In da Club
Choice cuts from 10 years of buying blind
With the advent of home recording, cassettes, CD-Rs and now digital-only releases have significantly increased. Alongside this trend has come a large reliance on taste-making and pre-purchase previewing. Kids aren’t taking risks anymore.
I started collecting records because jazz CDs were so expensive. And in the late ’90s you could find good Blue Note titles at garage sales for pennies. So, there I was, a just-turned-18 year-old cruising around in my Geo Metro sedan trying to buy tepid jazz from aging white grippers ditching grandpa’s bop amalgamation. Eventually, I got over my brief jazz obsession and started buying anything that looked interesting. Hey, it was a buck. Worth the risk, right? Debatable. Sure, one in every 10 or 20 would turn out to be a winner. But when you’re buying 20 records a day, well, you start running out of money and room.
Nevertheless, this blind-buying obsession landed me with a few very good surprises, some completely unknown to the underground record collecting circuit. By the end of 2009 I will have been buying crappy records for 10 years, so here is a small collection of some of my favorite “blind buys.” This is by no means a “best scores ever” post ([brag]that would be too long[/brag]), but a selection of choice blinds that really surprised me.
1. CHANDRA – Transportation (On/GoGo, 1981, New York, NY)
I briefly attended the University of Waterloo, completing a portion of my Masters thesis in Theoretical Physics. Eventually I got bored with physics but in the meantime managed to live in a hotel full of opera singers and strippers while co-hosting a post-punk/No Wave program on the now defunct radio station CKMS. We found this record by The Dance in the library and we fell in love. Fast forward a few years and I’m perusing a dealer’s list with a mention of some “CHANDRA” record featuring members of “The Dance.” The 12 year-old fronted avant-disco classic blew me away to such a degree that I ended up elaborately reissuing it on my record label, Cantor Records.
2. Dwayne Cannan – Spare Change (Self Released, 1980, Edmonton, AB)
The greatest part of feverously buying records is visiting people’s homes. I went to this one audio-junker’s place and his basement was a smashing mess of tube amplifiers and records. Tucked away in a corner was this unknown-to-anyone singer songwriter LP by Dwayne Cannan, posing too beautifully in front of an ancient EdTel telephone booth for me to say no. I figured I bought a $4 ticket to blues-ville, riding coach. Chunks of my depressed mind were lying on the floor after I gave it a listen. Some real down-and-out burnt lonertude. Harrowing vocals and reverberating acoustic guitar with one of the starkest sounds committed to vinyl. The Acid Archives/private-press collecting crowd went nuts for it and it’s now considered a classic in the genre. A track from the LP was comp’d on the Numero Group’s Guitar Soli compilation.
3. Archer – “Humming Bird” b/w “Stay Away” (Ringmaster, 1974, Bonniville, AB)
I was so close to leaving this behind after Goodwill increased their prices on 45s from $0.50 to $1.99. But damn, I’m glad I didn’t. One of the most “rural” sounding releases from the only place in the world that should be releasing rural rock records. Imagine a link between electric Neil Young and Nickelback; desperate cowboys yearning for creative freedoms strangled by homosexual-hating, god-fearing hicks in backward Alberta. A very charming record and, to my knowledge, the only known copy. No copies were to be found at the source (Archer went on to become Target after moving to Edmonton). Found amongst a bunch of country 45s.
Archer “Humming Bird”: http://www.divshare.com/download/3913225-188
4. Various Artists - Nice No. 4 (Self Released, 1981, New York, NY)
I was in Seattle visiting some Internet record friends, so of course most of my time was spent on the floors of record stores, thrifts and people’s homes. What really blew my mind was my friend exclaiming, “let’s go to that record store none of us have been to!” You live in Seattle and there’s a record store you’ve never been to? What is your problem? Away we go! After finding $6 John Faheys and other ridiculous things, I still felt it was pertinent to risk my life crawling under a table to look through a box of mangled 45s (I literally mean risking my life – it’s scary underneath 10,000 records on rickety tables). This is precisely when I pulled out this interesting flexi-zine. What’s a flexi-zine? Flexi-Discs were playable slabs of plastic that you could roll-up, bend, and have a lot of fun with. Some clever poet and artist in New York decided to turn that idea into a magazine with some of his favorite bands and photos of Lizzy Mercier Descloux on the front (punch a whole through the whole thing and flip the pages to play). The music is an awesome grab bag of weird punk, avant-gardenry and spoken word. The art similarly cool. A very obscure and rare artifact of the New York avant-everything scene in the early ’80s. Apparently a copy was sold to a Japanese collector for $3K or something. Mine was $6 and sits above a shelf.
5. Beverly Copeland - Beverly Copeland (CBC Transcription, 197?, Toronto, ON)
Damn, the CBC used to be so cool! And thankfully, they pressed a few records in their days of raddery (sold exclusively at CBC Gift Shops). So I’m cruising the Edmonton record fair thinking “hmmm, ain’t the CBC just a dandy!” when ‘ole cutesy Beverly Copeland pops into my hands. She’s carrying some kind of sheltered instrument so I figured it would be tepid vocal jazz, but worth risking $7 just in case. Turns out Beverly is Canada’s Tim Buckley and delivers the most hair-raising psychedelic jazz-folk ballads left of nowhere. An amazing record and incredibly rare. She later released an album on the GRT imprint that shares two or three tracks with her CBC debut.
6. Moonstone – Moonstone (Kotai, 1972, Montreal, QC)
I’m sorry, but you have to be an idiot to pass on this record for any price. Look at that cover! And the back states: “recorded at full stone.” It’s the raddest minor key psychedelic folk trip in Canada and I sure as hell didn’t think that when I bought it. I figured “hard rock, probably pretty good, $5? Sure!” I love being wrong! It’s since been reissued by Void Records and is quite sought after. The guy I bought it from swore he had three more sealed copies (!??!!) but we never found them ☹
7. Paul Mowbray – Old Friends (Self Released, 1983, Saskatoon, SK)
This one screamed bad. Look at that face! Look at that fro! Look at that name (practically “frobray”). Nevertheless, the grip took over me and I brought it home from the Sound Connection $0.50 bin. I was astounded to find Paul’s tastefully delicate, minimal folk endeavor extremely addicting. I wanted more. So much so that I took a trip to Saskatoon and found six additional copies (amongst one of the greatest record hauls in my life). My extras went straight to Japan with hefty price tags. Definitely one of the most surprising purchases given its ridiculous cover.
8. Moosetracks – Moosetracks (Barge, 1972, Peterborough, ON)
On the same trip to Saskatoon where I found six Paul-fros, I walked into Tramps (Alberta’s chain of used media shops) and glanced upon 250,000 LPs. After six hours I walked away with some seriously crazy shit (Christmas on Paragon for $3! Four copies of Magic Dragon [minimal synth from Vancouver]! Ferron’s private psychedelic folk LP! Fraser & Debolt! And more!), including this hand-stamped cover with a minimal paste-on back. I drove for six hours from Saskatoon to Edmonton anticipating the music inside. Bedroom folk demo? Bad country? Suddenly I noticed the name Ian Tamblyn on the back and got very excited. Turns out Moosetracks was Tamblyn’s 200-press demo LP recorded in one take and used to promote the eager college student. It contains some of the darkest dorm room folk demos I’ve ever heard. A magical LP I was hoping to reissue. Unfortunately that’s off the menu so I’m happy to share with the world. The quality of these sound clips is poor at best.
9. Brothers And One – “Hard On Me” b/w “You’re So Afraid” (B. ONE, ??, ??)
There is nothing more exciting than a practically blank label 45. Nothing. Is it an acetate to a lost ’60s garage punker? Unknown ’70s struggle funk? Some one-known-copy ’80s minimal synth test-press? Unfortunately it often turns out to be country or polka or something very uninteresting (to my ears). But once in a blue moon you’ll find some previously unknown hard-rock burner that gets you dancing alone in your cluttered apartment. Brothers and One have an LP that is quite sought after, but this single is post-LP and one of two known copies. All of this I found out later, after leaving the Kitchener-Waterloo thrift with about 70 45s total (an amazing haul that included copies of Roger Rodier’s Columbia 45, Saint John on Strawberry [that paid for my entire trip!] and other Canadian obscurities and rarities). I love Kitchener and I love Ontario and I love Canada because scores like this still happen!
10. Emmanuelle Parrenin – Maison Rose (Batton Noir, 197?, France)
I love house calls, so when I went to this guy’s place and he had stacks and stacks and stacks of obscure Irish and Celtic folk, I got really excited. Not because I’m that interested in traditional folk, but because someone dedicated to a specific genre like that is bound to have some interesting music. And sure enough, when I pull this from his “crap” pile and ask its origins, he states “I had a crush on a girl while I lived in Montreal, and, well, you do some dumb stuff when you like a girl.” Well, bless his adolescent heart, because Emmanuelle puts the entire Freak Folk scene to shame with her foray into avant-folk weirdery. A possible desert island pick for sure. Extremely forward thinking and way too cool for my crusty Celtic friend (though he was totally awesome for completely different reasons).
Buy blind. It’s fun and you’ll discover music you’d otherwise never listen to. Over time you’ll develop an uncanny ability to tell exactly what’s on an LP or 45 without listening to it. Or it’ll become a guessing game where the only thing you have to lose is your… well, money I guess. Oh well, leave the records for me, then!
Why Club Monaco? Sometimes you just can’t find a decent record so you resort to purchasing other useless artifacts from thrift stores. And who grew up in the ’90s and didn’t own a Club Monaco?
One In Every Format 2
by Aaron Levin
For a number of years, Aaron Levin has been collecting the discarded artifacts of human expression, primarily focusing on vintage Canadian music of any genre, especially if self-released. He is the founder of Weird Canada, a website devoted to the music under the umbrella of its title, and also runs a fledging record label named after a dead mathematician: Cantor Records. One In Every Format will feature relics from Aaron’s personal collection, whether you like them or not.
Mark and Helen Banning
Journey To The Light
Creative Sound Productions (1984)
Nobody wants to take New Age seriously. But I’m not here to discuss packaged-with-a-free-healing-crystal derivative solo piano, either. In the same way the druids (theoretically) deliver religious-rock of a highly magykal consciousness, so do the disciples of real New Age conjure the most psychedelic of ambient soundscapes. These people truly want to send you into another dimension to traverse inter-conscious landscapes and unrealities. How that became associated with “cheesiness” is beyond my most meditative state. And that’s why I choose to mellow; in my apartment zoning to the processed guitar and zither emerging from my speakers as Mark and Helen Banning rotate. Of the Private Issue New Age (PINA) universe, Journey To The Light is certainly the peak and is touted by the largest tastemakers in the scene (Douglas McGowan of Yoga Records and Anthony Pearson of Anthony-Pearson-that-rad-L.A.-record-dealer-turned-artist, to name a few). There was some quantity of Journey To The Light floating around but it has since dried up. Rare.
The Adanac Reply
“What Would It Be Like” b/w “The Other One”
There is a narrative behind this single. I’m assuming it has a lot to do with kids on drugs in the basement. As common as this is now, so was it true in the ’60s. Hip kids. Kids talking about weird stuff and writing love songs about the wild and eternal nature of emotion. The story probably went something like this: Slap some eerie organ on that. Bam! Sloooowwww it down. Put those vocals through the reverb pedal. WET IT. I want that guitar to echo, echo, echo, echo, echo. Those drums need to rumble. Put them in the back. Way in the back. Bass guitar? We’re hopeful. Oh, man, we have a hit! Kinda slow and weird, though. Put this on the b-side! Hey HMS, we got a single, put it out! It’ll be the second one on your label. [Me: to this day nobody knows what the first single on HMS was.] We’re going to be famous! Rich! Groovy! Thus Calgary’s The Adanac Reply put the organ grinding punker “What Would It Be Like” on top of the marvelously eerie, recluse-psych of “The Other One” and quickly faded into obscurity. There is a promo photo lurking on the Internet somewhere. It took me about three years to find this single so you better like it. Very rare.
Amos & Sara
Invite to Endless Latino
It’s War Boys (198?)
Wasted psychedelic-lounge by The Homosexuals’ bassist (Amos) and mysterious U.K. D.I.Y. phenomenon Sara (whose double-7” Sara Goes Pop is beyond amazing). This is seriously deranged material. Sara hollers out-of-tune drug-anthems above the repetitive drum machine as Amos (barely) slaps out some Latino jams in the haze of debauchery driven by the washed-out synth permeating their evening’s soundtrack. There is a lot of banging and a lot of phased vocals and even more weird “noise” occurring behind the scenes. No amount of purpose could yield such a bizarre concoction of popular noise. Invite To Endless Latino is the perfect cassette; homey, strange, beautiful, mysterious, quaint, soft, particular and simple. I dream of accidentally making music this singular. Easily one of my favorite possessions. Extremely rare and sought after.
Supreme Being Unit
Mental Reverse/Spiritual Rebirth
Self Released (1996)
Long before Company Flow’s debut opened the floodgates for ridiculous nerd-rap, there were two brothers in Edmonton on some basement freak-outs over their seriously advanced jams. To this day I champion their debut album as the most forward-thinking urban release in Canada. Of course I’m laughed at. Or people have no idea what I’m talking about. But seriously, Edmonton has a giant mall and a lot of pregnant teenagers heading north to Fort McMurray. It’s Detroit and it’s Texas but it’s neither because we’re small potatoes. So creative teenagers like Conspiracy and Mindbender (comprising Supreme Being Unit) use anything in their means to escape the cold world above ground. Mental Reverse/Spiritual Rebirth is the result, and if you can’t get behind this you need to check yourself. We in a space Cadillac with Kool Keith and you on the ground watching Martha Stewart. I’m not a rapper and I have no idea what the rarity of this CD is.
One In Every Format 1
by Aaron Levin
Aaron Levin is the music director of CJSR 88.5 FM in Edmonton, Alberta. For a number of years, he has been collecting the discarded artifacts of human expression, primarily focusing on vintage Canadian music of any genre, especially if self-released. He also runs a fledging record label named after a dead mathematician: Cantor Records. One In Every Format will feature relics from Aaron’s personal collection, whether you like them or not.
Tres and Kitsy
Terrible beehive Christian children records litter every thrift store from wherever you are to Vietnam. You can’t escape them. With time, they will proliferate your personal dreamscape. So, when my friend held up the Dandelions LP claiming it was the most precious album he’d ever heard and quoted its $500 price tag, I was skeptical. Meanwhile I’m in Philadelphia and my book-dealing, record-fanatic Internet buddy drops the needle on the same copy of Dandelions, and suddenly I’ve been transported to a freewheelin’ world of sparse folk-pop guided by the most adorable young women I’ve ever heard.
Precious, indeed! Dandelions is infectious, beautiful, and inescapable. Both physically and audibly, it is singularly unique in its unassuming and effable presentation. Cute would be too demeaning to describe it; adorable too patronizing. Tres and Kitsy, playing guitars and accompanied by friends and family, wrote the songs and show their obvious prowess with lyrics of war, friends, love, and dogs filtered through their youthful eyes. I eventually traded a Canadian funk turd for Dandelions and have, unfortunately, made one sexual advance while listening. Shame.
Dove Project No. 9
What were you doing in high school? Probably smoking hash and playing Magic: The Gathering. You degenerate. Calgarian Doug Wong managed to release one of Canada’s most obscure relics of the psychedelic underground by single handedly transforming his student newspaper into a profitable enterprise by its eigth monthly issue in the 1969/1970 school-year. Alas, what does one do with profits gathered for a company you don’t own? Obviously, you throw a party. This was Doug’s first idea, until the school principal, whom asserted that the money must stay within the paper, shot it down. Doug, being an obvious genius, decided to blow the profits on the last issue by packaging it with a record. Recruiting friends and members of the high school folk club, they compiled six recordings by five artists and pressed up 500 copies of their beloved 7” titled Dove Project No. 9 (it was, after all, the ninth issue of their paper). Only the unfettered expression of stoned teenagers could produce the wailing fuzz-guitar and basement shreddery contained within. One-off bands like Wrinkled Pumpkin, Dusk, Mace, and Sundance Reunion send listeners on a bewildering lo-fi psychedelic journey through annals of raw, wasted awesomeness. Thank you, Calgary. Thank you, Doug. Thank you, Magic: The Gathering.
How does a visionary synthesizer musician and psychedelic journeyman like Paul Marcano, lead member of Lightdreams, end up on Victoria Island (BC, Canada) producing hours of basement lysergia? This is a serious question. Paul recorded reels of experimental, electronic, ambient music and psychedelia only to have it culminate into the Islands in Space LP, independently released in 1980. Dedicated to the colonization of space, the LP differs from the until recently unknown cassette in that it wasn’t an hour and a half of psychedelic folk-rock. 10,001 Dreams is mellow, drenched in reverb and totally mind-blowing. With numbingly long arms it reaches into the recess of your mind and pulls you through a jungle of vintage space-psych; islands in space, keys to the day and the unity of nations. Seriously heavy. The cassette was made-to-order and is incredibly rare.
Mac de Marco, lead member of Makeout Videotape, kept trying to add me to Facebook before I knew who he was. His profile picture featured a sexy 18 year-old in a hot tub — and after seeing him live it makes so much sense. Fast forward a few months and I’m totally addicted to his MySpace page. Obsessed, I’m pulling textbooks from my days as an Engineering student and writing schematics for a car-radio that broadcasts MySpace pages. I’m calling all my friends and telling them about this addictive lo-fi garage pop by an Edmonton expat now living in Vancouver. I even played a few songs for my mom, who completely misunderstood the red-line distortion that clouds Makeout Videotape’s poppy landscape and forces the listener to concentrate on the blurred and determined hooks. I don’t know the lyrics but I’m singing them and I’m loving every minute of it. On stage, Mac matches the intensity of his debut album. He’s screaming for women and beer and everything a young dude with an 18 year-old girl in his Facebook profile wants. Thank god he’s talented, because it all coalesces into something beautiful. I predict great things for Makeout Videotape.