Hoax Hunters/The Snowy Owls

HH:SO cover HQ

(This is the third [and probably final] post-Record Store Day open letter. To read the first, An Open Letter To The People Who Lined Up Outside BK Music On Record Store Dayclick here. To read the second, An Open Letter To The Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr Album That Made Me Bleed On Record Store Day, click here.)

An Open Letter To People Who Don’t Buy Records Regarding The Hoax Hunters/Snowy Owls Split 7-Inch That Was Released On Record Store Day

There’s something I want you to see. I want you to hear it too, but I want you to see it first.

Before we get to that, some quick background information… Record Store Day is an annual event that’s been held on the third Saturday of each April since 2008. Artists help independently owned music stores buoy bottom lines by releasing hundreds of limited-edition titles on vinyl all at once, generating anticipation, long lines and a subsequent buying frenzy that’s as beneficial for these locally owned businesses as it is retrospectively embarrassing for the (usually) mild-mannered folk who get swept up in the excitement and push and shove their way through crowds to grab at treasured items before they sell out. Think of it like a big game of musical chairs for record collectors, one that gives a shot of vitality to an industry that’s still in the process of reinventing itself after being hit hard by the advent of .mp3s, file sharing and iTunes.

Now, you may be saying to yourself, “Well damn. I like supporting local businesses and all, but I listen to all my music on my iPhone, and I’m pretty sure iPhones don’t play records.” If you said that, you’d be both correct and completely justified. Between iTunes, YouTube and Spotify, you can enjoy a lifetime’s worth of amazing music without ever leaving the warm glow of your favorite Apple device. Listening has never been more convenient, and I count that as a net win for society. But if you’ve completely given up on physical media, you’re missing out. Big time. And I’m not just talking about the free donuts Jay at Deep Groove hands out to the people waiting in line on Record Store Day.

I want to show you exactly what I mean, so I cleared off my coffee table, disassembled the split 7-inch that was released on RSD by Hoax Hunters and The Snowy Owls, and took pictures of each of its components. I want you to see the kind of stuff you’re missing out on by living your musical life solely in the digital realm…

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Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr

Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr

(This is the second post-Record Store Day open letter. To read the first, An Open Letter To The People Who Lined Up Outside BK Music On Record Store Dayclick here.)

An Open Letter To The Dale Earnhardt Jr Jr Album That Made Me Bleed On Record Store Day

Edgar Allen Poe once said that “There is an eloquence in true enthusiasm.” I really like that, don’t you?

It reminds me — ironically, I suppose — of the breathlessness with which children tell stories they’re particularly excited about. Respiration and recitation crash into one another like waves headed in different directions, making for a bumpy, sometimes incoherent narrative — certainly not eloquence in the traditional sense. But within that crazy cadence, natural rhythms are hiding. Lungs working at full capacity. Synapses firing as fast as possible. Pitch rising at the end of each phrase. When you look closer, you find the body and spirit in perfect harmony, flowing as smoothly as ballroom dancers who have rehearsed every move they intend to make.

It’s just that type of enthusiasm I blame for our… incident.

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Justin Townes Earle

Record Store Day aftermath

This past Sunday, while a stream of soft, late-morning light was tumbling through the living room window I’d left open overnight, I awoke on the couch, sat up (sort of) and snapped the above photograph. It is as much an illustration of how not to treat your records as it is a testament to how much fun the previous day — Record Store Day — had been.

I’d planned on writing a preview post on Friday but got distracted by and thoroughly wrapped up in Boston manhunt coverage, deciding ultimately that a blog post about which limited-run records I was hoping to get my hands on would seem incredibly trivial next to the day’s headlines. Instead, with Dzhokar Tsarnaev safely in custody and that boat somehow — miraculously, I think — not in a million pieces, I’d like to roll out my Record Store Day highlights through a series of open letters. I’m not sure how many there will be, but I do know where I want to start: with the kind folks who joined Bandmate 4eva Doug and me in lining up outside BK Music early Saturday morning.

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Neil Diamond

Sitting down to write this feels surreal. It’s a sad exercise in contrast, and it’s one that I don’t undertake lightly.

Not two hours after I published my last post — a quick few hundred words about how thankful I am to the people who cheer on Monument 10K runners — a pair of bombs were detonated in the crowds lining the last mile of the Boston Marathon, killing at least three people and injuring more than a hundred. I went from the euphoria of telling the Internet about something that brings out the best in my city to watching the very worst of humanity in action, working to strip another city of the euphoria I’d just been enjoying. It was an awful and strange sequence of events.

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The Shouting Matches

The Shouting Matches

I love analogies, I think in analogies, and there’s one in particular I’ve found to be extraordinarily useful. It has (and hasn’t, if you know what I mean) to do with sand, and the notion that the tighter you try to grip a handful of the stuff, the more the grains run through your fingers. Not the most sophisticated metaphor in the world, but it illustrates quite nicely how, in certain situations, the best results come when we set aside our instinctive need to control the external world through force.

[Waiting to continue until the urge to make an Iraq War comment passes… almost there… OK, let’s move on.]

I’ve bumped into a pair of music-related reminders of the sand-containment axiom lately, and they’ve led me to the conclusion that side projects are wonderful exemplars.

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Michael Kiwanuka

I try not to play fast and loose with the word I’m about to use, but I feel it’s warranted here… the sound of Michael Kiwanuka’s guitar in the video above is perfect.

His voice is silky and wonderful, his dynamics are divine, but the way his acoustic guitar sounds may as well be a template for luthiers, sound engineers and guitarists the world over. It’s the unbroken shell you pocket to memorialize a day at the beach. It’s the drive to work that doesn’t involve a single yellow or red light. It’s Goldilocks‘ third bowl of porridge.

I can’t decide whether it’s fitting or disrespectfully ironic that I’m making this claim about a cover of a song by Jimi Hendrix. On one hand, it makes total sense that the greatest guitar player of all time — the deity that lesser guitar deities worship themselves — would write music that brings out the best in his instrument. But Hendrix is where he is in the holy order because of his electric guitar work. Aside from footage in his eponymous documentary and the beautiful cover art that graces its soundtrack, I never really think about Hendrix holding an acoustic guitar.

With all due respect, I think much of the credit for the perfection seen and heard above should be divvied up between three parties:

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Mavis Staples

A while back, maybe six months ago, I spotted an album cover on the wall at Steady Sounds, and the image totally invaded my consciousness:

A head, either disembodied or perched atop a person who’d been buried up to the neck… an afro… dirt… straw… screaming…

Seriously creepy stuff. Not unseeable. I was struck by its brutality, but also by the fact that it seemed mysteriously important, like it was glowing in some barely perceptible way. (Does that ever happen to you? Don’t certain covers just seem to vibrate with significance?) I was intrigued, but I didn’t know anything about it, certainly not enough to justify buying the thing, so I left it there. Looking creepy. Glowing slightly. 

Fast forward to present day, and I’m seriously pissed at myself for not buying Maggot Brain when I had the chance.

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I’ve said it before, but it’s been a while, so I’ll say it again… I love listening instructions. Having someone tell you what music to try is great, but even better is being told the how, where and when, as well. That’s just what Villagers frontman Conor O’Brien has done with his latest album, {Awayland}. On the Villagers website, he lists the following instructions…

Maybe try it on headphones first, without interruption. I hope you enjoy.

Truth be told, by the time I saw his note, I was already 3/4 of the way through the album, and I was indeed listening through headphones. This barely qualifies as coincidental, given that new music is almost always debuted this way, for me and, I’d guess, for a lot of other people. But the second part — the “without interruption” corollary — that’s a bit more interesting, because I’d had the very same thought mere moments after I clicked play on NPR’s First Listen of the album. Almost immediately, I felt the need to hunker down for the full-album experience, despite being 30 or so minutes away from reading O’Brien’s instructions. Now that’s a coincidence worth digging our teeth into.

So why’d that happen? Why did I instinctively know that {Awayland} would be a great cover-to-cover read?

[cue Carrie Bradshaw voiceover]

Why would one album be better suited for uninterrupted listening than another?

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