Monday, December 15, 2014
Sunday, September 21, 2014
Okay, there are a few ways I can go with this one; immediately noting the fact that I honestly did not think I was going to like this record, at least within the first few seconds. But that's the humorist version of this post; perhaps the more interesting one to begin with. Ultimately, and to be clear, I applaud this album, especially after taking in side-b and having the intensely arresting track "Crawl" blast out my speakers.
To set the stage: it's early Sunday morning, and I don't often stay up late. However, last night was an exception to the rule, putting me in a position of only having a few hours of sleep; I'm by default an early riser, regardless of how raging the party was. I am stumbling about the house, my cat is clawing at my feet, demanding a bit of 'kitty-time,' and I have yet to determine if I am even awake. She always likes to play fetch at the brink of dawn with her fake mouse toys; a game we call "mouse" (that she responds to). As I often like / try to do during my hours of solitude, I reach for the 'review pile' of vinyl and look to take in some new tunes to discuss with all of you. Chuck Coffey from Snappy Little Numbers has had a very impressive 7inch catalog to date with his record label, and I have been meaning to dive into a few of his full length 12inch albums that he has released; what better time than today.
Glass Hits' Better Never Than Late ends up being my selection. As I hold the traditional black vinyl record in hand, I prepare the turntable for a 12inch LP. What happens next, meaning what comes out of my speakers, is very likely not what Glass Hits or Snappy Little Numbers had intended for us to hear... but it is an experience that I strongly recommend you allow yourself! Crude, deathly, conquering, massively impressive - Better Never Than Late played at 33-1/3 rpms is its own dark creation, perhaps a subconscious expression for Glass Hits, but certainly not what they set forth to capture in the studio (yet one completely worth exploring - just not first thing on a Sunday morning).
I was shaking my head (now awake), thinking, "Oh no. I really like Chuck, and his label, and what he's doing. I was really hoping to share some more good news about one of his records, but man... what am I going to do with this?" As my blurry eyes began to gain focus, I thankfully caught wind of the "45 RPM" noted on the rotating center label. At this exact moment, our cat, Kickflip, furiously ripped through our living room, as if she was frustratingly calling me an idiot for not having noticed the rotational directions given for this record; funny how cats are often more aware of our own human reality than we are.
"You're the Icing on a Cake That Never Should've Been Made in the First Place" takes off accurately, opening Better Never Than Late, and now I understand where we should have been: this is a quintessential punk rock record. I don't often listen to (or like for that matter) punk rock music (perhaps I should clarify: newer modern day punk rock, or what a lot of people call punk rock). For me, punk rock is Dischord Records, Alternative Tentacles, and SST Records (circa 80's and 90's). Being that punk rock is more of a state of mind, less of a music genre, punk rock is going to be different for everyone, and that is okay / that's the beauty of it. So on this crisp, early Fall Sunday morning, Glass Hits are my punk rock.
One of my favorite harder / heavier albums is The Crownhate Ruin's Until the Eagle Grins (Dischord Records 1996). It has always been an album I use to measure other like minded records against. I'll never forgot buying it; I was a fan of Dischord Records at the time, in general, but did not really buy a lot of their stuff. The cover art is solely what attracted me to even pick up The Crownhate Ruin. It's a beautiful weathered navy blue rough cardboard jacket, delicately screen printed with silver ink. The liner notes are elegantly similar, only with a blood red canvas. I bought the album on the spot without ever listening to it. The design always reminded me of the romantic nature of The Rachael's undeniably unparalleled release, "Music for Egon Schiele;" both albums of which inspired me to create this blog.
I immediately fell in love with The Crownhate Ruin. It did not matter how much indie pop or shoegaze I was getting into at the time (it's was the 90's); the energy, the passion, the perfection - it was all too gripping, never to let go (and still hasn't). Now, for the second time in life, I am getting that same feeling again about an expression I often don't understand. Better Never Than Late is a punk rock album that too will stand the test of time; it defies all trends - an honest manifesto. Sonically, it is an absolute A++; flawless and precise.
The liner notes and center labels are my favorite part of the overall packaging. The refined clarity equals the voice of Glass Hits. And I appreciate their common sense to include lyrics. I've always felt that if a band has so much emotionally drive behind their message, let's here it (read it) then. Thanks, Glass Hits.
I am just so happy my turntable plays at both 33-1/3 and 45 rpm speeds.
Sunday, September 14, 2014
Saturday, September 13, 2014
Friday, September 12, 2014
I don't believe I own many split 12inch releases. I mean, I have a few, but they are pretty rare. I think we can all agree, the split 7inch is more of the norm when it comes to shared releases. However, the split 12inch really gives you more bang for your buck. I've always been very fond of a good solid EP release. EPs have a short runtime by nature, and often force an artist to cut out the fat (all of the fat) from what would have made a mediocre full length (LP) album. The fact that the manufacturing costs of an EP are relatively equal to that of a LP, which translates to the retail price being not much less, keeps EPs from being produced as often as they probably should. A split 12inch record allows two artists the same opportunity to shine within the limitations of an EP, and provides the buyer with double the fun at what most likely is a more than fair price.
Summersteps Records delivers a solid indie-cred split 12inch with Kid Icarus and Cold Coffee. The music between the two bands does compliment each other; perhaps the common thread, Nathaniel Kane, who plays "phantom keys" for Kid Icarus and is the singer, guitarist, and keyboardist for Cold Coffee (I'm guessing this is his main gig), lends to those comparable tones. Not to mentiom, Nathaniel Kane engineered and produced the Kid Icarus tracks, while he mixed Cold Coffee's. I simply love the fact that his name is spelled "Nathaniel" everywhere except as a band member for Kid Icarus, where he is referred to as "Nate."
The digitized hounds tooth -slash- checkerboard monotone (white) cover art is what first caught my attention (as it should). Wait, that's a lie; it was actually my curiosity of the color of the jacket. I think it is black. I'm pretty sure it is black. But as strange as it may sound, every time I hold the jacket, it appears to be the deepest of dark, navy blues. Oceanianic; from the most distant abyss. A blue so blue; virgin to sunlight. I've compared it numerous times to other records with black jackets, and I tell you what... this blue jacket is definitely black, yet still so blue. (I actually think it is the amount of white ink from the hounds tooth pattern that hosts the humorous trickery to the eye.)
That all being said, what also makes me confirm this record's blackness is the fact that there is no printing on the spine. I know I've mentioned before how blank solid black record jackets can be purchased, and prove to be an economically choice canvas for young bands doing whatever it takes to get their music out on vinyl. These blank jackets are often used by bands to silkscreen their artwork on by hand, rather than mass production, giving them a more custom aesthetic, and saving a few bucks in the process. A well noted result of handprinted jackets is a spine without anything on it, simply because it is so hard to print on the spine once the jacket has been assembled. The split 12inch for Kid Icarus and Cold Coffee might not have printing on the spine, however the craftsmanship on the front and back is flawless enough to make me question even my own inner Sherlock Holmes.
Nonetheless, the stamp-like typography on the center labels delivers my second clue with trying to solve this home-ec-mystery. The name of each band is the only text printed on the label of each respective side of the vinyl record. On Cold Coffee's side, there is what appears to be an ink splotch that would likely have been caused by some leaking ink or mishandling by its home based creator. You see, if a band or label is going through the trouble to handprint jackets to save money, it would make sense that they order their vinyl records with basic white labels (no manufactured printing), or have the blank labels sent to them prior to being glued to the records, so that they could also handprint the center labels as well. Genius! And my gut is telling me that this is the case with Kid Icarus and Cold Coffee.
The obscurity of all this makes the Kid Icarus and Cold Coffee split 12inch a go-to record for when I'm wanting to intrigue friends within my abode. The youthful position of the music keeps me going back for more.
Monday, September 1, 2014
If you did not grow up in Florida, or perhaps have not familiarized yourself with Florida's geographical (nautical) surroundings, you might not know which side of MRENC's (pronounced "Mister E - N - C") album All Around Surround to play first, which I like. It puts the sequencing in the listener's hands. Side-A is the "Atlantic Side," while Side-B is the "Gulf Side." The title All Around Surround is a lyric from the closing track "Cover Me."
The vinyl release comes with a CD, not a MP3 download. I remember my first experience with this; getting a CD with a vinyl I purchased. It was the summer of 2000 in Cambridge, MA (I had just returned from an amazing honeymoon with my wife), and Shellac had just released 1000 Hurts. Inside they included a CD copy of their album. It was brilliant, and before MP3 downloads. Nowadays, when an artist like MRENC puts their CD inside the vinyl, it demonstrates their position on this whole digital movement; basically saying they ain't planning no games when it comes to their music. Giving you the CD is giving you the music itself (like the vinyl), not a cheap-ass digital photocopy. I've got all respect for bands like MRENC for including CDs with their wax. Plus, the CD jacket plays the role of the liner notes for the vinyl; a practical solution.
Added props go out to MRENC for their packaging. Those of you following this here little blog site are probably catching on to the fact that 1) I love black and white artwork, and 2) I love it when bands cheat the system and design an exquisite package on a dime. To the naked eye, one would not know that the latter was the case with MRENC. However, those in the industry may recall that jacket manufacturers offer solid black finished jackets at a discounted price. If a band or label is capable of designing simplistic, yet pro, artwork / imagery that can be hand silkscreened upon these ready-to-go jackets, without looking like it was hand silkscreened, or (possibly / debatably) worse feeling like it was hand silkscreened, then they just might be able to pull off an economicly sound design like MRENC was able to do with All Around Surround. Job well done Mr. Eric N. Collins (MRENC).
Hand numbered on the "Atlantic Side" center label in a silver ink. Housed in a polypropylene bag. Released by one of the hardest working indie labels this side of the Mississippi, New Granada Records. A lot of thought went into this vinyl record, and it shows.
MRENC remind me of The Walkmen, somewhere between the vocal and drums and guitar work, but not all at once. There is an aggressive punch at times like Les Savy Fav, and sexy (yup, that's a first), seductive lure that brings me back to why I liked that band Plexi (just saw their album somewhere on vinyl; should have picked it up); I think that is the Florida 90's goth vibe I'm picking up (and loving; love me some old school Florida goth).
Fuck it. This is a damn good album. Buy it. There were only 300 made.
Monday, August 11, 2014
Sunday, August 10, 2014
Sunday, May 11, 2014
Saturday, April 5, 2014
Sunday, February 16, 2014
Sunday, February 2, 2014
Sunday, April 7, 2013
Vacilando '68 Recordings really put their best foot forward with this release. With a stunning botanical cover image, and complimentary / properly delivered handwritten fonts (I really hate when people use a computer for this; thank you Naïm) that resemble the pistil of the lily-like flowers, you can anticipate the romantic qualities Amor naturally exudes, and appreciate his sensitive transmission.
The vinyl itself is a silky, buttermilk cream complexion that is quite possibly more smooth that Naïm Amor's own blend of traditional classic jazz with the most underground of indie rock; breaking and blending sonic barriers between genres decades apart. Naïm Amor is the J Mascis version of Joao Gilberto, whom inspired Martin Denny, only he's of this generation.
Thøger Lund and Mr. Howe Gelb himself from Giant Sand, as well as John Convertino of Calexico, are featured players on Naïm Amor's 'Dansons' album. Jim Waters at Waterworks, known for his work with Sonic Youth on their 'Goo' masterpiece, recorded and mixed the pièce de résistance of Amor's career.
Choice cuts are the tropically inspired "The Day After," which will have you reaching for a pitcher of Mai Tai and your Ray-Bans, "On Se Tient" and "The Other Step," appropriate for any Sunday breakfast at Tiffany's, and certainly "Sparkling Guitar," Amor's English journey into the Space Age Bachelor Pad realm.
Order Naïm Amor's 'Dansons' direct from Vacilando '68 Recordings today!
Monday, April 1, 2013
I can't help but relate this admiration to a foody's obsession with locally grown organic ingredients. Corporate owned restaurant chains continue to fill the bellies of the masses in the same way larger record companies thoughtlessly use the same formulas over and over for what should be creative designs. When you can simply look at carrots and see their unique flavor profile, or open a carton of multicolored eggs and know the vibrant yokes inside are going to ooze richness... that's when I can wait to drop the needle on the record to hear what awaits. It's not going to be Radiohead or Justin Timberlake, and no its not going to be that McRib sandwich that stirs up memories of youthful trips to the beach, but I can promise you it's going to push some envelopes that were left on the table that should have been opened in the first place.
This is definitely the case with Mike Adams At His Honest Weight's album 'Oscillate Wisely.' But Mike Adams has a lot more going for him than thought provoking packaging; he's a brilliant song writer, and has a handsome Mike Love (Beach Boys) -like voice (maybe not quite as high but just as silky-sweet) - best presented on "I'm Not Worried."
The cover art appears to be a picture of Mr. Adams himself, although I've opted not to GTS to confirm. St. Ives and Flannelgraph Records (split release) had a standard white record jacket (spray?) painted with silver ink on the front, and then the artwork was silkscreened with blue ink on top, with the emblem-inspired imagery.
The back cover is much more raw; as if there was a little dirt left on the carrots. Mike Adams did the handwriting and additional illustration. The record is hand-numbered, limited to 500 copies, and does come with liner notes that further explain the teamwork and responsibilities involved with crafting this prize release.
"Don't You Blanket (When That Happens)" launches side-b like the best of any Starflyer 59 album, while "It's All Been Done (You Said)" highlights Adams' understanding of vocal melodies in a way that reminiscent of Alan Sparhawk (Low); pulling from the best-of-the-best of influences.
I can't get enough of this bona fide indie rock record and Mike Adams' graceful vocals, as well as his respect of ambience. Originally released January 25, 2011... Check out 'Oscillate Wisely' over at Flannelgraph's Bandcamp.
Sunday, March 10, 2013
The imagery used for The Kingsbury Manx's album 'Bronze Age,' from the cover to the back to the inside liner notes, is paintings from M. Scott Myers (a former band member). Most of the paintings are of landscapes resembling the tundra, including some with bodies of neighboring waters. The piece on the back cover showcases the nautical theme, while there is one painting inside the gatefold that is quite opposite of its arctic counterparts. This odd print reminds me of walking through the backwoods of Florida, following a wandering man-made path elevated above the marsh, protecting its guests from the local reptiles below.
While I am utterly attracted to the artwork from Myers that The Kingsbury Manx selected for this record, I haven't been able to tie the album's title, 'Bronze Age,' to Myers' paintings or any other elements of the packaging; only a lyric in the song, "Glass Eye." None the less, Myers' work makes for stunning album artwork and lives quite nicely in this 12inch x 12inch format protected by the under utilized shellac-like coating.
I'm often intrigued when a record company choses to use a gatefold jacket when there is only one vinyl record inside. Gatefolds are mostly used for albums that contain two vinyl records, placing one on each side of the folded jacket. When a gatefold is employed to carry just one vinyl record, I can't help but feel its for the admiration of the artwork; basically declaring, "This artwork is so amazing, every piece must be displayed on the outer jacket!" Odessa Records could have used a printed inner sleeve, rather than a plain white paper sleeve, to protect the vinyl record itself. This would have given them an alternative place to put the text and paintings that are on the inside of the gatefold (I'd be curious to know what the cost difference of this would be). However, the gatefold is much more impressive and engages you (the listener) as the needle dances across the record and you unveil the centerfold and mystique of the album.
Another well noted feature of The Kingsbury Manx's packaging for 'Bronze Age' is the spine of the jacket; its 1/4" thick, and again, that's for only one vinyl record. I love when attention is given to the spine of a vinyl jacket; most artists don't. As much as I'm not a fan of The Magnetic Fields, as I sit here in our Danish lounge chair a mere twenty feet away from our own record collection, my wife's Magnetic Fields albums, in their standard (thin) jackets, take the cake with having well designed, noticeable spines that stand out from the crowd. I have yet to file this Kingsbury Manx record, but I am sure once I do, it is going to boast loud and proud due to the grand size alone.
Without a doubt, I was looking forward to taking in this album. Obviously, Odessa Records had me at the artwork and packing, but I had also heard quite a bit about The Kingsbury Manx over the past decade, and yet to acquire any of their recordings. This collection of songs provides a lil' something for all types of indie pop fanatics. 'Folk Pop' seems to be the preferred term used to describe The Kingsbury Manx overall. Personally, I would suggest that if Belle & Sebastian grew up exploring the Appalachian Trail, their sound would be The Kingsbury Manx. I could easily see these kids from North Carolina on a bill with The Ladybug Transistor, The American Analog Set, or even Bonnie Prince Billy.
Some of my favorite tracks from this album are "Future Hunter" (I'm a sucker for synths; bought my very first one on Raleigh NC back in 1996), "Handspring" (you can't go wrong with trumpets; such an enjoyable, tastefully added touch), and "Custer's Last" (again with the synths, but this time with a captivating beat that gets you out of your seat singing along to the gods above during for their epic Pink Floyd-esque finale). Multiple listens may be required to fully understand where The Kingsbury Manx are going, but they are okay with that, and besides... M. Scott Myers and Odessa Records provide some gorgeous artwork to study during the ride.
Saturday, March 9, 2013
Let's get it on record now that North Carolina has been and always will be the home to the best American Indie Rock. From the days of Superchunk, Seam and Polvo, to Mercury Birds and The Raymond Brake, to today's Rosebuds and The Love Language; North Carolina continues to define Indie Rock, and Schooner and Wesley Wolfe are a shining example that others will only try to replicate.
Schooner opens the 12inch clear vinyl lathe with the haunting "oo's" of "Terrorized Mind." Reid Johnson's reflective vocal delivery and story-telling guitar rhythm pause life for a moment until his fuzzy lead takes over as the whiskey settles in. Maria Albani bears the voice for their second track, "Locked In," which is actually a Wesley Wolfe cover. Backed by a much more bouncy indie pop beat and a whammied-out guitar rift, Wesley has Maria wishing good things for an ex-lover as she locks away her (his) memories. There is an irresistible lo-fi nature to Schooner's recordings that's without purpose, yet produces their tracks to perfection.
As soon as the ambience settles, Wesley Wolfe comes busting through the door with his overdriven, piercing guitar and breathy, bass heavy beat for "Crying Laughing." This track made me a die hard Wolfe-Head within seconds and had me searching for my ol' Edsel and Polara 7inches to drop on the table after I've exhausted playing these four gems. Mr. Wolfe's cover of Schooner's "Indian Sunburn" is simply incredible. I could easily see indie-rockers taking a break from posting on Facebook via their iPhones about Wesley Wolfe 'killing it' at the club while he was playing this tune and actually dancing to the music for a rare moment in time.
Lathe cut records are different than pressed vinyl records; you can learn more about them directly from Tangible Formats. This particular record is noticeably extraordinary, not only because of the clear vinyl used, but the fact that Schooner and Wesley Wolfe employed Steve Oliva at Kitchen Island Show Print in Durham NC to print via silk screen in reverse the cover art image directly on side-b of the record so it shows through correctly when playing the four songs on side-a; a brilliant design feature that will have your mouth mocking a Venus flytrap.
Co-released by PotLuck Foundation and Tangible Formats, they show great respect for this lathe cut record by including a 'rice-paper' inner sleeve (my favorite) for housing. From what I can tell, this release has since sold out, but if you ever run across a copy at a garage sale or your local worm and bait shop, grab it. Otherwise, keep an eye out for other releases by Schooner and Wesley Wolfe, and remember... if iTunes gives a genre of "Indie Rock" to something that ain't from North Carolina, its probably post-Steve Jobs (RIP, sir).
Saturday, January 26, 2013
The record jacket itself is a standard plain white cardboard sleeve, similar to one you might buy for that naked John Coltrane 12inch you found at the thrift store last Sunday. There is no actual printing on the white jacket, but a 6" paper square with the cover art has been glued onto the cardboard in the top right corner. There is nothing on the backside, and there is no spine with title information either to help you find this gem once you've filed it in between your Neil Young and ZS, or Tracy Shedd and Silk Flowers records; depending on which side you chose to file by.
Inside the jacket you will find a standard 8.5"x11" sheet of 20lb. white paper with liner notes and lyrics for each band, printed in black photocopier ink. Additionally, there is photocopied sheet music with what appears to be hand-drawn Sharpie-marker artwork, and photocopied receipt-tickets with the message "We designed this for you. All the mistakes were on purpose." repeated. There is a math worksheet, seven pages torn out from a book, information about a 6.8 magnitude earthquake that took place in California in 1994, a random piece of foil, a Pocket Monsters game card, and my favorite... photocopied miniature US currency totaling $22.00. The actual vinyl record appears to be the randomly selected mixed colored vinyl that manufacturing plants often offer at a discounted rate, cheaper than even your standard black vinyl.
Somehow between the medley of propaganda and lack of commonly expected features most consumers and collectors would be seduced by, I could sense The Zookeepers and Signals put a lot of heart behind this release. It's so obvious when someone puts a lot of money behind a record, by gusto is only visible when you close your eyes and open your mind.
This record, and the fact that it was pressed on vinyl (the fact that someone chose to invest the money that it takes to press it on vinyl), demonstrates one of the many shining examples as to why music should truly only exist on vinyl: vinyl records separate the men from the boys. Bands that are serious about their music want it on vinyl, understand what vinyl represents, and will do whatever it takes to make their music available on vinyl, even if that means releasing it with a generic white sleeve and glueing a 6" square on one side to provide you with some satisfaction of having artwork to find the record in your collection. Bands that only release their music via digital outlets, and even worse: online for free, simply have no balls. Bands that work with CDs might at least have a left nut, since a CD is a physical medium and the audio quality does somewhat resemble the actual sounds from the instruments. But when a band releases their music on a vinyl record, and its obvious that it was a financial struggle just to get the music on wax, on top of having to be creative to keep you visually entertained with packaging, it speaks highly about their character, dedication to their craft, and pursuit of artistic expression.
It's like a kid with a lemonade stand who is competing against the aggressively marketed Coca-Cola brand that is hyped through illustrious, trendy adverts. The average Joe would rather purchase an accessibly fashionable beverage at one of many places immediately nearby than drive 25-mph through some adolescent-infested neighborhood where baseballs, bicycles, and bb-guns are threatening their newly purchase used IROC-Z to support that 9-year old kid that picked lemons in the blazing sun the day before from his side-yard and made fresh lemonade with his 98-year old Great-Grandmother to sell today from a table made of a cardboard box. Those kids peddling their homemade lemonade never let me down when the needle hit their records, and neither has The Zookeepers, Signals or Cellar Hits Records with this release.
CDs, digital music, and the internet made it so easy for anyone to compete with the Coca-Cola caliber of musicians; promoting what appears to be an equal product, but not. These outlets have allowed people (not necessarily musicians or even artists) to over saturated the music industry. Vinyl records hold the (financial) bar high enough to keep the riff-raff out. In the past twenty-five years of collecting vinyl records, I've found that when a band is barely paying the entry fee to having their music pressed on wax, its always worth checking out. Bands that strive for this medium, no matter what the cost or sacrifice, always have a lot more to say than those that settle for the bargain-bin way.
This is not to say that all music on vinyl, and especially all music released with low-fi packaging, is going to be ground breaking. But in the case of The Zookeepers and Signals, ...from the hair-raising scream that opens the first track, "Welcome Nancy," on The Zookeepers side, to "Mommy Issues" and "Monster Party 2," with their sickly infectious beats delivered by Jacob Cooper (AKA: Jacob Safari of Wavves, The Mae Shi, Bark Bark Bark), that concludes Signals' side, this split 12inch is full of fresh lemonade made from local, organic, sustainable, GMO free, carbon free, gluten free, grass fed (and whatever else) lemons, and I'm going back for seconds.
Thursday, January 17, 2013
I simply love it when record labels like Friends of Cesar Romero's label, Snappy Little Numbers, or Trouble In Mind, or the almighty Sub Pop Records use these company sleeves for their 7inch singles. It's almost as if they are saying, "Trust us, these songs are so freaking amazing, screw the artwork; all you need is the music!" What ends up happening is the label itself develops a style (a look), which becomes part of the visual charm for all of the bands they represent.
In the case of Snappy Little Numbers, there is an innocent throw back to their design that is reminiscent of Jukebox Diners, Greasers and Socs, and dance styles such as the stroll, the bunny hop, the boogie-woogie and the hully-gully. Somehow, this put me in the mood for some good ol' fashioned garage rock, which I was happy to hear when the needle hit the marbled grey wax. Friends of Cesar Romero could easily join the rosters of craggy combo craving cartels like Trouble In Mind, HoZac, or Burger Records. Snappy Little Numbers looks to be feeding the same frenzy of gritty adolescent pop, and Friends of Cesar Romero are welcomed to the party.
Both tracks, "Red Headed Strangler" and "Tammys of Tomorrow," are crammed with zing and zest; I can't tell the a-side from the b-side. The hooks keep you flipping the vinyl back and forth. Both tracks are exciting; they are electric. Records like this are what give b-side tracks their a-side reputation, and bands like Friends of Cesar Romero are what keep the party going all night long. Clearly focused without any compromise, Friends of Cesar Romero and Snappy Little Numbers deliver a solid, classic 7inch single worth seeking out.
Saturday, January 12, 2013
The title track, "We Are All Fire," is repeated three times in three varieties: as the broken instrumental "intro," the proper song itself (final track of side-a) that sees a slight moment of hip-hop (I believe), and as the grandiose "outro." At times, songs like "Asking" and "Nations" remind me of bands such as Neutral Milk Hotel or Emperor X, as Filepp takes his comforting, Beck-like voice and strives for higher, unexplored notes (Mike Doughty comes to mind as another reference meant compliment). "Slow Song" accurately wraps up all of the efforts of this album; you'll find yourself bouncing your head to this downbeat-indie-pop-gem as if it was the latest jam by Prefuse 73.
The packaging for 'We Are All Fire' is what initially caught my eye. The fire-like illustration and overall theme are very warming like the fire that's been burning for the past week as I've been taking in this album. At first glance, I would have pegged this to be a summertime album. But after having listened to it continuously fireside, the night-loving wintertide nature of 'We Are All Fire' is more evident and welcomed.
I'll have to say, the only strike against this album is that someone had the idea of putting a sticker with the band's name and title of the album on the actual record jacket. I'm hoping this was a mistake at the manufacturing plant and it was supposed to go on the outside of the plastic wrapper instead, because otherwise it makes no sense; its simply not needed.
What I do like is that there is no digital download card inside the record; that's got balls. If you are releasing music on vinyl, you obviously understand and appreciate the many benefits and finality of vinyl. It's so easy for record labels and bands to include a digital download card, and trust me... I'd be a hypocrite to say I didn't appreciate it when they do. But recently, as a consumer of music solely on the vinyl medium, and one that does utilize the digital download cards to put the music on an iPhone for mobility, I've begun to respect those labels and artist that choose not to provide this digital fix for their listeners. Everyone knows that the music quality is diminished when it is converted to an MP3 file; this is a fact. So when a record is release on vinyl without providing a digital download card, you are forced as the listener by the label or artist to take in that album through one fashion only... the physical vinyl record that you're holding in your hands. And being that it was most likely your choice to pay money for that record, you obviously already support the analog side to the digital argument ...which is what brought me to the realization that it is a badass-ballsy move (that I like more and more) when a record label or a band such as Fake Four Inc., Circle Into Square, or Cars & Trains release their vinyl records without a digital download card. It demonstrates their own level of respect for the music and commitment to quality. Nice job guys; my hat goes off to you (again, balls).
The packaging itself is very simplistic and well thought out, like Cars & Trains' music. The congruence between each element is spot on, not exaggerated. The translucent gold vinyl is classic and exactly what it should be. There is very little text, and no liner notes; again, a brave move that not every band has the kahonas to pull off. The album (music + artwork) speaks for itself, and I like it what its saying.
Tuesday, January 1, 2013
As much as it is this site's intention to highlight and give praise to records that go above and beyond with their packaging designs, truthfully my favorite records are always the ones that do not require this added value. Above that, bands that express a confidence with their records by excluding their name and title from the cover art have a special place in my heart for their bravery. It's not to say that records with this lack of information are going to be amazing by default, but when a record is as phenomenal as Sunbears!' 'You Will Live Forever,' they don't need an introduction, and I love that Sunbears! knew this from the conception of this project. Furthermore, there are no liner notes included either, which is perfect; no distractions or explanations / not necessary.
Jonathan Berlin's (vocals, keys, bass, guitar, programming) wife, Maria, is the artist behind the bionic cover art. Like a good pair of weathered jeans, Sunbears! have provided a worn-in look to their packaging, anticipating that 'you will live forever' and provide a lil' wear-n-tear yourself. The iconic simplicity is a perfect compliment to the honest affirmations Sunbears! make with this album, demonstrated with the title of their second track, "Give Love A Try."
Berlin is a preacher, and Jared Chase's (drums) beat is the pulpit from which 'The Word of The Bears!' can be witnessed. It's Chase's sparse and often well-thought-out absence of drums that demonstrates his profound talent, making him a necessary pairing to Berlin's musical sermons. This vigorously dynamic duo provides us with precise instructions on how to make this a better world. Berlin's voice is addictive; full of life, compassion, wisdom. For every angelic falsetto high providing hope, there is a solid gut-wrenching blow of truth to follow that is reminiscent of your father teaching you right from wrong.
While the title track "You Will Live Forever" is an ambient foreword, and the imperative track "Give Love A Try" is in fact the opening 'song' (verse-chorus-verse, etc.), "Together Forever" (track-4) is really where I begin to believe. I'm not sure if its Chase's Ringo-like kick-snare foundation, or Berlin's "Hotel California"-like (kickass) guitar solo, but there is an undeniable presumption that takes over and drives right through the next three tracks, shutting out life around you.
Sunbears! leave you 'strung out, on your own,' 'dying alone, without yourself' by the time you get to the end of side-a. Literally speaking, that may sound horrible and not the "better place" promised before, but is a momentous murk preceding the devine conclusion of "Dying Alone, Without Yourself"... what I declare as one of the most emotionally captivating musical arrangements ever conducted.
Side-b continues to explore epic pop achievements back-to-back with "They Think They're Soooo Philosophical," "It's Hard! Be Content Where You Are!," and "The Uncertainty Paradigm." Then, once again, Sunbears! manifest your journey through song titles and your 'stumbling into twilight' as the mission of their third album becomes evident: 'we're alive,' 'live, don't stop trying.'
Sunbears! are a family affair, and 'You Will Live Forever' is the blueprint. It is a magnificently put together album, sonically, physically, and spiritually, and will leave you compelled to understand their word. Expect to see this record on 'Best Albums of the Last Decade (2011-2020)' posts in 2021.