Written by 5:13 am Audiophile Music

Impulse Purchases on Colored Vinyl…

Mark Smotroff takes a chance on something new and likes what he hears

I’ll admit. I wasn’t initially planning on buying either of these new albums on vinyl records by Half Japanese and Interpol for several reasons. Interpol is a band I had just gotten into just before their last album but I was very very disappointed with their LP pressing quality on that release — I had to return three copies all of which were badly warped, ultimately settling in for the CD instead. Half Japanese, on the other hand, is one of those bands I had heard about — and certainly seen records by them and their lead singer Jad Fair — but I never got to hear their music. I never knew anyone in my circle of friends who was into them. Heck, I never heard them played on the radio or in a record store.

So they kinda slipped through cracks. My bad.

AR-halfjapaneseOverjoyed.jpgAnyhow, the other day I was in Amoeba Records settling in on some choice bargain bin finds when on the way out to the checkout counter I saw these albums on limited edition colored vinyl pressings. Hmmm…. I paused and remembered …. My music buddy Milton had recently raved about the new Interpol and I’d previously read a bunch of the promotional hype on Half Japanese’s new one…Hmmm…

Giving it less than 30 seconds of thought, I grabbed copies of each and threw caution to the wind buying them both without fear. I learned long ago to not be afraid to try new musics so….

And awayyyyyy I went …. and here we are now about to share my thoughts with you, Dear Readers…

Half Japanese’s album — called Overjoyed — isn’t nearly half as weird as the promotional hype their label put out would like you to think. This isn’t a bad thing. But when I see quote on the LP sticker from Sonic Youth touting how they “struck their own path; created their own road, really unlike anyone else.” or Peter Buck of REM saying “they invented their own game” you can imagine my expectations were pretty high that this was going to be some fairly out there stuff.

I dunno… I was sort of half expecting something along the lines Throbbing Gristle or Art Bears or some of the Ralph Records stuff ….

Or something…

AR-HalfJapaneseLPCloseup.jpgInstead what we get is a rather fun sort of indie rock melting pot pastiche falling somewhere between the cracks between King Crimson, The dBs, Fred Frith’s solo records, Camper Van Beethoven (and their Monks of Doom side project), Sebadoh and a bunch of other DIY type artists. “Do It Nation” is an almost one-chord rave up ala The Velvet Underground’s “Sister Ray,” only less sinister. “Our Love” is a jaunty quasi power pop tune I could imagine Chris Stamey (The dBs) covering on a Half Japanese tribute album. “Tiger Eyes” might have been performed by The Violent Femmes’ Gordon Gano.

From what some fans on FB have told me, I’ll need to listen to earlier Half Japanese to get a better sense of what they were about. That said, this one, their first album in 13 years, is an enjoyable oddly weird indie rock pop statement that I’ll be holding on to and exploring further. I can hear some of these tracks fitting neatly between mixes of tracks by The Monkees and The Helio Sequence.

AR-PlayingHalfJapanese.jpgI’m enjoying this… its a lot more song-y and melodic than I expected. Time to check out their earlier stuff.

The new Half Japanese album comes pressed on lovely milky white-pink vinyl with light blue streaking in it; it feels very sturdy (at least 150 gram, maybe more) and is very quiet and well centered. The album also comes with a free download. For the $15 I paid for it, I’m happy to support this legendary indie band.

]]>AR-INTERPOL.jpgNext up is the new Interpol album — called Elpintor — which sounds like … well… a new Interpol album. I mean this in the best possible way. This is one of those bands which have a very identifiable sound that works on their behalf as much as it works against them. On the plus side, fans get a consistent sound they can count on. They know that Interpol records will sound like Interpol Records. On the downside, there is the risk of the albums sounding too same-y.

An aside…

I’ve heard passionate fans of Husker Du almost accuse (not in person!) main songwriter Bob Mould of re-writing his songs over and over on his solo records and with his second band Sugar. I don’t necessarily agree with that point, but I do think that the overall flavor that Mould has chosen for many of his recordings is distinctly his and easily identifiable, perhaps too identifiable. It could be argued that the “sound” has taken precedence (in the public eye/ear) over the actual songs and if that is the case, well that is unfortunate (especially since I feel many of Mould’s songs with Sugar were stronger than Husker Du!)

But I digress….

“All The Rage Back Home” and “My Desire” kick off the album in fine arena-rockin’ fashion with the urgency of peak period U2, replete with Edge-like, melodic digital delay driven lead guitar signature lines throughout and march-step drumming ala Larry Mullen Jr. And the album goes on like that with cool grooves, densely layered effect driven guitars and haunting ambient vocal melodies. I would love to hear Bono sit in and sing “My Blue Supreme.”

AR-PlayingInterpol.jpgSonics-wise, this album has a certain grittiness about it that I can’t quite attribute to analog distortion. It sounds pretty good but there is not a whole lot of sense of dynamics on the record (certainly not like the last album). That isn’t to say its bad, just that it takes some getting used to the density (which is different than, say, Phil Spector’s “Wall of Sound”).

Elpintor is a sonically thick recording.

The white vinyl pressing is also pretty thick (physically) and well centered. Most importantly, it is happily dead quiet so they definitely get brownie points this time ’round. The last album — cleverly created as a 12-inch 45 replete with a big hole like a 7-inch single and a custom Interpol 45 adaptor — was pressed on very thin vinyl that was warp-prone. It was a shame as the record had a good sound about it overall but after three returns I had to assume all the pressings were going to be compromised. So this new one sounding generally real good out of the gate is a big plus.

Anyhow, that is my take on these two colored vinyl issues by two revered indie / alternative rock bands.

Worthwhile impulse buys for sure…. with no regrets.

Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. www.smotroff.com Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer whose songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. www.ingdom.com Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he’s written: www.dialthemusical.com.

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