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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Let’s pretend we’re in Antarctica

I have to admit that I was rather tempted to simply post a review on some album or something and not comment on my radio silence during the last month at all. But then I thought, where is the fun in that? And I had absolutely nothing in the pipe line beyond a few vaguely scribbled ideas… so here we are then.

There are many excuses I could give for this lapse in activity. Insanity at work in the form of an archival collection more complicated than initially expected is a great excuse and has the advantage of being fairly accurate. Exploring the possibility of some new opportunities could be another. And of course we can’t forget that old stand-by: sickness. I had a really pesky cough that stuck around long enough to evolve into a full-fledged, anti-biotic-resistant case of bronchitis, which plagued me for the better part of two months (news flash kids: inhalers suck when you can’t stop coughing at 3am). That might have had something to do with it. And then there is the possibility that when an old friend from back in the day flies 2/3 of the way across the country just to see little old me, I could be a bit distracted while in hostess mode. And I won’t even dignify that unspoken question on your lips that concerns that most feared of all conditions for a blogger (*cough* writer’s block *cough*) with anything more than snide derision… and a perhaps a barely perceptible nod. I don’t really know what to tell you, my dear readers. The plain truth is that the rest of life ganged up on me. You can pick whichever excuse you like and we’ll all just go on about our business.

(However, I have to say that I do find it rather funny that my readership stats always seem to climb when I take an unscheduled hiatus. My hits last month were through the roof, but I think that has to do with my brilliant/ill-advised choice to use song lyrics as entry titles more than anything else… But if anyone out there is really interested, thank you for your support. Hopefully some of you brought in by song references to Walk the Moon are sticking around to read more.)

But while we’re on the subject of being a hermit and avoiding your (albeit completely voluntary and optional) responsibilities, I can think of no greater or more applicable song than Of Montreal’s Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games. This intriguing –and apparently quite prolific–band that hails from Athens, Georgia, is probably best known for their refusal to be tied down. With 11 albums released since 1997, these guys have roved through countless genres from R&B and funk, to twee pop (I am not kidding, that is an actual music genre), to indie rock and neo-psychedelia, all the way through vaudeville and music hall. Evidently they are part of what is known as the Elephant 6 Recording Company, which is a collective of American musicians who embrace the experimental side of music (notably among them is another one of my favorites: the Apples in Stereo). And from what I have heard so far, this troupe must surely feel at home there.

But this is by far my favorite song from these musical chameleons–in fact it is my ringtone for anonymous callers because it amuses me that much. With Kevin Barnes’ eccentric lyrics and subtle delivery, the most amusingly buoyant bass line, and a certain child-like air, this song is sure to please. And if you know me at all, you know that I love the juxtaposition of upbeat melodies and pessimistic lyrics. In this case the result falls somewhere between a person with acute agoraphobia trying to make the best of a bad situation and a pair of kids playing hide-and-seek in a big empty house. It is truly endearing in its dysfunction.

Normally I would limit myself to one video, but today I just can’t resist so you are getting a two-fer. First up is the official video, which is all sunshine, lollipops, and demented little cartoon animals cheerfully dismantling themselves in candy-colored sprays of blood. It is like someone wanted to animate a really, really happy acid trip… in Japan. The first time I saw this video, it actually took me a minute before I fully comprehended what was going on. Amazingly, it doesn’t come off as gory, so no worries if you have a weak stomach.

Wraith Pinned to the Mist And Other Games – Official Video

And because it made me laugh, as well as for being a pretty impressive exercise in creativity, the second video is a performance from Washington University’s The Stereotypes. A quirky and suitable fit for this song, this all-male a capella group–that sounds like the peculiar lovechild of Rockapella and an enlarged barbershop quartet–found a way to remain true to the original song while undeniably making it their own. Seriously folks, you have got to check this one out. Enjoy!

Wraith Pinned to the Mist and Other Games – The Stereotypes

On my radar

So the past couple weeks have been kind of a mess. Between intense 16 hour a day seminars at work, a recurring migraine that just WON’T LEAVE ME ALONE, and a bit of rather inevitable writer’s block, I’ve been hard pressed to put together the necessary brain cells for a blog post. But never fear, my dear readers for I am here. I am alive. I’m okay, I swear. Now I realize that crippling concern for my whereabouts is probably not what has been keeping you up at night, but I know that when I don’t write I start to itch–even if it doesn’t bother anyone else. Bringing to mind that ancient mystical question: If an unread blog doesn’t get updated, does anybody care? Ah well, I care. And I guess that is what matters.

For the last few days I’ve been desperately wracking my poor tender head for ideas to write about, but handy ideas have truly been feeling scarce lately. And despite a few recent purchases and quite a bit of casual listening, I wasn’t really feeling strong about much of anything musically. Or so I thought… and then the other day I got the (if not brilliant, at least positive) idea to post a few of the songs that are just coming on to my radar. Well, as with every good list, once I got started it quickly became hard to stop. But in the interest of reserving stuff for future entry fodder and to practice that useful skill called self-control, I’ve managed to cull the herd a bit. And so my friends, here’s a short(er) list of new-to-me artists who are currently getting me excited:

Cheerleader – St. Vincent

I’d heard the name bantered around the last month or so, but had no idea what I was in store for when I first encountered this video. I absolutely love the concept and am now leaving myself notes to grab a copy of this album.

From Now On – The Features

I didn’t realize it until browsing on YouTube just now, but I was totally into a song by these guys last summer. I failed to pick up on them at the time and ultimately forgot about them–shame on me! But I’m definitely putting them on my music store list now. Truly a fun and raucous song that is reminiscent of the more upbeat songs by Kings of Leon; although apparently that is not their normal sound. And the energy level this one inspires in me more than makes up for the fact that it appears to only be available on the Twilight Breaking Dawn Soundtrack.

That Old Black Hole – Dr. Dog

I love the playful lyrics in this one. Very clever and it pretty well mirrors my mood the last few weeks. No video yet, but here’s their recent performance on Conan.

Don’t Let It Get To You – Rostam Batmanglij

A quarter of New York City’s Vampire Weekend, Batmanglij (isn’t that just the best name EVER?) is also a promising music producer with what sounds like a very promising solo career in the offing. I love the layered organic sound of this song. Think of a bunch of people playing empty plastic bottles instead of instruments, then pair it with an orchestral string section. Creative is the very least that I can say about this guy.

These are just a few of the songs I find myself randomly humming these days. Who’s on your radar?

Wishes for 2012

The last two weeks have been absolutely wonderful and just a little bit insane. Between family coming to visit (including cousins, a sister, and a 4-year-old ball of pure energy called a child), multiple tattoo shop visits, and that whole holiday thing, I’m feeling a little ambivalent. I’m feeling physically drained, yet emotionally recharged. As a result, I’ve decided to count this as a win, even though I’m still catching up on sleep and my shoulder is still healing from my little self-inflicted art project. But with all the excitement lately, updating the blog just kept getting pushed farther and farther down my to-do list. So I decided to take a little unscheduled holiday hiatus from writing. Plus, I figured that 2 Christmas themed entries from me was more than enough for one year. And since I’m still not quite back to the usual grind, I’m going to keep this short. But I plan to begin posting regularly again starting next week. A little New Year’s resolution, if you will.

But with the advent of 2012 now whizzing past us, I still feel the need to at least comment. 2011 was a complex year for me, to say the least. A lot happened and I’m still trying to total up both the good and the bad columns in my 2011 ledger. It was a bad year for pets and an even worse year for some people I care very deeply about. I traveled more than expected, but most of it for work. I was officially asked to stay on in my grant-funded position and ever since I have been trying to come to grips with the idea of living in Charm City (or at least this state) on a more permanent basis. My husband got hired by the company he was contracting at and started talking about buying a house. I experienced my first earthquake and dealt with an unexpectedly strong case of seasonal depression (apparently, Winter #5 is a doozy). I spent some extra time quality with family and had one of those significant (as in permanent) bonding experiences with my youngest sister. And (quite momentous for me, if for no one else) I started this blog in an effort to bring some creativity to my life. It has been a crazy time and for the most part, I am glad to put 2011 behind me–even though I do believe that all-in-all it wasn’t a bad year. I still hope that 2012 is a better year for me, or else I may lose what little is left of my sanity.

And as for you, I wish you immeasurable happiness. I hope you hear from an old friend. I hope you find that $20 you squirreled away in a forgotten hiding place. I hope you read your favorite book (again). I hope you watch a gorgeous sunset painted across a desert sky. And I hope you hear a new (to you) song that literally stops you in your tracks and takes your breath away with its power and beauty.

To possibly help you achieve that last one, here is Energy by The Apples in Stereo. A beautiful song that makes me feel like the whole world is goodness and light, with a slide guitar solo that somehow always brings tears to my eyes. Enjoy and have a very Happy New Year!

Best guest star in a music video

There is a long history of big name movie stars randomly showing up in music videos, usually years before they have made their reputations. It’s literally gotten so prevalent that you almost can’t watch VH1 these days without running into familiar faces. Some famous examples include Alicia Silverstone in Cryin’ by Aerosmith, Courtney Cox in Dancing in the Dark by Bruce Springsteen, and Hugh Laurie in Walking on Broken Glass by Annie Lennox. Haven’t seen these videos? Have you been living under a rock for the last 15 years? Any way, in each case a huge artist or band just happens to cast a great, if relatively unknown, actor for their video. Hindsight is 20/20 and eventually, often years later, someone digs up a copy of the video and starts yelling at the tv screen, “I know that person!”

It is less common for the opposite scenario to happen. But it does happen. And my favorite example has got to be Elijah Wood’s appearance in Dance Floor by The Apples in Stereo.  The album, Travellers in Space and Time, was released in 2010, years after Elijah Wood became a household name for portraying Frodo in The Lord of the Rings. For all that I happen to love The Apples in Stereo for both their quirkiness and their ability to make truly happy music and I honestly believe that they are a wonderfully talented band, their reputation pales against that of Wood. So how did they get him to appear in their video? Why, he’s a fan! That’s how! After what may one day become an infamous meeting between Wood and Apples frontman, Robert Schneider, at SXSW in 2003, led to Wood signing the band to his label, Simian Records, in 2006.  He also went on to direct the video for Energy on the album New Magnetic Wonder.

In Dance Floor, Wood pulls off an amazing performance and shows off a little-known (at least to me) talent for physical comedy. He is utterly adorable and invariably makes me want to smile and pat him on the head. The song is catchy as all get out, blending smart hooks with subtle auto-tuned backing vocals. It is happy and up-beat, but with a strong undercurrent of uncertainty. Schneider asks, “Where are we to go when our world is so confusing?” It is a message equally appealing to the angsty 14-year-old and the disillusioned 30-year-old alike. But Wood’s endearing performance proves the perfect bridge between the peppiness of the music and the sometimes dark lyrics.

And that is why he gets my vote for best guest star in a music video!

Do you have a favorite cameo in a music video?