The Vinyl Anachronist
by Marc Phillips
Part CIX: "We Specialize in Vinyl"
The Vinyl Anachronist is now a New Yorker.
That sounds cool, right? But before you start imagining me wandering through a black-and-white SoHo with a Gershwin LP playing in the background, I have to confess that I've actually moved to Central New York, just north of Syracuse. I'm not sure if that's a bad thing, but every time I tell someone I just moved here from Colorado they ask, "Why in the world would you do that?" They might be just talking about the legal weed situation and not something more sinister, or at least I hope so.
I'm here for a multitude of business reasons. First, it's difficult to be an international importer and distributor when you live 250 miles from the nearest bonded warehouse. Now I'm a few hours' drive from the big New York City ports and my shipping costs are one-third of what they used to be back in Colorado. Second, I'm working with one of my dealers in Syracuse--Shayne Tenace of Tenacious Sound--to help him grow his business and possibly expand to multiple locations. I do have 18 years of retail management and close to 40 years of being an audiophile, so I like to think that I'm uniquely qualified to help.
The last few weeks in the store have been eye-opening, to say the least. For the first time, I'm actually seeing what a high-end audio dealer goes through on a daily basis. I'm not talking about the lookie-loos and the audiophiles who want to challenge me on my knowledge of audio--you know, all of the things I've complained about as an exhibitor at trade shows. No, I'm seeing plenty of real people, asking real questions about putting more music into their lives.
Most importantly, I'm seeing first-hand how mesmerizing turntables are to the average person on the street.
As soon as I arrived at the store, I had an idea. I put some Louis Armstrong on a modest Rega RP1 turntable, propped open the front door and watched almost everyone instantly stop, listen and then come inside. It worked for Ella Fitzgerald as well. And the Beatles. The usual audiophile female vocals, not so much. But Tony Bennett? David Bowie? You bet. Young and old, from all walks of life--great music pulled them all in.
Quite a few of these people sat down, listened for a few minutes and then suddenly stood up and said, "Is this playing from the turntable?" I confirmed that yes, indeed it was an LP playing on a relatively modest turntable that costs just $450--including arm and cartridge. The consistently surprised look on their faces revealed one thing to me, that these people still expect vinyl records to sound all scratchy and tinny and compressed, not clean and expansive and musical. Even the modest Rega showed them what was possible in the analog world.
So I've spending a lot of time here in Armory Square in downtown Salt City over the last month, hanging out on Jefferson Street and getting to know the locals. Three doors down is a great guitar store called Ish and three doors beyond that is an actual record store called The Sound Garden, a place that reminds me of my old record haunts in the '70's. I started envisioning a musical triumvirate here on Jefferson, cross-promotions and package deals and all of us crossing our fingers and hoping that this will become the hippest place in Central New York if you're into vinyl and LP's.
One day a couple of weeks ago two bespectacled young gentlemen walked into the store, flesh-and-blood catalysts who introduced themselves as Nicholas Oliver and Mark Turley of L.R.S. Records, an independent record label here in Syracuse.
"We specialize in vinyl," Nick said. So do I, gentlemen, so do I.
We were meeting with these two gentlemen because Shayne wanted to participate in the local Taste of Syracuse event in early June. We're going to share a tent with L.R.S. at the event--they'll have a few of their bands play brief sets, juxtaposed with Shayne's demos at his headphone lounge. While we were sorting out the logistics, I had to suppress a tiny little voice in my head that kept saying, "Ask 'em for records. Ask 'em for records. They got a pile of 'em sitting somewhere. Go ahead, ask 'em."
After our business was concluded, I managed to head them off at the pass by mentioning my somewhat casual obsession with vinyl and turntables and how I've been documenting it right here in Perfect Sound Forever for more than eighteen years. I babbled on excitedly for an hour or two and I finally let Nick and Mark escape. A few days later, Mark dropped off four 7" records (33 RPM, strangely enough) that represented the current stable of L.R.S. talent.
If you're at all New Age-y, you're probably thinking of the Law of Attraction right now. I admit that I thought of it. Every time I move somewhere new, I wind up unintentionally hooking up with the music scene pretty quickly. My list of Facebook friends is rife with musicians, publicists, recording engineers and fans from my days in Los Angeles, Portland, Austin and even tiny, isolated Montrose, Colorado. To me, it's quite strange that an audiophile drifting into his mid-fifties, especially one who is introverted and would rather do anything than spend the night in a noisy, crowded club, gets so quickly intertwined with the local music scene. But that's one of the first things I think about whenever I move someplace new. What's the music scene like in Syracuse? What are the kids into? What are the latest trends, and are they going to freak me out?
I'm not sure if these four EP's are a representative sample of Syracuse music or not--only time will tell. But I have to admit that I love the L.R.S. aesthetic. I'm not talking about the colored vinyl or even the funny song titles ("Previously on the West Wing," "The Edited Version of Casino Is Way More Offensive Than the Original," "Pocketful of Bees"). I'm talking about the DIY attitude, the feeling that if you put your heart and soul into something and you wind up making a happy, silly mess then you're definitely winning.
I started off with Operation Hennessey's It Stays the Same, mostly because this is Mark's band and he told me the drummer, Kaii VanLuven, is his ten-year-old music student. "That kid rocks," Mark told me and I was instantly reminded of when Charlotte Caffey of the Go-Gos and Jeff McDonald of Redd Kross got married, had a daughter and eventually started a band with her called Ze Malibu Kidz. Operation Hennessy has the same frantic, whimsical sound of early Modest Mouse, and Mark's lead vocals will remind you of Isaak Brock's at the end of a long tour, all fuzzy energy and big smiles with an eye toward the bar in the back after the set is over. And yes, Kaii does rock, in a surprisingly muscular and exuberant way.
You only get one side of Operation Hennessy--the other side of this "split" 7-inch belongs to The Nudes' "Hey Girl You Have a Nice Body," which sounds far more lascivious than it is. Mim Reading's vocals and the multi-layered guitar sounds like a more up-tempo Lush on the title song, and Eric Lanious' turn in front reveals a more serious, introspective tone enhanced by Mim's gentle harmonies.
Next was Monumental Instrumentals from The Action!, which Mark told me was his favorite band in the world. A big horn-laden party band of the highest order, these guys get a chance to show their versatility and chops on this EP--one song is their surf-rock song, one song is their ska song, etc. This band reminds me of my L.A. club-hopping days back in the early '80s when we all danced "the Carlton" to bands such as Fishbone and The Splitters at Madame Wong's West. Everyone on the dance floor moved as one.
Department's Aporia features a garage-band sound mated to tricky time signatures and earnest vocals, while Bridge Under Fire's I Got a Guy for That offers a big healthy serving a lo-fi, hard-driving grunge that's recorded with the same minimalist approach as early hardcore--a tribute to the little record labels thirty years ago. BUF earns extra points for the aforementioned goofy song titles, and I'll give you one more: "Chris Let Me Call This Song 'Endless Mike'." I'm a sucker for silly titles in indie rock--one of my favorite band names back in L.A. was Screaming Girlfriend in Your Face.
Nick and Mark were quick to point out the lo-fi theme running through these four EP's once they listened to some of the hi-fi systems we had set up at the store. They didn't need to apologize to me, however, since I grew up listening to SST records and X's Wild Gift while still pretending to be a journeyman audiophile. I doubt that Bridge Under Fire's fans are going to listen to their EP on an analog rig consisting of a $53,000 turntable, a $28,000 tonearm and a $15,000 Koetsu. In fact, these EP's probably never had it better than when my Transfiguration Axia landed in their grooves. No, those fans are going to play L.R.S. vinyl on whatever turntable they get their hands on whether it's the old Miracord they found in their parents' attic, a Rega RP1 or even something more substantial--who am I to judge? But I think about the way I used to listen to music when I was young and long before I caught the audiophile bug--and that's what I'm reminded of when I hear this raw, lovable music from my new hometown.
I should probably stop before I start sounding like that record producer asshole talking about the "power" of rock and roll on Vinyl. God, I hate that show.
You can find out more about L.R.S Records on their website at http://www.lrsrecords.com
Contact the Vinyl Anachronist at firstname.lastname@example.org and see his Blog site
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