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[vinylsighting] Record collecting with Brad San Martin: An introduction

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It’s an image no one really wants to be associated with: pasty and hunched beneath a bare light bulb, in the basement of a house you don’t own (but your parents do), squinting at the numbers etched into the runout groove of a 45 that is valuable because it is scarce – not because it is remotely good, musically speaking.

The dire fate of the record collector, consumed by his expanding piles, haunted by a listening backlog that stretches to decades, covetously cherishing rarity over artistic merit.

Despite exhibiting some of the symptoms, I’ve always thought of myself as more of a music junkie than a collector. I love The Beach Boys Today!, but I’ve never felt compelled to hunt down an original pressing (although if one happens to pass across my fingers at a yard sale, it would have a new home instantly). I just want to hear the stuff. You say Anthony Braxton wrote a piece for four amplified shovel and a pile of coal? (He did.) I want a record of that. (Too bad the piece languishes unrecorded.) I don’t care how.

While I appreciate the staggering convenience imposed upon us by music’s digital revolution, I can’t help but lament that the music’s trappings – the packaging, the labels, the sleeves, and the eccentricities that inevitably emerge when pressing music into some physical conveyance – are being so quickly discarded and forgotten. After all, at best, these elements were extensions of the artists’s original vision. At worst, they were so at odds with that vision (or so enmeshed with a vision so ridiculous) that they become comical, quaint, campy, or just plain odd.

This web log – dubbed VinylSighting – is a celebration of these artifacts: good, bad, clueless, comforting, exhilarating, or otherwise compelling. The exhibits stem from (now) decades of yard sales, flea markets, record shops, gifts, and random findings from around the world, whose sources have since been lost on me. I don’t intend to exalt the packaging above the content, but before you accuse me, c’mon, now... let’s have a little fun with this.

[1. Feminine Complex, Livin' Love]

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An all-girl psych-inflected garage outfit operating out of Nashville, Tennessee in the 1960s? Hard to believe, but here’s proof... alas, it’s mostly session musicians on this album, but when beloved Cambridge-based indie Teenbeat reissued this on CD a while back, they found a clutch of demos that proved the hourly hacks unnecessary.

[2. The Brains, "Money Changes Everything"]

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Pre-Cyndi Lauper version on the punning Gray Matter imprint, hailing from my hometown of Atlanta — which had a healthy, brainy new wave scene that always seemed to suffer in the shadow of its more free-wheeling neighbor Athens. Cover by the great Sean Bourne, whose eye-catchingly severe geometric paintings and collages graced many an ATL platter.

[3. Anthony Braxton, For Alto]

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In 1969, the tiny Chicago jazz and blues indie Delmark took a chance on this, which must have been a budget-buster: Anthony Braxton deconstructing saxophone playing to its bare bones across two LPs of compositions for unaccompanied horn…but Braxton also reassembled said bones into beguiling new skeletons that still skulk and provoke. I bet this thing broke even, decades later perhaps.

[4. Larry Richardson, Clinton Bullins, and the Blue Ridge Boys, "Wild Over Me"]

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Discovered in a dusty corner of the County Sales warehouse in Floyd, Virginia. I have a weakness for small-label bluegrass, which was DIY when punk was still in diapers. I’m just sad I don’t get Channel 12.

[5. Vinicius de Moraes and Baden Powell, Os Afro Sambas]

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Titanic recent find, in the back of a Boston record emporium that best be unnamed. Stone classic Brazilian LP, which finds bossa laureate Vinicius de Moraes wedding his poetic sensibility (and his affectingly untrained voice) to the more rugged strains of samba. Mono pressing, too, which must mean something. Still has the original label from the store it was purchased at circa ‘66: Eletro Disco in Ipanema.

Brad San Martin is a multi-instrumentalist and songwriter in the Boston-based indie-pop trio One Happy Island. His newly-minted VinylSighting blog is a welcome addition to On The Download, despite the shotcomings of not being able to download a vinyl record.  

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