Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My Picks for the Top Twenty Albums of 2014.

Not a bad year for rap and indie rock.

Got a solid list of my 20 favorites this year, but before that hot countdown, I want to mention some reissues I was really into:

Fugazi - First Demo

Shitty versions of these same recordings have been floating around for years, but to have a cleaned-up, official release of these circa-'88 demos is something that I was very excited about. Am I going to sit around and listen to this all the time? Nah, but as an insatiable Fugazi fanboy, hearing early, notably different versions of songs you've heard a thousand times is a real delight.

"Break-In (Demo)"

Lewis - L'Amour

I didn't know about Lewis before Light in The Attic started reissuing his records, but man: I got sucked in quick, by both the music and the mystery. The mystery portion has since been solved, but it makes this record, originally released via private press in 1983, no less fascinating. Also: this was one of the nicest vinyl packages I purchased all year, and I'm glad I got one: doesn't look like they're ever going to press it again.

"Like to See You Again"

Lewis - Romantic Times

Lewis' 1985 follow-up to L'Amour is way more fuzzy and wavy than its predecessor, but it's still great, and my god: that album cover is something to base the rest of your life around. Another great vinyl reissue from Light in the Attic, and another batch of songs that are out of some strange time machine. I even bought a Lewis cassette this year. You gotta take this stuff seriously.

"So Be in Love With Me"

Alright, here we go: My favorite records of 2014.

20. They Might Be Giants - First Album Live

Not even sure this one really counts, but whatever. I love They Might Giants' first record. I bought the CD a few years after it came out - it was actually one of the first CDs I ever bought - and though I think I've since sold it, I know that I now have a sweet vinyl copy. This is a free album that the band put out of them doing every song from that record live. It's not one continuous show, but it might as well be.

19. Mudhoney - On Top: KEXP Presents Mudhoney Live on Top of the Space Needle

Great live recording of Mudhoney running through some old and new shit while atop their city's most notable landmark. It's sloppy at times, but that is Mudhoney.

You can watch the whole thing here.

18. Inspectah Deck - Cynthia's Son

Ignore the fact that the first track on this mixtape is called "Dreamcatcher" and that Deck sometimes samples some pretty corny R&B when he makes his own beats. Concentrate on the fact that this is mixtape shit and he's still running circles around rappers without much effort.


17. G-Unit - The Beauty of Independence

I'm just happy G-Unit is back together, even if Yayo is still holding back the group with his shitty rapping and I'm still not fully sold on this Kidd Kidd dude being a full-fledged member of the group. Bottom line: this EP ended up being better than I feared it might be, and that's all I can hope for. Young Buck is back!

"Watch Me"

16. Tycho - Awake

Flat-out the best instrumental music I found all year for when I needed to get stuff done on my computer but didn't want to listen to someone talk or sing. That might not sound like a compliment, but I assure you: it is high praise. I played the shit out of this thing.


15. 50 Cent - Animal Ambition

When you adjust your expectations for a 50 Cent solo record, you can end up being pleasantly surprised. Animal Ambition isn't as good as the underrated Before I Self Destruct, but there are still some really solid tracks on here. Then he puts joints on it called "Chase the Paper" and "Hustler" and you remember that he's not quite the game-changer he once was. But dude can still do it.

"Hold On"

14. Nocando - Jimmy the Burnout

Nocan! Man, I had this and an old Daz album on my 8-year-old iPod shuffle for like two months this year, and I listened to both those records at the gym like three times a week during that stretch. This album gets mad wavy, but Nocando is an MC like no other. Pretty sure he straight-up freestyled some of his album tracks. Nutso.

"3rd World Hustle"

13. Busdriver - Perfect Hair

Sometimes I feel like Busdriver is daring people to stop listening to him, and other times I feel like he's making some of the most important rap music happening right now. This record left me further confused, and the vinyl packaging was a bit of a letdown for the money I paid for it, so maybe that left me troubled, too. Still, some of these songs followed me around for a few.

"Motion Lines"

12. Alexander Spit - The Hundreds Presents: Lady Killing in America and Other Short Stories

I think that other than El-P, Alexander Spit is my favorite beatmaker dude out there right now. He's crazy prolific, dedicated to his own sound, and weird as fuck. This album is a free download and it's housing some of the sweetest beats you're bound to hear. Get it.

"Playa's Bawl"

11. Kool A.D. - Word O.K.

Had this album on my iPod at the gym at some point, too. This one ain't for everybody, but Kool A.D.'s nonsense raps are peppered with enough Wu-Tang references and other witty ridiculousness that slack-jawed me stays entertained.

"Word O.K."

10. Ghostface Killah - 36 Seasons

Ghost just dripping in guitars and drums and bass, with guest spots all over the place. Is it the Ghostface Killah record I've been waiting for? Not exactly, but fuck it: Kool G. Rap jumps on multiple tracks, and with all the other features, this thing rarely slips.

"The Battlefield (feat. Kool G Rap, AZ & Tre Williams)"

09. Death Grips - Niggas on the Moon

I still don't fully understand if this is an album, Part 1 of a 2-album thingy, or whatever - it doesn't really matter to me. I like the haphazard way Death Grips releases their music, and any attempts to rely on them to do what they said they were going to do have proved misplaced so far, so no reason to get too big-picture with them now. This is a fucked-up bunch of songs, and yeah it might not be as nose-breaking as the early shit, but it's still a stiff kick to the dick.

"Billy Not Really"

08. Black Bananas - Electric Brick Wall

I'm still furious that I paid $20 for this LP and it didn't come with a download, but hey: That's just how rad and cool Drag City have to be. I don't have much else negative to say about the stoniest bunch of stony songs you're bound to get stoned to all year. So fuzzy. Can't stress how much my wife hates this record.

"Powder 8 Eeeeeeeeight"

07. Wu-Tang Clan - A Better Tomorrow

Don't sit there and act like this isn't a really solid Wu-Tang record. I still think 8 Diagrams has it beat, but I'm an irrational Stan for that record. A Better Tomorrow, despite its terrible title and even worse cover art, actually manages to almost completely not suck, and Method Man is rapping his ass off on this thing. Don't sell it short.

"Keep Watch"

06. The New Pornographers - Brill Bruisers

The most reliable supergroup in indie rock keeps the streak alive. I still think Dan Bejar's songs actively bring down any New Pornographers record they appear on, but the ones he penned here are mostly tolerable. Still, it's AJ Newman's show, and man: he has yet to run out of ideas.

"Dancehall Domine"

05. Beck - Morning Phase

If I had to list my all-time favorite Beck records, this one wouldn't make the top five, but it is incredible for what it is, and I'm betting it's just the beginning of a flood of new music from him. I really hate the "Sea Change Part II" comparisons, because I don't think it's that simple. But I do think this record is right up there with that one.

"Say Goodbye"

04. Supersuckers - Get the Hell

Thank Satan the Supersuckers redeemed themselves. 2008's Get it Together was easily their worst album to this point, and a sad one for Ron Heathman to end his tenure with the band on. I think a lot of fans felt the same, and this record seems like a direct answer to anyone who called them pussies last time around. The lyrics get a little cheeky here and there, but that's the modern Supersuckers. Great to know they can still make a solid rock record after all these years.

"Pushin' Thru"

03. TV On The Radio - Seeds

Amazing what passes for a "decent" TVOTR record these days. I got some serious mileage out of this one, and I should also mention that the vinyl packaging was probably the best one I saw all year. (Watch a nerd take his apart here.) Yeah, maybe it's not as deep as some of their previous stuff, but I still feel like this is contemplative music done right.

"Careful You"

02. Stephen Malkmus & The Jicks - Wig Out at Jagbags

This one came out early in 2014, and I'm still playing the shit out of this record. Things get jammy here and there, but for the most part he's back to knocking out three and four-minute rock songs that are never repetitive and always lyrically perplexing. Cool Bongwater and Mudhoney references - watch for 'em!


01. Run the Jewels - Run the Jewels 2

These fucking guys did it again. I probably didn't listen to this one quite as much as the first one, but I was rolling hard to this for weeks, for sure. Got to see them live a few times, too, and it never disappoints. I'm not telling you anything you haven't already heard. It's been really great watching these guys rise. And the music keeps working. RTJ3 gonna be something.

"Oh My Darling (Don't Cry)"

Friday, November 28, 2014

Black Friday Record Store Day 2014.

I had five things on my list for RSDBF, and I can't say I really cared too much about four of them. I guess I just go to these now because I like to support Music Millennium? I dunno. What I do know is that out of the five things I wanted, I only got two of them. The prices for the vinyl at these events are getting so over-the-top stupid that I - the guy who has a million justifications for blowing money on music - can't bring myself to do it. Because I'd be embarrassed if I did.

Wanted the Run-DMC "Christmas in Hollis" 7". It was $15.99. FIFTEEN NINETY-NINE. For a 7" record with two songs on it. The B-side is "Peter Piper," for chrissake. Oh - it comes with an audio postcard? Hey, that sounds like something I don't give a shit about. Also: This is a reissue of a record that you can currently buy an original copy of for $4 on Discogs. Thank god this is FINALLY back in print.

Was also thinking about getting a copy of the Christmas Rap reissue, or at least wanted to check it out. It was $28.99. For a single LP that may be red or green, you don't get to pick. An original, SEALED copy of this record sold on eBay earlier this month for $4.99.

Was also going to pick up a copy of The Velvet Underground's Live MXMXCIII because it's never been put out on vinyl and I used to have the cassette of this album and listened to it a ton in the summer of 1995. Didn't think I'd like it but I ended up loving it. Thought it would be cool to own it. Grabbed it off the shelf today, saw the $69.99 price tag, and wondered why our society has to be like this.

I did get the other two things on my list. And a few more things while I was there. And yes, I stood in line for almost two hours at 6 in the morning because I have life problems.

Faith No More - "Motherfucker" 7"

This is the one I wasn't leaving without. I don't even think this was limited or exclusive to RSD. I don't care. Haven't been able to purchase new Faith No More music in almost 20 years. I'd wait in line just for that. I thought I read originally that the B-side of this was going to be an instrumental version, but instead it's a really crazy remix done by an outside dude, which has been a FNM tradition forever. Can't get enough of this song.

Wu-Tang Clan - "C.R.E.A.M." 7"

This is kind of a goofy little single, but the price wasn't off-the-charts terrible and I'll dig a little deeper for a record shaped like the classic W. Features the original 12" artwork on the back. NOT a reissue. So this one and the Faith No More single were the only RSD releases I copped. Still picked up a few other things that I've been meaning to buy.

TV On The Radio - Seeds (2014)

I was a little put off by TVOTR's pre-order campaign for this record, and found it really odd that they were selling LP/CD combos and explaining to people that the standard version of the album didn't include a digital download. I ended up getting this album for less than they were asking on their site and it's one of the nicest packages I've seen in a while: two LPs, both different marbled colors, two booklets inside the gatefold, and a lenticular-viewer sheet for interacting with all the artwork, AND a digital version of the album. So I stand corrected there. Hot value on this one!

50 Cent - Animal Ambition (2014)

Bargain bin! Been waiting to pay 11 dollars for this. Not Fif's best.

The New Pornographers - Brill Bruisers (2014)

Here's another one. I think it was $13.99. THAT IS A FAIR PRICE. Matador is good about that. Haven't heard a lick of this but I know I'll at least like it. Probably a lot. Except maybe for the Bejar cuts.

Vincent Messi - Certain Songs (1973)

I'm officially collecting private-press records from Oregon. Here's one from 1973 that is folk at least; religious probably.

Wild Dogs - Wild Dogs (1983)

Private-press Portland metal from 1983 with the soon-to-be-legendary-in-Oregon-music-circles Deen Castronovo on drums, although he's still spelling it "Dean" here.

Wild Dogs - Man's Best Friend (1984)

The follow-up to their debut and the last album before they'd sign with a major. Deen is spelling it "Deen" on this one, but now his last name is "Castronova."

Trying not to be bitter about the prices. Getting tougher every time I go to one of these. There's "supporting your local record store" and there's "being taken for a two-bit sucker." I don't like walking that line.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

April Record Shopping in Atlanta, Part Two.

I had a spare few hours on Wednesday afternoon, and my main mission was to check out Full Moon Records, which had been recommended to me by someone who I must have trusted because I made a point to write it down in my phone.

(Side note: after having kind-of a bummer time taking taxis the day before, I decided to officially sign up for Uber, which I had first used the week before in Los Angeles. We don't have it in Portland for some cool Portland reason, so I'm behind the rest of the country on this. I used it for my trips around town and it was cheaper, faster, and involved no cash or tipping. Now I know why people want it here so bad. Made getting around town amazingly easy and not-uncomfortable-ever. I don't ever take cabs in my own city so I guess I personally don't care if it's here, but man: I'm all about that when I travel now. No going back.)

Full Moon is one of those annoying record shops with absolutely no online presence, so I was relying on Google/Yelp/whatever-popped-up-on-my-phone to get me where I was going and to get other info. I got all the way over there, said goodbye to my ride, walked to the door of the place, and it was closed. At 4 on a Wednesday. Turns out they're only open Friday and Saturday, even though the internet told me they were open weekdays. Not a huge deal; just more of a waste of my time, which is what I get stressed about when I'm in a city I don't know and I've got three hours to get to two more stores.

Someone had also tipped me off to Wuxtry Records, so I decided to hit that next. Had a little trouble finding the exact storefront because as you can see up top there, it's just part of a plain-ish little strip mall. Also it's actually in Decatur, which I have heard of because of Outkast songs. Here's a closer look:
Now that's what a record store should look like. I bought a handful of dollar records from here, and though I dug through all their 7" records and some other stacks, I didn't find a ton of stuff. Here's what I did get:

Salt-n-Pepa - Hot, Cool, & Vicious (1986)

Hey that's not the real Spinderella! Or is that the real Spinderella and the one we all know and love a simple imposter? Hard to say. Also hard to say why I have a soft spot for old Salt-n-Pepa records, but here we are.

Jungle Brothers - Done By the Forces of Nature (1989)

I've had this CD forever - I bought it from a cutout bin at Fred Meyer in 1991 - but I'm not sure I've ever come across the original vinyl. I may have paid about four dollars too much for this, but it's in great shape. And 1989.

Here's a shot of the inside:
They've been there for a while.

The Tards - "Pissed You in the River" 7" (1995)

The Tards recorded their debut 8" (yeah that's right) at Smegma Studios here in Portland. When my brother and I were getting our first album mixed at Smegma in 2000, that record was hanging prominently on the wall and we stared at it for two days straight. It became one of the many memorable things about that experience, and I actually bought my brother a copy of I'm Just Like You for his birthday a few years ago. I found their other two records at Wuxtry. This is one of them. SFTRI.

The Tards - "Rubber Room" 7" (1996)

This is the other. This one was recorded at Smegma, too. Were these lunatics a Portland band? Meh, I don't feel like doing the research. This is the third official release from the Man's Ruin label. Kicking it off big. Purple marbled vinyl.

I figured I had just enough time to make it over to Fantasyland, which I hadn't been to since my very first trip to Atlanta back in 2011. It's still there:
And it is still a great place. I had nowhere near enough time, but I stayed until they kicked me out at 7 and I did all right. Picked up two Urge Overkill cassettes (Jesus Urge Superstar and Exit the Dragon) as well as two other tapes: a really early 2 Live Crew album and They Might Be Giants' John Henry.

Here's a shot of the inside of Fantasyland:
Here are the records I picked up:

Best Kissers in the World - "Take Me Home" 7" (1992)

I had the black vinyl copy of this. This is the not-very-elusive red wax.

Steel Pole Bath Tub - Lurch (1990)

Complete with original 32-page comic. My SPBT collection is pretty sweet at this point.

Artless Motives - Peace Through Corndogs (1995)

Never expected to see this record for the rest of my life, and then there it is in a bin at Fantasyland in Atlanta, GA. These guys were from Eugene, OR, and friends of friends and it's a long story. I used to have this record and must have given it to my brother. It's actually a split with a band called Bicker. All inserts, and you know there's about 12 of 'em because it's a DIY punk-rock record from the 90's!

J.J. Fad - "Way Out" 12" (1988)

1988. Produced by Dre, Yella, and Arabian Prince. Executive produced by Eazy-E. On the Ruthless label. And it's just straight dance-rap good-time party music. The N.W.A. crew knew how to diversify.

2 Live Crew - As Nasty As They Wanna Be (1989)

I will never even listen to this, but for some reason I feel like I should own it on some acknowledgment-of-the-free-speech-struggle shit or something. Great copy of it, too.

MC Hammer - "Stupid Def Yal" 12" (1987)

Excuse me: "MC Hammer The Holyghost Boy and the Posse." Shit like this makes me realize I don't know anything about rap in the whole scheme of things. Never seen this before; didn't even know it existed. It is incredibly terrible, even if I picture Hammer busting hot moves on top of it.

And that was that. I'll leave with you a shot of one of the many back rooms at Fantasyland.
It really is a magical place.

April Record Shopping in Atlanta, Part One.

I got home from Los Angeles on a Saturday night, spent Sunday at home, and left for Atlanta at 10AM Monday morning. By Tuesday night I was in Little Five Points hitting the spots I knew I had to hit. I began at Wax 'N Facts because it remains one of the greatest record stores in the world. Wish I lived near there so I could properly go through that place. So many buried gems.

As it was, I had about 45 minutes there. Still found some great stuff at stupidly fair prices:

The Fluid - "Twisted and Pissed" 7" (1990?)

I'm not even a huge Fluid fan, but this live bootleg was one dollar. Saw it at a store the next day in a different part of town for 8. Would never have paid that. Four songs and not a terrible recording. Plain white label on black vinyl.

John Smith - High Arctics 7" (2002)

A 12-year-old 7" record from one of my favorite Canadian rappers, in a bin in Atlanta for $1.50. Oh, the adventures you have when you travel the country record shopping. Did not expect to find this really anywhere, let alone here.

I also found cassette copies of Naughty by Nature's first two albums. I somehow lost my tape of 19 Naughty III at some point in the last 20 years and it feels good to have it back. Now this, this is where I really shine at Wax 'N Facts:
Ohhhhhh just look at it. Hard-to-find records at prices that make you feel good about being a person who pays money for music. Got some great stuff:

Goodie Mob - World Party (1999)

I've never heard this album, and to be honest I've never heard anything but bad things about it. Price was right, even if it's sellout-era Goodie Mo-B.

Kool Keith - Matthew (2000)

This is the first Kool Keith record I've ever owned. That is sad, but I'm glad it's this one. "Keith N Bumpy" is a hot cut, and the cover of this is one for the weird-ass ages.

Mantronix - The Album (1985)

Why not. This isn't a particularly rare record, but it is old and a little bit tough to find a nice original copy for less than 10 bucks. This one was less than that. And I don't know if I've really heard most of this.

Eazy-E - Eazy-Duz-It (1988)

Been looking for a decent, original copy of this record forever and I finally found one. In great shape and they wanted 15 bucks for it. Straight-up fair. Still know every word to this record and I think I always will.

D.ST. - "Home of Hip Hop" 12" (1985)

Loved the cover, loved the dude's sideburns. Very 1985 - still railing on about how The Bronx needs more respect. Seven-minute title-track backed with a dub and another alternate version.

B-Fats - Music Maestro (1989)

The dude's name, his sweater, the fact that this was sealed with the original promo sticker from 1989 and only cost five bucks: couldn't not drag this home on an airplane. B-Fats. I mean come on.

I also bought some Billy Idol records, but I'm not trying to brag about those. Next I walked a block over to Criminal Records, which is becoming less of a record store and more of a comic-book shop every time I go there, but there's nothing wrong with that. And maybe I'm just imagining it.
Criminal has a lot of new vinyl, which is great, but I was mostly concentrating on used stuff. Only got a few things:

Mudhoney - "It is Us" 7" (2006)

One of those random semi-recent Mudhoney singles that I didn't already have. B-side is "Dig Those Trenches," an original non-album track.

Joybang! - "Wade Called" 7" (1993)

I bought a Joybang! 7" the last time I was in Atlanta. From what I can tell they were a local grunge-ish rock group in the early/mid 90's. This single is on blood-red vinyl and was not on Discogs so I went ahead and added it.

Digital Underground - "The Humpty Dance" 12" (1989)

My Digital Underground 12" collection grows ever more official. I was hoping this one would have more substance - the phrasing in the track listing makes it look interesting, but it's really just the radio edit, a version that is indistinguishable from the album cut, and a short instrumental thing. Still good to have.

De La Soul - "Say No Go" 12" (1989)

I thought every song on here would have ended up on the bonus disc for 3 Feet High and Rising, but the "Say No Dope" mix that leads this thing off is new to me. I'd heard the other remix before, but whatever. Still such a great song. And of course there's a picture sleeve on the inside with a special offer from Don Newkirk to get Dan Stuckie or whatever.

Here's a cool thing that was on the front window at Criminal:
Next up: I get mobile, try to check out two stores I'd never been to before, but only get into one.