Tuesday, July 31, 2007

It's a revolution: Vinyl records once again cool

Here’s one thing the iPhone can’t do: spin vinyl.
And while that mobile phone looks like Apple Inc.’s most interesting iPod to date, it will suffer from an ailment that plagues every digital music player - uninspiring sound.

So, in one of the more interesting comebacks in today’s world of compressed music files and fingernail-size speakers jammed into your ears, the format of choice during the Reagan administration has become popular again, to a point, for a simple reason: vinyl sounds better. More specifically, vinyl represents a listening experience. You sit on an easy chair or a comfy couch between two speakers the size of moving boxes, drop the needle on the record and just listen. While listening, you admire the original artwork on the cover, follow along with lyrics printed on the album’s sleeve or laugh at the big hair in the compilation of concert pictures decorating the inside gatefold. That’s why millions of people, myself included, became music fans.

Then I got a job, a multidisc CD player and never again thought of getting up every 20 minutes to flip an album over. Today, I could drive from Hollywood, Fla., to Homer, Alaska, listening to my iPod and never hear the same song twice. Yet that iPod, despite the wonderfully convenient storage that holds a lifetime of shifting musical tastes, has never sounded as rich as the music of my youth. And it never will because in order to fit 20,000 songs on a device smaller than a cigarette pack, compromises were made.

Notably, the song files are severely compressed. Try this test and you will hear what I’m saying: Play a favorite CD on any player - a home system, a portable CD player, your car - the n play the same music on an iPod amplified through the same speakers. The iPod will sound like AM radio by comparison.

Yes, Apple’s iTunes store now sells some songs at a higher quality, for more money, and you could always load music from a CD onto an iPod at a higher bit rate - bigger file, better quality. Some people do this, but it minimizes the iPod’s greatest attribute, storage. Also, I do believe higher-quality headphones make a difference. Ever since the advent of the compact disc, audiophiles have said vinyl records, with their analog technology, provide warmer, more fulfilling sound. Frankly, to my ear, there wasn’t a big enough difference in sound quality to abandon the convenience of the CD. Now the iPod has made the debate - sound quality versus convenience - moot. More than 100 million iPod-toting people clearly prefer convenience.

But there’s a base of consumers besides collectors who want vinyl, and, refreshingly, it’s largely today’s young adults. The same people supposedly at the forefront of the digital revolution now seek the same listening experience their parents once enjoyed. (Heck, many of these kids were probably conceived with the turntable spinning, which may explain things.) Unfortunately, industry sales numbers show that shipments of vinyl sales, like CD shipments, are falling, but that hasn’t stopped record labels from encouraging young fans to take an interest in better sound and interesting packaging.

There’s even a new technology for vinyl, called 180 gram, that is thicker than old records and, according to aficionados, firmly keeps the needle in the grooves and thus improves sound.

Another twist: Vinyl is not cheap. The White Stripes’ new album, “Icky Thump,” sells for $15 in CD form and $30 in vinyl. There are two reasons for the higher prices. One, record labels promote vinyl as a collectible, and, two, the new releases and key reissues are often pressed on the thicker vinyl.

My favorite irony and a testament to how ethereal digital music files actually are is that if you buy a new release on vinyl, record labels give you a coupon to download a digital copy of the album for free, thus solving the vexing problem - doable but not convenient - of transferring the music into a digital format for your iPod. “We don’t offer every new release on vinyl, not by a long shot, but we’ve had more vinyl releases in the last two years” than in recent memory, said Martin Hall, a publicist for Merge Records. And when they do put an album on vinyl, the pressing is not huge, maybe 1,500 copies, depending on the band.

For the Arcade Fire’s “Neon Bible” release, Merge offers a vinyl version (with free MP3 coupon) that it says “is double 180-gram audiophile quality with three sides of music and an etching on the fourth side.” The cost is $18, $5 more than the CD. Recognizing that the audiophile market should be cultivated - hey, these people want to buy the music - providing the free MP3 downloads was a no-brainer, Hall said. “It wasn’t like we had a huge marketing meeting,” he said. “It was just us sitting around thinking about how to get this music (from vinyl) onto an iPod. We just thought it would be cool to give them the MP3 files if they bought vinyl. So we did it.”

If you miss the days of sitting around and listening to music - or maybe you’ve never tried it without headphones stuck in your ears - give it a spin. Interesting vinyl can be found at any garage sale or from an independent music retailer. Heck, you can buy a new turntable, good speakers and a receiver (your basic home stereo setup) for less than an iPhone.

You should hear what you’ve been missing.
(Eric Benderoff, Chicago Tribune, 27 June 2007)

"Chime Time..."
Wings - Listen to What the Man Said (Mp3)
Nilsson - Everybody's Talking (Mp3)
Looking Glass - Brandy (Mp3)
Starbuck - Moonlight Feels Right (Mp3)
Seals & Crofts - Summer Breeze (Mp3)

Underappreciated Edition: Five from the Longpigs' "The Sun is Often Out"
Longpigs - Far (Mp3)
Longpigs - She Said (Mp3)
Longpigs - Sally Dances (Mp3)
Longpigs - Jesus Christ (Mp3)
Longpigs - On and On (Mp3)

Monday, July 30, 2007

Led Zeppelin Readies Fall Reissue Bonanza

Led Zeppelin fans will have a lot to celebrate this fall thanks to the release of three new titles in multiple configurations.
First up on Nov. 13 via Atlantic/Rhino is a two-disc, 24-track best-of, "Mothership." A deluxe reissue of the soundtrack to the 1976 concert film "The Song Remains the Same" with previously unreleased material and a new DVD edition of that movie will arrive Nov. 20 via Atlantic/Rhino and Warner Home Video, respectively.

"Mothership," tracks for which were chosen by surviving members Robert Plant, Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones, represents all eight of the band's studio albums. In addition to a two-disc set, the album will also be available in both "deluxe" and "collector's" editions with a DVD featuring varied live content from the previously released "Led Zeppelin DVD." A 4-LP vinyl package will also be sold.

As for the "The Song Remains the Same" soundtrack, it now sports six songs not included on the original album: "Black Dog," "Over the Hills and Far Away," "Misty Mountain Hop," "Since I've Been Loving You," "The Ocean" and "Heartbreaker." The album and film were recorded during a July 1973 stand at New York's Madison Square Garden.

"The Song Remains the Same" DVD includes all 14 songs from the original concert for the first time plus previously unreleased performances of "Over the Hills and Far Away," "Celebration Day," "The Ocean" and "Misty Mountain Hop." Rounding out the bonus items are a 1976 BBC interview with Plant and band manager Peter Grant and contemporary footage from the robbery at New York's Drake Hotel during the MSG run. Beyond a standard DVD, the film will be sold in both HD DVD and Blu-ray formats, as well as a limited collector's edition that includes the soundtrack, a T-shirt with the original album art and reproductions of memorabilia from the era.

All the catalog activity gives further heft to rumors Plant, Page and Jones will reunite to perform at a proposed Ahmet Ertegun tribute concert this fall in London. Although no details have been announced, the group is also said to be mulling offers to tour under the Led Zeppelin name in 2008 with the late John Bonham's son Jason filling in on drums.
(Billboard, July 27, 2007)

Sex Pistols to Release Special Edition of Album

Punk legends celebrate 30th anniversary with vinyl release
Sex Pistols are to release a special 30th anniversary edition of their classic debut album 'Never Mind The Bollocks...Here's The Sex Pistols'.

The album will be re-issued on October 29 in heavy weight vinyl with a 7" insert of 'Submission' and a poster. The format is how the record was originally released on October 28, 1977. 'Submission' was missed off the original tracklisting when the album was mistakenly released a week earlier than planned. Due to the band's insistence, the first 50,000 copies of the album included a one-sided 7".

The band are also set to re-release their four classic singles: 'Anarchy In The UK', 'God Save The Queen', 'Pretty Vacant' and 'Holidays In The Sun'. The tracks will be released throughout October on seven-inch vinyl in reproductions of their iconic single sleeves. According to the band's label Virgin, The vinyl re-issue of the album will "re-create all the original artwork from the first editions' front and back. It will be housed in heavyweight paper sleeves". The limited edition reissues will take place throughout October.

'Anarchy In The UK' will be released on October 1, 'God Save The Queen' on October 8, 'Pretty Vacant' on October 15 and 'Holidays In The Sun' on October 29.
(NME, 26.Jul.07)

Wherein the Vinyl District Looses all Street-Cred:

Sure, sure... we'll get to all the indie and post-punk selections soon, but I'd be remiss if I didn't shine a light on the LP that literally BLEW MY MIND UP. The first convergence for me of music and art...(both terms loosely defined, of course.) In celebration, some hand-picked live rarities from the golden year that was 1976, including a seldom played live gem "Flaming Youth." (Where's my lighter...?)
KISS - Detroit Rock City (Mp3)
KISS - Do You Love Me? (Mp3)
KISS - Flaming Youth (Mp3)
KISS - King of the Nighttime World (Mp3)
KISS - Shout it Out Loud (Mp3)

Squeeze - In Quintessence (Mp3)
Squeeze - If I Didn't Love You (Mp3)
Squeeze - Separate Beds (Mp3)

Friday, July 27, 2007

David Vandervelde - Nothin' No

T-Rex - Cadillac
Chris Bell - I Am the Cosmos
Mezzanine Owls - Lightbulb
Adrian Borland - Sea of Noise
The Chameleons UK - Intrigue in Tangiers (Peel Session)

From the District Vaults: Elton John/Goodbye Yellow Brick Road

Each week we'll open the Vinyl Vault to revisit a classic LP, and what better way to kick off this section than with Elton John's 1973 release "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road."

Janis Schacht wrote in Circus in January of '74, "After many fumbles and a great many more near-misses, Elton John is back and stronger than he's been on record in many a blue moon. This lush two record set moves from mood to mood with no apparent effort and a great sense of timing, class and style.

I've never been one of the people who found "Rocket Man" (a "Space Oddity" rip-off no matter what anybody says) or "Daniel" as fulfilling as "Your Song," "I Need You To Turn To" or "Border Song." So, as the years passed and the man became more and more flamboyant, I kept thinking his music was really suffering from all this adulation. But Elton finally has met his original potential and whether he's singing the delicate and beautiful "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" or rocking out to "Your Sister Can't Twist (But She can Rock n' Roll)" he always hits the mark rather than scoring a near miss. Bernie Taupin is pursuing the many facets of a dying Hollywood, much in the style Ray Davies did on the Kink's Everybody's In Showbiz epic, and in many songs, especially "Roy Rogers," he's sentimental and sensitive without ever slipping into that dangerous songwriter's trap of banality. "You draw to the curtains/And one thing's for certain/You're cozy in your little room/The carpet's all paid for/God bless the T.V./Let's go shoot a hole in the moon," Elton sings. When you are not forced to look at Mr. John's ridiculous get-ups it's easy to believe in him once more.

"Harmony" is a change of pace number. Haunting and subtle it has great mid-sixties three-part harmony (natch) with backup vocals compliments of Davey Johnstone and Nigel Olsson. The song sounds as if it might have been recorded for the first or second Bee Gee's LP, way back when they were a great band. "Harmony" may never be a single but it's a star track and a perfect end for a near perfect album."
Bennie and the Jets
Goodbye Yellow Brick Road
Dirty Little Girl

Back in the groove: young music fans ditch downloads and spark vinyl revival

· Sales of 7in singles rise by 13% in first half of year
· New bands and collectors turning to old format

The format was supposed to have been badly wounded by the introduction of CDs and killed off completely by the ipod-generation that bought music online. But in a rare case of cheerful news for the record labels, the latest phenomenon in a notoriously fickle industry is one nobody dared predict: a vinyl revival. Latest figures show a big jump in vinyl sales in the first half of this year, confirming the anecdotal evidence from specialist shops throughout the UK.

It comes as sales of CD singles continue to slide - and it is not being driven by technophobic middle-aged consumers. Teenagers and students are developing a taste for records and are turning away from the clinical method of downloading music on to an MP3 player. The data, released by the UK's industry group BPI, shows that 7in vinyl sales were up 13% in the first half, with the White Stripes' Icky Thump the best seller.

Two-thirds of all singles in the UK now come out on in the 7in format, with sales topping 1m. Though still a far cry from vinyl's heyday in 1979, when Art Garfunkel's Bright Eyes alone sold that number and the total vinyl singles market was 89m, the latest sales are still up more than fivefold in five years.

For record stores, the resurgence has meant a move from racks of vintage Rolling Stones and Beatles releases to brand new singles and younger buyers. "The student population seem to be loving the 7in," says Stuart Smith, who runs Seismic Records in Leamington Spa, Warwickshire. He sells 300-600 records a week and is preparing to launch an online store.

"I'm still not sure about the MP3 generation. You can have a full hard drive and nothing to show for it. Record collections are very personal. You can view into a person's soul really," he says.

The customers rummaging through racks at his store, a small room above a skate shop, are students and DJs.

When Mr Smith opened the vinyl shop in early 2005, digital download sales were rocketing and, amid rampant piracy, global music revenues were several years into their current downward spiral.

A shop selling LPs and 7in singles didn't sound like the most promising business plan. But when his employers at the local outlet of music chain Fopp - now closed down - decided to stop selling vinyl it was something he couldn't resist.

"I just couldn't understand why they decided to turn their backs on it. I saw an opportunity to do something I love doing. I've been a collector myself for years," says the 31-year-old. "It's just one of things. It just felt right."

Two years on, the White Stripes' Icky Thump has just notched up the highest weekly sales for a 7in single for more than 20 years. Retailers and record labels put the rising vinyl sales down to bands rediscovering the format and to music fans' enduring desire to collect. It's not unusual for fans to buy a 7in but have nothing to play it on, says Paul Williams at industry magazine Music Week. "It's about the kind of acts that have very loyal fan bases that want everything to do with that act," he says. "They maybe will buy the download to listen to, but they get the vinyl to own. It's looked at like artwork."

HMV agrees that vinyl is back from the brink, and the chain has been rapidly expanding its record racks to meet rising demand. The group's Gennaro Castaldo cites the huge popularity of "indie" bands, such as Franz Ferdinand and Arctic Monkeys, which enjoy loyal followings among teenagers and students, especially during the summer festival season.

"Labels have realised that it's cool for bands to release their music on vinyl, especially in limited edition form, which makes it highly collectible," he says.

London company Art Vinyl has built a whole business out of the format's visual and tactile appeal by selling easy-to-open frames to display records and their sleeves.

For fans, buying and owning a record can provide a welcome change from the anonymity of online downloads, says Art Vinyl's founder Andrew Heeps. "If you go into a record shop to buy something, you feel part of something," he says. "The fact that last year we sold over 9,000 frames to people says an awful lot about where the market is going."

Cara Henn, a DJ and regular Seismic Records customer says going to the store puts her in touch with her peers and has hammered home the vinyl trend. "I've really been getting back into my vinyl. I love it," she says. "I like to hear crackling, as if it's actually real. Especially with drum'n'bass, DJs are really encouraging fans to buy vinyl."

(Monday July 16, 2007, The Guardian)

Thursday, July 26, 2007

The Vinyl District Recommends: Bee and Flower

Essentially an outlet for San-Francisco born singer-songwriter Dana Schechter, Bee and Flower specialize in slow and moody cinematic pop, not so far from where Portishead once made their mark. As a vocalist, Schechter is all cool restraint, while lyrically her world is full of loss and longing, of tentative hellos and drawn-out goodbyes. Recorded in Berlin with a 25-piece string section adding a grandiose swell to the piano-based heartache... their effect is dreamily soothing, and really rather moreish. (Peter Kane, Q Magazine, UK, April 2007)
Their new CD "Last Sight of Land" is available here.
Don't Say Don't Worry
I Know Your Name
Riding on Empty

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Vinyl District's Money Back Guarantee #1

So there it was. That old feeling unfelt for some time now. A slight chill, hair standing up on the arms. An honest-to-goodness, unheard NEW song revealing itself right there in the room. Boom. Played it again. Same thing. "OK, well - this was the live version...maybe the studio track's not that good," I thought. Needle down...nope, uh - same energy. Same intensity, hurt, CONFESSIONAL. Amazing.

As I blathered about in the ground rules to this thing...EXCITEMENT.

Only the song wasn't new. In fact it's 22 years old but still was fresh as the wax spinning right there at 33rpm. The band? THE SOUND. The track? Total Recall.

Trace back the seconds
Recall the detail
From someone will, to someone does
To someone did, you know I did

Back in the 80's when I roomed with my pal Shark, he had an awesome vinyl collection. Well, I think NOW. Our tastes were a bit different then...he liked gritty, noisy intensity. I liked a melody. Oh, sure - they swim in the same pool, but admittedly he was in the deeper end and I was just keeping afloat toward the shallower side. Or so I thought over the years. And when I think back, Shark's is the vinyl collection I covet these many years on and my buying habits often reflect what I recall his collection contained.

Which brings me to The Sound. He had their one seminal LP in his stack "From the Lion's Mouth." Killer, intense stuff...great vocals, grit, intensity, atmosphere -- even melody. I was hooked. But as all roommates do, we went our separate ways and The Sound remained in the back of my head all these years..."Yea, gotta look for that one on ebay," I'd think. Then I did. It was as good -- no, BETTER then I recalled.

Oh there must be a hole in your memory
But I can see
I can see a distant victory
A time when you will be with me

Michael Keefe wrote last year at Popmatters, " It's difficult to imagine in today's environment of light speed information dissemination, but there was once a band whose debut album received five-star reviews from both New Musical Express and Melody Maker, and yet that group never gained anywhere near the level of popularity they deserved. In 2006, such an act would have 100,000 friends on MySpace, and music critics all across the globe would be falling all over themselves to offer their own opinions on the relative merits of this highly touted act. In 1980, however, news was still passed along by means of town criers and the newly invented telegraph system. Or so it must have seemed to The Sound, one of the very finest bands of the post-punk era. Like many great artists, they toiled in obscurity during their period of peak activity. Unlike most of these great artists, however, they still haven't caught on. To the few of us who have found our way to music of The Sound, their obscurity is simply unacceptable.

And he's 100% right. It's The Vinyl District's Money Back Guarantee #1.

Read his full history of the band here and dammit, buy the CDs here. And as I mentioned, the vinyl's available here.

Oh, and grab Total Recall here.

Monday, July 23, 2007

The Vinyl District Recommends:

A little gem of a movie with some oddly arresting songs that have lingered for weeks. Preview them here. Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova also appear here on Thursday night with Hansard's band The Frames. (Why isn't this show billed as such?)

Some Ground Rules

While its easy to pine away for a time when vinyl was the norm...long before CDs and soulless downloads, The Vinyl District arrives not for that purpose. Nor is it to denigrate progress in the name of all that is digital. What we'll do here is relive a sensibility long gone in my view -- excitement.

As a kid, I'd look forward to Saturdays. Not for the obvious (no school, cartoons, Apple Jacks) but for the time I'd spend with my Dad. We'd hit the local library where each week I'd borrow LP's galore. I think Elton John's "Goodbye Yellow Brick Road" spent very few days actually IN the library back then, that 2-LP set being renewed and renewed by me at the time -- wide-eyed reading the stories of pimps and hustlers and the downtrodden that grace the LP's interior. Oh, and the ART!

And don't get me started on KISS Alive! I practically lived inside that thing in the summer of '77, hot on the heels of Destroyer just knocking it out of the park. That's what it was all about, man...new, daring, eye-opening and life-affirming. Well, to me it at 11 -- a young white kid in New Jersey it sure as heck was. (That my folks didn't get it was not just a cliché, it was INVALUEABLE.) Oh, -- and the ART!

Every other weekend or so, Dad and I would also hit Two Guys -- the Walmart-like, everything-under-one-roof store. They had a killer music section. The top 100 45's lining the walls...and most likely the same for the LPs. The placed SMELLED good too - all new plastic and well, vinyl. Bought my first 45's there...Ballroom Blitz, Bohemian Rhapsody, Rock and Roll All Nite. Got my first LP there too -- a Capitol Records Beatles 2-LP reissue -- Rock and Roll Music. (Remember it? Silver, with the thumbs holding the cover? I can still smell it too. The ART.)

But can that still exist in 2007? Do kids still feel the excitement watching the bar fill up, telling them that their download's done? Do kids - or adults for that matter - feel that same thrill buying music? Is it something to look forward to any longer? Is there a thrill missing? And what OF the art? And believe me, I'm not chalking it up to getting any older with a cynic's view. I mean, it SHOULD be inherent - right? New, daring, eye-opening and life-affirming -- RIGHT? (I mean, Prince is GIVING it away in newspapers because CD sales are DEAD. Where's the rush?)

So, what The Vinyl District hopes to do is offer the same enthusiasm for the here and NOW with the "what was THEN." And happily these days, I think still IS. Vinyl - it's back. So is good music commentary via this digital age. And we'll be the cheerleader...music, movies, books, comics...it's all valid and informs the thrill. (And to be fair, we expect quite a few raspberries along the way too...)

Oh, and one last thing -- The Vinyl District is dedicated to the memory of my Dad. Thanks for all those rides, pop.

No Birds Do Sing

This lyric might just be Lydon’s finest:

This could be heaven
Shallow spreads of ordered lawns
I like the illusion
Illusion of privacy
The careful trees blending so perfectly
Bland planned idle luxury
A caviar of silent dignity
Life in lovely allotted slots
A token nice
A nice constitution
A layered mass of subtle props
This could be heaven
Mild mannered mews
Well intentioned rules
To dignify a daily code
Lawful order standard views
This could be heaven

Sunday, July 22, 2007

The Vinyl District's Daily Read

OK, so imagine this -- take the worst band you can think of (for me that might be your REM's, your Dave Matthew's Bands, Grateful Deads, Doors, Associations, They Might Be Giants...well, you get the picture...) and imagine IF but for some twist of fate, you can manipulate the sun and the stars -- and perhaps your local power grid -- to put the ka-bosh on the first and future rehearsals juuuust enough so that the band never forms. Nothing's heard from them - ever. No kiss-ass Rolling Stone reviewer to fawn over unheralded "genius." No influence on popular culture - Nothing. Zip.

Picture that glorious world free of Michael Stipe and that brand of mincing 80's self-absorption. No flannel in the 90's. No popped collars - now or ever. Who would YOU smite?

All that and more is discussed and dissed here.

The Vinyl District Recommends:


The silence you've heard was the sharpening of knives.

A manifesto of sorts. Welcome, from Ground Zero.