Sunday, February 16, 2014

The Puddle - Secret Holiday / Victory Blues

When I decided to start this project, reviewing vinyl records and their packaging, I knew it would be limiting due to the cost of mailing physical materials, so I am always very thankful when someone chooses to send something over my way for me to write these words within this here website for you all to read my thoughts about their release.  That being said, and having been a distant fan of New Zealand's own Fishrider Riders, I was pleasantly taken aback when their package arrived at our doorstep.

Now, I say "distant fan" not only as a pun due to the mileage between us, but because I truthfully did not own any of their records (until now), but have always had great respect for Fishrider Records and their contributions to the indie pop world.  The Puddle, a band also from New Zealand, apparently have no shortage of prestige themselves.

This particular record Fishrider Records released for The Puddle is not a proper album, rather a double EP: Secret Holiday and Victory Blues.  I almost wish The Puddle gave unique cover artwork for each EP, using each side of the jacket to represent the cover individually.  Fishrider Records delivers a traditional 12inch LP package, with titles and featured artwork on the front, while credits are on the back.  The insert providing additional photographs and lyrics for each song is a comfortably odd 3:4 landscape cut.  I can't help by wonder if its size was driven by economics; printing two insert sheets on one tabloid size sheet of paper and cutting in half (two for one printing).  I love it when positive design characteristics are actually the result a non-creative decision; it's nature's way of keeping the world balanced.

At first glance, or should I say touch, the satin / waxy finish makes you wonder what they are doing down their in New Zealand.  In this post-high-gloss era of printing on the reverse side of the cardstock, satin presents an entirely welcomed veneer. The polypropylene (rather than the standard polyethylene) outter sleeve adds to this mystique.  I'm always (at first glance) impressed by these crystal clear skins, but in the end, prefer the traditional (milkier / heavier) polyethylene protective layers; I find the polypropylene bags can easily tear.

Being a fan of The Puddle's music, and as mentioned before, I do desire something more with the artwork; not just craving some identity for each EP, but some explanation for how the black and white photograph of girls laying on the ground being governed by two goats ties into holidays and the blues.  I don't often require this connection between cover art, album titles, or the music, but for some reason, The Puddle's cover is so strikingly offbeat, yet seemingly with purpose, there has got to be something I am missing.  As I dance around my living room listening to The Puddle, studying their imagery with great effort, I struggle with no relevance, even within the photograph itself and it's featured characters.

Speaking of dancing, have you ever seen Tim Gane from Stereolab dance along as he is playing his guitar during their live shows?  This is me while listening to The Puddle's track "The Vitalist."  I could dance to this song for hours; singing along with George Henderson's perfectly-placed "ba-dah-bahs" and Gavin Shaw's playfully-plucked lead via acoustic guitar (at least I think that is who is doing it and how the lead was constructed).  For me, "The Vitalist" is definitely the stand-out track, and will certainly be played at the discotheque on our next DJ night.

I'm a sucker for the 007-like / spy movie hook with "Decline to Fall."  The lead here, played by a necessary synthesizer, adds to the 1970's aesthetic, while Alan Starrett's viola shares a uniqueness, reminding you that this ain't American.  I also appreciate the Farfisa on "Hydrogen 6," Shaw's glockenspiel on The Puddle's instrumental closer, "Walrus Arabia," and the sadness of "Tender Validation," with a deep cutting Will Sargeant inspired guitar lick.

There is a looseness within The Puddle that excudes confidence and wisdom.  George Henderson's vocal tone is familiar and comforting; I'm guessing Sondre Lerche was influenced by him.  The eclectic instrumentation of The Puddle's lounge-pop compels you to move to section "B" of your record collection, reaching for anything Belle & Sebastian to follow.  Of the two EPs, Secret Holiday makes sense on Side-A; for me, it's the hit single.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Electroscopes - Made a Mistake 7inch

I love this little record, I love everything about it.  I love the way it came to me.  I love the cover.  I love that it is on black wax.  I love the music that comes out of the speakers.  I love the bands being promoted on the promotional flyers that were included.  I love the handwriting used to label side-a. I love the 4-millimeter (not the less expensive 2-millimeter) polyethylene bag used to hold everything together.  (Wait, haven't I done that already, where I start the review with "I love..., I love... I love...?")

Okay, not that we got that over with, let's begin.

The Electroscopes "Made a Mistake" 7inch was released by German label, Firestation Records, limited to 200 copies.  It is the sole project of Paul Mansell, from Northampton, Britian; a fine young gentleman I may add.  When Paul himself heard our original copy of his record was lost somewhere in that great big pond that divides our countries, he without hesitation sent a second copy (again, limited to only 200 pressings) to ensure we were still able to get our groove on.  I have got to say, sending out promo copies of a limited release vinyl records is one thing.  Sending promos internationally is another.  But sending a replacement copy... hats off to you Paul, and superthanks for making sure this one landed safely.

I remember pulling this 7inch out for a first spin late one night.  I believe I had just returned from being out at the clubs (or you could say, "in da' clurb" if you like), and me and Mrs. Blogger were feeling pretty chill as is.  "Made a Mistake" was no mistake at all, rather cool and nostalgic; reminiscent of early Trembling Blue Stars.  I immediately dimmed the lighting to a faint glow, savored a nip of American Kentucky bourbon, and repositioned the black Ray-Ban Wayfarers I once wore only to shade the sun.  

"First Into Space, Last Down to Breakfast" on the flipside kept the party going.  It is the soundtrack for a contempo Asian bar, where conversations are comfortable, the beat keeps you feeling right, and everyone looks good.  If this song were released earlier than 2003, Sofia Coppola would have included it in Lost In Translation.  Another example of the b-side track potentially outshining it's (what's meant to be) better half.

I think Firestation Records could have gone with DJ-style white (no label) center labels for this one, perhaps lending further to the downbeat discotheque elements of the release.  However, the fact that someone literally hand wrote information on side-a only gave a cordial hit of twee / C86.  The black and white photocopied j-fold sleeve is simple, and gives all you need; done right.  The heavier polyethylene bag makes the record proud; I always appreciate it when that detailed is given attention.

The cover art is a photograph of a skyscraper; perhaps one with businesses below and a handful of condominiums on the upper floors.  There is a texture to the photograph that dates back to the 1970's, but the many television satellite dishes (or are they electroscopes) affixed to the porches greets the modern age.  Iconic, nonetheless, and well positioned, it's an appropriate image for a single.  

As for the promotional material included, I think someone knew how big of a Sarah Records fan I am.  It did not take too long for my eyes to detect the mentions of The Orchids and St. Christopher.  Thanks for the additional swag!

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Clawhammer - I Think I Heard a Sound 7inch

Banjos were never my thing. Perhaps it's my palate, perhaps it's my kin. However, if you drop a funky beat and a wee-bit of fuzz-toned lead, you've got my attention... and you've got Clawhammer. Nestled in Springfield, Missouri, this quartet brings to you their self-proclaimed "most original" fusion of time-honored Ozark boogie-woogie blended by a variety of synthesized utensils.

A straightforward designed 7inch release, Wee Rock Records keeps it traditional with black vinyl and a large cut center whole (always my favorite). The indie-cute cover had me guessing wrong; I was thinking something twee for this one. Nonetheless, hand-drawn artwork with black and white and one spot color printing is always a nice simplicity.

This is Wee Rock Records' 86th release (congratulations!) for local music out of Missouri. Their catalog suggests that they started the label releasing CD-Rs, but then gravitated toward 7inch vinyl (w00t!w00t!). The focus for Wee Rock Records is on documenting their local scene (which is how it should be), so kudos to them for keeping it going since 1995!

If you've been wondering what has been developing in the Ozarks with music in the past decade, check out Wee Rock Records!

R. Stevie Moore - I Missed July 7inch

I'll never forget Sweater & Pearls' owner, Jason Dean, and his enthusiasm when he first told me about their newest release for R. Stevie Moore.  Allow me to go ahead and call myself out... I had no idea who R. Stevie Moore was at the time, but Jason was so excited and proud, I had to go along with it and be supportive.  Thankfully, that is what friends (and blogs) are for... to introduce each other to new music!  

I am going to skip the introduction of Mr. Moore and assume that if you are in my same shoes, you've already GTSed his name and are scratching you head as I was, trying to figure out how you missed this homegrown icon.  "I Missed July" was recorded in 1978, while the b-side for the 7inch release, "Traded My Heart For Your Parts," is from 1993.  The former not unlike an unreleased track from Brian Eno's 1977 album Before and After Science that didn't quite make the cut between side-a and side-b.   Moore's low-if pop qualities on both tracks are appealing, and after my own intriguing world wide web research, apparently are very influential within the indie community; I think this guy may have taught Robert Pollard a thing or two.

After Sweater & Pearls' Soccer Mom release, I was anxiously awaiting to see what they would do with the packing for their follow up.  Unfortunately I was not one of the first fifty, who received a very attractive matchbook sleeve, hand screened by artist Travis Kostell.  However, the handwritten liner notes printed on yellow lined notepad paper was a nice touch.  Sweaters & Pearls even include the music transcribed for "Traded My Heart For Your Parts" so you can play along.  

For me, the winning vote came when I pulled out the beautiful red opaque 7inch vinyl; there is just something about opaque colored vinyl that I am a sucker for.  The red truly compliments the over-saturated photo used for the cover art - a childhood photo of R. Stevie Moore, one may ask (wait, is that Elvis swimming in the pool?!).

Great forth release for the Brooklyn based label!  Keep 'em coming Mr. Dean!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Heavy Times - I'm Single 7inch

I've always appreciated the raw, straight forward approach of HoZac Records.  Their releases could easily be mistaken for a first-time self-release by some junior high school punks, and maybe they are.  But then there is always an edge of professionalism and a sense of collection that makes you realize there is more than just the fearless attitude; HoZac is on top of their game.

This 2012 release by Heavy Times is nonetheless politic.  Featuring "I'm Single" as the lead on side-a, followed by "Unsolved Mysteries," then "Bath Salts" on side-b, Heavy Times delivery a quick 7inch worth heavy rotation.  It's the ol' 'get in, get out, leave them wanting more' approach that HoZac Records is so good at.

The packing is simple, yet fitting.  A v-fold cover with titles only, no credits, because it is all about the music.  Black vinyl with a large cut hole, because this isn't a fucking art project (people), its rock and roll.  Drink up.

"Unsolved Mysteries" bears great melody with some added production, and delivers that 'everybody gather together and sing along' feeling at the beginning of each verse that would make Kevin Seconds proud.  Continuing the trend of stellar b-side tracks, "Balt Salts," digs into Heavy Times' dour side.  With fetching guitar leads, and curious vocals, I can't help but reset the needle on this one again and again.


Alright, we apologize for our delay, but we have finally settled in our new home of North Carolina.  The record player is set up, vinyl are on the shelves, and we are ready to get back at it with reviewing vinyl records for you!  Stay tuned, and send us anything you would like us to check out.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Naïm Amor - Dansons

Naïm Amor is simply one of the most under appreciated artists, as well as guitarists, of our time. He is possibly the most stylish Frenchman living in the desert of Arizona playing live performances on any given night in a number of various dining establishments with an equally talented posse. I've been a fan of his music for years, and appreciated all of his recordings, but it wasn't until his release of 'Dansons' with Vacilando '68 Recordings that Amor marked his place in history. 'Dansons' is a timeless treasure.

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

Mike Adams At His Honest Weight - Oscillate Wisely

There is something about handmade silkscreened record artwork that gets me good every time. It often accompanies music released on a more local level and/or limited run basis, and it always demonstrates a level of passion and dedication hardly ever revealed through manufactured artwork.

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 Kingsbury Manx - Bronze Age

If someone were to ask me if I liked high-gloss coating for record jackets, I immediately would say "No." But every time I hold one in my hands with that übershiny finish, like Papa M's "Live From A Shark Cage," I'm always in aw over how radiant they are. Odessa Records really delivers a spectacular packaging for The Kingsbury Manx's sixth full-length release, with the high-gloss and all (and there is a lot of 'all').

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

Schooner || Wesley Wolfe - Split 12inch

EP (extended play) releases are a great way for a band to really showcase the best of the best. Traditionally, EPs can vary from four to about seven songs; typically just shy of what would be considered an album / LP (long play). So when you get two bands that join together to create one EP release, it's almost guaranteed they are going to cut the crap and deliver nothing short of a solid record; at least that's the case with North Carolina's Schooner and Wesley Wolfe.

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).