As this is the first of many vinyl reviews, I’ll explain the format I hope to achieve. It may evolve over time, or shift into something entirely different. I will go through my vinyl library from A to Z, or in this specific case a number, starting with 12″ LPs, then to 10″, 7″, and finally boxsets. Should I receive new vinyl, I will insert it where necessary. I will talk about the physical product, i.e. the jacket, inner sleeve, and vinyl quality and colors. Then I will review the album itself. I will most likely listen digitally and then to the vinyl so I can compare and contrast. And now, onward:
An Artistic Experience, Inside and Out
’68 is the new (not really) project of Josh Scogin, post-breakup of The Chariot. He is joined by Michael McClellan on drums, and together they are quite the dynamic duo. I have had the pleasure of seeing them live three times and each show seemed familiar and yet was wildly different. It truly is a performance for them, not just song-playing. Their first release was a two song EP called “Midnight”, which will be the first 7″ review, and they soon followed it up with a full length LP, “In Humor and Sadness”, in July of 2014. Being a fan of all of Scogin’s bands before ’68, I knew I would like this album, but I had no idea what exactly it would be.
I don’t always collect every variant, but when I do I go broke. Please tell me other people feel this pain. If I love a band and want to support them or even if I just find one particular album incredible, I will try to get my hand on every variant. This is a good release to help make a few reasons I have for this seem valid. I’ll probably hate myself when I’m reviewing other releases in a few months.
The artwork for this album is great. Pink as the primary color isn’t a common thing, but it works here. It sticks out enough to make you stop and look at the CD on the shelf when browsing at your local record store (circa 1990, but doesn’t the fact I have vinyl imply I’m living in denial?), but the focal point of the destroyed tape recorder tells you the album packs a punch. And the destroyed hand-held camera on the back reinforces that. After seeing these things, you might be about to put the CD back on the shelf, but the track listing spelling out “REGRET NOT.” would tell you that you surely would not regret buying this album. The artwork looks great on the 12×12 sleeve. A big reason I got into vinyl was having all the great artwork from albums I love, even bigger than the CD booklets I had been used to. I thought of it as like having a poster that holds music. How could you not want that? The stock is about standard, though it seems a bit more glossy than some other covers, but that could just be the slight film of tears in my eyes … Can you tell how the album review is going to go?
The initial pressings were the Ultra Clear, Teal/White Swirl, and White variants. I got all three because I loved this album. It seems insane to buy the same album three times in an age where people download thousands of songs for nothing, so does it put me on a completely different level of insanity that I bought it three more times after that? Of course when the second pressing of Mint and Pink came out, I bought them. And when the US store got copies of the initially Europe only Purple? You get the idea. I’ve always considered the color of the vinyl an extension of the artwork. The band wouldn’t make these colors if they didn’t make sense, and you can see that very clearly in these variants. Every color is present in the artwork. I almost feel like I’m holding a piece of what makes the artwork whole, and seeing them all laid out next to the wall flag I have of the album cover just confirms my feelings.
The vinyl is 150 gram, decent quality, nothing extra ordinary. The mixed colors feel pretty standard as far as warmth and depth. There is some noise, though it’s nothing that is glaring, especially during the more chaotic points of the music. The White has that standard “white noise” that all white vinyl has, but the Ultra Clear is the best of the lot. I figured this would be the case, but even so, it was still nice to hear all the other colors were not awful, as can sometimes be the case with colored vinyl. I always hope that there will be a standard black or clear variant, as those are preferable for the audiophile experience, but I don’t begrudge bands if it doesn’t happen. I’ll listen to this through headphones to hear all the different guitar tones and loops, or I’ll crank it to 11 through my speakers and just rage. Either way, the vinyl delivers the music perfectly, and I couldn’t ask for more.
My only complaint with the vinyl release is the lack of an insert. The CD booklet has lyrics and even an extra picture of a destroyed typewriter. (How did 1970’s technology hurt you Josh Scogin? Can I help you work through this?) The inner sleeve is just the standard white paper, so maybe they could have done a printed sleeve with the lyrics and more art on it instead. It’s a small grievance, and one that I will probably make a few more times, however, as I do have the CD, I’ll forgive them … this time.
Every review of this album mentions an album named after a cleaning product by a prominent Seattle-based band from the late 80’s, early 90’s … I will do my best to avoid mentioning those things in an attempt to say something you haven’t yet read.
The first lyrics of the thrown into your ear are, “Take your heart into the next room”, and that’s easily the best way I can describe this album. My heart is in the House of Scogin. When The Chariot ended, I didn’t move to a new house, I just went into the next room, and ’68 was waiting for me. The album is very similar in structure and lyrical content to Scogin’s other works, but musically it has some variations previously unheard. And the mixing/production is also very unique.
There are mainly three instruments driving the album (vocals, guitar, and drums) and the main force, to me, is Scogin’s vocals. He is one of the few vocalists (another being Aarron Weiss of mewithoutYou) that I would listen and believe anything they say in a song, because you can tell how raw and honest he is. He ranges from screams, to singing, to almost a distant whisper, and each stage is compelling. I won’t pretend to know exactly what the lyrics of each song mean, but as I said, I’ll believe every word. Scogin’s delivery insists that he be heard and that you listen. There are plenty of great lines that need no deciphering though, such as:
“Resurrect yourself. Never underestimate the power of change.” – Track 2
“I never really lost my innocence, but she quickly got rid of me.” – Track 4
“If they take your crown away, is that really all that makes you king?” – Track 9
The production, at least from my inexperienced ears, seems minimal, yet purposeful. This is meant to be a raw, in your face album, full of all the feedback, blips, and ringing that a show would have. This is an attempt to capture a 35 minute performance to be unleashed at your will. The mixing is interesting as well. At times the vocals and guitar will be completely in one speaker, with drums and organ in the other, only to switch everything around on the next track. Again, I think this is done to try and mimic a live performance, You’re running around the pit, guitars are on the left, now the right. You crowd surf to the front and catch the bass drum thumping into your chest, but then have to walk to the back of the venue and fight your way back into the crowd. The music shifts to give you these feelings, and it keeps you on your toes.
To say the songs lack structure would sound negative, but it’s a very strong part of the album. There is no verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge standard, instead the album is best described in peaks and valleys. The peaks being heavy, chaotic, and loud; The valleys being slower, distant, and calm. Sometimes you reach the end of a peak section, only to find another peak. Sometimes you hit a peak, land in a valley, and then vault to a peak, just to land in a valley until the end of the song. All these elements suit ’68. It shows itself during their live show. I don’t think they’ve ever actually performed a song live the way it is on the album. They are free to craft and move these peaks and valleys within the song to play what they feel. And it works. Well.
With all that said, this album is great. I end up listening to it at least once a month, if not more. They recently announced a signing to Cooking Vinyl America and the title of their second album, “Two Parts Viper”. I’m super pumped at what this album could, and probably will, be. I will for sure do a review when it eventually drops. For now, go listen to this album, in any way you can.
Spotify Youtube iTunes and if you really love it, find someone willing to part with their vinyl. Unfortunately for you reader, I am not!