The Merits of Nostalgia and a Cozy Placebo Effect

And so it came to pass that my beloved McIntosh C39 pre-amp was not made happy by replacing the volume pot.  I’d decided in advance that if that didn’t fix it, I would cut my losses and consider, for the first time in my 30+ years, to explore the possibility of a brand new pre-amp/power amp combo.

My first McIntosh - a MAC 4280.  RIP 2013.

My first McIntosh – a MAC 4280.

I am fully aware of the tried-and-true code of the audiophile – quality vintage gear will generally out-perform and out-last newer contemporaries dollar-for-dollar.  But after repeatedly battling oxidation, bad resistors, and a few bad volume pots for the better part of three decades, I was ready to consider something new.

The Next Generation: My McIntosh C39 Pre-Amp (RIP 2014)

The Next Generation: My McIntosh C39

My life-long trusted audio adviser and best-friend tossed a few suggestions my way, namely the emotiva xsp-1, some newer Rotel models, and the most alluring of his suggestions – the Parasound Halo p3.  But for the interim, I had a local hi-fi shop tune up my Yamaha CR-840 – the first real amp I ever had.  Years ago channel A stopped working, and oxidation built up rending the amp nearly-unusable, but I’d never given it up, as it was a very special gift.  Thankfully the shop returned it to me the next day in PERFECT working condition!

I’d forgotten how great it sounded.  Please understand – I know it’s not remotely in the same class as some of the finer amps I’ve used, but the warm and familiar tone of this amp transports me back to college and all the memories attached to those years.  I completely acknowledge that this nostalgia trip is in no way a measure of the amp’s technical performance.  It is of no quantifiable measure an amp comparable to my MACs or, likely, to the Parasound amp.  But I will fully-embrace the head-trip it brings and am more than satisfied to use it until the right upgrade comes along.

Next up? Parasound Halo P3

Next up – Perhaps the Parasound Halo P3

To make the amp-swap official, I chucked the eyesore of a component rack that I’d picked up from a thrift shop.  30-seconds of Craigslist searching produced a nifty 60s record shelf for only a few bucks to serve as both a surface for the amp and as additional record storage.  Better still – the funky elderly couple selling it were ridiculously adorable and had mirrored-and-velvet-patterned wallpaper with matching decor all about their home.

Not kidding.  This... with mirrored panels.

Not kidding. This… with mirrored panels.

The shelf has a very “college” feel to accompany the amp, and the space was PERFECT to relocate all my LPs pressed between 1995 and the present.  All my favorites are in here – DJ Food, Boards of Canada, Lemon Jelly, DJ Shadow, The Orb, Underworld, Stereolab, Spiritualized, The KLF, St Germain, Bonobo, Aphex Twin, Cinematic Orchestra, Sigur Ros, Pantha Du Prince, Low, Beck, The FLips, with just enough room to sneak in nearly all of Brian Eno and Tom Waits’ albums.

The Nostalgia Corner

The Nostalgia Corner

This is as good a time as any to resolve to listen to more of my records in 2015 – to enjoy what I have instead of always searching for the next grail.

And there you have it – an objective and meticulous audiophile reduced to a nostalgic dolt by his trust old amp.  Think what you will, but I’ll be happy here, spinning some great tunes.

Eno & Hyde Postcards from their first two LPs

Eno & Hyde Postcards from their first two LPs

Treasures From Vinyl’s Dark Days – 1997-2005

As promised, this week I’m featuring the latest LP treasures added to my library.

Once I secured a copy of the pink vinyl numbered original master recording release of Beck’s magnum opus, Sea Change on Mobile Fidelity records, I knew that there was still one Beck beast I had to capture.

Sea Change is the must-own LP for every fan of Beck Hansen’s music.  Hailed universally by critics as his greatest achievement, surpassing the sample-wizardry of Odelay in its hi-fidelity mastery, Sea Change is the Sgt. Peppers of Beck’s discography.

Image

But my favorite Beck record for all time is the somber, lo-fi masterpiece – Mutations.

Released in 1998, the album suffered an unfortunate fate.

From Wikipedia:

Before beginning the recording sessions, Beck gained permission from the major label he was under contract with, Geffen, to release Mutations on the small indie label Bong Load Records. However, when Geffen executives heard the album, they reneged on their agreement and released the record. This led to a lawsuit filed by Beck against Geffen. As the record was in a markedly different style than the multi-platinum Odelay, Geffen’s marketing effort suggested that the album was not an “official” follow-up.

The limited press swept the release under the rug, and I only discovered the album by chance in a local CD shop.

Image

Image

Image

The best-selling single from the LP is “Nobody’s Fault But My Own” features sitar, tambura, and esraj, giving the track a haunting atmosphere.

 

I jumped on a $60 mint copy of the LP which surfaced online, complete with the original bonus 7″.  The single shipped in a six-panel foldout sleeve with artwork and lyrics.  This album was pressed only once back in ’98, so if you see a copy in the wild, grab it.

According to the liner notes, the background artwork, composed of small intenstines, is a detail shot from a piece of art titled, Wallchart of World History From Earliest Times to the Present.

No high-res copies of the 7″ sleeve art were available on the web so I’ve seamlessly tiled both sides of the sleeve each as as a 12″ x 75″ jpg.  Magnify and enjoy.

Image

Image

Image

Image

Next up, a favorite musician of mine from London posted a wonderful vinyl surprise to Facebook.  This remix of Sundae Club’s “Angels in the Sky” was limited to just 50 white-label copies.  It was originally released and sold out in 2005… Or so they thought.

Recently, Sundae Club announced that they found an unopened box of these white-label rarities, and decided they would flog them off as an additional fund-raiser for Haiti’s Earthquake relief.

From their site:

This is a two-speed promo 12″ (30cm) vinyl record in a plain white cover and a plain white label. One side was designed to be rotated at 33.333rpm and contains two chilled tracks, the other side is a 45rpm cut with massive compression and sounds great in a club. Loud.

I thought I had missed my opportunity back in ’05 so I didn’t hesitate when I saw the post.  And a few weeks later, my copy arrived, with the recording speed info penned in by Mr. Ridware and a special “Thank you, James!” added to the sleeve.

Image

Highly recommended for fans of Lemon Jelly, or general downtempo bliss.

You can check out the tracks for yourself on Sundae Club’s bandcamp page here.

The third and final treasure of the week was another delightful impulse purchase – one I found posted to a record forum on reddit.

Image

F♯ A♯ ∞ is the first official full-length LP from Montreal’s Godspeed You! Black Emperor, originally released in 1997.

There have been various vinyl issues of the album, each with minor differences but on the whole each includes the following:

The band name, album title and image frame is debossed on the album jacket.

The cover has a print glued in place, (first editions including an actual photograph).

And a cross and the catalog # are hand-drawn beside the Constellation Records logo stamp on back cover.

Several inserts were included with the release – An etching illustration of a locomotive and a manilla envelope containing the credit sheet, a handbill from a previous show, a blueprint of “faulty schematics for ruined machine”, a Constellation spring 2000 merchandise flyer and a Canadian penny flattened by a train.

Image

Image

Image

The LP itself is black with black labels, with the track titles etched in the runouts.

The tracklist on the LP version is particularly interesting.  CD and MP3 copies of the album feature the following track list:

‘The Dead Flag Blues’ (16:27)

1.1                          The Dead Flag Blues (Intro)         6:40
1.2                          Slow Moving Trains         3:30
1.3                          The Cowboy…   4:19
1.4                          (;outro)…             1:59

‘East Hastings’ (17:58)

2.1                          “…Nothing’s Alrite In Our Life”/Dead Flag Blues (Reprise)              2:17
2.2                          The Sad Mafioso…           10:01
2.3                          Drugs In Tokyo/Black Helicopter                5:40
‘Providence’ (21:26)
3.1                          Divorce&Fever…              2:45
3.2                          Dead Metheny…              8:15
3.3                          Kicking Horse On Brokenhill         5:40
3.4                          String Loop Manufactured During Downpour…   4:46
3.5                          Silence 3:39
3.6                          J.L.H. Outro        4:48

While the LP lists the tracks as:

Side 1: Nervous, Sad, Poor…

1.            “The Dead Flag Blues (Intro)”     6:09
2.            “Slow Moving Trains”     3:23
3.            “The Cowboy…”               4:16
4.            “Drugs in Tokyo”              3:29
5.            “The Dead Flag Blues (Outro)”                   1:52
6.            Untitled               1:34

Side 2: Bleak, Uncertain, Beautiful…

No.         Title       Length
1.            “…Nothing’s Alrite in Our Life…” / “The Dead Flag Blues (Reprise)”           2:00
2.            “The Sad Mafioso…”      5:33
3.            “Kicking Horse on Brokenhill”     5:37
4.            “String Loop Manufactured During Downpour…”              4:26

What this reveals is the origin of the record title – F♯ A♯ ∞.  The first movement, “Nervous, Sad, Poor…” is F#, “A Bleak, Uncertain,
Beautiful…” is A#, and the closing track, “String Loop…” is in fact a locked groove which effectively plays forever, hence “Infinity.”

Another intriguing fact about the vinyl version of this album is that it features an entirely diffent master than that of the CD release.

To quote Discogs.com user, Gecks from April 4, 2005 –

“What I find interesting about this LP version when compared to the later CD release (and indeed the rest of their material), is the almost complete lack of crescendos. It is important to note that the CD release is remixed, re-sequenced and includes two new movements that brought it closer to the familiar GYBE! sound of build-build-buld…crescendo! This LP predominantly features GYBE!’s more droney sound – something that featured less and less in future releases. My guess is that the style shift was a result of their much-lauded early live performances showing a more intense side, which they wanted to document. That’s not to say this release is anything less than utterly engaging, and provides an interesting counterpoint to the whole Post Rock movement which so often relies on pure dynamics.”

As a fan of ambient drone music, this was wonderful news and made the purchase all the more satisfying.

I have had a framed screenprint of the “faulty schematics for ruined machine” graphic on my wall for years, and was very happy to make F♯ A♯ ∞ my first Godspeed purchase.

Here is the memorable, bleak opening to the album – “Dead Flag Blues.”

They Just Keep on Coming!

My pre-ordered copy of Brian Eno’s latest generative work, Lux has arrived at my record shop which I should be visiting next week.

In the meantime here are a few groovy titles that I’ve found in the wild.

This first album appeared on r/vinyl and I couldn’t get my wallet out fast enough.  I’ve been watching auctions for original copies of Beck’s Sea Change for months.  Every copy sells for about $40.  Then I found out about the special limited edition Black Friday release of the Mobile Fidelity 180g remaster and knew I had to act fast.  This is the first Mobile Fidelity release on a colored vinyl – marbled pink wax in this case.  And it sounds absolutely magnificent.

DSC03574DSC03575DSC03576DSC03577DSC03578

Next I found two John Cage LPs in the trade-in boxes a customer dropped off at my local record shop.  They were a little musty so I may look to upgrade my copies later down the line.  They were Folkways Records’ Sound of New Music featuring Cage, Varese, Ussachevsky and others, and Indeterminacy by Cage and David Tudor.

Smithsonian Folkways - Sounds of New Music (Cage, Ussachevsky, Varese)

John Cage - Indeterminacy

Later that week I checked out Buffalo’s largest bookstore and took a chance on their small record section in the back.  Behind about 50 Elvis records I lucked out and found a sealed John Cage and David Tudor record!  It still had it’s $2 price sticker from 1966, which the shop kindly honored!

John Cage w David Tudor - Variations IV

Next up at my local Antique Mall I absolutely struck gold in the area of New Music.

I almost passed up this next disc because I knew I had the soundtrack to A Clockwork Orange at home.  But the vendor explained to me that this was a different album, entirely.  Most importantly it includes the full 13 minute version of “Timesteps,” one of the most famed in the history of early electronic recordings.  (The soundtrack version of the album trimmed it down to 4 minutes.)

Walter Carlos - Clockwork Orange

They also had a classic ambient album from Harold Budd – a Belgian import of Serpent in Quicksilver.

Harold Budd - Serpent in Quicksilver

Then I spotted this legendary Nonesuch release – Time’s Encomium.  Wuorinen won a Pulitzer Prize for this recording, making it the first all-electronic album to win the Prize and making Wuorinen the youngest-ever recipient.  It’s a wonderful milestone in early electronic sound.

Wuorinen - Time's Encomium

And finally there was this incredible LP which I had been after for weeks.  The Columbia-Princeston Electronic Music Center was founded in 1958 and this mono LP was released in 1964.  The only electronic record I’ve found that pre-dates this release is my copy of Forbidden Planet which was recorded in 1956.

Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center

That’s all for this week, I’ll post the new Eno album as soon as I pick it up!

Attack of the 50 foot Mixtape

It’s been an intense week of genre-hopping and crate digging, (over 50 new albums in all) and I’m just going to lay it on you.

The most exciting find is easily the new Paul McCartney 12″ bootleg – Balearic Rarities.  Comprised of Paul’s forgotten 80s experiments with dance music and what might be labeled as early techno, it’s a far cry from the McCartney we know and love.  Similar tracks appeared on an older double LP bootleg titled, The Lost McCartney II Album.  Here’s “Check My Machine.”

Another bootleg I found was from Beck around the Midnight Vultures era which includes a Bruce Haack cover.  If you’ve never listen to Bruce, check out Electronic Lucifer and The Way Out Record for Children.  You may remember the clips of Haack’s appearance on Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood which I featured on my old blog.

Along the same vein as Beck’s idiosyncratic musical styling, I’ve finally completed my Cornelius discography, consisting of 36 albums, singles and EPs.  Cornelius has often been tagged as “the Japanese Beck.”  Here’s a classic favorite, “Star Fruit Surf Rider” from his Fantasma album, which Matador records released as his American debut.

Also lovin’ new tunes from It is Rain In My Face, (the solo work of Matt Jones from Brooklyn.)  Delicious chillwave.

If you’re into lo-fi/bedroom pop like the tune above, mark your calendars for July 5th.  Trevor Powers aka Youth Lagoon will be releasing his first 10″ album and from the free singles he’s posted on the Web, it’s one to watch for.  Check out “Cannons.”

I can’t say enough wonderful things about Jimmy LaValle’s solo project.  Jimmy was originally the guitarist for Tristeza, but over the last 12 years he’s toured and released a number of albums as The Album Leaf.  In a Safe Place was recorded in Sigur Rós’ Sundlaugin studios with the help of Jón Þór Birgisson (of Sigur Ros) and Joshua Eustis (of Telefon Tel Aviv).  His song “Micro Melodies” appeared in the documentary film, Moog – a must-see for all analog synthophiles.

The Album Leaf’s earliest recordings were similar to Brian Eno’s Music For Airports.  Over the course of the next few releases, he ventured further into ambient post rock territory.

In early 2010, The Album Leaf released A Chorus of Storytellers, this time with a full band.  Like his past efforts, Storytellers is comprised almost entirely of instrumentals.  Still, “Falling From the Sun” is a song which dispels any notion that lyrics might impede upon his near-perfect formula for songwriting.

Then there are those quazi-novelty records that I buy more for the cover art than anything else.  Funky Entertainment was a flea market find, the last hurrah from the 70s disco funk band, Brainstorm.

It turns out Soul Coughing wasn’t the first band to use a 50s girl in a space suit for album art.

You may have seen Tara Busch’s videos on Youtube.  You may also know her from Analogsuicide.com. Tara is best known as “the chick on the Web who sang ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’ backwards.”

The Crazy CD packaging of the year award goes to Tara for her limited edition Pilfershire Lane box set. The CD comes with a stainless steel pop up model, interchangeable face plates, a recordable circuit, Polaroid 600 photo, and a splice of 16mm film.  Check out the assembled model in the clip below.

One last spaced-out treat for you, courtesy of goldenrecord.blogspot.com.  Listen to “Hang On Sloopy” by The Brooks Arthur Ensemble Featuring Kenny Karen released in 1971.  Golden Records likened it (quite accurately) to the bands Suicide and Spacemen 3.  I could easily see J Spaceman performing this live!

Brooks Arthur Ensemble – Hang on Sloopy 1971