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

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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.

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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.

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Aimee Mann: She isn’t the Ramones… but she is pretty damn cool! (A first concert story)

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Back in university there was only one major thing I was envious about regarding my roommate/friend – his first concert. The first band he ever saw live was the Ramones; only the ‘coolest’ band to have ever graced the planet earth. Oh, you can mention ‘better’ or ‘more popular’ bands like Led Zeppelin, the Beatles, the Smiths, the Cure, etc and so forth… but unless you can tell me you saw James Brown live at the Apollo, or the B 52’s in an Athens dive as your first show, he had you beat.

Of course, his first concert outshone mine easily. I’m embarrassed to say, but that first for me was in the freezing cold at Nathan Phillips Square featuring Platinum Blonde. Sure, there are many bands that could rank worse as a first show, and it wasn’t a bad night either, but “It Doesn’t Really Matter” isn’t exactly “Rock ‘n’ Roll High School.” A few years later, with one four year old at my feet, and another child on the way, I vowed to make sure that my kids would get a cool first concert; something ‘worthy’ of telling college roommates about in a childish game of ‘mine is better than yours.’

So it was that in 2008, a couple things had lined themselves up. Local record store Sonic Boom (Scott Pilgrim vs. the World filmed a couple scenes in there) had acoustic concerts every so often in the basement of their Bloor Street location. I attended a Nada Surf show with the ‘former roomy’ and when it finished I saw the bands singer/songwriter Matthew Caws hanging out with some kids. Not ‘kids’ as in a middle-aged definition of people of the teenaged variety… but honest to goodness children. Not being the most perceptive of individuals, it only dawned on me right then, that… well, um, a record store is a safe and… dare I add, perhaps even ‘cool’ place to see a concert.

!!!LIGHTBULB!!!!

Five months after watching Nada Surf, and barely 8 weeks after my second child was born a quick e-mail announced that Aimee Mann was going to be playing a set at Sonic Boom. Since the early 90’s I had become a pretty big fan of Mann’s music. She had put together a consistent string of outstanding records that caught a great balance between power-pop (Big Star), new-wave (Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe), and the alt-rock scene of the times. Bachelor #2 was a staple in my house as the new millennium began and 2005’s concept album The Forgotten Arm seemed to be just more proof that she should be a household name. In other words, Mann had become an essential part of my life’s soundtrack. Alas, critical praise doesn’t always result in record sales. Of course, and from a purely selfish perspective, it also meant that seeing a ‘bucket list’ artist in a strange different style venue was about to happen.

So it was that during the early evening May 9th, 08 my wife and I took the boys out to see Aimee Mann. Needless to say, the youngest was in a car seat hanging out with my wife just in case he expressed any discomfort with the noise level. However, my 4 year old and I were sitting cross-legged in front of the small riser where he began to ask me a thousand questions about the small soundboard and the instruments on stage. He had a poster clutched in his hands and was smiling from ear to ear. Since his birth he had seen me playing guitar and singing songs and was now completely enthralled by the prospect of seeing a real music artist. Mann didn’t disappoint. Playing a few selections from @#%&*! Smilers, which was due for release a couple weeks later, she had everyone in a great mood. By the end of the set my son was convinced that Mann was the world’s greatest songwriter, and that she was smiling at him between songs. (I didn’t have the heart to tell him she was looking at where she was placing the capo on her guitar… and that the neck of the instrument was pointed in his direction.)

After the set, we waited around for about 30 minutes to see if we could get the poster signed. I’m not usually one for signatures, but I figured a momentous occasion like a first concert would be a great opportunity for my kids to have a keepsake. So we looked at the vinyl and cassettes which shared the basement with the stage, and kept an eye on the door for her exit. Unfortunately, whoever was interviewing her after the show was getting a really good chat, because she just never came out of the backroom in time for my son to get it signed. The baby needed to get home, and so we jumped into the rusty old minivan with a poster, our memories and a great first concert story.

Eighteen months later, my first born would get his second concert poster signed by a confused looking J. Mascis and a very gracious Lou Barlow after a Dinosaur Jr. acoustic set at Sonic Boom. (I mean come on, how many times do alt-rock legends get five year-olds walking up for an autograph.) Since then we’ve been to a bunch of small sets or shows. Both my boys (now just about to turn 12 and 8) enjoy going to shows at Sugar Beach where they can play in the sand before a band breaks into song.

Over the years, I’ve seen Mann perform a couple times, each time more impressive than the last and yet she still remains on my bucket list for a couple reasons. One, I’d eventually like to get to one of her annual Christmas shows. But, even more importantly, I’d like to have the kids go to a full concert that they’ll actually remember without daddy reminding them of when playing music on the stereo. When she last came to Toronto with The Both we were away on holidays and missed the chance. All joking about bragging rights aside, taking my kids to a concert isn’t about bravado, it is about bonding. Doing those things that allow memories to grow and be sustained.

So my old roommate has the Ramones… and that is pretty cool. But, on some future day when they’re at college and a friend asks “what was your first show?” both my children will be able to give a sly grin and reply – “Aimee Mann… and I wasn’t even in kindergarten yet.” The older one can even add “and, it’s on youtube. You can see my dad and I on the floor waiting for the music to start.”

Thanks for the memory Aimee

A personal reflection on David Bowie!

Recently, I lost a childhood friend. Going through his online memorials I was struck by a thought. The relationships we have when we’re young always seem to be the most powerful; having influence far beyond nights spent looking at stars. The memories linger as a reminder of who we were, who we are and who we aspire to be.

Like the news of my friend, the news of David Bowie’s passing hit me with a great deal of force. Through a challenging adolescence, his music had been a soundtrack, a lifeline, a confidant and a means of reassurance to me that things could get better. Like many, Ziggy Stardust had been my entry point; it was a record steeped in mythology, despair, futility and ultimately, hope. Although, I fully admit that I projected my own life’s trials onto his music, like the best albums, you connect to it on some kind of transcendent level. It didn’t matter that I really didn’t understand Bowie’s depth at this point, it only mattered that somehow I didn’t feel alone for those minutes the cassette was running through my Sony Walkman or the crappy 80’s tape deck on a no-name 60’s stereo.

The magic of Bowie was that his genius wasn’t temporary or fleeting. Not only did he reinvent himself every few years, but his artistic vision remained intact. Even when he went in directions that were less accessible for many fans to follow, no one ever believed it was due to a loss of talent. He was the king of ‘other’, a person who revelled in the fringe and gave voice to the weird and disenfranchised with heroic nobility; his personas all broken and in vivid technicolour. He took influences from all directions and warped them into something very much his own. Sure, he was a sponge, taking the sounds of the Velvet Underground and the Stooges and mixing them with soul, funk and tunes that were genre defining in the moment; but he also added colours and textures that outshone his contemporaries.

For my part, the best example of this was found not in those classic albums hailed as the greatest LP’s of all time, but in his covers record Pin Ups. Bowie took the artists who had inspired him and turned their songs into something new. While most covers done today retain much of the tone of the original, Bowie sought only to capture their energy while honouring the artists with a piece of his own vision. The original Kinks version of “Where Have All The Good Times Gone” is full of angst and confusion. Bowie turns it on its head, adding a sense of vitriol and sarcasm. If the original was despair, Bowie brought to it a sense of sanctimonious anger. It was the last line used against the person who made you feel like shit in the first place.

In the last few hours, I’ve found myself reading the memorials to David Bowie; articles bestowing accolades on the importance of his artistic achievements. They mention his music, his style, his accomplishments; all playing into the personification of a genius. It is well deserved and you’ll get no argument from me. However, as I sit back, those things are not what draw my hand toward the volume on the stereo. They are not what I think of as I watch the record spin. When I listen to Bowie, I hear the possibility of individual growth. I see the idea that even the most fucked up amongst us can accomplish something meaningful… beautiful even. Listening to Bowie, I’m not content to look at the stars. I want to reach for them. And should I fall, then let it be spectacular. Let it be epic. Let it be with that sly smile, a wink, and the gracious goodbye that one has after a life well lived. I mean come on… did you see “Lazarus”. How can you not be inspired?

Thank You David, for just sharing a bit of your life with us.

WTF!!!! Columbia House is Back!?!

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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 Records of 2015

 

  1. Alvvays – eponymous

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Chalked full of stories about the complexities of relationships, Alvvays have constructed an album that is able to seem both introspective and dynamic. Using nonchalance and humour simultaneously, they set the scenes of emotional distress to an indie soundtrack and let the barbs fly. Go back and take another listen to “Marry Me, Archie” if you need proof of the power struggle within a relationship.

  1. Metric – Pagans In Vegas

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Metric has never hidden their overwhelming desire to headline a fan-filled stadium show, and Pagans In Vegas has become the vehicle that drives them there. More than mere hyperbole, they seem to have found the perfect mix of Cure-like synth, 90’s indie guitar, and electro/dance rhythm. The tunes are catchy enough to get the casual fan singing along and the loyal fan seeking deeper meaning from the lyrics and, dare I say, inspiration.

  1. Best Coast – California Nights

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Gone is the warm washing fuzz of reverb on everything that had the words lo-fi and surf rock attached to their records, and in is a more ‘nineties-esqe’ alt-rock tone that could be slipped into a mix between the Lemonheads and Garbage. Thematically, this is also the case as Bethany Cosentino has switched gears and presented herself in a more realistic position as lyrics deal with insomnia, heartbreak and happiness in pill. The triumph of this record is that it doesn’t live in a world of manufactured dreams come true, eternal sun, and beaches. The emotions behind it are universal and hence you can relate to it. California Nights is proof positive that beauty can be found in the balanced mix of power-pop and introspection, and that’s a sunny thought all by itself.

  1. Ezra Furman – Perpetual Motion People

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Like early Bowie, Furman seems to relish changes in identity, except rather than do it from album to album Perpetual Motion People is a record that does it from song to song, and sometimes, within a single song. “Haunted Head” deals with one’s own self inflicted torment. “Can I Sleep In Your Brain” seeks respite from torment with a wish to become co-dependent. In turn, “Lousy Connection” hides themes of emotional distance behind old sounds of Doo-Wop and killer saxophone leads. To a certain extent, Furman makes being screwed up sound fun in his unique version of a poetic stream of consciousness.

  1. City & Colour – If I Should Go Before You

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Dallas Green may have started City and Colour as a means to introduce his ‘rootsy’ brand of song craft, but those days are now more of an ‘origin story’ than the reality of where he is. Much like Wilco, who turned from alt-country to sonic experimenters, Green took his acoustic-based leanings and is now creating expansive tunes that, at times, owe more to blues, soul and even psychedelia than the modern ‘folk rock’ he was labeled with on earlier City and Colour records.

  1. Leon Bridges – Coming Home

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His peer group may include contemporaries like Nick Waterhouse and Raphael Saadiq, but Bridges’ ups the game of capturing old-school R&B by pulling in music that could’ve been created by the Blues Brothers Band. He’s got the brass sounding like the legendary Memphis Horns, a deep groove reminiscent of Duck Dunn and the minimalist guitar leads that you might swear were coming off Steve Cropper. Then you mix in a style that slides in a suave 60’s Bacharach martini dance party and you get a glimpse of the power possessed in Coming Home.

  1. Nathaniel Rateliff & The Nightsweats – eponymous

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It takes a special kind of musician to evoke a slew of soul greats and retain an energy and sound that is still their own. Springsteen did this by mixing Dylan, a preacher style intensity towards rock ‘n’ roll, a few soul influences, and concocted a sound all his own. Nathaniel Rateliff has taken the ’69 comeback version of Elvis, added southern rock themes and walked into a STAX studio to create a record that is instantly relatable. Of course, you would never have caught “the King” singing “son of a bitch / give me a drink” as Rateliff does on “S.O.B”. It just wouldn’t have been very, um… regal.

  1. Alabama Shakes – Sound & Color

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If Alabama Shakes debut Boys & Girls was a first shot across the bow against musical mediocrity, then Sound & Color is a full on declaration of war. Not content to merely ride the wave of being the best rock ‘n’ soul or Southern rock band to currently grace the planet, they expand and grow. It’s the kind of growth and experimentation one got from Radiohead when they leapt from The Bends to OK Computer; or in other words – WOW!

  1. Courtney Barnett – Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit

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Sarcastic and playful in the most observational of ways, Courtney Barnett makes stinging shots sound like a musical sit-com. Characters inhabit a ‘Seinfeld-esqe’ place where nothing seems larger than life and decisions don’t necessarily lead to conclusions. However, the journey is one hell of an adventure. Barnett makes music that is fun, thought provoking, and really damn catchy. It’s a really weird moment to hear your children singing “all I want to be is an elevator operator, can you help me please.”

  1. Terra Lightfoot – Every Time My Mind Runs Wild

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Every so often something comes along that just smacks you in the head with something so freaking unexpected you look for a house number on the cave you’ve been sleeping in. Perhaps it’s a debut album, an opening act you had never heard of before, or, as is the case for me, you just quite plainly arrived late to the party. Whatever the case, Terra Lightfoot has just lit the light bulb above my cranium and I’m hitting my forehead with that big “a-ha” moment.

What seems most remarkable is just how many influences pop out all at once. A foot in the Chicago blues, another in Memphis soul, and then she puts a third one in Nashville. The result is a combustible and full out gritty rock ‘n’ roll album.

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

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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.

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

 

Memories both old & new or The B-52’s – Live! 8.24.1979

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It seems to me that the B-52’s have never really gotten the respect that they are entitled. More than just a kitsch band of singles, they were, and remain a beacon in a fog of mediocrity. This world where tired old themes are constantly rehashed for rock ‘n’ roll consumption; the B-52’s could tell insane stories while making even the most ‘two left feet’ amongst us dance and have a great time. There music was simultaneously accessible and other-worldly, mixing a 60’s surf vibe with what would later be called new wave. It was the perfect soundtrack for not only dancing, but strapping on some roller skates and praying the next wipe-out wouldn’t be slowed by your face being dragged along the cement.

So imagine my surprise to see a perfect little live document arrive in my hands this Black Friday / Record Store Day… a way over due example of the band in their prime. It’s a small piece of gold coloured vinyl now spinning on my turntable of an era that is timeless, and so very long ago. Before the flash and colour of “Love Shack” this is the B-52’s out supporting their debut album with the incredible Ricky Wilson still rocking the guitar in a frenetic fashion as Fred Schneider, Cindy Wilson and Kate Pierson pull off their insane version of the call and answer.

Listening to it I find myself wondering why this record is only seeing the light of day in 2015. Full of energy, Live! 8.24.1979 literally had my seven year old dancing and rolling on the floor trying to sing all the vocal parts at once. It’s an impossibility, but he sure tried. What you have is great songs followed by hilarious, if not awkward introductions. Fred Schneider deadpans: “this next song is a dance tune” as if this is a revelation.

Between my sons twirling and my memories of roller rinks, Live! 8.24.1979 is the kind of blast from the past that puts a giant smile on your face that lingers long after the needle turns away from the wax.