Autobiographical Order No. 229: Lee Morgan – The Sidewinder

I’m starting to think that maybe posts like today’s and yesterday’s should be grouped together in one, since they were bought at the same place and have a similar story and a connection that should be maintained. Something to keep in mind the next time I guess, but in the meantime, I found Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder at the Jazz Record Center, a treasure trove of jazz records, in New York, along with John Coltrane’s Coltrane. I’m pretty sure it was on sale, and while I would have picked it up anyway, I got it for something like $12 new, which is pretty good for sealed vinyl. Not that this is rare or anything, but still…

The thing about The Sidewinder that makes it kind of unusual among other jazz releases is that the title track is kind of a hit. Not that there aren’t other “hits” so to speak in jazz, like Miles Davis’ “So What,” or Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five,” or similar type songs. But “The Sidewinder” is the kind of jazz song you can put on at a party and won’t change the vibe. It’s got a swing to it, it grooves, it shakes, it feels fantastic. It’s the kind of jazz track that friends of mine who don’t even really listen to jazz can get into. That says a lot, because when people don’t like jazz, they tend to really not like jazz.

What that tells me is that Lee Morgan’s The Sidewinder would probably make a great first jazz album. It wasn’t my first, though. I had a bunch of jazz CDs and digital albums well before picking this up on vinyl (and in terms of vinyl purchases, it’s 13th, which in hindsight seems like it took way too long to build up my jazz collection—though you’re never really done building up your jazz collection, right?). But if someone doesn’t really get jazz, play ’em “The Sidewinder.” They’ll get it.

(The rest of the album is great too, naturally.)

Rating: 9.4

Sound Quality: Great

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Autobiographical Order No. 228: John Coltrane – Coltrane

For several years, my wife and I had a standing winter trip to New York City. We haven’t gone this year, since they’re always work trips for her and priorities change regarding work strategies and all that, but it’s something I look forward to every time we get a chance to do it. First of all, because New York has a million things to do and it’s easy to have fun. And second of all, because we have friends who live there and it gives us a chance to catch up.

But part of the fun of going to New York is simply exploring on your own, finding weird, interesting things to do. For me that always includes record shopping, and on our 2014 trip—just days after moving into a new house (which was a weird feeling, moving in and then high-tailing it to another city for a few days…felt like we needed to get settled in more first, but c’est la vie) I definitely did some record shopping. In fact, I discovered just blocks from the hotel where we were staying was a shop called Jazz Record Center, which is actually kind of confusing to find. The building where it’s situated doesn’t look like it has any record store inside. It’s a pretty standard office building with no distinguishing features, and not really any storefronts. At first I thought I was at the wrong place, or that maybe it was closed.

Upon closer inspection, however, I saw the suite number and the name of the store outside the front door, so I went in and up the stairs in hopes to find it, and sure enough, there it was behind a nondescript door with no windows. It was kind of surreal. Once inside, the shop unfolded into this sprawl of racks upon racks of jazz records from throughout the years. Many of them were rare, many of them were valuable. Many of them well outside of my price range!

But I did pick up a couple cool things, one of them being this classic John Coltrane record. It’s a reissue and not an original, so it’s not as cool of a crate dig as my Giant Steps find in Seattle, but still worth having. And I got another record I’ll blog about tomorrow. It’s funny, though. If I had large amounts of cash to spend I could have picked up countless records here. But I held back. Gotta save something for the return trips…if I can find it again.

Rating: 9.3

Sound Quality: Great

Autobiographical Order No. 227: Mastodon – Leviathan

The first album I bought in 2014 was Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City. But the last album I bought in 2013 was Mastodon’s Leviathan, which didn’t arrive at my house until 2014. And I’ll admit that I feel like being my 227th album is a bit late in the progression to end up on my shelf. Although I started buying records about four years before it was released, so it’s not like it would have been my first record. I didn’t even know who Mastodon was yet. They were just barely a band at that point.

STILL: As someone who loves metal, I find Leviathan to be an essential release. And in some ways it’s the album that got me re-interested in metal after taking a break from it in college. I can credit my brother for saying “hey, listen to this album—it rules.” And I did, and it did! Though I was listening to a lot of Les Savy Fav and Iron and Wine at the time, so it was a weird transition, though I was definitely thinking to myself that I was interested in hearing other heavy stuff, which I did with increasing interest and curiosity at a gradually accelerating rate over the next few years.

Leviathan, however, stuck around as one I’d return to over the years, and though it took a couple years after I first heard it, it became one of my all-time favorites. Most of the time when I talk to friends and fellow metalheads about their favorite Mastodon record, this inevitably is the favorite (though Blood Mountain is also close to the top of the list, and occasionally Crack the Skye which is more proggy and pretty good, but not nearly as ass-kicking).

But once you hear the leadoff track, “Blood and Thunder,” it’s hard not to ride for this beast of an album. “I think that someone is trying to kill me!” bellows bassist Troy Sanders, which is surely a shout-along line. Just the other night I was DJing with a friend and we both barked it out. How can you not?

I bought this during Relapse’s after-holiday sale, which usually has some good deals, and which I’ve taken advantage of a few times since. And I’m pretty sure it was the last LP I got before my wife and I moved into our new house (homeownership, huzzah!), which is a cool milestone. It rules. If you love metal you need it, basically.

Rating: 9.7 (almost perfect, the instrumental song feels a little like filler, but it’s aight)

Sound Quality: Great

Autobiographical Order No. 226: Vampire Weekend – Modern Vampires of the City

My relationship with indie rock has gotten more complicated over the years. More specifically, I don’t have the affection for it that I used to. When I was a teenager it was pretty much all I listened to. Now it’s something I feel obligated to keep up with even though I’m often disappointed. It’s a weird place to be in, but then again keeping up with pop also pretty much means the same thing (though I admit I don’t really keep up that much with what’s popular). My problem with a lot of popular indie pop stuff is that it feels like too much is being held back, like the artists are being precious for their own sake, like all the real emotion or expression just isn’t really there to be heard.

I feel that way a lot about Vampire Weekend, and there are a lot of things I really don’t like about Vampire Weekend, now that I think about it. Ezra Koenig’s sometimes annoying vocal affectations (or ability to make Auto-Tune sound worse), that really frustrating no-city-exists-except-for-New-York thing that bands do (we get it, guys, the epicenter of capitalism is the most important place in the world, yada yada), and the fact that they’ve sort of become a stand-in for things people don’t like about millennials. All that stuff bothers me. (There’s also a cultural appropriation conversation that’s complicated, not sure that’s exactly what their first album was, but I get the perception that’s what it was…)

And yet, I like Vampire Weekend’s music. A lot, in some cases. Particularly their third album Modern Vampires of the City. It’s an album that finds them more mature, sophisticated, embracing their more nuanced and complex side. Honestly, the songs here are easily their best (save for “Diane Young” which kind of sucks), and Koenig’s lyric writing is some of his most impressive. So despite the fact that I feel the same way about the band as some people do about Ryan Adams or Father John Misty (though I love both of those artists—there’s a wild ride to come, folks), I still really admire Vampire Weekend. (Their solo projects are all uniformly bad though, which suggests they only work well together, not separately, as it sometimes goes.)

This was the first LP I bought in 2014. I’m not sure what that says about me, really. Or if it means anything. Sometimes I think there might be some superstitious quality when it comes to stuff like that, but I think I just thought it was time to buy it. Coincidentally it was Pitchfork’s number one album of 2013, which was earned, I think. Not saying I agree it was the best, but it’s a very good album. (My personal no. 1 for 2013 was Sunbather.)

So for as much as Vampire Weekend have a presence that borders on cringeworthy, or at least did, the direction they took on this album proved they’ve undergone a lot of growth and still have more ahead of them. I mean, when you get right down to it, I suppose we’re all a little obnoxious sometimes. (Except me, never, nope.)

Rating: 9.3

Sound Quality: Great

Autobiographical Order No. 225: Horace Silver – Song for My Father

Listening to jazz on vinyl is one of my great pleasures in life. My dad used to listen to jazz while he worked throughout the day, and I get why: It’s a simultaneously soothing and stimulating form of music. And as I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate it more, even coming to love the more adventurous and cacophonous free-jazz. (Peter Brotzmann isn’t for everyone, but Machine Gun… man…)

Nine times out of ten, though, I’ll reach for Miles Davis or John Coltrane or something from the Verve or Blue Note catalog. And one of those albums I reach for often is Horace Silver’s Song for My Father. It’s one of those albums that makes you love jazz. It’s melodic, accessible, beautiful, but still intricate and rich in detail. It’s all acoustic instruments, and the sound of piano, bass, saxophone, trumpet and drums just all comes together so gorgeously. It’s music that sounds like autumn. It’s like a comfy sweater.

I’m pretty sure I heard the title track back in my first year of college, on the Ken Burns’ Jazz box set of all things (if I’m remembering this right, my dad got it as a Christmas present). It is one hell of a song, one of my all-time favorites in fact, which blends a great hard bop sound with elements of Latin jazz and soul. But the whole thing is pretty spectacular.

Sometime a year or two ago, I tweeted out something along the lines of “All I want to do is listen to jazz on vinyl for the rest of the year,” and sometimes I still feel that way. Like this morning; it’s still summer, but it’s cloudy, it feels like fall, and it simply feels good.

(Note: My copy is a reissue—I don’t have a lot of original-ish pressings of Blue Note LPs with the exception of one or two records, but they’re a label I trust to do reissues right)

Rating: 10.0

Sound Quality: Great

Autobiographical Order No. 224: Love – Da Capo

I like buying new records. I pre-order stuff. It’s fun to chase down colored variants and other kinds of stuff like that, but that’s not necessarily why I like vinyl. Or even the most exciting part about buying vinyl. No, arguably the more fun way to buy it (or more frustrating sometimes) is to thumb through the used racks and just see what you can find. I’ve picked up countless amazing finds that way, and continue to do so.

There’s always an interesting catch, though. Sometimes you come upon an album that’s priced suspiciously low. For instance, in late 2013 I browsed through M Theory and found this $5 copy of Love’s great 1967 album Da Capo. That’s not very much money for this. Arguably it’s the kind of album that shouldn’t be too expensive to begin with, but still, $5 seems pretty dang low in this marketplace.

But hey, you take your chances sometimes. So I picked this up and another classic (which you’ll see tomorrow) and was pretty pleased with the find. And all things considered, it sounds pretty good. Some crackles. Some sleeve wear. It’s a 50-year-old record! It happens.

Ah, but there’s a skip in “Stephanie Says.” Drag. Just one, but any skips are a bummer. Nonetheless, it was worth the $5 if only to be able to have an LP copy of the record with “Seven and Seven Is” on it, because that song kicks ass.

Will I buy a cleaner copy if I find it some day? Maybe. But hell, this one isn’t bad.

Rating: 9.0

Sound Quality: OK

Autobiographical Order No. 223: Tropical Popsicle – Dawn of Delight

Here’s another album that happened to coincide with my SECOND time DJing. So, not long after the Vinyl Junkies thing, Ryan from Tropical Popsicle, who I’d recently become friends with, asked if I wanted to DJ with him and Kenseth Thibideau at The Void, later The Hideout, currently SPACE (and formerly Zombie Lounge and Eleven). It was a last minute kind of thing and we didn’t really promote it, and there wasn’t a theme even. Just three dudes playing records basically.

So we get there and we’re pretty much the only people there save for the bartender, and start to think maybe this isn’t going anywhere. Though all of a sudden this acoustic guitar guy shows up with about 20 of his friends. Turns out there was a show happening, it just wasn’t advertised. Huh.

It worked out in our favor because some of those people stuck around to drink, and we ended up just playing records to a small group of people. It was chill. Nothing fancy. But we had a good time.

When I got there, however, Ryan handed me this: His band’s LP. On green vinyl no less. Very cool. They’re one of my favorite San Diego bands of the past five to 10 years, and I first saw them at The Casbah’s Atari Lounge, playing with Iceage around 2011 or 2012. They immediately struck me as a band to watch, and fast forward a few years and my own band ends up playing a show with them the night before the Inauguration in January (uggghghghg).

Anyhow, cool band, cool dudes. Story of San Diego I guess.