Overshadowed or Overlooked? Screaming Trees – Sweet Oblivion

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It had been years since I last played a Screaming Trees record. Once a staple that sat by the CD player and saw pretty regular rotations in the carousel, it had moved to a secondary location for music seldom played. New music, new bands, new sounds had found their way into my imagination and I moved on. Then the other day I saw a post for an advance order of Sweet Oblivion on vinyl and my mind flashed back – “damn, it’s been too long” as I started to type my order.

A few weeks later the gold coloured vinyl is spinning on my turntable and it feels like an old friend has returned from a long trip away. The conversation flows easy as if no time has passed at all, and I’m at ease just listening when I hear the old familiar stories. Not epic like Soundgarden or angry like Nirvana, Screaming Trees were a pretty straight forward gritty rock band with a penchant for great song writing and one of the best vocalists of the era in Mark Lanegan. Unfortunately, like many of the great 90’s rock bands, they didn’t stay together past the turn of the century, and faded from view.

Anyway, for vinyl junkies you have three choices to spin Sweet Oblivion. The original ’92 release had a limited vinyl printing that came with the CD booklet and a sticker on the shrink wrap declaring it the “One Foot In The Grave” version. If you can find it, it will set you back a minimum of $50.00 plus shipping.

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In 2010, Music On Vinyl released a 180 gram version that had fans giving compliments for quality. You can still find it most anywhere.

Finally, Newbury Comics released a limited 1000 copies on 180 gram translucent gold vinyl. In addition to the foil stamped numbering on the cover it included new liner notes written by Screaming Trees drummer Barrett Martin. They still have copies, so don’t go crazy ordering from resale sights asking for a $100.

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Overshadowed or overlooked, I’m not sure which, but Screaming Trees should have been bigger than they got. Regardless, Sweet Oblivion is sure appreciated and is once again sitting in a spot close to the stereo.

 

Buying New Vinyl (In Canada)… when the economy has gone to shit!

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“Are you sure you really needed that album” asks my wife as she looks at a recent credit card statement. Don’t get me wrong, we NEVER carry a balance from one month to the next, it’s just that the exchange rate has gone through the roof recently. So, what cost a dollar last year is costing a buck thirty plus shipping (which is also far more expensive because of the falling dollar). In other words, “OH WOE IS ME!” if you’re buying new vinyl from south of the border, you can quite easily go broke.

To make matters worse, some of the best music sites have yet to figure out how to ship items at anything near a reasonable cost. For instance, let’s take a look at the recent rerelease of Urge Overkill’s Stull EP on Touch & Go Records. The white vinyl edition of Stull sells for $16.00 USD, a price I’m willing to pay for a ten inch record. However, the shipping is $34.30 through the USPS (United States Postal Service), meaning the record is now triple its retail value. Then if you add the exchange rate the price jumps up to $66.89, making Stull’s cost quadruple the original asking price.

Now, not all sites use USPS to ship, and thank goodness for that. Recently, I ordered two albums from Newbury Comics and it was a better scenario. Paul Simon’s Graceland and the Modern Lovers eponymous record on coloured vinyl had asking prices that, combined, cost me $45.98 and another $16.00 in shipping for both. Newbury uses a courier service that charges only $14.00 for the first item and another $2.00 for each additional item. Of course, now with the current financial crisis sending the Canadian Dollar to an eleven year low, that small fortune I was spending is now an actual fortune and quite a bit more difficult to justify. My $62.97 USD bill shows up as $83.73 CAD on my credit card statement. OUCH!

When I first started ordering stuff from the US, the Canadian dollar was on par or better than USD. Now I’m looking at a huge markup that has made internet ordering direct from US record labels far less desirable.

Still, you do have options. First, if the label is using USPS, fire off a quick note to them expressing interest in their product, but not their shipping method. If they care about customer service, they will investigate alternate shipping methods. If that doesn’t work, go to your local record store to find out if they can order it in. It isn’t likely that you’ll get the “collector’s edition coloured vinyl” available only to fans making advance orders… but it is worth a shot. Finally, if that favorite artist of yours is coming to town, bring along some cash to their merch booth. Chances are, if they didn’t sell out during the advance order stage, it will be on the tour bus waiting for a chance to separate you from your money.

Regardless, even for a hardcore music buyer, the prices are now out of range. If only some entrepreneur with more brains than I could devise a way to distribute exclusive items in Canada, the costs would come down and music fans in the Great White North would be very happy. As it is, my vinyl orders will have to be filed under occasional – if at all. The vinyl revival may end not because of lack of interest, but instead because it is cost prohibitive… at least for us Canadian shoppers!

The Fratellis – Eyes Wide, Tongue Tied

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It seems to me that The Fratellis international debut Costello Music has followed the band as an albatross since its 2006 release. Whether this is fair or not is of little importance as every review seems to have allowed that album to define everything they’ve recorded since.

It really is unfortunate as Eyes Wide, Tongue Tied should stand or fall on its own merits as opposed to the lofty expectations placed on it by someone wishing to relive 2006-07. With that in mind, The Fratellis have leapt into 2015 not by exploring their own past, but those of others to take on new sounds and influences. Carnival like surroundings with a funky beat runs through “Dogtown” and a distinct disco feel on “Thief” has pictures of the dance floor running behind Jon Fratelli’s twist of a phrase.

Even the ever familiar guitar heavy sounds are sometimes suppressed to focus on more atmospheric fare as on “Slow” and “Rossana” which again live and die on Jon Fratelli’s ability to play with his lyrics.

As the songs stand individually each tells a new and interesting story that fit well into the various playlists you might create based on your own mood. Which leads to the only real problem with Eyes Wide, Tongue Tied… its lack of momentum as a whole. A ‘song’ can rock, but ‘songs’ have difficulty sustaining attention over a lengthy period. Like the famous bird/metaphor, it can capture your attention, but whether it is a good omen (album) or bad depends on your plans. Are you looking at the beauty of the bird, or working on a plan to put an arrow through it?

“Open Up You Heart And Let The Sunshine In” or Saturday Morning: Cartoons’ Greatest Hits

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The 90’s may have a lot of detractors, but I’ll be damned if they didn’t put out a nice bundle of compilation records. Near the top of my list was a whole ton of great artists giving a giant nod to my childhood – Saturday Morning: Cartoons’ Greatest Hits. Featuring the Ramones, Liz Phair, Violent Femmes, Matthew Sweet, Juliana Hatfield and a host of others, Saturday Morning featured covers of some of cartoons finest moments.

Frente! covers the Flintstones “Open Up You Heart And Let The Sunshine In.” The duo of Juliana Hatfield and Tanya Donelly blast through “Josie and the Pussycats” and the Ramones tackle my personal favorite “Spider-Man.”

The biggest problem is that there has been no reissue since its 1995 release, meaning that it can be a bit difficult to find and, in some cases, resellers have asked outrageous amounts of money for a disc. Getting it on vinyl is that much worse. Saturday Morning was released as a two disc wax set, but it is difficult to find anywhere close to home. Discogs has two on the resale market, but they are in Japan and Australia respectively. In these cases the asking price is near $50.00 plus shipping.

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Then you get others asking over $200.00 for the cassette.

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While I would love to get my hands on the vinyl, I guess my kids and I will have to dance around the house to the CD for the time being.

“Classic Alternative” Oh for F!%k sakes,…. ! An Opinion Piece…

Running errands with my kids in tow, I was listening to a local radio station when their identification said they play “classic alternative.” Now I’m not meaning to make something out of nothing (yes I am), but – WHAT THE FUCK DOES THAT MEAN!

“Alternative” as a genre was so broadly based it needed to create a plethora of sub-categories otherwise you wouldn’t know what the hell anyone was talking about. You got shoegazing, grunge, jangle-pop, indie-rock, Britpop, Madchester, industrial, gothic rock, alt-country, adult alternative, and so many more I can’t even remember on the fly because the mere thought hurts my brain.

Sure, I know what the station was getting at… I’m fucking old, and so is that genre tag! Yesterdays ‘alternative,’ was the day before yesterdays ‘classic rock.’ They want me to feel welcomed and nostalgic when I hear Nirvana and say to my kids, “I saw them back in the day.”

“Really, they’re pretty cool, in an old guy kinda way!”

“Oh yeah! This old guy might not pay for your education, if you keep up with that ‘old guy’ crap.”

“Are you sure you should talk that way to an eleven year old dad?”

“When you’re old enough to attempt sarcasm, you’re old enough to hear me say crap brainiac! Now show some respect for your elders you young whippersnapper.”

“What is a whippersnapper?”

“I don’t know! I heard Bugs Bunny say it.”

Shit… where was I… memory is getting foggy with… never you mind… Frickin’ classic alternative”

So I listen to a station that wants to attract a younger demographic. A station that sees the 90’s as a place of flannel, woolly mammoths, sabre tooth tigers and some “classic tunes.”

Oh damn I am old.

Time to sell the electric guitars and get a walker I guess.

At least, I can keep my vinyl, “kids still think that stuff is cool… right?”

Circumstances & Connections: Music Memories or Vic Chesnutt – Drunk

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Fucked up beyond all recognition, I pace the floor wildly with pen in hand, scribbling indecipherable notes for a movie script I’m writing. Thirteen types of prescription medication, ten of which are treating my “so-called depression” (depression caused by the painkillers themselves) and three for the nearly severed sciatic nerve in my back (depression caused by the painkillers themselves). My thought processes are in all places at once, perhaps I’ve reached cosmic enlightenment, or maybe I’m just screwed. Vic Chesnutt is in the background singing “Supernatural” and I’m wondering how to incorporate my own scene of waking up in a hospital bed after surgery, with my push button for morphine drip in my arm and nothing else. That is to say, completely naked because apparently I’m a “bleeder.” I catch the lyrics “Out of body experience / I flew around the hospital room once / On intravenous Demerol / It weren’t supernatual” and I’m running for the rewind. Sure I had heard the song many times before, but a baker’s dozen of different coloured medication gives you a different perspective on what you’re hearing.

Several months later I’m detoxing from the one psychiatrist’s human experimentation by being in a hospital full of head shrinks. My boom box has Chesnutt singing “I tried to learn from the psychiatrist / how to stay calm and minimize risk / I should have kept all those appointments / I’m gonna need em / I’m coming disjointed” as I simultaneously weep and draw the now abandoned script idea.

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Listen now children – drugs are bad – getting off them – worse!

Still, Chesnutt keeps me grounded. Inspired. If he can get past all the shit and turn it into beautiful art; my penny ante crap should be a cinch.

A few weeks later, my wife and I are in sitting in our car at Fundy National Park having stopped for an odd little animal. This porcupine has its ass in the air threatening our Ford Contour with a face full of quills if we proceed. Vic is again providing the soundtrack. “I showed my behind so frequently / my dear old mother wouldn’t recognize me.” Sure it is entirely out of context, but my wife and I are in stitches at this little bit of coincidence.

2001 was pretty much the most challenging year I had faced in my adult life (up to that point anyway), but Vic Chesnutt and his album Drunk certainly made me feel like I wasn’t alone in my journey.

Thanks Vic, I hope you’ve found peace in whatever smoke filled dive you’re playing in the great beyond.

Great album… too bad it costs so much or Travis – Good Feeling

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Some things are expected and some things, well, not so much. One very unexpected result of Radiohead’s success with The Bends is that many bands, fairly or not, were lumped into a category of pretenders and wannabes. Some became super popular like Coldplay and the Killers. Some had moderate success in North America, for example Keane. Still others barely made it onto the radar like California’s Paloalto.

Then there was Travis.

By design or not, Fran Healy’s phrasing of vocals bore a resemblance to Thom Yorke which was enough to get the critics calling foul. The thing is, they wrote some really good songs and albums like 1997’s Good Feeling were damn likeable.

Featuring a bunch of well crafted tunes, the Steve Lillywhite produced Good Feeling was by no means a commercial success, but it did act as a great stepping stone towards broader appeal for later releases.

Still, if you’re a vinyl lover, what would getting a copy set you back?

Well, quite a bit. Not a lot of vinyl was being released back in ’97, so that limits the number available. Then you have the fact that Good Feeling wasn’t a big seller during its initial release and again this limits how much vinyl goes into the pressing plant. In the end, you get two options and both will set you back a bit.

The first was the original 1997 U.K. release with the vibrant white cover above. Resellers are asking for over $115.00 plus shipping.

Two years later Good Feeling got reissued with a different cover featuring the band on a black background. One reseller is asking over $200.00 for it and outside of discogs, I couldn’t find any available.

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Basically, if you see one while crate digging, grab it – otherwise it is a small fortune to get hold of a copy. Great record, but the price kinda hurts.

More Splash! … Already!… or The Breeders – Last Splash

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So only one month removed from writing a post on the Breeders biggest selling record, I’m writing a second post on the classic Last Splash. Last night I saw a Facebook post from Runt Records who are also the people behind 4 Men With Beards and Plain Recordings. They are putting out Last Splash on red translucent vinyl. You can pre-order the record now or wait until the September 18th release date… if they have any left by then.

Super Heroine “Seether” Emerges From The Flames With A Guitar In Her Arms or Veruca Salt – Ghost Notes

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How exactly the musical time cycle works (you know, that comic book like mystical place that makes old things new again) is beyond me, but I’m pretty damn appreciative of it at times.  Such is the case with Veruca Salt and the ‘new/old original line up’ who sound like they just picked up from a few weeks off rather than the 18 years between albums proper. As they put it themselves on Facebook: “hatchets buried, axes exhumed.”

Ghost Notes begins with the self proclamation anthem “The Gospel According To Saint Me” which promises “it’s gonna get loud” in a bold RAWK star posture. They may very well sing it in those pretty harmonies, but there is no mistaking that ‘us against the world’ stance that is willing to blast you away with amplification. The second track “Black and Blonde” starts to chug through the opening chords and that “us” impression is completely verified as Louise Post has her ‘drop the mic’ moment cracking “I’m the greatest fucking thing that ever happened to you.”

Even the reminiscences of “Empty Bottle” fit the ‘don’t screw with us ‘narrative’ as Post belts “count the stars and we can bring them down.” The song may be a promise of loyalty but the lyrical imagery of gushing blood and universal destruction exude power immeasurable.

Perhaps that is the point and perhaps not, but Veruca Salt are now playing music with the confidence of a Stan Lee superhero. Picture it, Super Heroine “Seether” emerges from the flames with a guitar in her arms. Having beaten the ghosts of years past she emerges the conquering hero.

Now, grab the popcorn sit back and give it a listen.

Ghost Notes comes out on July 10th and is currently streaming on NPR.

http://www.npr.org/2015/07/02/418654442/first-listen-veruca-salt-ghost-notes

I Need A New Drug or Ten Great Alt Rock Documentaries pt2

   What makes a good rock ‘n’ roll documentary? It all depends on the personalities involved, as the top five picks take drastically different takes on how to tell their stories.

 

   5.  loudQUIETloud: A Film About The Pixies

So hell froze over and Frank Black Francis actually picked up a phone and called the band he ended by fax machine. loudQUIETloud looks at how fractured relationships can return together to create lasting impressions on fans and glorious memories (and cash) for themselves.

 

  1. Under Great White Northern Lights (White Stripes)

Touring the tundra is not for most folks, but Jack and Meg not only play music in the north; they made a poignant film about it. Between the live music tracks and meetings with town fans, mayors and elders, sits moments where you can see these two opposites moving further apart. Only the music brings them together… and is that enough? The film doesn’t answer the question, but history sure has! It is essential viewing for any White Stripes fan.

 

  1. Three Days (Jane’s Addiction)

Filmed during the bands 1997 Relapse Tour, one walks away from watching wondering how normal a hedonistic lifestyle can be. With no valid anchor to ground the audience we see Dave Navarro sweetly lie about drug use to his gal pal over the phone, Perry Farrel pontificate about the nature and the purpose of the universe, and a steady stream of cameos that bring a serious type of normalcy to their own brand of Spinal Tap adventures.

 

  1. Meeting People Is Easy (Radiohead)

This Radiohead ‘anti-documentary’ documentary follows the band attempting to deflate the hype surrounding themselves and their monolithic OK Computer. No attempt is made to see how the relationship between members works to help their creativity; instead Grant Gee focuses on the writing process using studio outtakes and live footage to build a narrative. However, burnout becomes apparent and band faces its lowest point at what seems to be their artistic height.

 

  1. 1991: The Year Punk Broke (Sonic Youth)

A virtual who’s who of the 90’s alt rock scene, the movie follows Sonic Youth and Nirvana as they start in cult following obscurity and rise to commercial and critical success stories. At its heart you see two bands just trying to “goof off” and make sense of it all in the middle of the oncoming hyperbolic onslaught.