Record Store Day booty: Flaming Lips, Lee Hazlewood, Dinosaur Jr.
The lines were long, the heat was rough, the music-geek quotient off the charts, but one thing made it all worthwhile in the end: the booty. That is, the limited-edition vinyl that has become the hallmark of Record Store Day, the annual celebration of independent record retailers and the music they sell that occurred on Saturday in the U.S. and Britain.
In my case, said loot was made up of the new Flaming Lips double LP, "Flaming Lips & Heady Fwends," which features, among others, Erykah Badu, Bon Iver, Kesha, Chris Martin and Lightning Bolt; the double-LP teaser of Lee Hazlewood's 1968-71 work, "The LH1 Years: Singles, Nudes & Backsides"; "The Electronic Anthology Project of Dinosaur Jr.," which is exactly what it purports to be; a 7-inch single of the Carolina Chocolate Drops doing Run DMC's "You Be Illin'"; and an album by surreal Finnish metal band Circle, called "Manner." (Alas, I missed out on essential releases from Feist/Mastodon, Lee Perry and Peter Tosh, among others.)
In Los Angeles, the frenzy was focused on three different stores along Sunset Boulevard: Amoeba Music in Hollywood, Vacation Vinyl in Silver Lake, and Origami in Echo Park. I opted for Vacation, the little store across from Sunset Junction that is owned by the dudes who run Hydra Head Records. At 10 a.m., when the doors opened, the queue extended down Sunset and around a corner.
The wait for entry was about an hour, and the excitement was palpable. Conversations on the desirability of releases by the Misfits, Mastodon and Feist, Flaming Lips and Pharcyde floated through the line. Up ahead, early risers exited and shared their acquisitions with envious friends still waiting, and offered bad news on stuff already gone.
Inside, the walls were lined with dozens of limited-edition objects, mostly albums and singles but also a few cassette tapes. (If there was a dreaded compact disc in the store, it remained well hidden.) The store was flush: middle tables filled with White Stripes and Gene Clark reissues, vinyl copies of a particular Grateful Dead performance of "Dark Star," a box set of Stax Records 45s. So much beauty, and so many drooling music fans dropping money on music. It felt like a pre-CD world, 1981.
The music? Amazing. I don't regret a single purchase, and have been chained to my turntable all weekend. Of particular note is the fantastically trippy Dinosaur Jr. album. Made up of '80s-style synthpop remakes of early classics such as "Feel the Pain," "Little Fury Things," "The Lung," and "In A Jar," replete with singer/guitarist J. Mascis on vocals, it puts those melodies in a wild new context (and hopefully will soon be remixed to death online).
Reissue label Light in the Attic is in the beginning stages of a massive initiative to bring the music of Hazlewood, the L.A. producer/singer/songwriter, back into the limelight. The late artist, best known for his work with Nancy Sinatra, founded a label called LHI in 1968, and Light in the Attic teased a forthcoming reissue series with "Singles, Nudes, & Backsides," a two-album set of highlights and outtakes. It reveals Hazlewood's style in all its experimental glory, and bodes well for the next year of L.A.-centric reissues.
The Flaming Lips album is fantastic, typically loopy, on colored vinyl, and shows the band in expansion mode, penning dirges and psychedelic rock jams in conjunction with different vocalists. Badu and the Lips do a freakish version of Roberta Flack's "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," Kesha drops a hard-beat noise jam called "2012 (You Must Be Upgraded)" and duets with Biz Markee (!). Other tracks feature Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, Tame Impala and Nick Cave.
The Circle album is the strangest of the bunch, though. Issued by Hydra Head, it's the long-running Finnish avant-metal band's first release for the label. Mine's on glorious light pink vinyl, and within its grooves the group pours forth a meandering, tripped-out brand of rock featuring weird riffs, synthesizer swirls, start-and-stop about-faces, pastoral passages and vocalist/founder Jussi Lehtisalo crooning, wailing, and occasionally gurgling into the microphone. They pull it all together for a straight-ahead, ripping cover of Brian Eno's classic instrumental, "Here Come the Warm Jets."
Finally, the old-time fiddle-and-banjo group the Carolina Chocolate Drops turn Run DMC's classic hip-hop jam "You Be Illin'" into a campfire jam that I'm not sure yet whether I love or hate. It's strange what the new instrumentation does to the song, and the Drops make it sound pretty campy. Still, it was worth it.
In fact, the whole experience, which ended up taking about two hours out of my morning, was worth it -- if only to get visual repudiation of the argument that music-biz naysayers, tech-happy futurists and jaded online pirates make about the unwillingness of fans to spend money on music.
They will -- and do -- gladly pay for music.
-- Randall Roberts
Photo: Record Store Day 2012 at Vacation Vinyl in Silver Lake. Credit: Randall Roberts / Los Angeles Times