Article and artwork by David D. Robbins / Their Bated Breath
Sorry naysayers, but music is alive and well in all formats according to the 2013 list of Record Store Day releases. While I usually find mass-consumerism a bit gauche, I don’t mind it when it’s about music and the arts. Especially when so many of the hundreds of releases available are being issued in long-neglected formats like vinyl and cassette tape. But how do you wade through the miles of piles of 7-inch records, DVDs, LPs, special releases, cassettes, singles, and compact discs? Well, I’m here to help you, by sharing my “Top 11 Gems” so you can beat the true crate diggers to that cool release you didn’t know you wanted. It’s not that people don’t want to pay for music, they just don’t want to buy the shitty music some labels are trying dish out. However, music fans will pay for quality, ingenuity, honesty, cool artwork, talent, and sometimes nostalgia as evidenced by the popularity of Record Store Day (April 20). Click below to see my picks for 11 high-quality releases. (It’s not difficult to see what’s No. 1 on my list, if you take a look at the graphic art above, inspired by the Double Dagger days of posters and font rebellion.)
1. Double Dagger (“333″ EP”/”If We Shout Loud Enough” DVD documentary): The number one item on my shopping list? That’s the easiest question to answer. Thanks to Thrill Jockey records in Chicago for allowing me to get an early look at “If We Shout Loud Enough”, a documentary by Gabriel DeLoach and Zach Keifer about Baltimore trio, Double Dagger. Who would have thought that a noisy three-piece Baltimore band, without a lead guitar, fronted by a lead singer with preachers for parents and a stuttering problem, would wind up being one of the most beloved bands in the city, eventually securing fans across the world? “If We Shout Loud Enough” is the story of the band from its early graphic-core incarnation, when the group used its music to bitch and moan about their jobs as graphic designers (with song titles like “CMYK”, “Command+X Command+Y”), through the days when the Double-D boys really became a touchstone for musical integrity, fun and thundering live shows.
The documentary introduces you to each band member, giving an easy impression as to why the band gelled so well. In a way, the documentary is also the story of the band’s love affair with the city of their birth, and how they wouldn’t have survived as long as they did without the community, cheap real estate, volunteer-run spaces, and an ever-increasing fan base which fell in love with the band’s musical energy.
This isn’t hagiography. There’s a goofiness inherent to the DVD’s presentation. A half-sarcastic narrator (music writer Tim Kabara) occasionally interjects with humor, while sitting in a chair and pondering the meaning of Double Dagger’s music as if he were at Masterpiece Theater. Note this brilliant Kabara assessment: “In 2002, Baltimore was a vast waste land. There was a mass exodus occurring with some of our best and brightest creative types, moving to cultural hubs like Williamsburg, to worship The Strokes. (Silent beat.) During these dark times Double Dagger formed and began performing. They were chaotic. They had different members. They were trying to find their sound. They sucked.” There are real experts in the film. Musicians like Dan Deacon and Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner find ways to explain what makes this frenetic band so special.
I always tell people that Double Dagger’s uniqueness was that its music existed as both equal and competing parts: Double Dagger were part surgical intricacy and part mechanic clubbing out car dents with a hammer. And that combination worked so damn well. Sadly, this documentary is also the end of Double Dagger, and closes with a glimpse of the last live show they performed at the Ottobar in 2011. It’s apropos that this work gets its name from the last set of lyrics in Double Dagger’s wonderful track, “Vivre Sans Temps Mort” … “If we shout loud enough they can’t turn out the lights!”
2. Sharon Van Etten (“We Are Fine/Hotel 2 T”, 7-inch single): This one is limited to 300 copies, so find it quickly. The song, “We Are Fine” is the third single from Van Etten’s lastest record, “Tramp”, and features a performance by Zach Condon of Beirut. I’ve been a fan of Sharon Van Etten’s since hearing 2009’s “Because I Was In Love”, but it was really “Epic” and “Tramp” that completely won we over. Sharon’s vocals are made of mist and fog.
3. MGMT (“Alien Days”, cassette tape): Shake the dust of your cassette player because Record Store Day has something unique for you. MGMT is set to release a new album this year and the first new recorded material comes in the form of a cassette. The band also released a stop motion clip as a promo for the new music, featuring cassettes in motion, and a sock puppet that drives a convertible into space. Yeah, exactly. In all seriousness, the cost of the cassette surely can’t be very much, so I’d expect this item to go quickly. I’m a big fan of this cassette tape resurgence.
4. The Stooges/The Black Keys (“No Fun”, 7-inch): Record Store Day has become a place to feature a new edition to Rhino’s “Side by Side” series, which are 7-inch records with a different band performing the same song on each side of the record. This year it’s The Stooges and The Black Keys taking a shot at “No Fun” on a wild-looking sunburst printing. These suckers fly off the shelves, and really turn into rarities.
5. “The Newport Folk Festival/1965” (12-inch): Whew, this one is for some of you old-schoolers. If you’re like me, you hear “rare performances” from blues master Son House and the Paul Butterfield Blues Band and your mouth begins to water. Here’s what you do to get this one in the cart. When you get in the store, point to a corner and yell out, “Hey, there’s the Drive Soundtrack!”, and then run toward this baby.
6. Elliott Smith (“Either/Or” Alternate Cuts, 7-inch seven-inch) The late and beautifully introspective Elliott Smith released his brilliant third record, “Either/Or” in 1997. Now, the album will be revisited on a limited-edition (3,500) vinyl containing four unreleased outtake versions of select tracks. I haven’t been able to find out what songs are on this release, but I do know that the cost is officially $6.99.
7. Joe Strummer (“Live at Acton Town Hall”, LP): Sometimes releases seem to good to be true. But yes, this is real. This LP captures the benefit concert Strummer and the Mescaleros performed in London for striking firefighters in 2002. It’s never been released officially, and features The Clash’s Mick Jones, who climbed on stage with the band for the first time in almost 20 years. Yeah, this one is going directly in the cart.
8. David Bowie (“The Jean Genie”, 7-inch picture disc): There was some early confusion about this release. It’s apparently being offered in the U.S. for Record Store Day. Bowie’s facebook page lists a date that doesn’t seem correct, but it is listed on the official RSD site. This disc is now being released as a teaser to the 40th Anniversary reissue of Aladdin Sane. It features “The Jean Genie”/”The Jean Genie (BBC Top of the Pops 1973)”.
9. Ty Segall (“Ty Rex II, 7-inch): A couple of years ago Ty Segall kicked off Record Store Day with a six-song EP of T. Rex covers. This time around he’s back at it with two more Marc Bolan songs, 1969’s “Cat Black (the Wizard’s Hat)” and 1971’s “The Motivator”. Segall recently released these tracks as streams online, so you can hear what you’ll be buying. They’re raw, wild and garaged-up versions that would make these Brit glam greats proud.
10. Nobunny (“Love Visions”, LP set): A little gem here. This is the ultimate edition of Nobunny’s debut LP “Love Visions” spread across six 7-inch records. The songs are re-mastered where possible, or as the band describes it, “polish these turds to maximum scuzzocity!” Set features a 21×21 poster, a sticker sheet, and an insert with lyrics and liner notes by history Nobunny himself, Justin Champlin.
11. Rolling Stones (“5 x 5” EP): “Five by Five” is an interesting EP, with it’s Wilson Pickett cover opener, followed by the marvelous “Empty Heart” and the harmonica-ditty “2120 South Michigan Street”. The EP is being released on a 7-inch vinyl for the first time since 1964. The five-song record was captured during The Stones’ time at Chess Studios in Chicago was initially released a little after their first record.