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Robert Ham The 10 Most Important Albums Released on Dirtnap Records

This was supposed to be Ken Cheppaikode’s month to celebrate. The owner and sole employee of punk/garage rock-centric label Dirtnap Records had booked the packed, two-day Dirtnap Festival at the High Noon Saloon in his current home in Madison, Wisconsin, to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the imprint, including a reunion of new wave dynamos the Epoxies, a rare stateside appearance by UK garage-pop ensemble Martha, and sets by groups from Dirtnap’s past and present. But as with every other festival or cool event you can think of, Cheppaikode was forced to pull the plug as the coronavirus continued its siege.

“We sold the thing out in less than a week,” Cheppaikode says. “And 80% to the tickets were for people not from Madison. It totally broke my heart to do it, but it seemed like the right thing to do.”

A decision like that might be the death knell for another small independent label, but Cheppaikode had already planned to only release one album this year (Personality Cult’s slashing sophomore full-length New Arrows). And considering everything Cheppaikode and Dirtnap have endured over the past two decades — most notably, the accidental death of three members of The Exploding Hearts, the glam/power pop act poised for big things following the release of their debut, Guitar Romantic — canceling the festival felt like a small bump in the road.

Through a move from Seattle to Portland and now across the country to Wisconsin — as well as Cheppaikode buying and then selling a record shop, Green Noise Records — Dirtnap has endured for 20 years and there’s every indication that the label will survive well into the future. As Cheppaikode gets ready to plot his next steps forward, we caught up with him from his home in Madison to take a look back, giving us the story behind what he considers to be the 10 most important records Dirtnap has released to date (in his own words):

The Most Important Albums on Dirtnap, According to Ken Cheppaikode

The Briefs – Hit After Hit (2000)

album cover brief hit after hit

That was the first full-length I did after putting out about six or seven 7-inches. I had been at what might’ve been their first club show. I was absolutely blown away from the first minute. I think I approached them immediately after and asked to put out a single. I wasn’t really sure if I was taking the label seriously enough to put out a full-length. It took a little prodding by a couple of different people before I actually agreed. I knew the band was fairly ambitious and was going to work really hard on their end, so I felt like I was going to have to step up my game a little bit.

Epoxies – Epoxies (2002)

album cover epoxies

I was going to take the bus to Portland but I missed it. I figured I may as well go to the local punk rock bar, which at the time was Gibson’s, and see what was going on. That might have been the first show the band played as Epoxies. I remember I rushed the stage as soon as they were done playing and offered to put out a record. At the time, I was living in a seedy drug motel and I was folding up copies of their 7-inch for the band to take on tour the next day and the cops kicking down the door next to mine.

The Exploding Hearts – Guitar Romantic (2003)

album cover exploring hears guitar romantic

Pretty much the signature Dirtnap record. We’ve kept it continually in print for 17 years now. The day I got the many phone calls telling me the news about the accident was definitely a low point for the label and my personal life. It’s still really hard for me to listen to that record to this day even though it’s — by a pretty good margin — the single best-selling record we’ve put out. It was a double-edged sword, all the publicity for that record. I’ve made peace with it.

The Marked Men – On The Outside (2004)

album cover marked men on the outside

They sent me a demo for what would be their first album, and though I really liked it, I thought I wanted the [Dirtnap Records] to be focused on [Pacific Northwest] acts. So I respectfully passed on it. When it came out, I picked up a copy, and when the needle hit the first track, I was like, “Oh shit, I fucked up.” Luckily, the band sent me a CD-R of tracks for their next album, [On The Outside]. I can’t remember if I even listened to it before calling them.

The Ergs! – Upstairs Downstairs (2007)

album cover ergs upstairs downstairs

I feel working with [The Ergs!] helped breathe new life into the label. They came to Portland to play a couple of shows and we hung out a bunch, and at the end of it, I said, “Hey, let me do your next record.” Like I said with The Briefs and The Marked Men, putting out that Ergs! record led me to many other friendships and relationships with bands, which was a really big help for the label.

Mean Jeans – Are You Serious? (2009)

album cover mean jeans are you serious

I love all the Dirtnap stuff, but that one is a personal favorite of mine. I moved from Seattle to Portland in 2005 and that record, and a couple of others, put Dirtnap on the map locally. Before that, we were known more outside of the Northwest. Mean Jeans signing to Dirtna,  playing Portland all the time, and becoming popular quickly after the album came out really cemented Dirtnap’s place in the local music scene.

The White Wires – II (2010)

album cover white wires ii

I read a review of the first record and tracked down some tracks and flipped out. I was running a record store at the time and got in touch with the band about buying copies of their first album for the shop. Everybody who I played it for bought one. It seemed natural at that point to offer to reissue their debut, but they’d already agreed to work with another label for that. But they said, “We’re writing songs for our second record so you can put that out if you want.” And of course I did.

Legendary Wings – Making Paper Roses (2012)

album cover legendary wings making paper roses

This was another rare case where a band sent me a CD-R in the mail, I listened to it once or twice, and I banged my hand on the table, saying, “I want to put that record out, goddammit.” That band’s low-profile and mysterious. [Legendary Wings] don’t have an Internet presence and they don’t play outside of Michigan very often. But whenever anyone asks me about a Dirtnap record that slipped below people’s radar, I always point them to that record.

Martha – Blisters in the Pit of My Heart (2016)

album cover martha blisters

I was tipped off to their existence by Dave Williams, who mastered the record. I was unprepared for how much I was going to like that band. I approached them and said, “If you ever want to a record with Dirtnap…” And I didn’t hear from them for a while until all of the sudden it was like, “Okay, here’s our record.” They got a lot more popular between this one and [2019’s Love Keeps Kicking] so I assumed I wouldn’t be putting the next one out. After a year, out of the blue, they sent me a link. “Here’s the new album. Wanna put it out?”

Personality Cult – New Arrows (2020)

album cover personality cult new arrows

I had to include that one because it’s the newest Dirtnap release. And the way things are going, it’s going to be the only Dirtnap release this year. I feel like that record came along at a good time. For the first time, I was feeling out of sorts. I didn’t have as much coming out, and I wasn’t going out as much to see bands. It had been a while since I heard a new band that knocked my socks off from the get-go, but Personality Cult is one of them. For the first time in a while, I listened to the record once or twice and then got on the phone with the band.

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Bryan Reesman How Dave Grohl Turned Foo Fighters from Solo Project to Full Band

Grief is a process that everyone goes through, but one that people cope with differently. Artists can often find a way to express their sorrow through their work, to channel pain into something constructive. But after the death of his Nirvana bandmate, Kurt Cobain, in April 1994, drummer Dave Grohl sunk into a deep depression and was unsure if he could play music again. He and his bandmate, bassist Krist Novoselic, even scrapped plans to assemble a two-disc set of live material called Verse Chorus Verse because they were too emotionally exhausted to work on it. It was too soon. There was no clear-cut path ahead.

But Grohl eventually did start making music again. By himself. Over the course of a week that October, he recorded songs at Robert Lang Studios in Seattle with producer Barrett Jones to express himself, perhaps vent his grief, and explore some new ideas. There were no commercial considerations. He sang and played every instrument on the album himself — with the exception of the guitar solo from Afghan Whigs’ Greg Dulli on “X-Static” — and mostly without doing multiple takes. Grohl multi-tracked some of his vocals because, other than having sung harmony on a few Nirvana tunes and lead on the B-side “Marigold” (a song he originally recorded as Late!), he did not feel comfortable as a lead singer.

foo fighters album cover

Foo Fighters ‎– Foo Fighters (1995)

Release date: July 4

He then circulated his music via cassette to a few close friends but had no set plans to do anything with it. Some people had other ideas. Eddie Vedder showed interest and debuted “Exhausted” on his pirate radio broadcast Self-Pollution, giving Grohl some exposure. The music made its way to major label ears, and the drummer was persuaded to release the album, signing with Capitol Records (all Foo Fighters work is also signed with Grohl’s own label, Roswell Records). He adopted the “band” name Foo Fighters, a term first used by Allied pilots during World War II to describe UFOs they sighted in the skies.

“I felt like I had nothing to lose and I didn’t necessarily wanna be the drummer of Nirvana for the rest of my life without Nirvana,” Grohl told Kerrang! in June 2006 when discussing “This Is A Call,” the opening track. “I thought I should try something I’d never done before and I’d never stood up in front of a band and been the lead singer, which was f**king horrifying and still is!”

While there were inevitable comparisons off Foo Fighters to Nirvana — and some die-hard fans of that band were not happy with Grohl moving forward — Foo Fighters was not a retread of what he had done before. Sure, the grunge elements that he helped fashion were identifiable on tunes like “Alone + Easy Target” and the punk-inflected “Weanie Beanie,” but his hard rock influences were coming out as well in “I’ll Stick Around” and “Good Grief,” which prefaced the arena anthems to come such as “All My Life” and “The Pretender.” There were more melodic moments on the singles “This Is A Call” and the poppy breakthrough song, “Big Me.” Grohl varied his vocal styles accordingly from song to song. He was cryptic about many of the lyrical themes but noted that any new ones were not about Cobain.

//www.instagram.com/embed.js

With the Foos debut album release scheduled for July and airplay imminent, Grohl faced a quandary. He needed to form an actual band to promote his music and go out on the road. While he would play multiple roles years later in the “Learn To Fly” video, he could not clone himself to go on tour. With Sunny Day Real Estate having just broken up (for the first time), he enlisted their bassist Nate Mendel and drummer William Goldsmith, along with recent Nirvana touring guitarist Pat Smear, to join him on his new odyssey. Grohl himself would sing and play guitar, stepping out into the rock frontline, a prospect that was daunting for him. But he took the plunge.

After a show for friends and family at the West Marine Store in Seattle on February 19, 1995, the Foos played select dates on the West Coast in March. Looking at early live footage, one can sense that, while Grohl was comfortable as a musician, he was hesitant to stand out front.

“It’s a funny thing when your new band decides to play in front of people,” Grohl told Kory Grow from Rolling Stone in 2015. “At first, it’s terrifying, and we thought the most comfortable way of easing into being the Foo Fighters would be to have a keg party and wait until everyone was wicked f**king drunk and then start playing these songs that no one’s ever heard.”

But they soldiered on. Their first tour with Mike Watt in April in a support role prefaced bigger things to come. Their star was rising. Over the course of the next year as their music gained greater traction with the masses, they graduated from smaller venues to festival stages in various capacities as they toured the U.S. and Europe repeatedly, played Japan and Australia for the first time. They also appeared on television, most notably on Letterman in August and Saturday Night Live in December. The tour wrapped up in July 1996.

The group’s video for the fourth single, “Big Me,” which won the VMA for Best Group Video in 1996, truly distinguished that the Foo Fighters were different than Nirvana. The music aside, “Big Me” was a cheeky clip that spoofed the goofy Mentos commercials that were popular at the time. The group called their candy Footos and showed different people popping it for courage while solving simple dilemmas in their life. Did a limo cut you off from your friends in a crosswalk? Pop a Footos then crawl through the back seat right past the lady on her phone! It became evident that, beyond musical differences, Grohl was not as intense or tortured as his late bandmate. Sure, he had serious things on his mind, but he also liked to lampoon his rock star status in videos and even in interviews.

(However, the band did have to stop playing “Big Me” for a while. Fans would toss the candy at them onstage. It might have seemed fun for the audience, but guess what? Being pelted with small candy hurts. Go figure.)

Foo Fighters made its mark. Many fans knew it was Grohl himself who made the album, but with the inclusion of the band photo within the CD booklet, many others assumed they all played on it. Younger fans today who listen to their music via streaming might make that assumption as well. The album peaked at #23 on the Billboard Top 200 albums chart and sold over a million copies. “This Is A Call,” “I’ll Stick Around,” and “Big Me” were successful rock radio tracks, and, interestingly enough, those first two were among only three written after Cobain’s death. The others were selected from songs that Grohl had written over the previous few years.

While the Foos prospered with their first big tour cycle, the lineup did not quite sustain itself. For the follow-up album, The Colour and The Shape, which had a tighter, more cohesive sound, Smear and Mendel recorded guitar and bass while Grohl handled mostly everything else. Goldsmith (who returned to Sunny Day Real Estate) and the band’s next touring drummer, Taylor Hawkins (who had been touring with Alanis Morrisette) contributed some drum parts. Mendel and Hawkins have remained with the band ever since. The group’s core line-up of Grohl, Mendel, Hawkins, and guitarist Chris Shiflett has held since 2000. Smear would depart later in 1997, come back as a session and touring member in 2005, then permanently rejoin in 2010. Long-time touring keyboardist Rami Jaffee became an official member in 2017.

On a side note, the grunge movement — and Nirvana in particular — have previously been scapegoated by some metalheads as the main reason why their music got pushed off the charts and out of arenas throughout the alternative- and EDM-driven ’90s. Ironically, Grohl is a metal fan, and in 2004 he released the Probot side project, which included appearances by metal luminaries like Lemmy from Motorhead and King Diamond. One could say he unintentionally redeemed himself to some people.

While the debut Foo Fighters album is far from the group’s best work — let’s face it, it is a Dave Grohl solo project — the release served as a prelude to what would turn into the other band that has defined Grohl’s musical career. The group is currently finishing up their tenth studio album, and they have become known for their sense of humor, their ability to jam live with famed musicians ranging from Joe Perry to Rick Astley, and keeping an old-school spirit alive at a time when mainstream rock has become heavily digitized. Grohl has also kept his drum chops up over the years by recording with the likes of Queens of the Stone Age, the Zac Brown Band, Garbage, and many more.

The band members are still bonded. “Still to this day, if I look over at Pat or look over at Nate, I still feel like the Foo Fighters that started in William’s basement 20 years ago,” Grohl told Rolling Stone in that same interview. “I really do. It might be a stadium now and we might have a f**king HBO series or whatever, but we’re still us.”

The Foo Fighters started humbly as a one-man project and blossomed into a lifelong career. Grohl recently stated, following arm surgery, that the band will never break up. And why should they? The thought never crossed our minds.

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Bryan Reesman Beneath the Covers with Rock Album Artist Hugh Syme

If you’re a Rush fan, you know Hugh Syme and his dynamic covers for the iconic prog-rock band. But there are many more memorable images that Syme has created that you might not realize are his. He has had a long-term relationship with Dream Theater that has lasted nearly 20 years. His work has graced covers by Bon Jovi, Whitesnake, Stone Sour, Megadeth, Kick Axe, and dozens more. He is an art director and cover artist who paints and does photography, and usually, all of those disciplines unite on a project.

“I started as someone who drew incessantly as a kid and well into my career,” Syme tells Discogs. “I still do – pencil mostly, being a huge fan of M.C. Escher. I began painting at around 12.”

Photo composites became more prevalent in his cover designs once he discovered the work of English art design group Hipgnosis. Although he worked with outside photographers earlier in his career, Syme says he has always done everything himself – the cover concept, design, painting, traditional photo-retouching — then later integrated modern digital tools later like Photoshop, Z-Brush, Blender, and Painter.

hugh syme headshotCourtesy of Hugh Syme

Syme’s inspiration for his album art can range from an immediate reaction to a more nuanced conversation. Or sometimes both, as when he and the late Neil Peart discussed the cover for Rush’s Vapor Trails.

“He said, ‘In the whole scheme of things, we sparkle, we fade, life is fleeting,’ and of course, I knew where that comment was coming from at the time,” elaborates Syme. “He was thinking the comet and the tail of the comet.” Peart found a NASA image he liked, but Syme pushed for something different. He sent a small, painted, acrylic-on-board piece he did in a few hours, and he adds that “the horizontal extension to the left, and the addition of the dragon, were painted later.” That was it.

Some of Syme’s painted covers look like photos, including the dream-like cover for Rush’s Power Windows. His photography skills aid in his painted work, but at first, it was not something that he considered.

“I just came to a point in the ’80s where both my record work and my commercial work was becoming overwhelming, working as a traditional painter,” says Syme. “I did seven of those Joe Camel campaign illustrations. Those paintings took six weeks to do, using triple-zero brushes to paint every hair on Joe’s face. Rendering a can of beer, you’re just going in there to tickle out all the beads of condensation on a can — that’s a ton of work.”

To this day, Rush wouldn’t be my first choice, and probably wouldn’t be amongst those five albums I took to a desert island right now, but I remember thinking, “They’re not Genesis or Supertramp, but I’ll do a cover for them” … Not having a clue where this was all headed. Well, not only that, but a wonderful and loyal friendship.

Syme was a big fan of Salvador Dali growing up, and a good friend of his met Dali at his Port Lligat studio and returned with stories “about Dali’s floor being strewn with reference photos,” he recalls. “I then resolved that there’s no shame in utilizing photo reference. The same with the camera obscura approach of Dutch painters like Vermeer and his peers. They would set up a grid in the foreground just to make sure that their rendering was true to what they were looking at. I did the same thing when I painted [Rush’s] Power Windows. A lot of people don’t know that’s a painting because I worked from several images. I found the room, found the guy, and found TV, then painted the final as acrylic on canvas.”

Like many great stories of artistic triumph, Syme’s begins with a modest background. He was born in the small paper mill town Cornwall, Ontario, and spent seven and a half years there. His family moved to St. Catherine’s near Niagara on-the-Lake for two and a half more years before his father was asked to oversee the expansions of the pulp and paper company Domtar Howard Smith in Sunderland, England. Syme went through high school there in a Harry Potter-like institution with black-robed teachers. (He got caned twice.)

“They were some of the best years of my life,” recalls Syme fondly of the era of the British Invasion. “Radio Caroline was in full swing at the time so that was our radio of choice. I loved the bands of the ’60s and loved being able to watch on TV live programs like Ready Steady Go, which would feature The Beatles, the Kinks, the Dave Clark Five, the Stones, and The Who. While I was kind of homesick for a bit, I took some comfort when I discovered The Mamas and Papas, Lovin’ Spoonful, and the Beach Boys.”

hugh syme rush power windows album artCourtesy of Hugh Syme

Upon his return from England around 1969, Syme attended The New School of Art in Toronto. He then played piano on a small recording session for folk duo Crawford and Wickham, the producer of which was “incredibly gifted singer and songwriter” Ian Thomas, whose hits included “Painted Ladies.” He asked Syme to join his band. So the budding artist played keyboards and sang for Thomas’ harmony between 1974 and 1981.

Syme enjoyed the learning curve and was flattered to be touring with Thomas’ band. “We toured with the Beach Boys for three weeks, and we were a five-part harmony band that had a similarly tight live show,” says Syme. “We even did a Beach Boys set on club dates, but we knew better than to do that as the opening act with the Beach Boys because frankly, our ‘Good Vibrations’ was much better than theirs. I really enjoyed that time. We shared management and record label with Rush, which is how I met those guys.”

The first three bands that Syme started doing covers for were Rush, Ian Thomas, and Max Webster, whose guitarist, Kim Mitchell, he calls “a wonderful guitar player and great singer-songwriter.” All three bands toured across Canada in the mid-1970s, and one day Rush manager Ray Danniels asked Syme if he wanted to do an album cover for them. That ended up being their 1975 album Caress Of Steel which featured photography from Terrance Bert, Gerard Gentil, and Barry McVicker.

hugh syme rush 2112 starman sketchCourtesy of Hugh Syme

“To this day, Rush wouldn’t be my first choice, and probably wouldn’t be amongst those five albums I took to a desert island right now, but I remember thinking, ‘They’re not Genesis or Supertramp, but I’ll do a cover for them’,” admits Syme. “Not having a clue where this was all headed. Well, not only that, but a wonderful and loyal friendship.”

It even landed him the chance to play the opening synth overture for Rush’s iconic 2112 album and Mellotron on the track “Tears.” Such opportunities arose at a time when people had more in-person meetings and connected that way. “Those don’t exist the same way anymore because it’s all faceless JPEGs, uploads, and phone calls,” Syme says. He also created the famed Starman logo after a conversation with Peart about the collectivist mentality of the Red Star of the Solar Federation from the album’s story.

The Canadian artist has designed or created every Rush cover since 1975 with the exception of Snakes and Arrows, which featured a Harish Johari painting that Peart liked. Syme calls it a “harrumph moment,” but he was still art director for the album and contributed doing unique art for the CD booklet. Looking back, he feels spoiled. “Neil had the best titles,” declares Syme. “Very few bands had those beautiful and evocative turns of phrase. But mostly it was down to me.”

His collaboration with Rush has led to Syme winning five Juno Awards (the Canadian equivalents of the Grammy) for his album covers. That association led to him later working with American prog-metal icons Dream Theater. His favorite covers for them include Octavarium, Black Clouds & Silver Linings, A Dramatic Turn Of Events, and, in particular, Distance Over Time.

There have been times that the artist has not wanted or needed to hear music for a project if he already liked the album title. “Sometimes I would endeavor to do something that was completely unexpected, as we often did all through Rush’s career – dogs and fire hydrants, nuts and bolts,” says Syme. “We would strive to deviate from norms, which was, perhaps on some levels, just indulgent without regard to the prevalent cliches of rock music. I still get calls from prog bands in Germany and places like that saying, ‘We love wizards and we love demons and we love castles.’ So, I may not be your guy, you know. Much of that stuff is beautifully rendered, and it’s stuff that I could certainly do. I just didn’t want to make a career out of that.”

Syme says he has a different take on whimsy and what he calls “improbable reality.”

“Even the unsettling image of the Iron Maiden X-Factor cover that I ended up producing, though it was to the consternation of many of their fans, it was also well received by many too,” notes Syme. “It was really great to hang out with those guys in London for almost three weeks [in 1995] and learn how to really drink. It was an extraordinary time.”

You had to be cautious at the reduced size of a CD booklet … I’m so grateful for the resurgence of vinyl now. With bands like Dream Theater and Rush, not only do we get to do the vinyl gatefold, [but I’ve also] convinced them all to do square full-size 12-inch books. If we’re going to do a CD booklet — if I’m going to take the time to do art for a 28-page CD booklet — let’s do the same with an LP book. And thankfully, they all said, “What a great idea.”

Another Syme tactic that has worked well is what is called “breaking the frame” in the design world, such as the woman’s skirt blowing into the black margin on the cover of Rush’s Permanent Waves or the man whose footsteps fall outside of the circular image on Klaatu’s album Sir Army Suit.

“That was back when you could afford to waste some real estate with having such a large canvas as a record jacket,” recalls Syme. “Pretty quickly thereafter [with CDs], you had to be cautious at the reduced size of a CD booklet; you didn’t dare do a frame that would accommodate that design device because the frame we all had available was a mere 3/8-inch to 1/2-inch, and then you’re encroaching on your live area. Your diminutive, remaining live area that became the CD booklet cover. I’m so grateful for the resurgence of vinyl now. With bands like Dream Theater and Rush, not only do we get to do the vinyl gatefold, [but I’ve also] convinced them all to do square full-size 12-inch books. If we’re going to do a CD booklet — if I’m going to take the time to do art for a 28-page CD booklet — let’s do the same with an LP book. And thankfully, they all said, ‘What a great idea.’”

One of Syme’s most indelible images graces the cover of Youthanasia by Megadeth, and he says that was a moment when the tail wags the dog. For a decade prior to the album’s release, the artist had wanted to create an image with “some weird old lady hanging babies from the clothesline.” When he met with the band in Arizona about the album cover, he had two other concepts that he felt were not as good. Then he told Dave Mustaine and company how he was intrigued by the spelling of Youthanasia. For him, it changed the meaning of the word, and he offered, “Is this like we as the caretakers of the world, and the parents and the grandparents of our children and grandchildren, are we trashing the planet so much that we’re actually hanging our kids out to dry?”
The band loved his idea and interpretation of the title.

Hugh Syme Megadeth Youthanasia album artCourtesy of Hugh Syme

“Mustaine’s first reaction was, ‘You’re sick’,” reveals Syme. “I said, ‘But good sick, right?’ He said, ‘Yeah, that’s a great idea.’ I did all the necessary photography. By the way, the fourth baby to the left is my daughter. I would do the work and would assemble all the imagery and make it feel like one cohesive, improbable moment of reality. That’s one of the things that people have often said about my work. It looks like improbable reality because my hope is that something about my work looks oddly possible, looks feasible, despite being highly unlikely. So I coined that phrase long ago.”

Sometimes there are jobs where everything changes and one must learn to adjust to the circumstances. Megadeth’s Cryptic Writings was one such album. The original title was Needles and Pins, and Syme was immediately inspired to do a Voodoo motif. So he journeyed to New Orleans and met with Chicken Man, a self-taught shaman and one of the better-known Voodoo priests.

“Dimo Safari and I captured lots of photography and went into the different stores and the boutique stores and met with some very remarkable people,” explains Syme. “I did some really amazing images of very private collections of voodoo artifacts. And it was going to make a very interesting album and CD book. We cast this girl who’s from Brazil, and the money we spent on her was extraordinary. Then I did a painting that’s on my website. You see her with this rag doll, which was a voodoo doll that I bought in New Orleans. I bought some hat pins, and I lit her so I could paint her portrait for the cover. It was actually a good watercolor painting, and I loved the outcome.”

After spending a huge budget and four or five days down in the Big Easy, Syme learned that Mustaine had changed the name of the album to Cryptic Writings and just wanted symbolism on the cover.

Hugh Syme Voodoo artCourtesy of Hugh Syme

“When I started to hear that, I was deflated, disappointed, and challenged by the fact that it was a bit of another ‘harrumph’ moment,” says Syme. “All right, whatever. So I started looking into those unique chalk markings that hobos leave for each other. ‘Don’t go near this house, there’s a dog.’ ‘This household will serve you food.’ They have these little markings to communicate with each other. And I found that to be an interesting graphic device.”

The artist did some research, and Mustaine liked the idea. “We salvaged it by making something really surprisingly graphic,” says Syme. “For a Megadeth cover, it was certainly a departure from our previous two. It wasn’t something we had endeavored to do before where we featured slightly unsettling, if not whimsical images, so this new cover direction was a challenge.”

Syme had dealt with change before. The original concept for Signals was to have each Rush member represented by either their own EEG or EKG readings recorded during a certain measure in a song while playing in the studio.

“Coincidentally, The Police’s Synchronicity came out and there were three strokes of color across the front of their cover, representing the three members of The Police,” recollects Syme. “That robbed our fire so we abandoned the idea. Then suddenly, thinking signals, dogs, subdivisions, I eventually saw the green suburban lawns and fire hydrants, and I decided to be more graphic about the whole thing. Ray Danniels was in my studio when I told him about my cover idea, and he stormed out saying, ‘I don’t know what the fuck this has to do with rock and roll.’ He was quite upset. But later that year, my cover was featured on a full page in the third volume of Storm Thorgerson’s The Ultimate Album Cover Album book.”

synchronicity signals side by side

Up until Rush’s 1991 album Roll The Bones, Syme had worked regularly with other photographers on various projects, such as Deborah Samuels with her striking images for Rush’s Moving Pictures, Signals, and Exit…Stage Left. Signals was entirely done in-camera using available light on a rooftop. Then he became more selective, tackling most of the photo work himself. However, Tony Frederickson shot the babies for Youthanasia (Syme wanted them lit really well), the sculpture on Rush’s Test For Echo, and Eddie on the torture table for Iron Maiden’s X-Factor.

Photographer John Scarpati worked with Syme by allowing him to create sets in his studio on a few projects, including Roll The Bones. For that cover, Syme built the sidewalk set full-scale and created “water” in a frame with sandbags and lumber. “I built the wall out of dice in miniature, and then slid that into the final piece,” he adds. “That was a hybrid of me photographing the dice and me using John’s studio. He was instrumental in quite a few covers that we worked on together.”

Beyond music, Syme has ventured into pharma, advertising, and book assignments. For example, he worked on an ad for Forteo, a drug for late sexagenarians and early septuagenarians “whose core of their bone became osteo fragile,” explains Syme. “So I had to illustrate a set of stairs that went from the fragile, brittle state and morphed into a more robust state that was more dense-looking as they ascended. I had to actually illustrate that bone-stair element. The national drug campaigns have seemingly limitless budgets. So, while it’s not completely free and a blank canvas for me like it is in the album art realm, it’s gratifying work.”

But some advertising gigs allow him to think as he would while creating album covers, like his Rebel IPA campaign for Sam Adams. “They wanted to have some rebellious kind of quasi-graffiti vandalism, and then somebody running away,” says Syme. “So I worked it up to where there would be rags and paint cans and somebody was running from the police down the alleyway.” He says he has some freedom, and but also having two daughters still at university has taught him, at certain times, “how to shut up and just do the work.”

From the first time Hugh and I met, we shared a level of communication that would sustain us through all the years of discussing art by long-distance – sometimes over the telephone from some recording studio in Wales or the Caribbean, and later by fax and email. We had the same values and tastes in images and design, and simply spoke the same language. – Neal Peart in The Art of Rush

Syme spent a period of four years working on covers for a series of action-adventure novels. He notes that it might seem like grunt work to some, but he enjoyed a reliable gig of doing two per month at a rate of $5,000 each. “I did get occasional projects like that, magazines and books,” he recalls. “Books are sporadic and fun to work on but usually don’t pay well. But they’re always challenging. I am generally called on for my style and approach to image solving.”

During the ’80s, Syme’s art adventures took him to Los Angeles and New York City, where he lived for a couple of years in a friend’s sublet loft. Next, he spent an “unscheduled” 16 years in Los Angeles, originally meant to be a six-week stay, then journeyed to Indiana for 7seven more years before returning to Toronto. During that time, he worked on many famous covers, including Whitesnake’s multi-platinum self-titled album, Bon Jovi’s New Jersey, Celine Dion’s Unison, Aerosmith’s Get A Grip, and Warrant’s Cherry Pie.

While Syme spent nearly 15 years since the start of the 21st century working at his Toronto studio, a change of mind took place. He would occasionally visit the house he built for his daughters in the Indianapolis area. Sometimes three weeks turned into three months; at one time, nine months. He did all of Clockwork Angels on his Macbook Pro. He did preliminary work on his Art Of Rush book for a month in Boracay, an island in the Philippines.

“I would look up for my laptop and see the Pacific Ocean and think, ‘Wow, I could get used to this’,” he recalls. “ Just as I would look up at our family house in Indiana and see cornfields. And I realized that it didn’t matter what my view was. So nine months ago I just loaded up a truck and moved from Toronto to Indiana. I just broke ground on a house that I will build for the price of a driveway in Toronto.”

hugh syme art show 1
hugh syme art show 2
hugh syme art show 2

Once pandemic restrictions have eased up, he is hoping to mount a planned exhibition at an art gallery as well. His work was previously showcased at the Renditions Fine Art Gallery in Indianapolis last fall.

After all these years, Syme feels like he has been extraordinarily lucky and feels that those who find themselves with such opportunities be prepared to work hard and be passionate and committed. In the early stages of his career, he spent more than he earned.

“I didn’t make enough money on Moving Pictures to make a profit,” admits Syme. “I wanted that cover to look so world class that I probably spent my whole budget by the time I was done with that situation. So I tell students to be committed. The unknown quotient is luck. Being in a band on the same label as Rush that led to me doing covers for them, that, in turn led to me being called by other bands and artists. Snowballing as I evolved.”

In his introduction to Syme’s book, The Art of Rush: Serving a Life Sentence, the late Neil Peart wrote, “From the first time Hugh and I met, we shared a level of communication that would sustain us through all the years of discussing art by long-distance – sometimes over the telephone from some recording studio in Wales or the Caribbean, and later by fax and email. We had the same values and tastes in images and design, and simply spoke the same language.”

On top of all the work he has done for other people, Syme has served a “life sentence” as Peart and Rush’s art designer. It looks like things turned out all right.

Gallery photos courtesy of Hugh Syme.

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falsepriest A Quick Guide to the Discogs App’s Latest Update

The latest version of our app is available for both iOS and Android! Download or update now to enjoy the upgraded service and functionality of Discogs on the go. The new features an improved log-in process and an added level of security.

  • iOS: Version 2.4.2
  • Android: Version 2.19

What exactly is new?

Smoother Login Process

Apple Login is now built into the process. If you’re tired of verifying you’re not a robot all the time, you’re in luck — this step is now completely bypassed. 

If you’re registering for the first time, you’ll automatically be logged in after completing the registration process.

Search Seller Inventory

As well as being able to filter and sort a seller’s inventory in the app, you’ll now also be able to search their entire offering. Simply type the name of the release you’re looking for and see if the seller has it in stock. 

Search Artist and Label Discography

When looking at an artist or label’s discography on their profile page, you’ll be able to search for a particular release to add to your Collection by typing the title in the search box. Please note this function is currently only available for iOS, but is coming to Android soon. 

Don’t miss out on all the good stuff. Download the latest version of the Discogs app on iOS or Android today!

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Mark Charles and Nicole Raney Are These Your Favorite Father John Misty Albums?

As the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic, Bandcamp has also continued to do a pretty cool thing. One Friday in March, the distribution platform waived its revenue share so artists could make more money off of their music and merch sales through the site. It was so successful — to the tune of $4.3 million — that Bandcamp has revisited No Revenue Share Day each month since.

The next event is scheduled for July 3. While we obviously love it when you find your most coveted vinyl through Discogs, this Friday, we encourage you to check out what your favorite musicians are offering through Bandcamp so more of their hard-earned money will go directly to them.

Speaking of fave artists: If Father John Misty ranks high on your list, you’ll want to check out his new EP, Anthems + 3. This collection of covers will be available through Bandcamp exclusively starting on No Revenue Share Day (but will roll out to other digital streaming sources on July 14). Father John Misty covers the likes of Leonard Cohen, Cat (Yusef) Stevens, and more. The best part? All proceeds will go to CARE Action and Ground Game LA.

When Father John Misty landed three records on Discogs’ quantitative, don’t-hate-the-data “best of” list identifying the most sought-after and owned albums of the 2010s, the author noted, “That’s what this list is about. Real people. Real collections. It’s comprised of records that Discogs users have either bought or want to buy, and it paints a fascinating picture of popular music post-2010.”

Since these are the Father John Misty albums that landed in the most record collections across the world, we’re taking a deeper dive into what makes them so great. We’ve also added his most recent full-length studio album as a bonus. Let’s have a look at Father John Misty, shall we?

father john misty fear fun album cover

Fear Fun (2012)

Label: Bella Union, Sub Pop

The nom de plume of Josh Tillman, one-time drummer of the band Fleet Foxes, Father John Misty arrived on the scene with his boozy, breezy “debut” album, Fear Fun, in the spring of 2012, garnering widespread acclaim from next-gen tastemakers and conventional critics alike. The story goes, a disillusioned Tillman loaded up a van full of illicit substances, left Seattle, and meandered his way south, eventually landing in Los Angeles’ famed Laurel Canyon with an album’s worth of debaucherous songs.

Sonically speaking, Fear Fun floats along with a pleasant, psychedelic buoyancy, expertly crafted here and exactingly uncrafted there. An updated, more kaleidoscopic Laurel Canyon sound, if you will — sun-soaked and breezy, but tweaked for an increasingly unmoored reality, acutely aware of the fires burning all around. It’s asy listening on the surface, perhaps, but certainly not easy digesting. After eight albums under his given name, Tillman had clearly cracked an altogether new egg as Father John Misty. Fear Fun was a harbinger of things to come.

I Love You, Honeybear followed in 2015, combining Tillman’s pointed sarcasm and existential dread with extended explorations of genuine, newfound love, all of which further cemented Father John Misty’s unlikely status as a metamodern spokesperson of sorts for a generation of supposedly splintered, post-cred millennials. An infamous Letterman appearance actually preceded the album release by three months, with Tillman delivering a stunning “Bored in the USA” performance for the ages, complete with a backing laugh track, baffling the stalwart late-night host and his studio audience alike.

On “Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins)” Tillman belts out a marriage proposal of sorts, weirdly sardonic and sincere at once: “I haven’t hated all the same things as somebody else since I remember / What’s going on for, uh, what are you doing with your whole life? / How about forever?”

You know, just your standard pop song fare.

Pure Comedy arrived fresh on the heels of Donald Trump’s ominous inauguration in 2017 with perhaps the most biting and bleak output of Tillman’s career up to that point. While the album was written and recorded prior to the 2016 election, the parallels between art and life in this instance were hard to miss, a point made more emphatic by the woozy, found-footage video that accompanied the title track single, released just three days after Dear Leader’s fateful swearing-in.

For all the chatter about dwindling attention spans and the corrosive, distracting force of technology (commentary which can be found in plenitude on Father John Misty records, by the way), there’s clearly a sizable audience for the kind of literate, acerbic songwriting Tillman excels at. Case in point, Pure Comedy clocks in at an hour and 15 minutes. The sparse, centerpiece track, “Leaving LA,” runs more than 13 minutes alone. A lot of somebodies out there (and specifically on Discogs) apparently have an appetite for “difficult” music concerned with existential, unanswered, and unanswerable questions swirling in the ether. It’s challenging stuff, requiring attentive ears and – what the hell – maybe a dictionary, too.

Tillman reportedly wrote the bulk of God’s Favorite Customer in a hotel in New York City, separated from his wife in LA, drawing apt comparisons to John Lennon’s well-documented “Lost Weekend” period. The album is concise and direct, dialing back Tillman’s trademark wit in favor of more naked confession, to arresting effect.

There are nearly 1.6 million albums presently cataloged on Discogs. Accurate figures on total albums released each year are hard to come by, but with direct-to-digital distribution available, we’ve easily exceeded 100,000 annual releases at this point, a number most assuredly on the rise. In this context, to land even a single album on Discogs’ “best of” list in a decade is an exceptional feat. Love him or loathe him, Father John Misty has clearly struck a nerve, melodic and discordant at once. Like the late, great Frank Zappa before him (once a Laurel Canyon denizen, too, it should be noted), Tillman has managed to meld crafty, uncompromising social criticism with relatively accessible pop music, a feat that’s earned him an audience and a platform from which to proceed however he sees fit.

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Dr. Jennifer Otter Bickerdicke Why Missy Elliott Will Always Be the Queen of Hip-Hop

I have been a hip-hop head as long as I can remember. OK, that is a lie. It goes back to when I was about 10 years old. My cousin had brought a piece of cardboard and a pair of fingerless gloves to Thanksgiving. After we ate our meal, we went out to my grandmother’s front porch, put the cardboard down, each donned a glove, and did our best impersonations of moves we had seen on Soul Train. How priceless a home video from this extravaganza would be today! This love continued to grow as I got older, from sneaking in under-age to see Sir Mix-A-Lot (a gig that erupted in a massive brawl) to learning how to do the Running Man, the Kid ‘n Play, and the Roger Rabbit. (Note: You have to be of a certain vintage to appreciate these dance moves. I tried to do the Roger Rabbit about a month ago after one too many gin and tonics, and my husband was about two seconds away from taking me to the emergency room).

My favorite artists were the perennial De La Soul, Tribe, Public Enemy, and, of course, LL Cool J. But what I would get most excited about was when there was a female MC. I owned every Salt ‘N’ Pepa album, blasted L’Trimm (“Cars That Go Boom”) when getting ready for the prom, and literally built a shrine to MC Lyte in my dorm room. I was that sad person sitting outside of the Wherehouse record store on street date, waiting for them to open, so I could buy the cassette (you read that correctly) of Queen Latifah’s All Hail the Queen. So, you can only imagine my insane happiness upon first hearing “The Rain”off of Missy Elliott’s 1997 debut, Supa Dupa Fly.

This was a moment when low-rise jeans and oversexualized teenage bubble gum pop — think early “Oops! … I Did It Again” Britney — ruled the charts. Women in music across all genres seemed to be either eye candy (see Britney) gyrating around in videos with barely any clothes or super woman bands, like the Lilith Fair stuff — acts that were marketed towards females (I remember going to that festival for work and being handed a “goodie bag” upon entry containing a Biore strip and a tampon). There seemed to be few to zero women creating interesting music, being artists, and daring to be cool and weird and statement makers without their vaginas being the most talked-about element of their output.

Then comes Missy. The song may have been slinky and funky, but Missy — donning a variety of brightly colored parkas and even what looks like a garbage bag in the video — just did not give a f*** about being cute or desirable in the traditional Dawson’s Creek sort of way. She was cool and just as talented as her male counterparts, even facing off with Puff in a scene. I wanted to be Missy, all confidence, casual swagger, and bomb-ass rapper. Where had she been my whole life?

I had to wait to have that questioned answered until she put out her third record, the infectious classic Miss E … So Addictive (2001), which followed 1999’s Da Real World. Missy’s production partner, Timbaland, was at the controls again, and the tracklisting was a who’s who of hip-hop royalty, including Jay-Z, Method Man, Redman, Ludacris, Tweet, and the extremely underrated Eve. But no matter who she shared the cut with, Missy was incandescent, her flow, lyrics, and reference points astute, funny, and poignant while being incredibly catchy. Whether refusing to have a poorly performing partner in “One Minute Man” to telling a date how to treat her right in hip-shaker “Old School Joint” to demanding for one to “Get Ur Freak On,” Missy was a truth speaker, boldly addressing the life of the everywoman while being untouchably the most naturally chic human to ever to grace the mic. The video for “Freak” is what would become trademark Elliott, a banquet of technicolor pop culture come to life. As she walks through a zombie forest, Missy wears a variety of matching pantsuits and huge earrings, morphing at one point into a long-necked Cheshire Cat-like creature. Even among ripped dancers and belly-bearing extras, it is Elliott who is the sexy one looking straight into the camera with unerring chutzpah.

At this point, Missy seemed to be on a creative roll. Two back-to-back LPs came out, each building on the foundation of the untouchable couplets and head-bobbing goodness of the predecessors. First was 2002’s Under Construction, which saw Missy again bringing in high-caliber guests, including return appearances by Jay-Z, Ludacris, and Method Man. Beyoncé adds a call-and-response mid-tempo jam to “Nothing Out There for Me” as Missy encourages her to dump a no-good beau. The obvious jewel of the album is the then-inescapable (but strangely never-sick-of) “Work It.”

Just as the listeners around the world were catching their breath from that incredible outing, a year later, This Is Not a Test! dropped. While this album received slightly less rave reviews than other Elliott offers, in many ways, it is the most interesting and insightful of her LPs. The “big” single, “Pass That Dutch,” is just as fun to fill a dance floor to as previous Missy rump-shakers, but it does not have the same indelible classic vibe that was immediate in other mega-hits from Elliott. On previous records, the big single was big; like one of those engagement rings that super-rich people have, the other tracks were studded around a humongous earworm. This was not the case on Test. “Pass That Dutch” is as fun, both in catchy hop-scotching choruses and eye-popping music video, but it begins with a serious soliloquy as Elliott pays tribute to fallen icons (Biggie, 2Pac, etc.) and contemplates the state of both the music she loves and the community she is a part of. It is a stark contrast from the seemingly always fun-loving Missy. But this reflection continues throughout Test, providing a 360 on the realities of being a Black woman at the turn of the 21st century without apology or a sugar coating. The third track, the raw “Wake Up” featuring Jay-Z, is a mirror (filled with pop-culture shorthand) held to the Black community:

Hip-hop better wake up, the bed to make ups
Some of y’all be faker than a drag on make-up
Got issues to take up, before we break up.

One of the many unique and awesome things about Missy is that she is never a victim. She may get frustrated, she may be contemplative, but she always finds a solution or the lighter side. She is self-reliant and strong, but not in a hammering-it-in-your-face kind of way. Missy just is. She is effortless.

This is never more apparent than in her self-love anthem, “Toyz.” Sure, she is annoyed that her lover can’t hit the spot, but hey. Missy isn’t dependant on anyone:

You don’t get the job done when I need a little loving
So I gotta do it myself if I wanna feel something
So I grab me a toy, ‘lil boo ain’t buggin’N
Now I want some affection and you ain’t giving me nothin’.

Another of Missy’s best attributes (there are really too many for this short of an article!) is, even amidst a look at social commentary and taboo topics, she still can let it rip and have fun. She isn’t always serious, as “Let it Bump,” “Fix My Weave,” and “Spelling Bee” all illustrate.

How could she top this album? Well, of course by putting out The Cookbook in 2005 with the irresistible “Lose Control.” Cookbook sees Missy go back to her template of one insanely contagious track with smaller glories packed in around it. Just a year later, her greatest hits collection, Respect M.E., came out.

Then nothing. Had Missy gone forever? Really, what else could she do? How do you top perfection?

Almost a soul-wrenching decade later, the single “WTF (Where They From)” with Pharrell Williams dropped. The wait had been worth it, the track being one of the most contagious tunes of the century. The video went beyond anything Elliott had done before, featuring the artist dressed as literal pieces of pop art. As inspired as the song was, it only made fans remember how much they were missing Missy.

When her EP Iconology finally came out in 2019, it was a relief. Missy was still making art! Lead single “Throw It Back” was a bit flat and literally one note, which was a horrible disappointment after such a rabid wait. The following two cuts, “Why I Still Love You,” and “DripDemeanor,” show that Elliott can croon on a slow jam (the former) and rhyme just a smooth on a bump-and-grind mid-tempo track (the latter) as she can on her classic songs. But none of these had that special Missy sparkle, the wit, the humor, the honesty. They were a bit generic. I listened because I love Missy, not because they are brilliant tunes.

The final cut, “Cool Off,” however, is both an homage to hip-hop’s past while being firmly placed in current trends. Missy again shows why she is the thinking person’s artist. Her video takes place in a museum with various references to specific art movements widely sprinkled throughout.

Like a treasure in the hallowed halls of such establishments, Missy is one of a kind, precious, and totally inspiring. We need her music, her style, and her flavor now more than ever. You could easily say that she paved the way for the Nicki Minaj’s of the world, but then you would be missing the subtle yet calculated singularity of Elliott. Never has her sexuality, gender, or personal life been the lead attraction. It has always been her unparalleled honesty, talent, and ability to cross every sort of divide — from race to fine art to fashion — that sets her completely apart from other artists. It has never been “Look at me!” in a Lady Gaga sort of way. She has always been a complicated bricolage of society, much like the cut-and-mix nature of hip-hop itself.

Missy Elliott’s Most Popular Albums

This list is determined by two things: how many Discogs users have the album in their collection plus how many Discogs users want to add it to their collection. While we focused on full-length studio albums, it’s worth noting that the Work It and Get Ur Freak On singles are in a lot of record collections across the world.

 missy elliott album cover

6. The Cookbook (2005)

da real world missy elliott album cover

4. Da Real World (1999)

 missy elliott album cover under construction

3. Under Construction (2002)

supa dupa fly missy elliott album cover

1. Supa Dupa Fly (1997)

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discogs The Discogs Marketplace Will See Shipping Rate Changes in July 2020

The United States Postal Service (USPS) announced in June that the First Class International (FCI) prices would increase for U.S. sellers as of Wednesday. July 1, 2020. This has impacted the discount we’re able to offer our sellers through Discogs Shipping; as a result, our rates for FCI shipping have also gone up.

We’re currently facing a delay from the USPS in the availability of our updated rates. Unfortunately, this means that our rates are the same as those offered commercially by USPS until July 15. We apologize for the inconvenience this causes. We’ve removed our margins from these rates to ensure you’re not further impacted.

Starting July 15, Discogs’ rates will continue to give a discount of 8% below commercial rates to our sellers; this is the maximum discount USPS permits us to offer. As far as we’re aware, this rate will still be more competitive than many other platforms providing shipping through USPS.

You can find more details on the new rate information in our help documentation. Due to the flux with shipping rates, going forward, we’ll keep you up to date with any changes that affect our label prices in the Discogs Forum. Head to Forums >> Marketplace >> Shipping.

We understand the impact these changes may have and want to help as best we can. Please contact our Community Support team if you have any questions or need assistance adjusting your Shipping Policies.

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Christine Kakaire The Discogs Guide To Berlin Record Stores

Berlin has enjoyed its reputation as one of Europe’s most important cultural hubs for over a century. Musically, the German capital has been a flashpoint for a vast spectrum of sounds: from classical to jazz, prog rock and Krautrock, punk and post-punk, avant-garde and pop, to the thumping beat that’s fueled Berlin’s nightlife for the last three decades, techno.

In the same way that there is a scene for every music subculture in Berlin, there is a record store to satisfy every music lover’s tastes. With 87 individual stores, Berlin boasts the second highest concentration of record stores per capita in the world (beaten only by Tokyo), so there is plenty of room for every type of vinyl-slinger. Here are just some of the essential stops on the maps, including the traditional 2nd hand outlets, quirky specialists, DJ meccas and long-running institutions.

AUDIO IN credit-Zolblaze

AUDIO-IN USED RECORD STORE – Libauerstraße 19, Friedrichshain

VINYLHUB | FACEBOOK 

For those after the deepest deep cuts of electro, techno and house, Audio-In has carved out a specialist niche for top-quality 2nd hand wax. Digging for gold is especially easy in their immaculately organised racks which highlights their newly curated stock every week.

CoreTexBerlin credit-Borkeberlin

CORETEX

VINYLHUB | FACEBOOK

The doors of this Kreuzberg institution opened in 1998, so Coretex has well and truly earned its tagline of “The Home of Hardcore and Punk.” Carrying heavy sounds from around the world as well as 7” EPs pressed for local bands it’s an essential stop for those who want to keep their finger on the pulse of punk, locally and internationally.

Firestation Records credit-VinylHub

FIRESTATION RECORDS – Wisbyer Str. 51-52, Prenzlauer Berg

VINYLHUB | DISCOGS | FACEBOOK 

This Anglophile’s dream is situated in the city’s northern district of Prenzlauer Berg. Since the 1990s Firestation Records has specialised in the jangly guitar sound of ‘80s British indie and pop. With a strong taste for re-released and hard-to-find 2nd hand gems you can complete your Britpop, Indie, Wave collections here with ease.

Hardwax credit-Shopikon

HARD WAX – 44A Paul-Lincke-Ufer, Kreuzberg

VINYLHUB | FACEBOOK 

One of the few record stores in the world that can also boast having created its own genre. Opened in 1989 by Moritz Von Oswald and Mark Ernestus, Hard Wax is inextricably linked to the dub techno sound that the pair pioneered in the 1990s with their production outfit Basic Channel. Sub-branches and offshoots of this sound – roots reggae, techno, UK dubstep – still form the core constellation of genres stocked in the store that keep regulars and visitors alike flocking in each week.

HHV credit-Vinyl Factory

HHV RECORDS – Grünberger Straße 54, Friedrichshain

VINYLHUB | DISCOGS | FACEBOOK

What began in the 1990s as a small record store with imported hard-to-source American rap records has since blossomed into a large, modern hub that showcases hip hop and vinyl-loving culture in the broadest sense. Hip Hop staples like battle-ready mixers, scratch tools and the latest Rap records are in abundance, as are a plethora of other genres on vinyl, accessories, fashion and fresh kicks.

Lefter Records credit-Lefter Records

LEFTER RECORDS – Gneisenaustrasse 114, Kreuzberg

VINYLHUB | DISCOGS | FACEBOOK

Did you know that the largest Turkish community in the world – outside of Turkey itself – lives in Berlin? It’s fitting, then, that this demographic is represented with a specialist records store, and for the last 18 months Lefter Records has served that purpose. In this basement store you’ll find one of the biggest collections of Turkish music in Europe, covering traditional folk, ‘70s disco and modern pop megastars, as well as a thoughtfully curated selection of eclectic sounds from all around the globe.

Melting_Point credit-Vinyl Factory

MELTING POINT RECORD STORE – Kastanienallee 55, 10119 Mitte

VINYLHUB | FACEBOOK

Melting Point has been in the business for more than 20 years, but can sometimes be outshone by the more (in)famous DJ-centric outlets. However its positive reputation has remained consistent, particularly for new releases from European labels specialising in modern house and disco, alongside a good selection of 2nd hand cuts as well. Situated in the middle of the city, it’s a great spot to start digging before fanning out to other districts.

Oldschool-Berlin credit-Plattenladen Tips

OLDSCHOOL – Walter-Benjamin-Platz 2, Charlottenburg

VINYLHUB | DISCOGS | FACEBOOK

The majority of the record stores listed here are scattered around the north, east and south of Berlin, but that’s not to say that the west should be overlooked! This jazz specialist is tucked away in a courtyard of the well-to-do district of Charlottenburg, and offers a small yet perfectly formed collection of traditional, abstract and modern jazz fusion for perusal alongside a healthy amount of classical music to boot.

Oye-Records-by-Carys-Huws_header-1068x527

OYE – Prenzlauer Berg and Neukölln

VINYLHUB | VINYLHUB | DISCOGS | FACEBOOK 

Bookending the north and south sides of the city, Oye’s approach to dance music is wide-ranging, catering to jazz heads, disco boffins and underground house enthusiasts. Whether in the larger basement store in Prenzlauer Berg or the smaller, newer streetside shop in Neukölln, there is plenty for fans of lively leftfield music to graze over.

Platten_Pedro credit-Graeme Vaughan

PLATTEN PEDRO – Tegeler Weg 102, Charlottenburg

VINYLHUB | FACEBOOK 

This one-of-a-kind store is the quirkiest of the lot. Peter Patzek aka Platten Pedro has amassed over 100,000 second hand records, which are stacked in floor-to-ceiling shelves, organised alphabetically, and genres and classic artists like Bowie and The Beatles are all given spaces that are literally measured out by the metre. There’s a little bit of everything to be found here, and it’s worth your while to spend a bit of extra time chatting with Pedro himself to hear his unique story.

Powerpark credit-Zoliblaze

POWER PARK RECORD STORE – Boxhagener Strasse 19 / 20, Friedrichshain

VINYLHUB | DISCOGS | FACEBOOK

Berlin is not short on great record stores that cover new & used records, dating from the 1920s to now. What makes a really great record store? Curation is one part, service is another. Power Park is staffed with skilled and friendly generalists who will take note of what you’ve selected to listen to and slip some extra obscure records into your pile.

Soultrade credit-Soultrade Facebook

SOULTRADE RECORDSTORE – Sanderstraße 29, Neukölln

VINYLHUB | DISCOGS | FACEBOOK

As the name suggests, this small store in Neukölln is all about soul. For more than 20 years Soultrade has filled its racks with funk, jazz, hip hop, blues, Afro and Brazilian as well as rock, pop, indie and alternative classics. Whether it’s new releases, reissues or 2nd hand gems, you’ll find a comprehensive representation of soul and groove in many and various forms.

Spacehall credit-Yelp

SPACEHALL – Zossener Str. 33, 10961 Berlin

VINYLHUB | DISCOGS | FACEBOOK

This Kreuzberg institution is two (or three) record stores in one. In the front room you’ll find soul, blues and jazz, the looooong corridor behind it is decorated with forest wallpaper and stocks plenty of eclectic styles – reggae, rock, ambient, new beat – and in what is essentially a black-out room at the back, DJs of all stripes flock every day of the week to pick over fresh new releases and a well-curated 2nd hand selection, hang out on the sofa, or dance through a program of instore DJ sets.

HOT TIPS:

If you’re in Berlin over a weekend be sure to check out the many flea markets that take place across every district, every weekend. From the behemoth-sized Mauer Park in Prenzlauer Berg to smaller markets like Nowkölln on Maybachufer in Neukölln and the cavernous undercover Arena Flea Market in Kreuzberg, you’re bound to encounter professional sellers, whole collections up for grabs, or the occasional box of gems amongst the bric a brac. Get involved!

This selection just scratches the surface! Check our Berlin VinylHub page for a comprehensive list of many more brick-and-mortar stores across the city.

The post The Discogs Guide To Berlin Record Stores appeared first on Discogs Blog.

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discogs How to Buy the Best Turntable Set-Up for Any Budget

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Every music-based forum, including Discogs, is filled with posts from people wanting advice about buying their first turntable, upgrading their existing one, or putting together a complete system.

It can be daunting, especially these days. When brick-and-mortar stereo shops were a normal part of the landscape, you could spend time actually listening to components and learning firsthand what they did and how.

Now, not so much. Even the fairly ubiquitous Best Buy doesn’t physically stock thmounte vast majority of the turntables it sells, so asking fellow travelers for advice is not only necessary but smart. What makes it more confounding is that a lot of new vinyl fans were born during a time when mass-market turntables were barely being produced.

And that brings us to Discogs’ down-and-dirty guide to putting together a complete two-channel turntable set-up. We’ve chosen three general price points that are meant to loosely correspond to your current obsession level for record collecting (and your income, of course). These are real-world systems with budgets, not daydream systems.

Each system will be built around a turntable from Pro-Ject, the Austrian manufacturer which has become a dominant player in the world of vinyl. After that, it gets pretty wide open, with the emphasis being on getting the most bang for your buck.

If you need help understanding some of these terms and specs for the gear while you’re shopping, scroll down to the bottom for a few basic definitions. It’ll make things easier.

Beginner Turntable Set-up

AKA the Noob Alert System
Budget: $700

First up is at the entry-level, which is where a lot of vinyl converts find themselves these days. At this level, we’re trying to meet three goals: simplicity, affordability, and some measure of upgradable options. The total budget is limited to $700.

The turntable is the Pro-Ject T1, widely available online for about $330. This fully manual model comes with a built-in phono preamp and an Ortofon OM-5 cartridge already installed (or mounted). It spins at 33.3 and 45 RPM.

Pro-Ject T1 turntable

This means that all you need are powered speakers to start making music. The choices in our budget include the Kanto YU4, the PreSonus Eris E4.5, the Vanatoo Transparent Zero (T0), and the Edifier S1000DB. We narrowed it down to these because each features Bluetooth connectivity, and because phones are our BFFs, it’s crucial to have the ability to stream music when the occasion demands.

Each model has its ardent fans and all are rated highly for sound quality, so it might come down to aesthetics.

The Vanatoo look like what they are: desktop speakers for a computer, neither attractive or unattractive. The Edifier have a 1970s vibe which is cool, owing to the walnut veneer, while the PreSonus go for a sleek, modern look. The Kanto are also very modern and have the added bonus of being available in a variety of colors, including a very sexy teal.

Turntable Pro-Ject T1 $330
Speakers Kanto YU4 $330
Record Cleaner Groovewasher Starter Kit $30
Stylus Cleaner Moongel $7

The Kanto have one more bonus, and it’s a good one. It has its own built-in phono stage, which means you can turn off the Pro-Ject’s phono stage if you prefer the one in the Kanto. The Pro-Ject phono stage is plenty good, but it’s nice to have options. Let’s go with the Kanto, then, which at normal retail for about $330, brings our system total to $660. You can always shop around, of course.

The extra $40 should be spent on a versatile cleaning kit, such as the Turntable Lab edition of the Groovewasher record cleaner starter kit. For $30, you get spray cleaner, a mat on which to place your LP while cleaning, a second mat that protects the LP’s label from getting wet, and a nice looking walnut-handled brush.

Use the supplied maintenance brush to keep the main brush clean, and then the main brush can also be used to wipe dust off a record before playing. You also need to keep your stylus clean, and the Moongel resonance pads, available at Amazon and any decent instrument shop, will do the trick for $7. Just dip the stylus into the gel and it gently pulls off dust and dirt.

Intermediate Turntable Set-up

AKA the You-Just-Got-a-Raise System
Budget: $1,500

Look at you, suddenly rolling around in piles of cash. Now let’s spend some. Our mid-level system has a budget of $1,500, which opens up a lot of possibilities for people who have decided that vinyl is actually a passion and not a phase.

The turntable is the $399 Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC, one of the most popular models on the planet. It comes packaged with an Ortofon 2M Red cartridge but does not have a phono stage. It is upgradable, however, but let’s get to that in a minute.

Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC turntable

The Debut Carbon DC is also a manual with 33.3 and 45 speeds. It comes with a far better arm, platter, and base (aka a plinth) than the T1. There are color options, and for my money, I’m going with the sporty red. That thing is sweet.

A nice carbon fiber arm means better tracking, which is a term that refers to how well a stylus stays in the groove without hiccups. The Debut’s motor is isolated from the turntable’s plinth by a thermoplastic elastomer suspension system; this tweak reduces the motor’s inclination to vibrate the plinth, which would then vibrate the tonearm, which would then vibrate the cartridge. You don’t want that. It means muddy sound, possible skips, and less fun. We want more fun.

Since the Debut Carbon DC doesn’t have a phono stage, we get a world of choices. The easiest and most effective option would be to get an integrated amplifier that has a phono stage already included, and there are a lot to choose from — mo’ money, mo’ problems.

Integrateds that include a phono stage include the Marantz PM5005 ($500), Cambridge Audio AXA35 ($350), NAD C316BEE V2 ($450), Denon PMA-600NE ($400), and Yamaha A-S301 ($350).

I’ve had extensive experience with products from Marantz, Yamaha, Denon, and NAD. All are consistently excellent companies. Cambridge’s reputation is inarguably top tier. Marantz is one of my favorite brands, and NAD and Yamaha have long histories of producing high-value components.

But one of my favorite integrateds of all time was a Denon PMA 500v that was stolen from my car after DJing a birthday party. For its time, it did everything and did it exceptionally well. And now we have the PMA-600NE, which offers a ridiculous amount of features for $400.

The Denon PMA-600NE is listed as having 70 watts per channel (WPC) into 4 Ohms, which in the real world is 45 WPC into 8 Ohms, the most common speaker impedance. Still plenty of power. Remarkably, the highly-rated Denon also has Bluetooth connectivity and a built-in 192kHz/24bit digital-to-analog converter.

So in addition to being ready for vinyl, you can also connect to Bluetooth via Wi-Fi and stream digital music services. Believe me, you’ll use this — there comes a point in every record night when someone wants to stream something, and when you’re doing work around the house it’s nice to stream rather than flip records.

Turntable Pro-Ject Debut Carbon DC $399
Integrated Amplifier with Phono Stage Denon PMA-600NE $400
Speakers Elac Debut 2.0 B6.2 $350
Stylus Ortofon 2M Blue Replacement Stylus $189
Record Cleaner Spin Clean $80
Brush Audio-Technica Dust Brush $15
Stylus Cleaner Moongel $7
Record Mat Turntable Lab Cork Record Mat $20

Now, with our total up to $799, we move on to the speakers. I’ve owned many pairs of PSB Speakers and each one has inspired me to move up the line to higher-grade models. When it comes to affordable high-end speakers, PSB and Elac run the game.

The PSB Alpha 5 ($399) is the latest in a long series of Alpha models that have spent many years as a Stereophile recommended component, a tradition continued with these. What you’re going to get are a slightly warm tonal balance, incredible imaging, a surprisingly big sound for a small speaker and … not a lot of bass. The bass you do get is very tuneful and goes shockingly low given the speaker’s diminutive size.

But the Elac Debut 2.0 B6.2 ($350) is $50 cheaper and offers a fuller bass response in addition to doing everything else the PSBs can do. You can use the $50 to get a pair of cheap speaker stands and go nuts. But if space is an issue, the Alpha 5 is smaller (11 x 9.06 x 5.91 inches vs. 14.76 x 10.5 x 7.69 inches).

Let’s say you go with Elac, which means you’re up to $1,149. Next is a crucial upgrade from the Ortogon 2M Red cartridge included with the Pro-Ject. It’s fine, but kind of coarse-sounding, leaning toward playing rude rather than nice. But the stylus is replaceable, so drop $189 on the very good Ortofon 2M Blue stylus, which is interchangeable with the Red stylus, and save the Red for nights when you can just tell you’re gonna get loaded.

To finish up, you gotta get a Spin Clean; at $80, it’s the most effective and affordable wet record cleaner. Top it all off with that $7 Moongel, an Audio-Technica dust brush for $15, and a cork platter mat from Turntable Lab for $20.

That leaves you with $40 dollars. Chip in a little extra and buy some low-rent speaker stands or, if you already have something on which to put your Elacs, buy a record and a six-pack.

Advanced Turntable Set-up

AKA the High(ish)-End System
Budget: $3,500

We’re really upping the ante here. This category is for friends named Steve with well-paying jobs and stacks of disposable income, but it’s still nowhere near what a moderately insane audiophile will spend on a system. We’re setting the ceiling at $3,500, figuring that if you have a couple thousand records then you want them sounding not good, but exceptional.

I’ve been given the choice of starting with a Pro-Ject X1 or X2 turntable ($900 v. $1,300, respectively). In order to have more cash to play around with for speakers and electronics, let’s go with the very fine X1.

Pro-Ject X1 turntable

The X1 is a high quality ‘table, with a carbon fiber-over-aluminum tonearm designed specifically for the X series. Every important adjustment is available, including azimuth. with a mass of 10 grams, the arm will work with a wide variety of cartridges, although it comes with a well-regarded Sumiko Rainier. You can choose walnut, gloss white or piano black.

The speed is electronically controlled at the touch a button, the platter is 3.3 lbs. of acrylic, and the motor has been even further isolated from the plinth. Vinyl legend Michael Fremer gave the X1 a glowing review on AnalogPlanet.

Deciding on the amplification was easily the hardest part of putting this system together. There are a lot of options but every time something qualified in three categories it fell short in two more.

A lot of consideration was given to Parasound, one of the most venerable names in audio, and its NewClassic 200 integrated got a very long look. The Marantz PM8005 is a real honey, but for a system at this price point, a digital option is crucial. Products from Arcam, Rotel, Rega, and NAD all had contenders.

Some might consider the winning combination a wild card. Vincent Audio is based in Germany and I’ve owned and enjoyed several pieces of their gear for years with absolutely zero reliability issues and, more importantly, the company’s house sound is glorious. Their designs are a hybrid of tubes and solid state, and there’s nothing quite like getting the best of both worlds.

Vincent’s SV-500 integrated amp uses trickle-down tech from the award-winning Vincent SV-237, which costs nearly $3,000. The SV-500 costs $1,000 and includes a built-in DAC that can easily decode FLAC files and then some (although there is no Bluetooth). The Vincent sound is a very appealing combination of warmth, detail, and bass slam. Don’t let the 50 WPC rating fool you; Vincent amps have enormous power supplies and a lot of headroom.

The SV-500 doesn’t have a phono stage but you can add the highly-regarded Vincent PHO-8 standalone phono stage, a $450 piece of kit that seems to be perpetually on sale for $230. It’s a two-box system with a separate, beefy power supply.

Turntable Pro-Ject X1 $900
Integrated Amplifier  Vincent Audio SV-500 $1,000
Phono Stage Vincent PHO-8 $230
Speakers Wharfedale Diamond 11.3 $798
Record Cleaner Pro-Ject VC-S Record Cleaning Machine $449
Brush Turntable Lab Dust Brush $15
Stylus Cleaner Moongel $7

Speakers were only marginally easier to figure out. Although the Vincent sounds more powerful than 50 WPC, you can’t pair it with inefficient speakers. You also need speakers that sound good with a variety of genres, because if you’re so dedicated to vinyl that you’re spending $3,500 on a system, then your collection probably contains a whole lot of everything.

The pick here is the Wharfedale Diamond 11.3, a small tower speaker from the United Kingdom that can flirt with deep bass but also has a very well-defined midrange and treble. It’s a 2.5-way design, meaning that one 6-inch driver is used strictly for low frequencies, a second is used for upper bass and midrange, and a 1-inch tweeter tops it off.

The Wharfedales offer a stable 8 Ohm load and efficiency is an impressive 90dB, meaning it only takes one watt to give you music at a reasonable listening level. The Vincent will have zero issues driving these, and the slightly sweet sound of the Vincent will combine with the slightly sweet sound of the Wharfedales to make an extremely sweet sound.

The Wharfedales retail for $1,000, but street price has been $798 for quite some time, which brings our total system cost to $3,377 with one more major addition: the Pro-Ject VC-S vacuum record cleaning machine, available now for $449 from Turntable Lab. A wet scrub followed by a vacuuming is how you get your records sounding their best. Even new records should be cleaned because they show up littered with dirt, dust, and other contaminants. I know it sounds crazy, but just do it. Toss in the Moongel (mentioned in the Beginner section) and a Turntable Lab anti-static dust brush and we’re up to $3,399. Spend the extra $101 on affordable cabling and speaker wire from Monoprice and call it a day.

Holy crap, that was a lot of work just to get called an idiot in the comment section. But any one of these systems is going to sound great, and careful shopping will surely save you a few bucks to spend on records.

Definitions

pro-ject turntable speed control definitionsPro-Ject Audio Systems/Facebook

Turntable: The world’s greatest invention, because it magically turns vinyl into music. There are two basic kinds: one that uses a rubber belt to spin the platter (belt-drive) and one where the platter is driven by a motor directly attached to the platter (direct-drive). There are also idler-wheel models but those are so far in the minority that there’s no reason to get into it. Another crucial distinction is that some turntables, of either variety, have a built-in phono preamplifier and some do not. You’ll see why this is important in a minute.

Cartridge: Some people just call these “needles” but those folks should be taken out back. A phono cartridge is primarily comprised of a body, magnets, and a cantilever on which is mounted a diamond stylus (aka needle).

Moving magnet cartridges are the most common, followed by moving coil. The cantilever and stylus work together to follow a record’s grooves, which creates a magnetic field, which is then turned into a tiny signal that is passed along by those delicate red, white, green, and blue wires.

Phono preamplifier: This is where the tiny signal ends up. A phono preamp, also called a phono stage, equalizes the signal to match the industry-standard RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) curve used when music is recorded for vinyl. A phono stage also amplifies the signal so that we can bang our heads with zero fucks given.

Some stereo equipment comes with a quality phono stage included and some do not. In that case, your turntable will need to have a built-in phono stage, which is relatively common these days, or you can buy one separately.

Integrated amplifier, receiver, preamplifier, power amplifier: These are all variations of gear that have the same function: to send that tiny signal one step further to a pair of speakers, through which you blast the Melvins until the cops are called.

A preamplifier and power amp are separate components that are connected via cables; the preamp controls the power amp which feeds power to the speakers. Some gear heads swear that the best sound is achieved only by using separates.

But an integrated amp, which is simply a preamp and power amp in one unit, is more than a viable option. There are many terrific sounding integrateds. A receiver adds an AM/FM radio tuner to an integrated, which … sure?

Loudspeakers: The land of woofers and tweeters. You have two basic categories: passive, which require amplification, and active, which have built-in amps. After that it’s a matter of size — you have desktop speakers, stand-mounted speakers, and floor-standing speakers, all of which come in various shapes and sizes.

Record cleaning system: This is non-negotiable. A lot of things that anti-vinyl dweebs like to complain about can be greatly improved by cleaning your records and keeping them clean, things like ticks, pops, and static. There are a lot of options and we’ve touched on several.

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