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 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.

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.

 

 

Gorillaz – ‘Demon Days’ Vinyl Review

The news of all of the recent deaths of rock ‘n rollers has had me examining my own mortality lately.  It’s also made me try to not get too caught up in the daily badness that confronts me at the office.  Of course, my favorite way to sort things out at the end of the day is to sit down with a pair of headphones and just get lost in a beloved chunk of vinyl. Last night’s piece was a long-coveted copy of Gorillaz 2005 effort, Demon Days.

I asked Santa for that very record this year.  Little NH was even sweet enough to put it on her note to Santa for me.  I told her that he’d probably not have any luck finding it.  It was a limited run in 2005 and copies now fetch at least $200.  Santa apparently couldn’t find it but a couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to snag a copy on Ebay.  The vinyl in my set is brand new but a corner of the front cover looks like a cat or puppy had about 10 solid seconds to use it as a chew toy. Otherwise, it’s in great shape.  It was listed on Ebay as having “never been played” and I have no reason to doubt this.  It was clean and shiny.  Because of its less than perfect cover, I got this copy at well below the going price.  It’s still the most expensive record in my collection but I’m satisfied with the deal.

I’m not one to sit on “collection piece” copies of vinyl in my stash.  I have a couple that are unopened but the majority I buy to play and enjoy.  So, like driving a new car off the lot, my copy of Demon Days depreciated last night as the needle first hit the groove.

So, how did it sound, you ask?

It sounded like a top-notch, second hand, 10-year-old record.  There was a tiny bit of surface noise but all in all, it’s a quiet pressing.

The one gripe I had was that side A seemed to be lacking a bit in bass.  It was big and bold sounding but the low end just wasn’t as big as I had hoped it might be.  But that was just side A.  From side B on, things picked up considerably in the bass department.  This makes me think that either the first side was pressed with less bass to save room or my ears just got attuned to this as the record played on.  I had been listening to Atoms For Peace today on my commute through in-ear headphones so that may have distorted my idea of what to expect bass-wise.

Listening through headphones, I heard a lot on these records that I had never heard on digital copies before.  Lots of little production flourishes and squiggles of sound really popped out.  It’s a record mixed with a very wide stereo mix which is really pleasant to the ear.  The other thing that I noticed was what I thought at some points was surface noise, was actually analog artifacts from the Danger Mouse-procured beats and samples that litter the record.  “Kids with Guns” has such a sample and as soon as it finishes, the noise disappears.  Cool to be able to hear that in such detail and it really points out the meticulous production that went into this album.

The part of the album that floored me was the one-two punch of “White Light,” the last track on side C and “Dare,” the first track on side D.  I have heard “White Light” before but I have never actually heard it until now.  What a great track.  It’s just as crazy as anything Albarn has ever written, seemingly based on a sample he sang into his phone on the walk home after a night out at the pub.  And it absolutely slays.

“Dare” is just the single it’s always been but it sounds fresh in this context – like the first chip out of a newly opened bag.

There’s really nothing I love more than sitting down with a quality record, putting on my headphones and rediscovering an album that I know and love.  Demon Days did not disappoint and I’ll be excited to buy a copy of the inevitable reissue to compare it with this one.  However, if for some reason that never happens, I’m glad to have this copy and see myself coming back to it again and again.

Footnote:

After I finished “Demon Days” there was a little time left on the clock before my normal bedtime so I decided to pull out the Doors’ The Soft Parade and listen to the title track.  I have some weird repress that shows up as this on Discogs but man, it sounds great.  Often maligned as one of the Doors’ weaker releases, The Soft Parade, has been given short shrift in my opinion.  It’s a hazy, boozy, flipped out record of its era and is still brilliant. Especially the title track.

On Bowie

I’ll preface this by saying that somehow, I don’t consider myself a huge David Bowie fan even though I still have nearly all of his albums on vinyl and find myself coming back to his catalog regularly.

I don’t consider myself a huge David Bowie fan but I vividly remember practicing my trombone, probably between 5th and 6th grade, with my boombox quietly tuned to KQKY 105.9FM, hoping against hope that “Modern Love” would come on the station and I could hit record.  I can’t remember if it ever did but I got Let’s Dance on cassette from my brother that summer.  “Cat People” weirded me out then and still does today.

I don’t consider myself a huge Bowie fan but when he played in Prague back in 2004, I happily bought a ticket to my first concert in the city that has been my home for the last nearly 12 years.  He got hit in the eye with a projectile lollipop and suffered heart problems during that show and it was cut short.  My seats were in the nosebleed section and I didn’t know several of the songs because, well, I didn’t consider myself a huge Bowie fan at the time.  I didn’t have all of his albums back then.

It’s also strange that I usually end late night music sessions with friends with the 1972 performance of Bowie on the BBC doing “Oh, You Pretty Things.”  It’s Bowie in full Ziggy mode and it defines glam for me.

So, for not being much of a fan, it’s odd that I cranked Station to Station in my headphones at the office on Friday in order to write a report I had procrastinated writing all week.  It was done in record time.

It’s also peculiar that his brand new album, Blackstar, was the soundtrack to my morning commute this morning.  As I look down at my phone, I see that I’ve only made it through to the song “Girl Loves Me.”  I got the news after I got to the office.

Granted, I’m not a huge fan but I’m pretty sure I’ll finish the album on the way home.

Just like a huge fan.

R.I.P., Ziggy.

Albums of the Year – 2015 – Part 3

These are probably not in any real order except for number one below: Foals – What Went Down.  It’s a solid top seven list, I think.  They all move between ranks but all have stayed pretty high in the top eschelon.
Besides these new-this-year albums, I’ve also forgotten to mention that I’ve been on a tear buying up classic albums throughout the year.  Lots of old Stones, Beatles, Bowie, Dylan, Iggy Pop, Stooges, Zep, Who, etc., etc., etc.  But lots of great new albums as well.  Here’s the cream of the crop. Top to bottom.  Happy listening.

Foals – What Went Down

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From the first woozy organ chord, you know you’re in for a ride.  One of the most melodic, violent songs to ever open a record.  It almost threatens violence.  Heck, it may even deliver.  The rest of the album hosts a great rundown of songs that get better with each listen and reveal a little more with each spin.  This band just keeps getting bigger and growing incrementally in their sound.  Keep your eyes and ears peeled for where they go from here.

My Morning Jacket – The Waterfall

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I never expected this to be in the top 10.  In fact, I was pretty much over this band after the weirdo Evil Urges.  Their next one, Circuital, offered a little bit of redemption but it didn’t exactly bring me back into the fold.  This one hit on a road trip some time this fall.  I actually regretted not getting into an album in the spring.  “Spring (Among the Living)” did it.  Oh, well.  At least there’s something to look forward a few months from now.  In the meantime, there’s the rest of the album.  100% solid.

Wilco – Star Wars

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A surprise album is one thing.  A surprise album from a band that hasn’t had a surprise since Yankee Hotel Foxtrot is a big deal.  When this one dropped I distractedly listened to it once and then forgot about it.  Then, after months of waiting, the vinyl came in the mail and I toured thought it on headphones.  I think I listened to it twice that night.  It’s a firecracker.  Easily their best in recent memory.  No twang, all bang.  Whatever that means.

Gaz Coombes – Matador

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The solo album Thom Yorke wishes he could make.  Or, is it the Radiohead Album Gaz Coombes just made?  Either way, it’s a great listen.  Brooding and elastic all at the same time.  If this blog had a top singles of 2015 list, this album would spawn at least three.  For those of you interested: “20/20,” “Detroit,” and “The Girl Who Fell To Earth.”  (Also, I think the cover is a Bowie tribute.  Right?)

Ryan Adams – Live At Carnegie Hall

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I had the pleasure of seeing this guy play at the RAH during his fallow period a couple of years back.  This album is as close as you’re going to get to being there.  Beautifully pressed over 6 LPs, this offers two nights during his time at Carnegie.  It’s amazing when you listen to this guy and realize just how many great songs he’s written.  Even ones you’ve forgotten about creep up on you in this set and leave you scrambling to remember which album they came from.  If you can’t get the box, get the Ten Songs From… version.  Then go buy that Taylor Swift cover versions album.  Then, and only then.

Jamie xx – In Colour

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Oh, My Gosh.  These three words will never mean the same to my family.  I heard this for the first time doing 85 mph on the Italian motorway.  Everybody in the family asked at the same time, “What is this?”  That’s when you can tell it’s either going to be love or hate.  Love.  This one.  All love.

Kurt Vile – B’lieve I’m Goin Down…

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Kurt Vile conquered the indie world a couple of years back.  This year, he’s toning down the feedback, scaled it down to a single album, and gotten a bit more insular.  With the exception of “Pretty Pimpin'”, this one is a slow burner.  But man, what an interesting listen.  I equate this one to sitting with a close friend after too many beers, listening to him ramble, stutter and bemoan every bad call and perplexing thing in life.  And relating to every word.

Albums of the Year – 2015 – Part 2

Here it is.  Part deux.  Big year.  This is the part of the list where it gets real.  Do people still say that?  Well, they do here.  Or, as I’d say in a work e-mail, “Please see below:”

Craig Finn – Faith In The Future

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The studio sent a car to collect me
When the driver dropped me off at the lot
He said he’d never forget me
The publicist picked up lunch again
I had Pabst and some pemmican.”

You can’t really write an review of a Craig Finn album without quoting some lyrics.  It’s like talking about Shakespeare without doing the same. It’s the whole point.  Don’t get me wrong.  The band backing Finn on his second solo outing is solid as well.  But the lyrics to his songs are always the exciting part.  By the time you get to “Sandra from Scranton,” you know you’re in the middle of a great album.  Still more to dig through with this one.  Looking forward to repeat listens.

Guy Garvey – Courting The Squall

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I never saw a Guy Garvey solo album coming.  I’m not sure why.  I thought the last Elbow album was sort of a return to form, albeit a quieter one.  But Garvey changes it up a bit on his first solo effort.  The only way I can think to describe it is the well-worn descriptor, eclectic.  From the moment “Angela’s Eyes” hits the speakers, this is something different.  It’s Garvey doing what’s in his head and not through the democracy of his band, Elbow.  The second real gut punch of a song for me is “Belly of the Whale.” It sounds to me like a tale of house ownership gone wrong.  I’m not sure why it connects but it does.  And I’m not a homeowner.  A solid first step as a solo artist.

El Vy – Return to the Moon

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Matt Berninger is the consummate hipster.  Look at those glasses, hair and white jeans.  His other band, the National, cosied up to the President back in the day and now he’s gone off and made another album with some guy who I don’t know and am too lazy to look up.  (Berninger, that is.  Not Obama.)
While not as solid as the Britt Daniel side project, Divine Fits, this album leaves the same sort of taste on the palate.  It’s the sound of the frontman of a lauded band whose sound has grown sameish reaching out to find a new muse.  He finds it here.  Just his description of his green collared shirt sounds like nothing the National would have ever put to tape.  It suits the hipster vibe well.  I assume they wear a lot of shirts like that.

Tame Impala – Currents

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Where to begin with this one?  It was so hyped that just about everything that can be said about it has been said.  I’ve seen it described as the same magnitude of stylistic change that U2 made between Rattle and Hum and Achtung Baby.  While that may be overstating it a bit, it kind of works.
But the thing is, the album cover looks exactly like how the album sounds. Like the cover?  You might just like the record.  Oh, and if you want to see a bit live, have a look at this link.  “Let it Happen” is probably the song of the year for me.  Just writing it in this post ensures that I’ll have it in my head for the rest of the day.

Metric – Pagans In Vegas

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Oh, Emily Haines and Co., you are my guilty pleasure.  A synth-pop band fronted by a female singer.  You don’t get any less macho.  But I love this album.  I haven’t given much thought as to why but something tells me it’s sound profile lies somewhere in the same range as a long-time 80’s favorite, XTC.  It sounds nothing like that band though, save for a synth or two.  The band deliver a earworm of a single in the form of “The Shade.” (Oops, “Let it Happen.”  You’ve been replaced.)  It’s a crime that this tune doesn’t sit along the current day offerings on pop radio.
There’s one other thing about this album.  I might not have listened to it quite as much without my 8-year-old daughter proclaiming them “her favorite band” from the back seat.  Kid’s got taste.

Blur – The Magic Whip

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Blur’s back together.  They recorded this one in Hong Kong.  Damon Albarn could touch dog poop and it would turn to gold.  This one serves as an excellent warm-up to the supposed new Gorillaz record next year. Bring. It. On.

Josh Rouse – The Embers Of Time

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I listen to this album late at night, usually after my wife has gone to bed. It’s nice to hear the musings of another dad who travels too much, worries about day-to-day family stuff and sees the passage of time as something that goes by at jaw-dropping velocity.  It also helps that when I met him at Alexandria, VA’s Birchmere a couple of years ago, he signed albums for my girls and was just as quiet, reserved and polite as he sounds on his records. A long time underdog of the Alt-Country scene, Rouse turns in a great latter day record. A close cousin of 1972 with some warmer undertones.

Honorable Mentions (Albums I Haven’t Gotten To Yet):

Jason Isbell – Something More Than Free

Calexico – Edge of the Sun