This last weekend I officially joined the growing vinyl devolution. If you follow my Twitter, then you probably know I had been pondering the acquisition of a turntable for a little while after numerous record-shopping trips with my friend Charles. People are so excited about buying actual records these days that I couldn’t stay away from it, which I think is pretty funny. We’re seeing a backlash against the ephemeral nature of digital goods with people embracing hand-made objects, learning to repair things, the maker movement, and the resurgence of vinyl as examples. I don’t mean this in some hipster-bashing, forced-irony way either (regular readers will know that I do not endorse hipster bashing). I really think that with the proliferation of intangible digital goods people yearn to have something physical to hold on to, to touch, to embrace. Vinyl is fulfilling that need in people while also giving you some bitchin’ jams to listen to. Sure, it’s awesome to have 80 billion songs in your iPod, but there’s something much more engrossing about actually listening to a record on vinyl, cd, tape, 8-track, wax cylinder, whatever—a sentiment previously expressed by Señor Vestal.
As I may have noted here before, music really changed for me when I stopped driving. In California, I would drive all over the place, as people do all the while listening to CDs and casettes. The duration of the drives and my desire not to get into an accident while changing the music created a near optimal album-listening environment. There exists a divide between the music I listened to in the 90s while living in California, and the music I have discovered since I moved to NY in 2001. I have a better sense of the older music as a whole, as an album, if that makes sense. The songs on those older records exist as parts of a greater whole not just because I’ve been listening to them longer, but because I would experience the albums as a unit. Music since the file-based shift exists as disassociated tracks, rarely incorporated into large album groups in my musical awareness. Splintered, fractured, split, current musical acquisitions float by rarely anchored. I find that disappointing. There’s a reason your favorite musician put those tracks in that order on the album. I want to be privy to that reason.
But back to the actual purchasing of vinyl. Going around with Charles, it seemed like such a fun thing that I was missing out on for no good reason. I have always loved record shops and the act of searching for records is sometimes more fun than owning them. There is something unmistakeable about browsing through bins of music, hunting for hidden gems and surprises, never quite sure what you’re going to find. You never get that experience online. It’s too streamlined, too inorganic. But flipping through albums in the store is exciting and fun. And if you’re going to be buying music rather than just pirating it from the old interwebs, then you might as well be getting your music on vinyl. CDs kind of suck and I still refuse to buy MP3s, so where should I go? Vinyl!
But what’s a turntable without records to play? A paperweight. So what did I get? With the purchase of the turntable at Permanent Records in Greenpoint, I got three albums.
The Viking of Sixth Avenue – Moondog 2004
Permanent Records has a Moondog section. Let me repeat that: Permanent Records has a MOONDOG SECTION. It’s like they were all, “Joe, you will be buying this. We love you. We have always loved you,” and then they swallowed my soul and brought me back from the dead as a ghastly beast with a thirst for human flesh.
If you are unfamiliar with Moondog (and you shouldn’t be), then you should know that he was an avant-garde street musician in the mid-20th Century who would perform his music on self-made instruments. He was a mad genius with some whacky social ideas who nevertheless created some of the most interesting, most recognizable music of the last century. You’ve probably heard his music around but never known. For example, this piece.
Right? You’ve heard it somewhere mixed into something before.
The album is incredible. You should listen to this right now. You will not be upset by it.
Exotica – Martin Denny 1958
Martin Denny’s 1957 album Exotica is, arguably, the album that launched the whole Exotica craze in the US in the late 50s and early 60s. It certainly gave the movement a name and laid the groundwork for a highly polarizing moment in musical history. I am quite a huge Exotica fan, having been introduced to it in college by my dear friend Jesse. So the prospect of owning this record (for a mere 7 dollars!) was irresistible.
One note, I got the 1958 stereo-rerecording without Arthur Lyman who had left Denny’s band to strike out on his own swath of Exotica creation. Though Denny preferred the original monaural recording, I like the stereo a lot. Stereo was still fresh in the recording engineer’s bag of tricks and they really go out of their way to play with stereo placement which, when pumped through a 5.1 surround system like mine, sounds pretty damned amazing. There are birds all over the place.
Odessey & Oracle – The Zombies 1968
Odessey & Oracle stands next to The Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society as one of my favorite late-60s British rock albums. Every track is excellent. It was a must-own for me. I’ve purchased this album before as a double-disc CD with a bunch of alternate mixes and demo versions, but when considering which records to get initially I just sort of felt like I needed to have it in my house.
Nina also walked away from Permanent Records with a 1 dollar Village People record so she could listen to their song called “Roommate”. It was worth her dollar, no doubt.
Then on Wednesday after brunching with Nina at 5 Leaves, we had some time to kill before Cut Copy and wandered down to Sound Fix in Williamsburg to liberate myself of yet more cash. Here’s what I walked away with.
Noble Beast – Andrew Bird 2009
What can I say about this album? Most of my most regularly listened to music on my iPod has playcounts in the low teens, but this one is in the high 60s which doesn’t include the number of times I’ve listened to it at home. If you could wear out MP3s, I’d have worn out my MP3s of Noble Beast. It was a natural choice for the home vinyl collection and worth every dollar I’ve spent on it both times. This album is definitely one of my newer acquisitions that has found a root in my brain as a complete unit. If you’ve never heard Andrew Bird before, you owe it to yourself to get a copy of this one.
In the Aeroplane Over the Sea & On Avery Island – Neutral Milk Hotel 1998, 1996
I had never actually purchased either of these albums before and I felt like it was the right thing to do. Also, In The Aeroplane Over the Sea is stupidly awesome. Like, forget it, get the hell out, you’re done amazing. It was a late-90s gem that slipped past me at the time. I was only introduced to it by my brother Charlie in the mid-Aughts and was mad I’d been missing out on it for so long. A great sing-along record. Everyone should own a copy.
I bought On Avery Island because it was there even though I consider it a lesser album. Really, I guess it’s my small way of encouraging Jeff Magnum to continue doing shows because I would love to see this music played live.
Ask Forgiveness – Bonnie “Prince” Billy 2007
I bought this record for one reason: his cover of Danzig’s Am I Demon. That’s it. Well worth the price. The rest of the EP is good too, but for me Am I Demon is the star of the 8-song show.
Streetcleaner – Godflesh 1989
And sooooooo I took a turn for the heavy.
Godflesh is Justin Broadrick’s industrial project and one of the first groups to really incorporate electronic elements with crushingly heavy music. He even played drums for Napalm Death on Scum which basically makes him Grindcore royalty (if such a thing exists). I’ve never really gotten into Godflesh that much before, but when I saw this I knew I needed to take it home with me. I’d seen the “Crush My Soul” video on the old Earache My Eye tape, but never really delved too deeply into their work as a teenager. Yet, now, here I am with a much greater love of electronic music, a heavier palette, and purchasing old LPs. It seemed perfect to take home an industrial record from 1989. I’ve given it a listem and I was totally right. It’s tight, heavy, and crushing. For a fan of old school electro and old school metal, this is the perfect synthesis of the two.
Fortress – Protest The Hero 2008
I have to admit that this isn’t exactly what I wanted, but I will qualify that by saying that this is one of my favorite metal records of the last decade. No, it is not that I didn’t want to own this particular album—I did and I do—but what I really wanted was a copy of their newest album Scurrilous which just came out at the end of March. Unfortunately there is no way to get it on vinyl so I am stuck with the shitty MP3s Charlie sent me until I can get it. Bummer. Nevertheless, Fortess slays and I am glad to have it in my collection.
So there we are. That is my initial round of vinyl purchases. Will the addition of a turntable make me stop buying CDs? Probably not, but I haven’t really been buying a lot of CDs the last year and a half anyway, so it is not likely to affect something I’ve already slowed down on. Will this become a cash sink into which I throw all of my expendable income? You bet your sweet ass it will. I am enjoying it immensely already and had to fight not to order Computerwelt from the German eBay today. Keep coming back and I’ll keep posting my acquisitions as I acquire them. I hope it will be as fun for you and it is for me.