the one and only Ingvar of Reykjavik’s Lucky Records.  Mark even sports a Lucky t-shirt in a video he was in earlier this year.  Ingvar struck again with Sensational, who I turned him onto during his trip to Seattle and who he then, against all logical odds, ran into randomly on the streets of NYC just days later.  That led to me Facebook messaging with Sensational a bit and buying some mail order from him.

Oddly enough Iceland also played a part in us connecting with Ariel and Diego Sima of Farmacia in Buenos Aires – their album Suero was put out on cassette by Reykjavik’s Lady Boy Records.  We thoroughly enjoyed our time with the brothers while in Argentina and picked up a bunch of their back catalog from them.  As for Throbbing Gristle… this one was purely about acquisition.  My local record haunt Vortex posted on FB that they’d just acquired a bunch of experimental stuff from a local DJ and I immediately wend down to the store where I scored a couple of great condition TG titles, a great opportunity to explore some of the early works of the pioneers of industrial music.

Top 5 Live Shows

  1. Hatari – Gamla Bíó, Reykjavik
  2. Sir Mix-A-Lot – Nectar Lounge, Seattle
  3. Metallica – CenturyLink Field, Seattle
  4. Revenge of Calculon – Dillon, Reykjavik
  5. GusGus – Reykjavik Art Museum, Reykjavik

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I thought I had this list wrapped up about a week ago.  And I did.  At least until we headed out to Nectar Lounge on Dec. 23 and caught Sir Mix-A-Lot live, which forced me into a last-minute revision.

I covered the Hatari, Revenge of Calculon, and Gusgus shows in my various posts from Iceland Airwaves this year, and actually did the same about Metallica when I wrote about the live CD of this actual show.  Each of these shows gave me something different.  Hatari was a brilliant performance, an integration of stage presence and music; Metallica was a chance to revisit my youth, the first time I’d seen the masters of thrash live since the late 1980s; Revenge of Calculon was one of those great unexpected surprises you sometimes get at live shows; and Gusgus… what more can I say about Gusgus?  They gave us a 90 minute set that had the crowd swaying and dancing the entire time and were musically brilliant as always.

As for Mix-A-Lot, he’s Seattle hip hop royalty and his 1986 debut LP Swass spent a lot of time in the cassette player of my ’84 Mustang when I was in high school.  He did shows on back-to-back nights at the intimate Nectar Lounge (max capacity 400) in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood last weekend and we had a blast at the Saturday night gig.  In addition to some new stuff, Mix gave us a ton of classics like “Testarossa”, “Beepers”, “My Hooptie”, “Swass”, and even a little “Buttermilk Biscuits”.  Of course he also played his mega-hit “Baby Got Back”, but as a Seattleite and long-time Sir Mix-A-Lot fan there was one song I HAD to hear, and he gave it to us – “Posse on Broadway”.  Rest assured Mix fans, he’s still got it.  Posse up!

Top 5 Places to Buy Records

North America
1.  Easy Street Records, Seattle
2.  Daybreak Records, Seattle
3.  Disko Obscura, New Orleans
4.  Skully’z Recordz, New Orleans
5.  Extremem Noise Records, Minneapolis

The Rest of the World
1.  Lucky Records, Reykjavik
2.  Reykjavik Record Shop, Reykjavik
3.  Smekkleysa, Reykjavik
4.  Tempo Musica, Buenos Aires
5.  Reykjavik Flea Market

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I swear, much of these lists don’t change don’t change from year to year.  It would be a weird for Easy Street not to be #1 for me in North America given how often we go there, though the relatively new Daybreak Records definitely gives Easy Street a run for its money in the area of used vinyl.  Our trip to New Orleans didn’t yield a ton of music, but Disko Obscura’s collection of great synth albums was well worth the visit and the guy over at Skully’z turned us on to Space Cadaver and some good punk and metal stuff, which was cool.  I’ve been to Minneapolis a bunch of times, but somehow never made it to Extreme Noise, an oversight I was glad to correct this year – tons of great punk and metal there.  We have a trips to Portland (OR) and Denver already on the books for the first half of 2018, so I definitely have some more good record shopping in my future.

We didn’t do as much international travel this year has we have in the recent past, only visiting two countries – Iceland and Argentina (hard to say we “only” got to take two international trips this year… we’re super-fortunate to be able to travel as much as we do). Unfortunately the one thing we found to be expensive in Argentina was vinyl, which was seemingly completely out of whack with reality.  I found some exciting early punk stuff, but at $150+ per record US I just couldn’t do it.  I broke down and picked up a couple of titles, but our best success was in the tiny Tempo Musica where we loaded up on local CDs thanks to a lot of help from the owner (and some recommendations from a couple of guys working at a food truck earlier in the day!).  The rest of the shops are all in Reykjavik and you’ve likely heard me prattle on about them endlessly in the past, but all are great places to check out should you find yourself in Iceland.

Top 5 Music Books

  1. Art Sex Music by Cosey Fanni Tutti
  2. Lou Reed:  A Life by Anthony DeCurtis
  3. Complicated Fun: The Birth of Minneapolis Punk and Indie Rock, 1974-1984 by Cyn Collins
  4. Disco’s Out…Murder’s In!: The True Story of Frank the Shank and L.A.’s Deadliest Punk Rock Gang by Heath Mattioli and David Spacone
  5. I Dreamed I Was a Very Clean Tramp by Richard Hell

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I didn’t do as much music reading this year as I have in years past – probably only 7-8 books total.  That being said, I’m comfortable in recommending all of these to you.  Art Sex Music is head and shoulders above the rest, giving us as it does a glimpse into the 1970s experimental scene in the UK by Throbbing Gristle member and artist Cosey Fanni Tutti.  Tutti isn’t afraid to let us know anything about her life and art, and her seemingly near-complete transparency makes for a powerful, if at times sad, read.  I have a tremendous amount of respect for her and her work.  DeCurtis’ book on Lou Reed was deeply researched and I was primarily drawn to the more pure biographical aspects of the narrative, not so much the minutiae of Reed’s individual releases.  Complicated Fun is an entertaining and informative oral history of the Minneapolis scene, one that in many ways is reminiscent of Seattle’s, while the last two are entertaining first person tellings of hard punk rock lives.  It also features our very own Kevin Cole from Seattle’s KEXP radio, as Kevin was a noted DJ and record store owner in Minneapolis during the era.  it’s a small, small world.

 

Well, there you have it, my faithful readers.  Thank you, as always, for your support and comments.  While at times the pure need to write overwhelms me to the point where I feel like it’s something I have to do in order to not spontaneously combust, Life in the Vinyl Lane doesn’t exist in a vacuum and it’s put me in touch with some amazing people over the years, perhaps no year more so than 2017.  And it’s these connections that make it a truly special experience.  So no matter where you’re reading this, I say “thank you”, and I’ll see you in 2018!

Bob Marley – “Legend” (1984)

I have a sort of rule when it comes to my music buying – if I already have an album on one format I won’t buy it on another format just for the sake of having both.  I do this mostly to protect my wallet from my irrational desires to buy vinyl copies of every album that I love.  It’s my way of trying to draw the line between being a music fan and a vinyl collector (or, as my friend Limpa from the awesome Swedish Punk Fanzine site would say, “Collector Scum” (a label which he applies to himself as well!)).  I know I have an obsessive streak, and it would be very easy for me to go down the vinyl rabbit hole, smiling and throwing money around like crazy as I descended into madness.

There are exceptions to this rule, of course (“They’re more like guidelines…”).  If I have something on vinyl and I really want to have it on my iPod, I’ll buy a used CD copy for $5 so I can burn it.  I’ve even gone the other way a few times, most recently when in Reykjavik last year and I spotted a vinyl copy of Legend’s insanely great debut Fearless.  I justified this to myself by rationalizing that in fact I didn’t actually have it on CD… I just had it ripped to my iPod from a friend’s copy of the CD (thanks Tito!).  So sure, why not drop $50 on a nice used copy, right?  Right…?

Hi.  My name is Jeff.  And I am a vinyl addict.

I mention all this because while at Easy Street the other day for Record Store Day, after I picked up an armload of RSD releases I took a few minutes to browse the used sections, and that’s where I came across this super clean, original US pressing of Bob Marley’s Legend (coincidence that the name of this album is also the name of the band mentioned earlier…?  Enquiring minds want to know…).  I suspect that I am fairly typical among American music fans in that my first real exposure to reggae came via Bob Marley and this album (♠).

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Legend truly anchored into my consciousness during a spring break driving excursion I took with my friend John sometime around 1991 or so.  We drove my dad’s Isuzu Trooper from Seattle to Sedona, AZ, over to San Francisco, then back to Seattle over the course of about a week.  The first day took us from Seattle to Nephi, UT, which Google Earth tells me is about 1,000 miles.  What Google Earth doesn’t tell you is that most of that is through vast swaths of nothingness.  John and I were cranking through cassettes one after another, and we finally landed on Legend somewhere around Idaho, and it was somehow just a completely perfect meeting of music and mood and scenery.  I’ve been in love with the album ever since.  Unfortunately the cassette player crapped out right after we left San Francisco, leaving us to drive the last 12+ hours with no music at all, not even the radio, which truly sucked.

So when I saw this copy of Legend for good price, I figured “why not.”  And this morning I put it on the turntable.  Something seemed different though – right on the first track, “Is This Love”… it felt a bit richer, a bit more dub-like.  I chalked that up to me actually focusing a lot on the music and maybe hearing some nuances that I normally miss.  Until the second song “No Woman, No Cry” came on.  This was most definitely NOT the same version as the one on my CD!  After a bit of online research I learned that while the original US release shared the same track list as other versions (excluding “special” editions), in fact the versions of some of the songs were different, and very noticeably so.  It’s like listening to a completely different album.

I’m not going to do a detailed breakdown as to how these versions are different – Wikipedia actually does a pretty good job of that HERE.  That being said, if you’ve never heard this version before, it may be of interest.  I find the remixed tracks much “poppier” than those I’m more familiar with from the later versions of Legend, and I don’t want to get into which is better, as both are enjoyable in their own ways.  So if you’ve always had this on CD or later editions of the vinyl, keep your eyes out for an original US release if you want to get a different spin on this all-time classic.

(♠)  OK, in my case my very, very first exposure was probably the Eddie Grant single “Electric Avenue,” but that was just one song.

Legend / Sólstafir – “Fjara / Runaway Train” split 7″

legend-solstafirI was super excited when I heard that the great Icelandic bands Legend and Sólstafir were releasing a split single, with each band covering a song of the other.  The vinyl version was limited to 300 copies – 140 black, 90 silver, and 70 red; there was also a cassette version released in a whole bunch of different colors too.  As soon as I learned of it back in October I ordered my copy.

Due to various unforeseen circumstances, it took a while for this sucker to come out.  But on Record Store Day, of all days, it arrived in my mailbox.  While I had just returned home with a stack of new vinyl, this was the one I was the most excited about giving a spin.

Side A features Legend’s version of Sólstafir’s “Fjara,” from their 2011 double album Svartir Sandar which I actually posted about a while back.  Krummi’s vocals are PERFECT for covering Sólstafir, and Halldor knows how to create a sonic soundscape that captures the dreariness of the original.  About half way through they combine to kick it up a notch and switch from something similar to the original, to a purely Legend track, which was a great and unexpected twist.  They started with something that stayed somewhat true to the original, then exploded out and made it their own.  Nice.

Sólstafir performs Legend’s “Runaway Train” on side B, a staple of their live set and a truly relentless song.  Oh man, Sólstafir absolutely put their own stamp all over this one.  They sort of did the reverse of what Legend did on their track – the first part is a melancholy Sólstafir version of this song (playing it in their own style), and then it flips to a more fast tempo Legend-like style, though Sólstafir still keep their distinctive wall of sound, which is totally different than the “cleaner,” more precise sound of the original.  I was surprised that they selected “Runaway Train” instead of something like “City” or “Devil In Me,” but they killed it.

These are two bands I like, and I’ve had the privilege of seeing both live at Airwaves – Sólstafir once and Legend three times.  They’re both fantastic in their own rights, and I was impressed with how they branched out on these covers.  Both bands play a sort of doom and gloom style of music, though taking different approaches to the same overall mood.  I was intrigued that, at least to my ears, both songs seemed to start in the style of Sólstafir before making a sudden, violent departure to take on Legend-style intensity.  I’m not sure if this was intentional, accidental, or if I’m just over-thinking it, but regardless it created something very intriguing to me.

I’m not sure if/where you can find this, as the entire original run is sold out.  I saw one copy each of the vinyl and cassette on Discogs with an asking price of about $40 apiece, which is certainly pretty steep.  But don’t despair, my friends, as it appears that there is a limited edition 7″ reprint… that comes with the cassette copy too, available HERE!  So don’t say I didn’t tell you – go out and order your copy now!

Record Store Day 2014

I approached Record Store Day 2014 with both excitement and apprehension, as usual.  Excitement because there was so much cool stuff on the schedule for release; apprehension because I know it’s just one big mess at a lot of the stores, mostly due to people’s boorish behavior.  My #1 want was Mudhoney’s On Top: KEXP Presents Mudhoney Live on Top of the Space Needle, though given that (1) it was limited to 2,700 copies and (2) I live in the band’s “home” town of Seattle, I figured my chances were slim unless I wanted to camp out.  Which I didn’t.  And I didn’t get a copy.

Regardless, Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane and I hopped in the vinylmobile this morning, got coffee, and headed to Easy Street Records in West Seattle.  We arrived at just after 7AM, which is when the doors opened.  People were still funneling in from the outside, and I have to say it was at least somewhat organized and I didn’t see anyone acting like a complete and total asshole.  The guy behind me in line had already been through once and was carrying a huge stack of vinyl (including the elusive Mudhoney, damn him!) back upstairs where all the 12″ records were, having come back downstairs for a few minutes to scour the 7″ and 10″ releases.  He let me know I was way too late for Mudhoney (thanks guy), which was confirmed by the dude working upstairs (Easy Street only got half of what they tried to get in their order).  Oh well.

2014rsd1As you can see, it was crowded as hell, but more or less orderly which was nice.  I picked up the Half Japanese Volume One:  1981-1985 three record set (includes download card… thank you!) along with the limited edition (I believe Seattle exclusive) red vinyl re-release of Screaming Trees Last Words:  The Final Recordings before taking my place in line.  And slooooowwwwllllyyy winding my way through the store to the cash registers, which took about an hour (no joke).  Fortunately the trip took me through every section downstairs, including used CDs and all the 7″ records, so I also snagged Foals Live at the Royal Albert Hall that someone had discarded, a Caspar Babypants 7″, and a used CD of Mudhoney covering songs by The Sonics, which is cool.

That was a pretty respectable haul, but there was one specialty item that Easy Street wasn’t carrying, but that the Seattle branch of Silver Platters was:  Eilon Paz’s monster record collector book Dust & Grooves:  Adventures in Record Collecting.  If you haven’t checked out Eilon’s website devoted to vinyl collector profiles, you really should both because his interviews are great and his photography is fantastic.  So we headed to Silver Platters and got there about 20 minutes after they opened.  I initially intended only to look for the Mudhoney record and the book, but of course was immediately distracted by the huge selection of RSD titles and in short order found myself carrying Ice-T Greatest Hits, Public Enemy’s It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back with the 3D cover, the Pagans what’s this shit? 1977/1979, and the RSD special picture disc version of Motörhead‘s newest album Aftershock.  Oh yeah, and a copy of the book I actually came for!

2014rsd2The line here was crazy long as well, but with one more cash register open than Easy Street had, it actually moved surprisingly fast – it took us maybe 30 minutes to get through. And to top it off, when we got home what was waiting for me in the mailbox?  The split LegendSólstafir limited edition 7″ I ordered like six months ago!  Score!

Now, I don’t have kids, so I’ve never been able to experience how much portable electronics have made it easier to travel with the little ones.  I mean, the best I could do on a long car trip or flight when I was young was draw, read, or play with my G.I. Joes, all of which gets old pretty quick when you’re a kid and are stuck in a seat.  But I have to say that having a smart phone takes the edge off of standing in line.  Texting with Travis of the Guerrilla Candy blog and reading/posting RSD updates on FB with my friends helped pass the time quite a bit.  As, of course, did listening to the conversations going on around me, some of which were replete with complaining girlfriends (“this line isn’t moving at all”) and various levels of music and movie snobbery.

You know, despite not getting the one record I really, really, really, really (really!) wanted, it was a very positive RSD experience.  I got some cool and unexpected stuff, more material for the blog!  And I’ll probably just break down and go onto eBay and get a copy of that Mudhoney record.  I’ll pay “too much,” but at least I’ll have it.  Sometimes that’s what you have to do.