Checking in with Burlington Records; The Arrival of 'Ethan Alien' | Music News + Views | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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Checking in with Burlington Records; The Arrival of 'Ethan Alien'


Published October 28, 2020 at 10:00 a.m.
Updated October 28, 2020 at 12:52 p.m.

Ian Doerner of Burlington Records - JORDAN ADAMS ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Jordan Adams ©️ Seven Days
  • Ian Doerner of Burlington Records

In the past few weeks, I've been checking in with local record store proprietors to find out how the pandemic has been treating them. I was also particularly curious about what kinds of records have been moving, as a nod to Seven Days' formerly weekly and long-retired inclusion of record store sales in this section.

Even before I started doing this series, I'd asked record store owners in past conversations about their best sellers. I always presumed, somewhat facetiously, that they sold a lot of copies of Fleetwood Mac's Rumours. Burlington Records' Ian Doerner recently confirmed that, indeed, the classic 1977 album is his best-selling disc.

"It's annoying to say that, because if you asked a record store clerk that in 1981 and 1991 and 2001, it's always gonna be the same goddamn answer," Doerner said, noting that he sells, on average, one Rumours per day. "It's just never ending."

He also sells quite a few copies of the Tame Impala masterpiece Currents, Talking Heads' breakthrough Speaking in Tongues, and Kendrick Lamar's magnum opus Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City. According to Doerner, hip-hop vinyl sales have grown the most in the past five years, joining the ranks of indie and classic rock.

"A lot of indie hip-hop artists are releasing on their own, and if you're not on top of it, the day they announce something, it's sold out," he said. Being attuned to artists' social media is essential for the store not to miss out. A good example of an artist who sells out nearly instantly is Maine's R.A.P. Ferreira (fka Milo).

"His stuff — he'll sell out without anyone even knowing it happened," Doerner said. "The collectibility of [indie hip-hop] has gone through the roof."

One question that popped into my head while I was hovering by the cash wrap was: Have social distancing and capacity limits put an end to the whole record-store-customer-talking-the record-store-owner's-head-off-about-music thing?

"I haven't scaled that back at all," Doerner confirmed. "That's a pretty big reason why people come to record shops. It's why I come to work every day. I can sell Rumours all I want, but it's not really about that. It's actually about having discussions with people and me learning. I learn a lot from other people."

Beyond finding out what's new and interesting at Vermont's record shops, as well as the titles people in the area are spending their paychecks on, the purpose of these little visits is to find out what kind of outlook or wisdom store owners might have with regard to music as a commodity.

Because vinyl is king right now (and hopefully forever), Doerner sees a lot of people who are just getting into records and need to set up a sound system from scratch. He sells a ton of the Audio Technica AT-LP60, the same model noted a few weeks ago in this column by Xavier Jimenez, co-owner of Montpelier's Buch Spieler Records. It retails for a reasonable $100.

"For years and years, those options didn't exist. It was either: You're going to spend a lot of money, or you're going to buy an all-in-one," Doerner said. The term "all-in-one" refers to equipment sold by companies such as Crosley Radio that often feature turntables, cassette players, aux input or Bluetooth, and internal speakers. Admittedly, it's a tempting and attractive package. But Doerner said he couldn't even tell me how many times customers have come in shopping for turntables who had been burned by Crosley's sleek designs, convenience and low price points only to discover that they just don't work very well, fall apart and sound terrible.

"We have to figure out a way to educate people not to buy those," Doerner warned.

I can help with that: Go to your local record store, talk to the owner, and figure out what's best for you and your budget. Then buy all the vinyl you can.

I'll continue checking in with local record shops in the weeks to come.

Alien Artistry

On the set of The Ballad of Ethan Alien - PHOTOS COURTESY OF WESTERN TERRESTRIALS
  • Photos Courtesy Of Western Terrestrials
  • On the set of The Ballad of Ethan Alien

Everyone knows the pandemic has been especially cruel to the performing arts industry. So this summer, when Nick Charyk released Back in the Saddle of a Fever Dream, the latest album by his band Western Terrestrials, he felt pretty helpless in terms of how to promote the album, since touring wasn't possible. Instead of bending to the pandemic's will, he and his associates decided to make a freakin' feature-length music film, The Ballad of Ethan Alien. The flick debuts at a pair of events this weekend and early next week, first on Halloween, Saturday, October 31, at the Fairlee Drive-In, and then on Monday, November 2, at the Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier.

"Doing livestreams and things like that — we'd done some of that, but it wasn't that connection we were craving with the audience, or what the audience was craving," Charyk said by phone of his band's activity around the album's July 4 release. Unsure exactly how to rise above the pandemic's limitations, he knew he wanted to make some kind of multimedia piece.

The album's buzz, which in turn sparked the film, can be attributed to the song "Ethan Alien." It originated from a social media interaction between Western Terrestrials and Old Crow Medicine Show's Ketch Secor, in which Secor challenged the group to pen a tune from the prompt, "Ethan Allen was an alien." For more on the backstory and creation of the song, check out Seven Days news reporter (and first-time music section contributor) Paul Heintz's July 1 story.

Charyk said the project began to take shape in August after he began networking with other creative folks from around the state and the nonprofit Big Heavy World. As described by Charyk, the film is like The Rocky Horror Picture Show meets John O'Brien's satirical 1996 Vermont film Man With a Plan. Set against the backdrop of a dystopian, near-future Vermont wherein a fascist dictator, the Leader, has outlawed singing, dancing and creativity, The Ballad of Ethan Alien explores "different parts of the Vermont creative story" in a series of interconnected vignettes and musical numbers. The plot involves a group of young people coming together to rebel against the Leader after learning about Vermont's weird artistry. Charyk name-checked Bread and Puppet Theater, Phish, and Goddard College as examples.

  • Photos Courtesy Of Western Terrestrials
  • Western Terrestrials

The massive undertaking was put together with almost unbelievable speed. Filming took place in October, and, as of the writing of this column, editing was still in process.

The impressive cast of locals includes actor/comedian Rusty "The Logger" DeWees, actor Luis Guzman, former state legislators Kiah Morris and Donny Osman, drag queen Emoji Nightmare, and a slew of musicians, such as Ben Dunham, Sara Grace, Dylan Giambatista, Bob Stannard, Sarah King and Rough Francis drummer Urian Hackney. Many of the artists contributed to the album's soundtrack. (Heintz also makes a "cringe-worthy" cameo. His words.)

"The supposition of the whole thing is that Ethan Allen was an alien and that Vermont has always been populated by aliens," Charyk explained. "I think something about what we're doing is resonating in these off-kilter times."

He also noted that the timing of the November 2 screening — one day before the presidential election — is no coincidence.

"It's a pretty over-the-top, not-subtle set of metaphors about what's going on right now in the country," he said. "We wanted to put that perspective as loudly and proudly as we could on the eve of the apocalypse."

Listening In

If I were a superhero, my superpower would be the ability to get songs stuck in other people's heads. Here are five songs that have been stuck in my head this week. May they also get stuck in yours.

Solid Gold, "Get Over It"

They Might Be Giants, "Doctor Worm"

Caro Emerald, "That Man"

The Beatles, "Paperback Writer"

From The Phantom of the Opera, "Masquerade"