Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Third Man Records vinyl exclusives, Part 5

I received the fifth pair of exclusive vinyl items offered to platinum members of Third Man Records’ Vault service. For those who are unaware, Third Man Records is the label owned by Jack White, the leader of the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, and the Dead Weather. The Vault service promises to deliver exclusive vinyl-only records (one full-length album and one 7” single) to its platinum members every three months. According to the postmark, my package was sent on September 24th. I received it on the 27th.

This fifth set of items revolves around a live show performed by the Dead Weather at Third Man’s custom-designed studio on May 3rd, 2010. It consists of a live LP on which the band performs their entire 2010 album Sea of Cowards, pressed on split-colored black-and-blue vinyl, as well as a single featuring the two encores from that concert. Also, the package contains a DVD of the entire filmed concert. Each of these three items is packaged in a reflective jacket.

The concert is excellent. The performances of the songs are faithful to the studio versions and are reproduced amazingly well in this live-in-the-studio setting. Where live albums by the White Stripes and the Raconteurs from previous Vault packages had sound quality that was just one notch above bootleg-level muddiness, Sea of Cowards Live has pristine sound of the sort that you would expect to hear on a commercial release. The songs don’t lose anything in this setting: the dark atmosphere, the echo effects, the spacey and fuzzy elements of the Dead Weather’s sound -- they all come through loud and clear. The instrumentation (Jack White on drums, Jack Lawrence on bass, Dean Fertita on guitar and organ) is nearly as flawless as it could have been, and Alison Mosshart’s vocals often have more direct power than they do on the album, especially on “The Difference Between Us” and “Gasoline”. Anyone who loves the Sea of Cowards album will have a field day with this package, and it makes a strong case for Third Man’s custom-built studio.

The vinyl LP’s sound quality does not seem to have been affected by the split-color pressing, probably because the approximate 40-minute length of the 11-song set fits well for this medium. If it’s not my imagination, the six songs on Side Two sound a bit more distant than the five on Side One. No matter.

The 7” single included with the package contains the two encores from the concert. Those two songs were “Hang You From the Heavens” and “I Cut Like A Buffalo” from the band’s 2009 debut album Horehound. These two performances are also faithful to the original versions, and sound just slightly different than they did on Horehound. This is probably due mainly to the change in setting, but it also may have something to do with the band becoming tighter over the course of one year. Whatever the reason, both encores sound good.

The DVD presents the concert in crisp black-and-white, which is suitable for the dark nature of the Dead Weather’s music. The disc provides a welcome glimpse at the specially designed studio for those of us who haven’t been able to visit Nashville recently. Mosshart’s manic stage persona is something to see, as is White in his dual role as a performer and as the master of ceremonies. The only disappointment is that the show’s two encores are not included on the DVD. But if you own the 7” single that came with this package, that’s no big deal.

Another note for fellow vinyl aficionados: the forgotten practice of engraving text in the dead wax, or runout grooves between the sticker and the last track’s grooves, is once again evident on these items. Side A of the single has the word “encore” carved in the dead wax; Side B has “Do you want more?” etched. The LP has the following messages etched in the runout grooves: “It’s tingling…Do you know what that means?”, and “It means it’s working…to hell with the show this is science!”.

The reflective jackets that each of these three items are packaged in are attractive, although time will tell how durable they are. My LP jacket is already beginning to show signs of splitting along the top edge, probably because the disc itself barely fits in the inner sleeve, which in turn barely fits in the gatefold jacket…grumble, grumble.


The Dead Weather “Sea of Cowards Live at Third Man Records” (Third Man TMR 040) 2010

Track Listing:

1. Blue Blood Blues
2. Hustle and Cuss
3. The Difference Between Us
4. I’m Mad
5. Die By The Drop
6. I Can’t Hear You
7. Gasoline
8. No Horse
9. Looking at the Invisible Man
10. Jawbreaker
11. Old Mary


The Dead Weather “Hang You From the Heavens” (live at Third Man Records) b/w “I Cut Like a Buffalo” (live at Third Man Records) (Third Man single TMR 041) 2010

Track Listing:

a. Hang You From the Heavens (live at Third Man Records)
b. I Cut Like a Buffalo (live at Third Man Records)


The Dead Weather: Sea of Cowards Live at Third Man Records DVD (Third Man DVD TMR 043) 2010

Track Listing:

1. Blue Blood Blues
2. Hustle and Cuss
3. The Difference Between Us
4. I’m Mad
5. Die By The Drop
6. I Can’t Hear You
7. Gasoline
8. No Horse
9. Looking at the Invisible Man
10. Jawbreaker
11. Old Mary

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The cream will rise to the top, as always.

Do you ever find yourself bemoaning the current state of music? I know I do. I'm probably at the age where it is hard to appreciate new music. And I know I'm not the only one. When I watch videos for old songs on YouTube, the comment boards are usually loaded with remarks about how "they don't make music like this anymore", and "music sucks these days"...you get the general idea. Is this anything new? Not really. I have always heard older people -- and even some young people -- complain that music just isn't any good anymore. Some of them say that there was a certain year that music stopped being good. Some people say they don't like anything recorded after 1975, or after 1980, or some other year. And I have always known people like this.

Are they just being close-minded? In some cases, maybe. Everyone has personal preferences, and biases, and sometimes we simply don't want to like certain things.

I used to tell myself that I would never let this happen to me. I thought I would never get to the stage where I stopped keeping up with the latest trends, especially in music. I think I still do a fairly good job of keeping up with such things, but that is mainly due to habit. Music just doesn't excite me the way it once did...or, at least, newer music doesn't.

When I listen to music by newer artists, I often feel as if I've heard it all before, and better. Sometimes I find myself thinking that if I were 20 years old, I would probably like what I'm hearing. But at my age, it's hard to get excited about new music that doesn't sound fresh to my ears. This is possibly due to the amount of recorded music which has accumulated over the decades, and my personal overexposure to much of it.

But, while watching one YouTube video, I read one insightful comment that put things into better perspective. In response to someone who complained about how new music didn't compare to that particular song from the '70's, someone said that the reason these older songs sound so good to us now is because we are not forced to hear them as often as we did in the heydays of the songs. The cream has risen to the top, the person said, and the cream of today's music will also rise one day.

And that person is absolutely right. Before we know it, we will come to a time when we have nostalgic memories of 2010 and the years around it. In accordance with human nature, we will tend to look back on the good times we had during the current time period, and think less about the bad times. Some of the experiences we have later will make us nostalgic for this time, and we will suddenly miss certain songs that we heard at this point in time. They may even be songs that we don't like at this point in time, because we may not be able to get away from hearing them. But when we get to the point where we won't hear those songs so often, and our minds are able to associate them with pleasant memories, we will be looking up the songs on YouTube (or whatever websites will exist to serve similar purposes) and we'll say, with heavy sighs, "They just don't make music like this anymore". I can also go on about how some music improves with age, or how time can reveal the better qualities of a certain artist, or song, or album. Or about how obscure artists can be later brought to our attention for their innovation or influence. But each of those points could lead to a long commentary in itself.

Here's my main point: all time periods produce both good and bad music. Sometimes it's hard to recognize the good stuff while it's being played side by side with the bad. In this day and age, it's become more difficult to find the good music, because radio and MTV don't serve it up the way they used to. Finding today's good music can require active searching on the part of the listener, and many people do not wish to spend their precious time searching for music which they may or may not like. But, as the wise YouTube commentator said, the cream of today's music will someday rise to the top.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Third Man Records offers more creative vinyl items

Jack White and his Third Man Records label have done it again. White has designed something called a "triple decker record", which probably could never have been dreamed up by anyone else. What is a triple decker record, you ask? I'll let the video below do the talking.