Holiday Sampler, December 29

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It’s snowing like hell in my neck of the woods, so this is an obvious pick. Also, White Christmas is my favorite holiday movie, so I kinda had to post something from it, eh?

December 29: Bing Crosby, Danny Kaye, Rosemary Clooney, Vera Ellen, “Snow”

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Holiday Sampler, December 19

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Aimee Mann’s Christmas album, One More Drifter in the Snow, is one of my favorites.  It’s a nice antidote to the sicky-sweet holiday albums that the top 40 pop stars put out every year.  I would love a follow up to that album, but I was pleased when Aimee and Ted Leo (as The Both) released a new Christmas track last year.  Give ‘er a listen, eh?

December 19: The Both, “You’re a Gift”

The Friday Five – November 18, 2016

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There’s been a lot of great music coming out recently.  I’ve accumulated quite a list of tracks over the past month or so.  Here are five that I’ve been enjoying.  What has everyone else been listening to these days?

1.  Lucius – “Pulling Teeth”

You can’t really go wrong with Lucius.

2.  Austra – “Utopia”

Dang, am I happy she’s back.

3.  El Perro Del Mar – “KoKoro”

I’ve just recently started listening to El Perro, and damn, it’s so good.

4.  Allison Crutchfield – “Dean’s Room”

I am so, so looking forward to this album coming out in January.

5.  Cavegreen – “Witches Dream”

So new to me, and so freaking good.

The Friday Five: Protest Rock

Like many of you, I’m still reeling from the results of Tuesday’s election. I cry, I go to work, I read reports of violence and hatred, I binge-eat, I cry some more, I have long conversations with my spouse and my friends about what happens now, I cry again, I sleep fitfully. Repeat.

The nation is broken right now. And many of us are concerned. Finding comfort can be challenging, but we still have music, and music is comfort to me. When my grandmother passed away almost two years ago, Sleater-Kinney helped guide me through the darkness. “No Cities to Love” had come out just weeks before, and the urgency and power of that album allowed me to feel in a way that moved me forward instead of back. I listened to little else. Music can heal. It can speak for you when you feel you have no voice.

And that’s how protest rock really got its start. We all know the songs that were written in response to the Vietnam War. The Dylan, the Seeger, the CCR. I had a math teacher in junior high who would play protest rock — loudly — while we took our exams. I can’t say I approved of this distraction during tests, but that music stuck with me. Protest rock bloomed again during the Bush wars, but it wasn’t necessarily classified as protest rock. It was punk rock, it was alternative rock, it was the dissatisfaction of the country coming out in song. There’s been a steady stream of songs about fighting for human and civil rights, about finding love for your fellow man. And now there’s so much that it’s hard to pick just a few protest songs to really express the fears and concerns of half the nation. But I’m pulling out some of my favorites for this Friday Five (which is really more like a Friday Ten+). Some songs are political, some are about finding hope and love in times of turmoil. But they all help express the emotions that have been coursing through me since Tuesday night.

1.  P!nk – “Dear Mr. President”

Written in response to the Bush years, this song gives voice to questions so many people had. It always makes me cry, but it felt incredibly profound to me after Tuesday, because these questions will be relevant once more.

2.  Sleater-Kinney – “Combat Rock”

Another song written during the Bush years, it addresses blind patriotism, and asks why questioning the way things are run is seen as un-American.

3.  Ani DiFranco – “Tis of Thee”

A good deal of Ani’s songs are political, but this one really hits home right now.

4.  Bikini Kill – “Rebel Girl”

The battle cry of all feminist women out there. Kathleen Hanna sang this last night with The Julie Ruin in NYC. The crowd went crazy, and so needed it.

5.  The Gossip – “Standing in the Way of Control”

Anger over the country’s policies on same-sex marriage, written long before the Supreme Court decision. But now there’s a renewed fear that these rights will be taken away again.

6.  Buffy Sainte-Marie – “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee”

Given all that’s going on with the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the treaties that are being and will continue to be broken, this song is so relevant right now. I can only imagine that it will get worse under the new regime.

7.  Sarah Harmer (via The Kennedy Suite) – “White Man in Decline”

Written for the Cowboy Junkies’ Kennedy assassination anniversary project, the song seems so relevant again with the uprising of the KKK and their endorsement and celebration of Trump.

8.  Jenny Lewis & the Watson Twins – “Rise Up With Fists”

When people tell you that the world should stay how it is (or go back to the way it was in the 40s and 50s), rise up with fists.

9.  Run The Jewels – “2100”

RTJ released this track early for all those who are scared or hurt or wanting more right now.

10.  Kendrick Lamar – “Alright”

If this isn’t the most representative song about overcoming societal obstacles right now (especially for the African-American community), then I don’t know what is.

Bonus 1:  Hedwig & the Angry Inch – “Midnight Radio”

Bonus 2: Stars – “Hold On When You Get Love”

The Friday Five – September 16, 2016

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I’ll be honest — most of my week has been devoted to July Talk, whose excellent second album arrived at my house last weekend, and Mitski, because, well, it’s Mitski and “Puberty 2” is a phenomenal album.  But I’ve also given a listen to the new Wilco album, and I’ve been listening to one-off songs as they come up in playlists or my memory.  And those are mostly what I’m featuring today.  It’s a mostly quiet collection of songs, good for the fast-approaching fall and those cold, cold nights.

1.  Wilco – “Cry All Day”

I really like this new Wilco album.  It’s quiet, low-fi, cohesive.  I prefer it to last year’s “Star Wars” release.  This is probably my favorite track off “Schmilco” after one listen.

2.  Venus and the Moon – “Marry Me”

I love these guys.  I’ve been a fan of Frally Hynes since her first solo release, and this project with Rain Phoenix is just as exquisite.

3.  Laura Gibson – “Empire Builder”

I’m new to Laura, but I like her sound, and I love this quiet beauty of a song.

4.  Rose Cousins – “What I See”

Whenever I’m in the mood for some Rose, I always go to this live recording of “What I See” first.  I actually prefer it to the studio version, though both are lovely.  Damn fine Canadian music.

5.  Kathleen Edwards – “Soft Place to Land”

My favorite song off her 2012 release, “Voyageur.”  And I love this live version with the ever-lovely Hannah Georgas on backing vocals.  Kathleen’s busy these days running a coffee shop in Stittsville, Ontario, but I do hope she’ll eventually return to the music, especially when I listen to songs like this one.  Oh, Kitty, I miss you.

The Friday Five – August 19, 2016

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Tomorrow is the final stop on the Tragically Hip’s Man Machine Poem tour.  The band will play one final show in their hometown of Kingston, Ontario, and then it’s radio silence as the world waits to see if Gord will be strong enough to make more music.  As much as the band is preferring not to say this is the final show for them, it likely will be.  I was one of the lucky ones to get tickets to the event, so we’ll be there to celebrate and cry with everyone in Kingston.  It’s going to be an evening so full of joy and so full of emotion, too.  It seems weird to think that this is my very first time seeing the Hip, and it’ll also be the last.

I’ve had their catalog playing non-stop for a few weeks now, so it seems appropriate to devote this Friday Five once again to the Tragically Hip.  I shared my favorite songs last time, but there are so many gorgeous tunes.  Here are a few of them.

1.  “It’s a Good Life If You Don’t Weaken”

2.  “My Music at Work”

3.  “Ahead by a Century”

4.  “Scared”

5.  “Wheat Kings”

On Theft, Loss, and Protecting Your Investment

Hello, friends and readers.  It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything.  Almost a month now.  And I wanted to share the reason why I’ve been gone.

I was on vacation last month in the Pacific Northwest, buying loads of vinyl and having an amazing time, when I got a call from home that my house had been broken into while we were away.  My parents discovered the break-in and called the police, and we jumped on the first possible flight home from Seattle.  The first thing I cared about was my cats and their safety.  But then I started to imagine the house empty, all my belongings gone.  All my records, all my guitars, all my jewelry and precious items.  In the end, the intruders didn’t take my records, or my guitars.  They stole rings I had from my grandmothers who had passed, some other jewelry, and some cash.  And they destroyed my house.  The place was ransacked.  And not only was it ransacked, but they cut themselves climbing in the windows they smashed, and bled all over the house.  Furniture had to be thrown out, hazmat cleaners had to be called in.  It’s been an absolute nightmare.

The only piece of vinyl they touched was unfortunately a prized possession: my colored vinyl Sleater-Kinney box set.  They didn’t steal it, but they handled it with their bloody hands, threw it down so that the corner of the box was smashed, and in the process of trying to clean up their blood, doused it with all kinds of liquids.  It’s horrifying, especially because I paid $300 for that box set, and not very long ago.  It had taken me a while to find one in mint condition, and that’s a good chunk of change to drop all at once.  And here’s the thing — it won’t fit into a standard sleeve, so I had kept it in my bedroom so that it would be safe until I could make a custom sleeve to protect it.  If it had been with my other records, it would have been safe, but the intruders trashed the room it was in the most.

This whole ordeal has been a wake-up call.  We live on a main street in our small city, and even though the area has had an increase in drug- and gang-related crime, we still felt we were safe from it.  Who would be brazen enough to break into a house on a major road, with constant traffic?  And we live fairly close to our neighbors, and know them.  We didn’t have a fancy security system, but you can bet we do now — interior and exterior.  I’m truly heartbroken over the stolen jewelry, because my maternal grandmother just passed away last year, and we were extremely close.  Having her ring stolen was a kick in the gut.  And my paternal grandmother died when I was six years old.  Her wedding rings and an ornate ceramic clock are the two things I had from her.  I’m furious that these precious items were stolen from me.  I don’t care as much about the gold rings from past boyfriends and whatnot, but family jewelry is different.

And here’s the thing: in the process of this, we’ve been asked for all kinds of things from our homeowner’s insurance company.  Things like photographs, receipts, estimated value, etc.  And I think to myself, wow, what would I give them if my entire record collection had been stolen?  Would I be able to remember every record?  And the condition?  Would I be able to provide receipts for those purchases?  Record collecting is an expensive hobby.  Not only do you drop cash on these items — some of which can be very pricey depending on how rare they are — but you invest a huge amount of time into it as well.  And now that I’ve been up close and personal with the idea of losing everything and having to try and recoup, I realize the importance of documenting.  Having an inventory.  As soon as my life calms down a bit, I plan to photograph every album I have, scan every receipt I might still have in my possession, and make an inventory of what I have so that if I’m ever faced with this again, I’ll have protected my collection as best I could.

I wanted to share this insight with everyone because it’s something I hadn’t truly thought about before, and maybe it could be of use to some of you.  Maybe some of you collectors already do this, but for those who don’t, consider making some kind of inventory for your insurance company.  It’s useful not only for recouping the monetary loss, but it could help the police track down the perp if they’re stupid enough to try and sell your records on eBay or Craigslist.

The break-in could have been a lot worse.  We could have been home at the time, or one of our cats could have been injured.  They could have taken everything instead of just jewelry.  But it sucked nonetheless.  And it caused us to cut our vacation short, so we had to miss out on seeing Wimps in Portland, and Quasi in New Jersey.  Thankfully we have incredible friends who were thoughtful enough to send us Quasi goods to help ease the pain.

I have a lot of excellent vinyl finds to share with everyone once my life calms down a little.  I came back from vacation with an overstuffed DJ bag full of music.  I’ll be posting those finds soon, and am looking forward to catching up with everyone in the VC again.

A few words about Gord

“You don’t have anything by the Tragically Hip?” he asked, followed by that short spurt of air through his nose that I knew to be thinly-veiled disdain.

“The Tragically Hip?” I’d heard of the band, but I couldn’t say that I’d ever heard anything by them. It was 1997 in rural New York, and I was into the Indigo Girls, and Offspring, and Stone Temple Pilots. The college radio station, where I was a DJ, had introduced me to a few new things, like Better Than Ezra and 8 oz. Joe. But not the Hip.

My new boyfriend, three years my senior, grew up a few miles south of the Canadian border in Vermont. He loved hockey, he loved the Tragically Hip, and he reminded me daily that Canada was just all-around better than the US. I’d been to Canada once or twice, and I didn’t understand what the fuss was about. How was it better? But he insisted. He wanted to be Canadian. He felt he was, just by being in such close proximity to its border.

“They are the best band in the world.”

I shrugged and watched him continue to flip through my vast collection of CDs.

It would be a few years before I met the love of my life, who actually lived in Canada for several years and introduced me to its wonders. I grew to love it the way my old boyfriend had, and felt most at home in Kingston, Ontario, not far from where my great-grandparents had a farm on the shore of Lake Ontario. Kingston has given birth to so many Canadian greats: Sarah Harmer, the Arrogant Worms, and, most famously, the Tragically Hip. It has such a rich musical history, and maybe that’s one of the things I sensed as the city and the country wove its way deeper into my soul.

I can’t say that I’ve been a Hip fan since the 80s, like many. But I remember when the street in front of the K-Rock Centre became Tragically Hip Way in 2012. I remember seeing Gord Downie perform with the Sadies at the Greenbelt Harvest Picnic that year. I remember listening to “Now For Plan A” for the first time, and falling in love with the songs. I remember being disappointed that we couldn’t go see the Hip play Kingston in support of that album, and doubly disappointed when I learned Sarah Harmer came out to sing a few songs with them. I remember watching Gord Downie’s dance moves on shaky YouTube concert videos, and how the songs hooked themselves in my brain and wouldn’t let go. They were my workout soundtrack, my workplace soundtrack, the songs I sang as I cooked dinner for my family. I caught myself singing “The Lookahead” while in the kitchen just last week.

I came to understand that to love Canada meant loving the Hip too. Sure, the band has its detractors. But the Hip are Canada — they are its voice, its poetry, its essence. They are places, moments, memories. They are so deeply intertwined with the Canadian culture and landscape that you cannot separate the two. And as Canada mourns the news of Gord Downie’s terminal cancer, I mourn too.

This time, I won’t miss out. I had planned to go see the Julie Ruin with friends on August 20th — I adore Kathleen Hanna — but when the Tragically Hip announced their final tour this morning, I had to change my plans. The Hip will play their very last show that day, in their hometown, my beloved Kingston. I know that it will be tough to get tickets; I even went so far as to get an American Express card just so I can make a go at the presale. I want to be there and experience the Hip for both my first and last time. And even if I can’t get tickets, I’ll be in Kingston. After the crowd spills out of the arena, I’ll be standing on Tragically Hip Way with my Northern brothers and sisters, and together, we’ll look up and watch the constellations reveal themselves one star at a time.

Vinyl Unboxing – Frankie Cosmos

Last week, I recorded my first vinyl unboxing video. I had just received my pre-ordered copy of Frankie Cosmos’ new album, “Next Thing,” and I was excited to open it up and check out all the cool things that came along with it: lip balm, a pin, and a zine. And, of course, I was excited to see the splatter vinyl and listen to the music.

I was supposed to go to the release show for the album on Friday, but I was too sick to make the trip to the city, so I decided to do my unboxing video and share the contents with everyone. It was definitely a learning experience. For one, I don’t have a good setup for unboxing. I suppose I managed to show everything as I unpackaged the contents of the box, but I probably should have had my camera mounted above so the viewer could experience it right with me. Two, I have cats, and cats love to insert themselves into videos. They might be fast asleep when I get everything set up to do a video, but they will without fail wake up the moment I hit record and want to monkey around somewhere in the frame. And three, it would have been wise to just black out my address on the box instead of having to use my extremely archaic video editing program to try and blur it out in post. Hey, if you have spare change and want to donate it to the “Vinyl Hysteria needs a Mac with Premiere” fund, let me know!

It was fun, though, making this video, and hopefully I’ll learn from my rookie mistakes and create something a little steadier next time around. Watch below to check out all the cool stuff that came with the Frankie Cosmos limited edition pre-order, and then go buy the album for yourself if you haven’t already. The band’s on tour all this month to promote “Next Thing,” and I definitely recommend taking in a show if they stop in your neck of the woods.

 

Record Player Throwback

The year was 1988, and Debbie Gibson was topping the charts. To this day, I’m not entirely sure if I liked Debbie Gibson because my parents approved of her wholesome image and therefore introduced me to her music, or if I heard one of her songs on the radio and felt some magnetic pull. I don’t remember a conscious decision to invest in her music, though I remember a bright red Walkman beneath the Christmas tree and her “Out of the Blue” cassette tape accompanying it. My first memory of hearing music and needing to own it was during my dance class. Our dance instructor used songs that were popular at the time, but she also played music I’d never heard before. My parents listened to classic rock, mostly, and were very careful about what I heard on the radio, lest my young mind be corrupted by Madonna or some other less-than-savory musician. Though I’d loved music from a very young age, I never associated it with something I could purchase until I turned nine. When I heard Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” at my dance studio, I wanted it. And that was my very first record.

My parents had purchased me a Tele-Tone record player in the early 80s, one of those little turntables with plastic parts and a multi-colored cardboard carrying case, and I had occasionally used it for the records that came in some children’s books back then. But it didn’t get much use until I acquired my first real record — the first one I’d actually wanted. I never amassed a very large collection of 45s, but I listened to the ones I had incessantly. I remember the Beach Boys’ “Kokomo” playing (probably ad nauseum to my parents). I remember practicing my dance moves to “Man in the Mirror.” The flame had always been there, somewhere. That love of music is one of my earliest memories — back to when I was just three or four years old and knew all the words to every song from “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” “Mary Poppins” and “The Sound of Music.” But those first records awakened something more in me. They fed that fire and made it more tangible. Selecting and listening to music was something personal, curated, controlled. It was my own.

My very first record player, which sits on a shelf next to my record collection today: