April is not the cruelest month. Instead, as seems to be the case on a monthly basis, it was a great month to be a member of the best damn record club out there. The album of the month was certainly no slouch, as the folks at VMP chose one of the greatest hip-hop albums of the 90s to disseminate amongst its followership. This was Fugees’ 1996 masterpiece The Score, which includes what were at the time the ubiquitous singles, “Ready or Not,” “Killing Me Softly,” and Wyclef’s “No Woman, No Cry,” as well as such deep-cut classics as “How Many Mics,” “Zealots,” and “Fu-Gee-La.” To round out the package, the disc itself was two-toned black and translucent orange.
The VMP website includes a great article by Jeff Weiss on the background of this monumental album here.
As always, the members-only vinyl store this month was full of difficult decisions, but I ended up narrowing it down to the following three to add to the shipment:
Black Mountain – IV
I first heard this Canadian band way back in 2005 when they dropped their debut self-titled album. I listened to that one a couple times, enjoyed it for the most part, particularly the song “Modern Music,” and then never heard of them again until now, over ten years later, when I notice in the member store that they are coming out with a fourth album. I must have missed In the Future (2008) and Wilderness Heart (2010), but that’s okay with me; as much as I like this one, I’ll probably check them out soon. It’s actually kind of nice to have been oblivious to Black Mountain for that ten-year hiatus of not even acknowledging the band’s existence, since now, listening to the latest, on bright green translucent vinyl, it’s like a totally different band than what I remembered. Here on IV, Black Mountain has a sound that many describe as 70s revivalist, blown up to much grander scales than I remember; it sounds cleaner and more epic, and in a good way, not like how First Impressions of Earth sounds “cleaner” than Is This It. The stand-out tracks for me are definitely “Cemetery Breeding,” a song about exactly what the title would lead you to believe: procreating in a graveyard. And then “Space to Bakersfield” is a psychedelic jaunt back to memories of watching my hand morph into a goat hoof on a bright orange couch by the player piano. Likely enough, it reminds me a bit of Black Sabbath, if Black Sabbath were to incorporate into their structure a female singer and a wider variety of song types.
Suuns – Hold/Still
This is my wife’s favorite album from this month’s haul, and probably mine too. It’s something different from really anything that I could name right now. It’s an album that makes dissonance pleasurable, meaning the songs often sound just a bit “off” in some aspects, like the instruments might not quite be in what most people would consider the “same key,” but this was the plan it seems, to allow sounds that don’t seem at first to work together to eventually cohere into something truly enjoyable. Some listeners might be turned off by the first track, in which Suuns takes the dissonance to the most extreme (and partially annoying) level, at least in comparison with the rest of the album. Much like I remember hearing Conor Oberst mention that he would often “test” his listeners by filling the first track of Bright Eyes albums with noise, dialogue, etc., to see which “true” fans have the desire and patience to make it beyond the first track. A questionable tactic I suppose, but one that Suuns may have unwittingly adopted. “Fall,” the first track, gives us a good idea of what kind of things are to come: harsh and at times abrasive sounds. As the album progresses though, the remainder is comprised of wonderfully strange and melodic tunes that are sung as if through a clenched jaw and backed up by what sounds like percussion run through a distortion pedal. As a whole the album has a slow groove that fits perfectly a stormy dusk.
Glenn Gould – The Goldberg Variations
Why not have some classical music in my collection was what I was thinking when I added this to the cart. It had been talked up quite a bit by the other VMP forum members, so I thought I’d give it a shot. I’m glad I did too, because it’s a great album to put on when you’re having lobster and caviar with your more-sophisticated neighbors. In a dream perhaps. Classical music has never been my preferred genre to be honest—I’ve given it a shot and have always enjoyed it, but it’s not a go-to genre for me by any means—but the more I heard about Glenn Gould’s eccentricities and how he can be heard humming along to the Bach variations that comprise the album, I found it to be something anomalous to the genre that might be good to have around. Upon the second spin, I still haven’t heard the humming, but I haven’t been listening that closely. It was almost a shame to open the album at all, since it came in a protective plastic case with the back of the album having the following warning about how not to use it with a needle that has been played over a certain amount of hours.
Recommended Needle Life Chart
Osmium (metal) tip…………not over 20 hours
Sapphire (sy. Jewel)………...not over 65 hours
Diamond (genuine)…………not over 800 hours
Having no clue if my needle was diamond or otherwise, I threw it on anyway. The music is Bach, and we all probably have a thought about what that means. The songs range in tempo from turtle-slow to rabbit-fast. Besides obviously the compositions themselves, what’s on display here is the virtuosity of Gould himself. You can hear that he has knowledge of the material to such an extent that he could vary the tempo in any way he wished, as if he could play the songs backwards or upside down like Mozart in Amadeus, and I can’t help but respect that.
Editors note: you might be able to find a replacement needle for your record player HERE