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Record Collection Reconciliation 16-20

16. The Durutti Column with Debi Diamond - The City of Our Lady - Factory, 1987

The Durutti Column with Debi Diamond's The City of Our Lady

Why I Bought It: I recognized the band name and saw that it was released on Factory, so I figured it was worth a shot.

Verdict: After I put the record on, I realized that it was a three-song EP and likely ran at 45 rpm, but I let the first song, “Our Lady of the Angels,” play out at 33 rpm anyway. It came off as a moody, almost Joy Division-esque instrumental. Their cover of Jefferson Airplane’s “White Rabbit” was not nearly as forgiving, since guest vocalist Debi Diamond* sounded like an extra dour Peter Murphy. The flipside of the LP is a lengthy Spanish-tinged instrumental called “Catos con Guartes,” which features intricate acoustic guitar patterns rather than chorus-heavy chords. This EP comes off as a complete hodge-podge with three disparate styles present, but each song—even the cover of “White Rabbit,” which I anticipated grimacing through—has some redeeming value.

* In the process of trying to determine who Debi Diamond’s identity, I learned that she is not the adult film star Debi Diamond but rather the former singer of the Januaries known by the name Debbie Diamond. After solving this mystery, I found out that former Durutti Column guitarist Dave Rowbotham was killed by an axe murderer in 1991. To confuse matters even further, a different Dave Rowbotham has an entry in my beloved HockeyDB as a former member of the Ottawa 67s and the Binghamton Whalers.

17. Portastatic - Slow Note from a Sinking Ship - Merge, 1995

Portastatic's Slow Note from a Sinking Ship

Why I Bought It: I primarily enjoy Superchunk’s Foolish-and-forward discography, so a more low-key affair from Mac McCaughlin would seem to hit the spot. If I were being really sassy, I’d say that I’m a Seam completist. If memory serves, I picked this up as a used LP during one of my trips up to Reckless in Chicago.

Verdict: Slow Note from a Sinking Ship certainly starts off like I expected, with “Your Own Cloud” moving along with only acoustic guitar, Casiotone, and Mac’s signature yelp, but many of the songs are full-fledged indie rock jams. “San Andreas,” “You Can’t Win,” “A Cunning Latch,” and “The Great Escape” may not compete with “Driveway to Driveway,” “Slack Motherfucker,” and “Hyper Enough” in the pantheon of McCaughlin, but they’re solid rockers nonetheless. The best song is “Pastime,” which blends the space of the quieter songs with the pulse of the rockers. Slow Note from a Sinking Ship was a pleasant surprise, sounding less like a bedroom solo record and more like a relaxed take on Superchunk’s mid-period sound.

18. Genesis - The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway - ATCO, 1974

Genesis's The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway

Why I Bought It: I grew up on post-Gabriel Genesis and post-Genesis Peter Gabriel. Yet their 1970s prog-rock efforts always seemed too “out there” for me as a fourth grader, so I stuck to Genesis, Invisible Touch, and Security. I’ve never been particularly embarrassed by my fondness for Genesis’s super-cheese era, even writing a column on it in the Signal Drench days, but I’ve also never made a genuine attempt to check out their early work. After picking up Gabriel’s swansong The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and its 1976 follow-up, A Trick of the Tail, for a slightly higher price than the dubbed cassettes I’d make of my uncle’s Genesis CDs growing up, I’ll finally confront those confusing demons standing in the way of Genesis’s critically acclaimed pop albums. Wait, you mean the prog-rock albums are the good ones?

Verdict: I’ve tried my best to understand the vague story of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway: there’s a half-Puerto Rican hooligan named Rael who’s struggling on the streets of New York who gets sucked into an unfamiliar underworld, cocooned in a subterranean cave/cocoon, encounters his brother John, escapes the cave, visits a consumerist people factory, finds his way back up to bizarre NYC, remembers his first sexual encounter, reaches a room with 32 doors (but only one exit!), makes his way through that room with the help of a blind woman, meets Death, makes his way to a pool with three snake women who die after tasting his blood, he then consumes the bodies of these snake women and turns into a Slipperman (covered with stumps and exterior genitalia), meets a colony of Slippermen including his brother John who have all encountered the same fate, makes a visit to Doktor Dyper who can castrate their problems, has his “tube” stolen by a black raven, chases after this raven, watches both the tube and his brother fall into roaring rapids, decides to mount up the courage to save his brother, dives into the rapids, and realizes that his brother is only part of himself.

Can you believe that Peter Gabriel pulled many of these ideas from his dreams? It’s more of a surprise that lines like “No time for romantic escape / When your fluffy heart is ready for rape. No!” (“Back in N.Y.C.”) and “Erogenous zones I love you / Without you, what would a poor boy do?” (“Counting Out Time”) make relative sense within this context. Recapping the story in the long-winded liner notes also helps, but there are certainly moments that slip away from the immediate storyline.

Despite the lyrical oddities, it’s hard not to be awed by the scope of The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway, which perhaps signifies achievement as a double LP of progressive rock. It may not maintain my attention throughout—the second LP is littered with aimless instrumental passages—but “Back in N.Y.C.,” “Fly on a Windshield,” “The Carpet Crawlers,” and the title track are sonically diverse high points. Still, I can’t make a judgment on such a sprawling affair after only one listen, especially without being privy to Gabriel’s live theatrics. It’s certainly more serious than Genesis or Abacab, but it’s nowhere near as approachable.

19. Stiff Little Fingers - Go for It - Chrysalis, 1981

Stiff Little Fingers' Go for It

Why I Bought It: After thinking about the band name for a minute or two, I remembered the scene in High Fidelity when Dick, the shy record clerk, impresses a chick by talking about Green Day’s two primary influences: The Clash and Stiff Little Fingers. While influencing Green Day is hardly an accomplishment that will sway a dollar bin decision, being associated with The Clash and releasing a record in 1981 will.

Verdict: While Green Day might’ve been influenced by both The Clash and Stiff Little Fingers, they were essentially influenced twice by The Clash, since Stiff Little Fingers’ mix of punk, reggae, and rock owes a considerable debt to Strummer, Jones, and company. While some songs stick out from the fray—“Gate 49” is a sunny escape, “The Only One” rumbles along with dub precision, “Safe as Houses” has solid hooks—most fall in line with London Calling-inspired punk with power pop underpinnings. It’s a bit strange that Gordon Ogilvie, the band’s manager, co-wrote most of the tracks, but he was a consistent participant in their early records. Perhaps I would have been better off with their 1979 debut, Inflammable Material, which was inspired by the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Go for It is certainly competent and largely enjoyable, but I’d prefer more passionate, more immediate material.

20. Tangerine Dream - Cyclone - Virgin, 1978

Tangerine Dream's Cyclone

Why I Bought It: Not sure. I’m familiar with their unfortunate name, but little else about Tangerine Dream. Did I like the album cover and take a chance? Who knows.

Verdict: Apparently Cyclone alienated Tangerine Dream’s fan base by including vocals and lyrics for the first time. I completely understand this reaction, since the vocals on side A distract from what otherwise would be an interesting mix of electronic pulses, keyboards, brass, guitars, and drums. The vague stories and processed shouting of “Bent Cold Sidewalk” and “Rising Runner Missed by Endless Sender” seem like a dedicated push into the progressive rock domain, but the group isn’t capable of maintaining instrumental focus while incorporating vocals. The background music gets considerably less interesting whenever vocals arrive, simplifying the layers in order to give the vocals space. It also doesn’t help that the vocals are so high in the mix, leaving the drums muffled in the distance.

The flip side, however, is an entirely different story. The thankfully instrumental “Madrigal Meridian” extends for more than twenty minutes, the bulk of which is dominated by a Neu!-esque backbone of electronic bass arpeggios and propulsive drumming. The band members take turns playing melodic runs with a wide variety of instruments (the number of instruments credited on this record is astounding), with only a few electronic piano runs sticking out as ineffective. Once the rhythm fades away, the song relaxes with several fake fade-outs of calming brass and synthesized string sections. Certain segments reminded me of the electronic/industrial scores of 1980s action moves (Terminator comes to mind), which makes sense since Tangerine Dream scored half the films released in the decade.

One consistent comment in these entries is that I bought the wrong record for a given artist, but despite the vocal flaws (number one: having them) on side A, I don’t regret picking up Cyclone. “Madrigal Meridian” takes influence from progressive rock but doesn’t try too hard to mimic it, thereby highlighting the band’s most interesting electronic elements.

Record Collection Reconciliation: Wipers, Destroyer, Wye Oak, Kaki King, Eels, Choice Cuts

While I purchased more than five items between two Newbury Comics locations on Record Store Day, I'll focus on the free stuff for this post. I've previously mentioned my fondness for the Wipers LP, but it merits being mentioned again as the representative of the paid-for pile.

11. Wipers - Youth of America - Jackpot, 1981/2007

Wipers' Youth of America

Why I Bought It: After downloading the Wipers’ first three albums (1980’s Is This Real?, 1981’s Youth of America, and 1983’s Over the Edge) a month ago, Record Store Day justified my purchase of Jackpot/Zeno’s 2007 reissue of Youth of America. The reissue LP may be pricey, ranging from $15 (plus shipping) direct from Greg Sage to $20 at most retailers, but the quality is indisputable. In addition to being remastered and pressed onto a thick slab of black vinyl, Youth of America features the thickest sleeve in my collection, putting the paper-thin sleeve of Colin Newman’s Not To to shame.

Verdict: This marks the first time I’ve heard Youth of America in its proper running order*; the 2001 Wipers Box Set puts side B (“No Fair,” “Youth of America”) before side A (“Taking Too Long,” “Can This Be,” “Pushing the Extreme,” “When It’s Over”). Fixing the track listing addressed a prior criticism of the album—that the shorter songs pale in comparison to their epic counterparts—by presenting the album as an accelerating descent into a fever dream. Sage recalls, “The song [‘Youth of America’] itself is out of a dream I had about the future. A time where people ‘over breed’ themselves to the point that even the most simple thing had become the highest level of competition. The dream had such a sense of realism and intensity to it that I went overboard with the recording to symbolize it.” The title track does the best job of encapsulating this sentiment, but the end of “Pushing the Extreme” performs the crucial transition from the relatively straightforward first three songs to the structurally experimental second half. As Sage intones, “Now it’s one against the other / What’s this price we gotta pay?” over backward cymbals—the first noticeably showy production technique on the album—the atmosphere starts mounting, leading to the cataclysmic ascending guitar riffs of “When It’s Over.” More than three minutes of increasing instrumental tension pass before Sage speaks a word in “When It’s Over,” even letting the backing piano chords take precedence over his raging guitar. At the end of the song, Sage yells “We’ll be laughing / When it’s over,” closing side A on a most foreboding note. This track order makes those first three songs a necessary precursor to the snowballing intensity of what’s to come.

“No Fair” starts off in a half-speed haze, with Sage’s spoken vocals barely making it through the woozy guitar. But once Sage yells, “It’s not fair,” a rare bass solo pushes the song into high gear and the guitar overdubs start swelling. While Sage’s vocals and lyrics are solid throughout the album, Youth of America’s primary appeal is its layered guitar tracks, featuring nimble chord changes, swells of feedback, and memorable leads. All of these styles are on display in the title track’s chaotic, nearly freeform middle section. I’ll certainly gravitate toward the ten-and-a-half-minute epic on a given record, but the sprawling range of “Youth of America” defines the record’s reactionary brilliance. Unrelenting, mesmerizing, and yet still approachable, Youth of America is a terrific slab of wax.

*With regard to the album’s running order, all of the LP pressings have the stated order, the Wipers Box Set has side B before side A, and Sage’s own site has “Taking Too Long,” “When It’s Over,” “Can This Be,” “No Fair,” “Pushing the Extreme,” and “Youth of America” listed.

12. Destroyer/Wye Oak - Record Store Day Promotional Single - Merge, 2008

Destroyer and Wye Oak split single

Why I Bought It: Free in a Record Store Day goodie bag.

Verdict: Both songs are exclusive to the single, which is more than I can say for a lot of the other giveaways I grabbed. I’ve tried and failed to get into both Destroyer and Dan Bejar’s other gig, the New Pornographers, and “Madame Butterflies” won’t change things too much. It reminds me of an unhinged Shins song, opting for a bit of guitar feedback instead of a rhythm section, but Bejar’s slightly faux-British vocal styling gets on my nerve. You can hear this song over at So Much Silence. As for Wye Oak, I’m happy to have an exclusive track, but the skeletal arrangement of “Prodigy” has b-side written all over it. Jenn Wasner’s voice is compelling, especially when it’s multi-tracked later in the song, but I miss the layers of If Children. I can’t argue with free, but I wonder if Wye Oak would have been better served by including “Warning” or “Family Glue” on the single.

13. Kaki King – “Pull Me Out Alive” b/w “Zeitgeist” - Velour, 2008

Kaki King's Pull Me Out Alive single

Why I Bought It: It was a giveaway at Record Store Day.

Verdict: I’ve heard a bit of Kaki King’s early guitar virtuoso recordings, but “Pull Me Out Alive,” taken from her 2008 album Dreaming of Revenge, shares little in common with that material. Alternating between a tense, staccato verse and an open, airy chorus, Kaki King’s voice is capable enough, but the guitars do little underneath. I can understand wanting to transition into an indie rock sound, especially if the Foo Fighters are willing to bring you on tour, but “Pull Me Out Alive” sounds like far, far too many other bands. The flip side is a lengthy instrumental (not a cover of the Smashing Pumpkins’ most recent effort) reminding of lite post-rock bands. Snooze.

14. Eels – “Climbing to the Moon (Jon Brion Mix)” b/w “I Want to Protect You” - Geffen, 2008

Eels' Climbing to the Moon single

Why I Bought It: Giveaway at Record Store Day.

Verdict: This single takes a song apiece from the Eels’ recent greatest hits compilation, Meet the Eels: Essential Eels Vol. 1 1996–2006, and their recent rarities compilation, Useless Trinkets: B-Sides, Soundtracks, Rarities, and Unreleased 1996–2006. Aside from radio singles and soundtrack entries, I’ve only heard Beautiful Freak, which had their hit single “Novocaine for the Soul” on it. Both of these songs fall in line with my estimation of post-Beautiful Freak Eels; “Climbing to the Moon,” taken from 1998’s downer supreme Electro-Shock Blues, is a low-key, yet not entirely somber song about someone being ready to die (and not in the glorious Andrew W.K. way), while “I Want to Protect You” is a comparatively upbeat love song. Both songs could certainly hit home given the proper circumstances, but merely seemed “nice” on this listen. Considering that those two compilations span three CDs and two DVDs, I’m not exactly chomping at the bit to hear that much Eels, no matter how “nice” they may be.

15. Various Artists - Choice Cuts: 2008 Record Store Day Sampler - Universal, 2008

Why I Bought It: Free in a Record Store Day goodie bag.

Verdict: I initially wrote a detailed track-by-track recap of this compilation, which features a side of modern rock and a side of (alt-)country, but in lieu of retyping all of my hard work (unfortunately eaten by some nasty spyware), I’ll give the highlights.

Choice Cuts compilation

While the country side of the LP featured some nearly unlistenable entries into pop country, namely One Flew South, Hayes Carll, and The SteelDrivers, it also featured the compilation’s only salvageable tracks. Tift Merritt and Shelby Lynne are both passably low-key female alt-country vocalists whose songs’ comparative subtlety was a blessing. I knew of Whiskeytown, but I hadn’t heard any of their music and didn’t remember than it was Ryan Adams’ formative project. It shouldn’t be a surprise that the best song from a promotional compilation is from a decade-old album newly reissued, but “10 Seconds” pulled off a rocking bit of alt-country. I had to wonder if the inclusion of pop country songs was a ruse—“Well, I don’t think they’ll listen to an album entirely of pop country, but if we throw some songs in along with some alt-country, they’ll have to listen to it!”—but I’m hardly itching to hear any of those songs again.

The flip side showed just how dire rejects from modern rock radio can be. Black Tide and Switches have both opened for the Bravery, hardly an arbiter of critical success, but they’re each somehow worse than that factoid might suggest. PlayRadioPlay! has a simple horrible band name and owes some serious royalties to the Postal Service, but what else should I expect from a kid who got a major label deal as a senior in high school based on MySpace popularity. Ludo is a St. Louis-based pop-punk band whose song reminds vaguely of the Get-Up Kids, but their rock opera tendencies do not wear well. They have a five album deal from Island. Five albums!

The compilation’s low-point is undoubtedly Yoav’s “Club Thing.” If the mix of acoustic guitar, low-key club beats, and falsetto come-ons had the slightest bit of humor, it might be mistaken for a Flight of the Conchords b-side, but don’t let that be mistaken for a compliment. “Club Thing” tries to be both a cautionary tale and a direct route to his audience’s panties, but lines like “He knows he can’t afford / What it pays to enslave her / He’s got a hunger / For the sweetest of favors” only serve to give me the creeps.

Record Collection Reconciliation 5-10

6. Minor Threat - Out of Step - Dischord, 1983

Minor Threat's Out of Step

Why I Bought It: I needed to know exactly what I’ve been doing wrong. Wait, I needed to know what other people have been doing wrong. No, I needed to learn my lesson, that’s it.

Har har, those Minor Threat guys will sure have a laugh over that paragraph. As I’ve admitted about a thousand times before, I never went through a punk phase in my teens, so I’ve been catching up on most of the seminal acts in the last few years. After all, married guys in their mid twenties comprise hardcore’s key demographic. To further the delay, Fugazi was one of the last key DC bands that I got into, in large part because Jawbox, Shudder to Think, and Girls Against Boys (technically a New York City band, but…) had videos on 120 Minutes and that was how I found out about bands when I was fifteen. If I’d found out about Fugazi first (i.e. if any of my friends had remotely similar taste to mine and could actually introduce me to bands outside of Metallica and the Dead Milkmen), I likely would have used my completist vigor to track down Rites of Spring and Minor Threat instead of New Wet Kojak and Edsel.

Verdict: I’ve heard a few Minor Threat songs before, but mostly I’m familiar with them from Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life. I didn’t put a whole lot of effort into checking them out the first time I read the book, since the didactic lyrical approach wasn’t too tempting. Having just re-read that chapter, however, I found myself far more intrigued by the musical side of the band. I’ve seen enough hardcore bands—mostly at the Prairie House in Bloomington, Illinois—to know a good one, and Minor Threat tempers their furious forward momentum with enough catch-your-breath breakdowns, solid riffs, and spoken/sung sections to counter the blur of shouting over breakneck tempos. While Out of Step only lasts for nine songs, I didn’t find myself losing focus on the music. The true highlights of the LP, however, come when Ian MacKaye brings some much-needed humor into the equation, like ending “Sob Story” with “Boo fucking hoo” or the majority of the scathing “Cashing In” (“Then we’ll make a million when we go on tour”). The title track, however, tries too hard to distance the rest of the band from Ian’s straightedge philosophy: “Listen, this is no set of rules / I’m not tellin’ you what to do.” How ironic it is that I’m less deterred by capitalized lines and finger-pointing at a fill-in-the-blank “you” than by a meager attempt to cushion the blow of such staunch edicts. Thankfully, Azerrard’s book helped me anticipate the lyrical content—both the finger-pointing and finger-retracting—so I was still able to enjoy the music on its own accord.

7. Neil Young - Trans - Geffen, 1982

Neil Young's Trans

Why I Bought It: Its reputation as Neil Young’s nadir made the dollar price tag a mere pittance. Neil Young and vocoder? Sign me up!

Verdict: I expected an LP full of Kraftwerk rip-offs, so hearing the tepid, but opening track “Little Thing Called Love” threw me for a loop. Turns out that a third of Trans is comprised of songs I’d consider “stock Neil Young”—“Little Thing Called Love,” Hold on to Your Love,” and “Like an Inca.” They’re inoffensive enough, but I’d rather listen to Zuma or On the Beach. As for the rest of the LP, my perception that fans and critics alike loathe it was a bit off, since many of the Amazon reviews are remarkably positive, Mark Prindle gave it an eight out of ten, and Rolling Stone gave it four stars, citing the struggle between the electronic and traditional songs. Furthermore, the vocoder tracks were inspired by Young’s attempts to talk with his son, who has cerebral palsy. Oh hell. I buy a dollar record expecting to enjoy its pitiful attempt to appropriate a burgeoning musical trend and look what happens: it’s about Neil Young’s suffering child. I’ll remove my empathy from the situation, since it would be far too easy to confuse good intentions with a good product.

The electronic songs on Trans simply aren’t effective. Even when there’s a heavily vocoded line that carries some weight beyond its novelty (“I need you / To let me know that there’s a heartbeat”), the impossibility of understanding its message without the lyric sheet removes its emotional impact. Whereas Kraftwerk emphasizes matching the lyrical content to the cold, repetitive beats (“Trans… Europe… Express…”), Young’s attempt to recreate the sound but remove the connection between form and function falls decidedly flat. Why appropriate sound designed for trance-like European robo-discos if your intent is to connect emotionally with your audience? Having traditional songs to counter the forays into synthesizers and vocoders comes off as a poor attempt to pacify the audience’s demand for more of the same, not as a key to understanding those electronic songs. I would be far more interested in this LP exemplifying this divide within the songs. I can understand Young’s rationale behind every decision on this album, but it simply doesn’t work as a whole. The actual product is conflicted enough to have supporters, but I’m not one of them.

8. Wire - Snakedrill EP - Enigma, 1986

Wire's Snakedrill EP

Why I Bought It:The first Wire release that I picked up was The Drill EP as a used CD at one of the Rhino Records locations in the Hudson Valley. This was a critical mistake. An entire CD of remixes? For my first purchase from a seminal band? Remixes of a fairly annoying song? I messed up. It took me far, far too long to check out the group’s early, superior output, perhaps in fear that they’d chant “Dugga dugga dugga” over every song. (They don’t.) As such, I’d put off buying the Snakedrill EP, despite its appearance in the Wire LP section of nearly every record store I’ve frequented in the last two years (along with the “live” album It’s Beginning to and Back Again). I finally caved today, picked up a sealed, cut-out bin copy from In Your Ear on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston for three bucks. Four bucks? No thank you. Three bucks? Well, I suppose.

Verdict: I wonder how I would have responded to Snakedrill if I’d been a big fan of their first three LPs and eagerly anticipating their reunion. It’s a tough call. Wire’s transition into electronic-backed new wave would have made sense in 1986, since even the fiery Killing Joke utilized that aesthetic for Brighter than a Thousand Suns. Yet Snakedrill departs from what makes me love early Wire: their unflinching forward progress. Despite attempts to rationalize their new wave output by explaining their “beat combo” approach, Wire’s mid-to-late 1980s output, regardless of its songwriting quality, is too content to mirror what surrounds it. “A Serious of Snakes,” “Advantage in Height,” and even “Drill” are fine songs for the era (“Up to the Sun” is more Graham Lewis drama, snooze), matching the highlights of The Ideal Copy and A Bell Is a Cup… Until It Is Struck, but they lack the spirit of Chairs Missing and 154. Would I have accepted this logic in 1986 or would I have been happy to hear three good new Wire songs? If my fondness for 2007’s solid-but-unspectacular Read & Burn 03 EP weighs in on the matter, I’d probably just be happy to hear three good new Wire songs.

9. The Incredible Jimmy Smith - Organ Grinder Swing - Verve, 1965

The Incredible Jimmy Smith's Organ Grinder Swing

Why I Bought It: First paragraph of the liner notes, penned by Holmes Daddy-O Daylie of WAAF in Chicago: “O.K., since you’re reading these notes, you are either an ‘Old Aware One,’ hip to Jimmy Smith, or a neophyte-come-lately trying to get acquainted; if so, congratulations!” I am a neophyte-come-lately who’ll check out almost any jazz record on Verve when costs me a dollar to do so.

Verdict: Organ Grinder Swing doesn’t have any competition in my collection for organ-led jazz, so it’s hard to contrast it to any other albums. I enjoyed the short, energetic title track and his rendition of “Greensleeves,” but by the end of the album I had a savage headache from the tone of the organ. It’s an interesting sidestep in my crash course in jazz, but I doubt that I’ll go searching for more organ-led jazz in the near future unless it comes highly recommended.

10. Rifle Sport - Voice of Reason - Reflex, 1983

Rifle Sport's Voice of Reason

Why I Bought It: I recognized the band name as a former project of current Shellac drummer Todd Trainer, although Jimmy Petroski drums on this particular LP. When I flipped the sleeve over and saw that it was on Reflex Records, Hüsker Dü’s early 1980s label, I figured I was on the right track and snapped it up.

Verdict: Rifle Sport is more indebted to British post-punk than I anticipated, reminding me of a high-speed Gang of Four in spots. Gerard Boissy switches between Andy Gill–informed strafing and straight-ahead riffs, avoiding the razor-wire tone of early of Hüsker Dü. Bassist Pete Flower Conway steals the show, however, letting his busy but effective lines pop up through the mix. While the music is up to the task, the vocals often veer toward tuneless hollering and the lyrics aren’t much to write home about. Voice of Reason is Rifle Sport’s debut album, so this lack of cohesion isn’t surprising, but there are some truly effective moments like “Words of Reason,” “Danger Street,” and “Hollow Men,” which is a reworking/cover of the T. S. Eliot poem. (I eagerly await a doom-metal cover of “The Waste Land.”) According to Trouser Press their later material is better, so I’ll keep a look out for their other LPs.

Record Collection Reconciliation 1-5

1. Birdsongs of the Mesozoic - Magnetic Flip - Ace of Hearts, 1984

Birdsongs of the Mesozoic's Magnetic Flip

Why I Bought It: I grabbed this LP along with a handful of other post-Mission of Burma releases by Roger Miller, knowing little about it beyond Miller’s participation.

Verdict: Magnetic Flip attempts to merge Burma’s artier elements with modern classical compositions, bridging the gap between Miller’s stay in music school and his punk rock band. Using a forceful array of piano chords, organ leads, guitar textures, and drums, Birdsongs of the Mesozoic appropriate the Terry Riley/Steve Reich school of modern composition for a rock context, even naming one of the LP’s finest tracks “Terry Riley’s House.” A few of the songs touch upon Brian Eno’s instrumental work (according to Wikipedia, the band covered Eno’s “Sombre Reptiles”), giving an often claustrophobic mix room to breathe. The end result is intriguing, but often sonically overwhelming. I could have done without the reimagining of Stravinsky’s “(Excerpts from) The Rite of Spring,” which loads on too much dramatic tension for the already-laden aesthetic blueprint to stand, and the cover of the “Theme from Rocky and Bullwinkle” is curious at best. While I can appreciate the importance of forming an instrumental group in the early 1980s to push the boundaries of what independent/underground music could entail, I’d ultimately rather listen to Mission of Burma or Terry Riley than a combination of the two.

2. New Order - Confusion - Factory, 1983

New Order's Confusion

Why I Bought It: In addition to my subconscious desire to hear four version of the same New Order track, I enjoy the graphic design of Factory sleeves and Confusion is no exception.

Verdict: “Confusion” isn’t my favorite New Order song, but having an instrumental version of it allows me to avoid one of Bernard Sumner’s most vacuous lyrics, “Ask me no questions, I’ll tell you no lies.” Additionally, the emphasis on electronic dance music in “Confusion” (DJ/hip-hop producer Arthur Baker had a hand in its composition) justifies the inclusion of a beats-only version and an instrumental version, which, amazingly enough, are noticeably different. The sleeve isn’t nearly as cool as the “Blue Monday” floppy-disk homage, but matching that iconic sleeve is a tall order.

3. The Feelies - The Good Earth - Coyote, 1986

The Feelies' The Good Earth

Why I Bought It: While I’ve never reached the point of obsession with the Feelies’ heralded debut Crazy Rhythms, I enjoy the record enough to try out its follow-up.

Verdict: The Good Earth starts off with a handful of relatively non-descript, jangle-heavy college-rock songs. While these songs are sonically inoffensive, they sound less like a band influencing their peers (namely R.E.M.) and more like a band being influenced by their peers, perhaps one playing catch-up after six years had passed since the release of Crazy Rhythms. Glenn Mercer’s vocals tend to settle into the music rather than peak nervously above it, the guitars rely too much on standard chord progressions, and the rhythms—even with two drummers—don’t match up with its predecessor’s namesake. Starting with the fourth track, “Slipping (Into Something),” the record shows signs of life. “Slipping (Into Something)” spreads out over six minutes, emphasizing its dueling melodic leads over the occasional jangle before accelerating into a fever pitch. “When Company Comes” returns to jangle mode, but the absence of percussion is a relaxing end to side A. Side B is consistently good, with highlights like the rhythmic pulse of “Two Rooms,” the electric leads of “Tomorrow Today,” and the quiet burn of the aptly titled “Slow Down.” Isolating these interesting elements of the Feelies’ sound helps me appreciate Crazy Rhythms more, since those elements comprise the vast majority of that album rather than the highlights of certain tracks. Still, for what seemed to be standard 1986 college rock midway through side A, The Good Earth has a great deal to offer beyond a new gateway to its superior predecessor.

4. Beck - One Foot in the Grave - K, 1994

Beck's One Foot in the Grave

Why I Bought It: It’s significantly harder to find cheap, used vinyl pressed after 1990, so whenever I see anything resembling indie rock I’ll snap it up, particularly, like in this case, if I think it could be worth something on eBay. (While this record sells for up to $30, unfortunately there’s enough of a scratch on side A to prevent me from selling it.) I’ve never been a Beck devotee, but considering that my primary reason for this stance—my perception that Beck values style over substance in his genre-hopping exercises—doesn’t apply to a primarily acoustic endeavor, One Foot in the Grave might help me turn the corner on his work.

Verdict: Most of One Foot in the Grave sticks to a traditional folk/blues blueprint, relying heavily on Beck’s vocals, acoustic guitar, rudimentary drums, and the occasional counterpoint of K Records/Beat Happening honcho Calvin Johnson, who also produced the album. The few tracks closer to the lo-fi hodge-podge of Beck’s other early records linger on side A, which I listened to after the more stripped-down side B. There wasn’t a watershed moment of Beck appreciation, although I enjoyed “Girl Dreams,” “Hollow Log,” and “Asshole” (the lyrics of which were scribbled on the inner sleeve by the previous owner). I’ve admittedly had more fun skimming the Amazon reviews of the record, which sway from five-star odes to Beck’s “naked” album to poorly written one-star scoffs at its fidelity authored by “a kid” to this gem of a confused response, which is funny regardless of its possibly satirical intent. Where do I fit in to this glorious array of criticism? If One Foot in the Grave had been recorded in, say, 1997, after the success of Mellow Gold and Odelay, I would question its authenticity, tossing it aside as a cred-building exercise. But the timeline of its release is generous to Beck. Instead of figuring as a response to his musical surroundings or perceived audience demands, One Foot in the Grave comes off as a document of pre-stardom necessity. While the record is bolstered by Calvin Johnson, Presidents of the United States of America guitarist Chris Ballew, and Built to Spill drummer Scott Plouf, its appeal boils down to the limitations imposed by coffee houses and open mic nights. And honestly, I don’t frequent such establishments searching for the next Dylan, so I’ll take a handful of the better tracks and move along.

5. Glenn Gould - Bach: The Goldberg Variations - Columbia Masterworks, 1956

Glenn Gould's The Goldberg Variations

Why I Bought It: Two separate anecdotes: The first time I heard Glenn Gould’s name was when I read Giorgio Agamben’s The Coming Community in an Agamben/Kristeva seminar during graduate school. Agamben mentions Gould in a section about potentiality, essentially stating that Gould’s retreat from live performance into the studio emphasized the capacity to perform and not perform at the same time. (I could relate this concept more fully, but I’d rather avoid scouring my hard drive for a short paper on the topic.) Shortly after this instance, my mom read Gabriel Josipovici’s novel The Goldberg Variations and asked me if I could track down a copy of its musical namesake. After downloading a harpsichord rendition of the piece (the instrument the piece was written for, but I shudder at the thought of hearing a harpsichord), I grabbed Glenn Gould’s piano performance. A few months later I found the LP.

Verdict: Given that I hadn’t heard Glenn Gould’s name until a year ago, I won’t embarrass myself by critiquing his performance or J. S. Bach’s composition, although according to Wikipedia Gould himself “later came to criticize his early off-beat and lyrical interpretation, expressing reservations about its pianistic affectation, overt emotionalism, and lack of temporal unity.” I mean, I hadn’t even thought to do any of that. For my purposes, The Goldberg Variations is too busy to accompany reading, since the thirty separate variations switch up the pace frequently enough to gain my attention. Damn you, Bach and Gould, for daring to pull my attention from The Trouser Press Guide to ’90s Rock. It’s hard not to be impressed by both composer and performer, however, so I’ll continue to pick up Gould performances on the cheap—I have at least one more in the queue—but finding the right time to listen to them may be the biggest challenge.

Record Collection Reconciliation, V2

A few years back I had a thread on this site called Record Collection Reconciliation, inspired by the number of records I’d picked up and hadn’t yet played. As most with most projects I tackle, it sputtered out before its completion. In retrospect the biggest problem wasn’t that I didn’t finish the task at hand, but that I jumped the gun on the assignment. I doubt that my collection even approached 200 LPs at the time, with roughly equivalent number of seven-inches to bolster the ranks. While I’ve more or less stopped picking up vinyl singles, my LP collection has ballooned to almost 600 in the last two years, largely thanks to gorging myself on dollar LPs. Beyond the testy concern of storage, the most pressing concern is finding the time to actually listen to this many new records, particularly for weeks when I grab more than I should.

Once I had the inclination to revive this long-dead project, I flipped through my record shelf and pulled a selection of my unheard LPs. Seventy winners were chosen, with a musical range more typical of my iPod Chicanery projects than, say, my Last.FM account, which is to say that it’s not all Colin Newman, Foals, and Wipers LPs. This selection is by no means exhaustive—as terrifying as it is to admit, I have more unheard LPs waiting in the wings—and avoids repeating artists too heavily. Sorry Elvis Costello, I will have to get to Taking Liberties and Goodbye Cruel World at a later date. Will I ever get around to a more comprehensive look at my record collection? Unlikely, but who knows how much momentum this iteration will have.

My goal is to tackle at least five LPs each week. Initially I intended to select each album at random, but given that I’ve put my most brutal version of iPod Chicanery on hold for the time being, I’ll allow myself to choose a record I probably feel like hearing at a given moment. The range of records is significant in terms of genre, quality, and familiarity (while I may not have heard a particular album from an artist, say Elvis Costello, I’m likely familiar with his other work). Expect the first entry within a few days; I’ll try to cover five records per post. I’m also considering including any records I buy between now and the end of the project, provided that it’s not a long overdue physical copy of a well-loved album.

Aside from my previous attempt at Record Collection Reconciliation, notable analogs to this project include Michael T. Fournier’s 2005 blog A–Z and two current Onion AV Club threads, Noel Murray’s Popless and the staff’s Vinyl Retentive, the latter of which currently features Engine Down’s To Bury Within the Sound LP, a record I own and have listened to. I’m sure there are others comparable sites—feel free to suggest them—but I’m by no means a voracious blog reader.