Home Geek LifeCulture Vinyl Me, Please May Edition: Experience Unlimited – ‘Free Yourself’

Vinyl Me, Please May Edition: Experience Unlimited – ‘Free Yourself’

by Patrick Phillips

Good things come in 12 inch packages. Delivering limited edition pressings of new and classic albums directly to your doorstep, Vinyl Me, Please operates under a simple philosophy: The Album Lives. With a carefully curated catalog of new and hard to find releases, the subscription service is more than just a record club, it’s a lifestyle choice for folks who wish Record Store Day could happen every month … in their living room.

Vinyl Me Please

The Skinny

Here’s how it works. You send Vinyl Me, Please some of your hard-earned money (plans start at $25/month) and they send you one meticulously selected album worthy of your time and attention. Easy, right? Each custom pressing (often on colored vinyl!) also comes with special features like original artwork and even a recipe for a companion cocktail. You’ll have membership privileges in the VMP shop too, which means you can grab a copy of previous VMP selections from the archives – including April’s immaculate reissue of Loretta Lynn’s country classic Coal Miner’s Daughter – not to mention a bevy of rare and exclusive releases. The store is open. It’s chock full of sexy new discs that need a loving home. And Team VMP are dropping fresh new selections to their stock every single week. Do not miss out.

Word to the wise, while the store is open to the public, most of its more covet-worthy stock is only available to members, so you’ve gotta sign up to get your mitts on them. If you’re peckish about relinquishing control of your record collection over to complete strangers, know that VMP’s Swaps Program is in full effect. That means you can flip any VMP pick you don’t like for a past AOM (or other VMP Exclusive pressings) that’s a little more your speed. My advice? Don’t overthink it. Do yourself a favor and sign up today.

So, what’s in box the box for May? Nothing short of a super rare, rump shaking go-go funk classic straight from the vaults of D.C.’s own Black Fire Records (by way of the mad lads at Now-Again Records).

Vinyl Me, Please

Experience Unlimited

For the Love of Music, Please DO NOT BEND

Who’s Experience Unlimited, and what is Black Fire Records, you ask? Is go-go music something I should already know about, you say? Take heart in knowing that I (like most VMP members) was asking the very same questions when Vinyl Me, Please announced Free Yourself as the Essentials pick for May. So, let’s kick things off with some Cliffs Notes styled answers to those questions, shall we?

  1. Go-go music is a lo-fi, funkdified sub-genre of R&B/Soul/Jazz born as dance-hall music in the D.C. area circa the late ’60s/early ’70s. It’s also seen as a major influence over the early days of hip hop.
  2. Experience Unlimited was a D.C. based funk & jazz collective who found themselves as early torch-bearers for the go-go movement. Free Yourself (1977) was their first album proper.
  3. Black Fire Records was a label founded by D.C. area disk jockey/concert promoter Jimmy Gray, and worked almost exclusively with black artists and groups, including the iconic Afro-funk outfit Oneness of Juju.

Now that we’re all up to speed, I can assure you that Experience Unlimited’s lone release on Black Fire is legit the equivalent a sonic fire. One fueled by fevered horn selections, combustible lyrics/vocals, and heated beats so fierce they could bring shame to the house of George Clinton and Parliament.

Know that I write that last sentence as a long-term devotee to the house of Clinton. Know as well that it’s not a lie, or even a half truth. With their brash, razor-sharp songwriting, and deceptively reckless approach to composition, Experience Unlimited out funked any and everything the funk master himself ever released with the seven, rambunctious, tightly wound tracks that comprise Free Yourself. And they do it with a sharp, “black is strong and beautiful” bent toward societal unrest that’s as relevant today (over 40 years after its release) as it was in 1977.

For the record, I have no intention of breaking Free Yourself down for you on a track by track basis. Like the album itself raves, you really do need to do it on your own. But I will say those songs range from unwieldy funked out soul jams, to rollicking dance floor bangers, to guitar-forward proto-psych pop/funk fusion. All of which should make Experience Unlimited’s sound little more than an unsteady amalgamation of disparate musical ethos. In the hands of frontman Gregory “Sugar Bear” Elliot and Co., it’s nothing short of acousmatic alchemy. Which is to say yes, you’ve heard these styles before, but you’ve never quite heard them like they’re presented throughout Free Yourself. And with all sincerity, I hope you get to hear them via the flawless pressing from Vinyl Me, Please.

Cover Matters

Some albums merely feature cover art. Some album covers actually are art. If you’re not sure which side of that coin Free Yourself is on, well …

Vinyl Me, Please

Don’t forget to peruse the back of that jacket. And take particular note of the beauteous Experience Unlimited insignia smack dab in the middle of that track list. You’ll want to check out the album credits at the bottom too, if only to find out who did/played/sang what on Free Yourself.

As always, try to take note of this glorious little bit of foil stamping that tags Free Yourself forever and always as a bona fide VMP Essential.

Vinyl Me, Please

Of course, before you even take the album out of its posh, resealable poly sleeve, you’ll want to absorb the info on this little sticker. Independently released, long out of print album. Check. Lacquers cut directly from the original master tapes. Check. 180g colored wax. Check. Sure as hell sounds like an Essential release to me.

Once that sleeve is out-of-the-way, there’s more reading to be done on the album’s OBI strip, which contains vital info like the album name, band’s name, and the VMP catalogue number. Hard to believe Team VMP is 77 releases into the madness.

Flip that OBI over and you’ll find a few carefully selected words on why Experience Unlimited’s Free Yourself made the cut as May’s Essential album.

And if you’re the sort that likes to enjoy an adult beverage while spinning records, you’ll definitely want to check out the inner tab of that OBI for Free Yourself‘s companion cocktail recipe. This month’s bevy comes from the folks at Tavernetta in Denver, CO. It’s got tequila in it … but it still sounds like quite a tasty treat. Please drink/spin responsibly.

Now, just in case Free Yourself‘s jaw dropping cover art isn’t enough to bowl you over, there’s more stunning artwork inside the package. It’s a full on street art masterpiece. If want to know the story about the badass artist who put it together, just check the flip side of that print.

Experience Unlimited

What about the wax, you say? Patience, child, we’ll get there soon enough. Before we do, there’s a killer, full color, 12-page booklet to flip through. Believe me when I say you’re gonna want to flip slowly.

Experience Unlimited

Now Again Records

Right then, let’s have a look at that wax already, eh? It’s bronze. It’s beautiful, and you gotta dig that B-side label with the Experience Unlimited logo.

Now Again Records

Yes, it’s bronze, but you’d better believe Free Yourself is gonna bring some serious Black Fire to your deck.

Vinyl Me, Please

How’s it sound? Look, I could burn a couple dozen more words here talking about what it’s like to listen to Free Yourself, but I’m not going to. Not because the music within isn’t worth the effort. It is. But sometimes an album has to be felt as much as it’s heard. Free Yourself is one of those albums. And I’m just not sure the right words exist for me to convey how it feels to hear this funky ass record … but I really do hope you all get to feel it for yourself

Give It a Spin

Sure, everybody loves a fancy new pressing of a beloved/popular album. While there’s no shortage of reissues and repressings hitting the market these day, one of the biggest reasons to join a record club is the chance to discover something you’ve never heard, and probably never would have. Vinyl Me, Please understands this fact better than pretty much any record club in existence. If you don’t believe that fact, I offer Experience Unlimited’s Free Yourself (not to mention their other collaborations with the folks at Now-Again) as irrefutable proof. Like most VMP members, I’d never heard of Experience Unlimited before this album showed up on my doorstep. After spinning it once, I simply cannot imagine my record collection without it. Thanks to Team VMP for helping me discover this banger of a funk album, and for continuing to make every month a genuine musical adventure.

A big THANK YOU to our friends at Vinyl Me, Please for sponsoring this subscription. Don’t forget to check out the official Vinyl Me, Please website and sign up to get some choice wax delivered right to your door each and every month! Can’t wait to see what crunchy treat they send our way for June!

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