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Vinyl Views is our weekly blog where we feature album recommendations from our store team (Shayne and Jaxon), and reveal picks from guest contributors. This week’s contributor is Mike Simons – Founding Executive Director with Intonation Music, an amazing organization bringing music opportunities to youth in underserved communities. Scroll down to read this week’s album picks or start shopping!  Sign up now to be a part of our Vinyl Views family and be the first to hear about new releases, store events, and exclusive promotions.  Looking for a prior week of Vinyl Views?  If so, CLICK HERE!

Mike Simons is Founding Executive Director with Intonation Music, a music education and youth development non-profit serving the Greater Bronzeville community on Chicago’s South side. Prior to that, he was co-founder of The Intonation Music Festival in 2005, which was later renamed The Pitchfork Music Festival, as well as the long-running Chicago Ukulele Cabaret in the early oughts. An avid music fan since he was a toddler, Mike got his true music education while working a stint in the product check-in room at Jazz Record Mart for several years in the nineties. He lives in River Forest with his wife Heather and their two kids Asher and Amelia. Mike and Heather play together in several bands, including Hayward (Bluegrass) and David Singer & The Sweet Science.

Artist: Lou Reed
Album: New York

During the early weeks of the pandemic, I found myself returning to a trio of later period albums by three icons in the rock pantheon. Released between 1989 and 1992, the records are of a piece, with themes of rage and hope for a corroding society, as relevant in this moment of reckoning as they were when they came out 30 years ago in the tail-end of the Reagan era. For me, these albums are a balm of nostalgia that bring fresh meaning and context in a world gone wrong.

Lou Reed’s New York is a poisoned love letter to his beloved city, shot through with fury, but delivered with his trademark wry humor. The 14 tracks cover a range of styles, from scathing rockers (“Straw Man”, “There is No Time”), to contemplative doo wop (“Halloween Parade”), to country ditties (“Sick of You”), and even a parable thrown in for good measure (“Last Great American Whale”).

The production, on the drum sounds in particular, is a drawback for me, as it was for John Mellencamp (quoted as “my painter friend Donald” on “Last Great American Whale”), who upon hearing the record put it succinctly that it “sounds like it was produced by an eighth grader, but I like it.” The record is an aural time capsule from New York in 1989. Listening to a trio of back-to back tracks on side 2, “Sick of You”, “Hold On”, and “Good Evening Mr. Waldheim” is like reading the front page of any day’s New York Times from 1989, with the specificity of journalistic reporting and the tone of an uncensored and unapologetic rock and roll op ed piece. No one escapes Lou’s scorn, with Oliver North, Morton Downey, Jesse Jackson, Rudi Giuliani, The Pope, and you guessed it-Donald Trump- all mockingly raked through the coals. Still, his love and hope for his city shines through it all, as in “Halloween Parade”, a deeply personal and descriptive lament of surviving a litany of friends’ passings, presumably lost to the AIDS crisis, punctuated at the end by a glimmer of hope and resilience “I’ll see you next year at the Halloween Parade”.

I’ve returned to this record again and again in 2020 when I’m feeling angry and energized (especially if I’m cooking or cleaning!) It was announced this week that a 3-disc reissue is on the way, and I’ll be listening.

Check out the track Halloween Parade.


Artist: Bob Dylan
Album: Oh Mercy

Also released in 1989, Bob Dylan’s Oh Mercy is the flip side of New York’s coin. Whereas Reed’s album is largely journalistic and outward-facing, Dylan’s is moody and introspective, enhanced by Daniel Lanois’ typically atmospheric production. Recorded in New Orleans with many of the same musicians as played on The Neville Brothers’ Yellow Moon, (released the same year and also produced by Lanois), the record is steeped in the sometimes swampy, sometimes shimmering sound of the city. The two singles, “Political World” and “Everything is Broken”, both after-hours blues, stand out as most similar in vibe to New York, outwardly observing an eroding society with vitriol and humor. More intimate and introspective are “Most of the Time”, “Shooting Star”, and “What Was it You Wanted”, which capture the mood of loss and remorse in growing older that would define Dylan’s next masterwork with Lanois 8 years later, Time Out of Mind.

Like New York, this record has been a go-to for me in 2020, buoying me in times when I’m feeling worn out and weary. 

Check out the track Shooting Star.


Artist: Leonard Cohen
Album: The Future

Released three years later in 1992, Leonard Cohen’s The Future is both eloquent in its content and at times overblown in its production and arrangements, as with his previous album, 1988’s I’m Your Man. Like New York and Oh Mercy, Cohen observes the world’s disintegrating moral center with bitterness and humor, but is more explicit and contemplative in his faith that democracy will evolve and persevere with patience and time. Clocking in at nearly an hour, it’s the longest record of his career, and he really stretches out, giving space through multiple verses and chorus repetition for his Zen musings to sink in. Cohen’s doomsaying baritone delivery, often grumbled, whispered or spoken, is an apt narrative voice for the time we’re in. On the title track opener, I imagine his as the conspiratorial voice of the pandemic personified, prophesying in brutal detail forces and intentional depraved acts that will put us out of our misery. Elsewhere, as on “Democracy” and “Anthem”, he sends a more inspired and hopeful message, singing in the latter:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in
These three records, released nearly 30 years ago, have been a comfort for me in 2020, and a reminder of how music can help us to zoom out and recognize, even experience again, the gradual path of decline that has led us to this moment, and gather hope that with faith and action, we can get back on the right path.

Check out the track Anthem.

Artist: Pulp
Album: This Is Hardcore

This week I’m devoting the theme to “Mix-Tape Openers.” Full disclosure, I had already chosen these albums before I realized they had a delicious thing in common and decided to re-tool a bit. They each start with a track I have used countless times when composing mix-tapes (hence the clever title.)

While Different Class is universally regarded as the classic Pulp album (and no doubt it’s basically perfect) This Is Hardcore is the one I come back to the most often. It’s bleak narrative spoke to me in high school and resonates more and more as I grow older from the opening warning of “The Fear” letting you know where this is heading to the regret-filled ” A Little Soul” through to the very end the album is somber introspection oozing with Jarvis Cocker’s unique brand of overt sexiness. I’ve likely used this as the opener to more mixes than any other song. It’s such a perfectly distilled mission statement…. “You’re gonna like it, but not a lot.” I like it A LOT.

Check out the track The Fear.


Artist: Mojave 3
Album: Spoon & Rafter

As stated previously I am a massive fan of Slowdive, following the various members through any and all of their subsequent projects. Mojave 3 is easily the most notable of those with both Neil Halstead and Rachel Goswell making the transition. With M3 they maintain the dreamy and beautiful soundscapes of Slowdive but done in a more folky, alt-country arena, often inviting comparisons to Nick Drake. Spoon & Rafter has lush arrangements, haunting vocals, and for my money is the most cohesive album they produced. Opening track “Bluebird of Happiness” with it’s length makes it clear what peaks and valleys the rest of the album will hit.

Check out the track Bluebird Of Happiness.


Artist: The Waterboys
Album: Fisherman’s Blues

I am a sucker for fiddle and violin with my rock music. For some reason that sound just reaches out and grabs me, and this album is the perfect example of that. With the addition of Steve Wickham on fiddle, The Waterboys’ shift from their more straight-forward rock style into Celtic-infused folk-rock that I can’t get enough of. With opener and title track “Fisherman’s Blues” they make it immediately clear that this is something different. Here’s hoping that their upcoming album can reach similar heights!

Check out the track Fisherman’s Blues.

Artist: The The
Album: Soul Mining

More people should know and appreciate this synth-noir classic from 1983. Its gloomy, synth driven atmospheres blend with the dark poetry being laid over the top. Every song on this album is pure gold and it never loses your attention. Matt Johnson’s moody masterpiece is one that I would highly recommend you check out. While “Perfect” and “This is the Day” were two tracks from this album that had some commercial success, I have a different recommendation for you.

Check out the track Giant.


Artist: Witch
Album: Introduction

This album is a mix of two things I love – Afrobeat and Psychedelic Rock. The Zambian psychedelic rock scene is quite fascinating to me. It is so wild that there was a group of bands that had an audience completely isolated from the rest of the world, playing music heavily influenced by popular artists such as Hendrix. But it was so much more than that as they also mixed in elements of native music from their homeland. It is fantastic, and I would recommend you check out the title track.

Check out the track Introduction.


Artist: Pink Floyd
Album: Ummagumma

This atmospheric live album has a unique feel. The early psychedelic era of Pink Floyd created a spacey droning sound, and was one of the most experimental new albums of its day. While the later era Pink Floyd is also fantastic (Dark Side / Wall), I especially love this era with this album being my favorite.

Check out the track Careful with That Axe Eugene.


How Do I Order Music (Or Other Things)?

Val’s is now open again (safely)! Bring a face mask and we will sanitize your hands on the way in.  Social distancing, of course.  Val’s halla has worked hard over this quarantine period to launch its Online Store which has thousands of titles for you to choose from.  We will continue to add inventory everyday, but just let us know what you are looking for!  We are happy to look through our off-line inventory of over 50,000 titles to see what we have for you.  Also, we place orders with our distributor every Monday which means we see them in our store by Tuesday (most of the time).  We sell records (as well as turntables), CDs, cassettes, 8-tracks, DVDs and more.  To get started, you can Click Here to access the Online Store, or fill out the form below to let us know what you are looking for.

What About Delivery?

Val’s is offering Curbside Pickup and No-Contact Delivery Service to customers who live within a 5-mile radius of the Oak Park Arts District. Orders can also be shipped to customers outside that radius for a flat fee of $5.  Order as much as you want – still $5 shipping! Stay safe and be well!

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