Friday, May 30, 2008

Vinyl Treasures

As the title suggests, what follows are some of my more valuable favorites I've picked out from my LPs. I don't have the most massive collection, but I'm really excited about what I do have. I collect records, but I wouldn't really call myself a "collector" per se because I don't spend massive amounts of money on a single record. As such most of the prized gems from my collection aren't the rarest things out there.

Here are some that have a special place in my heart and/or ears.

My Coroner Collection

A fantastic Swiss technical/progressive thrash metal trio that will surely merit a post of their own on the Squidlair someday. The so-so Noise Records mixing sounds better on these than the remaster CDs I have...Ron Royce's fantastic bass playing comes through quite clearly. I managed to score these from eBay at solid prices; aside from Grin, none ran over 18 bucks.

Top row: 1987's R.I.P.; 1988's Punishment for Decadence (European version with original cover); 1988's Punishment for Decadence (American version with the cover the label put on it...which is cool nonetheless. Skeleton playing a bone with a violin bow! Jimmy Page would be proud.)
Middle row: 1989's No More Color; 1989 maxi-single clear vinyl 12" of "Die By My Hand"/"Tunnel of Pain," both from No More Color; and 1993's Grin, which is the most I've ever spent on a record at $40. I would've never had a chance had I not mentioned on the Atheist forum that I'd give my pinky for it. A few days later, a French guy emailed me about his auctioning off his copy and I pounced. Thanks, Adbhuta.
Bottom row: 1991 "Divine Step (Conspectu Mortis)"/"I Want You" 7" from Mental Vortex; 1988 "Purple Haze"/"Masked Jackal" 7" from the Punishment for Decadence era. Their Beatles cover is monstrous, but their Hendrix cover sucks.

Anyone have a copy of Mental Vortex with the original inners (including the poster) intact? Sell it to me.

My Bloody Valentine- Loveless (2008 Aural Exploits Repress)

As previously established, I love MBV. I also love the color red, and and colored vinyl. This is contains all of the above and is number 390 out of 1000. Sounds gorgeous and looks it, too.

Heresy- Face Up to It! (First Canadian pressing)

Heresy are another band I have Tony Pence to thank for getting me interested in. The band were a bunch of Birmingham lads who, along with Napalm Death, ushered in a new era of speed in extreme music. I bought this after buying the reissue of it. Despite the sound differences (the reissue sounds as good as they could make this lo-fi album), this was a fantasic investment. The original pressing contains a little folded sheet not only containing lyrics but also singer/lyricist John's explanations of his songs. He's quite articulate; grindcore, while a genre I often dig, isn't really known for profound thought, but he has a lot of good things to say about a lot of different issues.

According to bassist Kalv, they licensed this record to be pressed in Canada at the same time they pressed it in the UK– and the guy heading up the operation never got back to the band after going ahead with the whole shebang and only sent them a few copies.

Iron Maiden- Live After Death

Iron Maiden need no introduction. This was the first album I ever bought on vinyl, and is basically the best live metal album ever. It has some great tour photos in the inner sleeves, and seeing Derek Riggs art in LP format is like watching your favorite epic movie in IMAX. I'm seeing Maiden this Monday night, and they'll be playing a setlist very similar to this one. Can't wait.

Smashing Pumpkins- Siamese Dream (First pressing)

Tied with Coroner's Grin for the most I've ever spent on a record at forty bucks, also from Tony at Celebrated Summer Records. The current reissues are on orange as well, but not marble orange as both LPs here are. So delicious is the shade of orange that I think of it as something more along the lines of "Siamese Dreamsicle."

Ali Akbar Khan- Ragas of India
I don't know if this is rare or not, but I have an unconditional love of Indian classical music. This was found and bought along with a whole bunch of other stuff for very little at a Rotary auction last year. Khan is/was a very accomplished sarod player and this one-raga-per-side record is very soothing.

Oh, and it has bewbs on the cover. Bonus.

The Doughboys- Home Again
I have also established my love for the Doughboys. The LP of Home Again unfortunately doesn't feature a lyrics sleeve, but the mix sounds much less cramped than the CD version while retaining the sloppy charm.

L to R: 1976's Recycled, 1973's Remember the Future, and 1972's A Tab in the Ocean.

Nektar are a fantastically funky prog band with all my favorite textures from that time period- Mellotron, Rickenbacker bass, crooned vocals....I need to throw these on again. My favorite is probably Remember, which is about a blind boy meeting an alien.

Comus- First Utterance (2002 Earmark Records Reissue)
Yes, a repress. This alone was thirty dollars well spent, as it goes for more on eBay and the original will set you back 200, easy.

Comus are a band that will mess with your head, to understate the matter entirely. When I first checked out this album art, my first thought was something along the lines of, wow...will I end up like the guy on the cover?

Then I listened and the answer was a resounding "YES." Let's put on our imagination helms and envision the following: it's 1969. The Moody Blues and Jethro Tull are somehow touring together and, while in transit over a large body of water, crash land on a deserted island in the middle of the open ocean. Scrounging what basic acoustic instruments they could find from the wreckage (the Mellotron is gone, man), they quickly go insane from the solitude and manage to record the results.

That's what First Utterance is like.

Kaveret- Poogy Tales
Last summer, my good friend Alex and I dug through my parents' box of records, which had until that time resided in our garage. Among the mass of LPs we pulled was this- a thinly-packaged white sleeve with a hobo playing hacky sack and a lot of Hebrew letters on it. Alex insisted we play it, and while initially reluctant I finally put it on the turntable. As the music seeped out of the speakers, we were astonished. This wasn't good. It was great. Joyous, wonderfully psychedelic sounds familiar to us from the other '60s and '70s rock we listened to...only this was in Hebrew! It was beautiful and exotic and genuinely happy music.

Turns out my mother had bought the album some thirty plus years ago, when she had worked on a Kibbutz in Israel. Kaveret were huge at the time and she even saw them live.

Apparently this has been reissued on CD. I can't recommend it enough.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

EXCLUSIVE Interview with Adam Franklin of SWERVEDRIVER

If you haven't heard of Swervedriver but dig bands like Dinosaur Jr, Soundgarden, and pre-suckage Smashing Pumpkins, you're entirely missing out. The band has returned from indefinite hiatus after some ten years.

I was lucky enough to get in touch with singer/guitarist Adam Franklin and even luckier when said he was down with answering a few questions.

-When I listen to Raise, I hear a lot of Dinosaur Jr worship going on. You guys really work the guitar effects (wah pedals especially) and your vocals are buried. Any accuracy to this perception? And why is your singing so low in the mix?

Dinosaur were a big influence around the time of You're Living All Over Me and Bug, for sure. I don't really know why the vocals were so low but I certainly wasn't that confident with the vocals at the time plus it was also perhaps a prevailing stylistic trend at the time.

-Did you receive any vocal training between Raise and Mezcal Head? The production mixes your voice much better and it carries a lot of melody as well.

Actually I did have one singing lesson that may have been around that time. She was an opera singer and she had a picture of her with Pavarotti on her piano and she had at one time given lessons to Johnny Rotten. At the start of the lesson she got me to reach for my lowest and highest notes and then said "right. I guarantee that in an hour you will be singing 2 notes higher and 3 lower - and she was right.

-What role did effects play in songwriting? Were any riffs written with a given effect in mind, or were they added as an afterthought?

I think it's true to say that sometimes you find a sound and base a song around that sound but you of course have to find a killer melody to use it with.

-For that matter, let's say you're exiled to a desert isle with just your Jazzmaster, your amp and your choice of ONE effect. Which do you choose and why?

Vox Cry Baby wah wah pedal to express my blues at being exiled on a desert island.

-Do you consider Swervedriver a shoegaze band? You guys hailed from the same area, if I recall, and were on Creation and had a lot of influences different from that of, say, Curve or Slowdive.

No. There are certainly some stylistic similarities with those bands, no denying, and particularly on that first album, with the vocals down in the mix etc as you mentioned before, but really Swervedriver has always been more of a rock band.

-Most shoegaze music is often characterized as “druggy.” Would you say Swervedriver’s music qualifies as such? Did drugs play any role in songwriting?

I always say that you probably ought to 'road test' your music to see if it sounds cool on drugs (always better if it does!) and Jimmy was always on 'headphone duty' making sure that the stoners minds' would be blown the requisite amount by some apocalyptic panning.

-What do you think of the influx of new, younger bands labeling themselves shoegaze?

To be honest it puts me off if a MySpace band has 'shogaze' listed as its genre but I suppose it's a valid description at this stage. I think there are cool bands from all ends of the spectrum that take elements of said genre, whether it's Lali Puna or Dead Meadow. The band Film School seem to be doing the right kind of thing - taking the influence and leading it somewhere new.

-What was your lyrical approach? Many of the tunes seem to be about relationships. Any truth to this, or am I completely off-base?

They possibly are - even some of the songs that sound like they're about driving are about pining for something else, like a new place to live or a new person to hang out with. "She's Beside Herself" and "Out" are undeniably about relationships and "For Seeking Heat" is probably the only song purely about speed on the road.

-Were you genuinely feeling murderous in the events inspiring "Last Train to Satansville," or is that just artistic license?

Artistic license - better to write about it than carry out the act! Besides I don't and will probably never own a gun.
-For the love of all things decent, will you PLEASE include "Never Lose That Feeling" in the tour setlist?


-Tomas Lindberg of seminal Swedish melodic death metal band At the Gates has gone on record saying he adores you guys, especially the Raise album. Are you a closet At the Gates fan? Would you ever consider letting Tomas get up onstage and bark over "Son of Mustang Ford" if you guys played Gothenburg?

I must admit I wasn't aware of At the Gates until you mentioned them but I just checked their MySpace page and Tomas is welcome anytime. I think.

-What’s your favorite song you wrote for Swervedriver, and what is one you have an affinity for that no fan ever gushes over?

"Maelstrom" is a song that I love but no-one else in the band is crazy about ...but that's okay because I guess I can play it with my Bolts of Melody [Adam's solo album] band! I also like "93 Million Miles From The Sun," which is a re-write of "Harry & Maggie."

-Whatever happened to the studio you guys won after the Geffen lawsuit fiasco?

You mean the studio that we built from Geffen advance money? I wish we really had won it! The band Ash nearly bought it but in the end we closed it down.

-What inspired the band's reunion?

The time was simply right.

-What are the top 5 records you're listening to right now?

Serge Gainsborg - Les Annee Psychedeliques
Dennis Wilson - Pacific Ocean Blue
Scott Walker - Boy Child 67-70
The Still Out - Crystallised
The Darjeeling Limited - OST

-Anything you’d like to say in closing?

Support your local indie record store!

Official Swervedriver Website

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Asa is a Shitty Musician

It's true, but that won't stop me from doing a post about the song I did for my Computer Music class this semester. If it sounds rushed, it is. I was asked to write program notes for when it was played live at the culmination concert, and they are as follows:

“You Have Only Now” was composed during the late winter/early spring months of 2008 by Asa E. While he considers himself a bassist before a guitarist, he had a few riffs kicking around that were written on the latter instrument and attempted to assemble them in a cohesive, song-like manner, adding in odds and ends where necessary. While he attempts to not to rip off his direct influences, he’s quite open about the fact that My Bloody Valentine’s Loveless, Jesu’s Silver, Opeth’s Still Life and Dinosaur Jr’s You’re Living All Over Me albums were all in rather heavy rotation at the time of writing, and hopes that some of the elements come through.

If my underconfident guitar solo (the only time I feel like I've played EXACTLY what I wanted to) doesn't SCREAM J Mascis worship, I don't know what will. Aside from dyeing my hair silver, of course. And yes, the rhythm's off at points and the opening Opethy strum part is totally tempoless. I never said I was good. But as simple and/or lackluster as the piece is, it's the first song I "composed" on my own–guitar, bass, and even that minimal drum loop.

I didn't really say what the song was about because I don't really know. I wanted the wall-of-sound guitar stuff to emote a hazey, euphoric sort of feeling. Don't know if that came through.

For those who haven't stopped reading and/or care about technical crap, the song is in D standard tuning. I ran a Fender Mexi-Strat through my Sansamp Para Driver DI preamp pedal for the initial distortion sound, then added amp simulation, reverb, and some chorus in Logic 7. The bass tracks were written and cut entirely in one night on a borrowed Ibanez SRX300 4-string run straight into the board and EQ'd in postproduction. The drum loop was an impatiently-produced thing based on a pattern from Logic 7's built-in Ultrabeat drum machine. Finally, the glassy synth string melody over the intro was added at the last minute via a Logic Softsynth MIDI patch triggered by a two-octave MIDI controller the studio had by the board.

And with all this said, I give you the mediocrely-titled "You Have Only Now."

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Pumping ze Iron und Pumping ze Muzik

Perhaps one of the only times I've made any sort huge resolution in my life was this past winter break. I realized that my class schedule had very open mid-days and I would use the time to hit the gym five days a week and put the days of inconsistent exercise behind me.

And somehow, I've been doing great with it. It's a great rush and clears my head after a long day. With that said, I would never be able to keep it all going without the continuous soundtrack of tunes running in my iPod. What follows is what I listen to to get my heart rate up and ze muscles flexing.

The Elliptical Conundrum

The cardio portion of my workout routine is the elliptical, which is a real convenience for people like me who want to run comfortably instead of actually doing the real thing. What's necessary for me personally, soundtrack-wise, is a set of songs nice and fast but not outrageously so. Slayer's "Angel of Death" still winds me every time I try it. In addition, because I do cardio all five days of the week, I usually want to do a different album day-to-day to break things up.

Quo Vadis- Defiant Imagination
Canadian tech-death metal? Hells yes! Also features the tasteful-but-talented basslines of one Mr. Steve Digiorgio, fretless metal bass master. It's as if they sat him down and said "Okay dude, you know what we're some stuff like you did on Individual Thought Patterns." This record never truly lets up from start to finish, right from the locked-in military march of "Silence Calls the Storm."

Quo Vadis- Silence Calls The Storm

Morbid Angel- Covenant
The opening of this record, "Rapture," will have you thinking two things. One, Pete Sandoval is a blast beat machine. Two, I can't believe something this heavy was released by a subsidiary of Sony. This record kills me every time I run...but in a sort of good way. Also, punk kids would hate death metal a lot less if they threw on "Angel of Poison," which basically sounds like downtuned oldschool hardcore with David Vincent's usual rasp.

Morbid Angel- Rapture

Watchtower- Control and Resistance
Forget Dream Theater, forget Queensryche...these dudes are the quintessential progressive metal band. They very audibly sound about ten times as technically accomplished as both the aforementioned groups and with only a fraction of the inevitable '80s cheese factor. Imagine a band with throatshredding falsetto frontman, a bassplayer who was genetically engineered from the DNA of Geddy Lee and Steve Harris, a guitarist who sounds like a cyborg Eddie Van Halen and a drummer who keeps it all together, that would be these guys. Alan Tecchio replaced Jason McMaster on vocals on this album and while more palatable, they still might be a turn0ff to some. Famous shredder Ron Jarzombek (recently seen in instrumental tech trio Blotted Science) has some weird guitar tones on here but also some reallllly strange scales. And Doug effin' Keyser? The most jaw-dropping bass player ever. I've heard plenty of ridiculous metal bassists –take Rainer from Pavor for example– but I've never heard anyone pull off lines, fills, and solos like Keyser does with the power he has. Not only are his fingers plucking at lightspeed, but they're plucking hard. Anyways, this record is full of over-the-top, frenetic, technical greatness and is simultaneously painful to run to because the riffs are usually dependent on individual melodies as opposed to chords, ultimately giving your ears a lot less to "lock in" to and forcing you to listen to every last note. If you like it, then BUY IT.

Stratovarius- Infinite
Power metal is a picky genre for me. What sets Strato apart is the cheesy and fun songwriting and life-affirming lyrics on this record. Throw on "Hunting High and Low" and get past the tongue-in-cheek factor and get pumped when Timo Kotipelto belts "There is no one that I can't outrun." That sums it up.

Stratovarius- Hunting High and Low

Strength Training Tunes
I usually go for stuff that has great heaviness but doesn't get too fast-- midtempo is preferable.

And as such it's only appropriate that I begin with Only Living Witness' Prone Mortal Form album. I've switched my routine up a bit, but I used to do the entirety of my strength training to this. There's nothing like a nice set on the leg press to the steady chug of the title track. Jonah Jenkins' voice alone will motivate you. It also helps that he's a fantastic lyricist. "Slug" is great to do bicep curls to, and "Root" is ideal for the bench press. While the follow up-record, Innocents, doesn't have the same darkness nor lyrical verbosity, there's some great and accesible tracks that also deliver a driving energy: "No Eden," "Deed's Pride," "Strata," and "Downpour" among others. Century Media released a two-disc set of both albums, remastered with additional material. It can be had for about 14 bucks and is more than worth your time and coinage.

Only Living Witness- Downpour

Quicksand- Slip
Quicksand are like Tool minus the pretension and mixed heavily with Fugazi and Helmet. A seminal post-hardcore record full of stomping rhythms and melodic bass breaks and vocals that nicely toe the line of aggressive and catchy. I seem to find myself throwing this one on when I'm doing bent-over rows.

Quicksand- Fazer

That, or
Soundgarden- Badmotorfinger
Overshadowed by the overrated phenomenon that is Nevermind (and I say this as a Seattlite), Badmotorfinger is simply the best "mainstream" rock record to come out of 1990s Seattle. It also proves, along with Alice In Chains' greatest moments, that grunge is a bullshit term. When did Pearl Jam ever sound anything like these guys? When did Kurt and company, for that matter? The lyrics are often absurd, there's out-of-nowhere sax usage, there's a love song, and there's some downright bizarre riffs. Hardly your standard 1990s hard rock fare.

I digress. This record is loud, metallic, and positively balls-out. Try doing a nice, long set of slow ab crunches to "Jesus Christ Pose." Burns, don't it? Yessir, just like Chris Cornell's vocals do in your ears. In a good way.

Soundgarden- Room A Thousand Years Wide