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

Modern BBC Docu-Rock and Ambient Space Treasures

Friends, I have some very special records in store for you, and many more in the post on their way.

Recently I was exploring related-artist lists for long-standing favorites Sundae Club and Lemon Jelly on a number of music services.  One result had quite an intriguing name, so I gave them a listen.

Public Service Broadcasting is a project of J. Willgoose and Wrigglesworth from London.  The association with Jellyheads and fans of Sundae Club is instantly apparent – their music is electronic, but with a uniquely organic (and perhaps an emotive) element that separates it from the countless electro-pop artists of the day.

PSB uses samples from old public information films, archive footage and propaganda material, which fits well in a playlist of Found Sound Orchestra and Future Loop Foundation recordings.

The result, when paired with their minimalist geometric album packaging, is a krautrock-flavored mechanical sort of BBC documentary music, if you can imagine such a thing.

I enjoyed their INFORM • EDUCATE • ENTERTAIN LP, but was most impressed by THE WAR ROOM EP.  Just one look at the album jacket and anyone who follows my blog with any frequency will instantly understand why I just had to acquire this glorious disc.

 

Here is your new desktop wallpaper.  You're welcome.

Here is your new desktop wallpaper. You’re welcome.

See if you can detect traces of the metronomic percussion of Neu!’s “Hallo Gallo” in PSB’s music, or a touch of Kraftwerk inspiration in the packaging of INFORM • EDUCATE • ENTERTAIN.

Public Service Broadcasting - Inform-Educate-Entertain

On to other treasures, I had perused the Record Store Day list for April 2014 but no items particularly grabbed me so I sat the holiday out and saved my cash for the seasonal record show that followed.

In the days after the holiday, I stumbled upon a redditor who ran an independent record store in the States offering limited edition RSD items at store-price to those who couldn’t make it that day.  He listed an album that had entirely escaped my radar – a condensed and remastered 50-minute distillation of the epic 24-hour “7 Skies H3” by Flaming Lips.

Available exclusively for RSD, this was most fans’ only opportunity to own a piece of the notorious track, of which 13 copies were produced and sold on a hard drive encapsulated in a real human skull.

Flaming Lips - 24hrskull - 7 Skies H3
The offer was extended to fellow redditors at 11am on the morning of Easter Sunday, and I didn’t hesitate for a single second.  To make the situation even more exciting, I discovered that I had just sold a record I had received for free for the exact price of the Flaming Lips album, which chalks up to getting it for free!

Flaming Lips 7 Skies H3 and KLF MINUS SIX

I should caution fans who acquire this record, however – The album ships with a download code from Warner Music, but the file is not what it appears to be.  There are no options for MP3 quality (or for a FLAC download) – the album automatically downloads a set of files marked as 256 CBR.  I was a tad suspicious of Warner Music so I tested the file and it appears to be only a paltry 128kbps MP3.

If anyone can verify this I would love to hear from you, but I was extremely disappointed that this rare recording was essentially presented in the sonic equivalent of a Napster file from 1999.

"I'm telling you... realplayer is going to be HUGE."

“I’m telling you… RealPlayer is going to be HUGE.”

Regardless, best to focus on the positive – like that mysterious KLF item from the Lips’ photo above!

I cannot express the level of my excitement in finally hearing this special recording.  You may well recall my featuring of Disc 6 and of The KLF Remix Project Part III in earlier entries.

This new disc was to be the ninth in the series of unofficial reworkings of the KLF’s catalog – masterfully engineered and easily one of the finest ambient recordings of the year. Sadly, due to issues beyond the producer’s control, the disc will not be released to the public.

The disc contains a 2014 72-minute epic rework of the original Space LP created 24 years ago, originally as a collaboration between Dr. Alex Paterson and Jimmy Cauty – the original line-up of The Orb.

For those who aren’t familiar with the outstanding KLF: Recovered & Remastered unofficial releases from my past entries, let me bring you up to speed.

1987. British acid house. Drummond. Cauty. The Justified Ancients of Mu Mu. The Timelords. The JAMs. One World Orchestra. 2K. The Stadium House Trilogy. Doctorin’ the Tardis. Anarchism.   The White Room. The Illuminatus! Trilogy. Top of the Pops. America: What Time is Love? The Manual. A lost road movie. The K Foundation. Extreme Noise Terror. Why Sheep? Waiting. The Rites of Mu. Chill Out. The birth of Ambient House. Burning a million quid on the Isle of Jura. Abandon all art now. And Space.

There. That about sums it up.

20 years into the silence that followed the K Foundation’s exit from celebrity a man surfaced who set himself to the task of recovering and remastering the KLF’s catalog to fill the void left in Cauty and Drummond’s absence.

The first six releases, catalog #KLF 001 RE – KLF 006 RE were brilliant, and the sixth release, Live From The Lost Continent 2012 presented listeners with a 77-minute stadium-packed concert that never was.

Following this triumph, two more released emerged – KLF MINUS-ONE and KLF MINUS-FOUR, each better than the EP before.

But our hero had one last stupendous project up his sleeve. And in April of 2014, it was complete.

A message from its creator revealed that MINUS-SIX was to be:

“…a 72 minute remodel of the classic SPACE release, sounding like a cross between ‘Silence’ (from Pete Namlook’s legendary Fax +49-69/450464 label), SPACE, and classic ambient drone releases. It’s almost like Trainspotting for KLF fans.”

The original Space LP (1990)

The original Space LP (1990)

The final piece is a monumental achievement – a new Music for Airports, or perhaps a new Selected Ambient Works Vol II.  It effectively unites sparse white-noise drones with all of the familiar elements of the original Space record which made it so memorable.  It is brilliantly subtle, while simultaneously making the sounds of simulated space flight an exciting and dramatic experience.

Then came the crushing news – the MINUS SIX project had suddenly been halted, and there were to be no more releases in the series.

I make no exaggeration when I state that, with this loss, the ambient music audience is experiencing its own Nick Drake, or more accurately – its own SugarMan.

searching-for-sugar-man-poster

At least this dude got his own movie.

Worse yet – because Rodriguez had a nation celebrating his work for generations an ocean away from his quiet daily life, and at least Nick Drake experienced posthumous success – becoming a household name in the years which followed his untimely demise.

But production of MINUS-6 has been cancelled. Quite sadly, the millennium’s ambient and drone audience and the millions of listeners who grew up with the KLF may never hear this record.

Its legend is shroud in mystery. Will KLF fans ever know the engineer’s name?  Why the sudden cease just before unveiling his holy grail?

But perhaps it is the legend and the mystery that adds a touch of vitality to the series.

And I still have hope. The K Foundation announced a 23-year moratorium on all projects beginning November 1995. Perhaps, in honor of the 2018 reformation of the KLF, our mysterious friend will emerge.

My sincerest hope is that the man behind these nine fantastic EPs one day receives the recognition (and listenership) that he deserves.

If you’re out there – Bring the beat back.

The+KLF

 

A Birthday Like No Other!

I’ve been saving up for this mega-post of audiophilic treasures.  I’m back from a week’s vacation to my old home town where I spent my birthday visiting friends, family and my life-long favorite record shop.

Entering the shop I walked past a NM Beatles butcher cover, straight to the back where 3,000 LPs had just been traded in. Tom, the owner told me it was the best collection he’d ever seen (other than his own.)

All of the discs were alphabetical by artist, and all dead mint. Tom said, “I could easily shrink wrap the whole lot and sell ’em in Japan if I wanted to. The owner played these discs once to rip them and then filed them away.”

I passed up 20 mint Miles Davis LPs knowing I couldn’t afford to bring them all home, but my eyes went wide when I reached the Tom Waits collection. I pulled every disc I didn’t already own and walked up to the counter.

I said to Tom, “hold these – I’m going to pace around for 3 minutes… and then I’m going to come back and buy them.”

I had already ordered two other Waits’ LPs for my birthday – Bone Machine and Bad As Me.  They’re in the mail now.

But getting so many Waits LPs all at once in unplayed condition and not spending a cent on shipping… totally made my birthday!


Next during a routine visit to my local antique mall I found a copy of the Rutles’ self-titled 12″ promo on yellow vinyl with the hilarious banana label from 1978.


(To anyone who isn’t familiar with the Beatles parody band – please go to Youtube and watch their uproariously funny mockumentary, All You Need Is Cash.  It stars Eric Idle, George Harrison Mick Jagger, John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray and many others!)

Hold My Hand

Let’s Be Natural

Another birthday order arrived by mail this week – the limited edition Flaming Lips’ Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots pressed on red vinyl.  This is a perfect compliment to my other limited edition Lips’ disc – their award winning masterpiece, The Soft Bulletin + bonus CD.


On the grounds outside the antique mall I found three more Sesame Street records which I didn’t already have in my collection, along with four Muppet and four Sesame Pez dispensers.


The vendor also had the 1984 Sesame Street Fisher Price playhouse (without the figures) and a rare 1978 9-disc box set titled “My First Sesame Street Record Collection,” the later of which I could not pass up taking home.

The set is complete with original box, printed bag, nine 45 RPM singles and their respective colorful cardboard sleeves.  Little is known about these sets and various versions were sold in the late 70s.  Only two photos are posted in the Muppet Wiki and my copy is far more complete than those pictured!

That weekend I went garage saling and found two more Jim Henson treasures – a Red Fraggle plush at the Super Flea and a 1986 30th Birthday poster of the Muppets and Henson, himself!  The poster turned up at a garage sale for $1.  Not bad.

Two more Parliament Funkadelic LPs also came by mail.  Unfortunately the “original pressing” Maggot Brain I ordered turned out to be a cheap repress from the 90s so I sold it and cut my losses.  The other disc was good – a sealed original copy of Funkadelic’s debut self-titled LP.  (It’s breaking my heart trying to decide whether or not to open it!)

I came real close to ordering the new limited edition green vinyl re-release of White Zombie’s Astro-Creep 2000, but after contacting the label I learned that the glorious lyric art that came with the CD is not included with the vinyl, so I passed.

…which brings me to what was going to be my most celebrated find of the year.

I thought myself incredibly fortunate to finally have my dream turntable AND a new pre-amp to drastically upgrade my set up.

I was using a linear direct drive Optimus LAB-2250 turntable, a $20 economy phono stage and NAD L40 integrated amp.  Sure, the NAD is nothing to turn your nose up at, but the table and cheap phono stage crippled what little quality I had.

Close friends may recall that I had a gorgeous vintage 70s McIntosh receiver, but that it had intermittent crackling which the folks at MAC headquarters could not eliminate after 2 years of servicing the unit.

Well the replacement is in transit now, but the same sadly cannot be said about the turntable.

This is the Denon DP-60L.  It is what many call the finest machine ever manufactured by Denon.  It has a no-contact end sensor auto-lift mechanism, back-lit controls and a rosewood plinth.   As an added bonus, this specific table was fitted with a Signet cartridge which you often see paired with turntables double the value of the 60L.  I thought I had finally found my dream table – until it arrived at my doorstep… broken and non-functional.  It was apparently destroyed in the mail, but despite my paying for insurance on the $600 purchase, the post office chose not to accept responsibility and denied my claim.  I turned to Paypal hoping they would protect my funds, but the terms of my purchase fell though a fine-print loophole and the funds were denied.

Two months later, I am appealing the USPS’s denial.  WISH ME ALL THE LUCK IN THE WORLD.  This was the biggest equipment purchase of my life.

On the positive side there is still the McIntosh amp waiting for me, thanks to the immeasurable generosity of a dear friend.

The new MAC eliminates the problem of the cheap phono stage.  This beast (with a shipping weight of 69 pounds!) was manufactured in the early 90s.  It’s the McIntosh C39 pre-amplifier.  I’m working on picking up a power amp to pair it with.

The heartbreaking thing about the Denon is that I had a conversation with Tom (the record store owner mentioned at the beginning of this post) and it turns out that he’s using the exact same model at home!

This is a man with 30,000 LPs in his personal collection.  If it’s good enough for him, then it’s most certainly good enough for me!  One day, it will be mine.

Wish me luck with the claim.  Still, it was one hell of a birthday.