State In The Real – Penn State Music Scene

Sunday Spin: Wincing the Night Away

 

so give me your hand and let’s jump out the window…

 

It’s Sunday. The week is about to start but you have one last day to chill and do whatever the hell it is you want to do. No work, nobody to bother you, just a lazy Sunday, a day of rest and leisure, a day for you to be you in your most natural form.

 

For me, and some of my friends at State in the Real, that means spending the day with the stereo up and the records spinning. And that’s why we created The Sunday Spin. A weekly column where vinyl fans can share some of their favorite records and why they’re so important to us, how we got ‘em and why every spin is better than the last. So long time vinyl fans and newcomers who are only vi-curious get ready to sit back and spin to some of our favorite records.

 

Before I get into my record of the week, I just want to say how excited I am to be a part of this column and help spread the word of vinyl to eager ears and open minds like you guys, because few things in this life bring me a higher sense of elation then throwing on a good record and jamming to my favorite songs, in the order the artists’ intended, and in the most intimate sounding format short of having the band play live right in your house.

 

There’s a certain auditory magic that happens when you start spinning a record that means a lot to you. You can do more than just hear it, but you can feel it. The sounds are clearer than you’ll find on any mp3 player or CD, and yet it is imperfect, creating a unique experience in which no two records are the same. Each album has it’s own bumps and scratches and pops that bring an intimate personality to your favorite albums. They’re completely yours and completely unique based on the experiences you’ve had with them. That’s why we choose vinyl.

 

 

 

I decided to kick off The Sunday Spin with the first vinyl I ever bought, and the album that to this day remains my favorite album of all time. Those of you who have read me before could have probably guessed that it would be Wincing the Night Away by The Shins released by Sub Pop. I had this album on a CD since it first came out and was instantly blown away. And it still impresses me with every listen. I can not express enough how incredible this record is from beginning to end. That’s why it had to be my first vinyl ever.

 

you’re not obliged to swallow anything you despise…

 

I love music so very much. It’s not just entertainment for me, it’s my whole world. I know some of you reading this feel the same. When I was about 17, my musical tastes started to mature and come into what they are now. I was just getting into Hip-Hop through Kid Cudi and Common, and I was leaving behind my ska and punk rock adolescence (not that I still don’t get down from time to time). My teenage mind was becoming a sponge for all types of new music . It was great. I was so overloaded with new sounds that music consumed me, and it was the best time in my life.

 

I began talking to every single person I knew trying to find some new band or artist to listen to, while in the meantime going to every possible live show that I could to find new stuff to listen to. My brain was a musical sponge, and I was expanding my knowledge and tastes beyond anything I could have ever imagined. I was listening to so much and so many different types of music, my ipod on shuffle usually threw out some crazy combinations. One minute you’d be listening to some chill techno from Royksopp, the next you’e be jamming to a 15 minute Decemberists pirate shanty. And I loved every minute of it.

I needed to get closer to the music.

 

 

too far along in our climb, stepping over what now towers to the sky…

 

It was in my great quest for musical worldliness that I began talking to my friends’ parents, as well as my own. They would tell me about bands like the Doors and Pink Floyd and other classics that would go on to change my life. And they all said the same thing: “you know? nothing sounds quite as good as it did on vinyl.” And I usually just dismissed it as older people “golden years” type stuff. I was a rebellious teenager after all.

 

But then I got curious, and for my birthday, I asked my dad for a cheap turntable to try it out. He got me a SONY PS-LX250H turntable, and he threw in a bunch of his old records. He had some good stuff too. And I had to admit, despite a scratch here and there, they sounded amazing. I would throw on an old Zeppelin album and it sounded like Robert Plant was yelling right behind me. It was unlike anything I had ever heard before, and I couldn’t get enough.

 

But I needed my own collection. I needed some of my favorite albums. And I knew where I’d find the best stuff. So one day I coaxed my stepdad into taking us into New York City’s East Village to go look for records. If you’re a fan of music or art or cool people then you need to go for a visit. Wandering through the village I came upon my first record shop, a little place called Bleeker St. Records.

 

It was a pretty cool little shop, the upstairs has more modern methods of listening to music (and by modern I mean 80’s and 90’s technology), but the basement had huge selection of all kinds of vinyls. They are well guarded of course by the fierce Bleeker St. Records cats of course.

 

 

So I spent the entire afternoon digging through stack after stack, knowing I needed the prefect record to start my collection. It had to be one of my favorites, and it had to be a great album that I knew I could listen to over and over again all the way through. Then I saw it. Flipping through the stack labeled “S,” I saw the familiar yet bizarre cell like shapes of one of my all time favorites Wincing the Night Away. That was the one. That was my first album.

 

I brought it home and immediately ripped off the plastic shrink wrap, turned on my stereo, and dropped the needle for the first time. It was an experience unlike anything I had ever heard. Wincing the Night Away is perfect because not only are the songs all brilliant and diverse, but the album feels like its a living, breathing entity. And this was only enhanced by the effects of the vinyl. You can hear and feel the emotions of each song as they passed under the needle and out through the speakers and ride every high and low as the tracks come and pass, like so many phases of a creature’s life.

 

not a mind will retain even a trace, of the thoughts that I struggled to tell…

 

The first song “Sleeping Lessons” starts slow and muffled and quiet and slowly builds into a lively and explosive intro. I didn’t even really like that song when I had it on a CD, mostly because I skipped it before it got to the auditory orgasm that is the last act of the song. After spinning it on vinyl, I understood it. I had a deep and intimate connection with the song, and now it’s one of my favorites of all time. (I actually had to stop writing this article for a few minutes to play it on guitar as it was playing). I instantly knew that this album was the right choice.

 

 

 

 

Next up was “Australia,” which in my opinion is The Shins’ best written song. Another song with such deep emotion line of James Mercer’s outlandish, yet somehow grounded poetry. As the record spun and the song’s guitar solo began, it sounded like the band was in the room with me, performing from some unknown corner of my room in a private show just for me. I was loving it.

 

 

Then came a song called “Pam Berry,” another song I used to skip. But by listening to it on vinyl, I realized that the artists intended for it to be a short lead in song to “Phantom Limb,” my favorite song of all time. I would not have known this just by listening to the CD or my ipod with the option to skip songs. Vinyl connects you to artists because you can hear and feel their intentions when the wrote those songs and ordered them on the album that way. This was something my new-found love of records was beginning to teach me, and it was a most valuable lesson.

 

Then “Phantom Limb” came on. And every glimmering chorus of “woah-ahoh-ahoh” sounded brighter and brighter as I began to notice little details of the song that I never had before. At the end, as the song begins to fade out, you can softly hear a beautiful female voice harmonizing with a “la-la-la” to the guitar riffs and chorus. It is such a subtle little addition but it makes a world of difference in the song. Turing an already incredible listen, into a life changing one.

 

 

The record continues with lesser known songs such as “Sealegs” and “Red Rabbits.” “Sealegs is a groovy almost hip-hop track that I believe to be a chill wind down from the mind-blowing first half of the record. Then begins the curious sounds of “Red Rabbits.” This song starts the phases of life over again as the beginning sounds like creatures emerging after a cold and dark winter to see that spring is just starting to bloom.

 

It was at this point that I realized Wincing the Night Away could be thought of as seasons, changing with each song. Songs like “Sleeping Lessons,” “Red Rabbits,” and a later track “Girl Sailor,” all represent new cycles of life and are presented as the “Spring.” Curious and sunny but cool and emergent, these songs all embody the characteristics of the Spring season and lead into the Summer follow up songs. These songs are “Australia,” “Turn on Me,” and “A Comet Appears.” Represent one day of summer when played front to back. “Australia” has the bustling jauntiness of a busy Summer morning, while “Turn on Me” is more like a hot July afternoon, and closing with the nostalgic sunset of a warm summer night as “A Comet Appears,” closes out the album. “Pam Berry” and “Black Wave” are the Autumn tracks, as they are chilling and inviting at the same time, and appear before the Winter tracks “Phantom Limb” and “Split Needles” both of which exhibit wintery characteristics.

 

 

These are the kinds of thoughts you can have when you experience music that you love this intimately. You can hear and feel and imagine all sorts of new things making the record more than just a collection of songs, but an experience, unique to each and every listener. And while this has been achieved through CD and ipod playthroughs of albums, there is nothing like the intimacy of a vinyl.

 

As the record drew to a close playing through the uplifting deep cut “Girl Sailor,” and closing with the haunting guitar slides and eerie lyrics of “A Comet Appears,” I heard the familiar “click” of the needle retracting and lifting back into its nest. I thought briefly about how such a simple process of a needle picking up bumps on a vinyl disc could lead to what I had just experienced. It was nothing short of mind blowing. I was sold for life on vinyl, and I’ll never stop expanding my collection. Wincing the Night Away was my guide into the musical revelation that was the vinyl experience, and I think it was the best choice I could have made for my first record.

 

it’s like I’m pushed on the handlebars, of a blind man’s bike…

 

 

Since then, I have been scooping up vinyls at an alarming and wallet depleting rate, but each one that I pick up is absolutely worth the money ten times over. There truly is nothing like the experience of your favorite albums spun on vinyl. Picking up every last little echo and subtle instrumentation that paints this complete picture of the music, the way the artist intended you to experience it.

 

I can’t defend enough collecting vinyl and having your own unique experiences with your favorite songs and bands and records. There is nothing like it. I am honored that we could do this series and share some of those experiences with true music lovers. And I hope that this will inspire people to try vinyl for themselves and get to know just how eye-, or rather ear-opening, listening to records truly is.

 

Thank you guys so much for reading, and be sure to check in to the next Sunday Spin for another great record.