Record Store Day’s Oddest Releases: the Good, the Bad, and the Huh?

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Record Store Day will be upon us this Saturday (April 19), and with it we await the glorious multitudes of limited-edition exclusive releases that’ll be sure to leave people in a blissful music-coma for days following. Serious vinyl fans likely read various publications’ guides to Record Store Day releases to anticipate: rarities to cherish (like the hard-to-find Joy Division debut), reissued classics, and indie treasures. Here we thought we’d do something a little different, presenting, rather, the utterly unexpected. Indeed, here you’ll find both shrewd innovations in music curation… and also some purely questionable stuff, from Ron Jeremy (yes, that Ron Jeremy) to David Lynch.

These trax seem as good a place to start as any: Dave Matthews Band certainly have their followers – their last album debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard chart, so, as long as quality is quantifiable, they’re nothing to scoff at. But scoff I shall. Live Trax is a series of albums DMB sells outside of commercial stores – with the exception, surprise, surprise, of Starbucks (DMB and SBs have had a long-lived love affair). In their live shows, they’re known to employ wild improvisation, never performing a song the same way twice – so buckle up, make sure your vanilla latte is firmly placed in its cup holder (use a swizzle-stick stopper, for extra precaution!), and prepare for a 20-mph roller-coaster ride down a tree-lined suburban street.

Might you, perchance, have trouble appreciating classical music? Or maybe you have trouble understanding it? Well perhaps it’d help if it were explained by the auto-fellating, triple-penetrating adult film star, er, musicologist, Ron Jeremy, along with outlaw country singer Shooter Jennings as his producer. With introductions like, “I’m Ron Jeremy, and today, I’m Actor/Pianist. When people see ‘Actor/Pianist,’ they think ‘Pianist’ is a world misspelled. Use your imagination,” and advice like, “playing ‘Für Elise’ gets girls rrrright into the mood,” Jeremy’s music pedagogy is sure to clue you in on the complexities of Sergei “Jackhammer” Rachmaninov and Franz “Cum Gun” Liszt’s oeuvres. You’ll never feel like the embarrassed philistine at the opera again (especially when rimming the person seated next to you). To use a euphemism Jeremy might appreciate, try the milk before you buy the cow — er, preview the tracks here.

Faux Real is a pretty amazing premise, wherein real bands cover fictional songs. For those of us who had The Oneder’s “That Thing You Do” insufferably stuck in our heads for the duration of the mid-to-late-90’s, this is our chance to get a slightly different version stuck in our heads for another half-decade.

David Lynch cannot escape his own weirdness, nor would he ever want to. His attempts at self-normalizing only further alienate him from normative human behavior: held against his filmmaking aesthetic of unsettlement, Lynch’s stints as a weatherman and coffee-roasting entrepreneur, for example, somehow ended up beating most of his art at its own disturbing game. So of course, if he were releasing something for Record Store Day, it was bound to end up on this list. Lo and behold, he did, and it did! The Air Is on Fire: Soundscape – a collaboration between Lynch and Dean Hurley – accompanied his first retrospective art exhibition in 2007, and most of it sounds like a tractor moving very slowly underwater. Pairs well with Katy Perry’s Prism, also being released on vinyl for Record Store Day.

Lefse Records gradually has been releasing songs off of The Space Project, an album for which the label commissioned 14 bands to write songs incorporating “electromagnetic radiation fluctuations in the magnetosphere of the planets, moons and large asteroids” that Voyagers 1 & 2 picked up in passing. Each release got me increasingly excited about the project – compilations of new works are so often tributes to other artists, their one through-line being that all material originated with that one musician. The amazing uniqueness of this project is that all songs (by the likes of The Antlers, Spiritualized, and Beach House) are unified by these underlying celestial sounds, and that the artists to which these 14 interpreters are paying homage are actually giant, inanimate, super-massive balls. I promise I’m not stoned. (Listen to the album now over at NPR.)

When I’m desperate for new music, my first go-to isn’t usually to peruse the catalog of innumerable child actors who appeared on The Amanda Show to see if, by chance, any of them have dropped an album. But Drake Bell, of Amanda Show and Drake and Josh semi-fame, is now providing us with his third dropping: Ready, Steady, Go! And for some reason Record Store Day is seeing the release of I Won’t Stand in Your Way, a 7″ featuring two songs off the album – the titular “I Won’t Stand In Your Way” and the song I wish were titular: “Bitchcraft.”

This album of Italo-disco tracks is the second in Medical Records’ Electroconvulsive Therapy series, dedicated, according to the Record Store Day site, “to compiling rare singles in the synth/wave/disco genre.” These obscure tracks will sound intriguingly foreign yet familiar: their influence is highly audible in artists like La Roux and The Knife (“Plastic Love” by Zed seems like it could have been penned and performed by Karin Dreijer Andersson).

Though I never knew that the Glass City (Toledo, Ohio) – so called for its innovations in bottle-making – had much of an underground music scene between the ’60s and the ’80s, it’s always fun when a compilation like this exhumes a bygone scene and brings the underground into the light. The choice may seem arbitrary (any city is at any point overloaded with garage bands), but hopefully there’ll be a sonic or thematic cohesion to the mix that’ll prove this was truly an unknown hub of lo-fi excellence.

Despite the fact that it was the second-most successful EP ever on the Billboard charts, it’s hard not to greet this selection – a relic from 2004 – with a bit of a “wha?” Linkin Park have been releasing new albums every couple of years, but when, really, was the last time they seemed relevant? I’m all for uncovering buried musical gems, but this EP seems niether buried enough nor – with its clunky rehashing of Linkin Park’s earlier singles – precious enough to be revisited. (Sidenote: if you’re looking for more rap-rock, Korn is also putting out a picture disc for Record Story Day.)

Way before becoming the beloved and oft-parodied voice of wholesome family films, Randy Newman released this surprisingly strange debut album. Listening at random to a couple of tracks, I found myself thinking, “this orchestration sounds a great deal like Van Dyke Parks.” Turns out, it was produced by Van Dyke Parks. Randy Newman knows what’s up.