The fifth annual Record Store Day is almost upon us, and I await it with equal parts excitement and disdain. I’m thrilled that people will descend upon my favorite shopping establishments in droves. I’m happy that some artists and labels have come up with interesting exclusives for the day. I’m particularly excited for the 20% off vinyl discount at Newbury Comics. But for all of the positives, RSD is hardly above reproach. Many of the exclusives are downright lazy, slapping a new sleeve on old songs and writing “limited edition” in all caps on the front. While some of the exclusives are legitimately hard to find (in part because eBay resellers get up earlier than you do), most are still floating around in May. Unfortunately, without any day-of discounts, you’ll have to choke down an inflated price tag for a “limited” run of vinyl that would more than suffice for the majority of indie rock bands. Waiting would, however, allow you some much-needed elbow room for browsing, which is in short supply during the zoo of Record Store Day.
As much as I hate helping out other shoppers on Record Store Day—it’s just not the same experience if you don’t growl “I saw it first” at a timid fifteen-year-old before he keys your car in retribution—I have sifted through the towering list of exclusives to provide you this handy guide.
Buy: Mclusky’s Do Dallas LP: If I had a stitch of honor, I’d boycott this release in lieu of singer Andy Falkous’s comment on Twitter that Too Pure hadn’t even mentioned the tenth-anniversary vinyl reissue of Mclusky’s 2002 opus to him, let alone consulted him for a jaded retrospective in the liner notes. An intern at Too Pure likely noticed that the original pressing, out of print for years, goes for $100 on eBay, and nudged their superiors. But I don’t have the moral fiber necessary to make a stand. I missed the boat on Do Dallas when it came out and have spent the past few years shouting along to “To Hell with Good Intentions” and “Day of the Deadringers” to make up for it.
Don’t Buy: The Clash’s London Calling 2012 7”: If you’re searching for the least essential single to purchase on Record Store Day, consider poking Joe Strummer’s corpse with a sharp stick until a cavity opens up to reveal a stack of this wholly unnecessary retread. Boasting a digital remastering job from Mick Jones—who assures me that it will sound better than ever on your analog turntable—on the a-side and an instrumental version on the flip, London Calling 2012 is an unrepentant cash-grab. It may be a test from Epic to see if Clash fans will actually look at what they’re purchasing, so let’s hope literacy triumphs over a misplaced Summer Olympics tie-in.
Buy: St. Vincent’s “Krokodil” b/w “Grot” 7” Wait a second—new songs? On Record Store Day? Annie Clark, you crazy for this one.
Don’t Buy: Jimmy Fallon’s “Tebowie” b/w “Reading Rainbow”: Without the presence of The Lonely Island or Flight of the Conchords, the void of joke-rock novelty vinyl has to be filled by late-night host Jimmy Fallon’s rock star impersonations. Nothing against Fallon’s mimicry of David Bowie or Jim Morrison, but would you want to hear a parody of “Ziggy Stardust” about the Tim Tebow / Peyton Manning saga a year from now? What about two months from now? If you need it to complete your late-night host vinyl collection (joining Conan O’Brien’s 7” and LP), fine, but you’re contractually obligated to buy Craig Ferguson’s forthcoming Teenage Fanclub tribute album.
Buy: Various Artists’ Bring Beer compilation LP: Gerard Cosloy of 12XU is the rare record label owner who recognizes the day’s deficiencies: “While the rest of the nation celebrates Record Store Day 2012 by fighting over White Denim picture discs and Lars Ulrich spoken word albums, let’s spare a thought for the stores that are largely shut out of the party…and in one prominent case, has hosted far superior parties several times a week. Specifically, Austin’s Trailer Space, where proprietor Spot Long hosts countless free, all-ages shows in a decidedly R-rated environment.” While I would gladly purchase a Joel R. L. Phelps flexi disc box set from 12XU on RSD, Bring Beer is a welcome alternative, a compilation of 12XU artists and Austin bands. Here’s the kicker: the proceeds from Bring Beer actually go to Trailer Space, an independent store that isn’t large enough (Reckless, Amoeba, Newbury Comics) to qualify for many of the exclusives I’ve mentioned. If you don’t find Bring Beer at your local store, you can order it from 12XU along with a warehouse find copy of Phelps’s superlative Blackbird.
Don’t Buy: Pelican’s Australasia: The description for this release says “available [on vinyl] for the first time on Hydra Head since the album‘s 2003 release,” which isn’t remotely true. Not only did Hydra Head milk Australasia for four different pressings in 2004, Interloper followed it up with three more in 2006 and 2008 and Viva Hate included it in their Wooden Box collection in 2010. Play & Record highlighted one of those Interloper pressings in a recent post, and I’d rather have that one than this straight reissue (if I didn’t already own a Hydra Head original). Unless you’ve somehow managed not to score a copy of the record since it came out, pass on completing the set. Given the pressing history of Australasia, you need to stop the bleeding before Hydra Head drains your savings account.
Buy Unrest’s Perfect Teeth 7” box set: Included on the list of Record Store Day exclusives despite being available for pre-order from TeenBeat, this reissue of Unrest’s 1993 classic is worth picking up in either avenue. Finding common ground between the energetic pop of “Cath Carroll” and “Make Out Club” and the down-tempo meditations of “Breather XOXO” and “Angel I’ll Walk You Home,” Perfect Teeth is a precise achievement. This reissue is equally impressive: six seven-inch singles (five on colored vinyl) and a 24-page booklet in an Independent Project Press box. Sadly, unlike the similarly minded Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde singles box set, Perfect Teeth won’t say, “Oh, shit!” when you open it.
Don’t Buy: Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Stadium Arcadium: The greatest joke of them all? “On April 14, 2012, the Red Hot Chili Peppers will be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, and to commemorate this historic event, this classic deluxe box set of the band’s first number one album will be specially priced for Record Store Day.” Let me translate that press-gasm: “Record stores are tired of having this behemoth of a box set sit on their shelves, so we’ve allowed them to mark it down enough that someone might actually buy it, even though it’s not Blood Sugar Sex Magic or Californication. But it’s not just a regular markdown, it’s for Record Store Day. Please buy it. Please?” They should have just quoted Rolling Stone’s review of Stadium Arcadium, which anointed it the group’s most ambitious album (and later the second-best album of 2006 behind Bob Dylan, if you can believe it): “The guy [Kiedis] who once yelped, ‘I want to party on your pussy!’ whisper-sings a gentler, though not unrelated, proposition: ‘All I want is for you to be happy/And take this moment to make you my family.’” Why yes, Anthony, it truly does sound like you’ve maintained your edge 23 years into your career. Let me waste shelf space on that sentiment.
Buy: Mastodon’s split singles with The Flaming Lips and Feist: The reward of Mastodon covering the former’s “A Spoonful Weighs a Ton” and the latter’s “Commotion” (and Feist returning the favor on Mastodon’s “Black Tongue”) will not be worth the $16 to $20 you’ll have to pony up, but think about the long-term investment. Next year Mastodon has split singles with Sharon Van Etten and Mercury Rev. The year after it’s a split LP with Godspeed You Black Emperor. The year after it’s a cassingle box set with Fine Young Cannibals. 2016 they forgo the one-off approach and use Record Store Day to welcome Nicky Minaj and Will Oldham to the group full-time.
Don’t Buy: Genesis’s Spot the Pigeon LP: In case you think every RSD exclusive is aimed at modern rock enthusiasts dabbling in the vinyl format (the people you’ll hear gasp “Whoa check out this copy of Dark Side of the Moon”) or Stereogum-reading hipsters aching for Animal Collective exclusives, every year you’ll find a few items like this reissue of an obscure 1977 Genesis EP aimed at the baby boomers who kept their vinyl collection instead of donating it to Goodwill or gifting it to their kids. Credit where credit’s due: Spot the Pigeon is legitimately hard to find, so this reissue is a greater service to fans than an audiophile pressing of Invisible Touch would be. The last release to feature guitarist Steve Hackett, Spot the Pigeon offers three Wind & Wuthering outtakes, including Hackett’s dexterous “Inside and Out.” None of that makes Spot the Pigeon a crime like London Calling 2012, but here’s why you don’t buy it: Unless you’re a prog-rock obsessive, you’re better off sifting through dollar bins for Genesis’s ’70s output, which you can acquire in total for less than the price of this reissue, than grabbing a copy of this away from someone’s dad. What else does he have to look forward to? Grandkids?
Buy: Cursive’s Burst and Bloom LP: Spinning Cursive’s newest LP, I Am Gemini, made me yearn for their solid run of Domestica/Burst and Bloom/The Ugly Organ. Saddle Creek must have heard my thoughts, since they’ve repressed this 2001 EP on colored vinyl. Marking the debut of cellist Gretta Cohn and the emergence of Tim Kasher’s meta-awareness (which spiraled into self-parody after The Ugly Organ), Burst and Bloom holds up as well-constructed turn-of-the-millennium indie rock / emo, especially post-intro “Sink to the Beat” and “Tall Tales, Telltales.”
Don’t Buy: Minus the Bear’s “Your Private Sky” b/w “South Side Life”: Given the recent reissues of Minus the Bear’s first two releases (This Is What I Know About Being Gigantic EP and Highly Refined Pirates LP), your money would be better spent remembering those salad days, not collecting the scraps from the group’s 2010 nadir Omni. These songs were initially released as iTunes bonus tracks, and “Your Private Sky” could have made Omni based on quality, but again, that album stinks.
Buy: Music not associated with Record Store Day: Lost in this deluge of largely inessential exclusives are albums you should buy because you will enjoy them, not because you feel a completist duty to a favorite artist, suspect you can fetch three times the asking price on eBay, or want to cause personal pain to the shopper behind you. Go into your favorite store, ignore the swarms surrounding the above releases, and flip through the racks for records you actually want. Perhaps you’ve enjoyed Sharon Van Etten’s Tramp, The Twilight Sad’s No One Can Ever Know, or The Life and Times’ No One Loves You Like I Do this year but haven’t grabbed them yet. Maybe you just read Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life and have some SST and Dischord classics on your list. Who knows, you’ll recognize an album a friend recommended you a few years back and buy it on a whim. These exclusives get people into record stores on April 21, but stopping with them would be a huge mistake.
One thing I love about T.T. the Bear’s: they post set times on the calendar page of their web site. Seven or eight years ago I would’ve been to the venue early, ready to get my money’s worth and see every band, but as I approach 30, I just want to see the band I care about and go home. Sure, I’ll see the occasional opener, since it’s easy enough to listen to a minute of an unknown opener’s song on MySpace and decide if they’re worth an hour of my time, but I’ve stood through enough excruciatingly boring/derivative/awful bands in my life to gladly accept any way out of that situation. Hell, for this show I didn’t even have to stay out too late, since New Zealand garage rockers the Datsuns headlined, and I was all too happy missing out on their set. Crotchety old man night!
As I mentioned in my review of Future of the Left’s Travels with Myself or Another, I’m regrettably late to the Andy Falkous party, which means that he’s going to spear my back with his headstock, bellow some foul things about immediate family members, and use my name as evidence in a future song. Not that I’d mind any of that, since Mclusky and Future of the Left are founded upon an intoxicating combination of dark humor and impending violence, and the latter’s tendency to use real names in their songs might earn me indie rock infamy.
Future of the Left’s set initially stumbled due to sound issues during personal favorite “Arming Eritrea,” but they soon plowed through an excellent set of songs from both LPs. “Land of My Formers” was a particular highlight, but the periodic bursts of incoherent noise coming from Falco’s mouth can make any song memorable.
A brief anecdote about the crowd: to little surprise, a Future of the Left show is a total sausage party, even devolving into a mosh pit later in the set. Yet the highlight came from one of the few ladies in attendance. A couple was standing near me, and it was painfully obvious that he’d probably said something like “Hey you’ll love this band! They’re right up your alley!” knowing full well they’re not or “But I went to see the Great Lake Swimmers with you!” resulting in his girlfriend being dragged along. Her pouting faces culminated in a great under-the-breath comment: after Andy Falkous made another humorous, likely insulting aside between songs, she scoffed, “You know, not everything is funny when you have an accent!” It’s too bad she didn’t say it loud enough for Falkous to hear, or perhaps good for her boyfriend, whose shame would’ve filled T.T.’s.
106. Future of the Left – Curses LP – Too Pure, 2007 – $15
As great as Travels with Myself and Another is, I suspect that part of the critical fondness for it stems from sleeping on Curses, a great album on its own accord. Switching from the departed Mclusky to his new group, Future of the Left, Andy Falkous must’ve suffered through brand development and recognition issues. “You mean there are keyboards now? And the name is different?” Beyond those betrayals, the differences between Mclusky and FOTL are relatively minor: drummer Jack Eggleston remains, but former Jarcrew bassist Kelson Mathia takes over for Jonathan Chapple, who formed Shooting at Unarmed Men. The songs are cleaner and tighter. That’s about it. If you enjoyed the snotty indie punk of Mclusky and Falkous’s sense of humor, you’re bound to like Future of the Left.
Curses starts off with the grinding, abrasive “The Lord Hates a Coward,” which contains both a choice non-sequitur (“She’s got a lot of pickled onions / Hanging from her thighs”) and a potentially inflammatory chant of “Violence she solved everything.” Single “Manchasm” uses that dreaded keyboard in a tale about Welsh recording studio owner Mark Foley, which changes midway to embrace a vocal round of “Colin is a pussy / A very pretty pussy cat.” “Suddenly It’s a Folk Song” turns a woozy keyboard part into a surprisingly melodic admission that “Suddenly folk songs are part of our future.” “Kept by Bees” thumps along with vocals and drums only for most of its runtime, a minimalistic songwriting trick that sounds a bit like an evil Broadway song. “Adeadenemyalwayssmellsgood” is a highlight of their live set and sounds equally enormous here, starting with a layered “Roll on…” and swooping in for the kill with a Kelson Mathias scream.
Curses isn’t quite as consistent as Travels with Myself and Another—“Fuck the Country Alliance” plods too much, “Team : Seed” would be better off as a b-side, and the aptly titled piano closer “The Contrarian” is more of a temporary amusement—but I’ve gone back to it countless times, so these missteps aren't too damaging. If you enjoy Mclusky Do Dallas or Future of the Left’s Travels, there’s no reason to avoid this album.
85. Future of the Left – Travels with Myself and Another LP – 4AD, 2009 – $15
Have MP3 album leaks ruined the excitement of the official release date? Most would say yes, since hearing the music for the first time is more tantalizing than ripping open the packaging to extract its already familiar contents, but my experience with Future of the Left’s sophomore album, Travels with Myself and Another, argues otherwise. I’d only dabbled with Mclusky (a mistake I’ve since rectified) and completely missed Future of the Left’s 2007 excellent debut, Curses, but overwhelmingly positive word-of-mouth caused me to check out the early leak of Travels. The sarcastic AC/DC bombast/catharsis of “Arming Eritrea” immediately suggested that this would be one hell of a record, a hypothesis proven accurate over twelve lean, brutal, and funny cuts, and in turn, I kept a close eye on its pending release.
Sure enough, I headed out to Newbury Comics to grab the album on its official release, opting against any other purchases so I could give this fresh wax a few dedicated spins. Hearing the massive rhythm section of “You Need Satan More Than He Needs You” blare though another rainy summer day in Boston made the song sound like a two-ton anvil, focusing my attention on previously overlooked backend songs like “Stand by Your Manatee” and the dinosaur rock of “Yin/Post-Yin” pulled the album together as a whole, and hearing the acoustic introduction of “Lapsed Catholics” transition into its throttling electric riff on my home stereo gave the juxtaposition new depth. Reading the lyric sheet was similarly revelatory, cluing me in that “I know my own worth / I’m an adult / I’m an adult,” which was quoted on numerous blogs as a great line, was actually “And then I don’t / And then I don’t.” Whereas I previously anticipated that Travels would rank among my favorite albums of the year, hearing the record in a focused listening environment after making an occasion to pick it up solidified its spot in my top five, if not top overall.
I’ve since caught Future of the Left live twice, picked up a t-shirt and a copy of Curses on LP at the first show, put the 3CD edition of McLuskyism on my shopping list, and scoured eBay for vinyl copies of Mclusky’s Do Dallas and The Difference Between Me and You Is that I’m Not on Fire. I stress all of this rampant consumerism in part because FOTL singer Andy Falkous has been vocal in his disappointment of advance leaks and listeners’ sense of entitlement with regard to free music*, but in my case, Travels’ early leak was my gateway to unfettered Falkous fandom. I can understand being frustrated about an early mix or an unmastered copy of an album being leaked, since that messes with people’s initial impression of an album, but advance leaks are a near certainty for any major release. The key is for the music to match, if not exceed the listener’s expectations, a task Future of the Left blew off the table. If the transition between the old era of release date excitement to the new epoch is essentially “I’m running out to buy this album to find out if it’s as good as I hoped” turning into “I’m running out to buy this album because it’s as good as I hoped,” well, that’s progress. It should encourage artists to make great, consistent albums, not singles backed with filler. If any up-and-comers need an intro course on what makes a great album, I suggest running out and buying Future of the Left’s Travels with Myself and Another.
* I completely agree with Falkous’s hatred of the sense of entitlement among contemporary listeners for purely free music, but people with an “I’ll support the artist” ethic (like myself) still exist in this culture. The filesharing era created a class of listeners liable to brag about how they’ve never purchased a record but “own” thousands of albums on an external hard drive. Perhaps Falkous’s anti-leak rant is one way to address that class’s false sense of entitlement, but my logic is that advanced leaks can help create new fans, like myself, and fighting an unchanging tide might cause more damage than it’s worth (e.g. Metallica and Napster).