Album Review Haiku – The Beach Boys – Wild Honey (2017 Stereo Remix/Remaster)

Beautiful new mix
Laid back after “Smile” album
Sounds sweet as its name

Yes, the haiku pretty much says it all.  I bought the European pressing and it’s flat, quiet and really dynamic.  In a year when the Sgt. Pepper reissue grabbed so much attention, it’s good to see the Beach Boys holding their own.  The new Stereo mix is a real improvement over the duo-phonic version of yore.  I hear things in this new mix that I never knew were there.

It’s a laid back album with nothing to prove.  It was completely out of step with the times in 1967 and that’s what makes it so great.

Albums of the Year – 2017 – Part 2 (The Middle)

These are the albums in the middle of the pack. Some of these have the ability to move to the front depending on the day, the mood or other factors. But they rarely stay there, pulled back by the areas where they miss the mark. None of them are bad – they’re just not as good as the upper crust.

Elbow – Little Fictions
Probably the best of the latter day Elbow albums. Ironically, the departure of long time drummer Richard Jupp has led to a more rhythmically focused outing this time. There’s some real experimentation going on here and it’s all good. However, I find myself wishing that they would have gone just a little bit farther. Still, it’s a great album for a rainy afternoon drive. It’s easy to get lost in this. “Magnificent, She Said” has made me choked up on more than one occasion. I’ll never forget the day I was messing around the house with my kids and the lyrics hit me. “I think I got something in my eye,” I quipped.

Emily Haines and the Soft Skeleton – Choir of the Mind
An album by an artist facing her demons. There is a lot to unpack here. I haven’t gotten around to analyzing the whole thing and I’m not sure if I’d even want to but “Fatal Gift” is one of the most hauntingly and seductively beautiful songs of the year. Haines is still a guilty pleasure. Her Metric work is fun to listen to with my girls while Choir is a late night headphone listen. Rewards with repeated listens. Gorgeous melancholy.

The XX – I See You
A welcome modification of the XX formula. On the heels of Jamie XX’s excellent solo outing, this album sees the band incorporating more outside sounds into their minimalist origins and being all the better for it. The Hall and Oats sample is as unexpected as it is perfect for the tune it inhabits. It’s a solid third outing for a band that shows that it’s more than the one trick pony hinted to on album two.

Neil Young – Hitchiker
Originally recorded in 1976, this album comes from the peak of Young’s career. For some reason, he shelved it at that time. In a way, it works better coming out now. Back then, it might have been overlooked. It’s not Crazy Horse by any means but it’s a great indication of what Young could do with a guitar and a microphone (and substances) late at night.

The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding
Adam Granduciel really made it with 2014’s “Lost in the Dream”. In my opinion, their peak was “Slave Ambient”. This album takes the Dire Straits, Don Henley, reinterpretation of the 80’s one step farther. It actually incorporates a little more WOD style this time around and is all the better for it. But something makes me crave a little more weirdness. Update: I listened to this on a train from Berlin to Prague and combined with the scenery, it was revelatory.

The National – Sleep Well Beast
I liked the National better when they weren’t a political band. Now it’s like they’re Barack Obama’s house band. It’s just all super-pandering and I’m a little tired of politics this year. But still, it’s a solid effort. The El Vy outing seems to have done Matt Berninger some good. There’s more experimentation in the album and they sound fairly energized in their own downbeat way.

Son Volt – Notes of Blue
I had no idea that Jay Farrar still had this left in him. I had all but stopped following his projects for the last 10 or more years. But three songs into this album, I found myself saying “oh, yeah.” The rest of the album doesn’t disappoint, either. Worth picking up if you had lost faith in this band. Can only imagine it’s great around a campfire with some cheap beer.

Temples – Volcano
I was getting kidney stones zapped this spring so I missed this show. I’m told it was incredible by the buddy who ended up with my tickets. Listening to “Volcano” it’s easy to see why. Slipping out of their 60’s Hendrix/Zep vibe of their first album, Temples have borrowed liberally from the Tame Impala playbook and put forth a synth-drenched platter of psych-pop. Again, not one to think about too much but given the right mood, a sunny sky and a destination to reach at a high velocity, it works.

Matthew Ryan – Hustle Up Starlings
In an alternate universe this guy is the next Bob Dylan. One of the best songwriters alive, Ryan brings it again. There’s enough reflection and heartbreak in these songs to fill three albums. The fact that Ryan does it so well in just one album should embarrass everyone else on this list. Not for everyone but if you’re one of the lucky few, you should be overjoyed.

Albums of the Year – 2017 – Part 3 (The Top)

This is the top of the heap in the albums of the year list. These records all probably gave me goosebumps when I listened to them for the first time and some still do. These are the ones that have made me go back to the artists’ back catalogs in an attempt to get more of the same musical fix that these albums offer. Nobody’s perfect here but a few come awfully close.

The Replacements – For Sale: Live at Maxwell’s
This 1986 set is pretty much the perfect snapshot of the Replacements. Their legacy as a live act is already storied. Drunken sets, gigs full of jokey covers and other gigs that were life-changing. This album captures a bit of all of them and is the perfect live encapsulation of their career. Seems to be before the time Tommy and Paul were doing speedballs and also before Bob got the boot.

LCD Soundsystem – American Dream
I did not expect this to be the album that it is. I had the pleasure of listening to it for the first time on the way home from family vacation at a significant rate of speed through an arid, almost desert, landscape. The whole family was conked out while I drove and flirted above the speed limit. It’s a really, really good LCD album and one of the best albums I have on vinyl. There’s been a lot of kvetching about the band being back. I, for one, am glad they are.

Kasabian – For Crying Out Loud
Saw this band live with my wife, kids and friends on one of the first days of summer. A typically great show in support of one of their best albums. I’d put it somewhere around the number 3 spot of their whole catalog. Just enough bluster and shake your booty songsmanship to satisfy and no “blast off” cringe moments. There is a lot of talk about food, though. Have a snack ready.

Spoon – Hot Thoughts
Down a notch from “They Want My Soul” but still an excellent album from a consistent band. You get the sense on this one, though, that Britt Daniel and Co. know that they’ve made it. That’s fine. They’re trying some things live and on the album that they would have never dared before. Some work and some don’t. But most do work and while it may not be in their top five albums, that’s a tight race and “Hot Thoughts” still towers over many other records from this year.

The Afghan Whigs – In Spades
I should have paid more attention to this band when I was younger. I dabbled in “1965” but never took the plunge into their other albums. That changed when I saw them at Prague’s Lucerna Music Bar this summer. I was blown away by the show from start to finish. Repeat visits to this album and the rest of their catalog have only deepened my appreciation. Some days, this is number one on my list.

Roger Waters – Is This the Life We Really Want?
Roger Waters and Nigel Godrich? It seemed like an unlikely concept but it worked. It’s political, preachy but much less mean spirited than some of his other offerings – save for his hatred of Israel. But musically, it hits all of the right spots, has the dynamism of classic Floyd and is a fairly coherent statement. You don’t get more “legacy act” than this but in Roger’s case, it works. His disdain for the state of the world has inspired him and it’s hard not to appreciate what he’s done here even if you don’t agree completely with every part of the case he’s making.

Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds – Who Built the Moon?
I’m still working through this one but I love what I hear. From the first single, I could tell this was going to be different and worlds away from an Oasis rehash. It’s a buoyant, technicolor, stomper of an album.

Iggy Pop ‎– Post Pop Depression – Live At The Royal Albert Hall
It does not get better than this in the land of live albums. The last of the “unholy trinity” Iggy is finally getting his due. Albums like this as well as last year’s “Post Pop Depression” tell us why. Try to listen this album without cracking several grins. Not humanly possible. Absolutely incredible.

U2 – Songs of Experience
I have to keep myself from putting U2 at the top of the list.  Anything I say about this band you can take as something coming from a die hard fan.  But this album gave me the requisite goosebumps upon first listen.  And second listen.  It hasn’t fully sunk in so I won’ t make bold proclamations but I didn’t expect this album to be this satisfying.  It’s a really solid effort.  Time will tell where it ranks in the list of their 13 other albums.

Beck – Colors
This album is second only to Kasabian for “family party albums” this year. (No, in the NH household, profanity is not a disqualifier.) It sounds exactly how the cover looks. Beck trying on his “pop” clothes and doing a pretty good job of compiling an album full of potential top 25 material. Not an album to think to critically about. Just the opposite, in fact. Turn it up, sing along and do the robot.

Albums of the Year – 2017 – Part 1 (The Bottom)

Some would see this as the bottom of the list. Mostly, these albums are here because I don’t see them as albums I’ll go back to time after time. Others have parts that don’t fit or moods that just drag them down. Some are just fine and nothing more.  Oh, and there’s at least one total mess.

Sting ‎– Live At The Bataclan
An emotional concert which opened the club after the tragic terrorist attack. Nothing ground breaking here save for a super talented artist who seems to have rediscovered his muse and who decides to use that to help Paris heal after a horrific mass murder.

Craig Finn – We All Want the Same Things
Finn could have penned “God in Chicago” and just stopped there. His peers would have had to compete with one of the most gut-wrenching spoken songs of the year. It’s poignant and sleazy all in the same breath. The fact that Finn can put out the songs that he puts out at the pace he puts them out is nothing short of incredible. This album probably deserves to be in a higher tier. But it’s a deep, dark listen despite some sunny melodies. Maybe it just leaves me unsettled and scratching my head. Undoubtedly, Craig Finn would approve.

David Bowie – No Plan EP
The context of this EP is wrong. It feels like a cash grab in the wake of Bowie’s death. It’s hard to evaluate the songs on their merits without the heavy clouds of this death and “Blackstar” hovering not far away. Also, something I usually pull out late at night when I’m up later than I should be.  It’s not obvious that these songs needed to be released.

Husker Du – Savage Young Du
For being a showcase of Husker Du’s punk roots, there sure is a heck of a lot of melody. This band was truly amazing and this set leaves the listener wanting a second set focusing on the latter SST years as well as a deeper dig into the Warner catalog. Not something I’ll go back to for repeated listens but it does put to rest my sneaking suspicions that they were a molten lava-laced pop band all along.

Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett – Lotta Sea Lice
I wonder how much THC was ingested during the making of this album. Probably the two most laid back people in the music business making flirty, easy going, slice ‘o life songs. If you let it be what it is, it works just fine.

Liam Gallagher – As You Were
A solid Liam Gallagher solo album. Also his first. He had help writing some of the songs and as a result nothing as awful as “Little James” rears its head here. It’s not going to set the world on fire but the nutter has to be happy to have scored a number one album. It’s fine. Not great. Not terrible. Just what I expected, in fact.

Old 97’s – Graveyard Whistling
This might have rated higher if my vinyl copy was not horribly off center making the band sound really out of tune and fairly drunk – or seasick. But the songwriting chops are there. A little glib, a little self-satisfied but still a decent 97’s record.

Ryan Adams – Prisoner
Another “twang” artist in the lower reaches of the list here. Maybe I’m just tired of the genre. Maybe it’s out of gas. But it’s a long way from kicking people out of your concerts for mentioning Bryan Adams to making an album that sounds like him. Not bad but not great in any way, shape or form.

Jeff Tweedy – Together at Last
Serviceable renditions of previously released material in a largely acoustic setting. There’s nothing bad about it but Tweedy probably does this on a weekly basis as practice. Nothing like a phone-in but nothing ground breaking, either.

Gorillaz – Humanz
I’m so frustrated with this album. There’s so much profanity that I can’t listen to it with my kids in the room or in the car. And there is so little Damon Albarn that the whole thing just barely holds together. There are some good tracks on it but nothing that approaches “Demon Days” heights and after seeing them live, it’s clear that the 20 year old Gorillaz concept is showing its age.  I prefer “Think Tank” and “Modern Robots” to this mess any day.

Reissues:
Lou Reed ‎– Perfect Night Live In London
Sounds like diamonds.  Seriously, it does.

The Beatles – Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
Quite possibly the best piece of vinyl I have ever heard.  Great new stereo mix, too.

Pink Floyd – The Final Cut
An almost perfect pressing.  Most days, my 1st, 2nd or 3rd favorite Floyd album.

2017 Albums of the Year Coming Soon!

Get your Spotify playlists ready. My playlist is playing on Plex as I compile my 2017 AOTY. This year, the countdown comes from an unmistakable dad in his mid-forties. I’m trying to shuffle my work and personal life and there’s not nearly the time to discover new music like there used to be. (Also, too many albums for me to go digging through to post album artwork.) This list has a heap of “legacy” bands. But in retrospect, it was a really, really decent year for music. There were some albums that I expected to be better and others which really surprised me. Hopefully you’ll enjoy them all in a playlist of your own or just sit with them straight through.  Feel free to post your thoughts and objections in the comments.

Albums of the Year – 2016 – Part 3

6,5,4,3,2,1, go!

chaosmosis

6. Primal Scream – Chaosmosis

“More Light” was the dark, brooding, brass knuckle side of Primal Scream.  Chaosmosis is the Technicolor, grooving, silk shirt wearing side.  It’s fun, dancy and easy to take for granted from your first listen.  From the first track, in fact.  “Trippin’ on Your Love” is laced with Haim backing vocals and I would hate to be caught listening to it in public.  But the song’s wah wah guitar keeps the whole thing grounded and launches the album from the get go.  Bobby Gillespie is obviously in a good phase here.  It’s hard not to be there with him.

cult-hidden-city

5. The Cult – Hidden City

The best Cult record since “The Cult” and a direct descendant as well.  The one-two punch of “Hinterland” and “GOAT” anchor the middle of the record.  Before and after those songs is a mix of “Love” like balladry and slightly scuffed “Sonic Temple” arena rockers.  There’s no real reason this band should be out there doing this except for the fact that nobody does a great Cult record like the Cult.

sturgill-sailors-guide

4. Sturgill Simpson – A Sailor’s Guide to Earth

What a head fake, Sturg.  Just when everyone thought they had you pegged as the ultimate classic country revivalist, you go and do a late-career Elvis Kung-fu move – complete with brass.  This is an album to be devoured in one sitting.  It starts with a tender, almost schmaltzy song directly addressing his son and continues as a chronicle of the life of Sturg.  Along the way it passes ports of call, drug busts, and Nirvana.  Simpson is a young guy so it seems premature.  That said, it’s only a guide to earth.  Maybe other planets will follow.  After this there’s no reason to believe they won’t.

ihad-a-dream-that-you-were-mine

3. Hamilton Leithauser + Rostam – I Had A Dream That You Were Mine

I told my wife this should have been called “The Three Quarters” album.  That’s because save for “1,000 Times” none of the songs kick in until ¾ of the way through.  That and the fact that the show stopper of the album for me, “The Bride’s Dad”, roughly hits around ¾ of the way through the album.  Fractions aside, this is a barn burner of an album from the talents of The Walkmen and Vampire Weekend.  It could have been recorded in 1955 or 2055 and it would still be as remarkable.  Not an album that takes hold without some commitment but when you put in the time, it returns in spades.

iggy-pop-post-pop-depression

2. Iggy Pop – Post Pop Depression

When I saw this album start to appear on blogs and music sites on the internet, I didn’t think much of it.  I didn’t know who Josh Homme was, nor had I paid attention to Iggy since “Brick by Brick” when my mom asked me if he had just said he had to “scrape the concrete off of his dick”. Yep, Mom.  But when I finally got around to listening to this album, something inside me lit up.  It was a hell of a submission to a hell of a catalog.  Start to finish, it’s an album by a punk who never stopped being punk and who just, well, never stopped.  Iggy’s 69 now and no less ferocious that he was when he recorded the song, “1969”.  This album forced me to reexamine his whole career, album by album.  This was also the year I got to take my girls to see him.  Had it not been for Iggy, this year would not have been nearly as rock and roll as it was.  Had it not been for David Bowie, this album would have been number one on this list.  Of course, had it not been for David Bowie, this album would have probably never happened.  Fitting to have the one and two slots on this year as they are.

bowie-blackstar

1. David Bowie – Blackstar

There’s not much that can be written about this album that hasn’t already been written 1000 times.  There’s just no way to top it this year.  It was the whole performance piece.  From the release, to the music, to the packaging and the disappearance of the Starman and/or Black Star, himself; this will never be matched in my lifetime.  The album is a haunting, bittersweet, perfectly executed meditation on mortality.  David Bowie was a genius until the end.

Part One Here

Part Two Here

 

 

 

Albums of the Year – 2016 – Part 2

Let’s get right into 12-7, shall we?

car-seat-headrest

12. Car Seat Headrest – Teens of Denial

This band had me at “I’m so sick of, fill in the blank”.  This sounds like just the type of thing to cleanse the lacquer sheen off of pop music.  It’s the Ramones if they had written songs over 3 minutes long and The Hold Steady of they were 20 years younger.  It’s Pavement if they would have ever considered sampling The Cars.  Will Toledo’s Napoleon Dynamite vibe is grating at times but it’s also what makes the band stick out.  The album is hugely familiar but completely unique on its own terms.  They’ve pulled off a huge feat here.  The test will be to see if they can do it again.

meet-the-humans

11. Steve Mason – Meet the Humans

This is the weakest of the once-Beta Band front man’s solo albums.  It’s very conventional in song structure and is almost void of the dread of his previous two works.  In doing so, he’s traded some of the raw emotion and weirdness of his earlier works for melody.  Some days this works in your headphones and others, not so much.  Even still, it’s got some great melodies.  Try to listen to “Water Bored” and not get that “Cause you can break it, ooh” refrain stuck in your head.

moon-shaped-poo

10. Radiohead – A Moon Shaped Pool

When this first came out I called it “A Moon Shaped Poo”.  I couldn’t find a way into the record.  It was like “Burn the Witch” happened and then the whole thing just disappeared.  Which it still does to some extent unless you are listening to it with a large tumbler of bourbon in one hand and the lyrics in the other.  It’s an album to focus on.  If you don’t you might not hear it at all.

images-1

9. John Cale – M:Fans

A reworking of his 1982 album “Music for a New Society”, “M:Fans” is harrowing in a whole other way.  Where his 80’s album was the sound of someone in the throes of addiction and in a downward spiral, the “M:Fans” album is one of the artist retelling a story that happened ages ago.  Some events are out of order, others are mis-remembered but the story is still a gripping one.  For Cale to be putting out work of this quality, with this kind of edge at 75 is heroic.  One of the most under-rated artists of our time.

miike-snow-iii

8. Miike Snow – III

I don’t know why this album did not get more notice this year.  Maybe Miike Snow have jumped the shark and having them on this list blows my cred worse than including Sting.  If so, it’s a shame because they’ve delivered an absolutely delightful autobahn record here.  It’s synthy, dancy and has a real melodic punch. Not a stinker on this one. May even be better than their first two – of which I both loved.

simon-stranger

7. Paul Simon – Stranger to Stranger

Another music legend delivers another excellent album.  “Stranger to Stranger” is the lighthearted cousin to “So Beautiful or So What” from a couple years back.  It is an album focused on sound with Simon using all sorts of weird instruments to great effect.  From the opener “Werewolf” to the closer “Horace and Pete” the album teases you in with sound and keeps you there with the lyrics and the stories Simon tells.  Simon, also 75, is exploring like a man a quarter of his age and executing like a pro.

Part One Here

Part Three Here

Albums of the Year – 2016 – Part 1

This has been an incredible and eventful year for music.  We’ve lost several superstars including one of the greatest musical personalities of all time in David Bowie.  In positive news, my childhood hero, Sting, has come back to the pop music scene after a decade in the lute filled wilderness.  Out of nowhere, Iggy Pop’s late-career masterpiece has led me to gobble up the rest of his discography and left me wondering how the hell I missed it the first go ’round.

Some consider 2016 to have been one of the worst years ever.  Of course, I think that’s impossible to say without some distance.  The losses in the music world were sad but we gained some promising new blood in a little band called Car Seat Headrest.  But for me, this was largely a year of the old pro’s being on top of their game.

This is also the year that my girls declared their favorite bands.  For my oldest, it’s the Beatles.  For my youngest, it’s Iggy Pop.  Unless you know my kids, you don’t know just how fitting that is, nor how happy it makes me.

OK, onto the list.  Like last year, this will be in several installments.  Let me know what you think in the comments.

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18. Drive-By Truckers – American Band

The DBTs get political here.  About the last thing I needed in my life was more politics.  Don’t get me wrong, the writing is pretty sharp but what’s missing are the fun character sketches of the Truckers’ previous albums.  I don’t mind politics in music but a lot of this just comes off as preachy.  But the red vinyl is cool.

Bob Mould Patch the Sky.jpg

17. Bob Mould – Patch the Sky

The third in a trilogy of sorts for Mould, “Patch the Sky” is a solid latter day Bob Mould record.  That said, it’s not much more than that.  Nothing really sticks out on it.  Or, maybe after 3 records of superb Mould craftsmanship, I’ve started taking him for granted.  Either way, a solid Mould album trumps one like “Modulate” so I’m not complaining.

parker-the-very-last-day

16. Parker Millsap – The Very Last Day

I should really be forced to play this record every time I miss church.  The whole thing sort of reminds me of the one time I went to a Southern Baptist church service in rural Texas.  Something about all of the hellfire and brimstone really appealed to me.  The same thing happens with this record.  Something about recognizing and coming to terms with our flawed nature as humans has always had an appeal.  Parker Millsap nails that mood on this record.  If sinning and redemption had a soundtrack, it might well be this record.

andrew-bired-serious

15. Andrew Bird – Are You Serious

Am I taking Andrew Bird for granted?  That could be.  This is a good album and the duet with Fiona Apple is a real standout.  Otherwise, it’s just a good, solid Andrew Bird record.  Is there really any other kind?

wilco-schmilco

14. Wilco – Schmilco

This album grows on me a little bit more with every play.  But it’s far from one of their best (a tall order) and the cover is just awful.  I think I may not have found the right mood to listen to it.  It’s notable that the only song that rocks is “Locator” and “Common Sense” is absolute garbage.  A close cousin of Tweedy’s solo debut, I can tell there’s something in this but can’t yet decide what it is.  Confused?  So am I.

sting57

13. Sting – 57th and 9th

First off, when I was a kid I had Sting and Police posters all over my room.  When I listen to a Police record, I get the same type of feeling that I got when I first heard “Don’t Stand So Close To Me”.  So, I’m a fan.  That’s why I was so happy to see Sting come back into popular music.  His first effort in over 10 years in that vein is no disappointment.  It’s a solid Sting solo album.  It’s hard to say where it ranges in his solo canon but it faces some stiff competition.  That said, he pulls off some very difficult political commentary without sounding preachy.  He tackles global warming and the refugee crisis and I don’t get the urge to skip the songs.  The writing is solid though not stellar and somehow it all seems a little aloof.  What does it compare to?  I think it’s a close relative of “Brand New Day” in feel.  Not a bad thing.  Welcome back, Sting.

Part Two Here

Part Three Here

The XX– Forum Karlin, Prague, November 29, 2016

The XX show last night a Prague’s Forum Karlin blew the pants off the one a few years back at the big room at the Lucerna downtown.  The Lucerna show was fine performance and setlist wise but the sound was horrible.  At that show, there were none of the gut-rattling low frequency elements of the band’s work and so the music lost a lot of its punch.

Last night’s show was a different story.  The performances were inspired and Prague’s Forum Karlin proved to be a perfect venue for the band.  The place was literally filled to the rafters and the sound was impeccable.  They covered all stages of their career with a couple of new songs, songs from the first two XX albums and some highlights off of DJ/percussionist Jamie XX’s recent solo album.  In fact, Jamie stole the show toward the end of the set.  His contributions mixed in and even mashed-up with XX classics and really gave a kick to the proceedings.  I’m not usually one for DJ’s but this guy’s got some serious talent.

I’m looking forward to seeing what this young and able band releases on their next album. If last night was any indication, it should be worth the wait.

Cast Iron Chocolate Chip Cookie

Yesterday was Mrs. NH’s birthday.  I’m not much of a baker so I always hate baking cakes or something for her birthday.  I always end up looking like some jerk out of a sitcom with flour all over my shirt and face.

Well, the same thing happened this year (thanks to Little NH2 TURNING THE MIXER UP TO 5) but the end product was much better than the crappy cakes out of a box that I usually make.

It is called “Skillet Chocolate Chip Cookie” and man, is it tasty.  We doubled the chocolate chips in the recipe and my blood sugar still hasn’t regulated but what a terrific way to die. (It’s a chocolate mess with double the chips.  But Mrs. NH apparently likes it this way so it’s all good.)  It’s also really simple.  No plopping cookies on the sheet and waiting around.  Just throw the dough in the pan, toss it in the oven, crack a beer and prepare to be a hero.  It also pairs really well with bourbon.  Natch.

I think I’ll do it again substituting chocolate chips for chili pepper infused dark chocolate and then sprinkle the top with sea salt.  Cross your fingers that you get an invite to that dinner party!

Raw Cast Iron Cookie

 

Foals – Metronome Festival, Prague, June 26, 2016

I have just wrapped up one of the best weekends of my life.  Two great musical acts played literally in my back yard and I was able to take my kids, both under the age of 10, to see them for free.  And we freaking pogoed!

In case you missed my previous post, Saturday’s show was hosted by none other than Iggy Pop.  Over the course of a little more than an hour, Iggy rained down catalog favorite after favorite from the Stooges to his latest offering, “Post Pop Depression”.  Interspersed between the songs were more F-bombs than you could shake a stick at. I guess if there is a bright side to that part of the equation, the girls didn’t hear those words coming out of my mouth!  Since Iggy is now 70, I can just tell them that those are words only grandpa’s say.

On Sunday night, the first ever Metronome Festival in Prague upped the ante with night-two headliners, Foals.  I’ve seen Foals play before and I can only describe the environment of seeing them play as “kinetic”.  Sunday’s show was no different but given the location of the show on the edge of Prague’s Stromovka Park, there was a little more elbow room.  That was a good thing because I again had NH1 and 2 in tow.  Mrs. NH and my trusty nephew sidekick also took part.  The 73 lb. NH1 sat on my shoulders for the duration save for about three quick breaks between songs and the encore.  As my shoulders ached toward the tail end of the show, the band brought out its closing songs which were all adrenaline-fueled stomps and helped me to push through the final minutes.  I felt like Sylvester Stallone in “Rocky IV” pulling logs on chains through the snow.  Of course I don’t recall him singing along while doing that.  Wuss.

Again, the highlight of these shows was getting to introduce my girls to such great acts in a live setting – up close and personal.  My first live show was an 80’s version of the largely hollowed out Beach Boys touring circuit.  Even still, I remember it like it was yesterday.  The fact that the girls got to see a legend in yet another career resurgence and one of the top UK bands (who had just played Glastonbury a couple nights before) made the whole thing all the more special.

Even more gratifying was that NH1’s unsolicited post-show commentary was exactly the same thing that I was thinking:

Dad, toward the beginning I was really thinking that Iggy had them beat.  But as the show went on, they really started playing the great songs and now I’m not sure who was better!  That was so awesome.  I can’t wait to see U2!

So we’re clear, U2 doesn’t even have a new album out or tour plans as of this writing but I’ve got to give the kid credit for her foresight.

NH2, on the other hand, just howled, charged me and gave me the rock and roll hand sign before giving me a hug.  She always has been pretty punk rock.

Thanks for the memories, Metronome Festival.  See you next year.

Iggy Pop – Metronome Festival, Prague, June 25, 2016

The Little NH’s, my nephew and I hit Iggy Pop at the Metronome festival in Prague last night.  It was quite possibly one of the highlights of my dadhood to this point.  There’s nothing that compares to seeing your own offspring digging one of your hobbies (obsessions) as much or more than you do.  NH 1 and 2 rocked out on my shoulders and those of my nephew (a great sport, by the way) in about the 5th row for the first half of the show.  After NH1’s 73 pounds finally wore down my lower back, we made it through a hugely polite crowd to the back to partake in some whirling dervish-like festival dancing. They did, anyway.  I just watched and smiled.

For the record, the girls were wearing proper ear protection.  I’m not a total idiot.

This is the first year of this festival and from what we saw, it was meticulously organized and went off with a hitch despite rain and hail during the day.  (Iggy’s set was cut short because of a thunderstorm that rolled in in the final moments cutting his set two songs short.)

Seeing Foals tonight with the girls, nephews, and Mrs. NH as well.  We’re all walking around the house whistling “Mountain at my Gates” this morning.  The anticipation is running high.  It’s going to be hard to top last night.

 

The Sorta Ultimate Budget Turntable Setup

 

As I sit listening through my record collection, I take time to contemplate how I got here. Of course, the most important part is loving music.  Vinyl is an obsessive, fun, and slightly dangerous hobby.  However, of all of the things I could be doing at 42 that are obsessive, fun and dangerous, this seems pretty safe.

But if you’re reading this far, you might be curious to know what sort of setup I use to enjoy my collection.  “Audiophiles” may scoff at what I’ve pulled together here but it has served me well.  I’ve seen many guides recommending what to buy, poured over Steve Hoffman boards waxing poetic about the right tracking weight, tonearms and cartridges.  Sometimes I come off of those boards somewhat distraught.  But fear not, good reader. I have a – not necessarily the – solution for you:

1 – Pro-Ject Debut Carbon
1 – Clever Clamp
1 – Q-Up
1 – Pro-Ject Acryl-It Platter
1 – Carbon fiber record brush

This is a “build-on” setup.  I did not have all of these things at once but I have found that now having all of them is just about as good as it gets on my budget. I have my eyes on a whole new setup for sometime when I actually live in a house of which I can properly shake the foundations.  But for me, in a rental apartment, packed in like a family of sardines, this works great.

There are a few caveats.  The Pro-Ject Debut Carbon is an infamously flawed deck. The motor gives off considerable hum if not isolated. Mine was not properly isolated and I fixed it with some neoprene (cut out of a beer koozie) washers and some patience. Now I love it.  It’s warm sounding, simple and upgrade-able. Other decks are available in the same price range so choose your poison. This is just the one I have so I can recommend it.

Next up is the Clever Clamp.  It’s a must if you are going to go for the acrylic platter. Without a mat, records tend to spin under the carbon fiber brush. There are a ton of other record clamps for sale but for about $30 this one does not add any weight to put stress on your motor and it flattens out some (but admittedly not all) warped records that you might just happen to pick up at the local thrift store or from some bozo on Discogs that claims VG+ looks like the the oscillation of a stingray.  The fish, not the car.

The Q-Up was my last upgrade. But man, has it made a difference. It makes your turntable and vinyl obsession somewhat less so because you don’t have to run back to the living room in the midst of chopping a bulb of fennel just because you “mint” condition Jane’s Addiction record had hit the runout groove. You see, the Q-Up lifts up the needle for you when either, you have drifted to sleep after “Shine on You Crazy Diamond Part IX” or you are making the family’s next gourmet experience.  If I had to do this all again, I’m not sure the Q-Up wouldn’t be higher in the “buy” hierarchy.

The Acryl-It platter is supposed to lower resonance compared to the metal platter. I’m not sure if it does, like many things in the record collecting hobby, it’s subjective.  What I can tell you is that it completely cuts down on dust and static.  This thing made the last winter virtually static free.  It’s sort of the microwave of the turntable world – once you have one you never know what you did without it.

As for the carbon fiber brush, if you don’t know this by now, get one. Always turn it the same way.  It works wonders.

Now, as the second side of “Revolver” (Mono, a topic for a whole other post) comes to a close, I hope this has been helpful. I have spent many a night on the couch, headphones on (yet another post), contemplating the depth of the bourbon in my glass and other in depth mental pursuits.  This setup has yet to do me wrong.  Happy hunting.  Let me know if this works for you and if you have any rants/suggestions, let me know.  I’m going to get that house with the man cave some day and may just have a chance to put your opinions to use.

 

 

Convoy of Liberty – Prague 2016

As I was trying to educate my youngest on the historical significance of the US military victory in Europe during World War II, she reminded me that she is only 5.  She didn’t actually remind me of her age.  Instead, as the final words of my explanation hovered in the air, she pulled up her collar, sort of a loose fitting turtle neck, and proclaimed, “Daddy, I’m a ninja.”

About an hour later we were down at the Convoy of Liberty in front of the US Embassy in Prague, Czech Republic.  It was one of only a handful of times my girls have heard the US national anthem.  They had no idea that it’s customary to put your hand over your heart.

What a weird life we live here.

Still, as the resident American history professor of the family, I felt like Friday was a good lesson.  I still get chills up my spine with the national anthem.  And my daughter is a freakin’ ninja.