Sly & Robbie - “Silent Assassin” (1989)

One of the nice things about record shopping in NYC was the abundance of used hip hop and reggae in the shops.  We don’t see much of that way out here in Seattle, so I spent some extra time digging in those sections.  And that’s how I ran across this intriguing piece of wax - a record by reggae superstars Sly & Robbie, but produced by KRS-One and featuring raps by KRS, Young MC, and Queen Latifah.  For five bucks I had to take this home and see what it’s all about.

As you’d expect Silent Assassin has a strong reggae foundation, one that sometimes drives the entire song, like on “Woman for the Job”, and at others is more of a chorus-like flourish such as on parts of “Rebel”.  Because this is a Sly & Robbie record, we’re also treated to some amazing bass lines and some snappy snares.  I get the sense the backing tracks are as heavily sample as many hip hop albums are, but instead are played live by the reggae duo, giving everything a familiar but still fresh sound.

Definitely an enjoyable record and one worth picking up.

Record Shopping - New York City Style

The Life in the Vinyl Lanes took a cross-country trip to the land of my origins, the Five Boroughs, New York City USA. (♠)  We had three full days in the city, excluding travel days, and during that time walked 38 miles.  That is not a typo.  And we never got north of Times Square.  For real.  We walked a lot.

We also ate a lot of pizza and hit up a lot of record stores (♣), and since this is a vinyl blog I figured I’d tell you a bit about the latter.  I actually didn’t do a lot of buying in this trip, which I think was a combination of not wanting to carry a bunch of vinyl all over the Lower East Side and, well, because it’s not like we were in another country where I could dip my toes into its musical scene.  There wasn’t a lot of stuff that I was only likely to find in NYC… though the stores did have way more reggae and hip hop than I’m used to seeing.  Despite only having bought about a dozen records, I came away impressed by the myriad of stores in New York City.

Limited To One
221 East 10th Street

Nestled away in a little daylight basement spot, Limited To One impressed me with the quality of its selection.  Yeah, it was a small space, but everything in there was in great shape and well packaged to ensure it stayed that way.  The wall had some impressive collectible titles, and the selection was intriguing, but I just never found anything I couldn’t live without (and that I didn’t want to spend the next 4-5 hours carrying around).  Of all the joints we hit up in NYC, this is one of the two I’d most like to go back to and spend some quality time in.  I feel like I could get through the whole place in an hour and would absolutely come away with a few gems, though with my wallet a bit lighter by at least a few Benjamins.

Commend
172 Forsyth Street

Commend is a bit of a trippy place, with a small collection of mostly (if not exclusively) new vinyl along with some clothing, books, and some generally arty items.  It’s also a label, though the shop didn’t carry too many of its own titles.  The selection appeared to be mostly interesting in the various ambient genres, and I just didn’t know enough about that scene to really get into anything.

House Of Oldies Rare Records
35 Carmine Street

I was Facebook messaging with our friend Leana while Holly and I enjoyed some Yeunglings in Greenwich Village.  Leana is an American ex-pat who lives in Reykjavik, and one of the things we look forward to every year when we go to Iceland for Airwaves is our annual breakfast with her at Reykjavik’s Cafe Paris.  I know Leana because of the blog, and she also used to work at Seattle’s own Silver Platter Records, a career path made all the more obvious when you consider the fact that her dad used to own House Of Oldies Rare Records in NYC back in the day… which, as I learned, turned out to be a handful of blocks from where we were enjoying our well-deserved afternoon beer.  So we swung by House Of Oldies.  And it was closed.  Thanks Leana.  Thanks for nothing.

In all seriousness though, House Of Oldies gets great reviews online, so it’s probably worth checking out.  Note though the sign in the window that indicates “No CDs”, so don’t even ask.  Don’t touch the mic, baby, don’t go near it.

Generation Records
210 Thompson Street

Generation was the first store that seemed “familiar”; it just felt like a record store.  Lots of stuff and a massive New Arrivals section.  I felt like there was a decent amount of emphasis on new releases, though the used selection was in decent shape and covered a wide gamut of genres.  This is another place I could have easily spent a few hours, plus as an added bonus they dropped the needle on the Spinal Tap Soundtrack while we were there… and they played the while damn thing.  Which is worth a few extra points in my book.  I’d definitely go back to Generation if I had the time to do some digging.

Rough Trade
64 N. 9th Street (Brooklyn)

Rough Trade is legendary.  Label… distro… venue… a bit of everything.  We loved it from the moment we walked in the door, and it was the first spot in NYC that took some of my hard earned cash (OK, technically plastic magnetic strip, but still).  A weird Greg Ginn 12″, some OG electro by Chris Carter, dub from Lee “Scratch” Perry, and, perhaps oddest of all, the re-release of Capital Punishment’s Roadkill.  The no-wavish Capital Punishment only put out one album, way back in 1982, but it included guys who are now productive members of society, working as a professor in Czech literature, a justice on the Arizona Supreme Court, and the guy who played Derek Zoolander.  Admit it, that’s a bit intriguing.  I just read about Capital Punishment in the book The Mudd Club, so I was kind of excited to find this one.  I’m sure it’ll make it to the blog soon.

The Brooklyn Record Fair
East River State Park (Brooklyn)

As we were checking out at Rough Trade we were talking about walking over to Academy, and the lady at the lady at the register asked us if we were going to the Brooklyn Record Fair that day.  Uh, what is this magic of which you speak?  How about a 60-table record fair, under tents, down at the beach.  I’m in.  We didn’t spend a ton of time there because it was packed and packed record fairs are annoying as hell, but I did squeeze into a few spots and came away with a sweet Suicide Commandos record, which got me some Facebook props from none other than KEXP’s Kevin Cole.  Plus there was an equally big outdoor food bonanza right next to the record show, so we picked up Argentinian choripans and some duck fat fries.  #winning

Academy Records Annex
85 Oak Street (Brooklyn)

The Academy Records Annex was the deepest spot we hit up (other than perhaps the record fair).  Tons of vinyl, most of it used, and covering about every genre under the sun.  Did you know Sly and Robbie did a hop hop album produced by KRS One?  I didn’t.  But I own it now.  For five bucks.  Throw in some bizarro private press stuff, some early 1980s metal, and a 12″ by Soviet Sex, and the only surprise was that I got out of there for less than a hundred bucks (barely).  Absolutely worth the visit.

 

 

I feel like I should have come home with more vinyl, but I’ve bought a TON lately and since we did so much walking I just didn’t want to be schlepping stuff all over town.  That being said, there are definitely a lot of great vinyl options in NYC if you’ve got the time.

(♠)  My dad was from Brooklyn, my mom from the Bronx.

(♣)  And fabric stores in the garment district.  Mrs. Life in the Vinyl Lane should have a blog called Life in the Fabric Lane.

Rollins Band - “Life Time” (1988)

I like you - but you don’t like me
I want you - but you don’t want me
I need you - but you don’t need me
— “Burned Beyond Recognition”

I’ve been on a bit of a Henry Rollins kick over the last year or so.  Not so much musically, but more through listening to just about any podcast involving him (♠) I can find and through his writing.  While at times he relies on some standard self-descriptions, he can be forgiven - I mean, the guy has been interviewed hundreds if not thousands of times and does world tours of spoken word, so he talks about some of these things, including himself, a lot.  Plus he comes across as being very honest and self-aware.  I find his work ethic and singularity of purpose incredibly intriguing, though I wouldn’t say I want to be like Henry - that level of intensity would have burned me to a crisp a couple of decades ago, most likely.  Singer, author, photographer, traveler, publisher, record collector, and obsessive documenter; the man runs hot.  We have tickets to see his travel photo show in Seattle next month and I can’t wait.

I’ve toyed around with some Black Flag over the years and picked up a few Rollins Band CDs, and while I’ve enjoyed the music none of it elbowed its way into regular rotation.  But after just one listen to 1988s Life Time I know I’m onto something that’s going to tug at me to put it on the turntable again and again.

Sometimes I want to take you by your shoulders and shake you
You’ve got to open your eyes, man, how long will it take you?
Running through life blind, man, what a waste
Shut down and neutralized, man, what a case
What happened, what happened to you?
— “Wreck-Age”

Lyrically Life Time is a heavy album, hard as iron and accusatory, both outward and inward.  It feels like the inner monologue of a person on the outside of society who both embraces being there but is also a bit resentful of it.  There’s clearly a current of anger running throughout and that’s something Rollins talks about in a lot of interviews, possessing a general sense of anger that shapes his being.  Musically the album carries its weight well.  The heaviness is of a slower type, more reminiscent of My War‘s B side or early Black Sabbath.  It provides a density to Rollins’ vocals, an iron core around which he can orbit and rail against the world.

(♠)  I strongly advise checking out the “Henry & Heidi” podcasts he does with his friend and day-to-day business manager Heidi.  If you want to hear something that is more of an interview format, the 2+ hour Joe Rogan podcast episode featuring Rollins is wide-ranging and excellent.

Pilgrim State - “Effective Spiritual Warfare” (1983)

I can’t find out much about Pilgrim State and their sole release, 1983s Effective Spiritual Warfare, other than that Brian Laner later went on to Savage Republic and Medicine.  I didn’t plan on writing about this record, but after the first play I was sort of captivated by it in a weird way and knew I needed to go back for a second listen.  Punk in spirit, free jazz in structure, it’s a bit all over the place and you never know what you’re going to hear next.    Lyrically the message is critical of society (Fashion doesn’t sound like Fascism for nothing) and addresses themes of isolation and frustration.

Effective Spiritual Warfare is an intriguing listen.  Pilgrim State member Mike Fey posted a comment on YouTube at the beginning of 2018 indicating he was “working on a vastly expanded version of the album to be made available as a free download” and hoping to have it ready before the end of the year, but I can’t find anything more about it online.  Hopefully it comes to pass and breathes some new life into this impressive album.

High Performance - “All Things Considered” (1990)

Let’s clear one thing up right out of the gate.  I bought All Things Considered because it’s Seattle hip hop on Sir Mix-A-Lot’s Nastymix label.  I did not expect it to actually be any good, but instead saw it as more of a local historical artifact of my hometown’s meagre early hip hop history.

It turns out, however, it’s pretty damn good.  Yeah, sure, building a track around samples Wild Cherry’s “Play That Funky Music White Boy” isn’t exactly ground breaking, but when that song is called “It’s Just Funky”, well, at least they’re keeping it real, and real funky.  The song titles might be dated (“I’m Like A Caddy”, “So You Wanna Be A Gangster”), as is the flow, the key is that it actually has a flow - things may be a bit basic, but the songs move, the samples fit, and the cadences are snappy.  The sampling leans heavily towards 70s soul and funk, including some vocals, giving most of the underlying music a certain familiarity that probably contributes to overall enjoyment I get from listening to this.  Should High Performance been more original, or at least subtle, in the musical foundations for their songs?  I don’t know.  But I do know I like what I hear on All Things Considered.