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Vinyl Views is our weekly blog where we feature album recommendations from our store team (Shayne,Jaxon, Lilah & Declan), and reveal picks from guest contributors. This week we hear from JEFF ELBEL!

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I live in Wheaton, but my heart is on Harrison Street at Val’s Halla. Digging the crates and playing music in the front window is the absolute best. My day job supports NASA, and I write about music for the Chicago Sun-Times and Illinois Entertainer. My band Jeff Elbel + Ping has released several albums, but our first vinyl LP has finally arrived! The Threefinger Opera is a fun rock and roll record that tells a true story, with guests from The Fixx, Calexico, The Claudettes and more. Val began stocking our No Outlet CD in 2005, and I was so thrilled. Ongoing support
from tastemakers Shayne, Jaxon, and Trevor and the community at Val’s Halla remains a huge deal. The LPs are at the store now, and I look forward to singing more songs in the window!

Artist: Jeff Elbel & Ping
Album: The Threefinger Opera

The Threefinger Opera tells a true story fraught with peril, but recasts everything for maximum fun. A weird injury damaged part of my left hand, hence the title. Creating The Threefinger Opera kept me positive and taught me new ways to do what I love when the old ways became unavailable. Song styles vary with the “chapters,” but it’s basically rootsy and alternative rock and roll. Cy Curnin from The Fixx narrates an “Introduction” and “Outroduction” in the style of the Disney read-along storybook records I grew up with. Side one songs begin with “I’m Gonna
Be Like That,” a Rickie Lee Jones-styled tune about a wide-eyed kid dreaming of being like his heroes. The upbeat “Unstoppable Me” features John Bretzlaff’s Queen-styled guitar and a ukulele choir by late-great Oak Park ensemble The Beatleleles. Disaster Strikes in “Like Lightning.” The song reminds me of INXS and J. Geils Band. “Mr. Madarakkis” introduces a villain to the story. It’s an acoustic blues-rocker with Deep Purple-styled organ and a wild guitar solo from Glenn Kaiser of Chicago’s Resurrection Band. “Second Opinion” is a country
heartbreak song … about my little finger. “Lazy Louie” is a Chuck Berry-styled rave-up that launches side two. Guests include Johnny Iguana from local heroes The Claudettes, who plays Nicky Hopkins-styled piano. “Moan” is tumbling folk-pop with a big brass horn arrangement. “Waiting Room” is atmospheric alt-pop like The Church, Supergrass circa Road to Rouen, and
Smashing Pumpkins’ “1979.” “Rhyming Dictionary” nods to Ian Dury and the Blockheads and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. It was played on the Doctor Demento Show, which might tell you what to expect. “In Your Hands” was written by late friend Brian Healy, whose song of surrender connects the story’s threads. The optimistic “Slowly But Surely” is an acoustic waltz, but draws inspiration from soulful rockers King’s X. Shayne and the gang at Val’s Halla have a store copy you can hear. Give The Threefinger Opera a spin! I hope you’ll love it. (

Check out the song Unstoppable Me

Check out the song Waiting Room

Artist: Elvis Costello And The Imposters
Album: The Boy Named If

Elvis’ 2018 album Look Now was a set of Burt Bacharach-influenced torch pop. 2020’s Hey Clockface was brash and experimental. The Boy Named If, however, shares the essence of my favorite Elvis Costello records with the Attractions and Imposters. This is sharp-witted rock and pop material delivered with guts and emotion by a great band. The slashing spy-movie styled riffs during the rocker “Magnificent Hurt” fit alongside old favorites like “(I Don’t Want to Go to) Chelsea.” Cartwheeling pop stomper “Mistook Me for a Friend” borrows New Wave energy from “Pump it Up,” featuring Steve Nieve’s classic synthesizer sound dating all the way back to “Watching the Detectives.” Pete Thomas drums a conga line rhythm for “The Death of Magic
Thinking.” In concert this month, Costello said the song was about “trying to discover whether that look in someone’s eyes is a look of invitation or a look of prohibition. And boy, had you better get that right.” Davey Faragher’s deep bass groove on the title cut reminds me of the Beatles’ “Come Together.” With any justice, the tough and swinging “What If I Can’t Give You Anything but Love?” will become one of Costello’s most acclaimed songs. The band plays with a spirit reminiscent of the time when The Band worked with New Orleans treasure Allen Toussaint for the shows commemorated in the Rock of Ages live album. “The Man You Love to Hate” is the type of character sketch familiar to fans of Spike’s “Let Him Dangle.” The song’s vintage music hall swing connects to Ray Davies’ observational fare for the Kinks including “Sunny Afternoon.” My go-to Elvis albums are his essential first three LPs, plus King of America, Spike, and The Delivery Man. The Boy Named If jumps onto that list.

Check out the track What If I Can’t Give You Anything But Love?

Artist: The Handcuffs
Album: Burn The Rails

Chicago’s glam-rock power couple Brad Elvis and Chloe F. Orwell and their talented bandmates present this packet of prime pop, fusing formative NYC post-punk and ‘70s British glam. The New York Dolls, Lou Reed, and Patti Smith are mashed up with Mick Ronson-era David Bowie, The Sweet, and The Who. Dig here for big hooks, melodies, and titanic riffs. With Keith Moon- infused drumming and Alison Hinderliter’s sparkling piano, “Love Me While You Can” conjures a T. Rex “Telegram Sam”-styled clan of characters in a beautifully decadent scene. “A circle of friends, the innest of ins,” sings Orwell. Orwell defends her bestie against unsavory attention in “She Ain’t No Fluffer.” Mott the Hoople keyboardist Morgan Fisher joins Hinderliter to create a backdrop of psych-influenced electropop before the song erupts into a glam-pop grinder with licks swapped between Jeffrey Kmieciak’s guitar and Emily Togni’s fuzz bass. Heavy pop shuffle “Pretty Pretty” turns sultry with Orwell’s lyric about turning heads on a city street, accompanied by the paleolithic rumble of Togni’s bass. The soulful R&B-pop of Sly and the
Family Stone echoes through “Let’s Name Our Children.” Orwell’s character falls hard and fast for a new flame, making a lifetime of plans in an instant. Orwell’s saxophone adds Roxy Music-styled swagger to the withering disdain of “Big Fat Mouth Shut.” With Fisher’s cartwheeling tack piano, “I’m Happy Just to Dream with You” blends Wizzard-styled pomp with the charm of Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me.” Elvis’ swinging thunder during “Dancing with the Dandies” sneaks in a Bun E. Carlos quote from “ELO Kiddies.” “I’m a gatefold, baby, don’t treat me like an inner sleeve,” sings Orwell. It’s a rare asset that a band known for style and spectacle
can embed that sense of fun into the grooves of such irresistible songs.  (

Check out the track She Ain’t No Fluffer

Artist: The Dirty Projectors
Album: Bitte Orca

My theme is covers with red blue and white, but not at all in a patriotic way more so just the albums I wanted to write about are this color scheme.

I LOVE dirty projectors, and part of the reason is the variety they have of genres. That of course made it near impossible to pick just one project to write about. This album includes the more electric pop sounding songs that are always in my head, but also some slower acoustic stuff. Every track has some sense of orchestra in it’s composition which makes it feel richer and new. The vocals are unpredictable and interesting, and truly like nothing I’ve heard. Dirty projectors and Bjork have worked together on a beautiful album, but that should give some insight on the unique sound this album has. 

Check out the track: No Intention


Artist: The New Pornographers
Album: ChaIlengers

I recently returned to my love of New Pornographers, although I was really raised on this era of music (see Belle and Sebastian obv). Not only is this album really nostalgic for me, it’s also a perfect album front to back. Like actually. It’s the best pop and rock composition featuring talented vocals and precise guitar lines. All of the “supergroup”  instruments work so well together and add to the energy of every track. It feels like dancing and sun, or like a day out in the city. I adore this album and anyone would.

Check out the track: My Rights Versus Yours

Artist: Steve Lacy
Album: Gemini Rights

When new and old Steve Lacy fans exploded with excitement when this album was announced, I was definitely part of that crowd. However I had NO idea how good it would be. When Mercury came out my best friend and I couldn’t stop singing it, and I’d say that’s a pretty good indicator. The talent coming from him is surreal, especially considering his religious use of Garageband in the past. Gemini Rights is intricate but easy to listen to, and certainly a notable new release.

Check out the track: Mercury

Artist: Acid Bath
Album: When The Kite String Pops

I’ve been re-listening to this album a ton the past week, partially because my assumption about this band was proven wrong. This album has been one of my favorite metal albums for years now, but I’ve always assumed because of the Gacy artwork used in the album cover that they were from a suburb of Chicago, but they are actually from a suburb of New Orleans (a fact that I learned during my recent trip down there). This album is sludgy, grungy, 90s Metal goodness. Their sound is a heavier version of what bands like Alice In Chains and Soundgarden were doing at a similar time. This record was hard to find for a while, being constantly removed from streaming services, but it is now officially up everywhere, so go check it out!

Check out the track The Blue


Artist: Burial
Album: Untrue

I will continue to talk about albums I have had wrong assumptions about with this album. But this time, it is an assumption I held before listening to the record. I always thought this album would sound different than it does, and I was opposed to listening to it because of the genre tag. Dubstep. Thoughts of bad YouTube videos soundtracked by over-the-top dubstep drops would cross my mind whenever I heard that genre name. But people kept recommending me this project. I eventually gave in. I then learned that initially, the term Dubstep referred to something different, and I was instantly in love with this project. It’s a very calm record, with an insanely thick low end. It was a hypnotic experience that I immediately loved.

Check out the track Near Dark


Artist: The KLF
Album: The Chillout

Time for some more peace and tranquillity. This album is probably my favorite ambient album. It’s just so serene. It reminds me of sitting in the back of a car, staring out the window, and observing your surroundings. I am incredibly picky with ambient music, as a lot of it, I find just to feel like it is minimal just for the sake of being minimal. This piece, however, ends up feeling more significant than the sum of its parts and is a unique listening experience. Check it out!

Check out the track Brownsville Turnaround On The Tex-Mex Border

How Do I Order Music (Or Other Things)?

Val’s is now open again (safely)! Be sure to wear a mask and keep safe social distancing, of course.  Val’s halla has thousands of titles in its Online Store and we continue to add inventory everyday.  Can’t find what you are looking for?  Just let us know and we are happy to look through our off-line inventory of over 50,000 titles.  Also, we place orders with our record distributors 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.

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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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