Vinyl Me, Please January Edition: Nada Surf – High/Low
Before we rip into January’s box, let’s have a moment of silence for David Bowie who changed music and pop-culture in ways that humanity will never fully understand.
Farewell old friend. We miss you already.
8 January 1947 – 10 January 2016
Now, on with the show.
Vinyl Me, What? Vinyl Me, Please!!
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 and lovingly assembled album art, 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. And in their living room.
Here’s how it works. Stay with me now, cause this may get complicated. You supply the Vinyl Me, Please crew with $23 a month and they supply you with one meticulously selected album worthy of your time and attention. Oh wait … that’s stupid easy, right? That custom pressing (anywhere from 140g to 180g vinyl) comes in a gorgeously designed sleeve chock full of extras too numerous to list. You’ll also get the VMP weekly newsletter The Standard, featuring music news, playlists, downloads, interviews, and other member-exclusive content. Not enough? The Vinyl Me, Please team gives away free swag at an alarming rate and your name automatically goes on their “friend” list. Still not convinced? How’s access to the VMP members-only online store sound? The January store is now open, giving you a chance to grab a copy of every previous VMP selection from the archives – including December’s release of Spaces by Nils Frahm – plus additional rare or special edition vinyl. Standout selections this month include Daughter’s outstanding sophomore album Not To Disappear, a limited pressing of DIIV’s yet to be released Is the Is Are and Chairlift’s Moth, the long-awaited follow-up to their miraculous 2012 release, Something.
Yep, the Vinyl Me, Please team have thought of pretty much everything. Do yourself a favor and sign up today. But first, let’s have a look at what’s inside this month’s box.
For the Love of Music, Please DO NOT BEND
Nada Surf’s High/Low was released at a rather precarious time for rock & roll. ‘Grunge’ had successfully knifed the bloated-belly of the late ’80s rock scene, but the term itself was becoming a punchline. As listeners grew weary of the doom & gloom of the scene, poppier rock acts like No Doubt stormed the airwaves and bubblegum acts like Backstreet Boys were beginning to cast an ominous shadow over the entire music industry. Even U2 had gone Pop.
Produced with a punchy, punk-pop edge by The Cars frontman Ric Ocasek, High/Low scored an unexpected hit with the Buzz Bin single ‘Popular’ and cast Nada Surf to the forefront of a flagging rock scene. Irreverent, anthemic, and ironic in that oh-so ’90s way, ‘Popular’ is a song that I’ve always hated. I spent a lot of time changing television and radio stations whenever it played. For that reason, I never really gave Nada Surf’s High/Low a chance. Twenty years after its release … I still hate ‘Popular’. The good news is I’m really digging High/Low.
Though Nada Surf hardly broke new ground with their music – the band was immediately and understandably compared to Weezer – they still made the most of their moment. High/Low was recorded and mastered in a paltry 19 days. It’s hard not to get wrapped up in the humming immediacy present throughout the album. Behind Guitarist/Singer Matthew Caws’ crunchy riffs and earnest vocals, the band rips through 36 minutes of breathless, near flawless power-pop madness and barely break a sweat. With spirited, caustic tracks like ‘The Plan’ and ‘Treehouse’, High/Low is fun without being silly, serious without being dour and peppy without being too poppy. With themes of alienation, misguided affections, wide-eyed optimism and devastating let-downs, it’s a collection of songs that remains as relevant to the slightly older audience who remember those feelings as it is to a younger audience first experiencing them. In other words, it’s timeless rock ‘n’ roll. Except for ‘Popular’. Which is a terrible song.
But What’s in the Box?!
High/Low was a playful album with an immediate sense of nostalgia upon its release in 1996. What struck me as I listened to it for the first time in roughly 20 years was the beautiful air of impending danger buried just beneath the surface. Seems that even in their youth, the band understood that the good times always come with a level of risk. Kinda like that time you jumped your dirt-bike right into your best friend’s pool on a dare. Subtlety has never been Nada Surf’s thing, and that’s just fine. While I initially found the cover of High/Low a bit easy, I can see now that it marvelously captures the mode and the spirit of the music inside. Well done, boys.
As always, the album comes tucked in an outer-sleeve chock full of important information like the artist’s name, the album’s title, month of issue … and even the initials of the person who personally handled your disc. Nice packaging, BG.
Don’t forget to flip that sleeve over and scope out High/Low‘s aptly titled companion cocktail – Twentieth Century – courtesy of Ted Haigh’s ‘Vintage Spirits and Forgotten Cocktails’. It has Gin in it and will therefore be delicious. Please drink responsibly.
Digging deeper, you’ll find two hidden gems – a lovely bit of poetic rambling from VMP’s Tyler Barstow and Dave Pemberton’s spectacular 12″x12″ photograph of the band circa their mid-’90s breakout.
And all of this before you even peel the shrink wrap off of your record. Before you rip open the plastic and start digging through that sleeve, make sure to take note of the all-important info on this sticker. Well Done, VMP.
Let’s have a look inside that lovely gate-fold sleeve. Make sure you don’t overlook the original liner notes from the album’s 1996 release.
No digital download this month, but the VMP team has included a voucher for 20% off your pre-order of the band’s upcoming album, You Know Who You Are, which is pretty damn sweet. Just make sure you redeem it before March 4.
Tucked inside that gatefold, you’ll find a killer Notes & Lyrics book that offers sensitive, often hilarious insight into the band’s thoughts and processes while recording the album. There’s some fantastic candid photography in there as well.
Be sure to note the fancy anti-static sleeve as you remove your disc. And try to contain yourself when you get your first look at that gorgeous orange/gold vinyl. Have I mentioned how much I love colored vinyl? Cause I do. Take note of that gorgeous, old-school Elektra Records label as well. Believe me, this disc is going to look amazing on your turntable.
How’s it sound? Like shotgunning beers on prom night with your best friend and your best lady – but then remembering that prom night was like 20 years ago and you haven’t seen those people since – and then wondering why best lady broke up with you and why she hasn’t called you in two decades, then thinking it might be nice to give best buddy a call and grab a drink and then laughing as you wonder if the principal ever found that little plastic bag you left in your locker, and then … ugh, never mind.
Give It a Spin, Eh?
Let’s be honest, nostalgia is a big part of listening to music on vinyl. While the folks at Vinyl Me, Please have excelled at featuring exciting releases from new artists, their classic album picks remain both compelling and relevant. I wrote off Nada Surf’s High/Low as a kitschy slice of pop upon its release. Re-discovering the album 20 years later, I’m happy to admit that I was wrong. Spirited, mischievous, and surprisingly insightful, Nada Surf’s crunchy debut is a rare rock album that understands that youth is as fleeting as it is eternal. More than just a straight shot of nostalgia, High/Low is a ‘soundtrack of our lives’ sort of album that’s as relevant today as it was upon its release. It’s also an album I never would have revisited without Vinyl Me, Please. Props to the VMP team for dusting this one off and trusting that listeners – young and old – will give it the listen that it deserves. Of course, you may not always love the music VMP sends your way, but it will always be an experience … and that’s the whole point of music.