The Rummage

Tag: Phil D.

. issue XXI : ii .

. artist : chrome .
. album : half machine from the sun: the chrome lost tracks from ’79-’80 .
. year : 2013 .
. label : king of spades .
. grade : a .

chrome

Those that know the acid-punk band Chrome will love this. Especially loved will be the era when these tracks were made, right between the Half Lip Machine Moves and Red Exposure albums. Half Machine from the Sun, the Chrome Lost Tracks from ’79-’80 is a time machine trip worth taking, just what you want from the time period you want it — the Damon Edge/Helios Creed era of Chrome.

The band was creating a plethora of music during this time, experimenting and feeling their way around the sounds and influences of the day, yet maintaining their level of otherworldliness. Creed said that when he and Edge were creating music they would get a “chill factor” of mutual goose bumps when things were sounding just right. As they were starting to grow and explore, they may also have been getting headstrong in their own sense of musical direction, and they parted ways in 1983, with Edge continuing his own version of Chrome in Europe while Creed began his solo journey. In the 90’s, Edge and Creed began talking about reforming their version of Chrome again; unfortunately, Edge passed away before the reunion could happen. Since then, Creed has continued the band’s legacy, playing not only new material but making a point to play the classics during live shows as well.

Evidently the story goes that these “lost tracks” were shelved away at Mobius Music and forgotten about until a few years ago when they bubbled up to the surface of discovery. Helios Creed heard the tracks were being shopped around, and that’s when he started a Pledge Music campaign to get them remixed and released. The result is this fulfilling and wonderful double album of prime Chrome material.

Listeners will feel the sense of exploration by Edge and Creed in these tracks. In many ways, this album is a peek into a band trying to find its way after their groundbreaking Half Lip record, the dawn of new wave and the beginning of the 1980’s explosion of everything. This time for them was their most prolific and energetic, releasing five albums and two EPs in the span of four years. It only seems fitting that this release is two albums worth of music. Songs on the album range from true Chrome-isms like “Anything,” to the eight-minute off-kilter funk trance “Looking for your Door,” to more unique experiments in genre like “The Rain” and “Charlie’s Little Problem.”

“Anything” is a perfect start to the album, with their signature hiccup-like interruptive sound bite burble leading into an addictive riff surrounded by multi-octave effects on vocals and some engaging moog sounds that echo into oblivion. A few tracks do seem rather out of place lyrically, but sound completely Chrome just the same. “Salt,” for example, is a political tune about the Strategic Arms Limitation Talks involving the United States and the Soviet Union in the late 70’s, is a little lost through time, but still solid with Helios Creed’s signature flange guitar and Edge’s deadpan spooky vocals. The most interestingly awkward track on the album is Creed’s ballad-bending “The Rain,” which takes his gaunt-image evoking vocals to their most unusually raw level; the result is ghastly and haunting.

Each side of the record can put the listener in certain moods. With the first side, it’s the excitement that one is hearing tracks that could have easily made it onto the Alien Soundtracks or Half Lip Machine Moves albums. Other sides are evocative of sexuality, alien weirdness, and instrumental shoe gazing. By the fourth side of the journey, the listener is flung deep into drone guitar synth space, with hypnotic repetitive tracks like “Sugar Moog Pops” and “Sunset.”

Half Machine from the Sun is a hearty dose of Chrome’s own creative expressions at the time when these two way-out dudes weren’t just coming from left field — they were in an entirely different ballpark. This album fits well into their discography as a recording of the period, but in no way does it feel dated. Chrome was never a band you could pinpoint easily to an era since they sounded so unique, then and now. This is one of the best surprise releases of 2013.

by Phil D

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. issue V : v .

Vinyl Safari, Massachusetts: PART TWO

SaqqaraDogs

A few days and one hundred miles later, I began my second adventure, a solo excursion, in western Massachusetts. While my wife was reminiscing her classmates, I would be doing a looping drive around the Pioneer Valley. The first place, Platterpus, was in Easthampton. This is a cozy medium-sized record store with a well-rounded and deep collection. I told the owner, a guy in his mid-fifties who had been doing this for twenty plus years, where I was from and that I would be here awhile. At once he felt totally relaxed with me and went out back to walk his dog. When he came back from dog duty, he told me he had been to Richmond and even visited a few stores here in town: Deep Groove and Plan 9.

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There was a real browse-able feel to the joint, with a number of locals that came in and made small talk. It’s just great to not feel any awkwardness when you are digging in bins for two hours. Another record store owner from New York City came in, and the two store owners got to chatting.

To eavesdrop on this conversation was a delight; two perspectives on the woes of consignment, wacky clientele and recent rare scores made for amusing entertainment while rifling through the selections. There was a real sense of the past and present worlds of record collecting. Platterpus guy came from a school that has seen the death and rebirth of vinyl while NYC guy came from the new world venture of records.

Neither seemed to act as if he was better than the other. Both were sharp witted and clever as well as knowledgeable, just two record shop owners comparing notes, way beyond my meager collecting skills. But that’s the difference; I’m just a guy coming in looking for my specific little realms of wax, while these guys have to know it all, or at least what they know they want their stores to be known for. A sweet spot for a little bit of everything, but mostly those lost gems of the 80’s and 90’s rock and punk, with some great funk and soul selections as well.

THE SCORE: The fancy pull-out arty edition of Torche’s Meanderthal, a Mark Kramer experimental train-wreck on Shimmy Disc called Krackhouse, World Crunch from engagingly dense off-kilter tribal post-punk band Saqqara Dogs, 80’s discordant grrrl punk from Children in Adult Jails’ Man Overcome by Waffle Iron, and the crazy Little Richard album The Second Coming.

THE COST: $50.00

VinylSafari2-2

A quick car ride north brought me to a town called Northampton. Northhampton is where all the hipsters live. My wife and I had lost sight of them while in Boston, briefly spotting some near Harvard, and we were beginning to wonder if they even existed north of the Tappan Zee Bridge. Well, I had to look no further. This was the place. The shopping district square was a glorified Carytown with unique boutiques and specialty stores. Also, this is where the tattooed, ear-gauged, and panhandlers thrived. On any given block you can see pretty much every class and style of people. It’s a beautiful thing and I started to feel a little homesick.

At the recommendation of Mr. Platterpus, I hit a local place first before heading to a chain store called Newbury Comics. Turn it Up! is a fitting name for a shop located in the basement of a musical instrument store. I was optimistic that this store was going to be incredible, based on not only the recommendation but also the font of the sign, reminiscent of The Who’s Maximum Rock and Roll show poster from the early sixties. Stepping down further, there were flyers all over the place, a dollar bin, a new releases section — it all felt so right. Too bad I was astoundingly disappointed with the selection. There was a lot of classic rock in the rows of vinyl and the warning bells started to go off in my head. Was this going to be like the store we dipped into in Cambridge? Well, it got worse. There was a drop of the needle through the air; the snap, crackle and pop, the blank moments of the first song on an album getting ready to be played over the sound system. What would it be? Those kids working looked pretty young, maybe something fresh and new that would send me pushing the old guy away at the new section so I could buy it.

Then Foreigner happened. Oh no. Now, I will grant anyone that there is certainly a time and place for Foreigner — I can sing the chorus to “Juke Box Hero” with the best of them — but when I started to see the employees and older customers bond by singing along to it as if this happened every week, my heart sunk a little lower at the possibility that my odd tastes would be satiated here. Any record store that has a big and marked section dedicated to Foghat immediately gets docked a grade in my book. Anyway, you can’t fault them for what they do, it really is a swell little record shop, and it just turned out to be not so much up my alley. The one saving grace record I managed to find was a sealed copy of the reissued limited edition of The Meters album Fire on the Bayou for fourteen bucks.

After the sobering realization that I have weird tastes, it was across the street to Newbury Comics, a regional chain, much like Tower Records in that it has a lot of other stuff beside music, but on a smaller scale. I knew they had remainders of the last Record Store Day feast, so that was reason enough to go. One region’s treasure would be another’s remainder, I figured. I dove in, grabbing some I knew I wanted, as well as some dramatically discounted 90’s new wave and then meandered around the store, thinking whether or not I should buy the three year old RSD box of Wax Stax singles for 40 bucks, originally priced at 80 when it first came out. If only it were ten dollars cheaper … yes I am that cheap! As I moseyed around, mulling over this decision, one of the employees approached me. He was a short tattooed kid, much like your RVA element, and we struck up a conversation. At first, I was hoping that I could talk him down to $30 on the box set, but it IS a chain store, so it probably was not going to happen. After some punk rock talk and sharing the common interest in the band Nomeansno, the smart salesman talked me into a regional hardcore punk compilation, claiming he knew guys in some of the bands. That was more of a deterrent for me, because big whoop, you know them.

Still, he was very passionate about the compilation, even though we kind of faltered in our dialog when I asked him if all the vocals were just screaming, because I hated that sh-t. He said only the bands that his friends were in did that. Oh. Well, he sold me on it anyway, because I am always willing to try a local compilation of punk rock.

THE SCORE: An RSD copy of Sonny & The Sunsets’ Tomorrow is Alright, Servotron’s Entertainment Program for Humans (Second Variety), and local punk compilation from Rhode Island You Can’t Kill Me…I Am Already Dead.

THE COST: $30.00

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Vinyl Safari Massachusetts was a grand success! The most rewarding thing about going to all of these strange places in strange lands, besides discovering elusive and interesting vinyl, is learning that the culture of record stores has a universal charm. Whether it be the thrill of scoring something you’ve never seen before, or listening to a whole store sing along to a familiar overplayed tune, or even a couple of record nerds waxing philosophical about, well, wax, it is not only the music that binds us together, but also the medium.

by Phil D.

. issue IV : v .

Vinyl Safari, Massachusetts: PART ONE

VS_Tension

A few weeks ago, my wife and I travelled to The Bay State for her college class reunion. In the days before the trip, while she excitedly gathered old photos of her classmates in their youth to post on Facebook, I began researching the area for keen record stores to visit on what could only be called a vinyl safari. I considered decking myself out in a pith helmet, jodhpurs and an appropriate riding crop, but a tee shirt and shorts happened to do just fine. The point was to go to a completely unfamiliar place, find the local record shops and see what they had to offer. The first half of the week-long excursion, we were going to be in Boston, the second half in the Pioneer Valley; the east and west of Massachusetts.

VS_DimeStore

Before beginning any such expedition, there are several tips for the journey that every record hunter should know. The first is to prepare for the trip and not get lost. This will be in foreign, potentially hostile territory, so check the online maps ahead of time, and plan the travel route to save more time for digging in the bins. Another one is to have a nice pair of shoes. Depending on how big the store is and the merchandise it contains, you could be standing a while, so be ready to be comfortable. A hygienically important tip is to never put your hands in your mouth or other face holes after flipping through musty records. I know the temptation to pick your nose, eat a sandwich or taste the vinyl dust on the digits is pretty huge, but wash your hands first, you don’t know where those records have been! Finally, and most obviously, have plenty of cash at the ready. Some stores may have sketchy, hack-able credit card readers, so just use the old school green when you can.

We left the downtown extravaganza that is Charles Street via the T, Boston’s efficient and comfortable mass transit subway system, for the Cambridge area. It was a dramatic transformation to go from the preppy district, with $2,000-per-month apartments and fashionable stampedes of joggers, to the more realistically urban area that is Massachusetts and Western Avenues. Much like Broad Street downtown, it is an interesting array of sketchy convenience stores and restaurants.

Something about subterranean transit that I’ve never gotten used to is recalibrating my internal GPS once above ground. I would be a terrible mole, really — probably squished in traffic immediately. As we tried to figure out which way was west, I noticed a record store that wasn’t on my map. I was not even really sure if it even had a name, as if I came upon a forgotten species long thought extinct. We had to dive in, of course, if only for a few minutes.

Unfortunately, that is all the time it really took. Probably an old hardware store 50 years ago, the store had a completely grey feel to it; from the walls with old ratty posters to the men behind the counter, it felt like being in a cloud nearly ready to break into rain. While the amount of vinyl was an amazing sight, probably in the thousands, it looked like those kind of collections that pile up at the thrift stores. The unwanted generic masses of classical and classic rock sections with split spines and mediocre grooves lived here. One could crate-dig for hours and only go away with a cramped neck and maybe settle on a Yes or Led Zeppelin album as to not feel bad about the time wasted. The distinct vibe that there was nothing here for me turned us around pretty quickly, and that was okay because I knew there were bigger vinyl fish to fry.

Arriving at our true destination felt like discovering that rare exotic antelope in the Serengeti. Among the herds of homeless and gentrified coffee-heads, we came upon the record store game I had been seeking. In the Boston area, the number one place to visit is Weirdo Records.

It’s a joint about half the size of the living room-like Deep Groove on Robinson here in town, and might have been a shoe cobbler’s store or alteration place in a past life. Today, Weirdo Records may well be the densest population of eccentric and eclectic vinyl per square foot you will find in Massachusetts, if not the East Coast.

As you walk into the front door and face left, you are in vinyl territory, floor to just above reach packed with new and used records. A tiny listening ledge lives by the front window, a place to perch while previewing used records on a modest record player and pair of headphones. Face right and you are in kooky CD heaven and a collection of album reference books, yes, reference books for your research needs. Digging through the appropriately alphabetized shelves, you will find a diverse range of afro-funk, psychedelia, sixties girl groups, as well as new releases such as Waaves and Beach House. The collection on sale never feels limited or uninteresting, and the chance of walking out of the door with something you will love is extremely high.

VS_Weirdo

Behind the counter was the equally eccentric owner, Angela Sawyer, who was deep into a computer screen, perhaps finding new releases to acquire, or handling online ordering or even writing the store’s weekly newsletter. She knows her records and how to get them. From crazy Japanese minimalist new wave to 1960’s French dream pop, she gave me the vibe of a mad and brilliant professor as her hair and glasses peaked from behind the computer screen. We chatted a bit; I told her where I was from and how I came to this place at the recommendations of DJs Sean Lovelace and Studebaker Hawk. A number of Andrew Jacksons later and walking to dinner, I did not mind the rain at all.

THE SCORE: Tension: Spanish Experimental Underground 1980-1985 (2xlp), Andre Williams’ Bacon Fat: the Fortune Singles 1956-1957, Boogaloo Pow Wow: Dancefloor Rendez-Vous in Young Nuyorica (2xlp), and Suicide’s [First Record]. I really had to restrain myself here.

THE COST: $70.00

Look for Part 2: Westward Ho!

by Phil D

. issue II : ii .

. artist : twinkranes .
. album : spektrumtheatresnakes .
. year : 2009 .
. label : finders keepers .
. grade : a .

Twinkranes
Twinkranes’ Spektrumtheatresnakes (2009) enthralls the careful and intent listener. At the most casual level, the release is enjoyable background music and compositionally solid. But going deeper with the seven tracks will open a journey in sound that will rock your face off. You can feel the krautrock elements and even some dark-wave approaches, but Spektrumtheatresnakes works with eminent textures: blendings with fine keyboard tapestries; trancelike, tightly off-kilter rhythms; bass-guitar rumblings; and clever, memorable vocals. It is a lesson in restraint, subtlety, and release.

The opening instrumental track, “High Tekk Train Wreck,” creates the impression of a car chase in which you finally outwit your pursuer under a railroad bridge at top speed. “Train Wreck” is a good album-opener, initiating the eardrums to Twinkranes’ ethereal feel. The subsequent tracks will jump-start the woofers, spin off into a totally unique direction, and then fade into the record, leaving you in Spektrumtheatresnakes’ rhythmic sunset.

“They rightly proclaim themselves as machine-driven psychedelia, and this Dublin trio lays it down in their own Frankenstein-monster fashion, with a nod to the early 70’s chug-alongs like Neu or even Harmonia at their most focused. Spektrumtheatresnakes is a beast that puts a fresh face on this genre and properly melts yours.

The last two songs close the album as a sort of suite. “Put Up A Light” reaches the peak of density: with a two-minute wall of well-timed dizzying thickness that hurls you to the edge of the precipice, hangs you over the edge, and pulls you back just before your heart drops in the sonic chasm. Next, “Spores” leads you down a cryptically-worded path; reminiscent of Lovecraft or of Poe’s “The Masque of the Red Death,” it would be the perfect soundtrack for your next midnight trip to the graveyard.

A listener willing to go the distance with this band will be transported to a rewarding plane of subtle textures that become more interesting with repeated plays. Further, engrossed listening will bring the realization that these gents aren’t just rock musicians but music craftsmen. Every time I go away from this and come back, I learn more, appreciate more, and then, next thing you know, I’ve played it three times in a row…again.

by Phil D