Damn fine Wine: Enter The Vaselines

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You know you’ve had a couple drinks (bottle of Cave Springs Riesling Dry) when you find yourself dancing around the house to the beautiful lo-fi emanations of The Vaselines. Released recently by Sub Pop, via Newbury Comics on “Baby Poop” yellow wax, (which is actually a rather stunning mix of yellow, green and black) it makes you wonder why the f@#k no one had bothered to do it earlier. Truthfully, because I wouldn’t lie to you, most of the indie that came out in the nineties (or 80’s as in this case) seems to be meant for vinyl and The Vaselines especially so.

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There is just something about an acoustic/electric guitar and accordion mixed in a very simple rhythm that is just so damn appropriate to the crackle and pop of a turntable and a good set of speakers. Scratch that, even a cheap old paper pair of laminated shit sounds like bliss when Frances McKee is singing about “Molly’s Lips”. Then you add the (oh so) timely nasal and barely on key Eugene Kelly pontificating how inappropriate it is to die for religion (“Jesus Wants Me For A Sunbeam”) and you have reason to pull out boogie shoes… even if the music doesn’t really have ‘night at the disco’ as a prominent theme (or sound). However, the best stuff isn’t found in the familiar songs that a certain Seattle band covered, but rather in the deep cuts found in the supplementary discs.

Let’s be clear, this isn’t the first time The Vaselines have been repackaged for release… but I’ll be damned if this isn’t the best of the lot. Sure, you got the CD copy of 1992’s, The Way of The Vaselines, put out quickly to capitalize on the Nirvana covers on Incesticide, but really, this particular compilation from 2009 is all about an influential band in their prime. While they might be forever linked to the aforementioned band, The Vaselines have far more in common with the sounds of Australian bands Smudge and Godstar than grunge. Down under there was a far better understanding of “who gives a damn about mix” dynamics and instead “just play the f@#king song” than anything out of Europe or the States (except for Sebadoh, because they are the lo-fi version of rock GAWDS).That said, my point is rather odd as The Vaselines are a Scottish band. Regardless, this three disc set covers their entire early output with demos and live sets. The live stuff sounds as if it is being played in front of no more than 30 arts patrons… which is pretty much exactly how I would want to see them.

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You see, (in my mind at least) The Vaselines are not epic rock gods in the classic sense, but rather, a simply epic band in the most direct of ways. There is no place for superfluous crap… just honest and straight forward songs that get straight to the heart of the matter and are done. If all you have heard is a few covers you owe it to yourself to (at very least use Spotify if you must) give them a listen.

As for the vinyl, and the new 300 copies out through Newbury Comics sounds great, you’ve only got two choices. The original 2009 Sub Pop release of Enter The Vaselines is still available at record stores. Then again, if you have a few days and are not worried about waiting for delivery, that “baby poop yellow” version is pretty sweet looking and sounds great too.

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A Perfect Storm… or Sonic Youth – Goo

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

 

“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?”

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Whre To Buy S!#t vol 3 (Blog rendition) – Newbury Comics

What do Wolverine, autographed CD covers and exclusive vinyl have in common?

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Newbury Comics

If you’re hunting for the perfect gift for the geek in your life and you don’t want to leave your comfy chair, this is the place to start. The home page of Newbury’s website opens to three major products: comics with limited edition (variant) covers, autographed CD booklets and limited edition coloured vinyl from an eclectic variety of artists.

For the comic lover, Newbury sells exclusive variant editions of the latest comics, with new products available every week. Arriving from every major comic company, some of the most recent material has covers created specifically for Newbury customers. For instance, the new Marvel comic X-Men ’92 with exclusive Newbury cover, is now available. On the left is the Newbury edition and on the right is the one you see at your local comic retailer.

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If you have an autograph seeking fan of say… Metric or Karen O, then Newbury can set you up with that. A quick click on their Autographed CD cover link reveals a large assortment of artists that have signed their work, ranging from Paul Anka to Spoon with many choices in-between.

However, the real treasure for me is the gift I keep playing on my turntable. A while back, in my quest to find cool vinyl, I found an offer for Nirvana’s Bleach in limited edition 180 gram maroon/black vinyl; I leapt at the chance to own it. Since then, I’ve found myself getting awesome variant wax releases on a fairly regular basis. This recent addiction has gone from Christmas gifts (Vince Guaraldi Trio – A Charlie Brown Christmas), to alt-rock (The Strokes – Room On Fire, Black Keys – Rubber Factory), classic-rock (The Velvet Underground – Velvet Underground & Nico, Lou Reed – Transformer ) musicals (The Rocky Horror Picture Show), jazz (Miles Davis – Kind Of Blue) and my personal holy-grail album: Big Star – #1 Record.

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For a couple of years now, Newbury has been offering music fans a chance to get “limited edition” vinyl. The prices are competitive with regular vinyl editions that sit on the shelves of most record stores and the shipping costs are quite reasonable. To date, I’ve never had problems with any of the vinyl shipped to me. As for sound quality, I’ve played Big Star’s #1 Record gold coloured variant against the recent 180 gram edition and I’ve found both items sounding great… in fact, I’d lean more towards the gold variant as it “seemed” to have more presence in the guitar and vocals.

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At Newbury, new items seem to hit the market every week (the Violent Femmes eponymous debut this week) and the choices, as mentioned earlier, are pretty eclectic; ranging from the Coltrane to The Clash and points in-between. Check them out, you might find yourself signing up to the old mailing list and buying something from time to time. Just don’t be too disappointed if it gets sold out before you get your shot. It’s happened, a couple of times, to me and caused a slight bit of teeth grinding and cursing. But then again, that’s all part of the fun of getting something unique.

 

A cabbage rolls across the stage and the band played on… or Teenage Fanclub – Thirteen

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(True story – an over enthusiastic fan once rolled a cabbage across the stage as Teenage Fanclub played “The Cabbage” during a tour of Japan. Guess they didn’t get the heartbreaking translation of that particular tune.)

On the heels of a very successful Bandwagonesqe and a huge Saturday Night Live appearance Teenage Fanclub released Thirteen. It was rich with harmonies, had awesome songs, and Kurt Cobain was quoted as calling the Fannies the “Best Band in the World.” So with all that is it any surprise that in October 1993 the band that took in the award for Spin’s #1 Record of 1991 faced a backlash from critics. Thirteen wasn’t just disliked by rock writers, it was destroyed.

It didn’t make sense to me then, and in retrospect most critics have turned their opinion around to treat it more like a classic; one that I have always thought wasn’t just a great record, but ultimately stands of one of my favourite all time albums. It has the pop sensibilities of Big Star, the guitar effects of the “shoegaze” era and the driving bass of the 90’s alt rock period. It was a full package record that could be comical (“Commercial Alternative”) one moment and heartbreaking (“The Cabbage”) another.

So what are the vinyl options?

Limited…

The original 1993 pressing was only done for audiences in the UK and Europe on standard black vinyl. Used copies can be found for around $30.00 dollars and up. Actually I saw an autographed copy for about a $100, but once you add shipping… well… it’s a little more than most of us would spend.

On the other hand, Thirteen was remastered and reissued in 2011 for US fans by Org Music. The first batch was 180 gram white vinyl while everything after was 180 gram black wax. So far I have yet to see any complaints about sound while trolling the internet audiophile sights. Prices start around $30 but some resellers are jacking prices up as availability has begun to dwindle.

Really, Teenage Fanclub created a body of work that is power-pop bliss and Thirteen is a perfect example of a genre defining record that really deserves more respect than it received. You really should give it a listen.