Einar Vilberg – “Noise”

Somehow I managed to get through all but one of the records I picked up on our trip to Norway and Iceland early last month.  I don’t think I fully got through my haul until January last time around.  I guess this means I need to buy more records.

(Holly is likely reading this in bed, on her iPad, laying next to me.  Immediately after reading the last sentence she probably thought something along the lines of “no, you do not need more records.”)

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That brings me to Noise, the 1981 solo effort by Einar Vilberg, who may be better know for being one half of the acclaimed and previously reviewed Jónas Og Einar.  Noise is somewhat of a departure of the folk rock sound of that duo’s 1972 record Gypsy Queen, though Vilberg mixes styles across the 10 songs of this release and there are certainly elements of his folk period to be found.  In fact he covers a lot of musical ground here, from garage rock on the fantastic “Words Can’t Tell,” to the country rock of “Perfect Charlie,” to the James Taylor-like “For You,” and back to his own roots with “Music Is My Light.”

Noise is an enjoyable mix of sounds and styles, one that probably has something for almost anyone who is a fan of “rock” in general.  I’m kind of glad I saved this one for last so I could go out with at least a bit of a bang and something I enjoyed all the way through.

PS&CO – “Öfgar Göfga”

Sometimes Life in the Vinyl Lane puts me in contact with musicians.  Normally it’s either the  “please review our album” or “thanks for reviewing our album” kind of thing, which is cool. But every now and again I have a longer running and more interesting ongoing conversation with someone.  And rarely, though it does happen, we eventually meet.  Which is what happened this year at Iceland Airwaves when I sat down for coffee with guitarist, singer, and artist Pjetur Stefánsson at Cafe Babalu.

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I’ve written about a couple of Pjetur’s records before, including Í léttum dúr (1985) and Góðir hlutir gerast hægt (1987), both of which I enjoyed.  Perhaps most interesting was that most of our conversation had nothing to do with his music, instead covering art, politics, and Icelandic history, though we did talk a bit about some of the collaborations he’s done with Megas.  Before departing he left me with a couple of his CDs and also, much more exciting for a vinyl junkie like me, a copy of his 1988 record “Öfgar Göfga.”  Ironically I’d seen a copy at one of the used shops earlier that same day but hadn’t bought it!  Pjetur combined music and art in this project, hand painting the front of each jacket – so all 350 vinyl copies of it are unique.  Very cool.

Musically Öfgar Göfga offers up some very good blues rock.  The two sides are labeled simply A and B, and no track list is provided anywhere, but I was able to find a track listing for the albums six songs online.  The best number here to my ears is “Kvennapopp,” the second song on side A, which has an early, bluesy, Rolling Stones style to it.  In fact much of the vocals across the album has a hint of Mick Jagger to it, a bit raspy and a bit sneering.

Shellac – “Dude Incredible”

I’ve struggled with this post probably more than any other I’ve written over the last few years.  Why?  Because Dude Incredible is hard to get a read on.  I liked it from the first listen, but I have a hard time staying focused on it and it feels disjointed at times.  Normally I’ll listen to something two three times in quick succession before writing about it, but I’ve played Dude Incredible at least a dozen times over the last few weeks, looking for that thread or theme I could use to get me started.  And I keep coming up empty.  So screw it, I’m just going to play it again and write while I listen.

shellacdudeincredible2I have no prior experience with Shellac, though I do know Steve Albini a bit from his Big Black work, most specifically the brilliant Songs About Fucking, a grating industrial noise-fest of awesomeness.  I’d also seen a few posts on the Facebook group “Now Playing” by others who had picked up Dude Incredible, most of who raved about it, so when I saw it in the New Arrivals section at Silver Platters it was a no-brainer.  When I got it home I was pleasantly surprised to find it also included a CD copy of the album, which is nice – personally I like that even better than a card for a free download, since it gives me more options.

The album opens with the title trick and a basic, stripped down blues-rock intro that picks up steam (and drums, and bass) about 20 seconds in, which surprised me the first time I heard it given all I knew of Albini was from Big Black.  And that is definitely not Big Black-ish.  But the vocals… though sung in a more standard rock style, there’s some Steve Albini in there:

Oh my brothers,
And oh my other comrades,
Let’s leave this place directly
And go where the females congregate.
Perhaps they’ll let us fuck them,
And on the way we’ll have adventures.
— “Dude Incredible”

Well, OK then.

The song takes on a much more frenetic pace about half way through and starts to feel a bit more like what I was expecting, breaking loose of typical song structure into something with weird timing, and sounds and words put together in ways that almost makes you feel a bit uncomfortable, ending with a sort of martial drum beat.  Now we’re talking.

Albini actually broke the album down song by song on a podcast recently, and a summary can be found HERE.  The word and concept of “surveyor” is a common element, appearing in the titles of three of the album’s nine songs, one of which is an instrumental (so they could have pretty much called it anything they wanted…).  In the interview Albini indicated that surveyors and surveying were an ongoing topic of conversation among the band members, going all the way back to the Founding Fathers and the assertion made by Albini that “quite a few” of them were surveyors.  Certainly it’s a word with different, though somewhat related meanings, from the formal process of a surveyor establishing the boundaries to a piece of land, to doing a broad overview of some topic (i.e. surveying a course in college), to actually asking different people the same questions in order to find out the most frequent/popular responses.  I’d personally be hard pressed to shoehorn the framework of the album around those concepts, but hey, I’m not a musicologist.  I’m a dude with a turntable and a computer.  So cut me some slack.

One of the high points of the album for me are the very musically blunt, driving, grating poundingness of “Riding Bikes,” which is, not coincidentally, about kids riding bikes and getting into trouble, an experience many of us can relate to (especially if you include skateboards into the mix…).  The other is “All The Surveyors,” with it’s sort of bizarre acapella intro that gives way to a structured, punctuated musical framework for some odd vocals (including crow-like “caw caw!” screams).

If there is a common element to Dude Incredible, it’s the very structured musical format.  A lot of the playing is single notes that aren’t held at all, giving them a very punctuated quality, particularly on the bass and the sharp, slow drum beats.  It gives it a direct and aggressive sound without having to be fast or loud.  It just keeps coming at you.  And you can’t stop it.  Song after song.

Dude Incredible isn’t an “easy” album, but there’s plenty of easy music out there you can listen to when you just want something you can ignore.  So challenge yourself once in a while.  It’s good for you.

“The Rebel Kind: A Collection Of Contemporary Garage And Psychedelic Bands”

I like a good compilation, especially the sort of indie/small label ones that lump together groups of seldom (if ever) heard bands.  And I have a soft spot for the 1980s.  So when I found this 1983 comp of current garage/psych bands over at Philly’s Sit & Spin Records, I didn’t have to think too hard about whether or not to buy it.  I like the genre, the time period is right, plus I recognized The Nomads, so what the hell.

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Turned out to be a great decision on my part, as whoever curated this thing put together an impressive 14-band roster that covers a range of different subgenres within the overall garage/psych category.  From the pure fuzz guitars on The Nomads’ “Have Love Will Travel” to the rockabilly of The Viceroys’ “7 Come 11” to the pure 60s classic stylings of The Unclaimed, it’s a solid effort start to finish.  My favorite is “Elongations” by Plasticland, sort of a psych/glam blend that reminds me more than a little of an early version of Seattle’s own Mother Love Bone.  Honorable mention to The Point for “All My Life,” featuring a male/female singing duo that captures the best elements of The Vaselines, but does so without the later bands sometimes intentionally amateurish sound.

The Rebel Kind is a winner start to finish, so if you find a used copy floating around out there for a fair price, do yourself a favor and latch on to it.

Led Zeppelin Remasters

Unless you’ve been living under the “rock” in rock ‘n’ roll, you probably heard at least something about the Led Zeppelin catalog being re-released on vinyl.  Well, not only are the records being re-released, they’re also being remastered by none other than Jimmy Page, and offered in a bunch of different packages, from the basic original format, to two record sets featuring the original album plus a bonus record, to a “Super Deluxe” version that includes vinyl, CDs, and a full color book (oh yeah, and there are CD versions as well).

Is this a shameless money grab as some have insinuated?  Personally I think not.  While you may not care about things like previously released alternate takes and instrumental tracks, a lot of die-hard fans do.  Throw in some live stuff and remastering by Page himself, and I for one was pretty excited to get my hands on some of these babies.  Hell, even if you don’t want the bonus materials, it’s a great chance to get a pristine copy of the albums on heavyweight vinyl for a reasonable price.  It’s not going to hurt the value of your originals, and you’re welcome to keep listening to them instead if you want.  Hell, I still have all the Led Zep albums on CD, all of which I bought before 1990.

The other day I was fortunate to come across copies of all three of the first batch of re-issues – Led ZeppelinLed Zeppelin II, and Led Zeppelin III.  The first two are the “standard” format vinyl – the remastered record in a sleeve featuring the original artwork and packaging (so Led Zep II is gatefold), while the third (Led Zep III) is the Deluxe Vinyl Edition that comes with a second record of alternate versions and instrumentals.  The packaging on all three is top notch with sturdy, high gloss jackets that have colors that really pop and seem at least slightly resistant to fingerprints.  I mean, don’t put down a slice of pizza and pick up your copy… but its better than some albums that I have that you can walk past on the shelf and they’ll somehow end up with fingerprints on them.  The vinyl is heavy 180 gram, the inner sleeves are good quality (not just paper), and all my records came out of their sleeves looking relatively clean and unscuffed.  So far, so good.

Led Zeppelin I

If “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” doesn’t give you chills, you’re already dead.

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I haven’t dusted off LZ I and listened to it all the way through in years, probably.  And while I won’t say something ridiculous like “gosh, I forgot how good this album is,” I will say that it still sounds amazing and it’s hard to believe it’s 46 years old.  Forty-six!  WTF?  This album is older than I am (by a little…) and it’s still powerful and awesome.  I think this was the first Zep album I bought, picking it up on cassette from one of those huge bins full of discount tapes that every shopping mall Musicland use to have at the front entrance (if you’re too young to remember Musicland, or, frankly, cassettes… <sigh>… go ask an “old” person; used to be you could get tons of great classic rock albums for pretty cheap in these bins).  I will freely admit I didn’t quite “get” it right away as a 15 year old.  But I did “get” Led Zeppelin II when I bought it soon after, and from then on I was all about the mothership.

The recording quality and clarity of the remaster is top notch.  And yes, I even compared it to my CD version, and I can promise you that the CD isn’t any cleaner sounding.  For my money this was always the most bluesy Zep album, and the one where John Paul Jones contributed the most.  His bass lines are deep and heavy, sometimes slow and sometimes fast, and the man knows how to groove. He’s wicked on “Good Times Bad Times” and kills it on every song, all the way through to the opening licks on the closing track, “How Many More Times.”  This is Zep at their heaviest, and it sounds great.

The second record on the deluxe version is a 1969 live show from Paris, which I’m actually curious to hear.  So while I didn’t get that vinyl version, I may at some point break down and buy the CD so I can check it out, unless I can find it as a download.

Led Zeppelin II

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I wrote a virtual love letter to this album for my 500th post on Life in the Vinyl Lane, which you can read HERE.  I don’t have a lot more to add – this is THE seminal album in my life, that one record (technically cassette… yes kids, that’s how we bought music in the 80s because, frankly the CD wasn’t around yet, and records were what your parents bought) that changed how I listened to and thought about music.  The first album that I listened to all the way through, over and over and over and over again.  I don’t think I ever had it on vinyl back in the day, so it’s cool to have it on my shelf now, nearly 30 years after having heard it for the first time.  Like LZ I, the quality is excellent and it sounds great on my system.  Get some.

Led Zeppelin III

I have a confession.  For the longest time I didn’t like Led Zeppelin III.  It sat there forlornly on my shelf, surrounded by Led Zep CDs that actually got played, and collected dust.  Probably the only time I’d pop it in is if I wanted to get my epic viking on and shout through the intro of “Immigrant Song.”  As far as I knew, that might have been the only song on the album.  Presence got played more often.  Hell, even Coda might have.

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But as I got older, people started telling me I needed to give LZ III another chance.  And slowly I did.  First coming to realize the brilliance of “Gallow’s Pole” (which is actually better than “Immigrant Song”…) to the tremendous blues groove of “Since I’ve Been Loving You” (there’s John Paul Jones again!) to the sad “That’s The Way” (I don’t know how I’m gonna tell you… / I can’t play with you no more…) to the crazily underrated “Out On The Tiles.”  There’s some killer stuff here.  Look, I still think it’s a more uneven album than it’s predecessors, but kudos to the Zep for taking some chances and doing some different stuff.  While I think Led Zeppelin IV sounds more like the first two records, the LZ III vibe is evident in the next series of releases like Houses Of The Holy and Physical Graffiti.  

As for the bonus material, there is one alternate version of every song on the album.  “Friends” is the only instrumental, the different mix of “The Immigrant Song” seems just a bit more trippy, and I really enjoyed the version of “That’s The Way” with the echo effects.  I doubt I’ll listen to the extra stuff often, but it is interesting to hear different ways that the band was approaching the music that we’re all so familiar with.

 

I’m not sure when the next batch of re-issues will come out, but I’m really looking forward to them since the next trio is probably the best three-record run in the band’s career – LZ IVHouses Of The Holy, and Physical Graffiti.  That’s tough to beat, top to bottom.