Monday, September 30, 2019

Taking Back Sunday – Tell All Your Friends [Vinyl Reissue] (Album Review)

All this year, Long Island’s own Taking Back Sunday have been marking 20 years as a band with the release of their Twenty compilation album and a widely celebrated world tour. To add to the festivities, Craft Recordings is releasing a remastered vinyl reissue of their stellar debut album, 2002’s Tell All Your Friends, this Friday, October 4. Long considered a standout in the emo revival of the early 2000s, Tell All Your Friends is a stunning collection of songs that distilled many of the genre’s most exciting elements down into a concise, 34-minute explosion that mixes incendiary guitarwork, thunderous drumming, call-and-response co-lead vocals, and heart-on-sleeve lyrics into a furious lather that never lets up.

Tell All Your Friends would eventually be certified Gold and its legacy within the band’s catalog prompted a 10th anniversary tour in 2012 and a live acoustic album/DVD (TAYF10 Acoustic) in 2013. Even though the band has flirted with a few different genres over its two-decades (and counting) career, its first step onto the scene with Tell All Your Friends was a defining moment that the band seems really proud and really willing to revisit as it continues to move forward. This beautiful Tell All Your Friends reissue from Craft Recordings truly celebrates the album’s important legacy and reminds listeners of what makes the ever-evolving band so special to the emo and alt-rock scenes. 

Alongside the standard black vinyl version, the band is also offering a special run (limited to 1000 copies) variant pressed on iridescent color-morphing green vinyl on their website.

Black vinyl from Craft (pre-order) HERE.
Green vinyl from the band (pre-order) HERE.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Vince Guaraldi – It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown (Album Review)

After the prior year’s astounding success of A Charlie Brown Christmas, 1966 found Peanuts creator Charles Schulz and director/animator Bill Melendez dipping into the animated holiday special well again for It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown. Striking gold again, the duo’s beloved creation was met with immediate approval and it quickly becoming an annual television tradition during the Halloween season. While the half-hour special has contributed a variety of memorable lines and scenes to the pop culture vernacular – the mythology of The Great Pumpkin, “I got a rock,” the bonkers World War I flying ace foolishness – it’s once again Vince Guaraldi’s impossibly perfect jazz score that may be the special’s most enduring legacy. 

After releasing the complete soundtrack album on CD last year, Craft Recordings is offering Guaraldi’s score on vinyl for the very first time (in its over-50-year-history) for Halloween this year. The vinyl debut is available for pre-order now and will officially be released on August 30.     

Where Guaraldi’s iconic instrumental work for the Christmas special featured his signature piano accompanied by Jerry Granelli on drums and Fred Marshall on stand-up bass, he wrote the score for It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown to unfold across a larger ensemble. Credited as The Vince Guaraldi Sextet, this time around Guaraldi’s piano work was supported by Colin Bailey on drums, Monty Budwig on bass, John Gray on Guitar, Emmanuel Klein on trumpet, and Ronald Lang on various woodwinds. The results are a more robust, yet equally pitch-perfect, musical backdrop that strikes the whimsically sophisticated tone associated with all of Guaraldi’s Peanutspieces. While Guaraldi’s instantly recognizable “Linus and Lucy” returns from the Christmas special, it’s his “The Great Pumpkin Waltz” that serves as the celebratory centerpiece of this autumnal collection.

This vinyl debut of It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown from Craft Recordings is a true treat that features some special aesthetic goodies alongside the 17 musical tracks. First, because the selections are so short, the entirety of the score has been pressed to Side A, making room for an incredible etching of the show’s pumpkin logo to encompass Side B. Additionally, the inner-sleeve features a wonderful full-color still of the gang’s Halloween party scene on one side and some fantastic liner notes from executive producer Lee Mendelson and Derrick Bang (author of Vince Guaraldi at the Piano) on the other. In conjunction with the standard pressing on black vinyl, Craft Recordings has also pressed a limited edition run of 500 copies on glow-in-the-dark vinyl that can be ordered from their online store here

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Elmer Bernstein – Ghostbusters [35th Anniversary Reissue] (Album Review)

With this year marking the 35th anniversary of Ghostbusters, it’s been really nice to see the film’s incredibly robust film score be included in all of the celebrations. Crafted by legendary film composer Elmer Bernstein (The Magnificent Seven, To Kill a Mockingbird, Animal House, Cape Fear) in the fourth decade of his mind-blowingly impressive career that spanned from Saturday’s Hero in 1951 to Far From Heaven in 2002, his work for Ghostbusters marks a creatively ambitious period in the iconic composer’s stellar catalog. While this 35th anniversary release came out on CD and made its digital debut earlier this year, the impressively crafted vinyl release from Sony is now available and features the film’s score (remastered from the original multi-track sources) stretched across two discs, as well as four additional previously unreleased tracks and a wonderful liner note essay from Bernstein’s son, Peter (who also worked on the film’s score).

Bernstein’s legendary composition work includes over 150 film scores, all of wildly varying degrees of musical sophistication and fearlessness. While he was musically fluent in classical compositions, Broadway musicals, grand westerns, suspense-inducing dramatics, orchestral suites, and more, it was the late-‘70s/early-‘80s period of his career that highlighted some of his most adventurous compositions paired to some of the most notable comedic films of the period. This surprising and prolific section of Bernstein’s career started with his composing the score to the 1978 film National Lampoon’s Animal House, an opportunity that came about due to Peter Bernstein’s childhood friendship with the film’s director, John Landis. The success of Bernstein’s brilliant musical accompaniment matched with oddball comedic cinema carried into his scoring a variety of other comedies in quick succession, including Meatballs (1979), Airplane! (1980), The Blues Brothers (1980), Stripes (1981), Airplane II: The Sequel (1982), Trading Places (1983), Spies Like Us (1985), Three Amigos! (1986), and many others.

Bernstein’s work on Ghostbusters took place during this time period as well and for the film he mixed some of his more classical and traditional leanings with more modern, tech-savvy flairs of inspiration. Most notably, Bernstein employed the theremin-like sounds of an Ondes Martenot keyboard for the instantly recognizable ghostly atmospherics, as well as three Yamaha DX7 synthesizers for the slick, electro-melodic flourishes. Bernstein’s Ghostbusters score was performed by the 72-person Hollywood Studio Symphony orchestra and was orchestrated by his son, Peter, and David Spear. All of the musical credits outlining the performers and instruments are included in this vinyl releases beautiful full-color booklet that also houses Peter’s essay and a striking collection of film photos. The entire double-disc collection is housed in a sturdy gatefold packaging with an embossed cover and the vinyl is pressed on clear wax with a fantastic neon green slime blob. I love that the pressing process creates such unique designs for each blob, as one of my discs features centralized rings of ghostly ooze and the other is more of a smear that takes on a total Slimer-like shape. Major kudos to Sony for this gorgeous, attention-to-detail release and shout out to Memphis Record Pressing for the quality pressing and playful aesthetics.

The 35th Anniversary vinyl release of the original motion picture score for Ghostbusters can be purchased here:

Friday, July 19, 2019

Live – Throwing Copper [25th Anniversary Reissue] (Album Review)

As someone who heavily traffics in milestone releases and reissues, I was incredibly surprised by the creative care and level of attention paid to the 2LP/2CD Super Deluxe edition celebrating Live’s 1994 multi-platinum album Throwing Copper. While the album itself certainly achieved enough success to warrant a reissue (8x Platinum, four Top 10 singles, #1 on the Billboard 200), the York, PA quartet went the extra mile by a including a stunning 12-page booklet, three bonus tracks, and a recording of their previously unreleased nine-song set from Woodstock ’94 – all housed in a weighty, thick-spine gatefold packaging that truly highlights the memorable Sisters of Mercy cover art from Scottish painter Peter Howson.      

There’s no denying that Throwing Copper was one of the most celebrated albums of the 1990s. In early 1994, lead single “Selling the Drama” came out a few months ahead of the album and it immediately became an alt-rock radio staple, eventually hitting #1 on Billboard‘s Modern Rock chart. Its moody music video (featuring a “not for very long” long-haired Ed Kowalczyk) established the band’s oft-returning presence on MTV for the next couple of years. For all of 1994 and into 1995, the formula was successfully repeated every couple of months with a new single that unrolled the diverse layers of Live’s cinematic songwriting. The big pop chorus of “I Alone,” the emotive balladeering of “Lightning Crashes,” and the explosive punch of “All Over You” all became Top 10 singles, with each one spawning its own quasi-spiritual music video. The jammy, bass-led “White, Discussion” was put out as a fifth single almost a year after the album was first released, but it stalled around #15 on the charts and didn’t turn get a video of its own. Live was so ubiquitous on alt-rock radio in 1994 that DJs would sometimes tire of the hit singles and play some of the other album tracks like “Iris” and T.B.D.” as well.

While Throwing Copper is notable for being one of the earliest standouts of the post-grunge era, the band was able to solidify their successes through some memorable live performances – especially their fantastic on Saturday Night Live, their mesmerizing MTV Unplugged episode (sidenote: how does this not have a standalone release?!?), and their blistering set at Woodstock ’94. The latter performance has never been officially released by the band until now, as it encompasses the entirety of the second CD of this reissue. Their bombastic Woodstock ’94 set includes seven songs from Throwing Copper and two tracks – “The Beauty of Gray” and “Operation Spirit” – from their debut album Mental Jewelry. It really showcases Live’s talents as a live band, especially with Kowalczyk’s whisper-to-a-shriek vocals and their true secret weapon, the slick complexity of Patrick Dahlheimer’s bass lines. While I would’ve loved to see their MTV Unplugged tracks (or maybe even a DVD of the performance) included in this reissue, their Woodstock ’94 performance is an incredibly welcomed addition to the proper album.           

The original vinyl release of Throwing Copper cut out the songs “Pillar of Davidson” and secret track “Horse” so that it could be pressed on a single disc, so it’s really nice to see the album presented across two discs for this reissue. “Pillar of Davidson” and “Horse” have been restored back into the tracklist and three additional bonus tracks were added to Side D: “Hold Me Up,” “We Deal in Dreams,” and “Susquehanna.” The 12-page vinyl-sized booklet contains an enlightening interview with the band framed around a timeline of everything that happened with the band through 1994-1995. While it's really cool to finally have such a solid, two-disc vinyl pressing of the album, it's the impressive extras - the bonus tracks, the Woodstock '94 set, the 12-page booklet, and the gorgeously weighty packaging - that really make this one of the more standout anniversary vinyl reissues that has come out in the last few years. 

The Super Deluxe 25th anniversary reissue of Throwing Copper (as well as the single CD and deluxe digital album versions) can be purchased here:  

Friday, July 12, 2019

U2 – The Unforgettable Fire and How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb (Album Review)

U2 continues its masterful vinyl reissue campaign that it started last year with another selection of mixed chronology releases. This time around they’ve paired 1984’s The Unforgettable Fire and 2004’s How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb together and pressed them both on sharply colored wax that evokes each album’s cover art. The Unforgettable Fire has been pressed on 180-gram “wine” (a rich, not too deep purple) and How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb has been pressed on 180-gram red (an explosively bright variant shade). These two new entries in the vinyl reissue catalog are welcomed additions to the impressive rollout that has already featured Wide Awake in America, Achtung Baby, Zooropa, Pop, All That You Can’t Leave Behind, and both “Best of” compilations.

While I may certainly be reading too much into the potential reasoning behind their choices for release parings, I really like this duo because both albums echo points in the band’s career where they wonderfully subverted the expectations of needing to follow their preceding albums. For example, the experimentally ambient The Unforgettable Fire was released about a year and a half after the far more bombastic rock of War. Likewise, How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb really cranked the guitars and energy up a couple notches from what they merely hinted at with All That You Can’t Leave Behind. Both albums also contain some of U2’s most beloved hits and deep album fan favorites, including “Pride (In the Name of Love),” “Bad,” “A Sort of Homecoming,” “Vertigo,” and “Sometimes You Can’t Make It On Your Own.” Additionally, both albums have been certified 3x platinum in the U.S. alone, with The Unforgettable Fire notching over 8 million in worldwide sales and How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb hitting 10 million worldwide.

For these reissues, the attentive touches go well beyond the cool aesthetics of the color wax choices. Both reissues are housed in standard single sleeve packaging with fantastic color work on the front and back covers. Inside, both releases feature two sleeve options: a black poly-lined paper sleeve and a thicker full color option. They both also contain a beautiful, full color 16-page booklet with lyrics, liner notes, and more. I must say, as a vinyl collector and a massive U2 fan, both of these releases not only check a variety of boxes on the high-quality reissue want list, but they also continue the trend of U2’s pitch-perfect campaign of reissuing their back catalog on heavyweight vinyl with sturdy packaging, brilliant artwork, and nice little extra touches that help make these reissues really standout from their decades-old vinyl pressings. Whether you’re upgrading your original versions or grabbing the albums for the first time, I highly recommend picking up The Unforgettable Fire and How To Dismantle An Atomic Bomb reissues (as well as their reissues from the last year and a half or so) for the superb audio quality and the beautifully well-done visuals.

Friday, June 14, 2019

R.E.M. – In Time: The Best of R.E.M. (Album Review)

While I’m not always a huge fan of greatest hits compilations (especially for bands that I’m a super fan of), R.E.M. has an unmistakably stellar track record of nailing the format to perfection. After the release of Eponymous in 1988 (which chronicled their early years on I.R.S. Records), the band released In Time: The Best of R.E.M. in 2003 to cover their years on Warner Brothers records. While I missed snagging a vinyl copy of In Time upon its initial release, Craft Records has just released the first vinyl pressing of the jam-packed greatest hits collection in over 15 years. While it’s always nice to have a first-run, this new pressing from Craft is certainly worth the wait, as it’s actually the release’s debut on heavyweight 180-gram vinyl and its 18 tracks are spread out over two discs. While the double LP is available on standard black vinyl, I was stoked to snag one of the translucent blue copies – a wax color choice that looks fantastic alongside the simplified color palette of the album’s artwork.

Cataloging the band’s most popular and ubiquitous major label period, In Time features tracks from their politically-minded, commercial smash of Green to the electronically leaning bounciness of Reveal. Standout selections from Out of Time, Automatic for the People, Monster, New Adventures in Hi-Fi, and Up – as well as soundtrack entries from the films Man on the Moon and Vanilla Sky – round out the collection. What’s great about this tailored tracklist is that you can truly hear the band navigating the heights of their musical celebrity, maturing through the departure of drummer Bill Berry, and finding new footing as a trio. In Time also features two previously unreleased tracks, the wonderfully frantic “Bad Day” and “Animal.” Rough versions of “Bad Day” had been rolling around in the R.E.M. camp since the mid-‘80s (under the name “P.S.A.”), but was officially finished (slightly updated and renamed) for In Time. To give the greatest hits compilation a feeling of fresh life, the band released “Bad Day” and “Animal” as singles and even shot fantastic music videos for both.

Alongside the otherworldly music and truly beautiful packaging for In Time (strikingly simple blue artwork on the front and back cover, thick gatefold housing, color liner insert), one of its best features is guitarist Peter Buck’s song-by-song liner notes. Effortlessly dancing between commentary, recollections, and analysis that are both insightful and tongue-in-cheek, Buck manages to capture the grandeur and the unaffectedness of the band in equal measure. He rightfully acknowledges that “our career can be divided into two parts: pre-Losing My Religion and post-Losing My Religion,” he refers to “Stand” as “the stupidest song we’ve ever written,” and states that “Everybody Hurts” “doesn’t really belong to us anymore; it belongs to everybody who has ever gotten any solace from it.” As a personal favorite, he also explains the unconventional means by which one of their most beautiful songs, “Nightswimming,” came to be. All in all, the songs are incredible snippets of the band’s high-profile period, the packaging is incredibly well crafted, and the translucent blue wax variant provides a nice aesthetic touch to the spinning of this welcomed reissued gem.

In Time: The Best of R.E.M. 1988-2003 Tracklist:
"Man on the Moon" (from Automatic for the People, 1992)
"The Great Beyond" (from the Man on the Moon soundtrack, 1999)
"Bad Day" (previously unreleased)
"What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" (from Monster, 1994)
"All the Way to Reno (You're Gonna Be a Star)" (from Reveal, 2001)
"Losing My Religion" (from Out of Time, 1991)
"E-Bow the Letter" (from New Adventures in Hi-Fi, 1996)
"Orange Crush" (from Green, 1988)
"Imitation of Life" (from Reveal, 2001)
"Daysleeper" (from Up, 1998)
"Animal" (previously unreleased)
"The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonite" (from Automatic for the People, 1992)
"Stand" (from Green, 1988)
"Electrolite" (from New Adventures in Hi-Fi, 1996)
"All the Right Friends" (from the Vanilla Sky soundtrack, 2001)
"Everybody Hurts" (from Automatic for the People, 1992)
"At My Most Beautiful" (from Up, 1998)
"Nightswimming" (from Automatic for the People, 1992)