Sunday, March 28, 2010

If the world was a record store...

...What a wonderful world it would it would be. Today being a Sunday, and me with little to do, I decided to check out the newest record store in Silver Spring, Joe's Record Paradise. And indeed it is. I've heard the space was a pool hall at one point, so that gives you a sense of how big it is. Wall to wall records, CDs, an expensive rare section, posters, and on and on. It was well worth checking out, and I'll get to what I bought, exactly, and I spin this yarn that, once again, has convinced me of this fact: If the world was a record store, it would be great.

One of the records I (thought) I bought was The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, a sort of white whale for me, since I've never once come across a used copy in a store. It was $10.50, in good shape, and I was sold. Picked up a few others, and I was off, biking back home. Immediately, I put on Freewheelin' and what do I hear? 'Subterranean Homesick Blues' the first track off Dylan's 'Bringing it all Back Home' album. A great album, for sure. But I already have it. Turns out, I had bought one Dylan sleeve and another Dylan album. So I pack up and bike back to Joe's.

No trouble there -- I had thought they might think I was trying to scam them. They ask if I want the cash back or to look around for something else. I choose latter, and they check for another copy of Freewheelin'. No dice. So I head for a Country Joe and the Fish album I had previously passed up. $7.50? You got it. Then I find 'Remain in Light' from the Talking Heads with no price. Upon inquiry? $7. Well, we had a problem. I had $10.50 in store credit, but $14.50 in albums, plus tax. They say it could be settled for three bucks. I have no cash. We've got a problem.

The solution? One of the guys working there says, as the incense smoke swirls in the dusty air: "You know what man, for your trouble, let's just call it an even trade. Besides, [Remain in Light] is a great album, and if you don't already have it, you need it. Just come see us again sometime." Absolutely. So, for my trouble, I got a free $5 from the store, two albums instead of one, and a reason to visit again.

There aren't a lot of stores in which that would've happened. And I don't just think it's because it was a difference in $5 or so. It's as if they knew it probably kinda sucked to think you were getting an album, and then not. And to have to come back. And the "... and if you don't already have it, you need it..." line was great. It's almost as if they're desire to set me up with a classic album trumped their own business interests. It's about the experience, the record store culture, the shared quest for any and all records you'd ever want. It's as if we're all in this record collection adventure together; like I just got a collective, understanding nod from Joe's Record Paradise.

Paradise indeed. And just one more reason why this adventure is more than just a way to listen to music... it's an experience. Cultural. Musical. If only the whole world was a record store. And it(kind of) softened the blow of, once again, not having Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. Something to keep looking for, I suppose.

Today's buys:
Country Joe and the Fish -- Electric Music For The Mind And Body
Cream -- Disraeli Gears
Bob Dylan -- Blood on the Tracks
Jimi Hendrix -- Band of Gypsys
Jimi Hendrix -- Axis: Bold As Love
Talking Heads -- Remain in Light

Photo, of course, from High Fidelity.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

'Going down to Yasgur's Farm, gonna join in a rock 'n roll band. Got to get back to the land & set my soul free'

So went the line on one of the classic songs - 'Woodstock' - on this album 'Deja Vu' from Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young... This 1970 classic is great because it brings together influences from all members, has some classic tracks -- 'Teach Your Children,' 'Woodstock,' '4+20,' 'Our House' -- and is like sonic bridge between the 1960s and 1970s, musically speaking. And that album cover!

I hadn't listened to this album in I don't know how long, but gave it a spin today and it got me thinking about how I ended up with it and its place in its own era. I found this gem in Uptown Minneapolis' own Cheapo Records... it was rated in 'Good' condition and was selling for $4.20 -- perfect price. What's great about my copy is it's in fine playing condition, but just beat up enough to have a little hiss/static throughout. Some of the audiophiles out there might cringe at that, but in this sense it makes the listening experience. The dirty sound of 'Woodstock' coming over the speakers grasps what was, of course, an incredibly dirty festival.

The static running through 'Almost Cut My Hair,' exemplifies the era. In flux, uncertain, loud, challenging. The scratchy, hissy sound completely matches the album cover and the subject matter. I mean, it looks like the old west, Crosby with what appears to be a rifle and that dog just sitting in the foreground of the photo. The lyrics on 'Our House' -- 'I'll light the fire while you place the flowers in the vase that you bought today' -- are just so simplistic, but carry some kind of vivid imagery. And that very simplicity is the contradiction of the time this album was made. Social upheaval coupled with a certainty self-identified righteousness among a a segment of the movement.

The album is better for it. I had this on CD (and, as such, MP3) before I landed the vinyl, but I haven't listened to it in either of those formats since I got this record. The music itself on this album is a relic to a very specific period of the past -- just think of how different 1968 was from, say, 1972, from music to politics to culture. It's a snapshot of the past, musically, and listening to it in all of its dirty, scratchy, vinyl glory is like a worthwhile adventure on the greatest time machine of all time.

On D.C.'s record stores

As I somewhat eluded to in my breathless endorsement of Smash! Records, I had been somewhat disappointed in the selection of D.C.'s records stores since I moved here last fall. I hadn't really found a go-to shop. All the ones I had visited seemed to have some good qualities -- which I'll get into -- but I hadn't found THEE store that I'd visit every week or two just to look around.

To explain why I felt like this, it's useful to back up a bit... When I lived in Minneapolis, even before I had a record player, trips to a few core record stores were a weekly occurrence for me. It was what I did on a given Saturday afternoon. Depending on how much time I had, or wanted to spend, I'd choose between the Cheapo in St. Paul, the Cheapo in Uptown Minneapolis, the Electric Fetus in Minneapolis or the Fifth Element -- the record store of hometown label Rhymesayers -- for a hip hop fix. If I felt really ambitious, or had extra money to spend, I'd go to all of them, just to look around. I plan a post in honor of all these places soon, but that's neither here nor there.

Anyway, like I said. I hadn't -- and still really haven't -- found a shop here that replaces any of those in Minneapolis. Silver Spring's CD/Game Exchange has provided some good finds, but not a lot of new stuff, and which means it's as good as what they have at any given time -- which, admittedly, is usually pretty damn good. Smash!, of course, provided a great selection of used stuff, but didn't have much in the area of new vinyl to offer and lacked a strong collection outside of general rock. Melody Records is where I go for most of my new vinyl. It's where I picked up Animal Collective's 'Merriweather Post Pavilion' and when I went for Vampire Weekend's 'Contra,' they were sold out, but they ordered a new one for me within a day or two. That was nice. I still haven't checked out Crooked Beat Records -- right next door to Smash -- but that's next on the list.

The problem is, I haven't really found one that seems to be a large, general interest-type shop that has a big collection of both new and used vinyl. Cheapo in Minneapolis has a huge basement full. Electric Fetus has row after row of new and used stuff. But what I've found here is that they're more specialized: They each have their strong points and drawbacks. While it's not ideal, it's not all bad either.

Perhaps this is just the reality of D.C. There's only one really artsy, bohemian, hipster or whatever you want to call it -- basically where you'd expect to find record stores -- area here and that's where Smash and Crooked Beat are. Melody is close by. This isn't unusual, I think, given the make up of D.C., what with all the lawyers, politicians and former class presidents running around. It took us a few weeks just to find a place where we could buy a hookah. In Minneapolis it's like you can't walk two blocks without finding a head shop.

But what this situation has forced me to do is keep an eye on all the shops, try and keep track of what might be coming in and experiencing knew stuff. I visit CD/Game Exchange probably the most because it's less than a mile from my house. I follow them on Twitter, check out the Web sites and get a sense for what they're all about. It's a different experience than I had in Minneapolis, but it's not bad. And, just sometimes, you go into a shop here and find some great stuff. The next time you don't, so onto the next. I suppose there are worse things and it is exciting to be discovering new shops. And it's definitely exciting to find some great things at a new shop (Exhibit A: Smash records. B: CD/Game Exchange).

But you better believe next time I'm in Minneapolis, I'll be making the rounds to Cheapo, Electric Fetus and Fifth Element all over again. I'm an admitted/recovering homer. But D.C.'s got some great offerings.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

On Record Store Day (!!!!)

I'm all kinds of excited for Record Store Day this year. It's not my first, per se, but it's the first one since I got my record player.. which means I plan to take full advantage of some of the releases that I hear are coming out -- Flaming Lips 'Dark Side of the Moon' limited release vinyl, I'm lookin' at you. As if that wasn't enough, I personally enjoy any national holiday -- yup, I said it -- that involves going to record stores all day.

But basic essential details aside, this post from Michele Catalano's True/Slant blog is a pretty good explainer of what makes Record Store Day, and really mid-April, the most wonderful time of the year. Again, that's right. I said most wonderful time of the year. I'll quote from Michele a bit here, but the whole post is worth a read:

Can CDs or digital offer you the artistry of records? Album covers framed and hung on the wall like pictures at an exhibition. Colored vinyl and picture discs turning your music into a work of art. In 1980, I bought True Colors by Split Enz and was endlessly entranced bythe laser etching in the vinyl that made it seem full of colorful prisms. Later, I would work in a record store and spend my entire paycheck each week on seven inch imports, a reminder of my days of collecting 45s. Each record had its own character, a specific memory attached to it – memories that were made of more than just sound. There’s the feel of the record, the sight of it, things so ingrained in the experience of listening to vinyl that just walking into a record store is like opening up a time machine. I’ve never met a CD that made me fall in love with it like a record. I’ll still love the music, but the CD is just a container for that music, where a record is part of the entire music experience. [Emphasis mine.]

That pretty much sums it up. From the beginning, whether it was the first time I went digging through a bunch of stuff in my parents' basement, to buying the turntable or when I found Dylan's 'Blonde on Blonde' or the Beatles' White Album at a favorite store in Minneapolis or Indianapolis, respectively.. It was never the music in and of itself that was the handle. Hell, most all of the albums I buy I've either heard in their entirety before or have heard a number of the songs. But it was everything else that came along with it -- the album art, the aesthetic value of the album, the crackle and hiss when you play it, the searching for a favorite or especially rare album, the culture, the listening with friends -- that what made it more than stopping by Target or Best Buy to pick up a CD. A vinyl record is like a masterfully crafted, round, 7- or 12-inch disc of history that happens to come in an artfully designed case that ALSO happens to contain some great music that ALSO ALSO sounds better than an MP3 or CD ever could. What's not to like?

ALSO: Check out the Record Store Day Twitter feed here, here, here.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Crate diggin' in the new world redux... In praise of CD/Game Exchange

Getting back to our more regularly scheduled blogging, it dawned on me today that I've neglected to praise Silver Spring, MD's own CD/Game Exchange enough in this blog. The story of how I came to realize this ends with me returning home after a day of work with the albums above from Stevie Wonder, The Beatles, Grateful Dead, Doobie Brothers, Lou Reed and Jimi Hendrix, but there's more to it than that.

Monday night, I saw on the store's Twitter account that it had gotten some new 70s rock vinyl in stock. I inquired, natch, and was told there was some 60s rock as well, including Beatles, Hendrix and Doors. Well, that peaked my interest. Unfortunately, I had to work the next day -- it's a give-and-take relationship, with work funding the collection while work gets in the way of the collecting. So Sam at the store made an offer: he'd hold back some of the new arrivals if I could come in some time that day before 8 p.m.. My response? Absolutely.

I eventually made it to the store after work, and there was a glorious stack of vinyl waiting there. And there were some great finds, some of which I bought (listed above) and more that I'm sure would've disappeared rather quickly if just thrown out there. While looking and buying the records, I got to talk with Sam there a bit. I mentioned how I was from Minneapolis, just once, when he'd been to First Ave. as a roadie. He added that since everything closed earlier, they later went to a "huge gay club" -- "they served beer, so it was good" -- which I assume was the city's (in)famous Gay 90s.

But it was nice experience, and first time I really got a sense for the people behind the counter, so to speak, even though I'd been to this shop a handful of times. The stores I frequented in Minneapolis were big, with a lot of employees and customers and I never really met anyone working there, and that's understandable. But this little shop right outside the District of Columbia has some great records there, especially if you follow its updates on Twitter and/or Facebook and get in on some of the early stuff.

It's especially impressive considering records aren't even what they specialize in -- by that I mean they sell all kinds of stuff. I heard someone ask if they sell Sega Dreamcast games today (yup, Dreamcast, man), and I'm fairly certain I've seen some Super Nintendo games/hardware around. There are also used CDs, tapes, skateboards, T-shirts, stickers, books... and it goes on.

Really, it's just a great place in my mind, and I always appreciate a store willing to let customers know what's in stock before you head over -- something that's especially unusual when it comes to used records, since stores aren't the best on keeping updated inventory. D.C.'s Crooked Beat Records is probably the best I've seen (and they ship!). Oh, and that store's Twitter page is here.

Anyway, as much as I enjoy an hour or two on a Saturday hanging out at record stores, it's great to hear from the store when some new stuff comes in and just swing by too. Being able to hear from the people who run it is an added -- and equal -- bonus, and I look forward to getting to know more about the store and the people. In the short-term, though, I'll be checking CD/Game Exchange's updates on new merchandise, and I'd recommend you do the same.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Off topic, on street art... or a great Banksy piece

I'll take a break from blogging about music, vinyl, new songs and the like to make a plug for this package from London's Sunday Times. It's on Banksy, a street artist some of you may know, and it's an interesting story. The magazine cover was a Banksy original, and how it was made is show in the video above.

The video itself is interesting, because Banksy, if I understand correctly, is kind of an enigmatic figure, a reality perhaps most strongly supported by his being known simply as "Banksy." There's a extra-legal (illegal, really), dissident quality to his work, but even writing that last sentence almost certainly oversimplifies it.

Aside from vinyl collecting, I've always had a thing for street art, nontraditional art, graffiti (if you want to call it that) and, more generally, really modern art. Street art, in my mind, has this ability to be both fascinating in its simplicity -- sometimes just a well-placed stencil or a quick scrawl -- and amazingly complex at the same time. Whether you're talking about a piece writ large, and illegally placed, in a heavily trafficked area or a great piece of art crafted with nothing more than cardboard and spray paint, it's great all around.

With that in mind, here's a plug for two sites I visit at least once a day for some street art greatness. Wooster Collective ( based in NYC's Soho neighborhood and Streetsy (, a kind of aggregator of street art from all over the world and the Web. Check 'em out.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Saturday buys... Greatest Hits edition

If it's the weekend, I'm probably either headed to, returning from or at the record store. Today, I stayed close to home and checked out Silver Spring's CD/Game Exchange, a favorite of mine for random used records and for the fact that it's close by.

And it paid off. Here's what I picked up:

Simon & Garfunkel -- Greatest Hits
Clapton, Page and Beck -- White Boy Blues 2xLP compilation
Cat Stevens -- Greatest Hits
Neil Young -- After the Gold Rush
The Byrds -- Greatest Hits
Santana -- Borboletta

That's it for now. It's sunny and 73 (!!!!!!) in Washington today, so any further posts are not on the to-do list, to say the least.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Obligatory (and cliche) St.Patrick's Day post

As someone who is a full 25 percent -- maybe a bit less -- Irish, I've never really felt a strong connection to St. Patrick's Day. Sure, I like the green beer -- and beer, generally -- and coming from St. Paul, MN it's essentially a city holiday heavy on the drinking and light on... well, most everything else, including the working.

But I've never really identified as Irish, and I'm not really sure why. I guess part of it is that I refuse to choose to identify with an ethnic group most known, 364 days of the year, for leprechauns, pale skin, red hair and freckles. I've always edged closer to my Italian and Czech side... and I appreciate the humble and altruistic reputation of my Norwegian background.

But this is the one day a year where Irish culture -- Americanized and lacking in actual 'Irish' or 'culture' as it is -- is looked upon somewhat favorably. In honor of that, here's this song. If you've seen The Departed, you'll recognize it. And it kind of makes part of me wish I was more Irish... and a gangster.... in South Boston... maybe just for a day. If you haven't seen it, and you don't think Irish people can be bad ass -- yes, bad ass -- then let this be a lesson to you. Enjoy.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Diggin' now... Fang Island

It's been a while since I've had something new to recommend, but I came across this self-titled album from a band called Fang Island yesterday and thought I had to share. The song/video above is 'Life Coach' and it's one of my more favorite tracks on the album. Also, as you may already know form clicking play, the video is pretty ridiculous as well.

The whole album is pretty good, and worth checking out, I'd say. It's got a good mix of more traditional rock, with some heavy noise, scuzzy sounds mixed it. It got a solid 8.3 and a 'Best New Music' rating from Pitchfork, if you're into that sort of thing. Or, if you like to pretend you're not, that's cool too. Basically, for me, if something gets a really good rating from Pitchfork I check it out. And yeah, I can admit that. Sometimes I like it, sometimes I don't. This time I did, and, well, here we are.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Found treasure -- Saturday Night Fever

A post on mad (!) discoveries. A friend of mine was over for an early St. Patrick's day party, with a few others. Given the occasion, and the fact that he's leaving the D.C. area, I insisted he choose the next album. Good man that he is, Keith Hovis chose the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack that I found in my parents' basement.

Now, I've put in this on before. I played it during a party with fellow interns in Indianapolis, but it was mostly for the first track, 'Stayin' Alive' by the Bee Gees, classic that it is. But, as it turns out, this soundtrack is a double LP of A-MAZING. I've never seen the movie, but song for song, I think this one of the greatest soundtracks I've ever heard. You've got 'Stayin' Alive' as the first track and it ends with The Trammps' 'Disco Inferno.' What's in between is essentially a time capsule of the Saturday Night Fever era. In this case, that's a good thing!

Then I got to thinking: I would have never found the greatness that is this soundtrack without the original suggestion from on Keith. But once it was spinning, we were loving it. Between the great music, random dance breakouts -- mostly from Keith -- and the surprise of finding I'd had this great album all along, it was a good time. And it's a testament to the social element of this whole vinyl deal. Had this been a laptop or MP3 player, we would've played 'Saturday Night Fever' and left it at that. Or certainly somewhere between track one and track 17 it would've been changed. But because records force you to appreciate the whole album, well, there we were. A group of recent college grads, in the year 2010, listening to the Saturday Night Fever Soundtrack at a St. Pat's party.

That's what it's all about.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Pink Floyd vs. the album killers

Interesting post on the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog. The upshot here is that last week Pink Floyd successfully used a clause in their relatively ancient contract to prevent their label, EMI, from selling their music on a song-by-song basis. As author Steven Kurutz notes in the post, this is almost a no-brainer for anyone who's listened to Pink Floyd. Save for a few single-worthy, radio-friendly tracks -- 'Money' immediately comes to mind -- the band is best known for its album work. "You can’t just casually put on 'The Wall,' hear a song or two and cue up something else," Kurutz writes. "Perhaps more than any other band, Pink Floyd made albums, music meant to be listened to as a cohesive whole." (Emphasis mine.)

Still, as he later notes, this is the opposite of what's going on in today's music business. Between iTunes, MP3s, mobile listening, on-demand songs, Pandora, and on and on, the single has regained its primacy, if it ever lost it in the first place. Kurutz questions whether this is a good or bad thing for music in general, and he comes down on what seems to be a firm maybe. Surely there have been releases past and present with one, two or three good songs and the rest filler. Now, people can just buy those songs. On the other hand, artists like Taylor Swift, who's quoted in the post, are packaging the best songs they can muster into one CD and calling it an album, essentially creating a single-artist mix tape, for good or ill.

But Kurutz nails it at the end, and I'll let him take it from here:
That doesn’t mean, however, that successful pop artists like Swift are making albums these days, at least not in the Pink Floyd sense of the term. Swift and other modern hitmakers are instead packaging a dozen or so individual, singles-worthy songs together and releasing them. An album is a convenient and standardized mode of distribution, not a form of expression. It’s a crucial difference. A band like Pink Floyd used the 45 or 60 minutes of music that a full-length album contains to explore a musical or lyrical theme, the way an author does in a novel. You wouldn’t buy a few chapters of “War and Peace” for your Kindle, ignore the rest and expect to come away with any real understanding of the novel. Pink Floyd seems to be making the same argument. (Again, emphasis mine.)
That's right on. And somewhat goes back to my previous post where I compare the value of buying a vinyl over a CD, even if you just want the MP3. It's a way to ensure people at least walk away with an entire album, and it's better than a little piece of plastic. But of course, that won't change the artists making the music, and I certainly don't think Taylor Swift -- or anyone else like her -- is going to get a bunch of pre-teen or teenage girls to go out and buy vinyl. And I'm not arguing that there's anything necessarily wrong with the proliferation of single-focused artists.

But I hate to think we've seen the death of the classically crafted album's album. With that in mind then, what's left to do? Well, certainly waiting for the next Pink Floyd is a bit of a waste of time, but I think a good starting point is to appreciate those groups that are making full albums that are worthy of the name. Love it or hate it, a commenter on the Kurutz post mentioned The Decemberists' 2009 release 'Hazards of Love,' it's an album's album, and I found it grossly underrated. The Flaming Lips' 'Embryonic' is another. The Yeah Yeah Yeah's 'It's Blitz' has some masterfully designed ebb and flow to it. These are albums, more than a collection of songs. There is a difference. We need more of the former, and these may not be the 21st Century version of 'Dark Side of the Moon,' but they show a dedication to true album-making, and that's something all music-lovers should support.

(H/T's Twitter feed -- which I of course recommend following here: -- for pointing out the original WSJ post.)

Rainy Daze

Well, it's kind of cold and rainy in Washington, has been since Thursday and looks to stay that way until Tuesday. And what better way to spend a day inside avoiding the rain than spinning some great music -- and perhaps even blogging about it.

I've already spent plenty of time extolling the Broken Bells release, and if you've seen any of the reviews you'll know that most have come down on the side of great, but not life-changing or earth shattering, record. Most discuss its subdued production, smooth mix of Shins and Danger Mouse tendencies. Well, one more thing: it's great for a relaxed day inside avoiding the rain.

Then it was Vampire Weekend's Contra, which sounds as good as the first day I brought it home. I switched it up a bit and put on my recently acquired Led Zeppelin IV, which is admittedly a different sound than I'd been going with, but what the hell? It's got Black Dog and Rock N' Roll, not necessarily relaxed music. But it's also got Stairway to Heaven and When the Levee Breaks, the latter of which is perfect for this rainy, flood-warning filled day in Washington.

In short, I can imagine worse scenarios to have to deal with on a Saturday afternoon.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

On new vinyl... or down with the CD!

Going off my post in re: the Broken Bells release, I thought it was time for something about new vinyl. This whole adventure started with some old records in a basement, and then some used records from Cheapo in the Twin Cities. But eventually, I started buying all my new music on vinyl, assuming it's released in such a format.

It's been great discovering new albums, new music, new bands, and having the first listen be on wax rather than some downloaded MP3 or CD format. My latest purchase was Animal Collective's Merriweather Post Pavilion which, in my mind, was the album of the year in 2009 and one of my favorite records ever (criticize if you must). Naturally, I had been wanting to get this for almost a year, and last week I finally did. I've now bought this album TWICE: One on CD and one on vinyl. But I don't care about that.

Another nice feature is most of these records come with a free download, so really, you get this great physical/visual record, with the album art and everything, and the digital version for your MP3 player, which is essentially all you'd buy a CD for anyway, right? Not to mention, these are almost always high-quality, 180-gram-plus records, and they sound great.

Frankly, I don't think I'll ever buy another CD, if I can help it at least. For me, I'll buy it on vinyl if it's available, and then use the free download. It's what I did with Vampire Weekend's Contra, and it's what I did with Broken Bells, and what I'll do with the Black Keys due out next month, and on and on and on. Definitely recommend it.

This also reminds me of a post I read somewhere (I'd link to it, but I don't remember where it was) about someone was going to buy the new Beach House for a friend's birthday (which I haven't heard yet... worth a purchase?). Rather than buying the CD, they got the vinyl, even though said friend didn't have a record player. The record was visually appealing, and they got the MP3 download (legally), which is all they'd use the CD for anyway. Genius.

Really, this goes to the whole music industry. In a time when iTunes runs the show, and people are just buying songs instead of listening to whole albums (gross!) here's your chance. Vinyl has aesthetic value, it's nice to look at, it's part of a past that a lot of people like, but it also comes with this download card for your iPod. It's a win-win-win, and hopefully will get people back in the habit of experiencing albums as a whole, not just random songs in some kind of mix tape.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Go buy Broken Bells on Tuesday

The genius who brought us The Grey Album (Jay-Z's Black Album mixed with The Beatles' White Album) is back, and I for one couldn't be happier. This time, we get Danger Mouse teamed up with The Shins' James Mercer and the result is sonic joy.
Anyone familiar with Danger Mouse's work knows what to expect out this album. Orchestral, synth-y, pop beats with pronounced drum lines at times. James Mercer's voice fits perfectly with the sometimes-restrained, subdued melancholy production. The second track has some organ work that's out of this world. Frankly, I already love this album. One of my favorite of the year so far.

I was lucky enough to find it on vinyl a few days before the release (March 9) at one D.C. record shop that will remained unnamed -- wouldn't want to out the supplier. And I won't go on and on trying to review the record because I don't think of myself as a particularly strong music critic, but I know what I like, and this album is pure gold.

It's a joy to listen to on wax, and the copy I got came with a small poster and a code for a free download of the album in digital format. Unfortunately, the site isn't live yet, but assume it will be Tuesday. What could be better?

In short: Go buy Broken Bells on Tuesday. Support this music -- it's a great record.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Diggin' now... Tickley Feather

I just found out the name/artist of a great track I heard during a Geologist set at this past DC record fair. Above is Tickley Feather's "Trashy Boys." And I think it an amazing track. The foreboding musical back drop, the catchy drums, and those vocals. Makes for some great music.

Anyway, that's all. Thought I'd share, because I'm glad I found this track, and look forward to picking up the album. This is just the second release from Tickley Feather, and I haven't heard all that much, but I'm loving this track, and expect to feel the same about the rest. Hope you like it as well.

Also: after my Atmosphere post and this one, I'm thinking this will be a regular feature, named "Diggin' now.." or something else. But I'll probably just highlight some new stuff of the moment.

Friday, March 5, 2010

In praise of the Needle Doctor... or my first record player

Thanks to a comment on my Smash! Records endorsement post, I realized I completely neglected to explain where I got my first (and only) record player, an embarrassing oversight on my part.

Anyway, where did I get it? In historic Dinkytown, Minneapolis, Minnesota, right near the U of M campus. The shop? Pictured: Jerry Raskin's NeedleDoctor.

Now, I didn't just buy my record player there. I had an early window into the culture of vinyl enthusiasts that set the tone for my entire foyer into this world. As fate would have it, I got an early insight into how helpful a fellow vinyl head could be.

I had been looking for a record player for a month or so, since I raided my parents' basement collection and accumulated a few choice selections in the meantime, notably Bob Dylan's "Blonde on Blonde" and the album Velvet Underground and Nico. In short, I had incredible music I wanted to listen to, with no means to play it.

Enter: NeedleDoctor. In looking for a respectable place to buy a record player, I found that there was a world-renowned shop just blocks from my Dinkytown apartment. As it turned out, the shop was essentially just their local store for their global activities. They ship everywhere, as they should. It's a great place for... pretty much everything.

Through the Web site I found a cheap player ($150, but $120 in-store). It was the low end, but I was just starting out. I just wanted to play records. A top-of-the-line turntable wasn't all that important at the time. So I set out one Friday evening after working at the Minnesota State Capitol for the Minneapolis Star Tribune to pick up my turntable of choice -- it was the only time I could meet the shop's 9-5 operating hours.

Eventually, I got my record player home, set it up, and prepared for bliss, in more ways than one. In a nod to my girlfriend Emma, I queued up Bob Dylan's "Blonde on Blonde" that she had bought for me. The result? Instant satisfaction. I felt like I had never heard it before. Every note and instrument was so pronounced. Dylan's voice was so... Dylan. (Fans know what I mean.)

Spring's springin' (Sprung?)

I don't think this will be any kind of regular feature, but I was inspired to post a kind of "song of the day" for today at least. This one is "Los Angeles" from Atmosphere's Seven's Travels.

I don't even have this album on vinyl, so it's off the main topic of this blog, but with the temperature in D.C. approaching 50 degrees and the sun peeking through the window at work (I see blue sky!) I got to thinking about this song. Partially because it's about L.A. where it doesn't snow, and it just makes me think of warm, nice weather. It's a great one.

Spring is coming -- I hear they can see the grass in Minnesota -- and that's reason to celebrate.

That is all.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Crate diggin' in the new world

In the first post on this blog I touched on the irony of blogging about collecting vinyl records. Today, another very 20th-21st-century moment.

Sitting at this evening I saw on Twitter and Facebook that Silver Spring, MD's CD/Game Exchange had some new vinyl in stock. In this case? Unnamed Hendrix and Led Zeppelin.

Being that the store's a short walk/bike/drive away from Wax Fanatical World HQ here, I decided I had to check it out. I'd been regretting passing up on the Led Zeppelin since I was at Smash! on Saturday. On I went. Short story shorter, I got Led Zeppelin II and IV in perfect (I mean perfect) condition for $8 and $12, respectively. That's what I call a good deal.

This case just shows a strange scenario: For me, vinyl is great, and I dislike MP3s except for their ability to catalog and mobility. But that doesn't mean technology hasn't had been a huge help with the collection. I've been back in touch with a friend from high school who collects vinyl and blogs about it. I follow various vinyl/music blogs and record shops on Twitter such as the Vinyl District, Music TAP and D.C.'s Crooked Beat records. Not to mention, it can help find some great records.

Now, go get your Twitter/Facebook/social media/crate digging on.