Saturday, May 29, 2010

On Baltimore's Own Guru Records

I was two sips into an incredibly strong and pungent bloody mary during lunch at Bertha's in Baltimore's Fells Point neighborhood when Emma pointed out a sign on the sidewalk: Own Guru Records. What luck, I thought. Here, we chose to come to Baltimore for a belated birthday adventure, and we pick a lunch spot right next door to some random record store.

As we sat there, I mentioned to Emma that it seems like there sure are a lot of people stopping and gawking at this store. I pictured some ridiculous selection of records in the window, or perhaps any number of other attention-seeking gestures independent shops are wont to employ.

We finished our lunch and head outside. Upon first glance, I saw what intrigued everyone: Above you'll see the front door of Own Guru Records. Yes, it's that little bit in the middle, a skinny black gate that leads to a similarly skinny, wooden-floored hallway past a few apartments and into a backyard. This concerned me. To gain entry, one must ring a buzzer, and an employee comes and unlocks the gate and lets you in. Once you enter, the gate is immediately locked behind you. I remember, only half-jokingly, asking Emma if we were about to be kidnapped or something. The thought did cross my mind.

Eventually, the strange little hallway and backyard environment gave way to what appeared to be a shed. Indeed, it was a shed. A shed full of records, with the owner repeatedly droning, "All records 15 percent off, books 25." There's maybe 10-square-feet of walking space in the entire place. I had to move out of the way for people coming and going multiple times. But it wasn't that big of deal, especially when you remember that that was the case because they had so many records there.

But it took me a solid five minutes to gain my bearings. I still wasn't sure where I was exactly. I felt like there must be something illegal going on, given the strange practices of this business (multiple times, the owner asked newly-entered customers if they locked the door behind them, and a number of them were literally escorted by another employee to the store's other location. I didn't visit). It was all very strange.

Eventually, though, I started looking through the crates and crates of records. Emma immediately found a copy of Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band. It'd been on her list of must-find records for some time. I made my way around the shop, and found a host of great records including The Jimi Hendrix Experience's first effort, Are You Experienced?, which was the only studio Hendrix album I didn't have before today. I also found a copy of Thriller. Those two finds alone would've been exciting enough. But no, there was a bunch more (check out the link.)

But aside from today's success, the store just has a lot of character. It only has vinyl, which I greatly appreciate. As strange as my first five minutes of interaction with it was, the rest of it more than made up for it. I struck up conversation with the man behind the counter. The records were solid. It was a great all-around experience. What more could you ask for?

Baltimore's Own Guru Records greatness, part 1

Just back from a birthday-ish trip to Baltimore, and while we were there we stumbled across this little shop: Own Guru Records. I plan a full post about this fascinating (and great) place, but more pressing matters (like listening to all these great new records) must be taken care of first.

Here's today's pick ups:

The Beatles -- Hey Jude
The Beatles -- Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band
Gil Scott-Heron -- The Revolution Will Not Be Televised
Arlo Guthrie -- Alice's Restaurant
Toots and the Maytals -- Reggae Greats
Michael Jackson -- Thriller
The Jimi Hendrix Experience -- Are You Experienced?
Bob Dylan -- Another Side of Bob Dylan

That's pretty good for one shop and 20 minutes' worth of crate diggin' if you ask me.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Beatles: 'You say it's your birthday...'

"...Well it's my birthday too, yeah."

It's my birthday today, this fine May 28th. I'm putting out a call to anyone reading this for two things: suggestions of records (new or old!) to watch out for, and any suggestions or ideas about the hot crate-digging spots in Baltimore, which I'll be visiting tomorrow.

Let me know, yo!

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Vinyl & Bleecker St. Records on Seinfeld

I'm a big fan of Seinfeld. The other day, I was watching the classic episode "The Old Man." I hadn't seen this one in a while, and certainly not since I've been collecting records, so it never really stuck out to me the role vinyl and record collecting plays in the storyline.

First, Kramer and Newman are trying to hawk some vinyl at a place called Bleecker Bob's Records. In reality, I think, that store is Bleecker St. Records in Greenwich Village. I've been there, and it looks just like the store in the episode. It's an great shop if you're ever in the area, and they have an absolutely insane collection of vinyl, ranging from whatever you can find in the crates, to gloriously displayed (on the walls) rare and super-expensive records (they have a $500+ U.K. Sgt. Peppers, which I think is one of the most expensive I've ever seen in person.)

Anyway, there's this scene (video here--I'd embed, but NBC doesn't get that whole thing, apparently) where Kramer and Newman go into the shop and run into one Tobin Bell, playing the record store owner straight out of central casting: mustached, dressed down, otherwise uninterested in dealing with those two. He dispassionately and routinely offers them "5 bucks" for whatever they have to offer -- which is probably about right, as far as I can tell.

Given how oblivious I was to the vinyl reference in this episode, though, it got me thinking about what the vinyl world looked like when this episode aired -- in 1993! I wonder what people in their 20s, 30s and 40s thought, seeing a record shop and vinyl on the teevee again. I personally have no idea, because I was 5 years old. But given the immense growth of the industry/vinyl world in just the past few years, it's safe to assume, I think, this world looked nothing like it does today. It was probably an even smaller niche than it was now. I imagine there were still crate diggers, but perhaps it wasn't as "mainstream" -- if it even is now. Certainly it wasn't big enough to get a Record Store Day reference on Saturday Night Live.

It's interesting to think, though, about the cycle of vinyl. It was big when it was the dominant form of music. Then, probably around 1993, give or take a few years, it receded into oblivion. Now? Record Store Day is huge for the consumers, and the record companies -- not to mention the shops. More than 1,500 people showed up for the last D.C. record fair. Vinyl's back.

I'm not sure what it all means. But I'm really interested to see what this vinyl thing will look like 17 years from today.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Diggin' now... Spearhead 'Hole in the Bucket'

Listening to the Sound Opinions podcast this afternoon, I was introduced to an old Michael Franti and Spearhead song from 1994 (!) off their Home album. Now, I've had a moderate listening relationship with these guys, since their release last year and diving back into their older catalogue.

But this song is... to borrow a phrase... the truth. Take a listen.

Here's the first verse. Greatness:

I work 9 to 5 but it starts in the P.M.
and I love the sunrise so I step out in the A.M.
the street is black and shiny from the early
nightly rainin'
the glory of the light it brings evaporation
morning's fresh oxygen cleanest
I take a deep hit help my mind stay the greenest
I'm already wake so I'm not drinkin' coffee
don't wanna cigarrette 'cause it's a form of slavery
walk into the store 'cause I need a few items
the sun heats the blood like a hit of vitamins
needa buy some food and some 'poo for my dreads
can't remember why but I need a spool of thread
Man with dirty dreads, steps around the comer
he asks me for a dime, a nickel or a quarter
I don't have any change so I'm steppin' along
and as I'm walkin' past he sings to me a song

Monday, May 17, 2010

Diggin' now... Thee Oh Sees

There's been more new music than I've known what to do with these days, and I say that as I share in the collective disappointment with that new (last?) LCD Soundsystem record, despite Pitchfork giving it an outrageous 9.2 rating. Frankly, since it's potentially (probably) the last LCD Soundsystem record, the fact that it didn't get a 10 from even Pitchfork, which has had a years-long love affair with every damn release with that name on it, should tell you something.

But, for me: You had to go and try really hard while seeing just how far this derivative (nice way of phrasing it) style could take you, didn't you, James Murphy? Why couldn't we just continue being North American Scum and keep having some tongue-in-cheek, self-aware fun? It's not terrible, but rather like the last movie of a trilogy or something that just falls flat compared to the rest of the series.

That aside, I wanted to point out this new record from Thee Oh Sees, 'Warm Slime.' I don't have a video to embed, but go to Stereogum here and check out 'Castiatic Tackle.' The whole album doesn't fit the following description as well as this song does, but it's what I'd imagine the 13th Floor Elevators would sound like if they were kept in a time capsule to continue recording music and advance for the past few decades. That's just my first reaction.

Anyway, I'm way behind on this band, but I'm checking out their 'Help' release next, and we'll see from there. But from this release, if you're into that quicker-paced, hard-ish psych sound with some garage-y, yet melodic, undertones along with it (how's THAT for a description?), this might be a band for you for check out.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

On eBay's vinyl hawkers

In writing about the confusion over the Flaming Lips' Dark Side of the Moon release, I got to think about eBay's ecosystem of vinyl hawkers and sellers and hustlers. As far as the DSOTM release goes, a number of people are claiming to have the "super-rare!" version of the release, whether it be the green or clear version, but they neglect to tell you how they know this version or that version is actually the super-rare version. Of course, that' the point.

But it got me thinking about this whole practice. I remember on Record Store Day, the people that were in the front of the line were pretty cool about things and appeared to all be in the market for this things themselves, rather than to turn around a flip it. But there was this other guy floating around -- who was friends with one of the guys ahead of me -- who went to another store that opened earlier and promptly bought everything they would allow him to. I'm not sure what all he got, but I know he got two of the super-rare John Lennon singles bags. I heard he wanted a third (which would've been the store's entire stock) but they wouldn't let him.

At first glance, there's nothing wholly wrong with this. Personally, I don't know why you'd feel the need to buy multiple copies of something, but what the hell. But then I found out from his friend who was in line with me that he had no interest in Record Store Day and had only heard about it in the days before when he heard some of the releases would be "hot," meaning he could make a whole lot of money from selling them.

I know this is America, and we all love our capitalism and stuff, but this just rubbed me the wrong way, but I think it's unavoidable. As I documented on Record Store Day itself, one person in line with me passed up a John Lennon release so I could have one. That's what I think of when I think of Record Store Day, and this whole culture-ish thing itself. I don't think of some guy in his 40s trying to snatch up all the copies of X so he can flip them later.

But like I said, I don't really know what you could do about this from a macro standpoint. It's good that store stopped him from buying all three John Lennon releases, but he still got two. Crooked Beat had a 1-release-per-customer policy, but that means Emma and I still could've bought two of whatever and flipped it later. But we didn't.

I think the only recourse is to try to shun these people and put some pressure on them when you see them. What else can you do? Ebay's a great thing for finding records, but it has a way of creating this marauder, cut throat-type culture that you'd find at a sleazy flea market or something. That's not what this should be about, but of course a portion of it will be inevitably. That's life, I suppose.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Hi. I'm Jake, and I'm a vinyl addict. (Hi Jake)

"Just when I thought I was out... they pull me back in."

So, it's not Godfather-worthy, mafioso stuff here, but I had been taking a break from buying records at the pace I had been since I had been spending quite a bit of money and Record Store Day drained me of valuable cash reserves.

Well, that lasted until Friday, when I picked up the new Black Keys album 'Brothers.' Then, today, since Emma's in Florida, I figured I'd go check out CD/Game Exchange in Silver Spring. I hadn't been there in a while. Kinda missed it.

But I wasn't sure I was going to buy anything. That was, of course, until I got inside. Right away I found a copy of The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour in great shape, complete with 24-page color booklet and for $8. Wasn't going to pass that up.

Then nothing else really caught my eye. There were a few things, here and there, but nothing I felt I had to get right then and there. That was, of course, until some guy came in with a stack of vinyl he was selling to the store that I overheard Sam (manager) describe as "some great stuff." As I made my way to the counter, I found a stack of records that weren't even priced yet.

Ultimately, I ended up with Jimi Hendrix Electric Ladyland (complete with the controversial and rare UK cover art featuring 19 nude women which is described here) in mint -- and I mean mint -- condition. That was $16, but totally worth it. Then I found The Specials' self-titled first album in great shape for $10. (Sam also mentioned that The Specials are from his hometown in the UK and used to hang out by his grandma's house, but at 12 years old he was too shy to say anything.) Great pickups.

So, what started as a trip just to stop by ended with three great finds at a good price. And that's really what's great about CD/Game Exchange. I've been to too many places where they stock a lot of new vinyl, or there's so much that it's overwhelming and there's really not that joy in finding something you didn't expect. But a few times in a row now, I've gone into CD/Game Exchange and found nothing but greatness. I recommend you try it out if you're around.

ALSO: Apparently the Takoma location has vinyl marked down and, perhaps, a bigger selection that Silver Spring. I haven't been there, but probably will make a point to check it out soon.

Black Keys 'Brothers' (vinyl) review

I had been looking forward to this one I think since I heard it was coming out, or since their last one came out, or since Dan Auerbach's great solo release came out. Regardless, yes, the Black Keys are back with another album.

I was lucky enough to pick this up on Friday the 14th, as opposed to waiting until the 18th. That, in itself, is great. I'm just through the first few songs, and I'm already digging it. First reaction: it sounds like a mix between their older, super-garage-y sound the and the polished/produced sound they had on Attack & Release thanks to Dangermouse.

But I'm definitely liking it. I might have a full takeout/review sometime this weekend, but I don't know how useful that is considering this has been leaked for a while (although I purposefully avoided listening to a single note.) As for the release itself, the albums on two great, heavy, 180-gram black vinyl discs. The pressing looks solid, and it sounds great so far. It also comes with a big poster that looks really great and has the lyrics on the back. Oh, and a copy of the album on CD is included as well.

All in all, solid release as far as I can tell. Good packaging, great music. Pretty good for $26.

Song of the Day: De La Soul - Eye Know

This morning I felt compelled to dust off De La Soul's 1989 release 'Three Feet High and Rising" album, which is easily among the best hip hop releases of all time. It's pretty stunning to think I was 2 years old when it came out, but regardless, this is a great record.

But I had to highlight this song and the video (!) today. It seemed to fit, and that video is great. Love this line too: "About those other Jennys I reckoned with? Lost them all like a homework excuse."

Friday, May 14, 2010

NEW INFO: Flaming Lips & Record Store Day's Dark Side of the Moon clear vs. seafoam green vinyl mystery

I've been somewhat passively keeping tabs on this mystery over clear vinyl vs. seafoam green when it comes to the Flaming Lips' Dark Side of the Moon Record Store Day release. For the uninitiated, it was originally supposed to be on a seafoam green record but ended up as completely clear for some.

I documented it on my end here, here, and here. My friend Joe Stark wrote about his copy of the release (which is indeed seafoam green) at his blog here. Meanwhile, some of the people on the Flaming Lips message board here have discussed the issue, but seem to be experiencing the same dearth of good information the rest of the Internet is as well.

Then I came across this, which is perhaps the closest thing to a clear(ing) read of the tea leaves I've found since Record Store Day nearly a month ago. On the Lips' site there's a listing for the vinyl release here. The description of the product is as follows: "One 140g regular weight, clear vinyl disc with bonus CD in babypak. A limited quantity of clear were pressed! Seafoam green will return once we run out of clear."

Now, this isn't exactly clear, either, on just what the hell is going on here. There are a number of comments on the listing that feature some of the typical back and forth and hypothesizing that has come to really capture the whole sense of confusion hanging over this release. But, for now, here's my take:

This listing was posted in mid-March, and it clearly advertises this as "clear vinyl." But one commenter says they've changed it, implying that it once said "seafoam green." And indeed, this entire release was billed as featuring a seafoam green vinyl, not clear. Only once Record Store Day came around and people were opening their records (as I did) to find completely clear wax did confusion ensue.

But the fact that they're shipping clear, claiming there's a limited quantity, and then saying they'll go back to seafoam green after those are all gone, says to me that there's indeed fewer clear copies out there than seafoam green copies. Or, perhaps, this means that it may be somewhat equal now, but once it's all said and done, and they continue to produce seafoam green copies, there will be more of the clear out there. Also, certainly Ebay appears to be biting on the whole "clear-is-rarer" theme, as I've seen countless examples of sellers claiming their clear copies are, for lack of a better term, super-duper rare (and thus more valuable).

So, add this onto the mounting pile of evidence as we try to parse what's going on here. Right now, if I had to guess, I'd say that there were probably similar amounts of clear and green floating around on RSD, but the continuation of green pressings will ultimately mean there will be fewer clear.

But, who knows really. That's what it seems like now. Still, as I've said before, it sure would be nice if Warner Bros. or the Flaming Lips would explain to fans, who lined up and dropped $30 each for this release, just what the hell is going on here.

Also, I've contacted Warner Bros. in an attempt to figure this out. We'll see if they get back to me.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Diggin' now... Sleigh Bells (Treats)

I don't remember where I heard about this ridiculously hyped band first, but I first listened on NPR Music's excellent First Listen feature, which you can check out here. Aside from recommending this feature, I wholly recommend you take 32 minutes of your day and listen to this album. One commenter labeled it audio cocaine. Don't know about that, but they're not wrong, per se. It's got an M.I.A.-ish sound, which makes some sense considering this duo is, indeed, signed to her N.E.E.T label.

Either way, this is a great album after a few times through. But I realize they're also kind of a buzz band, and will likely spawn the inevitable "greatest band or affront to people who can hear everywhere?" debate that so often takes place in this situation.
My two cents is this: I heard this album, and I really liked it. It seems as though a number of other people like it as well. That's fine. But is it going to redefine music for decades to come and be a landmark for everything that's ever been heard ever ever? Probably not. But it's really good! So just take a listen. Sometimes these releases get overhyped and then, inevitably, there's another faction of listeners who feel like they've got to hate it because it's been overhyped and it's not that good.

Well, if you ask me (which you probably didn't) it's good. It's damn good. Listen to it.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Record Store Day = Big Time, on Hipster Puppies

UPDATE: Apparently doesn't like having its photo (which is user-submitted, anyway) on my site, as they keep blowing the link. Cool, guys! I'm sure all those people who took pictures of the dogs and sent them to you knew you'd use them just like this!

Quick post: I've really been neglecting this blog, but I've been on a money-saving, no-record-buying stint lately, since Record Store Day extracted far too much money from me.

But - BUT! - I hope to change that soon. As in the next few days, and for sure by the weekend.

In the meantime, check out, which is among the hipster-oriented Tumblr-type blogs that came around once "Look at this f-cking hipster" made it big. There's and 'Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) is a f-cking hipster' the only of the meme, I believe, to be devoted to a member of Congress.

So, check those out. Why am I posting this (these blogs and this photo?) For one, I enjoy them. Two, here's the caption from the above photo:

"gatsby really “supported” record store day, but uses amazon the other 364 days of the year"

I thought it was funny -- and a reminder to not be like Gatsby... the dog.