Monday, April 20, 2015

Best of 2014 - the Return of Vinyl in 3D

2014 may be remembered as the year vinyl records made a comeback. For some of us, records never left, but to the greater marketplace, vinyl has become a hot commodity, and is challenging compact disc sales for the first time in decades.

Vinyl is back and more beautiful than ever, therefore, the BEST OF 2014 is honoring four very different records with one thing in common. VINYL. This year, all of the BEST OF category winners won based on a set of criteria. The record itself was aesthetically pleasing in addition to being musically exceptional, and extra credit was given for creative marketing

Fever the Ghost ~ Crab in Honey

Even though Fever the Ghost materialized only a couple of years ago, in that short time, they've astounded audiences and pleased even the most scrupulous vinylphiles with their sparkling EP, Crab in Honey. 
3D picture of double 7" Crab in Honey EP by Fever the Ghost

In February, Swell Swann released the original US vinyl version of Fever the Ghost's debut EP. Crab in Honey is actually a double single; two 7" 45 rpm records, one blue and the other red. A few months later, Heavenly Recordings released a beautiful cherry-red 12" version in the UK. 
3D picture of 12" European version of Crab in Honey by Fever the Ghost

Of course, the Crab in Honey EP is available as a download, but I prefer listening to it on the very special cassette tape that features deluxe 8-bit versions of the songs on the other side of the tape.

Crab in Honey is NOT available on CD, and one of the ghosts told me that the band has vowed to "never release a compact disc version of their music." Good luck with that. 

2014 was a big send-off year for Fever the Ghost. The band teamed up with Sean Lennon for a short tour then hooked up with Flaming Lips and have been touring with them. Fever the Ghost was even included on Flaming Lips' Beatles tribute album, With a Little Help From My Fwends, and performed the first track, Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Fever the Ghost recently completed recording a full-length LP that is due out sometime this year. 

Sleepy Sun ~ Maui Tears

Sleepy Sun keeps getting better and better and their 2014 release, Maui Tears, may be their best batch of songs yetI don't know how Sleepy Sun finds time to record new music since they seem to be on the road** most of the time. 
3D picture of Maui Tears double 12" by Sleepy Sun

Sleepy Sun music has pretty much always been available on beautifully fancified vinyl as an option. Their latest release, Maui Tears, is one of the most gorgeous records I own. A double EP consisting of two 12" 45 rpm colored vinyl records, one marbled turquoise and the other marbled burgundy. Splendid! 

The vinyl is divine, but what carries most weight on this record is the music itself. My favorite Sleepy Sun record to date. Their captivating spacey music is perfect for driving across the desert. Maui Tears is somewhat a departure from their earlier releases, and captures a broad cross-section of styles including, (but certainly not limited to), the progressive and psychedelic elements that they've always been defined by.

Buoyant but not bogged down.

This record demonstrates Sleepy Sun's ability to weave heavy and light, powerful ~ sensitive, brutal ~ tender memes in true form to their traditional trademark sound. Whether or not Sleepy Sun was trying to prove something with this record, they did. Not only the best album of the year, Maui Tears is among the best albums ever.

Primus and the Chocolate Factory

Primus came on the scene just as vinyl was being replaced by the compact disc. 

I can't imagine a better ensemble to cover the music from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory than Primus, whose funky deep-tonal dark humor is perfect for this scrumptious concept album.

3D picture of two Primus and the Chocolate Factory LP's. The disc on the left is the standard chocolate pressing, the disc on the right is an apparent misprint that sneaked past quality control.

I was skeptical at first, having never seen either of the Willy Wonka or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory movies, but after one listen to Primus' version, I was so intrigued that I was motivated to watch both.

The vinyl is chocolaty delicious and the Wonkaesque art on the record is a nice touch...  
Keeping with the Wonka theme, Primus also sold candy bars and even pressed five special "Golden Ticket" versions of the record on gold vinyl. The Golden Ticket versions were placed randomly among the other records before distribution. Those lucky enough to find a Golden Ticket record will be able to attend Primus shows for LIFE. I heard that Augustus Gloop found one in Germany.

Here's a short tour of the Chocalate record factory.

Sadly, I missed the Chocolate Factory Tour°° :-(

Levin Brothers

Tony Levin is a musician that needs no introduction. In 2014, Tony teamed up with his brother, Pete, and released their first jazz album. An instant gold record, because the record itself was gold.

3D picture of the Levin Brothers limited edition gold record

Historically, a gold record meant that one million copies had been sold. On Tony Levin's Blog, he joked that he believes°* " the current market for vinyl record sales, even ONE album sold should be certified as gold. Therefore, in a reverse of the normal procedure, we have made the Levin Brothers record gold from the start." 

This vinylphile couldn't resist getting one of 1,000 copies of this special edition gold record released on Lazy Bones Recordings. All subsequent pressings will be on black vinyl, which is still awesome, but not spectacularly beautiful.

Here's a sample 

** I've been fortunate to see Sleepy Sun perform a handful of times, including their very first show at the old Vets Hall in Santa Cruz, CA back in 2007.

°° I've seen Primus SO many times that I can't keep the shows straight. This would have been an exceptionally memorable show. 

Primus front man, Les Claypool teamed up with the Melvins guitarist, , released a country album under the moniker, Duo du Twang. Said record would have been considered as Best Country Record if it had been pressed on special vinyl and if Best Country Record wasn't an oxymoron.

°* From the article, About Gold Records: a Brief History of Gold Records as reported (only somewhat accurately) by Tony Levin 

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