Big Star + Rock Hall = An Inductee That Would Really Matter… or… Big Star – Complete Columbia: Live at University of Missouri

88875195041_JK001_PS_01_01_01.indd

 

A friend asked me “Why, of all the albums being released on Record Store Day 2016, are you waiting in line for a 90’s live album from a 70’s band?” The tone and nature of the question was meant to be mocking, as he loves to have lively music debates, particularly ones that push my buttons. However, instead of just reacting, I took a deep breath and thought about it. Then, just to be annoying I told him I would ‘write the answer.’ (hehehe…)

The reasons are three-fold.

Like many people, the album I first attach to a band tends to have the greatest impact. While I heard songs by Big Star from time to time, it wasn’t until the release of Columbia that I had a complete work in front of me which represented the band as a whole. A world opened up. Here was a collection of songs that didn’t need to be ‘epic’ stories of human struggle (ie. Bruce Springsteen) or carry images of Mordor (ie. Led Zeppelin) to have powerful depth. They also didn’t include anthem-like clichés to get people fist pumping in the air (pick your own example, as there are so many). “In The Street”, “Back Of A Car” and “September Gurls” leapt out of my speakers and made my own angst seem to matter. These songs were simple coming-of-age tales detailing everyday experiences without the ‘syrup’ provided by many of the ‘so-called’ classic rock bands of the day. Instead, Big Star gave us the kind of tunes that made you want to pick up a guitar and learn to play. Furthermore, you found yourself singing, not in some vain attempt to impress or attract anyone, but as an outlet to express yourself. Which is perhaps why I had been hearing covers of their songs by other artists as time went on; The Lemonheads, Matthew Sweet, The Bangles, The Posies, Teenage Fanclub and later Beck were all doing renditions of the songs of Alex Chilton or Chris Bell. The Replacements even wrote a song entitled “Alex Chilton”, dropping the line “never go far, without a little Big Star.” All of it was packed into this one album.

Next, this wasn’t an example of a band cashing in on fame. Big Star never had the kind of fame you could cash in on. Columbia was quite literally a concert put together by fans for fans and later released in a similar fashion. Two campus radio staffers at the University of Missouri quite literally asked Big Star alumni Jody Stephens if he would be willing to do a reunion show, and got a yes if Alex Chilton was up for it. Surprisingly, Chilton agreed and, with the addition of the Posies Jon Auer and Ken Stringfellow to cover for Chris Bell (deceased) and Andy Hummel (left the music business), the band played an amazing set to (merely) an estimated 200 people. Yet even with a small venue, they managed to attract much of the music world. That show got glowing write-ups in all the major music magazines of the day. It was pretty unanimous amongst the press that those not lucky enough to be in attendance had missed something special. Fortunately, this record gives us a glimpse of a show that has attained somewhat legendary status.

Finally, Columbia solidifies my absolute belief that Big Star should be in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame. All three of their initial studio releases (#1 Record, Radio City, Sister Lovers/Third) land consistently on various magazines’ Top Albums of all-time lists; all three are referenced by multiple generations of artists as being influential in their music; and all three are revered by fans lucky enough to have heard them as being close to their hearts. More importantly, their music has endured through the most insanely bad luck of any band in rock history. Their 1971 debut #1 Record was hailed as triumphant by music critics, but due to poor distribution and marketing by Stax, no one could find a copy to purchase, even when songs were played on the radio. Follow up Radio City suffered a similar fate, with Columbia records refusing to distribute the record because of a disagreement with their newly acquired Stax label. By the time Big Star released the gorgeous yet challenging Sister Lovers/Third, the band had completely disintegrated with only Alex Chilton and Jody Stephens remaining. They went their separate ways and that should have ended the story… but it didn’t.

Fans exchanged cassettes with Big Star tunes. Those in the know kept talking and searching until a market was created for re-releases. More than two decades removed from their first record and people were seeking them out based on little more than conversations and scratchy recordings emanating from a tape deck. By the early 90’s, Ryko had reissued Sister Lovers/Third and a put out a compilation of Chris Bell’s solo material, I Am The Cosmos. Then Columbia was released in 1993.  A tribute album was recorded by a virtual who’s who of 90’s alt-rock artists (ironically, it also suffered from bad luck and wasn’t released until years afterward). When Columbia was released, it may still have been hard to find the first two Big Star records in stores, but here were the songs; live, rough and glorious in their presentations. All members were taking on vocal duties, with Jon Auer doing an incredible job on the solo Chris Bell single “I Am The Cosmos.” As the 90’s continued, That 70’s Show used “In The Street” as their theme song and a new generation started to discover the band. Finally, their albums could be found in record stores.

Somehow, without radio backing or touring, people were seeking out this music.

Which brings me to the Rock Hall…

If, as I believe, rock ‘n’ roll is about more than money or popularity, then Big Star should be inducted and Columbia is a perfect example of why. Here is a band whose art transcended obscurity by nothing more than word of mouth and shared recordings. Without the help of corporate money and radio exposure, their music found a way to not only be heard, but in fact influence generations of future musicians. Hell, the entire sub-genre of “power-pop” can’t even be considered without Big Star being mentioned as its greatest practitioners. It is hard to picture the sounds of the 90’s alternative music scene without the influence of songs that Alex Chilton and Chris Bell provided. Then, you add the Big Star reunion to the mix.

Complete Columbia: Live at the University of Missouri 4/25/93 exemplifies the very idea that great music will find fans and that record sales are not as important as the art itself. On-stage that day in ’93 were two musicians who had created some music playing with two other musicians that had been directly inspired by it. Twenty years separating their careers, yet you could hear just how much Big Star had meant to the future of rock music. They weren’t just another band that you hummed along to distractedly on a transistor radio; they were the band you sought out and told anyone and everyone willing to listen that Big Star were “FUCKING AWESOME!!!”

So my friend… you ask me why I’m arriving early on RSD 2016 to line up for a copy of Columbia… or even, why they should be in the Rock Hall… well, it’s because Big Star created music that really matters… what other reason is there?

Now This Is What I’m Talkin’About!!! Or… Sufjan Stevens – Illinois 10th Anniversary edition

illinoiseblue

Announced a few months ago, I had assumed early on that this “anniversary edition” of (the already classic) Illinois, would be like a few other artists – limited, advance order only and expensive. Music accolades aside, of which Illinois has received ‘many’, this is a first class vinyl reissue at a price that is downright inexpensive for what is included.

First, the cover features a new licensed picture of Marvel’s “Blue Marvel” replacing Superman on the original. While Superman is a household name, Blue Marvel is a relatively new comic hero that is just far ‘cooler’ than the DC man of steel. (Besides, licensing was an issue,)

Next you get a double two coloured 12” records in white and ‘Blue Marvel’ (blue with white splatter) and a star shaped red coloured vinyl single of “Chicago” in a tri-fold album sleeve.

illinoiseblue2

Finally, it is all at a price under $25.00 Canadian, and can be purchased at your local retailer.

When was first announced I missed the boat and thought I was out of luck. However, this edition is actually limited to ‘ten thousand copies.’ That is a good thing folks! The original pressing with the ‘Superman cover’ was limited to 5000. Interestingly, the Superman image had to be covered up by balloons because of copyright issues. When you see it now, it is because people peeled off the stickers to get at the actual cover. The thing sells – used – for over $150 on the reseller market.

Back in 2013, Newbury Comics released a double vinyl set in red and green wax. On that edition, the balloons were a legitimate image on the cover with Superman removed. Limited to 1000 copies, this reissue of Illinois is selling for over $130 and sold out quickly; which leads me to why I am so very happy with Asthmatic Kitty for this release.

illionis2

By printing 10000 copies, legitimate fans that missed out the first time can get an awesome package without breaking the bank. Call it a dream, but I wish more artists would go this route. Changing up the cover a bit and the colour of vinyl on the reissue, it gives old fans the collectability they desire and new fans a chance to get in and still have something unique. In a world where artists are losing money to streaming music, enticing consumers with an awesome tactile experience seems to be a great way to revive the physical market.

A Perfect Storm… or Sonic Youth – Goo

goo1

It can be difficult to quantify the importance of a single LP, not only as a piece of art, but also on its impact on the zeitgeist. Music being a quite subjective form of expression usually gets defined by observers in two very different, if not opposing standards – sales (numbers sold) and contextualization… being the present, historical and critical importance perceived by music writers and individuals alike. Every so often the two standards align within a moment that one can point at and yell (in their best Charlie Brown voice) “THAT’S IT!!!”

Goo acted as such a watershed. While being the most commercially accessible album Sonic Youth had produced to date, it changed how other artists saw themselves and their art within the music world. Without compromising their artistic vision, the band had joined a major label and sounded just as fucking insanely awesome as ever. Following Goo, Nirvana signed with DGC on Kim Gordon’s recommendation. Neil Young released Weld on the advice of Thurston Moore. Hell, they even made Steve Albini’s cries of sell outs to all major label acts seem like a distant voice lost in a strong wind. After all, if Sonic Youth were recording for DGC, then how bad could it be?

Just look back at the classic documentary 1991: The Year That Punk Broke. For many, this was ‘the’ introduction to the world of 90’s alt-rock having just witnessed Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr. Babes in Toyland and more pre-grunge explosion (grunge is such a useless word). Thing is… the real subject and focus of the film is Sonic Youth and their tour in support of Goo. Everyone in the film went on to either moderate or phenomenal success.

punkbroke

Like any band that has the repertoire of Sonic Youth, arguments will always ensue about where albums rank against one another. Dirty was more commercially successful and Daydream Nation got more critical laurels, but Goo was proof positive that Sonic Youth could take their brand of indie-avant-rock into the public consciousness. Basically, if you’re a music-geek, then Goo is essential.

If you’re looking to pick up a 12” version there are a few options. Your first is the original LP from 1990, some limited quantities came with a bonus 7” of “Kool Thing” and are decently priced at under $40 through discogs. They were limited at the time to 3000 copies so some e-bay resellers are asking as much as $200 for “near mint”… so do some research if you’re looking for it.

The most coveted edition is the 1996 Mobile Fidelity 200 gram vinyl. As per usual, MF did the recording at half cutting speed to ensure sound quality and did a limited run. Of course, this also means a high price on the resale market with vendors asking for over $200 in many cases. Again you’re looking at tags like “near mint.”

goo2

The next option is for music enthusiasts and can be purchased “new.” In 2005, Goo was re-mastered and put out as a four LP set. The first two discs contained the album proper on Sides A, B and C while D had ‘B-sides and outtakes.’  The second set of records contained demos and unreleased material.  Also included was a 16 page booklet. This can be special ordered through most record stores or ordered direct through the bands website.

goobox

This year Goo got another re-master and re-release. This time out it is on a single disc. You can find the standard black vinyl at all the usual outlets, or a pink/white swirl through Newbury Comics. The coloured vinyl edition is limited to 1000 copies and sounds pretty damn good against the CD.

pinkgoo

Any way you look at it, Sonic Youth provided a road for other bands to follow, and Goo was a significant part of what would follow in the 90’s alt-rock era. It’s worth the price of admission.

Soooooooo much to pick from… Record Store Day 2016 Preview

What a difference a few weeks makes. When the early Record Store Day (RSD) leaks started trickling in, there looked to be a bit of a “nothing to write about” syndrome. WELL – HOLY EMPTY THE FREAKIN’ WALLETS FOLKS… it’s gonna be a big one, particularly for those of you who enjoy classic, alternative or indie rock. Even pop music and jazz fans have a bit to cheer about here. That said, there are some discrepancies between the overall RSD preview list and the official RSD Canada list, so make sure you check both.

Ironically, the first difference between the official list and the Canadian version is the absence of this year’s RSD Ambassadors’ Metallica. For the annual physical medium celebration, the band are releasing a CD of their 2003 Bataclan performance entitled Liberte, Egalite, Fraternite, Metallica, with proceeds going to the Give To France Charity for victims of the Paris attacks. Unfortunately, the CD set doesn’t make the list of Canadian releases. Other notable misses come in the form of Superchunk’s Tossing Seeds (Singles 89-91) LP and a great looking Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention 7” for “My Guitar” and “Dog Breath.”

metallicalibertecdcover

However, absence from the list doesn’t mean you should give up hope. Like all RSD outings, the trick is to enjoy the experience of hanging out with a bunch of music geeks and going over the days’ spoils with like-minded friends. Sometimes things vary country to country and store to store; so as long as you don’t take any list as gospel, everything should be OK.

Here are a few of the days’ highlights.

For classic rock fans, there are releases coming to you from Bowie, Dylan, The Grateful Dead, Fleetwood Mac, Cheap Trick, Joan Jett, The Monkees, CCR, and The Kinks.

As has usually been the case, several David Bowie collector items are being released for RSD as exclusives, including one 7” and two 12” records. The 7” continues Bowie’s 40th anniversary picture disc single series with “TVC15.” In addition, two of Bowie’s earlier works are getting special treatment. I Dig Everything – 1966: The Pye Singles is coming out as a 12” LP (limited to 7500 copies) and The Man Who Sold The World (limited to 5000 copies) is being released as a 12” picture disc featuring the rare German artwork.

bowiesavedtheworld

The Jimi Hendrix Experience’s Smash Hits is getting a new lease on life from a rare cover. The original “cowboy cover” is being restored for this LP, which is numbered and limited to 5000 copies.

hendrixhits

Perhaps the coolest release of RSD will be Cheap Trick’s At Budokan: The Complete Concert. The original 1979 album contained 10 songs including the classic “I Want You to Want Me”, which sold over 3 million copies and peaked at number 4 on Billboard’s Top 200. The Complete Concert will contain those ten originals plus an additional nine songs played from the legendary show. It will be pressed onto two 150 gram LPs and limited to 5000 copies.

88985301181_JK001_PS_01_01_01.indd

If you want something unique, look no further than the Monkees. In addition to their complete Classic Album Collection box set, containing all 9 studio LPs plus a bonus B-sides grouping, they are releasing a 7”picture disc of “Saturday’s Child” shaped like a guitar.

monkees guitar

For ‘Spirit of Radio Fans’ there is much to look at. Early alt-rock pioneers The Sonics are checking in with Live On Easy Street, a live LP from their recent reunion tour.

Simple Minds, who also toured last year, are releasing a 2XLP red vinyl set entitled Big Music Tour 2015. Sex Pistols will have Never Mind The Bollocks… released on a 12” picture disc featuring artwork reversing the colours from the original North American release.

simpleminds2015

90’s alt-rock kids are also getting quite a selection. Leading the charge is Matthew Sweet, with his alternate take on the classic Girlfriend LP – Goodfriend. This collection of home demos, live performances and session recordings will be split onto two 12” inch records and limited to 4000 copies.

88875194311_JK001_PS_01_01_01.indd

Soul Asylum’s Grave Dancers Union is also getting the double LP treatment for RSD that includes one red translucent and one green translucent wax that is being numbered and again, limited to 4000 copies.

In addition, there will be releases from Hope Sandoval (Mazzy Star), a vinyl box from Lush, a 7” split single between Faith No More and the Bee Gees, and a 12” single from Manic Street Preachers.

For modern alt-rock and indie fans there is a great selection to enjoy. Ezra Furman is releasing a 12” EP – Songs By Other with covers of songs by Beck, Arcade Fire, The Replacements and more.

furmanother

Frank Turner has an acoustic version of his album Positive Songs For Negative People on 12”black wax limited to 3000 copies.

Florence & the Machine are putting out a 12” single of “Delilah” on 180 gram coloured vinyl. In addition, the B-side is a cover of Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart.”

There will also be 7” and 12” singles from Chvrches, Best Coast, Hozier, 21 Pilots, and Wolf Alice to round things out.

For those of you with more ‘pop’ sensibilities, Ed Sheeran has several EP’s coming out, Justin Beiber is releasing 7000 picture disc copies of Purpose, and The Weeknd has a 12” remix of “The Hills.”

Even aging pop fans can look forward to Madonna’s Like A Virgin & other hits on 180 gram pink vinyl and Alanis Morissette’s Demo’s 1994 -1998 on 180 gram translucent splatter wax.

alanism

Check out the official lists and see if there is something worth lining up for.  Trust me, I’m saving my nickels and hoping to get Big Star’s Complete Columbia: Live at the University Of Missouri 4/25/93. You know… just sayin’, because we can all find something to look forward too.

88875195041_JK001_PS_01_01_01.indd

Give Me Crap If You Must… or… Temple Of The Dog – Eponymous

tod1

Right now… as I’m writing this, I’m feeling an epic moment of personal nostalgia. Looking over at a recently purchased purple piece of vinyl spinning on my turntable I can’t help but reflect back nearly twenty-five years. Usually when someone says that an album changed their life it is pure hyperbole. It is something said by someone to say they connected in a deep way to a certain record. In my case it literally shaped my entire university experience and the lifelong friends I made.

Let me explain. In the summer of 1991 I found myself really getting into an album that almost no one had heard of – Temple Of The Dog. Remember, this was before Soundgarden released Badmotorfinger; before Pearl Jam had released Ten and even predates Nirvana’s Nevermind. Hell, Soundgarden’s most commercial song to this point was probably “Big Dumb Sex” which had Chris Cornell screaming fuck enough to get the old “explicit lyrics” sticker on the front of Louder Than Love.

As school resumed in September I had started taking a film course and was regaling a new acquaintance on the perfection that was Temple Of The Dog. After a few moments, he interjected with… “Why don’t you review it for me?” I must admit, I was more than a little dumbfounded and probably had that “um, yeah, um, ok” look in my eyes until he explained that he was the entertainment editor at the campus paper. The next day I showed up with a hand written review and from that point on, I became an arts critic during a very interesting time in the musical universe.

Little more than a month after that conversation Pearl Jam was playing an industry gig at the Rivoli in Toronto. Trust me when I say this… the Rivoli is small, very frickin’ small. Ten had been released, but no one was caught up in it yet, and I retold the story again to my friend trying to sell him on the idea of an interview. Mike, who has a bit of a poker face, didn’t seem to think it would be a problem. It would be the first time I would stick a microphone in front of a band, so I was a little nervous and started checking my schedule the next day. My memory at this point gets a bit fuzzy on certain details, but what I remember with absolute clarity is this – I had an exam the morning after the interview. So I returned to Mike and let him know I wouldn’t be able to do it. Casually… between two friends, I cancelled an audience with Pearl Jam before they were “PEARL JAM.”

It wouldn’t be until the next summer I’d do my first interview with The Skydiggers, and from there I did have chats with a lot of great bands. Matthew Sweet, Teenage Fanclub, Cracker and the Lemonheads all come to mind. However… um…, what can I say? I did well on the exam.

Now many years later I found myself searching for a vinyl copy and apparently it is a very hot commodity. Discogs has selling the original 1991 LP for $1000 USD with the average of past sales coming up at over $200 and a recent sale over $500. The same record made in Europe goes for a much more reasonable $80.

That same year a limited edition picture disc was released but I couldn’t find any for sale to fix a price point.

In 1992, with the success of both Pearl Jam and Soundgarden, the album was given a huge push behind the release of the single “Hunger Strike.” Several European editions were released on red vinyl and all seem to go between $50 and $100.

Eight years later, a vinyl reissue hit the market on clear vinyl that has a history of selling under $50.

Jump to 2013 and Music on Vinyl did a complete remaster of the record on 2 pieces of black 180 gram vinyl with an etched side 4. Simultaneously, they also released a limited edition hand numbered purple LP set. A&M also reissued the record on a single red platter.

tod2

Finally, last year, Music on Vinyl reissued 1200 copies of the purple set on 180 gram vinyl to be sold through Newbury Comics. The two, while described as purple, are differing shades, making it slightly cooler than the last batch. However… it seems to have already sold out. You can find copies through Discogs or e-bay for under $50 USD, or just grab the regular black vinyl which is still widely available at the usual retailers.

Beck… without the Beck? Or Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World Soundtrack

spvwco

Writing songs for fake bands can turn out some pretty good tunes. The Monkees and Spinal Tap built careers around that shtick, and let’s not forget the memorable Citizen Dick in Singles and… well, it’s a very long list. One of my favourite is Sex Bob-Omb from Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. While I admit to being a fan of the movie, it’s the soundtrack that I became pretty obsessive over for a few months back in the day. First it contained that awesome Plumtree song “Scott Pilgrim” that had originally inspired the books. Then you had some top notch Canadian content with Metric and Broken Social Scene stealing their… um, scenes; by appearing as rival band Crash & the Boys. However, it was the Beck songs written for Sex Bob-Omb that had my son and I singing along on the summer road trips.

By writing garage inspired tunes for a fictional act, Beck took a step back towards a more lo-fi sound and created an EP worth of memorable tunes. The energy and enthusiasm expressed in the soundtrack material was similar to what had drawn me to Beck on Mellow Gold. It was playfulness with words mixed with catchy hooks and surrounded by pawn shop guitar sound. (Seriously folks, check out Beck’s live appearances with that wonderful cheap piece of shit 60’s Silvertone. The sound is raunchy, broken and incredibly brilliant. Honestly, I own one myself and love it.)

With the deluxe edition, you get both the Sex Bob-Omb recordings and Beck versions. While the two are quite similar to one another, Beck has a nonchalance in the delivery that allows lines like “Jesus in the rear view / and the highway patrol is up ahead / in my garbage truck…truck” to move past silly and into ‘fun rock-out’ territory. Unfortunately, ‘deluxe’ was digital download only, so the extra three Beck recordings are not on vinyl or CD.

The original vinyl pressing from 2010 was on red translucent wax. Due to demand, there was a 2013 reissue that is identical to the initial release. You can still find copies out and about at record retailers, so don’t go nuts in the reseller market and pay ridiculous prices.

Being a Beck fan, I picked up the LP and just bought the three extra tracks from itunes. It isn’t my usual thing, but when your kids are singing along to your ipod mix on the trip to see the grandparents… well, it feels like money well spent.

WTF!!!! Columbia House is Back!?!

Columbia-House-Ad

Not sure if this is confirmation of the continuing popularity of vinyl, or a sign that the four horsemen will be riding into town to hail the apocalypse, but Columbia House has announced they are coming back.

Only four months after declaring bankruptcy, Columbia House is set to return in 2016 as a vinyl order delivery service. While vinyl is a mere 7% of the current music market, it is the only physical medium of recorded music that has seen sales grow. In 2015 vinyl accounted for one-third of the physical market and saw sales escalate by 52%.

In their glory days Columbia House did over a billion dollars in annual sales, spurred on by their “buy 8 CD’s for a penny” promotions. They fell rapidly out of favor with the rise of digital downloading and streaming over the last few years.

However, even with CD and DVD sales falling, many retailers have embraced the vinyl resurgence and opened whole sections to meet the demand. Here in Toronto, you can find record retailers as well as clothing stores such as Urban Outfitters jumping into the market and in some cases offering exclusive titles.

Let’s wait and see what incentives Columbia House is planning to offer the public upon its return. It should be interesting.

Barrettbites Top Ten Spectacular Vinyl Releases of 2015

DSCN7927

Try as I might to live in denial of it, the music world has evolved into this digital place where music is consumed by means of digital downloads and streams in the millions. Still, there are those amongst us for whom vinyl has remained the preferred method of listening and enjoying our cherished music collection. The tactile nature of removing wax from a sleeve, gently dropping a needle on a spinning disc, sitting back in a chair and, finally investigating the album cover for bits of information that will further connect, and maybe even enhance the joy received when the music seeps into your consciousness.

For those of us caught up in vinyl, sometimes we are given opportunities to get rare and collectible records that are not only artistic expressions by the artists, but also the people who are creating the vinyl itself. Coloured vinyl not only sounds as great as the standard black, but stands out in the crowd for its unique look combined with awesome tunes. Here are ten outstanding examples of 2015 releases that took that extra step in not only releasing music, but providing incredible presentation too.

Lou Barlow – Brace The Wave

DSCN7920

Alternative lo-fi stalwart Lou Barlow (Sebadoh & Dinosaur Jr.) put out a solo work this year that not only sounded great, but also looked the part. Brace The Wave crashed the psyche with Barlow’s patented confusion and self loathing, dropping lines like “remember we were hipsters sleeping with our cats / young and thin and fucking crazy.” The album was desolate and beautiful in directing pain into expression. The vinyl itself had two variant editions. The first was sea foam green and the second was a combination of sea foam green and pink wax limited to 500 hand numbered copies. Needless to say, that 2nd option sold out quickly.

Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit And Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

DSCN7890

Seemingly a part of everyone’s best of 2015 list, Barnett topped that by landing four Grammy nominations a few days back. Sometimes… is the kind of record that you just can’t help but play over and over again, as wit and rock join forces. In a rather unique move, the album was released with 4 variant editions being sold in different geographical regions. North Americans had orange coloured vinyl combined with a 7” and turntable slip mat. Australia and New Zealand had heavyweight white vinyl. The UK got two variants which included versions that were 2 LPS’s of orange translucent vinyl or two yellow translucent LP’s.

Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color

DSCN7889

Not to be outdone by Courtney Barnett, not only does Sound & Color end up on every year end list and receive four Grammy nominations, but it also lands one of those nominations in the Album Of The Year category. Upon its initial release, Alabama Shakes put out a clear variant edition for mass release and a more exclusive white coloured edition on sale at Urban Outfitters outlets.

City & Colour – If I Should Go Before You

DSCN7887

Combining folk, soul, country and rock, Dallas Green and Co. put out a record that changes direction much like the seasons. It seems appropriate that they would also release four different variant editions for their fans. The first, sold through their website and at shows was on ‘black smoke’ vinyl. The second, also sold on their home page, was a very ‘holiday season’ looking two disc set on red followed by green vinyl. Only 300 were issued. The next set, limited to 1000 copies, was exclusive to Newbury Comics on two pieces of ‘coke bottle’ green 180 gram vinyl. Finally, from band’s store was the ‘Beauty Bundle’ box set. Limited to 1000 copies, it included two pieces of ‘bone’ colored 180 gram vinyl that plays at 45rpm, as well as a bunch of other goodies for the hardcore fan willing to drop $80.00.

Calexico – Edge Of The Sun

DSCN7899

Such is the landscape that Calexico creates in its musical atmosphere, it just isn’t enough for them to write a bunch of singular songs that are placed together to create an album. They carefully craft a soundtrack which puts together music to evoke an emotional response. Their blend of Mariachi-Americana brings up a south-west location, but the camera then pans towards the setting sun and you’re hooked. Set on two pieces of 180 gram vinyl, their single variant edition has one turquoise while the other is mint green coloured. Looks and sounds great.

Juliana Hatfield Three – Whatever, My Love

DSCN7916

A natural follow up to 1993’s Become What You Are, (which it is), Whatever, My Love flows with much more ease than any of Hatfield’s more recent work. Released through American Laundromat Records, Whatever, My Love had a printing of only 500 vinyl copies, split between a clear version (125) and a purple splatter variant (375).

Langhorne Slim & The Law – The Spirit Moves

DSCN7902

Slim is a bit of an eclectic master, with themes of joy and misery intermingling with equal passion. Essentially, he is fearless in bending songs around multiple influences. Horns play on a number of tracks and in a different way each time. On “Spirit Moves” he uses them as a counter melody, similar to Johnny Cash’s classic “Ring Of Fire” and then brings them back later for “Life’s A Bell” as a Memphis Horns/Stax/Otis Redding tool for emotional emphasis. With the ever present acoustic instruments, some songs drift towards sounds reminiscent of Nick Drake and Cat Stevens, but the album as a whole pulls everything back into that unique Langhorne Slim vision. The variant vinyl is ‘coke bottle’ clear matching the tone of the album cover.

Django Django – Born Under Saturn

DSCN7878

Riding slow moving waves of psychedelic electronica mixed with surf rock, Django Django deliver a record that is a thrill for your ears. Born Under Saturn is like taking a drive (as a passenger) in a convertible with a blindfold on; you don’t know where the hell you’re going but the journey sure feels incredible. They also had one of the most outstanding looking pieces of vinyl for their alternate editions having orange translucent vinyl with white splatter effect giving it a look of fireworks going off.

Metric – Pagans In Vegas

DSCN7924

Haines sticks mostly to the themes of broken relationships and rising back up after a fall. While this album might seem like a bit of rock ‘n’ roll cliché at times, Metric pulls off the desired impact of connecting us to the music. So when Haines’ vocals demand “the stars above” on early single “The Shade (I Want It All)”, the listener feels entitled to it as well. Metric put out two alternate vinyl versions of Pagans In Vegas. Sold through the band’s own web store, the first variant was on 1180 gram audiophile vinyl and limited to 1200 copies. The other, sold through Newbury Comics, was on white coloured vinyl and limited to 1000 copies.

Alvvays – Eponymous

DSCN7912

While this Alvvays debut record was technically a 2014 release, its steady rise in prominence has made it a 2015 staple. Led by the single “Archie, Marry Me”, Alvvays has created an album that is a damn fine ‘90’s – esque’ alt-rock record. In addition to the standard black vinyl sold through record stores, the band released four other versions. Included in the mix was electric blue, clear, orange and a pale blue splatter.

Blast From The Christmas Past… or Vince Guaraldi Trio – A Charlie Brown Christmas

Music_album_record_a_charlie_brown_christmas

With the holiday season in mind, what better time to look back at one of the greatest Christmas records; Guaraldi created something so magical that one cannot imagine the animated special without the music. The best moments of a Charlie Brown Christmas is where the animation and the music link arm in arm to create a perfect mood.

“Merry Christmas Charlie Brown” yell the Peanuts their heads all look to the sky and the holes that are their cartoon mouths move to the sound of “Hark, The Hearld Angels Sing.” It is one of my favorite Christmas special moments – but why should you own the soundtrack – and why on vinyl?

First, the music not only holds up without the cartoon, but it actually stands out as something special alone. Guaraldi’s greatest triumph as an artist was always his ability to convey emotion through music. In just over 40 minutes he captures the varied feelings brought out during the season. There is a sense of not only joy and wonder, but also empathy, sadness, and even humour. It is music that can be enjoyed with a set of headphones or put in the back ground as you enjoy a glass of Riesling with a few friends. It is an awesome sit down record that seems as familiar as reminiscing with an old friend during the holiday season.

So, the real question… why vinyl?

Glad you asked.

With only a decent turntable, the sonics hold up against the CD. In fact, it sounds a bit better. Having played them against one another, certain piano runs just have a warmer and more dynamic feel. It sounds like someone is in the room playing rather than a couple of speakers.

Next, while a CD is a pretty good gift, a limited edition coloured vinyl album is a really cool and collectable gift. Hecky darn, it’s an amazing and sentimental Christmas gift. Really it is the kind of thing that someone remembers exactly who gave it to them over the years, and will be pulled out with a big smile on their face.

Most record stores are carrying a green translucent vinyl edition that both looks and sounds great. However, if you are looking for something a little more… collectible, Newbury Comics has two variant editions. The first was released last year and is a red and white split vinyl that was limited to 1500 copies and sells for close to $40 USD. The second was put out for this year’s holiday season on pink ribbon candy coloured wax and limited to 1000 copies. Even better, it’s priced at a much more palatable $21.99 USD.

cbc1Vince-Guaraldi-Trio-A-Charlie-Brown-Christmas-Exclusive-LP-Vinyl-2154540-1_1024x1024

Trust me, if I didn’t have it already, I would be ecstatic to find it under the tree.

 

Some Lips For Christmas… or Imagene Peise (The Flaming Lips) – Atlas Eets Christmas

 

ROUND 1

Back in 2007, the Flaming Lips were still at their peak as they were touring 2006’s At War With The Mystics. So, with a massive backstory written on the CD jacket they put out a Christmas record in very limited quantity under the pseudonym Imagene Peise. The only clue to it being the Lips was a sticker on the plastic wrap that read “Merry Christmas from the Flaming Lips.”

Fast forward a few years and the Lips are doing another limited run of their Christmas record, this time on red translucent vinyl. What is extremely fascinating about Atlas Eets Christmas is just how well the Lips stay in character. Yes they sound like the Flaming Lips, but with the crackles and pops they have added to the record, at times it really does come off as some little known jazz artist that walked straight out of a mid-eastern desert.

So what you get is this instrumental record that is driven by piano and accompanied by synthesizer and sitar. Instead of the usual holiday sentiment poured into your consciousness like a well known Chardonnay you find yourself drinking Port for the first time ever. It’s cigar smoke drenched and kissed with oak in a darkened bar where you sit alone by the window and contemplate the true meaning of that one bright star hovering in the sky.

Or, let’s just say that this isn’t an easily accessible holiday record designed to make you remember roasting chestnuts and singing Rudolph with the family. Nope, it mixes joy with quiet reflections and darker hues of greens and reds that don’t so much shine with a warm glow as threaten to burn. The character of “Imagene” is rumoured to have committed suicide in 1978, and that underlying feel is carried throughout the record.

Personally, I found myself rather mesmerized by Atlas Eets Christmas in much the same way I find some of the darker records in my collection. It isn’t an easy listen, and not one I would pull out while toasting the health of my in-laws as we sit down to our turkey. But, it is a worthy record to pull off the shelf in mid-December after you’ve spent a few hours shopping in an over-crowed mall, that has ‘syruped’ your ears with greetings from Celine and Bolton in some attempt to make you want to buy more stuff from more places. This might be a kind of apocalyptic Christmas record, but sometimes that’s what we need in order to really appreciate what we have.