July 2, 2019

Best of 2019 at the midpoint and a 15 song playlist

NPR's best songs and albums of 2019 thus far reminded me that I have a blog. :) Wish I had more time to post and write, but not in the cards at this stage of life. Still listening to music a ton of course, and if you desire more frequent updates check out my Instagram feed as I post pictures of albums and comment on them there. Here is my most recent post:



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(To add a little twist since I'm not going to comment in detail, I'll add the year I began listening to each of these artists.)

So that leads me into my top 10 LPs through the first six months of 2019:
1. The Appleseed Cast- The Fleeting Light of Impermanence
Since 1998
2. Better Oblivion Community Center- Better Oblivion Community Center (Instagram)
Since 2019
3. Charly Bliss- Young Enough (Instagram)
Since 2017
4. Hatchie- Keepsake (Instagram)
Since 2017
5. Starflyer 59- Young in my Head (Instagram)
Since 1993
6. Pedro the Lion- Phoenix (Instagram)
Since 1997
7. The Cranberries- In the End (Instagram)
Since 1994
8. Haybaby- They Get There (Instagram)
Since 2019
9. Over the Rhine- Love & Revelation (Instagram)
Since 1994
10. Patty Griffin- Patty Griffin
Since 2004


Top 5 EPs of 2019:
1. Mineral- One Day When We are Young (Instagram)
Since 1996
2. Caracara- Better (Instagram)
Since 2019
3. Middle Kids- New Songs for Old Problems (Instagram)
Since 2018
4. Thrice- Deeper Wells (Instagram)
Since 2002
5. Rose Blossom Punch- Sorry to Disappoint You (Instagram)
Since 1995

April 15, 2019

Record Store Day 2019


So, another Record Store Day. The international event that--in theory--celebrates the music and hobby I love. I can't help feel conflicted about it though, because while it does achieve its primary goal--getting people to shop at independent record stores--it is clearly flawed and has some upsetting outcomes. Is it more good or bad? Is it worth it?



As you can see from my Instagram post yesterday, I went, and got what I wanted, the new Record Store Day Exclusive Thrice EP. Keeping this very simple: the EP is excellent and it is four new songs from one of my favorite bands. I posed some questions in that post though that I will now explore in depth.

Village Vinyl experience

I'll start with my personal experience; I went to Village Vinyl in Warren, Michigan--a suburb of Detroit. This was my second Detroit Record Store Day, but last year I went in the afternoon and was not in search of exclusives.

This time around I was seeking to avoid the lines and chaos of the more popular downtown Detroit stores, and I picked Village Vinyl because they replied the quickest and the most thoroughly to my questions about what they might carry.

Despite every attempt from Village Vinyl to give a great experience, it was not (at least not for me). Some of this was their own fault, but much of it had nothing to do with the store itself.

Let's start by what Village Vinyl did well:
-Great communication in advance
-Free donuts and coffee while people waited in line
-Radio station was present and doing ticket giveaways
-Lots of staff keeping everything organized and moving
-Free stuff including koozie and fun poster (as seen above)

However, I will never visit Village Vinyl on Record Store Day again because of one huge problem that is not necessarily their fault: the incredibly small size of their store. So small they only let 15 or so people shop inside at a time.


I arrived at 7:55 a.m. for an 8:00 a.m. opening. I had no problems knowing there would be people who had lined up before me that would gain first access to the hundreds of Record Store Day exclusive releases I was uninterested in. However, I assumed incorrectly I would personally get in the door before 8:15 a.m. I also assumed incorrectly I would be able to browse their store, which is my favorite part of visiting record stores.

I had a personal budget of $30 for the day, about half of which I planned to spend on the the the Thrice EP. With the other half of my budget I hoped to get some fun used records (which take time to find).

Well, by 8:15, I had not moved in line. There was a quick rush in at 8:00 in which they let some people in, but for the next hour, they only let 2-3 people in every 5 minutes. I really couldn't figure out what was going on until I heard chatter about how small the store was; turns out it was about the size of my bedroom.

I finally gained entry to the store at 9:05 or so. At that point I hoped to spend 30 minutes in the store, grabbing a copy of the Thrice EP I hoped was left, and then browsing the racks. However, within seconds of being allowed entry in to the store, I discovered the problem. The methodical line continued into the store and was set up so that everyone had to browse and follow the alphabetical Record Store Day exclusive crates.

I could see the crate I wanted to access, the one that started with the "S" releases, and I asked an employee if I could cross the store to it and attempt to snag the Thrice EP. However, he told me "no", that I would have to wait in line, and was free to browse the non-exclusive inventory they had. Well, that was pretty much impossible because the only crates within my reach were genres I had no interest in. So here I was, in the store, and unable to shop, because most of the people ahead of me were browsing through EVERY SINGLE RSD EXCLUSIVE.

This led to an interesting observation: most of the people there ahead of me had significantly larger budgets than me. The demographic was diverse, men and women ages 15 to 70. But what they had in common is that most of them purchased at least 10 if not 20 albums. During the hour I waited to go in the store, I watched person after person exit the store with at least one if not multiple bags and large stacks of records.

I wasn't jealous (well, maybe a little jealous) but I did have questions. One question I kept thinking was, "I wonder how many copies of the Thrice EP there were and I wonder if there are any left?" But the final question I had, and that I'll conclude this post with, is "how many of those records are they going to sell online?"

After 15 minutes in the store, and having only moved up 3-4 spots in line, I finally called up to someone near that crate that began with "S" and asked them if they wouldn't mind seeing if the Thrice EP was there. Thankfully they found it and passed it back to me. And then I practically had to ask permission to check out, because by me paying and leaving I was circumventing the system they had in place. By this point I had no energy or desire to try to seek out interesting used records. Plus, there were people on the sidewalk still waiting to get in, and if I were to browse, it meant they had to wait longer.

Thankfully I got out and got home with 15 minutes to spare before my daughter's soccer game. Sadly, the shopping experience was totally lost. There was no opportunity to browse, and no opportunity to move around the store.

How many people in front of me in line could have come and go so much quicker had they not been sent into a line and system that required either browsing all the exclusives, or at least waiting for the people ahead of you to browse them? This was so unlike any Record Store Day experience I have had before. Lines outside of stores? Of course? But inside? Never again.

Thrice

Centered around this entire experience was my plan and desire to buy the Thrice "Deeper Wells" EP. I am a huge Thrice fan, and my Thrice vinyl collection is important to me.



Buying a one-sided LP with four new songs and an etching was appealing and exciting. I would have preferred to preorder it online, but thankfully I had the time and opportunity to go to a store (unlike many fans). But the main reason I went to the store was because I feared if I didn't go to try to buy the EP there would be two possible outcomes: either I wouldn't get the EP or I would have to pay an obscene price for it.

What I paid for it: $16.99

eBay and Discogs screenshots Saturday and Sunday (note these are asking prices, not actually sold prices):





Not really much to say about that, except a whole lot of people that bought the Thrice EP Saturday weren't Thrice fans. And a whole lot of Thrice fans who couldn't go to Record Store Day have a difficult decision to make. I am not sure if 4000 copies truly makes it "rare"; so maybe/hopefully the online resale price will drop radically this week.

If those examples aren't bad enough, here is the worst of all. Members of Thrice signing the EP for fans yesterday:
From the Thrice Facebook page
And one of those fans posting it on eBay:

Hopefully it doesn't sell, but that doesn't excuse the listing.

Flipping

Finally, this brings me back to the other question I posed as I saw people leave Village Vinyl with mounds of records. How many of those records are now for sale online? Well, locally, obviously I have no idea. But check out this user on Discogs, who has at least fifteen 2019 Record Store Day exclusives for sale online, most at 400-500% price markup. Screenshots from Saturday and Sunday:


(Two copies of the Thrice EP for sale; thankfully Village Vinyl had a limit of 1 exclusive per person)
Should I envy this person for taking advantage of a flawed system and turning into a business opportunity? Or should I get upset because this is unethical (is it?)?

If one does research and waits in line (at maybe more than one store), do they have the right to sell for whatever they want? Is pricing $15 albums for $75 the same day that you buy them wrong? Is the the buyer's responsibility not to overpay for an album? Or is the the seller's responsibility to price items fairly?

Have I ever sold an album for more than I bought it for? Yes, but only after the album(s) had aged a few years. For example, I bought Fiona Apple's most recent album new in 2012 for $20, and then sold it in 2018 for $120. Is my situation the same or different than Record Store Day flips?

What Can Be Done?

For Village Vinyl, probably not much. Larger store would help, but otherwise they might be stuck. Letting people exit line once inside the store would be nice, or maybe pull some product outside onto the sidewalk if it is a nice day.

But for the industry? There needs to be change. Back to my original questions from my Instagram post: Is this good for musicians? I would assume so; for Thrice specifically there is obviously a lot of excitement surrounding new tunes. However, I do know some indie bands suffer trying to get their albums pressed because the vinyl pressing plants are all clogged up cranking out all these Record Store Day exclusives, many of which are crap.

Is this good for stores? That is hard to say. I might reach out to a good friend who works for one to get some data. It brings people into their stores, but how much profit are they really making on that day? They have to purchase all these exclusive releases (some of which sell out, but many of which stay on shelves for years and eventually hit discount bins), and pay tons of staff to work to manage the crowds. My assumption is that it only benefits stores if people who come in on Record Store Day return and shop on random days for the rest of the year.

Nothing is going to prevent people from selling records and whatever else on eBay for inflated prices. But could a site like Discogs take a stand and not allow Record Store Day purchases the first weekend? Most of these releases, which seem rare if you couldn't get to a store, were actually pressed in incredibly large numbers. So if you give stores and online retailers time, they will begin to get listed at reasonable prices. For example, the Thrice EP can now thankfully be found on Discogs and other sites for $20.00 or so.

Hopefully you had a good Record Store Day experience; and if so, I'd love to hear about it!

February 1, 2019

Record collecting and early 2019 releases

I have reached a point in my record collecting that I need to sell some things off in order to get some new items. Part of this is my budget, but part of this is I would rather complete full discographies for bands that I love rather than hold on to random releases that are less important to me. Turns out somethings I have purchased in the last few year have skyrocketed in value; so I guess it's time to take advantage.


I have been using Discogs off and on for awhile, but just started selling things there this week. I listed 37 items originally, and have already sold 10. I might have better luck selling to people I "know" (like you, the reader), so here is a link to my stuff:


Speaking of new stuff, there have been some exciting early 2019 releases. Number one, seemingly coming out of nowhere, is Better Oblivion Community Center, the new band and collaboration between Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers:


Secondly, and the first vinyl release of 2019 I have in hand, is the fantastic return of Pedro the Lion:


And as usual, due to the vinyl craze, we've got all kinds of reissues in the works. Just today Rose Blossom Punch announced an Indiegogo campaign for their 1999 EP "Sorry to Disappoint You":


And yesterday Steadfast Records announced a reissue of the Brandtson debut album "Letterbox". While a huge Brandtson fan, I will probably pass on this one. However, I might need to snag that sweet hat:




December 29, 2018

Best of 2018

Pedro the Lion. Photo by me. More here.
While I have blogged less this year than any year in recent memory (statistically the lowest number of posts since my blog's inception in 2003), my connection to new music remains strong. I continue to love and obsess over whatever music is being released tomorrow, but I have far less time to invest in that discovery process.

When I have written this year, it has been more in long form, and not the short, quick blog posts of years past. Here are the two things I have written in 2018 that I am most proud of, however admittedly they will appeal to very few people:

Thank God I’m Full of Holes; What Scott Hutchison taught me about brokenness, love, God, and community

The Prayer Chain, Dakoda Motor Co., Pedro the Lion, and friendship

Overall my writing has been limited due to a major overseas move and intense personal challenges. Much of my "music journalism" has shifted to visual only through a new Instagram account. That was inspired by being reunited with my record collection after four years. I have already posted three "top-9" year-end lists there:

Top 9 vinyl releases of the year that I own:

Top 9 vinyl reissues of the year:

Top 9 album covers of the year:


A couple things have made this year in music for me different than the last few is seeing shows again with more frequency, and the amount of time I have spent listening to older music. These are interconnected, because all but one of the concerts I went to this year were for artists who were active in the 1990's. Thankfully nostalgia continues to be "in" which is great for me because I am about as nostalgic as a person can be.

Combine nostalgia with vinyl's popularity and the result is tons of reissues. With the number of my favorite 90's albums being put out on vinyl for the first time, my budget for new music is limited. The vinyl reissues are impressive visually, but I am reconnecting to the music again, and many times the songs I knew well sound way better than I have ever heard them before. Some of the songs, despite being 25 years old, have new layers and details I had not heard on my CDs and cassettes of the past.

But, back to the point, this is about new music--the best albums of 2018. The list is shorter and the details fewer, but I am going to push through and stick to my year-end tradition. After the top-3 the order honestly changes day to day, I could definitely foresee radically re-ordering these after a couple more years to mull over them.

Before I get into my top albums of the year, let me first mention my favorite song of 2018. Out of nowhere Mineral released a new song on November 5:



Despite the song only being out for less than two months, I have listened to it more times than any song this year. My walk to work is 10-12 minutes, and I will often listen to this song for the majority of that time. It is beautiful lyrically and musically, and arguably the best song Mineral has ever written.

It is still shocking the song even exists. Mineral broke up in 1998 and then reformed in 2014 for touring, but no one expected them to write together again. I was blessed to see them play in Italy in 2015 (and wrote about that and seeing them in 1997 here). Now they are touring again in January to celebrate 25 years as a band. There is a second new song coming along with a book and 10" record, releasing in January.

If you are looking for a great way to either (1) discover new music from the current year or (2) see what the top-ranked (and mostly overrated) albums of the year are, there is nothing better out there than Rob Mitchum's Google sheet. I have used it and referred to it for years, but sadly had much less time this year to read through it.

This year's mentions include artists from twelve states and six countries.

Top 20 albums of 2018:

1. Neko Case- Hell-On
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 8)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: Tacoma, Washington (but has lived all over the place)

I discovered Neko Case sometime in 2004 through her vocal contributions to the New Pornographer's album Electric Version. I checked out the solo stuff she had released up until that point, but I wouldn't have necessarily called myself a Neko fan until the release of 2006' Fox Confessor Brings the Flood, which my wife and I loved. At that point I did go back and purchase 2002's Blacklisted, which we also really enjoyed.

Overall though I have always been a much bigger fan of her work with the New Pornographers than I have her solo work. 2009's Middle Cyclone was OK, but not on par with Fox. 2013 brought her last solo album, The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You, which I dislike and feel lacks direction or cohesion. As a solo artist I had honestly lost interest in her work.

Hell-On changed everything. Five years following Neko's last solo album, a dozen years since what critics agree was her best album, Neko releases what is by far her grandest achievement. Instrumentally, lyrically, vocally--it is all on another level. The textures and arrangements are intricate and complex, and more is revealed on each listen.

The only downside? The AWFUL cover and art. My personal connection of music to visual art is so strong that most of the year, despite how much I loved this album musically, I never thought I would rank it #1.

I highly recommend this episode of the Song Exploder in which Neko Case dissects the song "Last Lion of Albion. Terrific insight into the process for the album as a whole.



2. Cat Power- Wanderer
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 8)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia




3. Hop Along- Bark Your Head Off, Dog
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 6, including The Alternative's #1)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania





4. mewithoutYou- Untitled
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 1)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl (deluxe ships in early 2019, so I don't yet have it)
Hometown: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania





5. Thrice- Palms
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Irvine, California




6. Middle Kids- Lost Friends
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: Sydney, Australia





7.  Emma Ruth Rundle- On Dark Horses
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 2, including Treble's #7)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: Los Angeles, California




8. Cursive- Vitriola
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Cassette
Hometown: Omaha, Nebraska


9. Lucy Dacus- Historian
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 9, including Paste's #1)
Listen/buy on Matador Records
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: Richmond, Virginia




10. Let's Eat Grandma- I'm All Ears
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 11, including Q's #2)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: Norwich, United Kingdom




11. Mastersystem- Dance Music
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 1)
Listen/buy on Amazon
Format purchased: CD
Hometown: Selkirk, Scotland




12. The Innocence Mission- Sun on the Square
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Lancaster, Pennsylvania


13. The Aces- When My Heart Felt Volcanic
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: CD
Hometown: Orem, Utah


14. Snail Mail- Lush
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 16, including five top-10's)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: Baltimore, Maryland


15. The Decemberists- I'll Be Your Girl
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 1)
Listen/buy on Amazon
Format purchased: CD
Hometown: Portland, Oregon





16. Wye Oak- The Louder I Call, The Faster It Runs
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 1)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: Baltimore, Maryland


17. Wild Pink- Yolk In the Fur
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 4)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: New York, New York



18. Soccer Mommy- Clean
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 12, including Paste's #4)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Nashville, Tennessee




19. Say Sue Me- Where We Were Together
(Number of major music lists ranked on: Zero)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: Busan, South Korea



20. Death Cab for Cutie- Thank You For Today
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 1)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Seattle, Washington


Top 5 EPs of 2018:

1. boygenius- boygenius
(Number of major music lists ranked on: 11, Paste's #7. Shouldn't have been ranked anywhere due to it being a six-song EP; was incorrectly classified as an LP at some point in the release/review process)
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Various



2. Hatchie- Sugar and Spice
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Brisbane, Australia


3. mewithoutYou- Untitled E.P.
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania




4. Waxahatchee- Great Thunder
Listen/buy on Bandcamp
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Birmingham, Alabama


5. Tess Wiley- Femme Sole
Listen/buy on Amazon
Format purchased: Digital
Hometown: Giessen, Germany










Final mention: Manchester Orchestra- I Know How to Speak and various other singles and covers
Listen/buy on Amazon
Format purchased: Vinyl
Hometown: Atlanta, Georgia

While Manchester Orchestra's last album came out in 2017, they released a new song on average every other month in 2018, all of which are great. The most notable is the single "I Know How to Speak", but they also released the following:
"Blizzard of '77" (Nada Surf Cover)
"Bad Things to Such Good People" (Pedro the Lion cover with Julien Baker)
"The Gold" (alternate version of album track with Pheobe Bridgers on vocals)
"No Hard Feelings" (Avett Brothers cover)
"My Backwards Walk" (Frightened Rabbit cover)
"Allentown" (with the Front Bottoms)

YouTube playlist of all the songs Manchester Orchestra released this year:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=g0YbQuuz01k&index=2&list=

Most disappointing album of 2018:

Chvrches- Love is Dead
It's not that album is terrible--it is fine--but the digression in Chvrches' creativity is bizarre. It's as if the band intentionally watered-down the edge they had. Had I discovered the band today, I would assume this was their debut, and that their actual debut was their third album. Love is Dead is Chvrches-lite.

Concerts attended this year:

Nada Surf in Strasbourg, France
Waxahatchee in Detroit
Dakoda Motor Co. in Nashville
The Prayer Chain in Nashville
Pedro the Lion in Detroit
Over the Rhine in Ann Arbor