Monday, December 31, 2012

Ghosts of Sailors at Sea - Sheldon Taylor 7inch

I love how, to this day, artists and musicians from or touched by New England continue to tie in a nautical theme to their work. Ghosts of Sailors at Sea, starting with their name and moving all the way through the packaging of their "Sheldon Taylor" 7inch, do just that. The record insert includes a quote from Sheldon Taylor himself, leaving you to wonder that if Taylor was an American explorer over a century ago, then Boston's Ghosts of Sailors at Sea would be the soundtrack to his adventures being told on the silver screen in the modern age.

Personally, I love everything "maps," so they had me at pulling the purple vinyl out of the v-fold jacket and seeing the well drafted center labels of the record itself. With the exception of the font type used (I am never a fan of computerized fonts that are made to look like handwriting; robots will never replace humans), the design of this record takes me back to fellow New Englanders like Victory At Sea or The One AM Radio (but in color for the latter).

Musically: I would have to ask Andrew and Patrick from Ghosts of Sailors at Sea if either of them were kin of Sean McCarthy, singer / guitarist of Helms. Their musical structure, derived from Bostonians like Helms (post-rock / math-rock), explores the various tributaries and creeks of the Charles River their founders left pure. There is still an innocence, but Andrew and Patrick have been studying their maps and charting the course for their music to forge ahead.

"Geoffrey Pope," was my favorite of the two instrumental tracks. It's more mature and forthright, and its on side-b; inevitably going to be preferred. The more challenging guitar work on "Sheldon Taylor" (side-a) reminded me of Ed Crawford (fIREHOSE); a bit more complicated and perplexed from its cohort. I could easily see this single sitting within the catalog of Kimchee Records (Victory At Sea, Helms, 27, Tiger Saw, Chris Brokaw).

Colored vinyl is always a win for me, otherwise the packaging gets a B+ for its well placed maritime imagery. However, my favorite element was the 'Christmas Crab' found on the outside of the mailer for this co-released Gatehouse Anchor / Faded Maps Records 7inch. I may just have to employ the Christmas Crab to continue spreading Holiday Cheer (and mailing information) throughout the New Year.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Soccer Mom - You Are Not Going To Heaven

First off... I love this record! I love it for so many reasons (that we will get to in a moment), but let's start with the music and then dive into the fun stuff: the packaging. Side-a / track-1, "(A) Natural History," is simply the perfect start to what is a brilliantly constructed record. Immediately, I fantasize that this record was mislabeled and I'm actually listening to Swervedriver's long lost demo recordings (pre-Raise); Soccer Mom "never (lost) that feeling" and nailed it spot-on right out of the gate with this opening track. (I'm sure over time everyone reading this blog is going to quickly learn that I'm a hugeübersupersucker for shoegaze / wall-of-sound / driving guitars.)

"American Shirt (Eagle Flag 911)" and "Celebrity Unrest" continue to back this introductory resemblance, but adding in additional references of My Bloody Valentine (especially the open guitar tones of "American Shirt (Eagle Flag 911)") and Sonic Youth. Singer / Guitarist, Will Scales, has a 1990's / Thurston Moore style of delivering his words; direct, raw, and often with a coolness. Danielle Deveau's baselines are straightforward and infectious, doing what bass players are supposed to do.

As I eluded to in the beginning, not only has the music from this EP caught my attention, but the interactive packaging really stands out. There is a heavyweight paper with an image of lines floating above the record jacket, allowing the listener to slide it up and down, changing the view from the title of the EP, 'You Are Not Going To Heaven,' to the name of the band, Soccer Mom. On the flip side, this movement provides you with the song titles from side-a to side-b. All of the typography on the record jacket itself is embossed into a thick, white cardboard with black ink; stunning.

Moving inside the package, the first thing I find is a printed copy of my favorite Peanuts cartoon; the one where Linus is telling Lucy,"Buying records cheers me up... Whenever I feel low, I buy some new records.." (so true). I'm not sure if I was special to receive this, but either way it worked for me.

I love that Sweaters & Pearls and 100m Records (split release) thought to use a manilla record sleeve, rather than the traditional white sleeves; it's a welcomed unique touch that you don't see too often. The cut-to-bleed photo with liner notes insert makes what could appear to be a more low-fi project official. Add in the glossy download card for MP3s that matches the line-image of the cover art as well, and you now know this is not another Belle & Sebastian high school project for art class.

For me, two other factors wrap it up as a stellar release for Soccer Mom, Sweaters & Pearls, and 100m Records: white vinyl and a 10inch record. It's a nice solid piece of wax that feels so innocent, taking us back to that low-fi feeling, which is what I'm loving so much (ultimately) about this record. The artwork on the center labels appears to be hand stamped: white paper label with red ink; purposeful (a), hospitable (thanks), and all that is necessary.

Everything from the music to the design is eclectic and contrasting, yet sits so well together. You'd expect to only be able to buy this record from the bass player's car after their show in the parking lot behind the club, as well as see it on the well illuminated shelves of Newbury Comics. The fun nature of the packing might lead you to think that Soccer Mom is the next pop-infused affair from Stephin Merritt (Magnetic Fields), but yet as your needle clears the lead-in you quickly realize Soccer Mom's 10inch EP (musically as well as physically) pays great tribute to indie rock releases from when vinyl was all we knew (SEE: Magic Eye Singles, Decoder Ring, Emperor Jones, SharkAttack!, Pop Narcotic, SpinArt, Omnibus, Vulva, Fist Puppet, Our Own Records). RIYL: Why are so many people addicted to indie rock music?

Divine Fits - A Thing Called Divine Fits

The moment this album, 'A Thing Called Divine Fits,' first came into my line of sight, I knew Britt Daniel of the band Spoon had to have something to do with it. Somewhere between the simplistic, iconic cover image of a cherry backed by the chartreuse-like (its more yellow than chartreuse) wash of color with the words "Divine Fits" in an Arial Black font slapped on top, to the continuous use of that sans serif font on the back for the song titles (minus spacing) to be displayed in a joyous, proud manner (which I've personally grown to love and expect from Britt Daniel records), I was in the midst of placing my bet that 'A Thing Called Divine Fits' was indeed the next Spoon record. This recently-introduced-fan of Wolf Parade was pleasantly surprised to learn that Divine Fits is actually a new band made up of Daniel, Dan Boeckner of Wolf Parade, Sam Brown of New Bomb Turks, and Alex Fischel.

This record was a present for me from my friend Colin, who is cronies with Craig Cully, the painter of this famed cherry that is now part of the ever growing imagery that represents Britt Daniel's musical recordings: girl with camera - 'Nefarious (EP),' man with sunglasses - 'Telephone,' vinyl record - 'Girls Can Tell,' arms - 'Kill The Moonlight,' red hooded cape - 'Gimme Fiction,' text only - 'Got Nuffin,' etc.. Craig was kind enough to sign this copy for Colin to give to me; pretty stoked!

'A Thing Called Divine Fits' is loaded with those übercatchy pop hooks that Daniel often brings to his Spoon records. But it wasn't until track-3, "What Gets You Alone," when Boeckner delivered the opening line, "Jessica please, take out insurance on me," that I was truly hooked on this album. Is it just me, or did anyone else catch the (possibly intentional) homage to Fugazi's "Dear Justice Letter" with this lyric? My mind went wandering with wonder at first; I completely missed the song and had to reset the needle to get back on track with enjoying the music.

"The Salton Sea" led by Daniel is the most entrancing song on this debut album for Divine Fits. With its echoing synthesizers pulling you in through their bouncing beats, you begin to dream that the brilliance of this record could possibly be Divine Fits extending this song until, let's say 'infinity,' so you never have to wake from this dreamscape. However, like any good pop-song-composer, Daniel knows to cut it short and leave you wanting more; well played.

Side-b continues to deliver additional gems for fans of Divine Fits' origins: "Civilian Stripes, "Like Ice Cream," and the pulsating, dreamy (pun intended) "Neopolitans." For me, I continue to respect Daniel's accessible approach to his music / art / design. Six tracks for side-a, five for side-b, and only one vinyl record required for this fun LP; traditional in form, with lyrics and liner notes printed on the inside jacket (no additional inserts needed). I like it. Although, following a critique from another design-focused-fan, I can't help by wonder if Daniel had someone else design the center labels on the vinyl record itself.

Mono - For My Parents

For my first review on this site, it's only appropriate to talk about a Mono release with Temporary Residence Ltd.. I've been a fan of not only this band for many years, but this record label as well. Mono first grabbed my attention back in 2004 with their release of 'Walking cloud and deep red sky, Flag fluttered and the sun shined,' a beautiful record with a die-cut image of two girls holding what appears to be violins. I did not know anything about the band at the time, and simply purchased that record based on the respect of Temporary Residence Ltd. and the sheer beauty of the packaging (I'm a sucker for die-cut anything).

Fast forward eight years and Mono's latest release is equally as stunning, and musically as brilliant. Being that the purpose behind this website / blog is to not only review records for their music, but almost more so for their packaging... Mono's 'For My Parents' was an obvious first choice.

The use of the 'tip on' style printing immediately caught my attention. I'm near tempted to purchase any record that uses this process of printing; it truly demonstrates the dedication the record label and / or band have for the release altogether. It is financially a significant increase in price for manufacturing, so I can understand why not every vinyl record is housed in this fashion, but it is a sweet feeling to hold a tip-on jacket in your hands.

Second for me was the printing; it's almost more gorgeous that the classic black and white print we've would come to expect from Mark Kozelek / Sun Kil Moon / Red House Painters. Either the black is printed at approximately 30% ink, or they designed this package with only using a single color, close to a grey or light brown. Either way, the simplicity in the design lends to how romantic and mature this record is for Mono.

I had once tried to introduce my father to Mono, as he is a fan of orchestral, ambient music. They were playing a live concert and it was going to be my first time seeing them; I thought it would be a great father-son outing. Unfortunately, Pops couldn't make the concert, and after seeing Mono at that point (early) in their career, I began to think Pops may not have tolerated the more abrasive, explosive elements that they were becoming very well known for, especially in their live shows. 'For My Parents' feels like its the right time in Mono's career (and sound) to try again with introducing my father to their music; following suit on what the title suggests.

My favorite moments with this release come with the second vinyl record (side-c and side-d). I feel where the record begins (side-a), with the song "Legend" and moving through "Nostalgia," (side-b) is comfortable territory for Mono; where the listener is either expecting or wanting Mono to go. This is where I would take my father first so he would understand their history.

However, when "Unseen Harbor" begins with side-c, there is a memory of Spain I have not sensed before with Mono's guitar work. Our storytellers don't stray too far from the dramatic moments we love them for, but if you actually review this track on the physical vinyl itself before dropping your needle, your will notice that its not long before a new dynamic will be presented to the listener; a coming of age, one may say. It provides a perfect segue into the well-titled "A Quiet Place (Together We Go)" on side-d; an impressive finale for 'For My Parents.'

According to my research on the ol' world wide web, the white vinyl (pictured here) was limited to the first 500 copies pressed; 100 of them going to Mono to sell at their live concerts (limited to one sale per concert and only to a person that asked for the white copy) and the other 400 were for Temporary Residence Ltd. to sell by mail order.

The final straw that takes this release over the edge with amazing packaging and design is the additional insert Mono includes for you to send a personal letter to your parents. The insert even includes an area for you to attach a photograph to your letter. It is actually cut on all four corners for the photograph to be inserted into the paper; a great attention to detail, providing a thoughtful way for Mono to connect even further with their audience. Now if I could only bring myself to actually part ways with this one element of the contents from 'For My Parents' and actually use it for its intentions, making my copy of the record incomplete of its original design... I think my parents will understand.