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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Better make it strong

Sometime in the late 90’s or early 2000’s, I became seriously jaded with the current rock and alternative scene. The radio stations were filled with testosterone-fueled rap-rock and quasi-metal from artists like Rage Against the Machine and P.O.D. or over-sexualized (and often scantily-dressed) pop stars like Britney Spears and Jennifer Lopez. What was a chubby, geeky girl with rocking aspirations to do? Well, in this case she turned to the classic rock of groups like Rush, Led Zeppelin, and Lynyrd Skynyrd, with some Joan Jett, Pat Benetar, and The Pretenders thrown in for good measure. It took me some time to figure out what was wrong, but what I was really craving in those days was some strong female role models who could run with the big boys of rock and punk. Not that the musical terrain of classic rock was littered with such women, but it filled the void in ways that the mainstream music industry of the day wasn’t even interested in acknowledging, let alone addressing. But much to the joy of my music-obsessed heart, things have changed for the better. The Internet and the Long Tail Effect have irrevocably leveled the playing field for both better and for worse. And I for one am reveling in the myriad of choices parading through my headphones.
In my constant quest to make up for lost time, I have had another eureka moment. This time it is Dum Dum Girl’s sophomore offering, Only in Dreams, which would undoubtedly have done my poor seventeen-year-old heart good. What started as the solo project of Grand Ole Party’s drummer/singer Kristen Gundred, who goes by the stage name Dee Dee, has blossomed into an amazing 1960′ style California pop girl band with a real rocking edge. Seemingly part of a wider 60’s inspired West Coast wave, including the likes of Best Coast and Fitz and the Tantrums, Dum Dum Girls presents a highly polished sound featuring amazing production values, sophisticated lyrics, and an underlying resonance that recalls that old Wall of Sound thing Phil Spector seemed to like so much. But while their sound and Dee Dee’s velvety voice are unmistakably influenced by some of the greats, among them The Ronettes, Patti Smith, and Siouxsie and the Banshees, there is so much more here. There are the layered vocal harmonies of 80’s New Wavers like The Bangles and the playfulness of The Go-Gos. There are the psychedelic leanings of California’s Paisley Underground movement and the echoing guitars of Mazzy Star. And there are the rich vocals of singers of substance like Neko Case, Kate Bush, and Debbie Harry.
But most importantly, there is a verve and a cohesion that make this album incredibly hard to turn off. The subject matter mainly explores the crippling loneliness that results from long-distance relationships and lost lovers. But even in the most melancholy songs the jangling guitars, simple beats, and exuberant bass–along with the strategic use of oohs, aahs, and whoa-oh-ohs–all work to keep the overall atmosphere from dragging the listener down. And Dee Dee’s lyrics display a striking inner-strength and backbone that is flat-out admirable.
The first single off the album is the ultra melodic Bedroom Eyes. I literally snapped to attention the very first time I heard it. I automatically loved it and was singing along with the chorus before the song even ended. I had such a strong reaction that when I finally had the chance to buy the album, I balked. I suddenly found myself walking up and down the record store aisles with it in my hand, putting it back, picking it up again, and wavering so much about whether I should buy it that I finally decided that this was my sign. Maybe I was afraid the rest of the album wouldn’t stand up to the single? Maybe the shadowy double-exposed album cover creeped me out? I don’t know, but either way I am now eternally grateful that I put that money down on the counter. The video can literally be summed up in three words: multicolored plastic sex. Throughout it the band members sport super short skirts, blank expressions, and stylized make-up that walks the line between the uncanny valley and the rest of reality. And there is a unique twist on the traditional stage performance video with the bright and slightly unsettling kaleidoscope effect.
Taking a left turn from the feminine despair of Bedroom Eyes is the feminist declaration of Just a creep, which puts the riot grrrl attitude front and center. Yet another song worthy of my ever-expanding list of cheerful fuck-off songs, this song positively screams to me of Nancy Sinatra and her iconic 1966 hit These Boots Were Made For Walking. Who takes shit from overbearing boys? Not this chick!
With 80’s New Wave harmonies in the chorus, an almost alternative country cadence in the verses, and a non-stop beat throughout, Heartbeat is a buoyant call for serenity in a life that is no longer fully under the singer’s control. She’s been used and abused and is now walking along the precipice between moving on and giving up. The choice has yet to be made, but the tension hangs in the air like a thunderstorm waiting to break.
And the piece de resistance is the unexpected masterpiece that is Coming Down. The most melancholy song of the album by far, it is slow, measured, soul-crushing, and so painfully beautiful that you can’t help but listen with respect. The connection to Mazzy Star’s epic Fade Into You can not be denied, but while it rightly pays homage to that song, it also breaks its own path through the musical landscape. The climax in particular is truly something to behold and in this live version recorded for Sirius XMU, you get a taste of how talented this band really is. If you don’t listen to anything else from this band, you must listen to this! Trust me.
I may have had my doubts, but this album strode right up to the impossibly high bar I set for it and stepped over it like it wasn’t even there. I am smitten and look forward to hearing more good things from the Dum Dum Girls in the future.

Summer song

Isn’t this always the way? I don’t write an entry for weeks. Then I write one and the ideas start coming in a torrent.

So we recently got a new laptop after living off of a tiny slow netbook for over a year and a half. You can imagine how thrilled I am to have access to iTunes again. I have music at my beck and call and I’ve been ripping all the CDs I’ve picked up the last several months as fast as I can. Computers being what they are and the vagaries of technology, a bunch of the music we thought was stored on an external hard drive appears to have up and disappeared. Some files were downloaded to our dead laptop. Some files got corrupted. Either way, I’m spending a lot of my Saturday re-copying songs to our new computer. Not a horrible way to spend my weekend… but not a particularly stimulating one either.

That is not until I slip on my headphones and put on shuffle mode. And what should pop up? One of my favorite songs for summer. It’s been hot and humid here in Charm City the last week or so and summer feels like it is just around the corner (if not here already). Summer here is nothing compared to the ones I endured growing up in the desert. It is probably the one thing I do not miss about my hometown. I still get that sinking feeling when it starts to get warm here, despite the fact that I know that summer is very different here.

So what is my top pick for a summer song? Rill Rill by Sleigh Bells. Now this is one of those polarizing bands, if ever there was one. If you’ve heard them, you’ve probably already made up your mind about them. You either love them or you hate them. And there is really no room for in between. They combine the soft breathy voice of Alexis Krauss with the discordant, heavy, and oft-times industrial sounds of Derek E. Miller, who writes and produces their songs. Most of their songs are loud, sound-effect laden, full of samples and distortion, and they aren’t always easy to listen to. But they are different, I will give them that much. I can’t think of another band out there that sounds like them and has reached their level of penetration into the music industry. I personally think they are great. Thankfully, so does my husband.

Last summer, we picked up their album Treats. Afterwards, we drove around some of the prettier, woodsier areas of the city. I remember riding in the sunlight, windows down, talking and laughing with my husband. It was a good day. And since then, Rill Rill is associated with sunny summer days. And it makes sense to me. Unlike the other songs on the album, this song has a laid back quality to it. There is this lovely guitar sample (taken from Can You Get to That by Funkadelic) that sets the pace and is ever-present in the background. Krauss’s voice, layers over layers, whispers, croons, and breathes. The beat is slow and measured and the occasional distorted bass note sounds like thunder before an approaching monsoon storm.  It is a great song for summer. I especially love the lines:

“you are the river flow

and we can never know

we’re just the weathermen

you make the wind blow”

Makes me want to go for a drive with my husband…

Here’s a link to the video. I’ll warn you that it is nothing like what I’ve been talking about here. Apparently they took this slow, sweeter song and put in some slightly unsettling images. Nothing bad. Just be aware.

Do you have a favorite summer song?