Thursday, October 29, 2009

I'm Moving.

And my music's all boxed up. I'll be back soon!

These are not my records. But it would be nice if they were.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Stallion Alert at the Movies: Anvil: The Story of Anvil (2008)

I kept meaning to Netflix this movie, and managed to forget for quite some time. I finally worked it into the queue, and I'm glad I did.

I have to admit, I didn't know jack about Anvil before I saw this movie. I had heard the name in some of my various metal travels, but had never heard the band. Thankfully, knowing anything about this band isn't a prerequisite for enjoying this movie. Their backstory is told in the first segment, and it gives you all the info you need to jump right to the present day and catch up with the main players.

The movie tells the story of an 80's band who now find themselves in their early 50's, still, against all odds and common sense, trying to make it in the music biz. It's sad, hilarious, depressing, uplifting, and really well made. Like any good documentary, the end is a great payoff, but it wouldn't be so without an interesting journey to the final scene.

I won't give too much away, but if you enjoy a good rock doc (or documentaries in general), this is definitely worth checking out. Great live footage, great archive footage, and personalities that are simply engrossing to watch. And seriously: it's a really nice story.

Also includes some worthwhile deleted scenes which, given the sub-90 minute running time of the film, should have been included. Still, who cares. Everyone's telling you this movie is great. They're right.

Official Trailer

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Local H - Whatever Happened to P.J. Soles? (CD, 2004)

First off, the cover and title to this album are both fantastic.

The songs are damn fine too, and this record is much more Pack Up the Cats than it is Here Comes the Zoo. It's big, involved, and features some really short songs and some really long songs. Lots of variety, and lots of rock. The production value is somewhere in between, with most of the cuts sounding raw, though there are plenty of overdubs. It's a nice mix, and the recording ends up with a live-in-the-studio vibe that suits the band well.

Tracks like "Dick Jones" get more abstract than Local H ever has before, with the band bringing in a (gasp!) mellotron player to add some spacey depth to the loose riff. Does not sound like Local H at all, and though I respect them branching out, it's not really my cup of tea. Luckily they follow it up with the nutso-ness of the two-minute "Money on the Dresser" and the guitar almost-balladry of "P.J. Soles," a song with great lyrics that occasionally get lost in the mix, which is annoying.

"Buffalo Trace" is classic rock-y and, at over ten minutes long, a patience-tester. Still, it goes along with the vibe of the rest of the record, which is the band getting out of their comfort zone. Still, the songs that remain true to their sound (like the rampaging "Heavy Metal Bakesale") end up being my favorites.

Makes me think I need to rediscover this record and give it some more time.

"Hey, Rita"

Friday, October 23, 2009

Local H - The No Fun EP (CD, 2003)

Featuring three songs that almost made it onto their previous album but didn't, along with three covers, this is a textbook EP that does the job and does it well.

The title track is a solid rocker, quickly proving that it deserves top billing. "President Forever" is ostensibly political, but it eventually gets so ambiguous that you can't really tell who's being sung about. That's fine by me. "Birth, School, Work, Death" is a cover of the classic Godfathers number. Pretty sure this was from a compilation. I'm not a huge fan of Local H doing covers, but they pull this off.

"Cooler Heads" is a Local H original, and while you can see why it may have been left of their album, it's not a bad tune. Nice b-side material. The cover of the Ramones' "I Just Want Something to Do" is fairly pointless, but whatever. The EP closes with the almost-ten-minute "Fuck Yeah, That Wide," which takes some patience but works in some sweet moves. I guess it's kind of a cover, but not really. Hard to explain, and not sure I really understand it anyway.

Overall, a nice placeholder for fans of the band.

"No Fun"

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Local H - Here Comes the Zoo (CD, 2002)

Local H switched it up in the aughts. For one thing, longtime drummer Joe Daniels left the group, and was replaced by equally hard-hitting Brian St. Clair. The lineup adjustment didn't change the sound of the band much, but they do seem more focused on separating the songs and allowing them to stand alone. While Pack Up the Cats was ambitious and meticulous in every aspect, playing out as a fine-tuned rock opera-ish thing, this record is more or less just ten big tracks, each within their own space, and each markedly different from the others.

If Local H is anything, they're consistent, and this record stands up well against any of their other work. "Hands on the Bible" is maybe the most well-known of the songs here (which, admittedly, isn't saying much) and it's uncharacteristically serious. It's not a bad move, and it's of course balanced out by the cheekier numbers, like "Keep Your Girlfriend Away from Me" and "Rock & Roll Professionals." Josh Homme shows up for a guest spot on the latter, and adds some of his trademark thickness to the song.

This album is also personally notable for containing one of my all-time favorite Local H songs, "Creature Comforted." I have a soft spot for rock songs that call out people that the singer perceives to be pussies, and this is really a top-notch entry into that legendary canon. ("Hey, come on/We're all defanged and declawed" - good stuff.)

I always forget how much I like this record. I bought it at a weird time and didn't really ingest it until a few years later. Another great album from this band that will forever remain unrecognized. If you want to strap on and rock, this ain't a bad avenue to go down. I'm just sayin'.

"Creature Comforted"

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Local H - Pack Up the Cats (CD, 1998)

This album will always remain Local H's crowning achievement. It's retardedly good, and yet destined to live forever in bargain bins. That must drive them nuts.

This record is such a step forward from As Good As Dead (which is pretty good, too) that it seems like Scott Lucas spent the two years in between the records holed up at a songwriting camp or some shit. The songs are bigger, smarter, and catchier. And once the thing gets started (with the awesome "All-Right (Oh, Yeah)," there's barely time for a breath. The tracks all run together, and they are all good.

Someone gave me this album, and honestly, after their debut, I didn't expect it to be great. As Good As Dead is plenty solid, but there are parts where it teeters. It seemed there was little room for things to get better, but plenty of room for stuff to either stay the same or slip a little bit. I was way off. This is one of the great underrated rock albums of the second half of the 90's. It came out at a weird time, and maybe that's why it got swept under the carpet. The poorly written Wikipedia page for this album suggests label issues, but who knows.

Man, I haven't listened to this in a while, but I forgot how consistent it is. Every song is great. There's even a track called "Deep Cut," a two-minute guitar-hammerer that (of course) is the penultimate song on the album. Nice touch.

"Fine and Good," "What Can I Tell You?," "Cool Magnet" - all the hits are here.

I'll be the first to admit that Local H ain't for everybody, but if you want to give them a shot, I'd start here. As far as a full album experience from them, it doesn't get any better.

"All-Right (Oh, Yeah)"/"'Cha!' Said the Kitty"

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Local H - As Good As Dead (CD, 1996)

Go ahead and hate Local H. It only makes them rock more.

If you're comfortable with writing them off as the one-hit wonder behind "Bound for the Floor," that's fine. You're way off base and you're making a fool of yourself, but that's your right as a lazy music listener.

The funny thing is, "Bound for the Floor" was probably the first song I heard by them, and I didn't really care much for it. I don't have a problem with it, but it's neither representative of their sound nor one of their better songs. Fittingly, I cannot remember why I bought this record. I think it might have been after I caught the "Eddie Vedder" video on MTV (must have been one of the three times they played it), and just thought it was hilarious that they had a song with that title. Seemed gutsy. Seemed almost stupid. That works.

As with a lot of bands who had fleeting mainstream popularity yet still maintain an ardent fanbase, Local H is all about the deep cuts. The best songs on this record are the random ones, tracks like "Nothing Special," "I Saw What You Did and I Know Who You Are," and the blistering badassness of "Back in the Day." And while "High-Fiving MF" and "Fritz's Corner" are tailor-made for rock dudes to scream along with, they're also making fun of those same rock dudes. Yes, it's been done before (and yes, the Nirvana comparisons could go on for a while), but Scott Lucas has a way of making it not suck. Not sure how he does it, but though he comes dangerously close to letting his identity fade away into the murky sea of post-grunge, he somehow keeps his head above water.

It's fun to listen to, because honestly, this band could have easily been one that put out a few records and were never heard from again. Dude's a scrapper. I like that.

"Eddie Vedder"

Monday, October 19, 2009

Gordon Lightfoot - Cold on the Shoulder (LP, 1975)

After finding that I actually enjoyed Sundown, I decided to try my luck with other Lightfoot releases. I picked up four or five other records from various eras, but I've since parted with all of them except this one. Turns out I only like Gordon Lightfoot circa '74-'75.

This album picks up where Sundown left off, maintaining the same basic arrangements and not changing much of anything. While not quite as strong as its predecessor, I still enjoy this record. "Bend in the Water" is jumpy and fun, and though "Rainy Day People" is crazy corny, it's a nice little ditty. After that, though, the album really hits its stride. The title track is the best song on the whole LP, and "The Soul is the Rock," despite its heavy title and lyrics, is a light and likable track.

Things slide into a bit of a country way after that, and that's tough for me to handle. The second side is decent, but it gets a little watered down by ambitious arrangements attempting to make up for melodies that aren't too gripping.

It's a narrow window for me and Gord-o. Think I'm going to keep it that way.

Here's a fairly recent performance of "Rainy Day People."

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Gordon Lightfoot - Sundown (LP, 1974)

Go ahead, laugh.

I was turned onto the song "Sundown" through karaoke years ago. I had never heard Gordon Lightfoot (or I probably had, but didn't realize it), but I thought the song was a damn fine one. I can't remember exactly when I picked this LP up; sometime in the last three years, I think. 50 cents. Figured I'd see what the rest of the record was like. I was pleasantly surprised.

Though the first side of this record contains some solid 70's wuss-folk, it's really Side Two where things get great. "The Watchman's Gone" is my favorite Lightfoot song, a rolling acoustic number (duh) with a killer melody. The title track's a winner as well, and when it's followed up by "Carefree Highway," it completes the trifecta of soft-rock sensitivity. "Carefree Highway" is AM radio personified, and I love it. "The List" is sappy-happy, but plenty nice, and the album closes with the reflective "Too Late for Prayin'," a ballad that brings some strings in to achieve the full effect. Pleasant.

I still have no idea why I like this. But if I'm in the mood, it gets me every time.


Saturday, October 17, 2009

Event Attendance: Portland's Night Owl Record Show - October 17, 2009

The air was damp, the nerds were stinky.

I just got back from the semi-annual Night Owl Record Show, and though I didn't spend as much time (or money) as I did last time I went, I still had a fine time. Not much had changed since last time. In fact, it was mostly the same dudes, in the same spots, selling the same kinds of music. But that's OK. The records were different. I think I only bought stuff from three different tables. Here's what I picked up:

Run-DMC - "Ghostbusters" 12": For some reason I have the 7" of this with no cover, so I decided for three bucks, I could step up to the 12" with the cover. This song is terrible.

Beck - Sea Change: I've been putting off replacing my CD copy of this for like two years. Finally found this at a decent price.

Fugazi - Red Medicine: Damn fine deal on a copy that looks like it's never been played. CD replacer as well.

Descendents - Milo Goes to College: Not an original copy. But for six bucks, I'll take it.

A Tribe Called Quest - Midnight Marauders: I originally bought a copy of Atmosphere's God Loves Ugly from this dude, but when I looked at it after I paid for it, I realized it was missing one of the records (glad I checked!). So, I went with this instead. Good one to have around.

: An original, not-too-shabby copy of their debut. A five-dollar impulse buy, but I regret nothing.

Eric B. & Rakim - Paid in Full
: Another one I had on CD. Seems so much more legit on wax. Looks way too clean to be an original copy, but I can't find a date that says otherwise.

N.W.A. - Straight Outta Compton
: I was planning on holding out for an original copy of this, but eBay hasn't been kind to me on that front. Dropped a ten spot for this reissue from 2002. Gatefold, some bonus tracks. Would have rather had the original, but this'll do. I didn't even have this on CD. Can you believe that?

Atmosphere - The Lucy EP
: 1/3 of what makes up the Lucy Ford CD, and now I'm searching for the other two. I was stoked to find this. The price is inflated on eBay. I got it for six.

The Beatles - Second Album and Something New: It's time to beef up my Beatles collection, and at this point I'm working within the confines of their U.S. discography. Once that's settled, we'll see what happens. These were both decent copies, but nothing fancy. I can't afford to be a serious Beatles collector. I shoot for nice versions, but nothing ridiculous. Dude who sold me these (gray-haired guy in the picture - wasn't he in the last picture, too?) had a Butcher Cover going for $500 that was in good shape. Seems like the price on those has dropped.

Anyway, that was my haul. I'm feeling good about it.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Stallion Alert at the Movies: Dreams to Remember: The Legacy of Otis Redding (2007)


If you have any interest at all in Otis Redding, do yourself a favor and Netflix the shit out of this movie. It does everything right. They only interview a handful of people (the important ones), and they show every musical performance in its entirety. There is nothing more frustrating than watching a music documentary where they cut off a song in the middle. Or start it in the middle. Or just don't show the whole fucking song. There are a gang of performances here, all in chronological order (yes!), interspersed with stories from Steve Cropper (Booker T. & the MG's) about the writing and recording of each track.

Seriously, this was my kind of movie. While it probably doesn't offer much new to the hardcore Otis fan, for someone like me who loves the music but hasn't gone out of his way to view rare clips, a lot of this stuff was new. Most of this stuff was new. Sure, Otis is lip-syncing a lot of it on American Bandstand and shows like that, but it's still fantastic just to watch him work. And the performances where he's actually singing are just insane. They show "Shake" from Monterey and it's enough to make you crap your pants.

Steve Cropper's got an air-tight memory, and his stories about the songs are like little liner notes before each performance. They also talk to the founder of Stax Records and one of the guys who played horns in the Mar-Keys. They've got some good stories as well, but it's Cropper who really relays the info.

Not really any notable bonus features, but the film itself is really well done. Listening to Otis sing for 90 minutes is a pleasure. I could have listened for an hour more. I mean, seriously. Have you listened to "I Can't Turn You Loose" recently? It'll make you question why they bothered to continue R&B music after they finished that song. They got it. It wasn't ever going to get any better.

Check a preview here.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Sean Lennon - Friendly Fire (CD, 2006)

At some point, I got so tired of waiting for a follow-up to Sean Lennon's first record that I just sort of forgot about him. I was still a fan of Into the Sun, but it didn't seem like he ever intended to put out another record.

But, word finally started circulating in 2006 that he was prepping his sophomore effort. And not only that, but it was going to be a double-disc extravaganza with film-style videos for every song. Still doesn't quite explain an eight-year gap between records, but this whole project is almost impressive enough in scope to warrant a break that long. Well, maybe not quite that long.

This is Sean Lennon all grown up. The songs are bigger, more calculated, and very well executed. It seems that public opinion on this record was mixed, but that seems to be the deal with anything he does. Seems like everyone just thought it was good. I'd say it's closer to great. At the least, extremely solid, and much better than most of the crap invading major labels these days.

Honestly, at first it didn't live up to my expectations. I wasn't prepared for the wider scope he was taking with the lyrics and the arrangements. But I eventually became excited by the fact that it hadn't reached out and grabbed me like his debut did. I was right: I've ended up loving this record, and I still get a lot of mileage out of it. Its density is confusing in spots, but he thins it out sporadically and a nice balance is set. The whole thing works.

I haven't watched the DVD part in a while, but I remember thinking it seemed a little self-indulgent. Lindsay Lohan's in it, I think. That's no good.

But the songs are.


Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Sean Lennon - Into the Sun (CD, 1998)

This is another one of those records that caught me at a particularly vulnerable time in my life, and as a result, might speak to me more so than it does to other people. For the record, I think this album is brilliant, and terribly overlooked. I think it may have achieved some success, but not nearly as much as it deserved. There's hardly a bad moment here, and that's tough to do in the realm of straightforward pop music.

I moved from Eugene to Portland in the summer of 1998, right after Into the Sun was released. My new roommate in Portland had purchased the record (possibly just because it was released on the Grand Royal label), and he had taken to playing it when we were hanging out. I certainly knew of Sean Lennon, but never thought much about him one way or the other. After hearing the album a few times, it started to sink in.

As if I needed help completely taking the leap, I started hearing it at my job. I was working for a high-end natural food store that had just opened in a suburb of Portland, and as a new-fangled plan to make it the market of the future, they had incorporated music into the shopping experience. There was a wall that featured LP-sized album covers of up-and-coming artists, and all the music piped through the store came from the albums on that wall. I think maybe a light appeared over the album cover that was playing at the moment. And the CDs were available near the checkout. Anyway, Into the Sun was one of them. (I can't remember any of the others except for Beth Orton. It was mostly harmless pop like that.)

So, through these two channels (on top of taping it and having it in my car), the record wormed its way into my mind and never let go. I had a miserable summer that year (moving cities proved to be rough going), but hearing bright pop like this was one of the only things that could temporarily distract me.

Maybe other people love this record as much as I do, but I've never gotten that vibe. I could see people thinking it was simple. Or cutesy. Or not giving it a chance because of his last name. I was just always so surprised by how infectious this record was (and still is).

I'm still not sick of it. Look for it in bargain bins and score yourself a deal.


Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Julian Lennon - Valotte (LP, 1984)

I don't want to give Julian Lennon too much credit, but come on: this record had to have surprised some people. Clearly, if it wasn't for his last name, he wouldn't have been making his debut on a major label, and clearly he wouldn't have received such easy access to radio play, but these songs deserved it.

Or at least the two major singles did. The title track is a production masterpiece, with tons of elements coming together and hardly stepping on each other's toes. On top of that (which has to be credited to seasoned producer Phil Ramone), Julian holds his own. His lyrics aren't mind-blowing, but the melody in this song is strong. The next couple tracks lean towards a harder sound and don't work quite as well, but when he gets back into the synth-pop on the final two first-siders, it ain't bad.

But, let's be honest with ourselves here: the real reason I bought this record is because "Too Late for Goodbyes" is one of the most underappreciated songs of the mid-80's, and I can't get enough of it. If 1984 hadn't been such a monumental year for pop music, the song probably would have been a huger hit than it was. It's a good one.

The rest of the record holds up fairly well, too. Other than the two big singles, "Say You're Wrong" is the other standout here, and it's another one that owes some credit to production. Still, it's a catchy little track.

Julian Lennon's in a rough spot, and the dude needs to be cut some slack. He ain't his dad, but I don't think he ever said that he wanted to be. The guy can write a nice pop song (or at least he could back then), and that's more than most people can claim.

"Too Late for Goodbyes"

Monday, October 12, 2009

John Lennon - Imagine (LP, 1971)

I tried to get into John Lennon when I was a teenager. I bought this record, and even had a book about it. And I found that Lennon's idealistic love-cures-all attitude just didn't work for me. Though I can see it now for what it is (a fine idea from someone whose life had no basis in the reality in which most people live), I still don't get much out of it.

I agree with what Lennon says in the song "Imagine." In theory, it's something worth looking at. It's a place to start, and I appreciate that. And it's a nice song. I also think "Jealous Guy" is a nice song. But for some reason, "All You Need is Love," which is arguably just as short-sighted and possibly less articulate, makes more sense to me. I think Lennon needed The Beatles. I like McCartney's solo stuff better than Lennon's, but heck, I think he needed The Beatles, too. When your ego has been boosted into the stars (and rightfully so, on both counts), your only hope is having someone you know around you to tell you what not to do. Someone who doesn't give a shit about your fame or your self-proclaimed genius. Ideally, dudes you've been in a band with since you were in short pants.

Not only did Lennon lose those dudes, he gained a girlfriend (wife, by this point) who seemed to be in the business of encouraging this self-obsessed malarkey. I don't deny that John Lennon was an incredible songwriter. I just wonder if people are afraid to admit that some of his solo stuff isn't quite as brilliant as they want it to be. Maybe I wasn't around when it came out and I don't understand the perspectives of those who regard it with such fondness. I remember thinking that "Imagine" was trite when I was 15. And I was highly impressionable in those days. Maybe it just wasn't ever gutsy enough for me.

The gutsiest song here (both musically and lyrically) is "How Do You Sleep?," which, while being arguably the best song on the record, is a bit sad to listen to. But, if you're into rock & roll diss tracks, it doesn't get much more big-time than that one.

But, come on: "Oh Yoko"? That's no good. Is it?

"Crippled Inside"

Sunday, October 11, 2009

John Lennon - John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band (LP, 1970)

I'm going to tell you a secret: I don't like John Lennon's solo work as much as I feel like I should.

I own this record, and I have for quite some time. I don't remember when or where I got it, but I remember feeling an obligation to have a copy of it around. I still do. I did, however, recently part with my crap copy of Mind Games, as well as my copies of Milk and Honey and Double Fantasy. I hadn't listened to those last two in a decade, and the Mind Games LP was some Columbia House record club version, so that went straight to Goodwill. So, I'm down to this one and one other one, I think.

And it's not that I hate Lennon's solo work. It's just that I know if I listened to this record without ever having heard the Beatles, I wouldn't really give a shit about it. Songs like "Mother" sound self-obsessed and whiny to me, and the whole thing is reverb-happy and intentionally sparse. Why would I listen to "I Found Out" when I could listen to "Come Together"? Still, this album isn't far enough removed from the Beatles to really find Lennon losing his way, so there are, of course, some great songs here.

But, then he fucks them up with lyrics about Yoko. For some reason, hearing him complain about how he and Yoko can't get a fair shake in life ("Isolation") just rubs me the wrong way. In fact, hearing him sing about Yoko at all gets boring pretty quick. It's a shame, because "Well Well Well" is a sweet song. So is "Look at Me," but maybe that's because it sounds the most like a Beatles tune.

Believe me, I understand the brilliance of this record. And I do like it in moderation. I guess I'm just not a Lennon-solo kind of guy.

"Look at Me"

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Da Lench Mob - Planet of da Apes (LP, 1994)

When I found Lench Mob's first record, this one was filed right next to it. When you get the chance to pick up a group's whole catalog in one fell swoop, you take it. So I bought their sophomore (and final) LP, having never even heard of it.

It's actually much better than I thought it would be, and it's more of a departure from their debut than I expected. Of course, part of this is due to the fact that original member J-Dee got convicted of murder between the two records, and here he's been replaced by Maulkie, a dude who can hold his own.

Like a lot of West Coast hip-hoppers in '94, Da Lench Mob adopted some of the G-Funk sound for this bad boy. But, some of their darkness remains, and those are the stronger tracks. "Cut Throats" features Dre-like squealing synths, and despite the presence of Mack 10, it's a starkly cool song. "King of the Jungle" sounds like a Predator outtake, working the same horn-wailing chaos as "Wicked." Speaking of Ice Cube, he's still down with Da Mob, and though his presence isn't felt as strongly on this LP, when he shows up he dials it.

Overall, this album probably isn't as strong as their debut, but it definitely proves they weren't content to fizzle out. The title track is a little too mellow for my liking, but "Goin' Bananas" brings the quickness, and "Environmental Terrorist" harnesses the anger nicely. Still, the G-Funk sounds a bit generic, and the tracks just don't hit as hard as they should. But, it ends up being a nice snapshot of a critical moment for West Coast rap.

"Goin' Bananas"

Friday, October 9, 2009

Da Lench Mob - Guerillas in tha Mist (LP, 1992)

If you're looking for more Death Certificate/Predator-era Ice Cube, this is about as close as you can get. Cube was responsible for the Da Lench Mob, and he's all over this thing. Thankfully, the actual Mob can hold their own as well, so this record ends up being really damn good.

This is early-90's West Coast gangsta rap, and it bumps. Cube oversaw/produced the whole thing, so the beats sound – for the most part – like outtakes from Death Certificate. This thing is wall-to-wall with thick grooves heavy on the samples, and all kinds of hooks. It might not be quite as fancy as Cube's solo joints, but the point here seems to be roughness. The dudes in Da Lench Mob are clearly more gangsta (in real life) than Cube ever was, and their street tales usually skip the humor and go straight for the bloodshed.

However, they're also capable of having some fun. "All On My Nut Sac" is a nice companion to Cube's "Get Off My Dick...," and features a huge hook that nicely ties in all the tales of folks who won't get off the jock. Cube drops some dope rhymes on the cut, and he shows up here and there throughout the record. B-Real from Cypress Hill guests on the equally critical-but-funny "Ain't Got No Class," and adds plenty of nasal to the chorus.

And the rest of the songs here are all solid. At less than 45 minutes, Da Mob does a fine job of getting in and getting out. The record goes by quick, and the pace never slows. There are a few short "insert" tracks, but no skits to bog anything down.

I found an import (French, I think) copy of this last year and jumped on it. And I'm glad I did.

"Guerillas in tha Mist"

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Recent Acquisitions.

And when I say recent, I mean in the last few months. As I may have mentioned before, I'm trying to replace all my CDs with vinyl, and it's going to be a huge (and costly) process. I'm working on the A's and B's currently, and making some progress. Been putting in time on eBay, and getting some solid deals.

Finally found a copy of Icky Mettle by Archers of Loaf that didn't cost a fortune, and it's in incredible shape. Picked that one up on eBay, then found their LP White Trash Heroes at a record store here in town. It's not in the best shape, but the price was right.

Also picked up two Atmosphere 3-LP sets: Seven's Travels and Headshots: SE7EN. Still need to collect the three EPs that make up the Lucy Ford CD, along with You Can't Imagine How Much Fun We're Having. That one is elusive. I'll probably get God Loves Ugly and Overcast! at some point, too. Those have been reissued and are much easier to find.

The Beastie Boys: I'm tackling it. Got an original copy of Licensed to Ill, the first go-round reissue of Check Your Head (1998, I think?), an original copy of Ill Communication, the "Pass the Mic" promo 12", the "Gratitude" 12", and the "Sure Shot" 12". Got swizzity deals on all of these. I thought the "Pass the Mic" single was the actual single, not the promo. The tracks are slightly different, so I'm going to have to get the original one. They go for about five bones on eBay, so no biggie.

The dude selling the Beastie Boys 12"s was also selling a copy of Fugazi's In On the Kill Taker, and for .99 (with the added bonus of combined shipping), I couldn't pass it up.

I also got a slammin' deal on a eight-panel original (I think) copy of Paul's Boutique, but that hasn't shown up, and I don't think it's going to. Seller said he'd refund my money, but hasn't responded to my last email. Not a good sign.

Otherwise, it's all been smooth. And it feels oh so good.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Led Zeppelin - Box Set (4xCD, 1990)

As a teenager on a limited budget, this was a sweet Christmas gift. These were some of the first CDs I owned, and having this much Zeppelin at my disposal wasn't bad at all. Looking back, I think this box set is relatively pointless.

Aside from the inclusion of "Hey Hey What Can I Do" and "Traveling Riverside Blues," two rare tracks (and both great songs), along with the short instrumental "White Summer," this is just album versions of Led Zeppelin songs, hand-picked and remastered by Jimmy Page. It's kind of chronological, but when it comes to chronology, it either is or it isn't: mixing together songs from roughly the same era but from different records is bush league.

On top of that, "Heartbreaker" is on here, but not only does "Living Loving Maid" not follow it, it's not even included. Weak. And while the sound on these discs was definitely a huge leap forward in 1990, any Zeppelin fan would have probably rather ponied up a little more dough for their entire discography, instead of just a large portion of it. Of course, this left the door open for other cash grabs that Jimmy Page would take full advantage of over the next two decades.

Zeppelin's an album band. A one-disc best-of for the casual "Stairway" fan makes sense. A 4-disc retrospective just reminds the hardcore fan what was left out: some of the deep cuts that give the popular ones more context.

I listened to this a lot when I was a teen, but after I picked up all their records on LP, it just didn't make sense. Though I still have it...

"Hey Hey What Can I Do"

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Led Zeppelin - Coda (LP, 1982)

I will say this for Coda: The idea behind it is sweet, it's a fucking sweet title for an album which you know is going to be your final release, and the songs on it, though incongruous, are all worthy of release. Having said that, this thing is definitely all over the place, and hard to get a handle on. But there's some cool shit here.

Released a few years after John Bonham's death, this was Zeppelin's first post-breakup record, and really the only single album of unreleased material they would ever put out. A few other rare tracks would show up on their box set in the 90's, and why those weren't included on this, I don't know. Regardless, what we have here is a Led Zeppelin afterthought, an album that, like I said, deserved to be heard, but doesn't ultimately fit with the rest of their catalog very well. Strangely, that makes me like it more.

"We're Gonna Groove" is an old one, a raw blues number that is great because it's fast. It's "Heartbreaker"-ish, and there ain't a damn thing wrong with that. "Poor Tom" is a Led Zeppelin III-era acoustic jammer that is the best song on this record, hands down. Plant nails it, and the guitar work is finessed. Why they thought to follow it with an edited-for-time live version of "I Can't Quit You Baby" is beyond me. At less than five minutes, it's far more tolerable than other versions, but still. The first side closes with "Walter's Walk," which sounds half-finished. It's a shame, because the shoddy production quality seems to be overshadowing a catchy tune.

"Ozone Baby" is a straight rocker that opens the second side, and it's solid. Thick guitars, nothing fancy. "Darlene" is a weird mix of 50's rock and pure 70's Zep, with John Paul Jones hammering out some sweet piano. Not crazy compelling, but a fun song. There seems to be a forced fade at the end, which leaves you wondering how long this thing got jammed out in the original session.

"Bonzo's Montreux" is John Bonham beating on the drums for four minutes with some odd effects layered in and out. It is awesome.

"Wearing and Tearing" is the last song on this one, and it's a great closer. Heavy, fast, and urgent. Zeppelin at their punkest. That's not saying much, but it's a raggedly aggressive cut. I've always liked it.

And that was Led Zeppelin's only release in the 80's. If they were giving their legend time to grow, it certainly worked on kids like me. By the early 90's, I was ready to get all Zepped out and shit.

"Wearing and Tearing"

Monday, October 5, 2009

Led Zeppelin - In Through the Out Door (LP, 1979)

The last true Led Zeppelin album.

The picture I'm using is the cover of the LP I have. As you may know, there are six different cover variations which, if I was a Zep fanboy to a higher extreme, would force me to collect all of them. As it stands with Zep, I'm just happy to have the music.

The original LPs also came wrapped in brown paper, but I bought mine without it. It's not rare to find them with the paper cover intact, but it seems that more often than not, original copies are missing it. Fun fact I learned while looking farther into the album art on this one: The inner sleeves of this LP feature black and white comic-like art, and if you wet them, they become colored. I licked my thumb, wiped it on mine, and sure enough: the black streaked red. I had no idea. More info on this elaborate cover art here.

Listen, I'm by no means glad that John Bonham died a year after this album was released. And I'm a bit curious to have heard what the 80's would have held for Led Zeppelin. But if it was going to be anything like the schmaltz that's on this record, I'm happy the band was forced to call it quits. Of course I'm half-joking, but tracks like "All My Love" and "Fool in the Rain" are borderline embarrassing. (I actually have a soft spot for "Fool in the Rain," but it's for personal reasons. I still stand by the fact that it's a shitty song.)

Also, I take back what I said about "D'yer Mak'er" being the second worst Zeppelin song. I completely forgot about "Hot Dog" off this record. It's really neck and neck between that one and "Down By the Seaside." Wow, I think "Hot Dog" might actually be worse. It's rockabilly being played by Led fucking Zeppelin. There's no call for that.

Now, this record isn't completely worthless. "In the Evening" is a great opener, and a genuinely badass song. And "Southbound Suarez" is also fairly strong. But after those first two, it gets rough. Side Two opens with "Carouselambra," which is about eight minutes too long and the synths on it are shameful. "I'm Gonna Crawl" ends up being the last song on the last Zeppelin album while Bonham was still living, and though it's not a great tune, it seems fitting that the band gets back to the blues and leaves out the frills.

The word has always been that Jimmy Page was deep into heroin at this point (the video below shouldn't leave any question about that), and didn't take control of the band like he usually did. Apparently this gave Robert Plant the opportunity to freely wuss out to his heart's delight.

It's tough to hear Zeppelin not rock.

"In the Evening"

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Led Zeppelin - The Song Remains the Same (2xLP, 1976)

This is easily the Led Zeppelin album I've listened to least. Well, this one and Coda are probably tied for that honor, actually. Regardless, if you're looking for a 26-minute version of "Dazed and Confused," this is the place to go.

This is the soundtrack to the concert film of the same name, which is equally self-indulgent and overflowing with wank. Zeppelin was arguably at their peak around this time, and they were taking full advantage. Though, surprisingly, the excessive drawing-out of the songs is not really the problem with this collection of "live" recordings. The problem has always been, at least for me, that these performances just aren't that great. I was actually really disappointed when I first heard this, and was much happier to stick to the studio recordings.

On top of that, the song choices don't take any risks, instead opting for "Stairway to Heaven," "Rock and Roll," "Whole Lotta Love," and some other casual-fan-pleasers. The highlights are "The Song Remains the Same" and "The Rain Song," which aren't perfect, but back-to-back they're solid. "No Quarter" is also pulled off nicely, but even that track is missing the depth of the studio version.

My claim to fame with this LP is that the second record in my set has Side Four labels on both sides. No doubt this has something to do with Aleister Crowley, working his black magic again.

"Rock and Roll"

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Led Zeppelin - Presence (LP, 1976)

While Physical Graffiti would be Led Zeppelin's last truly great album (in my opinion), they still had some great songs in 'em. Presence is probably the strangest Zep album, in both content and album art. I enjoy the abstract art of the cover (centering around "The Object"), as I think it fits the scatterbrained vibe of the music quite well.

While this record is ultimately all about its centerpiece, the masterful "Nobody's Fault But Mine," the songs that surround it are strong as well. "Achilles Last Stand" is a complex rocker that changes speeds all over the place and features a bunch of different parts. At this point, the band makes it sound easy. One of the more underrated songs in their catalog. "For Your Life" holds a loose and thick groove, with a ragged Plant scratching his way through the phased vocals. A pretty sweet track. And yes, Stone Temple Pilots owe a lot to this track.

"Royal Orleans" is a decent stop-and-starter, but not one of the band's stronger tracks. Plant sounds especially spent on this one. Like I said, "Nobody's Fault But Mine," the opener on Side 2, is the jam on this one. It's another traditional blues jam that Zeppelin had their way with, and it's a thick bruiser, with Bonham pounding out the drum parts with complete fury. Any trace of Plant sounding tired isn't apparent, and Page's solo in the middle is clean and gets to the point.

The remainder of the record is a little disappointing after that. "Candy Store Rock" finds the band again trying to do a 50's rock thing, and the mix sort of fucks it. "Hots On for Nowhere" sounds like it should have been on Houses of the Holy, and it's another decent stop-starter, reminiscent of "The Ocean." "Tea for One" is basically "Since I've Been Loving You" part II, and I rarely ride it all the way out. Zep getting back to their roots. Fine for them; boring for me.

Not one of my favorite Led Zeppelin albums, but when people say it's underrated, I can see what they mean.

"Nobody's Fault But Mine"

Friday, October 2, 2009

Led Zeppelin - Physical Graffiti (2xLP, 1975)

There are a few different ways to look at this record. Some might see it as the greatest achievement of one of the world's greatest rock bands. Some might argue that it's bloated, particularly noting that it contains songs from various eras, thus rendering it not very cohesive. But pretty much everyone agrees it's good. I also claim that it's good, and tend to lean more towards greatest achievement than bloated.

There's a bit of a White Album argument to be had when it comes to Physical Graffiti. "If it were just pared down to one great album..." Well, fuck that. There are some rough points on this record, but if you tried to trim it down to two sides instead of four, you'd be leaving out some stellar songs, no matter how you moved shit around.

Speaking of moving shit around: as with most Zep records, my biggest complaint with this one is the sequencing. Now, when you've got two eight-minute-plus songs and one that clocks in just above eleven, you've got some considerations to make. And, again, who the hell am I to tell Jimmy Page how to arrange his precious compositions? Still, I've always felt this thing didn't flow exactly right. But, wah wah wah. As it stands, there are four sides to this beast, each with their own set of ups and downs.

Side One starts with "Custard Pie," which is one of my least favorite songs on this album, and always struck me as an odd opener. A blues-based rocker leaning on a thinly veiled oral sex metaphor seemed to be well-trodden Zeppelin ground. So, for me, it's a lackluster beginning. "The Rover" picks things up, showing the poppier side of the band that was emerging as the 70's hit middle age. But it's "In My Time of Dying" that is really the focal point of this first side. At 11:05, it's Zeppelin's longest studio track, and one that takes some patience and stamina to stick with. Not my favorite song, but I definitely recognize its importance, and even its greatness. It's just loooong.

Side Two is relatively flawless. "Houses of the Holy," a leftover from the album of the same name, is groove-ridden but poppy, and hearing Plant sing extremely catchy lines about Satan is priceless. "Trampled Under Foot" is Zep at their most classic rock (up to this point), with Plant straining to be heard over a crowded mass of guitar riffs and organ noodling. It's more undefined than other Led Zeppelin songs, but it ends up being a nice change. Then there's "Kashmir." If you told me that you thought "Kashmir" was the finest thing the band ever did, I wouldn't argue with you. It's an immense, timeless song that will be around longer than any of us. And I'm actually being sincere when I say that. I can understand not liking Led Zeppelin. I have a hard time understanding not liking "Kashmir."

Side Three is a weird one for me, as it contains both my favorite and least favorite Led Zeppelin songs of all time. But before those, the second half of Physical Graffiti gets going with "In the Light," which I've always loved. John Paul Jones does some eerie "No Quarter"-ish synth work at the beginning, and Plant's vocal parts are incredible throughout. Another huge song, and another testament to how ambitious the band was getting as songwriters. It's followed by "Bron-Yr-Aur," a nice little acoustic instrumental that is actually Zeppelin's shortest studio track, at just over two minutes. They've got something for everyone here, folks.

And maybe that was the idea behind "Down By the Seaside," which is my all-time least favorite Led Zeppelin song. I don't know if they were trying to crack soft rock radio, or just feeling generally wussy, but I even hated this song when I was a teenager, and that's saying a lot. I was willing to go to the wall for Zep on pretty much anything, but the warbly guitars and unbearably shitty lyrics on this one were (and are) just too much for me.

Conversely, if I had to pick just one Led Zeppelin song to spend the rest of my life with, I think I'd pick "Ten Years Gone." To me, it's their perfect song. The guitar parts are intricate but not overly so, and Plant's performance on this song is just untouchable. And when Bonham kicks in after the first verse...yowsa. It's as good as it gets for me.

Side Four is solid, though maybe not up to par with the rest of the album. "Night Flight" is a good song, with the band trying to do a 50's rock sort of thing with it. "The Wanton Song" rides a tight riff that widens out in the chorus, and the organ part makes it much better than it would be without it. "Boogie with Stu" is a loose jam, and should have been a b-side. "Black Country Woman" is an acoustic jam, and a damn good one. It should have, in my opinion, either been the first or last song on this album. Probably last. But what do I know. Instead, "Sick Again" ends the album, and it's probably the most ass-rock song in the Zep catalog. Squealy. It doesn't really suit the band well.

So, sort of an odd end to a monster of a record. Is this my favorite Led Zeppelin album? Yeah, probably. There's just so much to it. And if nothing else, the LP art is extraordinary, which I've always appreciated.

"Ten Years Gone"

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Led Zeppelin - Houses of the Holy (LP, 1973)

At this point it's safe to say that no Led Zeppelin albums can be classified as underrated, but I've often felt that Houses of the Holy maybe doesn't get the respect it deserves. Sandwiched between the ubiquitous Zep IV and the magnum opus Physical Graffiti, this record is in a weird spot chronologically, but it shouldn't be overlooked. This is Zeppelin at their peak, and features the band finally resorting to some studio trickery to get their point across.

"The Song Remains the Same" is a favorite of mine, and the way that its speedy chaos segues right into the balladry of "The Rain Song" is just fantastic. Ah, "The Rain Song." If you're a young man and you've got feelings, this is a great tune to headphone out to in your room alone. I still think it's a great song. The lyrics are corny as heck, but like I said: Teenager. Room. Alone. Perfect.

"Over the Hills and Far Away" has strangely become a classic rock radio staple, and even if you don't recognize the title, you'd recognize the song. It's a good one. Really a solid first three songs here. "The Crunge" should have been a non-album b-side, but it doesn't seem like anyone was telling Jimmy Page shit at this point, so here it is. Thankfully, it's short.

I've always thought "Dancing Days" was a great song, too. Sweet guitar riff, some of Plant's better lyrics, and lots of little noodling. In fact, all of these songs sound a lot busier than any of the previous Zep offerings. Page was clearly tinkering.

"D'yer Mak'er" is the second-worst Led Zeppelin song ever (we'll get to the worst on the next record), and should not be listened to by anyone. It is the one thing that stops this record from being decisively stellar. It is reggae bullshit of the highest degree, and someone should have stopped Jimmy Page from putting it on the record. John Paul Jones, I'm looking in your direction.

The final two songs on the album make up for it. "No Quarter" is huge, and really one of the songs the band should always be remembered for (not that there's any lack of those). They step out in a whole new direction, and though the song is seven minutes long, it doesn't drag. A great one. "The Ocean" finishes things up, and though it's not my favorite song here, I still think the "Na-na-na" bits are awesome, and prevent the song from becoming too formulaic.

This record got a lot of play from me when I was 15. A lot. And I didn't used to hate "D'yer Mak'er" as much as I do now. It's been a long, gradual process of utter disgust, peaking with this blog entry. That'll learn 'em!

"No Quarter"