Thursday, June 28, 2007

Paleontology for Dullards: A Consumer's Guide

This feature is for you, the consumer, to use when rummaging through used LP bins. Some of you may find a record by an artist with whom you are unfamiliar and think "I've heard of these guys. Are they any good?" or "How do I know this isn't their one dud album and a terrible entry point to their body of work?" or, most importantly, "Is this really worth $3.99?" This guide is for you, least your home become filled with nonessential vinyl and your significant other begins giving you the evil eye whenever that damn Radio Shack commercial comes on. Not only will I review a plethora of used LPs amassed from many a used bin but I will assign them actual cash value. In other words, you, the consumer, may rummage with confidence knowing full well whether or not the piece of vinyl in your hand is worth the same as a value meal at Arby's.

Ratings are based on the percentage of the authentic value of an LP in ratio to what I actually paid for it. For example, if I paid $5 for an LP but it's only worth $4 the LP will receive a rating of 80%. If I paid $3 and the LP is worth $1 the rating is 33.3% and so on. Please note: scarcity is a factor in determining value. Black Sabbath LPs are much easier to find than Go-Betweens LP so while they both groups may be of equal musical value the rating of the latter will be inherently higher. This is not snobbery, it is simply the economic principle that mass production degrades value. You should never pay more than $2 for a Buckingham/Nicks-era Fleetwood Mac LP (if it's Tusk). Also note: when records receive maximum ratings of 100% it is not necessarily the top dollar amount you might want to pay for that particular LP. You may want to pay more if you wish. A top-of-the-food-chain, life-affirming album for which I happened to pay $7 may be worth picking up for $8. Or even $15 or $20. Or not.

Feedback on ratings will likely be erroneous but is welcome and will amuse me. And finally, no, I will not tell you where I found these LPs. Frankly, if you're blowing up my spot and finding all the bargains, this feature will become expendable. And we couldn't have that.

(Ed. Note: this feature was inspired by "$2.99 Wax Necessities" by Tim Midgett (formerly of the excellent Silkworm, currently of the similarly excellent Bottomless Pit and well respected rock crit) wherein Mr Midgett gave you a host of LPs worth purchasing for $2.99. I would link this but it seems to have disappeared from the world of the Internet. Nonetheless, I tip my hat to Mr Midgett and note that while his writing may have the edge in insight and general scribe skills I make up for it in hubris.)

Antietam Burgoo and Everywhere Outside
Antietam was a band that, for one reason or another, I just never got into. This is despite the fact that they've been associated with some bands I absolutely adore (Yo La Tengo, Eleventh Dream Day) and that I quite enjoyed the album they recorded as the Babylon Dance Band (a prior early 80s incarnation that recorded a reunion album for Matador in the early 90s). For whatever reason, they were on my radar but I never made the plunge into their recorded work. So when I saw a few of their albums in a used bin for a couple of bucks each I thought it a good an excuse as any to explore their repertoire. What's the verdict? They aint bad but to my ears these albums are far from transcendent masterworks. Tara Key certainly has some significant chops as a guitarist but as a singer she isn't much. I actually much prefer Babylon Dance Band singer Chip Nold's David Thomas-like bleatings. To my mind these albums recall Yo La Tengo's very early work (read: Ride the Tiger) before they found their voice. There is some worthwhile stuff here and perhaps repeated listenings will reveal why Antietam were revered by the early 90s indie rock intelligentsia but in my book they don't quite scream out "essential purchase."
Price paid: Burgoo $6 Everywhere Outside $5 Rating: 50% and 60% respectively

The Monroes s/t
The Monroes are best known for their song "What Do All the People Know?" a somewhat obscure but insanely catchy slice of new wave bliss that surely rates amongst the top songs of the era. I picked up this 5-song mini-LP figured that if the 4 other songs were half as good as their most famous cut it would be a worthwhile purchase. No dice. The other songs are only remarkable for being unremarkable: simple, utterly disposable pop-rock confections with new wave overtones, probably most comparable to bands like the Hooters or the J, Geils Band except those bands' songs tended to have hooks. Still, "What Do All the People Know?" is a song of such eminence is nearly makes this worth owning. The LP tends to be somewhat pricey because of it's rarity but realistically is only worth the green light if you find it for the price of a 45.
Price paid: $8 Rating: 37.5%

The Embarrassment God Help Us
The Embarrassment were truly of the finest bands to ever walk God's earth. You probably knew that already. Or maybe you didn't. In any case, the records the Wichita, KS four-piece made during their late 70s/early 80s heyday (which, coincidentally, were collected in near entirety in an indispensable double CD collection of the same name) were idiosyncratic indie-punk of the highest order. (I hesitate to use the term "post-punk" for fear that the less enlightened among you might mistake them for Gang-of-Four-alikes.) The sound they made during that time was just as unique and individual as that of The Fall or Mission of Burma's during the same era, similarly jagged and off-kilter if somewhat less concerned with ear drum splitting. Like with many of America's musical national treasures, the public was indifferent and the group split with drummer Brent Giessmann joining the Del Fuegoes and guitarist Bill Goffrier making many wonderful records with Big Dipper. Then, for whatever reason, the group reunited in 1990 to make God Help Us, their first legitimate full length. Does it recreate the glory of their golden days? Well... almost but the Embos at 75% their standard are still better than most bands on their best day. This album, while not as essential as their prime work, is at least as enjoyable as Goffrier's records with Big Dipper, which is to say that it's a delight. Several songs date from the group's prior incarnation though most of these seem to have been unreleased at the time. A notable exception is a totally unnecessary rerecording of their first single "Sex Drive" here in truncated and significantly glossier form. Maybe they thought they could score a Dead Milkmen-esque college radio hit. Aside from that very minor blemish God Help Us is first rate with cuts like "Horror of the Fire" blowing away other then-ubiquitous jangle and self-consciously "quirky" tripe on every perceivable level. But what else would you expect from a national treasure?
Price paid: $2 Rating: 100%

The Kinks The Great Lost Kinks Album
This was quite a find. In 1973 Reprise issued this LP shorty after the Kinks had ended their contact with the label and signed with RCA, probably to capitalize on the success of the previous year's The Kink Kronikles collection. From what I can tell it mainly consists of outtakes from The Kinks are the Village Green Preservation Society (indeed a large chunk of the songs on this LP are now available on the Village Green 3-CD set from Sanctuary) though a few seem to be from the Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire) sessions or come from some single-only releases. Most of these cuts are now included as CD bonus tracks for the respective album sessions that birthed them or have been made available elsewhere. (The brilliant "I'm Not Like Everybody Else" in particular now seems to be on every Kinks compilation currently commercially available). However, a few remain exclusive to this comp which is too bad as it's never been officially reissued although it has been bootlegged several times over. If it doesn't quite live up to it's title it's only because "greatness" is relative and the Kinks were a band who released some of the finest rock records ever. This collection is no Face to Face but it might be as good as or better than Muswell Hillbillies. It's mainly genteel music hall-influenced tunes not unlike the material on Village Green or Arthur and if it's not quite as strong it's still certainly worthwhile with the "Lincoln County" B-side "There's No Life Without Love" and "Where Did My Spring Go?" being particularly excellent and "When I Turn Off the Living Room Light" showcasing Ray Davies' snarky yet playful sense of humor. Any Kinks fan who happens upon this should do the right thing. One day I'm going to break down and buy some of the albums the Kinks recorded for Arista during their arena-rock era that constantly call out to me from the used bins of the world. How bad can they be? Er, perhaps I'll let you know in a future installment.
Price paid: $5 Rating: 100%

Robyn Hitchcock I Often Dream of Trains
I Often Dream of Trains is often cited as Robyn Hitchock's return to form after the by all accounts disastrous Groovy Decay and some consider it the best album of his post-Soft Boys career. In all honestly, I found this solo vocals/acoustic guitar/piano platter to be somewhat lackluster and flat especially when compared to his Soft Boys work and even the stuff he did later in the decade with the Egyptians backing him up. However, it's still Hitchcock, a songwriter of extreme talent, so for a few bucks it's worth your time but in my opinion his much more easily available major label discs from the late 80s are probably better listens and shouldn't run you more than a couple of bucks a pop. Of course, I'm writing this under the assumption that you already own the Soft Boys' Underwater Moonlight and if you don't then why they hell are you reading this?
Price paid: $8 Rating: 62.5%

O-Positive Only Breathing EP
Bland, unengaging college pop pap. Recalls R.E.M. if they had never heard a punk record thus anticipating 90s "adult" alt rock pablum like Toad the Wet Sprocket, Hootie, et al. Why did I buy this? Oh, because it came out of Chuck Warner's Throbbing Lobster label. Chuck, you've done a lot for the cause over the years, more than most people, but this one was a mistake. That's okay though. That Homosexuals compilation more than made up for it.
Price paid: $3 Rating: 16.7%

Devo Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!!
Hey, this has Side 1 labels on both sides of the disc. Is this some impossibly rare pressing variation? Can I sell it and consider retirement? As for the the music, it's Devo's first album. It was produced by Eno. It's awesome. No, "Whip It" isn't on this one.
Price paid: $5 Rating: 100%

Spherical Objects Further Ellipses
I bought this thinking it was the first Spherical Objects first album Past and Parcel. That's what the cover read, at least. I get home and pulled out the disc to find that what was actually encased inside the sleeve was their third album Further Ellipses. Oh, the perils of record collecting!! (Or, more accurately, the perils of being too stupid check what you buy before purchasing it.) I thought I would check these guys out after reading SST employee Joe Carducci's book "Rock and the Pop Narcotic" wherein he said of the Spherical Objects: "you had to be a really good to be an English band in the late 70s and get ignored by (USA) anglophiles." (Joe didn't think much of the Jam, as you might suspect.) Here the band is clunky and amateurish if relatively ambitious (check out that sax on the opening cut!) with an appallingly atonal singer in Steve Solamar. All of this is part of their charm, natch. The goofy falsetto Solamar employs during the chorus of "Don't Worry About Me" in particular is sure to bring smiles to faces. Spherical Objects my not be the best group the British DIY movement produced but from what I hear on this platter, they were worthy enough. Notable for being one of the few UK DIY groups to release (several!!) LPs rather than 7"s or cassettes. Anyone have a copy of Past and Parcel encased in a Further Elipses sleeve they want to send me?
Price paid: $5 Rating: 80%

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Greetings and salutations

Welcome to my blog. This being my inaugural post I suppose I should explain why I'm doing this and what you can expect. Well, the main reason is that after devoting an inordinate amount of time and money on rock n roll I suppose I feel a bit of a need to justify such behavior. I may now view the hours I've spent haunting record shops as a means to an end rather than an end unto itself. That may be a bit of dubious reasoning but I also think I do have something to say about the subject. Whether or not that's actually the case is debatable but I figure I'm at least as qualified as any other bloggin' schmuck on the world wide web. I also think that it's about time that I consolidate my many internet musings into my own single source rather than spread them out over myspace and various message boards. Why should my talents be wasted providing content for Rupert Murdoch et al? While my writerly chops may not be at a Christgau-like level I'm going to view this blog as an excerise and hope my skills improve over time. Perhaps in a few years I'll look may back at my initial posts and smile at my amatuerism and naivette. Or maybe I'll slack off and forget about the whole thing within a couple of months. That wouldn't surprise me at all.

As for what you can expect, this blog will in all likelihood be focused on the music I happen to be enjoying at the moment, whether from the past or of recent vintage. I do have a couple of regular features planned and perhaps more down the pike. Once I figure out how to post MP3s on this damn thing, we'll really get rolling. But rather than being a super specific site I will likely write about whatever topic may be catching my fancy at any given time. Hopefully, this will all be immensely entertaining to you, my dear reader. If not, I offer my sincerest apologies and hope that you may somehow find something on the internet to liven up your day.