VINYL VIEWS: WEEK OF 8/31/20
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 we hear from Kevin Smokler and Christopher Boone, creators of the amazing documentary Vinyl Nation. There is an amazing offer to watch the film and support the store!
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We are thrilled to have Kevin Smokler and Christopher Boone, creators of the amazing documentary, Vinyl Nation, join us as Vinyl Views contributors this week. The movie is available to stream now. With this amazing offer, a portion of the proceeds comes back to support Val’s. Win-Win! Let’s learn more about Kevin and Chris and see what they have been listening to.
Kevin Smokler is the co-director of the documentary film Vinyl Nation along with Christopher Boone. He’s the author of the books Brat Pack America: A Love Letter to 80s Teen Movies (2016) called “An absolute delight” by Library Journal, the essay collection Practical Classics: 50 Reasons to Reread 50 Books you Haven’t Touched Since High School (2013) which The Atlantic Wire called “truly enjoyable” and the editor of “Bookmark Now: Writing in Unreaderly Times,” A San Francisco Chronicle Notable Book of 2005. His essays and criticism has appeared in the LA Times, Salon, Fast Company, BuzzFeed, Vulture, The San Francisco Chronicle, The Decider and on National Public Radio.
Christopher Boone is a screenwriter and filmmaker based in Albuquerque. Vinyl Nation is his first feature documentary. He previously directed the narrative feature Cents from his Nicholl Fellowship semifinalist script. He is a contributing writer to No Film School and a frequent panel moderator for Austin Film Festival and its On Story TV and podcast series.
Album: A New World Record
Kevin: Every disparaging opinion you’ve got about ELO is true, at least a little. They never met an extra chorus or a keyboard solo they didn’t like. Their album art looked too much like a jukebox as seen by someone who passed out on top of it. And for a band who worshipped the Beatles as kids, these boys from Birmingham never seemed to know when enough was enough: Their 1976 effort “A New World Record” was their sixth studio album (my favorite) with 15 different band members in under 5 years and ELO was just getting started: Their biggest hits like “Mr Blue Sky” and a roller-skating fantasy called Xanadu were yet to come.
ELO was already selling records and showing up on Top 40 charts by “A New World Record,” and not surprisingly, the record produced a clutch of radio-friendly singles you’ve heard of–the fist pumping satisfier “Do Ya”, the luxurious cry fest “Telephone Line”. The 13-minute song-suites had been left behind on “El Dorado”, their fourth record, which is great but is like attending a symphony concert instead of throwing on a record to back up dishing out ice cream. But don’t mistake its pop-friendliness for light weight. “A New World Record” is as deep bench as the name implies: The second side lead-off, the non-single “So Fine”, is the unreleased-Byrds track that feels dancy instead of spaced out. With strings. And a keyboard solo. Because ELO.
ELO is too much, all over the place and I don’t care. Their nerve and size of their imagination is all part of the fun. Every ELO song seems to include an imaginary liner note that says “and then we just went for it,” and if they had no-technical chops, their records wouldn’t be anything more than sonic ball pits, all material, no shape. But because these guys can play better than anyone, their crazy experiments sound like wild flights of fancy with plenty of room for you to fly and dream, too. “A New World Record” is the midpoint in their 15-year, 13-album career, where they decided they could be just as extravagant in 4 minutes they could in 14, just as creative as Electric Light Orchestra composing as tightly as if their name were Electric Light Concert Band.
Check out the track Do Ya.
Artist: Tracy Chapman
Album: Tracy Chapman
Chris: When Kevin and I were in pre-production for Vinyl Nation, we spent hours and hours on the phone, talking to potential interview subjects for our film. During these calls was when I first met Roz Lee, a record collector in our film whose passion for records runs so deep, she makes a point when she arrives in a city for work to make a beeline to a record store to dig in the crates before she even puts her bags down in a hotel room.
Roz mentioned Tracy Chapman’s debut album at some point in the conversation and I lamented that I didn’t have it in my record collection yet. Roz rightfully pointed out that Chapman’s eponymous record was a must-have. I knew the album from my early teen years when my older brother would play it repeatedly on his tape deck in our shared bedroom, but I never had a copy of my own in any format.
After that call, whenever I visited a record store, I always looked for “Tracy Chapman”. Alas, the record never turned up in my flipping through the racks.
This past Father’s Day, my wife Jennifer surprised me with the “Tracy Chapman” record in pristine condition. I hadn’t listened to the album in years. I thought when I dropped the needle, I would be taken back to the late ’80s when the album was first released. Instead, I was floored by how current the record sounded from the first track. “Talkin’ Bout a Revolution” is an anthem for today. “Fast Car” and “She’s Got a Ticket” speak for so many Americans today, particularly women, who feel trapped by their circumstances. “Across the Lines” and “Behind the Wall” pull back the curtain on tragedies still happening in Black communities today for those willing to listen and learn.
The trick and the beauty of Chapman’s album is how the music can still lift you up, even when the songs reveal such stark, distressing truths. I keep putting the album on my turntable because the music pulls me in and hits me in the heart while the lyrics keep spinning in my mind for hours after the needle has hit the locked groove. And Chapman infuses hope and yearning into her messages, too: “Finally, the tables are starting to turn.” “But she knows where her ticket takes her/She will find her place in the sun/And she’ll fly, fly, fly…” “I’d climb a mountain if I had to/And risk my life so I could have you.”
More than anything, Chapman’s album opens the door to a world of experiences outside of my cocoon and reminds me that my need to learn from others beyond my usual circles is a lifelong journey.
Check out the track Behind the Wall.
Artist: Janelle Monaé
Album: Dirty Computer
Kevin: So, Chris, it seems to me we came to Janelle Monaé’s “Dirty Computer” as the spiritual sonic guide for our movie if not the literal sound. For a documentary about vinyl records in America, which have been around for at least 75 years, what in the heck is that movie supposed to sound like? The phrase we came up with was “the past, present, future at the same time”. Did we say that because we didn’t have better ideas? Did we grab at Janelle Monae’s “Dirty Computer” because it had come out during pre-production and was awesome and why not then?
Christopher: I know I had “Dirty Computer” on heavy rotation when we were working on our film in pre-production, but who actually suggested it as a sonic totem for our film, I don’t really remember. But I do remember we came up with the idea of the “past, present, and future at the same time” first because we felt that was a good metaphor for a vinyl record. And when our editor and post-production supervisor Jason Wehling asked us for a musical guide for that metaphor, we realized that Janelle Monaé embodies that among current artists better than anyone else we could imagine. Is there a song on the album that you think particularly exemplifies our metaphor of “past, present, and future at the same time”?
Kevin: Yeah, man, when we first came up with that “past, present, future at the same time” and Janelle Monaé as the musical embodiment thereof, “Crazy, Classic Life”, the album’s second track but first full song, was all I could hear. The opening, a spoken word riff on the preamble of the Constitution is pure Abby Lincoln/Max Roach “We Insist!” (1960). The title and lyrics are the stuff of ’70s self-empowerment anthems that could have been a gift from Gloria Gaynor or Thelma Houston. The sound itself has afro-futurism–and its gods like George Clinton and Prince–in its bloodstream. And yet what is more present, more now (or should be) than Janelle Monaé, a pansexual black woman creating her own vision of what is to come but insisting life is brilliant and legendary now? Chris, which track reached out and grabbed you?
Christopher: Honestly, the combination of Janelle’s vocals with Brian Wilson’s harmonies at the top of the album on the title track had me hooked. But as I kept listening to the album, I would say “Screwed” was the track that burrowed into my brain and twisted it, too. It’s a political rant masquerading as a pop song, then it transforms into this laid-back jam that calls out the patriarchy for its misogyny and makes a very blunt point about those in power today. And before you know it, Janelle goes off (like, really goes off) on the next track “Django Jane”. What’s funny to me is how these tracks spoke to us, but they weren’t the tracks we used as our guide on Vinyl Nation. Instead, “Pynk” became the theme of our temp soundtrack.
Kevin: Yeah, I remember that well. Our last sequence was a quadruple pickle of syncing up images with narration, music and each other. and the backbone of Pynk, straight as an arrow but with a sexy punch in its hips, was like a metronome winking at you. We knew it couldn’t be in the movie (anymore than we could have Janelle Monaé herself in the movie showing us her record collection), but we knew our documentary had to end with something like Pynk. Pynk was the star that guided Vinyl Nation to its conclusion, even if we could only see it far off in the distance.
Christopher: Our editing team was so drawn to “Pynk” that they used the instrumental as essentially our main theme song on our temp soundtrack, dropping it in right after our main title and revisiting it at key moments throughout the film. But you’re right, the full version of “Pynk” really tied together the final character montage at the end of our film. It worked too well! We had so much trouble trying to find a track that would work in its place. Thankfully, our music supervisor Morgan Rhodes had given us a treasure trove of tracks to choose from, and our other editor David Fabelo worked his magic to help us find just the right song to evoke the same mood. But spiritually, we owe a lot to Janelle Monaé’s “Pynk” for helping us pull together the sonic landscape of our film.
Check out the track Pynk.
Artist: The Sundays
The Sundays went from something I groaned about whenever it played in a movie or on the radio to one of my all-time favorites. Prior to their reunion I was starving for something Cranberries-esque and while they don’t share much in common, a friend suggested them to me and man did it hit the spot! Later I read about an interview with singer Harriet Wheeler for an in-flight magazine of all things. The interviewer teasingly asked when the band might tour again to which she replied “Well let us finish the recordings we’re working on first!” To which I assume he messed his pants. Unfortunately it seems she was trolling or it was all a fabrication cause no such thing ever surfaced.
Check out the track God Made Me.
Artist: The Bird And The Bee
Album: Interpreting The Masters Volume 1: A Tribute To Daryl Hall And John Oates
Everything this group does is just plain fun! I had the pleasure of seeing them not long ago (despite the lousy weather that night I still can’t believe it wasn’t a larger crowd) and to my delight they did not shy away from playing several cuts from this album. Call it blasphemy but some of their versions here may even surpass those of the otherwise sacred Hall & Oates themselves! Still waiting to pick up a copy of Volume 2: Van Halen!
Check out the track She’s Gone.
Artist: The Elm Street Group
Album: Freddy’s Greatest Hits
I’ve been a diehard Freddy fan for as long as I can remember. Pretty much every bit of merchandise was a must own including this (frankly terrible) album. What looks like a best of collection of music from the series is actually a set of strange, barely related covers and even more baffling originals performed by a hapless studio band with Robert Englund inexplicably growling the occasional refrain. It’s gloriously stupid and I will be buried with it.
Check out the track Do The Freddy.
Album: Moondog And His Friends
Have you heard of Moondog, the blind homeless musician that dressed as a Viking? Well, you should as he has influenced some very important names in music including Steve Reich, Philip Glass, and Janis Joplin. He was also an inventor. If you hope to play some Moondog tracks, you will need to build yourself an “oo”, a small triangular 25-stringed harp. You may also need your “hüs”, the triangular stringed instrument played with a bow, your “utsu”, a simple pentatonic keyboard, and your “trimba”, the triangular percussion instrument. Moondog was a mystical figure and wildly creative composer worth checking out.
Check out the track Theme and Variations.
Album: Monster Movie
This is the debut studio album form the German Krautrock band Can. You can find repressed copies of Ege Bamyasi and Tago Mago in almost every record store in America, but I feel this album should get the same sort of love. It has spacey, yet crunchy tones. If you enjoy Krautrock (like I do), you have to, don’t overlook this treasure. Give it a listen.
Check out the track Father Cannot Yell.
Album: Pop Tatari
This is one of the strangest projects ever put on a major label. The noise rock band from Japan somehow got a deal with Warner Brothers, bringing their unique sound to a wider audience. It has the uncaged speed and anger of Minor Threat, mixed with the experimental natures of Zappa, and also the pure earbleeding noise of Merzbow. This record is a musical anomaly and is one of the records I hope will eventually get a vinyl release.
Check out the track Telehorse Uma.
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!