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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

Poets, Collage Music and Masters of Downtempo

I found two Shel Silverstein LPs at the same antique shop today.  Freakin’ at the Freakers Ball was under Rock-S and A Boy Named Sue was on the floor in the dollar bin.

I searched the rest of the shop on the off-chance that I’d find his other albums.  I was specifically looking for his first LP – Hairy Jazz or the one simply titled Fuck ‘Em which features adult-themed tracks such as “Dope” and “I Love My Right Hand.”

Freakers Ball is similar to Fuck ‘Em with songs like,  “I Got Stoned and I Missed It,” “Polly in a Porny,” “Masochistic Baby,” and of course its famous title track.

Lyric:

All the fags and dykes they boogy’n together
Leather freaks dressed in all kinds of leather
The greatest of sadists and the masochists too
Screamin’ “please hit me and I’ll hit you”

(This ain’t The Giving Tree.)

Track 3, however will be recognized and loved by adults and children alike – it’s “Sahra Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take The Garbage Out.”

In 1999, the album was re-issued on CD with bonus tracks, including a fun tune called “26 Second Song”

All the DJs keep complainin’ tunes run much too long
So I’ve gone and wrote myself a 26 second song.
~The End~

While these next few albums are not new to my collection I definitely wanted to make mention of them as they’ve been in heavy rotation as of late.

Future Loop Foundation is an electronic artist that completely captured my attention but was soon lost in a pool of new arrivals.  I recently querried the members of the Lemon Jelly Forum who are well-versed in the world of blissful electronic music and I promptly received a response identifying the half-forgotten track that was tumbling around in my brian.

This song alone was enticing enough to make me hunt down 18 other discs from FLF’s catalog and to complete the puzzle game on the artist’s website to unlock additional tracks.  “Sunshine Philosophy,” along with the rest of The Fading Room album was constructed using interviews with the elder members of Mark Barrott’s family which had been committed to tape during his childhood.

And for a second helping of tasty ambience here is “The Sea and the Sky.”

This final track, titled “Another English Summer,” was specifically recommended by a member of the Forum for it’s particularly Jellyesque quality.

All three of the above songs were released as singles/EPs between 2008 and 2009.  If you’ve already got The Fading Room, I recommend the Scratch & Sniff EP as your next FLF disc.

Another similarly mellow track that has been stuck in my head ever since I acquired a promo copy of the album is “Sing,” the opener from  People Like Us’ 2011 album, Welcome Abroad.

I’ve been humming the Perry Como sample that comes in around 1:35 for several days.  Wonderfully addictive.

Sundae Club is another delightful duo I discovered through the Lemon Jelly forum.  Technostalgia, British Summer Time, and Sea-sides are well worth a listen.

Check out one of their most popular tracks – Angels in the Sky.

My last Jelly-friendly artist for this entry is The Found Sound Orchestera.

For their current project, titled 52 Weeks they post a new track to their website each week.  You can download them all at http://www.foundsoundorchestra.com.