Very Vinyl Xmas 2011: Liner Notes & Videos

For the last 6 years I have made an annual mix of my favorite songs from the past year- usually a combination of new and vintage finds. Since I'm something of a vinyl enthusiast I also transfer these songs from vinyl to preserve, as much as possible, how they sound on record. To be honest, once you transfer analog back to digital it takes a hit along the way but I still enjoy the sound even if, as Neil Young notes, digital is only a "picture" of analog sound. It's still a really good picture.

For audiophiles and nerds my set up is Denon DP-30L turntable with a Grado Blue1 cartridge through a Macintosh 4100 to Presonus Firestudio Project then into my Mac Book Pro with Logic for editing and mastering. Nothing too fancy but it sounds good to my ears. The videos below are only for reference and don't use my transfers.

If you are interested in getting a copy of the mix on CD you can send me your address using my wife's new website she just launched this and it's a great way to collect mailing addresses for Holiday cards and stuff like this. Go to before 12/28/2011 and I will send you a CD. It incldes a print out of these notes and, most of the time, hand drawn art by my daughters. 

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! Jeb

1.“Raconte Moi Une Histoire”- M83(2011): why not start off with a song featuring a young kid telling a story about a psychotropic frog?! This M83 album Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming is my favorite new release from 2011 and this is possibly the most idiosyncratic song on it. But in many ways “Raconte” serves as the double album’s hub- an innocent, psychedelic world where we all happily hop and jump around. Hurry Up is one of those dense sonic records that change with repeated listens and seem to reveal themselves over time.

2.“On Whose Authority”- Nada Surf (2008): their album, Lucky, was released in 2008 but I didn’t listen to it until this year so I’m including it. It’s something of a concept album- accepting one’s adulthood, albeit begrudgingly. This song nails it- “on whose authority? I have none over me.” Realizing that you have lost control over your own life- that it has become a collection of habits- is a powerful wake up call.

3.“Santa Fe”- Beirut (2011): in many ways I’m still not sure what I think of this band. Sometimes it’s the best thing I could imagine hearing and then they can sound a little, I guess, haughty. Oh well. I love this track and I think they have something good going on overall. Ok, the keyboard part makes it, and the vocal melody, and the horns are well done. What is this song about? I have no idea really.

4.“Bad Weather”- Mike Adams at his Honest Weight (2011): love this song, love this album. Mike is a Bloomington guy and has played in a bunch of bands down there. So he went off and made a record by himself and I am glad he did. Last release to be on Secret Canadian’s recently shuttered St Ives vinyl-only imprint, unfortunately. This is the first track and it sets the tone for the record. Mike struggles with faith in a very honest, human way. Too often, and justifiably, “Christian” is a negative addition to “rock”. This doesn’t fall into those thin traps. This is healing, self soothing, music. Headphones in bed music.

5.“I Wish I Could Fly”-Blue (1973): this album came from an interesting collection, a woman who called herself “Gypsy”. She had a bunch of records in a house she was selling on the West side. Side note- I’ve bought three collections over the past year originally owned by women. I find that interesting. There aren’t many female record collectors. The ratio has to be 95/5 in my experience. Too bad cause us record geeks could use some female perspective in our dude-verse. This song comes from their first album, they had a few others, around 1972. It feels like a natural bridge between middle period Beach Boys and the pre-Disco BeeGees. It also goes up as more evidence around my theory that it’s hard to find a bad sounding album from the early 70s. Test it.

6.“Share The Red”-Steve Malkmus and the Jicks (2011): ok this is the Mr Malkmus you hoped would resurface at some point. “You have no idea what sets you apart, and still you’re winning.” We all know that person. Or maybe we are that person- not completely sure why we have had whatever success we have had. Was it chance or was our hand on the wheel the whole time? And yeah, “40 with a kid, living on the grid” hits close to the home these days. Steve Malkmus is making some fine Dad Rock.

7.“Brave Awakening”- Terry Reid (1977): remember Gypsy? Well she also had a Terry Reid record River that I really liked. Then I got this one- Seed Of Memory- and I was hooked. If you look Terry up you will quickly discover that he made a career out of turning people down. Jimmy Page asked him to be in Led Zeppelin. He politely passed and recommended Robert Plant. Later he was asked to be in Deep Purple and, perhaps more wisely, also turned them down. Meanwhile he went and made some great music that almost no-one heard. This is one of those songs that made me stop and pay attention. The lyrics are wonderful. His voice is incredible. Cheat sheet- it’s about the decline of the coal mining industry. This song feels so relevant- a generation unprepared for the future (or even the near present), lacking the skills and disposition needed in a new reality, a new economy. That is the “brave awakening” brought by rapid technology advances and it ain’t slowing down anytime soon thanks to Moore’s Law.

8.“My Love Is Like A River”- Girls (2011): this is an interesting song from a strong album- Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In many ways there isn’t an original note to be found. Girls are masters at wholesale musical theft. The progression, the playing, even the production seems referential. But, it works. That’s what I love about music- It either works or it doesn’t. No other rules apply. It’s the only truth I know about music.

9.“A Crime”-Sharon Van Etton (2010): I first heard Sharon at SXSW this year. John Strohm, who knows a thing, turned me on to her. We watched her play in a small bar. She has the voice, the kind that makes you stop and listen. This song takes me back to the emotional extremes of my teens and 20s. Although I miss that intensity I also remember- it wasn’t much fun at the time.

10.“Bizness”-Tune Yards (2011): definitely gets my award for most interesting new artist of 2011. I realize she was around before but she really figured it out with this album. It’s a fully realized audio-vision. It feels urban and militaristic without losing the feminine vibe. If only MIA put out albums this good anymore. I keep wondering what this song is about- “I’m addicted yeah, don’t take my life away.” Drugs? Work? Society? A lover?

11.“6 O’Clock News”-Larry Norman (1972): where do I start with this guy/song? I first heard this record- Only Visiting This Planet- when I was in junior high. Outside of some Beatles records I mostly had Christian rock to listen to and this qualified, thankfully. Larry was the original Jesus Freak. He was a wild dude. If you want to waste an evening, start looking him up on Wikipedia. Of particular interest will be his relationship with Randy Stonehill (his prodigy). Pretty seedy stuff for Xian rock stars. Also, check out those guitars. Tell me if you figure out how to get that sound. Wish this song didn’t still resonate thematically.

12.“Stepping Stones”-Ramases (1974): this may be the most psychedelic song I’ve ever put on a mix but I can’t help myself. I just love it. Brief background; Ramases was an HVAC guy from Northern England that had a vision of Ramases while driving (hello St Paul) that he was the reincarnation of the same Egyptian god/king Ramases. Ok, that’s all well and good, right? Then the vision told him to he needed to spread the revelation via music. So he convinced his wife, Sel, to go along with it and they proceeded to make some incredible, and strange, music. This album Glass Top Coffin must have been an expensive one to make. Thankfully it was the 70s and record labels were relatively flush with cash. Almost every song features elaborate arrangements- strings, harps, etc. But it all…works. After a while you start wondering- maybe he really was channeling some thing or one? This has been my favorite overall album this year and possibly the most overlooked album from the early 1970s.

13.“Thought Ballune”-Unknown Mortal Orchestra (2011): this album was all I could listen to for about 4 weeks. You can almost imagine finding this song on a 45 in your cool uncle’s garage and playing it over and over while you imagined, in a pre-Google world, what kind of people and place could make something so amazing. It’s the best kind of music there is- children’s music. “I’m a smiling alligator.”

14.“Lightworks”-Atlas Sound (2011): this is Bradford Cox’s (main guy in Deerhunter) side project. I loved 2008’s “Microcastle” and to some degree I’ve been waiting for him to do something better. I think it’s possible. This new album has moments that come close and this track is a good example. I think Bradford Cox is the most consistently interesting guy out there right now. He’s starting to grow up and perfect his craft. I get it, but I miss the rough brilliance from a few years ago. Like Mike Adams, you get the feeling that Bradford is making music to heal personal wounds. Never a bad thing.

15.“King Lear”- Morrissey (1993): I love this album Kill Uncle and have been looking for it on vinyl for ages. It’s crazy scarce and I didn’t want to pay eBay prices. Turns out a business friend, John Wechsler, inherited some framed albums. I was going through them and there was Morrissey! I offered money, I faintly begged and John kindly gifted me the record. I owe him dinner or some very good drinks. This song is classic Morrissey- “You didn’t even phone me, cause it’s not your style- to dial.”

16.“Holocene”-Bon Iver (2011): like many Bon Iver fans I had some conflicted feelings about this album when it came out. The 80s thing can sometimes feel gimmicky. But the first half of this record is solid and often transcendent. Lyrics come, go and change with repeated listens. The album actually comes with lyrics but I have intentionally ignored them. I like the Cocteau Twins approach to vocals here- focus on the right melody and feel and let the words come. Anyway, the important lines are repeated- “and at once I knew, I was not magnificent”. The big come down never sounded so good.

17.“Tea Lights”-Lower Dens (2010): Kenny Childers turned me on to this band. Like Girls, there isn’t much original going on here. Blend some Mazzy Star with Galaxy 500 via the obligatory Velvet Underground and you pretty much have this band. But, a great song always shines through. This melody has been stuck in my head many times. Now it can be stuck in yours. You are welcome.

18.“County Line”-Cass McCombs (2011): this was my first introduction to Cass McCombs. Maybe it will be yours as well. A good place to start. This song, and much of Wit’s End feels like it could be contemporaneous with Nashville Skyline. Cass seems to be a man out of time. Like many of his songs, it is wonderfully cryptic. Just a sketch of a story, enough to layer a hundred interpretations. “I feel so blind, I can’t make out the passing road signs.” The county line looms- opportunity and danger, desire and fear. Mostly it feels inevitable. We are all heading towards our own, personal county lines.