Record Store Day 2016

It’s finally here – Record Store Day 2016.  The much anticipated, much debated, much maligned celebration of vinyl and your local indie record store.

It’s been interesting to watch the development of RSD over the last few years as it morphed from a great idea about how to get people to visit indie record shops into what often seems like a creepy dude trying to reach into your front pocket and get his paws on whatever cash you might happen to have at the moment.  I’ve read a number of critical articles by record store owners who feel like the whole thing has turned into more of a negative than a positive, from the really little guy who can’t afford to buy RSD product to the store hung with a bunch of crap that it can’t sell once the day has past, effectively negating the profit he made on the stuff he was able to sell.  And lets not forget the small labels and bands who can’t get their vinyl pressed in the months leading up to the big day since all the very limited record pressing plant resources are eaten up by the bigger labels as they churn out overpriced, unneeded product.  And what about the long lines for shoppers, and the people who start lining up the day before so they can get all the rarest, most desirable items and immediately take them home to post on eBay in search of a quick profit?  Gosh, is there anyone left who actually likes Record Store Day?

Well, this guy does to some extent.  Yeah, I hate standing in lines too.  But you know what?  A few years back Holly and I got to talking to the guy behind us in the hour-long checkout line at Easy Street, and today we consider that guy a good friend of ours (hey Travis!).  I certainly have empathy for the struggles of the small business owner too… which is part of the reason why I still go out there and stand in those lines and give them my cash, because if we don’t support them and instead sit at home and save $2 by ordering something online, there won’t be any more record stores to go to.  Look, I don’t know why the world needs some of these releases… but hey, if someone else wants to buy that stuff, let them.  It’s easy to sit around and talk crap about this year’s Justin Bieber Purpose picture disc, but let’s not forget the dude has sold a bajillion albums and singles over the years, and if someone wants that, let ’em have it.  It’s their money, and they’re enjoyment.

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This year I was excited about some very Seattle-centric limited releases, and I was lucky enough to get my hands on all three over at Easy Street this morning.  These included the first 12″ version of Green River‘s 1984 Demos and KEXP Presents:  Raw Power – A Tribute to Iggy & The Stooges, a live event played last year on the roof of Pike Place Market featuring an all-star Stooges cover band.  But the big one was The Sonics Live at Easy Street, a limited edition vinyl release of the show The Sonics performed at our very own Easy Street Records on RSD 2015.  This is the first time I can think of that a live album has been released of a show that I actually attended, so I’m kind of excited about it.  Plus Easy Street put their own spin on the copies for sale in their shop, creating their own individually numbered sleeve and including a ticket from the show, a photo copy of the set list, and a few other goodies, which made convinced me to cough up some cash even though I already pre-ordered a signed copy a month or so ago.  I can’t wait to give this one a spin.

I picked up some other RSD titles as well, plus found a few used nuggets in the New Arrivals bin including Bob Marley’s Legend and The Biggest Blow – A Punk Prayer by Ronnie Biggs.  As an added bonus, by time we arrived about 2.5 hours after the shop opened, there were no lines and we were in and out in no time.

Regardless of how you feel about RSD, make sure to get out there and support your local record store.  Yeah, I know that you can usually find something a bit cheaper online, and you still have to make smart buying decisions with your money.  But if you don’t help ’em out, you don’t get to complain about how there are no more record stores for you to go visit.  Shop local, shop indie.

The Best of 2015

Man, 2015 was an absolutely fantastic year.  Holly and I got to do some traveling, going to Portland (OR) and Salt Lake City to see concerts, doing some record shopping in Ireland and Paris, and of course attending our seventh consecutive Iceland Airwaves Music Festival.  We went to shows with friends, listened to new music, and discovered new bands.  So with all that in mind, here’s a recap of Life in the Vinyl Lane’s musical year.

Top 5 New Releases in 2015

1.  Halleluwah – Halleluwah
2.  Lífsins Þungu Spor – Dulvitund
3.  .A:A. Mix. 1 – Alexandra Atnif
4.  II – Albino Father
5.  Grey Tickles, Black Pressure – John Grant

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A lot of great music came out in 2014, and I had a hard time whittling down my initial list of a dozen albums to pick the Top 5.  In fact I thought I had my list ready to go until I played Lífsins Þungu Spor for the first time about two weeks ago, and it actually bumped another album off of the list.  I was confident in my choice of Halleluwah for the top spot because I’ve been playing their debut (not available on vinyl at this time) a ton, and it’s actually the second time they’ve made my year end best of list, with their 10″ K2R (which stylistically is miles away from Halleluwah) held down the #4 spot on my 2012 list.  Dulvitund, Alexandra Atnif, and Albino Father were all performers I encountered for the first time in 2015, and John Grant rounds it out with his second appearance on one of my Top 5 New Releases lists.

I’m particularly happy with this list because, unintentionally, all the performers fall into different genres.  Halleluwah brings a sort of old school popular music sound, something that reminds me of an updated version of Edith Piaf; Dulvitund is electro darkwave; Alexandra Atnif creates some edgy experimental industrial beats; Albin Father is the second coming of garage psych rock; and of course John Grant is John Grant in all of his loquacious brilliance.  There’s something for just about everyone on that list.

Top 5 “New to Me” Bands/Performers

1.  Alexandra Atnif (US/Romania)
2.  No Stayer (US)
3.  Captain Moonlight (Ireland)
4.  SGNLS (US)
5.  Kælan Mikla (Iceland)

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This was a super-tough list for me this year.  The first two choices were easy.  We discovered Atnif this summer when we picked up one of her split tapes at Amoeba down in Los Angeles, and acquired two more of her cassettes over the course of the year.  She’s super talented and isn’t afraid to experiment with some very severe sounds.  No Stayer also came to me via a cassette (Rogue) when my friends over at Philadelphia’s Sit & Spin Records sent it my way.  I was down with their style of hard rock/metal, but then sort of forgot about them for a bit before re-discovering them on my iPod a few weeks back, and I’ve pretty much been listening to them every day since.  Captain Moonlight’s working class, Irish-issues-themed hip hop was a refreshing return of hip hop to being social protest music.  I enjoyed SGNLs synth punk enough to pick up two of their records this year, SGNLS and II (not to be confused by the Albino Father album of the same name).  Kælan Mikla was sort of a darkwave dark horse on this list, because they don’t currently have any physical releases (though they do have a track on Iceland Whatever, Vol. 1), but I was very impressed by their live show at Airwaves and can’t stop thinking about them.

Top 5 Vinyl Purchases

1.  Philly’s Dopest Shit, Vol. 1 – Various
2.  Lengi Lifi – HAM
3.  Hype! Boxed Set – Various
4.  W.C. Monster – Bootlegs
5.  Great White Wonder – Les Rallizes Denudes

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OK, I’m cheating a bit here, because my top choice is a cassette, and my #2 pick is a CD.  But both of those were important additions for me this year.  Philly’s Dopest Shit turned me on to a ton of great bands like No Stayer, SGNLS, Ruby Buff, and Spent Flesh.  Lengi Lifi is a very difficult to find, CD-only HAM live album and was the last one I needed to complete the HAM discography.  The Hype! Boxed Set was an opportunity for me to reconnect with some great Sub Pop 7″ records and exorcise those demons that still haunt me after selling my Sub Pop singles 20 years ago.  W.C. Monster is a collectible Icelandic thrash record, while the Great White Wonder box set is just a flat-out psych noise trip from Japan’s Les Rallizes Denudes.

Top 5 Live Shows

1.  The Kills – Roseland Theatre, Portland OR
2.  Bubbi & DIMMA – NASA, Reykjavik
3.  Bo Ningen – KEX Hostel, Reykjavik
4.  The Sonics – Easy Street Records, Seattle
5.  Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Pioneer Park, Salt Lake City UT

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This is the second consecutive year that The Kills (right) have taken the top spot in my Top 5 Live Shows, and I kind of feel like any year that I see them live, they’ll probably be my number one pick – they’re quite simply that damn good.  At Airwaves the combination of Bubbi Morthens and DIMMA was a perfect blend of old school punk rock and new school technical metal, while Bo Ningen played the most insane, high energy set of crazy that I’ve ever seen.  Easy Street Records crammed 200 people into their shop for show benefitting KEXP radio, and The Sonics played along with a veritable who’s who of Seattle rockers, including Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder.  And BRMC… well, they’d been at the top of my list of bands I wanted to see for years and years, and this summer we were able to use some airline points to basically get down to Salt Lake City for free to see them live, and they were outstanding.

This was probably the toughest list for me to put together, because we saw so many great shows this year.  Agent Fresco, Hot Chip, Thievery Corporation, Steel Panther, HAM, Halleluwah… there were just so many awesome performances to choose from.  But the five that made the final cut all had something special about them that took them to that next level and made them more memorable.

Top 5 Favorite Places to Buy Records

North America
1.  Easy Street, Seattle
2.  Silver Platters, Seattle
3.  Diabolical, Salt Lake City
4.  Fingerprints, Long Beach (CA)
5.  Amoeba, Los Angeles

The Rest of the World
1.  Lucky Records, Reykjavik
2.  Reykjavik Record Shop, Reykjavik
3.  Bell, Book & Candle, Galway (Ireland)
4.  Syncrophone, Paris
5.  All City, Dublin

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Easy Street and Silver Platters are my regular local haunts, so it will be hard for them to ever get knocked out of the top spots.  The same is true for Lucky and Reykjavik Record Shop – any year that we make it to Reykjavik, these two are likely to be at the top of list.  One thing that all these places have in common is that they’re very supportive of their local scenes, and that’s important to me because when I travel I like to look for local music.  Plus they had some cool and knowledgeable people, people who are obviously passionate about music.

Top 5 Music Books

1.  Girl in a Band:  A Memoir, by Kim Gordon
2.  Lexicon Devil: The Fast Times and Short Life of Darby Crash and the Germs, by Brendan Mullen
3.  For Whom the Cowbell Tolls: 25 Years of Paul’s Boutique, by Dan LeRoy
4.  The Truth of Revolution, Brother: The Philosophies of Punk, by Robin Ryde, Lisa Sofianos, and Charlie Waterhouse
5.  Crate Digger: An Obsession With Punk Records, by Bob Suren

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I probably read about 15-20 music books in 2015, and the above were easily the best of the bunch.  And of these five, Kim Gordon’s was by far the most compelling, probably more so as the story of an artist’s life and struggles than for anything specifically related to Sonic Youth.  Truth be told, I’ve never owned a Sonic Youth album, and I couldn’t name single one of their songs if I tried (I may have to give up my music blogging card for that admission, but whatever), so I wasn’t particularly predisposed to feel any particular way about Girl in a Band.  The Truth of Revolution, Brother is a pretty unique project, one that I sponsored via Kickstarter.  Part of the appeal was that a couple of OG Icelandic punks were interviewed in it, specifically Einar Örn Benediktsson and Jón Gnarr.  It was an interesting take on punk philosophy, which resonated even more so after hearing Einar Örn talk for a few minutes prior to a Ghostigital show about what being a punk means to him.

 

This year Holly asked if she could contribute a few lists of her own, and it seemed like a great idea to me since her perspective is often quite different from mine.  So with minimal commentary, here are some of her top musical picks for 2015.

Top 5 New Releases in 2015 (Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane)

1.  Dodge and Burn – The Dead Weather
2.  FFS – FFS
3.  Born Under Saturn – Django Django
4.  Adjust to the Light – Fufanu
5.  “Inside Paul’s Boutique”

We didn’t have any albums in common in our Top 5 lists, and in fact she only had one album I’ve even written about on hers!  Number five is an outlier – it’s the roughly 12 hour incredible show that KEXP radio did in which they deconstructed all of Paul’s Boutique, literally playing in full every single song sampled by the Beastie Boys on that album, in the order they appeared on it.  It’s epic.  Don’t believe us?  Check it out for yourself HERE.

Top 5 “New to Me” Bands/Performers (Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane)

1.  East India Youth (UK)
2.  Islam Chipsy (Egypt)
3.  russian.girls (Iceland)
4.  Alexandra Atnif (US/Romania)
5.  Operators (US/Canada)

Again, not much overlap between the his-and-hers lists, only Alexandra Atnif.  That being said, all four of the other bands here made it to my initial list as well, they just ultimately didn’t crack my personal Top 5.

Top 5 Live Shows (Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane)

1.  The Kills – Roseland Theatre, Portland OR
2.  Thievery Corporation – Showbox Sodo, Seattle
3.  Black Rebel Motorcycle Club – Pioneer Park, Salt Lake City UT
4.  East India Youth – NASA, Reykjavik
5.  Bubbi & DIMMA – NASA, Reykjavik

We actually have quite a bit of overlap her, and both Thievery Corporation and East India Youth made to to my short list.  There were just so many good shows in 2015.

 

So there you have it, ladies and gents.  Another fantastic year is almost in the books, and I can’t wait to see what 2016 has in store for us.  And since we’ve already purchased our tickets for Iceland Airwaves 2016 and to see Devil Makes Three at Red Rocks in Colorado in May, I suspect it’s going to be pretty excellent.

The Sonics – “This Is the Sonics”

A band called The Sonics from right down the highway in Tacoma, Washington just put out a new LP called This Is the Sonics.  This is important because (1) they’re awesome and (2) they put out their first garage/psych rock record 50 years ago.

Fifty.  Five-oh.  Let that roll around in your head for a minute.

There’s a very good chance that you were not born when The Sonics put out their first record.  I know.  I wasn’t.

The Sonics are still well known in these parts, since they’ve influenced practically every Seattle-area rocker since releasing their first single in 1964, “The Witch” b/w “Psycho.”  They were raw and edgy, both musically and lyrically, in an era of sugary pop.  They did a pretty wicked version of “Louie Louie.” They burned hot and by 1967 it was basically over with the guys scattering to the rock ‘n’ roll winds.  But the demand was there, so they reformed in 2007 and have been playing various festivals and shows here and there, often with guest members.  The current five-piece includes three of the original members, so this isn’t simply one guy carrying on the name to a brand new ensemble; it’s the real deal.  These guys have been rocking for half a century, and it shows.

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This Is the Sonics could just as easily be from 1965 as 2015.  There aren’t a bunch of new touches or fancy techniques here.  This is garage rock, the way it’s meant to be played.  Gritty, with yelling and organs and saxophones and songs about bad women and bad break-ups.  Sonically it’s like taking Little Richard, Elvis, an aggressive Paul McCartney, Stevie Ray Vaughn, and Jack White, putting them in a blender filled with whiskey and broken glass, then pouring the whole thing out onto an old microphone.

Let’s just say if I need to call ya,
I dial
666.
— “I Got Your Number”

The Sonics were very much proto-punk and they still are today, keeping nine of This Is the Sonics’ dozen tracks at under three minutes.  They get in, tear it up, and get out.  The second half of the record has what the strongest material in “I Got Your Number” and “Livin’ In Chaos,” a pair of burners, one more heavy blues rock, the other a raspy screamed attack on the world.

Kudos to The Sonics for going old school and both recording this in mono and releasing it on vinyl.  As an added bonus, the vinyl comes with a CD copy of the entire album.  I picked up my copy for a paltry $18 – a pretty solid bargain in these days of $25-30+ new releases.  The Sonics still sound edgy and aggressive, and This Is the Sonics is guaranteed to get your foot pushing a bit harder on the accelerator, so driver beware.  Or better yet, roll down the windows, get out on the highway, turn it up, and just drive man.

The Sonics – “Introducing the Sonics”

Tacoma’s own The Sonics can almost certainly lay claim to being the Northwest’s first punk rockers, and some actually consider them the first punk band period.  Now, those are some pretty big claims, particularly the second one, and I’m not here to weigh in one way or another – trying to identify a ground zero origin for any style of music is almost always impossible.  There were certainly other garage bands in the early 1960s who had a similar vibe to The Sonics, but regardless lots and lots of rockers have cited them over the years as major influences, and they’ve been covered by everyone and their mother.  So they must have been doing something right.  Even if most people at the time had no idea what they were doing at all.

So what are The Sonics all about?  They’re about raw intensity.  There’s no attempt here to lay down clean tracks.  That would completely miss the point.  There’s a reason this style of proto-punk is called garage rock – because it sounds like it was recorded in someone’s garage, amidst the trash cans, water heater, and half empty cans of paint that you just can’t seem to get around to throwing away because you just might, might need them someday.  You can certainly feel the early rock ‘n’ roll influences – Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, etc, but done faster, dirtier, more distorted, and just plain crazier.  The songs are quick bursts of machine gun fire spraying the room indiscriminately, with the longest of the album’s 15 tracks coming in at exactly three minutes.  “The Witch” and “Psycho” are grungy, harsh classics deserving of their place of honor on the front jacket.  Others like “Leave My Kitten Alone” are more straight forward era rockers that sound like they would have been hits had Elvis recorded them.  Hell, there’s even a ballad here in “Love Lights” that sounds like it comes straight out of some late 1950s prom.

I’ve become more intrigued by these pre-punk garage bands from the 60s.  The style reminds me not just of early punk, but grunge as well with the lack of emphasis on a “clean” sound, though grunge tuned it down even further and made it sludgy.  I think that’s part of what drew me to punk in the first place – looking for the roots of grunge.  And The Sonics are the father of them both.  Or at least the drunk uncle who talks a lot of crap.