Tag Archives: vinyl records

Fred Mills: Recent 45 Reviews (and some not-so recent..)

Ed. note: We dig vinyl here at the BLURT temple of wax. And we dig it no matter the size. A number of singles have been turning up in the post of late, so who are we to complain? Here’s the lowdown…

FEEDERZ – WWHD (What Would Hitler Do?) 7”

Slope / www.sloperecords.com

Two slices of searing guitars and political screeds.

The Bay Area-Phoenix punk connection has always been symbiotic, and this 7” platter by Arizona’s Feederz neatly bridges the temporal divide between the early ‘80s and now: guitarist/vocalist Frank Discussion is joined not only by early member Clear Bob on bass, but also by drummer DH Peligro—yes, THAT DH Peligro, from the Dead Kennedys, San Fran legends who befriended the Feederz as early as 1981 then the band appeared on Alternative Tentacles compilation Let Them Eat Jellybeans.

As produced by the Meat Puppets’ Cris Kirkwood, WWHD serves up a twin-pack of pure outrage and sonic scree. Side A, “Stealing,” boasts a sinewy, fuzzed-out riff, a metronomic rhythm, and Discussion’s edgy vocal sneers, growls, and grunts as he mounts a call to arms for citizens to rise up and take to the streets: “Tonight we’re settin’ the world on fire.” And “Sabotage” makes explicit Discussion’s attitude to the current Republican administration – as if the sleeve art depicting a scowling Trump as Hitler didn’t already tip you off – with a snarling challenge set against a staccato, almost Wire-like minimalist funk-punk backing:

Time to put this country out of our misery…
You wanna fuck with Mexicans, you wanna fuck with blacks,
You wanna fuck with all o us? Then you better watch your own fucking backs.
We’ll be taking down your empire
And turning it into a bonfire.”

Clearly this band is, as the saying goes, “fired up.”

The single, incidentally, is pressed on beautiful orange vinyl—perhaps the same color as a certain politician’s hair and spray-on tan? Included is an inner sleeve with complete lyrics and a photo of the band wielding automatic weaponry. Best take them seriously.

THE SWEET THINGS – “Love To Leave” 7”

Spaghetty Town / https://www.facebook.com/SpaghettyTown/

More cowbell! Dolls/Stones acolytes know their sonic debauchery…

They could only be from Noo Yawk—East Village denizens The Sweet Things serve up a twinpack of Dolls, Stones, Hanoi Rocks, G ‘n’ R, and the like. Weaned on punk, subsequently smitten by glam, all scarves, mascara, and a serious Jack Daniels habit.

The fiery foursome kicks off their latest 7” single—grab it on hot pink or midnight black vinyl, collectors— with “Love To Leave,” all power riffs, sleazy slide leads, pounding ivories, and clanking cowbell. (But of course.)

Flip for the sensitively titled “Cocaine Asslicker Blues,” and no, it’s not a GG Allin cover. Instead, think Johnny Thunders backed by the original Alice Cooper band. You’ll fill in the cowbell parts mentally. Some things just continue to be revived as each new generation consults the classics. God bless The Sweet Things for diving wholeheartedly in. Sweet!

BALKANS-PEDRO FOUR-WAY – 4-song 7” EP

ORG Music / www.orgmusic.com

Garage pop and funk punk from the Mike Watt extended family.

The curious band name owes to the fact that the four bands on this 7” EP hail from  Zagreb, Skopje, Belgrade, and San Pedro, CA—the latter, of course, being Mike Watt’s home base. (You may have heard of him.) It’s a stellar slab of wax at that.

Thee Melomen kick things off with a spot-on slice of guitar-organ garage that bears worthy overtones of earlier European garage avatars the Nomads and the Watermelon Men. Up next is Vasko Atanasoski serving up a minimalist bit of pop-funk—the funk being supplied by Watt on Bass—not unlike recent material by distaff rockers Warpaint. Flip the platter—you remember how to do that, right?—and the stereo spews forth with a kind of Beefheartian blues-skronk take on Watt’s song “No One,” courtesy Disciplin a Kitschme. And Watt and his Secondmen themselves maintain that mood for “Do Not,” which was penned by fellow bassist Koya, from DaK, turning the dial up to “hectic” in true Watt fashion.

The EP arrived for this year’s Record Store Day, incidentally, limited to 1800 copies and pressed on both green and black vinyl—the two colors were inserted randomly in sleeves, so you basically flip the coin when you break the wrapper

THIGH MASTER – “B.B.C.” (7” 45)

12XU / www.12xu.net

Power pop riffage takes a Pavement-esque distorto detour, Australian stylee.

Hoo-boy, don’t even try Googling this band unless you still cling to adolescent fantasies of Suzanne Somers (that’ll date you). Instead, direct your jizz in the direction of the Brisbane (Australia) outfit’s Stateside label, which will kindly provide you with a Soundcloud link to the group’s latest A side. It is, indeed, the sonic equivalent of—as the band’s bio assures us—“a lost Flying Nun band.”

Now, I don’t expect anyone reading this, other than my partner-in-Oz (and BLURT blogger) Tim “Dagger” Hinely to fully dig that ref. So perhaps I should laud the Oz outfit’s masterful deconstruction of twinkly power pop riffage, in which they overlay distorto-rumble stylings and Pavement-esque rhythmic ruminations, ultimately emerging with a tune that, verily, defines Indie Rock 2017. (Or maybe 1987, take your pick.) But that would be saying a mouthful, and life is short.

Once upon a time, Amerindie labels would take a chance on Down Under artists, damn the quarterly reports. The golden era of 1985-95 (or thereabouts) passed long ago, however. Perhaps with folks like 12XU and In The Red stepping into the commercial fray anew, other labels will pick up the baton.

FITS OF HAIL – Belmore 7” 45

Sound of the Sea / www.soundofthesea.com

The Upshot: Velvets-esque folk rock and choogling drone, with a distinctive Clevo vibe, and on colored wax to boot.

This utterly gorgeous—sonically and visually—splatter-colored vinyl 7” comprises a pair of must-hear tracks, along with a bonus digital tune should the consumer opt for the CD or download versions. If you are a regular reader of BLURT, you no doubt already know which format we strongly recommend. It’s by Cleveland quartet Fits of Hail, the brainchild of vocalist/guitarist Chris Anderson, who did the bulk of work on the previous two FoH releases, and is now joined by bassist Alan Grandy, guitarist Mike Reilly, and drummer John Kalman. Together, they make a moody-yet-joyful noise of an irresistible earworm quality.

Main track “Clutter” has a kind of low-key, subtly choogling Velvets vibe, a folk-rockish drone ‘n’ chime emitted from the guitars and Anderson’s yearning vocal powering the narrative. Flip the single, though, and be prepared for, as the saying goes, something completely different: “Came Through the Change” has a brash—in places almost ground-zero, late ‘70s NYC punk—vibe, all tumbling percussion and fuzztone riffs spliced by Verlaine/Lloyd-style fretboard strafing.

It’s only one man’s vote, but allow me to just state for the record: Fits of Hail. Long-player. Now.

You are welcome to head over to their Bandcamp page where the three Belmore tracks can be downloaded for a ridiculously affordable price. Once you do, though, I predict you’ll find yourself coveting the aforementioned color-wax physical artifact, so surf on over to the label website and order away.

BORZOI – Surrender the Farm  7” EP

12XU / www.12xu.net

Australian noize-rock that will have you camping out at the Ticketmaster office.

Are they from Melbourne, Australia, or recent transplants laying seed in Austin, Texas? Considering the sheer brazen, brutal (but serene to we tinnitus-afflicted music fans) racket this trio makes, it’s a moot point. On this four-songer, Borzoi sings of flak jackets, millipedes, Florida, Skoal chaw, and existential dread (of the latter topic, I’m not certain, but work with me). It’s kind of like fellow Oz-ites feedtime, if feedtime’s members were reincarnated as glue-sniffing teens, recorded all their material live, and then processed the resulting tapes through a CB microphone.

I’m sorry if most of you have no idea what a CB is.

There’s something remarkably energizing about this band, the kind of “energizing” that one dares not attempt to put the proverbial journalistic finger on. If records, in 2017, are supposed to be groups’ calling cards for tempting the public to spring for tickets and tees, consider this Oz aficionado “sold.” Where do we queue up?

 

 

SCHIZOPHONICS – Ooga Booga 10” EP

Pig Baby / www.pigbabyrecords.com

The Upshot: With a sound hearkening back to the MC5’s Motor City ramalama, the San Diego trio unapologetically kicks out da… you know.

Ooga booga, indeed. San Diego’s Schizophonics—the unholy spawn of Roky Erickson, Sky Saxon, and Rob Tyner—serve up a sonic scorched-earth policy guaranteed to singe even your nether hairs. I mean, seriously, folks, the music on this EP erupts from the grooves with such primal velocity, you can practically see a hologram of guitarist Pat Beers in full stage-leaping flight hovering over the turntable. (Check these photos at their website for confirmation.) The trio has been around since 2009, built around the nucleus of Pat and Lety Beers, plus bassist Brian Reilly, and has a couple of 7”ers to their credit, on Munster and Ugly Things, so you know that’s a TMOQ.  Ooga Booga seriously ups the ante, with nary a throwaway or B-side among the five tracks here.

From the outset they serve due notice: “Ooga Booga Boogalo” commences with a brace of klassic Kinks-style riffage and a Kick Out The Jams-esque arrangement (hence the aforementioned Rob Tyner namecheck). That’s followed by the riotous rumble of “Electric,” powered by sinewy, fuzzed out leads and Pat’s extemporaneous grunts and whoops. Flip the platter and get caught in the “Rat Trap,” another Nuggets-esque garage rockin’ gem of vintage Yardbirds aplomb. “Two Thousand Seventeen,” with its Keith Moon-worthy percussion and dark chordage, contemplates our contemporary era of reverse evolution to signpost the annum  in much the same way the Stooges marked the year of 1969.  The band wraps things up with “Venus Transit,” another slab of MC5 ramalama, all chaos and convulsion with a take-no-prisoners ethos.

Whew. Six successive spins of the rec, and I’m exhausted. Partially deaf as well. If this band tours anywhere near you, don’t miss it. But make sure you don your flame-proof pants before entering the club….

Consumer note: The EP is pressed on electric orange 10” vinyl, and each of the 1,000 copies pressed comes in a hand-numbered sleeve. It’s like getting Record Store Day early, so what are you waiting for, punters?

SOMERSET MEADOWS – We Will Rock 7″ EP
Self-released / https://somersetmeadows.bandcamp.com

The Upshot: The New Wave of the late ‘70s meets the alterna-nation of the early ‘90s.

Hey kids, nostalgic for the early/mid ‘90s? Me neither! The members of Portland’s Somerset Meadows clearly remember the era, but they’re smart enough not to emulate it despite having sonic overtones of Guided By Voices—which they preemptively state on their bio—as well as other indie/garage/lo-fi outfits such as the Grifters, Sebadoh, and the Mountain Goats. Like those avatars, SM have a knack for penning tuneful, hooky pop nuggets marked by careening guitars, riotous, Keith Moon-like drumming, and yowling vocals.

Lead track on this four-song EP (the follow-up to mini-album Time and Relative Dimensions in Sound) is “She Is Waiting,” a slice of revved-up British Invasion filtered through a Hold Steady lens, while the 1 ½-minute “Time to Shine” adds some surf-y riffage to the mix reminiscent of vintage Blondie. Hold that thought: this band wouldn’t have been out of place in new wave Manhattan, holding court in dives like CBGB and Max’s Kansas City and going for broke in front of a leather jacketed crowd night after night. All four songs here inhabit that rock ‘n’ roll fairytale universe, and luckily enough, for us the setting is 2017.

This limited-edition (250 copies), hand-numbered vinyl platter may or may not be sold out by now, but even if it is, you can preview it at the Somerset Meadows Bandcamp page and buy it digitally.

MINT TRIP – “Ghosts” 7″ (colored vinyl)
Blue Elan / www.blueelan.com

The Upshot: Sultry, sexy, danceable trip hop, pop and soul.

L.A. 2 guy/1 gal trio Mint Trip swirls and skitters in a mélange of pop, soul, and electronica that suggests a summit between classicists Saint Etienne and trip hoppers Portishead. For this vinyl 7” debut—comprising three songs from the five-track Books digital EP—the focus is squarely on sultry singer Amy Gionfriddo, originally from St. Leonard, MD, as graceful as a lioness, and blessed with the kind of supple pipes that could find a niche no matter the genre; indeed, the band’s “soul” component is decidedly jazz-infused. Amy is joined by L.A. native Brian Gross and Cary, NC, guitarist Max Molander. The three met at the University of Miami prior to landing in Los Angeles.

“Ghosts” is elegance personified, powered by a purposeful bass bumps and synth pulses, and of course that ethereal voice. Flip the platter over for “By The Sea” and “Virga,” the former a hypnotic, ethereal pop ballad; the latter, a luminous, gospellish slice of chilled-out soul. Point of fact, you can hear these tracks and additional two at the band’s Soundcloud page (“Canvas” is particularly compelling), so you have no excuse for not immersing yourself in Mint Trip’s sweet, hummable, danceable music.

Bonus points for the gorgeous turquoise vinyl, too. A download card is included that will net you all five songs.

PETER HOLSAPPLE – “Don’t Mention the War” 45

Hawthorne Curve  / http://halfpearblog.blogspot.com/

The Upshot: Against richly melodic backdrops, the dB’s member offers up character studies of poetic intent. Oh, and by the way: Support the home team, folks.

Despite being one of North Carolina’s most prolific and respected songwriters, Winston-Salem ex-pat (and current Durham resident) Peter Holsapple actually hasn’t released that much under his own name. There was early 45 “Big Black Truck,” a primal slab of psychobilly punk garage, released in 1978 at the tail end of his stint with the H-Bombs and serving as a segue into his lengthy tenure with the dB’s; a limited edition Australian-only cassette titled Live Melbourne 1989, which documented a solo radio station session; 1997’s gorgeous Out Of My Way CD; and let us not overlook his 1991 collaboration with dB’s songwriting foil, Chris Stamey, nicely titled Angels, and the an accompanying handful of Stamey-Holsapple singles.

Longtime Holsapple watchers, of course, know simply to scour record credits if they want to unearth a wealth of Holsapple material, from the dB’s albums and EPs (include, in this tally, the Chris Stamey & Friends Christmas Time album) and his work with the Continental Drifters, to the very early Rittenhouse Square album and the (possibly apocryphal) Great Lost H-Bombs Double EP 10”—not to mention a number of online-only tracks he’s slipped into the digital realm on occasion.

All of which is to say, a new Peter Holsapple record makes for a special event, one which we fans don’t take lightly. The fact that the new item is a mere two-songer potentially allows each track the kind of proper consideration that might’ve been elusive if placed in the context of a full album. The A-side, “Don’t Mention the War,” finds Holsapple joined by Mark Simonson from the Old Ceremony on drums and acoustic guitar and James Wallace (Phil Cook’s band) on piano and drums, plus tuba textures courtesy Mark Daumen. Holsapple handles guitars and organ while spinning a 6 ½ minute tale in which the narrator observes and comments upon a beloved uncle’s return home and subsequent battle with PTSD (“he sweats and he shouts and he turns white as a sheet… he opens his eyes, he’s still seeing the dead… he hasn’t picked up a guitar in nearly three years, I can scarcely recognize the same man”). Midway through the song the drum pattern turns overtly martial, underscoring the implicit tension in what’s otherwise a richly melodic, midtempo slice of pure pop; the tune’s subtly contrasting sonic elements help lend gravitas to the unsettling lyrical character study.

Meanwhile, “Cinderella Style” has a gentle, nocturnal vibe primarily wrought by Holsapple’s acoustic guitar, bass, and organ, with Simonson adding delicate touches of vibraphone and Skylar Gudasz contributing flute flourishes. “Love can mend a dress,” he sings, going on to describe the creation of a physical garment of calico, gabardine, satin, silk, and velveteen while hinting at the metaphorical implications of the act. The tune is relatively brief, deliberately restrained, and perfectly poetic in its imagery.

Holsapple recently told me that he opted for doing a single because he wasn’t quite sure he should thrust a full album’s worth of new material into the market, given music consumers’ relatively short attention spans and tendency to favor tracks over albums nowadays. Fair enough. I think he’s underselling himself, however. All that music mentioned at the top of this review (not to mention his contributions to other artists’ work, such as R.E.M. and Hootie & the Blowfish) comes stamped with the Tarheel TMOQ, so I have no doubt whatsoever that we fellow North Carolinians would be first in line for a Kickstarter-type campaign and any resulting record store product. People vote with their wallets, after all.

And while I’m loathe to invoke any electoral notions considering what we’ve all gone through recently… could I nominate Peter Holsapple for Minister of Music? Poobah of Power Pop? Raconteur of Rock? Hmmm…. why the hell not?

THE YOUNG SINCLAIRS – You Know Where to Find Me 7” EP

Planting Seeds / www.plantingseedsrecords.com

The Upshot: Jangle pop as timeless and classy as it comes

Though this 4-songer came out a few years ago, I’m only just now discovering the Virginia Beach/Roanoke area band. And it’s well worth backtracking to hear the record—it may be long gone by now, but you can year it at their Bandcamp page—particularly since this is the kind of timeless and classy jangle pop we aficionados live for.

All four songs are stellar, in particular the title song, which could be a Shake Some Action-era Flamin’ Groovies outtake. “Ear to the Ground” is another must-hear, a slice of British Invasion thump with a sleek, tremolo-powered guitar riff to die for.

The aforementioned Bandcamp page would suggest that the Young Sinclairs are incredibly prolific, and they’ve been particularly fond of the 7” format. Fellow collectors, your course is clear…

HEATHER WOODS BRODERICK & BENJAMIN SWETT – Home Winds (Book + 7” 45)

Planthouse Gallery / www.planthouse.net

The Upshot: An environmental elegy, and an extended meditation session—relaxing and soothing to the soul, but with its own elements of intense focus, and revelation. 

While it’s a given that more than a few culture vultures have hopped onto the #vinylresurgence bandwagon (Taylor Swift, anyone?), eschewing relevance for trendiness, and the accompanying misguided “cool” factor, some entries have come along that not only defy that assumption, they transcend it so beautifully that you almost assume they were beamed down from another dimension or era.

Such is the case with the printed/recorded artifact at hand. Home Winds is, on the one hand, a 7” vinyl single by songwriter Heather Woods Broderick, offering up a haunting environmental elegy, a shimmery, pulsing song for the trees. “Do I truly recall your face from when it was young,” sings Broderick, in a hushed, partly quivering voice, recalling at times Sandy Denny, adding gospel touches on the chorus, and musing upon a permanent image of a tree, as if it were a beloved family member, possibly no longer with us. “Or from a photo I’ve seen, on the wall on which it was hung,” she adds, acknowledging that memories are tricky, and how they can somehow be replaced, due to the passing of time, by a photograph that survives and reinforces itself via repeated viewings. (The B-side, “Shoreline,” is similarly low-key, its lilt no less engaging and ethereal.)

She’s joined, visually, by photographer Benjamin Swett, who set out to document Gladstone, New Jersey’s Home Winds Farm, a parcel that has been protected via the New Jersey Farmland Protection Program, for its owners, who also operate Planthouse Gallery. Swett’s mandate here is to create permanent portraits of the many trees—many of them huge or otherwise so broad and expansive that they can dominate an entire two-page spread in a book such as this—dotting the farm. Pink-blossomed spring arbors alternate with snow-spackled wintry residents, as well as the sturdy green boys of summer, and the yellow, orange, and crimson citizens of autumn. The result is a permanent record of nature as it cycles through its annual beauty.

Contributing to the project is journalist Elleree Erdos, who provides historical context as well as an insightful analysis of the nuances that Swett’s images bring to the fore. Ultimately, Home Winds is like an extended meditation session—relaxing and soothing to the soul, but with its own elements of intense focus and revelation.

That the participants opted to present the music not on CD or a mere link to a digital file, but a 45rpm record housed in a lovely full-color, thick cardboard picture sleeve—yes, adorned with Swett’s trees—additionally speaks to the care taken in the presentation of Home Winds. It’s a subtle, personal touch that counts for a lot in certain quarters (such as mine).

Additional note: Go to Planthouse.net to view a video for Home Winds, created by Jeffrey Rowles. Below, watch the promo video for the book/45, followed by a live clip of Broderick from late last year. The exhibition dates at Planthouse Gallery will be April 28 through June 20, with the reception being held on April 28 from 6PM to 8PM.

 BONUS BEATS: A FEW OLDER REVIEWS

Deniz Tek – “Crossroads” b/w “Oh Well” 7″ (2014)

Career/ www.careerrecords.com

No, not that “Crossroads,” although l’il Robby Johnson would still approve; instead, it’s an original from the Radio Birdman geetarzan, and a smokin’ slab of straight up garage slop it be. But yes, that “Oh Well”—specifically, the hi-nrg raveup Pt. 1 of the Peter Green/Fleetwood Mac classic, and I’d reckon that it puts to shame pretty much every other version of you’ve heard over the years with the exception of the original. Pressed on lurid purple wax, and hats off to the Career label (co-helmed by Tek and his buddy Ron Sanchez, of Donovan’s Brain) for their subtle appropriation of the old Atlantic Records promo logo for their label art.

Freak Motif – “Killin’ Me” b/w “Killin’ Me (instrumental)” 7″ (2014)
KEPT / www.kept-records.com

The latest in Kept’s so-far-unblemished series of funk-centric wax finds eight-piece Canadian combo Freak Motif getting’ gritty with a slice of JB’s-inspired fonk, heavy on the trancelike groove while a blazing horn section takes everything to the bank. Or the bridge, if you insist. The instro version of “Killin’ Me” has swagger a-plenty, but when guest vocalist Lady C takes the mic on the A-side things get saucier and sexier by the bar. Hell yeah.

 

Peter Buck- Opium Drivel EP  7″ (2014)
Mississippi / www.mississippirecords.com

Following up his latest solo album (as well as last year’s Planet Of The Apes single, that-guy-who-useta-be-in-some-famous-band teams up, once again, with Scott McCaughey and several partners-in-crime for a 4-songer. Just the pounding Charlie Pickett & the Eggs cover alone (“If This Is Love…”) is worth the price of admission, but you also don’t wanna miss the fuzz-garagey “Portrait Of A Sorry Man” for the series of inside-joke lyrical bon mots (among them: “I’m sorry I invented indie rock… the whole thing started out so well, how was I to know?”). A pair of uncharacteristic acoustic aces on the flip, notably the strummy/jangly “Welcome to the Party,” join the aforementioned joker and king, giving Mr. Buck a pretty strong hand in this game.

 

Graham Day & the Forefathers – “Love Me Lies” b/w “30-60-90” 7″ (2013)
State/Sandgate Sound /  www.staterecs.com

This garage-shocking power trio comprises gents who’ve served time in The Prisoners, the Prime Movers, the Solarflares, the James Taylor Quartet and Billy Childish’s Buff Medways, so with that kind of collective resume you’d be right in presuming some jams will be kicked out. “Love Me Lies” revisits an old Prisoners tune in glorious metal hues lined with careening riffs and wah-wah squiggles. Even better is the organ/guitar powered hi-octane R&B instro flip hailing from the pen of one Willie Mitchell (who originally wrote it for the Get Carter soundtrack). (—Fred Mills)

 

Insurgence DC – “True to Life” b/w “Man in Black” 7″ (2013)
Crooked Beat /  www.crookedbeat.com

Based in the nation’s capitol and with Triangle (N.C.) roots, Insurgence plays old school punk with the kind of vim ‘n’ vigor long associated with the punk scenes of those two locales. Indeed, bassist Bill Daly’s lead vocal on the blazing “True to Life” has the type of rabble-rousing anthemism (“Get it out/ Stir it up/ Shout it out now!”) that we’re sorely missing these days (the Occupy movement could’ve used an adrenalin shot of Insurgence). Meanwhile, “Man in Black” marries a rebel-rock message to a twangy riff and a cowpunk thump; you’d be hard pressed not to put your pogo boots on and get to scootin’ when this tune cues up. Available on both black and super-limited yellow vinyl, wax fans.

Fred Mills: The Economics of Rock Criticism

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Ever wonder why reviewers do what they do when they are actually LOSING money on the deal? (First in a series, collect them all.)

By Fred Mills, Blurt Editor

Lately our writers and staffers have been doing an outstanding job with their record, concert and book reviews, and you may have noticed that some of those reviews have been posting as Features initially (prior to be archived in the respective Reviews sections). They get a bit more attention that way, and since they’re not getting paid for their reviews, it allows me to thank them for occasionally putting in the extra time and sweat to make a review a bit more special.  Plus, while it’s sometimes because the artist in question is relatively high profile and we can potentially grab a few extra eyeballs, it can also be because I just feel the artist being reviewed deserves to be spotlighted.

There’s a related wrinkle to all this. Can we agree that no one is getting rich reviewing records these days? Worse, with even the most DIY of labels moving to digital promotional platforms, eschewing hard copy promos for lo-res MP3s or, worse, horrible sounding digital streams, one could argue that we reviewers now find ourselves in the curious position of PAYING THE LABELS for the privilege of writing about their artists and clients.

Don’t believe me? Let’s do the math. Assume, as a base, that a reviewer spends 90 minutes listening to a 45-minute album twice before sitting down to write. Then assume he/she puts in another 90 minutes’ minimum to write, proof, revise and finalize a review. Could be more, could be less, depending on the record. Some reviews practically write themselves because their merits (in the case of a great rec) and deficits (for lemons) are so blindingly obvious. Plus, regarding the lemon contingent, who wants to waste an hour and a half on, I dunno, a John Mayer or (insert whatever is displaying on the Pitchfork home page at any given moment) when you could be out shooting hoops, tending the garden, or banging some hot rock critic groupie. Hey, it happens!

At any rate, now we’re up to three hours. Let’s say a reasonable hourly wage is $15. You’ve just racked up $45 worth of time and sweat equity. Except there’s no equity, because you were reviewing digital files. And if you actually want to keep the album, you’ll probably want to burn it to a CDR, print out some artwork or at least tracklisting, and insert both into a jewel case. That’s at least another buck for the disc, the printer paper, and the ink used printing it. (The writer will NOT have to purchase a jewel case, luckily, because he’s already got boxes and boxes of empties, the result of tossing the discs from the shittier titles among the hard copy promos he got. Well, that’s where the latest John Mayer promo I received went.) Not to mention, I dunno, another 10 minutes spent downloading, organizing, burning, and printing; which, at $15 per hour, or 25 cents per minute, is another $2.50 worth of work you are not getting paid for. We’re at $48.50 now.

I’m tempted to put a dollar value on the amount of time it takes to send the link to the review out in an email to the label or publicist who sent you the digital files – compounded, let us not forget, by the subsequent, inevitable, deluge of emails from same, who, following a cursory “thank you” proceeds to start badgering, er, I mean, pitching all those other artists/clients currently with projects they want to publicize. But that would be mean-spirited of me.

So let me just return to my original premise: by virtue of that $48.50 that he did NOT get paid, the writer has essentially PAID THE LABEL for letting him review the record. And there’s not even an ACTUAL RECORD to show for his trouble – just a bunch of shitty-sounding MP3s clogging up the hard drive, and a CDR copy of the album that may or may not actually play in the future, depending on what CD player is being used. (You wouldn’t believe the number of promo CDRs I get that will play on one player but not on another, especially my car player, as I often preview promos while driving to and from my day job, or while vacationing.)

$48.50: extrapolate that figure across the course of a year, during which any writer worth his or her salt will “spend” at least 50 times. Usually more.

When BLURT became a volunteer operation, I was already aware of all this, but I hadn’t quite “monetized” the notion. Once I started thinking about it, I realized that (a) only a schmuck would review a digital file unless a finished hard copy of the album is also part of the picture when it is ready at the label; (b) those labels that do make it their usual policy to send out hard copies should be acknowledged and thanked, even if the writer can’t necessarily reciprocate with a review (there might be just too damn many promos that have come in around the same time, or the writer simply can’t place a review with a media outlet – I have the deepest admiration for our writers like Lee Zimmerman, Michael Toland and Bill Kopp who somehow are able to crank out scores of reviews practically on a weekly basis; unfortunately, superhumans such as they are a dwindling race); and (c) if a label goes the extra mile and actually SENDS A VINYL COPY OF THE RECORD, you can damn well bet that I’m gonna make that a priority review if at all possible, because the cost of the hard goods and postage for gifting a reviewer with an LP is not negligible… did I mention that COLORED VINYL GETS THE SUPER-DUPER PRIORITY as well?

Anyhow, by way of a semi-digression here, and just to “circle back” (my favorite publicity rep phrase) to the topic at the start of this rant, today at BLURT we posted an extended review of “Blood & Treasure” by Pat Todd & The Rankoutsiders, issued by the Hound Gawd! Records label. Todd of course once fronted the legendary The Lazy Cowgirls. Longtime contributor Barry StVitus penned the review, and we published it in Features, along with some choice audio samples and a killer live clip of the band from this past April. Why? Because, well, Pat Fucking Todd.

Plus, as suggested a moment ago, it will get way more exposure at the top of the home page rather than semi-buried down “below the fold” in the Reviews section. Oh, and because Barry’s a damn good writer, and he puts forth the kind of effort that deserves to be recognized. As do all my writers at BLURT: thanks to every goddam one of you. What’s that saying? Oh yeah – you complete me. Uh…

In all seriousness, we rock writers do this for the fun and the love of the music, not necessarily for the acclaim (right….) or simply to get paid. Well, that and the free records. But as you may recall, those “free records” can sometimes be illusory and actually put you in the hole.

At any rate, by my way of thinking, we at BLURT might as well take that fun when we can get it, and write about the stuff we really care about, and not fret about some weird flavor-of-the-moment Pitchfork shit for 20 year old hipsters and their crappy-sounding earbuds. (Hey you kids, get off my freakin’ lawn!) There’s a lot to be said for supporting the artists who make our lives just a little less grey, and in particular, artists like Pat Todd who have been doing it for as long as I can remember. At this stage in the game, loyalty counts for a lot, you know?

Thanks for listening. Now I must go. I have to start sending out a lot of $48.50 invoices…. HERE is the link, incidentally, to that Todd review and accompanying music samples that set me off in the first place.

 

Fred Mills: VNYL Pt. 2 – For the 2nd Round, the Subscription Service Ups Its Game

VNYL

Second time’s the charm, eh folks? In our latest shipment, the arrival of choice LPs from the esteemed Fat Possum, Ubiquity and Glassnote labels—including a just-released album—suggests that the VNYL folks heard the withering criticisms and realized they had to do it right this time around. Guess what? They succeeded! (Go HERE to read Part 1, “Love Will Find a Way: The VNYL Subscription Service Blows It?”)

BY FRED MILLS

I’m almost tempted to publish just the header and subhead and be done with my latest, second report on the VNYL record subscription service (motto: “Join the record club of your dreams”). For my above description pretty much summarizes in full what happened with the second installment of my three-shipment subscription, which I initiated back in the early spring by pledging to the startup’s Kickstarter campaign.

To recap briefly: recall that a couple of months ago I wrote about my first shipment, which yielded a trio of aesthetically moldy (if, condition-wise, clean, shiny, and mold/scratch-free) slabs of ‘70s drek, namely Worlds Away by soft-rockers Pablo Cruise, Hydra by the ever-pompous, eternally sterile Toto, and Make Love to the Music by Leon Russell (along with wife Mary Russell) at a point in his career when he most assuredly was not The Master Of Space And Time. These were, put charitably, 99 cent bargain bin titles, the kind that BLURT’s sister business, Raleigh-Durham’s Schoolkids Records, can’t even move during half-off sales. In that report I also provided some background and context for how VNYL operates and included details and anecdotes from other media outlets and frustrated subscribers; my conclusion wasn’t necessarily as harsh as some of the others, many of whom flatly stated they thought the club was a scam, but I did point out that in the wake of a fairly appealing Kickstarter campaign, the ultimate execution was a huge misfire and a public relations disaster.

VNYL 1st

“While I am still interested to see what my next two VNYL shipments will yield,” I wrote at the time, “this initial installment in the series is not all that encouraging. In fact, it reminds me of that old Monty Python skit about Australian table wines: this is a shipment with a message, and the message is “beware.” In 2015, nobody is going to their local record store and looking for records by Pablo Cruise, Toto and Leon & Mary Russell, much less willing to pay twelve freakin’ dollars for a copy.”

Sharp-eyed readers will also recall that after I posted a shortened account of my experience to the popular Steve Hoffman forums, the response to my post ultimately yielded a message board thread that ran for well over a month—and still generates comments to this day. Translation: it’s a topic that was not only resonated with the entire Hoffman community of record and audio geeks, it also generated the type of sputtering outrage and withering sarcasm generally saved for, I dunno, Justin Bieber (or, in an earlier era, Courtney Love). Concurrently, Stereogum had also taken a look at the matter in an article titled “VNYL Sliding: Why The ‘Netflix For Vinyl’ Service Is Such A Mess” and the consensus over there wasn’t much rosier. Worse, for VNYL at least, the comments section at the actual VNYL Kickstarter page was overflowing with frustration, with more than one angry backer indicating they had filed complaints with the Better Business Bureau.

***

Needless to say, I was simultaneously dreading and looking forward to my second shipment. But as I had signed up via the Kickstarter campaign, you could say my check had already been cashed, so I sat back and waited. And waited. And waited…

The first shipment had arrived on May 13, but by July 2 nothing else had arrived. During that time frame I had moved so, while my mail was being forwarded, I realized I should update my address with VNYL and then inquire—politely—about the delay. Lo and behold, I received a reply in less than 24 hours, impressive for any business’s customer service relations department, letting me know that they got the address update, but that I had not yet selected the “vibes” category for my second shipment—clearly my mistake. I immediately logged in at http://my.vnyl.org and made the selection of “#poolparty” for my vibes, having already taken a test run with #work for the initial shipment. Then I sat back and waited. And waited. And…

By July 24 nothing had arrived so I emailed the same staffer who had been so prompt with my earlier inquiry, and received the following reply, also in less than 24 hours: “Hi Fred – We apologize for the delay on that! One of our team members actually did a special order for your second Kickstarter order for you, and it’s taking a little longer to come in than we anticipated. It should be shipping out next week. I think you’re really going to love the shipment and I promise it will be worth the wait!”

Fair enough. But interestingly, one of the aforementioned Kickstarter backers’ comments had stood out. Posted on July 3, it read, in part, “I have experienced [a delay] but I sent them and e-mail asking why was it taking so long, politely. The response i got is they have so much of a demand there is a little backlog in the category that you might of chosen.” Hmm…. Perhaps, just perhaps, this time around VNYL was going to be a bit more professional with its “curation” process, and rather than just grab some bargain bin junk they had lying around to send out, they were actually going to eyeball the members’ profiles (which included likes and dislikes as well as a suggestion that we provide them links to, say, our personal Spotify playlists), and from there come up with a reasonable selection. With that in mind, my curiosity was piqued. So I sat back once again and waited…

***

Somewhere in the middle of all this I received two additional emails from VNYL, on separate days, both essentially canned memos sent from the main hello@vnyl.org email address rather than personally drafted by a staffer. The first one, sent in early July, announced that “Your VNYL trial is about to end.” Say what? At that point I’ve only received one shipment, and they’re telling me the trial is about over? Well, I’m guessing that due to the canned nature of the email, it was simply synched to the roughly three-month time frame that the original Kickstarter agreement laid out, so that didn’t really worry me. It was just a standard notification.

What DID get my attention, and keep it, was the second canned email that showed up a couple of weeks later telling me the credit card they had on file was about to expire and I needed to update my billing information. Ha! Well, sorry folks, but I’m going to hold off just a bit on that until I’ve gotten all three shipments guaranteed to me in the Kickstarter agreement—and the credit card situation better not cause any delays or hiccups in my receiving the shipments. Now I know what you are thinking: since I stated in my previous report that when I originally heard about VNYL I decided to pledge during the campaign as much out of curiosity as sensing that there might be an interesting story here for BLURT, maybe I preemptively registered a card I knew would be no good if they subsequently tried to bill me. That’s not the case, however; I just used the card I always use for online shopping, and it was purely by chance that it was set to expire at the end of July. It was only after the fact that I heard of several instances when members did get charged without their authorizations. That duly noted, the lapsed conspiracy theorist in me did briefly consider the possibility that if VNYL has burned through all that Kickstarter funding as well as the money that came in from early subscribers—VNYL also opened a brick and mortar store in Venice, Calif., which couldn’t have been a small expense—then they would need to keep the cash flow moving if they wanted to purchase reasonably attractive product and not bargain bin junk to send out to subscribers. But I’m the kind of person that likes to give folks the benefit of the doubt, so I just didn’t worry about the credit card deal (nor, incidentally, have I registered a new one at VNYL yet).

***

Yesterday was August 17 and my latest VNYL box arrived via media mail, postmarked August 11. I knew it was en route because that same day I got an email announcing it had been shipped. Below you can see the results (extra points if you can identify the logo on the shirt I’m wearing):

Jackson Scott – Melbourne (2013, Fat Possum) hashtag #poolparty $16.99 retail/$12.99 cost

Various Artists Rewind! 5: Original Classics, Re-worked and Rewound Vol.5 (2006, Ubiquity) $15.99 retail/$11.25 cost

Son Lux Bones (2015, Glassnote) $17.99 retail/$12.74 cost

The cost and retail listed are taken from the Alliance Entertainment (AEC) website; AEC is probably the largest distributor of CDs, LPs and DVDs in the US, selling both major label and indie product, and while the cost price is usually somewhat higher than it would be if a store ordered from Sony, Universal or WEA (or, in the case of indie records, directly from the indie labels), with its huge selection and two-day shipping, it’s probably the main distributor for the majority of stores here in the States so the prices are representative (There are other indie distributors around the country as well but none with the same depth of catalog.) The actual retail prices in stores, which are based on the manufacturers’ suggested list prices, will vary depending on their policies—for example, a lot of $16.99 albums might ultimately be priced in their bins at $17.99 or even $18.99. Profit margins are ridiculously thin for vinyl. And it’s non-returnable, too.

All in all, not a bad haul, eh? I think the three titles speak for themselves: sealed, pristine new pieces, not promos or cutouts and definitely not bargain bin leftovers. As I said in my video, the Jackson Scott record didn’t knock me out when I heard it a couple of years ago, but it’s still not a dog. And as I have always dug titles on the Ubiquity label, I am eager to spin the 2-LP Rewind!, what with its eclectic roster of funk and downtempo DJs and musicians serving up an even more eclectic selection of covers, among them Nuspirit Helsinki tackling Led Zep’s “No Quarter,” The Randy Watson Experience (aka ?uestlove and friends) covering Sting’s “Be Still My Waiting Heart” and Danish duo Owusu & Hannibal for—get this—Beach Boys classic “Caroline No.” Regarding the Son Lux platter: I was definitely already a fan and I had definitely not heard the album because it’s not even two months old yet, having been released in late June! Toto, we’re not in moldy ‘70s territory anymore.

VNYL 2nd

As with the previous shipment there was a nice note enclosed from my personal curator, Teal, and it suggested that she did indeed eyeball my VNYL profile to see how she might line up the records with my tastes. “Saw you listen to Little Richard on Spotify,” she wrote, “so think you’ll really enjoy Rewind! 5, an amazing soul compilation… Gave you Son Lux, a post-rock project and rally promising up and comer.” (I had listed post-rock among my “likes” on my profile.)

Big salute to you this time, Teal, and hope there are no hard feelings from my comments a few months ago. I’m not going to be stingy with my kudos here, either, and plan to report back to some of the same correspondents and outlets that I interacted with for my initial commentary. Admittedly, while I’m definitely not eating my words from before—they remain accurate, I believe, and where I engaged in speculation I clearly labeled it as such—I am choosing to believe, for the time being at least, that Round #1 represented an extreme case of growing pains, and for Round #2 the VNYL crew made a concerted effort to up their game, and succeeded.

But Round #3 looms, and I am about to head over to my VNYL account to select my #vibes for it. Leaning towards either #lazysunday or #danceparty this time. What will I get in the mail in (hopefully) another month? Well, that recent deluxe box for the reissue of the Stones’ Sticky Fingers sure seems mighty appealing, hint-hint. But who knows? As the saying goes… to be continued…

 ***

Fred Mills is the editor of BLURT. Extra thanks to Elijah Mills for the camera work. There will be a #poolparty in your honor very soon, bruh.

Tim Hinely: 15 Questions For… Saint Marie Records

artwork

 

And… here’s the third installment in the BLURT series in which we profile cool independent record labels. What are the criteria for inclusion in the “cool” category? Hey, ’cos we say they are cool, that’s what! We’re making the rules around here, kids. Keep your eyes peeled for the next installment, coming soon. Meanwhile, go HERE for entry #1, Slumberland Records, and HERE for #2, 12XU..

BY TIM HINELY

Wyatt Parkins takes his shoegaze seriously. Very seriously. As you’ll read below this Texan began his label, Saint Marie Records, just a few years ago, but has amassed a hefty amount of releases in that short time span. This isn’t just American stuff, either — he scans the globe looking for bands that can hop on fuzz pedals with delight. Just recently he’s released records by groups like Seasurfer, Jetman Jet Team, Children Of The Stones and plenty more. Read the interview then go to his website and check out some releases as the label is definitely making its mark.

wyatt3

 

BLURT: When did the label form/what was your original inspiration?
In early 2011, we announced the label, but it had been in the works for almost a year. I guess the music I am into and a few labels were my biggest influences in starting Saint Marie. I knew I wanted to start a label for some time, but I figured it was still going to be in the distant future. But the stars just aligned, and we went for it.
Who designed your logo? Do you only have one?

I did the logo after many attempts and failures to come up with something I felt represented the name and its namesake. The name comes from a Piano Magic song/EP. Piano Magic had been a huge influence on me. I had been friends with Glen Johnson of Piano Magic for at least a decade at the time, so it just made sense. We would later release a record by Piano Magic, which was hugely exciting for me and is still one of the biggest highlights of the label’s existence.


Just one logo but there are several variations of it. What was most important to me was to make sure it scaled well so it would look good on a CD or vinyl record spine. The teardrop logo does this very well. The original image I had in mind was a silhouette of a saint’s face (basically a nun) with a teardrop, but I just stopped at the teardrop.

smr_logo_text_large_black(3)

 

What was your first release?

Patrik Torrson – At The Line Of The Border. He is actually a huge part of the reason why we decided to go ahead and start the label when we did. He had released the record digitally only, and I felt strongly that it needed a physical release. He agreed, and the rest is history.

SMR001 - Patrik Torsson (Wallet) - At The Line
Were there any label(s) that inspired you to want to release records?

Yes, absolutely! 4AD, Creation Records, Ghostly, Captured Tracks, Graveface, Club AC30, Clairecords just to name a few. I personally know the owners of last two mentioned, and they have been a huge help over the years in label-related matters.
What difficulties did you realize come with running a label?

The biggest headache is just managing the accounting portion of the label, especially as we release more and more records. We’ve recently converted to a new transaction-based system that has greatly improved this process. PR can also be a huge headache, but also gets better with each release. There are still a few of the biggest music sites that refuse to pay us any attention even though I strongly believe we are releasing some of the best records in our respective genres. Physical inventory management is somewhat difficult as well as the number of releases grows, but an offsite storage site has helped a ton.
If there is one band, current or present, you could release a record by, who would it be?

Slowdive, no question, although there are several very close runners up: Lush, Pale Saints,
Cocteau Twins, Locust, School Of Seven Bells… just to name a few.

 

What has been your best seller to date?
Without double-checking, I would have to say Trespassers Williams’ Cast. In fact, the CD itself is out of print and can only be purchased digitally or used via various outlets.

Trespassers William - Cast
Are you a recording/touring musician yourself, and if so, do you use your label as an outlet for getting your stuff out to the public?

No, not at all. I work in Information Technology, 9-5 and manage the label in my time outside of that. I play guitar but never find time to do it since starting the label. I have two kids, a wife, Saint Marie, a PR firm ‘Gas Pedal PR,’ and a music blog ‘Feed Me With Your Kiss’.. .so not sure I could fit in a “creating my own music”. I do, however, handle much of the artwork for the label and have even created several videos for the artists on the roster.
What are your thoughts on having a presence at the major conventions like SXSW, CMJ, etc. Have you done them before and if not, would you like to?

Some of our bands have been showcasing artist at SXSW, but there has not been a Saint Marie showcase as of yet. Maybe one of these days we will do something about that. Hopefully, we will have the opportunity to do the same for CMJ as well.
Does your label use and/or have a presence on any of the social media sites?

Yes, we are very active on Facebook and Twitter.

Have digital sales been significant or nominal?

I believe roughly 50% of our sales have been digital, which is very significant, but we always prefer physical sales. Without digital sales, we would probably not exist, so we have a love/hate relationship with digital.
What are your feelings on vinyl? Have you always offered your releases on vinyl?

Many of our releases are available on vinyl. We hope to get to a point where all releases are available on vinyl. So far, it just has not been cost effective to do so.
What is your personal favorite format to release music?

The vinyl format has the most appeal to me now that digital exists for portability. For me, the vinyl and digital partnership is perfect, but vinyl is definitely my preferred format.
What new(er) labels these days have captured your attention?

Club AC30, Deep Space Recordings, NoYes, Moon Sounds, Marshall Teller, Neon Sigh, Second Language and Secret Furry Hole.
Do you accept unsolicited demos?

Reluctantly, yes… I say this because 99% of the ones we receive are not right for the label, and that is putting it nicely. 😉

 

Contact:
Wyatt E. Parkins
Saint Marie Records
Fort Worth, TX | Seattle, WA | Los Angeles, CA
www.saintmarierecords.com
wyatt@saintmarierecords.com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Saint-Marie-Records/164080190305178?ref=hl

Twitter: https://twitter.com/StMarieRecords