Wednesday, March 14, 2012

It Came from the Past

My pal Jarvis is a big fan of vinyl. (He's a big fan of Pearl Jam too, but that's irrelevant at this juncture so we'll let it slide.) My buddy Marc with a C is doubly-so. They've both said some really compelling things about the medium itself, about the warm, crisp, genuine fidelity of analog audio, and I tend to agree. And yet I seldom buy or even listen to traditional LPs.

For me the record has become a different sort of animal altogether. It's a rare treat—part Thanksgiving turkey, part prize trophy. Something I can enjoy both as an active consumer and an object that provides me with some strange semblance of residual pleasure just by continued proximity. The back wall at my office, for example, is festooned with framed albums and covers along with other keepsakes like my Star Trek phaser and my signed Sci-Fried drum head. I keep them there as just another reminder that music, though I typically hear it via insufficient earbuds played as tinny MP3s through my iPhone, is a thing that has a perfect physical mass.

I delve into this realm of the oft-forgotten format because one of the most interesting hip-hop collaborations of the past year was recently released as a limited edition collectible 12 inch. My Canadian homey The Garthim-Master was nice enough to send me a copy and, as I neglected to write a proper review of Ghosts of Nostalgia when he and German-based producer DJ Extend originally released the full downloadable version back in October, it seemed only fitting to share my thoughts about this newer, leaner iteration.

Totally forgoing the original song lineup for the sake of its own cohesion, the vinyl release kicks off with the Heroes-inspired "Save the World," a deep cut on the original album, before seguing into the funky, haunting cautionary tale of "MMORPG." It then backtracks to the comical groove of "Dude, Where's My AT-AT At?," featuring the incomparable Wordburglar. This one was one of my favorite joints of 2011, and its inclusion alone should likely make this a must-buy for indie record collectors with a fine ear for the stranger side of Canadian hip-hop. Side A concludes with Dune tribute "Fremen Oath," another genuine stand-out.

The lengthy "Rorschach's Journal" kicks off program two with a sharp guitar groove and The Master at his abstract best, and that flows nicely into "Krang," a song about the titular TMNT foil that, while not a favorite on my first listen, has slowly grown on me. "Mynocks & Jawas," another fabulous Star Wars send-up, marks the album's final decent, and The Garthim-Master's rapid fire lyrical meditation on D&D, "Multi-Class" closes things out with a dissonant bang.

Admittedly, there are other songs from the original release I would've loved to've seen included in this iteration. The deeply personal "Action Figures" is one example, as the appropriately epic "The Crystal Shard," but it's hard to disagree with the results. This 8-track redux is certainly leaner than the full version, but it still manages to pack a punch.

When I mentioned the album in my Halloween music round-up I talked about how DJ Extend's thick beats played well off The G-M's story-driven narratives. I may've even touched on how, lyrically, the album walks a line between the autobiographical and impressionistic—and both these things are still genuinely true. But mostly what this new release provides is a bit of tangibility to a notably interesting (and still free, I might add) downloadable release.

It doesn't come in a fancy sleeve, which is kind of a shame given Jacek Grzeskowiak's exquisite cover art, but the marbled blue vinyl fits the album's tone perfectly. Dark and whimsical, Ghosts of Nostalgia is an intoxicating blend of pop culture reverence tempered with personal recollection. And if you enjoyed the project in its original form, $11 is a small price to pay for a literal keepsake of your musical journey.

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