Record Store Day 2012: The Aftermath

So, this year’s annual Record Store Day has come and gone, and what have we learned? For one thing, record collectors (and reseller scumbags) are taking this event more and more seriously with each passing year. My store of choice was the original Newbury Street location of Newbury Comics, where people had apparently begun lining up at midnight for a 10am start. When the doors finally opened, something resembling a stampede took place as the crowd poured into the store and immediately realized they weren’t actually sure where their personal treasure was to be found. In what was either a stroke of genius preventing a riot taking place around a single rack or a malevolent plot to drive music geeks desperately seeking that new St. Vincent 7″ insane, the Newbury employees had spread out the RSD exclusives throughout the store. It was a stroke of luck to stumble across what you were looking for without having to shove through/crawl under a wall of people or yell for someone to hand you something you couldn’t reach and hope they complied. In short, it was probably the most chaotic record buying experience of my life.

Truthfully, Record Store Day used to be a hell of a lot more fun when it resembled some people who like vinyl buying some vinyl, as opposed to the borderline mosh-pit situation I witnessed on Saturday. Perhaps it was the fairly cramped arrangement of the store, or the confusion created by sorting the releases in seemingly random order in various different places, but this year was the most confrontational RSD I’ve experienced yet. That type of atmosphere undermines the whole vibe of the holiday, which celebrates record stores as a place to discover music and convene with fellow fans. The undermining is only heightened when you consider that a good number of people in the store on Saturday morning couldn’t care less about the music, and were grabbing as many valuable releases as they could find to immediately flip on eBay. By the time I was back to my room at 11:30, the virtual marketplace was already flooded with all manner of limited RSD releases selling for double, triple or quadruple their retail prices. It’s a bit depressing to know that so many music fans got screwed out of releases they care about so that this shameless display of greed could take place.

Enough pontificating about the disappointments, though. What about the actual music on all those beautiful limited/colored/splattered/numbered/whatever else pieces of vinyl? Here are some thoughts on my purchases this year:

Animal Collective – Transverse Temporal Gyrus 12″

This soundtrack to Animal Collective’s Guggenheim art installation is about as abstract and bizarre as you’d expect. It’s a total removal from the pop sensibilities of Merriweather Post Pavilion, instead hearkening back to the band’s early experimental freak-folk records. Surely not an everyday listen, but interesting for what it is. That folder poster that accompanies the vinyl? A 24″x36″ reproduction of what appears to be a set of blueprints. Stay weird, AC.

LCD Soundsystem – Losing My Edge 12″

DFA re-released the debut single from LCD this year, in a picture sleeve for the first time. I’ve never run across a copy of the original pressing, so this was a cool release to see. LCD may have been put to rest, but James Murphy’s seven minute hipster’s lament on the A side is as relevant and cuttingly hilarious as ever. B side “Beat Connection” is an oft-overlooked track in the band’s canon, but a solid dance jam nonetheless, showcasing Murphy’s tendency toward a Mark E. Smith sneer in his early vocal delivery.

Refused – The Shape of Punk To Come

An indisputable classic, reissued for Record Store Day on translucent red vinyl with a DVD of band documentary Refused Are Fucking Dead and the album on CD. This same reissue package has existed for a year or two now on blue, white and black vinyl, but I figured I would grab the RSD version since I’d not picked up any of the others yet. It’s an extremely well-done reissue, and a most definitely worthwhile purchase. The record itself gets better and better to me each time I hear it. It’s heavy, earnest, arty and angry in the best possible ways. Caution: listening may result in headbanging, screaming along and cranking the volume until the neighbors complain. And then cranking it louder.

Sigur Ros – Hvarf/Heim

The post-rock group’s formerly CD-only live/odds and ends collection gets a lovely vinyl release on translucent green wax. It’s a testament to the strength and consistency of Sigur Ros that even a collection like this feels cohesive and worth owning. Doesn’t hurt that the RSD package is front-to-back gorgeous.

The Flaming Lips – The Flaming Lips with Heady Fwends

Wayne Coyne and company pulled out all the stops for this year’s most anticipated release, and surprisingly, it doesn’t disappoint in the slightest. With a list of collaborators spanning from Nick Cave to Ke$sha to Coldplay’s Chris Martin, there was reason to be skeptical. One listen through dispels any of that skepticism though. The opening track prominently features a heavy, distorted riff, a Doctor Who sample (or Henry Rollins reading lines from Doctor Who, depending on which version you end up with), and Wayne and Ke$ha partying through the apocalypse. It’s bombastic and catchy, and starts the record off with a bang. In a similar vein are track like the Nick Cave-featuring “You, Man? Human???” and the Tame Impala collaboration “Children of the Moon.” Others, like “Ashes in the Air” (with Bon Iver), the unfortunately-titled “Helping the Retarded to Know God” (with Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes) and “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” (with Erykah Badu) trade in the energetic noisiness for gorgeous, slower-paced tunes. The whole thing works remarkably well as a double LP-length listening experience, backing the new songs with the best material from the Lips’ recent series of collaborative EPs with Lightening Bolt, Yoko Ono, Neon Indian and Prefuse 73. It’s a far more cohesive piece of work than I was expecting, and a recommended listen even for fans who may have been left cold by the band’s increasingly outlandish releases over the past year. The splatter-colored vinyl itself (pictured below) is also exceedingly cool looking.

Feist/Mastodon – Feistodon 7″

Canadian singer-songwriter Leslie Feist and sludge metal torch-bearers Mastodon cover songs from one another’s latest albums. Feist’s take on ‘Black Tongue’ is cool and creepy enough to justify the price of admission.

The Flaming Lips/Mastodon – “A Spoonful Weighs A Ton” 7″

The Lips’ Soft Bulletin classic occupies the A side, while a surprisingly straightforward rendition from Mastodon graces side B. Not a particularly revelatory take on the song, but one that does embody a signature Mastodon heaviness where appropriate.

St. Vincent – “Krokodil”/”Grot” 7″

This one’s in close competition with Heady Fwends for my favorite 2012 RSD release. Annie Clark has hinted at her aggressive punk sensibilities in the past (see her live covers of The Pop Group’s “She Is Beyond Good and Evil” and Big Black’s “Bad Penny”), but her recorded output has largely kept that beast restrained. It comes roaring forth on these two songs. “Krokodil” is fast-paced and riff-heavy, complete with violent lyrics and a vicious delivery from Clark. “Grot” is slower and sludgier, practically channeling doom metal in places. These two songs are the heaviest things we’ve heard yet from St. Vincent, but also some of the most immediately arresting. If this is the direction Clark is headed for LP #4, I’m excited.

So, all in all, a slightly bittersweet Record Store Day. There were some great releases this year, but the general atmosphere of the day continues to deteriorate. Regrettable, but probably inevitable. Check out some photos of the aforementioned releases below (orange and yellow/black discs are Heady Fwends):