vinyl

Gallery: LeBrain Day Fun

Another spin ’round the sun, another basket full of goodies!

Thank you everyone for the birthday wishes.  Here are some of my favourites.  You might recognise some of these people!

 

 

 

 

 

Had a lovely dinner at Borealis with the family & Dr. Kathryn.  And so we get to the gifts!

First up!  A signed first edition copy of Dr. Ladano’s The Improvising Musician’s Mask:  Using Musical Instruments to Build Self-Confidence and Social Skills in Collective Free Improvisation.  That’s a mouthful and a generous gift.  These books aren’t cheap, even for her!  The funny thing is that when I grabbed the wrapped hardcover-shaped package, I said “I hope this is a copy of your book,” but I didn’t actually think it would be out so soon!

Dr. Kathryn also gifted me some music.  Ho!  It’s Derek Smalls’ debut solo album Smalls Change!  Appropriately considering the occasion, it is subtitled Meditations Upon Ageing.  I can’t wait to spin this one.  She also got me this nifty Worf (Star Trek) not-Lego head.  These look great in the office.  I have Spock as well.

The lovely Mrs. LeBrain was amazing to me as well.  She trekked up to Encore Records where she met my old pals Al “The” King and Chris Boyne.  They hooked her up with some live Ghost, on vinyl.  This is my first Ghost vinyl.  Ceremony and Devotion is a great album, and the vinyl has two “exclusive” songs…that are also on the CD!  Anybody know what’s up with that?

It doesn’t really matter.  Double live albums have a certain intangible quality that almost always makes them better on vinyl.  Scientists have been trying to figure out why that is since the advent of digital media.

Since my wife also dresses me, check out the cool shirts.  I think I’m going to wear that getup to work tomorrow.  Han Solo and BB-8 look awesome together.

Thanks again everyone for the happy birthday wishes.  I keep getting older, and you keep getting awesome-er!

 

 

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REVIEW: Led Zeppelin – “Rock and Roll” / “Friends” (2018 RSD remix single)

Unreleased Led Zeppelin?!  You don’t say!

LED ZEPPELIN – “Rock and Roll” / “Friends” (2018 Atlantic Record Store Day single)

The hype for Record Store Day exclusives is as strong as ever, but most of these releases are just empty cash grabs.  Coloured vinyl reissues of this, that or the other thing…nothing will compete with a mint original.  Sometimes you’ll see vinyl releases for albums that used to be exclusive to CD, but rarely will you be able to buy exclusive music.

Led Zeppelin saw to it that your Record Store Day dollars did not go to waste.

And as if you thought Led Zeppelin had “cleared the vaults” of unreleased material!  Here’s two more unheard mixes.  These cannot be found on the Zeppelin deluxe editions.  If you’ve collected all those already, then prepare to add two more tracks to your collection.  This is a pretty clear indication that Jimmy Page is not finished dusting off old tapes to sell.

There are no liner notes to explain when these mixes were done or by whom, but “Rock and Roll” was mixed at Sunset Sound.  Alternate mixes are fun for a fresh sound on an old favourite.  You can hear different nuances.  “Rock and Roll” has a nice clear heavy sound and maybe a little more echo.  “Friends” (from Olympic Studios) has a harsher sound, with the percussion part prominent in the mix.  The old intro is trimmed off in favour of a clean start with the acoustic guitar.

The yellow vinyl is a gorgeous bonus.  Add it to your Zep treasure chest.

4/5 stars

 

Thanks to Mr. James for picking this up for me.  You are a true gentleman, with a creepy Facebook avatar.

REVIEW: Scorpions – World Wide Live (1985 vinyl)

SCORPIONS – World Wide Live (1985 Polygram, 2 record set)

The first waves of CD releases generally sucked.  Double live albums like World Wide Live, Live After Death, Stages and Exit…Stage Left were edited down to fit on a single CD. One way to ensure you got the complete album (with great sound) was to just go and buy an original vinyl.  That is still the best way to enjoy World Wide Live.

The Scorpions were at a peak in 1985.  The Love at First Sting tour was one of the biggest metal shows of the decade, but the band hit a speed bump after.  This double live album was culled from five shows (three in the US and two in Europe), and sequenced for impact.

“Coming Home” and “Blackout” are a pair of bruisers.  One can detect vocal overdubs (sounds like two or three Klauses singing at once on the choruses) but they are largely unobtrusive.  Surely most of the album must be live.  You can appreciate why the Scorpions were (and still are) huge.  Riffs slice from one side to the other, while Klaus Meine dive-bombs like a screaming Stuka.  They also had the music.  Love at First Sting produced a number of hits (all here).  Nothing from the early (Uli Roth) days though, which means the album leans towards the streamlined-style Scorpions.  Older stuff would have been nice, but also would have overlapped with their prior double live, Tokyo Tapes.  None of that material was in their current set either.

This is a minor quibble.  These are the ultimate live versions of classic tunes like “Loving You Sunday Morning”, “Make it Real”, “Coast to Coast”, “Big City Nights”, “Can’t Live Without You” and all the rest.  The ballads (“Holiday”, “Still Loving You”) are awesome too, and stacked together so you can get the ballads out of the way and back to rocking again.  Scorpions must surely be one of the definitive ballad bands in metal.  These two are legendary.

Side 4 is pretty epic:  “The Zoo”, “No One Like You”, and an extended “Can’t Get Enough” with Jabs solo.  Klaus Meine has an endearing German accent; everybody loves when he tells California that they really know how to partaaaay!  (This was immortalised by Sebastian Bach in Season 7 of Trailer Park Boys where he performs a killer Klaus impression.)

Your wisest course of action should be clear.  Pick up both Tokyo Tapes and World Wide Live, on vinyl, and get all the best Scorpions tunes done up live.  This is good stuff.

4/5 stars

 

 

REVIEW: Black Sabbath – Live at Last (1980)

BLACK SABBATH – Live at Last (1980 NEMS)

Although the Black Sabbath discography is not that complicated, we still struggle to know exactly how to file Live at Last.  Recorded in 1973 (Vol. 4 tour), it was shelved because the band were not happy with it.  Much later on (1980) it was released officially but without the band’s consent or knowledge.  They have shunned it, while Live at Last has enjoyed a number of re-releases and remasters.  For maximum fun, why not track down an old vinyl pressing with the singer’s name spelled as Ossie Osbourne?  (The vinyl pressing is also one way to get a completely unedited version; most CD releases lack at least the band intro.)

Live at Last was, for many many years, the only live Black Sabbath album with Ozzy.  Live Evil, released in 1982, had then-current frontman Ronnie James Dio.  Although considered a sub-par album, you didn’t have much choice back then.  Excessive Tony Iommi guitar feedback may be one reason the band weren’t happy with it.

Starting with new single “Tomorrow’s Dream”, Sabbath sound coked to the brim.  Iommi’s guitar pukes sonic sludge, Bill Ward floating behind, and Geezer playing bass melodies from another world.  “Sweet Leaf” continues the trip; Ozzy howling “I love you!” while the stoned band pummels through.  Original Sabbath has a looseness that no other lineup possessed.  It’s just something special that happens with those four guys, and Bill Ward had the swing to it all.

Brand new tune “Killing Yourself to Live” hadn’t been released yet, but it’s pretty intact in live form.  “Get high!” screams Oz.  The challenging song demonstrates Sabbath’s ability to meld multiple memorable guitar riffs together into a single whole.  “Killing Yourself to Live” has at least three distinct riff sections, each cooler than the last.  Unfortunately the recording doesn’t allow us to really hear how the audience responded to the new material.

“Cornucopia” alone could be responsible for birthing half of grunge rock.  The young band’s energy is remarkable.  “Snowblind” is a blast, with Ozzy shouting “CO-CAINE!” rather than whispering slyly. Closing side one, we come to “Embryo/Children of the Grave” and its unforgettable chug riff that launched many a metal band.  You can hear the crowd clapping madly at Ozzy’s command to “Embryo”, before the riff cascades down like the Biblical flood.  Bill Ward paces it faster than the album version by several notches.  “War Pigs” also swings, a little faster than album, but with an unusually jazzy touch.

For some serious swing, check out the 20 minute “Wicked World” medley.  Ward jazzes it up like nobody’s business, when he’s not crushing the heavy parts.  Tony Iommi has a varied guitar solo section, becoming “Into the Void”, then a blues jam and the old standard “Sometimes I’m Happy”.  That turns into “Supernaut” and a drum solo, before reverting right back into “Wicked World” for the finale!  This insane extended track is the one to buy the album for.

After asking the audience several times “What do you wanna hear?”, Ozzy closes with “Paranoid”.  Once again it’s quite fast with Bill ahead of the beat.  Osbourne tells the crowd that they’re beautiful and of course “we love you all!”  and that’s that — a one hour live album on a single LP, all done.  No “Black Sabbath”, no “Fairies Wear Boots” or “Iron Man”, but plenty of the blackest Sabbaths.

Recommended CD edition:  Black Sabbath’s 2002 Past Lives set, which includes a slightly edited version of Live at Last plus a whole CD more of unreleased live stuff.  It even has a sticker on the front that says “Live at Last…deluxe edition”!  Full review of that CD tomorrow.

3.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Sloan – “Kids Come Back Again at Christmas” / “December 25” (2016 single)

SLOAN“Kids Come Back Again at Christmas” / “December 25” (2016 murderecords 7″ single)

This record arrived at LeBrain HQ almost a year ago — too late to include with last year’s Christmas reviews.  So, not only did I wait until today to review it, I actually waited until today to even open it!  This record is courtesy of James from the KMA, a superfine guy who always hooks me up with the latest Sloan rarities.  This 7″ single released on murderecords certainly qualifies.

The record is packaged not only with a download code, but also four unique Christmas cards and even little red envelopes for them.  I would never deface these collectables and send them out; to me they are part of the single.  Each card has a relevant Sloan lyric inside, such as “I’m just walking around, I made that snowsuit sound.”

Both seasonal songs are originals.  Chris Murphy takes the first lead vocal on “Kids Come Back Again at Christmas”, a bright piano-based Sloan number.  Bells and chimes make it sound seasonal, but otherwise it’s good old mid-tempo Sloan pop rock.  “December 25” is led by the vocals of Jay Ferguson.  Jay’s material is often laid back and more contemplative.  Both tracks have certain Sloan trademarks, such as strong melodies, backing vocals, and an old-fashioned no-frills approach.  All instruments are played by the band, with nothing extraneous added like you often find in Christmas rock tunes.

Two catchy songs, a cool limited edition package, and vinyl.  Sounds good to me.

4/5 stars

#604: Heavy Vinyl is a Tactile Experience

GETTING MORE TALE #604: Heavy Vinyl is a Tactile Experience

Now that vinyl is back in a big way, you may have noticed more and more heavy vinyl in your local record store.  180 gram vinyl records are very popular, particularly for reissues.  You’ll notice the front cover stickers touting the weight, but what does this all mean?

As it turns out, not very much.  Heavier weight vinyl is a preference, but not one that particularly pays off in improved sound quality.

Typical records are pressed on 120 grams on vinyl.  It starts as vinyl pellets, which are melted and expertly pressed between two plates.  A record is plenty thick enough to accommodate grooves pressed into both sides.  Thickness is not the issue.  Sound quality depends on other factors much more.  Virgin plastic, not recycled, is preferred by connoisseurs.  The quality of the presses, the experience of the engineers, and of course the mastering of the music for vinyl are all critical.  Thickness, not so much.  The groove in a record depends more on surface area in order to get a good sound, and that comes from width.  Sound issues arise when a side of a record is so long, that the grooves need to be squeezed onto that 12″ diameter.  Then you lose clarity and distinction.  A thick record might cut down on vibration from the turntable, but a good platter will do the same job.

200 gram vinyl.  Notice the thick edge.

Heavy vinyl feels amazing in the hand. 180 grams or even 200 grams are very common today.  Like buying a heavy-duty vehicle, you feel the weight and sturdiness and associate it with quality.  Generally, you would be correct.  When a label presses a release on 180 gram vinyl, it’s often the case that this is some special reissue.  Perhaps it’s been specially re-mastered for vinyl, or manufactured in limited quantities too.  Sometimes these come in special gatefold packaging.  If the remastering is done well and not overdriven like a lot of modern releases, chances are you’ll be getting a good sounding record.

120, 180, 200 grams…how heavy can these things get?  Is there an upper limit?  I asked Gerald McGhee, vice-president of Precision Pressing in Burlington Ontario.  He also sings in Canadian band Brighton Rock.

“You can go higher.   200 is in vogue right now.  140 is standard,  and 180 is getting more traction, but very little difference in sound quality,” says McGhee.

In theory you could take vinyl to absurd limits, but what would be the point?  Maybe if you’re Blink 182, you could do a special 182 gram release.  (Make sure I get my cut for the idea if you do.)  If you as a consumer buy heavy vinyl, you’re doing it mostly because you enjoy it for reasons other than sound.  Perhaps you buy them because you are used to getting a good mastering job with such releases.  Perhaps, like me, you also enjoy the satisfying feeling of handling such a record.  Perhaps you just like to collect variations.  But if you are not one of those, you may just want to save the extra few bucks and buy a cheaper version.

 

REVIEW: Queens of the Stone Age – Villains (2017)

QUEENS OF THE STONE AGE – Villains (2017 Matador double vinyl)

At my heart, I am a skeptic.

I was skeptical that Star Trek: Discovery would be any good, and that it wouldn’t piss all over the fans.  (It was and it didn’t.)  I like to share light doses of my skepticism with social media followers.  One record I have been consistently skeptical about is the new Queens of the Stone Age, Villains.    The first single, “The Way You Used to Do” did little for me.  It sounded more like Eagles of Death Metal than my beloved Queens.  Craig Fee over at 107.5 DaveRocks dubbed it “The Way You Used to Write Good Songs”.

Skepticism remained high, but vocal friends such as the trusted J at Resurrection Songs urged me to be open minded and give it a listen.  Fast forward to September 2017.  While browsing at my local Sunrise Records, one of the new Queens songs came on.  I liked it.

“I’m going to ask her if this is the new Queens,” I said to myself, “and if it is, I’m going to buy it.  On vinyl.”

It was and so that’s what I did.  The song was called “Fortress”.

My fears were assuaged on first listen.  “Mark Ronson’s a pop producer,” I thought.  Ronson has probably never recorded anything as heavy as “Song for the Dead”, but the songs on Villains have their own heaviness.  It comes from a deeper place.  It’s not about the volume of the guitars and the speed of the drums, but the melding of parts in a simmering cauldron.  Even “The Way You Used to Do” has grown on me.  The stuttering guitars are layered brilliantly within that dance beat.

Villains‘ nine songs  are a unique concoction, like Queens meets Faith No More meets David Bowie at the Apple store.  You might miss Nick Oliveri or Mark Lanegan (who doesn’t?), but the current Queens are still lethal.  Be lulled into the pulse and fuzzy landscapes of these new songs, and be slowly drawn to their unmistakable melodies.  They have always been eclectic, and Villains is the latest in that tradition.  With “Un-Reborn Again”, Josh Homme quotes from the Georgia Satellites “Keep Your Hands to Yourself”, on a song that sounds crafted from the leftovers of Van Halen’s “Sunday Afternoon in the Park”.

Why vinyl?  For the gatefold vinyl and the graphic etched fourth side.  Also for the rich sound and included mp3/Flac download.

If you are one of those who has a general “No Josh Homme” rule, this album will not convert you.  If you merely skeptical like I was, then be fearless and delve right in.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Arkells – High Noon (2014)

ARKELLS – High Noon (2014 Universal)

Thank rock and roll for new bands like the Arkells!  I’ve been happily enjoying their singles for years.  I really fell in love when I saw the Hamilton band open the 2017 NHL Awards.  A starstruck Max Kerman (vocals) gleefully fist-bumped with Wayne Gretzky.  I knew I had to get one of their albums.  On vinyl!  I chose their 2014 release High Noon to be my first Arkells, for its unforgettable single “Leather Jacket”.

Kerman managing to keep his shit together on national TV with The Great One

High Noon was a sound choice.  “Leather Jacket” has been an earworm for a long time.  High Noon also has another sterling single, “Come to Light”.  Its basis is similar to Bowie’s “Modern Love”.  While there is no mistaking the year, the Arkells put a slick 80s slant on these songs.  Whether it’s in the beats or the keyboards, there is a love of 1980s rock here on High Noon.

There are numerous highlights and few forgettable ones.  Album opener “Fake Money” has a strong piano riff, a classic U2 vibe, and an anti-corporate attitude.  One of the catchiest, more summer-y fun tracks is ironically “Cynical Bastards”.  Good time upbeat rock with solid beats to shake your butt to!  “11:11” is primed for dancing .  Everyone will pick out their own favourites, because there aren’t any poor songs on this wax.  Check out “Crawling Through the Window” for a slower tune with all the integrity intact, or the strange Disco hop of “Systematic”.

A band can make or break based on the lead singer.  I really like the expressive and sincere singing style of Max Kerman.  He stands out from first listen.  It’s hard to say exactly what makes him stand out, but he certainly does.  A band to watch.

4.5/5 stars

REVIEW: Alice Cooper – “Paranoiac Personality” (2017 single)

ALICE COOPER – “Paranoiac Personality” (2017 Edel 7″ single, white vinyl)

In 1969, the original Alice Cooper group released their debut album for Frank Zappa’s Straight records.  The band consisted of Vincent Furnier on lead vocals using the stage name of “Alice Cooper”, Michael Bruce & Glen Buxton (guitars), Dennis Dunaway (bass), and Neal Smith (drums).  This legendary lineup laid waste to rock and roll until 1974 when they split for Alice to go solo.  Though Glen died in 1997, the surviving member eventually reunited on vinyl in 2011 for three tracks on Welcome 2 My Nightmare.  Since then the original band has worked together with surprising regularity, including on Cooper’s latest album Paranormal.

To go with the Paranormal brew-ha-ha, Alice put out a 7″ white vinyl single for “Personoiac Paranality” “Paranoiac Personality”.  It’s an easy track to like with a vibe reminiscent of his classic single “Go to Hell”.  This is likely to be a concert classic for as long as Alice tours.  The chorus is meant for a crowd to sing along.  “Paranoid!  Paranoid!”

A great B-side is what makes a single memorable.  In 2017 you see all kinds of gimmicky singles, from coloured vinyl to ridiculously low production numbers.  That stuff won’t make me buy a single; but an exclusive B-side will.  “I’m Eighteen” is performed by the aforementioned original Cooper band!  They are augmented by current Cooper guitarist Ryan Roxie, filling in for Glen Buxton.  What a great version this is, and how much more authentic can it get?  Alice has a nice intro for Glen, and it’s stuff like this that makes a single worth spending the money (and shipping) on.  My copy came from Seismic Records in the UK, but it was worth it to me.  The pristine white vinyl is just the icing on top.

5/5 stars

 

REVIEW: July Talk – Touch (2016 vinyl)

JULY TALK – Touch (2016 Sleepless Records)

Surely one of the most exciting bands to emerge from Toronto in the last few years has been July Talk.  Defying categorization, they’re often lumped in with “blues rock” and “indie”, neither of which really describe July Talk.  You could also call them “art rock” because July Talk truly treat their music as high-energy art.  Loud art.

July Talk are a five piece rock band known for their volatile live shows where anything can happen.  Lead singers Peter Dreimanis and Leah Fay offer a contrast, he of the gravel voice and she as the smooth one.  They songs are like battles between characters, little stories with Fay and Dreimanis playing the parts.  Dreimanis and bassist Josh Warburton have also entered the visual world, with each directing some of July Talk’s most interesting music videos.*

Picture yourself in a tangle with another, you’ll feel your body awaken.  That’s the opening lyric to “Picturing Love” but also apt listening advice.  Some of these songs sound like the act of sex in motion, limbs tangled and struggling to get free.  On “Picturing Love”, Leah Fay contrasts Dreimanis’ grit with a sassy vocal.  “I suppose, I’ll strike pose…”  A band is usually lucky to have one memorable front person.  July Talk have two and that’s their secret weapon.  “Picturing Love” is one of three singles.  Another is the next track “Beck + Call”, a bass-heavy groove that hits with body blows.  Dreimanis screams “She loves me, she loves me not!” while Leah Fay floats above it.

Things get dancey on “Now I Know”, a track which recalls certain aspects of the 1980s and a little bit of U2.  Fay takes the center stage with an irresistible shouted chorus.  We go punky on the brilliant “Johnny + Mary”.  Fay has a punky sass that she employs with pure attitude.  Meanwhile the band chug away on some heavy riffing.  One lick even sounds like an Iron Maiden melody.  A dusky ballad called “Strange Habit” closes the first side.  This delicate song shows that July Talk can do it quietly too, and successfully.

If you have not heard the first single from Touch, “Push + Pull”, do so now.  A slinky groove turns into a battering ram.  “Push + Pull” is a great representation of the July Talk sound.  Whether you are dancing or thrashing, “Push + Pull” will work for ya.

“Lola + Joseph” rests on a spare but killer guitar hook.  Fay and Dreimanis trade off vocals seamlessly, as things get hot.  “But I’ve never done this, can you show me please,” pleads Dreimanis during one sexy exchange.  “Just count to five, not too fast,” whispers Fay in response.   “Lola + Joseph” is the hidden gem on this album.  It’s the nice little surprise that you get for playing the album through.  It’s just killer.  Leah Fay goes for a new wave punky snarl on “So Sorry”, another brilliant and loud track.  “Jesus Said So” has a completely different vibe, more like classic 50s doo-wop in a modern song.  Closing with a haunting song, the last is the title track “Touch”.  Piano is the main feature as it builds to a dramatic close.

Check this band out.  Touch is only their second album.  Time to get on board!

5/5 stars

* “Guns + Ammunition” directed by Warburton is one of the coolest technical achievements in a music video you’ll ever see.  Check it out below.