vinyl

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

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#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.

#587: Jean’s Stormy Weekend Vinyl Tales (With Video)

GETTING MORE TALE #587: Jean’s Stormy Weekend Vinyl Tales

Another long weekend in Ontario has come and gone.  Yes, international friends, the first weekend of August is a long weekend for we Ontarians.  Despite a stormy start, it was just a lovely time.

Every holiday weekend needs its weekend music (unless your name is “1537” or some similar number).  The car trip commenced with the finish of a double live album called Black Masquerade by Ritchie Blackmore’s Rainbow.  This 1995 concert features Doogie White on lead vocals.  We enjoyed it as a contrast to the newer Live in Birmingham 2016 with Ronnie Romero singing, which had been in the car during the week.  On the whole, I think I prefer Romero to White in Rainbow, but that’s not an easy choice to make.  Both are very talented and charismatic frontmen, but with very different voices.

When Black Masquerade came to its natural closing point with “Smoke on the Water”, I switched the deck over to the new Styx.  Don’t be surprised if you see the new Styx album The Mission on many 2017 year-end lists.  It’s been a favourite of mine the past few weeks, and Mrs. LeBrain was very impressed herself.  “And this is their new album?” she asked, since it sounds straight out of the 1970s at times.

We got to the cottage Friday night.  A storm was blowing through.  It was too cold for funnel clouds to form, but as you will see in the video I put together, it was gale force weather.  And then the next day?  Completely calm.

Brand new video!

For weekend entertainment, I brought with me some of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies.  Thanks to Mr. BuriedOnMars, who has been reviewing the MCU films in order, I have been re-watching the early ones again.  This weekend I chose Iron Man 3 and The Avengers, because neither are on (Canadian) Netflix at the moment.  Both were enjoyable entertainment, but Iron Man 3 is just too gosh darn long and weakly plotted.  And of course there was more music to be heard.  Some friends down the road were partying to George Jones.  It reminded me of the old days when my Grandpa would have done the same but maybe with Kenny Rogers instead.

Mom and dad provided the meat for the weekend, and I did the cooking.  Jen did up her potatoes and I took care of the steaks.  On the holiday Monday, we hooked up with old buddy Peter and his sister Jo.  Regular readers may recall some of my adventures with Peter, particularly Getting More Tale #559:  Hotel Hobbies.  It was fantastic catching up with the two of them at the newly renovated Jean’s for breakfast.  Jean’s is bigger and just as busy.  It’s one of those reliable breakfast places that we have been going for years.  Still reliable!

Peter told me something at breakfast that did surprise me.  I noticed that the old Record Store in which I worked was now buying used vinyl again.  In the past, only Tom‘s store stocked used vinyl but times they-are-a-changin’.  Sadly Peter’s dad passed away late last year.  He had some old vinyl.  Not a lot, just about 20 records or so.  Pete’s dad would have had old German music, nothing of any particular monetary value.  Peter decided to give my old store a call to see if they’d take them off his hands.  What he was told was so strange:  He’d have to send them into the head office, and they’d take a look and get back to him within one month.

One month?  Peter took the old records to Value Village and dumped them there.

I don’t know what the story is with the one month thing.  Maybe they realized the records weren’t their thing and were trying to brush him off?  Seems a bizarre answer.

I’m sure if Peter’s dad somehow had any rare German Scorpions records, he would have let me know, as unlikely as that is!

Great to see old friends again.  After breakfast the weather was starting to turn rotten, so we made our way home.  And what a musical ride it was!  All of Deep Purple’s Purpendicular album.  All of Rush’s Moving Pictures.  Side one of the next album, Signals.  It was a smorgasbord of so called “smart-guy rock”!

Hopefully we’ll make it up a couple more times before the summer is over.  There are still quite a few new albums here at LeBrain HQ that need road trip testing.  Styx’s The Mission passed the road trip test, securing a big point in this year’s Best Album stakes.  To be continued….

 

 

#583.5: Going the Distance at Sunrise Records

The return of Sunrise Records to Canada has been one of the most exciting stories of 2017 for fans of physical product.  I rarely leave without new music under my arms.  This time I went for the new Alice Cooper album Paranormal, deluxe edition CD of course.  It was there front racked, $29.99.  A bit pricey compared to Amazon, but I wanted to buy it so I went for it.

I always get good customer service at Sunrise, and I went to the counter to ask a question.  The lady working looked it up — the Alice Cooper “Paranoiac Personality” single on 7″ vinyl.  No luck, as it turns out Sunrise don’t get many 7″ singles that aren’t for Record Store Day.  And that’s fine, but here’s where she went the extra mile.  She was working on something else and said, “I’ll be right over here in this isle if you have any more questions.”  Cool.  I appreciated that.

I had no more questions as I came for a few specific things.

  1. Something on vinyl that I didn’t already have on CD.
  2. A fidget spinner.

Mrs. LeBrain bought me a fidget spinner for my birthday, but I didn’t know how many levels of quality there are in those things.  That one is a light silver metal and doesn’t spin very long.  Mrs. LeBrain’s is much heavier and spins much longer.  I timed it once at 11 minutes!  It so happens that Sunrise had a buy one/get one free sale on fidget spinners.  So I bought the heavy one that Mrs. LeBrain owns, and a second metal one that looks like a ninja star!

Finally, some vinyl.  There were plenty to tempt me, but I didn’t want some crappy reissue.  I chose July Talk’s Touch.  And it’s excellent!  This band is impossible to describe.  Lead singer/guitarist Peter Dreimanis has a whiskey soaked Tom Waits howl, but it’s his own twist.  Leah Fay (lead vocals) contrasts Dreimanis, sometime delicate and sometimes loudly.  There is nothing easy to pigeonhole on this album.  They go from bluesy to punky to dancey.  But always with a toe in another genre too.  They get heavy and they get soft and every track is good.

Thanks Sunrise for another successful music run.  It won’t be our last I assure you.

#579: Entering the Asylum

GETTING MORE TALE #579: Entering the Asylum
(Supplement to the  Re-Review series)

Back in Record Store Tales Part 3 (!), we took a nostalgic look at my first ever Kiss albums, that all arrived in one glorious batch.  The year was 1985, but Kiss also had a new album coming out in a matter of days.  Now that I had started on a Kiss collection, I would have to get their newest album too, called Asylum.  I didn’t even know how to pronounce “asylum” correctly, nor did I know what the word meant, but I did understand that it was their third album without makeup.

Next door neighbor George, who was my introduction to Kiss, came over one day talking about the new single “Tears Are Falling” and how much I would love it.  I didn’t have much money but by the time the snow fell, my dad bought me a copy of Asylum on cassette.  We got it at the Zellers store at Stanley Park Mall in Kitchener.

My meager Kiss collection at that point consisted of Alive!, Asylum (cassette) and a bunch of LPs I recorded off George.  I didn’t know much about the discography but George was a good teacher.  George actually named one of his first bands Asylum.  Before long I could name all the albums, in order.  I even predicted that the next single would be “Uh! All Night”.  I didn’t foresee the third single “Who Wants To Be Lonely” because Kiss hadn’t done a third single in ages!

George was only missing two Kiss albums:  The Elder, and Double Platinum.  He was dying to get both and finish the collection.  His record collection was fascinating to me and a goldmine of music to tape and explore.  The album covers, particularly for Kiss and Iron Maiden, had me hooked.

As my interest in Kiss grew, a new kid at school who I later found out was a “liar liar pants on fire” claimed he had “all” the Kiss albums at home.  His name was Joe Ciaccia (pronounced “chee-chaw”).  I asked him if that meant he had The Elder.  He said yes.  I told George I knew a kid who owned it, and he just about shit his pants.  I made arrangements with Joe to meet up at his place on the next Sunday to do a trade.  All I asked for brokering this trade was recording the album.

George was really excited.  “I don’t care what he wants for it, I’m not leaving without that record.”  I distinctly remember a small group of us trudging through the snow to meet Joe at his apartment.  Who came with us?  I can’t remember.  Joe lived on Breckenridge Drive, just down the street from Brian Vollmer of Helix.  One thing that I can remember very clearly was grabbing my Sanyo ghetto blaster loaded with D-cell batteries, my Asylum tape, and rocking while walking to Joe’s.

Listening to a cassette on a ghetto blaster powered by D-cells was a warbly experience that kids today don’t understand.  Our small group lollygagging through the slush listening to “King of the Mountain” on that old Sanyo is an image I’ll always remember.  I carried it through the wet melting snow.  Those Sanyo ghetto blasters were built like tanks!  You could drop them and they’d keep on ticking.

We arrived at Joe’s apartment and buzzed.  No answer.  Buzzed again.  No answer.  I began to realize my fears.  Joe was all talk and no Elder.  We hung out down there a while but there was no sign of Joe.  George was partly crushed and mostly pissed off.  At school, Joe gradually earned a reputation for tall tales.  His were beginning to rival the lies of Ian Johnson – they even lived on the same street.

We flipped the Asylum tape over and began the walk home.  A wasted trip, and Joe dodged me at school the next day.  George kept pestering me to arrange a second hookup with Joe, thinking he still had that copy of The Elder that he wanted so badly.  I realized Joe was full of shit and told George the sad truth.  The record was not there.  Joe was telling stories, trying to seem cool to me for having all the Kiss albums.  Then he got caught in the lie, after going so far as to arrange a trade and giving me the address.  Very un-cool.

George did get a copy of The Elder a few months later, and he still taped me a copy.  It was a strange album, after being immersed in Asylum for many months.  Then, I definitely preferred AsylumAsylum was special to me.  It was my first “new” Kiss album since getting into the band!  I had boarded the Kiss train and I wasn’t getting off!

REVIEW: Rich Robinson – Got to Get Better in a Little While (10″ EP)

RICH ROBINSON – Got to Get Better in a Little While (2016 Universal 10″ clear single for Record Store Day)

This really pretty record (a single or an EP, who cares?) was found on the Taranna 2016 expedition with Mr. Books.  It’s apparently a Record Store Day exclusive from April 2016, although I had no problem getting this one for $16.99 in October.  This my first purchase of anything by Rich without his brother Chris.  Knowing the Black Crowes, I was fairly certain it wouldn’t suck.  I was still surprise to see on the back, an ad for not one not two not three but FOUR Rich Robinson “Expanded Editions” on CD and LP!  Who knew?  Not this guy!

“Got to Get Better in a Little While” is a Derek and the Dominoes cover, apparently one that Crowes used to do regularly, as does Rich.  You have to hear this if you like bluesy rock that produces pure smoke from sheer musical chemistry.  Yes, Clapton is God and the original can’t be touched, but a real jackass could easily make this song sound like shit.  Rich does the opposite, and it sounds as part of his musical being.  There’s some deep bass that just cuts through, and this goes on for eight and a half minutes of jam session heaven.  Just bop along.

The second side has two Rich originals.  Greasy late night blues is on the menu.  “Look Through My Window” sets a scene of steamy Tennessee dusk.  Brilliant stuff for any fan of slippery slidey guitars.  Then an acoustic/electric tune called “Falling Away” closes on a first light of a quiet dawn.  Great tunes, both, making up a tidy little 16 minute EP.  Or single.  Whatever!

The vinyl itself is clear and thick.  The package doesn’t say anything about clear vinyl, but you almost expect clear or coloured when you buy these limited editions.  It looks lovely spinning with its green label.  Great little EP, reasonably priced for the collector and fan.

4/5 stars