The resurgence in vinyl has been long discussed and documented, touched on both here and elsewhere. With this growth came a variety of services seeking to capitalize, bridging music sharing and recommendation and subscription box services that have been wildly successful fads for niche markets. Vinyl clubs have been around for a minute, and seem to be proliferating wildly over recent years, keeping in step with (and contributing to) the rising demand and manufacturing-delay-plagued vinyl industry.
Vinyl Me, Please (not a sponsor) is perhaps the most widely known player in the field, with other well known services like Magnolia Record Club, Turntable Kitchen, and VNYL maintaining some share of the market and cultural capital in the hobby, with Gimme Metal offering a monthly vinyl service specifically for metal fans and recently featured classics from Amon Amarth and Yob. Some specialized record labels (including but not limited to Third Man and Church Road) are also offering their own services as well to dedicated fans. Amazon have recently thrown their hat into the ring, offering what they call “essential classics” each month, but compared to their competition, it doesn’t appear quite appealing just yet, at least compared to Vinyl Me, Please’s classics track.
Speaking of Vinyl Me, Please (henceforth VMP), we’ve long been watching from afar to see what this service can do, and finally decided to pull the plug. For three months, fueled by the power of targeted advertising on social media, two Heavy Bloggers (Jimmy Rowe and Jordan Jerabek) jumped in on a high-profile colored pressing of Kentucky country artist Sturgill Simpson’s sophomore record Metamodern Sounds In Country Music and stuck around following the announcement of a special VMP pressing of The Mars Volta’s prog classic De-Loused In The Comatorium. Let’s finally see if VMP is worth the hype (and that $43 monthly price tag).
May Country Track: Sturgill Simpson – Metamodern Sounds In Country Music
2016’s A Sailer’s Guide to Earth may have been the massive critical darling that landed him on the Grammys, but the preceding 2014 opus Metamodern Sounds In Country Music is what put Jackson, KY artist Sturgill Simpson on the map. The record is a more traditional approach to country music (read: not the post-9/11 pop-country you’ve likely been subjected to), with a psychedelic twist. Simpson croons on the topic of drugs, psychology, and spirituality with production that pushes the otherwise straightforward country arrangements into the realm of weird psychedelic folk. I’m sensing some skepticism, but take our word for it: a website with the word heavy in its name twice must be obsessed with this album for a reason despite not being particularly heavy in its aesthetics. But if you want to hear an anarchist tackle ego death in the stylistic lineage of outlaw country, give this one a spin.
This one was advertised heavily on Facebook and triggered this excursion from two of us, completely independently and without planning, so here’s the first pro in the column for VMP: their marketing department is killing it. VMP’s product designer is also killing it, as this pressing is so gorgeous that I didn’t even hesitate to spend this much for one month of a subscription service just to have a single LP. Just look at this thing; it’s easily one of the prettiest variants we own between us collectively.
The album itself was filthy on arrival, with plenty of debris brushed off in its initial care. A trip through the spin-clean knockoff would leave some surface noise and popping sounds remaining. Remember folks: proper vinyl care is absolutely necessary in this hobby for longevity and protecting the investment, but the nature of the beast is such that demanding absolute perfection and clean sound on extravagantly colored records across potentially thousands of copies is just unrealistic, and a country album at the very least could stand to be a little dirty on playback.
Overall: a positive first impression of the service. Bonus goodies include a listening guide from VMP staff which provides a great deal of context for the album’s significance.
June Country Track: Merle Haggard – I’m A Lonesome Fugitive
Thank goodness for Merle because I (Jordan) was not particularly excited by any of VMP’s offerings in their other “tracks,” or categories. They’re kind enough to allow subscribers to swap between Classics (blues, soul, jazz), Essentials (non-genre specific must-haves), Country, and Hip-Hop. This flexibility is underrated, especially when compared to the offerings from the likes of Gimme Metal or a label subscription. June’s offerings included The Doors (meh), Dorothy Ashby (a 50s jazz harpist), and Nappy Roots (to the best of my knowledge, the “Awnaw” guys). I’m A Lonesome Fugitive was a no-brainer; I’m open to expanding my country horizons, and he’s got the kind of cred I can get behind (including a stamp of approval from that Sturgill guy). Plus, a nod from the country listeners in my life doesn’t hurt either.
The package itself is old school, a faithful (I’m assuming) recreation of the original artwork, maybe even a little “aged”. The cover art has some fuzz and grain that some like to point out as “subpar,” but my rose-tinted glasses have me thinking it’s more like watching a tube TV in the age of HD, capturing the late 60s vibe. In all reality, the original artwork was probably lost, and they did their damnedest to whip something up. It’s not perfect, but I’m not particularly bothered by it, after all, it’s a photo of Merle hanging off a train. Am I going to pore over this image like I would a John Dyer Baisley piece? Absolutely not. Curiously, the image is stickered on the sleeve. Not sure if this was a technique used back in the day or if this is to cover something up (maybe a misprint? I haven’t seen this on any other release period), but it does add some character. The “Boxcar Rust” wax looks great and vibes well with the record and cover art. My eyeballs are satisfied. Now, onto the important stuff…
In terms of sound quality, it rules. I’m not a “vinyl sounds better” guy, but Merle’s voice plays so well with the tangible warmth that comes from wax. The harmonies are wonderful, a reminder of how fucking talented these people were before the days of Pro Tools and whatever kinds of technological wizardry people are using these days. But it’s not just that Merle & Co. sound good, it’s that they sound legitimately great. Each strum is ponderable, guitar leads have a strut and confidence that truly pop, but it’s all for naught without Merle’s voice. There’s an audible sense of authenticity and a genuine believability behind his tales of heartbreak, loss, and life on the run. I’m A Lonesome Fugitive is the real deal, and I’m thankful the curators at VMP know their shit. As Jimmy mentioned, the listening guide adds to the experience with useful background on the record, especially nice for artists and albums with which you may not be familiar. In this case, I’m satisfied enough to track down some more Merle.
July Essentials Track: The Mars Volta – De-Loused In The Comatorium
Despite being the most relevant album to this website’s readership, this vinyl release is likely to be the most controversial. Let’s go ahead and face the facts: The Mars Volta’s release of their discography to vinyl, while appreciated and long overdue, is highway fucking robbery. There’s no reasonable explanation why a band with such a legacy as The Mars Volta needs to charge upwards of $60 for a 2xLP. The official reasoning is that these record are shipped individually from the label in Germany and the cost of shipping is folded into the total price tag. I’m not buying it, personally. The band made literal millions on the box set of the whole collection, and they can’t do North American distribution at an affordable price? It’s exploitive, plain and simple, and made all the more clear when VMP was able to offer an exclusive gold and black pressing for nearly $20 cheaper than the standard black.
The announcement that VMP would be releasing this record in their July Essentials track likely triggered a wave of cancellations from original label Clouds Hill to the tune of thousands. Making the jump from the country track to the essentials track was effortless, adding a good bit of value to the service in its flexibility.
This pressing was hotly anticipated around these parts, and the fact that it’s sitting on shelves after all this time is a net positive, especially at a cheaper price point. However, there seems to be a persistent quality issue. Discogs users are consistently reporting substantial surface noise through the first moments of Side A, and Jimmy’s copy was one of those affected, even after a deep cleaning. Jordan’s did not appear to have this issue. Some Discogs users reported success in getting replacement copies from VMP (!!!), so your mileage may vary. Even with the surface noise though, saving $20 to sit through some noise on an album known for a good deal of space wank isn’t such a terrible trade. It may be frustrating in the moment, but the value more than makes up for it. This record offered no listening guide, but included a 12″ print photo of the band, which is kind of neat!
If you’re yearning to expand your collection indiscriminately, are open to recommendations from a wide variety of genres, and have a particularly lucrative lifestyle or loose relationship with your money, Vinyl Me Please is actually quite a wonderful service to keep around for the long-term. There are four tracks to choose from (classic, essentials, hip-hop, and country), and swapping between them is simple. What’s more is that if you don’t like any of the four new releases, you can dip into the store or back catalogue the service has available and choose that instead. The user interface and customer support are incredible as well. It’s hard to fault the service itself from a consumer standpoint.
Further, VMP has some actual curation. This is a vinyl subscription service from people who genuinely love the vinyl experience. They know what’s been out of press. They know what costs an arm and a leg on Discogs. You’re not going to see them pressing fucking Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours or any of the other shit you’ve flipped past 500 times at your local record store. Additionally, you’re not going to get new or new-ish releases from VMP. Seeing fairly popular releases like Necrot’s Blood Offerings and Khemmis’ Hunted go up on the Gimme Metal Vinyl Club chafes me a bit knowing full-well that there are copies awaiting your sticky mitts at your local shop or even directly from the band. I suppose it’s a means to draw attention to the release, but in our opinion, it’s a bit wasteful.
However, there’s just the simple economic standpoint that’s the elephant in the room: it’s an expensive enough hobby anyway, and spending $43 each month on the most convenient and immediately affordable subscription option isn’t viable consistently for many folks, especially when the records aren’t necessarily must-haves or a priority. There does tend to be a good variety of options on a month-to-month basis, but sometimes that alone isn’t enough to part with the money. Fortunately, you can just pick up or drop the service as it suits you, so their existence is simply a welcome one that we would definitely recommend trying for when something comes up, and it’s definitely more reliable and trustworthy than whoever’s flipping them on Discogs anyway.
If you’re interested, visit Vinyl Me Please for a look at past and present records that can start your journey. Also of note: check out the incredible VMP exclusive Metal Blade Anthology Box Set featuring eight classic albums from the Metal Blade back catalogue.