With each passing year, Record Store Day seems to get a little more divisive. On the one hand, it brings more foot traffic into independent record stores than any other day of the year — and the boon it provides to their bottom line is what keeps many stores in business. (As someone who visits his local record stores on a weekly basis, I consider that a good thing.) The downsides, though, are gradually becoming more apparent: the rush to crank out big-ticket, limited-edition vinyl for RSD is starting to overwhelm the few vinyl pressing plants left in the country, creating a bottleneck that can delay pressings of regular new releases and wreak havoc on labels’ release schedules. And some labels, getting wise to the quick windfall of cash that comes with each new Record Store Day, are reissuing albums that might not warrant a reissue (Case in point: last year’s 4xLP version of the Flaming Lips’ Zaireeka, which was basically an overpriced novelty item, unless you happen to have three friends who own portable turntables and have nothing better to do than haul them over on a Saturday afternoon.)
Given that, this year’s buyer’s guide is being split into two categories: 10 What to Buys, for vinyl obsessives like yours truly, and five WTFs, for records the very existence of which is mystifying.
Various Artists, Non-Violent Femmes LP
This Kanine Records compilation features, as its title implies, 10 songs by female-fronted bands. The lineup is stellar: Speedy Ortiz, Joanna Gruesome, Eternal Summers and TEEN all contribute tracks, all of them previously unreleased. Record Store Day is rife with novelty items like this, but Non-Violent is one of the more rewarding offerings.
Various Artists, TAANG! 10″ Box Set
This year marks the 30th anniversary of pioneering indie label TAANG!, best known for introducing the world to Spaceman 3. Though they’ve unjustly sunk into obscurity lately (save in the brains of a few ardent Swirlies fans) this set is the perfect reintroduction to their history, moving from riotous hardcore tracks by Ganggreen and Negative FX to decidedly more melodic groups, like the Lemonheads.
Various Artists, The Space Project LP, CD and 7″ Box
The concept behind this compilation is a heady one, so strap in: In 1977, the Voyager spacecraft used advanced technology to record the electromagnetic “sounds” given off by planets deep in the galaxy. (A scientist would be quick to note that these aren’t “sounds” so much as radiation waves, but I am no scientist, and that detail just confuses things.) Said recordings are readily available, so Lefse Records’ Matt Halverson gave one apiece to 14 different bands — including Beach House, Jesu and the Antlers — and asked them to write songs that used the space recordings as the base material.
What to Buy
10. (Tie) R.E.M., Unplugged: The Complete 1991 and 2001 Sessions 4xLP / LCD Soundsystem, The Long Goodbye 5xLP
The biggest problem with these two reissues is bound to be the ticket price — the R.E.M. box is four LPs, the LCD Box is five, and the likelihood that either will come in under $100 is slim. To be fair, you get your money’s worth: The LCD box contains the entirety of the band’s four-hour final show, and the R.E.M. box balances their legendary 1991 set for MTV Unplugged with their secretly-underrated 2001 recording for the same show. Both bands have a history of issuing high-quality, artfully-packaged products, so if you’re only looking to buy one thing on Saturday, and want a nice return on your substantial investment, either one of these will likely do the trick.
09. Heavens to Betsy, Calculated LP
Out of print on vinyl for five years, Calculated is the sole release from Corin Tucker’s first band, Heavens to Betsy. The album is great — scuzzy and knife-edged, full of songs that quiver and pounce. You can hear Tucker beginning to explore the things her voice could do. Her performance is looser and wilder here than it would be with Sleater-Kinney, full of growls and shrieks and roars.
08. Donny Hathaway, Live at the Bitter End 1971 LP
Originally released as part of a four-disc box set, Hathaway’s 1971 set at the legendary New York club captures the singer in exceptional voice and energy. Though selections from this set turned up on Hathaway’s 1972 album Live, the release of the entire, uninterrupted show offers a rare opportunity to enjoy Hathaway’s breathtaking gifts in full.
07. The Everly Brothers, Songs Our Daddy Taught Us LP
The Everly Brothers were on the path to rock ‘n’ roll stardom when they released this startling left-turn, an album of roots music, faithfully arranged and lovingly performed. Boasting the brothers’ trademark close harmony style, the album was an unexpected hit, cementing their reputation as genuine talents. It’s been reissued on LP before, but those uninterested in tracking down a used copy on Discogs would do well to take advantage of this edition.
06. Big Mama Thornton, Sassy Mama LP
The runaway winner of a poll sponsored by Record Store Day and Vanguard Records, this smoldering 1972 live rave-up from Big Mama Thornton showcases the performer — by this point, late in her career – in excellent voice. Of particular note is the slow-smoldering, nearly eight-minute take on “Mr. Cool,” which gives Thornton plenty of room to stretch out and smoke.
05. Built to Spill, Ultimate Alternative Wavers LP
Luxuriously packaged in a heavy-cardboard gatefold and pressed onto clear yellow vinyl, Ultimate Alternative Wavers captures Built to Spill in their earliest incarnation. You can hear them beginning to figure out the formula they’d perfect on later records, including Doug Martsch’s heaving vocal style and unruly tangles of guitar, though the version of the band present on Wavers is gloriously unpolished.
04. Sam Cooke, Ain’t That Good News LP
Cooke’s final studio record contains some of his best-known songs, including the title track, “Another Saturday Night” and the landmark “A Change is Gonna Come,” which is not only one of Cooke’s best, but is arguably one of the greatest songs ever recorded. The album is front-to-back perfect – the ideal Sunday morning record.
03. The Notorious B.I.G., Life After Death 3xLP
Ready to Die has been available on vinyl for years, but its follow-up has been harder to come by. This triple-LP reissue remedies that problem. A landmark record, not only for Biggie but for New York hip-hop in general, Life After Death is dark and commanding and even its hits — like the pulsing “Hypnotize” — feel threatening. Mid-’90s hip-hop benefits from the vinyl format, which captures its deep bass and enhances its grainy production, and Life After Death has been unavailable on vinyl for far too long.
02. Life Without Buildings, Any Other City LP
A lost masterpiece of early-’00s indie rock, Any Other City was released too soon to benefit from the kind of breathless buzz the internet surely would have provided. Listening to it now, it sounds like a blueprint for all of the bands that followed: Sue Tompkins’ yelping, exclamatory vocals prefigured the similarly ecstatic Love is All, and the limber guitars, slack rhythms and tuneful take on post-punk would become commonplace in indie rock long after the band had blinked out of existence. If we’re lucky, the Record Store Day reissue will lead to a long-overdue reunion.
01. Various Artists, Pop Yeh Yeh: Psychedelic Rock from Singapore and Malaysia 1964 – 1970 2xLP
A win on every possible front, Pop Yeh Yeh is not only a rigorously-researched, lovingly-compiled and all-around-excellent compilation, it also boasts the rich, colorful packaging and detailed liner notes for which Sublime Frequencies has become known. Overview compilations like this often attempt to get by on obscurity alone (There’s a Griot Goin’ On: West African Fuzz-Hop 1981 – 1983), but Pop Yeh Yeh is flat-out fun, a rollicking batch of beat music that finds an unlikely symmetry in bent-wire rock guitars and the snakelike melodies of traditional Asian music. It’s, without a doubt, the one to hunt down on Record Store Day.
…And Five Record Store Day WTFs
05. Cake 8xLP Box Set
Heavy enough to knock a man unconscious, were he not already unconscious from listening to a Mark Eitzel lookalike talk-sing over limp funk tracks. It’s unfathomable that there is a person out there who thinks they need all eight Cake records on vinyl and that, moreover, they need them all at once, but for that person: This is your lucky year.
04. Green Day, Demolicious LP, Cassette & CD
Demolicious contains outtakes from Green Day’s three least-popular albums, Uno, Dos and Tre, in every conceivable iteration. This one is particularly baffling, since it’s widely believed that one of the things that sunk that trio of records was the fact that it simply provided too much Green Day for any one human being to absorb. On the plus side, though, this does not contain any songs by Cake.
03. Rockabye Baby! Lullaby Renditions of David Bowie LP
Because your infant is too discerning to be lulled to sleep by an inferior format. This reissue pulls off the rare trifecta of Record Store Day misconception: it assumes that a) there need to be lullaby versions of David Bowie songs, b) said songs are worth the expenditure to press on vinyl and c) that you have a turntable in your child’s room on which to play this, and that popping in every 20 minutes to flip sides won’t wake up the very child you are desperately trying to get to sleep.
02. Skrillex, Recess Cassette
This isn’t even a slight on Skrillex, about whose music I don’t feel especially negatively. It’s the notion that EDM — music that’s relentlessly futuristic and so hi-fi it’s blinding — is best served by a format famous for the fact that it degrades dramatically every time you play it. Best-case scenario is that William Basinski ends up with a copy of this and plays it over and over until something interesting happens.
01. Jay-Z & Linkin Park, Collision Course LP
I would pay twice the cost of this reissue for a transcript of the boardroom conversation that led to this reissue. Apparently, when surveying the vast, rich body of work Jay-Z has produced over his 20-plus-year career, it was unanimously decided not to reissue Reasonable Doubt or The Blueprint or even his ripe-for-rediscovery 2001 Unplugged session with The Roots, but this, the late-career phoned-in mash-up record he made with a bunch of stressed-out nu-metallers. This isn’t just a record that doesn’t need to exist on vinyl, it’s a record that doesn’t need to exist. In fact, here are four ideas better than reissuing Collision Course on vinyl: a split 7″ with “The Takeover” on one side and Nas’s “Ether” on the other; a 7″ with “Show & Prove” on one side and Jay-Z’s newest single on the flip; the aforementioned Unplugged record with songs that didn’t make the broadcast; a 4-LP box set of Jay-Z laughing. Literally anything else other than Collision Course. The Apostle Paul once wrote “To me, all things are acceptable, but not all things are profitable.” Kudos to Island/Def Jam for finding the one thing that’s neither.