Media

A Collection of New Vinyl for the Audiophile - October, 2013

Nine Inch Nails "Hesitation Marks" Columbia Records

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A Collection of New Vinyl for the Audiophile - October, 2013 - Hesitation Marks

I had preconceived notions about what Trent Reznor was doing as a musician all of these years. He hit it big with that "Animal" song when I was still in early high school, and I let that pretty much color my thoughts about everything he's done before or since. Doesn't make much sense, huh? I'm lazy. That's why I do that sort of thing. But, if I'm going to give myself even a shred of the benefit of the doubt, I can also say that none of my most trusted sources for musical recommendations have ever even broached the subject of Nine Inch Nails. He's been hiding from me in plain sight for over 20 years now. Well, I saw the Sound City documentary a couple of weeks back and that viewing just happened to coincide with the release of his latest, Hesitation Marks. He seems like a cool enough guy and I decided to jump in the pool. The water's warm, gang, even if it is filled with razor blades. The pain is worth the reward.

What I learned from the documentary is this: Trent Reznor doesn't need the technology that he employs to make music. He's a classically trained pianist, plays a million instruments, and he's clearly very bright. Add a little torment, rehab, and boundless creativity to the mix, and you get at least one bad ass record from the recipe. Hesitation Marks is ludicrously listenable even for an old curmudgeon like me. (I think that's the first time I've ever used the word "curmudgeon." Lots of firsts going on around here.) I joined the Trent Reznor Fan Club after hearing the first couple of lines from "Copy Of A." "I am just a copy of a copy of a copy / Everything I say has come before." I've been on a rant lately about how we all have to say the same things as everyone else. Repeatedly. We're "all about" fitting in these days. (Your line is, "I know, right?" Or maybe just, "right?") Just sayin'. I have no idea what Reznor was thinking of when he wrote the lyrics, but that's one of the million brilliant things about music. We can interpret content according to our own personal filters, and that's one way that the artist speaks directly to us. It's collaborative. And Reznor turns out to be that kid that's been in all of your classes for the last few years. You never took the time to know him until some school project introduced you, and he turns out to be really cool - he's just been hanging with a completely different crowd than you have. Or maybe he's been hanging out by himself in his bedroom making 25 years worth of mostly electronic music that's not nearly as abrasive as you'd imagined it being. He can sing in a few different voices depending on the texture of the tune, and he uses people with names like "Lindsey Buckingham" and "Adrian Belew" to help him get his point across. His song "Came Back Haunted" is a full tilt rocker (and an obvious single), and his "All Time Low" lets you know that he has some funk in his veins too. I wish I'd met him sooner.

But it's all fine in the end. I don't need a ton of this stuff in my collection. Maybe I'll try to figure out where his high water mark was pre-Hesitation and let those two records be my NIN collection. This one's on two well-pressed discs in a gatefold package and it comes with a CD. I'm happy to have enough angst to appreciate it. Seems timely to me.

(This record was purchased at MusicDirect.com.)

Black Sabbath "13" Vertigo/Republic Records

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A Collection of New Vinyl for the Audiophile - October, 2013 - Black Sabbath 13Best of 2013 Awards

Every picture tells a story, and the one adorning the inner sleeve of the first record in Black Sabbath's new one is quite articulate. It's of a handwritten outline for the structure of a tune. This is it:

Intro Riff
Verse
Main Riff
Verse
Main Riff
Bridge
Intro Riff
Solo
Metal Riff
Main Riff
Verse
Main Riff
Fast Shuffle
?Main Riff?

The list is resting next to a few packs of Vic Firth drumsticks too. And that pretty much sums it up for 13. The Sabbath is back in full fire breathing form, man. Most of Sabbath, anyway. Poor Bill Ward wasn't invited to the party. Playing the drums is an athletic enterprise, and I reckon Ol' Bill wasn't up for the workout. But Brad Wilk (of Rage Against the Machine fame) sure was. And Rick Rubin not only produced the record, but seems to have harassed the members into complicity over the course of about a decade. God bless you, Rick. Or Satan bless you. Devil horns and all that. Whatever.

This album's a blast. Lots of "alright, okay!" and "come on, now!" from Ozzy. Tony Iommi was diagnosed with lymphoma last year, but is reportedly clear of it today. I hope that's true, and I can tell you ten things that it didn't affect regardless: his fingers. Or his ability to craft a bone rattling riff. So that makes eleven that we know of. (Seriously, Tony. I hope you're well.) Usually, when one of my favorite bands reunites, I get excited to go see them play, but I rarely reach for their reunion recording (if there's one to reach for). I mean, I don't listen to A Bigger Bang when it comes time to listen to the Stones. And that record wasn't bad, but why bother with it if you have Let It Bleed? Well, I have Paranoid and Black Sabbath on the shelf, but I'll probably play13 again before I play either one of the others. I read somewhere that Rubin gave the band copies of those two records at the beginning of the13 sessions just to get them reacquainted with their primary strengths. There's nothing particularly ingenious about that, but I guess no one else thought to do it for Sabbath or for anyone else. It's such a simple formula. No one wants to hear an "updated" Black Sabbath sound with "featured" artists and Satan knows what else. We want what's on 13. Black Sabbath. Black. No creamer. And that's what we got. It's like the Dark Knight trilogy. Christopher Nolan managed to get the whole thing just right. Or as right as it's going to get in this era. Rubin did too. This one's a little shinier than the self-titled record or Paranoid, but that's like saying "the weather in Santa Barbara is a little crappier than it is in San Diego." If you're a Sabbath fan and you can't get turned on by 13, then you're probably not going to ever get it up again. Rest in peace.  

These records are super silent after a proper cleaning. (I just learned what a "proper cleaning" is. More on that when we get to the Queens of the Stone Age record...) The soundstage is playful, not perfect. A drum roll might fade from one channel to the next, for instance. This is, after all, Rock and Roll. It's perfection is in its imperfection. This one has it all. A gatefold with stark, dark art. Printed inners with lyrics, credits, (and often hilarious) "thank you's" from the band. (Of course you'll want to keep those inners even though you're using MoFi's inners to store the two heavy discs.) There's also a download card and an extra special surprise for the true fan during the fade out after the last song. I won't ruin it. Nothing could. Instant classic. Every song has been my favorite on the record at various times after the first few listens. I'm dancing around a candlelit pentagram on cloven hooves right... now.

(This record was purchased at MusicDirect.com.)

The Drive-By Truckers "Alabama Ass Whuppin'" ATO Records

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A Collection of New Vinyl for the Audiophile - October, 2013 - Alabama Ass Whuppin'

My favorite Drive-By Truckers lineup is always the current one. I haven't even seen the band play since John Neff departed and keyboardist Jay Gonzalez took up some of Neff's slack on guitar, and the current lineup is still my favorite. I used to freak out every time someone left or got fired, but now I have faith. They always land on their feet or their ass, and each sounds equally forceful. Then, they roll on with the power of the 18-wheeler that their name conjures images of with smoke pouring from the windows, tires, and engine compartment, road kill in the mirror and the next gig in the windshield. I got onboard shortly before Alabama Ass Whuppin' was recorded live and loud around Georgia in 1999. This was in the days of the stripped down four piece before Rob "The Devil" Malone moved over to third guitar and Earl "Birddog" Hicks took over Rob's bass duties. I've had the out-of-print compact laser disc since the day it came out, and I've been waiting for a vinyl version ever since. Here it is.

I hadn't gone back and given the recording a listen in a while because there's just been too much new material to keep up with over the last decade plus. By the time I fully absorb the latest record, the next one's about ready. I generally prefer the band's later material from a songwriting perspective, but the energy in these grooves is as raw and rowdy as you'd expect. Songs like "Too Much Sex (Too Little Jesus)" actually appeal to me a little more now than they did even then. And I was addicted back then. I'd travel to shows and sleep on floors or not sleep at all, and then do it again. All to be there for the three hours that it took for the Truckers to rock the rafters of whatever hole in the wall they were playing and mop the stage with the opener's blood. There's a killer version of "Lookout Mountain" on here, a song that would later appear on the stellar Dirty South record which might still be my favorite ever. I can never decide. One of the many joys of Ass Whuppin' is that you more or less know exactly who's doing what on every song because there were only two guitarists at the time and Patterson wasn't playing many solos back then. Basically, that means that if someone's blazing a solo, it's probably Mike Cooley that you can thank for it. Isn't that magnificent? As always, if you're in it for fancy haircuts and ass wiggling routines, you're in the wrong arena. But if Rock and Roll is your thing, then you can take a load off and put your boots up for a while. This is the place. I don't know what Rob Malone's doing now, but he and Brad Morgan had a side project called "Fatso" around this time, and I hope he's doing something equally great today. Just seeing his picture on the rear cover takes me back to a time that I remember with... nothing. I remember nothing at all. And shows like the ones documented here are exactly the reason why. 

As always, ATO Records did a high quality job on this set. It's not as dolled up as some of the previous records, but the pressings on both discs are silent and the inner sleeves won't need to be replaced. The set comes with a download coupon and the ubiquitous Patterson Hood essay for historical context. The CD had some different pictures and printed lyrics, but this is the definitive version. My DBT collection feels complete now. Completely. Until the next one...

(This record was purchased at MusicDirect.com.)

Queens of the Stone Age "...Like Clockwork" Matador Records

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A Collection of New Vinyl for the Audiophile - October, 2013 - ...Like Clockwork

One of my old college roomies suggested the new Queens of the Stone Age record to me last month. Said he thought it would be right up my alley. Said the record sounded great and the content was greater. I only know of the band tangentially as the guitarist is in the Dead Weather with Big Jack White. The mastermind behind the band was also in the Sound City documentary that we touched on earlier while we were delving into the NIN record. I went for it, and I'm so glad I did. It's refreshing to find a popular band that is worth the hype. I mean, I doubt the paparazzi are stalking them or anything, but it seems like there's a buzz going on, and I think it's well deserved. In fact, the record debuted at Number One on some hotshot Music Chart. Maybe I'm just late to the party. Again. Anyway, this record rocks cojones. But this article ends in tragedy. I'll tell you that much right now.  

This set was calling to me before I ever unwrapped it. I love the artwork and the packaging, in general. The vampire-y guy on the cover reminds me of Nosferatu with hair. The artwork is by someone named "Boneface," and the inner sleeves and the inside of the gatefold are rife with it. It's the kind of thing that your parents would totally freak out about if they caught you doodling this stuff in the margins of your homework. Perfect. There's even a 15 minute cartoon (same artwork) that accompanies a portion of the album on YouTube. I'd buy it on iTunes and watch it every day if it were available. I digress. The reader may be interested in learning more about the music as well as the artifact. Well, okay. The music is some of the most compelling New Rock that I've heard in many moons. Lots of interesting sounds, none of the artifice. A little overly emotional in spots (because that is what's en vogue these days), but never to the point of melodrama (which is also en vogue these days). If "I Sat By The Ocean" doesn't stick with you upon first listen, you need to listen again. It'll get through, I promise. I love Rock and Roll, and this is mostly just Rock, but I can't resist it. It's better than any new music that I've heard on standard format radio stations in as long as I can remember. Of course, I've not heard it on a standard format radio station either, but surely it's there. It debuted at "Number One!" That's the happy build-up. Here's the tragic end...

My record sounds like something's ass. The recording is great with wonderful spacing and plenty of texture, but there's a distinct wooly scratching noise throughout sides one and two on my copy. In fact, it's not distinct so much as it is overwhelming. All encompassing once you've heard it, and you hear it before the music starts. And you hear it throughout because, unlike most Modern Rock bands, these guys aren't afraid to leave some open spaces in their sound. Here's the rub: this is the Standard Edition of the album. Two discs on 45 rpm, 150 gram vinyl. Whereas the Deluxe Edition is on two 45 rpm, 180 gram discs... pressed at Pallas. Is this a ploy to get more of our money or an honest mistake? Do I have one of only a few bad copies or is this across the board? Chew on this: I've been listening to the download that came with the set rather than the record! And I'll follow that bombshell up with this little nugget: I'm getting the Deluxe Edition next. It's that good.

Epilogue: I contacted my guy at MusicDirect.com for direction on this matter. He pitched me on some Mobile Fidelity cleaning products and I bought them all. They couldn't fix this record, but, as the saying goes, "you can't put icing on a pile of manure and call it a cake." The products are otherwordly great. I got a stylus treatment kit, two types of record wash, and two brushes (one for old records and one for new). It's like having a new record collection. The stylus cleaner is called "LP#9," and it's essential. Peruse the various record washes that MoFi offers on the MusicDirect site and choose the ones that best fit your needs. Most require a vacuuming system, but some do not. Choose wisely and act fast. It's an instant sonic upgrade for not a ton of cash. Enjoy!

(This record was purchased at MusicDirect.com.)

Bob Dylan "Another Self Portrait (1969-1971): The Bootleg Series Vol. 10" Columbia Records

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A Collection of New Vinyl for the Audiophile - October, 2013 - Bob Dylan

I wasn't too stoked about the latest installment in Bob's Bootleg Series when I first read about it. The three-disc set is called Another Self Portrait (1969-1971): The Bootleg Series Vol. 10 (if you're not into the whole brevity thing). I knew the legend behind the original Self Portrait which was that Dylan deliberately alienated his audience so that he could reclaim a bit of privacy and his peace of mind. And, according to what I've read, it worked. The audience alienating, I mean. There was wailing and gnashing of teeth from the four corners because Dylan possessed the audacity to give his audience something other than exactly what they were expecting. I've seen this happen in my own time with other artists, and may have even wailed myself in similar situations as a younger man. But that's not why I'd never given Self Portrait much of a chance. It makes perfect sense to me for Dylan to release an album of folk covers and country tunes. That's kind of where his whole gig began, right? But I was turned off by the original's production and timbre. But not nearly as turned off by the original as I am turned on by the new one. It's like Golden Era Bob fell out of the sky and into our collective lap in 2013. I'd never have the audacity to even hope for these types of recordings to come to light at a time like this. "The night is darkest just before the dawn," and all that.

Lots of these tunes involve only Bob on guitar and vocals with David Bromberg on acoustic guitar. Often, the duo is joined by Al Kooper on piano and/or organ. These recordings are my favorites on the set. George Harrison stops by to play on a couple from the New Morning sessions, and there are even a couple from the Basement Tapes recordings. Add all that up, and I'd say you have a pretty compelling set even without the Nashville Skyline tunes and the Isle of Wight stuff with the Band. My favorite Bootleg Series sets have covered a wide swath of Bob's career, and I'm far from able to pick a favorite. I loved Vol. 8 which covered his newest material (beginning with the Time Out of Mind sessions) as much as I did Vol. 4 which documented his first electric tour in 1966 (which was received so favorably in England, especially). And this one fits right in there too. There are 35 songs here, and one of them involves an orchestra so it's safe to assume that you might not be into every single tune, but there's so much gold in these hills that it's an essential component of any Dylan collection in my mind. "Railroad Bill," in particular, is exactly the kind of song I think of when I think of "classic" Dylan. The version here was recorded with Bromberg and Cooper in 1970, but I'd guess 1965 in a blind taste test every time. What's not to like? Just judging by what's contained in this box, I'd say that people in 1970 needed to lighten the hell up.  

This set includes all 35 songs on two CD's as well as liners by Greil Marcus. If you don't know why that's ironic, just Google Marcus' name along with "Self Portrait" and read his review of the original work. There's a bigger version of Another Self Portrait" that's only available on CD which nags at me a bit. I feel like the vinyl version should be the one with all of the available material, but no one consulted me. The pressings are great, the music is better. Turns out, Bob painted another masterpiece while we were throwing eggs at it. We're wearing those eggs on our collective face now. So it goes. 

(This record was purchased at MusicDirect.com.)