Your Civic Duty: Record Store Day

I think this might my longest radio silence since I began this blog almost 2 years ago. (Holy crap! Has it been so long?) Suffice it to say that spring has sprung and the day job is positively humming away like a steam locomotive heading straight for a bridge that is no longer there (read: no end in sight and picking up speed). Add to this the bitter reality that my brain has simply not been cooperating enough lately to even contemplate putting my fingers to a keyboard outside of work and you have the complete recipe for a silent blog. (I know, excuses, excuses! Whine, whine, bitch, bitch, etc.) But what, you may ask, could possibly be so important that I would attempt to overcome my stifling writer’s block on a sunny spring day after a long day at work. Only one thing my friends: your civic responsibility.

Yes, just like it is the duty of every American citizen to vote, to help wayward turtles across the street to safety, and to wave at your friendly neighborhood crossing guard, you have the duty to support your local, independent small business owners in mid-April. And not that creepy hole in the wall storefront that sells crabs. No, no, I mean the ones who will sell you that new Vampire Weekend album you’ve been jonesing for. That’s right, folks! Saturday, April 20th is Record Store Day (my very favorite secular holiday!)

If the next question bursting from your lips is, “What the heck is Record Store Day?” then obviously you’ve had your head stuck in the clouds. Well never fear, my dear deprived readers, for all will be explained with my handy-dandy Record Store Day fact sheet:

What: Record Store Day
When: Saturday, April 20th (all 4/20 jokes unspoken)
Time: All day
Where: Participating venues in every state and most cities. Click here to check your local listing.

But the most important question is why? In the modern world, music is available everywhere, sometimes even for free. All you have to do is grab a computer or IOS device, punch a few keys, and music is practically thrown at you. No muss, no fuss, no dragging your butt down the street, no shirt or shoes required. But also… no soul, no joy, no heart. Some of my happiest memories are roaming the miles of aisles in record stores; walls crammed with posters; teenagers running loose in the stacks; brushing elbows with both young and old, black and white, hipster and redneck. And there is no substitute for riffling through piles of albums, finding that one that you absolutely HAVE to have, plunking your money down on the counter, and rushing home to listen to it before your heart rate returns to normal. It is an experience that fewer and fewer people are having these days and–in my opinion–that is just downright tragic.

Heed my warning! Don’t wait! Make the pilgrimage to your local record store before it is too late. Grab that album you’ve been meaning to pick up, peal back the plastic, pop the disc into the nearest player, and savor your musical good fortune while you still can. As a bonus, you’ll also be helping support a local small business owner. Your local chamber of commerce will thank you for doing your part to keep the economy alive. It is your duty as a citizen of [insert country name here]. Oh come on, you know you want to! All the cool kids are doing it!

And to help you get your brains in gear (and mine), here’s just a few of the bands that I intend to search for this weekend. Enjoy!

TRAILS AND WAYS

Edward Sharp and the Magnetic Zeros
[Technically this one is a remix, but it is brilliant, so listen to it anyway!]

Tinted Windows

The Flaming Lips

Tegan and Sara

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Terror from Ontario

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a horror-flick fan. Anything creepier than the Simpson’s Halloween specials and I am officially not allowed to watch it. The reason for this is very simple: I have the over-active imagination of a 5-year-old. This means that as a child I had spectacular adventures with my imaginary friends, never had trouble entertaining myself or my childhood playmates on a rainy afternoon, and could reliably be found shivering under a blanket whenever something even vaguely scary was playing on TV. The examples of my overactive imagination running away with me are liberally sprinkled throughout my childhood.

At the age of 6 upon watching alone Jim Henson’s The Labyrinth, I became convinced that if I even thought the words, “I wish the Goblin King would come and take this baby away,” that my younger sister (conveniently an infant at the time) would be whisked away by furry little goblins to live with David Bowie in a magical realm and that somehow I would get blamed for it. At the age of 8, I was plagued by fears of the evil doll Chucky–not because I actually saw the movie, but because my best friend did and apparently childhood fears are contagious. The first Jurassic Park movie had thirteen-year-old me looking for raptors in the shadows of the hall outside my bedroom for months after leaving the theater, leading to my poor father being greeted by shrill screams just about every time he set foot in the hallway. Tolkien’s twisted little creation, Gollum, tormented me throughout middle school, a fear not to be tackled until years later when Andy Serkis’s performance in The Lord of the Rings proved slightly more comical than horrific. I can easily blame my exuberant imagination for making me sleep with a nightlight until middle school. And as for stuffed animals… well to be honest, my blasted imagination ensured that they were a regular bedtime accessory until I found the greatest teddy bear ever created, namely my husband.

One always hopes they will grow out of such childish tendencies–that the zombies, goblins, and other things that go bump in the night will lose their powers as you mature. But in my case, this wondrous transformation to an adult with an innate sense of what is real and what isn’t never seemed to happen. To this day I loath getting into bed in the dark alone, an especially creepy episode of Dr. Who can give me nightmares (read: weeping angels are creepy!), and long-time readers may already know how I feel about sharks. Now the perfectly rational part of my brain knows that most of these things are not real and that I shouldn’t let myself get carried away, but it is this rational part of me that always seems to get me into trouble. I keep trying to convince myself that I am adult now, that this is silly, and that I can handle it. And in the light of day I can. But then the sun goes down and the images and ideas that didn’t bother me earlier in the day suddenly start to bother me… a lot. I am still learning this lesson at the age of 31 and–let’s be honest here–I probably still will be learning it at the age of 81.

Now given my hyperactive imagination–alongside my long and storied history of being freaked out by things that most people stopped being bothered by as children–you’d be surprised to know that for the last several weeks I’ve been story-boarding a horror movie in my head.  Visions of breathless figures running through an ancient pine forest in the dead of night under the flare of the Aurora Borealis, witches dancing wildly around a cauldron under a full moon, and scaly monsters rising from still mountain lakes to feast on hapless campers have been flitting through my brain for weeks. Now what could possibly inspire me to dabble in such an obviously unhealthy (for me, anyway) habit? Well, if you’ve been reading my blog for a while now, then the answer should be clear to you already: music.

Specifically it is the 2011 album, Feel It Break, by the synthpop darlings of Toronto known as Austra. Featuring an amazingly beautiful, layered, and slightly morbid brand of techno affectionately known as Dark Wave, this album is filled with frigid beats, dreamily beckoning vocals, and at times frankly disturbing lyrics. And with song titles like Choke, Hate Crime, and Shoot the Water,  it is completely understandable why my imagination keeps drifting into the macabre every time that I push play. But for all its impressive creep factor, Feel It Break is a highly impressive, well-produced, and refreshing work that should rank highly on the list of any fan of electronica. And even a wimp like me can’t help but pay homage their undisguised, if ominous, talent.

Think I’m playing up the sinister nature of this album simply for creative license? Then check out the band’s official videos. They don’t do justice to the colorful and freakish visions that they have inspired in my daydreams of late. But looking at the video evidence, it is obvious that Austra is acutely aware of the eerie effect that their music can have on fans and they are not afraid to embrace it. Fair warning, some of them are not for the faint of heart. Enjoy!

Lose It

Beat and the Pulse (NSFW)

Spellwork

Frogs and shoegazing

Little did I know when I picked up M83’s recent double album, Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, that it would include the formula for human-amphibian transformation. Think I’m kidding? Well… Maybe a little, but we’ll get to that in a moment. First, let’s get some business out of the way.

This Saturday, April 21st, is Record Store Day. This is an amazing chance for every music lover in the States (as well as some places in Europe) to go out and support local businesses, local and regional music, the concept of the traditional music store (something that is in danger these days), and well… the good old-fashioned album. Plus, there are exclusive national, regional, first, and limited-run releases in honor of the occasion. What is not to love? And I am by no means encouraging you to just go browse the CDs at the big box store of your choice. No, my friends! I’m talking about a real honest to goodness record store–preferably one that is participating in the event. I will personally be wandering up and down the aisles of The Sound Garden here in Charm City. You can get all the info at the official Record Store Day site, where you can also search for a participating store near you. Mark those calendars, folks! You won’t regret it.

And now back to our original premise: frogs… in a moment…

Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming  is a gorgeous romp into the highs and lows of dreamy electro pop from one of France’s most popular exports, M83. Throughout the double disk there is a pervasive fantastical quality, only partly because of band leader Anthony Gonzalez’s exploration of his childhood and the concept of dreaming. Every song features extensive progressive layering of electronic tracks and guitar riffs. Although there are lyrics aplenty the vocals are soft–featuring muted and sometimes incoherent lyrics–that are often as not treated like just another instrument (I actually had to look them up! I’d been listening to this album for over a week before I realized I didn’t remember any of the lyrics!). And through some amazing feat, the double album is rife with infectious beats that somehow manage to lull rather than energize. Just how Gonzalez and his mates manage this trick I’m not quite sure, but it makes for a trance-inducing listening experience. With the exception of a few stronger songs on each of the disks in the form of Intro–closely followed by the stellar Midnight City–and Steve McQueen, the majority of this beautiful work is more ambient than danceable. Apparently, these are some of the prime traits of what is called shoegazing, a lesser known UK subgenre of alt rock that was pushed out of the limelight by American grunge back in the early ’90s, but that has been making inroads on American radio for the last year or so.

I’m really smitten with many of the songs featured on this album, but by far and away my favorite is Raconte-Moi Une Histoire, which translates to Tell Me a Story. This is an exploration of what dreaming is like to a child and it focuses on (you guessed it!) frogs. The song consists of a building electronic beat, layered with ethereal wordless vocals, and the voice of one child (possibly two?) speaking in English. It is truly something to behold and it made my husband laugh really hard when I played it for him. I dare you to listen to this without smiling!

Enjoy and remember to visit your favorite record store this Saturday!