Staff Picks: January 21 2021

Staff Picks: Daniel

Born in Flames movie (1983)

While I like plenty of mindless, low-brow entertainment, I’ve always loved artsy movies, particularly artsy movies with a strong visual aesthetic. It’s hard to find that stuff on mainstream streaming services, so a while back I subscribed to the Criterion Channel. My favorite thing about the service is the curated collections. It’s kind of like a mini virtual film festival, with a bunch of movies adhering to a particular theme and an introduction from a film scholar giving background and context about the films. I’ve been watching one of these collections called Afrofuturism, and it’s been awesome. I watched the Sun Ra movie, Space Is the Place, and a great art film about Ornette Coleman called Ornette: Made in America that I read about in a biography of Ornette Coleman. My favorite film, however, was 1983’s Born in Flames.

Born in Flames seemed like a fitting staff pick for this week, when we’re casting off Trump and moving on to whatever is next. Born in Flames is set ten years after the United States has undergone a (bloodless) revolution that yielded a European-style social democratic government. However, people are still disenfranchised and oppressed under this system, which still disproportionately benefits white men. The film follows several disenfranchised groups as they try to overcome their disagreements and differences and address their common problems and enemies. That’s too bland of a description, though, because the tactics quickly shift from pickets and newspapers articles to terrorism and international arms deals. The film also has strong punk connection; the soundtrack is killer and one of the major characters is the singer in an arty post-punk band.

As someone obsessed with the music of the early 80s, I loved the film’s portrayal of the New York of that era. However, what struck me more about Born in Flames was how relevant it felt to today. Even though they don’t use these terms, this film grapples with identity politics, intersectionality, and white feminism. Those terms might be new (or at least new-ish), but the ideas have been around for a very long time. That the film is set in a flawed social democracy also feels pertinent to this week’s inauguration. After four years of Trump, social democracy sounds like a utopia, but Born in Flames implies that oppressors and the entitled will take advantage of whatever system they work within. Stay vigilant. Keep trying to make the world better.

Staff Picks: Daniel

Hello to all of you in Sorry State land. We have a new president here in the United States of America. That’s good news to most of us. However, the world isn’t going to magically fix itself overnight, is it? Here’s hoping you are hanging in there. Trust me, I know how hard that is. I’m sure your heads are spinning from all the crazy news coming at you from far and near. It’s hard to handle it all. On top of that, we have our own personal shit going on and if, like myself and us here at SSR, you also must deal with sad news of friends, family members, colleagues and heroes passing away, it can seem quite hopeless. I feel your pain, my friends. Hopefully we can make it through the storm together and still find joy in some aspects of our lives. As you are reading this, it will be safe to assume that one of life’s pleasures is music. Hang on to that. Put a record on and allow the music, the energy to lift you and carry you through those dark moments if you are experiencing them.

I owe you an apology for missing the newsletter the other week. I just couldn’t seem to think straight, and writing anything cohesive was impossible for me. It still is very difficult to be honest. Here at SSR, as you know, we have great talents. I am humbled to be sharing space with people whose knowledge of music is so deep and who have the ability to put into words how music sounds. They can make you feel like you are listening to the record they are describing. I tip my hat to them. I wish writing came easier for me, but like any discipline you have to keep at it and so I thank you for bearing with me. I also need to apologize for my inclusion in the 2020 review. In the newsletter, the last half of my piece wasn’t included as I messed up and sent an earlier draft. If you were curious to read the rest, it is now in the archives on the website.

This week rather than talk about a particular record or artist—I’ll return to that next time—I wanted to give a nod to my fellow record store folks and deejays. Those music evangelists known and unknown who are on the front lines slinging vinyl old and new and turning folks on with music. I’ve spent pretty much all my life either behind or in front of the counter of record stores and spinning records as a DJ. It’s my comfort zone. Playing, handling and talking about records is what I do. Although I have had quite a few other jobs in my life, many much more financially rewarding, working in a record store is easily the best thing I’ve done and I am at my most content doing it.

Recently a couple of things happened that reinforced my convictions in this regard. Firstly, a regular friend and supporter of the store posted a very nice comment on his IG about the store and talked about how a good record store is like your favorite bar where they know you and your specific poison and have it ready for you. I thought that was kind of cool and funny. Then the other day whilst working the counter I was playing a hip-hop record by EPMD from the old school golden era. We had been joking amongst ourselves that the only hip-hop records left in our section after the holidays were EPMD records and were puzzled why no one was into them. I was rocking the LP called Strictly Business and the customer who was in the store loved it. He had never heard of them and quickly grabbed that record and the follow up LP Unfinished Business that we also had. It was a little thing, but it made me feel good knowing he was going to go home and have this music in his life.

These thoughts of record stores and how music is so important to our lives were brought home just the other night whilst I was watching an old movie on TCM. I was watching Penny Serenade with Cary Grant and Irene Dunne. It’s a melodrama from 1941 and a rare non-comedic role for Grant. Quite a tear jerker. The plot of the film was built around how they met in a record store where Dunne was working and how years later on the verge of divorce she was playing all the records that corresponded to moments and memories in their lives together. It brought home to me how important records are to us and have been since they first appeared. I felt a sense of pride in being a part of that grand tradition of record store folk. Record stores are more than just a place to buy music. They are a place where people of all stripes can meet and be exposed to cultures and people beyond their normal lives. They are a place where new ideas are hatched, where projects get first talked about and heard, where politics and things bigger than simple tunes can be discussed. They are a place where people can meet and make life long connections. In short, record stores matter and long may they remain such an important part of our culture.

Thank you, friends, for indulging me here and to all those record store people around the world, old and new, I salute you. This next platter on the turntable is dedicated to you all.

The Brothers Three: Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out. T-Neck. 1969

A brilliant piece of heavy psychedelic funk from The Isley Brothers under a different name, but there is no mystery who the real artist is here. This was one of the first releases on their re-activated T-Neck label and is a banger. The group was at a juncture in their career with new Isley Brothers about to join the group and move them into the 70s and even bigger stardom. This was clearly cut to satisfy the rock itch they had to scratch and an obvious nod to Jimi Hendrix and sixties hippie culture. Whatever their motives, it’s a cool record. The 45 was the only release under this name and comes split across the two sides as Pt. I & Pt. II. It’s not expensive to find but is one of those records that, if it was by an obscure artist on a small label, would have people forking out big bucks for a copy.

Staff Picks: Usman

I came into work last week and started packing orders. I picked up this cassette to fulfill an order, and the artwork caught my eye. It looks classic and rides the line of not really giving a shit, if that makes sense haha. So, I pulled that tape out and cranked the volume knob in the store. Man... HELL YES. This is what I need. It’s what I look for in a release. Non-stop ripping, in yer face, down yer throat, and tearin’ that ass up 7 tracks hardcore. Yes, I am uncultured and too stubborn to listen to more than HC (and early ska). I wish the tapes sounded clearer, but the sound is good for what it is. Do you like No Security? If you don’t know them, check ‘em out asap. Right from the start, Salvaje Punk reminds me of the late 80’s/90’s kang bands. It reminds me of Força Macabra too, with the chaoticness of the songs next to the vocal patterns. I don’t wanna seem stupid haha so I will point out that Salvaje Punk sings in Spanish while Força Macabra sings in Portuguese. (Which honestly blows my mind cos they were from Finland.) No Security is one of my favorite Swedish bands… everything they have released is killer. I enjoy listening to Força Macabra, but I don’t know the material well at all. There are some records I didn’t like as much and one that I liked when I heard it, but I can’t even remember the names. Funny enough, in the photo, I have Força Macabra and No Security split EPs as a backdrop, and on both EPs the other side is Crocodileskink... an amazing Japanese band you should check out if you like Doom, Framtid, Abraham Cross, etc. Oh yeah, unfortunately we have sold out of this cassette. Burning Paradise is the label that released the tape. Maybe hit ‘em up if you wanna grab one: I think this band is members of Warthog? I can’t remember where I read that. I know it’s Joe B on the drums, one of the best drummers I have ever fuckin’ seen my entire life, got damn. Alright back to work, til next time...

p.s. Jeff and I are releasing two tapes next week on BPDT. Keep an eye out for Tizzi from Raleigh and Instinct? from Philly!

Staff Picks: Rachel

Edogawa Rampo: The Human Chair (Cadabra Records)

I’ve talked about spoken word records so much in my previous staff picks, so it’s about time something from Cadabra Records made its way on my turntable for a write up. Cadabra Records takes horror stories we all know and love and amps them up with soundscapes, voice actors, and art that perfectly matches. That being said, I’d never heard of Edogawa Rampo or his story The Human Chair. Admittedly, I bought the record because I love the cover art (more on that in a second). This release is an amazing combo of artists: the voice actor is the creep from Human Centipede 2, the music by Slasher Film Festival Strategy couldn’t have been better, and the cover was done by the creepiest printmaker ever, Grady Gordon.

Japanese horror has a knack for taking the everyday and making it super uncomfortable. Rampo’s story is about a craftsman who becomes obsessed with being a chair. You read that right, BEING a chair. Such a weird, simple concept, yet it’s so fucking creepy. When I listened to this the first time, I remember thinking how happy I was to be sitting in a shitty folding chair because someone couldn’t secretly be inside. Imagine an ordinary object hiding a person who is trying to get as close to another human as possible without them knowing. I don’t want to give too much of the story away because it REALLY is a release that you should, at the very least, listen to the excerpt on Cadabra’s website.

I have an ulterior motive with this staff pick; I have to be honest. I knew I wanted to write about a Cadabra release at some point, but this particular one wasn’t by accident. The artist who did the cover, Grady Gordon, just so happens to be interviewed (by yours truly) in the new Holy Mountain Printing magazine, We Do What We Want. I wanted to not so subtly promote this dope magazine with this staff pick. Grady Gordon captures the eeriness of Rampo’s story in his art for the cover of this release… the texture!!! Gordon excels at using his medium of monoprinting to bring to life otherworldly creatures and places, which is why he was a perfect choice to create the artwork for this album.

I’ve admired Grady Gordon’s work for a long time and was so excited for the opportunity to nerd out about printmaking shit with him. He even created a series specifically for the magazine! The two issues that have come out so far have an eclectic and impressive lineup of interviews from the likes of Mortiis and Blood Incantation to Mike Vallely and Gravediggaz. Sorry State has a few of both issues in stock! Do yourself a favor and grab one, or both, next time you’re shopping in store or online and you won’t regret it!

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