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Words by Brendan
I took a weekend trip to Chicago a few weeks back to visit a college buddy. We spent an academic day in South Bend, IN, then trained to the so-called Windy City to hang out for two days. We caught Twin Sister on Friday night—good show, but nothing to write home (or here) about—then explored the Wicker Park neighborhood on Saturday and Sunday. Good times. I insisted on stopping at a record store and, luckily, Reckless Records had a location right down the street from where we were staying. I made some solid finds—Warpaint, Clear Light, Thee Oh Sees, Nirvana, and more— and spent a little too long there, probably. Bonus: my friend made some hilariously awesome cassette finds, so I’ll share those, too!
Exhibit A: Clear Light / Clear Light (1967) [Elektra]
I actually found two copies of this album, whose existence I was first made aware of via We Listen For You‘s Twitter feed, I believe. One was a near mint copy, selling for roughly $25. The one I bought was a much cheaper, “good condition” original-issue copy of this 1967 album on Elektra Records. It has that warm, inviting hiss and pop sound that only old vinyl has, and I’m glad I made this choice (as is my wallet). Produced by the legendary Paul Rothchild—who is probably as much a part of The Doors‘ sound as the band members, themselves—this album is perfectly-arranged psychedelic pop. The songs are folky and proggy, with spacey guitars and beautiful vocals, but they rock a little bit when it’s called for. Give the whole album a listen, especially for the middle track, the slow-burning jam “Mr. Blue”. The back cover notes, “To fully appreciate the spectacular sound of double drumming in CLEAR LIGHT, play this record at high volume,” and that is so fucking right.
Exhibit B: Gandalf / Gandalf (1969 reissue) [Capitol]
This is not the 90s and 00s Finnish metal band, but the 1960s American psychedelic group. Their one and only album was screwed up by Capitol Records—they originally released it with the wrong LP inside (?!?!) and then did zero promotion after the fix. I’m glad it’s not lost to the ages, though, because the pop-rock gems contained therein are outstanding. Almost 2/3 of the album is covers of obscure folk tunes, actually, and it’ll be interesting to go and track down those originals. I’m totally digging these versions, in the meantime.
Exhibit C: Vivian Girls / Live On The Radio: WFMU 9/1/2008 (2008) [Trouble Man Unlimited]
I love the Vivian Girls and their girl-group, garage-rock goodness. Last year’s Share The Joy was one of my fave records. This is a live set from WFMU’s show, Michael Goodstein’s Choking On Cufflinks, recorded back in 2008 between their self-titled debut and 2009′s Everything Goes Wrong, and it has songs from both of those albums. As the Reckless staff noted on this LP’s cover, “The performance is sloppy but it’s a good sloppy, the way these songs are supposed to sound.” Right on; play it loud and play it proud. I found this LP at another store in Pittsburgh sometime last year but couldn’t pull the trigger on it; I’ve since learned this vinyl edition is rare and sold-out, and the price was just right this time, so I bought it. Lucky for you, the entire set is downloadable on WFMU’s blog, too!
Exhibit D: Thee Oh Sees / Warm Slime (2010) [In The Red]
Oh man, do I dig this band. They are incedibly prolific, having put out a dozen LPs of garage rock greatness in the last six years. Seriously. I don’t know how they do it. Not only that, but the albums are always chock full of catchy garage pop and heavy guitar jams. They just can’t stop! This paritcular album’s first side is taken up entirely by the 15 minute-long title track jam, while side B has six two- to three-minute lo-fi ditties. Definitely check out Thee Oh Sees if you’re into this stuff, especially 2011′s Carrion Crawler/The Dream LP. Big fan of their simplistic lyrics that echo away in the background, too; e.g. from “I Was Denied”: “i flew right by and surveyed the scene.i was denied. it felt like a dream.so i flew away,with a friend of mine. i got fucked up, suffice to say.la la la la la” (bad punctuation, and all, verbatim from the inner sleeve of the LP)
Exhibit E: Warpaint / The Fool (2010) [Rough Trade]
I missed this album when it came out, and I think it might retroactively be one of my favorite albums of 2010. (In fact, I wrote a Song Diary for one track way back when I discovered the album.) Minimalist rock à la the xx—lots of bouncy, echoey bass lines and great vocal harmonies—done by four females with excellent, emotional lyrics and awesome production. Seriously worth a listen if you haven’t done so yet. This copy was practically new, and with 2 LPs and snazzy art on both of the inner sleeves, I couldn’t pass it up.
Exhibit F: Medication / This Town (2010) [Hozac]
Being in Chicago, I knew I was in Hozac country. That label has all manner of garage rock gems in their catalog, and I thought this was a chance to find some used releases I might not see anywhere else. I’d heard a few Medication tunes before, and I pretty much knew I’d be buying this when I spotted it in the “Garage” section, especially with the description: “Minimal, jangly garage-rock that sounds like it’s coming from the far end of a hallway.” Sweet. Recorded entirely on 4-track cassette by one dude, Mikey Hyde, this is some folksy, down-trodden garage rock with a melancholic edge to its lo-fi grit. Good stuff!
Exhibit G: TRMRS / Sea Things (2010) [Dead Beat]
Hailing from Costa Mesa, CA, TRMRS inject an element of surf rock into their sludgy punk rock, and it gives them an interesting—and to these (sadly) aging ears, more listenable—edge. An interview with Get Bent describes their in-your-face attitude and style, and I dig that, but the songs on this LP belie a love of 60s and 70s rock, and I really dig that. They have a recently-released split 7″ with Night Beats, too, so check that out here.
Exhibit H: Ultralyd / Chromosome Gun (2005) [Load]
Kjetil D. Brandsdal is from Norwegian experimental rock band Noxagt, and he joined up with four other musicians to jam the fuck out for this LP on Load Records. It was my friend I was visiting who found this album in the “Experimental/Psych/Prog” section of the store and showed it to me, pointing to the staff review on the cover: “It’s Norwegian & heavy so it’s got to be good right? RIGHT???!!!??? Freaked out, free-jazz rock that will scare the sh*t out of your neighbors.” Hell yeah, I was buying this shit. I’ve spun it once and it definitely lived up to that review. I’m not sure I’ll play it again for a couple of weeks or more, but I’m sure there will be periodic moods where this LP is called for. (Great in-depth review of the album here.)
Exhibit J: Nirvana / A Tribute To The Vaselines 7″ (bootleg?)
Real talk time: I was never a Nirvana fan as a kid. I only remember Kurt Cobain’s death in far-removed retrospect because of that time when a kid in my 6th grade science class wanted to name one of the new newts after Kurt and I didn’t get it. It’s not out of distaste, just sheer ignorance, and so much so that I have very fond memories of hearing some Nirvana tunes for the first time while listening to their MTV Unplugged album in this very same friend’s dorm room in college. (Yeah, the one who I’m visiting in this anecdote. Full circle!) One track, “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For A Sunbeam”, kinda stood out to me, too, which led me to The Vaselines and … BAM, a love of music developed. Well, it’s not that linear, but it certainly helped. Reckless Records keeps all of the physical copies of their wares in shelves behind the counter (leaving only covers and sleeves out on the floor makes more room available!) so while I waited for the cashier to track down my purchases on this particular February day, I persued a stack of 7″s on the counter. This single was in that stack. It is clearly a bootleg recording of a live show that some superfan paid to press, with release info on neither the sleeve nor the wax, itself, but who cares? These versions of three Vaselines tunes are solid and certainly worth the couple of dollars I dropped. Plus, I feel like I own a piece of history.
Check it out: “Jesus Doesn’t Want Me For A Sunbeam”
Okay, two more quick stories before I sign off for the day. While I was still at the counter waiting for purchases and paying, a young guy (no older than 20, I would guess) in baggy jeans and a t-shirt walked up to the counter and asked another cashier for some help. He was inquiring about their stock of a particular artist. (Unbeknownst to me at the time, Reckless actually has three locations around Chicago, so this is a reasonable inquiry.) He wanted to know if they had any albums by Townes Van Zadnt in stock, besides some compilation album that he spotted in the country section. We three stood there awkwardly as the cashier typed some stuff on the computer and the young guy waited. Finally, she said, “Nope, we just have that compilation.” The guy said, “Good, I just wanted to make sure. I bought all of the other stuff and I didn’t want to miss anything.” The cashier kindly pointed out that he could explore their full catalog online (a fact I mentally noted, as well, for future reference) and bid him adieu. I admired his collector’s commitment.
Second and final story: my friend also walked around the store during the hour I was there, scouring the racks, but he mostly explored the cassette and DVD sections. The latter makes sense because he likes movies, and the former only makes sense because he owns an old Oldsmobile (one of those old Buicks where the year doesn’t match the model, like a ’91 Oldsmobile ’88, or something like that) with a cassette player, so he’s always looking to expand his car-listening collection. On this occasion, he made three purchases for a total of $5 bucks. One was a free-jazz album by some group whose name I had forgetten (until now, it’s Passport) called Infinity Machine. I remember the cover art being the Earth as a cube with a telephone receiver on top (see above). Weird. We listened to this on the drive back from the train station to his house, and it was … interesting. Another purchase was Devo‘s Shout, from 1984, and he said this was chosen pretty much entirely because the final track is a cover of Jimi Hendrix‘s “Are You Experienced?”. I seriously admire my buddy for this decision, and I applaud him, because it was worth it. We also played this on the drive back from the station (playing track 1 on side A and then flipping over to get this track; remember that trick?), and it was fucking wild. Just try to imagine Devo covering Jimi Hendrix. This sounds JUST LIKE THAT, only BETTER. The moment where they build up to and then sing “Not necessarily stoned, but … beautiful!” is outstanding in the original, but it’s almost better here because the synths and energy rise and then they shout (hah!), “Not necessarily beautiful, but MU-TA-TED!” It’s fucking glorious.
With that, I bid you adieu, dear reader. Go forth and listen and buy records and tell us about it. We welcome submissions to the Record Store Recon series, so send me an email if you’d like to participate. Cheers.
Filed under: Record Store Recon