Time for another edition of From the Vinyl Vault where Frankie and Michael pick out a vinyl from their massive vinyl collections to discuss. Let's see what they are into this week!
Frankie - TWIABP: Harmlessness (2015)
I couldn’t tell you how many weeks in a row I’ve been pulling this album off my shelf to write about before putting it back and saying that it wasn’t yet time for me to fangirl about TWIABP again. It has been 14 long weeks since that first "From the Vinyl Vault" was published, and I look forward to writing this article every week. On week 15, I bring you Harmlessness, the second studio album from Connecticut collective The World Is A Beautiful Place & I Am No Longer Afraid To Die, also known as The World Is A Beautiful Place, The World Is, or TWIABP, as if any of those are easy to spit out or explain to your mother. Harmlessness was released in 2015 and is hands down my favorite TWIABP album. To me, this album shows that the band really hit a stride recording wise, producing what I think is a much more polished overall album than their first full-length-album, “Whenever, If Ever.” On top of that, lyrically I think it is the band's best work.
From the very beginning, I’m hooked on the colorful and engaging lyrics set atop increasingly and harmoniously cacophonous instrumentals. I love TWIABP instrumentals because, one second, there are just many instruments making various sounds that don’t seem to fit together or go anywhere before they suddenly turn into a melody and you find yourself realizing it had been there all along. This go around, Bello stands out as a stronger frontman than in their previous albums and EPs, which didn’t seem to have the same lineup for any two songs.
The song that stands out to me the most by far is “January 10th, 2014” with its incredible story telling and the emergence of a distinct female vocalist, Katie Dvorak. The song, unsurprisingly written on January 10th, 2014, was inspired by an article read by band members published in New York Magazine. The article told of a woman in a small city in Mexico that in a reign of vigilante justice, systematically hunted down bus and taxi drivers that had been accused of assault and rape. These accusations had been largely ignored by authorities, and TWIABP immortalizes this transgression in the lyrics “How great that someone’s doing what many of us should have done.” This woman, who dubbed herself, “Diana, the hunter of drivers,” after the Roman goddess of the hunt, was a celebrated hero amongst women in her city as she took back the night from predators. The hook, played out like a conversation between Dvorak as “Diana” and Bello, shakes my core every time I hear it:
“Are you Diana, the Hunter?/ Are you afraid of me now?/ Well, yeah. Shouldn't I be?/ But, don't you quiver./ I am an instrument./ I am revenge./ I am several women.”
The song finally ends with the repeated call to action “Make evil afraid of evil’s shadow” and those words will ring through my mind probably for the rest of my life.
The song “Mental Health” touches my heart and was a pleasure to hear live. It’s quite the experience to stand in a dank basement bar full of other people and all simultaneously sing the phrase, “You are normal and healthy to forgive yourself,” while David Bello stands eyes closed, hands ringing together, singing it back to you. I think songs like this are really important to the fan base, as TWIABP has built its reputation on being a band that is outspoken about mental illness and the necessity to just keep trying. They are very in tune with their fans, incredibly active on social media, and even selected a band name that encourages you to look for the beauty in life.
All in all, I think this album is dynamic in that you can appreciate the tone enough to keep it on as background noise, but you can appreciate the content enough to devote a portion of your day just to listen to it straight through, as it was intended to be heard. I love the vinyl medium, as it allows for a seamless flow from one song to the next, which is closer to how TWIABP sounds live; a wall of sound where tuning between songs blends seamlessly into the next song on the set list. I bought my two disc LP when I saw TWIABP live at The Basement in Columbus (Foxing opened for them it was the best show I’ve ever been too okay I’ll shut up now), which I attended with my adult friends, Donhnall and Elizabeth. Donhnall went to high school with David Bello, so we were able to pal around with him and the band after the show, and I even got him to sign my album sleeve. I’ve had multiple inquiries on discogs.com to purchase my signed copy but I wouldn’t let go of this album if you paid me, it’s entirely too precious to me.
Michael - Muddy Waters: The Best of Muddy Waters (1957)
I'm finally doing it. I don't get the chance to talk about it enough on the site, but I absolutely love blues music. I love it not only for what it is as a genre, but also for the fact that without its influence we wouldn't have so many other types of music or musicians. I am also an advocate for the inclusion of blues on Alt Revue because it was the original alternative music. Blues music is able to settle the waters of my turbulent mind. There is no other style of music that I can just put on for hours and just drift away (mainly because my brain is too active). It's tough to get me to nail down my favorite blues artist, but if I had to pick just one, it would have to be Muddy Waters. He was such an innovator and his influence can be felt in many bands, including The Rolling Stones (with whom he once shared a stage) and beyond.
Today, I want to talk about my vinyl copy of The Best of Muddy Waters. It features 12 songs from the blues legend, including "I Just Want To Make Love to You," "Rollin' Stone," "(I'm Your) Hoochie Coochie Man," and "I Can't Be Satisfied." Waters had just such a powerful, dynamic, but melodic vocal style that instantly draws in listeners. He also had range that was underrated as he could break into falsetto without batting an eye. Waters was not only known for putting his own spin on classic blues songs, but he also wrote a good bit of original work that was fantastic in it's own right (and often covered by others).
One element I have intentionally saved for last was Waters' guitar playing. First, he famously played a Fender Telecaster (my favorite guitar) and was just so damned good at it. Second, he amplified his guitar. This doesn't sound like much now, but for blues music this was an innovation and is often cited as the link of influence between blues music and other genres such as rock and roll. Essentially, without Muddy Waters (and many other famous black blues musicians), there would be no rock and roll and its sub-genres. This is something that is overlooked far too often in music history (have you ever seen the blues display in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? It's sad!). His licks were unlike anything that was around at the time he played. He was quick, but never overdid it, that restraint was important (though blues would later become obsessed by excess in guitar solos, which isn't a bad thing it's just different). Waters had a story to tell in his music. He used his vocals and often implemented harmonica in his songs. Many of his harp players would go on to be known in their own right, though Waters was an accomplished player himself. To say it a different way, Waters told the story with all the instruments in his band, not just a guitar.
This album isn't a complete collection, hell, it's only 12 tracks for a musician that was active from 1941-1982 and who was one of the best at his craft. However, it is a nice starting point for anyone looking to get into Muddy Waters or the Delta Blues in general. I love this album and it is one of my favorites among my large blues section in my vinyl collection. Do me a favor, if you've never given the blues a chance, but consider yourself a fan of any of the following: The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, The Black Keys, Jack White, Eric Clapton, The Beatles and/or basically any musician that uses amplification on a guitar, give Waters a listen. I think you'll like what you hear.