Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Foo Fighters "Songs From The Laundry Room" EP (2015)

Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters was the official ambassador of Record Store Day 2015. His contribution to the list of limited edition vinyl-only releases from that day was a four-song, 10-inch Foo Fighters EP titled Songs From The Laundry Room. It contained four early rough demos that Grohl recorded solo in the early '90's, while he was still the drummer for Nirvana. Although it is officially a Foo Fighters title, Grohl played all of the instruments on the four tracks. The slightly goofy background vocals heard on "Kids In America" were provided by Barrett Jones, who also recorded and mixed the EP. Grohl says that these songs were the seeds that led to the formation of the Foo Fighters.

Grohl says that he only thought of these recordings as “an experiment for fun”, but they are far better than that statement makes them sound. The first side contains demo versions of two songs which would surface on the self-titled Foo Fighters debut album in 1995: “Alone + Easy Target” (recorded in January 1992) and “Big Me” (recorded in March 1994, just one month before Kurt Cobain’s suicide brought Nirvana to its end). The self-confidence Grohl shows on these tracks is remarkable – but, of course, that same self-confidence has resulted in his many achievements with the long-running Foo Fighters. The tracks come very close to the more polished sounds of the finished versions, although the Nirvana-like “Alone” has a slightly slower tempo here. The previously unissued “Empty Handed”, recorded on the same day as the “Alone” demo, is a rough cut that recalls both the Nirvana sound and the Foo Fighters song “Monkey Wrench”. If you’ve heard the Foo Fighters perform other cover songs, then this cover of Kim Wilde’s “Kids In America” (recorded in 1991, the earliest of them all) is exactly what you would expect it to be. Songs From The Laundry Room is a pleasant surprise, enabling us to listen to the Foo Fighters sound while it was still in its gestation period. It sounded like it was ready to be born any day.


Foo Fighters - Songs From the Laundry Room

Foo Fighters “Songs From The Laundry Room” EP (RCA 88875-07056-1) 2015

SIDE A:

1. Alone + Easy Target (demo version)
2. Big Me (demo version)

SIDE B:

3. Kids In America
4. Empty Handed

Garbage with Brian Aubert "The Chemicals" - 2015 Record Store Day single

On Record Store Day 2015, Garbage released a 10-inch single (pressed in fluorescent orange vinyl) recorded in collaboration with Brian Aubert, the lead singer of Silversun Pickups. This follows a Record Store Day tradition for Garbage, who collaborated with Brody Dalle for another 10-inch single last year. Eric Avery (the original Jane’s Addiction bassist) is credited with bass, as he was on last year’s single. It sounds as though both sides of the record are intentionally distorted in spots to simulate the surface noise of scratched vinyl. The single is a decent collectible item for fans of Garbage.

The A-side track, “The Chemicals”, is an appropriately trippy song about drug addiction. Aubert sings the chorus following Shirley Manson’s stanzas, and I suspect Aubert is also playing the slightly jangling guitar on the track. The song mixes Garbage’s techno-pop with the type of quasi-Smashing Pumpkins alt-rock that we would expect from Aubert’s usual band. The song does a fairly effective job of illustrating both the passivity of the drug addict and the intensity of their craving. The B-side, “On Fire”, is a mellower psychedelic mood piece, using a more sparing juxtaposition of sounds to create a distant, melancholy feel. The title describes the mental anguish of a person who cannot find peace of mind.


Garbage - The Chemicals

Garbage with Brian Aubert "The Chemicals" (b/w “On Fire”) (Stun Volume single STNVOL011) 2015

Track Listing:

a. The Chemicals (with Brian Aubert)
b. On Fire

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Metallica "No Life 'Till Leather" - 2015 Record Store Day cassette

It looks like Record Store Day isn't just for vinyl records. Some people are evidently nostalgic for the days of pre-recorded audio cassettes, as well, and a few artists have released limited edition items in that format for Record Store Day. I can understand the appeal, especially for anyone who grew up using that medium the way I grew up using vinyl. But I doubt that cassettes will enjoy the same type of resurgence that vinyl has enjoyed in recent years. They certainly served purposes in their day, but in my view, pre-recorded cassettes were the least exciting and least technically convenient way to collect and listen to music.

What has me talking about this subject? This Saturday, on Record Store Day 2015, Metallica are releasing their 1982 demo No Life 'Till Leather as a limited edition cassette. Why cassette? Because the cassette and the artwork are designed as an exact duplication of the tape copy owned by Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich. Metallica says that expanded versions of No Life 'Till Leather will be released this summer on CD and vinyl.

No Life 'Till Leather has never before been released commercially. The 30-minute, 7-song demo was recorded on July 6th of 1982 at Chateau East Studio in Tustin, California. Ulrich distributed the tape himself, and it led to the band's first record deal with Megaforce Records. Of course, it has also been much-bootlegged in the years since.

This tape was recorded by an early Metallica lineup that predated their debut album. Ulrich and James Hetfield were joined by future Megadeth leader Dave Mustaine and original bassist Ron McGovney, shortly before the latter two were respectively replaced by Kirk Hammett and the late Cliff Burton.

All seven of the songs were later re-recorded for Metallica's 1983 debut album Kill 'Em All; “The Mechanix” was reworked into “The Four Horsemen”. The band's statement says they have "gone to the original source material and re-mastered it to maximize the sound potential for 2015 without altering the original mixes in any way."

As of this writing, I have yet to hear the remastered version of No Life ‘Till Leather. But if it improves on the sound of the version that has circulated in the past, then…great! No Life ‘Till Leather is even more raw than the band's proto-thrash-metal debut album, but it can hardly be described as primitive. The sound seemed derived from some of the British metal bands that had surfaced a few years earlier (i.e. Iron Maiden, Motörhead, Diamond Head), but Metallica already had that unique approach that was all their own. The dual assault of Hetfield’s rhythm guitar and Ulrich’s drumming is immediately recognizable, at once hard-hitting and tightly controlled. However, Hetfield’s lead vocals display less machismo here than they did on the band’s proper recordings; he sounds particularly high-pitched on “Metal Militia”, although he seems to be trying out his more familiar growl on the closing track “Phantom Lord”. The main difference in sound from the finished Kill 'Em All versions lies in Mustaine’s lead guitar work. His playing is impressive but tends to sound wild and undisciplined, particularly on his overdone solos during “Hit The Lights” and “Jump In The Fire”. It is interesting to contrast Mustaine’s playing here to that of Kirk Hammett on the Kill ‘Em All album; Hammett’s playing seemed to follow Mustaine’s example, but it was more controlled. McGovney’s bass playing is adequate – and that’s meant as a compliment, considering that he basically seemed able to keep up with the other three guys. Still, he’s not so impressive that he would compare favorably to Metallica’s later bass players.

No Life ‘Till Leather is a welcome addition to Metallica’s official catalogue, as it shows that the band was already a formidable metal entity in their heretofore obscure pre-1983 period.


Metallica - No Life 'til Leather

Metallica "No Life 'Till Leather" (cassette) (Blackened BLCKND024-5) 2015

Track Listing:

1. Hit The Lights
2. The Mechanix
3. Motorbreath
4. Seek & Destroy
5. Metal Militia
6. Jump In The Fire
7. Phantom Lord

Saturday, April 04, 2015

Third Man Records vinyl exclusives, Part 23: The White Stripes “Under Amazonian Lights”

This week I received the 23rd set 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, who is the leader of the White Stripes, the Raconteurs, and the Dead Weather, and is now a solo artist as well. 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 postal service, my package was sent on March 28th. I received it on the 30th.

This twenty-third set of items mainly focuses on a White Stripes concert performed at the Amazon Theater (Portuguese translation: Teatro Amazonas) Opera House in Manaus, Brazil on June 1st of 2005, from the tour in support of their 2005 album Get Behind Me Satan. The concert is captured on vinyl on a 2-LP set, and presented visually on DVD. The 7-inch single includes two previously unreleased White Stripes recordings related to the 2005 album. This set is packaged just like a commercial boxed set, with extra bonus items inside. The box’s cover art features a striking graphic of a death head monkey, designed by Rob Jones.

The double-LP Under Amazonian Lights (pressed on blood-red vinyl with black wisps) contains the audio of the concert, reportedly the first rock concert ever held at that historic opera house located in the heart of the Amazon rainforest. It’s a terrific set, with (mostly) clear sound quality, demonstrating Jack and Meg White performing with remarkable energy and enthusiasm. There is a noticeable difference between the way the duo performed songs from the then-new Get Behind Me Satan album and the way they performed the other selections. On the newer songs (i.e. “Blue Orchid”, “My Doorbell”, “Little Ghost”, and three performances of the Meg-sung “Passive Manipulation”), the Whites seemed to be working carefully to get the songs right – and they did. By contrast, they seemed less inhibited when performing most of the other songs. They perform “Dead Leaves And The Dirty Ground” and Bob Dylan’s “Love Sick” with a ferocious excitement. Jack sings and plays with almost blinding speed on “Black Math” and “Hotel Yorba”, and he follows an electric version of “The Same Boy You’ve Always Known” with an equally satisfying acoustic version of the same song.

The third side is incredible, highlighted by a mind-blowing eight-minute blues medley of Son House’s “Death Letter” and Blind Willie Johnson’s “Lord, I Just Can’t Keep From Crying Sometimes”. That same solid side contains the marimba-dominated “The Nurse”, the slide guitar feast of “Little Bird”, and an impassioned piano-based rendition of the traditional “St. James Infirmary”.

The fourth side is the only one with problems. For one thing, it has a scratchy, surface-noise-like sound quality that the other three sides do not have – at least on my copy. Also, it sounds like Jack was getting exhausted at this point in the show. This version of “Screwdriver” is noticeably flawed, and Jack aborts his first attempt at performing “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself”. When Meg sings “Passive Manipulation” for the third time, it seems to be done for the purpose of allowing Jack to catch his breath. Jack’s piano-based performance of the 1920 pop song “I’ll Be With You In Apple Blossom Time” also comes across as a means of recharging his batteries. But if that’s what he needed to do before delivering a tight and vigorous “Seven Nation Army” show-closer, then he did the right thing.

The DVD Under Amazonian Lights, running 43 minutes, contains a visual document of 14 song selections from the concert. (Some of this footage was broadcast on MTV in 2005). There is plenty to see, as the DVD gives us a good look at the beautiful historic opera house. The footage also gives us extra insight into the performances. It’s fun to watch Jack and Meg interact as they sing their duet on “Little Ghost” while Jack plays mandolin and Meg plays tambourine. It’s also enjoyable to watch Jack play the marimba on “The Nurse”, while blasting out an occasional discordant noise by way of an effects pedal. And it is notably better to watch the performances that appeared on Side Four of the vinyl LP set than it is to merely listen to them; the apparent chaos at that stage of the show just seems to make more sense when presented visually, especially when we see the duo fly at breakneck speed through “Screwdriver”. One scene we don’t hear a hint of on the vinyl album: before “Seven Nation Army”, Jack and Meg stepped outside to face the throng of people who were watching the concert on large screens outside of the venue. Jack began to play “We Are Going To Be Friends” without any amplification from atop the outside stairway, until the crowd started to get unruly and the duo ran back inside. It would have been nice if the DVD contained video of the “Death Letter” medley. That disappointment aside, it’s good to have at least this much visual representation of the event.

The 7-inch single features two short-and-sweet studio recordings that sound both unfinished and fully formed at once. The A-side contains an early recording titled “Let You Down”, which was recorded in or around the year 2000, and which would later evolve into “The Nurse” on Get Behind Me Satan. Running less than two minutes, it features a multi-track recording of Jack White singing multi-part vocal harmonies like a one-man Beach Boys; he also provided the electric guitar and bass backing. Its short length and lyrical simplicity mark it as a work in progress, but in terms of sound, it actually seems fully developed, resembling a vintage ‘60’s Anglophilic rock song. The B-side track, “Ain’t No Sweeter Than Rita Blues”, is an instrumental recorded during the Get Behind Me Satan sessions. Although it sounds like it was meant to be part of a larger song, it also stands alone as a fine example of the guitar-and-drums interaction between Jack and Meg.

Additional bonus items in this package include: three postcards designed by Rob Jones, a “death head monkey” enamel pin, a silk-screened White Stripes poster with glow-in-the-dark imagery, and a soft-touch record sleeve with an illustrated picture of the opera house.

A note for fellow vinyl aficionados: the forgotten practice of engraving text in the dead wax, or the runout grooves between the sticker and the last track’s grooves, is present on these items. The 7-inch single has “Never - throw a song away” carved in its A-side, and “One track is all you need” carved in its B-side. The double-LP has the following four messages etched in the respective album sides: “If theres a monkey”, “I’m gonna feed it”, “How often do you see”, and “manipulation times three?”.


The White Stripes - Under Amazonian Lights

The White Stripes “Under Amazonian Lights” (Third Man TMR-302) 2015

Track Listing:

SIDE ONE:

1. Blue Orchid
2. Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground
3. Black Math
4. Love Sick
5. My Doorbell

SIDE TWO:

1. Passive Manipulation
2. Hotel Yorba
3. The Same Boy You’ve Always Known (electric)
4. The Same Boy You’ve Always Known (acoustic)
5. Little Ghost
6. When I Hear My Name / I Asked For Water
7. Fell in Love With a Girl

SIDE III:

1. The Nurse
2. Little Bird
3. Death Letter / Lord, I Just Can’t Keep From Crying Sometimes
4. St. James Infirmary
5. Passive Manipulation

SIDE FOUR:

1. Screwdriver / Passive Manipulation
2. I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself
3. (I’ll Be With You In) Apple Blossom Time
4. I Just Don’t Know What to Do With Myself (reprise)
5. Seven Nation Army


The White Stripes “Under Amazonian Lights” DVD (Third Man TMR-302) 2015

Track Listing:

1. Blue Orchid
2. Dead Leaves and the Dirty Ground
3. The Same Boy You’ve Always Known (acoustic)
4. Little Ghost
5. Hotel Yorba
6. Fell In Love With A Girl
7. The Nurse
8. St. James Infirmary
9. Passive Manipulation
10. Screwdriver / Passive Manipulation
11. I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself
12. I’ll Be With You In Apple Blossom Time
13. I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself (reprise)
14. We Are Going To Be Friends (outside)
15. Seven Nation Army


The White Stripes “Let You Down” b/w “Ain’t No Sweeter Than Rita Blues” (Third Man single TMR-303) 2015

Track Listing:

a. Let You Down
b. Ain’t No Sweeter Than Rita Blues