Keep your laws off my creativity

2012_SOPA-PIPADuring the past few months, there has been a lot of articles talking about the revival of vinyl. While we still hear about the closing of some record stores, there is no denying that more and more people are getting into the treasured format. Do a quick search on the Internet and you will find vinyl lovers gathering to talk about a new find that they just snagged for a dollar, or simply appreciating great cover art. On Tumblr there are tons of blogs dedicated to solely posting pictures of vinyl, check out Pornographic Phonographic. On Twitter, I have a growing list of other websites that keep the vinyl spirit alive. While vinyl has been around for much longer than the Internet, they seem to be a great match. In fact, a reason why vinyl has become so popular again is due in part to the Internet. On one hand, a lot of people felt the need to go back to the better quality sound of vinyl because mp3s became such a big part of the listening experience. However, on a more positive note, people are better able to share their love for vinyl through the Internet and bands have more opportunities to promote vinyl releases.

When the Internet allows for so many ways for people to be creative and form communities around common interests like vinyl, it is startling to hear about the Stop Internet Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect-IP Act (PIPA). If passed, these two bills could make it so easy for large corporations to have control over websites that promote music and art. The editor of one of the websites that I write for posted a great call-to-action letter regarding these two acts, which you can read here. So if you have not heard much about SOPA or PIPA, please go check out the letter on REDEFINE. The website is getting together a list of other music/art websites that are taking a stand against the bills. Awfully Crate is happy to be in the company of other great websites and I hope you will join too.

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Top five record stores of 2011

planet-dollar-proclamation

Sign at Planet Records

While many other music lovers have written about their favorite albums of the year, that topic has always been hard for me to cover. There are a lot of albums this year that I enjoyed and some that were on repeat for many weeks, but when it comes to actually ranking them and calling them my absolute favorites of the year, it is too much of a commitment. So instead of making a list of my top favorite albums of the year, I picked my favorite record stores of the year for dollar bin shopping. Whether they are in Los Angeles, where I live, or in other cities that I visited this year, these are record stores where I found great material for less than $1, records that I will be reviewing for the blog soon.

Backside: 139 North San Fernando Blvd., Burbank, Calif.

Backside is a great record store in the Los Angeles area with a wide selection of used and new records. While the store does not have a special section for $1 records, it is possible to find some within its collection. However, on Black Friday, Backside had an amazing store-wide sale and dedicated a space behind its shop for thousands of records, all priced at $1. After seeing a good response to the sale, Backside plans to have a $1 record sale on the last Sunday of every month. Some of my favorite $1 finds from Backside include, Talking Head’s True Stories and Love by Aztec Camera.

Planet Records: 54-B John F. Kennedy St., Cambridge, Mass.

Planet Records 5 Lps for $1

Mystery LP package from Planet Records

While on a trip visiting a friend in Boston, I embarked on an adventure to visit as many record stores as I could. I quickly became fond of Planet Records. Located in Harvard Square, Planet Records has a large collection of records priced at $1. In one visit, I found records by Santana, David Bowie and Styx for $1 each. However, when I saw a stack of mystery packages, that said “5 LPs for $1,” I could not resist. Each package was wrapped in a paper bag and had a random drawing on it. I chose the pack with a farting strawberry, pictured on the left. Kind of cute, right? I wasn’t expecting much from the package, but was quite surprised with what I had purchased for $1. The pack included a compilation of Beatles music from 1962 to 1966, The Beatles’ Second Album, Back to the Blues by The Ramsey Lewis Trio, Dakota Staton’s Dynamic! and a compilation of Thunderball and Other Thriller Music by Ray Martin and His Orchestra.

Weirdo Records: 844 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, Mass.

Weirdo Records is a tiny shop in Boston, but filled to the brim with vinyl, CDs and cassettes. While it can get a little tight and you cannot be afraid to sit on the ground to sift through the lower shelves, the shop has a nice variety. The $1 are not separated from all the other records, but there are a bunch that are marked for less than a dollar. My favorite finds from Weirdo Records are Frank Holder Sings Calypso Cavalcade by Frank Holder With Kenny Graham And His Orchestra and the soundtrack to 2001: A Space Odyssey.

Cheapo Records: 538 Massachusetts Ave., Cambridge, Mass.

Cheapo Records is another quaint shop with lots and lots of vinyl. The shop does not have too many records priced at $1, but there are many that are less than $5. My favorite find was Latin-esque by Esquivel and his Orchestra.

Beat Swap Meet: Grand Star Jazz Club at 943 N. Broadway, Los Angeles

While the Beat Swap Meet is not an actual record store, it is a wonderful event that happens a few times a year in Los Angeles and Sacramento. A number of collectors set up at the event and offer everything from metal to hip hop. Some vendors are rather pricey, but there are some who have great deals. Besides vinyl vendors, the event also incorporates clothing vendors, performances and workshops. My favorite find from the swap in September was Pat Benatar’s Precious Time.

There are a lot of other stores that I visited this year and are great, but I just didn’t find any $1 records. However, follow the jump to see my list of record stores that I have either not visited or not spend a lot of time in. They are stores that will be added to my 2012 goal list. In the comments let me know your favorite record stores of the year. Did you find any great records for $1 or less?

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Kick off the New Year with an ode to vinyl

bbc6One of BBC’s radio stations will be starting off the new year on the right foot by dedicating January 1st to vinyl. An article in the Guardian reports that the DJs at Radio 6 Music will spend New Year’s Day playing only vinyl records. Although playing vinyl is not a rare act for a lot of sensible college and community radio stations, it is pretty astonishing to hear that a radio entity as big as the BBC is taking this beloved format to heart.

The station is already known as a source for new and alternative music, regularly playing artist like Black Lips, Bon Iver, Bombay Bicycle Club and White Denim. However, the New Year’s Day celebration will include special programming, such as, an hour-long show with singer-songwriter Richard Hawley speaking with members of Arctic Monkeys and Radiohead about the recent resurgence of vinyl. In addition, musicians Jarvis Cocker and Elbow’s Guy Garvey, who already host shows on Radio 6 Music on a weekly basis, will be playing some of their favorite songs on wax.

Sadly, Radio 6 Music broadcasts only in a digital format, so it might defeat the purpose of playing the higher quality of vinyl. I’m not sure how the quality translates over, but the other than the actual feel of the music, another charming aspect of planning a show of only vinyl is that it requires extra thought and skill. Maybe this idea will extend to more than one day and inspire other radio DJs to incorporate more vinyl into their shows.

Don’t miss the festivities on New Year’s Day and listen to Radio 6 Music online. Check out the video below of Michael Kiwanuka playing live at Radio 6 Music.

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Rhythmic biking

featsperminuteFrom radio to 8-tracks, cassettes, CDs and now mp3s, cars have been equipped to play music for many years. Sadly, the bicycle has not seen such a connection with music. Sure riders can enjoy music by carrying cassette, CD or mp3 players, but it has to be an external device. Earlier this year a group of creative and ambitious folks in Amsterdam, explored a way to create a stronger link between music and bikes. The group started a project called Feats Per Minute and found a way to add a vinyl player to the infrastructure of a bike. They created a prototype by placing the player within the wheel and a horn for amplification. While there are still a lot of aspects to work out and this might not be the best way to keep vinyl in good condition, the idea is pretty cool. Learn more about the project here: www.featsperminute.com and check out the bike in the video below.

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Browse thousands of records at Sacramento’s Beat Swap Meet

Sacramento Swap Meet 4/24/11As if last weekend’s Record Store Day wasn’t enough, those lucky enough to live in or near Sacramento will be treated to the second installment of Northern California’s Beat Swap Meet this Sunday. Beat Swap Meet has been hosting events in Los Angeles for a few years and most recently expanded up north to Sacramento. Vinyl fans will have the chance to check out several exquisite record collections which range from hip hop to punk, jazz, blues and everything in between. There will be more than 35 invited vendors, in addition to food, art, live music and showcases, all taking place at Sol Collective.

Some of the event’s highlights include a Q&A session with DJs Sleeprockers and showcase with producer Lee Bannon, who has worked with Talib Kweli, The Alchemist, Big Shug of Gangstarr, Zion I and many more. Any swap can have a long list of DJs spinning records, but it’s cool that this swap will also give people a chance to learn more about the craft from some of Sacramento’s well-respected artists.

Click on the flier above for the full details or RSVP on the official Facebook event page.

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Record Store Day: LA Picks

Record Store Day - April 16, 2011While the United States Post Office has yet to commemorate Record Store Day with a stamp and officially make it a holiday, tomorrow will mark the fourth year that music fans from all over the world gather to show their appreciation for independent records stores. In hopes of never having to live in a world where a music fan cannot go into a store and physically spend hours sorting through records or get music recommendations from a knowledgeable record store employee, the third Saturday of April is reserved for these amazing entities that fight through hard economic times and continue to serve their local music communities.

Every year stores join the festivities by offering discounted prices and/or hosting live performances. Likewise, artists celebrate by releasing merchandise that is exclusive to Record Store Day, such as, previously out-of-print vinyl records, special-edition t-shirts, compilations of unreleased material, and the list goes on. While the focus is on the stores themselves, and not vinyl records, it is obvious that vinyl records are incorporated greatly into the culture.

With so many events planned in big cities like Los Angeles, it is hard to make it out to all the Record Store Day festivities. Keep reading after the cut for my top five LA picks, as well, as a message from Ozzy Osbourne, who is this year’s Record Store Day Ambassador. If you don’t live in LA, head over to the official Record Store Day website and search for events going on in your neighborhood. You can also view the list of exclusive Record Store Day releases here.

Record Store Day may officially only take place once a year, but it is important to note that most of the record stores host live music and bargain prices on a regular basis. So feel free to spread the holiday spirit throughout the year!

Happy Record Store Day to you all!

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Art exhibit includes pieces inspired by vintage record collections, closes Saturday

Bughouse flyerFrom bowls to wall clocks and earrings, there are various knick-knacks that people have started to make inspired by and using vinyl records. While the pieces are often considered cool and artistic, I can’t help but to cringe a little. The thought of any record being destroyed sounds inhumane. Luckily, a few days ago the Los Angeles Times‘ “Home” blog featured a vinyl-inspired art collection that I can get behind.

The article focused on coffee tables that were made to look like turntables. One of the tables was designed by an LA-based studio called Bughouse, and it just so happened to be that some of its other music-inspired pieces were part of an exhibit at Hollywood’s Peep Show Gallery. So of course I had to check it out.

The collection was part of the “Coping Mechanisms” show, which displayed work by both Bughouse founders Jeff Klarin and Rebecca Johnson. I was expecting some of the music-inspired pieces, which were credited to Klarin, to look dull because of the wooden materials, but on the contrary, most of them were quite captivating. The wood actually added to the antique look. I was also surprised by the enormity of some of the pieces, such as, “Giant Spines,” which was one of my favorite works. Made to look like a photograph, the piece consisted of four panels of a record collection that music fans could only imagine in their dreams. Some of the artists in the collection included Micheal Jackson, The Beatles, Elvis Presley, Diana Ross and the Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan and many others. According to the Web site, the piece was a faux photographic reproduction. I was really impressed by how some of the photographs transferred so well onto the wood. The stereo pieces had a cozy looked to them, which made me wish I could sit down and actually listen to the records.

The free exhibit closes on Saturday, April 9th so if you find the idea intriguing, go take a look for yourself. Peep Show Gallery is open every day from 8 p.m. to midnight and is located at 1621 N. Cahuenga Blvd. in Hollywood. Photos from my visit follow the cut.

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Whitney Houston – Whitney Houston

Whitney HoustonWhitney Houston
Whitney Houston
Arista Records ℗©1985
Location of purchase: Backside Music and Clothing, Burbank, Calif.
Price: $0.99

Unlike her life in the public eye, Whitney Houston’s self-titled, debut album is one classy piece of work. With today’s pop artists using a mind-boggling amount of effects on their voices and cut-and-paste beatmaking, it is refreshing to listen to an album that is graceful and sincere. Listening to Houston at a pristine chapter of her life makes it evident how much influence she has had on songstresses like Mariah Carey and Christina Aguilera. Even before developing into a much stronger force in the ’90s, Houston’s voice on her debut is unquestionably staggering.

The lyrical content does not stray from the topic of love nor does it strikingly differ from other pop artists of the decade, but as Houston adds her soulful chops the songs become more of substance. From the ballad “Saving All My Love for You” to the more funky “Thinking About You,” she moves smoothly from verse to chorus to verse, building up strongly to the bridge in each song. She makes a habit of showing off her long-sustained notes as each song takes an absorbing path. In “Thinking About You,” Houston’s voice spikes with audacity, which makes her sound like a badass. She has the confident seductive vibe that can also be seen in Janet Jackson and Paula Abdul. Furthermore on “Someone For Me,” Houston sings with the spunk of Tina Turner.

Yet, nothing is as good as “How Will I Know.” As the opening track of side two, Houston shows no signs of holding back. She belts out her emotions in such a fervent manner, but for her it sounds natural. The lustrous keys create an uplifting mood, making it hard to not sing along.

It is common for pop music to express exaggerated emotions, and sometimes the result is rousing like in “How Will I Know,” but other times the songs get too sappy. The album suffers from the latter on “Nobody Loves Me Like You Do” and “All At Once.” Quiet piano and string arrangements magnify the pain of heartache, but still contain a touch of contrasting hope. For being ballads, the songs are not horrible, but the lack of tension makes them sound like they were written for a soundtrack of a Disney movie. “Nobody Loves Me Like You Do,” which is a duet with Jermaine Jackson, encompasses a scene where a prince and a princess proclaim their love for each other. It sounds magical, but makes the album loose some of its debonair vigor.

Nonetheless, Houston’s debut is an excellent example of what pop music should be. Modern pop stars should focus less on having the flashiest pyrotechnics and stick the natural fire that comes with having a voice like Houston’s.

Find the full track listing and a sample track after the jump.

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March guest post: Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young – Déjà vu

The Last Record StoreEvery month a guest blogger will review one of his/her own dollar-bin discoveries. Guest bloggers will be music lovers who have reached a High Fidelity type of expertise, being record store employees or otherwise changing the world of vinyl records.

For the month of March, Matthew Izen, from Santa Rosa’s The Last Record Store has graciously written a review of a classic 1970s album.

With a resume that includes experience as a record store employee, musician and overall music lover, Izen is no stranger to vinyl records. He has worked at The Last Record Store for three years and is also a consistent contributor to the music scene in San Francisco’s North Bay, playing in several bands including Polar Bears, The Velvet Teen and The New Trust (former member). Being part of the tight and like-minded music community, and often sharing band members, all three bands are big supporters of vinyl records and continue to release new music on the format. Most recently, Polar Bears created a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the release of its sophomore full-length album, Council Madrone. The band surpassed its $2,500 goal and with the help of Saint Rose Records, it will release the album on 210-gram heavyweight vinyl with limited hand/silk-screened covers. Look out for upcoming new releases from the The Velvet Teen and The New Trust as well.

Read Izen’s review of Déjà vu by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young after the cut.

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Bee Gees – Main Course

Bee Gees - Main CourseBee Gees
Main Course
RSO Records ℗©1975
Location of purchase: Armadillo Music, Davis, Calif.
Price: $0.98

Two years before “Stayin’ Alive” cemented the Bee Gees into disco history, the album Main Course served as an introduction into new territories. Leaving their psychedelic sounds well behind, the Gibb brothers started to focus on funky synthesizers and strong piano ballads instead. Overall the album is not the strongest, but it does give a small taste of what the group will later go on to achieve.

Without a doubt opening track “Nights on Broadway” has an immediate get-down feel. With the brothers’ famous harmonies, the chorus is delightfully upbeat. The same goes for the following track, “Jive Talkin’,” an electrifying track, which rightfully so was a number one hit. With a wiggling bass line and infectious percussion, a listener’s head is instantaneously filled with the reflecting colors of a disco ball. Unfortunately, the album’s high-spirited momentum does not go past the second track.

The rest of the album is very downtempo and piano driven, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but takes the Bee Gees on the slightly longer route leading to disco land. Songs like “Wind of Change” and “Edge of the Universe” attempt to have some edge, but fall short. With such lush harmonies, it’s hard to hold onto an unconventional sound. Then again, the clean instrumentation and bright vocals are traits that popular culture latched onto at the time. Fans were able to happily sing along to “Wind of Change” and focus on the hopeful aspect instead of the lyrics about broken dreams.

Side two of Main Course is another solid start with “All This Making Love.” The vocals carry strong confidence and swagger. The piano chords and guitar rhythms move like stomping feet, keeping the listener’s attention. Lyrics such as, “I get pleasure and pain it’s a gravy train” further demonstrate the attractiveness of the menacing situation. At the end, the repeated line of “too much, too much, too much, too much” is catchy and puts the icing on the cake. But yet again, the strong track is followed by a transition into slower ballads. It is all a matter of taste and of course the ballads lead the band to great success, but songs like “All This Making Love” are such a tease.

While some may call this a breakthrough album, it does not feel strong enough to actually attest to that. It definitely paves the path to great things, but Main Course would have been more enjoyable had it contained a better balance of the unrestrained songs and the love ballads.

Find the full track listing and a sample track after the jump.

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