Vinyl Minded: At The Drive-In and the Dalai Lama

As this is the first of these new columns, it's only appropriate that we open with an introduction. We've been reliably informed that there's little in the way of coverage for vinyl releases anywhere anymore, despite the ongoing popularity of the medium. Yes, we're well aware that the industry has largely switched to digital -- downloads and streams are the order of the day, and we enjoy music in that fashion on a daily basis.

But there's really nothing like vinyl. We're not saying anything here that hasn't been said countless times before, but the drop of a needle onto a vinyl record, the warmth before the music starts, the quality of the sound -- exquisite.

That's before we get to the sleeve art and inner notes being so much more enjoyable. There's really nothing like it. So every week, we'll enjoy a new vinyl release or two for your pleasure as well as our own.

At The Drive-In

in/CASINO/OUT (Fearless/Craft)

1-LP, Purple & Green Smoke Vinyl

It may not have been until 2000's Relationship of Command that El Paso art-punks At the Drive-In made a dent in the alt-rock big-time, but they had formed in 1994 and released two great albums prior to that. in/CASINO/OUT was the second, and it saw them take a different approach to the one they employed for the debut -- this time they would record live in the studio.

As a result, they "captured the raw, electric intensity of their concerts through such blistering tracks as 'Napoleon Solo, 'Chanbara, and 'Alpha Centauri'," reads the press release.

That's not wrong; Cedric Bixler-Zavala sounds like a man possessed on all of the songs, including those mentioned, while the rest of the band is just on it throughout.

While this sophomore record might not have any songs as immediate as those on the following album, there's an intensity paired with a vulnerability that is utterly compelling.

Meanwhile, the art is minimalist by design. Those satellite dished backed with purple on a largely black sleeve (seen above) are very effective. The purple and green smoke vinyl is beautiful, and the sound quality is on point.

This is a Record Store Day release -- the first time this album has been pressed on vinyl in years -- and it's a magnificent way to kick off this year's RSD festivities.

The Dalai Lama

Inner World (Khandro Music/Craft)

1-LP, Gold Vinyl

If you're wondering if there's a band called Dalai Lama -- nope, this is the actual Dalai Lama himself, with his debut album that was originally released in 2020 and is getting a Record Store Day rerelease now.

"In 2020, amid the turmoil of a global pandemic, His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama released Inner World — a sacred offering of mantras and teachings set to music with contributions from a host of renowned artists, including sitar player Anoushka Shankar and composer Abraham Kunin. As the first album to ever be released by a Tibetan spiritual leader, Inner World was created to help people around the world find a sense of safety in times of anxiety and fear—as well as the courage to never give up hope."

Now, this writer isn't a Buddhist and is totally unfamiliar with the prayers and spoken word pieces offered by His Holiness here. But if the aim of the release was to provide some peace of mind during the harrowing COVID years, particularly the early months, we can see how this could have been effective.

His voice is so calming and grounding, it really doesn't matter if you understand the words that he's saying -- you pick up on the general meaning. That said, much of the album is in English, and there's a lot of wisdom on offer. The sitar work by Shankar is gorgeous on "Ama La," and a host of other musicians back His Holiness admirably throughout.

The gold vinyl is a lovely touch, and it sounds stunning. Whatever your personal beliefs, just sit back and let it wash over you.