Record Store Day 2010: A Retrospective

Hey everyone.

First off, a new volume of Neweek will be posted tomorrow, so there’s that to look forward to. Beyond that, though, I thought I’d take some time to do a quick writeup on some of the albums (read: vinyl) I procured in honor of Record Store Day.

Now, I should mention here that I didn’t actually go to any record stores on Record Store Day; that was April 17th, a couple of Saturdays ago, and I was busy nerding out at C2E2, so I went ahead and hit up Reckless Records on Broadway the following Monday.

So what did I get? Well, here’s a quick rundown:

The Album Leaf – There Is A Wind 12″ (limited to 1,000)
Deftones – Rocket Skates 7″ (limited to 3,000)
The Helio Sequence/Menomena – Heliomena split 7″
Japandroirds – Art Czars 7″ (limited to 2,000)
Passion Pit – Little Secrets 7″

(I also purchased a used copy of one of the 7″‘s that Les Savy Fav released in their Inches series; this particular 7″ was issued on Sub Pop in 1997; Rodeo/Blackouts On Thursday, it’s called, and as luck would have it, those two songs happen to be among my favorites in the series. Talk about serendipity).

With the exception of the Les Savy Fav 7″ (and the Japandroids 7″), these are all exclusive Record Store Day releases. Meaning? You can only purchase them (initially, that is), in participating record stores. As you can see, too, the print run of these releases is extremely limited (well, usually), making them both enticing and somewhat dangerous for music collectors like myself. Determined to not miss the boat like I did last year (i.e., passing up a split 7″ by The Black Keys and The Flaming Lips, the latter of whom’s contribution to the release was a mindbending cover of Madonna’s Borderline, assisted by frontman Wayne Coyne’s nephew’s band, Stardeath and the White Dwarfs – both The Flaming Lips and Stardeath would collaborate again this year, covering of Pink Floyd’s space-prog classic, The Dark Side of the Moon in its entirety), I decided to grab whatever caught my eye, and hope for the best. And for the most part, I was not disappointed (I should say here that since these are all 7″‘s, save for The Album Leaf record, they’re relatively cheap; most of them were around $5. so it definitely didn’t cost an arm and leg).

So, speaking of The Album Leaf, why don’t we start there? As previously mentioned, the record is called There Is A Wind – it was released by Sup Pop, and it was the only 12″ in the bunch that I purchased; it set me back about $11 or so, and it is also, unfortunately, the one record in the bunch that I’m disappointed with, across the board. It has four songs, two of them new (Landing In Snow and Resonations, both of which are flaccid and forgettable), and the other two are reinterpretations of two songs that are on the band’s latest release, A Chorus of Storytellers (an album for me that is still frustratingly uneven). The title track, There Is A Wind, is an alternate version of the song, and while I didn’t love the original (my review above says as much), I like this version even less. It’s a motionless alternate version, and one that I don’t much care to hear again.

The only semi-satisfying song on this release is the Jamuel Saxon remix of Falling From The Sun; it’s a glistening, glitchy fracture of the original (think of Finally We Are No One-era Múm, and you’re on the right track) – and if it were four or five minutes long instead of nine, it would be great. But the song loses its luster the longer it goes on, and the little things in it (the circling repetition, the twitchy autotuning) become grating after awhile. A shame, as I think it would’ve been extraordinarily memorable if it were a bit more restrained. But alas, that’s not the case. Sorry, The Album Leaf. I still love you, but this was not a worthwhile purchase.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Deftones? Really?” Well, yeah. While I applaud how much attention you pay to the metal coverage I do here, I must also point out that, as often as they get lumped into the nu-metal category alongside groups like Chevelle, Deftones are actually a band with a lot more subtext than most of their “contemporaries” (stack up Change (In The House of Flies against Distrubed’s Stupify, and see which one is more memorable; and yes, this is a fair comparison, as both songs were released as singles in the summer of 2000). Bottom line: Deftones have been doing this for over 20 years, and they don’t really need to prove anything to anyone.

That being said, Rocket Skates, the single which this 7″ features, is not as of the same caliber as their earlier material. But that’s understandable; it’s still better than most of the dreck that haunts the airwaves these days, to be sure, and Diamond Eyes (the forthcoming album on which Rocket Skates is on), has been plagued with problems since recording began on it almost 3 years ago (chief among these being bassist Chi Cheng’s hospitalization; he was in an auto accident on November 4th, 2008, and has been in a coma ever since). But I digress. I didn’t purchase this 7″ for the A-side; I purchased it for the B-side, which is a remix of Rocket Skates done by…wait for it…M83. Yes, that’s right. M83. You know, those French guys who do the electro-shoegaze-’80’s-revivalism thing? Yeah, that M83.

Needless to say, this remix did not disappoint. It’s incredible; totally elating and mesmerizing, especially considering how different some of the elements that make up the song are (to hear Chino Moreno’s screams juxtaposed next to pulsing synths is far more awesome than you might imagine it to be). I highly recommend you check this song out; buy the vinyl, first and foremost if you can, but if you can’t, you can stream/download the remix at I M // U R (at least, for now, anyways).

The first of two vinyls on here that don’t have a listed print run (meaning you can probably acquire well into the future without having to pay collector prices) is a split 7″ from The Helio Sequence and Menomena. Two bands, two new, exclusive songs, one 7″ – that’s what it’s all about. And yes, both sides of this 7″ are satisfying, though I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that Converter (The Helio Sequence’s contribution) is the better of the two songs. Menomena’s Pilgrim’s Process, while undeniably groovy, feels a bit too cerebral at times, especially coming from the band who released songs like The Pelican and Wet and Rusting.

All told, this is an extremely solid 7″, and if you get a chance to pick it up, I’d say go for it. Both bands have yet to make it big, and both deserve to. The Helio Sequence’s last album has grown on me considerably since I reviewed it here, and I’m anxiously awaiting Mines, the new album from Menomena which comes out in North America in late July. As for Heliomena, the album is merely a reminder of the musical power of simplicity. Two songs, each different, each good, on one solid, physical object.

Lastly, we come to Japandroids, a band who I’ve been more than a little obsessed with since a friend turned me on to Post-Nothing at the beginning of the year. While Art Czars isn’t a Record Store Day release, it’s still a fitting symbol of how vinyl as a format is on the verge of burgeoning again. Now, I won’t go into too much detail here, as I’m covering this release in the next edition of Neweek, save to say that the band have announced that they’re going to be releasing five limited 7″‘s in 2010, and Art Czars is the first. The A-side here is the title track, which is a bit less sunny and a little more ominous than most of the material on Post-Nothing, but it’s still absolutely monstrous in terms of how much sound the band crank out (remember, there’s only two of them).

The B-side is a cover of the Big Black song Racer-X; again, I won’t go into much detail here, but it’s interesting to note the band’s cover choices, and what it says about their musical inspirations. The other cover Japandroids are known for is mclusky’s To Hell With Good Intentions; they close just about every live show they do with it (a studio version is available on the No Singles compilation, which collects the band’s pre-Post-Nothing material; yikes, that’s a mouthful). Both Big Black and mclusky were noisy, noisy bands, whose energy bordered on (and often crossed over into) sonic violence much of the time. Japandroids are noisy, too, but they’re not violent. If you look at it this way, the covers seem to be a direct roadmap to the band’s sound: they took the love of noise, and the sonic wallop of the aforementioned bands, but they use it instead to crank out lightning-fast, major-key punk riffs. There’s a beautiful simplicity to it. So, to tie this all back to Art Czars, if you haven’t heard of Japandoids, this is as good a place as any for you to start.

Passion Pit are an overnight success story of which there are very, very few in this day and age. From the time the band released their debut EP Chunk of Change in late 2008 to now, they’ve gone from being virtually unknown to selling out venues all across the country. They’ll be opening for prog-megastars Muse a few times this year, and the band’s music keeps popping up in commercials and TV everywhere. In short, it’s hard not to notice these guys.

Now, the song Little Secrets is my favorite from the band’s debut LP, Manners, and to commemorate Record Store Day, a red vinyl 7″ was issued, featuring the Passion Pit version on one side, and a remix by Felix Da Housecat on the other. So, what all can be said about Little Secrets? Well, it’s blissfully overindulgent, for one. But it’s the best kind o overindulgent there is. Let’s run down the list: blurry, airy synths? Check. Taut but playful percussion? Check? Pulsing bass? Check. And swirling all about it are the vocals of founder Michael Angelakos, a swooning falsetto angel, multitracked into infinity. Oh, and there’s a choir in there, too. In short, it’s the kind of song you can’t help but love, not because you feel as though it’s trying to impress you, but rather, the opposite: because everything about it feels so effortless and sounds so perfect.

The Felix Da Housecat remix, by contrast, feels a bit stilted by comparison; it’s lacking the energy that the original possesses. I’m not sure who Felix Da Housecat is, but the remix sounds like a standard dance club track – sort of like Hercules and Love Affair, but substitute the glamor for trashiness. This isn’t to say it doesn’t work. But if you take a song that wasn’t a one-trick pony, and turn it in to one, you can’t help but feel a bit cheated, even if the results aren’t really all that bad. In short, if you like Passion Pit, it’s probably worth the $6.

I mentioned earlier about the power of music on a physical object, and that’s what I think makes Record Store Day (and indeed, records in general) important. Now, don’t get me wrong, I mostly listen to music on an iPod or a computer nowadays, but (as evidenced by this blog), I still buy a ton of music. Mostly CDs, but some vinyl, too, if the mood strikes me. So, the question is, why CDs? Why vinyl? Why any physical format in the digital age? Well, as convenient and tidy as it is to have loads of MP3s, there’s one thing that MP3s don’t ever have the power to possess. And that is: history. Digital files are digital files; they’re indistinguishable from one another, and no matter how various companies try to dress them up with embedded cover art and digital booklets, they’re still plastic and impersonal. But physical formats, like the LP, the CD, hell, even the cassette, are different. They can age; they can become worn (indeed, if you don’t take care of them, they can break).

More than that, though, they occupy a physical space. My digital copy of Modest Mouse’s The Moon and Antarctica is the same as every other MP3 album I have. But my physical copy, the 2004 CD reissue, is not. The booklet’s waterdamaged from when I attempted to get in to a sold-out show in Chicago when the band were touring for Good News For People Who Love Bad News (and I held on to some false hope that I might get Isaac Brock to sign it); the inlay has a tear in it from when I attempted to remove the security sticker, while listening to the album’s opener, 3rd Planet, for the very first time. And the disc itself carries many a scar from being placed (sometimes carefully, sometimes not) into a plastic booklet (or a glove box, or a CD spindle, or sometimes just loose on a car seat) But it still plays, and doesn’t skip a beat. All this comes from the fact that it inhabits a physical space. I can look at it, and all these memories come flooding back to me, taking me back to a time when I first started to explore indie music (having been an exclusive metalhead prior to that). And as I mentioned, these are memories and experiences linked to the physicality of the artform, and it’s something I wouldn’t give up for anything. Remember that scene in High Fidelity where Rob and Dick are talking about the merits of organizing your albums autobiographically? Well, imagine them having the same conversation in front of an iMac and an external Western Digital MyBook. It’d be meaningless.

Keep in mind, this change isn’t unique to music. Books are rapidly becoming digitalized (beyond that, print in general is declining rapidly all across the country). Same with movies, what with the advent of digital copies and the massive popularity of Netflix (again, don’t get me wrong – I love Netflix, and you can watch thousands of great movies on demand with it, but it’s not the same as walking into a retailer and deciding to rent or buy Mega Shark VS Giant Octopus solely because the ridiculous title caught your eye from a shelf – what Netflix has in terms of customized recommendations, which are sometimes sketchy, it totally lacks serendipitous chance encounters). Now, maybe you don’t miss these experiences, or maybe you never had them to begin with, and you don’t care to. That’s a personal choice. But for my part, I think when we lose the history associated with art (as it manifests in a physical form), we also begin to lose our reverence for it; to wit, we appreciate it less. Quick: think of all the people you know (and I know you know them) who have hundreds of MP3s, but don’t listen to them? That is to say, they have them just to have them (I myself have been guilty of this numerous times, and it bothers me to no end).

Sure, iTunes puts access to thousands of songs for cheap right on your computer, and anyone who’s over the age of five knows that there are other, less legitimate ways of acquiring music (and movies, and books, and so on) digitally; with hard drive space so cheap, our means to store and procure media are nigh unlimited. But if our capacity to possess art is unlimited, than inevitably, our appreciation of it lessened by the mere fact that it becomes less of a cultural or sociologically enhancing experience, and more like a commodity. We demand less of it because it occupies no physical aspect of our life, we forge no history with it because 1’s and 0’s aren’t capable of historical sentience, and by extension, it in turn fails to provide us with a blueprint of our artistic consciousness.

I can remember, back when I was young, going to Crow’s Nest Music and More with my father. We’d go about once a month or so, and we’d spend hours in the store, just browsing, looking at all the music, taking it all in, and carefully selecting our purchases. My love of music came to me from my father; he died suddenly in 2001, when I was 16, in the summer before my junior year of high school – it was horrible, losing him so young, and it’s something I’ll never get over completely, but I could feel his presence around me every time I walked into Crow’s Nest. And when Crow’s Nest shut down at the end of 2006, forced out of business by Best Buy and Circuit City’s prices, I lost a huge, defining aspect of my childhood, and my adulthood; one of the links that connected me to my father was severed forever.

Could I have had the same life-molding experiences with my father in the iTunes storefront? No. And that’s why Record Store Day is important.

In short: digital may be the way of the future, and it may be super-convenient (just a few paragraphs ago, after all,I linked to an M83 remix you can listen to at your leisure – how’s that for convenient?), and it may eventually replace all physical formats of music (and sooner rather than later), but in my eyes, that doesn’t make it any less inferior.

Well, thanks for listening to my rant. Sorry it got a bit out of hand there. Anyways, take care everyone.

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