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

Slowcore Masterpiece, Etched 1st Pressing – Mine at Last!

Low - Things We Lost (original etched pressing) 12-25-11

Almost any fan of Low’s music will tell you – all of their albums are fantastic, but Things We Lost in the Fire is their greatest work.

After an exhaustive search, I was ready to give up, as every original copy I found was priced between $50 and $150.  It had been repressed multiple times but I couldn’t tell if the newer copies still featured the spiraling lyrics etched on side D.

I finally found this NM original copy listed online from a used record shop in Chicago and snatched it up for just $12.99!

Low is legendary for creating beautiful tension with their music by playing as slow as possible.   Check out “Whitetail” from this 2001 gem.

 

Published in: on January 5, 2012 at 11:09 pm  Leave a Comment  
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There’s a hole in my head where information goes

Spent the last week tracking down more outstanding albums.

Underworld - Danny Boyle's Frankenstein
Underworld’s score for Danny Boyle’s Frankenstein

At first listen I immediately noticed familiar material from experimental sound projects in Underworld’s past.

Seemingly random ambient noises, clangs and echoes, the repeated spoken words, “walk with me” and the word “vision” uttered quietly… all originated from the download-only RiverRun project entitled Lovely Broken Thing.  The “vision… come on” sample has also appeared in the song, “Bamboo” which has only been performed live.  Underworld has done this often historically, developing song fragments through live performance.  Another similar example is a female voice speaking the words, “bad… boy” which appeared in the John Peel performance of “Biro the Leggy” and later found it’s way into the album track, “Scribble.”

Still, other than those traces of familiarity there is little evidence that this is an Underworld recording.  Gone are the warm electronic loops and stream of consciousness lyrics of Karl Hyde and Rick Smith.  In their place is a dramatic and somewhat ambient soundtrack that perfectly suits the play.

The Secret of N.I.M.H. soundtrack, Varese STV 81669
Jerry Goldsmith’s Secret of N.I.M.H soundtrack

The Wikipedia calls Goldsmith “one of the most prominent and prolific film composers of the 20th century.”  His catalog includes nearly 200 major motion pictures.  The Secret of N.I.M.H. was Don Bluth’s directorial debut (and most agree his greatest work.)  The movie pushed the limits of animation and the story was powerful and mature for a children’s film.  Paired with Goldsmith’s skillful composition, it is a soundtrack to be remembered.

The version of the album that most commonly surfaces has the cover pictured below.

The Secret of N.I.M.H. soundtrack, TER 1026

The more elusive version features the original movie poster cover art (now a highly sought-after collectible.)  The first two copies I found were $33 and $40 respectively plus shipping, but after a dedicated and determined search I acquired a near mint copy for $8.  A small price to pay for one of the most memorable film scores of my childhood.

The Secret of N.I.M.H. movie poster
The album will be filed beside the score of Bluth’s second film – An American Tail.

As foretold in my previous post the new Low record has been released, and as a special thank-you the band included a free acoustic EP with the album, available only at mom-and-pop record shops.

Low - C'Mon
Low – C’Mon (w ltd. ed. acoustic companion disc)

I also ordered two double LP copies of previous Low albums that I found for a steal from a seller online.

Low - Trust
Low – Trust double LP

Low - The Great Destroyer

Low – The Great Destroyer double LP

Low has been defining the slowcore genre for nearly 20 years, and their latest effort, C’Mon does not disappoint.  Stand out tracks include “Witches”, “Especially Me” and “Nothing But Heart.”  Nels Cline of Wilco joins the band on several tracks as well.

The slow build in “Nothing But Heart” is reminiscent of the album closer “Cop Shoot Cop” from Spiritualized’s Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space.  Over 17 minutes long, the song is anchored by a repeated bass line much in the way that the Sparhawk repeats the single-line lyric throughout “…Heart.”  Guitars and feedback build until the song is lost in a cacophony of noise.  A gospel choir warmly chants beckoning in the song’s conclusion and the familiar bass resurfaces as the feedback dissipates.

Put on your best pair of headphones and tune in.

Truckloads of New Music

About two years ago, I picked up nearly one hundred albums worth of dj sets and live material from a few of my favorite artists over the course of the fall.  During the next few years, I cooled my downloading jets and took some time to absorb the material.  Then about a week ago when I had grown tired of the same old thing, I began to investigate the music I had missed.

Around 2007 I was primarily listening to ambient, dream pop, slowcore/sadcore and indie folk music.  After four years, I was worried that each of these genres had nearly disappeared.  It seemed that they had been replaced by innumerable post rock bands and a hundred groups that sound like Arcade Fire.  (Sorry people, I just can’t get into mindie pop.)

Still, I knew that ambient music could not be dead – in 2010 The Black Dog had released the highly acclaimed Music For Real Airports.  It was a contemporary answer to Brian Eno’s genre defining 1978 masterpiece, Music For Airports.  The Black Dog’s album was built from over 200 hours of field recordings, and it was my favorite LP of 2010.  353 copies were pressed, and I got #16.

Music for Real Airports
Low’s Drums and Guns LP from 2007 sustained my faith that slowcore was alive and well but it wasn’t until I visited the Chairkicker website last night that I was struck with the incredible news that April 12th is the release date for Low’s new album, titled C’Mon.  It was recorded in the same church as 2002’s Trust album, so I’m expecting great things.

The 39 second album trailer for C’Mon

Also in 2010, Robert Plant covered two of my favorite Low tracks on his Band of Joy LP.  Both were well-crafted performances and do great justice to the originals.  They’re worth looking up.

I compiled a list of the top 120 artists I was interested in but hadn’t fully explored.  Goldmund, Hammock, Hannu, Helios, Mum and Mus were all in my top 10.  (If you enjoy any of these artists please drop me a line!)  I will listen to each of them in the coming weeks.

I then spent the next 7 days pouring over music blogs to find out what else I missed during this transitional period.  Thanks to the wonder of metadata I found twenty new artists to explore and learned of a micro-genre I had missed in my previous travels.

The first gem I found was a Swedish band called Air France.  They haven’t released a proper album but they have two beefy EPs of catchy chillout tunes that quickly caught my attention.

Here’s a track from their No Way Down EP titled, “Collapsing at your Doorstep.”

Insound laughably described their music as “beach foam pop.”  I found a beautifully sarcastic reply to this statement from the Neogaf forums…

“Let this be a lesson to you, inventing empty terms to describe simple musical styles makes you sound stupid, or ever worse, like a British music journalist.”

Air France appears to be too innocent and not nearly self-conscious enough to fall into the subgenre category I hinted at above – chillwave aka glo-fi.

Chillwave is nothing new, it was the so-called talk of the blogosphere in 2009.  The term was originally coined by Carles of Hipster Runoff and was used interchangably with the term glo-fi or even hypnagogic pop.  Poster bands would include Toro Y Moi, Million Young, Blackbird Blackbird, Memoryhouse, Weird Tapes, Neon Indian, Washed Out, Small Black and Delorean.

If you’ve ever listened to Panda Bear’s Person Pitch or Ariel Pink then you’ve heard the beginnings of the socially shunned sub-genre.

Toro Y Moi – Still Sound

To oversimplify the formula – record ambient psychedelic loops with some needlessly heavy effects and 80s synths, channel it all through a handheld tape recorder and stick a picture of a seagull flying on your album cover.  Perform at SXSW and you’re all set.

As cheesy as it sounds I still like what I’ve found so far.  There’s no shortage of bands offering their EPs for free or next-to-free and Soundcloud is loaded with chillwave mixes.  Even better is the latest incarnation of chillwave – blisscore.  Tanlines, Lemonade and Delorean are great examples.

But who knows… depending on how amazing this new Low album is, I may just tune out for another couple of years.

If you’re feeling particularly bitter and cynical about the whole concept, head over to flavorwire.com and read “How to Start a Chillwave band.”